Weekend links 556

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Captain Edward St. Miquel Tilden Bradshaw and his Crew Come to Grips with Bloodthirsty Foe Pirates by S. Clay Wilson, Zap Comix no. 3, 1968.

• RIP S. Clay Wilson, the wild man of American comics. The scene of mayhem above is typical in being barely coherent at a small size; click for a larger view. Patrick Rosenkranz at The Comics Journal describes Wilson as “the most influential artist of his generation…creating an extensive body of work that will defy authority and offend propriety until the end of days”. When Moebius was writing in the 1980s about the founding of Métal Hurlant he had this to say about the American undergrounds: “They were the first in the world to use comics as a means of communication, to express real emotions. Before, comics were used only to do stories, entertainment. They had some great moments but they were all very conventional. The American Underground showed us in Europe how to express true feelings, how to tell something to the reader through the comics. They blew the minds of the few professionals in Europe who saw them.” Also at TCJ, the S. Clay Wilson Interview. Wilson sent me a postcard once. I wish I knew what the hell I’d done with it.

• Michael Hoenig, synthesist for Agitation Free and (briefly) Tangerine Dream, plays one of the pieces from his debut album of electronic music, Departure From The Northern Wasteland, on a radio show in 1977. Hoenig’s album is long overdue a remastering and re-release.

• “My job, which the BBC has tasked me to do, is to provoke people and ask them, ‘Have you thought about looking at the world this way?'” Adam Curtis talks to Michael J. Brooks about his new TV series, Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.

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{ feuilleton } celebrates its 15th birthday today. Monsieur Chat, the mascot of this place, is happy about that but then Monsieur Chat is happy about most things.

• At Greydogtales: Opening The Book of Carnacki. A call for contributions to a collection of new stories about William Hope Hodgson’s occult detective. I’d be tempted if I didn’t already have more than enough to keep me occupied.

• “I’m being asked to talk about it a great deal at the moment, with the pandemic.” Roger Corman and Jane Asher on filming The Masque of the Red Death.

• New music: Cygnus Sutra by Mike Shannon, “a soundtrack to a fantasy/sci-fi epic not yet written”.

• A trailer for The Witch of King’s Cross, a documentary about occult artist Rosaleen Norton.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Hans Bellmer & Paul Eluard The Games of the Doll (1949).

• RIP also this week to Rowena Morrill, fantasy artist, and to Chick Corea.

• “Computers will never write good novels,” says Angus Fletcher.

• DJ Food on Zodiac posters by Funky Features, 1967.

• Mix of the week: Fact Mix 794 by Lutto Lento.

Annie Nightingale’s favourite music.

Zodiac (1984) by Boogie Boys | From The Zodiacal Light (2014) by Earth | Zodiac Black (2017) by Goldfrapp

Weekend links 553

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The Unknown Room by Gina Litherland.

• “He admired abstract painters like Mark Rothko, but also derived inspiration from the far less hip Pre-Raphaelite artists of the mid-1800s, especially the painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Budd’s dreamy early breakthrough Madrigals of the Rose Angel, which featured a segment titled Rossetti Noise, was deliciously out of step with the hard-edged music of the 1970s.” Geeta Dayal on the late Harold Budd.

• “Here the experience is transformed into something more fabulist, and much more interesting than the memoir. In the novel, delusions of grandeur become real powers.” Elisa Gabbert on Leonora Carrington and The Hearing Trumpet.

• “The Japanese especially loved 3-inch CDs and there are many different examples throughout the 90s and 00s of them being used to great effect as promos.” DJ Food begins a series of posts devoted to one of my favourite music formats.

• New music: Viia, 24 minutes of live synthesis by Kikimore; Music For The Open Air, a free album of ambient music by K. Leimer (Soundcloud login required to download tracks).

• Sensory, Imaginative, and Psychic: S. Elizabeth interviews artist Gina Litherland.

• Puppets, Birds & Wycinanki: Clive Hicks-Jenkins talks to Anna Zaranko.

• Mix of the week: a 3-hour tribute to Monolake by Funky Jeff.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Flint Transmissions.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Watery, Domestic.

• At Strange Flowers: 21 books for 2021.

Edge Of The Unknown (1973) by Nik Pascal | Unknown Passage (1999) by Robert Musso | The Unknown, Part 2 (2005) by Robin Guthrie & Harold Budd

Rooms with a paranormal view

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The Room: the cosmic tabletop.

A few words of praise for the Room series from Fireproof Games. I don’t play many computer games, and I think this may be my first post dedicated to such a thing, but I maintain an interest in the medium. The Room and its sequels only came to my attention a couple of weeks ago when I was wondering if there was anything Myst-like available for the tablet. I never got to play the original Myst but enjoyed its follow up, Riven, although the enjoyment was mostly for the graphics, the music and the island environments. The game itself was less satisfying, requiring pen and paper to keep track of its complexities, and involving a great deal of fruitless journeying from one location to another in the search for new clues.

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The Room 2: the camera.

The Room follows the template established by Myst in presenting you with a number of mechanical artefacts, all of which have to be examined and opened or operated before you can proceed to the next stage. The dominant aesthetic is 19th-century-mechanical—there’s a lot of wood and brass to these devices—but to call it steampunk would be a mistake; there’s little steam involved, and most of the cogs are kept inside their cases. There is a hint of Jules Verne, however, in the notes from an absent inventor whose initials, “A.S.”, may be a nod to Journey to the Centre of the Earth. As the title suggests, the location is a single room, while in the sequels, The Room 2 and The Room 3, you’re presented with a series of connected spaces. The third installment is the closest to the original Myst with a central hub that leads to other areas of a rambling complex of buildings, not all of which are revealed at the outset. The main structure is based on William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey which pushes things into Gothic territory even without the developments outlined below.

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The Room 3: the oscilloscope is one of several which need to be powered up and manipulated in order to open the Null portals.

The MacGuffin for all the games is a new element, the Null, whose discovery and potential obsesses the creators of the games’ devices, and whose manipulation of space creates many of the portals that lead to new rooms. As the series progresses, the Null becomes a growing menace that leads to full-on cosmic horror, with oil-slick Tentacles From Beyond writhing around the interdimensional portals you have to travel through. This development was surprising and, for this player, very welcome, turning the games from a series of eleborate puzzles into something much more sinister. The aesthetic evolves accordingly, with an increasing profusion of occult sigils and pentacles, and, in The Room 2, Tarot cards and séance devices. (Fireproof have a set of their Tarot designs available as a free download.) In the second game there’s a further requirement to piece together mundane machines—a camera or a typewriter, say—before they will function properly. This process reaches a peak in The Room 3 where you’re faced with a succession of increasingly complex tasks, from woodworking and metal forging to electro-mechanical engineering and astronomy. As with the Myst universe, there are no monsters here (although there is the occasional ghost), nothing needs to be fought with weapons, it’s just you, a room full of objects and a continual background murmur of unnerving whispers and distant sounds. The gameplay in The Room 3 is sufficiently non-linear to lead to a variety of different endings, not all of which may be survivable. I managed to escape the Tentacles From Beyond when they finally destroyed the house but I also missed finding an important artefact. I’ll be returning, wiser and, I hope, more attentive to the half-hidden details.

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The Room—Old Sins: the haunted doll’s house as seen at the beginning of the game.

I’m currently playing the fourth game in the series, Old Sins, which returns you to a single room but plays with scale via a large doll’s house. The exterior of the building is all detailed model work, while the interiors—accessed through Null physics—are scaled-down replicas of the rooms in a house where another Null investigator and his wife have gone missing. It’s not clear yet whether the attic where the toy house is stored is also the attic of the real house the model is based upon but having dealt with a similar model in The Room 3 this seems likely.

While I enjoyed the surface details of Riven I was never very interested in the fantasy background of the Myst universe. The Room series is much closer to my own core preoccupations, a beguiling blend of antique technology with borderline occultism and those Tentacles From Beyond, a scenario that wouldn’t be out of place in an issue of Weird Tales. Just the thing for the darkening days of October.

Weekend links 533

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Cover art by Domenico Gnoli, 1959.

• After decades of ignoring the output of Tangerine Dream it feels strange to be interested in the group once again; musicians you’re compelled to dismiss seldom manage to recapture your attention later on. Stranger still when the group itself is now completely detached from its origins following the death of founder Edgar Froese in 2015. But it was Froese’s departure, and with it the disappearance of many years of poor aesthetic choices, that helped renew my interest. At FACT the group take up the against-the-clock challenge in which musicians are given 10 minutes to create a new piece of music.

• “We were both working at Sounds at the time and we thought that instead of listening to these terrible ’80s records like Haircut 100 we’d go off and look for Montague Summers books, so off we went!” Savage Pencil (Edwin Pouncey) on his enthusiasm for Summers, Austin Spare and Louis Wain.

• At the Paris Review: Valerie Stivers bakes pies for Italo Calvino. I’d like to see someone create a series of dishes based on every location from Invisible Cities. Elsewhere there’s William N. Copley on Joseph Cornell: “No art historian ever prophesied the coming of the box.”

• On the experimental realism of an eccentric Russian Anglophile: “For Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, strangeness was a matter of perspective,” says Caryl Emerson.

Nova Reperta: John Boardley on a series of 16th-century prints showing new inventions.

• RIP David Graeber. From 2014: “What’s the point if we can’t have fun?

• “Damn your blood”: John Spurr on swearing in early modern English.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine maps the esoteric in Britain, 1920.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Seijun Suzuki Day.

Big Fun/Holly-wuud (Take 3) (1972) by Miles Davis | Funtime (1977) by Iggy Pop | Funny Time Of Year (2002) by Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man

New website!

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“Launch commit!” as NASA technicians used to say, and maybe still do. After many late-night HTML sessions I’m pleased and relieved to announce that my recoded website is now up and running. I mentioned earlier that the site has remained unchanged for the past 15 years, so the update was a major task that involved recoding over 450 separate pages. Much of the work was made easier by using mass find-and-replace but this only takes you so far. Too many of the pages had slight differences in their coding (and all had unique content, of course) so they still had to be checked—and usually rewritten—individually.

15 years is a long time on the internet. In 2005 smartphones didn’t exist, and while the existing phones could access websites their screens were so small and data transfer so slow that making an art site suitable for a phone was a ridiculous idea. Having recently revitalised the blog so it changed its layout to suit different devices I realised that I really ought to do the same for the rest of the site. The new website layout dispenses with the background decoration, the onscreen menu, and even the navigation bar at the top of the screen, in favour of a very minimal presentation: white pages everywhere, with a menu bar icon on the top left and a search icon on the top right. I was a little unsure about the latter but with such a sprawling site you can’t expect everyone to hunt through pages at their leisure. Those menu bars are now a common sight on apps as well as websites, so they don’t require explanation; and the Google search that I’d been using is now much better than the old version, with simpler code and better presentation of the results. (The old search used to take you offsite to a page of Google results.) Switching from decorative backgrounds to ultra-minimalism feels like having jumped from the Art Nouveau decade straight to the Bauhaus era. All that decoration looked nice on a desktop machine but it didn’t work at all on a smaller scale. I’m not keen on absolute minimalism, however, especially when so much of my work is the very opposite, so I’ve adulterated the main pages with engraved vignettes.

In doing all this I really have to thank the people who run W3schools for their free CSS code which is now the foundation of the site. W3’s clear demonstrations of how to create web pages that resize themselves and their content was a huge help in rewriting the site. The home page is a W3 template that I hacked a little (it does some smart resizing when you reshape the browser window or flip the screen from portrait to landscape) while the rest of the site is mostly the same as before. I don’t see many people dumping all of their work onto the internet in this way but I’ve worked in so many different areas—book illustration and design, album illustration and design, comic book art, occasional (paid!) writing commissions—that people who only know my work in one area are unlikely to be aware of the rest. The general upgrade has also forced me to properly update the music section, a task that I’d been putting off for too long. Most of my recent work in this area has been simple layout designs for the Subtext label but I’m very happy to be associated with these releases. The Subtext albums range through abstract electronics, environmental recordings, contemporary composition, even two releases devoted to Cevdet Erek’s Turkish drums. One of their artists in the composition world, Yair Elazar Glotman, was working on film soundtracks with Jóhann Jóhannsson shortly before the latter’s death, and contributes to Jóhannsson’s posthumous feature, Last and First Men.

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