Happy birthday Kate Bush, who turns 54 today. Did you know that she’s the same age as Madonna, who also turns 54 in a couple of weeks? That’s a wee bit of a surprise to me, as both artists feel like they come from completely different eras. I suppose Kate had a head start though, having had her first worldwide smash hit at the tender age of 19.
To celebrate Kate Bush’s birthday, here is a rare, live recording from Sweden. The film was made in 1979, on December the 21st to be exact, as part of her Tour Of Life (her one and only full live tour.) While the footage on this upload suffers from some video warping, the sound is pretty decent, and at 22 minutes long, the five songs featured are:
“The Saxophone Song”
“James And The Cold Gun”
Noise may not be to everyone’s taste (in fact by definition noise is classed as “unwanted” sounds) but to the hardcore few it’s a way of life. This documentary follows some of those artists and shows them performing live, often on homemade or radically modified kit, and talking about the philosophy and influences behind their work. You won’t have heard of many of these performers but that’s the point - they are not in it for fame or money, they are simply following their muse in as unhindered a way as possible.
Most of the artists featured in People Who Do Noise are based in Portland, Oregon, and here’s a bit more info via the site filmbaby:
The film takes a very personal approach, capturing the musicians working alone with no interference from a live audience. What often took place in crowded basements or dark smoky venues was stripped bare for the cameras, providing an unprecedented glimpse of the many different instruments and methods used.
Covering a wide range of artists and styles, the film features everything from the absurdist free-improvisations of genre-pioneers Smegma, to the harsh-noise assaults of Oscillating Innards and everything in between. Many of the artists in the film, such as Yellow Swans and Daniel Menche, have performed and sold records all over the world. In spite of such successes, noise music remains one of the least understood and most inaccessible of genres.
OK, so most of this is pushing at the very boundaries of what we call “music”, but that’s pretty much the point. Casual observers (and listeners) may not make it very far into this doc because of, well, the noise, but it’s worth resisting the urge to skip forward as you may miss some very interesting interview footage. While some of these performers come across as pretentious, regardless of what you think of the sounds they create you can’t help but admire their freedom and lack of constraints:
Some live shows are great, some live shows are awesome, and then there are the live shows that are so good they feel like genuine magickal occurrences - a culmination of sound, vision, venue, performance and atmosphere. Bjork’s Biophilia, which is currently making its international debut with a sold out run at the Manchester International Festival, is definitely one of those. Clichéd terms like “elf-like” have haunted Bjork for years, but when an artist can pull together a show that is this all consuming, this transformative and powerful, there is definitely some truth to those clichés.
Everything about this show is unique. On a baking hot July afternoon we are ushered into a blacked out, cavernous Victorian warehouse space - in the middle sits a round stage, flanked by instruments, and overhead hangs a neat circle of 8 large screens. At one corner of the stage sits a pipe organ, a harpsichord and new instrument called a “gameleste” (a cross between a gamelan and a celeste). These instruments have been programmed to play themselves, a fact which is relayed to the audience by webcams projecting live onto the screens. In another corner sits a huge, manually operated music box, amplified through two very large gramophone trumpets, and beside it stands two new, purposely built, pendulum operated harps, The thudding bass line for the opening track “Thunderbolt” is provided by a large Tesla coil, which spits sparks of electricity over the crowd’s heads.
Still obsessed with the sounds and textures of modern electronica, Bjork underpins all this bizarre musical automata with sub-bass and electronic drums, played live by percussionist Manu Delago and music director Matt Robertson. Plucked chamber music collides with sliced-and-diced breakbeats, booming 808 bass lines accompany delicate organ pieces. It’s a perfect combination of the past and the future (and which is which is hard to tell). The sound world Bjork has created for this show is extraordinary, but it is the choir that really tips this performance over into something otherworldly. Featuring 26 female Icelandic singers, moments of harmony and discordance float from the stage that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Quite simply, this is a new kind of sacred music.
The much-trumpeted visuals are gorgeous. Animated cells sing and coo while spitting out cuddly-looking viruses. Mushrooms grow and expand in stop-motion, a seal carcass is consumed by underwater worms and starfish, and we zoom through veins and arteries while triggering musical notation á la Audiosurf. Bjork has taken a bit of flack for her use of an iPad in Biophilia, but if this is what the actual apps look like, well that’s fine with me. We keep returning to images of the solar system, of galaxies floating in space. There seems to be a theme of circular motion and symmetry here, a music of the spheres if you will, but for Bjork this works on a microbiological scale, as well as the cosmological. At one point she informs us that the rate at which our fingernails grow is the same as the Mid Altantic Ridge drifts. It’s psychedelic without being druggy. In fact, with the heat, the darkness and the spectacle, this is a show where no extra stimulus is needed.
The music itself is largely new and very good too, but there are some classics from her back catalogue thrown in (namely “Unravel”, “A Hidden Place” and a gorgeous choral version of “Isobel”). The new songs are each prefaced by a voice-over by natural historian David Attenborough, which manages the trick of both commenting on the music and unifying it. The show ends with a rousing, triumphant version of “Earth Intruders”, Bjork in a massive orange wig flanked by the choir who are wearing matching gold and blue tunics. We seem to be inundated with crazily-dressed lady pop at this point in time, but we shouldn’t forget that Bjork is a true pioneer of this, and on this showing she still does it the best. Biophilia is set to tour later this year, and I urge anyone with an interest in music to go to a show - it really is that good. 2011 is only half over but I seriously doubt I’ll see another show to equal it. There is no footage of Biophilia yet, as the audience had been asked not to take pictures or make video recordings of the performance. It is a mark of the kind of respect the crowd has for Bjork that they comply to this request - well for the most part , anyway.
Here is the audience’s reaction to Bjork’s Biophilia after the opening night on Thursday June 30th:
Berlin has always been a bastion of innovative cultural work, and one excellent example of this is the Digital Tattoo Productions outfit.
Comprised of the husband/wife team of video artist and animator Edna Orozco and sound artist Dean “Tricky D” Bagar, Digital Tattoo have executed video-mapping-and-sound projects on historical sites in both their home countries of Colombia and Croatia.
They also recently worked on the body-centered dance theatre piece Quia, performed in Bogota and excerpted below. Check it out and keep an eye and ear out for these folks…