Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Alan Clarke

The bulk of my film-watching this weekend was spent revisiting Blue Underground’s 2004 Alan Clarke Collection, a taster for the BFI’s huge Dissent & Disruption box due in May. Watching both versions of Scum in close succession, I think the BBC version wins out. The theatrical version is more abrasive, more violent, but the BBC film feels more raw, the brutalization of the young cast is harrowing to watch. The moment where a cherub-faced red headed boy laments being incarcerated so far from home is genuinely heart-breaking stuff. One interesting departure from the BBC version is the theatrical version’s elimination of Carlin’s “missus”, which was a good choice - it’s the one false note struck in the BBC version I think… Seeing Elephant again, without the shock and awe of that initial first screening, I felt the film’s lack of political context was more problematic than I first realized. The film’s sincerity is never in doubt but I wonder did Alan Clarke and his collaborators worry that the set-pieces, which are as stylish as anything Scorsese has ever filmed, might fetishize the violence for certain audiences (and the same could be said for The Firm). Either way, the Blue Underground set is knife-edge film-making at its most astonishing, and I am tremendously excited for the BFI set...


Friday, 25 March 2016

Ligeti

Classical music to play in the dark courtesy of György Ligeti’s 1967 composition Lontano. If the music sounds strangely familiar, you’re probably thinking of The Shining, a fragment of the music can be heard in the film (around the 2:33 mark of the clip) but the entire piece is worth listening to, those growling chords I’d wager were a big influence on James Horner’s score for Aliens. I’ve been looking at Ligeti credits on the imdb and I’m surprised to see how underused his music is in Cinema. Ligeti’s work lends itself quite readily to chillers like The Shining and Shutter Island, or films of mystery like 2001 or Eyes Wide Shut, but I particularly like Micheal Mann’s use of Ligeti’s Cello Concerto in his cops n’ robbers epic Heat, heard during the botched stakeout sequence. I suspect Michael Mann designed the sequence with this particular piece of music in mind, the opening moment, a wide aerial shot of a deserted nocturnal LA street seems to mimic the opening long line of the Cello Concerto. Ligeti’s extraordinary music is well represented on CD and if you’re game, I’d highly recommend the 5CD Ligeti Project which includes the Cello Concerto and Lontano.


Avant-Garde

More vintage vinyl porn I could never afford…. I’m currently reading The Rest Is Noise, Alex Ross’ huge panorama of 20th century composition and by right I should be listening to Schoenberg and Stravinsky but I’ve jumped ahead half a century to indulge in Volume 1 of Deutsche Grammophon’s sprawling 1968 six-album Avantgarde set. Some major figures from the European vanguard are on this one, Penderecki, Stockhausen, Ligeti and Mauricio Kagel, and the music is as difficult as you would imagine, but always a thrill to hear Stockhausen take apart an orchestra and reassemble it as a free jazz unit. It’s a shame Deutsche Grammophon chose not to re-issue the series on CD - I was lucky enough to grab some very clean FLAC rips of the first 3 volumes from the much missed Wolf Fifth blog, but my preference would be to own the entire four part series (spanning 24 LPs) as a multi-CD boxset complete with the impenetrable liner notes. As with the great Prospective 21e Siècle series, DG's Avantgarde series is marooned on the collectible vinyl circuit and doesn't come cheap - an EX/NM copy of the set pictured below is currently for sale over at Discogs for €200...


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Travels With My Camera

Last w/end I made a trip to Kilkenny in the Southeast of Ireland, and spent a nice afternoon visiting some local ruins, including Burnchurch Castle, a 15th century Norman tower with turret standing defensively alongside. A walled courtyard would have been attached to the tower but all signs of it has long since disappeared. Still, it's a treat to stand before two structures from the Middle Ages.




Slow fall inward... Evidently I haven't yet exorcised Jean Rollin's 1972 film The Iron Rose from my soul following a recent screening, and I couldn't let this forgotten graveyard go by without taking a few pics. Graveyards are wonderful, mysterious spaces to explore, and this one was particularly enchanting, having long since slipped into neglect, the headstones no longer curating the memory of their tenants due to weathering, the names and dates erased from the stone...




One eerie thing to report. While I was busy balancing my compositions, my wife called me over to a grave which had attached to the foot of the headstone, a large clump of black hair. On closer inspection it turned out to be hair cut from a child's doll but it sent a frisson thru us. We've seen enough Horror films to know that some mysteries best remain unsolved...

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Analogue Paradise

Browsing thru Tod Dockstader’s discography earlier today I was looking at two volumes of Dockstader music issued on Keith Fullerton Whitman’s CD-R label Creel Pone and it put in mind another great vintage electronic release, Douglas Leedy’s mammoth 1971 album Entropical Paradise, a triple LP set containing "Six Sonic Environments created on the Moog Synthesizer and Buchla Modular Electronic Music System". I managed to listen to just four of those environments this afternoon before time ran out so another pass of the album is due tomorrow. I hasten to add that the image below is not my own, it was lifted from eBay - I have to make do with an mp3 rip of the album so I'm hoping this will make it's official CD debut at some point. The entire analogue bubblebath can be heard over at youtube or you can try here My favourite cut from the album is The Harmonarium, an incredible low-end drone that reminds me of the minimalist tones of Eleh and perhaps more fondly, Alan Splet and David Lynch's score for Eraserhead...


The sound of Quatermass

More Nigel Kneale musings on foot of yesterday’s Stone Tape post… This morning I’ve been listening to Tod Dockstader’s Quatermass LP, a suite of music the great American sound sculptor completed in 1964. In the liner notes of the Starkland re-issue, Dockstader admits that he hadn’t seen either of the first two Quatermass films at the time (referring to them under their US titles The Creeping Unknown and Enemy From Space) but Professor Bernard Quatermass’ name struck a chord and became the title of the suite. Still it’s a remarkably intuitive work, the album’s dark, ominous soundscapes would have been the perfect accompaniment to the films, so much so we might have been discussing Dockstader’s work in the same breath as Bebe and Louis Barron’s music for Forbidden Planet or Gil Mellé for The Andromeda Strain. As a remedy of sorts I’m planning on reading the four Quatermass books (Kneale’s original screenplays for the first three Quatermass installments plus the 1979 TV novelization) with Dockstader’s album as one of the reading soundtracks. I’d highly recommend curious listeners check out the 2012 Starkland CD which includes the album plus some additional recordings and in the meantime, you can download and listen to the original 46min album here


Monday, 21 March 2016

Listening to the Stone Tape

This isn’t some little shade that couldn’t get into heaven because the pearly gates were shut. It’s something else, something interesting.” 
I re-visited The Stone Tape over the weekend and to supplement that screening I've just spent a very pleasant hour listening to Peter Strickland’s 2015 adaptation for radio. Fans of the 1972 television production will be pleased to hear that Strickland and his collaborator Matthew Graham have remained largely faithful to Nigel Kneale's original teleplay, apart from a few judicious tweaks, which is just as well because listeners can better immerse themselves in the radio play's extraordinary electronic sound design created by Broadcast's James Cargill and sound sculptor Andrew Liles. In fact the play will be something of a treat for experimental music devotees with nods to Alvin Lucier's signature electro-acoustic work I Am Sitting in a Room, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and a sly reference to the hauntological Focus Group. Neophytes might find Nigel Kneale's paranormal mysteries a puzzle at least on the first pass, so I would urge curious listeners to seek out the original BBC film first. Otherwise, find a quiet room, preferably a darkened one, and give this some generous volume. The radio play is not currently available through official channels so I've uploaded my mp3 copy here (a version is also available on youtube but it sounds rather shrill and lo-fi, so go for the mp3 instead).


Friday, 18 March 2016

The Golden Age of Psychic TV

One more Glitterbug related post... The footage of Psychic TV that appears in Derek Jarman's film, identified as "1984 Spanish Arts Programme" on the Arena broadcast, was filmed when the group appeared on La Edad de Oro (or The Golden Age), a television show that ran from 1983 to 1985 and featured some impressive acts. I previously posted about Tuxedomoon's terrific appearance in May '83 and Cabaret Voltaire's La Edad de Oro set is worth catching too if you're a fan of the Crackdown-era. Psychic TV's appearance on the show in 1984 captures the group at the peak of their power and it's quite remarkable to see the band granted such generous exposure, the broadcast complete with surreal, cabalistic visuals plus a dash of soft S&M. One couldn't imagine The Tube obliging. Youtube to the rescue again, some kind soul has uploaded 33mins worth of Psychic TV's performance here:


Glitterbug

Derek Jarman came up in conversation on these pages yesterday and with an hour to spare earlier I revisited the 1994 film Glitterbug, a fantastic 53min compendium of footage culled from Derek's Super 8 films. I first saw the film in March '94, just three weeks after Jarman's death when it was screened on BBC2 as part of the Arena series. The film was preceded by an interview with Jarman discussing his Super 8 work, but more crucially, the Arena broadcast included captions which identified some of the more substantial Super 8 fragments ("1972 Andrew Logan's Alternative Miss World competition" and so on). Unfortunately, these captions were omitted from Glitterbug's subsequent Raro and Artificial Eye DVD editions but I see the Arena broadcast has made it to youtube, complete with prologue and captions. Check it out here

top row left: filming Sebastiane in Sardinia, 1976,
top row right: footage from Marianne Faithfull promo Broken English, 1979
bottom row left: William Burroughs in London after filming a cameo appearance for Klaus Maeck's film Decoder, 1982
bottom row right: Throbbing Gristle at Heaven nightclub on 23rd December 1980, part of the T.G Psychic Rally In Heaven film


Thursday, 17 March 2016

No New York

I watched Thurston Moore’s BBC punk rock documentary yesterday and there’s a definite sense of fatigue setting in at this point with the same tired war stories carted out - Pete Shelley recounts the making of the Spiral Scratch EP yet again, and matters aren't helped by the presence of the abominable Chrissie Hynde. A more interesting documentary could have been made about events across the Atlantic, at Manhattan’s No Wave scene and with that in mind, I’m currently listening to the 1978 Brian Eno-curated No New York album, two sides of ferocious out-there rock by James Chance & the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars and DNA. Wonderful stuff of course, the spikey angular rhythms of DNA and the eerie guitar tunings of Mars anticipate those great early Sonic Youth albums while the Contortions sound like a band playing within an inch of their life, and Lydia Lunch and the Jerks, the aural equivalent of a particularly disturbing slasher movie. No New York sounds as fresh as ever perhaps unlike Punk, the No Wave scene hasn’t been fodder for endless compilation albums, and given the scarcity of recordings by the groups featured, the album remains a vital document.


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

I Am Lenny

Wikipedia tells me that Neil Diamond’s I Am, I Said is 45 years old today, released as a 7” single on March 15th 1971. Other discographies place the release at the end of March or the beginning of April, but either way I was thinking about the song recently, and the interesting story of its origin. Neil was in Los Angeles in 1970 filming a screen test for a proposed biopic of Lenny Bruce and unhappy with his performance was thrown into an existential funk which led to his writing I Am, I Said... I hasten to add that the film Neil auditioned for was not the Bob Fosse-Dustin Hoffman picture but an earlier production which didn’t came to fruition, nevertheless I Am, I Said is irrevocably tied, at least in my mind, to Lenny (the film), so much so I’ve deliberately chosen the image below for its stylistic similarities to b/w stills of Dustin Hoffman as Lenny Bruce. I must admit I never thought much about the song until I discovered this bit of subtext, and since then I’ve grown fond of it…


Monday, 14 March 2016

Ken Adam

Gestapo office with skewed walls, a disorientating piece of set design courtesy of Ken Adam for the 1976 film Salon Kitty... The passing of Ken Adam last week gave me opportunity to revisit Tinto Brass' film, a belated second viewing of the Blue Underground disc acquired back in, gosh, 2003. Fortunately the film played better than that disastrous initial screening so many years ago and apart from some artless direction and the occasional fit of silliness that threatened to derail proceedings, I quite enjoyed the film this time round. Of course Ken Adam's designs add a touch of class to the film - the warm Art Nouveau and Art Deco brothel sets and the cold sterility of administrative offices are remarkable recreations of the period, although Adam's work is often done a disservice by the nervy camerawork and tawdry compositions. Complimenting his work in the film is the DVD's supplemental interview with Adam, happily recalling the restorative experience the film was after the demands of Barry Lyndon, his design choices and influences, and one particularly ingenious workaround when budgetary restrictions couldn't facilitate one of Adam's conceptions. If my chronology is correct Adam was around 82 when the interview was filmed yet he speaks with the enthusiasm of a young man excited by the possibilities of his vocation...


Thursday, 10 March 2016

Heart of Darkness

Ubu hammer party with Pere Ubu's David Thomas putting rock n' roll out of its misery with a quick and decisive blow to the head. Apparently Thomas is banging a sheet of metal during a performance of The Modern Dance circa 1979, but it might as well have been lifted from some lost Val Lewton horror film... I'm listening to selections from the Datapanik In The Year Zero compilation this evening, and I'm currently stuck on the so-called Proto Ubu cut of Heart of Darkness recorded at a rehearsal space in 1975. An extraordinary primordial draft of the 30 Seconds Over Tokyo B-side, if the recording didn't include some introductory chatter from what sounds like earnest young musicians, one might imagine all sorts of sinister connotations, with Tim Wright's darkly hypnotic bass pulsations and Thomas sounding increasingly unhinged as the track unfolds. Incredible stuff. I can't find a direct youtube link, but you can go here and select the track from the index...


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Madeleine Cemetery

A haunting image of a clown standing sentry over a forgotten final resting place, an astonishing moment of poetic sadness from The Iron Rose… I watched Jean Rollin’s 1972 masterpiece at the weekend and days later the film still occupies my thoughts, the film’s melancholic undercurrent has me in gloomy contemplation. And to purge myself of the film, I’m indulging in a spot of armchair tourism, sifting thru photographs of Madeleine Cemetery, the film’s extraordinary central location. I’m pleased to report the cemetery still retains the same overgrown complexion as seen in Rollin’s film, the wrought iron railings and stone works still doing battle with weathering and the surrounding vegetation. The dilapidated graveyard is an overworked image of Gothic Horror and yet the appeal of these abandoned places remains as powerful as ever. It’s not nearly as rustic as Madeleine, but I have very fond memories of spending a beautiful autumnal afternoon at Paris’ sprawling Père-Lachaise cemetery, strolling among the exquisitely carved Gothic tombs sheltering their cargo from the roar of the city outside. Père-Lachaise has a number of famous inhabitants and looking through the pictures of Madeleine I see Jules Verne chose the cemetery as his final resting place. I couldn’t help but notice the striking sculpture of Verne triumphantly emerging from his tomb, his arm reaching up to the sky, a pleasing counterpoint to the final shot of The Iron Rose as Françoise Pascal serenely embraces oblivion and descends into a crypt… Some pics of Madeleine Cemetery can be found here



Monday, 7 March 2016

Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip

My car had its annual road-worthiness inspection yesterday morning and sadly she failed to pass muster, a repair job will be required to make her, in the words of Warren Oates’ GTO, a real road king again. The timing of the car test dovetailed nicely with a documentary I caught on PBS later in the day, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan’s 2003 film, Horatio's Drive: America's First Road Trip, a wonderful account of Horatio Nelson Jackson’s automobile journey across the United States, the first of its kind, made in the summer of 1903. Accompanied by expert mechanic Sewall Crocker and faithful pit bull Bud, Jackson set out from San Francisco on May 23rd and 63 days later arrived in Manhattan, conquering near insurmountable terrain, surviving inclement weather, and beating two other rival cars competing for the honor. It's a fascinating slice of oddball history, and yet, incredibly romantic too as Jackson's epic drive skirted around Idaho's Sawtooth mountains, along a rugged stretch of wilderness which became known as Craters of the Moon, and past such mythical place names as Bitter Creek and Cheyenne - the North American continent transformed into a vast landscape of imagination...


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Driftworks

Listening to the dark ritualistic music of Keiji Haino and Nijiumu this evening as part of the Driftworks boxset... Last week I found a seller on Discogs who was offering a NM (near-mint) copy of the Driftworks set, a 4CD collection of experimental soundscapes housed in a very stylish slipcase. Originally issued in 1997, good copies of the Driftworks set are increasingly hard to find, so I'm glad to report my copy which arrived today looks excellent (I've been picking it up all evening like some fetishistic objet d'art, the low-light pic I took doesn't do it any justice). Over 4 hours of music, with superb contributions from Thomas Köner, Pauline Oliveros, and Paul Schütze, but it's the Keiji Haino album that I keep returning to, I'm on my third pass as I type this. Like most Nijiumu recordings information is sketchy, save to say it's a live performance, probably from the early 90's, and sounds like an intersection between Toru Takemitsu's eerie score for Kwaidan, and the proto-Industrial music of Kluster. 9mins worth of the performance was included on the Isolationism compilation, which can be heard here. Worth bearing in mind that this music was most likely performed in the dark...




Repackaging Ballard

A friend of mine is currently reading Crash and following a conversation about the book over lunch yesterday I took a quick stock take of my Ballard collection and was dismayed to discover I don’t have a copy of The Drowned World. A quick check at Amazon, reveals that The Drowned World and other key Ballard novels have been re-issued by Harper Collins imprint Fourth Estate with bright, attractive artwork and stylish typefaces. This has me musing on the presentation of past English-language editions of The Drowned World and lining them up together, it appears the novel’s tropical lagoon motif has captured the imagination of most of the book’s publishers, with an iguana appearing on no less than five of the covers. My favorite of these is Dick French’s artwork for the 1981 Dragon's Dream hardback edition (top row, far right) depicting two high-rises under attack from marauding flora and fauna. Another common theme is the sunken city, with St Paul's Cathedral, Big Ben and a pop art Chrysler Building disappearing beneath the rising flood waters. I think the ethereal Fourth Estate cover (bottom row far right) is the best among these. But my favorite Drowned World cover is Penguin’s 1965 paperback (top row, far left) which borrowed Yves Tanguy’s 1942 painting The Palace of Window Rocks (which is horizontally flipped for the paperback). Ballard loved and was greatly influenced by the Surrealists so I’d like to think he was pleased by Penguin’s selection. It was remiss of me not to properly credit these editions of The Drowned World, so I would encourage anyone interested to check out the excellent Terminal Collection of Ballard covers here


Tuesday, 1 March 2016

THX-1138 music

Currently listening to the Film Score Monthly edition of THX-1138 which collects all the music Lalo Schifrin recorded for the film. I generally don't listen to soundtracks as stand alone albums but the Film Score CD is one of those exceptions as it contains a hefty chunk of music omitted from the film. And for good reason - some of the Schifrin's jazzy, Latin flavoured cues would have drastically altered the tone of the film. Still, they're fascinating to hear in context - Jeff Bond and Lukas Kendall's detailed liner notes map out where the lost cues would have appeared in the film, and much like an expansive novelization, conjure up an alternative version of the film. One interesting factoid revealed in the liners, and I don't recall hearing it mentioned on George Lucas' DVD commentary, was that the original theatrical version of THX-1138 opened with 1 minutes' worth of footage from the 1936 film Things To Come, rather than the familiar Buck Rogers prologue seen on subsequent editions... By the way, whilst googling for the image below, I found a page which examines the differences the old UK Blue Dolphin VHS tape and the Warners DVD, the revisions more extensive than I realized...


Footprints

Following the disappointment of Argento's Opera on Friday, I felt Italian Cult Cinema was in need of a champion to re-instate its good reputation, and this morning I found an unlikely one in the 1975 film Footprints, an enigmatic mystery about a woman trying to piece together her fractured memory. Director Luigi Bazzoni pitches his film somewhere between Last Year at Marienbad and L'Immortelle, and while it's not quite as accomplished as Resnais or Robbe-Grillet's films, Footprints is nonetheless remarkable for its compulsive interest in architecture and interior design. Throughout the film we see characters framed against, and sometimes dwarfed by large eye-catching buildings. In the film's first act we see a shot of Florinda Bolkan strategically filmed from a low-angle against two looming International Style towers, and later when the film relocates to Turkey there are numerous shots of Islamic and Ottoman buildings with their distinctive domes and spires. It's a pity that the transfer on the Shameless DVD is so underwhelming because Pier Luigi Pizzi's production design is quite marvelous, from Florinda Bolkan's Bauhaus flavoured apartment to the ornate splendor of the Garma hotel with its wide flowing staircases and lobby, and Art Nouveau stained glass panels (beautifully lit by Vitorio Storaro). For such an aesthetically adventurous film, a bump up to Blu-Ray would be most welcome...