Thursday, April 18, 2019

"Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990" and Light In The Attic's Japan Archive Series

One of the great unmined veins of popular music of the postwar era spans the Japanese underground of the 1960s and 70s, all the way up to the crest of the New Wave in the late 1980s. This year sees a series of compilations unearthing gems from these largely overlooked movements and scenes. First and foremost among them, Light In The Attic's Japan Archive series, inaugurated in late 2017 with their first volume, "Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973". Exploring the late 60's and early 70s protest era through the music of such pioneers as Yellow Magic Orchestra's Haruomi Hosono, jazz songstress Maki Asakawa, ragged garage from Hachimitsu Pie and the influential pop-folk of Happy End. The New York Times feature, "The Hidden History of Japan's Folk-Rock Boom" details the musical players and ethos of this explosively political time in Japanese history. Following on the first edition, the second and third volumes arrive this spring and summer with a sublime assembly of Japanese "interior music" on, "Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990", and later this year, the rarefied City Pop sound is to be 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. These were to then intersect with the timing of notable advances in technology. In the hands of this generation of electronic pioneers, hardware manufactured for the consumer market was to meet culture-specific notions of environment and sound. The arrival in the west of of this assembly of "Lullabies for Air Conditioners: The Corporate Bliss of Japanese Ambient", as Simon Reynolds points out, couldn't be more perfectly timed. Just in recent years, labels like Palto Flats, WRWTFWW, and Doran's own Empire of Signs have unearthed rare and much sought-after gems, "Telling the Musical History of Japan's Ambient Era". A trio of these recordings have garnering a degree of attention rarely seen for such works of quietly eccentric minimalism. Yasuaki Shimizu's masterful electroacoustic pop heard on "Kakashi", the refined sublimity of Hiroshi Yoshimura's "Music for Nine Post Cards", and the incomparable micro-percussive soundworld of Midori Takada's "Through the Looking Glass", have finally made their way to western ears. The particularly long and circuitous course Takada's music has taken is explored by The Guardian in their, "Ambient Pioneer Midori Takada: 'Everything on this Earth Has a Sound'".

Almost as a companion to the Japan Archive edition, the UK Culture of Soul label have issued their own overview of City Pop and J-Boogie. As a second showcase of a sound that expressed the optimism and exuberance of Japan's 1980s economic boomtimes, "Tokyo Nights: Female J-Pop & Boogie Funk" is focused more explicitly on the women-led bands and female solo artists within these concurrent genres. Both compilations present a music which took in influences from Caribbean reggae and disco, Pacific Island exotica, American R&B and boogie, and a fixation on technological futurism. Look no further than Hosono, Shigeru Suzuki & Tatsuro Yamashita's album Pacific, for evidence of the riches to come of this techno-exotica fusion. Having established themselves in electronic solo and group efforts of the decade before, producers like Tatsuro Yamashita, Toshiki Kadomatsu, the hugely influential Haruomi Hosono (who is himself going through a reissue revival in the west), were quick to embrace the latest studio equipment and technology. Their roles on both of these collections are as producers and engineers on a staggering multitude of albums. More than just working behind the scenes, these producers generated the thematic character and mode of much of this decade's sound. It is a sound to a time of economic success in Japan; urban lifestyles of indulgence, and the taste for nightlife, produced glitzy discotheques and a soundtrack to this new, lavish era. Epitomizing these attitudes, City Pop emerged as a sonic expression of the imagined neon wonderlands dotted with sandy beaches and metropolitan skylines.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Streaming for Cinephiles 101 Part II: The Criterion Channel

A follow-up to the previous post on online cinema alternatives to the dominant commercial streaming platforms, this second part focuses on this week's launch of The Criterion Channel, and their first month of programming. Which includes, among a vast body of other content; "The Criterion Collection and Janus Films’ ever-growing library of more than 1,000 feature films, 350 shorts, and 3,500 supplementary features, including trailers, introductions, behind-the-scenes documentaries, interviews, video essays, commentary tracks, and rare archival footage. It will also feature a constantly refreshed selection of films from a wide array of studio and independent licensors including Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Lionsgate, IFC Films, Kino Lorber, Cohen Media, Milestone Film and Video, Oscilloscope, Cinema Guild, Strand Releasing, Shout Factory, Film Movement, and Grasshopper Films. Additional licensors will be added in the coming months." Launched in response to last year's announcement that , "WarnerMedia Shutting Down FilmStruck Streaming Service", which in the process, "niche markets" that institutions like Time Warner once looked to supply, were discarded in favor of an eye exclusively to mass market profit margins. The FilmStruck "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles" endeavor between The Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies being the most recent casualty of narrow-minded market concerns like those detailed in Vanity Fair's, "FilmStruck, the Cinephile’s Answer to Netflix, Is Shutting Down". This is one of the factors involved in how Amazon and Netflix will continue to consume the streaming market and come to dominate our options for content... when media conglomerates like Fox, Disney, AT&T and Warner Brothers merge... alternatives for such "niche markets" as AT&T describes them, disappear... and everyone loses.

Striking out in an independent endeavor, it was announced that "Following FilmStruck's Closure, Criterion Collection to Launch its Own Streaming Service". Their new streaming platform arrives this week, with GQ being effectively ahead of the game, "The Criterion Channel Is Here for All Your Cinephile Needs" compiling a viewers' guide to, "Everything Coming to The Criterion Channel as it Launches This Month". We are now seeing resources of Criterion Channel's kind coming to fill an essential role, almost in response to the sparsity found elsewhere. In a span of the last decade it has become increasingly clear that "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option". And don't think to go to Hulu or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. The dearth of classic, arthouse, international festival highlights and award-winning and critically lauded works being available to view on these dominant streaming resources is sorely apparent. The diminishing of both quantity and diversity on the Netflix in particular has been accelerated by the phasing out their once voluminous physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films" are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". This is a small segment of the components that have contributed to, "Why Netflix Lets Movie Lovers Down, and What to Do About It". As a product of this combined effect of market dominance, while simultaneously offering a lack of content on Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, resources like Fandor, Mubi, and the short-lived FilmStruck became the online destinations of choice for discerning film lovers. Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, these independent streaming platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook and (the now shuttered) Keyframe. To date, "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock" has come out on top. Unlike the "Streaming Rabbit Hole Worth Falling Down" represented by the services of Fandor and (the then) FilmStruck, each offering a vast catalog of thousands of titles, Mubi instead watches as an online cinema of sorts, with a new featured film every day. At its inception, The Criterion Channel looks to be offering Mubi the healthiest and most desirable kind of competition; complimentary, rich, far-reaching, and expertly curated.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Claire Denis' "High Life" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 12 - 25

Thematically variegated, from explorations of masculine camaraderie, observations on the post-Colonial landscape of both Africa and Paris, to sharp edged gender relations, neo-noir thrillers, and strange science run amok, Claire Denis' filmography navigates the spaces between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. Consistently fashioning an interplay of the gravitational pulls inherent in the corresponding genres. Denis is herself a complex and irreducible intellect, as made clear in recent interviews on both gender representation in Cannes, and the wider field of women artists, "Claire Denis: ‘I Couldn’t Care Less About the Weinstein Affair'". As well as speaking specifically on her most recent film, it's unusual subject matter, and science fiction as a vehicle for plumbing themes of sexuality and violence, for the Irish Times, "‘We are Normal People. Even Though We are French’". Recent representations of her craft can be seen in 2008's masterpiece on class, race and urban life, conveyed through light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum", and 2014's pitch perfect neo-noir, "Bastards". The latter bringing it's audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with it's contact with power, corruption and an immoral elite. In a sense all of her work can be seen as, "Family Films of a Very Different Sort". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think David Lynch, Steve McQueen, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, these structural and thematic signatures are abundantly detailed in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview for Film Comment and Senses of Cinema's "Dancing Reveals So Much: An Interview with Claire Denis".

A crowning point from Cannes 2017, she delivered a subtly pointed observations of contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, expressed itself with an almost inscrutable sophistication, "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Taking a typically dynamic about-turn, Denis then delivered "High Life" the following year after its long gestation. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, this most recent entry in "The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis", represents an even deeper plumbing of genre, as it, "Takes Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche on an Erotic Space Odyssey as a Mesmerizing Look into the Void". Along its course, bridging such improbably collaborators as Icelandic media artist Olafur Eliasson and an early draft of the screenplay by Zadie Smith. Initially intending Philip Seymour Hoffman in its lead role, "High Life" is the second collaboration with Eliasson after 2014's "Contact", and stands as Denis' explicit foray into hard science fiction. In form for the director, "Claire Denis Talks on Her Long Path to Filmmaking", offering insight into the project's development, the inhospitable nature of space, and the film's themes of sex, control and confinement, "Claire Denis on High Life, Robert Pattinson, and Putting Juliette Binoche in a “F*ckbox”. The film's multifaceted tensions succinctly delineated in Charles Bramesco's Toronto review, "High Life: Orgasmic Brilliance in Deepest Space with Robert Pattinson" for The Guardian; "Denis proposes the erotic drive as the fuel to use when there’s nothing left to live for. In the negative zone beyond the stratosphere, depicted as a physical glitch humankind was never meant to explore, severe isolation returns the brain to its basest biological capacity. Every day is a battle to stay sane (less apparent among Denis’ feats here is that she has casually constructed a remorselessly honest look into the psychological ramifications of incarceration)."

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Hu Bo's “An Elephant Sitting Still” at Northwest Film Forum: Apr 6 - 17

This past year saw a trio of masterful films emerge from Chinese mainland directors, both new and old. Representing for China's sixth generation was the director at the spearhead of mainland cinema for over two decades now, Jia Zhang-ke. The eerily futurist sheen of his "Ash Is Purest White" lent a distinct glow to the social realist grit of the director's recent turn into crime drama. The second would be the dream of a movie that is Bi Gan's sophomore effort, "Long Day's Journey Into Night". The first hour centers around the noirish pursuit of a love from years past, setting the tone for film's extended set piece in its second half. All of which culminating in a highly stylized and oneiric cinematic voyage, wherein "Long Day’s Journey Into Night Follows its Own Woozy Dream Logic". Most elusive of this trio was the single directorial work by novelist Hu Bo before his untimely suicide in late 2017 at the age of 29. Based on the story from his novel "Huge Crack" of that same year, Hu's extended duration film swept critical attention and gained great notice at this past year's Berlin International Film Festival. The film's title, concerning a folk tale of an elephant in the Manzhouli zoo, both acts as a commentary on surviving in increasingly demanding times, and a zen ideal to strive toward. Its parable resonates among the film's youthful protagonists, all deeply unhappy in their isolated industrial locale, as they struggle with the conflicting forces of apathy and meaning. Unrelenting as its tone and duration may be, “An Elephant Sitting Still” proves a delicately layered, subtly shot work that distinguishes itself with lived-in characters expressing a set of incisive statements on the prevalence of apathy, arrogance and egotism in modern China. “An Elephant Sitting Still: Melancholic and Mesmerising" in the extreme, conveyed in long, uncut sequences and a muted tonal palette, the film follows its protagonists in their inward and outward search for liberation from the entrenchment of their personal and social conditions. "An Elephant Sitting Still's Bleak, Graceful Realism" coming to envelop completely as the viewer joins them in the miasma of this, "Shattering, Soul-Searching Chinese One-Off". Hu Bo's singular directorial vision will finally hit domestic screens next month, including a brief run at Northwest Film Forum.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Bi Gan's "Long Day's Journey Into Night" & Jia Zhang-ke's "Ash is Purest White" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 5 - 18

In his year end overview, The New Yorker's Richard Brody tackles the single most significant factor in the contemporary landscape of moving pictures; “2018 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." For evidence supporting Brody's assertion, look no further than this past year's selection on offer at Cannes and Venice, and contrast these with domestic cinema programming over the ensuing year. The two pieces of new Asian cinema belatedly screening at SIFF Cinema this next month are perfectly illustrative of the depth of this divide. Each ranked highly in Film Comment, The Guardian, Cinema-Scope, and the British Film Institute's Sight & Sound annual overviews for 2018, yet only now arriving on domestic screens.

Elsewhere in the world, 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. China under President Xi Jinping continues to carry out the broadest crackdown on free expression in the "30 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" in growing numbers and diversity.

Ranking among Film Comment's Best Undistributed Films of 2015, Bi Gan's remarkable arthouse debut swept up Locarno's Best New Director prize, and was hailed as one of the most assured directorial debuts of the decade by both Film Comment and Cinema-Scope. Ostensibly the story of a middle aged doctor and ex-con searching for his young nephew, "Kaili Blues" offers up an increasingly dreamlike elegy for bygone Miao traditions, and the sweeping changes seen throughout the landscape of mainland China. Most striking is the emphatically experimental detour in it's middle passage into a "Dreamy Trek With Otherworldly Beauty", as the narrative proceeds into an extended exercise in cinematic time and space. 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. Considering the "Great Uprooting: Moving 250 Million into China’s Cities" expected to unfold over the course of the next decade, one doesn't need to extend the "Pitfalls that Abound in China’s Push From Farm to City" far to conceive them applying to a country in flux, and to a people in dislocation. The film's sensibility for the subject, and setting of this abstract chronicle of persons lost and a past revealed, is best expressed in Mark Chan's Short Take for Film Comment; "one of the rare moments in recent cinema where ostentatious screen-craft proves equal to the task of channeling a multitude of these inexpressible sorrows".

Bi Gan returned in 2018 with a sophomore leap into neo-noir centering around the fading embers of a mysterious romance told in the key of early Wong Kar-Wai. In this dream of a movie, much of it told through almost omnipresent voiceover, "Long Day's Journey Into Night" centers around the return of Luo Hongwu to his hometown (again) in Guizhou province, to find the woman he’s loved and never forgotten. This most noirish of storytelling devices circles around a set of recurring concepts, whether journeys, romantic encounters, the abstraction of recollection, time, (or during one startling technical sequence) cinema itself, all expressed with the same half-remembered quality. Mention should be made of the strength of the film's independent components. Particularly Liu Qiang’s set design, a explicit selection of Cantonese pop, and the ethereal electro-acoustic score supplied Lim Giong and Point Hsu. Most significantly, during the film's initial sequence the sensuous and atmospheric cinematography of Yao Hung-I and Dong Jinsong, setting the tone for the extended set piece that culminates this highly stylized and oneiric cinematic voyage, whereafter "Long Day’s Journey Into Night Follows its Own Woozy Dream Logic".

The seconds notable film is the newest by the previously mentioned sixth generation Chinese director at the spearhead of mainland cinema for over two decades now. In dedicating one of their Great Directors features to Jia Zhang-ke, Senses of Cinema predicated the recognition that would later come for the quietly controversial, deeply humanistic vision alive in his body of work. Zhang-ke's earliest acclaim originating from his string of first features, "The Pickpocket", "Platform" and "Unknown Pleasures" spanning the years 1998-2002. It was his examination of Globalization and China's absorption of western market and consumer values in 2004's "The World" that he gained attention outside the European cinema festivals. Becoming in a short succession of years a internationally recognized filmmaking voice that strode a very precarious balance with China's censorship and state-run cinema funding. So that much more startling then, that when his next film set within the otherworldly landscape of the Three Gorges Damn Project. A film of lives changed, homes lost and cultural legacy literally washed away, 2006's masterwork "Still Life" not only winning him top prize at the Berlin and Venice Film Festivals, but paradoxically earning praise from China's then vice-President, Xi Jinping.

With Jia's own perspective on the current state of his country offered in the pages of The Guardian, "China Must End Silence on Injustice, Warns Film Director Jia Zhang-ke" on the subjects of growing wealth inequality, worker exploitation and eroding social cohesion. That year saw him blending of his usual documentary aptitude with a newfound flare for bloodletting. His "A Touch of Sin" can be seen as the director's response to the growing backlash of mass protest, worker suicides, public violence, labor riots, upheaval against for-profit land seizures and the growing extremity of corruption of state and local officials. Jia's depiction of the rising occurrence of mainland China's explosive public response to social injustice explored in Tony Rayns' "A Touch of Sin: New China’s Loss of Social Cohesion Leads to Violence". In the long arc of Jia Zhang-ke's increasingly expansive art, he has constructed a body of observations on globalism, largely comprised of a mildly surreal tangent of social realism, with an unexpected recent turn into the realm of politically conscious crime drama. As Peter Bradshaw's review details, "Ash is Purest White" falls into the classification of the latter. Setting this tale of how "Love Smolders and Crime Pays in a Changing China" apart, Zhang-ke has imbued his crime tale with what Bradshaw describes as a "miasma of visionary strangeness", giving a distinct glow to the film's social realist grit. Seen through the film's eerily futurist sheen, this complex romantic tragedy set within China’s crime classes is a "Chinese Gangster’s Girlfriend Saga that Burns Bright".

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Seattle Symphony's Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center Opening and Contemporary Music Marathon: Mar 23 - 24 | Heiner Goebbels' "Surrogate Cities": Apr 25 - 26 | Ludovic Morlot's Final Season with Seattle Symphony

While the 2019 season will mark the end of his tenure as conductor and Music Director at Seattle Symphony, since his arrival in 2011 Ludovic Morlot has launched a number of significant modern music initiatives. Alex Ross positing that from the week of his debut, the conductor not only stepping out with a strong start musically, but a reshaping of the orchestra's image, effectively in many ways, the "Symphony’s New Leader Took Seattle by Storm". Not least among his accomplishments, the late-night [untitled] chamber music series which brought contemporary works back into symphony's lexicon, after almost a decade of being remiss in the frequency of their performance. Morlot brought a higher profile and further prestige to the city with his commissioning of "John Luther Adams Pulitzer Prize Winning 'Become Ocean'" which was recorded with the Seattle Symphony in 2013. Last summer also saw the conductor's hand at work in Adams' continuation of the cycle, with the premier of "Become Desert". Yet the seasonal [untitled] program may prove to be Morlot's greatest contemporary music contribution during his tenure. The series' installments cumulatively reading as a who's-who of 20th and 21st Century avant-garde and modernism. Including in its breadth works by such notable (and rarely performed) composers as George Crumb, György Ligeti, Iannis Xenakis, John Cage, Terry Riley and Giacinto Scelsi. Other high points include 2015's performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen's groundbreaking electro-acoustic, "Gesang der Jünglinge", and the series' initiation with the realization of Olivier Messiaen's massive symphonic work, "Turangalîla". In the way of other contemporary works,  this next month Seattle Symphony performs a compelling and rare Heiner Goebbels piece on the march of history through the modern urban diaspora. Featuring additional sound design work from Ensemble Modern's Norbert Ommer, vocalist Jocelyn B. Smith's sultry intimacy, and the spectrum of noir radio inflection to Dada theatrics supplied by David Moss, this large scale conceptual work bears some correspondence to the postmodern music theater of it's text contributor, Heiner Müller. To quote ECM Records, "Surrogate Cities" is; "Concerned with the dynamic power and the power dynamics of the modern city, it is an examination of the concrete jungle in all its complexity, complete with musical-historical flashbacks. Literary quotations and text setting are also integral to the work, and it incorporates words by Paul Auster, Hugo Hamilton, and Heiner Müller".

As the 2019-2020 season commences, under the aegis of the symphony's new Music Director Thomas Dausgaard, one final grand project of Morlot's tenure is to be realized. The month of March sees the opening of LMN Architects reconceiving the former Southbridge Music Discovery Center into a nexus of technology and heightened acoustic experience as Octave 9: Raisbeck Music Center. The features of the facility as a versatile technology-enhanced performance and multimedia community space are detailed in Seattle Symphony's announcement; "Combining a modular surround video screen with 13 moveable panels, 10 ultra-short-throw projectors, motion-capture cameras, and a state-of-the-art Meyer Sound Constellation Acoustic System with 42 speakers and 30 microphones, the technology can create a 360° shared virtual experience or be adapatable to disappear into the background for a more traditional setting. A series of custom system presets will provide supportive acoustic environments for a variety of ensembles, and additional settings can be customized producing a range of possible acoustic environments. Cellist and experimental artist Seth Parker Woods will become Octave 9’s first Artist in Residence for the 2019-2020 season. During his residency, he will premiere a number of new works for cello and multimedia from a diverse group of composers and visual artists." A set of local press including Met's "Octave 9 Is Another Symphonic World", and Seattle Times' "You Have to Hear it to Believe It: Seattle Symphony’s Octave 9", proceeded its its public opening on March 3. GeekWire's "Inside Octave 9: A High-Tech Venue that lets Seattle Symphony Explore the Future of Music" offering a more in-depth assessment of the facility's resources on offer. Yet it will be the venue's inaugural event, the Contemporary Music Marathon, spanning 24 hours beginning March 23, to day's end on March 24th, that will be the true test of Octave 9's resources. Encompassing a qualitative body of 20th and 21st century composers, the day-in and day-out performance by an array of ensembles will include such works as John Luther Adams' "The Light Within" & "Songbirds", David Lang's "Breathless", Annea Lockwood's "In Our Name", and Kaija Saariaho's "Spins and Spells". Beginning in the long hours of the first night, Helmut Lachenmann's rarely performed work, "Serynade" is then followed in the early morning by political composer Frederic Rzewski's "Piano Piece No. 3 & 4", and the afternoon is ushered in with American minimalists, represented by Terry Riley's "G-Song", and Philip Glass' "String Quartet No. 6".

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Company Wayne McGregor's "Autobiography" US Tour with JLIN: Feb 7 - Mar 3

Returning stateside for a brief series of domestic dates after 2017's tour of "Atomos", Company Wayne McGregor will arrive at The Moore with a dance portrait illuminated by the sequencing of choreographer's own genome. The most recent of the company's media-spanning collaborations, "Autobiography" enlists lighting designer Lucy Carter, costume artist Aitor Throup, dramaturg by Uzma Hameed, Ben Cullen Williams, winner of the 2018 D&AD Award for spatial design, and music and sound supplied by Jerrilynn Patton. Approaching "The Body as a Living Archive", Company Wayne McGregor manifests in the vehicle of "'Autobiography', Dance as Philosophical Process". By way of process, before each performance a custom algorithm sifts the data of his sequenced genome, from this a variant assembly of the dance's 23 sections is composed. The title and number of each section are projected in the visual array on stage as that section starts, the titles evocative of fundamental aspects of life; Nurture, Aging, Time, Sleep, Nature. By "Dancing the Genome in Wayne McGregor’s ‘Autobiography’", in this way each performance is different, sequentially and thematically, as each arrangement is decoupled and reshuffled from those around it. As with previous works by the company, their newest is a transmedia collaboration fusing multiple disciplines into a dynamic, sensory, audiovisual space in which the performance unfolds.

Enlisting footwork artist Jerrilynn Patton, and her music as JLIN, the custom score for "Autobiography" reigns in aspects of her propulsive and kinetic "Unleashing of Dark Energy on Footwork". As explored in Simon Reynolds discussion with Patton for The Guardian, there is more to this music of this multidisciplinary "Woman of Steel" than form bent in service to dancefloor functionality. Her conversation in The Quietus Peer Reviewed series, in which "JLIN Interviews Max Richter", is equally revealing. McGregor's process in collaboration is probably detailed best in the Q&A with The Guardian around the time of the tour for 2015's "Tree of Codes", produced with musician Jamie XX, and the "Islands and Origami" of award-winning visual and media artist Olafur Eliasson. "Tree of Codes" physical and technological "Explosion of Energy in A Sea of More" is representative McGregor's last half-decade of kinetic dance, precision lighting design, audiovisual mediascapes, and cutting edge sets and decors. Soundtracked by artists from the Warp Records roster, including Clark, Gaika, Mark Pritchard, and Lorenzo Senni, the themes of engagement with technology reached a pinnacle with 2017's "+/- Human". Possibly the most explicit of his explorations of the relationships between body and mind, science and art, human and the technological, "In ‘+/- Human,’ It's Just Us and Our Orblike Shadows".

On works like "Infra", "FAR" and "Azimuth", repeat collaborators have also been found in the power electronics and electro-acoustic music of Icelandic artist, Ben Frost and neoclassical composer, Max Richter. Not limited to simply scoring dance pieces, their meetings have also embraced cutting edge installation and transmedia works found in McGregor's early association with Random International. Their "Future Self" for MADE, was one of the first in a series of successful location-specific collaborations featuring a score supplied by Richter. It's London run at The Barbican over the course of the 2012 Frieze Art Fair, saw a succession of live performances that were met with enthusiasm in the pages of the BBC and a glowing review from The Guardian. Following immediately on this set of collaborations, the trio's "Rain Room" made it's debut again at The Barbican London, to then come stateside to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and MoMA's PS1 as part of "EXPO 1: New York". At the former, the installation ran as part of a group exhibition of environmental works on ecological challenges in the context of the economic and sociopolitical instability. Generating more than a bit of a sensation, favorable press and public response, "Rain Room"'s time at PS1 was covered in The New York Times "Steamy Wait Before a Walk in a Museum’s Rain". With it's following run in Los Angeles featured by the LA Times, "Inside LACMA's Rain Room: An indoor Storm Where You Won't Get Wet".

Sunday, February 10, 2019

"The Magic Lantern of Ingmar Bergman" at Seattle Art Museum: Jan 10 - Mar 14 | Criterion Collection and Janus Films "The Cinema of Ingmar Bergman"

Its almost without exception that the work from the late 1950s to mid-1970s by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, "The Master Filmmaker, Who Found Bleakness and Despair, as well as Comedy and Hope", in his indelible explorations of the human condition, will appear on any film buff or art critics assessment of cinema of the 20th century. Look no further than The British Film Institutes' Greatest Films of All Time Poll for evidence. During those decades Bergman was at the height of his prowess, thanks initially to a string of films spanning "Summer with Monika", "Wild Strawberries", and "The Seventh Seal", made in rapid succession in under three years. These were not born out of the ether, but instead the product of an extraordinarily long apprenticeship, "Summer with Monika" (arguably his first great film), was his 10th. That the body of work that was to follow was also in severe contrast to the Neorealist school which had dominated post-War cinema, was one of it's popular strengths. Employing a analytic precision to the intellectual and existential disquiet that seemed fiercely at odds with the hedonistic nature of the times. Bergman's cinema centers around a grim obsession with an unflinching microexamination of emotional confrontation. In-part made possible by his collaborations with two great cinematographers (Sven Nykvist and Gunnar Fischer), and his team of skilled performers.

Bergman literally astonished audiences with the degree to which he was willing to interrogate cruelty, death, and above all the torment of doubt. He used cinema to strip bare these central concerns of life, few directors integrating their personal turmoil into their body of work to the extent that Bergman did. An autobiographical cinema, not simply in the details of the drama drawn from experience, but also in the sense of its spiritual and artistic response to the complexities of marriage, the relation of the sexes, duplicity, illness (both physical and mental), death and the church. His time in the theatre in Sweden as the director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Stockholm, brought to his film work a crucially interrelated set of technique and skill, and with it a devoted body of actors. These would form a locus around repeated roles from, Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow, and Liv Ullmann. This body of actors was central to the successful stretch of films following on the notoriety of his initial breakthrough trio of the 1950s. His star continued to shine through the following decade with an Academy Award for "The Virgin Spring", which was echoed the following year when "Through A Glass Darkly" received the Best Foreign Film award at the Oscars. What are arguably his greatest works followed in this period of the early to mid-1960s with, "Hour of the Wolf", "Winter Light", "The Silence", "Persona", and "Cries and Whispers" in 1971.

With multiple series of restorations, and repertory representations, the largest body of which thanks to the work of Criterion Collection and Janus Films, his cinema has been examined and re-examined through the lens of decades. Spanning six decades and thirty nine films, The Cinema of Ingmar Bergman, released this past fall and available for purchase direct from Criterion, is an astounding testament to the director's work as a lavish and assembly of physical media, printing and binding. Glenn Kenny's review for the New York Times, "Viewing Ingmar Bergman Through a Glass Less Darkly", plumbs the depths of this extravagant set and the riches to be found in its abundance. Criterion's assembly of essays around these central films make for essential reading, beginning with what many consider to be his first true film, "Summer with Monika: Summer Dreaming", to "Wild Strawberries: “Where Is the Friend I Seek?”, "The Seventh Seal: There Go the Clowns", and later, "The Virgin Spring: Bergman in Transition". These essays also documenting the mid-career string of masterpieces, including, "Through a Glass Darkly: Patron Saint of Angst", "Winter Light: Chamber Cinema", "The Silence", and "The Persistence of Persona". Last year saw the repertory theatrical revival of one of his fiercest, sensually brilliant, and unclassifiable pictures, "Persona: Bergman's Enigmatic Masterpiece Still Captivates", as detailed by Peter Bradshaw in the pages of The Guardian. The restoration an aspect of Janus Films' touring, "Ingmar Bergman's Cinema: A Centennial Retrospective", from which Seattle Art Museum drew 2018's, "Winter Light: The Films of Ingmar Bergman", and this year's second assembly of pictures, "The Magic Lantern of Ingmar Bergman".

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Noir City: Film Noir in The 1950s at SIFF Cinema: Feb 15 - 21

Eddie Muller and the Film Noir Foundation are back in Seattle following last year's iteration, in which the Noir City: Film Noir from A to B presented 9 "A" and "B" double bills, spanning the breadth of the original Film Noir era, 1941 to 1953. Now back in it's third consecutive year after the 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. 2017 was a notable year for The Film Noir Foundation, as Muller took up permanent residence on TCM with a new programming franchise hosted by the Czar of Noir with the launch of his Sunday morning Noir Alley showcase. This year's program, Noir City: Film Noir in The 1950s, centers around the genre's second decade. Through the 20 films on offer, Muller tracks noir through 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. As is annually the case, much 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's highlights include a new restoration of Richard Fleischer's "Trapped", one of the numerous showcases for Barbara Stanwyk's range in Robert Siodmak's "The File on Thelma Jordon", genre master Jacques Tourneur's "Nightfall", and noir mainstay William Dieterle's "The Turning Point". The programming also features some of the late studio era big name directors in Otto Preminger's "Angel Face", Michael Curtiz' "The Scarlet Hour", William Wyler's "Detective Story", and Robert Wise' "Odds Against Tomorrow". A trio of American auteurs are also represented in a early and late period Samuel Fuller double feature, "Pickup on South Street" and "The Crimson Kimono", a fledgling Stanley Kubrick and his "Killer's Kiss", and Orson Welles later, legendary film, "Touch of Evil".

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Peter Murphy & David J "40 Years of Bauhaus" Tour: Jan 16 - Feb 28 | Peter Murphy Retrospective at The Chapel San Francisco: Mar 5 - 23

There can be no discussion of the cultural significance of the influential 4AD label at the beginning of the 1980s, without Bauhaus. In truth, even the label's name was reflected in the title of one of their earliest releases. The initial premise for 4AD as a collaboration between Peter Kent and Ivo Watts-Russell was as a testing ground for new acts, supported by the larger cultural and financial umbrella of Beggars Banquet. Programmed by the duo, the structure in concept was that with success, these bands would then have the option to graduate up to the parent Beggars Banquet roster. Bauhaus proved to be the only band to follow this path as they were signed to Beggars Banquet in late 1980, before Ivo and Peter purchased 4AD outright. Foremost among the label's first year of singles spawned from punk's violent disassembly came Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and David J. Launching the ships of a thousand imitators, (and a sound that was later to be called gothic rock), as a meeting of gloaming atmospheres, dissonant sprawl and postpunk theatrics, Bauhaus were one of the first of their kind. Concurrently working in a similar mold, from across the world came the defiant rancor and country rock blues and 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. In rapid consecution 4AD released the earliest experimental solo work from bands that would later come to define the decade, 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 massively influential postpunk quartet.

Following three singles for the label, and the success of their debut "In The Flat Field", Murphy, Ash, Haskins and David J split from 4AD with their graduation to the ranks of Beggars Banquet. By 1981 they had already assembled a new single, EP, and with the year's conclusion, the second full length album, "Mask". While only active on Beggars Banquet and 4AD for a span a little over three years, the band was in a state of continuous and highly prolific output. The next two years saw the release of their biggest single in the cover of David Bowie's "Ziggy Stardust", multiple iterations on John Peel's culture defining Peel Sessions for the BBC, and strange dalliances with popular culture with charting singles leading to three Top of the Pops appearances. Singles like "Spirit", "She's in Parties", and the ongoing regular rotation of "Bela Lugosi's Dead", seemed to blur chronology as the band recorded and released their third and fourth album "The Sky's Gone Out", and "Burning from the Inside", in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Combined with Murphy's own acting and modelling work for Maxell, and the band supplying the framing device for the opening sequence of Tony Scott's 1980s vampire classic, "The Hunger", the speed and abundance of work in multiple settings had reached a pace that could not be sustained. Daniel Ash and David J are largely credited with taking the reigns and giving form to much of their fourth and final album during Murphy's battle with pneumonia of that year. This wildly accelerated workrate, combined with health and substance use issues would all lead to the band's dissolution and the cementing of Ash and Haskins' ongoing collaborations. 1982 was the year Ash, Glenn Campling, and Kevin Haskins formed the genre elusive and groundbreaking Tones on Tail, and with Bauhaus' conclusion in 1983, David J, Ash, and Haskins' reconfiguring as a trio into the longer-lived Love & Rockets.

While retaining close ties to 4AD and Beggars Banquet, Murphy would take his own solo trajectory away from the band's central trio. Enlisting such postpunk figures as Mick Karn from the seminal new romantic quartet, Japan, Steve Betts of The Associates, John McGeoch of Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Public Image Ltd, and longtime collaborator Paul Statham of B-Movie, on a decade-spanning stretch of albums for Beggars Banquet. This first, and most bold departure from the sound and aesthetic of Bauhaus was heard in the one-off Dalis Car album with Mick Carn. Yet it would be under his own name the following year with the release of "Should The World Fail To Fall Apart", that Murphy would carve out substantive new territory. Elevated by production and mixing skills from 4AD's Ivo Watts-Russell and John Fryer at Blackwing Studios, and a backing band and chamber ensemble enlisting much of 4AD's This Mortal Coil, the album would set in motion a decidedly pop and new wave direction for Murphy. Enlisting The Fall's Simon Rodgers on production, and the formation of what would become Murphy's band for years to come, The Hundred Men, "Love Hysteria", and "Deep" were delivered in rapid succession. The latter album of 1989 containing a series of Murphy's most notable solo works including the UK and US charting "Cuts You Up", and "A Strange Kind of Love". The album and it's expansive domestic tour of 1990, with a fledgling Nine Inch Nails supporting, reached more audiences than all previous post-Bauhaus works. Chronicled in Beggars Banquet's "Wild Birds 1985-1995", this decade of sustained solo output would continue with the musical influences of his new home of Istanbul, Turkey heard on "Holy Smoke". Following three years later in 1995, the ten year trajectory concluding with the more ambient and electronic offering "Cascade", framed by production by Pascal Gabriel, and contributions from minimal guitarist, Michael Brook.

At the time seeming beyond improbable, Bauhaus reunited briefly for a one-off set of shows in 1998, following nearly a decade later with a relaunch of the band at Coachella Festival in 2005 and the subsequent domestic tour. This would produce what all parties involved would claim to be their last full collaborative work in, "Go Away White". The new century would see various solo and recombinant lineups from the band's various members, including Daniel Ash on tour across the US, and sporadic activity from Love & Rockets until their conclusion in 2009. Most notably, the shortest-lived of all the offshoots Tones on Tail, would reform in a different lineup as Poptone with Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins, and Haskin's daughter Diva Dompé filling the role once held by David J. The following 2017 tour revisited their storied catalog, presenting the work of Tones on Tale and Love & Rockets in a new direction, assembling the band member's shared histories with a vital and newly minted sound. Equally within the realm of the improbable, this year Murphy begins an extended world tour celebrating 40 years of music since the inception of Bauhaus while performing their debut, "In The Flat Field" in it's entirety. After many delays and false starts, this tour spanning the North American continent, and a lineup including David J and members of The Hundred Men in it's ranks, will conclude in San Francisco in March 2019. Expressed in his "Peter Murphy: I'm A Myriad Of Colours" interview for The Quietus, the endpoint of the tour will then explore Murphy's variegated, decades-spanning solo output as a monthlong residency at The Chapel. Detailed in KQED's "Peter Murphy, Godfather of Goth, to Haunt The Chapel", these first five influential post-Bauhaus works from Murphy will be rekindled in nights of music spanning, "Should The World Fail To Fall Apart", "Love Hysteria", "Deep", "Holy Smoke", a night of music from the second and third album, and "Cascade". The residency concluding with three nights of "Mr. Moonlight", as Murphy is joined by David J to perform a selection of Bauhaus works traversing their four decade musical legacy. Photo credit: Fin Costello