Sunday, March 20, 2016

Apichatpong Weerasethakul's new film "Cemetery of Splendor" at Northwest Film Forum: Mar 18 - 24

Giving insights into the otherworldly from the experience of the everyday, the films of Apichtapong Weerasethakul collectively watch as somnambulistic cinematic wanderings through the urban centers, outlying rural expanses, and deep jungles that define the Thai landscape. Lingering specters of Thailand's military past haunt the peripheral of the urban and rural lives of it's protagonists, often as contrast to cultural vibrancy and spiritualism of the the natural splendor that surrounds them. Suggestively surreal, hinting at the metaphysical (or as in case "Tropical Malady", direct contact with the spirit world) they both describe the life of the Thai people as they are, as they once were (first chapter of "Syndromes and a Century" for example) and in the more abstract passages, suggesting how they could be, both in the world of the waking and dreaming. The heightened sensuality of his tonal palate defines the whole of the what Senses of Cinema calls, "Transnational Poet of the New Thai Cinema" as well as a personal connection with a shared history, both on screen and in life, as detailed in Cinema-Scope's "Ghost in the Machine: Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Letter to Cinema" on the subject of his Cannes Palme d'Or winning "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives". A director who's whole filmography deals in mystic parables couched within modern life, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Cemetery of Splendor" may lack wandering animal spirits in the night of the Thai jungle, but it's mixing of the political, historic and the spiritual is told through a literally dreamy central metaphor, "A Shared Memory: Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Cemetery of Splendor".

One of two "Daydream Believers" witnessed at this year's Cannes, Apichatpong teasingly blends the spiritual and the mundane, deadpan humor, and a suggestion of something sublime, all cultivating in "Cemetery of Splendor: A Very Calm Sort of Hysteria". Sleep acting as a mysterious, uneasy bridge between the two worlds, the protagonists lead the viewer into a heightened sensory exercise of hypnotic motion and hushed sound as we observe their ambulations through neon-lit psychedelic jungle and Escher-like mazes of modern shopping complexes. All the while simultaneously turning increasingly Oneiric as it's political inflections sharpen at it's conclusion. In numerous interviews for Mubi, Film Comment and Senses of Cinema the director has spoken of the difficulties of continuing to make his cinema in the escalating atmosphere of political tension and censorship following the 2014 coup d'état. Shot in his home village of Khon Kaen and redolent with locations and memories from childhood, this most recent meditation on war, death and social bonds in rural life will likely be, "A Homeland Swansong: Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Cemetery of Splendor". Told through Jen, a nurse at a temporary military clinic located in the disused primary school of her youth. The dreamlike spell of the "Cemetery of Splendor" infuses her personal quest for healing and spirituality with the soldiers' enigmatic syndrome and the mythic ancient site that lies beneath the hospital. Punctuated by occasional percolating from within, aspects of these political and spiritual tensions rise to the surface of this gentle film, it's atmosphere withholding ominous forbearance. Thai critic Kong Rithdee describes the effect of this undertow in his insider perspective for Cinema-Scope, teasing out the “friction between tranquility and anxiety, between bliss and pain”, the political from the mythic, metaphoric from the metaphysical that characterizes Apichatpong Weerasethakul's most personal of films.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

CoH's new album "Music Vol." & West Coast Tour: Mar 11 - 19 | Raster-Noton's 20th Anniversary installation "White Circle" at Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie Karlsruhe: Mar 11

It's been a inspired arc since the Raster-Noton label's inception 20 years ago, over the course of which they've defied the accelerated marginalized and fadishness of electronic music's short 'half life', all the while evolving in their transcendence of simple codification. On this side of the Atlantic they've made sporadic appearances live in cities across the continent over the two decades. From San Francisco and Los Angeles, to Mutek Montreal and beyond, each time the occasion marked by an evolutionary leap present in each artists performance, as well as the larger audio/visual expression of the label's continuance. The second decade of the 21st Century has yielded some of the finest work to be heard from it's roster. The collaborative Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto albums are a high point, as is Carsten Nicolai's ongoing serial solo work, the Xerrox series. It's two most recent installations characterized by the enveloping vocabulary of distortion on "Xerrox Vol.2" and melodic beauty of this year's rapturous "Xerrox Vol.3". A project which when completed, will likely stand as the opus of Nicolai's recorded career. This year was also distinguished by the dou's release of the collaborative soundtrack to Alejandro Iñárritu's award winning film, "The Revenant". The score's complex intermingling of Carsten Nicolai and Ryuichi Sakamoto's larger structures detailed in NPR's "Alva Noto on Co-Scoring 'The Revenant'" are interwoven into a larger sonic tapestry constituting the work of Bryce Dessner and a cast of Raster-Noton label contemporaries including Vladislav Delay and Ryoji Ikeda.

Frank Bretschneider's "EXP" was another high water mark for the label, this boundary pushing multi-media set of abstract audiovisual sculptural objects has not seen another peer in his discography. The label's core trio is rounded out by Olaf Bender and his Byetone project, from which 2008's "Death of a Typographer" was an unexpected meeting of energized motoric Krautrock and 80's synth-pop inspired explorations. Outside of the core ensemble that initiated the imprint, Raster-Noton has enfolded a global body of work. Ranging from Japan's urban experimental dancefloor duo Kouhei Matsunaga and Toshio Munehiro, as NHK to the DeStijl inspired dynamic austerity of Emptyset to the pure datamatic audio-visual sensory environments of Ryoji Ikeda and Vladislav Delay's improvisation and jazz-informed rhythmic wanderings. The parameters of the label's scope have expanded with the inclusion of the humor and retro-futurism of Uwe Schmidt's live sets as Atom TM, most recently seen on the media package, "HD+" and the melodic dream-ambulations of the abstract pop of Dasha Rush and this year's excellent, "Sleepstep". Other recent additions to the label's cast include the pointilist digital rhythms and disintegrated melodic textures of David Letellier's Kangding Ray project and the complex theoretical investigations of Grischa Lichtenberger's "LA DEMEURE; il y a péril en la demeure", the first of his proposed five-part explorations on the subject of isolation and privacy.

As one of the label's trio of artistic directors, Olaf Bender spoke with The Quietus "On the label's 20th Anniversary and the Concept Behind the new White Circle Project", their forthcoming showcase at this year's Sonar Festival in Barcelona and the new large-scale touring installation work, "White Circle". Designed for the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie's Klangdom, via Zirkonium control software, an explicit spatial mix is created through precision assigning of compositional aspects over the 47 loudspeakers distributed through the space. The installation will feature new, self-contained compositions by Alva Noto, Byetone, Frank Bretschneider, and Kangding Ray exploring individual interpretations of ambient music unveiled with a launch party featuring performances by Frank Bretschneider, Kangding Ray and Kyoka on the mobile 4DSOUND immersion system. Russian-born sound artist and engineer Ivan Pavlov shares a long established association with the label through his earliest releases under the CoH moniker, beginning as far back as 1998's "Enter Tinnitus", a volume in the millennial cusp series 20 to 2000, and a decade later, with his extended tonal/textural experimentation heard on the double disc set, "Strings". Still a Raster-Noton associate, he has found a new home for his ongoing charged explorations of electronic frisson on Peter Rehberg's Editions Mego, who this month release his wryly-titled, "Music Vol.". The album's final track, "Return to Mechanics" suggested a "slouchy robotic groove, full of eruptions, synthetic pneumatic and rubberised squelches" that were too energetic to be contained on the Editions Mego album. San Francisco's Ge-Stell label become the home for the spillover of these rhythmic gestures, initiating a West Coast tour this month including a Los Angeles performance alongside the haunted nostalgia of Richard Chartier's Pinkcourtesyphone and a lineup of Ge-Stell label founder Cameron Shafii with Brandon Nickell at Seattle's Kremwerk.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Ciro Guerra's new film "Embrace of the Serpent" at SIFF Cinema: Mar 11 - 24

While not a historic biopicture, Ciro Guerra's "Embrace of the Serpent" stands as a capaciously researched work of Colonial fiction richly drawing from the accounts of ethnologist and explorer Theodor Koch-Grünberg and the American botanist Richard Evans Schultes. The latter widely considered the father of modern ethnobotany for his global studies of indigenous peoples' ritualistic and medicinal uses of entheogenic plants and fungi. As described in Nicholas Casey's piece for the New York Times, Guerra arrived in the jungle with an anthropologist who aided the conveyance of his project to a local shaman, who in Guerra’s words, carefully “explained the project to the forest.” This project became, "Embrace of the Serpent: Ciro Guerra's Searching Tale about Invaded Cultures in the Amazon". Almost directly referencing the life's experiences and knowledge contained in the pages of Grünberg's "Two Years Among the Indians: Travels in Northwest Brazil", "The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Charles Evans Schultes", Schultes' own book co-authored with chemist Albert Hofmann, "The Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers", and for it's larger context, "One River", Wade Davis' account of the explorations of Charles Evans Schultes. Guerra's tale is viewed largely through the aggrieved eyes of a shaman by the name of Karamakate, a Cohiuano spiritual leader living isolated in the jungle, his tribe on the verge of extinction. “Embrace of the Serpent”'s fantastical mixture of myth and historical reality "Where Majesty Meets Monstrosity" adopts Karamakate's non-Western concepts of time and storytelling into it's very structure. The film taking place at two points in the shaman’s life: circa 1907, when he encounters (fictional analogs for Grünberg and Schultes) explorer Theodor von Martius and some 40 years later, when he repeats parts of the earlier journey with Boston-born botanist Evans. Von Martius, the earlier explorer, is severely ill and seeks out Karamakate for his reputation as a healer. While Evans is in search of both the decimated remnants of the Cohiuano and the yakruna, a flowering plant that is central to their sacred rituals. Portrayed by two separate actors, the youthful and senior Karamakate retraces his steps over the distance of decades.

Along the way, the twin parties witness the ravages of Colonialism, specifically the genocide and enslavement of natives perpetuated by Colombian rubber barons in the late-19th and mid-20th Century. The two timelines alternate throughout the film, coinciding with the two great Rubber Booms of the Amazon. The first, from 1879 to 1912, was one of the worst holocausts in South American history with some 50,000 Amazon natives enslaved to harvest rubber, it's result decimating 90% of the Indian population in a wave of appalling brutality. The second, spanning the years of 1942 to 1945 saw the Brazilian government at the behest of the Rubber Development Corporation financed with capital from United States, recruit some 100,000 citizens, mostly non-natives, to harvest rubber for the efforts of the second World War. In this approximately 30,000 people died, though the chief cause of death was not murder, but malaria, yellow fever, and other tropical diseases. In Karamakate’s eyes, the rubber barons who enslaved and destroyed his tribe are marauding agents of an insane European and American culture devoted to genocidal conquest and rapacious destruction. These themes are depicted in two central scenes of madness and cultural devastation at the hands of intruders from the outside world. On von Martius' quest, they encounter a tyrannical Spanish priest presiding over an isolated Roman Catholic Mission, it's flock of boys orphaned by the conflicts between rubber barons and indigenous tribes. Decades later, Karamakate heals the dying wife of a community cult leader and self-proclaimed Son of God. In a delirium inspired by her recovery, he invites his followers to take from him a Eucharist, literally consuming his body and blood. From here, IndieWire's review from Cannes, describe the "Soulful, Strange and Stunning Discovery" the film diverges on as things take a Jodorowskian turn toward mystical higher ground. Enmity expands into awe as the quest for the yakruna leads to the very threshold of the cosmic. But rather than release through revelation, Guerra gives us a damning condemnation of Colonial encroachment, a "Dreamlike Exploration of Imperialist Pollution" seen sidelong through Western man's journey for knowledge in the spiritual landscape of the Amazon.