Weekend links 416

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Cover art and design by Arien Vallzadeh, Dan Kuehn, Mati Klarwein & Taska Cleveland.

• At Bandcamp: “Jon Hassell collages the past on his absorbing new record”. The new album, Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), was released last week, and it joins the rest of Hassell’s catalogue in sounding unlike any of his other albums while still being recognisably the work of the same artist. Musical collage is a familiar technique today but was much less common thirty years ago; it’s almost a constant in Hassell’s work, however, going back to Possible Musics (1980), with its tape-looped rhythms and layered recordings, to the later Magic Realism (1983), an album which was in the vanguard of digital sampling, and which still sounds like nothing else.

• “We’re supposedly in the middle of a vinyl revival, streaming services are hoovering up all the coin, and everyone seems to have a cassette column. But, argues James Toth, it’s the humble compact disc that we should be celebrating.” No argument here, I’ve long favoured CDs over vinyl even before the current fad for overpriced antique (or not-so-antique) discs and equally overpriced new pressings.

• “Reading [Robert] Aickman’s strange stories is to glimpse a reality you would prefer to forget,” says John Gray. Among the other writers mentioned in Gray’s piece is the excellent (and under-recognised) Walter de la Mare; Wormwoodiana’s Mark Valentine reviews a previously unseen de la Mare story.

• At The Wire: Greetings Music Lover: The premiere of Steve Urquhart’s new audio documentary exploring the life and work of BBC Radio Lancashire broadcaster and Wire contributor Steve Barker.

• Out in November: k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004–2016).

• “European cinema embraces the vagina—what’s taken Hollywood so long?” asks Anne Billson.

Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller.

• “Avoid all systems”: Ex-Can vocalist Damo Suzuki is interviewed at Dangerous Minds.

• “A new room in the Great Pyramid”: lost 1963 John Coltrane album discovered.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 656 by Mor Elian, and 6 by The Ephemeral Man.

• An introduction by Erik Davis to The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson.

Pyramid Of The Sun (1960) by Les Baxter | The Giant Pyramid Sitting At The Bottom Of The Sea Of Bermuda And The Ancient People (1979) by Isao Tomita | The Obsidian Pyramid (2005) by Eric Zann

Can esoterics

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As usual, one thing leads to another. Most people who listen to Tago Mago (1971), the third album by Can, won’t be aware of the Aleister Crowley reference in the long improvisation that fills side three (track 5 on the CD). Aumgn was a spontaneous creation that includes one member of the band intoning an OM-like mantra while the other musicians clatter their way around the studio. The Crowley connection is in the unusual spelling of the title which is Crowley’s own amendment of the more familiar AUM. He explains the reasoning over several pages in Magick in Theory and Practice (1929), some of which involves the numerical values of the five letters. Not that this marks Can as Crowleyans but anyone unacquainted with Crowley’s augmented word would simply have used OM or AUM instead.

Update: I’ve been re-reading the book that came with the Can Box (1999), and came across this forgotten passage in Michael Karoli’s interview:

At the time I was very interested in magic spells, and Irmin knew of the spell “Aumgn” through me. But I had a completely different concept of what one could do with it, than to irreverently quote it in a piece of music. At the age of 21, I wouldn’t have dared to put this recklessly on an album. For me it was black magic. It was Aleister Crowley and all of that, and it gave me the creeps. I told Irmin to stop pronouncing magic spells in the room, but Irmin naturally overrode that with his arrogant grin.

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Design by Ingo Trauer & Richard J. Rudow.

The fifth studio album, Future Days (1973) has another esoteric detail on the front and back of its elegant Art Nouveau sleeve: Hexagram 50 from the I Ching, translated in the Richard Wilhelm edition as Ting / The Cauldron. The same text has the judgement for Ting as “great good success”, and the album happens to be considered one of their best musically, although it was also the end of an era when vocalist Damo Suzuki left after its release. On a more mundane level, a cauldron is a container, as is a can.

There’s also the unexplained Greek letter in the centre of the sleeve: Psi is the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, and is commonly used as a symbol for psychology although it’s also used as a symbol in quantum mechanics. This last reference might be relevant given that the piece that ends their next album, Soon Over Babaluma (1974), is entitled Quantum Physics.

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Design by Wagner Design Unit. Cover photos by Michael Karoli & Peter Hehner.

There are more I Ching hexagrams on the back of Flow Motion (1976), the group’s eighth album. Hexagram 29 is K’an / The Abysmal (Water) also known as “gorge” or “abyss”. Hexagram 59 is Huan / Dispersal (Dissolution). Taken together these could be interpreted as “flow motion” (and may well be the origin of the title—interviews with the group have seldom discussed these things) although they might also be seen as ominous signs for Can’s future. Flow Motion gave them a hit single in the UK (I Want More) but it’s also the last album that’s musically satisfying throughout. Can persevered for another two years (minus Holger Czukay) before disbanding in 1978. As to the esoterics, Rob Young is apparently writing a biography of the band so we may learn more about all of this when his book is published.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Can soundtracks
Can’s Lost Tapes

Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo

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Along with Elemental 7 by CTI, this was another Doublevision video release that I never got to see in its original videocassette form. Seven Songs is the first and arguably the best of the 23 Skidoo albums, released in 1982 on Fetish Records in a great sleeve by Neville Brody. Production was by “Tony, Terry & David” aka Ken Thomas, Genesis P-Orridge & Peter Christopherson. The latter two were still in Throbbing Gristle at the time so there’s a further connection with the CTI release. The video director was Richard Heslop who can be seen with his Super-8 camera on the inner sleeve of 23 Skidoo’s second album. Seven Songs is his first credited film work.

The videos are very much of their time, layered and cut-up images mixing footage from numerous sources—tribal rituals, totalitarian politics, animation, medical or scientific films, shots of the group performing, and so on—with the whole mélange processed through a video synthesiser. While it may look outmoded now, thirty years ago this degree of intensity and fragmentation was still radically unlike anything being offered by broadcast television. Pop video directors and ad agencies weren’t slow to adopt similar techniques for far more commercial ends. Richard Heslop went on to work with Derek Jarman, and recently directed a feature of his own, Frank. Low-quality bits of Seven Songs have been on YouTube for a while but Heslop posted the whole thing to Vimeo a few months ago along with the Tranquiliser footage that rounded out the original cassette release. 23 Skidoo are still active, and are playing a gig in London next Sunday with the former singer from Can, Damo Suzuki. Details about that event here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Elemental 7 by CTI
Neville Brody and Fetish Records