Review: K.W. Cahill – Two Films (Power Moves Library, Nov 15)

In March 2019, I walked about ten minutes down a hill from my house at the time to see Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson play. I still remember much of that night, even minor details, because perhaps more so than any other live set I’ve witnessed, the power and significance of Sigmarsson’s has increased dramatically in retrospect. For those who haven’t seen this particular performance, I would highly recommend watching it; not much actually happens—he vocalizes for about ten minutes, his unintelligible utterances filled with the frustration and misery of someone whose communication cannot be understood, and then puts on a record that plays an abrasive industrial loop as he stumbles back and forth across the stage—but there’s something profoundly human (and therefore profoundly upsetting) about it.

K.W. Cahill’s Downer Canada TCVP (2021), the first half of the Two Films digital/video/cassette release, feels similarly primordial and circadian, but instead of burrowing to the root of existence it examines its superficial features and what might lie behind them: idyll waterfronts, gestures, quiet in-betweens. Despite its episodic structure, the piece feels ultimately circular, tautological even, with every vignette spiraling out with the hidden dramas of the mundane and then curling in again to seal the opened moment back up. Unlike with Sigmarsson’s approach, the bleakness of life is both magnified and hushed to a murmur here, or perhaps stripped down to a piercing whine while motion, now completely decontextualized, continues in its wake.

In the case of The Fixed Author (2021), immediately a more cryptic and reticent effort, the audio track unfortunately might be more compelling without the visual element than with it; most of the sequences just feel stretched beyond their capacity for significant evocation. There are moments of brilliance in both movies, like the whirling lattices and foregrounded objects in Downer and the shot of the butterflies through the tree-hole in Fixed, but otherwise there are too many indulgences to wade through—the car ride tracking shots, probably filmed with a smartphone, are uninteresting to say the least, and the color filters are often just excessive. Overall they feel more like materials for a larger multimedia installation than self-contained objects, and perhaps that triviality is part of the point, but it just didn’t work for me.

To anyone interested in either experimental music or film—despite the many commonalities and points of intersection between the two areas, I know very little about the latter—I highly recommend checking out this hybrid-format release. Despite my nitpicks (sorry; when it comes to my eyes, I can’t help it), K.W. Cahill’s work here is fantastic and inspired whether you’re listening to it or watching it. Support guerrilla art!

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