Sunday, September 28, 2014

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 5 - 9 | Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF Cinema: Oct 10 - 19

After the exceptional program this past July, Northwest Film Forum hosts the second half of Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema. This stunning series of 21 films representing the experimentation, style, innovation, substance and form of the Polish Film School of the 1950's-60's, and the later films they influenced. Curated by Scorsese these new 4K digital restorations, in many cases assembled from multiple prints of the original negatives, involving hundreds of thousands of manually retouched stills, weeks of painstaking work and terabytes of data. This second batch of 7 of the 21 films presented in collaboration with the Seattle Polish Film Festival running the following week at SIFF Cinema.

Notably the series plays host to Krzysztof Zanussi at The Scarecrow Video October 9 for a Q&A session from 4-5:30pm before presenting his "The Illumination" at NWFF and again in-person for the screening of "The Constant Factor" at SIFF Cinema the following night. The five day program also includes Andrzej Wajda's Palme d'Or winning tale of the Polish solidarity movement, hybridized with real footage of the strikes, "Man of Iron". The swashbucking, kabballistic, comedic, surrealist-puzzlework adventure of Wojciech J. Has', "The Saragossa Manuscript". Poland's great humanist director of the following generation, Krzysztof Kieślowski and his tale of synchronicity and lives intersecting, "Blind Chance" and film that contributed to the overturning of the death sentence on Poland, and later became a pivotal aspect of his groundbreaking "Dekalog" series, "A Short Film About Killing". Jerzy Kawalerowicz's own story of lives intersecting, brought together enroute to an isolated village by his "Night Train". And Andrzej Wajda's pivotal "Ashes and Diamonds", the film that more than any other came to define the movement with it's tough-as-grit protagonist caught between the retreating Germans and the coming Russian occupation, allegorical as it is political, Noir as it is Neorealist, a film that depicts a Europe in ruin, both geographic and existential.

Digging deeper there's an abundance of reading available on Andrzej Wadja's cool as ice political Noir, "Ashes and Diamonds" and the swashbuckling Alchemical surrealist adventure, (there are too few opportunities to use those three words in succession) of Wojciech Jerzego's "The Saragossa Manuscript". On the series itself, NPR hosts an interview discussing Scorsese's time at The Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Łódź, the genesis of the series and restoration project and many of the film's shared themes of tragedy, resilience, comedy, "Martin Scorsese Takes Poland's Communist-Era Art Films On The Road" and Max Nelson's "Rep Diary: Scorsese’s Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" coverage at Film Comment during the series' premier screening at Lincoln Center earlier this year.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 24 - 28

The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! Last year's 10th Anniversary was a spectacular summation of the festival's decade of existence, drawing on their years of genre-diverse programming to assemble a lineup that encompassed their past highlights and sonic future to come. That diversity seen again as Decibel presents not only bigger names, larger venues and sold out dancefloor spectacles, but a return of the fringe, adventurous and unclassifiable in the form of 6 Optical mutimedia showcases in seated theater performance theaters. From the expanse of the five day program here is a selection from the multitudinous artists and showcases on offer by day. WEDNESDAY This year's Opening Gala takes place in the melting fiberglass and metal forms of Frank Gerhy's Experience Music Project with a minimalist melodic techno lineup including Ghostly's Lusine, Natasha Kimeko and Sabota. As well as the first of two performances by the ascending Max Cooper, this one billed as his 'Emergence' set in the OPTICAL 1: Kinesthesia audio-visual showcase. If his "Human & Inhuman" of this past year are any indication, expect this to be one of multiple festival highlights from Cooper. A showcase that would alone make for a strong opening salvo from Decibel considering that the bill is fleshed out Ghostly's The Sight Below and Young Turk's Arca & Jesse Kanda. Concurrently upstairs at the EMP, the always excellent Resident Advisor has assembled their own showcase of including Warp Record's Lunice and XL's Kaytranada. Across town at the ReBar, darker and denser forms of sonic matter have been assembled into the aptly titled Pitch Black showcase including New York's Black Asteroid, the techno dread sounds of Blackest Ever Black and Hospital Records maven, Vatican Shadow, and Sandwell District's Rrose. Warp Records is further represented up the hill at Neumos, The BassDrop showcase hosting Guillermo Scott Herren's groundbreaking hip-hop electronica fusion project Prefuse73, alongside urban beats from San Francisco's Ana Sia and Seattle's own WD4D. 

THURSDAY From strength to strength, the second day of Decibel arrives with two audio-visual showcases, the first at the acoustically primed Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya, OPTICAL 2: Huminary features the second, explicitly ambient set from Max Cooper after the previous night's Emergence set, along with Bathetic's Survive and 4AD songstress, Alice Boman. Across town at the EMP, OPTICAL 3: Playful Discord sees Decibel playing host to multiple highlight's from previous year's programming, with another dose of the deranged synthesis of Daniel Lopatin's Oneohtrix Point Never, the return of Uwe Schmidt's AtomTM future-1980's vision 'HD/AV' and the hardware meets digital fusions of dynamic electronica and heady melodicism from Raster-Noton's Kangding Ray. From evidence supplied in Decibel 2012, the Modern Love label and it's roster mainstays, Andy Stott and Demdike Stare, are delivering some of the strongest, deepest and darkest post-techno being made on the planet. It's no hyperbole to say these guys are at the vanguard. The body-impacting nature of their beats have hit a perfect equilibrium with some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being created in contemporary electronic music. These complimenting/contrasting poles are explored even more explicitly in their collaborative Millie & Andrea project via their take on traditions drawing from UK bass music and jungle. Over at the Crocodile, the decades-running Ninja Tune label brings their contemporary take on urban sounds and beats, equally influenced by hip-hop, dancehall, tech-house and dubstep, their showcase feature's the forerunner of contemporary dubstep-fuion, Martijn Deijkers's Martyn project, PlanetMU's FaltyDL and the UK's Letherette. Fittingly, in the deepest, darkest hours of the night, Dubscured plumbs the depths of low end atmosphere pushing through until sunrise. An all-star cast from the deeper end of the bass, beats and delay culture of minimal techno informed by the techniques of dub, both Canada's Tomas Jirku and Chain Reaction label artist Fluxion, were there at the genre's inception. For those who never sleep, Hot Flush label's Recondite proceeds Uwe Schmidt's stylistic lexicon on even further display, as AtomTM delivers a decidedly different set from his previous Optical performance. 

FRIDAY Again in the acoustically primed setting of the Nordstrom Recital Hall, a single OPTICAL 4: Static Memory opens the weekend's proceedings with Nine Inch Nail's Alessandro Cortini debuting a suite of 9 analogue synth pieces originating from a musical language outside that of the pop culture knowns of his band with Trent Reznor. Cortini's adventurous analog atmospherics are complimented by Deru & Effixx' 1979 project and Tri-Angle label's meeting of Haxan Cloak's production and Altar Of Plagues frontman, James Kelly's take on doom-electronica as Wife. An evening largely launched by dancefloor and bigger club events, the Hardware showcase at EMP hits a nice balance between atmosphere and the physicality of bodily compulsion. Epitomized by Simian Mobile Disco and their all-live hardware performance of their newest album, "Whorl", this is a more challenging, performative tangent of their sound. Another vanguard of the minimal techno and electronica explosion of the late-90's, Robert Babicz has moved from his granular synthesis work on Mille Plateaux to a distinct tech-house sound of recent years, current live sets bridging both the dancefloor and experimentation of decades past. The Ostgut Ton label showcase bridging similar territory, the label's Marcel Dettmann is equally at home on the dancefloor as enveloped in tapestries of timbral percussive nuance. Seattle's own rising star, the Hush Hush label expresses it's curator, Alex Ruder's founding concept to a 'T'; music for late-night headphone-nodding urban ambulation, what Ruder himself has coined the "Night Bus" sound. A fittingly self-descriptive genre, the label's roster of urban, hi-hop informed atmospheres has seen a year of excellent press and strong releases, particularly from Kid SMPL and Edward Haller's Slow Year project. 

SATURDAY Launching right in with Polish composer Michal Jacaszek's elegiac, haunting neoclassical compositions, I can think of no better way to begin a Fall Saturday afternoon than the OPTICAL 5: Ghostly International showcase at the Triple Door. A through-and-through solid bill filled out by the dub-influenced minimalism of Canada's Loscil and California's composer of guitar miniatures, Christopher Willits. Ghostly's SMM imprint has assembled some of the world's finest craftsmen (and women) working in this hushed little sonic sequester. The Dance Nostalgic showcase at the Showbox looks to do exactly what the title premise suggests, a night of the contemporary body of Italo-disco and early synth-wave inspired works like Ghostly's Com Truise and Norway's Hans-Peter Lindstrom with his own brand of. Speaking of nostalgia, it's been many, many a year since we've received a new transmission from Detroit-come-Canada's wonderboy, Richie Hawtin. His new live album, "EX", the first in over 11 years sees him rounding off the hard darkly gothic edges of 2003's "Closer", returning to a form more similar to his late-90's work for this soundtrack dedicated to Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum New York. Here's hoping we get a substantially powerful and transparent soundsystem at the EMP capable of delivering the austere dynamics and spacial qualities of Richie Hawtin & Friends. It's kind of astounding that we've already had a decade of dancehall, dub, ragga and two-step informed urban electronic sounds from Steve Goodman's Hyperdub label, but the advances made by Burial, The Bug, DJ Rashad and Goodman's own Kode9 project are already a half-decade in the past. His recent compilation series, simply titled Hyperdub 10, not only reflects on this decade come and gone, but paths forward for the UK bass sound. Expect to hear representations of both when Goodman himself hosts 10 Years of Hyperdub at The Crocodile. 

SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a relatively subdued affair by contrast. Not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as it's opening event OPTICAL 6: Erased Tapes at the Triple Door makes clear. Going on 7 years now the UK's Erased Tapes has been host to the finest in neoclassical, minimalist electronic ambient, abstract folk and songwriting the world over, it's roster including some of the first recordings by Ólafur Arnalds, Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm. Seattle's own Decibel and Substrata festivals have been at the forefront of bringing their music to a wider domestic audience. Last year Decibel itself hosting two nights of collaborative works by Frahm, Broderick and Arnalds at Benaroya Hall. The label returns with a showcase of relatively new faces including the (dubiously-named) collaborative project between German electro-acoustic composer Greg Haines and Portland's Peter Broderick, making more substantial bass and rhythm-based compositions with Martyn Heyne as Greg Gives Peter Space. Representative of the label's new voices, the showcase also hosts the return (after opening for Nils Frahm this past March) of Douglas Dare's orchestral electronic hybrid-songwriting, and Ryan West's analog-sourced abstract dance music project, Rival Consoles. What will act as the closing night party to my ears, the Friends of Friends label showcase at the Crocodile features a 6 artist lineup of urban LA sounds sharing a kinship with things like Flying Lotus and his Brainfeeder imprint. Deru & Effixx return with a collaborative set outside of their 1979 moniker, it'll be particularly revealing to see how their approach to performance and composition differ in each of these distinct contexts. The urban styles, rhymes and rhythms of FoF will likely being the last aural environ 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 course of the 5 previous 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, even for all the exhaustion and wearing effects of too little time and too much music, 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 has every year for over a decade.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

This is No Roadside Picnic: Fungal Intelligences, Slippery Time & Mutagenic Horrors in Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy

It's been quite some time since I last dedicated space to a contemporary novel, not since the last major books by Wu-Ming, Lethem, Bolaño and Wallace, in fact. So here we are with a new trilogy penned by the author of such inventive post-human Dante-esque sci fi works as "Veniss Underground", the rich world building mythic cultures of "City of Saints and Madmen", and the Biopunk Noir of the award winning "Finch". Jeff VanderMeer has in this new trilogy of books, invented himself once again as a more nuanced, rich and possibly more mature voice in the world of New Weird Fiction', a genre of which he has been the vanguard for over a decade. Lauded by both those in the shared post-Cyberpunk genre fiction landscape (BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow being a particular champion), as well as the larger literary community, his newest has met with outstanding reviews from the likes of Adam Robert for the Guardian, "Weird Fiction Comes of Age: VanderMeer Completes his Haunting Trilogy", Nial Alexander for TOR, "The End is the Beginning: Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer" and Scott Hutchins for the NYT, "Deciphering a Lost World: Acceptance, by Jeff VanderMeer".

Released as three novels over the course of this past year, "Annihilation", "Authority" & "Acceptance" collectively comprising the The Southern Reach Trilogy. Like many of his past works, the world his protagonists populate in this trilogy is one of technological advancement and great and often terrifying biological wonders and diversity. The latter usually set in motion by the former. No exception here, as Lydia Millet's review for the LA Times, "Jeff VanderMeer's 'Annihilation,' Fungal Fiction Grows on You" suggests this is a changed Earth, where a mysterious geographic, biological and potentially metaphysical 'Zone X' presents both enticing and repelling wonder and horrors. His approach to these subjects, Kirkus Reviews and Publisher's Weekly both cite Lovecraft, Borges and the Strugatsky Brothers' "Roadside Picnic" as entry points into this fantastical, thematically and narratively warped world in their respective reviews. A world tinged with Poe-like unease and microbiological, pulsing, indecipherable, metaphysical(?) workings outside human comprehension. An incomprehension inflated on the reader's end by the novels own non-linear structure, wrongfooting preconceptions that have built up from their attempts at interpreting Zone X in the first volumes. By the end of the trilogy VanderMeer has managed to avoid the banality of the literal and artfully opaque both, while generating some genuine emotional charge along the way. That the Southern Reach Trilogy has found a fully realized, satisfying and substantial manner of paying off so much mysteriously tense apprehension, high-science, existential unknowns (and suggested metaphysics), is no small feat. In addition, as a post-read enhancement, VanderMeer himself is supplying an ongoing series of annotations to the novels posted at LitGenius.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking": The Creative Act as Fueled by Ambulation & What Modern Life Has to Gain from this Disappearing Art

Some things are unquestionably being lost in the shuffle of our abundantly multi-tasking, media filled, often self-determined 'busy lives'. I'll concede that real world factors play into this. In the midst of the current global recession, the cost of living continues to skyrocket in the cities of the western world and many who live in it's communities are working longer hours than ever. These factors are also impacting the career minded, who in hoping to fall on the opposing side of growing wealth stratification, are finding their lives dedicated to paying the astronomical debt accrued from the cost of higher education. But as do less concrete 'lifestyle choices'; no small percentage of the population are, as media theorist and educator Neil Postman posited in 1985, in effect, "Amusing Ourselves to Death" with disproportionate quantities of technological distraction. Add to this the cyclical perpetuum mobile of experience validation and self representation that is social media, and it's maybe more accurate to say that the 21st Century is not only shaping up to be defined by escapism, but a narcissistic overdrive. One that cultural theorist Lance Strate titled his 2014 collection of writings on Web 2.0, "Amazing Ourselves to Death" as a companion to Postman’s original.

In this psychological landscape, inner reflection, self-observation and sorting the events, intellectual and emotional values of the day are becoming things which one has to willfully and concertedly make context and opportunity for. Allowing for time to engage in activities as simple as finding oneself in the park sitting on the green, lingering outside a cafe with one's mobile device set aside, or the pastime of a protracted physically and cerebrally engaging walk. Recent research published in Stanford's Journal of Experimental Psychology has supported that even extended walking in a largely sensory-devoid sterile gym on a treadmill improves creative thinking. Consider then then what navigating the open, often expansive and abstract scapes of the natural world does for the mind and creative self? Centuries of writing and personal research found in the journals and correspondence of some of the western world's most notable literary figures give credit to it's benefits. You'll not find a better overview of those writings than Finlo Rohrer's "The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking" published last year in the pages of the BBC. Citing the thought processes and regular ritualized walking by such figures as Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and William Wordsworth and how time for walking was inexorably bound to not only their creative lives, but their sense of self, place and a way being in the world. A tradition not only of their era, but one some of the literary greats of our past century avidly and enthusiastically engaged in. George Orwell, Thomas De Quincey, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vladimir Nabokov, are among it's greatest proponents, even supplying in the most literal sense the substance of their work. By example, what would WG Sebald's influential body of work be without his regular ambulations through the louring austerity of Suffolk?

Not limited to journeying into the abstraction of the natural world, there's engagement to be found navigating the geometric parceling of the city's grid as well. And when your forays take you to the less rigorously defined urban spaces of the cities of Southeast Asia or the dream-labyrinth of Europe's almost Borgesian puzzles like that of Venice, no amount of GPS connectivity is going to be an aid. Much like the nature walk, it's best to put the map aside. Through these indirect navigations, urban trekking can be seen as not just as a vehicle for self-awareness and creative sustenance, but as one of active, participatory engagement with the contemporary landscapes in which many of us live. On city trekking Geoff Nicholson, author of "The Lost Art of Walking"; "I do most of my walking in the city - where things are spread out, there is a lot to look at. It's urban exploration. I'm always looking at strange alleyways and little corners." Nicholson lives in Los Angeles, a city that is notoriously and by intent in it's design, car-focused. "A lot of places, if you walk you feel you are doing something self-consciously. Walking becomes a radical act," says Merlin Coverley, author of "The Art of Wandering: The Writer as Walker". For the urban walk as political act, one need look no further than Will Self's 2012 inaugural lecture as Professor of Contemporary Thought at Brunel University and his literally titled "Walking is Political", reprinted in the pages of The Guardian.

The particulars of how one goes about navigating that space can itself be considered political. In the era of the smartphone map-dependent, it's not uncommon for people to only take occasional glances away from an electronic routefinder to avoid stepping in an open manhole or being hit by a car. "You see people who don't get from point A to point B without looking at their phones," Rebecca Solnit, author of "Wanderlust: A History of Walking". "Members of an urban community used to get to know the lay of the land, to be part of the landscape through memory and observation", says Nicholson. "I do think there is something about walking mindfully. To actually be there and be in the moment and concentrate on what you are doing." Looking at the larger continuance of walking as urban psychological, social, communal (and even political) act it's important to consider that a century ago, 90% of westerners' journeys under six miles were made on foot. Through it's incremental disappearance as a regular aspect of people's lives, we are becoming increasingly alienated from the physical reality of the landscapes in which we live our lives. Originally published in a different form as part of "Expanses: Forays into the Geography of the Unknown" for the Substrata 1.4 catalog. Painting credit: Caspar David Friedrich.

"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives." Walking -- Henry David Thoreau, 1851

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hiroyuki Okiura's new film "A Letter to Momo" at Landmark Theatres: Sept 5 - 25 | The Legacy of Studio Ghibli & The Future of Japanese Animation

Years after it's Japanese release, Landmark Theatres hosts a brief subtitled run of Hiroyuki Okiura's "A Letter to Momo", winner of the Grand Prize at the 2012 New York International Children's Film Festival and Best Picture the same year at the Future Film Festival. NYICFF's presenter, GKids having picked up the rights to US theatrical distribution, beginning this month domestic audiences will finally get to see Hiroyuki Okiura's touchingly poetic, "‘A Letter to Momo’: A World that Teaches and Tugs". The film's style and approach to visual storytelling is both contemporary in it's sparsity and technique and more traditional in it's pacing and richness of character focus and emotional nuance. Quite literally, there hasn't been work of this quality issuing from the major studios in Japan ("Ghost in the Shell"'s Production I.G gave life to Okiura's vision) since the establishing work of the now-legendary Studio Ghibli in the 1980's. The film's lush minimalist palette expresses the expansiveness of the islands of southern Japan where, after the death of her father, quiet, inwardly looking Momo Miyaura and her mother return to live with their uncle and aunt. In this setting Okiura tells a (largely) subdued, personally transformative adventure of the young protagonist. Wherein we witness Momo evolve through her pre-adolescence, face tribulations, adjust to life outside the city and come to terms with challenge, disappointment, hope, change, responsibility and mortality. There's good reason it made Film Comment's best of the year issue, with David Filipi citing the unavoidable qualitative associations with Studio Ghibli, ranking "Momo" high on the list of "Essential Animation: The best in 2013".

Related, in that not only does it focus on the work of the groundbreaking studio and it's visionary founders, but posits where the future of non-commercial animation in Japan may arise, the massive Studio Ghibli Special in Sight & Sound made for essential reading. Featuring many-page sections exploring both the studio's creation of a animation storytelling form of often astounding beauty and richness, their global success, and the most resent news of their struggling to find new directorial voice and a modern-day successor to Hayao Miyazaki. Indicative of this impasse, this summer "Studio Ghibli Announces a Break in Production" while they reassess their current financial state, creative objectives and possible new directions for the studio. The Sight & Sound Special on Ghibli also features chapters dedicated to various highlights of the studio's past, the historic and creative legacy they drew from and the future of the medium as a distinctly Japanese artform. As well as sections dedicated to, Drawing On the Past: Kurosawa, Swallows and Amazons, Russian landscape painting, Moebius, manga and his wartime childhood: Miyazaki’s world is composed of an astonishing variety of elements. Lessons from the Master: Two of Miyazaki’s long-term collaborators – supervising animation director Kosaka Kitaro and producer Suzuki Toshio – offer their insights into working with the great director. The King is Dead: Now that Miyazaki has announced his retirement, where are the Japanese animators who can carry on in the same tradition – and where are the ones who can start something new? And lastly, a gorgeous gallery of environment work and studies from Hayao Miyazaki's final film, The Landscape Art of "The Wind Rises".