Weekend links 362

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A mural for Forest For The Trees, 2016, by Yoshi47.

• “Who’s the real cunt?” Andrew O’Hagan on the Daily Mail‘s hypocrisies, Little England bigotries and omni-outrage in a review of Mail Men: The Unauthorised Story of the ‘Daily Mail’, the Paper that Divided and Conquered Britain by Adrian Addison.

Deutschlandspiegel 198/1971: a short film at the German Federal Archive which includes footage of Popol Vuh (still in their electronic phase) six minutes in.

• A meeting of remarkable minds: a live radio discussion between Annea Lockwood and Pauline Oliveros from December 1972.

The House In The Woods (aka Martin Jenkins of Pye Corner Audio) at Rare Air, Seattle, 14th May 2017.

• “Peaceful but not to be messed with.” Tony Naylor on how the bee came to symbolise Manchester.

• Mixes of the week: FACT Mix 602 by Deathprod, and Secret Thirteen Mix 222 by Yuji Kondo.

Emptyset and Mouse On Mars’s Jan St Werner on space, time and the evolution of sound.

• At Indiegogo, a funding call for Subotnick: Portrait of an Electronic Music Pioneer.

Shannon Taggart’s Camera Fantastica: an interview by Peter Bebergal.

Study finds mushrooms are the safest recreational drug.

Mary Anne Hobbs‘ favourite albums.

Bumble Bee Bolero (1957) by Harry Breuer | Bee Stings (1998) by Coil | The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull (2008) by Earth

The mystery of trams

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Chateau de Labonnecuyere (c. 1970s) by The Brothers Quay.

Trams are a recurrent feature in the early drawings of the Brothers Quay, and they’ve also appeared in the Quays’ earliest animated films and in some of their designs for the stage. I respond to this fetishisation on the deepest level having been born and raised on the Fylde coast of Lancashire, an area which was for many years the only place in Britain that kept its tramways after the rest of the country had given over the streets to buses and cars. Trams are so ingrained in my consciousness that I still dream about the trams of my childhood, many of which were rattling, streamlined things dating back to the 1930s. Manchester was tramless when I arrived in the city in 1982 but a few years later the council embarked on an ambitious and far-sighted scheme to return trams to the city’s streets. The first routes opened in 1991, and the network has been evolving ever since, pushing out of the centre along disused rail lines.

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La Rue du Tramway (1938–1939) by Paul Delvaux.

The Quays aren’t alone in being attracted to this form of public transport. Trams haunt a certain type of oneiric European imagination, and I often wonder where the attraction lies. I think it’s something to do with their small scale and the way they remain bounded within the cities they serve. Trains have a romance and mythology of their own but are wide-ranging and far more common, as are buses whose presence on a city street is a reminder that the tram can be replaced. The Quays are Europhiles so they no doubt see the trams of the Continent as another feature of European city life that’s more arresting to American eyes. This post gathers some of the Quays’ uses together with other notable (and favourite) examples.

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Tram nocturne (1950) by Paul Delvaux.

Several of the examples listed here are Belgian which either means that trams exercise the Belgian imagination more than that of other nations, or I happen to pay more attention to Belgian art. (Probably a little of both.) Paul Delvaux put trams into several paintings but seems to have been the only Surrealist to do so.

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The trams that haunt my imagination are the cream-and-green vehicles that trundled for decades up and down the Fylde coast between Blackpool and Fleetwood. These machines used to run along the line at the end of the street I grew up in so there’s never been a day I can remember when I wasn’t aware of the tram—and of these vehicles in particular—as a viable mode of public transport. Looking at the websites of tram enthusiasts reveals the different names for each generation of Blackpool trams; so I now know that the bow-ended ones (which I always liked) are known as Brush Railcoaches, while the double-deckers are known as Balloons. None of these names were ever used by locals.

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Back to Belgium, and the comics and illustrations drawn by the marvellous François Schuiten are filled with trams. I’ve written at length about the Obscure World mythos of Schuiten and Peeters so rather than repeat myself I’ll point to the mystery of Tram 81, a recurrent and unexplained presence in Schuiten’s work.

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Nocturna Artificiala.

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Nocturna Artificiala.

Trams for the Brothers Quay are the small European variety rather than the streetcars seen in some American cities. One of the brothers’ Black Drawings, Chateau de Labonnecuyere, features a pantographed vehicle that glides through their later animated films. The first of these, Nocturna Artificiala (1979), is a wordless masque involving the yearning relationship between the solitary puppet character and an empty, nocturnal tram. The film is an animated extension of Chateau de Labonnecuyere which not only features the drawing itself but also includes a unique moment where the tram glides through the vast cathedral seen in the background.

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Leos Janacek: Intimate Excursions.

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Leos Janacek: Intimate Excursions.

The power-line supports seen in Chateau de Labonnecuyere are a recurrent motif in the Quays’ works. They appear together with the Nocturna Artificiala tram in Leos Janacek: Intimate Excursions (1983), and may be glimpsed among the faded detritus in Street of Crocodiles (1986).

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Avalon.

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Avalon.

I don’t know what the Quays would make of the science-fiction scenario of Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon (2001) but the recurrent scenes of a nocturnal tram journey would probably appeal, especially since the tram in question is a Polish one. Mamoru Oshii is the director of many SF-oriented animations, not least The Ghost in the Shell (1995). Avalon was a surprise when it appeared (and then seemed to vanish all-too-quickly): a live-action drama concerning the players of a virtual reality game which can have lethal consequences for the contestants. The film was made in Poland with a Polish cast, and the scenes are heavily processed throughout, with everything given a sepia wash. Coming after The Matrix, Dark City et al, the virtual reality aspect wasn’t so much of a surprise but I loved the juxtaposition of a futuristic story in a run-down European setting. And the trams, of course. The dream-like atmosphere of the film’s mundane scenes brings everything back to Delvaux and his tram nocturnes.

I was going to add Tramway (1966) to this list, a short student film directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, but it’s not especially mysterious. It’s worth a look if you like Kieslowski, however, and may be watched here. If anyone has suggestions for other mysterious trams then please leave a comment.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Paul Delvaux: The Sleepwalker of Saint-Idesbald

Mapping the Boroughs

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Alan Moore’s magnum opus, Jerusalem, is published today so I can talk at last about my small involvement with this huge novel. The request came through just before Christmas last year: Alan and his publishers, Knockabout Comics, wished to know whether I could create a map for the endpapers of the book. Not a flat street plan, but a bird’s eye view (in isometric or axonometric projection) of the now-demolished area of Northampton known as the Boroughs. The area still exists today under this name but Jerusalem concentrates on the region as it was when Alan was living there as a child: a dense labyrinth of houses, shops and a few small factories dating back to the 19th century, with many older buildings among them. This was the oldest area of the town, having originally grown up around Northampton Castle, a structure that was demolished gradually over the past few hundred years. Some of the street names in the Boroughs recall this history: Castle Street, Fort Street, Moat Street, Castle Terrace, etc.

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Compton Street a few years before demolition.

I immediately agreed to the request, of course, while swallowing heavily at what I was sure would be a demanding task. Looking at the crude street plan that Tony from Knockabout sent through, and examining the available maps on local history websites, it was evident that this was going to be a difficult technical challenge. Difficult, but not impossible if I could get hold of accurate maps of the area, which is what I did shortly after the Christmas break.

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The Boroughs mapped by Ordnance Survey, 1899.

There’s a wonderful publishing company, Alan Godfrey Maps, that specialises in reprinting old Ordnance Survey charts of Britain for use by genealogists and local historians. I’ve had some of their maps of Manchester city centre for years, so I knew they’d be ideal if they covered the relevant area of the town. Fortunately for my purposes, they publish two 1899 25-inch-to-the-mile maps of Northampton town centre which cover the whole of the Boroughs. When the maps arrived I scanned them at high-resolution then stitched them together; the top of the Boroughs extends onto the lower part of the map of northern Northampton. After scanning, it was a case of tracing all the streets and the outline of every single building in the area in order to create a plan that was much more accurate than any of the vague plans available online.

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When I began work I had the idea of widening all of the streets in order to have legible street names running along the roads, a common practice among mapmakers who draw city plans. (The map of New York City that Alan and Dave Gibbons used when creating Watchmen is a good example.) However, widening the roads (or diminishing the scale of the buildings) would have risked important landmarks appearing too small, and there were other potential problems looming, so I decided to play safe and keep to the map scale.

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The biggest headache after solving the accuracy of the roads and buildings was what to do about the roofs. It wasn’t too difficult to elevate the ground plan once I had it tilted at a suitable angle: the elevation was achieved by making about 12 copies of the ground plan which are stacked one on top of the other. The first layer was run through the bas relief filter in Photoshop in order to give it some depth and shadow. This had the result of shadowing the building walls so they resembled solid three-dimensional blocks when enough layers were stacked together.

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So all the streets and buildings are accurate up to a point. One inaccuracy is that all the buildings except for the churches are the same height, something that was unavoidable without invention. And there’s no representation of the slight hills which raise the streets in places. As for the roofs, these are mostly speculation. I’d thought at first that I might be able to save time by copying and pasting a generic roof shape but the streets are too meandering, and the building plans are too varied. The only solution was to put a copy of the roofless map into Illustrator then draw every single part of every single roof by hand: over 4500 vector pieces in all. By examining Google’s satellite pictures of the undemolished fringes of the old Boroughs I was able to guess how the some of the roofs might have worked together. At the beginning of the novel there’s repeated mention of the word “angles” (and its confusion with “angels”) so it now seems fitting that I spent the best part of a week drawing so many angles on the map. It would have been nice to also put chimneys on each house, and doors and windows (and add fences and pavements…), but if I’d started doing that I’d probably be finishing the work about now. Louis Bretez spent two years drawing the Turgot Map of Paris; I had deadlines pressing so had to get mine finished in five weeks.

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The map is based on the area as it was in 1899 but some of the landmarks are anachronisms. Alan’s story covers the past and present of the area so The Destructor, for example, wasn’t built until the 1920s. This is the building with the smoking chimney, one of several “municipal destructors” (incinerators) built around Britain at the time. The high-rise blocks of Beaumont Court and Claremont Court are even more out-of-time, having been built in 1962. It’s not so obvious from the printed map but these have a slightly ghostly presence since they don’t fit into the streets of the older Boroughs at all. Beaumont Court was built across Scarletwell Street so if you visit the area today you’ll find a block of flats at the end of a street that used to run from the houses where Alan grew up (on St Andrew’s Road) down to the Mayorhold.

A tough assignment, then, but it worked out in the end. It’s been an immense honour being asked to contribute to such a major novel.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Maps of Midtown Manhattan
The Turgot Map of Paris
Art is magic. Magic is art.
Alan Moore: Storyteller
Alan Moore: Tisser l’invisible
Dodgem Logic #4

A History of the Sky, a film by Ken Murphy

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This is a year-long time-lapse study of the sky. A camera installed on the roof of the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco captured an image of the sky every 10 seconds. From these images, I created a mosaic of time-lapse movies, each showing a single day. The days are arranged in chronological order. My intent was to reveal the patterns of light and weather over the course of a year.

I once filled out a three-hour VHS tape with a single shot of drifting clouds using my old video camera. I was thinking at the time of Brian Eno’s studies of the skies over Manhattan but the roofs of South Manchester can’t compete with those of New York City. Ken Murphy’s film is a slowly evolving mosaic that also serves to remind us northerners how quickly the night comes to California.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Mistaken Memories Of Mediaeval Manhattan

Graft by Matt Hill

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UK edition.

This latest cover design has been made public much sooner than some of the other things I’ve been working on this year. Graft is another cover for Angry Robot, a novel set in near-future Manchester by local author Matt Hill. The title plays on the multiple meanings of the word “graft”, not only the colloquial term for work (honest or otherwise) but also the sense of a medical graft. Once again, Barnes & Noble have provided a convenient précis:

Manchester, 2025. Local mechanic Sol steals old vehicles to meet the demand for spares. But when Sol’s partner impulsively jacks a luxury model, Sol finds himself caught up in a nightmarish trans-dimensional human trafficking conspiracy.

Hidden in the stolen car is a voiceless, three-armed woman called Y. She’s had her memory removed and undertaken a harrowing journey into a world she only vaguely recognises. And someone waiting in the UK expects her delivery at all costs.

Now Sol and Y are on the run from both Y’s traffickers and the organization’s faithful products. With the help of a dangerous triggerman and Sol’s ex, they must uncover the true, terrifying extent of the trafficking operation, or it’s all over.

Not that there was much hope to start with.

A novel about the horror of exploitation and the weight of love, Graft imagines a country in which too many people are only worth what’s on their price tag.

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US edition.

The challenge with this one was to create something that might be read as futuristic yet also included elements of the real Manchester. All the buildings are worked up from photos of my own, many of them taken during a long day out spent wandering around the Cornbrook area and Salford Quays. The latter has been extensively redeveloped in recent years so there’s a lot of new architecture out there, including the new BBC headquarters. The elegant pylons are the supports of the Lowry Bridge which can be raised to allow ships into the docks.

I couldn’t settle on a final colour scheme for this one so I made a number of variations then let author and publisher decide. This resulted in three covers: the UK edition, US edition and e-book. It took a while but I think I’m happiest now with the blue-and-purple version. Matt Hill talks about Graft here.

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E-book.