Cultural Bulletin
Cultural Bulletin is a quarterly magazine that provides an international view of creative work. We look to film, music, design and art as signifiers of our cultural moment.
Posts in In Review
IN REVIEW: Celine Gillain - Bad Woman 
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Label: Antinote

Maybe we know the truth deep down, and maybe that is the role of art — to articulate what we know but can’t express. As if a mirror, Celine Gillain’s record Bad Woman puts sounds to feelings of contemporary life. Last track ‘I’m Grateful’ seems to conclude that even if the mirror that reflects reality back exists virtually or is in essence an illusion it can still tell you something useful.

We live in a uniquely cynical moment in history that is both relentless and soft, so it is understandable that people should come from a naturally sceptical perspective: what do they want? Is that what they really think? What’s in it for them? Do people really live like this? The CGI glass of water is always half empty, to see it another way is a delusion. To be wary of drinking the water is appropriate, it is probably contaminated. So, what is sacrificed as a result of our contemporary perspective?

‘In the arena we meet each other, in the arena we eat each other.’  

Often perceived as a hyper competitive life, we are now keeping up with a billion Jones’ on social media and yet reluctantly talk to our next-door neighbours. Through the carefully curated fictional versions of our lives, we quickly see the fraud in others as perhaps a projection of our own disingenuous behaviour. We are bad.

‘Your friendship is like poison, paved with good intentions – I saw the fraud in you.’ 

What can be felt as an optimism across Bad Woman is the willingness look at our situation as someone who is complicit in it. There is no doubt that as reality changes with the increasing complexity of technology so will our perception of the world. With the limitations of the human mind laid before us by superior algorithms (that do our jobs), the idea of being factually certain will be laughable. 

Bad Woman is such a storied and yet abstract record that feels like a journey, the end point of which is as much a moment of happiness as it is a realisation or integration. The idea of the individual is absorbed into the collective multitude, as if realising you are less could be the only gateway to seeing that you are more. It is a contemporary kind of enlightenment that Gillain refers to, one we are still figuring out – together. AG

BUY THE RECORD HERE

IN REVIEW: loscil - first narrows
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Label: kranky
Year: 2004

Some records are ergonomic, sliding seamlessly into our lives, not requiring us to change. Instead it is as if the record is sympathetic to us, knows the patterns of our lives and vibrations of our minds. Such records become companion pieces, offering utility in there ability to amalgamate with us. They make us attentive to routine events, enhancing our daily being which is why this music can be associated with the idea of the domestic life.

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You notice the shadows of trees from the garden, cast in an angled frame of light that is reflected onto the wardrobe. Their movement, enhanced by the magnification of the shadow, is like a thick liquid, oil on water or the sequential patterns of the bacteria in a petri dish. The vibration of your body, the interface between you and the music is awakening to the otherwise imperceptible and is why ergonomic records help to elevate us towards higher ideals.

Vancouver based artist, Loscil has since released 14 other records that are well worth your time.

IN CONVERSATION: OK-RM
 
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In their studio in somewhere between Hackney and Bethnal Green, we sat down with Oliver Knight and Rory McGrath, founders of OK-RM - a design studio that takes a collaborative and uniquely multidisciplinary approach to their work. They are the Creative Directors of quarterly magazine Real Review, in partnership with the Real Foundation, and are responsible for the identity and design culture of the Strelka Institute. They were part of the team that designed the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale (2016) and founded InOtherWords, an imprint which produces books in close collaboration with artists, writers, institutions and other cultural protagonists.

There is more content produced now than ever before. The emergence of multiple platforms of distribution has afforded an equity amongst brands and individual users which now holds an intrinsic monetary and social value in our culture and economy. This radical change over the past decade has led to unusual behaviour - people are adopting the mode of a brand in their own communication and at the same time, brands are imitating people in the pursuit of authenticity. Despite operating mainly in the cultural sector, it was clear when talking to Rory McGrath and Oliver Knight (OK-RM), that they were aware of how these emerging spheres of communication present new challenges for brands and consequently the role of design within them. On discussing a current project with fashion brand, Alyx, Rory explained:

“It was important for us to establish an approach which would place ideology, meaning and narrative at the core. Everything that comes after that - a design, a typeface or a book - responds to it."

Shezad Dawood - Kalimpong (published by InOtherWords)

Shezad Dawood - Kalimpong (published by InOtherWords)

With content holding a central focus in OK-RM's work, their collaborative projects with artists and writers - such as FOS, Shezad Dawood and Jack Self - have fed directly into their approach towards design. Being involved at a conceptual level within the arts and cultural sectors has led to how they consider the role of a brand.

“Exhibition design has definitely been important for us to question the potential of space and spatial design,” Rory told us. “We think about how to create an environment for content beyond a book or a website or a specific object - whatever that may be. You start to think about space and suddenly you’re really dealing with someone’s whole experience. That sets you up for questioning space in a more abstract sense - the space of a brand lets say.”

On this, Oliver highlighted how the emergence of new platforms for content has expanded our expectations and interaction with the brand as well as the scope of possibility. “Historically, a fashion brand would communicate mainly through advertising. There would simply be an image consistently in each magazine with a logo placed on or near it. Whereas now our interaction with a brand exists across a multitude of contexts: online, social media, in print, physically. You can’t just repeat the same thing over and over again (well, unless that’s the concept). We now have the opportunity to question how we create a narrative in an incremental way, we can open a more dynamic discourse with the audience. This is something we’ve been really interested in and have focused on with Alyx.”

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1017 A L Y X 9SM

It is a deliberate intention of OK-RM that a narrative can be felt in varying forms across their body of work. Whether it is felt subtly in the arc of a design culture, as was implemented during their time working with the Strelka Institute, or as an actual storytelling mechanism in Leviathan and Home Economics.

Regarding a current project, Rory explained how they were taking inspiration from other places to establish narrative in atypical ways. “We're commissioning an artist to make what you could call a ‘narrative project’, which is conceptualising a fictional character and he then undertakes that personality and travels the world, looking at things through this perspective. So in that sense, it’s very akin to filmmaking or storytelling in general. We’re using the character as a protagonist to articulate the core principles of the concept, it’s a kind of tool really. It creates a mood rather than a didactic point. It riffs on and has a discussion with the contemporary."

What became clear during our conversation was the potential that OK-RM see for creating meaningful content for those that they work with, and simultaneously being able to design the frames within which it exists. The form and shape of content is now infinitely wide in scope and it could have big implications for the relationship between brand and consumer, hopefully leading to a more experimental exchange. With particular regards to fashion, Oliver highlighted the utility of this outlook. “Fashion isn’t just about clothes, it’s often a broader cultural project which encompasses various clues to the culture and context in which it exists. The ability to work closely with artists within this framework is a way of creating authentic content which goes beyond commerce.”

When discussing their projects, there was the feeling that OK-RM were continually expanding the reach of design and that they had created for themselves (and their collaborators) a freeing space in which to work. The motivation for this expansive approach seemed to stem from a respect for communication and a continuous cycle of critique with regards to their practice.

Hysteric Glamour published by InOtherWords

Hysteric Glamour published by InOtherWords

“It’s driven by a genuine critical engagement, for instance with book making,” said Rory. “We have designed many books, some of which weren’t always commissioned with a huge amount of ambition to make the ultimate book. At the same time we were looking back toward the work of Pontus Hultén (who was director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in the 1960s ), we started to collect his books and realised that most of the time he was designing them himself, we started to wonder, how does he make such brilliant books? It was clearly because he was so intrinsically involved in the shaping of that content, likely closely with the artist(s).”

This was one of the significant realisations that led OK-RM to found InOtherWords in 2015, a publishing imprint creating books in close collaboration with the subject. It has served as a platform for reaching what Rory defined as “trying to create a ‘total book’ or ‘total project’”. InOtherWords has been a proponent for OK-RM to support artists, writers and collaborators to realise projects that otherwise may not have happened. As Oliver and Rory explained, in this way they are very much “protagonists of content”, occupying a role in which they are able to support a project from its inception to its end product. When referring to books and other items of design, they use the words 'Specific Objects' - a term eponymous with Donald Judd - somebody they cite as being an influential figure along with other ‘Total Artists’ Joseph Beuys, Sol Lewitt, Martin Kippenberger and Lawrence Weiner.

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'Specific Objects' has also become a helpful delineation between the different strands of OK-RM's practice as they have expanded in scope over the ten years they have been working together. On the changes that have occurred in design over the past decade, Oliver reflected, "Its a lot more open, a lot broader, there are many ways of working. Personally we are having a lot of fun right now, we enjoy the opportunity to question what we are confronted with and extend our discipline outwardly from graphic design. In fact one of the things that’s important to OK-RM’s trajectory is that we work collaboratively across disciplines with inspirational practitioners and individual characters, like Jack Self and Hesselbrand, but also reoccurring artists, collaborators or clients. In that sense, I think there has been change because when we started OK-RM, we started to question who would be within our sphere and now we’re surrounded by inspiring creative partners.”

The quarterly publication Real Review is centred around the proposition 'What It Means To Live Today'. It is a key example of the collaborative core that runs through OK-RM’s work. In this instance, they work closely with Jack Self, director of the Real Foundation and Editor-in-Chief of Real Review.

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One of the most impressive aspects of Real Review, beyond the content itself, is the realisation of placing content at the centre of the project. When discussing the simplicity of the design Rory pointed out that, "Real Review is simple but deceivably so." A key example of this is how the magazine differentiates between articles by changing patterns of text size. “That’s because we wanted to have this ease of hierarchy. You need to identify one article from the next and we wanted to do that with the most simple means possible. You have one big one and one small one big one etc. You don’t need other forms of hierarchy for the magazine to function.”

Much like InOtherWords, Real Review is emblematic of the experimental and reflective approach that OK-RM take towards design. This method of working not only results in a coherence across projects but serves as a dialectic for the role that design plays in relationship to form and content. There was a lasting impression that a key motivation behind OK-RM is to provide the cultural platform of which they have been a key proponent in defining over their 10-year studio practice. AG

 
In Review: G.S Schray - First Appearance 
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Label: Last Resort

... a nature resort with plentiful grass, foliage and plants. Now, imagine a crystalline river that winds down a valley with trees overhanging as the sun produces portals of light on the rippling surface. Green and craggy mountainous structures stand immortally in the distance as birds arc around them. The sky is deep blue save for emergent strips of yellow, orange and pink as dusk slowly looms. You take off your glasses, you are at home, you go to the kitchen to get your toast before putting your glasses on and returning to this other VR world. 

G.S Schray’s second album First Appearance offers similar utility in its ability to transport you to another place; such is the vivid and detail with which the album is executed. However, the record goes beyond soothing assurance although expressing some characteristically typical ambient traits. The structures and instrumentation continually evolve. Tracks seemingly possess their own ecology which in turn produces a cause and effect-like dialogue between instruments and musical passages. 

Well known comparisons could include Brian Eno’s Another Green World or the roaming instrumental sections of John Martyn songs. Both present notions of the ideal as opposed to pure escapism which is also where First Appearance excels. Musically speaking, it is easier to build arid and hostile landscapes than ones which reflect abundance and life - the risk of falling into a ‘new-age’ pastiche is much higher. Schray’s evident technical ability and eye for composition see him deftly avoid these pitfalls to produce, in First Appearance, an album that will please and nourish you. AG 

BUY THE ALBUM HERE

REVISITING: Jon Gibson - Two Solo Pieces
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It seems that everything in the known universe is a vibration, an interplay of opposing forces - some refer to it as a dance. What a strange outcome it is, that this vibration should produce beings with the conscious ability to consider their own existence. Depending on whether this phenomenon of human consciousness is viewed from a micro or macro level, it could be considered that we are aliens in this world or that we are a manifestation of the universe exploring itself. 

It’s a gift to the human experience that we should be able to manipulate sound in a way that presents us with an intuitive grasp of the nature of our own place. John Gibson’s ‘Two Solo Pieces’, (released in 1977) captures the tension of this universal vibration, revealing to us the strange reality that we are, through our consciousness and form, a component of this vibration. That we look for order, patterns and the rhythm in things is in itself a strange reality.

When chaos aligns to produce a harmonious moment we stop. Something essential has occurred - what innate intelligence guides us to recognise this? There is every possible manifestation of meaning to be derived but Jon Gibson takes a step further back, creating an attentiveness of the miracle itself. That we should even be in a position to derive meaning from music in the first place is a surreal outcome. Two Solo Pieces provides the listener with a portal to explore these themes intuitively and subjectively - in any way they like. AG

IN CONVERSATION: IAN BONHÔTE
 

Ian Bonhôte is an award winning director and producer. Most recently, he directed McQueen with Peter Ettedgui, a powerful documentary that explores the life of fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen. It has just been nominated for two BAFTAs.

His career has also earned him credits spanning commercials for Gatorade, Puma, Nike and Pepsi, music videos and short films. He co-founded the Production Company Pulse Films with fellow producers Thomas Benski and Marisa Clifford and now runs Misfits Entertainment.

We spoke to him about his creative roots, his outlook on the current state of the film industry in London and how, in the midst of corporate, money making film distributors and illegal downloads, passion and emotion must still hold sway.

 
Bonhôte, centre

Bonhôte, centre

Ian Bonhôte has had a busy year. Having just arrived home (he has lived in London for the past 21 years) from a packed press tour promoting the critically lauded McQueen, he is quick to admit that the film has been shown ‘a lot of love’ since its release. “We have released it in ten territories now and it will roll out worldwide,” he tells us. “We can see that people need this film. They want to be fed this creativity.”

The trajectory Bonhôte’s career has taken began back in his native Switzerland – he was born and raised in Geneva. “I started as a child actor back home,” he explains. “When I was seven years old, I was a bit of a show off so my mother got me into acting. I was in a TV series and a feature film. I did manage to carry on studying and managed to complete a degree.”

Instead of going straight back into acting, Bonhôte immersed himself in the world of club visuals. In the mid-nineties, the electronic music scene was exploding and, along with friends he met on his art course, he began to experiment with images – projecting them on the walls of clubs in Geneva. “This was before you had clubs with 50,000 people dancing around a turntable. It was still very underground. It was always in small clubs or warehouses. There was also a big squatting culture in Switzerland so we would often go and project images in those places too.” In the pre-digital world, Bonhôte was using 16 mm projectors, Super 8 projectors and slide projectors. “It was like leaving an autograph,” he says.

Before moving to London, Bonhôte did a 6-month stint in New York studying film. He quickly realised, however, that London would provide a greater chance of success. “It was booming. I came in September ‘97 and there was no other place on the planet you would want to be as a creative person.” He is clearly frustrated, though, to reflect on how this culture has changed. “It’s sad to witness how there is a system where young creative people can’t afford to live here. Being young and starting with nothing can be an amazing thing, but now the debt that gets accumulated makes things so much harder. It feels like the passion and fire have gone.”

As we talk, he explains that the danger of this climate could result in people only being likely to succeed if they are from a certain class or have access to enough money. “We need the social classes to transcend it,” he says. With this in mind, Bonhôte has been proactive in trying to give chances to less well-known actors. His first feature film, Alleycats, is a testament to this way of working. The feeling resonates so strongly with him that he named his current production company Misfits Entertainment. “Despite the name being used constantly, we chose it because I am definitely more interested in the outsiders.”   

Bonhôte, left

Bonhôte, left

Back in ’97, when Bonhôte first moved to London, he put on a monthly night at The Blue Note on Hoxton Square in Shoreditch. He credits the club as being a main factor in the regeneration of the area. This was done in collaboration with other Swiss artists and Bonhôte began to make links with like minded people. At around 20 years old, he was taken under the wing of other ‘club visual guys’ and began to work across the London club scene. “I would finish doing the visuals at 3 o’clock in the morning, pack up and be in bed by 4:30 then up for filmmaking lectures at 9 am. It was tough.”

During this time, Bonhôte met a range of talented artists who have gone on to become acclaimed film directors, editors, writers and producers. He quickly lists Duncan Jones whose credits include Moon (2009) and  Source Code (2011) and Norwegian author Bobbie Peers as those he mixed with. “I was lucky to be surrounded by these people,” he says.

It didn’t take long for bands and musicians to ask him to make music videos for them. The experiences of projecting in clubs and experimenting with visuals in an aesthetic and technical way had given him a growing confidence to tell stories that are not driven by the same narrative as film. ‘I believe music is one of the strongest emotional narratives you can have. It moves people.”

Soon after, he met producer Thomas Benski and they started Pulse Films in his living room in Shoreditch. The company has now gone on to make films across a range of genres. Recent successes include the films  American Honey (2016) and The Witch (2015). They have also been responsible for some of the best modern music documentaries out there: 20,000 Days On Earth , Shut Up and Play the Hits and No Distance Left To Run.

He moved on when Vice Media bought the company in 2016, feeling that it was the right time for him to part ways. “The company is still managed by two extremely talented people [Benski and Clifford]. For all its quality, it was not the perfect fit for me.”  

Bonhôte is clear that when he set up Misfits, it was to be a company led by directors and producers, not to service one. “[To do the opposite] is very short sighted,” he explains. “A lot of directors see themselves too much as artists. This is an industry that needs a huge amount of business acumen. There needs to be a balance between money and creativity. If you have a great project and no money, it won’t be made. If you have a lot of money and a shit project, it can still be made, sadly.” And, within Misfits, diversity is part of their DNA. “We don’t value diversity because the BFI told us to hire black, Asian or gay people. We do it because that is our society and our company should reflect it.”

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Our conversation turns to the implications illegal downloading and streaming has had on independent companies like Misfits. “The blame needs to be taken by those that consume it,” he says. “Anyone who downloads something illegally is making it one hundred times harder for companies to go out there and make anything good. One film we made was pirated three days before it came out. It’s destroying this industry.” He says he has even spoken to parents at his children’s school about the growing problem.

Although it is clearly a worrying time, Bonhôte seems passionate about the fact that there are people that still need an intellectual creative input, and there is still a chance for the industry. “I think there is space to do this. We are still making a living out of it and it’s inspiring. I have two little boys and I would like them to stand for things that they believe in. Always think about your name. When all is done, your name is your only asset. What you leave behind is the memories of what stands behind your name.”

Bonhôte has spent many months discussing the intricacies of McQueen so I’m intrigued to know  the answer to just one question: How has it changed him? “The basics of who you are don’t change but we had to analyse the place in which he lived and inhabited - the fashion world. The mental health issues that Lee was fighting with was certainly something we thought a lot about. You begin to make parallels with your own life: the commercial demands, the pressure of creativity, the praise or lack of praise. From the outside you think people like Lee have everything, then you realise they are just as fragile as you and I. The lesson is to not become lost in it.”

At 8 years old, Bonhôte saw holocaust drama Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987) and remembers coming out of the cinema emotionally moved and attempting to understand what had just happened to him. “The fact that images, sound and music in a dark room with loads of strangers had made me feel this way is something that has never left me. I felt alive. It blew my mind.”  Another film he cites as having a strong influence on him is Kids (Larry Clarke, 1995). “It was so raw and made me feel uncomfortable. It created such an emotion within me. Stories and characters are important but what’s most important is the emotion you convey. You don’t need the greatest budget to move people to tears or laughter. Money is an energy and sometimes too much of it can spoil something.”

In addition to this, he explains that during the making of McQueen, the core team was kept relatively small so that the clarity of the project remained. “A lot of the time it was just me, Cinzia [Baldessari, editor] and Peter in a room. When three people are emotionally connected, you often find the right answer to the problems you face. If you have twenty people in that room, the vision may get blurred.” At the same time, Bonhôte is clear that the process must be a collaboration, rejecting Auteur Theory and those that see the process as an individual crusade.   

After talking to Bonhôte, it’s hard not to feel buoyant and positive about how there are still artists out there that are driven by passion and emotion. Perhaps, with the unstoppable march of corporate, money making movie platforms, there is still life left in independent art. And, with directors such as Bonhôte, we can be hopeful that the art itself is valued above all else. TS

This article is featured in Cultural Bulletin Issue A. You can order a copy here.

Influences:

70s American Independent Cinema

The early work of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma

Alan Clarke / Federico Fellini

Films:

Au Revoir Les Enfants (Louis Malle, 1987)

Kids (Larry Clarke, 1995)

Le Grand Bleu (Luc Besson, 1988)

Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)

Buena Vista Social Club (Wim Wenders, 1999)

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

IN REVIEW: An Impossible Love

Director: Catherine Corsini

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In this intensely powerful and brilliantly acted film (based on the book of the same name written by Christine Angot) we are shown how the promise of a whirlwind love affair can descend into life altering toxicity. Director Catherine Corsini also asks us to consider the complexities of a broken family and, towards the end, much darker and more disturbing themes.

It begins in Châteauroux, central France, with the heady haze of a summer romance. Rachel (Virginie Efira), who at 26 has ‘capped St. Catherine’ (a term used in the ‘50s for unmarried women who have turned 25), is living with her mother and sister after a failed engagement. A very different time this was; the expectation of family and marriage were a constant force. It’s no wonder, then, that when the handsome and enigmatic Philippe (Niels Schneider) begins making eyes at her across her work canteen, she falls for him - hard.

As the two spend more time together, Rachel sees that Philippe is intelligent and exciting – he speaks multiple languages, travels and quotes Nietzsche. She is seduced and charmed. There is, however, a moment where a brief and cutting comment is made. It is a warning - a fluttering red flag - and a break from his usually suave demeanour. She silently accepts it, worried that speaking out will contort their growing relationship.

These moments become painfully more frequent – we see Philippe state he will never marry (although, he might have considered it if she ‘were rich’). We see him make anti-Semitic comments about her Jewish father. For the viewer, his unctuous nature quickly becomes tiresome. For Rachel, though, she is in love. And soon, just before he is to return home to Paris, she falls pregnant. From this point on the actions of Philippe are critical to the happiness of all three: mother, father and now, daughter Chantal.

The emotional depth of the film is increased because Corsini allows the narration to come from Chantal. And, although we are taken through the film from the child’s view of it all, it is Rachel who we are most invested in. Nor is it an understatement to say that Virginie Efira is exceptional. She manages to display both hope and pain: hope that her daughter will know a father and pain as that very man steadily goes to work on enervating her. An impossible love.

The look of the film is a real strength. Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie paints the couple’s first summer in such a way that it oozes nostalgia and a deep sense of connection – it is a vital step in allowing us to understand why Rachel holds onto the feelings she has towards Philippe. The costumes are also tailored exquisitely - helping to acutely recreate each of five decades that the film moves through.

It’s a shame that the trailer to An Impossible Love gives too much away – don’t watch it first. It’s best to go into the rest of the drama not knowing how it may play out. What results is a challenging and heart-breaking work that showcases highly memorable performances. TS


 

IN REVIEW: Chihei Hatakeyama - VOID XVII
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Label: White Paddy Mountain

Much like Chihei Hatakeyama’s earlier release of 2018’s Afterimage, VOID XVII presents us with sounds and abstract imagery that glow subtly across an undefined expanse. As the name suggests, VOID XVII looks to the formless, whereas Afterimage had within it the subjectivity of the performer. VOID XVII can be understood to occupy the spaces in between, whether that be the space between the physical (objects and air molecules) or the ethereal (thoughts and memories). 

Ambient music is useful in its ability to reduce these elements and states of being onto the same plane. Continuing this line of thought, the idea of ‘the void’ is a non sequitur - inevitably any conceptualisation of ‘nothing’ will be made of something. VOID XVII speaks to that fact, embodying what conceptually is beyond what we can experience. 

So what is it and why do it? Hatakeyama ascribes the notion of the void as the humanly imperceptible order or connection of things. This could be as much a belief system as anything else, many call this god, others call it karma, enlightenment or the divine. Reading Trappist Monk, Thomas Keating’s obituary (who died aged 95 on 25th October, 2018), he dedicated his life to contemplative prayer and the power of silence. He saw this as the only way to god, citing St John of the Cross who said: “God’s first language is silence.” 

Whatever belief system the listener carries, VOID XVII dramatises the relationship to our sense of the self and the unknown. Silence is a contrivance in that it is not something we ever really experience. Much like ‘nothing’, its existence is debatable in that it exists outside the realm of human perception. Instead, it is an ideal that we strangely have such a clear notion of. Therefore, characterising these ideas with sound is a useful way to contemplate them, when immersed in the music or listening to the sound of a room, it’s as if we enter a collective portal of shared experience - a way to remember. AG

Buy the record here: https://chiheihatakeyama.bandcamp.com/album/void-xvii

REVISITING: Mother

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

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It’s been 10 years since Bong Joon-ho (The HostOkja) gave us this darkly thrilling story of a mother’s devotion to her son. The South Korean crime drama also has Kim Hye-ja’s wonderfully dynamic performance in the central role - it is the first of many reasons that it is so worth re-watching. As co-writer and director, Joon-ho has a fascinating ability to surprise, with sharp injections of humour and characters that often make unexpected emotional leaps, leaving us guessing throughout.

The mother in question is a widow in a small town in southern South Korea, a modest herbalist and unlicensed acupuncturist, attempting to make a living and to keep her son Yoon Do-joon (a brilliant Won Bin) from running into trouble. His intellectual disabilities mean he requires help from others, and his mother takes responsibility (whether he likes it or not) as his protector.  However, when the murder of a teenage girl rocks the town, he becomes the centre of an investigation as the detectives find it surprisingly easy to get him to confess to the crime. Certain he is not capable of such a thing, the mother begins her journey of exonerating her son, uncovering disturbing truths along the way. 

The relationship between mother and son becomes more curious as she turns from protective guardian to fervent detective. Everyone is a suspect, as to her no one could be less guilty than her son. She enlists the help of her sons only friend Jin-tae (Jin Goo, patient yet dangerous), a local rogue not unused to rescuing Do-joon from those who take advantage of him. 

There are some epic shots, and when the music kicks in the film possesses a real sense of grandeur. The brilliant acting from all is led by Kim Hye-ja. She inhabits the role with an undercurrent of maternal desperation, often presenting as a ferocity that is disconcerting and at times terrifying. As mother and friend work together through the twists and turns of their own investigation the film picks up pace and we are led to a denouement that shows the shockingly dark depths this mother will go to in order to protect her child. SC

MUSIC: RECORDS OF THE YEAR (2018)

When looking back over a year of music in 2018 it’s hard to rank order the best records. Some we’ve had time to live with and others we’re just getting to know. Below is a breakdown (in no particular order) of the records that have made the biggest impression on us in 2018.

See our 10 favourite records below and listen to our playlist featuring a track from each release.


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STEVEN JULIEN - BLOODLINE

Label: Apron Recordings

A deftly crafted and addictive record that traced Julien’s own musical ‘bloodline’ whilst simultaneously paying tribute to Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi (Taro).

Following the release of Bloodline, Julien also put out a ‘Slowed Down’ version of the album which can be heard here.

Read the full review


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BLOD - KNUTNA NÄVAR

Label: Förlag För Fri Musik

It is not a forgone conclusion that a Förlag För Fri Musik release will be available to hear digitally. For those who didn’t get chance to buy the vinyl version, there is currently for a full version of the record on YouTube.

Listen to the full record.


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JENNY HVAL - THE LONG SLEEP

Label: Sacred Bones

The Long Sleep looks to the transcendent and uplifting aspects of pop whilst exploring more of the subversive aspects of the consumer age. Finding a place for liberation whilst also using the vernacular to feel the limitations of our cultural landscape is what made this record resonate so deeply.

Listen to the The Long Sleep here.

Read the full review


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H.Takahashi - Low Power

Label: White Paddy Mountain

When talking to Architect and Sound Designer, H.Takahashi he explained that the title for his record Low Power referred to ‘a light so bright that it hurts’. No record has captured the relationship between 21st Century comfort and the deep malaise of contemporary life better than Low Power.

Listen to Low Power here.
Read the full review.


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Marie Davidson - Working Class Woman

Label: Ninja Tune


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Accolytes - Rupture

Label: A L T E R


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Chihei Hatakeyama - Afterimage

Label: White Paddy Mountain


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RAIME - Am I Using Content Or Is Content Using Me?

Label: Different Circles


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VANLIGT FOLK - HAMBO

Label: Kess Kill/Kontra-Musik


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ARV & MILJÖ - SVENSK SOMMAR I STILLA FRID

Label: Omlott

IN REVIEW: Roma
 

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

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Through the lens of his own memories as a child, Alfonso Cuarón has created a film that achieves with great power the blending of domestic intimacy and epic grandeur, sorrow and joy, conflict and union. The film aches with nostalgia, landing in the middle of where real life meets art: a rare feat that gives its audience an emotional relatability whilst also telling us a story we never knew. 

Set in Colonia Roma in Mexico City - to the backdrop of the Mexican Dirty War - the film follows Cleo, a maid in the house of Sofía (Maria de Tavira), her husband (the doctor Antonio, played by Fernando Grediaga) and their four young children. Antonio’s departure to Quebec for work is more damaging than anticipated and the rest of the family are left to cope without him, all under the peripheral gaze of Cleo. She has a strong bond with the children which is more backfooted than their mothers but feels central to their growth and support. 

On the discovery that she is pregnant, Cleo tells her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero), a young man who has come from very little and is now channeling his resentment into learning martial arts. He deserts her in a movie theatre, leaving her with the prospect of raising the child alone. Each suffering their own abandonment, Sofia and Cleo navigate their relationship and the care of the children. Their differences are clear: as Cleo later attempts to reach out to Fermín - who is training with the revolting left wing ‘Los Halcones’ - he calls her a ‘fucking servant’. Meanwhile, Sofía deals with her pain by drunkenly smashing up the family car, quickly buying a replacement in an attempt to keep her children from the reality of their increasingly strained financial situation. 

The film is beautiful in black and white. Cuarón’s shots tend to be wide and each one is full of detail and scope. One in particular shows the children with their cousins playing outside in the fields amongst the Mexican wildlife. It is epic in its nature yet so believably real, a perfect example of the dichotomy that makes this film masterful. 

The acting is uniformly brilliant, especially from Yalitza Aparitizo as Cleo, who makes her debut here after training as a teacher. As Sofía, Maria de Tarva darts between tender and cold, as her suppressed emotions manifest in outbursts towards her loved ones. Drunkenly she takes Celos face and says between laughs: ‘No matter what they tell you, as women, we are always alone.’

The fallout of a particularly traumatic event leaves you feeling moved in a way you wouldn’t expect. A reminder of the potential that cinema has to tell a story that resonates with the universality of human experience and emotion, Roma is easily one of the best films of the year that holds huge power in both style and substance. SC

 
IN REVIEW: ROBERT ASHLEY - AUTOMATIC WRITING

One of the great albums of the 20th Century. Automatic Writing is a tender expose of the human voice, revealing the softness and radiance of abstract verbal pronounciation. Its strangeness/uniqueness can easily lead the listener to view the record as only this - an avant-garde experiment in speech patterns. However, the composition, textures, scale and musicality of the record all contribute to the whole experience.

Ashley had a mild form of Tourette’s which is interesting as the record communicates a release, an absolute inner expression fundamental to the male voice that duets with a more assured female counterpart. It is a vocalised liberation that is vulnerable in its strangeness and ‘automatic’ in its seemingly natural and unconscious delivery. How would we express ourselves verbally if we forgot social convention? Are there sounds inside you that you don’t let out? If so, why?

Depending on how the record is engaged with, a narrative emerges between the homogenous interchange of the male and female voices. They sound like friends, lovers, parent and child, fictional and real or invisible to eachother. There is an ambient stasis that emerges in moments of the record where this relationship peter out and we are left with tranquil space. The distant faded sound of music sounds more like a memory desperate to the voices whilst linking beautifully. 

It’s a bit like ASMR made in the 1970’s (and without the cringe). The sounds of tongues and mouths are clearly audible. As lips are moistened and breath is uninciated around warm speech, a close intimacy is established that comes only with proximity between two people. AG 

FILMS OF THE YEAR (2018)
 

Have a look at our top ten films from 2018:

 
Photograph: Clara Pietrek

Photograph: Clara Pietrek



Ryuichi Sakamoto: CODA

Director: Stephen Nomura Schible

Read our review here.

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Jeune Femme

Director: Léonor Serraille 

Read our review here.

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Cold War

Director: Paweł Pawlikowski

Read our review here.

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The Square

Director: Ruben Östlund 

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Apostasy

Director: Daniel Kokotajlo

Read our review here.

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McQueen

Directors: Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui

Read our review here.

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An Elephant Sitting Still

Director: Hu Bo

Read our review here.

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Leave No Trace

Director: Debra Granik

Read our review here.

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Phantom Thread

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Read our thoughts here.

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You Were Never Really Here

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Read our review here.

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In Review: An Elephant Sitting Still

Director: Hu Bo

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During the closing credits of An Elephant Sitting Still, we learn that Chinese director Hu Bo tragically took his own life at 29 years old, shortly after editing, writing and directing this – his only feature-length film. He has left behind a masterwork that is a serious and profound comment on the existential consequences of a broken class system; its bleak realism feels wholly necessary and important.

Adapted from his own short story, the film occurs over one day in the province of Hebei, China, as we follow the lives of four very different characters. All are linked, however, through their narratives - the storylines interweave and collide. Also bound by a deep apathy for the world, they independently seek travel to Manzhouli, where an elephant apparently sits, turning a blind eye to all that is near it. Hu uses this metaphor to pinpoint the only solution they can find: leave and ignore. What is the point of trying anything else?

Along with cinematographer Fan Chao, Hu paints the town with a palate of whites and greys: it is cold, unfriendly and harsh. Using Steadicam, he frequently restricts our focus – blurring out key events happening in the same scene. We are forced to stay with the character he has chosen to direct our attention. His frequent use of extended shots are often viewed from behind people: we see across the back of their head and shoulders. It’s as though we are in a long-form, open world video game.  

All of the actors play their parts with restraint and an efficacious level of detachment. It wouldn’t work any other way. On the rare occasion where emotion does break through, it is never mannered or contrived. Alongside this is the masterful use of a searing instrumental soundtrack from band Hualun which enables those moments to linger and expertly binds the film together.

Considering the themes in An Elephant Sitting Still, the film understandably sounds like it may be difficult to get on with. ‘My life is like a dumpster,’ says one character. ‘The world is a disgusting place,’ states another. Yet, it’s testament to Hu’s clear talents as a director that he is able to keep us invested and concerned by the emotional indifference on show. 

As with all works of such power, the questions that Hu asks are not left completely unanswered. We are challenged to consider for ourselves, how should these people face up to their reality? Revealingly, Hu stated that, ‘the truly valuable things in life lie in the cracks of the world’. Finding truth may mean not turning away. 

Since his suicide, there has been conjecture surrounding the events that lead to it. What is certain, however, is that the film industry has lost an astoundingly promising and gifted young filmmaker. TS

MUSIC: JOHN MAUS LIVE

Above is John Maus’ full set at the Pitchfork Paris Music Festival. Leading up to this Maus had cancelled many live dates due to the sudden death of his brother and bandmate Joe Maus (aged 30) due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Given these circumstances, it is of note that Maus performed solo, without a live band, opting to revert to singing over a backing track. 

Maus had recently explained in a Reddit AMA that performing with a band had made playing live more enjoyable and also less nerve racking. Given the tragic circumstances of Maus’ return to performing solo - it was hard to not admire his bravery in fulfilling this booking. 

Much of Maus’ music looks to the transcendent quality of pop, with the audience encouraged to share in the collective emancipative nature of his songs. However, it was hard to not apply a more autobiographical narrative to the songs such as ‘My Whole World Is Falling Apart’ and ‘Keep Pushing On’. Lines like, ‘Holy mother why are you crying? Why are you sad?’ must now resonate more deeply with him.

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To many of his fans, Maus represents a heroic figure - a consequence of his sincerity, openness and ‘hysterical body’ live performances. There is a ‘self sacfricial’ aspect to his them that conform to an archetype of what a hero represents. In his quest to ‘really be seen’ he also becomes a symbol for the every-person and their capacity to also ‘be seen’ both to themselves and by others. Maus is in search of a truth and by looking for it through the vernacular of pop music and pop culture as a whole, transmits a hopeful message to his audience. It is one of overcoming adversity and being a positive person. 

Maus has been known to be a reclusive character and with his wife leaving him weeks before his brothers death (which he also revealed on the Reddit AMA). These events could have been the catalyst for Maus to understandably retreat to Minnesota. The fact that Maus is again travelling to his audience positions himself strengthens the sincerity and premise of his music - that contemporary modes of creative expression can provide us with a meaningful platform to ‘reach out our hands to the one alone tonight’ and transcend our suffering. There is a feeling that this person is now John and that in his courage to continue we must also reach out our hands to him. AG

In Review: Ryuichi Sakamoto - CODA

Director: Stephen Schible

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Stephen Schible’s ruminative documentary follows Japanese musician, artist and campaigner Ryuichi Sakamoto over a 5 year period. During the film, Sakamoto is recovering from oropharyngeal cancer. It’s clear that this has left him unable to work as much as he’d like yet also determined to make meaningful music. The process behind the compositions he creates is carefully and gently exposed. The joy he finds in music is delightful to watch.

Sakamoto - who is best known for scoring The RevenantThe Last Emperor and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence - is deeply receptive to finding sounds in nature. He records them in places that are under the threat of environmental crises -  here we see how the North Pole (global warming) and Fukushima (nuclear power) inspire his orphic music. After 9/11 and the Iraq War and confused at where the anger within us comes from, he takes a trip to northern Kenya; the oldest human remains can be found there. ‘Why are we so violent? Why are we like this?’ he asks. We watch as he takes his recordings and turns them into coherent pieces in his New York studio. 

 ‘Artists and musicians tend to see things early,’ he contemplates. ‘Like canaries in a goldmine.’ It’s powerful to see how the danger and alarm he feels translates into captivating compositions and live performances. There is footage of his ‘opera’ Life (1999) - a genre-blending production that saw a coming together of over 100 collaborators. Early in the film, Sakamoto performs Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. As he does we are reminded of how beautiful and profound his music can be. Schible’s documentary is a welcome window into how it is achieved. TS

IN REVIEW: Arv & Miljö - SVENSK SOMMAR I STILLA FRID

Label: Omlott

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In the ordinary and every day, exists the sublime. Ambient sounds are well positioned to change the context of what you are seeing. Ambient can be used medicinally to numb, relax or emphasise a scenario. Stabbed In The Brain, the first track from Arv & Miljö’s Svensk sommar i stilla frid expectedly morphs the listener's environment - subduing, sedating and slowing down. 

Employing sounds of the everyday, Arv & Miljö use (seemingly) found sounds, spoken word and field recordings to create a patterned collage that humanises the otherwise alien sounds of ambient expanses. This process of sliding contexts destabilises the ordinary and surreal encouraging a more attentive awareness of the daily soundscapes of our lives. The sound of a marketplace, the hydraulics of a lorry or background chatter in a restaurant are, objectively speaking, complex and ever-changing patterns of sound. For logical reasons - such daily sounds are, understandably, relegated to the bottom of the audio sensory pile as ‘background noise’.

In the spirit of John Cage, Svensk sommar i stilla frid finds music in what is the usually defined as the unmusical. Morphing our expectations, Arv & Miljö show the beauty in the unheard by delicately building alternate versions of our daily experiences. In the ordinary and every day, exists the sublime. AG

IN REVIEW: SELLING - ON REFLECTION

Label: City Slang

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Gold Panda and Jas Shaw (of Simian Mobile Disco) come together as Selling for their first record On Reflection - released on City Slang. 

If On Reflection was a shape it would be a rectangle with rounded edges and if the rectangle had a face it would be smiling. It is a kind and optimistic record which draws upon the luminosity and warmth of analogue synths to produce a record that is generous in its willingness to please.

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Describing Selling as family friendly, domestic-techno music is meant in complimentary terms. It's as if On Reflection has been ergonomically designed to be a companion to daily life. A commute, a car journey, cooking or hanging around the home could all be elevated with On Reflection as the soundtrack. In this respect it could be filed next to Four Tet's There Is Love In You as an extraction of dance music that is as melodically rich and ambient as it is dance worthy.

It seems right that some music should be comfortable. Rather than appeal to the lowest common denominator such approach demonstrates an understanding and appreciation of nuance, balance and humbleness in approach. These are all qualities synonymous with modernist design and utilitarian principles that pride being efficient with materials and placing function over form. The end product is a record that is discerning and deserving of your time. AG

IN REVIEW: RAIME - We Can't Be That Far From The Beginning

Label: RR

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Raime return with We Can't Be That Far From The Beginning - a record as opaque and paradoxical as the title suggests. It's full of confusion and voices that emerge from darkness. They are frantic, afraid, worried and panicked. The musical landscapes that their voices occupy reflect all of these emotions back towards themselves - they are products of their environment.

The landscapes created by Raime feel roaming yet endless like the software equivalent of a haunted house. Much like ours, it is a world strewn with the lost souls of Twitter comments past, fragments of YouTube videos and spasms of WhatsApp calls. Maybe in thousands of years people will wonder through an internet ruin - servers floating above planet earth and plant covered stone being the remaining artefacts of human life.

Raime excel in creating abstract forms that feel both contemporary and important. By working with metaphor and symbolism, We Can't Be That Far From The Beginning is music that maximises the potential of it's own medium to present us with deep reflections. AG

IN REVIEW: MODERN BLONDE - SYNTH IS MINT
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The press release for Modern Blonde’s Synth Is Mint opens with the following statement: 

‘Sages and poets throughout the ages have recognised the dreamlike quality of human existence. 
Seemingly so solid and real and yet so fleeting that it could dissolve at any moment. 
At the hour of your death the story of your life may appear to you like a dream that is coming to an end.’

Within these three sentences, Modern Blonde define the central premise of the record as a triptych consisting of the dream, the memory and the death. Explored through the convention of a pop song, they present these states to the listener as scenes for exploring the subject matter. Synth Is Mint looks to traditional pop themes in which love, fear and hope serve as narrative tools for expressing the emotional relationship between dreams, memories and death. 

The appeal of pop music must lie, somewhat, in its willingness to please. To do so, it takes on a commodified form - the tracks are short, musically simplistic, the melodies direct. As with the bulk of most popular things, there is the aim of appealing to the largest number of people possible - what is often defined as the lowest common denominator. Experimental pop, as displayed in Synth Is Mint, takes the aesthetic of pop but subverts the expectation away from mass appeal - the outcome is nuanced, strange and vulnerable. 

This abstracted approach feels comparable to many of our defining experiences - gone before we realised we were experiencing them. They are then confined to memory where they curiously fade whilst remaining abstracted, intensified and transmogrified. In this respect, they are consigned to the fabric of our being. Modern Blonde capture this process and offer utility for bringing such experiences from the past back into view. TS

Music, In ReviewTom SilverComment