Film

'Expedition to the End of the World': Scientists and Artists Find Beginnings

Daniel Dencik's film helps you to look at the Earth, so majestic, so superb, and to want more than ever to be aware.


Expedition to the End of the World (Ekspeditionen til verdens ende)

Director: Daniel Dencik
Cast: Minik Rosing, Daniel Richter, Jonas Bergsoe, Tal R, Per Bak Jensen, Katrine Worsaae, Morten Rasch, Bo Elberling, Jens Fog Jensen
Rated: NR
Studio: Argot Pictures
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-08-20 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Photo above by Simon Rubardo

"The notion of the end of the world is unique to man," says Tal R, gesturing vibrantly with a pencil as he speaks. "Imagine if the mountains shared the thought. They just change colors. Ten million years slip away and then they have a new layer." The artist pauses, gazing at the mountainous cliffs of northeastern Greenland. "There's a lot of hope in a brutal landscape like this."

That's not to say it would be easy to find another "landscape like this," where Tal R has traveled for the documentary, Expedition to the End of the World (Ekspeditionen til verdens ende). He and a group of other Danish artists and scientists spend their time hiking and hunting, sketching and studying, appropriately awed by their surroundings and trying to make some rational or poetic sense of it.

Such sense-making involves observing and conversing and recording, with instruments that don't start or break down, that measure and gyrate. These measures are both precise (marine biologist Katrine Worsaae observes tiny organisms under her microscope) and aesthetic (Tal R sketches, photographer Per Bak Jensen takes shots), each an effort to put the beauty into some other form, to compare it to something else, to describe it in a way that someone else might understand. The process is fascinating, especially as it is back-dropped, repeatedly, by scenes of frankly unspeakable splendor, the world at its most vivid, transcendent, and immediate, at its most untouched by humans.

As Daniel Dencik's film begins, the crew arrives on a ship, identified on screen only by their occupations, their faces instantly more complex and compelling than any such single phrase might indicate: as the geologist, the captain or the zoologist squint in the sun glinting off ice floes and bergs, white masses that are melting even as you look on them. Accompanied by Mozart's Requiem or Metallica's "Blackened," these lung duration panning shots suggest time passing and also, a kind of endlessness. While the world is changing now, if climate change has visible, frightening consequences -- as Expedition to the End of the World, currently screening at Film Forum, makes clear enough—it is, nonetheless, not about to end, even if your part in it might be ending.

"Our job," says Per Bak Jensen, meaning both artists and scientists, all readers of the world and each other, is to "find out what is really going on, what is happening to us." Yes, nods archeologist Jens Fog Jensen: "What's cooking here on planet earth." Behind them, as they hunch their shoulders in their winter gear, you see water and sky and ice and mountains. What is happening to us is happening to these elements too, as well as the polar bears and fish and seals who occasionally show up in frame, impressing the humans even as they hardly notice the humans. I was talking to the geochemist last night. The photographer says, "He's so interested in the age and contents of the soil and how it ended up here, but he actually admitted that he was somehow also searching for something within himself when he went looking for something in the soil."

But of course. Standing over a fossilized algae mat he's collecting, geologist Minik Rosing points out, "All organisms on earth are connected, there's no big difference between the way we work and the way microorganisms work. We're just put together in a way that looks smarter." His assistants lift the wooden sled they've built to carry the fossil, taking it to the ship, and Rosing continues, while he too heads back to the ship, "So, in many ways, we're some kind of algae mat. Some more so than others."

The similarities and connections between forms of life, their effects on one another, extends as well to nonliving bodies, to rocks and mountains, all mats too, all ever shapeshifting, whether changing colors or adding layers. This point is made by close shots of bugs scrabbling on weather-beaten mounds as much as by long, long shots of tiny men on vast shores. A few scenes later, Rosing goes on, "Actually, it's life that controls earth's geological machinery. When I figured that out, I was overwhelmed and thought that something must be wrong, but the more you look at it, the more it must be correct that living organisms are the main machine in how the earth works." As soon as he says it, you might think it obvious, but think again, and you can appreciate how overwhelmed he might have been, pondering the intricacy of interrelations between earth and humans, pondering how to put that intricacy into language and also, to use.

Helpfully, as the geologist and other scientists study the earth, as they work to determine the past it preserves and also erodes, they offer comparisons language to situate you. "The uncertainty is good," says Tal R in conversation with geographer Bo Eberling. "If you're into stuff like this, then the whole world is a crime scene." Extinction is part of a cycle over millions of years, so slow as to seem illegible. True, Katrine Worsaae observes, "It never happened before that a single species created such mass extinction," but extinction isn't unique to us, even if our capacity to think it might be. And so you're back to this problem of thought, awareness that might make "the end of the world" terrifying -- if denial weren't part of the process too. For a few minutes anyway, the film helps you to look at the earth, so majestic, so superb, and to want more than ever to be aware.

9

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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