Hiking in the CEZ

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Two items of cult fixation collide in these photos of illicit exploration (1) into the irradiated exclusion zone around Pripyat (2) in northern Ukraine. According to English Russia the crew are a group of urban explorers from St Petersburg. The English Russia pages have two sets of photos with English annotations while the explorers themselves document their adventures to Pripyat (and elsewhere) in Russian at LiveJournal, here and here. (Google Translate works pretty well for the captions there.) Great photos in all of their posts. The shot above would be ideal as a wraparound cover for an edition of Roadside Picnic.

Official visits to the area now seem more common, and no doubt avoid the hazard of having to take drinking water from potentially toxic rivers. The Pripyat website advises on the pros and cons of the different seasons. Don’t forget your dosimeter.

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Weekend links 187

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Delia Derbyshire (2007) by Iker Spozio.

Whatever you think of Doctor Who, Delia Derbyshire’s recording of Ron Grainer’s theme tune is a landmark piece of electronic music. Those glassy electronic tones still sound unique today, not least for their having been created using rudimentary oscillators and much laborious tape editing. In Radiophonic Workshop: the shadowy pioneers of electronic sound, Joe Muggs looks at the history of the BBC’s electronic composers. If you’re a Radiophonic-head then the Alchemists of Sound TV documentary from 2003 is essential viewing.

There’s more (there’s always more): Delia Derbyshire – Sculptress of Sound: part one of a seven-part radio documentary about the great electronic music composer, and Blue Veils and Golden Sands, Martyn Wade’s radio play about Delia. Related: Delia-Derbyshire.org, Delia Derbyshire: An audiological chronology and A History of the Doctor Who theme. And don’t miss: Silence Is Requested In The Ultimate Abyss (1969) by Welfare State and White Noise, an incredible slice of electro-psychedelia from the John Peel Presents Top Gear album.

• “Why don’t books for grown-ups have illustrations any more?” asks Christopher Howse. Some of them do, this past week I’ve been finishing a new series of illustrations for a story anthology.

• From 2006: Ian Penman on cigarettes, espionage, and the masterful (and superior) television adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

It was Malcolm [McLaren] who suggested that the main characters be a boy who looks like a girl who looks like a boy and vice versa. What was strange was that, actually, in 1985 this was nobody’s vision of the fashion industry. Since then, fashion and fascism have crept closer: you’ve got John Galliano doing his promotional bits for the Third Reich, you’ve got Alexander McQueen killing himself, you’ve got Versace and that horrible, violent stalker coming for him. Since it was written, almost all of it has come true apart from the nuclear winter, but I think we’re working on that. The actual society that the story happens in is much more like the society we have now than culture was in 1985.

Alan Moore on Fashion Beast, Situationism, and why he hates superheroes.

• KW Jeter talks about his latest novel, Fiendish Schemes, and the “cultural juggernaut” that is steampunk.

• Grit and Social Dynamics in Smoke Ghost: Elwin Cotman on the weird fiction of Fritz Leiber.

The Secret Lives of the Vatican’s Gay Cardinals, Monks, and Other Clergy Members.

Don Cherry & Organic Music Theatre, live in the RAI TV studios, 1976.

• Otherworldly Art and Photography: Mlle Ghoul finds the best things.

• From 1998: Rahma Khazam on composer Bernard Parmegiani.

• Mix of the week: Marshland: The Mix by Hackneymarshman.

• “Let’s colonize the clouds of Venus,” says Ian Steadman.

J. Hoberman on David Cronenberg’s Visual Shock.

The Delian Mode (1968) by Delia Derbyshire | Tom Baker (1981) by The Human League | Doctor Who? (1984) by Doctor Pablo & The Dub Syndicate

Ikarie XB 1

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A science fiction novel by Stanislaw Lem (The Magellanic Cloud, 1955).

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Illustration by Teodor Rotrekl.

A film by Jindrich Polák, adapted from Lem’s novel by Polák and Pavel Jurácek. (1963).

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A Second Run DVD (2013).

With the exceptions of Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker (both in a league of their own), I’ve never been very enthused about Eastern Bloc science-fiction cinema. If I hadn’t been watching some Czech films recently, and listening to the soundtrack music of Zdenek Liska, I might not have bothered with this one despite its being promoted as a visual influence on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Ikarie XB 1 won the Grand Prize at the Trieste International Science Fiction Film Festival in 1963, a tie with Chris Marker’s La Jetée. (Umberto Eco was one of the judges.) Fifty years on, Marker’s film has hardly dated at all while Ikarie XB 1 seems very much of its time. But Polák’s film still has some things going for it, surprisingly so considering the director was more used to making comedies.

Ikarie XB 1 is a spaceship travelling to Alpha Centauri in the year 2163. The DVD subtitles don’t translate the name Ikarie so unless you already know it means “Icarus” there’s no foreshadowing of any possible threat, at least until the opening shots of a deranged crewman stumbling through empty corridors. Many of the scenes which follow seem over-familiar but only because the scenario of space-crew as interstellar family has become such a standard feature of filmed space opera from Star Trek on. The production design is dated, of course, but the film makes great use of black and white in the lighting patterns, on-screen visuals, clothing designs, etc. It’s easy to see why Kubrick thought it was a cut above other SF films of the period, especially with its widescreen compositions. The DVD booklet (and Kim Newman’s interview on the disc) mention Kubrick’s stylistic borrowings; judge for yourself with these screen-grabs. I was hoping the Liska soundtrack might be more electronic than it is. It’s very much a Liska score—at times you can’t help but imagine a Svankmajer puppet lurking round a corner—but with added reverb and spectral organ chords. The latter assist a sequence where two of the crew members explore an apparently derelict space station.

This page reviews the film in some detail (complete with plot spoilers). For the curious, the entire film is a free download at the Internet Archive.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fiser and Liska
Two sides of Liska
Liska’s Golem
The Cremator by Juraj Herz

Zone music

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Undulating terrain: Stalker (1979).

Marking the boundaries of an obsession, this post follows the discovery last week of the Sine Fiction soundtracks for science fiction novels, one of which was five tracks by Jos Smolders for Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. That album set me wondering what other recordings might have been inspired by that bounded region known as the Zone, whether derived from the Strugatskys’ novel, from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker (for whom the Strugatskys provided a screenplay) or even from the real-life Zone around the irradiated Chernobyl disaster site in Ukraine.

The cult status of the book and film can be measured by the following list which I’m sure will have many omissions, not least because searching music sites for “stalker”, “zone” and “roadside picnic” yields multiple results; all three of those terms happen to also be the names of musical artists or groups, as well as the names of labels, albums and individual recordings. (I’ll skip over the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of computer games. All have music but since I’ve not played any of them I can’t say much about them.)

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The stalker’s dream from Stalker.

The first release is of course the haunting film theme by Edward Artemyev, a mere five minutes of music which nonetheless adds a great deal to Tarkovsky’s unforgettable images. Artemyev also provided music for Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Mirror (1975) yet nothing else I’ve heard by the composer resembles this piece which wouldn’t be out-of-place on a compilation of German Kosmische music from the 1970s.

While that long camera shot over waterlogged objects is still in mind, there’s the following from Nova Swing (2006) by M. John Harrison, a science fiction novel which riffs on both Stalker and Roadside Picnic:

Upstairs, Emil Bonaventure was propped upright against the pillows like a corpse, his skin yellow in the streetlight from the window, his old ribs slatted with shadows. The energy had drained out of his smart tattoos and he was breathing ever so lightly. Edith watched the pulse in his neck. She could almost see the life through the skin, the thoughts in his head, and what were they but the dreams he couldn’t any longer have? Shallow water over cracked chequerboard tiles and cast-off domestic objects, books, plates, magazines, empty tunnels smelling of chemicals, a black dog trotting aimlessly round him in his sleep on some dirty waterlogged ground neither in nor out of anything you could think of as the world, while a woman’s voice mourned open-throat from a house not far enough in the distance.

Nova Swing will be available in a new edition later this year.

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Stalker (1995) by Robert Rich & B. Lustmord.

The doomy atmospherics which have become the hallmark of Zone music begin with this album by Robert Rich and B. Lustmord. Seven tracks take Tarkovsky’s film as an inspiration with vaguely allusive titles—Undulating Terrain—and occasional snatches of dialogue buried in the mix. A superb piece of late-night listening even without the associations.

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Weekend links 148

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Quantum Entanglement by Duda Lanna.

An hour-long electronica mix (with the Düül rocking out at the end) by Chris Carter for Ninja Tune’s Solid Steel Radio Show.

• “…a clothes-optional Rosicrucian jamboree.”: Strange Flowers on the paintings of Elisàr von Kupffer.

• A Paste review of volume 2 of The Graphic Canon has some favourable words for my contribution.

It is an entertaining thought to remember that Orlando, all sex-change, cross-dressing and transgressive desire, appeared in the same year as Radclyffe Hall’s sapphic romance The Well of Loneliness. The two novels are different solar systems. The Well is gloomy, beaten, defensive, where women who love women have only suffering and misunderstanding in their lonely lives. The theme is as depressing as the writing, which is terrible. Orlando is a joyful and passionate declaration of love as life, regardless of gender. The Well was banned and declared obscene. Orlando became a bestseller.

Jeanette Winterson on Virginia Woolf’s androgynous fantasia.

Jim Jupp discovers the mystical novels of Charles Williams.

Michael Andre-Driussi on The Politics of Roadside Picnic.

Les Softs Machines: 25 August 1968, Ce Soir On Danse.

• At 50 Watts: Illustrations and comics by Pierre Ferrero.

Soviet posters: 1469 examples at Flickr.

Oliver Sacks on drugs (again).

• At Pinterest: Altered States.

• Farewell, Kevin Ayers.

Darkest London

Why Are We Sleeping? (1969) by The Soft Machine | Lady Rachel (1969) by Kevin Ayers | Decadence (1973) by Kevin Ayers