As a short British post-punk film noir, Johnny Yesno is in a category all on its own.
Filmed in and around Manchester and Sheffield, and released in 1983, the film disappeared almost immediately and has remained off the radar ever since, the only evidence of its actual existence being Cabaret Voltaire's original soundtrack album.
CV were also responsible for issuing the now ultra-rare VHS of the film, back in 83, on their short lived video label, Doublevision.
But now news breaks that Mute Films are finally due to issue Johnny Yesno on DVD this summer, as part of a box set that will also include additional footage, a new edition of that original soundtrack album, plus notes by author and Wire contributor Ken Hollings (who introduced a rare screening of the film in April 2010 at the Sensoria festival in Sheffield).
The film was directed by Peter Care, who would go on to make videos for Depeche Mode, REM and Bruce Springsteen, as well as oversee a pair of workout tapes fronted by Cindy Crawford (huh?) and film an episode of the Gothic-lite US TV series Six Feet Under. In 2002 Care broke into the Hollywood big time by directing Jodie Foster in the innocuous 'black comedy' The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys.
But Johnny Yesno is something else again, a post-punk morality tale, equal parts Ballard and Burroughs (with trace elements of the Northern post-Industrial kitchen sink realism of Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz), that spirals cryptically through some s(l)ick set pieces full of deviant sex routines and much junkie business. The titles of the cues on the soundtrack album give an idea of the mood of dread paranoia: “Hallucination Sequence”, “DTs", "Cold Turkey”. And sure enough, all the classic noir tropes are present and correct: the psychotically conflicted male protagonist; the catalytic femme fatale; an urban mise en scène of rain-soaked, neon-lit nightscapes (actually, Manchester city centre) and blank interiors (hotel rooms, bars, nightclubs).
Some of this can be glimpsed in a four minute redux mix of the film that was posted on YouTube last October but which to date has racked up less than 300 views.
The redux features a new mix by CV's Richard H Kirk and is a reminder that, in “Taxi Music” and its dub, the original soundtrack contained two of CV’s best moments, a brace of tense urban electro-mantras that are the real night-drive-thru-Babylon deal.
The Wire sez: check it out.
It's not surprising that there's relatively few films made about pirate radio, when being collared with illegal broadcasting equipment or running a station can land you in jail, with an unlimited fine, or, in the infamous case of DJ Slimzee, receiving an ASBO banning you from the upper floors of buildings in London. Drowned City, a documentary by UK filmmaker Faith Millin that's been gestating over the past year or so, is an attempt to rectify that situation. From the title I was expecting some apocalyptic, Ballardian essay film – the name, it turns out, comes from a track by Dark Sky – but viewing a selection of rough cuts suggests the opposite. It's a personal, intimate film dealing with those who risk their livelihoods (and lives) keeping the pirates on air. Some of the stories are familiar from urban myth or recycled anecdotes – driving around for places to put aerials, shinning up pylons – but this is one of the first times the pirates speak for themselves, albeit often with hooded faces and under the cover of darkness.
The narrative of Drowned City is the familiar one of people doing it for the love of the music, but it's no less emotionally engaging for that. One pirate recalls picking up secondhand broadcast equipment and messing around with it with mates in the back garden, culling what he needed to know from YouTube and the net. There's footage of pirates shinning up electricity pylons overlooking London and the surrounding counties and accessing power for transmitters by breaking into electricity substations (surely cast iron proof that they're not doing it for self-interest).
Of more direct political import are accounts of pirates getting placed on lengthy periods of bail after arrest, and having their partners questioned for supposedly supporting their activities. From these anecdotes, the behaviour of Ofcom, the quango that regulates radio and telecommunications in the UK, seems odd – they expend serious money and police resources to keep small pirates off the air, with relatively little in the way of explanation. "They disrupt the vital communications of the safety of life services, particularly air traffic control," runs one rather shaky-sounding argument on the Ofcom website – surely air traffic control doesn't rely on the FM band?
The film is apparently still evolving as more figures from the pirate underworld are drawn into the film; as yet all that exists in the public domain are some relatively brief teasers, essentially just standard trailers for the forthcoming film. But judging by the work in progress, Drowned City could turn out to be an important document. The intimate conversations with the pirates show you some of the toil, the dirt under the fingernails, and the scars of those who struggle to keep pirates on the air. "They take from, rather than contribute to, the communities they claim to serve," states the Ofcom website. Drowned City looks like it could offer a positive counter to that argument.
Drowned City teasers:
"Sound itself is queer." I was struck by this quote from Drew Daniel of Matmos while flicking through a video of a Q&A I did with them at Mutek last year (the Mutek people have kindly just put it online, a series of four interviews from the 2010 edition that they're putting up in the run up to this year's event). Queerness is what exceeds values and structures, he explained. So if sound qua sound exists outside language and and the usual hierarchies of taste, then is sound queer?
While Drew Daniel was riffing on this idea (22 minutes into the interview) I was in the presenter's chair with one half of my brain pre-occupied with thinking of the next question to throw back at him. But nearly a year on it resonated with ideas that have been rattling around my head in the meantime. Right now I happen, oddly enough, to be listening to disco genius Patrick Cowley's "Menergy". Disco was able to evoke desire precisely because it could be so direct and, hey, crude. From pop to metal to rave to noise, music can be so complex, chaotic and endlessly fascinating because in formal terms it is so cognitively simple and sensorially direct compared to other artforms. I'm not well-placed to comment on the idea of queerness in sound – check the clip for Drew's more eloquent thoughts – but this kind of thinking, exploring how way sound escapes objective analysis and exists outside most conceptual frameworks, at least gets us a little closer to why music has such power.
I'm saddened and shocked to hear of the sudden death of original UK mic-man David Emmanuel, aka Smiley Culture, after a police raid at his house. I'm not going to add much to the other tributes elsewhere, but I'll gently point you in the direction of an excellent mix exploring the fast-chat era of the UK reggae deejays, of which Smiley was a crucial part. The Lyric Maker mix by John Eden (of the Uncarved blog) and Paul Meme (Grievous Angel) is a great introduction and, most importantly, a crucial selection of Cockney and JA chatters.
Still in the electro zone following Dave Tompkins's The Wire salon (see The Mire passim), I find myself slipping through wormholes of sample sources, song theft and shout-out references. Today in the office we're booming Zapp & Roger's "So Ruff, So Tuff":
Which sends me back to a personal favourite, Ronnie Hudson And The Street People's "West Coast Poplock", which borrows a chunk of Zapp, and adds the iconic lyric "California knows how to party":
Documentary evidence of real-life poplocking to Ronnie H can be found here:
The Hudson lyric was later, of course, borrowed by 2pac's "California Love", which featured Zapp's Roger Troutman:
Which melded it with the sample from Joe Cocker's incredible track "Woman To Woman":
A track which itself had been sampled by the Ultramagnetic MC's late 80s track "Funky":
In a neat reversal of the usual magpie sample theft of hiphop, Zapp & Roger did their own version of "California Love" later:
This much I knew already – funnily enough from the soundtrack to the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas computer game (whoever compiles those soundtracks has got a seriously great record collection). But what I didn't know till now, thanks to a bit of googling, was that "West Coast Poplock" itself borrowed it's main riff from Booker T And The MG's "Boot Leg":
And that track has its own hiphop history, having been borrowed by Cypress Hill:
With this dense web of connections, moving both back and forth along the timeline, "West Coast Poplock" seems something like the keystone of hiphop, a crucial multi-way node in rap history. But perhaps out there is the another track which has even more points of connection – the Higgs boson of hiphop, connecting everything to everything:
Whatever it is, my guess is that DJ Funktual in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has already found it. His long running series of ten-minute shows on YouTube breaking down who-sampled-what are compulsive viewing, and take you as close to the sheer time-shifting delight of finding these connections as anything out there:
Tags: 2pac | Booker T And The MGs | Cypress Hill | Dave Tompkins | DJ Funktual | Joe Cocker | Multimedia | Roger Troutman | Ronnie Hudson | Think pieces | Ultramagnetic MCs | Uncategorized | video | Zapp
The closing event of Off The Page this coming Sunday promises a collaborative and performative lecture by Claudia Molitor, Sarah Nicholls and Jennfier Walshe that will “muse on radical (or irreverent) modes of music notation”. What form this event will actually take is as elusive and mysterious as all the projects initiated by these mercurial composer-performers, who between them incorporate elements of film, theatre and multimedia into aesthetic strategies that playfully subvert the furrowed-brow, testosterone-heavy atmospheres of the kind of 'New Music' scenes they all emerge from.
When I asked Claudia for some inside information on her role in the scheme of the thing, she sent me the following photographs.
They look a little like images of hennaed hands, but with Persian tracery replaced by notes on staves. The mail from Claudia that accompanied the photos referenced Heidegger's theory of zuhanden (which translates from the German as 'hands-on'), using it to emphasise her highly tactile approach to the actual material process of composition: “Zuhanden? is a series of images that engages with my ‘visceral’ relationship to notation... In Zuhanden? the focus is on the physical reality of the act of notating and its transmission onto paper by hand."
How will such a seemingly prosaic notion be combined with Jennifer Walshe's multiple personas (her Miller Corp website is a twilight zone of alt.realities and shifting identities) or Sarah Nicholls's 'inside out' pianos?
Who knows? But from where I'm sitting it has all the makings for a fascinating way to (sp)end a Sunday afternoon.
I've been alarmed recently to see how Grime's history is fading away, at least in the digital domain. Aficionados are probably familiar with how some of the most important tracks never even got a release. "Headquarters" by Essentials, the original version of their track "State Your Name", is a paradigm case, a posse cut Grime track where each MC would state their name and location before spitting 16 bars of lyrics – when time came to release the track commercially, the track's big name MCs such as Kano and Crazy Titch mysteriously disappeared. Perhaps it was contractual obligations, but either way, commercial releases seemed just an echo of the real music.
In retrospect it's easy to see why - some tracks were just CD-Rs sent to DJs to play on air, or in the case of Essentials, thrown into the crowd at shows. This stuff circulated quick, but old tracks would get left on old harddrives, or copied over, etc etc. But it illustrates an uncomfortable paradox: that this most digital-savvy of musics could get cut and copied until it was unrecognisable from what really happened.
(some cases in point: you can hardly find any tracks online by Essentials, although you can check out "Headquarters" via a tape rip; the amazing "Sidewinder" by Wiley, Flo Dan, God's Gift, Trim and many others is available to watch right now, but half the time I look for it it ain't there; and one which really tears at my heart is that Wiley's "Dylan's On A Hype Ting", an extraordinary response track to Dizzee Rascal, can't be heard anywhere)
Anyway, anyway: the point of this post is to introduce the excellent Grime Historian YouTube channel, which while it isn't remotely exhaustive, at least goes some way to plugging some of the gaps in Grime's history which have been punched in the last few years. There's over 200 tracks on there thus far, and it's been worth it for me simply to check out many long-cherished tracks by Ears, one of the best Grime MCs of the mid-2000s who somehow never really quite broke through and whose work seems to have disappeared into the ether. How can you resist a track called "Verb And Pronoun Boy"? I certainly can't. Ears was known for a tongue-twisting, syllable-mangling vocal style which somehow managed to always sound precise and elegant, and it's put to good effect on "Backwards Riddim", where he neatly tip-toes around a reversed version of Dexplicit's "Forward" rhythm. Finally, you can check out a version of Ears's "Fine Fine" – this is just a snippet, but this track is absolutely devastating, a sing-song delivery which darts in and out of the most futuristic body-popping beat that I'd ever heard, at least back in 2005. Back to the future...
Here's the full transcript, plus links and film clips, of the interview with the Catalan audio-visual artist Carlos Casas that forms the basis for the Cross Platform article on Carlos in the new June issue of The Wire.
Can you say something about the relationship between recorded sound and filmed image in your work, how they work together, inform or influence each other, or contradict.
Actually, sound is a direct extension of the film. I have started to develop in my last three films a much more organic way of working with sound and soundtrack. All sounds that appear in the film are tightly related to the film, the subject I am filming or the place. All the layers of information float in the soundtrack as an integral part of it, it provides the z axis, the third dimension, so to speak, it enhances the image, it is the sound that provides and helps the experience. Sorry if I sound a bit transcendental, I am letting the thoughts flow now. The image continues in the sound. I am not interested in 1+1, it has to be an extension, it has to carry on with the image.
To provide an example, when I work I capture what I call the seven layers of the soundscape, which for me consist of:
1: Natural sounds or ambient sounds of
that particular scene (first circle)
2: Wider context sounds, other similar locations (second circle)
3: Interviews, voices of the people.
4: Radio frequencies from AM to FM to SW where you can find more commercial and amateur radio; SW you will find the military and other government institutions and machinery etc (just to simplify) manmade phenomena
5: Radio frequencies, VLF; normally in the VLF you find more natural phenomena
6: Traditional music, or music that is related to the place or people, nature phenomena
7: Archive sounds or archetypal sound research. Old sources, old CDs or films related to the region or context (the past)
All this helps me to compose the soundtrack of the films, the extended ether that populates the films, and Fieldworks. In the Fieldworks the use is sometimes more radical or selective, in the film soundtracks it is related to the need of the scene or moment. In the End Trilogy and specially in Patagonia and Siberia I worked with Sebastian Escofet, an Argentinean musician. He is great, he can somehow understood and push to the extremes all this mixing, all these sources I was giving him and articulate them as harmonics, render them as music. With Sebastian I presented live the film Tundra which we premiered in Netmage and then in Sónar, and later Multiplicidade in Brazil. Tundra is a 40 min film with a special soundtrack played live, with 24 channels of sound, 12 of field recordings provided and mixed by me and the rest remixed and reprocessed live by Sebastian, recreating the sounds and mixing all these layers into one music. Of course the sound changes everywhere we present it.
For me it is getting more important to be able to present my work live as much as I can. I don't care whether it is a gallery, festival space, or conference as long as I manage to get the maximum resources to make the project more interesting, more true to the experience I want to portray. Of course this will change hopefully, time to time. In June I will present in Hangar Biccoca, a big art space in Milano, a big installation version of the work around the Trilogy. And I hope this will be the first time that I manage a certain budget and a certain space.
Archive Works are a series of work also related to audio-visual matter as entity. I am manipulating the film as material, creating what I call folded films, which presents films folded to themselves in order to present through layering the inner structure and also the relation between narratives and climax of the films. The soundtrack of the films is key to create and then the visuals leave a trace, like a score of the music, and vice versa. But of course it is a clue for me to understand that this provides a limitation, and also it is within that limitation that I start feeling that is interesting, like limiting your source of sampling material. Of course it is a beginning and new avenues are already appearing in the work…
What is the appeal of filming in the kind extreme environments you went into for the End Trilogy? Is it to document ways of life that are dying out? To counter the gravitational pull of urban centres? Are they hymns to the resilience of human beings, their ability to colonise even the most inhospitable places? What do you hope we can learn from these studies?
I think that looking for these places come out of the fascination I have for distant lands, for the unknown, in a very infantile way, exploration in a wider sense, and also out of the necessity of transporting myself to places I can not relate to physically, places that take me out of myself. My own experience of the place is the real part of the work; it is important that this is transmitted in the film somehow. I have to share a small piece of existence with somebody that gave me a very valuable thing, I believe. I am going to go far by saying that is a way to time travel, going places that are stripped bare to the essentials, that are two weeks away from any possible departure; that feeling of isolation is basic and key. I call this the periphery of civilization, not in the negative and colonial point of view but in the sense of externality. I want to believe in issues that are not so present - as you say I want to document those moments, those instants before they disappear, that is the documentary dimension of the work, then comes the cinematic, which we can speak about later if you wish. But as you say they are hymns, not so much about the coloniser impulse in terms of plague, but to the resilience, a certain endurance of the human spirit, which I found inspiring and necessary in order to understand our progress and its ways. I believe it can be as a ghost appearing to ourselves. As always I have a very pretentious objective, and it is on you to judge whether I achieve it or not, and it is to provide the spectator with a certain enlightenment, a certain truth, not in political terms or in human rights, or social issues that should come as a second reading if you want to, but in a much more ancestral and spiritual sense. Without trying to sound pretentious, the films can be a sort of mirror, canal, window, to have an experience, in a way to go back to a certain enhanced experience of the cinematic that we have lost in our abused exposure to media, which in part I am also both consumer and responsible. And this brings me to the next question…
By going into these environments and filming the remote communities that live there, do you inevitably draw them into the always-connected global mediascape in which we are all surveyed all the time? Do you in effect invade their isolation and privacy?
I believe so, but also I hope to believe that my participation in that process is somehow participative, even more that it will help somehow for a better understanding of things, of ourselves. I would hope my work would have a meaning and that all the effort of doing the work will bring a certain benefit to those involved, and the viewers, the subjects and myself.
Of course there is always an intromission when you work with people, and sometimes it is hard to accept it, as a cruel exchange, as an act of colonialism, sometimes you feel invasive, you are somehow filming using them, abusing these people for something. But at the end I want to believe their image and what is captured by me will be a celebration, an homage, that it will be honestly put through. Somehow some cultures are reticent about having themselves on film, photographed, they speak about soul theft. I always say that it is not a theft, that it is a blessing, a present, a resurrection, it is somehow an antidote a medicine, for future generations and for ourselves today… wuuhhhhh!!! Stop me. Next question…
What is the idea behind the use of radio broadcasts on the soundtracks? Are these the main forms of communication between these isolated places and the wider world?
The use of radio frequencies came as an accident. I was using the radio to listen to some stories that were happening between isolated people in Patagonia, that also was our only way of communication, the telephone somehow. One day I started to film with the radio as a sound source, no natural sound only the radio connected to the camera. I was filming Pool, what I considerer my first Fieldwork, and the pool itself was acting as the antenna as an enhancer of the signals that were populating that place. That experience was key. I understood that radio waves inhabit the atmosphere as much as other sounds, they are an integral part, carriers of information, in a hauntological way somehow, to put it as David Toop says. Of course those sounds would have not mean so much to me if I would have not been fascinated by the work of Joe Banks and of course all the Touch approach to sound somehow.
What is fascinating is that radio frequencies in those isolated places are amazingly rich, due to the military, due to the late reflection of SW signals, and of course due to the position in the geographical sense and isolation. Of course there is a myth that accompanies all these theories about being able to listen to natural phenomena and atmospheric reactions in VLF frequencies. I am not a scientist, that is why that doesn’t worry me, I believe in it.
For instance, in Borealis, a Fieldwork I shot in the tundra in Siberia, I recorded an aurora borealis with very low VLF signs, the sound was so beautiful and so synaesthetic on that special moment that it was a revelation, that responded in my mind to what I was seeing, whether that was the sound of an aurora borealis or not it is not important, for me it was, it was at that instant. That is what is magical about using radio frequencies, there is a certain ghostly and ethereal relation with the image. Somehow it is directly connected, sometimes it is magic…
Like in Smoke, another Fieldwork I filmed in Patagonia, where suddenly an AM programme started to transmit a tango classic at 4AM that was somehow filling the atmosphere too, in amazing ways. Of course I felt it so close to the image I was filming that it was somehow directing it, which brings me back to my collaboration with Phill Niblock that I will speak about later…
Is all this work about the sense of loneliness and alienation that can emerge, perversely, in an era in which we are all connected all of the time?
It is interesting that you speak about alienation because it is probably the key to understand both ends of the equation. Somehow it is a certain necessity to this alienation in order to activate something again, to understand some things we have lost, some things past, forgotten, and also a certain alienation in terms of subject, meaning that also because that extreme connectionness of the present, that this work is relevant. It alienates the spectator...
The pace of the films is slow and deliberate. Is this to give a sense of the pace of life in these places, in contradiction to the pace of life in cities, say?
The pace of the film is totally related to the location, to the dimension of the place itself, and it is dictated by my experience there, most importantly to the viewing experience itself, the necessity of shaking the chair, the normal editing structure or the semantics of the visual language. So it is somehow a way to transform, to break with these time scales we have established within ourselves, it is again a way to break with the alienation of the visual experience codes. It is not possible to let people focus on something if you don't provide the time to focus, and also somehow it is like putting up the volume, it enhances the experience. Of course sometimes some can say it is boring! That is the risk! Especially if you relate to the frame rate of Holywood films, and then it means that the film has failed for that person. But I think in certain occasions when the spectator manages to enter the film somehow it will be rewarded for his time and dedication. I'd like to hope so.
What is the link between Afterwords and the End Trilogy? Does it represent a move from an existential to an actual study of isolation and aloneness?
It is nice that you bring back Afterwords since nobody has ever related them, and somehow I believe they are very related, in terms of the actual experience of filming and also in the subject matters. When we shot Afterwords we didn’t know where we were going. Finally it became a film dedicated to the last man on earth. The editing helped provide that reading, and somehow the issues of desolation, alienation, abandonees, solitude, scarcity appear again in the Trilogy but somehow in a much more pragmatic and documentary way.
Regarding the films on the Archive Works: Cemetery DVD, what is the significance of switching your attention from the human world to the animal kingdom, from social anthropology to zoology? In fact, is that how you see it?
Archive works are a series of experiments I do before starting any of my films. It is a way to experiment, to uncover or analyse existent material, classic or contemporary, in order to come out with filmic and sound solutions for the film. The cemetery archive works are related to the research process I am doing on a future film on a cemetery of elephants. As always with the archive works I work with archive existing material, somehow the historic and visual background of the theme I am working on. Part of the research is actually experimenting with archive film material as visual and sound matter, in this case with early classic adventure films and documentaries (that relate to discovery, mysteries of the jungle, mystics of the journey to the unknown, Shangri-La, virgin lands etc, which are themes developed in the film), these classic adventure films of the beginning of the century were in part my focus and also the victims of the vivisection. In the archive works I try to develop experiments that would allow myself first to understand how these films are constructed and also how these codes, these languages and visual experiences build in relation to these stories and these codes, so to say the imaginary that exists. I work somehow with the imprint, with the echoes we have in our mind. I am manipulating the film as material, folding it, mixing, and reediting, mixing its sound and image in a layering way and mixing it out of its specifics, as a way to uncover its basic structures and construction process, using video editing procedures to develop the sound and vice versa. All the sound you hear is actually a manipulation of the soundtrack as well; the music is used both as an editing parameter and also a result of the editing of the image. It is like using the image as a sort of blind score to develop the music (a sort of film related UPIC derivative composition), and in some parts it is the other way around, using the sound to cut the image. All these experiments will hopefully lead to develop the second part of the film. The first part will be the trip of the elephant and his caretaker till the dying grounds, and the third is still to develop.
Somehow the Trilogy was dealing with very anthropological issues, and I feel that I know with this new film I will be dealing with a bit more complex issue related to the imaginary of death. But also again, and now I am thinking while writing, maybe even a historic vision of this alienation we have been speaking about, a bit as if the cemetery was somehow this lost world, this memory we all have of the world as an unexhausted land, which again for me represents the reason why somehow we are heading into a dark period of history, that started somehow the day the map filled its last white spot.
In the films, the effects you use render the animals, the subjects, as gaseous traces, as if they are ghosting through these jungle landscapes. Is that an interpretation that you recognise?
In this case of course most of the experiments were related to elephants and jungle scenes, but also were related somehow to research in the idea of death, and ghostly imaging. I was experimenting how these presences could be somehow a sort of spirits. That somehow came by the research I was doing both in the sound and more on the literary sources about Buddhism and Hindu interpretation of death. Of course all these experiments were related to a second part of the film that will be a sort of black hole in the film and that will include somehow the results and intuitions I've developed with these archive works.
To add something that comes to my mind, and that I think is relevant to talk in relation to the cemetery project, also in terms of with whom I want to work. For this film I am researching with some material Cornell University provided me with, some of the sound research they have been developing on the means of communication of elephants, a research that was revolutionised by Kathy Payne, when she discovered that elephants use infrasound to communicate, this research that allows us to understand how they communicate through long distances, and also through vibrations produced in the floor, they transmit any changes in the structure of the matriarch and the herd. These field recordings are amazingly inspiring and also provide clues to the structure of the future film.
I presented all this research in Bologna in Netmage this year along with the sonic and music research I am doing in parallel. Ariel Guzik, a Mexican artist researcher and iridologist I met in Mexico, will also participate on the research, to devise the machine to be able to capture all the sound, also Sebastian Escofet is creating a new composition with a comprehensive collection of Classical Western Requiems. Plus a photographical research of the project that was used somehow as the image of the festival. I think it is important to have a wider image of the research. As I told you previously, the archive works are the notes I take, like previous notes, that will help for the development of the project. It is the first time this year that I am showing them in public... I hope all that information doesn’t overwhelm you. It is just as a way for me to clear up also… Did you receive the catalogue of the Netmage festival?
Von Archive has released work by Noise artists such as Prurient, John Wiese. Could you explain the appeal of the music made by these artists? And how it relates to your film work?
Let me introduce Von… The works that we are trying to publish with Von come out of the encounter of Nico Vascellari and myself in terms of taste, that means that somehow it is our joint venture. Saying that, we wanted it to be a sort of laboratory, where all the artists released or involved are people with whom we work or are somehow the interest of both of us. Somehow Von was born out of the conviction and the will to publish artists that are experimenting with sound and image, or also confronting, challenging together a visual artist with a musician, which is something that we both have been doing somehow in our careers, me working with Phill Niblock, Sebastian Escofet, etc and Nico working with John Wiese, Stephen O'Malley, etc. Our first issue VON000 wanted somehow to comment on that, as a sort of manifesto - we sort of mix together both our key influences in a sort of abstract mantle. It was a radical but sincere instalment that somehow gave us the clue and editorial line to follow in the next releases.
Of course we are not interested in cultivating any scene, or style like Noise or electronica or any other type. But it is true that some of the artists with whom we have worked so far somehow have a relation to a similar way of working, of approaching sound and image. We are planning to publish in the coming months a DVD release of John Duncan. Also we are hoping to release a DVD by Bruce McClure, Aaron Dilloway, etc, people who are already working with sound and vision. There is no limitation with Von. We also are planning the release of other artists that work with sound or musicians that work with images trying to push and inspire new avenues for that. We certainly don't want to be related to any scene.
Each artist is related to a personal history, for instance the collaboration with Prurient. When I was shooting Tundra in Siberia, I did a trip on a Vezdekhod tank that became a very strong sonic experience for me. During that tank trip that lasted three days I was exposed to the tank noise that was somehow an extreme auditory endurance test - the sound of the tank was very, very loud and the resonance of the sound in the cabin was even stronger. I didn’t have special headphones, so I started using my working headphones, and of course I was listening to music. Somehow the only music I could listen was Merzbow Bloody Sea, Minazo; Prurient Black Vase and I think some Pan Sonic mix track, and some other records I had selected on the iPod as part of my audio research for the project, music that was using frequencies higher than the ones produced by the tank. Back in 2007 I had presented in Moscow in a festival called Abbracadabra a live version of Vezdekhod that was my interpretation of that experience in the tank, with a double screen projection and a soundtrack mixed live by me with all the sound recordings I did in the tundra. Later on when I met Prurient in Bologna and I told him the experience, the collaboration became evident and I asked him to rework the soundtrack. So I send Dominick [Fernow aka Prurient] all the field recordings I did in the tank, to be able to work from them, and the rest came about… It was an experiment to try to represent sonically that experience. I hope somehow it can be experienced with the DVD, it is to you and the rest of the viewers to decide anyway, even if it is a sort of difficult release.
In any case the project is a massive homage to the Vezdekhod tank somehow, the most amazing instrument I have ever known and experienced! And I believe after three days of traveling with it the experience can not be compared to what you experience in the DVD of course. Maybe someday I will be able to create a work or an installation that will transmit it in a much more precise way…
The appeal… somehow some of the releases of Prurient have some common ground with me since he also uses a lot of radio frequencies and field recordings, but he mainly uses his voice as instrument. I feel related to his music for that, and also his live concerts are very physical somehow…
John Wiese had collaborated with Nico in some occasions for a project in Milan and for a project for the Biennale in Venice - it was there that the three of us collaborated. We did a live performance where Nico was doing vocals, John was using his laptop, and I was showing some videos of my journey with dogs sledges in Siberia, and mixing the field recordings of the whole trip and specially the way that the hunters communicate with the dogs, shouting and producing sounds that are recognisable and read by the dogs as directions and stimuli, sounds that believe me were amazingly strong and somehow beautiful. These were interpreted live by Nico, who somehow was reenacting and performing them his way, and John was transforming all of that into a deep mass of music with his computer. John was expanding the tonality of the work as only he knows how to do. An amazing experience for the three of us and I hope to believe for some of the spectators too.
In the case of Phill Niblock, it all came from the will to collaborate with him. He had been a great influence on me, and I really wanted to work with him in my next project, so in 2009 before I was traveling to the Pamir mountains to start my research for a future film, I visited him in his Soho loft in New York. I wanted to ask him to work together in this film I was to embark, I wanted him to be the guiding music for my film. That day Phill gave me some music and suggested that I listen to "Stosspeng", a piece to be released on his last album for Touch, Strings. During my first shooting in the Pamir mountains "Stosspeng" became the soundtrack for my visual explorations, driving my mood and feelings towards the landscape. "Stosspeng" became one with the landscape I was portraying, the first time music was defining the way I was shooting images and the first time I was working with Phill Niblock´s music, music that drives you to further understanding of your own interpretation of things, that levitates you in order to sedate your senses for an enhanced comprehension of yourself and where you are are standing. Phill Niblock's music is so rooted in these images that it has become it’s own soundtrack, like the sound coming out of these mountains. I decided that it will become the overture of my film Avalanche. I wanted the overture to be a sort of introductory visual and sonic symphony, a way for understanding the landscape and also a sort of meditative introduction to the film.
But of course since I met Phill we have worked together in other occasions. We presented a film about the whale hunt, a reedited version of the film for the music of Phill Niblock in Gorizia, Italy. And we will present the film together in and Sónar in June.
Tell me about the portraits that appear on the sleeves of Von Archive releases. Who are they? What is their significance?
When Nico and I were thinking on how the image of the label was going to be, we thought of giving it a very archival feel, something that will be very standard somehow for each release, where the importance somehow will be in the product itself and the booklet, and not so much on the image that should be a standard. Then we came with the idea to use one typology of image to represent each release, and the idea of using portraits of past figures that somehow will be part of a certain colonial history, generals or shas, khans, priests, or slave activists, anybody relate to that contextual idea, then it became interesting. We decide to limit ourselves like this, giving the label a very tight image. So each release has a slight relation to the person portrait, sometimes it is a very slight relation, sometimes it is very direct.
Again people responded very positively, so it gave us hope that it was not a crazy idea. I don't know, what do you think about it, Tony? Do you think it is interesting? Effective?
You have stated that with Rocinha you wanted to show the other side of life in the favelas, not the stereotypical image of a drug and crime infested slum, but the everyday existences and experiences of the ordinary men and women living there. But then you compiled the Proibidao CV CD, which focused exclusively on the criminal gangs in the favelas? Is there a contradiction there?
You're right, you can see it as a contradiction, let me extend on this since I see it is important for you… Of course the contradiction would have been to put that in the film somehow. Rocinha was a film and Proibidao was a CD published five years after, somehow they came out of the same experience but was a different context and format. When I was doing Rocinha the reason for me to be there was to understand how a community like this is built in its innards, how the majority of its inhabitants survive and how this 98 per cent of the population survives away from the drug business, as a way to prove to myself and also to others, there is life inside of the favelas. That’s what the film is about, those people. But in all my time living in the favela, I was also in contact with the drug traffickers; they allow me to work inside and they somehow make sure that I didn’t interfere with their business. The film was born out of my belief in some of the rest of the people, not on them. Let me tell you an anecdote. After one month living there the drug lord of that time, Lulu, that gave somehow permission to shoot, got offended that I hadn’t asked to interview him, so he asked to meet me. In one of the parties that my good friend Mike was taking me and that were sponsored by the dealers, he finally asked to me: why didn’t I ask to interview him? And believe me I was scared to death since everybody in the party was loaded not only on coke but also with weapons. I told him that somehow I was speaking about other characters, people himself admired too, like my friend Mike or Aurelio the theatre director with whom I was living, or Tia Elisa the teacher of the majority of these kids that were standing with guns close to him. So he kind of let it go, forgot about it. In those parties is where I encountered some of the DJs that gave their CDs and allowed me to record some of the things that appear in the Sublime Frequencies CD.
For me in the beginning I never thought of publishing that material. I presented it live somehow in places like Sonar in 2003, Rome etc. But then five or six years on I went back to Brazil, and somehow visited all these people and of course the majority of the people involved in the traffic were dead. Somehow if you read the liner notes of the CD I try to explain that I believe, now, that the CD is a much more relevant document, it is isolated both in relation to the music and what it stands, so it can be listened to as a document, and not a commercial product, also that doesn’t have any hidden agenda of promoting the drug dealers or its world or a way to evangelise the CV or the drug dealers. Since all the parameters are gone, I really hope it will not be seen somehow as a way to promote that; if it is, I failed. One of the reasons of course that I didn’t published with Colors and instead Sublime Frequencies is because it is an independent label, based somehow on a less critical and open vision of globalisation. I was sure it would not be interpreted as a way to take advantage of the situation, and this is off the record [...] of course this is not important, for you to comprehend the record, but I mention it to you since you asked the question, and I care about your opinion.
How did the connection with Sublime Frequencies come about? And what is the difference between the Proibidao CV CD and the Rio Funk compilation you helped put together for Colors magazine?
After the set I presented in Sonar 2003 a lot of people were asking me to release this material, inviting me to present the research in festivals, but of course I am not a DJ, I didn’t feel it so much. But in 2008, years later, I thought the material will have a better reincarnation as a CD, as a document, and I thought of SF, since I was already in contact with them and exchanging material with Alan Bishop. It was after I came back from Brazil in 2008 that I felt it could become a valuable CD, somehow a posthumous CD, away from the then cyclic fashion of baile funk music in Europe, and away from hurting any feeling in Brazil. I sent the material to Alan and Alan understood its dimension immediately.
Rio Funk was a very difficult compilation to do. In 2004 I met DJ Marlboro, who was willing to meet me because he heard that I was the one who presented funk in Sonar, and he told me that for him that opened a lot of doors in Europe for funk music. I was happy to hear that and asked him to allow me to publish in the compilation some of the tracks I loved. He then sort of arranged all the licensing of musicians with his own label, and that allowed the CD to be a reality.
Much of your work has been made possible by your association with Benetton, a global commercial corporation. But the way you operate with regard to Von Archive seems very different: independent, underground, outside the official cultural channels, almost a guerilla operation. Could you comment on that?
I was awarded a residency in Fabrica, the research centre of Benetton in 1998; the experience for me there has been key for the development of my work, and also somehow has influenced my life in personal and social ways I would have never imagined. As an independent filmmaker it is very hard to survive and be able to put your material out and it is somehow only through foundations, and some corporate companies, that I manage to survive and keep doing what I do. Von Archives is an offspring of this work; it is a way for me to be able to work outside all the other contexts, an environment that is only conditioned by our economical possibilities and our eagerness to release and start new explorations with other musicians and also a way to celebrate our vision of some of the art practices that we consider not courageous enough. Working independently allows us to do the things as we want to. I would lie to you if I tell you that we do what we do hoping we will make money, as you can imagine. For both of us Nico and I this is an adventure, a way to challenge ourselves, pushing our own limits, and also trying to push the limits of the people who dare to buy our releases. That, somehow, as you say is a guerrilla attitude. It was born independent and hopefully will expire as independent.
This brings back an issue that I think is very important to me and also that I think it could very interesting to discuss with you: how can we move ahead certain practices in the contemporary music and audio-visual? Me personally and we as Von are trying to push those boundaries, trying to start releasing material that is challenging in the way that it breaks somehow the standard formats, the way we listen music and the way that we consume music or film. Your magazine is also helping somehow push those boundaries and also allows for a lot of musicians and visual artists to have the courage to push ahead. What really interests me personally, and that I hope to develop with my future work and also with VON, is how we can work with audio-visual matter, and also how can we promote and be able to present it. I am having loads of difficulties trying to present my work out, since somehow the film festivals and documentary film festivals are not able to understand the work, only some music festivals like Netmage and Sonar are able to present projects like Tundra or like Avalanche the project with Phill Niblock I am presenting in Sónar this year. Works like the cemetery archive works are difficult to present.
What do you think about it? What do you think is interesting about those issues, how these different worlds are changing and how they are merging together? It would be nice to speak about it. How do you feel, and also what is the position of your magazine The Wire in that, which are the limitations and definitions that limit your practice as a critical point of view?
Tags: art | Carlos Casas | Joe Banks | John Wiese | Kathy Payne | Multimedia | Netmage | Nico Vascellari | Phill Niblock | Prurient | Sebastian Escofet | Sonar | sublime frequencies | The Wire | Von Archive
The Wire’s monthly series of salon-type evenings continues with author and The Wire contributor Ken Hollings (author of Welcome To Mars and Destroy All Monsters and presenter of the Hollingsville series on Resonance FM) and Steve Goodman (Kode9, author of Sonic Warfare), discussing the uses and abuses of sound and noise from sonic bombs to soundclashes.
Below is a short online reading and listening list in anticipation of the event (mostly via Ken Hollings)
•Stream Hollings's Radio 3 programme From Gameboy to Armageddon on the Military Entertainment Complex
•PDF download of Theatres Of War: The Military-Entertainment Complex, an essay by Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood.
•Projects page of the Institute For Creative Technologies - an institute set up to bring military planners, games designers, Hollywood SFX people and experts in interactive technology together.
•Give yourself an adrenalin buzz (or scare yourself silly) with Bohemia Interactive's Virtual Battlespace 2 promotional film.
The salon takes place at London's Cafe Oto, 6 May, 8pm, £4.