Weekend links 513

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Water Tower (1914), Margaret Island, Budapest, Hungary.

George Bass on five ways The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) predicted the way we live now. Nigel Kneale’s TV play will be reissued on DVD next week.

Ballardism (Corona Mix): three new drone pieces by Robert Hampson available as free downloads.

• Grace Jones: where to start in her back catalogue; John Doran has some suggestions.

Hal was the wry and soulful and mysterious historical rememberer. He specialized in staging strange musical bedfellows like Betty Carter and the Replacements or The Residents backing up Conway Twitty. Oh, the wild seeds of Impresario Hal. He was drawn equally to the danger of a fiasco and the magical power of illumination that his legendary productions held. Many years ago he bought Jimmy Durante’s piano along with Bela Lugosi’s wristwatch and a headscarf worn by Karen Carpenter. Some say he also owned Sarah Bernhardt’s wooden leg. He had a variety of hand and string puppets, dummies, busts of Laurel and Hardy, duck whistles and scary Jerry Mahoney dolls and a free ranging collection of vinyl and rare books. These were his talismans and his vestments because his heart was a reliquary.

Tom Waits pens a letter to remember Hal Willner

• The food expiration dates you should actually follow according to J. Kenji López-Alt.

• Blown-up buildings and suffocating fish: the Sony world photography awards, 2020.

• Rumbling under the mountains: a report on Czech Dungeon Synth by Milos Hroch.

Sophie Pinkham on The Collective Body: Russian experiments in life after death.

• Mix of the week: Spring 2020: A Mixtape by Christopher Budd.

Olivia Laing on why art matters in an emergency.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Bloody.

Blood (1972) by Annette Peacock | Blood (1994) by Paul Schütze | Blood (1994) by Voodoo Warriors Of Love

Weekend links 512

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Cover art by Tim White for Weaveworld (1987) by Clive Barker.

• Another week leading with obituaries but that’s where we are just now. Among others, we had film maker Bruce Baillie, cartoonist Mort Drucker, lesbian/gay rights activist Phyllis Lyon, film director Nobuhiko Obayashi, artist Tim White, and music producer Hal Willner. Related to the last: Hal Willner’s Vanishing, Weird New York.

Open Door is a new recording by Roly Porter from his forthcoming album, Kistvaen. I designed the CD and vinyl packaging for this one.

• From 1995: Peter Wollen on dandyism, decadence and death in Donald Cammell & Nicolas Roeg’s Performance.

• “Fear, bigotry and misinformation—this reminds me of the 1980s AIDS pandemic,” says Edmund White.

David Lynch wants you to meditate, maybe make a lamp during self-isolation.

• “Weird tale” by Secret Garden author Frances Hodgson Burnett discovered.

• Behind the iron curtain, the final frontier: Soviet space art in pictures.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 301 by Asher Levitas.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Raymond Queneau, Party Animal.

Oren Ambarchi Archive at Bandcamp.

Japan’s Tourism Poster Awards.

• Hal Willner produces: Juliet Of The Spirits (1981) by Bill Frisell | Apocalypse (1990) by William S. Burroughs | The Masque Of The Red Death (1997) by Gabriel Byrne

Soft machines

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Seven (1973) by Soft Machine. Design by Roslav Szaybo.

You’re the great, grey man whose daughter licks policemen’s buttons clean,
You’re the man who squats behind the man who works the soft machine.

Mick Jagger, Memo From Turner (1968)

By coincidence this month I’d been re-reading some William Burroughs when I picked up a nice box set of five Soft Machine albums, part of a series of reissues that Sony have been doing recently. They’re very cheap and sound excellent, and also have the additional benefit of being a card slipcase holding the discs in card sleeves so there’s no nasty plastic packaging. The set comprises the Third (1970), Fourth (1971), Fifth (1972), Six (1973), and Seven (1973) albums. I have the band’s first two studio albums already so this has been an opportunity to get fully acquainted with the rest of their output up to the point where the machine started to run out of steam.

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The Soft Machine (1968) with die-cut sleeve. Design by Byron Goto, Eli Allman, Henry Epstein.

Third and Fourth are freaked-out jazz fusion recorded when Robert Wyatt was still on drums; Fifth, which I had for years on vinyl, is post-Wyatt fusion of a more polite variety, great compositions but it sounds lightweight compared to Miles Davis’s On The Corner which was released the same year. Six, which I’d hardly heard at all, is a set of live recordings and four superb studio tracks. Seven is the weakest of the lot but it prompts this post on account of the cover which I always liked the look of when flicking past it in record shops. Seen today it still looks surprisingly advanced for 1973, and the intention behind the design is still mysterious. I used to regard it as vaguely “futuristic” despite knowing that the music was nothing of the sort. The accumulation of abstract symbols contained by a human head implies either a score for some aleatory composition (which again is belied by the short jazzy pieces within), or can perhaps be read as a “soft machine”, especially if one considers that the popular idea of electronics at this time involved patch-boards and banks of flashing lights. Ten years later with synthesizers in common use this kind of semi-cybernetic imagery was a lot more topical.

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The Soft Machine Volume Two (1969). Design by Byron Goto, Henry Epstein.

The first two Soft Machine albums both showed literal renderings of Burroughs’ “soft machine” idea albeit couched in the naked-woman-as-decoration style of the late 60s. Six has a horrible cover with an airbrushed attempt at a soft machine, one of those pictures common to the 1970s that you’re amazed was approved by band and record company.

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V2 by The Vibrators (1978). Design by Roslav Szaybo.

The design for Seven is credited to Roslav Szaybo, an in-house designer at CBS. Looking through Mr Szaybo’s other credits there’s little that resembles his Soft Machine cover until you arrive at the sleeve for V2, the second album by British punk band The Vibrators. This was another cover I always liked for similar graphical reasons to the Soft Machine sleeve; they also share a similar stencil typeface. Musically they’re worlds apart, of course, although William Burroughs’ influence on music carried on into the punk era (another Brit punk band named themselves Dead Fingers Talk) and beyond. It’s an influence reaching from the mid-60s with Soft Machine and his appearance on the cover of Sgt Pepper, into the 1990s with the many recordings he collaborated on or inspired from Bill Laswell, Hal Willner and others. His influence generally may have fallen off since his death in 1997 but it’s still a remarkable achievement for someone who never seemed to care much for music beyond the popular tunes he heard as a boy.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

William S Burroughs: A Man Within

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The Ticket that Exploded. Cover design by Thomi Wroblowski for a John Calder edition, 1985.

William S Burroughs: A Man Within is a feature-length documentary by Yony Leyser, and is, so the makers say, the first posthumous documentary about the always essential writer. Howard Brookner’s 1983 film, Burroughs, is probably definitive where the biography is concerned since Brookner was fortunate to get most of the key surviving Beats, family members, and allies while they were still around. Leyser’s trailer looks interesting, however (I’m hoping the film isn’t merely a parade of celebrities and soundbites), and it’s things like this which pass on the message of Burroughs’ continued importance to a new generation.

The film features never before seen footage of William S. Burroughs, as well as exclusive interviews with his closest friends and colleagues including John Waters, Genesis P-Orridge, Laurie Anderson, Peter Weller, David Cronenberg, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant, Sonic Youth, Anne Waldman, George Condo, Hal Willner, James Grauerholz, Amiri Baraka, Jello Biafra, V. Vale, David Ohle, Wayne Propst, Dr. William Ayers, Diane DiPrima, Donovan, Dean Ripa (the world’s largest poisonous snake collector), and many others, with narration by actor Peter Weller, and soundtrack by Sonic Youth. 

Release is slated for later this year. Meanwhile, there’s another trailer on YouTube for a Burroughs’-inspired short, The Japanese Sandman, based on WSB’s quest for the drug yage in the jungles of Panama. For an explanation of the title, consult the Reality Studio.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

Poe at 200

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Poe by Harry Clarke.

Happy birthday Edgar Allan Poe, born two hundred years ago today. I nearly missed this anniversary after a busy weekend. Rather than add to the mountain of praise for the writer, I thought I’d list some favourites among the numerous Poe-derived works in different media.

Illustrated books
For me the Harry Clarke edition of 1919 (later reworked with colour plates) has always been definitive. Many first-class artists have tried their hand at depicting Poe’s stories and poems, among them Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Doré, Arthur Rackham, W Heath Robinson and Edmund Dulac; none complements the morbid atmosphere and florid prose as well as Clarke does. And if it’s horror you need, Clarke’s depiction of The Premature Burial could scarcely be improved upon.

Honourable mention should be made of two less well-known works, Wilfried Sätty’s The Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe (1976) and Visions of Poe (1988) by Simon Marsden. I wrote about Sätty’s collage engravings in Strange Attractor 2, and Sätty’s style was eminently suited to Poe’s work. Marsden’s photographs of old castles and decaying mansions are justly celebrated but in book form often seem in search of a subject beyond a general Gothic spookiness or a recounting of spectral anecdotes. His selection of Poe stories and poems is a great match for the photos, one of which, a view of Monument Valley for The Colloquy of Monos and Una, was also used on a Picador cover for Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Recordings
These are legion but among the outstanding one-off tracks I’d note two poems set to music, Dream Within a Dream from Propaganda‘s 1985 album, A Secret Wish, and The Lake by Antony & The Johnsons. The latter appeared on the landmark Golden Apples of the Sun compilation and also on Antony’s own The Lake EP.

Among the full-length works, Hal Willner’s 1997 2-CD collection Closed on Account of Rabies features lengthy readings set to music from a typically eclectic Willner line-up: Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Walken, Iggy Pop, Diamanda Galás, Gavin Friday, Dr John, Deborah Harry, Jeff Buckley (one of the last recordings before his untimely death) and Gabriel Byrne. Byrne’s reading of The Masque of the Red Death is tremendous and the whole package is decked out in Ralph Steadman graphics.

Antony Hegarty appears again on another double-disc set, Lou Reed’s The Raven (2003), a very eccentric approach to Poe which I suspect I’m in the minority in enjoying as much as I do. An uneven mix of songs and reading/performances, Reed updates some Poe poems while others are presented straight and to often stunning effect by (among others) Willem Defoe, Steve Buscemi, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Amanda Plummer and Elizabeth Ashley.

Films
Once again, there’s too many films but The Masque of the Red Death (1964) has always been my favourite of the Roger Corman adaptations, not least for the presence of Jane Asher, Patrick Magee and (behind the camera) Nicolas Roeg. I wrote last May about the animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA. That adaptation, with narration by James Mason, is still on YouTube so if you haven’t seen it yet you can celebrate Poe’s anniversary by watching it right now.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA
William Heath Robinson’s illustrated Poe
The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931