Jan Parker’s witches

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Also witch-finders, demons, magi, and a skeletal Adolf Hitler clutching a glowing crystal ball… Jan Parker is a British artist who was working as an illustrator in the early 1970s, during which time he produced a small number of covers for SF and fantasy titles. One of these, The Worlds of Frank Herbert, is a book I used to see a lot on the secondhand shelves although I never owned a copy. As with Victor Valla’s cover art, the 70s was a decade when idiosyncratic imagery of the type created by Parker and co. was a more common sight on genre covers than it is today. Witchcraft and Black Magic, published by Hamlyn in 1971, brought Parker’s brand of naïve weirdness to a Peter Haining history of the more lurid forms of occultism. This is a book that I did own for a while until someone borrowed it and never returned it, a persistent hazard for the books in my not-very-extensive occult library. Haining’s study is the kind of thing that publishers often call a pocket guide, although this suggests something you’d carry around to be used as an identification tool during chance encounters; you wouldn’t want to encounter most of the people (never mind the creatures) in these paintings.

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A handful of Parker’s illustrations turned up some years ago at the now-defunct Front Free Endpaper, then were reblogged at Monster Brains and elsewhere. The copies here are from another recent upload at the Internet Archive where the book is part of a sub-archive of titles scanned from Indian libraries. The very tight binding evidently presented difficulties for the scanner, hence the appearance of fingers holding open most of the pages. It’s good to see this one again; I always valued the book more for the artwork than the text which isn’t bad but was simply another commission for the very prolific Haining, a writer who was a better anthologist than a historian. If you want a general history of the occult there are more authoritative options elsewhere.

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As for the artwork, I wonder now how long it took Parker to paint all these pictures. There are about 80 original illustrations plus a number of others taken from antique books or from artists such as Frans Hals and Goya; that’s a lot of original art for a book of only 160 pages. Many of Parker’s pieces are copies of pre-existing portraits or of familiar illustrations like the perennially popular demons from de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal. This makes me wonder why Hamlyn commissioned copies from Parker rather than simply paying a picture library for the original images as Marshall Cavendish were doing in 1971 with their multi-part encyclopedia, Man, Myth and Magic. Whatever the reason I’m pleased they gave Parker so much free reign. His depictions of historical figures wouldn’t be out of place in the portrait gallery in Dance of the Vampires, while some of his other pieces stray into outright Surrealism; the picture of people being menaced by flying eyeballs was used for the cover art of the US reprint from Bantam.

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Haining’s book had at least one reprint in the UK before going out of print. The early 1970s saw the peak of the occult revival which had begun in the previous decade, and which made room in publishers’ lists for odd little books like this one. Secondhand copies are still floating around although they’re seldom cheap. If you do find one just be careful who you lend it to.

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Continue reading “Jan Parker’s witches”

Weekend links 623

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A symmetrical ink blot from Gobolinks, or Shadow Pictures for Young and Old (1896) by Ruth McEnery Stuart & Albert Bigelow Paine, a book where the blots are much more interesting than the interpretative verses that accompany them.

• “…within a year, they were on The Tube, performing their German-language extrapolation of Throbbing Gristle’s Discipline to a visibly nonplussed audience.” Alexis Petridis on the return of Propaganda. The group’s debut album, A Secret Wish (previously), has long been an obscure object of desire round here.

• RIP Alan White, drummer in Yes for much of the 1970s (see Sound Chaser for details), and also—although nobody mentioned this at the time—the originator of the drum sounds sampled on a Fairlight for Beat Box by the Art Of Noise.

• “For the anthropologist Stewart Guthrie, pareidolia is not a fringe phenomenon: it is at the core of religious experience.” Hunter Dukes on the interpretation of ink blots.

• “…self-righteousness is the one thing that I don’t agree with,” says John Waters. “We used humour to fight when I was young.”

• New music: October Cut Up by Black Glass Ensemble, and New Witness by Michael Begg.

• Also RIP Shiv Kumar Sharma, master of the santoor.

• “Scientists recreate Cleopatra’s favourite perfume.

Simon Fisher Turner’s favourite albums.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Len Lye Day.

Cleopatra’s Barge (1962) by Alex North | Cleopatra’s Needle (1963) by Ahab And The Wailers | Cleopatra King Size (2002) by Jah Wobble & Temple Of Sound

Drone Mass

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Design by Florian Karg.

You’d think someone would have used the title Drone Mass prior to this new release but it seems not. The album is the premiere recording of a late composition by Jóhann Jóhannsson, performed by the composer’s regular collaborators in the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, together with Theatre of Voices and their conductor Paul Hillier. The album title and the presence of a choral group raises expectations of a religious Mass but John Schaefer’s notes draw attention to the title’s ambiguities, Jóhannsson having said that he was thinking as much about airborne drones as sustained sounds. (The Khephri scarab on the cover has a rather drone-like appearance.) Schaefer also notes that the word “mass” can refer to physical substance as well as religious ritual.

As to the substance of the music, there is a superficially religious quality to the first two pieces, a feature deceptive enough to make the album the kind of thing I’d like to play to the unsuspecting. Without knowing what to expect you could easily imagine the rest of the suite developing like an Arvo Pärt composition (and Theatre of Voices/Paul Hillier have performed Pärt on several occasions) until you reach the dissonant waves of the third piece, Triptych In Mass, after which various electronic rumbles and distortions arrive to take the album into a very different sphere. One of the pleasures of Jóhannsson’s compositions was this juxtaposition between the familiar structures and instruments of classical composition with sounds processed by computer software. The combination isn’t exactly new, Edgard Varèse was doing the same as far back as the 1930s (he also discussed his music in terms of “sound masses”), but in 20th-century examples the orchestral component is always striving to seem as fresh and as different as the electronics genuinely were. What you didn’t get then—because any such music would have been deemed old-fashioned or even reactionary—is this blending of traditional chords and harmonies with sounds that originate in the latest digital processes. After the release of Last And First Men I hadn’t been expecting any new Jóhannsson compositions (although previously unreleased soundtracks keep turning up) so this is all very welcome.

If you’ve looked at Florian Karg’s cover and are wondering what any of the above has to do with Ancient Egypt, an explanation may be found inside the album where a photo shows the 2015 premiere performance of Drone Mass taking place outside the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. That bright yellow Deutsche Grammophon logo has become something to watch for in recent years. The DG cartouche has always been a trademark of quality where classical recordings are concerned but the label has a somewhat broader remit today, releasing many more soundtrack albums than they would have done in the past, in addition to non-soundtrack works by Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter and others. Oddly enough (considering the news last week), the new direction was begun by Vangelis in 1985 when his Invisible Connections album was released on DG instead of its pop sibling, Polydor. This was very surprising at the time even though the label had been releasing avant-garde compositions for many years; the first Stockhausen album I bought in 1981 was a secondhand DG release of Mikrophonie I & II. Some of the recent remixes of old Berlin Philharmonic recordings will have set Herbert von Karajan spinning in his sarcophagus but the label hasn’t pushed things too far in that direction, and if the poppier works pay for new recordings such as this one then I’m not complaining.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Jóhannssonia
Last and First Men

Weekend links 622

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Testa Anatomica (1854) by Filippo Balbi.

The New School of the Anthropocene is “…an experiment. But it is also an act of repair. In partnership with October Gallery in London, we seek to reinstate the intellectual adventure and creative risk that formerly characterised arts education before the university system capitulated to market principles and managerial bureaucracy… (more)”

• “Every once in a while, you come across old music that generates a shock of new excitement.” Geeta Dayal on Oksana Linde whose electronic compositions are being released in a retrospective collection next month.

• More Walerian Borowczyk: Anatomy of the Devil, a collection of Borowczyk’s short stories, newly translated into English by Michael Levy, and with a cover design by the Quay Brothers.

• Washing machines, garden snails, and plastic surgery: A stroll through the Matmos catalogue. Related: “Why scientists are turning molecules into music.”

• Coming soon from Strange Attractor: Boogie Down Predictions, Hip Hop, Time and Afrofuturism, edited by Roy Christopher.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Exploring Japan’s historical landmarks and shrines in the middle of streets.

• New music: Adrian Sherwood Presents: Dub No Frontiers, music by female dub artists.

Winners of the 2022 Milky Way Photographer of the Year.

• A Vision In Many Voices: The art of Leo and Diane Dillon.

Molecular Delusion (1971) by Ramases | DNA Music (Molecular Meditation) (1985) by Riley McLaughlin | Pop Molecule (Molecular Pop 1) (2008) by Stereolab

Weekend links 620

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Premonition (1953) by Remedios Varo.

• “Classical mythology, Arcadian idylls, occult speculation, and an interest in cultural curiosities coexisted in the grotto, allowing for the playful exploration of a new tension emerging between Nature and Artifice.” Laura Tradii explores the artificial grottoes of the Renaissance and beyond.

• “Some of the symbols and signs seem like bridges to nowhere, and perhaps Nabokov was lovingly teasing our endless quest to find patterns and generate meaning.” David M. Rubin on writing a response to a Nabokov short story.

• New music: “KMRU & Aho Ssan erupt in post-apocalyptic extremity with Resurgence“. I did the layout for this latest release on the Subtext label but I still haven’t got round to updating my web pages so you’ll have to take my word for it.

• Powell & Pressburger’s Black Narcissus “unleashes a level of eroticism that’s surprising for 1940s British cinema,” says Adam Scovell.

• “Premonitions are impossible, and they come true all the time.” Fiona Sturges reviews The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight.

• Between Hell and Paradise: paintings by Hieronymus Bosch and his followers at the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

• At The Collector: Olivia Barrett on the Voodoo Queens of New Orleans.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Astronef Super.

• Mix of the week: Isolatedmix 118 by Pan American.

TMP-01 Vintage Synth TV Series from Benge.

• Vale, A Year In The Country.

Premonition (1979) by Simple Minds | Premonition (1980) by Cabaret Voltaire | Premonition (Giant Empty Iron Vessel) (1987) by David Sylvian & Holger Czukay