AMPLIFY 2008: light day 1

lightSeptember 19th
Erstwhile Records presents
AMPLIFY 2008: light day 1

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

The news was that a typhoon was hitting Japan and the remnants would make it to the Tokyo area this evening.  It’d been drizzly the day before but the forecast now was for serious amounts of rain but primarily after midnight tonight.  The day dawned overcast but still plenty warm and very humid. Keith had to head to the venue for soundcheck pretty early so after our (now traditional) breakfast and walk we parted ways. I headed to Shinjuku and spent the afternoon in the skyscraper district and Shinjuku Central Park. Soon enough it was time to head to the venue, which I’d been advised to arrive early on this day.  As I was already in Shinjuku I again simply took the Keio line to Meidaimae (which is the first stop on a special express).

biiruI arrived in Meidaimae about an hour early and as I was walking up the block I encountered Keith and Toshi coming the other way.  They were heading for a traditional soba restaurant and invited me along. I’d forgotten to get dinner (this happened more often then you’d think, my schedule being all messed up I’d get hungry at odd times and was always eating late or missing meals) and I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.  The soba place was fantastic, menu only in Japanese and Toshi helped us navigate through the many options.  We had an amazing sashimi plate to begin and then I had soba with fried tofu that was so much better then any other soba I’ve had. Getting near to show time we headed back to find the hall pretty crowded. Again Jon had saved me a seat up front which was again much appreciated.  Also in the audience was our man Joe Foster whom I totally failed to recognize at first do to the lack of his ‘stache.  I had enough time to check out the scene and the downstairs merch table before Jon and Yuko introduced the festival in English and Japanese.

Katsura Yamauchi solo
The opening set of the festival was not very surprising to those of us who had caught Yamauchi two days earlier.  Well it was surprising in that he once again followed exactly the same formula that I’d done that night.  Once again it was the hissy breathing sounds, the continuous hollow metallic tones broken up by the sharp inhalations, a couple of pauses, the empty keywork and so on.  It played out a little longer this time and there were several measurable gaps as he’d change between techniques.  Also this time the breathless keying seemed much more clearly to be an actual piece, one of his own or a jazz standard, being played without being vocalized.  At the end of this he began to put a tiny bit of air through the horn which is what made this more clear.

However after this improv (which was beginning to feeling quite familiar) he did two other shorter pieces.  The first was basically oscillating between two notes, played pretty loud. He hold each note for quite sometime creating a long droney feel that worked quite nicely in the room.  Pretty much right at the point where this would become overly long for what it was he stopped. Maybe ten minutes all told.  The final piece he did was a single, very high pitched tone on the sopranino played as loud as he could managed. This was incredibly intense and seemed to resonate at the rooms frequency. I got this effect in my inner ear that sounded similar to that wobbly low pitched wah-ing sound you get when you wave a thin sheet of metal.  Very short, probably no longer then five minutes, but powerful and a great way to end his set.

Keiths tables
Keith’s Table

Keith Rowe/Taku Unami
Keith was wearing his classic Rick Reed designed AMM shirt and Taku was wearing a Hose t-shirt which was an interesting coincidence that was like a commentary on this collaboration.  There was no set in this festival that I was anticipating higher as this collaboration had the most potential for greatness or disaster.  Unami is a wild card who has been involved in some of the best and some of the worst things I’ve heard in recent years.  I keep following him with high interest though as the degree of creativity, risk taking and willingness to destroy exceptions and convention are unprecedented. He has a playfulness that I never get from some of his collaborators that I think demonstrates that his is playing with expectations, not the audience.  Keith always rises to a challenge so how he would react and match Unami’s inherent unpredictability was certainly piquing my curiosity. Keith had his usual table of detritus, laptop and cubist guitar to which he had also added a new “guitar” this time made from a small neck that was used by classical guitarists to work on their fretwork. Unami had a laptop in front of which was a sandwich of two boards with various effectors attached to them. Small motors with various beaters, flails and whips attached to them and maybe small speakers as well.  He also had a mandolin and a double necked acoustic guitar on the floor below him.

The structure of this piece was super interesting, it was like swarms of events that would rise up out of a spaces or the textures of one or the other participants. Rowe used a lot of contact mic, short sharp metallic sounds, blue tooth chatter, swarms of buzzing feedback. Unami began almost right away with a rhythmic tock, tock, tock from a motor with little paddled beating on the wood it was mounted upon.  He would bring this various rhythmic sounds in and out layering them to disrupt their patterns and cutting them off at points that’d seem random but would either reinforce or eliminate stasis.  He would reach down and pluck notes on his acoustic guitar and it was the use of this that was the most startling.  Keith at least at one point responded with recognizable points from his guitar reinforcing the alienness of these sounds in this environment as opposed to seeming like any sort of call and response.  Other points of synchronicity would be the persistent swarms of buzzing that the Bluetooth interference creates with multiple clicks and tocks from Unami creating this post industrial cacophony of damaged mechanical devices.  Unami strummed a few chords on the mandolin but it was the bizarre double necked acoustic that he’d turn to over and over again always shocking in its entry but always perfect in its unexpectedness.  At one point he ran down maybe five of the strings in an open chords progression and at the end he violently strummed the guitar as the bulk of his motors frantically worked away creating a loud and dense wall of many sounds. Keith responded to this as well with sharp attacks on the pickups.

This set was unexpected, slippery in that its structure and elements are hard to hold in ones mind and absolutely brilliant. This was the most interesting bit of music I’ve witnessed in a long time, a collision of two of the most interesting musicians around pushing each other outside of any sort of routines and boundaries. The set is so difficult to recall in detail as it was filled with constant left turns, change ups and dense amounts of detail. All of these sounds were incredibly well placed into the room and there was many gaps and moments of calm.  It is great news that this will be put out on an ErstLive, it is some of the most exciting music I’ve seen in a long time.

Ami in her duo with Toshi
Ami Yoshida in duo with Toshimaru Nakamura

Ami Yoshida/Toshimaru Nakamura
When word of this collaboration first popped up on the forthcoming Erstwhile Records releases it was one of those,” why hasn’t this happened already?” moments. The fragmented soundworld of Ami Yoshida seemed like such a natural contrast to the layers of feedback and sonic detritus that makes up Toshimaru Nakamuras.  Thus getting a chance to see them in their first live meeting was nearly as highly anticipated by yours truly as the previous Rowe/Unami set. There’d been some news that Ami was a bit under the weather but she made it to the Hall for her set and produced probably the most intense performance of the four times I’ve seen her.

The set began tentatively with short guttural sounds from Ami met with short little cracks and pops of feedback from Toshi.  They didn’t really seem connected at this point, isolated sounds from the two of them not really connected to each other. Toshi seemed to be losing control of his feedback as well; working with this more isolated events there wasn’t the cover or control of the pure tones or white noise he’d been using in the days before. Rips of feedback would burst out and he’d quickly turn it down and start over. Ami, perhaps in response to this, increasingly used strangling sounds, gasps and near screams.  I’ve never heard her get as loud as she did in this set and especially toward the end there was some serious volume from some of her vocalizations.  Toshi began to work with more of his toolkit, utilizing pure tones at times, which usually gelled the most effectively with Ami’s micro events. But this forced inevitable thoughts of Cosmos and seemed like they were unable to connect with each others characteristic sounds. Lots of space in this set at one point some loud traffic sounds from the street outside being the most audible event. At times Toshi’s feedback would slip into its beating patterns, drowning Ami and reinforcing this disconnect as they traded off being in the forefront.  When they did gel it was powerful but it was only segments of this set interspersed with parts that just weren’t working.  The set concluded with loud near screams from Ami, a silence and then one last little tear of feedback from Toshi.

An interesting set, one that showed a lot of potential but that wasn’t a success in and of itself.  In general I liked a lot of Ami’s sounds and was really intrigued by the more violent nature of the sounds she emitted.  I think that Toshi had the harder task and I felt that the way he was trying to work with her was not conducive to how he uses his instrument.  It seems that using more continuous sounds as a base that Ami floats above is the easiest way to collaborate with her and I for one was hoping to see something else work.  Alas it was when Toshi fell into those patterns that this set seemed to work the best.  Perhaps to work with spikier sounds in collaboration with her you’d need something more controllable then mixer feedback.

The first night of Amplify 2008 was pretty fantastic. Sure not all of the music was something you’d want on a cd so you could listen over and over again, but for me that is hardly the point of seeing this music live.  Abstract music like this needs to be always experimenting always testing new ideas and that leads to things that don’t work or only partially work out.  The risk and the failures demand as much attention and provide their own rewards.  And much of the music tonight was amazing, the Rowe/Unami collab being the highlight, but those short pieces from Yamauchi were great and the moments when Ami and Toshi hooked up hinted at great things to come.  An exciting night. Oh and that typhoon pretty much came to nothing but a bit of rain and a some unimpressive wind.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.


Toshimaru Nakamura solo at Kid Ailack Hall

September 18th
Toshimaru Nakamura
Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo.

Roughly three weeks before the festival a second outside show was added , Toshimaru Nakamura solo at Kid Ailack Hall.  This was originally described as Toshi perform a long solo set, perhaps two or three hours in length. When asked about it at yesterdays show, Toshi was a lot more conservative about the projected duration, stating that an hour and a half would be the upper bound. The set ended up being forty-five minutes.  It had followed its natural arc though so I think this was for the best.

Jon and Yuko had come in earlier after meeting IHM admin Mark in Shinjuku so Keith and I had dinner at an okay place next to the katsu place we’d gone to the night before.  It was kind of the Japanese equivalent of Denny’s I’d say, it had a wide variety of traditional Japanese dishes all rather mediocre.  From there we took the Chūō Line to Shinjuku Station and from there caught the private Keiō Line to Meidaimae (this actually is not the most effecient route, as it took one away from Meidaimae and then you kind of came back. Instead you want to take the Chūō to Kichijoji and then the Keiō Line). Keith had played Kid Ailack Hall in the past so once we got to the station he was able to easily find his way there.

KAHKid Ailack Hall is a small, rectangular black box theater type of space about half a flight of stairs above street level. The building contained the Book Cafe in a sort of half sub basement and apparently galleries above the hall.  The hall had maybe thirty or forth “chairs” of the strap of canvas between a scissored frame of wood, kind of like a folding camp stool. There was a decent crowd for Nakamura’s solo set but only about half filled I’d say. Jon had saved us seats up front and Mark was right next to him.  Good to meet a fellow IHM-er here, hadn’t ran into Mark at a show since ErstQuake 2.  We chatted for a bit until maybe 15 minutes past the advertised show time, Toshimaru Nakamura sat behind his mixer and the lights dimmed.

Toshimaru Nakamura
Toshimaru Nakamura solo in Kid Ailack Hall

Now I’d seen Toshi solo just the night before and while that was about fifteen minutes it actually turned out to be like a sketch for tonight’s show.  He followed the structure of the night before and utilized pretty much the same subset of his repertoire of sounds.  Everything was extended and explored a bit further and there were several unique events but the degree to which that short set was like an abstract of this one was quite high.  It began with a hissing of white noise which he brought up to a pretty decent level. Not loud per se but not setup as a wash to fill the background. After a bit of this he began to utilize the electrical pops and clicks as he had the night before. After a bit this was cut out and there was a decent interval of near silence. A long thin tone was brought up into this which he then manipulated for a good piece, modulating and tweaking it. The volume was brought done leaving this single tone still playing just very quietly. The white noise was brought back in and he began to build up the density using it, the tone and various rips and tears of feedback.  This was worked for a while and then he generated this odd bonging sound that I’d say was oscillating feedback run through a reverb at some extreme setting. He let this bong for a bit, but it out and with kind of a look of disappointment cut out everything else. He picked up his watch looking a bit ruefull upon noting the time and that was that.

So those chairs I mentioned earlier, well they themselves were an additional participant in this set.  The squeaked with the sound of canvas rubbing against wood when you shifted in them and some movements would make them quite audibly slide against the floor.  For a while this wasn’t an issue but a certain point, usually around a half an hour, you’d get cascades of these sounds as people had to change positions. Personally while I tried to avoid making sounds myself (failed of course) I tended to enjoy their additions to the various sets.  It was definitely a factor toward the end of Toshi’s set, but not as dramatic as it would be in some of the sparser sets.

As for the music itself I thought it was okay but nothing particularly special.  I’ve long been on the record of preferring Toshi’s collaborative work with only Side Guitar and this years Dance Music completely working for me.  I was under the impression that he was changing some aspect of his solo performance and that we’d get a chance to witness some of these new developments.  What seemed different to me from some of his other solo work was that we was working with a much more restricted palette. In the past he often let the oscillating feedback drive a lot of the structure, adding delays and other effects to create almost techno like pieces driven by that rhythm. There was nothing like that and when the oscillating feedback would arise he’d tend to tweak it into non existence. The odd ping-ponging bonging tones that ended this set was something that I’d think he’d have gone with on say the Vehicle sessions. Here he stuck with white noise, sine waves, open circuit sounding clicks and pops and various tearing bursts of feedback.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.

read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru NakamuraӬ

September 17th (Wednesday)
Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru Nakamura
Monnaka Tenjo Hall, Monzennakamachi, Tokyo.

izakayaMy first day in Japan was mostly devoted to travel and sleep though I did have a pleasant evenings nightcap with Keith Rowe at a little izakaya just down the road from our hotel.  This would actually be a pretty typical experience for my trip to Japan: there were no English speakers there but they were plenty happy to work things out by pointing and gestures. Thankfully beer in Japanese is biiru, so easy enough to stumble upon. We ended up with a couple of cold draft beers and a selection of tempura.  Our goal was to simply stay up late enough to try to go to bed in the Japan nighttime and it worked well enough.  Of course I did end up waking up around 5am and not really getting back to sleep.

Once day dawned I walked around Musashino City for a couple of hours checking out the surroundings which including several malls, a temple with a graveyard and a more traditional open shopping area. In the latter I found a Post Office which is one of the few places you are guaranteed to find an international cash machine. I was in need of cash so this was welcome.  Later I met Keith for breakfast followed by another walk around town. A short nap after that and it was time to meet Keith, Jon and Yuko for dinner followed by the first of two outside shows.  Dinner was at an excellent tonkatsu restaurant that Yuko recommended. Fantastic miso and while they stuck with the tonkatsu I enjoyed huge prawn katsu.

Monnaka Tenjo Hall

I had come to Japan primarily for Erstwhile Records Amplify 2008: Light, festival but prior to this fest was two nights of outside shows. Tonight’s show, not really associated with the festival but featuring two of its participants, was the only night at a different venue, Monnaka Tenjo Hall. This venue turned out to be an oddly shaped cement room on the 8th floor (IIRC) overlooking a freeway and some quality Tokyo street scenes. Decent sized and setup for theatre this was a nice room to see some live music.  The evenings program was Katsura Yamauchi and Toshimaru Nakamura in a classic solo, solo, duo format. Coming in with Jon and Keith I managed to avoid the cover charge: connections baby 😉

Television Power ElectricThere was a wide variety of merchandise spread out on a table in the back of the room, a collection of maybe 20 chairs and in the front Nakamura’s setup and on the floor Yamauchi’s saxes.  There wasn’t too much merch that I didn’t have barring a bunch of Yamauchi’s discs, but I wasn’t really familiar enough with his work to start acquiring those blind.  I did end up picking up a TV Pow/Toshimaru Nakamura collaboration that I didn’t have that came in beautiful homemade paper wrapping with an obi type binding holding it together. After a bit of time to allow stragglers in and to shift some merch there was an introduction and then Yamauchi came to the stage picked up his alto and began his solo set.

saxesHe began with this hollowed breathing sound, essentially blowing through the sax and even fingering at times but generating no recognizable sax like sounds. Of course for fans of abstract music these sounds were fairly recognizable and I would say in general his extended techniques were fairly routine. The question of course is how one uses them and he tended to stick with a technique for some time, exploring it at length before shifting to another one.  The whispery breathing sounds began to take on a bit of depth and as he approached perhaps the very edge of the more recognizable sax sound-world he generated this fantastic hollow metallic tone. He was in dire need of being able to circular breath as he’d take a deep breath through his nose and then generate a continuous sound for as long as he could and then gasp in more air.  This provided almost a rhythmic structure to this part but I think actual circular breathing would succeed better at the effect he was after.  Alas he only worked the metallic hollow sound for a couple of minutes and then moved to a keying the sax with no sound section. This was again quite rhythmic, almost as if he was playing some jazz standard or some such without any sound.  He concluded this piece by returning to the gentle hisses and rustling breathy tones he opened with.

After the applause he addressed the audience (all of this is of course in Japanese as Jon, Keith and myself were the only non-native speakers there) and then proceeded to play about five short pieces from his new cd, one of which he played on sopranino.  These turned out to be very traditional jazz sounding solo sax. Almost could have been a set of standards.  Very odd and unexpected for me.  Not my kind of thing really.

Toshimaru Nakamura’s setup

Immediately after the end of this set Toshimaru Nakamura moved to the stage, sat down and began to play. This was my first time seeing Nakamura solo (an event which would repeat tomorrow night) and was something I was definitely curious about. I’ve rarely been impressed with his solo recordings but with his recent impressive Dance Music, my expectations had shifted a bit. He began with white noise into which he’d intersperse ripping feedback.  Not overly aggressive but contrasting to the bed of static.  One of these however did become quite loud and upon this occurrence he cut everything out and silence fell. He allowed a decent interval, perhaps a minute or so, before he began dropping in electronic pops and crackles as you often hear in open circuit playing.  He built back up from this again, layering in the white noise and later a sine wave cutting though.  A return to the ripping feedback to conclude the set.  All of this occurred over maybe 15 minutes, perhaps less.

There was a break a this point which I for one used to run outside and find one of the ubiquitous vending machines and I bought a bottle of juice, which I downed immediately, and a bottle of water for later.  It was humid and I was always thirsty, so I count myself a big fan of Japan’s vending machine culture.  After a fifteen-twenty minute break the musicians took to the stage for their duo set.

Katsura Yamauchi/Toshimaru Nakamura

Yamauchi kicked off the set exactly as he had his solo set, with the dry hisses of air through the alto’s resonating chamber. He then proceeded in exactly the same structure, moving from the wind in the autumn leaves sound, to the the more continuous hollow sound reaching that long tones and gasps of air bit. Again that generated that neat metallic sound but it was odd to see him go through the same motions.  Of course there was also Nakamura adding an additional layer of sound to these events which after an initial pause were in the open circuit glitching territory.  These events were well applied pricks of contrasting sound to the windy sounds that Yamauchi was working with.  These coalesced into a more steady state sound that was mostly lost under Yamauchi’s rhythmic breathing/metallic sounds but were brought to the fore as Yamauchi abruptly stopped playing. This was my favorite moment of this piece, the sudden absence of his sound and a thin hiss and glitching pops and tears from Nakamura suddenly springing to the foreground.  Yamauchi paused for a nice stretch, perhaps expecting Nakamura to conclude but when he did not he moved on to the rhythmic key playing.  Nakamura brought up the volume at this point with rips and tears of feedback.  He cut this out, Yamauchi dropped out again and after a gap Nakamura played a single tone and then stopped ending the set.

I thought they were done at this point and began jotting down some notes as Yamauchi again spoke to the audience. But then he grabbed the sopranino and began playing one of his jazz pieces.  A coda of sorts I thought but then Nakamura began playing along with this. Bizarre.  Yamauchi is doing fast runs and trills and Nakamura just pops and glitches. But then Toshi begins to pick it up becoming louder and more aggressive with sharp bursts of feedback and static.  Rather like his playing on 13630 kHz from Between.  Yamauchi keeps up with his rapid, free jazzish runs but either reaching the end of the tune or just unable to compete with the electronics stops playing. Nakamura keeps it up for a bit and then cuts out the tears of feedback to reveal a continuous baseline tone. He lets this go for maybe a minute and then cuts it out ending this short followup piece.

Overall I wasn’t too impressed with this night of music.  Yamauchi I thought had some interesting sounds but I wasn’t really into the structure that he’d develop. I definitely wasn’t into his jazz playing, which of course one could say is a matter of taste but I tend to not seek out those kind of shows. Unexpected but interesting I guess to hear what his other work is like.  Nakamura’s solo was quite short and hence hard to really form much of an opinion on.  Again it seemed to not really have much structure. It felt like he setup some sounds and as he lost control of the feedback, cut it out and started over. This “second part” was more successful but it really just ran from soft and sparse to increasingly dense and louder. And of course it was really short, 5-10 minutes out of the whole performance.  The first piece of the duo was better, but would have been better still if there had not been the solos prior as the two of them basically were doing about the same things they had just done.  They didn’t seem connected at all, Yamauchi in particular just reprising the sequences from his solo and Nakamura falling right into the  comfortable accompanist role that marked some of his lesser collaborations from the previous year.  Then there was that bizarre final piece which honestly was the most surprising.  Yamaichi’s jazz piece obliterated by Nakamura’s electronics. It wasn’t at all good, but it was unexpected and different.

see all of my  Amplify08 photos.
read all of my Amplify08 Reviews.

AMPLIFY 2008: light

Outside Shows

September 17th (Wednesday)

Katsura Yamauchi/Toshi Nakamura

Monnaka Tenjo Hall, Monzennakamachi, Tokyo.
7:30pm 2,000 yen.

September 18th (Thursday)
Toshimaru Nakamura

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo.

Amplify 2008: Light

September 19 – 21, 2008

Kid Ailack Art Hall, Meidaimae, Tokyo, Japan

7pm, 3000 yen per night
Erstwhile Records
presents Amplify08

September 19th (Friday)
Katsura Yamauchi solo

Keith Rowe/Taku Unami

Ami Yoshida/Toshimaru Nakamura

September 20th (Saturday)
Mitsuhiro Yoshimura solo

Sachiko M solo (contact mike only)

Keith Rowe solo

September 21st (Sunday)
Keith Rowe/Sachiko M

Katsura Yamauchi/Mitsuhiro Yoshimura

Keith Rowe/Toshimaru Nakamura

I’m off to Japan for almost two weeks, to see the above shows and to finally visit a country I’ve wanted to visit for ages.  So there’ll be no posts here for a while, but expect reports on the shows and travel experiences upon my return. If any of my readers are going to be attending any of these shows, say hi. I’ll be the guy in the hat. For more info on the festival go to Erstwhile Records Amplify08 page.

Some new snaps

Trees in little Cranberry Lake, Fidalgo Island, WA

It’s been awhile since I’ve uploaded any of my “Abstract Reality” photographs, but they still make up a large part of my picture taking. There are certain things I look for in these pictures and in a way I found that it was becoming a bit too easy to do. So I’ve been trying to be a lot more selective in the ones that I make public.

Section of some washed out chalk drawings, in Anacortes WA

So I’ve recently uploaded a selection from pictures I have taken over the entire summer. Most of them are of chalk drawings in a park in Anacortes WA, trees and water at Little Cranberry Lake on Fidalgo Island,  a sculpture along the Lochside Trail near Victoria, BC, and then a scattering from Vancouver and Seattle.

Lake Surface.

I should again restart that these are things that attract my eye, I make no claims on them being art or anything.  I don’t devote the time or have the level of dedication to photography that the real artists have. In a way I just present these as an insight into what I like. Additionally there are those that seem to like similar things that I do.

Sculpture (detail) on Vancouver Island

I am a bit curious if there are other people that find the same things interesting as I do, in a way some of the things that attract my eye seem to be a result of how our vision system works.  I did at one point jot down all the things I look for when I take these pictures, I’ll have to post that one day.

Windows in Vancouver.

As always click on the photos to be take to a flickr page where you can select different sizes. To see all of the pictures in this batch check out my Recent Abstracts set.

reflected trees
reflected trees

The Revenge of the Dead Indians

Revenge of the dead IndiansJohn Cage: The Revenge of the Dead Indians, 1993

“If the questions aren’t good the chance operations aren’t good either.” – John Cage

What a mess this film was. Which isn’t to say that there are wonderful bits in it but as a whole it is a total disaster.  It’d be fruitless to try to describe the whole thing but the gist of it is four separate components. First off there is a late interview with John Cage, which is as you’d expect filled with interesting material.  Then there are arty bits that initially are static camera placements with some of Cage’s music playing.  Later the arty bits are continuous movement as if shot out of a moving vehicle,  layered bits that rather look like 80s music videos and quick cut shots usually made up of previous material. Then there are interviews with various people, at first contemporaries of Cage and then people influenced by him, then = people seemingly completely unrelated to him and finally man on the street type interviews of people talking about their perception of the surrounding sound.  All of this is of course cut between at various lengths, apparently from a frame up to 4’33” (v. clever) in length. Finally there is some bits of actual performance of Cages work, but the least amount of time in the film is devoted to pure music performance.

The primary problem with “tributes” that rely on interviews (as opposed to say a musical tribute) is that in essence they aren’t really about the subject but are about the person being interviewed.  This is particularly the case in this film as along with relevant people such as Cunningham, Xenakis and so on they chose to interview people like Dennis Hopper, Matt Groening and Rutger Hauer. While I’ve enjoyed these people’s own work in varying degrees they really had nothing to offer on Cage and as readers from his work didn’t really do it much justice.  At one point, completely apropos of nothing they have Hauer read his final monologue from Blade Runner.  The cutting of the film (which apparently followed the fibonacci sequence for the lengths, though of course 4’33” being the max) renders many of the actual valuable interviews a fragmented mess.  Personally I’d like to have just had the Cage interview as a whole, then selectable interviews with the other people.

A nice dating element was the obsession with chaos. Now Cage obviously used chance throughout his career and of course in the 80s and 90s Chaos Theory became very popular and Cage of course recognized the connections.  So as this was pretty late in his life and right during the vogue of chaos he often was speaking in those terms. They took this as a liberty to go pretty far afield, with bits by Mandelbrot and Murray Gell-Mann.  At this point it really began to feel like a certain type of PBS documentary. It crammed in a wide variety of stuff that the casual yuppie PBS viewer was aware of and interested in in a superficial level and they present it. The further they’d go with this the less Cage was interviewed and the subjects made no connect to him whatsoever. This went so far as to be talking about artificial intelligence which Cage had absolutely no connection with and no (afaik) interest in. The only (very thin) connection was that Marvin Minsky knew Cage and he of course is a pioneer in AI.  But they other AI people they talked to never even mentioned Cage. Nor did they tie AI into Chaos which certain connections can be made, but not at this level of depth this film was operating at. Not to mention that the film was about an American composer!

The music in general was decent with performers such as Stephen Drury, Margaret Leng Tan and Irwin Arditti.  But there was so little of it.  The live segments were almost always overlaid pieces, which is perfectly acceptable, but in this film it  came across as a way to have more music listed then time devoted to it. During the arty bits, they’d more often then not play natural sounds, some of the layered and cut up by the documentarians, rather then Cages music.  Again this fits into the PBS vibe where instead of “forcing” the viewers into hearing, say, oscillating feedback with Cage intoning mesostics over the top, you give them vacuous statements from such baby boomer friendly wags as Frank Zappa. It should noted that in the accompanying interview the filmmakers make it pretty clear they were a lot more excited to be talking to Zappa then to or about Cage. His connection to Cage was about the most tangential making this particularly annoying.

Finally the length must be mentioned the film is two and a half hours long and as I think the above comments point out, there was huge amounts of masturbatory material.  The film came to natural endings (usual on a nice quote) about four times and then they’d pull something else, usually totally out of their ass, and go off on this tangent.  The next to final theme was interviewing shop owners in Paris where they would talk about how the surrounding noise effects them.  Sure you can make a connection to accepting outside sounds and listening to noises and so on, but it was so belabored at this point and absolutely superfluous. The final shot was a static 4’33” of rubble in a street with cars coming by and the natural sounds. A nice enough way to go out, but the film at this point had completely worn out it’s welcome.

The final analysis is of opportunity squandered. They had a great Cage interview, plenty of great musicians on hand not to mention the Mode library and excellent interviews with people who knew Cage, were contemporaries or connected in various ways, but they couldn’t display the restraint required to put together a solid piece.  If they had forgone the arty bits, using more live performance for the interstitial bits, focused more on the music and only used the relevant interviews, plus kept it to about an hour and a half, this could have been great.

The Revenge of the Dead Indians can be bought direct from Mode Records.

(initially published on ihatemusic)