Field Trip-England – Jean Ritchie, George Pickow and Recordings from the End of an Era: Chapter 43 Book Images
“Field Trip-England is a 1960 album released by Folkways where Jean Ritchie and George Pickow travelled around England recording literally the music of the folk of the land: from the peels of church bells to children’s rhymes via sailors’ laments and folk songs passed down through generations of families. It includes stories of seafarers who squander their money and life wandering with “flesh-girls” (ladies of the night) and a grand old gardener singing crackedly of riding up to Widdecombe Fair with “Phil Lewer, Jan Brewer, Harry Hawkins, Hugh Davy, Philly Whitpot, George Pausley, Dick Wilson, Tom Cobley and all”.”
“Alongside this are children’s rhymes with instructions for chopping off of heads in “Oranges and Lemons”, tabloid scandal mongering and sensationalism from days gone by via folk song in “Death of Queen Jane”, a paper costume adorned Mummers Play and a particularly boozy version of “John Barleycorn” from the Haxey Hood games…”
“The Folkways records releases from that time had lovely packaging and a very solid physical presence; all matt printing on textured stock and they feel built to stand the tests of time. The copy of the album I bought has indeed stood the test of time; it is one of the original 1960 issues, as far as I know it has not been reissued on vinyl and it was one of those rare occasions where even via the ease of access and seeking out of secondhand records afforded by the internet, it was actually quite hard to find a copy.
Although it is available as a print on demand CD, to do it justice I wanted to hear and feel how it looked and sounded at the time when it was first sent out into the world, crackles and all.”
“These recordings seem to document a sense of an end of an era, which possibly parallels (Jean Ritchie’s) own family/cultural history, with them capturing some kind of final golden age of pre-technological transmission of songs and stories.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 43 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
Reflections on an Imaginary Film:
In the early 1970s a folk horror-esque screenplay made the rounds of the film industry but remained unmade until 1982.
The story is set in the late 19th century in a rural British village and revolves around the folklore of the “corn mother” – where the last row of the corn harvest is beaten to the ground by the reapers as they shout “There she is! Knock her into the ground, don’t let her get away!”, 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 occured earlier in the village’s history, lead to burgeoning irrational fears and a search for a scapegoat to salve those fears.
A local woman is seen wandering amongst the crops alone late at night and word spreads that she was attempting to curse the harvest and to unseat and take the place of the corn mother, thereby controlling the village and its sustenance.
These anxieties and rumours result in her persecution – although the plot does not make it clear if they merely drive her from the village or undertake more sinister measures that result in her literally residing within the land.
Suffering from guilt and remorse at their actions, the villagers become plagued by dreams and nightmares in which this woman returns to them to exact her revenge, and this becomes known as “the visiting of the corn mother”.
As the community’s psyche becomes ever more fractured by the corn mother’s nocturnal visits, the elders and leaders of the village attempt to both calm the local populace and to discover the cause of these visiting night wraiths; 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, though subsequent rumours suggest that it may even have been deliberately destroyed.
Those involved in its making have seemed reticent to talk about the film, appearing often to have an aversion to resurrecting the whole affair and claiming that they would rather put it all behind them. But it is also suggested that there are legal binds – which arose as a result of the disagreements surrounding the film after its completion and non-release – which restrict those involved from discussing the production in public.
Various versions of the screenplay do still exist, many of which are reportedly so radically different in tone and approach to the themes of the eventual film, that there is ongoing debate and conjecture as to just which version of it went into production. It is also 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.
As the years have passed a Chinese whispers aspect to the film has evolved, with stories springing into existence that tell of somebody meeting somebody who knew a collector who had met someone else who had seen or owned a copy of the film – although such reports have never been verified or the rumoured copies proven to exist.
Through related second, third and more-hand reports and interpretations of the different versions of the screenplay, it has been suggested on the one hand that The Corn Mother was a typical direct-to-video piece of exploitation fare designed to take advantage of a rapidly-expanding home video market, and on the other that while the film does indeed contain elements of such things, it is actually nearer to a folkloric fever dream and closer in spirit to arthouse experimentalism than B-movie schlock.
This album is an exploration and reflection 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.
Featuring music by:
The Heartwood Institute
United Bible Studies (David Colohan, Dom Cooper of The Owl Service / Rif Mountain and Alison O’Donnell of Mellow Candle)
A Year In The Country
Widow’s Weeds (featuring former members of / collaborators with The Hare And The Moon)
Field Lines Cartographer
Original Artwork: A Year In The Country
Design and Layout: Ian Lowey
Wandering the Roads Part 1 – The Hidden Histories of On Roads, “Spotting” with I-Spy and Autophoto’s Ballardian Close-Ups: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 43/52
Something of a gathering of the flipsides of automobiles and roads…
The book On Roads: A Hidden History by Joe Moran was published in 2009 and is a written (rather than say walked) psychogeographic wandering amongst, well, the hidden history of roads.
There is a slight hauntological like mourning for the shape of the future’s past to the book here and there, particularly in the title of the chapter “The motoring we used to dream about” and when the book focuses on the events surrounding the birth of the British motorway system and related modernist intentions.
That is highlighted by Joe Moran mentioning on his blog the I-Spy On The Motorway book from his childhood which viewed now, even though some similar scenes and motorways exist today, seems in some subtle, indefinable manner to belong to an almost impossibly distant other modernist, if slightly utilitarian and possibly worn seeming, world.
(The I-Spy books were a form of children’s “spotter” books that were particularly successful in the 1950s and 1960s – each book focused on a particular subject and as children spotted the items listed in the book they recorded the event in the book and gained points based around how unusual the sight.)
I could well be writing for the rest of the year and then some about On Roads, as it is so full of and strewn with observations, history, facts and connections; it seems to represent the summation of a monumental amount of research.
There are a few pieces of information in particular that have stuck with me from the book; the way that in a time of a major emergency/impending apocalyptic conflict, major roads would be reserved for the use of official and “important” persons – nice to know that many of the people who would have potentially been part of the process of getting us into such a situation wouldn’t be stuck behind a lorry on their way to work/refuge.
Also that when the first motorway was being built-in Britain the concrete spreaders used were left over from laying instant airstrips during the war, while amongst the standard bulldozers were also some recycled Sherman tanks, which while I applaud the make-do-and-mend nature, the appearance of these tanks in that situation was probably also somewhat surreal and almost film-set comedy like.
And so onto more automobile, autobahn and related wanderings…
Autophoto is a handsomely produced book published by Éditions Xavier Barral and Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2017 to accompany an exhibition of the same name and which collects a wide range of car related and often more expressive/fine art photography.
This takes in frontier like edgeland car racing, Ballardian close-ups of damaged cars, almost folk art-like temporary automobile home repairs, cars left in the middle of forests that have been largely overgrown, documentary images of people and their cars, the almost abstract patterns of huge stores of used car parts, images which blur the line between forensic recording and expressive intentions within photography etc.
There is often a form of framing and/or guiding of the eye in many of the photographs in the book; the windows and body work of cars create a natural, inherent form of framing of their subjects, whether of the occupants of the cars or looking from the inside out to the landscape and other subjects.
Also straight-ish roads leading off to the horizon, which feature in a number of the photographs in the book, naturally draw the eye and create a central focus point to the images.
Connected to which, although cars and roads are often associated with urban areas, much of the photography in Autophoto is rurally located, often being documents of isolated areas and/or say photographs of roads in wide open prairies with just a distant dust cloud to mark the movement of a car.
To be continued in Part 2…
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
- Wanderings #22/52a: George Shiras – In The Heart Of The Dark Night (also published by Éditions Xavier Barral)
- Ether Signposts #19/52a: Martin Parr’s Abandoned Morris Minors of the West of Ireland via the Café Royal Books Archive
- Day #115/365: Edward Chell’s Soft Estates – documents of autobahn edgelands
- From The Unofficial Countryside to Soft Estate – Edgeland Documents, Memories and Explorations: Chapter 18 Book Images
- Langdon Clay’s Cars – New York City, 1974-1976 – Part 1 – Post-Populuxe Ghosts That Brood While the City Sleeps: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 33/52
- Langdon Clay’s Cars – New York City, 1974-1976 – Part 2 – Totemic Spectres and Signifiers: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 34/52
Skeletons – Pastoral Preternatural Fiction and a World, Time and Place of its Own Imagining: Chapter 42 Book Images
“Skeletons is a film by Nick Whitfield. It is something of a gem in amongst British film, one which in part deals with the sense of loss associated with unrecapturable moments and people in our lives and the way in which we may wish to try and revisit the gossamer strands of those now gone times.
However, it is not a heavy or dark view, but rather it is humorous, touching, fantastical and intriguing.
The plot involves two suited, slightly shabby (or even seedy in one case), privately-contracted investigators who walk through the British countryside to visit couples and others who want to exhume and clear out the secrets and skeletons in one another’s closets before for example getting married.
This is done via visiting a form of portals to the couples’ histories, that are accessed through the cupboards in their houses and which allow the investigators to view and experience the hidden parts of their customers lives.”
“It is a curious item amongst British film; one which at first glance has some visual similarities with realist film but which is actually a journey through a fantastical world, one that is set alongside but slightly apart from the real world.
In this sense it could be linked to a film such as 2012’s The Wall/Die Wand where a lone inhabitant is trapped by an invisible barrier in a rural location, while all of the outside world has been frozen in time; both that film and Skeletons are pastoral science fiction as a genre, set in a landscape where the fantastic happens/has happened but where the reasons, whys and wherefores are not fully explained.”
“It has also been described as a very British Ghostbusters (1984), which is rather apt; if you were to put the comedic paranormal investigators story of Ghostbusters through a British pastoral and independent film filter, it might just come out a little like this.”
“Provisionally Skeletons appears to be set in contemporary times but there are a number of pointers and signifiers which also set it aside from today: the instruments the investigators use could be post war, the suits they wear are contemporary-ish, while the aprons and goggles they don for protection when carrying out their viewing seem to hark back to some earlier possibly mid-twentieth century industrial Britain.”
“Further reflecting this mixing of the styles and artifacts of different time periods their boss could have tumbled from the parade ground of a 1960s comedy (and is a standout turn with his clipped parade ground manner) but there are no mobile phones or computers and we hardly see a car. It is now, but not.”
“One of the only references to modernity are the power station cooling towers that background one of the investigator’s homes but even then what decade are we in?”
“Skeletons shares some common ground with the 1979-1982 British television series Sapphire & Steel. This does not appear to be a deliberate connection or point of reference and when director Nick Whitfield was asked about it at a post screening Q&A he said that he was aware of the series but could not remember it particularly.
Both Sapphire & Steel and Skeletons deal with a pairing of investigators who in some ways could be said to be working with problems based around a modern updating of supernatural concerns and stories…
…both seem to exist in relatively isolated worlds of their own imagining, ones where the outside or wider world rarely intrudes. Connected to this, geographically Sapphire & Steel and Skeletons tend to take place in isolated spaces or those that are removed from the wider world.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 42 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
A selection of reviews, broadcasts etc of The Quietened Mechanisms album:
“The theme of the new collection is the end of Britain’s industrial revolution, a period of social and geological turmoil whose ruins still litter the landscape, especially in the Midlands and North of England. This isn’t industrial nostalgia… but an often poignant commemoration. Another impressive installment in this ongoing series.” John Coulthart, Feuilleton
“As ever impeccably packaged… . As with previous editions, these as were, 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, The Sunday Experience
“A soaring soundbite of seismic and sensory sounds, this is one of the most arresting A Year In The Country releases yet – and one of the best!… Through sounds of aural and dystopic unease, tape loops and keyboards introduce listeners to the buzzing and humming an industrial factory makes. Drum patterns pedal over growls and loops tick time through the waves of weary wordless wages.” Eoghan Lyng, We Are Cult
“This volume explores abandoned, mostly derelict and long forgotten mills, factories and other infrastructure and paraphernalia of our industrial past, much of it slowly reclaimed by nature… Listening Centre’s Clarion Of The Collapsed Complex is really quite beautiful… a synthesized folk valediction to the rise and fall of industrialisation and all its human and structural collateral damage.” Ian Fraser, Terrascope
“Seventeen artists place themselves in the shadow of what remains, choosing sites that may not lay on the tourist maps, but await the explorer regardless… It’s an incredibly evocative experience, listening to this album.” Dave Thompson, Goldmine
“A Year In The Country and a selection of their regular musical contributors here turn their attention to abandoned factories and technology, spending an enraptured hour or so wandering among their ghosts… each track reflects a specific location, combining field recordings, musique concrete and spooked electronica into a strangely transporting whole.” Ben Graham, Shindig! magazine, issue 84
And then on to a selection of the radio etc broadcasts:
Tracks from the album including Listening Center’s Clarion of the Collapsed Complex were featured on Flatland Frequencies. Originally broadcast on Future Radio FM, the episode is archived at Mixcloud.
Keith Seatman’s Rural Flight was on Sunrise Ocean Bender. Originally broadcast on WRIR, the show is archived here.
And another broadcast of Listening Center’s Clarion of the Collapsed Complex on Pull the Plug. Originally broadcast on Resonance FM, the show is archived here.
Howlround’s A Closed Circuit was featured on Evening of Light’s Ἀρέθουσα’s Elysian Dreams #02 podcast (alongside David Colohan’s How We’ll Go Out from The Shildam Hall Tapes). Visit that here.
Vic Mars’ Watchtower and Engine and Field Line Cartographer’s The Mill in the Forest were featured on The Unquiet Meadow. Visit The Unquiet Meadow at Ashville FM here and playlists for the episodes here and here.
A tip of the hat to all concerned. Much appreciated.
The Quietened Mechanisms 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 features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Howlround, Grey Frequency, Listening Center, Sproatly Smith, Embertides, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country, Dom Cooper, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Depatterning, Pulselovers, Quaker’s Stang, The Heartwood Institute and Spaceship.
More details can be viewed here.
Peter Haars, New Worlds and the Slipstream of the Future’s Past: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 42/52
In 1960s and 1970s science fiction novel covers seemed to often allow space or free rein for quite out there, slipstream like illustration and design.
Along which lines a while ago I came across these covers for science fiction novels published in Norway by Lanterne, with illustrations by Peter Haars.
Some appear to be books by local authors and others are (I assume) translations of the likes of Stanislaw Lem, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian W. Aldiss, C.S. Lewis and Kurt Vonnegut.
(Somewhere in an alternate universe the promotional art for Sapphire & Steel looked like this – as did the series.)
Looked at now they seem to combine and collide some kind of parallel-to-the parallel world of a hauntological record label and a point in time when the likes of “speculative fiction” magazine New Worlds and Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius captured and expressed a moment where science fiction and related writing was hiply, exploratively psych like.
There is space in the world for a vast variety of takes on particular areas of culture and purely escapist and/or demographically targetted fan pleasing science fiction and fantasy orientated work has a place in that world.
However, at the moment it seems to be almost all of its particular world, which is a shame and a little too much of one shade when there are many available/possible.
Accompanying which, despite, potentially, digital technology could be a way of opening up channels of creativity to a multitude of shades, when I look at many independently produced and/or micro-budget science fiction etc films they seem often to be more, well, low-budget shadows of more mainstream fare.
Which again, there is a place for in the world but it seems to be much or nearly all of its particular world.
It seems a fair old while since I have seen the likes of Jonathan Weiss’ 2000 film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition or even the new worlds and visions jarring shock of say the earlier work by David Cronenberg.
Along which lines, illustrator, designer and writer John Coulthart has written this:
“New Worlds was one of the most important magazines of the 1960s, mutating under Moorcock’s editorship from a regular science fiction title to a hothouse of literary daring and experiment. As with so many things in that decade, the peak period was from about 1966–1970 when the magazine showcased outstanding work from Moorcock himself, JG Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delany, M John Harrison, Norman Spinrad and a host of others. For a time it seemed that a despised genre might be turning away from rockets and robots to follow paths laid down by William Burroughs, Salvador Dalí, Jorge Luis Borges and other visionaries. We know now that Star Wars, Larry Niven and the rest swept away those hopes but you can at least go and see covers that pointed to a future (and futures) the world rejected.”
Slipstream source 1 / Slipstream source 2
An archive of New Worlds covers at Multiverse
John Coulthart: Revenant volumes: Bob Haberfield, New Worlds and others
Whatever happened to Reel 23 ?
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
Week #11/52: The Modern Poets, otherly pastoralism and brief visits to flickering worlds…
Chapter 7 Book Images: 1973 – A Time of Schism and a Dybbuk’s Dozen of Fractures
Folklore Tapes and the Wyrd Britannia Festival – Journeying to Hidden Corners of the Land/the Ferrous Reels and Explorations of an Arcane Research Project: Chapter 41 Book Images
“Folklore Tapes began in 2011 and is described on its website as being:
‘…an open-ended research project exploring the vernacular arcana of Great Britain and beyond; traversing the myths, mysteries, magic and strange phenomena of the old counties via abstracted musical reinterpretation and experimental visuals. The driving principle of the project is to bring the nation’s folk record to life, to rekindle interest in the treasure trove of traditional culture by finding new forms for its expression.'”
“The core of the project’s activities is a series of generally themed music releases that have been split into often geographical groupings such as Devon Folklore Tapes, Lancashire Folklore Tapes, Cheshire Folklore Tapes and the more seasonally based Calendar Customs.”
“The themes of these releases have included “Mid-Winter Rites & Revelries”, “Inland Water”, “Ornithology”, “Memories of Hurstwood”, “Stanton Drew Stone Circle” etc.”
“The packaging is an inherent part of the releases and will often include booklets, essays, film work and accompanying ephemera such as seed envelopes that act as a further space or accompaniment for the exploration and expression of the themes.”
David Chatton Barker is the instigator of the project and has created much of the Folklore Tapes visual imagery and presentation which, as referred to in the website text above, delves in amongst folkloric and pastoral layers and signifiers of culture from other eras and related overlooked esoteric corners and artifacts, retaining their spirit but also reinterprets them to create thoroughly modern visual work. The music/audio collaborators and contributors to the series have included Rob St John, Children Of Alice (members of Broadcast and Julian House of Ghost Box Records), Magpahi, Sam McLoughlin, Ian Humberstone, Anworth Kirk and David Orphan (an alias of David Chatton Barker).”
“Of these earlier releases, a particular favourite is Devon Folklore Tape Vol. IV – Rituals and Practices, which was released in 2012 and features Magpahi and Paper Dollhouse.
The Magpahi side contains haunting folkloric vocals and a certain left-of-centre almost at times pop sensibility would be a starting point of reference, while Paper Dollhouse wanders off into early morning free-floating word association.”
“Folklore Tapes have also been involved in a number of live events, one of which was the Wyrd Britannia festival of 2012 that took place in Halifax and Hebden Bridge.
The event seemed like one of those times and events where somebody who works for the council/public services was given the go ahead to put something culturally rather leftfield that they were genuinely passionate about into the world.
Organised by James Glossop, the festival was to mark the relaunch of the Calderdale libraries Wyrd Britannia collection of films, books and music. The collection and the festival explore and reflect not dissimilar territory to Folklore Tapes itself, which is reflected by the following quote from the council’s site which says that the collection:
‘…reflect(s) the dark and complex underbelly of English rural tradition and beliefs.'”
The festival featured screenings of some of the core films and television of what could be called British hauntological folklore or folk horror: The Wicker Man (1973), Robin Redbreast (1970) and the at the time pre its DVD/Blu-ray release by the BFI the then rather rare Penda’s Fen (1974).”
“Also featured in the festival were readings and performances by Alison Cooper (Magpahi) collaborating with David Chatton Barker and Sam McLoughlin of Folklore Tapes, Chris Lambert who is the author of the hauntological folkloric Tales from the Black Meadow collection of stories published in 2013 and Andy Roberts on his Albion Dreaming book from 2012 which focuses on the history of LSD in Britain.”
“First up was Chris Lambert, reading from his book Tales from the Black Meadow and informing us about this multi-faceted project which takes as its starting point the imagined history of Professor R. Mullins who was alleged to have gone missing in The Black Meadow atop the Yorkshire Moors in 1972.”
As a project Tales from the Black Meadow incorporates elements of folklore, Radiophonic-esque scores, imagined semi-lost documentaries and the flickering cathode ray transmissions of a previous era; a creaking rural cabinet stuffed full of hidden and rediscovered government unsanctioned reports.”
“…Echo of Light performed, presented by Folklore Tapes and featuring Alison Cooper, Sam McLouglin (who also performs as Samandtheplants and co-oversees the record label Hood Faire) and David Chatton Barker.
It has been described as incorporating the projectionist as puppeteer and having watched it, that is an apt description.
To an electronic and acoustic soundtrack of largely improvised music, two of the collaborators were hidden behind a screen as they essentially live-mixed/live-created a series of projections onto the screen using various physical props, found natural materials and artwork, which in turn were also used to create some of the soundtrack…
As a set of work, as with Folklore Tapes itself, it appeared to be an exploration of the hidden in nature and folklore which surrounds it (or the pattern under the plough).”
“Libraries seem like centres of calm, civility and culture in a rapacious landscape… on display that night were book, CD and DVD selections from the Wyrd Britannia collection.
These included a number of Quatermass films, The Miners Hymn (2010), albums by 1960s/1970s acid folk band Forest, The Owl Service’s fine folk revisiting album The View from a Hill (2010), a 3 disc DVD reissue of The Wicker Man, The Stone Tape (1972), Trembling Bells Abandoned Love (2010), Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age (2009) and the Gather in the Mushrooms compilation of underground 1960s/early 1970s acid folk released in 2004…”
“(Also) on display were Bob Pegg’s (of the early 1970s the-darker-shade-of-folk band Mr Fox) Rites and Riots (1981), a whole slew of books on folklore and song, various selections of witchery, George Stewart Evan’s The Pattern Under the Plough (1966), The Owl Service author Alan Garner once or twice and a particularly intriguing looking The Cylinder Musical-Box Handbook (1968) by Graham Webb.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 41 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Details of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and the collection of its accompanying online images can be found at the Book’s Page, which will be added to throughout the year.
The Touchables Novelisation and Other Pastoral Flipside/Undercurrents Tie-Ins: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 41/52
As you may well have noticed, with second-hand books, CDs and DVDs etc often online they seem to either cost literally a penny or so plus postage and there are lots of them available or there are the odd ones that are rather rare and pricey – and there doesn’t seem to be all that much middle ground.
Along which lines is Brian Freemantle’s novelisation/tie-in of the 1968 film The Touchables, which was directed by one time Beatles photographer Robert Freeman – I’ve only ever seen one other copy of it for sale other than this one and that was going for a pretty penny or two.
Connected to which, the book is one I would probably file under a small selection of “books that I hardly ever see for sale and/or have spent a fair old amount of time wandering if I can afford and/or justify buying them on the very occasional time I do see a copy”.
I’ve written about the film before and as I mention in the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, along with Tam Lin aka The Devil’s Widow (1970) and Queens of Evil aka Le Regine or Il Delitto del Diavolo (1970), The Touchables it could be seen as being part of a:
“…mini film sub-genre of pastoral fantasy, with at times elements of folk horror, wherein late 1960s and turn of the decade high fashion mixes with grown up fairytale high jinx, wayward behaviour and sometimes a step or two or more towards the dark side, all carried out in dreamlike isolation in the woods and pastoral settings…”
In terms of its plot, setting and visual style/fashions, as I also mention in the A Year In The Country book, it is a:
“…very modish tale of a group of stylish sixties women who live in a huge see-through plastic bubble in the middle of the countryside who kidnap a pop star as “a temporary solution to the leisure problem” and in order make him their plaything… at heart it is a caper romp but one that is more than one remove from the mainstream and quite surreal in its setting and the mixture of elements it contains… (a surreal) adult pastorally-set fairytale or fantasy…”
As I have written before, the film has never had an official home release and is rarely shown at cinemas, which is a shame as it is something of an intriguing oddity and also quite a visual and period treat and because of its very visual/stylish nature a good quality restored release would not go amiss.
(The BFI’s Flipside, I’m looking in your direction !).
The Touchables book tie-in could also be filed alongside the likes of other novelisations of intriguing flipside/undercurrents of pastoral/nature set and focused films, such as John Boorman’s 1974 adaptation of Zardoz, a film he wrote, directed and produced (with the book being co-written with Bill Stair) and the 1973 book adaptation of Saul Bass’ Phase IV film – although they’re generally much easier to find and somewhat cheaper.
The Touchables trailer
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #177/365: Zardoz… in this secret room from the past, I seek the future…
2) Day #149/365: Phase IV – lost celluloid flickering (return to), through to Beyond The Black Rainbow and journeys Under The Skin
3) Day #213/365: Artifacts of a curious mini-genre (and misc.)
4) Week #15/52: Phase IV / a revisiting / the arrival of artifacts lost and found and curious contrasts
The Stone Tape, Quatermass, The Road and The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale – Unearthing Tales from Buried Ancient Pasts: Chapter 40 Book Images
“The Stone Tape is a 1972 television drama written by him which features a team of British scientists holed up in a country mansion while they attempt to create a new recording technique (and presciently to compete with the Japanese at such things).
They discover a form of historic, spectral recording which exists within the substance or literally the stone of the house itself and attempt to study, initiate and possibly capture it as part of their research and development process.
“The programme mixes and layers scientific techniques along with an interest in preternatural or supernatural occurrences and while it is set in a country mansion it is not overtly concerned with depicting a rural setting but has nonetheless come to be connected with an interest in folk horror.”
“This is commented on in reference to The Stone Tape by Andy Paciorek in his article “From the Forests, Fields and Furrows”, which acts as an introductory essay to the loose genre of folk horror at the Folk Horror Revival website:
‘Some consider that the setting should be rural for the film to be‘folk’, but I think a broader view may be considered.The tradition of the horror may indeed have rustic roots and pastoral locations may provide the setting for many of the stronger examples, but people carry their lore and fears with them on their travels and sometimes into a built-up environment. Also, below the foundations of every town is earth with a more ancient past.’”
“The Stone Tape television drama popularised the idea and the phrase and as with the recordings in the walls of the mansion featured in it, has continued to echo down the years.
This is particularly so in terms of its title that has been used as the name of record label Stone Tape Recordings, which was founded by Steven Collins who was also the founder member of folk rock band The Owl Service, as the title of an album of site specific spoken word recordings by Iain Sinclair called Stone Tape Shuffle released by Test Centre in 2012 and the name of hauntological otherly folkloric explorers duo The Stone Tapes.”
“In 2015 there was also a radio play version of The Stone Tape which was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of their Halloween Fright Night season. This added extra layers of cultural intertwinings with hauntological related culture:
It was directed by Peter Strickland who wrote and directed the 2012 film Berberian Sound Studio, which in itself has a number of hauntological intertwinings, not least its depiction of an imagined folk horror-esque giallo film and sound recording studio and the inclusion of film and design work by Julian House of Ghost Box Records.”
“The radio play also featured music by James Cargill of Broadcast (who also created music for Berberian Sound Studio).
The soundscape was by Andrew Liles, who has worked with a number of musicians/performers that through the title of a 2003 book by David Keenan which explored such areas of at times culturally subterranean music, have become known as England’s Hidden Reverse, including Current 93 and Nurse With Wound.”
“Further connections to hauntological points of interest include that the script was by Matthew Graham who was also the writer and/or co-creator of mainstream hauntological-esque timeslip series Life on Mars (2006-2007) and Ashes to Ashes (2008-2010), alongside post-apocalyptic accidental cryogenic time travel science fiction series The Last Train (1999).”
“Andy Paciorek’s mention of an “ancient past” below the earth… In The Stone Tape this takes the form of the spectral recordings in the material of the house, while in the television series and film Quatermass and the Pit (1958-1959 and 1967 respectively) it is depicted via the discovery of an ancient alien spacecraft under London which is found to have a malign influence and be part of an alien experiment in genetic modification and manipulation of humans over hundreds or thousands of years, which has been responsible for much of the war and conflict in the world.”
“…returning to a sense of echoing down over the years, the main location in Quatermass and the Pit is used in the 2001 album title The Séance at Hobs Lane by Mount Vernon Arts Lab. This album was created by Drew Mulholland and is in itself an exploration of the echoes of society and culture, being a psychogeographic exploration of London’s hidden and underground spaces, eighteenth century secret societies and Quatermass itself. It is seen as a forebear of hauntological work and in what could be seen as an acknowledgement of the pathways it helped to pioneer was reissued by Ghost Box Records in 2007.”
“A sense of the buried “ancient past” can also be found in the final series of Quatermass from 1979, where in the near future large numbers of young people who call themselves “The Planet People” are being drawn to travel across the countryside to gather at ancient prehistoric sites such as stone circles, believing that they will be transported to a better life on another planet.
However the ancient sites are essentially markers put in place thousands or more years ago to enable the gathering and harvesting of humans by an extra terrestrial force, harvesting that may have already occurred at these sites at least once before.”
“During the extended period of development and production of the series, Britain underwent a period of considerable societal, political and economic conflict and the Quatermass book and series capture the spirit of and extrapolate from those troubles and presents an evocative depiction of Britain gone to seed and a crumbled, dysfunctional society… In these aspects it connects with 1979 television series Noah’s Castle, which also extrapolates from social strife and youth unrest of the time.”
“Nigel Kneale’s own work also has its own spectral, buried history as some of his work has been lost due to broadcasts being transmitted as live performances, recordings being wiped in order that the tapes could be reused or only black and white versions of the colour recordings remaining as is the case with The Year of the Sex Olympics.
One of his lost television plays is The Road from 1963. This was set in 1770 and involves a country squire and “natural philosopher” Sir Timothy Hassell investigating a haunted wood where men pass away screaming after hearing strange cries “as if all the dead people was risin’ out o’ Hell”.
This is a phenomenon that occurs just once a year, on Michaelmas Eve. Sir Timothy decides to investigate, thinking it is a past echo of a retreating Roman army but it is actually the cries of those suffering in a future apocalyptic attack.”
“There have been other fleeting glances of The Road: for a while there was a live amateur production of it available to watch online but that has since disappeared and transgressive horror research project The Miskatonic Institute presented a live reading of it at The Horse Hospital venue in London in 2015. That reading was to mark the launch of a book of essays about Nigel Kneale called We Are The Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale edited by Neil Snowdon, the release of which was delayed until 2017, that features writing by and conversations with writers and critics including Mark Gatiss, Kim Newman and Tim Lucas, with cover art by David Chatton Barker of Folklore Tapes.”
“There have been a number of other books published which have focused on Nigel Kneale’s life and work, including: the biographical Into the Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale by Andy Murray and published by Headpress (originally released in 2006 and revised and republished 2017), film critic and author Kim Newman’s Quatermass and the Pit published by the BFI in 2014 which focuses on the film and its origins and the beautifully produced, Risograph-printed collection of essays The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale, which was edited by Sukhdev Sandhu, published by Strange Attractor and Texte und Töne and designed by Seen Studios.”
“The Twilight Language of Nigel Kneale was published to accompany a one day 2012 event in New York called A Cathode Ray Seance: The Haunted Worlds of Nigel Kneale which featured screenings and discussions of his work and in a further echoes of lost work manner also featured a reading and live soundtrack performance of The Road.
It contains a set of essays, conversations etc. produced in response to Nigel Kneale’s work and features work by Sophia Al-Maria, Bilge Ebiri, Mark Fisher, William Fowler, Ken Hollings, Paolo Javier, Roger Luckhurst, China Miéville, Drew Mulholland, David Pike, Mark Pilkington, Joanna Ruocco, Sukhdev Sandhu, Dave Tompkins, Michael Vazquez and Evan Calder Williams.
The book also came with a cassette tape called Restligests, featuring specially-composed work by The Asterism, Emma Hammond, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Center, The Real Tuesday Weld, Robin The Fog of Howlround and Mordant Music.
As a package and cultural event it positions Nigel Kneale firmly within the cultural setting of hauntology while also maintaining his own particular space and created worlds.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 40 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Released today 2nd October 2018.
The album is an exploration of abandoned and derelict industry, infrastructure, technology and equipment that once upon a time helped to create, connect and sustain society.
It wanders amongst deserted factories, discarded machinery, closed mines, mills and kilns and their echoes and remains; taking a moment or two to reflect on these once busy, functioning centres of activity and the sometimes sheer scale or amount of effort and human endeavour that was required to create and operate such structures and machines, many of which are now just left to fade away.
Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by Howlround, Grey Frequency, Listening Center, Sproatly Smith, Embertides, Keith Seatman, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country, Dom Cooper, Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Depatterning, Pulselovers, Quaker’s Stang, The Heartwood Institute and Spaceship.
Both editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.
Downloads will be available at Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon etc.
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.
Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes 2.5 cm badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, hand numbered on back.
Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £21.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 1 print, 3 x stickers and 3 x badges.
Further packaging details:
1) Cover, notes and print 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) 1 x print on textured fine art cotton rag paper.
5) 1 x 2.5 cm badge, 1 x 4.5 cm badge.
6) 1 x 5.6 cm sticker, 1 x 3.5 cm sticker, 2 x 12cm stickers.
1) Birkby and Allbright Mine: The Heartwood Institute
2) The Hoffman Kiln: Quaker’s Stang
3) Of Looms in the Housen: Depatterning
4) Ash, Oak & Sulphur: Embertides
5) Metallurgy: Dom Cooper
6) The Mill in the Forest: Field Lines Cartographer
7) Nottingham Canal: Grey Frequency
8) A Closed Circuit: Howlround
9) Rattler to the Tower: The Soulless Party
10) Rural Flight: Keith Seatman
11) Clarion of the Collapsed Complex: Listening Center
12) The Stones Speak of Short Lives: Spaceship
13) Canary Babies: Sproatly Smith
14) Fuggles: Pulselovers
15) Hidden Parameters: Time Attendant
16) Watchtower and Engine: Vic Mars
17) The Structure/Respite: A Year In The Country
There have been a fair few films which have investigated how a small group of people cope with various post apocalyptic scenarios, which is the theme of Into the Forest a 2015 film, based on Jean Hegland’s 1996 novel, written and directed by Patricia Rozema.
This is a measured take on such apocalyptic scenarios, which in this sense and in being a form of pastorally set science fiction, it may well sit alongside The Wall/Die Wand (2012) and Z for Zachariah (2015), and has a slower more reflective pace than much of modern cinema.
Also, in these films the dramatic changes in society are not overtly dwelled on in say a more exploitation and spectacle oriented lumbering mutants and warriors roaming the wasteland manner (which I don’t write in a dismissive manner as there is space for all kinds of ways of telling similar stories within cinema).
There is a sense of space in the film which brings to mind John Carpenter’s comments on two of the main ways of making films – one which draws from German Expressionism and allows space for the viewer’s imagination and that which draws from Russian montage and is more concerned with a constant, possibly shallow, stimulation of the viewer which he has referred to as b-bop like.
Into the Forest presents a world that is suddenly without electricity and as with The Wall it does not explain why this change has come about in the world.
It focuses on one particularly family unit of a father and his two daughters who live in an all-mod-cons house in an isolated part of heavily forested land and is set slightly in the future, featuring the see-through computer screens which are often signifiers for that in film.
When the electricity supplies no longer function there is an initial bratty pique from the younger members of the family whose lives revolve around access to electrically powered technology.
As the film progresses it explores a sense of human resilience and foibles in the face of massive change and difficulties and also of the bond between family members (at one point one of the sisters leaves with a new lover for a rumoured place which has electricity, only to be drawn back to live with her sister).
It is difficult to know the truth of how humans would survive without access to modern electrical technology, although as is commented on in the film, humans have been present on the earth for many thousands of years before the advent of electrical power and have only had access to it for a relatively brief period.
In this sense it put me in mind of Neil Ansell’s biographical book Deep Country, in which he wrote about when he lived in a remote rural cottage without electricity, mains water etc for five years and was largely self-sufficient.
However, he did still have access to contemporary medical support when he needed it and was only “largely self-sufficient” rather than 100% so, as is likely to be the case in a scenario such as the one in Into the Forest.
Similarly in Into the Forest, for a while day-to-day life is manageable sheltered in the family home and with the remnants of resources, tools etc from before electricity disappeared from the world but as the months and even years pass these non-natural resources begin to run or wear out and the family home literally begins to fall apart; there is a sense that it is only a matter of time before a new way of more basic, primitive living will need to be found.
One explanation for the reason why horror films are popular is that they allow the viewer to experience and mentally practise responses to challenging and extreme scenarios, without experiencing real world threats and it is possible that the popularity of post-apocalyptic films is in part that they provide a not dissimilar fictional “safe” space and function.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #13/365. The Wall / Die Wand… a vision from behind the walls of pastoral science fiction…
2) Week #51/52: Deep Country – Five Years In The Hills / Two Years At Sea And Becoming A Non-Rolling Stone
3) Audio Visual Transmission Guide #45/52a: Z For Zachariah
4) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 24/52: John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness Part 3 – Quatermass-esque Non Bebop Filmmaking
“Drawing a line back from A Year In The Country to early discoverings of more experimental or left-of-centre forms of pastoralism, then on the way to the likes of Bagpuss (1974) and other Smallfilms produced work, then doubtless a dot would be marked on the said line, and a pause made for a cup of tea, to consider the work and interweavings of Kate Bush.”
As mentioned in Chapter 37: “…Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Reinterpreters”, Mike Scott of the band The Waterboys said that when Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” went straight to number one in the UK charts in 1978 that it “was like an old British soul got returned to us”.
That resonates in part because her work seems often to delve amongst and have roots in the myths and tales of the land, of its magic and mystery...
…this was pop music, if of an exploratory nature; in the earlier parts of her career Kate Bush worked within the realms of pop music, the charts and related work such as promotional videos. There were experimental elements to her work but such things were also generally intertwined with accessible and even catchy song structures and melodies.”
“Although working within the realms of pop music and generally commercially successful releases, her work often explored themes which you would not normally expect to bother the pop music charts but these most definitely did, featuring numerous Top 40 or even number one hit albums and singles over the years.
As a small snapshot of such things, some of those themes included:
1) “Breathing” was a five-minute single based around Cold War dread and the maternal passing on of radioactive fallout, which at one point wanders off into a public information broadcast about how to recognise the size of the weapon used in a nuclear attack.
2) The Ninth Wave, the concept album side of The Hounds of Love album is in parts breathtakingly beautiful and takes in dreams of sheep, bucolic bliss, traditional folk jigs and a sense of the sun rising over the earth, while it is actually about somebody in the water, close to drowning and there is a genuinely nightmarish folk horror quality to it at certain points.
3) The single and video “Experiment IV” (1986) tells of scientists being asked to create a militaristic sound weapon, which results in the creation or summoning of a malevolent spirit that sets about devastating and doing away with the staff of the research establishment which brought it forth.”
“The song Cloudbusting and its accompanying film tell a cinematic tale in miniature of a father’s attempt to create and operate a cloud-creating, steampunk-like machine, accompanied and aided by a son/daughter (although played by Kate Bush, the gender of the child is not completely clear in the video).
In the video, Kate Bush’s character pulls a copy of a paperback called A Book of Dreams from her fictional father’s pocket while they are on a hilltop and about to operate his cloudbusting machine.
This is essentially breaking the fourth wall in a metafictional manner as the book is a real world autobiography written by Peter Reich and published in 1973, which inspired the Cloudbusting song.”
“A Book of Dreams was the biographical story of Peter Reich growing up amongst the world and work of his father, the non-conventional and controversial scientist and psychologist Wilhelm Reich.
Wilhelm Reich amongst other activities did build actual cloudbusting-style devices and at points used them to attempt to break droughts in the US…
…it was reprinted in US in 1989 after Cloudbusting was released… in 2005 the book was republished with a new cover design but the appeal remains with the original, the one Kate Bush’s character pulled from her fictional father’s pocket and the associated sense of layering and stories within stories that it induced. And although now more easily available, there is a sense that it possibly should be left alone to continue to work its magic unimpeded.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 39 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter:
Britannia – Further Glimpses of Albion in the Overgrowth and Layered Psych Collaging by Me & the Bootmaker: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 39/52
Alongside the likes of The Living and the Dead, Requiem, Detectorists and the turn of the millenium remake of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) it could be placed in a loose gathering of “glimpses of Albion in the overgrowth” television – mainstream dramas etc which to various degrees explore, utilise and express a flipside or otherly pastoralism, with particular reference to the sometimes semi-hidden history, ancient folklore etc of Britain.
It tells the story of the second invasion of Britain by the Romans in AD 43, with the Roman troops finding an island where the ruling tribes are divided and at war with one another.
At heart the series is an epic historical fantasy drama, one in which there is also a strong sense of the mystical in the series, with a cult-like religion lead by druids appearing able to utilise and call upon magical forms.
(Jez Butterworth is also a renowned playwright and the tone of the episodes changes to a degree depending on who wrote them, with Jez Butterworth’s sometimes having a more intimate atmosphere which connects with his writing for stage, while his brother Tom Butterworth’s often have a more epic feel and seem to be more involved with advancing a wider, grander sense of the narrative and conflict.)
I can remember being taught a fair bit about Roman history at school, with the overall emphasis being along the lines of “Oh, weren’t they good as they were so organised, introduced sanitation etc”.
Their depiction in Britannia causes the viewer to stop and consider that while that may have been the case but they may also have been murderous, duplicitous, imperialist invaders who essentially were only really interested in and driven by the possibility of funnelling internationally collected taxes back to Rome.
The series put me in mind of Star Wars in the sense of it being an epic tale of a mystical force orientated group arrayed against a power which utilises both a mystical power and more advanced/greater technological power: in Star Wars it is the Jedis and Rebels vs the Emperor/Darth Vader and the Empire, in Britannia it is the tribes and those who believe in the powers of the druids vs the Roman Empire.
In part the first series of Britannia appears to be a telling of the shattering of the sway of one particular set of beliefs in mystical power, whereas if viewed as a whole Star Wars is more concerned with depicting the plucky resilience of a small group who still believe in the mystical “force”.
Britannia also differs in that, while it is a heavily fictionalised version of history, it is still grounded in that history and so the viewer knows that eventually the technocratic invaders will be victorious.
And as in Star Wars the powers that are associated with the mystical forces actually seem quite limited in terms of their practical application – some mild brain washing, the instilling of visions, limited telekinetics etc – particularly in contrast to the more technocratic power they are used against but they still hold a lot of sway within the minds of believers.
The Romans are also shown as often having strong religious and mystical beliefs, particularly amongst the rank and file of the troops and Britain is seen by many of the Romans as a fearful place, full of the supernatural:
“What does Britain have? Wood and nightmares.”
(Wood being a particularly necessary raw material at that time, as it was needed to build the fleets of ships which the Romans used to carry invasion forces and maintain their rule.)
However, while they may call upon their gods, the Roman’s faith and/or mystical beliefs seem to have less sway than amongst Britain’s tribes, where the rulers are shown as often seeing the druid’s edicts as having to be followed and obeyed (although not without debate and dissent, particularly amongst the younger future leaders).
The leader of the Roman invaders is shown as a driven, brutal man who is only really interested in mystical and religious beliefs as just another tool that can be utilised in the manipulation of his enemy in order to get the job done.
Also the Roman’s religious/mystical beliefs and rituals do not appear to have much overt real world practical presence and effect in contrast to say the way in which the druids are able to control minds and actions, visit the netherworld etc.
Of particular note in the series is the title sequence by Me & the Bootmaker, which has a collaged, psychedelic and almost occult like, folk horror-esque hand finished aesthetic and is accompanied by the 1968 song Hurdy Gurdy Man by Donovan.
Hurdy Gurdy Man is a pop-psychedelic song, which reached number 5 and number 4 respectively in the US and UK singles chart and Donovan has often been connected with a late 1960s pop music orientated interest in psychedelia.
Apparently the song had an additional verse written by George Harrison, which was not on the single and which read now as a semi-hidden history of the song seems to connect it more directly with the mystical, semi-hidden or fantastical histories which Britannia in part explores:
When the truth gets buried deep
Beneath the thousand years asleep
Time demands a turnaround
And once again the truth is found
The use of Hurdy Gurdy Man could also be connected to modern-day British folklore, as it was towards a utopian community founded by Donovan on the Isle of Skye that once-lost-lady-of-folk Vashti Bunyan and her partner undertook their now almost mythical horse-drawn journey, around a similar time as the singles release.
Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:
1) Day #146/365: Glimpses of Albion in the overgrowth
2) Day #274/365: Borrowings from Albion in the overgrowth…
3) Day #275/365: Borrowings from Albion in the overgrowth (#2)… becometh a fumetti…
4) Day #316/365: The Detectorists; a gentle roaming in search of the troves left by men who can never sing again
5) Audio Visual Transmission Guide #16/52a: The Living And The Dead
6) Ether Signposts #16/52a: Vashti Bunyan: From Here To Before and Whispering Fairy Stories Until They Are Real
7) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 25/52: Requiem Part 1 – Further Glimpses of Albion in the Overgrowth and Related Considerations
8) Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 32/52: Detectorists, Layered Timeslips, Albion in the Overgrowth, The Unthanks and Secrets Never Told
The Seasons, Jonny Trunk, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Howlround – A Yearning for Library Music, Experiments in Educational Music and Tape Loop Tributes: Chapter 38 Book Images
Educational music is generally that which was created to be used as a classroom aid and/or music created by children in an educational setting under the guidance of adults.
In the 1960s and 1970s it produced some remarkable recordings that if placed in a different context may well have been considered experimental or avant-garde work.
Library music, sometimes otherwise known as production music, is music which is available ready and licensable off the shelf in a similar manner to stock photography and is music that has generally been created quite specifically for that purpose and made available for use in adverts, films, television, radio etc.”
“The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was established in 1958 to produce sound effects and new music for BBC radio and later television, and was closed in 1998.
During the late 1950s through to the 1970s in particular it was responsible for creating a body of renowned and technically innovative work, with this often being considered the “classic” period and the one that hauntological interest generally revolves around.
Often the sounds required for the atmosphere that programme makers wished to create were unavailable or non-existent through traditional sources.
This lead to some of those working at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop to explore new techniques to produce effects and music for their pieces utilising tape manipulation, experimenting with electronic music equipment etc.
“Using such methods allowed them to create often unique soundscapes and music, notably the iconic theme tune to Doctor Who which was created electronically by Delia Derbyshire in 1963 utilising Ron Grainer’s score.”
“One of the reasons for the connection between educational music and that of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and hauntological areas of work is that it connects with a hauntological sense of a yearning for lost progressive futures associated with the 1960s and 70s.
Simon Reynolds describes this aspect of hauntology in the November 2006 issue of Wire magazine in his article “Haunted Audio”, which focuses on Ghost Box Records and other hauntological-related work, as being:
‘A wistful harking back to the optimistic, forward-looking, benignly bureaucratic Britain of new towns and garden cities, comprehensive schools and polytechnics.‘”
“John Cavanagh who runs the Glo Spot label, which has reissued library music originally released by the company KPM has commented:
‘There’s a striking originality to library records from that time because they were all about the search for new sounds. Back then, musicians weren’t told what to do. Big companies also weren’t so obsessed with focus groups and demographics, so musicians were allowed to have more open-ended adventures.’”
“Tim Lee, MD of Tummy Touch Records which has reissued a number of recordings also from the KPM music library, has commented about this and the sometimes-associated snobbery around such music, saying that:
‘Library music was never supposed to be expensive. By its nature, it was utilitarian and designed to be used as cheaply as possible. People forget that these records were made to be used and heard often, rather than being treated like fetishistic objects. So by distributing these sounds to more and more people, labels like ours treat the music in a similar way to its initial intentions.’”
“Jonny Trunk has for a number of years been championing, compiling and reissuing library music via his Trunk Records label, journalism and broadcasting.
He seems drawn to, and expresses an appreciation for, such music for a number of reasons including its at times musically innovative and intriguing qualities, alongside the significance that its scarcity lends it and the investigative work required to find such music, while also wishing to extend its reach into the world by reissuing it.”
“The Trunk Records library music-related releases have included compilations of the work by different performers originally released by a particular company such as The Super Sounds of Bosworth (1996) which brings together work from The Bosworth Music Archive and G-Spots (2009) which is subtitled “The spacey folk electro-horror sounds of the Studio G Library”.
They also take in related releases in an album such as Dawn of the Dead (2004), the soundtrack of which used library music in part from the Music De Wolfe label, alongside albums that focus on the work of one particular musician in this field such as Stand by for Adverts (2011), subtitled “Rare Jingles, Jazz and Advertising Electronics” and which features work by Barry Gray.”
“In a further appreciation, exploring and archiving of such work Jonny Trunk has also authored two editions of The Music Library, published by FUEL in 2005 and revised in 2016, a book which collects the cover art of library music.”
“Another strand of the Trunk Records reissues focuses on educational music. One such record is The Seasons, which features music by David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and poetry by Ronald Duncan. Originally released in 1969 by BBC Radio Enterprises, it was reissued by Trunk Records in 2012…
Listening to it is one of those “shake your head and be pleasantly slightly stunned” moments in culture.
The album was “designed to stimulate dramatic dance, movement, mime and speech” and was part of a series of radio broadcasts by BBC Radio For Schools called Drama Workshop, a creative drama programme for children in their first and second years of secondary school.
The album’s songs (that word is used fairly loosely in this instance) are divided into twelve months and four seasons and to a minimal Radiophonic-esque musical backing it features poetry along these lines:
‘Like severed hands, the wet leaves lie flat on the deserted avenue. Houses like skulls stare through uncurtained windows. A woman dressed like a furled umbrella, with a zip fastener on her mouth steps out of number 53 to post a letter. Her gloved hand hesitates at the box. Then, knowing there will be no reply, she tears it up and throws it in the gutter. And autumn with its pheasants tail consoles her with chrysanthemums.’
Which could be regarded as being a touch odd for a later 1960s psychedelic album or performance piece, let alone something aimed at schools.“…
When the album was reissued by Trunk Records, Ghost Box co-founder Jim Jupp said at his Belbury Parish magazine website:
‘It’s an album that’s very much part of the DNA of Ghost Box: the perfect example of the spooked educational media we reverence and reference so often.’”
“The Seasons is part of a mini-genre of educational music-related oddness which as mentioned earlier also includes work performed by children themselves under adult guidance, examples of which have been issued on two other Trunk Records releases: Carl Orff & Gunild Keetman’s Music for Children/Schulwerk and the compilation of work by different groups of schoolchildren Classroom Projects, both released in 2013.“
“One of the best-known of all such recordings and albums is The Langley Schools Music Project Innocence & Despair, containing recordings from 1976-77 by Canadian schoolchildren reinterpreting the likes of David Bowie, The Carpenters and The Beach Boys in a somewhat unique and inimitable style and which was first released commercially in 2001.
It was a project undertaken by Canadian music teacher Hans Ferger, who said about it:
‘I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education and didn’t know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children’s music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal – they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional ‘children’s music’, which is condescending and ignores the reality of children’s lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated ‘cute.’ They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness.’”
“The School Is Full of Noises, a documentary on the BBC’s Radio 4 first broadcast in 2015. In it, poet, journalist, playwright, and broadcaster Ian McMillan considered:
‘How did tape loops, recycled everyday sounds and countless other weapons of the avant-garde find their way into school music lessons during the 1960s?’
To quote one of the documentary’s participants, this was music education which:
“‘…wasn’t about privilege, it wasn’t about instrumental lessons outside school, it was about something that everybody could engage with, understanding music from the inside… knowing what it takes to make a piece of music, that it’s not something fully formed that exists in the world, it’s something that you make.’”
“…Jonny Trunk is also a broadcaster, in particular being known for his long-running The OST Show on Resonance FM.
It is one of the avenues by which he explores his appreciation of and penchant for the often-overlooked nuggets of gold and sometimes tarnished with neglect areas of music, with this programme concentrating on films and television soundtracks, library music and other related work.”
“Over the years these guests have included Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle and sometimes Ghost Box Records, whose appearance was accompanied by a good deal of knitting and “doing” the actions to a mining safety song by once highly popular light entertainer and singer Max Bygraves.
They have also included the DJ and musician Andrew Weatherall, Monsterist illustrator Pete Fowler, Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records, Radiophonic Workshop explorer Paddy “The Changes” Kingsland, more Radiophonic exploring courtesy of David “The Seasons” Cain, Ian Hodgson of whimsical hauntological music and visual project Blank Workshop who releases records as Moon Wiring Club and some excellent delving and wandering through the undercurrents of music courtesy of Trish Keenan and James Cargill of Broadcast.”
“The OST Show has at times been hosted by the aforementioned Robin The Fog who releases records as one half of Howlround, working in collaboration with Chris Weaver.
Howlround came to prominence with their first album, 2012’s The Ghosts of Bush.
This is a recording which documents the last days of Bush House, the once home to broadcasting stalwart the BBC World Service. It takes as its initial source material indoors field recordings which were captured late at night in the empty rooms and corridors of the building towards the end of the BBC’s tenure of it and the resulting album is a culturally and musically fascinating and intriguing piece of work.
The album is a tribute to its subject from whence it sprang, one which is made up of many layers; whether literally in terms of the sounds it contains and how they were made, the history of where it was made or the Robin The Fog’s own connection to the work (at the time he was a studio manager at Bush House).
Part of that layering process and how the recording was made comes about by a literal layering of sound. The record was created using only tape loop manipulation which utilised some of the last remaining of such machines in Bush House…
When I listen to The Ghosts of Bush I often think of the distant howls of long-lost and departed creatures, huge as dinosaurs. Which in these days of almost ubiquitous free market culture, may well be somewhat appropriate as Bush House was responsible for transmissions from that possibly endangered philosophical idea, publicly owned broadcasting in the free market-orientated West.”
Online images to accompany Chapter 38 of the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book, alongside some text extracts from the chapter: