Wednesday, June 27, 2018

When Mates Make Books - summer book bonanza

The first time I met David Stubbs - I cold-called at his digs after spotting his flamboyant and acerbic prose in the Hertford college paper -  was to recruit him for our fledgling magazine Margin. But all the while I was pitching the idea of him contributing, one eye was greedily scanning the row of LPs that took up most of a wall  - easily the largest and coolest collection I'd ever seen - and mentally filing records to borrow, once a decent period of acquaintance had elapsed. I could see names on the LP spines that I'd only read about then - like Faust and Can and Sun Ra. Names I'd never heard of.  Releases in strange and elaborate packaging.

As I got to know Stubbsy over the ensuing months, I realised that this was one precociously hip cat.  When I had been buying Tubeway Army singles at WHSmith and listening to Kid Jensen's homework-hours slot on Radio One, Stubbs was mail-ordering items from the Recommended Records catalogue and taping Stockhausen concerts off Radio 3. Indeed my first real exposure to  avant-garde electronic music was borrowing a cassette of something like Hymnen that he'd recorded off the radio - I can still picture Stubbs's left-hand scribble on the inlay card. I couldn't make head nor tail of it, but for David this was terra cognita, just one of several regions of outermost sound he'd explored while still in his teens.

Even more than his Krautrock epic Future Days, Stubbs's new tome Mars By 1980 (great title!) is the book he was born to write. The scope runs from the Italian Futurists to the digital maximalist everyday of the 21st Century - the journey of electronic sound from heroic vanguard to current omnipresence - via Pierres Henry and Schaeffer, David's teenage fave Stevie Wonder, Suicide and synthpop, Delia D and J Dilla, and much more besides.

The preface hooks you straight off with a flashback to the flash-forward of "I Feel Love" in 1977. Evoking the future-rush of hearing the Moroder-Bellote-Summer track -  Number One in the UK for a whole month - Stubbs remembers the feeling as -

"like first contact: the slow opening of the spacecraft door, the blinding shaft of green light.... Pure, silver, shimmering, arcing, perfectly puttering hover-car brilliance... Keyboards are played with unheard-of, bionic, rotor-blade capability. It glides the way scissors do when you achieve that perfect synergy between mind, hand and blade, cutting through the dreary brown curtain of 1970s entertainment and revealing space. Space 1977. No exhaust, no vapour trails, no strings, no frills, this is take-off. People will be left behind, people will be laid off. May you never hear rock music again...  There is something coolly indifferent about this sonic craft, indifferent even to Donna Summer as it glides onwards and upwards, for minute after minute, powered on something far more durable than mere human stamina. Even as the record fades away, you sense it is still out there, puttering pneumatically away, cruising at cirrus level." 

Sentences that give me the same electric tingle as when I first encountered David's prose in the Hertford college paper  - most likely a dandyish disdainful diatribe about the conservative musical fare 
on offer at student parties, where there was a distinct deficit of DAF and Thomas Leer!

Mars by 1980 is out in a month's time.

Slick segue ahoy - there is a character in the new novel by Bethan Cole (old mate from the glorious  2-step dayz at the turn of the millennium) who is writing a book about the early development of electronic music in the decades after World War 2 -  musique concrete,  Oram & Derbyshire, etc - and another who soundtracks run-way shows using Ligeti and Cornelius Cardew. Bethan tells me it is a  modern morality tale, set in the early 2000s - a critique of celebrity culture and fashion, centred around the rivalry between two designers.  The Glide of Swans is available from Barnes & Noble and other online retailers. 

"Mate" is probably stretching it  - we've never met, we've also sparred a few times - but cordial email acquaintance Dan Hancox has written a vivid and serious study of grime, stretching from its earliest stirrings through to its unexpected love-fest clinch with Corbyn, and making all the right (i.e. Left) connections to urban politics, race, class, gentrification as social cleansing etc.  While I can't resist wryly noting the Nuum-iness of using a lyric from a jungle classic to title a grime tome, Inner City Pressure is the perfect title: as Goldie recently commented at a deejay event, "what we did with beats and sounds, the grime kids are doing with words.”  Or to put it less snappily, grime is the product of the same long-running political impasses and social blockages that shaped jungle, and it's powered by the same rage to live.  And, as we approach the end of this century's second decade, grime  seems to me unchallenged in its stature as the most impressive thing that the U.K. has come up with during the 21st Century, in terms of sono-social energy - just as jungle was the most impressive Britmusic phenomenon of the Nineties.  Inner City Pressure is out in a couple of weeks

Another cordial email acquaintance. So far I have just skimmed Will Ashon's Chamber Music but I hear very good things about this experimentally structured celebration-analysis of the Wu-Tang Clan debut, which evokes the world that produced the album, the world that is the album, and the ways the album changed the world.  Out this autumn on Granta.

Another book by an Oxford friend from the early Eighties. (Indeed this features an introduction from one David Stubbs). Back then, Steve Micalef never used to talk much about his days at the epicentre of punk (as Steve Mick of Sniffin' Glue, inventor of the Bin-Liner etc), which frustrated those of us for whom 76-and-all-that was legendary if recent history. Indeed Micalef liked to say that punk got boring very quickly and boasted of having been the first  front-line punk to depart the scene.  Still, nostalgia claims us all eventually... A collection of verse reminiscences and what looks like original diary entries in scribbled handwriting, The Punk Kings of Dyslexia is an appetiser for a full-blown memoir of his mid-Seventies youth that Micalef - nowadays a poet, still a wit and bon vivant non pareil - is hatching... advance glimpses of which are wonderfully vivid and funny.

I've yet to clap eyes on a copy of All Gates Open, but looking forward very much to reading Rob Young's new Can chronicle, written with the close involvement of Irmin Schmidt.

An acquaintance... but one, uniquely, that I've rubbed shoulders with in two different hemispheres, James Bridle - coiner of the optimistic-aspiring, looking-for-future concept The New Aesthetic - comes with an unexpectedly ominous and glass-nearly-empty view of  the Information Age (just check that subtitle "Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future") in New Dark Age, on Verso - which I am looking forward to reading.

Talking of dark futures and sad presents... not out until November but advance notice of this huge compendium via Repeater of our late friend and much-missed colleague's work - K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher 2004-2016, which is edited by Darren Ambrose and for which I wrote the foreword. If anybody in the UK or US (or indeed elsewhere) wants to host an event celebrating Mark's life and work, now would be the time to start getting things in motion.

Another friend and colleague, but thankfully a far from late mate  (well, except for rendez-vous and appointments maybe ;) ). The republication by Verso in rebooted / expanded / updated form of  More Brilliant Than The Sun, the masterwork by Kodwo Eshun, was already once prematurely flagged up in this blog about a year ago. But now it appears to be definitely coming out in October. A completely different vision of music and cultural temporality, proposing a discontinuum rather than the roots 'n future / "neither vanguard nor tradition but both" way I see and hear things - but seductive and mind-shaking nonetheless. (Re)read it with or against the sociohistorical Inner City Pressure  (I've long thought grime was the Problem for the More Brilliant viewpoint, the upshot it couldn't explain or assimilate to its system without misrepresenting - and trap may pose similar difficulties and challenges). Or indeed (re)read it with or against Chamber Music.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hauntology Parish Newsletter - June 2018 : Moon Wiring Club stuff 'n' nonsense; Bloxham Tapes; new A Year in the Country themed album The Shildam Hall Tapes; Andrew Pekler's Phantom Islands

Celebrating the Summer Solstice tomorrow, here's a new Moon Wiring Club mix! 

Mr. Hodgson describes it as starting out as your "pretty standard hyper-soup of the usual 70s/80s audio synth nonsense with added vocal bitsy" that then veers into an unexpected "Industrial dance selection... everyone needs to have heard Soma Holiday at least once."

Mr. Hodgson also points out some related MWC action:

- a MWC interview that features in new "folk horror" book  Harvest Hymns. Volume II - Sweet Fruits

-  MWC track contributed to "3rd Wave" hauntology compilation, Present At The Terminal, on the  Modern Aviation label


Mr. Hodgson mentions in passing a new 3rd Wave hauntology entity possibly worth checking out -  Bloxham Tapes.  


A Year In the Country have a new themed album involving multiple contributors out next month, The Shildam Hall Tapes, which sounds excellently eerie on a first listen. 

Release rationale: 

 “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 film stock 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. 

My memory is getting foggier as the years advance, but I think - I think - that I forgot to flag up this recent A Year in the Country release from just last month, Audio Albion

release rationale: 

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 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. 

News from the parish's twinned town in West Germany - Andrew Pekler invents a new genre - hauntonautology - with the announcement of  Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas  - "an interactive online map that charts the sounds and histories of islands that were once found on nautical maps but have since disappeared." Part of the larger Fourth Worlds online project /  real-world exhibition + conference for "l'ethnographie imaginaire dans l'experimentation musicale et sonore". 

Release rationale: 

"Phantom Islands are artifacts of the age of maritime discovery and colonial expansion. During centuries of ocean exploration these islands were sighted, charted, described and even landed on – but their existence was never ultimately verified. Poised between cartographic fact and maritime fiction, they haunted seafarers’ maps for hundreds of years, providing inspiration for legend, fantasy, and counterfactual histories. Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas interprets these imaginations in the form of a map of speculative sounds from 27 phantom islands around the world.

"Explore the map by clicking on the names of phantom islands to learn the histories of their discoveries and the dates of their cartographical existence. Zoom in on individual islands to hear their musical, biophonic and geophonic soundscapes. Or, engage Cruise mode to be taken on an audio tour of all the Phantom Islands – ideal for passive listening in a separate browser window or tab. (In this mode, all the sounds, played in sequence, amount to something like my new album.) Recommended browsers: Chrome (version 67+), Firefox (version 60+ ), Safari (version 11+). Not usable on mobile devices. 

"Phantom Islands – A Sonic Atlas was commissioned by Jeu de Paume for the exhibition Fourth Worlds: Imaginary Ethnography in Music and Sound and was produced with the support of DICRéAM, CNC. "

Friday, June 08, 2018

s.f and rock

Here's my review for 4Columns of Jason Heller's book about the interface between pop music and science fiction in the 1970s - Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded.

Along with the many cross-contaminations between rock-etc and s.f., one thing that Heller's book reminded me of was that many of the very earliest rock criticism publications were started by people who had previously done science fiction fanzines. Crawdaddy’s Paul Williams had earlier published Within; Greg Shaw, founder of Who Put the Bomp, attended s.f. conventions and made mimeographed zines; Lenny Kaye self-published periodicals like Sadistic Sphinx long before he became a rock critic and Patti Smith guitarist. 

Intensely self-reflexive fields, rock criticism and science fiction share a strange mix of inferiority and superiority complexes.  Painfully aware of their marginal position vis-à-vis “proper” journalism and “respectable” literature, they nonetheless  believe that they are doing the  Most Crucial Writing of Our Time. I can remember from my own days as an adolescent s.f. fanatic being struck by the s.f. writer's culture of workshops and conventions  - by how the writers loved to write essays defining s.f. as a genre, proclaiming its unique contribution to literature. There were even a few volumes of essays by s.f. writers debating s.f. that I remember reading. 

S.f. was what I was into immediately before getting into music; writing s.f. and in particular alternative history, a special passion of mine, was what I imagined I might do in life, until I discovered the music press. During this mid-teens enthusiasm for s.f., I thought that I would never ever be one of those who grew out of the genre. But sure enough, the zeal for s.f. got displaced abruptly and entirely by a different fanatical focus, once I heard Sex Pistols and Ian Dury. Aged sixteen, I swapped one New Wave (the Sixties-onward school of experimental and inner-spacey s.f.) for another New Wave.  

But then I came back to the genre in middle age - did some catch-up with cyberpunk, which I'd missed as it was happening in the Eighties... reread old favorites...  caught up with a few that I'd somehow missed (like Lem) even during the days of taking four paperbacks a week out of Berkhamsted Library as well as buying as many as I could on my slender means...  But I never got round to any of the post-1990 giants (if giants there be). To me, it's still Pohl and Bester and Brunner who loom largest in my mind.