Omar Souleyman – Australia 2012 Tour Album

omar

Syrian wedding singer Omar Souleyman is from Ras Al Ain, located in North Eastern Syria near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. It’s this unique location that has been instrumental in shaping his sounds, with influence coming from Turkish, Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian music, highly percussive sounds that become something more than the sum of their parts.

It’s music that’s difficult to describe, comparisons come from electronic music as all of his sounds come from the Korg of his synth player Rizan, a man who creates specific regional patches on the Korg for numerous Arabic musicians. It’s an instrument that he’s made his own, one moment sounding like a raspy wind instrument, the next hand drums. The result is relentless energy, this insane, frenetic Arabic techno that sounds artificial but feels organic.

Live Souleyman is an excitement machine, like a cheerleader, prowling the stage inciting the audience into increasing levels of frenzy over the feverish hypnotic music. In full flight they’re cultural overload, some of the most energetic life affirming sounds you could ever imagine. Very little can prepare you for Omar.

This 7-track album brings together all new material that sounds raw, like it was recorded live. In fact it could very well be, particularly given many of his 500 plus cassette releases in Syria were live recordings at weddings. The reason it appears live is the occasional feedback and periodic subtle distortion of the vocals, both of which only add to the urgency and excitement of the music.  Also Omar appears somewhat carried away by the music, seemingly feeding off the crowd, which is what he does best. It’s undoubtedly raw music, without studio spit and polish, yet somehow that conveys authenticity, and as a result you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Bob Baker Fish

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Berberian Sound Studio – ACMI

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With the beginning of the talkies in the 1930’s cinema changed forever. Suddenly events could be heard but not seen, and the path to the emotions became clearer as suddenly sound had three levels to play with, the dialogue, the score and the foley. What we’ve learnt since is that it’s often how these layers intersect that can define your cinematic experience. Good directors know this, people like David Lynch and Sergio Leonne have made it an art form, a deep sonic experience that is as playful as it is affecting and elevates their films exponentially.

Berberian Sound studio is fascinating in that it is simultaneously a homage to the sound design of the past and a claustrophobic, somewhat surrealistic psychological thriller.

“Come this way, don’t be afraid, a new world of sound awaits you,” offers the mysterious producer Francesco when the cherubic faced English sound designer Gilderoy arrives in Rome to work on a sadistic horror film.

“Strike a light man,” what’s he doing to her,” Gilderoy says on his first screening, as the assistants provide the sound effects by smashing watermelons with sledgehammers.

Gilderoy is the naïve fish out of water. He lives with his mother who writes sweet letters to him about birds nesting in their roof. Until he arrived he had no knowledge of the true nature of the film, now here he is confronted by its sadistic violence and brutality.

In his apartment he makes the sound of chainsaw cutting through flesh via a blender and tomato juice. It spurts out and it hits him in the head looking like a hyper red wound from an Argento Giallo. Actresses wheeze and scream operatically from the sound booth. Gilderoy stabs a cabbage.

The director, Santini is strange and enigmatic, surely a nod to Italian goremeister Dario Argento, bristling when Gilderoy refers to the film as horror. In Santini’s eyes he’s making transgressive art. The producer, Francesco is watchful, at times openly hostile. Actors are furtive, “You need to ask yourself why they hired you,” suggests one. Gilderoy is overwhelmed, operating in a world far outside his comfort zone. He becomes insular and retreats into the sound, taking his tapes home, listening to scenes endlessly. Eventually they blur together, Gilderoy, the film, his sound work all become indistinguishable. And it’s the soundtrack that becomes the connection.

All the while Gilderoy’s anxiety grows.

“Are there going to be more scenes like this? I’m sorry, these interrogations,” he shrugs his shoulders futilely, eyes pleading with Santini.

It’s the work of UK director Peter Strickland, a real love letter to sound from days gone by, a celebration of Italian slasher films of the 70’s, of an analogue tape based approach and fetishising old fx boxes, and foley techniques. In fact we never actually see the film, aside from a suitably over the top animated credits sequence. All that we know about the film comes from sound, from Gilderoy’s reactions, from his sound maps.

Sonically it’s nothing short of remarkable, one long music concrete piece, crisp, beautiful, playful and disconcerting. It’s the perfect soundtrack to disconnection, paranoia and alienation.

Berberian Sound Studio is an incredible achievement. Strickland unsurprisingly has a history with music, forming a music culinary group Sonic Catering Band in 1996, utilising elements of field recordings, sound poetry and modern classical music. Here in his second feature he has crafted a truly unique vision, or perhaps vision is the wrong word. Rather it’s a unique sonic environment, where sound is simultaneously the subject, the plot instigator and a self-conscious mechanism of manipulation. Despite the fact that Gilderoy is ostensibly creating sound for another film, the results of his experiments are still profoundly unsettling and disturbing, not to mention fascinating. It’s very very clever. While it reveals the underbelly of film sound, it can’t help but use these very approaches and techniques on you.

It’ll come as no surprise that Berberian Sound Studio scooped the pool at the recent British Independent Film Awards, picking up four gongs including best director for Strickland, best actor for Toby Jones as Gilderoy, and the production team won best achievement in production and best technical achievement.

Thurs 27th of Dec – Sun 13 Jan – ACMI.

 

 

Fragmented Films Dec 2012

Bellflower_flame thrower at night

Bellflower (Accent) is what happens when you and your mate watch Mad Max way too many times and begin to fantasise about being characters in the film.

Woodrow and his BFF Aiden are two twelve year old boys trapped in the bodies of twenty something slackers, spending their time drinking too much beer, chasing girls and building and testing flamethrowers and muscle cars where flames fly out of the exhaust.

They say it’s in preparation for the coming apocalypse, but their notion of the Armageddon is shallow, dripping in cinematic cool, a movie fantasy where they get to be the baddest dudes with the coolest toys in town.

It’s the debut feature of writer, director and star Evan Glodell, a labour of love made on the smell of an oily rag, because like the characters in the film, Glodell chose to spend most of the budget on the car.

At a bug eating contest Woodrow meets Milly, and they fall in love doing quirky Gen y things like driving for three days on their first date so he can take her to the cheapest nastiest place he can think of. It’s when their love inevitably sours that the flamethrowers come out, and the boys get their apocalypse, albeit saddled with significantly more emotional baggage and visceral brutality than they’d envisaged.

Bellflower is a violent, dark and beautiful film. Thanks to its budget it feels raw and handmade, possessing an energy that’s rare in American films since the decline of the indie over the last decade. Glodell made the flamethrowers, the car, even some of cameras, which provide the film its unique, at times disconcerting feel. Make no mistake Bellflower heralds the arrival of a significant new vision, a filmmaker who literally views a relationship break up as the end of the world.

There’s a scene in Polisse (Curious), supposedly one of its lighter moments, where a young girl is at the Parisian police child protection unit relating her story. “ She took my phone and she said that she wouldn’t give it back unless I gave her friends head. So I said okay.”

“Okay to what?” Ask the police

“To blowing them for my phone,” she replies.

“You must really like your phone,” offers the cop barely containing her laughter.

“It was a smart phone,” says the girl oblivious to the howls of laughter.

“And for a laptop?” Asks another cop and they’re all in hysterics again.

It may seem pretty callous behaviour for a squad who investigate child maltreatment, but over the preceding 40 odd minutes they’d repeatedly collared paedophiles, dealt with exploited children, witnessed multiple cases of incest, and disposed of the stillborn baby of a rape victim. It’s all pretty harrowing stuff, filmed documentary style from the perspective of a photojournalist who accompanies the eclectic unit. Occasionally they need to blow off some steam and they do this via copious drinking and finding humour in bleak unexpected places. Polisse is admittedly raw, but it’s also a fascinating examination of the costs of doing one of the most difficult jobs on the planet.

 

Tantrums/ Vladislav Delay/ Harmonic 313 – Where?House at The Argus Building (Melbourne)

The Where?house is a shell of a building, all exposed concrete pillars and dark recesses, with lights, colours and patterns projected onto every conceivable space. It’s an amazing venue to experience music, with large, or in places no ceilings, and a wide expanse in front of the stage, meaning that you can basically EQ the music you are listening to yourself, simply by walking around.

Local outfit the Tantrums are a strange bunch, not altogether rock, not totally dance, they exist in the fringe somewhere in between. If you can imagine the sound of Vangelis meets Neu, with a vague gothic vibe then you’d be halfway there. It’s difficult to know what to make of them. There are a lot of ideas bouncing around, some good, some concerning. Somehow that only adds to the fun.

Finish electronic legend Vladislav Delay takes to the stage like it’s a pulpit. Richard Devine has inexplicably pulled out of tonight’s performance, which has given Delay an extra thirty odd minutes. He uses it by crafting some incredible nerve-wracking avant electronic textures. He hints at grooves, yet deftly avoids falling into them, crafting the soundscape to an agitated journey. At times the ingredients are familiar, a sound here or there reminiscent of his recorded work, however in the main it’s abstract barely coherent electronics and it’s incredible.

Just when you’re questioning your sanity, he drops in a groove, possibly just to prove that he can, it’s fractured and beautiful, too weird for the dancefloor, but much more coherent than the previous twenty five minutes. His set continues with Delay taking every conceivable opportunity to fracture his sounds. For the uninitiated there’s probably not a lot to hold onto, however if you’re familiar with his recorded output, at times it feels like your dancing to what isn’t there as much as what is. We know these sounds, so even if the approach is more messed up than usual at least it’s a demonstration that he’s actually playing live. It’s one of the most difficult, beautiful and progressively unhomogenised electronic sets you could ever hope to see.

Harmonic 313 by comparison feels derivative, with his shuddering dubstep ingredients and sped up breaks, he’s DJing and processing bits and pieces through effects. If Delay hadn’t happened it would’ve been great. But in a post Delay world it’s hard to really focus on anything else.

 

Neil Young – Psychedelic Pill (Reprise)

neil Young

With news of a new Neil Young album it’s difficult not to wonder which Neil we’re going get this time. In a 40 plus year career he’s offered up some legendary albums and also some real turkeys. For every After The Goldrush there’s Everybody’s Rocking. One useful indication is the presence of his rock band Crazy Horse. Neil loves them for their feel, and their willingness to stick to a groove and allow him to solo endlessly over the top. There’s no denying Crazy Horse bring out the best in Neil primarily because they make him get electric.

Which leads us to Psychedelic Pill, and from the opening chords of the twenty seven and a half minute Drifting Back it’s clear that Neil is back where he belongs, wielding epic ramshackle garage jams into the ether. There’s something reassuring about finding him here, big loud, noisy, loose and lumbering, lost in a reverie, guitar flailing in full flight, buoyed by Crazy Horse’s rough hewn energy.

Psychedelic Pill is an album drowning in reflection and aging, possibly the overflow from his recent autobiography Waging Heavy Peace. He rails against Mp3’s, the commercialization of art, and the death of the hippy dream, yet also tips his hat to Dylan, and delivers a rousing tune about his birthplace in Ontario.

At 87 plus minutes, Psychedelic Pill is Neil’s longest album, a double disc set providing plenty of space between the extended hypnotic riffs for a man intent on looking backwards. In fact it’s the combination of earnest nostalgia and ragged anthemic playing that makes Psychedelic Pill so rewarding, demonstrating that as a unit Neil and Crazy Horse still have something to say. “She likes to burn,” he offers on She’s Always Dancing, and the same could be said for Neil. Four decades on and he’s still playing with matches.

 

Interview with Omar Souleyman at Cyclic Defrost

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Omar Souleyman is a wedding singer from Ras Al Ain, located in northeastern Syria near the Iraqi and Turkish border. He’s playing in Melbourne on Wednesday night and is an excitement machine. Check out my interview with the great man here:

http://www.cyclicdefrost.com/blog/2012/12/omar-souleyman-interview/