“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.)
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.
“A field recording is defined as: ‘…the term used for an audio recording produced outside a recording studio, and the term applies to recordings of both natural and human-produced sounds.’ Racker&Orphan’s album Twalif X could be considered a form of field recording, although it is more a document of an experimental journey than being strictly a scientifically faithful reproduction.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country.)
Preorder 23rd July 2019. Released 16th August 2019.
Echoes And Reverberations is a field recording based mapping of real and imaginary film and television locations.
It is in part an exploration of their fictional counterparts’ themes; from apocalyptic tales to never-were documentaries and phantasmagorical government-commissioned instructional films via stories of conflicting mystical forces of the past and present, scientific experiments gone wrong and unleashed on the world, the discovery of buried ancient objects and the reawakening of their malignant alien influence, progressive struggles in a world of hidebound rural tradition and the once optimism of post-war new town modernism.
The album is also a reflection on the way in which areas – whether rural, urban, or edgeland – can become permeated with such tales and undercurrents, creating a landscape of the imagination where fact and fiction intertwine. The resulting layering may at times create ongoing echoes and reverberations which personally, culturally and possibly literally leave their marks on the history and atmospheres of places, with these locations becoming a source of inspiration and cultural pilgrimage.
Each track contains field recordings from one such journey and their seeking of the spectral will-o’-the-wisps of locations’ imagined or often hidden flipsides.
“I’m talking to a machine. What’s happening to me? I’ve gone nuts.” (Quoted from the film Electric Dreams – in a manner possibly somewhat prescient of interactions with contemporary voice activated computer devices.)
Part 2 of a post on the imagined omnipotence of the 1980s computer in American cinema (visit Part 1 here.)
In Steve Barron’s film Electric Dreams, which was released in 1984, a standard shop bought 1980s home PC gains artificial intelligence, sentience and falls in love – seemingly extending its processing power massively by connecting with a government computer over a dial-up modem. As with some of the other above films, this massively conflates the abilities of computers and related technology at the time – in 1984 modems could generally transfer around 9.6 Kilobits per second or around 0.0012 Megabytes. To put that into context a one page word processor text only document today could well be over 800 Kilobits, a compressed high-definition image could well be over 7000 Kilobits in size. So obviously there were some pretty fancy compression algorithms being carried out to enable the transfer of enough computer power to enable the attaining of sentience over a few minutes of dial-up modem data transfer (!).
Alongside gaining artificial intelligence, it can also take over and control the lights etc in its owner’s home, something which is only just becoming even slightly widespread via digital technology today.
However, in Electric Dreams there is still a nod to the realities of the time as the sentient computer is still often interacted with via a standard keyboard text input system and it does not appear to able to visually see, although it can hear and speak.
At the beginning of the film it is also somewhat prescient of modern days habits as in the airport nearly everybody, no matter what age, is seen interacting with a digital device of some sort – games, pocket filing computers etc. At its conclusion it also reflects contemporary trends to the sometimes potentially overwhelming nature of modern technological devices as the computer’s owner and his romantic partner plan to get away from it all, saying happily that they will have “Two weeks with no phone and no TV”.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country I have talked about how the pace of cinema (and television) today tends to often be rather rapid – or as director John Carpenter put it there are two main ways of making films:
“…one which draws from German Expressionism and allows space for the viewer’s imagination and that which draws from Russian montage and is more concerned with a constant, possibly shallow, stimulation of the viewer which he has referred to as b-bop like.”
Electric Dreams is a forerunner of such things and its director Steve Barron had a history in making pop music videos, which often used a faster pace and editing to keep and catch their audience’s attention in a relatively small amount of time. He has commented that this aspect of making pop music videos fed back into cinema as viewing became more about pace and adrenaline, with audiences looking for a more immediate impact. Indeed viewed now Electric Dreams could in part be seen as a segue of pop music videos, something which also fit with its production by Virgin Pictures Limited which was connected to Virgin Records and which at that time tended to aim towards a promotional synergy by releasing the music from the soundtrack and hopefully it entering the pop music charts.
The potential threat of new technological forms and scientific discoveries being explored in fictional works, particularly when they gain sentience, could be seen to have quite a long lineage, one which stretches back to at least Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein in which a young scientist creates a human like creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. In that novel the creature goes on to wreak death and destruction but ultimately understands the error or its crimes and vows to destroy itself.
Rather than being a world threatening computer takeover/device of large-scale destruction as in say WarGames or Superman III, Electric Dreams more shows this computer’s intentions as a sort of brattish home invasion pique, where it becomes one corner of a form of love triangle. As in Frankenstein at the end Edgar the computer in Electric Dreams discovers the errors of its ways (and the meaning of love – which it considers to be giving not taking) and carries out a process of self-destruction so that it can leave the human couple alone.
After this at the films ending Electric Dreams also offers another view of the future when Edgar’s voice becomes present in the couple’s car radio and effectively “streams” music and becomes a digital spectre and a form of non-physical cloud computing – taking over and controlling the broadcast facilities of radio stations and removing them from human control.
Giorgio Moroder and Philip Oakey’s iconic Together in Electric Dream’s theme song then begins playing over a finale montage of members of the public dancing in various locations, which has an uplifting feel good quality but also due to the song playing due to Edgar’s and therefore computer’s omnipresence in society, still carries with it a slight undercurrent of, if not overt menace, then at least potential concern about what if this sentient computer power returns to less benevolent aims.
A selection of reviews and broadcasts of The Watchers album:
“Individual trees provide very personal inspiration for some of the artists participating. Vic Mars takes Hertfordshire’s 900-year-old Eardisley Oak as the muse for his gentle, pastoral instrumental The Test of Time, and The Winter Dream of Novel’s Oak by Howlround is created from field recordings of an 800-year-old tree in Tilford, Surrey. It’s a warm, touching tribute to the receding wild woodlands of the British countryside, and – for maximum listening pleasure – perfect for an early summers’ evening constitutional through the copse or thicket of your choice.” Bob Fischer writing in his The Haunted Generation column in issue 381 of Fortean Times.
The Haunted Generation column also features Jonathan Sharp’s (whose work as The Heartwood Institute is included on The Watchers) Divided Time album which is released on Castles In Space. This was inspired by a cache of faded 1970s family snapshots that he discovered and which have a particularly intriguing character – the cover image conjures a spectral pastoral sense and seems to have tumbled backwards and forwards in time and has an “I can’t quite place what era it’s from” air to it. The Divided Time album can be visited here…
…and in an interconnected manner with all things spectral and otherly pastoral the cover article for the issue is written by Gail-Nina Anderson and titled “Folk Horror Revival – Exploring the Haunted Landscape of British Cinema and Television”.
Bob Fischer also has a relatively new blog also called The Haunted Generation, which accompanies his column in Fortean Times and where you can find articles and interviews with Jonny Trunk, Drew Mulholland’s Three Antennas in a Quarry and Frances Castle/Clay Pipe Music’s Stagdale, to name just a few. Visit the blog here.
“Full of the trademark otherworldly pastoralism we’ve come to love from A Year In The Country releases, The Watchers opens with the haunting drone of Grey Frequency’s In A Clearing… There’s twinkling synths (Field Lines Cartographer’s A Thousand Autumns) and almost psychedelic oscillations (The Heartwood Institute’s The Trees That Watch The Stones’)… [and] Howlround’s A Winter Dream Of Novel’s Oak, an eerie echo peppered with birdsong…” Finlay Milligan, Electronic Sound magazine issue 54
“A Year In The Country continue to release their sumptuous CDs… A Thousand Autumns by Field Lines Cartographer celebrates an ancient oak, its cyclical shedding of thousands of leaves providing nutrients for next year’s leaves. The twinkling synth sounds like the falling leaves in the shafts of Autumnal sunlight… Sproatly Smith arrive with Watching You another song from the point of view of these ancient trees, bird song, female voice, synth and acoustic guitar. Tracing the journey from acorn to mighty hollowed oak, a bucolic folk tune… Vic Mars is next with The Test Of Time this song takes its inspiration from the great Eardisley oak tree, one of the oldest in Britain. A purely electronic piece of music which is both cathartic and gentle in nature, it’s stately and develops into a bucolic pastoral piece… This could be the label’s finest release yet.” Andrew Young, Terrascope
“Combines the enchanted ambience of Field Lines Cartographer and Vic Mars with the druidic declamations of Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics and Sproatly Smith, the dark frequencies of Depattering and The Heartwood Institute with Pulselovers pulsations…” Raffaello Russo, Music Won’t Save You
“The music portrays a gentle patience, from the field recordings sprinkled throughout the album to delicate chimes and folksong.” Richard Allen, A Closer Listen
As an aside I would highly recommend a visit to Jude Rogers’ article 2018’s Best Folk Folk Albums, also for The Guardian, where you can find the likes of You Are Wolf, Olivia Chaney, Trembling Bells, Lisa O’Neill and Stick In The Wheel. Well, recommend and also urge caution due to the potential wallet injuring nature of it. That can be visited here.
And then onto some of the radio etc broadcasts of the album:
Episode 260 of More Than Human’s radio show featured Depatterning’s Ook/Dair and Pulselover’s Circles Within Circles. Original broadcast on CiTR FM, the show is archived here. Their record label has featured releases by the likes of Ekoplekz, Jon Brooks, Kemper Norton, Pye Corner Audio and sometimes A Year In The Country travellers Time Attendant and can be visited here.
And as a further aside Front & Follow recently released The Blow Volume 6 collaborative album featuring work by also fellow sometimes A Year In The Country travellers Polypores and Field Lines Cartographer, which rather intriguingly “initially drew from long conversations about alternate realities and altered states of consciousness”. The album can be visited here.
Sproatly Smith’s Watching You and Grey Frequency’s In A Clearing were featured on two episodes of the spectrally hauntological and undercurrents of folk wanderings of The Unquiet Meadow. Orginally broadcast on Asheville FM the playlists for the show can be visited here and here. Their Facebook page can be found here.
And as another aside a recent episode of The Unquiet Meadow also featured the A Year In The Country released Man Of Double Deed by The Hare And The Moon, from the album From The Furthest Signals and She Rocola’s Molly Leigh Of The Mother Town – the playlist for that particular show can be visited here.
Grey Frequency’s In A Clearing was included on the podcast Wyrd Daze Six: Then Space Began To Toll, which was released for Wyrd Daze’s sixth birthday. That and it’s accompanying digital ezine can be viewed and listened to here.
In A Clearing was also featured on fellow A Year In The Country traveller Mat Handley of Pulselovers and Woodford Halse’s You, the Night and the Music radio show. Originally broadcast on Sine FM the show is archived at Mixcloud here.
Johnny Seven played Grey Frequency’s In A Clearing on episode 408 of Pull The Plug, alongside tracks by the previously mentioned Jonathan Sharp, sometimes A Year In The Country fellow traveller Listening Center and Jane Weaver. Originally broadcast on Resonance FM the show is archived here.
And finally Verity Sharp played Sproatly Smith’s Watching You on the “Lost voices, found in song” episode of BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, in amongst the show’s ongoing witching hour audio explorations. The show is archived here.
The Watchers features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics, Depatterning, A Year In The Country, Phonofiction, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Vic Mars, The Heartwood Institute and Howlround.
It is inspired by ancient trees and their very stately, still form of time travel and the way in which they are observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia, with some of these “mighty oaks” and their companions having lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.
Artwork by Robin The Fog for Howlround’s Torridon Gate album.
“All of the music on this album was created from a single recording of a front garden gate on Torridon Road in Hither Green, London. These sounds were captured using a contact microphone and processed, looped and edited on three reel-to-reel tape machines with all electronic effects or artificial reverb strictly forbidden.” (Quoted from Howlround.)
“Whilst the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop are often (justifiably) name-checked in relation to Howlround, Torridon Gate’s obvious predecessor is Pierre Henry’s Variations Pour une Porte et un Soupir (1963). Maurice Béjart created a ballet based on it… Howlround’s recording succeeds by obfuscating the source, rendering the ‘real’ unreal and transforming the ordinary into an other-worldly phenomenon. The simple metal gate becomes a portal to…the spirit world of inanimate objects? Or can we hear the ghosts of all those who have passed through ‘the gate’ to life beyond this one we know? The gate as metaphor…if you like. Wherever your imagination takes you, Torridon Gate is an urban source response to the dark moors and haunted woods mythology of modern folklorist music-makers. In that sense, it is more ‘homely’, but the resulting sounds take you very far away indeed.” (Quoted from a review by Robin Tomens at Include Me Out.)
“It didn’t used to be like this. Computers telling us what to do.” (Quoted from the film Looker.)
The 1980s was the first time that computers began to enter the home in any large quantity but they tended to be relatively underpowered machines that were probably used mainly for game playing, alongside some hobbyist programming and possibly the occasional piece of home accounts or writing.
In the wider business and research world computers were more powerful but comparative to even today’s more day-to-day mobile phones, what were then known as high-end supercomputers were also not overly powerful machines.
For example the Cray X-MP supercomputer released in 1982 had two 105MHz processors, with external hard drives that stored 1.2GB. At the time the computer cost 15 million US dollars plus the cost of the hard drives, which each cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Allowing for inflation that would be a cost of over 39 million US dollars for the computer alone.
In comparison at the point of writing the Moto G6 mobile phone, which is considered fairly budget orientated, has a processor with eight cores, each running at 1800MHz and cost approximately $149. 6000GB external hard drives are now not uncommon and cost from around $130…
…and in terms of the reduction in size and convenience of devices (whether real or imaginary); above on the left is a warehouse sized almost steampunk-esque 3D scanner in Looker, pictured next to a contemporary hand-held 3D scanner.
Despite this relative lack of power, in 1980s cinema computers were often depicted in films such as Wargames, Tron (1982), Superman III (1983), Electric Dreams (1984) and Looker (1981) as machines capable of artificial intelligence, producing real-time images of realistic worlds via their graphic power, creating autonomous worlds and indeed taking over or destroying the world.
Essentially they were often depicted as machines to be wary of and the “bad guy” or at the very least a tool used by the “bad guy/s”.
(This over-inflation of 1980s computer’s abilities has also at times been carried forward and occurs in more contemporary fictional work that looks back at 1980s computers; in the earlier 1980s set episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, a television series which began being broadcast in 2014 and which looked at the creation and release of an independent brand of PC computer, people become very passionate about the potential of these PCs and there is an attempt to release one which “talks” to its users – while at the time the realities of these machines were not much more than fairly basic office machines and any ability to genuinely interact with their users via language would have been very limited.)
Included in such cinema is the just mentioned film Looker, written and directed by Michael Crichton, the plot of which involves advertising models who are digitally scanned by the Digital Matrix research firm to create 3D models that are animated for use in commercials. The models who are scanned begin to be assassinated and it becomes apparent that Digital Matrix is behind this and is planning on using advanced technology devices to hypnotise consumers into buying the products it advertises.
It is notable for being the first time in a film when there was an attempt to make a realistic 3D digitally generated human character – although this is still obviously a computer generated image.
The power of computers at the time is massively overestimated as even with todays high-end computer power, purely digitally created human characters still rarely completely convince and at the time the digital recreation of the scanned models would have probably taken years of computer time even for the creation of a relatively short commercial.
The film could be considered a more mainstream counterpart to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) in its comments on the effects of media and television and while not as overtly transgressive as that film it has a downbeat, cusp of the 1970s/80s feel that mixes glamour and sleaze. In the utilising of television as a medium with which to brainwash/corrupt the populace it also connects with the 1982 film Halloween III: Season of the Witch, although in that film the intention is a much more destructive one based in ancient pagan rituals.
The comment on the persuasive power of the media in Looker is made particularly explicit in one speech featured in Looker:
“Television can control population’s opinion more effectively than armies or secret police because television is entirely voluntary. The American government forces our children to attend school but nobody forces them to watch TV. People of all ages submit to television. Television is the American ideal – persuasion without coercion. Nobody makes us watch. Who could predict that a free people would voluntary spend 15 years of their lives sitting in front of a box with pictures. 15 years in prison is punishment but 15 years in front of a television set is entertainment.”
This absorption and submission to television is particularly portrayed when one of the models who is worried for her life visits her parents in a state of visible distress and upset but they do not (or cannot) take their eyes off a television screen which appears to be playing lowest common denominator comedy.
The end credits in the film list the commercials featured in the film and their directors. These have simple one world titles that seem to boil down their intentions to their simplest, most aspects and include “Liberty”, “Ravish” and “Believe”.
(As an aside these titles seem reminiscent of the B-side of the Coil 10″ The Unreleased Themes for Hellraiser which included a selection of the band’s work for commercials. I assume for copyright reasons these were just listed as “Airline 1”, “Cosmetic 1”, “Analgesic” etc.)
To be continued in Part 2 (which depending on when you’re reading this may not be online yet)…
Artwork from She Rocola’s Burn the Witch / Molly Leigh of the Mother Town.
“The song Molly Leigh Of The Mother Town draws from She Rocola’s own personal folklore and that of her home town; childhood experiences of chasing her playmates around Molly Leigh’s grave and the rhymes which accompanied such games. It is an audiological conjuring of hazy, sleepy small-hours memories and dreams from those times. Burn The Witch’s story is interconnected with those childhood memories and is in part inspired by formative viewings of late-night folk-horror films from in front of and behind the sofa.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country.)
“Few 45s of the last couple of years can catch up with this one… ‘Molly Leigh Of The Mother Town’ is the kind of nursery rhyme you never learned at your mother’s knee but which buried itself in your memory regardless, to peer out of the soil while you’re hopscotching past and wrap bony fingers round your ankle; ‘Burn the Witch’ is freakish fiddles (by Andrea Fiorito) that scratch behind She’s icy vocal and spectral harmonies, a Hammer film condensed to two minutes of sound and effects.” (Quoted from a review by Dave Thompson at Goldmine)
A while ago I came across a Lego toy construction brick recreation of posters for Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s High-Rise novel.
When I first stumbled upon them I thought they had been created in a one-off manner not dissimilar to the way in which the internet now seems to be fairly full of alternative movie posters and there are Lego recreations of nearly everything under the sun.
Further investigation revealed that they are part of a large project where at the request of the High Rise film’s Twitter account somebody working under the title Lego Loki created 1188 images using Lego to illustrate every scene from the novel.
(Actor Tom Hiddleston plays the main character in High-Rise and also the part of “evil” God Loki in the Marvel Universe films. The Lego figure of Loki is used as a recurring alter-ego by Lego Loki, hence the name.)
The shape of the tower block in the above masthead from the project’s website brings to mind both the aforementioned previous era’s surreal/left-of-centre science fiction and fantasy cover art and some of the more outré Brutalist architecture designs which can be found in Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal World.
The project can be viewed on the Brick High-Rise site and the resulting work is a startling labour of love that on viewing due to the use of Lego seems to introduce both a humorous element and also to add an extra layer of unsettling and possibly inappropriate transgression due to this ordinarily rather transgressive tale being told via the use of what, despite its increasing cult and adult users, is still at heart a child’s toy. As a viewing experience it is difficult to tell whether to be intrigued and/or at least a little repulsed.
Which I suppose could equally be applied to both the original novel of High-Rise and Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation.
Apparently the eventual budget for Brick High-Rise was £192.56 but that only included items specifically bought for the project and Lego Loki says on the site that he/she already owned many of the necessary bricks. Even allowing for that, it is still considerably cheaper than the over six million pounds which Ben Wheatley’s film adaptation cost.
You could say that the use of pre-owned Lego items tips the balance in Brick High-Rise’s favour but Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise made use of actual buildings and Brutalist architecture, so swings and roundabouts really.
Still I suppose Brick High-Rise contains only 1188 stills as opposed to with a run time of 1 hour an 59 minutes, at 24 frames per second Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise has around 171,360 frames.
However worked out per frame Brick High-Rise was still cheaper as it cost around £0.16 per frame, while Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise cost around £3.50 per frame (!).
The Brick High-Rise site is well worth a wander around as alongside the Lego recreations of scenes from the book it also includes posts on, amongst other topics, Lego Loki’s visits to Ballard Day at the British Library, an exhibition of costumes from the High-Rise film and some of the architecture which is said to have inspired the novel (all of which include photographs with Lego Loki’s figures in situ) and “How to Create Your Own Custom High-Rise Lego Set”.
Lego Loki created custom High-Rise Lego kits for the DVD release of the film, which were included in promotional hampers. Also included in promotional packages was a bottle of champagne, which is a reference to the consumption of the drink in the film and also possibly to the architect Erno Goldfinger whose Brutalist architecture buildings, including the 24 storey Balfron Tower, is said to have inspired the original novel.
For around two months Goldfinger and his wife lived in Balfron Tower, which he has written was so that he could “experience, at first hand, the size of the rooms, the amenities provided, the time it takes to obtain a lift, the amount of wind whirling around the tower and any problems which might arise from my designs so that I can correct them in the future”. It was but a brief experiment however as after that they moved back to their home in a considerably more conventional modernist 3 storey home in Hampstead, which is a leafy affluent area of London.
Curiously while living at Balfron Tower Goldfinger held champagne soirees which he invited the residents to floor-by-floor, echoes of which can be found in the hierarchical and socialising aspects of High-Rise.
Choosing to live in his tower block creation reflects similar actions by Anthony Royal, the architect of the tower in High-Rise, who is described rather appositely by Oliver Wainwright in a piece for The Guardian newspaper’s website as:
“…the perfect symbol of the megalomaniac modernist architect. The villainous protagonist of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise presides like a puppet-master over his ‘crucible for change’, a brave experiment in vertical living that quickly unravels into a concrete dystopia, driving its residents to madness in the floors beneath his feet.”
The High-Rise custom Lego kits have a legitimate “small parts” safety hazard notice on them and also a more humorous “Ages 4-7” recommendation for its intended audience, as an actual Lego kit would have. Maybe “Age 47” would be more appropriate? As referred to earlier, this is a further aspect of a project that leaves the viewer potentially both intrigued and a little unsettled.
Since the Brick High-Rise project was completed there has been a limited edition steel book Blu-ray of High-Rise which used Lego in its cover art; an interesting additional offshoot could be a printed book of the Brick High-Rise photographs, although I expect that would require a considerable amount of wrangling with and leeway from J.G. Ballard’s estate.
As a project it could be filed alongside the likes of Zupagrafika’s construction kits of Brutalist architecture buildings, HeyKidsRocknRoll’s dioramas and Press Pop figures of electronic music pioneers Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram, Bob Moog and Raymond Scott.
In terms of their form and construction those dioramas/figures and Brick High-Rise all have their roots in children’s toys but also the Zupagrafika, HeyKidsRocknRoll and Press Pop items seem to focus on and embody aspects of culture which have become totemic signifiers:
“Part of what all such things seem to represent, whether the electronic music innovations of The Radiophonic Workshop… or brutalist architecture, is a sense of them containing some form of loss, of lost progressive futures or arcadic rural dreams and ways of life, of being spectrally imprinted with such loss and a layering of related tales.”
(Quoted from a previous post at A Year In The Country.)
So, aside from just being kind of fun, these are effectively ornamental totems for a certain kind of hauntological viewpoint.
Booklet artwork from Michael Tanner’s Nine Of Swords album.
“Nine of Swords was created by using nine tarot cards allocated to nine sonorous, percussive instruments which were played in the order of their drawing from the deck… Its method of creation recalls the random cut-up literary techniques of William Burroughs or automatic writing and the resulting work is a 68 minute journey which is a balm to contemporary intensity of input… No plug-ins or FX were used in the making of Nine of Swords; the music in the album was guided purely using the (non)choices of the turns of the cards.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country.)
“Through this primordial essence of the drone, Tanner gives voice to a chorus of ghosts in which, in the narrative-conceptual part of the work, the subjects and themes evoked by the symbolic meaning of the playing card that gives the title to the album take part.” (Quoted from a digital translation of a review by Music Won’t Save You.)
Stand by Me is a 1986 film directed by Rob Reiner and based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella The Body.
Set in 1959 it tells the story of four young mostly teenage boys who live in a small town in Oregon, USA who set off on a hike to find the dead body of a missing child.
It could be loosely connected with other films made in the 1980s which looked back on the 1950s and on some levels is quite a non-threatening coming-of-age family film and a sweetly nostalgic look back on a previous era but it also operates on other levels, not least that these young boys are essentially on a rather macabre mission to not so much just find but also view the dead body of somebody who has been murdered. The town’s bullies are also shown to be particularly out of control, with their leader shown as carrying and being prepared to murderously use a switchblade, while in its voiceover conclusion we are told that two of the boys’ lives have had far from happy futures.
In this sense while it is set in a small rural town and its surrounding areas it is not an overly sweet picture perfect, white picket fence view of such areas of America and the 1950s. Rather to a degree it portrays a underbelly which, while a much gentler portrayal of such things, brings to mind David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), a film that is set in the then contemporary era but through its use of music and style seems to at points hark back to the 1950s and a time that has been described as “a safe, quiet moment in history”. Lynch’s film explores a vision of small town America which on the surface initially appears normal but that is actually rife and even corrupted by darker undercurrents, something that he would go on to further explore in the television series Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and which is part of a form of weird Americana aesthetic which developed during the 1980s.
As often seems to be the case with teen and youth orientated film, parents and supervisory adults in Stand by Me are often curiously absent and/or they are a source of problems rather than mature supportive figures; in the film one father is in what is described as a “loony” bin (i.e. a mental hospital), another set of parents are numbed and made dysfunctional by grief and so forth. The children also do not seem to ask their parents’ permission to stay out over night and despite this nobody in the adult world is shown as considering them missing.
With the film’s rural location there is a sense of this almost being an overlooked and an only semi-developed place, where nature may at any times just re-encroach and take over the town. When the children leave its environs, very quickly it seems as though they have stepped into a near wilderness, which is marked as being part of civilisation by the presence of the railway track that they follow but the rural areas seem otherwise curiously unregulated and near frontier like, while a scrapyard the group of boys hang out in is shown as a dangerous or also unregulated edgeland like place.
In some ways Stand By Me could be seen as the John Hughes film he never wrote/made (Hughes is well known for a cycle of 1980s teen orientated films including Pretty in Pink and the Breakfast Club from 1986 and 1985 respectively, which often dealt with class, outsider status and coming of age issues).
As with that cycle of Hughes’ films Stand By Me is in part about class and the way it and also family background can restrict choices and effectively preset pathways through life; in the voiceover conclusion to Reiner’s film the viewer is told that the normal child goes on to have a normal job and family life and the child from an unsettled family ends up wayward. Another child from a family of drunks and criminals takes college courses, escapes from the binds of his earlier life and becomes a lawyer but is murdered when breaking up a fight in a fast-food restaurant. The narrator, whose parents were the ones numbed by grief and who neglected him, is from a middle class family and despite the more dysfunctional aspects of his background he has gone on to be a successful, published writer and at the end of the film is shown living a normal family life as he walks outside and drives away with his son and his son’s friend to take them swimming.
Indeed Stand by Me seems to represent a turning point towards these preset pathways, as the voiceover also tells of how once they return from the voyage the friends largely drifted apart.
While largely a fairly realist film, albeit in a Hollywood manner, there is a curious and disjunctive section where the boy who will go on to be a successful writer tells the others a story about a pie eating competition which results in a mass outbreak of prodigious vomiting in the audience – all of which is portrayed in vivid detail. As mentioned earlier the film was based on a novella by Stephen King and the surreal fantasy like aspect of this section could be seen to be a point of connection to other areas of his fictional output such as the fantasy and horror work for which he is probably best known.
Available in two CD editions: Dawn Light edition £11.95. Nightfall edition £22.95. Also available as a download.
Order via our Artifacts Shop and at Bandcamp.
Both CD editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.
Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics, Depatterning, A Year In The Country, Phonofiction, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Vic Mars, The Heartwood Institute and Howlround.
Amongst Britain’s trees there are thought to be over 3,000 ancient oaks – those which date back 400 years or more – and of those trees more than 115 are 800 to 1,000 years old or more. They are part of a tree population that also includes ash trees that have lived for hundreds of years and a yew that is estimated to be between 2000-3000 years old or possibly many thousands of years older and that some consider to be the oldest living thing in Europe.
These are living organisms which could be seen to be undertaking a very stately, still form of time travel, to be watchers and observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia.
Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.
Throughout it all they have stood by and watched the endeavours of humans and the encroaching of their lands as the tales passed through traditional folklore evolved into the sometimes dizzying swathes of today’s cultural landscape, with these “mighty oaks” and their companions now coming to be living amongst the invisible hubbub of modern day wirelessly transmitted communications.
The numbers of these longstanding inhabitants of this once largely green and unpaved land have dwindled due to the march of progress but a few stalwartly continue their journeys through time. The Watchers reflects on those journeys and these ancient trees’ residing over growing layers of history.
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 of CD and underneath of CD.
Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes 2.5 cm badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, hand numbered on back.
Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £22.95 Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 2 x prints, 3 x stickers and 3 x badges.
Top of CD 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 prints on textured fine art cotton rag paper.
6) 2 x 2.5 cm badge, 1 x 4.5 cm badge.
7) 1 x 5.6 cm sticker, 1 x 3.5 cm sticker, 1 x 12cm sticker.
Tracklisting: 1) Grey Frequency – In A Clearing
2) Field Lines Cartographer – A Thousand Autumns
3) Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics – The Brave Old Oak
4) Depatterning – Ook/Dair
5) A Year In The Country – Radicle Ether
6) Phonofiction – Xylem Flow
7) Pulselovers – Circles Within Circles
8) Sproatly Smith – Watching You
9) Vic Mars – The Test Of Time
10) The Heartwood Institute – The Trees That Watch The Stones
11) Howlround – The Winter Dream Of Novel’s Oak
“A Year In The Country continue to release their sumptuous CDs… ‘A Thousand Autumns’ by Field Lines Cartographer celebrates an ancient oak, its cyclical shedding of thousands of leaves providing nutrients for next year’s leaves. The twinkling synth sounds like the falling leaves in the shafts of Autumnal sunlight… Sproatly Smith arrive with ‘Watching You’ another song from the point of view of these ancient trees, bird song, female voice, synth and acoustic guitar. Tracing the journey from acorn to mighty hollowed oak, a bucolic folk tune… Vic Mars is next with ‘The Test Of Time’ this song takes its inspiration from the great Eardisley oak tree, one of the oldest in Britain. A purely electronic piece of music which is both cathartic and gentle in nature, it’s stately and develops into a bucolic pastoral piece… This could be the label’s finest release yet.” Andrew Young, Terrascope
“The music portrays a gentle patience, from the field recordings sprinkled throughout the album to delicate chimes and folksong.” Richard Allen, A Closer Listen
“A Year in the Country’s latest uncanny release is The Watchers, a celebration of Britain’s trees that mixes electronica with eerie folk…” Jude Rogers, The Guardian
Print 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; a mixtape that envisions echoes of times lost in the once seemingly endless dreams of a club… 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…”|
(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)
“Such imaginings are haunting, layering one another with emotional imagery that cannot help but lead the ghosts onto the floor, a disco queen here, a rave scene there, the scent of northern soul, the smell of teen spirit. By the time it’s over, you feel as though you’ve been dancing all night; by the time you’ve recovered, you want to do it again.”
(Dave Thompson writing about the album at his Spincycle section at Goldmine Magazine.)
Tony White’s The Fountain in the Forest could be considered part of a genre where noir-esque, genre and crime fiction is used as a way of exploring hidden or semi-forgotten/unearthed history, in a similar manner to say David Peace’s GB84 (2004), Clare Carson’s Orkney Twilight (2015) and Adrian McKinty’s In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, which are set amongst the turbulence within British politics around approximately 1984-1985 and to varying degrees the 1984-1985 UK Miner’s Strike.
These novels all could also be seen as related explorations of “the at times murky, ambiguous actions, participants and organisations of those involved”. (From a previous post at A Year In The Country.)
In The Fountain in the Forest a detective called Rex King investigates a murder committed in a central London theatre and time/location at points shifts from modern-day London to an abandoned and squatted village in rural 1980s France, from which the novel takes its name and the Battle of the Beanfield at Stonehenge.
At its core it hinges on a 90 day period of 1985 between the just mentioned Miner’s Strike and The Battle of the Beanfield, which is described as an interregnum – i.e. a period when normal government is suspended – and the book’s blurb says this was a “moment when Thatcher’s militia fatally wounded the British political counterculture”. This was a period which could be to seen to be a moment of:
“…change and upheaval within British society, turning points when there were conflicts between different belief systems/power structures, battles between the old ways and the new.” (From a previous post at A Year In The Country.)
(As an aside the UK Miner’s Strike was a bitterly fought conflict between miner’s and the Coal Board/government of the day over pit closures, while the Battle of the Beanfield saw over 1000 police officers preventing a new age – and others – convoy of vehicles from setting up a free festival at Stonehenge. Both saw actions by the authorities that have been viewed as controversial and at times particularly heavy-handed/violent.)
In a previous post at A Year In The Country I talked about the settings of GB84, Orkney Twilight and In The Morning I’ll Be Gone:
“Although not exclusively set within rural areas, the above three novels often focus on actions that are away from large-scale cities and capitals, with there being an at times underlying sense that these are areas which are a step or two away from the norms of civilisation; they are shown as being unobserved frontiers or edgelands where the rule of law is suspended, where conflicts can be settled in a more brutal, basic manner and crimes or what are considered transgressions against the powers that be’s intentions are dealt with and punished in an almost medieval way.”
The Fountain in the Forest has a similar take on rural areas; the squatted rural village is in a remote, hard to get to area and run as a non-hierarchical commune away from “normal” societies rules and strictures, while the new age and others convoy is also a loose, non-hierarchical gathering where people choose to live alternative lifestyles. Both are physically destroyed, with the authorities actions against the convoy in particular – vehicles were smashed and set on fire, members beaten etc – bringing to mind more the putting down of a rebellion in a far-flung century than actions that would be expected in a supposedly modern twentieth century western democracy.
As mentioned at the start of this post, all these novels utilise crime fiction and can be considered readable, accessible – if not always light reading – fictional works. However as mentioned previously at A Year In The Country, GB84 is “stylistically left of centre or even possibly borderline experimental”. While its use of language and atmosphere is generally more conventional than GB84, The Fountain in the Forest is more overtly formally avant-garde in a number of senses; these include its use of techniques associated with Oulipo, who were a group of mathematicians and writers who produced work according to set rules and constraints (for example George Perecs’ novel A Void featured no words with the letter “e”).
The author forces himself to use a mandated vocabulary and includes the words that make up the answers to the Guardian newspaper’s Quick Crossword from the central 90 day period in which the novel is set. These words are bolded throughout the text and effectively mean it is imbued and layered with a spectral sense of a past era – in the Author’s Notes Tony White mentions how he completed these crosswords at the time and that writing these words out activated a kind of linguistic “muscle memory” as well as offering a linguistic and historical time capsule of the period, alongside a pantheon of historical figures.
Adding to this formal experimentalism, each chapter name is taken from the French revolutionary rural calendar. This was created post-1789 and utilised a radical new form of timekeeping that utilised a 10 day week named after different items from rural life, such as herbs, foodstuff, livestock, tools etc. In comparison with the more traditional calendar these names were intended to have a secular, non-royal and non-hierachical basis and they include the likes of Mandragore (Mandrake), Sylvie (Anemone), Vélar (Hedge Mustard) and Cordeau (Twine).
Although The Fountain in the Forest is in large part set in contemporary London, these sections seem to almost belong to or harken to a past age or be a snapshot of a lost London; a time when it was possible/affordable for “ordinary” people to live and buy homes in very central London. Perhaps also because many of the locations described are ones I was once very familiar with and indeed regularly visited I also brought to it a sense of my own past and related loss.
There is also a sense of wider loss, of the freedom in a pre-digital age to start your life over again truly free of the baggage and constraints of your previous life, when the central character creates a new semi-forged identity for himself:
“As soon as the new passport had come through, Rex… had got up under the cover of darkness and hitched a ride to London. Started over, in the days when you could still do that.”
Throughout the book there is an ongoing sense of timeslip; the description of the last free Stonehenge free festival in 1984 in terms of its cultural reference points, seems more like a late 1960s/early-to-mid 1970s hippie drugfest – although as I have mentioned at A Year In The Country before, there is at points something of a crossover between 1960s hippie culture and 1980s new age travellers and anarcho/crusty punks. The hairstyles may have been different but their rejection of mainstream societal norms shared a number of similarities in its expression.
The book is also initially divided into distinctive parts, with each one generally taking place in a particular location and timezone and there not an obvious connection between them. Towards the end these sections begin to merge into one in an almost maelstrom manner that reflects the conflict and dismemberment of a way of life that happened at the Battle of the Beanfield and which is depicted in the text.
(May Day Song from the Janet Heatley Blunt collection, via the English Folk Dance and Song Society Full English archive.)
The only indication that the text has moved from one to another is that they are divided by the lyrics to the folk song May Day Carol:
“I’ve been a-rambling all the night,
And the best part of the day;
And now I am returning back again,
I have brought you a branch of May.”
The central character recalls this song as he waits with the convoy to try and travel to Stonehenge and setup the free festival. It brings back memories of warm May Day celebrations of his youth, when a school-teacher had possibly sought to:
“…soften the lines of the new-build 1960s school building she found herself in charge of, by aligning it with these more archaic and traditional forms of folk art.”
There is a sense at this point of some kind of rural, arcadian, alternative lifestyle that is enjoying a moment of freedom, autonomy and confidence but which will soon have that literally beaten out of it.
I discovered The Fountain in the Forest via a review by Sukhdev Sandhu, in which it is described as:
“An avant-garde take on the pulp crime genre becomes a paean to liberty and a secret history of the 1980s.”
In an interconnected manner to secret histories, Sandhu is one of the key figures behind the publisher Texte und Töne, which has published books/booklets that have included The Stink Still Here, wherein GB84 author David Peace discusses his “occult” (or hidden) history of the UK Miner’s Strike.
The publications are beautifully produced and designed and often explore work that could be seen to sit at the confluence of the undercurrents of folkloric culture and where it meets the spectres of hauntology, including studies of David Rudkin and Alan Clarke’s Penda’s Fen, Nigel Kneales work and the cultural and historical background of the television series The Changes.
As a final aside Tony White has something of a history in subversions/explorations of genre and pulp literature, being the editor of Britpulp! New Fast and Furious Stories from the Literary Underground published in 1999 and which was described as:
“Bursting out of the literary underground, all the writers in this ground-breaking anthology put the emphasis firmly back on gratuitous story-telling and brutal, break-neck plots. Scorching hardcore prose of Stewart Home’s Sex Kick collides with the bitterly romantic confessions of Billy Childish. Nicholas Blincoe’s cool and stylish thriller writing meets the street realism of Victor Headley’s Retropolitan Police, while well-dressed London gangsters fight for page space with the old school skinheads of Richard Allen. Other confirmed authors include Donald Gorgan, Steve Aylett, along with untapped talent from the literary underground.”
He also wrote one of a set of books published in the late 1990s by Attack! Books, alongside the likes of Mark Manning (aka musician Zodiac Mindwarp) and the just mentioned Stewart Home, which in part could be seen to be a then contemporary, transgressive and self-awarely hip updating of the likes of the also just mentioned pulp author Richard Allen, who wrote over 290 novels, including a number of books which focused on late 1960s and 1970s youth subcultures such as skinheads, hippies and bikers.
Artwork from Hand of Stab’s Black-Veined White album.
“Black-Veined White takes as its starting point the eponymous butterfly which was last seen in the UK in Rochester, the area in which Hand of Stabs work and explore, in the 1920s…” (Quoted from A Year In The Country.)
“Sharing a love of the history and sacred past of Medway Towns and surrounding countryside, and inspired by regular, often night-time walks through these spaces, they are creating a series of soundworks evoking and celebrating their essence.” (Text by Hand of Stabs.)
It seems like there’s something of a spectral summer a-coming in (or “is icumen in“)…
First up in this gathering of such things is the A Midsummer Night’s Happening on 21st June 2019 at The state51 Factory in London, an event which is described as “a solstice celebration hosted by state51, Ghost Box and Trunk Records”, that will take place across three themed interiors called Pan’s Garden, The Youth Club and The TV Chamber. It features the likes of:
1) Justin Hopper and Sharron Kraus performing their album Chanctonbury Rings, which is based around Hopper’s book The Old Weird Albion. (The album also features Belbury Poly and will be released on 21st June by Ghost Box Records.)
2) The Kirchin Tape Lab, which will include Trunk Records’ Jonny Trunk and his OST radio show co-host Robin The Fog (aka Radiophonic-esque tape manipulator Howlround), who will be playing live tape reels from the unheard archive of composer and music experimenter/boundary pusher Basil Kirchin.
(As an aside when Basil Kirchin experimented with slowing down recordings he described it as revealing “Little boulders of sound” – which is a rather lovely turn of phrase.)
3) Soundcarriers performing an instrumental live soundtrack to a film by Ghost Box Records’ Julian House.
4) An exhibition by Frances Castle of Clay Pipe Music.
5) Wisbey, who will be asking the audience to request their favourite soundtracks, which apparently he will then perform on a home organ, in what sounds like something of a human jukebox manner.
And a fair bit more from DJ sets to The Mangle’s “print your own event tshirt” facilities, a state51 shop, food etc. Blimey.
I’m not sure but I think the event may take its name from Sally and Mike “Tubular Bells” Oldfield’s track “Midsummer Night’s Happening” on their acid/psych folk 1968 album Children of the Sun (it also brings to mind the rare 1971 acid/psych folk album A Midsummer’s Night Dream album by Oberon). The “happening” is sold out already I’m afraid though.
(Left-right: upcoming 2019 Weirdshire events, the cover to the Weirdshire album, Weirdshire events in 2018.)
Next up is a series of events from Weirdshire at Babar Cafe in Herefordshire and which take place between June and August. These feature performers who often work amongst the flipside and undercurrents of folk and include Sharron Kraus and Kitchen Cynics, United Bible Studies, C. Joynes, Sproatly Smith and Burd Ellen, alongside vinyl selections from jus’jay and Sproatly Smith (the events are also curated/hosted by Sproatly Smith).
(Left-right: the cover of the Weirdlore album, Weirdshire Weekend poster from 2015, Sproatly Smith poster from 2016.)
The Weirdshire events connect with the cancelled Weirdlore festival from 2012 (and the accompanying album which was released by the sadly missed Folk Police Recordings); after that event was cancelled the first Weirdshire event took place at The Barrels in Hereford and was intended as an alternative to Weirdlore, with the resulting one day festival including some of the performers who were going to play at Weirdlore, alongside other invitees.
There have been a series of other Weirdshire events since then, including in 2018 the “International Psych Folk Festival”, which featured B’ee (In Gowan Ring), David Colohan, Sproatly Smith, Moongazing Hare, Kitchen Cynics, Trappist Afterland, David Ian Robers, Alula Down, OORT (Trans Neptunian Objects), Jacken Elswyth and Cath & Phil Tyler, alongside jus’jay DJ-ing again.
Weirdshire has also released the Beating the Bounds compilation, which features what is described as “weird/alt/psych folk from Herefordshire” and features a number of the performers from the Weirdshire events.
(As a further aside, reading about the Weirdshire events and line-ups conjures almost a sense of timeslip. They’re contemporary but seem to have a direct line – or should that be portal? – back to acid and psych folk explorations of the earlier 1970s…)
And then there is The Delaware Road: Ritual & Resistance festival on August 17th and 18th, which is hosted/curated by Buried Treasure Records and takes place in the far from conventional venue of “an austere military complex at New Zealand Farm near West Lavington”. It is an event which I have mentioned around these parts before and as I said then the line-up for the festival draws from what could be called the confluence or intertwining between otherly pastoral and hauntological work.
It features something of a smorgasboard of artists, DJs, video producers, film makers, sound designers, record labels, guest speakers, writers and illustrators:
PENNY RIMBAUD (Crass), NATALIE SHARP / LONE TAXIDERMIST, ANDREA PARKER (Mo’ Wax), LIA MICE, EKOPLEKZ, SOUNDHOG, FARMER GLITCH, IX TAB, ASSEMBLED MINDS, GERALDINE WOLFE, SEQUENCIAL, BRAZEN HEAD, DOMINIC LASH + SETH COOKE, PAUL WATSON, ANI KCAM, MARK VERNON, CATTLE, THE SEANCE (Pete Wiggs + Dem), FRONT & FOLLOW, KEMPER NORTON, THE SLOWEST LIFT, EMBLA QUICKBEAM, ARC SOUNDTRACKS, DJ FOOD (Ninja Tune), SARAH ANGLISS, CLAY PIPE MUSIC, SIMON JAMES, REVBJELDE, CASTLES IN SPACE, THE TWELVE HOUR FOUNDATION, CONCRETISM, POLYPORES, PSYCHE TROPES, SCULPTURE, HOWLROUND + MERKABA MACABRE, A’BEAR, DOUG SHIPTON (Finders Keepers), NICK TAYLOR, ALISON COTTON (Cardinal Fuzz), IAN HELLIWELL, RADIONICS RADIO, CHRIS SPEED VISUALS and THE INFINITE ATTIC LIGHT SHOW.
The Delaware Road: Ritual & Resistance event has offered a number of tempting extras to those who buy tickets, including the Nearest Neighbour graphic novel and cassette by audio video duo Sculpture, France’s Castle of Clay Pipe Music’s graphic novel and flexidisc Stagdale and Buried Treasure promo packs featuring CDs, vinyl and badges from the label.
(As a final and further aside the performances etc at the event are said to be “inspired by The Delaware Road narrative, landscape, myth, broadcast propaganda and the transformative nature of sound”. The Delaware Road story appears to have as it’s starting point The Delaware Road “illusory motion picture soundtrack” album, which is described as being an “occult thriller conspiracy” that will appeal to those who appreciate “archived electronica, far out jazz and haunted folk grooves”. It has a theme based around; “London. 1968. Two pioneering electronic musicians discover a set of unusual recordings which leads to a revelation about their employer. Fascinated by the seemingly occult nature of the tapes they conduct a ritual that will alter their lives forever.”)
Print artwork from Grey Frequency’s Immersion album.
“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.)
Part 2 of a round-up of some of the flipside and undercurrents of music released in the last year or so that has caught my ear and eye (visit Part 1 here).
First up is Seatman and Powell’s (featuring Belbury Poly) Broken Folk EP, which contains tracks from Keith Seatman’s last two albums and vocals by Douglas E. Powell, alongside a Belbury Poly remix of the title track.
It includes Boxes with Rhythms In, which features the following lyrics:
“I’ve been messaging to send more oxygen… And all your sending is… Boxes with rhythms in.”
The track is something of a favourite around these parts and previously at A Year In The Country I wrote the following about it:
“This is a Space Oddity for contemporary times. In a very few words set to a buzzing, whooshing, flittering in and out synth background it conjures up a whole world and scenario of its own particular Major Tom… However, whereas Space Oddity seemed quite grounded in a recognisable reality, here, as with the album as a whole, the atmosphere it creates is something more otherly, one that while connected to our own reality also runs along its own separate path… And although this is quite experimental, far from mainstream music, boxes with rhythms in has an underlying pop sensibility, accessibility and an ear for a catchy refrain/chorus.”
And is it just me or is there something about the inflection on the vocals on the EP, alongside the gently woozy synthesized instrumentation and a sense that the songs also hint at some other hidden cultural meaning that bring to mind here and there the later recordings of Coil such as The Ape of Naples album?
Vocalist Douglas E. Powell normally works in the folk music genre but the Broken Folk EP, although not overly retro, is reminiscent in part of futurist pop:
“This five song 10 inch EP combines the plaintive English voice of Powell placed amongst Germanic analogue organ, synths and sequencers creating the type of dark Cold War soundscapes favoured by the Radiophonic Workshop to the Human League. Floydian incidental music for a late 70s post nuclear meltdown drama.” (Quoted from a review of the EP in Shindig! magazine.)
And there is also something of a melancholic air to the music on the EP, a sense of loss or yearning, which is referred to in accompanying text, alongside the low-key spectral undercurrents of the music:
“Melancholic and subtly psychedelic, these songs are redolent of supernatural short stories and winter afternoons out on English landscapes. They are dark rustic reveries, occupying the overlapping territory between haunted electronica and wyrd folk.”
The EP was released by Keith Seatman’s KS Audio label in conjunction with Jim Jupp of Belbury Poly’s Belbury Music label – which he launched in 2018 and that he runs alongside Ghost Box Records. It is rather beautifully packaged, with cover art also by Jim Jupp that recalls the hardback cover of a pastorally inflected novel from maybe the 1940s or 1950s that you might discover quietly nestled away in a second-hand bookshop.
In terms of format it could be considered a 12″ single (or maybe somewhere between that, an EP and a mini-album). Out of the various formats I have bought music on over the years I think 12″ singles have been one of my favourites; more substantial seeming than a 7″, space for a few tracks, remixes and experimentation while avoiding that dreaded 8 or so track album spread over two vinyl discs syndrome that made some vinyl albums back when seem like, well, rather a faff to play and not really like an album.
12″ singles seem to have become fairly infrequently released nowadays, I suppose in part because they don’t actually cost anything less to manufacture than a full length album and so can’t be sold for as temptingly cheap prices as they once were (although I expect a fair few of the £2.99 or so 12″s I bought back in the day were in part released as loss-leader promotional items for forthcoming albums etc).
Next up is Reet Maff’l’s Is it Clearer? on the album That’ll Be.
This is an at times rather unnerving piece of music which consists of ambient electronica accompanied by surreal spoken word vocals and brings to mind satirist Chris Morris’ Blue Jam album released in 2000.
The vocals initially and for quite an extended period appear to be a fairly straightforward recording of an optician carrying out an eye test.
However, after a while the standard “Is it clearer in one or two? How about now?” etc becomes “Are you happier in one or two? Are you happier now? Happier? Does the sadness seem sharper in one or two? One or two? Do you feel any sadder now? Okay, how about now? Any sadder? How about now?” and eventually just becomes a looping and quietly threatening “Now, now, now, now and now, okay and now, now, now and now”.
In the final few seconds the optician returns to a quite normal and perky “And now read the top line”, which breaks the spell somewhat in a way that I’m never sure if I should feel relieved about or not.
That’ll Be is released by Bloxham Tapes, a cassette and digital label which has a rather nice and eye-catching cohesive visual aesthetic:
“…collects electronic music created for an abandoned space: Akiha Den Den, the crumbling amusement park at the centre of a surreal radio drama.”
This is part of a multilayered, interwoven project that includes darkly ambient, Radiophonic and at times John Carpenter-esque ominous haunted electronica, dilapidated ghost train rides, the musings of a talking thought-mining cockroach and a radio ham picking up the transmissions from Akiha Den Den and has been described as:
“...a fever dream of radio waves and half heard transmissions…” (Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)
Akiha Den Den is what could be described an enigma wrapped in a riddle, one that you can only try and solve as you tumble down the darkening rabbit hole of the world it creates…
The project’s vinyl album, CD, booklet and 7″ have been released by Castles in Space, with artwork by Nick Taylor. I would say it’s a lovely package and set of artifacts, which it is, but lovely does not seem quite appropriate for the unsettled dreamscape of Akiha Den Den.
The music for the project was created by Simon James, who has previously worked as The Simonsound (with Matt Ford) and released the dark-pop and sometimes explorations-of-the-preternatural-in-suburbia Black Channels (with Becky Randall).
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.
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.
“The sense of dark electronic menace continues through offerings (the term is used advisedly) by The Heartwood Institute, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer, while Widow’s Weeds contribute bad trip acid-folk and ‘The Night Harvest’ by A Year In The Country themselves moves into Coil territory. This remarkably cohesive collection is shaping new nightmares from yesterday’s broken dreams.” Ben Graham, Shindig! magazine, issue 86.
Part 2 of a post Michael Radford’s film adaptation of George Orwell’s novel 1984 (visit Part 1 here).
There is a curious musical aesthetic and controversy to Michael Radford’s version of 1984 which has been most widely seen; Virgin Films who financed its production commissioned the at that time commercially successful British rock/pop duo Eurythmics to produce music for the soundtrack. The film’s director objected to Virgin’s insistence on using the Eurythmics more pop-oriented electronic music and rather wanted the traditional orchestral score that was originally intended for the film to be used, which had been composed entirely by Dominic Muldowney a few months earlier.
Virgin Films exercised their right of final cut and replaced much of Muldowney’s music with that of the Eurythmics. Its director subsequently disowned the Virgin Films edit and withdrew the film from consideration at the BAFTA awards in protest at the change in the score. The Eurythmics responded with a statement saying that they had no prior knowledge of agreements between the director, Muldowney and Virgin and they had accepted to compose music for the film in good faith.
The film with the orchestral score as intended by the director were relatively difficult to see until recently; home releases of the film have generally included the combined Eurythmics/Muldowney soundtrack. A limited edition and now sold out Blu-ray release from 2015 by Twilight Time in North America offered the option of listening to either the orchestral score or the combined one, while a North American MGM DVD from 2003 had just the orchestral score (albeit it the desaturated colours were returned to normal) and some of the non-English language releases have contained the original orchestral score.
However in July 2019 The Criterion Collection are releasing new Blu-rays and DVDs which will have two scores that are listed as being “one by Eurythmics and one by composer Dominic Muldowney”, although at the time of writing I’m not sure if they will be Region A/1 discs which are only playable on Canadian/US or multi-region players.
The elements of Dominic Muldowney’s score which remain in the combined version of the soundtrack in part has a quality that brings to mind pastorally inflected classical music and also brings to mind the soundtrack a totalitarian state may have had created in order to glorify the state, raise up the spirits of its subjects and create a disingenuous smokescreen that obscured the realities of their lives.
Virgin Films was part of the Virgin Group which included the Virgin Records record label and they produced a number of films where there was an attempt to create a marketing synchronicity by including pop music in films and sometimes the performers themselves and also releasing the featured music as singles and albums.
Alongside 1984 these films included the computer/human love triangle film Electric Dreams (1984) directed by Steve Barron and Absolute Beginners (1986) which was a musical adaptation of Colin Macinnes 1958 novel set amongst the youth culture and fringes of 1950s London and directed by Julian Temple.
In comparison with 1984 both Electric Dreams and Absolute Beginners are geared towards being more escapist cinema, although there are serious elements to their stories (the nature of sentience and interactions with digital technology and class and race relations respectively).
To a degree sections of them are nearer to being pop music videos than purely cinematic work, something which may have been heightened as their directors had extensive previous experience in creating pop videos.
Because of the above the use of pop music in Electric Dreams and Absolute Beginners seems relatively fitting. However in 1984 it seems a little out-of-place and adds a certain air of escapist levity to a film which deals with serious issues; it is difficult to listen to the music of a band as well-known as the Eurythmics in this context without to a degree its use in the soundtrack connecting it to the atmosphere of pop music promotional videos.
Which is not to denigrate the work of the Eurythmics in this instance; their music for the film has in part a mid-1980s cut-up experimentalism while also retaining its pop sensibilities while their song Julia which plays in its entirety over the closing credits has a beautifully haunting and lamentful quality.
That song has a distinctly pastoral air to it and its lyrics talk of leaves turning from green to brown, autumn shades that come tumbling down, winter leaving branches bare and also of spring rejoicing down the lane. It is effectively a reflection of an imagined call by Winston to his lover Julia and whether their illicit love and indeed themselves will survive amongst the Party’s oppression. It ends with a multiply repeated chorus that plaintively repeats and varies that question in just a few words.
The autumn leaves and shades that come tumbling down in the song also leave behind a carpet where the lovers have laid; this connects to Julia and Winston’s first intimate meeting in the countryside, away from the all-seeing surveillance eye of the telescreens, the Party and Big Brother.
In the film there is a sense in these scenes that the countryside and nature are a still relatively untouched and pure part of the world and they provide an almost brutal contrast with the downbeat nature of life in the city.
However, with a pre-knowledge of the story these sequences have a notably dual and unsettling quality as the door that opens is marked 101; this is the room where the Party utilises and inflicts its detainee’s worse fears on them as part of their brainwashing.
Returning to the lyrics of Julia, in that song after the lyrics talk of a rejoiceful spring arriving there is a mention of a time when everything will be new again. This could be seen as a reference to the cycle of natural renewal, of Winston’s hope for a better future and also a reference to the worn out, make-do nature of the material goods that are available in Airstrip One.
(Three of the principal actors on set during filming.)
The Party’s society is depicted as somewhere woefully short of even basic day-to-day supplies, with Winston and his colleagues constantly looking for and running out of razor blades, while the items and food that are available to all but the highest Party officials are of a low quality.
This is given expression in the film as the shop proprietor that Winston rents the room from runs a second-hand junk shop, the meagre selection of which Winston is shown as browsing and we learn that it is from here that he bought the diary in which he writes his secret rebellious thoughts and there is an implication that such things are not widely available or even prohibited. The shop also sells a number of decorative objects, which Winston does not recognise or appear to have a memory of as the Party’s state appears devoid of such ornamental and beautifying items.
This background to the society in which they live sets the scene for when Julia arrives at their rented room with a few basic good quality foodstuffs such as jam, real coffee and bread; Winston’s surprise and pleasure are palpable as is the sense of shared joy and intimacy which they will provide.
Print artwork from The Quietened Mechanisms album.
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.
“A Year In The Country and a selection of their regular musical contributors here turn their attention to abandoned factories and technology, spending an enraptured hour or so wandering among their ghosts… each track reflects a specific location, combining field recordings, musique concrete and spooked electronica into a strangely transporting whole.” Ben Graham, Shindig! magazine, issue 84
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