Mostly Opera reviews “The matchstick man”

Mostly opera reviews The Matchstick Man and The Seventh Door double DVD on Kurtág and Eötvös, available now.

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Quay Brothers DVD

Another press release, but this one looks interesting, and comes via Michael Brooke of Mischievous Constructions who also produced the DVD. The attention of avant music fans is particularly drawn to the Stockhausen collaboration In absentia, as well as two His Name Is Alive videos (from the Stille Nacht series) and original scores by Leszek Jankowski and Gary Tarn. Looks cool, anyway.

The BFI has collaborated with the inimitable Quay Brothers to release a truly comprehensive compilation of their short films on DVD; a world first. The Quays were extensively involved with the preparation of the DVD, personally supervising the transfers, recording commentaries on selected titles, and contributing an exclusive 20-minute illustrated video interview.

This two-disc set, in deluxe packaging, collects 13 of the Quay Brothers’ short films, spanning 24 years, in brand new restored and re-mastered editions (six of them with new Quay commentaries), plus a collection of ‘footnotes’ including interviews, alternative versions, unrealised pilot projects and more. An accompanying illustrated colour booklet features an encyclopaedic guide to the Quays’ universe, plus the original illustrated treatment for their best-known film Street of Crocodiles.

Born in Philadelphia and based in London, but with a creative sensibility derived from the remoter corners of Eastern Europe, identical twin animators the Quay Brothers have produced a unique body of work, and have also made a major contribution towards establishing the puppet film as a serious adult art form.

Filtering a huge range of literary, musical, cinematic and philosophical influences through their own utterly distinctive sensibility, each Quay film is a dialogue-free and usually non-narrative experience, riveting the attention through hypnotic control of décor, music and movement. With a grasp of the uncanny that rivals Luis Buñuel and Lewis Carroll, their films evoke half-remembered dreams and long-suppressed childhood memories, fascinating and deeply unsettling by turns.

The collection ranges from their very first puppet film Nocturna Artificialia (1979) to the recent The Phantom Museum (2003). In between there are all the classics: The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984), a tribute to their great Czech counterpart; This Unnameable Little Broom (1985), a reduction of the Epic of Gilgamesh into a ten-minute frenzy; their acknowledged masterpiece Street of Crocodiles (1986), a visualisation of the labyrinthine world of Polish author Bruno Schulz; the tantalisingly suggestive Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987) and The Comb (1990); the playful documentary Anamorphosis (1991), uncovering hidden meanings in outwardly conventional paintings; the Stille Nacht quartet (1988-94) of twisted music videos, and In Absentia (2000), their acclaimed collaboration with composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.

The second disc, ‘Footnotes’, contains numerous extras including a newly commissioned filmed interview, distinctive idents for the BFI and BBC2, the satirical short The Summit (1995) and a rare ‘acting’ appearance (albeit in stills) in a clip from Peter Greenaway’s The Falls.

The DVD has been produced by the BFI’s Michael Brooke, Content Developer for Screenonline, the BFI’s extensive online resource dedicated to the history of British film and television. To tie in with the release, Screenonline will be providing extensive background material for each individual title, together with a biography and filmography of the Quays.

DISC 1 – The Films
The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer (1984)
*This Unnameable Little Broom (1985)
*Street of Crocodiles (1986)
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987)
*Stille Nacht I – Dramolet (1988)
The Comb (1990)
Anamorphosis (1991)
*Stille Nacht II – Are We Still Married? (1992)
*Stille Nacht III – Tales From Vienna Woods (1993)
Stille Nacht IV – Can’t Go Wrong Without You (1994)
*In Absentia (2000)
The Phantom Museum (2003)

DISC 2 – Footnotes
Filmed introduction by the Quays
Nocturna Artificialia (1979)
The Calligrapher (1991)
The Summit (1995)
Archive Interview (2000)
The Falls (1980)
BFI Ident
Alternative versions

*With new commentary by the Quay Brothers recorded for this DVD.

More Innova releases reviewed

Yoav Gal and Yael Kanarek: Bit by bit, cell by cell [info]

Bit By Bit, Cell By Cell: music for soprano & Atari 800XLTaking his cue from the hyperlinked, hyperreal digital landscapes of Yael Kanarek’s WorldofAwe, Yoav Gal constructs 11 sonic typographies from an old Atari 800XL, the voice of soprano Sarah Rivkins, and some alert sounds borrowed from Apple. Repeating layers of samples are deposited on top of one another until out of the cumulative weight are forced verdant valleys and hard mountain ranges. The texture is at once enveloping water and resistant granite. Intended originally for choreography – a sample video is included on this enhanced CD – it is effective, music of physical effect demanding a physical response.

Gal’s compositional technique borrows much from medieval polyphony: vocal samples stretched inside the Atari across an inhuman tessitura create possibilities for refined mensural canons, as well as a curious human-nonhuman chorus effect that can be melody, accompaniment and sonic environment all at once.

It is in this world that the Traveller of WoA finds herself in pursuit of an elusive treasure. Her journal narrates her experiences in this mysterious world; she also uses it to set down letters to an anonymous and absent lover. WoA is set in a hinterland that is both sunset and sunrise; and this is also how she comes to sign the letters. It soon becomes apparent that dusk/dawn is not the only duality that has been obliterated, as voice becomes sound, organic becomes digital, Traveller becomes landscape. It is no longer clear in this hexadecimal hallucination who these letters are from, or who they are to. In the end, as the Traveller gives herself up, bit by bit, cell by cell, to the rapture of digital oblivion, she perhaps discovers that after all, she is also the treasure she has been searching for.

It’s fairly high-concept stuff – and you can include the low-tech approach in that equation – but perfectly accessible and often quite beautiful for it.

Download “Grid” (mp3)
from “Bit By Bit, Cell By Cell: music for soprano & Atari 800XL”
by Yoav Gal & Yael Kanarek
Innova Recordings

More On This Album


Harry Partch: Enclosure 7 [info]

This DVD, the culminating part of Philip Blackburn’s series of Partch releases for Innova, is something special. It features Stephen Pouliot’s classic 1972 documentary on Partch, The Dreamer that Remains, a remastered 1971 film of Partch’s magnum opus Delusion of the Fury (with excellent sound), a 40-minute slideshow accompanying the ‘bonus album’ of Partch describing his instruments (a recording that accompanied some of the original boxsets of Delusion of the Fury), extracts from a 1960 performance of Revelation in the Courthouse Park, and a Dreamer outtake in which Partch rants against insensitive reviewers, makes some rose petal jam, and does a strange little dance. If you have any real interest in American music, unusual music, instrument manufacture, music theatre, the hobo lifstyle or jam recipes there is no good reason why you shouldn’t buy this DVD.