South By Southwest

SXSW Review: Hrishikesh Hirway, March 15, St. David’s Bethel Hall

Posted on by Ricky in South By Southwest | Leave a comment


Song Exploder is one of my favourite podcasts and so when I saw that Hrishikesh Hirway was playing a set at SXSW this year, it was a pretty easy decision to see what his music is all about. Honestly, as a man who has spent the better part of the last few years dissecting some of the best tunes from some of the most highly regarded artists in the world, I was also expecting his songs to be quite good for some reason.

I was not disappointed- Playing with Jenny Lee Owens, Hrishikesh played a set of deeply personal acoustic tunes filled with great arrangements and nice hooks. His tracks reminded me of Death Cab for Cutie’s Plans era in that it did well in balancing tender notes and delicate vocals and lyrics.

As this was his first show in many years, the set started off with some nerves He spent the first six minutes giving a backstory for a two minute song- but it was all good as the dude is an expert when it comes to speaking.

Hrishikesh Hirway’s album comes out at the end of the month and is worth a check out. Wondering if he’ll do a Song Exploder episode on his own song?

SXSW Film Review: It’s Quieter in the Twilight [Billy Miossi, 2022]

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

As you read this, there are two hunks of metal, silicon, solder and yes, probably plastic the size of a Honda Civic hurtling through interstellar space at breakneck speed, having clocked 17 and 20 light hours since 1977. It sounds like a long drive across the North American continent until you realize that it takes only 8 minutes for light to reach the Earth once it breaks from the solar photosphere.

Besides our incessant radio broadcasts, NASA’s Voyagers I and II are the most distant manmade objects away from home. While Voyager I parted with the plane of the planets long ago after encountering Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager II survived its visits to all the giant planets before breaking out of the heliosphere in 2012. Suffice to say that we had no choice in the matter – when travelling through interstellar space, the voyage, above the destination, must be what counts. Consuming a mindbogglingly low amount of power (4W per year) and built to be tough, the Voyagers have defied expectations and remain functional. So, in addition to the scientific and symbolic importance, these two probes are now testing a new frontier: can the mission’s biological componentry keep up?

It’s Quieter in the Twilight is an endearing documentary about the small team of humans who still look after these two explorers – when they aren’t raising families, expanding their own horizons, feeding hobbies, and dealing with pandemics. Despite the space probes’ resiliency, they are still ancient machines made well-before the space shuttles, which, by the way, are retired. Working with Voyager sounds like trying to do Emergency Medicine with a geriatric patient with a 17 hr delay – you won’t even know if you’ve done something nasty until it’s too late. While it’s really out of necessity that they be brought into home lives, it is still touching when these machines become part of the family like a grandparent.

The Voyager program has always had a measure of luck, and it was fortuitous that a “stasis mode” was already planned when COVID-19 made everything pear-shaped. Despite the ravages of time, it is quite cosmic to hang one’s hat and anchor one’s life in a (slowly) moving dot between solar systems. Who can be confident that our work will still have relevance 50 yrs from now? The most ridiculous thing I learned was Voyagers’ command frequency changes by TEMPERATURE! In my mind the “report a robbery” Monty Python sketch is playing and each police constable has a speech register tuned to his body temperature…

Should the probes outlive their human caretakers, I hope there will be someone to pick up the baton so that one day some alien kid will be inspired by that weird space junk orbiting their home star. Just no interstellar war, please.

SXSW Review: MEMES, March 13, Cedar St. Courtyard

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Comments Off


Over the course of the first couple of days of SXSW, it became clear that this year’s edition of the festival will have a little bit of a different feel. Aside from the fact that it’s the first time the festival has taken place with the vague threat of nuclear war hanging over our heads, there’s also the matter that we are still pretty much in the midst of a pandemic, though the lack of masks seen in and around Austin might suggest otherwise. Also, people are now bringing their dogs to SouthBy events for some reason. So yeah, things are definitely a bit weird and not necessarily in a fun “Keep Austin Weird” kind of way.

But all of that aside, once the music got properly underway, it felt more or less like the SXSW of days gone by. And once we made it to Cedar Street Courtyard to take in Glasgow’s MEMES as part of Sunday night’s British Music Embassy programming, we were in Panic Manual’s happy place.

Beginning their set while the house PA was still piping out the between set music, MEMES came on strong with a set full of energy and aggression as the duo of John and Paul McLinden bashed out a short but sweet set of post-punk ragers. Upon first listen, my initial thought was this was just another in the recent parade of Idles-esque band, but they absolutely won me over. And by the time they ended out their set with an absolute banger of a tune (“Do you like German techno? Good, ’cause you’re gonna get some!”), they surely had made a few new fans.

SXSW Film Review: 32 SOUNDS (Sam Green, 2022)

Posted on by guestwriter in Movies, South By Southwest | Leave a comment

32 SOUNDS is seemingly custom-designed to be one of those tiles that lives forever in the scroll of your local library’s free online streaming service: An intriguing, brain-teasing but ultimately meagre documentary built to bestow a greater appreciation for the world around you, but may just end up being better suited to helping you fall asleep on the couch on a lazy spring afternoon. Award-winning documentarian Sam Green invites the viewer (or, more earnestly, the listener) on a journey through 32 individual sounds. You may wonder why that particular number. Do they correlate to octaves or other fundamental laws of sound? Are we cataloguing important moments in the history of sound innovation? Or, perhaps, is this a personal journey through 32 important moments from the filmmakers’ own life? Unfortunately for the audience, the answer is all those things and seemingly not enough of any one of them, either.

There is no grand thesis to 32 SOUNDS beyond tickling the viewer’s auditory ossicle and the film, for however genuinely noble its intentions, buckles under that assiduous weight. We’re treated to sounds from the womb, detours through the avant-garde scene of the 60s and 70s as seen through the eyes of pioneering sound artists like Annea Lockwood, peeks behind the curtain of Hollywood sound foley production and extended looks at Green’s own life and personal recordings with subjects of past documentary efforts. Any number of these angles would make for a solid focus to build a clean 90 minutes around, but Green opts for a poetic collage of all these ideas in addition to applying some aural glue to hold the vignettes together, like trees solemnly falling or church bells chiming in the distance.

What is meant to come across as an awakening experience to the beauty of nature and the miracle of hearing frequently comes across likely a shapeless This American Life episode, with Green whispering platitudes like, “Listening to a mixtape is like travelling through space and time,” or, “[We were] making films, which kind of means ‘marvelling at people and the world’,” at the audience. Such banal insights could be gateways in deeper discussions about our relationship to sound, but 32 SOUNDS frequently opts to skim from one surface to the next, barely clearing a bar for brain-tingling sensation set by any given Bose in-store demo room one could wander into at a mid-tier mall in the 2000s.

There are fleeting moments of inspired filmmaking that make 32 SOUNDS work better as an actual movie rather than a Calm meditation podcast, particularly in cuts that make the distant past feel much closer than it really is. For example, when we suddenly jump from watching Lockwood demonstrating one of her art installations in the 60s to witnessing her looking at footage of that event on an iPhone in the present day, 32 SOUNDS compellingly bridges an enormous gap of nearly 60 years in the blink of an eye. Elsewhere, however, 32 SOUNDS frequently declines to the offer to be a movie, even inviting the viewer to close their eyes and ignore what’s on-screen no less than five separate times.

While not unexpected given the subject matter, this approach puts cracks in the foundation that 32 SOUNDS never reconciles, often inhibiting its ability to take full advantage of film as an art form. In the homestretch, Green even admits to the viewer that he was having trouble understanding how to wrap all of these ideas up into a resounding cinematic ending, remarking, “No, I don’t really know where this is heading,” to the viewer. He eventually lands on making the film temporarily about himself, which is an approach that honestly would have been welcome as a throughline throughout the whole experience. Sarah Polley’s STORIES WE TELL is no less effective for exploring the impact of memory and identity through images and film taken from her own life, but Green often shies away from making his story the spine here even if when that vulnerability naturally invites itself as the most organic approach to take to get the audience genuinely invested in what’s happening.

32 SOUNDS amounts to a novel experiment that doesn’t add up to more than the sum of its parts. The approach is even treated flippantly on occasion, with title cards announcing what number we’re at, appearing unceremoniously at random (to paraphrase one moment: “We’re at sound #8, but who’s counting, really?” Green remarks ever so uncannily). 32 SOUNDS wants to be simultaneously carefree and profound, deeply reverent yet also playful. One moment stuck out to me that exemplifies these tones rubbing up against each other unsuccessfully, where Green presents an early-20th century film reel about the structure of the human ear. While the old-timey black and white footage plays, he dismisses their approach as clearly corny and outdated compared to what his film can teach us about the human ear. All I could think about at that moment was how 32 SOUNDS might be received over 75 years from now: would documentary filmmakers of the 22nd century be similarly dismissive of Green’s labouriously abstract, incohesive approach? There are a lot of carefully considered details to be seen and heard in 32 SOUNDS, but false notes such as these rang the loudest in my ears by the time the credits rolled.

- Joe Hackett