Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Looking and Seeing

Today is my birthday, and along with planning a party for me tonight my beautiful wife also gave me a wonderful vintage set of Kurt Rowland's Looking and Seeing books. I love them. There are four books in the series and they are all beautiful. Originally intended to promote visual education in secondary schools in the UK, they feature photographs and drawings of the built and natural environment along with Rowland's striking graphics. It's all about shapes and patterns and towns and the reasons why they hold our attention the way they do.

Rowland's folk modernism, a bit like that of contemporaries Robin and Lucienne Day, is very much in keeping with the kind of stuff I've been posting here. There's a social democratic spirit to the books reflected in their belief that kids can learn to see -- to take greater pleasure in their environments -- as well as in the notion that good design is one of the ways we can plan for a better world: "The shapes, patterns and textures of reinforced concrete structures such as the staircase and the water tower are the result of the efficient use of this material." But it's not all concrete here; Rowland is fascinated with ancient folk artefacts like textiles and arrow-heads and clay-pots, in the ancient patterns visibly etched into the countryside. One of the books, Looking and Seeing 4: The Shape of Towns, has the feeling of a visitors pamphlet from some imaginary nether-England the likes of Belbury or Pinvin. Such covetable little books!

In other news, I'm going to be traveling for the month of July and probably won't be posting here until I return in August. Toys & Techniques is going to take a little break but I will be back soon. Thanks so much for tuning in so far, and be sure to check back in August for more goodies. Have a great summer!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Set

Australian gay camp from 1970, directed by Frank Brittain with a score by Sven Libaek. Here in ten parts. Nice to finally see this after admiring the soundtrack for a while. The second image is of a spinning moonscape diorama art project that figures late in the film (about 4 minutes into part 9). A beautiful moment. More info here.

Also, while I'm on the subject of Australian film/music, I'm intrigued by this shadowy Felix Ookean character, who apparently cut some great 70s nature soundtracks in the vein of Libaek and John Sangster. Anybody heard of him?

Also, I'm sure people already know about the fantastic blog The Sound of Eye, but this post is simply too cool for words.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Russian TV

Stéphane in Montreal sent me these lovely Russian TV clips. Fantastic music and visuals. Thanks Stéphane!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sorrel Hays

Not that this is all that pressing a mystery, but I've been wondering about the identity of Doris Hays since this post of several months ago. Is she Delia Derbyshire working undercover or not? Well, Paul, you were right -- the answer is no. Despite what this website says, Delia Derbyshire is not Doris Hays. And now I have some evidence to prove it, in the form of several albums in the Silver Burdett "Early Childhood" series courtesy of the Salvation Army. As I perused the titles on the sleeve I noticed several Doris Hays pieces billed as being "Realized on Queens College E.M.S., copyright 1974." I took the records home and played them. The Doris Hays tracks sounded very similar to the ones on the Southern library record posted earlier. Maybe the Southern tracks were made on the same Queens College synthesizer?

Some explaining. Doris Hays is an American composer, born in Tennessee, who now goes by the name Sorrel Hays (the name of her grandmother). Here she is. Apart from writing music she is also an accomplished pianist, and filmmaker (check out her website for a bio and some great photos). As far as her recorded output goes, she's pretty well represented on the Folkways catalog, often in collaboration with pianist Henry Cowell. But what really interests me is her work in children's music education. Apart from teaching at Queens College, among other places, Hays was also a consultant for Silver Burdett, supervising several series of children's LPs and conducting workshops across the USA from 1974-1984. As far as I know the electronic pieces on the Silver Burdett albums don't appear anywhere else. I don't know why but I'm really happy about the spastic whimsical quality of this music. Having never heard Hays's Folkways albums, I had written them off sight unseen as being too High Church in their avant gardism. I also had some doubts about the logistics of an American composer wrangling a gig with a UK library label. But how wrong I was. The tunes are delightful, and not at all as high-toned and difficult as I thought they would be. Here are two of them.

"The High and the Low of It"

"The Long and the Short of It"

There are some other really cool tracks on these albums as well, weird folksy numbers similar to the "Spin Spider Spin" track on Jonny Trunk's Fuzzy-Felt Folk mix. Er, I think I'm going to keep these in hiding for a future mix, but here's a another clip from the series -- a piece from Morton Subotnick's Silver Apples of the Moon accompanied with earth-mother instructional narration (perhaps Sorrel herself?)

One more Sorrel Hays photo, ripped from an Ebay listing. What a badass!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Electric Eden

Really looking forward to Rob Young's new book Electric Eden, out this summer on Faber & Faber. Looks to be amazing, promising a cultural history of visionary British folk (Trees, Comus, Shirley Collins, etc.) and the ages-old cultural ferment out of which it grows. Rob also tells me that UK television and film (The Changes, The Owl Service, Penda's Fen, The Wicker Man) also get a look-in. Rob's blog, from which the above photo is taken, should be right up your street if you are reading this.

I also wanted to direct your attention to a fabulous mix -- devoted to another visionary, Canadian children's music guru R. Murray Schafer -- over at Continuo. Sublime stuff, and one of many great mixes from an effortlessly cool blog. There's a great photo posted there of one of Schafer's colleagues Hildegard Westerkamp. Where do you find this stuff, man?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Luigi Scattini

Luigi Scattini's "Angeli Bianchi... Angeli Neri" (released in the US as "Witchcraft '70"), available in ten parts starting here. Classic black arts mondo film from director of similarly smutty "Svezia, inferno e paradiso." I had heard the Piero Umiliani score on CD already but never really *got it* until confronted with grainy images of the benediction of Pan. Absolutely beautiful tunes, especially the Broadcast-y bit starting 5:10 into part III. Great footage of Alex and Maxine Sanders, Highgate Cemetery, loads of buttocks, etc. The coiffed woman throwing devil horns in the fifth photo down is at her wedding ceremony! Dreamy psychedelic opening sequence sets the tone.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Mere Pseud...

(photo of the original pseud, opened to entry of 21 June 1982)

Typing this at speed, but just wanted to say how much I've been enjoying Mere Pseud..., a blog with a very original conceit. It's presented as the teenage diary of Yorkshire-born Paul Martindale, from Monday, June 8th, 1980 onwards (and so far up to June 20th, 1982). Each entry of the original diary is being posted in chronological order exactly 28 years on to the day. Not quite clear whether this is an actual record of an actual life or an elaborate serialized hauntological fiction. Either way it makes for addictive reading. In fact in its attention to school and schoolwork it reads a bit like Jonathan Coe's The Rotter's Club, which I mean very much as a complement. Each entry records the mundane particulars of Paul's life in early-80s England -- agonizing over exams, listening to records and watching TV when he should be agonizing over exams, arguing with his father, working at Tesco, etc. It's all there before you, suspended in amber: the Falklands, first impressions about films and records (including, surprisingly, obscurities like David Rudkin's "Artemis 81" and "Distortions" by quasi-library outfit Blue Phantom), melancholy reflections on family, friends, drinking, kisses, entomology, English weather, etc. The portrait that emerges is of a very thoughtful, articulate young man in a time of fateful change, both personal and dare I say political? Check it out, and make sure to start from the beginning...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Sly Cormorant

An addendum to last month's radiophonic offerings. This 1977 album sets Brian Patten's verse adaptations of animal fables to Brian Gascoigne and David Vorhaus's woodland electronic chamber folk. Beautiful Autumn-y educational weirdness in the vein of David Cain's The Seasons. Cleo Laine and Patten himself on vocals. Both have really cool voices that coax you into another dimension. Some of the animals are really mean to each other! I love it when the grasshopper tells the ant to prepare for his "death dance." The song titles alone are worth the price of admission: "The Mouse's Invitation Cards," "The Two Dragons and the Gap in the Wall," "The Fox, The Fat Baby and the Fickle Promise." Such a weird and oddly therapeutic album that I couldn't help putting a lot of it in the mix of a few posts back.

Oh, and check out here and here for some films I've just added to my must-see list. I just discovered the blog Radon Brainstorm and it's blowing my mind. More Friday amazingness here and here.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Making Electronic Music

Another one of my favorite records. Except this one is also a book. I love it when textbooks come with companion demonstration records -- in this case a double 45. The Scholastic Book and Record series got me hooked on this when I was a little kid. I wish the publishing houses would revive this ancient audio-visual format. I also love the idea of teachers cueing up scratchy vinyl records as learning tools in the classroom. There's something séance-like about everybody leaning in to listen, consulting the same cryptic mechanical oracle. Here is a picture of the accompanying book (click to enlarge). Such a beautiful sleeve and book jacket. The stock institutional graphics, the pageboy hair, the suggestion of an outer space control panel. The book is actually extremely user-friendly considering its subject matter. "You are about to join the growing band of people who are entitled to call themselves electronic musicians," Terence Dwyer writes. There's even a list of necessary supplies: a splicing block, jointing tape, razor blade, coloured leader tape (red, green and white), and yellow chinagraph pencil.

The companion 45s provide fodder to be spliced and manipulated in student exercises described in the book. But they stand quite well as mini-albums in their own right, kind of like Broadcast's Microtronics mini-CDs or a Georges Teperino/Cecil Leuter library record on some obscure French imprint like TVMusic. I'm not sure if it's Dwyer or his students who "realise" these sounds. Whoever it is comes up with four sides worth of surprisingly polished wibbly wobbly concrète miniatures. Check out these two tracks: "Material 17" and "Example O".

And to round out the AV experience here are some photos from the book. How cool are these kids? I love the weird heiroglyphics and captions: "Ready to Go"... "The final preparation in a complex piece".


Images from Anthony Friedman's new brutalist reworking of Melville's Bartleby in 1970 ("I'd prefer not to..." etc.) Lovely film, and a lovely unreleased score by Roger Webb. John McEnery's Bartleby spends a lot of time wandering around the concrete maze of London, buoyed up by a lazy drum break that gets chopped up and reworked in various patterns. Very simple and flutey and melancholy. Here's my homemade copy of the soundtrack.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gen Orange

I've been listening to this creepy Christian folk record. I really don't know what to make of it. Gen Orange were part of the Focolare Movement, an Italy-based inter-faith sect that splintered off from the Roman Catholic church. They are led, or were until recently, by the charismatic and controversial seer Chiara Lubich, whose private visions mapped out the spiritual course of the church. I love the microphone/lawn chair combo in this photo. The more I read about this the more of a Dan Brown novel it all becomes; I feel a bit like Tom Hanks typing this. Some accuse Lubich of brain-washing, etc. Focolare's youth wing is called the "Gen Movement." Every once in a while the gens meet and sing folk songs and eat s'mores (and cut an album?) at the "Mariopolis" festival. New initiates are called "pre-gens" and only advance to "gen" status through some sort of rite of passage. The gens are also coded by color (Gen White, Gen Purple, etc.), but I don't know how this works. Creepy.

The music on this record actually sounds a bit like the folksy indie pop of The Softies or Young Marble Giants. Some nice hand percussion and ham-fisted guitar solos. At other times it goes a bit Wendy & Bonnie-ish. Here are two tracks: "You Found Me" and "Your Silence."

*tracks taken down*