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

Weekend links 532

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An alchemical illustration from Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652) by Elias Ashmole.

• “Originally the idea was to do four parallel feuilleton stories, linked at the beginning of each episode by still shots connecting with the other episodes, rather like the old serials.” Jacques Rivette mentions a familiar word during a 1974 discussion with Carlos Clarens and Edgardo Cozarinsky about Out 1 and Céline and Julie Go Boating. I watched all 775 minutes of Out 1 last year, followed by a re-viewing of Céline and Julie, so this was good to read. Elsewhere: “The dizzying Céline and Julie Go Boating is apt viewing for a chaotic present,” says Phillipa Snow.

Away is a wordless feature-length animated film in which a boy is pursued by a lumbering monster after parachuting from a crashing aircraft. It was directed, written, edited, animated and scored by Gints Zilbalodis. Christopher Machell reviewed the film here. Watch the trailer.

• Jean Lorrain’s novel of Decadent dandyism, Monsieur Bougrelon, receives a new English translation by Brian Stableford for Side Real Press. (The Spurl translation by Eva Richter was reviewed here a few years ago.) The new edition includes illustrations by Etienne Drian (1885–1961).

El Topo again, among other things: Mike Soto on the anti-Western genre set in America’s surreal borderlands. Cormac McCarthy is a surprising absence from Soto’s lists despite almost all of his later work being concerned with the border region.

• “Whatever their pursuits, they were extremists who created literature that wasn’t so much great as it was relentless. Even now they make passive reading impossible.” Chris R. Morgan on Swift, Sade and the art of upsetting people.

• The best batch yet? Sean Kitching talks to Gary Lucas and Eric Drew Feldman about the recording of Captain Beefheart’s Doc At The Radar Station.

• Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich… Photographer Sandro Miller persuaded John Malkovich to recreate 41 famous photographic portraits.

• An extract from Rated SavX in which Edwin Pouncey/Savage Pencil talks with Timothy d’Arch Smith about his artistic evolution.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Pat O’Neill Day.

Siavash Amini‘s favourite music.

Get Away (1970) by Ry Cooder | Running Away (2002) by Radar | Fly Me Away (2005) by Goldfrapp

Weekend links 518

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In Voluptas Mors (1951) by Philippe Halsman.

• “Equation to an Unknown (1980) is [Dietrich de Velsa’s] only film, and stands without a doubt as a masterpiece and the best French gay porn ever made.” Related (sort of): the US division of Amazon Prime had been showing a censored print of Francis Lee’s gay romance, God’s Own Country, until the director was informed and complained.

• “They lasted just one night as tour support for U2 before being thrown off. The outraged and hostile audience threw bottles of urine. The band responded by throwing iron bars back at them.” Daniel Dylan Wray on the wild times (and cookery) of Blixa Bargeld and Einstürzende Neubauten.

• “Japanese art evolved, in Saunders’s words, ‘from a distinctive alchemy of silk, soot, gold, fire, and fur,’ from a playful and curious fascination with the subject matter and tools provided by the natural world.” Tamar Avishai on art in isolation: the delicate paintings of Edo Japan.

To me, the Diggers were a phenomenon. I don’t know that there’s been anything like them in history—yes, history repeats itself, so there probably was somebody at some time, I’m just not aware of it—a situation where you have a group of people whose goal is to help other people, to bring them not just the basic necessities you need to survive but the things that you need for your imagination, your brain, your growth on other levels. It was like an opium dream or something.

Siena Carlton-Firestone (aka Natural Suzanne) talking to Jay Babcock for the fourth installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists

• A psychic has been ordered to pay the costs of exhuming Salvador Dalí’s corpse for a failed paternity test.

• Feel the crushing steel: David Bennun on Grace Jones and the Compass Point Trilogy.

Sleep Tones by Six Organs Of Admittance, name-your-price music for insomniacs.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 645 by Juan MacLean.

Playing the Piano for the Isolated by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• David Lynch Theater presents: Fire (Pozar).

Fire (1967) by Koko Taylor | Fire (1984) by 23 Skidoo | Fire (2002) by Ladytron

Weekend links 450

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Orpheus (c. 1903–1910) by Odilon Redon. One of 30,000 public-domain images from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection.

• Network DVD has announced the premiere home release of Orson Welles’ Great Mysteries, a British TV series that ran from 1973 to 74. Welles’ involvement was limited to introducing each episode but the series itself was one I enjoyed a great deal: 26 short adaptations of period mystery stories that featured a wealth of British and American acting talent. The theme by John Barry was an additional bonus.

• The trailer for Apollo 11, a documentary by Todd Douglas Miller which presents for the first time the 70mm footage recording the Earth-bound parts of the Moon mission. Related: Michelle Santiago Cortés on how NASA used art to shape our vision of the future.

• At Dangerous Minds: a preview of Third Noise Principle, the latest in an excellent series of electronic music compilations from Cherry Red, and Cosey Fanni Tutti talks about her first solo album since 1983.

“The way I understood theory, primarily through popular culture, is generally detested in universities,” Mark [Fisher] told me in 2005, when I interviewed him for the Village Voice. “Most dealings with the academy have been literally clinically depressing.” He darkly surmised that his blog, K-Punk, and the surrounding blogosphere, “seemed like the space—the only space—in which to maintain a kind of discourse that had started in the music press and the art schools, but which had all but died out, with appalling cultural and political consequences.” Mark and the Village Voice are both dead now, leaving unfathomable voids in their wake.

Geeta Dayal on Mark Fisher

• At The Witch Wave: Peter Bebergal and Pam Grossman discuss Bebergal’s latest book (also my current reading), Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural.

• At Bandcamp: another release from the retro-synth cosmos of Jenzeits, and Ufology , an investigation of Britain’s flying-saucer landscape by Grey Frequency.

• Surprising collaboration of the week: Beth Gibbons and Krzysztof Penderecki have made a new recording of Henryk Górecki’s Third Symphony.

Alchemy (1969) the debut album by the Third Ear Band, receives an expanded reissue next month.

The Burn: a science-fiction story by Peter Tieryas with illustrations by Arik Roper.

• Mix of the week: Self-Titled Needle Exchange 275 by Black To Comm.

Amy Turk plays Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on her harp.

Chrismarker.org is seeking donations.

Mystery Train (1955) by Elvis Presley | Mystery R.P.S. (No 8) (1981) by Holger Czukay, Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit | Mystery Room (1985) by Helios Creed