Two albums

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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

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Pythagoron (1977) by Pythagoron™

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

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Shànti (1979) by Jean-Claude Eloy.

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

A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres

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Cover painting by Edgar Froese.

I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge or lustre or name.

HP Lovecraft, The Haunter of the Dark, 1935.

It’s become traditional to do this each Halloween so here we go again with another music list, ten releases to soundtrack your way into another world. Should you be curious, a number of these works are probably difficult to find but a couple of the Discogs links have YouTube clips on the pages. Some of the selections were featured on an earlier list but this time they’re grouped with similar recordings.

Zeit (1972) by Tangerine Dream
All you need is Zeit. I was tempted to write an entire post extolling the virtues of my favourite Tangerine Dream album, to note how I’ve been listening to it for thirty years and will never tire of it, to mention how much I love Edgar Froese’s Black Sun cover painting (which ties it to another pet obsession of mine), how much I relish its pretentious subtitle “A largo in four movements” and the cello drones which open Birth Of Liquid Plejades then grade to Moog doodles by Popol Vuh’s Florian Fricke; the endless rumbling, howling minimalism of the whole enterprise… This was an enormously audacious album for its time which predicts many of the subsequent recordings on this list. One of the Kosmische masterworks, and so far out there that every move made by the group thereafter could only be a retreat.

Nature Unveiled (1984) by Current 93
Much as I respect David Tibet for his championing of esoteric culture I’ve never much liked the music he produces. The first Current 93 album was an interesting collage work, however, created by a kind of supergroup from the Industrial music scene of the time which included members of Coil, Nurse With Wound and 23 Skidoo. The second side provides an ideal Halloween piece with The Mystical Body of Christ in Chorazaim, a blending of Gregorian loops and guitar feedback over which Annie Anxiety rants in Spanish about…penises? I still don’t know. The whole thing sounds like something you’d expect to be playing over the landscapes in Wayne Barlowe’s Inferno.

Soliloquy For Lilith (1988) by Nurse With Wound
As for Nurse With Wound, this collection of eight electronic (?) drones achieves the typical NWW state of being simultaneously fascinating and irritating in equal measure.

Nunatak Gongamur (1990) by Thomas Köner
The master of what he calls “grey noise” made his first album by “miking-up gongs, then rubbing, scraping and electronically treating the sounds to the point where their origin is unrecognisable.” (More.) The result very effectively conjures the icy wastes alluded to by its title, and would make a perfect soundtrack for reading Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness or The Terror by Dan Simmons.

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How To Destroy Angels. Cover painting by Derek Jarman.

How To Destroy Angels (Remixes and Re-Recordings) (1992) by Coil
Coil created a similar effect to Köner by treating the sounds of their first 12″ release from 1984 to electronic processing, stretching metallic noises into reverberant shudders. One of the remixes is by Steven Stapleton of Nurse With Wound, while track title Dismal Orb will always make me think of the cover of Zeit.

The Monstrous Soul (1992) by Lustmord
Almost everything released by Lustmord could be labelled “drones and atmospheres” and choosing one doom-laden work over another is a difficult matter. I opted for this one on account of its occult track titles and the well-chosen dialogue samples from The Night of the Demon.

Treetop Drive (1994) by Deathprod
One from the 2006 list. I couldn’t say it any better than I did four years ago: Helge Sten is a Norwegian electronic experimentalist whose solo work is released under the Deathprod name. “Electronic” these days often means using laptops and the latest keyboard and sampling equipment. Deathprod music is created on old equipment which renders its provenance opaque leaving the listener to concentrate on the sounds rather than be troubled by how they might have been created. The noises on the deceptively-titled Treetop Drive are a disturbing series of slow loops with squalling chords, anguished shrieks and some massive foghorn rumble that seems to emanate from the depths of Davy Jones’ Locker. Play it in the dark and feel the world ending.

Night Passage (1998) by Alan Lamb
Not music at all but treated sounds made from recordings of a length of telegraph wire vibrated by the wind somewhere in Western Australia. Night Passage Demixed was a collection of remixes by artists including Thomas Köner and Lustmord’s Brian Williams.

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Design by Julian House.

Ouroborindra (2006) by Eric Zann
Another from the 2006 list and the most deliberately horror-oriented work on the Ghost Box label. An artist name borrowed from HP Lovecraft and track titles from Arthur Machen.

The Air Is On Fire (2007) by David Lynch
David Lynch’s friend and genius of a sound designer Alan Splet created the template for many of the works listed here with his groundbreaking soundtrack for Eraserhead in 1976. Following his death in 1994 Lynch’s films have never had quite the same feel of visceral menace despite their considerable qualities in other areas. This CD was created by Lynch himself for an exhibition of his paintings and other artwork, and if it doesn’t possess the uncanny otherness of Splet’s rumblings it still makes for some very disturbing listening. Far better than recent Lynchian musical excursions like the Blue Bob album, and well worth seeking out.

Previously on { feuilleton }
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
White Noise: Electric Storms, Radiophonics and the Delian Mode
The Séance at Hobs Lane
Thomas Köner
A playlist for Halloween
Ghost Box