Music

Kendl Winter: The Mechanics of Hovering Flight

With ties to the Pacific Northwest and allusions southern folk and bluegrass, The Mechanics of Hovering Flight is flowing with jovial banjo riffs and springy snare beats. Simple and rustic, these songs were crafted out of sheer joy and the cherished moments of everyday life.


Kendl Winter

The Mechanics of Hovering Flight

Label: K
US Release Date: 2012-01-24
Amazon
iTunes

With a sweet, pretty, and childlike voice, Kendl Winter once again takes us back to music’s roots revival with her second studio album The Mechanics of Hovering Flight. Winter is a banjo pickin’, multi-instrumentalist from Olympia, Washington, and her music is certainly tied to the dense forests, jagged mountains, and rolling rivers of the Pacific Northwest. However, it is also wrought with allusions to southern folk and bluegrass. Each song on this album is layered with jovial banjo riffs, springy snare beats, and the candid sounds of seasonal innocence. You’ll want to take these songs out on the porch with a glass of iced-tea and soak up some sunshine.

Sun-drenched and rustic, the album’s first track, “Summertime”, showcases Winter’s girlish charm. Winter sings in the third chorus, “Summertime and the open skies astound us / Build a home of the things we find around us”, and that line somehow sums up this album: music that was made out of sheer joy and cherished moments of everyday life. “Shades of Green” is drawn on hints of Bon Iver’s “Holocene”. Saturated in imagery and teeming with luminous guitar riffs and soft snare patters and cymbal crashes, this song is wrapped in delightful simplicity. Winter’s idyllic songs elicit sensations that go beyond the music itself, and this one feels a lot like dipping your feet in lapping lake water.

Kendl Winter makes a sweet and lovely first impression, but by the album’s third and fourth tracks, she’s roaring in unforgotten heart-ache. Reminiscent of Loretta Lynn, Winter brings to “Faded” deeper, grainer vocals steeped in experience. The song maintains a rural and wistful feel with simple guitar strums, soaring fiddles and mandolin twangs. “Do You Leave the Light On?” is shrouded in even heavier, darker vocals, similar to Neko Case. The song seems to be rolling with thunder, feeling like a deserted town in an Old West movie.

However, these dim and steamy songs are rarities on The Mechanics of Hovering Flight. Most of Winter’s songs are dulcet and energetic, and the album picks up with her familiar sound once again on the sixth track, “Story My”. Laced with classic, trilling banjo riffs and flattering vocal harmonies, this song is simply adorable. Many of the songs on the album are cinematic, and this one is chock-full of lush pastoral imagery. From the “trout turnin’ circles” to the “the wind on the ancient glaciers” to the “steam off a cup of tea”, your imagination will revel in this song’s dazzling landscape.

Beginning with a trickling and dripping faucet-like guitar riff, “Fill My Glass” floats on the ripples of delicate strums and supple snare beats. Although not too conspicuously, Winter seems to exhibit subtle traces of an Ani DiFranco influence, but perhaps only vocally. “Fill My Glass” is stunningly crafted with rapid verses and a chorus that falls into a trailing tempo, faintly shifting into a minor key.

“Mama Will Buy” is an interesting rendition of a nursery rhyme that so many mothers sing to their children. Blooming with feminist commentary, Kendl Winter sings of broken hearts and dreams with a mother’s comforting and assuring voice. Invigorated with a porch-wind-chime sound, spirited banjo picking, and charged vocals, this song is empowering yet nostalgic for a time when mama really could fix everything.

Winter brings more rustic sounds to the album with “Quit Your Job Joe”. This soulful, foot-tapping song sounds like old African American spiritual tangled in a cowboy fireside song. If songs could have aromas, this one would be drifting with whiffs of smoky coffee, whiskey and evergreens. Fun and a little bit sexy, Winter lets her hair down in “Quit Your Job Joe”, singing, “you can be the king of my tiny town, and I’ll be the queen of your feather-down."

Although The Mechanics of Hovering Flights is filled with sunshine and nostalgia, it is not terribly sentimental. You may not find the album’s beauty after a first listen, but there are plenty of hidden treasures in these enchanting, movielike songs.

6

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If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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