Saturday, November 23, 2019

to magnetize money and catch a roving eye

Mysteriously around 1994 I obtained the Jim O'Rourke double CD Disengage, which includes Mere and the perfectly titled A Young Person's Guide To Drowning. At that time this listener was 19 years old, new to experimental music, and putting more effort into listening than formulating the words to describe what I was listening to. I remember a random chap on the train in Boston asking me what I was listening to, me with my headphones and portable CD player spinning Disengage, coming home late at night in a cold miserable Boston evening. I said Jim O'Rourke's Young Person's Guide to Drowning and got a pretty strange look in return. "What kind of music is that?" he asked and I really had no idea how to answer. I remember saying "it could be described as a music of quiet noise", to which he replied "aren't those two two things contradictory"?  I had to think a second and agreed that possibly those words didn't belong together but in a way it was a perfect description of what I was hearing. That year was really opened up sonically by hearing Giacinto Scelsi, Aube, Merzbow, Caspar Brötzmann, The Ruins, Gastr del Sol, and Keiji Haino, many of which randomly my dorm neighbor lent me, an interesting ex-military art student who dressed like he just got back from the Gulf War. The fellow had great taste and all his CDs smelled strongly of wood, later I figured out from the storage shelf he had. Very strong memories for a now approaching middle aged listener.

Jim O'Rourke later entered my listening world when I got hooked on Andrew Chalk and Christoph Heemann's work together as Mirror, where he contributed here and there. I had not noticed in the years between that he was basically in every issue of The Wire magazine and was as close to a pop star as one could get in the experimental music scene.

And in 2019 we find Mr. O'Rourke at a creative peak with a new 4 CD set released by the French label Sonoris which over the years has issued out great release after great release including box sets of Kevin Drumm and steve roden.

The first disc in the set is perhaps one of the best things I have heard from Mr. O'Rourke. Beautifully abstracted music consisting of slowly shifting and resonating sounds which are extremely dark in nature, and offer an overwhelming feeling that can be described as being similar to the music and ambiance of a Tarkovsky film. The listener perceiving the disc is immersed in a world not unlike the driving section through Tokyo from Tarkovsky's Solaris (where I believe Mr. O'Rourke lives), or the hand motivated train in Stalker traversing the explorers into The Zone. Sound worlds crafted by Tarkovsky, Bach and Eduard Artemiev - filtered, stretched, remembered and unremembered by a truly original artist. "Unremembered" in a way where the artist's own mind manipulates sounds from his/her past onto tape with fragments that are unconsciously inspirited by what one has absorbed over the years, where transformations have been made partially by the mechanics of ones own brain, an alembic filter of experience and influence. One finds oneself within this slowly drifting world where melodies that would take a second to experience are shifted into many minutes, disrupted by extremes of sound like clamors and glitches, or scratches and blatant melodies. So perfectly moving throughout your headphones or the speakers within your physical space, shifting ones perception from here to there and back again. An ideal world the inspired listener finds oneself in, a place you would never leave if that where actually possible.

The disruptions are brilliantly heard again on disc two where the rain and drone of some darkly beautiful world are shredded into oblivion nine minutes in with a dragon-like feedback that slowly dissipates into a glowing atmosphere of place, taken over again by the rain that so soothed the listener minutes before. Later we find this field-recording-based beauty further shifted electronically like some Hafler Trio filtration devise turned not up to 11 but lower to 3 where subtleties overwhelm the foreground and situate ones mind in a labyrinthian place. Yet, memories of each section of the labyrinth are not clearly remembered and they trigger no words into ones consciousness, but dreams of emptiness are instead triggered, dreams that have no connection to a humdrum life but from perhaps another life or another dimension.

Disc three begins with a noisy and almost Musique concrète obliteration of bird calls where slowly emerges a transcendental melody as mysterious and sublime as a winter light, which encourages the birds to make their presence more plain and a period of bliss is achieved. This shifts to distorted dragging-like sounds accompanied by a heavy bass Dantean movement of ground, with almost imperceptible bird screams disoriented again by a heavy shifting ground. Towards the middle of the disc we find backwards layers further situating the listener in a perceived chaos and disorder. Later on  in the recording waves of sound powerful enough to elevate and drop a ship at sea move the listener away from the chaos into what can only be described as deep sea where the the dweller Leviathan finds himself peacefully sleeping for a stretch of time before being awoken by an ending of sonic nihilism, of a high pitched variety.

Listening to this new release, I am also re-reading one of my favorite HP Lovecraft stories from The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft by Leslie S. Klinger: The Music of Erich Zann from 1921. The story has always been a great way in lending a description of certain experiences that drone music can offer a listener:

I have examined maps of the city with the greatest care, yet have never again found the Rue d’Auseil.... I have delved deeply into all the antiquities of the place; and have personally explored every region, of whatever name, which could possibly answer to the street I knew as the Rue d’Auseil. But despite all I have done it remains an humiliating fact that I cannot find the house, the street, or even the locality, where, during the last months of my impoverished life as a student of metaphysics at the university, I heard the music of Erich Zann..... That my memory is broken, I do not wonder; for my health, physical and mental, was gravely disturbed throughout the period of my residence in the Rue d’Auseil..... But that I cannot find the place again is both singular and perplexing; for it was within a half-hour’s walk of the university and was distinguished by peculiarities which could hardly be forgotten by anyone who had been there. I have never met a person who has seen the Rue d’Auseil.

Attempting to locate oneself within the drone described by the author Jim O'Rourke can be (beautifully) pointless, as this place is alien and beyond ones understanding. Memories of this particular world of sound, from one second to the next, are like the obliteration occuring when water is poured over a watercolor drawing. Sharp lines become warped and blurred, ghostly melodic occurrences dominate and confuse us, and attempting to understand the music of Erich Zann seems often times futile. If even for a second vision appears clear, then feedback arrives and obfuscates beyond all measure.

plato's cave ninety seven (being a film journal)

Robert Eggers - The Lighthouse - 2019
Written by Max and Robert Eggers, dialogue inspired by Melville and lighthouse keeper's journals. Starring Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, and Valeriia Karaman. Black and white photography by Jarin Blaschke, also responsible for The Witch. Music by Mark Korven and sound design by Mariusz Glabinski. Striking film that wanders in and out of worlds related to Samuel Beckett, Stanley Kubrick (2001), Ligeti, Penderecki, Alvin Curran, Ingram Marshall (Fog Tropes), Sascha Schneider, Herman Melville, John Ford, and David Lynch..... The crazy distorted and overexposed screaming of Pattinson as he enters the light, was heavy early-Lynchian (The Grandmother, Eraserhead) with bits of Twin Peaks meets Curran's Maritime Rites. Superb. Watching Defoe go in and out of focus as he shouts about his under-appreciated lobster meal was one great joy to take in.  Astonishing how Eggers can make a popular film with ingredients that are so obscure to most of the viewing audience. Very nice film.

Errol Morris - The Thin Blue Line - 1988
One of the best documentaries ever made? Did this film give birth to the Making a Murderer or podcasts like Serial?

Victor Erice - The Spirit of the Beehive - 1973
Have seen this many times always on a monitor. Projecting it really emphasized the color pallet as a character in the film. This and The Quince Tree Sun (Dream of Light) are my favorite two Spanish language films, I wish there was a Criterion Blu-ray of Dream of Light.

Amy Holden Jones - Mystic Pizza - 1988
Sat next to Lili Taylor in a Brooklyn restaurant after hearing her on Maron, pretty cool. Went home and watched this film with her as I had not seen it. Matt Damon's first film. CT pizza is really pretty spectacular.

Lulu Wang - The Farewell - 2019
Didn't find this film captivating.

Alex Ross Perry - Her Smell - 2018
Reminded me very much of Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch Drunk Love, the way that sound (avant'garde in nature) is used as a constant mood instigator or a mood-fucker to use proper film talk. Elisabeth Moss is heavy in this film, she can transform easily from one character to another. Ultimately had trouble with the film though, felt too heavy handed most of the time but worth watching for the most part.

Penny Lane - Hail Satan? - 2019
My wife came up with a big list of films from this year we had not seen so we are going through as many as we can. Interesting subject matter here for this viewer. I read Anton Lavey's holy bible when I was a kid and thought it was fascist nonsense. I understand these Satanic Temple cats distance themselves from his Social Darwinism. The head of the order Lucien Greaves is quite striking and could easily be a movie character.

Bong Joon Ho - Parasite - 2019
Memories of Murder is perhaps my favorite Korean film, just spectacular. I quite liked Mother, but not to the same level. Parasite, in terms of seeing the film once, is equally as impressive as Memories of a Murder, and one can see why Bong Joon Ho won the Palme d'or. So far, Parasite and The Irishman are this blog's list of Best films of 2019, it would be hard to choose one over the other, and I can imagine re-watching over and over both of these films. For Parasite, what one notices initially is the complete originality of the film. It is difficult to think of another similar film or other influences besides just what comes out of Bong Joon Ho's own deviant mind. I made sure to not read up on this film before seeing, so I basically knew nothing about it except that there was a Loachian commentary on class inequalities. So the ending of the film was like a kick in the face, and completely overwhelming. I think the most memorable part of the film was when Geun-se (the crazy fuck with the bloody face) ascends the stairs from the basement, grabs a knife and wreaks havoc into the backyard. His last words of "Respect" (which he also mutters earlier in the film) completely overwhelmed this viewer, the extreme gravity that comes from this actor's face and voice, was almost unlike anything I have seen in a film. There are many lower depths to this character, from fleeing loan sharks and death, to confusing the viewer as to whether he has his proper wits about him (is he in fact a half wit)? The director of photography Kyung-pyo Hong also did Burning, The Wailing, and Mother. Really stunning look to this film. The above still of throwing water on a urinating man was so bloody beautiful. How the hell did they make that shot work so well?

Christian Petzold - Transit - 2018
Perhaps I shouldn't have put this as I didn't finish, I loved the actors and the feel of the film but couldn't get into the story and turned it off.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

plato's cave ninety six (being a film journal)

Joel Coen & Ethan Coen - Fargo - 1996
Pancake's House.

Kelly Reichardt - River of Grass - 1994

Alan J. Pakula - Klute - 1971

Elliot Geisinger - Klute in New York - 1971

Roger Vadim - Barbarella - 1968

Steven Soderbergh - The Laundromat - 2019

Jan Troell - The New Land - 1972
The sound design of this film almost could feels like it could have been done by Henning Christiansen.

Martin McDonagh - Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - 2017

Terrence Malick - The Tree of Life - 2011

Jan Troell - The Emigrants - 1971
Embarrassed it took me so long to finally see these 2 films. Have had them on my best films ever made list for so long without actually seeing them. I knew they would be great though.

10.28.2019 - 11.9.2019
Vince Gilligan - Breaking Bad season two - 2009
First few episodes.

Carlton Cuse, Graham Roland - Jack Ryan season two - 2019

James Bridges - The China Syndrome - 1979
Once a year kind of film.

David Michôd - The King - 2019

Jennifer Kent - The Nightingale - 2018
A fantastic film.

Steven Soderbergh - Magic Mike - 2012

John Schlesinger - Sunday Bloody Sunday - 1971

Jonathan Lynn - My Cousin Vinny - 1992
Rewatching this getting in the Joe Pesci mode for The Irishman.

Jean-Marc Vallée - Wild - 2014

Kelly Reichardt - Old Joy - 2006

Hiroshi Teshigahara - Woman in the Dunes - 1964
Once a year type film which I can now do as I purchased the blu-ray. Perfect score by Tôru Takemitsu, and some really unique and sublime macro photography by Hiroshi Segawa.

Ken Russell - The Devils - 1971
One great film, had only seen bad VHS copy beforehand, so powerful when projected and just full of bizarre business, not unlike other 70s surrealistic films but with the kitsch level dialed way down.

David Lynch - Blue Velvet - 1986

Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Jon Nguyen - David Lynch: The Art Life - 2016

Peter Greenaway - Windows - 1975, Water Wrackets - 1975, Vertical Features Remake - 1978, Intervals - 1969
Various films on Criterion. Never got into Greenaway but gave these a go nonetheless.

Martin Rosen - The Plague Dogs - 1982
Richard Adams story.

Carlos Reygadas - Silent Light - 2007
One of the most handsome opening shots perhaps in recent years, a 4.5 minute shot of a landscape via a slowly moving camera somewhere in the transition of night and sunrise (perhaps doctored with the camera). Somehow even on a second screening the rest of the film doesn't excite in the same way but there are many great shots throughout. Kind of reminds me of Ordet somehow, fantastic cinematography by Alexis Zabe (Florida Project, Post Tenebras Lux).

Ingmar Bergman - Shame - 1968

Bong Joon-ho - Okja - 2017
Cute pig and kid relationship.

Jee-woon Kim - A Bittersweet Life - 2005
Beautiful film with one of the most intense urban action sequences I can remember, a white knuckle ride that happens about halfway through the film and then continues again in the end. Superb film.

Elia Kazan - A Face in the Crowd - 1957

Martin Scorsese - The Irishman - 2019
After reading Mr. Scorsese's New York Times essay dismissing super hero films I was really hoping his new film would overpower those films into oblivion and reinforce the idea that there is a distinct difference between films made for children or man-childs and those for adults. His new work surely did succeed there; it is a brilliant, mature, deep and highly entertaining film with so many layers it invites multiple viewings.  His best film since Goodfellas and it was really nice to see so many references to that film (the babysitter from the end showing up as Hoffa's wife for one), and references to shows like The Sopranos (Steven Van Zandt as the crooner). Such a classically told film, but mixed with a sort of cutting edge bite like the deaths of each minor character announced in bold text over each character's introduction. I got nervous when Pacino showed up that he would hoo-ha and do other bits of non-acting (like in his Salome) but he really just was great here, funny, depressing, subtle when he needed to be, and vulnerable. De Niro was beautiful throughout, especially when entering old age and later approaching death, but more than anything I was overwhelmed with Joe Pesci, perhaps one of my favorite actors. His elderly bread eating with wine was extremely moving and more so was his stealthy movements through the frame, or his face static with just so intense a look one would run in horror if in his presence. Something as simple as offering cereal to De Niro before his unspeakable deed had so much weight. Also, the score by Robbie Robertson was just brilliant, and I loved the end credits sound montage. There was a fear for this viewer that the structure of Goodfellas which was later exemplified in Casino, a structure that has much to do with the use of music, would be further seen here, but instead the film had a really fresh quality to it much to do with Robertson's music, but mostly just a clear indication that the director and editor (Thelma Schoonmaker) are true artist that are constantly changing and advancing. Also the dp Rodrigo Prieto shot one beautiful film, his previous cinematography includes Argo, Babel, Silence, Brokeback Mountain, and Amores Perros. Last thing is - I was glad to see many other heavy filmmakers come to Scorsese's defense when he questioned the qualities of Super Hero films. Their overwhelming presence in the dialogue of contemporary film enthusiasts (if they in fact are enthusiastic?) has resulted basically in someone like myself completely not wanting to talk about film with anyone outside my close circle of friends. It is about time someone with influence came along and made the point that these films that are really nothing more than the results of popcorn salesmen having wet-dreams. Wet-dreams that come from watching bad Disney films, and completely lack imagination and grit. Being inside the mind of a man-child is in these days ubiquitous, from looking at the internet, to going to work and especially interacting with the bloody smart phone. But you really ask yourself when seeing or hearing about these films; can one not even go to the cinema without being completely overwhelmed by this monoculture? The Irishman is coming from a total non-monoculture place and one really hopes it sways our contemporary culture into a more rich and mature frame of mind.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

opus mors (the act of hearing with one’s own ears)

OPUS MORS by Jacob Kirkegaard caught my attention initially because of the relationship to Stan Brakhage's 1971 film The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, a relationship I formed in my mind when I saw the postmortem concept of the work, but was later confirmed by Mr. Kirkegaard in a letter in terms of being an influence. It should be said that having followed Mr. Kirkegaard's work since his 2002 collaboration Soaked with Philip Jeck, everything by him warrants the utmost attention, especially if presented with such beyond lovely packaging, but the Brakhage relationship gave OPUS MORS a strong flash on my radar, and better than that initial interest, the release gave complete and utter satisfaction upon listening which is becoming more rare for this listener these days.

I first came across the Brakhage film my second year of film school, and my first exposure to his work. The influential filmmaker and teacher Saul Levine showing it warned of the content and perhaps this 19 year old kid was a bit nervous of a 32 minute film of cadavers being dissected? Yet not long after the film began a new way of seeing was initiated, and in a way a new method of interacting with not only art, but also with the world in a way that is not unlike the experiences of the great ascetics like St. Francis (this I should say is coming from a non-religious person). Looking back, part of the initial draw of Brakhage's film (one needs something initially to grab onto) was the deeply rich colors of Brakhage's photography, like a muted vividness with reds the like I had never seen (shown on a 16mm print).

Brakhage's work was initially also a bit tough for a youngster because of the lack of sound. The idea of watching film without sound was something that was "unheard" of for a neophyte like myself.  Today it is quite normal to see the opposite in the avant'garde film tradition in what could be described as music videos for sound artists where music is there to accompany pretty pictures or the pretty pictures are there to accompany pretty music. The rawness and almost asceticism of works like The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes is more of where this listener is coming from when engaging with a work like OPUS MORS. Through this exposure to asceticism, the viewer (with patience) finds themselves after a time (perhaps the unease and boredom needs a minute or two to dissipate) to be completely in a environment outside of their mind, full of lushness and perhaps slowly navigating toward a state of emptiness? Black walls lacking articulation slowly reveal complex details that are beautiful and in a way incomprehensible, not unlike Plato's Cave. And then as slowly as a subtle light reveals this magic, blackness beyond black again takes over one's vision and the memory of details reverberates through your consciousness.

Jacob Kirkeegard's OPUS MORS is very much in tune with works, often long form, that hover someplace between deep asceticism and unknown pleasures. The second LP as an example is basically field-recordings of "a full autopsy starting with opening the corpse, following the removal and slicing and cutting open all the organs and brain, to finally returning all the organs, closing and washing the corpse". There is a concentration on this disc, in Kirkegaard's words, on the "timbre" of the body. Much like Brakhage's film, with only the ears here at work (instead of the eyes) we are slowly taken from a state that is potentially quite uncomfortable as a spectator, to a meditation-like place where the subtle tone-color projecting from the LP via the speakers has almost psychedelic like qualities, strangeness in a way that relates so strongly to first hearing kosmische music or the painted light of a Brakhage film. The acoustics of the autopsy room commingling with the acoustics of my spacious living room was magical and mysterious, having a conversation that is in a way quite over my head but nice to bear witness to. The sound of my dog chewing a bone as Kirkegaard concentrates his microphone on the cleaning of the body by the medical examiner/pathologist had a very nice Cagean quality, but also intriguing as my pup Leviathan generally is uncomfortable with music I listen to but here he found himself in total peace with the sounds emanating from the speakers.

One reason in often returning to a work of art over the years (repeat listens or viewings) is upon initial exposure, the structure of the work is somewhat unclear, but the importance of its meaning is felt at some unconscious level. Over the years of interacting with works that fit this description, one finds the initial mystery of the structure to be just as beautiful as the structure that emerges or sometimes does not emerge, not unlike multiple readings of a Raymond Chandler novel with a somewhat nonsensical plot line. OPUS MORS enters your perception with about as an intense of a drone LP (I played it very loud) as one can experience. Mr. Kirkegaard explains the beginnings as "two ambient recordings made inside two morgues listens within the slow and deep tones from the facilities that keep the corpses cold." This sounds like a description of a space listening to a space, or sound worlds within sound worlds within sound worlds, not unlike his 2006 recording 4 Rooms recorded in deserted rooms inside the 'Zone of Alienation' of Chernobyl. Honestly with the number of drone recordings one can listen to in 2019, it is hard to really find a recording that speaks so clearly. It is like the experience of someone hard of hearing suddenly being able to clearly hear details. LP 1 OPUS MORTURARIUM we get into this highly articulated world of droning sounds with in sounds within sounds within sounds, where sound that can almost be described as minimalistic mud, becomes like a bathing light that gives warmth to one's experience as a listener, similar to sound healing work done by a skillful shamanic practitioner who can with such ease entice your mind into journeying to a place so clearly outside of itself with what seems like simple or even non-existent techniques.

This sound healing effect is also strongly present in disc 3 OPUS CREMATIO where mechanical drones vibrate so powerfully in my listening space that time is something no longer until it is disrupted by a quick transition to shoveling and static. Side B situates the listener in a wavering back and forth place somewhere between pulsing static and a warm drone where a nonphysical sense of emptiness and lack of presence is so beautifully perceived.

Concluding this deeply thought out and composed structure of the four LPs we find the last LP OPUS PUTESCO made up of of two tracks - decomposition internal & decomposition external, recorded at a forensic study facility with measurement microphones placed above decomposing corpses, and vibration sensors placed within the corpses. Rain and flies merge with what could be described as sounds never experienced. The listening pleasures that come from the level of artistry and skill of this LP is like a bit of cake that comes after a perfect meal. Not unlike the master field recorders and composers Yannick Dauby and Chris Watson, the construction of this final LP is like imagining a conductor guiding a large orchestra through a blissful score where the violins are flies, the percussion drops of rain, and the bass is decomposition. The lushness of the sounds discovered by Mr. Kirkegaard really boggles the mind here, like being temporarily in the mind of someone who truly hears and sees the world in a way that you know you are not capable of.

Here we are in Mid November and this release is clearly the best of 2019 for this listener. This site is really not about music/sound reviews, but here are some words that attempt to convey the feelings and emotions that Mr. Kirkegaard's set fires up within me, and why it will be amongst my favorites in the years to follow and constantly spinning and spinning on the player and traversing the walls of my memory.

*blog title suggestion in a letter by Jacob Kirkegaard