Weekend links 658

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Also Sprach Zarathustra (1972), a blacklight poster by Asher Ein Dor.

• “Squaring the Circle (The Story of Hipgnosis) is a reasonably informative, if rather dry, look at a subject with much more potential for exploration,” says Dan Shindel, reviewing Anton Corbijn’s feature-length documentary about the album-cover design team. Sounds like a missed opportunity, on the whole, although the history of Hipgnosis has been so thoroughly explored over the course of several books (including a very recent one by Aubrey Powell) that any documentary seems almost superfluous. What I’d most like to see is something we’ll never have, a film about the company directed by the late Storm Thorgerson. And on that note, Thorgerson’s two-part documentary about art and drugs, The Art of Tripping (previously), has resurfaced on YouTube here and here.

• “LunaNet consists of a set of rules that would enable all lunar satellite navigation, communication and computing systems to form a single network similar to the Internet, regardless of which nation installs them. Setting lunar time is part of a much bigger picture. ‘The idea is to produce a Solar System internet,” says Gramling. ‘And the first part would be at the Moon.'” Elizabeth Gibney reports on plans to create a consistent time zone for the Moon.

• “Listening to 12, one cannot help but be struck by this deep expression of Sakamoto’s pain, of his human frailty, strength, and uncertainty about the future.” Geeta Dayal on Ryuichi Sakamoto’s latest album.

• At Public Domain Review: Illusory Wealth: Victor Dubreuil’s Cryptic Currencies by Dorinda Evans.

• At Aquarium Drunkard: Journey to inner space with The Groundhogs.

• DJ Food investigates the High Meadows psychedelic poster site.

• New music: Sub-Photic Scenario by Runar Magnusson.

• At Wyrd Daze: Disco Rd: 23 pages 23 minutes.

The Strange World of…Chris Watson.

Lunar Musick Suite (1976) by Steve Hillage | Lunar Cruise (1990) by Midori Takada & Masahiko Satoh | Luna Park (2006) by Pet Shop Boys

Weekend links 639

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Japanese poster for Alphaville (1965).

Peter Bogdanovich: I think we’d better have your thoughts on Godard.

Orson Welles: Well, since you’re so very firm about it. He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvellous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.

• RIP JLG. I was watching Alphaville again just two weeks ago after a DVD turned up in the local charity shop. Still the only Godard film I like 100% but “liking” seems beside the point. His influence today is everywhere, so fully absorbed into the language of cinema that people barely notice it.

• “The things that cause my gaze to linger are usually the portraits or landscapes that spark a feeling of unease, disquiet and discomfort. A shadow amongst the summer trees, a lurking silhouette reflected in a perfect blue iris, a vibrant flower in the early stages of decay.” S. Elizabeth talking to Beautiful Bizarre about her new book, The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre.

• Allow John Waters (again) to dictate your film viewing with a Letterboxd list of his favourite films, based on comments in his writings and interviews. On the subject of Godard, Waters’ Crackpot book contains a whole chapter about Hail Mary.

• Astor’s Electrical Future: Iwan Rhys Morus explores a vision of the year 2000 recounted in A Journey in Other Worlds (1894), a “scientific romance” by John Jacob Astor IV, with illustrations by Daniel Carter Beard.

• Strange Attractor has announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of an Austin Osman Spare Tarot deck.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Parrot, the Unicorn and the Golden Dragon: Some 17th Century Booksellers’ Signs.

• At Bandcamp: Andy Thomas on Chris Watson‘s post-Cabaret Voltaire career in nature recordings.

• A new outlet for cinematic obscurities: Radiance Films.

Alphaville (1978) by Klaus Schulze | Alphaville (1979) by The Monochrome Set | Alphaville (1999) by Scanner

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

Recoil and Cabaret Voltaire

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Since it was announced this week that Cabaret Voltaire will release a new album in November, here’s a short Cabs-related film that used to be impossible to see. A Sheffield art student, Nick Allday, made Recoil in 1981 as part of his course work, and managed to persuade Cabaret Voltaire to create a soundtrack:

The concept originated with raw material of video feedback and some sparse nuclear bomb footage available at the time. The idea was to represent in abstract form the cruel chaotic dysfunctional nature of the human condition with all its potential for self destruction. It was conceived as a manifestation of wretched anger, fury, and regret. (more)

Very typical of the early 1980s, in other words. The film was mentioned in a few of the group’s interviews around this time, and was also screened before some of their performances, but it otherwise remained a mystery until the footage was rediscovered and restored a few years ago. The copy of Recoil at Vimeo was uploaded by the organiser of the Gofundme launched to pay for the restoration, revealing music that sounds like an outtake from Red Mecca. (According to the post linked above this was mostly the work of Stephen Mallinder rather than the group as a whole.) And having written about Last and First Men a couple of days ago, it’s worth mentioning that Chris Watson, who was still a member of Cabaret Voltaire in 1981, recorded the natural sounds for Jóhann Jóhannsson’s film.

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As to the forthcoming album, Shadow Of Fear, I’m not the only person who finds everything credited to the group since Plasticity (1992) to be barely distinguishable from many of Richard Kirk’s solo works. Stephen Mallinder seems to be present in name only on these albums which makes you wonder what there is about a CV release that differs from a Kirk release, especially when the preview track, Vasto, sounds like more of the same. The real shadow of fear is the worry that a worthwhile project is being perpetuated for no good reason.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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

Weekend links 298

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The Gathering (2015) by Kristen Liu-Wong.

• Tom of Finland’s house in Echo Park, Los Angeles, “is a trove of homoerotic masterpieces“. The house and its former owner are celebrated in Tom House, a book by Michael Reynolds with photos by Martyn Thompson. Related: Tom House exposed by Rizzoli.

• “Underlying the heightened nature of the films was a deep, questioning soulfulness related to literary antecedents coupled with a vision of cinema open to shifting levels of perception and fantasy.” David Thompson on Andrzej Zulawski.

• Memories of the Space Age: Photos by Roland Miller of the ruins of NASA’s old launch pads, bunkhouses and research facilities. A British equivalent (and a much more modest affair) is the Highdown Rocket Site on the Isle of Wight.

• Statues allegedly made for the John Huston film of The Maltese Falcon are among the most expensive props in cinema history even though there’s still dispute about their authenticity. Bryan Burrough investigates.

• Mixes of the week: The Solar Gate: Female Private Press New-Age Music – Vol.1 by Michael Tanner, and an “alchemical” Bowie selection by The Ephemeral Man.

• “What Does It Take To Be A ‘Bestselling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.” Brent Underwood on why Amazon ratings can’t be trusted.

Edward Gorey/Derek Lamb title sequences from the PBS/WGBH show Mystery! (1981).

• A Painter Possessed: Kate Kellaway on the occult abstractions of Hilma af Klint.

Invertebrate Harmonics: a new composition by Chris Watson.

• Frozen in time: Inside Bangkok’s first ever department store.

Roly Porter’s Favourite Space Records

• Space-Age Couple (1970) by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band | Space Age Batchelor Pad Music (Mellow) (1993) by Stereolab | Space Age Ballad (2001) by Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O.