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 516

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Bats in space: an illustration by Henrique Alvim Corrêa from a 1906 edition of The War of the Worlds.

• Auf wiedersehen to Florian Schneider. Until he left Kraftwerk in 2009 (or 2006 or whenever it was), Schneider had been the group’s longest-serving member, keeping things running for the few months in 1971 when Ralf Hütter was absent. The brief period when Kraftwerk was Schneider plus soon-to-be-Neu! (Michael Rother, guitar, and Klaus Dinger, drums) fascinates aficionados over-familiar with the later albums. The music they produced was a wild and aggressive take on the rock idiom but Scheider maintained the link with Kraftwerk before and after, not only instrumentally but with his ubiquitous traffic cones, as noted in this post. There’s no need for me to praise Kraftwerk any more than usual, this blog has featured at least one dedicated post about them for every year of its existence, and besides, the group itself is still active. Elsewhere: Simon Reynolds on how Florian Schneider and Kraftwerk created pop’s future; A Kraftwerk Baker’s Dozen Special; Dave Simpson attempts to rank 30 Kraftwerk songs (good luck getting anyone to agree with this); Jude Rogers with ten things you (possibly) don’t know about Kraftwerk; Dancing to Numbers by Owen Hatherley; Pocket Calculator in five languages; Florian Schneider talks about Stop Plastic Pollution.

Intermission is a new digital compilation from Ghost Box records featuring “preview tracks from forthcoming releases and material especially recorded for the compilation during the global lockdown”. In a choice of two editions, one of which helps fund Médecins Sans Frontières.

• How groundbreaking design weirdness transformed record label United Artists, against all odds. By Jeremy Allan.

Sex in an American suburb is not quite the same phenomenon as sex in, say, an eastern European apartment block, and sex scenes can do a great deal to illuminate the social and historical forces that make the difference. All of which is to say that sex is a kind of crucible of humanness, and so the question isn’t so much why one would write about sex, as why one would write about anything else.

And yet, of course, we are asked why we write about sex. The biggest surprise of publishing my first novel, What Belongs to You was how much people wanted to talk about the sex in a book that, by any reasonable standard, has very little sex in it. That two or three short scenes of sex between men was the occasion of so much comment said more about mainstream publishing in 2016, I think, than it did about my book. In fact, in terms of exploring the potential for sex in fiction, I felt that I hadn’t gone nearly far enough. I’ve tried to go much further in my second novel, Cleanness. In two of its chapters, I wanted to push explicitness as far as I could; I wanted to see if I could write something that could be 100% pornographic and 100% high art.

Garth Greenwell on sex in literature

James Balmont‘s guide to Shinya Tsukamoto, “Japan’s Greatest Cult Filmmaker”.

• A Dandy’s Guide to Decadent Self-Isolation by Samuel Rutter.

Maya-Roisin Slater on where to begin with Laurie Anderson.

• The Count of 13: Ramsey Campbell‘s Weird Selection.

Adam Scovell on where to begin with Nigel Kneale.

When John Waters met Little Richard (RIP).

RB Russell on collecting Robert Aickman.

Weird writers recommend weird films.

Campo Grafico 1933/1939.

Ruckzuck (1970) by Kraftwerk | V-2 Schneider (1977) by David Bowie | V-2 Schneider (1997) by Philip Glass

Weekend links 513

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Water Tower (1914), Margaret Island, Budapest, Hungary.

George Bass on five ways The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) predicted the way we live now. Nigel Kneale’s TV play will be reissued on DVD next week.

Ballardism (Corona Mix): three new drone pieces by Robert Hampson available as free downloads.

• Grace Jones: where to start in her back catalogue; John Doran has some suggestions.

Hal was the wry and soulful and mysterious historical rememberer. He specialized in staging strange musical bedfellows like Betty Carter and the Replacements or The Residents backing up Conway Twitty. Oh, the wild seeds of Impresario Hal. He was drawn equally to the danger of a fiasco and the magical power of illumination that his legendary productions held. Many years ago he bought Jimmy Durante’s piano along with Bela Lugosi’s wristwatch and a headscarf worn by Karen Carpenter. Some say he also owned Sarah Bernhardt’s wooden leg. He had a variety of hand and string puppets, dummies, busts of Laurel and Hardy, duck whistles and scary Jerry Mahoney dolls and a free ranging collection of vinyl and rare books. These were his talismans and his vestments because his heart was a reliquary.

Tom Waits pens a letter to remember Hal Willner

• The food expiration dates you should actually follow according to J. Kenji López-Alt.

• Blown-up buildings and suffocating fish: the Sony world photography awards, 2020.

• Rumbling under the mountains: a report on Czech Dungeon Synth by Milos Hroch.

Sophie Pinkham on The Collective Body: Russian experiments in life after death.

• Mix of the week: Spring 2020: A Mixtape by Christopher Budd.

Olivia Laing on why art matters in an emergency.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Bloody.

Blood (1972) by Annette Peacock | Blood (1994) by Paul Schütze | Blood (1994) by Voodoo Warriors Of Love

Weekend links 508

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Detecting the Forgery (1967), a collage print by Gary Lee-Nova.

• Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black was given a UK TV screening in 1989, followed by a brief video release after which it was buried for years, and subsequently overshadowed by the later (inferior) big-budget feature film. Network will be releasing the Kneale version on blu-ray in May. I wrote about the TV film a while ago.

• At the BFI: David Parkinson on 10 essential films featuring the late Max von Sydow, a welcome riposte to obituaries that headlined the often mediocre Hollywood fare that Von Sydow elevated with his minor roles. And at the same site, John Berra on where to begin with the martial arts films of King Hu.

• “Enthusiasts Archive, an artistic project by Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, is the result of extensive research amongst the remnants of amateur film clubs in Poland under socialism. It is a critical archive of amateur films found, restored and made available online.”

Stephen Calloway, co-curator of the Tate Britain Aubrey Beardsley exhibition, and drag performer Holly James Johnston sit down to tea to discuss the “dos and don’ts” of dandyism according to the artist.

• Mutinous Jester: The Collage Novels of Akbar Del Piombo by Gregory Stephenson. Related: Fuzz Against Junk: The Saga of the Narcotics Brigade (1959) by Akbar Del Piombo.

• Michael Richey on chindogu, the useless inventions of Kenji Kawakami.

• From farting to fornication: John Boardley on early print censorship.

Douglas A. Anderson on a case of plagiarism in Weird Tales.

• Mix of the week: mr.K’s Soundstripe vol 3 by radioShirley.

How To Get To Spring is a new album by Jon Brooks.

Rufus Wainwright‘s favourite music.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Occultists.

Spring Rounds From The Rite Of Spring (1975) by Alice Coltrane | Springlight Rite (1981) by Irmin Schmidt & Bruno Spoerri | Spring Returns (1999) by Isao Tomita

Peter Strickland’s Stone Tape

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My annual Halloween post breaks with its usual music mix/playlist format this year for a recording of The Stone Tape, Peter Strickland’s hour-long radio drama made for Halloween in 2015. This was an adaptation, co-written with Matthew Graham, of Nigel Kneale’s celebrated TV play of the same name, first broadcast in 1972 for the BBC’s Christmas ghost-story slot then unavailable for many years. The combination of Kneale’s name and the impossibility of easily seeing the play gave The Stone Tape a reputation somewhat greater than it might otherwise have warranted. The drama has a number of shortcomings by contemporary standards: the whole thing is shot on video, so it compares unfavourably to the ghost films the BBC were making throughout the 1970s, and the acting is also quite histrionic in places. On the plus side there’s a woman scientist as the central character (an excellent performance by Jane Asher), and another of Kneale’s examinations of a horror staple—the haunted house, in this case—which adeptly twists your expectations while combining science and the supernatural in equal measure.

Strickland’s adaptation uses the same scenario—struggling electronics company moves into a house with a haunted reputation—but with the events moved slightly forward to 1979. The director’s fondness for electronic music shifts the emphasis of the story to the capabilities of electronic sound, both its destructive potential and its use as a diagnostic tool. James Cargill, formerly of Broadcast, now in Children Of Alice, was the soundtrack composer on Strickland’s second feature film, Berberian Sound Studio, and here creates the music and electronic sounds. The radio play is closer to Berberian Sound Studio than anything else Strickland has done to date, and could even be regarded as a companion piece with its recording equipment and repeated screams. (Eugenia Caruso provides screams for both.) As with the film, two thirds into the drama the narrative becomes much more diffuse and fragmented; the recording medium itself is foregrounded for a lengthy sequence that works like an audio equivalent of found-footage horror films. The hazard of this is that the layered nature of Kneale’s horrors may not be so apparent if you’ve not seen the TV version (I can’t say) but the sound design is excellent throughout, and benefits from the use of headphones to appreciate its subtleties. There’s also some sly reference to Alvin Lucier if you’re familiar with his compositions. Jane Asher makes a cameo appearance as the mother of the character she portrayed in the TV version.

The Stone Tape may be listened to or downloaded here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Nigel Kneale’s Woman in Black
Stone Tapes and Quatermasses
Nigel Kneale’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
The Stone Tape