Richard H. Kirk, 1956–2021

kirk.jpg

Q: Was the initial idea to be a music group?

Richard H. Kirk: I suppose that depends on how you define “music”. No, the initial idea was to be more of a sound group, just putting sounds together like jigsaw pieces. If the result did sound like music then it was purely coincidental.

From Cabaret Voltaire: The Art of the Sixth Sense (1984) by M Fish & D Hallberry

This was a shock, in part because I tend to think of certain artists as perpetually young even when I’ve been following them for decades. In the case of the not-so-young Cabaret Voltaire it was an easy frame of mind to slip into when Kirk and Mallinder were only photographically visible up to about 1990. After this the group resumed their former obscurity, cloaked by abstract images and Designers Republic graphics.

Oddly enough I’d been running through the early Cabs albums only a couple of weeks ago, and wondering how long Kirk was going to keep the revived group going on his own. I suppose this means that Cabaret Voltaire is now definitely finished, in which case it’s a double RIP. And just a few days ago I was reading a Mark Fisher essay on Joy Division, feeling as frustrated as I always do when Curtis and co. are praised for “channelling” (or whatever) the spirit of William Burroughs when nobody would think to connect Burroughs and Joy Division if you changed the title of the song Interzone to something else. Throbbing Gristle were closer to Burroughs personally than were Cabaret Voltaire but the influence on TG only became really overt when Industrial Records released Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, an album of Burroughs’ tape experiments. The Cabs were more important to me as a youthful reader of Burroughs’ novels for seeming to be broadcasting from inside his texts. Their early albums were disturbed and disturbing (a friend once asked me to switch off their music for this very reason), an unwholesome amalgam of dialogue taped from TV and radio, crude electronics, threatening voices, and songs that were warped into strange new shapes. This is entertainment…this is fun… I’m still amazed that their first album included a cover of No Escape, a song by psychedelic group The Seeds, which didn’t sound out of place despite the weirdness surrounding it.

giorno-burroughs-cabs.jpg

William smiles. Left to right: John Giorno, William Burroughs, Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk. Photo by Sylvia Plachy from the gatefold interior of A Diamond In The Mouth Of A Corpse (1985), a compilation album released by Giorno Poetry Systems.

Cut-up theory was a constant in the Cabaret Voltaire discography, and in many of Richard Kirk’s solo recordings, with the group starting out as Dada-inspired tape collagists* before they found a way to present their experiments in a musical form. The concept is to the fore in the title of Cabaret Voltaire’s debut album, Mix-Up, and exemplified in the track that opens side two, Photophobia, a reworked version of a Surrealist monologue that dates from the group’s days making recordings in Chris Watson’s attic. Photophobia pulls you into the same queasy dreamspace in which you find yourself when reading Burroughs’ early cut-ups, a catalogue of oneiric splicings—”they’re injecting the rivers with stainless-steel fish…a coelacanth/a body with a shrunken head…”—the phrases being increasingly overwhelmed by rising synthesizer drones and Kirk’s squeaking clarinet. Kirk’s solo debut, Disposable Half-Truths, was a cassette-only release on Industrial Records infused with the Burroughs spirit in both technique and content, offering track titles such as Information Therapy and Insect Friends Of Allah. Cabaret Voltaire continually referred to Burroughs’ speculative essay collection The Electronic Revolution in interviews but it was Kirk who extended the group’s cut-up experiments to film and video. By 1982 they’d accumulated enough of their own video material to release a VHS collection on their own music and video label, Doublevision.

If I’ve concentrated on the early recordings it’s because the post-punk period continues to seem like a miraculous moment, a space of four years when anything was possible musically, a time when Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis could record an album as uncompromisingly strange as 3R4 then have it released on 4AD and sold in racks next to albums by label-mates Bauhaus and The Birthday Party. Cabaret Voltaire took advantage of this unique period to warp expectations in their own way, and to extend the boundaries of the possible. Richard H. Kirk’s subsequent career was prolific, releasing a blizzard of albums and singles under a variety of pseudonyms (Discogs lists 42 different Kirk aliases). One of my favourite pieces from his solo recordings is White Darkness from 1993, the last track on a 12-inch single, Digital Lifeforms, credited to Sandoz. There’s a mysterious quality here that I wish he’d explored more often on his later albums instead of letting the rhythms run their course for another seven or eight minutes. The sampled voice maintains a thread of continuity with Kirk’s music before and after, as does the reference to LSD in the Sandoz name, taking us back to Mix-Up and the mescaline experiments described on Heaven And Hell. Psychedelia by other means.

* For a taste of unadorned Cabs-related tape manipulation, see The Men With The Deadly Dreams, a cassette release compiled by Geoff Rushton/John Balance which features contributions from Chris Watson and Richard H. Kirk. Note that the blog post doesn’t give an accurate description of the tape contents.

• At Vinyl Factory: An introduction to Richard H. Kirk in 10 records.
• At The Wire: two interviews with Kirk from the magazine’s archives.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Recoil and Cabaret Voltaire
Pow-Wow by Stephen Mallinder
TV Wipeout revisited
Doublevision Presents Cabaret Voltaire
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
European Rendezvous by CTI
TV Wipeout
Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo
Elemental 7 by CTI
The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire
Neville Brody and Fetish Records

Weekend links 554

yokoo.jpg

Tadanori Yokoo Emphasizes Deliberate Misalignment in Contemporary Woodblock Series.

• Another week, another Paris Review essay on Leonora Carrington. This time it’s Olga Tokarczuk exploring eccentricity as feminism. At the same publication there’s more eccentricity in Lucy Scholes‘ feature about the neglected novels of Irene Handl, a woman best known for the characters she played in many British films and TV dramas. I’ve long been curious about Handl’s writing career so this was good to see.

• “The denial of our participation in the world, [Fisher] implies—the disavowal of our desire for iPhones even as we diligently think anti-capitalist thoughts—is incapacitating. It leads to a regressive utopianism that cannot envision going through capitalism, but only retreating or escaping from it, into a primitive past or fictional future.” Lola Seaton on the ghosts of Mark Fisher.

• More ghosts: Paranormal is the latest collection of spooky, atmospheric electronica from Grey Frequency, “an audio document exploring extraordinary phenomena which have challenged orthodox science, but which have also grown and evolved as part of contemporary culture and a wider folkloric landscape.”

• “Items billed as THE BEST EVER can stop us cold, and even cause us to take them for granted, never reassessing them, as we instead gesture, often without thought, to where they sit in the corner, under a halo and backdrop of blue ribbons.” Colin Fleming on Miles Davis and Kind Of Blue.

• “Diaboliques and Psycho both achieve something very rare: a perfect plot twist but an unspoilable movie,” says Milan Terlunen.

• Richard Kirk returns once more as “Cabaret Voltaire” with a new recording, Billion Dollar.

• Even more Leonora Carrington: some of the cards from her Tarot deck.

DJ Food on Zodiac Posters by Simboli Design, 1969.

Kodak Ghosts (1970) by Michael Chapman | Plight (The Spiralling Of Winter Ghosts) (1988) by David Sylvian & Holger Czukay | The Ghosts Of Animals (1995) by Paul Schütze

Picturing On Land

allsaints.jpg

The ruined tower of All Saints Church, Dunwich, 1919.

I became interested in inventing places for sounds. I often listen to music and get a picture of a certain time of day, a certain type of light. I did that with On Land: for each piece I had an image of a time of day. On Land is specifically dedicated to the idea of creating places in music. — Brian Eno

My recent reading has included a couple of novels by the Strugatsky Brothers, and The Rings of Saturn (1995) by WG Sebald, a book I’d been intending to read for many years. The Sebald is a semi-fictionalised account of the author’s walking tour through Suffolk in the early 1990s, an account interleaved with extended detours into personal memory, history and literature, with the text being augmented by grainy and often indistinct pictures or photographs. The book has acquired something of a cult reputation in recent years, and its digressions touch on a couple of cult areas of my own, notably Jorge Luis Borges (via his story, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius) and, less directly, the music group Coil, whose Batwings (A Limnal Hymn) is evoked via a description of Thomas Browne’s catalogue of imagined objects, the Musaeum Clausum. Coincidentally, Thomas Browne is mentioned in the Borges story although Sebald cleverly leaves this as something for the curious reader to discover.

zeppelin.jpg

Suffolk is itself a curious county, in the sense of being strange, verging on the weird. The place is rich in British history—its situation on England’s eastern shore made it a site of various invasions—and weird enough to almost be considered Weird in the literary sense, even without fictional resonances from MR James (“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”, A Warning to the Curious), Robert Aickman (Ringing the Changes) and, tangentially, HP Lovecraft, who took the name of the sea-devoured town of Dunwich for one of his Massachusetts settings.

Sebald doesn’t mention weird fiction and he also doesn’t mention (and quite possibly never heard of) Brian Eno, but Eno’s fourth album in his Ambient series, On Land, was continually in my mind while reading, owing to the intersection of the places that Sebald visits with the titles of several of Eno’s pieces. The most obvious of these is the last track on the album, Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960, but equally Suffolkian are Lantern Marsh, and Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills), the latter being a wood situated between Woodbridge and Melton, two of the places that Sebald passes through. Eno was born in Woodbridge, and On Land is as much concerned with unreliable (or semi-fictional) memories as The Rings of Saturn, something that Eno compares in his notes to Fellini’s semi-fictional film about his own childhood, Amarcord. Sebald’s descriptions sent me searching for pictures of Eno’s localities, especially the less familiar ones like Lantern Marsh and Leeks Hill. (Suffolk’s Dunwich is much more familiar to Britons owing to its long history of being eaten away by coastal erosion.) This in turn gave me the idea of trying to find a collection of suitably Sebaldian pictures for each track on the album, pictures that would be generally accurate but might equally be vague enough to suggest something more than the place or (in the case of painter Pierre Tal-Coat) the person in question.

Continue reading “Picturing On Land”

Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd

urbanwyrd1.jpg

Cover art by Grey Malkin.

The folk horror revival wasn’t really a revival as such, it was more an identifying of trends which hadn’t been noticed or named before, the grouping together and labelling of which created a sub-genre ripe for further exploration. Over the past few years I’ve done my share to promote this loose affiliation, but I confess to feeling a lack of interest of late. Or rather, I’m less interested in its current manifestations. Genres in any medium have a tendency to follow a growth pattern which eventually arrives at mannerism and stereotype; something that was fresh because it was new (or rediscovered) is pushed through repetition into formula.

One of the exciting features of the first flourishings of Hauntological music in 2005/06 was the absence of a discernible formula. The areas of interest, and their hybridisation, were unpredictable, especially the first few releases on the Ghost Box label. Folk horror was incorporated into the Ghost Box project from the outset but it was never the sole concern. The debut album from Belbury Poly, The Willows, contains a range of references to rural horror, with a title lifted from Algernon Blackwood, and two tracks referencing Arthur Machen. But another of the tracks refers to Pauwels & Bergiers’ unique and influential occult study, The Morning of the Magicians, while the cover design is styled like an educational paperback from Pelican books, or an Open University prospectus. Belbury may be an old village with strange customs but it’s also home to a modern polytechnic. Elsewhere on the label, Pye Corner Audio operated at a remove from the folkiness, unsurprisingly when Martin Jenkins’ music is wholly electronic. The first Pye Corner Audio album on Ghost Box, Sleep Games, featured a typical mid-century housing estate on the cover; many of the track titles–Experimental Road Surface, for example—are closer to Kraftwerk than Blood On Satan’s Claw. The late Mark Fisher was credited inside with “cover concepts and research” which may explain the quotes from JG Ballard, French anthropologist Marc Augé, and theory fictioneer Reza Negarestani. The final track on Sleep Games, Nature Reclaims The Town, suggests the triumph of the wild but urban concerns dominate the album.

urbanwyrd2.jpg

Cover art by Jackie Taylor.

Metropolitan horror and urban strangeness is the theme of Urban Wyrd, a two-volume anthology of new writings edited by Andy Paciorek which provides a welcome counterbalance to the over-ploughed furrows. This is a companion volume and sequel to Field Studies, a collection which featured my essay about the plays for theatre and television by David Rudkin. My contribution to the new collection, Phantoms and Thresholds of the Unreal City, is a discursive meander through the streets of Paris, New York and San Francisco, threading together the lives and works of a disparate group of writers, artists and photographers: HP Lovecraft, Eugène Atget, Robert W. Chambers, Max Ernst, Berenice Abbott, Roger Caillois, Fritz Leiber and others. My original intention was to write solely about Atget’s celebrated views of Paris but, as is often the case, one thing led to another and I ended up with something that’s more about the metamorphosis of cities and architecture by writers and photographers, and what their transformations may suggest to us.

The huge contents list for both books follows below. Both volumes are available from Lulu here and here, and at a reasonable price considering the page count. Books like this are always good for indicating further avenues of exploration. I’m looking forward to going for a wander.

Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 1. Spirits of Time

• Foreword
• Urban Wyrd: An Introduction by Dr Adam Scovell
• Spectral Echoes: Hauntology’s Recurring Themes & Unsettled Landscapes by Stephen Prince
• Quatermass and the Pit: Unearthing Archetypes at Hobb’s End by Grey Malkin
• The Haunted Generation: An Interview with Bob Fischer
• On a Thousand Walls: The Urban Wyrd in Candyman by Howard David Ingham
• Protect and Survive: Dystopian Drama – A Jolly British Apocalypse by Andy Paciorek
• The Bad Wires: Reflections on The Changes by Grey Malkin
• The Hands of Doom: A Short Perspective on Divine Intervention by Leah Crowley
• Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventure of the Spiritualist Missionary by Jim Peters
• A Tandem Effect: Ghostwatch by Jim Moon
• Interview with Stephen Volk
• The Cookstown Ghost: Poltergeist Phenomenon in Urban Ulster in the Nineteenth-Century by Jodie Shevlin
• The Last Key That Unlocks Everything: Ghost Stories by Andy Paciorek
• A Very Urban Haunting …The Echo of Noisy Spirits by Jim Peters
• These Houses Are Haunted: Supernatural Dwellings in Film by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Carmit Kordov
• Wyrd Technology by Andy Paciorek
• Voices of the Ether: Stone Tapes, Electronic Voices and Other Ghosts by James Riley
• Urban Witchcraft by Darren Charles
• Video Nasty: Moving Image in The Ring and Sinister by Andy Paciorek
• An Interview with Richard Littler – Mayor of Scarfolk
• The World Falling Apart: Jubilee by Stuart Silver
• Doll Parts: Marwencol by Andy Paciorek
• Chocky: The Haunting of Matthew Gore by Grey Malkin
• The Sun on my Face: Demon Seed by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Sara Hannant
• A Hive Mind: Phase IV by Andy Paciorek
• Wired For Sound: The Auditory in Horror by Andy Paciorek
• “We Want You to Believe In Us, But Not Too Much”: UFOs and Folklore by S. J. Lyall
• A Space Flower: Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Andy Paciorek
• Under The Skin of the Man Who Fell To Earth by Andy Paciorek
• Silent Invasions by SJ Lyall
• I Am Not A Number: The Prisoner by Stuart Silver
• All For the Hunting Ground: Wolfen by S.J. Lyall
• Urban Wolves by Richard Hing
• Reclaiming the “f” word. A conversation between The Black Meadow’s Chris Lambert and Pilgrim’s Sebastian Baczkiewicz
• Sounds from a Haunted Ballroom: The Caretaker by Andy Paciorek
• Uncanny Valley: Spielberg’s A.I. by Damian Leslie
• Sounds and Visions: MKUltra, Number Stations, Hallucinogens and Psychological Experiments in Film by Andy Paciorek
• Concrete, Flesh, Metal, Blood: The Worlds of Ballard & Cronenberg by Andy Paciorek
• The Eternal Snicket by Professor Phillip Hull (From an interview with Chris Lambert)
• The Voice of Electronic Wonder: The Music of Urban Wyrd by Jim Peters
• Age of the Train: Rail and the Urban Wyrd by Andy Paciorek
• Mind The Doors: Death Line by S.J. Lyall
• Step Away From The Meat: The Midnight Meat Train by Andy Paciorek
• Evil Dream: Q The Winged Serpent by Scott Lyall
• These Cities are Ours: Notable Kaiju in Cinema by Richard Hing
• Wild Rides: Taxis in Cinema by William Redwood
• The Photography of Jackie Taylor

* * *

Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 2. Spirits of Place

• Foreword
• Urban Psychogeography by Stuart Silver
• Spirit of Place by Andy Paciorek
• Through Purged Eyes: Folk Horror and the Affective Landscape of the Urban Wyrd by Karl Bell
• Glasgow’s Occult Ancient Geometery: The Obsessions of Ludovic McLellan Mann and Harry Bell by Kenneth Brophy
• Post-Industrialism and Industrial Music by Simon Dell
• Towering Infernal: The Inner City in Contemporary Horror Films by Andy Paciorek
• God Will Forgive Them: Dead Man’s Shoes by Andy Paciorek
• Phantoms and Thresholds of the Unreal City by John Coulthart
• Holy Terrors – Whitby: An Interview with Mark Goodall
• The Burryman of South Queensbury: The Past Within the Present by Grey Malkin
• Saturnine: An Urban Meander by Andy Paciorek
• Devil’s Bridge: The Satanic Rites of Aclam by Bob Fischer
• Urbex, Haiyko and the Lure of the Abandoned by Andy Paciorek
• Wyrd On-screen: Urban Fears and Rural Folk by Diane A. Rodgers
• Spontaneous Shrines (Flowers Taped to Lamposts) by Howard David Ingham
• Between Two or More Worlds: The Urban Mindscape of David Lynch by Andy Paciorek
• Suburbia by Richard Hing
• Welcome to The League of Gentlemen … You’ll Never Leave by Jim Peters
• A Search for Aberdeen’s Lost Treasures by Peter Lyon
• Scovell & Budden: Greenteeth by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Neddal Ayad
• City in Aspic: Don’t Look Now by Andy Paciorek
• Bricks and Stones in The Pool of Life by Cat Vincent
• The Trumptonshire Trilogy by Andy Paciorek
• The Derive of Doom by Chris Lambert
• Iain Sinclair: Spirit Guide to the Urban Wyrd – Interviewed by John Pilgrim
• Review: Concretism – For Concrete and Country by Chris Lambert
• Shadow of the Cities: The Weird and the Noir by Andy Paciorek
• Black and White Dreams: An Interview with K.A. Laity
• Occult Detectives: An Interview with John Linwood Grant
• The Art of Andy Cropper
• Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles by Andy Paciorek
• The Photography of Peter Lagan
• Involute of Space / Time: An Interview with Will Self
• High Weirdness: A Daytrip to Hookland by Andy Paciorek
• Cyclopean Ruins and Albino Penguins: The Weird Urban Archeology of H.P. Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness by Kenneth Lymer
• Sordid Smoke Ghosts: The Worlds of China Miéville by Colin Hetherington
• The Magic Kingdom: A Conversation with Walter Bosley by John Chadwick
• The City That Was Not There: ‘Absent’ Cityscapes in Classic British Ghost Stories by Anastasia Lipinskaya
• York: Albion’s Capital of the North by Oz Hardwick and John Pilgrim
• Urban Folklore: An Interview with Diane A. Rodgers
• Gripped: The Nine Lives of Thomas Katz by Howard David Ingham
• Place of Light and Darkness: Durham by Andy Paciorek
• Athens of the north: Edinburgh by SJ Lyall
• Service Station to Station by Andy Paciorek
• Miles Away: Hush (2008) by Andy Paciorek
• Sorcerers’ Apprentices and Industrial Witches: The Uban Wyrd as Magick in Leeds. West Yorkshire by Layla Legard
• Black as Sin: Possum and Spider by Andy Paciorek
• The Apartment Trilogy by Andy Sharp

Previously on { feuilleton }
A Year In The Country: the book
Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies

Weekend links 456

tanning.jpg

A Mrs Radcliffe Called Today (1944) by Dorothea Tanning.

Darran Anderson on how the Bauhaus kept things weird. “Many imitators of the famous art school’s output have missed the surreal, sensual, irrational, and instinctual spirit that drove its creativity.”

• Notes on the Fourth Dimension: Hyperspace, ghosts, and colourful cubes—Jon Crabb on the work of Charles Howard Hinton and the cultural history of higher dimensions.

• “[Edward] Gorey is slowly emerging as one of the more unclubbable American greats, like Lovecraft or Joseph Cornell,” says Phil Baker.

The label “homosexual writer” stuck for the rest of his career, with Purdy confined to what Gore Vidal called “the large cemetery of gay literature…where unalike writers are thrown together in a lot, well off the beaten track of family values”. In later years, Purdy moved further off the beaten track, as much by intention as circumstance. “I’m not a gay writer,” he would tell interviewers. “I’m a monster. Gay writers are too conservative.”

Speaking to Penthouse magazine in 1978, Purdy said being published was like “throwing a party for friends and all these coarse wicked people come instead, and break the furniture and vomit all over the house”. He added that, in order to protect oneself, “a writer needs to be completely unavailable”.

Andrew Male on writer James Purdy

• The Necessity of Being Judgmental: Roger Luckhurst on k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher.

Faunus: The Decorative Imagination of Arthur Machen, edited by James Machin with an introduction by Stewart Lee.

• More James Purdy: “His poetry displays a softness that readers of his fiction might not expect,” says Daniel Green.

Drag Star! is a 150,000-word interactive novel/text adventure by Evan J. Peterson.

• At Dangerous Minds: Dave Ball discusses his years as the other half of Soft Cell.

Daisy Woodward on the story of radical female Surrealist Dorothea Tanning.

• Inside the bascule chamber: photos of Tower Bridge, inside and out.

Tim Smith-Laing on the meaning of Miró’s doodles.

• Galerie Dennis Cooper presents…Emma Kunz.

rarecinema: a shop at Redbubble.

Apollo Press Kits

The Fourth Dimension (1964) by The Ventures | Dimension Soleils (1983) by Gilles Tremblay | Into The Fourth Dimension (1991) by The Orb