Weekend links 458

scott.jpg

Photo by Dezo Hoffmann, 1968.

If there’s one thing everyone can agree on about the late Scott Walker it’s that his career was not only improbable but almost impossible in its range and trajectory. My mother saw the Walker Brothers perform in Blackpool 52 years ago, headlining a touring bill that featured Cat Stevens (the artist she most wanted to see) and the soon to be very famous Jimi Hendrix. She enjoyed good pop songs and big orchestras, so even though she’s never expressed a preference for the Walker Brothers or Walker solo I’m sure she could listen to an album or two. But she wouldn’t be able to stand more than a minute of Walker’s output from Tilt (1995) onwards, and even the four watershed tracks on Nite Flights (1978) would be deemed unacceptable. Walker’s progress inverted the stereotype of the 20th-century pop career, the all-too-common descent into blandness and irrelevance, by following a course closer to that taken by painters and literary artists. He walked the walk.

• When Scott Walker’s Climate Of Hunter was announced in 1984, Richard Cook persuaded its introverted creator to talk to the press for the first time in many years. Cook and Walker met again in 1995 when Tilt was released. From 2008: Sean O’Hagan talking to Scott Walker two years after the release of The Drift; at The Wire again: a recording of Rob Young discussing Walker’s career; at the BFI: Scott Walker’s selection of some favourite films; at The New Yorker: Amanda Petrusich on the weird and vast and periodically devastating music of Scott Walker.

• At The Paris Review: Jane Alison suggests meanders, spirals, radials, fractals and cells as alternative to the narrative arc, while Peter Bebergal argues for seeing belief and disbelief in a superposition when it comes to art and the occult.

Sarasota Half in Dream, a feature-length documentary by Derek Murphy and Mitchell Zemil about a decaying Florida suburb.

• Chris Marker, Always Moving: Max Nelson on a Paris exhibition, Chris Marker, les 7 vies d’un cinéaste.

• There’s a little more Scott Walker, inevitably, in this interview with Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))).

Michael Moorcock talking to The Austin Chronicle about his long association with Hawkwind.

M. John Harrison chooses favourite stories for Jonathan Gibb’s Personal Anthology series.

• Rat Cunning and Bloodshed: An interview with Simon Sellars by Lee Rourke.

In Search of the Seas of Pleiades, a free download by Jenzeits.

• Rammstein are back with a video epic: Deutschland.

Sex Magick is Satanic doo-wop by Twin Temple.

Time, Forward! by Georgi Sviridov.

Orpheus (1967) by The Walker Brothers | Lullaby (By-By-By) (2000) by Ute Lemper | Darkness (2006) by Scott Walker

Weekend links 344

axiomdub.jpg

Axiom Dub – Mysteries Of Creation (1996), a Bill Laswell production. Art by James Koehnline.

• As noted earlier, the great Bill Laswell has made some of his sprawling back catalogue available at Bandcamp, news of which has prompted Vinyl Factory to put together a recommended listening guide. Judging by the comments I’m not the only Laswell-head deploring the absence of the masterpiece from Material, Hallucination Engine. Linked here before, and happily still being updated, the comprehensive Bill Laswell discography at Silent-Watcher. Related: An ESP-Disk Primer by Marc Masters.

Listen to the Voice of Fire, a symposium concerning alchemy in sound art, takes place at the National Library of Wales at the beginning of March. Phil Legard offers some thoughts on alchemy, music and John Dee.

• The guilty cinematic pleasures of John Carpenter. Related: Director and actor Alice Lowe chooses seven favourite horror films.

The Broomway, Essex, a tidal path known as “The Doomway” for its reputation as the most dangerous walk in Britain.

• Mixes of the week: K-Punk presents Return to the Fourth World, and FACT Mix 584 by Lawrence English.

• “There was more to the late John Berger than that TV series and art book”, says Richard Turney.

• “Music’s cassette-tape revival is paying off,” says John Paul Titlow.

Diamanda Galás announces two new albums.

Bob Dylan paints a Blackpool pier.

• Pixel art by Uno Moralez

One Letter Words

Reduction (1980) by Material | Ghost Light/Dread Recall (1996) by Material | No Guts No Galaxy (1999) by Material (feat. Ramm Ell Zee & phonosycographDISK)

The mystery of trams

quays-black.jpg

Chateau de Labonnecuyere (c. 1970s) by The Brothers Quay.

Trams are a recurrent feature in the early drawings of the Brothers Quay, and they’ve also appeared in the Quays’ earliest animated films and in some of their designs for the stage. I respond to this fetishisation on the deepest level having been born and raised on the Fylde coast of Lancashire, an area which was for many years the only place in Britain that kept its tramways after the rest of the country had given over the streets to buses and cars. Trams are so ingrained in my consciousness that I still dream about the trams of my childhood, many of which were rattling, streamlined things dating back to the 1930s. Manchester was tramless when I arrived in the city in 1982 but a few years later the council embarked on an ambitious and far-sighted scheme to return trams to the city’s streets. The first routes opened in 1991, and the network has been evolving ever since, pushing out of the centre along disused rail lines.

delvaux1.jpg

La Rue du Tramway (1938–1939) by Paul Delvaux.

The Quays aren’t alone in being attracted to this form of public transport. Trams haunt a certain type of oneiric European imagination, and I often wonder where the attraction lies. I think it’s something to do with their small scale and the way they remain bounded within the cities they serve. Trains have a romance and mythology of their own but are wide-ranging and far more common, as are buses whose presence on a city street is a reminder that the tram can be replaced. The Quays are Europhiles so they no doubt see the trams of the Continent as another feature of European city life that’s more arresting to American eyes. This post gathers some of the Quays’ uses together with other notable (and favourite) examples.

delvaux2.jpg

Tram nocturne (1950) by Paul Delvaux.

Several of the examples listed here are Belgian which either means that trams exercise the Belgian imagination more than that of other nations, or I happen to pay more attention to Belgian art. (Probably a little of both.) Paul Delvaux put trams into several paintings but seems to have been the only Surrealist to do so.

tram1.jpg

tram2.jpg

The trams that haunt my imagination are the cream-and-green vehicles that trundled for decades up and down the Fylde coast between Blackpool and Fleetwood. These machines used to run along the line at the end of the street I grew up in so there’s never been a day I can remember when I wasn’t aware of the tram—and of these vehicles in particular—as a viable mode of public transport. Looking at the websites of tram enthusiasts reveals the different names for each generation of Blackpool trams; so I now know that the bow-ended ones (which I always liked) are known as Brush Railcoaches, while the double-deckers are known as Balloons. None of these names were ever used by locals.

schuiten.jpg

Back to Belgium, and the comics and illustrations drawn by the marvellous François Schuiten are filled with trams. I’ve written at length about the Obscure World mythos of Schuiten and Peeters so rather than repeat myself I’ll point to the mystery of Tram 81, a recurrent and unexplained presence in Schuiten’s work.

nocturna1.jpg

Nocturna Artificiala.

nocturna2.jpg

Nocturna Artificiala.

Trams for the Brothers Quay are the small European variety rather than the streetcars seen in some American cities. One of the brothers’ Black Drawings, Chateau de Labonnecuyere, features a pantographed vehicle that glides through their later animated films. The first of these, Nocturna Artificiala (1979), is a wordless masque involving the yearning relationship between the solitary puppet character and an empty, nocturnal tram. The film is an animated extension of Chateau de Labonnecuyere which not only features the drawing itself but also includes a unique moment where the tram glides through the vast cathedral seen in the background.

janacek1.jpg

Leos Janacek: Intimate Excursions.

janacek2.jpg

Leos Janacek: Intimate Excursions.

The power-line supports seen in Chateau de Labonnecuyere are a recurrent motif in the Quays’ works. They appear together with the Nocturna Artificiala tram in Leos Janacek: Intimate Excursions (1983), and may be glimpsed among the faded detritus in Street of Crocodiles (1986).

avalon1.jpg

Avalon.

avalon2.jpg

Avalon.

I don’t know what the Quays would make of the science-fiction scenario of Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon (2001) but the recurrent scenes of a nocturnal tram journey would probably appeal, especially since the tram in question is a Polish one. Mamoru Oshii is the director of many SF-oriented animations, not least The Ghost in the Shell (1995). Avalon was a surprise when it appeared (and then seemed to vanish all-too-quickly): a live-action drama concerning the players of a virtual reality game which can have lethal consequences for the contestants. The film was made in Poland with a Polish cast, and the scenes are heavily processed throughout, with everything given a sepia wash. Coming after The Matrix, Dark City et al, the virtual reality aspect wasn’t so much of a surprise but I loved the juxtaposition of a futuristic story in a run-down European setting. And the trams, of course. The dream-like atmosphere of the film’s mundane scenes brings everything back to Delvaux and his tram nocturnes.

I was going to add Tramway (1966) to this list, a short student film directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, but it’s not especially mysterious. It’s worth a look if you like Kieslowski, however, and may be watched here. If anyone has suggestions for other mysterious trams then please leave a comment.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Paul Delvaux: The Sleepwalker of Saint-Idesbald

Strange fascination

bowie.jpg

Another single sleeve (and missing the “?” in the title). Released 22nd June, 1973.

Music reinforces memory, and an enduring memory is of discussing the lyrics to Life On Mars? with a friend in the blissful summer of 1973, when the song was in the charts after being released to capitalise on Bowie’s success with his Ziggy Stardust persona. “Blissful” here isn’t rose-tinted nostalgia, that summer gave us two months of heat and sunshine, something British summers don’t always manage; you can see the evidence in the sunlit evening shots of DA Pennebaker’s film of the final Ziggy Stardust concert, and in the field scenes in Penda’s Fen which was being filmed at the time for broadcast the following year. (And while we’re forging links, Penda director Alan Clarke later directed Bowie in the TV production of Bertolt Brecht’s Baal.)

Weather aside, the summer of 1973 was particularly enjoyable for being the one that separated my last year at junior school (which I enjoyed) with my first year at secondary school (which I loathed); in that respect it was the last perfect summer of childhood after which my home and school life went down in flames. I spent most of July and August with friends: climbing trees, playing on bits of waste ground, and going on long bike rides. I don’t remember much about the bike excursions apart from the one I made with Martin C to Skippool Creek, a tributary of the River Wyre outside Blackpool where old boats are moored. This was the occasion of the Life On Mars? discussion, and it was the discussion that lodges the event so persistently in the memory, an unresolved puzzling over the strangest lyrics we’d ever heard. I mark this moment as the first time I began to regard music as a vehicle for a quality of strangeness that I’ve been pursuing ever since. And I still think of that afternoon when we went to look at the boats every time I hear the song.

Some links:
50 David Bowie moments
Some thoughts by Momus
The Magic and Mystery of David Bowie by Peter Bebergal

School Daze by Patrick Cowley

cowley.jpg

School Daze sleeve designed by Eloise Leigh.

Music made for porn films is nothing if not derivative and unmemorable, assuming it’s been specially made at all and isn’t merely a cheap library track, the aural equivalent of stock footage. This wasn’t necessarily the case when porn cinema was getting established in the America of the 1970s but a huge turnover of anonymous product combined with simple expediency—hours of footage that needed to be soundtracked by something—made falling standards inevitable. The cliché of the cheesy porn soundtrack is such a given that it’s a surprise to encounter anything which is even halfway listenable away from the screen. In the case of this album by Patrick Cowley it’s even more of a surprise to find that such exceptional music has been hiding for years on a couple of gay porn films, School Daze and Muscle Up, from 1980.

foxclassic.jpg

Gay porn would seem the perfect thing to be soundtracked by the creator of an unashamed anthem like Menergy (1981) but the music on School Daze bears little resemblance to Cowley’s Hi-NRG disco hits, not least because some of the tracks were composed as far back as 1973 when Cowley was still in college. The tapes were unreleased until John Coletti, the owner of Fox Studios, asked Cowley for some music which is how these early experiments ended up as porn scores. Experiments they may be, in differing moods and styles, but they’re also very successful ones. Jorge Socarras’s album notes describe Cowley’s wide-ranging musical (and sexual) tastes which would explain why one of the longer tracks, Journey Home, features a didgeridoo of all things. The didgeridoo sound became a considerable dance music cliché in the early 90s but prior to this you’d only find it outside Indigenous Australian music on pastiche numbers such as Flying Doctor by Hawklords or The Dreaming by Kate Bush; Cowley uses the instrument as simply another sound source. Socarras also mentions Cowley listening to Tomita and Wendy Carlos while in college but none of the music here sounds anything like the earlier generation of Moog composers; it also doesn’t sound much like Tangerine Dream or anything that was happening in Europe during the 1970s. If anything, the subdued and often dark atmosphere is a better fit with the post-punk music being produced in Britain around the time the films were released, sombre albums like The Bridge by Thomas Leer & Robert Rental, or instrumental tracks by The Human League. Didgeridoo or not, some of the tracks are surprisingly gloomy for porn music.

In the autumn of 1982 I was in the process of moving from Blackpool to Manchester, and spent a lot of time shuttling back and forth on coaches listening to tapes on a cheap Walkman clone. A couple of those journeys were soundtracked by Patrick Cowley’s extended remix of I Feel Love by Donna Summer and Industrial Muzac by Throbbing Gristle, a piece of subdued electronica which has been out of circulation for far too long. The music on School Daze fills an unlikely space between the two, there’s even a synth solo like the one that erupts into the Donna Summer remix. Patrick Cowley died in November of that year, one of the earliest victims of a disease which at that time wasn’t even called AIDS. Listening to School Daze, and to the last album released while he was alive, Mind Warp, you can’t help but wonder what he might have done with the sampling technology that became widespread a couple of years later.

School Daze is available on double-vinyl and CD from Dark Entries who say all proceeds from the album will be donated to Project Open Hand and the AIDS Housing Alliance.

Nightcrawler from School Daze
Mockingbird Dream from School Daze
Dark Entries interviews John Coletti of Fox Studio
Five Things You Need to Know about Gay Electronic Wizard Patrick Cowley

Previously on { feuilleton }
William E. Jones on Fred Halsted
Summer of Love
A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score