May 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

via Neil Kulkarni


Songs (not songs)

May 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Tropic of Cancer – I Woke Up & The Storm Was Over’ (from I Can’t Give You The Life You Want) / Carla dal Forno – ‘Fast Moving Cars’ (from ‘Fast Moving Cars’ 7″, Blackest Ever Black)

“A glimpse of immediate reality is the blue flower in the land of technology.” But what if a song was at once dream & flower, forgotten passage & concrete fragment? The playing on this compilation track, stronger than any of their album cuts or standalone singles, is impossibly distant, its guitar figures constantly slipping into disembodiment, the instrumental longeurs that bloated earlier work turning to the intentless darkness of weather. Carla dal Forno’s whispering goth Nico vocal is here less pose than prose, as if waking & dreaming, despondency & blank everydayness, were intertwined (as they are everywhere in psychoanalysis). She goes further on her debut solo single – whose cover metonymises the broke-ass bohemian 20s I never had (apart from the “broke-ass” bit) – where the chorus’s melody suggests an escape – a line of flight on the other side of a century of speed we never actually left – that the muffled drum machine & the field recording of a storm, that seems to come to invade & smother the vocal, deny.

Simon Fisher Turner – Nazca’ (from Give Me New Noise, Crammed Discs)

By far the best thing on this mildly bizarre disc of tributes to Tuxedomoon’s Half-Mute, included with the new reissue, it turns the original into a current of inhuman particles fallen from some unseen cosmic body. The soprano sax that surfaces in the first minute, clawing through the same circular sequence of staccato notes, sounds halfway between a fairground organ & some creature gasping for life. The strings, alternating between cold & mournful, of Turner’s soundtracks are here replaced by sweeping synthesisers just this side of kitsch – an aerial shot poring over a landscape, until they ebb & curl away, as if they can’t keep away the world they survey; Turner dedicates it to Bowie.

David Bowie – ‘Quicksand’ (from Hunky Dory, RCA)

More than anything, the tempo: seeming, even in the strictly punctuated choreography of the chorus, barely to move, never leaving the disposition of guitar chords oscillating just on the edge of motion, as if to do more would be to lose some thread of thought caught on the threshold of sleep, in a voice that knows its loss is a fait accompli, the brutality that beckons through the song (“Himmler’s sacred realm/of dream reality”) what lies in the fatal interior of its pain.

Trevor Duncan – Girl Theme’ (from La Jetée, Superior Viaduct)

What I didn’t, in all my alleged research on Marker, know (via Ken Hollings’ review in the April Wire): that the music enswathing the bleakest love story in the cinema – except maybe Joan of Arc’s with Dreyer’s camera – was from a Boosey & Hawkes library LP, by the composer of the immortal soundtrack of Plan 9 From Outer Space & the old Pearl & Dean theme that led into British cinema adverts. The fact that I can hardly bear to watch it these days – & haven’t since that afternoon at J.’s place in Bethnal Green, at a time when London wasn’t, for me, another planet – lends an odd extra poignancy to the soundtrack, as the only remnant left to me, jutting out from the culture industry rubble under wh/ the film is buried. The note of ripe sentimentality that connects it w/ the spaced-out modalities of Les Baxter’s ‘Sunken City’, flutes & an accordion struggling to escape its Gallic scare-quotes dragging themselves along, turns it into a sort of awful readymade, pulled from the bargain bin of culture (better than the “ashbin of history”), ready to disclose that you & what you loved are themselves reproductions, the inner soul of the commodity that kitsch unveils mobilising itself to move again through the world – the fatal coagulate of another, extinct world, where, as Victor Burgin phrased it (after Nietzsche), every memory was “a roll of the dice”.

Sixpence None The Richer – ‘Kiss Me’ (from Sixpence None The Richer, Squint)

“the recent past always presents itself as if destroyed by catastrophes” / “the apparition of a distance, no matter how near it might be”

Pájaro Triste (composed by Federico Mompou, played by Chris Marker, from Cat Listening to Music, dir. Chris Marker, 1990)

The melody flirts helplessly w/ kitsch, as if finding its spare emotional architecture secondhand, formal nakedness no guarantee of what culture pre-codes as ‘authenticity’. It isn’t helped by the cheap late 80s keyboard sound that bobs up w/ the green volume readings. The cat (Guillaume-en-Egypte) lies on the keys, screening off even the haptics of playing: sound as automatism, a space of night in wh/ nothing moves beyond the camera’s occasional shifts. If, as Marker seems sometimes to suggest, cats are the shadow of the “cunning of reason” in history, the true self-consciousness of nature that fends off (or mitigates, if only for the span of natural lives) the utter callousness of Hegel’s Geist, maybe this is their anthem, their equivalent to the Dangermouse theme: nature, in the form of the second nature of kitsch, opening its eyes to look without intent pityingly on mankind.

Bobby Womack – ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Hurt By Your Love Again’ / ‘You’re Welcome, Stop on By’ (from Lookin’ For a Love Again, United Artists)

With no prospect of a lengthy stay on a desert island, let alone one with a decent collection of Bobby Womack discs, these have to substitute for a sojourn from humanity – not that such a thing was ever possible. In the work of Womack’s imperial phase of the early 70s the seen-it-all nonchalance of his tone – those infamous winding spoken intros, pillow-talking with some new lover who just happened to answer the phone – slips seamlessly into the frank admission of need, nostalgia, regret, eroticism; the screams of the soul vocabulary mutate between defiance, dependence, weariness, a pain that troubles the very limits of expression, threatens to double back into ecstasy. The astonishing acidic attack of the guitars & the gusty horns on the chorus of ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Hurt By Your Love Again’ depends on its opposite, slight on/off riffs & casual rimshots outlining a kind of professional reticence, the discretion of the perennial ex-lover. Drunk Friday nights the endless build through the verses, attack building on attack,  The strings that open ‘You’re Welcome, Stop On By’ offer a preview of the perfection of Leroy Hutson’s ‘All Because of You’ or Marvin Gaye’s ‘Since I Had You’: Apollonian hardness in the crunchy backline warring with the unspoken tenderness of these barely rhythmic sweeps of violins, bottomless as the vocals of Harry Smith’s Appalachians, figures for the unspeakable.

Au Pairs – ‘It’s Obvious’ (from ‘Diet/It’s Obvious’ 7″, 021 Records) / Wire – ‘It’s So Obvious’ (from Pink Flag, EMI/Pink Flag)

Coincidences, signs, symptoms: a 7″ picked from the vinyl left by a former resident at my old flat in London, a band from the inauspicious city I moved to (stranger still given that I always thought Au Pairs emerged from the same Leeds scene as Mekons & Delta 5). The flip of their second single sez that the obvious is a conduit of violence precisely in its obviousness, the leaping-to-the-tongue cadences of pop (“You’re equal but different” x 5), the guitar as hard & risky in its fraying, always on the edge of collapsing into texture, as the attack on LiLiPut’s ‘Eisiger Wind‘. But it’s the very mundanity of this message as it articulates itself in its spiky pop packaging – the Shulamith Firestone of Airless Spaces pressed onto a Crystals 45 – that looks like a Northwest Passage out of the mute savagery of everyday life. Meanwhile the 54 seconds of ‘It’s So Obvious’ – w/ the toughest guitar line of Wire’s career & the most abrupt stop – is about the blank unobviousness of the obvious.

O That Most Rare Breast (composed by William Byrd, performed by The Trinity Consort, from O Sprite Heroic, Beulah)

The devastation is less obvious than in Emma Kirkby & Fretwork’s somewhat overdone solo soprano version, but this is still music for ruins.

Aki Onda – ‘Side A’ (from First Thought Best Thought, Cassauna)

The first ever field recordings by cassette composer Aki Onda, made during a trip to Morocco in 1987, surprise by not sounding too obviously touristic. More so than the exoticism of the later approach of Sublime Frequencies – so obvious it seems to emerge on the other side – they break the frame of drifting observation; the haze of tape hiss & wobble doesn’t seem to veil some deeper sonic reality: it’s all there, right up in your face. Gnawa, Arab pop (& rock – in the opening minutes we hear wah-wah guitars shifting behind car noise & a small child’s cries) & classical music percolate in snatches like the world’s most DIY attempt at a KLF track: an endless, productive wavering between the seeming propensity of material to expand & swell w/ information & direction, across wh/ music & the tape edit itself slashes – the firestorm of metal percussion & hand drums, not unlike those on the astonishing Ecstatic Music of the Jemaa El Fna, breaks out like an answer to a question you hadn’t even known you were asking.

May 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

May 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

desultory notes on Out 1

May 23, 2016 § 3 Comments

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1. The film’s perplexities seem so often to boil down to questions of length – of expectation & form. Out 1 was apparently made originally for French TV rather than theatrical release – hence the division into ‘episodes’ that’s so puzzling on first encounter. But this in turn prompts a whole series of partly historical questions. Why consider it a ‘film’ at all, rather than those more arbitrary & flexible designations ‘mini-series’ or (note the sulphurous whiff of the culture industry) ‘box-set’? Why has it never seemingly been re-shown on TV? Is it not simply, avant la lettre, the leviathanic, half-shapeless, overstuffed flow of storytelling that David Thomson imagines The Sopranos to be? But then the very fact that it’s not seen on TV, on successive or weekly nights, surely impresses itself on the form: the ‘serial’ here survives within the movie as a whimsical relic, a fossil memory of cinema’s early exhibition history, of the Fantômas serials or Les Vampires, like human beings’ vestigial tail. (It’s a precedent that finds echoes in Out 1‘s obsession, at once Satanic & deeply quotidian, with sneaking, sleuthing & the social conspiracy of Mr Big figures.)

2. But the separate ‘episodes’, wh/ no longer have any chance to function as such except in the context of rather obtuse home-video viewing, show, in any case, barely anything. The first episode’s 50-minute dwelling on the Prometheus troupe’s exercise in infantile slobbering – the first glimpse we see of these characters, so that their urbane assessments at the end of the segment come as a jolt – is, even if you’re used to long takes in Renoir or Tarkovsky or whoever, an immersion that forces a real shock of adjustment: by the end you may not be watching the clock but you wonder how much longer it can really go on for; each passing minute is simply more of the same, filling the screen in close-up w/ its blunt facticity. The framings & camera moves feel, more often than not, “unchosen” (to use Thomson’s word), pushing away even the Bazinian allowance of unfiltered reality blooming under the camera’s look. Then, before you know it, the episode’s cut to black, after a last glimpse of Fredérique (Juliet Berto) stroking her weapon. But the very cumulative effect of all this stuff, of sameness divided into difference only by arbitrary decisions – putting the cut here rather than there for no apparent reason, turning 12 hours & 40 minutes into 8 ‘episodes’ – is to reach the state of tranced indistinction (the state that spectatorship is always invisibly tending towards) in wh/ unwilled & latent patterns seem to emerge – the disenchanted & laughable complement to the ‘organic form’ that so enchanted art after Romanticism: first as tragedy, now as farce.

3. As a document of Paris, a decade after Chronicle of a Summer, it’s at once fascinating & superficial. The light is always washed out, a little grey. The surface of traffic patterns, the built environment of the old quartiers, the surliness of old newspaper vendors & rundown tabacs are all neatly visible, & the order of apartment buildings & abandoned light-industrial spaces turned into  rehearsal rooms shown, but there’s almost no sense of how these things work socially. That isn’t a criticism – we can say the same of Godard’s delight in formica, primary colours & rubber coats in Masculin/Féminin or Une Femme Est Une Femme – but it’s an intriguing exclusion: Paris as the sphinx w/out a secret. (The contrast here can be drawn w/ Celine et Julie three years later, in wh/ the remnants of Atget’s Paris become the site of cinema’s helpless fantasy of the interior.)

4. Almost no-one, w/ the exception of Berto & Pauline/Émilie (Bulle Ogier), looks like they’re meant to be in a movie. & then Berto never appears to be her own voluptuous self, but switches from a Jane Birkin waterfall of hair & heavy lashes to a stirring ’66 Dylan getup (including probably the loveliest green leather jacket in film history).

5. Rivette isn’t, as far as I recall, mentioned anywhere in the literature on David Lynch, but he surely must have seen the final ‘episode’ of Out 1: backwards dialogue, characters singing wanly to themselves, increasingly violent cuttings-in on the soundtrack, bursts of black leader, mirror phase as endless self-recession & discovery of the self-as-other, a tone, at once chilling & utterly banal, that set the entire key note of Twin Peaks & great swathes of Mulholland Dr.

May 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

May 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

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