Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Demdike Stare's album "Wonderland" & US Tour: May 5 - 12

For most, Sean Canty and Miles Whittaker were first encountered in the context of the Modern Love label's string of hailed releases surrounding Andy Stott's breakthrough "We Stay Together" of 2011. This prolific period for the electronic producer in interviews for FACT Mag, "Tearing Up the Rulebook: Making Mistakes is the Most Exciting Thing You Can Do" and "Andy Stott: Lost and Found" for Resident Advisor. Stott's previous full length, "Luxury Problems" making The Wire's 2012 Rewind and the essential British magazine hosting a significant interview with him that same year. The critical turbulence created by Stott in the wake of his string of albums for Modern Love woke audiences to  Demdike Stare's dual-pronged refashioning of dance music into a corporeal/cerebral body-impacting experience of noise and rhythm, unlike most anything heard in the genre. In rapid succession the following year saw both outfits appearances in Decibel Festival with Canty and Whittaker exhibiting their multifaceted nature in both club and theater contexts. Particularly the case in deep exploration of the duo's passion for all things Italian Giallo and French Fantastique in their live score to Jean Rollin's surrealist erotic-horror classic "La Vampire Neu". Their love of underground and cult cinema saw further expression that year in the British Film Institute's season of Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film with a live score to accompany Benjamin Christensen's 1922, "Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages". Returning again, some 16 months later in a second label showcase with the duo, this visit to North America showcased the totality of the brobdingnagian influences on display in their body of work.

The Wire's cover feature on the duo dug deep into the what The Quietus called, "An Unholy Matrimony: In Interview with Demdike Stare", probably best epitomized by their collected "Elemental" series of 2012. Absorbing influences equally from mid-Century Modernism, Concrete and late 1970s and 80s Industrial, alongside two decades of British underground Techno, Bass and Garage music, the following "Test Pressing" 12" series showcased some of the densest subterranean atmospheres being generated in contemporary dance music. These contrasting poles are explored more explicitly, with their dance music signifiers more boldly displayed in their collaborative Millie & Andrea project via distended takes on UK Bass music and Jungle. A circumnavigation of the pigeonholing that the duo began to find themselves in, the series successfully recalibrated their listenership for the next move in, "How Demdike Stare Traded Darkness for Dancefloor Naivety on Wonderland". Backtracking from a knowingly self aware sound steeped in 1990s UK Bass, the new work follows a different trajectory around the fringes of the dancefloor. The result was a propulsive, rhythmic album that listens as a refined and precision-honed assembly of fractured and angular concrete sounds bent and refashioned to workmanlike utility. Embracing the dualistic facets of Demdike's delectus, "Wonderland" is of two minds, a frisson-charged electronic dance music album with peripheral vantages into its inner, brooding persona. Much in the way of the shared night with Andy Stott at the Crocodile of this past summer, Canty and Whittaker will be returning on tour with a date at Kremwerk next month to deliver some of the most assured, darkly rich post-techno heard this side of the millennial cusp.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Jóhann Jóhannsson with American Contemporary Music Ensemble West Coast Tour: Apr 17 - Apr 20 | Reykjavík Festival at The Los Angeles Philharmonic: Apr 1 - Jun 4

This month the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Reykjavík Festival initiates Jóhann Jóhannsson's return to the west coast with a series of dates alongside the American Contemporary Music Ensemble. Following on his appearance in the two month festival dedicated to the contemporary sounds of Iceland the electro-acoustic composer and chamber symphony will have two nights at the Regency Ballroom and Seattle's Benaroya Hall. This will be the first return of the Icelandic composer since his notable Decibel Festival hosted performance of 2010 at the Triple Door, wherein he performed selections from his "In the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees". As a student of formal music training from age eleven, Jóhann Jóhannsson studied piano and trombone in his native Reykjavík. He abandoned traditional musical training while at high school, frustrated by the constraints imposed on music as an academic subject. Pursuing literature and language at the university, he spent a decade exploring nontraditional music writing with fledgling underground rock bands. These took the form of composed feedback-drenched pieces for electric guitar and ambient layered soundscapes. The years of exploration led to working with digital processing and the manipulation of the resonances of acoustic and electric instruments into striking electronic sound fields. His first recordings to be born of this process appeared on John Wozencroft's influential Touch label in 2002 with the release of "Englabörn". This was soon followed by the critically hailed "Virðulegu Forsetar" scored for brass ensemble, massed electronic drone and percussion in 2004.

The content of these first recordings reveal influences spanning such diverse points of origin as Henry Purcell, the "ambient furnishings" of Erik Satie, Bernard Herrmann's charged cinematic scores, Iannis Xenakis' visceral tape and computer music and the New York outsider artist Moondog. Folded into their form was an electronic vocabulary that equally referenced the early explorations of IRCAM, as well as the millennial digital music issued at the time by labels such as Mille Plateaux and Mego. Orchestral and soundtrack albums were to follow, including a 2010 collaboration with American experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison on "The Miner's Hymns". This lyrical and reflective response to Britain’s lost industrial past, and it's accompanying soundtrack, was conceived as a live audiovisual event which saw both UK and New York performances. Scores for cinema, film and theater continue to occupy a larger part of the composer's recent body of work. Particularly the string of award winning collaborations soundtracking the work of French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. The most recent of these released through the historic Deutsche Grammofon label. Including 2016's "Orphée" and Jóhannsson's lending of further sensory tangibility to the dazzling science fiction relativistic, linguistic mystery of "Arrival". Collider's interview on the film and his forthcoming collaboration with the director while "Preparing to Score ‘Blade Runner 2049'" detail his work utilizing the exquisite intonations of Theater of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier. Beyond the soundtrack, the commodious auditory environment of it's two hour duration also featuring excerpts from Max Richter's 2004 electro-acoustic album, "The Blue Notebooks", alongside the exceptional audio design work of film's sound department under Claude La Haye and Bernard Gariépy Strobl. The Quietus discusses "A Kind Of Visceral Quality: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Favourite Records", which like the score, epitomize a philosophy of minimal gestures with maximum impact, illustrated further in interview for FACT Mag's, "Jóhann Jóhannsson on 'Orphée' and His Biggest Challenge Yet".

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Makoto Shinkai's new film "Your Name" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 7 - 20 | Anime Movie Festival at Seattle Cinerama: Apr 25 - May 3

Nearly two decades have elapsed since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led this wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike, are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. As recently as the past two years, a new generation of filmmakers from Japan are starting to make themselves heard. This year saw the release of Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”, and the rising indie animation figure, Makoto Shinkai obliterating the box-office competition with “Your Name". The movie going on to become the second largest grossing film in all of domestic Japanese cinema and internationally, the highest grossing anime ever released. All the while it's young director doubling over in humility in the face of its global success. North American audiences have had to wait the longest of its prospective markets, with the domestic distributor Funimation rolling out the film this month to theaters across the country. While the general construct (two teens exchange genders in their dreams and fall into one another's bodies in their waking lives), might lend itself to juvenile humor and ships passing-in-the-night cliches, over the course of the film's third chapter, this megahit animation discloses the true scale of its outsized ambition. In symmetry, the dramatic scope and sweep of its dazzling images escalates accordingly. The overriding concerns of "Your Name" are revealed to be a weighty mix of youthful pondering of mortality, the passing of time, irrevocable change and lastly, a stunning, apocalyptic awe. As Rich Motoko observes in his, "The Anime Master of Missed Connections Makes Strong Contact in Japan", although hit status is new for Makoto Shinkai, the structural construct and dominant themes of his newest film are not.

Since his first feature length film, "Voices of a Distant Star", (which Motoko points out was created exclusively by the director, with the assistance of friends on a personal computer), Shinkai has explored the loss of connection between adolescents of both the present and future. Digital communiques disappear, calls don't go through, characters narrowly miss meeting on trains, timelines, hopes and plans made, fail to materialize. “Shinkai is a master at depicting and investigating the distance between people,” Jonathan Clements, the author of “Anime: A History” writes. He added, “He excels at allegorizing the way that human beings are separated by gulfs of yearning.” It is into exactly this expanse that Shinkai has projected his mix of modernity and tradition, one that to western minds, expresses itself in a quintessentially Japanese fashion. Kumihimo, the folk art of braiding colored silk is put to elegant service to depict the flow of time itself. A metaphor of the "gathering of threads" that came to the director in his reading on Superstring theory. The film's initial chapters watch as a charming and gently comic playing with what it means for an adolescent boy and girl to trade bodies. Depicted through a light toying with gender, "Makoto Shinkai Takes Adolescent Identity Crises to Extremes". While this may be a device de riguer in much of teen-focused anime, as Manohla Dargis' review makes clear, Shinkai soon complicates the story in a succession of other ways. What at first seem like contextual details (a Shinto temple, a shattered comet filling the night's sky, the chronology which the film's two protagonists occupy), these elements gradually shift, with increasing volition, from background to foreground. Mirroring the reversal of perspective and tone, the meaning of these two intersecting lives deepens, as consequence exerts itself and irreparable change to their world advances. In the assertion of these forces within the film, Makoto Shinkai, Studio Ghibli veteran Masashi Ando, and character designer Masayoshi Tanaka, execute a towering, soaring, heartbreaking reversal quite unlike anything seen in all of anime.

Stepping up to fill the void left in the wake of Cinerama's now extinct(?) Sci-Fi Film Festival Paul Allen's state of the art theater with its Cinerama-Scope screen, Dolby Atmos sound and laser projection system, will host a 23 film overview of the last three decades of best that Japanese animation has to offer. Central to the Cinerama's Anime Movie Festival are the works of Takahata, Miyazaki, Tokuma, Suzuki and and the renowned animation house they founded, Studio Ghibli. While currently on a hiatus, involving a possibly permanent break from directorial efforts from Miyazaki, the British Film Institute addressed the legacy of this groundbreaking studio and it's visionary founders in their June 2014 Sight & Sound feature. Over the course of the issue's many-page sections, critics for the British Film Institute detail the studio's creation of a animation storytelling form of often astounding beauty and richness, their later global success, and the most recent news of their struggle to find a modern-day successor to the studio's iconic director, Hayao Miyazaki. Indicative of this impasse in 2015, "Studio Ghibli Announced a Break in Production", while they reassessed their current financial state, creative objectives and possible new directions for the studio. The Sight & Sound feature positing where the future of new non-commercial animation in Japan may arise, with Suzuki himself offering outspoken support for the Evangelion director and Khara maven, "Studio Ghibli Co-Founder Points to Hideaki Anno". With the global success of "Your Name", it's director has quickly ascended to the shortlist, with pieces like The Guardian's "Makoto Shinkai: Could the Anime Director be Cinema's New Miyazaki?" becoming increasingly common. Yet Ghibli are not inactive. While they have not issued directorial work of their own, the studio has offered financial production and technical assistance to two notable endeavors of last year. The first of them, Michael Dudok de Wit's ""Looking West for an ‘Eastern’ Approach" found in his award winning and dialog-less "The Red Turtle". The second, a more audacious endeavor, and first for the studio, "Ronia the Robber’s Daughter" has made for intrepid viewing in the currently climate of children's entertainment. Particularly so for its reliance on a more traditionally cinematic approach to editing, slower pacing and lack of merchandising tie-ins, "Studio Ghibli's first TV Show makes for a Wondrous World of Peril and Magic". While featured dominantly in the Cinerama's Anime Movie Festival lineup, the selections on offer are not limited to Studio Ghibli alone. As the eye to groundbreaking, high quality programming seen in the full schedule of 23 films over the course of the festival's two week duration attests.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"Now It's Dark: The Films of David Lynch" at SIFF Cinema: April 14 - May 14

Recent years have seen touring retrospectives of central figures from the late 20th Century in the New German Cinema movement "Wim Wenders: Portraits Along the Road", and the Taiwanese New Wave of the 1980s, with "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien". The landscape of American independent cinema of that decade would have an altogether different topography without the work of it's great sculptor of atmosphere, David Lynch. Referred to as "the greatest director of his era" by The Guardian's 2007 panel of critics, topping their 40 artists listed as having defined the last quarter century of cinema. His bold feature length entry of 1977 "Eraserhead" became one of the most influential midnight movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Playing in arthouse and independent cinemas late-night screenings alongside Jodorowsky's "El Topo", Water's "Pink Flamingos", Sharman's "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", and Romero's "Night of the Living Dead". More than a cult and underground phenomena, the film earned him the attention and funding of Mel Brooks and assistant director on "High Anxiety", Jonathan Sanger. Sanger became a champion of the young director, presenting him the working script adaptation from Sir Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu's  "The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences" and "The Elephant Man: A Study in Human Dignity". Distributed by Paramount and Universal worldwide, while independently funded, "The Elephant Man" would become Lynch's first studio feature film.

Working with an exceptional cast of professionals was also a first, the film's central characters of Joseph Merrick and Frederick Treves, portrayed by John Hurt and Anthony Hopkins respectively, remains among both of the actor's most notable roles on film. While Lynch sourced Peter Ivers for the soundtrack for his first feature, and John Morris for his sophomore effort, the director's hands-on approach was already evident in the film's sound design and audible palette colored by it's pervasive atmosphere of ruin. Not limited to his boldly experimental freshman effort, this looming industrial underworld buried beneath the facade of everyday existence remains one of the reoccurring themes throughout the totality of his work. Time Out London spoke with the director on expressing this theme through the period setting of his second feature and personal scouting of the locations and shooting of key scenes in Liverpool Street Station and Butler’s Wharf in Southwark; "I always loved smokestack industry, and I love towns or cities that have grown up around factories. So here is Victorian England, and I don’t know this land, but I know factories, I know this is the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, so that side of it resonated with me. Then one day I’m standing in East London Hospital. A derelict hospital, but it still had beds in the wards. Thousands of pigeons, broken windows, but long, glorious hallways, fireplaces, all the details. I’m there in the hall looking into a ward and a wind entered me, and I was back in time. I knew it: 100 per cent. Victorian England. And I said: “Now I know it. No one can take it away from me.”

One of the stranger of all the twists in all the director's turns of fate was to come in the wake of "Elephant Man"'s critical success. The most popular film franchise of the 1980s helmed by George Lucas, had turned the spotlight on Lynch for him to direct the third installment in the Star Wars trilogy. He declined, citing Lucas' comprehensive vision of the fictional universe would allow for very little in the way of space to express his own. Soon after, another notable science fiction property would come the director's way in the form of Dino De Laurentiis licensing Frank Herbert's epic, "Dune", in the wake of it becoming available following the now legendary aborted project from Alejandro Jodorowsky. In a 1985 interview with the German periodical Tip Filmjahrbuch, Lynch details De Laurentiis' approaching him with the project and the source of his personal conceptualization of Herbert's universe; "This is how it happened: I went to Venice, just for an afternoon, to see the Piazza San Marco. Dino De Laurentiis bought me a book, which inspired all these things... A book about Venice. It inspired the idea, that in the world of "Dune" a Renaissance had taken place thousands of years ago, and this renaissance had been very powerful and far-reaching. And people built beautiful machines; they were so well-constructed, that they remained intact until now, the time, when the story begins. Of course this melange gives the humans certain mental abilities. But they need machines nonetheless, and these machines were built before discovering the "spice" Melange. This world is not a world of machines, but they are part of it." Final cut for "Dune" was in the hands of Universal Studios rather than its director, and the film remains a subject rarely broached by Lynch to this day.

As part of the contractual details of directing the film for De Laurentiis, Lynch was under obligation with the producer to direct two more films, the first of which was to be a planned sequel. In the wake of the film's poor box office and mixed critical reception this sequel was never developed beyond the stage of its initial script. The other was a more personal work. Developed from ideas that had been gestating as far back as 1973, and a screenplay that had been shopped around by the director since the late 1970s, De Laurentiis then became both its producer and distributor. Where other studios declined the screenplay due to its tarnished depiction of smalltown Amercan life, foreground presentation of violence, and strong sexual content, the Italian independent gave the director free reign within it's budgetary constrains and most importantly, power of final cut. This project would go on to be considered one of the most notable, and influential independent films of the 1980s. Not only a significant film within the independent cinema landscape of the decade, "Blue Velvet" earned David Lynch his first Academy Award nomination, and came to rank significantly within the BBC's 2015 global critical assessment of the 100 Greatest American Films ever made. Next month SIFF Cinema brings the restored print of this defining work in the Lynch canon along with six other features and the 2017 documentary on the artist's life as, "Now It's Dark: The Films of David Lynch". Running non-chronologically the month of April through May, the series begins with what the director endearingly refers to as his own personal "Philadelphia Story". A Philadelphia of perpetual gloaming ambiance, industrial ruin and decay. It's populace scratching out an existence through indecipherable patterns of domestic ritual in "Eraserhead"'s world of musically inclined radiators and innards-disgorging infants.

Lynch's intertwining of the lives of the historic figures of Joseph Merrick and Sir Frederick Treves, is to be screened in a rare print of "The Elephant Man" on 35mm. And the one birthing the other, his twinned projects for De Laurentiis, "Dune" and "Blue Velvet" will be presented in both new 4K digital restorations and on celluloid. The most recent in numerous documentaries on, "David Lynch: The Art Life" examines the artist's singular creative process through the lens of his multifaceted artistic endeavors. With beguiling charm, Lynch's personal (and psychological) philosophy are applied to the process of generating the paintings, sculptures, furniture design and music of this one-of-a-kind American original. SIFF's series concludes with the Los Angeles trilogy of films that have defined the director's recent work bridging the millennial cusp. Employing longer durations and expressly non-linear devices, this trio of works are as boldly experimental as they are traditionally cinematic. A film of halves, "Lost Highway" is a compelling, yet lopsided neo-Noir thriller from the late 1990's utilizing a split-persona structure which Lynch later refined to greater effect on his masterpiece, "Mulholland Drive". This second film stands as a pinnacle of all things that make the work of this American auteur great; an inscrutable mystery, a shifting and ambiguous tonal palette, high tension, visitations from nightmare worlds and subjective intersections between the beyond and the everyday mundane. As if in a dream, the protagonists of the increasingly unstable realitie(s) depicted in these contemporary noir find themselves enticed into realms of ominous portent on their journey to discovery.

Thom Anderson's once difficult to see licensing labyrinth, "Los Angeles Plays Itself" will remain the defining film on film in the City of Dreams. Yet there are few contenders in the way of dramas set within the glitz, grime and glamour of Hollywood that approach the body of Los Angeles as seen in the exploratory surgery of "Inland Empire". In a filmography of nonlinear, nestled, Borgesian structures and metaphysical dreamlike intrusions to the real, Lynch assembled his most expressly matryoshka vessel for "Inland Empire" in its amalgam of his own fictional cursed production and the mythic nature of some of Hollywood's greatest, lost and never-completed films. Lynch's film itself containing a contemporary variation on a Polish folktale in which a boy who, sparking a reflection after passing through a doorway, "caused evil to be born" by his doppelganger entering the world. In it's other facet it also tells of a girl who, wandering through an alleyway behind a marketplace, "discovers a palace". These two threads are woven into the production of the fictional film-within-the-film, titled "On High in Blue Tomorrows", which is revealed to be a remake of the folklore's original cursed vehicle, a German feature titled "47". The multifaceted, multilayered nature of the film as a film about film is possibly best encapsulated by Jim Emerson in his review for; "Inland Empire" presents itself as a Hollywood movie (and a movie about Hollywood) in the guise of an avant-garde mega-meta art movie. When people say "Inland Empire" is Lynch's "Sunset Boulevard", Lynch's "Persona" or Lynch's "8 1/2", they're quite right, but it also explicitly invokes connections to Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining", Jean-Luc Godard's "Pierrot le Fou", Bunuel and Dali's "Un Chien Andalou", Maya Deren's LA-experimental "Meshes of the Afternoon", and others."

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Wire's new album "Silver/Lead" & West Coast Tour: Mar 28 - Apr 8 | 40th Anniversary Celebrations at The Drill Los Angeles: Mar 30 - Apr 2

Genre spawning post-punk innovators, Wire return to the west coast after 2015's Us tour and 2013's The Drill: Seattle. The latter was then the first of their domestic recreations of the The Drill: London festival, with collaborative performances with regional artists which included Earth, Chastity Belt, and Helmet in their amassed Pink Flag Guitar Orchestra. Three days of music capped with a performance of the totality of 1991's, "The Drill". Following on The Drill: Seattle, the festival's next iteration was held as The Drill: Chicago featuring an extended lineup and collaborations with Tim Hecker, Ken Vandermark and Disappears. Drill Fest returns this weekend with the band's 40th Anniversary performances initiating the first of April's west coast dates beginning at The Drill: Los Angeles. Released in short succession following 2016's "Nocturnal Koreans", their 15th and newest album titled, "Silver/Lead" is both a stripped down representation of their core elements as well as an expansion on the sonic path pursued by their most recent iteration. A phase initiated with a new lineup and recordings in 2002 with the release of the "Read & Burn" series. This totality representing Wire's mission to innovate, warp, mutate and play with rock and pop music's parameters. Beginning four decades past, their occupying of the friction-filled space between pop accessibility, punk, and experimentation produced 1977's "Pink Flag" and 1978's "Chairs Missing". It was into this new as-yet named and genreless zone that they spun post-punk and experimental fusions, like that of 1979's "154" and such striking amalgamations of electronic and rock as heard on 1987's "The Ideal Copy". With later efforts capped by the the gorgeously lush orchestrations of "A Bell is a Cup" and the electronic hybrids of the "So and Slow It Grows" EP, with LFO and The Orb. Coming back around to the present day, Wire returned as a rocking trio who's first album proper was 2003's, "Send". All the while producing a substantial body of quality solo works spanning those same decades. Like that of Graham Lewis' mid-1980s venture into synthpop as He Said, and Bruce Gilbert's numerous soundtrack commissions such as the brilliant, "Music for Fruit". The same period also producing Colin Newman's formula-subverting solo forays into songwriting like those heard on the recently reissued "A - Z". As well as collaborative efforts between core Wire members, like the Dada inspired experimental pop-concrete of Dome. Their's is a legacy that's beyond quantification or easy summation in it's influence. It's safe to say there would be no opening of the floodgates of the math/post-rock revolution like we saw in the 1990's without the groundwork laid down the decade before by Newman, Lewis, Gilbert and Gotobed. Perhaps NPR's Barry Walters says it best; "If you hear the occasional imprint of subsequent musicians (My Bloody Valentine's layered buzz, Blur's quaint Britpop, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's monumental drones, Radiohead's electronic rock assemblies), that's because those are among the many bands this one birthed. The 99.9 percent might not yet know it, but it's a Wire world after all."