Saturday, October 31, 2015

Traveling the Backwards Path to the Musick of Coil

Like the posthumous novel, there are on occasion albums that appear in the world in the wake of their creators that redefine the artist's trajectory, effectively rewriting their past with it's influence. "Backwards" is such an album. After the rapturous vocal invocations and dream-murmuring of Jhonn Balance ceased upon his accidental death in 2004, his creative partner and ex-lover Peter Christopherson spent the ensuing years having relocated to Thailand, building a shrine to the decades of their shared creative project, Coil. Assembled from sessions ranging from more than a decade old to just weeks before the Jhonn's fatal accident the album was a hauntingly melodic, funereal, maudlin affair. "The Ape of Naples" and it's companion release "The New Backwards" both released in a deluxe vinyl box set in 2007, were the last funereal echo of the dou's decades of shape-shifting psychedelic decadence. Work had also begun on a comprehensive archive of their recorded output, but the "Colour Sound Oblivion" box set was to be the only publicly released artifact of this endeavor before Peter's own demise in 2010. Shortly before his death, in a 2009 interview as part of Resonance FM's feature, "Peter Christopherson on the Hour of the Apocalypse" he spoke to the aesthetic and technical nature of those recordings from a decade before. In the interview he details Coil's choice to never release the fruits born of the sessions spent in the mid-1990s following an invitation to record in Trent Reznor's New Orleans studio. A decision partially born of the recordings being a product of the influences of their time and setting, which as the years passed Christopherson felt Coil had moved beyond. There were also complications with Nothing Records' larger corporate umbrella, Interscope, and the the legal requirements of it's release producing a confluence of factors that caused the album to be shelved. First temporarily and then, as the new century arrived, permanently. Regardless of the the holding field the album itself was contained in, it's mythic status continued to gestate through the decade, occasionally inflated by Coil revealing the inner workings of their "Obscure Mechanics" in philosophical interviews in the pages of The Wire.

At the time a quartet comprising the central constants of Peter and Jhonn, who were then joined by Drew McDowall and Danny Hyde, all involved describe recordings sessions that were fruitful and often inspired. Balance quoted in interviews at the time, spoke of the recordings as a vehicle for exploring the idea of sensory derangement as a path to illumination. In a 2012 in-depth piece for Compulsion Hyde's account of the sessions some 20 years before is that they were fueled by the enthusiasm of travel and the setting of a city abundant with history and it's own richly bohemian pastiche of cultures. As well as the benefits of what he describes as "a very fine studio", there was the intensified blood and passion drawn from working with a crew that were operating in heightened form, particularly he cites; "Geoff Rushton [Jhonn Balance] had been taking vocal lessons as his voice just seemed to project power that I hadn't heard before." Variously titled, "International Dark Skies", "God Please F*ck My Mind for Good", "Fire of the Mind" and "The World Ended A Long Time Ago", the album has gone through as many titles as iterations over the years. From the original 1993 demo cassette leaked from Torso Records to the various tracks appearing via Coil's short-lived Song of the Week series, to a 2001 Dutch Radio4 broadcast containing both demo and New Orleans studio mixes to the aforementioned assimilation of the session's material into the corpus of "The Ape of Naples" and "The New Backwards". The immediate years that followed were prolific as Coil continued into even further-afield esoteric realms of aural exploration, generating numerous side projects and pseudonyms along the way. Their "Black Light District: A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room", the Scrying Mirror enhanced Time Machines and ritualistic Solstice series hinting at the spectral, haunted atmospheres and semi-improvised, open-ended songforms that would characterize the later Musick to Play in the Dark albums of the millennial cusp. Balance and Christopherson were rarely known to look to their own past, particularly in the throes of this new body of somnambulistic Moon Musick. As Astralnauts making forays into "The Sounds of Blakeness" the hope that they would return to the New Orleans sessions became more and more remote.

This month the decades-long story of the album's abstruse genesis comes to a conclusion amid a flurry of activity. Jon Whitney of the longstanding online music and underground culture entity Brainwashed has issued a statement establishing among other things, the ongoing continuance of his work on their shared endeavor in the wake of Peter's death. Upon the occurrence of the Brainwaves Festival in 2008 he and Christopherson began the assimilating and building of the highest quality materials available representing Coil's recorded history into the intended corpus that would become the Threshold Archives. As the entity sanctioned by Christopherson and the family of Geoff Rushton, the archives have released the first of their proposed series in response to releases of varying propriety issued this month by other parties. Foremost among them, Danny Hyde has produced his personal master tapes of the completed "Backwards" album from the British and New Orleans sessions in a edition newly remastered by Gregg Janman. Hyde's statement on the Cold Spring Records site crediting it's entombment for decades at the hands of Interscope to Universal Music's "grey men", and their legal contract concerning it's initial release. For those looking to explore the 22 years of mystic, psychedelic, rapturously unique and deeply beguiling music Jhonn and Peter created over the decades of Coil's existence, there is no better guide to their cultural continuum than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground". More concise compendiums tend to be on the exiguous side, but few resources online balance Coil's deep plumbing of the esoteric with their occasional alignment with the cultural milieu better than Russell Cuzner's Strange World Of... feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil". A more personal take on their latter ritualistic Aural-Astral phase can be had in my own assembly of words from 2008, inspired by what was then believed to be their final recordings, "Remote Viewers of Love's Secret Domain: The Musick of Coil".

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Guillermo del Toro’s new film "Crimson Peak" at IMAX Theaters: Oct 15 - Nov 5
& A Paean to the Gothic Horrors of the Haunted House

October has arrived and with it All Hallows' Eve nods to the Olde World traditions of seasonal harvest rights and festivities, like the Gaelic Samhain and Celtic Hop-tu-Naa, which are themselves possibly derived from the Ancient Greek festival of Thesmophoria. Part and parcel with the changes of Autumn, come abundant celebrations of the gloomily crepuscular, spooky and ominous in literature, film and popular culture. In recognition of this most eerie of seasons, The New York Times has whipped up some sinister concoctions like "A House of Horror Films" their interactive history, trivia and guessing game on Haunted Houses in cinema by Tommi Musturi. Other annual highlights have included Steven Kurutz' gorgeous little "No Rest for the Eerie: A Paean to the Haunted House". In which he did more than an admirable job, going as far as to cite John Tibbetts' anthology of essays and interviews “The Gothic Imagination”, which is pretty much essential reading for anyone who wants to get further into the depths of "uncertainty, anxiety, and fear" that is the art of the Gothic storytelling tradition. Kuruz also delivered a brilliant Home & Garden feature, "House Haunters" on seasonal real-world Haunted Houses like Kopelman's 30-year running institution near Phoenix which also acts as ground zero to America's Best Haunts. A directory that includes Ben Armstrong's Netherworld, Kohout's long-running Hauntworld house near St. Louis, Phil Anselmo's New Orleans House of Shock, Los Angeles and New York's Blackout and the immense, preposterous undertaking that is Rob Zombie's Great American Nightmare. Sadly none of our local Northwest haunts make that list, but there's a good number of them to be found throughout the state.

Guillermo del Toro’s "Crimson Peak" which opens this week at IMAX Theaters across the country, is his contribution and homage to Gothic Horror's long line of disquieting homes, secret histories, haunted locales and mysteries of the supernatural. The New York Times' "Guillermo del Toro’s House of Horrors" is our guide to his own personal "Bleak House" (another sly homage), and it's twisting stairs, overflowing libraries, a building-spanning gallery of over 700 pieces of original art, statuary, props and models. It is as much a house-size Cabinet of Curiosities for the Spanish director as it is repository and inspiration. The Haunted House and it's offspring have long been a staple of western literature and folklore, movies and pulp storytelling. Some memorable manifestations in cinema come to mind. From contemporaries like Ti West's "House of the Devil", to cult classics of other decades like William Castle's original B-movie “House on Haunted Hill”. Shirley Jackson's 1959, "The Haunting of Hill House" has seen a number of adaptations to the big screen, but none as successful as Robert Wise's 1963, "The Haunting". The silent era and early "talkies" also delivered Jean Epstein's 1928 surreal, claustrophobic adaptation of the Poe classic, "The Fall of the House of Usher", and the 1930's horror-comedy of James Whale's "Old Dark House". Later decades produced Roger Corman's scholcky 60's Vincent Price vehicles, like "The Haunted Palace" and Italian Giallo works in the genre represented by Lucio Fulci's H.P. Lovecraft-inspired "The House by the Cemetery". The 1970's hit it's own stride with the Japanese insanity of "Hausu" co-conceived by Nobuhiko Obayashi and his 11 year old daughter. The decade also delivered Stuart Rosenberg's “Amityville Horror” and Stanley Kubrick's singular, unnerving horror entry, "The Shining". Digging deeper there were 60's and 70's genre variations like Dan Curtis' “Burnt Offerings", the erotic horror of Elio Petri's "A Quiet Place in the Country" and Carlos Enrique Taboada's sub-genre birthing "Even the Wind is Afraid". But of course the Haunted House owes it's origins to much, much older traditions in literature. Probably traceable back to the 18th century bit of disquieting paranoia and creeping melancholy, Horace Walpole's “Castle of Otranto”. Predating Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Daphne du Maurier, Ann Radcliffe, H.P. Lovecraft and all who would follow in their footsteps over the centuries since.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tetuzi Akiyama, Toshimaru Nakamura, Jason Kahn & Bryan Eubanks US Tour: Oct 30 - Nov 16

Two of the founding members of the Onkyokei movement in modern Japanese sound are touring the US this month and next in a quartet setting, with their first stateside show at Seattle's Chapel Performance Space. Tetuzi Akiyama together with Toshimaru Nakamura and Taku Sugimoto, launched the monthly concert series The Improvisation Meeting at Bar Aoyama (later renamed Meeting at Off Site in 2000), centered around the Off Site Gallery with the brilliant Improvised Music from Japan label acting as a vehicle for their transmissions. Embodying striking different approaches, Tetuzi Akiyama's choice of the guitar, and a particularly blues-inflected, improvised minimalism as the route to the pure acoustic qualities of the movement's ethos. His passion for Americana, Folk and Blues channeled through a distinctly modern Japanese sensibility discussed in-depth in the January 2006 issue of The Wire. Akiyama's regular collaborator Toshimaru Nakamura has gone even further afield to produce a body of work totally removed from the traditional instrument, his No-Input Mixing Board yields a wide range of sonic expression, from spectral harmonics to harsh feedback, within the framework of a controlled feedback system. The most striking of this work with the extended trio of polymath and underground ringleader, Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M chronicled on the sprawling dynamic immensity of their "Good Morning, Good Night" and the "Four Gentlemen of the Guitar" quartet alongside AMM's Keith Rowe, Oren Ambarchi and Christian Fennesz, both for Erstwhile Records. The label acting as home for the releases and regular global meet-ups, their Erstquake concert series in New York has brought Nakamura and Akiyama into regular ensembles with percussionist, Jason Kahn and Bryan Eubanks amplified feedback system for soprano saxophone. For more on the Improvised Music from Japan collective of artists and affiliated Tokyo underground cultures, check Clive Bell's Off Site article for The Wire and Cedric Dupire's 2010 documentary, "We Don't Care About Music Anyway". Earlier this year Bell revisited the genesis of what came to be known as the Onkyo sound in the excellent, "Off Site: Improvised Music From Japan" for Red Bull Music Academy. Chronicling Atsuhiro Ito and his wife Yukari's conversion of a house near Yoyogi station in Tokyo into a spartan gallery and performing space, seating 50 maximum, making room within the confines of it's four walls for a café and book-and-record shop upstairs. This humble communal space, literally inserted between the neighborhood's landscape of office high-rises, became ground zero, meeting place and impetus for the movement's aesthetic.

Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson's new film "The Forbidden Room" at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 16 - 22

Next week the Northwest Film Forum presents the most recent in Guy Maddin's forays into phantasmagoric cinema. "The Forbidden Room" is Maddin and co-director Evan Johnson's kaleidoscopic tribute to the cinematic canon, it watches as a veritable psychedelic trip through the very form of film. Maddin's adventure boring wormholes through narratives-within-narratives, in seemingly infinite regress it subsumes form and content from the silent era to early 30s and 40s talkies, to 50s melodrama, to 60s and 70s exotica and beyond. Utilizing chemical and digital degradation processes along with a twinned auditory effect in Galen Johnson's deeply Hauntological soundtrack constructed from repurposed classical music and incidental film scores. Together the sound and image making for a headily over-brimming, absurd concoction of hallucinogenic digressions and narrative tips of the hat, all rendered (again with both digital and analog tools) in wildly divergent film stock, color coding, media artifacts and states of decrepitude. Their approach to both form and technique in their paradoxically original pastiche detailed in Cinema-Scope's "Lost in the Funhouse: A Conversation with Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson" and further quantified in the pages of Film Comment as "too much is just right", Jonathan Romney delves deep into the movie-mad filmmaker’s latest feat of phantasmagorical cinema, "The Infernal, Ecstatic Desire Machine of Guy Maddin". Last year I encountered a previous work in this style by the trio. Their "Kino Ektoplasma" multi-screen installation was created as a resurrection of lost films of the German Expressionist era in a preternaturally gorgeous, transmutive sequence, specifically commissioned as part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Haunted Screens: German Cinema in the 1920s.

The Silent Era is in the midst a brief rise into greater public consciousness, inspiring some genuinely inquisitive forays into documentation, restoration and preservation. With some 85% of all of silent film believed to be lost, Canada's own artist of artifice extraordinaire, Maddin has taken it upon himself to create Silent Cinema revivals of quite a different sort. His proposed "Making 100 Short Films in 100 Days in Four Countries with Current Project 'Spiritismes'" led the way to the series of "Séances". Which had the first of their invocations and performance at Spiritismes at the Centre Pompidou, Paris in 2012 with a second set of performances "Guy Maddin’s Performance Installation 'Séances' Begins Filming" at Montreal's Phi Centre a year later. The completed project to be hosted by the National Film Board wherein the interactive format will allow for viewers to shuffle the films together into singular combinations of longer narratives, generating their own unique construction. In an interview with Jonathan Ball, the director details the differences involved in these concurrent projects, "Guy Maddin on The Forbidden Room and Writing Melodrama"; "While "The Forbidden Room" is a feature film with its own separate story and stars, "Séances" will be an interactive Internet project, something that anyone online can visit and play with. It’s a place — a dark place! — where anyone online can hold séances with the spirits of cinema, lost and forgotten cinema. The "Séances" project has really evolved in recent months. It was going to be title-for-title remakes of specific lost films, but we found as we went that the spirits of many other lost movies, and the spirit of loss in general, haunted our sets and demanded to be represented in front of our cameras."

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Christopher Nolan presents "The Quay Brothers in 35mm" at SIFF Cinema: Oct 9 - 15

Opening for a weeklong run at SIFF Cinema, Christopher Nolan presents a new series of restorations of "The Quay Brothers in 35mm" which follows a few years on from MoMA's retrospective of their work, Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist's Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets. Although Stephen and Timothy Quay are well known in gallery circles in Europe, this was only the second show of their work in the United States. The first in 2010, was an exhibition of the Décors (the miniature stage sets used in their animations) in Parsons New School for Design's Dormitorium: Film Decors by the Quay Bros. Describing "A Universe Like Ours, Only Weirder" Roberta Smith's review of the retrospective for the New York Times, touched on the Quay's filmmography of decidedly analog, textural, interior worlds locked within the mechanisms of time, history and decay. But Christopher Nolan goes further still in describing their uncanny art of "Quay Twins: Spinning Magic from Marginalia" and the deeply cinematic microverses contained in their work.

Hermetic in the extreme, like the work of their mentor, Jan Švankmajer the dreamworlds in which their animated films are set draw from, more often than not, traditions in Eastern European literature. Bruno Schulz' "Street of Crocodiles" wherein the Quays spun their own thematically similar political allegory and the locale for Robert Walser's "Jakob von Gunten" which became the spookily somnambulistic setting of their "Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream that One Calls Human Life" and their peeling away to the tale's core, revealing of it's mysterious, metaphysical interior. All their works explore through objects, dust and decay a hidden universe of unnerving poetry that lies within forgotten, disused and abandoned spaces and the haunting echoes of civilizations past. Coded into their journeys through these worlds are apparitional encounters channeled through cryptic symbolism, often as messages issuing from beyond the pale. Theirs might be the greatest example in modern cinema of a Art of Ruins and it's in these landscapes that they chronicle their protagonist's pursuit of the metaphysical unknowable. Senses of Cinema delve deeper as they always do in a series of discussions from 2002, "Through a Glass Darkly: Interview with the Quay Brothers" and in their analysis of what many consider the Quay's defining work, one which Terry Gilliam rated among The 10 Best Animated Films of All Time, opening their "Fetish, Filth and Childhood: Walking Down The Street of Crocodiles" with a fittingly haunting choice of quote from Walter Benjamin's "The Arcades Project".

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Room40 Label Tour with Rafael Anton Irisarri, Lawrence English & Loscil: Oct 20 - 22 | Vancouver New Music's Nomadic Streams Festival: Oct 22 - 24

This month the Room40 label, Australia's home to all things sound-art, electro-acoustic, post-concrete, abstractly improvisational and cinematically ambient releases the newest album by Rafael Anton Irisarri, the continuance of his ongoing explorations in conceptions of place, both imagined and real. "A Fragile Geography" follows on "The North Bend"'s exercise in impressing sound upon the natural splendor of the Pacific Northwest and charting of what comes back; valleys, mountains, it's fog-lined sea of trees and it's successor's mapping of man-made ecological desiccation, “The Unintentional Sea”'s mimicking of the ideas of the Salton Sea and it's ruinous transformation of place. The tour is assembled by label maven, composer, and sound ecologist Lawrence English, himself in the midst of a run of thematically interrelated works. His inspirations being as much literary as geographic, this year's "Wilderness of Mirrors" draws its root from T.S. Eliot’s elegant poem "Gerontion". Decades later, the phrase took on new associations with the Cold War campaigns of misinformation carried out by opposing state intelligence agencies. English's first album since 2011's ode to J.A Baker’s novel, "The Peregrine", "Wilderness of Mirrors" marks his most tectonic exploration of extreme dynamics and densities to date, sending the listener through passages of colliding waves of harmony and dynamic electric instrumentation. The album acting as a companion to English's recent live explorations into auditory environments of harmonic distortion and dense sonics. The two artists making complimentary framing for the long-established Kranky label artist Scott Morgan and his Loscil project. "Sea Island" released last year, sees him extend the subterranean bass and open expanses of his melodic electronic music into further abstraction and scale.

"Room40 Celebrates 15th Anniversary" this year with concerts around the world including Stockholm's Audiorama promising "Three Days of Radical Listening. 21 Loudspeakers. 50 Chairs. 1 Room." and Sydney's own edition of the annual Open Frame held at Carriageworks, an immense industrial rail yard complex repurposed as an arts venue.There will also be a short run of Northwest dates in atypical non-rockbar settings like the warehouse loft of the Baker Building in Portland, hosted by Beacon Sound and Seattle's performance presented by the monthly Elevator night at Machine House Brewery. The tour concluding it's stretch at Vancouver New Music's offshoot dedicated to ambient and neoclassical music, Nomadic Streams Festival. Along with the Room40 trio the festival's three nights plays host to painter, sound ecologist and minimalist ascetic, Steve Roden, the physical controlled feedback explorations of Crys Cole, plunderphonic analog collage and musique concrete of DJ Olive visual artist and composer Marina Rosenfeld and FLUX Quartet's performance of Morton Feldman's "String Quartet No.1". A rare realization of one of the chamber works that Feldman wrote in the final decade of his life they are among his most challenging and otherworldly. Completed in 1979, "String Quartet No.1" was one of the earliest of those pieces and clocking at 90 minutes, also one of the more compact. His legendary "String Quartet No.2" composed four years later, is over six hours and is among the most beautiful and extraordinary works composed in all of the second half of the 20th century. FLUX Quartet's performances since their premier rendition in 1999, have been marathon exhibitions of what John Rockwell's New York Times review describes as the antithesis of durational longueurs, but is instead, "A Piece that Reveals its Beauty Hour After Hour After Hour".