Saturday, January 14, 2017

:::: FILMS OF 2016 ::::


TOP FILMS OF 2016 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
-----------------------------------------------------------
Lucile Hadžihalilović  "Evolution"  (France)
László Nemes  "Son of Saul"  (Hungary)
Ciro Guerra  "Embrace of the Serpent"  (Colombia)
Aleksander Sokurov  "Francophonia"  (Russia)
Barry Jenkins  "Moonlight"  (United States)
Bi Gan  "Kaili Blues"  (China)
Maren Ade  "Toni Erdmann"  (Germany)
Alain Robbe-Grillet  "L'Immortelle"  Restored Rerelease  (France)
Louis Malle  "Elevator to the Gallows"  Restored Rerelease  (France)
Wim Wenders  "The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick"  Restored Rerelease  (Germany)
Sidney Bernstein  "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey"  (United Kingdom)
Krzysztof Kieślowski  "Dekalog"  Restored Rerelease  (Poland)
Byron Haskin  "Too Late For Tears"  Restored Rerelease  (United States)
Karel Zeman  "A Deadly Invention"  Restored Rerelease  (Czech Republic)
Seijun Suzuki  "Gate of Flesh"  Restored Rerelease  (Japan)
King Hu  "Touch of Zen"  Restored Rerelease  (China)
Makoto Shinkai  "Your Name"  (Japan)
Denis Villeneuve  "Arrival"  (United States)
Paul Verhoeven  "Elle"  (France)
Matteo Garrone  "Tale of Tales"  (Italy)
Pablo Larraín  "Neruda"  (Chile)
Shunji Iwai  "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle"  (Japan)
Albert Serra  "Story of My Death"  (Spain)
Avishai Sivan  "Tikkun"  (Israel)
Mauro Herce  "Dead Slow Ahead"  (Spain) 

This past year was marked by the inescapable reality of a election cycle in which both liberal and conservative media elevated a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. All the while, the other aspect of the dominant two party system marginalized their more viable candidate. Less travel this year, both domestic and international translated as nothing in 2016 being comparable to attending the Okwui Enwezor curated “All the World’s Futures” and the Venice Biennale, of the year before. Grounded here in the United States, with the noise and confusion of the theatrical pantomime that was this year's election cycle, it was a great relief to find memorable festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role, with the 300 mark hit it was a year in which a new personal record was set in theater attendance. The most notable arts event witnessed this year was the second-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair, which again proved itself to be decidedly more than a rich man's vanity project. Particularly so for the inclusion of Pivot Art + Culture hosting the return of the KaiKai KiKi collective and it's cultural figurehead, Takashi Murakami in collaboration with Juxtapoz magazine for, "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat". Taken with the collateral "Out of Sight" exhibition, returning to the King Street Station exhibition space for its second-annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest, the two produced an international caliber event. Reflecting the changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle two regional festivals which had previously brought an international scope to the city had closing and transitional years in 2015. That year saw the final installments of the region's two dominant, global festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music. The final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival came and went, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. In lieu of the more expansive international forums offered by these festival settings, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR and Wayward Music Series produced a string of memorable one-off events in 2016. Elevator's maturation this past year into exhibition curation with their first annual Corridor Festival was hailed as a unmitigated success in local press. It's day-long meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance may be the city's best new hope in filling the festival void. Corridor's second edition this month promising an equally engaged festival of light, sound, and movement from the media and performance underground.

For the larger part of global cinema, the digital age is still proving to be at a narrow impasse rather than the promised plateau of abundance, which many are learning to navigate. Particularly evident in the world of film distribution, though footing has been found on some of the growing independent streaming platforms. Award winning films from festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, Toronto and Cannes topping both Film Comment, Cinema-Scope and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews have yet to screen in the United States, or even show up streaming online. So count yourself fortunate that you live in a international city if you do, as more and more of the world's greatest film aren't to be found for purchase, rent, streaming or even download (legal or otherwise). This year's Seattle International Film Festival somewhat stronger showing than the less than memorable selection of the year before, which was disheartening after the exceptional year had in 2014 for their 40th Anniversary. Their year-round programming at SIFF Cinema compensating for the oversights of the festival, bringing advance screenings, rare prints and numerous exclusive screenings to their three cinemas including the Film Center and recently restored Egyptian Theatre. Their second-run Recent Raves series being the best thing SIFF had going until it's suspension at the end of last year. Here's hoping for it's return in 2017. With indie cinemas closing around the nation, it was that much more important to support the local theater opportunities such as the fast-shrinking and now halved Landmark Theatres, and occasionally rewarding Sundance Cinema in Seattle.

Our own Northwest Film Forum had a strong calendar year as did what's fast become the greatest programming seen on a screen in this town, The Grand Illusion Cinema. In the past year this micro-sized, yet longest continuously running theater in Seattle, stepped up to fill the growing theatre void after strengthening their nonprofit partnership with Scarecrow Video. Many of the best films seen this year, when they did come to the cinema, had runs that lasted no more than a week. Others were never to appear again outside of an initial festival screening. Again proving the wisdom of getting out there, seeing the city and prioritizing the remaining opportunities that we're fortunate to have in our urban crossroads. Even so, no mall percentage of these films even avid theater-goers living in urban centers didn't get to see. Making a resource like Scarecrow Video, last year's Stranger Genius Award-winner, that much more irreplaceable. One can't imagine in the age of digital piracy that this process has aided films in finding their audience. More worrying, the lack of genuine cinema available on the dominant streaming resources, particularly with Netflix phasing out the diversity offered in their physical media. Amazon not being a real alternative either, despite their claims. Resources like Fandor, Mubi and FilmStruck, the newly launched endeavor of Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection, are fast becoming the almost singular streaming platforms through which online viewers have access to the true scope of the past twelve decades of moving pictures. Particularly with all three platforms being avidly involved in the festival dialog, with curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook, Streamline and Keyframe. In the end Mubi coming out on top, their "It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz" feature on the Filipino director's extended duration film was the cinephile streaming event of the year.

Rated by The Guardian as the number one film screened in the United States last year, László Nemes created in his award-winning, unlikely directorial debut, "'Son of Saul', an Expansion of the Language of Holocaust Films". Understandably even the century's most confident filmmakers have quailed before the terrifying responsibility of massacre, torture and sadism that is the Holocaust. Only documentaries have successfully addressed the immensity of the subject, namely Alain Resnais haunting "Night and Fog" the plumbing of the personal in Claude Lanzmann's monumental achievement "Shoah", and the recently reconstructed "German Concentration Camps Factual Survey". The latter detailed in HBO's "Night Will Fall", as a "Recalling of a Film From the Liberation of the Camps" that features some of the most unflinching footage dedicated to film in the whole of the 20th Century, and stands as a profoundly significant "lost" document on the subject. Few have ever gotten as close to the three works mentioned above to penetrating the mysteries of this most cataclysmic of human horrors. Neme's film approaches the untouchable by taking the viewer into the close-viewed final chapter of it's protagonist's life as a Sonderkommando in a unnamed concentration camp. This is a raw, pitiless cinema that pulls no punches, and does the "unrepresentable" in it's fictional representation of human dignity amid the torrent of the Holocaust. Documentarist Claude Lanzmann, famous for his disapproval of dramatic representations of the Holocaust on screen, and even well-meaning and educational entertainment's "threat to the Incarnation of the truth" surprised everyone by praising Neme's film, calling it the “anti–Schindler’s List”. Lanzmann himself resurfacing in 2013 with the release of his extended interviews with the last living Ältester of the Judenrat in his belated documentary, shot in the 1970s in Rome and not completed until present day about the divisive Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein. With his documentary "Last of the Unjust", Lanzmann gifted the world a "Fascinating, Subtle Study in Survivor Non-Guilt" and "A Remarkable Companion to the Document of 'Shoah'".

Atrocities of quite a different kind were addressed through fictional characters in the historic setting of Ciro Guerra's "Embrace of the Serpent". His award-winning film stands as a capaciously researched work of Colonial fiction richly drawing from the accounts of ethnologist and explorer Theodor Koch-Grünberg and the American botanist Richard Evans Schultes. The latter widely considered the father of modern ethnobotany for his global studies of indigenous peoples' ritualistic and medicinal uses of entheogenic plants and fungi. As described in Nicholas Casey's piece for the New York Times, Guerra arrived in the jungle with an anthropologist who aided the conveyance of his project to a local shaman, who in Guerra’s words, carefully “explained the project to the forest.” This project became, "Embrace of the Serpent: Ciro Guerra's Searching Tale about Invaded Cultures in the Amazon". Almost directly referencing the life's experiences and knowledge contained in the pages of Grünberg's "Two Years Among the Indians: Travels in Northwest Brazil", "The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Charles Evans Schultes", Schultes' own book co-authored with chemist Albert Hofmann, "The Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers", and for it's larger context, "One River", Wade Davis' account of the explorations of Charles Evans Schultes. Guerra's tale is viewed largely through the aggrieved eyes of a shaman by the name of Karamakate, a Cohiuano spiritual leader living isolated in the jungle, his tribe on the verge of extinction. “Embrace of the Serpent”'s fantastical mixture of myth and historical reality "Where Majesty Meets Monstrosity" adopts Karamakate's non-Western concepts of time and storytelling into it's very structure. Guerra gives us a damning condemnation of Colonial encroachment, a "Dreamlike Exploration of Imperialist Pollution" seen sidelong through Western man's journey for knowledge in the spiritual landscape of the Amazon. 

The strongest directorial debut in recent years appeared as an entry in what has become the European forum for the vanguard in contemporary narrative cinema. The Locarno Film Festival has emerged as one of the most important Western festivals to support Asian cinema, particularly works without commercial distribution prospects. For mainland Chinese filmmakers, the affirmation and support from the global independent film industry has become more crucial in recent years. Particularly as the government under President Xi Jinping continues to carry out the broadest crackdown on free expression in the "25 Years of Amnesia" since the events that culminated in the Tiannanmen Square protests of 1989. By way of example, China’s most prominent arthouse director, "A Guy From Fenyang" by the name of Jia Zhang-ke, would not have had the global reach of a "Filmmaker Giving Voice to Acts of Rage in Today’s China", without the support of the international festival circuit. Those filmmakers are also aware that as recently as 2010, Locarno awarded the Golden Leopard, it's top prize, to an unknown Chinese director for Li Hongqi's “Winter Vacation”. Further bolstering it's role in supporting independent film from mainland China and broader Asian subcontinent, Locarno established “Bridging the Dragon", a traveling workshop aiming to foment co-production partnerships for both European and Chinese films. So it is that "Chinese Independent Filmmakers Look to Locarno Festival" in growing numbers and diversity. Ranked among Film Comment's Best Undistributed Films of 2015, Bi Gan's "remarkable arthouse debut" swept up Locarno's Best New Director prize, it's screening in the festival hailed as one of the most assured directorial debuts of the decade by both Film Comment and Cinema-Scope. In "Kaili Blues" Gan offers up an increasingly dreamlike elegy for bygone Miao traditions and sweeping changes seen in the landscape of China itself. Delivered through extended shots and images that are achingly melancholy, and teasingly cluttered, "Kaili Blues: A Dream without Limits" describes the subtropical province of Guizhou, a mountainous, lush region of sporadic human habitations. Intriguing associations of the narrative's emotional landscape can be found in the depicted real-world recurrences of transition and disrepair.

On a personal level there were three films in the year that spoke to aesthetic, philosophical, emotional and conceptual interests like no others. Curiously, this trio shares as little in common as anything viewed in the year, yet they are all bound up in a dedication to form in their exploration of meaning. With “Evolution”, her first film in over a decade, Lucille Hadzihalilovic has again created a tantalizingly atmospheric cinematic "Miracle of Life" that’s utterly sui generis. Yet it is one which also resonates with recognizable echoes of genre forms found in French Fantastique and Giallo, all the while remaining enigmatic from its opening to dystopic close. This "Eerie Body Horror with a Tender Undercurrent" watches as a transporting coming of age tale, similarly in the case of her "Innocence" of 2004 and again it is equally mesmerizing and troubling, a entrancing confluence of the beautiful and sinister. The two films also share in an effect of, "Going to a Magical Place You Wouldn’t Want to Live In" yet as a viewer finding that its entrancement lingers beyond the closing credits, if only to further parse out it's mystery. It is a film who's function is in part about the construction of irreducible tension, and the satisfaction of finding that it remains unresolved at it's completion. Special mention goes to the sound design and score by Stephen Thrower and Ossian Brown as Cyclobe, who like the work of Jóhannsson for Villeneuve's "Arrival", play a significant role in reinforcing the sensory bedrock of the film's the fantastical setting. A setup equally out-of-time serves a diametrically different purpose in relation to Aleksander Sokurov's "Francophonia". This time around the Russian experimenter has put nothing less than his whole self into the film, quite literally. Sometimes acting as an unseen interlocutor, host and guide, the director speaks with the ghosts who haunt the Louvre over it's centuries of existence, his inquiry echoing across time. Through the vehicle of the museum's own life under varying governments, empires and states, some benevolent, others hostile, like in that in case of it's central passage, "About World War Foes Turned Allies, for the Sake of Art". But Sokurov's larger theme this time is the cruelty of greatness itself. It is in this age-old alliance of art and power, and the crushing distance of both from the lives of those who serve them, that is the film's central concern.These are detailed through Sokurov's own nocturnal ruminations about the connections between war and peace, art collections and conquest, Western and Eastern Europe. Like its theme, his "Meditations on the Louve" is in itself a work of art that troubles the conscience; putting forward the consideration that no art is innocent, and that both its preservation and destruction, depends on the very influence of that power which has shaped history. 

Barry Jenkins' exploration of inchoate desire is as wise as it is generous, and as a portrait of masculinity it is both as unflinching, and deeply empathetic, as anything in all of contemporary cinema. That a film of such cultural specificity manages to be so overwhelmingly universal is another of it's many feats. Another is that Jenkins and screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney have crafted a film which originates from so deep in its own DNA that it often comes across as as impossible to separate any one aspect from the context which produced it. Through the tandem of urban sounds in concert with Nicholas Britell's expressive soundtrack, the poetry of James Laxton's cinematography, and a few beautifully executed acknowledgements to Jenkins' cinematic heroes, the moments that comprise "Moonlight" are deeply immersive. The result in concert is that there are extended passages of Jenkins "Song of Myself" that watch as though the viewer is experiencing them with all their senses. The product is a very real sense that the journey of Jenkins and McCraney "From Bittersweet Childhoods to ‘Moonlight’", is the story of the film itself. "This Magical, Majestic Portrait of Young, Black Gay Life" as Matt Sandler puts it in "Miami Melancholia" for the Los Angeles Review of Books; "Makes a swerve on the broad and compulsively historical cliches that usually frame American filmmaking about Black people, by being more historical, by looking so closely that a new kind of filmic history emerges. Moonlight’s sublimity depends on the specificity of its setting in the age of neoliberalism and particular as a site of transnational, African diasporic, utopian dreaming." Phil Coldiron's approach in Cinema-Scope is to consider how differently this film addresses America’s ongoing history of structural racism and the preponderance of occasions in which black communities in popular cinema face poverty and oppression so that a singularly-able hero might transcend it. If not escaping the conditions of systemic poverty, then suffer them nobly or more productively "as the means for analyzing some relationship of power marked off by the distance of history". No such devices are at play in Jenkins' film, and it is much more superior for it. 

While a strong year for contemporary cinema, some of the greater revelations came from decades past. The highest concentration of which was seen delivered by the work of institutions like Criterion Collection, Masters of Cinema and Kino Lorber, who continue to fund the restoration and rerelease of some of the past century's greatest film. Criterion Collection's vision continues to be enriched by masterpieces of decades past, this year seeing long overdue restoration of one of the most notable works of the whole of the Taiwanese New Wave in Edward Yang's "A Brighter Summer Day". This evocation of the "Heartache and Confusion of Adolescence from an Arthouse Master" is among the rarest and most significant films to emerge from world cinema in the 1990s. From quite another era of Asian cinema, King Hu's preeminence as a "Martial-arts Pioneer Who Brought Dynamic Grace to the Genre", was reestablished with Janus Films and Criterion producing new 4k restorations in a domestic theatrical run this past summer. This marked the first opportunity to see these films in the west for most filmgoers, particularly in the case of "A Touch of Zen". With "A Touch of Zen's Masterful Concoction of Cinematic Flavors" Hu emerged in 1971 as a "Martial-arts Filmmaking Master, Bending Light and Arrows to His Will". Befitting a body of work of this influence and stature, in a rare move for genre works Senses of Cinema have dedicated a Great Directors feature on Hu's warping and reformatting of the three tenets of 20th Century Wuxia cinema: the political world of the Jianghu, bewildering martial arts action, and thirdly, and most artfully in Hu's case, abstraction in representing Buddhist concepts. Polish cinema also featured prominently. SIFF again played host to the annual Seattle Polish Film Festival, with this year's programming coupe the exceedingly rare screening of "On the Silver Globe", a truly lost "Thwarted Sci-Fi Masterwork" by "Polish Cinema Rebel, Andrzej Zulawski Who Died this Year at Age 75". Coinciding with the Criterion Collection's release of the restored blu-ray box set of the apogee in all Krzysztof Kieslowski's filmography, "Dekalog" returned to cinemas for the first time in almost two decades. SPFF featuring not only Kieslowski's restored ten-part masterwork, but also his earliest collaborations with cinematographer Sławomir Idziak, "A Short Film About Killing" and the director's first film outside of Poland, "The Double Life of Veronique". 

The year's two most notable retrospectives were brought to town by Northwest Film Forum in collaboration with The Grand Illusion and SIFF Cinema. Again decades since many of the German director's work was seen in cinemas domestically, "Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road" brought a rare and overdue opportunity for "Looking Back at the Road Ahead" at the life's work of one of Senses of Cinema's Great Directors. A quest spanning the five decades from his earliest 16mm experimental shorts of the late 1960s to his recent award-winning documentaries, his global cinematic journeying was celebrated with a honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. This "Misfit, Outsider and the Man Who Helped America to See Itself" first came to wide attention in the 1970s for his string of existential road movies exploring modern-day alienation, spiritual confusion, loneliness and dislocation. This body of work featured in Criterion's new blu-ray restorations helped establish the New German Cinema alongside the work of his contemporaries, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta as arguably the most significant national cinema movement of the 1970s. The other side of the globe and a decade in advance, the course described by "Action, Anarchy and Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective" was as much of the great outsider director, as the Japanese studio system itself. Particularly that of Nikkatsu and the decade of action films from the studio that flooded the Japanese market. These appeared in genres spanning yakuza movies, urban thrillers, jazz-inflected youth pictures, Nippon westerns and French New Wave-inspired emotional dramas and crime films. Amid this abundance of action potboilers, Mukokuseki Akushon (or “borderless action”) crime films emerged, the best of these originated from the then-new, and stylistically daring directorial talent of, Toshio Masuda, Takashi Nomura, Seijun Suzuki and Buichi Saito. Arrow Films' Nikkatsu Diamond Guys and Criterion's Nikkatsu Noir represents a standout cross section from the best of what the genre had to offer. Nikkatsu in the throes of cranking out successful lower budget gangster and Noir-ish crime movies, initially had a ideal director in Suzuki. As time progressed, Suzuki increasingly bridled against these formulaic restraints, and from within the budgetary constraints that bound him, he began down his own divergent path. Choosing instead a personal denial of service to rote, prosaic plotlines, his response was instead to approach his works as exercises in technically bold, visceral visual expression. It was the fallout over his singular 1967 stylized shocker "Branded to Kill", that Suzuki was banished from the Nikkatsu clearing house that had once brought him great success. And though, "Branded To Kill 'Made No Money and No Sense' it's Still a Classic", it is an act of creative defiance many consider to be Suzuki's right of admission into the Japanese New Wave.

:::: ALBUMS OF 2016 ::::


TOP ALBUMS OF 2016 IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
--------------------------------------------------------------
Autechre  "elseq 1-5"  (Warp Records)
Popol Vuh  "Music to the Films of Werner Herzog" LP Reissues  (WahWah)

Bohren & Der Club of Gore  "Bohren for Beginners"  (PIAS)
Demdike Stare  "Wonderland" (Modern Love)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith  "Ears"  (Western Vinyl)

SWANS  "The Glowing Man"  (Young God)
Jóhann Jóhannsson & Max Richter  "Arrival" - Soundtrack  (Deutsche Grammophon)
Washington Phillips  "...and His Manzarene Dreams"  Reissue  (Dust to Digital)
Lamonte Young & Marian Zazeela  "Dream House 78'"  LP Reissue  (Shandar)
Paul Bowles  "Music of Morocco"  Expanded Boxset Reissue  (Dust to Digital)
V/A  "Senegal 70" & "Space Echo: The Mystery Behind the Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde"  (Analog Africa)
Lino Capra Vaccina  "Antico Adagio" & "Frammenti da Antico Adagio"  Reissues  (Die Schachtel)
Angelo Badalamenti  "Twin Peaks" - Soundtrack Reissue  (Death Waltz)
Manuel Göttsching  "E2-E4" & "Inventions for Electric Guitar"  Reissues  (MG Art)
Suzanne Ciani  "Buchla Concerts 1975"  Reissue  (Finders Keepers)
GAS  "Gas"  LP Boxset Reissue  (Kompakt)
Kikagaku Moyo  "House in the Tall Grass"  (Guruguru Brain)
The Caretaker  "Everywhere at the End of Time"  (HAFTW)
Matthew Collings  "A Requiem for Edward Snowden"  (Denovali)
Raime  "Tooth"  (Blackest Ever Black)
Valerio Tricoli  "Clonic Earth"  (PAN)

Katie Gately  "Color"  (Tri-Angle)
Oren Ambarchi  "Hubris"  (Mego)


This past year was marked by the inescapable reality of a election cycle in which both liberal and conservative media elevated a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. All the while, the other aspect of the dominant two party system marginalized their more viable candidate. Less travel this year, both domestic and international translated as nothing in 2016 being comparable to attending the Okwui Enwezor curated “All the World’s Futures” and the Venice Biennale, of the year before. Grounded here in the United States, with the noise and confusion of the theatrical pantomime
that was this year's election cycle, it was a great relief to find memorable festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role, with the 300 mark hit it was a year in which a new personal record was set in theater attendance. The most notable arts event witnessed this year was the second-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair, which again proved itself to be decidedly more than a rich man's vanity project. Particularly so for the inclusion of Pivot Art + Culture hosting the return of the KaiKai KiKi collective and it's cultural figurehead, Takashi Murakami in collaboration with Juxtapoz magazine for, "Juxtapoz x SuperFlat". Taken with the collateral "Out of Sight" exhibition, returning to the King Street Station exhibition space for its second-annual survey of contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest, the two produced an international caliber event. Reflecting the changing economic and cultural landscape of Seattle two regional festivals which had previously brought an international scope to the city had closing and transitional years in 2015. That year saw the final installments of the region's two dominant, global festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music. The final Northwest edition of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival came and went, and in an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. In lieu of the more expansive international forums offered by these festival settings, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR and Wayward Music Series produced a string of memorable one-off events in 2016. Elevator's maturation this past year into exhibition curation with their first annual Corridor Festival was hailed as a unmitigated success in local press. It's day-long meeting of audio-visual media, installation art, music and performance may be the city's best new hope in filling the festival void. Corridor's second edition this month promising an equally engaged festival of light, sound, and movement from the media and performance underground.

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

Though it's role may be reduced in the age of streaming, the magazine, both print and digital can still be a defining tastemaker amid the multitude of channels in which to discover new music. Online institutions like The Quietus, Headphone Commute, Resident Advisor, FACT Magazine and Redbull Music Academy represent the kind of expertise you'll not find outside the framework of such vision and publishing legacy, compiling the life's work of people who make art their enterprise. In my case, no music magazine has been consistently with-it enough to continue readership from the early 90's to present with the exception of The Wire. Evolving right along with the times from a free improv, modern classical and jazz magazine in the 70's and 80's to include post-rock and electronic music in the 90's to the all-inclusive hip hop, dub/reggae, noise, punk, post-everything, jazz, black/doom metal, techno/house, free folk, psyche, kraut/nipponese rock, minimalism, sound-art, bass music and out-sounds. In addition to their 2016 Rewind feature covering the Top 50 Critic's Picks, the issue features sub-genre breakdowns and interviews, assessments, political commentary and cultural overviews from a spectrum of artists, curators, publishers, and journalists. If there is one print resource that will bring you a global view of the ever-expansive world of Adventures in Modern Music every month, The Wire is still very much it. The well-curated record label can still be one of the best paths toward discovering new sounds as well amid the multitudes of over-abundance online. In the way of cutting edge electronic and experimental sounds, Raster-Noton, Tri-Angle, Blackest Ever Black, PAN and Touch all delivered catalogs of quality, often groundbreaking work this year. Experimental, black and doom metal continued it's influential hybridization on labels like Southern Lord, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore and Relapse. Neoclassical and chamber music were served by institutions like Erased Tapes and Denovali and American indies like Sacred Bones and Temporary Residence continued to step up their game, with ever expanding diversification and discovery of new talent. Reissue imprints expanded their catalogs with titles spanning decades of overlooked, rare and seminal work. RVNG continues to release lost wonders from the fringes of psychedelia and early electronic music, as well as adventurous contemporary work, with a willful obliviousness to genre. The San Francisco Bay Area label, Superior Viaduct have continued their strong launch by reaching further into he discographies of post-punk, modern composition, out-rock and free jazz. 

John Carpenter's re-ascent into the spotlight with his "Lost Themes" for Sacred Bones and tour of this past year wherein he performed from both those new albums and selections from his now classic filmscores, saw him riding a recent trend of cinema-soundtrack revivalism. On the subject of his unexpected new profile in the music world, and continued following in horror and cult cinema cultures, Carpenter spoke with The Quietus, on how "The Horror In Music Comes from The Silence" and again in advance of the recent string of performances, "No Longer Lost: John Carpenter on Playing Live". Another of these saw the Frizzi 2 Fulci tour initiated last year with the second annual MondoCon in Austin Texas as a showcase for Fabio Frizzi's scores to the Giallo cinema maestro Lucio Fulci. The locus of which was the the expanded and unreleased music for "The Beyond: Composer's Cut Live" hitting select North American cities, including Beyond Fest in Los Angeles and Seattle's date at Neumos. The landscape these artists have re-emerged into has been unquestionably shaped by the burgeoning reissue revival mining decades of subterranean soundtracks, musique concrete, neofolk, jazz and experimental work that have adorned much of the 20th Century's cult cinema. These rich veins continue to be mined by reissue institutions like, Death Waltz, Mondo and WaxWork in new editions often corresponding with restorations and re-release of quality archival imprints for genre film like Arrow Films and Scream Factory. There are seeming whole new genres being born of the thematic beds of atmosphere and constructed worlds of Italian Giallo, French Fantastique and British Psychedelic, Pagan and Folk Horror of the late 1960s and 70s. As well as the following  American horror explosion of the late 1970s and 80s and the lines of kinship shared with the composers of early electronic music and concrete psychedelia who produced many of the soundtracks of the time. No better resource covers the source material that inspired this strange little burgeoning corner of the music world than the veritable home of horror studies, The Miskatonic Institute. In last year's interview with The Quietus founding member Virginie Sélavy with Mark Pilkington of Strange Attractor Press and Coil's Stephen Thrower author of "Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents" and the recent plumbing of the depths of "Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesus Franco" spoke on the cross pollination of the postmodern situation. Where the genre definitions break down, and in their fertile collision producing contemporary works inspired by, and expounding upon the fringe cult film and music of decades past.

Jazz and improvisation had a strong year in the Northwest, with thanks almost exclusively to be given to the Earshot Jazz organization and their year-round, international programming. This past summer, Earshot insightfully culled from Vancouver International Jazz Festival's expansive global program of all things jazz, including a set of trios from the cutting edge of the Scandinavian scene. Most notably a night of blistering sets by Mats Gustafsson alongside The Thing's central duo of Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love in a lineup with Thomas Johansson's Cortex. A sound in a more timorous, searching vein than the sonic incursion of Gustafsson and company, the following week saw a night of engrossing melodic modal pieces from ECM's Eilertsen Ensemble. Their trio performance was a night showcasing bassist Mats Eilertsen's eloquence and sensitivity matched by pianist Harmen Fraanje and the soaring moodscapes of Food's percussion and electronics wing, Thomas Strønen. These were artists who's work is informed as much by the fifty years of European Free Jazz and neoclassical modernism, as the kinetic influences of post-punk, noise music culture and by degrees the more tempered, "Explorations of Krautrock and it's Kosmische Fringe". Johannes Rød's recent, "Free Jazz and Improvisation on Vinyl 1965-1985", published by Norwegian vanguard imprint Rune Grammofon, traces independent free jazz and improv labels between 1965 and 1985, from the beginning of ESP-Disk through to the ascendant digital formats. With some 60 labels are covered in the volume, and forewords by Mats Gustafsson and label founder, Rune Kristoffersen, there are few better single introductions to this particular brand of what The Guardian's Richard Williams calls, "Norwegian Blues". The significance of the ECM label to the extended Scandinavian scene and it's embracing of classical, jazz, improvisation and experimentation, can't be overstated. Dana Jennings "ECM: Albums Know that Ears Have Eyes" for the New York Times mines the ensuing four decades following those detailed in Rød's chronicle. Another significant marker of in "The Sound of Young Norway" came in the form of ECM sister label's 150th release, The Quietus hailing the farseeing benchmark of graphic and sonic synergia that was, "Rune Grammofon: Sailing To Byzantium". At the epicenter of it's players, Nordic Council Music Prize recipient Mats Gustafsson has carved out a space central to connecting the Scandinavian scene with the larger global improv and out-rock cultures. Playing and collaborating in and out of the studio he's done more than hold his own in duo and large ensemble lineups with luminaries like guitar legend Derek Bailey, saxophone colossus Peter Brötzmann and extended technique and electro-acoustic pioneer, Evan Parker. Gustafsson has also found contemporaries at the bleeding edge of their respective genre zones outside of the jazz world. Japanese polymath Otomo Yoshihide, songwriter and musique concrete composer Jim O'Rourke, and the foremost American underground rockers of the 1990s, Sonic Youth, are among their number. 

Otomo Yoshihide's own story begins as far back as the urban Jazz Kissa scene of the 1970s, a culture that is still very much alive in modern-day Japan, with "Tokyo's Jazz Kissa Survive" and "Kissaten Culture Still on the Boil". Yoshihide's introduction to this setting and culture chronicled in his "Leaving the Jazz Cafe: A Personal View of Japanese Improvised Music in the 1970s". In it, he documents the formative experience of witnessing nights of music in this setting from the then-cutting edge of Japanese improvisation, names like Kaoru Abe and Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction Unit. These seminal experiences, including a notable night of Abe on electric guitar at a Jazz Kissa in Fukushima as a teenager, launched Otomo's own decades-long investigations into improvisation and the very nature of sound, detailed in interview with Revue & Corrigée. A short period of solo, improvisational work followed in the late 1980s which lead to the formation of his own ensemble for genre-less exploration, Ground Zero, in the 1990s. Wider international recognition soon followed with his soundtrack to 5th Generation Chinese filmmaker, Tian Zhuangzhuang's "The Blue Kite". By the time of that decade's end, the Onkyokei movement had become a coalescence of like-minded experimentation and new approaches to improv around venues like Shinjuku Pit Inn and Bar Aoyama. The latter becoming the locale for the first of their monthly improvisational gathering spaces. This loose-knit collective of artists and affiliated Tokyo underground cultures, detailed in Clive Bell's "Off Site" article for The Wire found their center with Atsuhiro Ito and his wife Yukari's conversion of a house near Yoyogi station in Tokyo into a spartan gallery and performing space. Bell revisited this location and the genesis of what came to be known as the Onkyo sound for Red Bull Music Academy, "Off Site: Improvised Music From Japan". Returning to Seattle for the first time in over a decade, Otomo presented two nights at Northwest Film Forum and Chapel Performance Space focused on the largest of his ongoing communal endeavors, Festival Fukushima! His involvement with the larger Project Fukushima had its genesis in a series of essays and collected interviews on the 2011 Earthquake, Tsunami and ensuing Nuclear crisis. His own work documenting the personal cost to the region's residents, local culture and industry and the damage done to the lives and livelihood of those who reside there, "After Fukushima: Faces from Japan's Tsunami Tragedy, Five Years On". Yoshihide's childhood and adolescent years spent in Fukushima, and his personal investment in the region's welfare are reflected in the dedication to the documenting of the personal, cultural and political effects of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in the publication of his "Chronicle Fukushima".

Notable curatorial work by Steve Peter's Wayward Music Series brought representative from one of the UK's longest running, and most adventurous record labels with the Touch Conference. From it's auspicious beginnings in a meeting with New Order some 35 years ago, and a following cassette compilation and audio magazine series, John Wozencroft's Touch was inaugurated. Co-produced and curated with the label's other shepherds, Halfer Trio's Andrew McKenzie and Mike Harding, these first volumes with music, graphics and stories from Psychic TV, Neville Brody, Robert Wyatt, The Residents, New Order, Simple Minds, Tuxedomoon, AC Marias, Graham Lewis, John Foxx, Simon F. Turner, Current 93, Test Department, A Certain Ratio, Nocturnal Emissions and experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman, were a who's who showcase for British post-punk, ambient, concrete and industrial music culture. Remaining ahead of the curve for more than three decades, the imprint introduced the world to much of the most groundbreaking electronic, minimalist and post-concrete music of the ensuing years. One of the last of the unbroken lines of progressive experimental music issuing from the British underground in the 1980s, interviews with Wozencroft spanning the following decades of 1992, Surface Magazine in 2000, and FACT in 2008 detail an explicit channel of thought on media, perception and experience, which continues into the new century. Celebrating their 30th Anniversary in 2012 with events around the globe, including New York's Issue Project Room and Seattle's Decibel Festival, Harding and Wozencroft spoke with The Quietus on their ongoing endeavor combining the output of an independent record label with documenting and challenging the flow from analogue to digital work through a context for critique of the wider cultural age. A gallery exhibit of Wozencroft's photographic work "An Ambivalence Towards Trends" at Aeterna Gallery, Los Angeles, initiating a four city venture beginning with a showcase hosted by Volume Projects. Followed by a night at San Francisco's new premier experimental media venue, Gray Area Art & Technology, Portland's Holocene and concluding under the vaulted ceilings of the Chapel Performance Space. A cross-section representation of the label's aesthetic, conceptual and sonic concerns was heard in the pure concrete of Philip Jeck's phonography manipulations, the video synthesis collage of Seefeel's Mark Van Hoen, and the dichotomy of finesse and assault in the noise sculpting of Portland's Daniel Menche. The Los Angeles shows also benefited from the inclusion of the ambisonic field recording mixes of Bethan Parkes, and Simon Scott's explorations of guitar and electronics outside of his groundbreaking shoegaze pop with Slowdive.

Outside of the festival or showcase setting, a set of disparate one-off performances throughout the year reaffirmed the region's credibility as a cultural stopover on the west coast. Returning for a series of concerts across the globe before once again disbanding, quintessential 4AD band Lush resurfaced after a decades-long hiatus. As one of the first acts ascribed with the shoegaze and dream pop labels by the British press for their profusion of bright melodic distortion and vibrantly overdriven live guitar sound, their pedigree confirmed with their 1989 signing to the label and production work from Robin Guthrie. In the span of seven years Lush released a succession of mini-albums, EPs and full length releases that can be heard as a direct continuation of earlier pathways forged by Cocteau Twins and concurrent British bands following in the druggy astronomical haze of Spacemen 3. Their compatriots in this sound fast became a who's who of the best of UK underground rock of the early 1990's. Their numbers include Ride, Slowdive, LOOP and the earth-quaking, cloud-splitting immensity of My Bloody Valentine's legendary live shows of that decade. Curiously, in rapid succession all of the above bands have reformed in recent years, with Lush joining their ranks in late 2015. Their first live shows in 20 years since the unexpected death of friend and drummer, Chris Acland, Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson and Phil King spoke with The Quietus on the subject of their "Mad Love: An Interview With Lush". Closure of a more temporal kind came with the final tour for the current iteration of Michael Gira's SWANS. After the physical endurance-testing rock olympics of 2011 in which the rock gargantuan reformed after a 15 year hiatus, we were blessed with a fourth and final album of this current phase of reinvention and metempsychosis. The post-reform "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", the more variegated and nuanced "The Seer", the rapturous "To Be Kind" and this year's "The Glowing Man" scaled both familiar and new heights of dynamic power and sheer immensity of sound heard in decades past. Mapping their musical trajectory's Oroborous-like path back to itself, "Michael Gira on ‘Dangling Off the Edge of a Cliff’ for SWANS Epic Final Album" for The Observer, details this newest iteration as a supreme amalgam birthed from it's own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their 35 year trajectory from brutalist no wave minimalism to musique concrete and extended tonal and drone compositions to electric rock, psychedelia, blues, folk and americana. The Guardian's John Doran postulates how it has come to pass that SWANS have produce the best work of their career in doing so. Where so many other bands of a similar vintage have retread familiar ground, revisiting the formula of past successes, Gira and company chose to instead stake everything on a new approach. In talking a genuine gamble on creating new art rather than trying to recapture past glories, they conjured an, "Enduring Love: Why SWANS are More Vital Now than Ever".

Of a more intimate nature, the Northwest Film Forum and Elevator played host to two nights, in different arrangements, of experimental filmwork by Paul Clipson with sonic accompaniment from Portland's Liz Harris. Harris' most recent sequence of albums spanning the last decade as Grouper embrace early folk traditions as much as contemporary electronic and sound sculpting sequences involving controlled feedback, reverb and delay. One can see a line of progression and intermingling of themes and process through, "The Man Who Died in His Boat" a mirroring companion album to 2008's "Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill" and 2015's more explicitly folkish "Ruins". The Quietus enlisted Harris as our guide through her musical life, "Listening & Playing Alone: The Strange World Of Grouper", from the (literal) ghosts of her early years, being a party vagrant in Los Angeles, to years of relative isolation in the rural coastal expanses of the Pacific Northwest, finding music via the echoing of former industrial spaces, to risk-taking and sleep deprivation. Their "Through The Looking Glass: An Interview With Grouper" also explores the concurrent string of collaborations with experimental filmmaker, Paul Clipson. The duo's multimedia weave of Harris' music and Super 8 and 16mm projection assemblies, produced a richly entrancing chiaroscuro of image, pattern, sound, color and light. As a document, this is maybe best represented in their "Mesmerizing feature-length Work Exploring Themes of the American Landscape", by the title of Hypnosis Display, which they discussed for NPR. Even devoid of the influential forces of Substrata or Decibel Festival, notable electronic music from the UK and Europe found its way to Seattle. Representing for the Modern Love imprint, Andy Stott returned to the city for his fourth performance in almost as many years. The first of his visits was on the heels of his deep techno breakthrough "We Stay Together" of 2011, Stott appearanced in Decibel Festival alongside label-mates Demdike Stare's own manifestation of all things Italian Giallo and French Fantastique for their live score to Jean Rollin's surrealist erotic-horror classic "La Vampire Neu". Returning again, some 16 months later in a second label showcase with the duo, this visit to North America revealed a more varied side to Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker's brobdingnagian body of work. What The Quietus called "An Unholy Matrimony: In Interview with Demdike Stare", that comprised the collected "Elemental" series. A trajectory refined and precision-honed in their equally brooding, but more dancefloor focused "Wonderland" of this year. "Tearing Up the Rulebook: Making Mistakes is the Most Exciting Thing You Can Do" and "Andy Stott: Lost and Found" for FACT Mag and Resident Advisor respectively, detail their compatriot Andy Stott's working modus operandi. His "Luxury Problems" even making The Wire's 2012 Rewind, with the essential British magazine hosting a significant interview with him that same year. His newest, "Too Many Voices" continues the work heard first on 2014's "Faith in Strangers" in it's merging of dissonant and atonal slabs of sound jostling against fragmented song music and female voice, with nods equally to the ethereal female pop of early 4AD, as the austerity of German Kosmische and the characteristic negative space that defines much Detroit techno of the 1980s. The shared night with Demdike Stare at the Crocodile this past summer, delivering some of the most assured, abstract, darkly rich post-techno heard this side of the Atlantic.