Thursday, 23 December 2010

Shanghai 5 [2010]



Film: Shanghai 5
Director: Charles Lanceplaine

Shanghai 5 is a film about skateboarding in Shanghai. While the film is focussed on the burgeoning skating scene in Shanghai, it also touches on a lot of interesting cultural and socio-political values prevalent in China at the moment and how it affects skateboarding and skating culture. Throughout the film, director Charles Lanceplaine intersperses beautifully shot scenes of Shanghai's vast cityscapes, interviews with the main proponents of the skating scene and of course, plenty of shots of the skaters themselves doing what they do best.

While I couldn't be considering a skating fan by any stretch of the imagination, I found watching Shanghai 5 a very moving experience. On a personal level, Shanghai is quite a familiar place to me having been there a few times and it's a city that I have a real love/hate relationship with. The film also goes much deeper than any other skating film I've seen, widening its scope so as to include musings on Chinese culture and the ever-changing political identity of the country and commenting on how these factors heavily affect the development of skateboarding in the city. There's some really great first-hand accounts of how the 'one-child-policy' affects how young people approach skateboarding; in one instance, a professional talks about the clash in interest between his parents wanting him to study intensively for his high school exams and his own desire to become a professional skateboarder. It reminded me of when I spoke to Rustic, a punk band from Beijing; they told me that aside from their own parents being against what they were doing, Carsick Cars singer Shou Wang still had arguments with his parents about his career, even though he's in China's biggest indie rock band and has toured with Sonic Youth and travelled the world playing music. The film takes the view that I myself take, and that is that the 'one-child-policy' makes parents incredibly eager for their child to succeed at any price and by success, they mean graduating from university and getting a well-paid job. The level of dedication shown by the skaters in the film is the same as with Chinese bands that I know; they do it out of pure passion, as there is rarely any real financial gain for them.

The film is technically very well-shot and features a great soundtrack of stuff from Gui Boratto to Bonobo and some very old Chinese pop music. You can watch the whole film in HD on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Lily Chou-Chou - エーテル [2010]



Artist: Lily Chou-Chou
Single: Ether
Label: Oorong Records

I can hardly believe it myself, but producer Takeshi Kobayashi and Salyu have reunited for the tenth anniversary of All About Lily Chou-Chou (2000), which means that the fictional singer Lily Chou-Chou has been effectively resurrected. Since the film, singer Salyu, who plays Lily in the film has gone to release records, so it may be asked what the fuss is about a new Lily Chou-Chou song. The answer is that it is the first time since working on the film and indeed discovering Salyu and bringing her into the public eye, that producer Takeshi Kobayashi has worked with Salyu in the context of the Lily Chou-Chou project.

The first Lily Chou-Chou album has remained a favourite of mine for a long time; Salyu's forlorn vocals, stretching out, pained and desperate over Kobayashi's productions which blend trip-hop and electronic drumbeats with mellotrons, synthesisers and a live band for the more optimistic tracks. Film director Shunji Iwai wrote all of the lyrics for the first album too, and although I can't understand them, I can imagine that Iwai would have matched the poetry that he conveyed through the film's images with equal power through the music's words.

This time round, we are treated to a far more polished affair. Salyu's voice has evidently grown stronger in the past ten years since the first album, but it still has an ethereal quality that remains ineffable. There are certainly echoes of the production-style that was prevalent on the first album, but it's been revamped; there's still the slow, chugging electronic beats and the slowly growing, organic textures and the whole atmosphere of isolation, longing and melancholia that drove the first album, but the production sounds better and the instruments sound fresher than ever.

To me, it's the same Lily as ever. The metaphor for all of the kids growing up who feel out of place in their environment, and feel (quite rightly) at odds with the world that they live in. This is just as great as any of the tracks from the first album, and probably even better than some (sacrilegious statement, I know). For any Lilyholics/Lilyphiliacs out there, this is unmissable.

As far as I know, the single hasn't been released in Europe yet, so the only place you can hear it is YouTube, and if you know a way of getting around the block iTunes puts on other countries, via iTunes Japan.

Music Video (HD):

Friday, 10 December 2010

Tujiko Noriko - Solo [2007]



Artist: Tujiko Noriko
Album: Solo
Label: Editions Mego

Tujiko Noriko is a Japanese musician making glitchy ambient beats with a uniquely quirky touch. She is often compared to Piana, but this is incredibly misleading as her music is far more concrete and decidedly electronic, as opposed to Piana's relatively lush arrangements that use electronics in the context of creating gentle ambience. Solo is Tujiko's sixth full-length album and shows yet another mutation in her style; while Shojo Toshi, Make Me Hard and From Tokyo to Naiagara all had their dark moments, Solo is possibly her deepest, murkiest album to date.

Album opener, the plunging, doom-laden 'Magic' sets the tone for the rest of Solo; what sounds like broken turntables moan over a mechanically unromantic drum machine while an organ drones away in the background. As is always the case on her albums, Tujiko's melodies lull on seemingly without refrain, in an almost conversational style and without a hint of cutesy girlishness. Indeed, Tujiko's voice always seems to be placed between two opposing dualities; she suggests a certain naïvely playful approach to the productions, yet her control over the relationship between the music and her words clearly displays an omnipotence over the sound. While she explores a multitude of different styles through her warped musical vocabulary: weird electro-hip-hop ('In a Chinese Restaurant'), spoken word ('No Error in My Memory') and even veering into guitar-rock at one point ('Ending Kiss'), the album has a really cohesive feel even though it feels all over the place at the same time. The main guiding feature of the album is Tujiko's vocals and her bizarre and unconventional melodic structures, which is perhaps what allows the album to feel so much like a single unit. Even when compared to near-masterpieces like Make Me Hard, Solo really stands up on its own as a definitive item in Tujiko Noriko's ever-growing discography.

Tracklist:

1) Magic
2) Sun
3) Ending Kiss
4) Let Me See Your Face
5) Saigo no Chikyu
6) Gift
7) No Error in My Memory
8) Spot
9) In a Chinese Restaurant

Download (link taken from thesirenssound.com. Password is sirenssound.blogspot.com)
Spotify

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Fat Jon - Lightweight Heavy [2004]



Artist: Fat Jon
Album: Lightweight Heavy
Label: Exceptional Records

Lightweight Heavy is the title of hip-hop producer Fat Jon (also known as Fat Jon the Ample Soul Physician)'s third album. Perhaps more famous for his work with Five Deez, collaborations with Nujabes and contributions to the soundtrack of Samurai Champloo, Fat Jon is a renown producer who makes texturally rich beats and even takes the mic on tracks by Five Deez and on various guest appearances on other hip-hop records. More famous in Japan than perhaps anywhere else in the world, his music has influenced a wave of new Japanese hip-hop producers alongside Nujabes and others on Seba Jun's Hydeout Productions label.

Lightweight Heavy stands as a fine example of Fat Jon's work. It's all here: the undeniably funky drum breaks, the chilled out vibe and peaceful atmosphere, slowed down soul samples, super-heavy deep bass-lines, all underlined by a strong jazzy overtone. While Pase Rock, Chilly Most and Sonic's intelligent, rhythmically and poetically complex verses are always more than welcome on a Five Deez record, Lightweight Heavy is a platform for Fat Jon to explore the full-extent of his sound without needing to tailor the pieces for MCs. While with Five Deez, Fat Jon's productions are always intentionally low-key and allow for the lyrical input of the other members, little is held back on this record; production takes centre-stage and the listener is ushered into a mellifluously groovy sound-world. Jon is not afraid to use grainy vinyl samples alongside crisply recorded live instrumentation and revels in the point at which each becomes indiscernible from the other. Lightweight Heavy has a strong spiritual vibe, a million miles away from the productions of hardcore and gangsta rap. I always feel that there's a New Age feel that runs through the work of not only Fat Jon but also that of Cyne and the aforementioned Nujabes, perhaps exemplified by the sampling of New Age electronic explorers in all three artists' work. If you're into new-school hip-hop, and want a break from the more confrontational sounds of certain subgenres, check this out.

I've seen a few blogs that have been directly contacted by Fat Jon asking them not to post download links on their blog, so I feel that it would be disrespectful to do so here. I listen to his stuff via Spotify, so I'll post a link to the album on there instead.

Tracklist:

1) Talk to Me
2) Dreamers
3) Day
4) Everywhere
5) Her
6) Far Away
7) Torn Again
8) Mystery God
9) Synopsis
10) You Are
11) Body Language
12) Beyond Love
13) Space Man
14) Point A 2 B

New Order - Ceremony [1981]



Artist: New Order
Single: Ceremony
Label: Factory Records

Ceremony is a single by New Order, written with Ian Curtis in the original Joy Division line-up and recorded by the reformed group after his death. While the lyrics and music were co-written by Curtis, the band dissolved before the song was recorded in the studio. To date, only three recordings of Joy Division playing the track remain: the first, featured on the compilation album Still (1981) was recorded at a performance by the group at Birmingham University. Unfortunately, the recording starts partway through the introduction of the song and Curtis' vocals are inaudible for the first part of the song. The second version is a home recording of the song in its early stages and is available on the Heart and Soul (1997) box set and the third version is an audience-recorded version of the song played for a sound-check on the 2nd of May, 1980. Later on, after Joy Division had reformed without Curtis as New Order, two versions were recorded: the first, as a three-piece with Sumner, Hook and Morris, released in March 1981 in a gold-pressed sleeve (the version that I'm talking about) and the second, recorded with new member Gillian Gilbert in September 1981 (the more well-known version).

History aside, I want to talk about the record itself. Although I don't often write about singles, this is undoubtedly one of my favourite singles of all-time, so it's worthy of its own post. I first heard the track on Sofia Coppola's film Marie Antoinette (2006), where it is used in a particularly beautiful scene in which the Queen and her friends stay up all night drinking and having fun and eventually sit and watch the sunrise together. I later discovered an original copy of the 7" in my own house in a box of my Dad's old records in the garage. It was well preserved and sounded gorgeous when I put it on the turntable; something about it was different to the other recording and I thought it sounded better (I later realised that the version I had was a different one to the version used in the film). All of the emotions were right there and seemed to just slowly swarm around me and drag me under, feeling at once satisfying and yet always leaving me yearning for something more. Therein lies the secret of the music.

Obviously the band were recording this track under a year after Ian Curtis' death, his suicide would still have been heavy on the minds of all the members. Bernard Sumner's world-weary vocals seem to channel some part of Curtis' own voice through the track, not through sonic emulation, but through something deeper and on a more basic, communicative level. All of the instruments sound alien: Hook's bass is smothered in a really thick chorus effect, Sumner's jutting, angular guitar seems far away in the mix and echoes through the filter of the other instruments; Morris' drumming resounds with pure conviction and a relentless drive while stray guitar melodies woozily whirr around, spinning in and out of tune with the other instruments. Despite this huge sound, the group is really very stripped back with only three members present on record, relying more on pure emotional drive and some ethereal power to push the music from its uncertain beginning to its definite conclusion.

The meaning and thought behind Curtis' lyrics, which portray a man desperately unsure of his situation and standing in his own life and helplessly groping through the darkness of existence towards a perceived end, are incredibly evocative and wonderfully vocalised by Sumner. There is a feeling that Sumner is not trying to replicate Curtis' singing style, but that he has felt a pure connection with the music and words and fully comprehended what Curtis was really trying to communicate through them. There is such a sense of desperation and realness in the music; it simultaneously seems to be hopeful and optimistic, the music propelling itself into the sky with its clockwork drumming and lulling guitar shapes, while on the other hand it accepts total uncertainty and even pessimism at what the future may hold. This is something that cover version always seem to fail to capture, or at least they fail to strike this balance in a delicate enough way.

All I can do is recommend this to everyone. On the surface, it's really a very simple piece of music with fairly minimal structural and instrumental choices. However, in its purest essence it is a beautiful document of the struggle felt by all people on their journey through a life that they did not choose for themselves and that causes them to feel vulnerable. This is never far from my turntable, and I will most definitely still be playing it when I come to die.

Tracklist:

1) Ceremony
2) In a Lonely Place

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

aspidistrafly - I Hold a Wish for You [2008]



Artist: aspidistrafly
Album: I Hold a Wish for You
Label: Kitchen. Records

This is the debut release from Singaporean group aspidistrafly, named in part after the book Keep the Aspidistra Flying. The group is April Lee and Ricks Ang, a photographer and graphic designer respectively, who, after starting their web/graphic design company Kitchen., founded a record label to run parallel with their endeavours in design. While still a burgeoning label, Kitchen. has become known for its small roster of great ambient artists, boasting names like Fjordne and Haruka Nakamura, and its beautiful packaging, which is no doubt down to the label's close ties with the art and design. Having designed sites for the aforementioned Haruka Nakamura as well as other prominent artists like Celer, the label shows a strong tie to a distinctive aesthetic, most likely inspired by the balanced and placid nature of their catalogue.

I Hold a Wish for You is aspidistrafly's first, and thus far only release. Although firmly rooted in the aesthetics of contemporary digital ambient music, the group's sound strays far from the abstract nature of ambient music, into more pop-based territory - and yes I do use the word pop in a fairly loose sense. While many of the tracks are instrumentals, mixing tiny pops and clicks with field recordings and manipulated instrumentation, some of the tracks are fully-fledged, well-structured songs. Some of the highlights of the album are these moments where April's stunning voice floats effortlessly over gently plucked guitar strings and reverberating pianos, switching back and forth between English and other languages. A lot of the time the songs just rise out of the meandering instrumentals unexpectedly, bringing with them oceanic reverb waves and synthesiser swells, even accompanied by light drumming at times. To me, their sound is totally unique, as I can't say that I know of anyone coming at dream pop from the same angle as them; being primarily an ambient group that uses pop to punctuate their albums. Certainly, Piana has done ambient pop music before, but it's not the same at all; while she uses an ambient aesthetic mainly as a sonic backdrop for her sugar-sweet tunes, aspidistrafly have a completely different angle of attack on the whole thing.

Overall, I Hold a Wish for You is a unique and beautiful take on dream pop. Highlights include the ubiquitous 'On the Summer Solstice', a suitably vague tale of love, which sees April breathing out the very atmosphere of summer into your ears, behind which lies Ang's stunning, minimal guitarwork, at times sounding like a portable radio on your dashboard singing you to sleep. Closing track '花火', translated by my room-mate to mean 'Fireworks', is a piece which seems to capture the glaring heat of summer with a romantic eye, combining sustained acoustic instruments with heavily processed guitars to bring the album to a majestic end.

The stunning packaging for the release, designed by the duo and featuring a series of grainy, saturated analogue photos by singer April Lee adds to the atmosphere conjured up by the music. Coming in an accordion-style, fold-out paper case, the design shows not only the great creative minds behind the group, but also the attention to detail on packaging and designs that will no doubt become a trademark of the label in years to come.

Tracklist:

1) Candlescape
2) Moonlight Shadow
3) Common Colors in the Air
4) Sampling Atmosphere
5) On the Summer Solstice
6) Porcelain Sky Wink
7) Sui
8) Endless Dreamless
9) 花火

Sunday, 21 November 2010

麓健一 - 「美化」[2008]



Artist: Kenichi Fumoto
Album: Beautification
Label: Bijin Record

Kenichi Fumoto is a singer-songwriter from Japan. Like many others (in fact it seems like everyone in the west), I discovered him through the fabulous Female Trouble blog, the first stop for unknown gems from the Japanese underground. To the best of my knowledge, this album, a compilation of previous material released on his early CD-Rs, has no official (or even unofficial for that matter) English title, but Beautification is what came out every time when I put the Kanji through a few different online translators. The romaji title is Bika.

Fumoto's music is recorded in beautiful low fidelity on Garageband in his room. While many of his songs follow the formula of guitar and voice associated with singer-songwriters, his range is far greater than this; this compilation sees Fumoto playing organs, percussion, drum machines and synthesisers, alongside his own heartbreaking vocals and gentle guitar utterances. The songs often begin simply and are fleshed out over the course of the track, building into big dreamy sound-clouds. There are several instances when Fumoto is joined by Nisennenmondai guitarist and Bijin Record owner Takada Masako, who adds her light, pretty voice to some songs.

Any description of this album will undoubtedly fall short however, because this album really is, as said on Female Trouble, far greater than the sum of its parts. There's nothing flashy or groundbreaking about this album, everything from the production to the instrumentation is modest, creating only as much as is needed for the songs to communicate their individual messages. After being fairly obsessed with the album and individual tracks from it for over half a year now, I feel that I finally understand why it has so much staying power and remains relevant after repeated listenings. I frequently go through phases of being obsessed with an album or a single song for weeks on end, and I'm unable to think about much else other than the sound or melody of this song until I hear it again. Beautification is essentially an album with sixteen songs that will infect your very being in that way. Every single song has an undeniable energy which has the power to captivate and refuse to leave your mind. I feel like I can say little else about this record; if you're anything like me, you will be hugely moved by this album and will take pleasure in knowing a record with more longevity than anything else that I've listened to in a very long time.

Tracklist:

1) 自治
2) 十字
3) うぐいすの谷
4) ダンスホールの雨
5) 西海岸
6) 余りに短い
7) 踊り続けて
8) バリケード
9) 尖塔から
10) コールドハート
11) 五月と永遠
12) 17
13) 輪廻と天国
14) 彼女はそう言う そう言う
15) 王子たち
16) 郵便#2

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Bilinda Butchers - Tulips / This Love Is Fucking Right! [2009]


Artist: The Bilinda Butchers
Single: Tulips / This Love Is Fucking Right!
Label: Beko DSL

The Bilinda Butchers are a fantastically named dream pop band hailing from San Francisco. The group is made up of two members, named Michael and Adam and their sound sits somewhere between the reverb-drenched acoustic ambience associated with dream pop and that of a very laid-back electro-pop group.

This digital single shows the two sides of this sound very well; 'Tulips' is a chilled out affair, with a lethargic drumbeat, Motown bass-line and ethereally melancholic vocals, beneath which lie thick layers of echoing analogue synthesisers. 'This Love Is Fucking Right!' is a cover of the The Pains of Being Pure at Heart song of the same name. While in the same vein as the first track, it's a much sparser affair: no percussion, just a lonely voice accompanied by an acoustic guitar and what sounds like a mellotron brushing clusters of sampled choirs over the melody. The track floats along in a hazily fluid way, until a synthesiser comes through really brightly and lifts the clouds.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves dream pop. I also recommend checking out other Beko releases; they have an ever-growing catalogue of great music, all released for free.

Tracklist:

1) Tulips
2) This Love Is Fucking Right!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

John Bauer


John Bauer was an artist and illustrator, known for his illustrations of Scandinavian folklore. Bauer was born in 1882, in Jönköping, Sweden. He grew up, the third of four children, in his family's flat above his father's charcuterie in Östra torget, on the outskirts of Jönköping. At 16 years old, Bauer travelled to Stockholm to study art. Two years later, he was accepted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, during which time he was working part-time as a freelance illustrator. While at the academy, Bauer met his future-wife Ester Ellqvist, with whom he travelled to (and eventually settled in) Italy. Bauer stayed in his villa in Volterra for two years, studying the Italian renaissance, during which period he was also receiving regular commissions for fairytale illustrations, most famously, for the first eight volumes of Bland Tomtar och Troll, a collection of fairytales written by Swedish authors. By 1915 however, Bauer was looking to distance himself from his fairytale work and began painting religious figures, heavily influenced by his time spent in Italy. By 1918, his marriage was on the rocks, the world was at war, and he was suffering from depression brought on by self-doubt in his own abilities as an artist. On his move back to Stockholm, the canal boat Per Brahe sank and the whole family, Ester, Bauer and their three-year-old son Bengt, drowned.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Eri Is Asleep

I started a new blog on tumblr called Eri Is Asleep. It's a place for me to discuss and write about things that I don't want to put up here. I feel like recently I've been wanting to write more about my own personal experiences in a different context to reviews. Recently I think that I've been crossing over the reviews with my own experiences, and I want this to be primarily a place for reviewing and sharing art. Welcome to the Space World is still my main blog, but I just wanted to do something a bit more personal so that I could keep reviews and other writing and sharing separate.

Caravan - In the Land of Grey and Pink [1971]



Artist: Caravan
Album: In the Land of Grey and Pink
Label: Deram Records

Caravan is an English progressive rock band formed in 1968 in Canterbury. They are closely associated with the "Canterbury sound"; a unique fusion of progressive rock, psychedelia, jazz and English classical and folk influences. I've never been a big prog fan at all; I've been introduced to Yes a countless amount of times and I can never quite get past the camp theatricality of it all. I find Caravan much more listenable than the majority of progressive rock that I've heard. Instead of the central focus of the music being guitar-wankery and general virtuosity, there is a focus on creating pieces with a strong groove that are also structurally interesting. Caravan also happen to be potentially the most English band of all-time. The first track on The Land of Grey and Pink is about meeting a girl on a golf course and drinking tea with her. On top of this, the members names are: David Sinclair, Richard Sinclair, Pye Hastings and Richard Coughlan.

In the Land of Grey and Pink is Caravan's second album, released in 1971 on Decca's progressive subsidiary label, Deram. The album shows the group as pioneers of the Canterbury sound; the structure of the music is very much in the vein of other progressive rock bands; pieces that constantly shift and change. However, the album also shows a lot of psychedelic influences, like David Sinclair's filtered organ and a slew of nonsensical lyrics. These elements culminate in the twenty-two minute masterpiece 'Nine Feet Underground', within which there are eight movements. Sinclair's organ tears it's way through the whole song, its melody continuing without refrain, there's some really tight drumming, an incredible bass groove and smatterings of saxophone, guitar and organ solos which get tied together by the singing of Pye Hastings, whose voice shows up when the jams break down into simpler songs. The whole thing works magnificently well, with enough melodic interest generated from the long-form instrumentals to hold ones attention infinitely. Amidst these instrumentals though, are brief moments of more conventional rock songs, offering moments for all of the instrumentation to come together and benefit from a simpler structure. Although I've just been talking about one track (it does take up half of the album), the first half isn't half bad either. The first side of the album is more pop-based, and by that I mean shorter tracks and sweet melodies. Caravan are often described as a progressive pop band, and the first half of this record shows you why.

Big thanks to Ben Dawton who introduced me to this album and a load of other great stuff that I'll probably end up posting up here sometime soon!

Tracklist:

1) Golf Girl
2) Winter Wine
3) Love to Love You (and Tonight Pigs Will Fly)
4) In the Land of Grey & Pink
5) Nine Feet Underground

Thursday, 4 November 2010

潤二伊藤 - 闇の声 [2003]



Title: Voices in the Dark
Artist: Junji Ito
Scanlator: Daniel Lau

Voices in the Dark is a comic book by renowned Japanese horror mangaka Junji Ito, famous for works like Uzumaki, Gyō and Tomie, the first of which was made into a feature-length film. Ito is known for his dark style and his intricate character designs. I've read quite a lot of his stuff now; Uzumaki was the first comic book I read and remains one of my favourites, Gyō is grotesque (and I mean that in the best way) and Voices in the Dark is yet another horror masterpiece.

Unlike many of his books which are released in a series and follow a linear storyline, or follow the exploits of a single character, like Tomie for instance, Voices in the Dark is a collection of stories which stand completely separate from one another. This short collection holds what are, for me, some of Ito's best concepts and story-lines. One such story, Roar of Ages, is a tale in which a phantom flood sweeps its way through a village, haunting the villagers that lost their loved ones and consuming survivors. Glyceride is another classic about a girl whose father owns a greasy barbeque shop below where they live. Her house gets so filled with grease from the shop that it begins having adverse effects on the family. I won't give any more away, but let me just say that it all comes to a wonderfully disgusting conclusion. Other stories include a comedy duo that make people cry to death, a haunted house with a cannibal boy as its main attraction, and a boy that metamorphoses into a bat. This really is a must read.

The book has not yet been translated or published in English. Fortunately, Daniel Lau has done a great translation of this book, available for English speakers to read so we don't have to wait for official release. Check out his site here.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Jim O'Rourke - Eureka/Perfume - Macaroni



I really wanted to share this video with everyone. I watched this just after seeing the film Eureka, in a desperate search to listen again to Jim O'Rourke's song of the same name. The film is more or less completely devoid of music (excepting a few sparse piano notes), so when this track comes on Akihiko's portable stereo in the bus at the end, it really hits you on a different level.

This video is a mix of the track 'Eureka' and some edited clips from Perfume's music video for 'Macaroni'. Somehow the combination works remarkably well, especially when Nocchi drops her camera and runs towards the sun; it's just an emotional rush. The whole nostalgia present in the music gets perfectly reflected back by the grainy home-made super-8 feel of the video. I think that even if there was an official video made for this beautiful piece of music, it couldn't top this. Enjoy.

Piana - Snow Bird [2003]



Artist: Piana
Album: Snow Bird
Label: Happy

Snow Bird is Piana's first album, released on Taylor Deupree's Happy label, which has now merged with 12k. Unfortunately, this means that it's nearly impossible to get ahold of this album as it hasn't been reissued which is a real shame, because this is certainly a contender for her best album and that's saying a lot for such a consistent artist.

On Snow Bird, Piana shows herself to be an experimental musician with a keen ear for unique melodies, rather than just a pop singer flirting with electronics. After listening to her most recent album Eternal Castle (2007) for a while, I forgot that in the beginning of her career, she trod a middle path between the type of glitchy soundscapes of other Japanese ambient artists like Fourcolor and Sawako, and her own unique brand of ethereal pop. Eternal Castle was certainly a step into a realm of more conventional sounds, putting a far greater emphasis on acoustic instrumentation and melody than on her previous two albums. Snow Bird is such a wonderful album because she manages to get (in my opinion) the perfect balance between her experimental tendencies and her voice as a pop singer and composer.

Snow Bird is in fact the third album of Piana's that I made my way around to listening to, Ephemeral (2005) being the first. Snow Bird is definitely her most experimental album to date, but also the album where she manages to transmit her melodies in their purest form. On top of this, the instrumentation on Snow Bird is much more stripped down than on any of her other albums, with more of an emphasis on electronic manipulation and processing. The result is something profoundly beautiful; just Naoko's voice, some guitars, piano, strings and her laptop guiding the recordings.

After listening to Snow Bird through several times, I must say that I think this is her best effort to date. Her vocal melodies and harmonies are completely original on these recordings and they shine through from behind the layers of digital glitches which permeate her sound. It was evident to me that she had sampled some material from Ephemeral on Eternal Castle, primarily just synthesised sounds, but also some strings. If, however, you're looking for the greatest interpretation of the Piana sound, then just go straight to Snow Bird. For me, she delivers her sonic vision in its purest form on this record, and it surpasses all of her later records.

Tracklist:

1) 20 Years Ago
2) Butterfly
3) Snow Bird
4) Spring Has Come!!!
5) Winter Sleep
6) Hide and Seek
7) Voice
8) Monster
9) April
10) Blue Bell
11) After 20 Years

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Preslav Literary School - Echolalia [2010]



Artist: Preslav Literary School
Album: Echolalia
Label: NO-FI

Echolalia is a collaboration between Berlin-based cassette collagist Adam Thomas and a host of musicians and artists from around Europe. The idea was formulated by Thomas (who records under the Preslav Literary School moniker) and visual artist Cara-Bell Jones, who also designed the cover art for Preslav's Beautiful Was the Time (2009). The record revolves around ideas of repetition and circularity; the word 'echolalia' itself being the name given to a condition in which children repeat what they hear when they are spoken to by others. As in almost all of Preslav Literary School's music, the sole sound source is pre-recorded cassettes.

Almost a year before its release, the live performance of the record took place in Newcastle upon-Tyne in a cinema-space in the middle of a particularly harsh winter. Thomas sent out a request for applications from anyone interested in participating in the project, and from these selected a handful of musicians and artists, who, alongside Machinefabriek, Poldr and Posset would make up a tape-loop orchestra for this one-off performance and eventual release. Participants were from a range of ages, disciplines, backgrounds and locations and met one another for the first time on the day before the performance. Together, they spent one day dissecting cassettes and creating loops from the reels of tape. The tapes, made up of sounds as disparate as Chinese folk songs and answer-machine recordings, were then blended together in all their decaying beauty at The Star and Shadow Cinema. The performance was improvised, with each performer deciding where and when to play their own loops by intently listening, and communicating with one another only through the sound of the tapes.

I was myself involved in this performance and release, but this isn't intended as shameless self-promotion. The actual release sounds great and was truly a collaborative effort, in which I was fortunate enough to meet some incredibly interesting and talented artists. Here is the official press release:

_______________________________________

NO-FI will release 'Echolalia' on October 18th 2010 as 12” vinyl with a booklet containing an essay by Tom Recchion of Los Angeles Free Music Society. The album is a live recording of a tape-loop orchestra led by Berlin-based artist Preslav Literary School and features contributions from Machinefabriek, Posset, Poldr and many others.

Preslav Literary School held two days of workshops on making tape-loops from compact cassettes in December 2009 at Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Participants then worked with the new archive of loops in front of a live audience in a performance involving multiple playback machines, mixers, real tape delays and live cassette manipulation.


Recalling the sounds of Faust, Popol Vuh, Throbbing Gristle, The Skaters and Broadcast the album draws on the energy of other decades and scenes as diverse as US underground noise, German krautrock and French musique concrète. At times melodic and blissful, at others dark and cut-up, the album seems to move beyond its constituent parts and methodology to reach something haunting and engaging. The album was mixed and mastered as it was played live, with no extra overdubs, by the cult Berlin dubstep producer Lord Cry Cry (Blunt Force Trauma).

The vinyl, whose packaging is based on vintage cassette design features commissioned artwork from Supanaught and photography from Marion Auburtin with a free digital download of all material, plus a bonus, exclusive Machinefabriek solo tape set from the same performance. Echolalia was supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.


http://www.no-fi.org.uk/


http://www.preslavliteraryschool.co.uk


As Preslav Literary School, Adam Thomas makes live tape collages using sounds drawn from an ever- growing archive of self-generated or discovered outsider noise, found sound and spoken word cassettes. A process of transference, overdubbing and live manipulation reworks these source materials into compelling, ambient broadcasts. Adam has released several albums and live CDrs, and played alongside Machinefabriek, Leif Elggren, Sudden Infant, Antoine Chessex, Matt Elliott, Shitty Listener & many others. He has toured the UK, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and Poland and will play at 2010's flux/s and Shift festivals.


Artist Biographies: Introducing the players...


1. Machinefabriek (Rutger Zuydervelt) is one of the most exciting, diverse and prolific artists working in experimental music today. With over 100 multi-format releases in the last five years for labels such as Type Records, Lampse, Digitalis, Staalplaat (Mort Aux Vaches) and 12K, his resonant work has amassed a dedicated audience all over the world. [http://www.machinefabriek.nu/]

"His work nestles tantalising between genres, counterbalancing immersive swathes of ambient sound with astringent textural challenges and offsetting a predominantly electronic mode of production with an emotionally-charged smattering of found sounds and naked instrumentation." (The Wire)


2. Preslav Literary School (Adam Thomas) makes live tape collages using sounds drawn from an ever- growing archive of self-generated or discovered outsider noise, found sound and spoken word cassettes. A process of transference, overdubbing and live manipulation reworks these source materials into compelling, ambient broadcasts. Adam has released three albums, numerous live CDrs and played at venues and festivals throughout Europe.[http://www.preslavliteraryschool.co.uk]

"Like William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, Preslav Literary School focuses on creating something new and personal out of found sounds and dull, everyday happenings... wonder and amazement is conveyed through the sounds and a sense of otherworldly significance is given to the simplest of actions." (Sputnik Music)


3. Since visual artist and experimental musician Poldr (Benjamin Laurent Aman) relocated from France to Berlin, he has become one of the rising stars of the capital's established underground scene, marking himself out as a performer who deals with texture, frequency and field recordings with a distinct and unafraid ear. Founder of the cult Razzle Dazzle label, Benjamin is also one half of the French/US improv-duo Crystal Plumage. [http://www.benjaminlaurentaman.com/]

"Drawing equally from a contemporary droned madness and a hypnotizing minimalism.... A dense and harrowing musical experience." (Tomentosa Records)


4. Newcastle-upon-Tyne's Posset redefines cassette-based music for a new century. Freely releasing CD-Rs and tapes of sonic experiments, magnetic interruption and dislocated environmental recordings, Posset filters everything through a C60 haze that transforms the listening experience into something fragile and compelling. [http://www.myspace.com/iamposset]

"An impressive combination of hands-on tape manipulation and outsider guitar self struggle, leaden chime, bursts of tape movement and strung-out muzzled feedback." (Rock-A-Rolla)


5. Jamie Charlton is interested in all areas of sound manipulation but has a particular interest in analogue sound. His experiments with four-track tape recorders and cassette manipulation attempt to remove sounds from their original contexts and turn them into something different. Recently, he has been collecting field- recordings of everyday things and juxtaposing these sounds with instrumentation.

[ www.myspace.com/jamiecharlton]


6. Benjamin Freeth's artistic practice explores the themes of movement, desire, the infinite and the finite, intimacy, emotions, ritual, delay, drone and significant memory. He performs with Helictite and has played alongside Faust, La Foxe, Aki Onda and Sunn O))). Ben is currently studying an MRes. Digital Media at Culture Lab, Newcastle University. [ http://www.filmmustburn.com]


7. WAMA is a multi-media collaboration between artists Bethan Maddocks and Steven Walker. Working together they share a desire to embrace concept and ethos over discipline. WAMA explore multiple artforms, creating new relationships between text, psychology and contemporary art production, with the aim to produce audience interventionist artworks. [http://www.50ftlonghorse.com]


8. Nick Williams completed a BA in Music and the Creative Arts with Performance Technology in 2001 and is currently researching electronic music in cross-disciplinary performance for his PhD at Newcastle University.

Nick has been co-director of the interdisciplinary performance group theybreakinpieces since its formation in 2004. [ www.virb.com/njw]


Download

NO-FI

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

ファイナルファンタジー [1999]



Title: Final Fantasy VIII
Director: Yoshinori Kitase
Studio: Square

This is the first post that I've made so far about a video game, but I feel that this game deserves its place on my blog. I've been a big fan of video games for as long as I can remember; getting a Playstation in Christmas, 1999 was where it began for me, playing Spyro II: Gateway to Glimmer. Final Fantasy VIII was bought that same Christmas by my aunt for my mother so that she could play a video game for the first time. I wasn't allowed to play on it, even though it went more or less un-played in the house, it was seen as too "advanced" for my age. In any case, I began playing on it secretly when I was out of eye and earshot of my parents. With this in mind, there are a few things that I must say: For one, I have a huge sentimental attachment to the game, because it was like a window onto a different world. I learnt so much through the game, from profanity (some of the translations are hilarious) through to aspects of social interaction. As a story focussed heavily on romance, it also indoctrinated me with the idea of Platonic love, but I'll get into all that later. For another thing, my imagination as a child was so vivid that I feel almost like the game is a real part of my life experience. When I play the game, it feels like going home. All of the characters and beautifully designed towns, cities and landscapes have stained my memory and become a part of my being. For these reasons, my view is completely biased. Although I have almost no analytical mind when it comes to Final Fantasy VIII, I hope that I can share some insight into what it means to me and explore some of the ideas therein which have affected and continue to affect my life.

Final Fantasy VIII is centred around main character Squall, an orphaned teenager studying at Balamb Garden, a military academy that trains youths to become SeeDs, the equivalent of an elite special forces team that fights for international peace and political stability. Squall is pensive and introverted. He is a good student, but tends to be rather passive and ambivalent towards most of the situations in his life, preferring to either ignore issues, or dismiss them as unimportant. This said, at the beginning of the game, Squall wakes up in the hospital wing of the Garden, wounded after a fight with Seifer, another precocious teen between whom there is a strong rivalry. Much has been said critically of Squall as a character, the general feeling amongst fans of the franchise being that he is too emotionally detached for the player to empathise with him. While this can be one interpretation of the character, I feel that the way in which Squall's emotions are shown is more subtle than in many other games in the series, which is more complex and compelling than dull or simplistic. Given Squall's nature, moments that may otherwise have seemed like brief glimpses of emotion, become huge opportunities to see the underlying tenderness and sensitivity housed in his hardened exterior. I feel that it is appropriate to draw comparisons between Squall and other protagonists like Shakespeare's Hamlet; both seem to be heroes on the surface, but also raise questions about what heroism truly entails. Both are emblematic of the image of the Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, the classic romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrich depicting a man standing (seemingly confidently) upon a precipice, below which lies a sea of fog and rocks jutting out from beneath it. Just as the Wanderer's face is concealed, removing any chance that an onlooker may have of glimpsing an emotional response to this vast expanse, so is Squall's face, his hidden heart remaining clasped to the world. Just as these pieces of art have shown to people the existential angst that consumes and captivates all of us, so does Squall, and while the Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog remains anonymous, and Hamlet remains words on a page, so Squall also beckons for the player of the game to project his/herself onto him and experience the world within him and through this, the world within themselves. I certainly had no experience of neither Hamlet nor the work of Friedrich when I was younger, so I suppose that for me, Squall was an introduction to themes of existentialism and angst that would come into play a little later in my life. It is impossible for me to say whether playing Final Fantasy VIII drove me to confront and question these things, whether I was drawn to the game because of the themes inherent there, or whether it is simply coincidental that I should have grasped and absorbed these themes at such a young age.

Art has enormous power. One is confronted by art throughout one's life; from birth to the grave we are bombarded with information of an artistic nature, whether it be through films, books, music or video-games. At a young age, it is impossible to distinguish between where art begins and reality ends. Because of this, one tends to accept most things as possible realities, rather than idealised concepts from the minds of artists. Art is, for the most part, fantastical in nature; it transcends daily experience and tries to remove itself from the everyday. If a piece of art was an accurate and unromanticised depiction of life, it would most likely not be considered art at all; after all, who would want to experience the mundanity of day-to-day life in their spare time? It makes sense for people to have a desire to live that which lies outside of their general experience. Unfortunately, the consequences of this can often be negative, especially for those who are unaware that what they are experiencing is outside of the sphere of normal existence, as is often the case with young people. This leads me nicely onto the romantic story in Final Fantasy VIII.

The love story of the game is centred around Squall and Rinoa. As aforementioned, Squall is a reclusive character who tends to keep himself to himself. He stands in stark contrast to Rinoa, who unabashedly charges headfirst into most situations without a second thought. Squall seems to generally be in a bit of a slump in his life; he still feels an aftershock of dejection brought on by his childhood abandonment and subsequent time spent in an orphanage. Rinoa is a person with the power to pull him from this emotional dead-zone and to teach him a different way of living, a way in which he can direct his own future and be rid of any emotional baggage that may be acting as a deadweight on his existence. Obviously, her attempts to bring Squall out of his shell fail initially as he remains too deeply embedded in his own habitual life, but as the story goes on, he begins to warm to her and find in her pieces of himself that are missing. The love that they share is largely a Platonic love, and by this I mean a pure love in which sex is not a factor. Although the west is considerably more liberal now than it has been for the past few hundred (or even thousand) years, many of the taboos of the Victorian era still remain deeply engrained in western culture, particularly taboos of sex. I think that from a young age we are subconsciously brought to view sex as a taboo; something that belongs behind closed doors and is not to be spoken about. Even down to seemingly insignificant things like wearing clothes, and not appearing naked in public, it seems that anything to do with sex or human sexuality is kept under lock and key. The reason that I speak of this is that I feel that placing sex in the same realm as a traditional love story can often seem awkward or crude and it is certainly censored from the eyes of the young. Interestingly though, people are surrounded by romance and romantic images from an early age. Children's films like Beauty & The Beast, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. are all focussed around romances and yet sex is never even touched upon. This may seem like an obvious observation to make, but I think that in the long term it can have psychologically detrimental effects. By the time of one's teenage years it is easy to feel like Holden Caulfield, the protagonist in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. In the novel, Holden has a dream that he is in a rye-field situated on the edge of a cliff and that there are children running around and playing in the field, unaware of the cliff that they might fall off at any moment. Holden feels a natural duty to be a 'catcher' in the rye, someone who catches the children and stops them from falling to their deaths. But in spite of how hard he tries to save them, many children inevitably end up falling off the cliff anyway; in fact all of them do eventually. This is widely thought to be Holden's desire (which is in my opinion almost universal) to cling onto the innocence of youth, and to keep young people from becoming absorbed in the tarnished morality of adulthood. During my early teens, I frequently felt that through exploring their sexuality, people were losing something vital in themselves and becoming corrupted, and I changed my mind only after I analysed what information I had been given as a child and how this had influenced my thoughts. Final Fantasy VIII was undoubtedly one of many pieces of information that I was given as a child which influenced the way I viewed relationships and life, amongst a whole host of other films, books and video-games that I experienced as a child.

Returning to the game now is a very strange thing for me. Playing Final Fantasy VIII feels like transporting my mind back to the state that it was in when I was still very young and innocent. Doing this has allowed me to compare the way that I think now to the way I thought back then and has offered me some really interesting perspectives on my life in philosophical and psychological terms. This post got way deeper than I initially intended it to, but in a way, it has served as an exorcism for a lot of the ideas that have been floating around in my head for years and it feels good to get them down in writing. The past few weeks spent dipping in to writing and editing this have definitely done me well, and I hope that the points I've discussed are of interest to some people. Ultimately, perhaps what I'm recommending more than the video-game, is to revisit the experiences of youth and to question what they meant back then, and what they continue to mean to you now. I feel that Final Fantasy VIII, amongst a host of other things has really had a very strong influence on my character. I hope that anyone who has read this feels compelled to do the same as I have; to revisit something significant from your formative years, and explore your current self in the process.

Unfortunately, Final Fantasy VIII is long out of print. However, it is still possible to obtain the game via eBay, where I got a copy and now also through the PlayStation Store, who have reissued a digital version of the game to play on the emulators of the PS3.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Savvas Ysatis & Taylor Deupree - Hourglass [2009]



Artist: Savvas Ysatis & Taylor Deupree
Album: Hourglass
Label: 12k

Hourglass is the second collaborative ambient release from Savvas Ysatis and Taylor Deupree. The pair have been recording for over ten years under a range of different names, many of their other projects covering ground more in the vein of minimal techno than ambient soundscapes. It certainly came as a surprise to me that Deupree was initially involved in techno before moving over to the ambient music that he is best known for today. I found it hard to connect what he's doing at the moment with releases like Shoals that focus on creating an incredibly dense, detailed and lush sound experience with the stark minimalism of his music with Ysatis under the Arc name. However, tracing a line from his early collaborations with Ysatis and his early solo albums like comma, (1998) through to more recent albums like Northern (2006) and the aforementioned Shoals (2010), it becomes easier to see a logical progression in his style and approach to music.

Hourglass is again a step in an entirely different direction for Deupree, being possibly his most 'song-orientated' release to date. Here, the intensity and detail of the sound remain the same, but exist within different premises. According to Deupree himself, one of the key ideas of the recording process was to use the computer like a tape recorder, not as a programming device. Deupree and Ysatis gave themselves one week in Deupree's studio out in the country to see what they could produce using only instruments and objects already in the space. This four track release is the result of that process; fingerpicked guitar notes, prepared piano, analogue synthesisers and the familiarly breathy husk of Ysatis voice all stitched together to form a cohesive whole.

Much of the sound explored on The Sleeping Morning (2007) is revisited on Hourglass, but there is still a striking difference between the two releases. Where The Sleeping Morning was more focussed on abstract ambience, using Ysatis' voice as a way of grounding the sound to something more recognisably human, the reverse seems to be true of Hourglass; Ysatis' voice seems to want to push the music into a higher plane, somewhere transcendental and vague, while the earthy sounds of Deupree's guitar seem to pull it back down to the ground. This strange struggle is what gives the music its unmistakably beautiful ethereality; it is neither on the ground, nor above the clouds, it instead floats through the air on a wave of reverberating sighs and breathy moans.

Tracklist:

1) Clouds
2) Hourglass
3) Like Ice on a Summer's Day
4) Somewhere on Earth

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Spacegazer (WttSW Compilation) [2010]


I thought it'd be nice to do some genre-specific compilations to show readers a few of my favourite tracks and bands from various genres, so this is my first one.

I've been a fan of shoegaze ever since I bought Loveless when I was 13. I remember hearing it at first and finding it really awful. It was just so alien to me; layers of noisy guitars that were so dense that they didn't even sound like guitars anymore, interspersed with some weak vocals that were mixed way too low to decipher any lyrics. I couldn't really see the point, but there was still something irresistible about it, and I listened to it for a week and gradually began to really appreciate and enjoy it. In hindsight, that was more or less the start of my journey into music. From then on, whenever I encountered a piece of music that I disliked, I would try to understand it by repeated listening rather than just giving up on it straight away like I used to.

Today I still listen to a lot of similar stuff. This compilation admittedly probably isn't the best entry-point for someone new to the genre (I've decided to eschew many of the more obvious bands in favour of lesser known ones), but for those who already know their stuff and still have a healthy appetite for more, this is for you. The readership of my blog will probably already be familiar with a few of the bands that I'm including, but hopefully there'll be some new stuff that you haven't heard in there too. Obviously there's some things here which may not be strictly classified as shoegaze (dream pop, indie rock, etc.), but that I feel nevertheless captures the same atmosphere associated with the genre.

Tracklist:

1) 嘎调 - Sea Birds
2) Mahogany - Optimism
3) Moscow Olympics - What Is Left Unsaid
4) Asobi Seksu - Walk on the Moon
5) Kevin Shields - City Girl
6) Luminous Orange - Drop You Vivid Colours
7) Pinkshinyultrablast - Blaster
8) Coaltar of the Deepers - C/O/T/D
9) The Radio Dept. - Keen on Boys
10) Astrobrite - Bottle Rocket
11) Lovesliescrushing - Blooded and Blossom-Blown
12) Alcest - Sur l'Océan Couleur de Fer

I did a bit of mastering to make the tracks flow into each other a little bit better, so these aren't strictly speaking the CD versions of the tracks. The bitrate is 320kbps (CBR MP3).

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Small Color - Hikari No Hana [2009]


Artist: Small Color
Single: Hikari No Hana
Label: 12k

Small Color is a musical duo consisting of Rie Yoshihara (who also records under the name Trico! and is a published chef) and Yusuke Onishi. Yoshihara plays accordion, melodica and sings, while Onishi handles all of the strings, which includes banjo and guitar. The music of Small Color is primarily acoustic in nature, but digital electronics also feature prominently in their work.

Hikari No Hana is a single by the band released for free through Taylor Deupree's 12k, a label with a reputation for releasing some of the most beautiful and captivating digital ambient music of this century. Small Color's music is very much in the vein of Deupree's now defunct Happy label, which focussed solely on documenting obscure and unconventional Japanese pop. Small Color released their first album, Outflow (2005) with Japanese label Samurai Records before releasing In Light (2009), of which Hikari No Hana is a single.

There exists two versions of 'Hikari No Hana': the album version and the single version, both of which differ significantly. The track on In Light is a very stripped down version of this single, removing all glitch beats and ambient textures, focussing instead on an almost purely acoustic vibe between guitar and voice. The version featured on this single really reigns supreme for me though; the track starts out with a beautiful, reverb-drenched ambient swell before introducing the insistent, driving rhythm of Onishi's guitar. The synthetic ambient textures soon give way to a subtle beat, constructed by what appears to be the sounds of broken CDs and minor laptop malfunctions. The piece is a testimony to how effective a well conceived song with a simple, yet effective structure can really stand head-and-shoulders above messy mixes with too little space.

I highly recommend this single to anyone looking for a fairly accessible dip into 12k's catalogue, or indeed to anyone who may have heard their other material and has overlooked this little gem of a single.

Friday, 10 September 2010

限りなく透明に近いブルー [1976]



Title: Almost Transparent Blue
Author: Ryū Murakami
Publisher: Kodansha International, Ltd.

Ryū Murakami (not to be confused with nor thought to be related to Haruki) is a Japanese author and director, perhaps most famous for writing the novel The Audition (1997), which was later adapted by Takashi Miike in his 1999 film of the same name. He also wrote the original novel and screenplay for Hideaki Anno's Love & Pop (1996) and has directed a handful of films adapted from his own novels, including Tokyo Decadence (1992). Almost Transparent Blue was Murakami's first ever published novel and it shows his daring, experimental writing style, alongside all the other traits that led him to be known as the enfant terrible of Japanese post-war literature.

Almost Transparent Blue follows the life of Ryū, a heavy drug-user living in a nondescript Japanese town in the seventies. The novel primarily focusses on the lives of Ryū and his close circle of friends that includes other junkies, prostitutes, sluts and thugs as well as their interaction and sex-parties with American men from the local air force base. Amidst all of the drug-induced haze, the protagonist and his friends break into music festivals, lie around listening to The Doors' records, shoot up on heroin and go to gang-bangs. Putting it like that makes it sound like it is a pure sensory onslaught from start to finish, but it isn't; in fact, it is the complete opposite. The novel is paced fairly slowly and often matches the states that the characters are in. This means there are some long passages where all narrative falls away and the world outside becomes a reflection of Ryū's inner thought processes and equally there are some sections which seem to have been captured in ultra-vivid, colour-enhanced spectroscopy, such as the scene in which Ryū and his friends are at a music festival on pills.

Murakami's writing style is very distinctly Japanese; often focussing very intensely on small happenings that occur around Ryū and frequently go under the radar of the others around him. Ryū finds great beauty in things like the kaleidoscopic colours of the innards of a moth that he squishes to death, the scent of a rotting melon, watching rain outside the window and other things that he encounters in varying states of sobriety. In one particularly beautiful scene, Ryū speaks of a world inside his mind that serves as a sanctuary for him when he feels overwhelmed by the world. In the scene he speaks at length about a town that he has fabricated and all of the buildings and people there. As he is telling Lily (another main character) this, they decide to go out on a drive, both of them completely out of their heads on a cocktail of drugs. The drive culminates in one of the most beautiful scenes of the novel as Lily and he leave the car and walk out into the rain and Ryū begins to hallucinate and think deeply about his own life through the lens of the town in his mind which is devoid of an airport, meaning that no one there can ever leave.

It has been speculated that Almost Transparent Blue is a partially, if not completely, autobiographical novel; the central character of Ryū potentially being the author himself. It has been said that Murakami had a somewhat wild youth and the book supports this idea, the protagonist being 19 years old (if I remember correctly). Although the names may or may not have been changed, a final letter at the end of the book seem to suggest that the events in the book are indeed based on real life. Due to the author and main character of the book sharing the same name, it is unclear at the end whether Ryū's letter to Lily is from the character or the author. The implication is certainly that it's an open letter from the author to the woman that he once loved. However, it is still unclear whether Murakami simply slipped the letter in at the end to add another layer of realism to the novel.

I think it's more than fair to say that plot isn't what drives Almost Transparent Blue, but rather it is Ryū and his own existential exploration through substance use which pushes the novel forwards. The disjointed nature of the book also contributes to this feeling that it is all taking place within Ryū's mind; many memories remain unfinished, with only a few small details noted down from each moment. In this way, I felt that the novel was also an exercise of memory, focussing solely on the past and the process of extracting memories from events that occurred long ago. Through this process, things are lost and gained, with many important events simply forgotten and lost beneath layers of the mundane, and some seemingly insignificant reveries captured vividly like a photograph in time.

Although the actual edition of the book widely available in the UK is of quite bad quality, and by this I mean poorly constructed and with poor artwork, I found the translation pretty good. If you could get hold of the first edition translated version of the novel then that would probably be preferable to you, but I haven't seen any floating around. As a side note, Murakami also directed a film of the novel in 1979, but I haven't seen it and I can imagine that it's probably quite hard to come by as it was a low budget release.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

リリイ・シュシュのすべて [2001]



Film: All About Lily Chou-Chou
Director: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Shûgo Oshinari, Ayumi Ito.

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a film about youth, pop culture and coming-of-age in the digital era, handled masterfully by seasoned director Shunji Iwai. Contrary to what the title suggests, the film's focus is on the life of an ordinary teenage boy named Yûichi Hasumi (Ichihara) and his experiences both at school, with his peers and with his family. Although it is highly possible to interpret the message of the film in a plethora of different ways, I feel very strongly that the film is about the harsh realities that teenage years bring, and the desperate search for some sort of salvation or sanctuary from the chaos and filth that is present in modern society.

Although the elusive Lily Chou-Chou never assumes an acting role in the film, her presence is all-encompassing, and seems to guide the film through the life of Yûichi. Lily Chou-Chou is supposedly inspired by Chinese superstar 王非 (Faye Wong) and her overwhelming popularity throughout Asia and the world. Lily's music is melancholy and her voice (performed by singer Salyu) is bleak and longing, setting the tone for much of the film, in which Yûichi falls ever deeper and is all but consumed by the dirt of the city. Iwai's depiction of Lily Chou-Chou begins fairly nonchalantly, showing Yûichi's interest in the singer's music as more out of boredom than desire. However, as the action progresses and Yûichi becomes increasingly disenfranchised by school, his abusive friends and his seemingly ambivalent (or, more likely still, unaware) family, Lily becomes a central part to his life. Amidst all of the chaotic happenings of Tokyo and his ever-shifting social standing, she remains a constant in his life; she is forever sorrowful and eternally empathetic towards Yûichi and the troubles that plague his existence. This interpretation is most likely due to my own experiences as a young teenager, in which I spent all of my days listening to music, feeling like all of the singers understood me and spoke innumerable worldly truths. Just as I did, Yûichi imposes what he truly desires onto Lily Chou-Chou, using her as his own constant in life and in doing so transforming her from a mere pop artist earning money for the multi-million-pound record industry into a metaphysical concept; something born of his own imagination.

As a coming-of-age film set in Japan, there are many elements of the film which are perhaps best understood by the people of that culture, such as the scenes exploring the seedy world of Enjo-kōsai as well as the group's trip to Okinawa. Fortunately, Iwai always manages to ground these alien (to people from other cultures) concepts to very human situations which can be related to on varying levels by people the world over. While the film retains a certain Japanese vibe to it, typified by its pacing and slow shots, All About Lily Chou-Chou never recedes into a mono-cultural exploration of youth, and retains a universality that focuses on isolation, but uses Japanese culture and society as a metaphor for its thematic exploration.

In the world of the film, Lily's popularity suggests a world in which melancholy is an accepted norm, and a part of popular culture. Iwai subtly suggests through the land that he creates that culture has been somehow accelerated and exaggerated and that its people have been consumed by a great sadness. In this sense, Iwai is also incredibly self-aware of the irony of the film's premise and uses Yûichi's world to comment on Japan's (and in a greater sense, the world's) social climate, in which communication technology has succeeded in atomising the population. These themes are beautifully visually represented by the rice fields near Yûichi's house in which he spends hours listening to the music of Lily Chou-Chou; it is at once his escape and the only time in which he feels a closeness with another person.

Technology plays a large role in All About Lily Chou-Chou. Fragments of forum posts lay scattered throughout the scenes, showing the mutually exclusive relationship between the modern world and the technology herein. From the first moment of the first scene, messages from Lily's forum float across the screen, stressing both the importance of her music to so many and the unification that is often between those unsatisfied with the world and the life they have been given.

While many coming-of-age films have a habit of glossing over many of the grittiest, scummiest details of growing up, All About Lily Chou-Chou is unflinching in its approach. In fact it is at times so brutal that it crosses over into the realm of exaggeration. Fortunately, however, it never loses or compromises its peaceful, contemplative rhythm. Because of this, All About Lily Chou-Chou should be seen as a great achievement and a virtually objective success. It is a visually stunning film which refuses to be set-back by its relatively low budget and is deserving of its status as a cult favourite. Both crew and cast are to be applauded for their acute understanding and vivid depiction of adolescence in the digital age. I enjoyed it immensely and I'm certain you will too.