Sunday, December 7, 2014
Almost without exception, the reviews from this year's Cannes premier made Jean-Luc Godard’s "Goodbye to Language" out to be a superlative cinema event. So rejoice then that next month, "Godard's 'Goodbye to Language' Adds Prime Dates in Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, Washington & Seattle", with a one night, single screening presented by Northwest Film Forum at the Seattle Cinerama. By degrees described as a reinvention of cinema itself, "Ah Dieu, puns Jean-Luc Dogard", a head-scratching provocation, "Baffling, Hilarious 'Goodbye to Language 3D' Will Mess with Your Eyes and Your Head" and a vibrant sensory assault, "Goodbye to Language: Beauty Will Be Convulsive or Not at All”. Almost without exception all of those reported from the festival found themselves struggling with interpretation of it's technique and narrative concerns, yet it was unanimously said "Sunny Cannes Gets Lightning: Godard’s ‘Goodbye to Language’ Enlivens Festival". Suggesting Godard’s Jury Prize winning experiment may not be quite so epoch-making as the Marcel Duchamp work it references, but it situates him firmly, almost 65 years since his first short, within the tradition of artistic provocateur even more than it recalls his beginnings.
The combined effect of bafflement and thrill seem to jostle for position in all of the above assessments, Jonathan Romney making this struggle with it's assaultive everything-at-once barrage of image and text as the focus of his Film of the Week review for Film Comment; "Godard, or his film, may ostensibly be saying goodbye to language, but if so, it’s as if the Word is being thrown a spectacular bender of a going-away party. Propositions, allusions, sounds, images rush on in wave after wave, each building a new layer on top of—or violently erasing—what’s immediately gone before. Trying to make any sense of it all, even in the most rudimentary or provisional way, is an anguish-inducing process. What’s more, as a critic you’re aware of the armies of commentators who appear to take Godardian complexity in their stride, and of the academic specialists among them: you feel gauche even noting that all this stuff is hard to take in, when you know that there’s someone out there just waiting to point out, “And of course, you failed to notice that the two-second burst of Sibelius signals Godard’s volte-face on his previous position vis-à-vis the Lacanian Real.” Put it this way: I love Goodbye to Language and I couldn’t have missed writing about it, but part of me wishes I’d taken an Ouija instead."
Romney writes; "That’s why I was relieved, and filled with admiration, when I read David Bordwell’s enthusiastic analysis on his website, "Say Hello to Goodbye to Language" in which he dares state something that’s often considered inadmissible in discussions of Godard. That is, not only is it hard to tell what’s going on in the film in terms of narrative, but it’s also hard to make sense of the relentless flood of text. Before embarking on a useful analysis of the film’s formal qualities, and exactly why they make the film so hard to read, Bordwell refers to Ted Fendt’s extensive list of texts and films quoted or alluded to, "Goodbye to Language": A Works Cited". Fendt himself admits that knowing Godard’s sources may only be “about as useful to ‘unlocking’ the films and videos as reading a heavily footnoted copy of The Waste Land.” Still, a blockage of understanding is surely essential to an understanding of a Godard work as it is when dealing with any hermetic or gnostic text: bafflement is the first necessary step to eventual (if endlessly deferred) enlightenment."
Monday, December 1, 2014
Deafheaven & Lesbian West Coast Tour: Dec 2 - 4 | Pallbearer & Sólstafir West Coast Tour: Dec 2 - 19
The heavy rock end of the post-Black Metal spectrum continues to grow as a genre, encompassing melodicism and atmospheres lifted from Shoegaze and Spacerock punctuated by blistering eruptions of Metal drumming, riffs and noise. A sound reflected in the wallop of Oathbreaker, the fuzzed-out blast of Nothing and their fusion of metal drumming and Spacerock blur as heard on the "Guilty of Everything" album of last year, and in the more Mathrock angularity of their related offshoot, Whirr. On the fringe of the genre, taking the sound down more melancholy paths, there's the crushing Shoegaze blues of True Widow. With labels like Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore and Relapse playing host as purveyors of all things heavy. What may be the epitome of this sound and where it's currently headed can be heard in the dynamic solar magma of guitar riffs and rhythm-play of Deafheaven. Their excellent "Sunbather" album even garnering attention on NPR, where Lars Gotrich spoke of it's blistering sound, "Viking's Choice: Enter Deafheaven's Exhilarating 'Dream House'". Their live shows theatrical in extremis, and made affordable to all as Redbull Sound Select will be hosting Seattle's performance at Chop Suey on the west coast leg or their tour with Gloom-metalers Lesbian. Along with Krallice and Agalloch, Pallbearer represent the darker, heavier school of Blackness issuing from the Profound Lore label, a branch of a growing sound and scene that Brad Sanders detailed in his piece for The Quietus, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". The article acting as an excellent opening unto the dark passageways of this genre's multitude of representations. Pallbearer and their Icelandic tour-mates Sólstafir only a fringe of this global subgenre, theirs a sound as "Blessed By The Sabbath: Pallbearer Interviewed" and inclusive of everything from Neurosis to (as you'd expect) Black Sabbath in their approach to psych-leaning Metal. These two December shows representative of the fertile territory opening in the wake of Scandinavian Metal this past decade.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
A Winged Victory For The Sullen's new album "Atomos" & West Coast Tour with Hildur Gudnadóttir: Dec 9 - 16
The rarity of Stars of the Lid performing in the United States makes any opportunity to witness them or their associated solo endeavors and side-projects an event. In fact, their last west coast tour took place over 6 years ago with only midwest and east coast dates celebrating last year's massive Kranky Records 20th Anniversary. So when we have Adam Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid on a brief west coast tour of his collaborative project with Dustin O'Halloran, its a uncommon occasion to hear their live representation of these inner landscapes of lamentation, beauty, ascendancy and decay. Like Stars of the Lid, their music as A Winged Victory For The Sullen departs from the majority of Neoclassical orchestral music for it's sheer abstraction. Points of reference can be heard in the massing minor-key broodings of the German Romantic composers, a passage of a Gustav Mahler tone poem from one of the movements of his symphonies, or even the melodic shading of Claude Debussy's "Symphonique".
In interview with The Quietus, "Wings Of Desire: An Interview With Dustin O'Halloran" talks further on their fusion of the electric guitar's swooning melodic drone with O'Halloran's piano playing and these subterranean streams of classicism that flow through the music, giving albums like "Atomos" their stately weight. Their earliest works though more informed by 90's space and noiserock, the suggestion of scale and drama of these classical influences can still be heard in "Ballasted Orchestra" and "Avec Laudenum". Where A Winged Victory For The Sullen departs from these origins is in the more central position the piano plays, and it's here that O'Halloran's contribution is apparent. Together with the abstract melodicism of Icelandic cellist and minimalist composer, Hildur Gudnadóttir's exploration of the cello, as heard on this year's excellent "Saman", the night at The Triple Door is bound to be one of this year's more memorable occasions of contemporary chamber music. Photo Credit: Kinan Faham
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Kevin Martin returns to the 'states for a monthlong tour with Wolf Eyes and Actress in tow! It's been many years since the bass-dub-ragga-MC-noise onslaught of The Bug and the weight of his matchless "Political Ragga Stomp" as coined by the Soul Jazz label was heard in Seattle. An equation wherein the bass is low the rhythms mad and the voice of man is chanting to time, energy, passion, hope, justice, retribution and love. A sonic assault comprised of equal parts reverb, delay, echo, noise, voice and bass. At unrelenting volumes. Martin's newest is a further exploration of the extremities previously witnessed on his "Pressure" and "London Zoo" albums, a record of myriad worlds and voices, a response to and escape from a world that "seems to be sliding in all directions". A focal point amidst times of great disunity, where global markets seem to be dividing cities between what Martin describes as "dilapidation and the curse of luxury apartments that has infested everywhere". His is a music of powerful, impassioned, venomous, inspired, soulful unity. This premise of the opposing forces of violent refusal and enveloping embrace are at the hear of Martin's current work, in his "The Bug: Sonic Warfare" interview for Resident Advisor, he links the idea behind the new album to man's unending struggle with positive and negative impulses. It's also an expression of his personal relationship as a listener. On the one hand, he desires for the club experience to be "annihilating" and on the other, he craves the "quiet zone", the psychological headspace in everyday life in which to reflect.
These bipolar extremes of confrontation and community are what give life to "Angels & Devils" who's body and mind are probed by The Quietus in their interview with Martin, "Cerebral Assassination & Physical Hits: The Bug Interviewed". Martin speaking passionately about decades of sounds from the weighty end of the spectrum, from finding inspiration in Brian Eno's production on "Low", to Adrian Sherwood's legendary remix of Einstürzende Neubauten, to the physicality of what Surgeon does with techno forms. Going deeper, for The Wire's cover feature he mapped the through lines of his many metamorphoses, from GOD's car-crash improv of the 80's to King Midas Sound's dread-infused cosmic dancehall, even getting into the nitty-gritty of technique and hardware in, "The Bug: Portal of Modular Worship" and flavor-tested by Derek Walmsley for his, The Bug: Invisible Jukebox. These interviews spanning the arch of decades, all the way back to Martin's earliest collaborations with Justin Broadrick and their ensuing alchemical fission a product of his experiments as GOD finding a compatriot in Godflesh and their growing fascination with the weighty rhythms and hooks of dub and hip hop, giving genesis to the peerless millennial hip hop of Techno Animal. Album art: Simon Fowler / Cataract
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" at NWFF: Nov 14 - 20 | Ben Russell & Rivers' "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness" at NWFF: Nov 15 | The Garden of Earthly Delights: Three films by Ben Russell at Grand Illusion Cinema: Nov 17 | Magic Lantern: Time as a Character in Contemporary Film at Frye Art Museum: Nov 16
Much has been made of last year's epic re-imagining of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" by the vanguard director at the forefront of Filipino cinema. Not least of which it ranking on notable Films of the Year lists, cited as a highlight of Cannes, and since it's distribution this year, as Film of the Week for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment. Unlike some of the director's previous work, his newest diverges from what's come to be called 'Slow Cinema' in that Lav Diaz's "Norte, the End of History" is as much a dynamic personal fiction with the ebb and flow of a narrative drama, set within the duration and structural expanses of Slow Cinema's spacial ambiance. This vantage from the perspective of the interpersonal is the force that moves the viewer through the larger existential and natural landscapes, guided by "Rays of Humanity in a Vile World: ‘Norte, the End of History,’ a Dostoyevskian Fable". Where Dostoevsky's novel comes into play is in the tone, attitude, and sensibility of Diaz’s film; the gravitas, the unrestrained philosophical questioning, the cryptic humor, the sometimes melodramatic tendencies.
Clear lines can be drawn between the characters of Fabian as our academic yet alienated Raskolnikov and Magda the avaricious pawnbroker Mrs. Ivanovna, and while it’s not clear in many of the supporting characters who is which of the novel's equivalents, much of the film’s first half feels like a direct transposition to a Philippine setting. And more than any other work, it can be seen as a culmination of Diaz’s long engagement with the Russian novelist, in this the most fully realized of his "Dostoevsky Variations". Fabian is embittered law student who has dropped out for vague reasons, which hasn’t stopped him from eloquently and endlessly debating with friends and former professors. Like Raskolnikov, Fabian believes in a sentiment-hating, results-oriented, pseudo-Nietzschean philosophy; and like Raskolnikov, he longs to put his philosophy into practice in the most radical way possible. The deed done, the film diverges significantly from the text, Dostoevsky’s relentless manhunt is replaced with an existential and at one point self-destructive quest through massive, unpopulated landscapes and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon.
That same weekend at Northwest Film Forum in the way of Slow-er Cinema of time and space, the ethnographic explorations of Ben Rivers collaborative work with director Ben Russell and their Film of the Year list charting "A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness". The film featuring the performance and music of Robert A.A. Lowe of Lichens and OM, as a man on a quiet quest for Utopia: first in an Estonian commune, then alone in the European woods, and finally in the unlikely setting of a Black Metal concert. An expansive experimental work, in Film Comment's Interview: Ben Rivers and Ben Russell we see the process by which the two directors having crafted a sumptuous visual and sonic experience that is several things at once: the primitive, the transcendental, even a metaphor for cinema itself. The nature of the directors shared fusion of technique and form should come as no surprise to those familiar with Rivers' highly regarded documentary-drama fusion "Two Years at Sea" and where it is the case that in much of his work, "Little Happens, Nothing is Explained" this is a personal, reflective, observational, inward and outward looking cinema of time. Coinciding with Russell's attendance at NWFF for his workshop on Psychedelic Ethnography across town The Grand Illusion will be screening a rare evening of his shorts, "The Garden of Earthly Delights: Three films by Ben Russell".
Along with all of the above, the third weekend in November also marks the final of Robert Horton's monthly Magic Lantern screening and discussion series at The Frye Art Museum. After a decade-long tenure at the museum the Film Comment contributor will be closing out his time as host and moderator of the series with their annual Critics Wrap in December. This weekend's program is the final of the regular screenings, and a exceptional theme has been selected; Time as a Character in Contemporary Film. Through excerpts from the work of directors working either in duration-based cinema (Bela Tarr, Andrei Tarkovsky, Tsai Ming-liang), or narrative which utilizes time as a structural element (Aleksander Sokurov, Jia Zhang-ke, Richard Linklater), Horton will present and discuss these representations of time-focused cinema and the significance of their technical and psychological objectives in the age of the post-MTV quick cut.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
Ryoji Ikeda's "Superposition" at The Met NYC, Walker Art Center Minneapolis & UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance: Oct 17 - Nov 7
Ryoji Ikeda, the sound artist who in the late 20th Century redefined the parameters of what digital composition could be with his "Matrix" series while touring with multimedia theatre group Dumb Type bringing their visceral explorations of perception, time, light, sound and the body to (literally) sense-stunned audiences around the world. This couple year span was a rare stint of international performances from Ikeda and the Kyoto based theatre group exhibiting two major works on the subjects of mortality, "OR" and that of memory, "Momorandum". In the ensuing decade since, Montreal, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have played host to exhibits, installations and performances of his work, but very little in the way of other west coast opportunities. San Francisco's Recombinant Media Labs being one of the only exceptions, and even then, that was some eight years ago.
Since 2011 we've seen a reversal on this dearth of live activity, with New York hosting his awe inspiring "The Transfinite" installation at the Park Avenue Amory inspiring many viewers to "Voyage into the Cosmic Minimalism of Ryoji Ikeda". This fall New York City again finds itself as the focal point for his work in North America, with an exhibition of his visual work at Salon94 a performance at The Met of his current evolving audio-visual representation of research into the subatomic wold, "Superposition" coinciding with Prix Ars Electronica awarding Ikeda a residency at CERN and Ikeda's "Test Pattern" gracing the screens of Times Square every night at the stoke of midnight. New York won't be the only ones witnessing these sublime exercises in what the New York Times called, "Putting Cold Data in the Service of Language and Music" as Minneapolis' always progressive Walker Art Center presents "Data Swarms & Physical Sound: The Cerebral and Bodily Art of Ryoji Ikeda" and UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance hosts their own live representation of his singular lexicon of "Superpositions and Hyphens".
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Two decades since their disbanding, Slowdive perform with Minnesota downer-rockers, Low at Neptune Theatre the first week of November! It's been a memorable year for those who saw the heyday of Spacerock and Shoegaze as a pinnacle in what followed in the wake of the iconoclastic era of 1980's post-Punk. We were not only witness to the third domestic tour since their reformation by My Bloody Valentine but the first new album in 22 years, "MBV" which finally manifested after years of legend and rumor. Equally unexpected, the return of LOOP after decades of it's founder Robert Hampson claiming if you weren't there to witness their staggering volume and endurance-testing live performances in the 1990's, then you'll never quite know what the band was about.
Possibly topping both in way of the improbable, the announcement that Slowdive would be performing a one-off at the Primavera Sound Festival and in the wake of the massively received event, the band recognizing the ongoing dedication of their fanbase in interview with The Quietus, "There Seems To Be A Lot Of Love Out There: A Slowdive Interview". With an enthusiasm for performing and writing again, suggesting the very real possibility of a reformation as the "Slowdive Reunion Expands with More Shows, Possibility of New Music" and following in rapid succession, "Slowdive Announce North American Tour, Reunion". For followers of the band, after the breakdown of the mid-90's, the last thing one would expect to hear is that it's their overlooked final album created in mid-rift, "Pygmalion" that stands out amidst the sonic bluster of this new incarnation.
Made all that much more surprising for Neil Halstead's often-expressed sentiment that that era of his music was definitively closed and it was his 4AD released project Mojave 3 and solo work that would be his larger legacy. Halstead not the only band member with a vital and prolific post-breakup creative arch away from the path carved by Slowdive, the work of drummer and sound designer, Simon Scott is equal to the band's sonic summits. One only need hear the atmospheric, Angelo Badalamenti-like jazz informed doomscapes of his excellent "Bunny" for the Miasmah label for it to be made clear that the adventurous pop-work Scott created with Halstead, Rachel Goswell, Nick Chaplin and Christian Savill decades before was a point of entry, rather than a destination.
Photo credit: SWiener
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 5 - 9 | Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 10 - 19
After the exceptional program this past July, Northwest Film Forum hosts the second half of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. This stunning series of 21 films representing the experimentation, style, innovation, substance and form of the Polish Film School of the 1950's-60's, and the later films they influenced. Curated by Scorsese these new 4K digital restorations, in many cases assembled from multiple prints of the original negatives, involving hundreds of thousands of manually retouched stills, weeks of painstaking work and terabytes of data. This second batch of 7 of the 21 films presented in collaboration with the Seattle Polish Film Festival running the following week at SIFF Cinema.
Notably the series plays host to Krzysztof Zanussi at The Scarecrow Video October 9 for a Q&A session from 4-5:30pm before presenting his "The Illumination" at NWFF and again in-person for the screening of "The Constant Factor" at SIFF Cinema the following night. The five day program also includes Andrzej Wajda's Palme d'Or winning tale of the Polish solidarity movement, hybridized with real footage of the strikes, "Man of Iron". The swashbucking, kabballistic, comedic, surrealist-puzzlework adventure of Wojciech J. Has', "The Saragossa Manuscript". Poland's great humanist director of the following generation, Krzysztof Kieślowski and his tale of synchronicity and lives intersecting, "Blind Chance" and film that contributed to the overturning of the death sentence on Poland, and later became a pivotal aspect of his groundbreaking "Decalogue" series, "A Short Film About Killing". Jerzy Kawalerowicz's own story of lives intersecting, brought together enroute to an isolated village by his "Night Train". And Andrzej Wajda's pivotal "Ashes and Diamonds", the film that more than any other came to define the movement with it's tough-as-grit protagonist caught between the retreating Germans and the coming Russian occupation, allegorical as it is political, Noir as it is Neorealist, a film that depicts a Europe in ruin, both geographic and existential.
Digging deeper there's an abundance of reading available on Andrzej Wadja's cool as ice political Noir, "Ashes and Diamonds" and the swashbuckling Alchemical surrealist adventure, (there are too few opportunities to use those three words in succession) of Wojciech Jerzego's "The Saragossa Manuscript". On the series itself, NPR hosts an interview discussing Scorsese's time at The Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Łódź, the genesis of the series and restoration project and many of the film's shared themes of tragedy, resilience, comedy, "Martin Scorsese Takes Poland's Communist-Era Art Films On The Road" and Max Nelson's "Rep Diary: Scorsese’s Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" coverage at Film Comment during the series' premier screening at Lincoln Center earlier this year.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! Last year's 10th Anniversary was a spectacular summation of the festival's decade of existence, drawing on their years of genre-diverse programming to assemble a lineup that encompassed their past highlights and sonic future to come. That diversity seen again as Decibel presents not only bigger names, larger venues and sold out dancefloor spectacles, but a return of the fringe, adventurous and unclassifiable in the form of 6 Optical mutimedia showcases in seated theater performance theaters. From the expanse of the five day program here is a selection from the multitudinous artists and showcases on offer by day. WEDNESDAY This year's Opening Gala takes place in the melting fiberglass and metal forms of Frank Gerhy's Experience Music Project with a minimalist melodic techno lineup including Ghostly's Lusine, Natasha Kimeko and Sabota. As well as the first of two performances by the ascending Max Cooper, this one billed as his 'Emergence' set in the OPTICAL 1: Kinesthesia audio-visual showcase. If his "Human & Inhuman" of this past year are any indication, expect this to be one of multiple festival highlights from Cooper. A showcase that would alone make for a strong opening salvo from Decibel considering that the bill is fleshed out Ghostly's The Sight Below and Young Turk's Arca & Jesse Kanda. Concurrently upstairs at the EMP, the always excellent Resident Advisor has assembled their own showcase of including Warp Record's Lunice and XL's Kaytranada. Across town at the ReBar, darker and denser forms of sonic matter have been assembled into the aptly titled Pitch Black showcase including New York's Black Asteroid, the techno dread sounds of Blackest Ever Black and Hospital Records maven, Vatican Shadow, and Sandwell District's Rrose. Warp Records is further represented up the hill at Neumos, The BassDrop showcase hosting Guillermo Scott Herren's groundbreaking hip-hop electronica fusion project Prefuse73, alongside urban beats from San Francisco's Ana Sia and Seattle's own WD4D.
THURSDAY From strength to strength, the second day of Decibel arrives with two audio-visual showcases, the first at the acoustically primed Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya, OPTICAL 2: Huminary features the second, explicitly ambient set from Max Cooper after the previous night's Emergence set, along with Bathetic's Survive and 4AD songstress, Alice Boman. Across town at the EMP, OPTICAL 3: Playful Discord sees Decibel playing host to multiple highlight's from previous year's programming, with another dose of the deranged synthesis of Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never, the return of Uwe Schmidt's AtomTM future-1980's vision 'HD/AV' and the hardware meets digital fusions of dynamic electronica and heady melodicism from Raster-Noton's Kangding Ray. From evidence supplied in Decibel 2012, the Modern Love label and it's roster mainstays, Andy Stott and Demdike Stare, are delivering some of the strongest, deepest and darkest post-techno being made on the planet. It's no hyperbole to say these guys are at the vanguard. The body-impacting nature of their beats have hit a perfect equilibrium with some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being created in contemporary electronic music. These complimenting/contrasting poles are explored even more explicitly in their collaborative Millie & Andrea project via their take on traditions drawing from UK bass music and jungle. Over at the Crocodile, the decades-running Ninja Tune label brings their contemporary take on urban sounds and beats, equally influenced by hip-hop, dancehall, tech-house and dubstep, their showcase feature's the forerunner of contemporary dubstep-fuion, Martijn Deijkers's Martyn project, PlanetMU's FaltyDL and the UK's Letherette. Fittingly, in the deepest, darkest hours of the night, Dubscured plumbs the depths of low end atmosphere pushing through until sunrise. An all-star cast from the deeper end of the bass, beats and delay culture of minimal techno informed by the techniques of dub, both Canada's Tomas Jirku and Chain Reaction label artist Fluxion, were there at the genre's inception. For those who never sleep, Hot Flush label's Recondite proceeds Uwe Schmidt's stylistic lexicon on even further display, as AtomTM delivers a decidedly different set from his previous Optical performance.
FRIDAY Again in the acoustically primed setting of the Nordstrom Recital Hall, a single OPTICAL 4: Static Memory opens the weekend's proceedings with Nine Inch Nail's Alessandro Cortini debuting a suite of 9 analogue synth pieces originating from a musical language outside that of the pop culture knowns of his band with Trent Reznor. Cortini's adventurous analog atmospherics are complimented by Deru & Effixx' 1979 project and Tri-Angle label's meeting of Haxan Cloak's production and Altar Of Plagues frontman, James Kelly's take on doom-electronica as Wife. An evening largely launched by dancefloor and bigger club events, the Hardware showcase at EMP hits a nice balance between atmosphere and the physicality of bodily compulsion. Epitomized by Simian Mobile Disco and their all-live hardware performance of their newest album, "Whorl", this is a more challenging, performative tangent of their sound. Another vanguard of the minimal techno and electronica explosion of the late-90's, Robert Babicz has moved from his granular synthesis work on Mille Plateaux to a distinct tech-house sound of recent years, current live sets bridging both the dancefloor and experimentation of decades past. The Ostgut Ton label showcase bridging similar territory, the label's Marcel Dettmann is equally at home on the dancefloor as enveloped in tapestries of timbral percussive nuance. Seattle's own rising star, the Hush Hush label expresses it's curator, Alex Ruder's founding concept to a 'T'; music for late-night headphone-nodding urban ambulation, what Ruder himself has coined the "Night Bus" sound. A fittingly self-descriptive genre, the label's roster of urban, hi-hop informed atmospheres has seen a year of excellent press and strong releases, particularly from Kid SMPL and Edward Haller's Slow Year project.
SATURDAY Launching right in with Polish composer Michal Jacaszek's elegiac, haunting neoclassical compositions, I can think of no better way to begin a Fall Saturday afternoon than the OPTICAL 5: Ghostly International showcase at the Triple Door. A through-and-through solid bill filled out by the dub-influenced minimalism of Canada's Loscil and California's composer of guitar miniatures, Christopher Willits. Ghostly's SMM imprint has assembled some of the world's finest craftsmen (and women) working in this hushed little sonic sequester. The Dance Nostalgic showcase at the Showbox looks to do exactly what the title premise suggests, a night of the contemporary body of Italo-disco and early synth-wave inspired works like Ghostly's Com Truise and Norway's Hans-Peter Lindstrom with his own brand of. Speaking of nostalgia, it's been many, many a year since we've received a new transmission from Detroit-come-Canada's wonderboy, Richie Hawtin. His new live album, "EX", the first in over 11 years sees him rounding off the hard darkly gothic edges of 2003's "Closer", returning to a form more similar to his late-90's work for this soundtrack dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum New York. Here's hoping we get a substantially powerful and transparent soundsystem at the EMP capable of delivering the austere dynamics and spacial qualities of Richie Hawtin & Friends. It's kind of astounding that we've already had a decade of dancehall, dub, ragga and two-step informed urban electronic sounds from Steve Goodman's Hyperdub label, but the advances made by Burial, The Bug, DJ Rashad and Goodman's own Kode9 project are already a half-decade in the past. His recent compilation series, simply titled Hyperdub 10, not only reflects on this decade come and gone, but paths forward for the UK bass sound. Expect to hear representations of both when Goodman himself hosts 10 Years of Hyperdub at The Crocodile.
SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a relatively subdued affair by contrast. Not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as it's opening event OPTICAL 6: Erased Tapes at the Triple Door makes clear. Going on 7 years now the UK's Erased Tapes has been host to the finest in neoclassical, minimalist electronic ambient, abstract folk and songwriting the world over, it's roster including some of the first recordings by Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm. Seattle's own Decibel and Substrata festivals have been at the forefront of bringing their music to a wider domestic audience. Last year Decibel itself hosting two nights of collaborative works by Frahm, Broderick and Arnalds at Benaroya Hall. The label returns with a showcase of relatively new faces including the (dubiously-named) collaborative project between German electro-acoustic composer Greg Haines and Portland's Peter Broderick, making more substantial bass and rhythm-based compositions with Martyn Heyne as Greg Gives Peter Space. Representative of the label's new voices, the showcase also hosts the return (after opening for Nils Frahm this past March) of Douglas Dare's orchestral electronic hybrid-songwriting, and Ryan West's analog-sourced abstract dance music project, Rival Consoles. What will act as the closing night party to my ears, the Friends of Friends label showcase at the Crocodile features a 6 artist lineup of urban LA sounds sharing a kinship with things like Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder imprint. Deru & Effixx return with a collaborative set outside of their 1979 moniker, it'll be particularly revealing to see how their approach to performance and composition differ in each of these distinct contexts. The urban styles, rhymes and rhythms of FoF will likely being the last aural environ I find myself in, at the end of a 5 day odyssey. By this point, I'm sure myself and company will be needing a good lay-down in the park, getting some sun and enjoying a trek out around the city, having seen the inside of performance halls and nightclubs over course of the 5 previous nights. Hopefully having found some surprises, shocks, jolts to the viscera and intellect along the way, Decibel will by then seem like a endless stream of cultural ideal, made real. And as with every year, even for all the exhaustion and wearing effects of too little time and too much music, I'm sure it will seem premature by the time it's conclusion comes. Ushering in the end of Summer here in the Northwest as it has every year for over a decade.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
This is No Roadside Picnic: Fungal Intelligences, Slippery Time & Mutagenic Horrors in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy
It's been quite some time since I last dedicated space to a contemporary novel, not since the last major books by Wu-Ming, Lethem, Bolaño and Wallace, in fact. So here we are with a new trilogy penned by the author of such inventive post-human Dante-esque sci fi works as "Veniss Underground", the rich world building mythic cultures of "City of Saints and Madmen", and the Biopunk Noir of the award winning "Finch". Jeff VanderMeer has in this new trilogy of books, invented himself once again as a more nuanced, rich and possibly more mature voice in the world of New Weird Fiction', a genre of which he has been the vanguard for over a decade. Lauded by both those in the shared post-Cyberpunk genre fiction landscape (BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow being a particular champion), as well as the larger literary community, his newest has met with outstanding reviews from the likes of Adam Robert for the Guardian, "Weird Fiction Comes of Age: VanderMeer Completes his Haunting Trilogy", Nial Alexander for TOR, "The End is the Beginning: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer" and Scott Hutchins for the NYT, "Deciphering a Lost World: Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer".
Released as three novels over the course of this past year, "Annihilation", "Authority" & "Acceptance" collectively comprising the The Southern Reach Trilogy. Like many of his past works, the world his protagonists populate in this trilogy is one of technological advancement and great and often terrifying biological wonders and diversity. The latter usually set in motion by the former. No exception here, as Lydia Millet's review for the LA Times, "Jeff VanderMeer's 'Annihilation,' Fungal Fiction Grows on You" suggests this is a changed Earth, where a mysterious geographic, biological and potentially metaphysical 'Zone X' presents both enticing and repelling wonder and horrors. His approach to these subjects, Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly both cite Lovecraft, Borges and the Strugatsky Brothers' "Roadside Picnic" as entry points into this fantastical, thematically and narratively warped world in their respective reviews. A world tinged with Poe-like unease and microbiological, pulsing, indecipherable, metaphysical(?) workings outside human comprehension. An incomprehension inflated on the reader's end by the novels own non-linear structure, wrongfooting preconceptions that have built up from their attempts at interpreting Zone X in the first volumes. By the end of the trilogy VanderMeer has managed to avoid the banality of the literal and artfully opaque both, while generating some genuine emotional charge along the way. That the Southern Reach Trilogy has found a fully realized, satisfying and substantial manner of paying off so much mysteriously tense apprehension, high-science, existential unknowns (and suggested metaphysics), is no small feat. In addition, as a post-read enhancement, VanderMeer himself is supplying an ongoing series of annotations to the novels posted at LitGenius.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
"The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking": The Literary Tradition of the Creative Act as Fueled by Ambulation & What Modern Life Has to Gain from this Disappearing Art
Some things are unquestionably being lost in the shuffle. The shuffle of our abundantly multi-tasking, harried, media-filled very busy lives. I'll concede that real-world factors play into this; working more than ever to make a living wage as the cost of living skyrockets in major cities or careers spent paying off astronomical debt. But as do less concrete 'lifestyle choices'; like the simple fact that no small percentage of the population in the western world is "Amusing Ourselves to Death" with distractions and media. Add to this the endless cyclical perpetuum mobile of experience validation and self-representation that is social media - and it's maybe more accurate to say that the 21st Century is instead shaping up to be one of "Amazing Ourselves to Death".
Time for inner reflection, self-observation and sorting the events, psychological and emotional values of the day are becoming things which one has to willfully and concertedly make time and opportunity for. Be it time at the park sitting on the green, lingering outside a cafe with one's phone set aside and our of reach simply enjoying a coffee, the trees, the sunlight, or the pastime of a protracted physically and cerebrally engaging walk. Recent research has supported that even extended walking in a largely sensory-devoid sterile gym on a treadmill improves creative thinking. Imagine then what navigating the urban environs in all it's labyrinthine puzzle work or the even richer, abstract and open 'scapes of nature does for the mind and self. There have been very few pieces on the subject as engaging as Finlo Rohrer's "The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking" for the BBC. Citing the thought processes and regular ritualized walking by such figures as Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and William Wordsworth and how time for walking was inexorably bound to not only their creative, productive lives, but their sense of self, place and being in the world. A tradition not only of their era, but one some of the literary greats of our past century avidly and enthusiastically engaged in. George Orwell, Thomas De Quincey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vladimir Nabokov, are among it's greatest proponents, even supplying in the most literal sense the substance of their work. By example, what would WG Sebald be without his Suffolk ambulations?
By extension the city walk, or urban trekking as not just as a vehicle for self-awareness and sustenance, but as one of active, participatory engagement with the urban environment in which we live. On city trekking Geoff Nicholson, author of "The Lost Art of Walking", "I do most of my walking in the city - where things are spread out, there is a lot to look at. It's urban exploration. I'm always looking at strange alleyways and little corners." Nicholson lives in Los Angeles, a city that is notoriously, and very by intent in it's design, car-focused. "A lot of places, if you walk you feel you are doing something self-consciously. Walking becomes a radical act," says Merlin Coverley, author of "The Art of Wandering: The Writer as Walker". This is the era of the 'smartphone map dependent' - people who only take occasional glances away from an electronic routefinder to avoid stepping in an open manhole or being hit by a car. "You see people who don't get from point A to point B without looking at their phones," Rebecca Solnit, author of "Wanderlust: A History of Walking", "Members of an urban community used to get to know the lay of the land, to be part of the landscape through memory and observation. People should go out and walk free of distractions", says Nicholson. "I do think there is something about walking mindfully. To actually be there and be in the moment and concentrate on what you are doing." Looking at the larger continuance of walking as urban psychological, social, communal (and even political) act it's important to consider that a century ago, 90% of westerners' journeys under six miles were made on foot. And through it's disappearance as a regular aspect of people's lives, we are becoming increasingly alienated from the physical reality of our cities. The Guardian's Will Self on the importance of walking, quite literally as an act in fight against corporate control, "Walking is Political".
Painting credit: Caspar David Friedrich
Monday, September 1, 2014
Hiroyuki Okiura's new film "A Letter to Momo" at Landmark Theatres: Sept 5 - 25 | The Legacy of Studio Ghibli & The Future of Japanese Animation
Years after it's Japanese release, Landmark Theatres hosts a brief subtitled run of Hiroyuki Okiura's "A Letter to Momo", winner of the Grand Prize at the 2012 New York International Children's Film Festival and Best Picture the same year at the Future Film Festival. NYICFF's presenter, GKids having picked up the rights to US theatrical distribution, beginning this month domestic audiences will finally get to see Hiroyuki Okiura's touchingly poetic, "‘A Letter to Momo’: A World that Teaches and Tugs". The film's style and approach to visual storytelling is both contemporary in it's sparsity and technique and more traditional in it's pacing and richness of character focus and emotional nuance. Quite literally, there hasn't been work of this quality issuing from the major studios in Japan ("Ghost in the Shell"'s Production I.G gave life to Okiura's vision) since the establishing work of the now-legendary Studio Ghibli in the 1980's. The film's lush minimalist palette expresses the expansiveness of the islands of southern Japan where, after the death of her father, quiet, inwardly looking Momo Miyaura and her mother return to live with their uncle and aunt. In this setting Okiura tells a (largely) subdued, personally transformative adventure of the young protagonist. Wherein we witness Momo evolve through her pre-adolescence, face tribulations, adjust to life outside the city and come to terms with challenge, disappointment, hope, change, responsibility and mortality. There's good reason it made Film Comment's best of the year issue, with David Filipi citing the unavoidable qualitative associations with Studio Ghibli, ranking "Momo" high on the list of "Essential Animation: The best in 2013".
Related, in that not only does it focus on the work of the groundbreaking studio and it's visionary founders, but posits where the future of non-commercial animation in Japan may arise, the massive Studio Ghibli Special in Sight & Sound made for essential reading. Featuring many-page sections exploring both the studio's creation of a animation storytelling form of often astounding beauty and richness, their global success, and the most resent news of their struggling to find new directorial voice and a modern-day successor to Hayao Miyazaki. Indicative of this impasse, this summer "Studio Ghibli Announces a Break in Production" while they reassess their current financial state, creative objectives and possible new directions for the studio. The Sight & Sound Special on Ghibli also features chapters dedicated to various highlights of the studio's past, the historic and creative legacy they drew from and the future of the medium as a distinctly Japanese artform. As well as sections dedicated to, Drawing On the Past: Kurosawa, Swallows and Amazons, Russian landscape painting, Moebius, manga and his wartime childhood: Miyazaki’s world is composed of an astonishing variety of elements. Lessons from the Master: Two of Miyazaki’s long-term collaborators – supervising animation director Kosaka Kitaro and producer Suzuki Toshio – offer their insights into working with the great director. The King is Dead: Now that Miyazaki has announced his retirement, where are the Japanese animators who can carry on in the same tradition – and where are the ones who can start something new? And lastly, a gorgeous gallery of environment work and studies from Hayao Miyazaki's final film, The Landscape Art of "The Wind Rises".
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Next month at The Showbox, we'll finally see west coast dates with Carla Bozulich as the second leg of the North American tour! After the brutal physical endurance testing 'rock olympics' of 2011 in which Michael Gira's SWANS reformed after a 15 year hiatus, we were blessed with a third new album this past May "To Be Kind", and a tour to accompany! At the end of their previous incarnation with the grandiose heights scaled in "Soundtracks for the Blind" and "Swans are Dead", they took celestial bombast to literally epic durations and dynamic intensity. The post-reform "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky" and the following "The Seer", albums look to scale similar heights, but in a Oroborous-like path back to itself, Gira's music has ingested it's own past, birthing a supreme amalgam from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their trajectory from brutalist post-No Wave minimalism to Musique Concrete and extended tonal and Drone compositions to acoustic Folk and Americana. And like the albums of their previous iterations in the 80's and 90', their live realizations this decade have far, far exceeded these recorded works. Gira and company's live performance watches almost as an invocation ritual, bringing the crushing, life-affirming, visceral and transcendental effect of mind-frying, body-numbing volumes to elevate the songwriting.
This process of translating the recorded works to a marathon tectonic live experience documented in an interview with Pitchfork of earlier this year, "Michael Gira Talks about How Swans Returned without Losing Any Potency". Even more personal and confessional, the folks at The Quietus have produced a lengthy interview on the new album and SWANS explicitly spiritual, transcendental nature of their live incarnation, "This is My Sermon: Michael Gira of Swans Speaks". From which Gira is quoted; "I hope there's a spiritual quality, but it's not a denominational kind of thing, it's an aspiration towards some kind of realization, or breathing the air that the spirits breathe, or going somewhere that is bigger than myself when I conceive these songs. It's a great feeling. I think The Stooges had a kind of abandon and release, if you listen to Fun House. But electric guitar music has the ability to do that to people, and it's also like the Master Musicians Of Jajouka, where they just keep going and you lose your mind but find it simultaneously. That's sort of the idea. My personal spiritual beliefs are irrelevant. Music is the practice." Yes indeed, this is the return of the band without which, there would be no Godspeed You Black Emperor, no Liars, no Grails, no Earth, no Melvins (etc, etc, etc). There is reason why anyone who favors the heavier end of the past four decades of rock, considers SWANS legendary.