Raster-Noton++ at Public Assembly

May 17th, 2010

by Bijan Rezvani


Beyond’s Bunker music series in Brooklyn is one of my favorites in the city.   Focusing on mostly rhythm-centric electronic music, Bunker consistently showcases quality live acts and DJs.   Last week’s visit from Minneapolis’ DVS1 provides a shining example of the type of proper, skilled DJs they bring to New York.

Every now and then they shake things up with a lineup that breaks the four-on-the-floor mold, and such was the case this past Friday, when they invited Byetone, Aoki Takamasa, and Carlos Giffoni to trample a few familiar barriers. The night was bookended by music closer to Bunker’s standards set to Joshue Ott’s stunning Sueprdraw visuals, but these three visitors stood out most.

Carlos Giffoni (with whom we spoke a few weeks ago) took the stage and suffocated the room in noisy acid, presumably presenting the sound of his No Fun Acid project.   The music was notably not acid house.  In acid house, the squealing bassline follows the drum kit’s lead, accentuating the kick rhythm.  In Carlos Giffoni’s bizarro-noise-acid world, burning waves flood the ears while the programmed drums keep up as an additional reinforcement.  Imagine Steve Reich’s “Drumming” set to 303s, drum machine, and a more freeform generator on a big sound system, although the polyrhythmic changes had more to do with pattern switches than phasing.  I initially feared that a set of “acid” from a genre outsider might have a naive, pastiche-like quality, but Giffoni is a confident enough performer to develop his own sound rather than pursue a sort of mimicry and variation.  The result was a refreshing sonic experience.

After little more than half an hour, Giffoni passed the speakers to Byetone, AKA Olaf Bender, a co-founder of the electronic music label that does no wrong, Raster-Noton.   Byetone plays an unmistakeable, idiosyncratic set of digital noise, rough waves that sound something close to distorted guitar, and rather traditional beats, but with a 21st century timbral treatment.   His set is a self-performed, synchronized A/V experience that might permit little spontaneity, but included new material that he didn’t share at Mutek last year.  Byetone extends his compositions, riding and effectively modulating what others might compress into a couple of minutes.

To give a sense of his music, here’s a video from a performance in Chile with the beginning to “Plastic Star.”

[vimeo id=”2064089″]

I’m not sure who or what I’d compare Byetone’s music to, other than to say that it makes sense for him to be on Raster-Noton.

Finally came the night’s second Raster-Noton signee and the only person to have no visual accompaniment, Aoki Takamasa.  Takamasa’s set could be perfectly described by the title of last year’s release for the label’s Unum series: “Aoki Takamasa – Rn-Rhythm-Variations.”   While Aoki Takamasa has built his reputation on stuttering, chopped, glitch-funk, it’s typically paired with an element of warmth, such as synth pads or the voices of collaborators like Tujiko Noriko.  This sound can be heard on his recent remix compilation “Fractalized” on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Commmons label.

His release for Raster-Noton is colder, dryer.   I was somewhat surprised to see his name appear as a third to follow two tough, noisy releases for RN’s Unum series, but hearing the music it makes sense.   Takamasa has somehow sharpened his edges for Raster-Noton and on Friday night played this stripped version of his trademark sound in the dark.  The hints of warmth are still incorporated into rhythmic fragments, but ultimately take a back seat.  Instead of a gapless set comprising a continuous groove, he presented a series of his irregular, glitchy rhythms, continually playful in their unpredictability and conscious failure to deliver upon moments of anticipation.  The music tread a very fine line in which it maintained a moving funk but never really escaped from its own precise detail.

Next week Bunker’s back to its utilitarian dance bombast with a visit from Berghain/Panorama, but it was good to hear a change in tempo.

Independent Lens: Interview with PROJECT KASHMIR Filmmakers

May 14th, 2010

biopic2By Independent Lens

In PROJECT KASHMIR, two filmmakers, one Hindu and the other Muslim, sneak their cameras into one of the most beautiful, yet dangerous, places on Earth. In a region where religious alliances have spawned more than half a century of war, can these two filmmakers learn what makes Kashmiris choose their homeland over their own lives, even as their friendship is put to the test? Independent Lens spoke with Senain Kheshgi and Geeta V. Patel, directors/producers/writers of PROJECT KASHMIR — about their motivation, their favorite films, and inspiring foods.

PROJECT KASHMIR premieres on May 18 at 10:30pm on THIRTEEN.

What keeps them motivated as independent filmmakers:

The content, creativity, and impact drive us. We are both interested in documenting the experiences and voices that are underrepresented. When we see the impact PROJECT KASHMIR makes in communities, and when we think about all the people who came together to make this project possible, it fills us with inspiration and motivation.

Their three favorite films:

Senain: In my own work, I am very inspired by fiction filmmaking, the way stories unfold narratively, without talking heads or experts. Some inspirations are The 400 Blows, The Apu Trilogy, Turtles Can Fly, Dog Day Afternoon, Diving Bell and The Butterfly, Breathless, and the films of Wong Kar Wai, Kiarostami, Andrei Tarkovsky. I could go on and on.

Geeta: As far as documentaries, these come to mind at the moment: Capturing the Friedmans, Harlan County USA, Hoop Dreams, and Style Wars. Recently, I’ve enjoyed The Ghosts of Cité Soleil, In a Dream, and Oh Saigon.

Their advice for aspiring filmmakers:

Senain: Think about what you want to say. It is easy to pick up the camera and start shooting a film these days. What is more difficult, but ultimately most fulfilling, is to take the time to really think about your ideas, your vision, what you want to say. Making independent films is not a quick process (at least it isn’t for me!). It takes time, living and breathing with your subject, deep preparation and honest reflection within yourself on why it’s important that you tell this story…. If you know what you are going to say, then you will find that the rest of the process (grant writing, outreach etc.) comes naturally.

Geeta: Apply to grants and public television, and try to understand how to make your proposal stronger. Identify your outreach, if you are making a social justice film, because it will help you get grants and support from niche organizations. Embrace the fact that independent filmmakers must more often take on the role of producers for their first films. Surround yourself with mentors and people more experienced than you. Learn how to work with others and communicate your vision, as this is such an important part of directing and producing. And most of all, just take the leap of making your films and following your heart.

Their most inspirational food for making independent film:

Senain: Yogurt

Geeta: Peanut butter

Independent Lens: What impact do you hope this film will have?

Senain Kheshgi and Geeta Patel: We hope audiences will have a visceral understanding of life in Kashmir today … “the scent of Kashmir,” as someone calls it in our film. Even after 20-some years of turmoil, there is such longing for peace, such joy in the culture, and yet such sadness over what has happened there.

The film is also an attempt to understand how religion is used as a tool to perpetuate conflict. We hope that audiences will seek out more information about the region to better understand the complexity, ambiguity, and gray area of life in this conflict zone.

IL: What led you to make PROJECT KASHMIR?

SK and GP: As children of the partition, we wanted to make a film that would explore this issue of our divided communities in an emotional and visceral way. In our Pakistani and Indian communities, everyone has an opinion about Kashmir. And yet, few people stop to ask the Kashmiri people themselves what they really want. So, we started with the idea to make a film about questions, about memory and silences. We thought if we went to Kashmir together, and asked the Kashmiris how they feel about India and Pakistan, the conflict, religion, and each other, then perhaps we could learn something deeper about ourselves as well.

IL: What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

SK and GP: Although both of us grew up traveling to India and Pakistan, neither of us had been to Kashmir. We had read about the conflict and studied the history, but there seemed to be little written about the Kashmiri culture, the people, and their lives. We started by reaching out to Kashmiris living in the diaspora. To the Kashmiris, we were outsiders and it was difficult to gain their trust but after several years of these conversations, we were able to find strong leaders in the community who understood that our goal was to shed light on the similarities and not to make this film about the differences.

IL: How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

SK and GP: We had to genuinely open up with our own stories. We told them about our families, our lives, and our feelings about the conflict, and how we wanted to learn about the divide between our countries and our people. We wanted them see why this was important to us as individuals. In retrospect, we could have said and done more, but because the two of us were going through a difficult reckoning with our own perspectives, we did not talk about our feelings as much as we should have.

IL: What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?

SK and GP: So many aspects of the conflict: more perspectives of women, mothers, daughters, sisters caught in conflict and how they cope with the trauma; the psychological impact of death and dying on the children of Kashmir; the stories of the mental health facilities, the orphanages; more about the daily life of the IDPs living in the camps in Jammu.

IL: Tell us about a scene in PROJECT KASHMIR that especially moved or resonated with you.

SK and GP: When Aarti, a Hindu Kashmiri, returns to her home in the valley in Kashmir after 16 years of living in exile, we saw a prime example of text and subtext. She had told us repeatedly that her pain was gone, that it was time to move on, that things were over. However, it was clear in her face that it was not. In the scene where she returns home, she comes face to face with her past in a very beautiful and haunting manner.

IL: What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

SK and GP: The audience response has been very emotional and personal. We find that the post-screening discussions bring out deep feelings from Indians, Pakistanis, and Kashmiris who have directly suffered during these 20 years of conflict. What has been particularly exciting has been the amazing (and sometimes painful) conversation that develops from the shared experience of watching the film and hearing the perspective of the “other.” This is what we wanted: communication, uncertainty, exploration. The issue we saw in our communities (and within ourselves) was that everyone seemed to have an answer, but very few stopped to think about how one asks the questions.

IL: Why did you choose to present your film on public television?

SK and GP: PBS maintains great efforts to reach out to diverse and underrepresented audiences. This is very important to us and really a motivating factor.

Interview with Seth Cluett

May 13th, 2010

by Bijan Rezvani

seth cluettThis Sunday at 8:30, Seth Cluett presents Three Forms of Forgetting at downtown experimental venue Roulette with the help of the audience and cellist Okkyung Lee.

Cluett is a multidisciplinary artist with a background in photography and a special focus on sound.  His work includes installation, live performance, composition, video, critical theory, and more.  On Sunday he’ll be presenting pieces for paper and stones, cello and oscillators, and a long solo finale to explore intersections of physical actions, listening, and memory.

In anticipation of Sunday’s event I asked Seth Cluett to share some of his thoughts on sound, listening, and the upcoming performance.

Bijan: How does your background in photography inform your sound work?

Seth Cluett: I tend to think photographically, even when I’m working with video or music. I like holding something still and seeing what happens when you move things around it. This happens in photography with seeing through the lens. I’m a fairly pragmatic person, so I’d much rather have a limitation like a lens and solve the problem of what fits in the frame in order to make an image that is legible. I approach composition this way as well: I’ve been trying to find ways of holding material still to draw attention to details the way the eye moves around in order to make sense of an image. A lot of music relies on constant motion and change, which I love, but lately I’m fascinated by exploring what is available from stillness.

B: In descriptions of your early work, you mention photographing images that you found to be worth photographing and recording sounds that you found to be worth recording. What makes a sound worth recording?

SC: I can only answer for myself here, of course. I like sounds that bring the place they were recorded along with them. Sounds that have something going on that needs some decoding; sounds that require a little work on behalf of the listener are fascinating to me. I like sounds that offer a sort of everyday exoticism that can be both aesthetic and social.

B: You grew up in a rural environment Upstate and have since lived in some of the biggest cities. How do these environments and your sonic experiences of them differ?

SC: For me the biggest difference lies in the perception of speed. I tend to feel out of sync in the city; the bustle and pace moves past me like a movie. I’ve found, though, that my own pace has changed over the years; I feel like it takes me some time to adjust to the slow pace of the rural community where I was raised when I visit there. In terms of sound, the relationship between urban and rural is very different. I think there is a misconception that the country is quieter than the city – I just don’t think that’s so. When I listen to a city like New York, I hear a very constant baseline murmur, a steady state that ebbs and flows. Sure, there may be more abrupt and jarring loud sounds in the city, but in a way the shape of listening is the same in both environs. In a rural space, the background is quieter, but that heightens the contrast with foreground sounds. I think for many people this is a much harder thing to acclimate to. I grew up with it, so it feels more like home to have a less mechanical sound and a higher contrast between background and foreground.

B: At what point does collected, extra-musical sound become music?

SC: At the point that the listener starts thinking about it as music.

B: I’ve heard you say that you are interested in teaching sound to young students…

SC: I am, though young people are a subset of something larger I’m interested in. I like developing sound-making pieces for people who have no training. I guess I could have said ‘musical training’ just now, but I think that ‘sound-making’ is more appropriately broad and perhaps not so coded and weighed down. I’ve developed a number of pieces for paper and stones, cans of compressed air, and the sound of drawing basic shapes. These pieces are intended to engage people in constructing very complex soundscapes without ever feeling as though they need a special skill set or vocabulary to do so. This works well with groups of any age because they are immediately successful, they have fun, and they get something rewarding to listen to. I hope when I work with members of the audience at Roulette on Sunday that a similar kind of thing happens.

B: You’ve expressed an interest in exploring the details around the “boundaries between urban and rural, private and public experience.” Are you talking about sonic details, or is your sound work somehow an exploration of social and other details beyond what’s merely heard?

SC: For me, scoring sound or making an installation is very much about an exploration of social workings. The problem I am interested in is precisely that we often ‘merely hear’ instead of attentively listen. There are patterns to social behavior, ways of functioning within society, that art and music are capable of mirroring, exploring, exposing, and critiquing. I’m interested in the patterns of commuting and the interactions between members of communities. I’ve been making scores for ensembles and installations meant to be engaged by the public that try to explore these patterns at work. Traditional chamber music sometimes appears as a public display of the intimate interactions between a group of musicians who have a bond, a social contract that must move in sync with the score. That is just one, particular, centuries-old conception the aesthetic potential for a particular type of action between people. Seeing neighbors you know at the farmers market or the nod you give each morning to the subway booth attendant are very real parts of human interaction. I’m trying to see what kind of chamber music comes out of these more irregular, cyclic, routined human interactions that haven’t yet become intimate, but could.

B: How did Okkyung Lee become a part of this weekend’s performance?

SC: A year and a half ago, Okkyung invited me to improvise with her at Roulette for a benefit, along with Brian Chase, Shoko Nagai, Miya Misoaka, and Marina Rosenfeld. We had seen each other perform before, but this was our first time playing together. I’ve been working on scored works for improvisors for a while and I’m in a cycle of solo works now with other pieces for Boston-based vocalist Liz Tonne, Welsh Harpist Rhodri Davies, the German-based American guitarist Seth Josel, and the trombonist Tucker Dulin. Okkyung and I started talking about collaborating almost immediately after the first Roulette gig and have had this Sunday’s piece in the works ever since.

B: What role does memory play in your work?

SC: I’m interested in the oscillation between memory and (in)attention. Put simply, if one doesn’t attend to the sounds of a piece for a while and then begins attending because something has drawn them back in, how can I draw attention to those moments of connection? When these moments become clearly defined they become something like objects of memory. When you think about it, memory isn’t a continuum, it’s a string of assembled of moments. I’ve been trying to think about how to explore this in my work by making a rich sound set that doesn’t require constant attention. On top of this I construct levels of events to draw the listener back in to a place of awareness. I’m not sure yet whether its working… sometimes people fall asleep calmly and sometimes people say that it feels surreal.

B: Tell us about Three Forms of Forgetting and the three works or movements that are a part of this performance.

SC: There will be three pieces presented on Sunday evening. The event will start with an untitled piece for paper and stones to be performed by the audience. The second is a piece called ‘overflow and drift’ written for Okkyung Lee that includes a tape part consisting of sine-wave oscillators and very slowly modulating unison reed drones. I will end the evening with a long-form solo performance called ‘forms of forgetting.’ All three pieces are ‘forms of forgetting’ of one kind or another, each began as a year’s worth of long-form (45-minute or more) performances. I approached these performances as experiments to explore the role of sound memory and attention in live performance work. The first two pieces focus on details that came out of this work, and the eponymously titled solo piece has some elements that came out of previous work and some that are specific to the acoustics and the environment of the specific venue in which it will be performed. I’m hoping that the concert can be a slow, quiet evening out.

WNET.org Receives Major Gift to Name Lincoln Center Studios

May 6th, 2010

Our Lincoln Center Studios opened officially on April 13th, and this Friday marks the debut of Need to Know, which will be one of several programs produced from our new location.

We are pleased to announce that we have received a $15 million gift from the Chairman of our Board of Trustees, Jim Tisch and his wife, Merryl to name the new WNET.ORG studios at Lincoln Center.

Since he was named Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 2007, Jim and Merryl have supported WNET.org and have contributed in many ways, but this gift takes their support further.  It is a vote of confidence in our vision for the future of public media in this community, and it is also a major profile raising gift.  Their gift marks the largest individual donation made to this organization in its nearly 50-year history.

You can read more about their generous donation in this New York Times article.

For more information about our Lincoln Center studios, visit wnet.org/about/lincoln-center.

Yeasayer, Sleigh Bells, Seagull at Webster Hall

May 5th, 2010

by Bijan Rezvani

Centuries ago I purchased tickets for last night’s sold-out Yeasayer show at Webster Hall. For those unfamiliar with the Brooklyn-based band, their popularity and acclaim exploded with the release of their 2007 album All Hour Cymbals. All Hour Cymbals features a unique and refreshing mix of world rhythms, folk sensibilities, vocal harmonies, and electronic textures, at times evoking David Byrne or Peter Gabriel. It was weird enough to stand out, and a successfull, well-received album tour only heightened the band’s visibility. Earlier this year they released their second and hugely anticipated album, Odd Blood. The new album is in many ways a step away from their previous sound, heavier on noticeably artificial timbres and more reliant on driving, harder-hitting rhythms, a dance-inspired approach likely resulting from the touring experience.


Last night they appeared with a polished and visually enhanced live show, starting with Odd Blood opener “The Children” and making their way through reworked versions of most of their material. Their latest album is in many ways a product of the studio, and it was interesting to see how they distributed sound-generating duties among the band. Probably the most traditional role-player was the percussionist (there were two) who sat at a standard rock kit. Everyone else may have tended toward rock band roles, but ultimately found themselves performing with multiple instruments. One of the more exciting elements of their sound generation was the work of bassist Ira Wolf Tuton, who at times ran his bass through effects that allowed him to play along with songs in non-basso voices.

I expected programming All Hour Cymbals songs with Odd Blood songs to present a greater challenge than it did. Although they’re certainly rock-oriented, Yeasayer are more than anything postmodern pop artists. The trick to their success is the way their eclecticism combines into an inviting, affective sound, rather than parade as pastiche, nostalgia, or fruitless oddity, although I know some would disagree with this assessment of the band. The real — and I suppose conservative/unfortunate — power of today’s post-postmodern is its ability to absorb and integrate outside elements into a cohesive flow. I might hear and recognize Middle Eastern rhythms, 80s synth sequences, and doo-wop harmonizing, but they’re beyond the point of presenting themselves as such.

Yeasayer rendered some of their songs in a rock-heavier vein than their recordings, which better suited the live environment. Although the songs sounded wonderfully new in this live context, there seemed to be little room for improvisation or risk, aside from a few very safe guitar parts. They also performed no unknown material. Yeasayer certainly delivered for fans of their music, with popular hits “O.N.E.,” “Ambling Alp,” and encore selection “Sunrise” generating the most excitement, but I hope they use their next tour to open their sequences an allow things to get a little looser.

While Yeasayer succeeded to sponge a world of influence, Brooklyn-based duo Sleigh Bells played to lesser effect. Heavy, distorted guitar and lackluster drum machine beats provided a background for singer Alexis Krauss to scream, shout, and jump around. The duo has been gaining popularity, may have unique pop potential, and did show (Alexis, anyway) more energy and on-stage personality than anyone else that night, but I found no connection or productive confrontation with their music.

seagull-noiseOpener Seagull provided a distorted and at times minimal noise set that I won’t remember long, but it enjoyably flexed Webster Hall’s bass cabinets. They also played in the center of the venue with the disco ball lowered just above their heads, immediately transforming the space into something more interesting than the standard stage-based hall it normally is. Having an opener completely different from the headliner, rather than a poorer version of the same, was a smart way to start the show.

Interview "Fun City Revisited" Executive Producer Tom Casciato

May 5th, 2010

tomFun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years, a new special from WNET.ORG, looks at John Lindsay’s turbulent two terms as New York mayor from 1966 – 1973. It also looks at his unsuccessful bid for President during the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination.

THIRTEEN spoke with executive producer Tom Casciato.

THIRTEEN: Why a film about John Lindsay right now?

Tom Casciato: As a filmmaker I can say that this is the perfect time for a documentary about Lindsay because on the one hand his mayoral era (1966-73) was long enough ago that we could go for a real historical feel for the film, with extraordinary film footage of Lindsay and generous doses of the great music of that era, but on the other hand, his era is recent enough that the young people who worked for and with him are still in their prime, and able to give great firsthand accounts of their memories of the Lindsay years. A couple of notable folks giving testimony in the film are Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of Dreamworks, was a teenaged volunteer for Lindsay in the ’60s (he gave us an extraordinary photo of himself with the mayor, which we use in the film), and Eleanor Holmes Norton, who currently repreesents Washington, DC in Congress, but was NYC’s human rights commissioner during the latter part of the Lindsay years. (We use a great old still photo of her, too, but I’m not going to tell you about it because I don’t want to give away one of the best lines in the film.)

13: The program describes the “Fun City” moniker as true for some and ironic for others. What does the term mean, or what did it mean for different people?

TC: During the transit strike that greeted him on his first day as mayor — and pretty much crippled the city’s functioning, Lindsay remarked that despite it all, New York was still a “fun city.” The press siezed on the term, but often used it ironically because, as our film shows, these were particularly turbulent times, and a lot of New Yorkers weren’t having a lot of fun.

13: The program touches briefly upon the idea that the seeds of the Lindsay years’ turmoil had been sown during the Wagner administration, when city planners aggressively encouraged white flight and the destruction of middle class and minority neighborhoods. Do you think Lindsay’s critics judge his failures too harshly in light of the economic forces set in motion prior to his inauguration?

TC: FUN CITY REVISITED is decidedly not an attempt to judge either Lindsay or his critics, harshly or otherwise. Rather it is a film that seeks to evoke an extraordinary time and place, both for those older folks who remember it, for whom Lindsay and the passion he evoked is still very much alive, and for those younger ones for whom Lindsay is a figure out of an American past they never knew, as distant as FDR or Ulysses S. Grant.

13: Many of John Lindsay’s young aides joined the administration as progressive idealists intent on improving the lives of New Yorkers across the social and economic spectrum, and yet their administration’s time in City Hall is remembered mostly as a failure. What regrets, if any, did the former aides you interviewed for the film express?

TC: These people don’t strike me as regretful. Rather, they are still passionate believers in the ideals Lindsay represented. He is the one who brought them into politics, and the ones I talked to are carrying the same torch they carried back in the day.

13: What do you think John Lindsay would think of NYC today?

TC: I have no way of knowing, but from what I know of him I think he’d take a look at it and try and figure out how to make it better.

13: There’s been a huge response to “Share Your Story” on the program’s website. Why do you think people feel so strongly about this time in NYC history?

TC: The best answer to that question is found, I think, by watching the film.

Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years, airs Thursday, May 6 at 8:00 p.m. on THIRTEEN and Wednesday, May 12 at 10p.m. on WLIW21.

Interview with Carlos Giffoni

May 4th, 2010

by Bijan Rezvani

Brooklyn noise artist Carlos Giffoni made his way to Brooklyn from Venezuela via Miami and has spent the last decade building up a catalogue of experimental sound excursions using both digital and analog production techniques. He created and operates Brooklyn’s annual No Fun Fest (funded yearly on credit cards, I’ve read), as well as the label No Fun Productions, which put out my favorite release of 2009.  His latest album, Severance on Hospital Productions passes on noise aggression and takes a more inviting, dynamic approach to sound, allowing for minimal and concentrated development.  His recent work as No Fun Acid explodes genres outside his usual sound with a free, noisy perspective.

In a couple of weeks he’ll be performing for Bunker in their three-week run of untouchable lineups [note: this last show included Shed when this was written]. I had a chance to ask him a few questions about his work.

Here’s a live set of his from Vimeo:
[vimeo id=”2252495″]

Bijan: How has your approach to music production and performance changed over the past decade?

Carlos Giffoni: I think as far as live performance I have more of a solid structure now, there is still some improvisation within the overall structure, but I spend more time getting ready for each live show and try to make it something unique while adding familiar elements here and there for people that have my recordings.

Production hasn’t changed much, I have much better equipment and recording setup that I had 10 years ago, but for the most part I am still recording the same way, creating layers and parts live instead of overdubbing, things just end up sounding much more alive to me that way.

I also have a much easier time now throwing stuff out that I am not happy with and starting from scratch and even delaying projects if necessary. No reason to try to put everything out there, better to spend longer and finishing with something you can get behind 100%.

B: Describe your current recording process.

CG: It changes from track to track, but a lot of the time a track starts from a structural idea in my head, then finding the right combination within my gear to make it happen and experimenting and adding to that until it feels ready. Once I have the whole thing worked out as a full piece, and only then, do I hit record. This means one piece might take several days or even weeks to setup, but the actual recording is in real time, I might do a few takes and pick the best one but that’s about it.

B: What’s the No Fun Acid project all about?  Have you been playing live for noise-oriented crowds?  Dance-oriented crowds?

CG: Is a project inspired by parties in South America/Miami I used to go to when younger, using a classic Acid synth line approach but expanding that in many directions. Some sets have been more noisy, some sets have been straight explorations/revaluations of the early acid techno/house style.

Have been playing it in all contexts I can play it in.

B: What unique perspective/approach do you bring to this music?

CG: New approaches due to my involvement in experimental music, mixing things up with some noisy and psychedelic elements, layering some extra synths along with the 303 for example, and adding elements that are dissonant here and there.

On the other hand, for someone that is a fan of the genre there is a good chance they might really hate ‘no fun acid’ since I don’t have a deep knowledge of it and I am all over the place when it comes to ‘acid standards’, especially with the beats I use, they have nothing to do with whats normally expected in Acid. I think I might have offended some purists here and there.

B: You’re booked to play a Bunker show with Byetone and Aoki Takamasa in a few weeks. Are you going to be playing No Fun Acid material?  How does your performance change depending on the context?

CG: I think I am going to something in between my solo performance and no fun acid for the Bunker show. I’ll be bringing some modular synths and keeping it mixed. Yes my performance always changes depending on venue, context and weather I am on tour promoting something or is a one off where I am freer to try things and equipment out.

B: Can you tell us (beyond the message on the site) why there’s no No Fun Fest this year?  Will there be one for 2011?

CG: There is not much more to tell, the festival has grown beyond what I can handle at the moment unless I was running it like a business which was never my intention. I have other projects/ideas/jobs to take care of and I decided it was time for a break, think about re-conceptualizing the whole thing.

I will announce any decisions for 2011 once I make them. nothing new I can say on that front yet.

B: Does the title of your latest album, Severance, relate to the break in the festival?

CG: The title Severance refers to many and every break in my life, any points where I have had to make a decision to let go of something that was previously meaningful. I think as people grow older is normal to realize that instead of doing as much as possible in as many places as possible is better to narrow things down and do a really good job in the few aspects of life you really consider valuable, what other people think you should do only matters as reference point.

B: Are you able to generate money through the No Fun label?

CG: A little bit, it goes in peaks and valleys depending on the releases I have out at the moment. I have a label office that I also use a studio, and spaces in New York are not cheap so that pretty much takes all the label income.

B: New York City seems like a hotbed for noise, improv, and experimentation — any ideas why?

CG: This city always has had Amazing energy, additionally everyone plays here when on tour so you are constantly bombarded with ideas and perspectives from all over the world, and because is so easy to see live music and be exposed to art, you really get to see whats out there if you want and see where you can add something. This leads to lots of experimentation as people thrive to create something different and original while having a wide perspective of whats going on available to them.

B: Do you have any favorite NYC venues?

CG: I have always liked Glasslands in Williamsburg. The staff there is always on the ball and the owners are cool people. I’ve seen the place grow since its beginning and its constantly being improved.

I think the situation for medium size shows is pretty bad right now, however. Is getting tougher and tougher to find a place that has a professional approach and equipment and that supports far out music and that schedules lots of events. Unless somehow you can put together a bill for a large venues, a lot of the places where people are doing shows just feel like they were thrown together last minute.

We all miss having Tonic around, that was probably the greatest venue I got to play in in the 10 years I been here. Didn’t really realize it until it was gone.

B: Noise/experimental music is in many ways about exploration and discovery, but do you see any elements of stagnation in the scene?

CG: I see elements of stagnation only on people that get close minded about it and believe that experimental music should be limited to being one thing or the other. People sometimes think they are so open minded for liking ‘weird sounding’ music,noise,etc. But they don’t realize they are just being as close minded as it gets by limiting the options of what they will accept as viable or valuable.

B: What are you working on now?

CG: I am working on a new No Fun Acid track or two. I also recently finished and LP under my name that will come out on Editions Mego later this year. As well as a split LP with Oren Ambarchi that will come out on No Fun Productions.

I am also recording new synth pieces on my Buchla and Serge for a new recording project I haven’t fully shaped yet.

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Brooklyn pop avengers Yeasayer @ Webster Hall

[vimeo id=”10044003″]

Let's Make a Launch Date

May 3rd, 2010

by Shelley Lewis

shelleyOur fabulous new website, Need to Know, launches today. Now, some kinds of launches are a big noisy affair. A rocket launches with a countdown and billowing smoke and applause from a cheering crowd of onlookers. A ship gets a champagne bottle smashed across the bow before its maiden voyage. A website … not so much. In my experience with web launches, you’d find a bunch of exhausted writers, editors and techies who’ve worked all night for days, surrounded by wrappers from candy bars and empty bottles of flavored ice tea, a faint whiff of Cheetos in the air. Just kidding. They’re all super healthy eaters and not at all messy.

There won’t be champagne smashed across a server, but we are launching with great excitement and enthusiasm. Our website is full of stories we think you need to know, plus lots of opportunities for you to bring your stories to us. From health to the economy, from national security to media and culture. We’re all working to make Need to Know a site you quickly decide you need to visit every day.

Interview with Mai Iskander, Director of "Garbage Dreams"

April 27th, 2010

dreamsTonight, Independent Lens will feature “Garbage Dreams,” a documentary about the Zaballeen of Cairo.  “Garbage Dreams” takes viewers inside the world’s largest garbage village, located on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital. The Zaballeen (Arabic for garbage people) recycle 80 percent of the trash they collect — far more than other recycling initiatives. Despite their success, a multi-national corporation now threatens the Zaballeen’s livelihood. Follow three teenage boys born into the business who are forced to make choices that will impact the survival of their community.

THIRTEEN conducted this interview via email with the documentary’s director, Mai Iskander:

T: Why did you decide to make a documentary about the Zaballeen?

MI: “Garbage Dreams” took four years to make. It is a 20th-century coming-of-age story that follows three teenage boys growing up in the world’s largest garbage village, on the outskirts of Cairo. When I first visited the garbage village ten years ago, I understood why it was often referred to as “Dante’s inferno.” Home to 60,000 Zaballeen, it is a world folded onto itself, an impenetrable labyrinth of narrow roadways camouflaged by trash. Garbage is piled three stories high and the smell of rotting vegetables permeates the waste-covered streets. In the midst of it all, the dirt, the poverty, the smell of the garbage, plastic granulators, cloth-grinders and paper and cardboard compacters hum constantly. Recycling 80% of the trash they collect from resident’s homes, the Zaballeen have transformed their garbage neighborhood into a busy recycling enclave.

I was quickly made welcome into this extraordinarily resilient and joyful community and the time I would spend there affected me in profound ways, re-calibrating my notions of community, family, ability, and sustainability. The trash-piled streets where the Zaballeen live, which initially seemed terrifying and dirty to me, started to look like the site of a community eminently worthy of preservation and admiration. Years later, when I returned to the garbage village, a community-run recycling school has just opened in the neighborhood. Its focus was to turn their century-old recycling trade into a 21st-century green job. The Zaballeen had established the recycling school at a crucial moment, as the appearance of multinational waste-removal corporations in Cairo threatened to overturn their occupations and traditions.

Of course, as a filmmaker, I quickly saw potential for a documentary in this David vs. Goliath tale, but it was the teenagers, students and their personal stories that really drew me. The desire of the teenage boys to gain knowledge, to develop their trade and to succeed in life through diligence, determination and persistence was quite inspirational. In addition to the fact that their way of life and community was in jeopardy, these kids were also facing typical teenage concerns: fashion, pop music and their workout routine, and their aspirations to be the coolest and most popular. Over time, I saw more of myself in them and was reminded of our shared humanity. My desire to share this experience with others is what compelled me to make a documentary. The larger story of recycling and the work the Zaballeen was simply a window into the lives of these young Egyptian men. It was their struggle to maintain their dreams for a workable sustainable future, even as those dreams seem impossible to realize, that was the remarkable story that needed to be told.

T: How did you get access to the families in the documentary? How did you come to focus on Osama, Adham, and the others?

MI: In 2005, 10 years after my last visit to Mokattam, I returned to the garbage village and volunteered to help paint a mural at the neighborhood’s Recycling School. I filmed a few of the students — applying vibrant colors and making whimsical pictures on a drab concrete wall — thinking that I could cut together a little film about their mural as a present for them.

And in front of the camera, the students blossomed. They were uninhibited and really pleased that a “outsider” took such interest in them. Most of all, they were proud of their way of life and their history.

We became fast friends. The students later confided in me how difficult things were becoming for their families financially. The whole community was starting to feel the recent globalization of its trade.

It was then that I decided to start filming their story.

When I first started filming, I was introduced to Adham. His enthusiasm for his recycling trade and his desire to develop it was truly inspiring to me. He was very idealistic and a big dreamer. I often wondered how he would pursue his ambitions and how he would come to terms with his reality as he grew older. Osama was a one time happy slacker that couldn’t hold a job. He was charming and is the antithesis to Adham. He added moments of humor to the film. Nabil was someone that does not want much out of life, but only wanted to have a family and some sense of security. His humility and his simple desires are what drew me to him. Also, his family was the one of the families that was most effective by the coming of the foreign multinational waste companies. In the end of the film, Nabil is humiliated by the fact that he has to scavenge for scraps on the streets of Cairo after his family loses their garbage collection route.

One of the greatest obstacles in making “Garbage Dreams” was getting people used to the camera. I spent many hours filming the boys (over 250 hours of footage), documenting all the nuances of their lives. At the beginning, they did not quite understand what exactly I was filming. I decided to give the boys at the recycling school a video camera so they could better understand the filmmaking process.

I was hoping that this would also provide the boys a sense of ownership, so that in some way, they were the authors of their own stories. They listened intently to my instructions, making sure they understood every aspect of the camera. I was blown away by their photographic ability and the intimacy of their footage. I included much more of their footage than I had originally planned. Four minutes of Garbage Dreams was shot by the kids themselves.

T: Who funded Adham’s trip to Wales and why? What was the Welsh woman’s involvement?

MI: A large network of recycling organizations in Wales (CYLCH – http://www.cylch.org/) invited Adham and Nabil to Wales to learn more about the latest recycling techniques. The organization had learned about the high recycling rate of the Zaballeen. CYLCH wanted to offer an experience exchange to some of the students at the recycling school. Adham and Nabil were chosen because they were the school’s brightest students. The Welsh woman, Mo Green, was their chaperone. Her organization MOre Green is part of the CYLCH.

T: Can you share any developments that have taken place since you finished shooting, whether with Adham, Osama, or the Zaballeen as a whole?

MI: At the end of “Garbage Dreams,” there was less garbage for the Zaballeen to collect and to recycle, yet each of the boys was hopeful that their dreams for their future would somehow be realized. Unfortunately, the ability of the Zaballeen to both acquire and process Cairo’s garbage has become harder in the last few years, and life had become much more challenging for the three young men in the film. Nabil barely scrapes by a living by scavenging for trash on the streets of Cairo. Osama quit his job with the foreign waste companies because the wages they were paying were very low. He works part-time at home pealing the lids off of discarded yogurt cups. He is currently looking for a new full-time job. Adham had the opportunity to attend the “Garbage Dreams’” World Premiere at the SXSW film festival in 2009. During his stay in the US, he visited local high school and universities where he exchanged ideas about recycling. Now back in Cairo, he has recommitted himself to his studies. He is currently unemployed and unable to find any steady work. He is saving the little money he makes with the hope of one day owning his own recycling factory.

T: The situation of the Zaballeen is complex. On the one hand viewers may see the “trash city” and be shocked at the Zaballeen way of life. On the other hand, the primary conflict of the documentary is that this way of life is being threatened. How do you expect PBS viewers to feel about the situation when the credits roll? What types of responses have you received so far?

MI: On the surface, it might seem that “Garbage Dreams” deals with local concerns, but the themes in the film are universal. I am pleased that is what strikes a chord with most viewers.

I hope “Garbage Dreams” will encourage people to re-examine the true value of what they throw away each day and the real cost of throwing out the expertise of Zaballeen. The Zaballeen would work long into the night to clean up after us, the modern, industrialized world. Beyond that, by creating the world’s most effective resource recovery system they are actually saving our earth. From out of the trash, they lifted themselves out of poverty and have a solution to the world’s most pressing crisis.

I also hope that everyone who sees “Garbage Dreams” can see a little bit of themselves in the three teenagers of the film. I hope that everyone who sees the film sees beyond the hardship and poverty of the Zaballeen and discovers the riches they possess — the depth of their love and the strength of their community.

T: What’s your next project?

MI: I am not sure what my next project is, but I am very interested in topics related to poverty and environmental issues. I am particularly drawn to documentaries that are character driven, that play more like a narrative than a documentary, and that also offer food for thought that will bring about solutions to the mess in the world. I hope to do another documentary along those lines in the near future.

Garbage Dreams premieres Tuesday, April 27 at 10 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

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