Posted on Leave a comment

The Otherly Geometries and Hidden Cartographies of Spectral Studio: Wanderings 24/26

Back in the first year of A Year In The Country I described Julian House of Ghost Box Records design work for the label as, at times, containing a form of “otherly geometry” and said that it “often seems to make use of geometric shapes and patterns to invoke a particular kind of otherlyness, to allow a momentary stepping elsewhere”.

Similar could be said of much of Nick Taylor’s Spectral Studio design work, which shares some similarities with Julian House’s Ghost Box Records work and possibly also David Chatton Barker’s work for Folklore Tapes, but the Spectral Studio work has its own character, in part because it seems to have a subtly organic or homespun aspect, and at times it puts me in mind of folk art by way of some imagined government sponsored design organisation back when.

Spectral Studio’s output has included a fair amount of work for the Castles in Space record label, which if you’re not aware of it, is well worth checking out for its hauntological meets otherly pastoral orientated releases, which have included, amongst others, work by Pulselovers, The Soulless Party, The Heartwood Institute, Keith Seatman, Field Lines Cartographer, The Twelve Hour Foundation, Polypores, Concretism, Drew Mulholland and the Scarred for Life compilations. Nick Taylor has also produced designs for Buried Treasure’s The Delaware Road’s events, which have explored a not dissimilar and at times interconnected cultural landscape as Castles in Space.

In this post I’ve gathered together some of the Spectral Studio designs that have caught my eye and/or ear, over the last year or few, beginning with the dreamlike and almost hallucinatory artwork at the start of the post which accompanied Pulselovers’ eponymous 2016 album.

Above is the artwork for Tomorrow Syndicate’s VHS, released by Polytechnic Youth, which captures a sense of time and media gone by in all kinds of ways, and brings to mind the semi-forgotten landscape of video rental shops and also early 1980s computer game cassettes for sale in WH Smith.

The front cover design has a classic 1980s-esque grid pattern that was often used to indicate a futuristic aesthetic during that period, accompanied here by a certain cosmic sci-fi character, and the format of the release was on an actual VHS tape and case (accompanied by a download card for the videos).

The design for The Delaware Road Kelvedon Hatch map and guide booklet, an event organised by Alan Gubby of Buried Treasure which took place in 2017 at an underground decommissioned Cold War bunker and featured, amongst others, Radionics Radio, The Twelve Hour Foundation, Simon James, DJ Food, Howlround, Dolly Dolly and Concretism.

The images of the participants have had a circular halftoning applied, which has given them a sense of being hidden away electronic boffin explorers that fits the event well, while the cover images collage of disembodied eyes, tape reels, some kind of crystal etc all gathered together and positioned amongst geometric shapes brings to mind the intro sequence for a 1970s  British television series that never quite existed, a darker and more adult orientated flipside to the Tomorrow People perhaps.

The minimalist cover art and (in part unsettlingly redacted text) leaflet design for Simon James’ Akiha Den Den album, which is described as collecting “electronic music created for an abandoned space: Akiha Den Den, the crumbling amusement park at the centre of a surreal radio drama” and of which I have previously written:

“[The album] is part of a multilayered, interwoven project that includes an audio drama podcast and darkly ambient, Radiophonic and, at times, John Carpenter-esque ominous haunted electronica, combined with the sounds of dilapidated ghost train rides, the musings of a talking, thought-mining cockroach and a radio ham picking up the transmissions from Akiha Den Den, and which has been described in the text that accompanies the album as ‘a fever dream of radio waves and half heard transmissions’… Akiha Den Den… is what could be described an enigma wrapped in a riddle; one that you can only try and solve as you tumble down the darkening rabbit hole of the world it creates.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways, 2019.)

Logo, flier and postcard designs for the above mentioned Castles in Space label. The flier  in the middle has a particularly intriguing design, with the concentric patterned image recalling both the circles in a tree and also possibly a secret surveillance image of a moonscape, with the vintage computer punch tape design adding to the sense of it being part of some mysterious hidden away research and surveillance project.

Keith Seatman’s Time to Dream but Never Seen album, also released by Castles in Space, which in a post earlier this year I described as containing an atmosphere of vintage seaside days out via the time trap mysteries of Sapphire & Steel.

The accompanying art has a playful, kaleidoscopic and also subtly and vaguely unsettling folk art-ish character, and would not be out of place amongst the objects in the Black Eyes and Lemonade exhibition of popular/folk art which would not normally be included or displayed in a fine art gallery setting that took place in 1951 and was curated by Barbara Jones.

The Time to Dream… artwork could also sit alongside Barbara Jones’ Unsophisticated Arts book (1951, republished by Little Toller in 2013), which explored some similar areas:

“[Unsophisticated Arts told of Jones’] explorations in the 1940s of everyday art throughout Britain and which took in some similar subject matter to that in Folk Archive: fairgrounds, tattoo parlours, taxidermists, house- boats, high street shops, seaside piers and amusement arcades… Although it was intended as a recording of real life and day-to-day art, viewed now it provides a document of a fabled lost Britain; there is a certain whimsical fairytale like quality to the images of often ornately and elaborately decorated canal boat interiors, fairground rides, table cupboards etc.” (Quoted from A Year In The Country: Wandering Through Spectral Fields, 2018.)

The cover art and vinyl for Pulselovers’ Cotswold Stone album, again released by Castles in Space, the artwork for which has a notable found folk art-ish design.

In a previous post I described the album as “a rather lovely slice of gently hauntological pastorally inflected electronica (intertwined with more than a dash of traditional ‘organic’ instrumentation). It draws from Mat Handley of Pulselovers personal and sometimes hazy memories, not so much in a hauntologically melancholic manner but rather in a reflectively reverential and playful way”.

While text which accompanied the release said:

“[The album is a] meditation on the passing of time and the persistence of memory and is, in part, a reflective work of familial dedication and reverence. When taken in a single sitting these soundscapes create a strong overarching narrative that take you on a journey through the rolling hillsides of England… This is a very personal album and is an attempt to preserve the memories of a happy childhood where along with siblings and cousins, I spent a lot of time in the Oxfordshire town of Burford in the mists of time… Many of the titles are taken from road signs of towns and villages in the surrounding countryside, some of which I never actually visited but the words themselves trigger unspecific memories from those long 70’s summers: Cleeve Hill, Shipton-under-Wychwood, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bradwell Grove and Moreton-In-Marsh don’t hold any particular place in my heart (though I do remember Bourton was a great place to feed the ducks and Auntie C’s ramshackle Bradwell Grove cottage was situated within the grounds of the Cotswold Wildlife Park), but the words themselves silently echo throughout the album like vaguely familiar ghosts, like rain on hot tarmac or lavender on a summer breeze.”

Some of the artwork for Field Lines Cartographer’s The Spectral Isles album, again released by Castles in Space. The artwork hints at hidden cartographies, which reflects the album’s intriguing concept that centres around an island called Hy Brasil:

“The Legend of Hy Brasil: Situated in the Atlantic, approximately two hundred miles off the west coast of Ireland, the island of Hy Brasil featured on maps from around 1325 until the mid 1800s. Legend has it that it was surrounded in mist, appearing only every seven years. It was long thought to be the home of an advanced mysterious ancient civilisation… Although often spotted by sailors, landing on Hy-Brasil proved elusive, though the Scottish sea captain, John Nisbet reports to have made land there in 1674. His expedition describes an island of large black rabbits and a stone castle, inhabited only by a strange magician… In a strange twist, the phantom island is linked to the infamous Rendlesham Forest UFO event of 1980. After touching the craft that reportedly landed in Suffolk, USAF Sergeant Jim Peniston describes telepathically receiving a 16 page binary code text. Many years later, this code was deciphered to reveal that it was a list of co-ordinates of ancient sites around the world including the pyramids of Giza, the Nazca lines in Peru…and the location mapped over centuries as being that of Hy Brasil.” (Quoted from text which accompanied the album’s release.)

The artwork for Drew Mullholland’s Three Antennas in a Quarry album, released by Buried Treasure, the cover art for which has a mysterious geological aspect that connects with the title. The album’s artwork also features a graphic score that electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire sent Drew Mulholland after they became friends in the late 1990s, which provided the inspiration for the album:

“[Delia Derbyshire] couldn’t remember what it was for but dated it vaguely as ‘the late ’60s’. In his sleeve notes Drew Mulholland talks of how she had provided him with a fragment of a recipe but no indication of what its ingredients were or what the intended sound sources were. He goes on to say that in order to create the album he began to ‘sketch with sound’ after studying enlargements of the score that he had pinned to his study wall. The subsequent album could be considered a ghost-like, will-o’-the-wisp interpreting of the score, and the spirit of Delia Derbyshire’s music.” (Quoted from the A Year In The Country post “The Radiophonic Workshop, Delia Derbyshire Appreciation Society and Drew Mulholland – Sonic Archaeology and Electronic Explorations Inspired by Delia Derbyshire”.)

Jonathan Sharp’s (aka The Heartwood Institute) Divided Time album, again released by Castles In Space and about which at a previous post I wrote:

“This was inspired by a cache of faded 1970s family snapshots that he discovered and which have a particularly intriguing character – the cover image conjures a spectral pastoral sense and seems to have tumbled backwards and forwards in time and has an ‘I can’t quite place what era it’s from’ air to it.”

I’ll end this post with images from Nick Taylor’s Space Junk zine / magazine, which is possibly one of the most purely “otherly geometry” examples of his Spectral Studio work.



Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.