Sunday, December 30, 2012

Made Like A Tree Podcast & Best of 2012 Mix

This interview with myself and its accompanying Best of 2012 mix have been brought to you by Jeremy M. Grant and his Made Like A Tree podcast series. This quarterly curated assembly of transmissions from the musical fringe finds me in the company of such cultural luminaries as Touch artist Mark Van Hoen, the man behind Seefeel and Scala, and Type and Mexican Summer artist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma of the duo Tarentel. As well as other such cultural vanguards as transgender author, theorist and musician Terre Thaemlitz, psychedelic dub producer Sun Araw, and metal-doom-drone purveyor Burial Hex. There's also another Type Records adventurer, Marc Richter aka Black to Comm, Kranky's abstract folk and ambient expressionist, Benoît Pioulard, and Echocord's Mikkel Meldgaard aka Mikkel Metal. In the way of institutions that host the publishing, release and sale of music on the edge, the series also presents Los Angeles' ground zero for all things esoteric, adventurous and cutting edge Mount Analog, Dr. Troy of Medical Records, and The Wire's Philip Sherburne.

Q: Let's lead off with the softball stuff. In 500 words or less, how has 2012 been to you and those around you?

A: Challenging. It's definitely been a year of change and transition. Attempting to find new avenues and vehicles for both artistic creation and the development of cultural communities. The digital world has so much to offer. But expertise, true expertise, is lost amidst the  the deluge of ubiquitous comments fields on Reddit and the inundation of "informed gentlemen" with social media accounts. Curiously, this overabundance of novice opinion online has made the institution of the magazine and newspaper (both print and digital) more valuable than ever. It's these vehicles who have maintain a through-line of integrity and quality reportage in arts/news/culture coverage over the span of years, that I've found have become an increasingly valuable commodity for parsing out the global happenings online.

So finding a home doing work with those remaining institutions, or better yet, creating ones of our own have been the best part of this shift. Sadly there are fewer readers, since much of even the arts consuming public are doing other things with their time online, (read: meme aspirant image macros and photos of their own face). The end result of this slimming down on readership will have a qualitative effect I feel. A consolidation of sorts. Hopefully as we evolve through this transition, it will open to a plateau wherein the best of the best publishers, writers, and content creators are those left standing.

Q: You used to work for a local record shop in Seattle as their electronic and experimental music buyer. What have you been doing since, and how advantageous were these engagements (if any still remain) for you this year?

A: This relates in a sense to the previous question. The physical record store as a community environment will never be matched by the digital, virtual context. Yet, it's time and relevance to most of the consuming public though has come and gone. The largest percentage of listeners as consumers are just as happy and find it more convenient of course to have streaming product. It's also rare that most listeners have invested in home playback systems to take advantage of the sonic richness of a physical LP, or even CD for that matter. For the remainder of us so lucky as to live in a metropolitan area that has local retail which caters to non-commercial cultural interests, be it music, film, visual art or the printed word, I feel time to represent with our patronage. Now more than ever. As once these small, locally owned and run labors of love are gone, they'll be gone for good I fear.

I personally don't want to live in a city where it's character and even commercial opportunities differ less and less from that of the suburbs. So to answer your question, my year has been spent doing cultural writing online, copy writing for utterly mundane commercial interests to pay the bills, and spending my time and money on and at local businesses and cultural venues. Films in the theater, music in live settings, visual art at galleries and museums, retail at those few remaining businesses that sell the cultural products that are valuable to me. In-part it's participation in these things that define the urban center as a city. Sitting in front of a screen, and not going out, you can do just as well in a sprawling suburb of Kansas City or Orlando. Why live in a cultured metropolitan center like Seattle if that's how you aspire to spend your free time? 

Q: How was the 2012 year in music?

A: As a listener? As a person in the profession? Scattered, seemingly less cohesive, not necessarily in a negative sense, it just necessitated doing more work to find all the gems around the fringes. As a consequence of the protracted recession and everyone tightening their belts (especially in the arts) many of us have kind of retreated into our cultural cul-de-sacs as a means of ensuring we spend what time and monies we have on the art that's most significant to us. As a product, music sharing among friends with differing, divergent interests and tastes has become significantly more valuable. So community and dialog win out. In the end that's what it's really all about, so these financially spare times have kind of helped in that sense. As a listener it's been really phenomenal, especially live music. As a profession more difficult for the reasons we've already discussed.

Q: Where in the world were the more interesting movements been happening in music culture and production in 2012?

A: Oh man, where to begin? Again, the online world has given us this massive window into the global cultural happenings. Narrowing that down into something intelligible, and prioritization is the real work. Unsound festival Krakow continues to be phenomenal, the best curation of all post-20th century genres out there in one week long festival. Jon Wozencroft's Touch label just celebrated their 30th anniversary with a series of showcases around world. Modern classical had a great year with the American Mavericks series in San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Stephen O'Malley of SUNN O))) established an imprint for the rerelease of the holy grails of early electronic music, Recollections GRM. The undervalued ladies of early electronic music also had a explosive year of reintroductions to the world; archival releases by Daphne Oram, Pauline Oliveros, Delia Derbyshire, Laurie Spiegel and more releases by Eliane Radigue simultaneously available in print than any decade in my lifetime.

Japan has been issuing phenomenal adventurers as diverse as Kouhei Matsunaga's post-Warp Records dance project NHK, and the what's come after the ultra-minimalist IMJ, Onkyo and improv scenes. Germany is home to some real stunners; Raster-Noton as relevant and of-the-times as they were in 1998? No question! Scandinavia has been home to not only the best jazz of the past three(?) four(?) decades but metal is huge there as you know and now some of the finest abstract, electro-acoustic and electronic music is issuing from Northern Europe. Production wise, it's these crossroads where I'm finding the greatest richness of new sounds. Genre and scene bleeding together to created hybrids, mutations of form. Albums like Raime's "Quarter Turns Over A Living Line" as much speaking the language of early Autechre as it does the sound of Godspeed! You Black Emperor's home the Constellation label. KTL being as much metal as it is neoclassical and electronic music, is another example.

Q: You're very important to Seattle's music culture. You've had varying involvement in a variety of offerings and initiatives both this year and in years past. As a listener and employee of music, how has it been remaining here?

A: "Very"? Hyperbole I say. Ha. Seriously though; the post September 11th cultural landscape and it's effect on touring artists making appearances here in the Northwest has been impactful. I've found I've done more travel to attend festivals and other cities to unsure I'm not denied being able to witness the most important of the arts to me. This entails music shows, art exhibits and even films. It's nutty, but I'll travel to see a film in the theater. It's occasionally significant enough to necessitate that level of participation. And if I can't do it in my city, I'll do it in another. That said, Seattle is still a very much a high value cultural environment. Less than other decades in some ways, but again is it too easy to blame the recession and those who exploited the real estate vacuum it produced? Namely the tech industry? Look how fast land values are escalating now. Look at the tax cuts the city has offered that industry to entice them here. These are definitely at least contributing factors I'd say.

Keeping cultural venues open and paying the rent has unquestionably figured in no small way to these changes. Festivals here have stepped up their game seemingly in response. With a few high-density, larger capacity days, they've been able to unsure paying the bills and luring artists that it otherwise wouldn't be practical to perform here. Not to be too self promoting; but Rafael Anton Irisarri's Substrata Festival that I have a small hand in has been a world class showcase of ambient, neoclassical, experimental and electronic sounds for a couple years now. Decibel Festival was really on top of their game this year. Their curation was on par with the best North America has to offer. Comparable with some of Mutek Montreal's now legendary years. Two showcases made the whole weeklong event for me; the Modern Love label showcase and the following night's Raster-Noton. It's almost transparent how influential those nights were, I think it's pretty clearly reflected in my mix.

Q: What, for you, are the city's most valuable musical exports?

A: Well, metal plays a huge role here for me. All things related to SUNN O)))'s various offshoots and enterprises (though they're now spread out across the world), Earth and Great Falls have put on phenomenal shows. I'm expecting interesting things in the coming year from both Sublime Frequencies and Medical Records. I mentioned Substrata Festival's Rafael Irisarri, he's a big one, and I found myself compelled again and again on hearing Shabazz Palaces' newest. Which is a nice surprise, as my hip hop listening of this past decade has almost exclusively been of UK origin, grime and all things related online sessions; KISS and Rinse FM, Ruff Sqwad's reappearance... well there I go again. You ask me about local exports and I'm talking about the UK.

Q: 2012 is now closing up... any regrets?

A: Few. Making the knowledge connect with the realization of happenings and events is a learning curve with seemingly no ceiling. Translating that into viable arts events and ensuring the interested and potentially interested new audience knows is an ongoing, evolving organism. I'll say this; more travel needed to happen in 2012. There weren't enough cities seen, fantastic cultures experienced, creative/productive new peoples met, arts witnessed. That's going to be rectified in 2013. In light of evening thinking about regret, how about moving beyond it.

Q: What comes next for you in the new year?

A: Figuring some alchemical process by which the above resolution becomes a Möbius loop, or perpetual motion engine, forming my life.

1. Thomas Köner - Novaya Zemlya 3 - Novaya Zemlya [Touch]
2. Kreng - Monkey (Part 1) - Works for Abattoir Fermé 2007 - 2011 [Miasmah]
3. Oren Ambarchi - Sagittarian Domain - Sagittarian Domain [Editions Mego]
4. Brian McBride - At A Loss - V/A Air Texture Volume II [Air Texture]
5. Sylvain Chauveau & Stephan Mathieu - Chosen One - Palimpsest [Schwebung]
6. KTL - Phill 2 w/ Johann Johannsson - V [Editions Mego]
7. Raime - The Last Foundry - Quarter Turns Over A Living Line [Blackest Ever Black]
8. Demdike Stare - Kommunion (Alternate Version) - Elemental [Modern Love]
9. Cut Hands - No Spare No Soul - Black Mamba [Very Friendly]
10. Cloaks - Rust On Metal (Justin Broadrick Mix) - Versions Grain [3by3]
11. Emptyset - Armature - Collapsed [Raster-Noton]
12. Shackleton - Music For The Quiet Hour Part 1 - Music For The Quiet Hour [Woe To The Septic Heart]
13. Vladislav Delay - Kulkee - Kuopio [Raster-Noton]
14. Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras Meet The Congos - Food, Clothing and Shelter - Icon Give Thank [RVNG]
15. Gultskra Artikler - Berezka - Abtu Anet [Miasmah]
16. Christoph Heemann - The Rings of Saturn Part 7 - The Rings of Saturn: Complete Edition [Robot]
17. Pinkcourtesyphone - Petraglyph (for Ranier) - Elegant & Detached [Room40]
18. The Caretaker - The Night Is Over And The Dawn Is About To Break - Patience [After Sebald] OST [History Always Favors The Winners]

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Michael Haneke's "Amour" at Landmark Theatres: Dec 21 - Mar 14

Finally opening at the Landmarks! Michael Haneke's Cannes Palme d'Or winning newest, "Amour" arrives in theaters some 7 months after it's premier. This film being notable for not only winning the most prestigious award in Global Cinema, but that win making Haneke one of history's few multiple-winners, putting him in the exclusive company of Shohei Imamura, Alf Sjöberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Bille August, Emir Kusturica and the Dardenne Brothers. The September issue of Film Comment featuring a particularly powerful plumbing of the creative urge, life, history and the will to live, with the film's lead Jean-Louis Trintignant, and another interview with him the following month for the New York Times. The interviews describing not only the rigor that Haneke has become known for, but also a deeper empathy and consideration of the character's tribulations, even of the subject matter itself. If these two articles aren't sufficient catalysts in inspiring you to brave the film (ha), there's always the critical outpouring it's met with in the pages of the New York Times from Manohla Dargis & A.O. Scott, Catherine Wheatley for Sight & Sound, Peter Bradshaw for the Guardian UK, James Quandt in the pages of Artforum and Robert Koehler for Film Comment. Just to name a few of the many won over by the depth, power and sincerity of it's casting a unflinching gaze on a subject from which many of us would prefer to avert our eyes and mind.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Thrones, House of Low Culture, Mamiffer, Dead in the Dirt, Earth & SUNN O)))
- West Coast Tours: Dec 1 & 14 - 20

The west coast finally plays host to a couple of quality tours from the fringes of Doom, Drone and Experimental Metal! Beginning tonight at the Highline with a night of heavy sounds from Earth and Melvins bassist Joe Preston, as Thrones along with Hydra Head Records main man, Aaron Turner and his Mamiffer and House of Low Culture projects - the latter including SUNN O)))'s Stephen O'Malley and Luke Scarola of Old Man Gloom. Opening the night's bill, are Seattle's own dynamically heavy three-piece, Great Falls. If like me you've been bemoaning the lack of quality Metal tours coming through this city in the past year, well, December - often the most culturally desolate month of the year - is going to deliver. Deliver in even bigger ways come the 16th when the genre's premier practitioners, the aforementioned SUNN O))) play the Neptune Theatre along with Dylan Carlson's seminal low-end heavy rockers, Earth. O'Malley has been in overdrive this past year with solo and collaborative works, touring internationally and of great historical, cultural import, establishing his Recollections GRM imprint. Having already released some of the most significant works of Early Electronic Music from the French studio INA-GRM such those by it's founder Pierre Schaeffer and Italian visionary Bernard Parmegiani. That in the midst of this all O'Malley still tours/performs with his main collaborative vehicle, amazes. It's been a good few years since I saw them last, so this is going to be overdue tectonic onslaught, for which I've accumulated pretty massive anticipation. That 2007 Halloween Northwest show/tour wherein they played a secret 'enhanced' performance in Olympia, has yet to be matched. That period also contains what for me, are their greatest recorded works to date, "Black One" and the oddly magisterial "Monoliths & Dimensions" explored to the core of their depths in this 2009 interview for The Wire featuring Mayhem's vocal leviathan Attila Csihar, electronic/noise contributions from John Wiese, Seattle electric violin maestro Eyvind Kang and Australia's foremost experimental guitarist, Oren Ambarchi.
Photo credit: Frédéric Minne