DVD Weekend #1

One of my impossible-to-realize desires is having more time to watch (and listen to) music-related DVDs. Here’s the first tranche of a number of audio/video releases on this format – accumulated in 18 months or so – analyzed and reviewed at long last. I’ll try with three per week, but this is NOT an official promise.


It took two years to Cristopher Cichocki to create this collection of “video compositions”. Elemental Shift was published in May 2008, a classic instance for which a mea culpa is necessary for the unintentionally protracted postponement of the review. Through a painstaking assemblage of images seamed in stunningly perfect synchronization with a brain-shattering kind of music – which includes all sorts of city noises, toxic distortions, incendiary propulsions and pneumatic rhythms capable of bending iron wills – this artist puts us in contact with an area of the mind which is equidistant from a complete collapse and a meditative state. Trying to focus on the overwhelming successions of infinitesimally short frames while absorbing the unremitting sonic fusillades will produce a knockout, naturally in Cichocki’s favour. You just can’t expect to be able to memorize the details, but are allowed to retain a vague impression of what was used to concoct that particular episode. On the contrary, abandoning any defence to be avalanched by the sheer kaleidoscopic authority of these ever-changing segments is perhaps advisable if you’re not particularly good in concentrating. This is not everybody’s item, though: the tracks are nastily snappy, replete with quick-as-hell pictorial sequences of industrial machineries, bleak landscapes and stunning contrasts between natural elements and metropolitan suggestions fused into staggering mixtures whose strength grows minute by minute. An exception is the title track, entirely shot at night, a few distant lights – passing cars, other less decipherable entities – underlined by a slightly calmer soundscape made of field recordings and machine-derived pulses. The menu is completed by a live performance called “Cycle By Cycle” which comprises some of the original pieces. I won’t advise anybody to “keep an eye” on this man, as there’s a risk of remaining visually shocked. Epileptic people should also avoid this, given the potentially disastrous effects of flickering pictures (a warning appears as the beginning of the DVD). For the rest, Elemental Shift is a must-have, in the hope that it’s not too late for securing one of the 250 copies of this limited edition, coming “in a thin canister with found fish bones from the Salton Sea sculpturally placed inside” (quoting from the press release…my promo came in an anonymous transparent sleeve, alas). (Table Of Contents)


Previously known as Lovely Midget, Rachel Shearer presents what the press blurb calls a “digital séance of aural and visual sculptures”. Concretely speaking, this item consists of a 22+ minute mixed-media composition: the video is pretty simple, minimal in the truest sense of the word, with seven fixed lights – shaped in a way that recalls Ursa Major – whose glowing intensity changes according to the dynamic modifications of the musical tissue, which in itself is quite meagre (and, in any case, better than an optical counterpart that didn’t manage to elicit the presumed states of mental alteration it was supposed to generate; on the contrary, the experience was rather unimpressive for yours truly). As far as sounds are concerned, things get more interesting when the whole is left to propagate without particular consequences expected. Shearer – who utilized guitars, keyboards and processing – is helped by Sean O’Reilly’s guitar samples in an ear-pleasing soundscape halfway through a granular kind of ambient and a cricket-ish accumulation of acute frequencies interspersed, especially in the first half, with rare clusters that would seem to prelude to stronger sensations. Instead, the music gradually disposes of that body, turning into a flimsy electroacoustic embrace which can easily be enjoyed minus the graphic complements and, at last, is perceived as welcome even while one is doing something else. Whether you use the images or not, best results will be achieved by leaving the disc spinning in its predefined loop mode. All in all, a nice but not extraordinary release. (Family Vineyard)


A monochrome picture (by Gibson and Recoder) showing a white rectangle with a grey contour upon a black background. Initially, the borders dissolve very slowly; with the passage of time, the entire figure’s focus starts being modified, in sequence becoming semi-transparent, hazy, partially or totally eclipsed. Approximately at halfway point, flashing lights – destined to play a primary role from then on – emerge at first indistinctly, like from behind a translucent screen, then more incisively through constant flickering and lots of quickly changing shapes, similarly to what happens when a film begins to decay or even melt (as it often happened in this reporter’s childhood when dad tampered with our Super 8mm family movies). This goes on until the end, with appreciable psychedelic effects if one concentrates sufficiently. The superb soundtrack is provided by Block, its interaction with the visual counterpart perfectly coincident. Indeed the sonic content constitutes the outstanding aspect of the reviewed item; for what’s my knowledge of this woman’s opus, Untitled surely belongs in its upper echelon. Starting with a stifled toneless vibration, the piece develops a marvellous static texture born from the superimposition of extremely low hums and cyclical hissing frequencies, with the addition of infinitesimal yet clearly traceable physical elements. The unfathomable rumbles starting after the 20th minute are alone worth of silent admiration, accompanied as they are by a sizzling mass of electronics and uneven recurrences between nerve-stimulating buzzing and electrostatics, the whole increasing in harshness and volume as the continuous crackle is superimposed to other types of pressurized sonority. As a single pitch comes up in the mix other noises iconize degeneration, soon swallowed by awesome Om-ming drones. Each section flows naturally into the subsequent one, warranting a continuity that represents the winning feature of this amazing composition, which ends exactly where it began. On a second thought, this is perhaps THE best music I’ve heard from Olivia Block and – most sincerely – I played it again sans images twice already, only to seize additional clues in regard to why I’m loving it so much. And, contrarily to his beloved editor-in-chief at Paris Transatlantic, your darling prattler even managed to build (well, sort of…) the impossibly designed light cardboard box that lodges the disc. Ikea docet, Dan. (SoSEDITIONS)

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