Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Possession (pt. 2)

In the August 2008 issue of the Wire, Mark Fisher continues his exploration of artists channeling "...other voices, outside forces..." in an interview with Adrian Thaws, better known as Tricky.

"Saying that Tricky 'writes from a female point of view' fails to capture the uncanniness of what he does, since he also induces women to sing from what seems to be a male perspective. Gender doesn't dissolve here into some bland unisex mush; instead it resolves into some unstable space into which subjectivity is continually sliding from male to female voice. (...)

His own weakened, recessed voice - all these croaks, mumbles and murmurs - has always suggested a presence that was barely there, something supplementary rather than centred. But the main - usually female - voice on his songs also sounds absented and abstracted. What the voices of his female singers - flat, drained of ordinary affective cadences - most resemble is the sound of a medium, a voice being spoken by something else. (...)

It is not that Tricky possesses female singers; more that he induces them into becoming possessed, into sharing his trance states. The words that come to him from a lost female source [i.e. Tricky's suicide mother] are returned to a female mouth. (...)

The one who is possessed is also dispossessed - of their own identity and voice. But this kind of dispossession is of course a precondition for the most potent writing and performance. Writers have to tune into other voices; performers must be capable of being taken over by outside forces (and Tricky is a great live performer particularly because of his capacity to work himself up into a state of head-shaking shamanic self-erasure. Like the occult, religion provides a symbolic repertoire which deals with the idea of an alien presence using the tongue, and Tricky's language has always been saturated with biblical imagery.

Where, in his post on Mark Stewart as a man possessed, Mark K-Punk kept rather vague by whom or what Stewart was possessed, he now dares to name explicitly the voice, the force that possesses the artist. In the case of Tricky, it is his suicide poet mother who rides her son as a loa rides its cheval. "I was always my mum's ghost" Tricky says in the interview. Here we see a clear case where the roleplaying so common among Western musicians has transfigured into the dramatic 'characterization' of possession.

Nevertheless, Fisher omits to mention that Tricky's mother suicided when he was four years old, and that he hardly has any recollections of her. So it is in a sense a possession in the second degree - he is not so much possessed by a ghost of his mother constructed from his own memories, as by a ghost of his mother constructed from other people's memories - principally those of his grandmother, who raised him and would say to Tricky that he resembled her dead daughter, his mother. Obviously, the importance of this fact for Tricky's 'characterization' of his mother is immense: he isn't channeling the ghost of his mother, he is channeling the ghost of his grandmother's daughter.

It seems very unlikely that Fisher is unaware that Tricky mother died when her son was still at a very tender age. So it is not that that Fisher is loathe to investigate the context of possession, he does not present to the reader the results of the investigation. It is not that he is hesitant to slice open the Mexican jumping bean, it is that he doesn't show us the wondrous Cydia deshaisiana within - which is a pity, as it diminishes the uncanny power of Tricky's music. The notion of Tricky's mother being not his mother but the reflection of the memories of his grandmother - the reflection of a reflection reflected by Tricky's vocalists - adds yet more mirrors to Tricky's already complex mirror maze, making it still easier for us to lose ourselves in it, making errantry in his music still more seductive.

Post scriptum

- I've just bought "Music and Trance. A theory of the relations between music and possession" by French ethnomusicologist Gilbert Rouget, a book which seems highly relevant to the issue at hand.

Fisher's interview presents Tricky as a Triphop Xasthur - or is Xasthur a Black Metal Tricky?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Exotica - Yukio Mishima

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"Erotica and exotica are close, not just semantically, but in their promise of a life less ordinary, detached from the libido suppression of reality, responsibility, rationality and 'civilization', hitched instead to a hopeless belief in the free physicality of primitivism. 'Thus, when confronting those possessors of sheer animal flesh unspoiled by intellect,' Yukio Mishima speculated in Confessions of a Mask, 'young toughs, sailors, soldiers, fishermen - their was nothing for me to do but be forever watching them from afar with impassioned indifference, being careful never to exchange words with them. Probably the only place in which I could have lived at ease would have been some uncivilized tropical land where I could not speak the language. Now that I think of it, I realize that from the earliest childhood I felt a yearning toward those intense summers of the kind that are seething forever in savage lands'"

This was the final post in the 'Exotica' series.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


On the ever-interesting Ballardian blog, a post by Simon Sellars investigates whether connections can be found between the oeuvre of HP Lovecraft and that of JG Ballard. The post comes up with only "...vague parallels between the two writers". Ballard himself is quoted as saying: "I’ve never read him, but there may well be correspondences."

The post misses out on a pair of short stories which evince quite clear parallels between the two writers: HP Lovecraft's 1927 short story "The Color Out Of Space" and JG Ballard's 1964 short story "The Illuminated Man". In both stories, a cosmological event infects a rural area, warping color, threatening to mutate the world.

In Lovecraft's story, the cosmological events is a meteorite falling to earth, "... a great rock that fell out of the sky and embedded itself in the ground beside the well at the Nahum Gardner place." In Ballard's story the cosmological event is "... the creation of anti-galaxies in space, which [has] led to the depletion of the time-store available to the materials of our own solar system." Both stories highlight the vulnerability of man in an inhumane cosmic environment.

In both tales, the cosmological event affects a rural area, distant from urban centers. In Lovecraft's story, the meteorite strikes west of the fictional town of Arkham, where "... the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut." In "The Illuminated Man", the affected area is in the Everglades, "... three or four acres of forest to the north-east of Maynard..." (another fictional town - there are Maynards in Massachusetts, Arkansas and Minnesota, but not in Florida).

In both stories, the cosmological event warps color and light, transforming the landscape. Lovecraft: "All the orchard trees blossomed in strange colors, and through the stony soil of the yard and adjacent pasturage there sprang up a bizarre growth which only a botanist could connect to the proper flora of the region. No sane wholesome colors were anywhere to be seen except in the green grass and leafage; but everywhere were those hectic and prismatic variants of some diseased, underlying primary tone without a place among the known tints of the earth. The 'Dutchman's breeches' became a thing of sinister menace, and the bloodroots grew insolent in their chromatic perversion". Ballard: "The long arc of trees hanging over the water dripped and glittered with myriads of prisms, the trunks and fronds of the date palms sheathed by bars of livid yellow and carmine light that bled away across the surface of the water, so that the whole scene seemed to be reproduced by an over-active technicolor process."

The warped color destabilizes the symbolic boundaries between the organic and the inorganic, between the living and the dead. In Ballard's story, organic tissue transforms into many-colored, jewel-like crystals. But this transformation doesn't kill living creatures: on the contrary, those transformed enter a twilight zone between life and non-life. "There in the Everglades the transfiguration of all living and inanimate forms occur before before our very eyes, the gift of immortality a direct consequence of the surrender by each of us of our own physical and temporal identity." In 'The Color Out Of Space', an extraterrestrial color - i.e. something inorganic - is presented as something living. Infection with this color transforms living creatures into something inorganic: all organic matter becomes a phosphorescent grey, develops a highly singular quality of dryness and brittleness
and turns into dust. But even when this process is very advanced and the creature concerned is more an-organic than organic, life continues - a sort of undeath. Both Lovecraft's and Ballard's story focus on a fictive world into which classificatory ambiguity is introduced by a cosmological event - by a deus ex machina.

In both stories, the effect is contagious, and threatens to mutate the world. In Ballard's story, it is made clear at the very beginning of the story that the effect is spreading on a cosmic scale: "And yet it now seems obvious that the crisis is far from over. Tucked away on the back page of the same New York Times is a short report of the sighting of another 'double galaxy' by observers at the Hubble Institute on Mount Palomar. The news is summarized in less than a dozen lines and without comment, although the implication is inescapable that another focal area has been set up somewhere on the earth's surface, perhaps in the temple-filled jungles of Cambodia or the haunted amber forests of the Chilean highland." In Lovecraft's study, the threat to the world is a little more implicit. The protagonist of the story is a surveyor from Boston, who inspects a rural area that is to be flooded to the construct of a new water reservoir in Massachusetts. It is implied that the contamination from the meteorite will poison the water in the reservoir, thus spreading the extraterrestrial pollution: "... nothing could bribe me to drink the new city water of Arkham."

In both stories, the cosmological pollution is presented in terms referring to the sacred. Lovecraft's extraterrestrial color is something literally supernatural: "What it is, only God knows. In terms of matter the things Ammi described would be called a gas, but this gas obeyed the laws that are not of our cosmos. This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observatories. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space - a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmic gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes." At the end of Ballard's 'The Illuminated Man', the protagonist is resolved to return to the phantasmagoric forest he has fled, seeking the gift of immortality through crystallization, seeking "an ultimate macro-cosmic zero beyond the wildest dreams of Plato and Democritus." This macro-cosmic (supernatural) zero has strong religious connotation, and Ballard's protagonist may well be described as an cosmological mystic.

Where the two stories differ is in the attitude of the protagonist towards the ambiguity. On the one hand, Lovecraft's surveyor is repelled by the cosmological pollution. Ballard's protagonist on the other hand is attracted by the boundary-dissolving effect, and in the finale of the book seeks to dissolve the boundaries of his own self. But perhaps even this difference is not so clear-cut as it would appear on first sight. The introduction of the reader in the equation has important consequences, if one thinks of the reader as a person who enters into a relationship with the protagonist and the world presented by the author. Horror stories such as those by Lovecraft are read to vicariously come into contact with the supernatural dangers which infest their fictive world. Even if the attitude of the protagonist in the respective stories may be different, the (affective) relationship of the reader to the cosmological ambiguities may well be similar: the mixture of attraction and repulsion which is the hallmark of religious ideas of purity and pollution. This ambiguous sentiment is close to Rudolf Otto's concept of the numinous. For Otto, the Holy is a mysterium tremendum and fascinosum: a mystery that simultaneously fascinates (attracts) and frightens (repels). The anthropological analysis of pollution ideas in Mary Douglas' seminal 1966 study "Purity and Danger. An analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo" could doubtlessly evoke more meaning from these stories.

To recapitulate: both stories present a numenous cosmological event which destabilizes classificatory boundaries in a rural area. In both stories, 'warped color and light' are the central metaphor for this destabilizing effect, which both attracts and repels. Other than Simon Sellars, I'd say that the parallels between these two stories are far from vague: they are clear and distinct.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Exotica - Meditation on Violence

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"[Maya Deren's] other films included Meditation on Violence, made in 1948, a study of the Chinese Wu Tang and Shaolin boxing and Shaolin sword, enacted by Ch'ao Li Chi. Prescient in its anticipation of exotic montages of the near-future, Deren's soundtrack combined a recording of Chinese flute with here own tapes of vodun drumming, documented in Haiti. She moves between dream and dynamic action in her filming, the boxer gliding in slow motion, soundtrack silent, then exploding into the quick violence of drums and fists, the paradox resolved by flute and drums together. (...) In her schematic notes for the film, Deren maps the trajectory, a parabolic arc determined by music. 'The ultimate of an extreme becomes its opposite,' she wrote. 'Here the ultimate violence is paralysis after which the REVERSAL.'

Post scriptum

Here is a post by Kode9 on Deren's film.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Earth - Liveeurope2006

Yesterday I saw Earth live. It was magnificent.

Listening to the music, I thought that (in an alternate universe) Earth could have been a great Dub Reggae band. In Earth's music, one hears the same attentiveness to sonic texture and aural spatiality as one hears in the very best Dub Reggae. In the Dub Reggae, the band leader or producer uses texture and spatiality to weave what Kodwo Eshun calls "sonic fiction". Where Lee 'Scratch' Perry and King Tubby ensorcelled primitive multi-track studio technology to refract American R&B and Funk into a wide sonic spectrum/spectre/Duppy ghost, Dylan Carlson and his band use sustain, distortion, fuzz-tone and feedback to carefully tease a drone out of Country, a drone which seems to breathe all of its own.

Another thing that struck me is that Earth now incorporates both strands of Minimalist music: not only the droning Minimalism of the La Monte Young lineage, but also the repetitive ostinato Minimalism of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Like Glass and Reich, Earth employs simple musical patterns, offset in time, to create a slowly shifting, cohesive whole. However, where the tempi of Glass and Reich are presto, Earth is maestoso slow. Furthermore, these musical patterns generate electrified drones, in a dialectic move towards a synthesis of the two strains of Minimalist music.

The concert was attended by some Black Metal fans, decked out in Darkthrone and Bathory t-shirts, black leather jackets and spike-studded belts. They looked completely out of place, and obviously felt it was necessary to don their haughtiest masks. Why? In the past, circa the Earth 2 album, Earth performed Dionysian music: theirs was the stupor of intoxication, the heaviness of sleep after orgiastic chaos. The Black Metal fans no doubt attended the concert because of Earth's Dionysian phase. But since then, Earth's performance has evolved into an Appollonian one (Apollo being the god of serenity, sanity; of Art as contemplation, of Nature as a garden): patience, carefulness, musicianship, attentiveness and meditative awareness have become key words for Earth's music. Now, Earth is closer to Tortoise than to Sunn 0))). We can envisage Dylan Carlson as a brooding, potbellied, pale, tattooed, moustachioed, drawling and middle-aged Apollo plucking his lyre!

I bought the 'liveeurope2006' cd after the concert ended, and I can heartily recommend it. Not only is it a compendium of some of Earth's most-loved songs played live. It also has the great advantage of featuring Steve 'Stebmo' Moore's music-making more prominently than the studio albums. Moore, who comes from a Free Jazz background, is a bearded, bespectacled, somewhat academic-looking man, quite different from Carlson's 'truck driver' looks. He plays electric piano (Wurlitzer) and trombone. On the cd, Moore employs these instruments to enrich Earth's drone, and to echo the slow ostinati of guitar and bass. In yesterdays concert however, he used the Wurlitzer in a more pianistic fashion, surrounding Earth's slow notes with clusters of notes. The contrast between the relative density of this twinkling sound and the slow, open expanse of Earth's music was magical.

Earth live is magnificent.

Post scriptum

Below a YouTube video of Earth performing 'A Plague Of Angels' live.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Exotica - Kenneth Anger

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"At the beginning of the sixties, Brian Wilson was writing ecstatically romantic songs in celebration of heterosexual desire and homosexual gang displays. 'We''l get the roughest and the toughest initiation we can find', written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love for 'Our Car Club', might be lines sung in Kenneth Anger's Kustom Kar Kommandos. This unfinished short film was described by Anger as 'an oneiric vision of contemporary American (and specifically Californian) teenage phenomenon, the world of the hot rod and the customised car'.

In fact, Anger used 'Dream Lover' by the Paris Sisters. He envisaged the cars as 'an eye-magnet of nacreous color and gleaming curvi-linear surfaces' while the customers would be presented as 'shadowy, mysterious personages (priests or witch doctors)'. In his biography of Anger, Bill Landis quotes from an interview with Spider magazine. 'The cars,' said Anger, 'particularly the drag races - what they call the rail jobs - are not only obviously power symbols, terribly phallic and all this, but they're also an involvement in a controlled ideal, in a controlled death-tempting ritual.' In a camp musical, we can imagine the Rommel-inspired attack batallions of Charles Manson and the Family singing 'Our Car Club' lyrics in chorus, like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, as they hurtle over the dirt fire roads of the helter-skelter escape route, heading for Death Valley in their customised dune-buggies, Manson firing Crowleyan magic at pursuing helicopters."

Kustom Kar Kommandos - 1965

Scorpio Rising - 1964

Friday, July 18, 2008

Guillaume Apollinaire - Le brasier

I have thrown into the fire
That which transports me and which I adore


Flame I do your bidding


I flame in the fire's adorable ardor
And the hands of the believers cast me back there multiple unnumerably
The body parts of the interceded-for burn close to me


I have nothing anymore in common
With those who fear burnings

(From the poem "Le brasier" by Guillaume Apollinaire, dedicated to Paul-Napoléon Roinard)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Basic Channel - BCD-2

When I visited the Hard Wax record store in the mid- nineteennineties, it was something of a pilgrimage to Techno's tabernacle.

The Berlin Wall had fallen only a few years before and Berlin was in the middle of a process of rejuvenation, in the middle of an explosive transformation: it was the hottest, most exciting building site in Europe. I remember advertising billboards in Berlin pronouncing a "Real Existierende Futurismus" (a parody of DDR propaganda pronouncing a "Real Existierende Sozialismus").

Techno - understood not only as a musical genre, but also as a socio-cultural movement - was indissolubly linked to Berlin's futuristic transformation. Even though it originated in Detroit, Techno was able to flower in the many "No Man's Land" areas of the reunited city, such as the vaults of the former old Wertheim department store, where the legendary Tresor nightclub used to be located. It was as if the remains of the static, over-regulated, bureaucratic, official DDR society provided the fuel that made Techno burn. Techno's fire gave vitality and youth to Europe, which for a fleeting moment seemed to become more than a mere administrative community.

Within the Techno community, there was a group of musicians which was not only a Techno production team and record label, but which was also in a sense a secret society: Basic Channel.

Not that the identities of these musicians was unknown. Despite the scarcity of print publicity and the fact that their releases contained an absolute minimum of information, it was well known that Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus were the driving forces behind that Techno production team and record label. But they were secretive in the sense that their craft in creating dub-infected Techno from distortion, from vinyl scratches, from needle-dirt, was as mysterious as that of Blacksmiths who were considered a sect of magicians in pre-Christian times.

Like many brotherhoods, orders, secret societies and churches before them, Basic Channel marked themselves as different from the wider (in this case, Techno) community: the uniform design of the products of the record label Basic Channel and subsequent imprints such as Chain Reaction and Burial Mix served to distinguish them and to give the releases a common identity.

The activism with which this 'secret society' initiated new members into the mysteries of its craft has transformed contemporary Dance and Electronica. To this day, more than ten years after Basic Channel started its activities, new acolytes make it to the top lists of music critics and of distros such as Boomkat: Skull Disco, Pole, Echospace and Rod Modell, Claro Intellecto, 2562, Gas, Burial, Peverelist, Vadislav Delay and Monolake are just a few of the faithful.

The Hard Wax store with it's bare-bricks, minimalist aesthetics was more than the office and record store of Basic Channel, it was to German Techno what 'Helvete' was to Norwegian Black Metal, it was German Techno's Holy of Holies. It was almost hidden away in a sombre apartment block, without any clear indication of the fact that the store was inside on the block's entrance. One had to ascend several flights of stairs and traverse a corridor to find the shop, feeling one was making a passage along a trajectory without the usual signposts, almost blindly. Crossing the store's treshold, many felt a sense of relief an triumph at having arrived at Techno's ritual center, hidden away from the uninitiated in the urban wilderness.

Basic Channel BCD-2 features full length versions of six of the Basic Channel’s landmark releases, originally brought out on vinyl between 1993 and 1995. The six tracks are much more dancefloor-oriented than the releases on Chain Reaction, close to the pioneering work of Jeff Mills. However - like the later releases - the tracks are quite long: altogether the cd lasts a full 80 minutes, each track clocking at well over 10 minutes. Stark, hypnotic, propulsive, rousing, the music on BCD-2 can only be called "perfect Techno".

The six tracks are Techno in concentrate, abstract minimalism in it's purest state.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Exotica - Throbbing Gristle

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"Pacific (and Pacific-rim) exotica was a tabula rasa for fantasy, both sincere and ironic. The first signs that Martin Denny's exotica was not hermetically sealed and buried came from two very different sources. In 1978, Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats included an instrumental track called 'Exotica', an ominous, fugitive vision, like an island glimpsed briefly through sea mist. Perhaps this was the island of Samburan, where Joseph Conrad sent his antihero, Heyst, in Victory. With the benevolent act of saving a damsel in distress, Heyst hoped to escape the world, only to be pursued by an unholy trio of villains, their grimacing, amoral misogynist of a leader greeting Heyst with, 'I am the world itself coming to pay you a visit.'"

Below you'll find a YouTube video of the intriguing 1981 student film 'Mask Of Sarnath'. It was written and directed by Neil Ruttenberg - employee at Inner Sanctum Records, musician, radio deejay, sciptwriter and filmmaker. The film, a 20-minute horror film that was a finalist in the Student Academy Awards, has a soundtrack provided by Throbbing Gristle.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


In a beautifully written and highly interesting recent post on his interview with Mark Stewart for The Wire, Mark K-Punk writes:

" link between the post-punk trio I wrote about in the July issue (Stewart, Mark E Smith, Ian Curtis) is channeling. In order to get at what is at stake in so-called psychic phenomena (and its relationship to performance and writing), it's necessary to chart a middle course between credulous belief in the supernatural and the tendency to relegate any such discussion to metaphor: being taken over by other voices is a real process, even if there is no spiritual substance. (...) Hence another take on the old 'death of the author' riff: the real author is the one who can break the connection with his lifeworld self, become a shell and a conduit which other voices, outside forces, can temporarily occupy."

K-Punk addresses an issue which is close to the concerns of this blog: that of possession cults in relationship to contemporary artistic practices. Inspired by Current 93's concert at the Roadburn Festival, I wrote a post which implied that Walter Benjamin's Angel of History was dancing in the head of David Tibet.

I would agree with K-Punk that the author can indeed become a conduit for "...other voices, outside forces...". One does not have to accept any supernatural content to accept that more is at stake than mere illusion: the sense of being 'ridden' corresponds to a definite experience. However, in his post, K-Punk does not examine too closely which voices, which forces Mark Stewart channels: Stewart's loa is cursorily described as "...rage and utopian longings...".

Perhaps K-Punk doesn't examine these voices and forces more closely for ideological reasons, to avoid giving in to "...the dreary certainties of capitalist realism"? Perhaps K-Punk fears ruining the music's mystery?

I'm reminded of the "incident of the Mexican jumping bean", an interesting episode from the history of Surrealism. The incident "...involved a crisis about the proper methodology for inspecting freshly arrived objects into the Surrealist orbit, a pair of jumping beans. Caillois wanted to slice them open, to see what made them jump; yet out of principle, as he recounts, Breton refused to do so, for this would have destroyed "the mystery"." (sourced here). Caillois strove for a form of the Marvelous that does not fear knowledge, but, on the contrary, thrives on it.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that I come down on Caillois' side in this debate. We must slice open the Mexican jumping bean to examine the "...other voices, outside forces...". Using the proper methodology, a Marvelous bean stalk will grow from the eviscerated bean.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Exotica - Harry Smith

From the 1999 book 'Exotica. Fabricated soundscapes in a real world' by David Toop:

"Along with his interest in music, Harry Smith was a pioneer of American graphic film. Stills from his films look extraordinary. The earliest, made between 1939 and 1946, were hand painted or batiked directly onto celluloid. Later surrealist animations, shot between 1957 and 1962, were photographed from collages with titles such as 'The ascent to heaven on a dentist's chair', 'The descent from heaven in an elevator', and 'The skeleton juggling a baby in the central tableau of heaven' . Inspired by magick and music, they aimed at a synaesthesia of image and sound."


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Skullflower - Exquisite Fucking Boredom

"By day fantastic birds flew through the petrified forests, and jewelled alligators glittered like heraldic salamanders on the banks of crystalline rivers. By night the illuminated man raced among the trees, his arms like golden cartwheels, his head like a spectral crown..."

In J.G. Ballard's 1964 short story "The Illuminated Man" and his 1966 novel "The Crystal World" forests are turning into a vast, brilliant, multi-colored crystalline mass which gradually expands to fill all space, transforming flora, fauna and man alike. This luminescent transfiguration is a reflection of a cosmic process in which the dimension of time is affected: "As more and more time 'leaks' away, the process of supersaturation continues, the original atoms and molecules producing spatial replicas of themselves, substance without mass, in an attempt to increase their foothold upon existence."

UK Noise Rock band Skullflower's 2003 album 'Exquisite Fucking Boredom' reminded me strongly of these two works of fiction.

Skullflower, formed in 1985, is one of the bands of Matthew Bower (Total, Hototogisu, Pure, Sunroof!). 'Exquisite Fucking Boredom' was produced by Colin Potter, a musician and engineer who worked with 'England's Hidden Reverse' luminaries such as Nurse With Wound, Current 93, Organum, and Ora. Two tracks were reworked by Neil Campbell (Vibracathedral Orchestra, Astral Social Club).

The first track on the album, "Celestial Highway I", introduces the stomping and stoopid yet incredibly catchy riff which takes center stage on the album, a Black Sabbath riff seen through a Krautrock kaleidoscope. The riff, repeated ad infinitum, measures time, is time: an 'equable', forward-propelling, motorik motion.

But as the album continues its trajectory through the musical spheres - Celestial Highway II and III, Saturn, Return To Forever, and Celestial Highway IV - time leaks away. Like Ballard's forests, the elementary, time-marking riff is slowly encrusted with glimmering, sparkling splinters of light, with shimmering jewelry, with spectral gems. Marked with so many prismatic, light-suppurating wounds and crowned with an aureole of needles and spurs of glass and quartz, the riff is slowly dragged down, transformed into an immortal, exotic, translucent baroque church, surrendering its musical and time-keeping identity. Gradually, all musical space is saturated with a brilliantly beautiful, multi-colored crystalline mass.

At the end of Ballard's 'The Illuminated Man', the protagonist is resolved to return to the phantasmagoric forest he has fled, seeking the gift of immortality through crystallization, seeking "an ultimate macro-cosmic zero beyond the wildest dreams of Plato and Democritus."

Likewise, this listener has been enticed to return to Skullflower's album again and again, succumbing to the enticements of its enchanted entropy, of its luminous ennui, of its orgasmic tedium.

"However apostate we may be in this world, there perforce we become apostles of the prismatic sun."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


I'm quite ill at the moment, expect fewer or no posts the coming week.