Music

Boris: Präparat

While Boris could be playing in a whole other genre in their future releases, Präparat, a highly limited vinyl-only release, is a concise, well-structured LP that brings a little bit of everything that makes this band great to the table.


Boris

Präparat

Label: Daymare
US Release Date: 2013-03-14
UK Release Date: Import
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Bands like Japan's Boris pose a huge dilemma to record store owners that have to organize their albums by section. How exactly does the drone classic Amplifier Worship fit in the same aisle as the dream-pop of New Album? The easy solution is, of course, to make tags like "experimental" or "avant-garde," a convenient way to gloss over the differences in artists who refuse to commit themselves to your "rock" and "pop" sections. On one hand, it's exactly the right thing to do -- anyone looking for Scott Walker's pop-oriented material should be protected from picking up Bish Bosch or The Drift by happenstance -- but at the same time, maybe it isn't such a bad thing to make people have to walk around the store. At the very least, it would be a fitting representation of how bands often yank their audiences around from genre to genre. Some get left behind, sure, but for those willing to hop from the drone section to the pop section, the journey can be quite rewarding.

Such is the case with Boris, who for the entirety of its career has opted to always keep people guessing. In 2011 alone, the trio -- made up of Takeshi, Atsuo, and Wata -- released three LPs, each a take on a different facet of its ever-shifting style. Heavy Rocks, also the name of a 2002 album by Boris, riffed on stoner and doom. Attention Please delved with greater nuance into the realm of shoegaze, a sound the trio has always incorporated throughout their career in ways both subtle and obvious. And, perhaps most radically, there's New Album, which involved a lot of playing on indie-pop reference points. It sounds like a Boris record, sure, but only in as far as no other band could have made something like it. Of those three releases, New Album sounds the least like Boris as traditionally understood. For the trio to take as many risks as they do while simultaneously pulling most of them off is admirable, but sometimes when gold is struck -- as in the case of 2005's masterful, distorted rock epic Pink -- one wishes it would just pick one really good idea and stick with it for awhile.

The ultra-limited, vinyl-exclusive album Präparat -- which is already sold out and fetching absurd prices on eBay -- is not pure return to form to the drone of their early work or the sludgy heaviness of Pink. It is, however, a re-centering on the constant elements of the band's evolutionary sonic. Some of these tracks, the towering "Method of Error" especially, are the sort of amp-rumbling guitar plodders that made these three famous to begin with. Others take the stoner doom of Pink and bring out a satisfyingly hefty crunch ("Bataille Suere"). Those who would begin their search for Boris in the metal section of a record shop would find much to love in Präparat, whose grey demeanor gets at the dark side of Boris that New Album to some degree strayed away from. The gloom of opener "December" even recalls the down-tempo, jazzy beats of Mogwai's Come on Die Young.

One would be misled in thinking this is, in the strictest sense of the term, a "metal" record. Many of these compositions are some of the heaviest Boris has put out in some time. However, for every downtuned riff there's a corresponding moment of texture and beauty. The shoegaze gem "Elegy" pairs a dreamy vocal mix with a lugubrious chord progression, a mix that's at least twice as good as anything off of m b v. The trio even has some fun with shoegaze. The 43-second instrumental "Perforated Line" starts off like any Loveless-aping track one would expect, but right as it concludes it abruptly segues into a measure of electro-funk. "Perforated Line" is the best of the many interludes strung throughout this LP. Along with the piano waltz of "Castel in the Air" and the clouds of noise in "Evil Stack 3", it both provides a nice breather moment and gives a glimpse into what other inner workings were going on in the production of Präparat. The only exception would be the uninteresting closer "Maeve", which ends things rather anticlimactically.

These interludes, however, get at a curiosity in the construction of Präparat. At just over 38 minutes, this is far from lengthy; at least, nowhere near the investment needed to sink in to Boris' classic works like Absolutego or Amplifier Worship. There's really no need for anything like a break if one commits to listen to this all the way through. And while Präparat is a strong album for how cohesive and well-rounded it is in its organization, it also feels incomplete. "Method of Error" is so good it commands that there be another like it. The hilarious bit of funk at the end of "Perforated Line" makes one wonder if there were any other jokes that were left on the studio floor.

To answer why Boris might have reined itself in this way, one need look no further than the title of the LP itself. Präparat, German for "preparation," hints at the fact that it may be wrong to view Boris's career on an album-to-album basis. As whiplash-inducing as the trio's genre exploration may be, it's probably in the end better to view each record as a pit stop on a long drive rather than as a complete road journal. Even an essential like Amplifier Worship doesn't tell the whole story of Boris; no single album probably could. 17 years and 18 studio recordings later, Wata, Takeshi, and Atsuo are still preparing, and the results are as engaging and forward-thinking as they've ever been.

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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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