Weekend links 131

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Japanese poster (1982).

At The Quietus Steve Earles looks back at John Carpenter’s visceral and uncompromising The Thing which exploded messily onto cinema screens thirty years ago. It’s always worth being reminded that this film (and Blade Runner in the same year) was considered a flop at the time following bad reviews and a poor showing at the summer box office. One reason was The Thing‘s being overshadowed by the year’s other film of human/alien encounters, something called E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. To The Thing‘s status as the anti-E.T. you can add its reversal of the can-do heroics of Howard Hawks’ The Thing from Another World (1951), an attitude out-of-step with Reaganite America. Carpenter’s film is not only truer to the original story but from the perspective of 2012 looks like one of the last films of the long 1970s, with Hawks’ anti-Communist subtext replaced by bickering, mistrust, paranoia and an unresolved and completely pessimistic ending that most directors would have a problem getting past a studio today.

I was fortunate to see The Thing in October of 1982 knowing little about it beyond its being a John Carpenter film (whose work I’d greatly enjoyed up to that point) and a remake of the Hawks film (which I also enjoyed a great deal). One benefit of the film’s poor box office was a lack of the kind of preview overkill which made E.T. impossible to avoid, and which a couple of years earlier did much to dilute the surprise of Ridley Scott’s Alien. I went into The Thing mildly interested and came out overwhelmed and aghast. For years afterwards I was insisting that this was the closest you’d get on-screen to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. The correspondence is more than merely Antarctica + monsters when you consider this:

Lovecraft’s story was rejected by his regular publisher Weird Tales but was accepted by Astounding Stories in 1936 >> The editor of Astounding, John W. Campbell, published his own Antarctica + monsters story (under the pen-name Don A. Stuart), “Who Goes There?”, in the same magazine two years later >> Charles Lederer wrote a loose screen adaptation of Campbell’s story which Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby filmed as The Thing from Another World.

This isn’t to say that Campbell copied Lovecraft—both stories are very different—but I’d be surprised if Lovecraft’s using Antarctica as the setting for a piece of horror-themed science fiction didn’t give Campbell the idea.

More things elsewhere: Anne Billson, author of the BFI Modern Classics study of The Thing, on the framing of Carpenter’s shots, and her piece from 2009 about the film | Mike Ploog’s storyboards | Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack music, of which only a small percentage was used in the film.

• The week in music: 22 minutes of unreleased soundtrack by Coil for Sara Dale’s Sensual Massage | Analog Ultra-Violence: Wendy Carlos and the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange | A Halloween mixtape by The Outer Church | Herbie Hancock & The Headhunters, live in Bremen, 1974: a 66-minute set, great sound, video and performances | Giorgio Moroder’s new SoundCloud page which features rare mixes and alternate versions | A video for Collapse by Emptyset.

One of the main themes of the book, and what I found in The Arabian Nights, was this emphasis on the power of commodities. Many of the enchanted things in the book are lamps, carpets, sofas, gems, brass rings. It is a rather different landscape than the fairy tale landscape of the West. Though we have interiors and palaces, we don’t have bustling cities, and there isn’t the emphasis on the artisan making things. The ambiance from which they were written was an entirely different one. The Arabian Nights comes out of a huge world of markets and trade. Cairo, Basra, Damascus: trades and skills.

Nina Moog talks to Marina Warner

John Palatinus, “one of the last living male physique photographers of the 1950s”, is interviewed. Related: the website of Ronald Wright, British illustrator for the physique magazines.

• “A classic is a work which persists as a background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.” Italo Calvino’s 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic.

Huge Franz Kafka archive to be made public. Related: Judith Butler asks “Who owns Kafka?”

• Geoff Manaugh’s Allen Ginsberg Photos & Ephemera, 1994–Dec 1996.

Magic mushrooms and cancer: My magical mystery cure?

Clark Ashton Smith Portfolio (1976) by Curt Pardee.

Jan Toorop’s 1924 calendar.

artQueer: a Tumblr.

• All The Things You Are (1957) by Duke Ellington | Things That Go Boom In The Night (1981) by Bush Tetras | Things Happen (1991) by Coil | Dead People’s Things (2004) by Deathprod.

Weekend links 1

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• Two covers from a new range of Penguin reprints for the AIDS awareness fund (RED), all of which are based around quotes from the books in question. Non-Format‘s stylised extract concerns the blazing red of the Count’s eyes while Coralie Bickford-Smith plays some Tom Phillips games with the text of The Secret Agent. The random circles no doubt relate to those which the doomed Stevie Verloc occupies his time in drawing. More at Caustic Cover Critic.

Artspeak? It’s complicated. Jon Canter at The Guardian makes a blazingly obvious point which few in the art world would ever admit: that the specious pronouncements of many galleries and contemporary artists are the worst kind of bullshit.

• I helped judge the Ballardian/Savoy Microfiction competition whose winners were announced last week.

• Designer Jonathan Barnbrook enjoys Neu! and Wendy Carlos.

Nuit Blanche, a short film by Spy Films.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Winter music

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Kjendalskronebrae, Nordfjord, Norway (c. 1900). From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division via Wood s Lot.

Are you suffering list fatigue yet? I certainly have been, especially from the apparently endless “best ___ of the decade” catalogues which would have you believe that the significant cultural products of the past ten years have been thoroughly sifted, reviewed and appraised. So yes, there’s a degree of hypocrisy in adding to the list surplus but, as with the Halloween music lists, it’s difficult to write about an area of listening without compiling something like this. As it happens, my Halloween playlists proved briefly popular this year when they were noticed by Stumbleupon users so someone appreciates them.

The present selection is music to complement the season and its chilly weather which in our part of the world has been colder than usual and laden with snow. It might also serve as a suggested alternative to the dreary plague of Christmas songs. This isn’t definitive, of course, and I could have added more than ten. I kept the choices in the electronic spectrum but there’s a whole other list which could be made of winter-themed folk songs, folk music of all kinds being sensitive to the changing seasons.

Sonic Seasonings (1972) by Wendy Carlos.
Between her electronic transcriptions of Baroque music and the score for A Clockwork Orange, Wendy Carlos released a collection of four long pieces of electronic atmospherics blended with natural sound recordings, with each track dedicated to a different season. The album may not have had the formal intent of Brian Eno’s ambient albums but ambient it certainly is, preceding Eno’s Discreet Music by three years whilst predicting much of what would become over-familiar during the 1990s. The Winter track is the one which concerns us here, a droning Moog landscape of echoed notes, tinkling ice, distant wind and Rachel Elkind’s lupine howls. Carlos and Elkind carried the synthesised chill into their opening music for The Shining a few years later, and Carlos returned to the theme with the digital improvisations of Land of the Midnight Sun, included as a bonus on the Sonic Seasonings CD.

Eskimo (1979) by The Residents.
A conceptual masterpiece, and an album which still sounds as strange and timeless as it did when it first appeared. Eskimo is the first and (one presumes) only example of what might be labelled “Eskimo exotica” since the whole work is more Eskimo-esque than an authentic musical rendering of the world of the Inuit people. Like Wendy Carlos’s Winter, these are shifting soundscapes augmented by ritual chants and synthesised animal sounds. For those who found the album to be musically inaccessible the group released Diskomo, a segue of the musical themes matched to a thumping dance beat.

Iceland (1979) by Richard Pinhas.
Another far north concept album and the third solo release from the Heldon guitarist who subdues his Robert Fripp impersonations in favour of synth arrangements. The CD version includes a 22-minute bonus, Winter Music.

Victorialand (1986) by Cocteau Twins.
Much of the Cocteau Twins’ chiming and reverb-drenched output would suit the colder months but Victorialand in particular takes its title from a region of Antarctica, and many of the track titles—Whales Tails, How to Bring a Blush to the Snow—point in that direction. Another timeless work.

White Out (1990) by Johannes Schmoelling.
Schmoelling was a member of Tangerine Dream in what I consider to be their last worthwhile incarnation from 1980 to 1986. His third solo album also takes Antarctica as its theme and while some of the music tends to a jaunty blandness at its best it manages to evoke the isolation of the continent through lengthy synthesiser pieces. When the Polydor release went out of print, Schmoelling re-worked the album slightly for reissue on his own label.

Songs from the Cold Seas (1995) by Hector Zazou.
Many of the late Hector Zazou‘s albums were concepts of some kind, often involving a roster of guest artists. Songs from the Cold Seas follows this pattern with singers from around the world delivering a variety of songs from the world’s colder regions. For a contrast to the Residents’ ethnological forgeries, Song of the Water is a chant by Inuit artists Elisha Kilabuk and Koomoot Nooveya. Among other highlights there’s Björk who restrains her vocal gymnastics for once with a delicate Icelandic lullaby, Vísur Vatnsenda-Rósu.

Polar Sequences (1996) by Higher Intelligence Agency & Biosphere.
A collaboration between Bobby Bird of HIA and Biosphere‘s Geir Jenssen, recorded live with sounds sourced in and around Jenssen’s home town of Tromsø at the Arctic Circle. I much prefer this to the other HIA releases which lack its detailed textures. One track, Meltwater, sounds just as you’d expect, all running water and crackling ice.

Substrata (1997) by Biosphere.
Still one of the finest Biosphere releases (although Nordheim Transformed is probably my favourite) and included here for its chilly and mostly beatless atmosphere which includes further samples from the far north.

La Marche de L’Empereur (2005) by Emilie Simon.
I still haven’t seen La Marche de L’Empereur (March of the Penguins) but the soundtrack for the original French release is a fantastic collection of songs illustrating the survival struggles of the film’s penguins. Emilie Simon is frequently described as “the French Björk”, a lazy label which only connects the pair because they’re female singers who also happen to be “foreign” and users of unorthodox electronic arrangements. The recordings here feature glitch-inflected rhythms and glass instruments which means they were far too interesting for the American release of the film. The Hollywood version dropped the songs in favour of a traditional orchestral score.

Alaska Melting (2006) by Monolake.
The latest album from Monolake, aka Robert Henke, was released earlier this month. Silence has a winter scene on the cover and a track entitled Infinite Snow but winter isn’t a predominant theme. While the music is up to Henke’s usual high standard, it’s a lot less urgent than Alaska Melting, a one-off release on 12″ vinyl with two slices of vibrant techno that foreground Henke’s environmental concerns. The most uptempo and abrasive work on this list.

Previously on { feuilleton }
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score
A cluster of Cluster
Fragment Endloss by Robert Henke
Another playlist for Halloween
Thomas Köner
A playlist for Halloween

A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score

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CBS 73059; construction by Karenlee Grant, photo by David Vine (1972).

A1 Timesteps (13:50)
A2 March From A Clockwork Orange (7:00)
B1 Title Music From A Clockwork Orange (2:21)
B2 La Gazza Ladra (5:50)
B3 Theme From A Clockwork Orange (1:44)
B4 Ninth Symphony: Second Movement (4:52)
B5 William Tell Overture (1:17)
B6 Country Lane (4:43)

Viddy well the stuff of obsessions, O my brothers: Kubrick, cover design and electronic music in one convenient 12-inch package. Those of us in Britain who were too young to see A Clockwork Orange during its initial run had to wait a long time for its re-release after Stanley K withdrew the film from circulation. Until bootleg VHS copies started to turn up in the 80s I knew the film mostly from the MAD Magazine parody and the soundtrack album which was ubiquitous in secondhand record shops. Having become familiar with the score, an additional layer of frustration was added when it became apparent that two soundtrack albums had appeared in the 1970s, the “official” one, which was a mix of the orchestral and electronic music used in the film, and another which contained all the music Walter (later Wendy) Carlos recorded.

The Wendy Carlos music was the principal attraction for this electronic music obsessive and I fretted for a long while trying to find a copy of her Complete Original Score album which was paraded in all its elusive glory on old CBS vinyl inner sleeves. Half the tracks are present on the official release but the omissions are crucial: Timesteps, the incredible composition which accompanies Alex’s first deprogramming session was edited down from thirteen to five minutes, there was Carlos’s Moog version of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra (an orchestral version is used in the film) and also an original piece, Country Lane, intended to accompany Alex’s police brutality session at the hands of his former droogs. The score was one of the first projects to successfully incorporate a vocoder into electronic compositions; Rachel Elkind, Carlos’s regular collaborator, provided the vocalisations. Finally securing a copy was no disappointment, in fact I was overwhelmed. This is still my favourite Wendy Carlos album and one of my top five favourite analogue synth albums. The transcription of La Gazza Ladra is nothing short of miraculous, thundering away with the power of a full orchestra yet created by laboriously recording one note at a time. (Wendy Carlos’s very thorough website goes into detail about the recording process.)

Continue reading “A Clockwork Orange: The Complete Original Score”

Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited

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Impressions de la Haute Mongolie – Hommage á Raymond Roussel (1974-75).

When I wrote a short reminiscence about Impressions de la Haute Mongolie last March I really didn’t expect I’d be watching it again just over a year later having waited thirty years for the opportunity. But now we can all see José Montes-Baquer’s collaboration with Salvador Dalí, thanks to the indispensable Ubuweb. The copy there doesn’t have English subtitles, unfortunately, but the visuals are still beguiling and not too difficult to follow if you can understand some French and Spanish. It was a curious experience seeing this again, some parts I remembered very well, others I’d completely forgotten about. Most surprising was the soundtrack of electronic music, much of it taken from recordings by Wendy Carlos, including a part of her ambient Sonic Seasonings suite and portions of her complete score for A Clockwork Orange. There’s more about this deeply strange film in Tate Etc.

And speaking of surreal landscapes, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve spent the past few weeks working on a new piece of Lovecraft-themed artwork for an exhibition at Maison d’Ailleurs, the Museum of science fiction, utopia and extraordinary journeys in Yverdon-les-Bains, Switzerland. The exhibition of newly-commissioned work based on themes from HP Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book will be launched in October 2007. More details about the event, and my contribution, closer to that date. In the meantime, the European edition of TIME magazine has a short feature about the gallery and its ethos.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dalí and Film
Ballard on Dalí
Fantastic art from Pan Books
Penguin Surrealism
The Surrealist Revolution
The persistence of DNA
Salvador Dalí’s apocalyptic happening
The music of Igor Wakhévitch
Dalí Atomicus
Las Pozas and Edward James
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie