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First posting May 3, 2020
Last updated January 1, 2021
PICKS OF THE MONTH
May 2020 Picks
1 Music album
A vinyl copy of The 1975's new album Notes on a Conditional Form. [Photo from emp-online.com]
Notes on a Conditional Form. (Released 22 May 2020, Dirty Hit/Polydor/Interscope)
IN an era of prideful inhumanity being egged on from the top, here's the new album from the Manchester-based band The 1975 that dares to open with teen activist Greta Thunberg.
Consequence of Sound wrote: "Besides being the most genre-bending collection they’ve released, it’s also the most painstakingly human album in their repertoire."
For that reason alone we'd bend towards this Q Magazine statement: "The bloated tracklist doesn't negate the fact that The 1975 are blessed with two things: a contrarian inventiveness and the common touch - a combination that ought to secure them a permanent place in the pantheon of pop greats."
Indeed, one can't be great without a tiny bit of humanity in him, can one? His using the word "great" in every sentence he puts out about himself isn't going to help. [01.01.2021]
2 Music album
A vinyl copy of Perfume Genius' new album Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. [Photo by resident grabbed from their Twitter post]
Set My Heart On Fire Immediately. (Released 15 May 2020, Matador)
DUA Lipa, The Weeknd, Seattle-based Perfume Genius, etc. How many among the creators of this year's music outputs are doing this homage to '80s pop, as if that time's ignorance towards what would be an oncoming catastrophe that was hatched by Reaganomics (in the US and elsewhere) is really worthy of our nostalgia for it today. But, of course, Reagan (or Thatcher, for that matter) didn't have anything to do with the aural tropes of that time, as these pop music mannerisms would have been rebelling against some things other than the externally political of that time. Except, maybe, with the lyrical allusions to the already-changing economic or cultural landscape by, say, English punk and post-punk rock songs or by American ghetto music.
But in the case of Lipa and PG, the subtlest politics on top of or around their appropriated music can easily be gleaned, perhaps because these elliptical codes are immediate to us in the present where Trumpisms, etc. loom above us all as large as the sky itself.
Now, PG's 'future nostalgia' may even be larger than Lipa's: with the help of producer Blake Mills, it's got elements of baroque pop, art pop, synthpop, funk, alt pop, shoegaze, ambient music, psychedelic music, contemporary R&B, acoustic music, disco, swamp rock, chamber music, doo-wop, industrial music, and heartland rock in its recipes. They're all there, put on the table for an emotional quickfire challenge, that you can easily taste like an expert sommelier upon a bold wine. Weird, right? Well, weird is just right for this exploration of queer themes that, just as weirdly, would have Ann Coulter sympathizing with it while a fellow Republican friend in, say, Amy Coney Barrett might simply refrain from answering any questions about the same. [10.19.2020]
3 Music album
NO DREAM. (Released 20 May 2020, Polyvinyl)
NORIPCORD.COM: "With NO DREAM, Jeff Rosenstock illustrates how easy it is to jump from happy to sad, and while it may be disappointing, the people and things you love will make it comforting to settle in between."
Pitchfork: "New York’s most anxious punk delivers hook after hook on an album that deals with evergreen sociopolitical concerns yet sounds like it could’ve been written 30 minutes ago."
Exclaim!: "NO DREAM is punk rock that's fit for the masses without sacrificing any of its authenticity. For every catchy melody there's a brashness that says to the wrong people, 'This isn't for you'."
Beats Per Minute: "NO DREAM channels the precise anger and weariness that has surfaced from what CNN’s Don Lemon recently deemed two deadly viruses killing Americans: COVID-19 and racism." [11.19.2020]
4 Print ad series
Three print ads from X3M Ideas' Feel Like a Worker Again series made for client Migo, the workers' credit platform
X3M Ideas' Feel Like a Worker Again print ad series for the cloud-based workers' credit platform Migo. (Ad series launched 1 May 2020, on the occasion of Nigeria's observance of International Workers' Day)
NOT to be confused with Taiwan's Migo company, the cloud-based workers' credit platform that commissioned this ad series concentrates on providing banks and other merchants the ability to offer credit "in countries without functioning credit bureaus." In as much as the Nigeria-targeted print ad series (written and implemented by X3M Ideas) also highlights Migo's heightened function during the pandemic lockdowns (and consequent furloughs in some companies' case), it mainly celebrates workers' having found the opportunity to exploit their present situation as an extended vacation cum long family-bonding moment. Under this mood that looked at the upside of the stay-at-home orders, the series concept―intended for International Workers' Day―was also able to salute the role of workers in Nigerian society via children's pretend play in home quarantine.
We felt the series produced a brilliant communication strategy culled from marketing's instinct to look at the bright side of things, as we mentioned, which in this case also worked as a means to subliminally tout Migo's offered comfort (and sense of social responsibility).
We're looking at another possible context to the ads, though, with that headline "Feel like a worker again." Should that headline have been read as an ironic statement against Lagos' scheduled May 5 return to work, the news now being that record infections were reported in the country on that same day (73 of which cases were from Lagos)? [05.13.2020]
5 Internet reality show, Social sculpture
The call-for-submissions ad to the Balconies Got Talent project of Zavalita Brand Building in mid-April 2020.
An entry to Balconies Got Talent, featuring Oswaldo Vela, posted on the project's Facebook page on April 21. Vela became the winner of the day, thus he would again have a performance entry posted on Facebook on April 25 for the week's contest. He ended up becoming the week's third-place winner.
Another entry, by Ana Rosa Mas, posted by Balconies Got Talent on April 27. Mas became the day's winner. As of this writing on May 2-3 in the Philippines, we have yet to see a post of her entry for the week's finals contest.
Another entry, by Hector Buriel, posted by Balconies Got Talent on April 20. Buriel would also become the day's winner, thus he would again have a performance entry posted on April 25 for the week's contest. He ended up becoming the week's fourth-place winner.
Zavalita Brand Building's Balconies Got Talent Facebook and Instagram project. (Project started mid-April 2020, to last until end of the anti-SARS-CoV-2 quarantine lockdown in Peru)
ON 15 March, after Peru recorded 12 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 virus infection in the country, President Martín Vizcarra announced a 15-day nationwide lockdown and state of emergency. On 26 March, citing violations of the quarantine, the President announced an extension of the lockdown until April 12. On 8 April, however, after the first confirmed death of a medical worker, Vizcarra once again extended the quarantine for another two weeks. Then, on 23 April, after the dean of the Medical College of Peru (accompanied by other members of the organization) met with the country's Minister of Health, Vizcarra extended anew the quarantine and state of emergency to last until 10 May.
And so here they are.
But even in early April, Zavalita Brand Building were already having thoughts of doing something about a new phenomenon cropping up in the storied buildings of the cities and towns nationwide, a phenomenon inspired perhaps by previous such happenings in Europe. . . .
Zavalita Brand Building is an advertising agency in Lima. Maybe it wasn't getting any business during the months of the quarantine, but we're sure as hell happy to see them get this idea to organize all the balcony and window concerts that were becoming fashionable in their country during the lockdown, with some if not most of these concerts being uploaded to social media sites.
Instead of just watch these displays of talent gather on, say, YouTube, Zavalita―via a TV ad and Facebook poster―enjoined people to submit their balcony/window concert videos (or inquiries re submitting) to a project the agency would call Balconies Got Talent (that title sounds familiar), for which venture Zavalita would put up both a Facebook and an Instagram site. With the venture, the agency put more value into the concerts via an organized contest; the contest, mimicking America's Got Talent, would choose day winners, each of whom would get to submit a new entry for the weekly finals competition. Winners (up to a fourth-placer) were picked via social media audience Likes.
Now, of course some of these entries would not have the HD quality and audio kbps rate that would pass TV standards, just like similar uploads you'd see on YouTube. They, however, got that packaging that "products" like theirs rightly need! And a more or less proper route towards a certain stamp of approval (via a popularity contest). There may be a hundred YouTube lockdown performances out there now that may be said to be way better than the contest winners in Balconies Got Talent, but those aren't getting any packaging, are they?
As for the uniformity of length, no more than 1:18 minutes that's not enough to get one to do an entire song, . . . we think it's like emulating a TED Talk that wouldn't allow you to go beyond a viewer's attention span of 18 minutes for a lecture. And regarding their being uniformly branded as "of BGT" via a book-ending intro and outro, wasn't it precisely this kind of graphic framework or rigid look parameter-making that got Facebook to soar way above the Friendsters of the world in 2004?
Zavalita launched their project in mid-April and announced that this will continue until the end of the lockdown. God knows what else would enter their imagination once all this is over and they realize they have all this material or gathered talent. Are you thinking what we're thinking? Let's pray America's Got Talent the franchise will allow BGT to get a TV studio-based special in the near future without it having to change its title.
You can watch the entries to the "contest" (if it's really a contest), from the day it started, at Balconies Got Talent's Facebook site as well as its Instagram site. [05.02.2020 - 05.03.2020, 11:00 a.m. Philippines]
6 Stand-up comedy special
Patton Oswalt: I Love Everything. (released 19 May, Netflix)
THIS one-hour show gets our top applause not because it's louder (or funnier) than any of the other stand-up specials we saw this last few months but because of its top-notch subtlety.
On the whole, Patton Oswalt's I Love Everything does not overtly touch political stuff, except in some parts. Then again, it's actually as if everything here is a prologue towards quick statements of political fact.
[THE FOLLOWING INCLUDES SPOILERS]
In a routine, for example, Oswalt's nerdy comedy pulls us towards a commonality where we all get to laugh at the comic generalizations we have about people in their respective age category, including that one about 50-year-olds who listen to 20-year old podcasters whom "nobody wants to fuck." That's still vaguely political, right? Sure, but, suddenly, after he'd established a state of comfort in that space between us, Oswalt drops the serious fact that the vaguely anti-Moslem Americans among us would mostly belong to those in their 60s. Even in the very beginning of this gig he already joked that he's not angry at having turned 50 that year in 2019, and that in fact he can't wait to get to 90 so that he can relax, do crossword puzzles, and live a contented life as a racist.
This is followed by a routine about his being 50 and consuming healthy brown cereal in a box colored . . . white. You can't suspect that to have a racial context, until he tells us his bowl would be beige, "bargaining beige." And that suspicion would be proven correct, as the routine would end with Oswalt implying that this cereal had been produced in farms run by the ghosts of black slaves or underpaid brown immigrant workers. Then he points to another delicious healthy cereal that has indulged in name-dropping the Bible on its inside novelette, similar to the wont of many American companies, and Oswalt just found this worthy of ridicule, if only for its ignorance.
Here and there are stories, too, about businesses being run by con artists. He tells us that contractors are mostly a con job that just uses subcontractors, subcontractors who―it would turn out―can't be contractors because they're made up of talented but crazy men with neo-Nazi tattoos and live in the forest. Then he tells us a story about working as a teenager for a company that gave shitty wedding DJ services and how all the weddings it serviced turned into divorces. Sounds like the title of a political book, doesn't it?
But here and there are also stories of family love, marriage love, albeit sprinkled with such things as his worry that the note his wife left him on his windshield after their fight might have been from one of those alt-right MAGA assholes who probably got irked by something he said on Twitter and has now found him. His routine about putting daughter (or one's entire family) above self may be quite funny and touching, but in our time it's already quite political, as a matter of fact.
But, of course, okay, the whole thing actually gets political after 37 minutes, which part of the show we think you ought to see for yourself. Especially as it does the entire thing trying to avoid being political, know what we mean? It does it by trying to be clownish inside it instead of trying to make a clown out of others. Well, okay, a little bit of that other one, too, but . . . and it lasts for 12 minutes.
He finishes off with a diss on an American diner chain serving high-calorie food to families. Denny's discrimination record aside, that is already a political thing to do in the fastfood-endorsing Trump era, wouldn't you say?
But what's the point behind all this subtlety, you ask. Well, there are those who don't want to talk about politics anymore and just want to hear about things that they can love. So, there you go. Subtly put the politics somewhere where those who want them can actually still see them, then.
Here's Garrett Martin of Paste: "On I Love Everything Patton Oswalt seems about as well-adjusted as he’s ever been. He’s always had the ability to take personal anecdotes and observations and turn them into long, increasingly hilarious stories with a larger ring of truth and a tinge of the absurd, and that’s still true on I Love Everything. He also delivers the Trump stand-up routine that should officially end all Trump stand-up routines, and criticizes Louis C.K. and other #MeToo comics in the kind of bit that too few comedians have done. Oswalt’s previous special, Annihilation, was a respectful and darkly hilarious way to deal with the tragedy of his wife’s untimely death, and on I Love Everything Oswalt deals with the lives he’s rebuilt since—both his and his daughter’s. The result is a thoroughly entertaining hour from one of the most consistent comedians of his era." [06.23.2020]
Kelly Lee Owens - "Anxi." (feat. Jenny Hval's voice) (Live on KEXP, 2018). [Uploaded by KEXP, 6 May 2020]
Kelly Lee Owens - "Lucid" (Live on KEXP, 2018). [Uploaded by KEXP, 6 May 2020]
Kelly Lee Owens - "8" (Live on KEXP, 2018). [Uploaded by KEXP, 6 May 2020]
Kelly Lee Owens' live performance of "Anxi.," "Lucid," and "8" in KEXP's studio in 2018. (Recorded live in KEXP's studio, 20 July 2018; uploaded to KEXP's YouTube channel 6 May 2020)
TODAY'S electronic music, along with its more universal children like techno pop, even dream pop, would often be associated with either drugs-deriving or pop fantasy art-inspired psychedelia. Theme-wise, it would invoke the name of drugs, yes, . . . but actually also summer, love/sex, evening lights, and then sci-fi. The faster kind may reference social themes or travel, while the slower oeuvres might venture into nature or environmental imagery or visions of contemporary architecture.
Welsh musician and producer Kelly Lee Owens released her self-titled debut album in 2017 destroying all the contemporary electronic music archetypes, especially the EDM festival kind, by bringing into the super-genre some New Age-ey ideas about music and frequencies as media for healing, the production of music itself as the art of giving a healing session. The three songs in the videos embedded above are from that November 2017-released album; they were performed in KEXP's studio in July of 2018.
We don't know why KEXP never let that 4-song studio treat by Owens stay on their accessible videos roster on YouTube and have only just now uploaded (or re-uploaded) the videos of the individual songs' performance and the full mini-concert (interspersed by interview questions from KEXP host Cheryl Waters). Is it because Owens is due to release her second album this August, titled Inner Song, KEXP's preview of which might have prompted the radio station and YouTube channel to get the musician's name and the 2018 buzz around her to resurface on their wide library of brief KEXP studio performances? Whatever the reason, it's a welcome decision, and not at all late even in this third month of our struggle with SARS-CoV-2 still needing unabated healing of both our healthcare systems and our political/economic ones, not to mention the healing needed by the families of the past months' COVID-19 victims. Honest healing, to which Owens' kind of shaman's-beats musical philosophy or sonic gestures would certainly be a lot of help.
Forget the interviews mentioning such curious subjects as the Age of Aquarius and natal charts. Remember that Owens was also once an auxiliary nurse at the cancer ward of a Manchester hospital, and it was her patients who supposedly encouraged her to leave them so she could pursue her dream-pop dreams.
Now, understand that nursing as a passion ideally combines science and emotion. And that is the reason why we're happy to see Owens choose those three songs above for her four-song set.
Consider "Anxi.," the last song in Owens' set, which recites its lines (over Norwegian singer Jenny Hval's crooning) like they're Owens' ars poetica claim on her electronic approach, dissing the romantic and the religious baroque while touting her program music's imagery as reality-based. Halfway, the composition starts a shaman's dance with layers of chanting, but this does not come out like a thematic counterpoint. Rather, this latter part seems to have already been contaminated by the empiricism of the first mood, much like electronic music as a whole, which would not forget its being technological even while being primal.
The song's construct has quite a message for these pandemic days that require our sticking to science; the drug-free shaman in the nurse must always have the scientist in her. Notice the song's title with the period, which does look like an abbreviation for anxiety; it may actually be read as "putting a stop to this anxiety." How to stop the anxi? By cautioning ourselves from having too much of that mutant baroque from, say, evangelicals and that romanticism from, say, economic liberals. That should make sense, since in Mandarin ān xī isn't a noun like anxiety, it's a verb that means "to rest," even "to rest in peace"―definitely the thing we must keep ourselves from doing. The alternative is àn xǐ (暗喜), "to covertly rejoice." That's definitely the way to do it in quarantine, where you can dance to heal your aloneness.
But before that last song of her set, Owens sang "Lucid," which extolled that difference offered by her songs' sensibility set against others' in the electronic music mainstream: a lucidity "in between." Between . . . New Age crystal hopes and science's data-based opinions? Between believing in science and trusting in prayer? Between surrendering/accepting and beating an illness? In between dreaming and being awake to facts?
Owens actually started her set with "8." It's another trance song about the atomic number of oxygen (the air we can't see). Otherwise it's about Timothy Leary's eight levels of consciousness as well as Carl Jung's eight cognitive functions. Or it's simply about unreachable (religious or irreligious) infinity and our awed eyes within our respective journeys inside this infinity.
With Owens' positivity, our smallness within all the phenomena happening around and inside us (or around and inside our planet) does not become a theme for sadness; it can be a fact worthy of its own humble celebrations. So go ahead and dance and heal yourself from aloneness, rejoicing with restraint, and let yourself go as an atom within these disciplined shamanic constructs. [05.23.2020]
8 Social sculpture
The first three photos clockwise from top left (grabbed from twitter.com) are of details inside a Pantry of Sharing outlet. The photo at bottom left is of a cabinet at another PoS outlet.
Marketing consultant Supakit Kulchartvijit's Pantry of Sharing initiative in Khon Kaen. (Started mid-April, still in progress in May 2020)
MARKETING consultant Supakit Kulchartvijit would tell you that Pantry of Sharing is nothing new. There have been in the past in other countries a lot of similar mutual-aid food bank initiatives, such as Australia's Foodbank and the American projects Little Free Pantries and Blessing Boxes, among others. Some of these have been in the form of the community fridge.
And even before he launched his initiative in Khon Kaen, Kulchartvijit already saw community pantries of one form or another cropping up in other Thai provinces, put up by anonymous initiators. Perhaps the difference (or improvement) he put on the table includes 1) giving the gesture a name and 2) patterning its system of collection and distribution after Little Free Pantries' and the community fridge (perhaps after Hubbub UK's community fridge project in 2017). The first value gives it the media mileage urgently needed for laudable deeds in these days of continued lockdowns. The second value does this:
Like Little Free Pantries' outlets and all those community fridges in the past, Pantry of Sharing's open rooms are a place where people come to donate food or come to take food or both. That kind of arrangement is precisely what makes PoS quite appropriate for mubans to own during these days of quarantine, because either it would be hard for anyone to get volunteers for the project to deliver food to those in need (the "front line" food bank model) or to man the food banks' warehouses (the "warehouse" food bank model). We don't even think deliveries would be allowed by a muban government to proceed, or warehouses as a place of congregation to operate.
We think that from the beyond Joseph Beuys would smile, seeing such a social sculpture as this blossom from peoples' infectious displays of generosity (pun intended) entirely within static spots like this one inside a quarantined tambon. [05.14.2020]
The official trailer for The Eddy. [Uploaded by Netflix]
The Eddy. (Launched 8 May 2020, Netflix)
THE music for this entire Netflix-original jazz-musical drama series was provided by Randy Kerber and Glen Ballard (of Jagged Little Pill fame), the jazz-ness of which music collection shouldn't be much of a surprise to those familiar with the two musician-composers' versatile discography.
Veteran Jack Thorne created the multilingual series and is its principal writer, with British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz helping out in episodes 4 and 7.
The first two episodes were directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land), the next two by Houda Benyamina (Divines), episodes 5 and 6 by Laila Marrakchi (Marock), and the last two episodes by Alan Poul (The Newsroom). Chazelle, Poul, and Ballard are also part of the series' six-man roster of executive producers.
In this French-American limited series, you've got André Holland (Moonlight) in the lead role as Elliot Udo, the American co-owner of a jazz club in present-day Paris. Holland's performance is here being supported by equally superb ones from Joanna Kulig (Cold War), Leïla Bekhti (Tout ce qui brille, The Source, Midnattsol), Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), and Amandla Stenberg (Everything, Everything; The Hate U Give) as Udo's daughter. This main cast is supported further by other members who also gave surprisingly first-rate performances of their own, including that one by composer Kerber as the club pianist, and then those by the recurrently-appearing Benjamin Biolay, Melissa George and Dhafer L'Abidine, as well as that one by Tchéky Karyo who guested in an episode.
So, what is this? Well, this is a rich depiction of art-making (in this case jazz music-making) as challenged by the many personal and collective realities there are in life, in present-day multicultural Paris in this series' case, although it could be placed anywhere in present-day multicultural Earth. It helps that even the club owners are artists themselves (Udo is the leader of the club's house band). It helps that even the bartender turns out to be a worthy young pop musician himself, or that Udo's daughter is a budding musician herself. Those given facts keep the story from turning into a club owner vs. club musicians sort of capitalist-artist conflict, or into a musician father vs. non-musician daughter sort of narrative. Meanwhile, that the boss of a Ukrainian mafia in Paris who wants to buy out the club is a jazz aficionado himself is an element that there strengthens the motive (or emotion) behind the boss's acting on his desire (it does not leave his desire motored solely by money-laundering interests).
This is supposed to be a limited series, and we're hoping it stays that way. As a juxtaposition between life's realism and jazz's (mostly love-romantic) aestheticism, we fear that the series' overall two-panel effect might be ruined if there's going to be a further stretching of that art-sympathizing outcome. [05.19.2020]
10 Satire article
An embed of the May 8 article by The Washington Post satirist Alexandra Petri. [In order to browse the article in the above frame, PC users can place their mouse cursor inside the frame, thereafter rolling their mouse's scroll wheel down. They may also simply use the scroll bar at the right side of the frame, or click their mouse inside the frame, thereafter pressing their keyboard's down-arrow key. For touchscreen users, simply scroll up the frame.]
Alexandra Petri's satire article "Now introducing personal protective equipment ― For Him!". (Published 8 May 2020, The Washington Post)
IT was a tweet from The Arizona Republic reporter BrieAnna Frank crying "myself + other journalists here are being harassed (by American right-wingers) for wearing masks" . . . that prompted Vox's Anna North to write an article about this new "mask muzzles masculinity" principle that's now being spread like gospel by conservative-leaning America.
The Washington Post satirist Alexandra Petri just couldn't let that issue pass her genre, could she? North's analysis for Vox shines like a light bulb, leaving us dumbfounded at this new addition to the Trump-era roster of amazing American realities. But Petri's take on this stimulus is something else. It almost blinds like a joyfully-lighted diorama. What she provides in the end is a hyperrealist portrait of macho stupidity. Or is it a landscape painting showing the lowest ebb of intelligence America's right-wing fans have found themselves swimming in like climate-changed-swamp fish, to both the laughter and horror of their global audience?
Or maybe you think this is all just a scene from a movie-in-progress about America's nearing petrifaction. But if you love America, or if you want it to survive all this (if only because you'd prefer doing business with it to an alternative China), then don't be petrified yourself. Just be a Petri fan! C'mon! [05.15.2020]
11 Music composition
Klara Lewis - Ingrid (1 May 2020). [Uploaded by EditionsMego, 30 April 2020]
Ingrid. (Digital and physical vinyl release 1 May 2020 through Editions Mego)
INGRID, Klara Lewis' new piece for Viennese label Editions Mego, is a composition―launched this month―that's quite subtly appropriate for our time of political and biological turmoil.
The Swedish electronic music composer not only leaves her previous works' interest in the production of ghostly racket using flow alterations and constructions made up of espied and retrieved environmental sounds, disconnected vocalizations, and a rich bundle of electronic FX. With Ingrid, we also see her dive into a stretched sonic enterprise (her longest piece so far, "8," is 6 minutes shorter, and that was more of a collage of musical fragments pasted together than a stretched piece).
For her new protracted venture, Lewis has maintained that Philip Glass-like breathing-in-breathing-out rhythmic basis that she has used to nail her pieces together. This time, though, the project being a piece of minimalism, the cadence builds a 20-minute concerto-of-sorts out of a lone cello loop. The loop sinks, gradually within the given timeframe, into an at first negligible but later menacing landscape of distortions, and that's really it. The whole piece is just about recreating something like someone's being slowly eaten up by quicksand, an event for happy joking at first but later for immense panic, ending with something like people's final silent crying perhaps.
The point is mainly in the contrast between a seamlessly-looped passage containing that magnificent, noble beauty inherent in the cello's tone and the surrounding clouds of physicality that creep into that sound's crevices like cancer. The piece starts with what resonates like two cellos looking to give us a (not entirely flawless) chamber treat. After 55 seconds it seems that that was all that was ever recorded of the treat, and the only thing Lewis could give us now is an extension of it, but not through reconstruction but simply by the repetition of a chosen part or parts, like rewinding a film footage to catch someone's smile over and over. To some, the piece should be read as having the effect of catharsis at the end; to others with a sense of the zeitgeist, probably of being starkly illustrative of our time's threats.
Some of the distortions would sound like entries reversed, reminding us of the paranoid or exploitative days of backmasking (one of the modern manifestations of religious witch-hunting). But the final overall effect of the looping, set within those progressing atmospherics that would only later reveal themselves as threats, is still undiminished magnificence. Lewis never allows the chosen cello melody's allure (seamlessly looped, as we said) to be totally perturbed by the annoyances; this melody maintains its grace through the sad and soon-intimidating growth.
Or think of it as a storm. The gusts start to be worrisome at 12:00 (is it our speakers?), and by 14:00 it's all starting to sound like lo-fi black metal noise, peaking at the 15-minute mark to conjure a 3-minute-long phase of final plunder or ruination. Soon thereafter, all abates to a quietude of satiation. Sure, you could read this fading as the arrival of peace, of resolution. Or you can read it as achieved death.
Must we never forget the irreverent moments of defoliation that made possible that death that occurred only a moment ago? If so, then this can't be a song aiming for catharsis and our consequent forgiveness. It should look more like a monument to an event to be remembered. Loops, after all, are not made to portray an existing referent. They are constructed to convey something missed. With Ingrid, a looped portrait of beauty has turned into a testimony concerning an act upon this oft-visited image. There's your musical argument.
Now, should the piece remind us of someone like Ingrid Bergman, for instance? The Swedish actress was one of Hollywood's bastions of the natural good looks (lacking make-up), who would soon carry around with her a sense of guilt for misjudging the situation in Nazi Germany, and would also later protest the racial segregation she would witness in Washington D.C. in '48. She would fall into an extramarital affair with Roberto Rossellini, about which she would be verbally attacked in the U.S. Congress by Edwin C. Johnson [like Bergman a Lutheran, but a judgmental one who would also be an intra-party critic of FDR's socialist New Deal and would later present an alternative for the US as a country "(with) plenty of atomic bombs . . . (that could) compel mankind to adopt the policy of lasting peace . . . or be burned to a crisp."]. Bergman would suffer and die from breast cancer, but is remembered today as one of her time's greatest actresses (within Hollywood, outside among the Italian neorealists, and of the stage). Johnson would be forgotten, though his kind of vision remains, looming largely now among the members of the US Republican Party. [05.10-11.2020]
The official trailer for Maudie (2017). [Uploaded by Sony Pictures Classics, 6 April 2017]
Maudie on Netflix. (Theatrically released 14 April 2017, Canada [limited]; 5 June 2017, New York; 16 June 2017, USA [limited]; 23 June 2017, Spain; 12 July 2017, South Korea; 28 July 2017, Sweden; 4 August 2017, UK & Ireland; 24 August, Australia; 6 September 2017, Belgium; 14 September 2017, Netherlands; 19 October 2017, New Zealand; 26 October 2017, Germany; 3 March 2018, Japan. DVD released 10 October 2017, Canada and the USA. Web streaming launched 15 May 2020, Netflix India and Philippines)
FINALLY, the 2016 film Maudie, directed by Irish filmmaker Aisling Walsh, with a screenplay by Canadian actress, writer and director Sherry White, was released on Netflix last May 15. Hooray!
The film tells the story of Canadian folk artist Maud Lewis (portrayed by Sally Hawkins). Now, the best one-sentence description we've read concerning the artist's life as depicted in this film was given by film critic Bob Mondello, who wrote for NPR: "Maud's life was constricted, but her gaze was expansive."
Now, other biographical subjects progressing through a narrative of struggles with money, family and community are led to anger, as with Maud's surly fish peddler of a husband Everett (Ethan Hawke), or as it was with the cranky music composer Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. Not so with Maud. Even when, in the film, she finally gets to tell her selfish brother to get out of her face, she does it with questions of light sarcasm rather than an angry shout, only embarrassing him with a half-smile regarding a past deed, nothing more. To many viewers this was sweet, soft revenge, but it seems that Maud was focused solely on it as the recognition of a person to avoid having anything to do with from now on, no more; if it was revenge, and there was a bit of anger in it, one must say it was a type of revenge so forgiving.
We believe the reason for such an attitude to our world of villains and anti-heroes would be something like Maud's persona herself, at least as portrayed in the film, a persona that seems to have long been trained to forgive―forgive her body, and then the world that has been surrounding that body and has been looking at it as a stimulus for its mostly rural knowledge trying to form judgments and consequent prejudices (with a few rocks from children hurled at her limp). Again, others' similar stories of a chain of misfortunes would lead to narratives concerning self-pity (or thoughts of vengeance), but Lewis' "gaze" had always been extroverted rather than introverted (in the Jungian sense), thus had been motored to move forward, armed with a natural recognition of the absence of benefits to be derived from dwelling on long-ago and recent pasts.
So, is this a film about disabilities in art? Yes and no. It should mostly be seen as a film about everyone's disability, for every artist must have one (just as everyone watching that artist would have his own). It should likewise be seen as a film about the contrast between the gaze that narrows itself on a target of, say, anger and that one that has become, naturally or accidentally, "expansive." This latter kind of gaze needs not be in the person (or eyes) of an artist. Everyone, after all, needs to be in the now and here where there are things to be loved and where someone loves, or―in the lack or absence of those―must needs move on. [05.26.2020]
13 Performance piece
Alwin Reamillo, Untitled (Bodégon), performance for video camera, completed 23 April 2020 (premiered 25 April 2020 online, Philippine time)
Untitled (Bodégon). (Launched 25 April 2020, Philippine time, on YouTube)
FOR the seventh iteration of the Singapore-based annual Wuwei Performance Series, the event's organizers decided they could easily let the series go on this year in late April, even with the travel bans and global lockdowns. That's all thanks to performance art's not being restricted to live presentations, allowing via-media deliveries as still within its aesthetic perimeter, for as long as the other requisites are there, mainly the performer's presence in a singular locus. Of course a via-media presentation of a performance may create confusion about whether it is still operating within the language of performance and not rather within the lexicon of the short film, especially when the camera veers away from the performer to scan parts of the venue. Then again, isn't one's pair of eyes witnessing a live performance in a gallery actually operating like a camera itself, panning here and there and at times cognitively zooming in on an interesting detail, and so on and so forth? Anyway, suffice to be in the know that via-media performances are embraced by the category as still within the scope of its favor. And so, this year, the 12 participants of the series were instructed to just video their performance in the location they were caught in. That, in essence, became the most distinct flavor this Wuwei series ended up with that's now part of its art-historical added value.
That doesn't mean that the performances themselves are lesser materials for conversation. We found Filipino artist Alwin Reamillo's entry, for instance, titled Untitled (Bodégon), to be quite a conversation piece for our Filipino bias, even as it had messages in it that may not have anything to do with the pandemic issue, at least nothing directly.
Over Edgar Varèse's "organized noises" of a music, the performance video (filmed and edited by Bryan Reamillo) starts by entering a room, a room with the same sense of Varèsean organization towards what we are seeing as its "noise" pieces. The camera goes on to climb up the stairs, however, to a room whose noise pieces may be said to be in a still-ongoing process of organization, an artist's studio filled with materials being that (a bodega or cellar, although Reamillo's is above ground rather than underground). Understand that art-making as a process of organizing pieces and thoughts need pieces as much as processing thoughts.
But Reamillo's performance, being a performance, would here turn some pieces or objects in the room not into parts of a construction but into props. But the use of props for an organized dramatization is no new thing to Reamillo, being likewise an installation artist who would collect items in the world's library of objects to be part of organized still-lifes or kinetic dramas he would place on a gallery floor or hang on its ceiling. He is also quite familiar with the use of tools necessary for the realization of a social sculpture.
His present props-use here leads us to a dramatization of a continuum of thoughts and actions that seem likewise to be processing a finale act to be made. In the end, that finale arrives as a "non-thought" with a "non-action." Let us guide you through that progress:
Now, to those familiar with the artist's work, Reamillo is more interested in objects as carriers of historical and political noise. In the video, and consequently in his present performance, the objects in the room would necessarily refer to history (past and recent), but also to the artist's roster of exhibited constructions (and the contexts these pieces carried during their exhibition).
We here get a glimpse of that large plastic Thrall (from Warcraft) figure standing by the studio's window. He used this in a diskurso art magazine-curated show on religious art to parody political loyalists' virtual statuary in their minds in today's God-Building state of affairs. Specifically, that political sort of religiosity has, to Reamillo, been moving towards the worship of a cult personality in Rodrigo Duterte as a "hulog ng langit" savior. Note that in Norse mythology, however, a thrall is a serf, which intervening context Reamillo would use (in his wont to let contexts interplay) to highlight the fist-saluting Duterte as more of a snarling Chinese puppet of a fearsome orc than a self-sustained god.
The camera pans to another bricolage of his about a "fake history" concerning Jose Rizal (as a nationalist socialist hero) that some people from the Philippine alt-right have been peddling; this parody piece was also shown in another diskurso art magazine-curated show, one about the allegory.
Finally the camera arrives at Reamillo appearing as a modern-day Makapili, ironic because he is here hiding his identity from a crowd of the populist right while the old Makapili of World War II hid his identity from the Philippine citizenry who were against the fascism of the Japanese Imperial Army and their collaborators.
Reamillo's new Makapili is contemplating an action; or is it a counter-utopia that he might be able to spread in the world from his head, like the air collected by an electric fan that the mechanism is able to spread in a room?
He picks up another recent Reamilloan trope, the maneki-neko, that he has used to parody the Duterte fist salute. The Duterte salute is truly a cross-cum-variation of the Roman or Nazi salute and the leftist raised fist, and the appropriation of the maneki-neko as an image of irony seems quite apt, considering that the figurine beckons whilst the Duterte salute threatens. On the other hand, the maneki-neko is also quite a perfect image for an interplay of contexts, considering that it is historically by the Japanese, a people the Chinese historically hate, but has been appropriated by Chinese merchants to adorn their stores. Are the Chinese treating the maneki-neko the same way the Ancient Romans treated an Ancient Greek figure or image, as symbol of a successful cultural appropriation equal to subjugation? Is Duterte a Chinese maneki-neko? And so on and so forth.
Reamillo there pours one of his concoctions on the maneki-neko, either to do a voodoo healing on it, or a voodoo poisoning of it, or both. Representations of an herbalist's or witch's concoction such as this have appeared in many a Reamillo installation to reference the "arbularyo mix" that society or its leaders might imagine as the long-looked-for cure to their environ's social ailments. [These concoctions notably appeared in Reamillo's Mise en (Matched) Scene show and in the Manufacturer's Advice: Content May Vary group show (those bottles behind gallerist Dawn Atienza in that photo with her).]
Reamillo's new Makapili then considers the use of the rightist gun, or the Nazi gun if you will, against the rightists of our present. You know what happens next.
Edgar Varèse's musical democracy referred to the "musical space as open rather than unbounded." British conservative writer Paul Johnson, meanwhile, writes in Art: A New History that a bodegón can refer to low-life or everyday objects that can be painted on to show the artist's mastery. That looks quite populist, too, doesn't it? Primarily, however, the word refers to a Spanish still life painting depicting pantry items arranged on a stone slab, or a painting with a figure surrounded by the same kind of items. Items in whatever sort of pantry or bodega, qua "noise" pieces, then, will always be for people's arranging or re-arranging for creating their own voices or bodegóns, an act that Reamillo urges them to complete in picking up from where he supposedly failed. [05.22.2020]
14 Internet branding effort
The Sancho BBDO digital ad for Finlandek's free backgrounds for video calls, launched 29 April 2020. [Uploaded by Technocio Tecnologia y Estilo de Vida, 2 May 2020]
Finlandek's offered-free home backgrounds for video calls. (Launched 29 April 2020, Colombia)
FINLANDEK'S offer of free backgrounds for video calls is really just another product of that Marketing/Advertising 101 quick sense some people have. That sense would just instantly tell you to exploit what has replaced the old instead of go about lamenting the (temporary) obsolescence of something now missed. Like many other businesses, Finlandek, the home accessories brand launched by Brazil's GPA company in 2013, could have joined others' grumbling about the pandemic lockdown's having brought an absence of people to many "show areas" (as Finlandek's areas might be called in Éxito hypermarkets in Colombia). Instead, the brand's division in this northern LatAm country thought it better to just visit the absent people right in their homes!
Visiting people in their homes instead of waiting for them to come to you is nothing new to the brand, being not only a hypermarket show-area presence but also a Latin American Internet star via Cnova Brazil in Brazil and other online-retail places in the continent, such as MercadoLibre.
But how to "visit" those absent people, you ask? Or, rather, how to be with them in their quarantined homes? Simple. Just know what they're doing these days, as marketing knowhow would tell you, and voila! You'd already know the art that they presently lack in their lives! Not that that want could be an opportunity for you to sell them the missing art they need for those bland or cluttered spaces enveloping them, spaces they can't brag about for now; it could, for starters, just be an opportunity for you to subliminally get them (and their friends) to be enamored with your art's charm, offering them free Finlandek product-filled backgrounds for their video calls!
One thing this offer elliptically brings to the table is the fact that an artless world is definitely not something earthlings would brag about to the other inhabitants of our galaxy who might visit (through their UFOs or via a galactical Zoom).
Don't be surprised if galleries and booksellers start emulating the same marketing idea for selling their crafts, starting today. [05.09.2020]
15 Architectural feature focus, Semiotics of culture piece
Barcelona-based American singer-songwriter Tori Sparks' "Little Wars" (Balcony Concert #9), music for the quarantine upload. [YouTube, 21 May 2020]
The staying power of the lockdown balcony concert.
THE balcony in the past weeks during the global pandemic lockdown.
"For the value of their being up there, as a platform much higher than the usual stage, we have witnessed use by such 'performances' as the Pope's Urbi et Orbi on St. Peter's Basilica's front balcony or a dictator's speech from a palace hall one. A church would also present the utter significance of its ceremonial music within its hall space by having this music performed (by a choir or set of musicians) from a balcony (known as the minstrels' gallery) placed either behind the churchgoers or at the church hall's sides; the music would not envelop you, the way evangelicals might have it for a participatory end, but rain on you from above." So wrote diskurso art magazine's editor Jojo Soria de Veyra in his notes this May about the lockdown balcony concerts, as his new piece for our Pop Semiotics section.
Read his piece here to see why we're also including the staying power of the lockdown balcony concert in this, our May hooray list. [05.28.2020]
The official trailer for The Assistant. [Uploaded by Vertigo Releasing, 25 Feb 2020]
The Assistant. (Streaming release: 1 May 2020)
BECAUSE this is fiction and we are not told much about the leading character's background, the film therefore avoids carrying the problem that Bombshell carried in relation to its subject-victim (read what we're talking about here in our review of Bombshell). In fact, The Assistant's narrative does not take an omniscient perspective on a victimization, much less on a clear case of rape, but merely rides with an uneasiness by a junior assistant working in a film production company. Just so. But that doesn't mean that the drama gets lessened. On the contrary. Nor does it mean that writer-director Kitty Green was handicapped in her efforts to show displays of toxic sexism from within those self-given parameters. [12.02.2020]
"Say So (Remix)". (released 1 May 2020 by RCA Records & Kemosabe Records)
WRITTEN by Yeti Beats, Lydia Asrat, Nicki Minaj, Dr. Luke & Doja Cat, this remix with Ms. Minaj of Doja Cat's hit single could just be the sexiest lockdown-ennui advice of the year. [01.01.2021]
18 Music album
Reunions. (Released 15 May 2020, Southeastern)
CLASSIC ROCK: "Whether he’s musing insightfully over alcoholism or parenthood, his band are blazing and (Nashville-based Jason Isbell) takes a tired format and charges it up with passion and perceptiveness. An admirable anomaly."
AllMusic: "The fact that these songs seem so telling in a strange and difficult time has a bit to do with coincidence, but more important is the excellence of Isbell's songwriting."
The Arts Desk: "Lyrically, Isbell is at the top of his game."
Paste: "The result is a body of work that often feels indispensable. Isbell is a songwriter’s songwriter, but the songs that result are for all of us."
The Line of Best Fit: "With a blend of fact and fiction, Isbell has created his own Nebraska and secured his place among the greats of country-rock."
Rolling Stone: "Reunions is a nuanced, probing record that finds Isbell more restless than he’s been since Southeastern, a rich portrait of an artist eternally searching deeper within himself." [01.01.2021]
19 Music album
Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? (Released 1 May 2020, Thrill Jockey)
MUSICOMH: "Following the election of Donald Trump, (Drew Daniel’s) initial response was one of sadness and anger. Rather than respond to those feelings with an album of, as he puts it, 'angry white guy' music, Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? is a much more contemplative, meditative affair. It is probably the most relaxing and calming record Daniel has made in his guise as The Soft Pink Truth; the sonic equivalent of poking a flower down the barrel of a gun."
Exclaim!: "Using echoed piano, tempered disco beats, waves of synth and wordless, chopped-up vocals (courtesy of Angel Deradoorian and Jana Hunter), (Baltimore musician Daniel) crafts a tapestry of tense sounds and sentiments."
The Arts Desk: "It would be tempting to say there's a religious feeling here, particularly given the title taken from Saint Paul, but that's not right: more, it homes in on many of the qualities of various musics of religious practice from first principles. It feels good and right and galvanising, and it's exactly the record we need right now."
PopMatters: "Matmos' Drew Daniel rebrands his solo work to meet the trying times, offering up an ambient techno classic for the ages under his Soft Pink Truth moniker."
AllMusic: "While it's just as thought-provoking as The Soft Pink Truth's other albums, there's something magical in how the emotional dimensions and deep beauty of Shall We Go on Sinning So That Grace May Increase? reaffirm that positivity and creativity are the most powerful weapons against hate and darkness."
Pitchfork: "Matmos member Drew Daniel has put together a gorgeous album that carries itself with the strength of a soft prayer, masterfully fusing jazz, deep house, and minimalism into an enormous, featherlight shield."
Beats Per Minute: "Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? is a wonderful record of majesty and enveloping textures that radiate a sense of collective positive energy."
Uncut: "Matmos member in 'restorative protest' mini-epic." [01.01.2021]
20 Music album
Cover art and design for Havok's V album. [Photo from manofmuchmetal.com]
V. (Released 1 May 2020 by Century Media Records)
THE thrash metal in V may be said to be purist, enough for Metallica and Slayer to be no less than proud of Havok, the Colorado band that has proven itself to be so erudite at its ongoing musical loyalism. In their fifth album, the band still doesn't offer diversions in the direction of misanthropy or pornography for the sake of displaying a perhaps blacker metal or whatever. The opening three tracks settle comfortably in good ol' thrash's taking on conservative politics, and it's disarming enough that the band's songwriting does away with the allegory (or a Metallica-like irony) to here paint a pundit's and futurist's manner of editorializing on the movements of The Establishment. Perhaps it's hard to escape it when you actually know what's going on, without a need to hide an ignoramus' puzzlement behind a blind rage or a dark sci-fi plot full of aliens.
Apart from the editorializing, for a green counter-utopia to a system full of lies there's "Ritual of the Mind," which insists that reconnecting "with the archaic" is "far from primitive." Then there's Havok's take on an "Interface with the Infinite" that sounds more like psychology than a heavy-metal head's glorification of the shaman's or priest's trip. "Phantom Force," meanwhile, is a verse insight into a warrior's PTSD.
If there's allegory here, it might be in the track "Cosmetic Surgery," which critiques the servicing by pop culture media, marketing and PR of the destructive industry of "beauty"-making. When it sings "Truth killers / Are on the hunt again," it's on its way to making it look more like a track about the cosmetic doctoring of such sirs as Roger Stone or Roger Ailes.
Now, of course this ain't no concept album. Otherwise it'll be hard to explain the collection's sudden venture into "Panpsychism." Unless, of course, that track is there to offer an alternative philosophy, for want of another, that would challenge the concepts pushed by, say, Christianity regarding human virtue and evil, the conscience, punishment and grace, and the individual who ends up with his soul intact. As a socially-aware band on the side of truth-seeking, Havok makes panpsychism sound like a synonym for the Hinduist nirvana rather than the enemy of logical positivism.
The penultimate track, "Merchants of Death," goes back to the theme of The Establishment, this time treating of this ruling niche's war-making military weapons industry and probably also its NRA. The album closes with a song on suicide that neither glorifies nor shames the act qua option.
Havok was right in 2004 and is still right today. Thrash metal isn't going anywhere. Not just yet, especially in a time where its contributions to punditry are still so badly needed. [05.31.2020]
Text (c) copyright 2020 diskurso art magazine