Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hototogisu - Spooked Summer

In october 1936 Roger Caillois published a short essay called "Le complexe de Midi" ("The Noon Complex") in the surrealist magazine Minotaure. In the essay, Caillois explores the mythological meaning given to the noon hour in premodern societies, arguing that not midnight but midday is the original witching hour. "In ancient Greece, noon was in fact the hour of transition, marking the boundary between the reign of the Uranian and of the infernal Gods. But noon is also the time when shade is at a low point, and thus when the exposed soul is most vulnerable to dangers of all kinds. For similar reasons, noon is generally the hour when the dead make their appearance - they who cast no shadow. On the most elementary level, these are the reasons noon is preordained to witness the apparitions of ghosts. (...) The sun's burning heat is unforgiving at this suffocating time of day. Heatstroke, sunstroke, cerebral fever, and their attendant mental and physical ailments offered sufficient prove of demonic activity to persude people that they existed".

Noon relates to the day as the midsummer relates to the year. Thus, it should come as no surprise that summer is a haunted season, that summer can lay as much claim to being 'the season of the witch' as autumn or winter. At Midsummer Day, the premodern peasantry of Europe lit bonfires, walked in a procession around their fields with torches, and rolled a burning wheel down the hillside, all to exorcize the demons of the summer solstice. Sir James Frazer in 'The Golden Bough': " [A medieval writer] tells us that boys burned bones and filth of various kinds to make a foul smoke, and the smoke drove away certain noxious dragons which at this time, exited by the summer heat, copulated in the air and poisoned the wells and rivers by dropping their seed in them (...)". Summer is spooked!

And it is this that brings us, dear reader, to Hototogisu's latest release, "Spooked Summer".

Hototogisu is the nom de plume of the collaborations of the immensely prolific Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Sunroof!, Total, Pure) and Marcia Bassett (Double Leopards, Zaimph, GHQ). "Hototogisu" is the Japanese word for cuckoo, a bird which apparently in Japanese culture is a symbol of the netherworld - an infernal bird, a spook with wings.

"Spooked Summer" is a Midsummer's Day noon hour sun of dissonant drones, blistering guitar distortion, feverish feedback, fiery freeform noise; a heatwave of sound; contemporary sun blindness music. Though beautific and hypnotising, the sound is also harsh, burning it's way though the listener's nervous system, causing hyperthermia as the mind absorbs more and more of the music's sweltering heat.

"But Valter!" I hear some of you say, "You are overdoing the references to the noon's sun for rhetorical reasons". To these readers, I'd like to point out that the image of the sun plays an important role in Matthew Bower's releases. The name of one of his bands - Sunroof! - contains the name of that heavenly body. The fifth track on Skullflower's "Form Destroyer" is called "Solar Anus"; and that band released a 7" called "Rotten Sun". Another Hototogisu release is actually called "Ghosts From The Sun" - the name could well be a direct reference to the noon complex. What's more, Matthew Bower himself refers to his music as burning light. In an interview in Wire 249 (november 2004), he said that his music sounds like having a blinding light shone in your face, and continued: "...we're channeling this intense bright light sound, all shot through with waves and sinuous ribbons. (...) White light angels flared across the retinas of my tightly shut eyes as I flayed the bass". And is it not likely that these white light angels are the very ghostly apparitions that haunt noon-time?

Hototogisu's summer is spooked, haunted, visited by apparitions of the dead, possessed by a host of hideous sun demons. However, Hototogisu's summer is apparently so disquieting that some music journalists reviewing Hototogisu feel they must dispel that uneasiness, dry clean the music, erase all stains, all lipstick traces of transgression. In their reviews, saccharine blissfulness is stressed an the expense of the fearful aspects of the music. In a review of Hototogisu & Prurient collaboration "Snail On A Razor" in Wire 274 (december 2006), Tony Herrington writes: "Unless I'm misreading something in the Hototogisu DNA, this [the Hototogisu & Prurient collaboration] strikes me as a weird hookup, philosophically speaking, because [Prurient mainman] Fernow's roaring noise sounds like some kind of sex-deathwish fulfilment fantasy, whereas Hototogisu music vibrates in multiple frequency patterns that articulates the sheer fucking elation of sensing the blood rushing through your veins more than any other music around right now, with the possible exception of Matthew Bower's solo Skullflower project". Well, we all should be glad that Herrington is no forensic scientist, because he completely bungles his crime scene investigation and DNA profiling analysis. The double helix of sex and death has been one of the main features of Bower's music ever since he started to record in the mid-to-late 1980's. Even a little superficial research into the imagery employed by Bower and his public statements would have pointed out the intimate embrace of eroticism and death in his work. Hototogisu and Skullflower are what the The Theater of Eternal Music might have sounded like if not Pandit Pran Nath but Georges Bataille, philosopher of evil, had been their guru.

So if Hototogisu's summer is haunted, what is the spook's identity? Whose ghost haunts the album? Thinking about this post, I discovered that one cannot write anymore about albums whose title begins with an adjective and ends with 'summer' without calling up the wraiths of the Beach Boys from the timeless hereafter of sun, surf and cars, as presented on their bestselling compilation album "Endless Summer". The symbolic weight of that album's title became even greater when it was appropriated by Fennesz for his brilliant 2001 glitchtronica tribute to Brian Wilson and his messengers. Perhaps Brian Wilson himself is the ghost that haunts the summer- isn't he some kind of Lazarus, one who came back from the dead, a revenant? Was it solar fire that destroyed his mind?

Perhaps the adjective 'spooked' relates to 'endless' in the same way Hototogisu relates to the Beach Boys. 'Endless' means 'unlimited in time', which is a denial of boundaries, of death. On the other hand, the word 'spook' points towards tresholds, to the Beyond, towards those who died. But the relationship of Hototogisu to the Beach Boys is more ambiguous than this bipolar structure, as both are fused together by the blazing heat of the word 'summer', becoming indeterminate and disoriented by the summer solstice sun.

Hototogisu is brilliant!

Post scripta
  • The essay " The Noon Complex" is reproduced in "The Edge of Surrealism. A Roger Caillois Reader";
  • Isn't the Frazer quote pure Cthulhu mythos?;
  • More information on Japanese cuckoo symbolism here;
  • Released as a cd-r, 'Spooked Summer' appears to be universally sold out - meaning that this review is in a way useless, having lost it's function in the economics of culture. To say that this review is so useless so as to become a Bataillan expenditure of opinions would be going a little too far, though: I know this white-hot album is still burning a hole in some internet forums, so you may be able to hunt it out;
  • Direct Waves has some great out of print Skullflower albums for download (here);
  • Here is a link to an interview with Hototogisu.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Spoor Of A Quarry

"Thus a German huntsman will stick a nail taken from a coffin into the fresh spoor of a quarry, believing that this will hinder the animal from escaping" - Sir James Frazer, The Golden Bough.

Hunted out today on a second-hand book market:
  • Yukio Mishima, "At The Banquet";
  • Jorge Luis Borges, "The Book Of Imaginary Beings";
  • Colin M. Turnbull, "The Forest People. A Study Of The Pygmies Of The Congo" (check out a pygmy elephant hunting song, recorded by Turnbull, here);
  • Curzio Malaparte, "The Skin";
  • Clifford Geertz, "The Religion Of Java";
  • Rainer Maria Rilke, "The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christoph Rilke";
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, "Götzen-Dämmerung";
  • Friedrich Nietzsche, "Mensliches Allzumensliches, Ein Buch Für Freie Geister".

Friday, June 22, 2007

Cruising The Spaceways

"Many, myself included, subscribed to the idea that Sunny (Sunny Blount, better known as Sun Ra) was gay; now, because it appears he had seldom expressed his sexuality in physical terms, that long-held belief seems in doubt. Biographer John Szwed has concluded that for most of Sunny's life he was celibate, yet from what I observed and knew of him, it was clear to me that his was a homoerotic sensibility" Val Wilmer, "In The House Of Ra", Wire 163, September 1997.

A spaceship powered by natural sounds
"He (Sun Ra) continues with a strange story about being kidnapped in Berlin many years later. 'I was gone for about an hour and the band looked for me everywhere. We went through the Berlin Wall. Then they asked me questions about space, what kind of fuel on the space ships? Then they came back to the hotel, they televised me, and again, asked me about space travel. Then I told them there would come a day when you wouldn't have to use gasoline. You'd simply take a cassette and put it in your car, let it run. You'd have to have the proper type of music. Like you take two sticks, put 'em together, make fire. You take some notes and rub 'em together - dum, dum, dum, dum - fire, cosmic fire'." David Toop, Ocean Of Sound, 1995.

"With the aid of electronic computers, the composer becomes a sort of pilot: pressing buttons, introducing coordinates and supervising the controls of a cosmic vessel sailing in the space of sound, across sonic constellations and galaxies that could formerly be glimpsed only in a distant dream" Iannis Xenakis, "Formalised Music", 1971.

Harry Smith's Room At The Chelsea Hotel
"I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel/ You were taking so brave and so free/ Giving me head on the unmade bed/ While the limousines wait in the street/ Those were the reasons and that was New York/ I was running for the money and the flesh/ That was called love for the workers in song/ Probably still is for those of us left" - Leonard Cohen.

"Harry Smith died, singing in Paola Igliori's arms, in Room 328 at the Hotel Chelsea in New York City" - Wikipedia.

Harry Smith's "Early Abstractions" (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4) and "11".

Coil - Sex With Sun Ra (Part 1 - Saturnalia)

Sun Ra was here in his element
He invited me back for a ride
I smiled, agreed, and we left for the place
That is full of reasons for time and for space
He said he was leaving last tide

Sun Ra was here in his element
He invited me back for a ride
I agreed and left for the places
He said he was leaving last tide

In a spaceship powered by natural sounds
I smiled, agreed, and we left for the place
That is full of the reasons for time and space
He said, "I dream of colour music,
And the intricacies of the machines that make it possible
I said, "You are nothing if not inconsistent"
He said, "I rely upon being insistent
I'm almost never forever
I'm almost never for now
I implore you, explore all the people you meet
I implore you, explore all the people you meet"

Sun Ra was here in his element
He invited me back for a ride
He said, "I will be all right if you kiss me
And I will be all right if you hold me
It will be all right if you kiss me
It'll be all right if you hold me"

He said, "Now is the time to relaunch the dream weapon"
He said, "Now is the time to relaunch the dream weapon
Relaunch the dream weapon
We worship at the shrine of the thylacine
We worship at the shrine of the thylacine
We worship at the shrine of the thylacine"
And we worshipped at the shrine of the thylacine

I thought, priceless, bloody priceless
Priceless, bloody priceless
Petals pleated
Tear droplets repeated
Sepals, ssss... separate
We hydrogenerate in the basin of a black pan
I see acid free, not an ideal homeland for you or me
With desert venom and military temples
Black wings flying over without management
Without management or plan
Where resonators rub against the delinquent and the compliant
I will be all right if you kiss me
I will be all right if you hold me
When I see the great black light
When I see the grey-black light
That shines in the eyes of animals
When I find you I will remind you
Most accidents occur at home
Most accidents occur at home
Or in Harry Smith's room in the Chelsea Hotel
Or in Harry Smith's room in the Chelsea Hotel
Where we relaunch the dream weapon
Where we relaunch the dream weapon
Where we relaunch the dream weapon
All will be forgotten, all will be forgotten
All will be forgotten, and all will be well
All will be forgotten, and all will be well
Priceless, bloody priceless
I will be all right if you kiss me
I will be all right if you hold me
I'll be all right if you kiss me
I will be all right if you hold me
In Harry Smith's room in the Chelsea Hotel
Harry Smith's room
In Harry Smith's room in the Chelsea Hotel

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mixed Up In The Hague - a YouTube Gallery

In the nineteen nineties, the squatter scene in the Dutch city of The Hague had a very active musical life, centering on electronic dance music. Focused at first on relentless, industrialized techno (Unit Moebius, Ra-x, Rude 66), in the middle of the decade electrofunk and italodisco came to the forefront. A central figure in the electro-scene was Ferenc E. van der Sluijs, better known als I-F (which stands for Inter-Ferenc).

I-F did not only put out two utterly brilliant albums of electro ("Fucking Consumer" in 1997 and "The Man From Pack" in 1999, both albums strongly influenced by John Carpenter's electronic horror film soundtracks) but also created one of the best DJ-mix-albums ever: "Mixed Up In The Hague Vol. 1". The mix consists mainly of electro and italodisco from 1980 to 1985, as well as a few contemporary nostalgic electro tunes. It was recently rereleased in a very limited edition, and is available from Boomkat, amongst others.

Below you find YouTube videos for some of the tracks featured on the "Mixed Up In The Hague Vol 1. - all great fun!

Georgio Moroder - The Chase

Jonzun Crew - Space Is The Place

Charlie - Spacer Woman (a link only because the embedding function is disabled; it is one of the best though!)

Q - Voice of Q

Vangelis - Blade Runner (end credits)

Kraftwerk - Tour De France

Klein & MBO - Dirty Talk (again only a link).

Sun La Shan - Catch

A Number of Names - Sharevari

  • Did I aggravate any disco-hating metalheads?
  • Here is a link to I-F's internet radio station.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Compiled by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and music journalist Byron Coley, Jazzactuel is a three-cd-box collecting free jazz, as well as some psychedelic and avant-garde music from the French record label 'BYG/Actuel'. The compilation was issued in 2001; the collected tracks date from the period 1969-1971.

The tracks were recorded for the record label as a result of an invitation to a large number of African-American free jazz musicians to record in Paris in august 1969, in the wake of the Panafrican Festival held in Algiers in july that year. This exodus to the promised land of France from the land of the American pharaoh Nixon continued a tradition of black musicians fleeing the US for Paris, a tradition which started in the roaring twenties (the Bal Nègre in the Rue Blomet, Josephine Baker) and which continued through the years (Miles Davis making the soundtrack to Louis Malle's 1958 film 'Ascenseur Pour L'Échafaud', Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk appearing in Roger Vadim's 1959 film 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses').

The musicians that recorded for BYG were perhaps one of the last waves of black musicians fleeing the US to Paris - can you imagine contemporary black musicians - hiphop, hyphy, crunk - leaving the States for France? The last group of prominent black musicians who came to Europe were Detroit's godfathers of techno - and they went to Berlin rather than to Paris, and rather than flee racial oppression by whites they fled the indifference with which the black community in the US treated their Great Black Music.

'Jazzactuel' brings together many famous Free Jazz names: Sunny Murray, Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Don Cherry and Sonny Sharrock; but also lesserknown artists are represented. The collection showcases how variegated a genre Free Jazz was. Some tracks are so dense, chaotic and noisy they would do Merzbow proud (and hasn't Masima Akita always said he was inspired by Free Jazz?), while other tracks are more laidback; some even explore romantic themes in a hardbop style. Psychedelic Prog by Gong and an electronic piece which sounds like an army of babies crying their lungs out by Musica Elettronica Viva only add to the diversity. Compared to Soul Jazz Records excellent "New Thing!" compilation, the music on Jazzactuel is more intransigent, more demanding, less languid: here political Pan-Africanism, no mystical Indian/Jazz-fusion a la Alice Coltrane.

My personal favorite is the slowly smoldering fire music of Archie Shepp's 'Blasé', the title song of Shepp's eponymous 1969 album. Shepp is assisted by brilliant musicians: Lester Bowie on trumpet and flugelhorn, Dave Burrell on piano, Sunny Murray on drums, and - above all - Jeanne Lee vocalizing poetry full of tender resentment.

However diverse the compilation is, all Free Jazz tracks display that lion-like fierceness, that rebellious pride that was prevalent in the Afro-American community of the era - Jazzactuel's sound is very much the sound of Black Power. In that sense, one wonders whether the musician's really went to France to seek refuge from the racial tensions of the USA, or if their they were attracted to the violently revolutionary situation in France - as moths are to a flame?

In any case, what Surrealist author Michel Leiris wrote in the fourth Documents magazine about the jazz revue "Lew Leslie's Black Birds", who performed at Paris' Moulin Rouge from june to september 1929, can also be said of these recordings, made 40 years later: they "...take us to another side of art, to a point of human development at which that bastard son of the illegitimate love of magic and free play, [had] not yet been hypertrophied"...

Post scripta

  • Here is a link to a French-language article on jazz and ethnography.
  • Many BYG/Actuel recordings are being reissued by the Italian 'Sunspots' record label.

Some French Black Metal YouTube vids

Spektr - Near Death Experience

Deathspell Omega - Carnal Malefactor (from the cd 'Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice')

Antaeus - Blood War III

Mütiilation - My travels through sadness, hate & depression

Blut Aus Nord - Mort Chapter 5

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Post Rock Black Metal

Hard, to imagine long haired Norvegians ecstatically sacrificing black roosters to the Horned One to the gentle, placid sound of Tortoise's 'TNT', which was described by Jonathan Romney in march 1998's Wire as "...decanted from some particularly affectless encounter group, or rather, from its aftermath"...

Hard also, to imagine corpse-painted Satanists celebrating the mass of St. Secaire in a dirty, ruined, vermin-infested church to the precise and clean minimalism of To Rococo Rot, with their 'white cube gallery' aesthetics....

And hard to imagine black-clad and bloodspattered devil worshippers kissing, no licking Baphomet's smelly backside to the "...polite, considered and well read..." (Biba Kopf in Wire 178, december 1998) exoticism of Tarwater's 'Animals, Suns & Atoms'.

Why are such scenes so hard to imagine? Where Post Rock is gentle, Black Metal is cruel; where Post Rock aspires to humanist ideals, is leftward-leaning (cf. Godspeed You Black Emperor!) and politically rational, Black Metal is nihilist, subscribes to far-right ideologies and is politically delirious; where Post Rock is civilized, Black Metal is barbarous; where there is an emphasis on consonance in Post Rock, dissonance rules supreme in Black Metal; while Post Rock's musical textures are clean and smooth, those of Black Metal are ragged and dirty; Post-Rock is euphoric where Black Metal is depressive; and so on. "...I'd certainly let my daughter marry a Tarwater" grumbled Kopf in Wire 178 - and what father in his right mind would let his daughter marry a churchburning anti-christian fanaticist?

Nonetheless, more and more recent (mainly French) Black Metal is described as being influenced by Post Rock. See for example Aquarius Records' website:
  • On Blut Aus Nord's recent 'Mort ' album: "Imagine all the super Slinty post rock parts from the most recent Deathspell Omega record, take all of those parts, play them all at once, some forward, some in reverse, run them all through banks of effects, and you'll have something like Mort".
  • On Glorior Belli's album 'O Laudate Dominum': "...darkly melodic breakdowns verging on post rock...".
  • On Deathspell Omega magisterial 'Kenose': " a Black Metal Slint...".
The French Black Metal vs. Post Rock crossover is a classic case of 'les extrêmes se touchent'. But it's not just Aquarius and Les Légions Noires (i.e. French Black Metal adepti) :
  • On the Sputnik Music website the reader is asked to imagine Wolves In The Throne Room's album 'Diadem Of 12 Stars' as "...Black Metal with the structure of Post-Rock, all with a folky touch reminiscent of Ulver's Bergtatt";
  • On Metal Invader Leviathan's surreal 'Tentacles Of Whorror' is described as "Ranging from DARKTHRONE-like black metal, to BURZUM-dark ambient, all along with post-rock (GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR, A SILVER MOUNT ZION and even IN THE WOODS... (RIP)) and minimal electro influences..." (Caps in original).
So what are the relations between Post Rock and Black Metal? Is it just a matter of cross-genre stylistic borrowing? Or are there relations on the level of content as well as on the level of form? And aren't form and content interwoven so strongly, that even if the influence of Post Rock on Black Metal started out as stylistic borrowing, Black Metal's content couldn't escape being influenced, contaminated, by Post Rock's content?

Perhaps the distinction Roger Caillois made between Satanic and Luciferian Romanticism can shed some (un-)light on the evolution of Post Rock Black Metal. Caillois was a philosopher loosely associated with Surrealism, and contributed to Bataille's (in-)famous College of Sociology. Both Satan and Lucifer are diabolical incarnations of the sacred endowed with the dual power of attraction and repulsion. Caillois: "For me, Lucifer, as his name suggests, is the demon or angel of lucidity. And I have always made a great distinction between Satanic and Luciferian". For Caillois, Lucifer refers to disciplined, methodical, purposeful passion, rather than to inflamed passion, which is Satanic. Where Satan embodies the "spirit of rioting", Lucifer is the "spirit of conquest". In a sense, the Satanic is an orthodox heterodoxy where the Luciferian is a progressive heterodoxy (both oxymorons).

Where 'troo' Black Metal can be described as Satanic, perhaps Post Rock Black Metal can be said to be Luciferian in spirit, purposefully experimenting with instrumental work (notice the term 'work'), emphasising musical method over immediacy of emotional impact, dedicated to the conquest of new and unique textures and harmonies, aggressively appropriating elements from electronic music, jazz, and rock.

And thus we can discern the pitfalls for Post Rock Black Metal. Satanic - 'troo' - Black Metal runs the risk of losing all dynamism because of it's orthodoxy, of ossifying. Luciferian Black Metal however must seek to avoid exactly the very same errors Caillois made in his thinking.
  • Caillois was an elitist in the 1930's, favoring an intellectual oligarchical dictatorship, ruling the world at an icy distance from the ruled. Such elitism is prevalent in Black Metal also, in my view one of the more stupid and short-sighted aspects of the genre. Losing contact with the wellspring of popular culture can become a risk for Post Rock Black Metal - can you imagine Blut Aus Nord following Autechre's trajectory into aridity?
  • From the 1940's onwards, Caillois thinking lost it's creative edge because of his mind numbing emphasis on purposefulness. In an essay on the worthless treasures small children can keep, he ascribed to such treasure-hoarding the function of helping to build the ego - the poetry of playfulness put in the key of stultifying work. Distaste for the riotous leads to conformism; distaste for inflamed passion to lack of passion; the conqueror becomes a slave of conquest.

Post Scripta
  • In "Filosofem" period, Burzum was called the Aphex Twin of Black Metal - apparently the music was interpreted as some sort of IDM/ambient/Black Metal cross pollination. Given that Post Rock can be read as an IDM/Indie Rock cross-over, the roots of Post Rock Black Metal can be said to go back to Black Metal's very origins.
  • On the 'After The Post Rock' forum, I found a thread where some Post Rock aficionados confess to liking Black Metal.
  • See also this roundup of French Black Metal.
  • While French Black Metal is described as influenced by Post Rock - an American genre - much of recent US Black Metal is described as influenced by the very British genre of Shoegazer, Post Rock's dreamy forerunner (though the use of the word 'runner' in the context of Shoegazer seems wildly inappropriate!).