Weekend links 631

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Soap Bubble (1882) by Alexandre-Blaise Desgoffe. Via.

• “…there is not now, has never been, and will never be a single Platonic form of the paragraph to which all others must conform.” Richard Hughes Gibson on the history of the paragraph.

• At Spoon & Tamago: imaginary covers by international illustrators for The Tokyoiter, a New Yorker-style magazine about the Japanese capital.

• New music: tick tick tick by Stephen Mallinder, and A Vibrant Touch by Aleksandra Slyz.

The Kat had a cult following among the modernists. For Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein, and Picasso, all of whose work fed on playful energies similar to those unleashed in the strip, he had a double appeal, in being commercially nonviable and carrying the reek of authenticity in seeming to belong to mass culture. By the thirties, strips like Blondie were appearing daily in roughly a thousand newspapers; Krazy appeared in only thirty-five. The Kat was one of those niche-but-not-really phenomena, a darling of critics and artists alike, even after it stopped appearing in newspapers.

Amber Medland on George Herriman, EE Cummings and Krazy Kat

35mm.online: Polish feature films, documentaries and animations, all free to view.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Georges Bataille Erotism: Death and Sensuality.

• Inside the Espai Corberó, the home/gallery of the late Xavier Corberó.

Strange Attractor Journal Five.

• RIP Claes Oldenburg.

Krazy Kat (1928) by Frankie Trumbauer & His Orchestra | Krazy Kat (1949) by Artie Shaw | Krazy Kat (1975) by Teddy Lasry

Weekend links 630

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Photo by Roger Phillips, 1977.

• “…these films seem decidedly more modern than the films that followed close behind them.” Pamela Hutchinson on pre-code Hollywood.

• Space travel is time travel: NASA shows us galaxies as they were billions of years ago.

• Reverb Machine explains how Brian Eno created Ambient 1: Music For Airports.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…Yukio Mishima Confessions of a Mask (1949).

• Mix of the week: The Chill Out Tent Kosmische Mix by Tarotplane.

• Old music: The Glastonbury Experience (Live 1979) by Steve Hillage.

• Deep Space 13: Stephen Mallinder’s favourite soundtracks.

• Sex and pathology: David Robb on 80 years of Cat People.

• New music: Expo Botanica by Cosmic Analog Ensemble.

Behind The Mask (1979) by Yellow Magic Orchestra | Red Mask (1981) by Cabaret Voltaire | A Ritual Mask (1983) by Peter Hammill

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

Recoil and Cabaret Voltaire

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Since it was announced this week that Cabaret Voltaire will release a new album in November, here’s a short Cabs-related film that used to be impossible to see. A Sheffield art student, Nick Allday, made Recoil in 1981 as part of his course work, and managed to persuade Cabaret Voltaire to create a soundtrack:

The concept originated with raw material of video feedback and some sparse nuclear bomb footage available at the time. The idea was to represent in abstract form the cruel chaotic dysfunctional nature of the human condition with all its potential for self destruction. It was conceived as a manifestation of wretched anger, fury, and regret. (more)

Very typical of the early 1980s, in other words. The film was mentioned in a few of the group’s interviews around this time, and was also screened before some of their performances, but it otherwise remained a mystery until the footage was rediscovered and restored a few years ago. The copy of Recoil at Vimeo was uploaded by the organiser of the Gofundme launched to pay for the restoration, revealing music that sounds like an outtake from Red Mecca. (According to the post linked above this was mostly the work of Stephen Mallinder rather than the group as a whole.) And having written about Last and First Men a couple of days ago, it’s worth mentioning that Chris Watson, who was still a member of Cabaret Voltaire in 1981, recorded the natural sounds for Jóhann Jóhannsson’s film.

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As to the forthcoming album, Shadow Of Fear, I’m not the only person who finds everything credited to the group since Plasticity (1992) to be barely distinguishable from many of Richard Kirk’s solo works. Stephen Mallinder seems to be present in name only on these albums which makes you wonder what there is about a CV release that differs from a Kirk release, especially when the preview track, Vasto, sounds like more of the same. The real shadow of fear is the worry that a worthwhile project is being perpetuated for no good reason.

Previously on { feuilleton }
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

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