I’ve been listening to the new Xander Harris LP, Urban Gothic, today and it’s a slow-starter, but now I’m in the groove. Not Not Fun put out lots of interesting records and this one has a similar vibe to John Carpenter’s movie soundtracks or Vangelis’ Blade Runner, but with modern techno twists. Budget horror video ahoy!
Last year I saw an exhibition in the National Gallery by Danish painter Købke, in a small room, where his refined, luminous paintings had a concentrated impact on me. There’s definitely something odd about his paintings in terms of atmosphere, which the exhibition highlighted. Check out this link to watch a video and look at more paintings.
Tacita Dean, still from Michael Hamburger, 2007
Here’s another image by Tacita Dean whose work is “about traces and capturing things before they disappear” (Whitewall magazine, 2009). See the previous post for more context.
Tacita Dean, still from Michael Hamburger, 2007
Michael Hamburger, the poet and translator, appears in W.G. Sebald’s book The Rings Of Saturn at a point where Sebald muses on the nature of writing during a visit to his friend Hamburger’s house. In the book there’s a grainy photograph of Hamburger’s desk that was also referenced in a film by the artist Tacita Dean. Apart from the fact that I’m interested in writers’ desks, what Sebald wrote seems very truthful to me:
“For days and weeks on end one racks one’s brain to no avail, and, if asked, one could not say whether one goes on writing purely out of habit, or a craving for admiration, or because one knows not how to do anything other, or out of sheer wonderment, despair or outrage, any more than one could say whether writing renders one more perceptive or more insane. Perhaps we all lose our sense of reality to the precise degree to which we are engrossed in our own work, and perhaps that is why we see in the increasing complexity of our mental constructs a means for greater understanding, even while intuitively we know that we shall never be able to fathom the imponderables that govern our course through life.” - W.G. Sebald, taken from The Rings Of Saturn
I saw/heard this on Pitchfork today in their ‘The Out Door’ column, which is always interesting. The images complement the slow tumble of the acoustic guitar.
Fred Packer, Powers Coloritype Advert, 1920s
The 1920s are a treasure-trove for decorative art imagery. This one’s totally weird (the servile aspect to the image is dodgy to say the least) , but it shimmers with beautiful colours. It prompts a lot of questions to a 21st century viewer as to what is going on.
Emil Nolde, Young Couple (1913), lithograph
This image is simultaneously repulsive and alluring. That’s a mean trick in my book.
Hispano Olivetti Pluma 22 portable typewriter
I’ve been in Barcelona over the last week and I saw a version of this delectable typewriter in a shop-window. Its keyboard is suited to Spanish diacritics, which makes it very useful to the Spanish-typing market, but I’m enjoying the way the keys seem to float away from their curvy berth.
My Mam was at the grand opening of Billingham Forum, my local leisure centre when I was growing up. It contains an ice-rink as well as a swimming pool and all the usual facilities such as squash courts and football pitches. I used to do karate there…
Unusually, it also contains an adjoining theatre where I once sang in a choir (Oliver!). I could say more, but this film says it all.
Thanks to Simon Sinclair (@sinky72) for the link.
Various photographs by Jérémie Egry
Sebastian Rudko, Umbrella, 2006
I saw this painting on the Saatchi website and really liked its flat, brush-y style and mundane subject matter.
“I’m gonna take my problem to the United Nations”.
Eddie Cochran makes my knees go wobbly. IDST.
Liz Harris is Grouper and she’s got some new albums out (which I’m trying to get via mail order). To celebrate here’s a mysterious fog of a song from the most excellent album, Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill.
Stirring, brass-led music by Jóhann Jóhannsson helps to dramatise the found footage of Durham Miners at their annual summer gala in Bill Morrison’s film, The Miners’ Hymns. Kids climb mountains of debris, train doors swing open while the train’s still moving and miners carry large banners bearing the portraits of union leaders or representations of their hopes and aspirations (“Knowledge Is Power”). It’s interesting to note that the march ends up in Durham Cathedral in a time when unions worked in tandem with religion.
Hitch was ahead of the game. Saul Bass took it the next level.
One of the best opening title sequences ever!
I’m not sure what’s going on in this video and I’m not sure it’s right, but they all appear to be consenting adults.
I’m loving the song – floaty ’80s synth-jive. Ludicrously naughty but nice.
My designer brother bought me this book for my birthday and it’s full to the brim of pictures of brilliant objects. It’s tellingly called Misfit and Hella Jongerius, whose design-work it showcases, is an inventive, tactile worker; the book itself feels lovely, containing different textures of paper. I like the idea of a designer whose work is often mass-produced being a champion of the imperfect, human touch within her work.
Colin Stetson pushes himself physically and musically for our pleasure without losing his firm melodic grip on the composition at hand. I didn’t know so many different sounds could emerge from a bass saxophone simultaneously until I watched this clip.
This song makes me feel so many emotions at once. It could be my favourite song ever. Not one note or word is out of place. Life Without Buildings didn’t change my life, they continue to change it whenever I select their songs and press play. I’m not even going to bother putting a pun in the title of this post – total respect!
I’ve been listening to this record over the last couple of days and I really like the random, casual collection of keepsakes on the sleeve.
The music reminds me of many other mid-to-late 80s North American alt-rock, like REM and The Replacements. That vague sense of community is enhanced by a photo of Hüsker Dü on the cover and a gentle prod in Michael Stipe’s direction via the song For The Singer Of REM, which both point to an endearingly ego-free playfulness.
Music that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is also rather good should be savoured.
Daphne Oram was a sound pioneer and founder of the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It’s amazing to think that the synthesised sound that we now take for granted, easily available at the push of a button, was once the result of hard-won experiments by this woman, amongst others. Her Oramic machine was fed with drawn symbols, which were then converted into sound.
Listen to Pompie Ballet:
Here’s a video of her Oramics synthesiser being rescued by Mick Grierson, soundtracked by some of the stirring music it made:
Jacob Lawrence, Street to Mbari (1964), tempera, gouache and graphite on paper
This jumble of colour, shape and movement just hit me in the face when I saw it in an exhibition review for Afro Modern at Tate Liverpool last year. I wish I’d seen the show now, curated with one eye on Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic, an important book I studied at university.
I love this song. Totally Cocteau Twins and recorded by Conny Plank with members of Can (Holgar Czukay plays French Horn on this one!) in Cologne. And then they became massive.
Footage shot by Guy Bourdin, edited by Adam Mufti, music by Olivier Alary
Mysterious yet highly commercial, Guy Bourdin’s fashion photography throws up more questions than it answers.
Luc Tuymans, Masks (2005), oil on canvas.
This painting is eerie and almost not there, like many of Tuymans’ ghostly pictures. The contours of the masks come out of the flatness of the pictorial space like figures emerging from sand. There aren’t many features on display but the old-fashioned facial hair and glasses make the picture funnier than it might’ve been.
The Sun A Small Star by The Servants
Felt-esque guitar playing and catchy ba-ba-ba vocals. Dreamy C86 indie pop.
Annie Girardot in Rocco and His Brothers (1960), directed by Luchino Visconti
Girardot died recently. When I saw this image on the Sight & Sound website it looked pale and bleached-out but still carried a sense of foreboding.
Katsukawa Shunsho, A View of Enoshima in Sagami Province, Looking from the Direction of Koshigoe (circa 1784, Edo period)
I was browsing in a book shop last night and this woodcut stood out from a book of Japanese Prints as being so modern and clear; a blend of detailed line-work and graphic simplicity. The book, published by The British Museum, mentions that the sky, which has faded to pale ochre, was once a brilliant blue, printed in a time before the Prussian blue pigment was readily available. After 1706, European artists could use the new pigment to achieve longer-lasting blues and, eventually, it was exported around the world. It’s interesting that we appreciate the image on its current terms, but it was once admired as a brighter picture with altogether different properties.
Cruisin’ is effortless soul from a master of the genre. The syrupy strings and the drawn-out pace of this song perfectly complement Smokey Robinson’s fluttering falsetto. This song evokes long summer days that I don’t even know if I’ve experienced.
Gerhard Richter, Bildnis Heiner Friedrich, 1964
I was leafing through a book of Richter’s portraits just now and was so impressed by the delicacy of this watercolour that I had to come upstairs to the computer and post it up here. The simple ring-binder in the foreground is beautiful and gives depth to the picture, showing us that there’s a table in front of the sitter. I also love the dark tone of the man’s skin that gives strength to the light from the window.
Bill Callahan (from a Domino promo postcard I blue-tacked to my old bedroom door.)
In the song A Man Needs A Woman Or A Man To Be A Man, Bill Callahan expresses the need for companionship; an elusive theme to describe accurately. He resorts to obscure, poetic images that allow us to view the domestic situation in a fresh light. In fact, he takes a literal approach by contrasting the illumination of morning and the artificial explosions of gunpowder:
The light is explicit
Between nine and noon
The light shows a life to things thought dead
Like oaken legs and fireworks beneath the bed
Fireworks are wasted in the day
I set ‘em off anyway
To pass the time ’til you return
The whole lyric extends to more overt metaphorical ground later in the song when the object of Callahan’s affection is deemed to be unique in relation to the fireworks: “Only in you/Deep in you/Is the fire that lights them” . Perhaps the most startling set of lines comes in the middle of the song when his partner returns to their home:
And when it’s good and dark
The sky a wet black
Like earth has turned
You say OK
Now is time, OK
Like earth has turned
Not only are we given a beautifully descriptive couplet to begin with, but the play on the word ‘earth’ to mean both soil and the planet (both able to be ‘turned’ in their own way) seals it for me as a highly original piece of writing. As well as a strong image, I am left with a sense of relief. Thankfully this sort of sly revelation is commonplace in the lyrics of Bill Callahan.
The Painter Heinrich Hörle by August Sander, 1928
This picture is severe and sharp and the sitter has a face full of great shapes made extra-angular by his haircut.
A beautiful Len Lye film for all you star-crossed lovers out there. A paean to letter-writing and adventurous film-making, originally made for the Post Office.
I find this song unfeasibly moving (if you’ll pardon another pun). It’s laid-back but very uplifting and it closes the latest BBC4 music documentary, Reggae Brittania, which is a rather natty programme.
Jem Southam, The Pond at Upton Pyne, 2001
The colours here leap out at me. There’s such a rich spectrum of blues and greens in this photograph. It took me a couple of minutes to process the distance of the different objects in the picture, but it was well worth it.
This song reminds me of a line in the perfect Pavement song, Range Life, where Malkmus sings, “Out on my skateboard, the night is just humming.”
I can’t actually ride a skateboard, but this song ticks along very nicely at a warm temperature.
Laura Lancaster is a talented friend of mine whose work is currently appearing in an exhibition called ‘Graphite’ at Gallery North in Newcastle. Her work is derived from found photographs, which she then transforms into eerie, mysterious images that range from delicate drawings to smeared oil paintings. Some other talented friends of mine are in the exhibition so if you’re in the area…