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The Quietened Journey – Reviews, Broadcasts and Dreams of Overgrown Sidings and Crumbling Platforms

A selection of some of the reviews and broadcasts of The Quietened Journey album:

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

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

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

Dave Thompson also included The Quietened Journey in his Spin Cycle best of 2019 column at Goldmine magazine’s site. Visit that here.

“A charming new album… invites contributors including The Heartwood Institute and Howlround to create music inspired by memories of abandoned railway lines, stations and roads. Anyone looking for a dose of bucolic calm amidst the frenzy of the festive season would be well advised to use it as the soundtrack for an icy ramble in their favourite overgrown sidings.” Bob Fischer, The Haunted Generation column in Fortean Times, issue 387 (and it can also be found at The Haunted Generation website here).

“A fine meditation on Britain’s abandoned railways and (in two cases) roads, with the usual balance of eerie electronica and atmospheric, acoustic folk here tilted very much towards the former. Woodford Halse To Fanny Compton In Five Minutes by Pulselovers is a rustic, steam-powered Kraftwerk and, at the other end of the line, ‘Along The Valley Sidings’ by Keith Seatman a Hampshire Tangerine Dream. There are moments when the pastoral breaks through however, such as the spectral harpsichord and wordless chanting on Sproatly Smith’s The 19:48 From Farley and the elegiac viola of Bruce White closing The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal. Phantom engines shunt through the night, but the brutal noise bursts of Howlround’s Thrown Open Wide sound like a derailment. We’re left with Grey Frequency’s melancholy An Empty Platform: the last station standing in an age that has long since passed it by.” Ben Graham, Shindig!

“The last release of the year in the series of excellent albums from A Year In The Country… For this latest themed album the subject is abandoned and former railways, railway stations and roads…. Field Line Cartographer deliver a superb ‘Ghosts Of The Wires’ about a pioneering test line for overhead electrification. Dom Cooper and Zosia Sztkowski investigate an old Roman road close to devil’s bridge. Keith Seatman creeps us out with ‘Along The Valley Sidings’ set in the Meon Valley, a terrific atmospheric piece that includes the sounds of ghostly trains, of rotted sleepers and derelict rusty signs. The record finishes with Grey Frequency’s ‘An Empty Platform’ about Tumby Woodside an abandoned station in Lincolnshire, with added field recordings made at the site to record birds, crumbling masonry and rust!” Andrew Young, Terrascope

James Mann included the album amongst his “finds of 2019” at the Ink 19 website. Visit that here.

“The train theme is rendered immediately apparent by the opening piece from Pulselovers, a chugging electronic rhythm which suggests a network still full of life and energy. After this the mood quickly darkens, and we’re left on the platform of a station like the haunted one in Sapphire and Steel, with the sun going down and only the ghosts for company. This is another impressively strong collection, ranging from the wistful memorialising of The Ghosts of Salzcraggie by Widow’s Weeds, and A Year In The Country’s hissing roadway, to Howlaround’s Thrown Open Wide, an eruption of noise prompted, he says, by the rebellion of his machines. The machinery of the railway returns to life on Keith Seatman’s Along The Valley Sidings, another synthesised train journey, before we find ourselves on Grey Frequency’s empty platform. The Quietened Journey is a welcome exploration of a feature of the British landscape which has been given surprisingly little attention, and which is now disappearing altogether. The last train will be departing soon.” John Coulthart, feuilleton

Next up are some of the broadcasts of music from the album:

Pulselover’s Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes and The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal were featured amongst the esoteric audio wanderings of Pull the Plug, in two separate episodes. Originally broadcast on Resonance FM, the shows are archived at Mixcloud here and here.

In a rounding the circle manner, The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal and Keith Seatman’s Along The Valley Sidings were included on two separate episodes of The Séance’s phantom seaside radio show. Originally broadcast on Radio Reverb, totallyradio and Sine FM, the episode’s tracklistings can be found at the show’s site here and here, and the show’s are archived at Mixcloud here and here.

Sunrise Ocean Bender included The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal, Sproatly Smiths The 19.48 from Fawley and
Pulselovers Woodford Halse To Fenny Compton In Five Minutes on the Everybody Must Get Throned episode of their show (a title which seems both somewhat elegant and also made me chuckle and think of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Stoned & Dethroned album, alongside the more obvious Bob Dylan reference). Originally broadcast on WRIR FM, the tracklisting can be found here and the show is archived at Mixcloud here.

The Stillness and the Dancing included Widow’s Weed’s The Ghosts of Salzcraggie amongst their shows exploration of, amongst other things, “ambient, drone, post-rock and neoclassical”. Originally broadcast on 15th January 2020 at CRFU, the programme’s archive can be found here and the tracklisting can be found at their tumblr page here.

Mind De-Coder included The Séance’s Elm Grove Portal amongst the psychedelic and hauntological wanderings of their show. The episode is archived at Mixcloud here and the accompanying blog post can be found here.

Thanks and a tip of the hat to everbody involved for the above…

The Quietened Journey 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.

It 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.

More details can be found here.

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Lisa Bond’s Landscape Phantasms: Wanderings 2/26

A while ago I came across Lisa Bond’s photographic art and initially on a first guick glance, without reading anything about it and having seen only a few pieces of her work, I thought they were a form of illustration, when in fact they are created in part through, I think, collaging photographs, in camera techniques and possibly also some illustration.

There is an interesting layering and interweaving of atmospheres in the images; they capture the beauty of rural areas but are not merely traditional images of it, rather they create an often haunted landscape that is both entrancing and at times subtly, quietly unsettling.

There is also a textural quality to them which, while they have their own character, puts me in mind here and there of some of the work that graphic designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer/filmmaker Nigel Grierson did between 1983-1988, often for the 4AD record label.

Many of the images are available as very reasonably priced gicleé prints (i.e. they are printed with archival and fade resistant inks), fine art cards, tea cups (yes please!) and, in a manner that seems wonderfully incongruous and a coming together of different worlds, phone and tablet cases.

The text below is taken from her website, where she talks about her inspirations, intentions, processes and so on:

Inspired by witchiness, folklore and the darker side of nature, [my work] encompasses deep-inked illustrative captures of ever changing, resilient weather beaten landscapes. I have emphasised extreme emotions ranging from negative space to elements of claustrophobia.

My inspiration did not just come from spending time in the landscapes I feature; intertwined is my internal soundtrack, and how a place makes me feel and sets my imagination free. I wanted to heighten the mood and take you to the place of my inner soundtrack rather than just portray a 2D version of the landscape in front of me. Although I appreciate the technical brilliance of the more traditional landscape photography, it doesn’t make my heart sing or require a second glance.

I want people to ‘peer’ curiously at my work and hopefully invoke an emotional response or attachment to a place from their own memories or imaginations… As a… lover of the ‘other’, I explore our relationship with nature and our sense of place. My emphasis is on intimacy; creating multi-layered visual stories to evoke memories of place…

I want my work to reflect my interactions with the world – the ethereal, and the bewitching. My tendency is to sway to the dark side, whilst loving the light.

For [The Spellbound] collection of prints, framed prints, cards and enamel mugs, I was inspired by the enigmatic and ever changing landscapes, especially the windswept, wild Yorkshire moors. All black and white, with a finish like an inked illustration.

For me, these are bewitching visions and bring to my mind the work of Kate Bush, Stevie Nicks, Emily Bronte, Edgar Allan Poe, The Unthanks, along with myths and legends. An eclectic mix of artists and folk story, but all share a touch of the dark in their own ways.”

 

Links:

 

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Gather in the Mushrooms: Revisiting 1/26

Due to the ever-expanding nature of the internet and the way that search engine results often seem to focus on more recent posts etc, a lot of older online content can be, if not lost, then at least a little lost-to-view. A bit like a book in an overcrowded second-hand bookshop that’s hidden away near the bottom of a pile of books. Still worth a look-see but you’ve got to forage a bit to find it.

I’ve had something of a hankering to return to and have a wander through the first year of A Year In The Country, to revisit some old cultural “friends” and inspirations. Maybe it will be a bit like picking up an old magazine that you’ve had on the shelves for years but haven’t browsed through for a fair old while.

I find myself enjoying that, appreciating the way that the contents can be like time capsules or snapshots of a particular point in time, and also how sometimes things that you missed the first time around or didn’t fully take in can now catch your eye and interest.

(As an aside, I also appreciate, particuarly in older music magazines, the prices of things back then – adverts for gigs by bands who now play stadiums and that it might cost you £80 or more to see playing a small venue with an entry fee of £2.50 and so on.)

Sometimes as well, when you pick up older magazines you spot cultural trends or themes that weren’t apparent at the time. Picking up an older magazine can also sometimes give you a moment to stop, pause and reflect, which is somewhat precious in these times of such a vast array of access to culture in various forms.

It’s also a form of digital scrapbooking, in a not dissimilar way that once upon a time people may have created actual scrapbooks of things in magazines etc that caught their eye.

These posts are in part inspired by all that and this is the first of a series of posts which will revisit posts from the first year of A Year In The Country.

And so, without further ado, the first of these “revisitings” jumps all the way back to one of the very first posts at A Year In The Country:

The collection of acid folk etc on the Gather in the Mushrooms compilation album released in 2004 was a notable inspiration for A Year In The Country. Particularly Trader Horne’s Morning Way, that begins with “Dreaming strands of nightmare, Are sticking to my feet”, which seemed to open something up in my mind and thoroughly cast aside any preconceptions of folk music I had.

Compiled by Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, it has the subtitle The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974. Alongside Trader Horne it includes, amongst other things, an instrumental version of Magnet’s Corn Riggs from The Wicker Man soundtrack, the ethereal gothic folk of Forest’s Graveyard, Pentangle’s haunting take on traditional song Lyke Wake Dirge, Sandy Denny’s beguiling journey through love and the seasons Milk and Honey and Sallyangie’s Love in Ice Crystals, which features a rather young Mike Oldfield and his sister prior to his Tubular Bells fame.

The album is a rather fine and concise gathering and representation of the different strands of exploration in British folk in the late 1960s and into the 1970s, and although it is long out of print and can sometimes be a bit pricey used, it is well worth seeking out.

 

The original post published during the first year of A Year In The Country:

 

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Build Your Own Stonehenge Model Kits (and Other Sacred, Profane and Playful Simulacra): Wanderings 1/26

Now, I know that Stonehenge holds a unique place in people’s imaginations, and there are endless and ongoing debates about why  and how it was built etc.

Alongside more traditional heritage and archaeological interest in them, the sense of mystery, the ancient past and so on that stone circle’s often contain also interconnects with a “wyrd” or “otherly” sense of history, folk culture and so on, which has added to the interest in them.

I also knew that there have been an awful lot of books published on Stonehenge and stone circles in general. However, even allowing for all that I was still somewhat pleasantly surprised to see just how many Stonehenge model and construction kits of one form or another have been released commercially. In this post are just a few of those that I’ve come across.

English Heritage’s online shop stocks some of them along with all kind of Stonehenge ornaments, including two different “Stonehenges in a tin” (!)

English Heritage also used to sell a Stonehenge fridge magnet cross stitch kit, which I rather liked the idea and look of, as it seems to interweave so many things in a sort of slightly wrong but also interesting way; a certain Wicker Man-esque aesthetic, ancient history, traditional crafts, the commercialisation of religious or sacred souvenirs etc. Other related cross stitch items which I don’t think are still available from them include a bookmark and a keyring. For some reason the bookmark seems a bit more “acceptable” than a fridge magnet or a keyring, perhaps because books are often held in higher esteem than such things.

I like the figures of the visiters in the pop-out kit above, who seem to variously be questioning or bemused by Stonehenge, or in one case imagining an elaborate possibly worship orientated wooden structure over the top of it.

(Above: Stonehenge model kit with Arthurian extras, completed by zoidpinhead – link below.)

These various model kits seem to be a mixture, and possibly inspired by, an interest in the sacred, profane and at times just sheer playfulness. In that sense, they could well be filed alongside some of HeyKidsRocknRoll pop-up diorama sets of the likes of Delia Derbyshire, The Stone Tape, Quatermass and the Pit, The Wicker Man etc. Those dioramas could be considered examples of when contemporary secular cultural work, which for some people has gained an almost sacred-like aspect, is the inspiration for playful or child-like build at home ornaments.

Actually, surprisingly, I don’t think HeyKidsRocknRoll have made a Stonehenge or stone circle related diorama. A Halloween III: Season of the Witch set might well work, one which incorporated the film’s nefarious company scientists’ lab and their use of chippings from Stonehenge, the ancient power of which is used in novelty Halloween masks sold to the public, that are intended to bring about the destruction of their wearers.

Another reference point might also be Zupagrika’s various build your own Brutalist architecture kits, particularly those based on Soviet-era Eastern Bloc architecture, as that was built during and as symbols of a regime which attempted to do away with traditional religion and replace it with a belief or faith system based around the political system and its figureheads.

The above model isn’t a Stonehenge LEGO kit as it first may appear, but rather a LEGO compatible nanoblock kit, which in its utilising of the grey areas of copyright law could well be considered a form of profanity in terms of the corporate world’s belief systems.

I was rather taken by the above adapted kit, the photograph of which is included in an article on building your own miniature stonehenge garden – link below.

When I was searching for Stonehenge model kits I came across a blog called Clonehenge which contains a searchable set of posts, lists etc of Stonhenge replicas “from the megalithic follies of the 1800s to the present”. It includes amongst other things posts on retail bought and custom kit builds, large permanent replicas and laptophenge which, of course, does what it say on the can. And a whole lot, lot, lot more. Blimey, there’s been a fair old bit of Stonehenge clonehenging that’s gone on in the world.

And talking of mixing the sacred, profane and playful, last but not least, there’s Jeremy Deller’s inflatable bouncy castle replica which has travelled around Britain and the world. Funded in part by Creative Scotland and Arts Council England it is called, appropriately enough, and in a way that I expect both undercut and annoyed its critics, Sacrilege.

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year in the Country:

 

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The Corn Mother Novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths Album – Release date 16th March 2020

The Corn Mother novella, written by Stephen Prince, is a further exploration of the world, stories and dreamscapes of an imaginary near-mythical film, which first began on an album released with the same name in 2018.

The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album, also by Stephen Prince, is both a soundtrack to accompany The Corn Mother novella and a standalone piece of work.

The novella and albums are explorations and relections “of the whispers that tumble forth from the corn mother’s kingdom”. A place and story where fact, fiction, reality and dreams blur into one:

1878: A villager is forced to flee from her home after rumours begin that she has cursed the crops. Her vengeful spirit, known as the corn mother, is said to visit those responsible in the night, bringing ill fortune and an all-encompassing sense of guilt.

1982: A film called The Corn Mother begins to be made. Although the plot is fictional, it closely resembles the story of the fleeing villager. The film is completed but never released, with all known copies disappearing after its production company collapses.

1984: A lifelong quest begins to find the near-mythical film.

2020: All mentions of The Corn Mother begin to disappear from the world, calling into question if the film ever existed.

“After the first The Corn Mother album was released I would find myself still thinking about the story of this ‘imaginary film’, wondering what had happened to particular characters connected to it and so on. It felt like a story that was unfinished and which continues to echo off into the dreamscapes of imagination. Those ongoing echoes resulted in The Corn Mother novella and The Corn Mother: Night Wraiths album.” Stephen Prince

The novella and album will be released on 16th March 2020.

The Corn Mother album released in 2018 includes music by Gavino Morretti, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute, United Bible Studies, A Year In The Country, Widow’s Weeds, Depatterning, Sproatly Smith and Field Lines Cartographer. It is available at the A Year In The Country Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp site.

 

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Edge of Darkness, Lost Futures, Mark Fisher, Look Around You, Moon Stallion and Universal Harvester – The End of a Yearly Cycle and Something of a Round Up: Wanderings 52/52

Well, this being nearly the end of the year I thought it would be good to have a round-up of some of the other cultural items that have been keeping folk at A Year In The Country entertained throughout the year and/or that are on the “things to watch, read, explore, re-explore etc” list… There are a few of them, so here goes…

A rare issue of British television and radio listing magazine Radio Times from November 1985, with a cover feature on the rather exemplary and at times almost hallucinatory paranoid eco-thriller series Edge of Darkness that was first broadcast in the 1980s. This took a fair old bit of hunting down and is accompanied by John Caughie’s BFI released TV Classics book on the series, with an afterword by the series’ writer Troy Kennedy Martin. Also the book of his script for the series, which amongst other extras includes a background to the events that preceded the series (which seems to have become quite pricey since I bought it and is currently listed for between £50 and £650 online – blimey!)

(As an aside, the photograph used for the cover of the Radio Times makes Edge of Darkness look as though it may well be a quite conventional detective or noir series, which it really isn’t.)

The DVDs for the comedy series Look Around You (2002-2005), which is a fairly straightfaced spoof on 1970s Open University, Television for Schools and Colleges programmes and Tomorrow’s World – the latter of which looked at scientific and technological advances, inventions and so on.

Now, I’ve seen these before but it can’t hurt having them around to watch again – and whenever I watch the first series it tends to seem like something of a precursor to the parallel world reinventions of hauntology and utilises a number of similar reference points (previous eras’ public information television, Radiophonic-esque synthesized electronic music and so on).

John Darnielle’s novel Universal Harvester, which has a rather lovely cover design with video tape-esque silver foiled glitching and is part of the loose genre of “video tape as harbinger of the unknown and even possibly preternatural” fiction and film:

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s the 1990s, pre-DVD… But when a local schoolteacher comes in to return her copy of Targets, she has an odd complaint: ‘There’s something on it,’ she says. Two days later, another customer brings back She’s All That and complains that something is wrong: ‘There’s another movie on this tape.‘” (From the book’s cover text.)

I find myself sort of creeped out even before starting to read it…

The DVD and book adaptation of Brian Hayles’ The Moon Stallion, one of the possibly lesser known and not so easily available of the loose genre of “otherly” or “possibly a bit too scary and odd for children though that is who they were aimed at” 1970s British children’s television:

But they are no match for the dark forces of myth and magic which still exist among the Berkshire hills… With Merlin’s help, she learns that the Moon Stallion is beyond the reach of ambitious men. It is part of a legend which unites past, present and future…” (From the book cover’s text.)

Although originally broadcast by the BBC the DVD only seems to have been officially available in Germany and possibly Australia, which seems curious and it is now out of print. The book originally only cost 60p in 1978, which just seems almost impossibly cheap now (although it may well not have been at the time).

1980s Disney-darkness? Check for The Watcher in the Woods and an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Two of the graphic novels from The Red Star series; I’ve read these before but they are worth revisiting as they show that comics can sidestep the well-worn furrows of superheroes or low-key character pieces and still be entertaining and intelligent. They are set in an alternative parallel world and future where what is essentially the Soviet Union went onto ever greater power, achievement and technological advances, which are combined with preternatural non-scientific sorcery powers. In part they tell of this great empire’s hubris and eventual defeat by a less technologically advanced nation and super/preternatural powers and they are at times imbued with a striking nostalgic ache and sense of loss and could be considered a form of Soviet era inspired hauntology.

A pile of old Starburst magazines from the 1980s that arrived in the post, featuring an interview with John Carpenter around the time of Prince of Darkness being released, director Tommy Lee Wallace and the film’s original scriptwriter Nigel Kneale on Halloween III and a cover feature on the flawed but intriguing film The Keep, which is a somewhat unique period fantasy horror fable with an at times 1980s pop video aesthetic.

Mark Fisher’s K-Punk book, a collection of his writings, some previously unpublished. This is a hefty tome of a book at over 800 pages and one that I expect will keep providing inspiration for a long time to come.

Owen Hopkins’ book Lost Futures: The Disappearing Architecture of Post-War Britain, which accompanied an exhibition as the Royal Academy of Arts; this is a beautifully produced book that documents thirty-five buildings dating from 1945-1979, most of which have been either demolished or fundamentally altered:

Rebuilding Britain after World War II and through the post-austerity decades of the 1960s and 1970s enable architecture to embody a vision of a better future – both social and technological… a time when a belief in progress underlay innovation in design.” (From the book’s cover text.)

It features some particularly well-chosen and evocative period photography of the buildings and is in part a document, as the title and cover text suggests, of the lost progressive futures that they represented, while also being something of an almost accidentally beautifully art book.

Which just leaves me to say thank you once again for “tuning in” to A Year In The Country. As always a tip of the hat to you all!

 

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The Corn Mother: Audio Visual Archive 52/52

Cover art variation from The Corn Mother.

 

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.

 

“Halloween may be over but its spell for me always lingers… and albums such as this are especially suited to chill days, early twilights and long, dark nights.” (John Coulthart, feuilleton)

“An engaging album in which the apparently disparate genres of folk music and experimental electronica sit perfectly well together as different expressions of the same basic idea.” (Kim Harten, Bliss Aquamarine)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Mechanisms: Audio Visual Archive 51/52

Alternative artwork from The Quietened Mechanisms.

The album includes 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.

It 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.

 

“(These) epitaphs or nostalgia notations, uncover in the main, forgotten histories, whether forgotten through sheer neglect, conspiracy or misremembered, these moments or passages in time are locked in our fading subconscious much like fleeting apparitions or images disappearing over time whether by design or by way of a past rewritten. The Quietened Mechanisms turns its scholarly gaze on forgotten technologies and with it hosts of gathering of 17 intrepid travelers along for the journey.” (Mark Losing writing at The Sunday Experience.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Strange Invaders – Paranoia, Safety and a Gently Skewed 1950s via the 1980s: Wanderings 51/52

There was a noticeable strand of American science fiction and horror cinema in the 1980s that revisited the 1950s; sometimes in an escapist manner such as in Back to the Future, various remakes including The Thing, The Fly, The Blob and Invaders from Mars and at times in a more subtle or oblique way such as John Carpenter’s Christine.

Strange Invaders (1983) was part of this strand:

“Michael Laughlin directs… an affectionate homage to science fiction/alien takeover films of the 1950s that stars Paul  Le Mat as a university professor searching for his ex-wife, who seems to have disappeared while visiting her hometown of Centreville, Illinois. In fact, the place turns out to be a hotbed of aliens, in place since the Fifties and weirdly unaware of how the outside world has changed.” (From the Twilight Time limited edition Blu-ray release.)

The film opens with the following text:

“It was a simple time, of Eisenhower, twin beds and Elvis from the waist up – a safe, quiet moment in history. As a matter of fact, except for the Communists and Rock-and-Roll, there was not much to fear. Not much at all… until that night.”

That text both vividly portrays and underplays a sense of 1950s societal conformity and also the unreality of the related mindset/viewpoint; this was a time when the Cold War between East and West was just beginning to heat up, bringing with it the threat of apocalyptic destruction and the scarring memories of the Second World War were still very near. Perhaps that such things were in the nation’s psyche is why “a safe, quiet moment in history” was needed.

In Centreville, the very name of which conjures up images of sedate and well-behaved Mid Western America, the aliens have taken over the bodies of the town’s inhabitants. Perhaps they too identified and needed the comfortable conformity of the 1950s so that they were able to go about their business without interference.

Centreville is shown to be a typical rural small town day-to-day idyll; during the opening scene the camera travels over a pretty flower bed and then switches to views of populuxe-esque cars and there is a sense of the affluence  of the 1950s and the related flourishing of consumerism, as the townsfolk watch television, eat popcorn and drink coca cola while teenagers chew gum and make out in the car to a soundtrack of gentle rock’n’roll music.

Paul Le Mat’s character Charles Bigelow teaches about insects at university, telling his students in a manner that becomes prescient for his own experiences when he meets the Centreville aliens that “We’re going to meet some creatures that do things you never dreamed were possible” and he goes on to say that after the course they will realise man is just one race in the universe.

When he travels to Centreville to find his missing wife it is not just the bodies the aliens inhabit which appear to have not aged; stylistically their clothes and indeed the whole town’s way of life appears to have been caught in a 1950s time warp, creating a form of living museum and strangely, as by this point it is almost 30 years since their takeover, none of their clothes or other items in the town appear worn. Is this a side effect of some alien power that we are not told about or are they secretly manufacturing simulacra period items?

Bigelow is chased out-of-town by alien powers and he realises that something strange is going on in Centreville; he returns to the city, which to the viewer in its contemporary built-up and busy nature now appears almost more alien than anything in Centreville and visits the National Center for U.F.O. Studies to report his findings. This is a government-run organisation and seems to be curiously easily accessible to the general public, while also having military guards.

When the aliens come to track him down their 1950s style does not look out-of-place in the 1980s city, which possibly reflects fashion of the time and also the seemingly endlessly enduring nature of 1950s style and revivals of it. English actress Fiona Lewis plays an alien and calls on a journalist who Bigalow has approached about the odd goings on in Centreville; she pretends she is an Avon sales rep (a form of from home/local community perfume and makeup retail) and the journalist does not look askance at her 1950s image and just asks if she is in a New Wave band.

Although not a remake at the time of Strange Invaders’ making there was a heightened tension and conflict between East and West – as there also was in the post-War 1950s when the originals of the earlier mentioned The Blob, Invaders from Mars etc were made – and so in making a film that reflects on an earlier time of tension and paranoia it might be expected that it would contain expressions of then contemporary takes on such things and for the central character to be suitably threatened and distressed by events.

However, despite his dog apparently being unexplainedly spirited away in Centreville and various far from normal goings on there Bigelow appears curiously unconcerned about things; he begins attempting to solve the mystery with the air of a man who is just slightly irked rather than one who had his car blown up by some kind of alien activity.

To a degree this reflects the tone of the film in general; it takes the American 1950s Red/Communist scare that was translated in science fiction cinema as alien invasion/takeover and transposes it into a less threatening form, creating a film that while still intended for adults also has a family viewing feel to it. It could be seen as a more gentle, less threatening version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1978) – a film in which aliens destroy humans bodies as they replicate their physical form and which contains a particularly paranoid atmosphere. While the aliens’ actions in Strange Invaders are predatory and even violent there is still an air of well-meaning benevolence to them rather than out-and-out menace.

Perhaps in this sense Strange Invaders could be seen as an examination of worries about a more subtle form of takeover and invasion present in both the 1950s and 1980s:

“There is a book to be written about how America in the 1980s, in the thick of a deregulated corporate boom, might have inspired a few of its filmmakers to remake certain horror movies of the 1950s that reflected a past society similarly gripped by anxious, consumptive conformity. The wave of 1950s-era horror remakes that were released in the 1980s might constitute a prolonged coincidence, but it is a revealing one, as the films of both decades are informed by an understandable distrust of the sacrifices of personality that are necessary to yielding the insidiously comfy fruits of suburbia.” Chuck Bowen, writing for Slant Magazine

Ultimately the aliens and possibly therefore their invasive actions and keeping their host bodies in a state of comfortable 1950s lifestyle, are shown to be not all that bad as they “free” the sentiences of the humans whose bodies they have taken over, who then return to their own bodies (although it is not made clear what happens to the humans when one of the aliens has torn off their human outer shell, apparently irrepairably destroying it as they do so).

The aliens are depicted as nearer to that classic cinema trope – the close-knit small town rural community that does not welcome or accept newcomers and outsiders easily.

Despite being a science fiction alien takeover film Strange Invaders is not an action packed extravaganza and the film appears to have been made in a very laid back manner, almost as though both the humans and film makers are not really all that bothered about how things turn out. Ultimately, as Julie Kirgo writes in the above mentioned Twilight Time Blu-ray release: “It’s all very silly… and very satisfying.”

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Shildam Hall Tapes: Audio Visual Archive 50/52

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

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 Center and Pulselovers.

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.)

 

“The sounds venture into 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… Just as film is the visceral, visual experience needed to startle and stimulate the eyes, The Shildam Hall Tapes is the appropriate aural experience needed to caress and connect the ears to everything they are listening to.” (Eoghan Lyng writing at We Are Cult.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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

Woodshock is a curious film in a number of ways.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere:

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

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

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

 

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The Quietened Journey – Released

Released today 6th December 2019. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Top and underneath of CD.

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

 

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

Top and underneath of CD.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Audio Albion: Audio Visual Archive 49/52

Alternative artwork from Audio Albion.

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

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

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

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

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Features work by Bare Bones, David Colohan, Grey Frequency, Field Lines Cartographer, Howlround, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Magpahi, Sproatly Smith, Widow’s Weeds, Time Attendant, Spaceship, Pulselovers, The Heartwood Institute and Vic Mars.

 

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

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above is a prototype buffet kitchen car…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brutalist corporate literature design…

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

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

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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From The Furthest Signals: Audio Visual Archive 48/52

From The Furthest Signals alternative booklet artwork.

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

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

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

(Quoted from the text which accompanies the album.)

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

 

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

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Links:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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

The Forest / The Wald print artwork.

“In amongst The Forest / The Wald can be found expressions of greenwood rituals performed in the modern day, echoes of fantastical childhood rhymes, sylvan siren calls that tremble through tangles of branches, electronics pressed into the summoning of otherworldly arboreal creations unearthed amidst the creeping thickets and elegies to woodland intrustions, solitudes and seasons.” (From text which accompanies the album.)

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

 

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

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

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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:

 

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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