The Conversation

Just read this wonderful interview with Francis Ford Coppola by Ariston Anderson. It's funny, and inspiring, to think of someone like Coppola needing and actually having a day job. He's in the wine business. In an interview I saw with Erykah Badu ages ago, she was saying the same thing – never give up the day job. It's hard work, but it keeps you free. The kind of freedom they both demonstrate is as much in the mind as it is in reality. It's the freedom to keep doing what you do, and finding ways to do it, no matter what else happens. This morning we were talking about Guns 'n Roses's Chinese Democracy, an album which actually cost a fortune to produce – Geffen gave Rose $1m to finish the album, promising to double that if he did so within a certain time frame... $2m for a product that would then go on to sell millions. And then I read this quote from Coppola's interview on Kottke. I'm going to post it again, for its sheer force and relevance. And the only reason he can actually credibly say this is that it is one of his three rules for film-making to always self-finance his projects. He has figured it out, time and time again. And still now, after 45 years of figuring it out, says the single biggest hurdle to making art is self-confidence. Not a lack of resources, but a struggle with self – with the belief that your idea is valid and that your work is worth doing.

How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?
We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.


Animate Projects to shut down

This is harsh. Animate Projects, whose roster of commissions and commitment to excellence is truly inspirational, will shut down in March due to Arts Council funding cuts. Jacqui Davies, Gary Thomas and Abigail Addison are doing such great work – being closely involved in one of their current projects,  with Hiraki Sawa, has made me realise quite how deep and valuable their contribution is to experimental film right now in the UK.
Hiraki's film is to come out in February. It's very exciting - which makes the idea that it is probably one of the last things Animate does really gutting.

Production still from Hiraki Sawa, Did I?, part  of his project commissioned by Animate Projects – Figment, 2011


Martin John Callanan

Photograph: Martin John Callanan

Martin John Callanan is currently showing a new piece entitled The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers in Extimacy, at the Museu d'Art Modern i Contemporani, Palma.
With rigourous visual austerity the piece consists of a book of telephone numbers lying open on a nondescript table, next to an equally neutral telephone. The phone automatically dials numbers, with the key notes, the dialling tones and subsequent automated messages played out on the handset's speaker.
Callanan describes the content of the book as follows:
The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers is a collection of telephone numbers that are designated never to function. Their purpose is to be reserved indefinitely for use within drama or film productions so that unsuspecting people aren't disturbed by inquisitive viewers. Nation states organise telephone systems with 'numbering plans', identifying geographical areas or service operators with number prefixes and corresponding number ranges. Some plans hold – forever-reserved – ranges of numbers varying from one hundred (some states of the USA) though to one hundred thousand consecutively ordered (Ireland). Explicitly for use in film and television programmes, producers pick from the designated ranges. The chosen digits appear fleetingly in films, or frequently over years of a serial. Enquires were made to the telecommunication regulators of each nation state. All possible numbers for each country with such reserved ranges are ordered and listed in The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers. 

The International Directory of Fictitious Telephone Numbers. That's a title that brings about an instant vortex of images I can't quite see – their speed and variety and the worlds they cause to collide are more numerous than I can count. Borges is there, with his garden of forking paths, as is Auster's country of last things and Kobo Abe's man with a box over his head, the panels of which are covered in scribbles and notes and intractable drawings. At the same time, the fact that these numbers are ringfenced for TV and film use instantly fills every inch of the piece with a thousand filmed moments and the conjured worlds they occurred in – everything from Hawai Five-O and Le Miel et les Abeilles to psychological thrillers, Del Boy and a great part of Christian Marclay's early output. There's always a missed call, an unknown number, the stalker breathing down the line. This mental rush meets a clinical dead-end in the physical appearance of the piece, in its utterly and purposefully emptied aesthetic and the repetition of numbers upon numbers, key notes after key notes, ringtones that cannot waver from their reduced synthetic voice/oscillator palette.

Watch and listen a little bit here:


Rise above

"Learn to say the same thing / Let us hold fast to saying the same thing
Hope all is well with you / I wish the best for you

Never give up/No never give up"

Patti Smith, in an interview with Aida Edemariam in the Guardian last Saturday, said: "If somebody said I'll give you a million dollars, but you have to go against your own grain, you just have to do what I say – it would take me one second. I've never been tortured by something like that. Tormented more about what line to use in a poem, or the right word to use in a sentence. All I've ever wanted, since I was a child, was to do something wonderful."
Edemariam continues: "This is, in part, what gives her her singular presence. Her appearance, of course – the strong, masculine face and honey hair, all crags and straw, the dark toque and oversize coat somewhat incongruous in a boutique hotel in central Paris – but more her sense of wonder, her openness to the possibility of wonder in herself and others. It underlines in her an unexpected warmth and delicacy. The openness has always been a kind of survival strategy too: for all its fierceness – and after she recorded her debut album, Horses, in 1975 and found herself on the path to being a rock star, defiance – her career has been one of reverences, of chasing and collecting icons and relics and friends from whom she could learn the things she needed to proceed. It's a pleasingly unironic predeliction: 'I'm not an ironic person,' she once said. 'I'm not always articulate, and sometimes I'm just crap, but I'm never ironic.'"
I met Hannah Barry yesterday, and was taken aback by her warmth and generosity. Spending endless time with artworks and artists, and helping, are absolutely central to what she does. That was quite a beautiful discovery.


Three Beards

With the beauty and madness of a bat stuck in a big head of hair, the self-labelled East-Anglian experimental folk ensemble, Three Beards, crafts compelling tunes reminiscent of Kusturica soundtracks and John Zorn's take on klezmer. The nine members of the band play a mixture of instruments including banjo, double bass, guitar, violin and drums but also accordeon, toy piano, saw and broom. They shout, growl and warble lyrics in made-up languages, wear green face paint, sparkles and space-men outfits and fill out any stage with unravelling, pulsating energy. Their compositions are tight and chaotic. Their sound is roughly textured, tense and sharp. They'll take you to faraway places – Mediterranean wildernesses, east-European highlands, Greece and Crown Heights – with irony, punkish irreverence and soaring, welling emotion.
You can listen to them here and here


Otomo Yoshihide

Following on from my last post, this is the interview I did with Otomo, after the Filament set on December 8, 2010. He was gracious, gentle and immensely inspiring. I am constantly amazed at how many artists/curators/even historians seem to close down, shut themselves off from new things and challenges, or else find themselves at a loss, after a certain while, unable to process new things. A while ago I read an interview with Rosalind Krauss, who admitted to sometimes not knowing what to do with contemporary practices. Krauss, whose critical writing on the minimal, conceptual and other experimental movements in art in the 60s and 70s has been so crucial. I found it hard to understand, and I say this without judgement. Staying open seems to be one of the hardest things in the world. Even the most remarkable thinkers can come to a standstill, an impasse. And even the most daring artists can find themselves dragging their feet through paralysing mud. I went to see Anne Thérèse de Keersmaeker  + Rosas perform at Sadlers Wells a couple years ago. Early works of hers, like Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, have been hugely influential for me – the rigour and simplicity and strict aesthetic were profound. And yet the new works she showed – after a long lifetime of artistic endeavour – were really flat, floppy, boring.
How do you keep moving forward? How do you maintain that initial strength of purpose and vision and challenge that drives you when you're young and unknown? Talking with someone like Otomo, who has somehow managed this very feat, is like ice-cold water and a blast of arctic air. It both shakes you and pushes you onwards. Someone who, at his age and with his CV, can say that some of the most influential artists in his life are people 2 or 3 times younger than him. An improviser who has played with practically everyone in contemporary improv but has no problem with suddenly singing a folk song and is constantly looking to first surprise himself, going beyond any established vocabulary or boundary. It's not easy to do and he does it with such simple humility and self-effacement. A great artist.

Photograph: Shoko Ishikawa

When did you and Sachiko M start performing as Filament?
In about 1997, 1998.

That’s a long time to be doing one project.
Yeah, but we only perform a few times in a year. 

Do you prepare the performances a lot?
No there’s not much preparation - the events themselves are what we do.

You work on so many different projects and participate in so many different bands... What is the idea behind Filament?
Most of the ideas are from Sachiko. Basically I just follow her. We talked a lot about what we wanted to do with Filament, particularly at the beginning. I really wanted to create a big distance from my past work. So that’s why I tried to forget my musical skills. For me that was fundamental. And then things changed – I can find a lot of things within these tight parametres. For me, what we do isn’t minimal music. There is so much there.

You’ve given yourself a very small set of tools to really explore or dig at.
Yes, it’s something very different than when I play guitar. But at the same time, there’s something very similar too between Filament and typical music. 

What do you think is similar?
If you were to look at what Filament does through a microscope, it would probably look the same as typical music would. But of course it’s also really different. It’s difficult to find the words to explain what makes it similar. I find explaining my work really difficult, even in Japanese. If I play jazz or rock or pop music, I have to think about vocabulary or some kind of music language. In Filament I don’t need to think about vocabulary or musical identity. And that is the biggest difference. For me Filament is more open, and really difficult, because I really have to escape from any kind of music vocabulary. Playing with Filament has been and still is the most difficult point, the biggest challenge. Even though we’ve been playing for over 10 years now, it’s still challenging, because it’s very easy to develop a vocabulary when you play something. After a few minutes, a vocabulary comes up. So I always have to try to escape. 

How do you escape? Do you use different tools?
No tools are not so important. I could probably now play guitar with Filament. It’s not about escaping from typical instruments anymore. It’s more about focusing on time and space and mapping out sound in my brain with real space. Trying not to think of the timeline, even though, of course, we cannot escape from the timeline, but it’s about really always trying to forget it.  I don’t know if it works or not, but I try to not decide with words. It is a physical experience. If I find some kind of word that explains the sound, that immediately brings meaning and that is a problem. I’m always looking to escape from words.

How does this kind of work modify how you work on songs or composition?
It really affects me. It makes me more open when I play typical music. It makes it easier to both stay with melody and at the same time escape from it in other layers. Filament is really fun, and makes working on other music really fun too. I would say Filament is the most extreme side, most influential work in everything I have done. 

That’s saying a lot – you’ve done so many different things! Can you talk to me about your recent exhibition at Art Tower Mito: Ensembles?
That is very different but there is also something very similar to the way Filament works. In Ensembles I invite lots of different people to participate, but I don’t try to control them. Rather, I set up a working space for them and then they do their own thing. That’s the basic idea. And this is a bit simliar to the way we work in Filament. 

You set up a system and step back.
Yeah. In Ensembles I also try to escape from vocabulary too – music and art vocabulary. Sometimes I really don’t like the art world or its manners. 

Yesterday you were telling me how influential Horio Kanta, Umeda Tetsuya and other young artists like them had been for you. You mentioned Kanta’s machines for making a really badly played drum sound…
Yeah, I love that sound. Kanta, Mori Yuko, Umeda Tetsuya – those artists have the same kind of idea as Filament. So for me it’s easy to understand what they do. Their work really pushed me to start doing installations and working in space. 

Watching you perform, I’m struck by how much you wait and listen, in much the same way as those artists do. Expectation plays a vital role in your practice.
When I play with Filament, working with Sachiko, I don’t need a response system, like in free jazz. I can do anything and she can do anything and we can join together. There is no need for a back and forth – it’s not a conversation. And yet, we can still work together. In Ensembles it’s the same idea. We don’t need any kind of typical question and answer. We work in the same place, at the same time and we let things happen. If you do something, if they do something, then something happens. We wait, we don’t need to control. And that’s a lot of fun.

Who are the most influential artists in your life?
Masayuki Takayanagi, the Japanese free jazz musican. And British improviser Derek Bailey. And lots of other artists too of course. Improvisation has been the most influential idea for me. Not only in music: in life, as a means of surviving. 

Do you find you are able to listen and take a lot in or do you sometimes have to close yourself?
Yes of course, sometimes I need to shut everything out. It depends on my physical condition. But most of the time, I find it really easy to open my eyes and ears. Especially in the last 5 years – maybe I’m getting old. I have been working with handicapped children, which has completely changed my ideas. I can’t control them very much, it is chaos, and I just watch and listen to them. I can find a lot of music there. So this has really changed me – maybe even more than Derek Bailey!

Fase, Four Movements to the Music of Steve Reich, Anne Thérèse de Keersmaeker

Maher Shalal Hash Baz

When Maher Shalal Hash Baz and Filament (Otomo Yoshihide and Sachiko M) came to Cafe Oto last month I spoke with them each about sound, what performance means and being expectant – attentive – to the world. The three-day residency was captivating, as any live performances with these artists tends to be.  The interview with Maher's Reiko and Tori Kudo is now up on The Quietus – it was a wonderful thing to talk with them. This is what they said …

Photograph: Shoko Ishikawa

Reiko and Tori Kudo from Maher Shalal Hash Baz recently did a joint three-day residency with Yoshihide Otomo and Sachiko M, who play together as Filament, at Cafe Oto in Dalston, London. With a mixture of solo sets and collaborations, this was a rare opportunity to see four giants of the Japanese underground scene in an intimate, almost private, setting. Sitting on the floor in a candle-lit room, so quiet between songs or sounds that you could hear yourself breathe, it felt like an immense and all-too-fleeting privilege.
Maher Shalal Hash Baz on stage is a disconcerting act – intense and as opaque as a foreign language, and yet candid, open and inclusive at the same time. There are 10 people on stage – Tori on guitar and vocals, Reiko on mouth piano and vocals, then drums, trumpet, second guitar, bass, piano, clarinet and bongos. The songs are composed yet played with such looseness as to leave you wondering whether such music is at all practiceable – rehearsable.... Each musician takes their cue from Tori while staying in their own world. The tuning is disfigured, and the structure of the composition comes entwined in noise. It's like you're allowed to see into Tori's mind, but you don't have the words to understand what's going on.
For Reiko's solo work, Tori plays florid piano with lots of sustain pedal and dissonant, expansive detail welling in and out of Reiko's linear singing, her voice as fragile and constant as she is thin, a striking, indelible presence, in a mid-calf length blue velvet dress with long sleeves, a high, buttoned collar and a platinum blonde wig. She talks a lot before songs about individual people and scenes she's observed, either standing still, or crouching down, folded in three. Her lyrics are simple and sung with minimal vocal movement – the emotion contained and the expression dense.
The final collaborative set started with Tori leaning into the opened baby grand, playing stabs of mouth piano. Reiko started talking, in Japanese, saying that Otomo and Sachiko had arrived from Sweden where it was minus 18, that she had met a few ladies around the corner who made her happy, that she then saw a cat, and would it be ok for her to sing a cat song … I caught up with Tori and Reiko after this final set, both visibly spun out and spent, like they'd given their whole beings.

How do solos sets where you are playing together differ from Maher Shalal Hash Baz - are they part of the same thing? 
Tori Kudo: No, it is different. Maher's songs are my songs but the songs that Reiko sings are her own and I just play piano

How do you work with words? 
Reiko Kudo: I need to wait until the words sink down to the bottom and come up again, otherwise I cannot sing. I think of myself as a stenographer – I record what is going on around me. My lyrics are about myself and about other people, Mrs Weaver, the man from North Korea – I'm recording it all, as a document. I think about it that way.
TK: For Reiko the words come first, but for me it's the melody that comes first, and then lyrics follow. For me the sound and the meaning of words are both important. For Reiko it's different, it's only words.

It seems to me that listening and waiting, being still, as an activity, is important. Your music is so open… 
RK: I live in a quiet place, not in a big city. I listen to the birds singing, the sound of cars passing. Neither of us actually play or listen to music that much, we listen to what is happening around us.
TK: I'm a bit like a coffee filter. Many sounds come in to my body, they percolate down and become sounds in my music. I choose some and not others. Even tonight, while playing, I was listening to what was happening outside, the police sirens – I listen to everything, but Reiko doesn't.

When you perform, do you need to be closed inside yourself or are you aware of what is happening around you? 
TK: In early 2000 there was a lot of interest in environmental sound. We made a CD of field recordings mixed with music. But that was really only my interest. Reiko doesn't think sounds much.
RK: For me it's just words going up and down, Tori has music inside himself.
TK: …but she does improvise things all the time. She doesn't know about her ability to improvise, it's so natural. She responds very quickly. She has a certain flexibility or spontaneity.

Your words are very musical Reiko. This evening the phrases you were saying constantly ended in the syllables "ee-te" – it was like a train or footsteps… 
TK: Yes! She should become a rapper!
RK: If I was younger, maybe I could be a rapper. But I was born earlier, I grew up with punk.

Collaboration seems to be a big part of the way you work.
TK: Often people arrange collaborations for us, and we accept. RK: I haven't played as much as he has, and it's nice to widen myself! Otherwise I'd be staying in my house with my cats. Always with my cats, they don't want me to go away.

Yesterday, Reiko, you quoted a passage from Revelation before a song. Is your faith important in your music?
TK: It's important for her. For me the distance is important. Sometimes it's very close, and sometimes it's very far. My lyrics are always about the distance between society and my melody. For her it's very close. She's very close to the creator, I think. So her lyrics are happily made. They are immediate. There's not that distance. God is her father, very close. I'm like a prodigal son.

Saya and Ueno from Tenniscoats were part of Maher at one point, and you have had many other young musicians pass through – it feels like a community, not just a band ... 
TK: Yes, many young musicians come to Maher and go, like my little birds. I like young people. And I'm always glad to see them standing on their own two feet. Maher isn't really a band. It's like a theater troupe. They are actors and I'm the director – I'm making a film with them. But we – Reiko and I – are a band. Since the late 70s. We always make music together. And it's for life. We will carry on until one of us dies.


Deerhoof - interview with Satomi Matsuzaki

Photograph: The Grizzly Life

The interview I did with Satomi for Dazed Digital is up, here. She was kind and funny and so easy to talk with. Like West Coast sunshine on skype.

Deerhoof, the master craftsmen of gigantic sonic question marks, are about to release their 10th album (on Polyvinyl/ATP Recordings), and their idiosyncratic approach to pretty much everything has meant the tracks are being leaked, one by one, to various websites around the world. The album’s site deerhoofvsevil.com features a Hulk-green world map with bright pink stars showing the date and location for each track’s outing. Thus No One Asked to Dance will be streamed from extravaganza.cl in Santiago, Chile, on Tuesday, January 25th, 2011… There are 12 tracks and the leak will take 12 weeks. This global percussive drip feed has created a sense of almost old-fashioned, pre-digital anticipation – and cemented the band’s reputation as unfettered by, well, anything. Their sound is free and bold – a skittish, hot-wired stylistic explosion, that just makes you want to dance.

How did you come up with this slow-leak idea?
We have been discussing what to do with album leaks for a long time. This time we thought why not just leak it ourselves, from all over the world. It’s going to happen anyway, so let’s make it more exciting!

You’ve often done similar things – like posting up the sheet music for Fresh Born, or the remix site for The Runners Four... Do you like the idea of fans playing with you?
Everyone has such a different understanding of music. We are open to anything, although actually playing music with the audience might be a bit difficult … But we like the idea of encouraging people to get interested. It’s a fun experiment with people we’ve never met.

Was the recording process for this album different than for your previous albums?
This time we really did do everything ourselves, without any sound engineers. Also, we all started playing drums. We wanted to focus on interesting rhythms – we used lots of percussion and samples. We mixed the songs on the car stereo while on tour.

Which songs are your favourites?
I like Behold a Marvel in the Darkness – we’ve been playing it on tour and I feel like I have a deeper understanding of it. I also like Qui Dorm, Només Somia. John wrote it and I like the medium tempo, and the climax. The guitar playing is clicky, twinkly, very rhythmic. I sing in Catalan – a friend of mine offered once to help me translate lyrics into Catalan. And I was like, well, I’ve never sung in Spanish before.

Do you enjoy collaboration?
At the moment Greg lives in New York, I live in Tokyo, Ed lives in Portland, Oregon and John lives in Alburquerque, New Mexico and we all have different side projects. Coming back to Deerhoof, everyone seems even more open-minded.

Do you have images or stories in your head when you’re writing lyrics?
I like to stick to simple, direct ideas, the first thing that comes to my mind. I like children’s books, like the Moomins – things that are very positive and happy but also have a dark side.

Are there artists or film-makers you find inspiring?
It’s hard to pick one film because I like so many! It all comes in a big ball and spins in my mind, and you know how when you are about to die, all of your memories come rushing through your head? – I sometimes get that feeling and the images inspire me to make music. It’s really dream-like. I recently saw a Rebecca Horn exhibition in Tokyo. There was this huge piano hanging from the ceiling, which falls apart, making a huge, dissonant sound – a better surprise than a haunted house!

Photograph: Sarah Cass


Goings on #3

I'll be at Cafe Oto with Jean-Daniel Hégé (Accroche Note, Hégé Trio), Ute Kanngiesser, Guillaume Viltard (Treehouse) and Grundik Kasyansky on January 24.
I've played with Jean-Daniel and Ute before and both have an intense, and intensely beautiful way of playing – delicate, fierce, highly skilful but totally engaging …
I have heard a lot about Grundik and Guillaume, and am looking forward to whatever will happen.
It'll be a good night.
Come on down...

Maher Shalal Hash Baz X Filament

A piece I did on Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Sachiko M and Otomo Yoshihide for Frieze is up, here. This is what I said …

Mid-December saw a three-night residency at Café Oto in East London for several giants of the Japanese experimental scene: Reiko and Tori Kudo, of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and Yoshihide Otomo and Sachiko M, who play together as Filament. The Dalston venue’s Keiko and Hamish Dunbar, who regularly curate collaborations, told me that, ‘Although these two couples are kind of opposites, we thought there might be an overlap point in their approaches to sound.’

Stephen McRobbie (of Glasgow band The Pastels) once called Maher’s music life-changing – ‘hopeful, original, unyielding.’ Watching them on stage is disconcerting: the ten musicians enjoy themselves, the audience often laughs and, though Tori is clearly the beating heart and the speeding mind of the operation, he smiles and jumps without a hint of pretension. Maher started in Tokyo in the 1980s, with many musicians, including Tenniscoats’ Saya and Ueno, passing through. ‘I like to play with young people,’ says Tori. ‘And I’m always glad to see them standing on their own two feet. Maher isn’t really a band. It’s like a theatre troupe. They are actors and I’m the director.’ At Café Oto, Tori started off a song by humming and counting out an off-kilter beat with handclaps. He ended another by suddenly turning around, waving his hands and shouting at everyone to stop. The tune came to a stuttering halt. Tori is a pierrot, a clown, turning songmaking on its head and causing you to see it again, as for the first time.

The second night saw each artist do a solo set. First up, Tori played florid piano to Reiko’s linear singing. She thinks of herself as a stenographer, recording what happens around her. ‘I wait until the words sink down to the bottom and come up again. Only then can I sing. Tori has music inside him, I only have words going up and down.’ During her last song, Otomo joined in. Hearing his piercing notes, she smiled broadly then crouched, a tiny folded figure fully occupying this wide space between two fierce entities. It was a beautiful moment.

Sachiko M was mesmerizing. She triggered pure tones with sine-wave generators; her set was 14 minutes of chilling austerity. She sat still, her hands moving with the precision and elegance of a 50s typist. She rarely played more than two sounds at once and these single elements deposited aural afterimages. They hit you in exactly the same way, time and time again, so many variations on the relentless humming of a device on standby. Otomo started his set with a folksong, his guitar and amp placed next to an up-turned snare drum with an EBow creating a sustained rattling. Feedback arcs of the guitar were thickened, as booming, jagged notes countered the gently sung phrases. Full and thin, it was startling, and it ended with a timid thank you.

The final collaborative set started with Tori leaning into an opened baby grand, playing stabs of mouth piano as Otomo scratched out rhythms on a snare. Sachiko sat in the middle, calm and tense. Reiko started talking about Otomo and Sachiko arriving from Sweden where it was minus 18 and the ladies around the corner who made her happy, then a cat, and would it be OK to sing a cat song. This spoken-word piece comprised rhythmic phrases that repeatedly ended with ‘ee-te’. Afterwards Tori told me: ‘She doesn’t know about her ability to improvise. She should be a rapper!’ While Tori has played with Otomo and Sachiko M before, this was the first time for Reiko to meet them. ‘It’s nice to widen myself,’ she says. 

On the last night, Filament premiered a new work. Founded in Tokyo in the late ‘90s, and following mostly Sachiko’s lead, the duo is a constant challenge to Otomo to remain open, free of vocabulary: ‘It’s not about particular tools, but rather about escaping from meaning, from words, and making a sound map in my brain with the real space.’ Sachiko and Otomo sat back to back, with four speakers on stands facing outwards. She used a number of generators, he a modified turntable. Although your experience of the piece changed as you move around, few did – silence and minutiae are as integral as loudness. Every tiny movement was audible. The set was exactly 70 minutes of sonic investigation and insistence, vast distances covered despite the restricted instruments the two have at hand. After the show, Otomo told me that Filament is the most extreme side, ‘the most influential work in everything I have done,’ comparing it with his current exhibition Ensembles 2010 at Art Tower Mito in Ibaraki. Both are about a working space in which each collaborator does their own thing. ‘We wait, we don’t need to control.’

Yoshihide Otomo's exhibition, Ensembles 2010, is at Art Tower Mito until January 16, arttowermito.or.jp
Maher Shalal Hash Baz: myspace.com/decablisty
Yoshihide Otomo: japanimprov.com/yotomo
Cafe Oto: cafeoto.co.uk



Copyright All rights reserved duyanpili's flickr stream

Ai Weiwei's brand new Shanghai studio, commissioned by the government, was demolished on Tuesday, by the government. This piece by Evan Osnos in the New Yorker today is really good. Ai comes across as someone rock hard, undaunted but never unconcerned – he is not practicing in some kind of intellectual white cube vacuum, removed from his political and social context. At the same time, his keen political awareness and activism isn't watering down his art. It is all art. And the important thing is to keep moving.
"Ai was eventually released from house arrest, and he said he was told the demolition in Shanghai would begin sometime after Chinese New Year, which falls on February 3rd this year. Yesterday, however, he received another call, this time from a neighbor in Shanghai; the demolition had begun without warning. He hopped a plane, and by the time he arrived, the artist in him—he is known, after all, for his gleeful destruction of ancient urns—couldn’t help but be impressed by the speed of the destruction. “They had a very professional demolition team. Two sides, each side had four machines, big machines tearing it down and breaking it. I watched until night came.” He sent photos and videos out over the Web.
“I thought, huh, the destruction of it has already made it art. Art exists in different forms. What is art? Should we go back to the age of only sculpture? At least a hundred thousand people knew this news over the Internet. They watched it in front of their eyes.” […]
When we spoke by phone at midnight Wednesday, he was already back in Beijing. “It all goes down so fast. There’s no reason to stay,” he said, his tone alert and directed, rather than aggrieved. “Everything is in the past. And we have to look forward,” he added, sounding like a marathoner with miles left to run."


In the wind all day yesterday

I'm a bit obsessed with Zach Hill's Face Tat at the moment and both his and Carson McWhirter's sound. Same warmth and pathos and wrecked soul as John Frusciante, same silent intensity in a iridescent shaft of blinding noise as Lightening Bolt.



This week's New Yorker features a profile by Sasha Frere Jones of Marnie Stern. To me SFJ is one of the best writers out there, and each piece is immensely satisfyingly readable. He's funny, he's incisive in his views, he can describe music like few others and he's concise. I was excited to hear his take on Marnie Stern and he does make an interesting point, saying "Stern’s recorded music is largely a successful duet with Hill; without him, this level of excitement would be very hard to maintain." While that gig was miserable disappointment (and Hill wasn't there), 'Marnie Stern' is an explosive album, and I just can't stop listening to it. And no matter how many times I do, I still feel jolted and stung with each listen – it succeeds in being systematically astonishing. SFJ says further on: "Stern’s claustrophobia is the kind that channels—there isn’t a slack moment on this album. “Gimme” is an example of how magnificent she can make her fidgety energy." Gimme, For Ash, Cinco de Mayo, Transparency is the New Mystery, full-on avalanches. Get this album.


Totoro Totoro

Miyazaki Sensei otanjyoubi omedetou gozaimasu!

Studio Ghibli's Hayao Miyazaki turns 70 today. Steini have compiled a good list of stills from their favourite Miyazaki movies. My favourite is Totoro but I never tire of any of them. The rat and the buzzing insect that Sen carries to Yubaba's twin sister in Spirited Away, and the little soot creatures that carry the coal, Kiki's black cat, the rolling white forest creatures in Mononoke, the kurokuro suke soot creatures and the cat-bus in Totoro, Sophie's little helper kid who dresses up like a mini old man in Howl... all too good.

Thank you Miyazaki Sensei.