Music

Hypercolor: Hypercolor

Photo: Scott Friedlander

Hypercolor is a New York trio, an absolute mess of influences that can't help but play around with a blender.


Hypercolor

Hypercolor

Label: Tzadik
US Release Date: 2015-01-20
UK Release Date: 2015-01-19
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A jazz band that plays rock! A rock band that plays punk-jazz! An avant-garde no wave band that plays either Israeli or African forms (depending on which of these combinations counts as "new music")! The phrasing is mine, but the labels themselves come to you courtesy of Hypercolor's press release. As you can tell, they are another one of those new bands tough to categorize. Having their eponymous album released on the Tzadik label probably muddies your impressions further -- and no, Hypercolor are not Jewish jazz. Another thing that they aren't is a "new" band. This may be their first album, but it has been close to eight years in the making. And before that, all three members of Hypercolor were toiling away on their own careers. Guitarist Eyal Maoz is a New York six-string slinger for hire and has performed in John Zorn's Cobra. Bassist James Ilgenfritz likes to approach the legendary composers of today to commission solo bass works. Drummer Lukas Ligeti -- yes, of that Ligeti family -- has played with too many modern musicians of note to mention here. Hypercolor, in theory at least, appears to be a supergroup made up of three musical Swiss army knives -- versatile and prone to devolve into a clunky, egotistical mess.

But this is a band that prides itself on not having their disparate interests clash with one another. In the words of the same press release, "[the members of Hypercolor] collide their multifarious interests into one another like a post-modern demolition derby, pulling from the wreckage a sound that is as intricate as it is aggressive." Now, what in the hell would that sound like? A simple way to brew up a guess it to pick apart what each member brings to the table. Maoz provides the Israeli scales. Ilgenfritz was trained in jazz and classical traditions but calls himself a "noise-rock enthusiast". Being a percussionist, Ligeti has soaked up considerable African polyrhythmic influences over time. And being the son of György Ligeti, he is plenty familiar with European modes. Rather than everyone trying to play their styles all at once, Hyperolor's many moments are assembled from these many styles. Pinning one musical genre to one particular track isn't going to work. The dial is constantly moving with Hypercolor, in a manner that makes it sound like the most natural music there is.

The first track "Squeaks" may not be the most perfet example of what the rest of the album sounds like, but it adequately prepares you. Ligeti is holding down a startlingly complex beat with Ilgenfritz at his side. Moaz enters with thick, perfectly articulated descending guitar chords. Just past halfway through the track, Moaz lets his playing fall apart almost completely with pick scrapes, pitch-shifting and plenty of other non-note noises. As he picks up on a previously hinted-at melody, he screws with his sound even more. The band builds up steam and the song ends at the 2:15 mark. Moaz's songs range from full on rock like "Squeaks" or the equally brief and intense "Palace" to a post-rock moment by the river with "Forget". Ilgenfritz definitely has a more angular approach to how he writes melodies -- "Glowering" sounds like an old drunk who is constantly forgetting where he is, whereas "Chen" is the little kid with ADHD who is constantly forgetting where he is. Ligeti contributes only one composition, the oddly-named "Ernesto, Do You Have a Cotton Box?" It too is built from an indecisive melody that sounds like it required quite a bit of rehearsal.

There is no shortage of new noise bands out there and for those who are paying attention to the current avant-garde scene, it might be frustrating to know which ones are the real deal and which ones are just yanking our chain. Hypercolor, only one album into their collective career, have a few factors on their side. First, all three members were well established before playing together. Secondly, they come with John Zorn's blessing. And hey, they are named after a line of shirts that changed color when heat was applied. They are true mutants.

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White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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