Monday, June 26, 2017

ReFound Objects

Found Objects returns from the dead!

Retrotopia




Andrew Gallix in the Irish Times reviews Retrotopia, the final book by Zygmunt Bauman (RIP)

"The sociologist had long argued that a loss of faith in society’s perfectibility was one of the main distinctions between the “solid” and “liquid” phases of modernity, a theme that he reprises and expands on here. His argument hinges on the “emancipation of power from territory”, as a result of which nation states, with increasingly “porous” borders, are no longer able to fulfil their traditional functions. This political impotence, compounded by the stupefying pace of change, has redirected the utopian impulse towards the “space of collective memory”. We take refuge in the past because it can be “remodelled at will”, thus providing the “blissful omnipotence lost in the present”.

The future is now associated not with progress but with stasis or regression. At best it seems to offer more of the same; at worst it holds out the prospect of “social degradation” and “impending catastrophe”. Hence the privatisation of happiness, sought no longer through collective endeavours but through self-improvement and personal “wellness”

.... Social in name only, our online networks offer another ersatz brand of communality, acting as they do as filter bubbles, providing insulation from any views likely to challenge our easily bruised egos. Such comfort zones are “as close to the nirvana of the womb” as we can get. Indeed, a return to the safety of the womb is the logical conclusion of a series of reactionary trends taking us back to a world of “weakening human bonds”, tribalism and growing inequalities – a Hobbesian “war of all against all”.

... Bauman suggests that retrotopianism is largely due to our failure to develop a cosmopolitan consciousness, despite living in a cosmopolitan world." 

I deployed Bauman's liqud modernity versus solid modernity dichotomy  in this piece on David Toop, for which I read two or three of ZB's books (he was incredibly  prolific). Found them really interesting but a little fixated - he was a bit like the Status Quo or ZZ Top of social theory.

Gallix's identifications of ZB's several flaws seems right on the money - the repetitiousness, windy language, generalisations.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Hauntology Parish Newsletter, May 2017 : Further at the Portico Gallery, South London, this Saturday; ToiToiToi; The Focus Group; IX Tab; Radionics Radio; Portland Vows; The Heartwood Institute; "folk horror".


News of an exciting gathering in London this weekend. Organised by DJ Food & Pete WilliamsFurther takes place at  a former theatre turned community centre in West Norwood (my old parish in the mid-Eighties, it so happens). Featured artists include Ghost Box's Jupp & House doing an audio-visual set and Howlround live sound-tracking  the film A Creak In Time by Steven McInerney of Psyché Tropes.


Says DJ Food a/k/a Kevin Foakes, the concept is neither a club nor a film night, but "somewhere in between... where the visual is as important as the musical."  

Date: Saturday May 6th
Location: Portico Gallery, 23B Knight's Hill, London, SE27 0HS,
Price: £7.55



                                             


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Talking of Ghost Box, the label has a really cool new release out by a name completely unfamilar to me - ToiToiToi. Who turns out to be a German fellow (a first for the label, I believe... Indeed I wonder if they've ever put out anything by someone who wasn't British?). Appropriately they use the term "wunderkammer" - German for cabinet of curiosities - to describe Im Hag. Which seems bang-on, for the previous Ghost Box release it reminds me of a tiny bit is The Transactional Dharma of Roj  - which itself very much felt like a cabinet of ungainly marvels... queer little audio-contraptions whose design and purpose was unclear but that nonetheless entranced the ear.








 I also think sometimes of Mouse On Mars's buoyant and airy dinkytronica  



Release Rationale: 

Im Hag is the debut Ghost Box album for Berlin based Sebastian Counts’ ToiToiToi, following on from his single for the label’s Other Voices series in 2015. It’s very detailed and lovingly produced music, crafted from electronic, synth, sampled and acoustic sources. Its a wunderkammer of an album crammed with original ideas. All at once managing to be witty, spooky, melodic and abstract.

The music and design explores the polarities of folklore vs modernity, and wilderness vs civilization. It’s an album about German culture but it pre-empts a nostalgia for the vanishing concept of internationalism, once exemplified by town twinning. It’s also a warm-hearted record, hopefully a tiny morale booster against Europe’s resurgent spectres.

It's the best thing Ghost Box have put out for a while I think .... although it may not be for long, judging by the preview I've been permitted of the forthcoming and splendid album by The Focus Group - possibly Julian H's best since hey let loose your love.  

This reminded me of my remissness in forgetting to mention in the last newsletter the excellent debut album by Children of Alice - the ghosty supergroop comprising House, Roj, and Broadcast's James Cargill. I was supposed to be writing a feature on them, but owing to elusive obstacles that still mystify, this came undone. A classic of the ungenre, nonetheless, so don't miss it

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A soul-sister to Focus Group in some respects, but less twitchy with detail, IX Tab's The World Is Not Where We Are  (due June 1st via Twiggwytch Recordings) is another fab excursion of dronescape-gardening and abstract-leaning bucolictronica... finding the (un)common hinterland between Laurie Lee and Luc Ferrari....  And hark at those mind's-eye-activating titles: "The Orchard Dream",   "Meeting in a Roofless Church", "The Smoke and The Birds", "The Tired Synths"...

Release rationale:

"The World Is Not Where We Are completes a trilogy of IX Tab albums and, while clearly cut from the same dirty cloth as Spindle & The Bregnut Tree and R.O.C, it is something of a departure in that, this time around, there is manifestly an acceptance of the feminine into the harte of the wud. The World Is Not Where We Are is moon-driven and burnished in silver. It’s anima(listic) and tidal, altogether more graceful in it’s movements. 

This time around, IX Tab features Eli Murray aka Gentleforce and Joan Pope of The Whip Angels, two collaborators from across the seas who instinctively understood the ritualistic nature of IX Tab and the strong sense of place. Gentleforce released arguably the best ambient album of 2016 in Refuge From The Great Sadness, while Joan Pope’s audio-visual sex cult, sexdeathrebirth, is in the process of taking all the worlds by storm. 

Other things have remained the same: old energies pushed in new directions. Lyrics by Kant by way of the Noumenal; songs by W.B. Yeats and Colette; atmospheres and sex magick exercises from Israel Regardie and Pope Joan; drones made from creaking swings and squeaking munkins; folk dirges and shotgun fire; wassails & poetic re-imaginings of lost causes. We know it’s an increasingly unpopular opinion, but we don’t believe that any music speaks for itself.
  
As ever, the IX Tab universe spills out into a 16-page full colour booklet bursting at the seams with esoteric ephemera, loose psycho-geographical details, lyrical shards, totems and potentially libelous slurs against 18th C portrait artists."

Pre-order via  ixtabulations.blogspot.com and downloads soon-come via dadaixtab.bandcamp.com.

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Three  other projects of reasonably recent vintage:

Released on SubRosa, Radionics Radio: An Album of Musical Thought Frequencies is a project created by composer / researcher / instrument builder / sonic contemplator Daniel R. Wilson, who informs me that the album "employs a technique theorised by Delawarr Labs that promises a brand new way of making music: by (supposedly) embedding 'thoughts' or 'moods' within the electronic musical tunings".   On pieces like "Heal Chakras" and "Wonderful Feelin" the process generates slowly gyrating planes of drone that put me in mind of Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith, but other tracks are more eventful and internally varied excursions in the quirktronic mode. 
Advert and mini-documentary on the project below, while a full-blown release-rationale can be found at Wilson's Miraculous Agitations blog.




Word also reaches me of a newish album from Concrète Tapes -  Play Nicely by Portland Vows, a pleasing set of electronic sketches and mood-vapors. 



Also fresh to the parish: The Heartwood Institute, an apple-cheeked nephew to the gnarly-thumbed wood-whittler of an uncle that is Belbury Poly - at least judging by this album Mix Tape One.



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That Heartwood Institute cover image - so redolent of the maypole scene from The Wicker Man  - reminded me that I was chatting over the fence with parish elder Ian Hodgson the other morn... 

Ian remarked how much "‘auntology by any other name" stuff was going on at the moment, pointing to the book Scarred For Life Volume One by Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence, which is blurbed as "an affectionate look at the darker side of pop culture in the 1970s. Public information films, scary kids' TV show, bleak adult dramas, dystopian sci-fi, savage horror films, violent comics, horror-themed toys and sweets and the huge boom in paranormal paraphernalia; all this and much more is covered in depth. Prepare to relive your childhood nightmares. The things that made us... Scarred For Life!".

He also pointed to the imminent Fortean Times feature "Haunted Generation: The Analogue Nightmare of a 70s Childhood" (for which I was interrogated, as it happens). 

Much of the by-another-name activity hides under the another-name "folk horror", as elaborated here in Guardian article  and in a recently-published book by Adam Scovell,  Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange.

And then published this very day: Louis Pattison's Bandcamp listening-guide to artists working in the F-H genre, including various outfits on the Reverb Worship label such as this "spookfolk" group The Hare and the Moon.







This comes with a fictitious-TV series mise-en-scene that raises a chuckle:

A five-part ITV children’s drama originally transmitted over the summer of 1972 and produced by Harlech Television based in Wales. Set in a village outside Hereford the story follows the preparations for the annual Wakes event but dark forces are unleashed when the organisers decide to build a ‘Witch’s Hat’ ride on an ancient burial mound. Roy Kinnear plays Mayor Hamilton who wants the Wakes event to go ahead in spite of warnings from local newspaper reporter Jane Meadows (Elisabeth Sladen). Also attempting to avert disaster are young white witch Heddwen (Camila Vargas) and visiting archaeologist Robbie Duggan (Iain Tranter). The series' obscurity is explained by the fact that a Welsh Nationalist transmission engineer deliberately confined the broadcast of the programme to Wales, failing to perform the switch required and thus enabling the Welsh language programme ‘Ffalabalam’ to be shown on the nationwide ITV network whilst ‘Hereford Wakes’ was shown only in Wales. A combination of luck and coincidence led to us being able to contact a relative of the composer and so we're delighted to present the music from Hereford Wakes for the first time. 


Hereford Wakes (1972) from Rachel Laine on Vimeo.

During the piece Pattison mentions this handy survey of the landscape at the site Folk Horror Revival by Andy Paciorek.


It all feels a bit terra cognita  (terror cognita, even!)...  a distinctly compact patch of British film and TV history (as Ian observed - Wicker ManBlood on Satan's ClawWitchfinder General - Penda's Fen and Robin Redbreast - Children of the Stones - some PIFs) now trampled frisson-less after successive waves of visitors...

That feeling of deja deja vu exacerbated by the news that English Heretic are soon to release their fourteenth record Wish You Were Heretic, which contains a sampled snatch of  the folk ditty "Bushes and Briars", soundbites from Robin Redbreast, narration of Houseman's "On the Idle Hill of Summer"... 



Round and round and round we go, big kids prancing endlessly around the memory maypole...

’ 

RIP Erkki Kurenniemi



One thing I was really pleased to squeeze into Retromania was a side-bar on Erkki Kurenniemi - the Finnish futurist polymath who, from the 1960s onward, involved himself in a bizarrely broad gamut of experimental electronic endeavour: computers, robotics, experimental film, electronic music, and much more. My interest was sparked by Mika Taanila's Kurenniemi documentary The Future Is Not What It Used To Be



Then a few years after the book came out - a few years ago -  a trip I took to Finland happened to coincide with  a retrospective exhibition of Kurenniemi's work in multiple media being staged at a big Helsinki art museum. I stumbled on it quite by accident, wandering through the city in the snow. 







Now the news comes through that not only is the future not what it used to be, but neither is Kurenniemi. For he has passed to the other side. 

Much of the fascination of Taanila's documentary concerns Kurenniemi's obsession with ensuring his own immortality, through meticulous self-archiving. He believed that some near-future stage of human civilisation  would be so supremely powerful in terms of technology - but, immortal themselves, so utterly bored out of their minds too - that they'd fill their empty time with the reconstitution of humanity from previous eras. With that prospect in mind,  the bigger the spoor of data you could leave behind - Kurenniemi thought - the better that resurrection would go. 

Guess we'll have to wait and see how that pans out.  















Here,

tweaked only slightly, is the side-bar from Retromania:


...  Imagine a Finnish hybrid of Stockhausen, Buckminster Fuller and Steve Jobs--who from the 1960s onwards was a pioneer in electronic music, computing, industrial robotics, instrument invention, and multimedia. Short of presiding over Finland's space programme, he was involved in every aspect of the Future.  Rediscovered and championed by the Finnish techno outfit Pan Sonic, Kurenniemi's clangorous bleepscapes such as "Electronics In the World of Tomorrow" (1964) compare favorably with the avant-classical creations emanating from Paris and Cologne during that time. He was also something of a techno-prophet, talking in the voice-over to 1966's "Computer Music" about how "in the 21st Century people and computers will begin to merge into hyperpersonas. It will be hard to say where man ends and machine begins."

The documentary-- made by director Mika Taanila....  also looks at what became of Kurenniemi in the twilight of his career.  Grey-bearded and careworn, the aging innovator spends most of his time documenting himself. He takes 20 thousand pictures a year, which are carefully touched-up and filed on his computer. He inputs "cassette diaries" he made during the Seventies and records new ones detailing the minutiae of his existence, like the good steak he enjoyed courtesy of a friend.

Why?  Kurenniemi believes that medical advances will virtually eliminate mortality in the not-too-distant future. "Mine is probably the last generation of mortals".  200 years from now, when the greater part of humanity lives off-world, in the asteroids or orbital zones, while the Earth is "a museum planet", he believes that the indolent immortals, confronted by "100, 000 years of uneventful life" and "with nothing else to do but study old archives", may be "genuinely interested in reconstructing the 20th and 21st centuries."  

Kurenniemi's "manic registration" of every trivial detail of his life is intended to provide the "core material" for this resurrection project.  In the near-future, it will be possible to do "brain back ups", to download consciousness and personality into a computer. But Kurenniemi  can't count on lasting that long. So, he advises, "we just have to keep every tram ticket and sales slip, and write down or record all our thoughts." Video would make for a better imprint of his consciousness, a document of the world seen through his eyes, but it's impractical; the still snapshots will at least provide a "jerky account". He plans on doubling his current rate of 100 pictures a day.

Erkki Kurenniemi's journey from future-minded visionary working at the interface of science and art, a fresh-faced young man who pioneered computers and robotics and kept one bright eye always on the stars above,  to the haggard and slightly potty sixty-something frantically collating the remains of his days for the benefit of some future race of curators,  strikes me as a perfect parable for our times.




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For those intrigued to explore further there's an in-depth publication about Kurenniemi that was published by MIT Press a couple of years ago, the essay collection Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048, edited by Joasia Krysa and Jussi Parkikka. 





Blurb at MIT


"Over the past forty years, Finnish artist and technology pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi (b. 1941) has been a composer of electronic music, experimental filmmaker, computer animator, roboticist, inventor, and futurologist. Kurenniemi is a hybrid—a scientist-humanist-artist. Relatively unknown outside Nordic countries until his 2012 Documenta 13 exhibition, ”In 2048,” Kurenniemi may at last be achieving international recognition. This book offers an excavation, a critical mapping, and an elaboration of Kurenniemi’s multiplicities. The contributors describe Kurenniemi’s enthusiastic, and rather obsessive, recording of everyday life and how this archiving was part of his process; his exploratory artistic practice, with productive failure an inherent part of his method; his relationship to scientific and technological developments in media culture; and his work in electronic and digital music, including his development of automated composition systems and his “video-organ,” DIMI-O. A “Visual Archive,” a section of interviews with the artist, and a selection of his original writings (translated and published for the first time) further document Kurenniemi’s achievements. But the book is not just about one artist in his time; it is about emerging media arts, interfaces, and archival fever in creative practices, read through the lens of Kurenniemi."


Also Kurenniemi at UbuWeb