Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thai Modernized Music

Before the twentieth century, the music of Thailand had largely remained unchanged for nearly eight hundred years. Traditional Thai classical ensembles would perform highly stylised compositions on drums, small chin hand cymbals, suspended gongs and xylophones.  This music was anonymous, rarely notated and handed down through word of mouth. With the advent of radio and then recorded music, an explosion of distinct regional styles emerged and flourished.

‘Thai Modernized Music' came of age between the years 1955 - 1975, when ‘government issue’ soldiers, on leave from Vietnam, began looking for kicks in Thailand thus exposing a young generation of Thai musicians to a diverse array of Western styles.  As this trend progressed, a fertile music scene emerged, with two distinctive styles becoming ever more prominent; Luk Thung and Molam. Luk Thung was a rural, grittier offshoot of an earlier urban style known as Luk Krung.  Luk Thung, which literally translates as ‘Song Of The Child On The Fields’ is the rural music of Thailand and as such it's thematically concerned with the trials and tribulations of daily life.  This music has absorbed and assimilated a vast range of Western influences which is startlingly evident  when you listen to the material on the upcoming Finders Keepers release, “Thai Dai - The Heavier Side Of The Luk Thung Underground.”  This is the raw, heavy, unkempt side of Luk Thung, combining traditional Thai musicianship with raw, aggressive proto punk discharges, hypnotic motorik grooves and garage funk. Traditional instruments such as the khaen [bamboo mouth organ] and phin [Thai flute] interweave with fuzz tinged guitar, stuttering organ licks and heavy drumbeats with unexpectedly joyous results. Sroeng Santi’s strange rendition of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath is a monster of cultural collision and exemplifies this odd hybrid world, one part visceral rock, one part Thai folk melody, three parts downright weirdness. Bizarrely, despite the implied heaviness, the lyrical content of this song is actually a deliberation on the waxing and waning of the moon and the ups and downs of the Thai economy.  These strange musical hybrids continue and peak with “Kanong Krung” by Teungjai Bunpraruska, which sounds alarmingly like the sinister child choral chants of Ennio Morricone backed by the raw scuzz of the Thee Headcoatees.  This is exciting, exotic music, another top drawer release by Finders Keepers.  

“The Sound Of Siam - Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam In Thailand 1964-1975” on Soundway covers slightly different musical terrain but is equally astonishing in its breadth and diversity.  Opening with the fragile, haunting, psych eeriness of Ream Daranoi’s “Fai Yen” this compilation is a veritable treat for the ears. Nearly every track has a deep resonant groove, from the weirdly lopsided middle eastern jazz swing of Panon Nopporn’s “Sao Ban Pok Pab” to The Pletch Phin Thong Band, who manage to dig into a groove and never really stop. This Molam style instrumental is particularly wonderful, sounding like a primitive Appalachian jug band jamming with deep funk Thai zithers.  This music inhabits a fascinating, eclectic and inventive sound world, with vaguely discernible elements of Ethiopian jazz, African drum patterns and raw funk. On the best tracks you can hear the Thai musicians absorbing their influences, experimenting and then pushing the limits of tradition. There's even a song about alcoholic monkeys, reefer smoking elephants and cows that drink Ovaltine for breakfast!  Some of you may be tempted to dismiss this music as mere curious oddity, a collision between an indigenous style and a borrowed one.  Don’t be fooled, there is some serious musical damage to be found on these discs. This is some of the most strange and uniquely compelling music out there and we should thank musical archaeologists Chris Menist, Miles Cleret and Andy Votel for bringing it to our attention.

“The Sound Of Siam - Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam In Thailand 1964-1975” is released on Soundway Records on December 8th. “Thai Dai - The Heavier Side Of The Luk Thung Underground” is an upcoming release on Finders Keepers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Moon & The Sledgehammer

The Moon & The Sledgehammer” is an extraordinary and deeply insightful film. Despite being made over forty years ago, this oddly moving and strangely familiar documentary seems more relevant and prescient today than when it was first shown. It is a film about a family of curious people; a father, Mr. Page, his two sons, Jim & Peter; and his two daughters, Kathy and Nancy and their curious way of life. The film documents the family, living in relative isolation, without running water, electricity or gas, in a deteriorating house hidden within the Sussex woods, twenty miles south of London. On first impression, the family appear to be strange folk indeed, oddball misfits trapped and marginalised in their own unique inner world. As the film progresses, a magical, oddly disjointed narrative reveals this presumption to be both tenuous and threadbare. “The Moon & The Sledgehammer” is a curiously profound film which respectfully celebrates people who are different. As a film, it's a remarkable and engaging feat of social sculpture which acutely observes, captures and preserves the resonant minutia of a disappearing way of life with all its incumbent tensions and quirky humour. It is a strange story, full of complex relationships which evokes a psychologically charged, non didactic world of lost values and traditions. It's a film everyone needs to see. Director, Philip Trevelyan was introduced to the Page family by a friend who had met them at a local auction in Newhaven and he was immediately struck by their unusual and fiercely individualistic way of life. The father had worked as a aircraft engineer and had operated local threshing machines, he had also, rather unorthodoxly, performed as a travelling circus entertainer and was affectionately known by locals as ‘Oily’ Page. The brothers are portrayed as skilled steam engineers and metal workers, forging their own tools and machine parts by hand. The sisters cook, tend animals, produce exquisite embroidery and expertly cultivate plants. The mother is never seen. What is slowly revealed is a strange and compelling mixture of humour, idiosyncratic behaviour, seemingly archaic rural values, consummate craft skills and bizarre family dynamics. Each member of the family has their own unique voice and story. Their performances, if indeed they are performances, are candid, free, at times contradictory but above all captivatingly unselfconscious. Throughout the film, the cinematography and sound recording beautifully captures and frames a faded landscape where the visual smells of oil, rust and fern intermingle and overlap with the complex psychological landscape the family. I've watched this film numerous times and each time a new facet is revealed. We have much to learn from Page family, with their quiet philosophical distance from the accelerated pace of modern life. These are people who possess the rare commodity of time to reflect clear unmitigated thoughts, the time to be intuitively curious about the world in which they live, the time to develop their own unique, personal and sometimes eccentric wisdom. This is a startlingly poetic film. A rare gem.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cy Twombly

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Impoverished Architectural Models Of Jockum Nordström

Folk Photography

The arrival of odd things through the post seems to be a common contextual link for this blog and “Folk Photography” by Luc Sante is no exception. This book serves as a fascinating survey of a marginalised and neglected form of early twentieth photography. The phenomena of real-photo postcards dates back to around 1903, when Kodak introduced the No 3A Folding Pocket Kodak, which allowed the public to take photographs and have them printed as individual postcards. Printed in local makeshift darkrooms, often in towns where the local newspaper was unable to reproduce half tone images, these photographs communicated the localised stories, pains, joys and tragedies of rural America. This book beautifully reproduces a selection of these images, which have been gathered together by the author, Luc Sante, who describes himself as a ‘marginal consumer’ sifting through the dusty detritus of flea markets and junk shops in search of visual treasure. Many of these images are blunt, raw and unmediated by pictorial convention, created by self taught practitioners and local entrepreneurs eager to turn a dollar. Many are author less. The postcards depict a vast range of subject matter, cataloguing the everyday to the downright bizarre. A few of the images are singularly personal, many depict local newsworthy events, all have a static, otherworldly quality, exposing a vanished world suspended in unsmiling, ritualistic solemnity. This book is a wonderful resource, constantly illuminating, informative and a must for anyone interested in non academic art. 

I am deeply indebted to the publishers, Verse Chorus Press, for supporting the blog by generously sending a review copy.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

High Society

History is oddly predictable, like a vast catalogue, oscillating between the extraordinary peaks of human existence and the seamier, squalid, pestiferous decline into the gutter. Like the man said, some days are good, some days are bad, life's highs and life's lows. From our humble morning coffee, to the exotic betel nut quids produced in south east Asia, drugs are inexplicably woven into the warp and weft of all evolving societies. "High Society, Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture" is an absorbing and detailed account of the cultural pursuit of 'getting high', the quest to alter our minds in significant but controllable ways. This fascinating survey examines and traces the development of substances utilized to change our perception and consciousness, forming a comprehensive study of the historical and cultural impact of drugs within society.  The book examines the medical, recreational, spiritual, religious and economic use of drugs and chronicles the progressive discovery and development of  each mind expanding 'pharmaceutical'.  Tracing a lineage from the Ebers Papyrus [the oldest known Egyptian medical text, which described the 'analgesic' properties of the roots, seeds and head of the poppy] to the development of a global drug trade, this beautifully illustrated book elucidates the history of intoxicants with layer upon layer of meticulously researched material. What is particularly striking about the book is its ordinariness, its lack of moralizing and the authors ability to tread a scholarly path through the hallucinatory discourse of oppositional arguments for and against drug use.  Highly informative, always engaging, Mike Jay has produced a wonderfully detailed book which offers exquisite observations on a difficult and controversial subject.

I am deeply indebted to the publishers, Thames & Hudson, for supporting the blog by generously sending a review copy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wounded Galaxies Tap At The Window

As mentioned previously, strange and curious items of mail have been landing on my doorstep and this limited edition release by Cyclobe is no exception. At the end of last month, I reviewed a most curious and extraordinary book of found photographs entitled "Haunted Air" by Ossian Brown. Unbeknown to me at the time of writing, Ossian also composes music in partnership with English musician and author, Stephen Thrower under the guise of Cyclobe. I was completely spellbound by Ossian's photographic oddities and found myself slightly apprehensive opening this particular package, fearing disappointment.

Fortunately, "Wounded Galaxies Tap at the Window" is an unexpected musical delight. The opening track, "How Acla Disappeared from Earth", shimmers in otherworldly unease and mournful loss, acting as a prescient foreshadowing of the musical journey to come. "The Woods Are Alive With The Smell Of His Coming" was originally performed in November 2009 as part of a one day symposium on "Magic, Modernism in British Art" at Tate, St Ives. This striking composition builds with insidious momentum, slowly evolving through a hobbled, mesmeric rhythm, lurching towards a venomous intensity to end in soporific repose. Layers of sound evolve; celestial shards of disembodied chorus beckon, eerie murmurs ripple and cantillate, spiteful creaks and baneful gnarls twist and scamper, while fragments of folk instrumentation weave in and drift out of consciousness. For an all too fleeting moment, this music performs an invocation, bringing the unknown and the unnameable into our collective midst in all its harrowing, compelling and resonant glory. In contrast, the second side of this release appears more restrained, the music starts with a short frenetic folk refrain which dissipates leaving a cold cavernous electronic wasteland. A chilling listlessness takes hold. A slight piano refrain enters, hovering halfway between Giallo underscore and Morton Feldman like minimalism. An androgynous voice starts to intone around a score fluctuating between intense luminosity and uncertain disquiet. This is indeed magical music, with light and dark expertly weaved and balanced. I was apprehensive when I started listening. I still am. This is a wonderful, fearful and magnificent release which I highly recommend.

"Wounded Galaxies Tap at the Window" is out now on Phantomcode. Front cover art by Fred Tomaselli.  

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fred Tomaselli

"Painting has traditionally been seen as a window onto another reality ….. I am interested in the relationship between this myth and the broader culture that contains it."

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Soundtrack avant oddities abound on this new spectral collage by Anworth Kirk and Demdike Stare.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dissolving In The Warmth Of The Sun

Malá Morská Víla

Watching "Malá Morská Víla", the Czechoslovakian film adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" is like being drowned in an intoxicating blend of sub aquatic loneliness and surreal bittersweet enchantment. The film has a dark eerie, dreamlike quality which is enhanced by the wonderful mixture of set design by Ester Krumbachová [who was responsible for much of the visual inventiveness of films such as "Daises" and "Valerie & Her Week Of Wonders"] and a beguiling orchestral/electronic score by composer Zdeněk Liška.  Much of the film is set underwater and there is an overwhelming undercurrent of sadness throughout, especially during the underwater scenes which  are often filmed with a limited colour palette and a haunting use of slow motion cinematography. Director, Karel Kachyňa achieved international recognition for his poetic films of the mid to late sixties but this film is an unsung masterpiece, a veritable treat for both the ears and the eyes.  The film score for "Malá Morská Víla" will be released by Finders Keepers some time in Winter 2010.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Daughters Of Air

The Englishman Who Posted Himself And Other Curious Objects

I like the odd bit of post, indeed, the odder the better. Over the last week or so, quite a few strange and curious items have arrived through my letterbox pertaining to the blog. One of the most interesting of these items, is a book published by Princeton Architectural Press about an eccentric Victorian Englishman who was responsible for sending over thirty two thousand postal curios through the mail in an attempt to challenge and perplex the postal authorities. “The Englishman Who Posted Himself And Other Curious Objects” is a delightful and playful book which documents the life of W. Reginald Bray, a mischievous prankster, who after reading the regulations published by Post Office in 1898 set about testing the limits, patience and problem solving skills of countless postal workers. The book lovingly details Bray’s endless passion for sending unusual and bizarre items through the post ranging from a bowler hat, a turnip, an old bicycle pump to a wide variety of oddly addressed postcards. The book is consistently engaging in both form and content and I was extremely impressed by the exquisite typography, layout and graphic presentation by designer Deb Wood. Throughout the book, Bray comes across like a playful, latter-day conceptual artist, constantly striving to out manoeuvre postal legislation through a consistent application of weird invention and eccentric wit. This is a superb book and highly recommended. My hat is doffed to researcher, John Tingey for writing and curating such a wonderful oddity. 

I am deeply indebted to the publishers, Princeton Architectural Press for supporting the blog by generously sending a review copy.