Posts Tagged ‘Documentary’

Front & Follow – 6th April 2018

Christopher Nosnibor

As a child in the late 70s and early 80s, I used to play with three fox stoles that belonged to my mother. I was fascinated by their glass eyes and the clips that made ‘mouths’, and didn’t really consider any of it to be strange at the time. As an adult who’s been vegetarian for over twenty years, the very idea of a real fox stole – not to mention the sheepskin rugs that adorned each of the bedrooms in my parents’ house – horrifies me beyond words. Perhaps it was this sense of horror that pushed these recollections out of my mind for quite literally decades. But in the opening scenes of Penny Slinger, the film directed by Richard Kovitch, we see Penny walking down a stately driveway (Lilford Hall), draped in fur coat, accessorised by a fox stole, its beady artificial eyes looking fixedly over her shoulder toward the camera. This is our introduction to both Slinger and An Exorcism, the work which defined her career before her swift disappearance from the public eye for a very long time.

There’s another personal preface I feel a certain obligation to include here: I first encountered Richard Kovitch in around, maybe, 2008, in the days of MySpace. Although now known as an award-wining director, Kovitch is something of a polyartist, and was writing – both fiction and essays – back then, and I had the privilege of including one of his stories, ‘For Reasons Unknown’ in the first Clinical, Brutal anthology in 2009. The story showcased Kovitch’s keen eye for both narrative and visual, something that’s common to much of his work, and the feature-length documentary Penny Slinger – Out Of The Shadows is no exception.

The film is pitched as ‘the incredible, untold story of the British artist Penny Slinger and the traumatic events that led to the creation of her masterpiece, the 1977 photo-romance, An Exorcism’. Much of the story is told by Slinger herself, who proves to be a remarkably cogent and articulate speaker. The documentary notably features contributions from Peter Whitehead (who collaborated with Slinger on the shooting of An Exorcism at Lilford Hall in 1969, and it’s footage from this which opens the film) and Michael Bracewell, amongst others, and the ‘talking heads’ segments are comfortably paced and helpfully cut with pieces of Penny’s work in a way that satisfies both the well-versed and uninitiated. Ultimately, it’s most notable for its well-structured narrative. And its soundtrack.

The soundtrack in question is the debut album for Psychological Strategy Board. Taking their name from the committee responsible for overseeing strategies of psychological warfare in the US in the 1950s, it’s perhaps appropriate that biographical details about them is scant, beyond the fact Maybury and Paul Snowdon are perhaps better known as johnny mugwump and Time Attendant respectively, and that their only previous release is an EP, also released on Front & Follow, back in 2012. That. And the fact that the creation of this soundtrack, which began in 2011, was a challenging experience, both musically and personally. In context, it isn’t entirely surprising.

As it transpires, their near-invisibility proves to be something of an asset, as well as an indication of their modus operandi: while the soundtrack – released on vinyl and download split into thirteen tracks – is a continuous presence throughout the film’s one hour and thirty-three-minute duration – and very much steers the mood and accentuates the atmosphere, particularly when accompanying the more dramatic shots or narrative moments, it’s subtle in its delivery. Within the context of the film, it works well.

The measure of a soundtrack’s quality is whether or not it succeeds on its own merit, as a musical work, when separated from the film it was designed to accompany. This does, not least of all because it’s a largely ambient work which conjures image and feelings – often of disquiet -that any ambient work of a darker persuasion might. Dank rumblings and slow churns reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle nudge against hovering dissonance and creeping fear chords.

Spurts of electronic dislocation bubble and fizz over thick ripples of amorphous, atonal synth sound, hissing static and whispering winds. Sonorous low-end notes resonate, hanging in the air before they slowly decay, submerged by tense undulations. The atmosphere is dark, ominous, unsettling, but not oppressive. And while the narrative of the documentary and the creative process which yielded the supremely surreal and highly sexual An Exorcism is not – and never could be – conveyed in musical form, the otherness of the work itself very much is.

AA

Psychological Strategy Board – Penny Slinger Out of the Shadows

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SpaceFest presents a brief documentary about the latest experience with Pure Phase Ensemble. In its current incarnation, the collective is led by a true legend: Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, along with with Emil Nikolaisen of Scandinavian rock band Serena Maneesh.

Filmed by RSU / Agencja Vizualna, this film presents a sneak preview of what is to come on the ‘Live at SpaceFest!’ album and the story behind Pure Phase Ensemble 6. Every December during Gdansk’s illustrious SpaceFest!, an eclectic group of musicians from across Poland are joined by a guest curator from abroad to form Pure Phase Ensemble. The group’s makeup constantly changes, guided by the artistic vision of a new curator every year and directed by Karol Schwarz of Nasiono Records who has been responsible for its musical cohesion from the very outset.

Through improvisation at a workshop organized by Nasiono Records and SpaceFest!, the musicians produce a set of unique songs during a week-long workshop ahead of the festival at the Laznia 2 Centre for Contemporary Art in the city’s Nowy Port district, seeking inspiration amidst its post-industrial atmosphere. The festival then culminates in this music being performed and recorded in real time for the inevitable album release.

Anton Newcombe espoused one rule for this experiment – that there are no rules when making music… and one standard… “get weirder… be heavy. and dreamy. but not pointless”.
Pure Phase Ensemble 6 is comprised of 8 musicians, including six from emerging Polish alternative bands: 
Karol Schwarz (7faz, KSAS) – guitar, vocals
Olga Myslowska (Polpo Motel) – vocals, keyboard
Maciej Karminski (Jesien) – drums
Marcin Lewandowski (Judy’s Funeral, Castlings, Soon) – bass guitar
Jakub Zwirello (Oslo Kill City, Szezlong) – guitar
Kacper Graczyk (Aiodine, coding) – electronic beats, synths, backing vocals

“I prefer to hear the sound bouncing off the walls and most festivals are outside and have time limits and various handicaps…I am more or less a jazz folk guy, I’m not an entertainer there to jump up and down and get you pumped…I just do as I feel…,”says Anton Newcombe. “I see myself as an idea person. I play like 80 instruments in as many ways as I can reinvent them because I am not a virtuoso… I want to contribute to Polish culture by writing at least one song that is worth listening to.”

In past incarnations of Pure Phase Ensemble, the group was curated by Mark Gardener (Ride), Laetitia Sadier (Stereolab), Ray Dickaty (Spiritualized), Steve Hewitt (Placebo), Jaime Harding (Marion), Chris Olley (Six By Seven), and Hugo Race (The Bad Seeds, The True Spirit). Nasiono Records’ very own Karol Schwarz (7faz, KSAS) has been responsible for the Ensemble’s musical cohesion from the very outset.

You can watch a preview of the forthcoming documentry here: