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Audio Albion: Audio Visual Archive 38/52

Artwork from Audio Albion –  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.

(Quoted from text which accompanies 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.

 

“A gorgeous collage of sound myths, emboldened stories and earthly sounds… This is as good a map of some of the more wonderful parts of olde Albion as could be put to record, as the tracks record sounds found and heard walking down pathways, through to the echoey caves and caverns… The geography feeds into the music and in return, the music to the geography…” From Eoghan Lyng’s review at We Are Cult.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 1 – The Cautionary Warnings of Little Red Riding Hood and The Company of Wolves: Wanderings 38/52

The origins of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood can be traced back to 10th century European folk tales, with the best known versions being based on stories written by Charles Perrault and The Brothers Grimm in the 17th and 19th centuries.

Although there are numerous variations on Little Red Riding Hood, a general summary of its plot tells of a girl who wears a red hooded cape/cloak who takes a walk from her village home through the woods to deliver food to her grandmother, having been ordered by her mother to stay strictly on the path. She is approached by a Big Bad Wolf who wants to eat her and the food in her basket. She naively tells him where she is going and as a delaying tactic he suggests she picks some flowers, which she does. The wolf then races ahead to the grandmother’s house, gains entry by pretending to be the girl, eats the grandmother and disguises himself as her.

When the girl arrives at her grandmother’s she does not initially realise that the disguised wolf is not her grandmother but rather only notices that she looks very strange. They have an exchange where she comments on this; “What a deep voice you have”, “The better to greet you with”, “What big eyes you have!”, “The better to see you with” etc and culminates in “What a big mouth you have”, “The better to eat you with”. The wolf then jumps up from bed and eats the girl whole, after which it falls asleep. Some versions end here but in others a hunter or woodcutter comes to the rescue and with an axe and cuts open the sleeping wolf, allowing the girl and the grandmother to emerge unharmed. They then fill the wolf’s body with heavy stones and when it awakens and attempts to flee the stones cause it to collapse and die.

Little Red Riding Hood can be viewed and interpreted in a number of different ways, some of which include; that it is a warning about the contrast between the safe civilised world, represented by the village and the dangers of the forest; the dangers of not obeying one’s parents; a cautionary tale about the sometimes possibly predatory nature of men and also as a rite of passage story in which a girl leaves home, enters a transitional state and by going through the events in the tale becomes a woman.

It seems to have an enduring and near ubiquitous presence and even many centuries later is still repeatedly reinterpreted and used as inspiration for film and television dramas, one of which is The Company of Wolves, a 1984 film directed by Neil Jordan who also co-wrote the screenplay with Angela Carter, basing it on her earlier short story and radio adaptation.

The film is framed by its tales possibly being the dreams of a sleeping girl in contemporary times and it contains a number of cautionary interwoven stories based loosely around Little Red Riding Hood, the mythology of wolves and werewolves, the dangers of the woods etc.

The way in which it contains a number of different stories rather than being a straightforward reiteration of its fairy tale source material connects The Company of Wolves to British horror portmanteau or anthology films, a number of which were produced in the 1960s through to the early 1980s, including Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Tales That Witness Madness (1973) and The Monster Club (1981).

Set in and around the woods and a small village in an unspecified time in previous centuries it creates its own enclosed mystical dream world, conjuring a claustrophobic fairytale forest where the sun and daylight rarely seem to enter, giant mushrooms grow, children’s toys come to life and mythological creatures roam. Tonally the film could be seen akin to a children’s film or television programme that has veered off into a much darker realm, accompanied by an aesthetic which brings to mind the Gothic horror of Hammer Horror-esque films.

The resulting film is an intriguing and curious example of British cinema and has a certain clunkiness that seemed to be an often recurring characteristic of British horror, science fiction and fantasy television and cinema of the time. That may in part be due to it attempting to compete with American Hollywood blockbuster style films in terms of special effects and ambition but it being impeded in doing so by a limited budget. Viewed today the film seems as though it may fall between two stools; it does not have the appealing lo-fi wobbly-set homespun charm of say some 1970s British fantasy television nor quite achieves the sheen and polish of its American cinematic counterparts and seems to sit somewhere between the two. This “falling between two stools” aspect is particularly noticeable in the sequences where humans transform into wolves which are somewhat unreal and unconvincing but also still retain a shocking impact and repellent visceral character (although their unconvincing nature could in part be due to a comparison with and expectations of a certain amount of realism in special effects brought about by the visual proficiency available in contemporary advanced CGI techniques).

The Company of Wolves appears to focus on the cautionary tale aspects of its source material, particularly in the manner that it repeatedly presents men as potentially highly predatory, alongside depicting the passage into adulthood of women and the trials and threats they may face as they does so in relation to male predatory behaviour.

Ultimately though The Company of Wolves version of the Little Red Riding Hood character appears to reject her elder’s warnings about the “wolves that reside in men” and the comforts and security of civilisation as when she meets in the woods somebody who declares himself to be neither a man nor a wolf, despite initially resisting she ultimately appears to join him after he has transformed into a wolf, becoming a wolf herself and fleeing into the forest with him.

It appears ambiguous about this ending as over its conclusion a voiceover by the same actress warns:

“As you’re pretty, so be wise, wolves may lurk in every guise… Now as then is simple truth, sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth.”

The Company of Wolves features a number of notable cameos, including Terence Stamp as the devil who anachronistically drives a Rolls Royce through the woods and stops to tempt a young boy/man with an enchanted potion in a manner reminiscent of the White Witch’s use of Turkish delight sweets to corrupt her victim in C.S. Lewis’  novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950). At this point Terence Stamp was in his mid-forties and in The Company of Wolves he has a striking slightly grey haired almost regal presence which appears to forebear his future standing as one of the elder statesmen of British acting.

To be continued in Part 2 (which, depending on when you are reading this, may not be online yet)…

 

Elsewhere: 

  1. The Company of Wolves trailer
  2. The Company of Wolves DVD and Blu-ray

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales Lycanthropy Part 2 – The Company of Wolves, the Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax and the Bridging of Worlds: Wanderings 39/52
  2. Portmanteau Explorations: Tales from the Black Meadow, The Book of the Lost and The Equestrian Vortex – The Imagined Spaces of Imaginary Soundtracks: Chapter 9 Book Images

 

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All The Merry Year Round: Audio Visual Archive 37/52

Booklet artwork from All The Merry Year Round.

 

All The Merry Year Round is an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore; stories we discover, treasure, are informed and inspired by but which are found, transmitted and passed down via television, film and technology rather than through local history and the ritual celebrations of the more longstanding folkloric calendar.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

Includes work by United Bible Studies, Circle/Temple (Dom Cooper of The Owl Service/Bare Bones/Rif Mountain), Magpahi, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Field Lines Cartographer, Polypores, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Pulselovers, The Hare And The Moon & Jo Lepine (The Owl Service), Time Attendant and The Séance (Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne and James Papademetrie).

“A Year In The Country… operating like some sinister rustic arts and crafts movement manifesting online via a Wi-Fi connected scrying mirror… an almanac of unearthly sonics to tide you through the winter nights.” Ben Graham writing in issue 74 of Shindig! magazine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca, In Time and Anon – Striving for the Stars in a Brutalist Retro Future and Other Near Future Tales: Wanderings 37/52

Andrew Niccol is a New Zealand born screenwriter-director, whose films often seem to wrap quite challenging issues in something of a Hollywood coating. The first film he wrote and directed was Gattaca (1997) in which the genetic modification and screening of human embryos in order to ensure that they possess the superior traits of their parents has become common, as has the genetic testing of employees. Genetic discrimination is illegal but in practice genetic profiling and discrimination is widely used by employers and society in general. Reflecting this the title of the film is based around the letters G, A, T and C which are letters used to represent the four nucleobases of DNA and are some of the molecules identified within genetic science which carry genetic information.

The use of genetic technology has led to a segregated society where those who have been born via this system, known as valids, have much better life choices, access to employment etc and those who have not are known as in-valids and tend to be relegated to menial jobs and are generally considered inferior. This aspect of the film could be seen to be both a comment on the dangers of eugenics and also a remoulding of race, class or caste based segregation:

“I belonged to a new underclass nolonger determined by social status or the colour of your skin… Now we have discrimination down to a science.”

The film appears to be set in the relatively near future or possibly an alternate timeline version of the world in years to come and creates in part a mid century modern or populuxe-esque retro-future vision that makes extensive use of real world locations, featuring modern and at times minimalist/Brutalist concrete architecture of the 1950s, alongside futuristic turbine electric-powered cars based on 1960s car models. The bar/nightclub shown in the film also has a retro cabaret-ish air that would not look out-of-place in more recent revivals of vintage style and fashion. While much of the work is done on computers this is not a society where carrying around mobile digital devices appears to be the norm, apart from small hand-held genetic testing devices which further emphasise the retro-future aspect of Gattaca by having imperfect flickering video displays.

The future that is presented appears to be both quite uniform – all the workers from different social groups dress and have their hair in similar styles – and also notably stylish. This is far from the “burning trash can” crumbling urban vision of densely populated cities in the future that is often depicted in science fiction but rather offers what appears in some ways to be a highly ordered, unbusy, sterile but also beautiful world. This is accompanied by a sense of ache or yearning to the film, that is in part a reflection of its main character’s quest and also possibly due to the arresting, evocative and distinctive nature of Michael Nyman’s score. It is in some ways a dystopia but not one that, at least if you are a valid, appears to cause all that much distress or unrest and the computer based workers at the main complex in the film seem focused, organised and not prone to say gossiping, appearing nearer to a well-dressed and well-behaved industrious but sedate ant colony.

Gattaca’s plot concerns Vincent who is an in-valid but who dreams of a career in space travel but in the normal scheme of things he would be denied this because of his genetic status and he is relegated to a menial job as a cleaner. In order to achieve his dream he has been driven to a form of identity deception known as being a “borrowed ladder” or a de-gene-erate, whereby he uses the genetic material (blood, urine, skin cells, hair etc) of a valid to gain employment at the space-flight conglomerate the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. In order to do this he has come to live in a symbiotic relationship with his valid whereby he provides for them financially at their home and his valid allows him to use his genetic material in an ongoing basis, which is necessary to avoid detection as at Vincent’s workplace every day testing of workers for their valid status via their genetic material is the norm.

(The film’s imagery also subtly reflects its world’s obsession with genetics; the intro sequence uses microscopic images of human hair and nails – which are collected by the authorities in Gattaca as a way of determining if somebody is a “valid” or not and the spiral staircase in the main appartment featured in the film is reminiscent of a DNA helix.)

Vincent’s “job interview” for his post purely involves his genetic testing via a urine test (in which he substitutes his valid’s), the results of which are considered as being indicative enough of performance and ability without any further discussion. Although he does not look like the valid whose genetic material he is using in the world shown in Gattaca in order to pass security checks etc this does not seem to matter as essentially considerations of genetics has surpassed photographs and visual ways of identifying people.

Choosing a romantic partner is also largely done via genetic testing that is carried out via for example taking a prospective mate’s found or given hair to a business which offers an analysis and screening service. At one point a character offers a potential partner a hair for testing and says “Here, take it, if you’re still interested let me know (i.e. after it has been tested to indicate genetic superiority). While a tester at a screening service who has not physically seen or met one of the character’s potential partners but still says after screening via a hair “9.3, quite a catch”, further indicating that attraction and desirability is no longer predicated on looks or personality.

In terms of the love story aspect of the film to a degree it is a classic “girl/boy from the wrong side of the tracks hides there origins and attempts to live in a higher social strata and a girl/boy from that higher social strata falls for them, discovers the truth and together they fight against unjust societal restrictions that prevent such mingling” plot, albeit in this case being from the wrong side of the tracks is not due to being born to for example an economically deprived background but rather is due to an individual’s genetic makeup.

Curiously when Vincent does finally achieve his long-held wish to go into space it seems like just another day at the office; his preparation seems to have more involved computer work than rigorous physical testing and intriguingly he and the other astronauts enter the spaceship still wearing their normal work suits rather than a space suit.

After Gattaca Andrew Nicol went onto write and direct In Time (2011), which while in some ways a genre orientated dystopian science fiction action film also essentially takes forms of social division and inequality and reimagines them. In this film, also set in a near future, people stop ageing at 25 and develop a countdown on their forearm set for a year. This counts down in real-time and when it reaches zero that person “times out” or dies. In this sense it connects with both the film Logan’s Run (1976) where everyone is destroyed when they reach 30 and also to a degree Harlan Ellison’s 1965 short story “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman'” where people have a set amount of time to live which can be revoked – also in both Ellison’s story and In Time the enforcing authorities are known as a Timekeepers and timekeepers respectively.

This not ageing past 25 aspect of the film leads to some curious and striking visual and thematic aspects of the film; a son’s mother appears to be of the same generation as him, multiple generation’s of a husbands relatives when introduced (his mother, daughter and wife) all appear to be debutantes also of the same generation.

In the film time has become the new currency and workers are paid for their labour via it. Within the city where In Time takes place there are distinctly different time zones which it costs a considerable amount of “time” currency to pass between; these are divided between a poor manufacturing area where people are literally “time poor” and an area where the “time rich” live, where people have enough time to be effectively immortal.

The plot is essentially a modern-day take on Robin Hood; Will Salas, a factory worker, is given 116 years by a man who has decided to deliberately “time out” and who explains the realities of the economic system to him as being that the rich hoard most of the time to live forever, while constantly increasing costs to keep poorer people dying:

“For a few to be immortal, many must die.”

Salas enters the richer area (via a taxi ride that literally “costs” him years to pass through different zones) and after a brief period of exploring via his new-found time rich freedom he comes under suspicion for his wealth, is arrested and his time confiscated. He then kidnaps a wealthy businessman’s daughter, flees back to the poorer area where the two bond and begin to rob time banks in order to redistribute time to the needy. These activities escalate in the value of time stolen and given away as they attempt to crash society’s economic system – which appears to happen as now time rich workers downing tools and flooding into the more affluent areas.

A noticeable but not overly referred to aspect of the film is that the forces of law and order in In Time seem curiously under-resourced, possibly as a reflection of a complacent belief that the system is unshakable and ultimately there only appears to be one timekeeper who is overly focused on or tasked with stopping Salas and his partner’s spree of robbery, rampage and wealth redistribution.

In Time shares retro-future styling with Gattaca, in particular via its depiction of futuristic electric cars that are styled on vintage automobiles (the vehicles in In Time were created from older production model modified cars). This appears to be a recurring aspect of Niccol’s film making as in the film Anon (2018) which he wrote and directed the vehicles depicted are also previous era’s models/styles. Anon also shares with Gattaca a use of real world concrete minimalist architecture – although in terms of locations Anon is not as overtly stylised.

Anon is not so much a near future film but rather an extrapolation of the modern world, digital technology and social media. In it privacy and anonymity no longer exist due to everybody having what are called biosyn implants that subject every person to a constant stream of information in their vision, they also make personal information constantly available to everybody else and it records their life down to the millisecond and the resulting information is downloaded to a vast database called “The Ether”, which the police use to find their suspects.

It has been called “an augmented reality neo-noir nightmare” (Bryan Bishop, The Verge) and it is at heart a variation on a detective thriller; the victims in a series of murders appear to have had their vision hacked and replaced with their killer’s viewpoint and the resulting investigation leads the main detective to an anonymous hacker who has somehow managed to disappear from the database.

The technological changes in society are not portrayed as being as clearly negative as in Gattaca and Anon; the stream of information is all-invasive and overbearing to a degree but most of the characters appear to find it useful rather than rebel against it, with the noticeable exception of the anonymous hacker and the technology is portrayed as being put to a good use by the detective in his investigations.

The potential problems of this technology is more shown as a threat only when it has been hijacked to make someone think that they can see things which are not there and which for example causes the detective to exit a road junction into what he thinks is a clear road but which is actually filled with traffic, causing the other cars to crash into him.

Taken as a body of work these three films (and others which Andrew Niccol has worked on such as the enclosed and staged real/virtual-world shown in the film The Truman Show from 1998) could be considered in part to be intriguing high-concept popcorn movies; they are distinctly entertaining while also exploring the effects, changes and threats that can be brought about by modern technology and innovations in a way that is not all that dissimilar to Black Mirror (2011-), the anthology television series created by Charlie Brooker, albeit in a less darkly twisted manner.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Cosmologists: Audio Visual Archive 36/52

Booklet artwork from The Quietened Cosmologists.

 

The Quietened Cosmologists is a reflection on space exploration projects that have been abandoned and/or that were never realised, of connected lost or imagined futures and dreams, the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten.

It takes as its initial starting points the shape of the future’s past via the discarded British space program of the 1950s to 1970s; the sometimes statuesque and startling derelict artifacts and infrastructure from the Soviet Union’s once far reaching space projects; the way in which manned spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit/to the moon and the associated sense of a coming space age came to be largely put to one side after the 1969 to 1972 US Apollo flights.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Includes work by Field Lines Cartographer, Pulselovers, Magpahi, Howlround, Vic Mars, Unit One, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Grey Frequency, Time Attendant, Listening Center, Polypores and David Colohan.

“(Pulselovers’ Lonely Puck)… a wonderfully serene and affectionate love note mailed out from across the outer edges of the cosmos, a transmission from a long lost and forgotten outpost if you like, twinkle toned and radiantly awash in what sounds like shimmering cosmic church bell celebrations…” Mark Barton writing at The Sunday Experience, which can be visited here and here.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Folklore on Screen, Folk Horror in the 21st Century, The Geographies of Folk Horror and Contemporary Folk Horror in Film and Media Conferences – A Return to Investigations of the Spectral Landscape: Wanderings 36/52

Late summer in the UK this year there’s something of a gathering of academic conferences that focus on folk horror, the spectral undercurrents of folklore and the landscape and so on.

They could be considered this summer’s academic research flipside of the A Midsummer Night’s Happening, Weirdshire and The Delaware Road: Ritual & Resistance events that I wrote about earlier in the year.

Anyways, I thought it would be good to gather them together, and also to place them in a lineage of earlier events which explored similar themes.

The 2019 conferences are:

Folklore on Screen, presented by the Centre for Contemporary Legend at Sheffield Hallam University on 13-14th September 2019, which is described as “A 2-day international conference, with a hauntological music event”, and is said to explore “the meaning, import and relevance of folklore in the media and its representation, communication and perpetuation”.

The events at the conference are split into different categories: Monster Mash, Ghosts in the Machine, I Want to Believe, The Haunted Generation, The Devil Rides Out, Island of Lost Souls and At the Mountains of Madness, with some of the papers being presented having titles which include Beasts, Monoliths & Witchcraft – the Unsung Nigel Kneale and The Wicker Man and the misuses of Folklore.

In a connection to less academically orientated otherly folkloric, hauntological etc work, the event also features a panel called The Haunted Generation, the members of which are David Southwell of Hookland, Andy Paciorek of Folk Horror Revival/Wyrd Harvest Press and Bob Fischer, who writes The Haunted Generation column for Fortean Times, which the panel is named after.

In an interconnected manner to that panel, one of the organisers of the conference, Diane A. Rogers, also contributed an article and was interviewed for the Folk Horror Revival: Urban Wyrd – 2. Spirits of Place book (other members of the team behind the Centre for Contemporary Legend include David Clarke, Andrew Robinson and newer member Sophie Parkes-Nield).

Also, connected to the event, Heretics Folk Club are hosting an accompanying music night featuring Sharron Kraus, Cath & Phil Tyler and Hawthonn (coincidentally, back in the first year of A Year In The Country in 2014, I wrote about a Heretics Folk Club event where Sharron Kraus performed – the photograph/collage in the middle above is from that event.)

Coming soon/about now, there is a conference at Falmouth University on 5-6th September 2019, which is titled Folk Horror in the 21st Century.

Reproduced below is some of the accompanying text from the conference:

Since at least 2010, critics and bloggers have been working to define folk horror, understand its appeal, and establish its key texts, including what has become the central triumvirate of the folk horror canon of the 1960s and 1970s—Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968), Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971), and The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973)… The 1960s and 1970s also saw a rise in folk horror texts in British literature and TV series: Robin Redbreast (1970), BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-78), Penda’s Fen (1974), Children of the Stones (1977), and Alan Garner’s novels The Owl Service (1967) and Red Shift (1973)… Critics have also begun to uncover a rich pre-history for the folk horror of the 1960s and 70s, looking back to the 19th and early 20th century fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Machen, and M. R. James. But the history of folk horror can be traced still further back, to Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare, and the mystical poetry and witchcraft plays of the seventeenth century… At the same time, directors in the 21st century have been re-inventing the genre with such new incarnations with films such as The Blair Witch Project (1999), Eden Lake (2008), Wake Wood (2009), Kill List (2011), A Field in England (2013), The Witch (2015), The Hallow (2015), Without Name (2016), Apostle (2018), and Hereditary (2018)… This conference will aim to explore and represent the ‘state of the art’ of folk horror scholarship about all periods and regions…

This conference is organised by Ruth Heholt, Dawn Keetley, Joanne Parsons and David Devanny, and its website features a rather fascinating Bibliography, some of which I’ve already read and written about such as Robert Macfarlane’s article “The Eeriness of the English Countryside”, and I expect the rest could well keep me busy for a month or few…

As with Folklore on Screen, the conference is also accompanied by a musical event; this features We Are Muffy, a duo that comprises of Nick Duffy and Angeline Morrison, who are said to spin narratives “of remembered and imagined pasts”.

(Angeline Morrison also collaborated on an album called In the Sunshine We Rode the Horses, which was released under the name Rowan : Morrison. For that she worked with Stephen Stannard of The Rowan Amber Mill – it’s something of a fine album, that has its own character but also feels like listening to some lost acid/psych folk album from the late 1960s or some point in the 1970s. I’ve written about it elsewhere at A Year In The Country and it also features in the upcoming A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways book.)

While just gone, on 29th August 2019 the Royal Geographic Society hosted a conference called The Geographies of Folk Horror: from the Strange Rural to the Urban Wyrd, a selection of accompanying text for which is reproduced below:

Over approximately the last decade, Folk Horror has seen increasing popularity in films, blogs, books and on internet fan pages. Folk Horror concerns itself with marginal and liminal landscapes that in various ways are active in the production of the horrific. Folk Horror’s landscapes are predominantly rural, coding the countryside as oppositional to modernity and capable of hosting ancient secrets ready to be revived or unearthed to the terror of the outsider… The reach of Folk Horror arguably extends beyond the rural through the Urban Wyrd, wherein the cracks in the sheen of the cosmopolitan urban let forth the ghosts of occluded pasts and disturbing practices. This session therefore seeks to bring together those interested in Folk Horror, the Strange Rural, the Gothic countryside or the Urban Wyrd.

Those presenting papers at the conference were Katy Soar, Owain Jones and its co-organisers James Thurgill and Julian Holloway. Their respective paper’s were called “Wraith-like is this native stone”: folklore, folk horror and archaeological landscapes; Horror in (English) Folk Music and the Rise of Eco-Horror as a new Theme; On the Geographies of Folk Horror; and Sounding Folk Horror and the Strange Rural.

A more recent development that has emerged [from earlier] explorations of the strange and uncanny has been the retrospective coining of ‘Folk Horror’, a strain of horror based largely on (mis)representations of pastoral geographies and the people who inhabit them as menacing, malevolent and anti-modern.” (From James Thurgill’s paper.)

Also, coming up on 30-31st July 2020 is the Contemporary Folk Horror in Film and Media Conference, which will take place at Leeds Beckett University.

This conference is being organised by Melody Blackmore and Sue Chaplin, and although the programme is yet to be announced, the conference’s name suggests it will more be focusing on contemporary folk horror, although the website and accompanying text includes references to and potential ideas for papers on films and television dramas from the 1960s and through to contemporary times:

The 1960’s and 70s folk horror canon brought the ‘Unholy Trinity’ of Witchfinder General (1968), The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973), establishing a platform for rural horror and isolated cults. There is a current folk horror revival, with films such as Kill List (2011), A Field in England (2013), The Witch (2015),and Midsommar (2019) heading the film and media popularity. But what does this mean? What cultural, political and social reflections are part of the folk horror renaissance?” (From text on the conference’s website.)

The above conferences continue a lineage of previous events and related academic research groups, some of which I have written about at A Year In The Country before, and which could be said, loosely, to explore the hauntological landscape and the undercurrents of folk/folklore.

Those earlier events include 2017’s Child Be Strange: A Symposium on Penda’s Fen, 2014’s A Fiend in the Furrows: Perspectives on Folk Horror in Literature Film and Music and The Alchemical Landscape research group at the University of Cambridge, which has hosted a number of ongoing events and discussions and focuses in part on “occultural” representations of rural, landscape and spectral work.

In a more strictly hauntological sense, in 2013 there was a one-day academic symposium at the National Media Museum organised by the Communication Culture and Media Research Group, which is part of the University of Bradford, and which focused on the legacy of philosopher Jacques Derrida, who coined the phrase/concept hauntology.

Going considerably further back, in 2003 there was a three-day academic conference on The Wicker Man called The Wicker Man: Readings Rituals and Reactions at the University of Glasgow, which lead in 2005 to the release of a book called Constructing The Wicker Man, that collected essays based on the papers presented at the conference. That in turn lead to a further academic collection of essays, The Quest for the Wicker Man: Historical, Folklore and Pagan Perspectives, that featured an intertwined set of writers and editors.

(As an aside, Constructing The Wicker Man is one of the rarer books that I have come across during the wanderings of A Year In The Country, and in that sense I would probably file it alongside the likes of Filming the Owl Service and the book version of Penda’s Fen’s script.)

There may have been earlier academic conferences etc along these lines than that 2003 one but I don’t know of them, and in some ways it could be considered something of a root or fount for all the following conferences listed in this post. It also follows what I think was the first release on DVD of The Director’s Cut (aka The Long Version) of The Wicker Man in 2002, which was one of the notable stepping-stones towards the growing popularity and exploration of folk horror etc, the flowering of which has been one of the factors which led to the hosting of the conferences listed in this post.

And why that flowering and interest? Well there are a number of possible factors, explanations and so on, some of which I wrote about earlier in the year in a post on The Disruption booklet, which documents a conversation between Andy Beckett and Roger Luckhurst on the 1975 gently post-apocalyptic television series The Changes, and also the abovementioned “The Eeriness of the English Countryside” article by Robert Macfarlane. Below I revisit some of the text and theories from those earlier posts:

Robert Macfarlane suggests in “The Eeriness of the English Countryside” that the current interest in the darker, eerie side of the landscape and pastoralism in culture may well be:

“…an attempt to account for the turbulence of England in the era of late capitalism. The supernatural and paranormal have always been means of figuring powers that cannot otherwise find visible expression. Contemporary anxieties and dissents are here being reassembled and re-presented as spectres, shadows or monsters: our noun monster, indeed, shares an etymology with our verb to demonstrate, meaning to show or reveal (with a largely lost sense of omen or portent).”

Connected to which, much of the canon of films and television that has come to be touchstones for contemporary hauntological and otherly folk work were made during the 1970s, a period when the UK experienced extended and extensive turmoil – a description which could also be applied to contemporary times.

Along which lines, in The Disruption booklet comparisons are drawn between the mid-1970s and the state of flux which British society was then in, and 2016-2017 when the conversation on The Changes in the booklet took place. It is suggested in it by Becket and Luckhurst that during that period, after the stability of the time when Britain’s Prime Ministers were John Major and Tony Blair – approximately the early 1990s until the current economic crisis began around 2007 – it was hard to predict the future, with Britain appearing to be going through a time of uncertainty.

Because of this they propose that the worries, catastrophes and the England-on-the-edge-of-disaster scenarios found in the likes of television dramas such as The Changes, The Survivors and the final Quatermass series, alongside the spectral, supernatural unearthings of The Stone Tape, as well as loosely-related, unsettling pastoral work, such as the triumvirate of folk horror films that includes Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and The Wicker Man, fit our era much better than they might have done 10 years ago:

“It feels like there has been an embrace of catastrophe across the spectrum, alarmist on the left, almost welcoming on the right. I suppose this also makes sense of us wanting to re-watch that whole strand of 1970s apocalyptic films now, and also that the culture seems compelled to remake them.”

An interconnected viewpoint on the reasons for the current interest in the confluence of wyrd folk, otherly pastoralism, hauntology etc could be that it is part of the creation of an imagined parallel world or plane of existence – one which variously allows for a break from the abovementioned “contemporary anxieties and dissents” or just because humans as a species seem to possibly uniquely be fascinated by and have a need to tell stories, spin yarns and create waking dreamscapes.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Undercurrents: Audio Visual Archive 35/52

Booklet artwork from Undercurrents.

 

Undercurrents was partly inspired by living in the countryside for the first time since I was young, where because of the more exposed nature of rural life I found myself in closer contact with, more overtly affected by and able to directly observe the elements and nature than via life in the city.

This coincided with an interest in and exploration of an otherly take on pastoralism and creating the A Year In The Country project; of coming to know the land as a place of beauty, exploration and escape that you may well drift off into but where there is also a sometimes unsettled undercurrent and layering of history and culture.

I found myself drawn to areas of culture that draw from the landscape, the patterns beneath the plough, the pylons and amongst the edgelands and where they meet with the lost progressive futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.

Undercurrents is an audio exploration and interweaving of these themes – a wandering amongst nature, electronic soundscapes, field recordings, the flow of water through and across the land and the flipside of bucolic dreams.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

 

“…the chimes of a music box, the creak of a gate, the rush of the wind, the crackle of static, the turning of pages.  Cathode hiss and transistor hum from the bottom of the lake.” Dave Thompson writing at Spin Cycle / Goldmine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The A Year in the Country: Straying from the Pathways Book – Release Date 8th October 2019

Hidden Histories, Echoes of the Future’s Past and the Unsettled Landscape

In keeping with the number of months in a year, A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways is split into 12 chapters, which travel from eerie landscapes and folk horror to the dysfunctional utopian visions of Brutalist architects via hazily misremembered cultural memories.

The book explores the wider realm of “otherly pastoralism” and its intertwining with the lost futures and parallel worlds of hauntology. It examines such varied and curiously interconnected topics as the faded modernity and “future ruins” of British road travel; apocalyptic “empty city” films; dark fairy tales; the political undercurrents of the 1980s; idyllic villages gone rogue; photographic countercultural festival archives and experiments in “temporary autonomous zones”.

The book also discusses film, television and books, including: Requiem, Prince of Darkness, The Prisoner, The Company of Wolves, Detectorists, A Very Peculiar Practice, Edge of Darkness, Day of the Triffids, Penda’s Fen, High-Rise, The Living and the Dead, Night of the Comet, In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, GB84, This Brutal World and The Fountain in the Forest, as well as music that draws from, or interconnects with, hauntological spectres and reimaginings of the past, including hypnagogic pop, synthwave and the work of Ghost Box Records, Adrian Younge, D.A.L.I., Grey Frequency, The Ghost in the MP3, DJ Shadow and Howlround amongst others.

Author: Stephen Prince. 238 pages. Paperback and Ebook. Published by A Year In The Country.

Chapter list:

1. Explorations of an Eerie Landscape: Texte und Töne – The Disruption, The Changes, The Edge is Where the Centre is: David Rudkin and Penda’s Fen: An Archaeology, The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, The Stink Still Here – the miners’ strike 1984-85 – Robert Macfarlane – Benjamin Myers’ Under the Rock: The Poetry of a Place

2. Fractured Dream Transmissions and a Collapsing into Ghosts: John Carpenter – Prince of Darkness, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Village of the Damned, Christine – Nigel Kneale – Martin Quatermass – John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos

3. Hinterland Tales of Hidden Histories and Unobserved Edgeland Transgressions: Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone – Clare Carson’s Orkney Twilight – David Peace’s GB84 – Tony White’s The Fountain in the Forest

4. Countercultural Archives and Experiments in Temporary Autonomous Zones: Jeremy Sandford and Ron Reid’s Tomorrow’s People – Richard Barnes’ The Sun in the East: Norfolk & Suffolk Fairs – Sam Knee’s Memory of a Free Festival: The Golden Era of the British Underground Festival Scene – Gavin Watson’s Raving ’89 – Molly Macindoe’s Out of Order: The Underground Rave Scene 1997-2006

5. The Village and Seaside Idyll Gone Rogue: Hot Fuzz – The Avengers’ “Murdersville” – The Prisoner – In 
My Mind – Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth Mon Amour

6. Albion in the Overgrowth and Timeslip Echoes: Requiem – The Living and the Dead – Britannia – Detectorists

7. In Cars – Building a Better Future, Peculiarly Subversive Enchantments and Faded Futuristic Glamour:
 In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway – Joe
 Moran’s On Roads: A Hidden History – Chris Petit’s Radio 
On – Autophoto – Martin Parr’s Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland – The Friends of Eddie Coyle – Killing Them Softly – Langdon Clay’s Cars: New York City 1974-76

8. Brutalism, Reaching for the Sky and Bugs in Utopia: Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal World – Bladerunner – J.G.
Ballard – Ben Wheatley – High-Rise – Peter Mitchell’s
 Memento Mori – Brick High-Rise

9. Battles with the Old Guard and the Continuing sparking of Vivid Undercurrents: 
A Very Peculiar Practice – Edge of Darkness

10. Lycanthropes, Dark Fairy Tales and the Dangers of Wandering off the Path: 
The Company of Wolves – Danielle Dax – Red Riding Hood – Wolfen – Hansel & Gretel: Witchhunters – The Keep

11. The Empty City Film and Other Visions of the End of Days – Survival and Shopping in the Post-Apocalypse:
 Day of the Triffids – Into the Forest – Night of the Comet –
The Quiet Earth

12. Universe Creation, Spectral Lines in the Cultural Landscape and Reimagined Echoes from the Past:
 Hauntology – Hypnagogic Pop – Synthwave – D.A.L.I.’s
 When Haro Met Sally – Nocturne’s Dark Seed – Beyond the 
Black Rainbow – Mo’ Wax, UNKLE, Tricky, Massive Attack, Portishead, DJ Shadow, Andrea Parker – Ghost Box Records, 
 The Focus Group, Belbury Poly – The Memory Band – The Delaware Road – Rowan : Morrison – Howlround – Mark Fisher – the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – Adrian Younge’s Electronique Void – DJ Food – Grey Frequency – Keith Seatman – Douglas Powell – Akiha Den Den – The Ghost in the MP3 – Black Channels – The Quietened Village – The Corn Mother

The book was edited and typset by Ian Lowey of Bopcap Book Services.

 

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The Quiet Earth – Loneliness and Redemption in the Empty City Film: Wanderings 35/52

The Quiet Earth is a 1985 science fiction post-apocalyptic film directed by Geoff Murphy and made in New Zealand.

In the film a scientist awakens to find himself as apparently the only person left alive in the world after an experiment he had been working on malfunctioned and it depicts how he discovers, adjusts and for a while is driven mad by this new empty world and his interactions with two other survivors that he meets.

The experiment he was working on as a part of a research group was called Project Flashlight and involved the creation of an energy grid which was intended to surround the earth and from which aeroplanes and other devices could draw power so that they would never need to land. The point at which the project malfunctioned and all life on Earth appears to have disappeared comes to be referred to as “The Effect”.

It is loosely based on the 1981 science fiction novel of the same name written by Craig Harrison and has been called an unofficial remake of the 1959 film The World, the Flesh and the Devil and also has in some ways a similar set-up to the film Z for Zachariah (2015), based on Robert C. O’Brien’s book, also of the same name. All three films depict the tensions, conflicts and difficulties of a love triangle in a largely empty post-apocalyptic world between a white male, a white female and a black male.

The Quiet Earth and The World, the Flesh and the Devil are at times quite overt in considering the effects of racial conflict and difference, whereas in Z for Zachariah the conflicts between the characters is in part more expressed via their differing faiths in religion or science and logic.

Although fairly nominally a science fiction genre film, The Quiet Earth is not a spectacle, action and special effects filled film, nor does it have a blockbuster-like pace, while it is also not slowly paced or overly arthouse-like and has a notable conventional accessibility, albeit couple with an independent film making spirit and a certain non-conventional ambiguity in terms of what has actually happened in the film and its ending.

As a whole the film is also ambiguous about whether the trio are the only survivors or have they possibly died and entered a different reality to the rest of the world:

“I get the feeling that we’re either dead or in a different universe… The Effect happened at the exact moment of death and that’s why we survived.”

It is also at a remove from a number of 1980s post-apocalyptic films such as Mad Max (1979) which are nearer to action films and often depicted warriors battling their way through an arid wasteland or desert; in The Quiet Earth the main character is not a handsome, muscled hero or anti-hero but rather something of an everyman placed in extraordinary circumstances. Reflecting this on the morning when he wakes up in a now empty world he is initially shown driving to work in a conservative suit and tie.

Along with Thom Eberhardt’s Night of the Comet (1984) it could be connected with a wider genre that is known as the “Empty City” film, although in The Quiet Earth it is the whole world which is empty and the events of the film are not purely based in urban areas.

As in Night of the Comet the post-apocalypse is largely shown as not being all that unpleasant as a world to live in, as material goods and even to a degree civilisation’s infrastructure and utilities – power etc – remain at least for a while largely undamaged and still functioning in both films. Also, in both films there are not masses of the deceased shown; in Night of the Comet the disappeared population seems to have been turned into red dust and in The Quiet Earth they have simply disappeared.

However in contrast to Night of the Comet when Zac Hobson, the main character in The Quiet Earth, realises that he can do whatever he likes in this new empty world, his resulting actions are not presented so much as purely joyful fun at the mall but rather eventually as the breakdown and dysfunction that have resulted from his loneliness and also the guilt and acceptance of his own culpability in regards to what has happened the world. There is a sense that initially it is fun to be able to “play” with all the machinery etc left behind in the world (he drives a real train as though it is a toy train etc) but ultimately such activities prove empty and the film appears to question if you will lose your sanity if there is nobody else to affirm it.

Consequently he is shown playing the saxophone down a city road at night, still dressed in his suit now coupled with a police hat, seemingly oblivious to the pouring rain. He also shoots out the television in his luxury hotel room when he becomes frustrated and annoyed by a television recording of a government official talking about the duty to carry out technological advance.

He declares “I’m taking over” and dressed in a woman’s negligee he sets up a PA to broadcast to the hotel’s grounds, which he has filled with cardboard cutouts of leaders and cultural icons (as an aside, although it looks like he’s living of a life of luxury, I did find myself wandering the likes of “What happens when he needs to change his sheets and/or all the clean ones have been used or gone mildewy?”).

Standing on the balcony overlooking the cutouts he makes a speech about dedicating his scientific knowledge to developing projects which could be used for evil purposes:

“For the common good they said… How easy to believe in the common good, when that belief is rewarded with wealth, status and power.”

And goes on to talk about how hard it is to believe in the common good when the awesome forces he has helped to create have been put in the hands of mad men (at which point the electricity supply closes down):

“I’ve been condemned to live.”.

After this and carrying out a rampage born of his frustrations and possibly self-loathing, he finally regains his balance after realising he has driven heavy industrial machinery over a child’s pushchair and even though it is empty after this he appears to find some form of redemption.

Connected to his possible redemption there are number of different possible readings of the film; the story could be read in a fairly straightforwardly if ambiguous manner or alternatively it could be that the events in the film are a nightmare that a cracked Zac has conjured or that he is in his own form of hell after attempting to take his own life, possibly due to the guilt he feels about his role in the Project Flashlight experiment and the corruption of his scientific ideals. This hell may be part of a form of atoning or punishment for the damage caused by the project he created. It is not a conventional brimstone and fire one but rather represented by an empty world where after being tormented by his loneliness he finally meets somebody who may be able to provide him with companionship and even physical comfort but she is taken from him when she is swept up by another man and he takes his life one more time.

This possible act of self-immolation in the film happens when he sacrifices his own life by driving a lorry full of explosives into a research lab, which is part of the still functioning energy grid that is creating a world threatening instability, in order to hopefully secure a future for the world and the other two people he has met, who have bonded and formed a couple. He appears to destroy the lab just as The Effect happens once again.

In the final scene he is shown as waking from this alone in another reality and an alien landscape; this could be considered a new form of hell, one in which he is likely to be forever without companionship or even the material comforts of the consumer goods left behind after the apocalypse on earth. This ending also leaves the film ambiguous about the fate of his two companions on earth and it does not tell if they have been saved to become a new Adam and Eve or will be consumed by the Earth’s rapidly growing instability.

Elsewhere:

  1. The Quiet Earth trailer
  2. The World, the Flesh and the Devil trailer
  3. Mad Max (1979) trailer
  4. Night of the Comet trailer
  5. Z for Zachariah (2015) trailer
  6. The Quiet Earth – Arrow Blu-ray release
  7. The World, the Flesh and the Devil DVD

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Night of the Comet – Shopping and Respect in “Empty Cities” at the End of the World – Part 1: Wanderings 4/52
  2. Night of the Comet – Post-Apocalyptic Positivity in “Empty Cities” at the End of the World – Part 2: Wanderings 6/52
  3. Z For Zachariah: Audio Visual Transmission Guide #45/52a

 

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From The Furthest Signals: Audio Visual Archive 34/52

From The Furthest Signals booklet artwork.

The album takes as its initial reference points films, television and radio programs that have been in part or completely lost or wiped during a period in history before archiving and replication of such work had gained today’s technological and practical ease.

Curiously, such television and radio broadcasts may not be fully lost to the wider universe as they can travel or leak out into space and so may actually still exist far from their original points of transmission and places of creation, possibly in degraded, fractured form and/or mixed amongst other stellar noises and signals.

The explorations of From The Furthest Signals are soundtracks imagined and filtered through the white noise of space and time; reflections on those lost tales and the way they can become reimagined via hazy memories and history, of the myths that begin to surround such discarded, lost to view or vanished cultural artefacts.

(Quoted from the text which accompanies the album.)

Includes work by Circle/Temple, David Colohan, Sharron Kraus, A Year In The Country, Time Attendant, Depatterning, Field Lines Cartographer, Grey Frequency, Keith Seatman, Polypores, The Hare And The Moon, Pulselovers and Listening Center.

“Sproatly Smith’s The Thistle Doll is superb dark psychedelic folk evoking a bygone age, and juxtaposing innocence and scariness in the manner of a fairy tale. Its inventive arrangement combines such instruments as flamenco guitar, toy piano, theremin and violin to maximum effect. Keith Seatman’s Curious Noises and Distant Voices is perfectly named, its machine-like clunks, whirrs and bleeps and faint snippets of background speech evoking the sounds one may overhear if wandering through some imaginary factory… The Hare and the Moon contribute a beautifully dark and atmospheric adaptation of the anonymous poem Man of Double Deed. They have set the words to a medieval-inspired, almost Middle Eastern melody, accompanying the song with an evocative soundscape… Listening Center close the album with an ambient piece that is almost otherworldly and evokes fond yet distant memories of something long lost.” Kim Harten writing at Bliss Aquamarine

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Prisoner Part 2 – Ongoing Battles and a Circle of Escape: Wanderings 34/52

Part 2 of a post on The Prisoner television series (visit Part 1 here), which tells of a secret agent who resigns, is abducted and incarcerated in a superficially pleasant isolated village, given the denomination No. 6 and does repeated battle with the authorities/his superiors who use complex and often convoluted methods to try and have him tell them why he resigned.

Throughout the series No. 6 battles with his interrogators – who as mentioned previously were a series of different No. 2s – and repeatedly asks and tries to find out who No. 1 is – i.e. who is ultimately in charge of The Village. In the final episode No. 6 rips a mask off who he thinks is No. 1 and the viewer is very briefly shown a glimpse of a face that appears to be his or at least a mirror of his No. 6’s. This was decidedly not the “resolving of the puzzle” reveal apparently expected by much of the audience and many may have missed even that it was No. 6’s own face as the face is distorted and only seen for a few seconds; apparently as result Patrick McGoohan had to go into hiding for a few days after the episode’s broadcast due to disgruntled viewers besieging his home.

Such details and the layered history of the series’ production is part of what has helped to create and maintain its ongoing cult following and fascination, something which it shares with that other cult British behemoth The Wicker Man (1973), which has had a notoriously chequered production and release history.

Accompanying which the series is open to almost endless debate, particularly due to it not providing a neatly resolved explanation as to just what had been going on and why, alongside Patrick McGoohan being often reluctant to discuss The Prisoner.

(Above left: the Dinky Toys released version of the Mini-Moke as featured in The Prisoner, which was released in the 1960s and reflecting both its rarity and the ongoing interest in The Prisoner that now tends to fetch hundreds of pounds online.)

One of the first times that he did was when he agreed to a series of interviews with Chris Rodley in 1983 which were intended to be used in a documentary called Six Into One – The Prisoner File which would have been shown on British television. These interviews were plagued by technical difficulties and Patrick McGoohan, despite agreeing to them, was a rather reticent and elusive interviewee and they and would largely be left unused in the documentary, which Patrick McGoohan disowned and apparently particularly disliked – as did Chris Rodley.

However sections of them would appear in Chris Rodley’s feature documentary In My Mind (2017), in which he explores the making of Six Into One and which he describes as:

“…a rare opportunity to try and put things right. The chance to make a new film, the film Patrick McGoohan deserves.”

The resulting documentary is a fascinating and heartfelt insight into the way in which Chris Rodley attempts to put to rest the ghosts that appear to have haunted him since his first attempt at a Prisoner related documentary proved unsatisfactory, The Prisoner in general and also Patrick McGoohan’s character and motivations in making the series.

One of the No. 2’s who attempts to break and interrogate No. 6 in the series says of him “He can make even the act of putting on his dressing gown appear a gesture of defiance” and this sense of rebellion about almost everything is a core feature of The Prisoner, something which seems to be reflected in the character of Patrick McGowan as shown during In My Mind when he seems to angrily resent even the act of needing to sign in when entering a studio for an interview and his daughter says during the documentary that as No. 6 he was not playing a part.

This is further reflected in In My Mind when McGoohan says that the general themes of The Prisoner had been with him for years, since he was a young boy when he was brought up in a very strict religious household and gone to a school with strict schoolmasters, something which he describes as “the individual little boy up against this sort of pressure” and the sense of isolation that can be felt in such a situation. He goes on to say that this is what the theme of The Prisoner is; the individual in revolt against the bureaucracy.

To a degree period footage of In My Mind shows him to be, as is his character in The Prisoner, a person of unbending will, who needs things to be just so. An “awkward” character in some ways – Lew Grade who commissioned the series is shown saying the following during In My Mind:

“Somebody once asked me ‘How do you get on with Patrick McGoohan?’. I said very easily, I have no problems with him at all. ‘Well how do you do it?’. I said very easily, I just give in to him.”

The nature and production of The Prisoner also in one way reflects that of Sapphire & Steel (1979-1982) in that it created its own unique visionary world within conventional mainstream cinema and did not provide an easy or resolved ending for its viewers. And also both its creator Peter J. Hammond and Patrick McGoohan would not go on to produce another similarly auteur like very distinctive project, although intriguingly when talking in In Your Mind McGoohan says that its concept is still rattling around in his mind.

His reluctance to talk about The Prisoner is explained by his daughter during In My Mind as being in part connected to its deliberately unresolved nature and her father wanting to leave work open to individual interpretation – that he did not wish to explain too much about its meaning nor did he believe in actors giving away their secrets. At the end of the interviews recorded for Six Into One he says that if his interviewees have understood any of it, it will be disappointing as he’s done the best to confuse them.

He also talks about The Prisoner’s connection to fairy tales:

“Of course I always loved fairy tales… I imagine most of us do, we like the fantasy, our myths, our legends, our belief that the impossible is possible – that anything can happen within the mind… (The Prisoner) had something of a fairytale about it.”

The ornate setting of Portmeirion as the series’ shooting location does indeed create an almost fairytale like aspect to The Prisoner but as with many fairy tales darkness and corruption lurk just under the surface (or not even that far) and Patrick McGoohan says in a further interview section also shown during In Your Mind that he always felt The Prisoner was designed for 1984 and so it was ironic that it was being broadcast again at the tail end of 1983.

1984 was the year chosen by George Orwell as the name of his iconic dystopian novel of the same name that was published in 1949, with 1984 depicted as being characterised by an unrelenting surveillance of the population combined with an unbending repression, control and authoritarianism.

These aspects are shared with the nature of The Village in The Prisoner, although in contrast with the grim austere urban society depicted in 1984 its inhabitants are in some ways nearer to being well-kept pampered pets within a superficially pleasant location but this conformist facade proves to be one of the ultimate fictional expressions of “the village gone bad”.

In fact the control and surveillance in The Prisoner while not always as overtly brutally applied as in 1984 is in some ways more invidious as even in their sleep The Village’s inhabitants may be having their dreams surveilled and being   subject to brainwashing and mind altering processes.

Ultimately the events in The Prisoner are shown as possibly being all part of some ongoing circle, as in its final shot there is a thunderclap and No. 6 is shown driving away on an open country road with a determined look in his eyes, repeating and mirroring the series’ opening sequence.

While this is not strictly a happy ending then it is at least one which shows that the unbending individual will eventually be free or hopefully have further moments of or a chance at freedom.

Elsewhere:

  1. The Prisoner opening sequence
  2. The Prisoner at 50 / trailer
  3. Portmeirion
  4. The Prisoner: 50th Anniversary Edition
  5. In Every Mind at Network’s site
  6. An In Every Mind review at The Unmutual – The Prisoner News Website
  7. The paperback of George Orwell’s 1984

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Prisoner – Part 1 – A Visit to a Real Life High-Definition Dream: Wanderings 33/52
  2. The Wicker Man – Notes on a Cultural Behemoth: Chapter 10 Book Images
  3. Sapphire & Steel and Ghosts in the Machine – Nowhere, Forever and Lost Spaces within Cultural Circuitry: Chapter 15 Book Images
  4. Michael Radford’s 1984 Part 1 – The Privations of an Alternative Past, Present and Future, V for Vendetta and the Last Inch: Wanderings 19/52
  5. Michael Radford’s 1984 Part 2 – Pop Music Controversies and Pastoral Escape/Non-Escape: Wanderings 20/52

 

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Echoes And Reverberations – Released

Released today 16th August 2019.

CD and download available to order at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp page.

Echoes And Reverberations is a field recording based mapping of real and imaginary film and television locations.

It is in part an exploration of their fictional counterparts’ themes; from apocalyptic tales to never-were documentaries and phantasmagorical government-commissioned instructional films via stories of conflicting mystical forces of the past and present, scientific experiments gone wrong and unleashed on the world, the discovery of buried ancient objects and the reawakening of their malignant alien influence, progressive struggles in a world of hidebound rural tradition and the once optimism of post-war new town modernism.

The album is also a reflection on the way in which areas – whether rural, urban, or edgeland – can become permeated with such tales and undercurrents, creating a landscape of the imagination where fact and fiction intertwine. The resulting layering may at times create ongoing echoes and reverberations which personally, culturally and possibly literally leave their marks on the history and atmospheres of places, with these locations becoming a source of inspiration and cultural pilgrimage.

Each track contains field recordings from one such journey and their seeking of the spectral will-o’-the-wisps of locations’ imagined or often hidden flipsides.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Pulselovers, Dom Cooper, Listening Center, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Field Lines Cartographer, Depatterning and The Heartwood Institute.


 

Dawn Rising Edition. Limited to 208 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold-out sleeve with fold-out text insert, print, sticker and badge. Limited edition of 208.

Top of CD.                                                                     Underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed by A Year In The Country using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) Folded sheet of accompanying notes on textured laid paper, hand numbered on back.
4) Print on cotton rag textured fine art paper.
5) Round vinyl-style sticker.

Tracklisting:
1) Grey Frequency: King Penda
2) Pulselovers: The Edge Of The Cloud
3) Dom Cooper: What Has Been Uncovered Is Evil
4) Listening Center: From Bull Island To Avondale
5) Howlround: Smashing
6) A Year In The Country: Not A Playground
7) Sproatly Smith: Gone Away
8) Field Lines Cartographer: Mr Scarecrow
9) Depatterning: The Ogham Stones
10) The Heartwood Institute: Ribble Head Viaduct

“A series of songs inspired by (and featuring field recordings from) film and TV locations, some iconic, some imaginary. It’s an endlessly compelling idea, the way that landscapes can become imprinted with the fictions we bring to bear on them. These tracks seek to channel that feeling, audio Polaroids of a secret cartography, and taken as a whole, this is probably the most successful AYITC album yet… The pulsing drone of Grey Frequency’s ‘King Penda’ is like the breathing of something monstrous, gradually overwhelming the cold synth arpeggio in the foreground. Dom Cooper’s ‘What Has Been Uncovered Is Evil’ similarly hints at arcane technology waiting to be activated. Conversely, the distant piano and violin of Pulselovers’ ‘The Edge Of The Cloud’ is rather lovely, and Sproatly Smith’s ‘Gone Away is a gentle lullaby for post-dystopian dreams.” Joe Banks, Shindig!

“Every fresh listen adds another layer of understanding – or, perhaps, misunderstanding – to the experience, to conjure fresh and further phantoms…” Dave Thompson, Goldmine

 

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The Restless Field: Audio Visual Archive 33/52

Artwork from The Restless Field.

 

The Restless Field is a study of the land as a place of conflict and protest as well as beauty and escape; an exploration and acknowledgment of the history and possibility of protest, resistance and struggle in the landscape/rural areas, in contrast with sometimes more often referred to urban events.

It takes inspiration from flashpoints in history while also interweaving personal and societal myth, memory, the lost and hidden tales of the land.

References and starting points include: The British Miners Strike of 1984 and the Battle Of Orgreave. Gerrard Winstanley & the Diggers/True Levellers in the 17th century. The first battle of the English Civil War in 1642. The burying of The Rotherwas Ribbon. The Mass Tresspass of Kinder Scout in 1932. Graveney Marsh/the last battle fought on English soil. The Congested Districts Board/the 19th century land war in Ireland. The Battle Of The Beanfield in 1985.

(From text which accompanies the album.)

 

Includes work by Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Bare Bones, Assembled Minds, Grey Frequency, Endurance, Listening Center, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Polypores, Depatterning, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country and David Colohan.

 

“The Restless Field is something quite special, a concept album that shows its references but lets you do the thinking. We Are Cult highly recommend spending a little time in the long grass with it.” (Martin Ruddock writing at We Are Cult)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Artifact Report #18/52a: The Restless Field Released
  2. Artifact Report #14/52a: The Restless Field at Simon Reynold’s blissblog and the sunday experience
  3. Artifact Report #16/52a: The Restless Field at Flatland Frequencies, Syndae and whisperandhollerin
  4. Artifact Report #17/52a: The Restless Field at Sunrise Ocean Bender and John Coulthart’s Feuilleton
  5. Artifact Report #19/52a: The Restless Field Transmissions and Reviews
  6. Artifact Reports #36/52a: The Restless Field: A Return Visit – Further Reviews and Transmissions

 

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The Prisoner Part 1 – A Visit to a Real Life High-Definition Dream: Wanderings 33/52

The Prisoner television series (1967-1968) involves a secret agent who resigns and is than abducted and incarcerated in an isolated village, given the denomination No. 6 and repeatedly battles with his superiors who attempt to find out why he resigned and it has become one of the ultimate and most iconic of all cult television programmes.

Much of the series was filmed in Portmeirion, which is a tourist village in North Wales designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village. In some ways the whole of Portmeirion could be seen as almost being a folly on a grand scale (although it is used extensively by visiters, holidaymakers, festival goers and Prisoner devotees) and it has a grandly envisioned and unique, borderline surreal ornate character.

I first became aware of The Prisoner in the mid-1980s when it was re-broadcast by Channel 4 on British television and it was probably one of my early exposures to cult film and television; I am not sure that I fully understood it at the time but I found myself very drawn to and fascinated by it.

When I first saw the series it was on a small black and white television set, while I think the first time I saw sections of it and Portmeirion in colour was in a 1987 episode of the Channel 4 music programme The Tube called The Laughing Prisoner, which was a “Prisoner” special filmed in Portmeirion. This was based around a premise which mirrored The Prisoner series in that one of The Tube’s presenters resigns from Channel 4 and is also abducted into The Village and the show featured clips from The Prisoner alongside music performances by Magnum, XTC and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Probably because of the above way in which I first saw The Prisoner, although I subsequently saw the series in full and colour, when many years later I visited Portmeirion in part it seemed initially as though I was visiting the set of The Laughing Prisoner as much as the actual series.

In a way it was something of a shock to actually be there in reality; part of my mind still expected Portmeirion to be a mirage of the imagination. Also the fully fleshed-out reality of the place and that it consisted of fully functional buildings etc was a little unexpected – it made me think of author William Gibson saying about when he first visited the set of the film based on his short story Johnny Mnemonic (1981) and how he has spoken about that he did not expect it to be realised in such high-resolution (i.e. attention to convincing detail etc). In a way part of me expected Portmeirion to be just set like facades that could easily be tilted over, as some of the characters prove to be in the Western set episode of The Prisoner “Living in Harmony”.

At one point during my visit I wandered through the forest-like area next to the main village and eventually came upon a near deserted estuary beach bordered by cliffs, a place of great and striking beauty. Looking back in some ways this felt like the most Prisoner-esque section of Portmeirion and conjured visions of No. 6 desperately and repeatedly attempting to flee and escape The Village’s confines via the beach before being captured by Rover (an entity from the series depicted as a large floating white balloon which would be summoned to chase down those where trying to escape).

The Prisoner was co-created (or possibly solely created, according to some views) and also partly written and directed by its star Patrick McGoohan, Prior to this he had been the star of more conventional secret agent series called Danger Man (1960-1968), which to a degree The Prisoner could be seen as a more left-field continuation of.

The non-conventional nature of The Prisoner and in particular the final episode is said to have caused some confusion and even anger amongst its audiences. However, watched today some of the episodes appear to be reasonably conventional albeit cleverly and twisting-turningly plotted dramas; although it is difficult to know if this is because the series proved somewhat influential and future programmes have taken on board elements of the series and also it is not easy for the viewer to place themselves in the mindset of the 1960’s audience encountering it for the first time and who were expecting more conventional television fare.

By the end of the series, particularly the penultimate and final episodes, named Once Upon a Time and Fall Out respectively, The Prisoner has wandered far off well-worn and expected tracks and another of its core themes – the conformity of the individual and subservience of their needs to society’s – are very much highlighted.

Once Upon a Time continues one of the core themes of the series; the authorities employing a wide array of complex, layered and at times scientifically advanced techniques in order to get information out of No. 6 about why he resigned. They seem to not want to “damage” him by using more conventional heavy-handed interrogation techniques, although the mental stress some of their repeated efforts may have put him under could well have psychically damaged anybody without nerves of steel. By this episode they seem to have finally lost patience and No. 6’s interrogator, No. 2 – one of a series of people all with the same denomination tasked with getting information from No. 6 – asks to undertake a dangerous technique called “Degree Absolute”, which will involve a battle of wills literally to the death.

In this episode No. 6 is put into a trance state that causes his mind to regress back to childhood. He is then taken to the underground “Embryo Room” where the episode largely takes place, which is depicted as a largely blank black enclosed and dreamlike space filled only with various often childhood orientated props and a fake living room and kitchen.

No. 2 lectures and derides No. 6 about his non-conformist tendencies:

“Society is a place where people exist together”, “Yes sir”, “That is civilisation”, “Yes sir”, “The lone wolf belongs to the wilderness”, “Yes sir”, “You must not grow up to be a lone wolf”, “No sir”, “You must conform”, “Yes sir”, “It is my sworn duty to see that you do conform.”, “Yes sir”.

In the final episode the authorities’ comments on non-conformity seem to mirror some similar real-world views of later 1960s youth rebellion:

“Youth… it may wear flowers in its hair, bells on its toes… but when the common good is threatened, when the function of society is endangered, such revolts must cease. They are non-productive and must be abolished.”

This is also connected with No. 6 and others’ behaviour:

“We have just witnessed two forms of rebellion. The first uncoordinated youth rebelling against nothing it can define. The second an established, successful, secure member of the establishment, living upon and biting the hand that feeds him… Well, these attitudes are dangerous. They contribute nothing to our culture and are to be stamped out.”

The final episode was written and directed by Patrick McGoohan and according to some sources needed to be written in just a few days after the series was prematurely cancelled. Whatever the truth of this, there is a sense of “What the heck, we might as well just go for it and do what we like” about the episode and it does not provide a conventional ending with loose ends tied up – if anything it creates more than existed before…

To be continued in Part 2 (which, depending on when you are reading this, may not yet be online)…

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The Prisoner opening sequence
  2. The Prisoner at 50 / trailer
  3. Portmeirion
  4. The Prisoner: 50th Anniversary Edition

 

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The Marks Upon The Land: Audio Visual Archive 32/52

Wraparound cover art for The Marks Upon The Land book – a 60 page book which collects all 104 images that were created during the first spin-around-the-sun of A Year In The Country.

 

The images in the book are part of A Year In The Country’s explorations of an otherly pastoralism, a wandering amongst subculture that draws from the undergrowth of the land – the patterns beneath the plough, pylons and amongst the edgelands.

Those wanderings take in the beauty and escape of rural pastures, intertwined with a search for expressions of an underlying unsettledness to the bucolic countryside dream.

The Marks Upon The Land takes inspiration from and channels the outer reaches of folk culture and the layered spectralities of what has come to be known as hauntology, alongside memories of childhood countryside idylls spent under the shadow of Cold War end of days paranoia and amongst the dreamscapes of dystopic science fiction tales.

 

“The Marks Upon The Land… converts the bucolically familiar into something more eerie or even sinister, a series of widescreen mutations that create pareidolia spectres through symmetry and layering. Seen in isolation, these images are arresting enough but they gain power by being collected together, fashioning a statement of intent.” (John Coulthart at his Feuilleton site.)

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Day of the Triffids Part 2 – Post-Apocalyptic Debate / Optimism: Wanderings 32/52

Part 2 of a post on the 1981 television British television adaptation of John Wyndham’s 1951 novel Day of the Triffids (visit Part 1 here), in which:

“…the vast majority of humans are struck blind after watching a night-time cosmic light show/possible meteor shower and they become prey for triffids – large carnivorous plants with the ability to walk and kill which had previously been bred because they produced high quality oil.”

Post the catastrophe in the series as Bill Masen, the main male character, meets some of the few other non-blind people one of the core themes of the series becomes whether to save a few blind people for a while or to take a more pragmatic route that would involve leaving them to their fate while attempting to rebuild society. There appear to be a lot of the non-blind survivors who fairly instantly grasp the role of being dogmatic near dictatorial leaders and to a degree the series becomes an examination of “the will to power” and the asserting of the moral right of differing opinions.

One character, Jack Coker, considers it the sighted’s duty to stay in London and help the blind and uses force to make this happen – hence the just mentioned press ganging of Bill, while another opposing group is described as planning on abandoning all previous morality in its aims:

“They seemed to believe that the human race cannot survive without the complete abolition of morality as we’ve understood it before. That everything should be subservient to the production of children and that whether a child is the product of true love is of no importance at all.”

(According to that viewpoint new-born children have a high value as they will have sight, women are of high importance because they can produce such children and both men and blind people are not as important or needed in as large numbers as women because one man could effectively help procreate children with a number of women.)

Eventually as the harsh realities of this new world sink in Coker realises that “Good intentions aren’t enough any more” but he does not fully abandon his principles and seeks out and joins a realistic but more progressive group of people who plan on creating a new and better society, beginning on the Isle of Wight, which due to being an island has been easier to clear and defend from triffids.

This more progressive society is in contrast to a proposed more militaristic one which attempts to co-opt Bill, his family and companions who have created a safe(ish) enclave out in the country; an imperialist like military commander arrives in an armoured car and effectively offers Bill the post of being the head of a feudal clan. He also proclaims that the seeing children will be taken away to help other areas as, according to his unbending bureaucratic calculations, there is too high a ratio of sighted to unsighted people there. He also declares that the organisation which he represents is planning on becoming the dominant ruling group by the use of force if necessary:

“The word war is an unjustifiable exaggeration. It will simply be a matter of pacifying and administering the tribes that have converted to primitive lawlessness.”

Bill and the others reject this plan and via subterfuge depart for the more progressive community they have been told about by Coker, disabling the armoured car, smashing open the protective fence’s gate when they drive off and leaving the commander and his men to be attacked and presumably killed by triffids. While the commander is smug, self-satisfied, dictatorial and priggish this seems a little harsh, although it may be necessary for Bill et al’s survival and escape.

In the series it is discussed just how complex and difficult the civilised human supply chain is, how difficult it is to feed ourselves or even to get raw food. Connected to which cities, which previously relied on a large-scale infrastructure, almost instantly become only useful as stores for pre-catastrophe society’s materials and equipment, although how long such things will last or be available is debatable. Also the cities become dangerous places as buildings crumble and collapse and nature reclaims the streets (something which is shown in a still impressively convincing manner, as London streets and landmarks are shown covered in greenery).

Bill, his family and companions seem remarkably well-adjusted considering that society has collapsed and they are beset by carnivorous plants – although mental collapse does not seem to be overly depicted in such fictional post-apocalyptic works, possibly because the reality of survivors suffering such collapse and/or say post traumatic stress disorder would not necessarily make for easy plotting.

(A notable exception to this is a section in the 1985 post-apocalyptic film The Quiet Earth, where one of the lead characters for a period embarks on a crazed and destructive binge, although he still returns to normality and stability relatively quickly and easily.)

There is a sense that Bill and the other’s lives in the rural enclave is only maintainable as an isolated unit via foraging materials and equipment from the pre-catastrophe society; their clothes appear factory produced and are not threadbare, they use flamethrowers to destroy triffids, drive fossil fuel powered vehicles, use generators and so forth.

Also the area in which they live, grow food and are shown as keeping a few livestock animals is depicted as being relatively quite small, possibly partly because it needs to be surrounded by an electric fence they have put up to defend against triffids. It is debatable how such a small area could provide enough fresh food for the inhabitants on an ongoing basis, so it is quite possible that they are still supplementing their farming by the foraging of dried and canned goods – which ultimately are likely to be depleted, no longer be edible or not easily transportable through the triffid infested areas outside their enclave once vehicles malfunction and/or the remaining fuel supplies are depleted.

Ultimately the series appears to take quite an optimistic view of human’s survival in such conditions and also seems to show that society will not revert to a pre-modern, more say medieval way of living, as people continue to use and have access to pre-catastrophe vehicles, well maintained homes, equipment etc.

This is in contrast to the post-apocalyptic film Into the Forest (2015), in which ultimately the comforts and shelter of the pre-catastrophe society and the family home literally disintegrate and two sisters decide to abandon their home and return to a more natural way of living.

As in Into the Forest and other post-apocalyptic films such as The Wall/Die Wand (2012), the events which have led to society’s collapse are not fully explained in Day of the Triffids; as mentioned previously the populace become blind due to viewing an apparent meteor shower but why this has the effect it does it not known or told – although it is posited that the meteor shower may have actually been a malfunctioning satellite based weapons system and that society “messed up” by not questioning what its leaders were doing, nor did those leaders tell the populace, in terms of creating weapons systems etc.

Ultimately the Day of the Triffids series ends on a positive note as Bill, his family and companions seem to have achieved a successful escape from the militaristic commander and in the final scene he and his partner say:

“Shall we ever be able to come back?”

“Oh yes we shall. We’ll work and we’ll learn and then we or our children will come back and drive every triffid from this land.”

 

Elsewhere:

  1. Day of The Triffids – Intro Sequence
  2. Day of the Triffids DVD
  3. The Wall trailer
  4. The Wall DVD
  5. Into the Forest trailer
  6. Into The Forest DVD
  7. A preserved and restored triffid at the Prop Gallery site

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Day of the Triffids Part 1 – The Farmers Becoming the Hunted: Wanderings 31/52
  2. The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham, Dystopian Tales, Celluloid Cuckoos and the Village as Anything but Idyll: Chapter 29 Book Images
  3. Day #176/365: The changing shadows of the fictions of John Wyndham…
  4. Into the Forest and Post-Apocalyptic Safe Places: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 40/52
  5. Day #13/365. The Wall / Die Wand… a vision from behind the walls of pastoral science fiction…

 

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The Forest / The Wald: Audio Visual Archive 31/52

Print artwork from The Forest / The Wald album.

 

The Forest / The Wald is a study and collection of work that reflects on fragments and echoes of tales from the woodland and its folklore; greenwood rituals performed in the modern day, fantastical childhood rhymes, sylvan siren calls that tremble through tangles of branches, electronics pressed into the summoning of otherworldly arboreal creations unearthed amidst the creeping thickets and elegies to woodland intrustions, solitudes and seasons. (From text which accompanied the album.)

Includes work by Bare Bones, Magpahi, Polypores, Time Attendant, David Colohan, Sproatly Smith, The Hare And The Moon ft Alaska, The Rowan Amber Mill, The Séance with Lutine, Cosmic Neighbourhood and A Year In The Country.

 

“…both The Hare And The Moon featuring Alaska and The Séance featuring Lutine make use of creepy nursery rhyme, shifting ancient ballads into the now via contemporary electronic enhancements, creating dangerous trans-dimensional paradoxes like Sapphire & Steel warned us against.” (Ben Graham, writing at Shindig!)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Day of the Triffids Part 1 – The Farmers Becoming the Hunted: Wanderings 31/52

The 1981 British television series Day of the Triffids is an adaptation of John Wyndham’s 1951 post-apocalyptic novel, in which the vast majority of humans are struck blind after watching a night-time cosmic light show/possible meteor shower and they become prey for triffids – large carnivorous plants with the ability to walk and kill which had previously been bred because they produced high quality oil.

It is different from much of 1960s and 1970s cult British science fiction and fantasy television that has gained a cult following in that the viewer does not need to “recalibrate” themselves to a different pace of storytelling in order to watch it and appears to be nearer in that sense to contemporary drama (albeit without the more frenetic, almost jump cut pace of some such programmes). In this sense it stands alongside the likes of the final series of Quatermass (1979) and Sapphire & Steel (1979-1982) and watched today the series stands the test of time as intelligent, entertaining and at points terrifying science fiction. Also it is in contrast with some modern television and cinema in that it achieves this without resorting to being out-and-out gratuitously viciously nasty or the heavy use of gore.

The unsettling nature of the series is present from the start; the introductory sequence features heavily colourised/posterised faces set against a blank black background look up at the meteor shower as dread filled choral music plays and suddenly the sting of a triffid strikes a terrified woman. When the triffids later break free and begin hunting humans they do not look perfectly real in a polished contemporary CGI manner but they are still convincing and despite their lumbering quality they invoke a sense of genuine dread. Alongside this the series unsettles via its depiction of just how fragile society is as over night everything changes and immediately crumbles into chaos.

(As an aside the triffids seem possessed of a form of intelligence, despite not having a brain in any animal organ-like sense and they herd their human prey and are even able to observe behaviour and plan their attacks accordingly. This depiction of plant intelligence brings to mind the 2014 documentary The Creeping Garden, in which slime moulds appear to make decisions when seeking food supplies etc, although the organisms shown in that film are not predatory or overtly threatening.)

Bill Masen is the lead male character in Day of the Triffids, a former triffid farmer who has retained his eyesight due to his eyes being bandaged after a triffid attack and so he did not see the meteor shower. The early scenes show him waking in his hospital bed with the bandages still in place and he slowly realises that something is wrong. When he removes his own bandages and steps out into the corridors and then the streets of London the realisation of what has happened begins to hit him; that apparently now nearly everybody in the world is blind and that society has essentially collapsed – the once busy city streets are pictured at times as being eerily quiet apart from a few staggering blind people.

(These earlier sections seem to be a forebear of similar early scenes early in Danny Boyle’s 2002 post-apocalyptic zombie film 28 Days Later, where a courier wakes from a coma alone in a hospital bed after a catastrophic event and when he wanders London’s streets they are both empty and filled with the signs of that catastrophe. In that film eventually the zombies starve once they have exhausted the food supply of uninfected humans, which calls into question what will happen to the triffids once they have hunted and consumed all the more easily obtainable food supply of say their human and domestic pet victims.)

In a number of senses the sighted, while more able to avoid triffid attacks, become both hunters and prey – through finding and using weapons they are able to, if not always hunt, then at least resist the triffids while they also become prey for the blind and those that wish to help them and in one claustrophobic scene a group of blind people surround Bill and his companion’s car and take up a cry of “Get him out. Get him out. We want him.”.

One of the truly overwhelming aspects of the catastrophe is the sense of how few of the blind people Bill will be able to help; when he hands a blind old woman a can opener and a can of beans in the street there is the sense that he is just putting off the inevitable, only really helping her for just another day or so. At one point he is press ganged into helping a group of blind people but he tells them that he is just a drug that you give to somebody to keep them going for a bit but ultimately cannot save them.

Despite its premise the series is not overly or constantly action filled and at times it is nearer to a chamber piece, featuring the characters in a room talking and discussing the situation, problems etc. The series has a strong emotional pull and resonance and some of the most upsetting scenes do not involve the triffids but rather when the blind characters desperately try to convince the sighted to stay with and help them, particularly as ultimately those who can still see can do so little and/or survival imperatives dictate that they must leave.

To be continued in Part 2 (which, depending on when you are reading this, may not be online yet)…

 

Elsewhere:

  1. Day of The Triffids – Intro Sequence
  2. Day of the Triffids DVD

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1.  The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham, Dystopian Tales, Celluloid Cuckoos and the Village as Anything but Idyll: Chapter 29 Book Images
  2. Day #176/365: The changing shadows of the fictions of John Wyndham…

 

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The Quietened Bunker: Audio Visual Archive 30/52

Artwork from The Quietened Bunker album.

 

“The Quietened Bunker is an exploration of the abandoned and/or decommissioned Cold War installations which lie under the land and that would have acted as selectively populated refuges/control centres if the button was ever pushed; a study and reflection on these chimeric bulwarks and the faded but still present memory of associated Cold War dread, of which they are stalwart, mouldering symbols.” (Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

The album includes work by Keith Seatman, Grey Frequency, A Year In The Country, Panabrite, Polypores, Listening Center, Time Attendant, Unknown Heretic and David Colohan.

 

“A most alluring waltzing orbital sorrowfully sighing in the starry outlands mournfully transmitting crystalline cosmic distress calls from forgotten far off outposts to its long since fallen creator as it observes the heavenly nightlights in states of gracefall dulling, diminishing and disappearing…” (Quoted from a review at The Sunday Experience.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Echoes And Reverberations – Preorder

Preorder today 23rd July 2019. Released 16th August 2019.

CD and download available to preorder at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp.

Echoes And Reverberations is a field recording based mapping of real and imaginary film and television locations.

It is in part an exploration of their fictional counterparts’ themes; from apocalyptic tales to never-were documentaries and phantasmagorical government-commissioned instructional films via stories of conflicting mystical forces of the past and present, scientific experiments gone wrong and unleashed on the world, the discovery of buried ancient objects and the reawakening of their malignant alien influence, progressive struggles in a world of hidebound rural tradition and the once optimism of post-war new town modernism.

The album is also a reflection on the way in which areas – whether rural, urban, or edgeland – can become permeated with such tales and undercurrents, creating a landscape of the imagination where fact and fiction intertwine. The resulting layering may at times create ongoing echoes and reverberations which personally, culturally and possibly literally leave their marks on the history and atmospheres of places, with these locations becoming a source of inspiration and cultural pilgrimage.

Each track contains field recordings from one such journey and their seeking of the spectral will-o’-the-wisps of locations’ imagined or often hidden flipsides.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Pulselovers, Dom Cooper, Listening Center, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Field Lines Cartographer, Depatterning and The Heartwood Institute.


Dawn Rising Edition. Limited to 208 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold-out sleeve with fold-out text insert, print, sticker and badge. Limited edition of 208.

Top of CD.                                                   Underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed by A Year In The Country using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) Folded sheet of accompanying notes on textured laid paper, hand numbered on back.
4) Print on cotton rag textured fine art paper.
5) Round vinyl-style sticker.

Tracklisting:
1) Grey Frequency: King Penda
2) Pulselovers: The Edge Of The Cloud
3) Dom Cooper: What Has Been Uncovered Is Evil
4) Listening Center: From Bull Island To Avondale
5) Howlround: Smashing
6) A Year In The Country: Not A Playground
7) Sproatly Smith: Gone Away
8) Field Lines Cartographer: Mr Scarecrow
9) Depatterning: The Ogham Stones
10) The Heartwood Institute: Ribble Head Viaduct