THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 048
Greetings, friends and loved ones. I hope you are doing well on this day in late May. I’m once again at my desk in my overstuffed office in SE Portland, trying to wake up completely and start knocking some assignments off my to-do list.
You may or may not have noticed that I didn’t offer up a supplemental email this week with streaming suggestions. That was, in part, a decision based on the reality that movie theaters are now opening up again and folks are venturing out more. I welcome this, even as I urge you to make sure you’re still wearing a mask when you leave your home. Also, I have enough work and responsibilities right now that I can barely keep up putting this regular newsletter together, let alone a second one. And as I’m trying to stay committed to this project, I don’t need another reason to become overwhelmed and abandon it. Even if none of my subscribers are reading this every week, I’m still determined to pump these newsletters out on schedule.
This time around, I’ve got an interview with one of my favorite current artists Green-House and reviews of two new films (including one that’s actually in theaters!). I hope you enjoy reading it all.
Olive Ardizoni’s music has come along at the perfect time, even if they didn’t plan it that way. Their recordings, all released under the name Green-House, arrived in the wake of much chattered about reissues of Mort Garson’s Plantasia and the environmental music of Hiroshi Yoshimura and Masahiro Sugaya. Ardizoni’s two albums, 2020’s Six Songs For Invisible Gardens and the recently released Music For Living Spaces, were made with similar intent - to transform the mood of our homes and apartments through delicately played synth melodies and floating atmospheric tones. With all of us sticking so close to home over the past 18 months, the soundtrack was a welcome balm to the soul. As well, with so many people embracing gardening or escaping from their homes by entering into the natural world, Green-House’s music serves as a beautiful backdrop, “designed,” as the press notes for Invisible Gardens says, “as a communication with both plant life and the people who care for them.”
Ardizoni’s latest Green-House work, Music For Living Spaces, has another agenda beyond the simple edict of its title. As they said in the bio for this lovely collection, “I’m trying to hit that part of the brain that’s affected by the emotional state that you’re in when you perceive something as cute.” A valiant goal as the endorphin spike we get when cooing over an infant or grinning at an adorable pet photo can certainly help us cut through our constant doomscrolling and bleak fears of the future, if only for a brief moment. The good news is that we can keep Music For Living Spaces running as a constant soundtrack, elevating us through the occasional drudgery of chores and busywork. Smash the repeat button and get floating.
With both your new album and the piece you created for Longform Editions, it feels as if you are encouraging focused listening - really wanting people to pay attention to what you have created rather than letting fall into the background.
I suppose every artist would appreciate active engagement from people with their work. For me, it’s both. I wanted to create music that a person could benefit from engaging with on a deeper level but also have on in the background. That versatility is important to me.
It feels as though this was the ideal time for work like this to come out, with most people sheltering in place and having more time to delve deeper into music. Do you get the sense that people are responding to your work now in a different manner than they did when your first album was released?
From what I can tell, people seem to be responding to my work the same way that they did before the pandemic. We needed the stress relief then, and we do now. I’m not sure that people have more time on their hands because so many people work from home, but I do think that their animals and plants are probably getting more music exposure time, which is great!
Was that, in part, informing your decision to call the album Music For Living Spaces since our living spaces are where so many of us have been sheltering over the past year?
The title is not a commentary on sheltering in place and I didn’t really have this pandemic in mind when I was writing it. Not consciously anyway. The intention behind the album title is to suggest that we aren’t separate from nature. We are nature and therefore our dwelling spaces are our habitats and they are full of life. We often think of our apartments and indoor spaces as these kinds of sterile dead zones, when in fact they are often teeming with animal and plant life. This music is an homage to that fact.
I also really enjoyed reading your statements in the press notes about how you wanted to affect the emotional state we get in when we see something cute. I feel like the Japanese understand the power of that more than any culture on this planet. Was that world of Japanese culture informing the writing and creation of this new album?
I can’t assume that I understand anything about Japanese culture, since I have never had proximity to it. I’m definitely aware of kawaii culture and I love it, but I don’t know how it is perceived by Japanese people and how it operates in their society. My Idea of cuteness and how it can improve American society comes from my own experience with how we perceive cuteness in my own culture. From what I can see it is trivialized here and often negatively associated with women and children. It’s regarded as something we don’t take seriously in the art world. I believe that it’s time for us to elevate cuteness in the art world as a valid form of expression and that in doing this, we can spread the benefits cuteness has on the human brain. The most important of which being empathy for other beings.
Your releases thus far reminds sounds close to the environmental music that was recently collected on Light In The Attic’s Kankyo Ongaku and albums like Music For Nine Postcards. I imagine that you were already aware of and inspired by that work. If so, can you tell me how it came to your attention and how much/how little that informed the music you’ve made as Green-House?
It’s definitely informed my work! Especially on my EP. I first discovered Haruomi Hosono and his music changed my way of thinking. Through Japanese environmental music, I discovered the French composer Erik Satie and started to understand this concept of minimalist yet highly emotional music.
Is there a lot of trial and error/working and reworking of your material or do you tend to be a first thought/best thought kind of artist?
Both. The main voices in my songs are typically the first thought/best thought and the other voices sometimes end up needing more time.
You’ve been releasing your music into a very weird period of human history. How did the pandemic and the shutdown of the world affect your efforts to promote your work?
I am a person that needs to spend most of my time alone. Not having to come up with an excuse to not socialize has relieved a lot of my stress, to be honest. I was recently diagnosed with Autism, so this makes sense. The pandemic itself has caused a lot of anxiety, of course, but the shutdown has helped me to prioritize self-care and I’ve not had to be reacting to the outside world causing sensory overload and burnout. It’s been easier to write music. I get a lot of my song inspiration from nature hikes and luckily I live close to some great trails.
Was there some benefit for you having to stay put? Were you able to create more than you might have otherwise? Or was it a challenge to find the focus and energy to work on creative pursuits?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I wasn’t able to create anything because of how stressful it was. I’m at the point now where music is flowing nicely for me again.
You’ve said in other interviews about how fashion and music are interrelated in your world, with one affecting the other, and I can see that in the press photos that I’ve seen of you and your amazing outfits. Has this always been the case for you? What would you recommend people wear to more fully appreciate the work on Music For Living Spaces?
Thanks for the compliment! Well, fashion and music have been my two main interests as far back as I can remember. When I was a kid I would create outfits influenced by the music I was listening to. For example, disco music/ bellbottoms and platforms. I think a lot of people relate to this. Goth and punk music have their fashion substyles of course, but so do many other music genres. You don’t have to dress for the music you listen to, but I dress for everything. Everything is a mood, everything is a culture, and I feel the need to express that through this visual art form. I haven’t associated my music with any particular style because I wear so many different things from day to day, but I do think Green-House invokes the natural fibers vibe, Gorpcore, and medieval fantasy looks. My music uses a lot of natural sounds like flutes, Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and field recordings so that’s where the natural fiber vibe comes in. My music is utilitarian because it functions a purpose to optimize stress relief and facilitate a connection with nature so that’s where Gorpcore comes in. Finally, my music is cute and magical so that’s where this pagan medieval fantasy vibe comes in.
Do you have a garden at home? Or a lot of houseplants? What sort of plant life do you have in your world right now?
I have houseplants; I think maybe only ten of them. My apartment is very small and I don’t have a lot of good spots for plants. So, I go hiking a lot so I end up interacting with my plant friends on the trails near me. I like to mimic the shapes they make with my hands as I walk by them, say a quiet hello, and photograph their flowers. My dream is to one day have space for a garden.
What comes next for you and this project?
I think for my next album I want to incorporate some other musicians. I try to capture more organic sounds in my music and I would love to feature an actual flute player, harpist, etc. I also plan to incorporate some more of my vocals.
The Perfect Candidate (2019, dir. Haifaa al-Mansour)
The premise of Haifaa al-Mansour’s latest film smacks of slapstick comedy or an uncomfortablly funny Britcom. The only way Maryam, a young doctor (Mila Alzahrani) in Saudia Arabia, desperate to attend a conference in Dubai, can get a meeting with the man who can renew her travel permit is to agree to run for political office. To be fair, there are plenty of absurdities in The Perfect Candidate—all of them to do with the lengths that the government and traditionalist Muslims go to in order to stifle the freedoms of women. al-Mansour doesn’t play this reality for laughs, but instead homes in how Maryam’s decision to embrace her political ambitions (she charmingly prints off a checklist she found online on run a successful campaign) taps into the anger and frustration that has clearly been welling up inside her for years. She boldly removes her face covering for a TV interview, and, during a meeting meant to woo undecided voters, dares to address the all-male contingent face-to-face. As engaging as Maryam’s story is, the scenes that al-Mansour lets linger are the weddings and events when scores of Saudi women are able to come out from under their niqabs and burkas and reveal the colorful clothing and personalities underneath. She plays one such campaign fundraiser off a runway show that shows off the latest styles in garments that completely cover a woman’s body and face. Even though women are finding subtle ways to express themselves, the powers that be still want them to remain hidden and muffled. (now showing in select theaters)
Skull: The Mask (2020, dir. Kapel Furman & Armando Fonseca)
Like so much modern entertainment, this Brazilian splatterfest is a combo platter of horror tropes and cinematic reference points. To the point that fans of the genre might have an exhausting time trying to keep up with the plot as their brain keeps connecting many characters and scenes to the films that co-directors/co-screenwriters Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman are paying tribute to. Maybe the goal is to get horror nerds to watch the movie twice so they can spend one screening concentrating on the story. They needn’t bother as the plot is absolutely secondary to the gross-out moments within. A demon-possessed mask is uncovered in an archeological dig in the Amazon and is transported to Rio where it takes over the body of stout gent and goes about killing everyone in its path. Copious amounts of fake blood are spilled and the production’s special effects team goes all out to craft all manner of gooey, queasy visuals as organs are torn out and faces are peeled off. Along the way, we are introduced to various characters trying to stop the killing like a morally questionable police detective, the ancestor of a demon hunter, and a priest trying to square his Catholic faith with the voudou going on around him. All of them keep the story moving along well enough but they only matter when they get us back to the rending of flesh and the exposure of the dark, moist insides of the mask’s many victims. (now streaming on Shudder)
That’s all for this week. But while I have you - if you have made it this far, drop me a note on Twitter (@roberthamwriter) and let me know what film you are most looking forward to seeing this summer.
Artwork for this week’s newsletter is by Sophia Kandiwapa Mpinga and Natalia Mateus. Both are available to purchase from the National Art Gallery of Namibia.