Piranesi record covers

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Title page for the Carceri d’Invenzione (second state), 1761.

Continuing an occasional series about artists or designers whose work has appeared on record sleeves. Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) is a cult figure here so this is an inevitable post even if there isn’t a great deal to look at. Many of the record covers that use Piranesi etchings are for classical releases, which isn’t so surprising. The prints that comprise the Vedute di Roma were Piranesi’s most popular works, and remain so today despite their exaggerations of the true size of Rome’s monuments and ruins. But I thought the Carceri d’Invenzione (aka The Prisons) might be more popular, especially in the metal world where dark and gloomy imagery is de rigueur. There may be more examples, of course, since I’m having to rely on Discogs which doesn’t always note the work of uncredited artists. I suspect that architecture alone isn’t attractive enough for the metal hordes, however vast and tenebrous that architecture might be. The covers I’ve done for metal bands have always had to incorporate figures—human or otherwise—or some kind of occult symbolism. The most prominent musical piece based on Piranesi’s Prisons is also a classical work, one of the Bach cello suites recorded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998. Ma’s album, Inspired By Bach, was accompanied by six films from different directors; the film for Suite No. 2, The Sound of the Carceri by François Girard, shows Ma playing the piece inside a CGI rendering of Piranesi’s colossal spaces. Copies of Girard’s film come and go on YouTube so this one may not stay around.

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Luigi Dallapiccola: Il Prigioniero (1975); National Symphony Orchestra Of Washington DC, Antal Dorati.

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Palestrina: Missa Aeterna Christi Munera / Oratio Jeremiae Prophetae / Motetti (1976); Pro Cantione Antiqua, London.

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Tartini: Concerti Per Violino E Orchestra / Sonate (1981); P. Toso, I Solisti Veneti, C. Scimone, E. Farina.

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Captivation (1994) by Tefilla.

Continue reading “Piranesi record covers”

David Britton, 1945–2020

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Mister Rock’n’roll, 1969.

David Britton, author, artist and publisher, died on 29th December. I wrote this for the Savoy Books news announcement:

My closest artistic collaborator from 1989 to 1999, and a close friend for longer than this: capricious, determined, fearless, funny, generous and inspirational. No David Britton, no Lord Horror; no Lord Horror, no Reverbstorm. He changed my life.

He’d been increasingly ill for several years so this came as less of a surprise to those of us close to him than to others. Dave and I used to talk at least once a week, and on the last occasion he’d sounded worse than usual. Those talks were episodes in a conversation about art that ran for over 30 years, beginning in the mid-1980s at the counter of the Savoy bookshop in Peter Street, Manchester, continuing in the Savoy offices with co-publisher and collaborator Michael Butterworth, and resuming on the phone; art in all its forms and in any medium, with no attention paid to categories of “high” and “low”.

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Reverbstorm, the Lord Horror comic series that we created throughout the 1990s, was the product of those conversations, and was also produced mostly through conversation, working by instinct without a script. The series, which was compiled into definitive book form in 2012, is testament to a pooled breadth of interest, encompassing/quoting/appropriating/reworking Pointillist, Cubist and Expressionist painting, Modernist poetry, pop songs, Sondheim musicals, Finnegans Wake, Tom Phillips’ Humument, Burne Hogarth’s Tarzan comics, Joel-Peter Witkin’s photographs, voodoo chants, Piranesi, King Kong, Bauhaus graphic design, Hugh Ferriss architecture, and illustration of all kinds, from fairy tales to cosmic horror via Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke; there’s even ballet in the mix if you look closely. Dave always liked the idea of Lord Horror leaping and pirouetting like a dancer. More than anything, Reverbstorm is rock’n’roll, and this is partly what the title refers to: a thundering rhythm.

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Britton art from Weird Fantasy #2, 1971. This is the drawing that caught the attention of William Burroughs when Britton and Butterworth visited Burroughs in New York City in 1979.

The term “rock’n’roll” always requires qualification when considering the Britton oeuvre, he used it with regularity while remaining bitterly aware that the original charge of the words had been degraded by over-use, reduced to a caricature by too many mediocre music acts and lazy journalists. I chided him a couple of times that his use of the term was functionally meaningless, a synonym for “my favourite things”. But the application was always a serious one, a label for any work that he found sufficiently thrilling, wild, original, excessive, anarchic, flamboyant, boundary-breaking or confrontational. Little Richard, Larry Williams, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley were Dave’s kind of rock’n’roll, as were Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, PJ Proby, Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, The Cramps, The White Stripes and the Wu-Tang Clan. No surprise there, but Burne Hogarth was also rock’n’roll, although Hogarth would no doubt have disputed this. Another favourite artist, James Cawthorn, was given the label because Dave had discovered Cawthorn’s work when his teenage rock’n’roll obsession was at its height; two forms of art were permanently bound together, with sword & sorcery recast as the literary equivalent of a delinquent musical idiom. Dave’s other artist collaborator, Kris Guidio, was rock’n’roll for having served time as a peerless portraitist of The Cramps. LaVern Baker was rock’n’roll, as was CL Moore. Aubrey Beardsley was rock’n’roll and Harry Clarke was rock’n’roll; William Burroughs and William Hope Hodgson were rock’n’roll, so were Michael Moorcock and Harlan Ellison. Francis Bacon and Paula Rego were rock’n’roll; Alan Clarke was rock’n’roll and so was David Lynch. The quest for more of this rare commodity was relentless and unceasing. Many of our conversations were little more than enthusiastic discussions of shared favourites, or recommendations to watch/read/listen to something new.

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The first Savoy publication from 1976—Cawthorn adapting Moorcock’s apocalyptic Elric novel—was a declaration of intent: maximum rock’n’roll.

The photo at the head of this post is one that Dave had reused in recent years, one of the few portraits he seemed to like. It first appeared inside his debut publication, Weird Fantasy #1, a genre fanzine that was also enough of an underground publication to receive a passing mention in Oz magazine. The picture is emblematic of the Britton character, dressed in a manner at odds with the north Manchester surroundings he grew up in, and where he was still stuck at the time, a world of back-to-back housing and squalid ginnels. Rock’n’roll in all its forms was the great escape from a world of severely limited horizons and circumscribed lives, where all you could look forward to after a few years of poor education was a job in the local mill or factory. People who dismiss the gaudier forms of entertainment as “escapist” are usually middle class and blessed with comforts and opportunities that reinforce their condescensions; people who never had to consider a life so lacking in promise that a song heard on the radio, a vinyl record, a comic book, a paperback found on a market stall, might be the key to a wider world, an affirmation that there was more than the brick walls of your immediate environment, and there could be even more than this. “Escapist” suggests a hiding away but it also means breaking free. In later years Dave maintained a sporadic correspondence with Alan Moore; they never met but were mutually supportive, thanks in part to a shared background as bright boys from working-class backwaters with no encouragement to try and transform their lives through their escapist enthusiasms. Alan maintained an affection for his background, but Dave seldom spoke of his without a shudder, as though he’d evaded a fate worse than death. One thing he retained from north Manchester was an ebulliently vulgar sense of humour. He agreed with Picasso that good taste is the enemy of creativity.

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David Britton’s first novel wasn’t one he considered his best but it remains the most notorious thanks to the conscientious literary assessments of the Greater Manchester police.

I’ll miss Dave’s infectious humour, just as I’ll miss the conversations that so often provoked it, the quest for better art, some new kind of kick, more rock’n’roll. I’ll miss being able to show him something I know he’ll enjoy. He always liked quotations so I’ll end this with a lengthy one from Walter Pater, the aesthetic theorist whose ideas energised the Decadents and the founders of The Savoy, the magazine from which Savoy Books took its name. It summarises Dave’s attitude to life even if he’d never discuss things in such a grandiloquent manner:

…we are all condamnes, as Victor Hugo says: we are all under sentence of death but with a sort of indefinite reprieve—les hommes sont tous condamnes a mort avec des sursis indefinis: we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest, at least among “the children of this world,” in art and song. For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. Great passions may give us this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, the various forms of enthusiastic activity, disinterested or otherwise, which come naturally to many of us. Only be sure it is passion—that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art’s sake, has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.

Previously on { feuilleton }
James Cawthorn: The Man and His Art
A Reverbstorm jukebox
Reverbstorm: an introduction and preview

The Layering

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In Alan Moore’s recent novel, Jerusalem, the ghosts of Northampton travel to different ages of the town by pulling up the concentrated layers of time which they peel back like the pages of a book. The passage of time as an accumulation of layers was materially evident in 18th-century Rome even before geology became an established science. Piranesi’s most popular series of prints, the Vedute di Roma, show how centuries of wind-blown dust and soil had raised the level of the city several feet above its ancient ruins. Before antiquarians began to remove the soil the city was a place of curious juxtapositions, with truncated Corinthian columns growing from the earth, surrounded by—or even forming part of the structure of—the rougher buildings where contemporary Roman citizens were living or sheltering their livestock.

Layers of time and history are the subject of the new compilation from A Year In The Country:

The album explores the way that places are literally layered with history, and is an audio slicing through the layers of time. It journeys amongst the stories and characters of these layers, including, amongst other aspects, the structures built, events which took place and different era’s technologies and belief systems.

Such layering can go far back into pre-recorded history. Much of the earth is thought to have once been underwater, and it is likely that the majority of cities, towns and villages are built in former ocean areas. Current land masses have come to be formed, in part, through a layering of past marine, other life and plants, which in turn are then quarried or mined, subsequently being used to create the infrastructure of contemporary civilisation, and creating something of a cyclical, time-out-of-joint nature to the layers of time.

Track list:
1) A Year In The Country — Cross Sections Of Time
2) Circle/Temple — The Hollow Stream Buried
3) The Heartwood Institute — Beneath The City Streets
4) Sproatly Smith — Chapel Still Stands
5) Field Lines Cartographer — Layers Of Belief
6) Howlround — A Heart Shaped Forest
7) Folclore Impressionista — The Problem Of Symmetry
8) Handspan — At The End Of The Aerial Flight
9) Widow’s Weeds — Gilmerton Cove
10) Listening Center — Wattle And Daub Office Blocks
11) Vic Mars — Once There Were Houses
12) Pulselovers — Brodsworth
13) Grey Frequency — Tigguo Cobauc

As with some of the earlier releases in this series, the accompanying notes are essential to flesh out the substance of the instrumentals; so The Hollow Stream Buried follows Coil in charting the lost rivers of London, Tigguo Cobauc deals with the labyrinth of caves under the city of Nottingham, Chapel Still Stands concerns a place of worship marooned inside an industrial estate, and so on. Without a description, Howlround’s evocation of a Cumbrian landmark might be another example of stone-tape clairaudience. The tape distortions, however, turn out to be the tape feedback playing itself; if there are any ghosts here their origin is presumably rural, not mineral. Handspan combine a traditional tune from the North-East of England with outdoor percussion, a piece whose jauntiness is undermined (somewhat literally) by thoughts of the collieries of Northumberland and the “aerial flight” itself, the cable conveyor at Blackhall Rocks that makes such a memorable backdrop to the final scenes of Get Carter (1971). Relying on notes in this manner may seem like a flawed approach but it’s the nature of all programme music to be accompanied by some kind of description. Several of the more ambient pieces aren’t too far removed from Brian Eno’s On Land, an album that also concerns itself with place and memory, and which contains its own lengthy contextualising note. Delve beneath the layers here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Journey
Echoes And Reverberations
The Watchers
The Corn Mother
The Quietened Mechanisms
The Shildam Hall Tapes
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Double weird

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Two of the books whose covers I was working on late last year have been announced so here they are. This is more work for PS Publishing where wraparound covers are the standard, so once again I was able to work in a pictorial, landscape format. (PS also do their design in-house so I only did the art this time. Click on the pictures below for larger views.)

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Apostles of the Weird is a collection of contemporary weird fiction edited by ST Joshi:

Weird fiction is an incredibly rich and varied genre, running the gamut from supernatural horror to imaginary-world fantasy to psychological terror. This anthology seeks to exhibit the wide range of themes, motifs, and imagery that weird fiction allows, as embodied in the work of some of the leading contemporary writers in the field. (more)

“Weird” is indeed a very broad category so rather than try and create something that represented a single genre I opted for a weird view instead. The idea was to do something like Borges’s Library of Babel in a space that was a hybrid of Piranesi and MC Escher. I was hoping originally to make this more Escher-like, with a number of gravity-defying staircases, but the underlying drawing took so long that I didn’t have time.

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His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Stories About HP Lovecraft is also edited by ST Joshi:

HP Lovecraft (1890–1937), the pioneering writer of weird fiction, has himself become an icon in popular culture. Stories, novels, and other works featuring the gaunt, lantern-jawed gentleman from Providence, Rhode Island, have proliferated. These works have been triggered by the incredible amount of knowledge we have on the writer—his family, his friends, his idiosyncrasies and eccentricities—as found in his thousands of surviving letters. (more)

This was much easier to achieve since HP Lovecraft is familiar territory. The idea here was to do a portrait of Lovecraft situated in a Lovecraftian zone, a colossal idol of a type that might be found in some of his Cyclopean ruins. Lovecraft and his Weird Tales colleagues had a habit of referring to each other in their stories and letters as though they were ancient priests or sorcerers so portraying Lovecraft in this manner is fitting. The combination of perspective and lighting worked against creating an accurate likeness, however—it doesn’t help that Lovecraft’s features are weird in themselves—so the “HPL” icon is there to affirm the identity.

Both books will be published next month if Great Cthulhu hasn’t risen from the depths by then.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Something from Below

Weekend links 218

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The End of a Thousand Years (2014) by Hilary White. Via Phantasmaphile.

• It’s taken a while to shamble into the world but A Mountain Walked, an anthology of Cthulhu Mythos stories edited by leading Lovecraft scholar ST Joshi, will be published by Centipede Press next month. The publisher’s page for the book shows that my contribution will be facing Joshi’s introduction which is something I wasn’t aware of until this week. It also says the 692-page limited edition is sold out, although book dealers often buy collectible volumes such as this to sell on after adding their own markup. Be warned that it was listed on Amazon at $160 so if there are copies available anywhere they won’t be cheap.

• It’s not such a surprise to hear that magic mushrooms were an inspiration for Frank Herbert’s Dune. David Lynch’s film of Dune receives passing mention in this profile by Jeremy Kay of Lynch and the Twin Peaks film/TV series.

• “Whitechapel station is one of Giambattista Piranesi’s imaginary prisons, colonised by frantic electrical engineers and watched over by CCTV.” Will Wiles on the chaos and tangled energy of modern cities.

The word perfume comes from the French root “fume”—smoke—and where there’s smoke, there’s fire! I think most people are turned on sexually by scents and smells. Certain body odours can be very sexually stimulating. We purposefully chose certain ingredients for my Obscenity perfume that are associated with occult or religious rituals, including vetiver, labdanum, and oud, and others that are considered aphrodisiacal, including patchouli and sandalwood. The point of Obscenity is that there is no conflict between the religious and the sexual, and in fact they should be completely complimentary. The fragrance is meant to stimulate you sexually, but it also literally contains water from Lourdes, so it also has religious notes and perhaps even healing properties!

Bruce LaBruce talks to Kathy Grayson about his new fragrance, Obscenity

The Baffler, “a journal of iconoclastic wit and cultural analysis” relaunches with full access to its archives from 1988 to the present.

Pineal, the new album by Othon, is dark and “properly, brilliantly queer,” says David Peschek.

• At Core77: How to improve the audio quality of vinyl records with wood glue.

• P. Adams Sitney interviews Kenneth Anger on WNYC’s Arts Forum (1972).

• At BibliOdyssey: Le Bestiaire Fabuleux by Jean Lurçat.

• Mix of the week: Secret Thirteen mix 123 by Evol.

Meawbin the Creepy Cat

Perfumed Metal (1981) by Chrome | Fragrance (Ode To Perfume) (1982) by Holger Czukay | The Perfume (2006) by Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil, Tom Tykwer