Twinkle, twinkle little stars

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Xitintoday (1978) by Nik Turner’s Sphynx.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a reason to write about Barney Bubbles but I’ve finally worked out why one of his more mysterious album covers looks the way it does.

When Nik Turner was unceremoniously kicked out of Hawkwind in 1976 he headed to Cairo to consider his next move. While there he recorded an hour or two of flute improvisations inside the sarcophagus in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. The resulting tapes provided the basis for his first solo album, Xitintoday, which was released in 1978 on the Charisma label, and credited to Nik Turner’s Sphynx. Steve Hillage produced the album, helping to craft the meandering solos into a suite of songs based on passages from The Egyptian Book of the Dead. Xitintoday is one of the more unusual concept albums from a decade filled with such things. I’ve always liked it, in many ways it’s closer to Hillage’s oeuvre than Turner’s, as well as being very different to anything else in the Hawk-sphere.

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A faded promo badge. The ballpoint scrawl is Mr Turner’s autograph.

Barney Bubbles’ design for the album is also very different to anything else in the Hawk-sphere, an example of what might be called his High Modernist period, when the hippy motifs and decorative pastiches of his earlier work were replaced with bold, flat colours and playful graphic designs. Xitintoday was released with a square booklet containing lyrics, notes about the mythological theme, and a series of pictures which combine diagrams and Ancient Egyptian reliefs with calligram-like wordplay. The back cover of the album exemplifies the latter, with the word “Day” spelled out in much smaller words reading “Night”; inside the booklet there’s a page for Isis the Moon Goddess where the words “Isis is is is is…” form a curve around a photograph of the Moon. The cover design continues the cosmic theme with a field of star shapes in which each star is created by the word “Twinkle”. The star field makes sense in the context of the booklet but I’ve wondered for a long time why Barney Bubbles thought it was a suitable cover design rather than simply being another booklet page.

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The solution arrived last week when work-related research had me looking through old design books for examples of Ancient Egyptian ornamentation. One of these, The Grammar of Ornament (1856) by Owen Jones, contains several pages of full-colour plates filled with Egyptian pattern samples.

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And on one of those pages there are these two squares which made me think immediately of the Xitintoday cover. This might seem tenuous when the cover design doesn’t feature any red dots but Barney Bubbles was an avid Egyptophile, avid enough to name his son after one of the Egyptian gods. A quick search revealed many more examples of this pattern which are closer matches for the cover design.

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It turns out that the yellow star on a blue background was a common way of representing the night sky in Egyptian art, you’ll find the same stars in wall paintings and on the ceilings inside royal tombs.

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For years I’ve regarded the Xitintoday cover as being uncharacteristically random and abstract, surprisingly so when Bubbles designs from the same period are all so smart and well-considered. This discovery puts the Sphynx album in the same category, a design which avoids many more obvious solutions for a combination of the very old and the very new. Another feature of Barney Bubbles design is a kind of “Aha!” moment, when your appreciation of the design catches up with the thinking behind it. The appreciation this time has taken an outrageously long time to arrive but I’m pleased to have got there in the end.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Led Zeppelin IV: Jimmy Page versus Little Bo-Peep
The Grammar of Ornament revisited
On the pyramid

Weekend links 549

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The Shepherd’s Dream, from Paradise Lost (1793) by Henry Fuseli.

• “16 April. A card from Tom King with news of the tattoo of me that he had put on his arm: ‘The tattoo remains popular, though bizarrely one person thought it was of Henry Kissinger. It also makes for an amusing conversation during intercourse.’ This suggests the intercourse might be less than fervent, my name in itself something of a detumescent.” Alan Bennett‘s diary for the year is always a highlight of December.

• “I know that if I don’t write, say on holiday, I begin to feel unsettled and uneasy, as I gather people do who are not allowed to dream.” The Paris Review removed its paywall on their Art of Fiction interview with JG Ballard.

• “A biologist and composer have turned the aurora borealis into sound to create a magic melding of art and nature.”

If we let it, dreaming gradually erodes wake centrism—that waking consciousness to which Westerners in particular are inordinately attached. You might think of wake centrism as a pre-Copernican-like worldview that presumes waking to be the centre of the universe of consciousness, while relegating sleeping and dreaming to secondary, subservient positions. It is a matrix, a cultural simulation evolved to support adaptation, yet it inadvertently limits our awareness. Wake centrism is a subtle, consensual, sticky and addictive over-reliance on ordinary ways of perceiving that interfere with our direct personal experience of dreaming. To paraphrase the 16th-century British clergyman Robert Bolton, it is not merely an idea the mind possesses, but an idea that possesses the mind. Wake centrism is a flat-world consciousness. It warns us to stay away from the edges, to refrain from dialoguing with dreams and the unconscious.

Rubin Naiman on sleep and dreams

96th of October: an online fiction magazine dedicated to “tales of the extraordinary”.

• “Punk artist Barney Bubbles joins Manet among works given to UK public in 2020.”

• The results of the Nature Photographer of the Year contest for 2020.

• A list with a difference: Twenty Four Psychic Pop Relics by Woebot.

• Merve Emre on how Leonora Carrington feminized Surrealism.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 675 by Teebs.

I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) (1966) by The Electric Prunes | The Room Of Ancillary Dreams (2000) by Harold Budd | Blue Dream (2001) by Sussan Deyhim & Richard Horowitz

Silver Machines

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1: How to Construct a Time Machine, 1899

III: Description of the Machine

The Machine consists of an ebony frame, similar to the steel frame of a bicycle. The ebony members are assembled with soldered copper mountings.

The gyrostats’ three tori (or flywheels), in the three perpendicular planes of Euclidean space, are made of ebony cased in copper, mounted on rods of tightly rolled quartz ribbons (quartz ribbons are made in the same way as quartz wire), and set in quartz sockets.

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Alfred Jarry testing a time machine, 1898

The circular frames or the semicircular forks of the gyro stats are made of nickel. Under the seat and a little forward are located the batteries for the electric motor. There is no iron in the Machine other than the soft iron of the electromagnets.

Motion is transmitted to the three flywheels by ratchet-boxes and chain-drives of quartz wire, engaged in three cogwheels, each of which lies on the same plane as its corresponding fly wheel. The chain-drives are connected to the motor and to each other through bevel gears and driveshafts. A triple brake controls all three shafts simultaneously…

Alfred Jarry


2: Dead Singers (aka All the Dead Singers), 1971

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“That’s all in the past now.” Beesley waddled to the other the side of the tiled room and wheeled the black Royal Albert gent’s roadster across the clean floor. He paused to flip a switch on the wall. Belly Button Window flooded through the sound system. They were turning his own rituals against him. Now the devil had all the songs.

“All aboard, Mr C.” Reluctantly, Jerry mounted the bike. He was getting a bit too old for this sort of thing.

[…]

In London he slowed down, but by that time he’d blown it completely. Still, he’d got what Beesley wanted. Nothing stayed the same. Tiny snatches of music came from all sides, trying to take hold. Marie Lloyd. Harry Champion, George Formby, Noël Coward, Cole Porter, Billie Holliday, MJQ, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Hawkwind. He hung on to Hawkwind, turning the car back and forth to try to home in, but then it was Gertrude Lawrence and then it was Tom Jones and then it was Cliff Richard and he knew he was absolutely lost. Buildings rose and fell like waves. Horses, trams and buses faded through each other. People grew and decayed. There were too many ghosts in the future. In Piccadilly Circus he brought the Mercedes to a bumping stop at the base of the Eros statue and, grabbing the Royal Albert, threw himself clear. He was screaming for help. They’d been fools to fuck about with Time again. Yet they’d known what they were getting him into.

Michael Moorcock, Ink Magazine


3: Silver Machine, 1972

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Cover design by Tony Vesely with Pennie Smith (not the work of Barney Bubbles as stated elsewhere).

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A dead singer.


4: The Dancers at the End of Time, 1974

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Dedication by Michael Moorcock in the 1974 Mayflower paperback of An Alien Heat—The First Volume in the Dancers at the End of Time Trilogy.

Outside the station they found themselves in the Strand and now Jherek saw something leaning against a wall on the corner of Villiers Street.

“Look!, Mrs Underwood—we are saved. A time machine!”

“That, Mr Carnelian, is a tandem bicycle.”

He already had his hands on it and was trying to straddle it as he had seen the others do.

“We would do better to hail a cab,” she said.

“Get aboard quickly. Can you see any controls?”

With a sigh, she took the remaining saddle, in the front. “We had best head for Regent Street. It is not far, happily. The other side of Piccadilly. At least this will prove to you, once and for all, that…”

Her voice was lost as they hurtled into the press of the traffic, weaving between trams and omnibuses, between horses and motor cars and causing both to come to sudden stops and stand stock still in the middle of the road, panting and shuddering.

Jherek, expecting to see the scene vanish at any moment, paid little attention to the confusion happening around them. He was having a great deal of trouble keeping his balance upon the time machine.

“It will be soon!” he cried into her ear, “it must be soon!” And he pedalled harder. All that happened was that the machine lurched onto the pavement, shot across Trafalgar Square at considerable speed, up the Haymarket, and was in Leicester Square almost before they had realized it. Here Jherek fell off the tandem, to the vast entertainment of a crowd of street urchins hanging about outside the doors of the Empire Theatre of Varieties.

“It doesn’t seem to work,” he said.

Michael Moorcock, The Hollow Lands—The Second Volume in the Dancers at the End of Time Trilogy


5: Machine music

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6: “’Pataphysics is the science”, 1981

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Robert Calvert and Noel Redding testing a time machine, 1976.

I read this essay by Alfred Jarry called, “How to Construct a Time Machine”, and I noticed something which I don’t think anyone else has thought of because I’ve never seen any criticism of the piece to suggest this. I seemed to suss out immediately that what he was describing was his bicycle. He did have that turn of mind. He was the kind of bloke who’d think it was a good joke to write this very informed sounding piece, full of really good physics (and it has got some proper physics in it), describing how to build a time machine, which is actually about how to build a bicycle, buried under this smoke-screen of physics that sounds authentic.

Jarry got into doing this thing called “’Pataphysics”, which is a sort of French joke science. A lot of notable French intellectuals formed an academy around the basic idea of coming up with theories to explain the exceptions to the Laws of the Universe, people like Ionesco the playwright.

The College of metaphysics. I thought it was a great idea for a song. At that time there were a lot of songs about space travel, and it was the time when NASA was actually, really doing it. They’d put a man on the moon and were planning to put parking lots and hamburger stalls and everything up there. I thought that it was about time to come up with a song that actually sent this all up, which was Silver Machine.

Silver Machine was just to say, I’ve got a silver bicycle, and nobody got it. I didn’t think they would. I thought that what they would think we were singing about some sort of cosmic space travel machine. I did actually have a silver racing bike when I was a boy. I’ve got one now, in fact.

Robert Calvert, Cheesecake fanzine no. 5

• Related: Marcus O’Dair on ’Pataphysics: Your Favourite Cult Artist’s Favourite Pseudoscience.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Notes from the Underground
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer

Notes from the Underground

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This time last year I was about to start working on the cover of Joe Banks’ Hawkwind book, and here it is at last, after a considerable delay. The special edition has been worth the wait since it comes with an additional 200-page volume, Sideways Through Time, containing the interviews that Joe used for his research. There’s also a set of cards with photos by Laurie Lewis from the session used for the cover of Space Ritual (we used some of the same photos on the book cover), and a print of the Moorcock/Cawthorn Hawklords comic strip from Frendz which further developed the group’s self-mythologising begun by the In Search Of Space “Hawklog”. And for people who pre-ordered the book last year then had to wait for months, there’s a bonus enamel pin based on the hawk design I supplied for the front board. I like badges, and I designed a few for Hawkwind in the past, but this is a better design and a nicer object than any of those I did in the 1980s.

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It’s a big book.

Now that the book is out I can show off the full cover wrap. As mentioned earlier, I followed Barney Bubbles’ preference for retro futurism by creating a cityscape based on the Deco-styled architecture that Frank R. Paul liked to use in his pulp illustrations. Some of the details refer obliquely to Hawkwind’s cover art or songs of the 1970s, so the speeding car can be taken as a reference to both Kerb Crawler and Death Trap, as well as the speeding Art Deco vehicle on the cover of Roadhawks. The flying saucers are a nod to those by Barney Bubbles on the inner sleeve of the Doremi album (and on one of his black-and-white posters from the same period), while the Philippe Druillet rocket refers to Barney’s own appropriation of a Druillet figure in his Hawk graphics. The combination of vehicles fleeing a burning city gives us the recurring theme in the group’s lyrics about the need to escape from a self-destructing society/planet. Welcome to the future.

Hawkwind: Days of the Underground is available now from Strange Attractor.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Hawkwind: Days of the Underground
The Chronicle of the Cursed Sleeve
Rock shirts
The Cosmic Grill
Void City
Hawk things
The Sonic Assassins
New things for July
Barney Bubbles: artist and designer