Sunday, December 3, 2017

Streaming for Cinephiles 101: Mubi, Fandor & FilmStruck

We are most certainly in the midst of the annual stretch of diminished cultural offerings to be found in this city, spanning November through the end of January. One only need look to the impoverished programming seen at our independent theaters, reflected in coming calendars of SIFF Cinema, Northwest Film Forum, The Grand Illusion and the single remaining Landmark Theater for evidence to the effect. While you would hope for cultural opportunities out and about the city regardless of the time of year, the holiday season forces a certain degree of acquiescence upon even the most avid urbanite. Submitting to the mandate, there is no shortage of opportunities available online for home viewing for the discerning and experienced cinephile. A solid half-decade has elapsed where there's now undeniable evidence that "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option", and the lack of genuine cinema available on the dominant streaming resources, has become starkly clear. In the course of the last five years, the diminishing of both quantity and diversity has been accelerated by Netflix phasing out their physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films", are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". And don't think to go to Hulu or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. As a product, resources like Fandor, Mubi and FilmStruck have risen as the online destination of choice for film lovers. The trio of platforms becoming the foremost streaming resources through which online viewers have access to the true scope of the past twelve decades of moving pictures. In the case of FilmStruck, Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection launched an endeavor wherein the vast libraries under the purview of the two institutions, containing thousands of classic, foreign, and arthouse films, invested in a "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles".

Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, all three platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook, Streamline, and Keyframe. In many ways "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock", coming out on top. Unlike both Fandor and FilmStruck, which each span thousands of offerings in a vast catalog of titles, Mubi watches as a online cinema of sorts, with a new film featured every day. In addition to the monthly selection of daily titles, the platform has engaged in special programming with festival series, director highlights and movement and genre overviews. Showcasing such luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard, Seijun Suzuki, Raul Ruiz, Andrei Tarkovsky, Anthony Mann, Satyajit Ray, Ingmar Bergman, John Boorman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and everything in-between. Upping the standard further in 2016 with their "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz" feature on the Filipino director's rarely screened, extended duration film, which stood for many cinephiles as the streaming event of the year. Forging into new territory, Mubi's Special Discovery series has showcased new films selected from the world's most prestigious festivals, spanning works from established directors alongside some of the boldest new talent emerging on the scene. It's first year encompassing such diverse and original works as, the quotidian urban dream-drama, "Out of Time: Damien Manivel's 'Le Parc'", an observation on the fall of the Soviet Union from the first-person vantage of Moscow's streets, "Don’t Let Them Deceive You: Sergei Loznitsa’s 'The Event'", and Nikkatsu's relaunch of it's legendary Roman Porno tradition, with new films by Sion Sono and Akihiko Shiota. The most striking of the series' offerings, and one of the most notable prize winners from as reported by Olaf Möller for Film Comment on the Berlin International Film Festival, came in the form of a work by the son a late Russian auteur. Produced a film of epic ambition that delivers an allegorical full century from the Bolshevik revolution into it's vision of near-future science fiction as a, "Slow Cinema of the Apocalypse: Aleksei German, Jr.'s 'Under Electric Clouds'".

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Julianna Barwick & Mirah with Lori Goldston String Quarter at St. Mark's Cathedral: Dec 2 | Earshot Jazz presents Matthew Shipp Trio at Poncho Hall: Dec 4

Two shows of note this weekend amidst the dearth of the December cultural calendar. Earshot Jazz brings New York pianist and composer, Matthew Shipp back to Seattle with a solid new trio. His command of the piano, and the expanse of his tonal palette, Jazzwise champions as one of the most expressive to be heard in an acoustic setting, "he produces ecstatic violence and needle sharp delicacy, unleashing volcanic overtones as well as timbral pizzicato curls in hisses and sighs,". Recently enlisting Newman Taylor Baker on drums and Michael Bisio on bass, The Matthew Shipp Trio has released two stellar recordings in his current mode, 2015's "The Conduct Of Jazz" and this year's "Piano Song". Downbeat magazine, gold standard of jazz magazines in the US, mapped the progress of "Matthew Shipp's Evolution" for their May 2017 issue. From his graduation in 1984 from the New England Conservatory of Music, to an extended stint with the David S. Ware Quartet beginning in 1989, which brought Shipp into the orbits of drummer Marc Edwards, bassist William Parker and most notably, contact with one of the great vanguard pianists of the 20th century, Cecil Taylor. This would be the high-altitude point of entry for ship into a 50 album career iconoclast within free jazz and improvisation, producing a vast body of music that have defined, and redefined the stylistic parameters of that idiom. Jazz Times' "Matthew Shipp: Song of Himself" focusing on his practice of blurring and melding musical worldviews, particularly for his Blue Series released through Shipp's longstanding relationship as music director with Thirsty Ear Recordings.

Among these collaborative pan-genre settings, Shipp has broken free of the constraints of the jazz world, exemplified on his "High Water" with Def Jux director, and Run the Jewels MC and producer, EL-P. But it has been in standard jazz trios with other leaders of late-20th century improvisation, like that of this year's "Magnetism" with Rob Brown and William Parker for the French label RogueArt, that Shipp most excels. The Saturday before, Abbey Arts Cathedrals series presents K Records stalwart, and longtime purveyor of hushed minimalist songwriting, Mirah. Backed by the Lori Goldston-led string quartet, this edition in the series places the night's performers in a open floor concert setting within the vaulted ceilings of the grand and monolithic, St. Mark's Cathedral. Mirah is joined in this unanimously apropos venue (no loud rock bar hangers-on or drunken banter here) by the compositions of Julianna Barwick, an American vocalist and singer who's work bridges pop sourcing with avant-garde technique. Vocalizing melodic and textural material, Barwick's music is assembled through electronic and loop-based process into a flowing, layered, oceanic tide of sound. On her albums for Austin indie label, Dead Oceans, borrowing themes from Greek myth, the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and inspiration from modern architecture, like that of the Philip Johnson Glass House, Barwick assembles these into abstracted phrases and tonal utterances. Constructed, processed and massed into liquid states, varying between melodic waves, distorted fields and a abstracted miasmic fog, Barwick's voice is then further enhanced though technological leaps like those enabled by the Moog Mother-32.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Bell Witch's "Mirror Reaper" & West Coast Tour | Unsane at The Highline: Dec 1 & 5

The holiday season arrives, and with it, the most culturally desolate stretch of the year. Thankfully, Seattle's paramount metal, hardcore and punk venue, The Highline have kept their calendar vital through the next month. Even with the eminent consequence of their host building's purchase by a Seattle "wine and lifestyle brand", the venue continues their strong programming into the next year. December sees a night of Philadelphia hardcore band, Plague Marks, open for Unsane, who have bolstered the duo of Chris Spencer and Dave Curran of The Cutthroats, with the addition of Vincent Signorelli of the 1990s incarnation of SWANS, into a powerful nose rock goliath. The winter tour rides on the heels of their first Southern Lord release "Sterilized", following a five year gap after 2012's Alternative Tentacles issued "Wreck". Also on the bill for December, The Highline presents a night of the darkest sounds heard issuing from the mutating offshoots of black metal. Foremost among them, Bell Witch in their new lineup with Aerial Ruin's Erik Moggridge, perform the monstrous and epic "Mirror Reaper". Born of the death of drummer Adrian Guerra, the album encompasses a passage through the Hermetic axiom "As Above, So Below", as a conceptual traversing of the dichotomy of life and death. Bridging recordings from their previous incarnation, and unused vocal tracks from that period with work of the new lineup, the album acts as a looming, Brobdingnagian titan spanning the two.

Joining Monarch on their North American tour, both Bell Witch and their opening act for the night, Usnea, were featured in this past summer's notable assembly of progressive black metal, doom and hardcore the week of Northwest Terror Fest. The festival showcasing the multitudinous offshoots of black metal's ongoing development as it has encompassed atmospheres lifted from shoegaze and spacerock, blistering eruptions of industrial percussion, electronic textures and pure noise experimentation. What may be the epitome of this cross-genre hybridization can be heard in the dynamic solar magma of guitar riffs and rhythm-play of bands like Deafheaven. With other compatriots in the sound to be found in Oathbreaker, as well as the turbulent rock of Nothing and their fusion of metal drumming and spacerock blur as heard on 2014's "Guilty of Everything". From the fringe of the genre, taking the sound down more melancholy paths, there's the crushing shoegaze blues of outfits like True Widow. Representing the more traditional signifiers of what can be defined as metal, yet taking a darker, more distended approach to atmospheric construction, bands like Krallice, Agalloch, and Pallbearer exemplify the heavier school of blackness pouring forth from the Profound Lore label. A branch of a sound and scene Brad Sanders detailed in his piece for The Quietus, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World", his article acting as an excellent opening unto the dark passageways of this genre's multitude of representations. These sounds further showcased in the past half-decade of The Quietus' Columnus Metallicus excellent curation, dominantly issued on the all-things-metal-and-beyond labels Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore, Season of Mist, Roadburn, Flenser, Neurot and Relapse.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" & Ruben Östlund's "The Square" at SIFF Cinema: Oct 27 - Nov 23

A couplet of the jewels from this year's Cannes, as unearthed by Criterion, The Guardian, The New York Times, Sight & Sound, and the extensive coverage for Film Comment seen in Dennis Lim's "Keeping at It", Kent Jones' "A Six-Letter Word", Nicolas Rapold's "Catastrophes on Parade", and Amy Taubin's "The Speed of Light in a Vacuum", are finally seeing time on domestic screens with a monthlong run at SIFF Cinema. Foremost among them, there's been much ado both in cinema and visual art circles concerning the Palme d'Or winning, "The Square" in which director, "Ruben Östlund Turns Art World Satire into Performance-Art Cinema". Following on his observation on fear, masculinity and European middle-class woes, Östlund now "Takes Aim at Art, Sex, Money and More", in his "Lofty, Laboured Cinematic Lecture on Inequality". Set in a related class milieu, Yorgos Lanthimos' "Replays the Greek Tragedy of Iphigenia as Modernist Guignol", through "‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ Depicts Familiar Torment" as a thriller in which the movie’s subject becomes the bankrupt sterility of upper middle-class mores. Having built a solid filmography on outrageous premises, a self-conscious deadpan style, and actors skilled in a explicitly cryptic form of straight-faced absurdity, Lanthimos directs the proceedings through a vantage on the hermetic, comfortable privilege of one suburban American family, as it incrementally spins into bourgeois nightmare. But where Lanthimos' "The Lobster" adopted an ostentatiously eccentric, almost farcical mode of political satirism, with "Colin Farrell Playing a Divorced Man in a Loner-Hating Future Society", his newest foregrounds its seriousness in the form of a methodical, starkly ritualistic severity.

As is the tradition with Cannes, opinions diverge among the press. In the pages of The Guardian's coverage, "Cannes 2017 Awards: Visceral Power Overlooked in Favour of Bourgeois Vanity", Peter Bradshaw saw the festival bestow the fruits of this year's awards on a set of elegant dissections of bourgeois absurdity and vanity. In the process overlooking the more visceral power of entries seen in, "An Eerie Thriller of Hypnotic, Mysterious Intensity" from Andrei Zvyagintsev, "Joaquin Phoenix Turning Travis Bickle in Brutal Thriller" as directed by Lynne Ramsay, and Sergei Loznitsa's "Brutally Realist Drama Offering Up a Pilgrimage of Suffering". Similar observations can be found from Nick James in Sight & Sound, in which there was little consensus among critics on, "What Should have Won the 2017 Cannes Palme d’Or?". Arguing the divided nature of the awards are the product of the competition being the weakest of recent times, producing a wide open field expressed in the random enthusiasms of Pedro Almodovar’s jury. Yet there was consistency found in the consensus among critics that Lynn Ramsay's kidnap thriller, "You Were Never Really Here", Andrey Zvyagintsev’s disintegrating family drama "Loveless", and the Safdie brothers’ frenetically chaotic urban misadventure "Good Time", should have all walked away with more notice in the form of awards.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner: The Final Cut" & Denis Villeneuve's "Blade Runner 2049" at Seattle Cinerama: Sept 29 - Oct 29

In an unexpected broadening of it's scope, Denis Villeneuve's sequel to the Ridley Scott's film of 1982, "Blade Runner 2049", finds itself concerned with the larger social implications of the established world borrowed from Philip K Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". Rather than just a work that, as some have posited, is misogynist in regard to its depiction of women, it is instead the totality of the world of the film, and the locus of its values which are an examination of pervasive denigration, humiliation and the diminishing of human value as a whole. It's elementary that women, children, replicants, and anyone so unfortunate as to be underclass "little people", in the street-speak of Blade Runner, would be so reductively commodified. The film's representation of the objectified of the body, both biological and digital, is most exemplified in the discomfiting space of the encounter between the Wallace companion product Joi, and the replicant "pleasure model", Mariette. No viewer with half-decent self knowledge could fail to register Mariette's accusatory response after the encounter. Or the explicit reinforcement of Joi's character as a simulacrum of social relations into which user's project meaning, later in the film, when we encounter her towering large from a holographic billboard. As Tim Hayes puts forward in, "Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s Hallowed Sci-Fi Classic Burns Bright with Uncomfortable Questions", to lumber the film with the task of fixing society rather than interrogating it first, is small minded. It supposes that art should present answers rather than questions, turning the imperative of supplying a moral vantage into a prerequisite for the audience's fulfillment and satisfaction.

The desensitizing effects of the world of Blade Runner and the brutal disregard for the planet, its environment and the plundering of its natural resources, are just by extension the most dominant outward signs of the setting's maladies. The inner signs of its illness are manifest through the more subtle and ambiguous aspects of daily life; a populace deeply estranged from one-another, yet seeking self validation fed by manufactured and digital companionship. Like the original, the concerns of a genetically engineered slave race workforce serving both a essential industrial, agricultural and public labor need, but also the demands of private ownership and sexual exploitation, remain the world's most troubling facet. It may be that James Baldwin is an unlikely point of perspective when discussing an interpretation of Ridley Scott, and now Denis Villeneuve and Hampton Fancher's adaptations of Philip K Dick. Yet for "Blade Runner 2049", his life's work functions with humanism and great utility. The American writer, critic and notable intellectual voice of the 1950s and 60s, remains an essential component of the Civil Rights Movement and any invested discussion of the intricacies of racial, sexual, and class distinctions in the 20th Century. Baldwin's novels and plays fictionalize fundamental personal questions and dilemmas amid complex social and psychological pressures which thwart the equitable integration not only of African Americans, but also of women, and homosexuals, while depicting the manifesting of internalized obstacles to such individuals' quests for acceptance. His work also deals in the diminishing and humiliating effects of racism and bigotry on white culture itself.

These considerations play in tandem with Philip K Dick's own lifelong exploration of the dehumanizing effects of propaganda, class engineering, corporate technocracies, labyrinthine bureaucracies, authoritarian governments, and the isolating effects of media saturation, gross materialism, and oppressive urban conditions. Dick's work also finds itself concerned with the nature of reality in increasingly technologically altered perceptual spaces and parallel realities. Between the two points of concern explored by Dick and Baldwin, the media theory of Marshall McLuhan also serves as an important point of reference is described the arch along which the world we live could travel to find itself at the destination of "Blade Runner 2049". It is no coincidence that this trio of writers, theorists and critics produced their most notable work in the environment of the Civil Rights era. In-part as a response to the unchecked and accelerating mid-20th Century development of the Military Industrial Complex, but also the birth and first flourishes of the mediascape which would come to touch every home, every day, on every occasion, as the eventual technological mediating of experience. Framed by these real world considerations, what Rolling Stone then called, "The Most Brilliant Sci-Fi Mind on Any Planet" pursued his singular inquiry into, "What constitutes the authentic human being?", extrapolating a body of science fiction that would become among the most influential in all of popular media by the turn of the century.

It's very probable that there is no other body of work by a 20th Century author as indirectly instrumental in Hollywood's transformation of popular storytelling as that of Dick. So it is that the author's regard extended to the variation in setting and theme that Ridley Scott, Hampton Fancher and his production team brought to 1982's "Blade Runner", for it remaining true to his fundamental examination of human authenticity. A line of inquiry stressed in a setting of even greater complexity, isolation and dehumanizing stratification found in Villeneuve and Fancher's expansive sequel. "This Gigantic Spectacle of Pure Hallucinatory Craziness" remains at it's core, focused on the dominant question of Philip K. Dick's life work. Whether the qualities of it's stunning visual realization, or the complexity of it's philosophical inquiry, resonate with the times sufficiently to earn the film the status of a "future classic", remains to be seen. Regardless of it's popular reception, this tale of the shattering and reconstruction of one underclass being's worldview while, "Hunting Replicants Amid Strangeness", fluidly traverses being both spectacular and profound, all the while remaining sinuous in it's malevolence and disregard for human life. In working through Philip K Dick's central, humanist query, along its course, Denis Villeneuve's film comes to find itself a worthy sequel to Ridley Scott’s original. In concurrence with Jonathan Romney, in a time in which belated sequels to classics ought never to work, (or even be made for that matter), Blade Runner 2049 feels like a slow, enigmatic, elusive hallucination of a movie, miraculously realized.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

All Monsters Attack at Grand Illusion Cinema: Oct 20 - 31 | Dario Argento's uncut "Suspiria": Oct 26 - 27 & Terrore Giallo! series at Northwest Film Forum: Nov 1 - Dec 20 | Goblin "The Sound of Fear" Tour: Oct 25 - Nov 11

There isn't enough in the way of All Hallows' Eve theme programming and revival series in the local cinema. Which is a shame as this is truly the season for genre film and it's frights, disorienting surrealism and crepuscular atmospheres. Thankfully, Scarecrow Video steps up with their October screening room calendar and curated Halloween selection of domestic and international horror, sci-fi and genre movies. And this year, the Psychotronic Challenge returns for it's second installment, daring viewers to select a new theme category for every day in October. One of the longest running, and most consistently satisfying of the local theater series has been The Grand Illusion Cinema's monthlong All Monsters Attack calendar of horror, creature features, classic thrillers, sci-fi, and cult cinema. This year's installment features a set of the core genre gems that audiences have come to expect, with a side of European works from the fringe. Looking back, the citywide cinematic offering saw a great set of films exploring desolate worlds, classic Japanese horror, a vampiric romaticism double feature and a night of music from a maestro of Italian horror. Also in the way of previous Halloween seasons of note, the local arthouse cinemas presented a small abundance on the theme of the haunted house in 2015, and 2013 saw no small number of invaders from beyond. This year, thanks to The Chicago Cinema Society and their discovery of a uncut 35mm print of Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” that had sat in a storage room of a derelict theater since it was last screened in 1978, Northwest Film Forum will host the two night stopover in Seattle. Following on its heals, Film Forum has also programmed a finely-tuned monthlong series of "The Italian Masters of Shock and Gore", with a selection of Yellow Cinema gems, aptly titled, "Terrore Giallo!". That same week also sees the Italian progressive rock legends Goblin make a return to Neumos, for another of the stateside tours since their reactivation in 2005. The quartet came to greater prominence within Giallo circles in the late 70s with a string of scores to Dario Argento's now classic "Profondo Rosso", "Tenebrae", and the aforementioned, "Suspiria". Seen in fragmented and recombinant lineups in the last decade, this current iteration of the band on their domestic "Sound of Fear" tour, does not include in it's numbers, keyboardist Claudio Simonetti. Rounding out the selection, SIFF Cinema do their bit with a one-night screening of John Carpenter's influential "Halloween", followed by a weekend run of George Romero's classic "Night of the Living Dead". Which, it should be noted, this year the director who birthed the very genre of the living undead on film, passed away, "George Romero, Father of the Zombie Movie, Dies at Age 77". It should also be said that the year also saw the loss of one of the greats of American genre cinema, and progenitor of the modern horror film, with the death of "Tobe Hooper: The Director Who Took a Chainsaw to Wholesome Family Life".

Sunday, October 1, 2017

French Cinema Now at SIFF Cinema: Sept 28 - Oct 5 | Orcas Island Film Festival: Oct 6 - 9

The week sees the opening of Seattle International Film Festival's annual French Cinema Now series at SIFF Cinema. This year's program largely concerned with functional Eurodramas, little else on offer speaks to the exceptional quality of Agnes Varda's most recent investigation of place and identity, "Visages Villages". In the course of her humble, quietly groundbreaking, nearly 60-year career, this highlight of Cannes stands out as one of her most profoundly personal and exuberantly populist works. Much like her quietly triumphant, "The Gleaners and I" it watches as a tour de France that is both a romp and a meditation on photography, cinema, cultural identity, community and mortality. Additionally, the film is also a document of the unexpected kinship between anonymous 33 year old visual artist JR, and the octogenarian Left Bank auteur. Inspired equally by JR’s large scale photographic portraits produced in his mobile photo booth, as the locales they aspire to have a visual dialogue with, Varda enlists her counterpart for an impromptu cross-country road trip through France. At once poetic and naked truth, like director's best work, the documentary essay shape-shifts before one’s eyes, once again, "Agnès Varda, People Person, Creates a Self-Referential Marvel". Much in the way of Vardas' essayist documentary, it could be argued that the most overtly personal of his works, "Those Movies, Himself: Bertrand Tavernier’s Tour of French Cinema" essentially watches as an autobiographical account of his apprenticeship as a cinephile. If you are fascinated, as Bertrand Tavernier is, by generations of filmmakers as adaptable in their own different ways as Jean Renoir, Jacques Becker, Jean-Pierre Melville, Claude Sautet, and Edmond T. Gréville, then stylistically "Taking Film Lovers on an Incredible 'Journey' Through the Past", may be simply a form of historically minded generosity, inspiration, even humility. His three hour "My Journey Though French Cinema" is a non-chronological consideration of the above director's work and their shared era of French history. We join Tavernier’s personal assessment of the films and directors that influenced him, punctuated with insights into the lives and times of friends and mentors within the world of French cinema, set against the tumultuous events of mid-20th century Europe. The Guardian's review equating the shared journey with Taverier as documentarist and guide, "Like Cracking Open the Lid of a Cinematic Box of Delights".

In programming a festival of diverse yet qualitative content, the current body of the Seattle International Film Festival could take a page or two out of the per-capita seen on offer in this year's Orcas Island Film Festival. In the unlikely setting of the rural beauty of the San Juan islands, chief programmer Carl Spence, has produced a 30-odd-film program in their 4th year to rival that of its Seattle goliath. Much too much on offer to cover here, but it should be noted that the program features northwest premiers of two of Cannes' most notable highlights. Foremost among them, there's been much ado both in cinema and visual art circles concerning the Palme d'Or winning, "The Square" in which director, "Ruben Östlund Turns Art World Satire into Performance-Art Cinema". Another crowning point from Cannes, Claire Denis delivers a subtly pointed observations of contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, with an almost inscrutable sophistication "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Running through the shortlist, other highlights from the weekend's curation review as a essential assessment of the notable releases of the past half-year. The festival's program including, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Before We Vanish", Robin Campillo's "Beats Per Minute", a second opportunity to witness Agnes Varda's "Visages Villages", Alain Gomis' "Felicite", Ai WeiWei's "Human Flow", Fatih Akin's "In the Fade", Richard Linklater's "Last Flag Flying", Agnieszka Holland's "Spoor", Sean Baker's "The Florida Project", Aki Kaurismäki's "The Other Side of Hope", Joachim Trier's "Thelma", and Todd Haynes' well reviewed adaptation of Brian Selznick's illustrated children's novel, "Wonderstruck".

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's new album "The Kid" & US Tour: Oct 11 - Nov 4
| Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda at Chapel Performance Space: Oct 19

Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda return to the Chapel Performance Space after their cancelled 2015 date on the "Ke i te Ki" tour, extended Issue Project Room residency and touring Voices & Echoes festival of 2013. Though of two different generations they share a deep interest in the documenting of sonic environments and the exploration of site-specific happenings. As an early sound-art pioneer in the 1960's, Akio Suzuki on recordings like "Na-Gi" has documented his investigations into the sonic character of select locations and generating responses engaging with their acoustic topography. His ongoing work in field recordings and acoustic observation continues into the present day with the soundwalk project, "Oto-date" translating as "sound-point" in Japanese, in drawing a course through the urban scape, Suzuki defines listening locations in the city and invites audiences to stop and observe carefully at given points on the map. Having created numerous soundwalks at various festival, public garden and gallery settings across the world including the UK's cutting-edge AV Festival, 2015's Borderline Festival in Greece and the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong. It's in these site-specific works that his sonic explorations overlap most-explicitly with that of electronic composer and visual artist Aki Onda. The decades-spanning "Cassette Memories" project and ongoing multiple volume series compiled from a “sound diary” of field-recordings and travels collected and assembled in live performance by Onda in both indoor and outdoor locations across the world. His extensive touring of the project, building it's body of sonic materials and locations as a essayist work in-action was documented last year by Michael Snow in the pages of Bomb Magazine.

It's been a notable year for electronic composer and Berklee School of Music graduate, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Following the gloriously nuanced night of experimental modular synthesizer work at Kremwerk this past summer, wherein she delved further into the territory mapped out in her critically hailed "Ears", she returns for a second tour at Barboza on the heels of "The Kid". In the course of the last year, Smith's meeting of pop songwriting and explorative analog synthesis were heard in such prestigious settings as David Lynch's Festival of Disruption, the 2016 edition of Moogfest, NTS Live and The Broad's Nonobject(ive): Summer Happenings series in Los Angeles. Working outside of more traditional album and live performance settings, Smith was also selected to soundtrack the “Explore The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” video series, commissioned by google in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. Her performances of this year have revealed a unexpected polarity. On one end, a newfound penchant for songwriting bearing no small relation to the feminine synthpop's great progenitor, Kate Bush. On the other, pure analog synthesis exploration and sound painting as heard on her collaborative volume, "Sunergy" in the RVNG labe's FRKWYS series. The meeting sees Smith in a setting alongside one of the most notable women in early modular synth exploration, the duo "Making Sounds with Suzanne Ciani, America's First Female Synth Hero". Talking on Don Buchla and his inventions, the San Francisco Tape Music Center and his Memorial Concerts of this past year, Ciani and Smith share not only their memories of the man but also how creations guided their lives, "His Instrument Gave Me Wings: Remembering Synth Inventor Don Buchla".

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hans-Joachim Roedelius at Chapel Performance Space & US Tour: Sept 25 - Oct 31

This month Wayward Music Series and Patchwerks host one of the most notable figures to originate from the explosion of Krautrock's propulsive minimalism of the late 1970s, a wave of experimentalism that birthed Can, Neu!, Amon Düül II, and Ash Ra Tempel. The latter half of the decade also saw a concurrent generation of German electric invention in minimal and synthesizer explorations from the likes of Popol Vuh, Asmus Tietchens, Conrad Schnitzler, Harald Grosskopf, Harmonia and members of Cluster working both in and out of solo modes. Both of these facets of the burgeoning German experimental music scene detailed by Jon Savage, in the pages of The Guardian's, "Elektronische Musik: A Guide to Krautrock". For converts of the sound, original editions and even official reissues have been scant going on decades, but recent overviews like Soul Jazz' "Deutsche Elektronische Musik" and Light in the Attic's recent foray into shared territory with, "The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe" have brought new attention to their explorations. Further timely unearthing of these Kosmische explorer's work, the early works of Asmus Tietchens have seen a handsome series of reissues from Bureau B, and Harmonium received a lavish box set repress of their central albums on Grönland Records, the first official release of it's kind in decades. Likewise, this past year also saw the official reissue of a lavish assembly of music by the trio of Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius, and Conrad Schnitzler as the Cluster 1971 - 1981 box set. In an interview for for Perfect Sound Forever Roedelius chronicled the intersection of this most notable outfit within the Krautrock and Kosmnische scenes as an outcome of his and Schnitzler's founding of the Zodiak Free Arts Club. The venue acting as a attractor and confluence of the existing minimalist strain of psychedelic rock, performance art and theater and what Roedelius calls "free jazz meets electronics". A regular of the venue, Dieter Moebius became the third element in their improvised music theater trio, then named Kluster.

As a follower of Joseph Beuys and the Fluxus movement, Schnitzler found other like-minded galleries and museums receptive to hosting their explorations in sound and performance. Thus began what what Roedelius refers to as Kluster's "somewhat endless European tour of improvised shows" in 1970. Though Schnitzler came to depart from the trio, his contacts within the music world brought Moebius and Roedelius into the influential sphere of producer Conny Plank. This fortuitous meeting would be a catalyst in further cementing the disparate aspects of the existing Krautrock and Kosmische sounds into shared culture, producing notable cross-pollinations like that of Harmonia. Intersecting in the space between the repetitive motoric vocabulary of Michael Rother's work in Neu! with Moebius and Roedelius' freeform synthesizer explorations, Harmonia could be considered the genre's sole supergroup of a style. Documented in Alex Abramovich's "The Invention of Ambient Music" for the New Yorker, their open-ended freeform performances in gallery and theater spaces following the release of 1975's "Deluxe", attracted the attention of British producer extraordinaire Brian Eno. The shared solidarity in musical exploration and synthesis would culminate in September 1976 in an 11 day stayover in Forst Germany where Eno lived and recorded with Harmonia, producing the material that would become "Tracks and Traces". Bridging of the German Elektronische and Krautrock scenes with the then developing sounds heard further west in Great Britain, this work would proceed Eno's influential production in the pop world on his trio of albums for David Bowie. The meeting also acting a catalyst toward his own collaborations with Moebius and Roedelius; Eno's now canonical "Music for Films" and first volume in the ambient series, "Music for Airports" followed directly on the heels of the collaborations spawned by this meeting of "Cluster & Eno" and their second album, "After the Heat". A accelerated period of productivity for the British producer, the quartet of epoch defining ambient albums in this chapter of "The Discreet Music of Brian Eno" culminating in 1982's "On Land". What the ambient series shares with his German contemporaries Eno himself would describe in the pages of Sound on Sound magazine as, "A Fervent Nostalgia for the Future".

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Edward Yang's "Taipei Story" at SIFF Cinema: Aug 18 - 20

In an environment brought about by the decline of the commercial and propagandistic cinema of the previous epoque, with the lifting of martial law and the growing popularity of home video, film watching became a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. In this more open, incrementally democratizing environment, the domestic Taiwanese film industry faced the new challenge of the entry of Hong Kong films into the Taiwanese marked. In response to the influx of both black market product of western and Asian cinema from without, the Central Motion Picture Company began an initiative to support several young directors, fresh out of film school and academia. The "In Our Time" anthology, which featured four new developing talents; Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, Yi Chang, and Edward Yang, was the groundwork for what would come to be known as the first New Wave within Taiwanese cinema. Along with Hou Hsiao-Hsien, celebrated author Chu Tien-wen, Chen Kunhou and the great talent of Edward Yang, this New Wave grew largely unbridled by censorship and political interference. By contrast to the commercial melodramas and martial arts films issuing from Hong Kong, (see Shaw Brothers Studio for reference), the films of the New Wave portrayed the passing of time through the everyday lives of the citizens of urban and rural Taiwan. Sharing an emphasis on duration, long shots and a focus on narrative and stylistic simplicity with the films of the Italian Neorealism, this New Wave intimately chronicled Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in the 1980s. The second New Taiwanese Cinema movement of the 1990s produced a generational doublet of young directors who picked up the torch left behind in the wake of the New Wave of the decade before. With an eye to the International Festival Circuit, this second generation of non-commercial arthouse cinema built upon the foundation of the movement that proceeded them. In a filmmography of beguiling, often time-distended works, no other Taiwanese director has advanced the art to the extent of Tsai Ming-Liang. Roger Clarke's "The Incomplete Tsai Ming-liang" for The Guardian, and Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature detail the subjects of longing, time, connectivity and estrangement explored this singular body of work. Crediting the trailblazing work of the New Wave's first generation, the director spoke in 2010, "On the Uses and Misuses of Cinema" for an audience at Taiwan's National Central University.

Yet despite the international acclaim and festival recognition given to the leading directors of the New Taiwan Cinema, their films have rarely been shown outside of occasional festival screenings. This has remained the case until the major, and quite recent, exception of Edward Yang's "Yi Yi: A One & A Two". Winning the Best Director prize at Cannes in 2000, the film was an important testament to the movement’s collective, collaborative spirit. Edward Yang's extraordinary and unanimously praised masterpiece also marked the end of a chapter for the major talents in the movement, with Yang's passing in less than a decade after it's completion. As detailed in Kent Jones, "Yi Yi: Time & Space" for Criterion, in many ways Yi Yi summarizes Yang's lasting contribution to World Cinema. The film showcases the dystopian imbalance and accelerated growth towards modernization that are central themes of both Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature Jonathan Rosenbaum's excellent, "Exiles in Modernity: The Films of Edward Yang". Guided by his acute sensitivity to the familial and spacial structures that enclose and trap the lives of his characters, Yang depicts their inner and outward struggles that often erupt through lives of frustrated creativity. The deeply restless searching of the struggling creators and ethically conflicted entrepreneurs that recur through Yang’s films, personify the longings, humor and earned wisdom of the generation who witnessed the profound socio-cultural transformation brought on by Taiwan's economic boom. While retroactively earning Films of the Decade selection by the British Film Institute as well as the BBC's global poll of 177 film critics and Film Comment's End of the Decade Critics' Poll, only in recent years has it been the case that cinema culture has, "(Re)Discovered the Elusive Master Edward Yang". Crowned by the recently restored tale of "Coming of Age in Taipei" that is the magnum opus, "A Brighter Summer Day", these recent retrospectives showcasing the strength of his seven ambitious feature films. Most notably, Film Society at Lincoln Center's, "A Rational Mind: The Films of Edward Yang" and Harvard Film Archive's, "The Taiwan Stories of Edward Yang and Wu Nien-jen", have presented the totality of Yang's feature works, including that of the urban struggles of "Modern Planning" depicted in 1985's "Taipei Story". Bridging two pivotal life points of the "Displaced, Disaffected and Desperate to Connect" in a single generation,  these two works chronicle the development of this arthouse master, particularly in the case of his intimately biographical portrait of, "One Couple’s Promising ‘Taipei Story,’ Slowly Undermined".

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lav Diaz's "The Woman Who Left" at Northwest Film Forum: Aug 9 - 10

Much was said at the time concerning 2014's epic re-imagining of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" by the director at the forefront of Filipino cinema. Not least of which it ranking on notable Films of the Year lists, cited as a highlight of Cannes, and with it's theatrical distribution the following year, as Film of the Week for both Sight & Sound and Film Comment. Unlike the larger body of Lav Diaz's work, this four hour color feature diverged from what's come to be called Slow Cinema in that "Norte, the End of History" is as much a dynamic personal fiction with the ebb and flow of a narrative drama, set within the duration and structural expanses of Slow Cinema's spacial ambiance. This vantage from the perspective of the interpersonal is the force that moves the viewer through the film's inner and outer landscapes, guided by "Rays of Humanity in a Vile World: ‘Norte, the End of History,’ a Dostoyevskian Fable". More than any other work, it can be seen as a culmination of Diaz’s long engagement with the Russian novelist, as the most fully realized of his "Dostoevsky Variations". What the director most shares with the Russian novelist is is in the tone, attitude, and sensibility of his films; the gravitas, unrestrained philosophical questioning, cryptic humor and brief outcroppings of melodramatic tendencies all manifest in similar fashion. Where "Norte, the End of History" differs most in regard to the great Russian novel, is that Dostoevsky's relentless manhunt is replaced with an existential quest through massive, unpopulated landscapes and dark city streets of the Filipino island of Luzon.Returning to Russian literature for inspiration and the general structure of its social and ethical concerns, "The Woman Who Left" is another of Diaz's addressing of the operations of poverty, postcolonial malaise, corruption, social injustice and failing rural communities in his home country. Loosely based on a resetting of Leo Tolstoy's “God Sees the Truth, but Waits", this winner of the Golden Lion at last year's Venice Film Festival was among Film Comment's Best Undistributed Films of 2016, operating as both a closely tied personal tale, and a larger social narrative as an "Epic, Intimate Tale of Injustice".

In interview with The Guardian, and Cinema-Scope, Diaz has asserted that much of his work is the exploration of historic epochs, whether the years under Ferdinand Marcos, or colonization under Spain, acting as a contextualization and critique, he hopes to depict the effects of the country's vicious cycle with power through the lives of its populace. Among a small body of directors found across this archipelago nation working independently, Diaz is without the backing of any studio, often relying on outside international festival funds to tell their stories of modern life in their developing country. Working in a neorealist style, often in long takes and extended duration, he and compatriot Brillante Mendoza have made their life's work documenting a time rife with conflict and change. In the face of the ascension of Duterte to the presidency, "Filipino Filmmakers Continue to Shed Light on the Forgotten", yet there is some question whether as to how long they will will have the freedom to document and explore such subjects. Here for a brief two day run at Northwest Film Forum, this Guardian and Film Comment Film of the Week pick finds itself in an environment abundantly receptive to the director's challenging duration, political content and technical form. This past year saw the Film Society at Lincoln Center host "Time Regained: The Films of Lav Diaz" as the first American retrospective of the director's work, and in another first, an online retrospective hosted by "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock". Included in this cinephile streaming event of the year, "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz", Mubi has programmed the ten hour "Evolution of a Filipino Family", the eight hour "Heremias" from 2006, the documentary "Storm Children: Book One", 2011's "Century of Birthing", 2008's award winning "Melancholia" and contender for masterpiece among the director's durational narrative works, the 2014 Locarno Film Festival winner, "From What is Before".