Weekend links 519

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Cover of Minotaure no. 8 (1936) by Salvador Dalí.

• At Dangerous Minds: Irmin Schmidt talks to Oliver Hall about his new album of prepared piano, Nocturne, and also reveals more about the planned release of live recordings by Can.

• “Even the most zealous fan of the genre can learn something new from this book,” says Geeta Dayal in a review of Bring That Beat Back: How Sampling Built Hip-Hop, by Nate Patrin.

• The subject of a previous post but the video was later removed: Italo Calvino in a rare documentary feature for an English audience, on the BBC’s Bookmark in 1985.

• On 9th May, carillonneur Malgosia Fiebig played The Model by Kraftwerk on the bells of the Dom Tower in Utrecht as a tribute to the late Florian Schneider.

• Film footage of Alice Coltrane in her prime is a rare thing so even 17 minutes of TV from 1970 is something special.

Dan Reynolds on the fantastic alphabets designed by Jean Midolle. See also Luc Devroye’s page.

• Mix of the week: Jon Hassell tribute, part 1: Jon and his collaborators, by Dave Maier.

Nicolas Winding Refn on some of the films he’s been watching during lockdown.

• At Haute Macabre: Surrealist décor and tiny secret drawers.

HP Lovecraft dreams of a Providence trolley car in 1927.

The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

Xerrox Voyage, a new recording by Alva Noto.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Jean-Pierre Léaud Day.

The Model (1979) by Snakefinger | Model (1992) by The Balanescu Quartet | Das Modell (1997) by Rammstein

Weekend links 518

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In Voluptate Mors (1951) by Philippe Halsman.

• “Equation to an Unknown (1980) is [Dietrich de Velsa’s] only film, and stands without a doubt as a masterpiece and the best French gay porn ever made.” Related (sort of): the US division of Amazon Prime had been showing a censored print of Francis Lee’s gay romance, God’s Own Country, until the director was informed and complained.

• “They lasted just one night as tour support for U2 before being thrown off. The outraged and hostile audience threw bottles of urine. The band responded by throwing iron bars back at them.” Daniel Dylan Wray on the wild times (and cookery) of Blixa Bargeld and Einstürzende Neubauten.

• “Japanese art evolved, in Saunders’s words, ‘from a distinctive alchemy of silk, soot, gold, fire, and fur,’ from a playful and curious fascination with the subject matter and tools provided by the natural world.” Tamar Avishai on art in isolation: the delicate paintings of Edo Japan.

To me, the Diggers were a phenomenon. I don’t know that there’s been anything like them in history—yes, history repeats itself, so there probably was somebody at some time, I’m just not aware of it—a situation where you have a group of people whose goal is to help other people, to bring them not just the basic necessities you need to survive but the things that you need for your imagination, your brain, your growth on other levels. It was like an opium dream or something.

Siena Carlton-Firestone (aka Natural Suzanne) talking to Jay Babcock for the fourth installment of Jay’s verbal history of the hippie anarchists

• A psychic has been ordered to pay the costs of exhuming Salvador Dalí’s corpse for a failed paternity test.

• Feel the crushing steel: David Bennun on Grace Jones and the Compass Point Trilogy.

Sleep Tones by Six Organs Of Admittance, name-your-price music for insomniacs.

• Mix of the week: XLR8R Podcast 645 by Juan MacLean.

Playing the Piano for the Isolated by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

• David Lynch Theater presents: Fire (Pozar).

Fire (1967) by Koko Taylor | Fire (1984) by 23 Skidoo | Fire (2002) by Ladytron

Haeckel’s Radiolaria

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I’ve been admiring (and plundering) Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur (Artforms in Nature, 1904) for many years, but until this week I hadn’t thought to look for other books by the German biologist. The plates in Haeckel’s Kunstformen fascinate for the way their drawings emphasise the aesthetic qualities of the animals being studied, without taking the wild liberties one finds in early zoological books or being photographically faithful to the specimens.

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Of particular fascination are the many plates devoted to Radiolaria, tiny marine protozoa whose mineral skeletons look less like the product of living creatures than abstract decorations, crystalline growths or even pieces of alien architecture. These unusual forms were the ones that captured the imagination of René Binet, a French designer and architect who collaborated with Gustave Geffroy on a whole book of architectural and household designs derived from Haeckel’s plates. So too with Salvador Dalí who wasn’t above borrowing (or “quoting”) from Haeckel’s Radiolaria.

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Haeckel was evidently just as fascinated with the protozoa, enough to write and illustrate a substantial monograph. Die Radiolarien (Rhizopoda radiaria): Eine Monographie (1862) is available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library and the Internet Archive in a mammoth four-volume set, a large portion of which is explanatory text. There’s also a separate volume with a selection of the plates alone which is easier to browse. These drawings show much more variety than the Kunstformen plates which represent the examples that Haeckel considered most visually appealing; they also show us how much Haeckel tailored his renderings for Kunstformen, favouring symmetry and harmony over natural imperfections. Oscar Wilde would have approved of Haeckel’s adjustments, as he writes in The Decay of Lying: “My own experience is that the more we study Art, the less we care for Nature. What Art really reveals to us is Nature’s lack of design, her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished condition. Nature has good intentions, of course, but, as Aristotle once said, she cannot carry them out.”

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Picturing Vermilion Sands

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First UK edition, 1971. Art by Brian Knight.

Vermilion Sands (1971) is a story collection by JG Ballard which maintains a cult reputation even while being overshadowed by its author’s more popular (and notorious) novels. Most of the stories were written in the 1960s, and a couple of the pieces are among Ballard’s earliest works, but where many of his other short stories can read like the work of a writer with bills to pay, the tales of Vermilion Sands are much closer to Ballard’s core interests, filled with symbolic resonance and literary allusion.

Vermilion Sands, the place, is a near-future resort with a desert climate and an unspecified location, where the Côte d’Azur meets Southern California but the ocean is a sea of sand. The inhabitants are the idle midde-class types who populate all of Ballard’s work, and each story has a different artistic or cultural theme. Ballard was more receptive to visual art, especially painting, than many authors, particularly the SF writers of his generation for whom art was less interesting than science and technology. There is science and technology in these stories (some of the latter is now inevitably dated) but it doesn’t dominate the proceedings. The stories derive less from scientific speculation than from Ballard’s desire to create a future he would have been happy to inhabit himself, an alternative to the grim dystopias which proliferate in science fiction. The background furnishings also reflect the author’s ideal, owing much to the Surrealist landscapes of Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, a pair of artists whose works are often referenced in Ballard’s fiction. Given all of this you’d expect that cover artists might have risen to the challenge more than they have. What follows is a look at the more notable attempts to depict Vermilion Sands or its population, only a few of which are covers for the book itself.

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Salvador Dalí’s Maze

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Maurice Yves Sandoz (1892–1958) was a Swiss composer and writer who published a handful of works of fantastic fiction, none of which are especially well-known today. One of these, a novel entitled Le Labyrinthe (1945), will be familiar to most people via the film version directed by William Cameron Menzies in 1953, Menzies’ final effort in a chequered directing career. The Maze is a low-budget horror film that was shot in 3-D, and which works well for the most part, at least until its rather absurd ending. I hadn’t heard about the novel until a recent conversation with the knowledgeable Mr TjZ during which he mentioned that Salvador Dalí had illustrated Sandoz’s novel when it was republished by Doubleday, Doran in 1945. Dalí illustrated a number of novels throughout his career but The Maze is one of the few original works (as opposed to a reprint of a classic), the fruit of Sandoz’s social connections with the art world. 1945 was the year that Dalí’s brand of Surrealism was fully embraced by America—he was working on Hitchcock’s Spellbound at this time—so it’s surprising that Sandoz’s novel isn’t better known. Dalí also provided illustrations for two collections of Sandoz’s short stories: Fantastic Memories (1944) and On the Verge (1950).

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I haven’t seen a copy of the novel so the illustrations here are no doubt wrongly sequenced. Secondhand copies of the Dalí Sandoz titles aren’t as expensive as you’d imagine so I’m tempted to track down copies. I’m also curious to know how the novel compares to the film. Thanks to TjZ for the tip!

(And having written the above, I notice from my tags for the post that I’d linked to copies of the short story illustrations in a weekend posting several years ago. Among other things, this blog is a useful memory jolt. But The Maze was definitely news.)

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