Sibelius: 4 Legends From “The Kalevala”, Op. 22 (1968); Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Lukas Foss.
Gene Szafran (1941–2011) was an American artist who painted illustrations for magazines and provided cover art for many science-fiction paperbacks throughout the 1970s. He shared with fellow paperback artist Bob Pepper a parallel career producing album cover art for Elektra Records and Elektra’s subsidiary for classical recordings and contemporary composition, Nonesuch, the latter contributing to William S. Harvey’s policy of making classical albums look as vibrant and contemporary as their neighbours in the rock sphere. Bob Pepper’s album covers, however, tend to resemble his book covers whereas Szafran’s book covers are simpler in style than his album art which fills out the larger space in a post-psychedelic style that’s often very detailed and done in a variety of media. It took me a while to realise that I’d known Szafran’s name for a long time via his cover for Pictures At An Exhibition by Tomita, the art for which isn’t a painting but a relief sculpture of the head of Tomita-san. A similar use of three-dimensional elements occurs on other album covers, and extends to a form of collage in which painted backgrounds are overlaid with physical objects, a technique which became a common sight in the 1980s but which wasn’t common at all in the 1960s. There might have been more work like this but Szafran’s career was cut short by multiple sclerosis in the late 1970s. Glimmer Graphics has several pages dedicated to his life and art.
The Ages Of Rock (1968) by Cy Coleman.
John Cage: Concerto For Prepared Piano & Orchestra / Lukas Foss: Baroque Variations (1968).
The Nonesuch Guide To Electronic Music (1968) by Paul Beaver & Bernard L. Krause.
The Moray Eels Eat The Holy Modal Rounders (1968) by The Holy Modal Rounders.
Continue reading “Gene Szafran album covers”
Detecting the Forgery (1967), a collage print by Gary Lee-Nova.
• Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black was given a UK TV screening in 1989, followed by a brief video release after which it was buried for years, and subsequently overshadowed by the later (inferior) big-budget feature film. Network will be releasing the Kneale version on blu-ray in May. I wrote about the TV film a while ago.
• At the BFI: David Parkinson on 10 essential films featuring the late Max von Sydow, a welcome riposte to obituaries that headlined the often mediocre Hollywood fare that Von Sydow elevated with his minor roles. And at the same site, John Berra on where to begin with the martial arts films of King Hu.
• “Enthusiasts Archive, an artistic project by Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, is the result of extensive research amongst the remnants of amateur film clubs in Poland under socialism. It is a critical archive of amateur films found, restored and made available online.”
• Stephen Calloway, co-curator of the Tate Britain Aubrey Beardsley exhibition, and drag performer Holly James Johnston sit down to tea to discuss the “dos and don’ts” of dandyism according to the artist.
• Mutinous Jester: The Collage Novels of Akbar Del Piombo by Gregory Stephenson. Related: Fuzz Against Junk: The Saga of the Narcotics Brigade (1959) by Akbar Del Piombo.
• Michael Richey on chindogu, the useless inventions of Kenji Kawakami.
• From farting to fornication: John Boardley on early print censorship.
• Douglas A. Anderson on a case of plagiarism in Weird Tales.
• Mix of the week: mr.K’s Soundstripe vol 3 by radioShirley.
• How To Get To Spring is a new album by Jon Brooks.
• Rufus Wainwright‘s favourite music.
• At Dennis Cooper’s: Occultists.
• Spring Rounds From The Rite Of Spring (1975) by Alice Coltrane | Springlight Rite (1981) by Irmin Schmidt & Bruno Spoerri | Spring Returns (1999) by Isao Tomita
In the week that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon here’s a cosmic flashback from 1984. (I wrote about my own memories of the Apollo era in July, 2009.)
Mind Of The Universe was an ambitious outdoor performance of music by Isao Tomita for the annual Ars Electronic Festival in Linz, Austria. I’d known about this event ever since the release of the subsequent live album, and always wondered if there was more of a visual record than the one or two short clips to be found on YouTube. This 65-minute documentary from NHK TV was made following Tomita’s death in 2016, and features a much longer recording of the concert, together with a look at the preparations undertaken by the composer and his Japanese team. The documentary is in Japanese throughout, but I’ve had Tomita’s albums on continual play for the past couple of weeks so it was a welcome discovery. The Linz footage is bracketed by a short studio discussion of Tomita’s work and the concert itself with two of his assistants, Hideki Matsutake and Akira Senju. Matsutake is better known for his programming work with Yellow Magic Orchestra, and his own albums under the name Logic System, but he began working with synthesizers as Tomita’s studio assistant in the 1970s; Senju is a composer of anime soundtracks. The documentary includes some all-too-brief film footage of Tomita’s studio in 1974, and a sequence (with Tomita-san on a motorbike!) concerning the Dawn Chorus (1984) album which incorporated recordings of the electromagnetic “Dawn Chorus” phenomenon.
Part of Tomita’s Moog system, the backbone of his early electronic recordings.
Mind Of The Universe (or Tomita’s Universum as it was advertised to the citizens of Linz) comprised a nocturnal performance spanning the River Danube, with Tomita combining some of his earlier recordings with new pieces created for the event, including an extract from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. This was conducted by the maestro and assistants from within a transparent pyramid suspended by crane on the river bank. Speakers were positioned on both banks of the river, and there was a lavish lightshow with fireworks and lasers, all of which was somehow meant to depict the entire history of the Universe, from Big Bang to the present moment.
Discussing Dawn Chorus, and a visit to a radio telescope.
If this wasn’t ambitious enough, Tomita had musicians and a choir floating on boats and platforms in the river: Goro Yamaguchi played a traditional Japanese piece on shakuhachi while seated in a perilously small craft being towed behind a larger vessel; the bigger boat provided a stage for violinist Mariko Senju whose excellent performance of Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending is the musical highlight of the concert. This was followed by a violin rendition of the five-note motif from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a nod to Tomita’s UFO-themed Bermuda Triangle album, which introduced one of the less successful aspects of the event in the noisy arrival of a helicopter bearing a platform laden with lights and speakers. The helicopter provided the booming response of the Close Encounters mothership although this isn’t obvious on the live album where all you have is the music and the noise of the rotors. Tomita’s concept of “pyramid sound” is more evident in the TV documentary than on record.
Continue reading “Tomita’s Mind of the Universe”
“Spectra of various light sources, solar, stellar, metallic, gaseous, electric”, print by René Henri Digeon; plate IV in Les phénomènes de la physique (1868).
• More polari: Thom Cuell this time with another review of Fabulosa!: The Story of Polari by Paul Baker. Good as it is to see these articles, one thing they all share is paying tribute to the polari-enriched radio series Round the Horne without crediting its writers, Barry Took and Marty Feldman.
• “…with its conspiracy theories, babbling demagogues and demonised minorities, Bahr’s investigation is sadly all too relevant today.” Antisemitism (1894) by Hermann Bahr, is the latest new translation from Rixdorf Editions.
• Isao Tomita in 1978 showing a presenter from NHK around his tiny studio. Japanese-only but the discussion reveals that the words “synthesizer”, “tape recorder” and “mixer” sound the same as they do in English.
• Ben Frost talks to Patrick Clarke about his music for German TV series, Dark.
• PYUR composes a guide through limbo with Oratorio For The Underworld.
• Steven Heller on Don Wall’s book design for a Paolo Soleri retrospective.
• Coming soon from Fulgur Press: Ira Cohen: Into the Mylar Chamber.
• Will Harris compiles an oral history of Q: The Winged Serpent.
• Mix of the week: a mix for The Wire by Overlook.
• At Dennis Cooper’s: Magic Shop Internationale.
• Shadow In Twilight by Pram.
• The Feathered Serpent Of The Aztecs (1960) by Les Baxter | The Serpent (In Quicksilver) (1981) by Harold Budd | Black Jewelled Serpent Of Sound (1986) by Dukes Of Stratosphear
Synapse magazine has been mentioned here before, but only briefly in a weekend post. Looking last week for one of the back issues revealed that the scans of the magazine placed online by the publishers in 2012 have now vanished so this post links to an archive of PDFs at Monoskop. The publishers didn’t have copies of the first two issues so the run begins with issue 3.
Synapse wasn’t around for very long but it’s of great interest for people like myself who have an enthusiasm for the analogue synthesizer music of the 1970s. The magazine was small but managed to secure interviews with major synthesists of the period (and Stockhausen!), as well as lesser-known figures who you wouldn’t expect to see in the general music press. Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno have never been starved of attention but the interviews with Isao Tomita and Michael Hoenig are valuable ones; the latter discusses his earlier career in the Kosmische band Agitation Free as well as his new album, the very Tangerine Dream-like Departure From The Northern Wasteland.
Elsewhere in the magazine there are the usual technical articles that were common in journals of this type (the border between art and engineering in the early synthesizer world used to be as permeable as it was in the first decades of science fiction); and the latest synth-related albums receive reviews, many of which are more equivocal than you might expect. It’s a surprise seeing an album such as Ricochet by Tangerine Dream being treated with scepticism but then the reviewer evidently preferred the recordings of the group’s pre-Virgin period. Likewise, Kraftwerk were featured in the third issue but their Man-Machine album is given the same “Is this the future we really want?” appraisal they used to receive from the rock press.
As always with old magazines, the ads are often as interesting as the editorial, and Synapse is filled with promotional material for a wide range of synth gear, from the major keyboard manufacturers to tiny electronic companies. It’s not every magazine where you can see a full-page command to “Trade in your Mellotron”.
• Synapse contents list at Wikipedia
Continue reading “Synapse: The Electronic Music Magazine, 1976–1979”