A playlist for Halloween


Der Tod als Erwürger (1851) by Alfred Rethel.

It’s a fact (sad or otherwise) that a substantial percentage of my music collection would make good Halloween listening but in that percentage a number of works are prominent as spooky favourites. So here’s another list to add to those already clogging the world’s servers, in no particular order:

Theme from Halloween (1978) by John Carpenter & Alan Howarth.
What a surprise… All John Carpenter‘s early films have electronic scores and great themes, Halloween being the most memorable, and one that’s gradually infected the wider musical culture as various hip hop borrowings and Heat Miser by Massive Attack demonstrate.

Monster Mash (1962) by Bobby “Boris” Pickett.
The ultimate Halloween novelty record. A host of imitators followed the success of this single while poor Bobby struggled to be more than a one-hit wonder. It wasn’t to be, this was his finest hour. Available on These Ghoulish Things: Horror Hits for Halloween with some radio spots by Bobby and a selection of other horror-themed rock’n’roll songs.

The Divine Punishment (1986) & Saint of the Pit (1988) by Diamanda Galás.
Parts 1 & 2 of Galás’s Masque of the Red Death, a “plague mass” trilogy based on the AIDS epidemic. These remain my favourite records by Ms Galás; on the first she reads/sings passages from the Old Testament accompanied by sinister keyboards, making the Bible sound as steeped in evil and metaphysical dread as the Necronomicon. On Saint of the Pit she turns her attention to French poets of the 19th century (Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval & Tristan Corbière) while unleashing the full power of her operatic vocalizations. Einstürzende Neubauten’s FM Einheit adds some thundering drums. “Correct playback possible at maximum volume only.” Amen to that.

The Visitation (1969) by White Noise.
An electronic collage piece about a ghostly lover returning to his grieving girlfriend. White Noise were David Vorhaus working alongside BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson to create an early work of British electronica and dark psychedelia. The Visitation makes full use of Derbyshire and Hodgson’s inventive tape effects and probably accounts for them being asked to score The Legend of Hell House a few years later. Immediately following this is the drums and screams piece, Electric Storm In Hell; play this loud and watch the blood drain from the faces of your Halloween guests.

Zeit (1972) by Tangerine Dream.
Subtitled “A largo in four movements”, Zeit is Tangerine Dream’s most subtle and restrained album, four long tracks of droning atmospherics.

The Masque of the Red Death (1997) read by Gabriel Byrne.
From Closed On Account Of Rabies, a Poe-themed anthology arranged by Hal Willner. The readings are of variable quality; Christopher Walken’s The Raven is effective (although I prefer Willem Defoe’s amended version on Lou Reed’s The Raven) while Dr John reads Berenice like one of Poe’s somnambulists. Gabriel Byrne shows how these things should be done.

De Natura Sonoris no. 2 (1971) by Krzysztof Penderecki.
More familiar to people as “music from The Shining“, this piece, along with much of the Polish composer‘s early work, really does sound like music in search of a horror film. His cheerily-titled Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima is one piece that won’t be used to sell cars any time soon. Kubrick also used Penderecki’s equally chilling The Dream of Jacob for The Shining score, together with pieces by Ligeti and Bartók.

Treetop Drive (1994) by Deathprod.
Helge Sten is a Norwegian electronic experimentalist whose solo work is released under the Deathprod name. “Electronic” these days often means using laptops and the latest keyboard and sampling equipment. Deathprod music is created on old equipment which renders its provenance opaque leaving the listener to concentrate on the sounds rather than be troubled by how they might have been created. The noises on the deceptively-titled Treetop Drive are a disturbing series of slow loops with squalling chords, anguished shrieks and some massive foghorn rumble that seems to emanate from the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker. Play it in the dark and feel the world ending.

Ouroborindra (2005) by Eric Zann.
Another collection of sinister electronica from the Ghost Box label (see this earlier post), referencing HP Lovecraft and Arthur Machen’s masterpiece, The White People. Spectral presences haunting the margins of the radio spectrum.

Theme from The Addams Family (1964) by Vic Mizzy.
Never the Munsters, always the Addams Family! If you don’t know the difference, you must be dead.

Happy Halloween!

Previously on { feuilleton }
The music of the Wicker Man

The art of Virgil Finlay, 1914–1971


Mrs Amworth.

Another great artist of the macabre and supernatural, Virgil Finlay was the one of the most talented and imaginative illustrators of his generation. Unlike older contemporaries such as Joseph Leyendecker, who became wealthy producing elegant yet often bland advertising art, much of Finlay’s best work was for pulp magazines like Weird Tales and Amazing Stories which paid a pittance and printed his finely-hatched scratchboard drawings on the cheapest paper. The advantages to this work, such as they were, came in the access to a huge and appreciative audience, and the chance to provide the first illustrations for what would turn out to be classic genre stories. Finlay illustrated a number of HP Lovecraft’s tales and received the highest praise from the author in doing so. His illustration for Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep (below) contains a slight nod to Harry Clarke’s Valdemar picture (see previous post) with its distant, highlighted doorway, a detail that Clarke himself borrowed from the celebrated Las Meninas by Velázquez.

Therionweb has five galleries of Finlay’s pictures and Bud Plant again has a brief biography.


Abercrombie Station.


The Thing on the Doorstep.


Six and Ten.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931


The Masque of the Red Death.

Halloween approaches so let’s consider the finest illustrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, Irish artist Harry Clarke. Aubrey Beardsley once declared “I am grotesque or I am nothing” yet even his grotesquery—which could be considerable—struggled to do justice to Poe. Clarke, the best of the post-Beardsley illustrators, found a perfect match in the Boston writer’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, his edition being published by Harrap in 1919. He could decorate fairy tales with the best of the great Edwardian book illustrators but a flair for the morbid blossomed when he found Poe. Only his later masterpiece, Goethe’s Faust, improved on the dark splendour of these drawings. “Never before have these marvellous tales been visually interpreted with such flesh-creeping, brain-tainting illusions of horror, terror and the unspeakable” wrote a critic in The Studio.

Lots more pictures at Grandma’s Graphics (although none of the colour plates, unfortunately) including many of the Faust drawings. Wikipedia has photos of some of Clarke’s incredible stained-glass windows, as does Bud Plant’s biography page.




The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Liberty 2006


“For a while there I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.” Vice President Dick Cheney, October 24th, 2006.

“In the “war on terror”, the US administration has resorted to secret detention, enforced disappearance, prolonged incommunicado detention, indefinite detention without charge, arbitrary detention, and torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” Amnesty International.

Today is the 120th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, that famous gift of the French to “the home of freedom”. One can only wonder what President Grover Cleveland would have made of the current White House incumbent when George Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law recently, giving himself and future presidents the power to “indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions.” (Anthony D. Romero, American Civil Liberties Union Executive Director).

Now that the United States has taken yet another step towards becoming the kind of country it used to profess to despise, I thought it was time that the Statue of Liberty received a makeover, something more suited to the Neo-Stalinist nation that Bush and co have been busy creating. The challenge for America in the near future, if the Democrats manage to take back the White House in 2008, will be to reverse the course the country has been set upon since 2001. At the moment I’m too cynical to believe that there’ll be any immediate reversal of these policies. Parties in opposition always complain loudly about the ravaging of constitutions then find the new laws they were complaining about have all sorts of conveniences for them once they gain power. Have the Democrats the courage to face down more “terrorist sympathiser” bullshit? Time will tell.

In the same series: Blood Money 1, Blood Money 2, War®.

Update: seems like I missed George’s latest wheeze, signing a new law relaxing the restrictions on the President declaring martial law. We’re constantly told these days it’s hysterical to mention creeping fascism (and I usually agree with George Orwell that the “f” word trips off the lips too easily). Any bets on when the time will be right?

NBC censors Dixie Chicks ad

More happy news from the Great Banana Republic Across the Water: the Dixie Chicks, who faced earlier censure and death threats for daring to criticise Generalissimo President Bush and the war in Iraq, have had their ad for movie Shut Up and Sing stopped by NBC who say they “cannot accept these spots as they are disparaging to President Bush.” Cowards. Think Progress has the offending item so you can judge for yourself.