Monday, January 24, 2005
Nadja, Simon Fisher Turner and Cologne for Vampires
Snow does nice things to New York. When there's a lot of snow on the ground, we say "hello" to each other. I've been here through a bunch of heavy snowfalls now, and it's the weirdest side effect. After the snow has stopped, you go for a walk, and as long as the streets are empty of traffic and blocked by drifts, random people will say hello to you as you pass, as if the local rule against saying hi to strangers has been suspended along with alternate side of the street parking regulations. Once the snow goes away, so do the greetings.
The other aspect of a big snow storm that I always enjoy is more cinematic. It cleans up the details of the city's scenery, removing distractions and leaving the focus on the larger lines of buildings, streets, bridges, trains, etc. It's very bracing and gives an exaggerated sense of solitude and timelessness that's great for long walks and deep thoughts.
One of my favorite things in the world is to go walking through Chinatown (especially the area near the Manhattan bridge) during snowstorms. I have mixed feelings about this, since part of what I like has to do with the fact that a lot of it is old and decaying, which obviously isn't very nice for the people who aren't making enough money to keep it otherwise. That aside, it feels older and more interesting than most other parts of town these days, and a haze of snowflakes only increases the effect of being somewhere else.
My favorite CD for walking through snowy Chinatown is the soundtrack to a quirky vampire movie called Nadja that came out in 1995. The movie is kind of like a Hal Hartley take on the undead, and the cast included Hartley faves Martin Donovan and Elina Lowensohn (she's pictured above, though that photo is from a different movie). I rented Nadja recently, and actually liked it better this time than when I originally saw it. The movie may be best known for featuring scenes shot on a Pixelvision camera (google that if you don't know what it is), and I sometimes wonder if the static-filled Pixelvision images are the element that linked the soundtrack with snow in my mind.
The music is by Simon Fisher Turner, who I've been name dropping a lot lately. He's hard to describe in one sentence. He's been a teen pop idol of sorts, a member of The The, a soundtrack composer for Derek Jarman, a soft-pop behind-the-scenester loosely affiliated with the Mike Alway/Bid/Momus/Cherry Red gang. He's covered PIL's Poptones and Bowie's The Prettiest Star, released two albums in the guise of a woman named Claudine Coule, and collaborated with a member of Wire on a series of international soundscapes. I could probably keep going like this.
I have the feeling that the difficulty in pigeonholing him has had a negative effect on his popularity, at least in the US where we like our musicians bite-sized. From what I can tell, he's bigger in Japan. I'm more and more convinced that if the music to Nadja was by, say, Tangerine Dream or something like that, it'd be a cult favorite of major proportions.
While the soundtrack works extremely well with the movie, the nine short pieces that make it up stand on their own. The music is often pretty, but has a creepy undertone, with classical elements like piano and cello colliding with some fairly warped electronics and sound effects. I'm always worried that people will tune out when they hear the word "soundtrack," expecting something diffuse and backgroundy. The soundtrack to Nadja isn't like that. A large part of what makes Simon Fisher Turner's work interesting is that he's focused on sounds, like a lot of ambient people, but has a pop star background that begs attention. Think of it as background music that demands to be in the foreground.
The CD is out of print, but currently it's easy to find used. I highly recommend it...I've had it for about nine years now, with no signs that I'm getting sick of it. And I continue to pull it out every winter, around January or February.
From it, here's:
Love, Death, Avoid It which I've posted before. Probably the catchiest track, it's almost a "song," though the vocals are all sound-bites from the movie.
The Dead Travel Fast, which opens the CD. Starts out with piano and strings, and that part is really wonderful, but about halfway through the track things get stranger.
Isle Of Spices was originally, if the liner notes to The Many Moods Of Simon Turner (a compilation of early Turner pieces) can be believed, the soundtrack to a Japanese cologne commercial. Whether that's true or not, it fits in perfectly on Nadja, to the point where I find it hard to picture the original ad unless it involves vampires.
Pixsmiles is the longest piece on the album. Like The Dead Travel Fast, it starts in moody classical territory before morphing in several different directions across eleven minutes.
I'm going to stick with Simon Fisher Turner this week. I have one big surprise regarding him that'll probably make at least a few people (who I suspect live in Japan) jump for joy. I'll also have some vinyl-only stuff he's done. I'm going to stay away from his pop side, so this week is more for people who liked the recent Flying Lizards/David Cunningham posts.