Online images to accompany Chapter 8 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Broadcast… are an odd, intriguing cuckoo in pop’s nest; they have been described as avant-pop, which is probably heading along the right lines. Their recordings feature a mixture of electronic and acoustic elements, melodic pop and more experimental audio techniques.
While their work as a whole connects with, signposts, layers, explores and takes inspiration from a wide variety of cultural reference points, including psychedelia and Czech New Wave film, although this is more in a reinterpreted rather than recreated manner.
(James) Cargill also discusses how British children’s television of the late 1960s and 1970s such as Children of the Stones (1976), Sky (1975) and The Owl Service (1969) and their odd, sometimes unsettling, “why were they like that when they were intended to be viewed by children?” atmospheres were also a reference point for the album…
He comments that he only half remembers the programmes, that they are just fragments of memory and that is part of the attraction of them, he does not want to know everything about them and how having watched them on breaking up television receptions or an old faded video recording added something to the aspects which made the memory of them interesting.
“Trish Keenan of Broadcast has been quoted as saying that the avant-garde without the popular can be rubbish, the popular without the avant-garde can be rubbish, which could almost be seen as a manifesto for the group and their work: their exploration and blurring of the boundaries between the two.
(Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age) more overtly steps towards the avant-garde than pop or popular music but if you should want to hear a melding of those two sides then a visit to their Mother is the Milky Way release from 2009 may well be the thing to do…
Mother is the Milky Way could be seen as the summation of a particular set of peaks and aims of Broadcasts work: a collection that gathers both their more pop and avant-garde influences, mixing, matching and balancing both sides of such things in a way that somehow makes its mixture of quite off centre jump cuts, lo-fidelity nuances, a certain dreamy surreality, dissonance, scattering and gathering of pop melodies and the use of reversed and found sounds all seem very accessible.”
“Czech New Wave film has been referenced and mentioned as a point of inspiration by Broadcast a number of times over the years, in particular the unsettling fairytale-like Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970). On their 2003 album Haha Sound the song “Valerie” was inspired by the film and its soundtrack album which was released in 2006 by Finders Keepers Records featured sleeve notes by Trish Keenan, in which she wrote:
“Not since The Wicker Man has a soundtrack occupied my mind like Valerie and her Week of Wonders. It was like a door had been opened in my subconscious and fragments of memories and dreams rejoiced right there in my living room.”
“The visual elements of Broadcast’s work, including the packaging of their albums, videos and live projections have been an inherent part of their exploratory avant-pop nature.
Generally this aspect has been instigated and/or created by Julian House, at points to varying degrees in collaboration with the band and for Witch Cults they produced the #1: Witch Cults and #2: I See, So I See So videos, which feature two of the more conventional songs on the album.
…(the videos are) layered, occult (in the sense of hidden) collages of the land, bucolia as imagined through a lysergic glass darkly and pop filtered through the avant-garde…
Of the two #1: Witch Cults is the more overtly surreal, with the normal world and its colours very rarely making an appearance and the video containing imagery which seems to invoke a sense of an otherworldly rural summoning.
The video features (presumably) Trish Keenan’s silhouette flickering and strobing in the landscape in ritualistic stances, as the natural world melds and dissolves into an unsettling almost psychedelic set of images before the more conventional melody of the song also dissolves to become a gently unsettling set of tinkling noises accompanied by what may be roaring wind.
The final section of the video promises a return to the ease and calm of an almost natural world and sunset with the reappearance of the lone silhouetted figure in a windswept landscape but it is only the promise as once again the imagery melds and layers to become some kind of ritualistic summoning.”
“#2: I See, So I See So is more obviously set in a recognisable real, realist or natural world, but it is still very much a view through the looking glass. Connecting back again to James Cargill’s comments about children’s television broadcasts from earlier eras and their unsettled atmospheres, the video and its layering of geometric shapes, objects and the natural world brings to mind the introduction sequences of the likes of The Tomorrow People (1973-1979) and possibly The Owl Service or maybe some flipside Camberwick Green-esque (1966) animation series and seems to shadow, layer and reflect such things but without being a replication…
Elsewhere in the video a box is filled with objects, shapes and a staring disembodied eye, which also seem to connect back to a previous era’s children’s television, although it is a view of such things through an avant-garde, experimental film co-op filter.”
“It is difficult to fully describe or categorise Broadcast’s work on the likes of Witch Cults and Mother is the Milky Way but in (an article in Wire magazine) Joseph Stannard describes it as “occult pop laden with pagan psychedelia”, which along with the earlier mentioned avant-pop description, is again probably heading in the right direction.
Psychedelia and 1960s influences are often mentioned in reference to Broadcast, in particular the influence of the group The United States of America, whose solo eponymous album released in 1968 melded elements of melodic pop music, psychedelia, the avant-garde and art rock in a manner not dissimilar at points to Broadcast…
The music (Broadcast) have released is both contemporary and also seems to belong to some separate time and place all of its own, with psychedelia incorporated in a manner nearer to an explorative portal then rosy-eyed nostalgia:
“I’m not interested in the bubble poster trip, ‘remember Woodstock’ idea of the sixties. What carries over for me is the idea of psychedelia as a door through to another way of thinking about sound and song. Not a world only reachable by hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper.”
“Mark Fisher in his 2014 book Ghost of my Life talks about how it is the culture that surrounds and constellates around music that has been as important as the music itself in conjuring seductively unfamiliar worlds, that during the 20th century these gatherings of culture acted as a probe for such explorations and alternatives to existing ways of living and thinking.
Broadcast are a fine, brightly shining example of such constellations and constellators and to this day continue to act as a guide to such explorations and alternative pathways of culture.”
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 8/52: In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Orkney Twilight, GB84 and Edge of Darkness – Hinterland Tales Of Myths, Dark Forces and Hidden Histories Part 2
In Part I of this post (which can be read here) I wrote about three novels – Adrian McKinty’s In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Clare Carson’s Orkney Twilight and David Peace’s GB84 – all of which to varying degrees explore sometimes semi-hidden or semi-forgotten history from around 1983-1985, the time of the Miner’s Strike in Britain, the Cold War and the Troubles in Ireland, with a large portion of their stories taking part in rural and/or remote isolated rural areas.
At the end of Part I I said that they put me in mind of television drama Edge of Darkness (1985)…
This series was a mixture of crime drama and political thriller that revolved around the efforts of policeman Ronald Craven to unravel the truth behind the murder of his daughter Emma. Craven’s investigations soon lead him into a shadowed ambiguous world of trade union, government, and corporate cover-ups, fringe political activism, collusion and nuclear espionage, setting him against dark forces that threaten the future of life on Earth.
The series was a success both critically, winning a number of awards, with it gaining 4 million viewers when it was first broadcast on BBC 2, which traditionally gains fewer viewers than BBC 1 and 8 million viewers when it was rebroadcast on BBC 1 just a month and a half or so later – repeat showings so quickly were rare at the time, with this taking place in this instance because of the buzz and positive response that the show had received.
One of the (many) standout aspects of the series is that it is both very entertaining drama, while also being inherently a form of both investigative and exploratory culture (something which could be also said of GB84 and in a more investigative than exploratory manner also Orkney Twilight and In The Morning I’ll Be Gone).
It also shares further similarities with GB84 in that it could be seen as a form of occult or hidden history northern noir, with both being set in considerable part in the Northern county of Yorkshire (the Miner’s Strike which GB84 focuses on began there) and to a degree utilise some of the tropes and aesthetics of crime/thriller fiction, albeit in a non-conventional manner.
(David Peace has used the phrase “occult history” to describe GB84, saying that he uses “the word ‘occult’ to mean hidden – but also as a play on the more grotesque aspects of the word”).
As Edge of Darkness was produced and broadcast during or just after those turbulent times it was not so much an exploration of hidden history but rather could be seen as an attempt to explore, reveal or counterbalance hidden events, the hidden state and the actions of those in power whose actions appeared to express that they felt outside the laws, regulations and norms of the nation.
As with In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Orkney Twilight and GB84, much of the series is set rurally, at times in subterranean systems and complexes literally hidden beneath the land.
And as in those novels, in this series those areas seem to be at a remove from accepted civilisation and democratic/accountable practices; unobserved or unobservable hinterlands that allow for the unhindered carrying out of the protagonists’ aims and schemes.
Writer Troy Kennedy Martin was influenced by the political climate of the time, which was dominated by the right/neo-liberal leaning Thatcher government, the aura of secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry and by the implications of the Gaia hypothesis of environmentalist James Lovelock – which proposes that living organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic and self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet.
These elements were combined within a drama that mingled real world concerns with mythic and mystical elements and as with GB84 there is a sense of dark forces at play which if not supernatural may be preternatural and beyond the realms of the day-to-day world.
Intriguingly originally these elements were to be expressed in the series’ ending in an overtly fantastical manner, with Ronald Craven turning into a tree, although apparently this was vetoed by the cast and crew.
Although that ending was not filmed, when I rewatched the series, towards the end it still does seem to descend into some kind of madness and maelstrom. Partly that could be seen as a reflection of Detective Craven’s own personal mental fraying and obsession in his quest and the subterfuge, chaos and corruption of the activities he has been investigating but it may also be a slight reflection or glimmer of the more surreal unreality of the original ending and possibly a sense of the disintegration of the “normal” world as those just mentioned dark, preternatural forces take hold.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Week #37/52: Edge Of Darkness, stepping into the vortex, reshuffling and sweeping the board…
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 7/52: In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Orkney Twilight, GB84 and Edge of Darkness – Hinterland Tales Of Myths, Dark Forces and Hidden Histories – Part 1
Online images to accompany Chapter 7 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“A Year In The Country has often meandered over to the year 1973 and the culture that was produced around that time, and this has been reflected and explored, both in posts at the main website and a related album release.
When perusing culture later than this particular year it is often the case that something in its spirit or atmosphere represents a move towards a sea change in society and the associated political, social and economic realignment…
In 2016 as part of A Year In The Country, the themed conceptual compilation album Fractures was released, which took as its inspiration 1973 as a particular cultural and historical juncture and explored related themes.
In the album sleeve notes, some notable events and cultural productions were then listed, which are gathered below, together with other appropriate points of interest from 1973 which were originally included in a related post on the A Year In The Country website.
Together they form a dybbuk’s or devil’s dozen (ie. 13) of those junctures and signifiers and provide a glimpse into part of the character of that point in time which was undoubtedly an era of schism.”
“1) Electronic music innovator and pioneer Delia Derbyshire left The BBC and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: she deliberated later that around then “the world went out of time with itself ”.
“2) Electricity blackouts in the UK: these were due to industrial conflicts and the resulting restrictions on power production, with a state of emergency and the three day working week being declared by the then-government in order to attempt to conserve energy supplies.”
“3) The Wicker Man film was released: quite possibly the touchstone for all things interconnected to A Year In The Country, explorations of an otherly Albion and the flipside or undercurrents of folkloric culture.”
“4) The Changes children’s television series was recorded but remained unreleased: its plot concerns a world that has undergone a form of induced psychosis, resulting in the rejecting and destroying of all modern technology…”
“5) Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside book was published: an early and influential study of transitional/liminal edgeland spaces and where the city meets nature.”
“6) The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water was released: probably the definitive hauntological public information film – all scattered debris, a ghostly black-clad figure and the distinctively chilling voice of Donald Pleasance in a film intended to warn children of the dangers of careless or foolhardy behaviour near water but which had the effect of traumatising considerable swathes of its viewers.”
“7) Psychomania film was released: Nicky Henson stars as the leader of a gang of returned from the grave zombie motorcyclers who terrorise the locals in rural and small town 1970s Britain.
This is a curiously British, low key and understated take on biker and other myths that seems far removed from say the often glamorous cinematic presentations of American biker culture…”
“8) Sometime Fairport Convention and Trader Horne member Judy Dyble stepped back from making music; her departure from music could well be filed alongside that of Delia Derbyshire’s and for a number of years she would become one of the lost voices of British exploratory folk music from the later 1960s and earlier 1970s, alongside the likes of Vashti Bunyan and Shelagh Macdonald.”
“9) The Michael Fassbinder-directed German television series World on a Wire was released; this was a rather prescient representation of virtual reality and also in the world it created went curiously against the grain of more gritty, murky atmospheres which were often prevalent in films and television of the time.”
“10) The film Soylent Green was released: this was part of a film mini-genre of ecology and resources having gone to heck in a hand-basket which was prevalent in the 1970s.”
“11) The Final Programme film was released: it is mentioned previously about films released prior to 1973 often seeming as though they still contained elements of 1960s psych/mod sharpness: however, this is something of a cuckoo in the nest…
..the film shows decadence having tipped over into darkness as was often the way with culture from around 1973…
…it also seems to connect more directly with 1960s culture, particularly in terms of its dandified, frilly shirted, counter-cultural anti-hero and pop-art-esque giant-sized pinball table set.”
“12) Blue Blood film was released: the plot involves a debauched young aristocrat who entrusts the running of his estate to his butler, played by a glowering Oliver Reed, who begins to control and dominate his master and appears to possibly have demonic intent.
The film shares some similar territory to the corrupt, insular decadence of the 1970 film Performance (and maybe a touch of 1963’s The Servant in the way that power balances blur and tip between master and servant).
Who knows if this particular celluloid story would be made today? “Unsettling” and “troubling” are words that come to mind.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 7/52: In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, Orkney Twilight, GB84 and Edge of Darkness – Hinterland Tales Of Myths, Dark Forces and Hidden Histories – Part 1
Adrian McKinty’s novel In The Morning I’ll Be Gone (2014) is nominally a crime fiction novel which utilises some of the classic tropes of noir detectives – an awkward, independently minded protagonist who does things his own way, antagonises his superiors/those who belong to the law enforcement infrastructure, a “good” man with a sense of moral standards but who through necessity in getting the job done and taking that moral stance often finds himself walking in shadowed territory and utilising questionable methods.
Set in 1983-1984 in the middle of the Troubles Sergeant Sean Duffy is drummed out of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on trumped up charges
(The Troubles or the Northern Ireland conflict was an extended period of conflict during the late 20th century in Ireland/Northern Ireland and to a lesser degree the British mainland, between those such as loyalists who wished Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom and those such as republicans who wished it to join a united Ireland. It had sectarian/ethnic aspects and has been described as “low-level war”. The main participants included republican paramilitaries, loyalist paramilitaries, British state security forces and to a degree British intelligence agencies, political activists and politicians but also in part the wider population, with the conflict including numerous riots, mass protests and acts of civil disobedience).
In the novel Dermot McCann, an ex-schoolmate of Sean Duffy’s and a master republican paramilitary explosives expert, escapes from the Maze prison, which was used to house paramilitary prisoners and becomes a prime target of British Intelligence, who drag Duffy out of his drunken enforced retirement in order to track him down.
The novel is interwoven with a locked room mystery which Duffy attempts to solve in order to obtain information about McCann’s whereabouts and it finally leads to the historical event of the assassination attempt on British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Brighton.
It is difficult to concisely sum up the novel and its background in just a few paragraphs, something which highlights what the novel in part portrays; the often multi-layered, interconnected, at times morally ambiguous, colluding and shadowy worlds and actions of those involved on all sides and at the conflicts’ fringes.
It could be considered part of a genre where noir-esque fiction is used as a way of exploring hidden or semi-forgotten/unearthed history, in a similar manner to say David Peace’s GB84 (2004) and Clare Carson’s Orkney Twilight (2015), which are set amongst the turbulence within British politics around approximately 1984 and to varying degrees the 1984-1985 Miner’s Strike.
Although not exclusively set within rural areas, the above three novels often focus on actions that are away from large scale cities and capitals, with there being an at times underlying sense that these are areas which are a step or two away from the norms of civilisation; they are shown as being unobserved frontiers or edgelands where the rule of law is suspended, where conflicts can be settled in a more brutal, basic manner and crimes or what are considered transgressions against the powers that be’s intentions are dealt with and punished in an almost medieval way.
GB84 is a fictional portrait of the just mentioned Miner’s Strike. It is not crime fiction in a conventional manner, although it does utilise some of its stylisations and atmosphere, rather David Peace describes it as an “occult history”, saying that he uses “the word ‘occult’ to mean hidden – but also as a play on the more grotesque aspects of the word”.
As a book it is more overtly and stylistically left of centre or even possibly borderline experimental than In The Morning I’ll Be Gone and Orkney Twilight, although it explores similar territory – a time of change and upheaval within British society, turning points when there were conflicts between different belief systems/power structures, battles between the old ways and the new and as mentioned in regards to In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, the at times murky, ambiguous actions, participants and organisations of those involved.
Within GB84 there is a sense of almost mythological or supernatural dark forces being at play, while Orkney Twilight is interwoven with Norse mythology but within that book it is more a background texture or history, an interest of its protagonists – there is talk of dark forces but it is more a reference to the actions of humans rather than the possibly super or preternatural.
Orkney Twilight tells of a young woman who becomes drawn into the subterfuges surrounding her father’s work as an undercover policeman who worked within the British political fringe and much of the novel is set amongst the remote, harsh beauty of the Scottish islands of Orkney.
The novel has a literal personal connection to hidden history: it was inspired by Clare Carson’s own childhood – her father was an undercover policeman who infiltrated political organisations on the grounds of public security. She has said that although when she was a child she knew that her father was doing something secret, she did not learn the truth of his work until after his death when he was named in a documentary.
Due to when they were published these three novels take a retrospective view of history; the passing of time and the revealing of some facts since then enabling them to explore, view and review the sometimes hidden actions and events at the time and to reveal or connect the dots between such history and events.
They put me in mind of 1985 television series Edge of Darkness… more of which in part 2 of this post… coming soon, as they say…
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Week #37/52: Edge Of Darkness, stepping into the vortex, reshuffling and sweeping the board…
Online images to accompany Chapter 6 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Folk horror is a loosely defined genre of fictional works which create an alternative, flipside view of the landscape and pastoralism; these works draw from and/or are frequently set in the landscape, creating unsettled and unsettling tales, in contrast to more bucolic representations of the countryside as a place of calm and restful escape.
They may tell stories of the patterns underneath the plough, may include elements of a more hauntological nature rather than being purely rurally based and can take in the hidden, layered histories and atmospheres within places.
There is often a sense of their inhabitants living in, or becoming isolated from, the wider world, allowing moral beliefs to become untethered from the dominant norms and allowing the space for ritualistic, occult, supernatural or preternatural events, actions and consequences to occur.
As a phrase, “folk horror” conjures images of a trio of British films released between 1968 and 1973; Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and The Wicker Man (1973).
Looking back today such films could be seen as a result or offshoot of there being, at the time of their production, a growing interest in folk music and culture, which was accompanied by a romantic sense of wishing to return to and embrace simpler and more natural or rural ways of living.
However rather than being an expression of such inclinations and idyllic bucolia, folk horror’s often bleak nihilistic nature and stories seem to be more an expression of the souring of related dreams and yearnings: a rural/folk reflected curdling of 1960s utopian optimism as it entered the 1970s.”
“…both Witchfinder General and The Blood on Satan’s Claw featured Tony Tenser as their executive producer… films which could be seen to have their roots and onscreen expression in both the more art inclinations of their directors (Michael Reeves and Piers Haggard respectively) and the exploitation aspects of their producer Tony Tenser.
Although over time critical appreciation has tended to tip more towards the art side of things, without both sides of this coin one could debate whether these films would have existed or have come to be such resonant cultural artifacts…
Tony Tenser, with his exploitation sensibilities, seems to have been partly responsible for a considerable portion of the late 1960s/early 1970s arrival of folk horror as he was also executive producer on Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), which deals with some of the themes of folk horror (a rural setting, connections to the old beliefs and magic).
This film is particularly memorable in its conjuring up of phantasmagorical occult scenes, which are made all the more striking by a film-stealing Barbara Steele as Lavina Morley, Black Witch of Greymarsh, who is dressed in striking, opulent and almost surreal folkloric garb, including a behorned headdress.
She serves as mistress of the film’s woozily transgressive dreamlike ritual ceremonies, helping create almost a film within a film…”
“The late 1960s to around the mid 1970s was the main era for the production of the initial, classic examples of film and television that have come to be known as folk horror.
However, in terms of cinematic forebears, around 1960 there was a small grouping of horror and/or supernatural films which could be seen as being part of a lineage that would one day become or bring about what is known as folk horror.
These include Mario Bava’s Black Sunday from 1960, also starring Barbara Steele, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents from 1961 and Roger Vadim’s Et Mourir De Plaisir (or Blood and Roses to use its American title) from 1960.
Their tone and expression varies from the classic black and white gothic and grotesque horror of Black Sunday to the almost decadent aristocratic Technicolor sensuality of Et Mourir de Plaisir via the repressed supernatural hauntings amongst the reeds and willows of the British countryside in The Innocents.”
“On British television a number of series and plays were produced around a roughly similar period to The Wicker Man, The Blood on Satan’s Claw and Witchfinder General, which could to varying degrees be connected to the phrase folk horror.
Such programmes could include the work of Nigel Kneale such as the pre-hauntological investigations of The Stone Tape (1972) and the nature terrors and conflicts of The Beasts (1976) and other notable series including the made-for-children but curiously disquieting likes of The Owl Service (1968) and Children of the Stones (1977).
Alongside which the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas, which often adapted M.R. James fiction, such as Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968), The Ash Tree (1975) and Play for Today broadcasts including Robin Redbreast (1970) and Penda’s Fen (1974), contain many of the themes of folk horror; landscape-set tales of the supernatural, the persecution of those who practice the old ways, the flipside and undercurrents of the land/history, rural isolation and sacrifice.
You could also cast the net wider and include the Czech New Wave fantasia of Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970) and the high-fashion fairytale-gone-rotten in the woods of Italian-made Queens of Evil (1970).”
“When A Year In The Country began in 2014, now-disappeared websites such as Folk Horror Review, which intermittently posted about such films and television as those mentioned above, felt like still fairly off the beaten track places: a wandering through the briars and undergrowth of a not overly harvested eldritch rural cultural landscape. This has changed somewhat in recent years.
While not quite yet an overtly mainstream genre name, as an example of how embedded folk horror has become as a descriptive phrase and cultural strand, if you should type it into a search engine then many millions of results will be returned.
Alongside which, a focal point of interest such as the website and social media group Folk Horror Revival has an online following which at the point of writing numbered in five figures, and in 2016 hosted its Otherworldly event at The British Museum.
Folk horror has also become a legitimate area of academic research as shown by conferences/events such as The Alchemical Landscape and A Fiend in the Furrows, which have concentrated on associated areas of study, accompanied by screenings of related film and television.”
“In wider culture elements and influences of folk horror can be found in a number of areas and projects.
This is particularly so within music, including the sometimes Midwich-ian or Nigel Kneale-esque parallel worlds of Ghost Box Records and projects such as The Book of the Lost (2014) and Tales from the Black Meadow (2013), which alongside other elements featured music intended to accompany imagined, layered backstories which draw from the tropes of folk horror.
A song such as She Rocola’s “Burn The Witch” (released in 2014 by A Year In The Country) and its glacial, haunting tale of love and persecution could well be a soundtrack to a lost classic British folk horror film: one which may have accompanied the canonic trio of such things back when.”
“While the Marshlight Software computer game Edgelands (2017) takes folk horror themes into interactive realms and is described as a psychogeographical folk tale:
“Magic and folklore… entangle the modern world… in an uncanny rustic adventure… you soon find yourself exploring an uncanny rustic twilight landscape in which familiar rural landmarks overlap with otherworldly occurrences, creating a dream-like blurring of the ordinary and the supernatural.””
“Over the years from but a few seedlings, folk horror as a cultural strand has created ever growing reverberations that are still being felt throughout culture and indeed which may now only be truly flowering and finding fully fertile ground.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Journeys in Otherly Pastoralism, the Further Reaches of Folk and the Parallel Worlds of Hauntology…
Book released 10th April 2018. Preorder 1st March 2018.
Price: £15.95. 340 pages. Print and ebook editions.
Author: Stephen Prince
A Year In The Country is a set of year-long journeys through spectral fields; cyclical explorations of an otherly pastoralism, the outer reaches of folk culture and the spectres of hauntology. It is a wandering amongst subculture that draws from the undergrowth of the land.
As a project, it has included a website featuring writing, artwork and music which stems from that otherly pastoral/spectral hauntological intertwining, alongside a growing catalogue of album releases.
In keeping with the number of weeks in a year, the book is split into 52 chapters which draw together revised writings from the project alongside new journeyings. Connecting layered and, at times, semi-hidden cultural pathways and signposts, it journeys from acid folk to edgelands via electronic music innovators, folkloric film and photography, dreams of lost futures and misremembered televisual tales and transmissions.
It includes considerations of the work of writers including Rob Young, John Wyndham, Richard Mabey and Mark Fisher, musicians and groups The Owl Service, Jane Weaver, Shirley Collins, Broadcast, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Virginia Astley and Kate Bush, the artists Edward Chell, Jeremy Deller and Barbara Jones and the record labels Trunk, Folk Police, Ghost Box and Finders Keepers.
The book also explores television and film including Quatermass, The Moon and the Sledgehammer, Phase IV, Beyond the Black Rainbow, The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, Bagpuss, Travelling for a Living, The Duke of Burgundy, Sapphire & Steel, General Orders No. 9, Gone to Earth, The Changes, Children of the Stones, Sleep Furiously and The Wicker Man.
The ebook version will be available to preorder from 1st March 2018 on Amazon’s various worldwide sites.
The printed book will also be available to order from 10th April on Amazon’s various worldwide sites.
The book has been designed/typeset by Ian Lowey of Bopcap Book Services and edited by Suzy Prince, who are the co-authors of The Graphic Art of The Underground – A Counter-Cultural History.
An online “cut out and keep” set of visual accompaniments to the chapters of the book can be visited here and text extracts from the book can be visited here, both of which will build throughout 2018 to include all 52 chapters.
Book Chapter List:
1. Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music: Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New
2. Gather in the Mushrooms: Early Signposts and Underground Acid Folk Explorations
3. Hauntology: Places Where Society Goes to Dream, the Defining and Deletion of Spectres and the Making of an Ungenre
4. Cuckoos in the Same Nest: Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings
5. Ghost Box Records: Parallel Worlds, Conjuring Spectral Memories, Magic Old and New and Slipstream Trips to the Panda Pops Disco
6. Folk Horror Roots: From But a Few Seedlings Did a Great Forest Grow
7. 1973: A Time of Schism and a Dybbuk’s Dozen of Fractures
8. Broadcast: Recalibration, Constellation and Exploratory Pop
9. Tales From The Black Meadow, The Book of the Lost and The Equestrian Vortex: The Imagined Spaces of Imaginary Soundtracks
10. The Wicker Man: Notes on a Cultural Behemoth
11. Robin Redbreast, The Ash Tree, Sky, The Changes, Penda’s Fen Red Shift and The Owl Service: Wanderings Through Spectral Television Landscapes
12. A Bear’s Ghosts: Soviet Dreams and Lost Futures
13. From “Two Tribes” to War Games: The Ascendancy of Apocalyptic Popular Culture
14. Christopher Priest’s A Dream of Wessex: Twentieth Century Slipstream Echoes
15. Sapphire & Steel and Ghosts in the Machine: Nowhere, Forever and Lost Spaces within Cultural Circuitry
16. Kill List, Puffball, In the Dark Half and Butter on the Latch: Folk Horror Descendants by Way of the Kitchen Sink
17. The Quietened Bunker, Waiting For The End of the World, Subterranea Britannica, Bunker Archaeology and The Delaware Road: Ghosts, Havens and Curious Repurposings Beneath Our Feet
18. From The Unofficial Countryside to Soft Estate: Edgeland Documents, Memories and Explorations
19. The Ballad of Shirley Collins and Pastoral Noir: Tales and Intertwinings from Hidden Furrows
20. “Savage Party” and Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased): Glimpses of Albion in the Overgrowth
21. Uncommonly British Days Out and the Following of Ghosts: File under Psychogeographic/Hauntological Stocking Fillers
22. Gone to Earth: Earlier Traces of an Otherly Albion
23. Queens of Evil, Tam Lin and The Touchables: High Fashion Transitional Psych Folk Horror, Pastoral Fantasy and Dreamlike Isolation
24. Luke Haines: Our Most Non-Hauntological Hauntologist
25. Tim Hart, Maddy Prior and “The Dalesman’s Litany”: A Yearning for Imaginative Idylls and a Counterpart to Tales of Hellish Mills
26. Katalina Varga, Berberian Sound Studio and The Duke of Burgundy : Arthouse Evolution and Crossing the Thresholds of the Hinterland Worlds of Peter Strickland
27. General Orders No. 9 and By Our Selves: Cinematic Pastoral Experimentalism
28. No Blade of Grass and Z.P.G.: A Curious Dystopian Mini-Genre
29. The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids: John Wyndham, Dystopian Tales, Celluloid Cuckoos and the Village as Anything But Idyll
30. Folk Archive and Unsophisticated Arts: Documenting the Overlooked and Unregulated
31. Folkloric Photography: A Lineage of Wanderings, Documentings and Imaginings
32. Poles and Pylons and The Telegraph Appreciation Society: A Continuum of Accidental Art
33. Symptoms and Images: Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia
34. The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water: Public Information Films and Lost Municipal Paternalisms
35. Magpahi, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council: Finders Keepers/Bird Records Nestings and Considerations of Modern Day Magic
36. Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before: Whispering Fairy Stories until They are Real
37. The Owl Service, Anne Briggs, The Watersons, Lutine and Audrey Copard: Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Reinterpreters
38. The Seasons, Jonny Trunk, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Howlround: A Yearning for Library Music, Experiments in Educational Music and Tape Loop Tributes
39. An Old Soul Returns: The Worlds and Interweavings of Kate Bush
40. The Stone Tape, Quatermass, The Road and The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale: Unearthing Tales from Buried Ancient Pasts
41 Folklore Tapes and the Wyrd Britannia Festival: Journeying to Hidden Corners of the Land/the Ferrous Reels and Explorations of an Arcane Research Project
42. Skeletons: Pastoral Preternatural Fiction and a World, Time and Place of its Own Imagining
43. Field Trip-England: Jean Ritchie, George Pickow and Recordings from the End of an Era
44. Noah’s Castle: A Slightly Overlooked Artifact and Teatime Dystopias
45. Jane Weaver Septième Soeur and The Fallen by Watch Bird: Non-Populist Pop and Cosmic Aquatic Folklore
46. Detectorists, Bagpuss, The Wombles and The Good Life: Views from a Gentler Landscape
47. Weirdlore, Folk Police Recordings, Sproatly Smith and Seasons They Change: Notes From the Folk Underground, Legendary Lost Focal Points and Privately Pressed Folk
48. The Moon and The Sledgehammer and Sleep Furiously: Visions of Parallel and Fading Lives
49. From Gardens Where We Feel Secure, Wintersongs, Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails: Lullabies for the Land and Gently Darkened Undercurrents
50. Strawberry Fields and Wreckers: The Countryside and Coastal Hinterland as Emotional Edgeland
51. Zardoz, Phase IV and Beyond the Black Rainbow: Seeking the Future in Secret Rooms from the Past and Psychedelic Cinematic Corners
52. Winstanley, A Field in England and The English Civil War Part II: Reflections on Turning Points and Moments When Anything Could Happen
A while ago four new releases from Rif Mountain arrived through my letterbox, which was a not-half-bad start to the day.
Since 2010 the label has released nearly 50 records and been a home to the likes of The Owl Service, Jason Steel, Nancy Wallace, Alasdair Roberts, Robert Sunday, Michael Tanner and Nicholas Palmer’s The A-Lords and sometimes A Year In The Country fellow travellers The Straw Bear Band and Bare Bones amongst others, with releases often having a fluid and interlinked movement of collaborators, writers and performers.
For a few years after 2013 things were quieter around Rif Mountain but since 2016 there have been a number of new releases.
The four new releases from 2017, which are all listed as being part of Phase III, are Robert Sunday’s Cold Little Roses, Hold Music’s Hold Music (featuring amongst others Jason Steel and Daniel Gardner), Phases I-IX and Reliquary (Parts I-VII) by Bare Bones (featuring at their core Dom Cooper and Jason Steel).
One thing that struck me when listening to these releases was that though (I think) they were all recorded in the UK there is a certain dusty or almost mythic Americana aspect to the recordings at times, particularly so on say Robert Sunday’s Hushed and Hold Music’s Howl & Whoop.
Along which lines, on the Rif Mountain site the following is said about Cold Little Roses:
“…set to melodies that would make a hungover Kris Kristofferson blush (in his prime!)…”
While the site says this of Bare Bones’ Phase I-IX:
“Moon Phases by Bare Bones is an album of nine vignettes. These correspond with the nine phases of the moon.
The duo has moved beyond the ritualistic drones of earlier work, creating nuanced, textured soundscapes. These twilight recordings are informed by improvisatory techniques, ethnographic field recordings, and the sonic spaces of Dub; a narcoleptic Ennio Morricone soundtrack.
The tracks inhabit a moonlit world, reminiscent of the hazy pacing of Peter Fonda’s film ‘The Hired Hand’ or the fragmentary/searching writing of Fernando Pessoa’s ‘The Book of Disquiet’.”
On these two new Bare Bones’ releases that dusty, mythical Americana (or “narcoleptic Ennio Morricone” to quote the above text) sits alongside an exploratory or even possibly experimental take on elements of traditional British folk music – a lineage it draws from without replicating.
Rather it has it’s own unique character and an atmosphere that seems to suggest some kind of unknowable mystery… while at times there is a gentle, heartbreaking subtle and evocative melancholia to the recordings.
(As an aside “dusty, mythical Americana” and the undercurrents of British folk and rural/edgeland orientated culture could be considered counterparts of one another – the likes of for example the film Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus (2003) and the gothic gospel preacher-isms of the band Sixteen Horsepower explore the flipside, undercurrents, myths and sometimes the beliefs/faiths of rural America and the American South in a similar way that British work which has been called amongst other things wyrd or weird Albion-esque explores and expresses not dissimilar themes and atmospheres in relation to the UK.)
The tracks on these two Bare Bones releases are largely instrumental, although here and there voices and incantations appear: (what I assume are) organs create drone like textures and soundscapes, on one track there is a field recording of falling rain and Phases I-IX ends with the sound of something mechanical winding down – possibly the tape machine on which the album was recorded, possibly one of those just mentioned organs.
As with previous releases, the packaging and accompanying design is rather fine – put together by (I assume) Dom Cooper of Bare Bones/The Straw Bear Band, who has also created the design for a number of earlier Rif Mountain releases. Opening them is something of a treat: a sort of “I wander what I’ll find in here” moment or two, with them containing the likes of illustrations, quotes, collages of music equipment and at one point intriguing and quietly unsettling verse – which could well be a “from this side of the seas” counterpart to that previously mentioned “dusty, mythical Americana” and “gothic gospel preacher-isms”.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Day #30/365: The Owl Service – A View From A Hill
Day #51/365: General Orders No. 9… wandering from the arborea of Albion to…
Day #170/365: Who’s afear’d: Dom Cooper & reinterpreting signs, signals and traditions…
Day #198/365: Wandering from the arborea of Albion (#2) and fever dreams of the land…
Wanderings #5/52a: A Return Visit To And From Rif Mountain
Chapter 5 Book Images: Ghost Box Records – Parallel Worlds, Conjuring Spectral Memories, Magic Old and New and Slipstream Trips to the Panda Pops Disco
Online images to accompany Chapter 5 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Via its record releases, events, videos and artwork Ghost Box conjures its own particular parallel world: one that harks back to some previous age, though not necessarily a time or place that strictly ever existed but which could be said to loosely take place approximately from around the early 1960s to the late 1970s and which also looks towards some form of a related lost utopian, modernist and progressive future.”
“There is a hazy familiarity to the work of Ghost Box due to the way it references cultural forms and work such as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, public information films, library music and educational literature from earlier eras, but the resulting aesthetic and parallel world is not a retreading, rather an often quietly unsettling reimagining or as they put it themselves, a misremembering.”
“…a poster that accompanied the Ghost Box-released Belbury Poly’s Belbury Tales album from 2012 talks of the record taking in: “…medievalism, the supernatural, childhood, the re-invention of the past, initiation and pilgrimage (both spiritual and physical).””
“Midwich-ian could be an apposite phrase to use in reference to such atmospheres that Ghost Box at times conjure, in the sense of it referring to the preternatural occurrences within a bucolic English village that can be found in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos novel from 1957 and its film adaptation as Village of the Damned in 1960.
That subtle sense of unease is something that can also be found on The Advisory Circle’s “And The Cuckoo Comes” from the early Ghost Box-released album Mind How You Go (2005).
It uses a vocal sample of nature-related studies, observations or prose that I do not know where it came from, although it conjures a sense of being an artifact from the 1960s or 1970s.
A brief half-listen of the words imply that it should be all pastoral delight as it describes the changes of the seasons. However, it is anything but an idyllic journeying through such things:
“In the summer, well, it’s usually cold and sometimes it snows.
The winds blow. In the autumn the flowers are out and the sun shines.
In the winter, the leaves grow again on the trees.
And in the spring the winds blow and the leaves fall from the trees.
And the sun shines and the leaves grow again on the trees.
And sometimes it snows… and the cuckoo comes.”
The dislocation in the words seems hidden as their delivery flows quite naturally, causing initial association with its fractured quality more with the song’s multi-layered, swirling, repetition.”
“Ghost Box-related work… often has a very playful element which intertwines with the more parallel world or occult side of things.
This is particularly present on the Belbury Poly album New Ways Out from 2016, which Electric Sound magazine described as:
“…transporting you to those especially daft places only Belbury Poly can – Tizer-fuelled 70s youth club discos with side-rooms for Ouija boards…”
That quote creates anticipation of a sense of fun or playfulness from the album and indeed New Ways Out has that via a set of rather catchy pop hooks, but with that playfulness being quietly filtered through a Ghost Box parallel world filter.”
“Ghost Box co-founder Julian House is generally responsible for much of the design work for the label, and the resulting visual work plays an important part in creating the overall Ghost Box world, myths and aesthetic and the hazy familiarity referred to earlier.
It often plays with or conjures a sense of being parallel world governmental departmental or educational literature, the utilitarian nature of which seems to have quietly stepped to a place elsewhere.
At times the work contains Op art mandalas and geometric shapes, and while they may share an hallucinogenic quality with it they do not put me in mind so much of 1960s-esque psychedelia but rather they often contain a more subtly unsettled, darker aspect and atmosphere.
The Ghost Box design work is often created in part or whole via collage and found images but this is not always perfectly polished and may be presented nearer to a form of raw visual jump cutting where components are cut out inexactly, often leaving parts of their original background still present.
This is not dissimilar to the way in which Julian House’s Ghost Box musical output under the name The Focus Group, abruptly and irregularly cuts and splices samples and other elements, a technique that is also present in his collaborative musical and video work with Broadcast.”
Details of the book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 5/52a: Robin and Marian – “He has become a legend. Have you ever tried to fight a legend?”
The 1976 film Robin and Marian is an interesting take on the myth and history of the tales of Robin Hood.
This isn’t a flash, escapist take on those tales, rather it is in parts a quite melancholic film about in part ageing, loss, past glories and what happens to the life, loves and myths of a living legend as the years pass.
While a number of the locations seem to be fairly undisguised and barely reconstructed actual crumbling rural castles/keeps.
It was directed by Richard Lester, who is also known for the likes of The Beatles’ romps A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, The Knack… and How to Get It, post-apocalyptic curio and BFI Flipside release The Bed Sitting Room, the star studded 1973 version of The Three Musketeers and in the 1980s the superhero blockbusters Superman II and III.
The film features Sean Connery as Robin, Nicol Williamson as Little John (who would go on to play Merlin in John Boorman’s 1981 film Excalibur, which reimagines of the myths of King Arthur) Audrey Hepburn as Marian (returning to cinema for the first time in eight years) and Robert Shaw as the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Alongside which the film is also noticeable for the number of classic British dramatic and comic actors in the cast: Richard Harris, Denholm Elliot, Ronnie Barker, Ian Holm and Bill Maynard (the one time Selwyn Froggitt).
In the plot many years have passed since Robin led the fight for the poor of Nottingham, he has been off fighting in the Crusades under the command of King Richard the Lionheart. He has returned to England, which is now ruled by “mad” King John and Robin regroups the members of his old Sherwood Forest band of merry men.
Robin’s old nemesis the Sheriff of Nottingham is ordered by the king to remove the clergy from the countryside, causing Robin to go to the aid of and rescue his old love Marian, who is now part of a religious order.
Even after his extended time away Robin retains a legendary status and following amongst the common folk of the land, who gather around him in his forest stronghold to stand against the forces of authority and the scene is set for a final confrontation between Robin and his men and the Sheriff and his troops.
As I just mentioned though, this isn’t a swashbuckling rerun of the myth of Robin Hood – possibly reflecting a wider trend in 1970s television and film it is in parts quite downbeat and even a gritty realist film.
(Although accompanying which at times it seems to almost be two films in one, as at points it becomes a sort of old fashioned Hollywood melodrama accompanied by a traditional and possibly even old fashioned cinematic score.)
Robin and the other characters are all shown in a largely unstyled manner, with their ageing allowed to be on show in a naturalistic way, in contrast with much of modern film: there is a sense that they are well past their prime but still trying to carry out physically demanding feats of courage.
Robert Shaw as the Sheriff seems to just be almost acceptingly weary of the whole inevitability of the Robin/Sheriff game of cat and mouse, of the battles between folk hero and upholder of the laws of the land and the whims of its rulers: in fact in the film they are shown to be men who as much as anything seem to be more just carrying out their expected roles, fates and duties, with a certain acceptance of that inevitability and there seeming to be a certain recidivism to the character and actions of Robin.
The ending which (spoiler alert) effectively involves a double suicide/murder/poisoning between Robin and Marian, is also not what would be expected from say a Hollywood take on the tales of Robin Hood. It is curiously both downbeat and also strangely affirming of the enduring love and acceptance between Robin and Marian, seeming to be a final acceptance of this being the only way out of an otherwise unending cycle of violence and conflict due to the inherent character and restlessness of Robin.
(Although Marian is not shown as at all weak willed, there is a certain dichotomy portrayed between her femininity and searching for peace and the opposite characteristics in Robin – something which is made more explicit in the film’s French title La Rose et la Flèche, which translates as The Rose and the Arrow.)
Acceptance as the years pass and an accompanying affection, even tenderness, seems to be some of the main themes of the film – between Robin and Marian, Robin and Little John and even a certain not-all-that-grudging respect and affection between Robin and the Sheriff, which includes a certain gentlemanly chivalry being shown during their final conflict.
Alongside the film’s open depiction of the ageing process and its effects, the final conflict between Robin and the Sheriff is shown in a more realist manner than is often the way in cinema, with the two men becoming relatively quickly increasingly physically tired and almost unable to fight due to their exertions and injuries.
In some ways the film could be seen as a battle between the old ways, the freedoms and unrulability of the traditional untamed forest lands and the castle dwelling rulers and forerunners of the more “civilised” or centrally controlled town/city settlements.
Robin and his men normally hold sway and a strategic advantage over the better equipped King’s/Sheriff’s men within the forest. However the powers-that-be are shown as being prepared to gather and camp outside its boundaries, waiting for the rashness of Robin to be his force’s undoing and he eventually breaks cover from the forest to meet his enemy.
His ensuing attempts to settle the conflict through a more evenly matched duel solely between him and the Sheriff are cast aside when the promise of acceptance of the outcome as the deciding factor in the conflict, which was made before their duel by the Sheriff, is ignored by the authorities when Robin is victorious (although this victory is nominal due to the mortal injuries he sustains).
His men are hunted down and defeated – the underlying implication being that this is possibly the end of a certain way of life, freedom, resistance and the rallying call of the legend of Robin, a passing of the old into the new accompanied by the strengthening of the authorities’ rule and power.
The film is well worth a look-see for a different take on the longstanding myths of Robin Hood and performances by a gathering of actors nolonger in the first flush of youth but undoubtedly at the top of their game in terms of charisma and their invocations of character and a sense of experience gained and life lived.
Chapter 4 Book Images: Cuckoos in the Same Nest – Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings
Online images to accompany Chapter 4 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“A curious occurrence in an area or two of music and culture is the way in which folk music and folkloric-orientated work, of the underground, acid, psych, wyrd and otherly variety, has come to share common ground with synthesised work and electronica, of a left field and hauntological variety.
This is an area of culture where the use, appreciation and romance of often older electronic music technologies, reference points and inspirations segues and intertwines with the more bucolic wanderings and landscapes of exploratory, otherly pastoralism and folk culture, a part of the cultural landscape:
“…planted permanently somewhere between the history of the first transistor, the paranormal, and nature-driven worlds of the folkloric…” (author, artist, musician and curator Kristen Gallerneaux.)
On the surface such folkloric and electronic musical and cultural forms are very disparate and yet both have come to explore and share similar landscapes.”
“…looking back to some of the early cultural explorations that would lead to A Year In The Country, three of the first albums that provided some of the seedlings, wellsprings or inspirations were The Owl Service’s The View from a Hill (2010), Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witchcults of the Radio Age (2009) and the compilation Gather in the Mushrooms (2004).
These wander respectively from a subtly experimental revisiting and reinterpreting of folk rock that has taken the name of a seminal otherly pastoral book and television series (Alan Garner’s book and Granada Television’s TV adaptation of The Owl Service from 1967 and 1969 respectively), to an overtly experimental sample and synthesiser-created phantasmagorical vocal and dreamlike cut-up exploration of hidden cultural layers and transmissions via a delving and unearthing of late 1960s and early 1970s underground British acid folk.
Somehow, it all made sense that these things fitted together.”
“Such television series… provide a point of confluence for these areas of otherly folk music and hauntology. To semi-quote the A Year In The Country website and referring back to cultural folklore:
“In contrast to the often oral telling of tales from the wald/wild wood in times gone by, today the stories that have become our cultural folklore we discover, treasure, pass down, are informed and inspired by, are often those that are transmitted into the world via the airwaves, the (once) cathode ray machine in the corner of the room, the carrying of tales via the zeros and ones of technology that flitter around the world and the flickers of (once) celluloid tales.”
This cultural folklore would probably take in the likes of television programmes The Changes (1975), The Owl Service (1969), Children of the Stones (1977), The Stone Tape (1972) and the film The Wicker Man (1973), and a touch or two of the odder side of Doctor Who from way back when.”
While often being set rurally, in contrast to much of popular culture which concerns itself with towns and cities, they have come to be touchstones or lodestones that seem to invoke a hidden, layered history of the land but which also encompass and intertwine with a wider hauntological, parallel, alternative version of Britain.
Some of their musical accompaniments could well be said to form an early part or antecedent of the meeting of the strands of otherly folk and hauntology.”
“In the above list the “patterns beneath the plough” are soundtracked by imagined and re-imagined folk music (The Wicker Man), synthesised elsewhere explorations by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (The Changes, Doctor Who and The Stone Tape), spectral yet beautiful choral nightmares (Children of the Stones) and quite frankly still unnerving and experimental collaging (The Owl Service).
All quite different musically/aesthetically and yet all conjuring both (to again quote the A Year In The Country website) “an underlying unsettledness to the bucolic countryside dream” and a Midwich-ian take on the landscape.
If you should consider the descriptions of the above soundtracks, you may well find that a line could be drawn between them, the earlier description of three early A Year In The Country wellspring albums and much of more recent work that could be called hauntological and/or which explores the outer reaches and undercurrents of folk music.
These two strands of otherly folkloric and hauntological work and culture may appear at first to be cultural cuckoos in the same nest but have come to be fellow travellers in an alternative landscape, informing and accompanying one another’s journeys; this is a sharing of ground founded in similar exploratory and sometimes visionary or utopian spirit rather than divided by aesthetics.”
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 4/52a: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – A Curious Slice of Culture and Collisions with the Past
Well, Halloween III. Where to start and where to finish, it’s something of a multi-layered subject and film…
Back around Autumn 2017 I started to find myself increasingly interested in the work of John Carpenter. I’d been watching his work on and off since a young age but something sparked off a renewed interest…
…and then during the weekend just before Halloween last year I found myself in one of the bargain-about-£1-per item shops that dot the land…
There for but £1 was the DVD of Halloween III: Season of the Witch – I rather liked the synchronicity of coming across the film at that time of year and so I wandered home with it.
I’m not quite sure I was completely ready for it as a film. It’s an odd (but also intriguing) cinematic and cultural experience.
Originally released in 1982, it’s not actually a John Carpenter film, rather part of the Halloween franchise which was created by John Carpenter, with the film being co-produced by John Carpenter, with a soundtrack by him and Alan Howarth and was written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Well, sort of written by him. More on that in a moment.
How to describe it? Well, if you imagine a mixture of the work of John Carpenter at one step remove, Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, The Stepford Wives, a more b-movie and less arthouse take on earlier David Cronenberg and the work of Nigel Kneale, you may not be far off.
Why Nigel Kneale? Well, he wrote the original screenplay and was asked to do so in part because John Carpenter was an admirer of his Quatermass series. Nigel Kneale delivered a script that was apparently based more on psychological shocks rather than more conventional horror and physical ones but Dino De Laurentiis, who owned the distribution rights, wanted more traditional horror/violence.
Director Tommy Lee Wallace revised the script and Nigel Kneale asked for his name to be taken off the finished film.
However, watching the film I think it has a surprisingly small amount of gore and violence considering the above and its genre – much of such things happen offscreen and in comparison to the often gratuitous imagery and special effects of a number of films today, this seems relatively tame (if still at times quite shocking).
The spirit of Nigel Kneale’s work remains quite strongly in the finished film; the plot involves a novelty toy/trick manufacturing company that has incorporated a microchip which includes fragements from one of the stones from Stonehenge in their halloween masks – which are proving massively popular with the children of the US.
The stone fragments contain some form of ancient power, which via the microchip will be triggered by the flashing images in the company’s television adverts on Halloween, causing the death/sacrifice of the wearers and those nearby, effectively reviving a ritual that last happened 3000 years ago and bringing about the resurrection of an ancient age of witchcraft.
Ancient, buried rituals. The power of standing stones. The collision of ancient powers and modern science. Nothing Nigel Kneal-esque there then.
As mentioned earlier, Halloween III brings to mind the earlier films Invasion of the Bodysnatchers and The Stepford Wives – this is in particular due to the company’s power over and replacement of the local town and it’s population.
The town is completely run and controlled by the company, complete with a threatening sense of electronic surveillance, a curfew announced in the evening over a tannoy system and a sense that the population is being replaced by androids.
Returning to David Cronenberg, Halloween III, put me in mind in part of Cronenberg’s Videodrome, which was released around a similar period in 1983.
Although more overtly b-movie like than Cronenberg-arthouse-esque, at times Halloween III seems to have some of the emotional distance that Cronenberg’s films can have.
(As an aside, John Carpenter’s films – particularly his earlier work – could well be considered the less arthouse but possibly at times more entertaining flipside to David Cronenberg’s earlier films).
As with the manipulative organisation in Videodrome, in Halloween III, despite planning on effectively taking over/changing the world and having the resources to mass-manufacture convincingly human androids, the novelty manufacturing company, their factory and infrastructure seems curiously low-key and non-high tech: this isn’t some big gleaming futuristic corporation, more a small-ish local factory with a slightly down-at-heel, paint chipped locale.
(As a further aside the town where the factory is based seems to be a fairly typical small sized town, with the factory work seeming quite blue collar manual when carried out by humans, while in contrast the android “workers” are corporately, white collar suited.)
And in both films television/video are shown as being used for a form of signal transmission which controls the minds and/or causes a physical alteration/mutation and/or destruction in those who watch it.
Along which lines, the opening sequence where CRT television scan lines, pixels and glitches build into the graphic of a Halloween pumpkin capture a sense of early 1980s technology and it’s at times period use as a malignant or threatening force particularly well.
John Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s minimal synth score for Halloween III is well worth seeking out and to my mind it is one of the finest of John Carpenter’s classic synth soundtracks. In but a few notes, synth washes and spare percussion it creates an intriguing, entrancing and possibly seductive atmosphere while also being almost subtly, gently ominously portentous.
The original releases of the soundtrack are now quite rare, as are most of the re-issues: it has been re-released several times, first on CD in 1989, a complete extended CD version of the soundtrack was released by Alan Howarth in a limited edition of 1000 in 2007 and a vinyl version was issued by the Death Waltz Recording Company in 2012, all of which are out of print.
However, the complete version is still available as a print-on-demand CD in the US and on import elsewhere and can also be found on various online streaming services if you should have a hankering to listen to it.
Chapter 3 Book Images: Hauntology – Places Where Society Goes to Dream, the Defining and Deletion of Spectres and the Making of an Ungenre
Online images to accompany Chapter 3 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
“Although it is hard to precisely define what hauntology is, it has become a way of identifying particular strands of music and cultural tendencies. As a cultural form it is fluid, loose and not strictly delineated but below are some of the recurring themes and characteristics of hauntological work:
1) Music and culture that draws from and examines a sense of loss of a post war utopian, progressive, modernist future that was never quite reached.
2) A tendency to see some kind of unsettledness and hidden layers of meaning in public information films, TV idents and “a bit too scary and odd for children though that is who they were aimed at” television programmes from the late 1960s to about 1980, which include the likes of The Owl Service (1968), Children of the Stones (1977) and The Changes (1975).
3) Graphic design and a particular kind of often analogue synthesised music that references and reinterprets some forms of older library music, educational materials and the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, often focusing on the period from around 1969 to 1979 and related culture which is generally of British origin.
4) A re-imagining and misremembering of the above and other sources into forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting and also often unsettling and not a little eerie, creating a sense of work that is haunted by spectres of its and our cultural past, to loosely paraphrase philosopher Jacques Derrida.
5) The drawing together and utilising of the above elements to conjure a sense of a parallel, imagined, often strange or Midwich-ian Britain.”
“For a while the phrase hauntology when used to refer to a genre of music had been deleted on Wikipedia.
As author Simon Reynolds – who as just mentioned was, along with Mark Fisher, one of the first people to use the phrase hauntology in relation to such culture – points out, those doing the deleting have taken a fair few steps to make sure their own comments on Wikipedia are not deleted or modified. “Do as I say and not as I do” as it were.
Just as with deletion via consensus, a larger mass of consensus does not necessarily mean something is correct, but typing the word “hauntology” alongside “music” into a search engine at the time of writing brought up 170,000 pages to look at, while “hauntology music genre” returned over 50,000 results.
That would tend to imply that there is not a “consensus to delete” in the wider world, or at the very least there is a “consensus to discuss, explore, consider, create and debate”.
So, maybe rather than deleting the whole notion, making the debate around whether hauntology exists part of its page would have been a more reasonable or culturally democratic thing to do.”
“The creation of work which conjures a parallel world via a misremembered past need not necessarily draw purely from one particular period or set of cultural reference points, as has often been the case with hauntological work but rather that concept and process could be used as a general framework to also explore other eras and cultural areas.
To a certain degree this has been the case in the earlier mentioned hypnagogic pop, which draws more from the 1980s period and related culture and Italian Occult Psychedelia which focuses on non-British culture and Pye Corner Audio, who Ghost Box Records have released recordings by, appears to also extend the hauntological palette to incorporate a more 1980s VHS-esque aspect…
…while a film such as Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010) could be seen as a form of hauntological work in its creation of a parallel world that creates a “Reagan era fever dream”.”
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 3/52: Barbara Bosworth & Margot Anne Kelley’s The Meadow – Recordings and Reflections of an Unhurried Space
The two authors have been wandering, studying and photographing the same single meadow in Carlisle, Massachusets for more than a decade and the book is a collection of the resulting work.
There is a reflective, thoughtful calm to the photographs of the meadow, with them seeming to reflect the unhurried character of this space and the sense of the book being the result of the authors both (to quote the publishers) “meandering” and studying this one place over an extended period of time.
Accompanying Barbara Bosworth’s photographs are a number of text pieces by Margot Anne Kelly, many of which provide a fascinating insight into the meadow and the nature that has made its home there.
This includes explaining how different species of fireflies co-exist relatively peacefully in the same areas by dividing time and space, which they do by flying at different heights, times of the day etc and also that the lichens which you may find on stones are actually a symbiotic co-operation of fungus and algae rather than being just one plant – and even through millions of years of evolution they have remained separate but connected species.
One of the things that struck me on perusing the book was just how few animals there are in the photographs – a bird appears just once and there are some photographs with glowing specks that are actually those just mentioned fireflies, although you would not necessarily realise that without reading the accompanying text.
That may well reflect the reality of wandering through such fields – apart from if they contain livestock, animals are generally hidden from view, with possibly (in the fields I’m used to wandering through) just the occasional flash of say a hare or rabbit off in the distance and even the noises that you may hear will generally largely only be those of birds.
A fascinating aspect of the book are the Bird Doors, which date from the 1930s onwards and which document the details of birds visiting the meadow etc.
The book is somewhat sumptuously and beautifully produced with inserts, a de-embossed inner cover, foldouts, separately printed and bound sections and so forth. A labour of love in a number of ways I expect.
The Meadow is well worth a perusal, particularly for the way in which it interlinks and interweaves an expressive exploration of one particular meadow with the rigour of scientific study, albeit a form of study which in keeping with the character of the project still retains a literary, creative character.