Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Na Srebrnym Globie


I’m glad to see someone has finally managed to publish a survey of large scale architectural graphics, which in my humble opinion is a much neglected and marginalized form of visual culture. “Supergraphics – Transforming Space: Graphic Design for Walls, Buildings & Spaces” is a wonderfully engaging examination of the ‘cult’ of seductively large letterforms, arresting geometric abstraction and chromatically overloaded environmental design. Tracing a lineage from the radical painted architectural environments of the 1960’s to the present day ‘soft design’ of advanced digital light projections, the book examines a wide range of large scale architectural graphics which have been applied in order to radically transform and alter our experience of the urban environment. The concept of Supergraphics was originally political in nature, a way in which radical visionary architects could redefine the urban space by applying painted graphics to the interior and exterior surfaces of buildings thus ‘removing solidity, gravity, even history' from the built environment. The book covers a wide variety of ground, from deceptively simple exercises in visual ornamentation, complex spatial altering distortions to functional civic signage on a grand scale. Each ‘eye popping’ design has been documented with clarity and as one would expect by anything published by Unit Editions, the book has a clean, crisp understated layout and finish. A welcome addition to any design bookshelf. Unit Editions is fast becoming my favourite source of graphic wonder. 

“Supergraphics – Transforming Space: Graphic Design for Walls, Buildings & Spaces” is published this month by Unit Editions.


More graphic and typographical wonder from Unit Editions. 'ThreeSix' is the third in a series of beautifully illustrated research papers devoted to graphic design and visual culture. This issue examines the development of a typeface called ‘ThreeSix’ by Hamish Muir and Paul McNeil. It’s a fascinating project which has yielded an elegant system of six simple and eminently readable geometric typefaces suitable for current digital screen technologies. Despite their adherence to a grid, the results are startlingly organic and beautiful. Based on subtly differing concentric forms, the letter forms are distinctive and easy to read at large point sizes as well as in smaller bodies of extended text. It’s easy to a draw parallel with this project and Wim Crouwell’s experimental 1967 New Alphabet typeface which is maybe why he was invited to write the forward. ‘ThreeSix’ has a versatility, humane weight and grace sadly lacking in most grid based fonts, designers out there please take note.

ThreeSix [U:D/R 03] is published by Unit Editions this month.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Printed Matter / Drukwerk

I was overjoyed to see that Hyphen Press have recently published a third edition of Karel Martens’s graphic design masterpiece “Printed Matter / Drukwerk”. Karel Martens is without a doubt, one of the most significantly influential graphic designers working today and this book is a testament to his joyful pursuit in visual experimentation and his willingness to push the boundaries of the printed page. Copiously illustrated, the book documents a wide range of commissioned and non commissioned work by the Dutch designer and educator, ranging from his early designs for small left wing publications to his later non commercial and experimental colour saturated print work. This book is a visual treat, with page after page of inventive formal Swiss asceticism colliding with rough misprint and craft sensibility. What’s particularly striking about much of Martens's work is his unusual capacity to harness the economy of Modernism with a humanist spirit by carefully balancing a playful inventiveness with intellectual rigour and precision. This rare ability to satisfy the needs of the client while still retain a unique and personal voice invests an almost Cagian levity into his work, with error and chance being intellectually harnessed in the service of a truly democratic form of graphic communication. There is a clarity and vision at work here most designers would be envious of as form and function has rarely been so keenly nor adroitly combined. A welcome addition to any design library. 

“Printed Matter / Drukwerk” is published this month by Hyphen Press.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Adam Fuss

Primitive London

Trunk Records continues to unearth and delve into the shadowy world of lost cinematic soundtracks with the release of a rather curious and oddly elegant score to a 1965 exploitation flick entitled “Primitive London”. The film itself, is a wonderfully unique and peculiar piece of British exploitative post war cinema. Filmed on a shoestring budget, with the sole intention of getting the punters in, this bizarrely engaging film by maverick director Arnold L. Miller is a strange and heady mix of skin flick, mondo exploitation and social documentary. The film sensationally combines sordid titillation, everyday banality and the downright bizarre, think boobs, bums, bikers, suburban swingers, beatniks, cheeky East End villains, glamorous showgirls, chicken processing plants and the latest developments in hair replacement surgery and you get the idea. Despite its best attempts to appear scandalously sensationalistic, the film captures a strangely peculiar pre-permissive Britain which is neither salacious nor shocking. The film proclaimed to scratch the thin veneer of respectability to discover a hidden world of crime and suppressed sexual desire waiting to vent but in reality what is presented is an oddball montage of schlock and tease, a second-rate, tawdry tour of the commonplace. Despite this, it’s a wonderfully engaging yet oddly surreal film but ultimately at the end of the show you're left with the feeling that the strippers depicted are not the only people who have ripped something off. This makes the accompanying soundtrack by composer Basil Kirchin even more remarkable in that the score is neither sensational nor sordid but a masterpiece of curiously elegant arrangement and compositional refinement. It’s beautifully haunting score which both compliments and transcends its cinematic setting. The music is gracefully rhythmical and shifts across a wide variety of moods and tempos while still retaining a singular and unique voice. The soundtrack is an unusual mix of baroque minimalism, cool post bop jazz, spectral orchestration and electronic experimentation which defies simplistic categorisation, an oddball one indeed. Like the score, Basil Kirchin is a bit of an oddity. He apparently spent five months in a Ramakrishna Temple in India a decade before it became fashionable. In the early sixties he created experimental “soundtracks for unmade films” using collaged ambient sounds and if this all sounds a bit Eno before Eno, he could also confidently compose in a bizarre range of musical styles and idioms. How he happened to become involved in scoring music for the nefarious and seedy underbelly of British cinema remains a mystery, perhaps a true meeting of the sublime and the ridiculous. This soundtrack is yet another meticulous reclamation of a hidden musical past by label owner Jonny Trunk and if the world is a just place, his residence will have a Blue Plaque promptly installed to commemorate his significant contribution to a very peculiar kind of cultural and musical archaeology. A fascinating and strangely beautiful release.

“Primitive London” is released on Trunk Records this month.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thai Modernized Music

Before the twentieth century, the music of Thailand had largely remained unchanged for nearly eight hundred years. Traditional Thai classical ensembles would perform highly stylised compositions on drums, small chin hand cymbals, suspended gongs and xylophones.  This music was anonymous, rarely notated and handed down through word of mouth. With the advent of radio and then recorded music, an explosion of distinct regional styles emerged and flourished.

‘Thai Modernized Music' came of age between the years 1955 - 1975, when ‘government issue’ soldiers, on leave from Vietnam, began looking for kicks in Thailand thus exposing a young generation of Thai musicians to a diverse array of Western styles.  As this trend progressed, a fertile music scene emerged, with two distinctive styles becoming ever more prominent; Luk Thung and Molam. Luk Thung was a rural, grittier offshoot of an earlier urban style known as Luk Krung.  Luk Thung, which literally translates as ‘Song Of The Child On The Fields’ is the rural music of Thailand and as such it's thematically concerned with the trials and tribulations of daily life.  This music has absorbed and assimilated a vast range of Western influences which is startlingly evident  when you listen to the material on the upcoming Finders Keepers release, “Thai Dai - The Heavier Side Of The Luk Thung Underground.”  This is the raw, heavy, unkempt side of Luk Thung, combining traditional Thai musicianship with raw, aggressive proto punk discharges, hypnotic motorik grooves and garage funk. Traditional instruments such as the khaen [bamboo mouth organ] and phin [Thai flute] interweave with fuzz tinged guitar, stuttering organ licks and heavy drumbeats with unexpectedly joyous results. Sroeng Santi’s strange rendition of “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath is a monster of cultural collision and exemplifies this odd hybrid world, one part visceral rock, one part Thai folk melody, three parts downright weirdness. Bizarrely, despite the implied heaviness, the lyrical content of this song is actually a deliberation on the waxing and waning of the moon and the ups and downs of the Thai economy.  These strange musical hybrids continue and peak with “Kanong Krung” by Teungjai Bunpraruska, which sounds alarmingly like the sinister child choral chants of Ennio Morricone backed by the raw scuzz of the Thee Headcoatees.  This is exciting, exotic music, another top drawer release by Finders Keepers.  

“The Sound Of Siam - Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam In Thailand 1964-1975” on Soundway covers slightly different musical terrain but is equally astonishing in its breadth and diversity.  Opening with the fragile, haunting, psych eeriness of Ream Daranoi’s “Fai Yen” this compilation is a veritable treat for the ears. Nearly every track has a deep resonant groove, from the weirdly lopsided middle eastern jazz swing of Panon Nopporn’s “Sao Ban Pok Pab” to The Pletch Phin Thong Band, who manage to dig into a groove and never really stop. This Molam style instrumental is particularly wonderful, sounding like a primitive Appalachian jug band jamming with deep funk Thai zithers.  This music inhabits a fascinating, eclectic and inventive sound world, with vaguely discernible elements of Ethiopian jazz, African drum patterns and raw funk. On the best tracks you can hear the Thai musicians absorbing their influences, experimenting and then pushing the limits of tradition. There's even a song about alcoholic monkeys, reefer smoking elephants and cows that drink Ovaltine for breakfast!  Some of you may be tempted to dismiss this music as mere curious oddity, a collision between an indigenous style and a borrowed one.  Don’t be fooled, there is some serious musical damage to be found on these discs. This is some of the most strange and uniquely compelling music out there and we should thank musical archaeologists Chris Menist, Miles Cleret and Andy Votel for bringing it to our attention.

“The Sound Of Siam - Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam In Thailand 1964-1975” is released on Soundway Records on December 8th. “Thai Dai - The Heavier Side Of The Luk Thung Underground” is an upcoming release on Finders Keepers.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Moon & The Sledgehammer

The Moon & The Sledgehammer” is an extraordinary and deeply insightful film. Despite being made over forty years ago, this oddly moving and strangely familiar documentary seems more relevant and prescient today than when it was first shown. It is a film about a family of curious people; a father, Mr. Page, his two sons, Jim & Peter; and his two daughters, Kathy and Nancy and their curious way of life. The film documents the family, living in relative isolation, without running water, electricity or gas, in a deteriorating house hidden within the Sussex woods, twenty miles south of London. On first impression, the family appear to be strange folk indeed, oddball misfits trapped and marginalised in their own unique inner world. As the film progresses, a magical, oddly disjointed narrative reveals this presumption to be both tenuous and threadbare. “The Moon & The Sledgehammer” is a curiously profound film which respectfully celebrates people who are different. As a film, it's a remarkable and engaging feat of social sculpture which acutely observes, captures and preserves the resonant minutia of a disappearing way of life with all its incumbent tensions and quirky humour. It is a strange story, full of complex relationships which evokes a psychologically charged, non didactic world of lost values and traditions. It's a film everyone needs to see. Director, Philip Trevelyan was introduced to the Page family by a friend who had met them at a local auction in Newhaven and he was immediately struck by their unusual and fiercely individualistic way of life. The father had worked as a aircraft engineer and had operated local threshing machines, he had also, rather unorthodoxly, performed as a travelling circus entertainer and was affectionately known by locals as ‘Oily’ Page. The brothers are portrayed as skilled steam engineers and metal workers, forging their own tools and machine parts by hand. The sisters cook, tend animals, produce exquisite embroidery and expertly cultivate plants. The mother is never seen. What is slowly revealed is a strange and compelling mixture of humour, idiosyncratic behaviour, seemingly archaic rural values, consummate craft skills and bizarre family dynamics. Each member of the family has their own unique voice and story. Their performances, if indeed they are performances, are candid, free, at times contradictory but above all captivatingly unselfconscious. Throughout the film, the cinematography and sound recording beautifully captures and frames a faded landscape where the visual smells of oil, rust and fern intermingle and overlap with the complex psychological landscape the family. I've watched this film numerous times and each time a new facet is revealed. We have much to learn from Page family, with their quiet philosophical distance from the accelerated pace of modern life. These are people who possess the rare commodity of time to reflect clear unmitigated thoughts, the time to be intuitively curious about the world in which they live, the time to develop their own unique, personal and sometimes eccentric wisdom. This is a startlingly poetic film. A rare gem.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Cy Twombly