Unearthly tones

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Design, as always, is by Julian House.

“…we shall only be delivered from our afflictions by sayings and doings that are altogether irrational, paradoxical, and magical: the wild songs of fairyland, sung to unearthly tones, are the only medicine for the heartache and the headache of humanity.”

Arthur Machen, A Note on Asceticism (The Academy, 27th May, 1911)

This quote from the Apostle of Wonder, which will appear on the forthcoming album from Belbury Poly, is one I hadn’t seen before; serves me right for not subscribing to Faunus where the piece was reprinted in 2017. It’s been a while since Machen’s name has appeared in association with Ghost Box even though the label originates from the same area of South Wales that was the writer’s birthplace, a detail that gave the early Ghost Box releases additional resonance. One of the attractions of the Ghost Box recordings was the intersection between quotes and titles from weird literature with electronic music derived from library albums and theme tunes from the 1960s and 70s; Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, as Broadcast & The Focus Group memorably put it. It was a beguiling mix which the label’s more recent releases have increasingly diluted: the rear-view musical themes are still in evidence but the weird quotient has been diminished, giving the listener a box without a ghost. (Pye Corner Audio, whose last album was an exploration of subterranean realms, is a notable exception.) I feel uncomfortable drawing attention to this since it’s tantamount to saying “Please don’t change!”. But it’s also the case that a label devoted solely to Basil Kirchin pastiches might never have attracted my attention in the first place.

The description of new Belbury Poly album, The Gone Away, reaffirms the label’s commitment to its weirder side:

The Gone Away’s 11 tracks are inspired by British fairy folklore, especially its recurrent themes of things that always seem on the point of leaving or vanishing. Also there’s the notion of things that can’t be seen head on but are only glimpsed from the corner of the eye. A scorned and neglected corner of folklore, beguiling and bonkers in equal measure. Of course, this being a Ghost Box record, these themes are received through the prism of old TV soundtracks, and the credulous beliefs and childhood obsessions of a pre-digital age.

Anyone who’s read Arthur Machen’s The Shining Pyramid will know that fairy folklore in his stories conceals a darker and more malevolent manifestation of the supernatural. His comment about “unearthly tones” suggests a different point of view. The Gone Away will be released on 28th August.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The White People by Arthur Machen
Ghost Box

Weekend links 525

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Polish poster by Franciszek Starowieyski, 1970.

• Tony Richardson’s Mademoiselle (1966) is one of those cult films that’s more written about than seen, despite having Jeanne Moreau in the lead role as a sociopathic schoolteacher, together with a screenplay by Marguerite Duras and Jean Genet, plus uncredited script-doctoring by David Rudkin. John Waters listed the film as a “guilty pleasure” in Crackpot but it’s been unavailable on disc for over a decade. The BFI will be releasing a restored print on blu-ray in September.

“While the hurdy-gurdy’s capacity to fill space with its unrelenting multi-tonal dirge is for some the absolute sonic dream, for others it is the stuff of nightmares.” Jennifer Lucy Allan on the pleasures and pains of a medieval musical instrument.

• “I truly believed”: Vicki Pollack of the San Francisco Diggers talking to Jay Babcock for the fifth installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists.

• “If you want to call yourself a composer, you follow every step of the instrumentation.” Ennio Morricone talking to Guido Bonsaver in 2006.

Dutchsteammachine converts jerky 12fps film from the NASA archive to 24fps. Here’s the Apollo 14 lunar mission: landing, EVA and liftoff.

• New music: Suddenly the World Had Dropped Away by David Toop; Skeleton and Unclean Spirit by John Carpenter; An Ascent by Scanner.

Peter Hujar’s illicit photographs of New York’s cruising utopia. Not to be confused with Alvin Batrop‘s photos of gay New York.

• Mixes of the week: XLR8R Podcast 651 by Dave Harrington, and Mr.K’s Side 1, Track 1’s #1 by radioShirley & Mr.K.

Simon Reynolds on the many electronic surprises to be found in the Smithsonian Folkways music archive.

The Gone Away by Belbury Poly will be the next release on the Ghost Box label.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Ed Emshwiller Day.

Shirley Collins’ favourite music.

Mademoiselle Mabry (1969) by Miles Davis | Hurdy Gurdy Man (1970) by Eartha Kitt | Danger Cruising (1979) by Pyrolator

Weekend links 517

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Edward James by René Magritte; La Reproduction Interdite (1937).

• “James was filmed in the late 1970s, striding round Las Pozas in a sweater and a tattered dressing-gown, surmounted by parrots (The Secret Life of Edward James can be seen on YouTube). When asked what motivated him, he replied: ‘Pure megalomania!’ He was having his second childhood, he said, though he wasn’t sure the first had ever ended.” Mike Jay on lifelong Surrealist, Edward James (1907–1984), and the concrete fantasia he built in the Mexican jungle.

• “I found the roots of electronic music in a cupboard!” Musician Paul Purgas (one half of Emptyset) on the discovery of early electronic music from India’s National Institute Of Design. Related: Purgas talks about his discovery with Patrick Clarke.

• RIP Phil May. Here’s The Pretty Things in their guise as psych band “Electric Banana” for an appearance in What’s Good for the Goose (1969). A decent moment in an otherwise terrible film.

• Music is a memory machine: David Toop explores how the transmission of music between disparate cultures can be a tool against populism and prejudice.

• Kraftwerk’s remarkable journey, and where it took us: Bob Boilen and Geeta Dayal discuss the tanzmusik of Düsseldorf.

• At Dangerous Minds: Acid Drag & Sexual Anarchy: Fifty years ago The Cockettes turned drag upside down.

Hua Hsu on the secret lives of fungi: “They shape the world—and offer lessons for how to live in it”.

• The great writer who never wrote: Emma Garman on the flamboyant Stephen Tennant.

• Cult 1998 PlayStation game LSD: Dream Emulator is finally playable in English.

Jim Jupp of Ghost Box records talks about the Intermission compilation album.

Jonathan Moodie on psychoactive cinema and sacred animation.

Alex Barrett on where to begin with Akira Kurosawa.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Skeletons.

Skeleton Makes Good (1982) by Captain Beefheart & The Magic Band | Red Skeletons (1996) by Coil | Kids Will Be Skeletons (2003) by Mogwai

Weekend links 516

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Bats in space: an illustration by Henrique Alvim Corrêa from a 1906 edition of The War of the Worlds.

• Auf wiedersehen to Florian Schneider. Until he left Kraftwerk in 2009 (or 2006 or whenever it was), Schneider had been the group’s longest-serving member, keeping things running for the few months in 1971 when Ralf Hütter was absent. The brief period when Kraftwerk was Schneider plus soon-to-be-Neu! (Michael Rother, guitar, and Klaus Dinger, drums) fascinates aficionados over-familiar with the later albums. The music they produced was a wild and aggressive take on the rock idiom but Scheider maintained the link with Kraftwerk before and after, not only instrumentally but with his ubiquitous traffic cones, as noted in this post. There’s no need for me to praise Kraftwerk any more than usual, this blog has featured at least one dedicated post about them for every year of its existence, and besides, the group itself is still active. Elsewhere: Simon Reynolds on how Florian Schneider and Kraftwerk created pop’s future; A Kraftwerk Baker’s Dozen Special; Dave Simpson attempts to rank 30 Kraftwerk songs (good luck getting anyone to agree with this); Jude Rogers with ten things you (possibly) don’t know about Kraftwerk; Dancing to Numbers by Owen Hatherley; Pocket Calculator in five languages; Florian Schneider talks about Stop Plastic Pollution.

Intermission is a new digital compilation from Ghost Box records featuring “preview tracks from forthcoming releases and material especially recorded for the compilation during the global lockdown”. In a choice of two editions, one of which helps fund Médecins Sans Frontières.

• How groundbreaking design weirdness transformed record label United Artists, against all odds. By Jeremy Allan.

Sex in an American suburb is not quite the same phenomenon as sex in, say, an eastern European apartment block, and sex scenes can do a great deal to illuminate the social and historical forces that make the difference. All of which is to say that sex is a kind of crucible of humanness, and so the question isn’t so much why one would write about sex, as why one would write about anything else.

And yet, of course, we are asked why we write about sex. The biggest surprise of publishing my first novel, What Belongs to You was how much people wanted to talk about the sex in a book that, by any reasonable standard, has very little sex in it. That two or three short scenes of sex between men was the occasion of so much comment said more about mainstream publishing in 2016, I think, than it did about my book. In fact, in terms of exploring the potential for sex in fiction, I felt that I hadn’t gone nearly far enough. I’ve tried to go much further in my second novel, Cleanness. In two of its chapters, I wanted to push explicitness as far as I could; I wanted to see if I could write something that could be 100% pornographic and 100% high art.

Garth Greenwell on sex in literature

James Balmont‘s guide to Shinya Tsukamoto, “Japan’s Greatest Cult Filmmaker”.

• A Dandy’s Guide to Decadent Self-Isolation by Samuel Rutter.

Maya-Roisin Slater on where to begin with Laurie Anderson.

• The Count of 13: Ramsey Campbell‘s Weird Selection.

Adam Scovell on where to begin with Nigel Kneale.

When John Waters met Little Richard (RIP).

RB Russell on collecting Robert Aickman.

Weird writers recommend weird films.

Campo Grafico 1933/1939.

Ruckzuck (1970) by Kraftwerk | V-2 Schneider (1977) by David Bowie | V-2 Schneider (1997) by Philip Glass

Weekend links 511

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Design by Romek Marber, 1963.

• The death of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki prompted so many “Shining composer” headlines you have to wonder what kind of notices he might have received if his early work hadn’t been purloined by Hollywood. György Ligeti always seemed ambivalent about having his music used as cinematic illustration (Kubrick annoyed him by altering some of it without permission) but Penderecki worked as a composer for Polish films in the 1960s, not only providing a score for The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) but also (surprisingly) writing music for a number of short animations. I’ve been listening to his music for almost 40 years, after a chance discovery of the stunning Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima led me to seek out more. I have to admit that the appeal of his recordings lay in their ability to thrill and terrify—qualities that musicologists seldom address—and I’ve never paid any attention to Penderecki’s later work which was less of an assault on the senses. At The Quietus James Martin argues for listening to the entire oeuvre, not just the early works. For more about the composer’s life and work, Culture.pl has a number of good articles, eg: Mazes, Notes & Dali: The Extraordinary Life of Krzysztof Penderecki, and Music Is Not for Everyone: An Interview with Krzysztof Penderecki.

• The late Romek Marber (1925–2020) was a designer/illustrator whose name is familiar to collectors of Penguin books via the Marber Grid, the template he created in the early 1960s for the Penguin Crime series, and which was later extended across the entire paperback range. Marber talked about this period of his work in Penguin by Illustrators in 2009. Elsewhere: Rick Poyner on Marber’s design, and a suggestion for how the Marber Grid was designed.

• “…you’ll see Lego and children’s toys, but also Rawlplugs, tile spacers, Monopoly houses, cigarillo tips, curtain hooks, biofilters, Smarties tube lids, fishing beads, broken security seals, razor parts, bits of toothbrushes, roofing screw caps, medical lancets, golf tees, false teeth, plastic soldiers, posties’ rubber bands, bungs and stoppers.” Beachcomber Tracey Williams talks to Andrew Male about the undying ubiquity of plastic waste.

• “Thanks to Bookshop, there is no reason to buy books on Amazon anymore,” says Alex Lauer. The caveat is that the service is limited to the USA. I order books direct from publishers or from eBay and Abe; the latter may be Amazon-owned but you’re still paying most of the money to the individual sellers.

• Mixes of the week: Radio Belbury 19: Family Fun Time, and Through A Landscape Of Mirrors Vol. VII – France IV by David Colohan.

• “[Amanda Sewell’s] Wendy Carlos: A Biography is a great work of scholarship,” says Geeta Dayal.

• “Part of me expects to go on forever.” David Barnett on Michael Moorcock at 80.

• “What is the point of a critic if not to tell the truth?” asks Rachel Cooke.

John Boardley on medieval road-trips and the invention of print.

Anna Bogutskaya on where to begin with the Weird West.

• Inside Tove Jansson’s private universe by Sheila Heti.

• Memory Of Hiroshima (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s Red Buddha Theatre | Hiroshima Mon Amour (1977) by Ultravox! | Hiroshima (1982) by Borsig