Phantom Cities by The Sodality of the Shadows

phantom.jpg

Book by HV Morton (1926) not included.

I like night music, any kind of night music, whether it be the shimmering sonorities of Béla Bartók and George Crumb, Julee Cruise exploring the dark, or the rumbling atmospheres of Thomas Köner. Phantom Cities by The Sodality of the Shadows is night music of another kind, more musically determined than the numerous purveyors of post-Köner dark ambience, with a character defined by weird fiction. The latter quality is perhaps inevitable given the people who comprise the group: Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker have been running Tartarus Press for the past 30 years; Mark Valentine is an author and editor (and occasional publisher) of many story collections, and Jon Mueller’s name has appeared here in the past via the soundtrack CD for the Swan River Press edition of The House on the Borderland that I illustrated. Phantom Cities sidesteps Robbe-Grillet’s Topology of a Phantom City for an older lineage, looking back to Arthur Machen (the group’s name is borrowed from a secret society formed by Machen and AE Waite) and the spectral metropolis of pre-war London photographed by Harold Burdekin in London Night (1934). The music is slow, sombre and reverberant; guitars pluck notes from the embracing dark while Mueller’s drums maintain a funereal pace; sporadic squalls of feedback suggest a deeper darkness, the latent possibilities of unpeopled streets. Mark Valentine had an earlier musical persona as The Mystic Umbrellas but his contribution here is textual accompaniment in the form of 12 fictional pieces, some of which are read by Rosalie Parker over and between the music. This isn’t a collection of readings, however, the album may be taken either as illustration of Burdekin’s photos and the texts or as a work that stands alone. A soundtrack for the longer nights of encroaching autumn.

Phantom Cities
Strange Houses Of Sleep

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Smoke
Two albums
Thomas Köner

Two albums

mu1.jpg

A pair of albums by friends of mine are released this month: the first, Journey to the West (1979–2017) by Watch Repair presents The Mystic Umbrellas, has been gestating for several years; the second, Dreaming Dangerous Rainbows by Albatross Project, came together very quickly earlier this year after song sketches led to an album that none of the participants had originally planned. I designed both releases so I have more than a passing interest.

mu3.jpg

The Mystic Umbrellas project will probably be of most interest to regular readers since it evolved from a couple of very minimal organ recordings made in 1979 by Mark Valentine. Mark is well-known today as a writer of weird fiction, and also an editor and publisher of the same, but in the early 1980s he was involved briefly with the British wing of the independent cassette scene, a micro-budget offshoot of the post-punk DIY ethos which spurred many amateur (or non-) musicians to create and release their own musical works on limited-edition cassettes. The UK manifestation of this scene tended either to imitate higher profile post-punk artists (some of the better examples may be heard on the recent Cherry Red compilation, Close To The Noise Floor) or indulge in a very British form of what might be called Low Surrealism, although “absurdity” is probably a more accurate definition. (A UK label of the time was even named Absurd Records.)

mu4.jpg

Photocard by Deborah Judd.

Mark’s Mystic Umbrellas pieces—Journey To The West, Radio Dromedary (a short-wave radio capture) and Rainsborough’s Grave 1 & 2—were released on separate cassette compilations, Deleted Funtime (1980) and National Grid (1981). My friend in Watch Repair (who is happy to remain otherwise anonymous) bought both cassettes, and marked out the Mystic Umbrellas pieces as favourites for their qualities of melancholy and restraint; the organ recordings were very different from the post-punk fumblings or the absurdity in evidence elsewhere. The cassettes sat in a box for years until the same friend decided to try using them as source material for some of his sound processing experiments; these experiments eventually yielded a suite of marvellously atmospheric extensions/transmutations which mutate the recordings beyond recognition but which remain faithful to the haunting qualities of the originals. The precedence for this kind of repurposing would include Jon Hassell’s Magic Realism (1983) and some of the recent works of Thomas Köner, but Mystic Umbrellas and Watch Repair are in a territory of their own.

mu5.jpg

Photocard by Deborah Judd.

While working on the design for this release I kept ruminating on the curious net of connection and coincidence around these recordings. After buying the Deleted Funtime cassette my Watch Repair friend contacted one of the other artists, “Stabmental”, to ask about similar recordings. Stabmental was a name used by Geoff Rushton for his post-Throbbing Gristle musical experiments and an Industrial music fanzine; a couple of years later he joined Psychic TV and changed his name to John Balance. Geoff/John was later in Coil, of course, and a decade after this was in correspondence with me having been greatly impressed with my Lovecraft art in The Starry Wisdom anthology. My earlier Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark, had been published in a large-format edition in 1988 by Caermaen Books, an imprint run by a pair of Arthur Machen enthusiasts, Roger Dobson and Mark Valentine. It was shortly after my first meeting with Mark and Roger that my Watch Repair friend realised that Mark must be the Mystic Umbrellas person so the Lovecraft artwork helped remind us of the Deleted Funtime cassette. The same cassette surfaced again a few years ago when it was sold to an obsessive Coil collector who wanted it for the Stabmental piece. That sale led to the cassette being digitised before it was let go, and the digitisation process led to these recordings.

mu6.jpg

Photocard by Deborah Judd.

Things got even more tangled earlier this year when I was working on the final layout while also reading the expanded edition of England’s Hidden Reverse, David Keenan’s fascinating history of Coil, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound. Keenan discusses the independent cassette scene (and mentions Stabmental) so all the above was circling in my head once more; but I really wasn’t expecting the instance when Keenan goes into David Tibet’s enthusiasm for Arthur Machen by including a page of explanation from a Machen expert…Mark Valentine. In Mark’s notes for the Watch Repair release he describes the origin of the Mystic Umbrellas name which came about during a rainy day-trip to Glastonbury. Somerset’s most mystical town includes Chalice Well among its complement of New Age tourist traps; shortly after finishing England’s Hidden Reverse I was re-reading a typically wild interview with Alejandro Jodorowsky in which he proposes that the humble umbrella is in fact a black chalice, and that the knights of the Round Table are searching for a Holy Grail that’s actually an umbrella. A mystic umbrella, in other words. Elsewhere in the same interview he expounds on the symbolism of the Black Sun, a favourite symbol of Coil’s. (And Coil for a short while had a Chalice record label…) By this point I’d ceased to be surprised, the endless chain of connections seemed inevitable.

albatross1.jpg

After all the above the album by Albatross Project risks seeming a little mundane, although grounded (one meaning of “mundane”) would be better. The origin this time was a series of poems written by Roger (that’s him on the cover) from 1972 to 1986. These were set to music by Dan of Warper’s Moss and Watch Repair. (Nobody in this group is offering their surnames so you’ll have to accept the circumspection.) Everyone involved was surprised by the quality of the resulting songs, not least Roger who wrote the words sporadically while travelling the world in his youth. Dan and friends have been writing songs and playing in bands since the 1980s which is why they were able to produce such an accomplished album in a matter of months. Musically, this is quite straightforward: well-crafted songs in a rock idiom which had me thinking at times of Pink Floyd circa 1972 (fitting since several of the musicians are from the Floyd-worshipping environs of Merseyside). But it also owes something to the Elektra years of the early 70s (as does my design), and the period flavour harks back to the time and experiences that Roger was writing about.

albatross2.jpg

Both albums are available via Bandcamp. The hard format of Dreaming Dangerous Rainbows is a CD-R in a jewel case while the Mystic Umbrellas hard format is a lavish hand-crafted package that includes copious notes and four art cards, three of which feature Deborah Judd’s evocative photo montages. The latter package will be strictly limited. Original copies of the Deleted Funtime cassette command high prices among Coil collectors but the curious (or foolhardy) may download a copy at Die or DIY?

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Polarities by Watch Repair
Seven Harps by Warper’s Moss
The Tidal Path by Watch Repair
Watch Repair

Weekend links 358

higuchi.jpg

Painted beetle (2016) by Akihiro Higuchi.

David Horbury: The Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition ignores the pioneering scholarship of Emmanuel Cooper, author of The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the last 100 years in the West (1986).

L’Androgyne Alchemique is an exhibition at the Azzedine Alaïa Gallery, Paris, by pascALEjandro, a collaboration between Pascale Montandon-Jodorowsky and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

• At Strange Flowers: an interview with DJ Sheppard, biographer of poet Theodore Wratislaw (1871–1933), one of the models for Max Beerbohm’s hapless Enoch Soames.

Eloise or, the Realities is a new 122-page comic book by Ibrahim R. Ineke “inspired in part by Children of the Stones and The Owl Service“.

• Cormac McCarthy hasn’t published a novel for over ten years now but this new piece of writing addresses the mysterious origin of language.

• “…she invented a kind of symbolic code that channelled the occult and the Renaissance masters”. Yo Zushi on Leonora Carrington.

John O’Reilly on the Samuel Beckett cover designs created by Russell Mills and Gary Day-Ellison for Picador.

Porter Ricks (Thomas Köner & Andy Mellwig) have announced their first album in 18 years.

• At The Daily Grail: Alan Moore on science, imagination, language and spirits of place.

• All 66 issues of Performance Magazine (1979–1992) are now available online.

• The Throbbing Gristle catalogue is being reissued (again).

Lost Soul In Disillusion (1967) by The Power Of Beckett | Liquid Insects (1993) by Amorphous Androgynous | Biokinetics 2 (1996) by Porter Ricks

Weekend links 156

leonard.jpg

Le Vampire (c. 1903) by Agathon Léonard. Via Beautiful Century.

• Two masters of rumbling atmospherics interviewed at The Quietus: Bobby Krlic aka The Haxan Cloak talks to Maya Kalev while Thomas Köner talks to Joseph Burnett.

Discussions about the arts now have an awkward, paralyzed quality: few judgments about the independent excellences of works are offered, but everyone wants to know who sat on the jury that gave out the award. It’s become natural to imagine that networks of power are responsible for the success or failure of works of art, rather than any creative power of the artist herself.

We’ve reached the point at which the CEO of Amazon, a giant corporation, in his attempt to integrate bookselling and book production, has perfectly adapted the language of a critique of the cultural sphere that views any claim to “expertise” as a mere mask of prejudice, class, and cultural privilege.

Too Much Sociology, an essay by The Editors at n+1

• Prints of Karl Blossfeldt‘s plant portraits can be seen at the Whitechapel Gallery, London.

Stephen J. Gertz on Samuel Roth, “The Most Notorious Publisher In American History”.

• Max Beerbohm is Cranky: Mary Mann on the appeal of the curmudgeon.

• Travel brochure graphics: Graphic design from the 1920s to the 1970s.

• Still returning to its constituent components: Chernobyl’s ghost town.

Thoughtless Grin: a new Arthur Mixtape

Richard Williams: the master animator

Ketch Vampire (1976) by Devon Irons | A Vampire Dances (Symmetry) (1988) by Jon Hassell with Farafina | Vampires (1999) by Pet Shop Boys

Creel Pone

creel1.jpg

One of the many surprises for me about Enter the Void was finding recordings by electronic composer Jean-Claude Eloy mixed into its droning soundscape, notably extracts from his 1979 album, Shànti. I’d been listening to this a week or so before watching the film after having downloaded a large quantity of obscure electronic releases on the bootleg Creel Pone label.

creel3.jpg

Flowers Of Evil (1969) by Ruth White.

The Creel Pone project by Keith Fullerton Whitman began with the intention of reissuing in a limited form 100 albums of electronic or electro-acoustic music dating from the period 1947 to 1983 (or 1952 to 1984 according to the label seal); The Analogue Age, in other words. Most of the albums were long out-of-print, and few had ever been available on CD when the project began although some have since had official reissues. The recordings were transferred from vinyl then burned to 50 CD-Rs per album, each release coming in a CD-sized facsimile of the original cover. Simon Reynolds wrote a piece about the label for The Wire in 2010 but I first encountered the releases a couple of years earlier via an acquaintance who was one of the collectors trying to accumulate the entire run. That run finished some time ago so the reissues themselves will soon be as difficult to find as the releases they made available, hence the recourse to mp3, and this cache of almost the entire catalogue. I haven’t listened to everything there yet (iTunes tells me that would take 2.2 days, non-stop)—and I find my patience often runs out with tape-collage electro-acoustic compositions unless I’m in the mood—but some of these albums are so good, the Thomas Köner-like Shànti among them, you have to wonder why they were overlooked for so long. A few of the uploads have tracks missing, and they’re all variable quality, but you won’t find this amount of Creel Pone material anywhere else in a hurry. (There’s also no guarantee they’ll be there for long so don’t complain to me if you’re visiting this post after they’ve all been deleted.)

creel6.jpg

Musique Pour Le Futur (1970) by Nino Nardini.

Discogs.com has an incomplete catalogue listing. Several of Jean-Claude Eloy’s albums are now available on CD. Gil Mellé’s excellent soundtrack for The Andromeda Strain was given a limited CD release two years ago but is out-of-print again. For some recordings it seems, the struggle to reach an audience is a continual one.

creel4.jpg

The Andromeda Strain: Original Electronic Soundtrack (1971) by Gil Mellé.

creel7.jpg

Pythagoron (1977) by Pythagoron™

creel5.jpg

Reflecting On The First Watch, We Uncover Treasure Buried For The Blind (1978) by Cellutron & The Invisible.

creel2.jpg

Shànti (1979) by Jean-Claude Eloy.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Enter the Void
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
The Avant Garde Project