Stating the Desire to Write about tonight's Sublime Frequencies Event at a Later Date
Alan Bishop of the Sun City Girls was in town at the Butchershop tonight, along with filmmaker Hisham Mayet (who I don't as yet know that much about! I shoulda asked!) showing various DVDs soon to be released on the Sublime Frequencies label, which they're involved in. The films they brought were Niger: Magic and Ecstacy in the Sahel and some as yet unreleased material from Cambodia, Burma, and somewhere, uh, else. Sublime Frequencies are a sort of archival project, documenting with as little narration/intrusion as possible the state of various cultures, with an ear towards musical traditions and/or sound. They've released media capturing the images, music and sounds of Burma, Thailand, Sumatra, Morroco, Lhasa, Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia and elsewhere, with upcoming CDs focusing on North Korea and Iraq. CDs tend to be either field recordings, including much "daily life"/ambient sound stuff, ritual music, and street musicians; or else intertwining samples of language, commerce, and traditional and popular musical culture as filtered through radio programming, cassette archives, TV, etc.
The DVDs are another thing altogether -- tonight was my first exposure, but the filmic element made the material much more engaging and interesting for a scopophilic, musically primitive sort such as myself (it requires a sort of disciplined ear to really enter a soundscape of street noises and find it fascinating, as I know some do; for me, the seen element made things much more accessible). I'll be seeking out their DVDs in the future; it was a fascinating night, the kind of night that leaves your eyes a little tired because they've had to learn a new way of looking (which, really, is about as high a praise as I think I could give for a filmmaker). From watching cowrie-shell divination by an animist priest in Niger (followed by excerpts of a related religious ritual, of a sort similar to those seen in voodou) to watching Burmese (I think) high schoolers laughing, hugging, and flirting with the camera as they graduate from school (I think), while a Burmese (I think) version of the Rolling Stones' "As Tears Go By" plays on the soundtrack, the audience (of fewer than 100, I think, including Yuriko from Blim, Dan of G42, and a whole bunch of other equally interesting people, I'm sure, whose names and affiliations I just don't know) was kept amply stimulated, with much food for thought. They sat in rapt attention, reacting occasionally, but mostly just watching and listening in a way that people seldom DO in our current cultural melieu. I felt grateful, afterwards, for having been permitted to participate in such attentive seeing and hearing; grateful to have seen these snippets of life elsewhere, grateful for the opportunity to sit and reflect on these images and sounds in a way more mainstream venues of media would not have permitted.
I also felt grateful that the filmmakers had managed to keep themselves so much out of the way of the presentation of their material, and had done so so intelligently and straightforwardly. For once, the film was not about the filmmaker; ego and interpretation were toned way down (how many miles from Hollywood are we, anyhow?). It's a sort of camcorder-verite that I haven't encountered that much of -- mostly people with camcorders, including myself when I'm allowed to play with them, end up producing images of talky talking heads; the only time anyone addressed the camera during the Niger film, though, was when one of the animists explained at some length about how the "bori," I think it was -- similar to the loa -- manifest themselves to human beings. For a brief moment, one of the filmmakers speaks on camera, as a voice off; otherwise, there's not a word to be heard from them, not an image of themselves to be seen. It's about as non-narcissistic a mode of filmmaking as you can get... In the Q&A after the show, Bishop and Mayet explained that the lack of narration helps you to see what they saw, which you can then follow up on on your own; they aren't interested in being experts, just in showing you what they've encountered, which they find interesting to hear and look at themselves. They clearly have done their homework -- Mayet, who seemed to be a bit more of an anthropologist, referred people interested in Niger to the book Prayer has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger -- but they had no particular need to show it off. They had other things they wanted to show us. The audience was receptive and grateful.
Will have to keep my eye on the Butchershop -- it's an interesting scene, part of that stuff going on up Main -- it's not far from the Reef, the Main, and Red Cat. Glad to be slowly getting to know about places like this.
Anyhow, that was more writing than I wanted to do there, I tell ya. Maybe if I just pick up anything really dirty off the floor and brush my teeth, I can go to bed and deal with the rest in the morning.
Cheers to Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet.