Words by:
Photography & Set Design: Niall Hodson
Flower Design: Ella Perry

When Clarissa Connelly lost her faith at a young age, the world cracked wide open to reveal all its beauty and horror. On her dreamlike new album, World of Work, the Copenhagenbased composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist is revelling in the ecstasy of the unknown

Clarissa Connelly first experienced death in a childhood nightmare. In the dream, a mysterious gunman chased down Connelly and her family as they ran scared through heather fields. When the bullets finally struck their backs, Connelly said goodbye to everyone she’d ever known. After a brief surge of terror, she felt something akin to acceptance and peace; gratitude for her life and everything she was leaving behind. “That feeling of dying has stuck with me ever since,” she says from a practice space in Denmark. “The feeling of letting go, the feeling that it would be OK.” 

On World of Work, her third album and debut for Warp, the Copenhagen-based musician meets the ever-present threat of death with the same kind of serenity and grace she found in her dream. “I think I’m trying to create a feeling of reassurance that there is goodness and great beauty in the world,” she says. “Even though there’s a lot of sorrow and grief and death, I want my music to create a calmness, an acceptance of those terms.”


Across the album’s tracks, which range from 16th-century-inspired lamentations to apocalyptic prog rock, we find an artist in close proximity to the entire range and potential of the human spirit. From the ascetic to the voluptuous, the terrifying to the ecstatic, Connelly is that rare artist who finds the point where these opposites cross. 

A former student of Meredith Monk’s, Connelly is one of experimental composition’s most exciting new talents. And, alongside Erika de Casier, ML Buch and Astrid Sonne (who she studied alongside at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen), Connelly provides further proof that Denmark is making some of the best music in the world right now. “That’s nice,” she says with a laugh and a blush when I tell her so, displaying both a genuine gratitude and a kind of bemusement. “We don’t have to pay tuition fees here, and some of us even get paid to study,” she says, by way of an explanation.

By anyone’s standards, World of Work is an epic endeavour. It is an album that mirrors the arc of existence itself, beginning in a place of disorientation and confusion on the concert piano-led Into This, Called Loneliness, before slowly gathering meaning on the turbulent An Embroidery, grasping on to a moment of beauty amid existential irresolution on the ornate Wee Rosebud, and ending in an apocalyptic outburst on the proggy S.O.S. Song of the Sword. World of Work contains a similar grandiosity and world-weary mysticism as Kate Bush’s The Sensual World, Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele, or Sinead O’Connor’s Lion and the Cobra. Like theirs, Connelly’s are songs of divine mischief, weaving new mythologies from the holes that a religious upbringing left behind. “I got pretty obsessed with writing this epic tale,” she says, “the storyline of life.” 


Raised by devout Catholics in Fife, Scotland, Connelly was taught to pray from a young age. Catholic school trained her in gratitude, to be “grateful for every lentil on our plate,” she says, her left hand hovering just in front of her face as though she’s holding a mask to it. God, and the grace she sought, structured her entire life. Until it didn’t. “I stopped believing when I was around eight or nine,” she says.

I don’t believe in God any more,” she wrote one night in her diary, a memory she still remembers vividly. Connelly’s loss of faith, or perhaps her awakening, occurred in tandem with her parents’ divorce and the family’s move from Scotland to Denmark in 2001. “It was like the floor of the house caved in,” she says. 

Even in this altered world, Connelly retained the gratitude she’d learned from Catholicism. The beauty she’d always seen in the universe took on a numinous quality, one that a creator could no longer answer for. The young Connelly possessed a deep sensitivity to the natural world, and to song. On weekends, she’d skip through the rolling farmlands with music playing on her Walkman, not so much finding a substitute for the divine but a beauty made even keener by his absence. 


“I’m trying to create a feeling of reassurance that there is goodness and great beauty in the world”


Whether it was Mike Oldfield, Arvo Pärt or Enya playing, she experienced a warmth in her body when she listened to music. “The feeling I will be searching for in music for the rest of my life is surprise,” she says, describing that sensation in similar terms to the bewilderment she felt as a child who had just lost her family and faith: “like the house is crumbling down, the roof has caved in, the foundation’s gone,” she explains. “That’s what gives me the great joy of my life, that’s when I find ecstasy in music.” 

A few years ago, while she was talking about the ecstatic potential of movement and music, a friend recommended George Bataille’s Eroticism: Death and Sensuality, a book that, to put it very reductively, charts the overlap between erotic desire and religious belief. “I didn’t go to university or anything like that, but luckily I have smart friends to show me stuff like Bataille,” she says. It was in this text that Connelly found her album title. “The world of work and reason is the basis of human life,” Bataille wrote, arguing that man has used labour and reason to combat transgressive ecstasy. 


On World of Work, it’s precisely transgression and ecstasy that Connelly leans into. Largely inspired by artists who engaged in extreme ascetic practices and for whom prophetic visions were sustaining forces – whether Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th-century saint and musical composer who often saw fallen angels, or St. Teresa of Ávila, who saw that the human soul was a many-roomed crystal castle – World of Work desperately searches for the provenance of visions and rapture. “I tried to create moments where I could give space to listen to my subconscious, so I went on very long walks with a tent,” she says. “Maybe I could fast or sit in a cave and pray all day, but I’m not quite there… yet.” 

Eroticism became a grounding text for some of the questions Connelly had been asking herself ever since she lost her belief: where does this kind of ecstasy come from? Does it come from a rational source, or something that transcends meaning? What will become of these questions when the sky finally opens up? Will we learn that magic was something made up in our minds, or that there was a greater beauty all along? 

Across the album, Connelly remains committed to the irresolution of these questions as the sacred and profane move closer together, and horror melds with ecstasy. The world of work and the otherworld of the holy are made one and the same. “How many dreams I’ve locked up in my thoughts of eternal loss,” Connelly sings as the sky cracks open on the album’s final song. It’s there, in the face of utter, unalterable terror, that Connelly finds calmness and acceptance. “Now listen closely, you’re turning fear / Into waves roaring,” she sings. The album finishes. She lets go. It’s OK, just like she said it would be.

World of Work is out now on Warp Records