François Schuiten record covers

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Claudine Simon (1980) by Claudine Simon.

Continuing an occasional series about artists or designers whose work has appeared on record sleeves. Belgian artist François Schuiten is a familiar name here, being the co-creator with Benoît Peeters of the Obscure World, one of my favourite zones of fantastic invention. The Obscure World has grown to become a multimedia endeavour so Schuiten’s involvement with some of the later entries in this post goes beyond providing the cover art to being connected to the music itself.

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De Wolkentrapper (1983) by Herman van Veen.

Herman van Veen is a Dutch writer and singer who produced a number of albums and singles in the 1980s featuring Schuiten cover art. The gravity-defying people are from an early comic strip unattached to the Obscure World mythos, Going to Pieces.

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Signale (1984) by Herman van Veen.

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De Wisselaars (1985) by Herman van Veen.

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Sedimental Journey (1985) by Peter Principle.

The Obscure World makes its cover debut on this solo release by the late Peter Principle, bass player in Tuxedomoon. Principle was American but Tuxedomoon were based at the time in Europe, and their record label, Crammed are Belgian. Obscure World aficionados will recognise the structure about to be submerged by a vast wave as the Network, an inexplicable object first seen in Fever in Urbicand (1985).

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Weekend links 370

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The Conjure (2016) by Jolene Lai. Via Dangerous Minds.

• RIP George Romero, a proudly independent filmmaker who succeeded on his own terms. Kim Newman remembers the man who remade horror cinema. Romero always referred to Powell & Pressburger’s Tales of Hoffmann (1951) as a key cinematic influence, something he discussed with Marc Lee in 2005.

Man Alive (BBC TV, 1967): Consenting Adults: 1. The Men | Consenting Adults: 2. The Women. Two documentaries about the British homosexual experience screened shortly before the House of Commons vote that decriminalised sex between men in England and Wales.

Dolente…Dolore: The Inferno of Malcolm Lowry is the latest musical release from Larkfall: “a trembling, drunken dream with flashes of heaven and hell…”

Tom Harper on The Klenke Atlas (1660), one of the largest atlases in the world which is now available for viewing at the British Library.

Martin Jenkins of Pye Corner Audio, The House In The Woods et al talks to Bandcamp about his own brand of sinister electronica.

• RIP Peter Principle, a musician whose up-front bass playing was always a key feature of the Tuxedomoon sound.

• And RIP actor John Heard talking to Will Harris in 2015 about some of his many roles in film and TV.

• 355 free copies of Galaxy Magazine at the Internet Archive.

• Google Maps goes inside the International Space Station.

• Good with a knife: The papercut art of Ivonne Carley.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 610 by Karen Gwyer.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Yasujiro Ozu Day.

• L’alba Dei Morti Viventi (1978) by Goblin | East/Jinx/•••/Music #1 (1981) by Tuxedomoon | Martin (1983) by Soft Cell

Urbatecture

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Spotted at Neatorama this week, Cédric Dequidt‘s Urbicande lamp, a cubic design which appears to be sinking into the table. The Neatorama people don’t seem aware that the name of the lamp refers to Fever in Urbicande (1985), a comic book by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters, and the second volume in the masterful Cités Obscures series.

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Fever in Urbicand: Urbatect Eugen Robick ponders the properties of the strange cube which is invulnerable yet able to grow through solid materials.

The mysterious para-dimensional cube and its effects on the divided city of Urbicande have been described here already. Fever in Urbicande is my favourite of the core stories by Schuiten and Peeters, and it seems to be one of the more popular of Schuiten’s creations to judge by the lamp and some of the spin-off works that follow.

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Fever in Urbicand: Several months later, and the cube has burgeoned into a city-spanning “Network”.

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Made To Measure

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When you’ve sated yourself on a group’s back catalogue there’s always the solo albums. In the case of Tuxedomoon there are a number of these to choose from, thanks to several of the band members being both multi-instrumentalists and talented songwriters. Some of the more offbeat solo outings may be found among the albums released as part of the Made To Measure series, an offshoot of the excellent Belgian record label, Crammed Discs. Crammed have been Tuxedomoon’s label for some time, and seem increasingly unique in a world where independent labels tend to cater to narrow genres and small, select audiences. Crammed’s roster of artists is extremely eclectic, ranging from the expected Euro-pop and dance releases to a wide range of traditional and contemporary music from around the world.

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Made To Measure Vol. 1 (1984). Painting by Fernand Steven.

From 1984 to 1994 the Made To Measure series released over 30 albums that represent the more esoteric side of an already fairly esoteric label. All of the early releases were numbered, and Tuxedomoon happen to be on the first release, Made To Measure Vol. 1, together with Minimal Compact, Benjamin Lew, and Aksak Maboul. The series title refers to all of the music being “made to measure” some pre-existing work—film, theatre, dance performance, etc—although some of the later releases were simply an excuse to put out new music by an established Crammed artist. In addition to the first release, Tuxedomoon members Blaine L. Reininger, Peter Principle and Steven Brown were regular contributors to subsequent albums. Two of the Steven Brown albums, A Propos D’Un Paysage (MTM 15, 1985) and Douzième Journée: Le Verbe, La Parure, L’Amour (MTM 16, 1988) are marvellous instrumental collaborations with Benjamin Lew that are very different in tone to Tuxedomoon but well worth seeking out. Brown also recorded a soundtrack album, De Doute Et De Grace (MTM 22, 1990), with readings by actress Delphine Seyrig. The series has been discontinued in recent years but the MTM numbering was resurrected for the latest Tuxedomoon album, Pink Narcissus, which is MTM 39.

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Desert Equations: Azax Attra (1986). Photography by Georg Gerster.

I’ve still not heard all of the Made To Measure series, and I don’t like everything I have heard—I have to be in the mood for Hector Zazou’s quirkier moments. Aside from those mentioned above, the notable releases for me would include Desert Equations: Azax Attra (MTM 8, 1986) by Sussan Deyhim (here credited as Deihim) & Richard Horowitz, an album that led me to acquire almost everything Sussan Deyhim has recorded; If Windows They Have (MTM 13, 1986) by Daniel Schell & Karo; Nekonotopia Nekonomania (MTM 29, 1990) by Seigen Ono; Water (MTM 31, 1992) by David Cunningham; Sahara Blue (MTM 32, 1993) by Hector Zazou; Glyph (MTM 37, 1995) by Harold Budd & Hector Zazou. Sahara Blue exemplifies in miniature the eclecticism of Crammed Discs, being a tribute to Arthur Rimbaud featuring (among others) John Cale, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Gérard Depardieu, Khaled, David Sylvian, Bill Laswell, Lisa Gerrard, Sussan Deyhim and Tim Simenon.

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For those wishing to explore further without shelling out on mysterious, unknown quantities, I’d recommend The Made To Measure Résumé (1987), a compilation of tracks from the first 16 MTM releases, and an ideal introduction to the series.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon
Tuxedomoon on La Edad de Oro, 1983
Tuxedomoon designs by Patrick Roques
Pink Narcissus: James Bidgood and Tuxedomoon

Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon

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Subterranean Modern (1979). Sleeve art by Gary Panter.

As often happens, one post leads to another, and the next thing you know there’s a themed week happening, so here’s something more about Tuxedomoon. Subterranean Modern was a compilation album released by The Residents on their Ralph Records label in 1979. The idea was to showcase The Residents along with three other groups from contemporary San Francisco, all of whom were underground acts, hence the “subterranean” title. Three of those groups—Chrome, Tuxedomoon, The Residents themselves—have since developed cult followings; hard-rock outfit MX-80 Sound seem a little ordinary and out-of-place in this unique company but then that’s the nature of the compilation album. The Residents wanted each group to provide an interpretation of I Left My Heart In San Francisco but none of the others were very interested; Chrome’s offering, which lasts all of 27 seconds, is hilariously contemptuous of the idea, a squall of riff and vocals that fades in then quickly fades away. Cartoonist Gary Panter illustrated the cover which is also given the Rozz Tox seal of approval. For more about Rozz Tox, whose enigmatic presence can be found on other Ralph Records releases, see this.

I’d already heard Chrome and The Residents when I bought Subterranean Modern but this was first place I encountered Tuxedomoon’s music. Chrome, who appear on the back cover wearing their Clockwork Orange droog outfits, contribute two tracks that are as good as anything on their early records, Anti-Fade and the chugging Meet You In The Subway for which they made a video filmed on the city’s BART platforms. I listened to those tracks, and the Tuxedomoon ones, much more than the rest of the album. With the exception of the pieces by MX-80 Sound, everything on the album has since been reissued on other compilations (Tuxedomoon’s tracks are on the Pinheads On The Move collection).

The following is a two-page feature about the album and the four bands from the NME for 17th November, 1979. I don’t know whether this was Tuxedomoon’s first UK interview but it says it’s the first interview given by Chrome which gives it some vague contemporary relevance. Helios Creed recently re-formed Chrome, and played a show in London earlier this month. There’s also a new Chrome album, although for me Chrome proper requires Damon Edge, and he died in 1995. (Thanks to Gav for saving the pages!)

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I LEFT MY ART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Checking out the West Coast’s Avant Garde by Michael Goldberg

ralph.jpgSAN FRANCISCO—The true avant-garde is never accepted, barely tolerated. The public has no use for ideas which challenge society’s preconceptions.

Certainly the outright hatred which was heaped on The New York Dolls and, later, The Ramones and Sex Pistols—all groups who spat on the status quo of their times—attests to the difficulty of pushing a radical concept on the public. And those groups were merely returning to the basic, raw values which great rock and roll has always maintained.

So imagine the difficulty of developing and maintaining a style of music which has little, if any, solid tradition to fall back on. In San Francisco, a city where the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship and Steve Miller can sell out the largest of stadiums, an avant-garde underground has been hanging on, etching out the meagrest of niches so that it can continue a dogged pursuit of rock experimentation.

Carrying the torch for “outre” music is San Francisco’s Residents and their parent companies, Ralph Records and the nebulous Cryptic Corporation. For nine long years, the Residents have relentlessly persisted, bowing to no one as they explore a sonic universe of their own devising.

In the wake of The Residents’ relative success—though the group is still practically unknown in their hometown, they have been received by a rather large cult spread out across the U.S. and Europe—other equally unique and esoteric groups have been attracted to San Francisco.

Realising that there is strength in numbers, Ralph Records gathered together three of the most uncompromising bands in San Francisco (and possibly on the West Coast): Chrome (with roots in L.A.), MX-80 Sound (who migrated from Bloomington, Indiana, last year), and Tuxedomoon (whose core members came from Denver, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois), and convinced them to join The Residents (originally from Shreveport, Louisiana) in a joint project. The project is a compilation album, Subterranean Modern (Ralph).

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