Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let's Scare Jessica To Death

This cult film from 1971 pushes all the right buttons, beginning with the requisite moving-to-the-country/ferry crossing montage over the opening credits. There is something about the prospect about moving to Connecticut that instantly strikes fear in the hearts of New Yorkers. Making a schizophrenic the film's center of consciousness is also smart, because you never know whether the ghosts and visions she sees are supposed to be "real" or not. Zohra Lampert, as Jessica, alternately goes nuts and has the wherewithal to observe herself becoming so, in the best tradition of the Polanski spiral-into-madness plot.

But what's really striking about the movie is how incredibly beautiful it is, all the way down to the music. I've often thought that it's not the storylines so much as the production values of 1970s horror movies that evoke fear and terror, especially for viewers like me who grew up with the slick glossy surfaces of 80s TV shows. 70s cinematography just doesn't read the same way. You know you are in the world of a 70s American horror film just by taking in the pictorial qualities of a given shot and the music accompanying it. What I love about films like "Jessica" and "The Stepford Wives" is the way they need to establish some sense of happiness and/or normalcy before letting loose the vampires. Lilting pastoral folk music is used as a kind of lure to draw you in, even though there are usually hints (weird chord progressions, eerie off-key keening, etc.) telling you that you should just get the hell out of there.

Orville Stoeber's excellent score to this film is a case in point. The fucked-up scale and time signature of the opening theme reminds me of the "devil's interval" used to such good effect by Marc Wilkinson in the score to "Blood On Satan's Claw." Pretty folk guitar melodies, often performed "live" by the actors, drift in and out of the mix in a teasing and slightly disorienting way, as in the impromptu guitar/double bass duet performed in the kitchen by Jessica's husband and the strangely pale-skinned hippie they befriend. Also of note are the electronic effects created by moog wizard Walter Sear, which at first accompany the gentle lyricism of Stoeber's score and then wholly displace it as the madness descends. The revved-up engine of the crop duster in the photo above is amplified by an incredibly disturbing machine-like electronic oscillation. Sear's electro mayhem is way more violent than anything that actually happens on screen.

The film has been re-released on DVD recently and is easy to find. Fans of "Repulsion" and "The Stepford Wives" and "Rosemary's Baby" would love this. (Visually and stylistically I think it also lines up pretty well with Barbara Loden's "Wanda.") In the meantime you can get a taste of things by listening to my rip of the soundtrack. No official score has ever been released so this is another straight-from-DVD jobbie. This thing is just crying out for an official release.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hart's Seeds

We bought these the other day at the village store because they were pretty. French breakfast radishes!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Frederick Judd

As far as I know Frederick Judd cut two of these electronic 7"s for Castle records in the early 1960s. One of them, entitled "Electronic Themes and Musique Concrête," appeared on one of Creel Pone's "Creelpolation" anthologies of early electronic 45s. This is the other one. Judd was something of a dark horse in early British electronic music. He contributes some of the best tracks on the Studio G release "Electronic Age" in 1970. And here, about ten years earlier, he fires up the ring modulator and floats up into the night sky on a cloud of exhaust fumes and electro scree. The dense squall of feedback and plucked bass and eerie scrapyard sounds is probably not to everybody's taste. It's the sound of fear awakening on a crew of astronauts who has just experienced equipment failure and lost contact with the known world. It's dissonant and scary, to be sure, but there's a kind of peaceful still point at the heart of all the noise if you listen closely.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nunz shred

Inferno of First Love

How about a little Japanese nudity for Earth Day? (That sentence will probably get this blog some weird visitors via Google.) This is the soundtrack to the 1968 film Hatsukoi Jigoku Hen (Inferno of First Love), directed by Hani Susumu off of a Terayama Shuji script. I haven't seen the film, and in many ways I don't want to. I mean it looks lovely and all, but I just don't want to ruin the already perfect aural world conjured up by the LP. It's a little unclear just who is responsible for the music. Many sources credit the avant-garde theater collective Tenjo Sajiki, but it just doesn't seem sufficiently drugged out or HEAVY enough for that to be true. Indeed, the key thing about this music is how delicate and fragile it is. I like to imagine that the slightly nerdy guitar tech for Tenjo got together with his girlfriend and cut this album all by themselves while the rest of the band were sleeping off a hangover.

The choral chamber folk of this album is such a welcome change from the usual Japanese acid bluesmanship that people go nuts for on Ebay. (Although I guess one point of continuity would be Carmen Maki, who does a cameo here; I have no idea which track this is.) There's a simple twinkly innocence to these songs that's not all that far afield from Carl Orff. And the ambient dialogue and noises (mostly waves lapping at the shore as the two main characters talk about why they haven't been able to have sex yet) adds a kind of natural musique concrete on top of the harpsichord and guitar. The last song is absolutely devastating -- an inspired documentary moment where presumably non-actors announce the name of the first person they ever fell in love with. Whatever happened to those people? Are they still alive? Did the people they mention love them back? Here are some screen grabs from the film... perhaps I will have to see it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Shuttered Room

I can delay no further -- it's time for The Shuttered Room! Of the many Kirchin scores yet to receive a proper release, this is probably my favorite. It's high time I dug out my crappy bootleg DVDr and confirm it's as good as my memory of it. Kirchin's homespun baroque jazz is really the center of gravity of the whole thing. Rumor has it that Jonny Trunk printed up some vinyl copies of this, but that it won't likely be released. Would love to get my hands on a copy. In the meantime, this rudimentary rip will have to do.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Vancouver Art of the 1960s

Via Ruins In Process, an archive of 1960s Vancouver art and counterculture. What an amazing resource. There's rich evidence here of what state-funded art can accomplish (and it's worth noting in this regard that arts funding in British Columbia will be cut by fully 90% in the next few years, even as the unconscionably expensive opening/closing ceremonies of the Olympics paid lip service to regional arts and culture). Page after page of mindblowing images from the various exhibitions, workshops, poetry readings, and mixed media happenings staged (mostly) by the Intermedia collective -- the hub of the Vancouver art community at the time. There are great photos and pamphlets from geodesic dome projects and improvised "motion study" live dance performances, as well as an excellent film section. I think my favorite is a short piece called "Know Place" -- although the title of another, "The Be In," perhaps best captures the mood. Also some great hippie concrete improvisations in the audio section. Very inspiring.

I'll have some music (libraries, English weirdness, etc.) to post soon. I think. I have no idea what direction this blog is heading in.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Welt am Draht

Fassbinder sci-fi with moog shots now screening at MOMA. Originally broadcast on German TV in 1973. Found some "ausschnitte" on Youtube but they seem to have been taken down only this morning. More info.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I haven't quite got my head around it yet, but I've been listening to John Sangster's Marinetti OST. First impression: whoa. Albie Thoms's Marinetti is an experimental film coming out of the late-60s art scene in Sydney. Haven't seen it, but Sangster's musique concrete/spoken word score, with field recordings and lysergic rock interludes (cameos by the folks from Tully), is a good index of how out-and-out bonkers it must be. Available here. I first read about the film on this amazing blog, which among other things speaks of a recent live realization of Tristram Cary's Trios, the secret weapon of the Czech new wave, and butterflies.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

To Lay a Ghost

With ghosts and/in photographs, this would fit pretty well in this.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sweeps Week Canticle

So my Tristram Cary CD finally arrived yesterday after one copy went missing in the mail. Jonny Trunk was very nice about it. It could be the coffee talking but this and the discovery of a secret Kirchin library LP this week have left me feeling very inspired. The Cary CD is like a transom to a world I never knew existed, somewhere in the hinterlands between commercial culture and high art. I love this idea of commissioned corporate art propoganda. So weird to think that Cary and other geniuses were behind the scenes doing spade work for big oil and Barclays Bank. I'm going to investigate further, but in the meantime here's an older mix of things and stuff of a different stripe altogether. Have a good weekend.

track 1:
Out of the Unknown
Penda's Fen
Jason's Trip - National-Balkan Ensemble
Come Out To Play - Joan Rimmer/Anne Mendoza
Qui êtes-vous, Polly Maggoo? - William Klein/Michel Legrand
Zajczyk - Kobza
Dreams That Money Can Buy - Hans Richter/Paul Bowles
Solitioude - Francois Bayle
Peter Pan Land - James Harpham

track 2:
Sun-Seeker - David Johnson
Betcher! (National Cycling Proficiency Scheme)
The Stone Tape - Nigel Kneale
Le Chat Cameleon - Elio Maestosi/Vieri Tossati
Herbert's Oily Rag - Peter Howell/John Ferdinando
from Miloš Forman's "Taking Off"
Goodbye Gemini - Christopher Gunning
Etunytude - Norman Maclean
Guitare Crépuscule - Claude Vasori

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Saw Don Levy's Herostratus last night. So beautiful, although it's a bit slow going and I do admit to wandering off now and again to check my email. There's just the whiff of a plot involving an alienated grouch who courts a PR firm to advertise his own suicide. What's really cool though is the film's Nicolas Roeg-like cut-up style. One scene literalizes the technique when the main character takes a pair of scissors to images from fashion magazines -- a bit like the scissors fight in Chytilová's Daisies. Lots of cool brutalist architecture on display too, as much of the action takes place in or on the rooftops of soulless office buildings. Helen Mirren makes her screen debut here as a stripper in a brief send-up of boob-centric advertising. It's funny how boob-tastic Mirren's early roles were (she's topless for a lot of Age of Consent). Sorry, what was I saying?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sam Sklair

More flutey English pastoral panoramas, this time via a South African. I have a real soft spot for Sam Sklair's library work. This little Conroy number is a gem in the rough for sure. A simple woodwind melody winds its way from city to countryside, pausing for tea and the occasional dream-sequence reverie along the way. Fans of Kes and Abstractions of the Industrial North might like this. Skair did loads of these Conroy "theme sets," all in the same uniform white sleeve, so it becomes something of a treasure hunt tracking them all down and differentiating between serial numbers. There are sexier Sklair albums -- "Electroscope" for one -- but this is my favorite.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly

1969 British horror/dark comedy by Freddie Francis, starring Vanessa Howard as "Girly." Two wealthy siblings with deadly good looks, a Super 8 camera and a diabolical streak. Fun! Stylistically this is very much like I Start Counting or The Owl Service, except more tongue in cheek. Available in ten parts here.