Ghost Box and The Infinity Box

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It’s less of a surprise than it may seem to go searching for the source of a quote only to find yourself immediately faced with one of your own artworks. The posts here go back almost 15 years, and when so many of them cover niche interests any attempt to further explore a particular niche can circle back to something I’ve already posted. The latest example is an unusual one, however. The picture above is the Haeckel collage I created for the Starry Wisdom collection of Lovecraftian fiction in 1994, a piece that was later digitally refashioned for The Haunter of the Dark book. The quote I was pursuing is as follows:

“Inside the infernal box are impossible spaces, dark screens and mirrors, terrible traces of light, calcified thought forms and endless idiot mutterings. The switch is thrown and the magnetic coils begin to generate their obscene flickering images. This contraption might have been conceived by the Old Ones long before it was assembled by human hands.”
—The Infinity Box, Alan Causley & MB Devot

The description appears together with a dialogue extract from Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape on the fourth Ghost Box release, Ouroborindra (2005) by Eric Zann, a one-off album of spooky sample soundscapes created by a pseudonymous Jim Jupp in between his Belbury Poly albums. All the Ghost Box releases feature significant quotes, most of which are genuine extracts from stories, novels, non-fiction works, etc. The description of the Infinity Box raised my suspicion about its authenticity when the only references to either it or Causley and Devot are in listings for the Eric Zann album. My Yuggoth collage appears on this page which further compounds the confusion by making it seem that my art is somehow connected to Causley and Devot and their mysterious box. This isn’t a complaint but it doesn’t help clarify the situation. Alan Causley has no credits anywhere outside the quote but there is another Causley, the celebrated poet, Charles, whose poems are sampled on later Ghost Box releases by The Focus Group, aka Ghost Box co-founder Julian House. Scrutiny of the other Ghost Box albums reminded me that quotes from MB Devot’s writings appear elsewhere on the early releases but I hadn’t bothered to look up the name until now.

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It’s often the case with posts such as this that mild curiosity turns into deeper intrigue. The web of connections becomes more tangled on the first Ghost Box release, Sketches And Spells by The Focus Group, which has a Devot quote from a text with the apt title The Tangled Beams, and a final track with the title Starry Wisdom. Devot is described by reviewers as either a fictional writer or an authentic scholar, the latter designation being supported by a Wikipedia page. Wikipedia may be prone to errors but it isn’t known for fake entries so this was a surprising discovery; Devot is also referenced on the page for parapsychologist TC Lethbridge who happens to be another source of Ghost Box quotes. Suspicion returns when you try to search for any of Devot’s listed publications, none of which turn up in WorldCat or similar catalogues. One of the Wikipedia print sources is an issue of Fortean Times from 1989 but there’s nothing about Devot listed in the contents of that issue. Issue 53 was a crop circle special, however, so it certainly fits the Ghost Box interest in the paranormal as it manifests in the British countryside. We now know that crop circles were man-made, not the product of flying saucers or other phenomena, so this may be fitting as well.

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I would have left the search there but I did find one further Devot connection that I might otherwise have missed. Folklore and Mathematics is the title of a one-off Ghost Box periodical published in 2007 for people subscribed to the label’s mail order service. It’s a typically fine Julian House artefact that complements the Sketches And Spells album in both its title and its graphics. Inside we find “From the archives of MB Devot”, and discover another reference to the Infinity Box. Apparently the black-and-white graphics that cover all the early Ghost Box discs are vibration patterns—”verberations”—created by Devot’s occult apparatus.

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I wrote above that “any attempt to further explore a particular niche can circle back to something I’ve already posted” so I wasn’t too surprised to have all these explorations finding their way back here. In 2009 Julian House exhibited three invented books as part of The New Spirit Happening, an exhibition of Ghost Box-related work at the Architect’s Gallery in Teddington. I posted two of the covers after the exhibition but couldn’t recall who the books were credited to. The authors are—inevitably—”A. Causley” and “MB Devot”, and the volumes feature by-now familiar phrases: “The Tangled Beams”, “The Infinity Box”. Also more Lovecraftian verberations: “Heavens Other Colour”, “The Eye at the Threshold”. So Causley and Devot have been lurking here for the past decade, in which case having my artwork attached to their names no longer seems like an arbitrary association. “Inside the infernal box are impossible spaces, dark screens and mirrors…”. Indeed there are.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Unearthly tones
Owls and flowers
The White People by Arthur Machen
Stone Tapes and Quatermasses
The Ghost Box Study Series
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
Forbidden volumes
The Séance at Hobs Lane
Ghost Box

Cosmic music and cosmic horror

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Track titles by Tangerine Dream (again) if they were stories or chapters in a book of weird fiction:

– Alpha Centauri
– Ultima Thule
– Origin Of Supernatural Probabilities
– Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares
– Sorcerer
– Abyss
– Stratosfear
– Choronzon
– Remote Viewing
– Hyperborea

Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of the northern continent of Hyperborea were Cthulhu Mythos fantasies with a sardonic CAS twist. The connection with Tangerine Dream is most likely coincidental, the name being one that Smith borrowed rather than invented, but I enjoy the intersection all the same. The title of TD’s first single, Ultima Thule, refers to another remote northern realm. If you’re reaching for associations, as I invariably am, then it’s also worth mentioning Haunted Island by an affiliated group, Agitation Free. The last track on their 2nd album features a partial recitation of Dream-Land by Edgar Allan Poe that includes the words “from some ultimate dim Thule”; the keyboard player in Agitation Free was Michael Hoenig who was briefly a member of Tangerine Dream in 1975. As for Choronzon, this was a demon that Aleister Crowley claimed to have tangled with in the Algerian desert in 1909. The malevolent and chaotic nature of the entity, together with its unavoidably Lovecraftian epithet of “the Dweller in the Abyss”, places it close to the Mythos god of “nuclear chaos”, Azathoth, although the music that bears the Dweller’s name doesn’t convey any of these qualities. Tangerine Dream’s Choronzon is an uptempo piece of electro-pop that Virgin optimistically released as a single in 1981. For a group with a long history of eccentric title choices this maybe isn’t so surprising.

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Tangerine Dream feature on another cosmic-horror music list that I suggested as soundtracks for The Haunter of the Dark in 1999. (The Lustmord somehow lost a couple of words from its title.) Most of these are drone works, and several were released after I’d drawn most of the pages, but I was listening to Zeit and Rubycon during many late-night work sessions, the latter especially while drawing The Call of Cthulhu. Discovering weird fiction and spacey electronica simultaneously caused the two things to become inextricably connected, and besides which there wasn’t much else to be found in the music world of the late 1970s that complemented such stories to the same degree. Rubycon offered satisfying associations, from the liquid green of the cover art (Cthulhu always suggests the colour green), to the predominantly sinister, minor-key music within. When the sequencers in Rubycon: Part 2 give way to the sounds of waves breaking on a shoreline this only reinforces the suitability of the album as a Cthulhoid soundtrack.

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The dedication from Alpha Centauri as printed in the Virgin double-disc reissue with the Atem album. It’s never been clear whether the “space” referred to is a noun or a verb.

If you’re looking for cosmic-horror soundtracks today then you’re spoiled for choice, there are numerous examples, from the general—the occulted universe of Dark Ambience—to the very specific. I enjoy the drones, obviously, but the Berlin School still has something to offer so long as the key remains a minor one and the titles avoid New Age vapidity. See this mix for further examples.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Tangerine Dream in concert
Drone month
Pilots Of Purple Twilight
Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979
A mix for Halloween: Analogue Spectres
Edgar Froese, 1944–2015
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland
Hodgsonian vibrations
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode

The Cthulhu Mythos in the pulps

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The Nameless City: First published in The Wolverine, November 1921. Reprinted in Weird Tales, November 1928. Illustration by Joseph Doolin.

This would have been “The Cthulhu Mythos in Weird Tales” if some of HP Lovecraft’s more substantial stories hadn’t been published elsewhere. To prevent sprawl I’ve limited the list to Lovecraft’s own stories even though the Mythos takes in the work of contemporaries such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Zealia Bishop, August Derleth and others. I like seeing the first appearance in print of familiar tales, and I like seeing their accompanying illustrations even if the drawings are inferior pieces, which they often were for the first decade of Weird Tales. These are the short-story equivalent of first editions, and in the case of The Call of Cthulhu you get to see the first printing anywhere of that mysterious name.

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The Hound: Weird Tales, February 1924. Illustration by William Fred Heitman.

This issue is also notable for a story by Burton Peter Thom which shares a title with a Mythos-derived song by Metallica, The Thing That Should Not Be.

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The Festival: Weird Tales, January 1925. Illustration by Andrew Brosnatch.

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The Colour Out of Space: Amazing Stories, September 1927. Illustration by JM de Aragon.

Lovecraft didn’t think that Weird Tales would appreciate this one even though it’s more horror than science fiction so he sent it to Amazing Stories instead.

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The Call of Cthulhu: Weird Tales, February 1928. Illustration by Hugh Rankin.

It’s doubtful that Rankin, Senf and co. would have been up to the task of depicting Great Cthulhu or the non-Euclidean nightmare of R’lyeh, but this hardly excuses editor Farnsworth Wright’s decision to give the cover to Elliott O’Donnell’s ridiculous ghost table.

Continue reading “The Cthulhu Mythos in the pulps”

Drone month

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October is drone month. July is often drone month as well, if the heat rises to a degree that I can’t bear to listen to anything more taxing than Main, On Land, or the Paul Schütze recordings that feature thunderstorms. But October owns the drone because it also owns Halloween, as I noted in this Halloween playlist. The first entry there, Zeit by Tangerine Dream, is such a perennial favourite that it’s one of the few albums I can imagine writing about for the 33 1/3 books. But this year Zeit has been competing for haunted airtime with the Cthulhu album from Cryo Chamber, a label devoted to the darker end of the ambient spectrum, where choral throngs in colossal chambers are scoured by the katabatic winds that howl through vast subterranean chasms while Thrones of Darkness brood with Amorphous Abominations in the Illimitable Void etc etc. The Cthulhu album is the first in a series of Lovecraft-themed collaborations by Cryo Chamber artists, with each release taking a Cthulhu Mythos god as its subject. I still find this one to be the best of the series so far, not least because the character of Lovecraft’s tentacled monstrosity is more clearly defined than the other gods which lends more definition to the musical illustration. There are no separate tracks on these albums, all the pieces are mixes that cover the sides of one or more compact discs, blending the contributions of the different artists into a single work. The Cthulhu drones are suitably sub-oceanic, like Eric Holm’s Barotrauma with added cosmic horror, a suite of restless stirrings from the Thing that lies dreaming at Point Nemo. Towards the end the Thing awakens to wreak havoc upon the upstart human world, but not before we’ve heard a mutant voice daring to speak aloud the invocation from The Call of Cthulhu.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hodgsonian vibrations

Litany of Dreams

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One of the covers I was working on during the summer months was revealed this week so here it is. Litany of Dreams by Ari Marmell is another title from games-related imprint Aconyte, and a further addition to their Lovecraft-related Arkham Horror series of games and novels:

The mysterious disappearance of a gifted student at Miskatonic University spurs his troubled roommate, Elliott Raslo, into an investigation of his own. But Elliott already struggles against the maddening allure of a ceaseless chant that only he can hear… When Elliott’s search converges with that of a Greenland Inuk’s hunt for a stolen relic, they are left with yet more questions. Could there be a connection between Elliott’s litany and the broken stone stele covered in antediluvian writings that had obsessed his friend? Learning the answers will draw them into the heart of a devilish plot to rebirth an ancient horror.

The new cover follows the form of The Last Ritual with an Art Deco style and a similar arrangement of triangular panels with an architectural focus. The building is Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University, and this is the first time I’ve attempted a proper depiction of the place. A couple of the panels in my unfinished adaptation of The Dunwich Horror showed Wilbur Whateley entering the university but the buildings there owed more to Manchester University’s Gothic facades with a pair of gateposts borrowed from Brown University in Providence. The building here is a better match, a typical Ivy League structure with added spikes. The latter are an unusual feature given the generally conservative appearance of these places but still a long way from the eccentricities of Gavin Stamp’s depictions in the George Hay Necronomicon. The faces in the corners of the cover design are based on tupilak figures carved from antlers or whale teeth by the Inuit of Greenland, figures which feature in the story.

Litany of Dreams will be published on April 6, 2021.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Last Ritual
Psychetecture