Weekend links 589

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The Three Perfumes (1912) by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.

• “…we have empowered this monopoly to strike fear into the hearts of authors. And that may be unprecedented in history. Through our own complicity as consumers, their market share only grows.” Dave Eggers talking to Rachel Krantz about the dominance of Amazon, and his new novel, The Every.

• “People will readily flock to yoga and Pilates classes, but how many show up for soundscape therapy or take a sound-walk?” Bernie Krause on the healing powers of quietude, the Ba’Aka tribe, and Japanese forest bathing.

• “Difficulty is my drug of choice, I guess.” Dennis Cooper (again) talking to Troy James Weaver about his new novel, I Wished.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine reviews Shadows of London by Jonathan Wood.

• Robert Fripp’s drive to 1981: Joe Banks on Discipline and the return of King Crimson.

• End times and rapture: Ken Hollings remembers Richard H. Kirk.

• Daniel Spicer on The Strange (Parallel) World of Miles Davis.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 715 by Uffe.

• Steven Heller’s font of the month is Oposta.

Perfumed Metal (1981) by Chrome | Ode To Perfume (1982) by Holger Czukay | Perfume (2006) by Sparks

Richard H. Kirk, 1956–2021

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Q: Was the initial idea to be a music group?

Richard H. Kirk: I suppose that depends on how you define “music”. No, the initial idea was to be more of a sound group, just putting sounds together like jigsaw pieces. If the result did sound like music then it was purely coincidental.

From Cabaret Voltaire: The Art of the Sixth Sense (1984) by M Fish & D Hallberry

This was a shock, in part because I tend to think of certain artists as perpetually young even when I’ve been following them for decades. In the case of the not-so-young Cabaret Voltaire it was an easy frame of mind to slip into when Kirk and Mallinder were only photographically visible up to about 1990. After this the group resumed their former obscurity, cloaked by abstract images and Designers Republic graphics.

Oddly enough I’d been running through the early Cabs albums only a couple of weeks ago, and wondering how long Kirk was going to keep the revived group going on his own. I suppose this means that Cabaret Voltaire is now definitely finished, in which case it’s a double RIP. And just a few days ago I was reading a Mark Fisher essay on Joy Division, feeling as frustrated as I always do when Curtis and co. are praised for “channelling” (or whatever) the spirit of William Burroughs when nobody would think to connect Burroughs and Joy Division if you changed the title of the song Interzone to something else. Throbbing Gristle were closer to Burroughs personally than were Cabaret Voltaire but the influence on TG only became really overt when Industrial Records released Nothing Here Now But The Recordings, an album of Burroughs’ tape experiments. The Cabs were more important to me as a youthful reader of Burroughs’ novels for seeming to be broadcasting from inside his texts. Their early albums were disturbed and disturbing (a friend once asked me to switch off their music for this very reason), an unwholesome amalgam of dialogue taped from TV and radio, crude electronics, threatening voices, and songs that were warped into strange new shapes. This is entertainment…this is fun… I’m still amazed that their first album included a cover of No Escape, a song by psychedelic group The Seeds, which didn’t sound out of place despite the weirdness surrounding it.

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William smiles. Left to right: John Giorno, William Burroughs, Stephen Mallinder, Richard H. Kirk. Photo by Sylvia Plachy from the gatefold interior of A Diamond In The Mouth Of A Corpse (1985), a compilation album released by Giorno Poetry Systems.

Cut-up theory was a constant in the Cabaret Voltaire discography, and in many of Richard Kirk’s solo recordings, with the group starting out as Dada-inspired tape collagists* before they found a way to present their experiments in a musical form. The concept is to the fore in the title of Cabaret Voltaire’s debut album, Mix-Up, and exemplified in the track that opens side two, Photophobia, a reworked version of a Surrealist monologue that dates from the group’s days making recordings in Chris Watson’s attic. Photophobia pulls you into the same queasy dreamspace in which you find yourself when reading Burroughs’ early cut-ups, a catalogue of oneiric splicings—”they’re injecting the rivers with stainless-steel fish…a coelacanth/a body with a shrunken head…”—the phrases being increasingly overwhelmed by rising synthesizer drones and Kirk’s squeaking clarinet. Kirk’s solo debut, Disposable Half-Truths, was a cassette-only release on Industrial Records infused with the Burroughs spirit in both technique and content, offering track titles such as Information Therapy and Insect Friends Of Allah. Cabaret Voltaire continually referred to Burroughs’ speculative essay collection The Electronic Revolution in interviews but it was Kirk who extended the group’s cut-up experiments to film and video. By 1982 they’d accumulated enough of their own video material to release a VHS collection on their own music and video label, Doublevision.

If I’ve concentrated on the early recordings it’s because the post-punk period continues to seem like a miraculous moment, a space of four years when anything was possible musically, a time when Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis could record an album as uncompromisingly strange as 3R4 then have it released on 4AD and sold in racks next to albums by label-mates Bauhaus and The Birthday Party. Cabaret Voltaire took advantage of this unique period to warp expectations in their own way, and to extend the boundaries of the possible. Richard H. Kirk’s subsequent career was prolific, releasing a blizzard of albums and singles under a variety of pseudonyms (Discogs lists 42 different Kirk aliases). One of my favourite pieces from his solo recordings is White Darkness from 1993, the last track on a 12-inch single, Digital Lifeforms, credited to Sandoz. There’s a mysterious quality here that I wish he’d explored more often on his later albums instead of letting the rhythms run their course for another seven or eight minutes. The sampled voice maintains a thread of continuity with Kirk’s music before and after, as does the reference to LSD in the Sandoz name, taking us back to Mix-Up and the mescaline experiments described on Heaven And Hell. Psychedelia by other means.

* For a taste of unadorned Cabs-related tape manipulation, see The Men With The Deadly Dreams, a cassette release compiled by Geoff Rushton/John Balance which features contributions from Chris Watson and Richard H. Kirk. Note that the blog post doesn’t give an accurate description of the tape contents.

• At Vinyl Factory: An introduction to Richard H. Kirk in 10 records.
• At The Wire: two interviews with Kirk from the magazine’s archives.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Recoil and Cabaret Voltaire
Pow-Wow by Stephen Mallinder
TV Wipeout revisited
Doublevision Presents Cabaret Voltaire
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
European Rendezvous by CTI
TV Wipeout
Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo
Elemental 7 by CTI
The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire
Neville Brody and Fetish Records

Weekend links 577

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Black Lake (1904) by Jan Preisler.

• Upcoming releases on the Ghost Box label will include a new album by {feuilleton} faves Pye Corner Audio, plus the surprising appearance of figures from Bruegel on a Ghost Box cover design.

Tilda Swinton and Olivier Saillard pay tribute to the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini. (Or to Pasolini’s costume designer, Danilo Donati.)

• New music: Spectral Corridor by The House In The Woods, and Re:Moving (Music for Choreographies by Yin Yue) by Machinefabriek.

• At Spoon & Tamago, Technopolis gets all the good things: “Giant kitty now greets commuters at Shinjuku Station.”

Anil Ananthaswamy on the ways in which psychedelics open a new window on the mechanisms of perception.

• Mixes of the week: Isolated Mix 112 by Suna, and GGHQ Mix #56, “An Unfortunate Kink”, by Abigail Ward.

• In this week’s impossible task, Alexis Petridis attempts to rank The Velvet Underground’s greatest songs.

• DJ Food unearths more flyers for London’s Middle Earth club, plus covers for the East Village Other.

• Global signals: Aki Onda on Holger Czukay and radio’s power to connect.

• At The Paris Review: Paintings and collages by Eileen Agar (1899–1991).

Will Sergeant’s favourite albums.

The Babel Tower Notice Board

Shaking Down The Tower Of Babel (1983) by Richard H. Kirk | Pärt: An Den Wassern Zu Babel (1991) by Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir conducted by Paul Hillier | The Black Meat (Deconstruction Of The Babel-Tower of Reason) (1994) by Automaton

Weekend links 544

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“You may if you please, call a partial View of Immensity, or without much Impropriety perhaps, a finite View of Infinity.” An illustration from Thomas Wright’s An Original Theory or New Hypothesis of the Universe (1750).

• If you read about electronic music for any length of time today you’ll eventually come across the term “pad”, referring to a feature of the music itself not the instrumentation. I’ve noticed increasing instances of this with no accompanying explanation of what the term actually refers to. Rob Wreglesworth has the answer.

• At Dangerous Minds: Richard H. Kirk talks to Oliver Hall about Cabaret Voltaire and Shadow Of Fear. No comment from Kirk as to why the new album warrants the CV name when the music is indistinguishable from his many solo works.

• Eyeball Fodder: The Art of the Occult Edition. S. Elizabeth presents artwork featured in her new book, together with links to artist interviews, including one to the interview we did for Coilhouse magazine a few years ago.

• More electronica: Music From Patch Cord Productions is a new compilation of music by Mort Garson that features some previously unreleased pieces. Great cover art by Robert Beatty as well.

• A trailer for Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, a documentary film about meteorites by Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer.

• From 2019: John Waters and Lynn Tillman in conversation. “The pair discussed Waters’s recent exhibitions and art career.”

Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions may finally be published, after a five-decade wait.

Turn your feline into a god with this cardboard Shinto shrine for cats.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 670 by Dadub.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Harry Dean Stanton Day.

John Cooper Clarke‘s favourite songs.

Meteor Storm (1994) by FFWD | The Third Chamber: Part 5 – 7pm Tokyo Shrine (1994) by Loop Guru | Fireball (1994) by Sun Dial

Pow-Wow by Stephen Mallinder

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The debut solo album by Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire received an overdue reissue on the Ice Machine label a few weeks ago; my CD turned up yesterday. Pow-Wow was one of the last albums released by Fetish Records in 1982, and it’s always been one I preferred to the solo recordings by Mallinder’s much more prolific colleague, Richard H. Kirk. Away from Cabaret Voltaire, Kirk and Mallinder’s music is mostly instrumental but the latter had a very different sound, dubbier and much more rhythmic than Kirk’s abrasive distortions. The longer pieces on Pow-Wow work variations on the energetic industrial funk developed by the Cabs and 23 Skidoo, benefiting a great deal from Mallinder’s dominant bass and insistent rhythms for which he was aided by Cabaret Voltaire’s regular percussionist, Alan Fish. Last Few Days, the most mysterious of Britain’s early Industrial groups, receive a credit for “chance element”. Mallinder sings on a couple of the tracks (if his whispered growl can be described as singing) while taped voices fill out the spaces elsewhere: a ménage à trois on Three Piece Swing, a voice from an assassination drama (Executive Action?) identifying the speaker as “Lee Harvey Oswald”, and so on. A handful of shorter pieces that run for less than two minutes are little more than looped sketches, but the unidentifiable analogue sources still sound unusual and original today, unlike synth-heavy albums from the same period.

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Mallinder’s other solo recordings from this time were just as good: a 12-inch single, Temperature Drop/Cool Down, and Del Sol, his uptempo contribution to the Fetish compilation/memorial album, The Last Testament. Cabs-affiliated groups like Hula and Chakk aimed for a similar blend of industrial menace and danceable grooves but the results were seldom as successful. Mallinder’s greater experience shows on these recordings, the best of which are the equal of anything that Cabaret Voltaire was doing at the time.

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A Fetish ad from the Neville Brody-designed event booklet for The Final Academy, 1982.

The sleeve design by Neville Brody is another plus, vying with his cover art for Thirst by Clock DVA for being the most cryptic design among the many covers he produced for Fetish Records. The designer revealed his rationale in The Graphic Language of Neville Brody (1988):

This sleeve was about human ritual and human slaughter. In the media world of newscasters and advertisers everybody becomes a viewer; conditioned to regard other people’s sufferings as no more than a form of entertainment. The bullring is a metaphor for this.

A good example, then, of a cover that means more to the designer than to the record owner.

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All design by Neville Brody.

The new edition of Pow-Wow improves on the original and the scarce reissues by bundling the album with Del Sol, both tracks from the 12-inch single and an edit of Cool Down from a Japanese release. It also includes one of the shorter tracks which for some reason was missing from previous reissues (this and the long version of Cool Down are from vinyl sources). I’ve had all of this material for many years so didn’t really need the CD, but my records are a little worn through over-use, and besides which, these are cult works.

Previously on { feuilleton }
TV Wipeout revisited
Doublevision Presents Cabaret Voltaire
Just the ticket: Cabaret Voltaire
European Rendezvous by CTI
TV Wipeout
Seven Songs by 23 Skidoo
Elemental 7 by CTI
The Crackdown by Cabaret Voltaire
Neville Brody and Fetish Records