[ Read More ]
Figures / Grounds / Studies
“I have been thinking specifically about the cave of humankind.”
One of the most striking works unveiled at this year’s edition of Wavelengths, the experimental program at the Toronto International Film Festival, was not a “film,” but a seven-minute installation work by Thai auteur Apitchatpong Weerasethakul. Fireworks (Archives), a one-channel video originally commissioned by Kurimanzutto Gallery in Mexico City and beautifully installed in the Art Gallery of Ontario, envelops the viewer in a sensory experience unlike any other. It is a nocturnal stroll through a surreal sculpture garden lit by pyrotechnics, strobes, and digital camera flashes. Accompanied by a percussive soundtrack of crackles and explosions that merge with the sound of gunfire, Fireworks (Archives) is immersive, unsettling, and deeply hypnotic.[ Read More ]
“I am an artist. I am a NEGROGOTHIC, devil-worshipping, free black man in the blues tradition. Those are the things I am now.”
M. Lamar is an artist whose work in music and performance straddles the genres of gospel, opera, punk, goth, and metal and blues traditions. While these sources may seem broad-ranging and disparate, Lamar has found a way to synthesize them into a cohesive musical, political and aesthetic statement. Connecting the virtuosity of operatic voice to that of the gospel soloist, goth’s dark theatricality to operatic grandeur, the mournfulness of the blues to punk’s political agendas, Lamar seeks to understand how colonial and plantation narratives about gender and race underlie daily life in the US.
The result of this fusion is vocals that haunt, lyrics that expose endemic problems, and performances of baroque grandiosity that point to capitalist excesses. Through an exhibition at PARTICIPANT INC last summer and a recent performance at Issue Project Room last month, Lamar has produced a series of short videos, prints, and sculpture to accompany his songs, with the videos to be consolidated into a longer film tentatively called Surveillance, Punishment and the Black Psyche, currently in production.
“If there is a despairing quality to our work, it is despairing of the fact that once upon a time there used to be an earnest revolutionary spirit in this country.”
Since their founding in 2004, Object Collection’s multimedia operas—chaotic hybrids of experimental music, theater, and video—have become increasingly audacious, each new work one-upping its predecessor in structural ambition. One can expect to see finely honed variations on signature elements across the body of work: layered action unfolding on multiple planes simultaneously, a noisy spectacle frustrating narrative clarity, Marxist rhetoric set against fart jokes, exasperated performers exchanging colorful wigs and preposterous hats while singing, stuttering, and hissing cryptic proverbs as they repeatedly murder each other. Although segments of these operas may pass in relative quietude, with actors maniacally whispering May ’68 slogans or muttering film quotes (Oliveira, Fassbinder, Seagal) accompanied by the soft screeching of an amplified violin and radio static, the volume will soon escalate. Perhaps a sanguine-faced man in boxing gloves will bolt around the stage falsetto-screaming architectural theory; maybe a hyperventilating woman wearing ten layers of shirts, sweaters, and jackets, though not necessarily in that order, will bark technical details about air vents; or a shirtless man will paint his chest while shouting non-sequiturs in a sing-song-shriek—“I’m gonna TURN THIS PLACE into a CAR WASH! Hey humanity, FUCK you, MAN!”—amidst guitar feedback and the bashing of drums. Maybe all of this will happen at the same time. It is a meticulously composed cacophony, a micromanaged chaos.[ Read More ]
“A big part of music for me has always been advocacy, and about having a space where people who feel marginalized by society can do things together.”
Singer and bassist Hannah Lew describes her band as being on “Planet Cold Beat in the San Francisco Galaxy,” which is pretty apt. Cold Beat, like a closed system in classical mechanics, doesn’t exchange matter with its surroundings, and their newest LP, Into the Air, is a distinctly isolated affair—with keyboards and drum machines opposing the dominant guitar-rock scene of San Francisco. It’s a disarming feeling to spend time on this planet: give it a chance and maybe your respiratory system will adjust to the whiplash pace of “Cracks,” which sets one of Lew’s trademark icy melodies against bleak synth oscillations that could erode Fisherman’s Wharf and send tourists on their rusty rented bicycles into the water. The same goes for “Spirals,” which sounds as if Kraftwerk, unsatisfied with Dusseldorf, sailed off to the New World. The final track, “Ashes,” bionically glides along to a grim conclusion, leaving us hanging in its aftermath. Into the Air is another fully realized effort from Cold Beat, a chilling open-ended reflection on the impending Singularity of the modern age.[ Read More ]
On Claire Vaye Watkins's drought-stricken debut, Gold Fame Citrus.
The title of Claire Vaye Watkins’s first novel names just three of California’s historic exports. It’s a list to which, just for fun, we might add surfing, In-N-Out Burger, health fads, The Doors, cults, and—at least lately—post-apocalyptic novels. Gold Fame Citrus is certainly one of the latter, but it would be misleading to suggest that it is only, or even mainly, an aftershock of the dystopic boom that’s been running through mainstream contemporary fiction since, say, The Road. Since then, the genre has matured and broadened so much that labeling an end-of-the-world book as such is akin to cruising Netflix for “horror movies.” That is, your base-level expectations will be met: in both cases, you’re going to see someone die. But for a core audience, the pleasure is in the kind of minute touches and improvisations that each entry adds to the genre.[ Read More ]
“Everyone comes together, then they just go to sleep. It’s an anti-rave.”
As a musician and composer, Max Richter’s work has long been in the spotlight on both sides of the Atlantic. His first solo work, Memoryhouse, was released in 2002 (with a subsequent vinyl reissue in 2014). Since then, he has composed music for ballet and released a number of other albums—including a re-composition of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and The Blue Notebooks, which features Tilda Swinton reading from the works of Franz Kafka and Czesław Miłosz during the interludes.
His most recent work is Sleep, an eight-hour piece designed to be listened to while unconsciousness. The full-length was released by Deutsche Grammophon in September, simultaneously with a shorter, one-hour companion piece titled From Sleep.[ Read More ]
“Post-love, post-work, post-faith, post-home. What’s left?”
Scott Cheshire’s High as the Horses’ Bridles, published by Henry Holt, is one of the most arresting debuts from a major imprint in recent memory. Its triptych structure explores strains of evangelism and madness in one family across two centuries, without recourse to “epic” narratives or traditional stories of generational strife. The bolder, more elliptical approach was praised by Colum McCann and Philipp Meyer upon the novel’s hardcover publication, and some chapters read like fireworks. Others demand patience, as they ruminate on the ambiguity between faithlessness and belief.
The novel opens in 1960s Queens, NY. Twelve-year-old Josiah Laudermilk, groomed to succeed his father in their Evangelical ministry, delights his congregation and his parents with an extemporaneous sermon on the fast-approaching apocalypse. From there we leap to the present day: “Josie” is divorced and ambivalent about his failing business. He’s summoned from California to contend with his ailing father, his own apostasy, and whether both men have wasted decades of their lives. The last section jumps backward to Kentucky in 1801, where a rural church gathering becomes the site of another filial betrayal and another ghostly vision.[ Read More ]
“How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? To the real question, How does it feel to be a problem? I answer seldom a word.”
—W.E.B. Du Bois[ Read More ]
Jack Ferver <----@gmail.com>
To: Joshua Lubin-Levy <----@gmail.com>
I'm only a masochist inasmuch as I'm also my own sadist. I don't like being hurt by others or systems. I do make choreography that hurts me physically and my performances are taxing psychologically for me, and the performers, and anyone who works with me. Is that why you didn't work with me on this one? You came to that first rehearsal at Baryshnikov and then peaced out. I know you're busy. But I'm busy too. I just started back teaching at Bard and NYU and I'm setting this choreography for Parker Posey for the next Christopher Guest film and doing a curation for MAD and another one for YOU and making the piece for next year at The Kitchen with Reid and starting this other work with David. I'm writing this from a car, I don't even know where I am and should be looking at the road, but look: yes to misfits, yes to others, however, I don't think about mismatching or misfitting. I think more about mirroring how I see the world: complicated.
[Quoted text hidden]
“Radical spaces can generate and evolve ideas and tactics, some of which cross over into mainstream culture—and need to.”
Juliet Jacques has written Trans, a memoir documenting many transitions—that of a young person’s entry into adulthood, a writer’s creative shift to mainstream journalism, and the long path through gender reassignment. In 2010, the Guardian published the first entry in A Transgender Journey, her serial blog that pursued a confessional mode with political intent. The column ran successfully for nearly three years and was long-listed for the Orwell Prize. Trans, similar in makeup, makes a strong argument for the personal as political while integrating a broad education in trans theory and politics, and giving context through the author’s sharp tastes in radical literature, French poetry, sport, music, art, and avant-garde film.
Despite its nonlinear progression, it feels right to say Trans begins in Manchester, where our then-eighteen-year-old author moves to go to university and study history. Embarking from Horley, her small conservative hometown, Manchester represents a sort of promised land—a safe(r) place to be queer in the midst of Section 28, and a place to bloom, think, and exist freely while walking the laneways of the city that birthed The Smiths and Joy Division, two bands cited as early mainstays of solace.[ Read More ]
“My dream of a movie is to end on a note of 100% ambivalence.”
Few American indies open with the raucous energy and visual wit of John Magary’s debut The Mend. Starting with an old-school iris shot and a snippet of cartoon music, the viewer is hurdled through twenty-four hours in the life of Mat (Josh Lucas), a thirty-something deadbeat drifter. In a series of propulsive cuts and blasts of LiLiPUT’s punk anthem “Split,” we watch him tossed out by his girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen), ejected from stores, insult and abandon friends at a bar, and drag himself along an empty subway platform like some primordial creature.
Magary’s darkly comic drama starts with the familiar premise—a Tom & Jerry-like pair of mismatched brothers—and spins it into strange brew. The film’s jagged rhythms, stylistic flourishes, and unexpected tonal shifts keep you guessing as to who or what will collide next and where it’s all headed. Filmed largely in the Sugar Hill apartment Magary shares with co-writer and producer Myna Joseph, The Mend is both a master class in staging in confined spaces and a sharp portrait of the weird energy of New York in the ’oughts. At times unflinching in its portrayal, Magary captures the inherent messiness of intimacy and the dangers of being alone. In The Mend, relationships exist in a perpetual state of repair—fissures followed by patches, often minute-by-minute.[ Read More ]
Performance, improvisation, and chasing the perfect drone.
I met Jaime Fennelly, the man behind Mind over Mirrors, in 2007, when I shared a bill with his old band Peeesseye at a small venue in Brooklyn. At the time, we were both playing in improvisation-based trios and performing at various venues in NYC. I was impressed and drawn to what Jaime was doing in his band, providing an anchor of drones and soundscapes with harmonium and various effects. He told me that he was planning to leave the city, and I didn’t see him for a few years, until we reconnected at a venue in Chicago. Jaime was newly playing as Mind Over Mirrors. His playing on this new project still compelled me; now his music had a much more panoramic view, a sharper focus. I wondered if his time away from the city had affected his musical thinking, perhaps laying groundwork for a more deeply realized sound. It seems that a combination of different landscapes and a quest for a focused sound landed Jaime in a very nice place, producing expansive, satisfying sounds.
I spoke with Jaime about developing this sound, his collaborations with choreographer Miguel Gutierrez, and the new Mind Over Mirrors album, The Voice Calling, out September 18, 2015, featuring vocals from Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux.[ Read More ]
“What’s the difference between New York and LA? In New York, you cry in the street, but in LA, you cry in your car.”
I knew Casey Jane Ellison’s work, Touching the Art (2013), was good when I stayed to watch the entire second season twice on a screen in the New Museum’s lobby during “Surround Audience,” the 2015 Triennial; the video is a three-part series in which she interviews various art world luminaries, including Catherine Opie, K8 Hardy, Clarissa Dalrymple, and Kembra Pfahler. I also knew it was good when, at home later in the evening, I re-played it during a dinner party, and my best friends watched it with the same gusto usually reserved for Beyoncé music videos.
Embodying a persona that is, in turn, hilarious, childish, antagonistic, vulnerable, and chummy, Ellison asks female artists, curators, and collectors—males were pointedly excluded from the set—questions that they would generally be too polite or offended to answer, such as, “What is success? Like, should I hang myself?” By disarming her subjects, she allows them to open up. “It’s being rich and being well-loved by everyone you like to have loving you,” Dalrymple responded to the question.
If her career successes over the past year are any indication, she’s certainly loved by more than myself and my drunk BFFs—loved, across all kinds of disciplines. Along with doing a monthly stand-up comedy show at Otherwild in Los Angeles, she was also recently hired by B.B. Dakota, a clothing brand, to create The Right and Left Brains of Casey Jane’s, a six-part series that will air on the brand’s website this autumn.
I recently sat down with Ellison in a coffee shop in Venice, California. Offers of daytime drinking and/or getting stoned—“when in California...”—were politely ignored for a more sober experience.[ Read More ]
“When a state ceases to exist, your body becomes your own state, the one and only state you have.”
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is a poet and dramatist whose work explores what one of his poems calls a “geography of hunger.” His debut novel, Tram 83, takes its title from a bar in an unnamed City-State where patrons meet to indulge their hunger for alcohol, money, music, and sex. Into this ruthless central terminal comes Lucien, a poet returned from abroad, carrying his own hunger for literature, meaning, and political and artistic freedom. His adventures among the denizens of Tram 83 unfold between two overarching hungers: that of foreign and local profiteers for the country’s mineral wealth, and that of ordinary people for survival.
Tram 83 moves with a relentless rhythm, full of lists that rush into one another, cassava fields and churches, miner-diggers and digger-miners, railroads and rumba. This forward charge is countered by frequent loops and repetitions, creating an intense, circular energy. In his efforts to find an art that speaks to the City-State, Lucien invents the genres of the “stage-tale” and “locomotive literature”—terms that could describe Tram 83 itself. His comic search for the right language ultimately suggests the impossibility of speaking. For all its exuberance, this is a novel of dismay.[ Read More ]
“I do like feedback. It’s good for people. It is!”
Dave Pearce is Flying Saucer Attack, one of the most furtive and sporadically surfacing—but also certainly one the most influential—home-recording, psychedelic auteurs to come out of the underground of the ‘90s. Across a series of signal releases cut between the 1993 and 2000, Flying Saucer Attack minted what Pearce described as a form of “rural psychedelia,” a hazy, lo-fi amalgam of acoustic folk, underwater vocals, and grainy, freely-improvised noise. Coming out of Richard King’s Bristol-based Planet Records—the label that fostered Movietone, Crescent, and Third Eye Foundation—FSA soon began to make connections with like-minded souls like Bruce Russell of The Dead C, who was responsible for releasing the most beautiful cacophony in the FSA catalogue, In Search Of Spaces, on his New Zealand imprint Corpus Hermeticum in 1996. After a series of albums that incorporated beats and a slightly glossier production, which culminated in the release of 2000’s Mirror, Pearce dropped off the radar altogether, eventually retreating to his father’s house to lick his wounds. In the meantime, like his hero Syd Barrett, rumors surfaced about his reasons for walking away and the likelihood of any new Flying Saucer Attack material.
As such, the release earlier this year of Instrumentals 2015, a new solo album by Pearce under the FSA banner, came out of nowhere. It was all the more startling in that it seemed to take up exactly where Pearce had left off fifteen years earlier—namely, with a series of beautiful, out-of-focus instrumentals that trade clarity for depth and extend Pearce’s concept of rural psychedelia into ever more personal vectors of lo-fi magic. I caught up with Pearce on the telephone just after Instrumentals 2015 came out. It was the first time we had spoken in eighteen years.[ Read More ]
Drummer and vocalist Daniel Spencer on Brisbane, studio recording, and motorsports.
Blank Realm, a fearsome quartet from Brisbane, Australia, officially entered the misfit consciousness with their 2013 single, “Falling Down the Stairs,” which approximates the 1980s for Gen-Y unease. This late-summer feeling continues on their new record, Illegals in Heaven, which is a massive step up for the band, both in songwriting and production, as it marks their first time in an actual recording studio. Here they’ve managed to successfully marry that classic Flying Nun gin from the cellar of yore with a fresh Queensland tonic, and the potent combination is more than the sum of its parts. The single, “River of Longing,” has that specific vacuum-tube sound, a definite phantom hit on the pirate radio that only reveals itself if you park in the right spot. Elsewhere, the impossibly American-sounding “Palace of Love” has that sort of chugging train-off-the-rails quality, which gracefully swirls to a thunderous climax. The whole LP is a great listen. I recently chatted with Daniel Spencer about his band’s position in Australia, what it’s like to be both the singer and drummer, and his country’s racing scene.[ Read More ]
In Warsaw I board an overnight bus to Berlin. Three facts immediately present themselves. The bus is full; nearly everyone is sleeping; and there is a sleeping baby in seat forty-three, which is, importantly, my seat. I stand in the aisle, consider my options. I can wake all those around me who might be the baby’s guardian. I can wake the baby, see what happens. I can sit and hold the baby. I can sit on the baby. I can store the baby on the rack above the seats. I can do nothing, stay standing in the aisle.[ Read More ]
Choreographer Kim Brandt strips away excess in her search for a “body of bodies.”
In October 2014, at Roulette in Brooklyn, I was a performer in an iteration of choreographer Kim Brandt’s Untitled, an ensemble work for a large group of dancers—sixteen in this particular performance—and constituted by one deceptively simple task: to use our bodies to construct a vertical pile, to hold that pile for as long as we could, then collectively dissolve. Within this succinct and emphatic gesture, Kim strips away certain choreographic excesses, enabling concerns inherent to the body and the group to rise to the surface. As she articulates in our conversation, Kim is searching for a “body of bodies” and begins by investigating “what the body inherently does,” rather than “what the body is capable of.” Approaching this inquiry through the apparatus of the group, Kim’s performances live in the intersection of body and form. The internal experience of the performers, which relies on sensation and kinesthetic awareness, yields an experience that is primarily optical for the viewer—a kind of image-in-transition. Drawn to the ways in which these performances are both movement and image at once, I sat down with Kim to hear more about how she is developing this singular body of work.[ Read More ]
An iconic filmmaker’s remarks on his most memorable soundtracks.
“I must have been obsessed,” said Wim Wenders during a Q&A at IFC Center in New York when asked about the many jukebox shots in his sophomore feature The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (1971). Throughout the film Wenders allows the camera to linger on and explore the graceful mechanics of the various machines, pointing to his own obsession more than any character’s. The seventy-year-old filmmaker, who came of age during the height of New German Cinema, has made a career out of projecting his fetishes onto the screen, creating a cinematic world adorned to perfectly suit his taste. And when it comes to music, the scores and soundtracks have always been the most important ingredient. “It’s difficult to pinpoint where it started; I remember the first album I ever bought was the Kinks,” said Wenders when I sat down with him at the Criterion offices in late August 2015. “Music has been one of the most constant and most important things in my life ever since I can remember, ever since I bought my first singles,” though in the early days he didn’t even own a record player and had to go to a friend’s house to play them.
Possessing a razor sharp eye for detail and composition, Wenders had early ambitions to become a painter before attending the University of Television and Film Munich, where he made a discovery that would shape the entirety of his work to come. He explained to me that after spending a night in film school playing around on the editing table, cutting one of his short films to different songs, he realized that each time he changed the music, the movie changed with it. “When I realized I didn’t have to dissociate between my love for music and my love for filmmaking, that was the happiest moment of my life, and that hasn’t changed,” said Wenders. And thus began a forty-plus-year love affair with the amalgamation of image and sound, using his films at platforms to feature the music that brought his world to life.[ Read More ]