Sigur Ros 'Heima' / Forum II / 29 Oct 2007

"Filmed and recorded entirely on location in Iceland"

This epigraph, which is actually Heima's postscript, really says it all. The film performs Sigur Rós relationship to their homeland, as they in turn perform to, within and for their environment.


Before we saw the film tonight, and thus before I go on to discuss it, Sigur Rós gave us a short acoustic set. They played three songs, with only piano, acoustic guitar and bass, and drums. Such a set was obviously disarmingly stripped down for Sigur Rós, whose majesty is normally glanced under mountains of electric effects of terrifying and awe-some heaviness. Yet even through such unplugged 'quietness' were Sigur Rós able to effect an aching beauty through their masterful knowledge of musical texture. Nevertheless, such a performance was indeed a strange set up for the film, which itself would largely choose to follow the band's recorded works' incessant privileging of moving, baroque aesthetics.

Yet in many ways this short performance was in tune with many other dimensions to the band that would so easily seem to slot into more traditional, linear notions of creativity; they seem to let their art do the talking - evident not only in their crafting of 'Hopelandic' (a made-up language used by singer Jón Þór Birgisson on many of their songs) but also their trademark curtness when it comes to answering questions displayed tonight at the anti-climactically underwhelming Q&A session following the film. Sigur Rós seem at all times to say 'let the art speak for itself' in very linear forms of representation. But as tonight's three-pronged performance assemblage (set, film, Q&A) would prove, no matter how it might seem, Sigur Rós constitute a truly limitless, interlinked, radical practice that escapes definition even within itself - demonstrated most fruitfully between the contradictions that would show up between what I am about to go on to describe in the film, and the performance and Q&A bookending it. 'Reading between the lines' for these paradoxes should be easy enough, and now back to the film.


Heima translates to 'at home'. This amazingly pretty film plays out, works through and presents, a band's relationship with home - the narrative surfaces, as it were, how Sigur Rós' music is conceived and how it comes to take place. Because cultural production is entirely mappable - but that isn't to say that it's also reflective (or that culture=nature). Because no matter how much critics (me included) might employ an arsenal of environmental, scenic metaphors to describe this band's music - glacial, otherworldly, icey, etc. - Heima demonstrates emphatically that the relationship between a band's music and their environment (metonyms of culture and nature) is never settled, and never simply a matter of mirroring or reflection. All throughout the film, for instance, never is there anything like an easy correspondence between sound (music) and film image (which by extension we could say is the landscape) - they are always intermezzo, in between - fuzzy and proliferate - like the reverse footage of waterfalls and mist, or the interspersions of the audience arriving and then applauding (which we see but don't 'hear') periodically through the 'proper' footage of the band performing the penultimate song Popplagið. Indeed, as the film tracks the journey of Sigur Rós through continually more breathtaking and beautiful landscapes and different performance venues, it actually shows how their performance narrative collapses the distinction between nature and culture. Their relationship is so complex, intertwined, at times disjunctive and contradictory, at others more mimetic, that any clear cut between the two is simply impossible and furthermore, unwanted.

Such is most explicit when the band visit a man who finds different fallen slate rocks that vary in tone to make 'geological marimbas', which the band then proceed to play inside a cave. Although this is the clearest instance, continually does the film refuse to separate out (and thus propose a simplistic mirror or equally simplistic ignorance) music making and locale. Throughout, Sigur Rós literally embed their performances of songs within certain places - inside old fishing factories, at the site of a flooded dam and various other landscapes, churches, and so on. And as the film progresses, we see that they not only perform for their landscape, but that they indeed enact it.

Such obviously ties to the obvious purpose of the performances (a series of free, unannounced concerts throughout Iceland in 2006) as about 'giving back' to the people and the land that they create from, in many ways quite literally - the concerts are free and open; one of the members of Amiina (Sigur Rós' backing string quartet) mentions how the local press described this as a noble undertaking, one that instilled a sense of inclusiveness and national pride, even. Furthermore, the performance at the site of the flooded dam, Snæfellsskála, politicises itself through form - the band choose not to use a generator because that would be complicit in many ways with the same aluminum companies responsible for flooding Snæfellsskála, who want to use the location to extract power. As such, this song is performed entirely acoustically, and captured on only camera microphone. Here we can hear and even see the sound of the environment as it plays Sigur Rós and as they play it - the grainy quality of the sound through wind - this is a distinct moment in the film as it shuns the almost hyperreal aesthetics of many other perfectly captured and post-mixed performances, Heima thereby instituting and demanding a politics of sound in difference to itself. That is not to say that the other moments of 'hyperclarity' (if anything Heima is an argument for digital film) of vision and sound are insignificant, in fact it is probably these moments that intimate the profundity of the film and this band. Like the moments when the excess of sound from a performance shown ruptures not only the devices used to record it but those that present it to us, thereby spilling over outside of the text, shaking the stage of the forum - shaking our very bodies.

To the point: this film, this love letter to Iceland, this sonic postcard, shows the very overwhelming 'livingness' of space - although many camera shots are static, the film presents an almost always overpowering visual and aural aesthetics of excessive beauty that causes one to simply realise that this place (and indeed, this very film - which is another matter entirely; but for now I think about the unbelievable feeling of whole-body goosebumps I got when I saw and heard and moreover felt Starálfur, and how Heima is somehow more than being at the concerts shown) is alive, breathing and animate - and it is continually (re)animated through Sigur Rós' music, through sound. There is no split between nature and culture, there is actually no distinction - instead there is the knowledge that everything, everywhere is a sounding board - the revelation of the overwhelming physicality of music that Heima presents. Watching (hearing, feeling) this film is an entry into the absolute limitlessness of nature's continually unfolding, shifting sonic texture, that eventually can no longer be understood (my attempt here has undoubtedly failed to convey the experience) but must be felt.


Radiohead - In Rainbows

At the risk of sounding absurd, I actually think the now-infamous way in which Radiohead distributed their seventh longplayer is more complicated and requires longer contemplation than In Rainbows itself. For that reason, I'll shy away from looking at the significance of the 'you choose how much', zero hour, online release to give a quick comment on what we're actually left with: the album.

Warm and Lucid…

For a band that has spent most of their career yoking alienation, this seems like a strange summary of any of their work. But, for me, that's what In Rainbows is, an inviting album of astounding clarity.

From the first track 15 Step, when Yorke's voice and off-kilter drums emerge of out what would be the normal Radiohead sludge and uncertainty around 30 seconds in, to the final, gripping piano (every key just hits you) of Videotape, everything announces itself immediately, and shines with a rare lucidity. I'm not saying that Radiohead have previously preferred a mushy mix, but just listen to the way that the bass pops in on 15 Step, the deeply resonating acoustic guitar of Faust Arp, and so on - you can HEAR it all, and it sounds... beautiful. Just listen to the way Weird Fishes resolves itself into Arpeggi.

Again, Radiohead have always been heavily affecting, and beautiful, but the WARMTH on display here is truly amazing, considering the drawn-out anger of Hail To the Thief and the alien, ice-brittle electronics of Kid A (and its cousin, Amnesiac). Sure, Yorke is still exploring the parameters of isolation, pervasive ennui and so on, but musically the album tells a different story. Listen to the strings, a returning motif throughout the album, and you can't help but be truly enveloped by the beauteous quality of this music. The textures are overall softer, the sentiment less evil (maybe tending towards apathetic, but then that doesn't quite describe it either).

For me, the highlight of the album is that which it explicitly foregrounds: the drums. They are so varied and crucial here. Kind of like signal stations, tripperer-upperers, skeletons, flesh, who knows what exactly. But they are unique, and they just bring you in. Maybe it’s this percussion that helps me from feeling lost like I normally might when I listen to Radiohead; it certainly seems that way on Reckoner.

Radiohead have always established a relationship of beauty in spite of - tugging at the listener's emotion from great distances, folding over alienation and identification. For the first time, In Rainbows simply presents itself as beautiful, and invites you in.

(get it for yourself, name your price)

everything ever

(Please note, none of this is terribly insightful; it has been said better in many different places and forms - songs, for instance.)

Firing connections...

When I interviewed Mike Lindsay, co-founder of Tunng, about the band's new album Good Arrows, I asked him about the idea of anomie and inclusion that seems to pervade the record, signalled by the endless things crashing together on the album cover and in song titles (all one word word; String, Hands, Spoons, and so on).
It’s very much about humanity, and this life and what you can take from it ... it's about enjoying the everyday little things, which you kind of overlook, and I think that's what the artwork and the titles of the songs are about - the single, very small objects or things that when you put them together can kind of make something a little bit more beautiful or full.

This reminded me of watching Melbourne band Deloris around the beginning of this year when they launched Ten Lives. Frontman Marcus Teague is a person so full of ideas that they overflow into the surreal banter inbetween songs. In little narratives he paraphrases the songs about to be played and what they're about, bringing up these amazing, apparently spontaneous connections between things.

Deloris and Tunng both offer us a different way of looking at the explosion of 'things' in our everyday lives, the totality of objects, as other than overwhelming or trivial (objects of a exponentially increasing consumer society). It's something akin to animism, but maybe it's even plainer than that - it's simply about learning to invest things with meaning, and to understand that 'everything' is significant and joyous, rather than monolithic or oppressive.

Of course, the way in which each band works through this idea differs. Tunng seem to offer a sort 'the whole is greater than the sum' idea, whereas Deloris reach for a kind of 'Everything Ever' (the title of a song) sameness. And that's not a bland, debilitating sameness either. In fact, when sameness is stigmata and escalating difference is chief production of late capitalism, it seems to me that these forms of inclusiveness are redemptive and social, in the most banal and meaningful sense of that word.

Amongst other things, Good Arrows works through modern life's ability to fragment us, and our communal attempts (they're lyrical address is always a 'we') at putting ourselves and things back together. It's not unequivocally positive, to be sure, but then that would be idealistic. Tunng are more concerned with surfacing, not so much optimism.

Deloris span landscapes, histories, generations, and establish connections everywhere. Emmy Hennings mentioned how the circular form of Teague's writing sort of embodies this:
He's one of those fairly unusual writers who, particularly in his solo output, likes to write lyrics than resemble a very long string - lines run into and over each other and the volume of words always threatens to spill over, to erupt - into what I'm not sure. Outside the boundaries of the song?

And Deloris use the inclusive address, too. Says Teague:
Just thinking about the 'we' point of view on Woah Oh - the idea, this is going to sound really pompous but, the idea is that you can transcend your own time. In my brain, each verse was addressing a kind of thing that exists, like wood, or smoke, or rock or something like that and then seeing how that has existed in the past, referencing that, referencing how it exists now and how it could exist in the future.

The overflowing beauty of the world itself, the world we (will) live(d) in.

Deloris – Woah Oh

Tunng - Bullets


before the night owl


Radiohead: In Rainbows; free as a bird.


smash a kangaroo

(con)temporary has been getting a little political lately, but I can't help it. The following is a little touchy (and possibly a really flawed, weak argument), so please disagree if you see any problems, but it's just an initial response to something that really disappointed me.

Recently I came across this music project Heaps Decent, an awesome non-profit music initiative that "intends to seek out young indigenous and underprivileged artists and change Australian club music forever" by connecting popular recording artists with these kids and providing resources, skills development and performance opportunities. Radical hey? In light of Emmy Hennings recent article in mess+noise, The Dismissal, in which she asks, "In this election year why does so little Australian music matter politically?", Heaps Decent is a highly topical and radically positive project in light the of oppressive government 'intervention' into Aboriginal communities and continued lack of support for basically any marginalised Australian communities Howard has shown. Sure it might not actually produce structural changes (as if music alone could?), but by giving these kids a voice through popular, mainstream artists it certainly gets the word out there. Sounds great right?

Well it is, but it's also fairly depressing when you learn that it took an international artist to actually fly in here and set the thing up. This isn't an initiative spearheaded by politically conscious Australian musicians (an extinct species?) but DJ/producer Diplo. Dude's a legend - I remember at this year's Big Day Out he completely overstepped all the patriotic bullshit around the flag-waving issue by wearing a tee with the Australian Aboriginal flag - and now he's bought out Heaps Decent, recording a track with some indigenous hip-hop kids called Smash a Kangaroo to launch the project (streaming at the Myspace). Clearly I'm not knocking Diplo, but it's just sad that it took him to come up with this.

And now the project's started up, and is being run by Aussies Andrew Levins and Nina Agzarian, you'd think there'd be a bunch of established Australian artists clamouring to get on board? Well I recently read that another international artist has recorded a track for the project - M.I.A. Again, she's a legend - extremely politically conscious - and she's dropped a track with students at an all-girls school in a juvenile justice centre! According to the Heaps Decent blog, the song's probably called Popo Mind Control and is officially "the HOTTEST CLUB TRACK YOU EVER HEARD!". Well if there's no Australian artists involved (yet), you'd at least think our press is paying attention right? Wrong - even though its been featured in high-profile international media like NME and Pitchfork, apart from Sydney's FBi our outlets have been a little slow (ie. nonexistent) on the uptake.

Now, again, I have to reiterate that I think this project is awesome, and I commend Levins and Agazarian, and any others that are running it over here in Australia. But like I said, it's disappointing that it took international artists to actually come on board to get this thing going, to me that speaks of a real dearth of not only political conscience but also conviction in Australian music in general. As Emmy said, Powderfinger and Silverchair are happy to tie their mega dollar making Across the Great Divide tour to Reconciliation Australia (good on them), but that's barely a beginning. Emmy calls for a music that offers a political challenge "as music ... that provokes, threatens, engages or discomfits", and although I agree this is needed, I think what we really need is also solid, progressive, socially linked projects like Heaps Decent, with popular Australian musicians behind them. Besides, the music advocated by Emmy, that only offers an 'evocative' political challenge, so often doesn't translate into concrete action - in fact, it may even work to blunt it (think of Love of Diagrams - are they not the perfect soundtrack to a politics of 'nothing', of inaction? Sure they might evoke a certain form of frustration felt by the electorate, but rather than channel it anywhere useful, they simply register a diffuse anger or fear (which are the same thing) that is arguably the reason why this country has lived for 11 years under perhaps its most oppressive government yet - we know we're angry, but we won't do anything about it). Heaps Decent is not only engaging its audience as music, but also powerfully connecting with social issues and lending voice to underprivileged young people. I just wish Australian acts (and media) might get behind the microphone with them.


as you toast high times on the gravy train

Media machinations and pop wars...

Former Stone Roses singer Ian Brown launched a stinging tirade against Kylie Minogue today after she was honoured as an idol at the Q Awards.
Brown, who won the Q Legend award [deservedly], told BBC Radio: "I don't think she's cute. I don't think she's good looking ... I don't know what Kylie's doing at music awards to be honest." (mX, 9.10.07, p3)

Nor it seems, does she - take a look at her 'acceptance' speech via Sky News via Courier Mail. Hilarious.

... Brown said Minogue's music was "rubbish" and "made for little kids".
"I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm putting her down but there's a lot of great minds out there making music and she's not one of them."
Accepting the award for Q Idol earlier, Minogue said: "Just don't ask me what it means but I'm very grateful and honoured to be receiving this." (mX again)

Now I don't really agree with Brown's conviction (c'mon, she's worked with Gondry; and Panda Bear lists her inside Person Pitch - indie cred ahoy! More than Kanye even?) but it's hard not to really when she serves up lines like that.

Elsewhere, described by No Rock And Roll Fun as the 'seventh most important awards' of the year ("held on a Monday lunchtime over a bare dinner table, like a head of departments meeting in a failing comprehensive, and with about as much impact"), the Q Awards were a bastion of sharp judgement: Artice Monkeys 'Best Act in the World Today' (nothing like a bit of overblown British parochialism; Britpop Mark 2) and Kaiser Chiefs' Ruby 'Best Video' (anyone who's seen this mess of thing would probably beg to differ - how about Plaster Casts of Everything, Klaxons' epic trilogy, Dr Love? To name but a few...).

Actually, Ian, love ya mate, but maybe take a squiz at the mediocre output of your own patch before trashing 'our' Kylie.

SWEET IRONY UPDATE: The ever-reliable mX reports today (11/10/07) that Amy Winehouse's "prestigious Q Award for Best album" was found left in the toilets of a London bar! Where it belongs!


for want of music

It is exactly the same with stereophonic effects. We are all obsessed (and not only in music) with high fidelity, obsessed by the quality of the musical ‘rendering’. On the console of our systems, armed with our tuners, our amplifiers and our speakers, we regulate the bass and the treble, we mix, we combine, we multiply the tracks, in search of an impeccable technique, an infallible music. I still remember a control room in a recording studio where the music, diffused on four tracks, came at once in four dimensions, and of a sudden seemed viscerally secreted in the interior, with a surreal relief… It was no longer music. Where is the degree of technological sophistication, where the threshold of ‘high fidelity’ beyond which music as it were disappears? For the problem of the disappearance of music is the same as that of history: it will not disappear for want of music, it will disappear in the perfection of its materiality, in its very own special effect. There is no longer judgment, nor aesthetic pleasure, it is the ecstasy of musicality...
(Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Year 2000 Will Not Happen’)

Sitting at my old house, where 'my' room now feels more like a fossilised teenagerhood exhibit or storage closet, listening to Amiina's new album Kurr. There's no sound system in this here, so I've got it spinning on the DVD player, which is connected via only one AV plug to a shitty old television set with a tinny monologue speaker. I lay on the bed, in quarter-light, hearing this TV courageously attempt - and inevitably fail - to hold the glassy pitch of Sogg, everything crackling and pulsating in all its imperfect materiality. It's a glorious experience; the songs come out more beautifully than ever before; suitably, as if played through a little ballerina music box. This grainy, burbling amplification presents its textures in tangible relief.

This is the supreme importance both of music as material body and affect, and of different amplification's bearing on that. Fuck fidelity. For listening to Kurr on what might be classified as the worst possible source was actually the most pleasurable musical events I've been through in a long time.

Amiina - Sogg