A mix for Halloween: Ectoplasm Forming

Ectoplasm Forming by Feuilleton on Mixcloud

Presenting the eighth Halloween playlist, and this year I decided it was time to finally make a proper mix of my own. Reluctance in years past has been mainly a result of the time it takes me to put things like this together, hours spent pondering the order of the tracks, and fine-tuning transitions.

This year’s mix is rather heavy on the drones and eldritch atmospherics with little in the way of songs. There are some rhythms, however. I’ve also taken the opportunity to highlight the ongoing excellence of Emptyset, some of whose recordings I’ve been helping design recently. Their Medium album involved installing a quantity of electronic equipment in an allegedly haunted building, a process similar to that undertaken by the unfortunate doctor in The Legend of Hell House, albeit with better results.

The tracklist is on the Mixcloud page but I’m repeating it here with dates added for each recording. One likes to be thorough.

The Legend of Hell House – Dialogue (1973)
Emptyset – Demiurge: Of Blackest Grain To Missive Ruin (Paul Jebanasam Variation) (2012)
Arne Nordheim – Solitaire (1969)
David Lynch – The Air Is On Fire Pt. 7 (2007)
Ben Frost – The Carpathians (2009)
The Wyrding Module – Subtemple Session II (edit) (2013)
:Zoviet*France: – On The Edge Of A Grain Of Sand (1996)
John Zorn – Lucifer Rising (2002)
Jarboe – A Sea Of Blood And Hollow Screaming… (2009)
The Haxan Cloak – Excavation (Part 1) (2013)
Emptyset – Medium (2012)
Jon Brooks – Experiments With A Medium (2011)
Wendy Carlos – Visitors (2005)
The Advisory Circle – Eyes Which Are Swelling (2007)
Bernard Szajner – Chant Funèbre (1981)
Emptyset – Function: Vulgar Display Of Power (Roly Porter Variation) (2012)

Previously on { feuilleton }
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
A playlist for Halloween

Witches

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Scene of Witchcraft (1510) by Hans Baldung Grien.

Earlier this year Pam Grossman declared 2013 to be the Year of the Witch, so in honour of that (and the season) here’s a handful of sorceresses through the ages. Most can be found in higher quality at the Google Art Project but a couple are from other sources. I’ve taken the liberty of attributing the drawing below to Hans Baldung Grien, not Albrecht Dürer as Google has it. Not only is this the attribution I’ve always seen for this picture but Baldung’s “HBG” monogram is clearly visible beneath the sprawling woman.

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New Year’s Greeting with Three Witches (1514) by Hans Baldung Grien.

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The Witches’ Sabbath (c.1640–1649) by Salvator Rosa.

Salvator Rosa specialised in lurid depictions of bandits, executions and—as here—witches. The excessive imagery appealed to later generations, especially the Romantics. This painting is even more grotesque than usual with its flayed-bird abominations (below) looming out of the shadows.

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Continue reading “Witches”

The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope

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The Pendulum, the Pit and Hope (1983) is the third and best of three Gothic shorts made by Jan Svankmajer, the two earlier works being Castle of Otranto (1973–79) and The Fall of the House of Usher (1980). Svankmajer combines Poe’s famous tale of Inquistion torment with A Torture by Hope by Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, and  unlike Corman and co. reduces the story to a stark and wordless first-person ordeal in the face of clanking, fire-breathing engines of destruction. Poe’s story lets the narrator off the hook with a deus ex machina intervention, something Svankmajer evidently felt unable to swallow, hence the Villiers coda.

All the above works, and much more besides, can be found on the BFI’s collection of Svankmajer’s short films. Another short adaptation of the Poe story, The Pit (1962) by Edward Abraham, will appear next month as an extra on the eagerly-awaited DVD/BR debut of Schalcken the Painter.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Two sides of Liska
The Torchbearer by Václav Svankmajer

Robin Redbreast by John Bowen

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This TV play from 1970 was one of the films I watched last year at Halloween, a very poor bootleg copy from the BBC archives with a timecode running away in one corner. So it’s been a surprise to find the BFI releasing it so soon after on DVD. I never saw Robin Redbreast originally, and hadn’t even heard about it until a friend with a similar taste for the outré and neglected told me to look out for it. The main reason for the BFI picking out a rather obscure Play for Today for reissue has been its rising cult status in the sub-genre of British rural or folk horror. Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973) are the more notable examples, although in tone and presentation Robin Redbreast is closer to Nigel Kneale’s Murrain (1975), another TV play that’s currently available as a bonus on the Beasts DVD collection.

The usual plot of this kind of drama concerns the arrival of an outsider in a rural community whose presence arouses suspicion and conflict. Robin Redbreast reverses this by having its metropolitan outsider, Norah, move to the country only to find her neighbours are welcoming to the point of being interfering. In time the interference starts to become oppressive, and unfortunately this is one of those dramas where to reveal much more would be to spoil the unwinding of the story. There’s nothing supernatural here, like The Wicker Man a mystery grades in its final moments to horror. With little in the way of cinematic atmosphere it’s left to a detailed script and the performances to do the work. All the leads are excellent, especially Anna Cropper as the beleaguered Norah, and Bernard Hepton as the quietly sinister Fisher.

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Bernard Hepton.

Robin Redbreast was originally filmed and broadcast in colour but the BBC had a habit of wiping many of their tapes after broadcast so what we’re left with is a telerecording on 16mm black-and-white film. This isn’t ideal but it does have the effect of giving all the scenes more consistency. Like most dramas of the period, interior shots were done in the electronic studio while exteriors were shot on film, a technique which was taken for granted at the time but which looks uneven today. The DVD is still superior to the bootleg copy that was doing the rounds. In one of the extras writer John Bowen discusses the origin of the play, explaining how a BBC editor was horrified by a plot detail concerning female contraception. This led to the script being dropped by the suspense series for which it was written, and subsequently taken up by director James MacTaggart for the new Play for Today strand. Play for Today ran for 14 years, producing many impressive dramas but mostly offering a solid diet of social realism. Robin Redbreast is one of a handful of stranger works that crept onto the screen, along with the peerless Penda’s Fen (1974), and Alan Garner’s adaptation of his novel, Red Shift (1978). Now that the BFI has exhausted the BBC’s more obvious ghost and horror fare I’m hoping that some of the less generic films may find a new audience on DVD.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Red Shift by Alan Garner
Children of the Stones
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin

Weekend links 183

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La table qui tourne (1943) by Robert Doisneau.

In [Gödel, Escher, Bach], Hofstadter was calling for an approach to AI concerned less with solving human problems intelligently than with understanding human intelligence—at precisely the moment that such an approach, having borne so little fruit, was being abandoned. His star faded quickly. He would increasingly find himself out of a mainstream that had embraced a new imperative: to make machines perform in any way possible, with little regard for psychological plausibility.

The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think by James Somers.

Whenever the latest pronouncements about the imminent arrival of artificial intelligence are being trotted out I wonder what Douglas Hofstadter would have to say on the matter. You don’t hear much about Hofstadter despite his having been involved for decades in artificial intelligence research. One reason is that he’s always been concerned with the deep and difficult problems posed by intelligence and consciousness, subjects which don’t make for sensational, Kurzweilian headlines. Hofstadter’s essays on AI (and many other topics) in Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (1985) are essential reading. James Somers’ lengthy profile for The Atlantic is a welcome reappraisal.

• The end of October brings the spooky links: When Edward Gorey illustrated Dracula |Paula Marantz Cohen on Edgar Allan Poe | Yasmeen Khan revisits Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu | Roger Luckhurst on horror from the Gothics to the present day, and Michael Newton on Gothic cinema.

•  Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore is a biography of the Northampton magus by Lance Parkin. The author talks about his book here, and also here where if you look carefully you can see my Lovecraft book on his shelf.

• A crop of Halloween mixes: Boo, Forever by Jescie | Samhain Seance 2: Hex with a Daemon by The Ephemeral Man | Wizards Tell Lies & The Temple of Doom by The Curiosity Pipe | Radio Belbury’s Programme 11.

The Book of the Lost is an album by Emily Jones & The Rowan Amber Hill presenting music from imaginary British horror films. Release is set for Halloween. More details here.

Laura Allsop on Derek Jarman’s sketchbooks. Jarman’s Black Paintings are currently showing at the Wilkinson Gallery, London.

Magick is Freedom! Existence Is Unhappiness: Barney Bubbles vs. Graham Wood.

• Soho Dives, Soho Divas: Rian Hughes on sketching London’s burlesque artists.

Jenny Diski on the perennial problem of owning too many books.

Equus through the years by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Virgin Records: 40 Years of Disruptions

• At BibliOdyssey: Chromatic Wood Type

Witches at Pinterest

The Witch (1964) by The Sonics | My Girlfriend Is A Witch (1968) by October Country | You Must Be A Witch (1968) by The Lollipop Shoppe