The Corn Mother

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The latest release from A Year In The Country is the first to arrive as a manufactured compact disc rather than a hand-made artefact. Following the example set by The Shildam House Tapes, The Corn Mother is another soundtrack for a lost film (or a reflection of the same), suggesting that this is now an ongoing series within the body of AYITC releases. The film in question is, like its predecessor, a legended horror feature from the past, with a difficult production, few screenings, and a long train of rumour and mystery:

In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.

The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers as they shout “There she is! Knock her into the ground, don’t let her get away!”, in an attempt to drive the spirit of the corn mother back into the earth for next year’s sowing. […] Through related second, third and more-hand reports and interpretations of the different versions of the screenplay, it has been suggested on the one hand that The Corn Mother was a typical direct-to-video piece of exploitation fare designed to take advantage of a rapidly-expanding home video market, and on the other that while the film does indeed contain elements of such things, it is actually nearer to a folkloric fever dream and closer in spirit to arthouse experimentalism than B-movie schlock.

Track list:
1) Gavino Morretti—Ritual and Unearthly Fire
2) Pulselovers—Beat Her Down
3) The Heartwood Institute—Corn Dolly
4) United Bible Studies—From The Last Sheaf On The Braes
5) A Year In The Country—The Night Harvest
6) Depatterning—The Keeper’s Dilemma
7) Widow’s Weeds—The Corn Mother
8) Sproatly Smith—Caught In The Coppice
9) Field Lines Cartographer—Procession At Dusk

Reading the description reminds me of the similarly elusive and sinister films that are the subject of Theodore Roszak’s novel, Flicker (1991). Roszak’s novel is flawed but the scenario is a fascinating one, especially his description of the films made by enigmatic Hollywood director Max Castle. These recent soundtrack collections by A Year In The Country suggest an equally occluded (and possibly occult) history for British cinema of the 1970s and 80s, a proposal which was explored from a different angle by Emily Jones and The Rowan Amber Mill in The Book Of The Lost (2013). The Corn Mother is more overtly sinister than The Book Of The Lost, the music (and some songs) being suitably guitar-led folk pieces interleaved with passages of doom-laden electronics. I haven’t been as enthused by The Corn Mother as I was with The Shildham Hall Tapes but this is more down to my feeling somewhat exhausted by the folk-horror trend than with the individual contributions (I also like haunted houses). Gavino Moretti who provided such a marvellous opening to The Shildham Hall Tapes returns here with another opening theme that sets the mood before dissolving into a fog of mutated cries and shrieks. Halloween may be over but its spell for me always lingers through November, and albums such as this are especially suited to chill days, early twilights and long, dark nights.

The Corn Mother will be available for pre-order from 12th November.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Mechanisms
The Shildam Hall Tapes
Audio Albion
A Year In The Country: the book
All The Merry Year Round
The Quietened Cosmologists
Undercurrents
From The Furthest Signals
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

The Forest / The Wald

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November brings another compilation from the masters of monochromatic packaging, A Year In The Country. The Forest / The Wald takes woods and their folklore as its theme, so the autumn months would seem an ideal time for such a release. Trees make their presence most apparent during the leaf-shedding months of October and November, and one of the pieces on this new collection, The Hand of Auctumnus by Richard Moult, refers directly to the season.

The album takes as one of its initial reference points Electric Eden author Rob Young’s observations of the roots of the word folk as being “…the music of the ‘Volk’, a word born of the Teutonic Wald, the wild wood where society was organised ad hoc, bottom-up and frequently savage…”; places where rituals endured and perplexed their heirs.

In amongst The Forest / The Wald can be found expressions of greenwood rituals performed in the modern-day, echoes of fantastical childhood rhymes, sylvan siren calls that tremble through tangles of branches, electronics pressed into the summoning of otherworldly arboreal creations unearthed amidst the creeping thickets and elegies to woodland intrusions, solitudes and seasons.

Track list:
1) The Abney Ritual – Bare Bones
2) Hawthorn Heart – Magpahi
3) Deep Undergrowth – Polypores
4) Fantastic Mass – Time Attendant
5) Waldeinsamkeit – David Colohan
6) The Hand Of Auctumnus – Richard Moult
7) Tomo’s Tale – Sproatly Smith
8) A Whisper In The Woods – The Hare And The Moon ft Alaska
9) Ocarina Procession – The Rowan Amber Mill
10) Trees Grew All Around Her – The Séance with Lutine
11) Equinox – Cosmic Neighbourhood
12) Where Once We Wandered Free – A Year In The Country

Not everything here is folk-oriented, some of the contributions, such as those by Polypores and Time Attendant, are electronic pieces. David Colohan, Sproatly Smith, The Rowan Amber Mill, Richard Moult and others follow more familiar paths through the trees. Compared to Fractures and The Quietened Bunker, two of the earlier releases in this series, The Forest / The Wald is much closer to the territory mapped out by Xenis Emputae Travelling Band (or their present incarnation, Hawthonn), a response to British folk traditions that acknowledges the history without seeming beholden to it.

The Forest / The Wald will be released on 14th November.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Fractures

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Fractures is the latest musical anthology from A Year In The Country, and having been listening to an advance copy for the past couple of weeks I can say it’s as fine a collection as the label’s previous opus, The Quietened Village. The latter album encouraged a variety of artists to create pieces around the theme of lost or abandoned villages; the theme for Fractures fixates on a year rather than a location:

Fractures is a gathering of studies and explorations that take as their starting point the year 1973; a time when there appeared to be a schism in the fabric of things, a period of political, social, economic and industrial turmoil, when 1960s utopian ideals seemed to corrupt and turn inwards. […] Fractures is a reflection on reverberations from those disquieted times, taking as its initial reference points a selected number of conspicuous junctures and signifiers: Delia Derbyshire leaving The BBC/The Radiophonic Workshop and reflecting later that around then “the world went out of time with itself”. Electricity blackouts in the UK and the three day week declared. The Wicker Man released. The Changes recorded but remained unreleased. The Unofficial Countryside published. The Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water released.

Track list:
1) The Osmic Projector/Vapors of Valtorr – Circle/Temple
2) The Land Of Green Ginger – Sproatly Smith
3) Seeing The Invisible – Keith Seatman
4) Triangular Shift – Listening Center
5) An Unearthly Decade – The British Space Group
6) A Fracture In The Forest – The Hare And The Moon ft Alaska/Michael Begg
7) Elastic Refraction – Time Attendant
8) Ratio (Sequence) – The Rowan Amber Mill
9) The Perfect Place For An Accident – Polypores
10) A Candle For Christmas/311219733 – A Year In The Country
11) Eldfell – David Colohan

This isn’t the first time a year has been isolated as a basis for a musical anthology but prior examples such as Jon Savage’s Meridian 1970 are invariably concerned with the musical scene alone. Fractures is different for trying to seize the essence of the year itself even if a number of the musicians involved may not have been alive in 1973.

The year has a resonance for me that I recounted in the memorial post for David Bowie. That summer was significant (and therefore memorable) for being warm, carefree and positioned between the end of junior school and the beginning of secondary school. The years after those few weeks were increasingly bad on a personal level so 1973 for me spells “fracture” in more ways than one. None of this can be communicated by Fractures, of course, the contents of which have more of a cultural focus: A Fracture In The Forest by The Hare And The Moon sets readings from Arthur Machen to music, while The Land Of Green Ginger by Sproatly Smith draws in part upon a TV film of the same name that was broadcast in the BBC’s Play For Today strand. As those Plays For Today recede in time they seem increasingly like a dream of Britain in the 1970s, reflecting back in a concentrated form much more of the nation’s inner life than you get from today’s Americanised fare. Another Play For Today, Penda’s Fen, was being filmed in the fields of England in the summer of 1973 so we can add the crack in the church floor to the catalogue of fractures. (And for an additional musical entry, I’d note the astonishing Fracture by King Crimson, not released until 1974 but most of the track was a live recording from Amsterdam in November of the previous year.)

Fractures is available from the usual sources such as Bandcamp but hard copies are also being distributed via the Ghost Box Guest Shop.

Weekend links 303

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Design by Julian House.

• The last major release by Ghost Box recording artists Belbury Poly was The Belbury Tales in 2012, so news of a new album is most welcome. New Ways Out by The Belbury Poly (that definite article is a fresh addition) will be released next month. The Belbury Parish Magazine has links to larger copies of Julian House’s artwork for this and the recent release from Hintermass, The Apple Tree.

But before New Ways Out appears there’s a compilation album from A Year In The Country released at the end of April. The Quietened Village is “a study of and reflection on the lost, disappeared and once were homes and hamlets that have wandered off the maps or that have become shells of their former lives and times. Audiological contents created by Howlround, Time Attendant, The Straw Bear Band, Polypores, The Soulless Party, The Rowan Amber Mill, Cosmic Neighbourhood, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, David Colohan and Richard Moult.” I’ve been fortunate to hear an advance copy, and it’s an excellent collection.

• “London’s architecture has become laughably boorish, confidently uncouth and flashily arid,” says Jonathan Meades in a review of Slow Burn City: London in the Twenty-First Century by Rowan Moore.

I feel very ill, physically and mentally ill when I hear Christmas carols. I feel so angry, so much like getting out a sniper’s rifle when I hear that kind of music. And Broadway shows with their sentimental songs, those kinds of things are terrifying for me because they call up memories from far back and I don’t necessarily know what they are but they just break me, they break my heart, they break my soul. Iannis Xenakis, the great Greek composer, he said the same thing. He couldn’t listen to the music his mother had played to him when he was young, because it was akin to thinking of someone who was disemboweled. And so for me, if I do a song that’s what you’d say is pretty, my interpretation takes it to another place because it shows the death of the virgin, the animal that goes out in the spring and then gets shot by a hunter. It is prettiness that is very alarming to me, so I tend to do a juxtaposition of something that might be pretty with something that is harsh, just because I feel that they occur in life together.

Diamanda Galás talking to Louise Brown about her work

The Fantastical Otherworlds of Adam Burke: S. Elizabeth talks to the artist behind Nightjar Illustration.

• “I try to frighten myself”: Master musician and curator David Toop on his extraordinary cassette tape archives.

• Silver Machine: Hawkwind’s Space Rock Journey throughout Science Fiction and Fantasy by Jason Heller.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 179 by Mesmeon, and a new Italian Occult Psychedelia Festival Mix.

• Offset Identities: Kenneth FitzGerald on graphic designer Barney Bubbles.

The Cine-Tourist lists some of the many cats in the films of Chris Marker.

John Patterson on Ran (1985), Akira Kurosawa’s last great masterpiece.

• Britain’s scarecrows photographed by Colin Garratt.

Strange Flowers explores the city of Turin.

The Museum of Talking Boards

Giallo-themed playing cards

Origami bookmarks

Silver Machine (1972) by Hawkwind | Silver Machine (1973) by James Last | Silver Machine (1988) by Alien Sex Fiend

The Book of the Lost

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A recurrent feature of the music landscape of the late 80s and early 90s was the “soundtrack for an imaginary film”, a sub-genre that proved especially popular among the electronica crowd when DJs realised they needed a description to justify their collections of downtempo instrumentals. Two of my favourite examples were produced away from the dance world: John Zorn’s Spillane (1987), and Barry Adamson’s solo debut Moss Side Story (1989), both of which took their thematic cues from crime novels and film noir. The artists on the Ghost Box label haven’t gone down the imaginary film route but many of the tracks on the Belbury Poly and Advisory Circle albums are reminiscent of TV theme tunes from the 1970s. The closest you get to an imaginary film in the Belbury sphere is the unseen giallo horror in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio with its score by Ghost Box allies Broadcast, and a title sequence by Julian House.

Given all of this, The Book of the Lost, a collaboration between Emily Jones and The Rowan Amber Mill, is a logical next step: a CD collection offering a theme from a forgotten TV series “shown on Sunday nights in the late ’70s and early ’80s” which broadcast four of the equally forgotten horror films upon which the accompanying songs are based. Between each song you hear a brief snatch of dialogue, just enough to whet the appetite without getting too involved. One of the films referred to, The Villagers, belongs to that current of British folk-horror that runs through Witchfinder General, and Blood on Satan’s Claw, to Ben Wheatley’s intoxicatingly weird A Field in England. Pastiching aside, all projects of this kind depend upon the quality of the music, and the folk-inflected songs here are very good, as is the Book of the Lost theme itself which is as spookily evocative as Jon Brooks’ Music for Thomas Carnaki.

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If that wasn’t enough, there’s a special numbered edition of the CD which comes packaged in a die-cut slipcase (above) containing cards giving details of each of the films. In addition to promotional artwork there’s also a synopsis, a production history and even a cast list. Other films are mentioned in passing—The House that Cried Wolf, Ghosts on Mopeds—that imply there was a lot more happening in Wardour Street in the 1970s than we previously suspected.

The Book of the Lost isn’t officially released until January but it’s available for purchase now at the project website.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Outer Church
The Ghost Box Study Series
A playlist for Halloween: Hauntology
The Séance at Hobs Lane
Ghost Box