I’ve mentioned this before but it seems that in the 1970s there was a curious mini-genre of science fiction films, often with big budgets and stars, which dealt with population control and ecological collapse/disaster.
The main culprits? Well, that would probably be Z.P.G., Soylent Green (aka Make Room Make Room), No Blade Of Grass, Logan’s Run, Zardoz, Phase IV, Silent Running… all of which seem to somehow connect with a journey through the flipside of edenic idylls which is part of this year in the country.
Such celluloid stories seemed to vary in their depiction of what form such events would take place and included the replacing of living children with robot offspring and staged depictions of what life was once like, a rather unusual closed food chain choice, new age self-immolation rituals and an escape to the country, shipping the remaining plant life into space, the collapse of society into feudal like barbarism, advanced evolution enabling the control and shepherding of mankind and so on.
And like the previously mentioned paper encapturings of fleeting televisual transmissions and in contrast to modern times which has an almost atemporal access to most of culture at but a swoosh and a tap (see Day #212/365), these celluloid flickerings were also often rather temporary in their viewing and perusing lifespan.
Like their cathode based brethren, one of the few artifacts which would still be on the shelves as it were after a brief theatrical run were the associated novelisation/film tie-in paperback adaptations…
Here are but a few of such things…
Of that curious mini-genre there were a few that escaped novelisation and/or weren’t adapted from a pre-existing story. In the above list that would be Z.P.G. and Soylent Green. I suppose at that time that one of the few other artifacts which might still wend their way into the world after the silver screen showings were the playbills and pressbooks.
So, with that in mind, here is one such appropriate promotional item…
I suppose it’s in part the scarcity and rarity aspect of pressbooks from previous eras, an effect arising in part from them only having previously existed for circulation amongst and for particular commercial groups and purposes, that tends to make me think of them as rather pleasing items,… not dissimilar in a way to how library music has become sought after, foraged for, collected and coveted…
I suppose that the replication and commercialisation of posters and playbills was not at that point as developed an arm of entertainment, though it could be said that the freedom that was then present in the design of such items was in contrast to todays tendency towards (I assume) contract fulfilling cast line-ups in posters (again see Day #212/365).
Along which lines, Silent Running appears to have inspired one or two quite lovely pieces of modern filmic art…
The vinyl soundtrack album might be one of the other celluloid story artifacts that could escape into the world back in the 1970s… and I could probably draw a line from the above films to the scientific battle against time of The Andromeda Strain, alongside which, this is a particularly fine looking piece of vinyl…
…and finally, while we’re talking about library music (or rather afficionados, delvers and revivifiers of such things) and slightly away from this particular pages theme but interconnected with some overall themes, I suppose if needs must you could always make-do-and-imagine from household objects and consumables…
…that always makes me smile and chuckle when I see it. Thanks to this gent, these gents and this gent for that (is it just me or does the work you’ll find via those just mentioned gents abodes look like some impossible art project that never quite existed rather than something that sat on the tables and in the mother hubbards up and down the land?).
Previous pathways which may be of interest: in this secret room from the past, I seek the future. lost celluloid flickering (return to), through to Beyond The Black Rainbow and journeys Under The Skin. a curious mini-genre…. the future lost vessels and artifacts of modern folklore.
Day #212/365: With but a tap and a swoosh; the loss of loss and paper encapturings of once fleeting televisual flickerings…
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #34/52.
It’s already becoming almost hard to remember a time when almost all of cultural output and memory wasn’t available at the touch of a button (or I suppose more strictly speaking often a swoosh and a tap in these modern times)…
For a good while now we have been able to hear the voices of dead men (to paraphrase Mr William Gibson) via recording technologies, without thinking that such capturings and passings through time were odd… increasingly we’re now able to see and hear the strummings and playings and flickering imaginings of all people at all times in an increasingly atemporal manner carried via the pipes, strings and invisible waves of “modern day magic on a monthly tariff“.
I’m wary of being “Bah, humbug, in my day it was all fields around here and you had to traipse, forage and seek out culture and that was part of the thrill” (which it was)… most developments in cultural recording and transmission have pros and cons (although I think that Mark Fisher’s idea that we are experiencing the loss of loss itself to be quite intriguing and possibly something the implications of which have not yet been fully explored or contemplated)…
There are still some cultural items which remain curiously elusive, whether through a muddle of legal rights, considered lack of commercial viability all possibly via their guardians and gatekeepers still working on or thinking in terms of previous business and dissemination models of controlled and restricted distribution coupled with relatively expensive exclusively physical replication and large scale infrastructure dependent signal transmission processes…
Anyway, once upon a time once the signals of a particular serialised story had gone on their journey through the air at a particular time and date, those stories were largely confined to memory and oral transmission. Apart from the occasional repeat, they were locked away on their ferrous reels…
Although there was a possibility that they might also be sent out into the world via the pages of mass-produced paperbacks (which often seemed to be bound for the bargain book racks and shelves of newsagents and remaindered publications shops).
For a long while, before the ubiquity of electronic recording techniques, these were quite possibly one of the only mementoes or capturings of these stories that could be had (something which is also strange today, when you can practically wallpaper, decorate and outfit yourself, life and house in merchandise for serialised stories).
So, this is a small corner of the world that remembers those (no doubt now) somewhat browned and burnt with the passing of years pages…
Well, while we’re on the subject (see Day #211/365), here’s the curiously understated cover to Mr Garner’s masterpiece. An early case of “get all the main younger cast members on the cover” over “Let’s make it a great design”, such thinking quite possibly leading to the end of classic, innovative film and television poster design in favour of American football team style line-ups… and the rise of custom produced posters to try and return well designed one-sheets to the world. Something of a classic piece of prime time television that’s not so much off the wall but through the brickwork and visiting elsewhere… very little actually happens, particularly in comparison with contemporary rollercoaster plot rides and yet it is eminently entertaining… Food for a thousand dreams and nightmares of natures bounty gaining mobility amongst a stricken mankind… Children Of The Stones scribes return in the company of a modernist droog for a touch of Arthurian archaeology… It seems that this particular set of stories is often overlooked… not quite part of the “hauntological” cannon it would seem but the opening titles and the very first scene are something to behold……pre-Scanners paranormal psychic warfare and research in the musty greys and greens of 1970s Britain. And another slightly overlooked item… hyperinflation, food riots, the breakdown of society and be-cardiganned survivalism in a reflection and consideration of possible future pathways for a strife filled Britain. This still clings to my memory, just in glimpses… there’s something that shouldn’t be there on a very dour, wet, fog shrouded British isle… Something of a cuckoo in the nest… opting for the grotesqueries of period illustration rather than stills and scenes from the transmissions… I expect it wouldn’t be quite right to not mention this particular ringstone round… huff-ity puff-ity indeed…
The bad wires… I shall say no more until… Talking of cultural items which have remained largely under lock and key for many a year (or maybe sneaking out under cover of versions frozen in the fuzzy quality of fifth generation transfers by not so legitimate digital transmissions)… arriving on a shiny disc or two reasonably soon… …the cover of said shiny disc wrapping would appear to bear somewhat of a similarity to another book penned by Mr Peter Dickinson… an intriguing racial/apartheid analogy story based around people of Celtic origin having green skins….which arrived in the world in 1973, a year which would seem to be a particularly good vintage for certain kinds of off-kilter and left-of-centre culture… …and while we’re on the subject of such things… not strictly a cathode ray tie-in edition but I’m rather partial to this version of one of The Changes trilogy books… it puts me in mind of the cover to Rob Young’s Electric Eden and links to visionary English myths and culture.
It seems in particular as though it should be an accompaniment to his The Films Of Old Weird Britain piece…
The majority of the items of culture covered here, in their transmission form, date from the late 1960s to around 1980.
Why do they stop then? Well to quote myself, it may well be in part because after then British science-fiction/fantasy television seeming to begin to try and compete with the slickness and spectacle of cinema blockbusters and in so doing seemed to lose some of its own character or mystery (see Day #183/365… also rather handy for perusing some of the flickers from the above stories)…
…or to quote Mr Julian House of otherly town planner and parish re-imagineers of that period, Ghost Box Records, the late 1970s was a point when “The landscape changed. The post-war sensibility – that essentially left-leaning utopian sensibility that created things like the Radiophonic Workshop – was chopped off at that point.” (see Day #205/365).
And while I’m talking about such things spectral and hauntological… the televisual adapatation on the left arrived after that cut-off point but I rather like the somewhat sinister geometry of this book version…
Previous pathways: Quatermass. The Twilight Language of Mr Nigel Kneale. The bad wires. Celluloid flickerings from an otherly Albion. Ghosts Of My Life. The changing shadows of Mr John Wyndham. Remnants of transmissions before the flood. Lonely stones. Spinnings from the Ghost (Juke)box.
File under: Trails and Influences. Other Pathways. Case #33/52.
As I think I’ve mentioned around these parts before, many years ago (many indeed), I think I first came across the work of Alan Garner via having part of the book The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen read to me at my then institute of learning (if memory serves correctly, the imparter of knowledge in question would read part way through a book and then stop, hoping that we were intrigued enough by the story to go and find the book and keep reading… a somewhat cunning ploy to instill a fascination and yearning for the printed word).
Around the same time I seemed to come across/be introduced to in a similar manner a fair few other books which took as their setting otherly/supernatural/mythological takes on English garden idylls, the landscape and edgelands (well, dumps as they were known then)…
As the years have gone by I’m not quite sure which I read and which I just think I did… some of them have become mixed up in my memory: Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Secret Garden are particularly intermixed, Marianne’s Dreams which became Escape Into Night upon transmission through the airwaves and then Paperhouse via celluliod (see Day #79/365) also strikes a bell but I’m not sure if I actually read it or just its cover seems familar… remembering them via such transmissions may have come to make me think that I’d sat down and perused their pages…
…all seemed to promise late night journeys into other lands, accessed via the backs of wardrobes in the walls of gardens where we feel secure… more than a little intriguing and irresistible back then (and now?).
That perusing is something that I’ve thought about/planned on doing/re-doing but I’m not sure if I want to ruin the memory of being read a story about mythological stone related goings on in a newly built school extension building (which even to this day, seems like a curious juxtaposition of the old and the new)… I’m not sure if I would be able to recalibrate myself correctly to appreciate them now (see Day #33/365 for more on such things).
But I still find myself drawn to them. In particular the cover art and the way it sums up and reflects the time of its arrival in the world and the travel of their stories through time (and see Day #176/365 for more on those such things).
…and while we’re talking of curious things and juxtapositions between the old and the new, when searching for those aforementioned book covers, I came across a recent somewhat “posh” reissue of The Owl Service. It would require the breaking open of a piggy bank or two to be its owner but it’s looks like a lovely and lovingly created edition… the illustration of the owl design being cut out makes me think of the impossible glamour (in the modern-day and archaic sense of the word?) of Gillian Hills character from the series having tumbled forward through the years and then stumbled into the here and now, changed and reinterpreted via contemporary minds and the pen and paper tools of new fangled adding/counting machines.
…and while we’re on the subject of she who would be flowers, stumbling upon this (left) made me think of the glorious days when jumble sales and charity shops still seemed to hold the promise of unique, hard sought finds… ah, we can but dream.
Some other owl flightways and pathways:
Early morning sustenance amongst the ruins: here.
Construct your very own nocturnal strigiform here.
Debates around the existence/non-existence and visitations of spectres here.
More on precious crockery here.
Audiological namesakes via Day #30/365.
Tomato soap and lonely stones at Day #202/365.
Limited edition of 52. Each print is signed and numbered.
59.4cm x 21 cm / 23.4″ x 8.3″.
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 100% cotton fine art paper.
Ships rolled, tied in coarse brown string, in a strong poster tube.
Available at our Artifacts Shop.
Day #209/365: Signal and signposts from and via Mr Julian House (#2); the worlds created by an otherly geometry
Trails and Influences: Electronic Ether. Case #28/52.
In one way or another I’ve visited the work of Julian House before around these parts a number of times (in particular Day #59/365)… but amongst the fields of zeros and ones I recently stumbled upon a place dedicated to the design work of Mr House, both Ghost Box and Intro/other commercial work, wherein it says something along the lines of “Please, no work inspired by…”.
Fair enough but as I’ve wandered towards and through this year in the country I’ve come across a fair bit of work that if not inspired by Julian House’s work, at least shares some similarities in intent/design and I think I’d like to see a corner of the ether that brought together both the signal and signposts of Mr Julian House and the work of those which points down vaguely similar pathways… this is work which often seems to make use of geometric shapes and patterns to invoke a particular kind of otherlyness, to allow a momentary stepping elsewhere…
So, along those lines, here is a snapshot of the aforementioned abode of Julian House, along with some designs that I’ve stumbled and tumbled upon along the way which wander down some similar pathways…
(I’ve been intrigued, fascinated and inspired by the Julian House produced videos for the Broadcast and The Focus Group Witchcults… album for a fair old while (see Day #33/365 for more on such things). They’re just lovely… I may well need to take a return journey to wander amongst them at some point during the pathways of this year in the country….
Day #207/365: The Eccentronic Research Council: modern day magic on a monthly tariff and the rhyming (and non-rhyming) couplets of non-populist pop
I seem to have been a-listening to Adrian Flanagan and collaborators work in one form or another for a fair few years now… from a slew of seven inches under the moniker Kings Have Long Arms through to The Eccentronic Research Council in more recent times.
Around these parts I’m not going to go overly into the themes of their 1612 Underture album overly; the album tells that story. Suffice to say this is a “one part political commentary and feminist manifesto and two parts theatrical fakeloric sound poem” which takes as its subject matter the persecution of the Pendle Witches in the early 17th century…
…and along the way it draws more than a few analogies with modern-day times; moral panics, folk devils and economic/political goings on and shenanigans then and now.
All wrapped up a kind of warm, woozy, analogue (?) synthesized Northern Electronic take on hauntological folk music, primarily voiced by a certain Ms Maxine Peake. An “electronic Smithsonian Folkways record” brought into being after a trip or two to Bardwells accompanied by the Twins Of Evil (mildly obscure but hopefully relevant musical history reference point).
If memory serves correctly, their 1612 Underture album was purchased by my good self on the day it first came out… but for some reasons I’ve only recently fully watched the accompanying short film by Klunklick… and it’s a fine piece of work.
Rather slickly done on an (I assume) shoestring and handful of pennies budget. It’s funny, moving, quite lovely. Reminded me somewhat of the likes of Chris Marker’s La Jetée in that it’s built up largely from still images (although isn’t all film really?) rather than traditional movement. Although mostly using actual personages, it’s not dissimilar in a way to some kind of semi-animated childrens program that I can’t quite put my finger on from years gone by. You could call it a fumée, to use a posh word; those comic strips that used to be put together using actors or the book adaptations of films that were made up of stills that seemed to be around quite a bit in my younger days…
Anyway, aside from that, one of the reasons that I’m wandering off on a “science factional travelogue” with The ECR is because of a rhyming couplet in their song “Another Witch Is Dead”:
“It’s a middle class vendetta, on women who are better.”
That’s just superb. It’s one of the things that I’ve found stuck in the old bonce the most on the way and during A Year In The Country. I think it’s the best class-related piece of lyricism I’ve heard for a good while. Probably since some other purveyors of sometimes-thinking-persons-pop wandered forth from the once city of steel to tell the class-tourism based story of a girl who would never get it right, ’cause when she was laid in bed at night, if she called her dad he could stop it all (and there was me thinking it was “if you’re cold your dad could stop it all” for all these years, well, you learn something new every day).
It’s nice to hear a bit of politics and consideration of class conflict/power struggles and abuses in a non-hectoring manner, in some (non-populist) pop music.
And Another Witch Is Dead is pop music, unabashedly so. Somewhere in an alternative timeline Legs And Co. are doing an interpretative dance routine to it; the band themselves can’t appear this week as it’s success and sitting comfortably in the Top 10 for a fair few weeks now means that they’re off cutting the ribbons for the opening of a chain of “16th century Holland & Barretts” somewhere in the north country, where “like all beautiful flowers, we need our rain”.
And while we’re talking about magic, spells, more recent occurrences of such things and the like (see Day #205/365) In Eccentronic Research Council’s 1612 Underture album there’s a point where they talk of mobile phone handsets and their uses as being “modern-day magic on a monthly tarrif”.
Which connects with something I seem to ponder a fair bit…
If we talk of previous eras belief systems it may well all be spirits and fairies in the woods, invisible forces and powers that we must appease, there was a small cadre of priests/prophets/enchanters etc who really knew how it all worked/had the ears of/influence on those spirits and powers and so on. All of which is now largely considered balderdash or at least looked on as quaint “sometimes a bit daft” ways of looking and thinking of the world. So now, with our modern-day magic, it works purely logically, it’s all based on science y’kno’…
“Oh it’s programming that operates via silicon chips that are built from these more or less invisible things called molecules that pass around some other more or less invisible things called electrons and then send also more or less invisible messages through the air and so on and so forth. It’s all based on fact and physics, the fundamentals of which nobody really understands but there are some very complicated, arcane theories that only a select few know and they probably do. Well, they say they do. And all the matter that makes up these little boxes and their activities, life and existence in general sprung into existence from nothing a very long time ago. Honestly, that’s what happened.”
How many atoms/angels can you fit on a pin head?
We just accept that these things work. On faith really. They do (generally). It’s an operating and belief system that works (kind of, depending on which particular rung of the ladder you’re stood on or clinging to) for a particular stage of capitalism and human history.
Is it all really any different to previous eras acceptance on faith that a particular ritual offering meant that a particular thing would (hopefully happen). We could be seen to make our own offerings today but it’s just a bit more prosaic seeming in modern times as that offering up is now often in the form of a direct debit…
…but don’t make that offering and see how long the “modern-day magic on a monthly tarriff” keeps working.
In a more secular society we have turned to other things and ways to express our beliefs and in which to look for some of meaning and transcendence in life. Bill Drummond comments in his book The 17 that those who need a lot of music today are quite possibly people who needed a lot religion in the past. There may well be something in that, some kind of continuum between past practises and rather modern ways of thinking and believing.
1612 Underture was sent out into the world in physical form via Finders Keepers and Bird Records. Find them here.
Day #205/365: The interfaces between the old ways/cathode rays; twelve spinnings from an (Electric Edenic) Invisible Ghost (Juke)Box
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #29/52.
A bit more than a couple of twirls round the sun ago there was a fine sort of interview by Rob Young (Electric Eden) with Misters Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records in Wire magazine.
I say sort of as actually it was one in a series of regular features called Invisible Jukebox where musicians and the like are played a set of pieces of music without being told what they are, asked if they know what each is and then that tends to be a starting point for various topics of conversation.
This article in particular has grabbed my imagination as it seemed to become a space that explored, expressed and encapsulated the Ghost Box world, ethos, inspirations, reasonings and so forth.
So with that we have:
1) Rob Young: (on Ghost Box Records) “...a boutique record label for a small group of artists who find inspiration in folklore, vintage electronics, Library music and haunted television soundtracks. The packaging and musical aesthetics evoke, and subtly mutate, aspects of British culture between the late 1950s and late 70s, alluding to uncanny forces underlying the era’s utopian social planning and education policies.”
2) Rob Young: “Do you think the sinister edge of your own recordings attempt to compensate for a lack of dread in modern pop?”
Jim Jupp: “I think so – it harks back to the Cold War thing… that kind of sci-fi dystopia, which probably nothing to do with social, political and environmental disasters and more to do with sci-fi scenarios.”
4) Jim Jupp: “One of the ways I use samples is to reconstruct songs, or to create songs that weren’t there.”
5) Jim Jupp: (on Boards of Canada and Position Normal); “They were very different things, but triggered the idea of memory in a kind of very un-obvious, non-nostalgic way. I still don’t think what we do, or what they do, is nostalgic. It triggers things. But it’s more like some kind of weird, unconscious therapy session… some kind of weird regression thing that actually goes back to little nooks and crannies you weren’t aware of and makes connections.”
6) Julian House: “There are things that are very impure, and I’ve never minded that sense of artifice in music. Like you say, there is something strange and folky and ancient but actually it’s manufactured by certain generations. A lot of what we receive is actually someone else’s memory and interpretation of the ancient past.”
7) Julian House: “We think about Ghost Box as a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult. And it’s often in those strange things, like the interstitial images in Hammer films, or the ‘day for night’ blue filter that was used to films those scenes in [films like] Plague Of The Zombies, it all has a power…”
8) Jim Jupp: “We often get asked about ghosts and the occult, but the ghosts in Ghost Box have more to do with memories and TV screens than real ghosts.”
9) Julian House: (continuing from the previous point); “It’s a place where television memory and the supernatural meet.”
Jim Jupp: “…we’re not really about a real occult idea, but Ghost Box explores a world which is more about the uncanny rather than the occult. It’s more about fictional spaces and meta-fiction spaces in your head which have a reality, but there’s not necessarily a ritual to access them, so it’s accessed through fiction or music. That’s how we work on that world, with those things, rather than dressing up and robes and incense.”
11) Rob Young: (On the period of 1958-1978 that Ghost Box often draws from); “Why that 1978 cut-off date?”
Julian House: “The landscape changed. The post-war sensibility – that essentially left-leaning utopian sensibility that created things like the Radiophonic Workshop – was chopped off at that point.”
12) Julian House: “What you do through exploring strange avenues of memory and old media, is you hold a mirror up to something; you’re not commenting on it.”
Sometimes you read something and it coheres a set of thoughts you’ve been having and considering. It may not necessarily directly discuss those ideas but somehow it brings strands of though together for you…
That was the case around identifying and defining certain characteristics of what has become known as hauntological culture when I read Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life (see Day #163/365), also via the thoughts and writings of Rob Young the differences between pop/folk culture and the way that folk/hauntological culture have been used forms of imaginative travel/transportation (see Days #4/365, #40/365 and #190/365).
This happened to a degree with this piece of writing; it brought together some thoughts and considerations I’d had of media transmissions and their use in serving a not dissimilar purpose to those which in the past magic and/or folkloric rituals may have done.
I’m not dismissive of either, though I am a child of an age of electronic communications rather than of magic in the traditional sense. I’ve tended to think of certain pieces/sections of culture as possessing a form of magic or casting a spell in a way but not in a way that those older terms need to be used, it’s just that they have a transportative element to them; they can create a world to step into or that draws you in.
The terms and rituals of magic, spells etc are phrases/ideas from a previous eras operating system and that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be of use but they have become marginal (and dare I say maybe a little inefficient). Although they have gained a certain exotic, otherly, touch of the forbidden currency as the years have gone by and that marginalisation by newer techniques has occurred.
As I was saying, some creative work can be transportative, encapturing, revealing and exploring hidden meaning and layers in the way that I think was the intention with some older ways and rituals; or to return to the Ghost Box chaps earlier words “a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult”.
If you should look up the definition and roots of the word occult and alongside the more ritualistic view you may also find “communicated only to the initiated, esoteric” and it’s origins come from words that meant conceal, to hide… which are concepts which could well be applied to worlds such as those created by the likes of Ghost Box Records, it’s language and slightly hidden away from/separate to the mainstream/often scarce or limited edition artifacts.
And there is something ritualistic about sitting quietly in a darkened room, alone or with others, to be transported by the flickering ghosts of (once) cathode ray or (once) flickering celluloid stories or the act of placing the emblem of a particular culture on a turntable or into its tray and letting the sounds transport or wash over you. It’s a continuum really in some ways rather than an either/or, new/old ways, rituals/transmissions.
In a more secular society we have turned to other things and ways to express our beliefs and in which to put them. Bill Drummond says in his book The 17 that those who need a lot of music today are quite possibly people who needed a lot religion in the past. There may well be something in that. Modern day methods to achieve similar results as the old ways? The symbols, rituals, representations and vessels of our interests, hopes, transportations, beliefs and faiths have changed but there may well something of the sacrament in them still.
Anyway, this is a fine, fine piece of journalism and discussion. The above quotes are but a snippet and I would highly recommend seeking it out the whole piece. You can do so in physical artifact form here, here and here or if shelf-space is restricted then you can do so via the ether here.
Various pathways around these parts on the way to Belbury Parish:
Ornithological Intrigueries. Signal and Signposts. Tales Of Geographic Peace (featuring a further interface between Mr Young and Mr Jupp). The Parish Circular.
Day #204/365: The Moon And The Sledgehammer in amongst the fields of the ether for less than a bakers dozen of teacakes…
This has been on my mind as something that I “must peruse further” for a fair while now…
It’s an early 1970s film that shows a snapshot of a family (a father, two sons and two daughters) who live in an isolated woodland English house, whose ways of living and lives have a sense of drawing from the past while living in the present; water is drawn by bucket from a well, if there is any mains electricity it’s not to be seen, they run and hand build old steam engines, the men dress like working class labourers from earlier in the 20th century (all suit jackets and hats for hard manual/engineering work), play hand-pumped organs and pianos out in the open…
I’ve tended to think of it as a sort of travelling companion with the film Akenfield, which is more a recreated but based on the stories of rural living piece of work than documentary representation but which also seems to represent some kind of early 1970s attempt to capture/recapture a disappearing world/pastoral idyll. Both seem to be in part celluloid flickers that capture a nations then (ongoing?) yearning for an imagined idyll away from the pressures and social unrest of the time…
…although in a way it’s nearer to Ben Rivers Two Years At Sea (see Day #62/365), in that it’s more a largely unarrated picturesque document of lives that have stepped to one side of “the grid” that just records its subjects lives and lets that recording tell its and their stories.
And like that film, The Moon And The Sledgehammer is a fascinating snapshot of these very particular ways of life. It feels in a way and in spirit not a million miles from an anthropological study of a group of people in some far flung tropical forest who have been left alone and apart from the advances of civilisation…
But that’s not quite the case here. The family’s life is a curious mixture of the old and the modern; there are glimpses here and there of modern day consumables, even if only glimpses…
…there is a bottle of washing up liquid that is used at the kitchen sink, a bag of Mothers Pride bread (in one of those waxed bags that now seem so evocative of another time and place). Their land seems to be littered with collapsed and foraged automobiles, from buses to cars (and which curiously are rarely mentioned or focused on in the film)…
…although there seems to have been a selective choice to have stopped moving with technological advances at some not quite defineable time somewhere between the earlier twentieth century and about 1962 (a curious looking wheeled “dirty diesel” stand alone engine is used at one time to power their equipment). Scattered around are layers of still functioning, sometimes nurtured small scale industrial equipment of a particular type and vintage that today you may only see as part of historically semi-preseverved quarry workings and the like.
Although it has a touch or more of dirt under it’s fingernails, it’s a very picturesque view of their lives, although it made me wander about how they actually fund the way they live and how they came to live how they do. Nobody is shown as having any kind of gainful employment in any traditional earning sense.
There is the occasional brief mention of the sons doing mechanical/electrical work away from the family home but very little mention of the history of the family. Apart from a police escorted trip down country lanes on a black-smoke puffing steam engine amongst the Morris Minors, we only see the family in the immediate vicininty and centre of their world…
…and I also wander what happened to the family after the film was made. There is a reasonable amount of conflict and even dysfunction shown in the film, a yearning in some family members to break free from their immediate orbit…
…having said all of which, there is also an accompanying film called Behind The Moon And The The Sledgehammer which may explain more… but contrarily I’m not sure if I want to know too much more about the film or how it was made. Part of me quite likes it existing just as a pocket of time, place and way of being all unto itself.
In a way I feel that you need to be a little wary of purely being a voyeuristic observer of such lifestyles of others (and otherly lifestyles). The Moon And The Sledgehammer walks that tightrope in a reasonably respectful manner. The family play up/mug for the camera here and there but there’s a sense that generally they want to and are overall enjoying the attention (at least in four-fifths of the family).
This is an entertaining, playful, piece of film making, a stepping into another world for just a moment or two.
Also, at the time of writing you can currently take that step for less than the price of a bakers dozen or so of teacakes (which seems to be a current form of comparative currency around these parts… see Day #199/365 for more on such things). Thanks to Mr Alex Gallagher and the good, well, folk at Folk Radio UK for their signpost towards it’s new home and seeding in the ether…
Less than the price of a number of teacakes: peruse it’s celluloid flickerings and sparks in the ether.
The Arrival (#2) archival print. £30.00.
Limited edition of 52. Each print is signed and numbered.
59.4cm x 21 cm / 23.4″ x 8.3″.
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 100% cotton fine art paper.
Free UK/International shipping.
This is a lovely book and rare as hen’s teeth as it were. I don’t know if it’s the scarcity of it, it’s subject matter or both but it feels like a somewhat precious thing that I have to lift up gently and carefully…
I was somewhat wary of reading it in a way as I didn’t want the magic of The Owl Service series to be undermined by knowing the behind the scenes tricks but… well, though it may have done that just a touch here and there, it also added to my appreciation of it and some surrounding culture and made me want to go back and revisit it, to watch for certain points and details the book mentions.
The book is split into three parts: an Introduction by Alan Garner in which he discusses the making of the film, some of what inspired the original book, some of the coincidences around it and so on, Our Diaries by his children who took nine weeks off school while it was being made to be on and around its filming and a Making The Film by its director Peter Plummer.
As I type I realise how little I knew about the book, the series or Alan Garner himself. The Owl Service existed unto itself in my mind, a somewhat precious touchstone and its “I am the wolf in every mind” line from the series has been something of a returning and recurring refrain during this year in the country…
So, what did I learn anew and what else has stuck in mind from reading the book?
1) The colours of the outfits of three of the main characters, Alison, Gwyn and Roger was based on an older International Colour Code for electrical wiring (red, black and green). Although the majority of those who saw the series would have been watching it in black and white, a decision was made that if it was going to be filmed in colour, they would use colour… which made me want to go back and watch the series again to spot this.
3) The Weirdstone Of Brisingamen, his first book, is set around somewhere that I have visited and recorded during my year in the country travels… it was also the first time I’d come across his work, many years ago as a much younger chap (much much younger) and certain scenes from it have always stuck in mind. Thinking back it may well have been one of the first times I came across such otherly pastoral/folkloric ideas in culture.
5) You tend to forget just how bored you often were when you were young; in the children’s diaries one of the most repeated phrases/descriptions are variations on “I was bored”/”It was boring”.
6) When Peter Plummer introduced the actors to Alan Garner for the first time and asked if they looked right, Mr Garner’s recollection of it was that it was a “nasty experience“:
“I wanted to run. They looked too right. It was like a waking dream. Here were the people I’d thought about, who’d lived in my head for so long; but now they were real. I couldn’t accept that they were only actors.“… which kind of reminds me of William Gibson saying that when he first stepped onto the set Johnny Mnemonic, he hadn’t realised that his ideas would be present in such high-resolution, in such detail and depth of reality.
7) Mr Garner had based the part of Huw on the actual gardener Dafydd, but a Dafydd as he’d imagined him being at the age of forty. When he saw them together he said that it “was like seeing father and son“.
The two people in question when they saw one another said:
“I wish I was young and forty again,” said Dafydd
“Now I know what I’ll look like at eighty,” said Raymond.
I’ve come away from the book with a sense that Dafydd was a very particular kind of person, one of those people who seem to have been part of the land forever, an archetype almost.
When the filming was carried out, he was eighty-one and first went to work at the location house in Wales in 1898, which seems an impossible stretch of time (the series was created in 1969).
Mr Garner talks of the curious coincidences that occurred during and around filming At one point, unprompted, Dafydd Rees scratched the name “Blodeuwedd” on a piece of slate:
Alan Garner: “What’s that?” I said.
Dafydd Rees: “A name, ” said Dafydd.
“Can you tell me about it?”
“It’s just a name.”
Blodeuwedd is the name of the mythical character in the old Welsh legend which was a staring point for Alan Garner when writing the book: she was made from flowers and turned into an owl as a punishment after betraying and killing her husband with a lover (again see Day #30/365 for more of such things).
Alan Garner: “The Owl Service is a kind of ghost story, in real life as well as on the film or page. Right from the start things happened that haven’t happened with any other book I’ve written.”
(Peter Plummer refers to such coincidences as “selective perception” ie you’re working on an owl themed piece of work, so you begin to notice owls in one form or another often… I shall leave the balance of truth to those reading this).
“It seemed at times that I was discovering, not writing, a story: it was all there, waiting and I was like an archaeologist picking away the sand to reveal the bones.”
9) On the last night of shooting the crew surreptitiously presented Mr Plummer with a brown paper package; it was a “jet-dark lambswool hat.”
The accompanying note said “From your black sheeps,” which seems rather apt and appropriate to the series and its stories.
10) The local fire brigade were hired to create the rain effects. Alan Garner’s children seemed to love that part (and even got to use the hose at time, snapping branches from a tree with it) and at one point comment on thinking that the actors don’t know that pond water is being used; there seems to be a constant battle to not run out of water, to create the correct seasonal conditions and battle against the elements – something which reminded me of tales from The Wickerman of extras having to suck ice cubes on supposedly sunny days to stop their breath showing in the cold air.
Alan Garner: “…we got there in the middle of May, it felt like the end of Winter…“.
11) Alan Garner is one of the villagers in one scene (“the author in his own film“) and apparently he was a foot taller than all the actual local people who were in the series and they all found it hard to behave normally when the man-made storm rain hits them.
Alan Garner: “…as soon as the solid water hit us we all gasped and yelled, and looked like anything but villagers out in a storm.”
“We must be dumb and waterproof,” said Dafydd…
Alan Garner: “That scene is still odd, because I was about a foot taller than anybody else, and I look like the village freak – which may be what Peter was after all the time.”
12) The end of Alan Garner’s section is a quote taken from a letter sent by the gardener of the house where they filmed, referring to the time during the filming and The Stone Of Gronw the production had commissioned to be carved, prepared and set in place for the series:
“It was a good time… I have been to the stone. It is lonely now.”
Which I think is a good place to end this page.
A Year In The Country: Work
Something of a tip of the hat to Misters Christopherson and Balance.
Day #199/365: The ether ephemera of Mr Ian Hodgson and wandering from village green preservation to confusing English electronic music…
Being a chap of a certain age, when listening to some of what has been labelled hauntological music I’ve thought to myself… “Hmmm, this isn’t a million miles away from the (largely) English instrumental abstractions of hip-hop from the nineties, along the lines of Mo’Wax” (or probably I actually think “This reminds me of Mo’Wax a bit”).
Boards Of Canada would be a starting point for such things. Their work sounds like the audio foundations for hauntology before it discovered its philosophical bent. And it wasn’t a surprise to see former Mo’Wax gents reappear/the connection with such things via the wanderings of the likes of The Memory Band vs Ghost Box Further Navigations release.
I suppose the borrowing, sampling, re-imagining and reinterpreting of previously existing records and sounds in a collage form in some such music is not dissimilar to hip-hops collage/cut’n’paste style which lead to the hazy beats and borrowings of Mo’Wax.
One of the more overt of those times when I think of the connection to such things as Mo’Wax is Mr Ian Hodgson’s Moon Wiring Club work. It makes me think of chaps in big trainers curiously transmuted to share in teacake time…
…this is music which I tend to think of as being more playful than spectral. It’s a world of whimsy, wrapped in painted psychedelic wrappings (rather swinging Carnaby Street-esque I tend to think; the associated illustrations remind me of the dandy-isms of such things, in particular Malcolm English and I suppose you could draw a line from such things and a Kinks-esque Village Green Preservation Society pleasant but slightly fantastical fair isle-ness to Moon Wiring Club. Hmmm…).
And returning again to the Mo’Wax connection, the distinctive presentation and packaging of the aesthetics of this world is part and parcel of the experience (something shared by both Moon Wiring Club and Ghost Box Records; the design work is part of the transportation mechanism, as it were).
Although, entering into Mr Hodgson’s Blank Workshop is more to step into a world of chocolate crispie cakes, bunking off school to watch vaguely science-fiction escapist TV (Streethawk?, Automan?), maybe eat a bag of chips if you had the money than, well, unsettled otherlyness and it has a delve about amongst a cultural 10p mix that wanders a little further along to nearer our own time…
I was particularly taken by the Asda Mix. As I listened to it, the phrase that kept popping into mind was “This is like a hauntological primer”… but it’s not. It’s very fun rather than serious. Yes, it may open with the theme to a mid-1970s post-societal collapse television series but you’re just as likely to journey through the Two Ronnies as such things.
Lovely packaging for it to. Listen to it here.
(Oh and C70s? Did they make C70s? For when you need just a bit more than an hour but not quite two albums worth of ferrous recordings).
And while we’re on the subject of things you can find in the ether… I still find myself chuckling when I think of the meeting of Jonny Trunk, Ian Hodgson and friend on the OST show. Let the battle of knowing exactly which catalogue number and colour label a particularly piece of library music has commence. Well worth a wander along and listen if you should enjoy the above instant party tape. Stand outs? The recording of a set of supermarket pricings comes to mind…
(During the show Mr Hodgson discusses his love of sweet wrappers, which doesn’t surprise me as I found myself wanting to write painted psychedelic sweetie wrappings in the above paragraph…).
I’m also somewhat entertained (worried?) by the photograph from an interview with the gent in question by a chap from The Outer Church… if you should want to read more about the connections between hip-hop and such things you can do that… well you might have to break open the piggy bank… more about that in the following paragraph…
While we’re wandering amongst the fields of zeros and ones, if you don’t have as much shelf space as you might like, for some of your good English pounds you could read a different copy of The Wire magazine every day for the next year (at the time of writing) here and still have a few issues left in spare change. Or hop along more precisely to Gecophonic transmissions here.
Mind you, also at the time of writing what a rotation around the suns worth of such things would pay for could buy you approximately 160 teacakes according to the smorgasboard of information in amongst the zeros and ones. I’m not just being obscure there (not just). There is a link and reason for mentioning teacakes again. If you visit the Phantom Circuit here you may well see the connection.
PS Indirectly Mr Hodgson is responsible for one of the phrases that has stuck in my head the most leading up to and during this year in the country: “slathered in the fiction that it comes from an older, weirder England”.
Although in my head I tend to think it says “slathered in the fiction that it comes from an older, more brutal England”, which I think probably says something about my own approach to all such things and makes me think of the behind-the-net-curtains noir of Black Box Recorder (see Day #10/365).
Wander along to the Gecophonic Audio System here.
I’ve been thinking here and there about cultures away from the shores of Albion which might be considered to have some similarities with some of the otherly folkloric/hauntological culture that I’ve been wandering through during this year in the country; the sense of an unregulated, sometimes overlooked culture with deep roots in the land and history, that could be seen to be haunted by spectres of a nation’s past.
The folk cultural history (in the sense of being from the wild woods, away from the cities, a touch more autonomous and of/by the people ) of places rather than the pop cultural history (based in urban centres, mass spectacle, centrally controlled).
…along which lines, if I was to look way over the oceans I would probably cast my gaze towards what I tend to think of a certain dusty plains, Southern Gothic aesthetic and artifacts.
I’ve touched briefly on such things when talking about General Orders No.9 (see Day #51/365), an astonishing piece of flickering celluloid which takes in the discarded, collapsed, neglected and yet also invaded/consumed landscape of America’s deep south…
If I was to pick two particular other cultural artifacts and resonances in the air which represent such things then it would probably be the albums Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method by Earth and Folklore by 16 Horsepower.
These are haunted and haunting pieces of work. Musically quite different but I feel they’re wandering similar pathways, somewhere in history.
The second, although not really pigeonhole-able, could be seen to be a form of visionary, folkloric dark Americana.; very melodic and presented in traditional song form. It draws on gospel but if this is a revival it’s wandering the forest with its sins, having travelled from its church roots but never too far that it can’t hear the calls from its home.
The first takes a similar aesthetic but applies a relentless but strangely comforting heaviness and sense of being enveloped and crushed, this time taking a vocal-less drone guitar path through the dust bowls of its land.
And when it stops, I don’t want it to end.
They are both the fever dreams of stories etched in the land, shadows of the past in the present.
Mirrors of folklore and drawing the lines:
Lead Earth gent Dylan Carlson has begun to explore English folklore, culture and related esoteric pathways quite explicitly (see Day #156/365) and has mentioned late 1960s/early 1970s folk rock along the lines of Pentangle as being an influence on more recent work… you could well peruse him discussing such things via a certain gent from The Outer Church here.
16 Horsepower’s live performance of Joy Division: It’s a fair few years since I first saw this but having re-watched it still entrances and transports me. Mr Eugene Edward is channelling something here.
Visit Mr Carlson’s various projects in the ether here.
More than worth a mention if you should be travelling such pathways: Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus…
This and General Orders No.9 could be seen to be mirror images of studies of this fair isle’s outer edges and edgelands (see Day #160/365)…
I’ve been interested and curious by just how many times references to the final 1979 Quatermass series have kept cropping up during this year in the country: not always obviously but when I recently re-perused it I kept having “Ah, that’s where that’s from” points of aha, connection and reference.
On this recent re-viewing I wandered if it wasn’t some kind of original point where the branches and trees of A Year In The Country first began to seed and grow; it has such a sense of the landscape and the fields being a place where ancient stories are told and retold, of pastoralism that is both refuge and an otherly unsettled place but more in a machinations of eldritch science/science fiction manner than ancient man made rituals. The patterns beneath the plough in this story are particularly deep, sewn from elsewhere in the cosmos and stretch way back through our history, to a previous (almost) final harvest.
I first came across the series in the early 1980s via it’s novelisation which was bought from the bargain bookshelves of one of my local newsagents (such places were something of an exciting cultural node for a young chap; I expect many an hour was spent wandering their shelves of comics and books, see Day #15/365 for more on such things).
I read it when I was going through an extended phase of reading science fiction that I expect was a bit beyond my years and comprehension but which I was drawn to and maybe searching for what would later become niche corners of culture.
This book in particular I was fascinated by and even to this day my mind still seems to ponder some of its themes and images.
And there are a lot of them: ancient stone circles as markers for where the human race was once reaped by an alien intelligence, of that intelligence possibly taking just a trace of the people it “destroys”/harvests – in a similar way as humans take just a trace of the musk deer to make our perfume, the collapse of society into near barbarism and the prime minister’s home having a tank outside to guard it (though it was said to not be mobile and to have a family of cats living in it), the new age wanderers seeking to be taken to the “planet”, decadent Benny Hill meets Clockwork Orange pandering television programs…
And it’s a fantastic vision of a Britain gone to seed and crumbled. I know that it will have been location scouted to show that but there is an underlying sense that this is more documentary than fiction in its portrayal; it captures something of the corrupt spirit of the times or at least how those times are sometimes remembered.
I don’t actually know if I saw the program when I was young, so I don’t know if it would qualify as a version of hauntological misremembered memory of it and its possible strangeness. I have a suspicion I may have seen the occasional snatch of an occasional episode late at night, on a black and white television with the sound turned right down and a coat over my head and the set so that the flickers of the screen didn’t give away my should be in bed watching…
…one thing that struck me on a recent re-viewing was just how genuinely watchable and gripping it is. Very modern in a way and stands up well with the pace and entertainment qualities of modern-day broadcasts. I mention that as it seems in contrast to some other become-otherly television programs that may be mentioned around these parts, which you almost have to recalibrate yourself to a different previous eras rhythm of story telling to appreciate today (see Day #33/365 for more on such things). It hadn’t been that long since I had previously seen it and still I was gripped from the start…
As seems to be my way of late, here are a few notes I made as I re-watched it:
1) Rather posh gang member muggers at the start in a thespian finishing school way.
2) “A wedding between a corrupt democracy and a monstrous tyranny.”
3) It’s an interesting comment on where the utopian freedoms and possible decadence of the 1960s and 1970s went when it overreached and curdled.
4) Every looks run down, bodged together in this Britain even radio telescope stations; there is a sense of a true plucky British spirit.
5) Burning books: almost Dickensian street market – a stall selling books “Guaranteed to burn well”.
6) “We’re being harvested.“
7) “Beware the quasars.”
8) “You mustn’t be like that when you grow up, promise me you won’t turn foolish. Promise me.“
9) There’s a curious sense of old world gentility in the face of societal collapse.
10) “It was here to, here in England, at ringstone round.”
11) The leader of the planet people is the worst kind of demagogue (and curiously looks rather like his almost opposite number, the radio telescope scientist leader… I kept having to double-take to check it wasn’t him).
12) It’s interesting as it’s a comment in a way against an over-reliance and over-emphasis on youth in society: “Yes, the older the better” on the scientists, officers and soldiers who become the investigators and possible saviours.
13) “A trace, a mere trace, you’re talking about a fragment” (see themes and images section earlier).
14) “You’d think she’d never had a stick in her hand before.” (see Benny Hill meets Clockwork orange, also in the themes and images section earlier); the logical extension of Legs and Co.?
15) “It’s the only show anybody watches anymore. It has a special place, it’s what we used to call a family show.“” Similar to Nigel Kneale’s prescient consideration of television in his other flickering stories, where programs have been reduced to The Hungry Angry Show.
16) “A ripe crop can’t appeal to the reaper. I think this is the gathering time. The human race is being harvested.“
17) “A cosmic error.“
18) “What was underneath
18) “A meadow. Appropriate for a human harvest.“
19) “What was underneath stayed under the open fields.” I’m actually unsettled typing some of this. Nigel Kneale’s stories seem to deal with very particular human and historical archetypes that get under the skin. By the end of Quatermass and The Pit’s atavistic pogroms I just really wanted it all to stop and the film to end, to leave me alone.
20) Scenes of (literally) underground government; all shabby, patched together and shrouded in cigarette smoke. It seemed like an accurate depiction of cultural memories of the hidden histories and subterfuges of the 1970s.
21) “Of course. The mother bird draws attention away from the chicks.“
22) Re longstanding sports gathering grounds: “The sacred turf they call it. I wander what’s underneath?” There’s a sense of distrust of mass gatherings and festivals, of the blind mass mind adherence and obedience of them.
23) There’s more than a touch of a connection and line from the harvesting of a species and it’s essences here to Under The Skin.
24) “You see the sky all sick? What that is, is spillings.” Well, there’s another bit of shoulder hunching heebie jeebies as I relate that.
25) “I can make them exist, do you know that? Not by magic or faith but… but by thinking.” Contrasts and battles between returned, resurging unquestioning beliefs and the rationality (?) of modern-day scientific belief systems.
26) Is it more unsettling because one of the planet people is future pop-ette Toyah Wilcox and one of the soldiers she helps convert is a future Blue Peter presenter?
27) It’s interesting how the closing credits change colour gradually over each episode and then in the final credits it’s just nursery rhymes and children playing amongst the ringstone round. A return to a pastoral idyll but there’s something just slightly menacing (foreboding?) to it.
28) “I have watched the sky and the land become clean.“
A Pastoral Tinderbox. £10.00.
A set of 12 prints contained in a sliding matchbox style two part black matt rigid card box set.
Limited edition of 52 sets.
The prints are printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on textured 100% cotton fine art paper.
Each print is hand signed and hand numbered.The box is hand signed and numbered inside.
Size of prints: 6.7 x 6.7 cm / 2.6 x 2.6″.
Size of box: 7.5 x 7.2cm / 3 x 2.8″.