Dragon Rising to the Heavens (1897) by Ogata Gekko.
• “Electronic music of the past is often portrayed in a dreamy, magical light—a hazy historical landscape filled with misty, otherworldly sounds. But while the music of a bygone era may seem ineffable, it is not inaccessible.” Geeta Dayal reviews Reminded by the Instruments: David Tudor’s Music by You Nakai.
• Modular Therapy: Mute Records boss Daniel Miller and former snooker champ turned kraut-psych powerhouse Steve Davis discuss their love of modular synthesisers, ill-fated Jools Holland collaborations, commandeering Elton John’s ARP 2600 and more.
• “Some contemporary art is a little bit like an intellectual game…I’m not a big fan of this kind of stuff, because I’m a musician.” Ryoji Ikeda presents: point of no return.
One of the tunnels that Turrell has completed is 854 feet long. When the moon passes overhead, its light streams down the tunnel, refracting through a six-foot-diameter lens and projecting an image of the moon onto an eight-foot-high disk of white marble below. The work is built to align most perfectly during the Major Lunar Standstill every 18.61 years. The next occurrence will be in April 2025. To calculate the alignment, Turrell worked closely with astronomers and astrophysicists. Because the universe is expanding, he must account for imperceptible changes in the geometry of the galaxy. He has designed the tunnel, like other features of the crater, to be most precise in about 2,000 years. Turrell’s friends sometimes joke that’s also when he’ll finish the project.
Wil S. Hylton on an exclusive visit to James Turrell’s astronomical art complex at Roden Crater, Arizona. Related: 147 Orbiting 1 Through 6 for 5, Music for Roden Crater by Paul Schütze (with free download of an excerpt from the 5-hour piece)
• New music: The Black Mill Tapes, Volume 5 by Pye Corner Audio, and Interreferences by Richard Chartier.
• At Spoon & Tamago: Dense pencil drawings of retro-future worlds by Yota Tsukino.
• “‘I’m bursting with fiction’: Alan Moore announces five-volume fantasy epic”.
• At Dennis Cooper’s: Lindsay Anderson Day.
• Beverly Glenn-Copeland’s favourite music.
• Volcano Diving (1989) by David Van Tieghem | Crater Scar (1994) by Main | Eye Of The Volcano (2006) by Stereolab
The first pressing of Switched-On Bach with a cover showing a Bach-alike confounded/dismayed by the sounds issuing from the machine behind him. The cover was soon swapped for the one below.
After mentioning the proliferation of Switched-On… synthesizer albums in the previous post, curiosity impelled me to see how many of these things were out there. A lot more than I expected is the answer, almost enough to make this cul-de-sac of novelty exploitation into a sub-genre of its own. As mentioned earlier, it was the huge success of Switched-On Bach (1968) by Wendy Carlos that began the trend. The album had a rare crossover appeal so that it could be sold to classical listeners as well as to a younger audience interested in electronic sounds, those for whom the words “switched on” echoed the druggy/erotic intersection of “turned on”. Carlos had an advantage over other musicians thanks to a long association with Robert Moog which meant she had a head start in exploring the recording potential of the new Moog synthesizer and innovations like Moog’s touch-sensitive keyboard. In 1968 few people could afford a Moog system; those who could usually needed to hire technicians like Paul Beaver and Bernie Krause to help them operate the thing. For a brief while it was enough to simply use the instrument to make strange noises, hence Mick Jagger’s droning score for Kenneth Anger’s Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969), and George Harrison’s preposterous Electronic Sound (1969), 44 minutes of very amateurish Moog-doodling. Switched-On Bach sounds a little primitive today—it sounds primitive next to its follow-up albums, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer (1969) and Switched-On Bach II (1973)—but Carlos and collaborators Rachel Elkind and Benjamin Folkman spent much more time refining their recording techniques than the knob-twiddling horde who rushed to capitalise on their success.
The rules of the Switched-On… idiom are as follows: a title that begins with the words “Switched-On”, obviously, although there’s a subset of the form in which an album may have a different title while a subtitle mentions something about “switched-on recordings”; the music must be cover versions of familiar songs or compositions, originality here is surplus to requirements; and it’s not essential but the cover art often alludes in some way to synthesizer technology and/or “the future”, with the latter represented by Space Age typefaces such as Amelia, Computer, Countdown or Data 70. I’ve not heard many of these albums, and I’m fairly certain that I don’t want to hear most of them, but I’ve heard enough Carlos cash-ins to know that the cover designs are often the best thing about them. The remastered CDs that Wendy Carlos released in the 1990s feature additional tracks that give some idea of the amount of work involved in the creation of each album. The early cash-ins, by contrast, tend to avoid time-consuming multi-track composition in favour of using a synthesizer as though it’s merely an expensive keyboard. The success of these albums musically may be gauged by the lack of reissues. They may be of interest to the so-bad-it’s-good “Incredibly Strange Music” crowd but I prefer to spend my time listening to other things. Beware.
Switched-On Rock (1969) by The Moog Machine.
Switched-On Bacharach (1969) by Christopher Scott.
Switched-Off Bach (1969) by Various Artists.
CBS exploits the success of the electronic album by packaging a collection of earlier non-electronic recordings.
Continue reading “Switched-On… hits and misses”
The next release on the Ghost Box label, Painting Box is a collaborative seven-inch single by Beautify Junkyards and Belbury Poly, the A-side of which is a cover of a song by The Incredible String Band. Available on 30th April. Design, as always, is by Julian House.
• “What is good for you as a person is often bad for you as a writer. People will tell you that this not true, and some of the people who will tell you that are also writers, but they are bad writers, at least when they try to convince you, and themselves, that the most important thing for a fiction writer to have is compassion.” Brock Clarke on the case for meanness in fiction.
• The week in non-human intelligence: “Life beyond human has to play by the rules of natural selection,” says David P. Barash, and Thomas Moynihan on dolphin intelligence and humanity’s cosmic future.
• Ilia Rogatchevski speaks with historian Juliane Fürst about her new history of Soviet hippies and the counterculture of the former USSR.
• Mushroom with a view: Karen Schechner at Bookforum talks with Bett Williams about her mycological journey.
• Retro instinct versus future fetish: Fergal Kinney on Stereolab’s Emperor Tomato Ketchup 25 years on.
• At Dennis Cooper’s: Spotlight on…JG Ballard: The Atrocity Exhibition (1970).
• This is Hexagon Sun: A feature-length video on Boards of Canada.
• Mix of the week: The Ides by The Ephemeral Man.
• New music: Gyropedie by Anne Guthrie.
• Paintbox (1967) by Pink Floyd | Orgone Box (1989) by Haruomi Hosono | God Box (1996) by Paul Schütze & Andrew Hulme
This week I’m electrically possessed by Stereolab, thanks to the arrival of the fourth volume in the Groop’s Switched On series of compilation albums. As with the earlier releases, the new album collects deleted EPs, singles and other scarcities. I already had a third of this one on the First Of The Microbe Hunters EP but it’s good to finally have on disc B.U.A. (aka Burnt Umber Assembly), a previously unreleased piece from the Amorphous Body Study Centre recordings, together with more of the tour singles such as The Underground Is Coming and Free Witch And No-Bra Queen. The latter may well allude in its title and cover art to Pravda, La Survireuse, Guy Peellaert’s freedom-loving biker-hippie whose persona was modelled on Françoise Hardy. (Stereolab’s borrowings are often overt but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.) Pravda or not, the animation that Peellaert produced with Gallien Guibert would have made a great video for the song if it was a little longer. Guibert has an updated version of the film here.
White Peacock and Garden God (c. 1922) by Henry Keen.
• “Though both writers confront some of the most unsavory and unjust dimensions of human life, Genet revels in moral ambiguity and coarse language, while Erpenbeck satisfies her audience’s desire for tidy ethical responses by using careful, equally tidy sentences. Genet’s world is dirty; Erpenbeck’s is clean.” Christy Wampole compares two newly-translated collections of non-fiction writing by Jean Genet and Jenny Erpenbeck.
• Gaspar Noé’s notorious, controversial (etc, etc) Irreversible receives the prestige blu-ray treatment from Indicator in April. Still no UK blu-ray of Enter the Void is there? I had to order a German release.
• Stereolab release Electrically Possessed: Switched On Vol. 4 next month, the latest in their series of albums which collect singles, compilation tracks and other rarities.
• At Nautilus: Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold on how dreaming is like taking LSD.
• At Dennis Cooper’s: Bollo presents…Éliane Radigue (& The Lappetites).
• Playwriting & Pornography: Adam Baran remembers Jerry Douglas.
• At Spine: Vyki Hendy on the joy of monochrome book covers.
• Mix of the week: Subterraneans 2 by The Ephemeral Man.
• John Boardley’s favourite typefaces of 2020.
• New music: Spirit Box by Blanc Sceol.
• Life In Reverse (1981) by Marine | Reverse World (1995) by David Toop | Reverse Bubble (2014) by Air