Weblog since 2004 on books, films, art and travel.
Subscribe to the RSS feed.

maqam

For some electronic sounds like you've never heard before, check out the new Minz track 'Maqam', from his 'Back to Móstoles' EP.

An epic nine minute piece, it slowly builds on a sparse, driving beat into a dark and thundering journey that conjures up images of forbidding desert landscapes where the wind rages and tiny humans feel the vastness of the sky come crashing down on them. To use a fancy term, the music seems to become an evocation of mysterium tremendum - the terrible, overwhelming aspect of the numinous.

As Minz explains on his blog, the track (which was called 'Persian Miniatures' in an earlier version) is built around the principles of an Arabic maqam, a melodic system very different from Western music. But even without understanding its conceptual intricacies, its impact, akin to drum 'n bass classic 'Shadow Boxing' but much more elaborate, is raw and immediate.

Listen to 'Maqam' on Soundcloud, or better, buy it from Beatport.

do something real

Do something real
sidewalks chasing citizens racing
do something real
bloodhounds closing in on opposing men
do something real
crows like rats like cats on vacation
do something real
you’ve been scrapped I’m trapped at the station
small claims courts community snorts

It's fine when it's so concealed
extra special happiness
defined by an endless field of nothing real
do some thing real
crap stripe exits examiner expects it
do something real
plot of rockets holy ghost markets
small claims courts...

You’ll die or you won't
you try or you don't
do something real

- Robert Pollard (of Guided by Voices fame) and Doug Gillard, from their album 'Speak Kindly of Your Volunteer Fire Department'. The song was used fittingly for the end titles of 'Full Frontal'.

oblique strategies

In 1975, musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt created a deck of cards containing short statements or questions. Called 'Oblique Strategies, over one hundred worthwhile dilemmas', they were designed to help in moments of creative deadlock. Ranging from practical to silly to zen-like philosophical advice, some cards are specific to music, but most are applicable in all creative processes.

Some random examples:

  • Bridges (burn)
  • Revaluation (a warm feeling)
  • Define an area as 'safe' and use it as an anchor
  • Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them
  • Short circuit (example: a man eating peas with the idea that they will improve his virility shovels them straight into his lap)

Like many brainstorming methods in vogue today - for instance, Edward de Bono's lateral thinking - their aim is to force the mind out of its habitual pattern, into a new direction or towards a different solution. As Eno later recounted in an interview:

The Oblique Strategies evolved from me being in a number of working situations when the panic of the situation - particularly in studios - tended to make me quickly forget that there were others ways of working and that there were tangential ways of attacking problems that were in many senses more interesting than the direct head-on approach. If you're in a panic, you tend to take the head-on approach because it seems to be the one that's going to yield the best results Of course, that often isn't the case - it's just the most obvious and - apparently - reliable method. The function of the Oblique Strategies was, initially, to serve as a series of prompts which said, "Don't forget that you could adopt *this* attitude," or "Don't forget you could adopt *that* attitude."

Since then, several limited editions of the pack have been published, including the fifth edition which is still for sale. But these days there are lots of online and downloadable versions as well.

jazzed

Another favorite at the Dutch Film Festival was the Flemish short animation 'Jazzed', by Anton Setola. Following a jazz musician on a riotous night out, the story, set to music by Frederik Segers, is secondary to its languidly jazzy rhythm and cool graphic style. It contains some great visual jokes (watch for the bottle contents!) that can only be done in animation - and which remind you of the unique artistic qualities of animation, capable of creating a fluid (pardon the pun), dream-logic-like universe.

Jazzed

Unfortunately, only a short excerpt is available online. A good chance to see it in full is at the Holland Animation Film Festival in November.

the last days of emma blank

Finally saw 'De laatste dagen van Emma Blank' ('The Last Days of Emma Blank') at the Dutch Film Festival last week. Happy to report that after the disappointment of 'Ober' ('Waiter'), Alex van Warmerdam is back at his former idiosyncratic level of dark satire and deadpan absurdity.

Perhaps Holland's only auteur - writing, directing, acting, scoring and designing his films (as well as the posters, which are works of art in themselves) - Van Warmerdam is a master at creating a highly stylized, isolated reality that strips all varnish from human relationships to reveal the raw, irrational urges lurking beneath. And the more stylized, it seems, the more powerful the result. Which would explain why 'Ober' misfired (messy reality, messy story) and why 'Emma Blank' works brilliantly.

The Last Days of Emma Blank - 1

Adapted from his own play ('Adel Blank'), the story has a simple set-up: an elderly, tyrannical lady awaiting her death in a country house in the Dutch dunes, surrounded by her staff of four - or five if you count the dog. The first sign of the bizarre game being played in this household is the fact that the dog is really a man (in a fabulous role by Van Warmerdam himself). The entire staff soon turns out to be her family, who are willing to put up with their subservient roles only because she will die soon.

The Last Days of Emma Blank - 2

Admittedly, there isn't all that much dramatic development from this premise, except for a morbidly drawn-out and often hilarious power struggle. But the shifting relations within this family and the pathetically outrageous situations it creates are more than enough for 90 minutes - thanks mostly to the razor-sharp dialogue that steers every scene from ordinary household exchanges into utter absurdity.

Here's the trailer with English subtitles. (I wondered how the dialogue, so rooted in Dutch causticness, would hold up for international audiences - but these festival reviews seem to indicate that it does.)