Sunday, March 19, 2017

Wolfgang Voigt's new GAS album "Narkopop" released April 21

This past year saw the release of the lavish collection of Wolfgang Voigt's now classic Pop Ambient techno obfuscations of German brass music, schlager and early 20th Century composers, known as GAS. Much in the way of Raster-Noton's book of related photography and unreleased material of 2008, "Narkopop", the first new album in 16 years is a tactile, multimedia affair. In accordance with the spirit of Voigt's body of work under the moniker, the triple LP with accompanying artbook and compact disc, continues the aesthetic conception of his abstract forest photography. In these images of a color saturated psychedelic "Magic Mountain", there is to be found a visual affinity to German Romanticism and the forest as a place of dreams and yearning. Wolfgang Voigt, known under a great many pseudonyms throughout the 1990s such as Mike Ink, Studio 1 and his collaborative project with Jörg Burger as Burger/Ink, stood as one of the central forces behind the rise of Cologne minimal techno. No smart part of which was the 1998 founding of the Kompakt label and distribution with fellow collaborators and travelers in the scene, Michael Mayer and Jürgen Paape. Running simultaneously with Voigt's various techno and dancefloor oriented projects of the mid 90's he began to experiment with timbrel structures of free-floating string loops sourced from classical records as a new ambient project. These disembodied tracks, their lack of beginning and end, their intoxicating, partly amorphous structure sounded to him like gaseous miasmic clouds and thus, GAS was born. David Stubbs' "Celebrating 20 Years Of Wolfgang Voigt's GAS" for The Quietus details Voigt's sonic journey through the German countryside accompanied by the sound of Schönberg and Kraftwerk: the merging of string symphony, french horn, synthesizer and kick-drum. The legacy of Krautrock's propulsive minimailsm and Kosmische yearning of the late 1970s wave of experimentalism that produced Can, Neu!, Amon Düül II, Cluster and Popol Vuh continued in a new generation of German electric invention with the coming of Detroit Techno and then Acid House in the late 1980s. These components along with the final element that Voigt conceived in his re-imagining of German Romanticism was to be found in early 20th Century Germanic composers, largely sourced from Berg, Mahler, Schönberg, Webern and Wagner. Through the confluence of these stylistic and cultural streams, a new, mysteriously singular G-ermany A-ustria S-witzerland Alpen techno ambiance emerged. One drenched in heavily laden effects, where the composers of the Vienna school met with submerged rhythms and washes of synthesized sound. Much is revealed in the way of inspiration and conceptual intent, with a rare glimpse behind the the opaque curtain of it's technical process, in The Wire's May 2008 cover story and interview with Cologne's minimal architect.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Kangding Ray North American Tour & Lecture to Benefit the ACLU at Mokedo Gallery: March 10 - 18

Next week Kremwerk, Lust Strength and MOTOR host the Seattle date in Kangding Ray's North American tour. Earlier that day, David Letellier will also be presenting a lecture at Mokedo Gallery, with all profits to benefit the ACLU. It's been a inspired arc since the inception of Raster-Noton, Letellier's home label, some 20 years ago. Over the course of the past two decades the label and publisher has defied the accelerated marginalized and fadishness of electronic music's short "half life", all the while transcending reductive genre codifications. On this side of the Atlantic they've made sporadic showcase appearances in major cities across the continent, 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. The year was also distinguished by the dou's release of the collaborative soundtrack to Alejandro Iñárritu's award winning film, "The Revenant". 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 in Dasha Rush's excellent, "Sleepstep" of 2015. 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. David Letellier's Kangding Ray project has been one of the most prolific of these new artists expanding the form of Raster's conception. His recent rapid-fire trilogy of albums, "Cory Arcane", "Solens Arc" and the stylisticly divergent "Pentaki Slopes" EP that initiated his current sound. These albums marking a shift toward a more aggressive, dynamic sound comprised of pointilist digital patterns and disintegrated melodic textures that morph into suggestive rave anthems and abrasive club rhythms. The juxtaposition of these contrary elements are refitted into uneven patterns not unlike a sonic deconstructivist architecture, where industrial techno stompers dissolve into granular sound design and filtered synth pads. When it all comes together in a live setting, it's dynamic endless-detouring of the parameters of techno is something to witness.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"Family Circle: The Films of Yasujiro Ozu" at Seattle Art Museum: Mar 23 - May 18

Twelve years have elapsed since Northwest Film Forum's astounding 5 week, 27 film series, Sacred Cinema: The Yasujiro Ozu Retrospective of early 2005. In the ensuing decade span of time there have been notable single screenings of the Japanese master's film, but nothing approaching the selection on offer in Seattle Art Museum's Family Circle: The Films of Yasujiro Ozu. Illustrating the significance of Yasujiro Ozu's body of work, there are few better points of entry than Mark Schilling's "Re-Examining Ozu on Film". 50 years after the director's death, Japan Times hosted this great overview of the director's life, cinema, cultural and social contribution to Japan's post-War image of itself. It's of note that what many consider to be his masterpiece, "Tokyo Story" was Rated #1 in the director's poll and #3 in the critics' poll in the British Film Institute's Greatest Films of All Time feature of 2012. Ozu's stature among directors and lovers of world cinema further reinforced by pieces like Dave Thompson's Best Arthouse Films of All-Time column, Peter Bradshaw's "The Quiet Master" and Ian Buruma's "Yasujiro Ozu: An Artist of the Unhurried World", for The Guardian. Further reading can be found in David Bordwell's essay for Criterion, "Tokyo Story: Compassionate Detachment" and The Guardian's reviews of his final films, all going some way to describe why Ozu's quiet, poetic and personal reflections on Japanese society are regarded as legendary within the canon of world cinema. Another essential element of the filmography explored in Bradshaw's feature on Ozu's longtime lead and on-screen avatar, "The Heart-Wrenching Performance of Setsuko Hara, Ozu's Quiet Muse". On the subject of the western reception of Ozu, and Japanese film in general, the genesis of recognition and appreciation can be largely traced the work of one man and the retrospective of five films curated by critic Donald Richie for the 1963 Berlin Film Festival. Predating this influential moment in film history, Richie was a champion of all things Japanese cinema, as a post-War Japanese citizen, journalist and critic, author of "Ozu: His Life and Films" and reviews like that which he did for Ozu's "Floating Weeds" upon it's release in 1959. Over the decades following there were other high profile culture figures attuned to Ozu's quietly stirring dramas, no surprise then to find Roger Ebert among them, and arthouse institutions who had embraced his work, like those depicted in Richard Combs "The Poetics of Resistance" for Film Comment. No shortage of contemporary analysis, appreciation and criticism on Ozu's filmography exists in the digital age, with a small selection of highlights represented by Senses of Cinema's Great Directors feature on Ozu and the abundance of essays and releases offered on the Criterion Collection.