Sunday, April 24, 2016

Touch Conference with Philip Jeck, Mark Van Hoen, Simon Scott, Daniel Menche and Bethan Parkes West Coast Tour: Apr 29 - May 10

From it's auspicious beginnings with a meeting with New Order in March 1982, and a following cassette compilation, "Feature Mist" and "Meridians" audio magazine series, John Wozencroft's Touch was inaugurated. Co-produced and curated with the label's other shepherds, Halfer Trio's Andrew McKenzie and Mike Harding, these first volumes with images, graphics and stories from Psychic TV, Neville Brody, Mayakovsky, Robert Wyatt and The Residents' Rozztox Manifesto were a who's who showcase for British post-punk, ambient, concrete and industrial music culture and writing. The label's first series of audio-textual compilations encompassed music from every disparate aspect of these interrelated scenes. New Order, Simple Minds, Tuxedomoon, AC Marias, Graham Lewis, John Foxx, Simon F. Turner, Current 93, Test Department, A Certain Ratio, Nocturnal Emissions and experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman all made contributions within the label's first year. Remaining ahead of the curve for more than three decades, the imprint introduced the world to much of the most groundbreaking electronic, minimalist and post-concrete music of the ensuing years. One of the last of the unbroken lines of progressive experimental music issuing from the British underground in the 1980s, interviews with Wozencroft spanning the following decades of 1992, Surface Magazine in 2000, and FACT in 2008 detail an explicit channel of thought on media, perception and experience, which continues into the new century. Celebrating their 30th Anniversary in 2012 with events around the globe, including New York's Issue Project Room and Seattle's Decibel Festival, Harding and Wozencroft spoke with The Quietus on their ongoing endeavor combining the output of an independent record label with documenting and challenging the flow from analogue to digital work through a context for critique of the wider cultural age. Their conceptual and aesthetic legacy also explored in a 2012 interview with Ghostly International label as part of their "The A to Z of Art & Design Influences".

Since the label's inception in the 1980s, Wozencroft has curated an intersection of sound, text and image coupled to the sublime incidental austerity of his photographic and design eye. Over the years his shared vision with Harding playing home to the sonic ecology of Cabaret Voltaire's Chris Watson, the challenging conceptual explorations of John Duncan, digital abstraction of space and time witnessed in Ryoji Ikeda's audio-visual environments, and the guitar expressionism of Christian Fennesz. The most recent decade has seen the roster expend to include Icelandic neo-classical composers, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Hildur Guðnadóttir, the analog brutalism of Pan(a)Sonic's Mika Vainio, Oren Ambarchi's reimagining of bass potentiality and American minimalist composer Phill Niblock. Next month Wozencroft returns to the United States with the most recent iteration of his touring Touch Conference, featuring a gallery exhibit of his own photographic work "An Ambivalence Towards Trends" at Aeterna Gallery. The exhibit initiating a four city venture beginning with Los Angeles' Volume Projects and DubLab Productions, a night at San Francisco's new premier experimental media venue, Gray Area Art & Technology and showcase at Aquarius Records. Followed by Portland's Holocene and concluding under the vaulted ceilings of Wayward Music Series' home in Seattle's Chapel Performance Space. A cross-section representation of the label's aesthetic, conceptual and sonic concerns can be heard in the pure concrete of Philip Jeck's phonography manipulations, the video synthesis collage of Seefeel's Mark Van Hoen, the dichotomy of finesse and assault heard in the noise sculpting of Portland's Daniel Menche, the ambisonic field recording mixes of Bethan Parkes, and Simon Scott's explorations of guitar and electronics outside of his groundbreaking shoegaze pop with Slowdive.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Otomo Yoshihide's "Project Fukushima" at Northwest Film Forum & Chapel Performance Space: May 2 - 3

Following on last fall's showcase featuring members of the Japanese Onkyokei movement, next month another of the Tokyo scene's founding players presents two nights at Northwest Film Forum and Chapel Performance Space. Beginning as far back as the Jazz Kissa scene of the 1970s, a culture that is still very much alive, "Tokyo's Jazz Kissa Survive" with "Kissaten Culture Still on the Boil", Otomo Yoshihide's own introduction chronicled in his "Leaving the Jazz Cafe: A Personal View of Japanese Improvised Music in the 1970s". He documents the formative experience of witnessing nights of music in this setting from the then-cutting edge of Japanese improvisation, names like Kaoru Abe and Masayuki Takayanagi's New Direction Unit. These seminal experiences, including a notable night of Abe on electric guitar at a Jazz Kissa in Fukushima as a teenager, likely launched Otomo's own decades-long investigations into improvisation and the very nature of sound. Detailing his lifelong love of music in interview with Revue & Corrigée, Yoshihide returns to his childhood of 1960s TV music, Japanese pop and kayokyoku of that decade, his Jazz Kissa experiences in Fukushima as a teenager, and not many years later after entering university, time spent studying under his mentor Takayanagi. A short period of solo, improvisational work followed in the late 1980s, contacts made within the Japanese experimental community leading to the formation of his own ensemble for genre-less exploration, Ground Zero in the 1990s, and wider international recognition with his soundtrack to 5th Generation Chinese filmmaker, Tian Zhuangzhuang's "The Blue Kite". By the time of the latest 1990s, the Onkyokei movement began a coalescence of like-minded experimentation and new approaches to improv around venues like Shinjuku Pit Inn and Bar Aoyama the latter the first of their monthly improvisational gathering spaces. This loose-knit collective of artists and affiliated Tokyo underground cultures, detailed in Clive Bell's "Off Site" article for The Wire found their center with 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 the cementing meeting place and impetus for the movement's aesthetic. A decade on from the movement's inception, Bell revisited the genesis of what came to be known as the Onkyo sound this past year for Red Bull Music Academy, "Off Site: Improvised Music From Japan".

Working within and outside this scene, Otomo's explorations found him acting as polymath and underground ringleader in both small group settings with Sachiko M and Toshimaru Nakamura producing works of pure sound, often devoid of any source other than electricity like that of the no-input trio, Filament exemplified by the finesse heard on, "Good Morning, Good Night". While concurrently leading medium-size group organizations with Yoshimitsu Ichiraku and Sachiko M, generating some of his most groundbreaking work pushing at the boundaries of noise, musique concrete and improv as I.S.O. Moving outside the fundamental exploration of acoustics that characterizes Onkyokei, the past decade has also seen his captaining of large ensemble forays into post-Be-Bop informed jazz and mid-Century improv. Coming together in groupings of upwards of twenty players to augment the traditional jazz ensemble with an extended instrumental lineup including Sho and Shakuhachi, along with the pure Sine Wave electronics of Onkyo to perform spirited interpretations of repertoire from Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Done Cherry, Eric Dolphy and original compositions as the Otomo Yoshihide New Jazz Orchestra. Yoshihide's involvement with Project Fukushima and his own Festival Fukushima! had its genesis in a series of essays and collected interviews on the 2011 Earthquake, Tsunami and ensuing Nuclear crisis. His own work documenting the personal cost to the region's residents, local culture and industry in relation to "Errors Cast Doubt on Japan’s Cleanup of Nuclear Accident Site", the deflection of responsibility and coverup, "Inquiry Declares Fukushima Crisis a Man-Made Disaster" the estimated Century-long cleanup, "Fukushima Keeps Fighting Radioactive Tide Five Years After Disaster" and the damage done to the lives and livelihood of those who reside there, "After Fukushima: Faces from Japan's Tsunami Tragedy, Five Years On". Yoshihide's childhood and adolescent years spent in Fukushima, and his personal investment in the region's welfare are reflected in the dedication to the documenting of the personal, cultural and political effects of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in the publication of his "Chronicle Fukushima".

During the assembly of the collection of Tohoku accounts and writings, Yoshihide simultaneously investing four months in curating a installation, performance and community event at the Art Tower Mito, in the prefecture of the same name, east of Tokyo. This season of performances included his Double Orchestra interpreting large-ensemble works like Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Gruppen" and Toru Takemitsu's "Corona" with guest appearances by Tenniscoats, Ami Yoshida and Seiichi Yamamoto in the museum's water garden. In the nearby grounds of a local Shinto shrine, Ko Ishikawa and Yoshihide combined Gogaku, Sho, Guitar and Gamelan with the natural chorus of cicadas, birds and sound of water. Their time in residency also saw him playing host to wider communal events including a parade down the streets of Mito and sonic workshops at the museum, open free to the public. In the midst of the Tohoku disaster's cultural and civic upheaval, Art Tower Mito extending itself as a place to engage the public and bring the community together around the shared experience of culture, art, sound and play, in the midst of uncertain times. This ethos has been extended to the larger endeavor of Otomo Yoshihide's participation in Project Fukushima; "Bringing into question how we should deal with electricity from now on including that which is produced by nuclear power plants, and more to the point, how we should reconsider our lifestyles that are largely supported by electricity. It is also a chance for us to rethink about this civilization that allows people to be deprived of their land, alongside the histories and cultures that were nurtured there. We believe that this is not a problem peculiar to Fukushima, but rather one that should be faced together with people around the world. We were not simply beset by a great misfortune, but by facing the situation squarely, we became the catalyst for the happiness of the children of our children... We should be allowed the freedom to dream of such a future. And we believe that we have the power to make that dream a reality. One of the role of music and art is to think with others about how to confront reality."

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"Action, Anarchy and Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective" at Northwest Film Forum & Grand Illusion Cinema: Apr 9 - May 11

Nikkatsu, the oldest film studio in Japan, inaugurated a star system in the late 1950s finding talent and contracting to their Diamond Line for a series of wild genre pictures compiled in the first of Arrow Films' "Nikkatsu Diamond Guys" by the then-new talent of, Toshio Masuda, Seijun Suzuki and Buichi Saito. The label said it all; Nikkatsu Akushon. The following decade, action films from the studio flooded the Japanese market, in genres spanning yakuza movies, urban thrillers, jazz-inflected youth pictures, Nippon westerns and French New Wave-inspired emotional dramas and crime films. It was these latter wildly idiosyncratic crime movies that became the brutal and boisterous business of Nikkatsu. In these they cemented their effort to attract youthful audiences growing increasingly accustomed to American and French big-screen imports. Amid this abundance of action potboilers, these Mukokuseki Akushon (or “borderless action”) crime films included in Criterion's Nikkatsu Noir represent a standout cross section of what Nikkatsu had to offer. Again from the prominent, stylistically daring directors Seijun Suzuki, Toshio Masuda, and Takashi Nomura. Less gritty realism than macho romanticism, Nikkatsu Akushon was known for flashy stylistics, angst-driven narratives, and a pantheon of male stars. In the span of a half-decade Japan’s oldest film studio fast became home to the country’s hippest post-War talents, their ascendancy documented in Sight & Sound's "Second Youth: The Golden Age of Nikkatsu Studios". With a savvy eye, the new talent and lower budgets allowed the studio to demographically aim for the Zeitgeist's reckless and carefree expression of youth, which became stylized in subsequent films. The rebellious Taiyozoku movement of the time taking it's name from Shintaro Ishihara's breakout 1955 novel, "Season of the Sun" and Takumi Furukawa's film of the same name. But it was another of Ishihara's novels adapted by Ko Nakahira that inspired the real, "Heat Stroke: Japanese Cinema’s Season in the Sun". "Crazed Fruit" was one of the early indicators of the post-War generation's "Taiyozoku: Imagining of a New Japan" a reflection of the tumultuous youth culture in it's growing pains toward the anti-war, generational and values clashes of the 1960s, culminating in the University of Tokyo student protests of 1968.

Following on their "Shintoho Schlock: Girls, Guns & Ghosts" and "No Borders, No Limits: 1960s Nikkatsu Action Cinema" series of previous years, Northwest Film Forum and The Grand Illusion present a retrospective from the most audacious of the bunch, "Action, Anarchy and Audacity: A Seijun Suzuki Retrospective". Nikkatsu in the throes of cranking out successful low budget boilerplate gangster movies, constructed according to their own well-defined formula, initially had a ideal director in Suzuki. But as time progressed he increasingly bridled against such restraints and went his own way within the budgetary constraints that bound him. Finally having enough of what they deemed were films that “made no money and no sense”, Nikkatsu fired Suzuki and suppressed his films from being screened in the years to follow. When Suzuki won his long-running lawsuit against the studio, the poorly managed Nikkatsu finally collapsed, and in response the Japanese film industry blacklisted him for the subsequent decade. It was the fallout over his singular 1967 stylized shocker "Branded to Kill", that Suzuki was banished from the Nikkatsu Akushon clearing house that had once brought him great success. And though, "Branded To Kill 'Made No Money and No Sense' it's Still a Classic", it is an act of creative defiance many consider to be Suzuki's right of admission into the Japanese New Wave. Choosing instead a personal denial of service to rote, prosaic plotlines, his response was instead to approach his works as exercises in visceral visual expression. Retrospective programmer for the series at Film Society at Lincoln Center and Smithsonian curator, Tom Vick's, "Time and Place Are Nonsense: The Films of Seijun Suzuki" makes it's focus the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink exuberance of "Branded to Kill", as the culmination of the work of a bold experimenter who's development was underway throughout much of his time at Nikkatsu. Nick Pinkerton's "Pop Eye" piece in Artforum also crediting his collaborators, Shigeyoshi Mine and Kazue Nagatsuka, who together favored a vocabulary redolent with sharp diagonals, vertical tracking movements that pass through diorama-like sets, and punctuation of startling God’s-eye perspective. More than just stylistic boldness by defiant, restless workers tasked with rapidly turning out identical industrial product, Mike Hale puts forward that these breakout works are, "A Symbol of ‘Japanese Cool’ in Film, to be Reconsidered" while The Guardian's Jordan Hoffman asks, "Seijun Suzuki: Can Japan's Cult Master Cross Over?"

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Lush retrospective box sets "Chorus / Origami" & West Coast Tour: Apr 20 - 25 | Ivo Watts-Russell and Vaughan Oliver on 4AD Records "Facing the Other Way"

The history of British label 4AD can be seen as a succession of distinct phases. From it's genesis in 1980 by label founders Ivo Watts-Russell and Peter Kent, begun under the distribution umbrella of the larger and successful post-Punk label Beggars Banquet. Detailed by Martin Aston in his biography of the label, "Facing The Other Way", Watts-Russell and graphic designer Vaughan Oliver in the succession of a few short years, created one of the most coherent, ageless audio-visual identities to be born anywhere in underground music that decade. Speaking with The Quietus, "Facing the Other Way: Ivo Watts-Russell and Vaughan Oliver on 4AD Records", they explore the first years of Watts-Russell's curatorial program, Vaughan Oliver's in-house design team 23 Envelope, and contributions from compatriots in the British scene like John Fryer's Blackwing Studio. The body of work released on 4AD in this first phase have proven so seminal that single albums can be credited as spawning whole subgenres in the decades to follow. Wrapped in the enveloping mystique, cryptic fonts and atavistic allusions to artifacts from a lost past that was the haute couture of Vaughan Oliver's work with Nigel Grierson, Paul McMenamin and photographer Chris Bigg. They created sculptural landscapes of photography, typeface, decoupage and decors, framing the musical inner worlds of the label's roster, The Guardian revealing "4AD: The Inside Story" of this distinctly British, European, antidote to the popular culture of the time. More than fine points in the label's chronology, The Wire's 4AD Primer is populated by the artists that most marked the label's first half-decade. Beginning their first year with singles from the mascara'd children of punk's violent sprawl. Peter Murphy, Daniel Ash, Kevin Haskins and David J  launched the ships of a thousand goth imitators as Bauhaus, and from across the world came the defiant rancor and country rock doom of Australia's The Birthday Party. The label's roster blossomed into it's own the following year with the new wave stylings of Modern English and the ethereal dream pop of Robin Guthrie's coruscating guitar and Elizabeth Fraser's vocal incantations as Cocteau Twins.

In rapid consecution 4AD released the earliest experimental solo work from bands that would later come to define the decade, The The's Matt Johnson produced a series of largely instrumental, experimental works and Wire's Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis released their first forays into the uncassifiable outside the setting of their rocking post-punk quartet. Soon after the floodgates opened, rapidfire singles, EPs and albums appeared from a new subset of artists influenced as much by the groundbreaking late 1970s ambient works of Kluster and Brian Eno as the edginess of punk and the growing UK gothic music scene. This stretch of years in the mid-to-late 1980's saw the label's identity achieve global recognition with the arrival of the post-punk blues, dub, funk and soul mashup of The Wolfgang Press, the grandiose neoclassical, folk and world music fusion of Dead Can Dance, Germany's edgy all-female rockers, Xmal Deutschland, the gothic neo-romantic synthpop of Dutch trio, Clan of Xymox and the instrumental free-jazz wanderings of Dif Juz. 4AD's reach extending as far as to embrace traditional choral music from the Bulgarian State Radio Female Vocal Choir and their spectral Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. Sensing that more than a label identity had been generated within their shared spheres, This Mortal Coil was assembles as a collective in-house covers band led by Watts and Fryer, with a rotating cast of contributing artists both from within the label and without. Reaching beyond the sphere of underground UK and Euro-centric sounds came the label's first American undergound indies, like Kristin Hersh, and Tanya Donelly's folkic girl-rock band, Throwing Muses and the punk, surf and garage rock inspired sound of the Pixies. A culmination of every aspect of the label's aesthetic and conceptual concerns, 1987’s "Lonely Is An Eyesore" was released an a triple format media experience and still stands as the only time that Watts-Russell commissioned video work. To accompany the collection of exclusive tracks from the label's roster, 23 Envelope’s Nigel Grierson direction of the videos reflecting his love of  the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, particularly his later metaphysical films, "Stalker" and "The Sacrifice". Translating to the music video format the nubilous water, grainy monochrome, natural light, motion and abstract textures associated with the photographic subjects and treatments seen on Grierson’s Cocteau Twins covers. The compilation's combined mastery of typeface, printing techniques and material decors are testament to the gesamtkunstwerk that was 23 Envelope's half-decade of graphic realizations in the unified visual identity of 4AD.

Coinciding with what could be seen as the second phase of the label's lifespan, Nigel Grierson left 23 Envelope in 1988, with Vaughan Oliver and Chris Bigg continuing to work in close partnership with 4AD under the studio name v23. Commencing a aligned yet amplified graphical temperament, the releases retained their advanced fusion of font and materials, but now expressed through a sun-blasted color palette of suggestive pop-art and neon futurism. The sound was to follow, with new signings Ultra Vivid Scene, Pale Saints and Primal Scream's Jim Beattie delivering spiraling guitar work under the Spirea X moniker. The label fast aligning itself with the burgeoning UK shoegaze, dream pop and britpop scenes of the time. The fallout of the Pixies disbanding in 1992 and linuep changes within Throwing Muses, generated their own offshoots like The Breeders and Belly. Other American acts were taken into the fold, Mark Kozelek's insular, nocturnally folkic songwriting with Red House Painters saw it's debut on the label and the equally hermetic worlds of Warren Defever's experimental His Name Is Alive made for fitting companions. Yet there is perhaps no band more reflective of altered trajectory of 4AD's second decade than Lush. As one of the first acts ascribed with the shoegaze and dream pop labels by the British press for their profusion of bright melodic distortion and vibrantly overdriven live guitar sound, their pedigree confirmed with their 1989 signing to the label and production work from Robin Guthrie. In the span of seven years Lush released a succession of mini-albums, EPs and full length releases that can be heard as a direct continuation of earlier pathways forged by Cocteau Twins and concurrent British bands following in the druggy astronomical haze of Spacemen 3. Their compatriots in this sound fast became a who's who of the best of UK underground rock of the early 1990's. Their numbers include Ride, Slowdive, LOOP and the earth-quaking, cloud-splitting immensity of My Bloody Valentine's legendary live shows of that decade. Curiously, in rapid succession all of the above bands have reformed in recent years, with Lush joining their ranks just this past November. Following the first discussions had by the full band in years, they will be embarking on their first live shows in 20 years since the unexpected death of friend and drummer, Chris Acland. On the eve of this momentous event, Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson and Phil King spoke with The Quietus for their "Mad Love: An Interview With Lush". On the release of their retrospective "Chorus" and "Origami" box sets, and how now was the time for their return.