Serious houses: The Lud Heat Tapes, 1979

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Goldmark hardcover, 1987.

The old maps present a sky-line dominated by church towers; those horizons were differently punctured, so that the subservience of the grounded eye, & the division of the city by nome-wound, was not disguised. Moving now on an eastern arc the churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor soon invade the consciousness, the charting instinct. Eight churches give us the enclosure, the shape of the fear; – built for early century optimism, erected over a fen of undisclosed horrors, white stones laid upon the mud & dust. In this air certain hungers were activated that have yet to be pacified; no turning back, as Yeats claims: “the stones once set up traffic with the enemy.”
—Iain Sinclair, Lud Heat

A serious house on serious earth it is
—Philip Larkin, Church Going

“Serious” is a word with many meanings. The Oxford English Dictionary gives one of these as “attended with danger; giving cause for anxiety”, a definition that wouldn’t suit Philip Larkin’s poem describing a visit to a moribund country church, but which is easily applied to a longer cycle of poems by Iain Sinclair. Lud Heat: A Book of the Dead Hamlets is the collection of writings that lifted Sinclair’s authorial profile out of the poetry ghetto in which he’d been situated throughout the 1970s. He published the first edition via his own Albion Village Press in 1975 but it wasn’t until the arrival of Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor a decade later that wider public attention began to turn in Sinclair’s direction. Lud Heat set out for the first time a series of observations concerning the peculiar and sinister qualities of the churches built by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 18th-century London: Christ Church, Spitalfields; St George’s, Bloomsbury; St Mary Woolnoth; St George in the East; St Anne’s, Limehouse; St Alfege Church, Greenwich; plus those built in collaboration with John James: St Luke Old Street, and St John Horsleydown. The book separates the poetry with prose pieces—diary extracts, accounts of a film viewing and an art exhibition—that anticipate the author’s subsequent explorations of London’s margins and esoterica. Like many of Sinclair’s later writings, the texts in the early editions are accompanied by a variety of illustrations: engravings, contemporary photographs, and a map of London drawn by Brian Catling that posits a network of “lines of influence…invisible rods of force” connecting the churches with each other and with significant locations such as William Blake’s house, Cleopatra’s Needle and so on. Paperback reprints omitted the illustrations* but retained the map which was redrawn by Dave McKean. The new version gave greater emphasis to the Egyptian symbols that Sinclair and Catling had scattered across the city: jackal-headed Anubis as as the presiding deity of the Isle of Dogs.

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Photo by Charles Latham from London Churches of the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries (1896) by George H. Birch.

Lud Heat is a beguiling and potent book; it’s also a book that’s of its time in its suggestion of malefic “rods of force” scored across the capital. Sinclair’s map may be the earliest artistic development of a process begun in 1969 when John Michell published The View Over Atlantis, an elaboration of ideas set forth in his earlier volume, The Flying Saucer Vision. Michell’s free-wheeling speculations gave new life to the innocuous studies of Alfred Watkins, inflating amateur archaeological ruminations into full-blown Aquarian metaphysics. Where Watkins considered that “ley lines” (a term of his own invention) might have been ancient trading routes, Michell’s enthusiasm for the full range of Fortean phenomena transmuted the alleged paths into channels of unspecified “earth energy”, flying-saucer guides, and the axes of a sacred geometry. Other crank scholars were eager to follow Michell’s lead, leaving an opening for Sinclair to adopt the conceit for its poetic resonances; the New Age trappings were inverted to reveal a darker pattern more suited to London’s history of plague, murder and mass destruction. (The Hawksmoor churches had been built to compensate for the devastations of the Great Fire of 1666; two of them were hit by bombs during the Blitz, with one being damaged beyond repair.) This isn’t to suggest that Sinclair was borrowing directly from Watkins and Michell; in an interview he mentions an earlier precursor of both his map and Watkins’ ley lines in Prehistoric London: Its Mounds and Circles (1914) by Elizabeth O. Gordon. But something was in the air in the 1970s. Lud Heat appeared shortly before the release of a pair of albums that borrowed heavily from Michell’s books—Green (1978) by Steve Hillage, and Blake’s New Jerusalem (1978) by Tim Blake—and two TV serials that exploited the idea of ley lines as channels of earth energy: Children of the Stones (1977) and Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass (1979). Lud Heat stands apart from these works by concentrating on urban structures rather than isolated monoliths and ancient pathways. The suggestion that the city of London could be home to mysterious “rods of force” is an especially intriguing one, hence the appropriation of the idea by Peter Ackroyd in Hawksmoor and Alan Moore in From Hell. Any church of a sufficient size or age is a kind of time machine, maintaining in its appearance and its grounds a pocket of history separated from the changes that take place around it. The churches in Lud Heat are also batteries of stone, impregnated with the unspent energies of the dead who lie in their crypts. These latent forces overflow their containers, spilling into the streets beyond the church walls. Sinclair has always been adamant that his Lud Heat map is a fabrication; the degree to which he believes in the rest of his thesis is for the reader to decide. It is a fact that St George in the East is close to the location of the Ratcliffe Highway Murders of 1811 (Sinclair includes a illustration of the murderer’s corpse in Lud Heat), while Christ Church, Spitalfields, sits at the centre of maps of the Jack the Ripper murders; the fifth and most brutal of these occurred a short distance from that colossal porch on the opposite side of Commercial Street. “Dead Hamlets” also has many meanings.

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Weekend links 471

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Pink Floyd, Lee Michaels, Clear Light (1967) by Bonnie MacLean.

• Electronic musician Mort Garson has been subject to a revival of interest recently, with reissues of his works as Ataraxia (The Unexplained), and Lucifer (Black Mass). The latest reissue is Mother Earth’s Plantasia (1976), an album released under Garson’s own name, and one of several works of plant mysticism from the 1970s (see Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life Of Plants, and Green by Steve Hillage).

• “It is striking how much of this work sounds like a missing link from the art world to the popular groups of the time, such as the Detroit techno pioneers Cybotron and the Japanese electro legends Yellow Magic Orchestra.” Geeta Dayal on the reconfigured Speak & Spell machinery of Paul DeMarinis.

The cost of free love and the designers who bore it: Madeleine Morley meets the women of psychedelic design.

For the transhumanist anarchist Wilson, the neurological relativism revealed by his own learning and personal deprogramming experiments called for a form of ‘guerrilla ontology’ that lampooned, rejected and transmitted much needed interference into the ‘reality tunnels’ that attempt to control much of contemporary society and individual behaviour. In the Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy, characters are repeatedly placed in positions of cognitive dissonance, where they are forced to reevaluate their own belief systems due to experiences that they are unable to accommodate.

Sean Kitching on the 40th anniversary of Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat Trilogy

• They said books were dead, they were wrong: Adrian Shaughnessy on a decade of Unit Editions.

• Mixes of the week: Xianedelica by Jesús Bacalão, and Kosmische Mix By Tarotplane.

• Swinging 60s surrealist Penny Slinger: “Collectors thought I came with the art”.

• Cabaret Voltaire: Chance Versus Causality (Teaser).

Luc Sante on postcards of American violence.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Peter Whitehead Day.

Computerwelt (1981) by Kraftwerk | Speak And Spell (1984) by Christina Kubisch | Time Space Transmat (1985) by Model 500

Undercurrents

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Undercurrent: a word whose meanings offer many worthwhile associations, from submerged currents of air and water to suppressed activities, and anything that moves unseen beneath the surface. Undercurrents is the latest release from A Year In The Country, artist and label, the latter having had a particularly busy year. The country happens to be the focus of the new release:

Undercurrents was partly inspired by living in the countryside for the first time since I was young, where because of the more exposed nature of rural life I found myself in closer contact with, more overtly affected by and able to directly observe the elements and nature than via life in the city.

This coincided with an interest in and exploration of an otherly take on pastoralism and creating the A Year In The Country project; of coming to know the land as a place of beauty, exploration and escape that you may well drift off into but where there is also a sometimes unsettled undercurrent and layering of history and culture.

I found myself drawn to areas of culture that draw from the landscape, the patterns beneath the plough, the pylons and amongst the edgelands and where they meet with the lost progressive futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.

Undercurrents is an audio exploration and interweaving of these themes – a wandering amongst nature, electronic soundscapes, field recordings, the flow of water through and across the land and the flipside of bucolic dreams.

The electronic nature of these recordings contradicts the usual expectation that anything to do with the country—especially the English countryside—has to be presented in a folk idiom and with acoustic instruments. This adds further resonances to the theme, making me think of electric currents, dowsing maps and John Michell’s eccentric (to say the least) take on Alfred Watkins’ ley lines, which hauled Watkins’ idea of trade routes used by ancient Britons into a New-Age soup of cosmic energy, numerology and UFOs. Michell’s zone is a little more far out than A Year In The Country’s explorations (and already mapped on albums by Tim Blake, Steve Hillage and others), the sounds here being more restrained and allusive, as they ought to be for undercurrents. The atmospheres are closer to Xenis Emputae Travelling Band but without the esoteric pattern, earth mysteries intuited but left unresolved.

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A map produced by dowsers showing alleged underground streams around Stonehenge. From The World Atlas of Mysteries (1978) by Francis Hitching.

Undercurrents will be released on 8th August in a range of monochrome formats, and is available to pre-order now.

Previously on { feuilleton }
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Weekend links 204

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RIP Steve Moore. We never met, unfortunately, but I was very pleased he asked me to create a cover for his unique occult novel, Somnium, in 2011. Prior to this we’d been connected by shared acquaintances, colleagues, and membership in the informal cabal that was (and maybe still is) The Moon & Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels. Steve’s long friendship with Alan Moore (no relation) is well-documented, not least by Alan himself who made Steve the subject of his Unearthing project. One surprising connection for me was that Steve also had a link to Savoy Books. In the late 1960s he was working for comics publisher Odhams where he was able to copy for David Britton some Ken Reid comic art which Odhams had refused to print. Dave published the forbidden pages in his first magazine, Weird Fantasy, in 1969. In 2011 Steve talked to Pádraig Ó Méalóid about Somnium, and also to Aug Stone at The Quietus. Aug Stone penned a few memorial words here.

• “People love using the word ‘porn’ as long as there’s a partner for it. Pair ‘porn’ with something else and it’s usually a good thing. A celebration of style and culture. But that word on its own? Well.” Porn star Conner Habib asks why people have such a problem with porn actors.

Dave Maier‘s Russian cinema recommendations. Several favourites there including the magical and remarkable Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964) which, as Maier notes, isn’t really Russian but should be seen in any case.

Shakespeare uses verbal magic, cantrips and ditties, nonsense songs and verses throughout the plays, but in Othello he gives a glimpse of how powerful a spell becomes when it’s no longer oral, but fixed in material form. The fatal handkerchief is no ordinary hanky; it’s a love spell, and it was made with gruesome and potent ingredients (mummified “maiden’s hearts”) by a two-hundred-year-old sibyl in Egypt—Egypt being the birthplace and pinnacle of magic knowledge.

Marina Warner on magic.

• Mixes of the week: an hour of electro-acoustics and contemporary classical recordings sequenced by Laurel Halo, and (from 2010) 36-minutes of “umbral electronic hypnagogia” by The Wyrding Module.

• “This is the book that, 10 years later, inspired Richard Hollis’s landmark design for John Berger’s Ways of Seeing.” Rick Poynor on Chris Marker’s Commentaires.

• Is the Linweave Tarot the grooviest deck ever made? Dangerous Minds thinks so.

• Bobby Barry talks to Holger Czukay about his 1969 audio collage, Canaxis 5.

• “What Happened to Experimental Writing?” asks Susan Steinberg.

Aldous Huxley‘s lectures on visionary experience at MIT, 1962.

Laura Palmer will see Agent Cooper again in just a few hours.

Callum found a copy of The Gay Coloring Book (1964).

Metal Cats

Moonshake (1973) by Can | Lunar Musick Suite (1976) by Steve Hillage | Dark Moon (1993) by Holger Czukay | Boy In The Moon (2012) by Julia Holter

Opening the Seven Gates of Transcendental Consciousness

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Wilburn Burchette Opens The Seven Gates Of Transcendental Consciousness (1972). Art by Caren Caraway.

For the next two weeks I’ll be playing out the end of the year with a 2-CD compilation from Light In The Attic, I Am The Center (Private Issue New Age Music In America, 1950–1990), 20 tracks of ambient/meditation music, most of which has never been widely distributed before. The “New Age” label is a thing I’ve loathed for years so buying this has meant trashing a decades-long embargo; it helps to examine your prejudices now and then.

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New Age in the 1970s referred, among other things, to the oft-promised, seldom-evident “Age of Aquarius”, a term vague enough to be used on albums by Steve Hillage, Manuel Göttsching and others without referring to anything specific. In the 1980s it was taken up by publishers as a marketing label, a catch-all for anything “spiritual” or mildly occult. (I can’t imagine the Goetic Demons ever being called New Age, even if you sprayed them pink.) Out went all the witchy strangeness of the occult boom of the 1970s—spiky typefaces, magical primers sold like Dennis Wheatley novels—in came a profusion of pastel shades, airbrushed pyramids and sparkly, crystal things. Having a fondness for the witchy strangeness I wasn’t impressed. I was even less impressed when New Age became a prevalent label for a style of instrumental music which was too obtrusive to be ambient (in the Brian Eno sense of the word), and also too bland and unassertive to be either jazz or electronica. The popularity of labels such as Windham Hill meant that the large record chains started using New Age as another catch-all label, this time for anything that wouldn’t fit the rock, jazz or folk categories: along with Windham Hill releases you’d find Eno’s ambient recordings, Harold Budd, Jon Hassell, various Krautrock things like Cluster, and anything else that resisted easy labelling. The way the music business tries to hammer everything into a small number of boxes has always been annoying but this seemed like a major insult, hence my loathing of the term.

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I Am The Center is a curious album in that it embraces both the recent New Age music label whilst also harking back to the spiritual yearnings of the 1970s. The general effect is of an impossible collision between the Harold Budd of Pavilion of Dreams, Steve Hillage’s Rainbow Dome Musick, and the lighter moments of Alice Coltrane. Many of the tracks are so good I’ve been searching through Discogs.com to discover more about the artists which is how I came across this album art from Wilburne Burchette. Witch’s Will is Burchette’s track on I Am The Center, from his Guitar Grimoire (1973) album. Looking through his discography, with its attention-grabbing titles and cover art, it’s surprising that his albums haven’t yet been reissued. This will no doubt change soon, especially when his music is like an American equivalent of Achim Reichel’s spacey guitar improvisations. The sleeve and booklet art for Wilburn Burchette Opens The Seven Gates Of Transcendental Consciousness is by Caren Caraway, and the album also features notes by the indefatigable UFO/paranormal researcher Brad Steiger. They really don’t make them like this any more.

Joe Muggs enthused about I Am The Center last month for FACT. As I said about the Outer Church album earlier this year, compilations provide an invaluable service in concentrating the attention on overlooked or under-examined areas of music. I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges in the wake of this one.

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