McCullough and Weijters at Audio For the Arts, “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians” at MMoCA, and more events of note in Madison this week. (Photo of McCullough and Weijters by Eric Malfait)
FRIDAY NOVEMBER 29
In addition to providing a dedicated venue in Madison for jazz, Café Coda has also made it part of its mission to tap into the Madison area’s spoken-word and poetry offerings. Those efforts continue with a series organized and hosted by R.R. Moore, who recently relocated to Madison and has self-published a series of noir novels set in his native Beloit. At this installment, performers will include Lature Carter, Rob Dz, James Horton, Poetik Ye, and Niko’Li Vocal. The collected experience of these artists ranges from rapping to fiction to poetry slams to chopping up improvised rhymes with jazz artists, so expect a healthy variety of themes and approaches. —Scott Gordon
Since 2004, Wisconsin’s own Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher have been touring the US with the Found Footage Festival, screening oddities and marvels captured on film and then stuffed away in the dusty VHS shelves of thrift stores nationwide, almost to be lost to time. This year the two are touring with their ninth collection, pulling out new footage, jokes, and “what did I just watch?” moments at every stop along the way.
There are two governing principles behind Pickett and Prueher’s curation. First, anything they screen must be found on VHS. If it’s just online, it doesn’t make the cut. Second, and most importantly, it must be unintentionally funny. Beyond that, anything goes. From quirky animal videos to sinister-looking puppet shows, whose natural eeriness is amplified ten-fold by the grain of VHS, Pickett and Prueher have got it all. And they’ve got the jokes and expert commentary to pull it together into a cohesive comedy spectacle, too. It’s a simple enough premise, one that’s fluid enough to allow ample room for total silliness and still memorable enough to inspire similar efforts from the likes of Nathan Fielder and Kyle Mooney. To anyone who’s ever been curious about what happens when you cross a modern day take on a circus freak show with a survey of 20th century experimental film, this one’s for you. —Sannidhi Shukla
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 30
Trumpeter Chad McCullough, who began commuting up to Madison earlier this year to teach at UW-Madison’s school of music, explores the instrument’s patient and subtle shades on Pendulum, an album he released in 2018 with Belgian pianist Bram Weijters. The album’s 25 tracks, all composed by Weijters, build methodically on arpeggios and concise but lyrical phrases, and throughout the album the duo revisits certain melodies, structures, and rhythms. The album’s final track is a brief reprise, and the key number on Pendulum is 24: Weijters wanted to write a composition cycle that built on the idea of time, and on a music-theory level, he chose to cycle through each key center in the 12-tone chromatic scale twice over. Most of us don’t consciously pick up on what key a given song is in, but the gradual rotation here does slightly reorient the listener from track to track, especially since it’s easier to notice such changes when there are only two instruments playing—for most of the record, just trumpet and piano, though Weijters also uses electric pianos and synths here and there. Track titles like “The Same Twelve Notes” and “The Same Waltz (part two)” make it pretty clear that Weijters wants the listener to be actively aware of the role that repetition plays here.
Despite its clever technical framing, Pendulum is remarkably consistent in its emotional impact. The duo generally maintains a ruminative pace and a somber mood, though there’s a whole continuum at work within that, from the ominously undulating piano lines of “Still Dark” to the tender mix of hurt and hope on “Which Way.” McCullough gives almost each note from his trumpet time to build up and gently subside, at times matching Weijters’ phrasing (as on the descending patterns of “Suspended Weight”) and at times engaging in a tense call-and response (as on “A Different Night”). Both instruments get an almost luxurious amount of room to breathe, and the whole record benefits from the 10 years or so the two have spent performing and improvising together, even if this ultimately feels more like a modern-classical album than a jazz album. Slow and minimal pieces require a great deal of sensitive communication and intuitive timing to get right, and it’s a testament to McCullough and Weijter’s rapport that Pendulum never feels stiff or overly formalistic. The duo performs here in the cozy live room of downtown recording studio Audio for the Arts, taking advantage of the studio’s in-house Yamaha grand piano. —Scott Gordon
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 4
It would be hard to find a cinema movement more unified by political consciousness than the Romanian New Wave. Over the last 15 years, internationally acclaimed directors such as Corneliu Porumboiu, Cristi Puiu, and Cristian Mungiu have used a combination of black comedy and stark social realism to make blistering critiques of nearly every corner of Romanian society. One of the less-celebrated of these filmmakers, Radu Jude, has been quietly pushing the formal boundaries of this style to even further challenge and intellectually stimulate his audience. His latest, 2018’s I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians, is a brutal and intellectual exploration of Romanian historical memory.
Barbarians follows theater director Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob) as she prepares a new large-scale piece depicting the 1941 Odessa massacre, a mass-killing of Jews perpetrated by Romanian soldiers in the Ukrainian city. In the rehearsal stages, Mariana is repeatedly taken to task by her actors (mostly reenactment enthusiasts) and producers who are reluctant to dwell on atrocities committed by their government. This sense of historical revisionism sometimes veers into outright Holocaust denial, and the film’s climax finds Mariana’s production being received a bit too enthusiastically by its audience.
Though Barbarians is a narrative feature, certain directorial choices make it feel more akin to an essay film. The film’s dialogue is mostly comprised of conversations regarding the ethical concerns of the theater project. The film’s underlying concern is what duty artists have to create consciousness-raising art that confronts historical horrors, and it secondarily becomes an auto-critique of what aesthetic considerations filmmakers have to make to do the same. To this end, the film is at its most effective when it ditches traditional narrative tropes altogether to linger on the base materials the artists are considering using; presenting unvarnished texts, videos, and photos in long takes (most disturbingly of hanged victims of the massacre), Jude seems to be surrendering all aesthetic considerations to a raw historical realism. Unglamorous as it might be, the film is a perfect marriage of form and function, and an essential entry to the Romanian New Wave canon. —Maxwell Courtright
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