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 341

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Fountain (1917) by R. Mutt (Marcel Duchamp), and God (1917) by Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.

• “What is there left to know about David Bowie? What is there left to unearth?” asks Ian Penman whose lengthy review of recent Bowie books is better by far than a shelf full of cash-in doorstops.

Strázci z hlubin casu is a collection of stories by HP Lovecraft and August Derleth from Czech publisher Volvox Globator. The book reprints artwork of mine on the cover and inside.

• Mixes of the week: Through December by David Colohan, At Alien Altars: A Conjurer’s Hexmas by Seraphic Manta, and Secret Thirteen Mix 204 by James Welburn.

• “Something vindictive resides in soot.” Timothy Jarvis on the weird fiction of Stefan Grabinski. From 2003: China Miéville on Grabinski.

• Paintings by Jakub Rozalski of eastern European peasants with mechas and werewolves.

Colm Tóibín on James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 100 years on.

Jesse Singal on why straight rural men (in the USA) have “bud-sex” with each other.

Mark Valentine recommends books on tasseography, or divination by tea leaves.

• “Northampton Calling: A Conversation with Alan Moore,” by Rob Vollmar.

Bill Schutt at Scientific American asks what human flesh tastes like.

Gwendolyn Nix on the Tritone, aka The Devil’s Musical Interval.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: _Black_Acrylic presents…Penda’s Fen Day.

• The latest Buddha Machine from FM3 is Philip Glass-themed.

Listen to The Wire’s top 50 releases of 2016

Tritone (Musica Diablo) (1980) by Tuxedomoon | Diabolus In Musica (1987) by The Foetus All Nude Review | Tritone (Musica Diablo) (2016) by Aksak Maboul

Einstein on the Beach

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Well this was a revelation. Einstein on the Beach (1976) is Philip Glass’s first opera, a collaboration with theatrical producer Robert Wilson, and the only Glass opera with which I’m familiar. With a running-time of almost five hours it’s not light listening, and when many of the pieces consist of little more than slabs of keyboard or choral arpeggios it’s always been evident that visuals are required to augment music that otherwise threatens to outstay its welcome.

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The opera has been revived several times, and in 2012 a touring presentation was staged. Despite it being one of the most celebrated works by Glass and Wilson a complete performance has never been filmed, until this month, that is, a staging at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. The shots here are from a video stream of the entire four-and-a-half hour show, and it’s astonishing to discover how much your appreciation is elevated—and the music enhanced—by the performance and the production.

Einstein’s life is the ostensible subject but it’s up to the audience to interpret the many allusive symbols and motifs that may (or may not) be derived from either the man’s biography or his scientific theories. The libretto is strictly formal and fragmented, and while the score alone may drive some listeners to distraction the visuals change continually, maintaining the interest while the text and music work through their cycles. Philip Glass had this to say about the work in 2012:

The opera isn’t a narrative about Einstein’s life. What connected Bob and I was how we thought about time and space in the theatre. We worked first with the time—four hours—and how we were going to divide it up. Then we thought about the images, and then the staging. I discovered that Bob thinks with a pencil and paper; everything emerged as drawings. I composed music to these, and then Bob began staging it.

Yet the piece is actually full of Einstein. Practically every image comes from Einstein’s life or ideas: trains, spaceships, clocks. And I suggested we have a musician taking his part, because Einstein played the violin—although he was such an amateur musician he couldn’t possibly have played the music I composed for him. (more)

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I’ve seen many photos of Wilson’s designs for the opera in the past but static views do nothing to convey the drama and impact of his designs when you see them coming together on the stage. The same goes for the performers, many of whom are required to be trained dancers as well as actors: several scenes are elaborate dance pieces. It’s been a pleasure to see at last the presentation of the mysterious “Knee Play” sections which separate the four acts. And I was surprised by the similarity—intentional or not—of some sequences to the shots of the slaving workers in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, especially the climactic (and incredible) “Spaceship” scene where the whole stage erupts into light and movement. It’s easy to see why New York’s art crowd were so beguiled by this opera following its first performances in the 1970s, it really is a remarkable piece of work. The streaming version will apparently remain active for a while (there’s also a DVD release planned), and while I wouldn’t want anyone to indulge in piracy I’ll note that there’s currently a torrent of the entire video circulating if you know where to look. If you’ve any time for Philip Glass I can’t recommend this too highly. (Via Metafilter.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
Milton Glaser album covers

The Planets by Ken Russell

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This 1983 film from Ken Russell bears comparison with Michael Powell’s film of Bluebeard’s Castle in being another television adaptation by a famous director of a well-known piece of music that few people have heard about or managed to see. (Derek Jarman often spoke of Powell and Russell as two rare talents frequently ignored or slighted in their own country.) Russell’s film was made specially for The South Bank Show, the weekly arts programme of the ITV network in Britain. As with most South Bank Show films it was screened once then vanished into the archives. There was a later laserdisc release in the US but laserdiscs are now as redundant as CD-ROMs. I’ve yet to hear of a DVD release.

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Mars, the Bringer of War.

The Planets was Russell’s first film after Altered States (1980), and shares some of that feature’s cosmic moments, especially in the Neptune section. The Planets also seems heavily indebted to Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi which had been released to great acclaim the year before. Where Reggio matched unique shots to a unique score by Philip Glass, Russell produced a collage work that matches stock footage to each section of the Holst suite. The result is very effective in places, although after subsequent decades of music videos and YouTube mixology the effect is less impressive than it was when first broadcast. Among the hundreds of images some familiar Russell obsessions appear: Nazis, naked women and the inevitable crucifixion. I don’t think he managed to get any nuns into this one but the Pope gives a Catholic flavour to the Uranus section. Since the whole piece is wordless it’s left to the viewer to decide how much these juxtapositions are ironic or sincere. The music is performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy.

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Venus, the Bringer of Peace.

The Planets can’t be viewed on YouTube at the moment, probably for the usual copyright reasons, but there is a watchable copy on this Russian video site. Given the quantity of recordings of The Planets it’s understandable if there isn’t a great demand for Russell’s version but it still seems unfairly overlooked.

Continue reading “The Planets by Ken Russell”

Weekend links 149

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It’s not cheap but it’s rather tasty: The Changing Faces of Bowie, a limited print at the V&A shop produced for the forthcoming David Bowie exhibition. One hundred artists and designers were asked to choose or create a Bowie-related type design, the collection being printed on holographic paper. Creative Review looked at some details. Related: Bowie’s new album, The Next Day, is now streaming in full at iTunes.

• Marisa Siegel reviews The Moon & Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell by Kristina Marie Darling, “a fully enchanting if somewhat mysterious collection of poems, written entirely as footnotes”. BlazeVOX has an extract here.

• “[Clement] Greenberg came round to our house in Camden Square. He started telling Bill what he should do to improve a work. Dad lost patience and kicked him out.” Alex Turbull of 23 Skidoo on sculptor father William Turnbull.

“You get the impression that a lot of these young directors have never gained much experience of life outside their film schools or their video-rental stores.”

Anne Billson met Roman Polanski in 1995 to discuss Death and the Maiden.

• Max Beerbohm’s The Happy Hypocrite, and Ronald Firbank’s Vainglory are available in new print-on-demand and ebook editions from Michael Walmer.

• “Bring Back the Illustrated Book!” says Sam Sacks. Some of us would reply that it never went away but merely remains subject to much unexamined prejudice.

The Forest and The Trees: A blog by Genevieve Kaplan about altered texts and book art by herself and other artists.

The Homosexual Atom Bomb: Sophie Pinkham on gay rights, Soviet Russia and the Cold War.

Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Zang Tumb Tuum? A blog devoted to the ZTT record label.

• Nigel Kneale’s TV ghost drama, The Stone Tape, is reissued on DVD later this month.

• The drawings of Victor Hugo.

David Bowie at Pinterest.

•  The Man Who Sold The World (1994) by Nirvana | V-2 Schneider (1996) by Philip Glass | ‘Heroes’ (2000) by King Crimson