Weekend links 588

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Gerry Barney’s logo for British Rail. A page from the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual (1965).

• RIP Russ Kick, writer, editor, and founder of many websites/blogs such as Rare Erotica, Books Are People Too and (notoriously) the several iterations of The Memory Hole, a space dedicated to keeping visible information that successive US governments would have preferred to remain unseen. I’d known Russ remotely for many years, initially as a reviewer of the Savoy comics in Outposts. Savoy Books later helped find him a publisher for Psychotropedia: A Guide to Publications on the Periphery, a wide-ranging overview of alternative/underground print culture in the late 1990s. In 2004 his information activism gave him a fleeting taste of world-wide attention when he forced the Bush administration to make public the photos of flag-draped coffins returning from Iraq. The scandal put his name on the front pages of newspapers that should have been finding those photos for themselves instead of cheerleading the war. A run of books for Disinformation presented his archival researches for the general reader, then in 2012 he edited The Graphic Canon, a massive three-volume collection of comics and illustrations based on classic works of literature. I was among the many contributors to the latter with an adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and would have worked on the follow-up collection of crime stories if I hadn’t been busy with other things. I had hoped that we might work together again in the future.

• “‘The new mainstream has attempted to erase the innovations of the avant-garde from jazz history,’ the film declares.” Geeta Dayal reviews Fire Music, a documentary about the jazz innovations of the 1960s.

• I don’t have the hardware to play this but Sable is a new computer game from Raw Fury whose design owes much to the desert landscapes seen in comics by Moebius.

• New/old music: Stealing Sheep and The Radiophonic Workshop reimagine the score for René Laloux’s animated science-fiction film La Planète Sauvage.

• At Spine: Savannah Cordova on how to perfect your book cover’s typography. Having recently designed an all-type cover design this is timely.

• Mixes of the week: Isolatedmix 113 by Sunju Hargun, XLR8R Podcast 714 by Soela, and Holograficzne Widmo ze Bart De Paepe by David Colohan.

• “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Gerry Barney, designer of the British Rail logo, doesn’t like the green reworking of his design.

• Scottish lord goes blood simple: a teaser for The Tragedy of Macbeth by Joel Cohen and some bloke called William Shakespeare.

• “It’s unmanageable.” Ellen Peirson-Hagger on how the vinyl industry reached breaking point.

Macbeth (1973) by John Cale | Rail (1994) by Main | Logotone (2013) by Steve Moore

Richard H. Kirk, 1956–2021

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Q: Was the initial idea to be a music group?

Richard H. Kirk: I suppose that depends on how you define “music”. No, the initial idea was to be more of a sound group, just putting sounds together like jigsaw pieces. If the result did sound like music then it was purely coincidental.

From Cabaret Voltaire: The Art of the Sixth Sense (1984) by M Fish & D Hallberry

This was a shock, in part because I tend to think of certain artists as perpetually young even when I’ve been following them for decades. In the case of the not-so-young Cabaret Voltaire it was an easy frame of mind to slip into when Kirk and Mallinder were only photographically visible up to about 1990. After this the group resumed their former obscurity, cloaked by abstract images and Designers Republic graphics.

Oddly enough I’d been running through the early Cabs albums only a couple of weeks ago, and wondering how long Kirk was going to keep the revived group going on his own. I suppose this means that Cabaret Voltaire is now definitely finished, in which case it’s a double RIP. And just a few days ago I was reading a Mark Fisher essay on Joy Division, feeling as frustrated as I always do when Curtis and co. are praised for “channelling” (or whatever) the spirit of William Burroughs when nobody would think to connect Burroughs and Joy Division if you changed the title of the song Interzone to something else. Throbbing Gristle were closer to Burroughs personally than were Cabaret Voltaire but the influence on TG only became really overt when Industrial Records released Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, an album of Burroughs’ tape experiments. The Cabs were more important to me as a youthful reader of Burroughs’ novels for seeming to be broadcasting from inside his texts. Their early albums were disturbed and disturbing (a friend once asked me to switch off their music for this very reason), an unwholesome amalgam of dialogue taped from TV and radio, crude electronics, threatening voices, and songs that were warped into strange new shapes. This is entertainment…this is fun… I’m still amazed that their first album included a cover of No Escape, a song by psychedelic group The Seeds, which didn’t sound out of place despite the weirdness surrounding it.

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William smiles. Left to right: John Giorno, William Burroughs, Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk. Photo by Sylvia Plachy from the gatefold interior of A Diamond In The Mouth Of A Corpse (1985), a compilation album released by Giorno Poetry Systems.

Cut-up theory was a constant in the Cabaret Voltaire discography, and in many of Richard Kirk’s solo recordings, with the group starting out as Dada-inspired tape collagists* before they found a way to present their experiments in a musical form. The concept is to the fore in the title of Cabaret Voltaire’s debut album, Mix-Up, and exemplified in the track that opens side two, Photophobia, a reworked version of a Surrealist monologue that dates from the group’s days making recordings in Chris Watson’s attic. Photophobia pulls you into the same queasy dreamspace in which you find yourself when reading Burroughs’ early cut-ups, a catalogue of oneiric splicings—”they’re injecting the rivers with stainless-steel fish…a coelacanth/a body with a shrunken head…”—the phrases being increasingly overwhelmed by rising synthesizer drones and Kirk’s squeaking clarinet. Kirk’s solo debut, Disposable Half-Truths, was a cassette-only release on Industrial Records infused with the Burroughs spirit in both technique and content, offering track titles such as Information Therapy and Insect Friends Of Allah. Cabaret Voltaire continually referred to Burroughs’ speculative essay collection The Electronic Revolution in interviews but it was Kirk who extended the group’s cut-up experiments to film and video. By 1982 they’d accumulated enough of their own video material to release a VHS collection on their own music and video label, Doublevision.

If I’ve concentrated on the early recordings it’s because the post-punk period continues to seem like a miraculous moment, a space of four years when anything was possible musically, a time when Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis could record an album as uncompromisingly strange as 3R4 then have it released on 4AD and sold in racks next to albums by label-mates Bauhaus and The Birthday Party. Cabaret Voltaire took advantage of this unique period to warp expectations in their own way, and to extend the boundaries of the possible. Richard H. Kirk’s subsequent career was prolific, releasing a blizzard of albums and singles under a variety of pseudonyms (Discogs lists 42 different Kirk aliases). One of my favourite pieces from his solo recordings is White Darkness from 1993, the last track on a 12-inch single, Digital Lifeforms, credited to Sandoz. There’s a mysterious quality here that I wish he’d explored more often on his later albums instead of letting the rhythms run their course for another seven or eight minutes. The sampled voice maintains a thread of continuity with Kirk’s music before and after, as does the reference to LSD in the Sandoz name, taking us back to Mix-Up and the mescaline experiments described on Heaven And Hell. Psychedelia by other means.

* For a taste of unadorned Cabs-related tape manipulation, see The Men With The Deadly Dreams, a cassette release compiled by Geoff Rushton/John Balance which features contributions from Chris Watson and Richard H. Kirk. Note that the blog post doesn’t give an accurate description of the tape contents.

• At Vinyl Factory: An introduction to Richard H. Kirk in 10 records.
• At The Wire: two interviews with Kirk from the magazine’s archives.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Recoil and Cabaret Voltaire
Pow-Wow by Stephen Mallinder
TV Wipeout revisited
Doublevision Presents Cabaret Voltaire
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
European Rendezvous by CTI
TV Wipeout
Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo
Elemental 7 by CTI
The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire
Neville Brody and Fetish Records

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

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