Day #222/365: “Here be monsters”: a note on ritual – introductions to and discoveries of Summer Isles predecessors via Ritual, Old Crow and the work of an archivist, literary sometimes pop-star
A piece of writing that I have returned to a fair number of times on the way and leading up to this year in the country is Bob Stanley’s introduction to the reprint of David Pinner’s Ritual.
Ritual is the book that was in part the inspiration for what became The Wickerman… it’s story of a puritanical policeman outsider coming to investigate a murder, references to the old ways and associated rituals can be quite easily linked forward to what became it’s now much more well-known celluloid semi-offspring.
For years the book remained obscure, out of print and fetched rather large sums of money but it was relatively recently re-released by Finders Keepers Records, which includes the aforementioned introduction, A Note On Ritual.
I’m not quite sure why the introduction has intrigued me so and has caused me to return to and delve through it on repeated occasions.
In part it is maybe because it’s one of those times where the introduction makes me not sure if I want/need to read the whole book.
The introduction opens with a sense of how nature can come to almost dwarf you, how our sense of urban/modern security can easily be dismissed by the ways and whiles of nature (cue visions of the alone-ness, at the mercy of powers, forces and whims far removed from on/off switches, taps and swooshes that wandering through such landscapes can sometimes bring about).
It seems to capture and conjure up the stories and atmosphere of the novel, to summon up a sense of the potential wildness of rural life/ways and to almost exist as a thing unto itself, separate from the following pages; it is an overview of/background to a very particular, small slice of literature which dealt with and in pastoral otherlyness.
Also, it was this introduction which lead me to that other tale of village flipsides, Shena Mackays Old Crow. Though not a particularly rare book, the available copies of the version where the artwork does the story and its subject justice seem comparatively few and far between. The image to the left is one of those particular copies. A lovely, if unsettling silhouette.
Mr Bob Stanley seems to have a good eye and ear for collecting/commenting/dispensing musical work, whether it be Keeler-esque gatherings of songs for soho shenanigans, collections of swinging sixties beat gal combos, aural collations of music for a good old cup of tea and symphony or sending early missives for that great semi-lost English lost pub afternoon, British Rail ralliers Earl Brutus out into the world.
Along such lines, his Gather In The Mushrooms compilation of late 1960s/early-mid 1970s acid/psych/underground folk I think is still one of the finest, well, gatherings of such things that I have come across and indeed was one of the sparks in the undergrowth that became this particular conflagration of words and culture that is A Year In The Country. Well worth seeking out indeed.
Gather In The Mushrooms here.
Mr Stanley’s wanderings through mid-century minxes and other (not always popular/populist) popular music findings here.
Day #221/365: A Straw Bear went a-wandering; a once Berberian sound engineer follows past footsteps, other boot filling and less than but two penn’orth worth on a roll of music
I seem to have a curious ability to come across a certain kind of time-limited electronic ether funding appeal to the general public for creative projects (or crowd funding, to use the modern terminology) just after they’ve ended…
…By Our Selves was one of those, a film by Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair (who formerly collaborated on another filmic journey which involved waterways, a pedal driven swan-boat and journeys to the once games of the gods)…
…at which point I step onto another interconnected pathway for a moment or two…
I might be wrong but I expect the period we’re currently living in will be looked back upon as a time of transition as concerns the way that creative projects are funded and their creators try to keep the cupboards, if not full, at least not heading towards empty. Such forms of funding as the one used in this instance are a useful tool but also possibly one of the signs of a system that is out of balance, as the machinery/systems associated with the transmission and replication of such work has changed but the associated forms of cupboard filling have not kept pace.
This has lead to a patchwork of ways of going about such things, none of which quite address the central issue that in the current system there is access to culture via cheap (if sometimes unlicensed) forms through this new machinery but at the same time there has been a lack of building equitable, viable structures to pay for the actual core of things; the story contained in the film, album etc.
(I say cheap rather than free and mention equitable as pockets are routinely delved into/it is expected that they will be for transmission systems and machinery.)
Advance funding appeals to an audience/the general or niche public aren’t necessarily a new idea (I first came across a similar payment in advance funding system for an album a fair few spins round the sun ago and the longstanding cultural institution of Einstürzende Neubauten used a similar idea a while or so ago – as documented by Ms Danielle de Picciotto) it’s just that the technology has changed and now allows for such things to be carried out more easily…
…though ironically, in part the technology that has required the use of such systems by changing/making nolonger as viable previous models of funding, is the same as that which such systems use: the world has become heavily populated with easily accessible digital copying machines and transmission systems, which both giveth and taketh away. Or to semi-quote Mr Luke Haines, the old saying which used to be pram in the hall, art out the door has become electronic ether in the corner, art out the door…
…well, at least as applies in part to people being paid for/funding their creative work.
It would seem that the providers of said digital copying machines and their associated transmission systems/forums are filling their boots as it were, while curiously managing to avoid paying up very much at all for all the cultural input their systems receive and are made appealing and useful by (see Day #218/365 for more on such things)
Accompanying which, there is a curious contemporary and historical avoidance by institutional governing bodies in properly dealing with all this at anything like a quick-step pace (at this point I should probably say that this is not a call for draconian stamping out of particular kinds of behaviour, even if that was especially likely/practical/wished for; see putting genies back in the bottle in but a moment).
Once upon a time music could be replicated in an unlicensed manner via the whirring of ferrous reels and magnets – what was such technology for? All those millions upon millions of such things and their apparatus possibly weren’t for sending audio letter messages to aunties in far-flung climes or making “backup” copies of music you’d bought.
Although apart from the occasional largely ineffective complaint, slogan and rather fine logo, they were accepted as a legitimate part of business practise/personal use (though there was a nominal levy applied on them, which was intended for but I expect didn’t arrive at the doors of, creative working folk). Their zero and ones replacements, despite occasional equally ineffective hand-wringing calls to arms, seem thus far to have slipped through some kind of similar legislative/cultural/societal loophole but without any even nominal attempt at balancing things out.
This is also not a new story but part of an ongoing, seesawing, to-ing and fro-ing
If you look back at one of the earliest examples of when song-smithery/creative work was represented and replicated via zeros and ones, pianolas (mechanical pianos that played music recorded on hole-punched rolls of paper), you can see that initially there was little or no recompense to those who created the music. So the ruling bodies of the day imposed a levy on each roll produced that was meant to alleviate this problem and, in intention at least, meant to recompense those who created the culture which made the systems/machinery work and worthwhile.
Isn’t this part of what ruling bodies are meant to do? Mediate when systems go out of kilter/become unbalanced.
To quote a Mr Nika Aldrich:
“Technology is continuing to expand the number and quality of copies people can make, and when it gets to the point that it limits the incentive to create, Congress steps in and adjusts the balance. As they do that, it shifts the balance intellectual property laws are always trying to strike between incentives to create new content and the ability to use existing content in new ways.”
It’s pretty hard to put the genie back in the bottle, even if that should be something that the majority of people would like (which it is not I expect in this case) but you can maybe check that the benefits of the granted wishes are dealt with and passed out in an equitable manner.
(As an aside and loosely connected, the introduction of safety, pollution, working, health etc regulations/provisions/statutes after the earlier untrammelled developments of the industrial revolution in the UK meant that the population – ie those who worked in the aforementioned industries – was not all that fit to be just that, a working population. It wasn’t purely motivated via altruism – it’s hard to be a grasping capitalist when you’re drinking water polluted by your own output and your workers are too sick/injured/disgruntled to work. So governing bodies stepped in to mediate and re-balance the system, which actually meant a generally overall smoother working system for most concerned. A little common sense can hopefully go a long way.)
This page isn’t meant to be all doom and gloom mind nor is it a call for stasis or reversal. Rather it is some kind of consideration of ways in which cupboard filling can be undertaken when dreaming, story telling and pondering amongst new systems (that as said earlier, giveth and taketh) takes places. Cupboard filling that doesn’t have to hope for/is overly predicated towards the luck of a private income, the knack for grant form filling or finding a good wind of charity courtesy of its audience etc.
To roughly semi-quote myself quoting William Gibson, culture is a place where society goes to dream and so plumping up the pillows and providing a decent bed for such repose might not go amiss.
The wandering of this particular tale of footstep following is one of such routes through the currently somewhat uncleared pathways and one of the ways in which stories find a way… and so back onto that path…
So with all the above out of the way (or at least brushed to one side for the moment), By Our Selves looks like a rather fine and intriguing project and something I’m particularly looking forward to seeing once it is completed and sent out into the world.
It’s basically a film of a once Berberian sound engineer (Mr Toby Jones and also his father as his own ghost) retracing the steps of troubled poet John Clare from Epping Forest to Northamptonshire, accompanied at points by the earlier mentioned renowned scribe and wanderer (Mr Iain Sinclair) and will at its destination meet up with another renowned scribe and possible magus (Mr Alan Moore) to consider said steps.
Oh and as a companion on the journey, the wanderers will be accompanied by the folkloric character of a straw bear.
What more do I need to say? I expect that’s curiosity around these parts thoroughly piqued…
Mr Andrew Kotting, the man underneath the mask indeed, here.
Other pathways amongst A Year In The Country:continue reading
Other considerations of art out the door, unbalanced boot filling and connections to/tales by Mr Alan Moore of Northamptonshire.
Mr Luke Haines.
Other dried pasture ursidaes (and another).
Other dream awakenings and enclosures.
Day #218/365: A wander around Red Shift, layers of history, the miasma/amber of cultural replications and associated reinterpretations/utilitarianisms
There’s a literary/intellectual/cultural idea that similar/interconnected things continue to happen in the same places over time, almost as though places become nodes or echo chambers for particular occurences or a kind of temporal layering occurs…
…this is something which connects with the sense of layers of stories and hidden histories (real or culturally imagined) that seems to be something a recurring theme/idea on the way up to and during this year in the country; a fascination with the pattern beneath or under the plough (see more of such things in its literary origin here, musical antecedents here and place as historically layered recording device at Day #23/365).
…which brings me to Red Shift, based on a book by Alan Garner, with a screenplay written/collaborated on by him (and the book first appeared in 1973… it’s that year again…).
Almost ten years after The Owl Service, Mr Garner’s stories were sent out into the land via the cathode rays and waves of the national broadcasting/receiving system.
Red Shift is a piece of work which shares some similarities with Penda’s Fen (see Day #191/365) a visionary take on the landscape, its older forms of worship, stories and histories, tales of coming of age, a priggish not always likeable teenage protagonist.
In it three stories set in different time periods but similar locales interweave and loosely interconnect; Roman/indigenous conflict, the English civil war loyalties/conflict (another field in England?) and modern-day teenage trials and tribulations.
When wandering through the fields of information on the work of Mr Garner, I was struck by how he works within what could be loosely described as mythological fantasy but is often concerned with stories set in and which spring forth from the land in which he lives.
In these internationally concerned times, that’s an intriguing and interesting narrowing for fantastical work, one which reminded me of that other weaver of yarns and sometimes wander through myths, Alan Moore and his Voice Of The Fire; a fictional work which also grounds itself in one specific locale over different millenia and considers links between different lives and histories over time (thanks to this gent for the awakening of memories of that particular – by me at least – semi-forgotten cultural artifact).
Until recently and in common with much of such things from that era Red Shift was only intermittently, if at all, available through non prescribed channels, not so much lost as frozen in the digital amber of blurred copies of copies of copies from (I assume) its original sending out amongst the airwaves.
Slowly though such things are wandering out from under their lock and key and along with The Changes it will be making a first more legitimate appearance in (I also assume) brushed and scrubbed form via shiny silver discs, accompanying a small selection of such things that includes Robin Redbreast and The Changes, sent forth from one nominally non-commercial cultural institution and then in time another.
(As an aside and talking of stories travelling through time and place: the routes and riles of copyright are an interesting invention/gossamer. Take Red Shift as a case study: essentially public money pays for something via a geographically specific publicly funded cultural institution, said public is then allowed to see it maybe once or twice in a very temporary time and place located manner… it is kept under lock and key but then there is change in technological availability and access, the gateways for content input to the broadcasting systems go from a handful to almost open-ended and this particular Play For Today escapes in a roundabout way onto a generally transnational modern-day public viewing forum via – I assume – an individual acting as a not-strictly-allowed, unpaid but willing cultural disseminator and replicator… said public forum is an international commercial entity which makes money from often unlicensed or paid-a-pittance for content through accompanying advertising while managing to maintain a straight face when pronouncing its “we’re all above-board, legal and what can we do about it all anyway” spiel… that particular viewing is then blocked by the essentially publicly owned geographically specific corporation that commissioned the item in the first place… who then license it to another geographically specific public cultural institution… and then the geographically specific public who originally paid for the production of said piece of culture are asked to pay to watch that which they essentially own once again… but once they have re-paid any attempts by them to disseminate it – without any personal recompense for work done – via any other channels or to other geographic locations are somewhat frowned upon… are you following at the back? It is probably not a great surprise that a system which was built during and based upon previous modes of transmission and replication – ones which were more easily controlled through lack of access to the necessary technology due to restrictions caused by cost/the requirement of a particular kind of large-scale infrastructure and which had a very limited number of gateways for content input – isn’t one which is operating in the greatest of health in days when the world abounds with – to roughly paraphrase Cory Doctorow – personal access to what are essentially digital copying machines and their associated wired and not-so-wired carrier pigeon system of cables and waves… oh and all this is before we even get to those who create the cultural content – as opposed to those who supply and maintain the associated copying machines, cables/wave/public forum transmission systems, all of which would be much less attractive as being worthy of handing over hard earned currency by the general public without said content – being suitably recompensed for their work. At this point a pause for breath may be required…)
One thing I find interesting about such things as the finally arriving legitimate release of Red Shift and its companions is the way that the associated covers present the work in a form that concurs with modern sensibilities and/or in a rather utilitarian manner.
I expect that posters etc didn’t exist/weren’t necessarily created for such things back when, so they wouldn’t be available for use but I think it would be interesting to see them packaged and presented in a manner that reflected their own aesthetic and time of creation. Not necessarily in a harking back to the past/retro manner, more in a way that captured the spirit of their original era (though contrarily having said which, I quite like the above covers and the way that cover illustrations/designs change for cultural artifacts over time and can reflect the age in which they appear; see Day #173/365)…
…and in some kind of segue back to Red Shift, cultural replication and the contrasts between items of practical/decorative use, I like the way that the castle featured in the Red Shift story/its cover was built to resemble an older ruin. A folly? Possibly but a somewhat grand one.
And still no legitimate wash and brush up of Pendas Fen?
Original (non-cover) photograph of the folly by this gent.
Limited edition of 52. Each print is signed and numbered.
Handstamped on the reverse.
Size: A6; 14.85 x 10.5 cm / 5.8 x 4.1″.
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on fine art 310gsm textured 100% cotton rag paper.
Free UK shipping.
Day #216/365: Old Joy; “This is a very special place, if you can’t see the little arrows at night you can’t get in”
This is a film which feels like the end of something. What that ending is I’m not quite sure… friendship, youthful irresponsibilities/a particular way of life, bricks and mortar music stores, American hegemony?
Possibly all those and more.
Essentially it’s the story of two longstanding friends who reunite to set off on a road trip to visit a natural hotspring in the forest. One of the two is about to become a father and seems to be stepping into a more adult world, in contrast to the other who still lives a responsibility free life as he has always done. There is a sense that there are (more or less) unspoken issues between them, that something has become frayed and is irreparable…
Their journey largely takes place in amongst the rural communities of Oregon in the US; just as there is a sense of something otherly in some of the pastoral pathways and landscapes I’ve travelled down leading up to and during this year in the country, the landscape of this foreign land seems to have a mythological quality, a natural but largely tamed/travelled idyll, which also carries with it an undertow of its own layered, hidden history (see more of such things at Day #198/365)
In many ways the landscape that the film journeys through reminded me of some depictions, culture and stories of America’s south; when they pass through more settled areas, there is a similar sense of edgeland communities, the decay of infrastructure and neglect.
The film is in many ways gentle and soporific; I use that word in a positive manner. This is ambient film making, nearer to say the ambling pace of Straight Story than the often rollercoaster ride plotting of many modern flickering pieces of story telling. In some ways it felt like a counterpart to General Orders No.9 (see Day #51/365), though Old Joy is a story which concerns itself more directly with the narratives of people and characters than that of the land.
(As an aside, it also made me think of Refueled magazine and it’s sense of heritage inspired but independent/modern culture and craftsmanship)
Also, in these days where making such filmic rollercoast rides seems to cost, oh I don’t know the health budget of small countries, this is pleasantly minimalist film making, in both fiscal and crew terms; I’m wary of being all grump and killjoy but not allowing for inflation, you could probably make over 7,000 Old Joys for the cost of one of the recent groupings of spandex clad ubermen and the credits don’t seem to involve close typed, multiple-columned armies of people. Both are but stories…
It’s a strange old world we live in.
The film was loosely based on/inspired by a now rather rare and out of print photography/fiction book by Justine Kurland and Jonathan Raymond, which you can peruse here (caution, this is a piece of work which is quite free with its depictions of non-clothed personages). The soundtrack is a rather lovely piece of almost ambient guitar work by Yo La Tengo and can be found on the soundtrack collection album They Shoot, We Score (great title I thought… ah and having a peruse in the world they also provided musical accompaniment for Junebug, wherein urban culturites meet Southern roots and outsider art, which is somewhat appreciated around these parts).
The hot springs that they visit in the film is an actual working version of such things. In its celluloid depiction it looks almost impossibly created and positioned, a small spot of roughly hewn beauty and escape in the forest but it is perfectly visitable by the general public.
And returning to a slight theme of late of alternative film posters, here are a couple of such things.
Visit “otherworldly peacefulness” here. Visit it’s home on digital disc here and it’s once-would-have-been a hard to see physical artifact outside of industry circles here. Listen to a dash of the rather lovely soundtrack here.
I’ve mentioned this before but it seems that in the 1970s there was a curious mini-genre of science fiction films, often with big budgets and stars, which dealt with population control and ecological collapse/disaster.
The main culprits? Well, that would probably be Z.P.G., Soylent Green (aka Make Room Make Room), No Blade Of Grass, Logan’s Run, Zardoz, Phase IV, Silent Running… all of which seem to somehow connect with a journey through the flipside of edenic idylls which is part of this year in the country.
Such celluloid stories seemed to vary in their depiction of what form such events would take place and included the replacing of living children with robot offspring and staged depictions of what life was once like, a rather unusual closed food chain choice, new age self-immolation rituals and an escape to the country, shipping the remaining plant life into space, the collapse of society into feudal like barbarism, advanced evolution enabling the control and shepherding of mankind and so on.
And like the previously mentioned paper encapturings of fleeting televisual transmissions and in contrast to modern times which has an almost atemporal access to most of culture at but a swoosh and a tap (see Day #212/365), these celluloid flickerings were also often rather temporary in their viewing and perusing lifespan.
Like their cathode based brethren, one of the few artifacts which would still be on the shelves as it were after a brief theatrical run were the associated novelisation/film tie-in paperback adaptations…
Here are but a few of such things…
Of that curious mini-genre there were a few that escaped novelisation and/or weren’t adapted from a pre-existing story. In the above list that would be Z.P.G. and Soylent Green. I suppose at that time that one of the few other artifacts which might still wend their way into the world after the silver screen showings were the playbills and pressbooks.
So, with that in mind, here is one such appropriate promotional item…
I suppose it’s in part the scarcity and rarity aspect of pressbooks from previous eras, an effect arising in part from them only having previously existed for circulation amongst and for particular commercial groups and purposes, that tends to make me think of them as rather pleasing items,… not dissimilar in a way to how library music has become sought after, foraged for, collected and coveted…
I suppose that the replication and commercialisation of posters and playbills was not at that point as developed an arm of entertainment, though it could be said that the freedom that was then present in the design of such items was in contrast to todays tendency towards (I assume) contract fulfilling cast line-ups in posters (again see Day #212/365).
Along which lines, Silent Running appears to have inspired one or two quite lovely pieces of modern filmic art…
The vinyl soundtrack album might be one of the other celluloid story artifacts that could escape into the world back in the 1970s… and I could probably draw a line from the above films to the scientific battle against time of The Andromeda Strain, alongside which, this is a particularly fine looking piece of vinyl…
…and finally, while we’re talking about library music (or rather afficionados, delvers and revivifiers of such things) and slightly away from this particular pages theme but interconnected with some overall themes, I suppose if needs must you could always make-do-and-imagine from household objects and consumables…
…that always makes me smile and chuckle when I see it. Thanks to this gent, these gents and this gent for that (is it just me or does the work you’ll find via those just mentioned gents abodes look like some impossible art project that never quite existed rather than something that sat on the tables and in the mother hubbards up and down the land?).
Previous pathways which may be of interest: in this secret room from the past, I seek the future. lost celluloid flickering (return to), through to Beyond The Black Rainbow and journeys Under The Skin. a curious mini-genre…. the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore.
Day #212/365: With but a tap and a swoosh; the loss of loss and paper encapturings of once fleeting televisual flickerings…
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #34/52.
It’s already becoming almost hard to remember a time when almost all of cultural output and memory wasn’t available at the touch of a button (or I suppose more strictly speaking often a swoosh and a tap in these modern times)…
For a good while now we have been able to hear the voices of dead men (to paraphrase Mr William Gibson) via recording technologies, without thinking that such capturings and passings through time were odd… increasingly we’re now able to see and hear the strummings and playings and flickering imaginings of all people at all times in an increasingly atemporal manner carried via the pipes, strings and invisible waves of “modern day magic on a monthly tariff“.
I’m wary of being “Bah, humbug, in my day it was all fields around here and you had to traipse, forage and seek out culture and that was part of the thrill” (which it was)… most developments in cultural recording and transmission have pros and cons (although I think that Mark Fisher’s idea that we are experiencing the loss of loss itself to be quite intriguing and possibly something the implications of which have not yet been fully explored or contemplated)…
There are still some cultural items which remain curiously elusive, whether through a muddle of legal rights, considered lack of commercial viability all possibly via their guardians and gatekeepers still working on or thinking in terms of previous business and dissemination models of controlled and restricted distribution coupled with relatively expensive exclusively physical replication and large scale infrastructure dependent signal transmission processes…
Anyway, once upon a time once the signals of a particular serialised story had gone on their journey through the air at a particular time and date, those stories were largely confined to memory and oral transmission. Apart from the occasional repeat, they were locked away on their ferrous reels…
Although there was a possibility that they might also be sent out into the world via the pages of mass-produced paperbacks (which often seemed to be bound for the bargain book racks and shelves of newsagents and remaindered publications shops).
For a long while, before the ubiquity of electronic recording techniques, these were quite possibly one of the only mementoes or capturings of these stories that could be had (something which is also strange today, when you can practically wallpaper, decorate and outfit yourself, life and house in merchandise for serialised stories).
So, this is a small corner of the world that remembers those (no doubt now) somewhat browned and burnt with the passing of years pages…
Well, while we’re on the subject (see Day #211/365), here’s the curiously understated cover to Mr Garner’s masterpiece. An early case of “get all the main younger cast members on the cover” over “Let’s make it a great design”, such thinking quite possibly leading to the end of classic, innovative film and television poster design in favour of American football team style line-ups… and the rise of custom produced posters to try and return well designed one-sheets to the world. Something of a classic piece of prime time television that’s not so much off the wall but through the brickwork and visiting elsewhere… very little actually happens, particularly in comparison with contemporary rollercoaster plot rides and yet it is eminently entertaining… Food for a thousand dreams and nightmares of natures bounty gaining mobility amongst a stricken mankind… Children Of The Stones scribes return in the company of a modernist droog for a touch of Arthurian archaeology… It seems that this particular set of stories is often overlooked… not quite part of the “hauntological” cannon it would seem but the opening titles and the very first scene are something to behold……pre-Scanners paranormal psychic warfare and research in the musty greys and greens of 1970s Britain. And another slightly overlooked item… hyperinflation, food riots, the breakdown of society and be-cardiganned survivalism in a reflection and consideration of possible future pathways for a strife filled Britain. This still clings to my memory, just in glimpses… there’s something that shouldn’t be there on a very dour, wet, fog shrouded British isle… Something of a cuckoo in the nest… opting for the grotesqueries of period illustration rather than stills and scenes from the transmissions… I expect it wouldn’t be quite right to not mention this particular ringstone round… huff-ity puff-ity indeed…
The bad wires… I shall say no more until… Talking of cultural items which have remained largely under lock and key for many a year (or maybe sneaking out under cover of versions frozen in the fuzzy quality of fifth generation transfers by not so legitimate digital transmissions)… arriving on a shiny disc or two reasonably soon… …the cover of said shiny disc wrapping would appear to bear somewhat of a similarity to another book penned by Mr Peter Dickinson… an intriguing racial/apartheid analogy story based around people of Celtic origin having green skins….which arrived in the world in 1973, a year which would seem to be a particularly good vintage for certain kinds of off-kilter and left-of-centre culture… …and while we’re on the subject of such things… not strictly a cathode ray tie-in edition but I’m rather partial to this version of one of The Changes trilogy books… it puts me in mind of the cover to Rob Young’s Electric Eden and links to visionary English myths and culture.
It seems in particular as though it should be an accompaniment to his The Films Of Old Weird Britain piece…
The majority of the items of culture covered here, in their transmission form, date from the late 1960s to around 1980.
Why do they stop then? Well to quote myself, it may well be in part because after then British science-fiction/fantasy television seeming to begin to try and compete with the slickness and spectacle of cinema blockbusters and in so doing seemed to lose some of its own character or mystery (see Day #183/365… also rather handy for perusing some of the flickers from the above stories)…
…or to quote Mr Julian House of otherly town planner and parish re-imagineers of that period, Ghost Box Records, the late 1970s was a point when “The landscape changed. The post-war sensibility – that essentially left-leaning utopian sensibility that created things like the Radiophonic Workshop – was chopped off at that point.” (see Day #205/365).
And while I’m talking about such things spectral and hauntological… the televisual adapatation on the left arrived after that cut-off point but I rather like the somewhat sinister geometry of this book version…
Previous pathways: Quatermass. The Twilight Language of Mr Nigel Kneale. The bad wires. Celluloid flickerings from an otherly Albion. Ghosts Of My Life. The changing shadows of Mr John Wyndham. Remnants of transmissions before the flood. Lonely stones. Spinnings from the Ghost (Juke)box.
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #33/52.
As I think I’ve mentioned around these parts before, many years ago (many indeed), I think I first came across the work of Alan Garner via having part of the book The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen read to me at my then institute of learning (if memory serves correctly, the imparter of knowledge in question would read part way through a book and then stop, hoping that we were intrigued enough by the story to go and find the book and keep reading… a somewhat cunning ploy to instill a fascination and yearning for the printed word).
Around the same time I seemed to come across/be introduced to in a similar manner a fair few other books which took as their setting otherly/supernatural/mythological takes on English garden idylls, the landscape and edgelands (well, dumps as they were known then)…
As the years have gone by I’m not quite sure which I read and which I just think I did… some of them have become mixed up in my memory: Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Secret Garden are particularly intermixed, Marianne’s Dreams which became Escape Into Night upon transmission through the airwaves and then Paperhouse via celluliod (see Day #79/365) also strikes a bell but I’m not sure if I actually read it or just its cover seems familar… remembering them via such transmissions may have come to make me think that I’d sat down and perused their pages…
…all seemed to promise late night journeys into other lands, accessed via the backs of wardrobes in the walls of gardens where we feel secure… more than a little intriguing and irresistible back then (and now?).
That perusing is something that I’ve thought about/planned on doing/re-doing but I’m not sure if I want to ruin the memory of being read a story about mythological stone related goings on in a newly built school extension building (which even to this day, seems like a curious juxtaposition of the old and the new)… I’m not sure if I would be able to recalibrate myself correctly to appreciate them now (see Day #33/365 for more on such things).
But I still find myself drawn to them. In particular the cover art and the way it sums up and reflects the time of its arrival in the world and the travel of their stories through time (and see Day #176/365 for more on those such things).
…and while we’re talking of curious things and juxtapositions between the old and the new, when searching for those aforementioned book covers, I came across a recent somewhat “posh” reissue of The Owl Service. It would require the breaking open of a piggy bank or two to be its owner but it’s looks like a lovely and lovingly created edition… the illustration of the owl design being cut out makes me think of the impossible glamour (in the modern-day and archaic sense of the word?) of Gillian Hills character from the series having tumbled forward through the years and then stumbled into the here and now, changed and reinterpreted via contemporary minds and the pen and paper tools of new fangled adding/counting machines.
…and while we’re on the subject of she who would be flowers, stumbling upon this (left) made me think of the glorious days when jumble sales and charity shops still seemed to hold the promise of unique, hard sought finds… ah, we can but dream.
Some other owl flightways and pathways:
Early morning sustenance amongst the ruins: here.
Construct your very own nocturnal strigiform here.
Debates around the existence/non-existence and visitations of spectres here.
More on precious crockery here.
Audiological namesakes via Day #30/365.
Tomato soap and lonely stones at Day #202/365.
Limited edition of 52. Each print is signed and numbered.
59.4cm x 21 cm / 23.4″ x 8.3″.
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 100% cotton fine art paper.
Ships rolled, tied in coarse brown string, in a strong poster tube.
Available at our Artifacts Shop.
Day #209/365: Signal and signposts from and via Mr Julian House (#2); the worlds created by an otherly geometry
Trails and Influences: Electronic Ether. Case #28/52.
In one way or another I’ve visited the work of Julian House before around these parts a number of times (in particular Day #59/365)… but amongst the fields of zeros and ones I recently stumbled upon a place dedicated to the design work of Mr House, both Ghost Box and Intro/other commercial work, wherein it says something along the lines of “Please, no work inspired by…”.
Fair enough but as I’ve wandered towards and through this year in the country I’ve come across a fair bit of work that if not inspired by Julian House’s work, at least shares some similarities in intent/design and I think I’d like to see a corner of the ether that brought together both the signal and signposts of Mr Julian House and the work of those which points down vaguely similar pathways… this is work which often seems to make use of geometric shapes and patterns to invoke a particular kind of otherlyness, to allow a momentary stepping elsewhere…
So, along those lines, here is a snapshot of the aforementioned abode of Julian House, along with some designs that I’ve stumbled and tumbled upon along the way which wander down some similar pathways…
(I’ve been intrigued, fascinated and inspired by the Julian House produced videos for the Broadcast and The Focus Group Witchcults… album for a fair old while (see Day #33/365 for more on such things). They’re just lovely… I may well need to take a return journey to wander amongst them at some point during the pathways of this year in the country….
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
I seem to have been a-listening to Adrian Flanagan and collaborators work in one form or another for a fair few years now… from a slew of seven inches under the moniker Kings Have Long Arms through to The Eccentronic Research Council in more recent times.
Around these parts I’m not going to go overly into the themes of their 1612 Underture album overly; the album tells that story. Suffice to say this is a “one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem” which takes as its subject matter the persecution of the Pendle Witches in the early 17th century…
…and along the way it draws more than a few analogies with modern-day times; moral panics, folk devils and economic/political goings on and shenanigans then and now.
All wrapped up a kind of warm, woozy, analogue (?) synthesized Northern Electronic take on hauntological folk music, primarily voiced by a certain Ms Maxine Peake. An “electronic Smithsonian Folkways record” brought into being after a trip or two to Bardwells accompanied by the Twins Of Evil (mildly obscure but hopefully relevant musical history reference point).
If memory serves correctly, their 1612 Underture album was purchased by my good self on the day it first came out… but for some reasons I’ve only recently fully watched the accompanying short film by Klunklick… and it’s a fine piece of work.
Rather slickly done on an (I assume) shoestring and handful of pennies budget. It’s funny, moving, quite lovely. Reminded me somewhat of the likes of Chris Marker’s La Jetée in that it’s built up largely from still images (although isn’t all film really?) rather than traditional movement. Although mostly using actual personages, it’s not dissimilar in a way to some kind of semi-animated childrens program that I can’t quite put my finger on from years gone by. You could call it a fumée, to use a posh word; those comic strips that used to be put together using actors or the book adaptations of films that were made up of stills that seemed to be around quite a bit in my younger days…
Anyway, aside from that, one of the reasons that I’m wandering off on a “science factional travelogue” with The ECR is because of a rhyming couplet in their song “Another Witch Is Dead”:
“It’s a middle class vendetta, on women who are better.”
That’s just superb. It’s one of the things that I’ve found stuck in the old bonce the most on the way and during A Year In The Country. I think it’s the best class-related piece of lyricism I’ve heard for a good while. Probably since some other purveyors of sometimes-thinking-persons-pop wandered forth from the once city of steel to tell the class-tourism based story of a girl who would never get it right, ’cause when she was laid in bed at night, if she called her dad he could stop it all (and there was me thinking it was “if you’re cold your dad could stop it all” for all these years, well, you learn something new every day).
It’s nice to hear a bit of politics and consideration of class conflict/power struggles and abuses in a non-hectoring manner, in some (non-populist) pop music.
And Another Witch Is Dead is pop music, unabashedly so. Somewhere in an alternative timeline Legs And Co. are doing an interpretative dance routine to it; the band themselves can’t appear this week as it’s success and sitting comfortably in the Top 10 for a fair few weeks now means that they’re off cutting the ribbons for the opening of a chain of “16th century Holland & Barretts” somewhere in the north country, where “like all beautiful flowers, we need our rain”.
And while we’re talking about magic, spells, more recent occurrences of such things and the like (see Day #205/365) In Eccentronic Research Council’s 1612 Underture album there’s a point where they talk of mobile phone handsets and their uses as being “modern-day magic on a monthly tarrif”.
Which connects with something I seem to ponder a fair bit…
If we talk of previous eras belief systems it may well all be spirits and fairies in the woods, invisible forces and powers that we must appease, there was a small cadre of priests/prophets/enchanters etc who really knew how it all worked/had the ears of/influence on those spirits and powers and so on. All of which is now largely considered balderdash or at least looked on as quaint “sometimes a bit daft” ways of looking and thinking of the world. So now, with our modern-day magic, it works purely logically, it’s all based on science y’kno’…
“Oh it’s programming that operates via silicon chips that are built from these more or less invisible things called molecules that pass around some other more or less invisible things called electrons and then send also more or less invisible messages through the air and so on and so forth. It’s all based on fact and physics, the fundamentals of which nobody really understands but there are some very complicated, arcane theories that only a select few know and they probably do. Well, they say they do. And all the matter that makes up these little boxes and their activities, life and existence in general sprung into existence from nothing a very long time ago. Honestly, that’s what happened.”
How many atoms/angels can you fit on a pin head?
We just accept that these things work. On faith really. They do (generally). It’s an operating and belief system that works (kind of, depending on which particular rung of the ladder you’re stood on or clinging to) for a particular stage of capitalism and human history.
Is it all really any different to previous eras acceptance on faith that a particular ritual offering meant that a particular thing would (hopefully happen). We could be seen to make our own offerings today but it’s just a bit more prosaic seeming in modern times as that offering up is now often in the form of a direct debit…
…but don’t make that offering and see how long the “modern-day magic on a monthly tarriff” keeps working.
In a more secular society we have turned to other things and ways to express our beliefs and in which to look for some of meaning and transcendence in life. Bill Drummond comments in his book The 17 that those who need a lot of music today are quite possibly people who needed a lot religion in the past. There may well be something in that, some kind of continuum between past practises and rather modern ways of thinking and believing.
1612 Underture was sent out into the world in physical form via Finders Keepers and Bird Records. Find them here.
Day #205/365: The interfaces between the old ways/cathode rays; twelve spinnings from an (Electric Edenic) Invisible Ghost (Juke)Box
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #29/52.
A bit more than a couple of twirls round the sun ago there was a fine sort of interview by Rob Young (Electric Eden) with Misters Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records in Wire magazine.
I say sort of as actually it was one in a series of regular features called Invisible Jukebox where musicians and the like are played a set of pieces of music without being told what they are, asked if they know what each is and then that tends to be a starting point for various topics of conversation.
This article in particular has grabbed my imagination as it seemed to become a space that explored, expressed and encapsulated the Ghost Box world, ethos, inspirations, reasonings and so forth.
So with that we have:
1) Rob Young: (on Ghost Box Records) “...a boutique record label for a small group of artists who find inspiration in folklore, vintage electronics, Library music and haunted television soundtracks. The packaging and musical aesthetics evoke, and subtly mutate, aspects of British culture between the late 1950s and late 70s, alluding to uncanny forces underlying the era’s utopian social planning and education policies.”
2) Rob Young: “Do you think the sinister edge of your own recordings attempt to compensate for a lack of dread in modern pop?”
Jim Jupp: “I think so – it harks back to the Cold War thing… that kind of sci-fi dystopia, which probably nothing to do with social, political and environmental disasters and more to do with sci-fi scenarios.”
4) Jim Jupp: “One of the ways I use samples is to reconstruct songs, or to create songs that weren’t there.”
5) Jim Jupp: (on Boards of Canada and Position Normal); “They were very different things, but triggered the idea of memory in a kind of very un-obvious, non-nostalgic way. I still don’t think what we do, or what they do, is nostalgic. It triggers things. But it’s more like some kind of weird, unconscious therapy session… some kind of weird regression thing that actually goes back to little nooks and crannies you weren’t aware of and makes connections.”
6) Julian House: “There are things that are very impure, and I’ve never minded that sense of artifice in music. Like you say, there is something strange and folky and ancient but actually it’s manufactured by certain generations. A lot of what we receive is actually someone else’s memory and interpretation of the ancient past.”
7) Julian House: “We think about Ghost Box as a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult. And it’s often in those strange things, like the interstitial images in Hammer films, or the ‘day for night’ blue filter that was used to films those scenes in [films like] Plague Of The Zombies, it all has a power…”
8) Jim Jupp: “We often get asked about ghosts and the occult, but the ghosts in Ghost Box have more to do with memories and TV screens than real ghosts.”
9) Julian House: (continuing from the previous point); “It’s a place where television memory and the supernatural meet.”
Jim Jupp: “…we’re not really about a real occult idea, but Ghost Box explores a world which is more about the uncanny rather than the occult. It’s more about fictional spaces and meta-fiction spaces in your head which have a reality, but there’s not necessarily a ritual to access them, so it’s accessed through fiction or music. That’s how we work on that world, with those things, rather than dressing up and robes and incense.”
11) Rob Young: (On the period of 1958-1978 that Ghost Box often draws from); “Why that 1978 cut-off date?”
Julian House: “The landscape changed. The post-war sensibility – that essentially left-leaning utopian sensibility that created things like the Radiophonic Workshop – was chopped off at that point.”
12) Julian House: “What you do through exploring strange avenues of memory and old media, is you hold a mirror up to something; you’re not commenting on it.”
Sometimes you read something and it coheres a set of thoughts you’ve been having and considering. It may not necessarily directly discuss those ideas but somehow it brings strands of though together for you…
That was the case around identifying and defining certain characteristics of what has become known as hauntological culture when I read Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life (see Day #163/365), also via the thoughts and writings of Rob Young the differences between pop/folk culture and the way that folk/hauntological culture have been used forms of imaginative travel/transportation (see Days #4/365, #40/365 and #190/365).
This happened to a degree with this piece of writing; it brought together some thoughts and considerations I’d had of media transmissions and their use in serving a not dissimilar purpose to those which in the past magic and/or folkloric rituals may have done.
I’m not dismissive of either, though I am a child of an age of electronic communications rather than of magic in the traditional sense. I’ve tended to think of certain pieces/sections of culture as possessing a form of magic or casting a spell in a way but not in a way that those older terms need to be used, it’s just that they have a transportative element to them; they can create a world to step into or that draws you in.
The terms and rituals of magic, spells etc are phrases/ideas from a previous eras operating system and that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be of use but they have become marginal (and dare I say maybe a little inefficient). Although they have gained a certain exotic, otherly, touch of the forbidden currency as the years have gone by and that marginalisation by newer techniques has occurred.
As I was saying, some creative work can be transportative, encapturing, revealing and exploring hidden meaning and layers in the way that I think was the intention with some older ways and rituals; or to return to the Ghost Box chaps earlier words “a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult”.
If you should look up the definition and roots of the word occult and alongside the more ritualistic view you may also find “communicated only to the initiated, esoteric” and it’s origins come from words that meant conceal, to hide… which are concepts which could well be applied to worlds such as those created by the likes of Ghost Box Records, it’s language and slightly hidden away from/separate to the mainstream/often scarce or limited edition artifacts.
And there is something ritualistic about sitting quietly in a darkened room, alone or with others, to be transported by the flickering ghosts of (once) cathode ray or (once) flickering celluloid stories or the act of placing the emblem of a particular culture on a turntable or into its tray and letting the sounds transport or wash over you. It’s a continuum really in some ways rather than an either/or, new/old ways, rituals/transmissions.
In a more secular society we have turned to other things and ways to express our beliefs and in which to put them. Bill Drummond says in his book The 17 that those who need a lot of music today are quite possibly people who needed a lot religion in the past. There may well be something in that. Modern day methods to achieve similar results as the old ways? The symbols, rituals, representations and vessels of our interests, hopes, transportations, beliefs and faiths have changed but there may well something of the sacrament in them still.
Anyway, this is a fine, fine piece of journalism and discussion. The above quotes are but a snippet and I would highly recommend seeking it out the whole piece. You can do so in physical artifact form here, here and here or if shelf-space is restricted then you can do so via the ether here.
Various pathways around these parts on the way to Belbury Parish:
Ornithological Intrigueries. Signal and Signposts. Tales Of Geographic Peace (featuring a further interface between Mr Young and Mr Jupp). The Parish Circular.
Day #204/365: The Moon And The Sledgehammer in amongst the fields of the ether for less than a bakers dozen of teacakes…
This has been on my mind as something that I “must peruse further” for a fair while now…
It’s an early 1970s film that shows a snapshot of a family (a father, two sons and two daughters) who live in an isolated woodland English house, whose ways of living and lives have a sense of drawing from the past while living in the present; water is drawn by bucket from a well, if there is any mains electricity it’s not to be seen, they run and hand build old steam engines, the men dress like working class labourers from earlier in the 20th century (all suit jackets and hats for hard manual/engineering work), play hand-pumped organs and pianos out in the open…
I’ve tended to think of it as a sort of travelling companion with the film Akenfield, which is more a recreated but based on the stories of rural living piece of work than documentary representation but which also seems to represent some kind of early 1970s attempt to capture/recapture a disappearing world/pastoral idyll. Both seem to be in part celluloid flickers that capture a nations then (ongoing?) yearning for an imagined idyll away from the pressures and social unrest of the time…
…although in a way it’s nearer to Ben Rivers Two Years At Sea (see Day #62/365), in that it’s more a largely unarrated picturesque document of lives that have stepped to one side of “the grid” that just records its subjects lives and lets that recording tell its and their stories.
And like that film, The Moon And The Sledgehammer is a fascinating snapshot of these very particular ways of life. It feels in a way and in spirit not a million miles from an anthropological study of a group of people in some far flung tropical forest who have been left alone and apart from the advances of civilisation…
But that’s not quite the case here. The family’s life is a curious mixture of the old and the modern; there are glimpses here and there of modern day consumables, even if only glimpses…
…there is a bottle of washing up liquid that is used at the kitchen sink, a bag of Mothers Pride bread (in one of those waxed bags that now seem so evocative of another time and place). Their land seems to be littered with collapsed and foraged automobiles, from buses to cars (and which curiously are rarely mentioned or focused on in the film)…
…although there seems to have been a selective choice to have stopped moving with technological advances at some not quite defineable time somewhere between the earlier twentieth century and about 1962 (a curious looking wheeled “dirty diesel” stand alone engine is used at one time to power their equipment). Scattered around are layers of still functioning, sometimes nurtured small scale industrial equipment of a particular type and vintage that today you may only see as part of historically semi-preseverved quarry workings and the like.
Although it has a touch or more of dirt under it’s fingernails, it’s a very picturesque view of their lives, although it made me wander about how they actually fund the way they live and how they came to live how they do. Nobody is shown as having any kind of gainful employment in any traditional earning sense.
There is the occasional brief mention of the sons doing mechanical/electrical work away from the family home but very little mention of the history of the family. Apart from a police escorted trip down country lanes on a black-smoke puffing steam engine amongst the Morris Minors, we only see the family in the immediate vicininty and centre of their world…
…and I also wander what happened to the family after the film was made. There is a reasonable amount of conflict and even dysfunction shown in the film, a yearning in some family members to break free from their immediate orbit…
…having said all of which, there is also an accompanying film called Behind The Moon And The The Sledgehammer which may explain more… but contrarily I’m not sure if I want to know too much more about the film or how it was made. Part of me quite likes it existing just as a pocket of time, place and way of being all unto itself.
In a way I feel that you need to be a little wary of purely being a voyeuristic observer of such lifestyles of others (and otherly lifestyles). The Moon And The Sledgehammer walks that tightrope in a reasonably respectful manner. The family play up/mug for the camera here and there but there’s a sense that generally they want to and are overall enjoying the attention (at least in four-fifths of the family).
This is an entertaining, playful, piece of film making, a stepping into another world for just a moment or two.
Also, at the time of writing you can currently take that step for less than the price of a bakers dozen or so of teacakes (which seems to be a current form of comparative currency around these parts… see Day #199/365 for more on such things). Thanks to Mr Alex Gallagher and the good, well, folk at Folk Radio UK for their signpost towards it’s new home and seeding in the ether…
Less than the price of a number of teacakes: peruse it’s celluloid flickerings and sparks in the ether.