Fragmented Frequencies Nov 11

So how would you like your music? With ideas please. Earthstation is what happens when you combine a sustainability conference featuring leading scientists and academics with world music in the Belair National Park about 10kms out of Adelaide.

“India is moving 5cms every year, pushing the Himalayas North,” offers Professor Mike Sandiford in his lecture Humans as Geological Agents. At some point in 2050 he suggests our output of power will match the planet’s power, the equivalent of an atom bomb a day.

The music began with the USA’s Kronos Quartet performing Terry Riley’s NASA commissioned Sun Rings. Using, samples and incredible visual imagery of space, they conjured up a weary yet uplifting tone, where skittering electrics interweaved with classical strings. Two days later they would play a set in the hot sun with pieces from Riley, Glass, even Syrian superstar Omar Souleyman.

Chinese pipa (an ancient string instrument) master Wu Man performed with the Shanghai Chinese Orchestra, presenting traditional centuries old folk and classical music. The Zheng, a mouth organ on steroids is particularly amazing as the orchestra took us on a tour through provincial china with their stately music. On the closing night they would surprise and fascinate with a hilarious rendition of Click Go the Shears on the 21-string zither.

Central Australian Indigenous rockers Iwantja’s recent album Payla is a cracker. It’s everything but the kitchen sink fusion. “Who likes to party? This next song is called we like to party. So get ready to party,” they warn. Their energy is infectious in a set that goes from Gurrimal style crooning to 80’s soft rock finger tapping guitar solos, to 60’s surf guitar, outback reggae, power blues, heavy metal and everything in between.

“You can’t expect the US to lead on this issue, but you can expect Australia to,” offers Roy Neel (Al Gore’s Chief of staff), in a lively panel discussion on the politics and policy of climate change. He’s quite impressed that carbon tax is still alive in Australia when it was shot down in the US. Other panellists aren’t so sure. Ian Lowe from Griffith University suggests Australia can no longer use the drug dealers defence, that if we don’t sell coal someone else will. The irony of implementing a carbon tax whilst exporting coal and uranium is lost on no one. “It’s important to have a well hung parliament,” sums up Giles Parkinson.

Zakir Hussain delivered a master class in percussion, where he was joined on stage by an ever-changing gaggle of percussionists including his own brother who opened the performance with incredibly percussive breathing. Hussain understands mastery plus theatre equals a great performance. His brother talks of the journey of a train and they proceed to represent it through rhythm, ending in an incredible percussion call and response duel.

Congo’s Konono No1 took to the stage with bemused smiles, peering down at us as they fiddled with their likembes. It was like they knew something that we didn’t, and as their trance music began to take hold we rose like lemmings to dance to this strange beautiful bizarre music. The likembe sound soaring across the Belair parklands was majestic, causing people to act in strange ways, from bizarre dancing to kids being flung headlong into the air on blankets. The one constant was the beatific grins held by all.

Later Mark Atkins regaled all with his bush tales. His approach to the didgeridoo is quite unique, beat boxing, even talking through it, conjuring up everything from experimental drone music to techno, and the sound of ‘a road train right up the ass.’

The festival ended with the stately Mandela like South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. Seemingly improvised he played solo piano for over 50 minutes of gentle beautiful simplicity. A light rain fell and we lay on our backs closed our eyes and just allowed the music to flow over us.

“We don’t inherit the earth from our parents, we loan it from our children,” came a Native American proverb during the final Kronos performance. It’s a statement that sums up the festival as a whole. Ideas were everywhere, combined with solution focused positive thoughts for the future. It’s one of the smartest festivals around. Despite some odd musical choices (Paris Wells/ Rickie Lee Jones) and Tounami Diabate’s last minute cancellation, the mix of thought provoking discussions and world music over two and a half days in the beautiful Belair National Park was an inspiring model of a conscious festival. It didn’t hurt that I saw three koalas either.

Interview With Yoshihiro Nishimura

Some films frighten or terrify you, grossing you out with rivers of gore. Others make you laugh. But few can do both in equal measure. The work of Japanese director Yoshihiro Nishimura is surreal creepy and silly. In films like Tokyo Gore Police and Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl (co directed with Naoyuki Tomomatsu) he delights in the extreme, in grotesque mutations of the human body and pushing things to the point of absurdity. In fact beneath the geysers of blood on his most recent outing, the zombie splatterfest Helldriver, there’s an almost slapstick quality.

“I do like slapstick comedy,” admits Nishimura via email, “but I think I prefer “splatstick” comedy, like EVIL DEAD 2, ARMY OF DARKNESS, RE-ANIMATOR, FRANKENHOOKER and BRAINDEAD!”

Yet there are also elements of everyone from Dali, Jodorowsky and of course Lynch and Cronenberg floating around in his unique hilarious body horror.

“I don’t think they’ve influenced my films directly as much as created a basic mindset within me to create similar works,” he suggests thoughtfully.

Despite directing some shorts when he was younger, it comes as little surprise to discover that Nishimura’s main involvement in the film industry was via special fx on films like Suicide Club, Horny House of Horror, Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead, and Machine Girl. In fact he runs his own sfx company, having worked on over 65 feature films. But when the opportunity to direct presented itself arose he grabbed it with both hands.

“I had been working on so many other films over the years as special effects director or makeup designer, that all the time I’d been thinking of how I could do something better than the film I happened to be working on! This was especially true with some of the more boring or uncreative films I’d done effects for. All the while I was working on these sets, I was thinking “why don’t we do this?” or “things would look so much better this way.”

His most recent film is Helldriver, an over the top take on a zombie film. With zombies with machine guns instead of arms and legs and a car made from severed zombie parts it takes extremity to a whole new level.

“I wanted to play with zombies!” He reveals. “I’d wanted to make a zombie movie for some time, but in Japan, zombie movies are a bit difficult. We burn our dead, so there was the issue of coming up with an origin for the zombies.”

“Personally, I want to see things that I’ve never seen before in a movie,” he continues. “The zombie car is one example of that. Something that I thought might be really awesome in a movie, but had never seen anyone attempt before.”

Despite people being split in half, vaginas that turn into the snapping jaws of crocodiles and zombie babies still attached from the umbilical cord flung by its mother at victims, Nishimura points out there are limits.

“I have no interest, for instance, in doing a movie about a woman who gets put into prison and tortured, stuff like that. But if other people want to do it, I think it’s okay. I just may not want to watch it as a viewer. But in terms of my own works, I will always do the things I want to do, no matter what they are or how “extreme” others may consider them. To me, they may not be so extreme.”

Iwantja – Palya (Wontok Music)

Hailing from Central Australia, from Indulkana, near the border between Northern Territory and South Australia, Iwantja are everything but the kitchen sink music. They wear their influences on their sleeves, and on their debut album they want to touch upon as many of these as possible. This kind of youthful exuberance comes across as quite charming as some of the juxtapositions between songs are near hysterical.

We’re talking desert reggae one track, Megadeth style metal or Zepplinesque riffs the next, followed by sweet gentle emotional Gurrimal style crooning. It’s hard to know how exactly to place these disparate threads, and you get the sense that their isolation and tyranny of distance (Indulkana is 575 km out of Alice Springs, and the population is about 250) contributes significantly to how their influences are synthesized.

They sing songs about love, grog, Maralinga, about traditional life and partying, sung in the main in language. Their guitarist in particular is amazing, you can tell he’s been raised on a diet of Satriani and Hendrix and will often come in quite unexpectedly in ways you would never expect and initially seem inappropriate. Yet it always works. And despite the ballads you can tell that this is a band that likes to rock out.

Occasionally they take it further than is needed, venturing a little too far into kitsch, such as Gonna Party which is sung in English and features a hip hop breakdown and squalling guitar solo and the band telling us that they’re gonna party like they’ve ‘never partied before.’ But when you’re travelling this close to the sun you’re gonna get burned occasionally. And to be fair it’s this kitchness that makes the song great.

Iwantja are doing something really different in Indigenous music. Their stylistic schizophrenia, the frequent desire to explode into guitar driven rockouts no matter how tender the song, and their general exuberance all contribute to what is a fascinating debut album.

Tinariwen – Tassili (V2)

Tinariwen, the southern Sahara dwelling Tuareg freedom fighters turned musicians are now five albums down the track. The surprise of the uniqueness of their music is now but a distant memory, and the concern comes from how they could continue to evolve their form. Yet you needn’t be concerned, as they’ve stripped back to acoustic guitars and handclaps with Tassili, determined to demonstrate a change of pace.

Most obviously there’s the presence of folks like Wilco’s experimental guitarist Nels Cline, who offers a squalling guitar background to the opening piece Imidiwan Ma Tenam, or the incredible vocals of Tunde Adebimpe (TV on The Radio) on Tenere Taqhim Tossam adding a molasses soul to Tinariwen’s weary battle hardened cries. A couple of folks from New Orleans Dirty Dozen Brass Band add some low droning brass to Ya Messinagh, offering a profoundly mournful quality to the sounds offering a somehow familiar but still new feel to the music.

At first all this outside interaction feels a little forced, the equivalent of the music jumping the shark, yet the more you listen, the more the different influences really seep into the music. Both Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe (TV on The Radio) both travelled out to South Eastern Algeria where the album was recorded to participate. Their backing vocals in particular whilst feeling seamless and natural, really alter the direction that Tinariwen are moving in. They still have those driving grooves and desert blues riffs, yet the outsiders really open up new directions to travel. The music betrays the influence of their touring and exposure to numerous new genres of music, and Tassili is all the better for it. Lyrically it’s still earthy and organic, tales in and around their Saharan homeland.

The production is also incredible; so rich and articulate, you can hear the vocalists pursing their lips in absolute clarity. And the songs are typically haunting, sparse and emotional. Tinariwen made a decision with Tassili to challenge themselves to open up new dialogue with western musicians and it’s paid off handsomely without diluting their music one iota, and raising numerous possibilities for the future.

Four Tet – Fabriclive 59 (Fabric/ Balance)

If his own music didn’t give you enough of an indication, with it’s whimsical at times folktronic warmth, producer/ electronicist Keiren Hebden (aka Four tet) isn’t afraid to become a little nostalgic from time to time. His Fabric mix is very much this, wiping a tear from the eye as he casts his ears way back (over 15 whole years) to the mid 90’s two step/ garage scene that he grew up around. Confining his music to one scene is an interesting approach on a mix cd, though it’s this reasonably focussed containment that makes it seem less like a Four Tet flight of fancy and more important as some form of historical document. Yet to be fair, many of these tunes are now out of print and were pretty obscure even to those immersed in the music at the time.

Lending an almost method acting rigour to his approach, Hebden intersperses field recordings from the Fabric club between his selections, the breaks always seeming to come at the rights times, and even cuts his own (some unreleased) tunes onto acetate so every tune (which is all on vinyl) retains its sonic authenticity.

It’s an unashamedly club mix that forces you to really appreciate subtle differences, allowing you to peer between the skittering beats and discover that melodic heart pulsing within. Whist big names like Burial, Caribou, himself, and even stranger Ricardo Villalobos appearing, even STL’s Dark Energy, an acid infused minimal house tune that is an absolute cracker, there are numerous lesser known obscure artists that tear your face off. And that’s the beauty, the mix evolves, from skittery 2 step beats into more techno late night orientated fare.

Aside from Four Tet’s incredible album closer locked, the highlight is his previously unreleased mix of Crazy Baldheads First born (the original mix also appears), where behind the frenetic bluster of percussion these gentle tinkering run of keys lurk, almost like they’re blowing in the breeze, and it just feels right.

Fantastic Asia Film Festival Highlights

Milocrorze a Love Story is totally off its brain. One moment it’s cute Amelie style quirk, the next hardcore revenge samurai, the next in mines the surreal wrongness of Chris Morris. Then those worlds collide. Brimming with pop culture references from Miyazaki to Mad Max, it won best fantastic film at Fantastic film fest in Austin and it has a logic all its own, a peculiar surreal genius that defies words, sense or any connection with reality. With high-energy dance scenes, absurd fables and brutal violence, this is a very strange take on the perils of love.

Pink film is a style of Japanese soft-core that began in the 60’s, and almost died out in 80’s with advent of adult video. Yet it has kicked and spluttered on since then, gaining wider acclaim in the last decade. Sex and Zen Extreme Ecstasy 3d is a big budget update on the sleazy erotic trilogy from the 90’s. With lavish costumes and an abundance of carnal activity, the story is based on a 17th century novel the Carnal Prayer Mat, the same text as the original Sex and Zen, which caused a sensation when it was released in 1991. Subsequent sequels failed live up to the promise of the original, however perhaps enough time has passed to reboot the series, and to be fair even if it’s terrible the concept of a 3D erotic film could raise a few, uh, eyebrows.

FAFF closes with another recent entry into the Pink genre, Underwater Love, a German Japanese co production and promises to be very very bizarre.

“It’s really really fantastic,” suggests FAFF director Neil Foley. “It’s like a Pinku melodic soft porn musical and the music is by Stereo Total, the German electronic act. It’s a famous Pinku director with famous Australian arthouse cinematographer Christopher Doyle (In The Mood For Love).” The story is about a fish factory worker who begins to question her recent engagement when she is visited by a former lover in the shape of a half man half turtle. “It’s sweet, cute and fluffy with stacks of fucking,” laughs Foley.

Then there are classy films like Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead, which is pretty much self-explanatory. It’s apparently disgusting, and absolutely hilarious. It recently won an audience award at Fantastic Fest in Austin, so it’s also a real crowd pleaser.

Tomie Unlimited is the 9th film in the Tomie series about an evil high school student who just wont die. It was directed by Noboru Iguhi who had previously directed the totally insane body splatter Machine Girl, which means it starts excessive then escalates to near hysterical levels. The final 20 minutes are mind numbing.

Speaking of escalation welcome to the blood drenched Helldriver from director Yoshihiro Niishimura, the lunatic behind Tokyo Gore Police one, of the best of Japan’s recent body horror films. It’s seedy zombie film with a difference, filled with all kinds of wrongness like zombies attacking the living by kneeling down in rows, whilst another zombie gets behind them with a machete and golf style tees off, sending hundreds of their chomping heads flying through the air. It’s a film that delights in dismembered body parts flying through the air or even being made into vehicles. It’s nuts. When they start flinging around attacking zombie babies still attached to the umbilical chord you know they mean business.

Fragmented Fish November 2011

A Serbian Film is shocking. It’s sexually brutal and transgressive cinema that is unrepentantly provocative gratuitous and manipulative. When fragmented fish reviewed it a couple of months ago he was driven to warn the reader that you can’t unwatch this film. The debut feature of Srdjan Spasojevic, like Salo, I Spit on Your Grave or even A Clockwork Orange it uses violence or in this case sexual violence that involves children as a metaphor for the depravity of the Balkan war in the 90’s.

It’s caused controversy overseas and in order to secure a release here the distributor Accent cut three minutes at the classification boards behest. It’s this version of the film that was finally released, however outcry from community groups and the South Australian attorney general sparked a review, and the film was effectively banned.

It’s a decision that reignites the censorship debate in Australia, bringing to mind the furore around Salo, Base-Moi, Bruce La Bruce’s La Zombie and Larry Clark’s Ken Park. It also highlights how subjective and open to manipulation the censorship laws are in this country. It’s peculiar that the board can ask for specific cuts to a film, release it, only to reverse their decision months later.

For Accent who have released edgy controversial films like Irreversible and Destriction, it was not about the depravity. “We never pick up a film because it has extreme violence or sex in it,” General Manager George Papodopoulos offers. “There has to be more than that and we have seen and passed on many very graphic films because we felt they were total exploitation and had no redeeming qualities.”

The film reads like a comment on the pornification of our culture, where women, men, even children have been reduced to sexual commodities by mass media. Spasojevic though seems to take a certain salivating delight in the depravity, drawing it out much further than is tolerable. It’s a point taken up by Melinda Liszewski from Collective Shout, an organization that fights the sexualisation of children and submitted to the classification board to have the film banned.

“The story line of A Serbian Film does reflect the message that the making of pornography causes real harm to people,” she states. “However, this message is undermined by putting in front of the viewer detailed depictions of sexual violence against women and young children. A Serbian Film is the violent pornography it pretends to condemn.”

Yet there’s something about the excess, pushing things further beyond taboo that help shine a light on our own cultural practices. And that’s where the debate lies. Can the extreme sexual violence be justified as political comment or art? At this point in this country the answer is no.

For Collective Shout it’s a victory, though they believe that a classification system that passes a film like A Serbian Film needs a complete overhaul. For Accent though it’s a financial hit, highlighting the perils of bringing challenging transgressive cinema into this country. Papadopoulus though is undaunted.

“It’s probably made us even more determined to ensure quality, challenging films can be seen in a democratic, free country like Australia,” he offers.