Tim Hart, Maddy Prior and “The Dalesman’s Litany” – A Yearning for Imaginative Idylls and a Counterpart to Tales of Hellish Mills: Chapter 25 Book Images
“It is wise to be wary of harking back to some imagined pre-industrialisation idyll; as someone whose thoughts are recorded in the 1969 oral history book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Ronald Blythe says, the old ways which were often quite harsh at the time can come to seem like pleasant aspects of life and times as the years add a distance and rosy glow to them.
Having said which, the song “The Dalesman’s Litany”, as performed by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior on their 1968 album Folk Songs of Old England, which takes as its subject matter a yearning for a return to pastoral idylls and away from a life working in industry is an appealing thing.
Originally a poem by Frederic William Moorman written around 1900, it is a tale told by an agricultural worker who has to choose between a life with his beau on the land he loves and working in towns, cities and mines because the local landowner does not want married workers.
In the later 1960s when this song was released, an idyllic, pastoral view of Olde England alongside the use and reinterpretation of traditional folk music and lore were sometimes part of a more experimental, exploratory strand in music and culture which to a degree was intertwined with psychedelia and a “hippie” utopian viewpoint…
The song imparts a sense of an aching yearning to return to the moor and leave the coalstacks, which makes the song a more personal counterpart to William Blake’s “Jerusalem/And did those feet in ancient time” which was originally published in 1808 and its words of dark satanic mills; a text which was a reaction to the societal disturbances brought about by the industrial revolution.”
“As mentioned in the chapter 7: “1973: A Time of Schism and a Dybbuk’s Dozen of Fractures”, by the early 1970s the spirit of “hippie” utopian ideals, which backgrounded the era in which the song was recorded, had begun to turn sour and inwards…
Accompanying which, being drawn to imagined, bucolic idylls from times gone by, folk music and culture may in part have come to be a reaction to a period of social, political and economic turmoil within Britain, related energy shortages and electricity blackouts.
Indeed, The Dalesman’s Litany almost seems like a subtle protest song aimed at the era of its recording, obliquely filtered via, to reference Rob Young’s Electric Eden book (2010), a form of imaginative time travel, which further removes it from the more twee, romanticised side of folk interpretation and revival.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 25 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside text extracts from the chapter:
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.
Preorder 10th July 2018. Released 31st July 2018.
“Reflections on an imaginary film.”
In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate.
Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.
Few of the cast or crew have spoken about the events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set.
A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.
Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old filmstock sold as a job lot at auction – although how they came to be there is unknown.
The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.
The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.
Requiem Part 1 – Further Glimpses of Albion in the Overgrowth and Related Considerations: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 25/52
A while ago I watched Requiem, which is a television series created by Kris Mrska and co-produced by the BBC and Netflix.
It is a largely rurally set supernatural thriller, which is fairly unsettling without overly relying on gratuitous gore/fx as a form of entertainment/questionable audience stimulant, as seems to often be the case with much of contemporary television and film.
As a very brief introductory precis of the plot it involves a famous classical cellist who after the self-immolation of her mother attempts to seek the truth behind her death and her own origins, the search for which, after she finds newspaper clippings collected and hidden by her mother, leads her to a rural community where a young girl had gone missing and was never found many years before, the mystery of which begins to have a multi-layered, supernatural conspiracy aspect to it.
Requiem could be placed in a loose gathering of “glimpses of Albion in the overgrowth” television – mainstream dramas etc which to various degrees explore, utilise and express a flipside or otherly pastoralism.
(As I have mentioned before there is no overarching, definitive genre name for such things but elements of the further reaches of folk culture, paganism, the supernatural, hauntological timeslip etc can be found in such things. Wyrd is a word that is often used but for some reason it also seems a little possibly clumsy or inelegant in terms of trying to capture a sense of such spectral cultural phantasms.)
Along similar lines in relatively recent times in that loose gathering could be included Britannia, The Living and The Dead and elements of Detectorists, while if you cast the net further in years it could also take in the Savage Party Hollyoaks trailer and the turn of the millennium remake of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) – the latter two of which I have written about at the A Year In The Country site before and in the Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.
Anyways, back more directly to Requiem.
The introduction sequence is particularly striking. It combines various layered elements and atmospheres – a sense of beauty, subtle eeriness and darkness, a cello semi-hidden in the images, nature and wildlife, ancient folklore and superstition. Aesthetically it is nicely textured and kaleidoscope/mirrored, with subtle tinges of offset RGB transmissions and puts me in mind here and there of biological illustrator Angela Mele’s work for The Creeping Garden.
(As an aside, the sequence is by the Peters Anderson Studio – which now I know makes sense I’d thought it had a certain classy texturality, the lineage of which could be traced back to the likes of Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson’s work for 4AD in the 1980s. The Peters Anderson Studio also created the nicely textured pastoral artwork for Sharron Kraus’ Pilgrim Chants & Pastoral Trails album released by Second Language Music and which I have written about at A Year In The Country previously.)
The soundtrack for Requiem was created by Dominik Scherrer and Natasha Khan, who is known for her work as Bat For Lashes and could be filed alongside The Living and the Dead’s, in that it explores/accompanies a sense of otherly pastoralism (and in The Living and the Dead’s case folk music and culture) within a mainstream television setting and which has been released to buy but only, at the time of writing, via download.
(The Living and The Dead’s soundtrack was released independently by The Insects who created/recorded it, Requiem’s by Dubois Music.)
Which is a shame, as apart from having a softspot for physically presented music I think that both series’ imagery and themes could lend themselves to some fine packaging.
Along which lines of such things being released physically or not, I have noticed increasingly that BBC television series are only being released in high definition online/digitally and in standard definition on DVD and not Blu-ray, which also seems a shame and restrictive in terms of options. The Living and the Dead was released on both Blu-ray and DVD but as far as I know Requiem is only being released on DVD.
I guess this is market-lead consideration, with Blu-ray sales still only being a fraction of those for DVD (20/80 respectively the last I read).
Although sometimes HD can be a little harsh in its presentation and possibly seem a little too “real” or break the spell of a drama, not having the option for it in physical media is still a tad annoying.
Such is the modern world I guess. Which brings me to Part 2 of this post…
To be continued in Part 2…
The Requiem trailer
The Requiem title sequence by Peter Anderson Studio
More on Dominik Scherrer and Natasha Khan’s score
The Living and the Dead trailer
The Unthanks/Detectorists timeslip
The Britannia trailer
The Creeping Garden trailer
Angela Mele’s illustrations
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #58/365: Lullabies for the land and a pastoral magicbox by Ms Sharron Kraus
2) Day #146/365: Glimpses of Albion in the overgrowth
3) Day #274/365: Borrowings from Albion in the overgrowth…
4) Day #275/365: Borrowings from Albion in the overgrowth (#2)… becometh a fumetti…
5) Day #316/365: The Detectorists; a gentle roaming in search of the troves left by men who can never sing again
6) Audio Visual Transmission Guide #16/52a: The Living And The Dead
7) Audio Visual Transmission Guide #28/52a: Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders – Unreleased Variations Away From Bricks And Mortar
8) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 9/52: The Creeping Garden – an exploration of a science / science fiction fantasia – Part I
9) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 10/52: The Creeping Garden – an exploration of a science / science fiction fantasia – Part 2
(Which is a fair few here’s and elsewheres…)
Folk Horror Revival: Harvest Hymns I & II Released – Companions for Wanderings Amongst the Patterns Under the Plough
Published just recently are the books Folk Horror Revival: Harvest Hymns I – Twisted Roots and Folk Horror Revival: Harvest Hymns II – Sweet Fruits.
The books are collections of articles, interviews, album reviews etc by a number of different authors, with both taking as their focus the undercurrents and flipsides of folk music, alongside more spectral/hauntological music and related cultural pastures.
They are published by Folk Horror Revival which is described as:
“…a gathering place to share and discuss folk horror in film, TV, books, art, music, events and other media. We also explore psychogeography, hauntology, folklore, cultural rituals and costume, earth mysteries, archaic history, hauntings, Southern Gothic, ‘landscapism / visionary naturalism & geography’, backwoods, murder ballads, carnivalia, dark psychedelia, wyrd Forteana and other strange edges.”
In recent years those gathering places have included the main website, well-visited social media groups and a number of events including the Otherworldly: Folk Horror Revival at the British Museum day long event which featured talks, lectures, short films, poetry readings and museum tours.
Harvest Hymns I – Twisted Roots considers the roots of related music and includes chapters on The Wicker Man soundtrack by Jonny Trunk, A Brief History of Acid Folk by Grey Malkin (of The Hare And The Moon and Widow’s Weeds), David Cain and Ronald Duncan’s The Seasons by Bob Fischer, the music of British folk horror films by Adam Scovell (author of the book Folk Horror: Hours Strange and Things Dreadful) and the sounds of The Stone Tape where Jim Peters interviews Andrew Liles. Elsewhere you’ll find chapters by/that focus on Sharron Kraus, Comus, Alison O’Donnell, Maddy Prior, Coil, The Radiophonic Workshop alongside a fair few other wanderings and explorations.
Harvest Hymns II – Sweet Fruits explores the modern day descendants of such work, including an interview with Jim Jupp of Ghost Box records by Jim Peters and Darren Charles, a review of Keith Seatman’s A Rest Before the Walk by Chris Lambert (of Tales from the Black Meadow), an interview with Drew Mulholland by John Pilgrim and also Jim Peters and a chapter on Boards of Canada’s Geogaddi by Daniel Pietersen. Elsewhere you’ll find chapters that focus on Moon Wiring Club, Songs from the Black Meadow, Jon Brooks’ Shapwick, Flying Saucer Attack, The Stone Tapes’ Avebury, The Rowan Amber Mill’s Harvest the Ears and as with the previous book a fair few more flipside of folk/spectral hauntological wanderings.
The book also includes Cuckoos in the Same Nest, which is an alternate version of the Cuckoos in the Same Nest: Hauntological and Otherly Folk Confluences and Intertwinings chapter from the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.
And if you look closely, you may also see a piece or few of A Year In The Country artwork in the books…
As just mentioned the focus of these two books are the music side of folk/hauntological and interconnected work; they can be seen as a companion piece to the previously published Folk Horror Revival: Field Studies, which focused on similar pastoral flipside and spectral areas but in the realms of film, television and literature.
That volume featured writing by amongst others Robin Hardy, Ronald Hutton, Alan Lee, Philip Pullman, Thomas Ligotti, Kim Newman, Adam Scovell, Grey Malkin, John Coulthart, Gary Lachman and Susan Cooper and includes chapters on Public Information Films, Nigel Kneale, David Rudkin, M. R. James and well, once again many more…
If you should fancy a wander amongst the patterns under the plough you may well find that these three books prove to be rather fine companions and bountiful points of reference and inspiration.
- Ether Signposts #9/52a: Folk Horror Revival And A Rising From The Furroughs
- Ether Signposts #10/52a: From the Forests, Fields and Furrows: A Folk Horor Introduction by Andy Paciorek / Where To Begin by Adam Scovell
- Ether Signposts #11/52a: A Small But Dedicated Growing Library Of Albionic Undercurrents & Folk Horror
- Ether Signposts #48/52a: A Further Addition to a Library of Albionic Undercurrents – It’s Psychedelic Baby’s Issue 2
“Musician and author Luke Haines is a curious gent and his work is an interesting example of how pop/rock can be conjoined with a certain intellectual stance and influence and still be good pop/rock songs.
Along which lines it could be considered to be “non-populist pop” (to quote the sleeve notes to The Eccentronic Research Council’s Underture 1612 album from 20121) .
The term “pop” is used as two of the bands he was involved with, The Auteurs and Black Box Recorder bothered the singles charts in the days when such things kind of still mattered, while the songs themselves are often catchy.
However, his work also seems to largely exist in a genre all of its own, one without a particular name.
It is without a name as probably something appropriately descriptive would need to be multi-layered and include the likes of One Time French Breakfast TV Indie Popstar, Brief Top Twenty-er, Musical Dada-Pantomine Villain and Pop Culture’s Hidden Undercurrents Explorer.
Which would be just a touch too long as a genre title for the racks of record stores.
As a background to the above possible genre title his band The Auteurs had a period of mainstream success in France which included Luke Haines appearing on breakfast television and Black Box Recorder’s single “Facts of Life” spent one week at number twenty in the UK singles chart. Although his work has a pop edge, it often also interacts with and explores more fringe or even experimental cultural areas, while he at times seems to position himself/be positioned as an arch observer or outsider, possibly even nemesis, to much of music and pop culture.”
“There has been a connection or few with his work and what has come to be known as hauntology…
If you consider hauntology in a more general sense to mean the present being haunted by spectres of the past then Luke Haines is probably one of the more hauntological musicians out there.
His music often seems to literally be haunted by the past – his own, society’s, culture’s and bogeymen-like figures or worries of one sort or another from previous decades.
Take the 1999 album How I Learned to Love the Bootboys by one of his previous bands The Auteurs, which he was the instigator/frontman of.
The lead track and single of the same year “The Rubettes” borrows liberally from 1970s pop (“Sugar Baby Love” by its namesakes in particular), there are marauding skinhead bootboys from a similar era, an ode to a 1950s pop rock band (the singer of whom is “dead within a year”), imbibements popular in other eras (Asti Spumante, known as a “noxiously sweet poor man’s Champagne”) and so forth.”
“Elsewhere, such as on his 2006 solo album Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop there are teddy boys discos and Vauxhall Corsas, “the three day week, half-day Wednesdays, the spirit of the Blitz” and an unsolved 1960s celebrity boxers death.”
“While in 2011 he released a concept album dedicated to 1970s and early 1980s wrestling, called in an “it does what it says on the can” manner Nine and a Half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the 1970s and early ’80s, which is a fine title and subject matter.”
“Between 1998 and 2003 Black Box Recorder, his trio with cohorts Sarah Nixey and John Moore, released three unparalleled albums which contained seething, brutally repressed, “now that the Empire has faded”, “I know what you’re doing in the afternoons”, arch Albionic pop-noir.
They often sounded as though they were singing from some kind of brutal, sneering, imaginary 1970s English hinterland.
Their work could be considered its own unique take on hauntological work’s creation of parallel worlds through a form of hazy misremembering and reinterpreting of previous eras and an associated sense of exploring resonant cultural reference points and atmospheres from the past and weaving with them to form new cultural forms and myths.”
“To a degree this connects with work that can be considered hauntological in a more conventional sense in that it puts me in mind of Rob Young’s review of a Moon Wiring Club album in Uncut magazine, where he talks of the enclosed music being “slathered in the fiction that it comes from an older, weirder England”.”
“His 2015 album British Nuclear Bunkers took him nearer to conventional hauntological territory, being a largely instrumental, Radiophonic-esque album which was recorded in part using (presumably, from his championing of them online around the time of the album’s release) cheap tuppence ha’penny synthesisers.
Aside from the album’s title, the titles of the tracks include “This Is the BBC”, “Test Card Forever”, “Mama Check The Radar at the Dada Station”, “New Pagan Sun”, “Deep Level Shelters Under London” and “Electronic Tone Poem”.”
“What he brings to hauntology-related work is a playful, sometimes outright humorous take on such things; an absurdist and dada-like exploration of occult histories.
If you should look up the definition of dada you may find that it was an art movement founded on “irrationality, incongruity, and irreverence towards accepted aesthetic criteria”,which sounds somewhat appropriate for Haines’ work and might also be used to refer to his insubordinate to the cultural status quo stance as an author in the 2009 and 2011 autobiographical books Bad Vibes and Post Everything and possibly also at points his interviewee stance.”
“Along which lines, the video that accompanies British Nuclear Bunkers features him with only somebody wearing a gorilla suit for company.
They are pictured in a largely featureless room that implies a sense of it being part of a subterranean, not known to the public Cold War interrogation centre.
The gorilla squeezes lemons and plays an analogue synthesiser while Luke Haines, dressed in what appears to be a biohazard protection suit, practises what can only be described as occult pagan yoga.”
“Haines’ 2015 album Smash the System seemed to also travel, in his own particular way, to the point at which hauntological concerns meet otherly folklore. So, for example, while there are all kinds of pop culture titles and references to the album (Marc Bolan, Bruce Lee, Vince Taylor etc.) there are also tracks called “Ritual Magick”, “Power of the Witch” and “The Incredible String Band”.
The album has an archival photograph of morris dancers as its cover image and the accompanying video for the title track shows their contemporary equivalent on a slightly worrying and unsettling bender or borderline riotous fracas in an urban capital city setting (while the song also namechecks his love of The Monkees and The Velvet Underground).
“The video also features gas masks and a tray full of shots for the Morris dancers to drink (for some reason the latter of which seems most unruly, unsettling and just a bit wrong).”
“Appropriate reference points may also include the arty-lairiness of Earl Brutus, with whom Luke Haines has at various points shared a designer and collaborator in the form of Scott King and possibly even the imagined troublesome youth cult of the film version of A Clockwork Orange from 1971.”
“…the cover to the “The Rubettes” single from 1999 travels further along this path with its depiction of genuinely unsettling folk horroresque masked men in black industrial protective weather proofs combined with Mr Punch-like outfits and masks.
They have parked their livestock van out in the countryside in the middle of nowhere and one of them peers out from the slats in its rear at the viewer with intentions that can only be far from good.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 24 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
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.
A selection of some of the recent broadcasts, reviews etc of the Audio Albion album.
Aside from the A Year In The Country connection, the below links etc are well worth a wander and peruse as, like a good jumble sale, you never know quite what else you might find when you’re rummaging.
(PS Whatever happened to jumble sales? Largely supplanted by charity shops maybe?)
“A gorgeous collage of sound myths, emboldened stories and earthly sounds; a journey through the rims and roads of Britain.” From the review at We Are Cult, which joins something of a growing selection of other A Year In The Country reviews around those parts. Visit that here.
“On Stormy Point, contains a whistle recording made in one of the caves at Alderley Edge in Cheshire, an important location in the Rural Wyrd via the popularisation of its myths in the novels of Alan Garner… The Unquiet Grave by Widow’s Weeds… a marvellous interpretation of one of the spookiest English folk songs…”
John Coulthart posted about the album at his feuilleton site, where it joins a fair old selection of other posts on A Year In The Country related work and releases. Visit that here.
“…purely acoustic rarefaction to aggregated loops, layered/solitary voices to morsels of modern folk melodies, palatable soundtrack-ish electronica to eerie nebula…” Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
“Captured in locations as diverse as a derelict workshop in Holloway, Hereford Cathedral, a flood marsh in the Roding Valley and the cavern beneath Peveril Castle, the sounds of the surroundings are then blurred and blended into newly composed musical pieces – ambient nature overlaid by ambient sound, in which the former forms the backdrop that then drives the latter along.” Dave Thompson at Spin Cycle/Goldmine
“…tutti impegnati a scandagliare prati, foreste, foreste e panorami extraurbani, ricavandone una nuova eterogenea mappatura del territorio rurale britannico, attraverso narrazioni immanenti in un lungo periodo, costellato da stille elettro-acustiche risuonanti…” Raffaello Russo at Music Won’t Save You (and an approximate English translation can be found here)
“Audio Albion is the latest brilliant release in an ongoing project to map landscape and memory through eerie instrumentals and twisted takes on folk culture.” Jude Rogers at The Guardian; in the newspaper and the piece can also be found online here.
“The haunting spectral that is ‘Winter Sands’… fashioned in twilight twinkles, its dissolving dream like palette chartering as were, mystical waterways beyond the veil, it’s here where nothing seems real, to world’s where imagination and dream collide into a perpetually shifting cortege seasoned in ghostly carousels and macabre mosaics.” Mark Losing at The Sunday Experience
“…’music and field recording map of Britain’ featuring 15 tracks that incorporate found sounds from rural walks, semi-industrials ‘edgeland’ and liminal spaces between this world and the next… The compositions often suggest unseen images and unrevealed narrative…” Ben Graham in Shindig! magazine, issue 79
And now the radio etc broadcasts:
Tracks from the album by David Colohan, Magpahi and Howlround were played on Graham Dunning’s Fractal Meat, amongst its audio scrapbooking of the likes of “sonic art and experiments, improvised music, textures and rhythms”. Originally broadcast on NTS, the show can be visited here.
Luke Sanger played a track by Bare Bones on Flatland Frequencies (and something of a welcome return for the show). The show was originally broadcast on Future Radio and can be found archived here.
Justin Watson of record label Front & Follow (always worth a look-see at what they’re putting out into the world) played tracks by Grey Frequency and Field Lines Cartographer on the Gated Canal Community Radio Show, where he was accompanied by Freak Zone and Late Junction producer Rebecca Gaskell. Originally broadcast on Reform Radio, the show can be visited here.
Talking of which… Verity Sharp played tracks from the album by Magpahi and Time Attendant on two separate episodes of BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction’s, amongst the shows around-midnight sonic adventuring and wandering. Visit those here and here.
Johnny Seven played Vic Mars’ Dinedor Hill on Pull the Plug, alongside the rather finely monikered Making Tea for Robots. Originally broadcast on Resonance FM, the show can be visited here.
The Unquiet Meadow have been wandering amongst a fair number of the various pathways of Audio Albion and over four episodes have played tracks by Magpahi, Widow’s Weeds, Vic Mars and Pulselovers. Originally broadcast on Asheville FM, the show can be visited here.
Sunrise Ocean Bender played Pulselovers’ Thieves’ Cant on the also rather finely monikered On a Satellite’s Wing episode of their radio show. Originally broadcast on WRIR, the show can be found here.
Grey Frequency’s Stapleford Hill was played on sometimes A Year In The Country fellow travellers The Séance’s phantom seaside radio show. Originally broadcast on/via Radio Reverb, Totally Radio and Sine FM, the show can be found here.
…and it was also played on the now decades longstanding On The Wire radio show (on the air since 1984, blimey again). Visit that here.
Much appreciated and a tip of the hat to everybody involved in the above. Thanks!
Audio Albion is a music and field recording map of Britain, which focuses on rural and edgeland areas. The album features work by Bare Bones, David Colohan, Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, Widow’s Weeds, Time Attendant, Spaceship, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute and Vic Mars.
Further details can be found here at A Year In The Country.
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 3 – Quatermass-esque Non Bebop Filmmaking: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 24/52
The film was written by John Carpenter but is credited to Martin Quatermass, in homage to Nigel Kneale and which also connects it to the John Carpenter co-produced and scored Halloween III (1982), the script of which was initially written by Nigel Kneale and which I have previously written about at A Year In The Country.
Prince of Darkness shares some similar preoccupations as Nigel Kneale’s work and could be seen as treading not dissimilar ground as Quatermass and the Pit, which features an ancient alien spacecraft and race that are unearthed and discovered to have been instigators/controllers of mankind’s darker urges over the ages: in both films ancient destructive, human mind and action controlling forces are awakened and the devil, dark forces and evil are given rational, scientific, physical explanations and embodiments, with these beings bearing a physical similarity to archetypal images of devils.
(In a further connection to British science fiction authors, one of the characters in Prince of Darkness is called Wyndham, which may well be a homage to The Midwich Cuckoos author John Wyndham – a book which John Carpenter would go on to adapt in 1995 when he made Village of the Damned, which had been originally adapted for cinema in 1960.)
All the above could make Prince of Darkness seem to be a quite heavy experience but I hasten to add that it is an entertaining film – well, entertaining in the sense of unsettling the living heck out of you. As John Carpenter says in one of the Blu-ray extras “I wanted to do a movie that caused a lot of unease and dread”.
Job accomplished Mr Carpenter.
The extra in question is called “Sympathy for the Devil”, which features a new interview with John Carpenter and can be found on the Scream Factory / Shout Factory Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release of the film, which if you have access to a Blu-ray player capable of playing Region A discs is well worth seeking out.
It features a sympathetic restoration and extras, particularly the new interview with John Carpenter that inform and inspire further debate rather than merely revealing or over revealing “the secrets behind the magic curtain”.
Oh and nicely done animated menu screen as well (!).
The Blu-ray cover features a newly commissioned illustration by Justin Osbourn, which pays homage to the atmosphere and era of production of the film while also lending it a certain modern tinge or edge.
(As an aside, when writing this I saw that Scream Factory have released a steelbook version of the film, the new cover illustration for which is a good capturing of the intermingling of science, technology, religion, horror, the super or preternatural etc within the film. As an aside within an aside – blimey, it’s getting to be like vinyl single covers in the 1980s with all the variants of film covers released in limited edition and the like nowadays.)
Watched now, when much of film and television is almost frantically kinetic and action filled, Prince of Darkness has a refreshing stillness of pace – although without being slow, plodding or recalling a sense of the now sometimes hard to digest rhythms of previous decades of film and television. Rather, this allows the viewer’s mind and imagination to wander.
Along which lines, in Sympathy for the Devil, John Carpenter discusses how film today “is all bebop” – referring to the style of jazz which features fast tempos and complex, rapid changes and how he considers that there are two main ways of making films: one approach which draws from German expressionist film and has a certain languid presentation which allows space and time for the viewer to “look around” and another which draws from Russian montage, where there is a rapid cutting together of images in order to keep people excited and stimulated but which can be devoid of content.
Prince of Darkness ain’t so bebop and all the better for it.
Connected to which despite it being an unsettling horror film, there is little gratuitous gore in the film.
This is in contrast to much of contemporary film and television, whether horror, thriller etc, where a very graphic presentation of such things seems to have become the norm and a form of easy, obvious and questionable form of audience stimulation.
Yes, it’s okay, we get it, between CGI and prosthetics you’ve worked out how to portray such things – the possesion of that technical ability does not mean you have to use it. There is a known part of human consciousness called imagination which does not need precise visual depicting of acts in order to create its own images and atmospheres (!).
John Carpenter also discusses in the Blu-ray extras how he had been reading a book on subatomic particles, which seems to have informed the film’s themes:
“None of this is truth. Say goodbye to classical reality because our logic collapses on the subatomic level into ghosts and shadows.” (From a lecture presentation in the film.)
That sense of reality, of our belief systems being questioned, collapsing and thrown into new light could well be the main underlying theme of the film.
The Prince of Darkness trailer via Scream Factory
An extract from Sympathy for the Devil/an interview with John Carpenter from the Scream Factory Blu-ray
The Scream Factory Collector’s Edition
The Scream Factory limited edition Steelbook
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 4/52a: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – A Curious Slice of Culture and Collisions with the Past
2) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 22/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 1 – The Sleeper Awakens
3) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 23/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 2 – “This is not a dream”
Queens of Evil, Tam Lin and The Touchables – High Fashion Transitional Psych Folk Horror, Pastoral Fantasy and Dreamlike Isolation: Chapter 23 Book Images
“There is a mini film sub-genre of pastoral fantasy, with at times elements of folk horror, wherein late 1960s and turn of the decade high fashion mixes with grown up fairytale high jinx, wayward behaviour and sometimes a step or two or more towards the dark side, all carried out in dreamlike isolation in the woods and pastoral settings.
The three main films aligned with such things are Queens of Evil aka Le Regine or Il Delitto del Diavolo (1970), Tam Lin aka The Devil’s Widow (1970) and in a more loosely connected manner The Touchables (1968).
All three of these films draw from, to varying degrees, some of the often defining themes of folk horror: being set in rural places and buildings where activities and rituals can develop or take place without easy escape to or influence from the outside world, normality and societal norms.”
“Queens of Evil’s plot follows a handsome young freewheeling hippie idealist who comes across a house in the woods after he has been involved in a road accident where a materially wealthy gent was killed.
Living in this house are three young women who take him in, charm, nurture, seduce and confuse him. Everything is rosy for a while but there is something off-kilter about the setup and he cannot quite seem to leave.”
“It is an at points chimeric fantasy which is largely set in sharply stylish but indolent, tree-inhabited period interiors and is full of late 1960s ethereal high-fashion along the lines of Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell’s work from then and also incorporating the period folkloric-meets-psychedelia imagery collecting of website Psychedelic Folkloristic and its reflection of a relatively brief point in time around the later 1960s to early 1970s when fashionability turned towards folk and pastoral concerns.”
“(In terms of) reference points it creates a sense of a gently decadent grown ups version of a tea-party in the woods, a dash of Snow White (at one point somebody says “It’s just like Snow White’s house” about the cabin in the woods), a bit more of a dash of Hansel and Gretel and its tales of leading astray, more than a touch of the earlier mentioned and loosely interconnected kidnapping and pop-art pastoral playground film The Touchables, alongside the social critique and/or dreamlike qualities of some of Czech New Wave films such as Daisies (1966) and Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970).”
It could well also be appropriate to include The Wicker Man (1973) as another reference point.
“In both films there is a similar sense of game playing, of leading a worldly innocent through a set of rituals and of differing levels of power and control in a rural setting.
Also, in common with that towering relatively modern folklore tale, apples and symbols of temptation play a part in this game.
And as with The Wicker Man, this is a tale full of its own and borrowed mythology, which seems to exist and be told in a world of its own imagining, where the outside rarely intrudes.”
“In many ways it is a story of a culture tottering right on the edge of when the utopian, carefree, sundrenched dream of the 1960s was about to fall into the darkness of its own dissolution in the following decade (Liege & Lief becomes Comus, to draw parallels with folk music’s progression at the time).”
“In terms of this loose mini sub-genre of pastoral fantasy, The Touchables is more rooted in the later part rather than the tipping point of that 1960s dream, although it does represent a world and culture which seems to have become untethered and possibly one which lacks a moral centre.
It is a very modish tale of a group of stylish sixties women who live in a huge see-through plastic bubble in the middle of the countryside who kidnap a pop star as “a temporary solution to the leisure problem” and in order make him their plaything.
“Mixed in with this are the stealing of a Michael Caine dummy, gangsters, wrestlers with rather refined aristocratic tastes, a fair bit of high-fashion styling and a fine pop-psych title song by Nirvana (the 1960s band rather than the later Seattle based grunge group).
Essentially, at heart it is a caper romp but one that is more than one remove from the mainstream and quite surreal in its setting and the mixture of elements it contains.”
“It was not a surprise to discover that The Touchables was based on a script by Donald Cammell (with a screenplay by Ian La Frenais), as in part it represents a proto, more pop-art, possibly light hearted take on Performance (1970), which he wrote and co-directed.
As with The Touchables, Performance also incorporates a theme of a popstar living in an enclosed bubble world, although its setting is in some ways more prosaic as it involves a former popstar who lives a reclusive, isolated life in a London flat rather than in a rurally set large-scale see-through plastic dome as is the case with The Touchables.”
“One intriguing aspect of The Touchables is that there is not even an attempt to explain how the stylish group of female kidnappers’ bubble or lifestyle are afforded, nor why there seems to be no outside comment or interference by mainstream society, authority etc. about their quite frankly rather unusual giant blow-up see-through home that is sitting in the middle of the countryside, complete with jukebox, canopied merry-go-round etc.”
“Tam Lin is a curious film which as with Queens of Evil and The Touchables does not easily fit into any particular mainstream genre; it is a loose modern adaptation of the traditional folkloric tale and song “The Ballad of Tam Lin”, relocated to the country home of an almost mythologically wealthy older woman which is peopled by various late 60s hipsters, hunks and prepossessing actresses of the time (including Madeline Smith, Joanna Lumley and Jenny Hanley) and soundtracked by British jazz-folk band Pentangle.”
“Hollywood legend Ava Gardner stars as that wealthy, older woman, alongside a dapper Ian McShane who plays a young man that catches her eye and Stephanie Beacham as the innocent from the world outside.”
“It was directed by Roddy McDowell, who is possibly most famous for playing the lead simian character in the Planet of the Apes films that were released from 1968 to 1973.
This was the only time he directed which is a pity as this film shows that he had considerable promise in that area.”
“The plot involves an immensely rich older lady Michaela Cazaret, gathering up hip young things to come and live, play with and amuse in her country mansion; her actions seems like a scooping up or pied piper-esque leading as she heads a convoy of cars through roads walled by pylons into her country lair.
Cue childlike games (how can a game of frisbee seem so very odd?), partying, pleasing of the senses, imbibing and so forth.”
“In Tam Lin there is a sense of playful opulence and a mod/post-mod sharpness to the style which could be compared and contrasted with say the murk, grime and tattiness of the also sub/counter-culture orientated folk horror related film Psychomania which was released in 1973.
They are separated by but a few years but are worlds apart in terms of the aesthetic style, societal/economic conditions, atmosphere and possibly optimism that they represent or portray.”
“Tam Lin was also made at a high water mark of folk rock and the returning music refrain throughout the film is traditional folk song “The Ballad of Tam Lin” from which the film takes its inspiration, performed in the film by Pentangle and which infuses and intermingles with the more conventional music score.
The film’s story follows that of its folk music forebear which with its fantastical tales underpins and layers the sense of this being an adult fairytale.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 23 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
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.
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 2 – “This is not a dream”: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 23/52
In Part 1 of this post I began to write about John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, a low budget film he made in 1987 which interweaves, layers and explores horror shocks and tropes with an alternative scientific exploration/explanation of religious archetypes, with a plot where evil takes the physical form of sentient liquid that is discovered to be what we know of as the devil and the source of evil and which has been hidden and contained for millennia.
This liquid or devil is the offspring of a mass mind which is thought to controls all matter and which is bound to an anti-matter realm or universe.
Members of a research group who are called in to investigate this liquid by a priest begin to have the same dream, which appears to be sections of a transmission and warning from the future where a dark foreboding figure appears at the entrance of the church where the liquid has been hidden, with the dream transmission telling those receiving it that they must change the events that will lead to this.
As I mention in Part 1 of this post, the film has a sparse, tense, ragged energy and contains within it an overarching sense of dread.
Within the film, the portal between the dark/evil universe and ours takes the form of a mirror, which a possessed or transformed human attempts to aid the father or devil figure’s through by reaching into.
(Some of these sections draw inspiration from sequences in Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film Orpheus – if I remember correctly in Prince of Darkness the liquid surfaces of the mirrors were created using liquid drained from the base of a steadicam.)
This crossing over appears to be ended or at least thwarted when one of the research group essentially sacrifices herself by running at the possessed human and carrying them both through into this other realm, immediately after which a priest smashes the mirror with an axe in order to destroy the portal.
However, after this resolving of the plot the main male hero character is shown as having the recurring dream transmission again, only this time it is broadcast in full:
“This is not a dream… not a dream. We are using your brain’s electrical system as a receiver. We are unable to transmit through conscious neural interference. You are receiving this broadcast as a dream. We are transmitting from the year one, nine, nine, nine. You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are seeing. Our technology has not developed a transmitter strong enough to reach your conscious state of awareness, but this is not a dream. You are seeing what is actually occurring for the purpose of causality violation.” (From the “dream transmissions” in the film.)
In this final dream transmission the shadowed figure is shown to be the member of the research group who sacrificed herself in order to stop the crossing over: it is possibly implied in this full version that the figure which is shown emerging from the church was not previously but has now become her – that their actions have not ended but merely changed the vessel from the dark universe.
After “viewing” this version the hero wakes up to find the human who earlier in the film was possessed by the liquid or devil in his bed, he screams but this is still part of his dream. The final shot shows him rising from his bed and approaching his bedroom mirror with his hand outstretched, seemingly in a manner that implies that the Anti-God’s attempts to break through to our universe are not yet at an end.
As a film Prince of Darkness leaves space for the viewer’s imagination and this lack of closure is part of that.
And as a viewing experience it also imparts a lingering sense of dread, something which is in part caused by the way in which it plays with religious archetypes, alongside the dream transmissions connecting with our associations with television transmissions: these often normally are a source of relaxation, escape and comfort but here they have invaded the dreamers (or should that be viewers?) minds and are anything but.
Here they have a spectral quality, both literally as they may well show a form of super or preternatural presence and also, as I mention in Part 1, in the way that they contain the signifiers and “spectres” of analogue television transmissions – scanlines, crackles, glitches and interference.
Which brings me to hauntological spectres…
I have mentioned at A Year In The Country before how a connection could be made between say the hauntological, spectral montage cut-ups of Ghost Box Record’s artist The Focus Group and the crate-digging turntable orientated musical montaging of say DJ Shadow or Kid Koala, with both hauntological and turntablism work often utilising and even celebrating the audio artifacts and imperfections of older media such as vinyl crackles.
(As an aside The Focus Group bring to mind a parallel world late night Open University broadcast from some indefinable past era where a bearded and bespectacled lecturer attempts to explain and demonstrate such turntablism… I feel an exclamation mark would be appropriate about now – !)
With Prince of Darkness such things are interconnected further, as the dream transmissions share an aesthetic/siginifiers (previous periods media artifacts – the aforementioned crackles, glitches etc) and unexplained nature with some of hauntology – they seem like spectres in the modern day but ones transmitted via media and technology rather than being purely supernatural in nature.
Connected to and intertwined with which, as I mention in Part 1 of this post, hauntological and some related work could be seen at times as being a form of exploring or creating modern-day magic, the mystical, the supernatural, spectres and hauntings
While Transmission 1 on DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. album from 1996 begins with what sounds as though it could be recordings of astronaut/control centre communications which as it plays is overlayed with sounds that may be the physical turning of tape, which then segues into samples from the dream transmisions from Prince of Darkness.
To be continued in Part 3…
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #205/365: The interfaces between the old ways/cathode rays; twelve spinnings from an (Electric Edenic) Invisible Ghost (Juke)Box
2) Day #207/365: The Eccentronic Research Council: modern day magic on a monthly tariff and the rhyming (and non-rhyming) couplets of non-populist pop
3) Wanderings #8/52a: Dropping Science: From Endtroducing to The Electronique Void Via Haunted Tea Rooms And Pans People
4)Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 22/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 1 – The Sleeper Awakens
“Gone to Earth is a film from 1950 directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, based on the 1917 novel by Mary Webb. It is also known as The Wild Heart in a considerably re-edited version created at the instigation of producer David O. Selznick after a disagreement and subsequent court case between the directors and him.”
“In the film Hazel Woodus, played by Jennifer Jones, is a beautiful but innocent young woman who lives in the Shropshire countryside in 1897 and is very steeped in an older more rural way of life and lore. She loves and understands wild animals and whenever she has problems, she turns to the book of spells and charms left to her by her gypsy mother.”
In some ways it is a caddish melodrama, with the untamed main female character marrying the local priest (the “good man”) but being lead astray by the archetypal baddie, the local squire.
However, while containing elements of more mainstream cinematic fare of the time it also contains a non-populist or exploratory nature presented within a populist framework.
As you watch the film you can feel it straining at its period restrictions in terms of sexuality, desire, faithfulness and respectability, accompanied by expressions and considerations of sin, acceptance, redemption and retribution…
As a film it also appears to be a forebear of later culture which would travel amongst the layered, hidden histories of the land and folklore, showing a world where faiths old and new are part of and/or mingle amongst folkloric beliefs and practices. Accompanying which, in the world of Gone to Earth (and it is most definitely its own world) the British landscape is not presented in a realist manner.”
“The film’s elements of older folkloric ways and its visual aspects combine to create a subtle magic realism in the film and the world and lives it shows, conjures and presents.
It also creates a bucolic dream of the countryside, particularly during the “Harps in Heaven” song and sequence.
In this section Hazel Woodus is pictured singing on the crest of a hill in her Sunday best dress and bonnet, accompanied on a full size harp by her father…
The song itself is reminscent of “O Willow Waly” from the 1961 film The Innocents in that it has a similar haunting quality and a purity of voice that stops and captures you in your tracks.”
“In some ways the air of not-quite-real-ness that can be found in Gone to Earth makes it seem like a forerunner to the more adult fairy tale side of the Czech New Wave (especially Valerie and her Week of Wonders from 1970 and possibly Malá Morská Víla/The Little Mermaid from 1976 and also of the style, character and imagery of a younger Kate Bush, of a free spirit cast out upon and amongst the moors.
“The connection between Kate Bush and Gone to Earth is also further entwined in that her 1993 album Red Shoes takes its title from and was inspired by Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film of the same name, which was also an influence on her 1993 film which accompanied the album The Line, the Cross & the Curve.”
“In a further interconnecting of later music, David Sylvian’s Gone to Earth album from 1986 took its name from Powell and Pressburger’s film and it is possible to trace a line from my interest in Sylvian’s work and what grew into A Year In The Country.
Towards the later 1980s I was somewhat enamoured and intrigued by his 1987 album Secrets of the Beehive and the textured, layered nature based imagery of the cover by Vaughan Oliver and Nigel Grierson working as 23 Envelope, alongside being drawn to his 1986 single taken from the Gone to Earth album, A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil. Both of these seemed to sidestep the sometimes-brash mainstream bustle of culture and attempt to create some kind of respite or repose…”
“…along which lines his and Kate Bush’s work are also linked in amongst related cultural and literal landscapes by Rob Young in his Electric Eden book from 2011, in a section also titled “Gone to Earth” which in part could also be connected back to some of the themes of Powell and Pressburger’s film:
“In the changed, materialistic Britain of the 1980s, the ideas about myth and magic, memorial landscapes and nostalgia for a lost golden age were banished to internal exile, but scattered links of the silver chain glinted in the output of certain unconventional pop musicians of the time, most notably Kate Bush, Julian Cope, David Sylvian and Talk Talk.””
Online images to accompany Chapter 22 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Afore Ye Go – A Final Visit to A Year In The Country at Late Junction, Accompanied by Explorations of Pastures New in Starburst and Revisiting a Highland Lament in Willow’s Songs
Just a brief note to say that if you should fancy a listen there is only one day left to listen to the A Year In The Country piece with Verity Sharp on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction:
“Ah well, seeing as it is May the 1st we just had to kick off with that didn’t we? It’s a tune called May Day from The Hare And The Moon. They were a band that once existed but now are they say ‘as ghosts’. Which means that they slot perfectly into a genre called hauntology and that’s something that I’m going to be exploring a little bit later on with Stephen Prince, who works under the guise of A Year In The Country and he goes seeking out what he calls pastoral otherlyness in this sceptred isle.
“You don’t have to look very far for it either. I wander how many of you were up at dawn watching your local Morris side dance as the sun came up? And forget maypoles in the imagined town of Scarfolk, children would once again be dancing around that May Pylon.
“And for me personally Beltane is the thing, that ancient Celtic tradition where you can light a big bonfire and join hands with your friends and share thoughts about new beginnings. Let us celebrate all of that tonight…”
(Verity Sharp, from the introduction to the show.)
Wander amongst the spectral fields in the company of amongst others the just mentioned The Hare And The Moon, alongside The Advisory Circle, Trader Horne and Cat’s Eyes and enter a land of imagined plenty with Neil Mc Sweeney via the BBC’s iPlayer.
Thanks again to Verity Sharp and Rebecca Gaskell for inviting me on and putting together the show.
Plus this review for the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book recently appeared in issue 448 of Starburst magazine, which was nice to see:
“…aimed fiercely at turning over soil in pastures new… if you’re already interested in folk culture and want to be astonished by how deeply its roots run, you’ll treasure A Year In The Country enormously… covers everything from folkloric film and literature to electronic music to acid folk to folk horror to the dystopian fiction of John Wyndham and the classic unearthings of Nigel Kneale to the formation of under-the-furrows record labels like Trunk, Ghost Box and Finders Keepers… there are excursions to Kate Bush and Broadcast, television shows like Children of the Stones and Sapphire & Steel, the psychogeography of the Uncommonly British Days Out books and even a visit to the gentler landscapes of Bagpuss and The Good Life.”
Thanks to Ian White and Ed Fortune for that, much appreciated.
PS The above maypole image is from the booklet that accompanies the Willow’s Songs album released by Finders Keepers records, which is a collection of 12 vintage recordings of traditional British folksongs that inspired the soundtrack to The Wicker Man.
Well worth seeking out, particularly for the wonderfully evocative version of Highland Lament and its tales of social dispossession.
- A Year In The Country / Stephen Prince at BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, with Verity Sharp
- Issue 448 of Starburst, featuring the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields review
- Willow’s Songs at Finders Keepers Records
- The Advisory Circle’s And The Cuckoo Comes at Ghost Box Records
- The reissue of Trader Horne’s Morning Way at Judy Dyble’s site
- Cat’s Eyes The Duke of Burgundy: on CD at Milan records and on vinyl at Cat’s Eyes own site
- The Hare And The Moon’s May Day, on their eponymous 2009 album, originally released on Reverb Worship
- Neil McSweeney’s Land of Cockaigne from A Coat Worth Wearing
- Verity Sharp at Twitter
- Rebecca Gaskell at Twitter
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
- A Year In The Country at Late Junction with Verity Sharp, BBC Radio 3 – Tonight 1st May 2018
- A Year In The Country at Late Junction with Verity Sharp – Archived at BBC Radio 3
- Day #3/365: Gather In The Mushrooms: something of a starting point via an accidental stumbling into the British acid folk underground (and I expect a fair few other places around these parts)
- Day #52/365: The Advisory Circle and ornithological intrigueries…
- Week #1/52: The Duke Of Burgundy and Mesmerisation…
- Day #18/365: Willows Songs
- The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book
Released today 29th May 2018.
Download available at Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon etc.
Featuring work by Bare Bones, David Colohan, Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, Widow’s Weeds, Time Attendant, Spaceship, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute and Vic Mars.
Audio Albion is a music and field recording map of Britain, which focuses on rural and edgeland areas.
Each track contains field recordings from locations throughout the land and is accompanied by notes on the recordings by the contributors.
The tracks record the sounds found and heard when wandering down pathways, over fields, through marshes, alongside rivers, down into caves and caverns, climbing hills, along coastlands, through remote mountain forestland, amongst the faded signs of industry and infrastructure and its discarded debris.
Intertwined with the literal recording of locations, the album explores the history, myths and beliefs of the places, their atmospheres and undercurrents, personal and cultural connections – the layered stories that lie amongst, alongside and beneath the earth, plants and wildlife.
Both CD editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country
Dawn Light Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold out sleeve with fold-out insert and badge.
Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes 2.5 cm badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes from the contributors, hand numbered on back.
Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £21.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 1 print, 3 x stickers and 3 x badges.
Further packaging details:
1) Cover and notes custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Contained in a matchbox style sliding two-part rigid matt card box with cover print.
3) Fully black CD (black on top, black on playable side).
4) 2 x folded sheets of accompanying notes from the contributors, printed on textured laid paper. Back of one sheet numbered.
5) 1 x print on textured fine art cotton rag paper.
5) 2 x 2.5 cm badges, 1 x 4.5 cm badge.
6) 1 x 5.6 cm sticker, 1 x 3.5 cm sticker, 1 x 9.5 by 6.5 cm sticker.
1) Bare Bones – Marshland Improvisation
2) David Colohan – On Stormy Point
3) Grey Frequency – Stapleford Hill
4) Field Lines Cartographer – Coldbarrow
5) Howlround – Cold Kissing
6) A Year In The Country – The Fields of Tumbling Ideas
7) Keith Seatman – Winter Sands
8) Magpahi – Shepsters in the Yessins
9) Sproatly Smith – Ethelbert & Mary
10) Widow’s Weeds – The Unquiet Grave
11) Time Attendant – Holloway
12) Spaceship – The Roding in Spate
13) Pulselovers – Thieves’ Cant
14) The Heartwood Institute – Hvin-lettir
15) Vic Mars – Dinedor Hill
John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 1 – The Sleeper Awakens: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 22/52
In the posts A Lineage of Spectres (Part 1 and Part 2) I mentioned how hauntology and some related work could be seen as a form of exploring or creating modern-day magic, the mystical, the supernatural, spectres and hauntings… which brings me to John Carpenter’s 1987 film Prince of Darkness.
I first watched Prince of Darkness a number of decades ago and I always remembered it as having a haunting after effect, one that in part was caused by the way in which it played with and interwove horror shocks and tropes and an alternative scientific exploration/explanation of religious archetypes which was left not fully explained or resolved and which allowed the mind to wander (and worry).
Well, where to start with this film. It is so culturally and theoretically layered that I could well be writing for the rest of the year.
First off, some background to the production of the film, a summary of the plot and some its themes…
(Warning: the following contains spoilers.)
After having worked on a number of larger budget studio films and being involved in the various conflicts and compromises that can come with such a way of funding and working, John Carpenter made Prince of Darkness as a relatively low budget film, in part as a way in which he could keep control of the story, his vision and the final resulting film.
Although low budget, this is not a typical b-movie horror film but rather it has an intriguing scientific, theoretical and philosophical underpinning.
The film focuses on a group of university students, lecturer and researchers who are called in by a priest to investigate a mysterious container of swirling green liquid which organised religion has kept hidden for many centuries.
The liquid appears to contain or generate some form of energy force that is growing in strength and activity. The research group deciphers text found next to the cylinder that seems to describe the liquid as a corporeal, physical embodiment of the devil. The liquid appears to be sentient and is broadcasting increasingly complex streams of data.
Having setting up camp in a deserted church located in a desolate part of town where the container resides, they become trapped by threatening vagrants who seem to be part of a mob controlled by the liquid (the leader of whom is played by Alice Cooper) and its power begins to be unleashed, both psychically and literally when it escapes from the container and takes over members of the research group, leading to what could be considered forms of mind control, demonic possession and transformation…
I say could be considered as in part the film is an attempt to create a new story around the roots of evil, conjoining related religious belief with a form of scientific study, explanation and the possibility that not everything can be explained by science and rationalism.
(A sense of deserted streets was a recurring theme of John Carpenter’s films, one which often seemed to invoke a sense of isolation and lurking dread in the absence, stillness and the way that it implied being amongst but at a far remove from urban civilisation.)
As the film progresses the research group discover/theorise that the liquid may be an offspring of an even more powerful mass mind that controls all matter, one that is bound into an anti-matter realm or dark mirror image of our own universe.
This mass mind is a form of anti-God, an evil force as opposed to the benevolent omnipotent God in our own universe as had been taught and hoped for by religion:
“Suppose what your faith has said is essentially correct. Suppose there is a universal mind controlling everything, a god willing the behavior of every subatomic particle. Well, every particle has an anti-particle, its mirror image, its negative side. Maybe this universal mind resides in the mirror image instead of in our universe as we wanted to believe. Maybe he’s anti-god, bringing darkness instead of light.” (From Prince of Darkness.)
Within the film’s plot the knowledge that “evil” has a literal physical form is said to have been known but hidden and suppressed by small subterranean sections of religion/the church for millennia, while the wider church chose to present evil as a more metaphysical concept and hence the guarding or hiding of this container.
This “body of evil” has also lain dormant for millennia but the film depicts its awakenings and attempts to reinstall its power in this universe and to bring its “father”, the more powerful dark force, from the mirror image or anti-matter world into our own. As mentioned previously it attempts this by taking over humans in a number of ways, psychically controlling human minds and actions and/or physically invading, transforming and possessing bodies.
(Donald Pleasance plays slightly against type in the film, taking the part of a possibly weak willed priest who appears to crumble as the threats unfold and who when told of the above possibilities in connection with the physical source and embodiment of evil gently, softly and almost plaintively says “Why weren’t we told the truth… only the corrupt are listened to now and they tell us what we want to hear”.)
Throughout Prince of Darkness members of the research group have the same dream of a shadowed figure emerging from the front of the church where they are based, dreams which seem to be nearer to transmissions than normal dreams and which have some of the aesthetic signifiers of a semi-broken analogue television signal – scanlines, crackles, interference etc.
Aside from the more conventional horror tropes and aesthetics in the film, it is in these sections in particular that the film has an unsettling and intriguingly unexplained atmosphere: they seem to be a warning or visions of a dark future event which the viewers are instructed they must change or prevent but they have a fragmentary visual, audio and transmission quality, they appear to be broadcasts but are viewed only within dreams and throughout the film until its end the “broadcasts” are interrupted before their completion when the dreamer/viewer is awakened.
In part it is the films mixing and interweaving of the above strands, its exploration of religious and scientific theories, alternative possibilities and explanations that moves the film away from being a more conventional low budget “people trapped somewhere deserted as they fight supernatural forces” horror movie into an example of cinema when it is more explorative and can stretch and intrigue the mind and imagination.
Also at the time of the film’s making John Carpenter’s work seemed to benefit and thrive from the restrictions of a low budget which appeared bring out a sort of ragged, tight, sparse, almost street like energy to his work.
To be continued in Part 2…
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 4/52a: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – A Curious Slice of Culture and Collisions with the Past
Uncommonly British Days Out and the Following of Ghosts – File under Psychogeographic / Hauntological Stocking Fillers: Chapter 21 Book Images
“Because of their titles the two books Bollocks to Alton Towers (2005) and Far from the Sodding Crowd (2007) on initial sighting could well be just another in a long line of Christmas market throwaway fodder. In fact, despite their jokey titles, some of the marketing and the paperback editions’ jokey covers featuring garden gnomes there is something more to these particular books than is often found in such things.
Essentially they are guidebooks for, as their subtitles say “Uncommonly British Days Out”; the books are documents of the authors’ Jason Hazeley, Robin Halstead, Joel Morris and Alex Morris’ wanderings to often small, individual or family-run museums, visitor centres, follies, unofficial non-tours of television series recording locations, neglected or unloved public art, bygone defence of the realm installations and the like…
Generally they focus on attractions and places to visit that are off the beaten track, that seem in part to hark back to a gentler, more communally-spirited, sometimes progressive time or ethos and as they progress the books become an exploration of a semi-lost or overlooked British landscape and its cultural markers.”
“One of the defining characteristics of hauntology is:
“Music and culture that draws from and examines a sense of loss of a post war utopian, progressive, modern(ist?) future that was never quite reached.”
In many ways that seems to be a subtly underlying theme of the Uncommonly British Days Out books; they are imbued with a quiet anger at the loss of what in some ways could be seen to be terribly British decency and politeness but could actually be seen to be an ire at the steam rolling, this way or the high way tendencies of the modern (but dominantly not modernistic) world.”
“There is a sense in the books of a Britain that is haunted, harried, hurried by some kind of potentially overwhelming loss but wherein there are little corners or enclaves of individuality, resistance and eccentricities.
At one point the text says “You are following the ghost of something interesting, and it left ages ago.”
“The artists that came to be labelled hauntological were suffused with an overwhelming melancholy… In hauntological music there is an implicit acknowledgement that the hopes created by postwar electronica or by the euphoric dance music of the 1990s have evaporated – not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible. Yet at the same time, the music constitutes a refusal to give up on the desire for the future. This refusal gives the melancholia a political dimension, because it amounts to a failure to accommodate to the closed horizons of capitalist realism.”
His observations could well describe much of both the spirit of these books and the people and places they feature in their pages. Yes, within the books such views are filtered through a more mainstream and humorous lens and language than Mark Fisher’s but there is nothing wrong with a good old laugh or two.”
“At the point of writing the paperback editions of the books are still in print. If you should buy those then at some point a small fraction of the cover cost will hopefully work its way to the author.
However, the hardback editions seem more in keeping with the spirit of the text. Particularly the first book and its depiction of a wood framed Morris Minor car on a white sea edge clifftop, with a classic seaside striped lighthouse just visible in the distance. As with the books in general it seems to conjure a quiet sense of melancholy without being chocolate box-like.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 21 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Throughout the year Chris Lambert, author of amongst other works Tales from the Black Meadow, is planning on creating four mixes which each explore 13 chapters of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.
They will include a selection of music tracks, trailers, clips from the book etc which in various ways connect with and reflect the wanderings in the book.
And rather fine it is. At points it made me laugh out loud, at other times it was good to revisit some old audio friends, at others just to be able to step back and appreciate the intermingling and interweaving of tracks, styles, text and ideas.
It also made me wander if it is possible to sponsor a stile, in the same way that you see say public benches that have been sponsored by people?
I’m not sure but in the meantime, hop over the Ghost Box stile and wander the Spectral Fields with Mr Lambert…
A quiz for all the family:
While you wander the Spectral Fields, in an I-Spy manner, can you match the chapters and song titles below?
Chapters explored in the Spectral Fields Wyrd Kalendar Mix 1:
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
Songs etc included in the Spectral Fields Wyrd Kalendar Mix 1:
“We’re going to take a slightly different route…” – The Kalendar Host
I Was a Young Man – The Albion Country Band
Glistening Glyndebourne – John Martyn
Black Country Rock – David Bowie
Love in Ice Crystals – The Sallyangie
Morning Way – Trader Horne
Children of the Stones – Sidney Sager
Caged in Stammheim by Demdike Stare
Flying over a Glassed Wedge vs. The Stone Tape – Howlround
Playground Gateway – Belbury Poly
Mind How You Go Now – The Advisory Circle
Forgotten Places – Hoofus
The Magic Yard – Lubos Fiser
Loomings – Hoofus
Witch Hunt – Frog
Trailer – The Final Programme
The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water – Central Office of Information
The Be Colony – Broadcast and The Focus Group
I See, So I See So – Broadcast and The Focus Group
Noah’s Castle – Jugg
Tales from the Black Meadow (Main Theme) – The Soulless Party
The Book of the Lost – Rowan Amber Mill and Emily Jones
The Equestrian Vortex – Broadcast
Corn Rigs – Magnet
Wickerman – Pulp
Gently Johnny – Magnet
How Do – Sneaker Pimps
Searching for Rowan – Magnet
The Owl Service – Ton Alarch
The Dream of Gerontius/Penda’s Fen/Robin Redbreast – Edward Elgar
The Tomorrow People – Dudley Simpson
Red Shift Trailer – Phil Ryan
The Changes vs. The Ash Tree – Paddy Kingsland
The Bear Ghost – The Owl Service
WarGames – clip
Dancing with Tears in my Eyes – Ultravox
WarGames Theme – Arthur B. Rubinstein
Since Yesterday – Strawberry Switchblade
The Game Begins – Arthur B. Rubinstein
I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me – Nik Kershaw
Edge of the World (End Title) – Arthur B. Rubinstein
Coming Soon – The Kalendar Host
Thanks indeed to Mr Lambert for being such a helpful and informative Kalendar Host and for the work involved. A tip of the hat to you good sir.
Tales From The Black Meadow – the book (or few), the CD (or few), the project
The Wyrd Kalendar book by Chris Lambert and Andy Paciorek (published by Wyrd Harvest Press / Folk Horror Revival)
A Year In The Country – Spectral Fields – Wyrd Kalendar Mix 1; Chapters 1-13 at Mixcloud
The mix at the Wyrd Kalendar website
Tales from the Black Meadow – the book by Chris Lambert
Chris Lambert’s own writing website
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
The A Year In The Country Wandering Through Spectral Fields book
A Lineage of Spectres Part 2 – Hauntology, Hypnagogic Pop, Synthwave and the Creation of Mystical Half-Hidden Worlds: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 21/52
In Part 1 of this post I discussed how hauntology and its sense of creating parallel worlds via the hazy misremembering of past eras’ source material could be seen as being part of a broader continuum and lineage.
Part of that broader lineage or continuum could be considered to include hypnagogic pop, with which it shares some notable signifiers and cultural approaches.
The quotes below about hypnagogic pop demonstrate this, as they could well be describing hauntology:
Hypnagogic pop artists have a tendency to: “turn trash, something shallow and determinedly throwaway, into something sacred or mystical” and to “manipulate their material to defamiliarise it and give it a sense of the uncanny”. (Adam Harper, Dummy magazine)
The genre has been likened to: “sonic fictions or intentional forgeries, creating half-baked memories of things that never were—approximating the imprecise nature of memory itself” (Stone Blue Editors)
It has been described as “tak(ing) aspects of modern culture and nostalgia and transform(ing) them into new collective memories”. (Luna Vega)
Although possibly more overtly replication than refracting orientated, the music/cultural movement of synthwave which began to develop around a similar time as hypnagogic pop, could be seen as a further example of this broader lineage.
As with hauntology, both synthwave and hypnagogic pop essentially create/recreate their own parallel worlds and cultural visions which draw from filtered, sometimes reinterpreted cultural memories.
(A brief definition of synthwave from Wikipedia: “Synthwave – also called outrun, retrowave and futuresynth – is a genre of electronic music influenced by 1980s film soundtracks and video games. Beginning in the mid 2000s, the genre developed from various niche communities on the Internet, reaching wider popularity in the early 2010s. In its music and cover artwork, synthwave engages in retrofuturism, emulating 1980s science fiction, action, and horror media, sometimes compared to cyberpunk. It expresses nostalgia for 1980s culture, attempting to capture the era’s atmosphere and celebrate it.”)
In contrast to hauntology and hypnagogic pop, synthwave has a more noticeably defined and identifiable aesthetic – in particular retro futurist lightgrids and a Tron-esque aesthetic frequently appear.
As part of the above lineage of hazy parallel world misrememberings and reimagining of past eras, in terms of cinema you could also look towards the likes of Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow film, which I have written about at A Year In The Country before; it draws from 1980s film, video and music culture and has been described as a “Reagan era fever dream” and creates a sense of being some lost, almost hallucinogenic cultural artifact from a darkly refracted dreamscape vision of that era.
At points, particularly in its driving sequences and some of the lighting structures of the underground complex which are portrayed in the film, aesthetically it intersects to a degree with some elements of synthwave, although in a possibly darker and less escapistly kitsch manner.
Hauntology and hypnagogic pop tend to have more heavyweight theoretical, philosophical and cultural viewpoints either attached to or underpinning related work (sometimes by its creators, sometimes by third party observers and critics), while synthwave seems to also be a possibly more overtly purely escapist form of cultural entertainment.
Which brings me to some of the possible underlying impetuses for and/or attraction of some of such work.
The roots of the word hauntology come from in part Jacques Derrida’s observations that in late-stage capitalism (ie today and in relatively recent decades) society would be drawn to the nostalgic, the familiar and to become haunted by spectres of its own past.
Spectres is an interesting and possibly apposite word to use and it connects back to the just quoted hypnagogic pop artists’ attempt to create “something sacred or mystical”.
What hauntological work in particular seems to be in part is an attempt to reintroduce a sense of the unknown, the partially hidden, of the mystical into a world which is often focused on scientific and economic rationality which has little time for that which cannot be “logically” explained, categorised and organised by and within its own structures, theories and tenets/beliefs.
In part such attempts to reintroduce a sense of the mystical can also be connected to the confluence and interaction of otherly pastoral, wyrd or “eerie” Britain orientated work and hauntology, which as Robert Macfarlane has said could be seen as being:
“… an attempt to make sense, explain, account for and possibly act as a respite, allow refuge from and act as a bulwark against the current dominant capitalist system: in part a utilising or reconfiguring of the spectral or preternatural as a form of expression, exploration and escape from related turbulence and pressures.” (Quoting myself quoting Robert Macfarlane in The Edge Is Where The Centre Is book on Penda’s Fen.)
So, hauntology could be seen as a form of exploring or creating modern-day magic, the mystical, the supernatural, spectres and hauntings…
Which brings me to John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness film from 1987… more of which coming soon…
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #149/365: Phase IV – lost celluloid flickering (return to), through to Beyond The Black Rainbow and journeys Under The Skin
2) Day #162/365: Hauntology, places where society goes to dream, the deletion of spectres and the making of an ungenre
3) Day #183/365: Steam engine time and remnants of transmissions before the flood
4) Day #255/365: Beyond The Black Rainbow; Reagan era fever dreams, award winning gardens and a trio of approaches to soundtrack disseminations… let the new age of enlightenment begin…
5) Audio Visual Transmission Guide #9/52a: Beyond The Black Rainbow and Phase IV
6) anderings, Explorations and Signposts 2/52: Penda’s Fen and The Edge Is Where The Centre Is – Explorations of the Occult, Otherly and Hidden Landscape
7) Chapter 3 Book Images: Hauntology – Places Where Society Goes to Dream, the Defining and Deletion of Spectres and the Making of an Ungenre
8) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 20/52: A Lineage of Spectres Part I – From “Traditional” Hauntology to Hypnagogic Pop