Sunday, February 7, 2016

László Nemes new film "Son of Saul" at Landmark Theatres: Jan 22 - Mar 3



Given high praise by The Guardian as the number one film screened in the United States last year, László Nemes has created in his award-winning, unlikely directorial debut, "'Son of Saul', an Expansion of the Language of Holocaust Films". Understandably even the century's most confident filmmakers quail before the terrifying responsibility of massacre, torture and sadism that is the Holocaust. Only documentaries have successfully addressed the immensity of the subject, namely Alain Resnais haunting "Night and Fog" the plumbing of the personal in Claude Lanzmann's monumental achievement "Shoah", and the unseen revelation that is Alfred Hitchcock's recently reconstructed "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey". The latter recently detailed in HBO's "Night Will Fall", this is a "Recalling of a Film From the Liberation of the Camps" that features some of the most unflinching footage dedicated to film in the whole of the 20th Century. Few have ever gotten as close to the three works mentioned above to penetrating the mysteries of this most cataclysmic of human horrors. Neme's film, "Son of Saul" approaches the untouchable by taking the viewer into the close-viewed final chapter of it's protagonist's life as a Sonderkommando in a unnamed concentration camp. This is a raw, pitiless cinema that pulls no punches, and does the "unrepresentable" in it's filmic fictionalization of human dignity amid the torrent of the Holocaust.

In his "Atrocity Exhibitionism" for Film Comment, Stefan Grissemann details why "Son of Saul" is an opportunistic and highly problematic work. How in making a Holocaust drama a renewed exciting and vital storytelling experience, Nemes courts the dangers of fashioning a provocative vision of entertainment. Conversely in the same Cannes 2015 Roundtable, Jonathan Romney opens his review establishing the "Dead Man Walking" of Nemes’ troubling film conveys the Holocaust’s full horror by keeping it out of focus. More significant than their appraisal of the film, "Shoah" and "Last of the Unjust" documentarist Claude Lanzmann, famous for his disapproval of dramatic representations of the Holocaust on screen, and even well-meaning and educational entertainment's "Threat to the Incarnation of the Truth" surprised everyone by praising Neme's film, calling it the “anti–Schindler’s List”. Lanzmann specifically commended the film’s focus. Rather than presuming to evoke the Holocaust in broad strokes, Nemes concentrates on the experience of one man, a Hungarian Jew named Saul interned in an unspecified concentration camp. As a Sonderkommando, his work is a form of complicity pressed into the service of murder, that did not ensure its members’ survival: the Sonderkommando were destined to be rapidly killed in their turn. It is our vantage into this most untenable of horrors that sets Nemes' film apart from contemporary Holocaust drama, to quote from Jonathan Romney's Film Comment review; "Son of Saul is neither melodramatic nor mundanely centered on redemption, par excellence a theme devalued by cinema. Nemes’s film is, most immediately, about what we do and don’t see, what can and can’t be shown."

Claude Lanzmann himself resurfacing in 2013 with the release of his extended interviews with the last living Ältester of the Judenrat in his belated documentary, shot in the 1970s in Rome and not completed until present day about the divisive Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein. In this documentary Lanzmann has gifted the world a "Fascinating, Subtle Study in Survivor Non-Guilt" and "A Remarkable Companion to the Document of 'Shoah'". But rather than simply shaping the existing footage, Lanzmann returned to Theresienstadt and to Vienna, where the camera follows him into courtyards that once housed gallows and still-empty synagogues. This where the new film diverges dramatically it's predecessor; Lanzmann is as much a presence as Rabbi Murmelstein. "Last of the Unjust" watches as complex and discomfiting reflection on one man's role in the supposedly comfortable arrangement that was part of the pantomime of ostensible good faith after the Anschluss. The Nazis coerced leading Jews to be their administrative elders, or Ältester, a queasy use of Judeophobe-propagandist terminology, of which Murmelstein is the last surviving member. In response to interpretations of the documentary's objectives, Stephen Smith of the Shoah Foundation disputes the idea that Lanzmann is an apologist for Rabbi Murmelstein; “This was Lanzmann giving him a chance to clear his name, but one must not understate the complexity,” he said. “He’s good at discerning and getting to the bottom of the complexity of the Holocaust. It may not be desirable to everyone’s view, but I think it’s one we need to see and to grapple with."

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Alejandro Iñárritu's new film "The Revenant" at Sundance & SIFF Cinema: Jan 7 - Mar 3



The defining characteristic of Alejandro Iñárritu's most recent collaboration with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, is that the the two have produced a fully realized vision of the scale and splendor of frontier America, a land of endless riches and great danger, in doing so "The Revenant Welcomes You to Paradise. Now Prepare to Fall". Choosing as their vehicle a grand experiment with genre, this time the Western fashioned as "The Revenant" into another advancement in the director's art of "Gut-Churningly Brutal, Beautiful Storytelling". It is this steadfast dedication to realism in his portrayal of human honor and duplicity "Set Against the Unsympathetic Magnitude of Nature" that makes Iñárritu's latest stand out from the pack. This almost spiritual concoction is comprised of the extraordinary visual vocabulary, refined through decades of, "Emmanuel Lubezki on Working with Iñárritu, Cuarón and Malick" and Iñárritu's commitment to being there in the inhuman expanse of the natural world. Expressed in the film’s hesitant regard for the grandeur of America's once great wilderness and it's skeptical consideration of the moral framing of the life of Frontiersman, Hugh Glass and his time as a pioneer explorer under the employ of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. Their commercial and explorational forays into the Midwest were the paving of the way for the Homestead Act of 1862 and the 19th Century's Western Expansion. The driving Manifest Destiny of America's move west and the ethical fallout of resource and legislature enabled land acquisition are the contextual groundwork of Iñárritu's unflinching, enveloping drama, set against the unsympathetic magnitude of the cosmos.

To compliment the scale of "The Revenant"'s physical and psychological landscape, in choosing central elements from the Raster-Noton aesthetic, Iñárritu has designed both a challenging and correspondent companion in it's sound design. The film's depiction of "A Return From Death's Door" was mirrored both onscreen and off, as during it's production Ryuichi Sakamoto had just emerged from a extended hiatus from touring and performance, while battling cancer. In an interview for Rolling Stone upon his return to health Sakamoto "Detailed 'Gigantic' Score to The Revenant" revealing the collective soundtrack stands as more than a work by it's three central composers of Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto. The recordings they produced as featured in the film are instead a complex intermingling of their larger structures, as is described in FACT Magazine's "The Returned: Ryuichi Sakamoto & Alva Noto on Recovery, Oscars and David Bowie", NPR's "Alva Noto on Co-Scoring 'The Revenant'" and Create Digital Music's, "Sakamoto and Alva Noto again Create Electronics, Scoring Masterpiece". The duo's compositions interwoven into a larger sonic tapestry constituting the work of Raster-Noton label contemporaries, Vladislav Delay and Ryoji Ikeda, as well as excerpts from John Luther Adams' Pulitzer Prize winning "Become Ocean", Eliane Radigue's "Jetsun Milan" and Olivier Messiaen's "Oraison". With an additional, curious Northwest connection as Sakamoto's orchestrations were recorded here by an expanded chamber symphony including Hildur Guðnadóttir alongside members of the The Northwest Sinfonia and Chorale as well as what Alex Ross describes as the "Water Music of John Luther Adams’ 'Become Ocean'", upon it's premier with the Seattle Symphony in 2013.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Elevator presents Julia Holter at The Columbia City Theater: Feb 3 | Morton Feldman's "Rothko Chapel", Christian Wolff, John Cage & Earle Brown at Seattle Symphony: Feb 5



After the dry spell of the holiday season, live music finally returns to the Northwest! Seattle's progressive underground monthly, Elevator had a groundbreaking year in 2015 with acts like Lawrence English, Rene Hell and M.E.S.H. gracing their showcase at the Machine House Brewery and expanding into exhibition curation with last week's Corridor Festival. Hailed as a unanimous success for it's day-long meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance, "The Organizers of Corridor Festival Invite the City to Be Alone Together". The festival's programming featuring live electronic, electric and experimental sounds from, A Box in the Sea, Ahnnu, as_dfs, Beastnest, Black Hat, decimus, Djao, Limits, Raica, Ramzi, Rene Hell, Sarah Davachi, x/o and The Esoterics, a secondary room of installation work by national and regional names, Bristol Hayward-Hughes, Ceci Cor-Leo, Coldbrew Collective, Grey Ellis + Tara, Leena Joshi, Jinx’ 75, Annisa Amalia, and Robin Cullen intershot by dance performances from Northwest choreographers, Belle Wolf, Campbell Thibo, and Coleman Pester. The reach of Elevator's vision continues to expand in 2016, this week bringing in The Wire's 2013 album of the year artist Julia Holter. She'll be performing her lush interplay of jazz orchestrations, dissonant guitar and open-ended songform alongside the abstract psychedelia of Haley Fohr's Circuit Des Yeux at the Columbia City Theater.

The Seattle Symphony [untitled] Series continues in 2016, with two works inspired by the interrelationship between New Minimalism and the Abstract Expressionists and the late-1950s and early 1960s in which together they constituted a New York School that revolutionized each of their respective artforms. The hour-long program includes John Cage's "Living Room Music", Earle Brown's "Music for Cello and Piano", Christian Wolff’s "For Bob" which honors the famed painter Robert Rauschenberg and Morton Feldman’s piece inspired by and written to be performed in Rothko Chapel as a moving tribute to painter, friend and contemporary, Mark Rothko. A composition conceived to express the unity of, "Meditation and Modern Art that Meet in Rothko Chapel". Upon his arrival in 2011, Seattle Symphony's new conductor Ludovic Morlot initiated this late-night [untitled] Modern Composer chamber series which has brought contemporary back into symphony's lexicon, after almost a decade of being remiss in their performance of these modern works. To date Morlot has programmed a who's-who of 20th/21st Century Modernism including, "John Luther Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning 'Become Ocean'" which had it's premier and was recorded with the Seattle Symphony in 2013. Continuing his programming of modern works, this weekend sees the rendering of Luciano Berio's disorienting choral, "Symphonia", as well as the newest installment in the seasonal [untitled] program. Previous installments acting as showcases for the works of George Crumb, György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Terry Riley, Giacinto Scelsi, last year's performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's groundbreaking electro-acoustic, "Gesang der Jünglinge" and the series' initiation with the realization of Olivier Messiaen's rarely performed, massive symphonic work, "Turangalîla".

Sunday, January 17, 2016

:::: FILMS OF 2015 ::::







TOP FILMS OF 2015 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-----------------------------------------------------------
Bruno Dumont  "Li'l Quinquin"  Theatrical Cut  (France)
Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy  "The Tribe"  (Ukraine)
George Miller  "Mad Max: Fury Road"  (Australia)
Todd Haynes  "Carol"  (United Kingdom)
Laszlo Nemes  "Son of Saul"  (Hungary)
Alejandro Iñárritu  "The Revenant"  (United States)
Lucile Hadzihalilovic  "Evolution"  (France)
Miguel Gomes  "Arabian Nights"  (Portugal)
Hou Hsiao-Hsien  "The Assassin"  (Taiwan / China)
Lav Diaz  "From What is Before"  (Philippines)
J.P. Sniadecki  "The Iron Ministry"  (United States / China)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul  "Cemetery of Splendour"  (Thailand)
Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville  "Best of Enemies"  (United States)
Alex Gibney  "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief"  (United States)
Joshua Oppenheimer  "The Look of Silence"  (Indonesia)
Liliana Cavani  "The Night Porter"  Restored Rereleased  (Italy)
Satyajit Ray  "The Apu Trilogy"  Restored Rereleased  (India)
Tsai Ming-Liang  "Journey to the West"  (Taiwan)
Denis Villeneuve  "Sicario"  (United States)
Fabrice Du Welz  "Alléluia"  (Belgium)
Asghar Farhadi  "About Elly"  Rereleased (Iran)
Christian Petzold  "Phoenix"  (Germany)
Michael Almereyda  "Experimenter"  (United States)
Pedro Costa  "Horse Money"  (Portugal)
Lisandro Alonso  "Jauja"  (Argentina)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa  "Journey to the Shore"  (Japan)
Guy Maddin & Even Johnson  "The Forbidden Room"  (Canada)

Nothing this year compared with the incontestable greatness of time spent in Europe this summer attending the Okwui Enwezor curated “All the World’s Futures” and the Venice Biennale. Adrian Searle offering an encompassing overview in the pages of The Guardian, "Venice Biennale: The World is More than Enough", going on to include the city-wide exhibition in his Best Art Shows of 2015. With Artforum's selections touching on the critically hailed pavilion by Joan Jonas: "They Come to Us Without a Word". Returning from travel abroad it was a great relief to find engaging festivals and exhibitions domestically. The inaugural Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair, which taken with the collateral "Out of Sight" exhibition proved to be significantly more than a wealthy man's vanity project. Particularly for it's inclusion of the "Thinking Currents" wing with galleries and media work from the Pacific Rim. Reflecting the changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle, two regional festivals with an international scope had closing and transitional years in 2015. Neoclassical, ambient and electronic music from around the globe gathered under the vaulted ceilings of the Chapel Performance Space for the final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival. And in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. But not before Autechre could deliver their three dimensional, hallucinogenic sonic sculptures in a sold-out festival setting as part of Decibel's Resident Advisor Showcase. The epitome of what's come to be known as the New Music movement largely centered around late 20th and 21st Century American composers, Bang on a Can have "A Quarter-Century Of Banging, and are Still as Fresh as Ever" when they came to Seattle's Moore Theater for this year's iteration of their daylong marathon performance, including the quietly groundbreaking "Music for Airports" by Brian Eno and Steve Reich's landmark "Music for 18 Musicians". If you live on the west coast, this past year offered the possibly once-in-a-lifetime touring retrospective of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's entire oeuvre. Screened in weeks-long series at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater and without such prestigious academic support, The Grand Illusion Cinema and Scarecrow Video combined forces with Northwest Film Forum here in Seattle to present three weeks of, "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.

For global cinema the digital age is still proving to be a narrow impasse rather than the promised plateau of abundance, which many are learning to navigate. Particularly evident in the world of film distribution, though footing has been found on some of the growing independent streaming platforms. Award winning films from festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, Toronto and Cannes topping both Film Comment and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews have yet to screen in the United States, or even show up released digitally online. So count yourself fortunate that you live in a international city if you do, as more and more of the world's greatest film aren't to be found for purchase, rent, streaming or even download (legal or otherwise). This year's Seattle International Film Festival hosted a less than memorable selection, many calling it the the weakest seen in nearly a decade, which was particularly disheartening after the strong year that was the festival's 40th Anniversary. Their year-round programming at SIFF Cinema compensating for the oversights of the festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings to their three cinemas including the Film Center and recently restored Egyptian Theatre. Their second-run Recent Raves series being the best thing SIFF had going until it's suspension at the end of this year. Here's hoping for it's return in 2016. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities such as the fast-shrinking and now halved Landmark Theatres, Northwest Film Forum, and what's fast become the greatest programming seen on a screen in Seattle, The Grand Illusion Cinema stepping up to fill the void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the theater, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no mall percentage of these films even avid theater-goers living in urban centers didn't get to see. Making a resource like Scarecrow Video, this year's Stranger Genius Award-winner, that much more irreplaceable. One can't imagine in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided the films in finding their audience. More worrying, the lack of genuine cinema available on the dominant streaming resources, particularly with Netflix phasing out the diversity offered in their physical media. Resources like Fandor and Mubi are fast becoming the almost singular streaming platforms through which (paying) online viewers have access to the true scope of the past twelve decades of moving pictures. Particularly with both being avidly involved in the festival dialog, with curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook and Keyframe.

As much as it was a strong year for contemporary cinema, some of the real revelations came from decades past. The highest concentration of which was seen delivered by the work of institutions like Criterion Collection, Masters of Cinema and Kino Lorber, who continue to fund the restoration and rerelease of some of the past century's greatest film. Two of the rarest works of the whole of the French New Wave saw brief theatrical runs and new restorations this year. With the passing of the New Wave's technician of time and space, Alain Resnais in 2014, Kino released a restored edition of his late-period masterpiece for the first time to wider audiences. Rarely screened upon it's release in 1968, "Je T'aime, Je T'aime" watches as an reflective science fiction, a descent into the hall of mirrors that is "Fragmented Frames of the Love That Was, Taunting Yet Poignant". Through the director's puzzlework abstraction of remembrance, perception and hope, it emerges as a paradoxical rush of simplicity and grandeur. Even more profound in it's scarcity, this past November saw the premier of a new restoration of "Jacques Rivette’s 1971 Film, ‘Out 1: Noli Me Tangere’" as part of BAMcinématek's two-week engagement. A major city theatrical run, including a week at SIFF Cinema followed and for the first time a release for home viewing will be made available by Kino later this month. The Guardian's review, "Out 1: Noli Me Tangere: 13-Hour Art Film is a 'Buff's Ultimate Challenge" not only noting the film's scarcity, but the challenges of it's duration and narrative experimentation. This nearly 13-hour work has stood for decades as a kind of filmic holy grail. A cinematic soak both sprawling and intimate, which has been almost impossible to view in the more than 40 years since its release in 1971. In testing the porousness of the border between narrative and experimental film, Rivette’s monstrous cinema experiment delivers an experience that is satisfying in-part for precisely the reason it is exhausting.

Criterion Collection's vision continues to be enriched by masterpieces of decades past, this year seeing long overdue restorations of the work of the oddball of Italian Neorealism, Vittorio De Sica and Edward Yang, the auteur without whom there would be no Taiwanese New Wave. Plumbing the depths of genre cinema and the transgressive, they released beautiful restorations of Masaki Kobayashi's "Kwaidan" technicolor adaptation of Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folklore and Yokia tales, Nicolas Roeg's inexplicable, disturbed spin on a story by Daphne du Maurier, "Don't Look Now", and one of the most profound and unsettling loves ever dedicated to film, Liliana Cavani's "The Night Porter". Masters of Cinema made the complete oeuvre of Japan's great chronicler of society's underside widely available in stunning blu-ray box set restorations, 40 years of his challenge to society is contained in their Shohei Imamura Masterpiece Collection. Digging deeper into the underbelly of Japanese post-War pop culture, the UK's great new genre imprint, Arrow Films have released a equally decades-spanning career of the frenetic madman of Yakuza dramas, Kinji Fukasaku. His "Battles Without Honor and Humanity" makes for a edgy rough and tumble contrast to Arrow's concurrently released, "Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism". The set clearly positioning Yoshida as a less consistent, yet more eccentric risk-taking contemporary of late Japanese New Wave luminaries like Nagisa Oshima and Masahiro Shinoda. Incontrovertible masterpieces also made up some of this year's Criterion catalog, Yasujiro Ozu's late-period meditation on passing generations, "An Autumn Afternoon" finally saw a blu-ray release after being available on other formats for some time. And no discussion of international cinema dealing with familial relations and mortality would be complete without Satyajit Ray's "The Apu Trilogy". Restored to luminous glory after one of the most painstaking and elaborate reconstruction processes of this century, Ray's film of rural childhood transitioning to urban adulthood, in some ways mirrors the circuitous journey of the film's return to the screen, "Back on the Little Road: Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali Returns in All its Glory". Not only a tale of generations within a Bengali family, "Pather Panchali" is a film of countless cultural details, especially in Ray’s often exacting production design and profuse textual quotation, qualities often lost on most Western viewers. Particularly representative in it's second installment "Aparajito", the domestic dramas that dominate his filmography are rooted in the specific struggles of the middle class at various stages in post-Independence India’s development. In his depiction of India's then developing middle class, Ray is "Master of the House: A Giant of World Cinema’s Golden Age, Satyajit Ray Held a Mirror to Bengal’s Middle Class". His portrayal of life in this developing social structure often clashes with practical realities, and Ray is invested in observing the tensions caused by their ideals, the pleasures they afford and the consequences of an upwardly mobile youth on the traditional family. "Satyajit Ray: A Moral Attitude" is best described in the words of the director himself, compiled from a long series of conversations with his biographer Andrew Robinson in the years before Ray’s death in 1992, as well as an excerpt from a 1968 interview for Film Comment.

There were of course major dividends for those taking risks in contemporary cinema as well. For all the talk in recent years of "auteur television" in the United States, exemplary works such as Vince Gilligan's "Breaking Bad" and Nic Pizzolatto's "True Detective" characterize this competent, complex and atmospheric television spanning season-long developmental arcs. My vote goes not to American or British television, but to the French. After 2012's austere, quasi-religious drama "Hors Satan", Bruno Dumont has decided to vacate his creative heartland of harsh social realism in favor of a epic farce that (mostly) wears a poker face as it documents his continuing obsession with the collision of humankind’s bestial and spiritual impulses. This exquisitely photographed four-part film made for French television, set in a isolated farming community near Calais in northwestern France, is populated by a cast of predominantly nonprofessional actors portraying rural eccentrics and down-home locals. "Li'l Quinquin"'s central figures are a nonsequitur Clouseau-like police captain, Van der Weyden (known as "The Fog" within his department for his impenetrable, incongruous techniques) who, along with his assistant Carpentier, set about in this expansive landscape where the countryside meets the sea, riddling out a series of baffling, grotesque, rural murders. Mubi's "Cracking Up: A Conversation on Bruno Dumont's Li'l Quinquin" positions the viewer very much in the passenger seat with this this duo. Van der Weyden, who trundles around the countryside in his police vehicle, is a classic bumbling cop with bushy eyebrows and a bundle of facial tics pushed to the nth degree. He and Carpentier, with his string-bean body, gaptoothed stare and stunt-driving antics, are foils against the concurrent self-described investigation conducted by pubescent title character Quinquin Lebleu, who roams the area on his bicycle with a group of adolescent friends. Bored, curious, ignorant, racist, insensitive, Quinquin and his bunch are like teenagers anywhere, though this set embodying the current mores and superstitions of contemporary France. At the heart of this "Acid Black Comedy Set in Small-Town France" is the suggestion of the Lebleu family's ugly, conflicted history revolving around the distribution of an inheritance. But there is more to this "Dead Meat" than just a morbid detective comedy in a rural setting. Once Dumont has established these seemingly well-meaning antipodean posses as the anchorage points, he then shifts focus to the pervasive unthinking reflexiveness of their superstition, anti-Arab bigotry and xenophobia. All the while, pulling of a nuanced portrayal enriched by sympathy, fascination and love for it's characters, delivered with humor and sensitivity. In an interview with Film Comment upon it's Cannes screening, Dumont detailed the significance of the quiet comedy at the heart of this series; "The laughter reveals hidden zones of human nature. The capacity to have this explosion, this burst, happening is to me very important, and it reveals zones of falseness, zones of ambiguity."

A film that is represented on nearly every major overview of the past year, and finally seeing screenings at SIFF Cinema this month, is Todd Haynes period drama again framed by regular collaborator Edward Lachman. The two bringing life and poetry to their visualization of Patricia Highsmith's drama of forbidden love and gender values in mid-Century America, "The Price of Salt", adapted to the screen as "Carol". Lachman's cinematography as though set not within the period, but instead Douglas Sirk's status-quo challenging melodramas of the era, Haynes has fashioned a restrained, yet "Captivating, Woozily Obsessive Lesbian Romance", that sidesteps the pitfalls of willfully gay cinema. In an interview with Film Comment, the director's depiction of "The Object of Desire", centering around the piece’s most contemporary concerns; sexism and sexuality, situation opposing social norms and his desire to blend these into a more timeless vision of the stifling normalcy of 1950's malaise. In the way of more explicitly referencing cinema of decades past, there was Guy Maddin's kaleidoscopic tribute to the cinematic canon. His and Evan Johnson's delirious hyperfrenetic faux-silent melodrama fever-dream, "The Forbidden Room" watches as a veritable psychedelic trip through the very form of film. 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. 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". 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". 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. The most restrained formalism seen on the screen thus year has to be credited to Hou Hsiao-Hsien's at once old-school, free-form, classic and avant-garde adaptation of Pei Xing's Tang Dynasty short story "Nie Yinniang". 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. More than an assembly of "Long Takes, Fast Edits and a Warrior in the Shadows", Hou's film reads rather not as a short story of novella, but the abstraction and open-ness of poetry on the screen.

A stark contrast to the restraint of Hsiao-Hsien's 8 years in-the-making period drama, Miguel Gomes sprawling, outwardly political satire refashioned the "Arabian Nights" folk tales from the Islamic Golden Age into his own take on post-austerity Portugal as, "Volume 1, The Restless One", "Volume 2, The Desolate One", "Volume 3, The Enchanted One". And like Scheherazade, Gomes has pulled out every storytelling trick in the book to span the film's epic 6 hour duration: prologues and epilogues, prolix voiceovers, obtuse framing devices, abundant on-screen titles and nested narratives within narratives. At once fabulous, quotidian and political, "Miguel Gomes Blends Fantasy and Real Life Fluidly in Arabian Nights". Much has already been said about 's Alejandro Iñárritu's dramatization of the life-story of fur trapper Hugh Glass, though few have seen the film. Another of Iñárritu's collaborations with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, together they have realized the scale and splendor of frontier America, a land of endless riches and great danger, "The Revenant Welcomes You to Paradise. Now Prepare to Fall". Described in no small way by it's score from Carsten Nicolai, Bryce Dessner and "Ryuichi Sakamoto Details 'Gigantic' Score to The Revenant". It's a grand experiment with genre by Iñárritu, this time the Western fashioned as "The Revenant" into another advancement in the director's art of "Gut-Churningly Brutal, Beautiful Storytelling". It is this steadfast dedication to realism in his portrayal of human honor and duplicity set against the unsympathetic magnitude of nature that makes Iñárritu's latest stand out from the pack. This almost spiritual concoction comprising Lubezki’s extraordinary cinematography and Iñárritu's commitment to being there in the inhuman expanse of the natural world, expressed in the film’s hesitant regard for the grandeur of true wilderness. Given high praise by The Guardian as the as the number one film screened in the United States this year, László Nemes has created in his unlikely directorial debut, "Son of Saul, an Expansion of the Language of Holocaust Films". Understandably even the century's most confident filmmakers quail before the terrifying responsibility of massacre, torture and sadism that is the Holocaust. Only documentaries, namely Alaine Resnais haunting "Night and Fog", the profoundly epic plumbing of the personal in Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah", and the unseen revelation that is Alfred Hitchcock's recently reconstructed "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey". Detailed in HBO's recent "Night Will Fall" this is a "Recalling of a Film From the Liberation of the Camps", that features some of the most unflinching footage dedicated to film in the whole of the 20th Century. Few have ever gotten as close to the three works mentioned above, to penetrating the mysteries of this most cataclysmic of human horrors. Nemes' film, "Son of Saul" shot exclusively in second-person, takes us into the sphere of it's protagonist's life as a Sonderkommando in a unnamed concentration camp. This is raw, pitiless cinema that pulls no punches, and does the "unrepresentable" in it's filmic fictionalization of human dignity amid the torrent of the Holocaust.

A director who's whole filmography deals in mystic parables couched within modern life, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Cemetery of Splendor" may lack wandering animal spirits in the night of the Thai jungle, but it's mixing of the political, historic and the spiritual is told through a literally dreamy central metaphor, "A Shared Memory: Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Cemetery of Splendour". Another of Apichatpong's drifting off into another world that teasingly blends the spiritual and the mundane, deadpan humor, and a suggestive little something sublime, cultivating in it's "Cemetery of Splendour: A Very Calm Sort of Hysteria". Sleep acting as a mysterious, uneasy bridge between the two worlds, the protagonists lead the viewer into a heightened sensory exercise of hypnotic motion and hushed sound as we observe their ambulations through neon-lit psychedelic jungle and Escher-like mazes of modern shopping complexes. All the while simultaneously turning increasingly Oneiric as it's political inflections sharpen at it's conclusion. This was one of two "Daydream Believers" at this year's Cannes, along with the Miguel Gomes' fabulist anthology, that many felt stole the festival’s thunder. As for the year's unforeseen curveballs, who could forget George Miller's bombastic out-of-nowhere late career coup, "Mad Max: Fury Road"? Sight & Sound's review heralding the return of the heavyweight champion of post-apocalyptic road carnage with "Fury Road: A Cast-Iron Manifesto on the Physics of Screen Action”. Even cinema academia got behind the kinetic carnage of his spectacular return to the water and fuel depleted expanses of post-Collapse Australia. Cinema-Scope's review opening with Miller's own ironic quote before the Cannes screening, “Who’d Have Thought 20 Years Ago that People Would One Day be Nostalgic for the Apocalypse?”. To the elation of many, what we were witness to rather than a postmodern serving of Retromania, was Miller's most elaborate demonstration of his astonishing stylistic talent and the instant legibility of his articulate hyper-complex montage symphonies, which stood tall in an era of visually incoherent digital mashups. Although Miller employs digital trickery in Fury Road, the return of Mad Max is a celebration of old-school resourcefulness; an audiovisual experience whose impact derives from meticulously pre-planned sequences and editing of bewilderingly complexity, delivering every single shot together forcefully to form an endlessly fluid, high-speed whole. Film Comment's "Deep Focus: Mad Max: Fury Road" sees all the technical wizardry put to the service of delivering a convincingly eccentric, original worldview populated by zealous cults, rogue protagonists and reluctant heroes, Miller coming full circle, returning to his Mad Max roots and emerging as what Michael Sragow hailed "The Compleat Action Artist".

:::: ALBUMS OF 2015 ::::




TOP ALBUMS OF 2015 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
--------------------------------------------------------------
Alva Noto  "Xerrox Vol.3"  (Raster-Noton)
Cat's Eyes  "The Duke of Burgundy"  Soundtrack  (Raf)
Death & Vanilla  "To Where The Wild Things Are..."  (Fire)
Bersarin Quartett  "III"  (Denovali)
Max Richter  "Sleep"  (Deutsche Grammophon)
Coil  "Backwards"  New Orleans & UK Sessions  (Cold Spring & Threshold Archives)
Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Noto & Bryce Dessner  "The Revenant"  Soundtrack  (Milan)
Sunn O)))  "Kannon"  Japanese Edition  (Southern Lord)
SWANS  "White Light from the Mouth of Infinity" / "Love of Life"  Reissues  (Young God)
Mika Vainio & Franck Vigroux  "Peau Froide, Leger Soleil"  (Cosmo Rhythmatic)
Sun Ra  "Marshall Allen: In The Orbit of Sun Ra and His Arkestra"  (Art Yard)
Thomas Köner  "The Futurist Manifesto"  (Von Archives)
Dennis Johnson  "November"  (Penultimate Press)
Lubomyr Melnyk  "Rivers and Streams"  (Erased Tapes)
Harmonia  "Complete Recordings"  Reissues (Groenland)
John Coltrane  "A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters"  Reissue  (Impulse)  
Ennio Morricone & Bruno Nicolai  "Controfase"  Reissue  (Edizioni Musicali Gemelli)
Popol Vuh  "Music for the Films of Werner Herzog"  Soundtrack Reissues  (WahWah)
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe & Ariel Kalma  "We Know Each Other Somehow"  (RVNG)
Teeth of the Sea  "Highly Deadly Black Tarantula"  (Rocket)
Benoît Pioulard  "Sonnet"  (Kranky)
Föllakzoid  "III"  (Sacred Bones)
Russell Haswell  "As Sure As Night Follows Day"  (Diagonal)
William Basinski  "Cascade"  (Temporary Residence)
Jóhann Jóhannsson  "Sicario"  Soundtrack  (Varèse Sarabande)
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma  "A Year With 13 Moons"  (Mexican Summer)
M.E.S.H.  "Piteous Gate"  (PAN)
Dasha Rush  "Sleepstep"  (Raster-Noton)

Nothing this year compared with the incontestable greatness of time spent in Europe this summer attending the Okwui Enwezor curated “All the World’s Futures” and the Venice Biennale. Adrian Searle offering an encompassing overview in the pages of The Guardian, "Venice Biennale: The World is More than Enough", going on to include the city-wide exhibition in his Best Art Shows of 2015. With Artforum's selections touching on the critically hailed pavilion by Joan Jonas: "They Come to Us Without a Word". Returning from travel abroad it was a great relief to find engaging festivals and exhibitions domestically. The inaugural Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair, which taken with the collateral "Out of Sight" exhibition proved to be significantly more than a wealthy man's vanity project. Particularly for it's inclusion of the "Thinking Currents" wing with galleries and media work from the Pacific Rim. Reflecting the changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle, two regional festivals with an international scope had closing and transitional years in 2015. Neoclassical, ambient and electronic music from around the globe gathered under the vaulted ceilings of the Chapel Performance Space for the final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival. And in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. But not before Autechre could deliver their three dimensional, hallucinogenic sonic sculptures in a sold-out festival setting as part of Decibel's Resident Advisor Showcase. The epitome of what's come to be known as the New Music movement largely centered around late 20th and 21st Century American composers, Bang on a Can have "A Quarter-Century Of Banging, and are Still as Fresh as Ever" when they came to Seattle's Moore Theater for this year's iteration of their daylong marathon performance, including the quietly groundbreaking "Music for Airports" by Brian Eno and Steve Reich's landmark "Music for 18 Musicians". If you live on the west coast, this past year offered the possibly once-in-a-lifetime touring retrospective of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's entire oeuvre. Screened in weeks-long series at Berkeley's Pacific Film Archive, UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater and without such prestigious academic support, The Grand Illusion Cinema and Scarecrow Video combined forces with Northwest Film Forum here in Seattle to present three weeks of, "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.

In music it was another unusually convoluted path to the year's more memorable sounds released. Digital distribution has certainly freed up some of he channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience, conversely it's also made what was in the past the locus of curatorial vision; the record label, less a reliable go-to. No question, the well curated label is still the best bet at finding more of related sounds when you're attuned to their frequency, it's just not quite the end-all that it once was. The issue of accepting poor royalties for the hypothetical benefit of expansive exposure aside, there are whole forms and centuries of music that are not being served by the predominant streaming platforms. Like the marginalization of global cinema on Netflix and Amazon, Jazz and Classical music are finding themselves particularly under-served on the platforms that define the digital field. For the those that rely on Apple Music and the iTunes player and library system, Robinson Meyer's "The Tragedy of iTunes and Classical Music" details the woes of the player and archiving particulars for the The Atlantic. With the architecture of streaming services like Pandora and Spotify even less attuned to the duration, composer and fidelity concerns that are significant for genres outside of pop music, jazz guitarist Mark Ribot writes, "If Streaming Is the Future, You Can Kiss Jazz and Other Genres Goodbye". Taking a more magnanimous tack, New Yorker's classical music writer, Alex Ross host of The Rest is Noise blog, puts forth benefits and drawbacks in his "The Classical Cloud: The Pleasures and Frustrations of Listening Online", yet expresses deep concern for Apple Music's de-prioritization of anything outside of pop culture canon and it's hierarchical values, "The Anxious Ease of Apple Music". Anastasia Tsioulcas, in a piece for NPR, "Why Can't Streaming Services Get Classical Music Right?", reports much more extensively on the headaches of classical streaming, not least the effects of poor sound quality. Like in the case of the 12 decades of cinema not being represented by the dominant commercial platforms, independent music has begun their own enterprises to better serve their own interests, "Independent Music Labels and Young Artists Offer Streaming, on Their Terms", like that of Drip.FM.

On the subject of classical music, there was the aforementioned Bang on a Can Marathon performance wherein the ensemble brought their daylong realization of selections from New Music and 20th Century composers to Seattle's Moore Theater. The year also saw Neoclassical composer Max Richter realize his long developing 8 hour piece for the facilitation of "Sleep". The full night-long composition ironically after the above discussion of the platform's failings, only available digitally on iTunes via it's label Deutsche Grammophon. Thankfully, there is a physical media release as well as a separate edition of excerpt highlights conceived to represent the more engaged listening aspects "From Sleep". Performed in atypical venues across Europe, such as the Wellcome Collection Reading Room in London this past fall, wherein the attendees nestled their campbeds between the reading room’s bookshelves and displays of alchemist flasks in anticipation of the clock striking midnight and the performance of Richter's "Eight-hour Lullaby for a Frenetic World". Recognizing the New Music and American Minimalist connections Richter in an interview for Bomb, spoke of his longstanding; "interest in extended-duration things. With music, this goes back to the ’60s, those all-night happenings, like Terry Riley and John Cage, all that. It’s certainly an idea that’s been around a long time." There have been no shortage of pieces in the pages of The Los Angeles Times, Time and NPR connecting Richter's new work and it's benefits in relation to the media abundant and time-stretched lives that many people feel they lead. More than just neurological research by incredibly low-key stealth, Richter consulted with Baylor College neuroscientist David Eagleman in developing his composition. Composed over the course of two years, the project's genesis was born of the composer's desire to make a “very deliberate political statement” on how daily time is spent and nature of how the public engages with the larger sonic environment.

The New York Times Magazine feature, "The Art of Slow" posits this socio-psychological examination of how time is spent and perceived in relation to extended duration pieces is nothing new. Chronicling a near-Century of work spanning all disciplines, there are probably no better examples in the sonic arts than "Eliane Radigue's Mining of Wisdom from 11th-Century Buddhism" and the chamber works that American Minimalist composer Morton Feldman wrote in the final decade of his life. His legendary "String Quartet No.2" composed in the earliest 1980s, is over six hours long and is among the most beautiful and extraordinary works composed in all of the second half of the 20th century. FLUX Quartet's performances throughout North America since their premier rendition in 1999, have been marathon exhibitions of "A Piece that Reveals its Beauty Hour After Hour After Hour", including this past October's performance as part of Vancouver New Music's Nordic Streams Festival. This year also saw a significant footnote in the history of American composition. Revived from obscurity and nearly lost, Dennis Johnson's "November" finally saw it's return to a rightful place in the canon of early minimalism. While Johnson himself turned away from music not long after its composition, this piece has been credited as a direct inspiration for LaMonte Young's influential "The Well-Tuned Piano". But "November" was not performed or recorded for an expanse of decades until, in 2009, Kyle Gann reconstructed the score using a 1963 cassette recording, which he had received directly from Young. Now, more than 50 years after its premiere, the composition has finally been recorded in its entirety by pianist R. Andrew Lee and released as a nearly five hour audio document by Penultimate Press. In his review for New Music, Isaac Schankler notes the paradoxical nature of how the piece both demands and defies attention in practically any listening environment. The introductory couple hours of the work, are quite linear, bordering on the teleological, though the material moves forward at a very unhurried pace. Schankler likening Lee’s thoughtful, plangent chord voicings to that of Thelonious Monk at 1/800th the speed of his 1963, "Criss-Cross". But somewhere approximately in it's third hour, the piece shifts to improvisation, Lee's impeccable sense of pacing and touch producing a static vantage, "indefinitely suspended in a gorgeous landscape between a forgotten origin and a nebulous destination".

Though it's role may be reduced in the age of streaming, the magazine, both print and digital can still be a defining tastemaker amid the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. Online institutions like The Quietus, Headphone Commute, Resident Advisor, FACT Magazine and Redbull Music Academy represent the kind of expertise you'll not find outside the framework of such vision and publishing legacy, compiling the life's work of people who make art their enterprise. In my case, no music magazine has been consistently with-it enough to continue readership from the early 90's to present with the exception of The Wire. Evolving right along with the times from a Free Improv, Modern Classical and Jazz magazine in the 70's and 80's to include Post-Rock and Electronic music in the 90's to the all-inclusive Hip Hop, Dub/Reggae, Noise Punk, Post-Everything, Jazz, Black/Doom Metal, Techno/House, Free Folk, Psyche, Kraut/Nipponese Rock, Minimalism, Sound-Art, Bass Music and OutSounds. In addition to their 2015 Rewind feature covering the Top 50 Critic's Picks, the issue features sub-genre breakdowns and interviews, assessments, political commentary and cultural overviews from a spectrum of artists, curators, publishers, and journalists. If there is one print resource that will bring you a global view of the ever-expansive world of Adventures in Modern Music every month, The Wire is still very much it. The well-curated record label can still be one of the best paths toward discovering new sounds as well amid the multitudes of over-abundance online. In the way of cutting edge electronic and experimental sounds, Raster-Noton, Tri-Angle, Blackest Ever Black, PAN, Touch and Front & Follow all delivered catalogs of quality, often groundbreaking work this year. Experimental, Black and Doom Metal continued it's influential hybridization on labels like Southern Lord, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore and Relapse. Neoclassical and chamber music were served by institutions like Erased Tapes and Denovali and American indies like Sacred Bones and Temporary Residence continued to step up their game, with ever expanding diversification and discovery of new talent. Reissue imprints expanded their catalogs with titles spanning decades of overlooked, rare and seminal work. RVNG continues to release lost wonders from the fringes of psychedelia and early electronic music, as well as adventurous contemporary work, with a willful obliviousness to genre. The San Francisco Bay Area label, Superior Viaduct have continued their strong launch by reaching further into he discographies of Post Punk, Modern Composition, Free Jazz and Out Rock. This year releasing a long overdue edition of Alain Goraguer's classic French surrealist sci-fi soundtracking to "La Planète Sauvage", the complete discography of Post Punk funkers, Liquid Liquid, one of Steve Reich's defining compositions and more 1960's Jazz classics by Alice Coltrane and Charles Mingus.

Some of the most valuable ore from the Industrial music sounds of the early 1980's have been extricated from the dark morass of that period's underground history by the audacious curatorial work of Vinyl on Demand and Dark Entries. Including rare works by Australian surrealists, Severed Heads and the complete early recordings of fellow Sydney industrial concrete artists, S.P.K. One of the most significant duos emerging from this era of 1980's experimentation produced a body of work spanning 22 years of mystic, psychedelic and deeply beguiling sounds as Coil. David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground" is an essential overview of this generation's work in the margins of the British underground, with Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson's central role detailed in Russell Cuzner's feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil". With much of their catalog scattered to the wind upon Peter's death in 2010, a half decade of uncertainty concerning the preservation of their legacy was resolved this past October when Jon Whitney of the longstanding online music and underground culture entity Brainwashed issued a statement establishing among other things, the ongoing work on their shared archival endeavor. 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 Balance, 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. Regardless of the album's pedigree, it is a true, great, posthumous expansion of Industrial Music's legacy, and an essential chapter in the Musick of Coil.

The decades of subterranean soundtracks, musique concrete, neofolk, jazz and experimental work that have adorned much of the 20th Century's cult cinema continue to be mined by great reissue institutions like Death Waltz, WaxWork and Mondo. A real gem within this abundance was the first-ever commercial LP release for this 1972 holy grail of brooding avant orchestral work including members of Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and Edda Dell’Orso borrowed from the bodies of the Italian avant-garde. From Walter Branchi’s processed VCS3 synth duetting with mournful violin, to Egoisto Macchi’s percussion jousting Edda Dell’Orso’s vocal abstractions, Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai have crafted in "Controfase" a radiant, forbidden jewel. There are seeming whole new genres being born of the thematic beds of atmosphere and constructed worlds or Italian Giallo and British Psychedelic, Pagan and Folk Horror of the late 1960s and 70s and their kinship shared with the composers of early electronic music and concrete psychedelia. No better resource covers the source material that inspired this strange little burgeoning corner of the music world than the veritable home of horror studies, The Miskatonic Institute. Earlier this year in interview with The Quietus, founding member Virginie Sélavy with Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press and Stephen Thrower speak of the cross pollination of the postmodern situation, where the genre definitions break down, and in their collision producing contemporary works like Peter Strickland's "The Duke of Burgundy" and Nic Pizzolatto's "True Detective". Strickland's sophomore effort of 2012, "Berberian Sound Studio" was both a homage to the stylistic excesses of the genre and a disquieting period piece set within Italian cinema of the era, making for "A Bold Evocation of the Eras of Both Analogue Sound and the Italian Giallo".

Strickland being no novice when it comes to soundwork either, particularly in relation to the more avant-leanings of Modernism's past. He sought out Nurse With Wound's Steven Stapleton for sound engineering on his first feature after having spent the last decade in a process of discovery, immersed in mid-Century improv, early electronic music and modern composition. The fruits of which are graphically evident, more than any other British contemporary, his filmmography listens like a best-of of the current sonic explorers in the Hauntological hinterlands of New Weird England. For his third feature he enlisted James Cargill of Broadcast to supply the soundtrack score and again recruiting Andrew Liles of Nurse With Wound for the sound design for the fictional film-within-the-film, the brilliantly titled, "The Equestrian Vortex". The title sequence from which stunningly realized by another significant player within the scene, designer Julian House of the Ghost Box label. For last year's "The Duke of Burgundy", Strickland recruited soprano and multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira and Faris Badwan of The Horrors, performing together as Cat's Eyes, they produced a deep, hauntingly somnambulistic chamber music, complimentary to the film's kinky fetish of texture and form. Another notable director about the scene, Ben Wheatley returned after the great occult crime thriller of "Kill List", with a unique and sinister vision of Olde Albion set during the 17th Century Civil War. His "A Field in England" watches as a "Oblique, Ominous and Wickedly Idiosyncratic Barney through Old Weird England", the soundtrack for which was Re-Imagined by another of the current roster of British artists working in this occult-fiction inspired postmodern space, Teeth of the Sea. Another postmodern confluence meets in the retro-futurist sound of Malmö, Sweden's Death & Vanilla. Where 1970's Science Fiction soundtracks, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, 1960's Phil Spector and Lee Hazelwood-produced Girl Bands and the ambiance of Angelo Badalamenti's work for the films of David Lynch create a kaleidoscopic assembly on their first feature, "To Where the Wild Things Are".

Having followed the Raster-Noton imprint and it's core artists of Frank Bretschneider, Carsten Nicolai and Olaf Bender since the late 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 evolve to transcend simple codification. Some 15 years 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 21st Century has yielded some of the finest work to be heard from the label in the collaborative Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto project. Their five album run of restrained piano and electronic pointilism reached a state of sublime nuance with the "utp_" live media set in 2008. Carsten Nicolai's solo work as Alva Noto has also undergone a process of significant refinement, the last decade producing the two most recent installations in his Xerrox series, characterized by the enveloping vocabulary of distortion on "Xerrox Vol.2" and melodic beauty of this year's "Xerrox Vol.3". This serial work embodying a sonic vocabulary epitomized by such maturity, articulation and grandeur that when completed, Xerrox will likely stand as the opus of not only Nicolai's discography, but the most significant entry in the history of the label. Frank Bretschneider's "EXP" was another high water mark, a 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". Alejandro Iñárritu has chosen in central elements from the Raster-Noton core aesthetic, both a challenging and correspondent companion to his most recent collaboration with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Together they have realized the scale and splendor of frontier America, a land of endless riches, haunting beauty and great danger. This almost spiritual concoction comprising Lubezki’s extraordinary cinematography and Iñárritu's commitment to being there in the inhuman expanse of the natural world, expressed through "The Revenant"'s hesitant regard for the grandeur of true wilderness, has produced a unflinching, enveloping drama, set against the unsympathetic magnitude of the cosmos. The film's depiction of "A Return From Death's Door", was mirrored both onscreen and off, as during it's production Ryuichi Sakamoto had just emerged from a extended hiatus from touring and performance, while battling cancer. In an interview for Rolling Stone upon his return to health, "Ryuichi Sakamoto Detailed 'Gigantic' Score to The Revenant", revealing the collective soundtrack stands as more than a work by it's three central composers of Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto. The recordings they produced as featured in the film are instead a complex intermingling of their larger structures and the work of Raster-Noton label contemporaries, Vladislav Delay and Ryoji Ikeda, as well as excerpts from John Luther Adams' Pulitzer Prize winning "Become Ocean", which had it's premier and was recorded with the Seattle Symphony in 2013.

For live music heard in the year, the festival context often not only being the highest concentration of sounds heard, but often supplying the most memorable as well. This year's fifth and final Northwest installment of Substrata Festival offered a small intimate festival setting in a cathedral setting in which to hear international names like 12K label founder and minimalist composer Taylor Deupree, chamber ensemble Rachel's pianist, composer, and arranger, Rachel Grimes in collaboration with Loscil's Scott Morgan and one of the great unsung composers of the 20th Century, Continuous Music pioneer, Lubomyr Melnyk. Notable stop-overs from international tours included a night of the founding members of the Onkyokei movement in modern Japanese sound. Their movement's genesis at the millennial cusp saw Tetuzi Akiyama together with Toshimaru Nakamura and Taku Sugimoto, launch 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. In recent years the New York Erstwhile label and annual Erstquake concert series have brought Nakamura and Akiyama into regular performance contexts with percussionist Jason Kahn and Bryan Eubanks who expanded their ensemble to a global touring quartet. Earlier this year The Wire's Clive Bell revisited the genesis of what came to be known as the Onkyo sound in his excellent, "Off Site: Improvised Music From Japan" for Red Bull Music Academy. Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature and the Motor night at the done-right underground venue that is Kremwerk produced many memorable nights over the course of the year. Foremost among them was the broken-euclidean rhythmic exercises of PAN recording artist M.E.S.H., the dissonant drone and synth onslaught of Room40 label founder Lawrence English, and the elusive minimalist techno of Giegling who Resident Advisor rated label of the month in their detailing of the collective's slippery characteristics.

There was also the Spectrum Spools label showcase featuring Container and Sebastian Gainsborough under his Vessel moniker, representing for the Tri-Angle label, as another of it's roster of colliding melodicism, smeared noise and folded rhythm structures that are inspired as much by hip-hop as by the distorted abstractions of shoegaze. Appropriately referred to as ‘drag', by degrees it shares a weighty physicality that’s as hazily euphoric as it is crushingly abate, or as The Guardian's Scott Wright puts it, "Inspired by Hip-Hop's Screwed Brigade, 'Drag's Heavy Atmospherics and Tormented Outlook are Pure Musical Entropy". The annual Decibel Festival, in it's 13th year and undergoing a transitional period still delivered an abundance of quality, boundary-pushing performances this year. Highlights from the five-day assembly of over 100 artists from 14 countries spanning the globe, included Chicago footwork producer, and The Wire's #1 ranked album of the year, Jlin. Sean Booth and Rob Brown on their twice-decade return to the United States, Autechre manifest this occasion as a hypercomplex, three-dimensional sonic sculptural event that superseded many of their previous decade's incarnations. Female producers figured largely with Laurel Halo's low-end mass ornamented by flitting holographic detail and the hypnotic electronic dream-essays of Raster-Noton artist Dasha Rush made for the festival's first major discovery. Across town on Decibel's final night, Hospital Productions label head Dominick Fernow performed outside the festival setting at from his newest 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 paired Fernow with one of the all-time defining metal acts of the late 80’s and 1990’s. The revived musical monstrosity that is Jesu’s Justin Broadrick and bassist G.C. Green’s Godflesh came on the heels of a series of European festival appearances in 2010. Those who caught the successive tours and performances with Cut Hands, Pharmakon and House of Low Culture were witness to some of the most unrelenting nights of punishing, loud, assaulting music created by man and machine this decade. Decibel's five days and nights of performances from tens of artists from across the globe ended with sixty minutes of decisive and furiously discordant punctuation. For those with a taste for this kind of opprobrious sonic abuse, there could be no better conclusion to a week of cultural, social, auditory adventuring.