Hasta las tantas de la Noche // S L E E P (Reseña del disco)

(you can find an english version of this blog post here)

En su jornada, Andreas Spechtl normalmente es cantante y compositor del grupo Ja, Panik. Originado en Austria y localizado en Berlin recientemente, el grupo adquirió su fama por canciones juegetónes con letras combinando palabras de aleman, ingles, accento austriaco, frances, y otros.

sleepcoverMientras su penúltimo disco DMD KIU LIDT (Die Manifestation des Kapitalismus in unserem Leben ist die Traurigkeit) (la manifestación del capitalismo en nuestra vida es la tristeza) saltaba entre descripciones de la party scene de Berlin, el efecto de drogas al diseño de la vida entre la bohemia y la burguesía, y la crítica del sistema capitalista, su último disco del año pasado deseaba diseñar una vida alternativa, un antítesis en la forma del país ficticio Libertatia, con canciónes como Dance The ECB o ACAB (all cats are beautiful).

En su primer disco en solo, Spechtl deja atrás mucho de esa superestructura intelectual, pero de nuevo invita al oyente a un viaje a otro lugar. S L E E P, el título de ambos el proyecto y el disco, es un trabajo conceptual sobre el sueño, una mezcla de grabaciones espontaneas („field recordings“) y reflexiones acústicas multiculturales.

…una ciudad, un cruce, una plaza – casi no importa, en donde nos encontramos. Nuestro protagonista está pasando por las calles, las coches, las personas. Se mueve, oscilante entre una ansia de aventuras, las ganas de explorar algo nuevo, el sentimiento satisfactorio de aun no tener ni idea que pasará – y, al otro lado, tambien con un cierto cuidado, como si fuera andando a tientas, no solo para orientarse, pero tambien para inhalar todo de su alrededor sin perderse algo.

…el nocturno, el tiempo en que parece a uno que las reglas – de los leyes, de la sociedad, de obligaciones – están suspendidas por un momento, temporalmente, en el anonimato de una calle nocturna en el extranjero. Este estado, a un lado, resulta en una gran libertad de hacer lo que se quiera, pero al otro lado tambien incluye un aspeto no pronunciado de un posible peligro amenazando muy sútilmente, una perdición muy desvaída, que de repente podría aparecer o de la próxima esquina de la calle o de los ojos de tu cumpanero a tu lado. En el psícoanálisis se dice que en los que ya andan con sueño se bajan sus mecanismos de defensa y aparece el inconsciente – y quien sepa que aparecerá con eso.

…no se sabe exactamente uno si se está pasando por ellos o si ellos estan pasando por uno, estos ruidos que aparecen y desaparecen imprevistamente y casualmente: unas notas desubicadas de instrumentos de viento, una canción de cuna desformada, el tumulto de las conversaciones en un bar muy frecuentado, un viejito alertando de la gente en Alemania (supuestamente referiendose a las recientes bullas anti-islámicas de PEGIDA en Dresden o a la creciente violenca de noche en estaciones del transporte público en Berlin y Munich).  Nada más se realiza el movimiento, casí está tropezando, que igual podría estar causado por la desubicación de encontrarse en el extranjero, de la noche o del mareo del vino.

Así de manera intuitiva y espontanea, Spechtl combina elementos de sus grabaciones del campo de sus viajes, música africana, un toque de Free Jazz, música experimental, y canciones de cuna en un collage, comparable con el modo de operar de Damon Albarn.

Aunque salen tantos sonidos distintos de diferentes lados , la música nunca parece sobrecargada o expansiva, porque nada más son fragmentos de impresiones que pasan por el ojo (y oreja), como cuando uno está soñando – resulta en un sentimiento de mucha íntimidad y tranquilidad. Por esas medidas, el disco permite al oyente dejarse deslizar en este mundo del sueño – tan cómodo, tranquilo, extranjo, fascinante y amenazante todo al mismo tiempo.

tl; dnr
Andreas Spechtl, el cantante y cantautor del grupo austriaco-alemán Ja, Panik!, ha compuesto un disco de concepto sobre el sueño. Su sonido parece más a collages que a estructuras regulares de canciones, y incluye elementos de Free Jazz, canciones de cuna, instrumentos de viento y field recordings de sus viajes.

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GoodKill (Movie-Review) – On Survivor Guilt & ‘Proportionate Strikes’ via Joysticks

The movie GoodKill follows a military pilot fighter (Ethan Hawke) returning from combat zone to his home near Las Vegas, Nevada. While experiencing an emerging survivor guilt, his military unit at home begins to operate unmanned drones in Afghanistan in order to eliminate possible terrorists. By following the protagonist reflecting on the moral justification of his doings, the movie shines light on the subjective experiences of the people who work as soldiers in order to protect their country.

There’s a certain group of people who go to the military because it seems to be the most promising option for their future. If there aren’t enough resources at their home – neither in their families, their social class or their homeland –, enterying the military appears advantageous. It does not only free their families from a burden – the military offers them money, an education, and job perspectives – but at the same time, it also provides them a huge moral incentive and purpose for their lives, an increase of reputation: to serve their homeland. The whole concept of entering the military is deeply morally charged for them on various levels.

In the case of GoodKills protagonist, the viewer doesn‘t exactly know the previous history of Major Thomas Egan. What we do know is, that he’s having troubles because he feels that this moral justification is questioned by the change of type of the missions he is participating in. Having been a fighter pilot in combat zones, the fact that he was risking his own life fighting, and maybe (purely speculative) thinking that his enemies had fairer chances in the conflict of killing or being killed, gave him a moral justification to do what he was ordered to do.

In this new scenario, where he is sitting with his military unit in an airconditined container somewhere in the surroundings of Las Vegas, Nevada, this moral justification is taken away from him. There are various sarcastic comments about shooting people, finishing at business hours and getting home to the wife and kids to have barbecues, or various allusions to joysticks, or first person shooter video games. What for the other combatants is a joke, in Thomas Egans eyes, these comments only enforce his scepticism and amplify his survivor guilt.

Additionally to this change of the location of the operations, there is a change of command in the unit of Egan. His superior describes it with the words: They [the CIA] progressed from what they like to call a personality strike, where we know for sure that our target is a fucking bad guy. Now they’ve come up with something that they call a signature strike. What that fucking means is, that it is a hit based not on a suspicion of guilt, but on a pattern of behavior. So you may be called upon to fire at any dumb in Warziristan who is carrying an AK 47. Even though we all know that everyone and their mother in Waziristan carries an AK 47.

goodkill1The most striking term in this quote is a pattern of behavior, an allusion to psychological research and statistical analyses. One of the most basic forms of statistical analyses of behavior (and one of the most used) is linear regression. By using mathematical means in order to make the best possible prediction about the connection of two variables with each other, it is tried to find the best mathematical method of connecting them via a line. In other words: How can we find out certain aspects or behaviors of persons, that, in the past, were linked with other persons who commited terrorist acts, in order to identify future terrorists? Which statistical variables (carrying a gun, visiting a certain house, to be of a certain age, gender, political opinion) have the best predictive value in order to predict whether a specific person will commit a terrorist act? I’m pretty sure that the CIA will have advanced methods of data analysis then the pretty simple linear regression analyses. But still: These statistical analyses only can indicate relationships (based on past data), not causalities. Statistical analyses implicate relationships based on numbers and figures, not on aspects of the content of the variable.

In this context, the military language in this movie is also remarkable. Targets, proportionate strikes – these terms seem (and intend) to express that the decisions that are made – which are human, evaluations of impending danger, subjective interpretations based on statistical data – rather appear as objective, even scientific statements, in order to reduce or distribute the individual subjective responsibility for the actions. It is implied that these decisions stem from a scientific certainty. But this certainty does not exist. And Major Thomas Egan begins to get a notion of this.

goodkill2It is so easy to judge on the basis of a Hollywood movie. I’m not saying that the movie is a realistic depiction of what is going on – I’m not in an informed position to judge (and yet I’m supposed to be an informed voter on similar topics in my country). Especially the characteristics of modern warfare- without announcements, no confrontation of two identifiable professional armys, but paramilitary groups acting in spontaneous and desorganized ways, not distinguishing between military and civil population –  have to be taken into consideration. One might just as well dismiss the whole movie as an anti-war hippie leftist intellectual feelgood movie, or an populist conciliation movie for the guilt-feeling audience to have something to be upset about (and then go on with their everyday life, reliefed for the feeling that – at least – they reflected critically on the topic). And I wouldn’t exclude myself from that.

But what this movie illustrates imho is not only the question of war, the question of whether there is a concept like a „just war“, or „proportionate actions“. To me, on the one hand it’s about how authority, the use of de-subjectivication, the pretense, that science is absolutely objective, are used in the movie in order to manipulate people. On the other hand, it’s about the deeply subjective perception of an individual standing in the middle of so much noise, so much information, and so little certainty. Trying to make sense of it, and trying to find a position of his own.

To find more information about the actual practise of drone strikes in the USA, check out the New York Times article from earlier this year.

Another detailed review of GoodKill can be found here.

tl; dnr
GoodKill offers reflections on the use of scientific findings in the context of war, on the way military language tries to reason subjective decisions with allegedly objective scientific certainties, and how the wish to identify with his job on a moral level affects an individual soldier.

Sources images: imdb.com

Wavves x Cloud Nothings – “No Life For Me”

In last years Pitchfork Feature, there is a quote from Dylan Baldi, singer and songwriter of Cloud Nothings, saying: „Over-thinking is the most dangerous thing for me, because I’m definitely capable of it“. There seems to be an impending danger of rationally diluting the spontaneous, emotional core of a song, a feeling or a lyric. In consequence, the awareness of this danger leads to a certain rawness and intensity in Cloud Nothings music.

Neither their musical style (which could be described as melody-drunken Lo-Fi Alternative-Indie with a punch) nor ist topics (frustration, apathy, setting boundaries, coming to terms with personal stuff) are something extraordinarily new, but the thoroughly tight, focused and consequent execution nevertheless make it worth a listen.

So the only thing that kinda bummed me when I saw them live last summer, was the fact that they just had departed with their second guitarist. Therefore, Baldi had to try to recompensate all the nice little ornaments which had complemented their sound so beautifully on their records. (It turned out to be quiet fun to try and quietly sing along the second guitar pieces to the live music though, especcially during the missing solo of Stay Useless.)

a3583650323_10A few weeks ago, Cloud Nothings released a collaboration album together with US-Pop-Punk-Band Wavves, and the combination of their two styles leads to an enhancement of the Cloud Nothing signature sound (don’t-bore-us-get-to-the-chorus) with some really mellow, dreamy, almost psychedelic influences.
With a fuzzy-distorted, melody-drunken, but still simplistic and tight sound, the record clocks in around just 21 minutes and therefore is a perfect little breeze of air for relaxed summer days.

The whole record feels like a treasure hunt to find the next hookline hidden in these barely edited guitars to get stuck in your head. The beautifully meandering and sliding guitar notes of the untitled opener perfectly accompany the sensation of sunlight on your face or the tickling grass under your feet.

And when this sunlight starts to fade and the slowly cumulating tidal waves of fuzzy guitar chords of the closer Nothing Hurts almost begin to bury the melancholic, layered vocal harmonies, before ending just as abrupt as they began, its melancholic, bittersweet remorse not only reminds me of the sweet-and-short side project Las Puertas that Rasmus Kellerman (Tiger Lou) did with his wife Firefox AK or of the also water-themed music of DIIV. Its melancholy is also heartbreaking in itself.

You can stream and buy the complete record here (which is also where I nicked the cover from). To find a more detailed and spot-on review on this collaboration, check Spin Magazine.

tl;dnr
US-Alternative Rock bands Cloud Nothings and Wavves teamed up and released a beautiful summer record of short, tight punk outbursts combined with bittersweet yearning melodies and reflective lyrics.

Darren Hayes on Depression

As the people who know me will know, I always have a very soft spot for Darren Hayes, the former singer of 90’s Australian Pop (yes, with a capital P) Group Savage Garden.

Is it because one of his songs was the soundtrack to me falling in love for the first time, at the beginning of high school? (You know – this will always stay with you, deeply engraved in your DNA.)

Or was it the heartbreakingly devastating song he co-wrote about growing up in a family with an alcoholic father in an environment of domestic violence?

Or (as I’m still convinced today) his incredible way of putting emotional issues into words? Probably all of it.

Anyway, the man just posted an in-depth and honest essay on the effect of Major Depressive Disorder on the perceptions of your everyday affects and emotions, and also touches an the pro’s and con’s of antidepressant medication.

He delivers an authentic recount of the constant battle of dealing with a psychological condition on a daily basis, in both the short and the long term.

In addition, it also portrays the confusion and disorientation it causes when somebody realizes the disconnection of his self from his emotions – i.e. that his emotional reactions not only don’t work the way they usually do, but stopped responding to his will completely.

It’s definitely worth a read. You can find the whole essay here:

tl;dnr
Former Savage Garden-frontman and now solo artist Darren Hayes wrote a candid Facebook Post about his experiences with depressive episodes, dealing with disconnection and the use of antidepressant medication.

Ryan Adams – I Just Might: On Dealing with Anxiety

quadr_ijustmightSince 2005, the US-American Singer/Songwriter Ryan Adams from Jacksonville, NC has suffered from an inner ear condition called Ménière’s disease. The symptoms of this disorder can include affected hearing, nausea, vertigo and balance disturbances. Episodes are triggered by various sensous triggers as bright lights, perception of stress, and certain types of alimentation.

His last, excellent self-titled album includes a song called I Just Might that illustrates very palpably and colourful an individual caught in a state of mind that (subjectively interpreted) might not only be associated to an episode of Ménière’s Disease, but also to the subjective perceptions of a panic attack or other forms of anxiety.

The protagonist of the song describes himself being caught in a dark room with covered windows, but yet in the first line, light begins to enter the room. From the very beginning, this light is connotated as a threat to the protagonist, an omen or preannouncement. (The lights are harsh as they break through the blinds // Shadows on the wall cross my face in black lines) The light from the outside causes the darkness inside.

Similar to a monster coming closer, the light and the associated threat seem to creep up on the protagonist, gradually and inevitabily approaching, (Daylight is so close, i can almost taste it). Becoming aware of this impending doom, the protagonist desperately tries to hold off the feelings emerging inside, with the effect that he has to realize that by his increasing attempts to control them, he even worsens the perceived tension, up to the point where he’s left paralyzed and defenseless (Dunno what to say, dunno what I said (…) Never leave the house, barely leave the room (…) Keep your head down, keep your eyes shut tight (…)). As a consequence, he falls into a state of desperate, resigned disconnection probably comparable to a state of dissociation (I’m free from desire as a rise above the maze).

The song doesn’t leave its protagonist in this hell though, but also offers a hint at what could be the resolve. The lines in the chours beginning with i just might imply that the outburst of the panic and the loss of control are the things the protagonist fears the most, but also, that that’s exactly what is about has to happen (and what the character might be beginning to embrace – i just might). Loosing control is scary, but fighting it even worsens everything, because it increases the tension and therefore augments the suffering.

The whole concept of a progressing deterioration is also reflected in the musical arrangement of the song. The anticipatory anxiety is expressed by very tense, deep played palm-muted notes (guitarists will be familiar to the concept of muting strings at the bottom of their guitar with the palm of the playing hand in order to create a repressed (sic!), deep and rock’y sound). These notes continue through all the song – implying that the impending doom of breaking out is always present, and just the intensity changes. In contrast, the moments where the protagonist is close to actually breaking out are accompanied by open played chords, standing for release, resolve and liberation.

The fact that after the final outburst of this type of music, when the listener thinks the song might already reached his end, the palm-muting notes start all over again. Anxiety or panic is not a singular, isolated experience. It continues to accompany the person in the everyday life – again, and again, and again (the last intonation of i just might in the song gives a hint of how exhausting this process can be). Fighting it will only make it worse. The only solution is to accept it.

tl;dnr
In his song “I Just Might”, Ryan Adams describes a character in a state of desperation. The illustrative and palpable depiction also serves to describe the state of mind of people suffering from panic attacks or other forms of anxiety. The arrangement of the song reflects very well its ideas. Fighting your feelings doesn’t work. Accepting them is hard, but will be the only way to resolve.

To check out the song, you can find a pretty good live version on youtube (though the studio version and the iTunes Festival 2014-version are even better!)

See Ryan talking candidly about his condition in an video interview with Canadian radio station CBC Q in 2012

To find one of the best and most thorough articles about Ryan Adams 2014-2015, go here. <

The Salt Of The Earth (Sebastião Salgado)

„I learned one thing. Having a photographer in front of my camera, it is very different from shooting everyone else. Not standing still, doing himself. No. For professional bias, react and respond, using his weapon, his camera – he shoots back. In this case, it was not just me, fotographing. Two of us had a target.“

(Wim Wenders on filming with Sebastião Salgado)

A few weeks ago I went to an Open Air Screening of The Salt Of The Earth, an excellent documentary on the life and work of Brasilian photographer and photojournalist Sebastião Salgado.

The-Salt-of-the-Earth.aspxThe movie depicts various phases of his career that he dedicated to various social, political and human topics (famine, migration, war). After having shot war photography for various decades, he found himself in a state of desperation and resignation. It was not until he began to concentrate on nature photography and capturing untouched, intact natural landscapes all over the world, that he found a new sense of purpose for his work. Since then, his most recent work intends to appeal to the world to protect these places (one example for this is his recent exhibition Genesis in c/o Berlin.

As if that wasn’t already enough of intensity, the movie was co-directed by German director Wim Wenders and Salgados son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, who was present at the movie screening I attended. Even though it was never explicitly stated neither in his personal and candid introduction nor in the movie, I got the sense that this project was not only to pay tribute to his father. It seemed to be the project of a son in search of his father, the man that he (not least for his fathers job) never really knew. As Juliano Salgado says: “For me, there is Dad and there is Sebastião; the photographer and the guy at home,” (…) “I had a grudge and a problem with the guy at home, but I always admired the photographer.” (Source: http://okgazette.com/2015/05/06/famed-photographer-is-focus-of-sons-documentary/)

tl;dnr:
Wim Wenders documentary The Salt Of The Earth does not only depict Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgados life and his career change from social war photography to environmental activism, but also hints at the consequences his job had concerning the relationship to his son and co-director Juliano.

(Source Poster: © Sebastião SALGADO / Amazonas images // http://www.mongrelmedia.com/film/the-salt-of-the-earth.aspx)

Unconscious creative processes (Horvat and Borges)

In a recent exposition in the Museum für Photographie in Berlin, Italian photographer Frank Horvat reorganized some of his photographs from various decades in order to identify certain topics in his art and categorize and subsimize a selection of his work under these topics. The exhibition is called The House Of 15 Keys and is accompanied by a leaflet in which Horvat himself defines and explains each of this 15 „keys“. In the explanation to the key „Dumb Photos“, he quotes Jorge Luis Borges, who allegedly said something like:

Un escritor no puede ser un gran escritor, si solo escribe lo que cree que escriba.

A writer can not be a great writer, if he only writes what he thinks he writes.

(Quote is not completely 1:1, it’s reproduced by ear and translated various times).

Horvat refers to the fact that sometimes his best photographs became so interesting because of certain details in composition that he hadn’t even noticed when he took the photograph. So aside from planning, composition, design and technique, he says that coincidence and chance have an impact on the creation of art that shouldn’t be underestimated.

To me, this is a perfect allegory, that aside from conscious intentions and chance, sub- or unconscious elements also influence the creative process. To willingly and explicitly admit, that he as an artist only has so much in control, and that sometimes the best things lie outside of his control, made me smile quite a bit.

tl;dnr:
The best art contains an element of coincidence that is not controlled intentionally by the artist. This idea can be easily connected to the psychoanalytic concept of the sub- or even unconscious.