Unearthly tones

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Design, as always, is by Julian House.

“…we shall only be delivered from our afflictions by sayings and doings that are altogether irrational, paradoxical, and magical: the wild songs of fairyland, sung to unearthly tones, are the only medicine for the heartache and the headache of humanity.”

Arthur Machen, A Note on Asceticism (The Academy, 27th May, 1911)

This quote from the Apostle of Wonder, which will appear on the forthcoming album from Belbury Poly, is one I hadn’t seen before; serves me right for not subscribing to Faunus where the piece was reprinted in 2017. It’s been a while since Machen’s name has appeared in association with Ghost Box even though the label originates from the same area of South Wales that was the writer’s birthplace, a detail that gave the early Ghost Box releases additional resonance. One of the attractions of the Ghost Box recordings was the intersection between quotes and titles from weird literature with electronic music derived from library albums and theme tunes from the 1960s and 70s; Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, as Broadcast & The Focus Group memorably put it. It was a beguiling mix which the label’s more recent releases have increasingly diluted: the rear-view musical themes are still in evidence but the weird quotient has been diminished, giving the listener a box without a ghost. (Pye Corner Audio, whose last album was an exploration of subterranean realms, is a notable exception.) I feel uncomfortable drawing attention to this since it’s tantamount to saying “Please don’t change!”. But it’s also the case that a label devoted solely to Basil Kirchin pastiches might never have attracted my attention in the first place.

The description of new Belbury Poly album, The Gone Away, reaffirms the label’s commitment to its weirder side:

The Gone Away’s 11 tracks are inspired by British fairy folklore, especially its recurrent themes of things that always seem on the point of leaving or vanishing. Also there’s the notion of things that can’t be seen head on but are only glimpsed from the corner of the eye. A scorned and neglected corner of folklore, beguiling and bonkers in equal measure. Of course, this being a Ghost Box record, these themes are received through the prism of old TV soundtracks, and the credulous beliefs and childhood obsessions of a pre-digital age.

Anyone who’s read Arthur Machen’s The Shining Pyramid will know that fairy folklore in his stories conceals a darker and more malevolent manifestation of the supernatural. His comment about “unearthly tones” suggests a different point of view. The Gone Away will be released on 28th August.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The White People by Arthur Machen
Ghost Box

Weekend links 527

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Poster art by Bob Peak.

• Sidney Lumet’s 1977 film of Peter Shaffer’s Equus receives a limited blu-ray release by the BFI in August. Richard Burton’s performance has always received a mixed response (I’ve never been in the anti-Burton camp) but the film is serious and well-made. And, as with The Offence (1973), there’s the thrill of seeing Lumet turn his attention away from his beloved New York City to examine British lives.

• “Astronomer claims to have pinpointed date of Vermeer’s View of Delft.” Yes, but how long did it take Vermeer paint the view? Speaking as someone who used to paint a lot, I’d say two or three days at least. Then there’s that awkward thing known as “artistic licence”…

• “I was taken aback by the antic side of Borges. He was irreverent, funny, insistent on his ways, and brilliantly talkative.” Jay Parini on Jorge Luis Borges, and his experience as the writer’s chauffeur in the Scottish Highlands.

• Strange Islands: Benjamin Welton on a favourite cinematic micro-genre I explored here a few years ago: the mysterious tropical island that’s a home to fearsome beasts and outsized (often deranged) personalities.

Greydogtales on The Sapphire Goddess of Nictzin Dyalhis, the Weird Tales writer with a name like a character from one of his stories.

• “I came for the giant phalluses and stayed for the joy of being a gay person.” Eight artists on the influence of Tom of Finland.

Tamsin Cleary on Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House (1977) which she calls “the world’s most demented haunted house film”. It really is.

The Gone Away, a short film by Sean Reynard for the forthcoming album from Belbury Poly.

Moorcography: the beginnings of an online Michael Moorcock bibliography.

• “Our sound engineer got a death threat”: Andrew Male on Olivia, a lesbian record label.

Bajo el Signo de Libra explores the art of Aubrey Beardsley.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hans-Jürgen Syberberg Day.

The secret drawings of Great Britain’s UFO Desk.

Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 is here.

The Four Horsemen (1971) by Aphrodite’s Child | All The Pretty Little Horses (2004) by Coil | When The Horses Were Shorn Of Their Hooves (2018) by Dylan Carlson

Hardy art

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Hawkwind continue to be the overwhelming topic of the moment while I’m reading Joe Banks’ marvellously detailed account of the group’s first decade. One of the many attractions of Hawkwind for this listener was their intersection with other areas of interest: Moorcock and New Worlds, obviously (two of Robert Calvert’s poems appeared in New Worlds Quarterly), but also SF and fantasy in general. The alien planet on the back cover of the Hall of the Mountain Grill album was immediately recognisable as the work of British space artist David A. Hardy thanks to a feature in Visions of the Future (1976) a collection of artwork reprints from the art and fiction magazine Science Fiction Monthly. Hardy had a long association with astronomer Patrick Moore, illustrating the covers of Moore’s novels and later collaborating on a speculative science book, Challenge of the Stars (1972). A few of the latter paintings were reprinted in Visions of the Future, including one with the title Alien Life Forms that depicted amoeboid creatures on a remote planet. The painting would have become the back cover of the Hawkwind album if Hardy hadn’t insisted on creating a new work in a more suitable ratio.

Hardy’s association with Hawkwind extended to their stage shows, with a series of circular paintings used by “Liquid Len” (Jonathan Smeeton) on a rotating projector that covered the band in moving panoramas of ancient monuments, dinosaurs, alien landscapes and exploding worlds. Two of the paintings appear as the endpapers in Joe’s book; the dinosaurs and the monuments may be seen here. Joe’s account also resolved another nagging micro-mystery by confirming that the stage projections used while the group played the instrumental Wind Of Change were also Hardy paintings, not an animated film as I’d been led to believe by a friend who saw one of the shows where the number was performed. The slides apparently showed an isolated tree around which a city grows then self-destructs, although I’ve yet to see a reproduction of any of the paintings.

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Cover design by Bryan Cholfin.

My own Hawkwind covers make very poor comparisons to Hardy’s meticulous renderings but we do have a further connection via The Very Best of Fantasy and Science Fiction, a collection of stories from the long-running magazine edited by Gordon Van Gelder. I designed the book’s interiors and Hardy contributed the cover art. Hardy painted many covers for F&SF throughout the 1970s and 80s, this shining rocket being a reworking of a cover he produced for the magazine’s 60th anniversary issue. The archetypal spacecraft of classic science fiction, and almost a definitive example. You might even call it a silver machine…

Previously on { feuilleton }
Silver machines
Notes from the Underground
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The artists of Future Life
Science Fiction Monthly
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

Silver Machines

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1: How to Construct a Time Machine, 1899

III: Description of the Machine

The Machine consists of an ebony frame, similar to the steel frame of a bicycle. The ebony members are assembled with soldered copper mountings.

The gyrostats’ three tori (or flywheels), in the three perpendicular planes of Euclidean space, are made of ebony cased in copper, mounted on rods of tightly rolled quartz ribbons (quartz ribbons are made in the same way as quartz wire), and set in quartz sockets.

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Alfred Jarry testing a time machine, 1898

The circular frames or the semicircular forks of the gyro stats are made of nickel. Under the seat and a little forward are located the batteries for the electric motor. There is no iron in the Machine other than the soft iron of the electromagnets.

Motion is transmitted to the three flywheels by ratchet-boxes and chain-drives of quartz wire, engaged in three cogwheels, each of which lies on the same plane as its corresponding fly wheel. The chain-drives are connected to the motor and to each other through bevel gears and driveshafts. A triple brake controls all three shafts simultaneously…

Alfred Jarry

2: Dead Singers (aka All the Dead Singers), 1971

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“That’s all in the past now.” Beesley waddled to the other the side of the tiled room and wheeled the black Royal Albert gent’s roadster across the clean floor. He paused to flip a switch on the wall. Belly Button Window flooded through the sound system. They were turning his own rituals against him. Now the devil had all the songs.

“All aboard, Mr C.” Reluctantly, Jerry mounted the bike. He was getting a bit too old for this sort of thing.

[…]

In London he slowed down, but by that time he’d blown it completely. Still, he’d got what Beesley wanted. Nothing stayed the same. Tiny snatches of music came from all sides, trying to take hold. Marie Lloyd. Harry Champion, George Formby, Noël Coward, Cole Porter, Billie Holliday, MJQ, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Hawkwind. He hung on to Hawkwind, turning the car back and forth to try to home in, but then it was Gertrude Lawrence and then it was Tom Jones and then it was Cliff Richard and he knew he was absolutely lost. Buildings rose and fell like waves. Horses, trams and buses faded through each other. People grew and decayed. There were too many ghosts in the future. In Piccadilly Circus he brought the Mercedes to a bumping stop at the base of the Eros statue and, grabbing the Royal Albert, threw himself clear. He was screaming for help. They’d been fools to fuck about with Time again. Yet they’d known what they were getting him into.

Michael Moorcock, Ink Magazine

3: Silver Machine, 1972

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Cover design by Tony Vesely with Pennie Smith (not the work of Barney Bubbles as stated elsewhere).

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A dead singer.

Continue reading “Silver Machines”

Weekend links 526

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La Cathédrale Engloutie (1952) by Ithell Colquhoun.

• Many of the recent lists of “where to start with the music of [x]” aren’t filling an urgent requirement, but in the case of Sun Ra—whose discography runs to 95 albums—any guide is a useful one: Sean Kitching chooses 10 recordings from the Ra galaxy. I’m not unacquainted with Sun Ra’s music but there’s so much of it that almost all these suggestions are news. Related: Namwali Serpell on the life and work of a cosmic visionary.

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor, Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of The Fern Loved Gulley by Amy Hale, the first book-length study of the life and work of the British Surrealist and occult artist.

• I doubt I’ll get to see it but I’m pleased to know that the prematurely shuttered Aubrey Beardsley exhibition is returning to Tate Britain. You’ll need a Decadent face-mask.

• And speaking of music lists, Alexis Petridis compiles a ranking of all the songs by a little-known post-punk band from Manchester.

The Last Arcadian (Process Mix): more psychotropic nougat from Moon Wiring Club.

• Kill Me Again… Ken Hollings on Ennio Morricone and the music of the future.

Mervyn Peake‘s visual archive has been acquired by the British Library.

Anitra Pavlico on the fantastic world (and music) of Maurice Ravel.

Stanley Stellar‘s photos of the New York gay scene in the 1980s.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Fetish.

• RIP Judy Dyble.

Wikidelia

Chelsea Morning (1968) by Fairport Convention | I Talk To The Wind (1968) by Giles, Giles & Fripp feat. Judy Dyble | Morning Way (1970) by Trader Horne