Monday, February 27, 2012

Leonard Cohen — Quote of the day

"I don't consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin."

Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts (2007)

It was just last summer that I stumbled upon the work of Philip Glass. I became addicted to his music and the album Solo Piano played in my house every evening. The same thing happened to director Scott Hicks (Shine), when his son took him to a midnight screening of Koyaanisqati, a movie scored by Glass. Since then, he became an unconditional fan.

In 2005, Hicks started working on a documentary about the composer. The result is an intimate portrait of Philip Glass. In this movie we discover a man who is profundly human, funny, intelligent and spiritual. But also a man who can be stubborn, obsessed by his work and makes huge sacrifices for his music. Scott Hicks followed the composer during a two years period, filming him at home, in his cottage in Nova Scotia and also at work with famous directors. I wouldn't recommend this movie for people who don't know the work of Glass, but this film is essential viewing for anyone interested in the work of the composer.

If you want to discover Philip Glass and you are intimidated by his huge discography, here are my suggestions: Glassworks (1982), Koyaanisqati (1983), Solo Piano (1989) and the Songs from the Trilogy compilation of works for the opera (1989).

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Ok, I have to admit it, I'm a bit of a geek, I love board games. I love them even more when the game itself is a nice object. I recently found out about Waldschattenspiel, it seems definitely like a well designed game, with an original idea.

Germans have made themselves a speciality in non-violent boardgames (since World War II of course). They have developed an expertise making cooperative games where players work together with a common objective. Waldschattenspiel is a simple game (5 years and up), to play in the dark, using a candlelight.

The dwarves hide in the shadows of the trees from the wandering light. The burning tea-light (adult player) moves through the dark forest and tries to find the small dwarves in their hiding places. If a dwarf is touched by the light, it is frozen and not allowed to move anymore.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Best of ambient — 9 albums

I have always loved lists. That's often the way I discover new artists or albums I didn't know of. Since I have been listening to a lot of ambient music lately I decided to share with you my favorite albums of this genre [in chronological order]:

1. Brian Eno — Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)
Soundtrack for the movie For All Mankind about the Apollo moon landing. This album is a collaboration with guitarist Daniel Lanois who plays something like "space-country" here. I definitely prefer the synth parts made by Eno. This album is worth it, if only for the superb An Ending (Ascent) that was featured in many movies.

2. Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster & Panaiotis — Deep Listening (1989)
Ambient accordion? Yes, it's possible. This album is entirely made with acoustic instruments and recorded in an empty cistern. The result is a strange music made of reverb, trumpet sounds and resonating noises.

3. Hoedh — Hymnvs (1993)
Don't let yourself be fooled by the horrible cover art of this album. This is really a gem. Majestic dark ambient music with repetitive patterns. Almost sounds like religious music.

4. Aphex Twin — Selected Ambient Works Volume II (1994)
Each track of this album is inspired by the photograph of a texture shown in the album booklet. This is minimalist ambient techno music. It took me some time to get into this album, maybe because it's so simple. It's now one of my favorites.

5. Robert Rich & B. Lustmord — Stalker (1995)
Fictional soundtrack for the sci-fi movie Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky. This is the music of nightmares (but it never gets agressive). The sound of this album is strange, like looking at the beauty of an alien lanscape.

6. Biosphere — Substrata (1997)
This album spawned a whole genre called Arctic Ambient. Music sounds minimal and features the sounds of water, creaking ice, campfires (and some samplings from Twin Peaks). This is an album that I keep returning to.

7. Stars of the Lid — The Tired Sounds Of (2001)
The term Soporific Ambient has not been invented yet to describe Stars of the Lid. It is music for sleep, ideal to listen to at the end of the day. Sometimes sounds inspired by post-rock, like Godspeed You! on valiums.

8. Deathprod — Morals and Dogma (2004)
Helge Sten is a norwegian sound artist also playing with the jazz group Supersilent. I can't find other words to describe this album than "creepy". It is scary, claustrophobic music. The track Dead People's Things really stands out.

9. Deaf Center — Pale Ravine (2005)
Music for rainy days. Piano with a melancholic touch and some neoclassical arrangements. Includes sampling of sounds of nature (water, firecamp, wind).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wings of Desire

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
From Her to Eternity
Album: From Her to Eternity (1984)
Scene from the movie Wings of Desire (1987)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vision - Aus dem Leben der Hildegard von Bingen (2009)

I took the bad habit of checking movie ratings on imdb. It can be interesting but also very misleading. Some very good movies don't really have such a fabulous rating there (in my opinion at least). Anyway all that to say that I wasn't expecting much from Vision (with a 6,6 rating on imdb) but I was pleasantly surprised.

The movie is the romanced biography of Hildegard Von Bingen, Benedictine abess in the 12th century. I already knew about her musical compositions, but not much about her life. She was a writer, an herborist, an expert in many scientific fields and she had a correspondance with some of the most influential people of her time. She was also having visions (some heavenly, some apocalyptic). Her reputation as a visionary gave her an important credibility with the church, but also with politicians. Historians now believe that she suffered from terrible migraines and the visions were the consequence of her affliction. She is now remembered for her beautiful musical compositions.

The movie is by Margarethe von Trotta, German feminist filmmaker. Obviously a lot of the movie is portrayed in a feminist point of view. A perspective that is very pertinent considering the place women had in the medieval society. The historical retelling of events is very interesting, and seems to be accurate from what I later read. And the main actress, Barbara Sukowa (known for her roles in Fassbinder movies) is very good. Of course there is the mandatory love story, probably fictional, taking place between Hildegard and her novice Richardis von Stade. Unfortunately we don't see much of Hildegarde's visions, it could have been a pretext for beautiful scenes. Instead, the movie is more centered on the historic storytelling of the life of the Abess. My biggest dissapointment is probably with the general atmosphere of the movie, everything seems very... clean, not like I imagine the middle ages.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Where we're from, the birds sing a pretty song and there's always music in the air..."

It's friday night and I'm in the mood for some dark jazz music...
Dale Cooper Quartet & The Dictaphones
Eux Exquis Acrostole
Album: Metamanoir (2011)

Alejandro Jodorowsky — Quote of the day

"Most directors make films with their eyes;
I make films with my testicles."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Laraaji – Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980)

I have already reviewed Ambient 1 and Ambient 2 on this blog. So now, here's the third album of the Ambient Series.

When I first heard it, it was probably my least favorite of the Ambient Series, because it is so different from the three others. But it grew on me with the years and I'm starting to enjoy it more each time I listen to it.

Laraaji (Edward Larry Gordon) is a musician from Philadelphia. He studied the violin, piano and trombone in his early years. However, he became famous when Brian Eno heard him play the dulcimer in Washington Square Park, and decided to introduce him to the world, producing this album.

The album really has an eastern mysticism feel (sometimes reminescent of the sound of gamelan music). The songs mix dulcimer and zither, with little or no electronic effect. The music is more intense in the beginning of the album (The Dance #1, #2 and #3) and start to slow down as the album progresses. You really feel that the album is getting slower as it plays, slowly disintegrating. My favorite tracks are Meditation #1 and Meditation #2 at the end of the album. Those two tracks sound more like the other albums of the Ambient Series.

After releasing Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, Laraaji has worked in meditation and yoga workshops and released other zither albums.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Kraftwerk live at the MoMA

A lot of the electronic music shows I attended were a deception. Seeing musicians playing with laptops like autistic childs can be boring. Of course, there are some exceptions. And Kraftwerk is one of those exceptions. Seeing them live is an impressive experience. The sound is excellent, the visuals are great and they seem to have fun performing.

The Museum of Modern Art has announced a series of shows by Kraftwerk: Over eight consecutive nights, MoMA presents a chronological exploration of the sonic and visual experiments of Kraftwerk with a live presentation of their complete repertoire in the Museum's Marron Atrium. Each evening consists of a live performance and 3-D visualization of one of Kraftwerk's studio albums—Autobahn(1974), Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), Computer World (1981), Techno Pop (1986),The Mix (1991), and Tour de France (2003)—in the order of their release. Kraftwerk will follow each evening’s album performance with additional compositions from their catalog, all adapted specifically for this exhibition.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Amer (2009)

I often feel a little bored with the tactics of todays cinema. So of course movies with a bit of nostalgia speak to me. If you like italian horror cinema, have a look at the movie Amer by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. It is a very nice homage to the 70's italian movies of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci and company. The soundtrack is beautiful (some of it borrowed to Sergio Leone and other italian composers). The movie has that original feel, splendid images, with a lot of use of close-ups, saturated colors and rough montage. It is a fun stylistic exercise in a genre that we don't see anymore.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gottfried Helnwein — 5 works

Ephiphany 1 [Adoration of the Magi] (1996)

Annunciation [Mouse 12] 2010

Untitled [After Caspar David Friedrich] (1998)

The Meeting (1996)

The Murmur of the Innocents 7 (2009)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Short film

Tune for Two (2011)
Country: Sweden
Director: Gunnar Järvstad

Can't get that damn song out of my head!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Miles Davis — Generique (1957)

Miles Davis — Générique
Album: Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (1957)
Soundtrack for a Louis Malle's movie

Ben Frost — By the Throat (2009)

The sound of Ben Frost dosen't fit in any niche, it isn't easy to classify. It's certainly cinematic music or it could be called ambient music with an agressive edge. He claims influences from both Arvo Pärt and Swans, and you can certainly feel them in the sheer intensity and simplicity of the music. It is also possible to find some influences of post-rock, industrial music and even black metal in Frost's music. He has recently moved to Iceland and is now part of Bedroom Community Label and collective of artists. He has also collaborated with renowned musicians (Tim Hecker among others) and did remixes for Björk, Machinefabriek and irish black metal group Altar of Plagues, to name a few.

By The Throat is really an album like no other. Put on some good headphones and turn on the volume. Here is an album that is a truly immersive, visceral experience. Listening to this album is something physical. I often can feel the hairs on my arms rise up when the first song kicks in. Something you don't experience often in music, unfortunately. The sounds are sometimes delicate, other times downright scary. Mixing electronic sounds, guitar, samples of wolves howling, Frost manages to keep the listener on the edge during the duration of the album. And this is really what this is about. That's the music of survival, of the force of nature over man. Not surprisingly Ben Frost's blog is filled with pictures of nature's power: Forest fires, thunderstorms, predatory animals. The album is also accompanied by impressive pictures of wolves by photographer Bjarni Grims.

His last album (released in 2011) is a collaboration with Daniel Bjarnason (with some supervision by Brian Eno as part of a mentor-protégé program). It is called Sólaris and is a fictional soundtrack for the Tarkovsky movie of the same name. I will also be talking about this album soon on this blog.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Vaughan Oliver — Graphic designer

A few years ago, I discovered the work of Vaughan Oliver and graphic design company 23 Envelope. I was not aware at the time that this graphic designer had done design of many of my favorite 4AD albums covers of the 80's. Making cover art for Cocteau Twins, X-Mal Deutschland, This Mortal Coil, Bauhaus, Dead Can Dance and Clan of Xymox. I had always loved these album covers, without knowing that they come from the same place. Here's a little selection of Vaughan Oliver poster and album designs. If you want to see more I highly recommend this book.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

H.P. Lovecraft — Library of America

I have been an avid reader of H.P. Lovecraft since my teenage years. Only problem is I read all of his books in french (the french translation is great by the way). And so, for some time, I have been toying with the idea of re-reading Lovecraft in it's original english version.

If you read some of his short stories, you know it's pretty difficult to find a one-volume english compilation with an almost complete selection of his works. Not only that, I wanted to buy an edition with a hard cover, that is good looking.

I finally found out the Library of America have published a beautiful hardcover volume, that contains, in my opinion the best of H.P. Lovecraft. Here are included The Dunwich Horror, The Colour out of Space, At the Mountains of Madness. It's not complete and it would be great if Library of America published the rest of his work (including poetry and his letters to friends and writers). But it definitely is a beautifull edition, with lightweight paper, page markers and hardcover.