Picturing On Land

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The ruined tower of All Saints Church, Dunwich, 1919.

I became interested in inventing places for sounds. I often listen to music and get a picture of a certain time of day, a certain type of light. I did that with On Land: for each piece I had an image of a time of day. On Land is specifically dedicated to the idea of creating places in music. — Brian Eno

My recent reading has included a couple of novels by the Strugatsky Brothers, and The Rings of Saturn (1995) by WG Sebald, a book I’d been intending to read for many years. The Sebald is a semi-fictionalised account of the author’s walking tour through Suffolk in the early 1990s, an account interleaved with extended detours into personal memory, history and literature, with the text being augmented by grainy and often indistinct pictures or photographs. The book has acquired something of a cult reputation in recent years, and its digressions touch on a couple of cult areas of my own, notably Jorge Luis Borges (via his story, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius) and, less directly, the music group Coil, whose Batwings (A Limnal Hymn) is evoked via a description of Thomas Browne’s catalogue of imagined objects, the Musaeum Clausum. Coincidentally, Thomas Browne is mentioned in the Borges story although Sebald cleverly leaves this as something for the curious reader to discover.

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Suffolk is itself a curious county, in the sense of being strange, verging on the weird. The place is rich in British history—its situation on England’s eastern shore made it a site of various invasions—and weird enough to almost be considered Weird in the literary sense, even without fictional resonances from MR James (“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, A Warning to the Curious), Robert Aickman (Ringing the Changes) and, tangentially, HP Lovecraft, who took the name of the sea-devoured town of Dunwich for one of his Massachusetts settings.

Sebald doesn’t mention weird fiction and he also doesn’t mention (and quite possibly never heard of) Brian Eno, but Eno’s fourth album in his Ambient series, On Land, was continually in my mind while reading, owing to the intersection of the places that Sebald visits with the titles of several of Eno’s pieces. The most obvious of these is the last track on the album, Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960, but equally Suffolkian are Lantern Marsh, and Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills), the latter being a wood situated between Woodbridge and Melton, two of the places that Sebald passes through. Eno was born in Woodbridge, and On Land is as much concerned with unreliable (or semi-fictional) memories as The Rings of Saturn, something that Eno compares in his notes to Fellini’s semi-fictional film about his own childhood, Amarcord. Sebald’s descriptions sent me searching for pictures of Eno’s localities, especially the less familiar ones like Lantern Marsh and Leeks Hill. (Suffolk’s Dunwich is much more familiar to Britons owing to its long history of being eaten away by coastal erosion.) This in turn gave me the idea of trying to find a collection of suitably Sebaldian pictures for each track on the album, pictures that would be generally accurate but might equally be vague enough to suggest something more than the place or (in the case of painter Pierre Tal-Coat) the person in question.

Continue reading “Picturing On Land”

Weekend links 245

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First English-language edition of Hard to Be a God, 1973. Cover design by Alan Peckolick.

A group of scientists is sent to the planet Arkanar to help the local civilization, which is in the Medieval phase of its own history, to find the right path to progress. Their task is a difficult one: they cannot interfere violently and in no case can they kill. The scientist Rumata tries to save the local intellectuals from their punishment and cannot avoid taking a position. As if the question were: what would you do in God’s place?

Hard to Be a God is a 170-minute Russian science-fiction film based on a novel by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, the authors of Roadside Picnic. The film was the magnum opus of director Aleksey German (1938–2013) who died shortly before post-production was complete. German’s wife and son finished the film.

“…the wonder about this exhausting, astonishing film is not that it took so long to make, it’s that it got made at all,” says Gabriel Winslow-Yost; “one of the most consistently disgusting films ever made,” says Glenn Kenny, “…not only an unforgettable individual masterpiece but probably one of the capital-G Great Films.”; “There are no bones to be made about it, Hard to Be a God is a modern masterpiece,” says Matt Thrift.

This pushes all of my cinematic buttons, of course, so now I’m itching to see it. YouTube has trailers, and (if you must) you can also find the entire film without subtitles. I’d rather wait for a disc version. Meanwhile, Chicago Review Press have republished the novel with a new translation by Olena Blumberg and a foreword by Hari Kunzru.

• At the Guardian John Doran recommends new Middle Eastern and North African music; the playlist includes a song from the forthcoming album by Melechesh which features my cover art. At the Quietus this week Doran explored Manchester’s urban wastelands with local musician Julie Campbell aka Lonelady.

• “Research into psychedelics, shut down for decades, is now yielding exciting results,” says Michael Pollan. Related: Ryan Cooper on why the [US] government should be funding mass scientific studies of Ecstasy, magic mushrooms, and LSD, and “Early humans used magic mushrooms, opium“.

Dad combined porn with all manner of genre fiction. He wrote pirate porn, ghost porn, science-fiction porn, vampire porn, historical porn, time-travel porn, secret-agent porn, thriller porn, zombie porn and Atlantis porn. An unpublished Old West novel opens with sex in a barn, featuring a gunslinger called Quiet Smith, without doubt Dad’s greatest character name. By the end of the decade, Dad claimed to have single-handedly raised the quality of American pornography.

Chris Offutt on the prolific writing career of his father, Andrew Jefferson Offutt V

The Sound Repository 2 by Wizards Tell Lies, a free collection of “rare tracks, demos, early and alternative versions” at Bandcamp.

Jennifer Rothwell‘s new fashion collection uses prints based on Harry Clarke’s stained-glass windows.

• Mix of the week: My Body Full Of Stars, an Afrofuturism mix by Oyinboy.

Terry Gilliam’s title sequence for Cry of the Banshee (1970).

Endless Endless: Kraftwerk at Tumblr.

Sehr Kosmisch (1974) by Harmonia | Walky-Talky (1975) by Harmonia | Sometimes In Autumn (1976) by Harmonia 76

Weekend links 224

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Zona: concept art by Alex Andreyev for a planned TV series based on Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky.

The Black Sessions are a long-running series of concerts by international artists recorded for radio station France Inter. UK group Broadcast were recorded by the station in May, 2000. While copies of the shows can be often be hard to find, files of the Broadcast concert may be downloaded here. A fantastic performance, especially the white-hot psychedelic freakout at the end.

• Further investigations from the radio age: Invention for Radio No. 1: The Dreams (43 mins, 1964): “an attempt to re-create in five movements some sensations of dreaming—running away, falling, landscape, underwater and colour”. Voices recorded by Barry Bermange with Radiophonic manipulation by Delia Derbyshire.

• “…in his first description of Cthulhu he gives you a list of four things that Cthulhu isn’t quite like.” Nick Talbot talks to Alan Moore about HP Lovecraft. Related: one of my depictions of Azathoth appears in this list of “gods who have forsaken you”.

• Tracking the locations of JG Ballard’s Super-Cannes: an investigation by Rick Poynor. Related: houseboats, architecture and eco-disaster; Justin Sullivan photographs California’s extreme drought.

• “As her writing career existed outside the realm of respectable ‘high-lit’ fiction, she cast herself as an outsider icon.” Chris Kraus on I’m Very Into You, a collection of Kathy Acker’s emails.

• Cover design inspiring fiction: Susan Coll on how a photo of a Bauhaus chair on the cover of her new novel, The Stager, made her alter her text at the last minute.

• “People were either taken by it or felt it was the Antichrist.” MetaFilter on Clair Noto’s unmade science-fiction film, The Tourist.

The Norwood Variations is a new album by Drew Mulholland (Mount Vernon Arts Lab et al).

• Thought Maybe has a collection of the television essays made by Adam Curtis.

• From 1974: How To Make Magic, a children’s handbook of the occult.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 126 by Mira Calix.

One Minute Blasts Rising To Three And Then Diminishing (2000) by Mount Vernon Arts Lab | Dashwood’s Reverie (2001) by Mount Vernon Arts Lab | Warner’s Reverie (2002) by Mount Vernon Astral Temple

Zone music

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Undulating terrain: Stalker (1979).

Marking the boundaries of an obsession, this post follows the discovery last week of the Sine Fiction soundtracks for science fiction novels, one of which was five tracks by Jos Smolders for Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. That album set me wondering what other recordings might have been inspired by that bounded region known as the Zone, whether derived from the Strugatskys’ novel, from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker (for whom the Strugatskys provided a screenplay) or even from the real-life Zone around the irradiated Chernobyl disaster site in Ukraine.

The cult status of the book and film can be measured by the following list which I’m sure will have many omissions, not least because searching music sites for “stalker”, “zone” and “roadside picnic” yields multiple results; all three of those terms happen to also be the names of musical artists or groups, as well as the names of labels, albums and individual recordings. (I’ll skip over the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of computer games. All have music but since I’ve not played any of them I can’t say much about them.)

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The stalker’s dream from Stalker.

The first release is of course the haunting film theme by Edward Artemyev, a mere five minutes of music which nonetheless adds a great deal to Tarkovsky’s unforgettable images. Artemyev also provided music for Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Mirror (1975) yet nothing else I’ve heard by the composer resembles this piece which wouldn’t be out-of-place on a compilation of German Kosmische music from the 1970s.

While that long camera shot over waterlogged objects is still in mind, there’s the following from Nova Swing (2006) by M. John Harrison, a science fiction novel which riffs on both Stalker and Roadside Picnic:

Upstairs, Emil Bonaventure was propped upright against the pillows like a corpse, his skin yellow in the streetlight from the window, his old ribs slatted with shadows. The energy had drained out of his smart tattoos and he was breathing ever so lightly. Edith watched the pulse in his neck. She could almost see the life through the skin, the thoughts in his head, and what were they but the dreams he couldn’t any longer have? Shallow water over cracked chequerboard tiles and cast-off domestic objects, books, plates, magazines, empty tunnels smelling of chemicals, a black dog trotting aimlessly round him in his sleep on some dirty waterlogged ground neither in nor out of anything you could think of as the world, while a woman’s voice mourned open-throat from a house not far enough in the distance.

Nova Swing will be available in a new edition later this year.

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Stalker (1995) by Robert Rich & B. Lustmord.

The doomy atmospherics which have become the hallmark of Zone music begin with this album by Robert Rich and B. Lustmord. Seven tracks take Tarkovsky’s film as an inspiration with vaguely allusive titles—Undulating Terrain—and occasional snatches of dialogue buried in the mix. A superb piece of late-night listening even without the associations.

Continue reading “Zone music”

Sine Fiction

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Sine Fiction VI: Nova Express (2003) by Eucci.

More Burroughsian music, and a selection that includes another interpretation of The Ticket That Exploded. Sine Fiction is a music project curated by Aimé Dontigny that commissions electronic artists to provide soundtracks to science fiction novels. The project has been running since 2000, and has so far managed twenty releases, the most recent of which—Dontigny’s own music for Ballard’s The Drowned World—appeared in 2011. In addition to three Burroughs titles there’s another work with considerable cult status, the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, which Jos Smolders accompanies in a very minimal fashion. I’d still go for the gloriously doomy atmospheres of Stalker (1995) by Robert Rich & B. Lustmord but there’s room in the world for multiple interpretations.

All the Sine Fiction releases are available as free downloads at the No Type site or (if you prefer) at the Internet Archive.

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Sine Fiction VII: Soft Machine (2003) by Kevin M Krebs.

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Sine Fiction IX: The Ticket That Exploded (2003) by A_Dontigny.

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Sine Fiction XIV: Roadside Picnic (2004) by Jos Smolders.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres