Saturday, 16 September 2017

Pan Review of the Arts - No.4

  music.

MIKE HARRINGTON is a web developer, comic book and sound design artist who, for the latter releases, goes under the band name, STRUCTURE. With an EP - Lunar Dawn - forthcoming, Mike has most recently released a drum n‘ bass album, Machina Complex, on the new Wellhead Records label.

Wellhead Records was founded by KIRSTY HAWKSHAW. She is a trance and house artist and songwriter, known for her signature angelic vocals, initially in the early 90s‘ as part of Opus III, (producing two albums and the hit debut single, 'It’s A Fine Day'), and latterly as a solo recording artist and collaborator with other producers in the field.

LIAM GATES is Wellhead Records‘ manager and web presence developer.

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Mike, for the uninitiated, how would you describe drum n' bass and jungle and your own interpretation of it?

MH: Drum and Bass / Jungle, or whatever you’d like to call it, for me, is all about the tension; the build up of the dischordant sounds and hyperkinetic beats to tell a story or theme—what I like about it is there’s some of the most talented and prolific producers in any genre in our field. We are constantly searching for new sources of inspiration and sounds to twist, turn and freak in our own creative ways.
  Drum and Bass also is a lifestyle; while I don’t consider myself a purist in the strictest sense, I know many people who take their music seriously, and those passionate fans are why I do what I do every day—keep their ears tuned to something fresh and new, and in doing so, gain a new fan of the music so it constantly grows and expands.

How did the tracks evolve for your new album? By a pre-conceived idea or by happy accident?

MH: I generally write out a concept outline including tracklistings well in advance for any release I’m undertaking; this helps keep me focused on the task at hand, and also allows me to be a bit more of an editor in how I choose my sounds, how I sequence them and put them together. The idea behind (Machina Complex) was to follow up from the Simian Soldiers EP, and to focus on the main character (in the comic book) Jordan Alcott; without giving too much away from the second screenplay I’m writing, it delves into how he came to be, and the realization of what he is, as compared to what he thinks he is. It’s an interesting project and I’m working very hard to bring the entire project to fruition! Recording wise, it took a little under two years of constant recording to craft out the project.

You are also a comic book / graphic novel artist and web developer. What led you to recording in the first place and is being a recording artist now a priority?

MH: Well, I’ve always recorded conceptual recorded album projects, and in my mind, tied a visual to the music I’ve written (with the hopes that they will be produced into eventual films and video games), so my music has that quality to it—I like telling interesting stories versus just creating dubplates that never get released. I’ve held fast to my music for a very long time; recording, revising, creating and now it’s time to share my work with the world.
  I would say recording, drawing and creating is a triple priority for me; for example, there’s a song I’ve written for my next EP project (The Lunar Dawn EP) called “Seven Minus Seven”. That song was inspired by my scriptwriting for the spinoff TV / Comic Book project from Simian Soldiers called Terra Force One, which focuses on other adventures my characters go through (outside of the Simian Soldiers story arc). It’s my hope that I can produce enough recorded soundtracks to have original music in every single episode (similar to what you see on the TV show Empire).

I hear drum n' bass as using more subtle, more ambient textures than in its formative years and these are highlighted in your album. Is it therefore still music primarily to dance to, or enjoy in more sedentary environments?

MH: My music is first and foremost geared to make you dance, or excite you in whatever environment that you see yourself in; just don’t send me your speeding tickets. Seriously, I make music that you can enjoy and in my humble opinion, create a timeless quality and not throwaway music (as Drum and Bass is generally considered by some). I just recently got a message from a fan on Dogs on Acid about a track I wrote in 2000 strangely enough; that must have made an impression, so much so that he asked about it and what I’m currently doing seventeen years later.

Who, or what, are your own musical influences?

MH: I would say my biggest influences are the classic atmospheric/tech step drum and bass producers and DJs' first hand; Grooverider, Fabio, Goldie, Rob Playford, LTJ Bukem, Nookie, Blame, Origin Unknown, Justice, Calibre, Marcus Intalex, Photek, etc. I generally follow the older labels like Good Looking, Metalheadz, Ram, Moving Shadow, although there’s some newer drum and bass producers making classic drum and bass sounds in new and interesting ways like Naibu (who I recommend if you want to pick up where Photek left off with Modus Operandi btw!), but I’m always keeping an open mind really—you never know where your next inspiration will come from!
  Non-drum and bass wise, you’ll find me being inspired by reggae, dub, pop, and industrial, which I then meld into my own recorded works; and if you ever want to talk about my Kate Bush, The Cure or The Blue Nile obsession, then that’s a conversation all unto itself!

How did the link-up with Wellhead Records come about?

MH: Strangely enough, I had connected to Kirsty Hawkshaw through my friend Matty Earles (of GLR fame) if memory serves me correctly way back in 2004-2005; she needed a website done, and I had made a name for myself over in the UK, working for Adam F, Fresh, and Grooverider on various projects through Jho Oakley (shout outs there old boy!), and my work was chosen to represent her artistic visions within music for a while. We fell out of touch for a while and about a year ago, I messaged her and we reconnected like nothing had ever happened which was great.
  She was telling me about her label Wellhead Records and what she wanted to do for artists on the label which piqued my interest, and after a few conversations with her Label Manager Liam Gates, we got on like a house on fire and the rest is history. I’m not only excited, but actually quite humbled to be a part of the label, and their hard-working team is ensuring that all of my releases will be out on a timely schedule, and for once, fans can purchase my music in any formats they desire.
  After dealing with so many labels and bad contracts, Wellhead Records is a breath of fresh air, both in business and in simply the way they treat their artists; respect is something they carry as a high priority and that makes me want to do everything I can to help them be successful in their pursuits.

Kirsty, what will Wellhead do differently from your experience with the record industry in the Nineties?
KH: I could write a book's worth of an answer to this simple question.  But, in a nutshell, times have changed.  We now live in a digital era, where it's sadly in some ways ruled by 'data', on demand streaming, and connections.  Wellhead are not misers in this way, in that we promote our 'collective' via each others mediums - well some of us do anyway.  In the 90s,' if you had a record deal, that really was quite a huge thing.  There would be a whole team of people making phone calls, big budget videos, and labels would invest in their artists with wads of cash – however, at the same time, they owned your soul in some way and that can get a bit depressing.  Wellhead are not interested in owning anybody. We are more into empowerment and assisting independent artists who are good at making music, can mix their own stuff too, and who make music with the right intention. In the 90s', you had an an A & R person looking after artists, press management, magazines for promotion, and most music was released on hard copy.  Wellhead don't as yet press vinyl or CDs', purely due to the initial outlay. We are a seedling label, but we would definitely consider it at a further date. There is still a growing market for vinyl, and many young people are now curious about it, which I think is excellent because vinyl not only sounds better, it smells amazing! We want to work with people who end up having a positive experience and who see how they are progressing. Liam is working on an exciting new aspect of the label where our artists can have daily updates on their streaming hits, and maybe get an insight into areas where they need to work on, like social media posts, etc.. It can all get a bit tiresome, but we do live in a digital era now.
What are your priorities in terms of the types of music, and types of artist, you'll consider?
KH: I don't have a 'type' as such. Wellhead is non-genre specific.  I believe in the laws of attraction, and we seem to be just bumping into people who have gravitated towards us - who like the vibe of it.  People can of course self-release quite easily these days, but often it's quite a lonely existence doing it yourself, and it's nice to get some kind of feedback etc..  We are a collective of colourful minds and skill-sets and we all help each other out as best we can.  Gone are the days of big budgets and domineering marketing. What you will get from Wellhead is genuine people making quality music for all the right reasons. We tend to avoid drama queens and those who want to be famous or rich - it doesn't work like that, and we are honest to the people we sign.  Our artists can do what they want as long as the music is good enough for release. They are in control of themselves and we just nurture that.  We don't just take anybody on but, instead, we try to accept music and the people who make it, who we feel we can work with harmoniously, and who are self sufficient.  Most of them have day jobs too and are really hardworking types.
Liam, what is your role at the label and what do your responsibilities entail?

LG: We consider the label as a collective of individuals who all bring their talents and skills to the table. Working closely with Kirsty, I aim to collate the ideas of our artists and make them a reality. We're still very much a growing label (as Kirsty said, a 'seedling'), so we're still very much finding our feet, but we'll get there. When it comes to my responsibilities, I jump in where needed! I really do like to like to be as hands-on with things as required. I build releases for our artists and make sure the music 'gets out there;' advising on where artists can also develop, such as their online presence.
  One thing I am working on is a new portal where artists can log-in to view live data, see presence reports and also download statements and accounting information about releases that relate to them. I feel that this will really help us to be the transparent and open label we are aiming to be; along with assuring our artists of everything that is happening. From reviewing where we are so far, communication with artists regularly is something that we really want to improve and develop on- hopefully the new portal will be a step in that direction.


Big thanks to Mike Harrington.

You can purchase the Structure album Machina Complex here:

Equally big thanks to Kirsty Hawkshaw and Liam Gates for their time.

Check out Wellhead Records here:

You can keep up to date with Kirsty’s other activities here:

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  poetry.

CHRISTINE MURRAY is an Irish poet and web developer. She developed 'Poethead – A Poetry Blog' nine years ago. She graduated at Dublin's Art History and English Literature at UCD School of Art History and Cultural Policy. She qualified and has worked as a city and guilds conservation stone cutter with the Office of Public Works/Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland. She is primarily a page poet but has written poetry for vocal performance. Her ‘Lament for Three Women’s Voiceswas performed at The Béal Festival of New Music and Poetry (Smock Alley Theatre, 2012).

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How and when did you become a poet and what were the circumstances?

CM: I have always been a reader. I exhausted my parents book collections at a young age. We had short story collections, novels and prose collections including books by Mary Lavin, William Trevor, John McGahern, James Joyce, Brian Friel and Samuel Beckett. There were a lot of theatre works, biographies, maps, theatre programmes and countless fairy tales (both Irish and International). In fact, they had everything but poetry in that library. There were some religious texts too. I do remember discovering 'The Song of Songs' and feeling that it sustained me because I was not culturally religious. My traditions are Scottish Protestant (episcopal) and Roman Catholic and there was a fair bit of intermarriage right throughout my family history.
  I became interested in poetry in my teens. I was sent to Irish College for two summers (an Gaeltacht) in Dungarvan and I became interested in song. I don't have a great singing voice, but the songs caught me for life and I began adapting their structures and repetition in my own writing (humming and singing). When I became a stonecutter, which is quite an isolated activity in a workshop near a lake, I hummed and composed but didn’t write anything.
  When I went to UCD to study Art History and English Literature, I was bored with the way that we were taught English. English Lit. was (James) Joyce-heavy and we did not study women poets save for 'Aurora Leigh' (Elizabeth Barrett-Browning). I spent hours in the library looking for women poets and escaping lectures. I found Sylvia Plath. I will never forget the feeling. I read 'Kindness' and everything that had surrounded me to that point vanished in her words. Here was the visceral truth and she was not present in our curriculum. I was devastated when I learnt that she had died. I think I went through a mourning period because her poetry was present, alive, vicious and then it was gone. I read everything by Plath, and moved on rapidly to (Anne) Sexton, Ní Dhomhnaill, Boland, Mina Loy, and H.D. I educated myself in the UCD library and from there began a lifetime of searching for a quality of voice that I felt as 'absence'. I began to read translated works also including Nagy, Sachs, Tuominen, Lorca and others. When I left college I took that sound with me. I got my degree in Art History and English, although the only thing that interested me in English was Old and Middle English.

You state on your blog that current cultural discourses still leave out the influence of women poets in the canon. In what way, or ways, do you believe this situation could finally, permanently, change for the better?

CM: Firstly, we must acknowledge the absence of the early modernists, the Irish language poets and the experimentalists from the canon. This is incredibly difficult to do as it is embarrassing to note that most anthologies leave out these women poets of early modernism and their crucial dialogue within the development of the state. In many anthologies and companions to Irish Poetry, including the forthcoming 'Cambridge Companion to Irish Poetry,' (ed. Gerald Dawe) there is a desert from the foundation of the state until the 1970s'. The early modernists, the poet anarchists (like Dorothea Herbert) are absented from the canon. This is not unusual or confined to Ireland by any means. It concerns me that our current group of experimentalists and post-modernists have no heritage to speak of and that students are not studying or contextualising these women. We must acknowledge and respect their work. This is a work of necessary reclamation. In my case, it is a devotion. I want to see them celebrated and included in our narrative. I want to see their influence on contemporary women and how can that be achieved if they are ignored to the point of degradation?
 Platforms like Poethead and Billy Mill's 'Elliptical Movements' are doing the work of reclamation. We are providing spaces where the reader can find them. We are independent, unfunded and supported by our readers and correspondents’ enthusiasm. Poethead is predicated on searchability: the use of indices, tags, categories. It is incredibly busy. Acknowledgement for these poets should come through enhancing their visibility, through their inclusion in the cultural narrative through celebration, through anthology, through plaques and visual reminders like paintings or busts.
  I would like our colleges to have dedicated reading rooms or journals named for these women. It is not difficult to create curiosity, nor is it difficult to sustain it, but the will to do so must be present. Their cultural absence is appalling. We must acknowledge and celebrate them.

You also state that the emphasis on the book as a product reduces poetry to a 'narrow conservatism.' Do you think the internet has helped liberate the form from the confines of the covers, or drowned out new voices through its sheer size?

CM: Absolutely. When I began Poethead I had to cajole women to send me work - now it is booming. If we construct the platforms and spaces we increase interest. The irony of it is that I can compress the whole Poethead site in about 3 seconds, but it took me nine years to create it. The colleges are not doing enough to promote poetry and to create editors familiar with a wide range of forms. We need to bring on editors and writers with a wide literacy in form, in experiment, in translation and with tech knowledge. Ireland lags in terms of parity of esteem, the visibility of women and in bringing poetry out to a new readership.
New voices need to be confident and brave in their work. If we create the platforms for them, then they will be able to become visible in the field. We must trust the reader in this. The reader will find the poet. However, if we keep showing the reader the same ten poets, they will go off and read elsewhere. Time to update our thinking.

In your blog post 'A Woman & A Poet' you state, 'an editorial draw to nostalgia and poetic safety leaves us in the mire of mediocrity and canny self-dialogue' and that 'this cowardice extends into the media who rarely review poetry books and who generally like safe bets.' What is the cause of this mutual conservatism between poets and editors and how do you feel it might change?

CM: A lot of investment goes into single poets who enjoy editorial confidence, this creates two-tierism. Media will pick up on a funded poet or MFA student who has invested in getting published. Editors and poets expect a return on their investment, be it through bursaries, prizes or fees. The situation is absurd - poets come from everywhere. We are limited by small publishers who push their lists into the media and gain a platform for their poets. Because the poetry market is modest, very few poets get this type of push and they have to push themselves. If we increase the market through bringing in the avant-garde and through respecting our forebears, we increase the readership. The seduction of micro-management and PR may push a few poets into greater visibility but they carry a huge responsibility to the canon, which they may not be able to fulfill.
  Editors are market-oriented. They will back what sells and they will cut off and cut out the experimental, the translated, the new poet. Therefore, we need spaces and platforms for poets to become visible. Platforms are needed to get reader attention. This is why colleges and journals should be looking into creating spaces like Poethead for a new generation of writers. It irks me in the extreme that what I have been doing for nine years, providing a service, a space for poets, is distrusted or causes displeasure. I don't give a fig. I do it because I would have liked a space like Poethead when I was a young poet. I know, in many ways, how to develop the space from my own experiences as a poet and writer.

What would you say is the current Irish Government view of the Arts as a whole?

CM: The arts are marginalised. I feel that we need to draw officers and board members from the Arts community and not so much from the business-to-arts community, especially in literature. We need knowers and doers, not businessmen and women. We need people with a knowledge of the importance of Arts infrastructure, archives, and the nature of literature to make the literary space a less degraded space for the writer. It should not be a degraded activity to be a writer, to be susceptible to plagiarism because the work is not properly copyrighted, archived or respected unless one is a Heaney or a Tobin. Oh, please! Respect the poetry writer’s space in the canon and their devotion to the activity of writing.

Finally, what poetry-related projects, outside of Poethead, are you focusing on getting published?

CM: I just had two groups of poems published in anthologies in India and Ireland. I have submitted a book of experimental work in Ireland and England. It is hard to get it published because it is imagist and minimal and our editors are quite forty-line traditionalist in their conservatism, but I can hope.

Many thanks to Christine Murray for interrupting her busy schedule.


You can find out more about Poethead here: https://poethead.wordpress.com/


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  books.

 The Strange World Of Willie Seabrook by Marjorie Worthington, Spurl Editions

Who would name the explorer, occultist and cannibalism-experimenter William Buehler Seabrook, 'Willie' on the cover of their book? There is something amusingly, contrastingly, quaint about Marjorie Worthington's narrative voice; a gentle, upper middle-class, self-depracating tone and even martyring quality as she willingly follows in her husband's self-absorbed, sensation-seeking tread. Worthington is no doormat – far from it – but she indulges Seabrook's harboured whims as much a committed fan as a wife.
Marjorie Muir Worthington, born in New York in 1900, aspired to be an artist, attending various art schools during her early years. While still in high school she began selling poems to magazines. She then turned to journalism, which she studied at New York University School of Journalism.
  A memoir of Worthington's third husband, originally published in 1966 by Harcourt, Brace & World, this reissue is an account of their travel-filled time together; from their first meeting in Paris in the spring of 1926, to their divorce in 1941, up to Seabrook's suicide in 1945. It isn't made clear precisely how Worthington met Seabrook; only that she saw their first meeting as the inevitable climax of already having been smitten by the journey to Paris itself. 'I set sail on that April day because I had earned and saved up enough money to pay my passage on the De Grasse and wanted to see Paris – and also because I was completely, unreasonably, idiotically in love – and, as the song goes, my love was there!'
  Certainly, as a journalist, several ex-pats writers were already known to her, while Seabrook soon widened their circle. Stella Bowen, painter and ex-wife of Ford Maddox Ford - for whom Seabrook held a fractious, but committed regard – generously offered the new couple her long studio flat on the second floor of a warehouse beside the Toulon waterfront. '2 bis Quai du Parti. Toulon. Var. France. That was our address for seven years, more or less. The core of my life, really. The best and the worst years, and surely the most exciting.'   By now, Cape & Smith had published Spider Web (1930) – her first published novel.
In truth it was six years, after which she accompanied Seabrook back to Africa for him to gather first-hand research for his next book. Ultimately, whatever was procured was utilised in his next two, as encountered in these pages: Air Adventure (1933) and The White Monk of Timbuctoo (1934).
  Despite an affair there with Raymond Bauret, Worthington returned with Seabrook to France; however, his increasing reliance upon alcohol and bondage sessions with call-girls was turning the working journalist Worthington into his nurse. By 1933, the couple had moved back to the U.S., to New York, and – to his credit - Seabrook consigning himself to the Bloomingdale Asylum for the Insane for some six months. Still, a darker tone pervades the prose:

'The morning of Willie’s departure came at last. There was an early knock at the door, and when I opened it a tall, muscular young man entered. He was the bodyguard Willie had hired to travel with him and deliver him into the hands of whoever was to put him behind bars. I have often wondered whether Willie would have been ultimately better off if someone had recognized this seemingly desperate request to be locked up for what it was: the almost inevitable and predictable course for sadism to run – the point at which it becomes inverted and turns into masochism. Willie’s image, not only to the public but to his intimate friends, was one of strength and aggressiveness. No one heard the voice inside him crying out for help, real help. Not even those of us who loved him the most. He had bossed and bullied and beguiled and charmed us for so long that the image was fixed, and it would take more than even he knew how to convey to change it.' 
Ironically, despite his condition, the experience would produce what would become his own famous memoir; Asylum (1935). Meantime, Worthington sought solace maintaining a correspondence with Bauret; but she knew that 'whatever common sense I had, which was never very much, made me realize that both Bauret and I, in our different kinds of loneliness, had been reaching toward each other for comfort, but that Bauret was really in love with the desert, and I with Willie, and that therein lay our true destinies.' Here, in New York, the couple finally tied the knot.
  'We were physically drawn to each other, and yet I was totally unsympathetic to all the business of chains and leather masks and the rest of the fantasies that were so important to him... I knew I was on dangerous ground there, and now that the ground was crumbling under my feet I couldn’t do anything about it. I was no longer any help in that department of Willie’s life...' (p.180).

Seabrook appeared to believe he needed a constant companion, despite continuing to live as a self-indulgent loner. After he and Worthington divorced in 1941, Seabrook soon married again; to the artist Constance Kuhr, with whom he bore a son. Just four years later, he committed suicide. Worthington would spend the rest of her life in New York and Florida, writing and lecturing until her death from cancer in 1976.


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'Pan' will return in November. 'Pan Review of the Arts - No.5' in 2018.


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Buried Shadows by John Howard, Egaeus Press

After the authentic smell of coal-dust and the pulsing feel of blood shed pervading early Victorian Grand Guignol and penny dreadfuls in Egaeus Press's Murder Ballads, Howard returns us to his post-war European territory of metaphysical maps, submerged memories and echoes percolating from the past; topics at which he has established himself as something of a master.
  With this in mind, I do hope he might one day embark upon a novel. Over the past five years in particular, he has proven to his readership that he patently has the product knowledge to enlarge upon his well-researched secret histories. Several of his characterisations would thus benefit with the consequent fleshing-out; adding to the evidence that there is more to the uncanny than the long trodden tropes of horror. It is a pity that many of our generation appear so reluctant; so, for the rest of us, a loss.
  Buried Shadows features ten tales on one of Howard's pet themes; the objectification of city-scapes and their effect upon a protagonist's psyche. Five of the ten showcase Howard at his best. In 'To The Anhalt Station,' a Berlin train station, demolished post-war, has a submerged afterlife between what had been East and West Germany.
  In 'Mr. S and Dr. S,' a journalist arrives in Portugal to interview the country's military President; a man he is surprised to find seemingly enjoys a second life away from the stresses of his duties. But is this really the same man, an unwitting double or a pre-arranged imposter? Uncertain, the journalist knows he must tread very carefully. In 'Least Light, Most Night,' Mr. Bentley invites fellow office worker Mr. Thomas around to his home in a part of London unfamiliar to the latter. On arrival, Mr. Thomas finds the flat cold and in receipt of equally cold drinks and edibles. This coldness takes on a subtley sinister turn when a number of additional guests start to arrive. A successfully Aickmanesque entry.
  The title tale involves a brilliant vanished architect and the unspoken motive of one of his longtime admirers. More Ballard-ian in its clever melding of architectural and psycho-sexual envy. The final, and longest, tale, 'The Floor Of Heaven,' comprises stories-within-the story related to the mysterious fate of author, Stephen Vaughan, and his sole release, 'Lost And Changing London,' as seen through the eyes of the author himself and various obsessives; each intent upon the elusive, sought after edition of a street map that spawned the writing of the original book.
  Featuring illustrations based upon the drawings of the architect and theorist, Balthasar Holz; two of many quotes attributed to this little known figure being, 'each thing is growing and decaying at the same time, only at different rates' and 'a finished building is really unfinished; the first frame of a descent to destruction.' With the non-linear nature of the tales, so I belatedly discover Howard's primary points of departure.

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The Origins (Excerpt from Cemetery for the Living) by Lima Barrreto / Monsters by Alfred Jarry / Black Mirror by Leopoldo Lugones – Three chapbooks from Raphus Press, Sao Paulo

The greatest service this new independent imprint offers is in its desire to translate French, Spanish and Portugese authors into English. Introductory essays by Alcebiades Diniz Miguel, (Raphus founder and author of the novel, Lanterns Of The Old Night (Ex-Occidente, 2016)), link these releases of near-forgotten decadent and post-decadent era tales, long lost in literary periodicals and magazines. Released under the umbrella banner The Golden Age of Clairvoyance, the first have been rehabilitated in three well designed chapbooks, augmented by appropriately chosen classical art from public domain.
  'The Origins,' described as an 'excerpt from an unfinished novel,' is a glimpse into a man's reflecting upon the possible source of his self-loathing. Inevitably, we want more, to see where such brooding leads. Alfred Jarry, the one author I know here, based upon his cult status in inde circles, presents a short, descriptive rumination on "for the most part Indian and Indo-Chinese" iconic imagery in woodcut, also reproduced here. 'Black Mirror,' my favourite of the three, is a fully-fledged short tale.  An uncanny electrical charge is claimed to reflect those foremost in the mind while manifesting parallel emotions in colour on a perfectly flattened disc of coal. Inevitably, it becomes a warning to the curious, but, in Lugones pre-empting later Blackwood, draws me into wanting more.
  The initial print-run of all three is, of course, low, so any interested readers should make a quick decision; because I do hope Raphus continue on their path of intriguing little translations of the recovered uncanny and esoteric.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Pan Review of the Arts - No.3

  music. 
STEPHEN EMMER describes himself as an 'independent composer/arranger hailing from Amsterdam.' His distinctive musical resume goes back to the Seventies, while he has worked with other great production wizards such as Tony Visconti, Trevor Horn, Martin Hannett and Nigel Gray. Having produced the collaborative, filmic, European soundtrack International Blue in 2014, he is now back with another collaborative effort, the more soul-inspired Home Ground, featuring the vocal talents of Chaka Khan, Patti Austin, Andy Bey, the late Leon Ware, vocal poet Ursula Rucker and others.
How would you describe both the ethos and genre of music encapsulated in the new album?
SE: Well, lets start with the genre if I may. To me it seemed, a few years ago, that another type of music slipped off the mainstream radar and that was ‘orchestral soul music with lyrics of social awareness.' Like there was in, say, the Seventies, with albums such as 'What's Going On' by Marvin Gaye and many more in his slipstream such as Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, Gill Scott Heron and so on. I suddenly felt there was something right in that genre, as the psychology behind it was to tell a realistic story about society yet encapsulate that in soothing music instead of having an urgent message accompanied by aggressive music; to make a fist, but wrap that up in a velvet glove. Given the time we live in right now, I thought that to be a good method of communication to a) avoid preaching to the converted and b) the relevance of commenting on society is maybe even bigger today then it was back then.
Musically, I also felt like experimenting with the musical adventures of that era and create generic, new, orchestral soul music that doesn't borrow the past, so to speak, by taking samples of older work, but actually only take the best characteristics of that musical school of thought and build your own music on that from the ground up. Yet, avoiding the predictable trappings of creating mere nostalgia, which I definitely didn't want to do, so we also really looked, with the lyrics about today's issues, to incorporate modern sounds and productional approaches and developments in the mix and really try and create something that wasn't a pure retro exercise. I guess this also kind of answers what the ethos is of the album: it's about humanity; where is your home? In your house? Your village? Your country? Or, is it in your heart, your family or your own mind? i.e. where and what is your Home Ground? At this moment, 650 million people are nomadic, so the issue means so many different things to so many different people… So, I think this is the biggest issue, next to – and related also - to the ecological issue on Earth. As Nina Simone once said; how can you not write about this as an artist?
How did the linkage and support of 'War Child' come about?
SE: I liked the idea of another organisation from Holland that operates internationally, like myself, to be involved. We have the same mindset, but, more importantly, I think in the most sincere way possible that the childeren are the most victimised of victims worldwide, thanks to war, other conflicts and famine. So, they need extra care in my opinion and if we, through this project, can make a little bit of a difference, that would be great as music-making shouldn't be seen as a corporate venture in the first place. It's about artistry first, humanity second and economically last.
Your previous collaborative album was only in 2014 with 'International Blue'; a tribute to the pop crooners and the big productions that inspired you; from Scott Walker to Burt Bacharach to Billy Mackenzie, whom you worked with in the early Eighties. Do you therefore prefer to manifest your own vision for an album, or are you equally open to artists approaching you for arrangement or production, without recommendation?

SE: I would favour both. They can exist next to each other, so whoever is out there with a good concept or idea, give me a call! in fact, I did work on an album a few years ago by the Lotus Eaters from the UK (in 2009) and arranged the whole of that album on my own for them by adding all kinds of instruments to their bare vocal and guitar compositions. Unfortunately, it got shelved indefinitely but as Michael Dempsey ( also a Lotus Eater and ex-Associates and Cure member) said of it: it is probably their best album, so its a shame its not out there yet.
Rather than specialise from early on, or be known as one kind of artist, your involvement in music over the years has been incredibly broad; encompassing radio show production and founding and editing a music magazine. ('Vinyl'). You are like a one-man WOMAD. Why do you think this has been the case?
SE: Ha! Thanks. Yes, I did very, very different things over the years; electro-noise with The Minny Pops, tv news theme music with an orchestra, free jazz trio gigs, pop, film music, sound design for museums, had three of my own radio shows, and so on. I dont know why. I suppose I get bored easily of the monotony of things. I have a mind that apparently races all the time. I love doing many things, very busily, as I am a bit of a zombie in my free time when I need to relax. I never had a hobby or something, so its music, music, music, all the time and even that can bore you. On the other hand, this muse is now my longest serving partner in life.
The possibilities of the film soundtrack – real and imagined - has clearly been a large part of your musical life. Since the late Nineties, more ambient soundscapes (breaking away from the simple three-four minute song structure), such as Trance, by once dance-orientated artists and producers, have also made their mark in various media. What is your view of this branch of music?

SE: I think post-modernity in music has only really started and I love it. We need the excitement of developing new art, new music and, if now appears to be a transformational period in music history in the years to come, I'm all for it. I'm against creating more of the same without adding something new to it yourself.

Is the internet also broadening music fans tastes, geographically, or do you find most still quite 'old skool' and nationalistic in their allegiances?
SE: I do actually like today where unknown archives are being opened up to new audiences and generations and I therefore am not really nostalgic about the past, where these archives were always a little mysterious or, as I think, simply went unnoticed. So, yes, it is very good for music. As my colleague Tony Visconti said: back in the day, when some artist was a worldwide star, in actual numbers it only scratched the surface by lack of digital distribution. However, what's going on with the low payments from ISPs and streaming platforms and the big data movement is bound to be misued by the more corporate-driven parties and these have become even more invisible than in the past. Frank Zappa, a visionairy man, said: the old guys in the record industry smoking their cigars at least admitted they didn't know about music, whereas the modern music industry folks pretend they do, based on f.e. big data, and thats even worse.
Will 'Home Ground' have a life live on stage, or will getting the disparate artists together be too much of an ask?
SE: A collaborative project usually is a logistical nightmare. Everybody involved has their own agenda and schedules. I'd hope for it to happen once or twice with the full line-up, but more realistic is to say that we will do a few performances here and there with some of the album's line-up. I'm working on that right now. In fact, I'll be doing a mini performance in New York with Ursula Rucker next week and in Amsterdam with Mary Griffin in mid-July.

Many thanks to Stephen for sparing his time during a rush of publicity.
http://stephenemmer.com
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multi-media.
Cumbria-based RUSSELL MILLS describes himself as a 'multimedia artist (who) has exhibited internationally and created numerous site-specific, immersive installations in the UK and abroad.' He is also known for his award-winning album covers for the likes of Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Peter Gabriel, David Sylvian and Japan, Toru Takemitsu, Michael Nyman, Harold Budd and others; and influential book covers for Samuel Beckett, Ian McEwan, Milan Kundera, Graham Swift and Peter Ackroyd. I'd previously interviewed Mills at a London pub in 1996, during which he had mounted the installation, Measured In Shadows, with his then creative partner, Ian Walton. In our current exchange, he refers to his ongoing Still Moves project; an ongoing labour of love since 1994. We open on his most recent activity; curating an exhibition of locally excavated historical photographs.

Were you given a specific brief for the art and design of the Brunskill Collection exhibition, or a completely free hand as to how to contribute?

RM: My partner, Deborah Walsh, is the curator of the Armitt Museum and Library here in Ambleside. We’ve worked closely together researching for and co-curating several exhibitions since 2010, including 'Forward To Far: Telescoping Time: From Schwitters to Now' (2010), 'Bohemians In Exile: The Royal College of Art in Ambleside 1940-45' (2011), and 'Sublime Transactions: Contemporary Responses to the Armitt Collection' (2013).
  We began discussing and researching ideas for the exhibition 'Still Lives: Photographs from the Brunskill Collection at the Armitt' several years ago. Based on the theme of the exhibition, any particular focus that it requires, and the material itself, (in this instance a remarkable collection of over 17,800 plate glass negatives), we collaborated on devising possible directions for the overall design. Alongside these discussions, I explored ideas for the look and feel of the specific print elements that would be conceptually appropriate and visually coherent. As with the other exhibitions and publications for the Armitt, working with my design assistant, Michael Webster, I undertook all art and design, including catalogues, posters, flyers, and the exhibition itself.

What was the thinking behind the 'Still Moves' CD / book packages and where are you now with the latest in the series?

RM: I’ve been creating site-specific, process-driven and conceptually anchored multimedia installations since 1994, with each having a multi-channel aleatoric soundwork as a central element. All of the soundworks for these installations used sounds that have a significance specific to place and the ideas that each place has triggered. Each sound work comprises an amalgamation of disparate, yet spatially and conceptually connected, sonic elements. Reflective of place and history, and analogous to the ceaseless flux of nature’s generative processes, the pieces use electro-acoustic and hybrid instruments, non-musical objects such as stones, gravel, ice, breathing, found sounds, urban and rural field recordings and occasionally archive audio samples.
  Some years ago, an old London-based friend and admirer of both my visual and sonic work, Clive Maidment, who is also an ardent follower of experimental and electronic music, suggested that the soundworks made for these installations should be released as a series of limited edition CDs. He very generously offered to financially back the project and soon set up a label, Slow Fuse Sound. We then secured a publishing agreement with Touch. Via email and the occasional meeting, either in London or here in Ambleside, we spent about six months exchanging ideas as to how we might achieve this series, what we wanted it to be and what might be the best format to use.
  The A5 40 page, full colour, hardback book format seemed the most appropriate and achievable format; also it’s a pleasant size to hold. The books and the CDs they carry are designed primarily to chart and document the installations. We wanted them to be beautiful, but understated, simple and elegant, with no gratuitous indulgences, no excess. The final page count was partly determined by the requirements of both the texts and imagery for each and every installation, with some books covering five installations and others only one or two. Necessarily, the editing of both text and imagery has been rigorous.  The first two books of 'Still Moves' have been produced... 'Still Moves 3', the third in the series, is currently in production. It documents the installations 'Static' (2001), which was devised, but unfortunately not realised, for North Tyneside in 2002, and 'Hold' (2005) a collaborative work made with Petulia Mattioli for the Palazzo delle Papesse Centre for Contemporary Art in Siena in 2005. It will carry two CDs of the extended mixes of the installation soundworks, which have been mastered by Mike Fearon.    The soundwork for the installation 'Static' features award-winning poet Robin Robertson reading his specially written poem 'Sea Fret,' the full text of which is also printed in the book. The soundwork for 'Hold' was created by Mills and Fearon with Eraldo Bernocchi with contributions from Bill Laswell, Harold Budd, Gigi and Lorenzo Esposito.

When I first interviewed you in, I think, 1996, artists' were still discovering the possibilities – and drawbacks – of utilising computer technology. To what degree do you think it has helped, or hindered, the way you've worked since then?

RM: On the whole, computer technology has been a great boon to my work, both visual and audio. I’ve always considered the computer to be just another useful tool to add to traditional media such as paint or a hammer. The only things that limit creativity is a lack of imagination, a reluctance to accept change and a failure to experiment. As one of my heroes Samuel Beckett wrote, “Dare to fail. Dare to fail better.” 
  With design commissions I still prefer to first make work by hand using a diverse mix of materials and processes, including plaster, earth, ashes, coal and rust dust, blood, fabrics, soap, hair, found objects, and chemicals, amongst many others, as well as more traditional paints. Given that most of my works are textural, photographing them successfully is notoriously difficult, and crucially important. Once photographed they are then brought into the computer where they may be variously combined and manipulated using whatever creative editing programmes I think might enable me to experiment further. Whether working with my hands or through the computer, I’m continually experimenting, all the while being conscious of the commission, of its conceptual needs, and importantly, of the essence I’m trying to convey to complement the design brief, be it for a book. an album, a poster, an exhibition, an installation, recording music, or self-generated works. 
  Working with computers on design commissions allows one to try out numerous ideas in the near-certainty that nothing will be lost or destroyed; one can always go back, undertake changes, make and save endless variations. Such flexibility and security was not always possible pre-computers. The much reduced size and increased power capabilities of contemporary computers allow easy mobility and also enable one to work quickly, near-intuitively. And rather than having to arrange for the delivery of a physical artwork via a courier or in person, and live with the fear that the work might get damaged or lost in transit, the computer allows finished designs to be delivered through the ether almost instantaneously. 
  I was taught typography and learnt how to set type by hand when at art school, so I understand its rules, its nuances and its possibilities. Pre-computers, working with typography and typesetting was a bit of a nightmare. Laying out and marking up typesetting instructions required specialist knowledge and a feeling for the spatial possibilities and constraints that typography, when used carefully and thoughtfully, could bring to a design. Second-guessing and hoping that one had made the right decisions and choices of font sizes, weights, line lengths, leading, etc., was nerve-wracking, and occasionally one made the wrong choices. With computers this uncertainty has been removed: there should be no excuse for errors or bad design. However, too often I see a plethora of clumsy, atrocious typography made by people using computers who have no real understanding of the underlying principles of typography and no genuine feeling for type and design. Lazy reliance on digitally prescribed pre-sets leads to shoddy results. On the one hand the computer’s creative editing tools have democratised design, allowing anyone to be a designer or a musician; on the other, its ubiquity and relative ease of use has also encouraged and enabled a great deal of lazy, appallingly crafted and conceptually thin work to get out into the world.
  Before computers, if one wanted to record and manipulate sound, one had to hire an expensive studio, travel to and from it, and be subject to numerous logistical constraints that made it nigh on impossible for anyone, apart from those with access to excess dosh, to work on and produce recorded music. Working with sound, the computer is invaluable. As with my visual work, I generally begin with ideas and research, which lead to a cat’s cradle of associations. These allow me to then proceed to experimenting with the handmade, the electro-acoustic, found or made sound, then onto to the digital of the onboard studio (Logic, Reaper, et al) and assorted technological hardware wizardry. I’m not technically savvy - I think in and imagine sound/music in images - however I’m extremely lucky to work with people who are technically adept and quick to interpret my sometimes baffling ideas and vague directions. I work with Michael Webster on design commissions, and on sound projects I work with Mike Fearon, a brilliant guitarist, multi instrumentalist and sound engineer: he’s worked with me on sound for all of the multimedia installations since 1994, and in my 'Undark' collage recording project. Both, thankfully, like my work and somehow manage to accommodate my experimental approach: they seem attuned to the unpredictable and the felt. Having worked together for so long we rarely need to talk much about what we’re doing; our working relationships have become near-intuitive.  

At the time, you were involved with the 'Measured In Shadows' installation with your then creative partner, Ian Walton. Has the assemblage of all the disparate elements required to set-up an installation become easier to bring together over the last twenty years, or do you face exactly the same obstacles?

RM: Researching and conceptualising an installation, and pulling usually disparate ideas together in a coherent form, is still as challenging as ever. However the technical side of mounting an installation has become far easier, primarily due to the rapid advances in technology in recent years. The kind of technology that I need to use in installations, say, for generative lighting and aleatoric soundworks, has become far cheaper, smaller, more efficient, more reliable and with greater power, thereby enabling both greater mobility and variability.

Which reminds me; is your imagery being ripped off even more now than back then, or have you since found a way to copyright-protect your work?

RM: I’m not particularly aware of being ripped off to any significant degree recently, but as I don’t trawl the art or media landscape, I may well be missing any plagiarism that’s occurring. When I do occasionally come across work that seemingly seeks to emulate my work, it doesn’t overly worry me as most of it seems to be very self-conscious, more concerned with surface and style: pretty perhaps, but, to me, completely lacking resonance and historical or cultural heft. Without meaning or metaphor, I find it is rarely worthy of attention. I have no idea as to how I might copyright protect my work. I would’ve thought that having proof of its existence, documented and dated, should be enough protection. However there have been occasions where a piece of my work has been used without permission and I’ve contacted the offender and requested that they desist from using it. There have been a few occasions where I’ve been obliged to threaten legal action.

By reinterpreting a text through sound and / or image, or when you have re-presented a found object in a personal context, what do you hope to inspire in an objective observer?

RM: My work uses and is about collage, not just in the creation of art that juxtaposes disparate elements in new contexts, but as a construct, a governing idea. Some years ago I realised that even though I’ve produced a lot of work, in diverse media for numerous genres, there is a constant thread that weaves through all I’ve done and continue to do. Contingency: actions borne out of an reaction and reactions borne out of an action. I’ve always believed that life is a ceaselessly and seamlessly changing collage of dislocated experiences. In our daily lives we overhear snatches of conversations and clips of music, catch signs and headlines, meet people, exchange information and gossip, glimpse fleeting vignettes of human activity, all the while absorbing facts, ideas and sensations. The media world and politics, both shaped by advertising’s fabricated fictions, bombard us with mediated ‘truths’, pre-empting any original responses to experience. These experiences - our ‘reality’ - when recalled, do not unfold objectively or coherently, but as a series of meandering, disparate and jumbled memories, filtered, by jolts and twists, through association and deviation, to produce a montage of fragments, a collage of our consciousness.
  I enjoy complexity and ambiguity. My thinking proceeds through a cat’s cradle of associations through which I seek to find correspondences between numerous seemingly unrelated ideas, inspirations and facts, to reach a coherent, if allusive, conclusion. The works normally evolve through a symbiotic exchange between contextually anchored ideas and physical processes, each, by degrees, influencing the other. How others read, interpret or receive my work is beyond my control. Essentially I hope that an observer or viewer, or listener of my work, will bring their own experiences and thoughts to the work, and thereby interpret it in their own way. I don’t work in a way that is designed to trigger emotional responses (the emotional responses in a work are mine and are genuinely felt, but I wouldn’t want to cynically manipulate people’s emotions). However, I do hope that some people might ‘get it’ and might be moved emotionally, but more importantly I hope that people might ask questions in response to their reading or reception of the work, be it visual or sonic.

What do you think you get out of the art you create that keeps you going? 

RM: What I do is not a job, nor is it a vocation.  It’s what I do. I can probably do nothing else (although I occasionally toy with ideas of opening a bookshop or an esoteric junk shop, or a combination of both). What I do is a condition. Being an artist (or what I’d call a self-unemployed artist) is not easy. By choice I work with ideas and outcomes that are possibly obscure and perhaps ludicrous to many. I live a very unstructured life, without regulations or timetables, and, unless I’m working on a commission, with no deadlines or obligations to others. I don’t have an agent or a manager. I'm not contracted to a gallery. I have no assistants or a team of glib PR spinners and nor do I actively promote my work. Consequently, it’s also a financially precarious activity. To many I’d be considered to be a dilettante, a dabbler in too many things, lacking in ambition, unprofessional and quite possibly utterly useless. Despite all this I think that my quality of life is bloody wonderful, However in order to live and work with the freedom that I have, to investigate and explore any ideas I want, requires me to be fairly tough on myself and pretty selfish with my time.
  I’ve always been fascinated by how things connect and interact, how disparate things and ideas can converge and commingle to create new ideas and new things. Fuelling this fascination requires research - plenty of it - reading, writing and thinking. I really enjoy the research as an activity and for the treasury of ideas that it reveals, which enables me to work in the way I do. I’ve done this all my life so I’m pretty adept at focusing on what I need to do, no matter what else may be impinging on my life. Like everyone else I have to pay the bills and put food on the table, but I genuinely don’t give a toss about money.
  This probably doesn’t really answer your question? All I can say is that I think I’m extremely lucky in that I love what I do and I do what I love. I believe I've made the right decisions and choices, ethically and morally, and thus far my creative compass has served me well: I’ve survived and enjoy my life immensely.

Big thanks to Russell for his time and committed responses.


The first two books of Still Moves - in the projected series of six - have been produced and are now available to purchase from: www.slowfusesound.bandcamp.com

It is hoped that Still Moves 3 will be available from slowfusesound.bandcamp.com in
July/August 2017.


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books.

The House Of Silence by Avalon Brantley, Zagava Press

In The House Of Silence esoteric publisher Zagava have released their first commercial novel; a surprise move, and a genre novel at that. Of the author, I had only just begun to discover Brantley; through her essays in Wormwood and her short tales for Egaeus Press. (Most recently, 'Window Widows' in A Midwinter's Entertainment (2016) and 'Twa Sisters, Ane Swan' in Murder Ballads (2017)). A brief surf also revealed a play, Aronos (Ex-Occidente, 2013) 'set in Greece during the Archaic Period.' The historical voice in these texts are uniquely hers, and I'd yet to satisfactorily define it to myself when I was sent her latest – a novel - for review.
  A presumably fictitious foreword by Brantley herself leads into her relating the contents of a surviving journal and letters from a deceased relative that make up the account of the tale that unfolds. What begins, seemingly innocently, as a search for the protagonist's childhood pet dog, deepens into a nightmare when it leads to a burial mound that also appears an exit portal for some horrifically primal underworld. In truth, this is a memory 'mistaken for a dream' that acts as a portent to gradually disturbing events, seemingly proscribed by fate.
  Bachelor Ashley Acheson receives a last minute invitation, from his brother, to their late father's funeral and a memorial dinner with their engaging but strange host family. The plot is in Kraighten, Ireland, an area of the country Acheson had assumed his father never cared for. It turns out to be upon a hill, now waterlogged, where local history had long ago claimed a supernatural source. Deja-vu at the site had already encroached upon Acheson's waking life and disconnected glimpses of dread draw him further into a web of victimhood. All the while, he is haunted by an unconsumated lost love from boyhood, in a manner that compels his journey and loosens his hold on sanity.
  If this sounds all very familiar, the novel's dedication 'for William Hope Hodgson' and allusions to his The House On The Borderland and occult bible The Night Land are not disguised. Yet, there is a freshness from the sense of present-tense imperative that transcends any tired derivation. Intimations of The Wicker Man are also evoked in the echoes of folk memory and its manifestation into folk horror in the siege-based climax. These race-memory anecdotes are absorbing and detailed without being anally so, pedantic, or overtly slowing the pace. Then there is the Brian Blessed-like head host of the house; the charismatic, ebullient O' Brien. An intriguing character, at once hail fellow well met and controlling.
  The sadness in Brantley's promising debut is in it likely being her sole novel, since she passed away in March at the Byronic age of 36. (Although Jonas Ploeger – her publisher – has since hinted at other writings left behind). The usual, unanswerable questions regarding 'unfulfilled potential' apply; particularly where the likelihood of a future publishing contract from one of the big publishing houses is concerned. The House Of Silence leaves a forlorn, but resounding, echo in the affirmative.