Weekend links 585

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Fox Woman (c. 1916) by Bertha Lum.

• “Apparently he had been walking though customs/arrivals with a large cube of weed stuck on the end of his silver Dr Martens and a foot long silver flashlight full of seed, but when they realised who he was, and that today was his 60th birthday, he was released with just a warning.” Radio Lancashire DJ Steve Barker remembers the late Lee “Scratch” Perry, and links to one of his shows with Perry (and Roger Eagle) here.

• “…it’s the chase itself that shapes the film’s distinctive aesthetic—the under-lit interiors and the sunless and frigid exteriors of the many locations across the city, sites that take the cops well beyond their usual beat, to places both above and below ground.” Chris McGinley explains how William Friedkin’s The French Connection reinvented (and exploded) the police procedural.

• “Toibin, who is himself gay, has always extended historical sympathy to sexual outsiders. As he’s written elsewhere, ‘There are no 19th-century ballads about being gay.'” Dwight Garner reviews Colm Toibin’s The Magician, a novel about Thomas Mann.

Here is the key point: to experience such marvels you have to risk an unsophisticated, even credulous love for corn, and part of that love involves a willingness to submit to what [Phil] Ford calls a “magical hermeneutics” capable of transforming marginal chunks of pop culture. As he writes in the wonderful 2008 essay that inspired the episode, exotica is “less a genre of music than a class of cultural objects that share a characteristic projection of the self across boundaries of space and time.” This makes it essentially psychedelic—“film music for daydreams”—and Ford draws out that historical connection in his essay, which argues that while the hippie movement that Nature Boys like Ahbez prophesied looks like a radical rejection of the space-age bachelor pad of ’50s consumerism, tendrils of transcendent yearning link the exotica imaginary to the earnest if stoned mysterioso to come.

Erik Davis on Eden Ahbez and Californian exotica

Edgar Froese interviewed on WSHU radio in 1974 where he talks about Tangerine Dream, live performance and the future of electronic music.

• At Dangerous Minds: A momentary lapse of reason…when Dario Argento interviewed Pink Floyd in 1987.

• It’s that man again: John Doran interviews Kevin Martin, aka The Bug.

David McKenna on The Strange World of France, La Nòvia & friends.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Tape deck.

Exotica (1958) by Martin Denny | Exotica Lullaby (1976) by Harry “The Crown” Hosono | Exotica (1979) by Throbbing Gristle

Weekend links 561

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The next release on the Ghost Box label, Painting Box is a collaborative seven-inch single by Beautify Junkyards and Belbury Poly, the A-side of which is a cover of a song by The Incredible String Band. Available on 30th April. Design, as always, is by Julian House.

• “What is good for you as a person is often bad for you as a writer. People will tell you that this not true, and some of the people who will tell you that are also writers, but they are bad writers, at least when they try to convince you, and themselves, that the most important thing for a fiction writer to have is compassion.” Brock Clarke on the case for meanness in fiction.

• The week in non-human intelligence: “Life beyond human has to play by the rules of natural selection,” says David P. Barash, and Thomas Moynihan on dolphin intelligence and humanity’s cosmic future.

Ilia Rogatchevski speaks with historian Juliane Fürst about her new history of Soviet hippies and the counterculture of the former USSR.

• Mushroom with a view: Karen Schechner at Bookforum talks with Bett Williams about her mycological journey.

• Retro instinct versus future fetish: Fergal Kinney on Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup 25 years on.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…JG Ballard: The Atrocity Exhibition (1970).

This is Hexagon Sun: A feature-length video on Boards of Canada.

• Mix of the week: The Ides by The Ephemeral Man.

• New music: Gyropedie by Anne Guthrie.

Paintbox (1967) by Pink Floyd | Orgone Box (1989) by Haruomi Hosono | God Box (1996) by Paul Schütze & Andrew Hulme

Weekend links 530

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Kami #58 -bloom- (2019) by Momo Yoshino.

• “Set amid the countryside and the beaches of coastal Sussex, They depicts a world in which plundering bands of philistines prowl England destroying art, books, sculpture, musical instruments and scores, punishing those artistically and intellectually inclined outliers who refuse to abide by this new mob rule.” Lucy Scholes on They: A Sequence of Unease (1977) by Kay Dick, which she calls “a lost dystopian masterpiece”. This is revelatory in a minor way since for years I’ve remembered seeing a slim volume with the title They in a bookshop, and which I later thought might have been a Rudyard Kipling book (there’s a Kipling story with the same title). The timing is right, the sighting would have been in 1977 or 78. The combination of that short, one-word title with a stark cover image and a sinister description on the rear was hard to forget but I didn’t take note of the author’s name. (I also didn’t buy the book, opting instead for some inferior work.) A shame that it seems to be resolutely out of print.

• “The threat to civil liberties goes way beyond ‘cancel culture’,” says Leigh Phillips. It makes a change seeing this coming from Jacobin when so much of the left today can find nothing wrong with censorship so long as it’s in a good cause. (Every censor that ever lived believed they were acting in a good cause, were on “the right side of history”, etc, etc.) The piece includes a dismissal of the increasingly common riposte that “only the state can censor”: this would be news to my colleagues at Savoy Books who endured years of police harassment including the seizure and destruction of printed material; the same with the long history of police action against UK rap artists. Related: “Work that’s cancelled for being ‘of its time’ was probably objected to, at the time.” Dorian Lynskey on chronocentrism and “the narcissism of the present”.

• “Cruising baths, bars, and subway toilets, snorting poppers and ‘fist fucking with 40 guys for 14 hours’ (as he recalled in You Got to Burn to Shine, his 1993 collection of prose and poems), he found meaning in a religion of radical eros whose sacrament was anonymous sex.” Mark Dery reviewing Great Demon Kings: A Memoir of Poetry, Sex, Art, Death, and Enlightenment by John Giorno.

Aubrey Powell says his best photograph is the burning man from the cover of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd.

• Mixes of the week: Fact mix 770 by Lyra Pramuk, and mr.K’s Kooky Kuts Vol.4 by radioShirley & mr.K.

• The Alchemical Brothers: Brian Eno & Roger Eno interviewed by Wyndham Wallace.

• Origami-inspired optical illusion oil paintings by Momo Yoshino.

Alexander Larman on the demise of the second-hand bookshop.

• New music: Follow The Road by Yumah, and Röschen by Pole.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Lighting.

• RIP Linda Manz.

My Boyfriend’s Back (1963) by The Angels | Carnival of the Animals, R. 125: VII. The Aquarium (Camille Saint-Saëns) (1975) by the Württemberg Chamber Orchestra, Heilbronn with Marylene Dosse & Anne Petit, conducted by Jörg Faerber | Kill All Hippies (2000) by Primal Scream

Weekend links 422

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Wu Ming, a communist writing collective known for its historical fiction, sees Kolosimo as using pseudohistory as a tool to shake people from their belief that capitalist society is natural and transhistorical, opening minds to other possibilities for how humans can live. They regret that popular proponents of his theories today, like Graham Hancock and Erich von Däniken, are unable to recognize the political motivations behind his project: “Nothing of his radicality survives in today’s copycats… Every corner has been blunted, the heresy has become telegenic, but we know that the revolution will not be televised.”

The secret history of Marxist alien hunters by AM Gittlitz

I received the Sphere edition of Peter Kolosimo’s book as a Christmas present in 1974, and being 12 years old at the time took its theories fairly seriously. As a work of pseudohistory it’s as poor as the books of Erich von Däniken but I always liked the title, and it happens to be the place I first encountered the mysterious words “Popol Vuh”, a name that would acquire a very different significance a few years later. Kolosimo also joins Kenneth Grant in taking HP Lovecraft’s work as a thin fictionalisation of supposed fact. For a serious dismantling of Not of This World see this review (the first of three parts) by “skeptical xenoarchaelogist” Jason Colavito.

• The Archons are back: Erik Davis talks with Gnostic scholar Matthew Dillon about religious mourning, the Nag Hammadi library, sex-magick Jesus, the Gnostic Eden, David Icke’s lizards, and the power of the Archons as an allegory of contemporary technological and political power.

Crystal Voyager (1973) is a surfing film by David Elfick that ends with a 23-minute sequence of slow-motion waves set to Echoes by Pink Floyd. Some of the same footage later appeared in the final scenes of Peter Weir’s The Last Wave (1977).

• Sweet artifice: “Dandies in the age of decadence favoured synthetics over nature, nowhere more so than in perfumery’s fabulous counterfeits,” says Catherine Maxwell.

• Now for a lampshade solo: Pascal Wyse on how the Radiophonic Workshop built the future of sound.

• Wilde about Paris: Alex Dean on the sex, drink and liberation of Oscar Wilde’s “lost” years.

Bee in the City: the vanguard of an invading army from Planet Bee.

• Five books that most inspired Alexander McQueen.

Colin Newman‘s favourite albums.

Echoes (1969) by Leon Thomas | Echo Waves (1974) by Ash Ra Tempel | Not Of This World (1988) by Danzig

Two albums

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A pair of albums by friends of mine are released this month: the first, Journey to the West (1979–2017) by Watch Repair presents The Mystic Umbrellas, has been gestating for several years; the second, Dreaming Dangerous Rainbows by Albatross Project, came together very quickly earlier this year after song sketches led to an album that none of the participants had originally planned. I designed both releases so I have more than a passing interest.

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The Mystic Umbrellas project will probably be of most interest to regular readers since it evolved from a couple of very minimal organ recordings made in 1979 by Mark Valentine. Mark is well-known today as a writer of weird fiction, and also an editor and publisher of the same, but in the early 1980s he was involved briefly with the British wing of the independent cassette scene, a micro-budget offshoot of the post-punk DIY ethos which spurred many amateur (or non-) musicians to create and release their own musical works on limited-edition cassettes. The UK manifestation of this scene tended either to imitate higher profile post-punk artists (some of the better examples may be heard on the recent Cherry Red compilation, Close To The Noise Floor) or indulge in a very British form of what might be called Low Surrealism, although “absurdity” is probably a more accurate definition. (A UK label of the time was even named Absurd Records.)

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Photocard by Deborah Judd.

Mark’s Mystic Umbrellas pieces—Journey To The West, Radio Dromedary (a short-wave radio capture) and Rainsborough’s Grave 1 & 2—were released on separate cassette compilations, Deleted Funtime (1980) and National Grid (1981). My friend in Watch Repair (who is happy to remain otherwise anonymous) bought both cassettes, and marked out the Mystic Umbrellas pieces as favourites for their qualities of melancholy and restraint; the organ recordings were very different from the post-punk fumblings or the absurdity in evidence elsewhere. The cassettes sat in a box for years until the same friend decided to try using them as source material for some of his sound processing experiments; these experiments eventually yielded a suite of marvellously atmospheric extensions/transmutations which mutate the recordings beyond recognition but which remain faithful to the haunting qualities of the originals. The precedence for this kind of repurposing would include Jon Hassell’s Magic Realism (1983) and some of the recent works of Thomas Köner, but Mystic Umbrellas and Watch Repair are in a territory of their own.

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Photocard by Deborah Judd.

While working on the design for this release I kept ruminating on the curious net of connection and coincidence around these recordings. After buying the Deleted Funtime cassette my Watch Repair friend contacted one of the other artists, “Stabmental”, to ask about similar recordings. Stabmental was a name used by Geoff Rushton for his post-Throbbing Gristle musical experiments and an Industrial music fanzine; a couple of years later he joined Psychic TV and changed his name to John Balance. Geoff/John was later in Coil, of course, and a decade after this was in correspondence with me having been greatly impressed with my Lovecraft art in The Starry Wisdom anthology. My earlier Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark, had been published in a large-format edition in 1988 by Caermaen Books, an imprint run by a pair of Arthur Machen enthusiasts, Roger Dobson and Mark Valentine. It was shortly after my first meeting with Mark and Roger that my Watch Repair friend realised that Mark must be the Mystic Umbrellas person so the Lovecraft artwork helped remind us of the Deleted Funtime cassette. The same cassette surfaced again a few years ago when it was sold to an obsessive Coil collector who wanted it for the Stabmental piece. That sale led to the cassette being digitised before it was let go, and the digitisation process led to these recordings.

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Photocard by Deborah Judd.

Things got even more tangled earlier this year when I was working on the final layout while also reading the expanded edition of England’s Hidden Reverse, David Keenan’s fascinating history of Coil, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound. Keenan discusses the independent cassette scene (and mentions Stabmental) so all the above was circling in my head once more; but I really wasn’t expecting the instance when Keenan goes into David Tibet’s enthusiasm for Arthur Machen by including a page of explanation from a Machen expert…Mark Valentine. In Mark’s notes for the Watch Repair release he describes the origin of the Mystic Umbrellas name which came about during a rainy day-trip to Glastonbury. Somerset’s most mystical town includes Chalice Well among its complement of New Age tourist traps; shortly after finishing England’s Hidden Reverse I was re-reading a typically wild interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky in which he proposes that the humble umbrella is in fact a black chalice, and that the knights of the Round Table are searching for a Holy Grail that’s actually an umbrella. A mystic umbrella, in other words. Elsewhere in the same interview he expounds on the symbolism of the Black Sun, a favourite symbol of Coil’s. (And Coil for a short while had a Chalice record label…) By this point I’d ceased to be surprised, the endless chain of connections seemed inevitable.

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After all the above the album by Albatross Project risks seeming a little mundane, although grounded (one meaning of “mundane”) would be better. The origin this time was a series of poems written by Roger (that’s him on the cover) from 1972 to 1986. These were set to music by Dan of Warper’s Moss and Watch Repair. (Nobody in this group is offering their surnames so you’ll have to accept the circumspection.) Everyone involved was surprised by the quality of the resulting songs, not least Roger who wrote the words sporadically while travelling the world in his youth. Dan and friends have been writing songs and playing in bands since the 1980s which is why they were able to produce such an accomplished album in a matter of months. Musically, this is quite straightforward: well-crafted songs in a rock idiom which had me thinking at times of Pink Floyd circa 1972 (fitting since several of the musicians are from the Floyd-worshipping environs of Merseyside). But it also owes something to the Elektra years of the early 70s (as does my design), and the period flavour harks back to the time and experiences that Roger was writing about.

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Both albums are available via Bandcamp. The hard format of Dreaming Dangerous Rainbows is a CD-R in a jewel case while the Mystic Umbrellas hard format is a lavish hand-crafted package that includes copious notes and four art cards, three of which feature Deborah Judd’s evocative photo montages. The latter package will be strictly limited. Original copies of the Deleted Funtime cassette command high prices among Coil collectors but the curious (or foolhardy) may download a copy at Die or DIY?

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Polarities by Watch Repair
Seven Harps by Warper’s Moss
The Tidal Path by Watch Repair
Watch Repair