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The Shildam Hall Tapes – Audio Visual Archive 18/52

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

“Reflections on an imaginary film.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

 

“Vic Mars contributes a woozy neoclassical dream sequence interspersed with snippets of vintage-style electronica; very lovely and totally in keeping with the album’s theme… The Heartwood Institute provide a foreboding piece of cinematic incidental music, its chilling and haunting atmosphere perfectly illustrating a seance taking part on the grounds of Shildam Hall… an engaging collection of dark, ethereal and psychedelic experimental sounds.” Kim Harten writing at Bliss Aquamarine

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 5 – A Curious Collector’s Piece and a Return to Acts of Enclosure: Wanderings 18/52

Part 5 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 herePart 2 herePart 3 here and Part 4 here.)

One of the starting points of this set of posts was Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World, which is a collection of the photographs he has taken of Brutalist architecture, with some of the structures it features having an abstract, experimental and otherworldly quality.

The copy of This Brutal World which I read had a clipping from a newspaper in it, that reported on how the Victoria and Albert Museum (a prestigious cultural museum in London) had acquired the interior and exterior of a maisonette from the Brutalist designed Robin Hood Gardens council estate, which was due for demolition. In the article representatives of the Museum speak of both the acquisition’s place in highly experimental British architectural and urban history and also that they would not airbrush out the controversies and problems with the estate, which was notorious for being poorly maintained and ravaged by crime.

The article ends with:

An attempt to have the estate listed in 2009 was knocked back when English Heritage said it ‘fails as a place for human beings to live’”.

While such a view may to some degree be considered subjective, it is also something of a damning indictment on this particular architectural “experiment” and also possibly similar failed social housing projects elsewhere. As referred to in earlier posts, whether that failure is due to poor maintenance, social dysfunction and/or inherent faults with the buildings is debatable but ultimately if they have not functioned correctly and provided its inhabitants with a reasonable quality of life then that debate becomes a moot point.

In the clipping it is also observed how once derided Brutalist housing such as Trellick Tower in London has now become highly desirable and expensive. It is questionable whether their now sought-after nature is due to their design and/or as a result of a shortage of available real estate, alongside the increasing perceived fashionable desirability and interlinked market value of such properties. With societal and property value changes buildings such as Trellick Tower have come to occupy locations which today would be considered too expensive for social housing

Such previously outrightly socially owned housing originated in a time when city centres were not as socially delineated in terms of who could live there and also from a period in time when many of the areas in which it was built were not as appealing to those who were more financially affluent. Indeed at times such areas were considered rough, down-at-heel or lower-class enclaves.

Due to right-to-buy scheme which gained pace in the 1980s, whereby social housing tenants in the UK could buy their homes at discounted rates, a considerable percentage of housing which was created with socially progressive intentions utilising public money has become private property. Which is one aspect of governmental policy which has led to a shortage of housing, particularly social housing, ever-increasing housing costs and the exclusion of certain social and economic strata from city centres.

It has also resulted in the slightly absurd spectacle of people paying £400,000+ for a one bedroom flat in Trellick Tower and formerly social housing being made available on the private rental market for highly inflated rents.

Brutalist architecture has been associated with a hauntological sense of lost progressive futures; the transfer of affordable social housing stock to the private sector within city areas is  a very physical representation of such loss.

Which brings me to modern day acts of enclosure/exclusion from the land and also an earlier starting point for this set of posts – Rob Young’s book Electric Eden:

“(In terms of what Rob Young presents as music and culture of a utopian or visionary nature that draws from the land and folk culture) he has discussed the connection between such areas of work and culture and how there is a connection to historic acts of land enclosure and clearance; the way in which from around 1760 onwards common land was put into private ownership by government Inclosure Acts, forcing agricultural workers towards the newly expanding cities and factories and how this displacement could be one of the roots of the British empathy with the countryside, with relics such as songs or texts from the world before this change having come to be revered as they seem to represent or connect to a pre-industrial “Fall” golden age.

“It could be said that Inclosure Acts are not a purely historical practice. In recent years a proportion of the population have found themselves increasingly priced out of certain areas of the country; the cost of putting a roof over your head (in terms of the ever upward path of rental and property prices), of keeping the lights on and the wolves from the door seems to quietly, gradually be removing a certain less material wealth funded or directed way of life out of the cities and in particular the city centres and the capital city of Britain.

“This could be considered to be a form of enclosure: a more subtly enacted mirror image of the earlier 18th century version.

“In recent times this has happened in part through decisions to not take particular actions as well as the ending of acts of Parliamentary regulation (removing or refusing to implement statutory rent control or regulation for example), as opposed to creating new legislation, with the result that the “common people” are being removed from the inner cities rather than forced into them.” (Quoted from the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book.)

As mentioned in Part 1 of these posts, Brutalist architecture often had utopian, socially progressive roots and This Brutal World includes the following quote from journalist Owen Hatherley:

Brutalist architecture was a political aesthetic, an attitude, a weapon, dedicated to the precept that nothing was too good for ordinary people.

Perhaps rather than a sense of “nothing was too good for ordinary people” being focused on purely architectural design, in previous less monetaristic times it also involved more equal and less financial/social strictures in terms of geographical access and the actual physical locations of social and other housing.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology
  5. The Electric Eden website
  6. The Electric Eden book

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52
  3. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  4. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  5. Reflections on Brutalism Part 4 – A Return to the Experimentations and Aesthetics of This Brutal World and Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology: Wanderings 17/52
  6. The A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book
  7. Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New: Chapter 1 Book Images
  8. Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

 

 

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Audio Albion – Audio Visual Archive 17/52

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

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

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

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

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

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

“…’music and field recording map of Britain’ featuring 15 tracks that incorporate found sounds from rural walks, semi-industrial ‘edgeland’ and liminal spaces between this world and the next… The compositions often suggest unseen images and unrevealed narrative…” Ben Graham in Shindig! magazine, issue 79

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Watchers – Album Preorder and Release Dates

Preorder 14th May 2019. Released 7th June 2019.

Amongst Britain’s trees there are thought to be over 3,000 ancient oaks – those which date back 400 years or more – and of those trees more than 115 are 800 to 1,000 years old or more. They are part of a tree population that also includes ash trees that have lived for hundreds of years and a yew that is estimated to be between 2000-3000 years old or possibly many thousands of years older and that some consider to be the oldest living thing in Europe.

These are living organisms which could be seen to be undertaking a very stately, still form of time travel, to be watchers and observers over the passing of the years, centuries and even millennia.

Some of them have lived through invasions of their island home undertaken by wooden ships, sword and arrow, the final days and passing of the old ways and the times of magic and witchcraft, the coming of the industrial revolution and the dawning of the digital era.

Throughout it all they have stood by and watched the endeavours of humans and the encroaching of their lands as the tales passed through traditional folklore evolved into the sometimes dizzying swathes of today’s cultural landscape, with these “mighty oaks” and their companions now coming to be living amongst the invisible hubbub of modern day wirelessly transmitted communications.

The numbers of these longstanding inhabitants of this once largely green and unpaved land have dwindled due to the march of progress but a few stalwartly continue their journeys through time. The Watchers reflects on those journeys and these ancient trees’ residing over growing layers of history.

 

Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by:
Grey Frequency
Field Lines Cartographer
Widow’s Weeds ft Kitchen Cynics (The Hare And The Moon)
Depatterning
A Year In The Country
Phonofiction (Dom Cooper / The Straw Bear Band / David Hood)
Pulselovers
Sproatly Smith
Vic Mars
The Heartwood Institute
Howlround

 

Will be available at our Artifacts Shop and Bandcamp page.

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 4 – A Return to the Experimentations and Aesthetics of This Brutal World and Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology: Wanderings 17/52

Part 4 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 herePart 2 here and Part 3 here.)

In this post I return to one of their starting points; Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World, which is a collection of the photographs he has taken of Brutalist architecture.

The variety and experimentation of much of the architecture in This Brutal World indicates the degree to which the use of concrete as a building structure allows for freedom and expression in terms of architectural shape and form. It could be compared to the use of rubber as a fabric with which to make clothes; there have been a number of fantastical outfits created using rubber but while they may be structurally explorative and very striking as extreme club/fashion wear and/or as futuristic/outlandish costume in film and television, for day-to-day use it is more than a little impractical.

Along which lines I once visited an undergraduate degree show and viewed the scale models for buildings designed by architecture students. A number of their models were so intricate, experimental and avant-garde in design that they could only be viably created via contemporary digital 3D printing techniques – something which is analogous with the malleability of concrete as a building material. The designs for buildings were often intriguing and beautiful but as with the images in This Brutal World they often appeared closer to abstract art projects than places to live and work.

Connected to which the structures pictured in This Brutal World, while they may have been quite practical in real world terms, the non-conventional and at times almost science fiction-esque aspects of their design sometimes imparts a similar sense of seeming nearer to projects that have allowed for the creative expression of their architects rather than having day-to-day human needs in mind, something which is indirectly referred to in the following quote which is featured in the book:

“It’s an incredibly muscular use of concrete. It’s not built, it’s cast. You can’t have something more like sculpture in architecture than [the Hayward Gallery].” Anthony Gormley.

This aspect of the structures is heightened in the book by the considerable number of quotes which accompany the photographs and which often talk about an appreciation of Brutalist architecture in an abstract sense and from philosophical, creative and aesthetic viewpoints.

Although possibly not intended as a negative viewpoint, the sense of a remove from human needs and the more abstract, utopian aspects of Brutalist architecture is also (possibly unintentionally) implied in the following quote by architect and writer Jack Self, which is also featured in This Brutal World:

“The Brutalist citizen has to be understood as an abstract egalitarian ideal, not as an individual lost in a microscopic concrete cave of some gargantuan building.”

In this sense This Brutal World and similar appreciations of Brutalist architecture could also be considered to be at times akin to Paul Virilio’s photographs of abandoned concrete Second World War military bunkers in his book Bunker Archaeology (1976); there is at times a form of harsh beauty present in such images but it is at a remove from the realities of the structures.

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52
  3. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  4. Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52
  5. The Quietened Bunker, Waiting for the End of the World, Subterranea Britannica, Bunker Archaeology and The Delaware Road – Ghosts, Havens and Curious Repurposings Beneath our Feet: Chapter 17 Book Images
  6. Week #33/52: Bunker Archives #4; Paul Virilio’s Bunker Archaeology and accidental utilitarian art

 

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All The Merry Year Round – Audio Visual Archive 16/52

All The Merry Year Round is an exploration of an alternative or otherly calendar that considers how traditional folklore and its tales now sit alongside and sometimes intertwine with cultural or media based folklore; stories we discover, treasure, are informed and inspired by but which are found, transmitted and passed down via television, film and technology rather than through local history and the ritual celebrations of the more longstanding folkloric calendar.

However, just as with their forebears there is a ritualistic nature to these modern-day reveries whereby communal or solitary seances are undertaken when stepping into such tales via flickering darkened rooms lit by screens, although their enclosed nature is in contrast to more public traditional folklore rituals.

Accompanying which with the passing of time some televisual and cinematic stories continue or begin to resonate as they gain new layers of meaning and myth; cultural folklore that has come to express and explore an otherly Albion, becoming a flipside to traditional folklore tales and sharing with them a rootwork that is deeply embedded in the land.

In amongst All The Merry Year Round can be found wanderings down such interwoven pathways, travelling alongside straw bear and cathode ray summonings alike.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

Includes work by United Bible Studies, Circle/Temple (Dom Cooper of The Owl Service/Bare Bones/Rif Mountain), Magpahi, Cosmic Neighbourhood, Field Lines Cartographer, Polypores, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith, Pulselovers, The Hare And The Moon & Jo Lepine (The Owl Service), Time Attendant and The Séance (Pete Wiggs of Saint Etienne and James Papademetrie).

“All the Merry Year Round creates an atmosphere for wandering and wondering. The set succeeds through counter intuition, its alternative calendar creating such a ruckus that it causes all calendars to blow away in the wind, leaving us only with the eternal, visceral now.”  Richard Allen writing at A Closer Listen.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 3 – J. G. Ballard and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise and All Mod Con Dystopias: Wanderings 16/52

Part 3 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)

In Part 2 of these posts I discussed some of the potential problems and reasons for them that have been related to Brutalist architecture, particularly in relation to its use in housing design; connected to which I mentioned the work of writer J. G. Ballard.

His novel High-Rise (1975) is an iconic fictional account of extreme dysfunction that occurs in a modern tower block.

In the book there is a vertical division of class within a tower block, with inhabitants who live on floors 1-9 being members of the “proletariat” and those who generally work in the support and service aspects of work/the creative industries. Above them is a commercial level and then higher up the middle classes, with the top five floors being reserved for the upper class which consists of “a discreet oligarchy of minor tycoons and entrepreneurs, television actresses and career academics”.

(As an aside the covers at the top of this post are left-right; the original edition of High Rise, an issue of Italian science fiction magazine Urania which featured High Rise and the 1985 British edition of the book; the artwork for this issue of Urania has alongside the use of Brutalist architecture forms, also the curious “the shape of the future’s past” retro-futurism look to it which science fiction and fantasy cover art from previous decades now seems to often have. The above cover of the 1985 edition, which is shown next to those for The Unlimited Dream Company and Concrete Island, was part of a series of reissues of J. G. Ballard’s book which shared cover art with similar aesthetics. Fittingly for the era I think they were probably created using airbrush art techniques and have a pleasing period look to them that could well be a flipside take on the posters which would have been found in the retail poster shop chain Athena, which had an extensive network of high street shops in the UK around that time.)

Returning to the story told in the novel; in it the eponymous high-rise becomes a self-enclosed community where the normal rules and restraints of society break down, leading to internecine territorial conflict and chaos, which could be considered not dissimilar to an urban take on William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies (1954) in which a group of schoolboys stranded on an island descend into violence and tribalism; both books explore the push and pull between human impulses towards civilisation and social organisation and more basic, primal instincts.

In the novel of High-Rise social class and divisions play an increasing part but it is possible to consider it not as a comment or reflection on wider society but rather a fictional flight of fancy.Ben Wheatley’s 2014 film adaptation largely reflects this, although at the end of the film in a slightly tacked-on manner a speech by right-wing former British Prime Minister from the 1970s is heard. This connects the story more overtly to both the social unrest/conflict in 1970s British society at the time the novel was written (essentially between those who looked more towards a progressive state orientated welfare based society and a new more individualistic monetarist right) and also to the utopian impulses which lay behind some of Brutalist architecture:

“There is only one economic system in this world, and it is capitalism. Where there is state capitalism, there will never be political freedom.” Margaret Thatcher speech, as featured in Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise.

In their use of a central triangular design the above set of above film posters for High Rise explicitly references the poster design for Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, with both films and books sharing views of dystopian futures where pleasure-seeking tips over into a reprehensible and unfettered decadence and loss of conventional morality.

The above poster for High Rise on the left I think was released in the film’s pre-production period and at a time when I first became aware of the film after seeing it posted along with Ben Wheatley’s comments which went along the lines of “I can’t believe this is happening” – I assume after being given the go ahead from the folks with the money.

The design of the tower block references the Brutalist architecture of the period when the novel was first published in 1975 and also appears to be a nod towards that period’s left-of-centre exploratory science fiction cover art, which was also referred to earlier in the post.

To end this post on a note that is not all heavy cultural reference points etc, the other two posters are Lego toy construction brick recreations of the film’s posters by somebody working as Lego Loki. Although there now appear to be on the internet Lego recreations of nearly everything under the sun, due to Lego’s origin as a child’s toy, I was still a little surprised to find ones which took as their source material something as experimentally transgressive as High-Rise.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. The High-Rise novel at Wikipedia
  2. The High-Rise novel
  3. The High-Rise trailer
  4. The High Rise home release
  5. Lego Loki’s Brick High-Rise

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52

 

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The Quietened Cosmologists – Audio Visual Archive 15/52

The Quietened Cosmologists is a reflection on space exploration projects that have been abandoned and/or that were never realised, of connected lost or imagined futures and dreams, the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten.

It takes as its initial starting points the shape of the future’s past via the discarded British space program of the 1950s to 1970s; the sometimes statuesque and startling derelict artifacts and infrastructure from the Soviet Union’s once far reaching space projects; the way in which manned spaceflight beyond Earth’s orbit/to the moon and the associated sense of a coming space age came to be largely put to one side after the 1969 to 1972 US Apollo flights.

(Quoted from text which accompanies the album.)

Includes work by Field Lines Cartographer, Pulselovers, Magpahi, Howlround, Vic Mars, Unit One, A Year In The Country, Keith Seatman, Grey Frequency, Time Attendant, Listening Center, Polypores and David Colohan.

“The ruins of Britain’s own contribution to the Space Race—especially those like the abandoned launch-pad at High Down on the Isle of Wight—are all the more poignant for the gulf between their past ambition and present state of decay.” John Coulthart writing about the album and related themes at his feuilletion site.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 2 – This Brutal World, Industrial Inspirations for Blade Runner, Memories of the Space Age and the Future Takes a Tumble: Wanderings 15/52

Part 2 of a set of posts which explore various aspects and offshoots of Brutalist architecture. (Visit Part 1 here.)

In Part 1 of this post I wrote about Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World, which is a collection of the photographs he has taken of Brutalist architecture.

As written about in the book’s introduction Peter Chadwick’s introduction to and passion for Brutalist architecture was initially inspired when at a young age he saw a concrete built “industrial monolith” blast furnace, which he says was the first concrete building that made a lasting impression on him. Also in his youth he would visit an ICI owned large-scale chemical plant in Wilton, an area in the North-East of England, of which he says:

“By night… it became a different world altogether, transforming itself into a shimmering, industrial flame-lit Las Vegas. This view inspired others, including film director Ridley Scott, also a native of the North-East, who based the flaring chimneys in the opening scenes of Blade Runner on the ICI plant in Wilton.”

In the opening scenes of that 1982 film the city skyline, its endless lights and plumes of flame are strikingly beautiful and modern when seen from above and at night but the reality of that particular future at ground level are considerably more layered, worn and challenging, intermingling elements of futurism with a harsh, unnatural urban way of life and crumbling design from the past.

That sense of a tarnished retro-futurism in relation to Brutalism is indirectly given expression in lyrics from Saint Etienne’s song “When I Was Seventeen” which are quoted in This Brutal World and which in a robotic voice namechecks a number of Brutalist orientated architects:

“Lubetkin, Corbussier, van der Rohe, Mendelssohn. Future, future, the future is clean and modern.”

In practice the future as expressed by Brutalist architecture did not always turn out to be quite as shiningly “clean” or bright as may have been intended.

Brutalist architecture is generally associated with concrete as a building material, which it could be suggested is a less natural, warm or human seeming building material than say bricks or stone. Although why that is the case is hard to quite fully define in the case of bricks vs concrete as both are created via “unnatural” manufacturing processes.

This aspect of the “unnatural” nature of Brutalist architecture is also heightened by the large-scale of many such structures, which often dwarf human inhabitants and the manner in which multi-storied Brutalist buildings often stacked their inhabitants on top of one another, taking some of them high above the earth. It also brings to mind author J.G. Ballard’s stance on space travel and his observations that essentially space is an unnatural place for us to be:

“Ballard’s melancholy… take is that humanity’s urge to enter the cosmos is an expression of an almost child-like hubris – which is bound to end badly!” Andrew Smith writing at Goodreads on J.G. Ballards book Memories of the Space Age (1988) – a collection of short stories set in a future when the space program has ceased and civilisation appears to be on the wane.

Related to this in contemporary times real world space exploration plans have been largely either curtailed or at least considerably scaled back in terms of ambition, which connects to Brutalist architecture as both forms of endeavour to a degree contained elements of futurism and when considered today both can invoke a certain sense of melancholia and lost imagined future pathways.

(This is a subject which was explored in the album The Quietened Cosmologists which was released by A Year In The Country in 2017 and which took as its theme: “…a reflection on space exploration projects that have been abandoned and/or that were never realised, of connected lost or imagined futures and dreams, the intrigue and sometimes melancholia of related derelict sites and technological remnants that lie scattered and forgotten.”)

As with space travel, due to the exploratory and large-scale nature of Brutalist architecture, related problems and disasters may also likely to be on a grand scale; which unfortunately more than once has proved to be the case.

The failures and catastrophes related to such buildings, particularly in relation to their use as social and/or state funded housing, may have been in part and at times due to a lack of correct maintenance or the political will to correct the social imbalance which often seemed to become part and parcel of say Brutalist housing estates but may also be partly a reflection of the sometimes over-reaching hubris which inspired them.

It is difficult to fully separate whether it is the intrinsic aspects of for example large-scale multi-storied architecture which cause such disfunction and/or that lack of correct maintenance and political will etc. As is often the case in many aspects of life it is probably a synthesis of these and other factors, although the close proximity of the inhabitants of such buildings also brings to mind laboratory experiments where rats live together relatively peaceably when given a reasonable amount of living space but begin to fight and enter into conflict when that space is reduced below a certain level.

In terms of such failures and catastrophes it could be as simple as philosopher and theorist Paul Virilio’s comments about sea ships:

“The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.”

Prior to the creation of such large scale buildings related disasters on the scale and in the form they allow for were just not possible as, well, the buildings etc did not exist.

Another layered and multi-faceted aspect of large-scale Brutalist (and other) architecture relates to how it effects light and viewpoints within cities; it is thought that viewing the horizon for extended periods of time can release endorphins (naturally occurring “feel good” chemicals) in humans. This could be an argument for the “unnatural” state of living in densely populated cities, where the horizon is often obscured by buildings. Conversely the viewpoint from the higher floors of high-rise, taller scale buildings may enable the viewing of the horizon again – although equally obversely those lower down may have their view more obscured by the presence of other similar surrounding buildings.

 

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. The Blade Runner intro sequence
  5. Blade Runner – 30th Anniversary Ultimate Collector’s Edition  (one of the few ways still left to watch the version released in UK cinemas)
  6. Saint Etienne’s “When I Was Seventeen”
  7. Saint Etienne’s Words and Music album (featuring “When I Was Seventeen”)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Futures Past: Wanderings 14/52
  2. Peter Mitchell’s Memento Mori and Bugs in Utopia: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 35/52
  3. Artifact Report #40/52a: The Quietened Cosmologists – Released

 

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Undercurrents – Audio Visual Archive 14/52

Undercurrents was partly inspired by living in the countryside for the first time since I was young, where because of the more exposed nature of rural life I found myself in closer contact with, more overtly affected by and able to directly observe the elements and nature than via life in the city.

This coincided with an interest in and exploration of an otherly take on pastoralism and creating the A Year In The Country project; of coming to know the land as a place of beauty, exploration and escape that you may well drift off into but where there is also a sometimes unsettled undercurrent and layering of history and culture.

I found myself drawn to areas of culture that draw from the landscape, the patterns beneath the plough, the pylons and amongst the edgelands and where they meet with the lost progressive futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology.

Undercurrents is an audio exploration and interweaving of these themes – a wandering amongst nature, electronic soundscapes, field recordings, the flow of water through and across the land and the flipside of bucolic dreams.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

“The countryside is often over romanticised, ususally by those who don’t live there. A Year In The Country has dug a little deeper and hit on something much more profound to end up, if you’ll excuse the pun, in a field of his own.” Ben Willmott writing in Electronic Sound magazine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Reflections on Brutalism Part 1 – This Brutal World and a Study of The Shape of the Future’s Past: Wanderings 14/52

First off to loosely define Brutalist architecture:

“Brutalism is an architectural style of the 1950s to approximately the mid-1970s which descended from the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century. It is characterised by simple, often innovative block-like forms and utilised raw concrete as its primary material. Brutalist buildings often reveal the means of their construction through unfinished surfaces that bear the imprints of the moulds that shaped them. The name for the style is most commonly attributed to Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier , who specified béton brut (concrete that is raw or unfinished) in his Unité d’Habitation apartment buildings, the first of which was completed in Marseille in 1952. Architecture critic Reyner Banham spread the term more broadly through his writings on the work of British architects Alison and Peter Smithson, whose work focused on raw materiality and an industrial aesthetic.”

In his article “The New Brutalism” which architecture critic Reyner Banham wrote for The Architectural Review in 1955 he warned that “The New Brutalism eludes precise description” but listed three qualities which have come to be a starting reference for Brutalist objects and architecture:

  1. Memorability as an Image
  2. Clear exhibition of structure
  3. Valuation of materials for their inherent qualities “as found”.

(The above is loosely paraphrased and quoted from the Brutalist DC, Tate.org and Wikipedia websites.)

At first glance it might seem a little strange that Brutalist architecture seems to sit easily amongst “otherly pastoral” cultural interests; a point of conjunction is that both share a sense of “Fall” from an imagined or lost golden age.

With the appreciation for Brutalism this could be seen as a hauntological yearning for lost progressive futures, which relates to the architectural form’s connection to and some of its roots being in utopian socially progressive thought; in terms of post-war British social housing the intentions behind it were at times an attempt to create a solution which could provide modern high quality housing for the general populace.

In terms of folk culture this utopian aspect connects to what author Rob Young described in his book Electric Eden as folk/visionary pastoral culture’s yearning for “folk memories of an unsullied rural state of mind which now appears like a golden age” and the way in which relics from a world before an industrial “Fall” are revered, with old buildings, texts, songs etc becoming “talismans to be treasured, as a connective chain to the past”.

Brutalist orientated social-housing in Britain could in part be seen as a well-minded grand social experiment. Unfortunately as mentioned before at A Year In The Country when writing about Peter Mitchell’s book Memento Mori (which focused on the controversial and now demolished Quarry Hill Flats which were built in the 1930s with a progressive intent to house people in a modern manner as part of “a great social experiment” and which could be seen as an antecedent to later Brutalist estates) there often appeared to be “bugs in utopia” in terms of related housing projects. In particular, where despite the progressive intentions of those who championed and worked to create such projects, in practice a number of instances the resulting buildings it failed to provide fit homes. To a degree there seemed to be a divide or remove between “a romantic outsiders’ intellectual sense of the importance of building communities within and via large-scale, flat orientated modernist social housing projects” and the human needs and realities of those who would live there.

Some of that philosophical remove is reflected at points in an ever-growing library of books and publications, proliferation of websites, social media accounts etc which focus on an appreciation of Brutalist architecture more in an aesthetic sense and/or directly or indirectly in terms of how it represents lost progressive futures and alternative pathways society may have taken rather than its real world failures.

The observations in this piece on that sense of remove are not necessarily a criticism. Alongside a purely aesthetic appreciation there is often a sense within Peter Chadwick’s book This Brutal World (2016), which I discuss below, Jan Kempemaers’ images of Cold War Spomenik memorials which are collected in his 2010 book of the same name and Christopher Herwig’s 2015 book Soviet Bus Stops, of recording and honouring the remaining and caught in time but slowly fading away monuments and relics of a former age’s lost future. Many of the structures featured in such books are visually striking physical examples of relatively recent history’s striving and aspirations and taken as a whole there is space within such work for both aesthetic and more socially rooted appreciations and studies.

This Brutal World collects the author’s photographs on this subject which, along with his accompanying introduction, reflects his passion for and longstanding commitment to the subject. It is a handsomely produced and curated book in which Chadwick’s images portray the striking nature of many of these structures in a visually graceful and well observed manner.

It is resolutely not a study of the social disfunction and neglected aspects of some Brutalist designed social housing but rather a celebration of its aesthetic explorations. Brutalist architectural housing and residential structures are an aspect of This Brutal World, it does not focus on such projects when they have “failed” and are in a state of neglect, abandonment etc. Residential structures are also only one area amongst structures built for a multitude of purposes that are featured in the book, which take in amongst many others places of worship, water and satellite towers, monuments, a music study centre, municipal buildings etc.

Text in the book talks of the “awe-inspiring” and “once heroic, visionary” nature of such architecture and the buildings and structures are photographed and presented in a way which captures what some may consider to be their beauty; even when the skies are overcast the structures appear well lit and few of the buildings are shown marked by rain or decay. Also the photographs are all monochrome, which in this instance tends to remove the more oppressively grey aspects of concrete buildings.

As a collection This Brutal World is more orientated to being an appreciation of the aesthetic and philosophical design aspects of Brutalist architecture rather than its in part socially progressive history; related utopian aspects are acknowledged in the introductory text but the author’s writing and quotes by others which are featured in the book, alongside the aforementioned visual grace of the photographs, are more an expression of his appreciation for Brutalist buildings, monuments etc as abstract creative structures rather than as architecture which had both aesthetic and utilitarian worth. Hence he mourns the demolition of buildings which were unpopular, unsuited to their environment and poorly maintained.

Viewed today many of the structures featured in This Brutal World could be seen as a form of retro-futurism (which is a sometimes defining aspect of hauntological aesthetics and interest); they are a literal physical representation of the shape of the future’s past.

To be continued in Part 2 (which depending on when you are reading this, may not have been published yet)…

 

Elsewhere:

  1. This Brutal World
  2. This Brutal World at Phaidon publishers
  3. Peter Chadwick’s This Brutal House site
  4. Jan Kempemaers Spomenik
  5. Soviet Bus Stops
  6. Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops at FUEL publishers
  7. The Electric Eden website
  8. The Electric Eden book
  9. Peter Mitchell’s Memento Mori at RRB PhotoBooks

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Peter Mitchell’s Memento Mori and Bugs in Utopia: Wanderings, Explorations and Signposts 35/52
  2. Day #229/365: A Bear’s Ghosts…
  3. Week #9/52: Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops, echoes of reaching for the cosmos, folkloric breakfast adornment and other artfully pragmatic curio collectings, encasings and bindings…
  4. The Quietened Bunker, Waiting for the End of the World, Subterranea Britannica, Bunker Archaeology and The Delaware Road – Ghosts, Havens and Curious Repurposings Beneath our Feet: Chapter 17 Book Images
  5. A Bear’s Ghosts – Soviet Dreams and Lost Futures: Chapter 12 Book Images
  6. Electric Eden – Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music – Folk Vs Pop, Less Harvested Cultural Landscapes and Acts of Enclosure, Old and New: Chapter 1 Book Images
  7. Day #4/365: Electric Eden; a researching, unearthing and drawing of lines between the stories of Britain’s visionary music

 

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From The Furthest Signals: Audio Visual Archive 13/52

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

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

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

(Quoted from the text which accompanies the album.)

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

Above is the review of the album in Electronic Sound magazine.

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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Hot Fuzz aka Rural Weapon Part 2 – The Village Gone Rogue: Wanderings 13/52

This is Part 2 of a post on Edgar Wright’s film Hot Fuzz. Part 1 can be visited here.

In Part 1 of this post I wrote about how Hot Fuzz referenced and was an affectionate home to American action buddy copy films such as Point Break, the Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon series of films (and also mentioned how Wright says that he originally pitched it as Rural Weapon).

Alongside it referencing such films, there is a strong nod towards what has come to be known as folk horror, in particular The Wicker Man (1973); in both films a priggish outsider policeman attempts to solve a mystery in a rural community where something untowards may be afoot and is lead on a merry dance by its inhabitants. This connection is made more implicit by the presence of Edward Woodward in Hot Fuzz, in his second to last cinema role.

In The Wicker Man Woodward played the priggish policeman Sergeant Howie who was investigating the rural folk on the side of the law and (to his mind) societal decency. This is stood on its head in Hot Fuzz as he is involved in the murderous conspiracy and is eventually shown as the last living rogue villager when near the film’s end he bursts into the police station and attempts to shoot Angel. He is foiled but accidentally activates a sea mine which Angel had earlier confiscated along with an arms cache from a villager. He is killed and the station is destroyed in a manner that in seems to bring to an end or close the circle of a story cycle in British cinema.

The film also has nods towards 1970s British horror, in particular that era’s portmanteau films and interest in witchcraft and the occult; ultimately the murderous conspiracy is shown to be the result of the actions of an essentially morally corrupt/very misguided village organisation (the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance or NWA – a humorous reference to and contrasting with the American urban gangster rap group). When Angel visits a secret NWA meeting they appear to be nearer to a coven or cult as they have gathered at night in black shawls and hoods around a stone table in a castle. However they still retain a curious friendly neighbourhood committee air as they discuss their dastardly deeds, which is mined for comic effect.

In a further connection to 1970s horror the death/murder of a journalist who is planning on revealing information about goings on in the village by falling church masonry also seems to reference such things in The Omen (1976), wherein a priest who is attempting to reveal secrets is killed by a lightning rod thrown from a church roof during a storm. While the film also references Hammer Horror-esque gothic films when Angel flees the NWA and falls into a catacombs filled with the bones and dead of those they have killed.

(Notably these murders have taken place due to relatively minor infractions which threatened to infringe on the village’s bucolic “ye-olde world” atmosphere, such as a metallic painted living statue mime artist who is found by Angel still holding his mime pose despite his deceased nature.)

Although to my knowledge not openly referenced by Hot Fuzz’s director or co-writers the film also shares some territory with an episode of the remake of television series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) which was broadcast on British television in 2000-2001. In particular the episode Man of Substance which also tells of a sleepy country idyll gone bad and is rather folk-horror like in its plot which tells that its population have been trapped in between life and death, unable to leave the village since the days that a pestilence had caused the demise of a considerable percentage of the English population a number of centuries previously.

As with Hot Fuzz this episode (and others in the series) is in part an affectionate homage to previous era’s horror and genre cinema, particularly in relation to folk/rural aspects of such work.

At the NWA meeting the head of the local police Inspector Frank Butterman, Danny’s father in the film who is played by Jim Broadbent, is shown as being one of the instigators of the conspiracy in a thoroughly misguided attempt to honour his wife’s memory and her wish to keep the Village of the Year title.

In contrast to Nicholas Angel his uniform appears to be nearer to that of an earlier era. This subtly unsettles expectations and norms as in a rural setting such a figure summons a sense of an avuncular “good old British bobby” and a previous gentler way of life rather than the mayhem over which he has presided.

As in The Murdersville episode of television series The Avengers, which I have written about at A Year In The Country previously and also The Wicker Man, Hot Fuzz flips the chocolate box idyll of the British village and rural communities on its head and shows them to be the “unknown” or other; a threatening and deceitful group closed and separate to the outsider or city dweller, with ways, morals and motivations that appear foreign and at a far remove from mainstream and urban society’s mores.

Hot Fuzz’s reversing of expectations and settings is further heightened when in a climactic scene Angel pursues and fights another of the conspiracy’s prime instigators ocal supermarket manager Simon Skinner, played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton, who is the film’s resident arrogant bad guy.

This scene takes part in a symbol of gentle Britishness – a miniature model village – with Angel and Skinner towering over the buildings and seeming nearer at points to giant battling monsters that might be found in science fiction/fantasy films. As with similar sequences in such films their fight leads to the literal destruction of whole structures, although here they are the small-scale replicas of the model village rather than say actual city skyscrapers.

After his first defeat and mirroring many such multiple returns of the bad guy in American genre film Skinner rises back up and attempts to attack Angel with a small plastic handled box-cutting knife rather than say a machete or similar weapon that might be seen in its overseas equivalent. The use of this prosaic and relatively small weapon along with the general wrongness of the setting of a pitched violent battle in a model village heighten the sense of the out-of-place nature of such actions amongst a bucolic idyll.

Before being defeated Skinner shouts:

“Get out of my village.”

To which Angel replies:

“It’s not your village anymore.”

Which would seem an apt point on which to end this post.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Restless Field: Audio Visual Archive 12/52

The Restless Field is a study of the land as a place of conflict and protest as well as beauty and escape; an exploration and acknowledgment of the history and possibility of protest, resistance and struggle in the landscape/rural areas, in contrast with sometimes more often referred to urban events.

It takes inspiration from flashpoints in history while also interweaving personal and societal myth, memory, the lost and hidden tales of the land.

References and starting points include: The British Miners Strike of 1984 and the Battle Of Orgreave. Gerrard Winstanley & the Diggers/True Levellers in the 17th century. The first battle of the English Civil War in 1642. The burying of The Rotherwas Ribbon. The Mass Tresspass of Kinder Scout in 1932. Graveney Marsh/the last battle fought on English soil. The Congested Districts Board/the 19th century land war in Ireland. The Battle Of The Beanfield in 1985.

Includes work by Field Lines Cartographer, Vic Mars, Bare Bones, Assembled Minds, Grey Frequency, Endurance, Listening Center, Pulselovers, Sproatly Smith, Polypores, Depatterning, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country and David Colohan.

 

“… another exquisitely packaged affair… murky and ominous as befits the guiding thematic: places that are spectrally imprinted with past conflicts and struggles.” (Simon Reynolds writing at blissblog)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. Artifact Report #18/52a: The Restless Field
  2. Artifact Report #14/52a: The Restless Field at Simon Reynold’s blissblog and the sunday experience
  3. Artifact Report #16/52a: The Restless Field at Flatland Frequencies, Syndae and whisperandhollerin
  4. Artifact Report #17/52a: The Restless Field at Sunrise Ocean Bender and John Coulthart’s Feuilleton
  5. Artifact Report #19/52a: The Restless Field Transmissions and Reviews
  6. Artifact Reports #36/52a: The Restless Field: A Return Visit – Further Reviews and Transmissions

 

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Hot Fuzz aka Rural Weapon Part 1 – Flash and Spectacle Amongst the Bucolia: Wanderings 12/52

Hot Fuzz is a British made buddy cop action comedy film released in 2007, directed by Edgar Wright and co-written by him and its lead actor Simon Pegg.

In the film over achieving London police officer Nicholas Angel, played by Pegg, who takes his work very seriously, is relocated to Sandford, a place which initially appears to be a typical sleepy quaint British village.

However things are not as they seem and Angel and his colleagues are soon embroiled in a murderous conspiracy by prominent members of the village who are intent that no matter what Sandford will continue to win Village of the Year; cue fellow villagers and visitors who may get in the way of that being sent to their demise via the likes of large-scale explosions, tumbling masonry, and decapitation in a car accident.

In Sandford Angel is presented as somebody who is somewhat out-of-place after the hustle and grittier experiences of city policing, something which is heightened by his wearing of modern protective police wear and equipment despite him being likely to need it in the general peace and calm of his new surroundings. This is also in contrast to his new police duty partner Danny Butterworth, played by Nick Frost, who at least until the later action sequences, is more likely to be seen wearing a woolen policeman’s jumper and in both character and appearance is possibly nearer to the idealised image of the classic friendly British country policeman.

Butterworth is portrayed as a quite sweet, gentle, good-hearted soul but also as somebody who, in a similar manner to the film itself, is enthralled to the classic American buddy cop action film, the glamour of the shoot out and the chase etc and also more than slightly in awe of this “big city” newcomer and his metropolitan experiences.

Edgar Wright has said that he wanted to make a cop action film because unlike much of the rest of the world at the time Britain did not particularly have a tradition of such cinema – although to a degree it did on television via the likes of gritty police drama The Sweeney (1975-1978).

(As an aside in Hot Fuzz the two police detectives, both of whom are called Andy Wainwright and are played by Paddy Considine and Rafe Spall, seem to be channelling similar characters from some earlier decade in terms of their belligerent swaggering attitude, top lip moustaches and vaguely period clothing – sort of The Sweeney via 1980s police timeslip series Ashes to Ashes which was broadcast in 2009 to 2010.)

There have been a long line of American buddy cop action films such as Point Break, the Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon series of films etc (the first two of which are explicitly referenced in Wright’s film and he has said that he originally pitched the film as Rural Weapon) and as with many of such films at the heart of Hot Fuzz is the relationship between the contrasting characters of two “buddy” police officers, in this Angel and Butterworth.

Hot Fuzz transfers Hollywood action and cop movie aesthetics to a British rural setting and makes direct and indirect references to such American films in an often humorous manner but it is not so much a parody, spoof or satire of them but rather an affectionate homage and seems to hold its source material in high esteem.

Despite the relatively high production values, special effects and so forth, in some indefinable manner that is separate to its setting and characters Hot Fuzz retains a sense of being British drama – there is a subtle awkwardness to it that seems to reflect a film industry that has never fully embraced the flash and spectacle of Hollywood style cinema.

Connected to which there is a curious disconnect when watching an at times all out action film of this type set in a British village, its local supermarket etc and on seeing American style action, heroics and gunplay undertaken by British policemen, with much of the film’s humour and character being derived from the appearance and use of the trappings of wider cinema’s action cop films, such as chases, fight scenes, automatic weapons and explosions etc in the unexpected setting of a rural British village.

In this sense it shares some territory with Malcolm Pryce’s book Aberystwyth Mon Amour, which depicts a modern-day parallel world version of the Welsh seaside town Aberystwyth but which is run by druids who are essentially to all intents and purposes actually “gangsters in mistletoe”.

Alongside referencing American buddy cop action comedy films Hot Fuzz also makes a more than cursory nod towards other genres including Westerns and previous British horror and folk horror films, in particular The Wicker Man, The Omen, gothic Hammer Horror and even giant monsters on the rampage in the city films.

More on which in Part 2…

(Exploring similar territory to the current trend for alternative movie poster reinterpreting of films; the finding an old mine and arms cache scene in Hot Fuzz depicted in Lego construction bricks.)

 

Elsewhere:

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Forest / The Wald: Audio Visual Archive 11/52

The Forest / The Wald is a study and collection of work that reflects on fragments and echoes of tales from the woodland and its folklore; greenwood rituals performed in the modern day, fantastical childhood rhymes, sylvan siren calls that tremble through tangles of branches, electronics pressed into the summoning of otherworldly arboreal creations unearthed amidst the creeping thickets and elegies to woodland intrustions, solitudes and seasons.

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

 

“…a response to British folk traditions that acknowledges the history without seeming beholden to it…” (John Coulthart at Feuilleton)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

  1. The Forest / The Wald – Night and Dawn Editions
  2. Audiological Transmission #42​/​​​​52​​: Hawthorn Heart – The Forest / The Wald
  3. Audiological Transmission #43/​​​​52​​: Deep Undergrowth – The Forest / The Wald
  4. Audiological Transmission #44​/​​​​​52​​: A Whisper In The Woods – The Forest / The Wald
  5. Audiological Transmission #45/​​​​​52​​: Trees Grew All Around Her – The Forest / The Wald
  6. Audiological Transmission #46/52: Fantastic Mass – The Forest / The Wald
  7. Audiological Transmission #52/52: The Forest / The Wald – The Abney Ritual / Revisitation #6a
  8. The Forest / The Wald – A Gathering Of Transmissions

 

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John Carpenter’s Christine Part 2 – Autonomous Zones, Night Time Edgelands and the Restoration of the Natural Order: Wanderings 11/52

Part 2 of a post about John Carpenter’s Christine. Visit Part 1 here.

Although set in the late 1970s Christine in many ways appears to be nearer to what Graham Williamson on the website Geek Show has called “a kind of debased version of the sugar-sweet nostalgic sitcom Happy Days” (a popular television series set in the 1950s and broadcast from 1974-1984) particularly when two of the main teenage leads go to school and have to deal with flick knife wielding bullies.

While not as overtly camp nor comedic, in this sense it could be seen as treading not all that dissimilar territory to John Water’s 1950s/early 1960s set films Cry-Baby (1990) and Hairspray (1988), which took some of the themes, tropes and aesthetics of earlier eras/rock’n’roll and filtered them through a period almost cartoon-ish and at times degenerate teenager and/or status quo baiting lens.

However in Hairspray although the teenage lead Tracy Turnblad horrifies and rebels against her parents and some of her schoolmates when she begins an interracial romance, overall she is shown to be a good citizen who is working towards social good and integration.

In Christine Arnie develops a more classic “Yeh, what y’gonna do about it?” defiant teenage stance in response to his parents’ wishes and attempts to control him; while more of a loner, this attitude along with his new 1950s-esque bad-boy style and swagger has him heading towards the outsider rebel rock’n’roll-isms of Johnny Depp’s gang of “drapes” in Cry-Baby.

As part of this youthful rebellion in Christine cars are shown as being autonomous zones away from parental and societal influence, something which was effectively enabled by America’s affluence at the time. These are mobile spaces in which to strut your stuff, make your mark on the world and make out with your partner.

The sense of being at a remove from authority figures and 1950s period aspect of the film are also further shown by one of the key scenes in the film taking place at a drive-in cinema, a location which seems to inherently invoke a sense of a previous era.

And although the film’s location takes place in an anonymous suburb there is a sense of it containing unregulated fringe areas and characters from the edge of society; Christine is bought from an older man who’s shack-like home in an overgrown patch of waste strewn scrubland and general grizzled demeanour could well have tumbled out of some mythological Southern State of America, while the garage in which Arnie repairs Christine seems to be an unregulated edgeland which is often only shown at night and ruled over by its owner who is played as a tobacco chewing, foul mouthed and unkempt, borderline grotesque character.

One aspect of Christine which seems in marked contrast to early 1980s trends within cinema is that Christine is almost the antithesis to the slasher movie; for the first hour or so of its running time the film is nearer to a coming of age film, with murder and mayhem, along with the supernatural aspects, taking a decided “backseat” and throughout the film there is very little gore or overtly graphic onscreen violence.

In this sense it sits alongside some of John Carpenter’s other earlier films such as The Fog (1980), which had a distinctly chilling atmosphere but created and sustained this without more obvious graphic visual scares and special effects.

The pace, plotting and action in both films and also in the likes of his Prince of Darkness (1987) when compared to much of modern cinema tends to be relatively more slowly paced (although notedly without feeling like a “slow” viewing experience) allowing the viewer’s mind and imagination time to breathe and look around rather than bombarding them with endless action and a montage of edits/cuts in an attempt to keep the audience in a state of heightened stimulation and excitement.

Although marketed as a horror film, Christine is not all that horrifying or full of scares and has a warmth and a human quality to it which John Carpenter at his best has brought to his work. Rather than being purely a shock or spectacle orientated genre film it is at least equally an observation of the development and co-dependency of a relationship, one which takes the American love affair with the automobile to a heightened and ultimately destructive level:

“In a sense the picture is not a horror picture. It does not have a lot of gore. It doesn’t have a lot of scenes of obvious terror. It’s a little bit different. For a long time in the film nothing really happens to anybody. It’s a development of the relationship between Arnie and the car, Stockwell and so forth.” (John Carpenter talking about the film in Christine: Ignition, Fast and Furious & Finish Line, a three-part making of documentary from 2003.)

The character John Stockwell in the film is Arnie’s closest friend who initially attempts to protect his outsider/uncool schoolmate. Their relationship is a little unusual in the sense that it does not fit with American film tradition; John is a popular, good looking athlete, a “jock”, complete with an iconic letterman jacket. Arnie is the boy who has his lunch stolen by the bullies.

However, in a reversing of their normal social roles, for much of the film John is effectively neutered as he is bed bound in hospital due to a sporting iinjury, his football playing days over. As he recuperates Arnie’s power appears to grow, he becomes the (slightly unconvincing) cool one of the friends and begins to date the attractive new girl at school.

In this sense for a while Christine is almost a classic American teen film; the geek becomes the cool kid and gets the girl as the cool kid goes out of favour – although in contrast to much of such genre cinema the cool kid is portrayed as a good guy and more the victim of misfortune, rather than being the arrogant popular member of school society who gets his comeuppance.

Ultimately though the normal balance of power is restored; the uncool kid who has risen up through being corrupted by the supernatural powers of his car has become arrogant and swollen by his power. He looses his sense of normalcy and decency and this in part leads to his demise, while the neutered “jock” cool kid eventually rises again; his actions are aimed at stopping the car’s murderous impulses and its sway on his friend. However although he does not know how complicit Arnie is in the car’s violence, he is ultimately implicit in his friend’s demise as he and Arnie’s former girlfriend band together to bring down Christine in an almost climactic showdown in the garage where she was restored.

Although not made overly implicit there is a sense towards the end of the film that the naturally good looking and popular athletic friend is the one who will be left as the romantic partner with the good looking popular girl (i.e. Arnie’s once girlfriend). And so the natural order is finally restored.

While the film has a slight workmanlike quality to it (John Carpenter took it on as a job of work after the commercially and critically negative reaction his previous film The Thing received on its release in 1982), as with the 1950s cars that feature so heavily in it Christine stands the test of time rather well. This may in part be due to the way in which it deals with universal themes such as love, jealousy, ugliness, beauty, rites of passage and so forth.

Accompanying which the special effects are still impressive today; when Christine restores herself and literally pushes back out her dented bodywork this was done in a real world manner using pneumatics and so forth and the end result are visuals that more than hold their own with modern-day CGI. That the effects were carried out by apparently just ten people, as shown in the credits, makes them all the more impressive, particularly as today similar computer generated effects would probably require multi-columned credits of dozens of people.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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The Quietened Village – Released

Released today 8th March 2019.

The Quietened Village is a study of and reflection on lost, disappeared and once were villages and hamlets that have wandered off the maps or that have become shells of their former lives and times.

It is inspired in part by images of sections of abandoned, submerged villages and the spires of their places of worship reappearing from the surfaces of reservoirs and lakes, alongside explorations of places that have succumbed to the natural erosion of the coastline and have slowly tumbled into the sea or been buried by encroaching sands.

Some of the lost places which inspired The Quietened Village still exist but only as stripped down shadowlike settlements; their inhabitants have long since left as those who lived there were evicted at short notice so that their homes and hearths could be used as training grounds to prepare for operations during times of large scale conflict.

These points of reference have been intertwined with the spectres of fictional tales; thoughts of Midwich Cuckoo-esque fictions or dystopic tales told and transmitted in times gone by and reimagined in amongst the strands of The Quietened Village.

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Features music and accompanying text on the tracks by The Straw Bear Band, Field Lines Cartographer, The Heartwood Institute, Howlround, The Rowan Amber Mill, Polypores, Pulselovers, The Soulless Party, Time Attendant, A Year In The Country, Sproatly Smith and Cosmic Neighbourhood.

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Available in two CD editions: Dawn Light edition £11.95. Nightfall edition £21.95.
CDs available via our Artifacts Shop and at Bandcamp.

Both editions are hand-finished and custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink by A Year In The Country.

Downloads available at Bandcamp,  iTunes, Amazon etc.

Reissue of the 2016 album with new accompanying notes by the contributors, a revised tracklisting, three previously unreleased tracks and a selection of new badge, sticker and print designs.

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



Top of CD.                                                          Bottom of CD.

Further packaging details:
1) Custom printed using archival giclée pigment ink.
2) Includes 2.5 cm badge, secured with removable glue on string bound tag.
3) 1 x folded sheet of accompanying notes, hand numbered on back.

Nightfall Edition. Limited to 104 copies. £21.95
Hand-finished box-set contains: album on all black CD, 2 x sheets of accompanying notes, 2 x prints, 3 x stickers and 3 x badges.


Top of CD.                                                             Bottom of CD.

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) 2 x prints on textured fine art cotton rag paper.
5) 2 x 2.5 cm badge, 1 x 4.5 cm badge.
6) 1 x 5.6 cm sticker, 1 x 3.5 cm sticker, 1 x 12cm sticker.

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Tracklisting:

1) The Drowning Of Mardale Green – The Straw Bear Band
2) Drowned In Sand – Field Lines Cartographer
3) Armboth & Wythburn – The Heartwood Institute
4) Flying Over A Glassed Wedge – Howlround
5) Separations – The Rowan Amber Mill
6) Playground Ritual – Polypores
7) The Coast In Flux – Pulselovers
8) Damnatorum – The Soulless Party
9) Day Blink – Time Attendant
10) 47 Days And Fathoms Deep – A Year In The Country
11) Lost Villages Of Holderness – Sproatly Smith
12) Bunk Beds – Cosmic Neighbourhood

On the original 2016 release of The Quietened Village:

“This evocative album offers a score for crumbled communities, abandoned villages and sunken spires, honouring history with quiet grace befitting its title. The Quietened Village joins recent releases on Folklore Tapes and Wist Records as loving, tasteful tributes to a nearly-forgotten past.” A Closer Listen

“Ghostly, beautifully conveying a sense of loneliness and the passing of time.” Terrascope

“A really impressive album, packed full of original and exciting experimental music with a strong underground spirit.” Bliss Aquamarine

“The music contained within here perfectly conveys the sense that a place once inhabited can never be truly empty again. Echoes of long finished conversations and the thoughts and feelings of past inhabitants haunt these carefully curated pieces. There’s plenty more to love here too but the beauty of this release is that even though the constituent parts are all very strong indeed and all worthy of mention, it’s as a whole that The Quietened Village impresses most, and it’s not just down to the music. AYITC’s releases are all meticulously packaged, with The Quietened Village proving to be no exception, its two editions boasting all sorts of goodies, not to mention carefully orchestrated visuals that perfectly accompany the music contained within.” The Active Listener

“The album evokes a beautifully atmospheric pastoral reverie, and a ghostly sense of loss.” Jim Jupp, Ghost Box Records

“I hear a headlong collision between haunted summer days and the decay of man-made things. It seems to be all over this album from the cyclopean Radiophonics of Howlround to the mournful folk of The Straw Bear Band to the haunting work of Sproatly Smith.” Was Ist Das?

“For lovers of the sounds of nature, both violent and serene.” Joe Banks, Shindig!

“A delicate and entrancing, at times disconcerting, weave of absorbing instrumentation, electronica and tape manipulation, velvety vocals and half-recalled echoes. The music conjures roofless walls holding spirits not populations, skeletal spires pointing accusative fingers skywards, submerged shadows reflecting in water, crumbled remains wreathing a cliff’s base.” Folk Words

 

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No More Unto the Dance: Audio Visual Archive 10/52

No More Unto The Dance is a reflection of nightlife memories and the search for the perfect transportative electronic beat; a collection of reverberations that have fragmented with the passing of time. It is a document of life once lived in the very heart of metropolises, immersed in their subcultures: a time that was predicated in part by a passion for club culture, dancing, dressing up and related explorations carried out with the obsession, enjoyment and energy of youth.

Much of that gradually (or sometimes not so gradually) faded away or took other pathways.

The world in which this recording was made does still come alive at night but it is more likely to be the nocturnal foraging and wanderings of wildlife rather than in a low-ceilinged basement lit by a strobe light.

The music presented here is the soundtrack to those basements, filtered through the looking glass of a life far removed from the bright lights and big city, the dressing up and dancing but a memory – a world far, far apart, almost that seems to belong only to the worn and aged pages of a faded, forgotten magazine.

The journey it takes envisions a mixtape of memories and echoes of those pages, of 12”s bought because of the primal rush their electronics would bring on when listened to in a record shop, the lucky dip of unknown records bought hopefully from the racks of bargain basements, the more abstract/triphop beats to be found in intriguingly designed/obscure sleeves and to times lost in the seemingly endless dreams of a club; a time when the future burned with the brightness, optimism and idealism of youth.

(Quoted from text which accompanied the album.)

 

“…never loses sight of the beat, the heartbeat that every great club has (or had), that gave every one its own sense of purpose and desire, be it a prohibition speakeasy or a chill-out room in a rural barn. Such imaginings are haunting, layering one another with emotional imagery that cannot help but lead the ghosts onto the floor, a disco queen here, a rave scene there, the scent of northern soul, the smell of teen spirit.  By the time it’s over, you feel as though you’ve been dancing all night; by the time you’ve recovered, you want to do it again.” (Dave Thompson writing at Spin Cycle/Goldmine.)

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:

 

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A Year In The Country – Spectral Fields – Wyrd Kalendar Mix 3 and the “What is hauntology? And why is it all around us?” BBC Archive Film

A couple of intriguing things that directly or in part take their inspiration from the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book have recently been sent my way…

First up is Chris Lambert’s A Year In The Country – Spectral Fields – Wyrd Kalendar Mix 3, which is an hour and a half or so mix of music and film etc samples that explores the themes of the Wandering Through Spectral Fields book. It is the third in a series of mixes with this one focusing on Chapters 27-39 of the book.

The mix can be listened to at Mixcloud here and details can be found at the Wyrd Kalendar site.

It segues Roger Whittaker’s theme song for the apocalyptic film No Blade of Grass (which if you just read the lyrics should be terrifying but it’s easy listening delivery makes it, possibly accidentally, almost humorous)… into the actually terrifying unsettling choral music by Christopher Gunning produced for the 1981 British television adaptation of John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids… and then onto samples from the 1960 film adaptation of his Midwich Cuckoos renamed Village of the Damned… into a traditional style instrumental folk song which accompanies Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane discussing there Folk Archive work, which collected contemporary folk art from everyday life… and then into Johnny Hawksworth’s Industria-Go-Go, an uptempo library music track from 1970 released by library music label De Wolfe which I think at the time, in order to help potential users, was given the descriptive tag “Energetic, movement”… and well, that’s just for starters.

The mix also takes in work by MacGillivray, Vashti Bunyan, Anne Briggs, The Owl Service, Audrey Copard, Watersons, David Cain, Howlround, Classroom Projects, Kate Bush, Jonathan Hodge, Pierre Arvay, John Williams, COI, Magpahi, Jane Weaver, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council.

The music etc is accompanied by the voice of a helpful guide (and others) and some rather fine punning at points that made me laugh out loud and which is based around the Wandering Through Spectral Field’s book’s text,

A fine piece of work – humorous, unsettling, inventive, exploratory.

The chapters of the book the mix explores are:

27. General Orders No. 9 and By Our Selves: Cinematic Pastoral Experimentalism

28. No Blade of Grass and Z.P.G.: A Curious Dystopian Mini-Genre

29. The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids: John Wyndham, Dystopian Tales, Celluloid Cuckoos and the Village as Anything But Idyll

A Year In The Country-Wandering Through Spectral Fields book-Symptoms film-Images film-hauntological begetters-the uneasy landscape-gothic bucolia

30. Folk Archive and Unsophisticated Arts: Documenting the Overlooked and Unregulated

31. Folkloric Photography: A Lineage of Wanderings, Documentings and Imaginings

32. Poles and Pylons and The Telegraph Appreciation Society: A Continuum of Accidental Art

33. Symptoms and Images: Hauntological Begetters, the Uneasy Landscape and Gothic Bucolia

34. The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water: Public Information Films and Lost Municipal Paternalisms

35. Magpahi, Paper Dollhouse and The Eccentronic Research Council: Finders Keepers/Bird Records Nestings and Considerations of Modern Day Magic

36. Vashti Bunyan: From Here to Before: Whispering Fairy Stories until They are Real

37. The Owl Service, Anne Briggs, The Watersons, Lutine and Audrey Copard: Folk Revisiters, Revivalists and Reinterpreters

38. The Seasons, Jonny Trunk, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Howlround: A Yearning for Library Music, Experiments in Educational Music and Tape Loop Tributes

39. An Old Soul Returns: The Worlds and Interweavings of Kate Bush

As with previous Spectral Fields Wyrd Kalendar mixes in an I-Spy manner see if you can match the music to the chapters…

Chris Lambert is an author who has worked on/written various books including Tales from the Black Meadow and Wyrd Kalendar, which included illustrations by Andy Paciorek (who also works on Folk Horror Revival and Urban Wyrd) and which was accompanied by a CD that included music by amongst others Widow’s Weeds, Keith Seatman, Emily Jones, Beautify Junkyards, Concretism, The Soulless Party and The Rowan Amber Mill.

Which brings me to the “What is hauntology? And why is it all around us?”, a short film/documentary made by the BBC Archive which serves as a concise overview of some of the recurring themes of hauntological work, its background, some of those whose work has been labelled as hauntology etc and in part takes it inspiration from some of the topics discussed in the A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields book and related text.

With a brief description that describes it as considering “From TV to art to design – why a ‘nostalgia for lost futures’ seems to be everywhere” and an appropriately 1970s and sometimes degraded television transmission aesthetic the film interweaves archival television footage with explanatory text and appearances from philosopher Jacques Derrida who coined the phrase hauntology, the darkly humorous artwork of Scarfolk, public information films, The Changes, Look Around You’s askew take on television science programmes, Ghost Box Records, the Play for Today drama Robin Redbreast, Clay Pipe Music, hypnagogic pop and a fair bit more.

It’s appearance/broadcast via the BBC also seems appropriate in a way due to the Broadcasting Corporation’s historical connections with a particular kind of progressive modernity and related idealist intentions…

Well worth a visit and look-see… What is Hauntology? can be viewed here.

 

Elsewhere:

 

Elsewhere at A Year In The Country: