2012 Artists of the Year

From poets and directors to comedians and dancers, the Twin Cities are teeming with creativity

Undeniably, Holy Motors strikes an elegiac tone. But the film, about a professional chameleon named Monsieur Oscar, played by simian, sinewy Denis Lavant, the lead in Carax's first three films, is so full of transporting emotion, dream logic, and virtuosity that it practically pulsates; no other movie in 2012 seemed as alive as this one. Oscar explains that he continues his exhausting shape-shifting work for "the beauty of the act," a goal that Carax has similarly pursued for the past three decades. The beauty of Holy Motors flows from its deep reserves of melancholy, perhaps rooted in the director's own personal anguish: The film concludes with a haunting image of actress Yekaterina Golubeva, Carax's former girlfriend and star of Pola X, who died last year (their daughter appears briefly in one of Holy Motors' early scenes).

Carax himself appears in the film's prologue, a pajama-clad sleepwalker who opens a door with a key affixed to his finger, creeping down a passageway that leads to a movie-theater balcony overlooking a roomful of stony-silent spectators. Like these viewers, we too are hushed at first, not knowing what to expect. By the end of Holy Motors, however, audiences — and cinema — are revitalized.

Brooklyn-based critic Melissa Anderson is a regular contributor to City Pages' film section and also writes frequently for Artforum. She recently completed her fourth year as a selection-committee member for the New York Film Festival.

Pauline Oliveros

Kate Casanova's Mushroom Chair
Kate Casanova's Mushroom Chair

By Ray Cummings • Photo by Pieter Kers

A decade before Lou Reed cut Metal Machine Music as a transporting — if cynically calculated — act of artistic defiance, Pauline Oliveros was busily splitting signals, flattening frequencies, and otherwise exploring the possibilities of sonic mishaps. From hissing distortion, severe feedback, tape-delayed stutters, and countless electronic techniques and preparations, this professor, theorist, and author began to define a new, bizarre musical idiom; some know it as experimental sound, or noise.

Reverberations: Tape & Electronic Music 1961-1970, issued by Important Records back in May, is as daunting to absorb as it is to contemplate: an 11-hour-long question mark whose scope feels almost without limits. Aube, Merzbow, and a couple of others aside, few in experimental sound have had the nerve to lay quite this much grade-A rarity on seekers in a single sitting. One key difference is that Oliveros's compositions here — cut in the artist's home studio (1961), at the San Francisco Tape Music Center (1964-1966), the University of Toronto (1966), the Mills Tape Music Center (1966-1967), and the University of California San Diego (1967-1970) — treat abrasion with enough warmth and curiosity that her adventures never become oppressive.

No two explorations are alike here, each wandering into a unique meditative hinterland. "Angel Fix" (1966) approaches drone as something amorphously sculptural, sometimes suggesting the whine of a dentist's drill, at others implying a dirigible being inflated with helium treble. A late stretch of "Jar Piece," from the same year, presents as a polite cacophony of tonal squirts and squeaks. "TimePerspectives_MIX," cut in 1961, trawls, very casually, between what sounds like an especially discombobulated game of Ping-Pong, minute shifts in atmospheric pressure, tape manipulations, and recycled bell reverberations; the experience is not unlike lounging in a haunted recreation center. At moments, Oliveros seemed to anticipate both her spiritual descendants and the accidents that future technology would engender: loop clinic "Red Horse Headache" portends the whirlpooling laptop extremes of John Weise, albeit with less intensity, while "A Little Noise in the System" embodies the skipping of scuffed, silent compact discs and hospital monitoring machines.

Reverberations is the sort of project that a listener never quite becomes entirely familiar with, and that's part of its charm. Its depth and breadth ensures that it's perpetually surprising, thrilling, polarizing, confounding. A wealth of Oliveros material exists, and there's no reason not to explore everything, but Reverberations stands as an inspiring testament to left-turn digressions, a lark worth surrendering to, a gift that never stops giving.

Ray Cummings is a City Pages contributor. He lives in  Round Rock, Texas, and is the author of several books, including Class Notes, Assembling the Lord, and Crucial Sprawl.

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