Weekend links 430

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Il Mago from the IONA Tarot by Giona Fiochi.

• “Russia’s answer to James Bond: did he trigger Putin’s rise to power?” Andrew Male on Max Otto von Stierlitz and Seventeen Moments of Spring. The whole series is on YouTube (with subtitles).

Geeta Dayal reviews High Static, Dead Lines: Sonic Spectres and the Object Hereafter by Kristen Gallerneaux, a new book about the eeriness of sound technology.

• Published next month: Strange Frequencies: The Extraordinary Story of the Technological Quest for the Supernatural by Peter Bebergal.

Let me first introduce an aside: I hate the word “queer” and all its new iterations. “Gay” was awful enough. “‘Gays’ makes us sound like bliss ninnies,” Christopher Isherwood said once. “Queer” will always be for men of my generation a word of violence and hatred, and it separates generations. And while I’m digressing, let me commit blasphemy: the over-emphasis on the Stonewall riots depletes and distorts our history of resistance and the art produced, which is determinedly referred to as “pre-Stonewall.” Resistance occurred years before Stonewall (but there were lots of writers in New York at the time to write about those riots), in San Francisco, Los Angeles, other cities, powerful confrontations with the police, powerful demonstrations. “Pre-Stonewall” writers include William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, strong radical voices confronting the grave dangers of the time, violence, prison.

John Rechy talking to Eric Newman about his latest novel, Pablo!, written in 1948 but only now seeing publication

Tangerine Dream performing Identity Proven Matrix, one of the standout pieces from recent album Quantum Gate, live in the studio.

Beloved is the debut solo album by Randall Dunn, record producer and member of the masterful Master Musicians of Bukkake.

• “How will police solve murders on Mars?” Geoff Manaugh on the new frontier of interplanetary law enforcement.

Milly Burroughs on how Verner Panton changed the way the world sees furniture design.

Tim Martin on the new science of psychedelics.

Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours

Next Stop Mars (1966) by Sun Ra & His Arkestra | Mars, The Bringer Of War (1976) by Isao Tomita | Mars Garden (2013) by Juan Atkins & Moritz Von Oswald

Weekend links 416

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Cover art and design by Arien Vallzadeh, Dan Kuehn, Mati Klarwein & Taska Cleveland.

• At Bandcamp: “Jon Hassell collages the past on his absorbing new record”. The new album, Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One), was released last week, and it joins the rest of Hassell’s catalogue in sounding unlike any of his other albums while still being recognisably the work of the same artist. Musical collage is a familiar technique today but was much less common thirty years ago; it’s almost a constant in Hassell’s work, however, going back to Possible Musics (1980), with its tape-looped rhythms and layered recordings, to the later Magic Realism (1983), an album which was in the vanguard of digital sampling, and which still sounds like nothing else.

• “We’re supposedly in the middle of a vinyl revival, streaming services are hoovering up all the coin, and everyone seems to have a cassette column. But, argues James Toth, it’s the humble compact disc that we should be celebrating.” No argument here, I’ve long favoured CDs over vinyl even before the current fad for overpriced antique (or not-so-antique) discs and equally overpriced new pressings.

• “Reading [Robert] Aickman’s strange stories is to glimpse a reality you would prefer to forget,” says John Gray. Among the other writers mentioned in Gray’s piece is the excellent (and under-recognised) Walter de la Mare; Wormwoodiana’s Mark Valentine reviews a previously unseen de la Mare story.

• At The Wire: Greetings Music Lover: The premiere of Steve Urquhart’s new audio documentary exploring the life and work of BBC Radio Lancashire broadcaster and Wire contributor Steve Barker.

• Out in November: k-punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (2004–2016).

• “European cinema embraces the vagina—what’s taken Hollywood so long?” asks Anne Billson.

Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded by Jason Heller.

• “Avoid all systems”: Ex-Can vocalist Damo Suzuki is interviewed at Dangerous Minds.

• “A new room in the Great Pyramid”: lost 1963 John Coltrane album discovered.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 656 by Mor Elian, and 6 by The Ephemeral Man.

• An introduction by Erik Davis to The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson.

Pyramid Of The Sun (1960) by Les Baxter | The Giant Pyramid Sitting At The Bottom Of The Sea Of Bermuda And The Ancient People (1979) by Isao Tomita | The Obsidian Pyramid (2005) by Eric Zann

Weekend links 396

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Cover art for Outer Dark (1994) by Bill Laswell. Photography by Thi-Linh Le.

• “In an era where music, among other creative endeavors, has been devalued as mere ‘content,’ freely accessed through the new digital medium, the very survival of those who create music and art and culture has been threatened. Bassist, iconic producer, and sonic visionary Bill Laswell becomes the latest legendary talent to fall victim to the vagaries of these crazy times. Beset by health problems while trying to navigate this harsh and uncertain economic landscape, Laswell is struggling to maintain Orange Music, the legendary New Jersey studio that he as helmed for the last 20 years. He is putting the call out to all fans, friends, and fellow artists alike: If you can help, please do so now. No contribution is too small.”

A Perspex Town is a video by Ian Hodgson (aka Moon Wiring Club) for Applied Music Vol.2: Plastics Today, a new album by Jon Brooks (aka The Advisory Circle).

• The strangeness in the land: Adam Scovell on the BBC’s Play for Today adaptation of Red Shift by Alan Garner. I’d recommend reading the novel as well.

• “My last album was pretty perfect,” says Scott Walker. Sundog, a book of his lyrics, is out now from Faber.

Popular Graphic Arts at the Library of Congress, a new resource of free-to-use, high-resolution scans.

• At The Quietus: LoneLady & Stephen Mallinder offer playlists of music they’ve enjoyed recently.

• Another Green World: Lewis Gordon on how Japanese ambient music found a new audience.

• The discography of Drew Mullholland (aka Mount Vernon Arts Lab) is now at Bandcamp.

• Mixes of the week: FACT mix 635 by Riobamba, XLR8R Podcast 526 by DJ Sports.

The occult roots of higher dimensional research in physics.

• Animated Britain: a YouTube playlist from the BFI.

Pye Corner Audio remixes Knightstown.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: John Waters Day.

• A World Of Different Dimensions (1979) by Tomita | Into The Fourth Dimension (Essenes In Starlight) (1991) by The Orb | New Dimensions In (2010) by The Advisory Circle

Tomita album covers

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Snowflakes Are Dancing (1974); art direction; Joseph J. Stelmach; artwork: David B. Hecht.

The Japanese composer Isao Tomita died last week so I’ve been listening to some of his early recordings, and thinking—as usual—about their cover designs. Tomita was by far the best of the many electronic musicians in the 1970s who took advantage of the huge success of Wendy Carlos’s Switched-On Bach (1968) to create their own versions of classical music with Moog and other synthesisers. If this makes Tomita sound like an opportunist (and his 1972 collection of electronic pop covers was titled Switched On Hit & Rock), he quickly developed his own approach to electronic composition which ranged from quirky humour to his own brand of cosmic pictorialism. The latter was very different from the equally cosmic meanderings of Tangerine Dream which seldom strayed too far from the rock world. Tomita had a genius for taking very familiar pieces of classical music which he fashioned into synthesizer soundtracks for imaginary science-fiction films. (He also produced actual scores for a number of Japanese films but few, if any, of these were released outside Japan.) This approach is shown to great effect on The Bermuda Triangle (1979), an album that in the UK was subtitled “A Musical Fantasy Of Science Fiction”, and which filters Prokofiev and Sibelius through a library of paranormal paperbacks, with references to UFOs, undersea pyramids, Agharta, the Hollow Earth and the Tunguska Event.

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Pictures At An Exhibition (1975); artwork: bas-relief by Gene Szafran. The first appearance of the logo that became a fixture of Tomita’s albums. No designer is credited but I’d guess it was the work of Joseph J. Stelmach. The logo typeface is Sinaloa.

As for the covers, Tomita’s recordings may have been classical music but RCA targeted the albums at a rock audience so there’s no sign of the venerable composers heads that appear continually on the sleeves of orchestral recordings. The examples here are almost all the Western releases which—surprisingly—tended to have better covers than the Japanese originals. This is also a partial selection, favouring Tomita’s own releases (no soundtracks), and mostly the early albums. The later albums aren’t as impressive, and many of them were only released in Japan.

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Firebird (1975). No design or art credit. I’d not noticed before that the logo evolves by degrees, here gaining some extensions.

Lastly, I’ll dedicate this post to my old friend Nik Green who died in March. Nik was a session musician of some note, and the first person I knew who owned a synthesizer (an ARP Odyssey); he was also a great Tomita enthusiast who shared Tomita’s sense of humour, and relished the quirkier moments on many of these albums. I can’t listen to the opening of the Mars section of Tomita’s The Planets without remembering Nik shouting “Moog horns!” when a synthetic fanfare interrupts the sounds of a spacecraft lift-off.

Continue reading “Tomita album covers”

School Daze by Patrick Cowley

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School Daze sleeve designed by Eloise Leigh.

Music made for porn films is nothing if not derivative and unmemorable, assuming it’s been specially made at all and isn’t merely a cheap library track, the aural equivalent of stock footage. This wasn’t necessarily the case when porn cinema was getting established in the America of the 1970s but a huge turnover of anonymous product combined with simple expediency—hours of footage that needed to be soundtracked by something—made falling standards inevitable. The cliché of the cheesy porn soundtrack is such a given that it’s a surprise to encounter anything which is even halfway listenable away from the screen. In the case of this album by Patrick Cowley it’s even more of a surprise to find that such exceptional music has been hiding for years on a couple of gay porn films, School Daze and Muscle Up, from 1980.

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Gay porn would seem the perfect thing to be soundtracked by the creator of an unashamed anthem like Menergy (1981) but the music on School Daze bears little resemblance to Cowley’s Hi-NRG disco hits, not least because some of the tracks were composed as far back as 1973 when Cowley was still in college. The tapes were unreleased until John Coletti, the owner of Fox Studios, asked Cowley for some music which is how these early experiments ended up as porn scores. Experiments they may be, in differing moods and styles, but they’re also very successful ones. Jorge Socarras’s album notes describe Cowley’s wide-ranging musical (and sexual) tastes which would explain why one of the longer tracks, Journey Home, features a didgeridoo of all things. The didgeridoo sound became a considerable dance music cliché in the early 90s but prior to this you’d only find it outside Indigenous Australian music on pastiche numbers such as Flying Doctor by Hawklords or The Dreaming by Kate Bush; Cowley uses the instrument as simply another sound source. Socarras also mentions Cowley listening to Tomita and Wendy Carlos while in college but none of the music here sounds anything like the earlier generation of Moog composers; it also doesn’t sound much like Tangerine Dream or anything that was happening in Europe during the 1970s. If anything, the subdued and often dark atmosphere is a better fit with the post-punk music being produced in Britain around the time the films were released, sombre albums like The Bridge by Thomas Leer & Robert Rental, or instrumental tracks by The Human League. Didgeridoo or not, some of the tracks are surprisingly gloomy for porn music.

In the autumn of 1982 I was in the process of moving from Blackpool to Manchester, and spent a lot of time shuttling back and forth on coaches listening to tapes on a cheap Walkman clone. A couple of those journeys were soundtracked by Patrick Cowley’s extended remix of I Feel Love by Donna Summer and Industrial Muzac by Throbbing Gristle, a piece of subdued electronica which has been out of circulation for far too long. The music on School Daze fills an unlikely space between the two, there’s even a synth solo like the one that erupts into the Donna Summer remix. Patrick Cowley died in November of that year, one of the earliest victims of a disease which at that time wasn’t even called AIDS. Listening to School Daze, and to the last album released while he was alive, Mind Warp, you can’t help but wonder what he might have done with the sampling technology that became widespread a couple of years later.

School Daze is available on double-vinyl and CD from Dark Entries who say all proceeds from the album will be donated to Project Open Hand and the AIDS Housing Alliance.

Nightcrawler from School Daze
Mockingbird Dream from School Daze
Dark Entries interviews John Coletti of Fox Studio
Five Things You Need to Know about Gay Electronic Wizard Patrick Cowley

Previously on { feuilleton }
William E. Jones on Fred Halsted
Summer of Love
A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score