Voice of the Fire by Alan Moore

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“History is a heat,” says Alan Moore at the end of his first novel, Voice of the Fire, when the author takes centre stage to add his own voice to those of his characters. History is a heat, and fire is its agent, the element that provides a connecting thread between the twelve people whose voices comprise the text of the book. Late last year I was asked to design a new cover for Voice of the Fire which will be published by Knockabout in a 25th anniversary edition later this year. I’d read the book when it was first published, and even saw Alan read some of the opening chapter in 1993 at an event at the Arts Theatre Club in Soho. That event, which took place on November 5th, was titled “Treason and Plot”, and the pages from the work-in-progress novel had been collected from the offices of Gollancz after Alan left the unfinished manuscript of Yuggoth Cultures—which he was supposed to be reading from that evening—in the back of a cab. I was in London that day to talk to Alan about illustrating Yuggoth Cultures, so to find myself illustrating Voice of the Fire many years later feels a little like being caught by one of the acausal connecting threads that he weaves through his novel.

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The first edition: design by Gary Day-Ellison, illustration by Robert Mason. The photo on the left shows Thomas Tresham’s Triangular Lodge, a folly outside Northampton encoded with references to the Holy Trinity via a profusion of triangles and tripartite details. Tresham’s Lodge is described in the Gunpowder Plot chapter of Alan’s novel; the triangles on my cover may be taken as a reference to this.

November is the dominant month in Voice of the Fire, and the ritual fires of November 5th are one of many recurrent motifs. The novel’s twelve characters live in Alan’s home town of Northampton at different periods of history, from 4000 BC to 1995, a span of time that charts the town’s foundation and growth, taking in the Viking invasions, the Roman occupation, the Crusades, the treason and plot of Guy Fawkes and his conspirators, witch trials, the poet John Clare, and Alan himself. A lot of history and a wealth of incident to try and symbolise in a cover design. Author and publisher both liked the stylised outline of a horned head that Robert Mason painted on the cover of the first edition, a reference to the opening chapter of the novel in which a Neolithic shaman performs a ritual that marks the land as the site of the future town. I liked the original cover but felt it made the novel seem too much like something by Henry Treece or Alan Garner, with no indication of more recent history. A stained-glass window seemed like a good solution to the problem of how to bring together so many disparate elements into a single design. Stained-glass windows are often things from the distant past still visible in the present day, and they have the additional convenience of being a single container for many small pictorial details.

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It’s Bonfire Night on the back cover.

My design doesn’t attempt to illustrate all the characters or events from the novel but shows the more salient moments together with smaller details, some of which (the noose, for example) appear in multiple chapters. The horned shaman is at the centre of the design which radiates out from his ritual fire. I avoided making the window design too much like a church window; the book contains many references to churches and Christian history but there’s also a strong pagan element in many of the chapters. Magic, in the occult sense, is a recurrent thread, and Alan’s favourite Elizabethan magus, Dr. John Dee, is present (albeit offstage) in the Angel Language chapter. To acknowledge this I placed an inscription in Enochian—Dee’s “Angel Language”—underneath the title. There’s more magic in the font used for the title and author’s name, Albertus, which was named after Albertus Magnus, a philosopher and theologian often described as an alchemist. The main reason to use Albertus is for its timeless styling and its readability, an important quality for such a busy cover design; the font is a common one on London street signs.

The creature with the floppy ears in the lower centre is another recurrent motif, the sinister “shagfoal”, or Black Dog, whose presence is a sign of the darker energies that seem to thrive in that part of the world. Black Dogs appear in folklore all over Britain but there are few pictorial examples to be found in old texts. I based my hound on the “Straunge and terrible Wunder” depicted in 1577 on the title page of Abraham Fleming’s account of the Black Dog of Bungay. Other details are more obvious for those who read the novel so I won’t spell out everything here. If you haven’t read it then I’d urge you to do so, it’s one of Alan Moore’s major works, and a book I’m hoping might receive more attention than it did in 1996 when Gollancz only saw fit to publish it in paperback. Voice of the Fire will be published by Knockabout in May in paperback and a limited edition hardback which will include a card signed by the author. Top Shelf will be doing something similar for the US but I don’t think they’ve announced any dates or other details as yet. Anyone looking for further information is advised to keep an eye on the Knockabout news page or the publisher’s social media accounts.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Blake Video
The Cardinal and the Corpse
Mapping the Boroughs
Tresham’s Trinities
The Triangular Lodge again
Art is magic. Magic is art.
Alan Moore: Storyteller
Alan Moore: Tisser l’invisible
Dodgem Logic #4
The Triangular Lodge

Weekend links 424

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Black Sun (1953) by Alexander Calder.

• “But Berlin Alexanderplatz transcends its genre elements, largely because of Döblin’s deep lack of hope about what can be expected of human beings.” Adam Kirsch on Alfred Döblin’s Berlin.

• “I occasionally dream of finding books that do not seem to exist (yet), and sometimes remember their titles,” says Mark Valentine.

• “I don’t read fiction.” He does, however, own 11,000 books. Alan Garner on writing a memoir of his wartime childhood.

What is it that I really like? I mean that’s the question that I think every musician and artists and everybody actually, is asking themselves; what they really like. And that means the emphasis is on REALLY like, meaning how do you push aside what you’ve been told, what you’ve been taught, what your friends like, and how much you like something because your friends like it or because it’s socially popular at the moment, or your girlfriend likes it or any of those ideas.

Jon Hassell (again) in an interview at Ableton

• How Alexander Calder sparked a modern fascination with mobiles (sculptures, that is, not telephones).

• Deep in Italy, one man’s Surrealist mini-city sleeps: Francky Knapp on Tomaso Buzzi’s La Scarzuola.

• “Even before electricity, robots freaked people out”: Lisa Hix on the history of clockwork automata.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s website devoted to neglected/abandoned films was launched this week.

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 664 by Lucy, and XLR8R Podcast 552 by Thomas Fehlmann.

Jean-Paul Goude‘s best photograph: an androgynous Grace Jones.

Marquis de Sade: 112 pages, 100 erotic illustrations.

The world’s most beautiful libraries

Sade Masoch (1968) by Bobby Callender | I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) (1981) by Grace Jones | Black Sun (2011) by Demdike Stare

Audio Albion

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Last year saw a series of themed compilation albums from A Year In The Country, each of which was released a few months at a time. This year follows suit with Audio Albion, a collection of 15 new pieces of music from regular contributors such as David Colohan, Howlround, Keith Seatman, Sproatly Smith and others. The theme this time is “the sounds found and heard when wandering down pathways, over fields, through marshes, alongside rivers, down into caves and caverns, climbing hills, along coastlands, through remote mountain forestland, amongst the signs of industry and infrastructure and its discarded debris.”

Track list:
1) Bare Bones—Marshland Improvisation
2) David Colohan—On Stormy Point
3) Grey Frequency—Stapleford Hill
4) Field Lines Cartographer—Coldbarrow
5) Howlround—Cold Kissing
6) A Year In The Country—The Fields of Tumbling Ideas
7) Keith Seatman—Winter Sands
8) Magpahi—Shepsters in the Yessins
9) Sproatly Smith—Ethelbert & Mary
10) Widow’s Weeds—The Unquiet Grave
11) Time Attendant—Holloway
12) Spaceship—The Roding in Spate
13) Pulselovers—Thieves’ Cant
14) The Heartwood Institute—Hvin-lettir
15) Vic Mars—Dinedor Hill

As with previous A Year In The Country collections, the approaches are diverse, ranging here from the banjo-plus-location-recordings of Bare Bones to abstract electronic treatments by Howlround and Time Attendant. The accompanying texts are useful for contextualising the recordings; so David Colohan informs us that his piece, On Stormy Point, contains a whistle recording made in one of the caves at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, an important location in the Rural Wyrd via the popularisation of its myths in the novels of Alan Garner. Not everything here aims for a sinister atmosphere but the The Unquiet Grave by Widow’s Weeds certainly achieves this, a marvellous interpretation of one of the spookiest English folk songs, and the standout piece in an excellent collection.

Audio Albion will be released on 29th May but is available for pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures
Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies

Weekend links 396

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Cover art for Outer Dark (1994) by Bill Laswell. Photography by Thi-Linh Le.

• “In an era where music, among other creative endeavors, has been devalued as mere ‘content,’ freely accessed through the new digital medium, the very survival of those who create music and art and culture has been threatened. Bassist, iconic producer, and sonic visionary Bill Laswell becomes the latest legendary talent to fall victim to the vagaries of these crazy times. Beset by health problems while trying to navigate this harsh and uncertain economic landscape, Laswell is struggling to maintain Orange Music, the legendary New Jersey studio that he as helmed for the last 20 years. He is putting the call out to all fans, friends, and fellow artists alike: If you can help, please do so now. No contribution is too small.”

A Perspex Town is a video by Ian Hodgson (aka Moon Wiring Club) for Applied Music Vol.2: Plastics Today, a new album by Jon Brooks (aka The Advisory Circle).

• The strangeness in the land: Adam Scovell on the BBC’s Play for Today adaptation of Red Shift by Alan Garner. I’d recommend reading the novel as well.

• “My last album was pretty perfect,” says Scott Walker. Sundog, a book of his lyrics, is out now from Faber.

Popular Graphic Arts at the Library of Congress, a new resource of free-to-use, high-resolution scans.

• At The Quietus: LoneLady & Stephen Mallinder offer playlists of music they’ve enjoyed recently.

• Another Green World: Lewis Gordon on how Japanese ambient music found a new audience.

• The discography of Drew Mullholland (aka Mount Vernon Arts Lab) is now at Bandcamp.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 635 by Riobamba, XLR8R Podcast 526 by DJ Sports.

The occult roots of higher dimensional research in physics.

• Animated Britain: a YouTube playlist from the BFI.

Pye Corner Audio remixes Knightstown.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: John Waters Day.

• A World Of Different Dimensions (1979) by Tomita | Into The Fourth Dimension (Essenes In Starlight) (1991) by The Orb | New Dimensions In (2010) by The Advisory Circle

Weekend links 375

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Memento Mori (2012) by Yoshitoshi Kanemaki.

Greydogtales, home to “weird fiction, weird art and even weirder lurchers”, is two years old this month. An essential resource for interviews, reviews and art features.

Kim Morgan on the paranoia at the heart of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The film will receive a welcome Blu-ray reissue by Arrow Films (UK) in November.

• A third and final collection of Patrick Cowley’s soundtracks for gay porn films, Afternooners, will be released in October by Dark Entries.

Photos of the exceptional eldritch art on display until the end of the month at the Ars Necronomica show in Providence, RI.

• Barney Bubbles, Optics & Semantics: an exhibition at Rob Tufnell, London, from 31st August.

Dimitra Fimi and Adam Scovell on 50 years of The Owl Service by Alan Garner.

• The Duality of Yoshitoshi Kanemaki’s Wooden Sculptures.

• Tristan Bath on The Strange World of Keiji Haino.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 504 by Curses.

Photos of René Magritte.

• RIP Brian Aldiss

Grey Promenade (1985) by Roger Eno | Grey Stripe (1994) by Aphex Twin | Greyscale (2008) by 2562