The Corn Mother

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The latest release from A Year In The Country is the first to arrive as a manufactured compact disc rather than a hand-made artefact. Following the example set by The Shildam House Tapes, The Corn Mother is another soundtrack for a lost film (or a reflection of the same), suggesting that this is now an ongoing series within the body of AYITC releases. The film in question is, like its predecessor, a legended horror feature from the past, with a difficult production, few screenings, and a long train of rumour and mystery:

In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.

The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers as they shout “There she is! Knock her into the ground, don’t let her get away!”, in an attempt to drive the spirit of the corn mother back into the earth for next year’s sowing. […] Through related second, third and more-hand reports and interpretations of the different versions of the screenplay, it has been suggested on the one hand that The Corn Mother was a typical direct-to-video piece of exploitation fare designed to take advantage of a rapidly-expanding home video market, and on the other that while the film does indeed contain elements of such things, it is actually nearer to a folkloric fever dream and closer in spirit to arthouse experimentalism than B-movie schlock.

Track list:
1) Gavino Morretti—Ritual and Unearthly Fire
2) Pulselovers—Beat Her Down
3) The Heartwood Institute—Corn Dolly
4) United Bible Studies—From The Last Sheaf On The Braes
5) A Year In The Country—The Night Harvest
6) Depatterning—The Keeper’s Dilemma
7) Widow’s Weeds—The Corn Mother
8) Sproatly Smith—Caught In The Coppice
9) Field Lines Cartographer—Procession At Dusk

Reading the description reminds me of the similarly elusive and sinister films that are the subject of Theodore Roszak’s novel, Flicker (1991). Roszak’s novel is flawed but the scenario is a fascinating one, especially his description of the films made by enigmatic Hollywood director Max Castle. These recent soundtrack collections by A Year In The Country suggest an equally occluded (and possibly occult) history for British cinema of the 1970s and 80s, a proposal which was explored from a different angle by Emily Jones and The Rowan Amber Mill in The Book Of The Lost (2013). The Corn Mother is more overtly sinister than The Book Of The Lost, the music (and some songs) being suitably guitar-led folk pieces interleaved with passages of doom-laden electronics. I haven’t been as enthused by The Corn Mother as I was with The Shildham Hall Tapes but this is more down to my feeling somewhat exhausted by the folk-horror trend than with the individual contributions (I also like haunted houses). Gavino Moretti who provided such a marvellous opening to The Shildham Hall Tapes returns here with another opening theme that sets the mood before dissolving into a fog of mutated cries and shrieks. Halloween may be over but its spell for me always lingers through November, and albums such as this are especially suited to chill days, early twilights and long, dark nights.

The Corn Mother will be available for pre-order from 12th November.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Mechanisms
The Shildam Hall Tapes
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Book of the Lost

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A recurrent feature of the music landscape of the late 80s and early 90s was the “soundtrack for an imaginary film”, a sub-genre that proved especially popular among the electronica crowd when DJs realised they needed a description to justify their collections of downtempo instrumentals. Two of my favourite examples were produced away from the dance world: John Zorn’s Spillane (1987), and Barry Adamson’s solo debut Moss Side Story (1989), both of which took their thematic cues from crime novels and film noir. The artists on the Ghost Box label haven’t gone down the imaginary film route but many of the tracks on the Belbury Poly and Advisory Circle albums are reminiscent of TV theme tunes from the 1970s. The closest you get to an imaginary film in the Belbury sphere is the unseen giallo horror in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio with its score by Ghost Box allies Broadcast, and a title sequence by Julian House.

Given all of this, The Book of the Lost, a collaboration between Emily Jones and The Rowan Amber Mill, is a logical next step: a CD collection offering a theme from a forgotten TV series “shown on Sunday nights in the late ’70s and early ’80s” which broadcast four of the equally forgotten horror films upon which the accompanying songs are based. Between each song you hear a brief snatch of dialogue, just enough to whet the appetite without getting too involved. One of the films referred to, The Villagers, belongs to that current of British folk-horror that runs through Witchfinder General, and Blood on Satan’s Claw, to Ben Wheatley’s intoxicatingly weird A Field in England. Pastiching aside, all projects of this kind depend upon the quality of the music, and the folk-inflected songs here are very good, as is the Book of the Lost theme itself which is as spookily evocative as Jon Brooks’ Music for Thomas Carnaki.

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If that wasn’t enough, there’s a special numbered edition of the CD which comes packaged in a die-cut slipcase (above) containing cards giving details of each of the films. In addition to promotional artwork there’s also a synopsis, a production history and even a cast list. Other films are mentioned in passing—The House that Cried Wolf, Ghosts on Mopeds—that imply there was a lot more happening in Wardour Street in the 1970s than we previously suspected.

The Book of the Lost isn’t officially released until January but it’s available for purchase now at the project website.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Outer Church
The Ghost Box Study Series
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
The Séance at Hobs Lane
Ghost Box

Weekend links 183

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La table qui tourne (1943) by Robert Doisneau.

In [Gödel, Escher, Bach], Hofstadter was calling for an approach to AI concerned less with solving human problems intelligently than with understanding human intelligence—at precisely the moment that such an approach, having borne so little fruit, was being abandoned. His star faded quickly. He would increasingly find himself out of a mainstream that had embraced a new imperative: to make machines perform in any way possible, with little regard for psychological plausibility.

The Man Who Would Teach Machines to Think by James Somers.

Whenever the latest pronouncements about the imminent arrival of artificial intelligence are being trotted out I wonder what Douglas Hofstadter would have to say on the matter. You don’t hear much about Hofstadter despite his having been involved for decades in artificial intelligence research. One reason is that he’s always been concerned with the deep and difficult problems posed by intelligence and consciousness, subjects which don’t make for sensational, Kurzweilian headlines. Hofstadter’s essays on AI (and many other topics) in Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern (1985) are essential reading. James Somers’ lengthy profile for The Atlantic is a welcome reappraisal.

• The end of October brings the spooky links: When Edward Gorey illustrated Dracula |Paula Marantz Cohen on Edgar Allan Poe | Yasmeen Khan revisits Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu | Roger Luckhurst on horror from the Gothics to the present day, and Michael Newton on Gothic cinema.

•  Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life of Alan Moore is a biography of the Northampton magus by Lance Parkin. The author talks about his book here, and also here where if you look carefully you can see my Lovecraft book on his shelf.

• A crop of Halloween mixes: Boo, Forever by Jescie | Samhain Seance 2: Hex with a Daemon by The Ephemeral Man | Wizards Tell Lies & The Temple of Doom by The Curiosity Pipe | Radio Belbury’s Programme 11.

The Book of the Lost is an album by Emily Jones & The Rowan Amber Hill presenting music from imaginary British horror films. Release is set for Halloween. More details here.

Laura Allsop on Derek Jarman’s sketchbooks. Jarman’s Black Paintings are currently showing at the Wilkinson Gallery, London.

Magick is Freedom! Existence Is Unhappiness: Barney Bubbles vs. Graham Wood.

• Soho Dives, Soho Divas: Rian Hughes on sketching London’s burlesque artists.

Jenny Diski on the perennial problem of owning too many books.

Equus through the years by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Virgin Records: 40 Years of Disruptions

• At BibliOdyssey: Chromatic Wood Type

Witches at Pinterest

The Witch (1964) by The Sonics | My Girlfriend Is A Witch (1968) by October Country | You Must Be A Witch (1968) by The Lollipop Shoppe