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

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.
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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:

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

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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.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Pan Review of the Arts - No.2

Editorial: Welcome to the second issue of 'Pan Review of the Arts.' Here, Tracy Tynan talks about her famous parents and the key role clothes played in their and, subsequently, her life.  In review, a 'prose poem' collection of past dreams reflects the waking life of its author, while Stephen J. Clark brings us a new prose poem, augmented by his very own art. Finally, Lidwine De Royer Dupre talks of the role the harmonium and harp play in her singular musical journey. Enjoy...


TRACY TYNAN had been silent, in print, for many years on the subject of her parents; the great drama critic Kenneth Tynan and the novelist and biographer Elaine Dundy, to whom she was their only child. Her new memoir, Wear and Tear – The Threads of My Life (Duckworth (UK) / Simon & Schuster (US)), definitively reveals why. Subsequently a costume designer for both Hollywood and independent cinema - on films such as 'Breathless,' 'The Big Easy' and 'Great Balls Of Fire!' - the book relates how Tracy's eye has long been strong on colour and broad in style and how clothes got her through the worst of familial times. Her tone, throughout, is admirably self-deprecating, especially through the early years of almost cavalier abandonment. Today, she lives in Los Angeles.

I never realised I cared that much about clothes - until I read your book. Then I recalled the silver silk and dark pink cotton shirts I once owned in the Eighties for evening wear, and the two-tone Mod shoes in the Nineties, and how I wanted to achieve a certain look --- and give a certain impression about myself. Have you found your book to have triggered similar, unexpected recollections in readers’ elsewhere?

TT: Yes, because everyone — except nudists! — wears clothing. Everyone has an association with clothing, a favorite item, a good luck item or the reverse. A bad experience wearing something can taint that piece of clothing forever.

Your child's-eye view on your parents' fighting is your memoir's darker underbelly. It's not uncommon for children of a dysfunctional relationship to experience self-destructive behaviour later in their own lives. How do you think you managed to avoid becoming another victim of such dysfunction?

TT: I think going to boarding school at the age of 10 saved my life. It removed me from a toxic situation and put me into a bucolic, supportive place. Also, I think I was just lucky not to inherit the addiction gene. Although I have dabbled with drugs and alcohol, my tolerance is pretty low, so engaging in long-term behavior was not physically possible. And then there was therapy. I have had years of therapy, which was very helpful, which led to me attending an offshoot of AA - Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). In those meetings I discovered other people who had experienced similar things to me, and actually much worse, and I was able to share and process my experiences.

Have you found your book's personal revelations to have helped friends, or more remote readers, approach and confide in you about their own childhood and parental relationships?

TT: Yes, a few people have written to me and told that they identified with my sense of isolation and fear. Of being around unpredictable adults and having to become an adult before one’s time.

I realise your father wasn't at home very much but, later in life, did he ever relate to you his awareness of your mother's addictions and behaviour? For example, via greater empathy or sympathy towards you?

TT: I am not sure he really comprehended the extent of her mental illness, as he was not around to witness it. I think he understood that it was not a good situation but did not know what to do about it.

You write admiringly of your father's writing. What do you think of your mother's published work? (i.e. The novels, biographies, and autobiography).

TT: I think she was a terrific writer. Her first novel, 'The Dud Avocado,' remains a classic coming of age story. And her second novel 'The Old Man and Me' is very dark and funny. A fictionalized account of her friendship with Cyril Connolly. Both have been optioned to be made into films. I hope that comes to pass. Her non-fiction work was very deeply researched and her book ‘Elvis and Gladys’ is very respected by many Elvis scholars.

Your last line in the book states; '...I hope, as I grow older, that I shall continue to be curious and discover new stories to tell.' So, does this mean the experience of writing 'Wear and Tear' has fired you into writing more in future? For example, a biography, short stories or a novel?

TT: I would like to continue writing, but I am not sure what form it will take. I have enjoyed writing scripts in the past, and I like collaboration, but the odds of getting a script made are practically zero. Writing scripts taught me a lot about structure and dialogue. I am usually inspired by a real-life situation and use that as a jumping-off point. Also, I am very visual and have worked on various art projects and I would like to try working in that area for a while. A few years ago I collaborated on an art installation based on real suicide notes. I might try to turn that into a book. (I know, not the most upbeat subject, but some of the notes were actually funny).

What kind of writing do you most admire – why? - and who are you reading at the moment?

TT: I have very eclectic tastes. I read a lot of memoirs. Michael Arlen’s 'Exiles,' the classic, original memoir about dysfunctional, talented parents. Artist Anne Truit's memoir trilogy, 'Prospect,' 'Daybook' & 'Turn,' about the struggles of being an artist and a single mother. Anything by Kate Atkinson. Roz Chast’s amazing and witty graphic memoir 'Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant.' It should be required reading for baby-boomers with aging parents! The moving memoir, 'The Light of The World,' by the poet Elizabeth Alexander, about the sudden and unexpected death of her husband, which also has a few delicious recipes as her husband was a chef. And since Trump became President, I have been reading a lot of PG Wodehouse, which I find is the perfect antidote to Trump’s insanity! Plus, the complete Wodehouse has been re-issued by my British publisher, Duckworth, and they have very kindly offered to give me a steady supply of the venerable wit.

I'd like to thank Tracy for her time and hope she writes more for publication in the future.

Nights As Day, Days As Night by Michel Leiris, Spurl Editions, (Translated by Richard Sieburth)

A dream journal is not an easy tome to critique; mainly because it isn't clear what you are being asked to judge. What are the parameters, either side of the line between 'good' and 'bad,' 'success' and 'failure'? What have you to compare it to? Other dream journals that are a genre all their own? (If a genre at all). There is, of course, the psychological approach that wedges a foot in the door of biography. Here, instinct is perhaps a more reliable guage for the critic than primary academic research into the whole contrary life. So to Michel Leiris (1901-90), whose life to me was – thankfully in this case – something of a blank page.
  A stylish, cosmospolitan figure, Parisien-born Leiris was an art critic, poet and anthropologist, also described as 'a pioneer in modern confessional literature' who'd modelled for Francis Bacon; an almost uniquely French combo of specialisms, rarely repeated either side of the Atlantic. Initially associated with the Twenties Surrealists, Leiris subsequently slipped from view, in precarious mental health, reappearing – to the public – at the end of the Thirties with a form of psychological autobiography covering the missing years. At this point, he'd just spent four years as Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris; a role he'd remain in for the next thirty-one years.
  Nights As Day, Days As Night is an occasional but consistently kept series of dream diary entries of varying length. Some are only a couple lines, some take up to five pages; most written the morning after the night before; others written from daydream or daytime ruminations that somehow clung to justify inclusion. (Hence the title). In his Translator's Note, Richard Sieburth states that Leiris's dream journal entries are 'best approached as prose poems, their skewed rhythms observing the cadences of dream...' since Leiris himself classified them amongst his poetry. 
 Kept between 1923 and 1960, each are beautifully rendered, considering the inevitable incompleteness and lack of linear logic. Named friends and colleagues feature, some with mystery spouses, such as 'Z' - a companion of Leiris's own. (Whether or not he/she is the same one throughout is equally uncertain). Places he's worked in and women he's desired rub shoulders with impossible perspectives, imminent Establishment takeovers and threats of execution seemingly based upon his leftist resistance activities in the waking world.

It seems likely its initiation influenced his third release, the surrealist novel Aurora (1927).

'What I like about this work,' he once wrote of it, 'is the appetite it expresses for an unattainable purity, the faith it places in the untamed imagination, the horror it manifests with regard to any kind of fixity - in fact, the way almost every page of it refuses to accept that human condition in the face of which there are some who will never cease resistance, however reasonably society might one day be ordered.'

  This 'untamed imagination' and 'lack of fixity' are surely a writer's key pleasures encountered in any dream journal. To one also defiant of Establishment norms, his 'refusal to accept (the) human condition' suggests Nights As Day was, if only unwittingly, the template. Finally published in 1961 as Nuits sans nuit et quelques jours sans jour, this new reissue includes a 1971 'foreword' by Maurice Blanchot; another long-living novelist and essayist with a profile even lower and for longer than that of Leiris. As glimpses into the psyche of a polymath, Nights As Day succeeds as the kind of book that makes you want to seek out, and make sense of, the likely source of his desires.

                                                     (On Drawing)

                                                   Stephen J. Clark

Perhaps we can no more dispense with myth than we can with words. In dreams we are carried in the currents of myth. Mythic forms persist as binding and constitutive elements within language and culture; through the imagination they can be invoked or awakened from their latency within memory, within the unconscious.

A key desire in my art is exploring where an image will take me; how it will unexpectedly evolve, leading me on the secret pathways of untold stories. As unforeseen associations and recurring symbols are revealed with each drawing, I find myself obsessively unearthing and piecing together a mythology that curiously knows how to speak intimately to me, and like an imaginary childhood friend takes the shape of my fears, my wishes and my memories. A prevailing assumption envisages human experience in Cartesian terms, wrongly de-limiting the unconscious as if it is sectioned from the conscious mind, the body and the world, reducing the unconscious to an estranged shadow within. Yet the unconscious is not only a repository, is not only something that contains, conceals or confines but can be responsive, becoming a way of reaching outwards to grasp, unveil and enchant the world we experience. In a sense the unconscious surrounds us, waiting in the world’s forms and in our encounters with others.

For me, drawing has become a process of revelation that is essentially to do with memory and the unconscious mind; my interest in drawing began in childhood with a love of comics and a fascination with monsters and mythology. As a child I recall chancing upon visionary and apocalyptic paintings by Bosch and Brueghel in an encyclopedia with the sensation of having crossed a line, trespassing on forbidden territory. Perhaps in childhood play there was the kernel of revelation I was to nurture later, in the poetry of the image.

The poetic image is a threshold where unexpected forms appear like messengers, leaving us speechless. This experience of seeing is often one of being silenced. In the gaze that ruptures speech signs take shape before us as seductive apparitions, curious interlopers or unwelcome guests. There is a dialogue, a dialectic communion, an exchange of glances between the visible and the invisible, between the present and the absent, the conscious and the unconscious. When we experience, we imagine.

Somewhere between reflection and chance the image emerges. A face is slowly coaxed to surface from the patterns of an ink wash. The image is a mirror; we find ourselves changed in its flickering contours. The act of drawing is a form of gnosis, of self-knowledge, of scrying into patterns, peering into hidden facets, a kind of meditative dream while awake. In drawing I’m lured into the image’s circle of influence, witnessing and participating in its transformations.

Affinities with alchemical and magical ideas and images have inspired and informed my understanding and process. In these drawings as in dreams mythic forms emerge through memory and as we remember we in turn cross thresholds, we take on different forms, wear other masks. On the other side we glimpse monstrous lives, encounter spectral doubles, phantoms of resemblance roaming lost margins steeped in fog or shadow. The personae and encounters in these pictures act out dramas on the stage of an inner theatre, a microcosm of the page where Faust enters to converse with his shadows. So the image becomes a hermetic riddle and the act of drawing a method of unraveling its many threads; a visual poem, a disturbance in habitual thinking where time is transmuted and the image stirs into life. 
                   All images are copyright: Stephen J. Clark (2013, 2014, 2015)

His collection of strange stories - 'The Satyr & Other Tales' - is available here:

See more of Stephen's art and writings at his official website:

LIDWINE was a name I initially discovered as a dustjacket credit, whose flawless photogenic features graced the monochrome cover of 'Ghosts'; a book of uncanny short stories by publisher Ray Russell (Tartarus Press, 2012) and reviewed in these pages on its release. A brief, subsequent surf revealed the subject – Lidwine de Royer Dupre - to be a musician of quite unique character; a harpist and harmonium player with a Bjork-like voice whose fluid musical genre reflects both the churches and chapels she performs in and the strikingly strange, cutting edge videos she produces. With a debut album behind her, ('Before Our Lips Are Cold' (Taktic Music, 2014)), and a new release imminent, it felt time to catch up, on what is one of her – so far – few interviews in English.

What can you tell me about your new album?

L: 'Alive' will feature ten tracks from my previous EPs' and album, but in new versions. My husband, who is also my drummer/percussionist, and I moved from Paris to Normandy end of 2015. At the time, I was performing with him tracks from my first album, in versions very close to the recorded ones; that is to say blending acoustic instruments and electronics. But, once we moved to the countryside, this way of presenting my work on stage did not seem relevant anymore. I guess having left behind the noise of the big city and finding ourselves in a very quiet environment surrounded by nature, we both felt the old versions were not in resonance with where we were and what we had become. So we unplugged everything and decided to rework the songs and make them totally acoustic.
  During summer 2016, we toured with this new set-up playing mostly unplugged concerts in churches and chapels in Normandy and Brittany. It’s been a great experience for many reasons; among them, the pleasure of singing and playing without electric amplification, using the natural acoustic of each place, the proximity of the audience and the sense of intimacy allowed by these kind of gigs, and the absence of technical problems related to electric amplification and the use of microphones… We wanted to document this, so we went to Mikrokosm Studios in Lyon last February and asked Benoit Bel, who I had been working with on my two previous recordings, to record us live in his studio. The tracks are currently being mixed by him. Meanwhile my husband and I are working on the artwork and packaging. We will release five-hundred CDs' in silk screen printed and numbered packaging. No exact release date for now, but it will happen sometime this spring.

Where were you born and raised?

L: I was born in Le Mans, west of France, and raised in the countryside of this region until the age of 10. My father was then asked to move to Chantilly (50 km north of Paris) for professional reasons (he is a racehorse trainer) and I spent my teenage years there and then moved to Paris to study at University.

What influenced you into taking up the harp and harmonium as your instruments of choice?

L: I found my first harmonium (an Indian harmonium) in an Indian shop in Paris. Tried it on the spot, fell in love with its sound and bought it right away. Then I got really interested in the harmoniums/reed organs in general and bought a big one. The harp came later. I had an autoharp and a friend of mine told me, half joking, that one day I will maybe play a real harp. Two years later, when I got enough money, I decided to buy one.

When you started out, was your priority to sing and write your own lyrics, or was it to find unusual instruments to play?

L: I started creating music with a computer and a keyboard, and then sequencers (Yamaha QY70 & QY700). Right away I was looking for sounds that were different, using the available effects to customize the factory sounds available on these machines. I had to do this, in order to be inspired to sing and write. I guess, this is the same with my choice of acoustic instruments, I have to find sounds which are not too much related to already existing music styles. For example, the sound of guitar does not inspire me. It is too much related to rock or folk music and it does not trigger my inspiration. To answer your question, writing and singing was my primal intention but in order to do so, I had to find sounds that inspired me. So, as far as I am concerned, both notions are interdependent.

What is your approach to composition? (e.g. do the lyrics inspire the music, or does the music inspire the lyrics?)

L: For my very first attempts and my first EP, I had lots of writings in notebooks I could dip into while finding sounds and musical phrases. (I can’t say I was really composing at the time, I had no notion of how to build a song…). I was doing things instinctively and learning step-by-step by myself. Now it’s different. My skills have improved with each recorded project, be it in composition, arrangements or production skills. As far as composition is concerned, I am versatile. I could experiment on my Logic (music software) and find the beginning of something, then rework it on the harp, or the piano. Or I could sit at the piano and find a series of chords that inspire a melody and/or words and then my voice would lead me somewhere and my fingers would have to find the right chord to accompany it, etc.
  The composition of the music comes along with the writings of the lyrics and vice versa. It is an intricate process. A phrase can shape the way the melody comes out and other times, I have to write lyrics to fit in an already existing melody. But I never give up on the meaning of the lyrics. Besides, I must admit that the rhyming issue is never a priority. Meaning and rhythm of the phrases are what count the most for me.

Your website states that you were self-taught on the instruments. Does this give you greater freedom to compose in a way personal to you, or does it have its drawbacks that formal training might have overcome?

L: Apart from a two years harp training with a teacher, (my first 2 years with the harp), I am a self-taught musician. I have great difficulties reading scores, so, working with my teacher, I took the habit of learning exercises or pieces by heart. I am mostly visual when it comes to memorizing what I have to play. That is to say, I learn on a visual and muscular basis. (My eyes tell me where my fingers should be, my fingers memorize where they have to go next, the movements they have to make). When it comes to the consequences of being self-taught on my composition skills, I admit I certainly do not play the harp as most classically-trained harpists do and probably don’t think about composition as classically-trained composers do. I still feel like I follow my instinct, but with several years of experimenting and learning by my mistakes, my instinct has become sharper and more efficient. I play the harp my own plain and clumsy way. Finding finger movements that my body can perform.
  Same thing with any instrument I play. I use them above all, as accompaniment to my singing. The drawbacks of this lack of formal training (and the fact that I did not start at an early age) are that on one hand, I will never be a virtuoso, so I have to do what my body and brain allow me to do, and on the other hand, I do not share the common language of musical scores with classically trained musicians. But, thanks technology and computer assisted music softwares, I am able to create arrangements in MIDI and print out scores I can give to musicians for them to play. Besides, I know nothing about harmony laws, I have to rely on my own judgement, maybe it gives me more freedom, but I’m not sure.

Some artists who are self-taught do not reveal obvious influences through their work. Instead, the very organic nature of their work means it often exists in creative isolation. Do you consider your own music in such terms, or can you hear outside influences when you play back your recordings?

L: I thought about it a lot with my previous album and the fact that some of its songs where built on a 'normal' structure, like any pop song would, and some others were pieces with different 'movements' inside them and no repeated parts, just like in a classical piece of music: a series of various emotions unwinding one after the other, bringing a climax at some point and then a real end. I guess years of ballet training and listening to classical music and opera led me to this. I also believe I am entitled to say I have a large musical culture going from concrete music, to classical, jazz, minimal electronic, R&B, world music etc… All these kinds of music have influenced me one way or another. I have listened extensively to Prince for years. Discovering, with each listen, a little detail here, a little detail there. His production has had an influence on my first EP and my first album, even though they do not sound at all like Prince… I took pleasure in adding details, hiding little things for listeners to discover…
  Women like Björk or Kate Bush have influenced me in my way to approach music and production as a woman, because they represent great examples of artistic freedom. I guess Björk has influenced my way of singing, at least this is what many people tell me… I don’t listen to music often though. I don’t need to and anyway I don’t stumble often upon things that really draw my attention. But once I do, I listen to them extensively! I guess that consciously or unconsciously, I am, now and then, using little bits of other artists. One would have to live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with no Internet, radio or T.V., luxuriant vegetable garden and orchard, real skills in manual work and sewing to prevent him/her from listening to others music, be it only at the supermarket.

Many thanks to Lidwine for giving her time.

Pre-orders for her new album are available at Lidwine's shop: