Monday, 28 February 2011

Montague Rhodes James

There is something dismaying in a life with nothing to regret and nothing to hide. In the case of Montague Rhodes James, however, this has to be accepted. "No loveless childhood to be thrust out of mind," wrote his biographer, Michael Cox, "no parental iniquities to be kept secret".

Monty (as he preferred to be called) was the fourth and youngest child of the rector of Livermere, near Bury St Edmunds. Born in 1862, he spent almost his entire life between Eton and King's College, Cambridge. At King's he gained a double first in classics and was appointed Junior Dean, Dean, Provost and, in 1913, Vice-Chancellor of the University.

During this time he had made himself one of the leading authorities on the Apocryphal Books of the Bible and on western medieval manuscripts. In 1918, just before the armistice, he was called back to Eton as Provost. In 1930 he received the Order of Merit. He died in his lodge in June 1936, while in the chapel they were singing the Nunc Dimittis. Monty never married, although he acquired a surrogate family. They were the widow and daughter of a pupil who became a friend, James McBryde. McBryde died early, and Monty became guardian to little Jane. But he was still a bachelor, and a late-Victorian bachelor at that. Probably he felt the greatest pressure on him in 1905, when he was appointed Provost of King's. "You will have to get a Provostess, that's flat," a distinguished friend told him. And Monty, well used to deflecting this argument, would hint at his admiration for a certain actress who was appearing in Peter Pan, but nothing came of it. Much more important to him was the question of ordination. Like Lewis Carroll, he became a deacon, but never a priest.

Monty is remembered today for his ghost stories. They are entirely his own, written in an irresistibly appealing manner, in accordance with rules which he had invented for himself. Writing at the end of the 1920s about contemporary "tales of the supernatural", he said, "They drag in sex . . . which is a fatal mistake; sex is tiresome enough in the novels; in a ghost story, or as the backbone of a ghost story, I have no patience with it." Certainly sex doesn't trouble his protagonists. It is their unclouded innocence, combined with their serious scholarship, which is precisely Monty's strong card. By way of contrast there are deferential inn-keepers, agents and chambermaids, who may know a little more than their employers, may wink or smile, but are a thousand miles from guessing the shocking truth.

His predilection began early. His biographer quotes from a contribution to the Eton Rambler in 1880 (when he was 17): "Everyone can remember a time when he has carefully searched his curtains - and poked in the dark corners of his room before retiring to rest - with a sort of pleasurable uncertainty as to whether there might not be a saucer-eyed skeleton or a skinny-chested ghost in hiding somewhere. I invariably go through this ceremony myself." To the skeleton and the ghost we may add spiders, owls, the sound of voices talking just out of earshot, a creature covered with long hair, a figure cloaked or cowled or with its head in a sack. The Apocrypha too, which had fascinated him very early and continued to do so all his life, has been described by Richard Holmes as "a somewhat twilight field, neither orthodox biblical studies nor entirely medieval folklore, and it contains many strange presences, such as Solomon and the Demons". At the same time, Monty's recreations remained guileless - long bicycle rides with two or three friends, church music, "his supper, his game of patience, and his bed".

Monty produced his ghost stories at regular intervals, and read them to a Christmas audience of friends in his rooms at King's, blowing out every candle but one. They were published from 1904 to 1931. He also wrote a preface, in which he cautiously answered the question, did he believe in ghosts: "I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me". That is to say, he used the same criteria as he did in his life as a scholar, teacher and administrator.

In Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, Monty introduces dreams that wonderfully suggest the feeling of suffocation and powerlessness that comes with "dreaming true". There is Stephen Elliot's dream of a figure of a "dusty leaden colour" lying (and smiling) in an old disused bath, WR's dream of a Punch and Judy show, Professor Parkins' dream (or vision) of a man desperately climbing over the groynes on Felixstowe beach, Mr Dillet's dream (or nightmare) in The Haunted Dolls' House.

They are equally likely to be projected from the past or from the immediate and inescapable future. In either case, they anticipate the climax of the story, but don't diminish it. Whether Monty himself was troubled by dreams I don't know.

In January 1907 he told Arthur Benson (who noted it in his diary) that he was only happy in bed or looking at manuscripts. This hardly sounds like a dreamer, but I am not sure Monty told Benson the whole truth. He was, from first to last, a man of books. "The library was the obvious place for the after-dinner hours. Candle in hand and pipe in mouth, he moved round the room for some time, taking stock of the titles". This is from Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance, but might just as well be about its author.

With old-fashioned courtesy he welcomes his readers to his world, just as, when Provost of King's, he welcomed students and friends with tobacco and whisky decanters already laid out in the hall. A natural mimic in real life, he could imitate the style of any period that interested him - it seemed less a deliberate imitation than a natural process, like protective colouring. There was medieval Latin, of course, the "fragments of ostensible erudition", as he called them, which persuade us into accepting as real the manuscripts, the inscriptions, the "rather rare and exceedingly difficult book, The Sertum Steinfeldens Norbertinum", in his story The Treasure of Abbot Thomas.

Ghosts, he declared, should be "malevolent or odious", never amiable or helpful. The haunted should be "introduced in a placid way, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings, and in this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head". This may be the result, by accident or design, of long-buried secrets, setting retribution to work. Something of the kind seems almost a professional hazard for his visiting scholars and librarians. They have to face, also (in one of Monty's own phrases), "the malice of inanimate objects". He speaks, too, of the rules of folk-lore, and says he has tried to make his ghosts act in ways "not inconsistent with them". One of the rules of folk stories is that the bad shall come to bad ends, and to this Monty was faithful. But the good (whose only failing may be that they have lived undisturbed so far) are rewarded rather unequally.

Take, for example, what to my mind is the best story he ever wrote, The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance. WR's uncle has not been a wrongdoer, has no hideous secret, hasn't disturbed any long-dead or made any rash experiments, or (most unwise of all) bought or borrowed any questionable old books. How seriously did he take these stories? "I am told that they have given pleasure of a certain sort to my readers," he wrote. "If so, my whole object in writing them has been attained".

It was his lifelong habit not to make too much of things. However, they were more than a diversion; they were a declaration of his position. From his schooldays onwards he not only disliked but detested maths and science. At Eton and King's he reduces both these subjects and their teachers to a stream of mildly satirical stories. TH Huxley he referred to as "a coarse 19th-century stinks man". Mathematics he equated with suffering.

He extended his disapproval, which was more like an intense physical reaction, to philosophy. When he was Dean of King's he overheard two undergraduates disputing a problematic point, and, according to his colleague Nathaniel Wedd, he rapped on the table sharply with his pipe and called out: "No thinking, gentlemen, please!" "Thought," Wedd notes in his unpublished memoirs, "really did disturb Monty through out his life". What truly distressed him, however, was the division of King's into the pious and the godless, while in the Cavendish laboratory young physicists were at work constructing new models of a world without God. It was not scientific accuracy that Monty objected to but a sense that mankind was occupying the wrong territory. In 1928, towards the end of his life, he spoke at Gresham's School in defence of an education in the humanities as against "modern invention or the most intimate knowledge of things that have no soul".

Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad is the story which in literal fact is about a "sheeted ghost" - it has "a horrible, an intensely horrible face of crumpled linen". Its victim is Professor Parkins, said to be the Professor of Ontography, which I suppose makes him an expert on things as they are. He is certainly a scientist, "young, neat and precise of speech", and emphatically a disbeliever, above all in ghosts. Disarmingly, Monty gives Parkins credit where it is due. He is "something of an old woman - rather hen-like, perhaps", but "dauntless and severe in his convictions, and a man deserving of the greatest respect". He is also the man who, after he has summoned his gruesome visitor, would either have fallen out of the window or lost his wits if help had not come. "There is nothing more to tell, but, as you may imagine, the Professor's views on certain points are less clear-cut than they used to be. His nerves, too, have suffered." So, faced by the obstinate disbeliever, Monty takes his not-so-mild revenge.

Penelope Fitzgerald wrote this introduction to Penguin's new edition of M.R. James's The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Stories.

Further information here, here & here.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Lost Highway - A film by David Lynch

"Funny how secrets travel, I'd start to believe, if I were to bleed..."

Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is living a nightmare: his mind is racked by suspicion, paranoia, and anxieties about the fidelity of his sensuous but emotionally cold wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), a dark-haired sex kitten decked out in Betty Page-styled fetish attire. Although Fred, a darkly handsome, thirtyish alto saxman in a neo-bop jazz band, would appear on the surface to be evenly matched with his mysterious and sexually powerful wife, he is incapable of arousing in her any enthusiastic sexual response.

Events quickly take a sinister bend when the Madisons begin receiving unmarked videotapes on the front steps of their ominously underdecorated modernist house. When the tapes reveal that an intruder has invaded the Madisons' home and taped them while they were asleep, the terrorized couple call for police help, which arrives in the form of a comical detective duo who find no evidence of forced entry. Unsettled by the violation of their private space, Fred falls into a twitchy, zombie-like state. A third videotape arrives and he sits down to view it. He screams out in horror when the picture reveals Fred looking into the camera's eye beside Renee's savagely bloodied corpse. Although we see nothing of the crime on screen, Fred is summarily sentenced to execution for his wife's murder, and swiftly ensconced in a cell on death row. Isolated in a primitive 19th-century-styled prison cage, Fred has no memory of what happened to Renee on the fatal night, and his mind is shattered by excruciating headaches, unrelenting insomnia, and strange hallucinations (all marvelously captured in the film's mesmerizing visual effects).

Suddenly, in Lost Highway's Kafkaesque center sequence, a prison guard discovers a bewildered and bruised stranger in Fred Madison's cell. A brief investigation by prison authorities determines the identity of the stranger: Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), who lives in Van Nuys with his parents, and has absolutely no recollection of how he mysteriously materialized to replace Fred Madison in prison. Pete is enthusiastically welcomed back to normal life and his job at Arnie's auto garage. Delighted with Pete's return, Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), a notorious gangster prone to comically capricious outbursts of violence, provides Pete with work on his vintage luxury motor cars. When Mr. Eddy brings in his 50s model Cadillac for a routine tune-up, Pete fatally falls for Alice Wakefield (also Patricia Arquette), Mr. Eddy's seductively carnivorous platinum blonde bombshell, and they embark on a furtive and--for Pete at least--obsessive affair. When the menacing Mr. Eddy's suspicions are aroused, Alice's risky and hastily devised plan of escape takes full advantage of Pete's obsession. She manipulates him into a classic film noir plot--reminiscent of Double Indemnity and Body Heat--to rob one of Mr. Eddy's associates in the pornographic underworld. As the plot unfolds and inevitably spirals down into disaster, Pete is horrified when he discovers that the object of his desire is an unscrupulously mercenary and debauched queen of porn.

As the film progresses, Pete descends deeper into darkness and confusion.

At an isolated desert cabin the lovers await the arrival of one of Alice's acquaintances who is to help them escape. But at this point the two tracks of the narrative intersect. Fred Madison reemerges from Pete, and the Mystery Man (Robert Blake)--a kind of dark angel of vengeance--urges him to kill Mr. Eddy. Flames engulf the cabin--or do they?

Further information here, here, here & here.

David Lynch - Director/Screenwriter/Sound Designer. Deepak Nayar, Tom Sternberg & Mary Sweeney - Producers. Mary Sweeney - Editor. Barry Gifford - Screenwriter. Peter Deming - Cinematographer. Pat Norris - Production Designer. Leslie Morales - Set Designer. Susumu Tokunow - Sound/Sound Designer. Scott Cameron - First Assistant Director. Elaine J. Huzzar - Casting. Johanna Ray - Casting. Distributed by October Films, 1997.

1. David Bowie: "I'm Deranged" (edit)
2. Trent Reznor: "Videodrones"
3. Nine Inch Nails: "The Perfect Drug"
4. Angelo Badalamenti: "Red Bats With Teeth"
5. Angelo Badalamenti: "Haunting and Heartbreaking"
6. The Smashing Pumpkins: "Eye"
7. Angelo Badalamenti: "Dub Driving"
8. Barry Adamson: "Mr. Eddy's Theme 1"
9. Lou Reed: "This Magic Moment"
10. Barry Adamson: "Mr. Eddy's Theme 2"
11. Angelo Badalamenti: "Fred and Renee Make Love"
12. Marilyn Manson: "Apple Of Sodom"
13. Antonio Carlos Jobim: "Insensatez"
14. Barry Adamson: "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (edit)
15. Marilyn Manson: "I Put A Spell On You"
16. Angelo Badalamenti: "Fats Revisited"
17. Angelo Badalamenti: "Fred's World"
18. Rammstein: "Rammstein" (edit)
19. Barry Adamson: "Hollywood Sunset"
20. Rammstein: "Heirate Mich" (edit)
21. Angelo Badalamenti: "Police"
22. Trent Reznor: "Driver Down"
23. David Bowie: "I'm Deranged" (reprise)

Nothing/Interscope Records. Catalog # INTD-90090 (CD)

"Song to the Siren" by This Mortal Coil is used in the film, but was not included on the soundtrack album.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Isle of Portland

In the past, the Portland Limestone was worked by hand and waste rock was carefully banked up as quarrying progressed. The result is a landscape of quarry workings and a maize of 'beaches' (massive dry stone walls), passages, trackways and gullies of great 'heritage value' together with exposures of the original geology.

The quarry workings, once left to nature, have been colonised by a limestone flora and fauna of exceptional beauty and international importance. Large areas of the Island, including virtually the entire coastal strip, has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for geology and wildlife while the coast and Kingbarrow Quarry is a proposed Special Areas of Conservation. Quarrying for Portland Stone continues today but quarry methods and products have changed. Heavy machinery is now employed and what was once waste stone is now crushed for aggregate. Some quarries have been extended into the underlying Cherty Series of limestones, which is worked for aggregate. The result is deep and open quarries.

The minerals permissions granted in the early 1950's required little more than the most basic restoration of such sites but even these, left for a decade or more, attract important wildlife. However the Environment Act of 1995 introduced the requirements for a Review of Minerals Permissions (ROMP).

Dorset County Council has established a Portland Restoration Advisory Group (RAG) in order to address restoration issues. Portland Stone remains a prestigious, quality product used throughout the country. The use of stone for sculpture is promoted by the Portland Sculpture Trust while traditional masonry and sculpture skills are taught in Weymouth College. The Jurassic Coast Project is promoting the concept of a 'Quarry Park' for the Island, incorporating some of the older sites together with modern sites that are restored for geological conservation, wildlife interest, educational use, recreation and amenity.

Hammer Films' The Damned (later released in the US as These Are the Damned) was the last genre project that, blacklisted American director, Joseph Losey took on in England before Eva and The Servant gave him a foothold in the international art-house market.

Losey was uncomfortable with the science-fiction elements of the project, and never seemed enthusiastic about the finished film: I undertook The Damned, from a novel I thought confused and not very good, because several other projects had fallen through at that moment, and it was a difficult period in my life.

This has never been sufficient reason for me to take on anything; but I did, because I thought the novel spoke passionately and felt passionately about the irresponsible use of the new atomic powers put into the hands of the human race, and about the lack of responsibility of scientists for what they create. I knew I was making it for a company distinguished for making pretty horrid horror films, and I knew they were primarily interested in the science-fiction aspects of The Damned. I, on the other hand, was interested in parallel levels of violence: the violence I saw in kids, the violence of rock 'n' roll and leather boys on motor cycles; the violence of the world everybody lives in, of the scientists, of the governments, of the nations, of the establishments, which has to accept some responsibility for the violence one saw then in the extreme young.

Richard MacDonald and I found the location; Weymouth, which was seedy-Victorian, and the astonishing, bleak, marvelous, primitive and terrifying landscape of Portland. These were the things I wanted to play on; the science-fiction aspects of the story didn't interest me at all.

For nearly 300 years a lighthouse has stood on Portland Bill to guide vessels heading for Portland and Weymouth and acting as a waymark for vessels navigating in the English Channel. A red sector light warns mariners of the hazardous Shambles Bank lying three miles offshore.

There are actually three lighthouses at Portland Bill, but it is the taller red and white one that is in service today, albeit automatically controlled. One of the older lighthouses is now in residential use while the other, the Old Lower Light, is home to The Bird Observatory & Field Centre. The observatory keeps daily records of all bird sighting as in the migrating season the island is used as a welcome stopping off point when flying south.

Further information here, here & here.

Cecil Williamson & The Museum of Witchcraft

"Summer's afternoon and we had had lunch, so I thought I would go into the kitchen garden to see if I could scrumb some of uncle's beautiful dessert gooseberries. But I never got to the gooseberry bushes because I heard an extraordinary uproar going on, just the other side of the high stone walls, on the Green in the centre of North Bovey, which is there to this day..." A conversation with Cecil Williamson.

The world famous Museum of Witchcraft is located in the beautiful North Cornwall harbour village of Boscastle and houses the worlds largest collection of Witchcraft related artefacts and regalia.

The museum's history is as fascinating as its collection. It was first founded on the Isle of Man By Cecil Williamson in 1951.

Cecil's lifelong interest in Witchcraft and magic began with his first encounter with old West country Witchcraft as a child in the Devon village of North Bovey when he was befriended by the local Witch after defending the elderly woman from a group of thugs who suspected her of bewitching cattle.

As an adult he investigated the Craft of African Witchdoctors whilst working on a tobacco plantation in Rhodesia. He continued his fascination in Britain in the 1930's mixing with leading experts of the day and even worked as an agent for MI6 collating the Occult interests of the Nazis.

In 1951 Cecil opened the first museum in the Witches Mill on the Isle of Man. Gerald Gardner who he had first met in 1946 was employed as "Resident Witch". Having very different ideas of Witchcraft and the direction in which the museum should go; their working relationship and friendship broke down and in 1954 Williamson sold the building and some of the collection to Gardner and moved his museum to Windsor, however Royal officials were not happy with the idea of a Witchcraft museum and suggested that perhaps it should be located somewhere else.

Cecil relocated again to the Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water where local Christians subjected him to death threats, strung dead cats up in his garden trees and repeatedly fire-bombed his museum. And so the final relocation took Cecil and his museum to Boscastle in 1960 where it remains today.

At midnight on Samhain 1996, Williamson sold the museum to Graham King and Elizabeth Crow. He took some of his favourite artefacts with him, and moved to Witheridge, a small village near to Tiverton in Devon. He died in 1999.

The Museum of Witchcraft is located by The Harbour in Boscastle, Cornwall. Boscastle is on the North coast of Cornwall between Tintagel and Bude.

Portrait of Cecil Williamson by Robert Lenkiewicz.

Further information here and here. Video content here & here.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Jon Wozencroft - Utopia & Oblivion

How does Touch differ from your typical, multinational record label?

When we launched it, we envisioned Touch as the world’s first “audiovisual” label. We repeat, endlessly, “Touch is not a Record Label!” We work on Touch all the time whilst having to make money from other sources. We do not get grants or any other financial assistance. We depend more or less on a long-developed support system with the artists with whom we work and the key people who act as our antennae. It’s all based around collaborations. We publish music and artworks in small editions just as a printmaker or photographer might make an edition of their work to sell in a gallery. Except we have to put up with the vagaries of the distribution system open to us, and its perception of where we should “fit” – or not.

What makes Touch, well, Touch?

Its aura. Walter Benjamin proposed that mechanical reproduction had destroyed the “aura” of the original work of art. We propose that this might not necessarily be the case. As an equation, Touch represents an inverse relationship between the amount of resources and the scale and commitment of the project. I think what makes Touch pretty unusual is that we have maintained a dialogue and a narrative through our work over nearly 20 years that is growing stronger and stronger. For some reason I have never been able to fathom, Touch makes commercially-minded people very nervous. It’s the perceived need to put something into a box that doesn’t want to go in a box. It’s not petulant. We just want something more intelligent, more considerable. If I were to say what made Touch Touch, perhaps it is simply understated passion. But then that’s no different than 101 other small labels. So you tell me. I’m repeatedly struck by the way that density figures as a recurring motif, both sonically and visually.

The density comes from the first definition of art, which is to give structure, form and expression to lived experience in a way that radiates far beyond its source. The density comes from taking time and care over details that many would not bother with – a very close attention to the art of editing. And as an art in itself, editing is barely out of its diapers, and needs to grow up very, very quickly. At this time, people don’t necessarily learn how to edit when they get, say, a camcorder and a DVD-iMac, they are simply encouraged to imitate. The computer has ushered in a karaoke culture. For want of a better way of putting it, Touch is also a moral statement and a demonstration of a certain standard, a way of viewing the world. On the surface, you can see that Touch dedicates a lot of attention to the design and packaging of its releases, but this is simply a way of communicating care, and the straight expression of the love of what we are doing. It's a project about beauty; I can find myself working on it as a gardener would. I'm not about to lay it out on a plate, in the form of a “message”, and have it be another consumable item.

Whether as a designer or an educator, my role is to decide to what extent you can help anybody “break through the plastic.” I insist to my students it’s more important to show politeness and good grace to someone working at the checkout in the supermarket than it is to do something wacky in Photoshop. I’m both approachable and quite strict with the students I teach. Wallpaper is not an option. I see my role as being, first of all, a catalyst. Second, a receptacle of difficult-to-find information – but that information is not given away freely. Third, my role is to serve as a very good question. People need to ask better questions. I do think the current situation is quite critical, because the language of resistance has been thoroughly watered down and made into advertising, and my present students have no vocabulary of their own with which to move elsewhere. The “defeat of socialism” might actually be called “the triumph of celebrity”.

Are you a sound artist yourself?

Maybe, in the sense that I commission, sequence and create the transitions for all the material included on Touch compilations. Obviously, there’s a massive difference in the emotional effect of a one second gap and a five second gap between two pieces of music, so the role of silence is crucial. I do recordings credited as AER. These are similar in spirit to Chris Watson’s atmosphere recordings, with the crucial difference that Chris’ are essentially carefully prepared and meticulously documented situations and phenomena, whilst mine are more like “action paintings.” Generally, concerning any pretensions I might have towards music and sound art, I prefer to keep things very low profile, if not anonymous, because I’m happy to rest in the shadows of far greater musicians than myself. One of the aspects of digital media that concerns me is the supposition that, because everything from sound composition to moving image can be generated from the desktop workstation, then anyone can do it, and should do it. It’s a nightmare, an ecological problem of the first order. Most of the graphic designers I teach these days want to make films, or make a CD, or both, and there’s no stopping them. I just tell them that when the time comes, they should hope they don’t get a heart surgeon whose previous training was as a plumber. Neville Brody and I used to joke that graphic designers would be the plumbers of the 21st century, fixing leaks on the dodgy pipes of corporate communication, and charging a fortune for the privilege. I would actually love to be proved wrong on this point.

Is there a typical working method in selecting images for your covers?

The music is the leader. First, become familiar with the music – ingest. Then, what is it in this particular composition, that suggests a subject I can move with? Forms of travel feature a lot in my photographs. A fruitbowl, a still life, is itself a form for travel.

Why so much landscape photography?

It’s a response to the tyranny of the close-up of the human face, for one thing. So it’s also a response to a sexual question. Next, it’s based around a feeling I have about sacred images. It’s the way that, as a subject, “natural” landscapes can invoke wonder and respect, which hopefully feeds back into human behavior. There has to be a way that images can teach, but all the didactic methods have failed in the face of mass media, so my concern is to find a language that is the opposite of meta-this, techno-that, and try to get to elemental concerns in a softer way. These landscapes are atmosphere recordings, and they are forensic. When I really started making photographs, at the beginning of the 1990s, I started by photographing material that I’d shot on video off the TV screen. I worked a lot on what could be done with abstraction, and as soon as the PC made it so easy to output abstraction, I decided it was time to make the subject central. And it seemed to me that photography could take the opportunity that Photoshop offered to sleigh off its skin. Maybe documentary photography, and a painterly approach to the medium, could be combined with a choice of subjects that were non-representations. It is the camera, it is the moment, but alongside a series of other processes parallel to the mechanical aspect that make it unique to the viewer, and the only manipulating factor is the light. Questions for the eyes, based on beauty. Saturated beauty.

Your name is well-known in the context of typography. Have you moved away from it?

No, I give typography the same care and attention as any other aspect of Touch. Right now, this aspect is quite understated. However, there was a time, let’s say between 1988 and 1995, when typography was the perfect medium through which to explore issues relating to literacy and visual perception – how the advent of the personal computer might be mutating the traditional structures and processes of visual language. I wrote two books about this, centered on the design work of Neville Brody, with whom I started the FUSE project in 1990. FUSE publishes experimental typefaces and encourages designers to extend/adapt/reinvent the basic form of the Roman alphabet, as a means of promoting a new understanding of the way those forms color every communication. We also wanted to create a forum that extended the work William Burroughs and Brion Gysin had done with cut-ups in the 1960s. Early 1990s typography was a vivid demonstration of their contention that “language is a virus.” Raygun was the apogee of this, where David Carson could replace a writer’s words with dingbats and have everyone believe this was “radical”.

So, my question is almost ridiculously predictable: You run a label based on difficult music, hard to procure and tougher to learn about, packaged in fairly subtle design. Does your aesthetic work have any relation to your personal concerns for social justice?

I’m gently outraged by the way our culture has sought to erase any engagement with “difficulty”. Difficulty is crucial, and ever-present. What could be more difficult than the moral questions posed by genetic engineering? Corporate culture refuses difficulty in favor of infantilism. The reason why Touch is the way that it is has loads to do with “the political economy of music,” but it’s also trying to maintain the need to “find out,” rather than to be spoon-fed. Difficult can be dark. With the dark, it is necessary to adjust your eyesight, your mode of vision. But it’s not unaware of the need for entertainment. I just insist that it’s crucial to create a context where long-term strategies and objectives will reveal themselves to those who pay attention, which is not much to ask from a person who seeks to learn something, but a hell of a lot to ask from a culture that wants to be mindless. As Buckminster Fuller wrote in 1969, all part of the ongoing struggle between “Utopia” and “Oblivion”.

Interview by Philip Sherburne, *surface magazine, Autumn 2000.

Further information here, here and here.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Zardoz - A film by John Boorman

The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was, but the gun shoots death, and purifies the Earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth ... and kill!

In the year AD 2293, a post-apocalyptic Earth is inhabited mostly by the Brutals, who are ruled by the Eternals. Eternals use other Brutals, called Exterminators, as the Chosen warrior class. The Exterminators worship the god Zardoz, a huge, flying, hollow stone head. The Zardoz god head supplies the Exterminators with weapons, while the Exterminators supply it with grain.

Zed (Sean Connery), an Exterminator, hides himself within Zardoz for an initially unknown purpose. He shoots and apparently kills its pilot, Arthur Frayn (Niall Buggy), who has already identified himself as an Eternal in the story's prologue. The stone head containing Zed returns to the Vortex, a secluded community of civilized beings, protected all around by an invisible force-field, where the immortal Eternals lead a pleasant but ultimately stifling existence. Arriving in the Vortex, Zed meets two young, attractive female Eternals — Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestelman). Overcoming him with psychic powers, they make him a prisoner and menial worker within their community. Consuella wants Zed destroyed immediately; others, led by May and a subversive Eternal named Friend (John Alderton), insist on keeping him alive for further study.

In time, Zed learns the nature of the Vortex. The Eternals are overseen and protected from death by the Tabernacle, an artificial intelligence. Given their limitless lifespan, the Eternals have grown bored and corrupt. The needlessness of procreation has rendered the men impotent and meditation has replaced sleep. Others fall into catatonia, forming the social stratum the Eternals have named the "Apathetics". The Eternals spend their days stewarding mankind's vast knowledge, baking special bread for themselves from the grain deliveries and participating in communal navel gazing rituals. To give time and life more meaning the Vortex developed complex social rules whose violators are punished with artificial aging. The most extreme offenders are condemned to permanent old age and the status of "Renegades". But any Eternals who somehow manage to die, usually through some fatal accident, are almost immediately reborn into another healthy, synthetically reproduced body that is identical to the one they just lost.

Zed is less brutal and far more intelligent than the Eternals think he is. Genetic analysis reveals he is the ultimate result of long-running eugenics experiments devised by Arthur Frayn — the Zardoz god — who controlled the outlands with the Exterminators, thus coercing the Brutals to supply the Vortices with grain.

Zardoz's aim was to breed a superman who would penetrate the Vortex and save mankind from its hopelessly stagnant status quo. The women's analysis of Zed's mental images earlier had revealed that in the ruins of the old world Arthur Frayn first encouraged Zed to learn to read, then leading him to the book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Zed finally understands the origin of the name Zardoz — Wizard of Oz — bringing him to a true awareness of Zardoz as a skillful manipulator rather than an actual deity. He becomes infuriated with this realization and decides to plumb the deepest depths of this enormous mystery. As Zed divines the nature of the Vortex and its problems, the Eternals use him to fight their internecine quarrels. Led by Consuella, the Eternals decide to kill Zed and to age Friend. Zed escapes and, aided by May and Friend, absorbs all the Eternals' knowledge, including that of the Vortex's origin, in order to destroy the Tabernacle. Zed helps the Exterminators invade the Vortex and kill most of the Eternals — who welcome death as a release from their eternal but boring existence. Some few Eternals do escape the Vortex's destruction, heading out to radically new lives as fellow mortal beings among the Brutals.

Zardoz ends in a wordless sequence of images accompanied by the sombre second movement (allegretto) of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Zed and Consuella, dressed in matching green suits and having fallen in love, then sit next to each other in the cave-like stone head and age in time-lapse. A baby boy appears, matures and leaves his parents. The couple eventually decompose into skeletons and finally nothing remains in the space but painted hand-prints on the wall and Zed's Webley-Fosbery revolver.

Directed by John Boorman. Produced by John Boorman. Written by John Boorman. Starring: Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman. Music by David Munrow. Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth. Editing by John Merritt. Studio: John Boorman Productions. Distributed by 20th Century Fox. Release date: 6 February, 1974. Runtime: 1 hr 45 min (105 min). Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo. Country: United Kingdom.

Further information here, here & here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Lucifer Rising - A film by Kenneth Anger

Perhaps Anger's most elaborate film, Lucifer Rising takes place at various historically magick spots in Egypt, England and Germany

The odd rock-tinged soundtrack (composed and recorded by Beausoleil in prison, after a reconciliation with Anger) pulls viewers through a series of obsessively staged and hauntingly realized ceremonies, movements and rituals.

Experimental editing techniques, mixed with more traditional cinematic structures, add to the eerie and compelling visual quality of this avant-garde masterpiece. Marianne Faithfull, the Rolling Stones (Anger had wanted Jagger to play Lucifer), Satanism, lightning, pyramids and extravagant costumes are only a few of the contributing elements that bring this film to a fever pitch of strangeness and cultural abstraction. Like other Anger films, it reads like a music video from outer space or Ancient Egypt... More.

The project started in 1966; the following year about 1600 feet of edited rushes disappeared, one of Anger's collaborators was said to be the culprit. Anger moved to London in 1968 and continued to work on the remaining footage of the project. LUCIFER RISING was pre-sold to NDR and new shooting on the film commenced in 1970. In 1971 Anger released 8mins version LUCIFER RISING CHAPTER 1. Soon afterwards NFFC gave some financial support to the film which enabled Anger to shoot footage in Egypt and Germany. In 1973 a 25mins version was released with Jimmy Page music. Circa 1979 Anger resumed work on LUCIFER after having received grant from National Endowment for the Arts. The "final" (?) 29mins version was released in 1981 with music by Bobby Beausoleil (who was said to be the person who walked off with those 1600 feet of film in 1967 and who later became associated with Charles Manson and is currently serving life sentence for murder)... More.

Kenneth Anger - The Magus, Bobby Beausoleil - Himself, Donald Cammell - Osiris, Marianne Faithfull - Lilith, Myriam Gibril - Isis, Chris Jagger - Man in Yellow Tunic, Jimmy Page - Man Holding Stella of Revelation.

Suggested by the poem 'Hymn to Lucifer' by CROWLEY, Aleister.

Director - Kenneth Anger. Assistant Director - Kenneth Anger. Cinematography - Kenneth Anger. Camera Operator - Michael Cooper. Special Effects Photography - Noel Burch. Editor - Kenneth Anger. Music - Bobby Beausoleil. Music Associate - Minerva Bertholf. Performer - The Freedom Orchestra of Tracy Prison. Thelemic Consultant - Gerald J. Yorke. Costumes - Laura Jameson & Jann Hanworth. Post-Production Assistant - Graham Whitlock. Composer (Music Score) - Bobby Beausoleil.

Robert Kenneth "Bobby" Beausoleil (born November 6, 1947, in Santa Barbara, California) is a convicted American murderer and associate of the Charles Manson "Family" who is serving a life sentence. He killed music teacher and fellow associate Gary Hinman on July 27, 1969, and has been imprisoned since his arrest for that crime. He was an aspiring musician and actor at the time that he murdered Hinman.

In the late 1970s, with the permission of the prison, he composed and recorded the soundtrack for Kenneth Anger's movie Lucifer Rising after Anger's first choice, Jimmy Page, couldn't manage to deliver enough music for the film after three years of waiting, according to Anger. The official Beausoleil soundtrack was released on CD (along with archival material from The Orkustra and The Magick Powerhouse of Oz) in 2004. He's also recorded and released two albums of instrumental material (Orb and Mantra).

The Freedom Orchestra - Lucifer Rising Recording Session (1977-1978):

The Magick Powerhouse of Oz - Lucifer Rising Recording Session (1967):

Further information here, here & here.