More Invisible Cities (and an invisible author)

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Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

Italo Calvino

The new album by A Winged Victory For The Sullen (Adam Wiltzie & Dustin O’Halloran) is a beautiful thing. This was originally a score commissioned for a theatrical staging of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, an adaptation produced by Leo Warner and given its first performance at the Manchester International Festival in 2019. I considered going to the premiere but was disgruntled by the way all the promotional materials for the event—posters, flyers, website—managed to avoid mentioning Calvino even though the work was obviously based on his novel. The author is similarly invisible among the album credits despite being acknowledged on the group’s Bandcamp page. I’m always surprised when people do this, especially professionals like the ones who staged the Manchester event, people you know would cause a fuss if they were denied credit for their own work in this manner. “Without stones there is no arch.”

Anyway, the music is very good, if a little solemn for something derived from a writer whose prose tended to the opposite. The late Jóhann Jóhannsson feels like the ghost at this particular feast. One of Jóhannsson’s final works, Last and First Men, had its premiere at the Manchester International Festival two years before Invisible Cities, and the latter’s choral harmonies, muted piano chords and grainy electronic textures situate the compositions very much in the Jóhannsson zone. As with Jóhannsson’s soundtrack albums, I wish some of the pieces were longer. Among the musicians are Robert Hampson—who I’d guess was generating some of those grainy textures—and Hildur Gudnadóttir whose cello-playing was a feature of many Jóhannsson recordings. Does the music work as a soundtrack for Calvino’s travelogue? A good reason to read the book again.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Invisible Cities: Miscellanea
Seeing Calvino: Invisible Cities
Gérard Trignac’s Invisible Cities
Colleen Corradi Brannigan’s Invisible Cities
Le Città In/visibili
Mikhail Viesel’s Invisible Cities
Bookmark: Italo Calvino
Crossed destinies revisted
Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino
Tressants: the Calvino Hotel

Weekend links 513

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Water Tower (1914), Margaret Island, Budapest, Hungary.

George Bass on five ways The Year of the Sex Olympics (1968) predicted the way we live now. Nigel Kneale’s TV play will be reissued on DVD next week.

Ballardism (Corona Mix): three new drone pieces by Robert Hampson available as free downloads.

• Grace Jones: where to start in her back catalogue; John Doran has some suggestions.

Hal was the wry and soulful and mysterious historical rememberer. He specialized in staging strange musical bedfellows like Betty Carter and the Replacements or The Residents backing up Conway Twitty. Oh, the wild seeds of Impresario Hal. He was drawn equally to the danger of a fiasco and the magical power of illumination that his legendary productions held. Many years ago he bought Jimmy Durante’s piano along with Bela Lugosi’s wristwatch and a headscarf worn by Karen Carpenter. Some say he also owned Sarah Bernhardt’s wooden leg. He had a variety of hand and string puppets, dummies, busts of Laurel and Hardy, duck whistles and scary Jerry Mahoney dolls and a free ranging collection of vinyl and rare books. These were his talismans and his vestments because his heart was a reliquary.

Tom Waits pens a letter to remember Hal Willner

• The food expiration dates you should actually follow according to J. Kenji López-Alt.

• Blown-up buildings and suffocating fish: the Sony world photography awards, 2020.

• Rumbling under the mountains: a report on Czech Dungeon Synth by Milos Hroch.

Sophie Pinkham on The Collective Body: Russian experiments in life after death.

• Mix of the week: Spring 2020: A Mixtape by Christopher Budd.

Olivia Laing on why art matters in an emergency.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Bloody.

Blood (1972) by Annette Peacock | Blood (1994) by Paul Schütze | Blood (1994) by Voodoo Warriors Of Love

Weekend links 118

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The Garden of Urban Delights (2010) by Marcin Owczarek.

His protagonists are misfits: alienated, implicitly gay, longing for love, frequently hard to be around, always fixated on small pleasures that compensate for an essential feeling of not belonging. […] His patroness Edith Sitwell termed him “that rare being, a born writer.” William Burroughs dedicated The Place of Dead Roads to him, declaring Welch “certainly the writer who most directly influenced my work.” John Waters has called In Youth is Pleasure “so precious, so beyond gay, so deliciously subversive, [it] is enough to make illiteracy a worse social crime than hunger.”

Sadie Stein on Denton Welch, a writer I’m embarrassed about still not having read. Edith Sitwell and William Burroughs had a famously disputatious correspondence in the pages of the TLS over The Naked Lunch. An appreciation of Welch’s work was one of the few things they had in common.

• Don’t mention guitars: Robert Hampson on acousmatic music, the curse of Loop and the rebirth of Main.

• No Straight Lines: A Collection Of Queer Comics part one, part two, part three. A history by Justin Hall.

Pieces Of Gold by The Aikiu: shots from gay porn videos repurposed via some smart editing.

• RIP Ilhan Mimaroglu, electroacoustic composer. Ubuweb has a selection of his recordings.

“A good ground rule for writing in any genre is: start with a form, then undermine its confidence in itself,” he says. “Ask what it’s afraid of, what it’s trying to hide – then write that.” For Harrison, the most satisfying writers are “at odds with their cultural context. They’re trying to fit in and failing, or they’re trying to remove themselves and failing. The attempt to resolve the conflict is an angle – a frame or a context – in itself.”

The Guardian’s A Life in Writing profiles M. John Harrison. His new novel, Empty Space, was published on Thursday. There’s also this recent video interview with Arc magazine.

• Stephen Usery interviews editor Russ Kick about The Graphic Canon: Volume One.

At home with Prince Zaleski, the “most decadent and imperial detective in fiction”.

• A Visit with Magritte: photographs by Duane Michals.

Loitering airships could dispense drones on demand.

• Creating a Forever Object: Ian Schon’s Pen Project.

• A Tumblr for the late, lamented Arthur Magazine.

• “Few cities can boast a railway line for the dead.”

The Lost Tapes by Can: An Oral History.

Space Reflex (1963) by Dick Hyman & Mary Mayo | Space Is Deep (1972) by Hawkwind | Space Is The Place (1973) by Sun Ra | Space Moment (1995) by Stereolab | Space Pong (2006) by T++

Main aesthetics

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Hydra-Calm (1992).

It’s always good to find a group of musicians who not only make the kind of sounds you like but also package their work effectively. Having read the Quietus interview with Robert Hampson last week I was going back through the catalogue of Hampson’s 90s group Main and thinking again how well the design of their digipak singles and albums complemented their music. Main evolved out of an earlier rock outfit, Loop, and the earliest Main productions still bear some trace of the trancey Loop approach to rock structures. The first Main album, Hydra-Calm, was released on Situation Two, and comes packaged like the first album from Faust, with an X-ray of a skull on a transparent sheet replacing the X-ray fist of the German group.

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Dry Stone Feed (1993).

With a move to the Beggars Banquet label a year later, a different design approach was adopted which set the template for nearly all the Main releases during the 1990s. An outfit (or person) named Avida is credited with Main’s design, with the name being adjusted on various releases to Avida Design, Avida Formations, Avida Hydroforms and Avida Iceforms. The decision to dwell on varieties of texture matches the evolution of the group’s music from arrangements of guitar, bass and drums to abstract and increasingly minimal fields of sound; in this respect, Deliquescence was a perfect title. Hampson and co. created their sound fields by subjecting guitar noise to unspecified sampling and effects processes. When Simon Reynolds invented the term “Post-rock” to describe some of the musical developments happening in the 1990s, Main always seemed to be exemplars of the term, they really did go from being a bona fide rock band to a group pushing sound far beyond anything to do with rock music at all.

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Firmament (1993).

The photos used by Avida Design start out as shots of TV screens or computer monitors then range through the natural world with close-ups of rock formations, lichen, wood grain and underwater ice. The typography is nearly always Copperplate Gothic (or a sans serif variation) printed in metallic silver ink. The most satisfying release for me was the Hz set of six CD-singles released from mid-1995 to 1996, the last of which came with a box to place the singles in and a booklet containing symbols which relate to each disc. Hz is the peak of their output, and although it was later released as a double-disc set I prefer the box.

Anyone looking for these releases today can find copies for sale at Discogs.com. Robert Hampson is still active, his site is here. A few more Main covers follow.

Continue reading “Main aesthetics”

Weekend links 78

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Struggle (2009) by Lindsey Carr.

• “Twilight Science is an imprint for sound, music and DVD editions initiated by artist Paul Schütze. We will progressively publish all back catalogue, new projects and collaborations. These will include works by Phantom City, NAPE, Schütze-Hopkins and others.” Related (because Paul Schütze remixed Main): Main Feed The Collapse, Neil Kulkarni talks to Robert Hampson.

• “You can’t really narrate or display this situation, you can only, endlessly, contemplate it. When the writer or director gets tired of the iterations, he tells us who the mole is.” Michael Wood on the novel, (superb) television series and recent film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

• “Havin’ a dick is pretty fuckin’ awesome” says Horst, a new gay magazine limited to 1000 copies. Related (well, there’s a guy in and out of his underwear): Naked Lunch, a fashion shoot very tenuously based on David Cronenberg’s film.

“At first, I tried fighting bullies one-on-one, but they don’t fight fair; they fight two and three on one,” Bennett said. So the youths got together and “started carrying mace, knives, brass knuckles and stun guns, and if somebody messed with one of us then all of us would gang up on them.”

 “Gay black youths go from attacked to attackers” says the headline. A group of genuine Wild Boys; William Burroughs would have approved.

• Tor.com reminded me of Sally Cruikshank‘s amazing animated film Face Like a Frog (1987) which features a score and Cab Calloway-style song by Danny Elfman.

• It’s 1969, OK? Pádraig Ó Méalóid talks with Kevin O’Neill about the Swinging League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

• In the Tumblr labyrinth this week: Fuck Yeah St Sebastian and Gender is Irrelevant.

• For when you need some motherfucking placeholder text: Samuel L Ipsum.

• “Study finds ‘magic mushrooms’ may improve personality long-term.”

Solar Megalomania: paintings by Leonora Carrington.

• It’s all fun and games until Charles Manson turns up.

Firmament II (1993) by Main | Firmament IV (1993) by Main | Reformation (1994) by Main.