Weekend links 639

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Japanese poster for Alphaville (1965).

Peter Bogdanovich: I think we’d better have your thoughts on Godard.

Orson Welles: Well, since you’re so very firm about it. He’s the definitive influence if not really the first film artist of this last decade, and his gifts as a director are enormous. I just can’t take him very seriously as a thinker—and that’s where we seem to differ, because he does. His message is what he cares about these days, and, like most movie messages, it could be written on the head of a pin. But what’s so admirable about him is his marvellous contempt for the machinery of movies and even movies themselves—a kind of anarchistic, nihilistic contempt for the medium—which, when he’s at his best and most vigorous, is very exciting.

• RIP JLG. I was watching Alphaville again just two weeks ago after a DVD turned up in the local charity shop. Still the only Godard film I like 100% but “liking” seems beside the point. His influence today is everywhere, so fully absorbed into the language of cinema that people barely notice it.

• “The things that cause my gaze to linger are usually the portraits or landscapes that spark a feeling of unease, disquiet and discomfort. A shadow amongst the summer trees, a lurking silhouette reflected in a perfect blue iris, a vibrant flower in the early stages of decay.” S. Elizabeth talking to Beautiful Bizarre about her new book, The Art of Darkness: A Treasury of the Morbid, Melancholic and Macabre.

• Allow John Waters (again) to dictate your film viewing with a Letterboxd list of his favourite films, based on comments in his writings and interviews. On the subject of Godard, Waters’ Crackpot book contains a whole chapter about Hail Mary.

• Astor’s Electrical Future: Iwan Rhys Morus explores a vision of the year 2000 recounted in A Journey in Other Worlds (1894), a “scientific romance” by John Jacob Astor IV, with illustrations by Daniel Carter Beard.

• Strange Attractor has announced a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of an Austin Osman Spare Tarot deck.

• At Wormwoodiana: The Parrot, the Unicorn and the Golden Dragon: Some 17th Century Booksellers’ Signs.

• At Bandcamp: Andy Thomas on Chris Watson‘s post-Cabaret Voltaire career in nature recordings.

• A new outlet for cinematic obscurities: Radiance Films.

Alphaville (1978) by Klaus Schulze | Alphaville (1979) by The Monochrome Set | Alphaville (1999) by Scanner

Stomu Yamash’ta’s Seasons

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If you’ve ever watched The Man Who Fell to Earth then you’ve heard music by Japanese percussionist and composer Stomu Yamash’ta. The opening scene where David Bowie’s duffle-coated alien stumbles down a hillside (falling to earth for a second time) is scored with the first few minutes of Poker Dice, the opening track on Yamash’ta’s Floating Music album; more Yamash’ta pieces are heard later in the film. Floating Music has just been reissued on CD by Cherry Red in Seasons, a box set which contains all seven of the albums Yamash’ta recorded for the Island label from 1972 to 1976, with each disc housed in a facsimile card sleeve.

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Stomu Yamash’ta’s artistic profile was very high in the 1970s, high enough to make his apparent disappearance in the decade that followed an unusual thing. Unusual for me, anyway. I only started to notice his name in the early 1980s, mostly in connection with feature films, and couldn’t work out why he was no longer mentioned anywhere as an active artist. In addition to the Roeg soundtrack he plays on the soundtracks for Robert Altman’s Images (1972) and Saul Bass’s Phase IV (1974); he’s also one of the performers on the Peter Maxwell Davies score for The Devils (1971) although Ken Russell’s film gets to be so chaotic I’ve yet to identify his contribution. Later in the decade Yamash’ta was the only non-Western artist to appear in the final episode of Tony Palmer’s television history of pop music All You Need Is Love, in a programme that explored new musical directions. Away from films and TV there were numerous concerts; Yamash’ta’s history as a percussion prodigy in the 1960s had seen him performing compositions by Peter Maxwell Davies and Toru Takemitsu when he was still in his teens. His energetic performances gave way to a frenzied recording schedule—in 1971 alone he recorded six studio albums—which culminated in 1976 with the founding of Go, a short-lived jazz-fusion supergroup whose lineup included Steve Winwood, Al Di Meola, Michael Shrieve, and (surprisingly) Klaus Schulze.

Yamash’ta’s “disappearance” in the 1980s was really a retreat from the spotlight after a decade-and-a-half of almost continual public activity. He returned to Japan where he continued recording but gravitated away from jazz and avant-garde music towards the spiritual side of Japanese culture. Most of his albums since 1980 have only been Japan-only releases, another factor contributing to his obscurity elsewhere. More recently he’s taken to playing the Sanukitophone, a bespoke percussion instrument made from a variety of volcanic rock unique to the Japanese archipelago.

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Freedom Is Frightening (1973), one of three Yamash’ta albums with cover designs by Saul Bass.

The albums in the new box set encapsulate what might be called Yamash’ta’s “Kozmigroov” period, although Yamash’ta’s name is absent from the generally thorough and wide-ranging Kozmigroov Index. This is also his most commercial period. Prior to 1972 Yamash’ta’s recordings were soundtracks, performances with orchestras or improvised freakouts; from 1980 his music seems to be predominantly meditational (“New Age”, if you must) but I’ve not heard most of it so can’t say much about it. Kozmigroov is jazz fusion at core, usually combining a variety of disparate influences, which is what you have here: extended arrangements of jazz, funk, soul, rock, electronics, and occasional moments of traditional Japanese music. The continually changing group names testify to a restless nature: Floating Music (1972) by Stomu Yamash’ta & Come To The Edge (a British jazz group), Freedom Is Frightening (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind, The Soundtrack From “The Man From The East” (1973) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s Red Buddha Theatre, One By One (1974) by Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind, and Raindog (1975) by Yamashta [sic]. Then there’s the self-titled Go album (with a cover design by Saul Bass) and its live counterpart, Go…Live From Paris. (A third and final album by the group, Go Too, was released on Arista so isn’t included in this set.) The sound evolves from semi-improvised instrumentals on the first few albums to songs and more rock-oriented arrangements on Raindog and the Go releases, with the Steve Winwood songs on the latter coming across as a step into more predictable territory compared to the earlier recordings. The Go live album is much better than the uneven studio set, a sustained suite of songs and instrumentals linked by Klaus Schulze’s synthesizers; Schulze gets a big cheer when the band is introduced. If you like jazz fusion there’s a lot to enjoy in this box, a third of which I hadn’t heard before. Dunes, the opening track on Raindog, unfolds over 15 minutes with an insistent groove that brings to mind the Mahavishnu Orchestra and early Santana, although Maxine Nightingale is a better singer than anyone on the Santana albums. And if you are familiar with The Man Who Fell to Earth then you get all of Yamash’ta’s music from the soundtrack scattered across these albums, most of which is only heard as extracts during the film.

With the recent reissue of Sunrise From West Sea “Live” I’m tempted to think that we might be due for a resurgence of interest in Stomu Yamash’ta’s music, but the prior availability of the Seasons albums as individual CDs doesn’t appear to have prompted a clamour for more. There’s a lot more out there, however, especially the rare Japanese releases from the early 1970s. Follow the links below for more detail.

The Infinite Horizons of Stomu Yamash’ta by Gregor Meyer.
The Strange World of…Stomu Yamash’ta by Miranda Rimington.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Devils on DVD
Directed by Saul Bass
Saul Bass album covers
Images by Robert Altman

Weekend links 619

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A Moog on the Moon by P. Praquin, 1977. And a space helmet reflection to add to the list being accumulated by 70s Sci-Fi Art.

• RIP Klaus “Quadro” Schulze. I’ve owned many of his solo albums over the years, and while they’re historically important for the part they played in developing the kosmische sound in the 1970s I’ve never been very enthusiastic about the music. The albums I prefer are the ones where he was working with others, whether as a drummer in Ash Ra Tempel, an inadvertent member of the fake Cosmic Jokers supergroup, or part of the genuine Cosmic Couriers supergroup that made Tarot. The Tonwelle album credited to “Richard Wahnfried” benefits considerably from the presence of Manuel Göttsching and Michael Schrieve (also a rumoured Carlos Santana); I recommend it. For a taste of the synth-doodling Schulze, here he is in analogue heaven.

• Next month, Luminous Procuress, a film by Steven Arnold (previously), is released for the first time on blu-ray by Second Run: “Exploding out of San Francisco’s vibrant late-60s counter-culture, Luminous Procuress is a psychedelic odyssey of unabashed hedonism. The only feature film by artist, mystic and polymath Steven Arnold, the film celebrates gender-fluidity and pan-sexuality in a voyeuristic phantasmagorical journey towards spiritual ecstasy.”

• “Whereas [Bernard] Herrmann worked predominantly with strings and [John] Carpenter with synths, Anderson wanted to evoke a similar atmosphere with guitars.” Greg “The Lord” Anderson talks to Dan Franklin about making an album of night music.

I am troubled by how often people talk about likability when they talk about art.

I am troubled by how often our protagonists are supposed to live impeccable, sin-free lives, extolling the right virtues in the right order—when we, the audience, do not and never have, no matter what we perform for those around us.

I am troubled by the word “problematic,” mostly because of how fundamentally undescriptive it is. Tell me that something is xenophobic, condescending, clichéd, unspeakably stupid, or some other constellation of descriptors. Then I will decide whether I agree, based on the intersection of that thing with my particular set of values and aesthetics. But by saying it is problematic you are saying that it constitutes or presents a problem, to which my first instinct is to reply: I hope so.

Art is the realm of the problem. Art chews on problems, turns them over, examines them, breaks them open, breaks us open against them. Art contains a myriad of problems, dislocations, uncertainties. Doesn’t it? If not, then what?

Jen Silverman on the new moralisers

• “The website is colorful and anarchic, evoking the chaotic sensory experience of exploring a crammed, dusty shop.” Geeta Dayal explores the Syrian Cassette Archives.

• New music: The Last One, 1970 by Les Rallizes Dénudés; Untitled 3 by Final; Blinking In Time (full version) by Scanner.

• Why was erotic art so popular in ancient Pompeii? Meilan Solly investigates.

• You’ve been reframed: Anne Billson explores the history of split-screen cinema.

• At Spoon & Tamago: Japanese era names illustrated as logos.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 745 by Wilted Woman.

Fun type

Split, Pt. 4 (1971) by The Groundhogs | Split Second Feeling (1981) by Cabaret Voltaire | Splitting The Atom (2010) by Massive Attack

A mix for Halloween: Analogue Spectres

Presenting the eleventh Halloween playlist, and another mix of my own. Previous mixes have been wide-ranging and not a little nerve-jangling so this year the focus has been narrowed to a synth-only mix. The theme is the analogue synthesizer music of the 1970s, particularly the style popularised by Tangerine Dream on Phaedra, Rubycon, Ricochet and Stratosfear.

The “fear” element of the latter title is significant in this context. Tangerine Dream from their earliest days produced timbres and atmospheres that tended towards the sinister and the doom-laden. This quality continued when they moved to Virgin Records in 1974, using new synthesizers and sequencers to develop their sound. In part the doomy atmosphere was a result of limitations, a combination of organ-led chord sequences and the difficulties of using primitive electronics for anything other than unnatural atmospheres. The earliest albums by Klaus Schulze are equally sombre but Schulze lost this tendency as his playing improved. Tangerine Dream, meanwhile, seemed to enter a Gothic phase with the move to Virgin: their track titles became darker—Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares, The Big Sleep In Search Of Hades, Stratosfear—and they swapped concert halls for the cavernous spaces of European cathedrals. William Friedkin in his sleeve note for the Sorcerer soundtrack album expressed disappointment that he hadn’t heard the group soon enough for them to provide music for The Exorcist.

Tangerine Dream are only represented here with two tracks—one of them from the Sorcerer soundtrack—but their influential Virgin years provide the template for several other pieces. Two of the groups, Redshift and Node, are British ensembles who take Tangerine Dream’s albums of the 1970s as their sole template. In the case of Redshift this has yielded a number of albums that are flawless in their imitation (and extension) of the Rubycon/Ricochet template, and the group are highly recommended to anyone who enjoys those albums. Redshift have also continued with the doom-laden atmospheres which is why this mix contains so many of their pieces.

The other axis here is the early scores by John Carpenter which have often seemed as influential as his films: imitated, sampled, and inspiring the sinister, throbbing electronica of Pye Corner Audio and others. Carpenter has frequently mentioned Tangerine Dream in lists of favourite electronic musicians; no surprise there but it feels satisfying to have things join up.

As before, Mixcloud no longer allows the posting of a tracklist so this is the running order:

Tangerine DreamSorcerer (Main Title) (1977)
Pye Corner AudioProwler (2015)
RedshiftLeave The Light On (2004)
John CarpenterThe Fog Enters The Town (1980)
Ian BoddyThere’s Something In Your Attic (1999)
NodeDark Beneath The Earth (2014)
Tangerine DreamDesert Dream (1977)
RedshiftWraith (2002)
RedshiftNightshift (2007)
RedshiftDown Time (2001)
Pye Corner AudioStars Shine Like Eyes (2015)

Previously on { feuilleton }
A mix for Halloween: Teatro Grottesco
A mix for Halloween: Unheimlich Manoeuvres
A mix for Halloween: Ectoplasm Forming
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
A playlist for Halloween

Weekend links 310

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Parkland (2012) by Dean Monogenis.

• “The Story Behind the Planet’s Most Influential Road Map of ‘Weird Music’“. Gustavo Turner investigates the enduring influence of The Nurse With Wound List. Related: A Discogs list of links to all the NWWL discographies, and a recommended listening guide by Ultima Thule.

Tokyo Melody: Un film sur Ryuichi Sakamoto (1985) by Elizabeth Lennard features Sakamoto at work on Illustrated Musical Encyclopedia, together with Akiko Yano, Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi.

• “We wanted to fuse the aesthetics, histories and values of witchcraft, the traditional ideas with a contemporary edge,” says editor and creative director of Sabat magazine, Elisabeth Krohn.

There is a very seductive and very dangerous demon: the demon of generalities. He captivates man’s thought by marking every phenomenon with a little label, and punctiliously placing it together with another, similarly carefully wrapped and numbered phenomenon. Through him a field of human knowledge as changeable as history is turned into a neat little office, where this many wars and that many revolutions sleep in folders – and where we can pore over bygone ages in complete comfort. This demon is fond of words such as “idea”, “tendency”, “influence”, “period”, and “era”. In the historian’s study this demon reductively combines in hindsight the phenomena, influences and tendencies of past ages. With this demon comes appalling tedium – the knowledge (utterly mistaken, by the way) that, however humanity plays its hand or fights back, it follows an implacable course. This demon should be feared. He is a fraud. He is a salesman of centuries, pushing his historical price list.

Vladimir Nabokov in a previously unpublished lecture, On Generalities

• More Tom Phillips: 20 Sites n Years, a film by Jake Auerbach & David Thorp about the artist’s long-term urban photography project, is showing at Camberwell College of Arts next month.

• Mixes of the week: Sass In Pocket by Abigail Ward, Near Mint, 17th May 2016 by Robin the Fog & Hannah Brown, and Secret Thirteen Mix 184 by Andi Stecher.

• Grey Dog Tales talks to Brian J Showers of Swan River Press about horror and supernatural fiction.

• “Magic mushrooms lift severe depression in clinical trial.” But their use is still illegal in the UK.

• “Your brain does not process information, and it is not a computer,” says Robert Epstein.

Cliff Martinez’s theme for Nicolas Winding Refn’s forthcoming The Neon Demon.

Diamanda Galás, Still Wild and Primal, Returns to the New York Stage.

Janae Corrado on the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin.

Alastair Gee on gay home movies from the 1940s on.

People Laugh At Me (Coz I Like Weird Music) (1980) by The Instant Automatons | Weird Caravan (1980) by Klaus Schulze | Call It Weird (1983) by Xymox