I need to write a few hundred words about the festival but for now, here are the interviews that form the video part of the article for Digicult.
There would appear, despite claims of the opposite, to be a steady flow of engaging, imaginative art events around/in Coventry of late, that confound and challenge expectations. One organisation at the forefront of making that happen is Ludic Rooms: the Coventry-based digital arts organisation headed by Creative Director, Dom Breadmore and Associate Producer Anne Forgan.
Past events have included hosting the Random String symposium, bringing together world-class digital art practitioners to discuss and share ideas, and insights into their practice. This year, in lieu of the symposium, they have dialled things down. Friday night we shuffled cautiously into the Goose Nest, a temporary space at Warwick Arts Centre that seemed to be built from plywood, to watch a show by PIPS:lab.
Inside was a traditional theatre performance space: dark stage, traditional raked seating. Which is probably where tradition ends. The stage was littered with various bits of technology which the Amsterdam-based organisation make no attempt to hide. Instead of trying to hide the gadgets PIPS:lab opt to reveal and expose the audience to the software and the equipment, to invite people to question their complicity in a world where everything we do online is fodder for the data farmers to sell to marketing departments.
It’s hard to pin down exactly what a PIPS:lab event is, and even in the post- show Q&A this became more obvious. Instead of being pinned to any particular mode of expression, they talked about the multiple aspects of what they do and how it feeds into what we had just seen. The team, in fact, are made of of people from different disciplines, including theatre practitioners, programmers, musicians and videographers. This multi-discipline approach reflects something fundamental about the people using digital technology over the past few years. As the knowledge needed to access the means of digital production has shifted from computer science skills, to broader, one might say everyday skills, many of us have the ability to craft from the building blocks of software and hardware. Or at least, the entry ramp is easier to climb. The shiny spectacle of technology has started to fade into the background, and the need for broader human narrative has filtered in. Something that the RSC attempted with their recent production of The Tempest, with mixed results.The RSC show felt like they had opted for sensory overload, but it still came down to good performance to sell us the story. Rather than being drowned out by the electronics, groups like PIPS:lab allow the technology to shift around them and allow for error and (that over abused phrase in the arts) playfulness.
Shadows in the Clouds, the show PIPS:lab performed on the night, looks at how willing we are to surrender our data. In this case, our visual data. With volunteers from the audience, they used motion capture cameras and scanners to capture body shapes, colours and micro-performance elements of the volunteers. These were then used to fashion a short sci-fi film as the final performance of the evening.
There’s a beautifully simplistic, almost retro feel to the imagery ofShadows in the Clouds. The lo-fi feel, probably a result of the need to render in real time. But it suits the performance. We aren’t here for the latest Marvel blockbuster. It’s the interaction and the humour of working live that engages the audience, not the awe and shock of CGI.
That audience was a mix of school kids and curious adults, PIPS:lab may have emerged from the “dark corners of the underground Amsterdam party scene” but their shows are fully child-friendly and intellectually accessible without playing down to people. They want you to leave the theatre smiling, thinking and less afraid to question your complicit surrendering to the technology that we all carry around in our pockets every day.
Things not mentioned in this review: Cabaret Voltaire, Expanded Cinema, Jane Horrocks, Malcolm LeGrice, Live Coding, BFI cocktail lounge, eroticism.
As part of their Sonic Cinema strand, Friday 9th brought Wrangler, Tash Tung and Jessica and Mica Levi to Screen 1 of the BFI for The Unfilmables. As a concept, the premise of The Unfilmables is simple enough: what if someone made a version of those great classic unmade scripts? The introduction text references David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi, which surely would have been the greatest Star Wars of all time, along with the more well known unmade version of Dune from Alejandro Jodorowsky. Again, an unmade version that would have been infinitely better than any of the all too literal translations to screen that have been made so far (even Lynch’s feels as though it lost something, at least by the time it was in the editing room). So it was that Colm McAuliffe, Creative Producer, and Lisa Rook, Director of Live Cinema U.K. along with Tim Brown of CineCity Brighton brought us The Unfilmables: two films, two live musical scores.
Francesca Levi‘s particularly British version of Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates reinterprets the obscure biography of the Armenian ashug Sayat-Nova (King of Song) as a British classic in the vein of the Free Cinema movement of the 1950s (which included Lindsay Anderson amongst its practitioners). Francesca Levi’s film is a trip to Blackpool (on a National Express coach, according to Francesca’s introduction on the night). But this version is half nightmarish dive into repeated motifs of tarot readings and amusement arcade scenes mixed with window shots of passing landscapes. Its lo-fi production values ground the film in a cinéma-vérité reality that defies the shine and polish of many mobile phone videos that haunt our social media streams. This lowered production aesthetic sidesteps any contemporary faux nostalgia trips that might have been otherwise made by the use of contemporary mobile technology and Instagram filters.
All of this was shown to a live score by Francesca’s sister Mica, who has been carving out a name as the composer of some of the most unnerving and beatific soundtracks of recent years. Her work on Under the Skin and Jackie, proving her understanding of the complexities of filmic scoring that might not have always been an obvious departure for one third of the group Micachu and the Shapes. A departure from the familiar sounds of those two soundtracks for The Colour of Chips, Mica mixed an actor’s voice playing the role of fortuneteller with what may have been field recordings from the filming, with electronic fluctuations across a range of rhythms and beats. This combined with the Colour of Chips video to create a mad, sprawling exploration of colour and tradition, with one audience member claiming that they really wanted to visit Blackpool now. A vision of tourist boards across the U.K. hiring experimental filmmakers and electronica outfits seems to be just crazy enough to work, post-Brexit!
In the interval Creative Producer, Colm McAuliffe alerted the audience to the shortness of the break but that anyone who was a fan of stray electronic frequencies should stick around while Wrangler set up. He had us at stray, frankly.
London-based Tash Tung, who has worked on videos for Gazelle Twin, Hannah Peel and Wrangler presented her reading (‘interpretation’ seems to Hollywood reimagineering for The Unfilmables) of screenwriter Clair Noto’s unproduced sci-fi/horror film, The Tourist. Noto’s script was set in 80s Manhattan, following Grace Ripley, one of a small group of exiled aliens living on Earth. The script nearly came to production a few times, and you can find H.R. Giger’s concept art on the Internet, along with a lengthy essay about the film and Noto’s experiences. After flapping around in pre-production hell in a story that would make its own great movie, it finally settled into the dust of cinema legend, despite featuring aliens having sex in Manhattan nightclubs. How could this have been left unmade?
Tung’s version of the movie strips everything back down to pure abstracted narrative, with the text of the original script appearing in a stark black strip near the top of the screen. Even with Stephen Mallinder of Wrangler, reading the script, we’re given very few narrative clues to the structure of the film. What we do get is the flow of imagery that gives Tash Tung’s work its individual take on the Ballardian aesthetic (Her work on Gazelle Twin’s Kingdom Come, with Chris Turner, particularly brought that aspect of her work to the fore). Tung’s film is a sweaty, erotic dive into the untapped potential of the original story. Anyone who has ever found themselves alienated and out of place in a nightclub will already recognise the feeling of unease that the film brings to the fore. Meanwhile, the live visual mixing by Dan Conway, (taking to the stage, flanked by Wrangler on the other side), did nothing to ease the sense of dread that rises in the pit of the stomach while watching the film, as he ‘Brion Gysin-ed’ the film as it played.
After releasing two albums over the past four years, Wrangler have devoted this year to live soundtrack work. As well as supplying the music and script reading for The Tourist, they contribute the soundscape/soundtrack to Cotton Panic, later this year at the Manchester International Festival. The soundtrack for The Tourist references the heavy beats of a club night but with enough sonic overlaying to please even the hardiest electronica fan. My only criticism would be that Wrangler is a band that should never sit down to play their music.
The Unfilmables is the antidote to anyone who worries that too many terrible scripts are being made into multi-million dollar (and it is invariable dollars) blockbusters, while potential greats go unmade. But it’s a bold step to create these two films. There’s untapped potential in a script never going into production that can have more energy stored within it, like a coiled spring, cranking up unrealised expectation, than the fully fleshed out version we get presented with. To respond to those films, to hold a particularly British mirror to Sergei Parajanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates, and to breath life into Clair Noto’s The Tourist, could have been awkward and uncomfortable to have sat through. As it is, these two films and the live music performances show that British experimental cinema is still a strong force of creativity and inspiration for younger filmmakers and musicians looking to forge a path beyond the narrow lanes of the multiplex.
Artists talk about creative practice, so I guess I could call my involvement with the art world critical practice? Then I’d say it’s about evolving forms of critical engagement with the arts. So this is part of that critical practice then. Here’s a short documentary I produced and finally published this week.
This was a great chance to catch up with the artist, Hollis who I’d only spoken to via Facebook and email before, and who I knew through some shared music interests. We had a great day together filming and chatting about everything in general. For me, what was nice about this video is that it became a good collaboration piece, where we shared ideas back and forth. For example, I couldn’t get copyright clearance on my first choice for the soundtrack, so we tried some options. Firstly mine, then this final track by Hollis himself. What made the process work was that we were both comfortable telling each other what we did or didn’t like about each other’s choices. Anyway, hope you enjoy the video.
Art, as we all know, attempts to reflect our universe back to us, through a (hopefully) shattered mirror. Superimposed over that mirror, is of course, also a reflection of the artist. In what we can only assume is a pastiche/homage to the blighted concept of artist genius, from the late 19th, early 20th Century, they have their finger on the mystic pulse of modern life. Don’t they?
That’s why we have to honour them and give them freedom to pursue ideas and challenge the status quo, free of the constraints that hold the rest of us plebs in check. Why can’t we all be given an arts council funding for one project, at least? Maybe it should be like maternity/paternity cover? Granting creative freedom to everyone beyond the art world may well result in chaos and utter anarchy – keep up the good work, Arts Council. Implicit in that gift of freedom to artists is of course the unspoken promise that they’ll continue to point out that the world is exactly how we imagined it all along, while we all pretend they’re upsetting the Tory apple cart. Who ever left a gallery or performance and really felt they’d had their world view changed? Exhibitions are nothing more than Trump rallies, riling up the already indoctrinated.
In an era when even COUM are considered worthy of Hull City of Culture support and appear on the BBC News (celebrated, this time, rather than vilified – take that, avant-garde), it seems the only person capable of truly winding people up continues to be old punks like John Lydon, who in a recent interview declared Trump was a good guy. How rude!
“What I dislike is the left-wing media in America are trying to smear the bloke as a racist and that’s completely not true.
“There are many, many problems with him as a human being but he’s not that and there just might be a chance something good will come out of that situation because he terrifies politicians.” – John Lydon
Lydon doesn’t play the accepted narrative we’ve assigned to him, the wanker! Somewhere along the way, we’ve assumed he’s a liberal, Guardian reading, pinko arts lover like the rest of us. He’s the Kate Bush of the 70s. But so is Kate Bush, come to think of it. Why do we struggle so much when artists don’t do as we demand of them, and yet we ask them to think outside of the box and strategise beyond our generic, corporate lives. No wonder they’re confused and struggling to apply for grants.
The art world isn’t nearly full of enough wankers right now: but remember, you get the artists your times deserve. Welcome to your new conservatism.
There are no uplifting, emotional highpoints in Mica Levi’s soundtrack for director Pablo Larrain’s Jackie. As you might imagine from the composer of Jonathan Glazer’s Under The Skin (2013), Mica Levi’s compositions are as much about the unseen, unspoken, as they are about those gleaming gravity wells of emotion that filmmakers work so hard to draw us towards. In Jackie, Levi finds space to further explore those spaces and the subject matter gives over to it so well.
As with Jackie Kennedy’s own, post-assasination life, there’s no release from the existential pain of loss here, and even Tears, at, 54 seconds, refuses to give in to the weight of human suffering. As though it would be too human to reveal emotions for too long. On Walk to the Capital, s the strings suggest a nation sobbing around Jackie, even as she refuses to release her grip on her stoicism under public scrutiny.
The stageplay of Camelot (by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe), starring Richard Burton, was a favourite of the Kennedys. They often played it at the end of the day and in many ways it became a symbol of the Kennedy era. As the only other music in the film, this 1960s soundtrack should feel at odds with the contemporary Mica Levi: yet it feels appropriately juxtaposed with her drone-like compositions. Perhaps this is because there is a subtle hint of the strings from that musical echoed in Empty White House track. The final track on the album, Credits, has short xylophone motifs running through it, hinting again at the Camelot references.
None of which is to say that Levi has merely paid homage to another soundtrack. This is music very much rooted in the performances of the film and echo so much of the underplayed emotional range that Natalie Portman uses in the title role. As has been hinted at elsewhere, as much as the soundtrack is an emotion guide to the film, in the mode of more traditional soundtracks, this one is very definitely a character with a protagonist’s in the film.
It would come as no surprise if Levi’s next soundtrack was for a film set in outer space, (but perhaps one directed by Cronenberg?) Her sliding, drone-esque work marks out the spaces and distances that exist between ourselves and every other human being. The gulf that means we’ll never truly connect, just as Jackie Kennedy in the film never truly connects with anyone else: children, friends or otherwise. Despite there being an intellectual pleasure to be taken from enjoying the Jackie soundtrack, there’s no easy answers for anyone looking for escapism. If Jackie seems to hint at the dying light of one brief moment that was Camelot, it’s hard to imagine a more relevant film and soundtrack for the rise of fascism in Trump’s current Presidency. While some old rockers look to guitar heroes for songs of rebellion, maybe Mica Levi’s strings are the better accompaniment to our dying light of contemporary dreams?
Mica Levi’s Jackie is available from Boomkat.com
Anders Lustgarten’s Seven Acts of Mercy at the RSC, plays on so many contemporary issues that it’s hard to know where to break them down, weigh their value and place them either as the central tenet of the play, or one of the side issues.
The play, set in present day Bootle and 1606 Naples, draws a line directly from one era to the other. The strongest reading and perhaps the only one possible in contemporary Britain, is that the poor are still being fucked over by the rich and aspirational. A dying grandfather teaches his grandson the value of art, and why it shows us who we really are, while Caravaggio, working on his commission to paint the Seven Acts of Mercy, deals with his own demons and finds friends in unexpected places.
It would be easy enough to place Caravaggio in the role of tortured, great artist. But this Caravaggio is more than a stereotype. He’s also an avatar for Lustgarten, who has his own love/hate relationship with theatre and theatre audiences. (Two typical quotes: “Most people who go to the theatre are sort of beyond salvation.” and “80% of theatre was bourgeois wank.” [Source: Guardian].) Patrick O’Kane’s portrayal brings a strength and desperation to the role that does the writer justice: hitting the dark notes of a gay artist struggling with his demons (or the church’s demons, more accurately). And besides, who doesn’t love a camp scouse accent?
It’s the scouse accent that draws that connecting line to the present day Bootle, where Leon (Tom Georgeson) is trying to teach his grandson the values of being a kind, caring human being, through close study of Caravaggio’s Seven Acts of Mercy. TJ Jones as his grandson Mickey gives a strong, understated performance that manages to hint at an suppressed innocence ready to explode at the injustices at the world.
Georgeson’s Leon is (literally) a dying breed of man that is fast disappearing from Britain. Or at least, being denied any public face in our media. Our current anti-intellectual, anti-expert society seems to have lost pride in the desire for knowledge as an end in itself. Perhaps because we started to think of going to University as an aspirational objective, along with getting our own house and getting that middle-management, white collar job? When Leon and Mickey sit down to look at Van Gough’s The Sower, it isn’t the figure that Leon wants Mickey to understand, it’s the soil that has been turned by hard work and an honest day’s work. Time spent creating and committing to achieving something in the world.
There’s a scene in a food bank that hits hard and, reflecting back a character’s early statement on the virtues of Christianity, you have to wonder how any country or politician that claims to have Christian values would allow such a place to even exist in 2017. And so it must be with older members of the cast. To paraphrase a banner from the Women’s March recently; “I can’t believe I still have to protest about this shit.”
Anders Lustgarten’s The Seven Acts of Mercy is on at the Swan Theatre, in Stratford until 10th February 2017
Wrangler’s new album, White Glue, delivers a refreshing, clean slice of contemporary electronica with lyrics that show musicians are still capable of engaging with contemporary social issues.
From the whip, snap of Stupid, to the robot-voiced Stop, the new Wrangler album, White Glue, is a return to a joyful pulse of electronic beats that you may not have even realised you’ve been missing in synth-based music the past few years.
There’s a clarity and precision to the sounds on this album that suggests the hours of playing live in the studio have allowed the trio to hit their mark and prove what the collaboration between three top musicians (Stephen Mallinder, Benge and Phil Winter) sounds like. Where previous album, LA Spark was a deep dive into the frayed edges of the synthesiser bank, White Glue is purer and even more playful. And it’s this clarity and enjoyment that really defines the whole of White Glue. Even in the name-calling, sweary lyrics of Stupid (with it’s excellent video from Chris Turner & Tash Tung shot at Dungeness) there’s still a pleasure to be gotten from the music.
Tracks like Stop, with its curving bass line and Mal’s breathless call to reduce personal consumerism feels somewhat like a plea to the converted though. Thankfully you won’t hear Wrangler banging out of soundsystems across sun-kissed beaches. Lyrics like, “Stop buying shit that you don’t need,” is less an anthem for a new generation than a reminder that there’s more than one way to live in this society. Where some bands might have gone for the heavy-handed obvious route, Wrangler place the lyrics under a coat of vocoder-treatment. If you want them, they’re there, but they won’t bother you if you don’t want them to. This isn’t a band that goes for the obvious route.
And so it is with Alpha Omega. From the plinking water-droplet-like opening that suggests a track going in one direction to the bass line that kicks in and the robot-voiced lyrics, bringing a low level menace from the speakers, taking it in another direction completely. Alpha Omega feels like the closest to a dance track on the album, appearing in DJ sets in the better quality clubs in the coming months? Hopefully.
Colliding is hypnotic repetition with just a hint of Jean Michel Jarre in there, but played loud is a pleasure at the end of the album. If like me, you’ve got it on random play, it’s worth making sure you set this as the last track. Like a nice cool drink of sparkling water after a bottle of heavy red wine, it clears the palate perfectly. Hopefully preparing your ears for the album of remixes like the recently released Sparked: Modular Remix Project.
Sleaford Mods have always, in their short career, precariously walked the line between fresh, new perspectives on the current music scene and lad culture nostalgia. Their stripped down electronic beats not really fitting in snugly alongside the other pop culture references of many of their 40s something (mostly male) audience (Paul Weller on the next Sleaford Mods track?), but at the same time, there’s obviously more going on than a lukewarm Britannia looking back in anger towards the 90s. Of course, this is part of their appeal. There’s something for the middle-class agit-pop intellectual and the chippy with a chip on his shoulder. But what Sleaford Mods aren’t is anyone’s fools.
If you think you’ve nailed down their schtick, you’ll find they’re already one step ahead of you. With lyrics like those of new single TCR (Total control racing), taking in everything from pregnant mothers, Ena Sharples and the dangers of being a wine connoisseur in a working class world (rioja, fact fans) and the cod-nostalgia of the Scalextrix game TCR of the title and what it means to be a real man, there’s something for everyone.
All of this presented in a deceptively simple video from Simon Parframent, that, like the bands’ lyrics, is more complex and stylish than a first cursory viewing would suggest.
Everyone loves a good blockbuster. And Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy of Arts from 19 September — 13 December, with a broad and evocative selection of works by the artist, does the job nicely. The curators have selected and presented the exhibition with a fine sense of the ebb and flow of emotions that the works provoke in visitors.
The first space that really resonates at an emotional level is the hall with Straight in it. If you’re unsure of the reason for Ai’s troubled relationship with the Chinese government, then this room’s video and installation explicitly lays that open for you. The twisted rebars (Ai and his team purchased over 200 tons of them, clandestinely) are the remnants of steel used in of sub-standard buildings that totally failed to do their job during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. They’re laid out in the hall (in fact, it’s just over 90 tons of them – the RA floors aren’t that strong). The video documentary that accompanies the work is about the earthquake and the corruption in local government that led to the deaths of so many people, including children in government built schools. There are images shown that will stay with you for a long time afterwards.
Elsewhere, A ton of tea* displays Weiwei’s more subtle nuances and his appreciation of texture and sensory playfulness. It smelled beautiful and I couldn’t help nosing in for a good whiff. Which got one of the already twitchy guards on his heels. But frankly I always have that affect on guardians of the gallery.
The range of materials is a joy throughout the well curated show, and there’s plenty of humour (sex toys!) along with the serious work. Each work serves its purpose well, and there’s never any doubt that the material and the form are serving the purpose of the message.
But then again, you could never accuse Ai Weiwei of a hidden agenda. Or subtlety. The videos and the installations (particularly the maquettes portraying his time in jail, under 24 hour surveillance) lay out the troubled relationship of communism and human rights violations in China, while his commentary on contemporary and traditional arts can provoke controversy for, frankly not always the best reasons.
Perhaps we get the contemporary artists that we deserve? Weiwei’s often ham-fisted commentaries have something of the 90s YBA about them: a single punchline that delivers a clear message to even the most jaded (jade: China –geddit?) gallery visitor. But it could be that we need our art to be this blatant and clear cut. We can all get behind his message and nod our heads, stroke our chins and really feel like we’re on the right side of moral outrage. Perhaps Ai Weiwei is art for people who don’t like Banksy.
*Fact fans: At ton of tea is in fact a ton of compressed Pur Er tea with dimensions: 100 x 100 x 100 cm and Art Fund grant of£132,896 [source: Art Fund website ]