Weekend links 561

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The next release on the Ghost Box label, Painting Box is a collaborative seven-inch single by Beautify Junkyards and Belbury Poly, the A-side of which is a cover of a song by The Incredible String Band. Available on 30th April. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• “What is good for you as a person is often bad for you as a writer. People will tell you that this not true, and some of the people who will tell you that are also writers, but they are bad writers, at least when they try to convince you, and themselves, that the most important thing for a fiction writer to have is compassion.” Brock Clarke on the case for meanness in fiction.

• The week in non-human intelligence: “Life beyond human has to play by the rules of natural selection,” says David P. Barash, and Thomas Moynihan on dolphin intelligence and humanity’s cosmic future.

Ilia Rogatchevski speaks with historian Juliane Fürst about her new history of Soviet hippies and the counterculture of the former USSR.

• Mushroom with a view: Karen Schechner at Bookforum talks with Bett Williams about her mycological journey.

• Retro instinct versus future fetish: Fergal Kinney on Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup 25 years on.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…JG Ballard: The Atrocity Exhibition (1970).

This is Hexagon Sun: A feature-length video on Boards of Canada.

• Mix of the week: The Ides by The Ephemeral Man.

• New music: Gyropedie by Anne Guthrie.

Paintbox (1967) by Pink Floyd | Orgone Box (1989) by Haruomi Hosono | God Box (1996) by Paul Schütze & Andrew Hulme

Ghost Box and The Infinity Box

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It’s less of a surprise than it may seem to go searching for the source of a quote only to find yourself immediately faced with one of your own artworks. The posts here go back almost 15 years, and when so many of them cover niche interests any attempt to further explore a particular niche can circle back to something I’ve already posted. The latest example is an unusual one, however. The picture above is the Haeckel collage I created for the Starry Wisdom collection of Lovecraftian fiction in 1994, a piece that was later digitally refashioned for The Haunter of the Dark book. The quote I was pursuing is as follows:

“Inside the infernal box are impossible spaces, dark screens and mirrors, terrible traces of light, calcified thought forms and endless idiot mutterings. The switch is thrown and the magnetic coils begin to generate their obscene flickering images. This contraption might have been conceived by the Old Ones long before it was assembled by human hands.”
—The Infinity Box, Alan Causley & MB Devot

The description appears together with a dialogue extract from Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape on the fourth Ghost Box release, Ouroborindra (2005) by Eric Zann, a one-off album of spooky sample soundscapes created by a pseudonymous Jim Jupp in between his Belbury Poly albums. All the Ghost Box releases feature significant quotes, most of which are genuine extracts from stories, novels, non-fiction works, etc. The description of the Infinity Box raised my suspicion about its authenticity when the only references to either it or Causley and Devot are in listings for the Eric Zann album. My Yuggoth collage appears on this page which further compounds the confusion by making it seem that my art is somehow connected to Causley and Devot and their mysterious box. This isn’t a complaint but it doesn’t help clarify the situation. Alan Causley has no credits anywhere outside the quote but there is another Causley, the celebrated poet, Charles, whose poems are sampled on later Ghost Box releases by The Focus Group, aka Ghost Box co-founder Julian House. Scrutiny of the other Ghost Box albums reminded me that quotes from MB Devot’s writings appear elsewhere on the early releases but I hadn’t bothered to look up the name until now.

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It’s often the case with posts such as this that mild curiosity turns into deeper intrigue. The web of connections becomes more tangled on the first Ghost Box release, Sketches And Spells by The Focus Group, which has a Devot quote from a text with the apt title The Tangled Beams, and a final track with the title Starry Wisdom. Devot is described by reviewers as either a fictional writer or an authentic scholar, the latter designation being supported by a Wikipedia page. Wikipedia may be prone to errors but it isn’t known for fake entries so this was a surprising discovery; Devot is also referenced on the page for parapsychologist TC Lethbridge who happens to be another source of Ghost Box quotes. Suspicion returns when you try to search for any of Devot’s listed publications, none of which turn up in WorldCat or similar catalogues. One of the Wikipedia print sources is an issue of Fortean Times from 1989 but there’s nothing about Devot listed in the contents of that issue. Issue 53 was a crop circle special, however, so it certainly fits the Ghost Box interest in the paranormal as it manifests in the British countryside. We now know that crop circles were man-made, not the product of flying saucers or other phenomena, so this may be fitting as well.

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I would have left the search there but I did find one further Devot connection that I might otherwise have missed. Folklore and Mathematics is the title of a one-off Ghost Box periodical published in 2007 for people subscribed to the label’s mail order service. It’s a typically fine Julian House artefact that complements the Sketches And Spells album in both its title and its graphics. Inside we find “From the archives of MB Devot”, and discover another reference to the Infinity Box. Apparently the black-and-white graphics that cover all the early Ghost Box discs are vibration patterns—”verberations”—created by Devot’s occult apparatus.

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I wrote above that “any attempt to further explore a particular niche can circle back to something I’ve already posted” so I wasn’t too surprised to have all these explorations finding their way back here. In 2009 Julian House exhibited three invented books as part of The New Spirit Happening, an exhibition of Ghost Box-related work at the Architect’s Gallery in Teddington. I posted two of the covers after the exhibition but couldn’t recall who the books were credited to. The authors are—inevitably—”A. Causley” and “MB Devot”, and the volumes feature by-now familiar phrases: “The Tangled Beams”, “The Infinity Box”. Also more Lovecraftian verberations: “Heavens Other Colour”, “The Eye at the Threshold”. So Causley and Devot have been lurking here for the past decade, in which case having my artwork attached to their names no longer seems like an arbitrary association. “Inside the infernal box are impossible spaces, dark screens and mirrors…”. Indeed there are.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Unearthly tones
Owls and flowers
The White People by Arthur Machen
Stone Tapes and Quatermasses
The Ghost Box Study Series
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
Forbidden volumes
The Séance at Hobs Lane
Ghost Box

Weekend links 546

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The next release on the Ghost Box label, Cosmorama is “tropicalia tinged psychedelic dream pop” by Beautify Junkyards. The album will be available in January. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• Reading a review of John Gray’s Straw Dogs several years ago I remember thinking facetiously that Gray should write a follow-up about cats. (Straw Dogs isn’t a book about dogs.) The joke is on me with the publication of Gray’s latest, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life. I should set up as a literary agent.

• All you need is doom: Plague Notes, Unnamed, Unknown, A Finger Dragged Through Dust, the debut album from My Heart, an Inverted Flame, is released on the 11th of this month. “Absolutely NO guitars were used in the casting of these drone metal voidscapes.” Excellent work.

• What a difference a week makes: “A Utah monolith enchanted millions and then it was gone, leaving mysteries behind.”

• En Pleine Mer: The underwater landscapes of Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, 1867.

• Imaginative drawings of travel during a pandemic lockdown by Oscar Oiwa.

• The beauty of starling murmurations as photographed by Søren Solkær.

• Cosmic Dancer: Alice Finney on the strange world of Michael Clark.

• Mix of the week: Invaders by The Ephemeral Man.

Cosmos (1972) by Bruno Menny | Gliding Thru The Cosmophonic Dome (1981) by Bernard Xolotl | Radio Cosmos (1981) by Ippu-Do

Unearthly tones

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Design, as always, is by Julian House.

“…we shall only be delivered from our afflictions by sayings and doings that are altogether irrational, paradoxical, and magical: the wild songs of fairyland, sung to unearthly tones, are the only medicine for the heartache and the headache of humanity.”

Arthur Machen, A Note on Asceticism (The Academy, 27th May, 1911)

This quote from the Apostle of Wonder, which will appear on the forthcoming album from Belbury Poly, is one I hadn’t seen before; serves me right for not subscribing to Faunus where the piece was reprinted in 2017. It’s been a while since Machen’s name has appeared in association with Ghost Box even though the label originates from the same area of South Wales that was the writer’s birthplace, a detail that gave the early Ghost Box releases additional resonance. One of the attractions of the Ghost Box recordings was the intersection between quotes and titles from weird literature with electronic music derived from library albums and theme tunes from the 1960s and 70s; Witch Cults Of The Radio Age, as Broadcast & The Focus Group memorably put it. It was a beguiling mix which the label’s more recent releases have increasingly diluted: the rear-view musical themes are still in evidence but the weird quotient has been diminished, giving the listener a box without a ghost. (Pye Corner Audio, whose last album was an exploration of subterranean realms, is a notable exception.) I feel uncomfortable drawing attention to this since it’s tantamount to saying “Please don’t change!”. But it’s also the case that a label devoted solely to Basil Kirchin pastiches might never have attracted my attention in the first place.

The description of new Belbury Poly album, The Gone Away, reaffirms the label’s commitment to its weirder side:

The Gone Away’s 11 tracks are inspired by British fairy folklore, especially its recurrent themes of things that always seem on the point of leaving or vanishing. Also there’s the notion of things that can’t be seen head on but are only glimpsed from the corner of the eye. A scorned and neglected corner of folklore, beguiling and bonkers in equal measure. Of course, this being a Ghost Box record, these themes are received through the prism of old TV soundtracks, and the credulous beliefs and childhood obsessions of a pre-digital age.

Anyone who’s read Arthur Machen’s The Shining Pyramid will know that fairy folklore in his stories conceals a darker and more malevolent manifestation of the supernatural. His comment about “unearthly tones” suggests a different point of view. The Gone Away will be released on 28th August.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The White People by Arthur Machen
Ghost Box

Weekend links 507

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The next release on the Ghost Box label will be Puzzlewood by Plone, “unironically joyful and melodic electronica; informed by library music, music for children’s TV and a deep passion for the history of music technology”. The album will be available in April. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• “With his panting breath and dripping sweat infused in each page of his memoir, Patrick Cowley describes himself on his knees, bending over and ‘worshipping Phallus.'” Maxwell Shand on Dark Entries‘ “holy trinity” of Patrick Cowley’s Mechanical Fantasy Box, Hot Rod To Hell by Roy Garrett & Man Parrish, and Maxx Mann’s gay synth-pop.

• “We’re gonna do economic activity—without money!”: Inside the criminal glamour of the San Francisco Diggers with Kent Minault. The third installment of a verbal history of the hippie anarchists by Jay Babcock.

• “Susanna Hoffs and friends remember David Roback, who stayed creative, and enigmatic, to the end.” By Randall Roberts.

My connection with [raga] was not to be able to duplicate or emulate it but to learn from it. I combined it with the electronics and the harmonizer and things like that. But I would have a line that was being drawn. You’re thinking about it like a shape that’s being drawn on a canvas. It’s a line that’s being drawn and another. You’re holding three pencils at once while you’re drawing on the wall. So, you’re able to get the shapes. This was my thing with it, because I was into the harmony that it would make. So, it was an easy and natural thing to do, was to go and move into the electronics. Then we had equipment that was doing transposition and all that kind of thing. So that’s one little part of it.

Jon Hassell talking to Aquarium Drunkard about his first album, Vernal Equinox, which is reissued later this month

• Published next month by Strange Attractor Press: Rated SavX: The Savage Pencil Skratchbook.

• They came from outer Finland: the town where everyone saw UFOs, as photographed by Maria Lax.

• Mix of the week: Through A Landscape Of Mirrors Vol. VI – Sweden II by David Colohan.

Moonstrips Empire News (1967) by Eduardo Paolozzi.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Shelley Duvall Day.

Graham Massey‘s favourite albums.

Phallus Dei (1969) by Amon Düül II | Wrong Eye (1990) by Coil | Red Scratch (1994) by ELpH