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.
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In Conversation: Hanyo Van Oosterom
 
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Hanyo Van Oosterom is a musician and artist living in Rotterdam. We talk to him about his album Red Lantern at The Kallikatsou which was inspired by his time in Patmos, Greece. While he was there, he spent long periods living in seclusion in a cave. The album is his attempted to recreate the experience. He also discusses his admiration for poet Robert Lax (who had previously moved from the USA to Patmos), jamming back in Rotterdam with the likes of Jon Hassell, Tony Allen and Archie Shepp and his gratitude to record label Astral Industries.

CB: I first heard about your music in a record store in east London called Low Company. The guys who run it recommended it. I bought Red Lantern at the Kallikatsou. 

HVO: My last album.

CB: Yeah. It blew me away.

HVO: I really appreciated the ending of your review. The way you said that 'real beauty is both simple and complex at the same time', that 'beauty appears amongst distress'. That's everything I try to do [with my music].

CB: One of the things that really interested me about the record was using water and liquid as a symbol. I also hear that in Deepchord's records. He has these liquid elements in his music. 

HVO: I've sampled his work - from his YouTube feed actually. The samples I make are from a low definition. It almost sounds like a cassette.

CB: There's something I enjoy about YouTube's audio processing. When I listen to a full album I find it adds a translucent quality to it.

HVO: The YouTube samples I use are recorded on a cassette deck. I uploaded those and started meddling. I feel that one of the most important things in any art is that there are different layers and contrast. Too much quality is hard to take. Much like ourselves. We are not perfect. There's not a philosophy behind it, just being constantly impulsive. 

CB: It seems that there are elements of mysticism influencing the music. 

HVO: There is a mystical inspiration for sure. I explored yoga to the max and lived like a monk for ten years. I got lost in it and I got found in it. Then I made a series of albums based upon magical formulas of the Veda. Not so interesting anymore now. You can learn a lot from it but then you have to go back to what you are. To where you come from, where you are rooted. To find your own way.

Actually, the great mystics say you have to dig the dirt. If you meditate, you get a promise of something that might happen. That's a good thing but a part of everything. The world is still there and you have to deal with it. That's where transformation starts. It took me some decades but I'm dealing with it.

CB: It feels like that for me too. I feel like I'm still at the very start.

HVO: We all are, man. In the 80s there were a few hippie freaks coming to our first ambient shows. Most of them were punks. They had a connection because they are not afraid of dark spots. 

CB: You credit the American poet Robert Lax in the Mantra Recordings. How has he influenced you?

HVO: Ah man he was a great poet. He was part of the inner circle of some greats. He got big in the USA of course with all the other poets. He wanted to get away from his success and he went to Patmos [Greece]. He was not hiding but in a way he was. He just wanted to have a silent life. He was still being chased by people waiting for him to come out of his small house and give interviews or take photos. Then he began to disguise himself as a priest. He grew his beard and his hair. In the end, no one knew he was Robert Lax. The locals knew, but they let him be himself and treated him like one of them.

His story is very interesting. He ended up very minimalistic. It's a bit like ambient music. It's the way I work, actually. You make something or paint something - 'sound paint' - then you start stripping back. The few elements that are left will tell the story even better. It's what Robert Lax was doing with words. 

CB: Is it his voice on the beginning of the Mantra Recordings?

HVO: Yeah. It’s sampled from Youtube.

CB: [laughs]

HVO: Two locals from Patmos who looked after him when he was getting old told me it was a good plan. 'Man, Robert would love this music' they said. So I used a few samples [in our new album].

CB: Do you feel like this is a direct continuation of your other work or is it a new area and a new world?

HVO: I have no idea. I deleted a lot. I think we had material for 4 double albums at least. 

CB: You deleted it?!

HVO: Yes. It didn't surprise me. I have to get a good feeling, surprise myself and be proud. When I finish a record, the next day I have to feel an energy. If it doesn't happen then I'm repeating myself and I'd rather stop. 

CB: Some artists say that after they write something, they never listen to it again. I also know artists who make music for themselves. They are trying to invent the music they would most want to hear. They listen to their own music a lot. I wondered where you fit on that spectrum.

HVO: I live with my music. I listen to it - maybe even too much. An album can be a thousand hours of work. Maybe it even gets obsessive. However, once if finished, I don't listen to it anymore. Only when friends come who haven't heard about it. I enjoy it and can even be proud of it during those times. But when it's finished, I'm into the next album. 

It reminds me of birds. I love birds, man. I feed them and I have them in my garden. They come close to me. Every year I feed and take care of some of them and then they have to go. It's such a moment. They have to go and build a new nest or live a new life somewhere else. 

Art can be a hard process but come on, we are lucky bastards to be doing it. 

CB: There is a strangeness in your music because it can sound quite simplistic and minimal but then you have a depth. To me, that's where the sense of immersion or a submersion happens. It feels like the music goes over you and you're inside it. 

HVO: I hope so. For me, this is something I can define or conclude afterward. When I work, basically I have no idea. Going back to the Deepchord samples, I don't even know how computers really work. 

CB: What does your process look like?

HVO: I'm old school. I'm heading up to 60 years old. I feel comfortable with a tape recorder or a simple harddisk recorder. I record everything live. One take. Editing is interesting, I have the latest Pro Tools and Logic, all that shit. It's been two years but I never touch it. I stick to what I know. 

CB: You want to work in what you're most fluent in don't you? You can then stop thinking and lose yourself in it. 

HVO: If you're a biker you ride your bike. People can tell you, 'man take a car or a boat' but you step on your bike and you know where to go. 

I found this Audacity programme - it's the most simple, free downloadable one there is. It's so limited. But maybe the limitations are good. When I look around me, people can get lost in their edits. They can edit to the max. Tuning, adjusting, quantizing. All this shit. Man, our recordings are full of mistakes. Different rhythms mixed randomly together. But somehow it works.

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CB: That's a challenge of modern technology: the infinite ways of editing. People have got hundreds of plugins and the idea of infinite possibilities hanging over them. There's a Lars Von Trier film, Five Obstructions and it's about the idea that having things in the way can help you to be more creative.

HVO: Yes, there are many possibilities now. It’s almost too much. But meanwhile, we can use it the way we want. It's the same with instruments. If you're in control and you decide when and how to use the instrument, it's always ok. If you are not, it controls you and you're lost. You end up fucked up.

CB: [laughs] Yeah. 

HVO: Talking about the work process, the main man next to me, behind me and in front of me is Jacobus Derwort. We started this journey together 35 years ago and started Chi.

Soon we met a great musician Willem Cramer, also from Rotterdam. He added an important element of realism to our music. Later we invited Michel Banabila (samples), Fyko van Leeuwen (visuals) and Jurgen Brouwer (sound) to join Chi. Together we set the foundation. We released The Original Recordings and did some great live shows back in the days. But all good things pass and we all moved on.

Now after all these years I ended up just like I started:  together with Jacobus again. We still perform live with other people which makes me very happy but basically, we are the foundation of the renewed Chi Factory.

CB: That's a great thing to have.

HVO: We have been friends for 45 years. He feels close like a brother. It's me and him but he's not the kind of guy that speaks a lot. He is the secret weapon. He's a storyteller of sound. Music needs a story, maybe very minimalistic, but this story gives sound wings. It connects.

CB: You play everything between the two of you? 

HVO: We play a bit of everything. Our first band was called The Jones. I was the singer and drummer. Jacobus was the saxophone player. We were a cult-rock band and local heroes. The music was very pure, loud, deep and dark. With good ambient music, this part is always there.

CB: The punk side?

HVO: The dark side. 

CB: I find there is a dark side to your music.

HVO: Not the dark side where you get lost. That's dangerous.

CB: The music that moves me the most has a balance to it: the interaction of opposing forces. Rather than just one or the other.
HVO: It is. 

CB: It speaks a greater truth. 

HVO: And this isn't unique. If you go back to music from Africa or Aboriginals or the music from the native Indians, it's all there. It's all in that culture. 

You have to be prepared. You should not go digging in the dirt or searching in the dark unprepared. 

CB: I don't think an easy life is a good life. I think you need some hardship. 

HVO: The easy life is not for me. But still, you need to be prepared and have a strong foundation. When you look around the music business, when people get successful, it's almost always where it goes openly wrong. I remember I booked Amy Winehouse in Rotterdam when almost nobody knew her. We spent some time together and she was so nice. And then shit happens. Nick Drake, Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone. It's hard to be successful. 

CB: It sounds like your whole life has been in music. 

HVO: Yes. It's not always easy to live as a musician so you always try to do things that are connected to music. I've been organising events, promoting and playing myself. I run a label and I'm a producer. 

CB: What events do you run?

HVO: All kinds of events. From 2014-2017 I did instant composing events. I invited people from all around the world to play together and perform without any preparation. I'm lucky. I've played with some incredible musicians. Jon Hassell came over to play with us. Tony Allen, the drummer for Fela Kuti was great to play with. He was wonderful to be around. We improvised and it was almost easy. Also, great poets like Kain the Poet, Ursula Rucker, Anthony Joseph and the soul-gospel singer Dwight Trible joined our “Numoonlab” sessions. You can still find the recordings on Youtube.

At the moment I'm working at a new Chi Factory series. We will invite special guests to perform and improvise together live on stage. I've been reaching out to some people who I admire. Basically, we will start from scratch and see where we will get. Still looking for these beautiful mistakes.

CB: Are you going to record the music you produce?

HVO: Of course. Deepchord should be there. Also, I will invite Jan Jellinek that I met at the Intrinsic festival in France. Another musician I have made links with during my time in Patmos is Phil Manzanera, the guitar player for Roxy Music. We jammed together on the beach there. I'd like to do one with him. 

CB: Can you tell me about the link you made with Astral Industries [a London based record label]? The whole feel of the label, your music, the atmosphere and even the cover art all feels very connected. 

HVO: Ario came out of the blue. He is the secret. He sent me an email about a cassette we released 30 years ago. I said, of course you can put it out. His email was so simple, so honest, so pure. We don't have a contract. I met him and said yes, let's do this. I like control over things - for example, I would have never chosen the artwork of Theo Elsworth but now I love it. It's good to follow somebody's vision. 

CB: Sometimes you have to give things away creatively to other people's vision. 

HVO: Yes but you can end up getting a lot back. 

CB: The way they use those illustrations really adds to the label. 

HVO: Theo is a great artist. You can not imagine the hard and long work of hand painting a cover like this. It’s a pure expression of passion. Ario also does this out of passion. He really listens to music I send him and he gives me very good advice. I use his feedback. He's basically our executive producer. He doesn't like the term but we use it anyway to express our respect. His team are wizards too. Noel Summerville does the best mastering I ever heard. Rubadub are soldiers of the unknown. Without them, this would not work. They make it possible. 

We have done four albums now in two years. Which is a lot. We have done a reissue of Bamboo Recordings and used some old material. Then Kallikatsou, which I've been recording for the last twenty years. And also the remix of Deepchord. Now we are finishing Mantra Recordings, the fifth Chi Factory album. This one is completely new, completely here and now. It's like a circle closing. I hope we make more but you never know. 

[stops and thinks]

It's interesting, your magazine is also about film. I've been thinking how inspired I've been for Andrei Tarkovsky. When I began making music as Chi, I was watching his work. I watched Nostalghia at least ten times. You find deeper layers. The colours and images - of course they are inspiring. 

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CB: What was your experience like in Patmos?

HVO: I try not to talk too much about the experience I had in the cave. But still, sometimes I feel I need to. I came there the first time in the eighties totally fucked up after a long tour with a soul-funk band. I really needed a break. I found the cave by accident. Staying there turned me inside out. After some weeks my mind came to rest and I started hearing distant music at night. Strange sounds. It was sometimes even scary but I kept hearing them. 

When I went home, I decided to recreate the sounds I heard. That's how it started. The music found me. Later Jacobus joined me and we stayed there together. It was magic. I can recommend it to everybody. But I will never start advising that everybody should go to this cave [laughs]. Please don't. 

CB: How do you feel about the first CHI album having its moment 30 years later?

HVO: It's a blessing. You also have to be lucky. There are many great musicians I know and it's never happened for them. 

I once read an interview with David Sylvian from [the band] Japan when he made his solo album Brilliant Trees (if you haven't heard that you should, it's a mind blower) and I remember him talking about it. He said that he knew at least ten people who were close to him that made even more interesting music than he could but he was lucky to have the connection with a great team. The music has to find you and then you have to be lucky to find the right people to bring it out there.

CB: Is the next album calling you?

HVO: The next album (after Mantra Recordings) is almost finished. It's another remix I've made. I can't say more than that for now.

Then comes the hard part, I will have to find something new. Or it will have to find me. It’s never finished. What helps is reading parts of the Mysticism Of Sound by the great Sufi poet, musician and mystic Inayat Khan. It's the only book I still read. Sometimes just a few lines. It reveals all the secrets of sound. You can find it online like almost anything these days.

Apart from that I just get on with my life. I meet people. I’m now the booker of a small but beautiful jazzclub (Jazzcafe Dizzy) in Rotterdam. We do over 200 shows a year. I see incredible talent from around the world. I meet young people that are fresh, talented and open to explore the unexpected.

Pure improvised jazz has always been an inspiration. I once performed doing soundscapes with the great Archie Shepp in the eighties in Rotterdam. One show with him taught me everything you need to know. Improvisation is the key.

Maybe I will make an ambient jazz album soon. Who knows. I love the piano playing of Nina Simone. Also how Mulatu Astatke uses the Wurlitzer piano and his vibraphone to play Ethiopian jazz. Or the harp of Alice Coltrane. What’s in a name. Let’s just do it. It's also nice to hear Jacobus again on his saxophone after all these years. Maybe I will even sing. Hope we all live long enough to make and see it happen. Nobody knows where the rainbow goes when she meets the sun.

 
Am I Using Content or Is Content Using Me?
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Raime’s EP, Am I Using Content Or Is Content Using Me? released on Different Circles, expresses the distinct aesthetic of user-driven content that is ubiquitous with our cultural moment and general engagement with social media. Developing themes within the record's title, Raime articulates the acute sense of doubt and confusion that is endemic to our time, both politically and socially - a phenomenon that is influenced largely by the data generated from ‘our’ content. 

Despite being comprised of four instrumental tracks, Ramie provide a platform for these themes to be explored on both an emotional and critical level. Encouraging attentiveness is an essential utility of art, especially in a moment when nuanced discourse is commonly sacrificed for reductive arguments that conform to polarising absolutes. 

AM I USING CONTENT OR IS CONTENT USING ME?

It could hardly be a more poignant title for something released in 2018. We are standing knee deep in the next technological revolution, the full consequences of which will remain unknown for some time. We are more connected now than ever before and are perhaps even too connected to the social standing of our digital selves and online avatars. In a relatively short space of time, this platform has become interlinked with how we communicate; the type of information we share, the parameters for defining privacy and how we relate to one another. The outcome of this has led to social media becoming a powerful tool for shaping opinions, whether that be about products or political causes. 

The equity of distribution afforded by social media has given everyone a (theoretically) even platform to produce content. Through the prism of our culture, much of the content created by people on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook is emblematic of our consumer landscape. It adopts the mode of a brand on both the conscious and sub-conscious level with the

 

aim of expanding ones reach socially. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s worth saying that people are probably doing what they are supposed to - after all, making friends and creating new opportunities is essential to any social species.

It is, however, the combination of the culture and technology that make the effectiveness of the method both engaging and addictive whilst producing questionable results. In essence, people are now their own PR manager, both knowingly and subconsciously treating themselves as a brand and their lives as a long-form ad campaign - all of which comes with the pressure to produce engaging content that will achieve optimal impact. In answer to why we willingly engage with platforms that liberally distort the truth and sell our content -  it is perhaps because we now have a platform to do the same with our truths. As we continue to explore this frontier - both as consumers and creators of content - we are able to grasp inherently the amorphous relationship that social media takes with the truth and subsequently our sense of 'real'.

The evasion of an outcome or a clearly defined goal as a result of using social media is perhaps its greatest achievement. Witnessing a commuter on a morning train, stony-faced, writing a short Instagram message accompanied by three emoji’s expressing hysterical laughter served as an example of the obligatory workmanship that social media takes in peoples lives. She was fulfilling a social task that was now divorced from the memory she was expressing - the question of function or motive underpinning this act obviously existed elsewhere (in the past or in fantasy). It could be considered on one hand a selfless act to go through the motions of such a task - preparing the image and constructing a narrative to perhaps bring joy to her ‘followers’.

Another view could be that she was in PR mode, managing her personal brand, producing content worthy of engaging her audience. It raises a question as to what percentage of social media posts constructed by its billions of users could be considered, in part, fiction - a sort of parochial fake news. We are in some respects locked into a digital obligation that requires continuous maintenance - the idea of a private life that contains a holiday, a celebration or an anniversary is slowly fading as we are absorbed by the online echo chamber of ‘good news’ that constitutes our newsfeeds and timelines. A good experience is too important to not document - it is valuable content. 

Our engagement and consequently our ‘data’ is a commodity worth billions to the global economy and in particular the social media services that collect it, as well as the political and consumer-driven causes that harvest it. In this respect, we work for free to produce content for organisations that aim to gain an edge in their field by analysing the data and then using it to more effectively form our opinions. When framed in this way it is hard to find a comparable analogy that

accurately captures this level of willing compliance. The full scope of its power isn’t wholly quantifiable but recent events suggest that it is growing rapidly through the dissemination of falsehoods and psychologically tailored content designed specifically to consolidate bias or generally confuse.

Investigations into the work of Cambridge Analytica revealed a successful electoral campaign in Nigeria as the result of an artificially constructed grass-root movement targeted specifically at manipulating youth culture. With implications closer to home, there is Russia’s suggested involvement in Brexit and the U.S Presidential Elections. With the advent of artificial intelligence and its move into the realm of communication through the guise of human personas and user profiles, it will only strengthen the platforms ability to construct misleading narratives on scales never seen before. In this sense, the question of whether ‘Am I using content or is content using me?’ will only grow more profound as our measure of 'real' opinions becomes impossible to gauge. 

In Laurence Scott’s latest book Picnic Comma Lighning, he references Henri Bergson’s theories on our experience of reality and it’s artificial nature, ‘the movement of our perceptions from one snapshot to the next imitates the ceaseless changing of reality itself to become different things over time.’ He continues to explain: ‘We don’t live inside the flow of real movement but instead reconstitute it just as a camera-person is to some extent always outside the scene they are filming.’

Viewed through the lens of social media, the masses of content that we consume compared to any other moment in history goes somewhere to highlighting the fragility of our perception of ‘real’ and coherent narratives. The aesthetic of these themes, when expressed musically, finds form within the artificial and self-perpetuating algorithms of synthesis - rooted somewhere heavily in the hyperreal. It is the sounds most analogous with technological developments and the dystopian narratives we are so familiar with - we are able to feel something of ourselves being lost in these worlds whilst being drawn to their forever changing lights. AG

Buy raime's am i using content or is content using me, here.


In Conversation: Sarah Kerruish and Matt Maude
 

In 1993, Sarah Kerruish was part of a documentary crew commissioned by a new tech firm in Silicon Valley named General Magic to shoot some behind the scenes footage for a promotional piece. They knew the company was potentially going to change the tech game forever. Kerruish captured the team (known as ‘magicians’) at their most creative and ambitious. Over the next few years, Sarah returned back to the company, again and again, continuing to follow their story.

Then, with the invention of the World Wide Web and the heat of their competitors attempting to keep up, the company failed. 

25 years later, Kerruish has teamed up with director and producer Matt Maude to tell an incredible story of how some don’t see failure as the end, they see it as the beginning. 

General Magic had its World Premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and is produced by Spellbound Productions.

 
Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

CB: How did you both meet?

SK: Aside from the film, I have two other full-time jobs. During the day I’m the CSO of a med-tech startup. I’m also a mother to three teenagers. I needed somebody to help me make this film. In 2015 we started to put out feelers to find a team of people who could devote their full uninterrupted time to the project. One of the film’s co-producers, Ceri Tallett, suggested that I should meet Matt. I had no idea what kind of person would be walking through the door during our first meeting. I hadn’t made a film in over a decade. The film industry has changed hugely in that time, especially documentaries. We met at the Tate Modern and we hit into this immediate working chemistry. It’s that amazing thing - and it happens very rarely in my life - where it was just instantaneous. Trust established very quickly. We didn’t miss a beat. Matt is an extraordinary co-collaborator. We feel extremely lucky that it happened like that. 

MM: The timing was perfect. I’d been making a lot of commercials and I felt like I was living in a constant whirlwind of nervous exhaustion. Nervous when you’re working: big budgets, big egos, short turnarounds. And nervous when you’re not - pitching yourself like crazy. I took a month off and went to New York to escape the phone ringing. At the time I felt like I could blink and it’d be 2025 and I’d have nothing but a series of 30-second clips to show for it. While I was in NYC I went to a friend’s hen do and re-met Ceri there. She told me she just started work on a feature doc and after I’d asked an avalanche of questions about it, she suggested I meet with Sarah. We got into the same slipstream very quickly. When you’re directing something together you have to not only speak the same language but also know how the other person is going to say it. 

Sarah once told me she worked with a cinematographer who had two deaf parents. He’d developed this amazing ability to know, just by seeing what Sarah was asking for or thinking. It was a massive compliment to be compared to his way of working. 

CB: What ties you to this story?

SK: For me, it’s a part of my history. I was there. In 1992 I was filming the company for a documentary. I knew that it was an extraordinary place but it wasn’t really until 23 years later that I realised these people, who were just kids at the time, would go on to change the world. Every year a new invention would come out or a new company would skyrocket into our palms, monitors or TVs. I’d be seeing all these products link back their trajectories to General Magic - eBay, iPod, Android, iPhone, Samsung, Google, Facebook - even the Obama White House. It took me that time to notice where the echoes had come from and that this was a story worth telling.

CB: So you needed that time to feel the significance of what they did at General Magic? 

SK: The more time goes on, the more things come from that group of people. It’s amazing what they learnt at General Magic. What to do and what not to do.

MM: It feels like you’ve been making this film for the last 25 years. It’s just the first 20 years you didn’t know you were.

SK: It certainly played around a lot in my head. We knew we had this amazing footage from when it all began. Footage I shot back in 1992 with David [Hoffman - the director of the footage shot back in 92’].

MM: There are some definite Hitchcockian vibes because you can see Sarah in the back of the footage that was shot in 92'. 

SK: Wearing really bad jeans.

MM: You look incredibly fashionably conscious compared to the subjects you were filming.

SK: Even with David’s footage we knew we needed more archival material to tell the story. We needed photos, newspapers, more footage. We had a fantastic archivist, Joanna Allen and the most incredible post-production coordinator, Toby Warren, working with us to find these missing pieces. The most extraordinary thing that happened though was finding two caches of archives footage. One was 600 VHS tapes we found in a garage in Hawaii and the other was a handful of tapes that were shot prior to me coming to the company. When we found the latter we had to re-edit the film because it was so transformative. It was 40 minutes of the most amazing footage.

CB: This was earlier footage of the magicians in their offices? 

MM: Yes, and it wasn’t shot by a documentary crew. It was handicam footage, home video style, all shot by friends filming their friends. It’s all organic. All ordinary. But it’s that ordinariness that really shows the character of our characters: the humour, the geekiness, the friendship and affection they all had for one another. 

SK: It really enabled us to tell the story we wanted to. We were able to create that world and give people a sense of what it was like to inhabit that special world. When do you ever see footage of the walls of a Silicon Valley startup? It doesn’t exist. That footage also really helped us to not use a narrator. 

CB: Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen?

MM: Right at the beginning we were told by everyone around us that we needed a narrator to guide the viewer and hold their hand through explanation or exposition. We felt that as soon as you put a voiceover in there, you’re dictating an opinion to the audience. Although some films do need it, the fear is that you rely on this ‘voice’ too much and it can be to the detriment of the characters. We didn’t want our audience to be spoon fed. We want them to be making their own judgements about the characters and the decisions they are making. It makes it much more challenging making the film, particularly in the editing. The structure has to be more thought out. One of the great things about working with Sarah and all the experience she brings is that as soon as we started development she suggested that we script the documentary as if it’s a fiction film. It quickly became clear that the film was a three-act film. We built the documentary around that narrative spine.

CB: This is a story about many things: failure, friendships, money, creative genius. Were you thinking of a clear message that you wanted the film to convey?

SK: Having gone through what felt like a catastrophic failure of a business that decimated many aspects of my life, I wanted to specifically understand its role in bringing big ideas to life. I knew this experience wasn’t unique to me and in many ways is a central part of creation. I also wanted people to understand the different contexts for failure.

Matt pushed the idea that there are a lot of problems to solve in the world and this is not just about the creation of one thing, but many things that affect our lives. It’s sort of a blueprint for how you affect change and bring ideas to life. Basically, how do we use this knowledge of technology and creativity to solve big, meaningful problems?

We wanted to give this toolkit to the next generation and say look, this is what we’ve learned. Please take this and go. Go and make. 

MM: There’s a hook to every film. It’s in the trailer or poster or byline. You purchase the ticket because you have got an interest in the concept. You come for that hook but you stay for the characters. Even when we were in the developmental stages of the film, we could tell that this was a story that contained a lot of different emotions: friendship, hope, promise, struggle, failure, grief. Some of these emotions have lasted a lifetime with our characters. 

Silicon Valley doesn’t tell these stories. We spoke a lot about the fact that most of the companies in Silicon Valley personify themselves as a single person. Steve Jobs is Apple. Mark Zuckerberg is Facebook. That’s great for the brand but it isn’t real. The whole success of a company isn’t attributed to just one person. Every company is a culmination of hundreds, thousands of people. Working on a story like General Magic lets you see these single people be young and earnest and real. You see their mistakes, lessons and successes. You see that these are ordinary people doing extraordinary things. 

SK: My favourite aspect of the story, which is subtle, is that these are the disciples of Steve Jobs. When he left Apple he went into the wilderness. These were his brothers and sisters. He was in exile and the General Magic team went through this huge failure. It was only when those forces came back together that this magic happened. I love that. 

CB: In the film, there is talk of how being in your twenties allows you to be creative. In the documentary, they call it ‘powering through’. There’s less baggage. I think people can take a lot from that.

SK: To an extent. The advantage you have in your twenties is that you really can give it all the time it needs. There’s less responsibility than there is in the rest of your life. You’re less likely to have dependents. Or a mortgage. In terms of risk, you may have to work ridiculous hours but you have less far to fall if it fails. That part is easier. I don’t think the passion or the creativity diminishes but you are probably more free to explore it then. 

The team behind General Magic with Kerruish and Maude, centre. Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

The team behind General Magic with Kerruish and Maude, centre. Photograph courtesy of General Magic.

CB: Andy Hertzfeld said during the launch of their product, ‘The best part was not the invention, it’s working with the incredible team at General Magic.’ That was interesting to hear. Were they enjoying it too much that they didn’t have their eye on the end game?

SK: It was brave for him to say that.

MM: I’m not sure Andy would consider it brave. It’s so natural to him. The joy is in the creating something with others. You wouldn’t hear Steve Jobs saying that. Or Elon Musk. If you’re purely execution minded you leave friendship at the door. It’s about the product. Nothing else. It’s cold-hearted. Making this film, part of the exercise was trying to understand what went wrong - why it did and how it did. It’s a very Silicon Valley-esque aspiration to put a dent in the universe. That involves a huge amount of ambition and hubris. What we learned making the film was that arrogance, believing what you’re doing is better than what came before, needs to be paired with humility. Checking yourself. Looking behind you. Asking questions about what you’re doing. You do also need that person who is execution orientated. At General Magic, they tried to do it all too much too soon. They lacked that one person with the hammer who said, ‘stop trying to create perfection’. They tried to launch perfection before the technology or its audience was ready for it. The iPod is a perfect example of that. It launched in 2001. It took 6 years of iterating before the iPod became the iPhone.

SK: I agree. How you ship great products or create amazing inventions is all about the execution. I’ve just read this great book about the Wright Brothers and the number of iterations they did was ridiculous. They built a wind tunnel just to test one aspect of a wing. It was a micro-detail. Having the bright idea is just one of many components. The biggest question is, can you execute that idea? The 90s seemed to be a time when people were learning how to execute ideas. There are very few people who do it well. Steve Jobs is the best example of it in my lifetime. Tony Fadell is the best example of it today. He’s unbelievably good at breaking things down to understand what’s not working and why. 

MM: That all said, I admire Andy for that pride in the people he worked with. That humanness. It’s one of the reasons why he’s so admired and well-liked across the industry. People want to work with Andy because of that energy. That’s what makes him so likeable, hopefully, as a character. The cliché, ‘it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey’ rings true. If you’re working with people you love and are getting something from, the journey is so fulfilling. That was true of both the company and making the film. 

CB: So when you come against difficult things, if you have that creative understanding, you’re going to be more likely to succeed in those moments. You’re going to be more likely to care about the other opinions and move forward together. 

MM: That’s the hope. If you’ve created a culture in which anyone is able to question the direction in which you’re heading, ask what does execution look like or how it can be improved, it’s more likely to succeed. You need a diversity of thinking. 

CB: What was it like interviewing your old colleagues again after so much time has passed?

SK: Surreal. Especially when you’re spending all your time living in the edit viewing the archive footage. Watching them sat on the floor at General Magic to now being stood in the corridors of the White House or at Google. It was quite an amazing thing that they were all so willing to have us make this film that is ostensibly about failure and that they were willing to revisit it. 

MM: A documentary is 90% access. Making sure your contributors feel like they trust the filmmakers. All that comes down to Sarah, Michael Stern, one of our executive producers, and our co-producer, Dee Gardetti. All three worked at General Magic in the 90’s. Sarah, Mike and Dee have this amazing gift to make you feel like you’re family very quickly. Between Sarah, Dee and Mike and our characters, there was always this trust that made the film possible.

CB: There's a very tender moment in the film, and it's the only time we hear Sarah's voice, as she speaks to Marc Porat about his relationships at the time. It seems like an almost cathartic moment for him. 

SK: We didn’t expect that. I have eternal gratitude for everyone that spoke to us. They were very warm, open and candid. Especially Marc. He took complete responsibility for his role in this which is rare but also a sign of greatness. 

MM: We didn’t want to shy away from the feelings associated with failure. It’s so damaging - not just for the person going through it but also for their families and friends. It has a huge impact on people’s lives. Grief can be lifelong. These stories aren’t often heard in Silicon Valley or the business world. All we really read about are the endless success stories. This is a different kind of story. 

In Review: Jenny Hval - The Long Sleep

Label: Sacred Bones

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The last part of Jenny Hval’s EP plays out like the advertisement for a product that you didn’t know you wanted or needed. It ends with ‘I love you’, which could be interpreted as something we fundamentally require (or are promised aspects of) from the consumer landscape. This short track is emblematic of the EP in general, which uses aspects of pop music to deliver a genuinely moving and engaging work. By speaking in the vernacular, musically, Hval is able to communicate culturally relevant ideas within the moments that they exist. The outcome is that The Long Sleep is able to reflect the tension between the collective loss of the human being in 21st Century Capitalism whilst sincerely expressing the beauty within the reality of the same cultural situation.

The record is characteristically nuanced, yet the emotional resonance of it is direct. It could be defined as a happy defiance in the face of certain despair, from which there is a form of liberation to be found - an acceptance or escape from the solipsism that envelopes the concept of the individual. Hval sums it up: ‘exercising everything by typing into nothing’ - after all, ‘we will not be awake for long’. It is this kind of celebratory affirmation with a strand of nihilism that is unique to our culture and that Hval is able to extract affirmative aspects of. 

Last month, Rob Arcand, when writing for spin.com, recognised the transcendent or aspects of The Long Sleep. He also recognised Hval’s contribution and conscious experiments with the ambient music. The ten-minute title track, ‘The Long Sleep’, is naturally an essential aspect of the EP but also the most subtle yet subversive component. It reflects something of the rhythm to the consciousness of our time. The soft hum, of our increasingly digitally oriented minds and the constant proximity to a continuous flow of content is expressed. The track is akin to a lava flow of our information, packed so densely with energy that we can only see a low-resolution image of the heavy stream of seemingly random sounds and images. No doubt the reference to sleep is analogous to the dreamlike experience of being awake - a collective sedation that is not completely separate from the divine.

Across the record, Hval successfully articulates the essential tension and coexistence between cynicism and sincerity. It’s a vital message because so often the pendulum is unbalanced as a consequence of focussing too heavily on absolutes. As Hval explains clearly when talking to you:

It’s not in the words
It’s not in the rhythm
It’s not in the message
It’s not in the product
It’s not in the algorithms
It’s not in the streaming...

But something of it is here - you could/can feel it and The Long Sleep is imbued with it. AG

In Conversation: Tom Townend
 

We talk to cinematographer Tom Townend about his work with director Lynne Ramsay on their latest film 'You Were Never Really Here' and how the role of digital tools are impacting the current cinematic experience.

This interview contains spoilers. 

Tom Townend (left) with Joaquin Phoenix and Lynne Ramsay during the filming of  You Were Never Really Here

Tom Townend (left) with Joaquin Phoenix and Lynne Ramsay during the filming of You Were Never Really Here

 
 

Cultural Bulletin: When I was looking back over the projects you’ve worked on, I saw The Worricker Trilogy [a three-part political drama written and directed by Sir David Hare] in there. I remember watching and enjoying that immensely. You were working with an impressive director. 

Tom Townend: Yeah I did the latter two-thirds of it. It was sort of an anomaly in a way. I’m not a theatre-goer so I was blissfully unaware of David’s status. Which was probably not a bad thing. 

CB: You think that helped going into it?

TT:  Maybe, yes. I wasn’t overawed. I obviously knew his name but it was only retrospectively that I understood the full weight of his influence in the theatre world. Although he is the most easy going person imaginable. 

CB: So how did things play out from there?

TT: Well the interrelatedness of things is always a little bit of a mystery. With regards to You Were Never Really Here, Lynne is probably my oldest association in the industry. I met Lynne by accident when she was directing a film in Glasgow [for the National Film and Television School]. I was a student in Edinburgh at the time and mutual friends mentioned that she was making a film so I volunteered to work on it. I’m not even sure of the specific role I was fulfilling - I was just generally helping out.

CB: So you two go way back.

TT: It’s been 25 years since then. Oddly I’ve worked on all her feature films but in different capacities. I was the unit still photographer on Ratcatcher (1999)  and I was the camera operator on Morvern Callar (2002). Then on We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011) I shot the tomato throwing festival in Spain. And that’s led me to shoot You Were Never Really Here. I’ve been getting a steady promotion I guess.

CB: So Lynne came straight to you and asked you to do it.

TT: In a nutshell, yes but it was also because the film came together superhumanly quickly. Probably two years prior to that, I’d talked to Lynne about it - she’d been looking at the novella that the film is based on [written by Jonathan Ames]. We had talked about it quite extensively but it becoming a reality all of a sudden snowballed in a matter of months before we shot the film. That was all to do with sudden actor availability. On final reckoning, I think the decision for me to work on the film was as much about us having talked about it for two years as it was because she needed to find someone in five minutes flat.

CB: And having worked with her, she knew you ‘got her’ and understood her vision for the film.

TT: She knew the measure of me yes. 

CB: As a cinematographer, when you go into a film like this, are you aware of your influences or are you consciously trying to do your own thing? Can you even do your own thing nowadays?

TT: How I think about things internally - well I’ve never really stopped to query the process. A large part of the job, especially at the beginning, is the communication of ideas. That process depends a lot on the taste or personality of the director. Some relish having conversations that are purely in terms of reference to other films whereas others actively dislike that. So it’s important to tune oneself into how the others you are working with like to communicate. 

CB: Where do you fall on that point?

TT: References are useful but I’ve found that the trick is to always have a healthy lack of commitment to them. People talk about films in reference to other films all the time but I think that it’s not actually very productive when it comes to making films. I tend to look at stills from photography but there’s no point trying to copy a photograph. I find that ridiculous. You’ve got to just let it influence you in some way.

CB: So you know the language of cinema, but when you come to working with a director, you like it to grow organically?

TT: Yeah but before any of that one hopes that the script has informed your job. I think that any good writing should provoke imagery so it's got to start in the script somewhere.

CB: You Were Never Really Here has a very clear visual tone especially with the end of the film practically being dialogue-free. The visuals are key to telling that section of the story. How did you see that section playing out before you filmed it?

TT: The very last scene of the film was approached differently to everything else because you see someone appear to shoot themselves in the head. Moments later they aren’t dead. The idea of having a scene where a character walks into a public space and shoots himself with everyone around them not reacting and carrying on as normal was an idea that Lynne had mentioned to me years earlier. That’s not in the book. I remember saying at the time that it sounds like a fantastic idea and then it eventually worked its way into the script.

It was one of the more logistically complex days of shooting, simply because we had to film the scene in the knowledge that there needed to be ultimate flexibility in the edit. That was in contrast to how the rest of the film was shot. The rest of it was filmed to go straight in. That was because there wasn’t much time to do it any other way.

CB: I read about the short amount of time you had to get it done.

TT: It wasn’t an impossible amount of time - no worse than a television schedule. But it didn’t allow for any umming and ahhing on the day. 

CB: That final scene seems quite different from the other scenes of violence throughout the film. I’m thinking of the section that’s shot through CCTV cameras. It happens more in your mind than in front of you.

TT: The only really violent acts you see in the film are ones that the lead actor performs on himself.  Shooting himself, pulling his teeth out. That kind of thing. 

CB: Yet at the end of it all, you still feel like you’ve experienced a very violent film throughout.

TT: When shooting it, I don’t think myself and Lynne realised quite how potent some of those scenes would end up. It’s interesting because when you have all this sticky fake blood on set, it gets all over everyone’s hands and clothes it very quickly becomes a preposterous situation. The atmosphere is often quite silly.

I’ve got this theory that some filmmakers end up creating things that are excessively violent on screen simply because they got carried away in the moment. You know, you’ve got blood spraying everywhere and they get it into their heads that it’s really entertaining. 

CB: Everyone chanting: More blood! More blood!

TT: Exactly. There’s a whole genre of cinema that’s devoted to that. You can see the appeal but I think some filmmakers are putting things in their films that are more disturbing than they think they are. Lynne genuinely doesn’t like screen violence. She’s as upset or shocked by it as the next person. For her, it’s quite important that things don’t appear on screen without them wincing. As they should.

 

CB: Another scene that was interesting was when Joaquin squashes a jelly bean. Although it’s an inanimate object, there’s a certain undertone of violence. It reminded me of the part in We Need To Talk About Kevin where Kevin eats the lychee. It got under my skin.

TT: The way the sugar sort of squishes looks great. When you see it you think: I can remember a time in my childhood where my whole world would’ve shrunk down to appreciate that. Whereas when you’re an adult you stop thinking of those things. That’s a really good example of the understanding between Lynne and Joaquin. That was something he just did in the scene but it was Lynne that suggested we just film an extreme macro shot of him fucking around. I think Joaquin thought: OK I’ll do this because I’ve been asked to do various close-up actions with my hands which is an inherently ridiculous thing for a human being to be asked to do. Therefore on one take I will just squash the jelly bean. Just because. 

I do remember at that exact moment Lynne was palpably excited.

CB: Let’s talk about the music in the film. Jonny Greenwood must’ve been very exciting to have on board. He’s worked on some brilliant films, and with some of the very best filmmakers. How did you find his influence? 

TT: Well I had that process comprehensively spoiled for me. I never got the full impact of his influence because every time a track arrived, Lynne would be incredibly excited and send it over to me. Therefore, I’ve had the opposite experience to the rest of the world. I was intimate with the score for the best part of a year before the film was completed. Then I went to see Phantom Thread [Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest collaboration with Greenwood] and was knocked sideways with how different the soundtrack was. 

CB: What’s next for you? Anyone out there who you’d like to work with? 

TT: Good question. The honest answer is I have no idea. Between films I shoot commercials so that's what I'm currently doing here in LA. I can never answer the question about who I’d like to work with. As far as I’m aware [directors] all have their guy or their girl. Answering that is making the assumption that you’d do a better job than them. 

CB: It was interesting following the award season and seeing Roger Deakins finally winning an Academy Award (Best Cinematography, Blade Runner 2049) after 13 nominations. 

TT: That’s how the Academy works isn’t it? Eventually, you'll get one for longevity. Then the argument rages, did he really get it for his best work? People make the same argument about Guillermo Del Toro [who won Best Director for The Shape of Water] you know. Obviously, it would be amazing to win one but for me, it would be slightly coloured by the rhetoric around the fact that they are rarely handed to the most deserved individual. 

CB: Is cinematography being contained and limited by studios?

We are at an interesting point in history. On one hand, I feel cinematography is mildly in crisis. It’s got nowhere left to go. There’s been a rise in digital tools that have homogenised things to a certain degree. I think it’s at peak dullness at the moment. There’s a very curated, samey, corporate look. As a way of countering the inevitable exodus, studios are very keen on curating a premium product. That extends to the look of a film, the locations, the casting, the explosions. 

There is a certain amount of panic afoot. Where will the audience be in 10, 20 years time? Will they all be at home? Will they be going to the cinema?

Tom Townend (second left) with Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of  You Were Never Really Here

Tom Townend (second left) with Lynne Ramsay and Joaquin Phoenix on the set of You Were Never Really Here

 
Stichting Kriterion: More than Cinema
 

We take a look at Stichting Kriterion - a Dutch movement created by anti-fascist students who helped hide and save countless Jewish children in occupied Amsterdam. The founder, Piet Meerburg, became a cinema exhibitor, film distributor and opened a film theatre in 1945. We spoke to Piet’s son, Krijn, about the impact of Kriterion and how the movement now has a network of art house cinemas in post-conflict cities across the globe, all connected by the same philosophy.

Kriterion.jpg

On Roetersstraat - a typically bike-laden Amsterdam street - not far from Oosterpark and across the road from a language school and university, there is a small independent cinema. Except for the bright-green, neon lights that adorn the facade, it’s a relatively unassuming space, with film fans, families and students going there to catch the latest art house and Hollywood releases. The cinema has three screens and there is a cafe at the front with a relaxed atmosphere: board games, coffee, beer. It’s called Kriterion.

This type of venue is not uncommon; Amsterdam is a city of cinemas. There is a vibrant and active scene of keen moviegoers who are blessed with a wide and varied range of film theatres. From the mighty and impressive Eye Film Museum - where over 700,000 people experience exhibitions, tours, screenings and presentations each year - to Pathé Tuschinski, a wonderfully extravagant tribute to cinema that incorporates Dutch architecture and Art Deco with a main auditorium that needs to be seen to be believed. In short, the Dutch do cinemas very well indeed.

Kriterion, however, is a unique and special cinema with a remarkable story that begins at the end of World War II. Following the German bombing of Rotterdam in 1940, the Netherlands was placed under German occupation. When the Nazi Army began deporting Jews to concentration camps, Piet Meerburg, a Dutch law student at the time, decided that he wouldn't sit back and watch the horrifying genocide unfold. Although the atrocities are well known, the statistics don’t cease to shock: in 1941, a census declared that there were some 140,000 Jews living in The Netherlands. By 1945, only 35,000 were still alive.

With help from a student organisation based in Utrecht, Meerburg was inspired to set up an Amsterdam-based collective known as the Amsterdam Student Group (ASG). It mainly consisted of students who had been forced to stop their studies - the occupation of the Dutch capital had meant that many could not continue. The resistancs group’s philosophy - born in the face of fascism - would have far-reaching consequences, the presence of which can still be felt today.

During this period, Meerburg contacted Philip Fiedeldij Dop. Dop was a paediatrician who was given, through contacts at the police, tip-offs about Jewish raids in the city. The two men struck up an alliance and were able to use their knowledge of the raids and the determination of the ASG to smuggle children to Utrecht or safer places in the city. Eventually, Meerburg managed to establish safe houses across the Netherlands. Their mission was highly dangerous: the pair would speak to the parents of the children and if agreed, a member of the ASG - couriers were always women - would take their child in an attempt to ensure their safety.

Piet Meerburg (left), 1970

Piet Meerburg (left), 1970

In one extraordinary instance, Meerburg and the ASG were able to make links with a crèche opposite the Hollandsche Schouwburg - a theatre that was being used as a deportation centre. Walter Süskind, a German Jew who had been appointed to manage the centre, had built a relationship with the Nazi officer in charge by speaking German, telling jokes and offering cigars and alcohol. It has been documented that he was so convincing, he was often accused of being a Nazi collaborator. Hiding behind the facade of aiding the regime, he began to manipulate records and smuggle children across from the deportation centre to the crèche. The number 9 tram that runs between the two buildings was used as a screen to hide the movement of children. Then, with the parents and staff of the crèche aware of the arrangement, when the children were outside or went for a walk, the would be taken by the ASG. 

This remarkable act of defiance and bravery resulted in around 140 children being saved from the chrèche alone and it has been estimated that the Meerburg and ASG managed to safely hide as many as 350 Jewish children.

In the winter of 1945, towards the end of the war and after much of The Netherlands had been liberated, Meerburg (who was 25 at the time) established Stichting Kriterion. His foundation, based on the same ideals that underpinned the ASG, worked from a ‘flat’ organisational structure, designed to help students in being independent from their parents and the government for financial aid. And, on 6th November, his cinema on Roetersstraat opened its doors, screening to more than 200 film fans. Until his death in 2010 he continued to be involved in film, ensuring screenings of classics at Kriterion and working as an exhibitor, establishing the Dutch Historical Film Archive (Nederlands Historisch Film Archief).

When speaking to Krijn Meerburg, son of Piet, it’s clear that his father was passionate about giving students creative opportunities in a time where that privilege was scarce. He explained, ‘First and foremost he loved cinema. He was also always a very practical man. He knew that people would need money to study. There were, however, a few problems. Students had to be very independent through the war - there was no support from the government to help them study. They had to earn money. Piet and his friends looked for a property and within a year they managed to find the cinema. I cannot stress how important that time was; he made important friends and important decisions. They were looking for an opportunity to rebuild society. Since then, the idea has been and will always be the same.’

What's so impressive about the foundation is just that: the idea has stayed the same. Krijn is also clear on how the foundation is more than just a cinema: ’There was a time where it almost went wrong. The board - all ex-students - were going to sell the cinema but they managed to step in and stop it from happening. Now it's not the case. It’s still completely run by students and it’s become a community, not just a cinema.’

Krijn Meerburg (Photo: Joop Reijngoud)

Krijn Meerburg (Photo: Joop Reijngoud)

Although it's clear that Stichting Kriterion has kept its philosophy, it's had to adapt and evolve over the last 30 years. ’The one thing that has changed is that the programming of the cinema has input from others,’ Krijn explained. ‘I was involved in that role from 1994 - 2010. Before this, the students were doing it completely alone.’ Kriterion currently has two programmers, and they are still guided by ex-Kriterion members. ’Apart from that, ’ Krijn said, ’the system that was created in 1945 - it still works today.’

Jan-Pieter 't Hart, a 23-year-old student who currently works at the cinema, started without fully knowing the philosophy from which Kriterion had been built. He, like countless others, needed a job. ‘I didn’t realise it was more of an association than a company,’ he explained. His understanding of how Kriterion’s democratic outlook became clear over time. ‘Policy changes aren’t decided by a few managers. They go through a voting system. Everyone is able to make a contribution.’ Having worked there for over a year, the foundation has enabled him to develop skills in the PR department and through coordinating exhibitions.

Jan-Pieter discussed how the projects from Kriterion are varied and support a wide range of cultural issues: ’There's the yearly collaboration surrounding Pride Amsterdam, also an exciting set of events we held in March of this year called Project Femme.’ The programme - which aimed to break down gender and sex stereotypes - gave a range of lectures, workshops and film screenings. This was an example of the movement in full swing and how the foundation guides students through a creative project.

In Amsterdam, an eclectic range of projects now run with the same philosophy as Meerburg’s Kriterion. There is a restaurant, Skek, located near the Red Light District; two other popular and stylish art house cinemas - Studio K and The Uitkijk; a gas station and even a babysitting service (Oppascentrale Kriterion). All are linked through ideology, structure and outlook.

De Uitkijk Cinema, Amsterdam

De Uitkijk Cinema, Amsterdam

Kriterion has since grown further afield than Amsterdam. The Young Urban Achievers (a name that nods to the ’Little Lebowski Urban Achievers’ from the Coen Brothers’ 1998 classic The Big Lebowski) was founded by past members of Kriterion and has set up arthouse cinemas and projects in Sarajevo, Monrovia, Ramallah and has organised multiple events in Mitrovica.

Marthe Singelenberg, who worked at Kriterion for 6 years and is now a director of the YUA (a term she uses carefully - one that is for organisational purposes rather than a hierarchical statement), explained the reason for these locations: ’We work in post-conflict areas that are in a similar situation to Amsterdam in 1945 when Piet Meerburg founded Kriterion. The most important aspect is that we find areas that don't have enough opportunities for young people to work, they don't have labour market experience or their own space where they can express themselves. In these cities, the cinemas are mostly owned by multiplex giants. There is, therefore, a lack of spaces that promote independent culture. We have developed the projects with the young people and students from the areas. We help them create their own spaces for culture and entrepreneurship. These places are not subsidised, they are all self-sustainable businesses.’

Marthe also outlined the YUA’S commitment to providing opportunities for the students to link up and learn from each other. Each year, they head to the YUA headquarters in Amsterdam. Connecting these people from all over the world is seen as a vital experience for all involved, a chance to talk, learn and share with one another.

When you understand the full story behind Kriterion, you can’t help but be filled with admiration and respect for an organisation that works with a core value to support young people and students in their creative endeavours. Generating growth, development and innovation is at the heart of what they do. Projects and are not based on the amount of financial return they generate, but the possibility of giving creative experiences and work to other students. 

Their message is promoted through their actions; they don’t preach or shout too loudly and money is not the objective. There is a true belief in the power of young people, their talents, intelligence and innovation - those that are shaped by the past and creating the future. TS

Projection Room, Kriterion

Projection Room, Kriterion

With thanks to: www.yadvashem.org / Jan-Pieter ‘t Hart / Krijn Meerburg / Marthe Singelenberg

 
In Review: Andreas Gursky

Hayward Gallery, London
25 Jan 2018 – 22 Apr 2018

Andreas Gursky -  99 Cent II   (2001)

Andreas Gursky - 99 Cent II  (2001)

Among many superlatives, ‘An audacious chronicler of the global economy’ is how Ralph Rugoff, Director of The Hayward Gallery, described Andreas Gursky, whose major retrospective marks the triumphant reopening of the gallery following a lengthy refurb. Despite all the money and elitism washing around the upper echelons of the art world, Gursky is not a corporate darling and the scope of the exhibition reaches far beyond materialism. 

Through a kaleidoscopic vision of late 20th and early 21st-century life on earth, Gursky lives up to his career-defining goal of documenting ‘The Encyclopaedia of Life’. From early semi-rural landscapes of his native Germany and more specifically Düsseldorf, the exhibition leads quickly up to Gursky’s epic portrayal of the world. The transition to a wider lens view of humanity, moving away from the individual in favour of our more collectivised endeavours, began with Salerno I, taken in 1990. Whilst driving through the town, he saw the port and there was something in it (he did not know what) that inspired him to capture the moment. When processing the image, he was amazed by the outcome, captivated by something that would later inspire, arguably his most important work. At first, he thought it was the ports themselves but he later pinpointed the idea more generally as being: ‘the balance between great scale and a huge amount of sharp detail.’ 

These pictorial qualities combined several functions throughout the exhibition; they work abstractedly, as Pollock-like rhythms of dancing colour whilst the detail and scale mean they are interesting both up close and from a distance. They are big, fascinating and exotic objects that display beautifully in the Hayward’s unique multi-level, gallery layout. 

Andreas Gursky  Chicago Board of Trade II  (1999)

Andreas Gursky Chicago Board of Trade II (1999)

There is a distinct element of the hyperreal within images such as Amazon, Chicago Board of Trade II and 99 Cent II, something otherworldly and yet familiar. Technically, Gursky achieves the effect of scale and immense detail, by using several lenses to capture multiple points of the vast landscape. The outcome is one that is not compromised by the form of a single lens and is richer in detail than our eyes could naturally perceive. Some images are aided by digital manipulation, the colours intensified and changed, things removed, added and distorted. This is an important distinction to Gursky’s approach that separates him from a photojournalist and positions him as an artist pushing the boundaries of his medium.

The work feels objective enough to be neither damning or praising of globalisation. It does, in its sheer scale, provide enough distance and visual stimuli to see these fundamentals of the global economy in a different way. The most transformative aspect of Gursky’s work is his ability to show nature in what is widely considered unnatural - the material world. In Gursky’s ‘Encyclopedia of Life’, we have reminded of the strange behaviours unique our species, a bizarre animal that would evolve to act out and facilitate these ever expanded and increasingly complex systems - a microcosm of the universe. AG

See the Andreas Gursky exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, London here

Revisiting: The work of Andrew Dominik
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Andrew Dominik has directed some of the most under-the-radar films of the last 20 years. Also, unlike many of his contemporaries, it may be that everything he has helmed is worth another look - to date he has only made three films and one documentary. Perhaps more importantly, Dominik’s relatively small output deserves recognition for the social commentary from which it is built. The themes throughout his films seem to be shouting louder as the world of politics, celebrity and gender shift around us.

His first offering as a director was an ultra-violent ode to the infamous Australian prison inmate Mark ‘Chopper’ Read. Few would argue that he came out swinging; Chopper is a right hook of a film with a brutal, psychopathic male at its centre. Dominik has a knack for bringing career-best performances out of his actors and this was no exception. Eric Bana excelled as Read because, although the film has a strange, dreamlike feel to it, he managed to bring a very human edge to the notorious criminal.

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In one darkly comic and savagely violent scene, Read is stabbed by prison inmates who have resorted to killing him as a way of halting his unpredictably dangerous behaviour. It takes Read a while to realise what has happened and instead of reacting - as we fully expect him to - he hugs and comforts the man who has just repeatedly punctured his abdomen with a nasty looking homemade shiv. Dominik neatly taps into our voyeuristic fascination with violence and celebrity early on, and it’s a theme he returns to with weightier intent in his second feature.

It took cinema audiences and critics a period of time to begin to fully appreciate  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Now regarded as an underrated naughties classic, the Epic Western initially struggled at the box office, regardless of Brad Pitt’s name being attached. Also, it didn’t help that there was allegedly conflict during the editing phase of the film, with Warner Brothers pushing for snappier action and Dominik and Pitt holding out for a longer, more meditative work. Thank goodness, then, that of the dozens of cuts that were reportedly made, the theatrical version ended up being a film that was given the time and space to work through its central themes.

Casey Affleck (who showcases a superb talent that would eventually lead to the best actor Oscar for Manchester By The Sea) was perfectly chosen to play Robert Ford - the weak, pitiful loner who idolises Pitt’s Jesse James. And it is his performance that lingers after watching the film: his infatuation for James etched on his face, his body language giving away the insecurities he is trying to hide, his obvious self-doubt after engaging in shallow, quickly forgotten conversations. He brings an obsessive, childlike giddiness to the role that makes one think of Mark David Chapman or John Hinckley Jr. Pitt matches Affleck as he shows a subtle disdain that eats away at the increasingly desperate Ford. The strong acting performances, heightened by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score and the beautiful cinematography from Roger Deakins (who now boasts an astounding canon of work) all bind to create something that is persistent and powerful in its modern messages.

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It is through ‘spoiling’ the film’s ending that Dominik does exactly what is needed to fully appreciate and explore the relationships in the narrative: releases the audience to get to the heart of the story. With James’ inevitable death out the way, we begin to look at the intensity between the two lead actors. Needless to say, today’s fickle, digital world that idolises celebrities can’t help but be compared. We see Ford staring at James through doorways, during conversations and in a bath - only a phone screen away from how millions now glare at their online icons. His pathetic mimicry of James magnifies his deep insecurities (he chokes on an identical cigar), leaving James to comment, ‘can’t figure it out, you wanna be like me or you wanna be me?’

The film leaves us mindful of how surface level and toxic these relationships can be. Why are we so taken by people who we know aren’t all they seem? How does the myth of someone we idolise change and affect the way we act? Toward the climax of the film, we hear Ford state knowingly that, for all his adoration, James is ‘just a human being’. It’s an almost contradictory comment from Ford, but even he knows that if we take away the legend and mysticism that surrounds an idol, we are inevitably left with something underwhelming.

Bizarrely, after the assassination in 1882, Robert and his brother Charles Ford toured America reenacting the murder they had just committed in front of paying audiences. Once again, Dominik brings to light the crazed hankering within humans to gawp at shocking and heinous acts. This strange end to the story could be straight out of an episode of Back Mirror and, if reported today, would surely be rendered hoax-worthy.

If Jesse James was a slow, meandering meditation on its central themes, Dominik’s third outing - Killing Them Softly - was certainly not that. In the era of Trump, this explicitly political film now seems something more: the satire and comedy having only become darker. It is based on George V. Higgins’ 1974 crime novel, Cogan’s Trade, but Dominik rewrote it and set in 2008 against a backdrop of the Financial Crisis and Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign. Pitt teams up with Dominik again, this time as Jackie Cogan - a hit man hired to find and kill two small-time criminals who have held up a poker game and made off with the money.

Dominik turns up the black humour with characters that are so unbelievably crass and desperate that you wonder if they have any redeeming features. The script is loaded with blink and you miss it irreverence. Ben Mendelsohn’s character tells a particularly unpleasant anecdote that ends with him sleeping with a prostitute who ‘fucked like a crazy alien from the planet Gobble’. Perhaps the worst of them all is a semi-retired hitman called Mickey (a superb turn from the late James Gandolfini) who leaves the audience squirming in the wake of his deep-rooted misogyny and disregard for anything other than himself.

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Throughout the film, various characters repeat that ‘in America, we’re all just on our own’. Cogan frequently smirks at the political rhetoric he has to endure as his contact to the powerful men making decisions attempts to justify the murders they’re ordering. Dominik uses this stage to stamp on the messages that are frequently played on the televisions and radios throughout the film. We hear sound bites from Obama and Bush as they flaunt the American Dream: ‘out of many we are one!’ Viewed now, it makes for a damning inditement on the current state of American politics. The hopeful promises of the Obama administration seem distant and skin deep, the economic optimism he created now very distant.

Dominik’s most recent work, One More Time With Feeling, documents his friend and collaborator Nick Cave recording the album Skeleton Tree. Whatever your thoughts on the ultimate rock showman, this makes for a remarkable insight into his life at that time and his creative process. It also stands as Dominik’s most complex film because Cave reached out to him whilst dealing with unfathomable grief - his son Arthur died aged 15 during the making of the album.

Although much of the album was written before the tragedy, the lyrics and music take on new meaning in light of it. We see the entire album played out in the recording studio. Dominik filmed the performances on a 3D camera in black and white, with the camera hooked up to a circular dolly track that rotates around Cave. This not only gives a sense of the deep existential thread that runs through the music but also allows us to see the emotive Cave as he sings. The sense of grief is palpable throughout and we hear scattered voiceovers of him musing philosophically about the worth and meaning of life.

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Interestingly, Dominik has since admitted that there is a certain voyeuristic interest in knowing how Cave and his family coped. He was very aware that he didn’t want the film to become some kind of ‘grief porn’ used for commercial gain. The way people are presented and how others view them is a theme that continues to rear its head in his films. In One More Time With Feeling, though, it’s his friend who he is working with and stakes are different. This adds to the unique intimacy of the project and Dominik handles the responsibility admirably.

When returning to Dominik’s films, the lack of women within them is striking. Perhaps aware of this, he has been frequently linked to direct Blonde - a biopic of Marilyn Monroe. Dominik himself has stated that he thinks it will be ‘one of the ten best movies ever made’. It’s a bold statement, and one that could easily be palmed off as gratuitous and unwarranted but considering the capabilities he has shown thus far, it’s one that invigorates and excites. For now though, his exploration of the male form seems set to continue - for his next project, he is slated to direct Tom Hardy as a Navy SEAL in War Party.

Whatever he turns his hand to, it’ll certainly be worth looking out for.

Revisiting: Skeleton Tree - Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds
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The overwhelmingly tragic event that occurred during the recording of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds’ 16th album has been much written about in the reviews that followed its release and was painfully explored through Andrew Dominik’s stark documentary One More Time With Feeling. Although Cave has said that many of the lyrics in Skeleton Tree were written before the unexpected death of his 15-year-old son Arthur, and he is never explicit that this work was a cathartic process, the album undoubtedly acts as a vessel that shifts between light and dark on a frequently changing current. Whether coincidence or not, the lyrics and music take us on an intensely existential journey that reflects a soul in crisis.

There are themes in Skeleton Tree that Cave has explored relentlessly over the years: religion, murder, loss, death, love, lust, more religion. Here, however, the band continue to pump blood through the same vein as their previous album Push the Sky Away by stepping further from the black comic tales that featured so heavily on their 90s hits such as Murder Ballads and Let Love In. These hazy, more expressionist songs require Cave fans to accept that he has changed direction for now, adding further depth and dimension to his already emotionally extensive back catalogue. One can’t help but link Skeleton Tree to David Bowie’s final album Blackstar or Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me. There is a sense of something greater being present throughout - a determination to find a connection beyond the here and now.

From the opening track, Jesus Alone, we begin to feel the full weight of Cave’s lyrics and how they have taken a different form in light of his son’s death. ‘With my voice, I’m calling you’ he repeats over the ethereal and structureless synths. The strings swell and recede and high pitched, wind-like howls give us an immediate indication that that Cave’s mind is elsewhere: contemplating, confused, alone and searching for answers. As the album progresses, we float through Cave’s stream of consciousness. Girl In Amber brings us the line, ‘If you wanna bleed, just bleed’ and in Anthrocene, ‘everything we love, we lose’. The album begins to feel like a helix, the creation of music on one strand and the horrific events that surrounded this process on the other, with both never fully colliding.

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Only when the snare drum clicks in during the melodic I Need You does the weightlessness of the previous songs become apparent. We are presented with a more grounded track and the eerily foreseeing lament of: ‘Nothing really matters when the one you love is gone / You’re still in me baby / I need you / In my heart / I need you.’ The anguish and pain are unmistakable in his quivering voice. In One More Time With Feeling (a companion piece of essential viewing), there is a sequence where Dominick decides to cut Cave in a black shirt behind a screen with Cave in a white shirt performing the opening track. This gives the illusion of Cave looking at himself - a neat trick that adds imagery to the existential thread that runs through the album. We as listeners get a good look at Cave’s inner struggle laid bare before us.

Towards the end of the album, we realise that Cave won’t find what he’s looking for. ‘I called out / Right across the sea / But the echo comes back empty’ he sings on the titular and final track, adding to the sense that this journey doesn’t end with a definitive answer. There is, perhaps, some hope as Cave ends the record by repeating, ‘it’s alright now.’ He has since said that, as they emerge from their grief, he and his wife have chosen happiness as a form of defiance, as a way of fighting the trauma and beginning to cope again.

These lyrics give a seriousness that hasn’t been fully explored by the Bad Seeds and one suspects we won’t hear with the same raw nakedness again. It is strange and almost perverse to think that the events surrounding the album have produced an unwelcome but unique creative space, without which it is doubtful that such a remarkable work could be repeated. TS