The Shildam Hall Tapes

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The conceit of a “soundtrack for an imaginary film” dates back at least as far as Gandharva by Beaver & Krause, although only the second half of that album was the imaginary soundtrack, and a rather vague one at that. (A variation on the Gandharva suite did become genuine soundtrack music, however, when Robert Fuest asked Gerry Mulligan to rework his sax improvisation for The Final Programme in 1973.) The imaginary soundtrack idea didn’t really catch on until the late 80s and early 90s, with serious efforts such as Barry Adamson’s excellent Moss Side Story emerging alongside an increasing and often lazy use of the term “imaginary soundtrack” as a descriptor employed by journalists writing about instrumental electronic albums.

The Shildam Hall Tapes is neither lazy nor mis-labelled being the latest in this year’s themed compilation albums from A Year In The Country, and a collection described as “reflections on an imaginary film.”

In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate. Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.

Few of the cast or crew have spoken about the events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set. A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.

Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old film stock sold as a job lot at auction—although how they came to be there is unknown. The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.

The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.

Track list:
1) Gavino Morretti—Dawn of a New Generation
2) Sproatly Smith—Galloping Backwards
3) Field Lines Cartographer—The Computer
4) Vic Mars—Ext – Day – Overgrown Garden
5) Circle/Temple—Maze Sequence
6) A Year In The Country—Day 12, Scene 2, Take 3; Hoffman’s Fall
7) The Heartwood Institute—Shildam Hall Seance
8) David Colohan—How We’ll Go Out
9) Listening Center—Cultivation I
10) Pulselovers—The Green Leaves of Shildam Hall

I’ve always enjoyed this kind of thing when it’s done well, as in Barry Adamson’s case, so was already predisposed to the new collection even before hearing it. The cumulative effect is much better than anticipated, thanks in part to a few deviations from earlier A Year In The Country compilations. The opening piece is by Gavino Morretti, a newcomer to the AYITC stable, and a musician whose albums to date are all in the imaginary soundtrack sub-genre. Morretti provides a marvellous piece in the Goblin/Fabio Frizzi manner that effortlessly conjures a title sequence of mists, coloured filters and Art Nouveau typefaces.

The following contributions range from the spookily atmospheric (Sproatly Smith, A Year In The Country, The Heartwood Institute) to electronic numbers such as The Computer by Field Lines Cartographer which suggests some kind of paranormal investigation like those in The Stone Tape and The Legend of Hell House. The biggest surprise for me was David Colohan’s How We’ll Go Out which is another electronic work, and very different to his earlier folk-oriented compositions. If, like me, you’ve been missing the “ghost” quotient among the recent releases on the Ghost Box label, then The Shildam Hall Tapes is a very welcome substitute: sinister, perfectly-pitched and leaving enough gaps in the scenario for the imagination to operate. I’m no doubt biased towards the format but for me this is the best A Year In The Country compilation to date so I’m now wondering what the follow-up will be like.

The Shildam Hall Tapes will be available for pre-order at Bandcamp from 10th July, and released on the 31st.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Audio Albion
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

Weekend links 411

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The Temple of Love (1911–24) by Herbert E. Crowley.

• My film viewing in the 1980s involved a considerable amount of backtracking: watching any film noir that turned up on the TV while chasing the early works of David Cronenberg, and various “New Hollywood” classics on television or at repertory cinemas (when such things were still plentiful). Contemporary fare by comparison was often a lot less attractive, although I’d be waiting for new work from David Lynch and Nicolas Roeg while pursuing obscurities (usually the banned or censored) on videotape. Popular films seldom generated actual loathing but throughout the decade I nurtured a persistent hatred for the works of John Hughes, an animus that can still return today when I read yet another nostalgic article about his oeuvre.

The monoculture of the 1980s was writ large on American cinema of the decade. From Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscle-rippling actioners to John Hughes’s adolescent confections, bombastic, generally upbeat films characterised the decade of the yuppie.

Christina Newland offers a welcome riposte to the pastel-hued retrospectives in a piece entitled “Reagan’s bastard children: the lost teens of 1980s American indie films”. While not exclusively teen pictures, I’d have mentioned three low-budget films written by Eric Red: The Hitcher (1986), Near Dark (1987) and Cohen and Tate (1989).

The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Works & Worlds of Herbert Crowley is a lavish (and costly) study of the strange comic strips and incredibly detailed drawings of Herbert E. Crowley (1873–1937). Mark Newgarden interviewed Justin Duerr about rescuing Crowley’s art from undeserved neglect. I missed an earlier interview by Steven Heller with Temple of Silence publisher Josh O’Neill. There’s more: The Wiggle Much a Tumblr devoted to Crowley’s comic strips and other artwork. (Ta to Jay for the tip!)

Pandemic is an interactive film by John Bradburn for The Science Museum. “A pandemic is causing heart failure–how far will you go to create a pig/human hybrid to provide donor organs?” The multiple choice begins at YouTube; there’s also a behind the scenes feature at the Museum blog, and a trailer. Anyone who remembers a certain scene in Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! may hesitate before playing.

Given the plain palette of so much 1969–70 rock—jammed-out bluesy boogie in the Canned Heat and Allman Brothers mode, nasal pseudo-country harmony singing à la CSN&Y and their afterbirth—it is tempting to imagine an entirely alternative history for rock. It’s a parallel world where Fifty Foot Hose’s Cauldron, United States of America’s self-titled album and synthedelic oddities from Syrinx, Silver Apples, Beaver & Krause and Tonto’s Expanding Head Band were just the run-up to a giant leap into the electronic future.

Simon Reynolds in an excellent piece on one of my favourite musical sub-genres, electronic psychedelia

• The week in animated film: Emerald Rush, a video for an extract from Jon Hopkins’ new album, Singularity; Awaken Akira, a short homage to Katsuhiro Otomo’s graphic novel/film by Ash Thorp and Zaoeyo; Extra (1996), a video by one of the Akira animators, Koji Morimoto, for music by Ken Ishii.

Tenebrous Kate on The Powers of Darkness & The Powers of the Mind: The Legacy of Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon. Related: a look at the film’s shooting script and pressbook.

• At Dangerous Minds: John Gray, the pre-Bosie lover of Oscar Wilde, and the man whose surname is memorialised in Wilde’s most famous creation, Dorian Gray.

• Skewing the Picture: China Miéville posts the full text of an essay from 2016 about the rural weird.

• Share a pastrami sandwich with TED Klein in Episode 65 of Eating the Fantastic.

• More Hodgsoniana: The Land of Lonesomeness, a short story by Sam Gafford.

• At The Quietus: Barry Miles on William Burroughs’ years in London.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Curtis Harrington Day.

Night Of The Assassins (1977?) by Les Rallizes Dénudés | Night Of The Earth (1980) by Chrome | Night Of The Swallow (1982) by Kate Bush

Metzengerstein

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Metzengerstein by Wilfried Sätty.

One of the horses in yesterday’s post seemed familiar until I realised it had been used by Wilfried Sätty for his final Metzengerstein illustration in The Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe (1976). This has been happening a lot since I started delving into the book scans at the Internet Archive, Sätty’s collage sources leaping abruptly from old engravings. The horse is a good example of Sätty’s evolved approach to collage which often reversed the printing of assembled artwork, or used a printing press (or PMT process) to duplicate and mirror his collage elements.

Not all Poe illustrators bother with this Gothic pastiche, and those that do don’t always provide an effective rendering of the climax when the clouds of smoke above a smouldering castle assume the form of a colossal horse. Byam Shaw’s illustration is typical, with the horse standing inertly above the flames. Sätty’s picture only occupies half a page but is much more successful, as are many of the other illustrations in a volume that remains one of the very best Poe collections, and the finest of Sätty’s books.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
The original Gandharva
The Occult Explosion
Wilfried Sätty album covers
Nature Boy: Jesper Ryom and Wilfried Sätty
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Gandharva by Beaver & Krause

The original Gandharva

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Cover art by Wilfried Sätty. Lettering by David Singer.

Collage artist Wilfried Sätty has been in my thoughts this month, it being ten years ago that Jay Babcock, Richard Pleuger and I drove up to San Francisco and Petaluma to talk to Walter Medeiros and David Singer about Sätty’s life and work. Looking today at the Sätty cover art for Gandharva (1971) by Beaver & Krause reminded me that the original pressing of this album came with the sleeve in a predominantly pink colouration rather than the more familiar blue. I have three copies of the album—vinyl and two CDs, one of which pairs it with Beaver & Krause’s In A Wild Sanctuary (1970)—but I’ve never seen one of the pink variations, and didn’t even know they existed until they started appearing on the web. The CD reissues favour the blue version, as do I, although this may only be a result of familiarity. I’ve enthused about Sätty’s cover a couple of times already but the music is worth hearing for its connections backwards to Cammell & Roeg’s Performance (for which B&K provided the ominous synthesizer tones), and forwards to Robert Fuest’s The Final Programme. Fuest asked Gerry Mulligan to score his film after hearing the Gandharva suite (described in the sleeve notes as “a score from a non-existent film”) which occupies side two of the album.

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Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Occult Explosion
Wilfried Sätty album covers
Nature Boy: Jesper Ryom and Wilfried Sätty
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty
Gandharva by Beaver & Krause

Wilfried Sätty album covers

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Gandharva (1971) by Beaver & Krause. Cover art by Sätty, lettering by David Singer.

There aren’t many, unfortunately, and half the ones here have already featured in previous posts, but since I’m often referring people to Sätty’s work it seems worthwhile gathering them together. His album cover art shows he was equally adept at working with colour as with black-and-white, and might have done a lot more in this line had he been given the opportunity. (Sätty’s first book, The Cosmic Bicycle, does include some colour plates.)

The Gandharva album is the oddest in this small collection, one side being a blend of blues, gospel and Beaver & Krause’s Moog doodlings while the other side comprises an improvised Moog-inflected jazz suite recorded live in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. The setting of the latter is apt since cover artists Sätty and David Singer both came to prominence among San Francisco’s psychedelic poster designers in the late 1960s. Film director Robert Fuest liked Gandharva so much he hired Paul Beaver, Bernie Krause and Gerry Mulligan to play similar music for the soundtrack of The Final Programme.

Of the other albums the Sopwith Camel is obviously closest to Sätty’s familiar style. The covers for George Duke suit the mid-70s trend of jazz/funk albums with “cosmic” sleeve art exemplified by Tadanori Yokoo’s fantastic (in all senses) collage for Agharta by Miles Davis. Documentation of Sätty’s non-book work is still sparse so if anyone knows of any other covers please leave a comment.

Update: Added The Occult Explosion. See this later post.

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The Miraculous Hump Returns From The Moon (1973) by Sopwith Camel.

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The Occult Explosion (1973) by Various Artists.

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Feel (1974) By George Duke.

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The Aura Will Prevail (1975) by George Duke.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Nature Boy: Jesper Ryom and Wilfried Sätty
Wilfried Sätty: Artist of the occult
Illustrating Poe #4: Wilfried Sätty