Ambient experiments from Casino Vs. Japan, “The Grand Bizarre” at Rooftop Cinema, and more events of note in Madison this week. | Photo: Casino Versus Japan, by Joshua Schnable on Flickr.
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THURSDAY JUNE 13
The ongoing Isthmus Jazz Festival wraps up this weekend with a few very good events, including a Saturday headlining set on the Terrace from Makaya McCraven—more about what’s catching our eyes at the festival as a whole here. The festival has also been making more of a point these last few years to incorporate film screenings, talks, and other programming that goes beyond its strong lineup of actual jazz performances. Gary Alderman, longtime host of WORT’s Wednesday afternoon Journeys Into Jazz show, will host this event at the west side’s Sequoya Library, where he’ll present a program of rare footage from across the history of the genre. Alderman’s work as a jazz collector and historian also includes finding and selling out-of-print jazz publications and recordings, so it’ll be interesting to see what he shares from his archives here. He’s promised that the footage will run the gamut, drawing from American and international TV broadcasts, movies, festival performances. Alderman will also be providing some context and narration of footage that he’s hinted may include “Charlie Parker, Roland Kirk, Dexter Gordon, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, June Christy, Anita O’Day, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins, and other jazz musicians.” —Scott Gordon
FRIDAY JUNE 14
Where does she find that wonderful fabric? In the last decade, experimental filmmaker Jodie Mack has developed an instantly recognizable aesthetic, one that showcases her adoration for colorfully kaleidoscopic patterns in mixed media, stop-motion animation, and the tangibility of personal keepsakes and crafts. Mack’s work has previously screened for Madison audiences in a five-film retrospective at the 2014 Wisconsin Film Festival , and now we get to experience her latest work and first feature-length endeavor (at 60 minutes) at this special Rooftop Cinema presentation.
The Grand Bizarre, a play on the concept of a “bazaar,” is a dialogue-less fabric travelogue that carries the aesthetic of an extended music video, framing the movements of the world’s vibrant tapestries, which lay under our feet or may often be perceived as mere wallpaper. Mack’s is a cinematic world draped and enveloped in literal fabric, as if it’s also the fabric of our being. Not only is this illustrated in the life of these textiles as they adorn, sway, and exuberantly dance through various locations like urban markets and pastoral meadows, but also their own production and relationship to paper geography and printed language.
The stark juxtaposition of scenes and amalgamation of materials is often like its representation of time; The Grand Bizarre uniquely harnesses time-lapse photography, synchronizing accelerated, cycling rhythms with an innovative approach to sound design. Mack’s score favors an unorthodox sequencing of glitch-electronic soundscapes, augmented by the manipulation of field-recorded bird calls, cricket stridulation, and the mechanical clicks and purrs of a sewing machine.
Mack’s methods feel as hypnotic as they are intuitive. Live-action footage inventively mirrors hand-crafted animation, leaving viewers in awe of how the layered impressions were even achieved, blurring these distinctive realities. MMoCA’s Rooftop setting, somewhere between the modern architecture and gardens captured in Mack’s film, is an ideal environment for the experience, where images are in constant flux but always prepossessing. —Grant Phipps
Screamin’ Cyn Cyn And The Pons, Butcher’s Union, Hitter, The Hussy, Gender Confetti. High Noon Saloon, 9 p.m.
Screamin’ Cyn Cyn And The Pons gave Madison’s music community a sweaty, glittery center of gravity in the mid-aughts, playing live shows that blended frantic punk with a flair for absurd theatricality. The songs lent themselves to over-the-top setpieces: Guitarist/vocalist Cynthia Burnson played a demented dinner-party host on “Set The Table,” and vocalist/keyboard player Shane O’Neill declared a chimichanga-fueled “girls’ night out” on “Pedro’s,” a song that climaxed with the refrain of “I want a House on the Rock, a House on the Rock, and a baby in my belly.” The band also used its popularity to boost up other bands and celebrate the variety of music in town, offering a natural bridge between folks looking to rock out and people in search of something a bit freakier.
O’Neill left Madison for New York in 2011—he recently caught up with Tone Madison about that in a podcast interview—but the band never really broke up and still plays the occasional show, with drummer Steve Shah and bassist Christian Burnson grounding the spectacle in taut, driving rhythms. Shah, Christian Burnson, and Cynthia Burnson are still in town, and have gone on to play in bands including Paper Wasp, The Flavor That Kills, and Venus In Furs. This show, like Cyn Cyn shows of olden times, is something of a marathon at the High Noon, with four other bands on the bill. They include Madison queer-punk duo Gender Confetti, who recently announced their debut album, We’re Gay. —Scott Gordon
SUNDAY JUNE 16
Casino Versus Japan, Veranda Culture, Leech, Sage Caswell. JiggyJamz Records, 2 to 8 p.m.
Experimental musician Erik Kowalski is best known for his long-running project Casino Versus Japan, which over the course of 20 years has ranged from the beat-driven space-outs of recordings like 2000’s Go Hawaii to the ambient processed-guitar glimmer of last year’s Suicide By Sun. Kowalski almost goes out of his way to avoid attention, although the music itself is available on Bandcamp and he toured with Deerhunter in 2010. And it’s not necessarily a charismatic sort of obscurity: He seems largely content to hunker down in his home base of Green Bay, playing very few live shows and doing very little press or promotion—his most recent contact with the media seems to be a lovely mix for Fact in 2018. He told Bandcamp Daily in 2016 that he likes “being part of a working class community where things aren’t part of a scene,” though he did play a more prominent role once in Milwaukee’s music scene.
That Casino Versus Japan has such a reverent following is a testament to Kowalski’s supple and clear-eyed manipulation of sound. Even in the intimidating expanse of his 2016 album Frozen Geometry—which spans 80 tracks and more than three hours—Kowalski largely focuses on concise tracks in which melodies firmly but gently tug against powerful atmospheres. He excels at combining guitar melodies, synths, and other sound sources into one pleasantly scratchy fabric. Whether giving his delay-soaked clean-toned guitar a more overt role—as on “Barefoot Belle Of The Sun,” from Frozen Geometry—or favoring a bleary mass of sounds—see Suicide By Sun‘s “Death To The Fictitious Light Cycle”—Casino Versus Japan masterfully disarms and immerses the listener. Kowalski is playing a live set at this afternoon/early-evening show. The host venue, dance-focused record store JiggyJamz, is asking those interested in attending to RSVP ahead of time. —Scott Gordon