Weekend links 276

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Beautiful Void: Holy Void II (2015) by Andy Diaz Hope.

• “Feeling like a woman. Looking like a man.” Rick Poynor on the cover art for Nightclubbing by Grace Jones. Related: A One Man Show, Jean-Paul Goude’s essential film of Jones’ 1982 tour where many of the songs are better than their album versions.

• Crammed Discs’ revival of the Made To Measure series continues with the release in October of Blue Velvet Revisited by Tuxedomoon & Cult With No Name, a soundtrack from the Peter Braatz documentary about David Lynch’s film.

• “We were learning from point zero; we created something that wasn’t around before…” Hans-Joachim Roedelius talking to Bruce Tantum about his work with Cluster and Harmonia.

• “In the Shangri-La pool there are no floating impurities. Apart from myself.” Iain Sinclair swims in “the highest pool in Europe” on the 52nd floor of The Shard, London.

• From 2012: “Possible Bubbles of Spacetime Curvature in the South Pacific” by Benjamin K. Tippett.

• After 23 years of delays and bootleg versions, Backwards by Coil is being given an official release.

• “Relaxed terror”, “perky dismay” and “unspecified uncertainty”: library music at Scarfolk.

• Mix of the week: a 4-hour collection of favourite music compiled by Autechre.

Masakazu Shirane and Reuben Young make a human-size kaleidoscope.

• “I always was a weird child,” says John Waters.

• A new version of Argent by Jane Weaver.

Chaos Magic (sic): The Fashion Trend

Void (2009) by Monolake | Void (2011) by Emptyset | Void (2014) by The Bug feat. Liz Harris

Weekend links 269

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Grosses Wasser (1979) by Cluster. Cover art by Dieter Moebius.

• RIP Dieter Moebius: one half of Cluster (with Hans-Joachim Roedelius), one third of Harmonia (with Roedelius and Michael Rother), and collaborator with many other musicians, including Brian Eno and Conny Plank. Geeta Dayal, who interviewed Moebius for Frieze in 2012, chose five favourite recordings. From 2008: Cosmic Outriders: the music of Cluster and Harmonia by Mark Pilkington. At the Free Music Archive: Harmonia playing at ATP, New York in 2008. Live recordings of Cluster in the 1970s have always been scarce but in 1977 they played a droning set at the Metz Science-Fiction Festival, a performance that was broadcast on FM radio (the Eno credit there seems to be an error).

• “I’ve since had the feeling that, if the attacks against The Satanic Verses had taken place today, these people would not have defended me, and would have used the same arguments against me, accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.” Salman Rushdie on the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo killings.

• “The effect of these memories is to make you think you know the film better than you do, and wonder what it’s like actually to sit down and watch it.” Michael Wood on rewatching Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958). Related: Tipping My Fedora on the film’s source novel, Badge of Evil (1956).

“To me, it’s simple,” he says. “Fantasy became as bland as everything else in entertainment. To be a bestseller, you’ve got to rub the corners off. The more you can predict the emotional arc of a book, the more successful it will become.

“I do understand that Game of Thrones is different. It has its political dimensions; I’m very fond of the dwarf and I’m very pleased that George [R R Martin], who’s a good friend, has had such a huge success. But ultimately it’s a soap opera. In order to have success on that scale, you have to obey certain rules. I’ve had conversations with fantasy writers who are ambitious for bestseller status and I’ve had to ask them, ‘Yes, but do you want to have to write those sorts of books in order to get there?’”

Michael Moorcock talking to Andrew Harrison about fantasy, science fiction, the past and the present.

• “Architects love Blade Runner, they just go bonkers. When I was working on the film, it was all about, let’s jam together Byzantine and Mayan and Post-Modern and even a little bit of Memphis, just mash it all together.” Designer and visual futurist Syd Mead talking to Patrick Sisson.

• “Lucian of Samosata’s True History reads like a doomed acid trip,” says Cecilia D’Anastasio, who wonders whether or not the book can be regarded as the earliest work of science fiction.

• Mixes of the week: A Tribute to Dieter Moebius by Vegan Logic, and another by Totallyradio.

• The Phantasmagoria of the First Hand-Painted Films by Joshua Yumibe.

Islamic Geometric: calligraphic tessellations by Shakil Akram Khan.

Michael Prodger on The Dangerous Mind of Richard Dadd.

A chronological list of synth scores and soundtracks.

Touch Of Evil (Main Theme) (1958) by Henry Mancini | Badge Of Evil (1982) by Cabaret Voltaire | Touch Of Evil (2009) by Jaga Jazzist

German gear

Ralf and Florian, 1973. Back cover photo by Barbara Niemöller.

At that time, Kling Klang Studio was far from the technological hub it would become. “The studio was a big room in an old factory building with brick walls,” recalls [Wolfgang] Flür. “There were big home-made speakers, amplifiers and so on. Florian had his side, with his flutes and one of the very first ARP Odyssey synthesizers, while Ralf’s side had Hammond and Farfisa organs and a Minimoog synthesizer.”

Andy Gill, Mojo magazine, April 1997

Last week’s Autobahn post prompted a week of revisiting Kraftwerk’s three pre-Autobahn albums, all of which remain unreissued. The photo that fills out the back cover of the third album, Ralf & Florian (1973), has appeared here twice before so if you want an example of an obsession look no further. I only have a bootleg CD of this one, a package that doesn’t do much for the photograph so I went searching for a larger copy.

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The attractions, if you have to list them, are multiple: Ralf & Florian is Kraftwerk’s most human album, and the cover photos reflect this. Trans-Europe Express originally had pictures of the group on its sleeve (now replaced by the TEE train) but they were airbrushed, idealised portraits; the showroom-dummy personas they adopt there would turn into robots on the album that followed. There’s an overt sense of camp about the Ralf & Florian cover shots that runs counter to the tenor of rock music in 1973. The charts in Britain might have been filled with glam acts but for all their flirtatious androgyny they were selling the same assertive macho sexuality as the big rock bands of the time. One of the things I enjoy about this cover photo is its refusal to follow that crowd: the neon name signs, the standard lamp from a 1950s’ living room, Florian’s semiquaver brooch; all are effete enough to give Deep Purple the vapours. (The first UK release of Ralf and Florian replaced the cover photo of the pair with a printed circuit.) The closest comparison in the same year would be the sleeve for Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets with its shelves of dead flowers and junk-shop discoveries. But this wasn’t so surprising for an ex-member of Roxy Music, and the album is still very much a rock production.

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Then there’s the details: the egg-box soundproofing (Can used old mattresses to soundproof their studio); the enormous white speaker; the traffic cone that nods back to the sleeves of the first two albums and forward to the automotive theme of the next; Ralf’s white shoes (and is he wearing leather trousers?); Florian’s oscilloscope, his mysterious tone generators and that peculiar stringed instrument. This diverse range of gear somehow produced the music you’re listening to.

Continue reading “German gear”

Opening the Seven Gates of Transcendental Consciousness

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Wilburn Burchette Opens The Seven Gates Of Transcendental Consciousness (1972). Art by Caren Caraway.

For the next two weeks I’ll be playing out the end of the year with a 2-CD compilation from Light In The Attic, I Am The Center (Private Issue New Age Music In America, 1950–1990), 20 tracks of ambient/meditation music, most of which has never been widely distributed before. The “New Age” label is a thing I’ve loathed for years so buying this has meant trashing a decades-long embargo; it helps to examine your prejudices now and then.

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New Age in the 1970s referred, among other things, to the oft-promised, seldom-evident “Age of Aquarius”, a term vague enough to be used on albums by Steve Hillage, Manuel Göttsching and others without referring to anything specific. In the 1980s it was taken up by publishers as a marketing label, a catch-all for anything “spiritual” or mildly occult. (I can’t imagine the Goetic Demons ever being called New Age, even if you sprayed them pink.) Out went all the witchy strangeness of the occult boom of the 1970s—spiky typefaces, magical primers sold like Dennis Wheatley novels—in came a profusion of pastel shades, airbrushed pyramids and sparkly, crystal things. Having a fondness for the witchy strangeness I wasn’t impressed. I was even less impressed when New Age became a prevalent label for a style of instrumental music which was too obtrusive to be ambient (in the Brian Eno sense of the word), and also too bland and unassertive to be either jazz or electronica. The popularity of labels such as Windham Hill meant that the large record chains started using New Age as another catch-all label, this time for anything that wouldn’t fit the rock, jazz or folk categories: along with Windham Hill releases you’d find Eno’s ambient recordings, Harold Budd, Jon Hassell, various Krautrock things like Cluster, and anything else that resisted easy labelling. The way the music business tries to hammer everything into a small number of boxes has always been annoying but this seemed like a major insult, hence my loathing of the term.

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I Am The Center is a curious album in that it embraces both the recent New Age music label whilst also harking back to the spiritual yearnings of the 1970s. The general effect is of an impossible collision between the Harold Budd of Pavilion of Dreams, Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick, and the lighter moments of Alice Coltrane. Many of the tracks are so good I’ve been searching through Discogs.com to discover more about the artists which is how I came across this album art from Wilburne Burchette. Witch’s Will is Burchette’s track on I Am The Center, from his Guitar Grimoire (1973) album. Looking through his discography, with its attention-grabbing titles and cover art, it’s surprising that his albums haven’t yet been reissued. This will no doubt change soon, especially when his music is like an American equivalent of Achim Reichel’s spacey guitar improvisations. The sleeve and booklet art for Wilburn Burchette Opens The Seven Gates Of Transcendental Consciousness is by Caren Caraway, and the album also features notes by the indefatigable UFO/paranormal researcher Brad Steiger. They really don’t make them like this any more.

Joe Muggs enthused about I Am The Center last month for FACT. As I said about the Outer Church album earlier this year, compilations provide an invaluable service in concentrating the attention on overlooked or under-examined areas of music. I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges in the wake of this one.

Continue reading “Opening the Seven Gates of Transcendental Consciousness”

Weekend links 105

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A suspended fluid photograph from Demersal, a series by Luka Klikovac.

• “Soon, Mr. Lachman was writing occult music. His song “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear,” which appeared on Blondie’s 1977 album Plastic Letters, was an example.” Gary Lachman: from Blondie to Swedenborg.

Neil Krug’s cover art for the new Scissor Sisters album, Magic Hour, channels the cloudless skies and photographic surrealism of Storm Thorgerson.

Implicate Explicate, a multiple 16mm film installation by Rose Kallal. Sound by Rose Kallal & Mark Pilkington using modular synthesizers.

Despite conservative queerdom’s best efforts to hide its “otherness” behind a velvet wall of “same as you” Tom and Hank and Jill and Janes, Mattilda and her like will not be ignored. As parades of neo-nuclear same sex families mug for the cameras on courthouse steps, queer body boys parade and flex impossibly taut muscles across our nation’s gym runways and circuit parties, and far, far too many proudly proclaim in knee-jerk defensiveness how “straight-acting” they are across the net, Sycamore blows raspberries at the forced mirage and holds up faded pictures of yesteryear boys and girls whose one claim to fame once was their difference.

Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is interviewed at Lambda Literary

Paul Oestreicher, an Anglican priest, sets the cat squarely among the pigeons with the question (and answer) “Was Jesus gay? Probably.”

Andromeon, video by Alexander Tucker and Serena Korda for a new song by Alexander Tucker.

• Museums of Melancholy: Iain Sinclair on London’s memorials. An LRB essay from 2005.

FACT mix 325 is by Battles: from Boredoms to Cluster and The Alchemist.

The glass hills of Mars, “a region the size of Europe”.

Labyrinths and clues, an essay by Alan Wall.

The Alchemy of Emptiness.

Drop (1972) by Soft Machine | Drop (2002) by Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions | Airdrop (2006) by Kashiwa Daisuke.