God Damn Religion
GOD DAMN RELIGION (DVD, 2006)
Those who have become hypnotized by the meditative finger-picking of Richard Bishop’s recent releases for Locust and Drag City are in for a shock with his new motion picture God Damn Religion. On the other hand, fans of his history with mischievous eccentrics, the Sun City Girls, should be pleased with the eclectic artist's return to his previous antics. Both sets of listeners should act quickly, though, as the first edition of Locust Music’s DVD release will come packaged with a CD version of Elektronika Demonika, an album released in 2006 as a vinyl mail order. Acting as a quasi-soundtrack to the film, the accompanying four tracks of audio are stunning in and of themselves. Without the context of the inspiring visuals, it may be the most sinister music Bishop has released in his solo career.
The opening track creeps in with catacombic echo and reverb, an eerie noise reminiscent of being inside a submarine as the ocean’s pressure is squeezing the floating metal tomb for all its worth. An alien chant arises, reverberating menacingly as waves of feedback sweep from speaker to speaker. The orator — no doubt some sort of cloaked, degenerate cult figure — eventually summons a heaving, sinister laugh, just in time for the pummeling, metal-scraping beat to wreak havoc in its sea of swelling drones and submerged feedback. This is certainly not one of those folksy explorations that Bishop has received attention for in the indie community over the last few years; this is a return to his Sun City Girls days, when the only goal was a demented output laughingly teased with as many eclectic styles as possible.
What kind of visuals could possibly accompany such a troubled sound? Demonic visuals. Bishop, like his Sun City Girls bandmates and fans, is a collector of the weird. The Girls’ ethos as a band was to accumulate as many odd influences from the furthest corners of the earth and mash them together into an amalgamated sound so untraceable it became something completely new. Bishop approaches his visual creations in the same way. For God Damn Religion, he pieces together a 30-minute montage of found imagery steeped in the negative side of religions based in the sacred-versus-profane domains. From intricately painted and dementedly graphic depictions of a Christian Hell to clips of an impish black-and-white movie filmed in Sweden during the Twenties — from pornography of all eras and cultures to mirrored stills of indigenous people and religious ceremonies. The pseudo-documentary culls awe-inspiring products of the human imagination as influenced by the diabolical, fiendish and impious side of religion.
As he does in his songwriting, Bishop edits in a continuously shifting manner. Though most of the visuals presented here are taken from paintings and illustrations, he films the stills with intentionally unsettling hand-held jerks and scans. As each thematic collection of images lurches into the next, Bishop often changes the pace of the edits, ranging from the slow pans and dissolves of Bangkok’s phallic garden shrine to the chaotic cuts of the fiercely tormenting animalistic and otherworldly figures near the film’s end. He does an excellent job of matching the ferocity of the imagery with his editing, utilizing the context and curiosity of the visuals to decide momentum.
And of course there’s Bishop’s original soundtrack. The music is a reactive product of each montage’s cultural origins and intensity. For example, during a mellow assortment of Christian art ranging from the Byzantine Empire up to the 19th century, Bishop crafts a mood out of heavily reverberated organ, recreating the hollow pipe organ sound synonymous with Western churches. When the imagery turns somewhat comical as it does during a collection of animated Luciferic figures, the music becomes carnival-esque for a more playful tone. For a segment of Eastern Asian art, Bishop utilizes thundering, almost gong-sounding drums to further transport the viewer into the focused cultural setting, however skewed it might be.
There is not an over-arching narrative to God Damn Religion; Bishop seems to intentionally keep the context sparse. Rather than trying to craft some sort of message out of the images, he simply assembles them into a loosely organized structure and unleashes them onto one’s eyes, which along with one’s brain, struggle to keep up with the onslaught of truly mind-boggling imagery. He uses the soundtrack to accentuate the mood, but other than that, there is not much more he can do to heighten this already baffling collection of visuals. This is a package so outstandingly perverse and sinister that it makes you truly doubt the sanity of your fellow man. Then again, any reaction less severe would surely disappoint an artist as iconoclastic as Bishop.
- Michael Ardaiolo (Stop Smiling Magazine)