Weekend links 537

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“The dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet.” The Masque of the Red Death illustrated by Harry Clarke, 1919.

• 2020 is the year of enormous pink lady faces on book covers, apparently. As someone who spends little time following cover trends, the identification of a new variety of herd behaviour among designers or their art directors is always fascinating and bizarre.

Tomoko Sauvage plays her porcelain and glass instruments inside a disused water tank in Berlin for a new album, Fischgeist. The Wire has previews.

• At The Paris Review: Craig Morgan Teicher on the later work of Dorothea Tanning, and Daniel Mendelsohn on the rings of Sebald.

Unlike many of the rapidly forgotten [Nobel] “winners”, and despite the occasional sniffy critic wondering “who still reads it?” Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet has never been out of print since he published it in 1957. The centenary of his birth in 2012 raised a flurry of revived interest in Durrell. Indeed the whole Durrell family has been popping up regularly in reprints of Lawrence’s novels and poetry, in his brother Gerald’s popular tales of his “family and other animals,” and in several TV series about their life in Greece on Corfu island in the late 1930s. A BBC interviewer once asked Lawrence about the difference between his writing and brother Gerald’s. He replied: “I write literature. My brother writes books that people read.”

I’ve read Gerald and I’ve read Lawrence; I prefer Lawrence, thank you. Thomas O’Dwyer examines the chef d’oeuvre of the elder Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet

• Dark Entries shares Patrick Cowley’s cover of Chameleon by Herbie Hancock. The original is here.

• Saunas, sex clubs and street fights: how Sunil Gupta captured global gay life.

• Inside the Grace Jones exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary.

Rob Walker on how dub reggae’s beats conquered 70s Britain.

• Who invented the newspaper? John Boardley reports.

Spread The Virus (1981) by Cabaret Voltaire | Cut Virus (2003) by Bill Laswell | The Unexclusive Virus ~even our invincible religion “Technology” cannnot~ (2006) by Kashiwa Daisuke

Edgar Froese, 1944–2015

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“I was a big fan of Kraftwerk, Cluster and Harmonia, and I thought the first Neu! album, in particular, was just gigantically wonderful,” admits Bowie. “Looking at that against punk, I had absolutely no doubts where the future of music was going, and for me it was coming out of Germany at that time. I also liked some of the later Can things, and there was an album that I loved by Edgar Froese, Epsilon In Malaysian Pale; it’s the most beautiful, enchanting, poignant work, quite lovely. That used to be the background music to my life when I was living in Berlin.”

David Bowie, Mojo magazine, April 1997

Epsilon In Malaysian Pale was Froese’s second solo album released in September 1975. That month David Bowie was in Los Angeles recording his Station To Station album, the opening of which features phased train sounds that are strikingly similar to those that run through the first side of the Froese album. I’ve never seen this similarity mentioned by Bowie scholars but if there was an influence it’s a good example of the degree to which Tangerine Dream infiltrated the wider culture as much as Can and Neu! (Kraftwerk remain in a league of their own.)

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All you need is Zeit. Cover painting by Edgar Froese.

The influence of Tangerine Dream’s albums on the Ohr and Virgin labels is now so widespread that it’s difficult to compile a definitive list of those who’ve either paid homage or copied the group’s trademark style of extended sequencer runs and phased chords. Offhand I could mention the Ricochet-like tracks on Coil’s Musick To Play In The Dark Volumes 1 & 2; the many moments on the early Ghost Box albums, one of which samples from Alpha Centauri; and some of Julian Cope’s more out-there recordings from the late 1990s. There’s also all the releases by a group of loosely affiliated musicians dedicated to maintaining the 70s sound of Mellotrons and bouncing sequencers; many of these I’ve yet to hear but I’ve enjoyed the albums by Node and Redshift.

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Tangerine Dream have been a continual fixture in my music listening since I was a teenager; I drew most of The Call of Cthulhu to a soundtrack of Rubycon and Jon Hassell’s Aka/Darbari/Java album. I kept up with them after they departed from Virgin then jumped ship in 1986 after Johannes Schmoelling left the group. The albums continued to proliferate in recent years to an extent that even the Freeman brothers only follow the discography (with some exasperation) up to 1990 in their redoubtable Krautrock tome The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. Navigating a late career is a tricky business for a popular musician so you can’t blame Froese for carrying on the project. Those early recordings are the important ones, and he was a crucial component in their creation.

There’s a lot of Froese and TD on YouTube. If you like the early material these are some of the better moments:

Bath Tube Session, 1969: TD in psych-freakout mode. Klaus Schulze on drums, and lots of German heads looking bemused/bored.
Ossiach Lake, 1971: Playing outdoors for the TV cameras.
Paris, 1973: Footage of the group improvising in the manner of the Atem album.
Coventry Cathedral, 1975: Tony Palmer’s film of one of the cathedral concerts which caused them to be banned by the Pope from playing in churches. The original sound on this one is lost so the YT version has edits of the Ricochet album as the soundtrack.
London, 1976: Great film of the Ricochet period. Total synth porn.
Thief, 1981: The opening scene to Michael Mann’s thriller, and one of their best soundtrack moments. In The Wire this month John Carpenter enthuses about the TD score for Sorcerer but I’ve always felt Mann’s crime drama was a better match for their sound.
Warsaw, 1983: A Polish TV recording of the concert documented on the Poland (1984) album.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Synthesizing
Tangerine Dream in Poland

Audio Arts

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Audio Arts was a British audio magazine established by Bill Furlong which appeared on vinyl LP, cassette tape and CD from 1973 to 2006. The Tate website has an archive section devoted to the magazine which allows you to listen to each of the tapes, surprisingly when much of the content on the Tate sites is fenced about with copyright restrictions. The contents are as varied as any regular arts magazine: reviews, interviews and so on. An interview with Marcel Duchamp from 1959 is one of the featured highlights. Of greater interest to this listener is an interview from 1981 with Laurie Anderson discussing her epic stage work, United States Parts 1–4. This would have been around the time that one of the songs from that show, O Superman, turned her into a UK pop star for a few weeks.

In addition to a great deal of talk some of the tapes contain recordings of sound pieces or performances. One tape from 1985 features nine works by the Bow Gamelan Ensemble: Ann Bean, Richard Wilson and PD Burwell. The Bow Gamelan Ensemble were at the arty British end of the 1980s’ vogue for making music with industrial detritus, a trend developed and popularised by Z’EV, Einstürzende Neubauten, Test Department and others. I never got to see the ensemble but their pyrotechnic live performances always looked like fun. The tape gives an idea of their uncompromising sound. (Tip via The Wire.)

Previously on { feuilleton }
ICA talks archived

The art of Mati Klarwein, 1932–2002

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If book collecting is frequently a waiting game, some waiting periods can be longer than others. In the case of Mati Klarwein’s God Jokes, my patience and hope have sustained themselves for 28 years until I finally acquired a copy this Thursday afternoon. God Jokes was the second book of Mati Klarwein’s work, published by Harmony Books, New York, in 1976, a slim catalogue-style collection of his paintings, some of which were featured in the early issues of Omni magazine. In 1979 and 1980 God Jokes turned up in a chain of UK remainder shops and for a while it seemed like everyone I knew owned a copy which possibly explains my unaccountable decision to avoid buying one myself. As the years passed and I became increasingly enamoured with Mati Klarwein’s work I came to regret that decision, not least because the book seemed to disappear completely. Copies have turned up since on Abe.com but at bizarrely inflated prices (£50 for a 56-page art book?!). I paid £4.99; patience sometimes pays off.

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Abraxas by Santana.

Mati Klarwein’s work has been most visible via the album sleeves of the Sixties and Seventies which borrowed his pictures for their covers. Chief among these is one of the best Santana albums, Abraxas (1970), which used his stunning 1961 painting The Annunciation (and a lettering design by Robert Venosa), and one of all-time favourite albums, the Miles Davis masterpiece Bitches Brew (1970). Miles Davis was a great Klarwein enthusiast for a while and commissioned new work for his Live-Evil album in 1971.

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Live-Evil by Miles Davis.

It’s not necessary to go into detail describing Mati Klarwein’s work when you can go to the web gallery maintained by his family and feast your eyes there. Klarwein is one of the few 20th century artists to have taken Salvador Dalí’s photo-realist painting style and make of it something unique to himself; his work is always immediately recognisable. That this work is still known mainly for its illustrative connections tells you more about the iniquities of the art world than it does about the value of the paintings as works of art.

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The most curious thing about having to wait so long to find a copy of God Jokes was that I ended up working with a picture of Mati Klarwein’s three years before I found the book; I would have expected to find the book one day but the latter eventuality was far less predictable. In 2005 Jon Hassell asked me to design his new CD, Maarifa Street, and Jon was keen to use a tiny video detail he made of a huge and incredible Klarwein painting, Crucifixion (1963–65). The detail is the rectangle in the centre of the cover, juxtaposed against some Hubble galaxies: the very small against the very large. We used the painting itself and further details inside the digipak. Jon was another of those who used Klarwein’s art for his album sleeves (for Earthquake Island, Dream Theory in Malaya and Aka-Darbari-Java/Magic Realism) and the two men became great friends as a result.

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Crucifixion by Mati Klarwein.

Jon Hassell writes about Bitches Brew—and Mati Klarwein’s sleeve art—here. His site also includes a 1998 Mati Klarwein interview from The Wire in which the painter discusses his life and work. If you want a copy of God Jokes for yourself, be prepared to wait…or pay over the odds.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Ballantine Adult Fantasy covers
Visions and the art of Nick Hyde
The poster art of Marian Zazeela

Thomas Köner

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If Main (subject of this earlier post) provide the ideal ambience for hot weather, then winter demands the chill breath of Thomas Köner. Once again, lack of decent interviews means resorting to Wire back issues which is a sign of laziness on my part and an indication of that magazine’s continued importance. For those who may have puzzled over the soundtrack list in my Haunter of the Dark book (which includes Köner’s Teimo), here’s an introduction to a unique sound artist.

The Big Chill

The arctic wastes of Siberia are a burning desert compared to the cryogenically-frozen music of Thomas Köner. Biba Kopf meets a musician whose work redefines our notions of cool.

APPROPRIATELY ENOUGH, it snows the day Thomas Köner arrives in London. If anyone deserves a white carpet welcome, it is this German composer, who dedicates his music to reversing the processes of global warming. Köner’s stunning or perhaps that should read numbing debut, Nunatak Gongamur, describes the last moments of Scott’s ill-fated polar expedition. Its successor, Teimo, takes as its model the cooling molecular structure of the body after death, while his third disc carries the self-explanatory title Permafrost.

Granted, Köner’s new CD Aubrite—meaning a non-terrestrial mineral—is housed in a bright yellow jacket and is intended as a partial relief from the cold spell, but it does include a track called “Nuuk”, after the capital of Greenland.

“It’s my passion, this area where the cold slows down all movement,” explains Köner, who punctuates his conversation with a laugh so infectious he ought to can it and sell it to TV sitcom producers. “The process of slowing down and reaching this border between movement and absolute stillness is, for me, the process of simultaneously becoming very sharp and very unfocused, and that, for me is like a very excellent drug.”

This makes me think of Köner as some kind of flatliner getting off on his own near-death experiences.

“It’s a kind of design question, this temperature thing. In a cold environment, everything slows down, and everything is going towards a stop event. And that is my favourite area in sound—just before it stops. It’s an interesting border. It’s the same when people, during kind of philosophical evenings, think about life and its end. That’s also a kind of border where things stop. It’s a deep movement for me, this feeling.”

The development of Köner’s music from disc to disc is as minutely graded as the pieces they contain. The desolate blizzard-swept arctic wastes of Nunatak are created by miking-up gongs, then rubbing, scraping and electronically treating the sounds to the point where their origin is unrecognisable. Teimo is more felt than heard, you don’t so much listen as immerse yourself in it. As your ears become accustomed to its silences, you begin to pick out shapes, the shadowy aural equivalents of towering rock formations just about visible through the storm. They don’t exactly hold the promise of shelter, but they are useful coordinates to fix on to find your way into the music’s desolate beauty.

Exactly where does Köner’s music exist? His press kit carries a glowing endorsement from an Australian Buddhist, but, despite the music’s progress towards silence and nothingness, Köner denies any religious motivation. On the contrary, this confessed non-dancer, who admits the rhythms of his works are far removed from dance culture, feels closest to Techno, which has blasted contemporary music wide open to the point where any extreme goes in its chill-out interzones. Köner evidently feels enough common ground between Techno’s BPM blizzards and the snowstorms of his own music to act as sound designer on the recent Basic Channel related project Porter Ricks, on the appropriately-titled single “Port Of Transition”.

Köner has described the guiding principle behind his work as an Ästhetik der Untergang, or aesthetic of decline, a term Einstürzende Neubauten used to apply to their early performances. Unsurprisingly, Köner applies the aesthetic differently. For him it has to do with the way the natural decay of sound resembles decay in nature. The former leads to silence, the latter to death. In both cases they leave an afterglow that imprints itself on the memory. Köner’s acceptance of the process is not only personally liberating, it frees his music from the futile sense of entropy that pervades much post-Industrial Ambient stuff. Even so, Köner reports that the rare visitors to his Dortmund home see some affinity between the post-Industrial sites of a city that has seen better days and their host’s music.

“They walk around Dortmund and say that it sounds a bit like my music,” says Köner. “There are vast areas where there are no used roads, but you always have a distant railroad or a distant highway, creating an envelope of diffused sounds, so when you walk through these abandoned industrial fields, there is this silence, but with very powerful motorised sound reproducing units in the distance. And I would not give up this. I would never move to the country. Well, it’s sometimes nice to visit; but after three weeks I have to go to the nearest town, sit down and get some good diesel engines and scraping metal sounds. It’s a big pleasure for me.”

The Wire, issue 145, March 1996.

See also: koener.de