The first guest to unveil 3 of their favourite books, movies and albums is the mastermind of Machine Music.
Ron may be familiar to some of us music people as the editor of the splendid Machine Music, but he is also a lecturer in English Literature and a novelist.
He has a wealth of knowledge concerning weird and extreme music of course, and throughout the years he has written numerous features including some exclusive interviews to the likes of Neurosis, Autopsy and Testament just to mention a few.
The book that I guess I love the most but that frustrates me more than any other book is Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil. It frustrates me mostly because Hamsun was a bit of an asshole, and I have this running argument with myself on what it is about art made by assholes that evidently seems to appeal to me. But, Hamsun the man aside, this is basically the perfect story told in the perfect way. I think about this quite a bit, about the journey Hamsun takes from the scattered, hallucinogenic prose of Hunger to the stark simplicity of Growth of the Soil and often wonder if that’s the path a lot of artists take – from finding to refining one’s voice.
The book I wish I had written myself is probably W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. When I read it for the first time I kept thinking “How is it possible for a person so far from me to feel like family?” The mixing of philosophical, historical, fictional, and photographic just took my breath away and really made me reconsider what you were “allowed” to do when writing literature. Mostly, that you’re “allowed” to write something that doesn’t even look like literature but still makes you feel an intense feeling of melancholy and love. Probably my favorite modern writer.
My last book is another one of those wild rides, this time a much wilder and unbridled one – Orly Castel-Bloom’s Dolly City. It’s weird even trying to describe it, but basically it’s a book-length intense study in the nightmarish anxiety that comes with being a person, a daughter, and a parent in the modern world. It’s dystopian, cannibalistic, sadistic, and human and since my first time reading it it really changed what I thought about writing. That sometimes you take an absolute freedom, a launching into another world of imagination, that strikes at the core of your basic fears as a person.
The movie that comes to mind when I think of perfect moviemaking, at least for me, has to be Silence of the Lambs. At heart it’s kind of a horror/thriller I guess, and really, when you get down to it, I guess it really is all it is. But I can’t think of a movie that does what Silence of the Lambs does better, which is to take the basic elements of plot, suspense, and character and utilize them to their absolute max. Like a perfect dinner made up of the simplest ingredients. Plus it has the best title reveal of all time, which in itself is a great emblem for the movie’s magical simplicity – it just shows up, and then goes away. Impeccable.
In my adult life the movie I’ve probably seen more than any other is Waltz with Bashir. I went to see it two or three times when it was playing in the cinema, and many more times at home. There’s something “wrong” about making an animated documentary, because that seems like such a huge contradiction in terms. But, not unlike Sebald, Ari Folman is able to use both poles, the dream-like phantasy of animation and the stark reality of war and its aftermath to create something so new I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist outside of this movie. Plus it was a real intellectual driving force behind a lot of my own work with war, war experiences, and war literature.
My third pick is going to be a documentary, The Act of Killing. In a funny way it shares that play between fiction and fact that drives much of Waltz with Bashir, just from a completely different angel. It takes a whole building’s worth of guts to go into the emotional and political minefield that is the mass killings in Indonesia in the 1960s and it takes even more audacity to introduce role-play and drama into it. But, time and again, art – and make no mistake, this is art at its best – shows how well it can crystallize and make clear what history misses. A monumental movie and probably my favorite documentary of all time.
It goes without saying that there are many ways for me to pick three albums, but I guess I’ll just choose those that come to mind when “forced” to pick. The first one would be, quite predictably for me, Megadeth’s Peace Sells….But Who’s Buying? Megadeth was my favorite band growing up, and remains a huge source of inspiration for me as an adult. But to me this album has all the best attributes of the band – songwriting, riffs, tone, atmosphere – along with an added little irritant/magic-dust that probably turns a lot of metal fans away and really is what makes Megadeth into such a special band. It’s heavy, but not just heavy, it’s dark, but not just dark, it’s funny, but not just funny. The literal definition of the sum being greater than any part, and my vote for greatest metal album ever.
My second albums has to be Kessef’s The Meaning of Stam, an album that should be one of the talked-about releases of the century as far as I’m concerned, by a band that is at one and the same time the most talented band I know and the most frustrating assemblage of personalities known to man. And it’s exactly that magic – the best drummer in the world, the best bass player, the best rhythm guitarist, and the best vocalist/songwriter – that erupts into this wild, unwieldy creature, made up of equal parts Wreck and Reference angst and Crowbar despair. Unreal.
Lastly, I think I’ll go with LINGUA IGNOTA’s CALIGULA. Obviously it’s a stunning album that made a huge impact upon release, and I’m far from the only person who loves it. But I think what it did at the time – aside from absolutely flooring me, quite literally – was to emphasize to me how deeply I enjoy art that feels real. Not real as in the biography that comes with the art, or real in terms of, I don’t know, how “clean” the recording is, but real as in a person is giving everything they have, is bending their soul into a new shape, and that stunning sensation, part-fear, part-exhilaration, of a sharp slap to the face. I knew I loved those things already, but seeing so many people recoil when approaching this album or calling it “heavy” really highlighted to me how “unheavy” it felt to me. It felt beautiful.