Weekend links 587

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Jetpac (1983) by Ultimate Play The Game. Lunar Jetman was the superior sequel but Jetpac had the better loading screen.

• RIP Clive Sinclair. Products made by Sinclair Research Ltd. were among the first electronic gadgets I owned: the Sinclair Scientific calculator which compelled you to learn Reverse Polish notation before you could use it; the ZX Spectrum computer, of course; and the pocket TV that came bundled with the computer, a machine with such feeble reception that it only ever worked outdoors. I’ve still got my Spectrum computer, and it still worked the last time I plugged it in although it’s hardly worth keeping when emulators proliferate. Spectacol for Android is a good example of the latter. Related: World of Spectrum; the early stages of the Spectrum design process by Sinclair designer Rick Dickinson; XL-1 by Pete Shelley, electro-pop with Spectrum-generated lyrics and graphics.

• Mixes of the week: A Lee “Scratch” Perry tribute mix by Dennis Bovell, and Blood Tide Station 1: Breakaway plus Blood Tide Station 2: Force of Life by The Ephemeral Man.

• “It’s not an easy time to be daring,” says Dennis Cooper, talking to Barry Pierce about his new novel, I Wished.

• London under London: Adam Zamecnik interviews Tom Chivers about searching for London’s lost rivers.

• New music: Ode To The Blue by Grouper, and A Shadow No Light Could Make by Nathan Moody.

• At Public Domain Review: 700 years of Dante’s Divine Comedy in art.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Mushroom Man—A Note on EC Large.

DJ Food trips out with a collection of psychedelic drug posters.

Nodnol (1969) by The Spectrum | Spectrum (1969) by The Tony Williams Lifetime | Spectrum (1973) by Billy Cobham

Weekend links 586

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Cover by Gordon Ertz for The Inland Printer, June 1916.

• “I worry that enthusiasm is being mistaken for a moral virtue, and negative criticism for a character flaw.” Dorian Lynskey on the dying art of the hatchet job. Also a reminder (not that we require it) that the word “fan” in this context has always been an abbreviation of “fanatic”.

• Culture.pl explores the work of Stanislaw Lem, the science-fiction writer “whose works, abilities and quirky sense of humor convinced Philip K. Dick that he was too brilliant to exist and must have actually been a committee of people”.

• The electronic music of Paul Schütze receives a reappraisal on Phantom Limb in November with a compilation album, The Second Law.

Aliya Whiteley on Amanita Muscaria, the hallucinogenic mushroom seen in hundreds of fairy-tale illustrations.

• Stuart Firestein talks to Roger Payne about changing the world’s attitude to whales by recording their songs.

• Jennifer Lucy Allan talks to Sam Underwood about his unique Acoustic Modular Synth.

Jóna G. Kolbrúnardóttir sings Odi Et Amo from Englabörn by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

• A forthcoming release on Dark Entries: Back Up: Mexican Tecno Pop 1980–1989.

• Luc Sante looks at Jim Jarmusch’s collages.

John Grant‘s favourite albums.

• RIP Michael Chapman.

• The Divination Of The Bowhead Whale (1978) by David Toop & Max Eastley | Keflavik: The Whale Dance (1980) by Richard Pinhas | Ballet For A Blue Whale (1983) by Adrian Belew

Esoterica 49

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“What is especially needed is great sensitivity: to look upon everything in the world as enigma….To live in the world as in an immense museum of strange things.” —Giorgio de Chirico

A few weeks ago I made a list of feature films that might be regarded as having the characteristics of a Thomas Pynchon novel without being based on any of Pynchon’s books. The post prompted several suggestions for other candidates, including recommendations to watch Jim Gavin’s TV series, Lodge 49, an American production that ran for two seasons from 2018 to 2019 before being cancelled due to low ratings. Having now watched the series I can say that I enjoyed it very much, and it is very Pynchonian, unsurprisingly when it not only gestures to the title of Pynchon’s second novel, The Crying of Lot 49, but also borrows from its storyline.

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Ernie (Brent Jennings) has just been contemplating a print from the Ars Magna Lucis (1665) by Athanasius Kircher. Near the end of the second series he leaps through an image from the same book.

Lodge 49 presents a unique mélange of alchemy, surfing, secret societies, aerospace engineering, pool cleaning and cryptocurrency, with the added bonus of songs by the much-missed Broadcast being woven into the narrative. The series is consistently funny, humour being another essential Pynchonian ingredient, while the episodes are littered with references to (or correspondences with) Pynchon’s oeuvre: two of the main characters are an ex-surfer and an ex-sailor; the defunct aerospace company, Orbis, is modelled on Pynchon’s Yoyodyne from V. and Lot 49; there’s a trip to Mexico, a visit to an auction, and mention of a Remedios Varo exhibition (Lot 49 again); there are even references to Antarctic mysteries (V.), the Hollow Earth (Mason and Dixon) and the V-2 rocket (Gravity’s Rainbow). And those are only a few of the things I happened to catch as a first-time viewer. This is unusual territory for a small-scale television series, even if American TV has loosened up in recent years to allow a more eclectic range of material.

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Larry (Kenneth Welsh) in the Sanctum Sanctorum with a plate from the Splendor Solis on the wall.

The Lodge 49 of the title is part of a global network of lodges that form the Ancient & Benevolent Order of the Lynx, a cross between a Masonic order and an occult cabal, founded by one Harwood Fritz Merrill, a Scottish alchemist, writer and explorer. (Merrill’s biography and the history of the Order of the Lynx is detailed here [PDF].) Alchemy is a persistent theme in the series but remains in the background for the most part, literally so inside Lodge 49 (Long Beach, California) and Lodge 1 (London) where the walls are decorated with prints of alchemical engravings. It would have been tempting to identify all of these pictures but most of them can be found in Taschen’s excellent Alchemy and Mysticism picture book so it’s easier to direct the curious to the Taschen volume. The prints also seemed to be there more to provide suitable set decoration rather than be significant in themselves, with one notable exception (see below).

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Connie (Linda Edmond) going deeper into the mysteries of Lodge 1. The print is from Cabala, Spiegel der Kunst und Natur: in Alchymia (1615) by Stephan Michelspacher.

More intriguing was the appearance of several paintings which did seem significant although they might equally have been there to generate audience speculation. Film and TV drama is made today in the full awareness that every detail is liable to be screen-grabbed and scrutinised by obsessive viewers, a situation that offers the potential for directors and designers to incorporate details that may have no special significance but are simply there to fuel online chatter. It’s difficult to tell if this is what Gavin and co. were doing, especially when the prematurely truncated series contains so many loose ends and unexplained moments. But paranoia is in part the search for a significance that may not exist outside the mind of the paranoiac so a small degree of concern about being gamed by the creators of Lodge 49 seems warranted here, as well as adding to the general Pynchon factor. Despite all the Pynchoniana mentioned above the series is light on the paranoia that’s a constant in Pynchon’s novels so why not cultivate a little paranoia in the audience itself?

Continue reading “Esoterica 49”

Weekend links 585

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Fox Woman (c. 1916) by Bertha Lum.

• “Apparently he had been walking though customs/arrivals with a large cube of weed stuck on the end of his silver Dr Martens and a foot long silver flashlight full of seed, but when they realised who he was, and that today was his 60th birthday, he was released with just a warning.” Radio Lancashire DJ Steve Barker remembers the late Lee “Scratch” Perry, and links to one of his shows with Perry (and Roger Eagle) here.

• “…it’s the chase itself that shapes the film’s distinctive aesthetic—the under-lit interiors and the sunless and frigid exteriors of the many locations across the city, sites that take the cops well beyond their usual beat, to places both above and below ground.” Chris McGinley explains how William Friedkin’s The French Connection reinvented (and exploded) the police procedural.

• “Toibin, who is himself gay, has always extended historical sympathy to sexual outsiders. As he’s written elsewhere, ‘There are no 19th-century ballads about being gay.'” Dwight Garner reviews Colm Toibin’s The Magician, a novel about Thomas Mann.

Here is the key point: to experience such marvels you have to risk an unsophisticated, even credulous love for corn, and part of that love involves a willingness to submit to what [Phil] Ford calls a “magical hermeneutics” capable of transforming marginal chunks of pop culture. As he writes in the wonderful 2008 essay that inspired the episode, exotica is “less a genre of music than a class of cultural objects that share a characteristic projection of the self across boundaries of space and time.” This makes it essentially psychedelic—“film music for daydreams”—and Ford draws out that historical connection in his essay, which argues that while the hippie movement that Nature Boys like Ahbez prophesied looks like a radical rejection of the space-age bachelor pad of ’50s consumerism, tendrils of transcendent yearning link the exotica imaginary to the earnest if stoned mysterioso to come.

Erik Davis on Eden Ahbez and Californian exotica

Edgar Froese interviewed on WSHU radio in 1974 where he talks about Tangerine Dream, live performance and the future of electronic music.

• At Dangerous Minds: A momentary lapse of reason…when Dario Argento interviewed Pink Floyd in 1987.

• It’s that man again: John Doran interviews Kevin Martin, aka The Bug.

David McKenna on The Strange World of France, La Nòvia & friends.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Tape deck.

Exotica (1958) by Martin Denny | Exotica Lullaby (1976) by Harry “The Crown” Hosono | Exotica (1979) by Throbbing Gristle

Weekend links 584

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Cover for the 1970 US edition of Moonchild by Aleister Crowley. No artist credited (unless you know better…). Update: The artist is Dugald Stewart Walker, and the drawing is from a 1914 edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. Thanks to Mr TjZ!

• “…a very mid-Seventies cauldron of Cold War technology, ESP, sociology, black magic and white magic, experimental science and standing stones, secret radar and satanic rituals, whirring aerials and wild moors: a seething potion of Wyndham and Wheatley.” Mark Valentine on The Twelve Maidens, a novel by Stewart Farrar.

• “The line in the song ‘feed your head’ is both about reading and psychedelics. I was talking about feeding your head by paying attention: read some books, pay attention.” Grace Slick explains why those three little words have been attached to these pages since 2006.

Freddie deBoer reposted his “Planet of Cops” polemic, a piece I linked to when it first appeared in 2017, and which used to come to mind all the time before I absented myself from the poisonous sump of negativity that we call social media.

• RIP Charlie Watts. The Rolling Stones’ last moment of psychedelic strangeness is Child Of The Moon, a promo film by Michael Lindsay-Hogg featuring an uncredited Eileen Atkins and Sylvia Coleridge.

• Old music: A live performance by John Coltrane and ensemble of A Love Supreme from Seattle in 1965 that’s somehow managed to remain unreleased until now.

• A short film about Suzanne Cianni which sees her creating electronic sounds and music for the Xenon pinball machine in the early 1980s.

• “I’ll be in another world”: A rediscovered interview with Jorge Luis Borges.

Steven Heller explains why Magnat is his font of the month.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins on the allure of toy theatre.

• New music: Vexed by The Bug ft. Moor Mother.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Nikola Tesla Festschrift.

Moon Child (1964) by The Ventures | Moonchild (1969) by King Crimson | Moonchild (1992) by Shakespears Sister