Weekend links 347

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Dream Animal (1903) by Alfred Kubin.

• The week in Finland: A set of Finnish emojis includes icons for notable cultural exports such as Tom of Finland and Moominmamma. Tove Jansson’s creations have received fresh attention this month with the debut release of the electronic soundtrack music for The Moomins, an animated TV series made in Poland in 1977, and first broadcast in the UK in 1983. Andrew Male talked to Graeme Miller and Steve Shill about creating Moomins music with rudimentary instrumentation.

• Russian company Mosfilm has made a new copy of Andrei Tarkovsky’s science-fiction masterpiece, Stalker (1979), available on their YouTube channel. Tarkovsky’s films have been blighted by inexplicable flaws in their home releases, as Stalker was when reissued on a Region B Blu-ray last year. The new Mosfilm upload looks better than my old DVD so for the moment this is the one I’ll be watching.

• Before straight and gay: the discreet, disorienting passions of the Victorian era. Deborah Cohen reviews A Very Queer Family Indeed by Simon Goldhill. Related: Kevin Killian reviews Murder in the Closet: Essays in Queer Clues in Crime Fiction Before Stonewall, edited by Curtis Evans.

• “How many graphic designers owe their introduction to typography to a teenage encounter with the typefaces and lettering found on album covers?” asks Adrian Shaughnessy.

• Mixes of the week: Secret Thirteen Mix 210 by Ascion, FACT Mix 587 by Seekersinternational, and The Séance, 4th February 2017.

Pankaj Mishra on Václav Havel’s lessons on how to create a “parallel polis”. Related: The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel.

Hans Corneel de Roos on Dracula‘s lost Icelandic sister text: How a supposed translation proved to be much more.

• “I live outside the world in a universe I myself have created, like a madman or a holy visionary.” — Michel de Ghelderode.

• The Metropolitan Museum of Art makes 375,000 images of public art freely available under Creative Commons Zero.

Richard H. Kirk on Thatcherite pop and why Cabaret Voltaire were like The Velvet Underground.

Emily Gosling on what David Lynch’s use of typography reveals (or doesn’t).

White Noise Sounds of Frozen Arctic Ocean with Polar Icebreaker Idling.

John Gray on what cats can teach us about how to live.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Day of the Mellotron (Restored).

The Warburg Institute Iconographic Database.

Sastanàqqàm by Tinariwen.

Tanz Der Vampire (1969) by The Vampires of Dartmoore | Dracula (1983) by Dilemma | Vampires At Large (2012) by John Zorn

Weekend links 253

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A painting by Stephen Mackey.

• “Creativity is visual, not informed thought. Creativity is not polite. It barges in uninvited, unannounced—confusing, chaotic, demanding, deaf to reason or to common sense—and leaves the intellect to clear up the mess. Above all else, creativity is risk; heedful risk, but risk entire. Without risk we have the ability only to keep things ticking over the way they are.” Revelations from a life of storytelling by Alan Garner. Related: Tygertale on Garner’s Elidor (1965), “the anti-Tolkien”. The BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Elidor remains unavailable on DVD but may be watched on YouTube.

• “One of my revelations was to reverse everything I’d been taught. Making lettering as illegible as possible falls into that way of thinking.” Psychedelic artist and underground cartoonist Victor Moscoso talks to Nicole Rudick about a life in art and design. Related: “I’ve gotten a lot of bad write-ups in newspapers over the years and they like to refer to my stuff as ‘kitsch’…Well, my stuff is way fuckin’ kitsch. It’s kitsch to an abstract level, you understand. It’s fuckin’ meretricious.” I love it when Robert Williams kicks the art world.

• “…a cerebral, challenging, visually stunning piece of 1970s American science fiction that enweirds the human perspective by challenging it with a nonhuman one.” Adam Mills on the inhuman geometries of Saul Bass’s Phase IV.

• “[Delia Derbyshire] taught me everything I knew about electronic music.” David Vorhaus talks to David Stubbs about White Noise and why he prefers the latest technology to old synthesizers.

• Costumes from Alla Nazimova’s film of Salomé (1923) have been discovered in a trunk in Columbus, Georgia.

• Mix of the week: The Ivy-Strangled Path Vol. I, “music for a residual haunting” by David Colohan.

• At Dangerous Minds: Queer, boho or just plain gorgeous: photographs by Poem Baker.

Grimm City, a speculative architectural project by Flea Folly Architects.

Mad Max: “Punk’s Sistine Chapel” – A Ballardian Primer.

In Search of Sleep: photographs by Emma Powell.

Drains of Manchester

Road Warrior (1985) by The Dave Howard Singers | Warriors Of The Wasteland (Original 12″ mix, 1986) by Frankie Goes To Hollywood | Drive It Mad Max (Super Flu Remix, 2009) by Marcus Meinhardt

Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon

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Subterranean Modern (1979). Sleeve art by Gary Panter.

As often happens, one post leads to another, and the next thing you know there’s a themed week happening, so here’s something more about Tuxedomoon. Subterranean Modern was a compilation album released by The Residents on their Ralph Records label in 1979. The idea was to showcase The Residents along with three other groups from contemporary San Francisco, all of whom were underground acts, hence the “subterranean” title. Three of those groups—Chrome, Tuxedomoon, The Residents themselves—have since developed cult followings; hard-rock outfit MX-80 Sound seem a little ordinary and out-of-place in this unique company but then that’s the nature of the compilation album. The Residents wanted each group to provide an interpretation of I Left My Heart In San Francisco but none of the others were very interested; Chrome’s offering, which lasts all of 27 seconds, is hilariously contemptuous of the idea, a squall of riff and vocals that fades in then quickly fades away. Cartoonist Gary Panter illustrated the cover which is also given the Rozz Tox seal of approval. For more about Rozz Tox, whose enigmatic presence can be found on other Ralph Records releases, see this.

I’d already heard Chrome and The Residents when I bought Subterranean Modern but this was first place I encountered Tuxedomoon’s music. Chrome, who appear on the back cover wearing their Clockwork Orange droog outfits, contribute two tracks that are as good as anything on their early records, Anti-Fade and the chugging Meet You In The Subway for which they made a video filmed on the city’s BART platforms. I listened to those tracks, and the Tuxedomoon ones, much more than the rest of the album. With the exception of the pieces by MX-80 Sound, everything on the album has since been reissued on other compilations (Tuxedomoon’s tracks are on the Pinheads On The Move collection).

The following is a two-page feature about the album and the four bands from the NME for 17th November, 1979. I don’t know whether this was Tuxedomoon’s first UK interview but it says it’s the first interview given by Chrome which gives it some vague contemporary relevance. Helios Creed recently re-formed Chrome, and played a show in London earlier this month. There’s also a new Chrome album, although for me Chrome proper requires Damon Edge, and he died in 1995. (Thanks to Gav for saving the pages!)

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I LEFT MY ART IN SAN FRANCISCO

Checking out the West Coast’s Avant Garde by Michael Goldberg

ralph.jpgSAN FRANCISCO—The true avant-garde is never accepted, barely tolerated. The public has no use for ideas which challenge society’s preconceptions.

Certainly the outright hatred which was heaped on The New York Dolls and, later, The Ramones and Sex Pistols—all groups who spat on the status quo of their times—attests to the difficulty of pushing a radical concept on the public. And those groups were merely returning to the basic, raw values which great rock and roll has always maintained.

So imagine the difficulty of developing and maintaining a style of music which has little, if any, solid tradition to fall back on. In San Francisco, a city where the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship and Steve Miller can sell out the largest of stadiums, an avant-garde underground has been hanging on, etching out the meagrest of niches so that it can continue a dogged pursuit of rock experimentation.

Carrying the torch for “outre” music is San Francisco’s Residents and their parent companies, Ralph Records and the nebulous Cryptic Corporation. For nine long years, the Residents have relentlessly persisted, bowing to no one as they explore a sonic universe of their own devising.

In the wake of The Residents’ relative success—though the group is still practically unknown in their hometown, they have been received by a rather large cult spread out across the U.S. and Europe—other equally unique and esoteric groups have been attracted to San Francisco.

Realising that there is strength in numbers, Ralph Records gathered together three of the most uncompromising bands in San Francisco (and possibly on the West Coast): Chrome (with roots in L.A.), MX-80 Sound (who migrated from Bloomington, Indiana, last year), and Tuxedomoon (whose core members came from Denver, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois), and convinced them to join The Residents (originally from Shreveport, Louisiana) in a joint project. The project is a compilation album, Subterranean Modern (Ralph).

Continue reading “Subterranean Modern: The Residents, Chrome, MX-80 Sound and Tuxedomoon”

Directed by Saul Bass

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Phase IV (1974).

It’s been a thrill recently poring over the Saul Bass monograph, Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design by Jennifer Bass & Pat Kirkham, a large volume that weighs a ton and is as revelatory about the career of a great designer (and his wife and frequent collaborator, Elaine Bass) as you’d hope. One pleasure was getting to read about Bass’s film work from his own viewpoint for once. The curious science-fiction film he made in 1974, Phase IV, is well-known enough to have a cult reputation but too often his long involvement with Hollywood is passed over as a footnote to the careers of the directors for whom he worked. In addition to his celebrated title sequences, Bass was also a visual consultant responsible for the planning and filming of what used to be called “special sequences” within films, the most notorious of which is the endlessly argued-over shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). (See this authoritative post by Pat Kirkham on Bass’s special sequences, and the disputed history of those few seconds of black-and-white film.)

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Phase IV (1974).

All of which sent me to YouTube looking for some of the shorter films that Bass directed from the mid-60s on. The monograph explores these and Phase IV in some detail, for the latter showing pages of sketches for unfilmed sequences. I’m not sure these would have improved a film which I find flawed and occasionally ludicrous but it’s good to see what the director had in mind. The film on DVD has no extras at all but a trailer can be found on YouTube that shows off some of the startling imagery, and also includes a few shots that were cut by distributors foolishly eager to try and sell it as a horror film. It’s ironic that a man who gained world recognition for his poster designs wasn’t allowed to design the poster for his own film.

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Quest (1984).

Of the short works there’s Why Man Creates (1968) here and here, an examination of the creative impulse that’s been so popular with art teachers over the years that it’s probably been seen by a lot more people than his marauding ants. Both this and The Solar Film (1980), a documentary about solar energy, utilise Bass’s hand-drawn animation. The latter is also of note for its final shot of a baby walking into a sunset, a still of which was turned by Bass into an album cover for Stomu Yamashta in 1984. Also that year, Saul and Elaine produced their strangest work, Quest, a half-hour piece of science fiction based on a Ray Bradbury short story whose quest theme is overly-familiar from a dramatic point-of-view but which typically yields a wealth of memorable visuals. In Phase IV there was a nod to Dalí with the dead man’s hand filled with burrowing ants; in Quest we find imagery borrowed from Magritte (a floating castle-topped mountain) and MC Escher (his Cubic Space Division). The copy on YouTube is rough quality but it’s certainly worth a watch. I’m amused to discover how much Saul & Elaine were prog-rock heads (not that there’s anything wrong with that…): Phase IV has Stomu Yamashta and David Vorhaus from White Noise on its soundtrack, The Solar Film features a dubious cover version of Tubular Bells, while the score for Quest is mostly original music (with some borrowings from Holst) that sounds much of the time like Tangerine Dream when they were leaning on their Mellotrons.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Saul Bass album covers
Pablo Ferro on YouTube

A playlist for Halloween: Orchestral and electro-acoustic

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Bluebeard (1982) by János Kass.

I thought I might not be able to do a fresh playlist this year, so much has already been covered by the previous lists (see the links below to earlier posts).

The search for new tonalities and timbres in 20th-century orchestral music led many composers to produce works that sound like—and have been used as—horror film soundtracks although you’ll never find critical discussion acknowledging such a vulgar reaction. This is a very masculine list although some of the performers are women. I might have included Diamanda Galás but she was in the first list, as was Delia Derbyshire with her associates in White Noise, the subject of a longer post here.

The Isle of the Dead (1909) by Sergei Rachmaninov
Mentioned here a few days ago, Rachmaninov’s suitably sombre piece is one of many compositions to borrow the medieval Dies Irae hymn for one of its themes.

Bluebeard’s Castle (1911) by Béla Bartók
Frank Zappa once said that his initial response upon hearing the music of Edgard Varèse was “These chords are mean; I like these chords.” I feel the same about Bartók’s music which can get very mean indeed. The obvious piece to mention would be the Adagio from Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste which Stanley Kubrick used in The Shining. Instead I’ve selected Bartók’s only opera, a psychodrama for two performers and orchestra in which Bluebeard’s new wife, Judith, explores the castle (which also represents her husband’s character) only to find everything there stained with blood.

Visage (1961) by Luciano Berio
In which Berio records his wife and frequent collaborator, Cathy Berberian, then dissects her vocalisations to disturbing effect. “Visage contains no singing, and virtually no words,” says Martin Butler. “The product of days of gruelling recording for Berberian (leaving her physically damaged), it instead consists of her laughter, moans and groans, snorts and wheezes, and gibberish, all brilliantly edited, filtered, distorted and mixed with electronic backing. It is a remarkable demonstration of the power of the wordless voice. The effect is shocking and extreme, but also hilarious and touching – and often all these things simultaneously.”

Bohor (1962) by Iannis Xenakis
In addition to making some of the most thrilling and advanced new music of the 20th century, Xenakis chose great titles for his compositions, frequently unusual words. Bohor is a recording of layered sound sources that include a Laotian mouth organ, prepared piano, Iraqi and Hindu jewellery, and should ideally be heard with the sounds surrounding the listener. Intended by its composer to represent “the onset of madness”.

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Design by Paula Bisacca.

Uaxuctum: The Legend of the Maya City, Destroyed by Themselves for Religious Reasons (1966) by Giacinto Scelsi
And speaking of great titles… The Italian composer uses orchestra, a choir and an Ondes Martenot to convey an ancient apocalypse. Part III was selected by Robbie Robertson (along with works by other composers listed here) for the Shutter Island soundtrack.

Lontano (1967) by György Ligeti
Stanley Kubrick used Ligeti’s music in three of his films. Lontano‘s piercing harmonics and growling chords prowl through The Shining together with pieces by Bartók and Penderecki.

Black Angels: Thirteen Images from the Dark Land (1970) by George Crumb
Many of the pieces here jangle the nerves but none more than Crumb’s composition for string quartet, glass and metal instruments, a part of which is used in The Exorcist. Composed “in time of war”, it’s a howl of despair whose opening manages to be even more disturbing than Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. The 1990 Kronos Quartet recording is essential.

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Logos (Rituel Sonore) (1970) by Igor Wakhévitch
“Sound ritual for pop group, mixed choir and magnetic tape.” The first album by the elusive French composer, a composition for a ballet, described by Alan Freeman as “a soprano singer, strange orchestral textures and percussives (drums, cymbals, gongs, etc.) blended with effects and processing. As the ominous percussion sets off with drum-rolls and ritualistic tension, the mood is of a looming anticipation of what is to come. Here we go through phases of weird swirling effects, vivid reverb and atmosphere. The tension becomes overpowering, yet we are led on…”

The Dream of Jacob (1974) by Krzysztof Penderecki
The Polish composer wrote for film soundtracks as well as the concert hall so it’s no surprise that his work can be heard in The Exorcist, The Shining and Shutter Island. The atmosphere of sustained malevolence in this piece is perfect for Kubrick’s haunted house. Whatever Jacob was dreaming about, it wasn’t pleasant.

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Design by Heung-Heung Chin.

Necronomicon (2004) by John Zorn
A five-part composition for string quartet from Zorn’s Magick album.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Powell’s Bluebeard
A playlist for Halloween: Drones and atmospheres
A playlist for Halloween: Voodoo!
Dead on the Dancefloor
Another playlist for Halloween
A playlist for Halloween
The music of Igor Wakhévitch