Fragmented Frequencies Jan 2013

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Dr George Merryweather was born in 1794 in Yorkshire England. Whilst he was a family doctor who later became a surgeon, it was his thirst for invention that has him remembered today. In 1832 he invented the Platina Lamp, which could apparently keep burning for a fortnight on a mixture of alcohol and whiskey. Couldn’t we all?

His Leech barometer, or Tempest Prognosticator caused a sensation in 1851. Putting 12 pint bottles in a circle beneath a large bell, each with a connecting metal tube, Merryweather then poured an inch and a half of rainwater into each bottle and deposited one leech. Influenced by the electromagnetic state of the atmosphere the leech would climb into the tube setting off the bell, warning of impending bad weather. And why 12 leeches? The more bell rings the greater the likelihood of a storm. Also he didn’t want the leaches to get lonely. The resultant machine looks like a strange miniature merry go round, and Merryweather was of the belief that it was highly accurate and envisaged a wide network of leech forecasters across the United Kingdom. Unfortunately cheaper alternatives not involving the use of blood sucking slugs became popular, effectively freezing Merryweather out of the weather prediction business and resigning the Tempest Prognosticator to a bizarre curio of history.

In 2010 Andrew Day (aka Nightswimmer) visited the home of the Tempest Prognosticator in Whitby Yorkshire. Fascinated by the instrument, Day felt inspired to make some field recordings of the site, including some underwater recordings nearby using a homemade hydrophone. He combined these sounds, heartbeat, trombone, zither, mandolin, guitar, bass, electronics and vocals to produce an epic 35-minute piece of sound. Interestingly it’s probably the noisiest work he’s recorded under his Nightswimmer guise, a project that you could previously describe as being lush, even ambient electronics. Despite the agitation, the piece, which moves through numerous moods eventually finds itself in an almost shoegaze electronic noise space, engaging with static and barnacles, yet find deeply melodic moments hidden beneath the chaos. It’s a fascinating work and it’s really great to hear him work not only long form, but with some more difficult sounds and textures, and ultimately still create a work of majestic beauty. He may have set out to make an aggressive noise piece, something a world away from his back catalogue, yet ultimately it appears he can’t help himself. You can listen for free or name your price here: http://nightswimmer.bandcamp.com/album/the-tempest-prognosticator-2.

Speaking of field recordings and speaking of free, Brisbane based composer and head honcho at the incredible Room40 label Lawrence English has just posted a double album on his website. Titled Songs of The Living And The Lived In (Room40), it comprises of recordings gathered over the last 10 years on his travels around the world. Songs of the Living is of course the animal world, monkeys, bats, frogs, Antarctic fur seals, even an incredible sounding Rhinoceros beetle. The lived in are environmental spaces such as a toy store, a subway, a cemetery gate, VLF During a solar storm, blizzard battering walls, you get the picture. There are strange buzzes, clicks and shuddering, these pieces aren’t edited, they’re just the raw recordings that English then uses to create his compositions. Not only is it interesting to get an insight into the raw material he uses, the sounds themselves are pretty incredible. Check http://emporium.room40.org/categories/room40 and download for free.

Finally tomorrow night an intimate concert will be occurring in Adam Simmon’s home studio in Northcote. With only 20 spaces available it’s first booked first served, and an amazing way to experience improvised music. The evening will focus on two duo performances. The first will feature Simmons and amazing improviser and cult of personality Jeff Henderson (NZ) on saxophones and the second will feature Hermione Johnson (NZ) on prepared piano and David Brown (Candlesnuffer) on prepared guitar. To book email Simmons: fatrain@adamsimmons.com.

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Rokia Traore – Melbourne Recital Centre

The physical difference between Mali musician Rokia Traore since her last visit to Australia a couple of years back is striking. As she walks onto stage to rapturous applause she’s all sinew and muscle, with her hair closely cropped. The sex bomb with the big bombastic band from Womadelaide is now a stately ambassador giving back to her country of birth.

Tonight’s performance is all about her charitable work. A few years back she returned to Mali and set up a foundation to provide the opportunity for aspiring musicians to develop their skills. Her tour to Australia is to raise money for the foundation, though also to give some of the singers an opportunity to tour and perform live with the great woman and her band.

Typically for Traore the instrumentation is a fusion of traditional Malian instruments, notably the kora (African Harp) and the Ngoni, (a distinctive lute like instrument made from hide) with a drum kit, electric guitar and double bass.

Tonight it’s all cover versions of old Mali music that’s rarely performed these days. The kora, surely one of the most lyrical instruments in the world features prominently, though of course it’s Traore smoky voice that is nothing short of spellbinding. She effortlessly commands the stage, almost whispering between songs.  Mali’s current social and political upheavals are never far from the surface, and she thanks the international community for sending in troops. “It’s not about religion or a god,” she offers, “it’s about greed.” She’s concerned that the Islamists who have imposed Sharia law in the North want to remove the ethnic diversity of Mali, and they want to take away the incredible music.

The music is beautiful, the backup singers swaying effortlessly behind the music, before occasionally taking centre stage themselves with Traore returning to their place providing backing vocals. The covers eventually move into West Africa and further, Bob Marley’s Zimbabwe, Fela Kuti’s Lady, Miriam Makeeba, even Tabu Ley Rochereau. She has us clapping, gets us up to dance and even sings happy birthday to a friend’ father. All the while the audience marvels at her beauty, her remarkable voice and the incredible music and vitality that pours forth from this amazing woman.

Fragmented Films Jan 2013

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There’s something disconcerting about watching meat getting cut up on screen. Of course slicing and dicing humans is fine, hell it’s even funny sometimes as the myriad of slasher films attest. What could be more hysterical than watching some poor victim frantically trying to scoop their entrails back into their belly? Good times for sure.

But the daily goings on in a butchers shop? Well that’s downright terrifying.  The cover of Meat (Accent), with a seemingly traumatised naked woman on the cover, suggests the typical women in peril torture porn. But if you look a little closer at her expression she’s sad, almost wistful. The precise tone is a little difficult to gauge, much like the film itself. Meat is set in a butcher’s shop, with some of the least appealing produce you can imagine. Yet it’s a highly sexual shop with the overweight perennially sweating butcher just popping into the cool room with the boss for a little game of hide the salami. Later he molests his co-worker, whispering all the disgusting things he’d like to do to her in her ear. Yet in what can only be described as shockingly poor judgement she succumbs to creepy butcher in a very explicit shower scene. Later she eats a bug.

To say this Dutch film is strange is an understatement. You’ve never seen film-making this compelling and incoherent. It’s the work of Victor Nieuwenhuijs and Maartje Seyferth, a couple of experimental filmmakers, and Meat is apparently their most straight up narrative work to date. It’s ostensibly a murder mystery, or would be if it weren’t tangenting all the time. You get the sense that in Meat fantasy and reality are virtually indistinguishable. The detective looks freakishly like the deceased, everyone is having sex with each other, and characters act and react in strange, twisted and absurd ways.

There are films that work well with drugs, then there are films that are drugs themselves, and render whatever you’ve chosen to imbibe useless. The 33D Invader (Eastern Eye) is so insane, such a bizarre mash of clichés and demented ideas that it’s nothing short of a weapon. Imagine Porky’s meets Terminator, set in Hong Kong and sprinkled with liberal twists of perversity, such as the local hood forced to consume the severed phalluses of his henchmen, a geek ejaculating over his teachers face, who then licks his lips, and aliens who tie a knot in a baddy’s penis. If you’re noting a pattern it’s probably because you’re a pervert.

The plot (if you can call it that) involves a sexy naked alien women sent from 2046 to mate with a healthy human after radiation has rendered humanity infertile. Yet like Terminator there are a couple of killers on the loose intent on stopping her. Though unlike Terminator they do this by trying to rape her.

With zany sound effects, never ending gratuitous sex scenes and slapstick that is dripping with cheese, this is startlingly terrible and amazingly wrong filmmaking that you can only imagine was written and directed by a horny 15 year old boy who will grow up to become a sexual predator.

 

Food – Mecurial Balm (ECM/ Fuse)

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There’s something about improvised music, particularly electro acoustic improvised music that rings alarm bells. Unless it’s reigned in it can be a real mess, where it distinguishes itself as improvisation by the wanton egos, self-indulgence and ultimately tuneless masturbation. But what if you get not just great musicians, who expand the scope of their instrument, but players playing for the music, not just to hear themselves over the others?

This is at times a six piece, part jazz, part electronics but they play with such subtlety, such touch that you rarely believe that there could be this many participants.

It’s ostensibly the work of Norwegian drummer Thomas Stronen, and English saxophonist Iain Ballamy. In fact it’s their fifth album, however when you reign in guests like Austrian guitarist and electronics experimentalist Christian Fennesz, or even Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, some control must be relinquished, and to some extent that’s what makes this such a good album.

It stems from live performances in Norway, the UK, and Germany as well as some studio work in Oslo. The key here is that they’re never searching. It feels considered, like they’re creating new forms, actually updating jazz, a genre generally consumed by the past.

Other players include Indian slide guitarist and singer Prakash Sontakke and Norwegian guitarist Eivind Aarset who both combine on Magnetosphere, with Sontakke pushing it into the realm of the spiritual via his distinctive wailing vocals. It’s an eclectic mix for sure, drawing upon the sensibility of each guest, yet it’s also music about subtlety, about delicate nuances, about texture and space. It’s beautiful lush soundscape music, endlessly fascinating both sonically and structurally, yet at the same time endlessly satisfying, complex and unique, music to drift to.

Scott Walker – Bish Bosch (4AD/Remote Control)

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“If you’re listening to this you must have survived,” moans Scott Walker towards the end of Bish Bosch, his first vocal album since 2006’s The Drift. It’s something of a tongue in cheek acknowledgement that the album has covered some pretty difficult terrain, and the danger of listening to a Scott Walker album is that once you’re in you might not make it out.

Walker, the former pop icon from the Walker Brothers in the 1960’s, has increasingly moved into darker more avant garde territory as the decades have progressed.  He is one of the most distinctive and unusual artists around. Each record feels like an event, the concert hall colliding with the gutter, sonic experiments in a quasi operatic netherworld.

His voice is remarkable, an emotionally wounded baritone. It quivers, overwrought with emotion, yet he’s singing, “If shit were music, la la la la la la, you’d be a brass band,” on Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter. Somehow the glib one-liners fall flat, only adding to the feeling of alienation.

The music in the main is sparse, a kind of deconstructed version of rock music. It rises and falls in behind his poetic vocals, often into blank nothingness. He uses machetes on the track Tar, fart sounds on Corps De Blah reveling in the musical slapstick. Yet the way he uses conventional instrumentation is even more terrifying. Sparse, austere, almost clinical, the influences coming from new classical and the avant garde. Yet there are also moments of doomy guitar riffage here, even percussion, sleigh bells and piercing keys.

Brimming with obscure references and a dark abstract absurdism, this is music for the foreground. It asks a lot of questions but answers few. Music this complex, this immersive, this self indulgent is rare. Pray you survive.

Kiki Gyan – 24 Hours in a Disco (Soundways/ Fuse)

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Osibisa were an Afro pop band of Ghanaian descent that formed in the UK and became huge in the 70’s. They were one of the first African bands to cross over into the mainstream, touring the world and enjoying considerable success.  Though not a founding member, Ghanaian Kiki Gyan joined the band in the 70’s and quickly became renowned for his keyboard lines, often referred to as Africa’s answer to Stevie Wonder due to his prodigious talent.

In 1979 he left Osibisa to pursue more lucrative session work and to begin a solo career, recording the title track of this collection 24 Hours in a Disco with a 16 piece orchestra, an upbeat slab of disco funk with his distinctive vocals which fall somewhere between the Bee Gees and Curtis Mayfield. It charted in both the UK and US.

He subsequently married Fela Kuti’s daughter, released two albums, and got himself addicted to the party, to the sex and drugs, most notably narcotics, which eventually curtailed his recording career. If the cover of this disc doesn’t scream ‘player’ I don’t know what does. This collection pulls together some of his best work with his two bands, The KG Band and The Twins.  The music is very much influenced by the disco craze at the time as Gyan was shooting to become the next Boney M, and from the evidence collected here you’d have to think he had a real chance. There’s also links to his Ghanaian past, particularly in terms of the hand percussion used in many of the tunes, often during the breakdowns. Then of course there’s Gyan’s incredible keys, which really elevate the tunes from the more derivative commercial disco at the time. The solo on the super slick Pretty Pretty Girls is a case in point, it’s hypnotic stuff, deceptively simple, and it barely registers until it’s over. But then that was his genius. Everything fit perfectly. Perfectly smooth.

 

Fragmented Films Jan 2013

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So Michael Perry, a fresh faced syndromy pill pushing rent boy and his older unhinged anger fuelled mate Jason Burkett know where they can score this hot camero. All that stands between them and the car is a mutual friends mother.  After they bludgeon her to death while she is baking cookies and dump her body, they realise they don’t have the code to get back into her gated community home to claim their prize. So they wait for their friend and his brother arrive home, lure them away, get the code, murder them too and promptly drive to the local bar giving friends joyrides with an implausible tale about having won the lottery.

What’s missing from this picture?

Oh yeah that’s right Werner Herzog.

On Into The Abyss (SBS/Madman) the eccentric US based German maverick uses this real case as a vehicle to examine the death penalty. Of course he immediately makes it all about him, emphasising early on that he respectfully disagrees with the penalty, and maintaining a verbal at times challenging presence as interviewer and narrator. But that’s just Herzog, a man for whom the term super ego seems inadequate.

In the US state execution is viewed through a binary prism, you’re either for or against. Herzog adds the messiness, the human cost. He interviews family and friends of both the victims, and the offenders, but also former guards involved in the execution process, and recounts the trial via the prosecutors interviews. When he interviews Perry he will be executed in 8 days. Herzog tells him that he isn’t there to prove he is innocent or even like him. Perry doesn’t know how to cope with this strange German, his ‘gee shucks it wasn’t me’ routine isn’t going to fly this time. There are multiple stories here, the crimes are real and the ramifications of both the criminal actions and the executions remain with those left behind. Lives ruined and families torn apart. Also on the disc is the 4 part series recently screened on SBS where Herzog interviews four other death row inmates. It’s equal parts exploitative and sobering.

Jack Black is rotund. He wears nice sweaters and loves to sing in the church choir. He is a compassionate, outgoing but sensitive young man working at the local funeral home with a rare kind of precision and vigour. His forte is in comforting the grieving widows. Hmm.

Bernie (Madman) is also about murder, a true story that would’ve made Herzog weak at the knees. It’s directed by Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise) who revels in the eccentricities of the residents of Carthage Texas, even going into documentary mode with straight to camera interviews with the real residents.

The cast includes Matthew McConaughey as an ambitious DA and Shirley MacLaine as a dour mean spirited widow, but you can’t go past the tour de force performance from Jack Black as the sweet effeminate Bernie Tiede. Bernie raises many questions.  Do mean people deserve to die? Can good people do bad things? And what happens when you push a Christian way too far?