Phantom Cities by The Sodality of the Shadows

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Book by HV Morton (1926) not included.

I like night music, any kind of night music, whether it be the shimmering sonorities of Béla Bartók and George Crumb, Julee Cruise exploring the dark, or the rumbling atmospheres of Thomas Köner. Phantom Cities by The Sodality of the Shadows is night music of another kind, more musically determined than the numerous purveyors of post-Köner dark ambience, with a character defined by weird fiction. The latter quality is perhaps inevitable given the people who comprise the group: Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker have been running Tartarus Press for the past 30 years; Mark Valentine is an author and editor (and occasional publisher) of many story collections, and Jon Mueller’s name has appeared here in the past via the soundtrack CD for the Swan River Press edition of The House on the Borderland that I illustrated. Phantom Cities sidesteps Robbe-Grillet’s Topology of a Phantom City for an older lineage, looking back to Arthur Machen (the group’s name is borrowed from a secret society formed by Machen and AE Waite) and the spectral metropolis of pre-war London photographed by Harold Burdekin in London Night (1934). The music is slow, sombre and reverberant; guitars pluck notes from the embracing dark while Mueller’s drums maintain a funereal pace; sporadic squalls of feedback suggest a deeper darkness, the latent possibilities of unpeopled streets. Mark Valentine had an earlier musical persona as The Mystic Umbrellas but his contribution here is textual accompaniment in the form of 12 fictional pieces, some of which are read by Rosalie Parker over and between the music. This isn’t a collection of readings, however, the album may be taken either as illustration of Burdekin’s photos and the texts or as a work that stands alone. A soundtrack for the longer nights of encroaching autumn.

Phantom Cities
Strange Houses Of Sleep

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Smoke
Two albums
Thomas Köner

Weekend links 392

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Art by Twins of Evil for the forthcoming blu-ray from Arrow Academy.

Images (1972), the film that Robert Altman made between McCabe and Mrs Miller and The Long Goodbye, is the closest the director came to outright horror. A disturbing portrait of mental breakdown, with Susannah York in the lead role, and photography by Vilmos Zsigmond, the film has for years been so difficult to see as to be almost invisible. Arrow Academy will remedy this situation in March next year with a new blu-ray restoration. Related: Geoff Andrew on where to begin with Robert Altman.

• “[Johnson] is a paltry, utterly conventional, upwardly mobile, morally squalid parvenu who yearns to be taken for what he isn’t.” Jonathan Meades‘ vitriol is in a class of its own, here being deployed in a review of Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson by Douglas Murphy.

• “These films, all preserved in the BFI National Archive, are known as Orphan Works. When the rights-holder for a film cannot be found, that film is classified as an Orphan Work.” 170 orphaned films have been added to the BFI’s YouTube channel.

Don’t romanticize science fiction. One of the questions I have been asked so many times I’ve forgotten what my stock answer to it is, ‘Since science fiction is a marginal form of writing, do you think it makes it easier to deal with marginal people?’ Which—no! Why should it be any easier? Dealing with the marginal is always a matter of dealing with the marginal. If anything, science fiction as a marginal genre is more rigid, far more rigid than literature. There are more examples of gay writing in literature than there are in science fiction.

Samuel Delany in a lengthy two-part interview with Adam Fitzgerald

• One of the books I was illustrating this year was The Demons of King Solomon, a horror anthology edited by Aaron French. The collection is out now; I’ll post the illustrations here in the next month or so.

• Mixes of the week: Routledge Dexter Satellite Systems by Moon Wiring Club, No Way Through The Woods: A Conjurer’s Hexmas by SeraphicManta, and FACT mix 632 by Priests.

• Also at the BFI: Adam Scovell on a film adaptation of MR James that predates Jonathan Miller’s Whistle and I’ll Come To You (1968) by 12 years.

• At Weird Fiction Review: Jon Padgett on absurd degenerations and totalitarian decrepitude in The Town Manager by Thomas Ligotti.

• At Larkfall: Electricity & Imagination: Karl von Eckartshausen and Romantic Synaesthesia.

• It’s the end of December so the London Review of Books has Alan Bennett’s diary for the past year.

Aquarium Drunkard‘s review of the year’s best music.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Lotte Reiniger Day.

Robin Rimbaud is In Wild Air.

• Dream Sequence (Images II) (1976) by George Crumb | Images (1977) by Sun Ra | Mirror Images (1978) by Van Der Graaf

Let England Shake

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Design by Michelle Henning, drawings by PJ Harvey.

An album that’s been a continual visitor to the Coulthart CD player over the past few months, Let England Shake was consciously composed like George Crumb’s Black Angels “in time of war”, referencing not only wars present but those long past. Coiled around the bellicose theme is a portrait of a nation whose patriotism is built on sand. England did shake this year, and the unavoidable correlation of PJ Harvey‘s words with the events of the summer makes her album stand in relation to 2011 the way The Specials’ Ghost Town did to 1981.

In addition to the CD, Let England Shake also comes as a DVD of a dozen short films by photographer Seamus Murphy, one film for each song. Harvey and Murphy have very generously put the full set on YouTube in HD. Follow the links below.

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Let England Shake

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The Last Living Rose

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The Glorious Land

Continue reading “Let England Shake”

A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic

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Bluebeard (1982) by János Kass.

I thought I might not be able to do a fresh playlist this year, so much has already been covered by the previous lists (see the links below to earlier posts).

The search for new tonalities and timbres in 20th-century orchestral music led many composers to produce works that sound like—and have been used as—horror film soundtracks although you’ll never find critical discussion acknowledging such a vulgar reaction. This is a very masculine list although some of the performers are women. I might have included Diamanda Galás but she was in the first list, as was Delia Derbyshire with her associates in White Noise, the subject of a longer post here.

The Isle of the Dead (1909) by Sergei Rachmaninov
Mentioned here a few days ago, Rachmaninov’s suitably sombre piece is one of many compositions to borrow the medieval Dies Irae hymn for one of its themes.

Bluebeard’s Castle (1911) by Béla Bartók
Frank Zappa once said that his initial response upon hearing the music of Edgard Varèse was “These chords are mean; I like these chords.” I feel the same about Bartók’s music which can get very mean indeed. The obvious piece to mention would be the Adagio from Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste which Stanley Kubrick used in The Shining. Instead I’ve selected Bartók’s only opera, a psychodrama for two performers and orchestra in which Bluebeard’s new wife, Judith, explores the castle (which also represents her husband’s character) only to find everything there stained with blood.

Visage (1961) by Luciano Berio
In which Berio records his wife and frequent collaborator, Cathy Berberian, then dissects her vocalisations to disturbing effect. “Visage contains no singing, and virtually no words,” says Martin Butler. “The product of days of gruelling recording for Berberian (leaving her physically damaged), it instead consists of her laughter, moans and groans, snorts and wheezes, and gibberish, all brilliantly edited, filtered, distorted and mixed with electronic backing. It is a remarkable demonstration of the power of the wordless voice. The effect is shocking and extreme, but also hilarious and touching – and often all these things simultaneously.”

Bohor (1962) by Iannis Xenakis
In addition to making some of the most thrilling and advanced new music of the 20th century, Xenakis chose great titles for his compositions, frequently unusual words. Bohor is a recording of layered sound sources that include a Laotian mouth organ, prepared piano, Iraqi and Hindu jewellery, and should ideally be heard with the sounds surrounding the listener. Intended by its composer to represent “the onset of madness”.

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Design by Paula Bisacca.

Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Maya City, Destroyed by Themselves for Religious Reasons (1966) by Giacinto Scelsi
And speaking of great titles… The Italian composer uses orchestra, a choir and an Ondes Martenot to convey an ancient apocalypse. Part III was selected by Robbie Robertson (along with works by other composers listed here) for the Shutter Island soundtrack.

Lontano (1967) by György Ligeti
Stanley Kubrick used Ligeti’s music in three of his films. Lontano‘s piercing harmonics and growling chords prowl through The Shining together with pieces by Bartók and Penderecki.

Black Angels: Thirteen Images from the Dark Land (1970) by George Crumb
Many of the pieces here jangle the nerves but none more than Crumb’s composition for string quartet, glass and metal instruments, a part of which is used in The Exorcist. Composed “in time of war”, it’s a howl of despair whose opening manages to be even more disturbing than Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. The 1990 Kronos Quartet recording is essential.

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Logos (Rituel Sonore) (1970) by Igor Wakhévitch
“Sound ritual for pop group, mixed choir and magnetic tape.” The first album by the elusive French composer, a composition for a ballet, described by Alan Freeman as “a soprano singer, strange orchestral textures and percussives (drums, cymbals, gongs, etc.) blended with effects and processing. As the ominous percussion sets off with drum-rolls and ritualistic tension, the mood is of a looming anticipation of what is to come. Here we go through phases of weird swirling effects, vivid reverb and atmosphere. The tension becomes overpowering, yet we are led on…”

The Dream of Jacob (1974) by Krzysztof Penderecki
The Polish composer wrote for film soundtracks as well as the concert hall so it’s no surprise that his work can be heard in The Exorcist, The Shining and Shutter Island. The atmosphere of sustained malevolence in this piece is perfect for Kubrick’s haunted house. Whatever Jacob was dreaming about, it wasn’t pleasant.

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Design by Heung-Heung Chin.

Necronomicon (2004) by John Zorn
A five-part composition for string quartet from Zorn’s Magick album.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Powell’s Bluebeard
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
A playlist for Halloween
The music of Igor Wakhévitch

The art of Bob Pepper

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Forever Changes (1967) by Love.
Art by Bob Pepper, design by William S. Harvey.

Following yesterday’s post about Philip K Dick covers (and Erik Davis’s appraisal of the DAW cover), I decided to check out Bob Pepper’s work a bit more and it quickly became obvious I should have joined the dots with this particular artist years ago. Pepper’s work not only decorates one of the recognisable record sleeves of the late Sixties (above), he was working shortly afterwards as an illustrator on the celebrated series of fantasy reprints edited by Lin Carter for Ballantine books. Pepper’s connections with Elektra Records also saw him provide sleeve art for some of the eclectic releases on their Nonesuch label. What’s surprising to me now is the realisation that I’d been seeing his work for years in a variety of places and never noticed it was the same artist. Better late than never, I suppose.

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Four more Dick covers for a series of six published in 1982 to coincide with the release of Blade Runner. As with the cover for A Scanner Darkly (in the earlier post) these paintings are all portraits.

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A Voyage to Arcturus (1968) by David Lindsay.

It was the success of the publication of The Lord of the Rings in America which inspired Betty Ballantine to publish a line of fantasy classics in the late Sixties. The series began its run in 1969 and continued until 1974. Lin Carter was commissioned as editor and given free reign to choose any title he thought might be suitable with the result that many of the books in the series—obscurities such as Lud-in-the-mist by Hope Mirrlees—received their first paperback publication. Carter also reprinted personal favourites which frequently shifted from fantasy to outright horror, such as the titles from HP Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson. The range and scope of this line is what makes the series so notable today and the books have become highly-collectable as a result. Many artists were involved in producing the distinctive cover designs and Pepper’s illustrations were featured on the covers for Mervyn Peake, Lord Dunsany and James Branch Cabell, among others. Unfortunately the various pages devoted to these books aren’t very good at showing the paintings to their best advantage. For a long time Pepper’s cover for A Voyage to Arcturus was one of the few editions available that managed to show a scene from the book, rather than a generic sword-wielding barbarian.

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The Wild Bull (1968) by Morton Subotnick.

Nonesuch Records was Elektra’s subsidiary classical music label which not only produced classical recordings but also recordings from around the world in their Explorer series, and a range of original works of contemporary electronic music. I’m not positive that the sleeve above is a Pepper painting but it certainly looks like it. This is another surprise since I’ve had Morton Subnotnick‘s album on a reissue CD for years (with different artwork). The George Crumb recording below is Pepper’s work and I’ve had the original vinyl of that one for several years. The similarity between that sleeve and the one for Love is striking.

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Flesh (1969) by Philip José Farmer.

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Golden Rain – Balinese Gamelan Music – Ketjak: The Ramayana Monkey Dance (1969) by Various Artists.
Art by Bob Pepper, design by William S. Harvey.

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Ancient Voices of Children (1971) by George Crumb.
Art by Bob Pepper, design by Robert W. Zingmark.

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Driftglass (1971) by Samuel R. Delany.

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Debussy’s Greatest Hits (1972).

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Concerto For Harpsichord And Five Instruments by Manuel De Falla (no date).

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Ellison Wonderland (1974) by Harlan Ellison.

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Fiestas of Peru: Music of the High Andes (1975) by Various Artists.
Art by Bob Pepper, design by Jo Ann Gruber.

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Flower Dance: Japanese Folk Melodies (no date) by Kofu Kikusui, The Noday Family, Nakagawa & Oishi.
Art by Bob Pepper, direction by William S. Harvey, design by Elaine Gongora.

Pepper is retired now but produced artwork for Dark Tower, a fantasy boardgame, in 1981. The game still has its enthusiasts, and this site features a short interview with the artist.

Update: more about the Ballantine covers.

Update 2: a large scan of the George Crumb cover art.

Update 3: More album and book covers added.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive
The book covers archive
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton}
Philip K Dick book covers
Masonic fonts and the designer’s dark materials