Weekend links 73


Johnny Trunk of Trunk Records reissued the soundtrack to The Wicker Man in 1997. Mr Trunk’s latest delve into the cultural past is Own Label: Sainsbury’s Design Studio, a book from Fuel examining the supermarket chain’s packaging design of the 1960s and 1970s. Creative Review shows some examples while I have to note the uncanny similarity between one of the posters for The Wicker Man and an old Sainsbury’s corn flakes box. Now we see that the Old Weird Britain wasn’t only hiding in the fields and the folk songs but was also lurking on the supermarket shelves.

Related: a new DVD set from the BFI, Here’s a Health to the Barley Mow: A Century of Folk Customs and Ancient Rural Games. And let’s not forget the ley lines of Milton Keynes, and a new edition of Ritual by David Pinner, said to be the novel which inspired The Wicker Man.

• “He wrote me…” Sans Soleil (1983), Chris Marker’s beguiling accumulation of memories, dreams and reflections, is recalled in a Quietus piece entitled Things that Quicken the Heart. Not the first time on DVD as it says there (Nouveaux Pictures released it with La Jetée in 2003) but it’s good to know it’s being reissued.

• Marker’s film references Tarkovsky’s Stalker a couple of times, most notably in the comment, “On that day there will be emus in the Zone.” Geoff Dyer has what he describes as “a very detailed study” of Stalker out next year.

I don’t like those commentators who keep on saying that London will never be the same again. London is always the same again. I remember those comments were made very loudly after the [July 2005] terrorist attacks – “London will never be the same again, London has lost its innocence” – it was all nonsense. London was exactly the same again the following day. Rioting has always been a London tradition. It has been since the early Middle Ages. There’s hardly a spate of years that goes by without violent rioting of one kind or another. They happen so frequently that they are almost part of London’s texture. The difference is that in the past the violence was more ferocious, and the penalties were more ferocious – in most cases, death.

Peter Ackroyd, reminding us that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse don’t wear hoodies and ride bikes.

Wolf Fifth: “rare vinyl records from the golden era of avant garde and experimental music”. And in FLAC as well, not crappy mp3; I want to hear all those scratches uncompressed, dammit!

Another great mix at FACT, this time compiled by snd who throw together Morton Feldman, Siberian shamen, Einstürzende Neubauten, Dome, Oval and many others.

• Colin Marshall asks “how weird is Australia?” in an appraisal of Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout.

A Comprehensive Solution to the Tokyo Umbrella Problem.

• More poster art from Hapshash and the Coloured Coat.

Morbid Excess, a series of drawings by May Lim.

Conrad Schnitzler (1937–2011) by Geeta Dayal.

Neopolitan cephalopods.

Willow’s Song (1973) by Paul Giovanni & Magnet | The Willow Song (1989) by The Mock Turtles | Wicker Man Song (1994) by Nature and Organisation.

Thomas Köner


If Main (subject of this earlier post) provide the ideal ambience for hot weather, then winter demands the chill breath of Thomas Köner. Once again, lack of decent interviews means resorting to Wire back issues which is a sign of laziness on my part and an indication of that magazine’s continued importance. For those who may have puzzled over the soundtrack list in my Haunter of the Dark book (which includes Köner’s Teimo), here’s an introduction to a unique sound artist.

The Big Chill

The arctic wastes of Siberia are a burning desert compared to the cryogenically-frozen music of Thomas Köner. Biba Kopf meets a musician whose work redefines our notions of cool.

APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, it snows the day Thomas Köner arrives in London. If anyone deserves a white carpet welcome, it is this German composer, who dedicates his music to reversing the processes of global warming. Köner’s stunning or perhaps that should read numbing debut, Nunatak Gongamur, describes the last moments of Scott’s ill-fated polar expedition. Its successor, Teimo, takes as its model the cooling molecular structure of the body after death, while his third disc carries the self-explanatory title Permafrost.

Granted, Köner’s new CD Aubrite—meaning a non-terrestrial mineral—is housed in a bright yellow jacket and is intended as a partial relief from the cold spell, but it does include a track called “Nuuk”, after the capital of Greenland.

“It’s my passion, this area where the cold slows down all movement,” explains Köner, who punctuates his conversation with a laugh so infectious he ought to can it and sell it to TV sitcom producers. “The process of slowing down and reaching this border between movement and absolute stillness is, for me, the process of simultaneously becoming very sharp and very unfocused, and that, for me is like a very excellent drug.”

This makes me think of Köner as some kind of flatliner getting off on his own near-death experiences.

“It’s a kind of design question, this temperature thing. In a cold environment, everything slows down, and everything is going towards a stop event. And that is my favourite area in sound—just before it stops. It’s an interesting border. It’s the same when people, during kind of philosophical evenings, think about life and its end. That’s also a kind of border where things stop. It’s a deep movement for me, this feeling.”

The development of Köner’s music from disc to disc is as minutely graded as the pieces they contain. The desolate blizzard-swept arctic wastes of Nunatak are created by miking-up gongs, then rubbing, scraping and electronically treating the sounds to the point where their origin is unrecognisable. Teimo is more felt than heard, you don’t so much listen as immerse yourself in it. As your ears become accustomed to its silences, you begin to pick out shapes, the shadowy aural equivalents of towering rock formations just about visible through the storm. They don’t exactly hold the promise of shelter, but they are useful coordinates to fix on to find your way into the music’s desolate beauty.

Exactly where does Köner’s music exist? His press kit carries a glowing endorsement from an Australian Buddhist, but, despite the music’s progress towards silence and nothingness, Köner denies any religious motivation. On the contrary, this confessed non-dancer, who admits the rhythms of his works are far removed from dance culture, feels closest to Techno, which has blasted contemporary music wide open to the point where any extreme goes in its chill-out interzones. Köner evidently feels enough common ground between Techno’s BPM blizzards and the snowstorms of his own music to act as sound designer on the recent Basic Channel related project Porter Ricks, on the appropriately-titled single “Port Of Transition”.

Köner has described the guiding principle behind his work as an Ästhetik der Untergang, or aesthetic of decline, a term Einstürzende Neubauten used to apply to their early performances. Unsurprisingly, Köner applies the aesthetic differently. For him it has to do with the way the natural decay of sound resembles decay in nature. The former leads to silence, the latter to death. In both cases they leave an afterglow that imprints itself on the memory. Köner’s acceptance of the process is not only personally liberating, it frees his music from the futile sense of entropy that pervades much post-Industrial Ambient stuff. Even so, Köner reports that the rare visitors to his Dortmund home see some affinity between the post-Industrial sites of a city that has seen better days and their host’s music.

“They walk around Dortmund and say that it sounds a bit like my music,” says Köner. “There are vast areas where there are no used roads, but you always have a distant railroad or a distant highway, creating an envelope of diffused sounds, so when you walk through these abandoned industrial fields, there is this silence, but with very powerful motorised sound reproducing units in the distance. And I would not give up this. I would never move to the country. Well, it’s sometimes nice to visit; but after three weeks I have to go to the nearest town, sit down and get some good diesel engines and scraping metal sounds. It’s a big pleasure for me.”

The Wire, issue 145, March 1996.

See also: koener.de

A playlist for Halloween


Der Tod als Erwürger (1851) by Alfred Rethel.

It’s a fact (sad or otherwise) that a substantial percentage of my music collection would make good Halloween listening but in that percentage a number of works are prominent as spooky favourites. So here’s another list to add to those already clogging the world’s servers, in no particular order:

Theme from Halloween (1978) by John Carpenter & Alan Howarth.
What a surprise… All John Carpenter‘s early films have electronic scores and great themes, Halloween being the most memorable, and one that’s gradually infected the wider musical culture as various hip hop borrowings and Heat Miser by Massive Attack demonstrate.

Monster Mash (1962) by Bobby “Boris” Pickett.
The ultimate Halloween novelty record. A host of imitators followed the success of this single while poor Bobby struggled to be more than a one-hit wonder. It wasn’t to be, this was his finest hour. Available on These Ghoulish Things: Horror Hits for Halloween with some radio spots by Bobby and a selection of other horror-themed rock’n’roll songs.

The Divine Punishment (1986) & Saint of the Pit (1988) by Diamanda Galás.
Parts 1 & 2 of Galás’s Masque of the Red Death, a “plague mass” trilogy based on the AIDS epidemic. These remain my favourite records by Ms Galás; on the first she reads/sings passages from the Old Testament accompanied by sinister keyboards, making the Bible sound as steeped in evil and metaphysical dread as the Necronomicon. On Saint of the Pit she turns her attention to French poets of the 19th century (Baudelaire, Gérard de Nerval & Tristan Corbière) while unleashing the full power of her operatic vocalizations. Einstürzende Neubauten’s FM Einheit adds some thundering drums. “Correct playback possible at maximum volume only.” Amen to that.

The Visitation (1969) by White Noise.
An electronic collage piece about a ghostly lover returning to his grieving girlfriend. White Noise were David Vorhaus working alongside BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson to create an early work of British electronica and dark psychedelia. The Visitation makes full use of Derbyshire and Hodgson’s inventive tape effects and probably accounts for them being asked to score The Legend of Hell House a few years later. Immediately following this is the drums and screams piece, Electric Storm In Hell; play this loud and watch the blood drain from the faces of your Halloween guests.

Zeit (1972) by Tangerine Dream.
Subtitled “A largo in four movements”, Zeit is Tangerine Dream’s most subtle and restrained album, four long tracks of droning atmospherics.

The Masque of the Red Death (1997) read by Gabriel Byrne.
From Closed On Account Of Rabies, a Poe-themed anthology arranged by Hal Willner. The readings are of variable quality; Christopher Walken’s The Raven is effective (although I prefer Willem Defoe’s amended version on Lou Reed’s The Raven) while Dr John reads Berenice like one of Poe’s somnambulists. Gabriel Byrne shows how these things should be done.

De Natura Sonoris no. 2 (1971) by Krzysztof Penderecki.
More familiar to people as “music from The Shining“, this piece, along with much of the Polish composer‘s early work, really does sound like music in search of a horror film. His cheerily-titled Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima is one piece that won’t be used to sell cars any time soon. Kubrick also used Penderecki’s equally chilling The Dream of Jacob for The Shining score, together with pieces by Ligeti and Bartók.

Treetop Drive (1994) by Deathprod.
Helge Sten is a Norwegian electronic experimentalist whose solo work is released under the Deathprod name. “Electronic” these days often means using laptops and the latest keyboard and sampling equipment. Deathprod music is created on old equipment which renders its provenance opaque leaving the listener to concentrate on the sounds rather than be troubled by how they might have been created. The noises on the deceptively-titled Treetop Drive are a disturbing series of slow loops with squalling chords, anguished shrieks and some massive foghorn rumble that seems to emanate from the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker. Play it in the dark and feel the world ending.

Ouroborindra (2005) by Eric Zann.
Another collection of sinister electronica from the Ghost Box label (see this earlier post), referencing HP Lovecraft and Arthur Machen’s masterpiece, The White People. Spectral presences haunting the margins of the radio spectrum.

Theme from The Addams Family (1964) by Vic Mizzy.
Never the Munsters, always the Addams Family! If you don’t know the difference, you must be dead.

Happy Halloween!

Previously on { feuilleton }
The music of the Wicker Man

The Final Academy


The event booklet, designed by Neville Brody.

William Burroughs’ reading in the city of Manchester took place on the 4th of October, 1982, at Factory Records’ Haçienda club, as part of the Manchester “edition” of The Final Academy, a Burroughs-themed art event put together by Psychic TV (Genesis P Orridge & Peter Christopherson) and others. A recent posting on the Grey Lodge is a torrent of The Final Academy Documents, the shoddily-produced DVD made from the low-grade video recordings that captured the event (originally an Ikon Video production from Factory). The DVD is so badly presented by Cherry Red that no one should feel guilty about downloading this.

I’ve always been grateful that a record was made of this event, however poor, since I was in the audience that evening, very conscious of the fact that this was my one and only opportunity to see Burroughs in the flesh. His appearance was the magical part of a scaled-down version of the larger two-day Final Academy that had taken place earlier that week in London. The rest of the event was either strange or underwhelming, not helped by the chilly and elitist atmosphere of Manchester’s newest and most famous club. In the days before “Madchester” and the rave scene (the period that gets excised from the city’s cultural history), the Haçienda was a cold, grey concrete barn with terrible acoustics and a members-only policy that required the flourishing of a Peter Saville-designed card at the door. The place was usually half-empty and the clientèle tended to be students living nearby.

Continue reading “The Final Academy”