Vessel, the film you are about to see, is a journey through a surrealistic dreamscape, a shifting montage of odd characters transforming themselves and moving through light and shade, in isolation and shoulder to shoulder with more “average” citizens who seem to take no notice of the quirky beings in their midst. It is a strange and unsettling vision, and a transfixing one (make sure you have 19 minutes to spare, because once you begin you’re not going anywhere else).
Welcome to Los Angeles.
Oh yes, as arresting and hallucinatory as these changing frames are, they are a portrayal of the City of Angels, a portrayal that seems at once a documentation of real-world oddities and also a metaphor for so much of what the city is all about, a place where anything can happen, a place that induces you to believe you can become anything you want but often mutates the transformation you seek into something much worse than you ever imagined.
But let’s be clear, as brilliant as the film is, the effect it has on the viewer is as much a consequence of the musical score as it is the impact of the visuals. The two are inseparable, even though in the sequence of time the music came first.
What you will hear in the film comes from the self-titled first album by Wreche, a collaboration between pianist/vocalist John Steven Morgan and drummer Barret Baumgart. They describe their music as “experimental black metal”, and what else could it be but experimental, if it’s really black metal performed with piano and drums? But in truth its experimental spirit goes well beyond the presence of an unusual instrumental combination.
I’ve tried to describe the music once before, when we premiered a stream of the album in May of 2017. That wasn’t an easy task, especially for someone like myself who has no training in piano and no deep familiarity with the wide array of piano-music traditions that Morgan draws upon to create the wild amalgam of sensations encompassed by that album. As is often the case, but especially with music like this, I resorted to a description of feelings rather than some kind of technical dissection, using words such as these:
…hard-driving and discordant… exuberant and unhinged… rocketing and maniacal… grim and skull-splintering… haunting and dreamlike… jarring and disorienting… well-conceived, fascinating, performed with remarkable virtuosity… a dark well of spells….
Today I might also add: cantankerous, clamorous, cacophonous, calamitous… mystifying… and sublime.
Long, long ago, I lived in Los Angeles, when I was much younger and more likely to find myself in dark and dreamlike (and more than a little perilous) crevices of the city, as well as more blinding and sun-baked surroundings. The video for Vessel brought back lots of those memories. Decades later, the seductive and strange, unreal essences of the city don’t seem to have changed. I mentioned this to John Steven Morgan, and he replied: “Los Angeles is definitely a hallucination, some sort of labyrinth of shattered dreams, horror noir, and transcendental hot yoga – I still don’t understand it. The burritos are good though.”
Yes, they are. And you don’t have to be an Angeleno, present or past, to appreciate Vessel. The film is extraordinary, and so is the music, and they fit together as if both were always meant to be together.
Credit for the filmmaking goes to director and editor Zack Kasten, cinematographer Peter Hinson, and the producers: Peter Hinson, Zack Kasten, Shayne Keator, and John Steven Morgan. It was first shown in certain public spaces more than a year ago, and won the grand prize for Experimental Film at The Berkeley International Film Festival. Now you’ll be able to watch it any time you want.
Wreche is at work on their second album, which is great news. Wreche has also just added new merchandise to their Bandcamp page — a limited vinyl edition of their first album that was re-mastered for vinyl by Colin Marston, and a transcription of the album into sheet music for piano (concert-size and bound by vellum), which is a joint creation of Handsmade [Oakland, CA] and Acephale Winter Productions. The album is also available in CD and tape editions, as well as digitally.
And with that, we’ll leave you to experience Vessel.
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