The Séance at Hobs Lane

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Séance, 2001 version.

Drew Mulholland, aka Mount Vernon Arts Lab (also Mount Vernon Astral Temple and Black Noise…), has joined forces recently with the masterful Ghost Box collective, purveyors of finely-crafted and frequently creepy electronica. MVAL’s 2001 release, The Séance at Hobs Lane, is now Ghost Box release no. 9 and comes repackaged in their Pelican Books-derived livery. Inspired by (among other things) Quatermass and the Pit, Séance makes a good companion to the creepiest of the Ghost Box releases to date, Ouroborindra by Eric Zann. Further points us to Mark Pilkington’s 2001 interview with MVAL for Fortean Times.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Exuma: Obeah men and the voodoo groove
New Delia Derbyshire
The man who saw tomorrow
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box

Exuma: Obeah men and the voodoo groove

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Do Wah Nanny by Exuma (Kama Sutra LP, 1971).

I came down on a lightning bolt
Nine months in my Mama’s belly.
When I was born, the midwife scream and shout,
I had fire crystals coming out of my mouth.
I’m Exuma, I’m the Obeah Man!

So you’ve listened to Dr John‘s Gris-Gris over and over and become addicted to its swampy, voodoo-inflected psychedelia. Where to go next? Dr John’s subsequent career isn’t much help even though he dallied with voodoo themes on his next couple of albums; nothing there quite achieves the distinctive flavour (dare we say “gumbo”?) of his first album. Praise Dambala, then, for Exuma, whose career was launched on the back of Dr John’s success but who often manages to sound more “authentic” (whatever that means) than the New Orleans maestro. These are recording studio confections so authenticity doesn’t really enter into it even though both artists strive to sound like feathered and beaded voodoo-priests lifting the curtain on their spooky rituals.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins was one of the first to go this route in the 1950s, albeit in a more comical fashion, with I Put A Spell On You (1956) and the very swampy Alligator Wine (1958). The latter wasn’t written by some chicken-sacrificing Baron Samedi but by Leiber and Stoller, a pair of Jewish boys in New York City. Mac Rebennack also started out doing rock’n’roll novelty records, among them Bad Neighborhood by Ronnie & the Delinquents and Morgus The Magnificent by Morgus & the 3 Ghouls. His new persona of Dr John (full designation: Dr John Creaux, the Night Tripper) was taken wholesale from Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans (1946), a book which features a chapter detailing the exploits of the original voodoo chieftain of that name, and whose text includes a number of the songs and chants (including the classic I Walk on Guilded Splinters) adapted by Rebennack for Gris-Gris. His debut album sounds like it was recorded in some deconsecrated church in a New Orleans swamp but was actually created between very mundane pop sessions at Phil Spector’s Los Angeles studio with other session musician friends. Which brings us to Exuma. But who was Exuma? Perfect Sound Forever asked the same question:

Who was Exuma?

• He was a spirit who came from a planet, now extinct, brought to us on a lightning bolt, who had communed with Charon, the ferryman of the River Styx and Vodun priests. When he informed the world of his travels and even warned of Armageddon, he left the Earth, perhaps tiring of the corporeal and moving to the ethereal.

• He was born McFarlane Anthony McKay on Cat Island in the Bahamas in the early 1940’s. He then relocated to New York, to study architecture at the age of 17. He ran out of money for his studies and in 1962, participated in folk music hootenannies. Gaining confidence, he started a group called Tony McKay and the Islanders. He also was in a show called A Little of This ’n’ That in 1965, along with Richie Havens.

• He was a marketing nightmare. Who knew how to peg him? Finding his records has never been an easy task. Often, through dint of color, he was placed in the Soul or R&B bin, even though his music, while soulful, does not belong in either. When his first album was released in 1970, there were sections for music of other countries, however, since he lived in New York and recorded for Mercury, it may have looked out of place there. His music was not Ska or Reggae. He was a contemporary of Bob Dylan’s and Peter Paul and Mary, even playing the Café Wha? and the Bitter End in Greenwich Village, but his music wasn’t quite from the same branch of Folk singing as Dylan, Woody Guthrie or Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. His albums couldn’t be placed in Rock; besides, who would get it if it was put there?

All of the above answers are, in varying degrees, “correct.”

Continues here. Typically with fugitive culture of this kind there isn’t much information around but there’s another appreciation of Exuma’s talents here. As with much black music there’s a political dimension also, despite the magickal doodlings. On Fire in the Hole from the second album, Exuma sings “You can’t build a nation off of bloodshed and expect the blood not to stain the land.” The reference originally would have been to the Vietnam War but that line and others can’t help but have a resonance today.

McFarlane Anthony McKay left the planet Earth in 1997 but happily his early albums are all available on CD. If you’re feeling unfulfilled by current servings of musical minestrone get yourself down to the swamp for a dose of gumbo, authentic or not.

Exuma (LP Mercury 1970, CD TRC 1993)
Exuma II (LP Mercury 1970, CD TRC 1993)
Do Wah Nanny (LP Kama Sutra 1971, CD Castle 1993)
Snake (LP Kama Sutra 1972, CD Castle 1993)
Reincarnation (LP Kama Sutra 1972, CD Castle 1993)
Life (LP Buddah 1973, CD Castle 1993)
Penny Sausage (Inagua 1980)
Going to Cat Island (??)
Universal Exuma (??)
Rude Boy (ROIR 1986) (originally released as Street Life)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Metabolist: Goatmanauts, Drömm-heads and the Zuehl Axis
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box
Voodoo Macbeth
Davy Jones

New Delia Derbyshire

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Well…new for us. Glo Spot Records have reissued Psyche-Delia‘s scarce KPM album, Electrosonic (1972), in an edition that will quickly become as scarce itself: 500 copies on green vinyl.

Order it (or hear clips) from Boomkat.

The great BBC documentary about the Radiophonic Workshop, Alchemists of Sound, can now be found on YouTube. Lots of archive footage of Delia and her collaborators showing how they extracted extraordinary sounds from primitive equipment.

Delia Derbyshire is best known as the woman who created the sound of the original Doctor Who theme. This one piece is so globally famous that it has overshadowed the wide ranging work of one of the most creative women working in the 1960s and ’70s. Delia collaborated with many of the most significant figures of the era and was admired by many more. Her story involves such names as Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Pink Floyd, Anthony Newley, Frankie Howerd and The Rolling Stones, in addition to work with the National Theatre, seminal electronic innovators and, of course, the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. Since her death in 2001, Derbyshire has gained cult icon status and her influence over artists who weren’t even born when she made some of her groundbreaking recordings has never been stronger. John Cavanagh (BBC Radio, Phosphene, author of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn etc. etc.) has found a rare album Delia recorded with Brian Hodgson (the man who created the sound of the TARDIS) and Australian mood music composer (who also scored some Doctor Who episodes) Don Harper in 1972. This was originally an lp of what is known as library music and was only made available to film, tv and radio organizations when originally issued. Cavanagh has licensed these recordings and the album—Electrosonic—will be released commercially for the first on his Glo-Spot label.

Electrosonic (1972)
Label: KPM
Cat: KPM1104

1 Quest
2 Quest – fast
3 Computermatic
4 Frontier of Knowledge
5 The Pattern Emerges
6 Freeze Frame
7 Plodding Power
8 Busy Microbes
9 Liquid Energy (a)
10 Liquid Energy (b)
11 No Man’s Land
12 Depression
13 Nightwalker
14 Electrostings
15 Electrobuild
16 Celestial Cantabile
17 Effervescence
18 The Wizard’s Laboratory
19 Shock Chords

Previously on { feuilleton }
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box

A playlist for Halloween

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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

Ghost Box

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Q: What do you get when you cross analogue synthesizers, samples from obscure public information films, the graphic design of Pelican Books, Arthur Machen, HP Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, CS Lewis, Hammer horror, the Wicker Man and the music from Oliver Postgate’s animated films for children?

A: the CD releases by artists on the Ghost Box label. Ghost Box describe themselves as “an independent music label for artists that find inspiration in library music albums, folklore, vintage electronics, and the school music room” which, if you’re familiar with the reference points, is exactly what you get. A rather wonderful blend it is too, some of the tracks on Belbury Poly’s The Willows (named after Algernon Blackwood’s stunning horror tale) are how I expected Stereolab to sound until I heard them and was rather disappointed.

Favourite of the Ghost Box releases I’ve heard to date is (perhaps inevitably) Ourobourindra by Eric Zann (the “artist” here is named after Lovecraft’s haunted musician from The Music of Erich Zann). The website description—”Eric Zann’s radios, oscillators and recordings conjure eldritch, echoing spaces and invoke the voices of the dead that whisper within them”—again is a pretty accurate summation of this atmospheric and sinister audio collage. “Sinister” is a term that can be applied to much of this music and the Ghost Box founders, Julian House and Jim Jupp, declare in a Wire feature this month that matters spectral are of particular concern, hence the label name. Ourobourindra works especially well in this regard, sounding like the product of someone working through a trauma caused by viewing the seance scene from Dracula AD 1972 at too young an age. This is one I’ll be playing on Halloween.

Ghost Box music can be purchased online here.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Penguin book covers
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
The music of the Wicker Man
The Absolute Elsewhere