Weekend links 501

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Cover art by Michael Ashman, 1979.

• RIP Terry Jones, not only a writer, actor and director but also a presenter of the BBC’s short-lived Paperbacks series in 1981, a programme that included Angela Carter among its guests. Related: The Box (1981), a short film directed by Micky Dolenz, based on a play by Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

• “[David] Lynch in a suit and tie that echoes the formal dress of Twin Peaks’ FBI Agent Cooper, presses a small capuchin monkey, called Jack Cruz, to confess to the murder of Max.” What Did Jack Do?

• The week in Ghost Box: Flying Lotus and Julian House collaborate on a promo for the Moog Subsequent 25 synthesizer, while at Grave Goods Jim Jupp answers questions from beyond.

Bruce Sterling: “This is an essay about lists of moral principles for the creators of Artificial Intelligence. I collect these lists, and I have to confess that I find them funny.”

• A campaign to protect and maintain Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage.

• Winners of the Wiki Loves Monuments 2019 photo competition.

• Mix of the week: Sehnsucht by The Ephemeral Man.

• Susan Schulten on Emma Willard’s Maps of Time.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Roland Topor’s Brains.

• At Strange Flowers: 20 books for 2020.

Beat Box (1984) by Art Of Noise | Glory Box (1994) by Portishead | Black Box (1995) by Scorn

Weekend links 157

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Elektrik Karousel, a new release on the Ghost Box label by The Focus Group. “For a clue to its moods, think Czech animation, Italian Giallo, early Radiophonics, HP Lovecraft stories, 1960s underground cinema, Lewis Carroll and baroque psych.” Julian House’s package design is “heavily inspired by 1960s underground press and conceived as a kind of mind altering DIY board game”.

Joseph Stannard of The Outer Church compiles a mix for Kit Records, and talks about rural psychedelia and malevolent lighthouses, among other things.

• At Sci-Fi-O-Rama: a sampling of Dan Nadel & Norman Hathaway’s Electrical Banana – Masters of Psychedelic Art (2012).

Stranger than Paradise: Tilda Swinton photographed by Tim Walker in the Surrealist Wonderland of Las Pozas, Mexico.

Whistler in Limehouse & Wapping: stunning etchings by the 25-year-old artist when he was newly arrived in London.

• The complete catalogue of Sunn O))) recordings is now on Bandcamp for preview and purchase.

La Danza de la Realidad: Alejandro Jodorowsky returns to his childhood in Tocopilla, Chile.

• Enjoy The Silence: Jude Rogers talks to Michael Rother about joy of quiet.

Dressing the Air, “the Bureau of Sensory Intelligence”, had a relaunch.

Fast forward – and press play again: Cassettes are back

The Lovecraft Expert: An Interview with S.T. Joshi

Book Graphics: an illustration blog.

Paint Box (1967) by Pink Floyd | Beat Box (1984) by Art of Noise | Glory Box (1994) by Portishead

Skull, 1983

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Mention yesterday of pencil drawing prompted me to dig out this item from one of my old portfolios. It was drawn shortly after I was given a somewhat battered human skull by a student nurse (hello, Victoria, wherever you are), an object I sketched on a number of occasions before eventually making it into the finger-slashing fetish object below which appeared recently in the The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. The drawing dates from 1983—I remember listening to the Art of Noise EP Into Battle whilst working—and it’s unusual for me in showing the drawn object alone on a sheet of paper with no attempt made to place it in a scene. It’s also a slightly misjudged rendering; this ink drawing from a year later shows a more careful representation of the skull’s proportions, spoiled a little by the pointless and unconvincing seascape I placed behind it.

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A Secret Wish by Propaganda

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A Secret Wish (1985). Design by the London Design Partnership.

The dark Religions are departed & sweet Science reigns
— William Blake

It’s a hallmark of musical obsession when you find yourself buying the same album over and over. Propaganda’s meisterwerk from 1985, A Secret Wish, was finally released in a definitive double-CD version this week, the fourth edition I’ve bought (after the original vinyl and two other CD releases), and this new set is easily the best of the lot.

Propaganda were always my favourites among the early acts on Trevor Horn and Paul Morley’s ZTT label: smarter than Frankie Goes To Hollywood and more musical than the Art of Noise. How could I resist another quartet of Germans from Kraftwerk’s home city of Düsseldorf, a group memorably described as “ABBA from Hell”? The first single in 1984, Dr Mabuse, came along when I’d been immersed in Lotte Eisner’s celebrated study of German Expressionist cinema, The Haunted Screen; an avant garde pop outfit devoted to the same material was just the thing I wanted to hear. Almost a mini-album, the single’s A-side was filled by an epic ten-minute song describing the character of a villainous anti-hero from several Fritz Lang films, Dr Mabuse. On the B-side there was a cover of The Velvet Underground’s Femme Fatale (and another Lang reference in the subtitle, The Woman with the Orchid) followed by some metal bashing and a taste of the A-side’s Schönberg-esque orchestral stabs then a return to the song. Cover versions were an important thing at ZTT, as was the idea of the 12-inch single as a self-contained work, Mabuse being a prime example. All of this came packaged in a sleeve whose Anton Corbijn painting referenced another Fritz Lang film, M… It felt as though they were doing this purely for my benefit.

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Dr Mabuse (1984). Design by Anton Corbijn and XL.

The intertextual reference on this and subsequent releases isn’t surprising given the people involved. Paul Morley took a great delight in embellishing the ZTT releases with quotations—the Frankie album was probably the first chart-topping release with a recommended reading list—while band member Ralph Dörper had been with the Neue Deutsche Welle band Die Krupps prior to Propaganda, and it was his influence which gave the group the abrasive industrial edge that I found so attractive. While between groups he released an experimental EP in 1983 under his own name which included versions of In Heaven from Eraserhead and John Carpenter’s theme from Assault on Precinct 13, and it was he who chose Throbbing Gristle’s Discipline as the demo song which the group used to catch the attention of ZTT. That cover version never made it to A Secret Wish although they did perform it live on The Tube, and a later version appeared on the remix album, Wishful Thinking. This recording is happily included on the second disc of the new reissue.

A Secret Wish was released in 1985 and pushed further buttons of obsession for me with the opening track, Dream Within A Dream, which is Edgar Allan Poe’s poem set to music. The album artwork came liberally decorated with Morley’s signifying quotes, the one for the Poe track being the opening lines from HP Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu. Yes, they really were doing this for my benefit… Two further 12-inch singles appeared: Duel/Jewel was the same song presented in an “ABBA” version and a “from Hell” version: sweet and melodic versus harsh and industrial.

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A Secret Wish inner sleeve.

The third and final single, p:Machinery, expanded the short album mix to another nine-minute epic whose vision of a population enslaved to industrial technology easily invokes Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, so much so that I used to play the single whilst running scenes from the film on TV. The enormous “Polish” mix of this song has always been scarce on CD, with a Japanese release in 1988, and a later reissue (with some shoddy and superfluous remixes) in 1995. Another benefit of the new edition of the album is that the extended mix provides the climax of the second disc and sounds even more enormous, its brass fanfares accurately described in a review at the time as conjuring images of cities rising from the sea.

Also present for the first time on the new CD is Do Well, the twenty-minute Duel suite which was a cassette-only release, and a number of other previously unavailable mixes. If you have this double-disc set and the Outside World single collection from 2002 then you’ll own pretty much everything that’s great about Propaganda. A lot of pop music from the 1980s sounds horribly dated now: tinny synths, empty production and a paucity of ambition. Propaganda sound as thunderingly magnificent as they did in 1985, and still unique. It’s a shame that A Secret Wish was their finest moment, things fell apart fairly soon after. But one masterpiece will always be worth fifty Duran Duran travesties.

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