Ulcerate – Music Review

By David Matthews

Ulcerate – San Francisco Bathhouse – 22/05/2015

“Ulcerate” is a New Zealand three piece experimental music group, with Jamie Saint Merat-drums, William Cleverdon-guitar, and Paul Kelland-bass/vocals. Their music borrows from aspects of many different genres, the most obvious being a combination of progressive/melodic/blackened/technical/death-metal. They are currently touring Australasia for the release of their fourth studio album “Vermis”. Ulcerate produce their work from the specific perspective of “deathmetal”, both in theme, and sound. They incorperate within their imagery a traditional (somewhat cheesy and generic) style of death-metal, which could be described as “brutal”, “anger”, “dark”, “morbid” etc. Aiming to generate sound of an oppressive, and aggressive nature. Though their latter compositions have progressed to sometimes suggest a “nicer”, “delicate”, dynamic, and emotive side.

This was the fourth time I have witnessed in the flesh, what is the powerful experience of being subjected to such intensity that is an Ulcerate live performance. And as you may assume, I have been listening to their recordings for the better part of a decade, and I still find myself unearthing something new each listen, of even the oldest material. It’s layered thick with subtle brilliance, and some (not so subtle) musical skill. It in itself is a showcase of musicianship, both traditional and more unconventional. Ulcerate produce great sound production and world class technical professionalism. While their sound could be described as intense, noise, experimental, or brutal, using heavy distortions, and low bass frequencies, their compositions do though show some relationships to the traditional notions of both classical music and sonic art categories. Following the rules set out by music theory, but also bending, and breaking them intentionally to create mood and emotion, and to contrast against the harmonic and the dissonant. Ulcerate use a lot of dischord harmonies, though these are almost always responded with clean, tuneful parts which help to hold different pieces and sections together, and give the listener some breif respite from full time extremity. The combination and layering of different scales, modes and key signatures work to create its own natural harmonies and dissonance to which blend and distort to become almost inaudible interpretations of scale and chord. This dynamic movement creates mood and atmosphere, with builds and breakdowns as an important part of their makeup. The timekeeping is that of a mathmatical genius (drummer, Jamie Saint Merat), who combines layers of double/tripple/quadruple timing, easily playing around the beat over odd and displaced rhythms, and switching tempo, which seem to trick you into finding the solid downbeat, only to flip it yet again and change direction entirely; again juxtapositioning the intense with a more easy-listening approach, and creating an intriguing visual experience.


Samsara – Film Review

By David Matthews

“Samsara”; film, 2011 is a meditative documentary which journeys through some of the earth’s most vast and diverse natural and cultural spaces. The term “Samsara”; used in Hinduism and Buddhism, relates to the material world, and describes death and rebirth as a continuous movement or cycle of life and existence.  Directed by Ron Fricke, “Samsara” was made as a continuation to Fricke’s 1992 film “Baraka”, and the 1985 “Chronos” of a similar style, reuniting again with the same producer Mark Magidson.

As a non-narrative documentary, Samsara relies heavily on cinematic techniques like time-lapse, and music and audio to portray its message and build its themes of time and movement. It begins by delivering a unique view, opening the viewer’s horizon depicting striking natural scenery and landscapes, painting a picture of beauty and awe, capturing wondrous imagery of the earth. It progresses into the realm of human existence, portraying some diverse cultural and spiritual scenery, simple human existence with the interest of living sustainably and in harmony with the earth, showing images of religion, ritual, culture, and nature.

The progressions of the film though flows on to more populous environments, building to human contemporary civilisations; ritualistic, fast-paced cityscapes, which morphs the idea of this beautiful ever-moving cycle of life into a more contrasted, damaging perception of it. “Samsara” highlights the efficiency of our city’s using scenes of intertwining motorways and factory lines, and provokes repulse at scenes of meat industry, and human wasteful living. It shows concerns with the processed nature of our existence, and the results and effects of it, like fast food diet, obesity, cosmetic procedures, mass production, waste management, and firearms.

The musical score in “Samsara” was composed by Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard, and Marcello De Francisci. Stearns also worked on both “Baraka” and “Chronos”, and Gerrard collaborated also on “Baraka”. Dissimilar to “Baraka” and “Chronos” though, “Samsara” was edited without sound and compositions were altered to the edited imagery. The music highlights the films perspective using tempo and pitch to enhance the visual material, and persuade an emotive response. Its contrasts flow and sporadic movement, and nice and warm, calming tone with discord harmonies and tension. It takes a lot of influence from world music, utilising various instruments and scales.  The music’s unconventional nature and juxtapositions add to the films ebb and flow.

“Samsara” is produced in a way that doesn’t seem to attempt to persuade you of any particular political view; it instead shows you real scenes and images in a way to direct your thought to draw your own ideas and conclusions. It combines much diversity to bring about a collective self-awareness of us as humans, and our connection to our planet, not stating for good or bad, rather questioning for better or for worse.