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”

Music for people with three ears

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Cherry Red Records this month reissues the first three albums by the unique and wonderful Third Ear Band. I like CDs, and I especially like having them collected into boxes with Japanese-style facsimile sleeves, so this collection is irresistible. The group’s first two albums, Alchemy (1969) and Third Ear Band (1970), still sound timeless despite being products of their time, with the track you’d most expect to sound dated, Ghetto Raga, being free of sitars or Indian pastiche. Third Ear Band music is a kind of improvised folk, predominantly the product of oboe, violin and percussion, which sounds like something the group might have tuned into when they were playing for Druids at ancient sites (Stone Circle and Druid One are further track titles). The first two albums also have the additional attraction for this listener of a heavy emphasis on medieval mysticism, from the Atalanta Fugiens illustration by Matthäus Merian on the cover of Alchemy, and the symbols and astrological diagrams that fill out the inside cover of the second album, to the titles of that album which continue the alchemical theme: Air, Earth, Fire and Water. The group also borrowed some graphics from Aubrey Beardsley when they issued their musical manifesto in 1969.

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Music From Macbeth (1972) is constrained in comparison to the albums that precede it, being subservient to Roman Polanski’s feature film, although there’s more music here than was used in the film. It’s also closer to rock music in places, with occasional fuzzed guitar, a Mellotron, and rumbles from a VCS 3 synthesizer played by a future member of Hawkwind, Simon House. The cover painting by Roger Dean isn’t one of his best. In Views Dean complains that Polanski “got the imagery wrong” for the scenes with the witches, a comment I’ve never understood. Polanski’s film is a naturalistic interpretation of the play which is well-served by the Third Ear Band’s drones and medievalisms. Incidentally, I’m sure the phrase “music for people with three ears” was used on a Harvest records press ad but if it was I’ve been unable to find any evidence of it. Anyone out there know the source?

Previously on { feuilleton }
Night’s black agents
Atalanta Fugiens

Man is the Animal: A Coil Zine

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Death is centrifugal / Solar and logical / Decadent and symmetrical / Angels are mathematical / Angels are bestial / Man is the animal —Fire Of The Mind by Coil

In the post this week from Temporal Boundary Press, issue 1 of Man is the Animal: A Coil Zine. A timely publication, given the persistent and increasing interest in Coil, and one whose essays are all of a quality belied by the “zine” label which usually suggests something more fannish and trivial. This is a pleasing object even before you look inside, a perfect-bound A5 booklet with full-colour printing throughout, and a cover painting by Val Denham, an artist with Coil associations that reach back through the Some Bizzare period to art for Marc Almond and Throbbing Gristle. Denham also contributes one of the written pieces, Jhonn is Unbalanced, a touching memoir of Geoff Rushton/John (Jhonn) Balance. Among the other entries is a piece by Benjamin Noys, a writer whose previous studies have included an examination of the connections between my own art for the Reverbstorm comic series and the weird fiction of HP Lovecraft. Noys takes a similar approach here, finding reflections of Coil obsessions in the symbolism of alchemical magic and the weird fiction of Arthur Machen.

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Epigraph from Outside the Circles of Time by Kenneth Grant.

The weird fiction of HP Lovecraft was a Coil obsession, and Lovecraft receives the most attention in a great piece by Andy Sharp which takes its cue from the appearance in Titan Arch of lines from the epigraph for Outside the Circles of Time, an occult study by magus and scholar Kenneth Grant. The latter was another Lovecraft obsessive—no doubt one of the first, given his age—whose books are littered with references to both Lovecraft and Machen. I spotted the Coil/Grant connection many years ago (although quite some time after Love’s Secret Domain was released), and acknowledged the link in two pages in The Haunter of the Dark, one of which reprints Grant’s epigraph, while the other is a picture with the title In Spaces Between, a line from Titan Arch which is also a reference to the Necronomicon extract in The Dunwich Horror: “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.” Sharp does more than merely acknowledge this web of connections, he delves into Grant’s dense treatise in search of further correspondences. I’ve not read Grant’s book for many years but this essay makes me think I ought to look at it again. By coincidence (or is it? etc), both Love’s Secret Domain and Outside the Circles of Time have been reissued this year, the Grant book by Starfire Publishing.

Contents:
The Vision and the Voice: Esoteric Dimensions of Coil’s Vocals by Hayes Hampton
A Hauntology of Coil by Sean Oscar
Are You Loathsome Tonight?: Coil’s Transformations by Benjamin Noys
The Horseman Betrays His Steed by Cormac Pentecost
The Spaces Between: Outside the Circles of Time and Love’s Secret Domain by Andy Sharp
Jhonn is Unbalanced by Val Denham

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dreaming Out of Space: Kenneth Grant on HP Lovecraft
Peter Christopherson Photography & The Art of John Balance Collected
The White People by Arthur Machen
Val Denham album covers
Kenneth Grant, 1924–2011
Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010
The Angelic Conversation

Weekend links 571

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Habit d’Astrologue (c. 1700) by Gerard Valck.

• “The Appointed Cloud begins with the high-pitched, keening sound of many bagpipes noisily playing at once—and then the music slowly coalesces, approaching a peaceful, tranquil hum. This gives way to fast-paced repetitive pulses, reminiscent of the minimalist works of composers such as Terry Riley and Philip Glass. Then the bagpipes join in once more, in a ferocious swarm of energy.” Geeta Dayal on the music of Yoshi Wada.

• “How can we conceive of the time of climate change, the time of planetary death? The House on the Borderland tried to conceive of exactly this a century ago. Yes, the narrator’s acts are fruitless. He gets haplessly carted about the universe to witness the end of time, which never really ends, is always at the edge, nearing an asymptote, on the borderland.” Namwali Serpell journeys through space and time with William Hope Hodgson.

• The Bureau of Lost Culture: DJ Food hosts a podcast discussion with Tony Bennett, founder and publisher of Knockabout Comics.

• Mixes of the week: Isolated Mix 111 (plus interview) by Ian Boddy, and a Wire mix (plus interview) by Teresa Winter.

• Fantastic visions and unknown worlds: Edwin Pouncey on Van Der Graaf Generator’s sleeve art.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Sculptor Kenichi Nakaya reconfigures ubiquitous Japanese rural crafts.

• My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields: “We wanted to sound like a band killing their songs.”

• At Wormwoodiana: More earth mysteries are explored in Northern Earth magazine.

• New music: Black Horses Of The Sun by Dave Bessell.

The Exotica Project: One Hundred Dreamland 45s

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Hans Richter Day.

Mdou Moctar‘s favourite music.

Earth Floor (1985) by Michael Brook | Earth Tribe (1993) by Transglobal Underground | Earth Lights (2012) by Belbury Poly

Weekend links 564

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Fantastical Tree (c. 1830) by Carl Wilhelm Kolbe.

• “It’s just a square and a semi-circle at the end of the day.” Pete Adlington navigates the rapids of high-profile cover design for the UK edition of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and The Sun. I’m not always keen on the minimal approach but the Faber edition is a better design than the equally minimal US cover whose circle in a hand makes it look like a reprint of Logan’s Run. Faber also produced a limited edition with the sun circle wrapped onto sprayed page edges.

• “‘With a mysterious smile on her lips,’ writes the Chilean film director Alejandro Jodorowsky, ‘the painter whispered to me, “What you just dictated to me is the secret. As each Arcana is a mirror and not a truth in itself, become what you see in it. That tarot is a chameleon.”‘” The painter referred to is the now-ubiquitous Leonora Carrington whose own Tarot deck is investigated by Rhian Sasseen.

• “‘Horror is an emotion,’ Douglas E. Winter tells us. I would respectfully like to amend that assertion. Horror is a range of emotions. And each of these moods, if they are to be successful, must be cultivated differently.” Brian J. Showers offers his thoughts on horror fiction.

• “You move from awareness of—and preoccupation with—how sounds affect our bodies, into how that might create a web of connection with the external world—with the natural world.” Annea Lockwood talking to Jennifer Lucy Allan about her career as a composer and sound artist.

• Gay cruising and its geography in cinema and documentary, a list of films by Mike Kennedy. Related: Shiv Kotecha on O Fantasma (2000), a film by João Pedro Rodrigues.

• Coming from Strange Attractor in June: Coil: Camera Light Oblivion, a photographic record by Ruth Beyer of the first live performances by Coil from 2000–2002.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on The Star Called Wormwood (1941), a strange novel by Morchard Bishop.

• At Unquiet Things: Ephemeral and Irresistible: The Spectacular Still-life Botanical Drama of Gatya Kelly.

• “Fevers of Curiosity”: Charles Baudelaire and the convalescent flâneur by Matthew Beaumont.

• 1066 and all that: Explore the Bayeux Tapestry online.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 311 by Arigto.

• New music: Terrain by Portico Quartet.

Fever (1956) by Little Willie John | Fever (1972) by Junior Byles | Fever (1980) The Cramps