Fragmented Frequencies column 9th Nov 08

There’s something hidden deep within music, an intangible highly emotional way of connecting with the human spirit, not just the mind, but also the libido and perhaps more importantly the soul. If you think of the ecstatic jazz of John Coltrane‘s later work, such as a Love Supreme (1964) and Ascension (1965), extremely visceral powerful pieces that are said to be his attempt to communicate with his God. Then there’s his wife Alice, who continued his legacy with some gorgeous highly spiritual albums such as Transfiguration (1978) and Transcendence (1977) before retreating into a Southern Californian Ashram and becoming a spiritual leader. In fact the spiritual beliefs of this generation of artists called for new names such as Devadip Carlos Santana or Mahavishnu John McLaughlin.

The concept of music being a way to communicate with your supreme being is not a new one. All you need to do is wake up bright and early on sunday morning and tune into Peter Miles amazing Gospel Show on PBS FM which delves into roots, blues, funk and soul for a weekly burst of teachings from the good book. Religion of course has recognized the power of music for years, harnessing it for its own purposes in rituals whether by chanting, hymns, or chorals. And just like in Footloose they’ve also recognised that music (or in Kevin Bacon’s case dancing) has the power to corrupt, just ask Marilyn Manson. Yet occasionally organised religion even targets groups who you would have thought were on the same page.

Sufi music is a centuries old tradition, and may possibly be where Coltrane got his idea to use music as a tool to be closer to God. The very act of playing music is prayer. Sufi music recognises the emotional and communal power of music, that trance inducing ego-less power to lose and elevate oneself. For the Sufi’s this new state brings them closer to God. It’s absolutely fascinating and the music incredibly powerful, even if you don’t understand a single word, because that’s the beauty, you feel the power and ecstasy regardless of your religious persuasion or lack thereof. “Sufism is an antidote to all the the negative stereotypes of Islam,” offers English enthusiast William Dalrymple in his excellent documentary Sufi Soul (World Music Network/ Planet Company). “Since the very earliest days of the faith the Sufi’s have produced some of the most beautiful art poetry and music,” he continues. The Sufi’s he explains have always experienced condemnation from Islamic hard-liners who see music as a distraction from God, yet it has spread across the Muslim world. In Sufi Soul Dalrymple travels through Pakistan, India, Syria, Turkey and Morocco discussing how Sufism merges with local cultures to produce idiosyncratic new forms wherever it travels. He visits the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey, noting the irony that whilst it’s out and proud for the tourists, Sufism is still officially banned (though tolerated) in Turkey. Thus brotherhoods meet all over Istanbul in secret after years of oppression, such as the one Dalrymple visits in a nondescript apartment block. The music in this documentary is amazing, such as the raw minimal highly percussive chanting in Syria, or the Qawwali music of Pakistan as exemplified by legendary singer Nusfrat Fateh Ali Khan. It’s these intimate performances in homes, courtyards, on the street or in temples that provide a rare insight of the important role music plays in daily life.

He visits the famous tanneries in Fez (Morocco) and interviews one of the Gnawa trance musicians before we get an incredible driving percussive performance in his house. This music has healing properties. “As soon as they hear the right music they have to do the trance dance,” one of the musicians offers, “Even if you bound them with chains they would have to dance.” He remains in Fez for the great festival of Sacred Music, a festival established after the first gulf war, prompted by the increasing polarisation of the Arab and Western world. It’s a festival which juxtaposes religious music from across the world. Dalrymple highlights Senegalese vocalist Youssou N’Dour who performs here with an orchestra, and notes that music can correct the false notion that violence is somehow intrinsically linked with Islam. It’s a fascinating and healing journey, and another remainder of the power of music, particularly when it’s not just used as a tool to sell you cosmetics and perfume.

Fragmented Films DVD Column 25th Oct 08

In the audio commentary to his 1968 sci fi sexploitation shocker Space Thing (Siren), schlock producer and shyster extraordinare David F Friedman laments that “We could show beaver but not pickles.” Some forty years on things have changed. There’s enough pickles in 2008’s Destricted (Accent) to make your local greengrocer jealous. And who knew that pickles were actually part of a beaver’s diet? 

Destricted is so rude and nasty that it comes in a black box without pictures. Yet it’s done with such high art sensibilities that you’d hesitate to tar it with a sexploitation brush. That’s despite the presence of Larry Clark (Kids/Ken Park), who’s penchant for pre pubescent boys with their shirts off never ceases to disturb. It’s six short films from some of the more boundary pushing artists around, exploring issues of sex, art and pornography. It begins with Bjork’s squeeze, Mathew Barney (Cremaster Cycle) a video artist who’s works vary from tedious to wrong, often at the same time. His piece Hoist is hilarious, a man with a pineapple shoved up his ass pleasures himself by rubbing his erect pickle against the lubed up drive-shaft of a giant caterpillar truck which has been hoisted by a crane for this very purpose. It’s so pretentiously filmed that it can’t help but confuse. Extreme French director Gaspar Noe (Irreversible) shoots his load to immediately, masturbation with the most annoying moving camera and strobe effects and Marina Abramovic, Sam Taylor Wood and Richard Prince also fiddle with their pickles and beavers to varying success. Not surprisingly the most provocative and wrongest moments come from Mr Clark. He places an add in the paper requesting volunteers to have sex with a porn star. He interviews each applicant on camera about their sexual history and relationship with porn.  Then he makes them strip so he can see their pickle. It’s terrifying. These young men’s views on sexuality have totally been hijacked by cumshots and boob jobs. Clark suspiciously picks the most pre pubescent looking volunteer, who then takes on the role of interviewer, asking a gaggle of porn starlets similar questions. He then choses the one he wishes to mount. Trust me when I say from here on in, if it wasn’t already, it’s very creepy and wrong. It doesn’t say ‘Actual Sexual Activity’ on this black box for nothing.  

Suddenly exploitation is cool again, particularly Ozploitation, thanks to the upcoming doco Not Quite Hollywood (Madman), which drags our seedy sorry cinematic past back into the spotlight like a guilty teenager caught playing with his pickle. It has the ultimate seal of approval,Tarantino theft, sorry,  homage. The person crawling around the bonnet of the speeding car in Death Proof came straight from the 1986 Australian film Fair Game (Beyond). Fair game is your classic rape revenge film, except thankfully the rape is left out. Set in an outback wildlife sanctuary Cassandra Delaney (who would go on to marry John Denver) is terrorised by three bogan Kangaroo poachers with big guns and a souped up 4×4, with evil red eyes that sounds like a lion roaring when idling.  In Not Quite Hollywood Tarantino speaks of the film’s did I just see that? moment. After destroying her house the baddies strip her nude, tie her to the front of the car like a ‘human hood ornament’ and hoon around whooping self consciously like 13 year olds who’ve just watched Destricted. This wrongness only adds to the joy. This, like Vegemite is something we can be proud of.

David Lynch’s Inland Empire (Directors Suite) is a Hollywood art film, where time, space, texture and light are all tools to be manipulated. He has moved so far beyond conventional narrative that he’s operating on levels far beyond his contemporaries. We’re talking Jodorowsky meets Fellini, epic, nonsensical exhilarating genius. His best film since Eraserhead. It’s just as painful and twice as long. Extras include some great interviews.

Fox news is worse than dumb news for dumb people. It’s biased news for people too preoccupied to have minds. You wont believe how blatant they are. Outfoxed (Dv1) is a doco that will have your blood boiling and it’s been reduxed for 2008 with extra features, offering a unique perspective about the organised right wing propaganda machine that Obahma’s up against.