Sunday, September 13, 2015

Decibel Festival of Electronic Music: Sept 23 - 27 | Autechre and Laurel Halo at The Showbox: Sept 25 | Godflesh and Prurient US Tour: Sept 11 - Oct 3

The end of Summer rolls around once again as Seattle plays host to the second-largest electronic music festival in the United States! While 2013's 10th Anniversary was a expansive summation of the festival's decade of existence, the ensuing years since have had a tighter focus, both in large scale event shows and attention to subgenre niches. This bipolar character to the programming is 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 three 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 event takes place in more humble environs than previous years, ReBar being a mainstay of Seattle clublife for decades they'll be hosting a Optical: Kick-Off Party featuring the kinesthetic sensory barrage of Richard Devine's modular audio-visual arsenal, including his Disturbances live patch, custom built for to the end of immediacy and on-the-fly improvisation and composition. Joining Devine will be Seattle's Further Records headmistress, Chloe Harris and her cavernous minimal techno project Raica and Hush-Hush Records' purveyor of the "night bus" sound, Kid Smpl. Across town at the Crocodile Cafe, another of Seattle's defining new labels and nights about town, Secondnature show their goods with a showcase including visiting Ostgut Ton deep-techno artists Tin Man and Cassegrain. Back again at ReBar Germany's Cocoon and Trapez labels meet Barcelona's Octopus and the hypnotic techno of label-founder Sian's dancefloor melodicism. Techno continues to dominate the night over at The Showbox with the soulful minimalism of Darkside's solo operator Nicolas Jaar and the ruminative, emotional lower BPM fluidity of his "blue wave" tech-house. THURSDAY Decibel's second night is already graced with the second appearance of Raica in an all-female led showcase of Discwomen headlined by the Planet Mu label's Jlin, a noted player in Chicago's Footwork scene. The sound's all-angles geometry of high BPM beats and frenetic sample cut-up will make an interesting contrast following the vocal soul house of Portland's Natasha Kmeto. Concurrently, the larger capacity and substantial soundsystem on offer at Neumos will be broadcasting Adam Freeland's newest collaborative guitar, drone, vocal and rhythm pulsing project with Steve Nalepa and Ry Cuming, The Acid. Sharing the Liminality bill will be the Domino label's Bob Moses and the high altitude streamlined techno of Seattle's own Jeff McIlwain, aka Lusine. A harder conceptual edge suffuses the appropriately titled Subversion showcase at The Showbox, as world rhythm and noise stalwarts Filastine with Indonesian rapper Nova, share a stage with the analog synthesis and orchestral strings of Dan Deacon. The shredded melodies, masticated beats and shuddering electro-acoustic textures of Warp Record's Chris Clark occupying a curious programming and stylistic space between the two.

If the previous nights weren't sufficiently representative, Friday looks to convince even the cynics. MOTOR kicks off the evening with cross-section of the best of the bleeding edge programming we've seen them deliver on a monthly basis in Seattle. Pulling from labels like Spectrum Spools, Giegling and Sacred Bones, they've assembled three years of sonic adventurers like the ur-industrial noise of Pharmakon's Margaret Chardiet, Container's all-hardware collision of loop and distortion and Shifted's spare textural techno. The evening continues to push the boundaries across town at Neumos, with the first of the sets from Raster-Noton's Dasha Rush, this one a DJ set in unabashed techno mode. The Lucid Dream continues with Jon Charnis' set on the darker side of the Innervision label's brand of house, seguing into the dusky atmospheres of Recondite's sleek dancefloor austerity. What will be the first of the unquantifiable nights in this year's festival hits it's peak with the Resident Advisor sponsored showcase on the sufficiently pummeling soundsystem of The Showbox theater. Beginning the set with Cygnus' analog synthesizer workout and a DJ set by Skam label maven Rob Hall, things then get serious with the chaotic rhythm counterpoint and moody ambiance of Hyperdub's Laurel Halo. The cryptic gap in Autechre's tour schedule announced in May, fell unambiguously right in the center of Decibel weekend, leading myself and others to thrill at the prospect of seeing Booth & Brown in the festival setting. It's been some years since their sprawling, stylistically encompassing statement of 2013, "Exai" which saw them looking as forward as it did back, so it's anyone's guess as to what mode we'll find the duo in come next week. Here's hoping for another glimpse into the white-hot torrent of frenetic rhythm play and skyscrapers of wrung metallic, wooden and ringing glass timbres we heard on previous tours this decade. If human endurance allows, dB Afterhours 2 features Function's thread in the interwoven tapestry of Sandwell District and more recently the Ostgut Ton imprint which he shares with the ragged techno of label-mate Marcel Dettmann.

SATURDAY The first of the official Optical audio-visual events kicks off Saturday night early with a showcase of Dark Overtones from the fearless co-mingling of genres found on London's Blackest Ever Black label. More than just a aesthetic statement, the label's character has grown in just a few years to become one of the premier imprints releasing all things darkly cinematic, electronic, issuing tech apocrypha of the cyber-occult. Alexander Lewis returns under his own name for a more boundary pushing set, further removed from the dancefloor objectives of his work as Shifted. Another return artist in  this year's lineup, Russian born artist Dasha Rush delivers her second set of material as heard on last year's collision of Raster-Noton's own brand of severe tech minimalism, neo-romatic synthesizer play and the strains of early electronic modernism. As the closing act, the one-man Canadian electronic and guitar hurricane that is Tim Hecker's large discography of processed acoustic and electric sounds on the Kranky label fits the label's descriptors perfectly. It's no exaggeration of fact to call Cologne's Kompakt the seminal German techno label of the 21st Century. Label heads Michael Mayer and Wolfgang Voigt were the vanguard of minimal tech and house at the millennial cusp and have continued to push their sound and curation forward in the decades since as represented by the twofold aspects of the label heard on their annual Total and Pop Ambient compilations. Long running dancefloor producer John Tejada shares the the bill with artists on the Poker Flat and Ghostly International labels, Dauwd and Agoria bridging the respective scenes and sounds found between Detroit Techno, Chicago House and indie Electronica. The latter figures almost exclusively across town at The Showbox in a showcase of Sublime downtempo beats and melodicism from the UK's Ninja Tune label and Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint. By turns urban, beat oriented and suggestively jazzy, Bonobo's output makes for fine accompaniment to Taylor McFerrin's subliminal soul, nods to instrumental hip-hop and virtuoso piano playing.

SUNDAY After the wild highs of Friday and Saturday, Decibel's final night on Sunday looks to be a more quiet affair by contrast. Smartly bringing back the traditional sunlit afternoon in the open expanses that comprise Volunteer Park, this year's Decibel in the Park returns to the outdoor ampitheater-on-the-green with DJ sets by J.Philip and longtime west coast mainstay, Michael Manahan. Though a more subdued program than the previous weekend nights, it's not to say that there aren't some outstanding performances to be had, as the opening Optical 2: Viscerality showcase establishes. Under his Eskmo alias, Brendan Angelides has been exploring the intersection between chamber music, field recordings and electronic processing as an extension of his Los Angeles-based Echo Society project showcasing international artists performing original works that incorporate electronics and traditional orchestration. Angelides is joined by Northwest artists Briana Marela and the fruits of her recent songwriting venture in Iceland working with Sigur Rós associate and producer Alex Somers. After a flurry of activity in the early 2000s on labels like Kranky and Further Records, Paul Dickow's Strategy has returned with his cut-up assemblages of acoustic and electric instruments, field recordings, and distinctly dub modus operandi. Running concurrently at ReBar and The Crocodile, the urban, world and hip-hop sounds of Mad Decent and the TeamSupreme labels and by contrast, Seattle's Flammable night presenting Roman Flügel's strain of techno released on the German Klang and Dial labels. His sound speaking to his inspiration born of early formative experiences of the Warp Records and Underground Resistance nights at Sven Väth’s renowned Omen club in the 1990s. On the opposite end of the spectrum from the lower-key nature of Decibel's final night, Hospital Productions label head Dominick Fernow is performing outside the festival setting at El Corazon from his newest critically lauded collection of noise drenched Darkwave electro, "Frozen Niagara Falls". Tellingly released on the progressive Doom and Black Metal label Profound Lore, Purient's North American tour pairs Fernow with one of the all-time defining Metal acts of the 1980's-90's. This will be the second west coast appearance of Justin Broadrick and G.C. Green's Godflesh since their reformation in 2010. Those who caught last year's shows with Cut Hands, Pharmakon and  House of Low Culture were witness to some of the most punishing, loud, assaulting music ever created by man and machine. We're almost assured a similar tectonic slab of sonic extremity as the cap on a week of cultural, social, auditory adventuring. By this point in the five day marathon 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 course of nearly a week. 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 aspiration, risk and 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 12, 2015

Pedro Costa's new film "Horse Money" at Grand Illusion Cinema: Sept 18 - 24

There's reason why in their selection of his Fontainhas Trilogy for deluxe box set treatment, the Criterion Collection referred to Pedro Costa as, "One of the most important artists on the international film scene today". But as Akiva Gottlieb's "A Cinema of Refusal: On Pedro Costa" for The Nation makes clear, the Portuguese director has no lack of champions. At the time of the trilogy's completion he was honored with retrospectives at both the Tate Modern and Anthology Film Archives, and most recently, New York’s Lincoln Center. This came on the heels of the Cannes premier in 2006 of "Colossal Youth" which elevated him to the most widely heralded new filmmaker of the past decade in the pages of Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema-Scope, Senses of Cinema and Film Comment. The Criterion release, and touring arthouse retrospective "Still Lives: The Films of Pedro Costa" which brought the Fontainhas project to a wider audience, describes the very heart of the paradox that anchors his work: the idea that a cinema of such austere, formalist pacing and technique, can be the most democratic use of the medium imaginable. It is in this balance of form and content that Costa has established his art's moral imperative. In his discovery of the sequestered barrios and slums of Lisbon, and their dark alleys and crowded homes that appealed to him aesthetically, the predominantly Cape Verdean immigrants that populated their unlit labyrinths disarmed him with their directness and fortitude. In his interview for Film Comment he describes how it was that his exposure to this dilapidated sector of Lisbon also prompted him to re-examine his relationship with cinema as a vehicle to affirm the existence of the dispossessed, and began refining his form to match the starkness of a human struggle that went on there day in, day out, removed from view.

Costa turned to moviemaking at a period in his personal life when Portugal itself was coming to grim terms with its colonial legacy. It was in part from this context and his unorthodox ways of watching the work of the 20th Century masters, among them Yasujiro Ozu, Straub-Huillet, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, and Jacques Tourneur, that Costa found a vocabulary with which to confront his country’s past. Classifications don't easily adhere to his films: they are formalist, yet they pulse with poetry, humility life and warmth; they are ascetic but also deeply expressive; they are glacially patient and yet possessed of a natural, flowing sense of rhythm. All of these figure in his return to the winding streets, ruinous interiors, alleys, dark hillsides and literal underworld depicted in "The Turning of the Earth: Pedro Costa's Mesmerizing Trance Film" as well as the Fontainhas everyman, Ventura José Tavares Borges. Who was last seen in the short film "Sweet Exorcism" as part of the Centro Histórico anthology, from which "Horse Money" takes a particularly oneiric passage. The reviews from it's premier at the Locarno Film Festival where it won best director, described this "Surreal Voyage Into the Past" as Ben Kenigsberg's review for the New York Times calls it, as a haunting disembodied "Existential Ghost Story that Will Get Under Your Skin". Jonathan Romney's Film of the Week review for Film Comment and Cinema-Scope's interview with the director, "L’avventura: Pedro Costa on 'Horse Money'", are our guides to Lisbon's "Elliptical and Mysterious" rhythms of the afterlife as Ventura wends through the city representing disparate periods of his life. From the youthful Cape Verdean immigrant picked up by the Portuguese revolutionary army in the hillsides. To the now shaking hand, grey-haired man in his later years, ascending from below the earth to wander the corridors of a hollow institutional facility. Drifting through a lifespan of adversaries, lovers, dreams and remembrances.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda "Ke i te Ki" US Tour: Sept 10 - Oct 2

Next week at Chapel Performance Space Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda return to the west coast with "Ke i te Ki" after 2012's extended Issue Project Room residency and Voices & Echoes tour. Though of two different generations they share a deep interest in the documenting of sonic environments and the exploration of site-specific happenings. As an early sound-art pioneer in the 1960's, Akio Suzuki on recordings like "Na-Gi" has documented his investigations into the sonic character of select locations and generating responses engaging with their acoustic topography. His ongoing work in field recordings and acoustic observation continues into the present day with the soundwalk project, "Oto-date" translating as "sound-point" in Japanese, in drawing a course through the urban scape, Suzuki defines listening locations in the city and invites audiences to stop and observe carefully at given points on the map. Having created numerous soundwalks at various festival, public garden and gallery settings across the world including the UK's cutting-edge AV Festival, this year's Borderline Festival in Greece and the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong. 

It's in these site-specific works that his sonic explorations overlap most-explicitly with that of electronic composer and visual artist Aki Onda. The decades-spanning "Cassette Memories" project and ongoing multiple volume series compiled from a “sound diary” of field-recordings and travels collected and assembled in live performance by Onda in both indoor and outdoor locations across the world. His extensive touring of the project, building it's body of sonic materials and locations as a essayist work in-action was documented last year by Michael Snow in the pages of Bomb Magazine; "On a trip to Morocco in 1988, Onda started using a Sony Walkman to collect sounds. Without having a specific purpose in mind, he simply desired to have recordings of environmental noises that he found interesting. In the next decades, as his bank of sounds enlarged, he began to find ways to use his collection in real-time performances. Cassette Memories became the evocative title of this ongoing project in which these memories become the building blocks of a concrete musical entity. That he personally recorded the sounds gives his mechanically produced palette an idiosyncratic aspect. The sounds are not pictorial or representational, but they are not abstract or pure either." Update: Due to Visa delays and typhoon conditions in Japan, the Seattle date in this tour has been cancelled.