I was completely transfixed by Best of Luck With the Wall, a recent offering from Field of Vision. Technically impressive and buoyed by a sharp original score, the only words you'll find in the film are in the title; the rest is a sweeping visual assertion unlike anything I've seen this whole election season.
What would it mean to try to “see” the entire southwest border at once? To travel the whole 1,954 miles in, say, six minutes?
This year I only saw one good horror film, The Witch. Super eerie and a wonderful exploration of what our very own fears can engender. I love how much sound design and music contribute to the tension in this one. I also dig how the W in 'Witch' is spelled with two Vs on the poster, etc. For the 2nd film I go back to 2013's Under the Skin. Much weirder and darker and took a while to shake off (as the title warned). Mica Levi's standout score for the film is unlike anything I've heard before. It brings us closer to this alien life form in a way no other language could.
I would love to experience an outdoor performance of a John Luther Adams composition. I discovered his music thanks to this inaugural episode of Meet the Composer, an excellent podcast hosted by world-class musician/interpreter Nadia Sirota. The episode deftly reconstructs Adams' soul-search as a composer. I love the shift that occurs when we get to Alaska:
Every episode of Meet the Composer is worth a listen. I admire how it plunges into the world of contemporary avant-garde music in a way that retains less initiated ears like mine. *Fun fact: Sirota played the viola on Edo Van Breemen's original score for Fractured Land .
I caught my second Chairlift show a few months back at the Biltmore Cabaret. Everything about this band is top-notch: their weird wonderful range of sounds, masterful arrangements conducive to dancing or kicking back, clever lyrics, wildly original music videos and lead singer Caroline Polachek's outstanding voice. After the show I had a chance to briefly chat with Polachek about one of my favorite music videos of all time, from their first record:
That hypnotizing glitch effect is a technique called datamoshing, which I'm sure will be of special interest to any codec nerds out there. Here's a great website about it, including how-tos. Curious what else could be done with this. I sense a lot of potential, e.g. used as device within feature films. Apparently the team behind the video was racing to release it before their peers, who were using the same technique for Kanye West. Yeezy's video came out second. Still excellent:
Robert Schumann's Piano Concerto in A Minor (1846) and Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor (1868) are often compared. Grieg apparently saw a performance of Shumann's piano concerto in 1858. Conscious influence or not, I enjoy (plausible) examples of cross-polination before the internet.
I love that there is nothing flashy going on here, stylistically speaking. The simple scenes that revolve around the piano suffice to fly.
When a public luminary leaves us suddenly, it hits hard because they never withdrew from their vital role in present-day humanity. Today I thank: David Bowie, Oliver Sacks and Karen Schmeer. Their stars will never dim.
Bliss in an art gallery goes something like this: scores of gregarious zebra finches free in a room full of rock instruments. It's called 'from here to ear v19' and it's a captivating installation/live show by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot. What I found most surprising was the level of activity in the room, not coming from us transfixed human spectators but from the birds themselves: hopping on guitar strings, feeding, singing, attempting to build a nest on a guitar, snoozing in the sand... the whole had an air of purposefulness and order far from the disarray I had expected to find. Here's a great article in Slate that clarified some questions I had. It even goes into how birds of the same species can develop different dialects based on environment, something I've always wondered about since observing urban chickens and wondering if they would develop different calls to cope with the loudness of the city.
I was lucky to catch Jennifer Castle performing at the Hemlock Tavern this past September. I've been meaning to write a post about her because she is one of my favorite singer-songwriters working/touring today. Stuart Berman at Pitchfork says it better than I can:
Jennifer Castle is an enigma hiding in plain sight. On the surface, she’s a Canadian singer/songwriter like so many others, often performing with just a guitar and a stool, singing songs that conjure bygone country, folk, and blues traditions and that are lyrically steeped in richly detailed agrarian scenery and the travails of being a working mom. But Castle’s music is not so much of the earth as floating above it, untethered to the natural order of time and space and often eschewing typical verse/chorus/verse structure to roam according to its own wandering spirit. As Lou Reed famously sang, “between thought and expression lies a lifetime,” and that’s where Jennifer Castle’s songs live—that grey area where observation mutates into rumination, and where the physical world dissolves into psychic terrain.
Alone on the tiny backroom stage with her semi-acoustic guitar, she plunged us into the vibrant world I had previously encountered through her recordings. I highly recommend any of her LPs. Her latest, Pink City, is one of those records I keep going back to on cold nights with warm lighting. Here is a song (and video) from that record:
this is my favorite Ideas episode. Fascinating approach to history. With this in mind what does today's music forecast? See link for a listen:
It's often been said that WW1 created who we are today: geopolitically and culturally. Robert Harris explains how music -- classical and popular -- both prefigured and reflected the war in the years leading up to the unprecedented destruction and after.
brilliant documentary, impressive editing. Great conversation piece. So much to think about and feel. Heartbreaking and haunting but ultimately uplifting because creativity/ imagination / love win in the end. Most importantly there's a joyous dance scene to Baltimora's Tarzan Boy.
Just got a flashback of this understated documentary I caught back in 2012. It's about 80-year-old Sayyed el-Dawwy, the last living interpreter of the Sira, the most significant Arabian epic poem. He knows all its 5 million verses by heart and performs it around Egypt like a rockstar. The shows he puts on are dazzling to my foreign ears. I wonder if he will succeed in passing on the tradition to his grandson and what it will sound like coming from a generation more influenced by Pop music and soap operas. Sequel please!
Sparse highlights from the great spinning sphere of publication.