Miyavi

You know how when you wake up in the morning and those first few precious moments are when your mind is at its freshest and the world connects up in a way it only does in Limitless (2011) right after Bradley Cooper’s character pops those magical pills? Those are the exact moments I’m squandering right now on this post… argh.

I thought I’d wake up with some Miyavi from his 2014 self-titled album, namely the tracks “Guard You”:

 

And “The Others” because I needed to wake up and continue writing my final paper:

 

And there’s just something about the way the lyrics are arranged that give away the fact that they’ve been written by a non-English speaker. I don’t say this to knock his ability as a lyricist or anything. Just pointing out that the percussive use of language (so much like his guitar slapping style), might be part of a lack of awareness and comfort with vowel length in the language, probably in part because Japanese is also a language that lends itself really well to music with a greater focus on beat and rhythm (rap/hip-hop) what with the highly regular alternation of consonant and vowel sounds in the language.

But when it comes to English, some words just take more time to say and can’t fit within certain beats yet in Miyavi’s English song’s they’re sort of jammed packed and squeezed right in there? I think I was just struck by the fact that I could hear this unusual use of language in a slow number like “Guard You”.

Here are a couple of examples of what I mean:

Leave you lying in your bed/ Black rain is in my head”

And then as I was looking at the lyrics a little closer to look for examples to substantiate my claims I noticed something else… There are just certain arrangements of words people want to avoid because they’re hard to articulate within a fixed number of beats and in the song he gives himself too few beats to clear the following line and that has an impact on the clarity of his articulation:

“we can‘t stay to see this war”

The other thing I noticed is the use of the word ‘Sakura’ in the song? I mean I’ve always been of the opinion that Miyavi is an amazing guitarist, he writes really strong melodies and rifts for his songs and he’s really strong as a lyricist too, it’s just that his voice doesn’t really hold up? Just to plug some other artists I really love: Hyde’s amazing range and crystalline delivery from L’Arc en Ciel and Gackt’s amazing vibrato and timbre come to mind…

So anyway, what becomes more apparent to me now that he’s singing in English and has to contend with all the difficulties that come with a language crossover from  Japanese to English where they struggle with the ‘R’s and ‘L’s – so much so that I often get a little embarrassed about sharing Miyavi’s more recent songs because I’m afraid he’ll get judged for his mediocre voice and poor pronunciation (and by extension I will too) before people get a chance to appreciate that he’s really a pretty solid musician…

Dammit, Sonia! Stop digressing with these asides and run-on sentences! But, back to what I was saying, that’s when I was struck by how we always judge these Asians or foreigners for mispronouncing English words but what about these westerners who mispronounce Japanese words and other borrowed terms in the English language? The criticism ought to go both ways. So I just wanted to point out that there’s a rolling naturalness to the way Myv says ‘Sakura’ in the song that just stands out because it’s pronounced the way it’s meant to be pronounced… and the one stanza in Japanese was all the more effective because he sounds like he is in his element.

Which leads me to my final point on poiesis and poetics. The imagery in the lyrics is very vivid, a little lost because of his struggle with pronunciation, but phrases like ‘black rain in my head’ and ‘sakura is falling down’ have a distinctly haiku quality to them with the strong visual imagery that functions as metaphor for abstract ideas like loss and rendering a specific texture to that loss.

Although…  another realization that struck me was how some of these phrases could come across as cheesy and kinda mediocre if like a former student of mine wrote something like that for a creative writing assignment but here it seems oddly effective because in my mind, what comes to bear apart from the words, is the entire history of the person – Miyavi being Japanese and an accomplished musician.

Omg… so biased. Now I just feel bad for all the students I critiqued for submitting similar things in their creative writing assignments -_-“

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Time-Image

So, Time-image, described as an image “imbued with duration: a component of time that is neither successive nor chronological. Seen less as matter than felt as pure duration”(286). These images are described as tending “not to favor narrative” and can be seen as a spatialising of time (286), which means it is NOT a flashback and NOT derived from cuts/montage made in a film.

More conventional examples of the time-image in film come from films like Alain Renais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) where shots of the city itself become an example of the time-image because the trauma of the atomic bomb creates a fissure in time such that it is felt like a physical presence informing every scene despite being an event of the past.

More recent examples of the time-image that stood out to me include one of the closing scenes in Jauja (2015) a recent Lisandro Alonso film, a scenic period piece set in Argentina’s Patagonia region.

In this closing sequence, Viggo Mortensen’s character who has been traveling for days in search for his daughter who has run off and eloped with a soldier, comes upon a cave in which he meets an old lady.

This sparse, barren, yonic space, with this tiny lit central area surrounded by an encroaching dark that gives you very little information about when or where this is, seems like a place that exists outside the flow of time. To add to this sense of the cave being a place outside of time, at one point we see the same compass Mortensen’s onscreen 15 year old daughter took before she left cradled in the old woman’s hand. And in the exchange between Mortensen’s character and the old woman you get this strange confusion of pronouns:

  • VM: I’m looking for my daughter.
  • OL: What did she look like?
  • VM: Blond… very young, 14. No, 15 years old.
  • OL: What did my mother look like?
  • VM: Your mother?
  • OL: I mean the girl’s mother.
  • VM: why?
  • OL: I’ve always wanted to know.
  • VM:… (provides a description)… She left us right after you were born.

Then he looks at her like he didn’t mean to say that, like the pronouns slipped out unconsciously, like the place they’re in is making him speak those words.

  • VM: I’m looking for my daughter.
  • OL: If you’d like to come back some time for a longer visit, I’ll always be here.

With Jauja and Hiroshima Mon Amour there’s a clear spatialization of time and there’s also a representation of multiple, non-successive, non-chronological time streams in the same scene. The Old woman, old before her time, who less than 2hrs before in terms of runtime, and less than a week ago in terms of diegetic time, was a girl of 15; now, stands next to her father, suddenly equal in terms of age.

With both of these films, there is a spatialization of time but there is also a sense of time crawling forward in terms of the long takes used in these films. This drag of time moving slow as molasses is an extra-diegetic effect not quite part of the definition of Deleuze’s  time-image but an effect that always seemed to accompany it.

That is until I saw X-men: Days of Future Past (2014). It didn’t occur to me at the time when I watched it but that one scene – you know what scene I’m talking about – is a really great example of time-image. There’s just something magical about this scene that makes me grin from ear to ear. It’s that feeling one gets when all the stars align and all the moving bits of cinema just fall into place. This scene alone was worth the price of entry, and luckily too because frankly speaking, I wasn’t too charmed with the rest of the film.

Quicksilver Scene Breakdown

This whole scene is spectacle. And like all spectacle, it is non-narrative. It exists somewhat outside of the flow of narrative time. This scene is also clearly time-image driven given the multiple representations of time that co-exist in the scene and for once, it is NOT a scene that unfolds at a snail’s pace in long-takes and deep focus shots. Its concentration on the portrayal of speed also really highlights the ironic way in which cinema consistently represents the greatest of speeds in the most novel uses of slow-motion. And here I’m thinking about things like slow-motion in martial arts fight sequences, bullet-time in The Matrix (1999) and of course Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

So I thought, just for fun, let’s count the types and the ways in which time has been spatially represented in this scene:

  1. Quicksilver’s time: represented by the regular speed he moves at juxtaposed against the entire mise en scene that’s still moving, but in incredibly slow-motion
  2. Diegetic time: which has slowed to a crawl from Quicksilver’s perspective
  3. Collision of the two different movements in time: represented by the scientifically realistic impact sites along the wall where Quicksilver’s foot makes contact with the tiled walls
  4. Extra-diegetic time/ Camera-time(?): spectator’s view of time marked by the especially slow tempo of the song on the soundtrack
  5. And missing time-image of Quicksilver moving in real time although its presence is certainly implied in the rest of the scene

That was fun. Do comment, add on, correct me if I missed anything or got anything wrong. Till the next post!

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The Hyperreal of Digital Cinema

I went spelunking through my notes from my National University of Singapore days when I wrote an essay on David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) and the point about the hyperreal and the mechanical robin at the end of the film came from this citation in case anyone’s interested or is using the film for a final paper or something:

Rhombes, Nicholas. “Blue Velvet Underground: David Lynch’s Post-Punk Poetics.” The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams, Nightmare Visions. Eds. Erica Sheen & Annette Davison. London: Wallflower Press, 2005. 61-76.

In addition to the point made in class though, I wanted to just share that I really liked this idea of the “change from inside out” when it comes to digital cinema that Lev Manovich proposes and Elsaesser and Hagener reference because of this idea of the unbroken skin of digital cinema that parallels the way in which virtual reality is discussed as a truth onto itself because of its all encompassing nature that doesn’t even put it in competition with “realism” in cinema.

I liked the idea of the “inside out change” that cinema is undergoing because it helps me understand and rationalize how when it comes to the change and improvement in computer generated images over the years, we’ve evolved so much more and so much further beyond the ‘morph’ (that theorists seem to have become hung up over as if it’s some film technique to be fetishised and theorized over ad nauseum) to the point where it’s sometimes hard to tell if the image is CGI or not.

However, as much as I like the idea, I can’t say that I agree that virtual reality is not in direct competition with realism in cinema. Instead, I find that the concept of the hyperreal is a more apt way of describing the relationship or the progression between realist cinematic modes and the virtual realities created using the skin of digital cinema.

According to Jean Baudrillard in his publication Simulacra and Simulation (1981), and please correct me if I’m wrong, but the hyperreal is something we arrive at at the end of a 3-stage progression. There is the Real, there is the simulation of the Real in models or Simulacra, and there is the Hyperreal, defined as “the generation by models of a real without origin or reality” (Baudrillard). My personal take on this concept is that even though there is no reality to the Hyperreal, there seems to be a lineage of realism embedded within it given its reliance on models of the Real, once removed; and the nomenclature that continues to make reference to a’real’ even if it is a missing one.

This lineage of realism is clearly seen in the nature and functions of the (other less discussed) computer imaging softwares used in film today. For instance, algorithms that deal with ray-tracing and caustics, otherwise known as the movement of light across smooth and curved surfaces, and through refracting material, all contribute to the realism of a generated image.

Or how about the study and use of Subsurface Scattering software in the generation of computer images, particularly that of skin that gives it its translucent, life-like quality rather than the absolute plasticky fail that we saw in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001).

Or how about Forward Kinetics and Inverse Kinetics software that move joints on models of monsters and creatures, unreal as they are, based on the parent-child relationship joints on an actual skeletal structure will have.

spriter-pro-shift-ik-s

Or how about just how all the great special effects people emphasizing the need to have a solid understanding of anatomy and musculature in order to make good, believable looking monsters? Here, I’m talking about the advice Willis O’Brien, who created and animated through stop-motion the eponymous ape from King Kong (1933), gave to Ray Harryhausen who went on to give us such fantasy classics as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and The Clash of the Titans (1981).

I guess at the end of the day I’m trying to say two things:

  1. there’s a tonne of interesting software used in CGI and they deserve some attention and people should stop focusing on the morph like it’s the holy grail of CGI software
  2. while all questions of realism are at the end of the day period specific, there is a lineage of realism that impacts the kinds of images we create in digital cinema and we shouldn’t just jettison the whole debate over realism in cinema and virtual reality just because virtual reality “is no longer understood as index, trace, and reference of an elsewhere, but as a total environment” onto itself (Elsaesser and Hagener 199). I get the impression that if we take a more “apparatus” centred approach in our examination of the software of CGI, we’ll find many more traces of the real than we thought we would.