Sunday, March 8, 2020

"Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" at Seattle Art Museum: Mar 19 - May 14 | “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini”

This past year's calendar at Seattle Art Museum has been filled with notable repertory and archival works, including retrospectives on two 20th century auteurs from far-flung corners of the world, Yasujiro Ozu and Ingmar Bergman. The museum's annual French and Italian cinema series are also significant, as is their long running winter Film Noir program. The longest continuously running series of its kind in the nation in fact, now in its 42nd year. This spring in collaboration with Cinecitta Rome, and co-presented with Festa Italiana, the museum's cinema programmer Greg Olson, brings "Ciao Maestro: The Centennial of Federico Fellini" to the big screen. Along with Ingmar Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, and Carl Theodor Dreyer, Federico Fellini's work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s will appear on any critical assessment 20th century cinema. And rightly so. One needs look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence of the greatness of Federico Fellini's standing in the history of European cinema. Having begun under the guidance of Rossellini, while in the midst of his classic neorealist films, he soon found himself working as both screenwriter and assistant director on Rossellini's "Paisà", in which Fellini was entrusted to film the scenes in Maiori. Within a short span of years, he was introduced to Marcello Mastroianni, then a young theatre actor first seen by Fellini in a play alongside Giulietta Masina, and concurrently he contributed aspects of Rossellini's segment in the anthology film, "L'Amore". After traveling to Paris for a script conference around Rossellini's "Europa '51", Fellini was given opportunity to begin his first solo-directed feature, "The White Sheik".

His directorial debut having initially passed through other hands. When the film came to Fellini it was as a revised version of a treatment first written by Michelangelo Antonioni in 1949. At which time, the film's producer commissioned Fellini to rework the script. Its subsequent rejection by Antonioni led the film back to Fellini, and alongside Ennio Flaiano, it was re-worked into a spirited and lighthearted satire on the life of a newlywed couple. This would be the first of many fruitful collaborations between Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Fellini, the three men co-writing the screenplays of some ten films over the ensuing decades. In the first of another decades-spanning collaborations, the film highlighted the music of its composer, Nino Rota, who along with Mastroianni, and Fellini's future wife, actress Giulietta Masina, would all become constants in both his filmic and private worlds. One year following, what's considered the first of Fellini's films wholly his own, "I Vitelloni" found great favor with critics and a receptive public after its Silver Lion win (alongside Aleksandr Ptushko's "Sadko", Marcel Carné's "Thérèse Raquin", and Kenji Mizoguchi's "Ugetsu") at the 14th Venice International Film Festival. From here, flying over the expanse of a filmmography too rich and nuanced to surmise, a valiant and intimate account by Anthony Lane for the New Yorker, “A Hundred Years of Fellini”, borders as close to perfection as one could ask. Moving at varied trajectories though specific works, and eras, Sight & Sound’s centennial feature, “The Circus of Life: The Many Faces of Federico Fellini”, offers up a richer array of particulars. In a quartet of pieces, they break down the maestro into four concurrent aspects, first beginning with his relationship to the Italian Neorealist movement, "Part One: The Neorealist", and the studio that was his great enabler, "Part Two: The Felliniesque and Cinecitta Studio".

From there we get a complex portrait of Fellini the man, both behind the camera and as a private and public citizen, "Part Three: Federico by Fellini", and the cast of regular collaborators and cohorts in his art, considered as both a theatre production company and extended family, "Part Four: La Famiglia Fellini". Foremost among them, the writing team of Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli, which he retained from his earliest collaborations, alongside composer Nino Rota, production and costume designer Danilo Donati who's work appeared on many of the director’s more visually extravagant films, alongside Norma Giacchero for script supervision and continuity, actress Giulietta Masina, and Fellini's avatar and surrogate, Marcello Mastroianni. In a excerpt from a 1964 interview around "La Dolce Vita"'s production, The Criterion Collection presents this rich and disarmingly personal account of, "Marcello Mastroianni on Fellini". Further reading hosted by Criterion appears in a series of essential essays on the director's central films, "La Dolce Vita: Tuxedos at Dawn", "8 ½: When “He” Became “I”", "8½: A Film with Itself as Its Subject", "Paolo Sorrentino on Fellini’s Roma", "Roma, Rome: Fellini's City", "Amachord's Satire of Italian Provincial Life", "The Nights of Cabiria: My Kind of Clown", and "Fellini Satyricon: Not Just Friends". Of which, a majority will appear in Seattle Art Museum's centennial retrospective, including Fellini's two semi-autobiographical masterpieces, "La Dolce Vita" and "8 1/2", along with a set of earlier films, "The White Sheik", "Toby Dammit", and his first breakout, "I Vitelloni". From there, the series presents mid-period classics like "La Strada", "The Nights of Cabiria", and "Amarcord", fleshing out the body of his theatrical cinematic world with "Il Bidone", and "Juliet of the Spirits".

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Pedro Costa’s “Vitalina Varela” and Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But..." at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 11 - 20

After its brief three night run at SIFF Cinema, Pedro Costa's Locarno Film Festival winner comes to the Northwest Film Forum for a more substantial run. Along with Angela Schanelec’s "I Was at Home, But...", Costa's “Vitalina Varela” represents a current vein of lower budget, formally exploratory, politically inflected cinema which the Swiss festival has become known for showcasing. With his most recent film, which is deserving of being seen for it's exquisite visual palette alone, Costa has refined the grain of his composite of non-actors, chiaroscuro lighting, found locations and stylized delivery to such an intense degree that it has achieved a kind of profound Newtonian coefficience. If anything, “Vitalina Varela” seemed more massive in it's density, uncompromising in its seriousness, and more determined to create an alternative to sentimental narrative closure and resolution. The story of its protagonist's mourning and rebirth continuing the Portuguese director’s observations on the residents of Fontainhas, with Ventura, and now Vitalina, as Costa's primary creative partners and subjects in a deeply saturated dramatic portraiture. Looking to his wider filmmography, there's clear reason why the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director is not lacking in champions. This all came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment.

It was the Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience. These describe the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work; the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically. The 2015 interview with Film Comment describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began a refinement of his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view. Through Film Comment's "House of the Spirits" and interview with the director at Locarno in 2019, Costa speaks at length on his inaugurating a radical form of collaborative nonfiction to meet these demands. Through which he has predominantly focused on the Cape Verdean immigrants that populated Lisbon's unlit labyrinths who disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. Costa turning to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy.

From this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th century masters, Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, Jacques Tourneur, and Kenji Mizoguchi, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films; they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides, (and literal underworld) depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as a portrait of his Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. A protagonist last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" enfolded a particularly oneiric passage. This "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, is in many ways a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city, passing through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Mati Diop's “Atlantics” at The Beacon Cinema: Jan 31 - Feb 6 | Bertrand Bonello's “Zombi Child”, Kantemir Balagov's “Beanpole”, Céline Sciamma's “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, Patricio Guzman's “Cordillera of Dreams” and Pedro Costa's “Vitalina Varela” at SIFF Cinema: Feb 7 - Mar 5

In last year's cinema overview, The New Yorker’s Richard Brody tackled what is probably the most significant factor in the contemporary landscape of moving pictures; “It has been a banner year for movies, but you’d never know it from a trip to a local multiplex, or from a glimpse at the Oscarizables. The gap between what’s good and what’s widely available in theaters is wider than ever,“ he wrote. Continuing the argument in his "The Twenty-Seven Best Movies of the Decade" selection Brody asserted; "Not only do a small number of blockbuster movies dominate the industry’s economy, but the sheer fact of popularity is multiplied and amplified online. Crowding out coverage of less-popular yet ultimately more significant movies at precisely the moment when, because these movies get scant distribution and are often virtually hidden on streaming sites, critical attention is all the more essential to their recognition." For evidence, the skeptic needs look no further than the work from hundreds of writers, critics and programmers seen in Film Comment's 50 Best Films of The Decade selection, which go some way to form what can be considered a global critical consensus. The mechanics of this gulf between the consensus described in the pieces above, and what's widely available in domestic theaters and the dominant streaming platforms, is precisely surmised in Dennis Lim’s excellent supporting article, Films of The Decade: “The Termite's Return”.

Lim observing; “While distinctive work is emerging all the time, especially on the margins, and therefore easy to overlook, many of the institutions that determine what gets made and shown still function as forces of homogenization, from film schools to the funding bodies and development labs that are sometimes attached to the very festivals that serve as showcases for the end results of this often highly professionalized process. Ours is an age of fatiguing overload but also of numbing sameness: too many movies, too many film festivals, too many reviews, too many opinions, too many lists, too many hot takes and think pieces that turn complicated issues into cultural talking points and empty posturing - all of which amount not to a lively discourse but a reinforcement of conventional wisdom (or worse). The abundance of the age is deceptive and it masks both structural limitations and systems of control," He writes. "The brave new world of digital streaming promises instant access, but choice is a pernicious myth when entire swathes of cinema are conveniently forgotten or actively suppressed (as is happening with Disney’s continued withholding of 20th Century Fox titles from repertory theaters). Everything is market-tested, only for us to be told that what people want is more of the same. The late-capitalist logic is seamless: what we get is not, as advertised, plenitude, but its precise opposite, a narrowing of options to an algorithmically determined menu and a simultaneous impression that no other options exist.” Evidence to the wider abundance, and richness of the content on offer globally that is not seen represented within such an environment, is reinforced by the hundreds of contributors to The British Film Institute's own annual affair that is Sight & Sound's 50 Best Films of 2019. Look also to Cahiers du Cinéma's Top 10 Films of 2019, The Guardian's 50 Top Films of 2019, Film Comment's Best Films of 2019, and Best Undistributed Films of 2019.

An image begins to come into sharper relief. One of a international cinema culture which the dominant commercial exhibition and streaming entities do not participate. Or when they do, it is nominally, and only with the tried-and-true as with this year's Academy Award-winning film from Bong Joon-ho. By contrast, our local independent cinemas are to be hailed for choosing to engage in this cultural consensus, and having faith in audience's willingness to seek out films that have garnered attention at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Venice, and Toronto. This next month sees a continuously satisfying run of features, beginning at Columbia City's recent addition to the city's cultural landscape, The Beacon Cinema. Their programming of Mati Diop's ruminative, supernatural and poetic post-Colonial love story "Atlantics", with it's vantage into issues of class, duty and servitude in the developing world is to be championed. As is the fact that the film was briefly freed from the confines of it's US distributor, Netflix. Another equally supernatural grappling with Colonial legacy can be seen in Bertrand Bonello's “Zombi Child” at SIFF Cinema. Bonello's film screens for three short days before their programming of Kantemir Balagov's “Beanpole" and it's depiction of the trauma of war, and the price of survival in 1945 Leningrad. Shifting time periods yet again, Céline Sciamma’s 18th Century story of a doomed love, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire", demonstrates a new mastery of a classical, almost Hitcockian style (and the channeling of classic Greek poets) which like "Beanpole", brought in another five star review from Peter Bradshaw at Cannes. Lastly for the month, SIFF has programmed two works bridging the worlds of personal essayist documentary, and the richly experimental. The most recent entry in Patricio Guzman's revolutionary cinema, “Cordillera of Dreams” envisions the Andes as a metaphor for Chile's political history. And this year's Locarno Film Festival winner from Pedro Costa is deserving of being seen for it's exquisite visual palette alone. “Vitalina Varela”'s story of mourning and rebirth continuing the Portuguese director’s observations on the impoverished Lisbon neighborhood of Fontainhas, with Ventura, and now Vitalina, as Costa's primary creative partners and subjects in a deeply saturated dramatic portraiture.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Terry Riley at Seattle Symphony: Feb 19 | The Decade of New York Minimalism

The year at Seattle Symphony began with the conclusion of Ludovic Morlot's tenure and the arrival of his successor, Thomas Dausgaard. As the 2019-2020 season commenced, under the aegis of the symphony's new Music Director, a set of final grand projects from Morlot's tenure were realized. These included the staging of Heiner Goebbels' "Surrogate Cities", and the inaugural event at the state-of-the-art Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center. This all day, all night event that opened the center was billed as a Contemporary Music Marathon, spanning 24 hours of modernist, New Music, and avant-garde composers. This month sees one of the first major contemporary programs under it's new director. Central to much of the symphony's past programming of contemporary composers has been the music of the mid-century minimalists. This particular school of minimalism began on the east coast of the United States in the early 1960s by a concurrent body of composers generally originating in and around academic and cultural centers in New York. La Monte Young, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass are credited with being among the first to develop compositional techniques that exploit this minimal approach, which included nods to jazz, early tape, electronic and computer music, and Indian traditions in duration and tonality. The movement later branched out to include an international body of composers including John Adams, Yoshi Wada, Phill Niblock, Charlemagne Palestine, Pauline Oliveros, Michael Nyman, and Gavin Bryars. Central to the New York scene's earliest forays of the sound's bridging of tradition and the avant-garde, were Tony Conrad, Angus MacLise, John Cale, Marian Zazeela, La Monte Young, and Terry Riley's durational explorations as The Theatre of Eternal Music. A collective music inspired by and under the tutorship of Indian spiritual advisor and musician, Pandit Pran Nath. Teaching at his Kirana Center for Indian Classical Music, Nath instructed in the Raga with a express focus on an extra-methodical and austere style, with a heavy emphasis on alap and slow tempo. His "Earth Groove: The Voice of Cosmic India" would be hugely influential to this body of musicians, particularly Terry Riley.

Having spent the decade of the 1950s in academic music circles, Riley studied composition at San Francisco State University, the San Francisco Conservatory, and University of California, Berkeley, under the instruction of Seymour Shifrin and Robert Erickson. During the latter, also spending time within the body of musicians around the San Francisco Tape Music Center, working with Morton Subotnick, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, and Ramon Sender. A hiatus throughout the 1960s was spent in Europe traveling and taking in musical and cultural interests, supporting himself playing in piano bars. By the 1970s Riley had returned to the United States and found himself at ground zero for the genesis of the minimalist movement. Through their shared ventures as The Theatre of Eternal Music, alternately known as The Dream Syndicate, Riley would connect the ancient traditions of this form with the very cutting edge of western modernism. In the years surrounding his time playing under Nath, he made numerous trips to India over the course of their association to study and accompany him in performances, contributing tabla, tambura, and voice. The fruits of which would lead him back to the west coast, in 1971 he joined the Mills College faculty to teach Indian classical music. This era would be considered Riley's formalizing period, as it produced many of his most lasting and groundbreaking works. Lost or largely unavailable are many of The Dream Syndicate works, due to contentions with La Monte Young and the other musicians, but Riley's own "In C", "Reed Streams", "A Rainbow in Curved Air", "You're No Good", "Persian Surgery Dervishes", and "Descending Moonshine Dervishes", spanning the decade of 1965 to 1975, form the foundation of his profound contribution to 20th Century music. Returning to town this month at Seattle Symphony, seven years since the last occasion of Seattle Art Museum's reopening celebration in 2013 with Doug Aitken's "Mirror" installation accompanied by the outdoor performance of Steve Reich's "Clapping Music" and Riley's "In C". Concurrently, Riley will also be engaging in a series of west coast dates this spring with his son, Gyan. The master minimalist is now 85 years of age, having just recently celebrated his 40th anniversary collaborating with New York's Kronos Quartet, yet we can still expect "Performances of Joyous Futurism from this Minimalist Shaman".

"Song to the Siren: The Beacon Guide to 4AD" at The Beacon Cinema Jan 30 & Feb 16 | "Lost Worlds of Sex and Magic: Vaughan Oliver's Album Sleeves for 4AD"

The history of British label 4AD can be seen as a succession of distinct phases. From it's genesis in 1980 by label founders Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, begun under the distribution umbrella of the larger and successful post-punk label Beggars Banquet. Detailed by Martin Aston in his biography of the label, "Facing The Other Way: The Story of 4AD", Watts-Russell and graphic designer Vaughan Oliver in the succession of a few short years, created one of the most coherent, ageless audio-visual identities to be born anywhere in underground music that decade. This identity would spill over into striking video productions, live sets and off-kilter interviews and brushes with the often-bemused British music press, who struggled to reconcile the unquantifiable nature of the label's sound and visual identity. This month, The Beacon Cinema's Casey Moore and Tommy Swenson have curated a full two hour set of selections honoring the anomalous and rich audio-visual vanguard produced during what are considered the label's classic years, spanning the earliest 1980s to mid-1990s as, "Song to the Siren: The Beacon Guide to 4AD". Acting as a primer for entry into this world, The Quietus' "Facing the Other Way: Ivo Watts-Russell and Vaughan Oliver on 4AD Records" explored the first years of Watts-Russell's curatorial program, Vaughan Oliver's in-house design team 23 Envelope, and contributions from compatriots in the British scene like John Fryer's Blackwing Studios. The body of work released on 4AD in this first phase have proven so seminal that single albums can be credited as spawning whole subgenres in the decades to follow. Wrapped in the enveloping mystique, cryptic fonts and atavistic allusions to artifacts from a lost past that was the haute couture of Vaughan Oliver's work with Nigel Grierson, Paul McMenamin and photographer Chris Bigg. They created sculptural landscapes of photography, typeface, decoupage and decors, framing the musical inner worlds of the label's roster, The Guardian revealing "4AD: The Inside Story" of this distinctly British, European, antidote to the popular culture of the time. More than fine points in the label's chronology, The Wire's 4AD Primer is populated by the artists that most marked the label's first half-decade. Beginning their first year with singles from the mascara'd children of punk's violent sprawl. Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and David J launched the ships of a thousand goth imitators as Bauhaus, and from across the world came the defiant rancor and country-rock doom of Australia's The Birthday Party. The label's roster blossomed into it's own the following year with the new wave stylings of Modern English and the ethereal dream pop of Robin Guthrie's coruscating guitar and Elizabeth Fraser's vocal incantations as Cocteau Twins.

Much in the way of Bauhaus, The Quietus' "The Strange World Of… Cocteau Twins" feature rightly credits the band as being so influential as to give genesis to whole genres from their sound in the following decade. In rapid consecution 4AD released the earliest experimental solo work from bands that would later come to define the era, The The's Matt Johnson produced a series of largely instrumental, experimental works and Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis released their first forays into the uncassifiable outside the setting of their rocking post-punk quartet. Soon after the floodgates opened, rapidfire singles, EPs and albums appeared from a new subset of artists influenced as much by the groundbreaking late 1970s ambient works of Kluster and Brian Eno as the edginess of punk and the growing UK gothic music scene. This stretch of years in the mid-to-late 1980's saw the label's identity achieve global recognition with the arrival of the post-punk blues, dub, funk and soul mashup of The Wolfgang Press, the grandiose neoclassical, folk and world music fusion of Dead Can Dance, Germany's edgy all-female post punk rockers, Xmal Deutschland, the gothic neo-romantic synthpop of Dutch trio, Clan of Xymox and the instrumental free-jazz wanderings of Dif Juz. 4AD's reach extending as far as to embrace traditional choral music from the Bulgarian State Radio Female Vocal Choir and their spectral Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. Sensing that more than a label identity had been generated within their shared spheres, This Mortal Coil was assembles as a collective in-house covers band led by Watts and Fryer, with a rotating cast of contributing artists both from within the label and without. The Quietus "The Strange World Of… This Mortal Coil", touches on the shared cultural intersection, yet cloistered and liminal world from which these albums emerged. Reaching beyond the sphere of underground UK and Euro-centric sounds came the label's first American undergound indies, like Kristin Hersh, and Tanya Donelly's folkic girl-rock band, Throwing Muses and the punk, surf and garage rock inspired sound of the Pixies. A culmination of every aspect of the label's aesthetic and conceptual concerns, 1987’s "Lonely Is An Eyesore" was released an a triple format media experience and still stands as the only time that Watts-Russell commissioned video work. To accompany the collection of exclusive tracks from the label's roster, 23 Envelope’s Nigel Grierson direction of the videos reflecting his love of the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, particularly his later metaphysical films, "Stalker" and "The Sacrifice". Translating to the music video format the nubilous water, grainy monochrome, natural light, motion and abstract textures associated with the photographic subjects and treatments seen on Grierson’s Cocteau Twins covers. The compilation's combined mastery of typeface, printing techniques and material decors are testament to the gesamtkunstwerk that was 23 Envelope's half-decade of graphic realizations in the unified visual identity of 4AD.

Coinciding with what could be seen as the second phase of the label's lifespan, Nigel Grierson left 23 Envelope in 1988, with Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg continuing to work in close partnership with 4AD under the studio name v23. Commencing a aligned yet amplified graphical temperament, the releases retained their advanced fusion of font and materials, but now expressed through a sun-blasted color palette of suggestive pop-art and neon futurism. The sound was to follow, with new signings Ultra Vivid Scene, Pale Saints and Primal Scream's Jim Beattie delivering spiraling guitar work under the Spirea X moniker. The label fast aligning itself with the burgeoning UK shoegaze, dream pop and britpop scenes of the time. The fallout of the Pixies disbanding in 1992 and linuep changes within Throwing Muses, generated their own offshoots like The Breeders and Belly. Other American acts were taken into the fold, Mark Kozelek's insular, nocturnally folkic songwriting with Red House Painters saw it's debut on the label and the equally hermetic worlds of Warren Defever's experimental His Name Is Alive made for fitting companions. The latter confirming v23's influence in cinema and visual art with a series of striking miniature worlds titled "Stille Nacht" created by The Brothers Quay to accompany a set of tracks from their sophomore album. In this time the duo A.R. Kane effortlessly carved out new musical spaces from the intersection of dub, noise rock and neo-soul, quite possibly also "Inventing Shoegaze Without Really Trying" as The Guardian puts it. Yet there is perhaps no band more reflective of the altered trajectory of 4AD's second decade than Lush. 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 was confirmed with their 1989 signing to the label and production work by Robin Guthrie. Journeying with the label over the course of these two perceptible phases, Vaughan Oliver and his collaborators at 23 Envelope and later v23, were a constant in the development of both 4AD and the era's independent and underground music culture as a whole. With his passing last month, pieces like The New York Times, “Vaughan Oliver, 62, Dies; His Designs Gave Indie Rock ‘Physical Dimension", and The Guardian's "Lost Worlds of Sex and Magic: Vaughan Oliver's Album Sleeves for 4AD", go some way to recognize his, and the label's unmistakable contribution to the sound and aesthetic of the zeitgeist. We can be thankful for Oliver revisiting the decade from his intimate vantage in two lengthy interviews for Print and Interview Magazine, just years before the shuffling off of his own mortal coil.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Noir City Festival: International Edition II at SIFF Cinema: Feb 14 - 20

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation return to Seattle following last year's program, Noir City: Film Noir in The 1950s centered around the genre's second decade. 2019's program tracked the beginning of the decline of the American studio system, and into a fresh cinematic landscape where the genre was to be refashioned, both subtly and radically, for a new generation. Other previous iterations have been formatted in a Film Noir from A to B presentation involving "A" and "B" double bills, in both low budget and high production value features. This year sees the fourth consecutive year after a brief hiatus in 2015, following Noir City: The Big Knockover - Heists, Holdups and Schemes Gone Awry and the festival's return to the city in 2016. In the interim, it has been a notable stretch of years for The Film Noir Foundation. In 2017 Muller took up permanent residence on TCM with a new programming franchise hosted by the "Czar of Noir" with the launch of his weekly Noir Alley showcase. As is the case annually, a selection of the offerings in this year's Noir City will be screened on celluloid. These bold 35mm prints courtesy of their ongoing collaborative efforts with The UCLA Film & Television Archive. The work of UCLA's Preservation Society and their annual touring Festival of Preservation consistently offers one of the country's most, "Fascinating Windows into Our Cinematic Past". The archive featuring prominently in the LA Weekly's discussion of the expansive shift to digital distribution and projection nationwide, "Movie Studios are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling".

This year continues the programming composition seen in 2014 with the first of the Noir City: International Edition with geographically framed sets and quartets of films originating from far flung corners of the world. Noir City: International Edition II, presents a globe-spanning array of impressions and expansions of the language of noir from Latin American, West Germany, France, Czechoslovakia , Italy, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, South Korea and Japan from the years 1938 to 1967. From the Film Noir Foundation: "America doesn't have a monopoly on swaggering gangsters, larcenous lovers, surly ex-cons, corrupt cops, and scheming femmes fatales. Six years after the first Noir City: International, the Film Noir Foundation is at it again: presenting an array of classic films from around the globe, a wide-ranging, thematically cohesive immersion in a sordid world of sinister and sexy affairs, including the world premieres of two new restorations by the Film Noir Foundation!. The seven day excursion travels through hot-blooded nightclubs of the Latin cabareteras, neon-streaked alleys of Japanese yakuza thrillers, the stylish Parisian underworld, Italian palazzos hiding crimes of every social strata, Scandinavian and British class struggle and gender issues, a Kafkaesque Prague as envisioned by the Czech New Wave, class conflict and retribution from South Korea, even a rare serial killer film set in Nazi Germany made by Hollywood's finest director of film noir, Robert Siodmak." Your tour guides through this global representation of the spectrum of noir include some of the world's most revered filmmakers. From which, this year's highlights include; the deeply paranoid existentialism of Julien Duvivier's "Panic", Jean-Pierre Melville's pitch perfect, "Finger Man", Jirí Weiss' "90 Degrees in the Shade", Lee Man-hui's "Black Hair", Kim Ki-young's class conflict psychodrama "The Housemaid", Toshio Masuda's "Rusty Knife", the kinetic propulsion of Seijun Suzuki's "Branded to Kill", and Masahiro Shinoda's hyper-modernist, "Pale Flower".

Sunday, January 19, 2020

William Gibson's "Agency" & North American Book Tour: Jan 21 - 28 | “How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real”

In a sprawling three part interview for Wired, William Gibson, one of science fiction’s most visionary and distinctive voices, maintained that he and his fellow writers don’t possess some mystical ability to peer into the future. “We’re almost always wrong”, said Gibson, elaborating in the "Wired interview Part 1: Why Sci-Fi Writers (Thankfully) Almost Always Get it Wrong". While concurrently institutions like The Guardian still maintain that in many ways, "William Gibson is the Man Who Saw Tomorrow". As a primer to this notable conceptual venturer of the 20th and 21st century, it bears mention that Gibson coined the term cyberspace in his 1982 short story “Burning Chrome” and expanded on the concept in his 1984 debut novel, "Neuromancer". In that book, which became a classic of the decade, inspiring both popular culture and playing no small role in defining the zeitgeist of the 1990s, Gibson predicted that the “consensual hallucination” of cyberspace would be “experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation” in a global network of “unthinkable complexity.” Yet Gibson says he simply got lucky with his prescient depiction of a digital world; “The thing that Neuromancer predicts as being actually like the internet isn’t actually like the internet at all”, he asserts. Elaborating further, the other two features spanning science, technology and social theory, "Wired interview Part 2: Twitter, Antique Watches and Internet Obsessions", touch on the elusive democratizing forces of social media, digital and material disposability culture, and the birth of recorded sound, "Wired interview Part 3: Punk Rock, Internet Memes, and ‘Gangnam Style’". Tracking Gibson's output since the smash success of his debut novel he has penned numerous critically and publicly acclaimed works, including "Count Zero", "Mona Lisa Overdrive", "The Difference Engine" (co-authored with Bruce Sterling), "Virtual Light", "Idoru", and "All Tomorrow's Parties", making manifest the whole new genres of cyber and steampunk, and preconceiving the phenomena of virtual idols.

A collection of nonfiction called "Distrust That Particular Flavor", was published in 2012, at the conclusion of what is now considered his near-future trilogy, or Blue Ant novels, named for their shared axis of a less-than-benevolent corporate entity that runs through each. Through lives situated within tangible, meticulously constructed fringe cultural focal-points, Gibson built a framing device around the larger set of concerns and obsessions from the newly birthed 21st century. At the trilogy's inception Gibson found that he had to re-conceive the first novel's thematic foundation after history itself asserted a new narrative. With some 100 pages of "Pattern Recognition" written, Gibson refashioned the protagonist's backstory, which had been rendered implausible by the September 2001 attacks on New York; he called it "the strangest experience I've ever had with a piece of fiction." He saw the attacks as a nodal point in history, "an experience out of culture", and "in some ways ... the true beginning of the 21st century". This nodal point gave form and impetus to the the trilogy of "Pattern Recognition", "Spook Country", and "Zero History" that followed. The first of the trilogy recognized early as one of the great new science fiction novels of the 21st century. These new works shifted his focus toward the examination of cultural changes in post-September 11 America, including a resurgent tribalism, hyper specialization, and the infantilization of society, while the dominant themes nevertheless remaining a meeting point "at the intersection of paranoia and technology".

Another new nodal point as Gibson conceives it emerged with the United States 2016 election. Like many others, he never imagined that a callow real estate magnate and reality tv star would prevail in a democratic system. On Nov. 9, he woke up feeling as if he were living in something not unlike a alternate reality. “It was a really weird and powerful sensation,” Gibson says in his New York Times interview, "Sci-Fi Writer William Gibson Reimagines the World After the 2016 Election". Most people who were stunned by the outcome managed to shake off the surreal feeling. But being William Gibson, he decided to explore it, even plumb the depths of its instability and unease. This new framing would produce 2014's "The Peripheral" and surprisingly, Gibson's first direct sequel, 2020's "Agency". The New Yorker's interview with the author “How William Gibson Keeps His Science Fiction Real”, describes this process of assimilation, extrapolation and his seeing of currently developing social, economic and cultural trends which bear a synergy or symmetry. The first novel in this prospective trilogy, what The Guardian called a "glorious ride into the future", runs both parallel with current real world events and a far-reaching "Writing of the Future". Yet it was the pivot, or node of the events of 2016, which drastically refashioned the second novel's form, creating “A World in An Instant” in which Gibson recalibrated his relationship to the world. Speaking again with The Guardian, he quantifies this shift and recontextualization, “William Gibson: ‘I Was Losing a Sense of How Weird the Real World Was”. As he has since the 1980s, with the launch of every major work, William Gibson will be conducting an esteemable national book and reading tour, including a night at Seattle's Third Place Books. These always making for an invigorated discussion of the times, with this voice in science and speculative fiction offering his singular take on both the present and the possible.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

“The Restless Curiosity of Agnès Varda” at SIFF Cinema: Jan 4 - 19 & "Agnès Varda: The Eternally Youthful Soul of World Cinema"

Much has been written about French Left Bank director Agnès Varda in the last decade, particularly with her passing in March of last year. Fitting then, for an incomparable director and personal essayist to leave us with two of her more intimate and inviting works in the form of 2017's "Visages Villages", and her parting gift to the world, "Varda by Agnès". Her final published interview for The Guardian, "Agnès Varda's Last Interview: 'I Fought for Radical Cinema All My Life'", is characteristic of the life she lived channeled through the endless curiosity of her investigative, creative oeuvre. Also representative of her reach and influence, the British Film Institute and New York Times obituaries, AO Scott’s “Agnès Varda: The Filmmaker as Rigorous Friend”, Peter Bradshaw's "'Greatest of the Great': Agnès Varda: The Eternally Youthful Soul of World Cinema", and Le Monde's recognition of her as the grandmother of the French New Wave, "Agnès Varda, Réalisatrice Pionnière de la Nouvelle Vague, est Morte", all go some way to express the cultural and personal investment Varda gave to the world. Belatedly championed, and with numerous opportunities in the spotlight in the final years if her life, Varda was lauded with both critical and very public appreciation and recognition. Her Academy Award nominated "Visages Villages" received attention from all the right places, she was seen on the red carpet at Cannes for the Cate Blanchett-organized events of that year's festival, and she donned the cover The British Film Institute's Sight & Sound in their summer feature on, "The Irrepressible Agnès Varda".

In the course of her humble, groundbreaking, 60-plus year career, Cannes 2017 stood out as one of her most exuberantly populist seasons. Much in the way of her quietly triumphant, "The Gleaners & I" her film of that year watches as a tour de France that is both a romp and a meditation on photography, cinema, cultural identity, community and mortality. Additionally, it also exists as 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 enlisted 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". Returning to similar ground as her "The Beaches of Agnès" of a decade before, "Varda by Agnès" looks to approach the contents of her life through the lens of her creative work. As a companion to SIFF's own mini-retrospective, “The Restless Curiosity of Agnès Varda” The New York Times, "The Many Ways of Seeing Agnès Varda", creates a summation of the complex meeting of geography, persons, and spaces she defined and explored. Her concerns and interests were discovered and expressed through movies set in cities such as "Cléo from 5 to 7", and the country, on the road as in "Vagabond", in streets and public markets seen in "The Gleaners & I", and homes, in France, Cuba, California and Vietnam. Hers was a life traveling widely, collecting friends, insight, and images, as expressly depicted in "Visages Villages". She had numerous other interests that made their way on to screen; "One Sings, the Other Doesn't" is a film of women, motherhood, bodies, geography and the divide between fiction and nonfiction that she explored, and expanded.

Varda's life could also be considered as a series of before-and-after chapters. Before and after traditional cinema, having exploded it's boundaries in the French New Wave, after the death of her husband and creative collaborator of decades, Jacques Demy, and her own 1991, "Jacquot de Nantes". A film version of Demy's autobiographical notebooks, expressed through a hybrid dramatization and documentary account of Demy's childhood and his lifelong love of theater, craftsmanship and cinema. And in later life, before and after relative cultural celebrity as a major contributor to 20th century global cinema. As the New York Times cites, her worldview could be described in relation to French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, with whom she studied in the 1940s. In a excerpt from a 1970 interview, Varda spoke about how; “He really blew my mind” singling out his ideas on the poetic imagination, the material world and the elements (earth, air, fire, water). Imagination isn’t a means for forming images of reality, Bachelard observed. “It is the faculty for forming images which go beyond reality, which sing reality,” he wrote. “It is a superhuman faculty.” Adding: “The imagination invents more than objects and dramas; it invents a new life, a new spirit; it opens eyes which hold new types of visions.” When asked in a recent interview with The Guardian how she would like to be considered after she left the world, Varda's response was typical of this attitude and a poetic, imaginative grappling with the contradictions and complexities of life; "I would like to be remembered as a film-maker who enjoyed life, including pain. This is such a terrible world, but I keep the idea that every day should be interesting. What happens in my days – working, meeting people, listening – convinces me that it’s worth being alive."

Thursday, January 2, 2020

:::: FILMS OF 2019 ::::

Joanna Hogg  "The Souvenir"  (United Kingdom)
Bong Joon-Ho  "Parasite"  (South Korea)
Pedro Almodovar  "Pain and Glory"  (Spain)
Sergei Loznitsa  "Donbass"  (Ukraine)
Joe Talbot  "The Last Black Man in San Francisco"  (United States)
Yeo Siew Hua  "A Land Imagined"  (Singapore)
Céline Sciamma  "Portrait of A Lady on Fire"  (France)
Isabella Eklöf  “Holiday”  (Denmark)
Safdie Brothers  "Uncut Gems"  (United States)
Agnès Varda  "Varda by Agnès"  (France)
Pedro Costa  "Vitalina Varela” (Portugal)
Victor Erice  "El Sur"  Restored Rereleased (Spain)
Bill Gunn  "Personal Problems"  Restored Rereleased (United States)
Francis Ford Coppola  "Apocalypse Now: Final Cut"  Rereleased (United States)
Sergei Bondarchuk  "War and Peace"  Restored Rereleased (Russia)
Mikio Naruse  "Scattered Clouds"  Restored Rereleased (Japan)
Joseph Losey  "Mr Klein"  Restored Rereleased (United Kingdom)
Luchino Visconti  "Death in Venice"  Restored Rereleased (Italy)
Franko Rosso  "Babylon"  Restored Rereleased (United Kingdom)
Kantemir Balagov  "Beanpole"  (Russia)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa  "To the Ends of the Earth"  (Japan)
Christian Petzold  "Transit'"  (Germany)
Shinya Tsukamoto  "Killing"  (Japan)
Claire Denis  "High Life"  (France)
Laszlo Nemes  "Sunset"  (Hungary)
Mati Diop  "Atlantics"  (Senegal)
Noah Baumbach  "Marriage Story"  (United States)

Three years have now passed since favorable ratings, and public appetite for spectacle, motivated both liberal and conservative media to marginalize more viable options and instead elevate a reality TV celebrity, media mogul and real estate magnate to one of the most influential positions of power in the world. We are now living in the times that Aldous Huxley described, and America may never be the same. Consequently we find ourselves in in an environment in which high and low-level attacks have been leveled at the remaining journalistic press and even the First Amendment itself. These effects amplified by the net overabundance of the 21st Century, in which media sources are decentralized, but not necessarily diversified, presenting a new set of dangers to the less digitally savvy. Between the polarization of the commercial news sources and the erosion of institutions of true investigative journalism, social media has found itself in the role of the most influential editor in the world. Subsequently, America not only receives different information, as a divided nation, we've come to perceive different realities. From the mid-2000's to present, the role of technology in our lives, and the sculpting of the very content acted as an polarizing amplifier throughout “The Decade Tech Lost Its Way", with the populace following along, "From Obama to Trump". All the while wealth becomes further stratified, the effect being that fewer and fewer institutions owning a larger slice of the domestic economy, with their influence increasingly felt in government and law enforcement.

In the midst of it all, it was a great relief to find memorable performances, festivals and exhibitions domestically. Gallery-going and the cinema played an even more prominent role this year. Hitting the mark of 400 films seen, it was another record setting twelve months in catching cinema in the theater. A worrisome trend seen in recent years continued though, as no small number of significant films were only available for viewing online or at home (more on that later). Shifting gears, the most notable visual art event witnessed this year was the fifth-annual Paul Allen funded Seattle Art Fair. Initial speculation on it's inaugural launch as to the fair being another tech money vanity project has long since been dispelled. Again proving to be significantly more than a elaborate philanthropy endeavor, this year's fair saw an expanded body of galleries, over 100 in total, along with it's program of talks, on-and-off site performances and collateral events. This year's Projects offering a platform for presentations beyond the art fair booth under the premise of "exploring identity, modes of play, and technology" in and around adjacent neighborhoods of the city, framed by Artistic Director Nato Thompson's curatorial statement, "Here Explodes the Wunderkammer". 2018 marked a major year for Art Fair and its parent institution, with the future of Allen's founding of numerous cultural and arts institutions, and significant philanthropic contribution to the city, made less certain with his passing in October of last year.

As is the case with many of the cultural and economic epicenters in the United States, in the last decade Seattle has gone through a series of notable changes to its urban, communal, and arts identity. Reflecting the still stratifying economic and cultural landscape of the city, two of the most influential regional festivals had closing years in 2015. These two institutions previously brought an underground, international scope to the city's music programming, and cumulatively tens of thousands of attendees. That year saw the final installments of the Seattle's two dominant festivals of electronic, neoclassical and experimental music in the final editions of Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival, and the discontinuation of Decibel. In an open letter Decibel Festival's 13th year closed with programming director Sean Horton's farewell to the city. In the four years since the closing of these international forums, Seattle's monthly showcases of electronic and experimental sounds, Elevator, Secondnature, MOTOR, Patchwerks, False Prophet, and Wayward Music Series stepped up to filled the void. Elevator and MOTOR have since ceased monthly programming as of 2018, the former also discontinuing their annual Corridor Festival just this year. The result is an increasingly impoverished music culture landscape, where popular indie rock, pop, electronic dance music, and commercial bands are touring and playing Seattle, along with a not small corpus of local musics, but there is little to be had in between.

In such a subtractive cultural landscape as the last decade in Seattle, the bold venture of Casey Moore and Tommy Swenson's launching of a, "New Single-Screen Cinema that Flies in the Face of Netflix", in the outlying neighborhood of Columbia City has been a almost singular revelation. In just the half year since its opening, The Beacon has proved itself a locus for the two founders' experience and knowledge having worked in marketing for the Criterion Collection and programming the Alamo Drafhouse cinemas. Bringing something not unlike the world class film-going and programming experience of New York's Metograph to our less cosmopolitan burg. The city also saw substantial servings from both the classical music world, and the particular lowlit territory branching out from the global offshoots of black and doom metal. After a successful set of years, Northwest Terror Fest returned this past May with a lineup exploring these metal hinterlands. The expansive programming of the festival's three days and nights at Seattle's Neumos, Barboza and The Highline, encompass everything from the gloaming atmospheric ambiance of doom metal, blistering thrash and hardcore, and heavy psych rock, dark pagan, experimental synthesizer and neofolk explorations. On the other end of the dial, music director and conductor Ludovic Morlot's final season with Seattle Symphony had no small amount of fanfare programmed around his departure. The threefold coup de grâce of Morlot's decade at Seattle symphony would be the realization of "John Luther Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning 'Become Ocean'", Olivier Messiaen's massive symphonic work, "Turangalîla", and the inauguration of the Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center with a 24 hour Contemporary Music Marathon.

Coming up on the close of the decade, access and distribution have become the real revelations and stumbling blocks of the second decade of the 21st Century. In his "Streaming Has Killed the Mainstream: The Decade that Broke Popular Culture", The Guardian's Simon Reynolds plumbs the deep complexities of the scattered and shattered effects of both the disintegrating of the popular monoculture of the past, and the sensation of living with the overload of options in the present. For The New Yorker, Richard Brody tackles the most significant after-effect of this abundance and the convenience of what's on offer through the dominant streaming platforms and commercial cinemas. He argues that; “It has been a banner year for movies, but you’d never know it from a trip to a local multiplex, or from a glimpse at the Oscarizables. The gap between what’s good and what’s widely available in theatres - between the cinema of resistance and the cinema of consensus - is wider than ever". Brody continues in his films of the decade selection; "Not only do a small number of blockbuster movies dominate the industry’s economy, but the sheer fact of popularity is multiplied and amplified online. Crowding out coverage of less-popular yet ultimately more significant movies at precisely the moment when, because these movies get scant distribution and are often virtually hidden on streaming sites, critical attention is all the more essential to their recognition." This gulf is also reflected online. 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 is being found on the growing independent streaming platforms like Mubi, Fandor, and the recently founded, Criterion Channel.

Award winning films from festivals in New York, Berlin, Vienna, Venice, Hong Kong, Seoul, Cannes, Paris, London, Toronto and Cannes topping Film Comment, The Guardian, Cinema-Scope, and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews, have yet to receive distribution in the United States outside of festival programming or a savvy urban arthouse. Or, for that matter, even show up streaming online. So count yourself fortunate that you live in an urban cultural center 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). The value that Scarecrow Video brings to Seattle in this regard can't be overstated. With 130,000 titles on offer they now represent the largest privately owned collection of film in the world. Cinephiles, and even the simply movie quality-curious, should take note. No online streaming resource can even begin to approach their breadth and diversity available to be seen between their four walls. In music it was another year of taking circuitous and unexpected paths to the year's more memorable sounds. Streaming and digital distribution has incontestably freed channels of access and stages of separation between producer and audience. It has also brought to the fore the issue of accepting poor royalties for the benefit of expansive exposure. In the midst of this digital era of over abundance, there are whole forms and centuries of music that are not being served by the dominant streaming platforms. But if this almost singular foray of independent labels and artists in the market, it reveals much in, "Drip.FM's Closing and The Challenging Future of Sustainable Creative Technologies". Conversely streaming and direct digital distribution has also made what was in the past the locus of curatorial vision; the record label, less of a less singular go-to. Self releasing platforms like the growing audience direct community of Bandcamp, have made the record label less central.

Yet it remains the case that the record label can often be a superior path toward discovering new cultures and artists amid the over-abundance of the online world. The well curated label is still the best bet at finding more of related sounds when you're attuned to their programming trajectory. In the way of cutting edge electronic and experimental sounds, Raster-Media, Tri-Angle, Blackest Ever Black, PAN, Editions Mego, and RVNG have 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, Sargent House, 20 Buck Spin, Flenser, Season of Mist, Relapse, and Profound Lore. Neoclassical and modern chamber music were served by labels like Erased Tapes, and Denovali, with gorgeous and long overdue reissues of under-appreciated masterworks of American minimalism from Blume. Centuries-spanning institutions like Deutsche Grammophon have also expanded into the territory of young contemporary composers like Max Richter, and Jóhann Jóhannsson. American indies like Sacred Bones, Captured Tracks, Kranky, Thrill Jockey, Dead Oceans, and Temporary Residence continued to step up their game, with ever expanding diversification and discovery of new talent. In the world of modern jazz, Scandinavia continues to dominate the field of innovation. The influence of labels like Rune Grammofon and ECM and their embracing of classical, jazz, improvisation and experimentation, can't be stressed enough. The year also saw existing and new American imprints releasing work pushing at the boundaries of the very definition of jazz. Vanguard forays into form and style were heard on Eremite and Chicago's International Anthem. The standard-bearers of American jazz, Impulse! and Verve, also proving that they make the cut with one of the great new jazz albums of the decade. Straight from the burgeoning "British Jazz Explosion" as The Guardian called it, gathered together on anthologies by Giles Peterson and his Brownswood Recordings.

In the way of other notable reissues, San Francisco Bay Area label, Superior Viaduct reached further into he discographies of post-punk, modern composition, out-rock and free jazz, and UK-based Soul Jazz continues to plumb the depths of Afro-rock, disco and soul, with multiple brilliant compilations this year. From the far fringes of the Japanese underground, labels like Palto Flats, WeWantSounds, Empire of Signs, and WRWTFWW have unearthed some rare and much sought-after gems in the form of Yasuaki Shimizu's "Kakashi", Hiroshi Yoshimura's "Music for Nine Postcards", and Midori Takada's lost minimalist masterpiece, "Through the Looking Glass". Also in this vein, Light in the Attic released their document of "The Hidden History of Japan’s Folk-Rock Boom", as the first volume of the Japan Archive. The second and third volumes arrived this spring and summer with a sublime assembly of Japanese "interior music" on, "Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990", and the rarefied city pop sound was collected together on the "Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1975-1985". In the excellent liner notes supplied by Visible Claoks' Spencer Doran for the edition, he rightly sites that ambient music in Japan started, much as it did elsewhere, with Erik Satie, Marcel Duchamp, Morton Feldman, John Cage and their 20th century contemporaries being taught in university courses attended by these then-young electronic pioneers. By bridging modernist and postmodern modes of composition with the then-concurrent forays into "musical furnishings" supplied by Brian Eno, their ideas about background, modes of attention, functionality, and the abstracting of authorship came to the fore. The arrival in the west of this assembly of "Lullabies for Air Conditioners: The Corporate Bliss of Japanese Ambient", as Simon Reynolds points out, couldn't be more satisfying in the timeliness of its arrival.