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.

Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire

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The current issue of The Wire has a great appraisal by Keith Moliné of the musical history of Cabaret Voltaire, a well-timed piece given the recent announcement of forthcoming reissues from Mute Records. Having been a Cabophile from the start I’m rather biased but the Wire piece has had me listening to the early albums and singles this week (between bouts of Zdenek Liska), and finding the passage of time has made those early recordings seem increasingly strange. Cabaret Voltaire were one of the few groups I liked obsessively enough to collect ephemera from newspapers and magazines. Knowing this, a friend gave me this curious fanzine/ticket from a gig the group played in Liverpool in February, 1981. The venue was Plato’s Ballroom at Pickwicks, and judging by the wording inside—”A Plato’s Publication”—it seems it was the venue’s idea to make the ticket a small (10.5 x 15 cm) booklet.

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What’s surprising about this is that the fanzine the ticket is bundled with has nothing at all to do with music (or that other perennial of 80s post-punk culture: left-wing politics) but is a glimpse of life as a gay man in Liverpool. I’ve always found this fascinating for the daring it took to foist the thing on a bunch of unwitting Cabs fans, most of whom would have been straight men and not especially sympathetic to the subject matter. In the context of 1981 forcing people to look at grainy shots of naked men with accompanying text (by another man) declaring them to be a turn-on was a transgressive act. The only representations of anything gay in the popular media were a few camp (and therefore safe) comedians; Derek Jarman was still an underground figure, and as late as 1984 a BBC play about gay men was prefaced with a warning about its “contentious” subject.

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I’ve no idea who was responsible for the fanzine, there are no credits, and it’s possible that the people involved didn’t want to be too easily identified. If the tone of the writing seems rather dramatic then, again, it’s important to see it in context of a country which wasn’t much more amenable to gay people than Russia is today. Saying things in public that most people didn’t want to hear was a challenging act; emotions often ran high.

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Looking for information about the gig turned up this newspaper ad. (Who were Jell and Aardvarks, I wonder?) By an odd coincidence only the day before I’d found this upload from the same person of a very scarce compilation tape that happens to be from the same year, and which features contributions from Cabaret Voltaire’s Chris Watson and Richard Kirk. The Men With The Deadly Dreams was compiled by Geoff Rushton, aka John Balance of Coil, and was apparently limited to 200 copies. Among the other highlights there’s a track from Eyeless in Gaza, whose early work I like a great deal, and an electronic piece by Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter which I think is exclusive to this collection. Two artefacts—fanzine and tape—with brown paper covers that give a snapshot of Britain’s underground culture in 1981.

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Continue reading “Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire”

Weekend links 25

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A commemorative Borges coin.

He says, “Two aesthetics exist: the passive aesthetic of mirrors and the active aesthetic of prisms. Guided by the former, art turns into a copy of the environment’s objectivity or the individual’s psychic history.” There, of course, he sums up all of realism, no? “Guided by the latter, art is redeemed, makes the world into its instrument and forges, beyond spatial and temporal prisons, a personal vision.” That’s Borges.

The Borges Behind the Fiction: Colin Marshall talks to translator Suzanne Jill Levine. Related: The Garden of Forking Paths.

• From The Quietus: Blondie in Conversation with William S. Burroughs by Victor Bockris, 1979; An Interview with Laurie Anderson by Robert Barry, 2010.

In 962 Abd-er Rahman III was succeeded by his son Al-Hakim. Owing to the peace which the Christians of Cordova then enjoyed […] the citizens of Cordova, Arabs, Christians, and Jews, enjoyed so high a degree of literary culture that the city was known as the New Athens. From all quarters came students eager to drink at its founts of knowledge. Among the men afterwards famous who studied at Cordova were the scholarly monk Gerbert, destined to sit on the Chair of Peter as Sylvester II (999–1003), the Jewish rabbis Moses and Maimonides, and the famous Spanish-Arabian commentator on Aristotle, Averroes.

Entry for The Diocese of Cordova from The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917).

Professor Newt’s Distorted History Lesson. A riposte to the ignorance of the wretched Gingrich. Related: the Mezquita de Córdoba.

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Jorge Luis Borges and a cat. Via.

Joseph and His Friend—A Story of Pennsylvania (1870) by Bayard Taylor, America’s first (?) gay novel. Related: 20 classic works of gay literature.

Elegies For Angels, Punks and Raging Queens at the Shaw Theatre, London, from 10–28 August 2010.

• Tristan Perich’s 1-Bit Symphony is released later this month. Café Kaput’s first release, Electronic Music in the Classroom by DD Denham, appears in September.

• “Just relax and enjoy it.” k-punk on the ambition and vision of David Rudkin’s Artemis 81.

• Chris Watson explores Alan Lamb’s The Wires: three audio recordings to download.

• Jonathan Barnbrook: Tuxedomoon fan, 1988, and Tuxedomoon designer, 2007.

• Rob Young’s Electric Eden reviewed by Michel Faber.

Brian Eno gets the Warp factor.

No Tears (1978) by Tuxedomoon; Atomic (1979) by Blondie; Everything You Want (1980) by Tuxedomoon; Next One Is Real (1984) by Minimal Compact; Hologram (2010) by These New Puritans.

Chris Watson: Oceanus Pacificus

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This is worth noting even though it’s nearly over, a short presentation of sound recordings by Chris Watson at the alt.gallery, Newcastle. Watson was a founder member of one of my favourite groups of the post-punk era, Cabaret Voltaire. He left CV in 1981 and shortly thereafter formed The Hafler Trio, an experimental audio outfit with whom I conducted some correspondence for a couple of years. I still have a letter somewhere signed by the group authorising me to act (creatively) on their behalf, a licence I’m sorry to say I never took advantage of beyond sneaking the name of their enigmatic mentor, Robert Spridgeon, into the Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. Watson today is an internationally renowned wildlife sound recordist, responsible for a number of stunning CDs on the Touch label, as well as much work for television documentaries. The alt.gallery exhibition runs to August 6, 2008.

Oceanus Pacificus brings the sounds of the largest ocean, encompassing almost a third of our planet, into one of the UK’s smallest galleries. This unique four channel sound installation is created from nighttime underwater recordings of the Pacific Ocean.

Recorded at the depth of three metres, reflecting the exact physical dimensions of the gallery space, the installation presents underwater voices, rhythms and movements rarely heard by the human ear. The ebb and flow of the Humboldt Current creates a seductive and harmonic rhythm as cold water wells up from the depths, drawing up the sounds of life.

The recordings were made on location around the Galapagos Islands 1000km off the coast of Ecuador, using a pair of Dolphin Ear Pro Hydrophones onto a NAGRA ARES-PII digital audio recorder. The four hydrophones were fixed on a square wooden rig and suspended three metres below the surface at night to capture the voices and rhythms of this hostile environment.

Chris Watson is a sound recordist specialising in natural history with a particular and passionate interest in recording the wildlife sounds of animals, habitats and atmospheres from around the world. He is interested in the quality, depth and diversity of sounds produced by water, from single drops to streams, ice sheets, glaciers, waterfalls and oceans. He has described the sounds of water as “the music of another medium”.

He is one of the most prolific and versatile figures working in sound today. In 1971 he was a founder member of the influential Sheffield-based experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire and in 1981 was a member of The Hafler Trio. His sound recording career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television. Since then he has worked with David Attenborough on BBC TV productions such as The Life of Birds and The Blue Planet.  In 1998 he won a BAFTA for Best Factual Recording for The Life of Birds.

He has produced various sound installations, including Whispering in the Leaves commissioned by AV Festival 08 and Forma. From 19 July – 2 November he will be presenting the sound installation Cima Verde as part of Manifesta 7 in Italy.

The 7” record Oceanus Pacificus was released by Touch in 2007 as part of the Touch Sevens series of 7” vinyl only releases. For further information please visit www.touchmusic.org.uk/touchsevens.

www.chriswatson.net

Previously on { feuilleton }
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures
The Avant Garde Project