NY, NY, a film by Francis Thompson

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In Heaven and Hell (1956) Aldous Huxley considers various forms of art that might be said to imitate or resemble the intense visuals generated by psychedelic agents. In past centuries this would include firework displays and the vivid hues of stained glass windows; when discussing the present, mention is made of NY, NY, a short film by Francis Thompson that Huxley had recently seen.

Thompson’s film presents a day in the life of New York City with every shot being subject to some form of distortion or fragmentation via prismatic lenses or reflected surfaces. Nearly sixty years later this seems less psychedelic than it would have done to Huxley, although some of the reflections give the same effects as Ira Cohen’s later Mylar Chamber photographs. Watch NY, NY here, and if you do I’d recommend muting the Mickey Mouse score.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Fog Line, a film by Larry Gottheim
Wavelength
La Région Centrale

Two covers

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More new work of mine has been unveiled in the past few days so I can show these here. The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones are a pair of fantasy novels by new author Carrie Patel being published by Angry Robot. I was asked to provide something in an engraved style set against a black background, with imagery that reflected themes of vast, underground architecture and armed conflict.

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Vast architecture of any description is something I’ve always enjoyed, the main challenge with each book came in trying to imply the architecture and events without the pictorial content becoming incoherent. Marc at Angry Robot asked for something Piranesian where the architecture was concerned. Looking over Piranesi’s non-Carceri designs didn’t turn up anything with a suitably dramatic perspective, however, so most of what you see in the first cover comes from Giuseppe Galli Bibiena’s Architetture e Prospettive (1740). The Bibienas were a family of architects and theatrical engineers who specialised in dizzying perspective views for their stage designs; Bibiena’s book was produced to preserve some of his more celebrated designs, the originals of which are now lost. I’ve had a book of these drawings for years but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to make use of them in any kind of collage.

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This style of Baroque architecture doesn’t suit steampunk imagery which tends towards 19th-century urban/industrial; the plates are also rather staid scenes without the graphic flare that Piranesi gave to everything he rendered, real or imagined. But I do like those plunging perspectives, and pieces from two of the plates turned out to share both the same perspective and the same lighting direction. It’s easy to collage things into a flat view but creating a realistic sense of depth from bits and pieces can be tricky.

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The frame for the second cover has more of a Piranesian quality being chipped and eroded. The typography for the titles went through several changes, the versions here show a late suggestion of mine with lettering that’s probably too thin to read well at a distance (or a small size on a web page). SF Signal has a post showing the Angry Robot versions which will probably be the final ones, together with a preview of the first book.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Aldous Huxley on Piranesi’s Prisons

Weekend links 204

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RIP Steve Moore. We never met, unfortunately, but I was very pleased he asked me to create a cover for his unique occult novel, Somnium, in 2011. Prior to this we’d been connected by shared acquaintances, colleagues, and membership in the informal cabal that was (and maybe still is) The Moon & Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels. Steve’s long friendship with Alan Moore (no relation) is well-documented, not least by Alan himself who made Steve the subject of his Unearthing project. One surprising connection for me was that Steve also had a link to Savoy Books. In the late 1960s he was working for comics publisher Odhams where he was able to copy for David Britton some Ken Reid comic art which Odhams had refused to print. Dave published the forbidden pages in his first magazine, Weird Fantasy, in 1969. In 2011 Steve talked to Pádraig Ó Méalóid about Somnium, and also to Aug Stone at The Quietus. Aug Stone penned a few memorial words here.

• “People love using the word ‘porn’ as long as there’s a partner for it. Pair ‘porn’ with something else and it’s usually a good thing. A celebration of style and culture. But that word on its own? Well.” Porn star Conner Habib asks why people have such a problem with porn actors.

Dave Maier‘s Russian cinema recommendations. Several favourites there including the magical and remarkable Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964) which, as Maier notes, isn’t really Russian but should be seen in any case.

Shakespeare uses verbal magic, cantrips and ditties, nonsense songs and verses throughout the plays, but in Othello he gives a glimpse of how powerful a spell becomes when it’s no longer oral, but fixed in material form. The fatal handkerchief is no ordinary hanky; it’s a love spell, and it was made with gruesome and potent ingredients (mummified “maiden’s hearts”) by a two-hundred-year-old sibyl in Egypt—Egypt being the birthplace and pinnacle of magic knowledge.

Marina Warner on magic.

• Mixes of the week: an hour of electro-acoustics and contemporary classical recordings sequenced by Laurel Halo, and (from 2010) 36-minutes of “umbral electronic hypnagogia” by The Wyrding Module.

• “This is the book that, 10 years later, inspired Richard Hollis’s landmark design for John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.” Rick Poynor on Chris Marker’s Commentaires.

• Is the Linweave Tarot the grooviest deck ever made? Dangerous Minds thinks so.

• Bobby Barry talks to Holger Czukay about his 1969 audio collage, Canaxis 5.

• “What Happened to Experimental Writing?” asks Susan Steinberg.

Aldous Huxley‘s lectures on visionary experience at MIT, 1962.

Laura Palmer will see Agent Cooper again in just a few hours.

Callum found a copy of The Gay Coloring Book (1964).

Metal Cats

Moonshake (1973) by Can | Lunar Musick Suite (1976) by Steve Hillage | Dark Moon (1993) by Holger Czukay | Boy In The Moon (2012) by Julia Holter

The Art of Tripping, a documentary by Storm Thorgerson

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How does this sound? 100 minutes of solidly informative documentary about the use of drugs by artists from the early 19th century on; a production that calls upon a remarkable cast of contributors (see below), with music by David Gilmour, and the whole thing “devised and directed” by Storm Thorgerson, better known as one third of the great Hipgnosis design team.

The Art of Tripping was broadcast in two parts in 1993 during the Without Walls arts strand on Channel 4 (UK). David Gale was the writer, with actor Bernard Hill playing the part of the narrator and guide. The programme managed to deal with a contentious subject without indulging in hysteria or insulting the intelligence of the audience, a rare thing today. Twenty years ago it was still possible to make a documentary about a popular subject without having any low-grade celebrity-du-jour offering their wretched opinion. The contributors here who aren’t medical people are almost all writers of one kind or another; Thorgerson and Gale punctuate the proceedings with a few actors who impersonate various historical figures.

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Without Walls was a very good series on the whole but this for me was a real highlight (no pun intended). In addition to it being a rare example of Storm Thorgerson working in television, the direction showed how it was possible to match the theme without recourse to cliché or flashy visuals. There isn’t a single moment of archive footage either. Thorgerson’s history of “socially unacceptable” drugs is structured as a journey through the levels of a multi-storey building, from ground floor to roof; being familiar with the director’s free-associative working methods I can imagine this being a result of thinking about getting high. Bernard Hill encounters the various commentators in successive rooms, each of which is furnished and lit to suggestively imply the drug in question. The use of lighting as a key motif is a smart one, and another metaphor, of course, for literal and symbolic (or spiritual) illumination. Editing effects are also deployed to thematically correspond to the different substances.

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This would be very successful even without a wide range of contributors but Thorgerson and company assembled a stunning array of different writers, many of whom I’d never seen on TV before, and many of whom didn’t turn up again. Some of them fill dual roles, so JG Ballard is on hand to enthuse about Naked Lunch, and appears later talking about his bad LSD trip. Similarly, Brian Aldiss talks about Anna Kavan, and also about Philip K Dick. Below there’s a rough list of the drugs covered and the people involved. In the two decades since this was made many of the people involved have since died, the director included, so the film now has the feel of a historical artefact. The Art of Tripping can be see in full at YouTube. This is how good British television used to be.

Opium
Dr Virginia Berridge (author), Grevel Lindop (author), Marek Kohn (author), Dr EMR Critchley (author), Phil Daniels (as Thomas De Quincey), Dr Tony Dickenson (neuropharmacologist), Dr Ian Walker (author), Thom Booker (as Edgar Allan Poe), Dr Peggy Reynolds (author)
Hashish
Prof John Hemmings (author), Ronald Hayman (author), Patrick Barlow (as Theophile Gautier), John McEnery (as Charles Baudelaire), Jon Finch (as Gérard de Nerval), Bernard Howells (lecturer, King’s College, London), June Rose (author), John Richardson (author), Margaret Crosland (author), Danny Webb (as Jean Cocteau), Robin Buss (translator), David Gascoyne (poet), George Melly (collector, Surrealist art)
Mescaline
Prof Eric Mottram (University of London), Francis Huxley (nephew of Aldous Huxley), Jay Stevens (author), Laura Huxley (widow of Aldous Huxley),
Psilocybin
Brian Cory (as Robert Graves), Paul O’Prey (author)
Marijuana / Nitrous Oxide
Harry Shapiro (author), Carolyn Cassady (author), Prof Ann Charters (author), Allen Ginsberg (poet)
Kief
Paul Bowles (author)
Heroin
JG Ballard (author), Prof Avital Ronell (author), Hubert Selby Jr (author), Brian Aldiss (author)
LSD
Dr Oscar Janiger (experimental psychiatrist), Diana Quick (as Anaïs Nin), Prof Malcolm Lader (psychopharmacologist), Dr Timothy Leary (author), Todd Boyco (as Andy Warhol)
Amphetamine
Lawrence Sutin (author)
Cocaine
Robert Stone (author), Prof. Annette Dolphin (neuropharmacologist)
MDMA

Previously on { feuilleton }
Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013
Hipgnosis turkeys
Enter the Void
Opium fiends
La Morphine by Victorien du Saussay
In the Land of Retinal Delights
Haschisch Hallucinations by HE Gowers
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong
Demon rum leads to heroin
The art of LSD
Hep cats
German opium smokers, 1900

Weekend links 133

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Lower Manhattan (1999) by Lebbeus Woods.

RIP Lebbeus Woods, an architect and illustrator frequently compared to Piranesi not only for his imagination and the quality of his renderings but also for the way both men built very little from a lifetime of designs. Lots of appreciations have appeared over the past few days including this lengthy piece by Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG. (Geoff interviewed Woods in 2007.) Elsewhere: A slideshow at the NYT, Steven Holl remembers Lebbeus Woods and Lebbeus Woods, visionary architect of imaginary worlds. See also: Lebbeus Woods: Early Drawings and this post about Woods’ illustrations for an Arthur C Clarke story collection. Woods was at his most Piranesian with Gothic designs for an artificial planet that would have been the principal location in Vincent Ward’s unmade Alien 3.

Arkhonia draws to the end of a year of blogging about and around the Beach Boys’ errant masterwork, Smile (1967). Witty, discursive and frequently scabrous accounts of how Brian Wilson’s magnum opus was derailed and marginalised until it became convenient for commercial interests to exploit its reputation. Anyone following those posts won’t have been surprised by Wilson’s sacking from his own group by Mike Love in September.

• “We’ve been underground for 27 hours now. Everyone is caked in mud, with grit in their hair.” Will Hunt explores the catacombs and sewers of Paris.

I think the only remotely interesting drug was acid. I had a slightly peculiar attitude towards it I think. Just about everything about hippydom I hated. I liked the 60s up to about ’65 or ’66. I liked the mod clothes, I liked the look. I wasn’t a keen taker of speed because I didn’t like the comedown from it. Then everything changed and became looser, I didn’t like the clothes at all. I felt rather out of step with it. The acid thing was interesting though. I come from Salisbury and from the age of 12 I had a friend who was 30 years older than I was who I saw regularly up until when he died a couple of years ago, whose obituary I wrote in The Times. This man was called Ken James and he was deputy head at the chemical warfare unit at Porton Down [the MOD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory]. He then became head of the scientific civil service; he was the man who introduced computing into the civil service and he had taken acid as early as 1950. This was long before Aldous Huxley.

Sharp Suits And Sparkle: Jonathan Meades On Acid, Space And Place by John Doran. Marvellous stuff. Meades’ new book is Museum Without Walls.

• In New York later this month: A Cathode Ray Séance – The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale.

• More acid: Kerri Smith talks to Oliver Sacks about his drug experiences.

• “It starts with an itch”: Alan Bennett (again) on his new play, People.

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Lower Manhattan last Wednesday. Photo by Iwan Baan.

• Back issues of OMNI magazine can now be found at the Internet Archive.

• Alan Moore & Mitch Jenkins present their new film, Jimmy’s End.

• At BibliOdyssey: Atlas title pages part one & part two.

• Raw Functionality: An interview with Emptyset.

Athanasius, Underground

Vintage Caza

Stormy Weather (1979) by Elisabeth Welch.