In this MEETING series Sophie and Geert meet up with artists and creative people supporting Sea Shepherd.
Sophie van der Stap is a Dutch author and Geert Vons is the Sea Shepherd Art Director.
Today we explore the boundaries of the spoken word and the knowledge that’s to be found in our seemingly silent oceans. Camilla Fascina is an Italian singer songwriter and music producer. We meet her in Sardinia, Italy, at a solo concert she organised in support of Sea Shepherd.
The high pitching sound of an electric guitar meanders through the courtyard and the adjoining gallery of restaurants and shops. Half an hour before the performance starts, sound and light engineers busy themselves around the singer testing her mic. Camilla left her band at home – on the Italian mainland. Here on the northern coast of Sardinia she’s solely accompanied by a pianist and her own guitar.
We sit down in the courtyard, filled with luscious green and pink coloured flowers. Above us the blue sky slowly colours dark over a life sized sculpture of a manta ray, about five meters wide. Camilla chose this place in order to draw attention to the endangered marine wildlife in our ocean. The leading song of the concert has been recorded in collaboration with Sea Shepherd and is dedicated to the whales. In her song Victory of the Whale she raises the question whether it was nature who sent a clear message to us humans during an epic battle at sea, described in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or the other way around…
Camilla’s concert is different. The intimate courtyard of the Promenade du Port creates a unique atmosphere. It’s something about her presence, her holding the stage, that triggers us and keeps us engaged. She shifts from singing to storytelling without losing the depth in her voice, nor the rhythm of her songs. Her performance is a convincing combination of stories and music.
After the concert, when she sits down with us, we understand why. She started her stage career as an actress, expressing herself through the spoken word. It’s only by chance that she discovered the power of her voice, during a rehearsal for a theatre play. After listening to the leading song, The Victory of The Whale, her voice is hard to forget. It’s as if her songs follow an underlying story she’s trying to convey.
“I’m happy you noticed. The story is key, fundamental. I have a message to share.”
Camilla writes her own songs and tells us that most of her songs come to her underwater – in silence.
Geert sits up straight. “But is the ocean really silent?”
Camilla seems to be taken off guard. “You’re right. It’s not. It’s the lack of human voices and sounds that makes me think it’s silent. The atmosphere is completely different. In this atmosphere my thoughts work differently.”
Geert: “When you’re underwater you forget the things you know. Actually all you know is the things you see. You forget about your brain.”Or does your brain forget about you?, I wonder, listening.
“As if you see the underwater landscape for the first time. You start entering a completely different world that at first does not make sense unless you let go of all the conditioning: the human world,” Geert continues.
Camilla: “True, I forget all I know. I forget my thoughts. I forget about the human world, indeed. Something magical happens under the surface. In that other world, new melodies and words suddenly come to my mind. I have to run out of the water towards my phone to write them down and record what has just come to me. Otherwise they stay underwater, literally. The underwater world is an atmosphere where I write and conceive melodies. Probably that’s why I can stay in the water for hours and hours. I’m alone with my inner world.”
The collaboration between Sea Shepherd and Camilla started at the concert Music for the Ocean, organised by Ama Festival in Bassano del Grappa, where Camilla was performing at the Ezzelini Castle. At the time, Geert was in the process of an art project and making a book, in collaboration with the London Tattoo Convention. The Victory of the Whale, raising awareness for an event 200 years ago, when a whale defeated the whalers that intended to kill him. After all, Sea Shepherd became famous for their direct action protecting and saving whales.
Geert, always looking for ways to spread Sea Shepherd’s message through the medium of art, asked Camilla to record a song under the same name. Or maybe it was never asked. Camilla had already written a song about a whale, inspired by the epic battle described in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Now, she had also found the urgency to compose the music to it.
Geert has a strong vision about the collaborations he seeks: “Artists have the ability to connect, to send across a message, by touching the hearts of people.”
This collaboration doesn’t stop after this one song. Camilla will record a full album for Sea Shepherd. In another song, titled Serendipity, Camilla speaks of the encounter between the Italian free diver Enzo Maiorca and a male dolphin who led him to his female companion, caught in a ghostnet underwater. Enzo ended up saving the dolphin’s companion, who turned out to be a pregnant female. Camilla insinuates that in Moby Dick’s battle, something similar might have led the mighty sperm whale to attack the whalers who had just harpooned his female companion.
Geert and Camilla agree to disagree about the romantic aspect in these two stories. Geert: “I don’t know if I would call it love. That’s a human projection.”
“Is it instinct?,” Camilla asks.
Geert: “Too negative.”
“A primordial feeling?”
“I would call it a social structure. A very strong social structure.”
“I like that wording. It keeps the door open for love,” Camilla answers laughing.
While the conversation unfolds further, Camilla tells us more about her passion for literature – she teaches English literature at Fondazione UniverMantova – music and language. A new question arises: does a passion for scuba-diving and maybe for the sea in general, come hand in hand with a fascination for the unspoken language we solely encounter in nature, and specifically under the water surface?
When we part, this is the primary question that stays with the three of us. None of us is satisfied with the notion that the sea is a silent world. It’s a different world with a language of its own. An underwater language. Or are we again projecting our own vision on the ocean…