Saturday, September 14, 2013

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 25 - 29

The end of Summer rolls around again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! Hard to believe, 2003, the first year Sean Horton and crew, inspired by years of attending Mutek in that gorgeous city of Montreal, conceived assembling something of it's kin on the west coast, and Decibel Festival of Electronic Music and Visual Media was born. This year celebrating their 10 Year Anniversary with not only bigger names, and larger venues hosting sold out dancefloor spectacles, but a return of the fringe, adventurous and unclassifiable in the form of 4 Optical Showcases of multi-media arts, abstract and experimental sounds, in seated theater performance venues. WEDNESDAY Opening night begins with the spacial sonic installation work of Mileece in the lush setting of the Chihuly Garden and Glass, a showcase of Factory Pop to follow at Neumos, with Peter Hook performing classics from New Order's "Power, Corruption & Lies" and "Movement" along with Chicago's electro-pop pioneers, Adult. Across town the abstract hip-hop beats of Ninja Tune's Blockhead and Wax Taylor can be heard at the Showbox and by night's end, the heavy bassbin assault of London's Hyperdub label bringing you label founder, Kode9's particular fusion of Reggae, Dub, Electronic and Bass Music. Labelmates Ikonika and DJ Spinn round out the bill.

THURSDAY Decibel's second night starting off a slow, gorgeous ramp-up rather than an explosive bang, we get the first of the Optical 1: Kollaborations at Nordstrom Recital Hall featuring neoclassical composer Hauschka and collaborative project from piano virtuoso Nils Frahm and Portland's electro-acoustic folkie, Peter Broderick as Oliveray. Afterwards across town the always excellent Resident Advisor hosts a showcase of that artist we were denied in last year's Decibel, Actress, with Lapalux and Natasha Kmeto supporting. Back up the hill at Chop Suey the solid roster on the Tri Angle label shows their stuff, with Vessel and the dark hip-hop and dub assault of Evian Christ, while at Neumos, Shabazz Palaces represents for Sub Pop's 25th Anniversary at night's end. FRIDAY The weekend begins with Optical 2 again in the prime acoustic setting of the Nordstrom Recital Hall, Friday's showcase being all things Erased Tapes label, with a second solo performance of Berlin's Nils Frahm and Icelandic chamber music composer, Olafur Arnalds. Across town at the Crocodile, Ghostly International celebrate their own 10 year anniversary contributing to Decibel, having been a significant part of the festival since it's inception, this year presenting Shigeto, Lusine, Dauwd and Beacon. Away across the no-man's expanse, the South-of-Downtown Showbox hosts the Cosmische inspired tech-disco of Nicolas Jaar and friends, Warp's Mount Kimbie and Phaelah. Simultaneously, more Ninja Tune beats can be heard at the downtown Showbox WTF Showcase with Machinedrum and XXYYXX. If you're not exhausted yet, Q will supply the delirious Afterhours barrage of Speedy J and multi-media artist extraordinaire, Scott Pagano pushing all levels into the red.  

SATURDAY If Friday hasn't already inspired bodily transcendence, the second weekend night is almost certain to be threshold defining, as it's a looong and diverse one. Beginning with Optical 3: Night Vessel featuring the vamp chanteuse, Zola Jesus and symphonic/big band composer, Jim Thirlwell with the psych/noise abstraction of Margaret Chardiet's Pharmakon. Decibel in the Park will again be a smaller affair this year, basically the ambient 'framing' for the festival's will-call at the Broadway Performance Hall. Speaking of anniversaries and longevity, Thomas Fehlmann and Alex Paterson return! Joined by fellow Cosmic Adventurer Detroit's Juan Atkins across town at the Showbox. Again simultaneous at Showbox Sodo, the Ragga, Rhymes, Beats and Bass of the Mad Decent label will be unleashing their low-frequency barrage. If you're running on superhuman reserves by this point, there's a double-thrashing of alfterhours on offer with Derrick Carter representing for Mixmag at Q and yet another anniversary! The 20th in fact, for Berlin's era-defining techno label Kompakt at Neumos, featuring a second solo set by Thomas Fehlmann, Matias Aguayo and John Tejada... ending at 6:30am. Yes, you read that right. SUNDAY Closing day performances begin with what will likely be a personal highlight of the whole festival, Optical 4: Black Noise featuring the Warp records-meets-Constellation label electro-acoustic dirge, percussion and bass of the UK's Raime, Australian bass, noise and Metal maestro Oren Ambarchi and Seattle's own Rafael Anton Irisarri as The Sight Below at the Triple Door. Across downtown at the Crocodile more stylings of the Brainfeeder, Ninja Tune and Timetable labels with Nosaj Thing, Teebs and the bass n' gloom thrum of Lorn likely being the last venue I find myself in, at the end of a 5 day odyssey. By this point, I'm sure myself and company will be needing a good lay-down in the park, getting some sun and enjoying a trek out around the city, having seen the inside of performance halls and nightclubs over the previous five glorious nights. Hopefully having found some surprises, shocks, jolts to the viscera and intellect along the way, Decibel will by then seem like a endless stream of cultural ideal, made real. And as with every year, I'm sure it will seem premature by the time it's conclusion comes. Ushering in the end of Summer here in the Northwest as it does every year since 2004.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Issue Project Room '10 Years Alive on the Infinite Plane' Brooklyn: Aug 31 - Oct 26
Stars of the Lid US Tour & Kranky Records 20th Anniversary Chicago: Dec 12 - 15

Some big anniversaries for underground music this Fall/Winter! The first for an exceptional organization and curatorial venture, that of Brooklyn's Issue Project Room celebrating their Ten Years Alive on the Infinite Plane with 24 performances throughout the Fall. Spanning everything from Syrian psych/soul jams by Omar Souleyman, to minimalist/maximmalist composer Charlemagne Palestine, to folky/drone experiments by Richard Youngs, to field recordist and sound-ecologist Toshiya Tsunoda, to American minimalist/Deep Listening composer Pauline Oliveros, to legendary jazz bassist Henry Grimes, to Australian guitar/noise maestro Oren Ambarchi, to modern jazz headman Ken Vandermark to Japanese Fluxus noise adventurer Yasunao Tone, to Dream Syndicate founder and groundbreaking avant-composer and filmmaker Tony Conrad, to minimalist concrete/tape composers Aki Onda and William Basinski, to minimalist electronic composer Marina Rosenfeld and many, many. many more. It's a stunning lineup, drawing from the past decade of their brilliant curatorial vision. Let's not forget, this is the organization that brought us this past year's highlight, the rarity that was their overview of the Japanese Underground "Voices & Echoes" and that's only a small part of their decade of visionary programming covered in Steve Smith's "A Survivor Celebrates It's Spunk and Spirit" for the New York Times.
Photo credit: Yamchild

The second anniversary bash being for Chicago's Kranky label, the visionaries that first brought stateside releases of everything from Low, to Labradford, to Godspeed! You Black Emperor, celebrate their 20th Anniversary this December in their home city. Between now and then there's a handful of Kranky artist releases to look forward to, most notably the one-man Canadian electronic/guitar hurricane, Tim Hecker and his newest, "Virgins" and this Fall's release of Liz Harris' Grouper new project with the proprietor of Australia's Room40 label, Lawrence English as "Slow Walkers". The festival featuring showcases with almost every single damn artist on their roster, it's going to be a big one, especially if you missed the last rare performance of Stars of the Lid on their last tour back in 2008. The first night's showcase at Empty Bottle presents Robert A.A. Lowe's Lichens along with Implodes and a as-yet announced headliner, the following two nights at Constellation being bigger affairs, with Grouper, Benoit Pioulard, Christopher Bissonnette and Justin Walker. Followed by the third showcase of Tim Hecker, Pan American, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Ken Kamden. with the final night's performance of Stars of the Lid with the Wordless Music Orchestra and Scott Morgan's Loscil project in the prime setting of Lincoln Hall. Photo credit: Greg Cristman

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Jia Zhang-ke's new film "A Touch of Sin" at NY Film Festival & IFC: Sept 28 - Oct 31

Probably the most important director in contemporary Chinese cinema, Jia Zhang-Ke, even as far back in his career as 2003, when Senses of Cinema dedicated one of their Great Directors features to him it was apparent that there was a challenging, controversial, deeply humanistic artistic vision at work. His earliest recognition coming from his first feature "The Pickpocket" and the  following "Platform" and "Unknown Pleasures" spanning the years 1998-2002. It was his examination of Globalization and China's absorption of western consumer and entertainment values in 2004's "The World" that he gained attention outside the European cinema festivals, becoming a internationally recognized filmmaking force, one 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 was about lives changed, homes lost, cultural legacy literally being washed away, in 2007's masterwork "Still Life" not only winning him top prize at the Berlin and Venice Film Festivals, but earning praise from China's vice-President, Xi Jinping. With Jia's own commentary on the current state of his country in the pages of the Guardian UK, "China Must End Silence on Injustice, warns film director Jia Zhangke" on the growing wealth inequality, worker exploitation, eroding social cohesion and in response the growing backlash of mass protest, worker suicides, public violence, labor riots, upheaval in response to for-profit land seizures and the growing extremity of corruption of state and local officials in "A Touch of Sin". Which has it's US premier at this month's New York Film Festival and opens for a theatrical run the following week at IFC.  Jia's depiction of China's growing occurrences of explosive violence in response to social injustice explored in Tony Rayns' "A Touch of Sin: New China’s Loss of Social Cohesion Leads to Violence" for Film Comment and Edward Wong's profile for the New York Times, "Filmmaker Giving Voice to Acts of Rage in Today’s China".

Monday, September 2, 2013

Chelsea Wolfe & True Widow US Tour: Aug 25 - Sept 30

The heavy rock end of the post-Black Metal spectrum continues to grow as a genre, encompassing melodicism and atmospheres lifted from Shoegaze and Spacerock punctuated by blistering eruptions of Metal drumming, riffs and noise. A sound reflected in the fuzzed-out blast of Nothing and their fusion of metal drumming and Spacerock blur as heard on the "Guilty of Everything" album of last year. On the fringe of the genre, taking the sound down more melancholy paths, there's the crushing Shoegaze blues of True Widow. What may be the epitome of this sound and where it's currently headed can be heard in the dynamic solar magma of guitar riffs and rhythm-play of Deafheaven. There is no better encapsulation of this scene than Brad Sanders' piece for The Quietus, "Untrue And International: Living in a Post-Black Metal World". The article acting as an excellent opening into the dark passageways of this genre's multitude of representations. With labels like Hydrahead, Ipecac, Deathwish, Sargent House, Profound Lore and Relapse playing host as purveyors of all things heavy. Touring with True Widow, with a date at Barboza next month, the music of Chelsea Wolfe embraces all of the facets of this growing scene while further plumbing of the depths of contemporary Neo-folk, Gothic Rock and electronic gestures. Her most recent album for Sargent House, “Pain is Beauty”, dives deeper into the fusion of these genres, creating a dark fluid in which her songwriting is immersed in Doom guitar riffs, angular electronic beats and a plodding Shoegaze-like swirl of sound. Its encompassing embrace of these varying shaded forms is highlighted for NPR in Lars Gotrich's, “Viking's Choice: Chelsea Wolfe is Just Dancing in the Dark”.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Thomas Köner & Eliane Radigue at San Francisco Electronic Music Festival: Sept 12 - 15
Yang Fudong's "Estranged Paradise" at PFA & Berkeley Art Museum: Aug 22 - Oct 6

Art events of a once-a-decade nature in the Bay Area this month! It's been a number of years since the San Francisco Electronic Music Festival lured me down to that city by the bay. This year's lineup not only features a roster of excellent contemporaries and longstanding composers like Joshua Kit Clayton and Richard Pinhas, but one of the defining voices of post-Rave dance music and electronic abstraction in the 1990's; Thomas Köner. Köner's performances in North America have become exceedingly rare, in fact it was his collaboration with German musique concrete composer, Asmus Tietchens at Mutek 2003 that I last had opportunity to see him live. Here's hoping with the reformation of Porter Ricks for this year's Unsound Festival Krakow that this is the beginning of a new, more active phase for Köner. Even more rare, and significantly more influential, early electronic composer Eliane Radigue will be performing her one of a kind analog, long-duration, subtle gesture 'sound mantras' utilizing almost singularly the ARP 2500 Modular System and Magnetic Tape. As heard on recordings like the groundbreaking "Adnos", "Songs of Milarepa" and "Trilogie de la Mort", with more of Radigues work currently in print than decades previous thanks to Important Records and Lovely Music's reissue series. The significance of her role in the development of early electronic music and singular voice within the world of modern composition explored in the pages of Paul Schütze's 2011 interview for Frieze, The Wire's 2005 article and Julian Cowley's 1999 feature, "Eliane Radigue: Death Becomes Her"

In the way of visual art and cinema, Pacific Film Archive and Berkeley Art Museum host Yang Fudong: Estranged Paradise and the accompanying film series, Yang Fudong's Cinematic Influences, featuring Yang and a number of his Chinese 5th and 6th Generation contemporaries, including Chen Kaige, Lou Ye and Zhang Nuanxin. Yang Fudong's work representing a generational amalgamation of a multitude of art and political attitudes over the course of the decades since the Cultural Revolution. Through these he explores the paradoxical space that mainland China now occupies between rural folk and agricultural traditions, and the modern glitz of the Chinese manifestation of 'capitalism'. Yang's navigation of this oblique space traversed in Blake Gopkin's excellent piece for the New York Times, "Cryptic Chronicler of the New China"