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Archive for December 5th, 2010

(by Joel)

Daisies, Czechoslovakia, 1966, dir. Vera Chytilová

Starring Ivana Karbanová, Jitka Cerhová

Story: Bored with their lives, two young girls (Marie and Marie) go on an anarchic and increasingly destructive spree of eating, drinking, partying, ridiculing conventions, while burning, cutting, or stealing every object in sight.

…Though I’m not sure I’d call it a “story.”

Daisies opens and closes with images of war. The opening credits intercut the grinding mechanisms of wheels and cogs with shaky aerial footage of bombardments. The film ends suddenly with one last image of a (Vietnamese?) countryside being strafed, along with the slow-boiling, deadpan tribute of the filmmaker to her would-be censors: “This film is dedicated to those whose sole source of indignation is a messed-up trifle.” The visual carnage is appropriate, for seemingly contradictory reasons. On the one hand, it gives a real-world analogue to the devilish destruction unfolding throughout the movie, and perhaps suggests that the aggressive but not physically violent behavior of its heroines could eventually lead in this deadlier direction – or at least that it’s part of the same continuum, selfish decadence leading to bloody chaos. On the other hand, there’s an apocalyptic tenor to the war footage, which contrasts sharply with the free-spirited bonhomie of our leading ladies – the suggestion is that this ugly world is what they’re rebelling against. Seen this way they are the embodiment of the contemporary countercultural ethos, thumbing noses at conservative social forces be they masked as American imperialists or Stalinist bureaucrats.

And on yet another hand (anatomically incorrect perhaps, but in the spirit of a film which shatters all rules of propriety and perspective) the documentary authenticity of those fleeting shots casts a gloom over the completely and flagrantly fabricated playfulness of the protagonists, giving it an unreal and desperate air. So perhaps there is no direct relationship (either positive or negative) between the world’s war and the girls’ anarchy, but rather a tension unresolvable in their favor – this grim reality lends a certain fragility to their antics, justifying their aggression and threatening their larks with an air of impending doom. All of these interpretations are, of course, valid but ultimately interpretations are – if not beside the point – at least after the fact. This is a film to be experienced more than “understood” – a wild ride through colors, cuts, iconic images, jagged suggestions, lavish set pieces, roundabout dialogue, and alarmingly incessant and aggressive noises (the sound collage “score,” mixing speedily-played classical compositions, random sound effects, and avant-garde atonal exercises, is as much a part of the experience as anything onscreen). It’s a tale told by an imp, full of sound and fury, signifying everything.

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Gas is one of Wolfgang Voigt’s many aliases in the world of electronic music. As the founder of Kompakt Records, he has been instrumental in the label’s continuing series of Pop Ambient releases. His work as Gas on the Mille Plateaux label could be viewed as the beginning of this new wave of timbre-driven laptop created music.

Voigt first started recording as Gas in the mid 90’s. His chief inspiration was the German Forest that resided close to his hometown in Cologne. He would take LSD then marvel at nature’s expansive beauty. What makes his particular take on electronic ambient music unique (for that time at least) was the absence of traditional instruments like synths and keyboards in favor of a strong focus on samples. The popular depiction of his work is described as taking actual Richard Wagner samples and distorting them beyond recognition. Thus similar to Oval’s 94Diskont, Voigt’s music could be viewed as a configuration of already existing works that get remodeled into something new thanks to the advances of modern technology.

His earlier albums, Zauberberg (1997) and Koningsforst (1999), were darker affairs that relied more on a heartbeat-like kickdrum that incessantly pounded away in the background as intense atmospheric drones billowed continuously in the foreground. It felt, if not like a bad trip, than a really extremely potent dosage of lysergide that was all encompassing. The music had no start, middle, or end…it just was, for however long Voigt wished it to be.

Pop (2000) could be viewed as a rather radical departure. The music became lighter, almost naturalistic sounding. The darkness imbued in the earlier works gave way to a more airy hum that seemed to pronounce Voigt’s departure from the deep center of the forest to its less frightening outskirts. The kickdrum also mostly disappeared except for two tracks. The album goes beatless for extended periods of time, thus becoming even more ephemeral in its structure. This album seems to be the blueprint for the eventual rise of the Pop Ambient movement that would begin the following year.

The first three tracks (all songs are untitled) are like three parts of the same suite. There is not much to distinguish between them as they all seem to recycle the same key sounds. The music has an all enveloping feel that takes the listener on a long journey of pure sound. While the first 22 minutes of Pop can be described as similar, it is by no means boring or stilted. This German Forest music feels as alive as the talking trees in The Wizard Of Oz. And at times, you feel that the auditory tone will reach out through your headphones or speakers and physically touch you. The visceral quality of Pop by Gas is different than most rock music in that it does not have a concrete emotion attached to it. The feeling that washes over you can be different each time and stretch out over a long array of moods.

Surprisingly, by the middle of track five, the music starts to change. It now feels like we are approaching Pop‘s magic hour. The sun is setting and shadows are quickly replacing light. The music while not reaching Zauberberg’s gloominess is being encroached upon by nighttime. An ominous undercurrent is forming. This shift in mood is why Pop is my favorite Gas album. It starts as a playful repudiation of earlier works only to allow them to creep back in unexpectedly. The shift from the more friendly beginnings of Pop to its unsettling conclusion is maybe a comment on nature itself. The forest is beautiful during the day, filled with many wonders and sights. However, once darkness settles in, it becomes a scary place with the possibility of danger lurking behind every tree.

Wolfgang Voigt never released a followup album after Pop. He seemed to put his most successful moniker to rest. He would occasionally resurrect Gas for one track appearances on Pop Ambient 2005 and Pop Ambient 2007, but otherwise fell silent, more interested in expanding his Kompakt label. As Mille Plateaux stopped releasing new products and went bankrupt, the Gas discography went out of print, which led to prices for individual albums on Amazon and Ebay to fetch well over $100. For many years, the scarcity of Pop was a shame as it was too expensive for many to obtain a copy. Finally, Voigt rereleased all the music on his own label as a boxset Nah Und Fern in 2008. It included all four Gas albums with remastered sound and new artwork.

The reputation of Gas, and Pop in particular, continues to grow. Many publications have included it as one of the best albums of the last decade. For such an uncompromising experimental electronic album that makes little or no concessions to melody, beats, vocals, or discernible instrumentation, this continued acknowledgment is a wonderfully pleasant development.

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(USA 1939-1956 23 min)

Director Harry Smith


by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Early Abstractions is a collection of seven shorts (originally 10 but three are missing, presumed lost). Animator Harry Smith does not restrict himself to the realm of animation but employs a whole host of cinematic techniques. As the sequence progresses (the films are numbered 1 to 10) the work undergoes an evolution in terms of its style and its increasing complexity.

Direct Animation, optical printing, collages of catalogue clippings, stickers, even Vaseline. The range of textures at his disposal make for a consistently surprising. multi-faceted and entrancing experience.

At first glance the films keep you at a distance, appearing as a lightning rod for all of Modern Art’s shallow indulgences : random colours and shapes unimpressive and hollow in and of themselves, ineloquent emotionally and intellectually. Gradually, however, Early Abstractions reveals itself as not merely the high end of a low form but something altogether mesmerising, something, through its effect, qualitatively different. It passes clean through the invisible and unfathomable barrier that separates the tedious from the hypnotic.

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