Hipgnosis interview

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This is a frustratingly short piece of film—a mere 16 minutes—but it’s fascinating all the same for the brief views it gives inside the London studio of the Hipgnosis design partnership at the tail end of their golden decade, the 1970s. Being an occasional album cover designer as well as a minor Hipgnosis obsessive I like to see where so many of the team’s album covers originated. The two Hipgnosis founders, Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson are both interviewed; the third member of the partnership, Peter Christopherson, is absent. The film is also undated but the discussion of the cover photo for Look Hear? by 10cc puts the year at around 1980. The views of the studio aren’t much different from the rather murky shots of the place in the first Hipgnosis book, An ABC of the Work of Hipgnosis: Walk Away René (1978), but the film gives a better sense of the dishevelled actuality: those stairs that Thorgerson runs up at the opening are the same ones that form the background to the melting Peter Gabriel photo used on the cover of Gabriel’s third album. Powell and Thorgerson are such engaging interviewees they really ought to have been profiled at greater length by the BBC or ITV, not given a few minutes to discuss some of their more notable creations by a small French film crew.

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Aubrey Powell shows off the mystery object from the Presence album by Led Zeppelin.

The Hipgnosis studio occupied two floors of a building in Denmark Street, a minor thoroughfare off the Charing Cross Road that used to be a home to music publishers, rehearsal rooms and many of London’s musical instrument vendors. For a few years it was also home to the original and equally dishevelled Forbidden Planet book and comic shop, a place I first visited shortly after it opened in 1978. I always used to visit Forbidden Planet when I was in the capital but the Hipgnosis team had gone their separate ways by the time I found out they’d been based in the same street. Had I known about this earlier I probably would have wandered around for a while wondering which door led to their rooms. With its clutter and blithe disregard for client-flattering furnishings (the reception room, said Thorgerson, had nowhere to sit down) the studio was a long way from anybody’s idea of a well-appointed design business. The place reminds me of the offices occupied for many years by Savoy Books in Deansgate, Manchester: ancient, first-floor rooms whose better days were long past, with tools of the trade littering every surface, recent works-in-progress on the walls and old stickers peeling off the door. In Walk Away René, Thorgerson also admits that the studio lacked a toilet so they had to resort to pissing in a sink, a disgraceful expediency also shared by the Savoy office. In such places was art once made.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Design as virus 16: Prisms
Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013
Hipgnosis turkeys
Peter Christopherson, 1955–2010
Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong

Man Ray and the Marquis

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Monument to D.A.F. de Sade (1933).

A slight return to the literary outlaw. Man Ray was more preoccupied by the Marquis de Sade than many of his fellow Surrealists, although he never took his interest as far as the obsessive Jean Benoît. His imaginary portraits were created after Sade scholar Maurice Heine complained that the only surviving picture of the Marquis was a drawing that could be of any other young aristocrat of the time.

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Imaginary Portrait of D.A.F. de Sade (1936).

Man Ray’s portraits ran through several variations, first as drawings, then as two paintings, finally as a bronze. These always seemed to me to be more representations of Sade’s character as it comes through his writing than portraits of the writer himself. The two paintings could easily depict the villainous Duke de Blangis from The 120 Days of Sodom, with the castle of the Bastille standing for the castle where Blangis and his colleagues conduct their murderous games. An earlier photo work, Monument to D.A.F. de Sade (1933), was used by Mary Reynolds in a metal binding she created in 1935 for the first print edition of the 120 Days. Penguin used the same photo on the cover of their new translation of the book in 2016. And it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the gay variation designed by Peter Christopherson for the CD release of Scatology by Coil.

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Imaginary Portrait of D.A.F. de Sade (1936).

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Imaginary Portrait of D.A.F. de Sade (1938).

Continue reading “Man Ray and the Marquis”

Weekend links 388

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Still of an Alive Painting by Akiko Nakayama.

• “In what is a cross between performance art and installation, Nakayama uses a multitude of kitchen basters loaded with paint and water to add, mix, tilt, blow and add all sorts of extraneous effects to her paints, recording and projecting it all onto a large screen.” Continuously Changing “Alive Paintings” by Akiko Nakayama. There’s more performance video at the artist’s website.

• In January 2018 Song Cycle Records (UK) release Solaris, a “Collector’s Edition” of the Tarkovsky film and its soundtrack comprising vinyl/CD, blu-ray (no region details) and a book of photos, artwork and essays.

• Steve Davis may no longer be a snooker player but he’s still a Magma obsessive. This week he reviewed the new Retrospektiw collection for The Quietus.

What I was most thankful to TG for was leading me to Christopherson’s later band Coil with his partner, antagonist and lover John Balance (after they’d met in Genesis’ Psychic TV) whose music I fell for even harder. The arcane and homoerotic tragicomedy that underpinned their discography (and relationship) propelled me into new states, years before any first hand knowledge of the drug experiences they managed to intertwine so artfully with their music. Records like Scatology and Horse Rotorvator sexualised the male body for me for the first time—an awakening that’s hard not to find some amusement in when soundtracked by a romp called The Anal Staircase. From afar it seemed like their intense, exploration of electronic music as ritual was only possible as a result of the depth of the duo’s personal relationship and how it manifested spiritually, chemically and physically. The posture and machismo of the modern guitar music I listened to (and performed) with my friends could be tiring. The sound of Coil became a safe space in which to fantasise about manhood and Englishness and what it really meant, helping dismantle clichés I’d come to accept as reality. From medieval hymns to acid-house their music was unafraid and total. Though hard to define with any particular release I often play people their funereal takes on Tainted Love (of which all profits went to the Terrence Higgins Trust—a musical first in 1985 while AIDS was still very much taboo) and the Are You Being Served? theme tune, the basis of their transformative final track Going Up, completed by Christopherson after Balance’s death.

Fred Macpherson writing about Throbbing Gristle and Coil at new site The Queer Bible. This is the first appraisal of Coil I’ve seen on any site devoted to gay/queer issues, over ten years after the band expired following the death of John Balance. Better late than never, I suppose.

• Tom Phillips is helping support the National Campaign for the Arts by reworking a page of A Humument as a series of designs at CafePress.

• At Strange Flowers: The Secret Satan book list, a welcome alternative to the lists that fill the broadsheets at this time of year.

• Mixes of the week: Stephen O’Malley presents Acid Quarry Paris—A Hypnosis, and XLR8R podcast 517 by Davy.

• At the Internet Archive: 183 copies of Video Watchdog magazine (1990–2017).

• The TLS interview: Twenty Questions with M. John Harrison.

• At Unquiet Things: The solving of a family art mystery.

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The Hills Are Alive (1995) by Coil | Everyone Alive Wants Answers (2003) by Colleen | Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) by Jozef Van Wissem

Weekend links 307

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Demon (2014) from the Witch Series by Camille Chew.

• Released next month, Machines Of Desire is the first album of new music by Peter Baumann since Strangers In The Night in 1983. Baumann’s first two solo albums, Romance 76 (1976) and Trans Harmonic Nights (1979), are exceptional works of analogue electronica that frequently outmatch his former colleagues in Tangerine Dream. Both albums have been unavailable for over 20 years so it’s good to know that Cherry Red are reissuing them at the end of May (see here and here).

• RIP Jenny Diski whose death from cancer wasn’t a surprise when she’d been writing about her condition for many months. Linked here in 2013 was this pre-diagnosis meditation on death that takes in Nabokov, Beckett and Francis Bacon (philosopher, not artist). “Jenny offered a living example of how, sometimes, compassion can be born of misanthropy,” says Justin EH Smith. The LRB’s archive of Diski writings is currently free to all.

Murder by Remote Control, a graphic novel by artist Paul Kirchner and writer Janwillem van de Wetering that “resembles a Raymond Chandler-esque noir ‘whodunnit,’ viewed through the psychotropic lens of filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky”.

Inspired by Gore Vidal’s 1968 satirical novel, Myra Breckinridge which was denounced as obscene by conservatives, [Boyd] McDonald embarked on a radically, offensive publication, one that avoided the sexless influence of middle class gay mores that sought to whitewash the homosexual experience in order to present a more palatable image of assimilated gays to the general society. This political strategy was successful in achieving gay marriage and more tolerance, but, in the opinion of McDonald, came at a cost. Straight to Hell was in fact the first queer zine. Utilizing erotic photos, interviews and news, McDonald saw it as a “newsletter for us,” the small group of deviates who were its earliest subscribers.

Walter Holland reviewing True Homosexual Experiences: Boyd McDonald and Straight to Hell by William E. Jones

• “HP Lovecraft’s…fascination with all things tentacular and aquatic is unmistakably imprinted on Evolution“, a new film by Lucile Hadzihalilovic. Watch the trailer.

• At Dangerous Minds: Broken, the notorious Nine Inch Nails video collection with “snuff movie” interludes by Peter Christopherson, is available online (again).

BEAK> (Geoff Barrow & Billy Fuller) make “claustrophobic, hypnotic music, drawing…on krautrock, post-punk and Interstellar-Overdrive psychedelia”.

• Mixes of the week: Bacchus Beltane 3 : The Age of Abrasax by The Ephemeral Man, and Secret Thirteen Mix 183 by December.

Tease by Jan Rattia, photographs of male strippers on display at ClampArt, NYC.

Wu Zei (2010), a sea-monster sculpture by Huang Yong Ping.

• “I was born weird,” says Robert Crumb.

Sacred Revelation by Susanna

Broken Head (1978) by Eno, Moebius & Roedelius | Broken Horse (1984) by Rain Parade | Broken Harbours (Part 1) (2001) by Stars Of The Lid

Weekend links 260

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Bachelor with “demons” (Sleezy) [sic] (2015) by Elijah Burgher. One of a new series of artworks by Burgher showing at Zieher Smith & Horton, NYC.

• The week in HR Giger: Belinda Sallin on her documentary, Dark Star: HR Giger’s World; Ron Kretsch on the unseen cinema of HR Giger; Matthew Cheney thinks the Gigeresque has become too familiar. I can see his point but originality is always in short supply; asking for something new means setting yourself up for a long wait.

Pwdre ser, or Star jelly, is “a pale, foul-smelling jelly traditionally associated with meteorite falls”. The Rot of the Stars at the ICA, London, is an audio-visual art collaboration between Jo Fisher and Mark Pilkington dealing with the mysterious substance.

• Mixes of the week: A Tri Angle Records birthday DJ set by Björk; OreCast 196 mix by Ilius; Secret Thirteen Mix 153 by M!R!M.

To assume that a given group of people would be similar because of birthdate, Ryder thought, was to risk committing a fallacy. “The burden of proof is on those who insist that the cohort acquires the organised characteristics of some kind of temporal community,” he wrote. “This may be a fruitful hypothesis in the study of small groups of coevals in artistic or political movements but it scarcely applies to more than a small minority of the cohort in a mass society.”

Generational thinking is a bogus way to understand the world says Rebecca Onion

The plan for an airport above the streets of Manhattan. Related: Charles Glover‘s similar plan for London.

Errol Morris on how typography shapes our perception of truth.

Michael Moorcock enjoyed The Vorrh, a novel by Brian Catling.

Clive Barker on almost dying, hustling, and killing Pinhead.

• A new Penguin Books website for Angela Carter.

• Callum James on artist Philip Core.

A Beginner’s Guide to King Tubby

King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown (1976) by Augustus Pablo | Star Cannibal (1982) by Hawkwind | Sleazy (1983) by Jah Wobble, The Edge, Holger Czukay