Ten films by Oskar Fischinger

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After complaining a couple of days ago about the difficulty of seeing works of abstract cinema, it turns out that a collection of Oskar Fischinger’s great animations appeared earlier this year.

Decades before computer graphics, before music videos, even before Fantasia (the 1940 version), there were the abstract animated films of Oskar Fischinger (1900–1967), master of “absolute” or nonobjective filmmaking. He was cinema’s Kandinsky, an animator who, beginning in the 1920’s in Germany, created exquisite “visual music” using geometric patterns and shapes choreographed tightly to classical music and jazz. (John Canemaker, New York Times)

Oskar Fischinger is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, embracing the abstraction that became the major art movement of that century, and exploring the new technology of the cinema to open abstract painting into a new Visual Music that performs in liquid time. (Biographer William Moritz)

We now understand Oskar Fischinger not only as a link between the geometric painting of pre-war Europe and post-war California but as a grandfather of the digital arts.
(Art Critic Peter Frank)

That’s good, so now how about the Whitneys, Jordan Belson, Harry Smith…?

Via Boing Boing.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The abstract cinema archive

Maximum heaviosity

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Left: Comets on Fire at the Arthurfest,
Los Angeles, 2005.

Bassoons, flamenco, monks’ cowls…
welcome to the new rock underground

Julian Cope explains why heavy metal, so often maligned, is at the heart of today’s rock avant-garde

Julian Cope
Friday August 18, 2006
The Guardian

IN APRIL THIS YEAR, after my half-hour stint as a guest vocalist for the US doom metal band SunnO))), I left the stage at Brussels’ Domino festival and removed my burka. Backstage, I remarked to the band’s biographer, Seldon Hunt, how open-minded heavy metallers had become: they were accepting, as festival headliners, a band without a drummer, a bass player or guitars, and with every bearded, long-haired musician among them clad in the habit of a Christian monk. Percipiently, Seldon commented that because the support acts had contained all of those ingredients (except the habits), SunnO))) considered it their duty to reject every metal cliche, replacing each of the archetypal rock instruments with Moog synthesizers, downtuned enough to bring the plaster off the theatre’s ceiling.

SunnO))) are taking metal to places you never imagined. Their music inhabits the territory that once was the preserve of meditative, ambient and experimental music alone. And they are doing it through the most critically reviled music of all. More remarkably, they are not alone. Across the world, underground scenes are using the shell of heavy metal—the volume, the grinding riffs, the imagery, the nomenclature—to test rock’n’roll perceptions and explore boundaries, all the while shamelessly subsuming other vastly different musical styles into their own work.

In a worldwide underground music scene that encompasses artists playing improvisatory music, folk, psychedelic and free jazz, metal is the common thread. You don’t hear much about this music in the mainstream press, especially in Britain, where the kingmakers of the music press have inadvertently created generations of musical whores, all doing their utmost to produce what they think the NME will want, rather than the music they want to make. But why is metal the link? Because the avant-garde musicians in the vanguard of today’s experimental underground scene grew up on it. They spent their late childhoods/early teens playing noisy computer games, watching 24-hour news of the first Gulf war and listening to grunge and metal. As they are mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, their strongest cultural landmarks are the suicide of Kurt Cobain in 1994, and, before it, the overwhelmingly loud sludge of Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica. Therefore the “inner soundtracks” of the new avant gardists are informed by grinding metal bands, just as the sound of the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray informed that of my own punk generation. Older readers who equate the term heavy metal with the brash, stupefying 1980s anthems of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi will do well to remember that these bands are long out of the equation, having been at their height over 20 years ago.

Continue reading “Maximum heaviosity”

The genius of Captain Beefheart

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Mission: unlistenable
His music is described as a metal sock, an action painting and a mad, giant watch—yet it has inspired bands from Talking Heads to the White Stripes. John Harris gets to grips with Captain Beefheart

John Harris
Friday August 4, 2006
The Guardian

IN THE 1980s, American researchers found that the average album was played 1.6 times. Given the new practice of impatiently scouring a CD for one or two highlights and then discarding it, the iPod age has presumably seen that figure tumble, but the basic point remains: most of the music we buy lies pretty much unplayed – either because it is rubbish, or because it says a lot more about our vanity than what we actually like. On the latter score, history’s most shining example may be Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, an allegedly classic album that must surely sit undisturbed in thousands of households. Playing it—or rather, attempting to—is a bit like being in one of those cartoons in which the principal characters cagily open a door, only to find all hell – elephants, possibly, or a speeding train – breaking loose behind it, whereupon they slam it shut again. Its opening moments let you know what you’re in for: a discordant racket, all biscuit-tin drums and guitars that alternately clang and squall, eventually joined—apparently by accident—by a growling man complaining that he “cannot go back to your land of gloom”. Skipping through the remaining 27 tracks does not throw up anything much more uplifting. Indeed, one song finds the same voice rather distastefully evoking the Holocaust: “Dachau blues, those poor Jews/ Dachau blues, those poor Jews/ One mad man, six million lose.”

When this kind of experience happens to a rock critic, it can easily bring on a chill feeling of inadequacy. After all, Beefheart—those in the know rarely use the “Captain”—remains a gigantic influence on so much rock music that has claimed to stand as something more than mere entertainment, from the post-punk likes of Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, Gang of Four and Public Image Limited, through names as varied as Tom Waits and Happy Mondays, and on to such talents as PJ Harvey, Franz Ferdinand and the White Stripes. Equally importantly, he is a crucial part of the gnomic culture through which those people (men, mostly) whose lives have been hopelessly afflicted by music commune with one another. It’s not in the film, but the Jack Black character in High Fidelity was surely a Beefheart obsessive.

Continues here.

Wyatting

These are people after my own heart as this is something I’ve been doing for years with jukeboxes. Usually the challenge was to find the weirdest thing in the whole selection of records which would often be a B-side of some sort. “Wyatting” seems a rather unfair name for something that’s annoying people (although if it’s going to be named something it may as well be after the wonderful Robert). If it’s irritation you want then “Merzbowing” (see below) would seem more apt, not least because of its relation to the Dada works of Kurt Schwitters.

* * *

Wyatting (vb): when jukeboxes go mad by Ned Beauman

Just as the best way to judge an adult is by his or her record collection, the best way to judge a pub is by the albums on its jukebox. Or it was, until the 21st-century caught up with the noisy machine in the corner. There are now nearly 2,000 internet-connected jukeboxes in the UK, each of which can access as many as 2m tracks – and with them has come Wyatting, which is either a fearless act of situationist cultural warfare or a nauseatingly snobbish prank, depending on who you ask.

The phenomenon was first identified in the New York Times by Wendy McClure. She was in a grimy rock bar when someone pulled up Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, which consists of a single distant piano phrase repeated for more than an hour, and found herself too mesmerised to leave. “Imagine replacing the brass cylinder in a music box with a Möbius strip made from nerve endings,” she wrote. The rest of the bar’s patrons , however, were soon in revolt.

This wasn’t to be an isolated incident. After music critic Simon Reynolds linked to McClure’s article on his weblog, several of his readers wrote in to confess that this is a game they regularly play. Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London, coined the term “Wyatting” because sticking on Dondestan, the 1991 avant-garde jazz-rock LP by ex-Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt, is the perfect way to disrupt a busy Friday night in a high street pub. Other favourites are free-jazz clarinetist Evan Parker and surrealist Japanese noise producer Merzbow. In theoretical terms, Wyatting has been explained as enacting the theories of Adorno, who believed that subverting pop music would help to bring down capitalism. Alternatively, if you listen to Neville, it’s simply “childish, futile, but finally hilarious”. (More.)

Summer of Love Redux

The New York Times finally gets hip to the new folk/weird America thing.
Arthur receives a passing mention.

Summer of Love Redux

By WILL HERMES
Published: June 18, 2006

ASA IRONS of the Vermont musical collective Feathers is stroking his beard. It is formidable beard; a biblical beard. He and his band mates—who mainly operate out of a rural farmhouse without cellphones, Internet, manager or booking agent—are at WNYC radio to perform their enigmatic, pixie-ish folk-rock on the long-running show “Spinning on Air.” Today their instruments include a lap harp, a toy xylophone, a Middle Eastern hand drum and an acoustic guitar hand-painted with animals and rainbows.

Ruth Garbus, a dark-eyed 24-year-old whose T-shirt depicts tractors flying through space, is talking about conjuring mystery with music, “that whole psychedelic thing of letting your mind go where it will.” Mr. Irons, 24, his long hair tied up in a bun, chimes in with a story about working as a carpenter and about growing up with parents who were “woods hippies, not town hippies.”

“I’m all about the old world, man,” Mr. Irons says with a mischievous laugh.

Perhaps. But he and his band mates are also about a new world: one of the most creatively vigorous strains of underground music. Initially dubbed “freak folk,” it looked like a trend of the moment a couple of years ago, when two California artists, Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart, attracted attention with charmingly shaggy, deceptively whimsical, largely acoustic albums.

But the scene they spearheaded has grown steadily and expanded sonically, getting less folkie and more, well, freaky. It has also gone international. And this season—the Summer of Love 2.0—it comes into full, wild bloom with releases, tours and festival appearances that promise nothing less than a new age of Aquarius.

Continue reading “Summer of Love Redux”