Weekend links 430

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Il Mago from the IONA Tarot by Giona Fiochi.

• “Russia’s answer to James Bond: did he trigger Putin’s rise to power?” Andrew Male on Max Otto von Stierlitz and Seventeen Moments of Spring. The whole series is on YouTube (with subtitles).

Geeta Dayal reviews High Static, Dead Lines: Sonic Spectres and the Object Hereafter by Kristen Gallerneaux, a new book about the eeriness of sound technology.

• Published next month: Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural by Peter Bebergal.

Let me first introduce an aside: I hate the word “queer” and all its new iterations. “Gay” was awful enough. “‘Gays’ makes us sound like bliss ninnies,” Christopher Isherwood said once. “Queer” will always be for men of my generation a word of violence and hatred, and it separates generations. And while I’m digressing, let me commit blasphemy: the over-emphasis on the Stonewall riots depletes and distorts our history of resistance and the art produced, which is determinedly referred to as “pre-Stonewall.” Resistance occurred years before Stonewall (but there were lots of writers in New York at the time to write about those riots), in San Francisco, Los Angeles, other cities, powerful confrontations with the police, powerful demonstrations. “Pre-Stonewall” writers include William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, strong radical voices confronting the grave dangers of the time, violence, prison.

John Rechy talking to Eric Newman about his latest novel, Pablo!, written in 1948 but only now seeing publication

Tangerine Dream performing Identity Proven Matrix, one of the standout pieces from recent album Quantum Gate, live in the studio.

Beloved is the debut solo album by Randall Dunn, record producer and member of the masterful Master Musicians of Bukkake.

• “How will police solve murders on Mars?” Geoff Manaugh on the new frontier of interplanetary law enforcement.

Milly Burroughs on how Verner Panton changed the way the world sees furniture design.

Tim Martin on the new science of psychedelics.

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours

Next Stop Mars (1966) by Sun Ra & His Arkestra | Mars, The Bringer Of War (1976) by Isao Tomita | Mars Garden (2013) by Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald

The Last Angel of History: Afrofuturism, science fiction and electronic music

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There’s been a resurgence of interest recently in Afrofuturism (see this recent newspaper article, and this site), not before time when the term has been around since 1993. The concept itself goes back a long way, at least as far as the remarkable body of work produced by Sun Ra (1914–1993) whose vast discography dates from 1956 and has to be considered the first concerted attempt to craft an expansive cosmic/futuristic mythos in music.

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Sun Ra and his Arkestra make fleeting appearances in The Last Angel of History (1997), a 45-minute documentary by John Akomfrah which looks at Afrofuturism via its manifestations in fiction, contemporary music, and in space travel. The connecting tissue is a somewhat dated bit of cyperpunk fluff but it’s worth sticking around for the cast of interviewees. On the musical side there’s George Clinton, Derrick May, Juan Atkins, Carl Craig, DJ Spooky, Goldie, and A Guy Called Gerald; on the writing side there’s Ishmael Reed (whose early novels would have been published by my colleagues at Savoy Books if the company hadn’t gone bust in the early 80s), Samuel R. Delany (Savoy did publish one of his novels), Octavia Butler, Kodwo Eshun and Greg Tate; Nichelle Nichols has a chance to talk about something other than Star Trek for once since she helped with NASA’s recruitment programme. There’s also Bernard A. Harris Jr, one of the first African-Americans in space. The techno-fetishism seems overheated now that we’ve all calmed down about computers and the internet but that doesn’t negate the important points: sf as a reflection of the present moment, and as a means to imagine a different situation or way of life. With 2014 being Sun Ra’s centenary year I’m anticipating a lot more of this.

The Last Angel of History: part 1 | part 2 | part 3

Previously on { feuilleton }
Rammellzee RIP

Street Sounds Electro

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I spent much of the summer of 1983 playing games on a very primitive ZX Spectrum computer while listening to the first couple of Street Sounds Electro compilations. Those mix albums were among the best releases that year and remain highly sought after, seeing as they’ve never been reissued on CD.

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The musical reputation of the compilations has overshadowed the sleeve design which was very distinctive for the time and undoubtedly a factor in their success. The vertical ELECTRO type was inspired by Neville Brody’s design for The Face which had turned the magazine’s title through ninety degrees the year before. Also very Brodyish was the use of photocopier-processed graphics and narrow typography although it should be pointed out that Brody hand-drew nearly all his headlines which left his imitators searching through type catalogues for approximations. The sleeve designs are credited to “Red Ranch for Carver’s” about whom I can find no information whatever. Things came full-circle when The Face ran a feature on the electro scene in 1984 giving Brody the opportunity to do a cover with his own variant on the sleeve layouts.

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Essential Electro 9-album box, HBOX 1 (1984).

One of the big attractions of these albums for me was the new directions they were opening up for electronic music. Outside the mainstream pop world electronica in the early Eighties meant either the polite fare of Tangerine Dream or the dreary sludge of minor industrial acts such as Portion Control. Cabaret Voltaire were still vital in the early 1980s: their thundering Crackdown single (with sleeve design by Neville Brody) was remixed for its 12-inch incarnation by dance producer John Luongo while electro producer John Robie (whose production is featured on Electro 1) remixed their Yashar single for Factory Records. But nothing matched the excitement of a bunch of NYC kids lifting Kraftwerk riffs and playing in a very unselfconscious manner with new and relatively cheap equipment, especially the Roland TR-808 drum machine which provides the backbone for many of these recordings.

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