Sunday, 28 November 2010

Pye Corner Audio

I've been inundated with work recently so haven't had time to do much in the way of hunting for images or scanning, but have been able to listen to more music than usual. As well as Demdike Stare, I've been very partial to Pye Corner Audio - lots of excellent drones, screes of decayed tape sound and Derbyshire-esque Radiophonic experiments. There are melodies too, something I'm rather partial to. Listen here and enjoy. You can buy their album to download too.

I don't know if it's just the artwork, but this music puts me in mind of Nigel Kneale's folklore-versus-the-rational TV play 'Murrain'.

It has a nicely bleak Yorkshire farming setting and coves some of the bases I touch on here - the past impacting on the present, folklore and tradition and old TV. Credit should go to John Broadley, who wrote about Murrain on his fine blog here, and from whom I nicked the above screenshot. To end on a cheerful note, 'Murrain' apparently means death. Mind how you go!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Demdike Stare

Whilst compiling the next batch of posts, I have recently been listening to Demdike Stare. It's all pretty menacing stuff, condensing Eurohorror-artiness with the more abstract end of library music and electronica. I heartily recommend them, and all who sail with them.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Junior School Happening

Film in Teaching - The Bird King

A class of children devised a story about an unhappy man who is 'summoned to the kingdom of birds'. The collaged pictures telling the story were photographed with a 35mm camera using Kodachrome II slide film. 'Again, a soundtrack can be prepared and the projector operated according to pre-determined cues from the tape recorder'.

Film in Teaching - The Gun Pit

More images from 'Film and Teaching' - three fourteen year olds (though I think they look younger) 'exercise the consequences of a direct hit by a bomb' using a Kodak box camera. Although the images look very depressing (partly due to subject matter and partly due to the grainy nature of the film) this was probably the best day these three boys ever had in school. Again, very Peter Watkins-esque, this time tilting more toward 'The War Game'.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Comus - The Herald

All sixteen-odd minutes of acid folk's finest moment, 'The Herald' is actually pretty unrepresentative of the group's oeuvre, which can be probably summed up as 'forest death music'. There aren't many groups who can claim to have a completely unique sound but this is one of them; Roger Wootton's death-rattle vocals and a mix of rangy acoustic guitars and hand drums are offset by slide bass, reeds and violins. Where Comus really stand out from other late sixties / early seventies folk-inspired groups is the malevolent streak throughout the music. Rather than a bucolic place to relax or the setting for a familiar folk ballad, the forest here is a real place of fear and bewilderment. The lyrics range from gothic lust to madness and fear of imprisonment, all examined with a forensic eye for detail that makes it sound as if the singer is actually enjoying the vista of fear and decay that he is describing. In addition, the cover artwork is truly awful - not as in bad, but awful as in 'it's a cover showing a malnourished, twisted grey creature in agony'. A two CD retrospective was issued a few years ago, with the essential (and very difficult) 1971 debut 'First Utterance' on one disc and the 1974 'To Keep From Crying' album on the other. The second effort is by no means a disaster, but is a bland and smoothed-out shadow of 'First Utterance', as if the band had been lobotomised following the bacchanal and frenzy of 1971. Enjoy the oddly uneasy lullaby that is 'The Herald' and then delve deeper into the undergrowth with the rest of 'First Utterance'. You won't have heard anything like it.

Monday, 8 November 2010

How Babies Are Made

This is 'How Babies Are Made', published by Time Life books in 1969. Blake Hampton is responsible for the wonderful illustrations. I haven't included the text (I hope everyone is clear on that sort of thing, and it isn't my place to tell you if not) but I will say that it is admirably forthright, combining the biological side of things with the emotional as well. I have included the perky little dog because I think it's rather amusing, and certainly unique as far as illustrations that I've seen. Although the overall effect is rather heartwarming, I do think that the children and babies look a little bit like Autons, which adds a tang of edginess to proceedings in general.

Seventies Graphic Design 3

Here are some more images from the Sheffield Yearbook. This time 1973, as promised;

Seventies Graphic Design 2

The images below were scanned from the Sheffield Year Book 1971. They were part of adverts, some of them the 70s equivalent of clip art, some of them designed specially for the company concerned. Taken in isolation and magnified considerably, they seem to develop new meanings; the grainy, ink-wet close up of an eye has become quite threatening, whilst the spindly-limbed telephone looks witchy, almost like a twentieth century familiar. There are more in the 1973 Year Book, which will follow shortly.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Film in Teaching - Interviews

Stills and quotes from a series of interviews with locals in South East London. Removed from their context, the quotes have a strange power and poignance.

Film in Teaching - Barabbas

I've recently come across two books published by B T Batsford about the use of film making in education. The first (and the origin of the following scans) is called 'Film in Teaching' by Keith Kennedy (Batsford, London 1972) and details how to use film and videotaping as a way of teaching primary and secondary school children. It is full of wonderful black and white stills and photographs from student films and I've been scanning like mad over the last couple of days. The first series, reproduced below, is from a play called 'Barabbas' written by 13 year olds. They look like stills from a Bugsy Malone-esque biblical epic as filmed by Peter Watkins.

The Tape Recorder in the Classroom

I love this book cover. The sheer delight of these boys is tangible as they crowd around the school's new Revox. There's something a bit 2001 about their exploration of this strange machine, as if it will pass on strange and magical new skills without their fully comprehending them, assisted by the op-art background and the sci-fi novel title font (John Weston sounds like a science fiction novelist doesn't he?)

In reality, it will just have a man saying "Allo Christophe. Bonjour Jean-Claude." in a decidedly non-schoolboyish voice, whilst everyone giggles at the word 'piscine'. But that's technology for you; it can only deliver so much. It may, however, be good for this:

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Sheffield Castle Market

I'm kind of obsessed by this place. Here are some photographs taken in Sheffield Castle Market, a modernist shopping centre built to replace the old 'rag and tag' open market from 1960 to 65. Owen Hatherley has written about it far more eloquently than I can, but I will say that although Sheffield Council has tried its best to get the place dynamited over the last 10 years, it is far more used and useful to the ordinary people than the dull, middlebrow (and mostly empty) new developments that have sprung up in the last few years. Apparently one of the inspirations for Cumbernauld, Castle Market is now chipped and unkempt but always busy, serving the people of Sheffield who have neither the money or inclination to visit Meadowhall.

There are three floors of stalls including a fresh food market and various cafes (including the Rooftop, which has wonderful sixties furniture and more importantly, very good bacon sandwiches). The whole place is built on the site of Sheffield Castle, which exists in stump form somewhere in the basement. Before you form any Stone Tape-y ideas about the powerful influence of old ruins on the present, you should know that access to the castle comes via a peeling wooden door round the back of the loading bay with a large sign that reads 'Sheffield Castle Ruins' pinned above it.

The view from the upper gallery. The gallery on the other side is now permanently sealed off, although the old shop fronts are still visible.

The cheerful original detailing on the bannisters only remains on the uppermost floor leading down from the upper gallery.

Lew Burgin's is actually still open, though they seem to have forgotten to take their old shop signs with them, and no-one has bothered to remove them.

All the old fixtures and fittings remain upstairs, although some of them weren't installed particularly well in the first place.

Near this sign is the old mini-market, now known as the 'Collectors Fair', which is a glass-walled room of old varnished wood booths containing only one trader; Roy Jenkinson's Stamp Shop. Roy knows pretty much everything about Sheffield and sells old postcards of the area as well; his stuff seems to have organically spread throughout one half of the room. I asked him what happened to the other traders. "They left a couple of years ago. A woman from downstairs came and told them that the rent was going up so they all cleared off at once." He scratched his head. "That was in 1985." Time seems to have stood still for Roy in that room. I would have taken a couple of pictures but I think that might have been a bit rude. Maybe next time.

These tiles can be found at the end of the arcade behind the still-functioning hairdressers.

This is the Fresh Food Market. The Lucifer lens on the Hipstamatic doesn't capture the clean, eighties feel of the place, so I think I may return for another try.

This gives you an idea of the multi-levelled, labyrinthine nature of the market. Although it's most certainly a modernist building, it has been made with a feel for community and closeness - it lets people mill about, browse and stumble on things that they may want to buy. In other words, it's a space that is made for ordinary people.

Castle Woolcraft just sits open and empty, its counter gathering dust. I think it's just for people to lean on if the cafe opposite gets full. It reminds me of the shop from an old cinema foyet, although Poppets were not in evidence.

This is the Market Guide outside the old lift. An man from the building contractor working in another part of the market told me I was looking at the wrong sign. "The new ones are through there. We need to get rid of this old one because everybody still looks at it." I can't think of a worse reason for getting rid of an old sign (although moving it to the working lift would be a good idea).

The view from the Upper Gallery when the Market first opened in the sixties.

The view now, post-steel industry and post-Meadowhall.

This turret was added after the through road was pedestrianised. Bottles and cans huddle for warmth at the top.

It's easy to be sentimental about things in decline. Castle Market is not glamorous and by no means perfect - mention the name and many locals' faces will give a little involuntary grimace - but it isn't the building's fault. The whole area has been allowed to run down with the expectation that it would be replaced by a new 'Financial District', but the recession has put paid to that. Post-Meadowhall, Sheffield city centre will never be the same again, but if the Castle Market area goes, we will have lost another modernist building, planned and built in an age when councils employed architects to build things for the good of the community. I intend to keep going, and you are all welcome to join me for a pot of tea and a bacon sarnie in the Rooftop Cafe.