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Laptop Love 

Thursday, Feb 19 2004
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Photo by Kevin Westenberg

I’d had years of resisting MTV, had seen a sufficient number of kooky rock kids hanging upside down like monkeys from a tree, or romping on the beach, all four klowning in the front seat of another old Buick, or yet another ingénue’s glossy full lips atremble as she gazes out her lonely window at her guy with another gurrrl, blah blah. Made me wanna barf — it’s always someone else’s stupid fantasy to accompany the pop bilge, not yours, not mine, not the one the music ought to be conjuring inside your very own head. I’ve noticed, though, a recent tendency in myself to absorb and accept the music more readily if I’m watching rad things onscreen while the music plays, particularly when I’m alone, just me and my laptop and headphones. I think we’re now in a time when music is often more evocative because it’s accompanied by visual images; the new century will be the age of digital operas. New audiovisual technology, too, means that sound + music can be idealized for the laptop — highly compressed sound tactility, images that you want to touch and which you can because the screen’s two feet away. So, there’s a feeling of far more personal connection with the music and the imagery — intimacy, you might call it, no doubt aided by the computer’s disc drive broiling your loins. Some of which is yours to experience with a few recent DVD releases:

Cornelius: Five Point One (Matador). The blurring cityscapes exhilarate as Japanese electronic pop-collagist Cornelius blasts and chitters and peck a pecks over and around “Smoke”’s black & white geometrics, in abstraction and the requisite undulating concentric circles, now updated with glitchy digital noise. While most tracks trip with the latest video-sound syncing software, he’ll do “Drop” with a cute li’l kid experiencing water in the bathroom — washing his face, plopping coins into a full sink, a segment that justifies its length with slo-mo aquatic art, the visual equivalent of music’s time-stretching capability. “Another View Point” deals with biology, thermostats, the human organism and microscopes as sumptuous textures flee from old analog film stock back into frangible digital perfection. In “Fly” the camera is you, a fly on our food, in hospitals, in restaurants, seeing things from a fly’s POV — see trained pet flies flying through a long series of donut holes . . . Why? Because now they can.

Black Heart Procession: The Tropics of Love (Touch and Go). But a director might go about the sound + image challenge by creating a visual-narrative interpretation of a set of pre-existing songs, which is what BHP did in this neat-neat-neat and (sorry) Lynchian little noir that asks the musical question “Did he or didn’t he?” Shot on location in and around the San Diego band’s home turf, the film stars members of the band and a bunch of their friends, and it’s not something you want to criticize for the caliber of the acting, though everyone is very effective, especially the band’s Roman Dmitri Dziensuwski as Luigi the hapless suspect and co-director/cameraman Matthew Hoyt as “the Inspector.” Grainy, good god, and like a silent film set to music, in this case BHP’s downbeat avant-honky tonk vibe. Zero-zero-budget, we’re talking, like $100, and that’s inspiring, ’cause the ambiguous story is genuinely involving and the film’s satisfyingly bummer ambience stays with you for weeks.

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Opeth: Lamentations (Koch). The power of the image is such that, though I had assumed the Swedish/Uruguayan black metal band was pure corndog codswallop, I still found myself glued to this disc, a not-for-geeks-only set of enlightening interviews with the band’s members and a full-length video of their performance at Shepard’s Bush in ’03. The subject that gets enlightening is metal itself, and how a band that calls itself “black metal” has evolved (some might say devolved) full circle into an ever-so-harder version of uncool ’70s prog bands like Camel, Nektar and King Crimson, and how our biases built on shopworn ideas about genre can break down when a band offers its pudding for proof. Witnessing Opeth’s intense athleticism on long patches of their last two records, Deliverance and Damnation — epic, chilling, ferocious, sure, but much of it flat-out ravishing (black metal on acoustic guitars?) — means getting your mind changed about things. And if not, then be damned the lot of ya.

Super Furry Animals: Phantom Power (XL). A super value for the entire family, considering its 14 tracks and remixes of such, chockablock with visual and aural stupefactions at every mouse click. Following up the stunning DVD for the Welsh band’s Rings Around the World album, Phantom Power is another fully loaded cornucopia that greets you with a song/video selection set in a dusty, creaky and rather sinister funhouse, all shadows and dim light and red velvets and groaning mechanical devices as an evil clock tocks and chimes. A lyrics option is provided (English/Welsh/Japanese), plus remixes by the likes of Fourtet, Sean O’Hagen of the High Llamas, and Llwybr Llaethog . . . Llwybr Llaethog? On the ’phones the group’s divided attentions between tasty electronic/dance and the pop-band worlds sound headspinningly incredible, wow. Meanwhile much of the video work comprises digital abstraction, your amoebalike colored fingerprints being a favored theme, which in this case works well because it’s complementary and not over-interpretive of the band’s multihued music. Elsewhere, these are some of the best Flashwave animation interludes ever, that art form whose resounding force resides in its super-minimal number of frames — less can be much, much more, and it’s most wicked here since SFA’s sound is for the most part super-maximalist. Note that the Super Furry Animals rock very, very hard on a song called “Golden Retriever,” a tribute to that brave and hardy beast and all of its noble characteristics. The video features our furry friend’s silhouette striding stoutheartedly forward; it’s not a metaphor — it’s about golden retrievers. (Super Furry Animals appear at Henry Fonda Theater on Saturday, February 28.)

Bill Morrison/Michael Gordon: Decasia: A State of Decay (Plexifilm). Avant-garde filmmaker Bill Morrison created this film by editing found archival footage whose emulsion had deteriorated over the years; he loops and overlaps it, and the visual crud interacts with itself. But the found images are often still recognizable, so the result veers from the purely abstract to a barrage of new combined realities. Significantly, he’s edited his images to the score (and not vice versa, which is normally the case); the accompanying soundtrack is by Michael Gordon, whose propulsive 55-piece ensemble of detuned strings and prepared pianos is a perfect analogous fit for Morrison’s imagery of birth scenes, walks among the ruins, earthmovers, ocean liners, ancient nuns, seemingly doomed children on the school bus. The combined effect of sound + image in Decasia feels like a privilege, a visit to another creepy world, where you see again the potentialities and dangers of your own world way back home.

Reach the writer at jpayne@bluefat.com

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