Wednesday, March 21, 2007

straight is the line from the heart to the star

Since the eighties, France-based experimental group, Etant Donnés (composed of two Moroccan-born brothers, Eric and Marc Hurtado) have been creating poetry, accompanying them with their industrial music and extreme vocals, then giving Artaudian live performances of their music, and creating short 8mm films with their music as the soundtrack. Nicole Brenez has rediscovered and introduced them to a whole new audience after she programmed their films in her monumental retrospective, Jeune, dure et pure! : Une histoire du cinéma d'avant-garde et expérimental en France in 2000. Patrick Bossati on ED, as quoted by Henri Chopin:
Be it poetry, cinema, sound, stage, everything the two of them do is done with a kind of rage that leaves you stunned. Their sound, for example, extensive, grave and apocalyptic, mixed from amplified natural elements, make those who listen dumbfounded. Their art is staggering in every respect, in the 16th century sense of the French word 'sidérant', when it meant: 'influenced by the stars'. Their music is a radioscopy of the chaos of the universe and of matter.
The images in their films are eternally in a dense involutionary relationship with each other, forming violently colourful complexes that exist in various states of exaltation. Much like the monochrome superimpositions of Jean Epstein:

(images from The Three-Sided Mirror, L'Autre Rive, The Fall of the House of Usher, Le Soleil...)

A contemporary figure with whom they share their obsession with the use of scattered, intense light energies in their depiction of desire and rapture is Philippe Grandrieux (with whom the brothers worked to create the soundtrack to La Vie nouvelle), who takes these devices of plasticity to vaguely narrative territories:

(images from Sombre and ED's Bleu)

Along with their distinctive use of sound, slow motion effects and colour templates, superimpositions form the most important part of their investigation of textures. Xavier Baert, in his excellent analysis of their films:
Superimposition does not affect image only: within the image-sound connection, it finds a new element. Sound is not used as a dimension independent from or simply parallel to image: it offers a new surface that is superimposed on the pictures, another state, a sonorous state, of transparency. Several dimensions focus in the creation of sound: music, since first and foremost the Hurtado brothers are musicians, the processing of nature's tones (rustling, birds' singing, wasps' buzzing...) and poetry. Thus sound allows the tactility and plasticity of image to be extended: for instance, at the beginning of Bleu, the emergence of the word "soleil", that takes shape through the alternate reading of the repetition of "sol" and of the redtation of its letters (s ;o ;l ; etc), indicates that sound is worth its while at least as much through its rhythms and its plastic values as through the meaning it bears (which is conveyed by the very high sound volume of the films and the work on the strength of murmur, extending the work on sound as a material and sensation). As a result, even when there is only one picture (which is rarely the case in ETANT DONNÉS' films), the connection between image and sound helps indicate that there is already, here, a superimposition, both acoustic and visual.
So, the act of viewing Etant Donnés' films possibly equates with drifting through states of rapture, usually while trapped inside an (onscreen) body that is engulfed by the elements, consumed by light, while being ascended to the heavens (all through the magic of the superimposition). With these immersions into their imagery, the desire to feel constantly (re)emerges in the spectator, and, in their shifting, all-inclusive soundscapes, where their poetry rests first within screams and then whispers, one discovers a transformation of terror into pure sensation, pure love even.

(With thanks to Fergus Daly.)

Offenbarung Und Untergang

The first two verses of the expressionist prose-poem, Offenbarung Und Untergang / Revelation And Decline (Georg Trakl, 1914) :

Seltsam sind die nächtigen Pfade des Menschen. Da ich nachtwandelnd an steinernen Zimmern hinging und es brannte in jedem ein stilles Lämpchen, ein kupferner Leuchter, und da ich frierend aufs Lager hinsank, stand zu Häupten wieder der schwarze Schatten der Fremdlingin und schweigend verbarg ich das Antlitz in den langsamen Händen. Auch war am Fenster blau die Hyazinthe aufgeblüht und es trat auf die Lippe des Odmenden das alte Gebet, sanken kristallne Tränen geweint um die bittere Welt. In dieser Stunde war ich im Tod meines Vaters der weiße Sohn. In blauen Schauern kam vom Hügel der Nachtwind, die dunkle Klage der Mutter, hinsterbend wieder und ich sah die schwarze Hölle in meinem Herzen; Minute schimmernder Stille. Leise trat aus kalkiger Mauer ein unsägliches Antlitz - ein sterbender Jüngling - die Schönheit eines heimkehrenden Geschlechts. Mondesweiß umfing die Kühle des Steins die wachende Schläfe, verklangen die Schritte der Schatten auf verfallenen Stufen, ein rosiger Reigen im Gärtchen.

Schweigend saß ich in verlassener Schenke unter verrauchtem Holzgebälk und einsam beim Wein; ein strahlender Leichnam über ein Dunkles geneigt und es lag ein totes Lamm zu meinen Füßen. Aus verwesender Bläue trat die bleiche Gestalt der Schwester und also sprach ihr blutender Mund: Stich schwarzer Dorn. Ach noch tönen von wilden Gewittern die silbernen Arme mir. Fließe Blut von den mondenen Füßen, blühend auf nächtigen Pfaden, darüber schreiend die Ratte huscht. Aufflackert ihr Sterne in meinen gewölbten Brauen; und es läutet leise das Herz in der Nacht. Einbrach ein roter Schatten mit flammendem Schwert in das Haus, floh mit schneeiger Stirne. O bitterer Tod.
Und es sprach eine dunkle Stimme aus mir: Meinem Rappen brach ich im Wald das Genick, da aus seinen purpurnen Augen der Wahnsinn sprang; die Schatten der Ulmen fielen auf mich, das blaue Lachen des Quells und die schwarze Kühle der Nacht, da ich ein wilder Jäger aufjagte ein schneeiges Wild; in steinerner Hölle mein Antlitz erstarb. Und schimmernd fiel ein Tropfen Blutes in des Einsamen Wein; und da ich davon trank, schmeckte er bitterer als Mohn; und eine schwärzliche Wolke umhüllte mein Haupt, die kristallenen Tränen verdammter Engel; und leise rann aus silberner Wunde der Schwester das Blut und fiel ein feuriger Regen auf mich.

(English translation by Jim Doss and Werner Schmitt via)

Strange are the nightly paths of men. As I moved sleepwalking past rooms of stone, and in each a still lamp burned, a copper candlestick, and as I sank freezing onto the bed, the black shadow of the strangeness stood overhead, and silently I hid my countenance in the slow-moving hands. Also the hyacinth had blossomed blue at the window and the old prayer rose on the purple lips of the breathing one, crystalline tears sank from the eyelids wept over the bitter world. In this hour I was the white son in my father's death. In blue showers the night wind came from the hill, the dark lament of the mother dying away again and I saw the black hell in my heart; minute of shimmering stillness. Quietly an unspeakable countenance stepped from the limy wall - a dying youth - the beauty of a race returning home. Moony-white the coolness of the stone embraced the waking temple, the steps of the shadows on decayed stairs faded, a rosy round dance in the small garden.

Silently I sat in a deserted inn under smoky rafters and lonely with wine; a radiant corpse bent over a dark shape and a dead lamb lay at my feet. Out of rotting blueness the pale figure of the sister stepped and thus her bleeding mouth spoke: stab black thorn. Alas my silver arms still resound from wild thunderstorms. Flow, blood, from the moony feet, blossoming on nightly paths, over which the rat shoos screaming. You stars, flicker in my arched brows; and the heart rings quietly in the night. A red shadow with a flaming sword broke into the house, fled with snowy forehead. O bitter death.
And a dark voice spoke out of me: I broke my black horse's neck in the nocturnal forest because insanity leapt from his purple eyes; the shadows of elms fell on me, the blue laughter of the well, and the black coolness of the night, as I, a wild hunter, roused a snowy deer; my countenance died off in a stony hell. And a drop of blood fell shimmering into the wine of the lonely; and when I drank, it tasted more bitter than poppy; and a blackish cloud encircled my head, the crystal tears of damned angels; and quietly blood ran from the silver wound of the sister and a fiery rain fell over me.

Verses 1 and 2 of Offenbarung Und Untergang; music/sounds by Etant Donnés, recited by Michael Gira and Saba Komossa (flash player required to listen to these mp3 files) :

Verse 1.

Verse 2.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

melodic figures

Zakir Hussain on tabla:

Aashish Khan on sarod
Ustad Allah Rakha (tabla) with Ravi Shankar: Tabla solo in jhaptal
Ravi Shankar (sitar) with Ustad Allah Rakha at Monterey: 1 and 2
Zakir Hussain (tabla) with Ustad Sultan Khan (sarangi)
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on sarod.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Star Spangled To Death (II)

Some quotes on the film by Ken Jacobs, from a couple of interviews available online:

From here (and also see his notes for that appearance): me the mind is always in the making, and this is the most extraordinary thing about we humans. This consciousness, and this sense, among other things, of the comic and the tragic, this ability to feel something about existence. So we look at Baghdad right now and say, my god, these are kids, half the population is children, what are we doing? We're killing children, children we understand as young life, full of potential for life. Life is what we care about. We don't want to see heedless destruction, stupid destruction, cruel destruction of life — dismissal of life.

So a work of art, for me, is... like in Star Spangled to Death — which by the way, in my mind is very, very form-conscious — is the greatest intensification of this quality we consider life, the most vital essence of this life. And you save the world, you save the kids of Baghdad by making a work that is — I can't say it better than this — vital. Now it might not be vital to social issues, but it's vital in itself. It's an achievement of vitality. It's alive.

From KJ's screening notes:
Star Spangled to Death is an epic film costing hundreds of dollars! combining found-films with my own more-or-less staged filming (I once said directing Jack and Jerry was like directing the wind). It is a social critique picturing a stolen and dangerously sold out America, allowing examples of popular culture to self-indict. Race and religion and monopolization of wealth and the purposeful dumbing down of citizens and addiction to war become props for clowning. In whimsy we trusted. A handful of artists costumed and performing unconvincingly appeal to audience imagination and understanding to complete the picture. Jack Smith's pre-Flaming Creatures performance is a cine-visitation of the divine (the movie has raggedly cosmic pretensions). His character, The Spirit Not Of Life But Of Living, celebrates Suffering, personified by poor, rattled, fierce Jerry Sims, as an inextricable essence of living.... My head, inside, isn't all that different from what it was, I didn't become someone else, but I did get the work together and, in a profound way, that's the problem. It was supposed to lie in a jumbled heap, errant energies going nowhere, the talented viewer inferring form. A Frankenstein that fizzled but twitching and still dangerous to approach. Thoroughly star spangled but still kicking.

From here (also, Jonas Mekas in the same issue here):
I could not make a film like Fahrenheit 9/11. I respect Moore for what he did. That film was urgently needed. I made an art film. I'm a child of the 30s and the Great Depression. I grew up in New York during World War 2 and watched McCarthyism take hold, so I heard the rhetoric about the war against fascism or the war against Communism. For a while, I believed the rhetoric about patriotism and all the other lies that were fed to me, that we were the good guys. For example, it was hard to come to understand that even during the war against fascism this country did horrible things like bombing civilians or neglecting Jews. Also, coming to understand the extermination of Native Americans or the hundreds of years of slavery was important to me. I had to come to terms with the glowing propaganda I was fed about America's greatness. Especially with what is happening today under Bush, it seemed like the proper time to let all these thoughts out. The film is not nihilistic. The footage I shot that is in the film includes two protagonists played by Jack Smith and Jerry Sims. Jerry represents the idea that America is basically good, corrupt, but good. Jack represents a hatred for American society, almost a death wish for it.

Star Spangled To Death

[The brief, brief notes that follow refer to the 405-minute dvd version of Ken Jacobs' Star Spangled To Death (1957-2004).]

A monumental "life's work" (its making spanning almost half a century) by one of avant-garde cinema's most enduring figures, Star Spangled to Death is the colossal exhale that it always promised to be. A stimulating experience with equal measures of vitriol, humour and heart, the film finds its structure somewhere in the third hour (with still more than three hours to go before the final chapter) in its finding of a balance between Suffering (played by the fascinating, haunting Jerry Sims) and The Spirit Not Of Life But Of Living (played by the incomparable Jack Smith).

They are the core of the film, and their dazzling guerrilla street theatre forms part of the assemblage on display here, alternating with found footage of early documentaries, animated films, political ads, educational films, most of which play out in their entirety, and most of which form Jacobs' critical objects, exhibits of 20th-century American history. Everything is punctuated by the political exclamations of the intertitles, many of which are flash-texts, inviting the viewer to pause and read the film as a text when seen on dvd.

The film does find some sort of coincidental closure towards the end: Ken Jacobs is in the centre of the 2003 New York City anti-war protest and he sees a young protest leader swaying to a pulsating drumbeat as the group chants ("Drop Bush, Not Bombs!") and his camera absorbs him as "the spirit of Jack Smith", before we return, finally, to the image of Jack Smith himself as a source of ... life and energy. And soon after in that rally, Jacobs' DV camera suddenly dies on him, and (like the ending of his 1969 experiment, Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son, when you can hear the original film finish its run through the projector) there is only a black screen left to contemplate while the hovering sense of incompletion reveals itself - with a hint of optimism ("Despair is collaboration with the enemy!") in the cosmic balance of his performers.

"Limbo is where
where outtakes drift
in no apparent order."

To see more images, view clips, or order the dvd, go here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

sensations materialised

Above image taken from Straub-Huillet's Quei loro incontri (These Encounters of Theirs, 2006). Like the opening shots of the film when we're only seeing the backs of the male/female speakers, the sound of water is divorced from its source in these moments (and what is the source of this sound: a nearby stream? or invisible heavy rain, as in the chapter in Pavese's text, 'The Flood', from which this part is adapted from?). This frame is, nevertheless, saturated with this lush, peaceful sound, binding us sensually to this landscape and to nature.

(see also: dias felizes.)

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