Sunday, November 20, 2016

Denis Villeneuve's new film "Arrival" at SIFF Cinema: Nov 11 - Dec 15

Early reviews from the Venice Film Festival, Toronto, and a strong showing in this year's Telluride programming, covered by the New York Times' "Cinema is Dead? Telluride Says Not Yet", establish there's a lot more to Denis Villeneuve's tendency in his recent films to "Lean In to Strong Heroines". As is displayed in his adaptation of Nebula award winner, Ted Chaing's "Story of Your Life". The intergalactic sentiment of "Arrival" is somewhat akin to that of a more soundly constructed "Interstellar", populated by characters who's inner lives speak to the film's conceptual, philosophical core. Their shared endeavor set against a global backdrop of post-Cold War geopolitics and events not unlike those depicted in the now-classic, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Yet "Arrival" stands as more than derivation-done-well. Those films only acting as functional touch-points of reference to which Villeneuve, cinematographer Bradford Young, and screen adaptation by Eric Heisserer, have assembled their intricately woven, often remarkable science fiction thriller. Villeneuve clearly knows his genre film of decades past, accruing a weighty suspense, he takes his time before revealing his leviathan and the visitors who inhabit it's monolithic edifice. The unfolding of the narrative is stately and elegant, its pace, sober and deliberate. Even once established in one of the more credible "fist contact" sequences in recent cinema history, as events unspool, we can sense that like Adams' linguist protagonist, we do not entirely comprehend them, or the literally alien motivations that underpin the extraterrestrial visitation. As the film progresses, the anxiety over the visitor's intentions and the anticipation of the unknown are balanced more towards the first of the two impulses. On the surface, as The New York Times review suggests, "Aliens Drop Anchor in ‘Arrival,’ but What Are Their Intentions?", Villeneuve stages a dilemma where the desire for knowledge clashes with instincts of fear and hostility.

Incrementally the substructure of the exchange between worlds is revealed to be time and our linear experience of it. This premise, as explored in the film, is constructed around the Theory of Linguistic Relativity, referring to the hypothesis that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ cognition or worldview. Considered praise from Jonathan Romney in his Film of the Week review for Film Comment, concerning these questions of time, memory, and human choice, which are central not only to the film’s narrative but focus and give credibility to its moral architecture. This is precisely the kind of speculative fiction, as put forward in reviews like The Telegraph's "Dazzling Science-Fiction from Denis Villeneuve" and The Atlantic's "The Epic Intimacy of 'Arrival'", that successfully bridges the cosmic and personal, a conceptual expanse that Christopher Nolan's outer space epic largely failed to traverse. Special commendation in it's lending of sensory tangibility to the film's fantastical premise, and dynamic tension as it progresses from a pervasive state of the unknown, also needs to be given to the the elements of the soundtrack, audio design and score by neoclassical composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Collider's interview on the film and his forthcoming collaboration with the director while "Preparing to Score ‘Blade Runner 2049'" detail his work utilizing the exquisite intonations of Theater of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier. Beyond the soundtrack, the commodious auditory environment of it's two hour duration also featuring excerpts from Max Richter's 2004 electro-acoustic album, "The Blue Notebooks", alongside the exceptional audio design work of film's sound department under Claude La Haye and Bernard Gariépy Strobl. The Quietus discusses "A Kind Of Visceral Quality: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Favourite Records", which like the score, epitomize a philosophy of minimal gestures with maximum impact, illustrated further in interview for FACT Mag's, "Jóhann Jóhannsson on 'Orphée' and His Biggest Challenge Yet".

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Musica Elettronica Viva with Alvin Curran, Frederic Rzewski and Richard Teitelbaum at Chapel Performance Space: Nov 5 & RedCat Theater Los Angeles: Nov 9

Legendary improvisation ensemble, Musica Elettronica Viva have contributed as much to the opening of form as the very lexicon of mid-20th Century free music. Few could call themselves contemporaries of this collective begun in Rome in the spring of 1966, among them London's Spontaneous Music Ensemble and fellow explorers of free music and the academic vanguard, AMM. In the 50 years since MEV initially confounded European audiences, inspired lengthy debate and discourse and pushed at the very threshold of the premise of music the group has gone through intermittent periods of activity and dormancy. All the while its three central members continued their provocative and engaged exploration of the furthest fringes of sound, improv and composition. Alvin Curran, mixing life, art and performance in a single ongoing venture, with an extensive body of recordings among his artistic documents. Frederic Rzewski piano virtuoso and composer of the 1977, "The People United Will Never Be Defeated!", written while Professor of Composition at the Conservatoire Royal de Musique in Liège, Belgium, then directed by Musique Concrete and electro-acoustic pioneer, Henri Pousseur. The three having met while Bard College professor, Richard Tietelbaum, was studying composition under the tutelage of avant-garde titan, Luigi Nono and Goffredo Petrassi in Italy. Focusing on politically engaged live events and improvisational happenings, professional studio recordings can be seen as anathema to their autochthonous explorations generated at the time. Instead the larger body of the releases on vanguard jazz and impov label's like BYG Actuel represent the young ensemble "Live in Roma", on expressive recordings like 1970's "Leave the City" and 1969's "The Sound Pool". With the larger body of their recorded explorations documented on small edition CDRs and limited press LPs. Yet Milan-based label Alga Marghen, specializing in experimental historical obscurities, outsider music, and 20th Century composition have included in their catalog handsome reissues of the central "Friday" and "Spacecraft / Unified Patchwork Theory".

Curran, Tietelbaum and Rzewski continue to perform live in rare settings like this month's night at RedCat contemporary arts center Los Angeles, and Chapel Performance Space, Seattle. As well as release  21st Century performances in dialog with contemporaries as heard on 2004's "Apogee" with AMM and unearth further archival works like that of the extraordinary, (long overdue) and near-comprehensive New World Records retrospective, "MEV 40". For which, Alvin Curran supplied the spirited introduction; "Musica Elettronica Viva was begun one evening in the spring of 1966 by Allan Bryant, Alvin Curran, Jon Phetteplace, Carol Plantamura, Frederic Rzweski, Richard Teitelbaum and Ivan Vandor in a room in Rome overlooking the Pantheon. MEV's music right from the start was also totally open, allowing all and everything to come in and seeking in every way to get out beyond the heartless conventions of contemporary music. Taking its cue from Tudor and Cage, MEV began sticking contact mics to anything that sounded and amplified their raw sounds: bed springs, sheets of glass, tin cans, rubber bands, toy pianos, sex vibrators, and assorted metal junk; a crushed old trumpet, cello and tenor sax kept us within musical credibility, while a home-made synthesizer of some 48 oscillators along with the first Moog synthesizer in Europe gave our otherwise neo-primitive sound an inimitable edge. In the name of the collectivity, the group abandoned both written scores and leadership and replaced them with improvisation and critical listening. Rehearsals and concerts were begun at the appropriate time by a kind of spontaneous combustion and continued until total exhaustion set in. It mattered little who played what when or how, but the fragile bond of human trust that linked us all in every moment remained unbroken. The music could go anywhere, gliding into self-regenerating unity or lurching into irrevocable chaos-both were valuable goals. In the general euphoria of the times, MEV thought it had re-invented music; in any case it had certainly rediscovered it."