Sine Fiction

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Sine Fiction VI: Nova Express (2003) by Eucci.

More Burroughsian music, and a selection that includes another interpretation of The Ticket That Exploded. Sine Fiction is a music project curated by Aimé Dontigny that commissions electronic artists to provide soundtracks to science fiction novels. The project has been running since 2000, and has so far managed twenty releases, the most recent of which—Dontigny’s own music for Ballard’s The Drowned World—appeared in 2011. In addition to three Burroughs titles there’s another work with considerable cult status, the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic, which Jos Smolders accompanies in a very minimal fashion. I’d still go for the gloriously doomy atmospheres of Stalker (1995) by Robert Rich & B. Lustmord but there’s room in the world for multiple interpretations.

All the Sine Fiction releases are available as free downloads at the No Type site or (if you prefer) at the Internet Archive.

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Sine Fiction VII: Soft Machine (2003) by Kevin M Krebs.

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Sine Fiction IX: The Ticket That Exploded (2003) by A_Dontigny.

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Sine Fiction XIV: Roadside Picnic (2004) by Jos Smolders.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres

Weekend links 108

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Bob Staake’s cover illustration acknowledges President Obama’s statement last week in favour of gay marriages.

• Related to the above: Gay rights in the US, state by state, an infographic and a useful riposte to people like Orson Scott Card (yes, him again) who claim that gay Americans are equal in everything but the right to marry. On the same theme, “Now Obama’s come out on same-sex marriage, maybe so will I,” says Edmund White (yes, him again), and Eric Berkowitz, author of Sex & Punishment: 4,000 Years of Judging Desire, who writes that “In the period up to roughly the thirteenth century, male bonding ceremonies were performed in churches all over the Mediterranean.”

• The fifth edition of A Humument by Tom Phillips will be published soon by Thames & Hudson. The Tom Phillips website has just been relaunched in a form which now incorporates the notes I made in December about Phillips’ album cover designs.

• The Greenfriars are encouraging people to follow their example and get involved with their local communities (the habits are optional). Kudos for the choice of a Dürer knot.

The action centres on the arrival of a man who may or may not be a prophet, or the devil, or just a violent con-man, in a rotting, rain-drenched Hungarian hamlet. This is the “estate”, apparently some sort of failed collective, where all hope has been lost and all the buildings are falling down. It is inhabited by a cast of semi-crazed inadequates: desperate peasants cack-handedly trying to rip each other off while ogling each other’s wives; a “perpetually drunk” doctor obsessively watching his neighbours; young women trying to sell themselves in a ruined mill; a disabled girl ineptly attempting to kill her cat.

Sátántango by László Krasznahorkai is published in a new translation by George Szirtes

• The Quietus interviewed Kevin Shields following the long-awaited reissue of the My Bloody Valentine catalogue.

• The first volume of Russ Kick’s Graphic Canon (to which I’m a contributor) has been sighted in the wild.

Rise of the Living Type: Stylised 17th century floriated letterforms & grotesque mask sprinkles.

Ed Jansen’s Camera Obscura III, a tour of museums, galleries and venues, 2009–2011.

• io9 reports on the new translation of Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky.

Shanghai Expression: Graphic Design in China in the 1920s and 30s.

Liberty Realm, a monograph of drawings by Catharyne Ward.

• 100 mins of Adrian Sherwood‘s best dub productions.

Strange Flowers checked into the Chelsea Hotel.

Chelsea Girls (1967) by Nico | Chelsea Morning (1968) by Fairport Convention | Chelsea Hotel #2, Rufus Wainwright sings Leonard Cohen.

The Stalker meme

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The Stalker’s dream from Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979).

The innocuously-titled Roadside Picnic is a Russian science fiction novel by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, first published in 1972:

Aliens have visited the Earth, and departed, leaving behind a number of artefacts of their incomprehensibly advanced technology. The places where such artefacts were left behind are areas of great danger, known as ‘Zones.’ The Zones are laid out in a pattern which suggests that they resulted from the impact of an influence from space which struck repeatedly from the same direction, striking different places as the Earth rotated on its axis.

A frontier culture arises along the margins of these Zones, peopled by ‘stalkers’ who risk their lives in illegal expeditions to recover these artefacts, which do not obey known physical laws. The most sought one, the ‘golden sphere’, is rumoured to have the power to fulfill the deepest human wishes.

The name of the novel derives from a metaphor proposed by the character Dr. Valentin Pilman, who compares the visit to a roadside picnic. After the picnickers depart, nervous animals venture forth from the adjacent forest and discover the picnic garbage: spilled motor oil, faded unknown flowers, a box of matches, a clockwork teddy bear, balloons, candy wrappers, etc. He concludes that humankind finds itself in a situation similar to that of the curious forest animals.

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UK paperback, 1977; cover art by Richard Powers.

Surprisingly for a novel that’s still very much in copyright, a number of online versions are available, including this PDF. The Strugatsky’s idea seems to be a particularly attractive one for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. Is it because it works an sf twist on old fairy tales or myths such as Theseus and the Minotaur? Or is the central conceit of drawing a boundary around a dangerous area then sending in your characters the one that strikes a chord?

stalker_poster.jpgWhatever the answer—and with the Zone we can’t necessarily expect answers—Roadside Picnic was brilliantly filmed by Andrei Tarkovsky in 1979 as Stalker. Tarkovsky described the film’s production in his diaries as cursed; there were arguments with the original cinematographer and problems processing the film that ruined many of the original takes. The film was more cursed than he realised. Unbeknownst to the crew, the area around an old power station in Tallinn, Estonia, which provided many of the Zone’s ruins was highly polluted. This only became apparent several years later when cast and crew began dying prematurely. Tarkovsky himself succumbed to cancer in 1986. It’s impossible to avoid thinking of this when watching the film, especially when you see the actors wading into filthy water.

Stalker is available on DVD in a less-than-satisfactory transfer (annoyingly spread across two discs) but at least it doesn’t suffer the sound fault that plagues the DVD of Nostalgia. Nostalghia.com is the best Tarkovsky site, with several Stalker-related features.

The most notorious example of Soviet-era pollution is, of course, the Chernobyl disaster which occurred a few years after Stalker. In one of those typical examples of life imitating art, the 1,400 square mile quarantined area around the power station is referred to as the Zone of Alienation, the Chernobyl Zone, the 30 Kilometre Zone, the Zone of Exclusion or the Fourth Zone. Scientists who study the forbidden region (and guides who take people there illegally) have referred to themselves as “stalkers”. This site features a huge amount of photographs of the abandoned buildings inside the radioactive area. Bldgblog also has a photo feature.

The Stalker meme has infected the music world. In addition to soundtrack albums by composer Edward Artemyev, Robert Rich and Lustmord produced Stalker in 1995, a marvellously atmospheric album of dark ambience inspired by Tarkovsky’s film.

Latest work to explore the theme is Nova Swing, a science fiction novel by M John Harrison. This book is set in the same future as his excellent Light, “less a sequel…than an independent novel set in the same general universe.”

We are in a city, perhaps on New Venusport or Motel Splendido: next to the city is the event site, the zone, from out of which pour new, inexplicable artefacts, organisms and escapes of living algorithm—the wrong physics loose in the universe. They can cause plague and change. An entire department of the local police, Site Crime, exists to stop them being imported into the city by adventurers, entradistas, and the men known as ‘travel agents’, profiteers who can manage—or think they can manage—the bad physics, skewed geographies and psychic onslaughts of the event site. But now a new class of semi-biological artefact is finding its way out of the site, and this may be more than anyone can handle.

You can read an extract from Nova Swing here.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the Stalkers. The Strugatsky’s story seems like the Zone itself, leaking an influence into the surrounding culture that then mutates into strange new forms. It seems you can’t keep a good meme down or, for that matter, contained.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Nova Swing
Solaris