[Daigo sighs]

Twice during the course of flaming June (an adjective which, thanks to the wonderful flexibility of English, works both if the sun shines and the mercury rises or if the heavens open and the all-pervasive chill seeps into your bones), I have chosen to spend an evening at home watching a film.  On both occasions, I have decided to go for something light and amusing, a rom-com perhaps, but somehow I have actually ended up watching a foreign language film about the preparation of the dead for their final journey.  I should make clear that on neither occasion have I regretted my choice of viewing: the correct decision was made and I really loved both films.

I am beginning to suspect that this says something about me, probably something slightly worrying.  It would certainly suggest that the part of me which believes itself in charge of decisions doesn’t know me very well (and so should probably steer clear of Delphi), but fortunately the aspect of the self invested with executive control is rather better informed.  Concerns might also be raised that I am becoming excessively morbid – or, and worse, may be acquiring a penchant for necrophilia.  I would like to reassure readers that, as of the time of going to press, I have managed to resist the urge to make the short stroll up to Southampton Old Cemetery for any purposes other than the purely historical or to enjoy its still living flora and fauna (via my eyes and ears alone).

The first of these films was Atmen (Breathing) wherein a young offender finds a new direction working for the Vienna coroner’s office.  I believe this has been covered in a previous post, and so need not detain us further – other than to say that it rewards a second viewing.

This evening, by the power of Netflix (well, I don’t seem to have transformed into an overly muscled superhero – so perhaps I am saying this in the wrong location or holding the incorrect object aloft.  One can only imagine how many failed combinations of place and article Prince Adam tried before He-Man made an appearance), I watched the Japanese film Okuribito (Departures) about a chap who gives up his dream of being an orchestral cellist and by chance finds redemption in a new career as an encoffinist.  In many ways, not a vast amount happens – at one stage a car is driven relatively quickly, there is a scuffle at a wake and our hero shouts once, briefly – but two hours passes very enjoyably.  Unlike many shorter (and most longer) films, at no stage did I feel the lack of a decent editor.

The actor playing our hero (Daigo), and who is slightly older than me, is irritatingly well preserved and also wrote the film.  Back in the eighties, he was in a very successful boyband – which may give some hope to the current crop of bedroom pin-ups when fickle fashion moves on to the next new thing.  Having said that, I’m not expecting any serious arthouse cinema out of the ex-members of Blue or The Wanted in the near (or even distant) future (and yes, I did have to Google the names of boy bands for these references).

I have a feeling that Departures may be the first Japanese language film I have seen (though as previously discussed my memory is now failing rapidly) – and, equally important, heard.  The film reinforced my view, acquired after hearing Kenta Hayashi sing, that the Japanese language forms a beautiful soundscape, with none of the abrasiveness I have come (quite possibly wrongly) to associate with Chinese.  As I don’t speak Japanese (but am rather tempted to try) the film was provided with very thorough English language subtitles.  It would seem that these are intended to serve both the non-Japanese speaker and the deaf reader of English.  As a result, every vocalisation is given a subtitle, as is each use of music, and by far the most common subtitle was [Daigo sighs] – and so we achieve titular enlightenment.

Among its many delights, the film introduced the ancient Japanese idea – from a time before widespread literacy – of giving a meaningful stone (more a pebble based on the examples in the film) to a loved one: a kind of ready-made sculpture, from long before Marcel Duchamp, if you will.  This struck me as rather a fine custom, but some thought would be needed to ensure a reasonably common understanding of the meaning invested in a specific pebble.  One would not want to give inadvertent offence, especially while equipping the now aggrieved party with effective ordnance.

Stopping and plucking

It would be embarrassing to admit how long it took me to settle on the title.  For a while I was going to quote Milan Kundera and go with “the idiocy of guitar music is eternal” but as will become clear I am not really in accord (a-chord?) with this sentiment.  More importantly, it seemed a pity not to allude to the rhyming potential of plucking – and with this re-casting of a work by Mark Ravenhill I can squeeze two terms relating to stringed instruments into a three word title (a pleasing economy of form for the lapsed mathematician).

It seems to have been a while since GofaDM covered music, so I thought we might have a gig report.  Anyone know if the NME still exists?  If so, are they hiring?  On second thoughts, I suspect any job might involve rather a lot of late nights and I am in serious need of my beauty sleep: if I look like this (please see the updated photo of the author plastered across this blog, which I think demonstrates once again his inability to take a selfie) when relatively well rested, I hardly dare think of the consequences to my already ravaged visage should I be further deprived of sore labour’s bath.

On Saturday evening, I once again toddled over to the Arthouse Cafe to sample their musical wares.  First on the bill was Willowen – of which I had previously seen only a third – at full strength, i.e. three people and, not as Google tried to convince me, one rugby player (though the overall rest mass may have been similar).  Their brand of quirky indie folk (their description, not mine) was great fun and so another CD has been added to my collection.  However, on first sight they did look as though one person from each of three different bands had arrived on stage together following some sort of booking error: their music, despite the trio having been separated by geography (I think other separations are possible, or at least not directly ruled out by the Laws of Physics) for six months, proved that they did, in fact, belong Cerberus-like to the same musical body.

Whilst Willowen‘s performance did involve a range of stringed instruments, they were all played using techniques that I had previously observed.  Frankly, I thought I’d seen every possible option but the second act proved me wrong.  Kenta Hayashi does play the guitar in the normal way, and with the aid of a whole heap of looping kit can accompany himself on the guitar and with percussive and vocal effects.  However, he also played it in a whole new mode – laid flat across his lap and striking the strings with the side of his fingers.  I suppose this is a little like col legno in the classical canon, but without the bow (and so the legno).  I wondered if it might relate to a typical mode of play for a Japanese stringed instrument, but my research has drawn a blank – so perhaps it’s original?  It certainly helped to make for a very interesting and entertaining set.  Another curious insight from the evening was that sung Japanese sounds far less alien that I would have expected, though I’ll admit my sample size remains quite small.

Talking of looping, performing as a one-man-band is a lot more straightforward than in days of yore.  You can set yourself up with just a single instrument and a bit of electronic kit, though I fear the battery pack could be a bit of a killer out on the road, and still have a huge musical and sonic repertoire at your disposal.  I am constantly amazed at the range of sounds and musical styles that can be produced with the humble guitar.  It can act as a itself and as a decent substitute for a harpsichord and a cajón; the strings can be plucked, strummed, struck or bowed (and no doubt more besides).   Add in the player’s voice and a little beat-boxing ability and you have a fair chunk of an orchestra available while retaining the option of using public transport with relative ease.

All of which suggests that I really should be getting to grips with my own guitar, which I have had for twenty years but have barely played (except for brief and sporadic bursts of rarely repeated enthusiasm).  I had been put off by tuning – but this can now be aided with a simple app, or done for you by a robot (amazing, but true – though it doesn’t look much like a traditional sic-fi robot).  I have also been put off by steel strings, which tear your fingertips to shreds – but have now seen very good, professional guitarists (Eyes Like the Sky, a previous Arthouse guitar discovery, being a splendid example) using nylon strings.  All my excuses thus fled, I suppose you will be expecting some sort of guitar-based musical performance in an upcoming post.  Fair enough, I suppose, but it might be timely to remind all readers that patience is a virtue (though, disappointingly, not one of the seven deadly virtues).