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:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Nightmare Man Part 1 – Cold War Paranoia, The Island as Restorative Balm and Unsettling “Other”: Wanderings 42/52

The Nightmare Man is a British science fiction horror tinged four part mini-series originally broadcast in 1981, adapted from David Wiltshire’s 1978 novel Child of Vodyanoi.

It is set on a small-ish remote Scottish island where the inhabitants start to be attacked and murdered by an unknown assailant with the beyond human strength to literally tear their victims apart and non-human characteristics and for a while during the series there is various debate about whether the attacker could be of alien origin or even a previously undiscovered sea creature or monster.

As the series progresses the island becomes almost completely isolated from the outside world and any possible external help as a heavy fog descends making nagivation to or from it impossible. Radio signals appear to possibly be jammed and the phone lines are cut; as is often the case in fantastical horror orientated work remote rural areas are shown as being the “other” and detached from civilisation and its extensive infrastructure and support of the forces of law and order, something which is further enhanced in the series in a Wicker Man-esque manner by the island location.

Four local police officers are left to try and contain and capture the killer on 35 miles of largely rural landscape made inaccessible due to the inclement weather conditions, although there does appear to be a curious amount of near-military and armed support for them; the local dentist is an ex army-partrooper, one of the local holiday makers is a military man, the local coastguard are armed and their hunt for the attacker the police are able to collect together and lead bands of nearly forty locals who possess their own firearms.

In the UK the ownership of firearms has traditionally been largely heavily restricted and limited, particularly in urban areas but the fact that so many of the locals in this rural coastal area have easy access to them subconsciously provides a further sense of remove from more mainstream mainland society; although the ownership of such weapons is likely to have been largely due to sport and/or agricultural pest control reasons, this is not made implicit in the series and so the viewer is left with a sense of such areas being almost frontier like places where normal societal restrictions and expectations do not hold such a sway as in urban areas.

Shot largely on location and recorded on video the series’ imagery and colour palette has a murky, low definition appearance and is all subdued greys and greens that are distinctive of a large proportion of drama from the 1970s and 1980s; also much of the series is shot at night, in daytime shadowed underlit locations and/or through heavy fog and it is often difficult to fully make out what is happening onscreen. This is accompanied by the viewer being kept in the dark about the attacker’s origins, rationale or even what it is and for a large part of the series the attacker is also not shown onscreen which adds to the sense of menace and tension.

Further heightening this when the attacker does appear the viewer is shown the scene from its viewpoint and the image becomes heavily tinted with a red haze, accompanied by laboured, heavy and unnatural sounding breathing.

This is a technically simple device that is far removed from today’s CGI-heavy large budget special effects and although the physical aspects and dismembering are referred to by the characters there is little onscreen violence and no gore but the presence of the attacker still creates a strong sense of threat and terror utilising minimal resources and without the use of overly explicit graphic imagery.

Although the rural coastal landscape is presented in a somewhat bleak or dour manner this is still the type of area associated with calm, rest, a steady way of life and vacations, which is referred to in the series in particular by one of the lead characters who has returned to live there after London and says that she knows she will live on the island forever as it is home and where she belongs. The contrast with such day-to-day calm and normal expectations and the sudden almost alien seeming appearance of the attacker’s red hazed vision makes for shocking and unsettling viewing.

The contrasting aspects of the restorative nature of the landscape and the events that take place there is given further expression in the closing sections and credits; the ends of the first three episodes freeze on a still of these red hazed attacks, the discovery of a victim and the fear of an onlooker seeing an attack who is also a potential victim, all of which then fade into the gentle waves of a grey misty rural cliff top coastline as the credits roll. Once the theme music fades out there are a few brief seconds where the only noise is a very lonely and isolated seeming recording of the wind.

Later on in the series the attacker’s origins are discovered to be rooted in the international tensions and arms technology research of the time, which adds a plausible period aspect of Cold War related paranoia and also layers the sense of threat in the series with real world worries and fears; it is explained that a NATO submarine was trailing a Soviet submarine and there was a collision and a nuclear accident, the fallout from which caused the malfunction of a small Soviet experimental craft called a Vodyanoid and the irradiation of its pilot, who has been genetically modified to increase his strength and was cybernetically connected via a brain implant with his craft.

The Vodyanoid’s pilot had made an emergency landing on the island; it is explained in the plot that disconnecting from the Vodyanoid normally required skilled handlers, who because of the situation are not present and so when the pilot disembarks he literally leaves part of his brain in the craft’s cybernetics, with him being left as a deranged madman operating only on a remaining instinct to kill that has been honed and enhanced over years of military training.

This is told by the holidaying military man who after attempting to present himself as a British military leader and placing the island under martial law in an attempt to control the situation is ultimately revealed to be the leader of a specialised Soviet military unit, which comes to the island in order to reclaim the Vodyanoid craft and hopefully avoid an international incident. The craft is revealed to be carrying a biological warfare weapon which has leaked and the Soviets supply the local population with an antidote.

This aspect of the plot further heightens the series’ connection with Cold War paranoia; the “nobody wins” aspects of suspected biological warfare and the sense of hidden subterranean international activity by the Soviets, alongside which UK national sovereignty is invaded with impunity and without effective resistance by a a Soviet military taskforce. Also the pilot of the Vodyanoid leaves a radioactive trail due to his being caught in the blast from the nuclear submarine collision and when in the series a geiger counter is activated by his presence there is a sense of the nuclear dangers of the Cold War coming into contact with the day-to-day world…

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

 

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

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Nightmare Man Part 2 – Frankenstein-like Meddling, Vodaynoid Myths and Exploratory Portals: Wanderings 43/52
  2. Day #183/365: Steam engine time and remnants of transmissions before the flood
  3. Day #212/365: With but a tap and a swoosh; the loss of loss and paper encapturings of once fleeting televisual flickerings…

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Corn Mother: Audio Visual Archive 41/52

Cover art variation from The Corn Mother.

The album features music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies, Dominic Cooper, A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds, Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer.

 

Reflections on an imaginary film:

In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.

The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers in an attempt to drive the spirit of the corn mother back into the earth for next year’s sowing.

The small closely-knit farming community’s worries about coming modernisation and the possible repeat of a blighted harvest that had occurred earlier in the village’s history, lead to burgeoning irrational fears and a search for a scapegoat who they persecute in order to salve those fears. Suffering from guilt and remorse at their actions, the villagers become plagued by nightmares in which their selected scapegoat returns to them to exact her revenge, and this becomes known as “the visiting of the corn mother”. The plot descends into a maelstrom where reality and unreality merge and the village becomes the kingdom of the corn mother.

The film was completed but was never released due to financial problems with the production company which resulted in legal wrangles, unpaid fees and recriminations, during which knowledge of the whereabouts of the footage became lost, with rumours suggesting that it may have been deliberately destroyed. It has been reported that a handful of preview copies of the film were made available on the now defunct formats of the time and these have become something of a mythical grail for film collectors.

This album is an exploration of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom, whisperings that have seemed to gain a life of their own, multiplying and growing louder with each passing year.

 

“You want to see the film as described in the liner notes, and as conjured in the songs on the album, and that’s an incredible trick to pull off… This is hauntology – the genre, rather than the philosophical dystopic – in its finest form, where buried memories of film, TV, music, and life come to the surface, often unverifiable because the hard copy has been lost or was never properly recorded in the first instance.” Alan Boon, Starburst

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways Book – Released

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

The book is available at:
Amazon UK, US, France, Germany and their various other international sites.
The A Year In The Country Artifacts Shop and our Bandcamp site.
Lulu.com

Author: Stephen Prince. 238 pages. Paperback and Ebook.

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.

The book is edited and typeset by Ian Lowey of Bop Cap Book Services.

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

“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.” Alan Boon, Starburst

“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.” Dave Thompson, Goldmine

“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.” Grey Malkin, Moof

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 4 – A Consideration of Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Company of Wolves and their Varying Degrees of Separation from Folk Horror: Wanderings 41/52

Part 4 of a post that takes as some of its starting points the folk/fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, the films The Company of Wolves, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Red Riding Hood, alongside “The dangers of straying from the path and tales of lycanthropy” (visit Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here).

The Wicker Man Collage-A Year In The Country-1080

As a final point or few in connection to such things, would it be fair to describe the likes of The Company of Wolves, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Red Riding Hood as folk horror? They might not be directly connected to what has become a fairly compact near canon of folk horror cinema that includes at its core the films The Wicker Man (1973), Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Witchfinder General (1968) but they do appear to contain some similarities with work that has come to be connected with folk horror.

To quote myself in the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book folk horror could be defined as often containing:

“…a sense of their inhabitants living in, or becoming isolated from, the wider world, allowing moral beliefs to become untethered from the dominant norms and allowing the space for ritualistic, occult, supernatural or preternatural events, actions and consequences to occur.”

A number of those characteristics can be found in The Company of Wolves et al, while their source material is often folk and/or fairy tales and they are all horror films in part. The communities they focus on often do appear isolated and in say Red Riding Hood there appears to be a breakdown of the rule of law and its restrictions on the arbitrary exercise of power, with their isolation enabling such actions to be undertaken in a relatively unfettered manner.

In The Company of Wolves and Red Riding Hood there is a kicking back against the authority and advice given by elders but this is more due to rites of passage rebellion than necessarily due purely to isolation from the wider world.

To a degree Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters could be considered connected to but not strictly folk horror in the subcultural sense that has flourished in recent years, while The Company of Wolves may possibly be more closely connected or entwined with it. In part those different degrees of closeness and separation are due to the way in which folk horror has often become a genre definition that refers to work of a more cult, subcultural and less mainstream commercial nature.

Such differing degrees of separation may in part be due as much to the mainstream, escapist, commercial and non-cult film nature of Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters as much as their cultural differences.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The Company of Wolves trailer
  2. The Company of Wolves DVD and Blu-ray
  3. Red Riding Hood’s trailer
  4. Red Riding Hood DVD and Blu-ray
  5. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters DVD and Blu-ray
  6. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters trailer
  7. Folk Horror Revival
  8. The Book of the Lost
  9. A Fiend in the Furrows
  10. Robin Redbreast DVD
  11. The Wicker Man Wikia

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. 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
  2. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 2 – The Company of Wolves, the Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax and the Bridging of Worlds: Wanderings 39/52
  3. The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 3 – Hollywood Dons the Red Cloak Once More and Reveals “What They Did Next”: Wanderings 40/52

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Quietened Mechanisms: Audio Visual Archive 40/52

Artwork variation from The Quietened Mechanisms.

 

The album is an exploration of abandoned and derelict industry, infrastructure, technology and equipment that once upon a time helped to create, connect and sustain society.

It wanders amongst deserted factories, discarded machinery, closed mines, mills and kilns and their echoes and remains; taking a moment or two to reflect on these once busy, functioning centres of activity and the sometimes sheer scale or amount of effort and human endeavour that was required to create and operate such structures and machines, many of which are now just left to fade away.

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Howlround, Grey Frequency, Listening Center, Sproatly Smith, Embertides, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country, Dom Cooper, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Depatterning, Pulselovers, Quaker’s Stang, The Heartwood Institute and Spaceship.

 

“The theme of the… collection is the end of Britain’s industrial revolution, a period of social and geological turmoil whose ruins still litter the landscape, especially in the Midlands and North of England. This isn’t industrial nostalgia… but an often poignant commemoration.” John Coulthart, Feuilleton

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Echoes And Reverberations Reviews and Broadcasts (and Something of a Revisiting of The Quietened Village, The Corn Mother, The Quietened Bunker, The Watchers, The Quietened Mechanisms and All The Merry Year Round)


A selection of the reviews, broadcasts etc of the Echoes And Reverberations album:

“Amongst the hypnotic electronica from Grey Frequency, Listening Center and The Heartwood Institute are recreations of the atmospheres of Penda’s Fen, Survivors and No Blade of Grass, as well as pieces inspired by the scripts and soundtracks of imaginary films. The music is enhanced by field recordings from the length and breadth of our sceptred isles – from a suspension bridge in Herefordshire, a church in Worcestershire, a graveyard in Chiswick and a viaduct in the Lake District – and the end result is bewitching and enthralling, transporting you from wherever you’re hiding out the current hellscape to more comfortable, if apocalyptic, times and places.” Alan Boon, Starburst, issue 465. Visit the review online here and the print edition of the magazine here.

“…audio Polaroids of a secret cartography… a gentle lullaby for post-dystopian dreams.” Joe Banks, Shindig!, issue 95

“…every fresh listen adds another layer of understanding – or, perhaps, misunderstanding – to the experience, to conjure fresh and further phantoms around the dimly remembered moments of a decades-old TV show…” Dave Thompson, Spincycle at Goldmine

“The Radiophonic Workshop is the ghost at this particular feast… Dom Cooper’s What Has Been Uncovered Is Evil takes the Hammer film of Quatermass and the Pit as its focus, creating a soundscape of sinister electronics in a nod to Tristram Carey’s Martian soundtrack…” John Coulthart, feuilleton

“…rain drops, sun clocks and piano painted soundscapes bring listeners from the bucolic settings of its predecessors into a worldly odyssey of global kaleidoscopic changes” Eoghan Lyn, We Are Cult

“Sproatly Smith merge hazy dreamlike folk with eerie, ominous soundscaping in a piece inspired by the post-apocalyptic 70s TV series Survivors. The Ogham Stones by Depatterning imagines pagan carvings from County Wexford via brooding electronic experimentation incorporating surreal use of folk motifs. The collection holds together as a cohesive album with a shared aesthetic. Many of the pieces have an unsettling nature and sound believably like incidental music from vintage horror films.” Kim Harten, Bliss Aquamarine

“Pressed with a softly surging wide screen aspect, [Grey Frequency’s] King Penda deftly looms with impacting grace, much like some celestial watcher in the skies approaching, arriving and eventually departing our solar postcode, its pulsating kosmische toning emanating both a curiously radiance which at once serves as a mixed messenger herald of tranquil peace like welcoming or else a foreboding dark shadow of portent.” Mark Barton, The Sunday Experience

And then on to the radio etc broadcasts:

The Unquiet Meadow played something of a smorgasboard from the album across three episodes and included tracks by Sproatly Smith, The Heartwood Institute, Pulselovers and Grey Frequency. Visit the episodes here, here and here. Their Facebook page can be found here.

Steve Baker played The Heartwood Institute’s Ribble Head Viaduct on his On The Wire radio show, which has been something of a stalwart amongst the radio waves for several decades. Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Lancashire, the show is archived at Mixcloud and its blog is here.

Sunrise Ocean Bender played Pulselover’s and Grey Frequency’s tracks (alongside a track from sometimes fellow AYITC traveller Keith Seatman) on the Of Course As Well episode of their radio show. Originally broadcast on WRIR, the show is archived at Mixcloud and its blog post can be found here.

The Gated Canal Community Radio, hosted by Front & Follow and The Geography Trip, played Grey Frequency’s King Penda on their sohw (alongside a track by Polypores, another sometimes fellow AYITC traveller). Originally broadcast on Reform Radio, the show is archived at Mixcloud and the Gated Canal Community Radio website is here.

The Séance also played King Penda on their phantom seaside radio show (where you will also find some of Jodie Lowther’s intriguing work). Originally broadcast on Radio Reverb, totallyradio and Sine FM, the show is archived at Mixcloud and the episodes track listing can be found at their website here.

Mind De-Coder included Pulselovers The Edge Of The Cloud in amongst the otherly pastoral and psychedelic wanderings of its show, where you will also find the likes of Moon Wiring Club, Folklore Tapes, a track from the Ghost Box released Chanctonbury Rings, Meg Baird and some archival Tangerine Dream.  The show is archived at Mixcloud and the accompanying blog post can be found here.

And then returning to some broadcasts of previous AYITC albums:

Golden Apples of the Sun included several AYITC released tracks amongst their journeys through “psych-tinged realms, pastoral folk, glitch, lo-fi electronica, hauntology and hypnagogic pop… a world beyond time, where the past and future intermingle in sun-dappled hallucinogenic soundscapes of strange and beautiful music”.

Included on the Tripping on Birdsong episode of the show were Sproatly Smith’s Watching You, Phonofiction’s Xylem Flow and Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics The Brave Old Oak from The Watchers and also Depatterning’s The Keepers Dilemma from The Corn Mother, where they can be found alongside tracks by The Valerie Project, The Advisory Circle, Espers, Carl Sagan, The Twelve Hour Foundation and Jane Weaver. Originally broadcast on RTR FM, a resequenced version of the show is archived at Mixcloud and its accompanying blog post is here.

The Present Continuous, a project which explores the fringes and avant-garde of music and audio, included The Heartwood Institute’s Corn Dolly from The Corn Mother album, alongside the likes of Howlround and Belbury Poly in their Folk Horor and Hauntology Special. The show is archived at Mixcloud here and their site is here.

And finally, something of a repeat mention for:

Bob Fischer’s The Haunted Generation, which featured an interview with AYITC and a discussion about Echoes And Reverberations alongside “pastoral headspace, Cold War dread, Rob Young’s Electric Eden book, Noah’s Castle, Ghost Box, The Prisoner, his new book/album” and a fair bit more. Visit that at The Haunted Generation website here and the post about it at AYITC here.

And an A Year In The Country Special of the Kites and Pylons radio show, which featured tracks from Echoes And Reverberations, The Quietened Village, The Quietened Bunker, The Corn Mother, The Quietened Mechanisms, The Watchers and All The Merry Year Round by The Heartwood Institute, Listening Center, Field Lines Cartographer, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, Quaker’s Stang, A Year In The Country, Pulselovers, Howlround, Circle/Temple and Grey Frequency. Originally broadcast on Mad Wasp Radio, the show is archived at Mixcloud here and the post about it at AYITC is here.

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

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

The album 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.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Dangers of Straying from the Path and Tales of Lycanthropy Part 3 – Hollywood Dons the Red Cloak Once More and Reveals “What They Did Next”: Wanderings 40/52

Part 3 of a post that takes as some of its starting points the folk/fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, the film The Company of Wolves and “The dangers of straying from the path and tales of lycanthropy” (visit Part 1 here and Part 2 here).

As mentioned in Part 1 the fairy/folk tale of Little Red Riding hood has had 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.

A more recent take on the tale was Red Riding Hood, a 2011 film directed by Catherine Hardwicke and which is very loosely based on its source material. This version has been called a “romance horror”, which is not all that surprising once you learn that Catherine Hardwicke also directed Twilight (2008), which was a form of “vampire romance horror” aimed at teenagers/younger adults and was a large-scale commercial success that went on to take nearly 400 million US dollars at the box office.

Red Riding Hood may have been a conscious or not attempt to see “if it worked for vampires, it might also work for werewolves.”

Red Riding Hood takes the original tale’s possible focusing on the passage to maturity and woman hood of a young girl and transplants it more into the landscape of post-teenage angst, rebelling again parental approval and the eventual triumphing of a love which they disapprove of.

This 2011 take on the fairy tale sits alongside other contemporary television and cinema reinterpretations of mythology and fairy tales that includes the likes of television series Grimm (2011-2017), which was a form of police procedural set in a contemporary world where mythological creatures exist and Once Upon a Time (2011-2018) in which characters from various fairy tales and other stories have been transported to a real world town while also being robbed of their original memories and the film Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), which has been described as being a “dark fantasy action horror comedy film” (y’kno’, just to make sure it appeals to the fan base of as many different genres as possible).

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is set in an unspecified time period probably hundreds of years ago and is very loosely inspired by the original German fairy tale Hansel & Gretel where a young brother and sister are kidnapped by a witch who lives in a forest, in a house constructed of all kinds of sweets, cakes etc, where she intends to fatten up the brother before eating him. In the original version the children do eventually defeat the witch and escape to live “happily ever after” with their family but in the 2013 film they defeat the witch and become famed roving witch hunters.

Essentially it is a sequel to the original Hansel & Gretel fairy tale, a suggesting of “what they did next and what became of their lives after they had been through a traumatic experience”. Although not necessarily overtly expressed, this is something of a divergence to a degree from standard genre film tropes, where often a story ends at the point when the foe has been vanquished or soon after and before any potentially complex longstanding emotional and psychological after effects can be seen.

However (please note: spoiler alert) there is no need to worry as Hansel & Gretel do ultimately defeat their latest witch foes – although the film ends with a sense that their quest is unending and that they have now added new younger recruits to their cause. In a way, while it could be argued that while there are still evil witches loose in the world that their work is necessary in terms of fighting the good fit, it could also be suggested that their lives have been permanently scarred and set along a possibly never ending particular path of seeking out and even acts of vengeance by their previous experiences.

The film is at heart a blockbuster action romp and a popcorn friendly piece of cinematic escapism, which while being set in times gone by adds a number of contemporary touches to the story and technology portrayed; the duo’s weaponry is a steampunk-esque take on period weaponry and the forced diet of candy that the witch inflicted on Hansel has left him diabetic and he needs an insulin shot every few hours or he will die.

The 2011 film Red Riding Hood also brings a contemporary aspect to its source material in that it contains a considerable amount of ambiguity and darkness; in it a village is threatened by a mystical wolf creature/a werewolf and the story revolves largely around Valerie, who is the red hood/cape wearing Little Red Riding Hood character (albeit more a young woman than a young girl).

In order to defeat the wolf a renowned witch hunter from outside the village called Father Solomon is asked for help. His actions increasingly blur the lines between good and evil as he employs increasingly harsh authoritarian and questionable methods in his quest to discover and kill the werewolf, possibly causing more death and distress than his foe does. He imposes his dictatorial will on the village via his group of heavily armed men, who could be seen to be a paramilitary force of questionable authority.

All this is done under his declaration and justification that “We do this for the greater good”.

Although his men seem fairly disposable and prone to being despatched by the wolf, for a good portion of the film Father Solomon himself appears near omnipotent, if somewhat ineffective in his quest but quite suddenly his reign ends and he himself is first possibly mortally wounded by the wolf and finally turned on and killed by one of his own men. Even at the end he maintains that his actions were undertaken for higher moral purposes:

“I only meant to serve. To protect us from darkness.”

As with much werewolf, vampire etc genre fiction and film, Red Riding Hood contains its own mythology on restrictions that are placed on the werewolves actions and abilities; here the wolf cannot enter Holy/church grounds, although this is not explained why, just as say often in fictional work vampire’s cast no reflection in mirrors for largely unexplained reasons and they are particularly defenceless against Holy water, crosses and so forth.

In Red Riding Hood the inability to enter Holy ground seems to imply that the werewolf is inherently evil, which appears to be at odds with the film’s ambiguity about the creatures, their motives and their position on the scale of good and evil – something which is particularly highlighted due to the ambiguous nature and actions of Father Solomon.

Initially the ending of Red Riding Hood appears to connect with Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters in a sense of acknowledging the traumatic after effects of dark and extremely distressing experiences. Valerie finds that she no longer wishes to live in the village and has begun to live an isolated life in her granny’s former home in the woods:

“Everything I knew was ripped apart. I saw it differently, all the lies… the wolf didn’t come back but the village still lived in fear, it was the only life they knew.”

At this point her “forbidden” and parentally disapproved of romantic love is no longer present as he had been bitten/infected with the werewolf curse during the film’s battles and he has nobly left in order to learn how to control this infliction.

Ultimately though the film returns to more well trodden genre routes, expectations and a sense of a “true love conquers all” happy ending as he returns to her and the final scenes show them frolicking in the snow happily and free together.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

Posted on Leave a comment

The Shildam Hall Tapes: Audio Visual Archive 39/52

Artwork from The Shildam Hall Tapes – “Reflections on an imaginary film.”

In the late 1960s a film crew began work on a well-funded feature film in a country mansion, having been granted permission by the young heir of the estate.

Amidst rumours of aristocratic decadence, psychedelic use and even possibly dabbling in the occult, the film production collapsed, although it is said that a rough cut of it and the accompanying soundtrack were completed but they are thought to have been filed away and lost amongst storage vaults.

Few of the cast or crew have spoken about events since and any reports from then seem to contradict one another and vary wildly in terms of what actually happened on the set.

A large number of those involved, including a number of industry figures who at the time were considered to have bright futures, simply seemed to disappear or step aside from the film industry following the film’s collapse, their careers seemingly derailed or cast adrift by their experiences.

Little is known of the film’s plot but several unedited sections of the film and its soundtrack have surfaced, found amongst old filmstock sold as a job lot at auction – although how they came to be there is unknown.

The fragments of footage and audio that have appeared seem to show a film which was attempting to interweave and reflect the heady cultural mix of the times; of experiments and explorations in new ways of living, a burgeoning counter culture, a growing interest in and reinterpretation of folk culture and music, early electronic music experimentation, high fashion, psychedelia and the crossing over of the worlds of the aristocracy with pop/counter culture and elements of the underworld.

The Shildam Hall Tapes takes those fragments as its starting point and imagines what the completed soundtrack may have sounded like; creating a soundtrack for a film that never was.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Features work by Gavino Morretti, Sproatly Smith, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Circle/Temple, A Year In The Country, The Heartwood Institute, David Colohan, Listening Centre and Pulselovers.

 

“‘Ext – Day – Overgrown Garden’ is all knotweed and nettle, tendrils of melody and petals of expectation… Circle/Temple’s ‘Maze Sequence’ leads you through the silent hedges, and leaves you in the middle. You’ll find your own way out eventually.  Probably… The Shildham Hall Tapes leaves you convinced that you remember the show… you can picture certain scenes and might even recall the unease you felt when you went up to bed when it finished.  Which is an startling achievement in itself. The fact that you now have proof that it happened is even more amazing.” Dave Thompson writing at Spincycle / Goldmine

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country: