Posted on Leave a comment

Woodshock – A Rudderless Tumbling Down the Rabbit Hole: Wanderings 50/52

Woodshock is a curious film in a number of ways.

Released in 2017 it was written and directed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy; sisters who are probably more known for the fashion label Rodarte which they founded in 2005, alongside also having co-designed costumes for Darren Aronofsky’s unsettling film Black Swan (2010).

So, what is Woodshock about? Loosely it focuses on the life of a young-ish woman who lives in a rural Redwood forest and town area of Northern California and who is dealing with grief and isolation. The film documents and reflect her emotional state and reality which begin to fracture and unravel as she repeatedly uses a strong hallucinatory substance.

However, to ask what the film is about is somewhat misleading as this  is not a conventional narrative film.

The presence of “known” American actress Kirsten Dunst in the lead role and to a degree the manner in which it has been conventionally presented/distributed leads the viewer to expect that this will be an at least reasonably conventional film.

In reality it is far from that and in some ways could be seen as being nearer to a film which might be shown in a gallery setting rather than via traditional cinemas and home viewing; Woodshock contains a linear narrative as it follows Kirsten Dunst’s character Theresa spiralling life and actions but it appears more concerned with creating an atmosphere and visual impressions/expressions of inner emotion than in plot exposition:

“It’s not about an explanation… maybe the questions are more interesting.” (Comments on Woodshock by the directors.)

And as with some of gallery orientated work where it is only once the viewer has read the accompanying text that the work’s meaning and the intentions of its creator begin to become more apparent, Woodshock’s nuances begin to make more sense once the Blu-ray’s accompanying extra Making Woodshock: A Mental Landscape has been watched.

In this featurette Kate and Laura Mulleavy discuss and put forward their intentions for the film and the way in which its different elements have been carefully chosen, pieced and layered together.

For example the score by Peter Raeburn features birdsong recordings which are not necessarily overly prominent upon a casual viewing but the Mulleavy’s point out that they only appear when lead character Theresa appears and they become the sound of her.

The score is also only played when Theresa is present, while pre-existing songs by amongst others Television, Gary Numan, Wire, Suicide and Galaxie 500 are only played when Keith, one of the male leads, is onscreen.

This musical selection of pre-existing songs subconsciously adds to a sense that although rurally set there is an element of this community which seems nearer to say the sleazier, scuzzball side of an urban indie way of life; Keith seems to spend much of his time in a darkly artificially lit bar that could as easily be situated in a large city as next door to a Redwood forest and he is essentially a licensed/legitimised drug dealer (more on which in a moment).

There is a dreamlike atmosphere to the film but rather than being a comforting, enveloping haze there is an emotional disconnect or distancing. This is created in part through the actions of its characters but may also be due in part to creative decisions by the film makers who for example in A Mental Landscape discuss how much of the film is shot via reflections with the intention of quietly dislocating the viewer as doorways will for example open one way and then another.

Accompanying such subtle visual aspects the film features extensive otherworldly visuals, making use of the likes of double exposures, heavily coloured lighting, briefly strobe lit forests, fleeting moments of flashbacks, the surreal levitation of a home and a person and so forth. However such elements do not generally feel overtly surreal but rather they have a sense of being almost seamlessly part of this world.

The surreality of the film is also added to as Theresa is pictured wandering amongst the enormous ancient Redwood trees, introducing an almost Alice in Wonderland element as she appears impossibly small, as though she has imbibed an Alice-like potion and shrunk (which to a degree she has, although in this case she has ingested an hallucinogen).

The relatively understated and often brief nature of such otherworldly visuals quietly and subtly help to build a sense of the fracturing of Theresa’s mental state as she repeatedly re-medicates herself and her life descends into an inescapable “bad trip”.

As she makes that descent there is a growing and eventually almost unbearable pressure that the viewer may not necessarily realise has come to be amongst the day-to-day mundanity elements of her life and where and how she lives. This is in part expressed via the film’s use of aspects of almost traditional American indie film tropes as it presents slightly dour, aimless lives (friends who don’t like one another hang out and get wasted, there’s nothing in the fridge etc).

Theresa works at Keith’s shop where he provides legal cannaboids to those with a medical license/need. This premises is a particular counterbalance to Theresa’s forestland and landscape wanderings and her understatedly stylish old worldly decorated home.

The shop seems almost coldly alien and scientific, in a manner which would not make it seem out of place in the earlier films of David Cronenberg or more appositely his son Brandon’s Antiviral (2012); although in a less overtly transgressive/shocking manner than in Antiviral, in Woodshock “natural” intoxicants are prepared and sold in a manner which seems far removed from their organic origin.

A further reflection of this disconnect with nature is the film’s depiction of the Redwood forests and mankind’s action in regards to them; their huge size and stature implies the ancient nature of this landscape but its potential contemporary transience is depicted as they are shown being cut down and the almost primitive seeming industrial mechanised preparation of the resulting timber is returned to on a number of occasions.

This destruction is also shown to be literally close to Theresa’s home and heart as her boyfriend is a lumberjack. She says to him at one point in a brief almost matter-of-fact exchange which lingers chillingly and memorably with the viewer:

“Do you ever regret it, cutting everything down?”

His only reply is “Sometimes” and it is obvious that the logging will carry on.

Possibly in a manner that reflects the Mulleavy’s fashion work, there is at times a languid beauty to Woodshock, which finds Kirsten Dunst wandering through her home and the forest in stylish and sometimes semi-diaphanous apparel in a manner that would not be out of place in say a higher end more abstractly orientated perfume advert.

But make no mistake; despite these elements of beauty, this is a far from lightweight, surface orientated view of a woman’s life; the film shows a subtle but intense fracturing to Theresa’s life, an unruddered and ultimately destructive journey through life, grief and psyche.

By the end that journey shockingly and briefly explodes into brutal violence, which may put the viewer in mind of the unravelling psyche of the female protagonists in rural isolation which is shown in José Ramón Larraz’s film Symptoms (1974) and Robert Altman’s Images (1972), while a final surreal montage of elements which include flashbacks, forestland and Theresa staring at the viewer is not all that removed from the original excised ending of Saul Bass’ Phase IV (1974).

Woodshock could be considered to explore not wholly dissimilar territory as Josephine Decker’s film Butter on the Latch (2013) which as with the Mulleavy’s film also depicts a strikingly beautiful woodland landscape and utilises some conventional film tropes alongside brief flashes of surreality and which ultimately, although stylistically less conventional, as with Woodshock is located at a far remove from mainstream Hollywood.

Woodshock only received a brief US theatrical release and a very limited cinematic showing in Portugal. To my knowledge it is not available officially in the UK either to watch online or on DVD/Blu-ray. It is available as a European import on DVD or as a locked to Region A imported Blu-ray from the US, meaning that if viewing it in the UK/Europe you would need a multi-region Blu-ray player to watch it.

As a final note, the film’s official website is simple and yet effective; it harks back to a previous era of Flash based animated sites and its use of subtle undulating images and layered images reflects and captures the striking visuals and hallucinatory nature of the film.

Elsewhere:

  1. Woodshock – the official site
  2. Woodshock – trailer
  3. Woodshock – Peter Raeburn’s soundtrack
  4. Woodshock – the Blu-ray
  5. The DVD

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Week #41/52: The Dark Pastoral Of Butter On The Latch
  2. Kill List, Puffball, In the Dark Half and Butter on the Latch – Folk Horror Descendants by Way of the Kitchen Sink: Chapter 16 Book Images
  3. Symptoms and Images – Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia: Chapter 33 Book Images
  4. Audio Visual Transmission Guide #43/52a: Images and the Uneasy Landscape
  5. Week #28/52: Symptoms and gothic bucolia
  6. Day #149/365: Phase IV – lost celluloid flickering (return to), through to Beyond The Black Rainbow and journeys Under The Skin

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Quietened Journey – Released

Released today 6th December 2019. 

CDs and download available to order at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp page.
Both editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.

The album is an exploration of abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads, a reflection on them as locations filled with the history, ghosts and spectres of once busy vibrant times – the journeys taken via them, the stories of the lives of those who travelled, built and worked on them.

Nature is slowly reclaiming, or has already reclaimed, much of this infrastructure, with these testaments to industry and “the age of the train” being often left to quietly crumble and decay.

The Quietened Journey is both a celebration and a lament for these now faded links across the land, of the grand dreams and determination which created them and their layered histories that – as these asphalt ribbons, steel lines and stone built roads once prominently were – are threaded throughout the twentieth century and even back to Roman times.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, The Séance, Widow’s Weeds, The Heartwood Institute, Depatterning, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Field Lines Cartographer, Dom Cooper & Zosia Sztykowski, Keith Seatman and Grey Frequency.

 

Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £22.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 1 x print, 4 x stickers and 4 x badges.


Top and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Cover, notes and prints custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Contained in a matchbox style sliding two-part rigid matt card box with cover print.
3) Fully black CD (black on top, black on playable side).
4) 2 x folded sheets of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper – one sheet hand numbered on back.
5) 2 x smaller badges, 2 x larger badges.
6) 1 x smaller round sticker, 2 x larger round stickers, 1 x landscape sticker.

 

Dawn Light Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold out sleeve with fold-out insert and badge.

Top and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes metal badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper, hand numbered on back.

Tracklisting:
1) Pulselovers: Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes
2) Sproatly Smith: The 19.48 From Fawley
3) The Séance: Elm Grove Portal
4) Widow’s Weeds: The Ghosts Of Salzcraggie
5) The Heartwood Institute: The Solway Viaduct
6) Depatterning: The Beets At Wellingtonbridge
7) Howlround: Thrown Open Wide
8) A Year In The Country: Silent Treasure
9) Field Lines Cartographer: Ghosts Of The Wires
10) Dom Cooper & Zosia Sztykowski: Summonings
11) Keith Seatman: Along The Valley Sidings
12) Grey Frequency: An Empty Platform

“The Quietened Journey reflects with both mourn and celebration on these derelict and decaying memorials to a lost age… The assembled cast provide a perfect sonic journey documenting these empty spaces and decaying echoes of what once was, between the haunting and the nostalgic, all aspects, shadows and memories are uncovered, discovered and recalled anew…” Mark Barton, The Sunday Experience

“The likes of Field Lines Cartographer and Grey Frequency evoke heartbraking radiophonic dreams of overgrown sidings and crumbling platforms, and Pulselovers’ ‘Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes’ contrives to make a hypnotic, krautrock synth anthem the perfect celebration of pre-Beeching steam travel. Joyous.” Bob Fischer, Electronic Sound

“…exploring what’s left behind, the rusted and overgrown lines that vanish into the distance, the abandoned stations and buildings that pop up out of nowhere, the ghostly commuters who wait on empty platforms, they’re all here, across ten tracks that occasionally namecheck the relics they are visiting, but are just as likely to close their eyes and not even think of checking the map reference… As always, a wealth of contributors ensure that each journey is very different to the last…” Dave Thompson, Goldmine

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Audio Albion: Audio Visual Archive 49/52

Alternative artwork from Audio Albion.

The album is a music and field recording map of Britain, which focuses on rural and edgeland areas.

Each track contains field recordings from locations throughout the land and is accompanied by notes on the recordings by the contributors.

The tracks record the sounds found and heard when wandering down pathways, over fields, through marshes, alongside rivers, down into caves and caverns, climbing hills, along coastlands, through remote mountain forestland, amongst the faded signs of industry and infrastructure and its discarded debris.

Intertwined with the literal recording of locations, the album explores the history, myths and beliefs of the places, their atmospheres and undercurrents, personal and cultural connections – the layered stories that lie amongst, alongside and beneath the earth, plants and wildlife.

(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.

 

“…each musical composition (incorporates) sounds of place whilst using music and sound-art to further explore the history, myth and atmosphere of these locations… Audio Albion is a fine selection of eerie, experimental, cinematic sounds inspired by folklore and landscape.” (Kim Harten writing at Bliss Aquamarine.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

British Rail: Designed 1948-97 – Notes from an Impossibly Far Off History: Wanderings 49/52

If Jonny Trunk of archival record label Trunk Records collaborated with The Modernist Magazine to put together a book which documented post-war until privatisation British Rail design and aesthetics it might well turn out something like British Rail: Designed 1948-97.

The book was written and compiled by David Lawrence and collects logo, building, vehicle, uniform etc design and prototypes alongside extensive accompanying text.

It is a publication not just for the more archetypal train-spotter enthusiasts but as a quote from Wayne Hemmingway states on the back of the book:

“Anyone with an eye for evocative design and graphics, and anyone with an interest in social history, can’t help but get drawn in…”

The book contains a certain appreciative curatorial sense which subtly takes in such work having at times an almost accidental utilitarian art or at least grand reaching or even high concept aspect.

While that element is not as overtly foregrounded as say in the book Own Label: Sainsburys Design Studio: 1962 – 1977, in which Jonny Trunk collected a supermarket’s period packaging and design, it is still present and makes the book at least a loosely connected shelf-fellow to such collections.

It could well be read as a form of now semi-forgotten modernist history that considers a section of British endeavour from a time of state-sponsored industry. Viewed now much of the design that is featured appears to be from some almost impossibly far off part of history, although it is in fact from a relatively modern period of history.

Anyways, in this post I collect together a few of the images and pages from the book that particularly caught my eye.

Some of the building design featured in the book – particularly the one on the top-right above – has an almost avant garde aspect and puts me in mind of the apparent exoticisms but actually quite day-to-day structures of Soviet bus stops which can be found in Christopher Herwig’s book of the same name.

British Rail goes kind of groovy and sixties mod-pop in the late-1960s and turn of the decade, with a touch of what could now be called retro futurism:

“Seaspeed hovercraft pursurettes wore ‘Hoversuits’ made from a synthetic jersey textile called Koratron…”

(From the text in the book. Koratron outfits left and bottom right.)

Stylistically the above image from 1973 of a “proposed second class saloon” railway carriage interior seems more in keeping with my own personal memories of British Rail period design; there is a glamour and style there but it is more Leonard Rossiter-esque than space age mod-pop. Think Rising Damp, 1970s Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins Cinzano adverts and The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin.

Following on from Koratron and hoversuits, there was some rather grand (or grandiloquent), futuristic and sometimes almost Orwellian sounding language used to describe various British Rail orientated design, committees etc.

Along which lines, above is the “Moto-X” building system on one of the British Rail stations.

And continuing along such lines, above is a corporate identity booklet produced in partnership with British Rail’s “Industrial Design directorate.” Not committee. Not department but “directorate”.

Well, you don’t get any more brutalist architecture than this. As with the use of the word “directorate” it brings to mind the phrase Soviet-Britain.

Above is a prototype buffet kitchen car…

While above left is a then glamorously modern seeming advert for a floor covering.

A further selection of at times almost Mad Men-esque midcentury modern populuxe-like British Rail lounge etc design.

In the book some of such photographs of the lounge bars, their prototypes etc seem to present a kind of swinging, stylish, cosmopolitan take on British railway history that seems somewhat at odds with the reality of them (at least as I remember them from my own younger days) which was often nearer to a kind of slightly down at heel functionalism.

I think it’s hard to truly think of anything being high style when reminded of these seat fabrics…

A curiously posed almost fashion line-up photograph of British Rail staff and their uniforms.

And more looking to the future; “PEP – the commuter train of the future”.

It is difficult now to objectively consider whether these designs did once seem genuinely forward looking as they have come to be so rooted in and connected to particular slightly downbeat utilitarian period tropes and aesthetics.

Returning to slightly grandiloquent language; British Rail paint colours are described as “Experimental blues”.

In a way and also returning to Soviet-Britain, such language and its aspirations cause me to think of the grand reaching aspects of the Soviet era social project in the 20th century; I suppose that state-sponsored and nationalised industry such as British Rail is not, at least in a purely philosophical rather than real world application manner, all that far removed at points from the communal/state property aspects of the former Soviet Union.

Brutalist corporate literature design…

It is hard to tell if it is due to the colours of the period film stock in the photographs above but there seems to be a somewhat large gap between the well-hued and attractively presented modernist and slightly art deco inspired future shown in the above illustration for a proposed station and the reality of such buildings when completed (see the lower two images).

And finally; a selection of promotional brochures; the one featured top right has an almost Wicker Man-esque sense of accidental folk-art to it, which as I’ve mentioned elsewhere at A Year In The Country could well be filed alongside some of the design work in the aforementioned Own Label: Sainsburys Design Studio: 1962 – 1977, a book which was compiled by Jonny Trunk (see images below).

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

From The Furthest Signals: Audio Visual Archive 48/52

From The Furthest Signals alternative 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.

 

“Pulselovers whose ‘endless repeats / eternal return’ is adored in a twinkle toned orbital phrasing all shepherded and harvested upon a delicately whirling crystal cut sepia fantasia. Listening Center draws this latest report to a close with the aptly titled ‘only the credits remain’, a beautifully serene and widescreen cosmic sea spray dimpled in sleepy headed dream drifts, utterly touching and tender, need I say more.” (Mark Losing at The Sunday Experience.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways – Wanderings Amongst a “Haunted House of a Book”

A selection of some of the reviews, mentions etc of the A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways book…

First up is a review in Moof magazine by Grey Malkin (of Widow’s Weeds and formerly The Hare And The Moon):

“Straying From The Pathways is a comprehensive and hugely satisfying read, both as a book and as a reference guide to the liminal and the eerie in popular culture. There are numerous rabbit holes and recommendations for the reader in which to wander or to explore, and the book as a whole rewards repeated readings, such is the wealth of ideas or intriguing cross-referencing between genres and mediums… Highly recommended; a haunted house of a book that you will wish to frequent time and time again.”

Moof is a psychedelia orientated magazine that’s well worth seeking out (although the print copies tend to sell out relatively quickly). It includes period and modern-day explorers of psychedelia and related areas such as acid folk. Issue 7, the one with the review in it, includes articles on and interviews with amongst others Sharron Kraus, Burd Ellen, Dr. Strangely Strange, The Incredible String Band and much more.

Reading Moof is almost like stepping into a time slip and, although it in part covers contemporary music releases etc, it can feel like having discovered some long-lost underground press magazine from previous decades… or maybe one from the future that’s tumbled back in time.

Next there is Ben Graham’s review in Shindig! magazine:

“A second volume of musings on all things hauntological and ‘otherly pastoralism’… always accessible and informative… another indispensable guidebook to our cultural edgelands.”

The review sits next to a review of 1965 science fiction/musical fantasy pop culture film oddity Gonks Go Beat’s Blu-ray release, which features the likes of Lulu and the Luvvers, Ginger Baker and members of the Graham Bond Organisation. A Blu-ray release of Gonks Go Beat? Yep!

Elsewhere in the issue there’s Pentangle, the Incredible String Band, Richard Hill’s Chanctonbury Ring concept album from 1978 and The Delaware Road 2019 festival, which, along with the review of Straying From The Pathways, is something of an intertwining in the magazine of work that draws from the undercurrents and flipsides of the landscape, folk and pastoral culture and the places where they meet the spectres of hauntology.

That intertwining can often be found in Shindig!, amongst its coverage of psychedelia, prog, garage rock etc, but it is notably foregrounded in issues 39 and 52, which featured Broadcast, Ghost Box Records, the Children’s Film Foundation, Emerald Web, Mike Heron, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Tape Leaders: A Compendium of Early British Electronic Music, Psychomania, the Berberian Sound Studio, the A Year In The Country released album The Quietened Bunker etc.

And then onto a piece about the book in Electronic Sound:

“We were pleasantly surprised when, last year, the literary accompaniment to the label ‘Wandering Through Spectral Fields’ landed in the office. We liked it so much so we named it one of our top reads of 2018. Oh what’s this? A sequel has arrived? Perfect.”

The book is in Electronic Sound’s The Front section, which is the part of the magazine where they cover all kinds of often potentially wallet damaging gadgets, synths, hi-fi equipment (is that still the phrase to use?), books, music and so on. Straying From The Pathways can be found next to the Corgi toy car replica of Gary Numan’s Telekon-era stage vehicle, which induced several days of “I want one but do I need one (?!)” around these parts.

Oh, there are also details of an underground Cold War era bunker that’s for sale (! again). Not the first time I’ve mentioned such things at AYITC (see above image). It’s a funny old world…

And then there is Dave Thompson’s review of the book at Goldmine’s website:

“Author Prince’s eye remains firmly fixed on things you may not have seen, even when you were watching them…  takes reality as its starting point, and not only makes its weirdness tangible, it tells you why as well.”

And Alan Boon’s review at Starburst’s website:

“Chock full of treasures, both well-known and obscure… the twelve chapters tackle their subjects in an accessible yet scholarly manner, never shying away from often weighty concepts but never using unnecessarily complex language when simple terms will do… Simply put, A Year in the Country: Straying from the Pathways is a delight, and will thrill existing seekers of hauntological fare as well as serve as an introductory hit to those yet to sample its enchantments.”

The book is discussed during an interview in issue 7 of Wyrd Daze’s ezine:

“I think one of the underlying things that connects say the initially disparate seeming areas of otherly pastoral/wyrd folkloric culture and that of a hauntological nature is a sense of loss; in hauntological culture that is often a sense of post-war lost progressive futures, within otherly pastoral/wyrd folkloric culture that may be a sense of a form of lost Arcadian utopias or idylls. The two areas may have quite different surface aesthetics but they appear to be connected by a similar exploratory, visionary or utopian spirit and, as I say in the A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways book, they have come to ‘shadow and inform one another’s journey’s within an alternative cultural landscape’. There is also a sense in both of allowing space for the hidden, semi-hidden or not fully explained – which I think can be appealing in contemporary times when that is often not the case.”

Plus, I’ve mentioned this before – the book is also discussed in an interview at Bob Fischer’s The Haunted Generation website:

“[A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways] explores the undercurrents of folk/pastoral culture and where it meets and intertwines with the lost futures and parallel worlds of hauntology… It includes writing about some of the core culture from such things while, as I say in the introduction, I also wanted to push back the boundaries and look elsewhere for where hauntological-esque spectres, lost futures and re-imagined echoes of the past might be found… To semi-quote from the cover, it wanders amongst eerie landscapes, folk horror, the dysfunctional utopian visions of Brutalist architects and hazily misremembered cultural memories, taking in the likes of the faded modernity and ‘future ruins’ of British road travel, apocalyptic ’empty city’ films, dark fairy tales, the political undercurrents of the 1980s and idyllic villages gone rogue.”

And finally, both Straying From the Pathways and Wandering Through Spectral Fields were variously edited and typeset by Ian Lowey and Suzy Prince, who are the co-proprietors of the newly opened Bopcap Book Boutique in the Antiques Village at Levenshulme in Manchester.

Where else are you likely to hear Blue Note Strikes a Radical Chord, Serge Gainsbourg, The Advisory Circle’s Ways of Seeing and The Sound of Music as “interpreted to gloriously kitsch effect by Slovenian industrial ironists Laibach” while perusing a selection of carefully curated vintage cult books and literature curios?

Here are a few other things they’ve written and/or published:

Thanks and a tip of the hat to all concerned. Much appreciated.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

In the Company of Ghosts – The Poetics of the Motorway Part 2 – The Romance of the Open Road in 1970s Chocolate Bar Adverts and the Stark Glamour of Radio On: Wanderings 48/52


Part 2 of a post on the book In the Company of Ghosts – The Poetics of the Motorway which is an exploration of British motorways via essays, poetry and fiction (Part 1 can be read via this link).

As mentioned in Part 1 of this post Edward Chell notes in the book’s Foreword that the freeway, the US equivalent of the British motorway, is a “trope at the heart of American culture” and there is an almost mythological aspect to how they are presented but he goes on to say that the British motorway is “a more subdued sibling; less epic, more dowdy, with it’s own peculiarly subversive enchantments” (which, as mentioned in Part 1, include the likes of J. G Ballard’s novels Crash and Concrete Island.)

Despite such “peculiarly subversive enchantments” and literary explorations of “hinterlands” it could be argued that the less mythological or more day-to-day aspect of the British view of roads and motorways takes precedence culturally; this is a duality referred to in the Foreword when discussing an iconic advert for Yorkie chocolate bars which was broadcast on British television in the 1970s. This attempted to create a romanticised idea of the British truck driver as something of a cheeky, free spirited road warrior who had an easy charm with the opposite sex but as also noted in the Foreword the reality of suck work and life was probably considerably more prosaic and concerned with basic body functions.

To a degree this advert could be considered an attempt to connect British truck drivers with their more romanticised American equivalent, something which is given emphasis by the advert’s use a vaguely American Country and Western style song that would not be out of place in Samuel Peckinpah’s 1978 hit film Convoy, which focuses on American cultural mythology of the truck driver as a freedom loving anti-hero. (The film was inspired by the 1975 novelty country pop song Convoy by C. W. McCall, about a fictional trucker rebellion that drives from the West Coast to the East Coast of the United States without stopping and which reached Number 1 in the US and Number 2 in the UK pop single music charts.)

Chris Petit’s Cult road movie Radio On from 1979, about a man who drives from London to Bristol to investigate his brother’s death, connects with the above mentioned duality in terms of British roads and how they are represented in creative work; it has both a gritty, dour late 1970s almost kitchen sink film like view of the British road system but also a certain European aesthetic and stark glamour:

The film… looks like nothing else shot here before or since. That’s mainly because half the crew was German. Wim Wenders was an associate producer, and, crucially, Martin Schäfer was the cameraman, and so the British landscape is partially viewed through a German lens. Watching it now, you might mistake parts of Bristol and London for Berlin in the late 1970s. The atmosphere is gloomy, the weather overcast, everything captured in grainy black and white. Of course, the synths of Kraftwerk and Berlin-period Bowie on the soundtrack help… Another reason Britain looks like Germany in the film is Petit’s choice of locations. He’s got a thing for flyovers, high-rises and motorways. This was the cityscape that shot up in Berlin following the Second World War, and seemed to be emerging in Britain.” (Oliver Lunn, writing at the BFI’s website.)

However, as Oliver Lunn goes on to mention such brutalist architecture and structures have proven contentious in Britain, which connects with a comment in the Foreword of In the Company of Ghosts that in the 1990s there was a change in attitude to roads and road building in Britain, with a growing concern for their environmental impact. With this change the earlier mentioned initial optimism that accompanied motorways and large scale road building in Britain from the late 1950s onwards and their presentation as something of a panacea for progress and prosperity faded considerably.

Alongside the spectral, ghostly sense of lost futures that can be associated with them, the Foreword suggests that Motorways are places which are layered with the ongoing resonations and echoes of the past (and to a degree the present, as these are still functioning parts of the nation’s infrastructure) and that it is these which the book explores

Ghosts are surprising bedfellows of the service roads and hard shoulders of our six-lane network. These arterial routes leave clues to villages buried, desire lines severed and wild places defiled. They echo to the chants and broken glasses of football coaches, road racers and un-belted joy riders, or the sighs of furtive love making in cramped Ford Escorts parked on ‘dead roads’. Echoes, after-images or ‘ghosts’ resonate: the soft underbelly of a world so close. The contributors identify and celebrate these differing ghosts.”

Some of those echoes and ghosts are references to John Davies’ contribution ‘M62: in the company of ghosts”, from which the book takes its name and the following text is quoted from:

I walked home, from Hull to Liverpool, following the route of the M62. Staying within earshot of the carriageways through the motorway’s rural sections; wandering off-line to spend days in the towns and cities en-route. Seeking local company, to hear stories of life on that road. Two months of deliberately slow travelling, through an unusually mild autumn. All the way, I found myself in the company of ghosts… All along my two-month journey I had seemed to be sensing ghosts. Absences in the presence. Presences in the absence. I gazed out from Hornsea in awareness of the ancient villages of Holderness lost to the brutal North Sea… I became fascinated by the numerous ‘dead roads’ en-route: once vibrant highways or viable country lanes which were sundered by the building of motorways and its service routes…”

In the Company of Ghosts does not appear to be all that widely available but it can be ordered via erbacce-press’ website, the link for which is below.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Forest / The Wald: Audio Visual Archive 47/52

The Forest / The Wald print artwork.

“In amongst The Forest / The Wald can be found expressions of greenwood rituals performed in the modern day, echoes of 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 accompanies 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.

 

“Mixing drones, feedback and woodland ambience to create a beautiful, disturbing evocation of the primeval forest the lives on in our dreams.” (Ben Graham writing at Shindig!.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

Posted on Leave a comment

In the Company of Ghosts – The Poetics of the Motorway Part 1 and The Joy of Motorway Service Stations – Considerations of Faded Futuristic Glamour: Wanderings 47/52

In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway is an exploration of British motorways via essays, poetry and fiction a creates a form of interdisciplinary psychogeographic literary wandering.

It was published by erbacce-press in 2012, edited by Alan Corkish and co-edited by Edward Chell and Andrew Taylor and featuring work by amongst others Joe Moran, Iain Sinclair, John Davies, Chris MCcabe, John Calvert, Will Alsop and the co-editors themselves.

Co-editor Edward Chell has created work around the road systems and motorways before, including the art and book project Soft Estate which I have previously written about at A Year In The Country and in the Wandering Through Spectral Fields book:

“Edward Chell’s 2013 Soft Estate… takes as its subject matter edgeland places when they are found at the side of motorways. The phrase soft estate refers to the description given by the UK Highways Agency to the natural habitat that the motorways and trunk roads it manages occupy; an often unstopped-on hinterland that most of us only view as a high-speed blur from the corner of our eyes as we travel past these autobahn edgelands…. (his resulting work has) a hauntological aspect in that although they are created in contemporary times, they also seem like documents of modernity’s future and past.”

Such themes and what could be called the shape of the future’s past are also explored in In the Company of Ghosts, particularly in the Foreword which is written by Edward Chell:

The cover image of Forton tower takes us back to the beginning, the days when ‘Britain never had it so good’. Motorways heralded an optimistic vision of progress, of transport for all. Towers, bridges and service stations, two of which have just been listed by English Heritage, define the moment when road travel captured the public imagination and motorways were full of futuristic glamour… Forton Tower is now closed… It resonates with the bittersweet nostalgia of a future ruin.

The Foreword is somewhat hauntological in that in part it focuses on a sense of the spectres of a lost “modernity”, that “futuristic glamour” that was never reached; once futuristic seeming motorways became just another banal part of day-to-day infrastructure, despite the fact that in some ways they were grand projects which took colossal amounts of will, effort and expenditure to create and maintain, just as a large percentage of the population now carry around high-powered pocket computers, i.e. smart phones which are the result of vast technological advances but they are just another commonplace item without an accompanying sense of far-reaching modernity or futurism.

These are things which are now so omnipresent, in full view and functional that we rarely think of the grandness of them and how they have changed the world and what “ordinary” people are able to do in it, with that change also happening in a relatively short amount of time. Connected to which in the Foreword it is suggested that In the Company of Ghosts is:

An attempt to focus our readers’ attention on the rich and surprising diversity of our encounters on and with the motorway… Motorways have ploughed through the landscape, changed the way it looks and changed the way we look at and experience our surroundings – through the car windscreen at speed. This book encourages us to Stop, Look and Listen to the unnoticed world in this territory.”

(As an aside Stop, Look and Listen in the above text refers to British road safety instructional advertisements, literature etc from previous decades and in a subtle way its inclusion adds a further layering to the sense of motorways’ spectral or hauntological past, with such things being something of a reference point alongside the likes of Public Information films for hauntological orientated work, theories etc.)

As Edward Chell notes in the Foreword the freeway, the US equivalent of the British motorway, is a “trope at the heart of American culture” and there is an almost mythological aspect to how they are presented but he goes on to say that the British motorway is “a more subdued sibling; less epic, more dowdy, with it’s own peculiarly subversive enchantments”.

Those “enchantments” are listed in the Foreword as including J. G Ballard’s novels Crash and Concrete Island; the first being an exploration of a dark twisted eroticism that focuses on car crashes and the second tells of a wealthy man who becomes trapped on a traffic island after his car crashes through the barriers, who is ignored and unable to summon help from the speeding passers by who must keep up their speed in order to not disrupt the flow of traffic – essentially the main character becomes a prisoner of modernity, its concerns, priorities, systems and infrastructure.

The Foreword goes on to list other literary and creative explorations which indicate “a growing interest in these peripheral and threshold worlds” and “hinterlands”, including Joe Moran’s On Roads, Iain Sinclair’s London Orbital and Paul Farley and Michael Symmons-Roberts’ Edgelands: Journeys Into England’s True Wilderness, with it being suggested that Company of Ghosts is intended to complement these and related texts.

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

But before I post Part 2, there’s an interesting, informative and entertaining video at the BBC’s website called “The joy of motorway service stations” that I contributed some background information/research to, including work from the A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways book.

The introductory text for the video is:

When motorway services were the height of cool: Much maligned and under appreciated – but when the first motorway service station opened 60 years ago, it represented modernist progress.

It includes the history of UK service stations and features some rather fine archival footage, some of which does indeed evoke a sense of motorways and service stations as sleek, optimistic, modernist places. In parts it’s also rather humorous, such as the archival instructional film warning families of the perils of picnicking in the central reservation, while elsewhere it covers the semi-forgotten history of service stations as meeting places for 1960s rock music performers.

It’s mentioned in the video about how in their early days service stations were “so revered” that you could buy and send postcards of your favourite ones – which seems like a world or more away from the contemporary utilitarian nature of and connection with them.

The video also explores what service stations represent culturally, including anthropologist Marc Auge’s use of the phrase “non-places” to describe “spaces where people remain anonymous and reality becomes distant“, alongside a hauntological sense of lost progressive futures in relation to service stations, “a decline of the modern” and how Forton Tower was once “a symbol of a time when Britain seemed to be travelling down the newly built motorways to a bright new future”.

It’s not all doom and gloom though (!) as towards the end it is mentioned how service stations have tried to improve and expand what they offer, even, in something of a curious contrast considering the nature of them, trying to be ecologically conscious and sometimes containing farm shops and so on, while some “once derided” service station buildings have been granted listed status.

It ends on a look towards the future, wandering if the introduction of driverless cars will make “the need to stop by the side of the road… a quaint relic of the past“, which is an intriguing proposition and indeed future for these once symbols of futurist progression and modernity.

The video was put together by Gary Milne, who works for the BBC Archive and co-curates the Archive’s Twitter page. He also put together the “What is hauntology? And why is it all around us?” video that can be viewed at the BBC’s website and which in part took inspiration from the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book. Links for the videos and Twitter page are below.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

No More Unto The Dance: Audio Visual Archive 46/52

Booklet artwork from the No More Unto The Dance album.

 

No More Unto The Dance is a reflection of nightlife memories and the search for the perfect transportative electronic beat; a collection of reverberations that have fragmented with the passing of time. It is a document of life once lived in the very heart of metropolises, immersed in their subcultures: a time that was predicated in part by a passion for club culture, dancing, dressing up and related explorations carried out with the obsession, enjoyment and energy of youth.

Much of that gradually (or sometimes not so gradually) faded away or took other pathways.

The world in which this recording was made does still come alive at night but it is more likely to be the nocturnal foraging and wanderings of wildlife rather than in a low-ceilinged basement lit by a strobe light.

The music presented here is the soundtrack to those basements, filtered through the looking glass of a life far removed from the bright lights and big city, the dressing up and dancing but a memory – a world far, far apart, almost that seems to belong only to the worn and aged pages of a faded, forgotten magazine.

The journey it takes envisions a mixtape of memories and echoes of those pages, of 12”s bought because of the primal rush their electronics would bring on when listened to in a record shop, the lucky dip of unknown records bought hopefully from the racks of bargain basements, the more abstract/triphop beats to be found in intriguingly designed/obscure sleeves and to times lost in the seemingly endless dreams of a club; a time when the future burned with the brightness, optimism and idealism of youth.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Audiological Transmission #36​/​​​52​​: No More Unto The Dance – Dark Days
  2. Audiological Transmission #37​/​​​52​​: No More Unto The Dance – Plaintive Resonations
  3. Audiological Transmission #38​/​​​​52​​: No More Unto The Dance – Future Dissolvation
  4. Audiological Transmission #39​/​​​​52​​: No More Unto The Dance – A Moment Of Optimism
  5. Audiological Transmission #40​/​​​​52​​: No More Unto The Dance – When Did It All Break?
  6. Audiological Transmission #51/52: The Experiment Ends – No More Unto The Dance / Revisitation #5a
  7. A Year In The Country – No More Unto The Dance Night and Dawn Editions released

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Quietened Journey – Preorder

Preorder from today 12th November 2019. Released 6th December 2019. 

Available in two CD editions: Dawn Light edition £11.95. Nightfall edition £22.95.
Preorder CDs via our Artifacts Shop and at Bandcamp.
Downloads available to preorder at Bandcamp.

Both editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.

The album is an exploration of abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads, a reflection on them as locations filled with the history, ghosts and spectres of once busy vibrant times – the journeys taken via them, the stories of the lives of those who travelled, built and worked on them.

Nature is slowly reclaiming, or has already reclaimed, much of this infrastructure, with these testaments to industry and “the age of the train” being often left to quietly crumble and decay.

The Quietened Journey is both a celebration and a lament for these now faded links across the land, of the grand dreams and determination which created them and their layered histories that – as these asphalt ribbons, steel lines and stone built roads once prominently were – are threaded throughout the twentieth century and even back to Roman times.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, The Séance, Widow’s Weeds, The Heartwood Institute, Depatterning, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Field Lines Cartographer, Dom Cooper & Zosia Sztykowski, Keith Seatman and Grey Frequency.

 

Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £22.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 1 x print, 4 x stickers and 4 x badges.


Top and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Cover, notes and prints custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Contained in a matchbox style sliding two-part rigid matt card box with cover print.
3) Fully black CD (black on top, black on playable side).
4) 2 x folded sheets of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper – one sheet hand numbered on back.
5) 2 x smaller badges, 2 x larger badges.
6) 1 x smaller round sticker, 2 x larger round stickers, 1 x landscape sticker.

 

Dawn Light Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £11.95.
Hand-finished white/black CD album in textured recycled fold out sleeve with fold-out insert and badge.

Top and underneath of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes metal badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, printed on textured laid paper, hand numbered on back.

Tracklisting:
1) Pulselovers: Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes
2) Sproatly Smith: The 19.48 From Fawley
3) The Séance: Elm Grove Portal
4) Widow’s Weeds: The Ghosts Of Salzcraggie
5) The Heartwood Institute: The Solway Viaduct
6) Depatterning: The Beets At Wellingtonbridge
7) Howlround: Thrown Open Wide
8) A Year In The Country: Silent Treasure
9) Field Lines Cartographer: Ghosts Of The Wires
10) Dom Cooper & Zosia Sztykowski: Summonings
11) Keith Seatman: Along The Valley Sidings
12) Grey Frequency: An Empty Platform

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Seph Lawless’ Abandoned Theme Park Images and the Duality of a Library of Loss: Wanderings 46/52

There seems to be an almost endless selection of books which focus on abandoned buildings etc, which often focus on a particular geographical area or theme – an ever-growing visual library of loss as it were.

However, in amongst such books there is a striking intriguing duality to Seph Lawless’ Abandoned: Hauntingly Beautiful Deserted Theme Parks; because of the theme there is often both a sense of playfulness and poignancy to the images it contains.

At other times, such as in the twilight image above on the right these could well be photographs of a still functioning theme park, maybe one that has merely closed down for the night.

The first impression the images often give is not always necessarily of decrepitude and abandonment. Perhaps the optimistic and joyous nature and memories of such places cloud the objective viewing of them and it takes a moment to register that the amusement rides are actually becoming overgrown with plant life. In other photographs rather than neglect the images could represent amusement parks that are in the process of being built or renovated – perhaps that is again due to the optimistic etc associations of such places.

Also the names and cultural reference points of the abandoned parks add a particular poignancy and resonance, such as a crumbling sign for The Enchanted Forest Playland, a place which appears no longer so enchanted or enchanting (at least in a conventional sense) and a now neglected Wizard of Oz-esque Yellow Brick Road leads… well to nowhere in particular, certainly not a heart for a tin man, courage for a lion and a return home for Dorothy.

Accompanying which rather than seeming like images from the real world, at times the images seem to reference Hollywood film sets, say from a film set decades after an apocalypse or aliens have laid waste to civilisation.

This sense of unreality is particularly present in some images such as those above where teacups have gained surreal Alice In Wonderland-esque proportions or a cheerful clown figure can be seen waving in the distance, literally and in a figuratively dream like way, nearly lost and buried in the encroaching plant life.

As referred to in the book’s title there is a beauty to these images, which is a curious aspect of much of such photographic work; its focusing on finding beauty and even a kind of glamour in ruins and decay. It is quite rare in the book’s photographs that things look more like a discarded eyesore – although that is also present here and there in photographs such as the one above on the right, where a ride’s former components are portrayed as being merely so much detritus…

…or the image above where the abandoned elements seem closer in character to examples of graffiti strewn urban decay.

Aside from the images portraying nature reclaiming these abandoned places, the parks generally seem to be in rural areas – possibly because, particularly in America where they were taken, land in urban city areas is too pricey and limited to allow for large amounts of space such places need.

Both their rural locations and the reclaiming by nature also make the parks seem literally geographically and possibly historically quite far removed from modern-day progress and civilisation, lending them an air nearer to say ancient abandoned monuments and cities discovered in a remote forest.

Although to my knowledge Seph Lawless’ Abandoned is the only traditionally commercially available photography book that focuses on this theme, there is a surprising amount of photography that focuses on abandoned amusement parks online. The number of such images implies that often when a park closes its gates for good they are often left to merely decay rather than being demolished, which again may well be due to the comparative cheapness and wider availability of the rural land in which they are often located.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. Seph Lawless’ website
  2. Abandoned at Skyhorse Publishing
  3. Seph Lawless Abandoned
  4. A general online image search for “Abandoned theme parks in the UK” (there are quite a few…)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. A Bear’s Ghosts – Soviet Dreams and Lost Futures: Chapter 12 Book Images
  2. Day #228/365: Studys and documentation of the fading shadows from defences of the realm…
  3. Day #229/365: A Bear’s Ghosts…
  4. Day #346/365: Audiological Reflections and Pathways #1; a library of loss

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Fractures: Audio Visual Archive 45/52

Booklet artwork for the Fractures album.

Fractures is a gathering of studies and explorations that take as their starting point the year 1973; a time when there appeared to be a schism in the fabric of things, a period of political, social, economic and industrial turmoil, when 1960s utopian ideals seemed to corrupt and turn inwards.

Includes work by Circle/Temple, Sproatly Smith, Keith Seatman, Polypores, Listening Center, The British Space Group, The Hare And The Moon ft Alaska / Michael Begg, Time Attendant, The Rowan Amber Mill, A Year In The Country and David Colohan.

 

“Another excellent snapshot of current experimental music, showing the coexistence of darkness, strangeness, and profound beauty.” Bliss Aquamarine

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Designed in the USSR 1950-1989 and Further Wanderings Amongst a Bear’s Ghosts: Wanderings 45/52

In the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book I wrote about how there are:

“…a number of books and photography projects which could be seen to document a form of former Soviet Union hauntology; work that often focuses on monuments and remnants of Cold War era striving, dreams and far-reaching projects.”

These include the likes of Jan Kempemaer’s Spomenik where he photographed the abstract, brutalist beauty of war monuments, the almost fantastical design in Christopher Herwig’s Bus Stops (now in its second volume), the lost future technology of Danila Tkachenko’s Restricted Areas and the crumbling infrastructure of Rebecca Litchfield’s Soviet Ghosts.

The list of those books seems to keep growing over the years, with Designed in the USSR 1950-1989 being loosely connected to them.

Rather than being a photographic book/project by one particular person, this book collects images of over 350 products from the Moscow Design Museum, which is “an institution dedicated to the preservation of Russia’s design heritage.” In this sense it is possibly nearer to the book Home-Made: Contemporary Russian Folk Artifacts, wherein often handcrafted utilitarian objects – such as a television antenna made from domestic forks – gain an almost outsider/folk art aspect or possibly X-Ray Audio: The Strange Story of Soviet Music on the Bone, which collected images of bootleg music albums pressed onto x-ray film during the Cold War.

In Designed in the USSR’s foreword it is noted that there is a common preconception that Soviet era design and consumer goods were generally of a poor (or at least lesser than the West’s) quality. This book in part sets out to challenge that idea and includes some stunning and intriguingly designed objects.

Viewed now many of these objects have an almost hipster-esque, eminently collectible quality. Some look as though they have tumbled from an imaginary science fiction past – which could well be one way of describing the grand Soviet era philosophy and social project.

Anyways, I thought I would collect together some of the images and objects that I found the most eye-catching:

Some of Soviet era design was a deliberate copy of Western goods, which were sometimes literally reverse engineered and then reproduced with available processes and technology.

I’m not sure if that’s the case with the above radio, headphones and portable video recorder, although they do seem to reflect Western design to quite a degree. Viewed now, particularly the radio and headphones (top left), they put me in mind of contemporary Western products which have been designed to have a fashionable retro aspect to them.

The above device is described in the book as a “hydro copying machine” and I assume it was some form of document copier, although that is not made clear in the book nor can I easily find information about it online.

If that was its function, it looks enormous and complex compared to today’s technology and in terms of its design and size seems nearer to say the IBM 1401 computer which was manufactured from the late 1950s onwards.

Interestingly in the Soviet Union photocopiers were kept under strict lock and key until the late 1980s, forty years after being made available for sale, as their ability to copy subversive material was considered a threat to national security. In the USSR photocopiers would have non-tamperable counters, documents needed to be checked by officials before they could be copied, records kept of what was copied and each copier had to be kept in its own locked secured headquarters.

Again the design of the above car (a form of taxi with a central door for ease of access) has a retro futuristic look, while the fire engines on the right appear in terms of their design as though they should have been created for a 1960s or so science fiction film, say Farenheit 451, rather than have had a real world use.

While the above kit for building a modular radio could well be the kind of modern-day small-scale niche electronic/synth kit that you might find in the likes of Electronic Sound magazine.

To the left are a further image of the hydro copying machine and an “ergonomic design research” image – I’m not quite sure how the two are connected but it makes for an intriguing image.

To the right is a design prototype for a Sphinx; a “super-functional integrated communicative system” from 1986, which included the likes of a removable touchscreen display and stylised speakers and was intended to be a combined television and radio centre for a “smart house” project, which in many ways foresaw and predated much of today’s consumer technology trends.

Space age vacuum cleaners – the one on the right inspired by the literal space age, as it took its inspiration from Sputnik, which was the first artificial satellite and was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

In terms of design these share a similar aesthetic to American populuxe design from the mid-twentieth century, that took its name from popular and deluxe and had a futuristic and Space Age influenced design aesthetic that was generally optimistic in nature, futurist and technology focused.

In this sense they also connect the cover text which accompanies Francis Spufford’s Red Plenty book:

“The Soviet Union was founded on a fairytale. It was built on 20th-century magic called ‘the planned economy’, which was going to gush forth an abundance of good things that the penny-pinching lands of capitalism could never match. And just for a little while, in the heady years of the late 1950s, the magic seemed to be working. Red Plenty is about that moment in history, and how it came, and how it went away; about the brief era when, under the rash leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union looked forward to a future of rich communists and envious capitalists, when Moscow would out-glitter Manhattan, every Lada would be better engineered than a Porsche and sputniks would lead the way to the stars.”

All of which brings me to the covers to the Technical Aesthetics magazine, which would not look out-of-place in the Jonny Trunk compiled book The Music Library, which collected vintage library music album cover art.

Both many of the albums featured in that book and the above magazine covers seem to have an element of being accidental utilitarian art – work created with a functional purpose but which also often had an extra exploratory, creative aspect.

 

Elsewhere:

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

A Year In The Country – Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels: Audio Visual Archive 44/52

Artwork from one of the cassette editions of the A Year In The Country Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels album.

 

“A study of the tales told/required to be told by the sentinels/senders that stand atop the land; a gathering of scattered signals plucked from the ether, cryptograms that wander amongst the airwaves, fading, tired and garbled messages which have journeyed from nearby or who knows where… The Airwaves set of audiological constructs are an exploration that begins with and via silent but ever chattering broadcast towers; their transmissions and sometimes secrets – the songs they weave from their own particular language and emanations… Airwaves harvests, weaves with and recasts the transmissions found amongst the gossamer strands of that network, intertwining these with and through the medium of cathodic reverberations/mechanisms while also taking ministrations from the wellsprings and flows of an otherly pastoralism, travelling through and amongst the brambled flipside of an Arcadian idyll and the subcultural undergrowth of the wald.” (From the text which accompanies the album.)

 

“From the faint radio signals of the first tracks to the static electricity currents of the central part of the work, from saturated synthetic stratifications to splinters of impalpable noise, the impervious listening route of the fifty minutes of Airwaves: Songs From The Sentinels transcends the collaged material to access an alienating expressive dimension, somewhere between soundscaping and hauntology.”  (Excerpt from a digitally translated review at Music Won’t Save You.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Quietened Journey – Preorder and Release Dates

Preorder 12th November 2019. Released 6th December 2019.

Preorders will be available at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp page.

The album is an exploration of abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads, a reflection on them as locations filled with the history, ghosts and spectres of once busy vibrant times – the journeys taken via them, the stories of the lives of those who travelled, built and worked on them.

Nature is slowly reclaiming, or has already reclaimed, much of this infrastructure, with these testaments to industry and “the age of the train” being often left to quietly crumble and decay.

The Quietened Journey is both a celebration and a lament for these now faded links across the land, of the grand dreams and determination which created them and their layered histories that – as these asphalt ribbons, steel lines and stone built roads once prominently were – are threaded throughout the twentieth century and even back to Roman times.

Features music and accompanying text by:
Pulselovers
Sproatly Smith
The Séance
Widow’s Weeds
The Heartwood Institute
Depatterning
Howlround
A Year In The Country
Field Lines Cartographer
Dom Cooper and Zosia Sztykowski
Keith Seatman
Grey Frequency

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Constructing The Wicker Man and Explorations of the Bright, Beautiful and Serene Anti-Horror of Summerisle from Back When: Wanderings 44/52

Constructing The Wicker Man (2005) is a collection of essays that explore The Wicker Man, edited by Jonathan Murray, Lesley Stevenson, Stephen Harper and Benjamin Franks and based around contributions to an academic conference on the film that took place at the University of Glasgow in 2003.

It was the first time that such an event had focused on The Wicker Man at a point when the film was still going through something of a period of growing critical and cult appreciation. It also forebears more recent academic conferences which focus on flipside of folklore related culture, including A Fiend in the Furrows at Queen’s University in 2014, Child Be Strange: A Symposium on Penda’s Fen at the BFI in 2017,  the various Alchemical Landscape related events at Cambridge University which began in 2015, the Centre for Contemporary Legend’s Folklore on Screen conference at Sheffield Hallam University in 2019, The Geographies of Folk Horror: from the Strange Rural to the Urban Wyrd conference at the Royal Geographic Society in 2019, Folk Horror in the 21st Century conference at Falmouth University in 2019 and the upcoming Contemporary Folk Horror in Film and Media Conference at Leeds Beckett University in 2020.

(I have written about those various events at A Year In The Country previously – see links below.)

The book is particularly rare and in terms of books I’ve sought out during the A Year In The Country wanderings that have been hard to find I would put it next to Brian Freemantle’s novelisation of the 1968 film The Touchables and Filming The Owl Service. Second hand copies of Constructing The Wicker Man do appear online from time to time but often there aren’t any to be found.

In 2006 there was a companion book to it published called The Quest for The Wicker Man that drew from the same conference and was edited by the same people which, while it is currently out of print, seems to have had a wider release and copies can still more frequently be found online and generally at a lower price than Constructing The Wicker Man.

Both books could also be seen as companions to the editions of Allan Brown’s more pop culture orientated exploration of the film Inside The Wicker Man.

There is a link below to an in-depth exploration and analysis of Constructing The Wicker Man at the Offscreen website – one of the few pieces of writing about it I can find. That article ends with a still from The Wicker Man captioned with “Bright, Beautiful and Serene: Anti-horror?”, which quite succinctly captures one of the intriguing and curious contradictions of folk horror and related work; the way that rural areas are often places of beauty, respite and so on – sometimes in the real world, sometimes in the films etc which have been labelled as folk horror – but how within such work this sense of the bucolic has an unsettled flipside.

The Wicker Man’s director and co-writer of the novelisation Robin Hardy also provides writing for both Constructing The Wicker Man and The Quest for The Wicker Man books; a short Foreword in Constructing…, where he describes the film’s now well known stilted and staggered release and slow accumulation towards cult and critical appreciation and a longer piece called The Genesis of The Wicker Man in The Quest… in which he discusses the inspirations and development of the film. Robin Hardy is also interviewed later in the book and Gary Carpenter, who was an arranger-orchestrator on the soundtrack, also contributes an article, all of which adds a nice extra touch of direct connection with those who worked on the film.

Curiously my copy of Quest For The Wicker Man is signed. It was bought as a used item and I’m not sure who it was signed by, as it was not mentioned by the seller. The signature is fairly abstract but I think that it begins with an R, so it may be Robin Hardy.

Hmmm…

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Racker & Orphan – Twalif X: Audio Visual Archive 43/52

Booklet artwork from Racker & Orphan’s Twalif X album.

The imagery for the release was created using photographs taken during the outing by Racker & Orphan which were than collaged and intertwined with original artwork by A Year In The Country.

 

“Twalif X is an audio journey through one night; the album was recorded between dusk and dawn on the 12th/13th May 2014 in Robin Wood, Bears Wood, Knott Wood and on Eagle Crag. All recordings were captured on one microphone and processed/mixed by N. Racker.” (Quoted from the album’s accompanying text.)

 

“…sometimes it is as though when listening to Twalif X that you are almost next to these explorers and you find that you have travelled with them to the otherly darker corners of the woodlands and landscape. A work that is both calm and quietly unsettling, experimental with bursts of folkloric melody that appears with the coming of the dawn…” (Quoted from A Year In The Country).

 

Links:

  1. Folklore Tapes
  2. The Hood Faire releases

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Day #308/365: Artifact #44/52 released; Twalif X – Racker&Orphan limited CD album. Dusk / Dawn / Day / Night Editions.
  2. Twalif X at A Year In The Country’s Soundcloud page – Extract 1
  3. Twalif X at A Year In The Country’s Soundcloud page – Extract 2
  4. Day #7/365: Folklore Tapes; the ferrous reels of arcane research projects…
  5. Day #32/365: Wyrd Britannia, Folklore Tapes, Magpahi, Tales From The Black Meadow and English Libraries
  6. Folklore Tapes and the Wyrd Britannia Festival – Journeying to Hidden Corners of the Land/the Ferrous Reels and Explorations of an Arcane Research Project: Chapter 41 Book Images

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Nightmare Man Part 2 – Frankenstein-like Meddling, Vodaynoid Myths and Exploratory Portals: Wanderings 43/52

Part 2 of a post on the 1981 British television series The Nightmare Man (you can read Part 1 here).

Real world worries of the time around the Soviets gaining a lead in the arms race are also touched on as the Soviet commander reveals that they are “20 years ahead” of the West in terms of creating functioning cybernetic man-machine technology.

Cybernetics is often used to refer to the scientific study of how information is communicated in machines and electronic devices, comparing this with how information is communicated in the brain and nervous system, with a connected interest and research in the possible linking of the two. Science fiction often seems to have been fascinated by the idea of cybernetics and the controlling of machines and electronic devices by a literal physical connection with them via say a brain implants etc, whereas in reality the advances and digital technology becoming ubiquitous to a level that previously would have been science fiction like has almost exclusively focused on the continued physical separation of brain and device. Watched today the “cybernetics-gone-awry” nature of The Nightmare Man seems to connect with an almost primal human fear of Frankenstein-like unnatural meddling in the correct order of things.

Curiously at the end of the series when the police officers are shown discussing what has happened there is an almost light-hearted dismissiveness, as though the washing up of advanced Soviet military technology on their shores, the deaths of a number of island inhabitants by a deranged cybernetically enhanced pilot, the arrival of a secret Soviet military task force on the island and so on were just slightly out of the ordinary occurrences rather than quite extreme and almost fantastical.

In tone and thematically the series connects with previous British science fiction, in particular Doctor Who and Quatermass and the Pit; with different characters its four half-hour episodes and the battle with a science fiction horror-esque creature could well be a Doctor Who story, which often followed a similar format and themes and the sense that to some degree the Vodyanoid craft has its own nervous system and is alive appears to be an implicit nod or connection to the characteristics of the mysterious craft discovered in Quatermass and the Pit.

This connection with Doctor Who is further emphasised as the series was adapted by Ron Craddock, who wrote and edited a number of Doctor Who scripts and it was directed by Who veteran Douglas Camfield. Less overtly there is a further connection as the attacker was played by Pat Gorman who played a number of bit and supporting characters over the years and appeared in 83 episodes of Doctor Who.

Initially when the Soviet commander presents himself in military uniform and declares martial law and a state of emergency it is also reminiscent of the fictional Doctor Who military organisation UNIT which was prominent in the series in the later 1960s and part of the 1970s. This organisation’s purpose was to investigate and combat paranormal and extraterrestrial threats to the Earth and they often collaborated with the Doctor.

Despite being based in technological advances, there is an almost preternatural aspect to the Vodyanoid and its sense of being alive, along with that the research by the Soviets that created it and the pilots appears to have been rooted in part in esoteric fringe areas of science such as mind control. This otherworldly aspect is also heightened by it being named after the Vodyanoi which the Soviet commander explains is a deadly creature of Russian mythology which can fly above the water or deep beneath it.

For myself there is a further connection with Quatermass and the discovery of more cerebral science fiction and fantasy; I watched the series when it was first broadcast in the early 1980s and bought the television tie-in release of the novel from a selection of reduced price books in a local newsagent. From the same book racks I also bought Nigel Kneale’s adaptation of the final series of Quatermass and the 1981 reissue of Hank Stine’s The Prisoner: A Day In The Life, based on the iconic 1960s television series.

This was at a time when to grow up in a small British town meant that your access to more exploratory or non-mainstream culture was very limited and that rack of bargain books became an almost magical portal-like seeming selection or part of the world to a young chap (something I have referred to before around these parts and which some of the roots of A Year In The Country may well be traced in part back to). Such at the time heady discoveries incorporated seeking the like of the less mainstream sides of science fiction and fantasy via discovering the likes of Michael Moorcock in a local bookshop, Quality Communications comic anthology Warrior that included early episodes of Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s dystopian V for Vendetta alongside the also Quality published House of Hammer/Halls of Horror anthologies that featured an adaptation of The Quatermass Xperiment and even The Rocky Horror Picture Show seen view a late night television broadcast.

I am not sure that I fully understood what much of this culture was at the time as I was probably a little too young but looking back I think that one of the things I was being drawn to was not purely then contemporary science fiction but rather a strand of work that connected back to when “the likes of ‘speculative fiction’ magazine New Worlds and Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius captured and expressed a moment where science fiction and related writing was hiply, exploratively psych like” (to quote myself at A Year In The Country) – a point when science fiction intertwined with and was an expression of the counter-culture and work of a more exploratory nature.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The Nightmare Man DVD
  2. A very particular period snapshot: the opening and closing continuity announcements for the opening episode of BBC1’s 1981 thriller series “The Nightmare Man”, posted by The TV Museum
  3. New Worlds Magazine
  4. Warrior Comics

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Nightmare Man – Cold War Paranoia, The Island as Restorative Balm and Unsettling “Other”: Wanderings 42/52
  2. Peter Haars, New Worlds and the Slipstream of the Future’s Past: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 42/52
  3. The Stone Tape, Quatermass, The Road and The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale – Unearthing Tales from Buried Ancient Pasts: Chapter 40 Book Images
  4. Day #197/365: Huff-ity puff-ity ringstone round; Quatermass and the finalities of lovely lightning
  5. The Prisoner – Part 1 – A Visit to a Real Life High-Definition Dream: Wanderings 33/52
  6. The Prisoner – Part 2 – Ongoing Battles and a Circle of Escape: Wanderings 34/52
  7. Day #312/365: The closing of corner shop portals, island nocturnes and a revisiting of transmissions from after the flood

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Grey Frequency – Immersion: Audio Visual Archive 42/52

Print artwork from Grey Frequency’s Immersion (created by AYITC Ocular Signals Department utilising visual work/source material by Gavin Morrow).

 

“Ethereal ambient transmissions… Through the manipulation of found sounds and field recordings Grey Frequency explores themes of memory, folklore, and the world of audio disintegration. Soundscapes are crafted using audio cassettes, tape players and effects pedals, creating an atmospheric blend of lo-fi ambient textures, dense drones and abstract musical passages.” (Text written by Grey Frequency.)

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country: