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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Weekend links 444

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Visions Cosmiques—Improvisations Dédiées À L’équipage D’Apollo 8 (1969) by Jean Guillou. No designer credited.

• 50 years ago this weekend Apollo 8 was on its way to the Moon. Jean Guillou’s album of organ improvisations took the mission as its inspiration although his turbulent music seems more suited to the near-disaster of Apollo 13 than the weightless drift of space travel. The album has been out-of-print for decades but may be heard in full here and here. Related: the Discogs listing for the Philips’ Prospective 21e Siècle series of avant-garde music. Most of the other albums in this series remain unreissued, and are now very collectible, not least because of their metallic “Heliophore” sleeves.

• Christmas cheer be damned: the spook season extends from Halloween to the end of the year. At These Unquiet Things, Sarah Chavez offers a list of favourite seasonal vampires, witches and ghosts. For those who prefer something televisual that isn’t more MR James, The Lorelei (1990) is a feature-length supernatural drama written by Nick Dunning. And speaking of the unavoidable James, Sarah K Marr presents an annotated analysis of A Warning to the Curious embellished with her excellent photos of the area of the Norfolk coast where the story is set.

• At Bandcamp: Voltaic Liturgies: “A symbiosis of flesh, machinery and umbral cosmic mysticism” by Primitive Knot and The Wyrding Module; and In The Sunshine We Rode The Horses by Rowan : Morrison (Rowan Amber Mill with Angeline Morrison): “The album explores themes of our beautiful natural surroundings, and how the pursuit of profit guides us to learn ‘the cost of everything and the value of nothing’, paving the way for the scarring of the landscape with fracking, HS2, retail parks, and so on…”

• “Influential Manga Artist Gengoroh Tagame on Upending Traditional Japanese Culture”. Tagame is also a prolific gay porn illustrator, a part of his career the headline avoids although it is acknowledged in Anne Ishii’s interview.

• Mixes of the week: Dream Perception Mix by Moon Wiring Club, Strange Great Snow: A Conjuror’s Hexmas by Seraphic Manta, December’s Reverie by Cafekaput, and Secret Thirteen Mix 275 by CoH.

• On the Scary Thoughts podcast: Erik Davis on philosophical pessimism, cosmic horror, police procedurals, serial killers, gnostic notions, and Louisiana as featured in the first season of True Detective.

• Manuscripts, letters and other documents by HP Lovecraft are now digitised and available for browsing at Brown University Library.

• William Hope Hodgson—The Essex-born Master of Horror: a biographical essay by Peter Berresford Ellis.

• The best ambient releases of 2018 according to FACT.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Donald Sutherland Day.

Sandspiel

Rocket USA (1977) by Suicide | Ticket To The Moon (1981) by Electric Light Orchestra | From Ape to Apollo (1994) Thomas Fehlmann

 


Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges

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Given the time of year, and last week’s Quays-themed post, this seemed like a good follow-up. Opera North’s production of Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges was broadcast by the BBC during the Christmas holiday of 1989. The opera isn’t quite as saccharine a Christmas entertainment as The Nutcracker Suite but the libretto is still light-hearted fare, being based on a Neopolitan fairy tale in which the son of the King of Clubs is afflicted by melancholy after reading too much tragic poetry. The King stages an entertainment to cheer the Prince but the only thing that makes him laugh is the witch, Fata Morgana, falling over and revealing her underclothes. This humiliation provokes the witch into cursing the Prince to fall in love with three oranges. These he immediately sets off to find, and thereby hangs the tale. Richard Jones directed the production, with the English Northern Philharmonia providing the music. The opera is also sung in English, the translation being by David Lloyd-Jones.

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The stage decor for the Opera North production was designed by the Quay Brothers, one of several operas they worked on around this time. The opera may be a comic one but the design emphasis is on gloom and decay, a feature that extends to Sue Blane’s costumes, many of which seem to have been styled with the Quays’ films in mind. In addition to a Nosferatu-like Leander (the sinister Prime Minister), a company of children appear from time to time wearing masks which make them look like the Quays’ doll-headed puppets. The chorus, meanwhile, wear antique gas-masks of a style which people would now refer to as steampunk. The most overt reference to the Quays films occurs during the King’s entertainment when a vast mutant creature is wheeled onto the stage, the creature’s head being the colossal cousin of the twitching cyclops from Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies. The cumulative effect of the grotesquery combined with absurd comedy is of an opera equivalent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, all of which makes me wonder what the BBC’s Gormenghast might have been like if the corporation had hired the Quays and Sue Blane to work the same magic they do here. (There is a Gormenghast opera by Irmin Schmidt but I’m not keen on the music and what I’ve seen of the staging it looks a lot less like Peake than this one does.)

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Decor aside, the most notable feature of this production, and the broadcast itself, was the scratch-and-sniff card which was provided to every member of the audience, and to any viewers who bought a copy of the BBC’s Listener magazine before the screening. Each time a numbered card appeared on the stage the audience had to scratch and sniff the relevant panel. The scents—which include orange, of course—are less offensive than those for John Waters’ Polyester (1981) although the audience is still surprised into sniffing the farts of the demon, Farfarello.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Punch and Judy, Michel de Ghelderode, and the Brothers Quay
The mystery of trams
Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013
Holzmüller and the Quays
Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

 


Weekend links 443

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• Yet more Gorey: Mark Dery’s biography of the artist prompted The New Yorker to unearth a piece of cover art that Edward Gorey submitted 25 years ago. In the same magazine Joan Acocella reviews Dery’s book and examines Gorey’s life and art. At Expanding Mind, Erik Davis talks with Mark Dery about Surrealism, the gay voice, Penny Dreadfuls, and the occult and Taoist influences in Gorey’s work.

Moving Through Old Daylight: Mark Fisher, Jim Jupp & Julian House of Ghost Box Recordings, and Iain Sinclair in conversation at the Roundhouse, Camden, London, 5 June 2010. Topics under discussion included Nigel Kneale, TC Lethbridge, John Foxx, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, alchemies of sound, the homogenisation of culture, imagining space and the impersistence of memory.

• “A radical retelling of our relationship with the cosmos, reinventing the history of astronomy as a new form of astrological calendar.” The Space Oracle by Ken Hollings.

There was a deliberate, almost prickly quality to Fisher’s writing and thinking that is rare nowadays, when criticism is more likely to involve open-minded rationalizing than steadfast refusal. He was not one to frolic in ambiguity or irony. “Just because something is current doesn’t mean it is new,” he writes in K-Punk, as he wonders if a time traveller from the nineties would find any contemporary music as radical as post-punk or jungle had once seemed to him. When everything is cheerfully “retro,” Fisher argued, we lose our grasp on history—and, without a sense of why the past happened the way it did, our anything-goes embrace of “happy hybridities” is an empty gesture. “What pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists,” he writes.

Hua Hsu on Mark Fisher’s K-Punk

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on The Wind Protect You (1946), a novel by Pat Murphy which Mark describes as a forgotten precursor of Watership Down.

• “At once tiny and huge: what is this feeling we call ‘sublime’?” Sandra Shapshay explores the Romantic aesthetic.

Dennis Cooper‘s favourite fiction, poetry, non-fiction, film, art, and internet of 2018. Thanks again for the link here!

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 572 by Nastia, and FACT Mix 683 by Casino Versus Japan.

A Child’s Voice (1978) by David Thomson, an overlooked ghost story starring TP McKenna.

• Jean Cocteau’s Orphée returns from the underworld via BFI blu-ray next month.

Rated SAVX: The Savage Pencil Scratchbook

Orpheus (1967) by The Walker Brothers | Orpheus (1987) by David Sylvian | Overture To Orpheus (2003) by Colin Booth

 


Punch and Judy, Michel de Ghelderode, and the Brothers Quay

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The Quay Brothers’ first animated film, Nocturna Artificialia, was released in 1979. Prior to this there had been some short experiments but since these are always described as “lost” it’s doubtful that we’ll ever see them. The artistic success of Nocturna Artificialia prompted the Quays and producer-colleague Keith Griffiths to consider fresh outlets for their talents, and resulted in funding from Britain’s Arts Council for two arts documentaries combining live-action film with animated interludes. Nocturna Artificialia has long been available for home viewing on the various Quays DVDs but the two early arts films, Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy (1980) and The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderode, 1898–1962 (1981), are omitted from the reissue canon for reasons that have never been very clear. Both films have been impossible to see unless you’re an academic or film programmer, at least until now. Once again, YouTube has provided an outlet for exceptional rarities.

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Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy

Now that finally I’ve watched these films it’s understandable why they don’t fit so easily with the Quays’ more personal output. Punch and Judy has obvious superficial parallels with Jan Svankmajer’s Punch and Judy (1966) but Svankmajer’s film is his own idiosyncratic interpretation of the murderous puppet. The Quays film is much more straightforward, devoting most of its running time to a history of Mr Punch and the other puppet characters. The story of Punch himself (narrated by Joe Melia) is intercut with a contemporary performance of the play by a genuine Punch and Judy man, Percy Press. Animated sequences are limited to small inserts between the documentary material before a lengthier section at the end that illustrates Harrison Birtwhistle’s Punch and Judy opera. This last section shows how much the Quays had developed their animation techniques since their first film, and is reminiscent of the opera sequences in their later film about Leos Janacek. Animation aside, there’s little else that’s recognisably Quay until the credits which are lettered by the brothers. (For this film and the following one they credit themselves as the “Brothers Quaij”.) Punch and Judy: Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy was of sufficient quality to be screened by the BBC in 1981 as part of the Omnibus arts strand.

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The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderode, 1898–1962

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Michel de Ghelderode was a Belgian playwright whose grotesque and macabre works, many of which feature masks and puppets, are favourites of the Quays. This is a shorter film than the previous one (30 minutes rather than 45) but the territory is closer to the Quays’ own concerns. The animated sequences are fewer but they’re marvellous pieces, especially the longer central sequence which animates Ghelderode’s Fastes d’enfer (Chronicles of Hell). The figures in the latter piece may depict Ghelderode’s characters but the decor is 100% Quay, with a nocturnal cityscape and shadows from one of the trams that drift through their early films. A bonus for me was the music by Dome (Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis), a duo for whom the Quays later designed a record sleeve.

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The rest of the film consists of archive footage of Ghelderode wandering Belgian streets, and live performance of other scenes from his plays. All of this is strange and fascinating, only spoiled a little by the picture being very dark in places. (The screen shots here have been brightened.) Keith Griffiths says that this was a result of the film not being properly exposed, a consequence of the company still learning film-making as they went along. This may also explain why the film is missing from the official canon. If so, it’s a shame since it’s closer to the Quays’ own interests than some of their later commissions.

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Now that these films have surfaced there’s one more short from the early years that’s still unavailable. Ein Brudermord (1981) is based on a Franz Kafka short story, and runs for a mere 6 minutes. Meanwhile, I’m also hoping that someone may eventually post better copies of the Stravinsky and Janacek films, both of which have been prevented from DVD reissue by the copyrights on the music.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The mystery of trams
Inner Sanctums—Quay Brothers: The Collected Animated Films 1979–2013
Holzmüller and the Quays
Unmistaken Hands: Ex Voto F.H., a film by the Brothers Quay
Animation Magazine: The Brothers Quay
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer, a film by the Brothers Quay
More Brothers Quay scarcities
Eurydice…She, So Beloved, a film by the Brothers Quay
Inventorium of Traces, a film by the Brothers Quay
Maska: Stanislaw Lem and the Brothers Quay
Stille Nacht V: Dog Door
Quay Brothers: On Deciphering the Pharmacist’s Prescription for Lip-Reading Puppets
Brothers Quay scarcities
Crossed destinies revisited
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
The Brothers Quay on DVD

 


Weekend links 442

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Orgasm Addict (1977). Design by Malcolm Garrett; collage by Linder.

• RIP Pete Shelley, Buzzcock and Homosapien. Shelley is celebrated for being in the vanguard of Britain’s punk movement, of course. (Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch was the UK’s first independent single.) But he also loved Can, recorded an album of electronic drones (Sky Yen), and in 1983 successfully blended home-computer graphics with his own brand of superior electronic pop music. Related: Malcolm Garrett’s Buzzcocks band logo at Fonts In Use; B’dum, B’dum: Tony Wilson in 1978 talking to Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto about Buzzcocks and Magazine.

• Winter demands ghost stories so Adam Scovell suggests 10 great winter ghost films. Related: Alexandra Heller-Nicholas presents an A–Z of Women’s Horror Filmmaking.

Carey Dunne on the rise of underground LSD guides for psychotherapy. Related: “Psychedelics change the perception of time,” says Shayla Love.

• Ex-Neu! guitarist Michael Rother receives the box-set treatment early next year when the Groenland label reissues his early solo albums.

Jodorowsky, an exhibition devoted to the writer and director, will be staged at El Museo del Barrio, New York, from February next year.

• “From Georges Méliès to Bill and Ted, movie hells remain seriously in hock to the Judeo-Christian playbook,” says Anne Billson.

The Owl’s Legacy, Chris Marker’s 13-part documentary series on Greek culture, receives its debut DVD release.

Topic II (1989), a short film by Pascal Baes of pixilated dancers in the night streets of Prague.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 274 by Koray Kantarcioglu.

• We are the first humans to hear the winds of the planet Mars.

• Patrick Magee reads The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean-Louis Trintignant Day.

• Mongolian biker rock: Wolf Totem by The HU.

The Quietus albums of the year.

Hell (2001) by Techno Animal ft. Dälek | Hell’s Winter (2011) by Earth | Hell A (2017) by The Bug vs. Earth

 


 



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Penda's Fen by David Rudkin