Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shuffled Quartet, Aurograph and Cornelius Cardew

On Thursday or Friday last, I got an invite on facebook to an event that sounded really promising. The invite was from Shawn Hansen, whom I've seen play a few times before. He was also the one who organized the Mind Over Mirrors show that I (half-)wrote about sometime ago. So I knew it would be something good. Then I noticed Helen Gillet was one of the members of the New Orleans based Shuffled Quartet, who along with KC's Aurograph were going to interpret these "graphic scores". I had seen Helen play a most excellent improv set along with a couple of European musicians back in 2012. My interest was piqued even more now.

I still had no idea who Cornelius Cardew was, or what a graphic score was either, for that matter. Now this all happened when I was stuck at home sick, so I naturally went on a wiki/youtube binge. Read up all about this amazing avant-garde musician turned communist and his graphical scores. Watched scores of videos of his masterwork Treatise, all of which were unique and a lot of which were quite awesome. By the time I was done, I knew I was going to this show, cold and flu be damned!

I went, I saw, and I was conquered.

Rather than me going on about what I saw, why don't I shut up for once and let the music do the talking. Enjoy!

The first set of original works by Shuffled Quartet

Part of Shuffled Quartet and Aurograph's interpretation of Treatise (only part of because I ran out of space on my memory card, which I really should've thought to empty out before the show)

For the curious, the number of fingers they hold up after switching slides indicates the number of minutes that particular slide will be played for. I have a number of questions still about whether they decided this time per slide beforehand (I'm guessing not), if they had set rules among themselves on how the different graphical elements of the score would be interpreted (my guess is yes), if they rehearsed part or all of it before, and I could go on. Maybe someday I'll muster up the courage to actually go talk to musicians after a show and ask. Or maybe it's best to let the magic be.

Thank you to both bands, and the Artspace, and everyone who made this happen. And special thanks again to Shawn for the invite.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Love, Food and Movies - Few of my favourite things

This weekend I watched a couple of Indian movies that were both about older (than the norm in Indian movies anyway, which seem to think love is the monopoly of young'uns) people falling in love. Not just that, they were also both about food. Food as the means of connecting these couples who fall in love without even seeing each other. I didn't plan to make a theme out of my weekend movie watching, but realised there had been one after the fact.

The first movie was the malayalam movie Salt and Pepper. It was mostly a light-hearted, feel-good sort of movie. Nothing earth shattering, but a nicely done romcom, which just happened to have at its center a lonely man in his 40s and an equally lonely woman in her 30s. They come together through their shared love of food, are kept apart by their insecurities (and complications arising therefrom), and finally overcome all to, if not live happily ever after, at least make a promising step in that direction.

The second one can be summed up in a strikingly similar manner, but for the ending. Although, that would really be selling it very, very short indeed. It was The Lunchbox. I have been meaning to watch this for a long time now, ever since I found it on pretty much every critic's (ones whose taste I respected anyway) end of the year list, usually at the very top. And it did not disappoint. I remember in an interview with Anupama Chopra, the director and actors talked about how they wanted to make the movie sweet but also sad. Or maybe it was happy but also sad. So they kept trying to find the sweet spot between the two - not wanting to make the characters out to be tragic or comic, but a bit of both. I think they nailed it. I found myself smiling throughout the movie but also feeling that tug at my heart. It's so easy to go overboard, but they managed it beautifully. I felt for these characters, with them, and most importantly, I fell for them.

When Saajan reads one particular note from Ila, and you can see in his face that he is falling for this woman, the thought that went through my head was "How I miss being in love!". But nay, that's not what I really miss. What I truly miss is falling in love. That sweet euphoria tempered with just the slightest bit of uncertainty. You are at your most vulnerable then and yet somehow feel on top of the world. Oh, to feel that way again!

That phase invariably leads to insecurity - in my case anyway. And so it is with Saajan. He is, however, more timid than I am, and almost lets his one chance at love slip away. The movie ends on a cliffhanger, leaving it up to the viewer to complete the tale. Having said so much, I think there can be hardly any question which ending I would want for these two people, whose loneliness I can relate to only all too well. However, much as I want it, can I believe such an ending to actually be possible? Life is rarely that kind. But, that's what movies and dreams are for. And I refuse to stop dreaming. Not yet, anyway.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Push the Sky Away

I braved a rather nasty cold to go see Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds tonight. And boy did I make the right call. I'd seen them once before, about 7 years ago, in a smaller venue in a bigger city (which strikes me as quite unusual in retrospect). But somehow, despite the fact that I was way at the back of this fairly big music hall, I enjoyed this show much more. Even the constant distractions in the form people walking up and down the aisles and from their seats and back (I really wonder why people can't just sit in one place for an hour together) didn't take away too much from the awesomeness of this band. They really blew me away.

There were three definite highlights for me, aside from the really strong opening three tracks which I wasn't previously familiar with and consequently can't name until I find the setlist. But coming back to the highlights, the first was naturally my all-time favourite song of theirs - From Her To Eternity - the song that first made me take notice of them. That it is featured in one my all-time favourite films - Wings of Desire - helps, of course, but the song itself is so powerful that I would've been drawn to it regardless. I positively squealed out loud tonight when Nick Cave began it with the classic "I want to tell you about a girl". No one else seemed to know or care for it much, but I jumped up from my seat and spent the whole song on my feet, swaying along with Nick. The second time I was compelled to get back on my feet was when they started playing Stagger Lee. This is a song that I only very recently got acquainted with thanks to a live version from their last tour on youtube. I was really hoping they'd play it and was so glad they did. Another incredibly powerful song and a tour de force performance from the whole band. That bassline is to die for. Also, Nick Cave's baritone works so beautifully in it, I must say.

The final song that really struck a chord with me tonight is the one I really wanted this post to be about (hence the title, which I wrote down first) - Push the Sky Away. They finished their set and the show, not counting the encore, with this song. And I really don't want to count the encore either because this was the perfect note to end on. It's the title song, and the closing track, from their latest album that came out last year. I hadn't listened to it before. I was listening to the album on my drive over, but reached the venue before I got to it. The lyrics gave it away so I knew what to look for right as soon as I got back to my car. I've listened to it over and over again since then. I don't know if I can describe what it means to me. The lyrics speak to me on a very personal level. And the music is such a good match for those words in how subdued and yet insistent it is.

Also, by a strange coincidence, it fits in with my post from yesterday. This song so eloquently says everything I struggled to express there. And it does so with such exquisite economy of words and tones, too.

This is what I live for. For nights like this. For discovering songs like this. Thank you Nick Cave. Thank you Bad Seeds.

I was originally going to link this recorded version of the song because it has the lyrics in the video. But I really love the live versions of this song so much more. They have an extra something. Immediacy perhaps. I also think I prefer the male backing vocals. And whatever instrument it is that Warren Ellis plays (if anyone knows what it is, do leave me a note below) sounds so much more fuller live.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

On Being Happy

There's a song on my favourite Venetian Snares album that goes like this

I used to understand happy, I know that I used to be happy. I was really happy.
I'm unhappy now and I don't remember what it's like to be happy, I only remember... I don't remember...
I remember being happy only in comparison to not being happy, which is what I am now.

Now I've gone through phases where I've felt this way, as I'm sure most other people have. Of course, I find my way back to being happy again by and by. But this past weekend, a couple of my friends confessed to not having ever been happy. Or rather, to not know what being happy really means. One of them said her mother would have a checklist and say "Okay, so you have this, this, this and this. So you must be happy." Her mother is a truly practical person, I guess. And I suppose that is one way.

To me, though, that seems a cop-out. No, that's not the right word. It's more that it is short changing your life to boil it down to things that can be put on a list. From my perspective, anyway. I would find such a life tedious and pointless. Funny thing is, "pointless" is probably precisely the word that many would use to describe my own approach to life. This, too, came up in subsequent conversation with the same two friends. One offhandedly told me I have too much free time, when I was telling them about the various movies, interesting and otherwise, that I've seen recently. This cut me to the quick and instantly put me on the defensive. I demanded that she explain herself because I wasn't quite sure what she was getting at, but the other friend jumped in and said it made sense to her and that it was said in jest. I still don't get the joke. It seemed to me more an implied accusation. As in, you have nothing important/worthwhile to do so you spend your time frivolously. The reason for me jumping to this conclusion is that it's not the first time I've had that thrown at me, overtly or subtly. My own mother being first in line among my accusers. If not that, then the most generous alternative interpretation that I can think of is that she meant that wistfully. In the sense of "I wish I had that kind of free time." Which would make sense given that she is super busy in her many roles as mom, wife and scientist, and views movies and music and such as primarily entertainment (to me they mean so much more).

But I digress. The point is, I live to be happy. I can't imagine not knowing what happiness is. It is scary to even think of such an existence. And an existence is all it would be. Not a life. To me living, truly living, means to experience joy, which comes through many means. One of the primary joys of my life is a very primal one - simply experiencing with my senses. That's why I would describe myself as, first and foremost, a sensual being (in the true sense of the word). I live to touch and see and hear and taste beauty. Beauty, not in the sense of aesthetically pleasing alone, but in a more wider sense. Beauty is in things that touch your soul. I don't believe in the concept of a soul or what-have-you, but I can't find another word to describe it. Something that strikes a chord in your innermost being. I've briefly touched on how music makes me feel in an older blog post. It is almost indescribable. It makes me feel alive. Yes, that's the way to describe it. I find beauty in things that make me feel glad to be alive. Glad that I'm alive in this moment to experience this thing that makes me feel this way. Life-affirming.

Maybe it's a very selfish way of looking at life. In fact, it certainly is, because if everyone chose to live like me, then the world would simply stop. At the end of the day, we do need people like these friends of mine, who take it upon themselves to put aside their own need for happiness (or lack thereof) and bear children and raise them and work at jobs that have meaning and a purpose and all the rest of that.  For myself, I'm not quite ready to give up my hedonistic life. And I strongly suspect I never will be. There's just too much out there, man.

Also, I should add that you don't need to confine yourself to listening to happy songs and watching feel good movies in order to be happy. On the contrary, I find myself drawn more to works of art at the other end of the spectrum. Mainly because they feel more real. To illustrate what I mean, I'll leave you with the song I opened this post with. It's one of the things that make me happy in the sense I've tried to describe. And it's a good example because, as you've probably guessed based on those words, it is not a happy song. It's not that I take pleasure in the pain expressed in it. I'm neither a sadist nor a masochist. Rather I find pleasure in how beautifully the song conveys the emotion of despair. It is a good song. And that makes me happy.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Dance of Reality

Watched this movie tonight. My first experience with Jodorowsky, not counting the countless times I've seen a certain gif from The Holy Mountain (sup mope). I understand that unlike his other movie this one had more structure and a (mostly) clear plot. It still had plenty of his trademark surrealism. But the mix of semi-autobiographical elements and this fantastical imagery made me think of magical realism.

Now I must confess I'm not terribly fond of magical realism. It's often too whimsical for me to really connect with, while at the same time not magical enough for me to ride that carpet. So the result is some level of frustration. However, I must admit that I find it much more engaging when presented as a movie. I think I liked this one. Still not sure what to make of it all. But the experience was not unpleasant overall. There are certain images that will stay with me for a while for sure. And certain images I hope I can get out of my head by and by. Some of the latter made me cringe and others made me squirm. There was one scene in particular that was so outré that it completely took me out of the movie and I found myself wondering how they shot it and if it was really real.

Fellini was an obvious reference point for me. But this film also reminded me of Mallick's Tree of Life. Both movies have fathers who are stern and rooted in rationality, and mothers who are deeply spiritual and advocates of, well, magical realism. I did NOT like the Mallick film. I found the religious overtones quite off-putting and the whole movie rather tiresome. In this movie, however, the treatment is less reverential and more dream-like.

I'm awfully sleepy and practically nodding off so I'll write more later perhaps. Apologies for any typos and/or general incoherence. Goodnight world.

Update: Sorry to anyone who read this before I fixed the colour/font mix up on this post. I typed it all up from my phone, half-asleep and didn't realise it was so messed up until I looked at it just now. But, in a way I guess it was oddly fitting of a write up on such a surreal movie. Heh.