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2018 1 Mrz

Sakamoto in Berlin

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Da Ryuichi Sakamoto in diesem Jahr Mitglied der internationalen Berlinale-Jury war, präsentierte das Festival in der „Special“-Reihe den Konzertfilm Ryuichi Sakamoto: async Live at the Park Avenue Armory (Trailer). Kein unbedingt sehenswerter Dokumentarfilm, vielleicht am ehesten für Fans; es wird schlicht zum ersten Mal das Album async dargeboten, in kompletter Länge und ziemlich nah am Original. Zwar geht aus dem Film kaum hervor, was de facto live in concert gespielt wurde und was „vom Band“ kam, doch der intime Konzert-Doku-Film ließ mich das Album mit neuen Ohren hören, da man den Meister beim präzisen Gestalten einiger Klänge erlebt und daher besser verstehen kann, was er für die CD tatsächlich gestaltet und ausgearbeitet hat, und so regte der Film (mit dem sehr guten Saal-Sound) auch ein bewussteres Wiederhören der CD zu Hause an. Hier ein kurzer Ausschnitt aus dem „Publikumsgespräch“ nach der Vorführung im Haus der Berliner Festspiele letzte Woche; Sakamoto fasst zusammen, worum es ihm bei async ging.

 

Sakamoto’s solo album have always leaned more toward the avant-garde sonics of John Cage or Terry Riley than his more conventionally melodic, accessible film scores. At one point in this performance, he leans into the guts of his piano and plucks pizzicato notes from the interior strings with what looks like a chopstick. Later, he abandons conventional instruments altogether and generates sound from a cluster of modernist sculptures, bowing a curved set of chiming metal rods before teasing out ghostly squeals by scraping microphones across a sheet of glass. These experimental digressions may sound almost comically pretentious on paper, but the effects they create are often sublime. […] There are few concessions to nonfans in Live at the Park Avenue Armory, but neutral newcomers to Sakamoto’s brand of high-art music may find themselves captivated by its exquisite beauty and understated emotional force.

Stephen Dalton, THR

 

Eigentlich ist async Live at the Park Avenue Armory ja nur die Coda zum Film Coda, dem persönlichen, im letzten Jahr in Venedig uraufgeführten  Dokumentarfilm über Sakamoto auf dem Weg durch seine Krebserkrankung, hin zum schließlich entstehenden Album. Der Trailer sieht toll aus, und was ich bislang über den Film weiß, macht mich sehr neugierig darauf, ihn zu sehen. Hier sprechen Ryuichi Sakamoto und Regisseur Stephen Nomura Schible im Rahmen des Filmfestivals in Venedig über den Film.

After Michael told me, already last summer, about Björn Meyer’s then forthcoming solo album on ECM, I wanted to take the chance to look into the Swede’s previous work. Of course I already had the ECM releases of Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, which he was part of, and having followed Anouar Brahem’s complete body of work on the label, I was also aware of his participation in Brahem’s band (which I have seen in concert here in Berlin a few years ago).

But then I became aware of the recording with Samuel Rohrer and Klaus Gesing, and that made me very curious, as all three of them have been on a string of very good or even excellent ECM albums, so hearing about their trio album Amiira felt a bit like finding out about a lost ECM recording. So I wrote to the label, arjunamusic, only to find out that it is Samuel Rohrer’s imprint — and the Swiss drummer is also living here in Berlin. Besides his participation in Colin Vallon’s trio (on their ECM debut as well as their equally recommendable pre-ECM album Ailleurs on the Hat Hut label), he played on Susanne Abbuehl’s April, in Wolfert Brederode’s quartet on Currents and Post Scriptum, and I bought the self-titled debut album by another trio of Samuel’s called Ambiq a few years ago. He was very welcoming and sent me a few of his label’s more recent releases, and since I came to like them a lot, I wanted to talk to him about his work a bit.

 
 


 
 

So, Samuel, the only arjunamusic release I had before you sent me a few others was the first Ambiq album (and I also bought the cool remixes by Villalobos and Tobias.), which comes with a really unusual combination of sounds and instruments. You played a mix of electronic and conventional percussive instruments, Claudio Puntin can be heard on clarinet and and electronics, and Max Loderbauer only played a Buchla 200e modular synthesizer.

I think it is a really fascinating album, as it is terribly hard to categorize, among other things. The music is somewhere between improvised techno and noisy jazz music. Groove [German magazine for electronic music] called it „metaphysical jazz“ in the vein of Don Cherry or Elvin Jones. They also wrote the music „translates our times’ menacing urban signs into sound“ and the „gloomy and mosaic-like“ album wants to „move the soul“.

Would you agree with these descriptions? Where does Ambiq’s music originate from?

 

Oh thank you. And I don’t remember if I have ever read all this … It’s always interesting to see how this music is put into words, which was created with so little intention, except with the wish to let it happen.

Since all the tracks are totally free improvised, like all the concerts we play, we don’t lose a lot of words about our music or what we are going to play. There never were many. (Only now we start to think about leading the music in a specific direction for the next album.) This means the music really brings the immediate feelings, tastes, actions and reactions of the three of us together. It must be a very personal music of three individuals then. We all have quite different backgrounds, but we all look for the same thing in music, which is to combine sounds, textures, melodies and rhythms in a way we could not have thought of in the first place. We trust in each others musicality and taste, also to keep a strong idea even if we don’t find any consensus. Very often that is where the music happens. It’s not only about agreeing all the time to create something harmonic. If you stick to an idea and stay open at the same time, great things can happen.

I personally always look for the balance between textures, melodies, rhythms, silence… To create something rich, I think, it always contains all the ingredients. Only the weighting moves from one element to another, so they constantly balance each other out. In the end, everything – all the rhythms, melodies or harmonies – are all frequencies and we just decide how to form the sound and its silence. And if it really happens, we don’t even decide about this anymore.

 

Last February, when I worked, as every year, in the „Panorama“ section of the Berlin Film Festival, we presented Romuald Karmakar’s great film Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht (If I think of Germany at Night), in which Ricardo Villalobos is one of the five protagonists. In the film we get to see a short section of a concert with a quartet, which I found enormously fascinating, and it took me quite a while to find out that this was actually Ambiq + Villalobos. Any plans to record or release an album with this band?

 

There is some material ready to be released, which was recorded live, as well as an unedited studio session waiting to be reopened. Right now it just doesn’t feel like it’s the time for it. Let’s see what comes next. If we play more in the future, we might even record more material … Sometimes things need time …

 
 


 
 

I do like the description of Ambiq’s music in Groove, because it could actually describe very different kinds of music as well.

Considering how you just described your work process, though, it’s kind of funny to see what it evokes in our minds, in us listeners. I have of course read what you wrote about the general idea of your label, arjunamusic, and that is strongly related to what you just said:

 

It is based on the wish to achieve as much artistic independence as possible, which comes out of the essential realization that happiness is not coming in the first place from outer success, rather the urge and to have the freedom to create, is the essential basis to make anything happen and to unfold a strong personal statement. This led to and still is the motivation to create a platform for unique and personal music, which includes a stylistically broad artistic performance.

 

That is actually very appealing to me as a filmmaker, as well as to me as a lover of arts and music. So let me get to your most recent solo album, Range of Regularity, which is a veritable solo recording: You played a variety of mostly percussive instruments (including a prepared piano, which I think counts as percussive, too), in connection with a few synths. Listening to your earlier album Noreia (from 2012, with Claudio Puntin, Peter Herbert and Skúli Sverrison) moved me a lot when I listened to it driving though dry and slightly surreal desert landscapes in the USA last September. But Range of Regularity I did not really make friends with yet. I do appreciate its „minimal“ approach and the reduced spectrum of sounds, sure. But since you wrote about the uncompromising approach to creating, could you maybe give me a few hints on the process you went through in making this album, which might help me get a better understanding of your thought process? In what regard was Range of Regularity an album you felt you had to make?

 

The most important for me is to move on and find constantly new inspiration. To be free while I play music, but also in the sense of possibilities. Freedom in the sense of crossing borders and confronting yourself with new situations – and not so much on the outside, but, in terms of music, more through the sounds you hear and how you can create or combine them. While working more in the electronic music scene I met a lot of interesting producers. At the same time I started to work with some of them, and my sonic world and understanding was constantly growing (or let’s say this just opened new doors to many new possibilities).

More and more I started to combine electronic and acoustic sounds in a live situation, and I recorded myself in my studio.

It felt like the most natural step for me to make that move and produce a first album by myself. With my sonic world, with my roots as a jazz musician, but within the context of electronic music and with using its rules and frames. I knew it had to be a mix of different worlds. With knowing that of course the jazz scene would not really understand this, it felt like breaking out of something, finding new challenges and setting new ways and sails for me in the future as a producer and sound designer. In the beginning it felt maybe like two separate worlds, but slowly they start to merge into each other and are becoming one – like the label idea, with its acoustic and electronic releases. Basically, I try to follow my intuition, and my curiosity keeps me going forward and finding new ways to express myself.

 

I’d be curious to hear other people’s opinions on the album. The one track I probably like best is the final one, Uncertain Grace. I find it very moving. I did, however, not find the album covered in a lot of music magazines, though indeed it could fit into a variety of genres, from electronic to experimental, even jazz and also into comprehensive magazines like Musikexpress.

 

The difficulty is to find a promo agency who covers the whole range, from acoustic, jazz oriented releases, feuilletons and art magazines to electronic and club music. There were quite a few reviews, interviews and radio broadcasts, but mostly in the electronic music field. In the end, what counts most for me is the reaction of musicians and producers I honor for their work.

 
 


 
 

How do you deal with people’s reactions in general, when it comes to an album like Range of Regularity, which you produce on your very own? Do you ask people for advice during the process? And can you easily deal with your music being out there, and you, in a way, don’t get as much back from it, as opposed to, for instance, in a project like the collaborations with Ambiq, Villalobos or the latest album, Brightbird?

 

Not only as a musician but also as a label I continue to research on how to balance out a space between the acoustic music scene – where I come from – and the electronic world. This certainly needs time and is definitely a very interesting place to be. As a solo artist I never had a lot of exposure – so far: Making this step plus defining my work in new territories is a challenge and inspiring at the same time.

With the label I have also built a circle of people around me with whom I work for the productions. Of course I am curious about their opinions and I always welcome other people’s ideas. But very often, in the end it’s a question of taste, which is built on quality. Particularly when you try to find your own voice, you can’t create a result that is for everybody. I view all the projects more as one big working field, and it is important to finish one idea to go on and start with new ones. And it is about finding the balance between working on my own and sharing ideas and collaborate with others. Both ways seem to work for me.

 
Is the remixes series a way of getting in contact with others with your soloistic work?

 

The remixes are basically a way to promote an album during a longer timeframe. I try to bring it a step further with finding producers who are interested in remixing music which is out of their usual territory and not so obvious to remix in the first place. To overlap improvised music with more club oriented work is slowly becoming a characteristic of the label.

 

Finally, about Brightbird – another really moving album, with pianist João Paulo Esteves da Silva, who brings a beautiful, slight fado and folk influence into the flow of the music, and double bass player Mário Franco; the album to me has a fascinatingly simple but also „dancing“ atmosphere. It was recorded at La Buissone, which is one of Manfred Eicher’s preferred studios, located in the French Provence, so I assume it is very inspiring. The cover design is by The Designers Republic, an unusual choice, since they’re primarily known for their influential Warp Records designs. The album is able to speak for itself, so I don’t really have a question about it. But it would be great if this music would be appreciated more widely.

 

I agree, also an album like Brightbird should get much more attention. To put a new label out there is one thing, but to establish it to give the music a wider audience is a big task. Unfortunately it is a fact that mostly the same (major) labels get the attention. It requires more research from listeners, magazines and reviewers to give smaller labels a spot. That’s why I like to think in bigger shapes and in longterm projects. In our fast and superficial time it’s very healthy to work on things that are built on constant growth and for the act of creating. If there is no solid ground, outer success appears as very short-lived thing. And solid things need time.

 

Where is your work and your label going to next? What can we look forward to from arjunamusic in 2018?

 

Max Loderbauer is about to finish two remixes of Brightbird tracks; they will be released sometime later this year. A trio recording with Jan Bang, Eivind Aarset and myself is in the making. Also new projects with Nils Petter Molvær and for example the young trumpet player Hilde Marie Holsen, are on the way, as well as preparations for some productions of working bands like AMBIQ and amiira. Together with a friend, who does most of the mastering of the productions, we are planning to release a series of analog-recorded, hand-made individually crafted vinyls, which might include some old releases as well as new projects. More details about this will follow soon.

 
Thank you very much for this extensive conversation. I am highly curious to hear these new collaborations. I met Hilde a while ago in Oslo, her work is very unorthodox and fascinating; and I noticed she posted a photo of your recording session online not long ago.

Here are two more links: A video for a track of his recent solo work (Body of Ignorance) and a 2017 podcast mixing live and unreleased material with releases of Samuel Rohrer’s various projects, here on XLR8R.

Yance Ford in "Strong Island"

  1. Strong Island
  2. Blade Runner 2049
  3. Detroit
  4. Wind River
  5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  6. Manchester by the Sea 
  7. Die Lebenden reparieren (Réparer Les Vivants)
  8. Dunkirk
  9. Baby Driver
  10. I am not your Negro
  11. Moonlight
  12. Loveless (Nelyubov)
  13. Beuys
  14. Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht
  15. The Salesman
  16. 120 BPM

 

missed + still on my list: Lady Macbeth / Mother! / Die beste aller Welten / Elle In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts

 

(NB: As some films are often released later in Germany than in their country of origin, a few of these films may count as 2016 releases to residents of the U.S. or Iran. Also, many films in the run for Academy Awards 2017 have of course not been released in Germany yet. So I can only include films that have been screened in cinemas in Germany this year – or at festivals in Cannes and Berlin.)

2017 15 Dez

Die Choreographin des Begehrens

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Falls es jemanden interessiert, in der Monatszeitschrift EPD Film findet sich derzeit, anlässlich des deutschen Kinostarts von Un beau soleil intérieur, ein Porträt von Claire Denis.
 

Wie die Körper sich suchen – das ist das große Thema der Regisseurin. Zärtlichem und zerstörerischem Begehren verleiht sie die gleiche Evidenz. […]

Denis zeigt nicht mehr, als gerade nötig ist: Ihre Stärke sind die affektiven Momente, die in den Fragmenten einer Handlung aufblitzen und in denen sich die disparate Gefühlslage ihrer Figuren offenbart. Das macht ihre Erzählung zugleich spröde und fragil, lässt Raum für Geschichten, die sich zwischen den Schnitten zutragen können. Das Thema der gegensätzlichen Obsessionen, der Zerrissenheit überträgt sie in eine Montage, die den Zuschauer unversehens in die Situationen hineinwirft und es ihm anfangs nicht eben leicht macht, sich im Wechsel der Schauplätze und Charaktere, im Changieren zwischen den Realitätsebenen zurechtzufinden. Ihre Inszenierung stößt sich am Konkreten, an Tönen, Gesten und Gegenständen. […]

In »Trouble Every Day« ist [mit Kamerafrau Agnès Godard] ihr gemeinsames Ziel, sich Fleisch und Blut auf eine Weise zu nähern, wie es nie zuvor im Kino passiert ist. Die kannibalistischen Übergriffe sind inszeniert wie Liebesszenen. Es liegt ein Gleiten, ein Schweben in Godards Bewegungen, das wunderbar harmoniert mit der getragenen Musik von Bands wie den Tindersticks, die in Filmen wie »Nénette und Boni« und »Trouble Every Day« die Tonspur entscheidend prägen.

Die Musik und die mit ihr verknüpfte Beweglichkeit stehen in ­Denis‘ Filmen für die Möglichkeit der Transformation. Der Körper der Choreographin Mathilde Monnier, die sie in dem Dokumentarfilm »Vers Mathilde« porträtiert, verändert sich beim Tanz, wirkt jünger. Die Kadrage ist oft zu eng für den Bewegungsrausch der Mitglieder ihrer Compag­nie, die Geschlechterunterschiede scheinen sich aufzulösen im Wirbel der Bilder.

2017 12 Dez

Automatic for the People

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„Culturally, 1992 in America was not an easy place to be. We’d been through 12 years of politically the darkest era America had ever seen with Reagan, Bush and AIDS. I think the record was a response to that. I wanted to make a record about loss, transition and death — the biggest transition we all know.“

Michael Stipe, Automatic Unearthed

 

2017 10 Dez

Musikvideos 2017

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Über die Jahresbestenlisten verschiedener Webseiten mache ich immer wieder Entdeckungen; schon habe ich CDs von Andre Cymone (den ich erstaunlicherweise gar nicht kannte), Circuit des Yeux und Ambrose Akinmusire (den ich bisher eher als langweiligen Mainstreamjazzer eingeordnet hatte) bestellt. Nicole Mitchells Album Mandorla Awakening, Kidal von Tamikrest und SZAs Ctrl stehen als nächstes auf der Liste. Und James Holden & the Animal Spirits wart schon eine exzellente Spät-Neuentdeckung.

Über die Jahresrückblicke stößt man hin und wieder aber auch auf interessante Videos. Kendrick Lamars überdrehtes Humble wurde ja tausendfach geteilt, und bestimmt hat es jeder schon gesehen. Interessanter ist daher vielleicht Jonas Lindströms Video für Element, in dem Fotografien von Gordon Parks in der Gegenwart zum Leben erweckt werden. In München gab es in diesem Jahr eine großartige Retrospektive, die verdeutlichte, wie aktuell Parks‘ Werk doch ist. Nabils surreales Video zu DNA mit einem exaltierten Don Cheadle greift die gleichen Themen auf und ist auch sehr gut, wenn auch weniger spektakulär. Die aufgedrehte Stimmung von Kendricks Damn und die entsprechenden Videos scheinen mir 2017 gut auf den Punkt zu bringen.

Natürlich muss ich in diesem Zusammenhang Algiers‘ Video The Underside of Power (Regie Henry Busby & Marcus Tortorici) zumindest erwähnen – eine Mischung aus Performance-Video, das die Bandmitglieder latent als Untergrundkämpfer zeichnet, und Zeitkommentar zu den brennenden Themen des Albums. Mit ähnlichen Themen hantiert auch Noga Erez‘ Dance while you shoot; die Sängerin aus Tel Aviv thematisiert in ihren Texten das Leben in Israel zu einer sehr zeitgemäßen Musik, die oft zu Vergleichen mit M.I.A. u.ä. führte. Das Video (directed by Zhang + Knight) setzt da an. Starkes Album.

Was ganz anderes, ohne Politik: Jeremy Bibles poetische Luftaufnahmen von Ohio zum Gitarrenstück Black Grasshopper von High Aura’d. Wahnsinnig komplex sind Kevin McGloughlin abstrakte Grafiken zu Max Coopers Stück Symmetry. Und auch Maxime Causeret hat ein faszinierendes grafisches Video zu einem Track von Max Cooper erstellt: Order from Chaos.

Sevdalizas lynch-haftes, mit Emmanuel Adjei entwickeltes Video zu Human ist zwar schon im November 2016 veröffentlicht worden, das Album Ison (zu dem es nebenbei bemerkt auch eine Art Slow-Motion-Video der kompletten 66 Minuten des Albums) dazu allerdings erst im Sommer 2017. Es passt hervorragend zu der dunkel-surrealen Stimmung des Albums. Mehr mit dem surrealen Charme alter VHS-Elemente (vgl. The Ring) spielt das wilde, ins Abstrakte gehende Video der frankokanadischen Filmemacherin Jacqueline Castel zu Zola Jesus‘ Albumhighlight Exhumed.

Wie Exhumed, so klingt auch folgendes super über Kopfhörer: Eigentlich kein Musikvideo, aber mich hat dieses Video von zwei Tracks (Deliverance und The Conduit) der audiovisuellen Performance von Belief Defect beim Atonal Festival in Berlin sehr beeindruckt. Ich war selbst nicht dabei, hätte das aber gerne erlebt. Die intensive Klangwelt des großartigen Industrial-/Noise-Techno-Albums kommt live sicher sensationell in dieser Umgebung im Berliner Kraftwerk.

Mir gefällt auch Protomartyrs für diesen Post-Punk ungewöhnliches, seltsames, düsteres Video zu A Private Understanding (Tony Wolski & Trevor Naud) sehr; auch wenn ich mir ehrlich gesagt keine große Mühe gemacht habe, Text und Handlung zusammenzubringen.

Und zum Schluss noch was Witziges: Young Thug erschien nicht (oder nur halb) zum Dreh seines 100.000 Dollar teuren Videos Wyclef Jean, also musste Ryan Staake aus der Not eine Tugend machen.

2017 5 Dez

The Underside of Power (The Best Indie Rock of 2017)

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Looking at PopMatters‚ top 10 list of „The Best Indie Rock of 2017″, I am happy to find Algiers at the top spot:

 

„The Underside of Power“, Algiers‘ follow-up to their 2015 self-titled debut, is everything that debut promised and more. The album fine tunes the balance between their dark, post-punk sounds and their soul and gospel groove. The group truly turns the post-punk genre on its head with double-time rhythms, bass grooves, and soulful vocals that come together like an AME church service in the Blade Runner universe. Vocalist Franklin James Fisher sings throughout the album about rising up, upsetting established power structures. It’s brimming with political fire and rage that’s tempered just enough with hope and youthful energy. The combination of elements is dense and seamless and reveals more with each listen and takes on new meaning. „The Underside of Power“ is an album of resistance music and music for the people into the tradition of soul, folk, and punk. This album stands as one of the most unique and powerful examples of protest music in recent memory. (Dan Kok)

 

Other albums in their list may be of interest to some of you around here as well: #2: Fleet Floxes („a jarring journey from beginning to end“), #3: The War On Drugs („breathy Dylan-like vocals float yearningly above vast soundscapes of expertly textured guitar solos and shimmering synths that transcend time and trend“).

„Musically adventurous and spiritually redemptive: this is what the music of our time should sound like.“ said PopMatters‘ original review of the album.

In July, Robert Loss wrote an extensive, interesting piece about the album: Algiers and the Political Structures of Noise, which draws connections between politics, history, noise and pop and is a nice addendum to my text about the issues raised in the movie Detroit. A few quotes from the article about the music:

 

„Cry of the Martyrs“ slips right into the album’s title track, a propulsive blend of soul swagger and the band Suicide’s drones until the chorus bursts into a beautiful pop melody. It’s Algiers‘ version of pop: a catchy hook fighting against backing vocals so delayed they sound like ghosts trying to drag the song back, an alluring but harsh noise from the past. „The Underside of Power“ sounds like „Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“ covered by a post-punk band unconcerned with irony or cultural capital and instead trying to find some truth hidden in the song all these years.

(…) In 2017, we’re rightly suspicious of music that claims to be revolutionary. The normalizing forces of commerce, the spectacle, cultural institutions, and government as they relate to popular music are powerful, so I don’t blame you if you’re skeptical. But the possibility still exists. Small actions may play their role in the structure of noise—the voices of the oppressed and their allies, the voices of people who are just sick and fucking tired of being run over, shot, suppressed, arrested, buried, abandoned — a structure which might replace the old with a new order.

(…) It seems to me that revolutionary music today has to draw connections between the past and the present in order to point to the future. In this way we sense a history that otherwise is forgotten to us; we understand ourselves as historical creatures capable of replacing one structure of noise with another. Of the potential noises, sound hits our bodies first. How can there be a movement if we’re unwilling to move?

Can sound alone make us pay attention to the political, force us to hear a subject like racialized violence, or sway us into seeing the atrocities of the past and the present? Can it really rewrite the codes?

Algiers seem determined to find out, which is one reason why they’ve quickly become so important.

 

Here’s a short one of a their energetic live performances, live in the studio for Seattle’s KEXP.

Much like the sometimes psychedelic nature of their music is also firmly rooted in an often grim reality, the melodrama of their set creates a dense and intoxicating atmosphere, but never at the expense of truth and pragmatism. Their music rages against inequality and fascism, but as heavy as their themes are it’s also heady, rousing and danceable. By the time they bust out their latest album’s title track the room is fully plugged into the band’s irresistible groove, and with that comes immense hope, because as Fisher sings „I’ve seen the underside of power / It’s just a game that can’t go on.” Algiers’ unifying set at the Moth Club allowed no room for figureheads – rock star, religious, or otherwise. As their sign at the back of the stage reads, all the power to the people.
(Bekki Bemrose, musicOMH)

2017 30 Nov

Morals and Movies

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Last night I went to see Detroit, the new film by Kathryn Bigelow (aka the only woman to receive an Academy Award as a director in 89 years of Oscar history, which is why she is sometimes referred to as the most successful female director in history). I have seen almost all of her films, and I really like her body of work, I think she is a brilliant director. She is not only a storyteller or a movie director, but also a film artist, which I could at length constitute by talking about Zero Dark Thirty, which, in my opinion, was generally critized for the wrong issues.

I just read an article in The New Yorker, in which the author makes some statements that are definitely well worth discussing. Detroit is applaudably and masterfully directed, including the collaboration with cinematographer Barry Ackroyd who should at least get an Academy Award nomination for his work on this film. [As a side note, however, it should be considered a scandal if the award for best cinematography will not be given to Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049, considering this phenomenal director of photographer has been nominated 13 times so far, without receiving the award once; I think no-one has been nominated more often unsuccessfully. (Emmanuel Lubezki just received the award three times in a row.)] The visuals and the storytelling in Detroit are captivating from start to end, and the film provides for such an intense experience that at one point I was close to leaving the cinema, because I felt I could not bear it any longer; I don’t remember if that ever happened to me before. Maybe once.

In a way, that is actually what the article in The New Yorker, titled „The Immoral Artistry of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit“ discusses and critizes at length about the movie. These thoughts are far from being new ones. At film school, we discussed them in the first year of our studies, starting with documentaries from the 1920s, and I remember discussing them again in a directing workshop in a later year of my studies: It was Jacques Rivette who famously raised the question in the June 1961 edition of Le Cahiers du cinéma, in his essay „On Abjection“ about Pontecorvo’s Kapò. Rivette’s argumentation specifically referred to a tracking shot in that film, where Emmanuelle Riva in her portrayal of a concentration camp prisoner throws herself onto an electric barbed wire, and this suicide is emphasized – to enhance the action’s emotional and dramatic storytelling effect – by a tracking towards her, from a low perspective, an aestheticization of death. Rivette called this a „cinematic obscenity“, „voyeurism“ and „pornography“ and argued that this approach should be despised – and that the atrocities of the Holocaust are not suitable for a film of fiction. Other film critics have also commented on this, stating that it is the unnecessary love story which spoils the generally powerful film.

 
 
 

"Kapò" by Gillo Pontecorvo (camera: Aleksandar Sekulovic), 1960

 
 
 

Back to Detroit, about which it is easy to point out a very similar criticism. So I recommend reading Richard Brody’s essay (which I mostly disagree with). The same comments have been made about Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, maybe rightly so, and at the time I was watching Detroit, I actually did expect these criticisms would surely made by film critics about the film. I am only somewhat surprised to see them coming from an American magazine instead of from one in Germany, where „based on a true story“ movies with fictionalized elements are frequently being condemned by critics for their lack of historic accuracy (examples abound).

I would argue against Brody’s essay that it is sanctimonious of him to set the premise „Movies aren’t made with intentions“ as a starting point for his line of argumentation. I’d say that is nonsense – in particular as later in his text he reaches the conclusion that Kathryn Bigelow would not express an opinion with her film. That kind of writing is one of the main reasons why I often have difficulties with film critics. Critics often pursue their own agenda, which is a different one than the filmmakers‘ intentions, and they seem to enjoy doing that. I also read this very interesting interview with the director (German only, sorry), where she says (among many other interesting statements), „I don’t understand how one cannot denounce white supremacy. It is more than bewildering and disgraceful.“ [Please excuse my translation of the original interview’s German translation back into English.]

 
 
 

Photographer unknown. Source: writingstudio.co.za

 
 
 

Does the New Yorker author act stupid on purpose or does he actually have no clue about what goes on on a movie set, when he imagines over two or three paragraphs what went on in the mind(s) of the filmmaker(s) during the making of these tense scenes? Well, it would of course make some sense, if he expanded the same critical statements to Quentin Tarantino or to any Hollywood director who directs a horror film (which, by the way, I would argue, Detroit could be counted as) or a thriller. Or almost any fictional movie, for that matter, regardless of whether there was a „true story“ which inspired it. Even about The Act of Killing, which is generally counted as one of the most important films of this century. I have to assume that the author, to come to his conclusion, deliberately misdescribes the work processes the filmmakers and actors went through. Which is why I cannot take his criticism seriously.

Nevertheless, I find Brody’s points in the earlier parts of his essay interesting enough, when he says that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal are dealing with the story with too much of an outsider’s view: They, in the first part of the movie, „treat the black residents of Detroit, whose lives they dramatize, as an indiscriminate mass of people.“ However, the movie as a whole piece of work – as a piece of art even – puts that in context, and I really like the unconventional way they decided to take to tell their story, in several chapters with varying means of storytelling and ways of execution. (They went for a somewhat similar chapter-like approach in Zero Dark Thirty.) You can’t simply judge the first chapter of the film, even if the indisputably masterful visual directing in that „authentic style“ can be debated. Bigelow justifies that (possibly) distanced pseudo-documentary view – or semi-documentary, if you count the authentic snippets of film she included – of hers an „outsider“ (as not being a member of the black residents of Detroit, as a white narrator not having been involved in the actual events) with the rousing way she tells the story passionately and emphatically after its opening chapter. I don’t think you can criticize her at the same time for using distancing narrative techniques and exploitation. I think that is hypocritical.

2017 28 Nov

ijb’s favorite CDs & LPs of 2017

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01  Algiers The Underside of Power *****
02  Sevdaliza  Ison *****
03  François Couturier / Tarkovsky Quartet  Nuit blanche *****
04  Belief Defect  Decadent Yet Depraved *****
05  Anouar Brahem  Blue Maqams *****
06  Hope  [untitled debut lp] 
07  Kelela  Take me apart 
08  Kendrick Lamar  Damn.
09  Father John Misty  Pure Comedy
10  LCD Soundsystem  American Dream 

 
 

„[Belief Defect] reveal themselves as an artist deeply involved in the disruption and malaise of our society–and era—through shuddering, broken soundscapes and provocative confusion. If at times the acceleration is too much, I only ended up wondering if my own ear (trained to expect harmony, to reject dissolution) was the problem. BD explodes capacities and challenges musical norms, while also creating a sound which is intensely listenable. “Too eccentric to dance to” were Mark Fisher’s words of Burial, but he meant it as a remarkable and good thing to say. Belief Defect achieves a similar magic; to work in the tools of electronic music, and to push them beyond their capacities.“ (full review)

 
 

11  Erlend Apneseth Trio  Åra
12  The xx  I see you
13  Wolf Alice  Visions of a Life
14  The War On Drugs  A Deeper Understanding 
15  Diagrams  Dorothy
16  Noga Erez  Off The Radar
17  Björk  Utopia
18  Valerie June  The Order of Time
19  Lorde  Melodrama
20  Kangding Ray  Hyper Opal Mantis

 

21  The National and many, many others  Day of the Dead*
22  Zola Jesus  Okovi
23  David Virelles  Gnosis
24  Gas  Narkopop
25  Porter Ricks  Anguilla Electrica
26  Trio Mediæval & Arve Henriksen  Rímur
27  Phase Fatale  Redeemer
28  Tinariwen  Elwan
29  Protomartyr  Relatives in Descent
30  Jay-Z  4:44

 

   * 5 cd box with 57 interpretations of Grateful Dead songs

 
 
 
Mika Vainio (photograph courtesy of Ariel Martini)
 
 
 

honorary mentions

 

Mika Vainio († April 12th)  Reat
John Abercrombie († August 22nd)  Up and Coming 
Marcus Fjellström († September 3rd)  Skelektikon

 

2017 27 Okt

Junge Herren um die 70

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Vor zwei Tagen (vielmehr Nächten) sah ich mir im meist unterhaltsamen YouTube-Kanal von Pitchfork ein paar Videos an. Die haben z.B. eine schöne Reihe namens Liner Notes über Meisterwerke der Rockgeschichte, in vier bis fünf Minuten bekommt man eine gute Zusammenfassung über Geschichte, Hintergründe, Anekdoten, Einflüsse und so weiter von und zu wegweisenden Alben wie Ege Bamyasi, Turn on the Bright Lights, Another Green World, Appetite for Destruction, Doolittle oder Post. Da sah ich dieses über My Bloody Valentines Loveless. Und heute finde ich via NME und SoundCloud eine fast zehnminütige Zusammenarbeit zwischen Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) und Brian Eno. Passt gut zusammen, was letztlich auch nicht überraschend ist.

Bei All About Jazz las ich vor ein paar Tagen ein interessantes Interview mit David Torn, über seine diversen derzeit im Entstehen befindlichen Alben, Arbeit an Filmen und seine netten Geschichten, wie er mit David Bowie zusammenkam und dann bei der Produktion von vier seiner letzten Alben mitwirkte, eine gemeinsame Tour aber nicht zustande kam. Da müssen noch ein paar unveröffentlichte Schätze im Tresor lagern. Wiederum gestern nahm ich die CD Jeff von Jeff Beck aus dem Regal und fragte mich, warum ich die nie anhöre. Ist sie vielleicht nicht so wirklich gut? Ich mochte You Had It Coming (amüsante Besprechung hier) meist irgendwie lieber. keine Ahnung, warum. Vielleicht ist einfach das Cover cooler. Aber dabei fand ich (wieder einmal?) heraus, dass David Torn auf mehreren der Stücke des Albums Jeff mitgewirkt hat. Im Kleingedruckten steht „Re-produced, mixed and manipulated at cell labs, New York by David Torn“. Und wenn David Torn draufsteht, bleibt eine CD natürlich in der Sammlung. Sie wird immer mal wieder neu entdeckt. Und irgendwie schwant mir gerade, dass Jeff womöglich das bessere Album ist, auch wenn You Had It Coming diese total weirde Version von Rollin‘ and Tumblin‘ mit Imogen Heap zu bieten hat, die ich gerne nach der Version von Dylan höre. Apropos ältere Herren: Das Cover des neuen Albums von Robert Plant finde ich ja auch ganz großartig.

 
 
 

 
 
 

Man sieht in dem Miniformat nicht die schönen Unschärfen, aber schon die Farben und das Porträt als solches sind toll. Ich mochte Robert Plant nie so wirklich. Bis ich vor fünfzehn Jahren irgendwie über Dreamland stolperte. Das war auf einen Schlag mein Lieblingsalbum von ihm. – Aber halt, das stimmt nicht ganz. Mein Vater (geb. 1950) hatte in den Neunzigern die beiden Duoalben von Page & Plant, und ich mochte das zweite (Walking into Clarksdale) immer sehr gerne, naja, eigentlich vor allem die fulminante Nummer Most High.

Aber Dreamland ist ein großartiges Album, mit einer recht jungen Band (oder vielleicht klingt sie auch nur jung … verjüngt, keine Ahnung) mit sehr starken Versionen von Hey Joe, One More Cup Of Coffee und einigem mehr. Da war ich hooked. Seitdem hat Plant eine geradezu unglaublich gute Serie gelungener Alben aufgenommen. (Die alten Sachen aus den Achtzigern und frühen Neunzigern sind dagegen weit weniger interessant.) Da ich Dreamland so toll fand, hab ich die CD und den Nachfolger Mighty Rearranger auch meinem Vater gekauft. Dann gab’s ein Folk-Blues-Countryalbum mit Alison Krauss, dann ein Blues-HardRock-Americana-Album namens Band of Joy (dem Namen von Plants allererster Band in den Sechzigern), und dann vor drei Jahren, als ich mit dem Auto zwischen New York und Montréal unterwegs war (meine Frau hatte dort eine Ausstellung, also bin ich mit, um den Fahrer zu mimen), da erschien das skurril betitelte lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, das ich eigentlich meinem Vater als Mitbringsel gekauft hatte, aber so hingerissen davon war, dass ich es selbst behalten habe. Es passte hervorragend zu diesen Fahrten durch den Nordosten der USA. Es ist nicht perfekt – mich stören die blöden Fade-Outs einiger Stücke, irgendwie stimmt der gesamte Rhythmus des Albums oder die Reihenfolge der Tracks nicht so richtig – aber die einzelnen Songs sind durchweg eins A.

Und nun also wieder ein neues Album, das ich sofort erworben habe. Plant ist seit 15 Jahren zuverlässig gut. Nun ja, auf Carry Fire ist jetzt nichts Überraschendes zu finden, und ich befürchte, die Platte ist nicht ganz so gut wie die Vorgänger… aber das macht nichts. Das Cover ist endlich mal richtig gut. Das beste dieser beeindruckenden Erfolgsreihe.


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