Richard H. Kirk, 1956–2021

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Q: Was the initial idea to be a music group?

Richard H. Kirk: I suppose that depends on how you define “music”. No, the initial idea was to be more of a sound group, just putting sounds together like jigsaw pieces. If the result did sound like music then it was purely coincidental.

From Cabaret Voltaire: The Art of the Sixth Sense (1984) by M Fish & D Hallberry

This was a shock, in part because I tend to think of certain artists as perpetually young even when I’ve been following them for decades. In the case of the not-so-young Cabaret Voltaire it was an easy frame of mind to slip into when Kirk and Mallinder were only photographically visible up to about 1990. After this the group resumed their former obscurity, cloaked by abstract images and Designers Republic graphics.

Oddly enough I’d been running through the early Cabs albums only a couple of weeks ago, and wondering how long Kirk was going to keep the revived group going on his own. I suppose this means that Cabaret Voltaire is now definitely finished, in which case it’s a double RIP. And just a few days ago I was reading a Mark Fisher essay on Joy Division, feeling as frustrated as I always do when Curtis and co. are praised for “channelling” (or whatever) the spirit of William Burroughs when nobody would think to connect Burroughs and Joy Division if you changed the title of the song Interzone to something else. Throbbing Gristle were closer to Burroughs personally than were Cabaret Voltaire but the influence on TG only became really overt when Industrial Records released Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, an album of Burroughs’ tape experiments. The Cabs were more important to me as a youthful reader of Burroughs’ novels for seeming to be broadcasting from inside his texts. Their early albums were disturbed and disturbing (a friend once asked me to switch off their music for this very reason), an unwholesome amalgam of dialogue taped from TV and radio, crude electronics, threatening voices, and songs that were warped into strange new shapes. This is entertainment…this is fun… I’m still amazed that their first album included a cover of No Escape, a song by psychedelic group The Seeds, which didn’t sound out of place despite the weirdness surrounding it.

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William smiles. Left to right: John Giorno, William Burroughs, Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk. Photo by Sylvia Plachy from the gatefold interior of A Diamond In The Mouth Of A Corpse (1985), a compilation album released by Giorno Poetry Systems.

Cut-up theory was a constant in the Cabaret Voltaire discography, and in many of Richard Kirk’s solo recordings, with the group starting out as Dada-inspired tape collagists* before they found a way to present their experiments in a musical form. The concept is to the fore in the title of Cabaret Voltaire’s debut album, Mix-Up, and exemplified in the track that opens side two, Photophobia, a reworked version of a Surrealist monologue that dates from the group’s days making recordings in Chris Watson’s attic. Photophobia pulls you into the same queasy dreamspace in which you find yourself when reading Burroughs’ early cut-ups, a catalogue of oneiric splicings—”they’re injecting the rivers with stainless-steel fish…a coelacanth/a body with a shrunken head…”—the phrases being increasingly overwhelmed by rising synthesizer drones and Kirk’s squeaking clarinet. Kirk’s solo debut, Disposable Half-Truths, was a cassette-only release on Industrial Records infused with the Burroughs spirit in both technique and content, offering track titles such as Information Therapy and Insect Friends Of Allah. Cabaret Voltaire continually referred to Burroughs’ speculative essay collection The Electronic Revolution in interviews but it was Kirk who extended the group’s cut-up experiments to film and video. By 1982 they’d accumulated enough of their own video material to release a VHS collection on their own music and video label, Doublevision.

If I’ve concentrated on the early recordings it’s because the post-punk period continues to seem like a miraculous moment, a space of four years when anything was possible musically, a time when Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis could record an album as uncompromisingly strange as 3R4 then have it released on 4AD and sold in racks next to albums by label-mates Bauhaus and The Birthday Party. Cabaret Voltaire took advantage of this unique period to warp expectations in their own way, and to extend the boundaries of the possible. Richard H. Kirk’s subsequent career was prolific, releasing a blizzard of albums and singles under a variety of pseudonyms (Discogs lists 42 different Kirk aliases). One of my favourite pieces from his solo recordings is White Darkness from 1993, the last track on a 12-inch single, Digital Lifeforms, credited to Sandoz. There’s a mysterious quality here that I wish he’d explored more often on his later albums instead of letting the rhythms run their course for another seven or eight minutes. The sampled voice maintains a thread of continuity with Kirk’s music before and after, as does the reference to LSD in the Sandoz name, taking us back to Mix-Up and the mescaline experiments described on Heaven And Hell. Psychedelia by other means.

* For a taste of unadorned Cabs-related tape manipulation, see The Men With The Deadly Dreams, a cassette release compiled by Geoff Rushton/John Balance which features contributions from Chris Watson and Richard H. Kirk. Note that the blog post doesn’t give an accurate description of the tape contents.

• At Vinyl Factory: An introduction to Richard H. Kirk in 10 records.
• At The Wire: two interviews with Kirk from the magazine’s archives.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Recoil and Cabaret Voltaire
Pow-Wow by Stephen Mallinder
TV Wipeout revisited
Doublevision Presents Cabaret Voltaire
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
European Rendezvous by CTI
TV Wipeout
Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo
Elemental 7 by CTI
The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire
Neville Brody and Fetish Records

Do You Have The Force?

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Forget all the Disco Sucks bollocks, this was where the creativity was. Many of the qualities of Disco that were so derided were mirror images of those qualities that were celebrated in Punk: an annihilating insistence on sex as opposed to puritan disgust; a delight in a technology as opposed to a Luddite reliance on the standard Rock group format; acceptance of mass production as opposed to individuality. It was the difference between 1984 and Brave New World: between a totalitarian nightmare or a dystopia accomplished through seduction. […] Disco’s stateless, relentlessly technological focus lent itself to space/alien fantasies which are a very good way for minorities to express and deflect alienation: if you’re weird, it’s because you’re from another world. And this world cannot touch you.

— Jon Savage

Don’t let that title fool you into expecting more blather about Space Nazis or belligerent muppets, these are not the Droids you’re looking for. Do You Have The Force? is catnip for this listener, being a compilation of electronic/dance obscurities that’s also another album compiled by the very authoritative Jon Savage. One of Savage’s curatorial hallmarks is a wandering from the beaten path in search of previously unnoticed trails and connections. This 80-minute collection continues the trend with an eclectic mix of energetic space disco and post-punk futurism, together with an extended ambient interlude by The Sea Of Wires, the British cassette world’s answer to the Berlin School of synthesizer music. I’d only heard a couple of these selections before, and the ones I had heard are all unpredictable choices: tracks by Suicide (Mr Ray) and The Flying Lizards (Steam Away) from each group’s less popular second albums; also Invocation, an obscure piece by Cabaret Voltaire from their post-Rough Trade, pre-Virgin recordings for the Disques du Crépuscule label.

Most of the unknown quantities here are all stimulating enough to warrant further investigation, even Droids (Fabrice Cuitad & Yves Hayat) whose Star Wars-themed dance groove may be excused its attachment to the wretched Lucas mythos by virtue of there having been a lot of similar opportunism at work in the late 1970s. In the notes to his album Savage mentions two chart-topping singles that might have warranted inclusion: I Feel Love by Donna Summer (previously), and the majestic Magic Fly by Space. The latter may be heard on the first Cosmic Machine collection of French electronic music, together with another track by Droids. Both of the Cosmic Machine collections make excellent companions for Do You Have The Force?, as does the four-disc Close To The Noise Floor collection, another exploration of the byways of Britain’s post-punk electronic scene which also includes an instrumental by the enigmatic Sea Of Wires. Savage ends his collection with a Mexican mix of tracks by the great Patrick Cowley, a producer who pointed the way to an electronic future he didn’t live long enough to experience for himself.

Do You Have The Force? is out now on Caroline True Records. Kudos to the label for making a CD available. Some of us still prefer to shoot lasers at spinning silver discs, and will support those who continue to produce them.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
Summer of Love
Queer Noises

Weekend links 554

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Tadanori Yokoo Emphasizes Deliberate Misalignment in Contemporary Woodblock Series.

• Another week, another Paris Review essay on Leonora Carrington. This time it’s Olga Tokarczuk exploring eccentricity as feminism. At the same publication there’s more eccentricity in Lucy Scholes‘ feature about the neglected novels of Irene Handl, a woman best known for the characters she played in many British films and TV dramas. I’ve long been curious about Handl’s writing career so this was good to see.

• “The denial of our participation in the world, [Fisher] implies—the disavowal of our desire for iPhones even as we diligently think anti-capitalist thoughts—is incapacitating. It leads to a regressive utopianism that cannot envision going through capitalism, but only retreating or escaping from it, into a primitive past or fictional future.” Lola Seaton on the ghosts of Mark Fisher.

• More ghosts: Paranormal is the latest collection of spooky, atmospheric electronica from Grey Frequency, “an audio document exploring extraordinary phenomena which have challenged orthodox science, but which have also grown and evolved as part of contemporary culture and a wider folkloric landscape.”

• “Items billed as THE BEST EVER can stop us cold, and even cause us to take them for granted, never reassessing them, as we instead gesture, often without thought, to where they sit in the corner, under a halo and backdrop of blue ribbons.” Colin Fleming on Miles Davis and Kind Of Blue.

• “Diaboliques and Psycho both achieve something very rare: a perfect plot twist but an unspoilable movie,” says Milan Terlunen.

• Richard Kirk returns once more as “Cabaret Voltaire” with a new recording, Billion Dollar.

• Even more Leonora Carrington: some of the cards from her Tarot deck.

DJ Food on Zodiac Posters by Simboli Design, 1969.

Kodak Ghosts (1970) by Michael Chapman | Plight (The Spiralling Of Winter Ghosts) (1988) by David Sylvian & Holger Czukay | The Ghosts Of Animals (1995) by Paul Schütze

Weekend links 544

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“You may if you please, call a partial View of Immensity, or without much Impropriety perhaps, a finite View of Infinity.” An illustration from Thomas Wright’s An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe (1750).

• If you read about electronic music for any length of time today you’ll eventually come across the term “pad”, referring to a feature of the music itself not the instrumentation. I’ve noticed increasing instances of this with no accompanying explanation of what the term actually refers to. Rob Wreglesworth has the answer.

• At Dangerous Minds: Richard H. Kirk talks to Oliver Hall about Cabaret Voltaire and Shadow Of Fear. No comment from Kirk as to why the new album warrants the CV name when the music is indistinguishable from his many solo works.

• Eyeball Fodder: The Art of the Occult Edition. S. Elizabeth presents artwork featured in her new book, together with links to artist interviews, including one to the interview we did for Coilhouse magazine a few years ago.

• More electronica: Music From Patch Cord Productions is a new compilation of music by Mort Garson that features some previously unreleased pieces. Great cover art by Robert Beatty as well.

• A trailer for Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, a documentary film about meteorites by Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer.

• From 2019: John Waters and Lynn Tillman in conversation. “The pair discussed Waters’s recent exhibitions and art career.”

Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions may finally be published, after a five-decade wait.

Turn your feline into a god with this cardboard Shinto shrine for cats.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 670 by Dadub.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Harry Dean Stanton Day.

John Cooper Clarke‘s favourite songs.

Meteor Storm (1994) by FFWD | The Third Chamber: Part 5 – 7pm Tokyo Shrine (1994) by Loop Guru | Fireball (1994) by Sun Dial

Weekend links 543

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Adolph Sutro’s Cliff House in a Storm (c. 1900) by Tsunekichi Imai.

• Good to see a profile of Wendy Carlos, and to hear that she’s still working even though all her albums (to which she owns the rights) have been unavailable for the past two decades. I’d be wary of praising Switched-On Bach too much to avoid giving new listeners a wrong impression. The album was a breakthrough in 1968 but was quickly improved upon by The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969) and Switched-On Bach II (1973). And my two favourites, A Clockwork Orange – The Complete Original Score (1972) and the double-disc ambient album, Sonic Seasonings (1972), are superior to both.

• “[Sandy Pearlman] told me that one of the main inspirations was HP Lovecraft. I said, ‘Oh, which of his books?’ He said, ‘You know, the Cthulhu Mythos stories or At The Mountains Of Madness, any of those.'” Albert Bouchard, formerly of Blue Öyster Cult, talks to Edwin Pouncey about BÖC’s occult-themed concept album, Imaginos (1988), and his affiliated opus, Re Imaginos.

• More electronica: Jo Hutton talks to Caroline Catz, director of the “experimental documentary” Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes.

• At the V&A blog Clive Hicks-Jenkins talks to Rebecca Law about his award-winning illustrations for Hansel and Gretel: A Nightmare in Eight Scenes.

• New music: Archaeopteryx is a new album by Monolake; What’s Goin’ On is a further preview of the forthcoming Cabaret Voltaire album, Shadow Of Fear.

Celebrating A Voyage to Arcturus: details of two online events to mark the centenary year of David Lindsay’s novel.

• “Streaming platforms aren’t helping musicians – and things are only getting worse,” says Evet Jean.

• At Spoon & Tamago: the cyberpunk, Showa retro aesthetic of anime Akudama Drive.

• At A Year In The Country: a deep dive into the world of Bagpuss.

Sinister Sounds of the Solar System by NASA on SoundCloud.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Shirley Clarke Day.

Mary Lattimore‘s favourite albums.

• Solaris, Part I: Bach (1972) by Edward Artemiev | Bach Is Dead (1978) by The Residents | Switch On Bach (1981) by Moderne