async (2017)

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Mego feel all over this. Something abrasive and indigestible about the electronics and timbres; difficult to let it fall into the background. (and the cover)

Solaris vibes from the organ on ‘andata’ (returned to on, er, ‘solari’) but thickening swirl of electronic fuzz and rippling synths creates a new sense of claustrophobia; a bit of Drøne’s Reversing Into The Future in there at the end. Gusty, like when a strong headwind pushes your breath back down your throat. (‘solari’ is dreamier, not far away from a Peter Strickland soundtrack)

Arrhythmic plunking on ‘disintegration’ – strange title for a track that slowly assembles itself with added instrumentation; sense therefore of construction through breaking away – metronomic percussion like slow work of a chisel. (this is a recurring trope [abstracted on ‘ZURE’] – all recalling Alva Noto’s Vrioon…) Half-life. Eerie inseparability of manual and electronic elements. Suggestibility of visuals (slow pursuit on foot) not surprising after RS’s great work on …The Revenant OST.

‘ZURE’ introduces a hint of noisy, processed field recordings which becomes lucid on the hypnotic ‘walker’, a highlight: steps on frosted grass, leaves, stones, puddles among drones, wolf call synths and gong hits. Brittle particularity of that Kim Myhr / Trondheim Jazz Orchestra / Jenny Hval album from last year. Builds on sense of algorithmic assembly (see raindrop cymbals on ‘tri’) to introduce stronger suggestions of unpredictability: how intentional in recording? Here and all over a the beauty is in the arrangement, the life and death or artificial animation of sounds colliding.

Abrupt tumbling synths on ‘stakra’, which glitches (Haunt Me) and floods without adding momentum. Return to manual arrangements on ‘ubi’ with a sonar pulse wandering between l and r channels, bouncing around persistently beautiful piano steps. Again juxtaposition of building tension and metronomic consistency, like monitoring a bodily pulse under flowing thought and feeling.

Then ‘fullmoon’ recording: “Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times…” Suggestions of decay and finitude begin to take shape after recalling RS’s recent survival of cancer. Drones return as different languages loop over each other; sense that they are saying the same thing confirmed by “finie de la vie … combien de fois…” Everyone everywhere is having the same experience, in the same situation, seemingly incomprehensibly separate but in fact identical. After the mood a has established these speeches wash past you not with the whiff of gimmick but an unsettling chill.

‘async’ blurts in with Greenwood polyrhythmic col legno and wooden string strikes. It’s a bracing rush but the incongruous sequencing feels a little too studied and chin-strokey here. Those Mego raindrop cymbals on ‘tri’ suddenly cut into a glitching light-show, like petrifying midi-fication. Weird poem (apparently David Sylvian reading Tarkovsky Sr.) on ‘Life, Life’, again universality; “and this I dreamt, and this I dream, and sometime this I will dream again…” “to one side of the world” “to wonder I dedicate myself on my knees like an orphan” “dreams, reality, death, on wave after wave.” Huge and particular images of pervasive beauty of humanity. (sincerity without pomposity) If everyone listened to this we could collectively forget Cloud Atlas.

‘honj’ far-eastern zither (guqin?) treated with echo and gentle rain. Dislocated eclecticism of that Olivier Alary record. Beautiful washes of ‘ff’, thin synths like a finger round a glass, respiratory flow of Soliloquy for Lilith.

a bottoms out into ‘garden’, echoes of the opening organs like the view of Kris from among the weeds underwater.

Constructive variety (asynchronous, perhaps) but tonal consistency; strange melancholy, persistence but fragility. Really the sort of album I’ve been waiting to hear, with some slightly less satisfying experiments and occasionally wobbly sequencing. A crisp and sobering experimental album.

8

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Casa de Lava (1994)

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Second time with PC after Horse Money.

Tensions of emigration and isolation: powerful opening with almost documentary (no voiceover) footage of eruptions joined by shrill strings; cut to women’s windworn faces, blank stares suggesting deeply-set condition. Then emigrant workers in Portugal joking and community, but sickness at the heart with Leão’s blank stare. (recognise Isaach De Bankolé from Casino Royale) Cape Verde’s Conradian outpost.

Hermeneutics of illness: L’s black body examined under Portuguese gazes, visual dissection. Once arrived Mariana throws herself into diagnostics, travelling from door to door like a Dickensian philanthropist; the locals don’t want to know. (CdL‘s most striking sequence is a series of closeups of front doors with overlapping wails from pained infants, a very deft switch to psychological insight into M’s blocked urges) Soon she is reading the letters of her patients. (Persona consistently for me) The CV hospital has seen whole crowds of abandoned lepers; (it sits eerily empty now) the local doctor says “no one wants to remember.” The children’s contraction of the diseases against which M has vaccinated them is bold and shocking, critical and unresolved.

M, who vocally refuses to “pity” her patients, armed with a altruistic but naïve interpretation but the narrative begins to fray (“He’s not my invention!” when no-one wants to know”) and the uncanny, Strickland mystery of the island (the pilots retreating to the running helicopter with vague promises of a return [seems almost parodic]; that empty hospital; the reticent hostility of the locals) (this after the caustic New Wave opening scenes) becomes complex, more open but just as opaque. Fairly central is the murder of L’s dog Blackie which causes tension and prompts allegations; weird connection with Mr Pip, after which I expected CdL to run in parallel but the dynamics become more complex for us too.

Presentation becomes observation; explanation of the present gives way to excavation of the past. “Not even the dead can’t rest here.” (Lowry!) L’s lover, Edith’s deceased political prisoner husband. “You’re starting a new life,” says M to L; “This land fooled me.” The nurse calling Edith to the music, recounting snippets of forgotten political rebellion, “youth on the march!” – cut to local kids sneaking out to abduct L. Perceptive violinist tells M “your heart speaks with sadness”; thought of Josephine Carter’s ‘The Ethics Of The Melancholic Witness’: Sebald “represent[s] melancholia as a condition that constitutes the witness’ traumatized subjectivity as first and foremost an ethical response to other people” – trauma as buried but speaking past (L the testifying body, plenty of speaking wounds [eg. Tano’s dog bite that betrays his murder of Blackie])

(The plot is enigmatic and resistant; this is perceptive analysis, particularly regarding the dynamics of charity around Edith. For me the CV community is a broken one, the regular parties like those in Damnation that seem ironically fatalistic. The island has been wounded and there has been a regular flow of people in and out, distorting the balances of community such that we have some uncomfortable and suggestive confrontations: frequent language gaps; the players serenading Edith but spurning her son; Edith in particular consoling a reluctant Tina / bullied by local and Portuguese women / beseeched at the end for a grant to emigrate. Failures of (re)integration played out through such images – L onstage at the dance forgotten how to play violin, handing back to his father. M’s idea is to simply right the wrong of L’s emigration, (symbolic of diasporas through slavery or colonialism) reflected also in her over-simplistic though feminist empathy for Tina’s isolation after her male relatives have shipped out to Portugal. (she warns them they will simply end up in hospital like L) The difficulty of resolution is metonymised through L’s reawakening and lack of gratitude for her effort / difficulty of reintegrating. At the end the focus shifts to the younger generation, which cuts through the complex and unresolved (unresolvable?) peripheral narratives to dramatise a clearer failure of M’s altruistic diagnosis.)

M is repeatedly drawn to the mountain, (whenever she goes she instantly seems to be miles from town, like repeated trips to the end of Teorema) shots of it towering over her and others, parallax shots on cars where the foreground streams by and it sits impassive behind. Flopping around on the slopes fixes Stromboli overtones; this reads as an interesting riposte to Bergman’s internalisation of her circumstantial problem into a Romantic kenosis (here the strings are many and intertwined, the narrative switching focus capriciously and indiscriminately, sketches growing and vanishing)

Beautifully shot and elegantly edited: those crying doors; blocking and depth during the first party as M integrates with the locals; L dark at night on volcanic soil whispering first words “My land” cut to E pale asleep on white bedsheets.

Horse Money was more confrontative, both of its subject and of its audience; CdL is similarly alienating but more textured and unfolding. Need to return to both but need also to do more.

8

Pygmalion (1995)

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Picked up a reissue copy from the market in Cambridge, having never made much of an effort to listen to S but having enjoyed the Hollis-esque change of direction on cursory listens to P.

Dusky cymbals, prominent bass, (so warm on vinyl) sparse post-rock progression and clear vocals from Neil Halstead (now based near me in Cornwall, apparently) do kick off with a Laughing Stock feel. Lyrics and reverb on the guitars do give ‘Rutti’ a more psychedelic tone though; breathing space of Jackie-O-Motherfucker’s sunbaked soundscapes. “Here’s to the light outside.” Patient and peaceful. (thinking of Durutti Column’s sparse cold beauty too)

‘Crazy for You’ sounds like a kodak run through a knee-high field. After ‘R’ skirting pretension we’ve come right down; ambiguity in the lyric, repetition also in the restless guitar line, like trying to capture a whole summer in a single moment in six minutes. Ebb and flow. Guitar line prolonged at the end like it can’t really last. ‘Miranda’s’ haunted loops like the same burnt out memories filtering through a feverish head. Rachel Goswell singing like Chelsea Wolfe, sampled vocals; ‘Trellisaze’ concrète arrangements, beating Radiohead to it by five years with the effects. (‘Rutti’ also “don’t bother me”) Concludes A-side’s slow inwards degradation; mental isolation, effects automatically generated. Confrontative, cold and without concession.

‘Cello’ most Eno, glowing embers. Cracks of daylight through fingers on ‘J’s Heaven’, downstream guitar wandering and voices from the bottom of a well, “isn’t life small”. ‘Visions of LA’ like a Hollis/Bunyan collab, Goswell’s fey, Nico singsong sketch of impossibility of empathy.

Back to the “light inside” before ‘Blue Skied an’ Clear’, which is perfect; reapplying all the drenching effects to the wistful space of ‘Rutti’ and the aching nostalgia of ‘Crazy For You’. Ethereal background operatic wailing. (pop like ‘Ya Hey’) “You say life and it sounds so good / You say love and it sounds so sweet.” All the occlusive thickening effects but blooming with that irresistible Galazie 500 openness.

Sinking back into ‘All of Us’, ‘Rutti’s’ acid-dyed Gillespie vocals. “He is all of us”. Cello disappearing.

Plumbing deep sadness at the heart of pop, 90s. Hypnotic but not at the expense of clarity; you can hear it being put together, which makes it hold up better than most shoegaze sacred cows. Less sunbathing than heatstroke, mirages and memories.

9

Floating Weeds (1959)

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Third time with Ozu, after Tokyo Story and Late Spring. Couldn’t find a satisfying poster; this one seems to foreground the kind of melodrama that Ozu sidelines.

Convinced you cannot tire of this visual style. Counted 0 shots with camera movement. Every shot is either square to its subject or at the Ozu angle (thought of Möbius) – faces obscured, emotions hidden. Perspectives are discontinuously recycled. (Komajuro and Kimisho playing chess) Dialogue is square shot/reverse shot. Endless expressibility within given formula (easy to make layman’s comparisons with other Japanese art).

The most dynamic and textured of Ozu’s films for me: drifting drama is roughened with scenes of real tension and even violent outbursts. Ko and Kayo distraught in the theatre’s cellar; he strikes and they ping back to vertical and opposite like weebles – likewise the confrontative domestic conclusion. Disruption heightened by the natural reversion to order. Ozu’s comic touch is more on show here too: a young boy actor breaking character to collect tributes thrown onstage; Ko cigarette wriggling away from a match proffered by Sumiko as he tries to maintain antipathy.

Leaving and returning. The troupe’s first visit in 12 years, since The Surrender. Sense of a lost generation, disruption of the unexpected return. Each character with their own ex-centricities. (Floating Weeds)

I want a lookbook of Ozu’s Mondrian interiors. I want a supercut of Ozu’s characters going up and down stairs. (Every Frame A Painting on Kurosawa’s movement, but Ozu is a real master: domestic rhythms and delicate individual discrepancies [and he can do rain])

Seeing Ki on the steps watching Ko argue with S somehow put Through A Glass Darkly into my mind, Harriet Andersson haunted by the spider god. Central youths taunted with withheld information, fluctuating agency disturbing balances. In fact ship only at the beginning and Ozu trains only at the end – for the most part FW is likewise a film about entrapment, the TS heat building the pressure in a closed loop. (comparing the pier scenes TS and here  – former couple lost and wistful, latter contemplative and isolated)

Easy to make theatrical comparisons but the layabouts in bordello scheming mutiny does feel like a subplot; layers of dramatic irony. Wending and winding of plot rather than slow revelation and development of motivations, as in LS, or steady panning across a story, as in TS. Externality and observation. (the theatre itself has a quiet but Paradiso charm)

Strange, loose ending. Duties vs desires. The snowglobe shaken and most must make do and mend.

Ozu in colour is a treat.

8

Faat Kiné (2000)

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First time with Ousmane Sembène. Stumbled across the African shelves in the MML DVD selection and picked this more or less at random.

We begin with Kiné’s daughter Aby worried that if she doesn’t pass the Bac this year (having failed it the year before) she’ll be doomed; Aby’s grandmother, affectionately but also (later) revealingly addressed as Mammy, introduces the movie’s frequent flashbacks with her reflections on K’s upbringing. Between past and future, K is pragmatic and measured, taking each job at her petrol station as it comes. Faat Kiné‘s world tugs in both directions, but K remains stubbornly eyes-down, continuing the effort that has put her kids through her school in the first place.

As new characters contribute more antagonistically to these distractions, (a former lover begs her to overlook his past transgressions; a friend implores her to bankroll his future indiscretions) K emerges slowly as a tough, respectable and very sympathetic figure, forging friendships and relationships on her own terms and at her own pace.

“You are the embryo of free market neo-colonialism!” splutters the desperate debtor; “You are an African from colonial times!” retorts an impassive critic. Revealing dynamics of mobility: M wells up at K’s success in escaping her own poverty, then the next scene sees frustrated A decry the ‘unambitious’ social status of her mother. K in some senses has found her level, but the prospect of mobility (when offered) is a turbulent one.

Some pretty wild mood swings: for the most part it’s a soapy drama, with an almost-literally revolving door of bit parts adding dabs and daubs to the Senegalese social canvas, lulling you into a strange easy rhythm; (helped by a really beautiful and sparingly-deployed harp score) but infrequent ruptures of distinct shock or surprise: a flashback to the illegitimately pregnant K’s return to her angry father, her mother jumping on her to protect her from a brandished burning log (the next, incredible shot is M’s gnarled, burnt back, zooming out as she rocks her granddaughter’s cradle); a heated street discussion about adultery terminated after a pause with an unheralded blast of pepper spray; sometimes amusing, as when the secretary of Jean, subtle suitor to K, blurts out that she has been waiting for him to propose to her for years. (“What?”, end scene.)

When a warm, gossipy meeting between K and her sisters (it is a delight watching K and the others tease each other and absolutely roast everyone else, usually hapless two-timing men) lurched into a matter-of-fact discussion about AIDS I flinched again, but this theme is developed into a strong depiction of women empowered over their own sexuality and sexual health. “If it only took work to liberate women, women farmers would be liberated.” Impossible not to get behind the messages of this film (once some very wooden peripheral acting; Venus Seye is excellent as K, mind) from a decade in which Senegalese cinema had almost spluttered to a halt, with OS working only on account of American financial backing.

Suggestive religious tensions are downplayed: brief standoff between a Muslim customer and a Christian employee during the call to prayer; K’s and J’s religious differences are amicably smoothed over. Perhaps this is an urgent resolution, though the greater depth to which gender, age and (to a lesser extent) race issues are explored does make it seem a fringe concern.

Twice K is branded “vulgar” by antique men who hark back to a past in which they were ascendent. At FK‘s close, Djip (K’s politically ambitious son) harangues them after they crash his party, his diatribe on patriarchal ‘African’ morality buoyed by calls from his classmates to stand up and speak. OS’s pastoral diorama has found a youthful champion (he was 77 when he directed this!), but we at last return to K and her new happy relationship, the resolution of the main plot. Abundance of heart in this simple but alluring picture, a tranche de vie with a lot to say and a winsome but uncompromising voice.

7

Where Are We Going? (2017)

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Octo Octa is Brooklyn-based house producer Maya Bouldry-Morrison; this is on Honey Tracks. First time with all concerned.

Begins with ‘Where Are We Going? Pt. 1’ sleek and urban, with a similar vibe to that Studio OST album from 2015. Opens out with ‘On Your Lips’ with some more colourful synths and manual percussion. Still pretty cool until by 2.10ish when a fluttering pipe melody arrives followed by some more percussive synths. From here WAWG? soars off toward a technicolour horizon.

Mixes on these tracks are busy and thick with resonant, rounded beats and melodies – sounds great on headphones but creates a great sense of space, expansion. Big and full, a feel like Lone’s Galaxy Garden (see the infectious synth loop on ‘Fleeting Moments of Freedom (Wooo)’, probably the album’s best) but with the simple joy I associate with Smallville. ‘Generous‘ is the word that keeps coming to mind; I think its the combination of indulgence and balance, ease without perishability.

Cluttered shuffle of ‘Until The Moon Sets’ (less percussive and more elaborate but yeeeah still reminds me of Mr. G’s ‘U Askin’?’). Surprising breaks on brief ‘No More Pain (Promises To A Younger Self)’, still maintains the bouncy mood with the help of some of soul vocals – pretty inaudible, something about “together”, which, obviously; but reading about the project and the construction of this song in particular as a combination of influences from B-M’s teenage years blends personality (check the cover; this following 2013’s coy Between Two Selves, with B-M coming out as trans in the interim) with the music’s inclusive feel (shining through the confusion a warming hope that the message will get through to some [check the title]). Breaks continue on ‘Move On (Let Go) – De-stress Mix’, somewhat a return to the sleek mood of the openers – this peak/trough sequencing is effective for a genre I don’t associate with the album format (B-M speaks of seeking to construct “an overtly queer message with the narrative built around it.”)

Buried vocal samples and balance of pensive engagement and communal ecstasy betray DJ Sprinkles influence. Much more immediately accessible, I think, though some acclimatisation. OO’s is quite a low-hit rate style for me but WAWG? pulls off a balancing act.

It can’t last — ‘Adrift’ trades in patient, ominous atmosphere, accretion; mood more like the back end of a techno set in Berlin. (interesting to read about B-M’s slow emergence into the scene, coming from idiosyncratic technical material to more extroverted fare) Tense but quite a departure. Ends with ‘Where Are We Going? Pt. 2’ Sober dawn, uncertainty. Tumbling piano line, flurry of vocal samples “do you feel better?” A lot at stake here: questions of personal identity and community, as well as the role of music in both, but if posed at me the answer would be yes.

7

Narkopop (2017)

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17 years! Probably about 5 for me, but still.

1 and 2 create disharmony and disorientation. Less the previous sense of delving deeper into the forest or emerging into clearings or borders, more being directionlessly lost. Prominent strings by turns sour and sweet on 2 loom and fade above characteristic marshal bass thud. A shifting suite (easily the digital album’s second-longest at 11 minutes) which trades the inexorable allure of Pop for discomforting and ungraspable mystery. (why the title? seems like more a summative label than a reflective adaptation on Pop)

3 high shimmering, pipes, insect field recordings interwoven. A shaft of light. Benoît Pioulard. But the canopy shifts shut and darkness returns. Badalamenti all over N.

4 slightly abrupt start. Stuttering string loops like Tim Hecker, inhaled and exhaled. Second 4-minute track in a row and it does start to feel a little sketchy, ideas for a whole project exhibited but not explored. Again then going into 5: dizzy drums unusually prominent and clear for GAS. Slow mournful horns work very well: sense of a march towards oblivion, a valediction; relative cessation of ‘club’ atmosphere contributes to feeling that N is a self-referential GAS project, drawing on its own worlds rather than recognisable external environments. Novelty keeps it from feeling simply like a victory lap, though.

Then 6 opens with my favourite addition: wandering chimes, amid ominous Eno drone. These are chucked out at around 1.10 though and replaced by more typical arrangement. Strangely abrupt changes in volume, mixing: very restless for GAS.

7 butts in, steady pulse and return to tidal, immersive drones. Soundbathing. No spatial images. Fades out and you begin to miss it.

8 seems a return to the model of 2 (if more subdued), with the strings almost working against the bass pulse. Sense of loss, and of danger, and also slightly of going in circles.

9 picks up the field recordings (aurally distinguishing vinyl hiss from forest rain is always a GAS treat), taking us into 10, the final suite. (I’d love to know what the 71-minute closer 11 sounds like but I won’t be paying 60 quid to find out) Immediately you sense this is a return to a club atmosphere: the bass pulse returns with a skulking melody, backed by threatening, buzzing two-tone strings and needle sweep. GAS’ closers are often revelatory (see esp. the epiphany of Pop 7) and this feels like a final bow, an encore. No longer alienation or isolation: envelopment, communality on a packed floor. Staccato strings and synth drones. But by 11.30 we have wandered again; abstraction, clarity and peace. “One must return to beauty.”

Back in Autumn I went to see a Boiler Room-affiliated interview of Wolfgang in Dalston, at Brilliant Corners. They had a huge soundsystem set up (made us all aware of the price) and interspersed the discussion with tracks from the big three albums. Interesting how much of a normal guy he turned out to be: admitted to not actually listening to Wagner etc. as a kid, just mining them for the cultural connotations and general prevalence; choosing minimalist design for its own sake; not naming the tracks for continuity with that choice – nothing behind the veil. I asked him, given how personal GAS obviously is, whether there was any difficulty asserting his own vision over that of another artist’s when he credited a few remixes to the GAS project. He pretty much just replied that he saw this clash as an interesting challenge, as a fun exercise. Could tell throughout that he was excited to kickstart the project again.

This feels like a minor GAS album, but one hearteningly (finally) conscious of how important GAS is to so many. New sounds, but hard to pick out a story.

7