Peter Strickland’s Stone Tape

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My annual Halloween post breaks with its usual music mix/playlist format this year for a recording of The Stone Tape, Peter Strickland’s hour-long radio drama made for Halloween in 2015. This was an adaptation, co-written with Matthew Graham, of Nigel Kneale’s celebrated TV play of the same name, first broadcast in 1972 for the BBC’s Christmas ghost-story slot then unavailable for many years. The combination of Kneale’s name and the impossibility of easily seeing the play gave The Stone Tape a reputation somewhat greater than it might otherwise have warranted. The drama has a number of shortcomings by contemporary standards: the whole thing is shot on video, so it compares unfavourably to the ghost films the BBC were making throughout the 1970s, and the acting is also quite histrionic in places. On the plus side there’s a woman scientist as the central character (an excellent performance by Jane Asher), and another of Kneale’s examinations of a horror staple—the haunted house, in this case—which adeptly twists your expectations while combining science and the supernatural in equal measure.

Strickland’s adaptation uses the same scenario—struggling electronics company moves into a house with a haunted reputation—but with the events moved slightly forward to 1979. The director’s fondness for electronic music shifts the emphasis of the story to the capabilities of electronic sound, both its destructive potential and its use as a diagnostic tool. James Cargill, formerly of Broadcast, now in Children Of Alice, was the soundtrack composer on Strickland’s second feature film, Berberian Sound Studio, and here creates the music and electronic sounds. The radio play is closer to Berberian Sound Studio than anything else Strickland has done to date, and could even be regarded as a companion piece with its recording equipment and repeated screams. (Eugenia Caruso provides screams for both.) As with the film, two thirds into the drama the narrative becomes much more diffuse and fragmented; the recording medium itself is foregrounded for a lengthy sequence that works like an audio equivalent of found-footage horror films. The hazard of this is that the layered nature of Kneale’s horrors may not be so apparent if you’ve not seen the TV version (I can’t say) but the sound design is excellent throughout, and benefits from the use of headphones to appreciate its subtleties. There’s also some sly reference to Alvin Lucier if you’re familiar with his compositions. Jane Asher makes a cameo appearance as the mother of the character she portrayed in the TV version.

The Stone Tape may be listened to or downloaded here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Nigel Kneale’s Woman in Black
Stone Tapes and Quatermasses
Nigel Kneale’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
The Stone Tape

Weekend links 343

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Sidhe, the white people of the Tuatha Dé Danann (1954) by Leonora Carrington.

• January brings a wealth of recommended-reading lists for the new year, together with the feeling that many of those lists are merely clones of each other. Not so the recommendations at Strange Flowers which also includes links to forthcoming events such as this exhibition of Symbolist art at the Guggenheim, New York.

Some Ceremonies are Better than Others, an exhibition of sound objects and drawings by Matthias König & Ibrahim R. Ineke inspired by Arthur Machen’s The White People, at The Bries Space, Borgerhout, Belgium, from 21st January. Previously: Ineke’s comic-strip adaptation of the Machen story.

• “These must-reads explore Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and the art of opposition,” says Carol Cooper. One of the titles under discussion is the Bruce Sterling book I designed and illustrated last year, Pirate Utopia. Sterling talked to Wired about the book and its relation to the present moment.

RIP Mark Fisher, a cultural theorist whose death was announced just as extracts from his latest book, The Weird and the Eerie, were beginning to appear. One of those extracts is at The Quietus. Related: Fisher’s k-punk blog and its earlier incarnation.

James Cargill (ex of Broadcast) announces a debut release by his new group, Children of Alice. Related: Jonathan Miller’s 1966 TV film of Alice in Wonderland rescored with Broadcast songs.

We are the Martians: the Legacy of Nigel Kneale, a collection of Kneale-related essays and appreciations edited by Neil Snowdon, is finally appearing in print from PS Publishing.

• Pursuing paths hauntological, The Electric Pentacle offers “an unholy stew of library music, Kosmische, arcane ritual electronica, modular synthesisers and shortwave radio”.

• Mixes of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. XVI by David Colohan, and Low Visibility Across Sunken Village by The Geography Trip.

• “With Reflection, [Brian Eno] offers generative music for a turbulent time,” says Geeta Dayal.

Anna Biller, director of The Love Witch, talks to New Jack Witch about her film.

• The story behind Gay Bob, the world’s first out-and-proud doll.

Alice (1969) by Jon Plum | Alice (1982) by The Sisters of Mercy | Alice (2009) by Sunn O)))

Weekend links 282

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Thomas Ligotti photographed by Jennifer Gariepy.

• More Thomas Ligotti (he’s been marginalised for decades, the attention is overdue): “Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe are fugues of the creeping unknown,” says Peter Bebergal who profiles Ligotti for The New Yorker, and gets him to talk about the impulses that produce his fiction; at the Lovecraft eZine eleven writers and editors ask Ligotti a question related to his work.

• As usual, Halloween brings out the mixes. This year there’s a choice of The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. XII by David Colohan, Samhain Séance 4 : The Masks of Ashor by The_Ephemeral_Man, The Voluptuous Doom of Bava Yaga by SeraphicManta, Spool’s Out Radio #27 with Joseph Curwen, and The Edge Of The Holloween Oven – 10/26/15 by The Edge Of The Ape Oven.

Broadcast’s James Cargill has provided a soundtrack for Peter Strickland’s radio adaptation of The Stone Tape by Nigel Kneale. John Doran and Richard Augood review the new and old versions for The Quietus. Related: Peter Strickland’s favourite horror soundtracks.

My mission was to make sounds that didn’t exist in reality, whether it’s a star ship or a laser or a monster or an exploding planet. You started with basic sounds that were acoustic and then you manipulated them. There’s a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when he falls into the well of souls and pushes over that statue and there are all those snakes? The sound of the snakes was made by pulling masking tape off glass. When the statue falls over and breaks the wall there’s the noise of lots of big rocks breaking. We just took some bricks and smashed them up and then slowed the tape recording down. I remember doing a lot of great scary effects using dry ice and a bunch of pots and pans out of the kitchen. You heat them up really hot and then you drop a load of dry ice into the hot pan so the rapid thermal change would make it scream.

Composer and sound designer Alan Howarth talks to Mat Colegate about working for films

Jordan Hoffman reviews Jacques Rivette’s legendary 13-hour feature film Out 1: Noli Me Tangere (1971). The film will be in cinemas next month, and available on DVD/BR in January.

The Stone Tape was originally a one-off TV drama shown at Christmas in 1972. Michael Newton looks at the BBC’s habit in the 1970s of screening ghost stories at Christmas.

Steven Arnold’s Epiphanies: A look back at some of the artist’s surrealist photographs.

Greydogtales just concluded a month of posts dedicated to William Hope Hodgson.

• At Dirge Magazine: Tenebrous Kate on seven songs based on dark literary classics.

Phil Legard opens some grimoires for a short history of signs and seals.

Micah Nathan on Tuesday’s Child, “LA’s best Satanist magazine”.

• “The Occult was a kind of awakening,” says Colin Wilson.

Shagfoal: witchcraft and horror-blues by Dante.

Jenny Hval‘s favourite albums.

The Attic Tapes (1975) by Cabaret Voltaire | Those Tapes Are Dangerous (1997) by The Bug | The Black Mill Video Tape (2012) by Pye Corner Audio

Weekend links 228

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White, Red and Black (1949) by Marlow Moss.

• British television’s greatest director, Alan Clarke, rates on the cult scale here for his work on Penda’s Fen but his career was long, uncompromising and still hasn’t received the full appraisal it deserves. His more violent dramas—Scum, Made in Britain, The Firm, etc—have all appeared on DVD but many of his less notorious films can be hard to find. Paul Duane looks back at the remarkable Contact (1985), an hour-long study of the conflict in Northern Ireland, and a better film about soldiering than any number of big-budget features.

• I’ve wondered for years why one of the Daft Punk helmets seemed so familiar. It’s because they swiped the design from industrial designer and visual futurist, Syd Mead. Mark Wilson talked to Mead about wearable technology; Mr Mead, it seems, isn’t impressed by the French popsters. Related: paintings from Mead’s Sentinel (1979), and Syd Mead designs at Pinterest.

• Remembering that time in 1982 when Alan Moore interviewed Hawkwind. More interviews: Adam Bychawski talks to Jenny Hval about “sonic extremity, the violence of voyeurism and inhabiting bodies”, and Laurent Fintoni talks to (that man again) Bernard Szajner about Visions Of Dune, laser shows, and finding his way back to music.

Our attitudes towards work are extremely schizophrenic: we secretly aspire to sloth, while we loudly praise work. There isn’t an election poster that doesn’t promise more jobs. The call for more work is similar to the Stockholm syndrome, in which the victims of hostage-taking eventually develop a positive relationship with their captors.

Patrick Spaet on the universal employment fetish

• “Marlow Moss was one of Britain’s most important Constructivist artists…a radical lesbian and Drag King,” says Dal Chodha. An exhibition of Moss’s work has just opened at Tate Britain. Related: Marlow Moss: forgotten art maverick.

Yuki Koshimoto plays the Hang, aka the Spacedrum. Via Metafilter where there are more Hang links. The instrument was prominently featured in the score Cliff Martinez wrote for Solaris (2002).

• Broadcast’s Trish Keenan would have been 46 last week. James Cargill posted two demo songs for her birthday.

• At the BFI: Exclusive materials from the making of Powell and Pressburger’s The Tales of Hoffmann.

• Of Tutus and Tortures: Thoughts on the Decadent and the Weird by Christopher Burke.

Faber has launched a Modern Classics imprint with some smart cover designs.

• At Dangerous Minds: Good to see big scans of the Surrealists’ playing cards.

• Mix of the week: Afrofuturist Flowering by Nigel Rampant.

• Writer and editor Russ Kick has a new website.

Infographic: Why Readers Still Prefer Paper.

Superficial Music 1–3 (1981) by Bernard Szajner | Fahrenheit 451 (1982) by Hawkwind | Black Lake (2014) by Jenny Hval & Susanna

Weekend links 142

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Gratifying this week to see album cover art under discussion even if the heat-to-light ratio was as unbalanced as it usually is when pop culture is the subject. Jonathan Barnbrook, who also designed the Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003) packaging for David Bowie, wrote about the thinking behind the new cover on his blog. (And for the time being let’s note that this is still only a cover design, we don’t know what else is on its way.)

For my part I’ll point out that the artist-as-cover-image is the great cliché of album design, and the bigger the name the more the rule applies; Neville Brody complains about this in the first book of his work, as does Storm Thorgerson in the Hipgnosis books. In Bowie’s case the rule has been applied almost universally since his debut album in 1967, the only variations being illustrational ones or slight dodges like having his feet appear on the front of Lodger and his back facing the viewer on Earthling. Consequently the new design is a radical gesture from an artist who could have got away with a photo of himself du jour. By way of contrast, consider that Rod Stewart is a year older than David Bowie and presented the world with this artefact in October 2012.

Related: Hard Format responds to the cover, Chris Roberts on “Picasso resurrected in a Rolf Harris era“, and Alex Petridis on The inside story of how David Bowie made The Next Day.

The Quicksilver typeface, designed by Dean Morris when he was only 16, bought by Letraset and now an indelible feature of pop design from the 1970s. Morris describes his experience here (“they shunned rapidographs!”) and collects examples of the print history here.

When the days are short, we are closest to the medieval world. To the avoidance of mirrors where death improves our portraits every morning with a few more lines and shadows. What would once have been a sermon, a conjuring of hellfire, a phantom slide show, is now an entertainment. But before we can begin again, we have to kick free of the embrace of our inconvenient predecessors, that compost legion of the anonymous dead. They come uninvited, requiring us to sign up for what the late Derek Raymond called the general contract: a brief turn in the light, then extinction. Eternal darkness. How to live with such knowledge? William Burroughs admired the unswerving bleakness of Beckett’s gaze, the way he reduced compensatory illusions to zero. Nowhere left to crawl. And nothing to crawl on. Last breath is last breath. Stare into the abyss and the abyss will stare right back.

Iain Sinclair reviews The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead by Carl Watkins

Broadcast’s James Cargill on Morricone, Minidiscs and Scoring Berberian Sound Studio. Related: Melmoth the Wanderer posts a new mix, The Curious Episode of the Wizard’s Skull, and more spooky sounds are on their way from The Haxan Cloak.

• A Firm Turn Toward the Objective: Joanne Meister on meeting the great Swiss designer Josef Müller-Brockmann.

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Twitter user @thisnorthernboy reworked Paul Emsley’s portrait of Kate Middleton. @barnbrook approved.

• The Beatles of Comedy: David Free on the Monty Python team.

• The history of the London Underground poster.

Impossible Architecture by Filip Dujardin.

• At Pinterest: Art Dolls & Sculpture

• Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing album has been on repeat play this week: Warm Leatherette/Walking In The Rain | I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) | Demolition Man