Eric Talks About: Tokyo Story (1953)

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Kyoko: Life is dissappointing, isn’t it?
Noriko: Yes, it is.

I am not old, but I am now old enough to appreciate Tokyo Story (1953). When I had watched Ozu’s revered Magnum Opus, I was 18, I had not yet moved out of my parents house, and I hadn’t truly grown up yet. My experience was too limited. I had a taste for genre film, that has not yet truly abated, and I was more interested in the visual aspects of filmmaking – color not the least of it – than the emotional elements.

It is good that I gave this about 10 years to marinate. For a long time, I hated it. It was boring, and mind-numbingly slow. It’s tatami mat aesthetic, where the majority of shots sit at a Zazen level on the floor was redundant, and repetitive. The human portrayal of being was trite, and uneventful, and the story meant little to me.

The film, I realize now, is meditative. I have more experiences now. I am aware that I grow older, that I age, even though my mind remembers youth more clearly than it did when I was young.

For those who are not of the cineast variety, Tokyo Story is a 1953 film by Yasujiro Ozu, focused on an elderly couple visiting their children in Tokyo for a vacation. During the vacation, their children, adults, and with lives of their own have little time to care for their aging, bored parents who have little to do in the bustling city, as they approach the twilight of their lives. it is a 136 minute that feels infinitely longer, as the majority of it is shot statically, with shots that linger for too long, and much of the story moves at a measured, patient pace. Image result for tokyo story

It is a film that requires some understanding of the neuroses of Post-war japan, for certain. The sense of loss, and grief for an era that has now left, torn cruelly asunder, and seemingly forgotten amidst the modernizing, west influenced Tokyo.

Like Short Story subtle writing, those americana’s you see listed for the O. Henry prize, or shortlisted by MacArthur fellows, this film inhabits negative space, and emphasizes, to a large extent, the humanity of failure, and disappointment. These topics continue to grow in appeal for me, as the years wear on.

The characters as presented are unfailingly human. As shots linger on Shukichi Hirayama (Chishu Ryu) drinking Saké with his long suffering, but ever smiling wife Tomi at his side (Chieko Higashiyama), discussing his willfulness in youth, and his penchant for drink, one envisions that time when his hair was a deeper shade, his body not so rictus with age. One can see him coming home late at night – as he does later in the film – stumbling, with his wife sitting, thinking about all the things she could have done. All the people she could have chosen, but instead chose him, to take through life’s journey. All of it communicated by not speaking out loud. by speaking to human failings, rather than contrived ones.

It is how the human heart suffers. Instead of characters broadly announcing their existence, loudly, and succinctly, the story moves over them with a brush-stroke rich in its minimalist qualities. Instead of truly villainous children, who don’t care about their parents at all, we are given one of those low-grade ore horrors of growing up: a job, a life, children of their own. No time to spend on people. Their failings are real, and byproducts. There is no malice aforethought.

Ozu goes out of his way to humanize all the characters, making none of them anything less than human. Whether it is the Older Gentlemen shooting the shit over Saké at a bar, being escorted home by police; whether it is Noriko’s kindness masking her loneliness; or whether is their children being dutiful, and loving, but only just enough to pass the snuff: there is no villainy to be had here. Just people being people, and all those dinghy’s bumping in the night.  Image result for tokyo story

It still feels long, but different than it used to. Instead of feeling ponderous, it feels like the camera is in a Zen Buddhist posture, reciting a haiku with the syntax of its shot composition. The shots move together with seamless grace, moving form location to location, never veering from the upright lotus, simply observing, watching, being.

The emotions are pure. The water clarified by this sense of stillness. A peace that pervades the loneliness of the characters. There are no tropes being exploited, or big moments. It is all in the details, that accrue carefully over time. Each little gesture or trait being folded cross ways with another, until a latticework of humanity is presented in the origami of its characters.

In a word: beautiful.

As I move forward, getting older, not perhaps getting any wiser, but aging. As making time for people seems to become more difficult, I find myself struck by the film’s pace. It is the ever progressing nature of time. That final shot of Shukichi alone in his house, incense drifting up lazily has the elements of honesty that hit closer to home than I’m comfortable admitting.

It is one of those things that rewards rewatching, which is why, I think, I will. But at a later time, when I have gotten older. When the heart has darkened like wood because it must, and symptoms of time moving forward are in evidence.

Until I am not disappointed.

Boarding House Reach – Jack White

 

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This album is infuriatingly compelling; damn it.

Garage-Rock Revivalist and King of the Hipsters Jack White returns with Boarding House Reach, his third solo studio effort and it’s hard to talk about this record. It makes me feel like Schrodinger’s cat, somehow in love with it and utterly frustrated by it.

Of Hemingway’s many stylistic features, his most famous is the extensive use of parataxis, which – aside from being a very fun word to use in a sentence – is a logically tricky technique where, instead of using a conjunction that defines the relationship of two ideas, favors the logical placement side by side of the two words: instead of saying, but, use and.

And it seems Mr. White’s new songwriting style is paratactic, to greater and lesser success.

This album is a glorious mess; Zappa in its essence by way of AWB, Earth, Wind & Fire, and sometimes, White’s own series of malaprops that define the best of his work. There is a chaos and disorder that I love; and I’m not sure why.

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Track to track, there is no flow. None of the tracks have any sense of continuity. The downbeat synth gospel “Connected by Love” is followed gracelessly by the meandering “Why Walk a Dog?” and then there is a very distressingly intentional 5 minute jam on “Corporation”. And then there is “Abulia and Akrasia”. Each of these songs is concocted half-heartedly, and exist painfully in the negative space. The funky white boy jam of “Corporation” never quite coheres, with the vintage keys and synths clashing with the guitars, and abruptly changing tone with each vamp on the original musical idea.

And instead of building up, or flowing from one contour to the next, there is a splatter paint aesthetic to the pastiche and stylings. White steals liberally from the sounds of Kid A on “Hypermisophonia”, and then takes a hard left turn into 90’s hip-hop sounds on “Ice Station Zebra”. At no point do these songs feel like they should follow one another.

As we progress through each track – with an interesting drum beat here – a little throwaway vignette here featuring healthy steinbeck sounding big words like some frankenstein abjuration – a thick garage rock fuzz guitar riff, there is no propulsive lift that makes the album become more than itself. The plane is turning down different runways and tracks, increasingly kaleidoscopic; but only ever obscuring, never clarifying.

It feels like something Frank Zappa would have done; and, at times, I feel like I’m re-listening to We’re Only in it For the Money, or Uncle Meat, where the song fragments never really add-up, and it’s on purpose. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that White is secretly listening to The Mollusk on infinite repeat.

And I’m not sure that works. Those records rely heavily on the fact that Zappa and Ween don’t take themselves at all seriously. The humor is from the absurdism of the personalities of

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Zappa and the Mothers, as much as the music on the record, which never stabs the serious; never approaches that kind of intent that would convey some kind of point.

Jack White has never affected that kind of persona. He’s always struck me as rather self-serious, even when making a joke. His humor always has a very in-group vibe; the kind of joke told by the kid who is reading Camus to his horn-rimmed wearing, plaid laden, group of friends, all the way in the back corner, laughing at the absurdity of Sisyphus.

And that doesn’t quite gel with what Jack White excels at: tightly written rock music. I’m all for weird jazz, technical prowess, and musical cavalcades of chaos, but it doesn’t feel genuine on this record.

And and and and yet, I can’t stop listening to this record.

Despite the high signal to noise ratio of cognitive dissonance this record induces, White does a lot of things right: the production is damn near flawless, even when the songwriting is oblique and off kilter. His guitar tone still sounds like that sexy-fuzz that I’ve always known: like sugar dipped bacon, gritty, sweet, but still just salty enough for character.

Despite the song’s often going nowhere, with disjointed musical ideas never quite adding up, there are some particular killer cuts on the back half of the record “Over and Over” is pretty great. The instrumentation is often interesting, and the sound immersive.

By the end of it, even though I’m frustrated and  dreamlike, I still want to explore the record again; as if re-listening to it will somehow make the confusing thick production into tighter written songs; and the equation will make itself known.

The chaos isn’t controlled; Jack White isn’t Frank Zappa; and this record is a confused mess; and I kind of love it anyway.

Until I don’t think like Caravaggio

Qualified Like

If you like this record, check out: Uncle Meat, The Mollusk, We’re Only in it for the Money

4:44 – Jay-Z

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“There’s a fine line between heaven and here” – Bubbles

Lao-Tzu once said “Celebrate your Failures, lament your successes”; Jay-Z has learned that, to his benefit, on 4:44, an album that manages to be fractious, fractured, and the compelling kind of incomplete.

Coming on the heels of Lemonade, 4:44 sits in the middle of two swirling eddies pulling in opposite directions. On the one, a canny business man, father, artist, and lover who broke Public Enemy’s first rule and fell for their own hype; on the other, a former gangsta, an untrustworthy malcontent, a lascivious hateful man who doesn’t know who deserves what, and, most glaringly, a black man.

This album is as defined by its swirling palate of chaos, as by its jagged definition of what it means to be black: a perpetual pull, the mule accompanying 40 acres pushing its heels as it’s master forces it forward. From the opening air raid sirens of “Kill Jay Z”, where Jay kills his ego onward, there is an ever present tension. An irreconcilable abnegation of self.

The samples, often distorted, broken, atonal, rough around the edges support this sense of internal chaos. “The Story of OJ” – one of my favorite tracks – is sprinkled with pitch-shifted vocal fragments while a glitch-fixed piano falls scatters tense high-key fragments. A recognition of being a smart man, a rich man, everything the american dream epitomizes; and yet, he can’t escape the status as a house, field, rich or poor n****r.

How frustrating that’s gotta be: to do everything you can, and still be somehow less. Jay-z’s earthy straightforward flow is at its most barren and effect: no frills, with concrete vector imagery: every detail thrown into a centrifuge, crashing into each other, paints a pollock that may be worth a million or two, if he plays it right.

While generously allotted throughout the album, Shawn Carter’s essential struggle is brought to its essence in that Story. Simultaneously laughing at OJ’s declaration of “I’m not black, I’m OJ”, he reflects the shattered mirror of his own financial failures and successes. He muses obsessively on his vast fortune, his business acumen, his musical talents, all with an easy lilt. But that refrain punctures. He can’t escape it, no matter how successful he gets he’ll always be black.

Even his self-aggrandizement only serves to make him a target of his own verbal slaughter. Every lyric about his ability to seemingly create millions out of thin air runs into constant barrage of nips and jibes of his failures, whether giving too much credit to Kanye, Cheating on Beyoncé – going Eric Benét (almost)- or shooting his own brother. No stone is left unturned.

I can’t claim to understand that kind of immense frustration. To feel and be seen as perpetually behind, to be less, no matter how high you fly. The whole album rides on that tension. Whether it’s discussions of is upbringing; his family; or his admission of guilt. Nothing comes easy on this record.

I don’t consider this album an apology, either. It’s too ambivalent for that. It feels more like a struggle. No effort is made to draw a neat little box around the feelings or self-perceptions Carter goes through, whether it be the struggle of reconciling a hard past with a different kind of hard, or his relationship with the Queen.

It’s always good to have an emotional thru-line, and, in the case of this record, his relationship with Queen bey is certainly a jagged kind of good. It reeks of uncertainty, tentativeness, and out and out frustration.He sounds most vulnerable on the centerpiece of the record “4:44” when he discusses emotional coldness, the fear of alienation; learning how to be soft. He sounds terrified of a lack of intimacy more than a knife in the back. It’s a refreshing kind of terror.

Even when she makes an appearance as the choir on “Amen”, there is a constant feeling of guilt and uncertainty, layered in a sheath of recognition; a decisive acknowledgement of wrongdoing. It’s a refreshingly complicated line to straddle.

Further, Master-Z’s production is on point. Un-bassy, with a lot of the samples occupying the mid’s  and trebles, there is a real sense of turmoil gleaned from the spare, often unnerving production with its ticklish uncomfortable flourishes. I often feel like Z was listening to 22, a million liberally when coming up with the sampling style.

In fact, I feel like this record, although more coherent (and compelling, fight me), than Bon iver’s cut, is very much a similar thesis statement: my shit is falling apart, and I’m watching it happen from a million glittering angles. It feels like pieces of a broken mirror arrayed against each other to create a mirror house, with the Ego of Jay-Z as some devilish doppelganger to  as its pepper’s ghost hologram, not quite real, but uncomfortably so, at the same time.

It’s a statement I gravitate toward regularly: inconclusive chaos. That entropy that accompanies the end of the universe. This album sounds like the Buddha’s walking to the Bodhi tree, but not his sitting under it. The soul samples on what is undoubtedly the centerpiece “4:44” have a dramatic heft because of the directness and uncertainty.

That said, the back half of the album isn’t nearly as consistently excellent as the first half; and by the end it has certainly lost its steam. But it’s a record that wisely chooses for brevity, and it is a rich experience, after its reasonably short run time of 36 minutes.

The essence of Taoism, Buddhism  and eastern dualistic religions is the tension of this album: one end of the spectrum looks much like the other. Success is its own kind of failure, and vice versa.

And when its handled this honestly: ugly and naked and uncertain and ripped in a million pieces, it certainly hits the right spot with me.

Until I stop running away.

Review: Harmony of Difference EP – Kamasi Washington

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Kamasi’s really pushing the definition of “EP”, with this one.

Coming from a tradition of Non-Tradition and Rule Breaking, Kamasi Washington’s EP Harmony of Difference is one of my favorite new jazz records in recent memory; the other being Washington’s Opus Epicus the 3 hour odyssey “The Epic” released in 2015.

This record falls into what could be called the sub-genre of Jazz Innovation, which includes the hallowed ranks of Trane, Sanders, and Ayer as the free-jazz Holy Ghost. You’ve likely heard the jokes about these types of record: 20 minute jazz odyssey.

They follow the same series of beats: an introduction of theme via the Bass line, followed by some melodic vamping; sometimes there will be a few short tracks in which themes are explored in a bit more detail. Then, transcendence.

Some of my personal favorites are stuff like the immortal A Love Supreme by Monsieur John Coltrane, Karma by Pharaoh Sanders, Enlightenment by McCoy Tyner, and contrapuntally The All Seeing-Eye, and Spiritual Unity by Wayne Shorter and Albert Ayer.

This record has that same sense of bombastic abandon and push for innovation. It has those tasteful ethereal themes that connect us through the soundwave vibrations of the spiritual instant known as Om. Scattered throughout the 6 tracks, among the sultry bass lines; the shimmering keyboards; the funk grooves; and Washington’s classic playing, there is that sense of increase and tension. That almost sexual ecstasy that comes with communing with the divine from the sound of a reed and enamelled keys on gold.

There is the wonderfully cohesive compositions, at which Washington truly excels. His compositions have enriched everything from Flying Lotus to Kendrick Lamar, and he has a true ear for those classic anti-classic Jazzsterpieces. He has the soaring, and the falling. The moments of diffusion such as the song “perspective”. The arrangements match the tone of the songs subject matter. Desire establishes the theme, while the ensuing tracks veer and shuck and jive into their own thematic territory, culminating in a thirteen minute sublimation “Truth”.

It’s a joy to listen to, I tell you.

This record is not quite what I would call a game-changer, though. This is a record defined by its influences, almost to the point of being slavishly devoted. They’re good influences, and this piece works well as a self-contained suite with rich harmony and melodies. But it is part of a tradition. He doesn’t dramatically push the form. He doesn’t go balls out with his compositional choices. There is a sense of balanced, but it is weirdly dimmed, considering the tradition from which it comes

For every new flourish that is Washington’s own, there are melodies and compositions that feel eminently familiar. There is a sense that he has imbibed his forebears wholeheartedly. And while these compositions have character and flavor all their own, they have a recognizable source. I can’t escape that personally.

But, when I listened to this record for the first time, I was taking a walk on a sunny autumn day, with the leaves falling in the Boston Garden amongst the flowers and beauty. As “Truth” built upon all the previous themes like a modal voltron, I was taken by a moment of serenity; the sea of bodies falling around me in harmonious equidistance. The glass green pond with Swans swimming; the buskers. The taste of my coffee and the just right temperature of the air against the shimmering blue felt just right.

And when it’s that rich, I can’t help but fall into the Harmony life.

The Guard has Changed. Let’s see what Washington’s got next.

Review: The Desaturating Seven – Primus

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We’re going down to the valley to suck the life out of rainbows, gonna have ourselves a time.

As long as I’ve been an openly weird individual, I have found something kindred in Primus; from their openly surreal lyrics that sound like Bertolt Brecht on meth watching Barney the Dinosaur and having an existential crisis; to their deep vein thrombosis varicose rhythm section, composed of the eternal slap-bass of Signor Claypool like some creepy uncle who your parents tell you to stay away from, and currently, Tim Alexander from the classic line-up. From the seas of cheese, to the morbid absurdism of Horny Tom-Cats and Muddy Murderers, I have always had a soft spot for the particular insanity of Les Claypool’s most famous outfit.

So it’s no great shock that I enjoy The Desaturating Seven, at, if nothing else, the minimum capacity for enjoyment. It has all the hallmarks of classic Primus: twisted melodic slap bass that marches alongside the guitar-as-rhythm low-key virtuosity of Larry Lalonde, marrying the drums in unholy matrimony while they explore the bizarre, the twisted and the immoral with a happy Wonka jaunt.

But, weirdly enough, the album was a bit of a shock. I say weird only because I wasn’t expecting to be shocked. I was expecting Primus to be Primus. But they got me with an album that is closer to a song, than an album. Which is weird, for a band predicated on Lynchian insanity.

This record is pure concept, based on a horrifyingly delightful children’s tale “The Rainbow Goblins”, the album chronicles the events of the story as the Goblins – who eat color – are on their way to a valley filled with color to consume. In the end, their greed gets them, and they die from eating too much. Classic Primus subject matter.

Poetic like a fart-joke.

But unlike a regular Primus record, which is 40-50 minute of riffs, bizarre vignettes and characters, and an exploration of the dark-side with teletubbies brightness, this record is a sustained exploration of one band of fucked up children’s story characters, and it’s only 34 minutes. It’s also not one metric fuckton of brick wall funk-rock.

Unlike their greatest records, this album has space in between the moments of bat-shit insanity, which are more muted than their previous highs. It’s a new experience.

And, initially, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I’ve been used to Blue-Collar Meth Heads, Icon worship to the Bad Lee Van Cleef, a weirdly high volume of references to fish. I was used to a continuous stream of inventively textured bass, and Claypool sounding like an Oompa Loompa on Coke.

And I got that, mostly. But I also got wide-open spaces of ambience. I got an uninspired LaLonde The solo on “The Dream” but it is the singularity of concept that took the most time to get used to.

One of Primus’ gifts if their ability to tell a story; but they’re better as flash fiction, than novels. They can paint these vivid pictures of the creepier unaware elements that hide in the shadows of children’s story. John the Fisherman, Tommy the Cat, Mud: all these stories are self-contained within their respective songs and have hallmarks of a sense of place and style.

But by focusing on one cast of characters, Primus becomes diffuse. The characters don’t have that eminent shock value like they used to; and this took time, but I actually finally enjoy it.

This is a Primus Meta-Song; a fact which acknowledges itself in the final track, looping around to the beginning with the same filtered and flanged acoustic riff that begins the album, even says “The Ends?”. Instead of having the dramatic impact of something like a Smosh Youtube video, or a Lydia Davis short story, they go into more detailed storytelling. Each song contributes to the whole, and reflects form as function.

Each song plays a part, and serves a role in the narrative. The spaces are wide to accommodate a more detailed story. It’s a children’s story, and it’s easy to follow. But from taken from this context, I find it a rich experience. I’m marching along with these gluttonous, only barely metaphors-for-real-life goblins while Claypool, Lalonde and Alexander tell a story, full of sonic and emotional peaks and valleys.

I like that. And it’s  not what I expected.

If you’re a Primus fan, check it out; if you’re not, find out what the people who wrote South Park is actually about.

As for me, I’m going to watch Teletubbies, and read a Pulp Novel.

Review: To the Bone – Steven Wilson

Goddamn, Steven Wilson knows how to write a melody.

Though he’s better known for crafting intricate prog-music, having a million side projects, and making sure that you forget what joy feels like (don’t watch this if you want to be happy ever again), and being the modern equivalent of every good prog-group you’ve ever heard of, Steven Wilson has always written great vocal melodies.

To The Bone is a testament to it.

Following Wilson’s masterful Hand. Cannot. Erase. record number 5 is almost meta in its approach to prog-music history. If you’ve ever listened to a shred of music of Prog greats, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson et. al., after those amazing huge-ass concept records with full scale orchestras, at least one tuvan throat singer, fifteen cadres of sitars, and a triangle for good measure, you have the “I’m too good for this band, fuck alla’y’all, it’s the 80’s” solo record, which features a drum machine because, well, the 80’s, and then some obnoxiously catchy tunes that don’t really sound like prog, because they’re as often in 4/4 as they are in 13/16 (real time signature, blegh).

And this record really takes that ethos to its logical extreme. The opening title track even has a drum machine opening, a spoken-word truism about how reality is subjective, and then a huge ass bass drop.

It’s magical, I fuckin’ tell ya.

And man, when Wilson wants to just write tight songs, with hooks that puncture your eye, pull at the cornea and rip it off with catchiness, he does. There is not one song on this record that is not expertly crafted pop that, given enough listens, wouldn’t have you bobbing your head. With songs like the “Same Asylum as Before” and “Permanating” with a straight monster of a bull-rush piano riff, and sweeter than sin guitar lines, while you have to shake your hips by compulsion, just because Wilson will not let up with the earworms. It feels very human.

You could be forgiven for finding Wilson’s previous efforts somewhat clinical: his previous solo records, no matter their greatness always had a sense of emotional restraint. He tuned his emotions to perfect-pitch, just like his productions. Every peak and valley had an element of calculation, to create a specific effect. Songs like “The Raven that Refused to Sing” are sung and played with just enough emotion to completely fuck you up; but only that, and no more. He uses his silken voice as just one more element.

This record is undoubtedly a messier beast. Without maestro’s like Guthrie Govan and Marco Minneman, or any of his other solo buddies, Wilson is on his own. He sings with passion on this record. He occasionally overblows his vocal lines; he plays solos that lack the perfect vigor and fluidity that fans have come to expect, and there is a sense that he is just existing for its own sake, rather than to sell an emotional point.

I’m…not sure how I feel about it.

On the one hand, this record is eminently listenable. It’s focused for the most part, its crystal production – with every sound living and breathing and fucking your ear drums – is a thing of beauty; and Wilson is letting himself out of his shell to express himself. I rather enjoy Ninet Tayeb’s contributions, as I did on Here Comes Everybody….Hand. Cannot. Erase. There is a vitality to this record  that is missing in some way on all of his previous records.

But it still has that qualities of the 80’s that I can’t shake. A weird clinical approach to it. It’s so under the surface that it doesn’t bother me a whole hell of a lot. But it can be distracting.

And Wilson doesn’t wholly give up his more grandiose impulses, which leads to some uneven moments throughout the records. “Song of Unborn”, “People who Eat Darkness” and other cuts on this record veer into prog wankery that I expect, and welcome, but on this record they can be jarring and unfocused, not because they’re bad, they just go against his intent.

Peter Gabriel’s solo records are almost completely devoid of his Genesis flourishes. The songwriting on those records is focused much more tightly. The prog is only a garnishment, comparative to the songwriter. That’s what makes them so frustrating for me.

While I appreciate that Wilson’s vision has veered more towards pop, given the context, and given the song-writing, it feels transitionary, and a little under cooked.

That’s ok though: when the music’s this goddamn catchy, I don’t need a perfect crystal of prog-perfection.

Until It’s how you will express
The essence of you

Review: Paradise Lost: Enough

“we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
to reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven” – Satan, Paradise Lost

Life is language; and there is a point when you learn a new language -whether it be Italian, MySQL, The Palestrina, or the use of a quarterstaff – that you feel click in the back of your skull that changes everything. This click pivots the jumbled chaos of syntax, movements, prosody, inflections, genuflections, gesticulations, gestures, rules and reasons into something meaningful. An onrush of clarity. You see the invisible hand guiding all those moments that were once chaos and gain the most powerful invisible force of all: understanding. The language has not changed though: you have.

It is with that thought, that I review Paradise Lost: A Movement Collective’s latest performance: Enough.  

At this point, my status as a fanboy for this group is well established. So my thoughts on the quality of the piece are self-evident: it’s great. The choreography, the music, the flow all work magnificently. A Propos of my fanboy status, I have gained a modicum of understanding on the art of narrative dance, to my benefit; but you don’t need a background in dance, or theater to enjoy this piece, thanks to a number of factors that make this group so special. The good kind of hurt, in particular.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The story is simple, and potent: Noah (Matt Kyle), a homosexual boy meets another boy – Justin, played by Artistic Director Tyler Catanella – at a party, and spends one spectacular night of intimacy. The hitch? Justin is both closeted, and in a relationship with Kate (Taylor McMahon). As a result – and some rumors that ensue, and Justin’s rejection – Noah finds himself ostracized, bullied and pushed to the limit. Pushed closer and closer to the edge by both others, and worse,  himself until he’s had enough and decides to end it all. Fortunately, Hope (played by Cassie Samuels) saves the day, literally and figuratively, and Noah comes to accept himself, and moves on, accepting that he doesn’t have to fight who he is, to exist. He is enough. 

Noah (Matt Kyle) alone; Photo Credit: Tim Lewis

The fact that I’m able to sum up the story in a paragraph is fantastic. Simplicity is the source, and companion of complexity; and, to go with a now 2 year long running pun, the devil is in the details. I will never tire of that one guys, sorry.

…shitty humor aside, this piece is subtle and sophisticated not in spite of, but because of the harmony of simple premise and design, paired with complex execution.

That harmonic tension is everywhere: the set-design presents a minimalist canvas on which to paint detailed strokes: Six Light columns, a Scaffold, and some additional overhead colored lights play against this tightly focused personal drama.  The story follows a conventional three-act structure, and at no point does the story confuse you with its movement or beats. The story and theme are straightforward.

Noah (Matt Kyle) and Justin (Tyler Catanella) falling apart; Photo by Tim Lewis

But then we have the interplay of Choreography and Narrative and Music, all written and maintained by Peace Pilgrim, a.k.a artistic director and evidently artistic-swiss army knife, Tyler Catanella. Each of the above pieces feature precise, subtle interplay that keep it tight like a Miles Davis jam, but never call attention to themselves. All done with Dialogue in absentia: The ultimate simplicity, that makes everything difficult.

As a guy who’s paid to put words together in sequence, and is a generally verbose motherfucker, I cannot stress enough the importance – and power – of silence, simplicity and blank space. I have always appreciated the strength of this group’s use of it. The way it’s never a void, or an abyss, but equally rich in the tapestry of the stories it tells. Further, their understanding of Narrative increases each and every time I see them perform, and that silence grows increasingly vital to their voice.

With the above in mind, this piece has the most functional Choreography I’ve yet seen by them. I was there for the premiere of the initial version of Enough 2 years ago; and despite the intensity of that initial performance, the narrative was sometimes lost due to mishandled silence and a shorter length. This time around, I was constantly able to follow the track of the story, despite the expansion of the story itself, and more detailed Choreography; with more moving parts and players, over a longer time. The scenes of being at a party, felt like a party; the contractions of large scale dance numbers with the whole collective, and more intimate character interactions flowed like a river. The acting was a part of the dance. The movement was the story; the dialogue unnecessary

More, dance was cleverly used to elaborate the psychology of the characters: “Dream” versions of each character play as a wonderful conceit to explore the inner lives and motivations of the characters, without lengthy monologues. Dressed in black, these characters represented the characters secret selves – their shadows – characters, without ever feeling forced, and in service of the piece’s theme of self-love and acceptance. They were, in some ways, literal Shadows.

The result of all that is unexpectedly harmonic in other ways: emotional resonance.

Review: Paradise Lost: Replay

Paradise Lost Logo (Purple Large)

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven – Satan, Paradise Lost.

What is the value of blank       ?

I ask because negative space, silence – the in-betweens – often give art real depth. As Lao-Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching, a pot’s value is for the space inside – where nothing resides – not the ceramic that gives it shape. In painting, writing, and the narrative arts, the margins and white spaces speak as much to an art’s quality, as the lines and colors and shapes they surround.

I promise this digression serves a point, just lemme get there.

What isn’t there is often as valuable as what is; and the one thing I have always enjoyed about Paradise Lost: a movement collective, A community dance company located in Cambridge; and which I have had the general pleasure of getting to know – and make myself subsequently an ass in front of – is their embrace of negative space…that was a mouthful.

ANYWAY, their second show: Paradise Lost: Replay is a wonderful testament to that airy embrace.

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Photos by RBelleau Photography

In my good fortune, during the 12 month-bars of that I-IV-V progression known as “Post-Grad and Broke Blues”, I became acquainted with the company via their first open jam, along with various lovely member. It was an eye opening discovery for me, and led me to the joys of dance… and giving precisely zero shits about the quality of my honest hips. It was also enormously helpful in maintaining my general sanity during period of stress associated with those generic blues that would make Robert Johnson sigh in commiseration.

In watching Replay I inevitably compared and contrasted the show with their previous show Rewind, from their inaugural year. While there was an inevitable sense of genuine growth and general refinement, what struck me more in this show was also the general sense of restraint exercised.

As someone who went to film school, the one word that artists loathe passionately is “Restraint”, and for many – this writer included – restraint can, at times, feel more like a curse. “I want to say every single thing on my mind damn it! I want to show that I am the best, and that I have all these moves”. A lack of restraint often gives artist a sense that what they are communicating will ultimately be more completely received, and therefore enjoyed.

That’s bullshit.

I love restraint, when properly applied; and these guys have learned how to restrain themselves in the ways that matter, to make their stories sing.

While I loved Rewind, it was, undoubtedly looser as an exploration of the groups ability. This was in part by intent – as it was about the gestation of the group as a whole. Replay is structured more rigidly: four distinct segments, with the final segment “Haven” taking up the whole of the back half of the performance.

Things get heavy with Haven. Credit by RBelleau Photography
Things get heavy with Haven. Credit by RBelleau Photography

With this more rigid sense of superstructure, there is also a distinct sense of authorial voice in each of the pieces. Although there was minor prompting at the beginning of the performance, by and large the pieces spoke for themselves and, with minimal to no dialogue, effectively communicated not only the stories, but the choreographers – the authors of the pieces.

The first piece “On”, written by Associate Artistic Director Shannon Sweeny, is described as coming from a dark time and an inherent lack of trust, and a lack of reason. The movements of the various players display this incredibly well. From the susurration of the entire collective, to just two members, the movements are rendered so that struggle and darkness are made manifest as movements. The movements are often lyrical and emphasize the ideas of relationships to others, without ever saying anything explicitly.

Avatar is used to great effect in Game Night by Gabe Nesser. Photography by RBelleau Photography
Avatar is used to great effect in Game Night by Gabe Nesser. Photography by RBelleau Photography

In stark contrast “Game Night”, the second piece, by Gabriel Nesser, aside from mad props to the costuming for taking liberally from Avatar: The Last Airbender, operates on a completely different dynamic. Instead of focusing on individuals, it’s focused on groups. Mimicking the entire performance, the segments flow between four distinct groups and their interactions internally, and in relation to each other. The feeling is distinctly declarative. Each stomp a sentence. Punctuated proudly. Punctuated martially. To a tight beat. To a tight emotional rhythm.

Then we finish Act 1 with “Connect” by Cassie Samuels, in many ways a thematic inversion, and further exploration of themes explored in the previous two pieces. Instead of struggling with connection, there is embrace, and playfulness; joy in a more aqueous way. The approach, again is enriched by a strict sense of voice.

Finally, the whole of Act 2 is devoted to “Haven” by Director Tyler Catanella. An elaborate, and lovingly executed look at death, and reconciliation, with a nominal plot and interpretation of the afterlife and purgatory. This piece is suitably large scale, but never reduces that sense of authorial intent, or the choreographed voice of its creator.

Each of the pieces benefit from this concept of voice, of the untranslatable, ineffable individual – which, as it turns out, is applicable to movement – and, although it’s not nearly as free or loose as Rewind, it doesn’t need to be. Restraint is a form of negative space.

Further than that, the spare arrangements, musically, and with the floor level black stage and curtains (who needs a proscenium anyway?) with some well developed, but ultimately wide ranging light setups, allows for a further expansion of that blankness.

And that is, ultimately where this group thrives. By allowing for such dramatic gaps, in narrative, in presentation, and, with the added benefit of restraint and refinement, there is rich emotional territory to be explored.

Until I get lost rewinding, then click replay to find myself,

–Eric

Get Lost, everybody Photo by RBelleau Photography
Get Lost, everybody
Photo by RBelleau Photography

 

 

For more information on Paradise Lost, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/paradisemoves/, or their website: paradisemoves.com

Upcoming events for Paradise Lost can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/963028127145956/

In addition to live performances, Paradise Lost also hosts “Movement SLAMs” Open to the public, in Cambridge, every month: https://www.facebook.com/events/536942563178683/