Weekend links 186

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One Hundred Lavish Months of Bushwhack (2004) by Wangechi Mutu.

I wouldn’t be so bold as to call Benjamin Noys’ contribution to the recent The Weird conference at the University of London a highlight, but it was a surprise to find Lord Horror in general and the Reverbstorm book in particular being discussed alongside so many noteworthy offerings. Noys’ piece, Full Spectrum Offence: Savoy’s Neo-Weird, is now available to read online, a very perceptive examination of the tensions between the Old Weird and the New.

• Le Transperceneige is a multi-volume bande dessinée of post-apocalypse science fiction by Jacques Lob & Jean-Marc Rochette. Snowpiercer is a film adaptation by Korean director Bong Joon-ho featuring John Hurt, Jamie Bell, Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton. Anne Billson calls the director’s cut an “eccentric masterpiece” so it’s dismaying to learn that the film is in danger of being hacked about by the usual rabble of unsympathetic Hollywood distributors.

• This month marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Public Domain Review posted some of the paintings mentioned in Swann’s Way (or The Way by Swann’s as the latest translation so inelegantly has it).

How the Paris World’s Fair brought Art Nouveau to the Masses in 1900: a huge picture post about my favourite exposition.

• Mix of the week: “Sport of Kings” Mix by Ricardo Donoso. Related: Paul Purgas on five favourite records.

Ernst Reichl: the man who designed Ulysses. Related: Hear all of Finnegans Wake read aloud over 35 hours.

• “Why does Alain de Botton want us to kill our young?” A splendid rant by Sam Kriss.

• Love’s Secret Ascension: Peter Bebergal on Coil, Coltrane & the 70th birthday of LSD.

• Malicious Damage: Ilsa Colsell on the secret art of Joe Orton & Kenneth Halliwell.

• Just Say No to the Bad Sex Award, or the BS Award as Tom Pollock calls it.

• Lauren O’Neal’s ongoing PJ Harvey Tuesdays: One, Two, Three and Four.

Neville Brody on the changing face of graphic design.

A Brief History of the London Necropolis Railway.

Des Hommes et des Chatons: a Tumblr.

• At Pinterest: Androgyny

• Virgin Prunes: Pagan Lovesong (vibeakimbo) (1982) | Caucasian Walk (1982) | Walls Of Jericho (live at The Haçienda, Manchester, 1983; I’m in that audience somewhere)

Design as virus 18: Sound Effects

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BBC Sound Effects No 1 (1969). Design by Roy Curtis-Bramwell.

I used to own this album, the first in a series of sound effects collections from the BBC tape library intended for use by musicians, theatre technicians and anyone else who might need a recording of a thunderstorm, fire alarm or creaking door. Going through my diminished stock of vinyl recently reminded me that I got rid of my rather battered copy some time ago. Now that we can sample any sound we come across these library albums are a lot less useful than they were in the analogue era. One result of their ubiquity was that some of the sounds became distractingly familiar; I still can’t listen to Hawkwind’s Warrior on the Edge of Time album without recognising all the cues (wind, seagulls, etc) borrowed from this collection.

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Sound Affects (1980) by The Jam. Design by Bill Smith with The Jam. Photography by Martyn Goddard & Andrew Rosen.

And speaking of borrowings, the cover design has proved as durable as the sounds. The Jam purloined the grid design and the title for their fourth album in 1980, although the florid typeface of the original was evidently too circusy for the group’s Mod sensibilities. The music inside also tips into pastiche, this being the album featuring Start!, Paul Weller’s plundering of The Beatles’ Taxman.

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Good Vibrations (2013). Design by Julian House.

Roy Curtis-Bramwell’s grid of photos and drawings was reworked recently by retro-master Julian House in one of a number of poster designs for Good Vibrations, a BBC feature film. House’s designs for the Ghost Box CDs also feature a similar grid arrangement of enigmatic details in their booklet artwork. I hadn’t considered until now that the Ghost Box details may have their origin in the Sound Effects covers.

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Detail from the sleeve of Seven Songs (1982) by 23 Skidoo. Design by Neville Brody.

All of which had me trying to think of other examples of this idea. The only one that came to mind was the row of seven symbols on Neville Brody’s sleeve for the first 23 Skidoo album. Brody said these don’t necessarily relate to the seven tracks on the album although it’s possible to view them that way. (The running dog appeared later on Brody’s design for the Throbbing Gristle album box.) As usual, if you know of any further examples then please leave a comment.

There’s more about the BBC albums (and pictures of the rest of the series) here.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus 17: Boris and Roger Dean
Design as virus 16: Prisms
Design as virus 15: David Pelham’s Clockwork Orange
Design as virus 14: Curse of the Dead
Design as virus 13: Tsunehisa Kimura
Design as virus 12: Barney’s faces
Design as virus 11: Burne Hogarth
Design as virus 10: Victor Moscoso
Design as virus 9: Mondrian fashions
Design as virus 8: Keep Calm and Carry On
Design as virus 7: eyes and triangles
Design as virus 6: Cassandre
Design as virus 5: Gideon Glaser
Design as virus 4: Metamorphoses
Design as virus 3: the sincerest form of flattery
Design as virus 2: album covers
Design as virus 1: Victorian borders

Doublevision Presents Cabaret Voltaire

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Videocassette box insert. Design by Neville Brody.

A couple of years back I tracked down some of the releases on Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision video label, the early titles of which have never been reissued on DVD. The first Doublevision release was the Cabs’ collection of their own music videos which Mute Records reissued on DVD 2004. That reissue seems to be deleted for the moment so it’s good to find a copy of the original tape release on YouTube. As with the other Doublevision releases I was well aware of this but didn’t have a VHS player at the time so wasn’t eager to buy anything I couldn’t watch. Unlike the other releases I did get to see several of the tracks during the Cabs’ Doublevision video night at the Haçienda in 1983, an evening that ended with the group performing for an hour.

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It’s good to be reminded of these videos, however crude they appear today. As with any early use of technology you need to bear in mind the limitations of the time. The tape was released in 1982 but the group had been experimenting with video equipment from about 1979 onwards. At that time commercial music video was just getting started but most of the examples on TV were paid for by the big record companies. Cabaret Voltaire and some of their associates in the UK Industrial scene—notably Throbbing Gristle and 23 Skidoo—were ahead of the game in acquiring equipment to make their own video recordings and promos. These videos were seldom shown on mainstream TV: I recall being thrilled to see a clip from the Nag, Nag, Nag promo on a pop programme but that was a rare one-off moment. The music industry was being forced to accommodate the awkward DIY merchants but the gates of broadcast television remained heavily policed.

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And speaking of heavy policing, you get some of that here, the Cabs’ obsessions with coercion and control being illustrated by footage of riot squads, together with religious mania, medical surgery, psychotronic films and much else, all of it processed, fragmented and distorted. Direction was by the group and by St. John Walker, with an extract from Johnny YesNo (recently reissued by Mute) directed by Peter Care. I’ve been listening to Seconds Too Late a lot this week so it’s great to see a video for that song. There’s also a slight conundrum in the tracklisting: if you’re familiar with the free four-track single that came with The Crackdown album it seems that Badge of Evil and Moscow have had their titles swapped. The Moscow video track, however, includes a shot of an Aeroflot passenger plane so it’s more likely that the tracks on one side of the single were mis-labelled when they appeared a year later, an error carried over to the CD release.

Tracklist: Diskono / Obsession / Trash (Part 1) / Badge Of Evil / Nag, Nag, Nag / Eddie’s Out / Landslide / Photophobia / Trash (Part 2) / Seconds Too Late / Extract From Johnny YesNo / Walls Of Jericho / This Is Entertainment / Moscow

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Previously on { feuilleton }
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
Network 21 TV

Weekend links 142

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Gratifying this week to see album cover art under discussion even if the heat-to-light ratio was as unbalanced as it usually is when pop culture is the subject. Jonathan Barnbrook, who also designed the Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003) packaging for David Bowie, wrote about the thinking behind the new cover on his blog. (And for the time being let’s note that this is still only a cover design, we don’t know what else is on its way.)

For my part I’ll point out that the artist-as-cover-image is the great cliché of album design, and the bigger the name the more the rule applies; Neville Brody complains about this in the first book of his work, as does Storm Thorgerson in the Hipgnosis books. In Bowie’s case the rule has been applied almost universally since his debut album in 1967, the only variations being illustrational ones or slight dodges like having his feet appear on the front of Lodger and his back facing the viewer on Earthling. Consequently the new design is a radical gesture from an artist who could have got away with a photo of himself du jour. By way of contrast, consider that Rod Stewart is a year older than David Bowie and presented the world with this artefact in October 2012.

Related: Hard Format responds to the cover, Chris Roberts on “Picasso resurrected in a Rolf Harris era“, and Alex Petridis on The inside story of how David Bowie made The Next Day.

The Quicksilver typeface, designed by Dean Morris when he was only 16, bought by Letraset and now an indelible feature of pop design from the 1970s. Morris describes his experience here (“they shunned rapidographs!”) and collects examples of the print history here.

When the days are short, we are closest to the medieval world. To the avoidance of mirrors where death improves our portraits every morning with a few more lines and shadows. What would once have been a sermon, a conjuring of hellfire, a phantom slide show, is now an entertainment. But before we can begin again, we have to kick free of the embrace of our inconvenient predecessors, that compost legion of the anonymous dead. They come uninvited, requiring us to sign up for what the late Derek Raymond called the general contract: a brief turn in the light, then extinction. Eternal darkness. How to live with such knowledge? William Burroughs admired the unswerving bleakness of Beckett’s gaze, the way he reduced compensatory illusions to zero. Nowhere left to crawl. And nothing to crawl on. Last breath is last breath. Stare into the abyss and the abyss will stare right back.

Iain Sinclair reviews The Undiscovered Country: Journeys Among the Dead by Carl Watkins

Broadcast’s James Cargill on Morricone, Minidiscs and Scoring Berberian Sound Studio. Related: Melmoth the Wanderer posts a new mix, The Curious Episode of the Wizard’s Skull, and more spooky sounds are on their way from The Haxan Cloak.

• A Firm Turn Toward the Objective: Joanne Meister on meeting the great Swiss designer Josef Müller-Brockmann.

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Twitter user @thisnorthernboy reworked Paul Emsley’s portrait of Kate Middleton. @barnbrook approved.

• The Beatles of Comedy: David Free on the Monty Python team.

• The history of the London Underground poster.

Impossible Architecture by Filip Dujardin.

• At Pinterest: Art Dolls & Sculpture

• Grace Jones’ Nightclubbing album has been on repeat play this week: Warm Leatherette/Walking In The Rain | I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango) | Demolition Man

Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo

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Along with Elemental 7 by CTI, this was another Doublevision video release that I never got to see in its original videocassette form. Seven Songs is the first and arguably the best of the 23 Skidoo albums, released in 1982 on Fetish Records in a great sleeve by Neville Brody. Production was by “Tony, Terry & David” aka Ken Thomas, Genesis P-Orridge & Peter Christopherson. The latter two were still in Throbbing Gristle at the time so there’s a further connection with the CTI release. The video director was Richard Heslop who can be seen with his Super-8 camera on the inner sleeve of 23 Skidoo’s second album. Seven Songs is his first credited film work.

The videos are very much of their time, layered and cut-up images mixing footage from numerous sources—tribal rituals, totalitarian politics, animation, medical or scientific films, shots of the group performing, and so on—with the whole mélange processed through a video synthesiser. While it may look outmoded now, thirty years ago this degree of intensity and fragmentation was still radically unlike anything being offered by broadcast television. Pop video directors and ad agencies weren’t slow to adopt similar techniques for far more commercial ends. Richard Heslop went on to work with Derek Jarman, and recently directed a feature of his own, Frank. Low-quality bits of Seven Songs have been on YouTube for a while but Heslop posted the whole thing to Vimeo a few months ago along with the Tranquiliser footage that rounded out the original cassette release. 23 Skidoo are still active, and are playing a gig in London next Sunday with the former singer from Can, Damo Suzuki. Details about that event here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Elemental 7 by CTI
Neville Brody and Fetish Records