Photo by Kevin Westenberg
Id 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 ingénues glossy full lips atremble as she gazes out her lonely window at her guy with another gurrrl, blah blah. Made me wanna barf its always someone elses 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. Ive noticed, though, a recent tendency in myself to absorb and accept the music more readily if Im watching rad things onscreen while the music plays, particularly when Im alone, just me and my laptop and headphones. I think were now in a time when music is often more evocative because its 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 screens two feet away. So, theres a feeling of far more personal connection with the music and the imagery intimacy, you might call it, no doubt aided by the computers 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 Smokes 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, hell do Drop with a cute lil 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 musics 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 flys POV see trained pet flies flying through a long series of donut holes . . . Why? Because now they can.
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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 didnt he? Shot on location in and around the San Diego bands home turf, the film stars members of the band and a bunch of their friends, and its not something you want to criticize for the caliber of the acting, though everyone is very effective, especially the bands 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 BHPs downbeat avant-honky tonk vibe. Zero-zero-budget, were talking, like $100, and thats inspiring, cause the ambiguous story is genuinely involving and the films satisfyingly bummer ambience stays with you for weeks.
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 bands members and a full-length video of their performance at Shepards 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 Opeths 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 bands 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 OHagen of the High Llamas, and Llwybr Llaethog . . . Llwybr Llaethog? On the phones the groups 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 its complementary and not over-interpretive of the bands 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 its most wicked here since SFAs 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 friends silhouette striding stoutheartedly forward; its not a metaphor its 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, hes 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 Morrisons 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.