Saturday, May 29, 2010

O Fat White Woman, pt. 2

I finally tracked down a copy of O Fat White Woman, mentioned earlier. Sooooo good. You have to see this. The story centers on the sadistic ex-military headmaster of Upton Grange, a boy's school where teachers "rap the occasional knuckle." Yeah no kidding! Since part of the action involves a student suffering from injury-induced double vision, there's lots of neat camerawork and pitch shifting to conjure up his disoriented state. Another cool sequence involves the students declining Latin verbs in chorus, which one gets the sense Delia Derbyshire took back to the studio to tweak the voices just so. The "fat white woman" in question is also quite a creation, surrounded as she is by fuschias and cucumber sandwiches. The color pink is very important here. The show's title derives from this poem by Frances Cornford, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin.

I would love to post a clip or two on Youtube, but I'm afraid I just don't have the technical know-how. Anybody have any advice for a Mac user trying to convert DVD to Youtube? Snapz?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Celestial Navigations

Loving Celestial Navigations, the new Numero Group DVD of Al Jarnow's short animated films for PBS in the 70s and 80s. My sister and I watched a lot of Sesame Street and 3-2-1 Contact when we were kids, so a lot of these films are permanently etched into my brain. I remember the spinning geometric shapes, the building blocks and stones with minds of their own, and especially the disturbing time-lapse flash-forward and buckling tectonic plates of "Cosmic Zoom," my favorite of Jarnow's films and the one pictured on the DVD sleeve. I have such visceral memories of sitting in a huge cardboard box filled with toys (my preferred place for TV watching) and losing myself completely in the world of these films. It turns out Jarnow was the genius behind all of it. His weird visual lessons about shapes, geometry, change over time, landscape juice have been working away at my subconscious for years now, so it's nice to finally be able to put a name and face on the ideas (also nice that he seems to be a very unassuming, interesting guy). Tom Perri's electronic music accompanies many of the films and is also totally amazing. Brings me right back to the era of huge clunky Apple II computers. Here are two of my favorite films. If you are like me, you remember these things much better than you think you do.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Animals and Children V. 2

OK sorry, this post is going to be extremely nerdy. Seriously. The record you're looking at isn't a BBC Radiophonic Workshop album, but it sounds like it could be. It's one of my very very favorite records ever! I've been wrestling with my conscience over whether to share it or not, but then I figured ONLY LIKE FIVE PEOPLE READ THIS BLOG ANYWAY SO WHO CARES. I remember finding it forlorn and ignored in a San Francisco record store several years ago. The titles and "remarks" on the back sleeve seemed promising: "electronic fiction," "junior laboratory," "sonic march." Still, I braced myself for disappointment as I approached the listening booth. Library records are a cruel mistress, I reminded myself. The balance between radiophonic fuzzy folk and lame loonytunes rests on a knife edge of nuance and stylistic difference.

But as I needle-dropped a few tracks a funny thing happened. I found myself borne up on a magic carpet of wyrd plinky plonky vintage electronic music, of cacaphonous "zoo atmospheres," twinkly percussion and haunting homespun witchy children's folk. A real time capsule of early 70s Britain and the weird utopian meanings then (and perhaps still) invested in the figure of the "child." And speaking of fuzzy folk, it's worth mentioning how perfectly this album would fit into Jonny Trunk's Fuzzy Felt Folk or Studio G compilations. (I believe the yellow-sleeved first volume of the Animals and Children series is represented in the latter, but not the second nor the equally excellent third). Eric Peters, who contributes four tracks here, is the guy behind "Electro Mind" from that one yellow Chappell library record, along with a few fantastic electronic records on the KPM label. An auxiliary member of the radiophonic workshop if there ever was one. And James Harpham, the guy responsible for the "Witches and the Grinnygog" soundtrack excerpted here, is something like the Gandalf of British film music. He's in fine form here. It's a wonder that he's not better known, although selfishly I must say shadowy obscurity suits him better. Below is a clip of my favorite track from the album, Harpham's "Oriental Dolls."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flickr group

I was recently told about a fantastic new hauntology Flickr group. Loads of cool educational/public service graphics and print ephemera. Check it out, it's super cool. I don't have a Flickr account but probably should do. Well done, Pete!

Speaking of book jacket design, here are some pictures of a book I found in my friend Jesse's apartment while we were in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Paper Monument

Off to New York today to visit some friends. The magazine my friend Roger edits is having a launch party Friday night, so we're looking forward to that. This is a poster from an older Paper Monument show in South Carolina. I'll be back soon!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Legend of Hell House

Some stills from The Legend of Hell House, circa 1973. Two spirit guides, a machine-toting professor and his wife investigate "the world's most haunted house." Two things: first, the séance scene involving a gorgeous red filter, a throne, ectoplasm, and a reel-to-reel to record the house's electromagnetic energy. Looks like a recording session for White Noise. Second, Pamela Franklin's mullet. I love this hairdo. Kind of Hester Prynne in the front, rock-n-roll in the back. There must have been all kinds of weirdness going on in the astral planes because this is exactly the same haircut as Delia Derbyshire's (inset), who (with Brian Hodgson) happened to be on soundtrack duties. It's uncanny -- whenever Franklin appears onscreen I can't help but think of Derbyshire. I love the black turtleneck and amulet. There's not much music per se, except for a nice concrète tam-tam beat over the opening and closing credits.

Check here and here and here for more UK TV arcana.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vola Sy Noro

Had a nice time in Montreal over the weekend. The weather was great yesterday and we spent the afternoon basking in the sun like cats. Just before heading back over the border, I was in the usual situation of having a two dollar coin burning a hole in my pocket. I was in a record store and instinctively headed for the dollar bin. Noel record after Noel record. And then, suddenly, the two South Asian 45s above. I'm embarrassed to say that I have no idea of their national origin. I want to say Indonesian? The top one is especially good. Lovely laid-back vernacular pop with fuzz guitar and loping bass-line. Perfect track to kick off the summer. And I love the sleeves and typography. The shaggy hair and hospital-issue keyboard. Seems like everyone was having fun at the photoshoot that day.

Friday, May 14, 2010

English Magick

I was looking around for info on Austin Osman Spare, English occultism, heterodoxy, etc. and I found these images. Via Weiser Antiquarian Books in Maine.


Portrait of the artist as a young Smurf overlord. The concentration! The shorts! Fans of Sky Records/Francois de Roubaix/James Ferraro/early new age should pick up his amazing split cassette before copies run out.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Music and Movement

I've had my mind on Canada lately for a few reasons (going to Montreal this weekend for a little getaway), but don't worry UK, I haven't forgotten about you. Please don't stab your eyes out over your gross new prime minister. BBC Radiophonic Workshop Month carries on in fine fashion. What I thought I would do in this incredibly long and boring post is present photos of some of my favorite records as a roundabout way of introducing the phenomenon of children's "movement" instruction in 60s and 70s Britain. As you do on a Thursday afternoon.

Last week my friend Paul over at Unmann-Wittering Blog wrote a really cool field guide to this strange new educational wilderness where clipboard holding schoolmarms joined avant garde percussionists to move children around like little marionettes. My own experience in the states was more in the era of the "lambada" (the forbidden dance!) so the 60s-70s British context sounds really appealing by contrast. (Although I do remember that our dance instructor had a really cool name; Sandy Pipkin Doyle where are you?). There's something about that era of plastic optimism and cultural planning that really strikes a chord with me. As with Sesame Street in the states, the stars were in perfect alignment and despite the clunky institutional apparatus surrounding the whole thing a unique if short-lived musical/aesthetic utopia was the result. Next time you see a 1960s UK film like Kes or Georgy Girl, keep an eye out for scenes of kids dancing around gymnasiums in their sock-feet to crazy electronic music.

Anyway, the BBC was one of the institutions swirled up in this vortex of educational modernization, along with the record label HMV (His Master's Voice), which issued many of the records and promotional materials for the new music curriculum. Some of the music was electronic and some of it was not, but all of it retains a certain period charm, not to mention weirdness. A lot of this has to do with the striking modernist design sensibility of the packaging. The little ep pictured above is the second in a series of 4 "Listen, Move and Dance" eps. Here is the first, with a little soundclip below it. Pure plinky plonky gold (note the cool percussion by, I think, John Donaldson.) I left this little guy in a scanner at school for a full week before returning to find it just where I had left it!

(BTW, I'm going to try out this Soundcloud audio thingie to keep things a little more accessible for my few readers who aren't mp3 hunter gatherers.) I've pasted in some more album sleeves below with a few more soundclips. The next one is probably my favorite, both musically and in terms of Roy Curtis-Bramwell's absolutely striking design. I did a bit of research of Curtis-Bramwell and it turns out he was (is?) a bit of an odd bird, an occultist apparently, and a fan of magician/artist Austin Osman Spare. He had a bit of a subversive streak too, biting the hand that feeds him in a satirical pamphlet called "Blatant Bias Corporation" that I've been trying to track down. I love the vertigo-inducing concentric circles and the bold red color statement. Designer and musician Julian House (who also happens to be a very thoughtful and interesting writer) reflects on the sleeve in a recent feature in Wire magazine. I love his description. The music is a wonderful example of Delia Derbyshire at the height of her powers. So strange to think that she made all this music without the use of synthesizers and armed only with a razor blade for splicing tape loops together. The track I've selected is called "Mattachin." (For a full rip of the LP see this excellent blog.)

I'll spare the color commentary and just post up the rest catalog style, in no particular order. These are all BBC releases, except for the last one, "Pantalone's Pantomime," which is part of HMV's "Stories in Movement" series. Click here for a view of another ep from this series. And make sure to check out my friends A Sound Awareness and Unmann-Wittering for more radiophonic treats. Also check out Jonny Trunk's "music and movement" page here.

(sleeve by Andrew Prewett, music by Malcolm Clarke)

(music by Vera Gray)

Oh, and here's a cool package accompanying the BBC record "Decimal Points." The record sucks, and my copy is also incredibly warped. The packaging is cool though!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


A while ago a friend told me about the online archive of the National Film Board of Canada. Wow! As of 2009 you can stream pretty much the whole back catalog of documentaries, indie dramas, nature shows, children's programming and animations, all the way back to weird post-war stuff by Arthur Lipsett and Norman McLaren. Yet more confirmation that things in Canada are just cooler than in the states. Here is one of my favorites -- a short film called "Angel" with music by Leonard Cohen. I love the dog and polka-dotted angel wings in the photo-negative black-and-white palette (there's a version on youtube that reverses the coloration and doesn't look as cool.)

More notables:
- Cosmic Zoom by Eva Szasz (sort of like the Eames power-of-ten film)
- This is a Recorded Message by Jean-Thomas Bédard (crazy McLuhan-esque cut-out collage)
- Nobody Waved Good-bye by Don Owen (Ken Loach-y realism with fascinating female lead and annoying boyfriend)
- No Way They Want to Slow Down by Giles Walker (70s Canadian skiers in Chile!)
- VTR St-Jacques by Bonnie Sherr Klein (Montreal agit-prop coolness)

Have fun exploring!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jean-Claude Vannier/Georges Brassens

Follow-up album to L'enfant assassin des mouches, from famed producer/arranger of Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson. The mustache staring back at you belongs to Georges Brassens, pipe-smoking anarchist French pop troubadour. Who? I hadn't really heard of him either. Basically Vannier does to Brassens what Scott Walker does to Jacques Brel -- the album consists entirely of over-the-top instrumental raids on the Brassens songbook. The end result is trippy to say the least. French cafe music (accordians, etc.) isn't the likeliest raw material for an acid-stained psychedelic concept album, but it works in a Tim Burton/Danny Elfman bar mitzvah remix kind of way. Lots of weird treated percussion and woodwind along with the occasional drama stab, froggy-proggy groove and, er, tuba flourish, all wrapped up in Vannier's lavish string arrangements. Scary clown music or forgotten psychedelic masterpiece? What really matters, I think, are the shoes.