Category Archives: Film and Music Features

Europa Report’s Dark Flirtation With Cosmicism

Retrieved from Huffington Post
Retrieved from Huffington Post

Words by Darren TYNAN

Indie sci-fi flick, Europa Report, may rehash many of the inveterate and tireless conventions associated with science-fiction, but at least it does so in a way that relies less on overdone Hollywood festoonery and focuses more on those gritty, dark avenues of human speculation and curiosity that make the genre worthwhile.

As six astronauts venture into deep space to investigate the possibility of life under the icy surface of one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, their troublesome journey and subsequent discovery is examined and revisited through non-chronological sequences of ‘found footage’ from the ship. The film unfolds with a documentary feel to it, relying on claustrophobic interior scenes of the space vessel, interactions between crew members that concern scientific and logical data (yet still have an undercurrent of frustration and doubt, the Star Trek equivalent of Spock’s emotional side), capricious interruptions in communication and unnerving silences.

Europa Report begins with a simple but loaded question: ‘What happened?’ Although this dialogue sparks an understanding that the discovery mission of Europa One was a catastrophe, you have to wonder if the film’s director, Sebastián Cordero, gives too much away so early in the film. Is this a tactic that Cordero uses to inform the inevitable catastrophe of a space mission so far-reaching and dubious, the efforts of a vain and grandiose humanity mired in cosmic indifference? Or is it just a directorial decision that was overlooked?

One of the best aspects of the dialogue in this film is the effective use of silence, and the uncomfortable, tedious breaks in conversation that imply frustration where outbursts of language would seem too brazen. Whereas some science fiction works will revel in action sequences showing elite squadrons of laser beam gunmen that gallivant hither and thither about space, complete with technology to create wormholes that seem to suck in all credibility that surround them, Europa Report takes a slower route.

When Andrei Blok, Chief Engineer on the ship, is questioned about his decline of health, he makes the desperate remark: ‘How should I be recovering, exactly?’ It’s not so much the content of the query, which is a rational and inquisitive response, but the wavering tone of it as he comes to accept that potentially, no one can answer him. The pervasive silence that follows exacerbates the crew’s skepticism and bouts of self-reflexive doubt.

As Europa One and its crew deteriorate quicker than you can say ‘ballet and rocket science at 125 000 miles an hour’, the crux of their dilemma and situation becomes quite Lovecraftian. It would seem an immense feat to venture so far into space, to wear such ‘lofty’ human achievement on our shoulders as it respectfully represents the grandeur of human achievement, but the fact remains – despite being hypothetical, what’s been discovered and traveled is such a laughably minute portion of known space that it conjures a sense of giddying isolation and spatial nausea. If it were indeed the single greatest achievement in human history, you may consider why we should even be prioritising finding microbial organisms on other moons, when our own planet requires focus, funding and attention to assure even the most basic elements of our ecosystem are sustained.

To consider the last retrieved footage of Europa One is also to speculate this question – Why should we presume that if there were intelligent, extra-terrestrial life, that they should care about us at all or deem humanity significant as a species? According to Lovecraft, these kind of ‘envisioned beings’ are part of a universe which is cold and mechanical; they exist beyond the thin veil of reality that we as human beings cloak ourselves with, to protect one’s faculties from the sublime terror of the abstract, the alien, the incomprehensible. They are the ‘Old Ones’ who wait in the spaces in-between – they are not spiritually warm as they render humans insane. Another scene in the film highlights this particularly well, and is sure to delight those with a craving for sci-fi terror.

“They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the rites howled through at their seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. (Joshi 132)” (Dunwich Horror, H.P Lovecraft)

Lovecraft’s dark world of cosmicism portrays the human species as “nothing but mere insects that plague the surface of this insignificant planet we dare call our own”, and which presents a world “where instead of any heart-warming spirituality there is nothing but the cold dark void between the stars” (Halldórsson 2010). Here, Europa Report’s themes revolve around this Lovecraftian sense of cosmic indifference. And what science fiction film is complete without a “trapped out of the airlock’ situation to conjure such a notion of delectable dread? Unlike the crackling intercom dialogue in Gravity, there aren’t any religious notions of redemption and hope offered as a way of dealing with the rough end of the cosmic stick (which any intelligent space cadet would understand, considering their ventures into unknown territory).

Instead, James drifts away from the ship and receives neutral, paced dialogue from one of his team members: ‘I’m sorry James’, they resignedly state. His realisation of inescapable death becomes frantic and he professes his love for his fellow humans – the only tangible, relatable thing left as he drifts away into a cosmic void. His breathing decreases, becomes muffled and desperate, and the screen is gradually enveloped in darkness as the ship recedes into the corner of his last remaining vision. His final exertions are a series of screams – a raw, human outcry stifled by the unremittingly hostile conditions of space. The scene builds toward a sense of frustration about a doomed search for knowledge that ends in disaster; it offers this yearning and calamitous curiosity as an inherent aspect of human nature that will prevail against all odds.

Links

NASA’s Europa Discoveries

Piecing Together Tim Winton’s The Turning

Image: theaustralian.com
Image: theaustralian.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

Based on Tim Winton’s collection of short stories, The Turning is certainly an ambitious cinematic experience. As a standalone work consisting of 17 short films, each has a different director and various actors play the same characters throughout the narratives.

This may sound confusing but the short films somehow work together. It may be difficult to provide a tangible statement about the film’s purpose as a whole, but it views like a cross section of the collective fears and afflictions of its characters, which overlap through a kaleidoscope of cryptic fragments. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional light-hearted, optimistic moment, but there’s undoubtedly a sense of melancholy throughout. Winding through confronting, charming and meditative territory, the film operates like a jigsaw puzzle; the directors are careful not to reveal too many clues and you feel compelled to work it all out.

Winton’s strong point is being able to evoke a sense of place, and true to his literary style, many of the chapters are effective in the same sense – a bloodstained abattoir and winding road to liberation is shown in ‘Big World’, while an ominous landscape is depicted in ‘Fog’, where a policeman grapples with some rather unsettling recollections.
The film challenges the audience to piece each chapter together as they interlock and shift. A scene often ends abruptly and with a sense of mystery, which carries over to the next short film, as if each were spliced together to form the same kind of enigmatic, meandering journey that is nostalgically depicted in the Australian countryside.
Audiences will appreciate the diversity of these short films. The pivotal piece, ‘The Turning’, uses religious symbolism to guide a sense of hope and redemption during a confrontational scene, while a charming and playful moment of an Australian Christmas plays out in ‘Family’.

A highlight of The Turning is the chapter ‘Long Clear View’, where we are introduced to a peculiar teenager named Vic Lang, who appears in eight of the short films, played by different actors. He is fascinated by whether he may be able to see particles of matter in things around him, practices ‘not looking over his shoulder’ and wakes up during the night to check that he can still see his hands. In a rather amusing scene, he even stares down one side of his glasses, completely detached from his distant mother’s burbling dialogue. As we grasp with the curious but menacing intentions of the boy, the camera pans outward and through a mirror we see three different reflections of him. Perhaps each symbolises an outcome for his future, which is later revealed. As her debut work, director Mia Wasikowska offers some really unique and artful camera work here, as a variety of interesting angles illustrate the quaint and troublesome character arc of Vic.

The Turning is a unique cinematic initiative. As ambitious as it is, there are so many different themes and directional styles covered that everyone will resonate with a particular chapter in their own way. It’s full of skillful direction and acting, and is ultimately driven by mystery – the puzzle pieces are scattered and you move them into place yourself.

Martyrs Burrows Skin Deep

Image: thecinemamonster.com
Image: thecinemamonster.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

For those brave enough to delve into the unremitting terror of Pascal Laugier’s 2008 horror film, Martyrs, the audacious directing and morbid expedition into the outer limits of human depravity makes the film’s content simply unforgettable.

Martyrs begins with a scene showing a young girl named Lucie, who is fleeing from her torturous captors after escaping a disused abattoir where she was held. Bloodied, lacerated and frenetic, Lucie has been subject to extended periods of torture from members of a surreptitious community, who we later discover have their own ideologies and motives, asserting that their actions are for greater philosophical purpose and spiritual insight.

Once I discovered that the tone of the film was bleak, dark and malevolent, I got a sense that the torturous experiences Lucie had endured were not simply physically painful, but psychologically scarring and irreversible. As the film cuts to a scene showing an older Lucie (Mylène Jampanoï), the viewer follows her perspective and walks with her, hand in hand, down a bloodied, traumatic and revengeful path.

We observe Lucie on her murderous rampage, as she wreaks merciless havoc on the entire family of her captors. This is where the daunting presence of ambiguity seeps into plot, as the audience participates in identifying the antagonists and protagonists in the narrative.

From the perspective of the antagonists in Martyrs, there is an ideology involving martyrdom as a means for spiritual enlightenment, which is driven by the classical conditioning method of learned helplessness. Despite the numerous variations of the definition of the word “martyr”, the film offers the original Greek translation as a “witness”, in an inter-title prior to the closing credits.

According to the torture community in the film, as their victims are deprived of their humanity and ‘transcend’ into new states of being, or perhaps into states of ‘not being’, they supposedly become a witness to the afterlife. This is an interesting notion, but the boldness and the vulgarity of the imagery in Martyrs obliterates the effectiveness of this idea.

If this was intended to be one of the primary ideologies represented in the film, the comically tiny explanation into the motivation of the torturers and the overall execution of this idea is practically redundant. Even the character of Mademoiselle (Catherine Bégin), the charismatic leader of the cultist torture organisation, commits suicide after hearing Anna whisper the secrets of the ‘afterlife’ in her mutilated state. Rather than adding a layer of intrigue to the story line, this just comes across as nihilistic and infuriatingly nonsensical.

Despite some of the negative aspects of the film in terms of plot feasibility, there is a question left hanging in the air after the viewing experience. Through all the hideously confronting depictions of hyper-violence – the gut-wrenching bludgeoning, throat slicing and skinning, it forces the viewer to ask the question: “Why am I watching this?”, and really, what is it that is so attractive about viewing horror films in the first place?

For some horror fanatics, the element of suspense and the protagonist’s journey through terror is a drawcard, but in the case of Laugier’s work, there is a focus more so on brutality and cruelty – a focus on direct horror with no real resolve.

Aside from progressing the genre and setting a new benchmark for extreme horror directors to aspire to, Martyrs also operates as a nihilistic representation of how depraved and sadistic human beings are capable of being. Through experiencing the cruelty and suffering of the film’s characters, the viewer can subsequently reflect on and evaluate his or her own values toward humanity.

I wouldn’t wholeheartedly recommend Martyrs because it has its flaws. If you do see it, whatever meaning you extract from this film, I guarantee you won’t forget it overnight.

Elegant Gentlemen Have Comedic Edge

Image: theaustralian.com
Image: theaustralian.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

An Amish I.T consultant, a tyrannical Prius driver and a marginalised zombie cleaner – these are just some of the absurd characters from Australia’s excellent comedy series, The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting.

The series is a demented creation from the Jungle Boys Group, the award-winning production company whose directors have created five out of the past seven Australian Film/Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts best comedy series winners. Lovers of offbeat comedy may recognise two of those series as A Moody Christmas and the ABC’s Review with Myles Barlow.

I won’t lie, The Elegant Gentleman is fairly edgy and bold at times, so for newcomers, it may take a few viewings to fully appreciate the blackened comedic styling of the show.

Beginning its life with an online presence, producers Trent O’Donnell, Phil Lloyd and Jason Burrows deliver a hard hitting comedy that is disastrously funny and intelligently crafted. Those familiar with Phil Lloyd’s character in Review with Myles Barlow, a series that pokes fun at the act of criticism itself, know the extreme lengths Phil Lloyd goes to and the bold premises he explores.

In a similar fashion, there is no social taboo, inappropriate act or politically incorrect idea that The Elegant Gentleman doesn’t face; nothing is safe as the blackest comedy ideas are executed with such brilliance that you don’t know whether to cry or laugh. The skits stir up both hilarity and sadness at once, and you find yourself caught up in the tragedy and comedy of life itself. Dialogue and acting is so convincing that you often find yourself cringing and wishing the skit was over, only to reminisce about it and watch it again to appreciate all the subtle nuances. It’s addictive like that.

The series opens with a skit about an Amish I.T consultant named Jacob – that’s right, a supposed professional whose culture fundamentally rejects technology. Sound ridiculous enough? It’s delightfully silly. A frustrated office worker tries to highlight the absurdity that his Amish consultant is incapable of the tasks at hand as he persists with troubleshooting a technological dilemma. Carrying out all manner of approaches with crude rudimentary tools, he even begins drilling a hole into the monitor toward the end of the skit. The unbearable stupidity of this premise is perpetuated by passing office employees that tend to Jacob’s every suggestion. He remains positive and indifferent to any disdain toward his profession – ‘The old ways are sometimes the best ways’, he remarks.

Another favourite skit of mine involves Patrick Brammall as a tyrannical Prius owner named Geoff. Geoff’s exaggerated righteousness is highlighted in a series of uncomfortable dinner party scenes, and as soon as he walks in and begins a tirade of abuse, the tension is so palpable it can be cut with a knife. It plays out something like an offbeat Prius advert coupled with a psychotic egomaniac’s irrational fury; this tension is masterfully controlled as the refrain ‘Prius’ reminds us of the underlying joke. The requests Geoff makes of his dinner party guests quickly become perverted and sick; he threatens two women to kiss while the husband says, ‘You should probably do it. He drives a Prius.’

This blackened comedy series certainly won’t be for everyone. Its subversive characters and heartbreakingly realistic acting and dialogue make a strange balance between being sombre and reflective, and other times maddeningly frivolous.

It’s an edgy, forward-thinking comedy that exploits political incorrectness and inappropriateness while still being sophisticated and offering witticisms and social criticism. The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting will hijack your expectations and take you on a wild, demented, infuriating and hilarious ride. 4.5/5 for being refreshing.

Links

Review from The Australian
ABC webpage for the show
Jungle Boys Group

The Lost Highway of Masculine Identity

Image: doubefeatureshow.com
Image: doubefeatureshow.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

David Lynch is the driving force behind the psychological thriller Lost Highway, and his idiosyncratic directing style propels a dark, intriguing and ultimately terrifying journey into the heart of masculine identity.

For those familiar with the latter films in Lynch’s repertoire (Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire), it is at no surprise that Lost Highway is a challenging concoction of film aesthetics. Lost Highway is an artistic meditation fuelled by pensive symbolism, subtle allegories and a non-linear narrative structure.

Despite the relentless ambiguity and moments of surreal confusion (albeit enjoyable) which are somehow conducive to the plot, the multiple threads of the film are woven around the enigmatic character of avant-garde saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), who embarks on a journey into the treacherous core of his own sexual anxiety and inadequacies.

Many of the scenes in Lost Highway are explorations of what academic Nicholas Marino refers to as the ‘three metonymic facets of masculinity; body, identity and power’, and there is a sense of dread and uncertainty which binds these facets together within the film.

Lost Highway first offers a glimpse into the main character’s psyche with a series of vignettes which inform the audience of his sexual shortcomings. Fred suspects his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), has had an affair, and after the crushing realisation of infidelity sets in, his ultimate lack of virility and disempowerment results in psychological torment and despair.

There is an emotive scene in which Fred is unable to sexually fulfill his wife, and Lynch displays the entwined bodies as a symbolic device, illustrating gender identity in relation to this sexual tension. Juxtaposed with the ebb and flow of their bodies, an eerily ominous soundtrack creates a tone for the scene and signifies the patriarchal dread which the main character is confronted with. Here, Lynch invites the audience on a portentous expedition into the vulnerable aspects of Frank’s masculine identity.

The cause of Fred’s vulnerability is his inability to adequately have an intimate relationship with his spouse. Subsequently, Fred’s failures result in disillusionment, his future is seen to be foredoomed and his sanity becomes questionable as he revels in his inadequacies.

Fred’s internalised feelings of worthlessness are displaced and directed toward his spouse, and he is driven to explosive behaviour as the result of his own abjection, subsequently murdering Renee. Then there’s this complete shift in the film’s progression… there really is no point explaining it as you’ll find out when watching it, but suffice to say there are two seemingly separate narratives that Lynch blends together in a unique way.

Fred goes into state of repression as he attempts to deal with his own psychologically traumatised condition. Symbolically, Fred is protecting his masculine identity by repressing what academic Andreas Philaretou refers to as his ‘physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual weaknesses and shortcomings’.

There is a considerable ambivalence as to whether or not Fred commits murder in a violent frenzy of delusional identity crisis, a kind of ‘psychogenic fugue’ or split-personality disorder. It could also be interpreted that Frank’s dubious mental condition occurred directly after his heinous actions. Whatever the case, the reality of Renee’s demise is overridden by Frank’s denial and the aspects of masculine power and identity are interlinked.

The themes and allegorical representations in Lost Highway resonate within a masculine space, the anxiety-fuelled phantasmagoria of Lynch’s work operates as a terrifying yet intriguing exploration into the portentous aspects of masculine identity. Perhaps the muffled screams of sexual anxiety in Lost Highway are haunting, albeit they are thoughtful, and effectively heard.

The Harmonic Universe of Esperanza Spalding

Image: curtjazz.com
Image: curtjazz.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

There are occasions where language falls short in adequately conveying beautiful experiences. Multi-instrumentalist jazz musician Esperanza Spalding’s sophomore album, Esperanza, is such an aural journey that it defies description.

When prodigious musicians grace the planet, coupling their abilities with a dedication to their art, the world soon knows about it.

Growing up in a multi-lingual household in Portland, Oregon, Spalding showed bewildering talent at an early age, inspired by classical cellist Yo Yo Ma when she was four. It would seem as though this sudden revelation would shape her entire musical career.

‘It was definitely the thing that hipped me to the whole idea of music as a creative pursuit’, Spalding said.

Teaching herself violin, Esperanza had elevated to concertmaster for The Chamber Music Society of Oregon by the time she was 15, a community orchestra open to adults and children. In another prodigious sense, after three years of intense study, she became an instructor at the prestigious Berklee College of Music at the imponderably young age of 20.

Esperanza, a 2008 release, marks her debut as a solo artist, and unsurprisingly, it went on to become the best-selling album by a new international jazz artist in the same year. While there have been three additions to her discography since this release, it would seem a perfect place to begin, as she marks her independence and autonomy as bandleader.

The album is a pulsating soundscape of seemingly endless breadth. As bassist and singer, Esperanza’s multi-lingual approach to singing oozes a warm, hypnotic quality that is matched by her astounding physical beauty. English, Portuguese and Spanish vocals are scattered throughout the album, and it’s undeniable that each musician in the band is virtuosic in their own right. Spacious piano improvisations, spellbinding classical guitar, Brazilian rhythm and gloriously catchy walking bass lines are dispersed throughout the album.

Critic Kevin Le Gendre reflected on Esperanza’s band, saying, ‘There is no end of chordal finesse, finely wrought melodies, subtle but nonetheless hard-edged rhythmic pulsation, and above all a glowing sound canvas’.

Not atypical to the mastery of jazz musicians, the instrumental discourse of the album is never predictable and begs for repeated listening. Unlike the occasionally surging chaos of iconic experimental jazz albums such as Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, there is a kind of restraint shown which allows for an unpredictable yet structured sense of call and response. While such albums may seem cluttered or dissonant, at times lacking the sense of ‘release’ that allows musical tension to be provocative, the album Esperanza has a perfect balance of harmony and dissonance, instrumental chaos and negative space.

A highlight of the album is the song Mela, a seven minute long display of harmonic richness. Esperanza’s brilliance in jazz scatting is most evident toward the end of the song, and at times you may wonder how such vocal expansion is possible. Esperanza’s abilities show an amazing dynamic range here; she has precise control of phrasing, pitch changes, timbre and an endless sea of expressive qualities. It seems so boundless that it should exceed the capacity of vocal expression.

Esperanza is a harmonically enriching journey into musical sublimity. It exceeds the parameters of simply being called ‘jazz’, because there are so many different influences and genres at work. It is an album that presents so many interesting harmonic ideas that it could easily represent a life-time of listening; each track is a rigorous musical study in itself. Esperanza, now in her late twenties, has already accomplished so much as a musician. What could we possibly expect next?

Links

Live Esperanza – Nourish your soul
Official Homepage – For all your Esperanza needs

Kaufman Adapts With Finesse

Image: whatculture.com
Image: whatculture.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

As a film, Adaptation never really begins or ends. Images and sounds may cease, but the concepts of beginning and end, of understanding, knowing, and conclusiveness, continue floating around in a kind of boundless filmic space.

Directed by Spike Jones and released in 2002, the film’s writer, Charlie Kaufman, throws another meta-narrative spanner in the works. Based on Susan Orlean’s non-fiction novel, The Orchid Thief, the film’s plot is driven by Kaufman’s own struggles in adapting the novel into a film, yet it also portrays the dramatised events of the novel as a sub-narrative.

Using trick photography, Nicholas Cage plays both Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother, Donald, and Meryl Streep brings Susan Orlean’s character to life, the Orchid Thief’s writer in the film and in real life. Susan is portrayed as a journalist who extracts information from orchid poacher John Laroche, and finds herself caught up in a potential career scandal.

The resulting combination is one exceptionally clever, humorous and curious film. It sometimes derails itself with self-mocking tangents: ‘It’s self-indulgent, it’s narcissistic, it’s solipsistic’, Cage says in the film, reflecting on his own character’s writing credibility.

The opening scene highlights Kaufman’s weariness in his search for originality; he doesn’t want to do ‘what works’ as a shortcut to success, but to have an original voice, if that’s possible at all. In a hilarious confrontation, Kaufman even mentions that he wants to write a film about human disappointment and how nothing happens in life.

Cage’s dialogue is fatigued as he talks about the maxims which he relies on to endure the pangs of his own existence. He mutters the kind of terse, uplifting phrases that are used as a defence mechanism to avoid the onset of banality or boredom: ‘I need to make the most of it’, and, ‘today is the first day of the rest of my life’.

‘I’m a walking cliché’, Kaufman sighs.

There’s something so recognisable about the way in which Kaufman tries to examine his own life and prove his significance. It’s a kind of oppressive self-imposed guilt – an apologetic disposition toward his sense of being. He poses the question – How do we begin to grapple with the intricacies of our own circumstances and predicaments, the course of all things leading up to a single moment? Knowing is something intangible and just out of reach.

‘I’ve been on this planet for 40 years, and I’m not closer to understanding a single thing’, he says.

The film expresses a strong desire to conclude, but it never does. Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories shape the subtext of the film, and there’s an implied necessity to adapt. None of us request to be born; we are thrown into existence and it’s our role to adapt to the environment, but as we fulfil our basic physiological needs, we yearn for more. We want to want something; we want to feel passionately about that something. We want to feel grounded and reassured in the unknowable magnitudes of life, yet we also desire an escape from our own incessantly circular thought patterns.

Kaufman is confronted with the immense anxiety of trying to understand the set of variables that have led him to a present moment in time, and finds it equally difficult to know which choices will shape his future as he feels trapped in his own body. The character of Susan Orlean laments similarly –‘There are too many ideas and things and people. Too many directions to go. I was starting to believe the reason it matters to care passionately about something, is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size’. It doesn’t.

Adaptation is a special film because it leaves you with an insatiable kind of curiosity – it’s ironically tragic and beautiful at the same time. Kaufman offers the idea our own adaptability is not merely biological in an evolutionary sense – but very psychological. It’s intelligently scripted, playfully circular and well worth a watch, especially if you’re bored of adapting to Hollywood car chases and contrived dialogue.

Futuristic Funk Duo Progress Local Music Scene

Axolotl
Axolotl

Words and photography by Darren TYNAN

If you find yourself drifting through a ghost town of musical stagnation, the lingering phantoms of predictable cover songs impressed in your brain, perhaps there can be no better remedy than a good dose of original funky grooves.

Funk duo Axolotl fuse technical innovation with a superb level of musicianship. Bunbury was lucky enough to get a triple set of Axolotl as part of the Underground Cabaret held at the Lighthouse Cellars Bar over September and October 2013, and you were mad if you missed it.

Dave Nolan, a drummer with an impressive 39 years of experience, drives a nuanced rhythm section that compliments Pat O’Connor’s hybrid bass/guitar. The duo use looping devices, effects pedals and a mixing board to create different tonal textures, often spontaneously.

Reinforced by Nolan’s rhythm, the music is layered and it’s amazing to think that such a dynamic soundscape is created by two people. With a baffling array of gadgetry, it’s lucky Mr Nolan has a background in audio engineering; the sounds are tight, and if you didn’t look twice you’d think the digital drum kit being used was a state of the art accoustic set.

Built by forward thinking company Novax Guitars, Mr O Connor’s instrument is a custom 8 string which allows for bass lines and chordal harmonies to be played at the same time. When asked about his decision for playing such an unorthodox instrument, Mr O’Connor explained that he felt the need to split his resources between guitar and bass. He mentioned that this investment was a ‘new door opening’ and although it took him a while to have full control of his new axe, it’s come together quite well.

‘I’ve had it for two years now and honestly, it’s a lot of work’, he said.

Regarding the improvisational qualities of Axolotl’s sound, Mr O’Connor said that ‘at least 50% of it is created on the spot’. Even though they humorously categorise themselves as ‘Heavy Elevator’, Axolotl shouldn’t be confused with interchangeable background music; their sonic terrain is shaped by soulful guitar bends, warm, nostalgic tones and sophisticated percussion. A true sign of their skills is that they communicate so well with each other on stage; they are never ostentatious or inaccessible and the focus is always on complimentary grooves.

Mr Nolan said that after years of jamming, embracing new technology meant musical possibilities were more open than ever.

‘I think the hybrid guitar and looping system work really well together’, he said.

The duo agreed that being a musician can have its fair share of hurdles, and that constantly aiming for progression is what drives them. In a world that teems with absurdly glamorised pop icons and superficial notions of success, it’s refreshing to see such a genuine and unshakable commitment to the art of music.

‘We’ve never been driven by money. It’s about a personal journey of getting better at what you do’, Mr Nolan said.

The duo said that touring and playing at the Ellington Jazz Club in Perth would be a great way to progress their careers. Axolotl’s musical horizons remain open and they look forward to upcoming corporate gigs and weddings. They even talked about potential collaborations with locals, which could be a great prospect for another Underground Cabaret, so stay tuned!

Links

Follow Axolotl on Facebook!

Watch ‘Spider Walk’ on Youtube

Check out ‘Traveler’ while you’re at it 😉

Tidal Wave of Sound

Image: karnivool.com
Image: karnivool.com

Words by Darren TYNAN

The most recent chapter of Karnivool’s ongoing sonic legacy, ‘Asymmetry’, hit shelves nationally on 19 July 2013 and unsurprisingly. I wasn’t the only desperate fan salivating upon its arrival.

The Perth rock outfit refined their work in 2005 with full-length debut album ‘Themata’, and 2009’s release, ‘Sound Awake’, gave musical sustenance to hungry fans. It’s been eight years since Karnivool’s debut, and like a complex ale that’s matured over the years, the band’s new album is richly layered with progressive flavours.

The fact that this album has a different feel to previous work will perhaps be a source of contention among fans. It’s dark, introspective, has more dynamic scope and is more spacious than previous albums. Don’t fear though. Put on your best headphones, immerse yourself, and be rewarded with a treasure trove of sounds.

Musically, Asymmetry is a mixed bag. Meandering layers of clean guitar, emotive and penetrating bass, vocal samples, deep, resonating overdriven chords and swirling ambience all culminate with sophistication and complexity.

The track ‘Om’ is an example of the new dimensions Karnivool are exploring. ‘Om’ explores the Buddhist idea of the illusion of separation. The track features a completely stripped back soundscape; piano keys ring out pensively while the power of the spoken word moves the listener.

‘A M War’ is another highlight on the album and truly showcases the musical control the band has over their instruments. It shows their masterful use of aural space – they know when to build suspense, when to attack hard, when to come to the fore and remain in the background.

This aforementioned track is saturated in darkness, as vocalist Ian Kenny warns, ‘We’re almost out of time, in this hopeless cold divide’. The suspense is thick, and the song builds again as dissonant guitar chords ring out, illustrating angst and dread.

Karnivool is still as heavy-hitting as always, but have infused their distinct sound with a new level of musicianship. I was lucky enough to catch Karnivool live a few years back, and their performance was excellent. One thing that stood out to me is how this album is tinged with a ‘live’ atmosphere at times.

The mixing never sounds too clinical or dry, and seems to be a perfect balance between studio production-quality music and the ‘raw’ human energy and attack synonymous with their live shows.

Asymmetry is palpably heavy in more ways than one. It is a sonically distinctive album, and is a must-listen for fans of contemporary Australian rock with a progressive edge. The breadth of the album is doubtless; the melodies linger in your brain long after they cease.

Time will tell that this work is a perfect example of the powerful art of storytelling through music; Asymmetry is a force to be reckoned with.

Links

The Vool’s website

Check out ‘We Are’