Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ulrich Seidl's new documentary "In the Basement" at Northwest Film Forum: Nov 27 - Dec 3

Opening for a one week run later this month at Northwest Film Forum. Those initiated in Ulrich Seidl's cinema are accustomed to the existential pleasures of the Austrian director's darkly humorous, richly humanistic explorations of the gulf between desire and happiness. It's in this space of modern society's abundance of diversions offered along our escape from isolation that he plumbs the human cost of globalization in "Import/Export", Europe's underside of drug culture, corporate holidays and anonymous sex in "Dog Days", and observations on media, loneliness and narcissism in "Models". Seidl's last major endeavor, the Paradise Trilogy consisting of "Paradise: Love", "Paradise: Faith" and "Paradise: Hope" possibly best describes his cinema of "Messy Humanity, Warts, Dreams and All". The complexity of our relationship as viewers navigating those interpretive spaces detailed in A.O. Scott's review of the first of the trilogy "Stripped of Clothes, Dignity and Maybe Shame". Scott Foundas also hitting the target dead-center in the pages of Film Comment; "His boldest and most ambitious work to date—a confrontational yet oddly compassionate meditation on the residual chasm between Europe and its former colonies, profound loneliness in the so-called communication age, and the infinite varieties of the human body." Those who would interpret his ingress as cynical in it's exploration of the western condition, are wholly missing the driving principle of Seidl's intimate, revealing body of work. The director himself addressing this common misinterpretation in the pages of The Guardian, "Ulrich Seidl: 'Those Who Say I Despise People Do Not Understand Me'".

With it's premier at the Venice Film Festival, Seidl returned to documentary filmmaking for the first time in nearly a decade with, "In the Basement" which on the surface can be described as a "Transgressive Hybrid Doc about What People Do ‘In the Basement’". But a deeper reading of "What Lies Beneath the Austrian Heart" characterized by the space and repository in our homes as an underground cache of passions, hobbies and ritualistic eccentricities, can be found in "Under the Skin: Nick Pinkerton on Ulrich Seidl's 'In the Basement'"; "Like his late friend and collaborator Michael Glawogger, Seidl pursues a practice that encompasses both documentary and fiction film, with exercises in each medium incorporating aspects that tend to be attributed to the other. The casts of Seidl’s fiction films, beginning with "Dog Days" mix professional actors with amateurs who bring an element of existential veracity to their roles. His documentaries, meanwhile, exhibit a degree of finicky, just-so compositional rigor that—particularly in the early years of his work, when every other doc discussion didn’t trot out the word “hybrid”—isn’t usually associated with nonfiction filmmaking. Among other things, "In the Basement" is a musky slog through the fundament of fear and desire in particularly feminine and masculine permutations. As in previous works like "Animal Love" and "Jesus, You Know" whose respective subjects are ardent pet owners and the devoutly religious, Seidl chooses a single fixed vantage point—in this case, the view from the basement—from which to look into the fantasy life of his countrymen."

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Hou Hsiao-Hsien's new film "The Assassin" at SIFF Cinema: Nov 6 - 26

If you live on the west coast, this past year offered more than the infrequent twice-a-decade opportunity to witness the cinema of Hou Hsiao-Hsien on the big screen. The international touring retrospective of the director's entire oeuvre screened in weeks-long series at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive and in Los Angeles at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater. Without such prestigious academic support, The Grand Illusion Cinema and Scarecrow Video combined forces with Northwest Film Forum here in Seattle to present our own, "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien". As appraisals of the significance of his contribution to late 20th Century cinema, polls conducted by Film Comment and The Village Voice named Hou director of the decade, and in the overlapping 1998 worldwide critics' poll he was cited as one of three directors "most crucial to the future of cinema". Yet it's the Museum of the Moving Image, "Hou Hsiao-Hsien: In Search of Lost Time" and their symposium introduction that still stands as the most succinct tacking of the paradox of this revered, yet rarely seen director: "It’s worth questioning, however, what Hou Hsiao-Hsien's admittedly rarefied brand of art cinema means to filmmaking and film history—even history itself —if he's not being seen anywhere but on the festival circuit. Just how can we support such grand claims for his importance, when he’s preaching to a ready choir and often empty pews? The answer is easy: wedding political filmmaking with a technique at once naturalistic and highly aestheticized, Hou Hsiao-Hsien has made films that wrestle variously, and either directly or metaphorically, with personal and national histories, the struggles between Taiwan and Chinese nationalism, the encroachment of capital on an ever-evolving way of life, and, most recently, the legacy of cinema itself. 'Essential viewing' couldn’t be more aptly applied to the works of any other living director." Kent Jones' chronicling of Hou's ascendency for Film Comment, from cult phenomenon to arthouse favorite and established auteur over the decade of the late 80's to 90's. "Cinema with a Roof Over its Head: Hou Hsiao-Hsien" probes the complex factors involved in how it is that a director as critically lauded as Hou Hsiao-Hsien remains largely unseen to this day. Foremost among them is that Hou's depiction of time and space eschews being quantified through populist criteria. Even those outfitted with an understanding of the past half-Century of Asian film, where western paradigms can occasionally be applied to fill in our gaps in knowledge, in the case of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's filmmography the bridge to meaning still requires intellectual effort. A indispensable resource in bridging that expanse, the Senses of Cinema archives host a in-depth Hou Hsiao-Hsien spotlight featuring lengthy and analytic articles on the active visual minimalism of his cinema, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Optics of Ephemerality". His homage of sorts to Yasujiro Ozu's love of "Situations Over Stories: Café Lumière & Hou Hsiao-Hsien", the nuanced depiction of different eras through "The Complexity of Minimalism: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times" and his intimate observations on the tribulations of contemporary Taiwanese women, "Hou Hsiou-Hsien’s Urban Female Youth Trilogy".

Many of these social and thematic concerns meet in the locus of what is ostensibly Hou's take on the Wuxia genre. Adapted from the Tang Dynasty short story Nie Yinniang by Pei Xing, "The Assassin" is about a princess who was taken from her family by a Taoist nun, to make way for a marriage of regional military allegiances. The nun is herself the twin sister of an Imperial princess in exile, and Yinniang is conditioned as a vigilante killer for the sole purpose of assassinating corrupt political figures within the conflicting forces of the Imperial Court and growing independence of the northern provinces. Failing an early assignment due to sentiment of not wishing to commit murder before the child of the corrupt official in question, the nun sends her home to remove the influence of her cousin, Weibo's military governor Tian Ji'an. Beloved since their shared childhood, Yinniang was once betrothed to Tian Ji'an, and it is around this assignment that the tale of Nie Yinniang's conflicts of love, retribution and allegiance pivot. Reports from this year's Cannes described a festival of established auteurs in fabulous form, mirrored in the pages of Sight & Sound by Nick James' "Cannes: Hunting Season", Isabel Stevens' "Cannes: An Affair to Remember", and for Film Comment, Kent Jones' "Wonders to Behold: A Few Films Touched with Greatness Can Make All the Difference" on the sublime perfection of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's eight-years-in-the-wait period piece. Much of the festival's coverage focusing on the Best Director-winning Wuxia drama, the atmosphere of it's sumptuous setting heightened by the cinematography of regular collaborator, Mark Lee Ping-Bin and synergy of it's central cast, Chang Chen and Shu Qi. Though a Wuxia film, it's technical rigor and opacity of storytelling mechanics are the defining characteristics of the "Killer Technique: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's return in Full Force", that set "The Assassin" apart from everything seen in the decades since the genre came into it's own in the 1960's with 'King' Hu Jinquan's groundbreaking string of films for Shaw Brothers Studio. Hou's film is more an experiment within the constraints and conventions of genre filmmaking, rather than a work of said genre. The action is brief and fleeting, often viewed from the distance of an observer. He instead chooses to make it's focal point a series of decorous, elliptical scenes that describe the hierarchy of social class and conflict. And like much of his later cinema, there's a refusal to position himself in the role of storytelling dramatizer, preferring instead a removed indication of emotion to its direct expression. Such willful abstractions eventually push the film toward an inversely heightened plane of minimalist expression. The narrative firmly rooted in the tenets of reality even as the "Blending of the Fantastical and the Realistic" qualities of its sensory presentation begin to resemble something akin to a dream or fugue state. Finding us at it's conclusion, embracing the freedom found in the irreconcilable nature of Yinniang’s mission.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Kangding Ray's new album "Cory Arcane" & North American Tour: Nov 5 - 13

Next week Kremwerk and Decibel Festival host the Seattle date in Kangding Ray's November North American micro-tour. Having followed the Raster-Noton imprint and it's core artists of Frank Bretschneider, Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender since the latest 1990s, it's been illuminating to see them not only defy being marginalized by the fadishness of electronic music's short 'half life', but instead to evolve in ways transcending simple codification. Some 15 years of witnessing variations on their label aesthetic seen live in cities across the continent from San Francisco and Los Angeles, to Mutek Montreal and beyond, each time the occasion marked by an evolutionary leap present in each artists performance, and the larger audio/visual expression of the label's continuance. The second decade of the 21st Century has yielded some of the finest work to be heard from the label. The collaborative Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto as do Carsten Nicolai's serial solo work, the Xerrox series. It's two most recent installations characterized by the enveloping vocabulary of distortion on "Xerrox Vol.2" and melodic beauty of this year's "Xerrox Vol.3", a project which when completed, will likely stand as the opus of Nicolai's whole recorded career. Frank Bretschneider's "EXP" was another high water mark, this boundary pushing multi-media set of abstract audiovisual sculptural objects has not seen another peer in his discography, and Olaf Bender's "Death of a Typographer" was an unexpected meeting of energized motoric Krautrock and 80's synth-pop inspired explorations.

Outside of the core ensemble that initiated the imprint, Raster-Noton has enfolded a global body of work. Ranging from Japan's urban experimental dancefloor duo Kouhei Matsunaga and Toshio Munehiro, as NHK to the DeStijl inspired dynamic austerity of Emptyset to the pure datamatic audio-visual sensory environments of Ryoji Ikeda and Vladislav Delay's improvisation and jazz-informed rhythmic wanderings. The parameters of the label's scope have expanded with the inclusion of the humor and retro-futurism of Uwe Schmidt's live sets as Atom TM, most recently seen on the media package, "HD+" and the melodic dream-ambulations of the abstract pop of Dasha Rush and this year's excellent, "Sleepstep", and the complex theoretical works of Grischa Lichtenberger "LA DEMEURE; il y a péril en la demeure", the first his proposed five-part explorations on the subject of isolation and privacy. David Letellier's Kangding Ray project has been one of the most prolific of these new artists expanding the form of Raster's conception. His recent rapid-fire trilogy of albums, "Cory Arcane", "Solens Arc" and the stylisticly divergent "Pentaki Slopes" EP that initiated his current sound. These albums marking a shift toward a more aggressive, dynamic sound comprised of pointilist digital patterns and disintegrated melodic textures that morph into suggestive rave anthems and abrasive club rhythms. The juxtaposition of these contrary elements are refitted into uneven patterns not unlike a sonic deconstructivist architecture, where industrial techno stompers dissolve into granular sound design and filtered synth pads. When it all comes together in a live setting, it's dynamic endless-detouring of the parameters of techno is something to witness.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Traveling the Backwards Path to the Musick of Coil

Like the posthumous novel, there are on occasion albums that appear in the world in the wake of their creators that redefine the artist's trajectory, effectively rewriting their past with it's influence. "Backwards" is such an album. After the rapturous vocal invocations and dream-murmuring of Jhonn Balance ceased upon his accidental death in 2004, his creative partner and ex-lover Peter Christopherson spent the ensuing years having relocated to Thailand, building a shrine to the decades of their shared creative project, Coil. Assembled from sessions ranging from more than a decade old to just weeks before the Jhonn's fatal accident the album was a hauntingly melodic, funereal, maudlin affair. "The Ape of Naples" and it's companion release "The New Backwards" both released in a deluxe vinyl box set in 2007, were the last funereal echo of the dou's decades of shape-shifting psychedelic decadence. Work had also begun on a comprehensive archive of their recorded output, but the "Colour Sound Oblivion" box set was to be the only publicly released artifact of this endeavor before Peter's own demise in 2010. Shortly before his death, in a 2009 interview as part of Resonance FM's feature, "Peter Christopherson on the Hour of the Apocalypse" he spoke to the aesthetic and technical nature of those recordings from a decade before. In the interview he details Coil's choice to never release the fruits born of the sessions spent in the mid-1990s following an invitation to record in Trent Reznor's New Orleans studio. A decision partially born of the recordings being a product of the influences of their time and setting, which as the years passed Christopherson felt Coil had moved beyond. There were also complications with Nothing Records' larger corporate umbrella, Interscope, and the the legal requirements of it's release producing a confluence of factors that caused the album to be shelved. First temporarily and then, as the new century arrived, permanently. Regardless of the the holding field the album itself was contained in, it's mythic status continued to gestate through the decade, occasionally inflated by Coil revealing the inner workings of their "Obscure Mechanics" in philosophical interviews in the pages of The Wire.

At the time a quartet comprising the central constants of Peter and Jhonn, who were then joined by Drew McDowall and Danny Hyde, all involved describe recordings sessions that were fruitful and often inspired. Balance quoted in interviews at the time, spoke of the recordings as a vehicle for exploring the idea of sensory derangement as a path to illumination. In a 2012 in-depth piece for Compulsion Hyde's account of the sessions some 20 years before is that they were fueled by the enthusiasm of travel and the setting of a city abundant with history and it's own richly bohemian pastiche of cultures. As well as the benefits of what he describes as "a very fine studio", there was the intensified blood and passion drawn from working with a crew that were operating in heightened form, particularly he cites; "Geoff Rushton [Jhonn Balance] had been taking vocal lessons as his voice just seemed to project power that I hadn't heard before." Variously titled, "International Dark Skies", "God Please F*ck My Mind for Good", "Fire of the Mind" and "The World Ended A Long Time Ago", the album has gone through as many titles as iterations over the years. From the original 1993 demo cassette leaked from Torso Records to the various tracks appearing via Coil's short-lived Song of the Week series, to a 2001 Dutch Radio4 broadcast containing both demo and New Orleans studio mixes to the aforementioned assimilation of the session's material into the corpus of "The Ape of Naples" and "The New Backwards". The immediate years that followed were prolific as Coil continued into even further-afield esoteric realms of aural exploration, generating numerous side projects and pseudonyms along the way. Their "Black Light District: A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room", the Scrying Mirror enhanced Time Machines and ritualistic Solstice series hinting at the spectral, haunted atmospheres and semi-improvised, open-ended songforms that would characterize the later Musick to Play in the Dark albums of the millennial cusp. Balance and Christopherson were rarely known to look to their own past, particularly in the throes of this new body of somnambulistic Moon Musick. As Astralnauts making forays into "The Sounds of Blakeness" the hope that they would return to the New Orleans sessions became more and more remote.

This month the decades-long story of the album's abstruse genesis comes to a conclusion amid a flurry of activity. Jon Whitney of the longstanding online music and underground culture entity Brainwashed has issued a statement establishing among other things, the ongoing continuance of his work on their shared endeavor in the wake of Peter's death. Upon the occurrence of the Brainwaves Festival in 2008 he and Christopherson began the assimilating and building of the highest quality materials available representing Coil's recorded history into the intended corpus that would become the Threshold Archves. As the entity sanctioned by Christopherson and the family of Geoff Rushton, the archives have released the first of their proposed series in response to releases of varying propriety issued this month by other parties. Foremost among them, Danny Hyde has produced his personal master tapes of the completed "Backwards" album from the British and New Orleans sessions in a edition newly remastered by Gregg Janman. Hyde's statement on the Cold Spring Records site crediting it's entombment for decades at the hands of Interscope to Universal Music's "grey men", and their legal contract concerning it's initial release. For those looking to explore the 22 years of mystic, psychedelic, rapturously unique and deeply beguiling music Jhonn and Peter created over the decades of Coil's existence, there is no better guide to their cultural continuum than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground". More concise compendiums tend to be on the exiguous side, but few resources online balance Coil's deep plumbing of the esoteric with their occasional alignment with the cultural milieu better than Russell Cuzner's Strange World Of... feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil". A more personal take on their latter ritualistic Aural-Astral phase can be had in my own assembly of words from 2008, inspired by what was then believed to be their final recordings, "Remote Viewers of Love's Secret Domain: The Musick of Coil".

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Guillermo del Toro’s new film "Crimson Peak" at IMAX Theaters: Oct 15 - Nov 5
& A Paean to the Gothic Horrors of the Haunted House

October has arrived and with it All Hallows' Eve nods to the Olde World traditions of seasonal harvest rights and festivities, like the Gaelic Samhain and Celtic Hop-tu-Naa, which are themselves believed to be derived from the Ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria. Part and parcel with the changes of Autumn, come abundant celebrations of the gloomily crepuscular, spooky and ominous in literature, film and popular culture. In recognition of this most eerie of seasons, The New York Times has whipped up some sinister concoctions like "A House of Horror Films" their interactive history, trivia and guessing game on Haunted Houses in cinema by Tommi Musturi. Other annual highlights have included Steven Kurutz' gorgeous little "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House". In which he did more than an admirable job, going as far as to cite John Tibbetts' anthology of essays and interviews “The Gothic Imagination”, which is pretty much essential reading for anyone who wants to get further into the depths of "uncertainty, anxiety, and fear" that is the art of the Gothic storytelling tradition. Kuruz also delivered a brilliant Home & Garden feature, "House Haunters" on seasonal real-world Haunted Houses like Kopelman's 30-year running institution near Phoenix which also acts as ground zero to America's Best Haunts. A directory that includes Ben Armstrong's Netherworld, Kohout's long-running Hauntworld house near St. Louis, Phil Anselmo's New Orleans House of Shock, Los Angeles and New York's Blackout and the immense, preposterous undertaking that is Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare. Sadly none of our local Northwest haunts make that list, but there's a good number of them to be found throughout the state.

Guillermo del Toro’s "Crimson Peak" which opens this week at IMAX Theaters across the country, is his contribution and homage to Gothic Horror's long line of disquieting homes, secret histories, haunted locales and mysteries of the supernatural. The New York Times' "Guillermo del Toro’s House of Horrors" is our guide to his own personal "Bleak House" (another sly homage), and it's twisting stairs, overflowing libraries, a building-spanning gallery of over 700 pieces of original art, statuary, props and models. It is as much a house-size Cabinet of Curiosities for the Spanish director as it is repository and inspiration. The Haunted House and it's offspring have long been a staple of western literature and folklore, movies and pulp storytelling. Some memorable manifestations in cinema come to mind, from contemporaries like Ti West's "House of the Devil", to classics of other decades like William Castle's original B-movie “House on Haunted Hill”, to Jean Epstein's 1928 surreal, claustrophobic adaptation of the Poe classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher" and the 1930's horror-comedy of James Whale's "Old Dark House". Later decades produced Roger Corman's scholcky 60's Vincent Price vehicles, like "The Haunted Palace" and Italian Giallo works in the genre represented by Lucio Fulci's H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "The House by the Cemetery". The 1970's hit it's own stride with the Japanese insanity of "Hausu" co-conceived by Nobuhiko Obayashi and his 11 year old daughter, Stuart Rosenberg's “Amityville Horror” and Stanley Kubrick's singular, unnerving horror entry, "The Shining". Digging deeper there were 60's and 70's genre variations like Dan Curtis' “Burnt Offerings", the erotic horror of Elio Petri's "A Quiet Place in the Country" and Carlos Enrique Taboada's sub-genre birthing "Even the Wind is Afraid". But of course the Haunted House owes it's origins to much, much older traditions in literature. Probably traceable back to the 18th century bit of disquieting paranoia and creeping melancholy, Horace Walpole's “Castle of Otranto”. Predating Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, Ann Radcliffe, H.P. Lovecraft and all who would follow in their footsteps over the centuries since.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshimaru Nakamura, Jason Kahn & Bryan Eubanks US Tour: Oct 30 - Nov 16

Two of the founding members of the Onkyokei movement in modern Japanese sound are touring the US this month and next in a quartet setting, with their first stateside show at Seattle's Chapel Performance Space. Tetuzi Akiyama together with Toshimaru Nakamura and Taku Sugimoto, launched the monthly concert series The Improvisation Meeting at Bar Aoyama (later renamed Meeting at Off Site in 2000), centered around the Off Site Gallery with the brilliant Improvised Music from Japan label acting as a vehicle for their transmissions. Embodying striking different approaches, Tetuzi Akiyama's choice of the guitar, and a particularly blues-inflected, improvised minimalism as the route to the pure acoustic qualities of the movement's ethos. His passion for Americana, Folk and Blues channeled through a distinctly modern Japanese sensibility discussed in-depth in the January 2006 issue of The Wire. Akiyama's regular collaborator Toshimaru Nakamura has gone even further afield to produce a body of work totally removed from the traditional instrument, his No-Input Mixing Board yields a wide range of sonic expression, from spectral harmonics to harsh feedback, within the framework of a controlled feedback system. The most striking of this work with the extended trio of polymath and underground ringleader, Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M chronicled on the sprawling dynamic immensity of their "Good Morning, Good Night" and the "Four Gentlemen of the Guitar" quartet alongside AMM's Keith Rowe, Oren Ambarchi and Christian Fennesz, both for Erstwhile Records. The label acting as home for the releases and regular global meet-ups, their Erstquake concert series in New York has brought Nakamura and Akiyama into regular ensembles with percussionist, Jason Kahn and Bryan Eubanks amplified feedback system for soprano saxophone. For more on the Improvised Music from Japan collective of artists and affiliated Tokyo underground cultures, check Clive Bell's Off Site article for The Wire and Cedric Dupire's 2010 documentary, "We Don't Care About Music Anyway". Earlier this year Bell revisited the genesis of what came to be known as the Onkyo sound in the excellent, "Off Site: Improvised Music From Japan" for Red Bull Music Academy. Chronicling Atsuhiro Ito and his wife Yukari's conversion of a house near Yoyogi station in Tokyo into a spartan gallery and performing space, seating 50 maximum, making room within the confines of it's four walls for a café and book-and-record shop upstairs. This humble communal space, literally inserted between the neighborhood's landscape of office high-rises, became ground zero, meeting place and impetus for the movement's aesthetic.

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson's new film "The Forbidden Room" at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 16 - 22

Next week the Northwest Film Forum presents the most recent in Guy Maddin's forays into phantasmagoric cinema. "The Forbidden Room" is Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson's kaleidoscopic tribute to the cinematic canon, it watches as a veritable psychedelic trip through the very form of film. Maddin's adventure boring wormholes through narratives-within-narratives, in seemingly infinite regress it subsumes form and content from the silent era to early 30s and 40s talkies, to 50s melodrama, to 60s and 70s exotica and beyond. Utilizing chemical and digital degradation processes along with a twinned auditory effect in Galen Johnson's deeply Hauntological soundtrack constructed from repurposed classical music and incidental film scores. Together the sound and image making for a headily over-brimming, absurd concoction of hallucinogenic digressions and narrative tips of the hat, all rendered (again with both digital and analog tools) in wildly divergent film stock, color coding, media artifacts and states of decrepitude. Their approach to both form and technique in their paradoxically original pastiche detailed in Cinema-Scope's "Lost in the Funhouse: A Conversation with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson" and further quantified in the pages of Film Comment as "too much is just right", Jonathan Romney delves deep into the movie-mad filmmaker’s latest feat of phantasmagorical cinema, "The Infernal, Ecstatic Desire Machine of Guy Maddin". Last year I encountered a previous work in this style by the trio. Their "Kino Ektoplasma" multi-screen installation was created as a resurrection of lost films of the German Expressionist era in a preternaturally gorgeous, transmutive sequence, specifically commissioned as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s.

The Silent Era is in the midst a brief rise into greater public consciousness, inspiring some genuinely inquisitive forays into documentation, restoration and preservation. With some 85% of all of silent film believed to be lost, Canada's own artist of artifice extraordinaire, Maddin has taken it upon himself to create Silent Cinema revivals of quite a different sort. His proposed "Making 100 Short Films in 100 Days in Four Countries with Current Project 'Spiritismes'" led the way to the series of "Séances". Which had the first of their invocations and performance at Spiritismes at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2012 with a second set of performances "Guy Maddin’s Performance Installation 'Séances' Begins Filming" at Montreal's Phi Centre a year later. The completed project to be hosted by the National Film Board wherein the interactive format will allow for viewers to shuffle the films together into singular combinations of longer narratives, generating their own unique construction. In an interview with Jonathan Ball, the director details the differences involved in these concurrent projects, "Guy Maddin on The Forbidden Room and Writing Melodrama"; "While "The Forbidden Room" is a feature film with its own separate story and stars, "Séances" will be an interactive Internet project, something that anyone online can visit and play with. It’s a place — a dark place! — where anyone online can hold séances with the spirits of cinema, lost and forgotten cinema. The "Séances" project has really evolved in recent months. It was going to be title-for-title remakes of specific lost films, but we found as we went that the spirits of many other lost movies, and the spirit of loss in general, haunted our sets and demanded to be represented in front of our cameras."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Christopher Nolan presents "The Quay Brothers in 35mm" at SIFF Cinema: Oct 9 - 15

Opening for a weeklong run at SIFF Cinema, Christopher Nolan presents a new series of restorations of "The Quay Brothers in 35mm" which follows a few years on from MoMA's retrospective of their work, Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets. Although Stephen and Timothy Quay are well known in gallery circles in Europe, this was only the second show of their work in the United States. The first in 2010, was an exhibition of the Décors (the miniature stage sets used in their animations) in Parsons New School for Design's Dormitorium: Film Decors by the Quay Bros. Describing "A Universe Like Ours, Only Weirder" Roberta Smith's review of the retrospective for the New York Times, touched on the Quay's filmmography of decidedly analog, textural, interior worlds locked within the mechanisms of time, history and decay. But Christopher Nolan goes further still in describing their uncanny art of "Quay Twins: Spinning Magic from Marginalia" and the deeply cinematic microverses contained in their work.

Hermetic in the extreme, like the work of their mentor, Jan Švankmajer the dreamworlds in which their animated films are set draw from, more often than not, traditions in Eastern European literature. Bruno Schulz' "Street of Crocodiles" wherein the Quays spun their own thematically similar political allegory and the locale for Robert Walser's "Jakob von Gunten" which became the spookily somnambulistic setting of their "Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream that One Calls Human Life" and their peeling away to the tale's core, revealing of it's mysterious, metaphysical interior. All their works explore through objects, dust and decay a hidden universe of unnerving poetry that lies within forgotten, disused and abandoned spaces and the haunting echoes of civilizations past. Coded into their journeys through these worlds are apparitional encounters channeled through cryptic symbolism, often as messages issuing from beyond the pale. Theirs might be the greatest example in modern cinema of a Art of Ruins and it's in these landscapes that they chronicle their protagonist's pursuit of the metaphysical unknowable. Senses of Cinema delve deeper as they always do in a series of discussions from 2002, "Through a Glass Darkly: Interview with the Quay Brothers" and in their analysis of what many consider the Quay's defining work, one which Terry Gilliam rated among The 10 Best Animated Films of All Time, opening their "Fetish, Filth and Childhood: Walking Down The Street of Crocodiles" with a fittingly haunting choice of quote from Walter Benjamin's "The Arcades Project".

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Room40 Label Tour with Rafael Anton Irisarri, Lawrence English & Loscil: Oct 20 - 22 | Vancouver New Music's Nomadic Streams Festival: Oct 22 - 24

This month the Room40 label, Australia's home to all things sound-art, electro-acoustic, post-concrete, abstractly improvisational and cinematically ambient releases the newest album by Rafael Anton Irisarri, the continuance of his ongoing explorations in conceptions of place, both imagined and real. "A Fragile Geography" follows on "The North Bend"'s exercise in impressing sound upon the natural splendor of the Pacific Northwest and charting of what comes back; valleys, mountains, it's fog-lined sea of trees and it's successor's mapping of man-made ecological desiccation, “The Unintentional Sea”'s mimicking of the ideas of the Salton Sea and it's ruinous transformation of place. The tour is assembled by label maven, composer, and sound ecologist Lawrence English, himself in the midst of a run of thematically interrelated works. His inspirations being as much literary as geographic, this year's "Wilderness of Mirrors" draws its root from T.S. Eliot’s elegant poem "Gerontion". Decades later, the phrase took on new associations with the Cold War campaigns of misinformation carried out by opposing state intelligence agencies. English's first album since 2011's ode to J.A Baker’s novel, "The Peregrine", "Wilderness of Mirrors" marks his most tectonic exploration of extreme dynamics and densities to date, sending the listener through passages of colliding waves of harmony and dynamic electric instrumentation. The album acting as a companion to English's recent live explorations into auditory environments of harmonic distortion and dense sonics. The two artists making complimentary framing for the long-established Kranky label artist Scott Morgan and his Loscil project. "Sea Island" released last year, sees him extend the subterranean bass and open expanses of his melodic electronic music into further abstraction and scale.

"Room40 Celebrates 15th Anniversary" this year with concerts around the world including Stockholm's Audiorama promising "Three Days of Radical Listening. 21 Loudspeakers. 50 Chairs. 1 Room." and Sydney's own edition of the annual Open Frame held at Carriageworks, an immense industrial rail yard complex repurposed as an arts venue.There will also be a short run of Northwest dates in atypical non-rockbar settings like the warehouse loft of the Baker Building in Portland, hosted by Beacon Sound and Seattle's performance presented by the monthly Elevator night at Machine House Brewery. The tour concluding it's stretch at Vancouver New Music's offshoot dedicated to ambient and neoclassical music, Nomadic Streams Festival. Along with the Room40 trio the festival's three nights plays host to painter, sound ecologist and minimalist ascetic, Steve Roden, the physical controlled feedback explorations of Crys Cole, plunderphonic analog collage and musique concrete of DJ Olive visual artist and composer Marina Rosenfeld and FLUX Quartet's performance of Morton Feldman's "String Quartet No.1". A rare realization of one of the chamber works that Feldman wrote in the final decade of his life they are among his most challenging and otherworldly. Completed in 1979, "String Quartet No.1" was one of the earliest of those pieces and clocking at 90 minutes, also one of the more compact. His legendary "String Quartet No.2" composed four years later, is over six hours and is among the most beautiful and extraordinary works composed in all of the second half of the 20th century. FLUX Quartet's performances since their premier rendition in 1999, have been marathon exhibitions of what John Rockwell's New York Times review describes as the antithesis of durational longueurs, but is instead, "A Piece that Reveals its Beauty Hour After Hour After Hour".

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 23 - 27 | Godflesh and Prurient US Tour: Sept 11 - Oct 3

The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! While 2013's 10th Anniversary was a expansive summation of the festival's decade of existence, the ensuing years since have had a tighter focus, both in large scale event shows and attention to subgenre niches. This bipolar character to the programming is 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 three 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 event takes place in more humble environs than previous years, ReBar being a mainstay of Seattle clublife for decades they'll be hosting a Optical: Kick-Off Party featuring the kinesthetic sensory barrage of Richard Devine's modular audio-visual arsenal, including his Disturbances live patch, custom built for to the end of immediacy and on-the-fly improvisation and composition. Joining Devine will be Seattle's Further Records headmistress, Chloe Harris and her cavernous minimal techno project Raica and Hush-Hush Records' purveyor of the "night bus" sound, Kid Smpl. Across town at the Crocodile Cafe, another of Seattle's defining new labels and nights about town, Secondnature show their goods with a showcase including visiting Ostgut Ton deep-techno artists Tin Man and Cassegrain. Back again at ReBar Germany's Cocoon and Trapez labels meet Barcelona's Octopus and the hypnotic techno of label-founder Sian's dancefloor melodicism. Techno continues to dominate the night over at The Showbox with the soulful minimalism of Darkside's solo operator Nicolas Jaar and the ruminative, emotional lower BPM fluidity of his "blue wave" tech-house. THURSDAY Decibel's second night is already graced with the second appearance of Raica in an all-female led showcase of Discwomen headlined by the Planet Mu label's Jlin, a noted player in Chicago's Footwork scene. The sound's all-angles geometry of high BPM beats and frenetic sample cut-up will make an interesting contrast following the vocal soul house of Portland's Natasha Kmeto. Concurrently, the larger capacity and substantial soundsystem on offer at Neumos will be broadcasting Adam Freeland's newest collaborative guitar, drone, vocal and rhythm pulsing project with Steve Nalepa and Ry Cuming, The Acid. Sharing the Liminality bill will be the Domino label's Bob Moses and the high altitude streamlined techno of Seattle's own Jeff McIlwain, aka Lusine. A harder conceptual edge suffuses the appropriately titled Subversion showcase at The Showbox, as world rhythm and noise stalwarts Filastine with Indonesian rapper Nova, share a stage with the analog synthesis and orchestral strings of Dan Deacon. The shredded melodies, masticated beats and shuddering electro-acoustic textures of Warp Record's Chris Clark occupying a curious programming and stylistic space between the two.

If the previous nights weren't sufficiently representative, Friday looks to convince even the cynics. Motor kicks off the evening with cross-section of the best of the bleeding edge programming we've seen them deliver on a monthly basis in Seattle. Pulling from labels like Spectrum Spools, Giegling and Sacred Bones, they've assembled three years of sonic adventurers like the ur-industrial noise of Pharmakon's Margaret Chardiet, Container's all-hardware collision of loop and distortion and Shifted's spare textural techno. The evening continues to push the boundaries across town at Neumos, with the first of the sets from Raster-Noton's Dasha Rush, this one a DJ set in unabashed techno mode. The Lucid Dream continues with Jon Charnis' set on the darker side of the Innervision label's brand of house, seguing into the dusky atmospheres of Recondite's sleek dancefloor austerity. What will be the first of the unquantifiable nights in this year's festival hits it's peak with the Resident Advisor sponsored showcase on the sufficiently pummeling soundsystem of The Showbox theater. Beginning the set with Cygnus' analog synthesizer workout and a DJ set by Skam label maven Rob Hall, things then get serious with the chaotic rhythm counterpoint and moody ambiance of Hyperdub's Laurel Halo. The cryptic gap in Autechre's tour schedule announced in May, fell unambiguously right in the center of Decibel weekend, leading myself and others to thrill at the prospect of seeing Booth & Brown in the festival setting. It's been some years since their sprawling, stylistically encompassing statement of 2013, "Exai" which saw them looking as forward as it did back, so it's anyone's guess as to what mode we'll find the duo in come next week. Here's hoping for another glimpse into the white-hot torrent of frenetic rhythm play and skyscrapers of wrung metallic, wooden and ringing glass timbres we heard on previous tours this decade. If human endurance allows, dB Afterhours 2 features Function's thread in the interwoven tapestry of Sandwell District and more recently the Ostgut Ton imprint which he shares with the ragged techno of label-mate Marcel Dettmann.

SATURDAY The first of the official Optical audio-visual events kicks off Saturday night early with a showcase of Dark Overtones from the fearless co-mingling of genres found on London's Blackest Ever Black label. More than just a aesthetic statement, the label's character has grown in just a few years to become one of the premier imprints releasing all things darkly cinematic, electronic, issuing tech apocrypha of the cyber-occult. Alexander Lewis returns under his own name for a more boundary pushing set, further removed from the dancefloor objectives of his work as Shifted. Another return artist in  this year's lineup, Russian born artist Dasha Rush delivers her second set of material as heard on last year's collision of Raster-Noton's own brand of sever tech minimalism, neo-romatic synthesizer play and the strains of early electronic modernism. As the closing act, the one-man Canadian electronic and guitar hurricane that is Tim Hecker's large discography of processed acoustic and electric sounds on the Kranky label fits the label's descriptors perfectly. It's no exaggeration of fact to call Cologne's Kompakt the seminal German techno label of the 21st Century. Label heads Michael Mayer and Wolfgang Voigt were the vanguard of minimal tech and house at the millennial cusp and have continued to push their sound and curation forward in the decades since as represented by the twofold aspects of the label heard on their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations. Long running dancefloor producer John Tejada shares the the bill with artists on the Poker Flat and Ghostly International labels, Dauwd and Agoria bridging the respective scenes and sounds found between Detroit Techno, Chicago House and indie Electronica. The latter figures almost exclusively across town at The Showbox in a showcase of Sublime downtempo beats and melodicism from the UK's Ninja Tune label and Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint. By turns urban, beat oriented and suggestively jazzy, Bonobo's output makes for fine accompaniment to Taylor McFerrin's subliminal soul, nods to instrumental hip-hop and virtuoso piano playing.

SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a more quiet affair by contrast. Smartly bringing back the traditional sunlit afternoon in the open expanses that comprise Volunteer Park, this year's Decibel in the Park returns to the outdoor ampitheater-on-the-green with DJ sets by J.Philip and longtime west coast mainstay, Michael Manahan. Though a more subdued program than the previous weekend nights, it's not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as the opening Optical 2: Viscerality showcase establishes. Under his Eskmo alias, Brendan Angelides has been exploring the intersection between chamber music, field recordings and electronic processing as an extension of his Los Angeles-based Echo Society project showcasing international artists performing original works that incorporate electronics and traditional orchestration. Angelides is joined by Northwest artists Briana Marela and the fruits of her recent songwriting venture in Iceland working with Sigur Rós associate and producer Alex Somers. After a flurry of activity in the early 2000s on labels like Kranky and Further Records, Paul Dickow's Strategy has returned with his cut-up assemblages of acoustic and electric instruments, field recordings, and distinctly dub modus operandi. Running concurrently at ReBar and The Crocodile, the urban, world and hip-hop sounds of Mad Decent and the TeamSupreme labels and by contrast, Seattle's Flammable night presenting Roman Flügel's strain of techno released on the German Klang and Dial labels. His sound speaking to his inspiration born of early formative experiences of the Warp Records and Underground Resistance nights at Sven Väth’s renowned Omen club in the 1990s. On the opposite end of the spectrum from the lower-key nature of Decibel's final night, Hospital Productions label head Dominick Fernow is performing outside the festival setting at El Corazon from his newest critically lauded collection of noise drenched Darkwave electro, "Frozen Niagara Falls". Tellingly released on the progressive Doom and Black Metal label Profound Lore, Purient's North American tour pairs Fernow with one of the all-time defining Metal acts of the 1980's-90's. This will be the second west coast appearance of Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's Godflesh since their reformation in 2010. Those who caught last year's shows with Cut Hands, Pharmakon and  House of Low Culture were witness to some of the most punishing, loud, assaulting music ever created by man and machine. We're almost assured a similar tectonic slab of sonic extremity as the cap on a week of cultural, social, auditory adventuring. By this point in the five day marathon 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 the course of nearly a week. 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 aspiration, risk and 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 12, 2015

Pedro Costa's new film "Horse Money" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Sept 18 - 24

There's reason why in their selection of his Fontainhas Trilogy for deluxe box set treatment, the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director has no lack of champions. At the time of the trilogy's completion he was honored with retrospectives at both the Tate Modern and Anthology Film Archives, and most recently, New York’s Lincoln Center. This came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment. The Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience, describes the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work: the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his art's moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically, the predominantly Cape Verdean immigrants that populated their unlit labyrinths disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. In his interview for Film Comment he describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon also prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began refining his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view.

Costa turned to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy. It was in part from this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th Century masters, among them Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, and Jacques Tourneur, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films: they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides and literal underworld depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as well as the Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. Who was last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" takes a particularly oneiric passage. The reviews from it's premier at the Locarno Film Festival where it won best director, described this "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, as a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review for Film Comment and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city representing disparate periods of his life. From the youthful Cape Verdean immigrant picked up by the Portuguese revolutionary army in the hillsides. To the now shaking hand, grey-haired man in his later years, ascending from below the earth to wander the corridors of a hollow institutional facility. Drifting through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda "Ke i te Ki" US Tour: Sept 10 - Oct 2

Next week at Chapel Performance Space Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda return to the west coast with "Ke i te Ki" after 2012's extended Issue Project Room residency and Voices & Echoes tour. Though of two different generations they share a deep interest in the documenting of sonic environments and the exploration of site-specific happenings. As an early sound-art pioneer in the 1960's, Akio Suzuki on recordings like "Na-Gi" has documented his investigations into the sonic character of select locations and generating responses engaging with their acoustic topography. His ongoing work in field recordings and acoustic observation continues into the present day with the soundwalk project, "Oto-date" translating as "sound-point" in Japanese, in drawing a course through the urban scape, Suzuki defines listening locations in the city and invites audiences to stop and observe carefully at given points on the map. Having created numerous soundwalks at various festival, public garden and gallery settings across the world including the UK's cutting-edge AV Festival, this year's Borderline Festival in Greece and the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong. 

It's in these site-specific works that his sonic explorations overlap most-explicitly with that of electronic composer and visual artist Aki Onda. The decades-spanning "Cassette Memories" project and ongoing multiple volume series compiled from a “sound diary” of field-recordings and travels collected and assembled in live performance by Onda in both indoor and outdoor locations across the world. His extensive touring of the project, building it's body of sonic materials and locations as a essayist work in-action was documented last year by Michael Snow in the pages of Bomb Magazine; "On a trip to Morocco in 1988, Onda started using a Sony Walkman to collect sounds. Without having a specific purpose in mind, he simply desired to have recordings of environmental noises that he found interesting. In the next decades, as his bank of sounds enlarged, he began to find ways to use his collection in real-time performances. Cassette Memories became the evocative title of this ongoing project in which these memories become the building blocks of a concrete musical entity. That he personally recorded the sounds gives his mechanically produced palette an idiosyncratic aspect. The sounds are not pictorial or representational, but they are not abstract or pure either." Update: Due to Visa delays and typhoon conditions in Japan, the Seattle date in this tour has been cancelled.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Banksy's "Dismaland" Bemusement Park at Weston-super-Mare UK: Aug 22 - Sept 27

Somehow topping the monthlong citywide New York exhibit that was Banksy's “Better Out Than In" in Fall of 2013! Making for yet another grand gesture in a career of celebrity (and controversy) for the anonymous artist, this month his largest and most audacious exhibit yet "Dismaland" opens as a “family theme park unsuitable for small children” on the Somerset seafront. Cryptic and shrouded in secrecy during it's construction, local residents were led to believe that the installations being built in a disused former tourist swim center called Tropicana, were part of a film set for a Hollywood crime thriller called "The Grey Fox". Instead when it opened they found themselves with, "Banksy's Dismaland: Amusements and Anarchism in Artist’s Biggest Project Yet" which Banksy has conceived as “A showcase for the best artists I could imagine, apart from the two who turned me down.” as his offering in "the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus." The map depicting the galleries, rides and subversive installations of "Dismaland: Inside Banksy's Dystopian Theme Park" details the thematic sections featuring works by 58 contributors including Damien Hirst and Jenny Holzer that have been installed across the 2.5-acre site. Another of Mike Ross' massive truck sculptures balances precariously in the air, Julie Burchill has rewritten a 21st Century iteration of Punch & Judy, Darren Cullen has installed a pocket money shop offering loans to children at an interest rate of 5,000% and Jimmy Cauty of British art-pranksters (and notorious money burners) The KLF, presents his contemporary spin on the fantasy village, complete with 3,000 riot police.

Banksy himself creating some 10 new works for the exhibition, including the Cinderella Pumpkin Crash at the centerpiece castle, a grizzly accident with the heroine and horses splayed out and the paparazzi madly snapping away. Other highlights depicted in The Guardian's "A Theme Park Unsuitable for Children" photo essay include a broken down police van with extended escape chute, a model boat pond loaded with corpses and massed crowds of asylum seekers fleeing strife in the Middle East and Africa. To even enter the Dystopic theme park requires going through a cardboard mock-up of airport security, guards insisting that "all squid be left behind". Banksy funded the entirety of the exhibit, with a 4,000 tickets a day limit at the defiantly low cost of £3 each, there is little chance of recouping costs or making a profit over it's 36 day duration. Running until September 27, the bemusement park also plays host of a series of concerts on Friday nights. The music roster including, Sleaford Mods, Peanut Butter Wolf, Kate Tempest, Pussy Riot and Massive Attack by degrees all deal in work that tackles political themes and urban stratification, class frictions, the fallout of globalization and ecological destruction found throughout the park. The show's curator himself interviewing Killer Mike and EL-P for The Guardian, "Banksy meets Run The Jewels: ‘The Bravest Artists have Always been Graf Artists’".