Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Beat the Arrangement: Sephirothic Magick, Wicked Slingshots
& Torah Studies in Adam Levin's The Instuctions

Where do I begin with this one? First of all, you'll have to excuse the run-on sentences and use of all caps that's invariably to come of my attempt. "The Instructions" is sprawling in almost a David Foster Wallace (or the over-long Pynchon/Delillo books) kind of way, and I mean that more in the sense of it's style, rather than content or form. It's subjects are Junior High/High School kids set in outer Chicago suburbs, their cultural origins are of Yiddish/Jewish/Scholarly leaning, the Torah figures largely and you learn how to make various weapons to defend yourself from persecution and the assaults of others... including how to apply the Sephiroth in the arrangement of it's 'sphere's phonetically to create a telepathic weapon. So yeah. Does that help? Ok, let's try again, Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee is a Junior High School kid who's been shuffled across the greater Chicago Jewish school system, not because he's a poor learner, the kid's frickin' BRILLIANT but instead because of that very factor, his brilliance, he's managed to influence others to the extend that his elders and even the Rabi who instructs him in after-school Torah study, is concerned about his ability to lead and the strength of his convictions and what end that may effect the local Jewish youth if unguided by their intents. So, of course this system 'the arrangement' as the kids know it, in it's attempt to guide this young protege' does little more than constrain, discipline, dogmatically oppress and manipulate him into situations of acquiescing their superiority and that he should submit to tradition and be humble in his reading of the scholars and study of Torah. Yeah, a A+, inventive, inquisitive, curious, charismatic, Torah-obsessed, young man who sees himself as a Israelite Warrior, caught in the school system, expelled multiple times, placed in a program for the learning-impaired, (ie; AAD/ADHD 'trouble kids'), set back 2 grades when he should be forwarded 5 due to his intellectual competence... what's gonna happen here? Of course: He wants to DAMAGE THE ARRANGEMENT. Of course: HE'S GOING TO USE HIS TORAH-BASED PHILOSOPHY TO FORM A VARIABLE OF HIS OWN. Of course: HE'S GOING TO LEAD THESE KIDS BASED ON THAT PHILOSOPHY. Of course, the modern world is going to label him A TERRORIST...and for as goddamn delusional as he seems sometimes, and for as much as I'm not a fan of Dogma (judea christian, jewish, muslim, you name it) - his sense of logic and justice are often infallible. And after having been a pivotal figure in the lives of kids spanning three High School systems, of course he becomes the very leader THE ARRANGEMENT has been doing their damndest to prevent him from becoming. And this book is a documentation of that process. As the 'Instructions' he's recorded for his brothers, friends and fellow Israelites for their DAMAGE on THE ARRANGEMENT, or as he sees it; Scripture. 1300 Pages of it. Depicting the events of 4 days. And the disastrous and revelatory conclusion of one brilliant fictional kid's battle for justice and freedom within an arrangement that only allows/desires it's participants a set degree of both. By the end it's language infected my mind and I felt divided about the length/need for this degree of hyper-exposition in plumbing the psyche of the protagonist and his world... but I couldn't imagine it otherwise... but yeah, don't just listen to me, consider what these fine establishments had to say on the subject:

Link to The Village Voice review of "The Instructions"

Link to The New York Times review of "The Instructions"

Link to The Washington Post review of "The Instructions"

Link to The London Observer review of "The Instructions"

Link to The San Francisco Chronicle review of "The Instructions"

Saturday, February 12, 2011

SWANS & Godspeed! You Black Emperor - US Tours: Feb 17 - Mar 29

So, what happens when you have a series of pretty much genre-creating postrock albums, tour with Rachel's and Labradford in the late 90's/00's have some great shows at the Crocodile in Seattle, release a new album in '03 and tour for it in usamerica, wherein you're detained by Homeland Security because some yokels in Oklahoma think you're 'terrorists', you then release a bunch of cryptic political statements via the interwebs and don't release a new album or return to the US in over 7 years? Well, guess we'll find out this month when they come to town! As a definitive progenitor of a sound that has since been overplayed by the post-rock copyists of this past decade, I'm not quite sure what they themselves are going to bring to transcend that, but have powerful curiosity and anticipation of new material and hopefully a new album in the works.

Even moreso potentially stunning of a return, Michael Gira's defining heavy, heavy, heavy, rock band of the 80's/90's, SWANS is back on tour, after a 14 year hiatus in which Gira led his acoustic folk wanderings of the Angels of Light, he's reformed the band with a hybrid of the original lineup and a expanded percussion section from 'Angels. Again, the initial response is one of hesitation/curiosity on my part, as SWANS truly were a one-of-a-kind monolithic sonic icon in their time, producing the heaviest, body-crushing onslaughts of electrified sound any rock band in history had ever produced. Really, the hyperbole applies, their performances of the 80's are legendarily abusive/transcendent and earned them the comical 'loudest band in the world' tag for many years running. To my ears, it's their recordings of a bit later, when Gira began to infuse that weight, with more elaborate orchestrations that referenced the work of his NYC post-punk cohort Glenn Branca along with passages of acoustic songwriting that were clearly influenced by older american folk traditions - where it all came together for me. Ending with the 1997 world tour documented on their "Swans are Dead" live double album. To see them back together now, not as a nostalgic b.s. 'reunion' as Gira refutes this reforming is, is curious. I expect them to utterly destroy the last bit of hesitation I have concerning the potential relevance of his project playing live again, some 14 years later, or at least that's the hope formed from the incomparable shows I've seen by SWANS in the past. February! It's going to be heavy!
Photo credit: Jeremy Küng

Link to Showbox venue Godspeed! site

Link to official Godspeed! You Black Emperor site

Link to Neumos venue SWANS site

Link to official SWANS site

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Nuremberg" & "Shoah" : Defining Documentaries of the Past Century
at Landmark & IFC Feb 4 - May 13

Two of the most significant Holocaust and post-Holocaust documentaries ever produced, both re-released by IFC & Landmark Theatres and screening in cities across the US in the coming month! Suppressed by the US War Department in it's 1947 release, the english subtitled print never completed, the film never shown in domestic theatres. "Nuremberg" is a defining, unseen document of the most significant trial in modern history, one which established our current definitions of war vs. crime, the objectives of the military industrial complex, and culpability, both 'theirs' and 'ours' in these world-changing events. "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today depicts the most famous courtroom drama in modern times, and the first to make extensive use of film as evidence. It was also the first trial to be extensively documented, aurally and visually. All of the proceedings, which lasted for nearly 11 months, were recorded. And though the trial was filmed while it was happening, strict limits were placed on the Army Signal Corps cameramen by the Office of Criminal Counsel. In the end, they were permitted to film only about 25 hours over the entire course of the trial. This was to prove a great impediment for writer/director Stuart Schulberg, and his editor Joseph Zigman, when they were engaged to make the official film about the trial, in 1946, shortly after its conclusion."
Next, but no less significant for it having been seen by a (somewhat) larger audience, the daunting, yet essential collection of postwar accounts by Holocaust survivors and Reich supporters that is the sprawling, humanistic, crushingly empathetic, aesthetically rigorous work that is Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah". Don't be daunted b y it's 9 1/2 hour duration, this is not only essential viewing, but also deeply rich and descriptive of life lived through the era depicted, but also the landscapes, places, minds and hearts, defined, destroyed, erased, changed by the incommunicable that took place on earth under a regime comprised of *people*, which is the point of insight into this dark historic labyrinth that Lanzmann never let's us forget. Excellent article in the January/February edition of Film Comment thanks to Kent Jones, assessing the Godard vs. Lanzmann vs. Adorno stances for those that wish to read further. From the IFC site: "Twelve years in the making, "Shoah" is Claude Lanzmann’s monumental epic on the Holocaust featuring interviews with survivors, bystanders and perpetrators in 14 countries. The film does not contain any historical footage but rather features interviews which seek to ‘‘reincarnate’’ the Jewish tragedy and also visits places where the crimes took place. Growing out of Lanzmann’s concern that the genocide perpetrated only 40 years earlier was already retreating into the mists of time, and that the atrocity was becoming sanitized as History, his massive achievement-at once epic and intimate, immediate and definitive-is a triumph of form and content that reveals hidden truths while rewriting the rules of documentary filmmaking. "Shoah" remains nothing less than essential."

Link to "Nuremberg: It's Lesson for Today" site

Link to Landmark Theatre's "Nuremberg: It's Lesson for Today" site

Link to IFC's "Shoah" site

Link to Film Comment's Jan/Feb Issue "Shoah" article