Weekend links 630

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Photo by Roger Phillips, 1977.

• “…these films seem decidedly more modern than the films that followed close behind them.” Pamela Hutchinson on pre-code Hollywood.

• Space travel is time travel: NASA shows us galaxies as they were billions of years ago.

• Reverb Machine explains how Brian Eno created Ambient 1: Music For Airports.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask (1949).

• Mix of the week: The Chill Out Tent Kosmische Mix by Tarotplane.

• Old music: The Glastonbury Experience (Live 1979) by Steve Hillage.

• Deep Space 13: Stephen Mallinder’s favourite soundtracks.

• Sex and pathology: David Robb on 80 years of Cat People.

• New music: Expo Botanica by Cosmic Analog Ensemble.

Behind The Mask (1979) by Yellow Magic Orchestra | Red Mask (1981) by Cabaret Voltaire | A Ritual Mask (1983) by Peter Hammill

Exposures exposed

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This colossal collection turned up yesterday. I’m still working my way through its contents: 25 CDs, 3 DVDs and 4 blu-rays; the CDs all run for at least 70 minutes each so these alone provide about 30 hours of music. The box covers three phases of Robert Fripp’s “Drive to 1981”: his debut solo album, Exposure; his Frippertronics guitar recordings, both live and in the studio; and his short-lived New-Wave dance band The League Of Gentleman. All cult stuff in this house, obviously, you don’t buy 32 discs on a whim.

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The original vinyl. Looks like I’ll have to hold on to my LoG album (see below).

Exposure is present here in multiple versions which might seem like overkill but it’s an unusual album that was compromised from the outset by record company interference. Fripp’s original intention in 1977 was for it to be released simultaneously with two connected albums, the others being Peter Gabriel II and Sacred Songs by Daryl Hall; songs from Exposure appear in different versions on the other albums, Gabriel and Hall both sing on Exposure, and Fripp produces all three works. The problem with this ambitious scheme is that Daryl Hall was subject to greater commercial pressure from his record company than were Fripp or Gabriel; RCA not only shelved the “uncommercial” Sacred Songs for three years but they also refused to let Hall sing on all the songs Fripp had planned with him for Exposure. Record company refusals also put a stop to a planned version of I Feel Love which would have been sung by Debbie Harry. In order to rescue the album several of the Hall songs were redone with new lyrics and new performances by Terre Roche and Peter Hammill, all of which has led to the contents of the album being fluid enough to sustain the various mixes which Fripp calls “Editions”. On this new set you get early drafts with extended mixes of the Frippertronic sequences, all the alternate takes including Daryl Hall’s original vocals, and a new “Fourth Edition” mixed by Steven Wilson which was much better than I expected. Wilson has had a parallel career in recent years remixing many well-known albums from the 1970s, not always to their benefit. I’ve been listening to this album for over 40 years yet the new mix contains things I’d never heard before, as well as being heavier and punchier than it’s sounded in the past.

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Frippertronics explained.

But the real highlight for me here is all the Frippertronics material. I’ve always liked this period of Fripp’s career which was essentially a guitar-driven equivalent of Brian Eno’s ambient music, developing the process begun on the (No Pussyfooting) and Evening Star albums. Or it was in its “pure” form… “Applied Frippertronics” was the term given to the familiar Revox-looped guitar tones when used as a backing for disco-inspired instrumentals, and even a rather plodding and eccentric song, Under Heavy Manners, sung by David Byrne. In addition to copious recordings of pure Frippertronics there are also more of the applied variety in this set than I ever expected to hear.

There’s no point attempting a proper review of all this material, I’ll leave that to others. But there are a few surprising omissions worth noting. The original release of the self-titled League Of Gentleman album was framed by about 6 minutes of tape collage, Indiscreet I, II & III, made from Fripp’s recordings of friends and colleagues. These vanished from the cut-down CD release of the album in 1985, and they haven’t returned here. Also absent are similar taped moments that were mixed into the original versions of Cognitive Dissonance, HG Wells and Trap plus three shorter tracks, Pareto Optimum I, Pareto Optimum II and Ochre, all of which were tape-loop pieces with an organ as the instrument. I bought the League Of Gentleman album when it was released so it feels incomplete without the shorter musical pieces and the “indiscretions”. The omission of the latter is thrown into further relief by the proximity of Exposure which contains similar taped voices (Brian Eno, Fripp’s mother, the ubiquitous JG Bennett) scattered between the songs, yet all of these have been present in every release of the album. Worst of all, since it’s always been a favourite song, is the absence of Danielle Dax’s vocal from the new mix of Minor Man. The original sounds like this.

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Another omission is this list of principles which appeared on the back of the Let The Power Fall album and also on a postcard inside the album. It’s not really essential to appreciation of the music but it was a statement of Fripp’s philosophy in the late 1970s, and his concern with being a “small, mobile, intelligent unit” working in opposition to those he termed “dinosaurs”, ie: the big record companies like RCA who were often working against the best interests of their artists. The booklet inside the Exposures box reproduces all the artwork from the original albums plus the artist photos that appeared as postcards with some of the releases but not this item. Even if Fripp no longer agrees with its sentiments it would at least seem historically relevant.

I think I’m done now with the big DGM boxes, and yet… If there was another one collecting all the studio and live recordings that Fripp recorded with David Sylvian in the 1990s I’d be tempted. The First Day album is one I like more than most of the King Crimson music from the same period, and the pair happened to play a version of Exposure (the song) on their tour. There’s at least one high-quality bootleg from that tour in existence, plus odd tracks that only appeared on EPs, so who knows what else might be in the archives. How about it, Mr Fripp?

Further reading/viewing:
Exposure promo video
Exposures contents list
The Exposure pages at Elephant Talk
Robert Fripp interviewed in Synapse magazine, 1979 [PDF]

Televisual art

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A few words of praise for The Shock of the New, Robert Hughes’ eight-part TV series about art in the 20th century. Not that it’s ever been lacking in praise—it was lauded from the outset back in 1980—but, having read the book of the series twice, then dipped back into it on regular occasions, it occurred to me recently that I’d not seen the series itself for a very long time.

If you don’t know—and is anyone today really unaware of this?—Hughes was commissioned by the BBC and his employers at TIME magazine to travel the world presenting a history of modern art from the 1880s to the end of the 1970s. The series was part of a run of costly co-productions that flattered viewers with colour television sets (still a luxury item in the UK) while engaging the intellect; Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation, Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man and David Attenborough’s Life on Earth established the template that Hughes was required to follow. If you have the time and the money, the globetrotting is the easy part of an enterprise such as this. Much more difficult is making sense of the increasingly fragmented development of art in a century of two world wars and rapid technological change. Hughes did this by selecting a single route of evolution for each episode, often missing out significant artists or entire movements, then winding back the clock in the following episode to trace a different route that included the neglected names. Some of them, anyway. In the introduction to the book he admits the difficulty of trying to summarise a century of complex aesthetic activity and philosophy in a mere eight hours. The book is inevitably much more thorough, making the TV series seem like a sketch beside it; but there are good sketches and bad ones, and this one is exceptional.

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Hughes had an enviable talent for lucid explanation, an ability to tell you what was important about an artist or an idiom or an artistic development in a few simple, memorable sentences, free of jargon or the obfuscation that bedevils art criticism. This is best seen in his collected reviews from TIME magazine, Nothing if Not Critical (1991), which offers bite-sized appraisals of individual artists or group shows, from the Renaissance to the present day. Difficult to do well when you’re limited to a few hundred words, near impossible when you have to explain something using a minimum of words while simultaneously talking to a camera and walking down a busy Paris street. Some of his statements, like the following one, have been lodged in my memory for years:

A Rodin in a parking lot is still a misplaced Rodin, but this in a parking lot is just bricks.

“This” being Carl Andre’s oblong of 120 firebricks, Equivalent VIII, a minimalist sculpture that caused a huff of outrage from the philistine British tabloids in the 1970s. Hughes’ comment occurs when he examines the way that galleries in the same decade became frames for creations such as Andre’s, works that wouldn’t be recognised as art without the building they were situated in.

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The explication is very familiar but I’d forgotten about all the foreign travel. This seems profligate at times although it’s only the same as David Attenborough flying to a remote jungle to film a lemur or a lizard. Paintings and sculptures seen in their natural habitats, as it were, together with the locations that inspired them: van Gogh’s Arles, Matisse’s Côte d’Azur, de Chirico’s Turin, and so on. One of the axioms of Hughes’ criticism, repeated here as elsewhere, was that art has to be studied in situ, not appraised via mediated representations, whether that means halftone dots in a book, 16mm film delivered by cathode ray tube, or a gallery website. It’s an attitude I sympathise with even though I don’t visit galleries very often. Sculptures have a physical presence that doesn’t reproduce at all, while paintings are more subtle or more dramatic or more detailed or more dimensioned when you’re standing in front of them. Piranesi’s prints are big; William Blake’s paintings are very small; Max Ernst’s engraving collages are not only smaller than you expect but they’re also toned by age; Picasso’s canvases reveal the direction his brush was travelling when he painted a line in a single stroke…

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Hughes and Complex One, an artwork that few people are allowed to visit.

Something else I’d forgotten about was the artist interviews in the later programmes, especially those with land artists Michael Heizer and Walter De Maria. The final episode in the series examines the collapse of the idea of the avant-garde, with land art being presented as work that can’t be bought by wealthy collectors or appropriated by mass media. Hughes treks into the Nevada desert to see Heizer’s Complex One which at the time was all that existed of the massive site known today as City; Walter De Maria is seen walking through The Lightning Field in New Mexico accompanied by synthesizer chords from Jean-Michel Jarre’s Equinoxe. Electronic music abounds in this series, from Peter Howell’s clanging Radiophonic theme, to extracts from albums by Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno, Music For Films being a popular choice with TV producers at the time. It’s notable that the phrase “the shock of the new” only occurs once, near the very end, possibly as a capitulation to the BBC who Hughes says chose the title for him. In a later book, Things I Didn’t Know: A Memoir (2006), you’ll find another of those memorable statements:

Some new works of art have values of some kind or another. Others, the majority, have little or none. But newness as such, in art, is never a value.

I’m following this with a re-viewing of Hughes’ multi-part American Visions (1996), a history of American culture that I’ve not seen since its first broadcast. The Shock of the New is all over YouTube if you require it, also at the Internet Archive. The series took three years to create and was broadcast at 8:00pm on Sunday evenings to an audience of millions. They really don’t make them like this any more.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Robert Hughes, 1938–2012
Land art

Weekend links 601

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The Innocents (1961), one of the great cinematic ghost stories.

• “Out of the many adaptations, Jack Clayton’s [The Innocents] is considered the benchmark. The film celebrated its 60th anniversary this year, having premiered in London on the 24th of November, 1961. Considering the sheer number of competitors to Clayton’s version, it is telling of the film’s qualities that it still stands far and above its many peers. In fact, it is difficult to see James’s story without those stark black-and-white images of the film coming to mind, as well as its stunning central performance by Deborah Kerr. Suffice to say, 60 years on, James’s screen ghosts still haunt.” Adam Scovell on the many adaptations of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

• “I wanted to turn sex into art because art makes sense of life.” Jack Fritscher talks to photographer Rick Castro about gay S&M fetishes, Drummer magazine, Robert Mapplethorpe, and his BDSM porn studio, Palm Drive Video.

• “Fela was a very good human resources manager.” Lemi Ghariokwu, creator of over 2,000 album covers, talks to Nathan Evans about his time working for Fela Kuti.

I’ve been approached several times to ‘make an NFT’. So far nothing has convinced me that there is anything worth making in that arena. ‘Worth making’ for me implies bringing something into existence that adds value to the world, not just to a bank account. If I had primarily wanted to make money I would have had a different career as a different kind of person. I probably wouldn’t have chosen to be an artist. NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a little piece of the action from global capitalism, our own cute little version of financialisation. How sweet—now artists can become little capitalist assholes as well.

Brian Eno on the fool’s-goldrush du jour

• At Vimeo: The Snail on the Slope, a film of generative processes by Vladimir Todorovic based on the strange science-fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

• At Dangerous Minds: an exploration of Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies, “one of the most insane pieces of music ever written”.

• “This is how one ought to see, how things really are.” Ido Hartogsohn on Aldous Huxley’s mescaline experiments.

• Always an essential guide: The Wire magazine’s releases of year.

• The end of December brings us Alan Bennett’s diary at the LRB.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ryoji Ikeda Day.

Innocenti (1992) by Brian Eno | Innocent Square [excerpt] (2011) by Christian Skjødt Hasselstrøm | First In An Innocent World (2016) by The Pattern Forms

Weekend links 600

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My kind of window. From a collection of machine-learning images by Unlimited Dream Co. Via Bruce Sterling.

• “I will never call myself a queer. That word is one of the things that I detest that has happened, and it’s almost being forced now. For me, you cannot separate that word from the hatred and violence that once accompanied it. When I read it being used in The New York Times, I think, ‘It’s their word and they can fucking have it all they want.’ I will never use ‘queer.’ It’s an ugly word.” John Rechy, still active at the age of 90, talking to Jeff Weiss about hustling, social opprobrium, and his pioneering books.

• “At a time when we are being constantly told that humanity is destroying the planet, it is somehow comforting to see nature not merely outlasting, but triumphing over humanity’s constructions—as nature does in many of Piranesi’s Views of Rome.” Alasdair Palmer on Piranesi’s peerless renderings of Roman ruins.

• “The magical aspect of Get Back is its total refusal to adhere to the standard tropes of music documentaries. There are no talking heads commenting on the Beatles’ greatness, no continual barrage of quick edits and highlights.” Geeta Dayal on Peter Jackson’s resurrection of the Fab Four.

But men are not traditionally meant to be objects of art. “Men look at women,” John Berger wrote. “Women watch themselves being looked at.” When men look at men, however, they break rules. “I didn’t set out to be radical,” says Miller. “But I was at a fair and I had a huge nude on a stand by Michael Leonard. I’d only been open ten minutes and a woman started having a go and saying it’s filth. What I found fascinating is she’d walked past a whole span of female nudes. I think society is just immune to female nudity. People don’t see it. If you take this to the straight world of an art fair, it provokes reactions other dealers don’t get. There isn’t anyone else like me.”

Tony Wilkes talks to Henry Miller, owner of an art gallery devoted to the male form

• “I imagine men with starched collars, horrified by an animal with no hard edges to grab onto, no solidity to venerate. Something low, lateral, creeping.” Fiona Glen on “Devil Fish”, Cthulhu and cephalomania.

• I like glowing things so Brian Eno’s glowing record turntable has an immediate appeal. A shame it’s a very limited production which is almost certainly sold out by now.

• The next release on the Ghost Box label will be A Letter from TreeTops by Pneumatic Tubes.

• At Dangerous Minds: A Sight for Sore Eyes Vol. 1, a visual history of The Residents.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on the supernatural thrillers of Archie Roy.

• Mix of the week: A reflection on 2021 at A Strangely Isolated Place.

Swan River Press looks back over a year of book production.

• New music: Spherical Harmonics by Joseph Hyde.

Octopus’s Garden (1969) by The Beatles | The Kraken (2006) by Hans Zimmer | Kraken (2017) by Dave Clarkson