dance.com // 2004 // 210 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // March 22nd, 2004
Challenging work from electronic innovators.
The images are fractured and yet familiar. A lone, pixelated individual walks the abandoned streets of a deserted metropolitan landscape. The walls seem to weep as he walks by, and the grime and grit of the factory chimneys paint everything a deep, dusky gray. In the distance, a jagged mountain, like a piece of broken glass thrust into the earth, summons. Next to it is a beacon, a structure resembling a giant claw, massive in size and opulence. This lighthouse for the metaphysically misplaced silently spins, shooting out a piercing light that temporarily blinds our entity. Then the hallucinations begin: strange visions of digital centipedes and asexual beings in transition, a young woman off to drown in a lake, robotic cockroaches being monitored by computer screens as they scurry over a rusting car, a tunnel that comes alive to sing the life of the lo-res human. All the while, the guiding light turns, casting a shaft of insanity strong and silently along the cityscape. And as it does, Pixelman wanders, down alleys and under overpasses, through buildings and around architecture. His journey never ending, he seems compelled to follow a secret inner voice that talks to him in disjointed rhythmic patterns. It asks him questions and mocks his meaning. Just when it seems like the visions will consume him, the radiance from the flare shocks the cornea and frees up the mind. Mr. Pix suddenly "sees the light." He is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. He is all beings and no one, all genders and no sexuality. She is just he. He is only she: Male or Female, lost in a world of Primitive Reflections Twisted by Sound.
Part music video, part interactive journey to the center of your tolerance, Male or Female's new DVD "experience" will instantly test your ability to appreciate dense, dark industrial electronica. If those four words in sequence make you groan in distaste, then stop reading right now, check your musical credentials at the door, and go find a nice Depeche Mode CD to snuggle up with. The brainchild of Front 242 producers Daniel Bressanutti and Patrick Codenys (along with musician Elko Blijweert), this side project from the heavy European body music makers wants to be the culmination of sound with vision, aural fury within the phantasmagorical. Occasionally feeling like a musical imagining of the core concepts behind Kraftwerk's The Man Machine as run through a metal grinder, the bass beats and ambient mood musing will be tough going for the uninitiated. Even those in tune with the crazed cacophony and eardrum draining of Aphex Twin's Richard D. James may simply want to sit this one out. Anyone thinking that this intense acid thrashback is able to match Moby for poppy prominence is in for a real sense of future shock. Male or Female's approach to "music" is all over the spectrum, from loud and impatient to soft and serene (sometimes intermingled in the same verse). No aural element is left untweaked, and the songs never remain the same since the very art at the center of house or trip-hop is the remix. Indeed, Primitive Reflections Twisted by Sound is an appropriate name: the majority of the sounds here are primordial in nature and constantly altered by turns of the knob.
This is not as much a music video collection as it is an entire performance piece by the band. The set up is simple, if occasionally frustrating. The menu lists the elements in the video volley and allows you to play any or all of the clips with a click of the remote. "Play All" is probably the best feature, since it allows you the chance to witness the wild anti-harmony mood swings the clips careen through. For the most part, these movies are multi-leveled abstractions, merely suggesting instead of spelling out themes. The only consistent images are those of Pixelman, our box-blocked guide through this harried otherworld, and the ominous, oversized claw beacon. While the random splashing of spirals and polygons all over the screen can become uninspiring very quickly, several sequences resonate with profound purpose (especially the singing tunnel wall and the visual memory of a young lady's descent into a lake). Similar to how Disney used shapes and symbols to crack the code between music and movies in Fantasia, Primitive Reflections Twisted by Sound applies a chaotic structure of created icons and fluent forms to make the occasionally abrasive mania mutating in the background appear important. Male or Female's musical missives never quite connect to create something greater than their parts. With evocative names like "Girl Drowning" and "She Kissed an Angel," the sonic sweepings should be more majestic. But for the most part, all they want to do is make your body move, your mind expand, and your pain increase. Though rough and ragged in tone and temperament, Primitive Reflections Twisted by Sound is a weirdly wired trip into the light fantastic...and fatalistic.
This is a spectacular DVD presentation from Dance.com. With over three hours of audio and video packed onto a single disc, you'd expect some manner of image or aural reduction. But nothing is further from the truth. The 2.35:1 anamorphic framing used to recreate the visuals here is stunning in its depth, its scope, and its clarity. Even with all the effects, the lighting experiments, and the over-bright colorization, the television playback never degrades. It is stunning from sequence to sequence. Same with the music. Though it may occasionally sound like two cyborgs killing each other with rusty nail guns, the use of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround to capture these automaton assassinations is flawless. The bass is heavy and hard, the electronic accompaniment moody and menacing, and the overall balance among all channels is excellent. After giving you almost an hour and a half of music and movies, what more could Male or Female offer? Well, the interactive remix feature, that's what. More of a game than a bonus and tying directly into the techno ideal of never leaving a listen well enough alone, the ability to navigate through the "world" of Primitive Reflections Twisted by Sound is fun, if frustrating. The proper combination of remote clicks to carry you through the visionary landscapes takes a lot of practice and desktop gaming memory to get through. It feels like that first time you slapped Myst into your CD-ROM drive and watched the magic infuriatingly unfold. Your reward for successful completion is a chance to watch and listen to remixed versions of the material (and even discover a secret "fourth" world to explore).
But once again, a warning is necessary. This is not your brother's beat box. The music here is challenging and chaffing. The visuals can leave you feeling headachy and filled with fever dreams. But make no mistake about it, Male or Female: Primitive Reflections Twisted by Sound is a benchmark of sorts, a level of excellence and experimentation that other artists can only try to emulate. While you may not enjoy everything you see or hear, you cannot deny the power in the performance or the presentation.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 210 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Two Hours of Interactive Remixes
* Bonus CD Featuring Tracks from the DVD Presentation