… on… immigration/closed borders….

ELLIS (review).
The film is currently available as a digital rent or purchase through Amazon.com and in iTunes.   The soundtrack is also available in CD/LP and download direct through https://www.erasedtapes.com/store

Ellis (2015 film trailer)

In a time of unbridled protectionism and closed borders – this short film stands out and serves purpose to pin-prick a reconsidation of our fears and get in touch with the human story of hope and immigration. It is beautifully envisioned by the French writer/director/artist JR and features Robert DeNiro, who is from Italian immigrant heritage. DeNiro’s narration is both passionate, reflective, evocative and The film is billed as a “short film” – so don’t let the 14+ minute length dissuade you from the beauty it embraces. Just consider it a long-form music video.

Filmed on Ellis Island (next to the small island where the Statue of Liberty stands) with its abandoned buildings still intact. The artist JR has transformed the location with immigrant images (by both well-known and unknown photographers). That it was filmed in winter perhaps best illuminates the difficulty immigrants face in their life-altering decision to leave everything behind and relocate to build lives elsewhere.

The score is by French music and video artist, Woodkid and German electronica and neo-classical composer/performer Nils Frahm. The score is a perfect complement to the images and spoken word weaving into the fabric of the film a beautiful emotional context that enhances the viewing experience.   While some soundtracks  aggressively drive the story (think of moments in Star Wars) – the best soundtracks, like this one, provide an addition supportive element that buoyantly allows the story to flow in the current of its timeline.

It makes me think that while some people may come to harm us – they are the minority. We need to re-open our borders for the majority in response to the purity of journey. Because an immigrants journey IS the American journey. It cannot be separated. The fears by those who oppose immigration of crime, terrorism, disease, the perceived unfair competition and the general “unknown do NOT cease to exist when borders are closed. Problems still exist whether borders are closed, or not, and can be dealt with in a humane way.
So, whether you are opposed to all immigration, selected immigration or in favor of open borders to welcome all races, genders, ages, beliefs regardless of income and social status – then let this film inspire thought, questions and lead you to explore all possible answers.

Immigration is about people, not things.  The people who emmigrate are taking a greater risk than those they will meet at their point of destination.

… on… unmatched [pt 2]

 

For the second review in this (hopefully) ongoing series.  I’d like to draw your attention to a relatively new recording by Icelandic composer, Jóhann Jóhannsson, titled Orphée.    Jóhannsson has composed for numerous films including the recent ARRIVAL and upcoming BLADE RUNNER 2024 as well as many solo studio recordings….. But of all his work so far the one that really stands out as a pinnacle in his oeuvre is this “solo” recording exploring the myth of Orphée/Orpheus.

The second track on the album:

This recording for Deutsche Grammophon records can, at first listen,  be compared to Samuel Barber’s ADAGIO – but that is only in mood and temperament.   When listening to this masterwork  by Jóhannsson I find so many rich and wonderful feelings and ideas.   I can feel like I’m wandering through a darkened hallway, arms outstretched, moving slow and gently feeling my way around the space.   With continued listening I also feel a sense of gravity a tension that a very large bird may feel as it starts out in flight and slowly lifts itself from the earth.  And in its flight feels the constant pull of the earth again even in it’s supposed freedom of soaring on the winds.  Maybe it’s the speed at which the musical themes evolve throughout this 47 minute composition.

When thinking about this music, and the ideas, of Orpheus in the underworld wanting to bring back his love.  I also begin to muse on the “warning” he is given to not look back and trust that his love Eurydice is behind him.  And when he does look back – she is lost to him forever.   This notion of not looking back is also found in the Bible story (Genesis 19) of Lot and his family as they flee Sodom and Gomorrah who were also warned to not look back.  When Lot’s wife looks back she is turned into a pillar of salt.   I further begin to wonder, what is this problem with looking back?  It seems to be something we as humans do all the time.  It is the cornerstone of memory.  We don’t have memories of the future, do we? Or maybe we just haven’t learned to access those future memories.  And looking back isn’t really all that bad.   In the case of Orpheus the underworld can be compared to underground that where things are rooted – for plants literally.  Underground is the foundation upon which we build our buildings and other man-made structures.   It is not only a place for the dead.   It seems that one could make the argument that Orpheus was looking back to his roots and very foundation for his wife – the gods had tricked him.   In the case of lot with his wife turning to a pillar of salt.   Salt is beneficial and necessary in all our diets it is also a preservative.  So maybe her looking back actually made it possible for the rest of her family to be saved/preserved.   These two examples may relate to the sense of gravity that I hear and feel in this music under the earth there is no escape from gravity and a pillar of rock/salt is so completely connected to the rest of the rock it cannot escape.

We all look back at some point in our lives.  It is not a weakness.  It is only human nature and inevitable.  Orpheus, like Lot’s wife HAD to look back.  And that may be the tension I hear and feel in the music – the desire to only look forward while feeling the pull to look back that is ultimately irresistible.   So maybe the problem isn’t the looking back; as the warnings imply (and many bible scholars will try to teach), maybe these myths simply teach us of the cost.  There is a cost and consequence to everything.   It’s not a matter of good or bad but simply an understanding of exchange.   And that thought is freeing and non-condemning like a bird in flight.

The final and only genuinely vocal track on the album:

These are the many things that drifted through my listening of this excellent album.  All that being said, this music simply stops me in my tracks and forces me to listen, think, dream.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

TRACK LIST
1. Flight From The City
2. A Song For Europa
3. The Drowned World
4. A Deal With Chaos
5. A Pile Of Dust
6. A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder
7. Fragment I
8. By The Roes, And By The Hinds Of The Field
9. The Radiant City
10. Fragment II
11. The Burning Mountain
12. De Luce Et Umbra
13. Good Morning, Midnight
14. Good Night, Day
15. Orphic Hymn

Follow the link for more info:

http://www.johannjohannsson.com

…on Peter Gabriel – Amazing


“I’m Amazing” – lyrics by Peter Gabriel

Run into the cage
With what I grew up hating
Keep on recreating
Please help me

Something’s got to change
It was something that you said
Happy times ahead
Happy times ahead

Saw the kind of blood
Like a picture’s going to shatter
Can you recognize the pictures of a bone-luck setter
All the people, all the faces in my head that are running around
I’m trying to make connections but the circuits are down

Look at me
Look at me
Look what I can do
I’m amazing

I’m living from without and I’m living from within
Got light in every layer of my illuminated skin
Could swallowing a lightbulb transform into the sun?
I can jump into the darkness
I can shine on anyone

Look at me
Look at me
Can you see what I can do?
‘Cause I’m amazing

Look at me
Look at me
Look at me
Can you see what I can do
‘Cause I’m amazing

Reaching out my hand
I’m going under water
Sunlight filtered into shafts
I’m going under water
With the human race
I’m going under water down
Under water down
Under water

Trying to put it together in my head
Feeling the weight of what you said
The weight of what you said
Happy times ahead
Happy times ahead
Happy times ahead

Look at me
Look at me
Look what I can do
‘Cause I’m amazing

Look at me
Look at me
Look at me
Look what I can do
‘Cause I’m amazing

Cause I can!
And I will!
It’s moving in me
The spirit is free
Oh what did I leave?

On his website Peter Gabriel[hereafter PG] states,

“I wrote a song a few years back – ‘I’m Amazing’, which was, in part, inspired by Muhammad Ali’s life and struggles and at the time of his death, when so many people are celebrating his life and thinking about all he achieved, it seemed the right time to release it.”

I do not believe we should see this song as a tribute to Ali. I saw one video posted on YOUTUBE that said this song was “about Muhammad Ali”. I disagree. PG is an artist; and as such, he uses all of life as inspiration in creating his art. Ali was only one part of the equation that helped clarify the point PG was trying to make. PG has something much bigger than one mans life that he want’s us to consider. If there is any comparison to Ali that can be made accurately is that the song deftly alternates between “Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee”.

So what makes this song, it’s music and lyrics so powerful? Peter Gabriel has become an undisputed master of using various music influences from around the world in creating his own unique sound. “I’m Amazing” is a blend of these influences that borders on genius. The music moves forward and has it’s own pulse points with a fusion of sounds electronic, tribal and organic with lyrics both spoken and sung, chant and vocal ululation. There are ebbs and flows in the overall song structure that help propel the listener through the song with rhythmic emotional intensity.

Lyrically, the song offers intense criticism of our culture and society. He is careful not to place blame. He simply let’s the character in the song make observations and leaves it up to us to determine any cause and make appropriate adjustment in our own lives so that we do not end up in the same predicament. What is NOT said in the lyrics is just as important as what IS said. PG does not write on the surface of things but gets under the skin. While on the surface if you just read the lyrics it may seem like a positive paean with the old “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality. But listening to how the lyrics are sung provides a whole new wealth of meaning that seems truer. It is funny how music can add clarity to the meaning of words. By themselves lyrics are ambiguous and can be interpreted by each individual as they wish. But what is lost is the authors intention. Music provides that intention. I have not heard such snarling sardonic expression in pop music for a long time and it is refreshing. A true wakeup call. I love how the lyrics switch between introspect/retrospect/prospect as the singer looks to escape his own mundanity and latch onto all the promises made by a self-help society with “happy times ahead”. Drowning in his own misery he not only seeks for a way out but becomes so self-obsessed that all(and everyone) else is left behind. The character acts/does because he can and never asks if he should. It’s only after it’s too late does he contemplate what was left behind.

This is a most welcome addition to the canon of music written by this great artist.

A Staggering Work of Stunning Beauty

I’ve been thinking lately about thinning out my music collection (now several thousand CDs strong).  I’ve been thinking about what I want to keep and what would I consider a master work.   I’m going to introduce you today to a recording that fits the description of Masterwork for me.    I bought this recording on a whim.  I had never heard of this artist before and came upon his music by chance.  I liked the cover art.   The name of the artist was intriguing because it didn’t seem to fit the category of jazz that it had been saddled with and it also didn’t fit the record label it was recorded on.   The description which was so general as if the writer wasn’t even sure how to categorize this music made me want to investigate this music.  While each track has it’s own title – I will not be singling out song titles in this review because one needs to look at them as a series of movements in the larger work.   To focus on titles would do a disservice to the overall recording.

Dhafer-Youssef-Birds-Requiem-500x495What is that recording?  BIRDS REQUIEM by Dhafer Youssef on Okeh Records.  Released in 2013.

Dhafer Youssef is an Oud player, vocalist and composer. His music is probably the most perfect fusion between jazz, muezzin, quranic and sufi musical styles and influences.  The EPK (electronic press kit) that was released for this album had Youssef talk about his experience with observing birds in flight.  For example, how a flock of birds hovering in their aerial ballet have a perfect ebb/flow, rhythm and pulse like a murmuration of starlings. The overall rhythm and pace of the album is expertly crafted with energetic and quiet points that are perfectly timed.  In fact listening to the entire album in one sitting is an audio equivalent of a massive murmuration.

While listening I find myself at times quietly inspired then lifted up in elation to the point of ecstatic release. The instrumentation is an absolutely wonderful surprise.   A real delightful feature is Youssef’s imaginative yet sensitive playing of the OUD (for those not familiar with this instrument: one might call it an anscestor of the lute and then later, guitar).  Piano playing by Kristjan Randalu lilts through the entire album adding snippets of melody.  I was surprised at the masterful contributions by trumpeter Nils-Petter Molvaer and electric guitar and effects man Elvind Aarset (both on the ECM label).  The drummer Chander Sardjoe is a study in both minimalist accents and a strong backbone of support.  The delightful contributions by Aytac Dogan on the zither-like kanun add such beautiful dressing on this feast for the ears.  And not to be left out is the surprising use of clarinet, which I have never, NEVER heard used this way.  The Clarinet is played by  Hüsnu Senlendirici who plays with soul and adds a sense of life that would be sadly missing if it were absent.  The musical cast is rounded out by the Bass playing of Phil Donkin which adds the appropriate bounce and lift.  I would be completely incompetent if I didn’t mention the voice of Dhafer Youssef which starts low and builds; rising in registers.  His voice (singing in arabic) starts mixing tones on overtones and is at times hard to distinguish between voice/clarinet/guitar ending in a climax, a musical grand release, a staggering work of stunning beauty.

In a world that is constantly on the move where music is more of a background soundtrack to the journey – this album definitely sets itself apart by becoming a destination.   A place to stop,close your eyes, be quiet, listen and feel.  I would strongly encourage you to purchase the downloads or (if you’re like me) the CD.   It is one of those things that while purchased actually becomes priceless.  A Masterwork in its own right.

Here is a video of a live performance of track 3 from the album titled Blending Souls & Shades (to Shiraz) the instrumental lineup is different (sans trumpet and clarinet) from the album but the song is still quite powerful.  Enjoy.

And Lastly, Here is another video of the track Soupier Eternal (from the DIVINE SHADOWS album) filmed in Tunisia. This trio format will give you some idea of the Clarinet/voice/guitar interplay that can frequently be heard on the album and how these three “voices” are a perfect complement to each other on both recordings.

Penguin Cafe – A Replay

Celluloid Impressions X
I’ve been a fan of so-called ambient music ever since Brian Eno coined the term in 1976. And while ambient music has come to mean a multitude of things of the past few decades it is generally associated as a sort of quiet minimalism. In 1987 Editions E.G. Records released a compilation of their artists who were associated with the growing instrumental electronic music movement, many of which were associated with ambient music. This electronic music compilation included Brian Eno, Roger Eno(his brother), Harold Budd, Michael Brook, Bill Bruford, Patrick Moraz, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, John Hassell, Robert Fripp, Laraaji, Phil Manzanera and, last but not least, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. This compilation was titled ANGELS IN THE ARCHITECTURE and had extensive liner notes explaining and detailing what ambient music involved. This was my first exposure to the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (which used electronic and also folk instrumentation). I went on to collect all their albums based on the 2 tracks that were included on this compilation.

The song I want to focus on which I’ve revisited again is from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra’s debut album, MUSIC FROM THE PENGUIN CAFE. It is titled (and perhaps would be a model for the lengthy titles of later post-rock masters…) The Sound Of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter. Yes, that really is the title. This song has so many nuances and it expresses what Penguin Cafe Orchestra does best in this period; taking a melody and deconstructing it then reconstructing it again – a sort of compositional breathing.

This song starts out with a beautiful melody that totally draws the listener in and wraps the listener in a warm blanket of comfort and serenity. Then it slowly deconstructs and before-you-know-it the sound has become more like a wailing child. After that harsh realization has set-in the melody returns like a lullaby to comfort the “child” and soothe the emotions. Then for a second time it starts to deconstruct and it’s not as extreme but the awareness and expectation is greater as the distance grows. Because we know the suffering that can come, based on the first go-round. But, once again the melody returns. This third time the melody does not seem to return fully but just sort of lingers on, hints of deconstruction then fades away as if it just doesn’t matter any more. Life, relationship, loss and the life that remains. It’s what makes this music so “true”.
I hope you enjoy this wonderful music.

For more info:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penguin_Cafe_Orchestra

And for the new Penguin Cafe – a project by Arthur Jeffes where he is continuing the work started by his father Simon Jeffes with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
http://penguincafe.com/music/

The featured image on this post is from a photographic series of mine titled Celluloid Impressions and features abstracted images created by photographing the moving image in cinema. This featured image is number 10 in the series.