Monday, January 25, 2016

Listen if you dare...!

There are some moments in the making of music when the boldest thing a player can do is nothing—or, to use the phraseology of Robert Fripp, “contribute silence.” That point is driven home in gripping fashion by “Horizontal Hold,” the second track on the self-titled debut album by British experimental trio This Heat, first released in 1979 and just reissued by Light in the Attic Records along with the rest of the band’s slim catalog (a two-track EP and a second album).
Here’s what happens: Guitarist Charles Bullen, keyboardist Gareth Williams and drummer Charles Hayward have locked into an explosive groove full of distortion and hi-hat sizzle. The music’s heavy doom quotient is further enhanced by the lo-fi ambience; parts of the album were recorded on cassette tape in an abandoned meat locker, and you can kind of tell. Suddenly everything stops, as if someone had just cut the mains, and for two seconds all you can hear is the ringing in your ears. The band then returns to its previous noisy business, only to be cut off again twice more in short order. It’s clear that the interruptions are intentional, produced simply by turning a master fader all the way down, but realizing this doesn’t lessen its impact. On the contrary, the abrupt disappearance and reappearance of sound has turned into a memorable hook. Absence becomes presence.
This audacious move takes place one minute into a seven-minute piece. By that point, the mood of the music has already drastically changed three times, from rapid-fire dissonant strumming to stuttering dub. It will change five more times before the track is over, ending with what sounds like, and probably is, the piece’s opening section sped up by a factor of 10.

Although This Heat performed live frequently during its six-year lifespan, it’s hard to think of its music existing without the prominent manipulation of tape via looping, varispeed and montage. All these tricks, which are a breeze to perform now in GarageBand but required real engineering skill to achieve in the 1970s, lend a kaleidoscopic intensity to the proceedings.
Then again, Bullen, Williams and Hayward didn’t need technology to think in unusual ways. The vocal melody for the title song of 1980’s Health & Efficiency EP is in a different time signature from the accompaniment, creating an effect of woozy disorientation. On the band’s second album, 1981’s Deceit (deceit, This Heat, get it?), the eerie “Independence” takes its words from the preamble of the American Declaration of Independence and its tune from the first album’s “Fall of Saigon,” played backwards. And so on.
Surprising instrumental textures and compositional structures are This Heat’s main focus, but all three members sing as well, more on Deceit than elsewhere. That album’s opening song, “Sleep,” contains an element of trancy British folk; at the other extreme, Hayward’s vocal on “Makeshift Swahili” is choreographed shrieking. The lyrics don’t tell stories but explore philosophies, with a skeptical edge. The final lines of “Paper Hats” are typical: “What does this tune signify? What is its meaning? Is it really that straightforward? Or are our ears beyond words?” A current of anxiety about some kind of impending apocalypse runs through many songs. It would be nice to say that this is what dates them the most, but no such luck last time I checked.

I’ve been aware of This Heat’s reputation for a long while, but until the arrival of these reissues, I’d never listened to a solitary second of their music. Putting it on for the first time, I was stunned not just by its adventurousness but by its modernity. Stylistic precursors are audible here and there—Frank Zappa, Can, electric-era Miles Davis—but it reminded me most of groups that postdate it by two decades: Mogwai, the Jesus Lizard, and especially Tortoise (whose latest album, The Catastrophist, is well worth checking out, by the way, although even its most uncompromising moments sound like ad jingles compared to This Heat).
There will be no more where this came from. The three members of This Heat parted ways in 1982, and although a reunion was mooted in 2001, Williams died of cancer shortly thereafter. All the more reason to treasure these reissues, which are enlivened by period photos and Hayward’s alternately insightful and obscure liner notes. He describes Deceit as “a dream within a dream,” a turn of phrase that applies equally to all of this band’s work.
Some more sensitive listeners may find that the dream inches closer to nightmare on the Health & Efficiency B-side “Graphic Varispeed,” in which a series of electronic tones are sped up and slowed down over 11 minutes. One could make a case for this being hypnotic, but not for it being the ideal introduction to This Heat. The curious would be better off starting with the more tuneful Deceit, then working backward. What you’ll hear is music that, going on 40 years after it was written and recorded, continues to feel like a memory of tomorrow.

Count 2015 as yet another banner year in the deep lexicon of experimental and avant-garde music where mountains of exceptional records—from both the old guard and fresh, new talent and across myriad genres—were dropped.
The following list may carry the obligatory “best of” distinction, but we can easily pluck out another batch of stellar recordings released this past year that blazed its own innovative trail and do another round. But as much as we’d love to highlight ’15 “out” faves we spun incessantly like XE by Zs, Henry Kaiser & Ray Russell’s The Celestial Squid, Circuit de Yeux’s In Plain Speech and just about anything pulled from the catalog of the Portugal-based outsider Clean Feed label, that, alas, cannot be swung. So, dig deep and indulge in our list of 2015’s best avant and experimental albums—in no particular order.
Pulverize The Sound, Pulverize The Sound (Relative Pitch)

Perfectly fitting of its assaultive moniker, Pulverize The Sound do, in fact, pulverize the living heck out of the sound with whiplashing start/stop energy music designed to snap necks. On its self-titled debut, the apeshit trio of trumpeter Peter Evans, Child Abuse/Lydia Lunch Retrovirus bassist Tim Dahl and drummer Mike Pride vomit jazzified grind-metal ragers that are as razor sharp composed and hammering repetitious as they are industrial-strength deranged. You’ll never hear the trumpet the same way again after absorbing the salvos of Evans’ bizarro circular breathing techniques, Dahl’s thuds and thumps and the sonic heaviosity of Pride, who is currently touring arenas as part of a jazz trio opening for Amy Schumer(!).
Chris Pitsiokos Trio, Gordion Twine (New Atlantis)
Brooklyn-based alto sax terrorist Chris Pitsiokos may be a 20-something but this rising firebrand wages total war out of his horn. On any given night, the lanky punk jazzer can be found around New York City’s DIY avant scene, gigging at dingy bars, raw loft spaces and Chinatown record store Downtown Music Gallery where he works, pitting his squawks and shrieks against the likes of Flying Luttenbachers overlord Weasel Walter, no wave goddess Lydia Lunch and banjo destroyer Brandon Seabrook. On Gordion Twine, his first record as leader, Pitsiokos has joined forces with bass ace Max Johnson and Talibam! drummer Kevin Shea for a set of breakneck speed bebop-core madness that recalls the legendary Ornette Coleman’s butt-shaking swing, the schizophrenic sound world of John Zorn’s Naked City and the “brutal-prog” of Walter’s own Luttenbachers.
Mary Halvorson, Meltframe (Firehouse 12) 

On her solo guitar joint Meltframe—inspired in part from her opening for The Melvins’ King Buzzo on his acoustic tour in support of This Machine Kills Artists—Brooklyn’s six-string virtuosic godhead Mary Halvorson takes your ass to shred school, showing she’s to avant-jazz what Krallice guitarist Mick Barr is to metal (and, by the way, those two have collaborated). Sure, Halvorson has swung the ax for jazz legends such as Anthony Braxton and Marc Ribot but on tracks like the fuzz-drenched symphonic metal-jazz ripper “Cascades,” she’s channeling both Barr and her tour bud Buzzo. Serious fret-hopping magic gushes from Meltframe as Halvorson covers jazz standards by Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman and Roscoe Mitchell along with tunes from forward thinking peers like Tomas Fujiwara and Chris Lightcap.
Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura, Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura (Public Eyesore)

The eardrum-destroying and mangled math-metal tsunami let loose by Philly/NY free-improv Many Arms has fried brains over the course of an epically noisy four-album stretch, earning the fandom of avant-garde jazz icon John Zorn, who released the trio’s last two records on his elite Tzadik label. After bringing guest saxophonist Colin Fisher on board for 2014’s Black Flag-meets-Coltrane blitz of Suspended Definition, Many Arms are bolstered by yet another new addition—Japanoise improviser Toshimaru Nakamura. On its eponymously-titled joint effort, the quartet go time signature-maximalist ballistic, deconstructing jazz as guitar hero Nick Millevoi’s (also of Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band) gushing hydrant of prog-rock riffery crashes head on with Nakamura’s wall of “no-input mixing board”-twiddling noise.
Merzbow/Mats Gustafsson/Balazs Pandi/Thurston Moore, Cuts Of Guilt, Cuts Deeper (RareNoise)

The seeds were first planted in 2013 for this holier than thou meeting of pioneering brutarians when Japanoise godfather Merzbow, Swedish sax/electronics dude Mats Gustafsson of The Thing (who cut an album with Neneh Cherry) and Hungarian metal/jazz drums ace Balazs Pandi came together to bleed noisefest, Cuts. That alliance continues but with an art-rock and renegade improviser added into its lethal mix: Sonic Youth founder Thurston Moore. On the second marathon installment of Cuts, titled Cuts Of Guilt, Cuts Deeper, the foursome cook up a bloodbath of skronk and clatter that is drum circle ritualistic and deep as hell fire music. No shocker that earplugs are highly recommended.
Laddio Bolocko, Live and Unreleased 1997 – 2000 (No Quarter)

Sitting neatly on the fringe fence while wearing the badge of one those “most influential bands you’ve never heard of” was the NYC-based Laddio Bolocko, a super-obscure, radical band of noisemakers who intersected free jazz, math rock and Kraut grooves to skronk-heavy perfection. From 1996 through 2001, LB—birthed from the ashes of mathy metalists craw and Dazzling Killmen and prog-rock stars The Mars Volta—flew under the radar with its all-instrumental beast of firebreathers and grooves: envision the avant-garde jazz of Albert Ayler under the influence of Kraut-rock pioneers Can.
In LB’s canon, there’s already been one set that’s documented its schizoid recorded output (2003’s The Life & Times Of Laddio Bolocko) and now over a decade later, the LB vaults have been raided again. Both a stellar find and ideal introduction, Live and Unreleased 1997 – 2000 further crystallizes these outré heavyweights to-die-for cred with rare captures of their sax and organ-fueled dronescapes and intricate Don Caballero-isms. It’s no wonder Oneida drummer Kid Millions and no wave brutarian JG Thirlwell both sing the praises of Laddio Bolocko in the package’s liner notes.
Accidental Sky, White Out with Nels Cline (Northern Spy)

Percussion maverick and longtime NYC staple Tom Surgal has been swinging double duty as of late and coming up aces. Just recently, Surgal—in his film director guise—shattered the Kickstarter goal needed to help fund his free jazz documentary called Fire Music: A History of the Free Jazz Revolution and, shortly thereafter, White Out (the freethinking, free-improv space-jazz outfit he shares with his wife, analog synthesizer artiste Lin Culbertson) celebrated its first new album in six years called Accidental Sky.
Joined by their oft partner in noisy crime, Wilco’s pedal-hopping riff monster Nels Cline, these experimentalists-in-arms transmit spiritual jams from the outer regions where Sun Ra dwells, dripping, bleeping, squelching and beaming layers of alien drone with spastic, feedback-laden licks and massaging and stabbing beats that resemble a voodoo ceremony. For the last two decades, the true conversationalists in White Out have counted honorary members such as Thurston Moore, Jim O’Rourke and William Winant into its fold, but the sonic language they and Cline share on Accidental Sky may be its apex.
Jacob Garchik, Ye Olde (Yestereve)

Trombonist colossus Jacob Garchik totes quite the eclectic resume. For the last decade, he’s served as co-arranger for Kronos Quartet, leads a 10-piece marching band dubbed the Atheist Gospel Trombone Choir and is part of Banda de los Muertos, self-described as “NYC’s best (and only) Mexican banda.” On his latest jazzcentric venture Ye Olde, Garchik trekked even further into a mystical stratum, hatching a concept record centered on the medieval architecture found in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
To interpret his mythical tale, Garchik assembled a supergroup of sorts, recruiting a guitarist murderers row consisting of Brooklyn avant-jazz vets Brandon Seabrook, Mary Halvorson and Jonathan Goldberger and backed by heavyweight drummer Vinnie Sperrazza. Led by Garchik’s doom metalish gale-force blows and bluster and a small guitar army in full-on slay mode, Ye Olde invokes the arena-sized coiled rock riffs of King Crimson as Garchik’s gothic prog-jazz beast sets out to “imagine a 2015 cover of the soundtrack to a 1970s remake of a 1930s movie about the Middle Ages.”
Sam Kulik, The Broadcast (Self-released)

While Garchik’s imagination runs prog-rock wild with the medieval architectural themes of Ye Olde, the conceptual vision of his trombonist contemporary Sam Kulik takes America’s national pastime and soundtracks it to avant-garde jazz. What? An Astoria mainstay and diehard Mets fan (Kulik actually performed The National Anthem at a game at CitiField this past season), Kulik hatched this otherworldly idea: he’d take a complete baseball game, set it to music and then make it available as a set of 20 collectible baseball cards featuring all the musicians who played on the record decked out in baseball uniforms.
With a natural born baseball announcer’s voice, Kulik muted his television and recorded himself doing the play-by-play of an early season contest between the Mets and the Florida Marlins and came away with the three-hour long The Broadcast. Featuring a host of Kulik’s cohorts, including members of Talibam!, Shahzad Ismaily (of Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog) and Mostly Other People Do The Killing bassist Moppa Elliot, Kulik’s mind-expanding The Broadcast achieves the unthinkable: soundtracking a Mets game to experimental jazz.

A Guerrilla Girl Takeover, Visual Trends for 2016—and More

A Guerrilla Girl Takeover, Visual Trends for 2016—and More

getnakedshanghai A Guerrilla Girl Takeover, Visual Trends for 2016—and More

The “Guerrilla Girls Twin Cities Takeover” is upon us. The fuzzy feminists are being celebrated with a two-months extravaganza that spans 30 arts organizations in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. It’s meant to be an anniversary of sorts, with the women’s rights organization now celebrating their 30th year in existence.

The National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University (NCAR) just did their own study on diversity in the arts that contradicts the October 2015 study conducted by the University of Maryland’s DeVos Institute of Arts Management. NCAR’s findings show that arts organizations don’t represent people of color less than other cultural institutions, it’s just that they are simply “at a different stage in their evolution.” Oh snap—looks like you’ve been served, DeVos Institute of Arts Management!

Artnet’s Ben Davis breaks down Getty Images’ six visual trend predictions for 2016. Some are kind of “duh” and some are a little more “oh neat.” The trends supposedly apply to commercial art as well as fine art, so maybe your art ideas are back in vogue?
Massimo de Carlo is preparing to open a third gallery space in Hong Kong. The high-rolling dealer, who has shown big names like George Condo and Dan Colen, already has galleries in Milan and London, and is now jumping into the burgeoning Chinese market.

The director of NYC’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), Glenn Adamson, will be stepping down from his post, effective March 31, 2016.  

An 18th Century Roman Holiday || video The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 Monday, January 25, 2016

An 18th Century Roman Holiday

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The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 Monday, January 25, 2016

The SAAL Process: Housing in Portugal

The SAAL Process: Housing in Portugal 1974-1976 10.06.15

  • View of Casal das Figueiras neighbourhood, Setúbal, Portugal 2014
  • General meeting of local residents in the Sports Pavilion, Porto, Portugal 5 April 1975
  • Views of construction of Antas neighbourhood, Porto, Portugal, c. 1975
  • View of the São Victor neighbourhood, Porto, Portugal 2014
  • View of Antas neighbourhood, Porto, Portugal 2014
An exhibition at Montreal’s Canadian Centre for Architecture explores people powered architecture movement in 1970s Portugal that overthrew a despotic regime
A series of hand-painted banners made by the citizens of Portugal’s Porto and Lisbon slums of 1974-76 lead visitors into the complex, riveting drama of the SAAL movement, in a show recently opened at the CCA in Montreal. The SAAL Process: Housing in Portugal 1974-1976 presents ten projects from that era of the influential intervention by the Serviço Ambulatório de Apoio Local (SAAL) – the Local Ambulance Support Service. Conceived by architect and secretary of state for housing and urbanism Nuno Portas as a people-powered architecture and community movement, SAAL spontaneously emerged in the wake of the Carnation Revolution that overthrew the despotic Estado Novo regime in 1974.
Born in a time of productive unrest, the SAAL process fostered a visionary group of architects to engage with the struggling working classes of Portugal’s two largest cities, with a dynamic new form of social activism. At a time when a large percentage of the population was living in poverty, 25% were illiterate, and all were rebelling against the capitalist regime, architecture stepped in to offer revolutionary bottom-up solutions. “It is a great opportunity for the CCA to host this exhibition that documents a specific moment in Portuguese history which is a little known and yet pivotal chapter in the history of architecture,” Eszter Steierhoffer, CCA’s curator of contemporary architecture, says of the many rooms depicting the maps, maquettes, films, photographs and sculptures that document this transformative moment in political-architectural history.
Wandering these rooms, we see the rigorous application of social ethics that were used; in the way individuals in the most disfavoured areas of these cities were questioned by architects about their personal lives and needs, and consulted to both co-design and physically build their homes according to these needs (original questionnaires are housed in glass cases and one film shows a group of fishermen moving an old fishing shack by hand). In another act of innovation, neighbourhood “branding” was identified by the architects and depicted in the banners and posters that we see on display – DIY graphic design projects that incited pride and power.
This chapter of Portuguese politics is little known. Fearing a national swing to communism, NATO squashed its movement after a passionately brief two years. Many of the SAAL studies were destroyed, their manifestations put to an end, and the majority of the work was left unfinished and un-made. Now a legacy of intellectual intelligence, the investigations into this period’s social role of architecture, on view for the first time outside Portugal, can be re-appropriated to raise questions for today’s architectural thinking.
Participation may be a fashionably over-used term in contemporary culture but SAAL presents exciting ways to think about citizen engagement. “The issue of housing acquired a symbolic importance in Portugal at that time,” Steierhoffer says. “The architectural renewal of the city became synonymous with the democratic transformation of Portuguese society. SAAL was an experimental participatory process, developed with local residents, who took the active role in the planning of their own neighbourhood.”
SAAL’s ideas about participation, where architects became quasi-sociologists and houses became synonymous with democracy, “is more relevant today than ever”, concludes Steierhoffer. “Revisiting the model of the SAAL process raises important questions about the role of the architect, the participatory models of architecture, and the political and social implications of housing on the scale of the neighbourhood and urban communities at times when housing is largely privatised and commercialised globally.”

The SAAL Process: Housing in Portugal 1974-1976 is on display at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal until 4 October 2015
Caia Hagel

Images: André Cepeda, Daniel Malhão, Alexandre Alves Costa
quotes story
It is a great opportunity for the CCA to host this exhibition that documents a specific moment in Portuguese history which is a little known and yet pivotal chapter in the history of architecture

Leixões Ferry Terminal, Portugal

Leixões Ferry Terminal, Portugal
portugal terminal
Luís Pedro Silva unfurls a shimmering ribbon of glazed white tiles to bring the glamour of long-distance travel to an industrial port in northern Portugal
Resembling a giant, glittering shell washed up on the southern pier of the Leixões port, the new cruise terminal by Porto-based architect Luís Pedro Silva immediately evokes poetic comparisons, bringing famed architectural precedents to mind, including Eero Saarinen’s 1962 TWA Flight Center at JFK International Airport, New York.
Such comparisons may be superficial (the edifice on Portugal’s Atlantic coast is more akin to a large ribbon, following the pier’s contours and wrapping around a central space, than a symmetrical cantilevered shell), but the terminal still embodies the glamour associated with long-distance travel. “Saarinen was indeed an important reference for us,” says Silva. “At best, life, and spaces of life, should be a celebration.”
And a celebration it certainly is: the building’s curves follow the pier as it juts into the Atlantic, culminating in a sculptural, light-filled passenger hall and a publicly accessible rooftop tribune. The intricate, twisted ribbon is clad in white glazed tiles that shimmer in the bright sun – not just a nod to scaly aquatic life but also to the traditional tiles that cover Porto’s homes. And the building’s dynamic silhouette creates a stark yet sensual landmark on the horizon, a moment of creative whimsy planted in a rough, coastal port.
Yet the terminal is also an extremely functional piece of infrastructure; its curvature intuitively guides visitors – up to 2,500 at peak times – around the site, while the all-encompassing white band blocks out solar radiation. “We never aimed to be overly original,” stresses Silva. “Instead we wanted to create a sense of specificity to the place.”
Peter Smisek

Image: The building’s wraparound facade is designed to reduce solar radiation

© FG+SG Architectural Photography