The documentary Conny Plank: The Potential Of Noise was more touching than I expected. The film is a collaboration of director Reto Caduff and Stephan Plank, Conny’s son. Stephan drives the documentary as conversations with musicians who worked with Conny Plank help him understand and rediscover his father.
Conny Plank died of cancer at 47 when Stephan was just 13. A lot of Stephan’s memories of his father revolve around these odd musicians who stayed and worked at the farmhouse studio. Often the musicians would join the family for dinner (indulgently prepared by Stephan’s mother Christa), and they would become Stephan’s temporary playmates in between sessions. So, in this documentary, Stephan is meeting people who not only have perspectives on his father but are also part of shadowy childhood memories. The musicians are also taken aback — the last time they saw Stephan he was a child and an oblivious studio mascot.
The highlight of the documentary is Stephan’s meeting with the classic rap duo Whodini. Did you remember that Conny Plank produced part of Whodini’s first album? I forgot, too, until this film pleasantly reminded me. Whodini was an upstart act in their late teens, suddenly flown to a farmhouse in rural Germany in a bold choice by their label. The duo grew to love the eccentric but brilliant Conny Plank, and this love and respect pour out of their interview segment. Stephan is visibly emotional as he hears another warm story of the universal impact and guiding influence of his father. Even I choked up a little.
There’s so much more in this film, including interviews with Michael Rother (Neu! and — early on — Kraftwerk guitarist), Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart (who may have been the last to work with Plank), and Holger Czukay (Can). Czukay comes off as kind of a jerk in his honesty about how Conny cared more about his studio than his relationship with his young son. It seems that Stephan has come to terms with this.
Noticeably absent is Brian Eno who stepped into Plank’s studio on more than one occasion. A section on the recording of Devo’s first album allows Eno most of his screen time, and that’s given to Gerald Casale talking about how he didn’t like Eno’s attempt to add his ‘pretty’ vocals and synth lines throughout the record.
Conny Plank: The Potential Of Noise is inspiring and a stirring tribute to a person who lived the creative life. But most of all it’s the story of a son finding his talented but distant father. With Father’s Day approaching, I can’t think of a better movie to watch, especially for those of us missing our dads.
Conny Plank: The Potential Of Noise currently streaming on Amazon Prime and available as a ‘rental’ on other services. And here’s a fine interview with Stephan Plank about the documentary. For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure the no-show Stephan refers in that piece is Eno, not Bono.
- Readying Monta At Odds‘ Unsuspecting album for release on January 18 on my 8D Industries label. This is a reissue of the Kansas City combo’s first album from 2005, and I’m planning for it to be the first in a reissue series for this prolific band.
- I’m also expanding my consultancy, a big plan for 2019. I just sent a proposal to one prospective client and will be checking on a couple of others next week. There will be a website for my music publishing consultancy, which I’ll be working on in earnest once January 18 passes. I’m also debating another site focusing on my DIY label management consultancy.
- The daily blog practice has been amazing. I’m so happy I relaunched this. So far, I only missed a few days around Christmas and NYE. But I must remind myself it’s not a competition — there’s no pressure.
- After spending a week in the sticks (that is, a remote wooded location), I’m back home in time for some beautiful Florida weather. We’ve paddle-boarded two days in a row and it’s possible we’ll make it three. That might be it for a while as the weather looks to go downhill starting tomorrow.
- Movie: last night we watched Leave No Trace and loved it.
- Music: listening to Ultramarine’s terrific new album, and today’s been a Sun Ra day with the albums Crystal Spears and Sun Ra Exotica (the latter a great starting place for any Sun Ra neophytes).
- Reading: How To Make It Big as a Consultant. At times an amusing read as it’s a little outdated but there’s plenty of useful advice within.
Some movie talk for today, three films in particular. First of all: Roma. I believe Alfonso Cuarón has come into his own with this picture. Fans of his previous work may feel he had already arrived (Children of Men is a masterpiece, yes) but bear with me. The lengthy single takes that Cuarón is known for often overshadow his movies — reviews of Children of Men always mention shots like that famous car scene, and bringing up Gravity elicits talk of its 17-minute opening scene. There are plenty of impressive long takes in Roma, but Cuarón has settled into a lyrical style with his camera where these scenes draw you in rather than drawing attention to themselves. Cuarón alludes to this in a must-read profile in The New York Times:
“ … what they’re calling technique in film — and I’m not talking about commercial movies — isn’t technique. It’s language. When Tarkovsky makes decisions about framing and about how to move the camera, they’re not technical decisions, or even stylistic ones. They’re requirements of the language that he needs for his filmic experience.”
I loved Roma, and the Tarkovsky shout-out isn’t far off (there’s a bit of Fellini, among other masters, in there, too). Regardless of the camera’s ‘language,’ the personal story told in the film, with a powerful social and political undercurrent, is affecting. This one got under my skin.
On a less intimate note, how disruptive would it be if Netflix took home an Oscar? There’s a discussion to be had about Netflix and other streamers as the present home of bigger budget ‘art films,’ as theaters continue to lean hard into the superhero/event movie paradigm. Amazon’s been supporting upper-tier indie film a bit longer than Netflix (though their commitment has been questioned), and HBO seems to be ramping up their indie
But I did see an ‘art movie’ at an actual theater in the past week. We visited Enzian Theater, our local, long-running independent film establishment, for The Favorite. I admit I was lukewarm on The Lobster — it fell apart for me in the last half — and though The Favorite does not entirely convince me, I liked it a bit more than that previous film. It’s fun. Despite the other high-profile stars, it’s Olivia Coleman’s movie, isn’t it?
I don’t go to the theater that often and this recent experience opened some thoughts as to why. Maybe it’s just me, but I am often distracted in a theater and find it difficult to ‘get into’ the movie. I enjoy completely losing myself to a good film, and occasional murmurs and coughs and – in the case of the Enzian, which I do love – servers walking around take me out of the story. But I don’t think movie-goers have changed as much as we’ve changed as watchers. My huge TV, subwoofer-enhanced sound, and distraction-free home environment spoil me, and I can’t imagine watching the swirling images of Roma any other way. This home theater preference is a significant problem for non-event movie studios and theaters, which is why the support of Netflix et al. is increasingly essential.
I’m not sure if Shane Carruth would accept any Netflix money, though. With Primer and Upstream Color, Carruth took independent film-making to a whole new level as the sole engineer every step of the way: writer, director, producer, composer, lead actor, and so on. He was even one of the distributors in the case of Upstream Color, selling hi-res downloads of the movie from his own site. It probably wouldn’t matter if these were lousy films, but I find them wonderful, elusive statements and completely vision-driven. Scott Tobias wrote a terrific new piece on Upstream Color for Polygon:
Upstream Color exists just outside the realm of comprehension, which isn’t a bug but a feature, designed to keep the mind circling back to it like some unscratchable itch that flares up every once in a while. Some filmmakers like to give viewers something to solve but it takes an audacity to leave a few ellipses and risk riling up the sleuths. […]
There’s plenty of room for speculation over [the movie’s] questions, but unlike the mappable timeline chicanery of Primer, they’re unmoored and abstract. Carruth has full command of his effects in Upstream Color, but he doesn’t seem interested in directing viewers toward specific conclusions more than general ones.
As for Shane Carruth and his next project — The Modern Ocean perhaps? — there’s been radio silence. In the meantime, Carruth can be found doing side-jobs like his beautiful score in the first season of TV’s The Girlfriend Experience, or his lead acting role in The Dead Center. Fans may be frustrated that he’s in front of the camera more than behind it, but I see Carruth taking a cue from John Cassavetes. In time, the side hustles will fund his next project, allowing continued independence and an unbroken vision.
That’s an actual photo of this morning’s sunrise. For reals. As Kimmy Schmidt says, “Hash brown: no filter.”
I soft-launched the new blog today — which means I let my ‘friends’ know about it on Facebook — with an expanded version of yesterday’s tribute to Pete Shelley. The reaction so far is positive. David even thinks I’ve got a “good blog name.”
I was posting mini-blog posts on Instagram (or, ‘status updates,’ as I was calling them, inspired by Warren Ellis’s experiment) to get warmed up for the daily blogging routine, which I’ll explain tomorrow. Once I get going here I’ll probably stop the Instagram posts — or maybe not? This is a work in progress, and I’m happy to change it day-to-day.
We watched Hereditary. That’s a crazy movie. Crazy good, too. Terrific score by Colin Stetson. I like how its nuttiness is on a slow simmer for most of the movie, and then in the last fifteen minutes the nuttiness pot boils over and messes up the stovetop. It reminds me a lot of Kill List, a movie you should see if you haven’t (and, like Hereditary, best watched without knowing anything about it). Am I the only one who thinks the hidden subtext of Hereditary is a warning about the dangers of smoking bowls in high school?
I got the notion to watch Hereditary because Terry Grant AKA More Ghost Than Man created a Spotify playlist of his favorite modern film score selections. It’s a fantastic listen, from top to bottom:
Here’s a paragraph I like from the article Twenty-Five Years After His Death, Frank Zappa Lives On in Playboy (insert ‘reading it for the articles’ joke here):
Zappa always flirted with Modernist string music, but he really married the form in 1983 with the release of London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. I, his fourth project to employ an orchestra. The album inspired revolutionary recording and editing techniques to take on an orchestra, but when asked if he expected to make any money off the concerts and tapes he flatly said no. “Why then do you do it?” a TV reporter asked him at the time. “I came here to spend money on an English orchestra to record my music so I can take it home and I can listen to it. And if somebody else likes that kind of stuff I will make it available on a record so that they can hear it,” Zappa replied.
I’m not the biggest Frank Zappa fan (his appearance on Crossfire is my favorite work of his), but I have loads of respect for the sentiment of making the music you want to hear, and if someone else comes along who’s into it then bonus time.
I’m obsessing over the look of this blog. That’s what I’ll be doing most of the weekend — working on a blog. The theme is called Alia, and the developer has been a sweetheart, kindly answering my constant questions with helpful nuggets of CSS code. I think this place is looking pretty good so far.
Stepped outside yesterday afternoon and happened to look toward the easterly sky, and caught the tail end of a SpaceX rocket as it left the atmosphere. We’ve got a great, unobstructed view of Cape Canaveral launches from our house, even though we’re just under 60 miles away. The sky was cloudless, so I wish I had seen it from the beginning. Is there any way to receive alerts for impending rocket launches from the Cape? There are a couple of iPhone apps I’ve tried that supposedly do this, but they don’t work — no notifications received yesterday. (Dec. 18 Update: the iOS app LaunchTime did send a notification an hour before today’s aborted launch.)
Read a fine profile on Phillip Glass in the Washington Post, titled If You Think You Know Who Philip Glass Is, You Probably Don’t. From that article:
Glass also addresses the fallacy that all he does is play the same chords over and over. Certainly the language he developed, unhelpfully labeled ‘minimalism,’ involved subtle variations of similar patterns. But, “It never repeated all the time,” Glass writes in his memoir, “for if it had, it would have been unlistenable.” The chords are constantly shifting and changing; that’s the point.
Some amusement here at the label of minimalism as ‘unhelpful,’ as most approach the categorization head-on.
Last night we watched the documentary McQueen (streaming on Amazon Prime): fascinating, heartbreaking. I learn a lot from documentaries about creative people who I previously knew nothing about.
I’ve started slowly working my way (and it will be slow) through Quietus’s ‘Albums of the Year’ list, a yearly tradition. I’m at 100 and enjoying the album Lekhfa by Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca and Tamer Abu Ghazaleh … we’re off to a good start. (UPDATE: now I’m on to 99, the latest Simian Mobile Disco album, which a treat as well.)
- This month’s theme was motivation, or how to get it back or track. After weeks of eye complaints and restraints, and back-to-back travel from Nashville to Edinburgh, it was a challenge to rediscover my productivity mojo. I spent way too much time rearranging my Omnifocus set-up, thinking about morning routines, and optimizing for capturing a deep work mindset. The first couple weeks felt like slo-mo, a lot of running in place, not getting much accomplished. Of course, the secret is to dive in — perfect Omnifocus set-up be damned — and start. I’m finally at a solid daily clip, which is good as I’ve decided on some ambitious goals over the next few months.
- Related to my motivation pit, current events (especially here in the US) have me down. I know I’m not alone in how this affects the work mood. Some of my peers talk about moving to another country, but I think a better solution is to create my own (mental) country. Distance me from the news, outside influences, current events — build a creative utopia of my mind. Focus on making things to make the world better. I can’t do my best work and be helpful if I’m curled up in a ball worrying about the state of things. I had already done this to a degree (this article by Ryan Holiday is an inspiration) but there was some leakage, especially from Twitter. David Moldawer says Twitter turned his phone into a ‘depression machine’ and I can relate. Though I’m not leaving social media (but tempted, see Jaron Lanier), I’ve decided to treat it as a one-way street. I’m posting, but I’m not reading. If you @ me, I’ll look and probably reply, but that’s as far as my interaction goes. And no more social media apps on my phone or tablet. Not in my country.
- On the other hand, I’ve rediscovered Day One and Pocket and have enrolled in the subscription plans offered by both. Pocket has added highlighting on mobile devices (please add this to the browser version soon!) which makes noting and cataloging sections of interest in articles a breeze. Then I can shoot those articles into Day One, add the highlighted text and appropriate tags, and I’ve got fodder for blog posts or future reference material. I’ve also started journaling daily in Day One as paper journaling was a personal bust. I really wanted to make a paper journal work, but I find more inspiration in an electronic platform (and I start each entry with a photograph of that morning’s sunrise over our lake, which motivates) and writing by hand only reminds me how awful my handwriting is. Even I have problems deciphering my scrawl. I’m happy with this set-up, and am even moving my digital commonplace book out of DEVONthink and into Day One (no slight intended on DEVONthink … it’s a terrific Evernote alternative that I’ll use primarily for business purposes here on out).
- The Timucua Arts Foundation and its White House concert venue are Orlando treasures, and I wish your town had them, too. Combine with local arts collective Civic Minded 5 and our city is regularly treated to mind-expanding music in a beautiful live setting. The Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Zeena Parkins performances were recent, legendary treats — and this month brought the Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit all the way from Scandinavia to deliver an incredibly intense set of explorer jazz. The stage at the White House is small and intimate, which made this unit seem larger than it already was: two drummers (creating a lovely stereo field), two bass players (alternating between stand-up and electric bass), an accordionist, a brass section that included tuba, trumpet, trombone, and three saxophones (with occasional switches to clarinet and flute), a guitarist (percussive, noisy, great), and an electronics/laptop dude who stepped in front to manically conduct the band at one point. It was as impressive as it sounds. Any time there’s a Civic Minded 5 promoted show at the Timucua White House, it’s a mandatory event.
- I reconnected with Dave Tomaselli, whose Statra label I used to promote at 8DPromo. He’s now working with Paperchain, a technology company worth checking out. There’s a promise in their model of tracking and advancing royalties, and I’m even more intrigued by an imagined future of automated royalty calculation and payout to artists, creating a solution for labels that are allergic to and unreliable with accounting (which is like 98% of them).
- My client Buddhist Army released the vinyl 12” version of Arthur Landing’s Spring Collection EP this month and it’s making some waves. Gilles Peterson played a track on his 6Music show, and Test Pressing published a quick interview with Arthur’s Landing founder Steven Hall.
- What I Read This Month:
- What I Watched This Month:
- What I Listened To This Month:
IF Music Presents You Need This: An Introduction To Black Saint & Soul Note
Arp – Zebra
King Tubby & Prince Jammy – Ghetto Dub
Kamasi Washington – Heaven & Earth
Agitation Free – 2nd
SQÜRL – Paterson (Original Score)
Alessandro Cortini – AVANTI
Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage
Skee Mask – Compro
Technicolor Paradise: Rhum Rhapsodies & Other Exotic Delights
- A Few Other Things I Enjoyed This Month:
Poppinuts 001 – Eno
Synthedelia: Psychedelic Electronic Music in the 1960s
Djs Having Assistants Picking Tracks For Them Is A Dangerous Move
Inside Vaporwave’s Floppy Disk Micro-Boom
How Did A Major Label Manage To Lose A John Coltrane Record?
A Brief History Of Our Addiction To Loudness
Detroit is Techno City, and Techno is Black
Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics Explained
Speak & Spell: The Toy That Talked Back
Legendary Experimental Composer Jon Hassell Is Still Dreaming Up New Worlds
The Futuro House: Spaceship Living On Earth
The Legacy of Conny Plank
Has 2018 Killed The Pop Star?
How Headphones Changed the World
Remembering The Engineer Who Created Rock’s Unmistakable Fuzz
Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore
How David Bowie Invented Ziggy Stardust
No Hope, No Fear: Industrial Music In Zagreb