Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Bug's new album "Angels & Devils" and US Tour with Wolf Eyes: Oct 8 - Nov 15

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

Slowdive & Low US Tour: Oct 22 - Nov 8

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

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 24 - 28

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.

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

SWANS' new album "To Be Kind" & West Coast Tour: Sept 1 - 13

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.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ari Folman's new film "The Congress" at SIFF Cinema: Aug 29 - Sept 4

A highlight of this year's International Film Festival returns to SIFF Cinema for a weeklong run! An opening into it's labyrinth, "Ari Folman on The Genius of Stanisław Lem" acts as entry point into the complex resetting of Stanislaw Lem's "The Futurological Congress" and Folman's recontextualization of premise from the 70's work of Eastern Bloc science fiction into a modern day commentary on the shifting mediascape of entertainment and it's recourse on manufactured celebrity, identity and reality itself. Years after actress Robin Wright won a Golden Globe for her performance in David Fincher and Beau Willimon's "House of Cards,” her character Robin Wright in "The Congress" is at a career crossroads. Now struggling for roles while also caring for her two children as a single parent, she is offered a one-time singular deal; selling her digital likeness to the Studio System. Decades pass and her digital likeness, “Robin Wright” has become a global virtual celebrity. With the twenty year conclusion of her contract, her real-life paramour is invited to cross into the Restricted Animation Zone maintained and owned by the studio as a experimental new plain where the next evolution of their entertainment frontier meets experiential space. This kaleidoscopic, surrealistic future Hollywood-come-amusement-park is the frontier where one's avatar is able to generate not only their own representation, but mold the aspects of this very world being sold. When the studio attempts to utilize her in it's campaign to launch this new reality platform as a lifestyle choice beyond it's entertainment potential as a VR, the cracks in the facade begin to appear. Revolution from within the Restricted Animated Zone arise and in the midst of the melee, the animator of her own virtual self becomes her friend and guide through this psycho-Orwellian otherworld.

The film's head-on tackling of corporate Studio System ownership of image, manufactured identity and the virtual landscape many of us will (and do) spend our time, inspired IndieWire's Eric Kohn to posit, "Is Ari Folman's 'The Congress' The Most Anti-Hollywood Movie Ever Made?". Convoluted and substantially ideas-rich Folman's direction pushes the audience forward into projected extrapolations on the nature of self-worth, identity, endeavor and the corporate ownership of not only the landscape in which we spend out virtual time, but the 'narratives' of our lives themselves. The mutable, shifting self-generated nature of the psychoscape, somewhere between wakingness and death, a future-state of being A.O. Scott equates with, "In the Future, Life Could Be a Dream". Yet Folman's ability to future-project the endgame of corporate ownership of time and virtual space is as visionary as it is sometimes flawed. Citing it's ambitious, occasional over-reach was Xan Brooks review for The Guardian, "Ari Folman Mixes Live Action with Animation in an Eccentric and Ambitious Sci-Fi Drama". Being as philosophically questing as the work is has it's drawbacks; it would require a film of greater length and exposition to be able to represent all the facades of this multi-plain metascape and it's mirror back in the 'truth' of material reality. Folman forgoes much of this to instead tell one's woman's tale in reclaiming her life, her image and literally her 'self' from the new world's commodification of liberty. For all it's faults, including some truly terrible stilted acting, (Harvey Keitel is particularly egregious) "The Congress" makes for a more inventive future cautionary tale of life, identity, technology and society than (just about) anything we've seen since the birth of the Cyberpunk era of the 1990's. Yet it remains a conflicting experience; one which features astounding degrees of technical execution and conceptual aspiration, which are gravitationally drawn back down to Earth, prevented the heights they may have ascended by the film's less fully formed storytelling coherence. The exceptional score by neoclassical and electronic composer Max Richter also going some way to tip the scales in favor of it's strengths.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chris Marker's "Level Five" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Aug 22 - 28 | Chris Marker Retrospective at BAMcinématek Brooklyn: Aug 15 - 28

A kickback from the astounding comprehensive retrospective currently at the BAMcinématek, next week The Grand Illusion hosts one of the rarest works in all of Cyberpunk cinema, "Level Five" by one of the genre's unlikeliest voices, experimental filmmaker Chris Marker. This piece of historical inquiry is both a exercise in Marker's obsession with what he called "life in the process of becoming history" and one of his other great life-fascinations, the nature of perceiving the past and present through the scrim of technology. The film watches as a sometimes documentarist, sometimes personal, investigation into the tragic events and related atrocity surrounding the Battle of Okinawa through the labyrinthine interface of cryptic technology and it's hidden avenues. We go down the rabbit hole of this densely layered mashup of video-art, historic documentary and fictionalized webgame in Howard Hampton's review in Film Comment and further into it's depths with Nick Pinkerton's "Magic Marker" for Artforum and A.O. Scott's "It’s All Just a Game, Now Take It Seriously: ‘Level Five,’ Directed by Chris Marker".

Marker is probably best known for almost single-handedly inventing essayist film with his "Sans Soleil" and "Le Jetee" in the decades spanning the 60's to the 80's, but it's his more surrealist, explicitly political work that I've gotten the most pleasure. We had a rare thing in the man; a deeply devoted artist and cultural/political figure, working for the most part absolutely outside the commercial frameworks of his medium, who not only tackled the 'big questions' in his own eccentric fashion, but did so with a wry inquisitive sense and vibrant curiosity. An (often visionary) octogenarian intellectual who had a wicked sense of the satirical, was obsessive about the minutia of history and it's framework and really, truly loved cats. Astoundingly, he was capable of bridging all of the above and creating works reflective of this impossible confluence of real-world social consciousness and flights of fantastical fancy. One of his final films, "The Case of the Grinning Cat" perfectly encapsulates these multitudinous concerns, as poetically incisive and observational as it is cheeky and satirical. And that's not touching on his fictional alter-ego and omnipresent feline parallel-self, Guillaume-en-Égypte.

Elusiveness was one of the other constants in Marker's life, rarely photographed or interviewed, it was his work that he chose to represent himself in the world. Writer, photographer, editor, filmmaker, videographer, and digital multimedia artist. Marker remained for many years, just until shortly before his death, one of cinema’s better-kept secrets, famously reclusive and shrouded in protective layers of legend, self-generated fiction and pseudonym. To this day, two years after his death, Chris Marker the polymath remains a tantalizingly impenetrable enigma within the world of contemporary cinema. Catherine Lupton's "Chris Marker: Memory’s Apostle" for Criterion investigates Marker's representation of self and the world through one of the great constants of his work, the inwardly-turned nature of reflection and memory. Not only a prominent theme in his work, it was the embodiment of the man himself as his friends, cohorts and collaborators would often attest. The global arts community made many inspired and touching tributes to Marker in 2012. Foremost among them for me were those offered by his friends, Chilean filmmaker and documentarist, "Patricio Guzmán Pays Tribute to His Late Mentor from Another Planet: What I Owe to Chris Marker" and fellow cinema adventurers Patrick Keiller and Agnès Varda in the pages of Sight & Sound, "The Owl’s Legacy: In Memory of Chris Marker". As a more formal overview Ronald Bergan's piece for the Guardian achieves the conceptual feat of encompassing the man's many-faceted qualities, both his life and as a creative force of his times, "Chris Marker Obituary: The Experimental French Director Acclaimed for His post-Apocalyptic Film La Jetée".

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Scarecrow Video and Grand Illusion Cinema to found The Scarecrow Project in Fall 2014

Major news for Seattle! The beginnings of Scarecrow Video's salvaging of the business and creation of a foundation for their future stability. One of the most significant cinema resources in North America is looking to sign a new lease on life, as "Scarecrow Video Seeks Second Act as a Nonprofit" and you can be a part of making that happen! Today's Scarecrow Video: A Letter from Our Owners announces their partnering with The Grand Illusion Cinema to convert Scarecrow to nonprofit status with the backing of the store's owners Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough who are donating their assets, namely the legendary inventory of approximately 120,000 titles. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the process of The Scarecrow Project transition begins this week. All you film lovers, if ever there was a time you were considering re-investing in the irreplaceable cultural institution that is Scarecrow, this is it.

For all the cynics, layabouts and stay-at-home viewers out there, I would argue Scarecrow Video remains (or is even moreso) relevant in the age of Netflix, iTunes and Amazon. When most online streaming services are limited to the contemporary of-this-decade hits, blockbusters, currently talked-about tv series and a smattering of 'classics' and genre and archive titles -- the largest independent video store in North America with a catalog of 120,000 titles -- is a more significant resource than ever. Especially considering a good percentage of those hundred thousand plus titles are out of print, only released in foreign countries, alternate cuts than the commercially released editions and/or are films that have been made unavailable due to licensing issues. The things that make your city something exceptional, that make it not another iteration of the suburbs or 'new urbanism's commercial sprawl, are local retailers like this, offering cultural opportunities that you cannot have anywhere else. Literally, anywhere. Physical or virtual.

Some years ago when we saw the first wave of significant gouges to the cultural face of the city, (The Neptune, The Egyptian Theater, Half Price Books Capitol Hill, Spine & Crown, Easy Street Records, Twice Sold Tales in the U-District, etc.) IFC published a piece on Seattle, calling Scarecrow and it's surrounding half-mile "The Best Film Corner in America". Locally, around this time there was sent up a rallying cry to inspire the cultural participants of our community to prioritize attending any and all art openings at small galleries, film screenings at independent theaters, give business to the remaining local book and record stores, making a point of supporting smaller, outside-the-rock-bar music venues. Stressing that if we didn't --- these things that define the urban environment from that of the suburbs --- would be hit hardest by the recession and the related/enabled land development. Here we are again, more relevant and pressing than ever. With The Scarecrow Project we're being given an opportunity to sustain and preserve an essential component of the cinema arts community before it's eroded in such a fashion as to never again be re-established.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Boris' new album "Noise" & US Tour: Jul 24 - Aug 20

Japanese heavy rockers, Boris make their semi-annual return to the 'states with a string of Us tour dates! This month's show with Master Musicians of Bukkake at The Crocodile though likely to not compare with last year's tour wherein they played the totality of their magisterial opus "Flood" alongside a second night of 'All Time Classics', still promises a night of the kind of seriously blasting of-the-sun intensity Boris consistently deliver live. The past near-decade of annual tours have seen them manifest their ever mutating mix of Doom Metal, Heavy Psych, warped J-Pop, willfully dysfunctional Bro-Rock and more recently, their own thrilling take on Shoegaze. The latter we first glimpsed on their "Japanese Heavy Rock Hits" 7" series and more recently refined on the near-perfect "Attention Please" and the more guttural Psyche assault of "Heavy Rocks". This prolific inundation cumulating in the tri-album recording/release blur of late 2011, topped with their upbeat pop-assault of the generically titled, "New Album". Following this deluge was the more atmospheric Metal-oriented tour album "Präparat" and the radio-rock riffs of this summer's "Noise". Their newest still lays the distortion on heavy, but any longtime listener will find it odd that the choice to actively appeal to commercial college-rock sensibilities is so pronounced. While it's fair to say that some portions of this (misleadingly-titled?) album sound like a mutated, swamped return to the territory they carved out with "Pink", yet unlike that album it never ascends to the kind of heights they were propelled to by the lyrical guitar squall of collaborator Michio Kurihara. As a product it's dynamic swing back down into the depths lacks the consciousness-walloping power that Boris is capable of at their best. The band themselves see this stylistic shift as just another stage in their assimilating of influences towards an all-inclusive Boris sound, in interview for The Quietus the feedback-worshiping trio state, "Noise Is Japanese Blues': An Interview With Boris".