Weekend links 84

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Regeneration (2011) by Toshiyuki Enoki. Via.

HIDE/SEEK: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture, the art exhibition that caused such a fuss last year at the Smithsonian Institution, opens at the Brooklyn Museum, NYC, on November 18th. Among the events associated with the show is a screening of James Bidgood’s lusciously erotic Pink Narcissus. David Wojnarowicz’s video piece, A Fire in My Belly, is still a part of the exhibition so the New York Daily News reached for the outrage stick to prod some reaction from people who’d never heard of the artist or his work before. Will history repeat itself? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Watch this space…

Magic is not simply a matter of the occult arts, but a whole way of thinking, of dreaming the impossible. As such it has tremendous force in opening the mind to new realms of achievement: imagination precedes the fact. It used to be associated with wisdom, understanding the powers of nature, and with technical ingenuity that could let men do things they had never dreamed of before. The supreme fiction of this magical thinking is The Arabian Nights, with its flying carpets, hidden treasure and sudden revelations…

Marina Warner, whose new book, Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, is reviewed here and here.

• Those Americans who adore big business but loathe the idea of gay marriage will be dizzy with cognitive dissonance at the news that 70 major US companies—including CBS, Google, Microsoft and Starbucks—have signed a statement saying the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is bad for business. Mark Morford at SFGate says this now means that real homophobes don’t Google.

Divining with shadows and dreams, tears and blood: S. Elizabeth talks to JL Schnabel of BloodMilk about her “supernatural jewels for surrealist darlings“.

Earth: Inferno (2003), a short film by Mor Navón & Julián Moguillansky based on the book by Austin Osman Spare. Via form is void.

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Illustration by Virgil Finlay for A. Merritt’s The Face in the Abyss. From a 1942 Finlay portfolio at Golden Age Comic Book Stories.

The Mute Synth as created by Dirty Electronics & designed by Adrian Shaughnessy.

Phil Baker reviews two new Aleister Crowley biographies at the TLS.

A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design

The Most Amazing Room In Queens, NYC.

Brian Eno on composers as gardeners.

Alan Turing is Alan Garner’s hero.

• Paintings by Guy Denning.

Static (1998) by Redshift | The Owl Service (2000) by Pram | Lover’s Ghost (2010) by The Owl Service.

The Avant Garde Project

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One of the great electroacoustic compilations, Electronic Music III: Berio/Druckman/Mimaroglu, Turnabout Records (1967).

I’ve spent the past week or so immersed in the world of electroacoustic composition courtesy of torrents provided by the Avant Garde Project. Wikipedia attempts a definition of electroacoustic music and thus saves me the trouble:

While all electroacoustic music is made with electronic technology, the most successful works in the field are usually concerned with those aspects of sonic design which remain inaccessible to either traditional or electronic musical instruments played live. In particular, most electroacoustic compositions make use of sounds not available to, say, the traditional orchestra; these sounds might include pre-recorded sounds from nature or from the studio, synthesized sounds, processed sounds, and so forth.

Much of it is early electronic music, in other words, produced either with tape machines or rudimentary synth modules or a combination of the two. The Avant Garde Project is devoted to making available 20th century classical-experimental-electroacoustic recordings that are unavailable on CD. I’m less interested in the orchestral end of the project, unless it’s work by favourites such as Penderecki or Iannis Xenakis, but it’s good to know that they’re making the effort especially when much of this work remains on vinyl albums that are forty years old. The releases are listed as AGP1 onwards up to the most recent, AGP99, which happens to be music by Xenakis.

To say this stuff is challenging is something of an understatement, most people have little patience for lengthy compositions of artificial shrieks, squawks and blips, trombones fed through ring modulators or trained singers burbling extracts from Finnegans Wake. Despite the fact that many of these experiments form the foundation of today’s electronic music culture, the popular conception of the electroacoustic composer has been that he must be either a psycho rapist, like Chris Sarandon’s character in Lipstick, or a loveless neurotic, like John Hurt’s character in The Shout; decent people dig the Beatles and play guitars like, er…Charles Manson. Stereotypes aside, not all of it is necessarily alienating. Most people wouldn’t realise it but much of the early music for Doctor Who was electroacoustic, including Delia Derbyshire‘s rendering of the famous theme tune.

songmy.jpgSome of this work offers little today beyond curiosity value since a great deal of it was the product of a particular moment in the development of recording and electronic technology, a moment that passed as technology and tastes changed and many of the experiments became absorbed by pop music. Some of the composers were mere doodlers compared to later electronic artists but among the better practitioners in the AGP haul there’s Turkish composer Ilhan Mimaroglu, an expert audio collagist whose rare work is collected in three sets covering the years 1964–1983 (AGP30–32).

Mimaroglu stands with one foot in the academic world and the other in the more popular areas of jazz and soundtrack composition. Together with another electroacoustic composer, Tod Dockstadter, he provided music for the score of my favourite Fellini film, Satyricon, and his position at Atlantic Records enabled him to collaborate with trumpet player Freddie Hubbard on one of the more bizarre jazz albums of a decade full of bizarre jazz works, Sing Me a Song of Songmy from 1971. Subtitled “A Fantasy for Electromagnetic Tape”, this anti-Vietnam war polemic mixes electroacoustic passages combining spoken word and musical quotes, poetry and sound effects with Hubbard’s Quintet grooving away as though they’d wandered in from the studio next door. The opening piece is always a good conversation stopper, “Threnody for Sharon Tate”, which features two women reading quotes about murder from associates of the aforementioned Mr Manson while electronic shrieks build unnervingly in the background.

Nothing on the AGP releases is this dramatic, unfortunately, but if you want a taste of Mimaroglu’s lighter side, his Prelude for Magnetic Tape XI on AGP30 is three minutes of processed sounds from plucked rubber bands. And if the human music is too much, you could always try the cetaceans; AGP28 is the original collection of whale recordings, Songs of the Humpback Whale. The AGP page says they had to remove a few tracks that are now back in print but the copy I found on a torrent site was the complete album.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Electric Seance by Pram
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode
Ghost Box
The Photophonic Experiment
The music of Igor Wakhévitch

Electric Seance by Pram

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The (Electric Seance) concept was inspired by the discovery that many early pioneers and inventors of electrical apparatus and radiophonic equipment believed that they could use their inventions to contact ‘the other side’.

Scott Johnston

This month’s issue of The Wire has Birmingham group Pram on the cover. Inside they discuss working with filmmaker Scott Johnston whose Electric Seance production was used as part of the group’s Photophonic Experiment shows last year. I have to admit I was never much taken with Pram’s early work, preferring their Too Pure stablemates Laika and Mouse on Mars circa 1997. (Having said that, I’m listening to their Helium album now and it sounds better than I remembered.) I did appreciate the references, however, which encompassed a range of interests including White Noise, Maya Deren and the films of Karel Zeman, all of whom have been the subjects of previous posts here. The band were keen to produce an alternative soundtrack for Zeman’s Invention of Destruction but the Czech Film Archive refused their offer.

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Pram seem to have become more interesting in the intervening years, unlike their compatriots. Laika lost me when they got too poppy while Mouse on Mars abandoned melody for a blizzard of increasingly tiresome electronic abstraction. Electric Seance gives some idea of where Pram are at now which isn’t too far removed from the same world of retro-electronica and English spookiness being explored by the Ghost Box artists. The Wire has the soundtrack to Electric Seance as a free download.

And following from yesterday’s reference to Last Year in Marienbad, another film in Scott Johnston’s YouTube collection, The Arranged Time, is a tale of sinister recursion which he says is indebted to Resnais’s classic enigma.

Previously on { feuilleton }
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode
The Séance at Hobs Lane
New Delia Derbyshire
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box
The Photophonic Experiment

White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode

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Many sounds have never been heard—by humans: some sound waves you don’t hear—but they reach you. “Storm-stereo” techniques combine singers, instrumentalists and complex electronic sound. The emotional intensity is at a maximum. Sleeve note for An Electric Storm, Island Records, 1969.

An Electric Storm by White Noise is reissued in a remastered edition this week. It’s a work of musical genius and I’m going to tell you why.

Hanging around with metalheads and bikers in the late Seventies meant mostly sitting in smoke-filled bedrooms listening to music while getting stoned. Among the Zeppelin and Sabbath albums in friends’ vinyl collections you’d often find a small selection of records intended to be played when drug-saturation had reached critical mass. These were usually something by Pink Floyd or Virgin-era Tangerine Dream but there were occasionally diamonds hiding in the rough. I first heard The Faust Tapes under these circumstances, introduced facetiously as “the weirdest record ever made” and still a good contender for that description thirty-four years after it was created. One evening someone put on the White Noise album.

It should be noted that I was no stranger to electronic music at this time, I’d been a Kraftwerk fan since I heard the first strains of Autobahn in 1974 and regarded the work of Wendy Carlos, Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno and Isao Tomita as perfectly natural and encouraging musical developments. But An Electric Storm was altogether different. It was strange, very strange; it was weird and creepy and sexy and funny and utterly frightening; in places it could be many of these things all at once. Electronic music in the Seventies was for the most part made by long-hairs with banks of equipment, photographed on their album sleeves preening among stacks of keyboards, Moog modules and Roland systems. You pretty much knew what they were doing and, if you listened to enough records, you eventually began to spot which instruments they were using. There were no pictures on the White Noise sleeve apart from the aggressive lightning flashes on the front. There was no information about the creators beyond their names and that curious line about “the emotional intensity is at a maximum”. And the sounds these people were making was like nothing on earth.

Continue reading “White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode”

The Photophonic Experiment

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Light bulbs. Biscuits. A 10,000-volt charge. The only thing you won’t find making music at a Photophonic Experiment gig is guitars and pianos, says Maddy Costa.

Maddy Costa
Friday, October 20, 2006
The Guardian

Ceinws in north Wales is the kind of tiny, bucolic town where nothing unusual is supposed to happen. And possibly it didn’t before Mark Anderson moved in. A sound-artist, instrument-maker and pyrotechnic with the performance group Blissbody, he has a workshop opposite the village pub that appears perfectly innocent from the outside, but inside could pass for a laboratory from a Frankenstein movie. Glass tubes and dangerous-looking electrical contraptions clutter the floor. Wires coil across a table. A standing lamp looms in the corner. “Watch this,” says Anderson, as excited as a five-year-old setting fire to a box of tissues. He points a mysterious black cone at the lamp and turns a dimmer switch to activate the bulb. Slowly, the lamp illuminates, and a sound fills the room: a low buzz at first, but growing painfully high-pitched as the light reaches full brightness. This really is white noise.

Remarkably, what Anderson is demonstrating isn’t an instrument of torture but a “photo-synth”, a device that converts light into sound. It’s a key element of the Photophonic Experiment, a bizarre, potentially fascinating collaboration between Anderson and like-minded musicians Pram and Kirsten Reynolds that tours the UK from next week. And if the people of Ceinws think Anderson is odd, they should hear what his associates get up to.

Continue reading “The Photophonic Experiment”