Category Archives: Arts & Culture

The man who photographed Britain’s youth tribes

Barry, King's Road, 1983; Mark, Leicester Square, 1981

Barry, King’s Road, 1983; Mark, Leicester Square, 1981 Photo: Derek Ridgers
article by Theo Merz via the Telegraph

Derek Ridgers is best known for documenting the British youth movements of the 70s and 80s, but he doesn’t feel much nostalgia for the period.

He never felt much of a personal connection to the punks, rockabillies and New Romantics he famously photographed; the closest he got was to the skinheads, but with a thick head of hair pulled back into a ponytail then as now there was never a danger of him becoming one.

“I’ve always been the kind of photographer who’s on the outside, looking in,” he tells me as we sit in a London cafe flicking through 78-87: London Youth, a collection of his work which will be published this week. “It’s a historical document. I’m not going to make any big claims about the time – I recorded how they lived and how they dressed and maybe I lived a little bit vicariously through it.”

Perhaps this distance comes from the fact that when he started photographing these groups, aged 26, Ridgers already felt he was “too old” to be truly part of them. “I was working in an advertising agency and I’d just gone down to a few gigs and started photographing the bands. Then the people in the crowd started looking more interesting than the bands so I turned to them.”

Mark, Taboo, 1985; Martin, Billys, 1978 (Derek Ridgers)

He carried on with his ‘nightclub portraits’, but never stopped working in advertising. He later moved on to portraits of celebrities and politicians, with subjects including Martin Amis, Tony Blair, Tiger Woods and Vivian Westwood.

Ridgers, now 61, says he chose 1978 and 1987 to bookend the collection not because of any symmetry in the dates, but because these nine years covered the post-punk, pre-acid house period. “That was the period when these groups flourished – after punk started to diversify but before they were killed off by ecstasy and people going to raves.

New Romantic, Chelsea, 1980; Babs, Soho, 1987 (Derek Ridgers)

“Those were some of my best times but I don’t think there’s really a difference in youth culture then and now. People still go out and want to be seen, they have that urge to be looked at. The only change is that people have access to a lot more media. If you have a good look it can go round the world in the same evening – you don’t have to wait for it to be published in a book like this.”

(This is a contrast to the essay by video artist John Maybury introducing the photographs, in which he suggests London has yet to see another youth movement as inventive and energetic as the ones which defined his heyday: “Curiously the London represented in these images might be recognisable to a 20-year-old today – a time of recession coming after an extended period of boom and bust, but there the similarities end”.)

The real difference between the late ‘70s and 2014, Ridgers says, is found not in the subjects, but photography itself. “I’d never have made it if I was setting out now. You’ve got all these bloggers and street photographers doing stuff like this, and it’s much, much harder to get noticed.

“I got on because there weren’t so many people doing that at the time. To anyone who asks me how to get into photography, I always say – make sure you’re doing your own thing, don’t just hang around with everyone else.”

Ridgers stuck at his own thing and is hoping to bring out a wider collection of his work – stretching from the nightclubs of the ‘70s to now – in the next couple of years. He shows me a selection of the images he hopes to include, which are oddly similar despite being created up to 35 years apart: it’s true that the same sense of exhibitionism runs through all of them. But how have the clubs themselves changed over the decades he’s spent at some of London’s best known nightspots? “To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve never really been to a club to go clubbing.”

78-87: London Youth by Derek Ridgers and John Maybury is published by Damiani and is available for £30 from www.roundel-london.com

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Godfrey Reggio’s ‘Visitors’ Is Staring At You

Emma Meyers via The Daily Beast

Twelve years after finishing the groundbreaking Koyaanisqatsi trilogy, Godfrey Reggio’s new documentary looks at what the human face—and the act of looking at human faces—tells us about ourselves.

When Godfrey Reggio was a young monk in the Catholic Church, he was taught, “In order to truly see that which is familiar, you have to stare at it until it becomes strange.”

The principle became the modus operandi behind Reggio’s poetic brand of filmmaking, beginning with his first feature, 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi. “Until now, you’ve never really seen the world you live in,” its trailer boasted. And it was true. The film’s groundbreaking time-lapse cinematography inspired many imitators, from 1993’s Baraka to television commercials and countless movie transition shots.

Reggio’s latest work, Visitors is another wordless meditation on the state of modern man, this time ruminating over our codependent relationship with technology. Taking the human face as both its subject and object, the film unfurls in dream-like slow motion, elevating what is earthbound to otherworldly, and back again. Shot in black-and-white, the clarity of the digital 4K projection enables the sleekest realization of Reggio’s vision to date, even if that vision isn’t quite as revelatory as it was 30 years ago.

Video screenshot

Predicated on the concept of the reciprocal gaze, Visitors begins with a shot of a female lowland gorilla, the primate whose facial structure most closely resembles our own. Set against an otherwise pitch-black screen, she appears to be looking the audience directly in the eye.

“If you take the background out of the shot, you’re no longer looking at a gorilla,” Reggio says over the phone from his home in Santa Fe. “A gorilla is looking at you. It sets up a wholly different dynamic.”

“If you take the background out of the shot, you’re no longer looking at a gorilla. A gorilla is looking at you.”

It’s a technique the director applies to all of the film’s 80 unidentified subjects, and the complete dissolution of the background results in a disarming directness of the image; the 4th wall isn’t so much broken as it is suggested never to have existed at all.

From the stunned freckle-faced boy with big ears who resembles Alfred E. Newman to a weathered African American woman whose drooping eyes are on the verge of tears, the subjects of this first series of “moving portraits,” as the director calls them, have been given no instructions as to what to do or how to react to the camera. “These photographs are from the inside out,” Reggio explains. “Our faces reveal the fullness of life.” Stripped of any stimulus, the expressions of this first group of people expose their true consciousness (theoretically, at least).

The rest of the subjects, on the other hand, were filmed either watching TV or gaming, and they are considered “cyborgs”—not just using technology but actually becoming it.

“They’re being pulled by something that’s present but not seen, which is the screen,” he says. “These are portraits from the outside in. They knew they were being filmed, but as soon as the TV came on, or the video game came on, it was like a tractor beam, pulling them out of their conscious state into a non self-conscious state.”

Video screenshot

As you might expect, the cyborgs are the more animated bunch: they cock their heads, furrow their brows, chew their cheeks, bite their tongues and lick their lips; their eyes widen with excitement or squint in disbelief, their mouths gasp, gape, sigh and scream. But the drama that unfolds across their visages is indicative of automaticity rather than authenticity.

The viewer, meanwhile, are not told what these people are looking at—are they looking at us? Or us at them? That’s the danger of Visitors: the specifics of the director’s commentary on technology might be overlooked.

But Reggio’s deliberate ambiguity also enables—and encourages—freedom of interpretation. The film is less about meaning than it is about experience, and like hypnosis, the effect depends heavily on the subject’s willing sensory engagement.

“It’s a different kind of cinema that may not be for everybody,” Reggio admits. “The ideal viewer is someone who watches the film like a traveler, like she’s passing through.” The effect should be “extra-mental,” he says. “If it works then it takes on a life of its own.”

The experience wouldn’t be complete without Philip Glass, who was also central to theKoyaanisqatsi films. The composer’s score avoids dramatic swells in favor of a kind of shamanic repetition that works alongside the images to lull the viewer into a trance. The music, Reggio says, should act as a “dancing partner” to the visuals, not showing off with dips or lifts, but rather gently swaying together as one.

“I asked Phillip Glass not to write note one until he’d been completely marinated, as it were, in the ethos of the spirit of the film,” Reggio says. “That starts out by him going to as many of the actual locations as possible…to get an original charge.” Once the director had a rough cut of the film (no small feat with over 60 hours of footage to reduce), Glass was brought back into the process.

Although Visitors is at this point as much of a pastiche as it is a poem—its combination of sound and image recall any number of things from Warhol’sScreen Tests to 2001: A Space Odyssey, to examples from Reggio’s own oeuvre—it is nevertheless a film that demands to be seen. Its most powerful argument is for the medium itself, the manner in which cinema—or viewing—can be mulled over. For Reggio, who believes that the “meaning is in the form,” this is perhaps the greatest achievement of all.

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Erkin Koray – The Grand Magus of Turkish Psych

erkin-koray-ve-john-lennon_426466

Article via Seth Man – Head Heritage UK

“That day, Erkin Koray was living one of the happiest moments of his life. To sit across from John Lennon, one of the leading celebrities of the most famous Beatles Group was a dream come true for him.
Lennon was quite surprised to learn that the young man with the long hair sitting across from him was a Turkish musician. John Lennon and Erkin Koray were conversing on the magnificent terrace of an exquisite hotel 30 kilometers away from Cannes when Lennon explained that there were two reasons for his having come to Cannes: ‘First, my best friend Mike Jagger’s wedding. Second, some of my own movies are going to be shown in Cannes,’ then he added, ‘By the way, did you see my movie?’ ‘Yes,’ answered Koray.
‘Most people didn’t understand these movies,’ Lennon added. ‘Or, let’s say they didn’t like them.’ He went on to ask, ‘What do you think about them?’
Koray answered, ‘Whether I understand them or like them is of no significance. I think it should suffice to say that I felt them. What counts in Turkey is music.’ (As reported by Arda Uskan in Hürriyet, summer of 1971)

When it comes to rock’n’roll innovators from Turkey, Erkin Koray is second to none. Indeed, his career stretches to the time of rock’n’roll’s very inception. In 1957, he performed what has come to be accepted as Turkey’s first known rock’n’roll concert when he fronted his first amateur band at an Istanbul high school playing covers of hits by Elvis Presley and Fats Domino. He was also one of Turkey’s very first electric guitarists, recording what is generally recognised as being the first significant rock’n’roll record ever released in Turkey — his first single, “Bir Eylül Akgami” (“A September Evening”)/“It’s So Long” in 1962. Little wonder he is referred to in his homeland as “Baba” or ‘Father’ Erkin, for he truly is the father of Turkish rock’n’roll in every way. To paraphrase Koray’s response to the Lippy One in on that French Riviera terrace, although I don’t understand Turkish I think it should suffice to say that I feel the music of Erkin Koray deep in my bones, head and heart and Rocks mah soul big time.

While non-Turkish sources continually name check Koray as “the Jimi Hendrix of Turkey” to my mind’s eye and ears he’s also the Chuck Berry, the Link Wray, the John Fahey, the Jimmy Page and the T.S. McPhee of Turkey and more all combined: Not only for the early and pioneering foundations he helped lay for Turkish rock’n’roll, how he synthesised multiple music forms together into a brand new thang, or how he delivered it all with such strength and integrity that the exotic Eastern influences he would eventually weave into his rock’n’roll lived and breathed vitality and was not just added for some Hollywooden Casbah décor effect but if there was ever a musician who kicked against the pricks, did it his way — the hard way — and by virtue of his undying efforts lit a rock’n’roll fire in Asia Minor that sustained in the most major way possible, then it was Erkin Koray. The manner in which he kicked up squalling fuzztone, stinging sustain, resounding reverb and redoubtable distortion as he wielded his 6-string scimitar into an organised and organic freak-storm like nobody’s business is astonishing. His style is hard to pin down, as it continually unfolded out and beyond the boundaries of rock’n’roll, later incorporating baglama (a Turkish stringed instrument; also known as a ‘saz’) and merging it all together with Turkish music styles that cut into and across elements of surf, psychedelia, proto-metal until it became ALL things beyond at once. To top it off, most of his best records included placing his expressively sonorous vocals centre stage as if to buffer his many axe attacks, which only made for a highly incongruous and intriguing mix of emotional shading oftentimes completely at odds with itself.

Truly, Baba Erkin jerks mah gherkin every time. And incredibly, Koray still continues to record and perform to the present day. But what makes his story so unique is not only his survival as a rock’n’roller, but as a rock’n’roller in Turkey whose records consistently kept pace with contemporary Anglo-American innovations and oftentimes exceeded them in their astute execution as they were refracted through distinctly Turkish rhythms. A quick smattering of historical and geographic background is in order to put Koray’s achievements as an artist in perspective, and after that I promise I’ll hoof it back to the greatness of Koray and orthwith-fay, OK?

We all know East is east and west is west.
But did you know Turkey is both?
And also…neither?
An Orient by any other name would be no Occident.
It’s where the East ends and the West begins. Or is it the other way round? Or both?

Roughly the size of Texas, Turkey is a country whose natural geography defines it as a massive land bridge between two continents. But like Aesop’s fable of the bat (whereby Herr Fledermaus gets resigned to a solitary nighttime existence for being too bird-like for acceptance by mammals and too mammalian to be recognised by other birds of flight as a winged brother) Turkey also shared a similar limbo by being considered too Oriental by the West and yet for all its many defining Eastern traits was perceived as a tad too Western by the standards of its middle eastern peers. So Turkey’s position of cultural otherness remained, despite — or possibly, because of — the many cultural traits it shared with its neighbouring milieu that had been accumulated for millennia as they were positioned upon a busy 4-lane East/West crossroads.

Turkey can be viewed as an oversized peninsula bounded by the Black Sea to the north, the Mediterranean to the south and to the west by the Sea of Marmara, the Aegean Sea, Bulgaria and Greece while Turkey’s easternmost boundaries ran up alongside those of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Stretching from the Mediterranean coastline into the Anatolian plains and the mountainous regions that lay to the east, this land played host for thousands of years of human migration and settlement dating back to the Paleolithic Age on up through a bewildering number of successive cultural layers that ebbed and flowed with Hittites, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turkomen, Sky Turks, Seljuk Turks, Mongols and finally, Ottoman Turks (to name but a few) each conferring in turn their own individual influences upon the inhabitants of this continually re-conquered region.

After the defeat of the centuries-old dynasty of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, the republic of Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. And for the next fifteen years of his rule as first president of Turkey, an incredible amount of sweeping reforms were introduced that would dramatically transform life within the newly formed nation. Determined to bring Turkey forward as a modernised Western country through assiduous redefinitions of national identity, these reforms included adopting Western styles of clothing, the Metric system, the Western calendar and even the Roman alphabet was adopted in place of once-used Arabic script. Activities of religious sects were banned and religious attire of every kind was prohibited in public as a secular system of jurisprudence was set up to replace the former religious laws of the Ottoman Empire. But despite the severity of these measures, progressive steps were also made: amongst them rising literacy rates and the granting of social and political rights to women, as well as their right to run in parliamentary elections.


Forty years on, the embracing of all things Western was still going strong in Turkey. But it was not until the mid sixties that the influence of rock’n’roll would become widespread enough to secure a position in Turkish culture when it well and truly was kick-started into high with the Altin Mikrofon (‘Golden Microphone’) contest. Staged by the major Turkish daily newspaper Hürriyet, when it announced that all awarded finalists would be guaranteed a record release with the profits going solely to the artists themselves, the response was overwhelming. Contestants of an incredibly wide age span entered, matched by an equally varied assortment of talent later characterised as either “reviving the brisk tones of Anatolia” or “playing the music they picked up from Turkish folk repertoires in the rhythms of cha-cha-cha, twist, bossa nova, slow, swing or waltz.” Among the finalists were the ultra-tight beat group Cahit Oben with “Halimem” (‘My Halime’) while Ferdi Ozbegen edged in with his cheeky “Sandigimi Acamadim” (‘I Couldn’t Open My Coffer’). Group Sonya Dores performed “Gemiciler” (‘Sailors’) with a Spanish flavour, and Ilham Gencer wowed the judges with his own composition, “Zamane Kizlar” (‘Modern Day Girls’). Kanat Gur’s bossa nova version of “Karadir Kaslarin Ferman Yazdirir” (‘Your Black Eyebrows Write Ferman’) was an equal gas for the judges while the Shadows-obsessed quintet Siluetler converted a traditional Anatolian folk number “Kasik Havasi” (‘Castanet Style’) into a supersnazz surf instrumental.

Needless to say, it was an enthusiastic and culturally checquered event whose British equivalent would be on par with a mid-sixties NME Poll Winner’s concert featuring Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, Mr. Acker Bilk, The Shadows, Rory Storm & The Hurricanes, Yootha Joyce backed by Sounds Incorporated, Cilla Black and the Aberystwyth Men’s Choral Society.

Although Anadolu (‘Anatolian’) Pop was now officially off and running, it still had a long way to go. But with each successive Altin Mikrofon contest, massive steps were taken forward in establishing a newfound acceptance for rock’n’roll as groups that re-interpreted centuries-old indigenous folk songs with electrified Western instruments steadily came on the scene and began winning more of the top positions. By the time of the fourth and final Golden Microphone competition in 1968, the finalists were almost entirely comprised of rock’n’roll groups. A 17-day tour was scheduled throughout Turkey and this is where we now reconnect to Erkin Koray, for the Erkin Koray Dörtlüsü (‘Quartet’) were at last Altin Mikrofon finalists after an unsuccessful bid the previous year and now they were competing against Haramiler, the recently formed Mogollar, Sis Beslisi & Turgut Okay, and the ludicrously un-Rock-named and -sounding T.P.A.O. Batman Orkestrasi (as Pop Art as it might initially seem, the ‘Batman’ merely referred to the Turkish city of their origin) who somehow aced first place with their “Meselidir Enginde Daglar Meseli” (‘The Mountains Are Stronger Far Away’). However, the psychedelic band Haramiler came in second with “Arpa Bugday Daneler” (‘Pieces of Barley’) in matching Carnaby Street gear while the furry-booted Mogollar followed up in third place “by the luck of their lamb skins” as they wryly noted to the press.

As for Koray and his Dörtlüsü, they squeaked into fourth with their uncontrollable Middle East instro rave-up, “Çiçek Dagi” (‘Mountain of Flowers’) that hung ten like The Great Society sans Grace Slick but at twice the speed and proficiency in their eastern modal raga-sinations and from here, Koray’s Turkish express just kept-a-rollin’. Ever since he had finished his compulsory two-year military service in 1965 (spending it as a guitarist in the Air Force Jazz Band) Koray had grown out his hair, which with each passing year had increased in length to perilous consequence: his outward appearance caused several separate knife attacks on his person on the streets of Istanbul.

Koray packed a knife for defence, let his stab wounds heal, continued to grow his hair and rocked on.

A year prior to his Altin Mikrofon triumph, Koray had signed with Istanbul Records, for whom he would subsequently record fourteen singles between the years of 1967-1973. Singles being the primary format of choice in Turkey at the time, this array of seven inchers displayed Koray’s consistent talents as guitarist, arranger and vocalist and they are primo examples of Turkish Rock as they traced his development from recording the knees-up motherfucker cover of “Land Of A Thousand Dances” (in Turkish!) to the very beginnings of his increasing interest in merging rock with Eastern forms, especially ‘arabesk,’ a Turkish version of Arab popular music which despite official condemnation had continued to thrive. By the fifties, sizeable migrations from rural to urban areas had created a culture of disaffection, and arabesk music was its soundtrack. By the end of the sixties, it had gained widespread popularity in the peripheries of the more prosperous cities of Turkey as it related issues of national identity that Atatürk’s reforms had left unaddressed and inadvertently had amplified in its accelerated drive towards modernising Turkey into a potential Western-styled power. Arabesk was a reaction to this abrupt cultural alignment with the West, and it described a social reality of the migrant folk who felt like outsiders in their own land as nostalgia, fatalism, frustration and resentment all took form in arabesk music alongside recurrent themes of city alienation. This expressionist Turkish reggae/punk/film noir-all-at-once art form would gain its widest recognition during the mid-sixties through the exotic records of Orhan Gencebay. Flying under cover of then-popular sitar vogue on Western pop records, Gencebay’s skilled use of baglama (the Turkish stringed instrument akin to the lute), electric baglama and sitar succeeded in blending non-Occidental elements in an entirely new and popular approach. And although arabesk was still officially off limits, Gencebay’s expertise as a musician as well as an ability to cut a dashing figure in Western clothes subversively offset by his overtly Eastern-styled moustache successfully bridged all gaps of acceptance. And since his records sounded psychedelic anyway, when questioned if they harboured any “hidden arabesk intentions,” Gencebay could only coolly reply that it was merely an attempt “to sound like Pink Floyd.”

Erkin Koray met Gencebay in the early seventies and was immediately struck by his friend’s knowledge of Eastern musical forms, tunings and techniques, finding a potential for further explorations through adaptations of traditional baglama and Eastern influences and re-setting it within the context of psychedelic Rock with Turkish chords and rhythms. And during the years 1969-1971, Koray and his band Yeralti Dörtlüsü (‘Underground Quartet’) set about investigating and synthesising just that in their communal house with spectacular results. Scattered throughout seven singles on the Istanbul imprint, some of the highlights (among nothing but) of Koray’s work with Yeralti Dörtlüsü were: his arrangement of “Kendim Ettim Kendim Buldum” (‘What I Reaped, I Sowed’), the fuzzed-out radio-in-a-kebab-shop-on-acid sonorities of “Nihansin Dideden” (‘You Are Hidden From Sight’), the epic “Istemem” (‘I Don’t Want’) with its ultimate refusenik song title and infinite Dervish guitar soloing and the snarling fuzz guitar that battled Koray’s vocals of regret over sharp handclaps epic that is “Köprüden Geçti Gelin” (‘The Bride Crossed Over the Bridge’). After Koray split up Yeralti Dörtlüsü, he immediately formed his next band, Erkin Koray Süper Grup who through two excellent singles (“Yagmur”/“Aska Inanmiyorum” and “Sen Yoksun Diye”/“Goca Dünya”) continued to blaze trails without a trace of artifice as he overlaid fuzz guitar riffs upon amplified non-linear baglama cycles that cross-referenced Eastern motifs naturally and with purpose into his own interpretations of Anatolian folk ballads or ‘türküler.’ And his increasing incorporation of arabesk in his music would increase its acceptance on a wider scale.

The sole release of Erkin Koray & Ter: “Hor Görme Garibi”/“Züleyha” (1972) is one of the heaviest in all Turkish Rock.

Ever restless, Koray split his trüly Süper Grup in 1972 and formed one that was even more süper. So süper, it bordered on the stüpor. Calling themselves and their noise Erkin Koray & Ter, here Koray fronted a three-piece comprised of refugees from the recently-demised power trio, Bunalimlar. ‘Ter’ is the Turkish word for ‘sweat’ and this was an entirely appropriate a moniker for this group of hairy volume freaks as their “Hor Görme Garibi”/“Züleyha” 45 is without a doubt not only the wildest and heaviest of Koray’s career but probably in all Turkish Rock as well. The blazing intensity of both sides of this single is ridiculously matched with an equal amount of energy and full throttle abandon as successive waves of sonic boomeranging come raging forth in a froth from the speakers as the fuckin’-ayyy!-side, a cover of Orhan Gencebay’s “Hor Görme Garibi” (‘Don’t Underestimate the Poor Guy’) gets shot up into a Stooges-like stratosphere as ex-Bunalimlar guitarist Aydin Cakus let loose with an uninterrupted, unhinged guitar solo that managed to even shoehorn in Mick Ronson’s melody riff from “Moonage Daydream” into a seething pre-punk frenzy that hung behind Koray’s calmly intoned yet Cappadocian cavern sized-reverbed vocals. The insanity spills all over the flipside “Züleyha,” where once more Ter just rip it up in a reprise of their scorched-earth policy style while Koray’s vocals, although more echo-chambered than before, are imbued with an open air triumphant march to victory. It’s a deliriously killer single whose defiance weighs in to match that of the “Raw Power” outtake released in ’77 as Iggy Pop/James Williamson’s one-two punch 45, “I Got A Right”/“Gimme Some Skin.”


Seven years in the making: Erkin Koray’s first and self-titled LP from 1973

However, Istanbul Records were unenthusiastic with this new and unsubtle approach of Koray’s and balked at a second Erkin Koray & Ter release, causing all activities of this group to draw to an abrupt end. Koray attempted to form a group called Stop who never got to the recording stage, but two individual tracks from the time eventually saw release in 1973 as Koray’s magnificent psychedelic single, “Mesafeler” (‘Distances’)/“Silinmeyen Hatiralar.” It would be Koray’s final single for Istanbul, and after seven years of single-only releases, Istanbul finally released the self-titled “Erkin Koray” album, Koray’s first ever long player. And although containing excellent material, excluding both sides of the recent “Mesafeler” single, “Erkin Koray” was drawn together from material dating from as far back as 1967 and was hardly representative of Koray’s current artistic pursuits. Whether issued merely as a contractual release, a weird afterthought or a makeshift compilation to meet the demands of Koray’s sustained popularity in Turkey, “Erkin Koray” would be his final release on Istanbul Records.

In 1974, Koray signed with Dogan Records and it was here where he was able to finally present his artistic statement in a form that was contemporary, under his control and unrestricted by the abbreviated length of singles. And what he delivered is considered by many to be his masterwork: the full length “Elektronik Türküler” (“Electronic Ballads”) album.


The alternative sleeve of “Elektronik Türküler” found on the CD reissue

The longhaired Koray now also sported a beard and with a voice as sonorous and robust as ever, worked into the texture of the album’s eight tracks a layer of swirling and droning e-guitar and e-baglama interplay decorated with repercussions, bongos and tambourines. Koray recorded three of his own original Rock instrumentals alongside five remaining tracks that were all versions of Anatolian folk songs ranging in vintage from years to centuries. Koray did the arrangements and was able to unify all eight songs into a seamless trip where past and present, east and west, acoustic and electric all merged together effortlessly. Joining Koray were Sedat Avci from the old days of Koray’s Dörtlüsü on drums, bassist Ahmet Guvenc while additional players Faruk Tekbilek (baglama) and Eyup Duran (bongos) rounded out the trio.

“Ahmet made a very funny voice when he was acting as harmony vocalist, we could not resist laughing. He was also laughing when he was discharged as vocalist. He suppressed all of us when we were playing “Türkü”… Sedat was always motivated, successful, full of good intentions and an old friend. Ahmet and I fit very well in the corners of the rhythms that he structured. Once he left by saying, “I’ll be back soon” and came back two hours later. He got confused when he listened to “Korkulu Rüya” for the first time, then he liked it a lot.
We got into the studio at 18:00 in the evening for “Karli Daglar.” It was 9:00 in the morning when our voice engineer Doruk Onatkut told us, “I didn’t like it. Should we start it all over again?” He would almost pass away… Our lovely girl Meftun prepared our teas, brought our fruit juices, and made every effort for us. She was a blue angel representing all goodness when we tried to lift a 25 kilogram Marshall. Our record producer Hidayet, whom we love so much, came to our place to ask: “What is going on there?” We let him listen to “Inat.” He made no comment. His cheeks were a little bit red…
When we were recording “Yalnizlar Rihtimi” our tea-maker Baba left the kitchen locked. We suffered from thirst that day… In the meantime, Doruk Onatkut provided us with the required environment, in addition to taking care of the recording in a very delicate and successful manner by giving examples of the modern world. In sum, it was a nice and productive work…” -Erkin Koray (Translated from the original liners notes to “Elektronik Türküler”)


Bearded Baba: Koray as he appears in the gatefold of “Elektronik Türküler.”

“Elektronik Türküler” begins with the traditional Anatolian ballad “Karli Daglar” (‘Snowy Mountains’) and the sound that first emerges are those of the plucked four strings of the baglama and the sound is both sensuous and languid as hell. With the sound of a telephone ringing to break the previous supinely-inducing spell, another chiftetelli/belly dance undulation rises to the surface with Koray’s instrumental, “Sir” (‘Secret’) his lead baglama book-ending a middle break where he suddenly lets loose with a stinging and entirely psychedelic guitar solo. The mood all changes with the next track, “Hele Yar,” an acoustic re-arrangement of a Turkish ballad from the 17th Century by the Anatolian troubadour, Karacaoglan. The title translates into either ‘Special Lover’ or ‘Let’s Go, Girl!’ and it “sounds” exactly like both — it’s the most happy-go-lucky moment of the album as twin baglamas construct a dance rhythm behind lilting bass and scant drums. For several cycling verses they court a young lady as all three wander through foothills, place a flower behind her ear and then chase each other down by the seaside, ahhh… This romantic piece sees contributing background vocals by Sedat the drummer and their “blue angel” Meftun, and after endless repetitions of this dance of love and life, they all can’t take it anymore and it all breaks down in laughter. Perfect.
Produced within a few minutes during a break, the brief instrumental “Korkulu Rüya” (‘Nightmare’) runs rampant with sinister organ chords held down as if they sleep’s suffocating pillow itself as backwards electric guitar streaks by laser-like as all the while a steady bass line lurks watches from a distance as though it’s the Türküdelic cousin of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”. Koray freaks out on the organ in-between yelps and panting in terror until finally and with harried relief jerks awake to find himself back in his Istanbul pad. With its muffled T-Rex/Stones groove, a cover of Kemal Inci’s “Yalnizlar Rihtimi” (‘The Wharf of the Lonely Ones’) is the most Western moment of the album. Taking its title from a 1959 Turkish film, piano and bass buoyantly carry the melody from wharf side out into the open sea and past the promontories of care. By the end, Koray just drops off his vocal and is content to wedge in a glowing guitar solo that tears off and into the remainder of the track. Koray intones a final verse of “aaaaahh”s along with it, but his solo just carries along to the end, permanently anchored to the rhythm.

Side two opens with the acoustic guitar-led love ballad, “Cemalim” (‘My Cemal’). Written by the early 20th century folk composer Urguplu Refik Basaran, this well known Anatolian folk number is here strung up by Koray’s stridently strummed acoustic guitar that continues unbendingly throughout against overdubbed electric guitar placed in patches with excellent accenting. The voices of Sedat the drummer and “blue angel” Meftun waft softly in the background, echoing Koray’s hypnotising vocal repetition of the title as he accompanies himself with highly controlled fuzz guitar and shuddering, Cipollina-like filigrees. Halfway through, it continues on with the repeat of a single word for an extended period and just rolls with the tide of Koray’s acoustic rhythm, gradually slowing in tempo to a beautifully (bitter-) sweet conclusion.
The brief instrumental, “Inat” (‘Stubbornness’) opens with an e-guitar BRAAANG-BRAAANG-BRAAANG at top volume gain, and it’s a roomful of Koray-ian fuzz guitars with nowhere to do and nothing to go except to butt heads against themselves and the studio walls in this drum-less dual guitar solo against Koray’s double-tracked bongo backing. This proto-metal taxim/improvisation then falls away without warning and immediately into the nine-minute Eastern mystery odyssey that is “Türkü” (‘Ballad’), a piece co-written by the Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet and the father of modernised “türkü” (‘folk ballads’), Ruhi Su. With an opening flourish of reeds and drums the band then breaks down to allow Koray his sole baglama spot to establish the main theme. Then Ahmet Tekbilek’s kalem, that Turkish double-reed wind instrument of snake charming tendencies riffs and weaves into a truly psychedelic arabesk against a foundation of solid and simple bass and drums that keep the tempo at a hashish-resinated pace (By way of reference, it constantly reminds me of the beginning of Aphrodite’s Child’s “All The Seats Were Occupied” and The Stones’ Eastern tinged freak-out on “Gomper.”) A flourish on the guitar and the voice of Erkin the Great emerges from the shadows with cave-like reverb, slowly reciting words of great import (Although I unhesitatingly state I know not a word of Turkish, the repeated phrase of — I think– “bizim nos plak” gets intoned over and over again as if in consecration of a ceremonial rite and I trust its meaning is probably twice as heavy as I think.) The reeds come in and weave once more and the band is propelling itself steadily faster with Dervish-like rotary-ness. Koray’s fingering guitar trembles against weaving woodwind and everything is flying high until a quick drum accent signals an abrupt breakdown where breaking glass shattering the calm. But the high pitched woodwind continues even sweeter than before, picking itself up from the broken glass to charm back the vibe and the band enters at a pace even quicker and more muscular than before. A single baglama returns, needle-pointing back the main theme as Koray’s guitar and his trance-like intonation carries further and further back into time and Koray’s brain with each repeated “Bizim nos plak…” each word gaining further and further into ancestral echo-land where east is west and west is east…

And on this album, Koray successfully synthesised it all into one.

Koray is a steadfast rock’n’roll musician of the highest and most enduring calibre. Although the past sixty years have not been easy on “Baba” Erkin as he endured over four decades in rock’n’roll and faced problems with his music, personal appearance and lifestyle. But the rip-offs, stabbings, illnesses, relocating homes and even the political upheavals during the September 1980 military coup in his native land could not extinguish his rock’n’roll flame. He once said: “I will not leave music until music leaves me.” And this most resolute rock’n’roller has honoured his word and the spirit of music — as well as rock’n’roll fans in both Turkey and abroad — many times over with his musical vision.


erkin-koray-diskografisi_471807

Erkin Koray Discography (1962-1976)

Singles:
Bir Eylül Akgami/It’s So Long (Melodi) 1962
Balla Balla/You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away/Watcha Gonna Do About It/It’s All Over Now (Sayan) 1966

(Erkin Koray & Dörtlüsü)
Kizlari da Alin Askere/Ask Oyunu (Istanbul) 1967
Anma Arkadas/Anadolu’da Sevdim (Istanbul) 1967
Meçhul/Çiçek Dagi (Altin Mikrofon) 1968
Hop Hop Gelsin/Çiçek Dagi (Istanbul) 1968

(Erkin Koray & Yeralti Dörtlüsü)
Aska Dönüyorum/Yine Yalnizim (Istanbul) 1969
Sana Bir Seyler Olmus/Seni Her Gördügümde (Istanbul) 1969
Belki Bir Gün Anlarsin/Nihansin Dideden (Istanbul) 1970
Istemem/Köprüden Geçti Gelin (Istanbul) 1970
Kendim Ettim Kendim Buldum/Askimiz Bitecek (Istanbul) 1970
Meçhul/Ve… (Diskotür) 1970
Gel Bak Ne Söylicem/Gün Dogmuyor (Diskotür) 1970
Senden Ayri/Bu Sana Son Mektubum (Istanbul) 1971
Kiskanirim/Ilahi Morluk (Istanbul) 1971

(Erkin Koray Süper Grup)
Yagmur/Aska Inanmiyorum (Istanbul) 1971
Sen Yoksun Diye/Goca Dünya (Istanbul) 1972

(Erkin Koray & Ter)
Hor Görme Garibi/Züleyha (Istanbul) 1972

Mesafeler/Silinmeyen Hatiralar (Istanbul) 1973
Saskin/Eyvah (Dogan 501) 1974
Krallar/Dost Aci Söyler (Dogan 504) 1974
Fesupanallah/Komsu Kizi (Dogan 505) 1974
Estarabim/Sevince (Dogan 509) 1975
Arap Saçi/Timbilli (Dogan 502) 1976
Gönül Salincagi/Hayat Bir Teselli (Dogan 516) 1976

Albums:
Erkin Koray (Istanbul) 1973
Elektronik Türküler (Dogan) 1974
Erkin Koray 2 (Dogan) 1976

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Stunning Portraits Of The World’s Remotest Tribes Before they Disappear

Living in a concrete box with hot water pouring from the tap, a refrigerator cooling our food and wi-fi connecting us to the rest of the world, we can barely imagine a day in a life of, say, Tsaatan people. They move 5 to 10 times per year, building huts when the temperature is -40 and herding reindeer for transportation, clothing and food. “Before They Pass Away,” a long-term project by photographer Jimmy Nelson, gives us the unique opportunity to discover more than 30 secluded and slowly vanishing tribes from all over the world.

Spending 2 weeks in each tribe, Jimmy became acquainted with their time-honoured traditions, joined their rituals and captured it all in a very appealing way. His detailed photographs showcase unique jewellery, hairstyles and clothing, not to forget the surroundings and cultural elements most important to each tribe, like horses for Gauchos. According to Nelson, his mission was to assure that the world never forgets how things used to be: “Most importantly, I wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time. A body of work that would be an irreplaceable ethnographic record of a fast disappearing world.”

All of his snapshots now lie in a massive book and will be extended by a film (you can see a short introduction video below). So embark on a journey to the most remote corners and meet the witnesses of a disappearing world. Would you give up your smartphone, internet and TV to live free like them?

Source: beforethey.com

Kazakh, Mongolia

Himba, Namibia

Huli, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Asaro, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Kalam, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Goroka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Chukchi, Russia

Maori, New Zealand

Gauchos, Argentina

Tsaatan, Mongolia

Samburu, Kenya

Rabari, India

Mursi, Ethiopia

Ladakhi, India

Vanuatu, Vanuatu Islands

Drokpa, India

Dassanech, Ethiopia

Karo, Ethiopia

Banna, Ethiopia

Dani, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea

Maasai, Tanzania

Nenets, Russia

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The Incredible, 240 Year Old Writing Robot

This Programmable 6,000 Part Drawing Boy Automata is Arguably the First Computer and It Was Built 240 Years Ago history automata
The Writer was built in the 1770s using 6,000 moving parts by Pierre Jaquet-Droz, his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot

Designed in the late 1770s this incredible little robot called simply The Writer, was designed and built by Swiss-born watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz with help from his son Henri-Louis, and Jean-Frédéric Leschot. Jaquet-Droz was one of the greatest automata designers to ever live and The Writer is considered his pièce de résistance. On the outside the device is deceptively simple. A small, barefoot boy perched at a wooden desk holding a quill, easily mistaken for a toy doll. But crammed inside is an engineering marvel: 6,000 custom made components work in concert to create a fully self-contained programmable writing machine that some consider to be the oldest example of a computer.

In this clip from BBC Four’s documentary Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams hosted by Professor Simon Schaffer, we go behind the scenes to learn just how this remarkably complex 240-year-old device was designed and constructed. The entire clip is well worth a watch, in fact here’s another bit about Merlin’s gorgeous silver swan automata:

In my youth the “automata” of choice was either a Tomy Omnibot or a demonic Teddy Ruxpin, cheaply manufactured plastic robots, both which played casette tapes and were destined to break within a few weeks (if you lost or broke the remote control to the Omnibot it was effectively useless). Not to suggest the machines above were mass-produced as children’s toys, but it’s amazing to think such incredibly crafted machines like the Writer and the Swan were built in the eighteenth century around the time of the American Revolutionary War, the age of James Cook, and the invention of the steam engine. (via Colossal Submissions)

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Ordering the Heavens: A Visual History of Mapping the Universe

Maria Popova via Brain Pickings

 

 

From Copernicus to Ancient Korea, or what the Chinese concept of change has to do with Aztec astrology.

The love of maps is a running theme here atBrain Pickings, from these 7 must-read books on creative cartography to, most recently, BBC’s fantastic documentary on important medieval maps. Humanity’s long history of visual sensemaking is as much a source of timeless inspiration as a living record of how our collective understanding of the universe and our place in it evolved. It seems like the farther from the known mapmakers’ imaginations traveled, the more fascinating their maps became. And hardly does the unknown glimmer with more alluring sparkle than the cosmos. Explaining and Ordering the Heavens is a fantastic online exhibition from The Library of Congress, examining over 8 centuries of humanity’s evolving views of the universe, from ancient Buddhist cosmological maps to Galileo’s seminal work in astronomy to Persian celestial globes and more. Gathered here is a curated selection of images from the exhibition, alongside the original caption text accompanying them.

 

The Emperor’s Astronomy

Petrus Apianus. Astronomicum Caesareum. (The Emperor’s Astronomy). Ingolstadt, Germany: 1540.

The ‘Emperor’s Astronomy'(dedicated to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V) elegantly depicts the cosmos and heavens according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth. By means of hand-colored maps and moveable paper parts (volvelles), Petrus Apianus (1495-1552) laid out the mechanics of a universe that was earth- and human-centered. Within three years of Apianus’s book, this view was challenged by Copernicus’s assertion that the earth revolved around the sun, making this elaborate publication outdated.

 

 

Popular Sixteenth-Century Scientific Work

Petrus Apianus and Gemma Frisius. Cosmographia, Petri Apiani. additis euisdem argumenti libellis ipsius Gemmaa Frisii. (Cosmographia of Petrus Apianus,carefully corrected and with all errors set to right by Gemma Frisius.) Antwerp: Arnoldi Birckmanni, 1564.

Cosmographia (1524) by German mathematician Petrus Apianus (1492-1552) provides a layman’s introduction to subjects such as astronomy, geography, cartography, surveying, navigation, and mathematical instruments. In this popular edition with changes by another noted mathematician, Gemma Frisius (1508-1555), movable paper instruments (volvelles) enabled readers to solve calendar problems and find the positions of the sun, moon, and the planets. Apianus depicted the cosmos according to the 1400-year-old Ptolemaic system, which maintained that the sun revolved around the earth, a theory challenged by Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543) in Apianus’s lifetime.

 

 

A Heliocentric Cosmos

Nicolaus Copernicus. De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, Libri VI. Nuremberg: Ioh. Petreius, 1543.

This volume is the first edition of the work that set forth evidence that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Written by Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), and published just before his death, the work was met by tremendous opposition because it contradicted religious beliefs of the time. The Copernican views provided the basis for the later work of Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), Galileo (1564-1642), and Isaac Newton (1642-1727).

 

 

 

Ancient Chinese Concept of Change

The Astronomical Phenomena. (Tien Yuan Fa Wei). Compiled by Bao Yunlong in the 13th century. Ming Dynasty edition, 1457-1463.

The book is an explanation of the ‘Ba Gua’ used in the Yi-ching (I Ching or Classic of Changes, also known as the Book of Divination). According to this Chinese world view, the universe is run by a single principle, the Tao, or Great Ultimate. This principle is divided into two opposite principles–yin and yang. All phenomena can be understood using yin-yang and five associated agents, which affect the movements of the stars, the workings of the body, the nature of foods, the qualities of music, the ethical qualities of humans, the progress of time, the operations of government, and even the nature of historical change.

 

 

Earth-Centered Universe View

William Cuningham. ‘Coelifer Atlas’ from The Cosmographical Glasse. London: John Day, 1559.

This illustration from William Cuningham’s The Cosmographical Glasse (1559) represents Ptolemy’s conception of the universe. Atlas, dressed like an ancient king, bears on his shoulders an armillary sphere representing the universe. In the center of the sphere is earth, made up of the elements of earth and water. Surrounding the earth are two more elemental spheres, for air and for fire. Other bands represent the spheres of the planets, the firmament of fixed stars, the crystalline sphere, the primum mobile, and the signs of the zodiac. Below Atlas are lines on cosmological themes from Virgil’s Aeneid.

 

 

 

Descartes’s Mechanical Philosophy

René Descartes. Principia philosophiae. Amsterdam: Apud L. Elzevirium, 1644.

According to French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650), the universe operated as a continuously running machine which God had set in motion. Since he rejected Newton’s theory of gravity and idea of a vacuum in space, Descartes argued that instead the universe was composed of a ‘subtle matter’ he named ‘plenum,’ which swirled in vortices like whirlpools and actually moved the planets by contact. Here, these vortices carry the planets around the Sun.

 

 

First Atlas of the Moon

Johannes Hevelius. Selenographia sive lunae descriptio, atque accurata tum macularum eius, quam motuum diversorum. Danzig: Hunefeldianis, 1647.

Before the revolutionary, sun-centered ideas of Copernicus, the traditional geocentric or earth-centered universe was usually depicted by concentric circles. In this popular German work on natural history, medicine, and science, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) depicted the universe in a most unusual but effective manner. The seven known planets are contained within straight horizontal bands which separate the Earth below from Heaven, populated by the saints, above.

 

 

Picturing the Universe

Konrad von Megenberg, Buch der Natur (Book of Nature). Augsberg: Johannes Bämler, 1481.

Before the revolutionary, sun-centered ideas of Copernicus, the traditional geocentric or earth-centered universe was usually depicted by concentric circles. In this popular German work on natural history, medicine, and science, Konrad von Megenberg (1309-1374) depicted the universe in a most unusual but effective manner. The seven known planets are contained within straight horizontal bands which separate the Earth below from Heaven, populated by the saints, above.

 

 

Buddhist Cosmological Map

Sekai dais no zu (Buddhist Cosmological Map). Japan: 1830

This map represents the Buddhist mythological and real worlds. The upper half of the map depicts the seven great forests interwoven with seven rivers, the Sun God Palace, and the ‘Great Jambu Tree.’ The tree is described as 10,000 miles high and bearing the most delicious fruits. Only those who cultivated the divine power can visit the tree. The central section is the Sun God Palace in heaven.

 

 

Traditional Korean Maps

Chonhado (World Map) from Chonha Chido (Map of the World).Hand-copied manuscript map. Korea: mid-eighteenth century.

From the oldest known examples (perhaps from the sixteenth century) to almost the end of the tradition in the nineteenth century, the content and structure of traditional Korean maps such as these examples changed very little. The map of the world (or Chonhado) presents Korea, China, and their East Asian neighbors surrounded by rings of exotic, mythical lands and peoples and reflects the traditional Korean view that the world was flat. Being a peninsula, Korea stood out on the map and was close to China, the classical center of Asian civilization.

 

 

Tibetan Astrological Thangka

Srid pa ho (Divination Chart). Tibet, late twentieth century. Paint on cloth.

Tibetan astrology depicts the signs and symbols of the universe in this traditional format, possibly introduced from China as early as the seventh century and popular in Tibet since the seventeenth century. The central figure is a large golden tortoise, representing the Bodhisattva of Knowledge, upon whom are drawn various geomantic diagrams, such as the nine magic squares and symbols of the eight planets. This type of Thangka is often hung in homes for protection and displayed for special occasions.

 

 

Constellations from Classical Antiquity

Reiner Ottens. Atlas maior cvm generales omnivm totius orbis regnorvm. Amsterdam: 1729. Hand-colored engraving.

The star charts of Reiner Ottens (1698-1750) were intended first and foremost as a feast for the eye and had no pretensions to scientific precision or the presentation of the most recent cartographic information. The constellations on this chart are elaborately represented by figures from classical antiquity. In the corners of the chart are illustrations of four European observatories, including that of the noted sixteenth-century astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601). This atlas is a seven-volume compendium of assembled-to-order star charts and geographical maps.

 

 

Aztec Calendar Stone

Antonio de León y Gama. Descripción histórica y cronológica de las dos piedras. Mexico City: F. Zuniga y Ontiveros, 1792.

In 1790 workers repaving near the Cathedral in Mexico City discovered a stone eleven and one-half feet in diameter inscribed with the Aztec calendar. When in use, the stone would have had bright polychrome colors and would have held sacrificed human hearts that the Aztecs believed were needed to feed the sun and keep civilization alive. This first study (pictured to the left) of the stone explained its 260-day divinatory cycle. The stone’s colossal size, elaborate patterning, and symbolic imagery have made it an unofficial emblem of Mexico.

 

 

Omens in the Sun

Burmese astronomical-astrological manuscript, mid-nineteenth century. Accordion-style paper manuscript.

This manuscript of the mid-nineteenth century, possibly of Sgau Karen origin (the Karen are a minority people in the mountainous parts of Burma), shows various appearances in the sun, the moon, clouds, etc., and indicates the primarily bad omens these appearances foretell. Explanations in English were added to this manuscript by a nineteenth-century American missionary.

 

 

Astronomy Cards

Jehoshaphat Aspin. A Familiar Treatise on Astronomy. London, 1825.

An unidentified lady, referred to by her nom-de-plume, Jehoshaphat Aspin, designed these whimsical astronomy cards. Most of the names of the zodiacal constellations date from the early Babylonian period, possibly from the Sumerians. The zodiac itself is a mathematical concept, which does not appear to be in use prior to 400 B.C. It provides a frame of reference in which the positions of the sun, moon, and planets could be expressed by their angular distance from the beginning of the sign in which they were located.

 

See more gems in the Library of Congress online exhibition. You can read more about how the exhibition was envisioned, curated and brought to life here.

Controlled Chaos: The Literary Inspirations of Ian Curtis

iancurtis

From Dostoevsky to Burroughs to pulp sci-fi, Ian Curtis devoured offbeat literature. 

Jon Savage via the Guardian

In March 1980, Joy Division released their third single, featuring the songs “Atmosphere” and “Dead Souls”. Published in a limited edition of 1,578 on an independent French label, Sordide Sentimental, this was no ordinary record. Carrying a “warning” of one word – gesamtkunstwerke – it was, indeed, a total artwork comprising graphics, music, photographs and text, a world unto itself.

On the cover of the fold-out was a painting by neoclassical artist Jean-François Jamoul, picturing a robed hermit looking out over mountain tops, the valleys obscured by clouds. Inside was a collage of a lone figure descending into the depths of the earth, with Anton Corbijn’s photo of Joy Division under strip lighting in Lancaster Gate station. And then there was the text.

In the essay entitled “Licht und Blindheit” (light and blindness), Jean-Pierre Turmel positioned himself as far away from rock crit cliché as possible. Citing Pascal, Heinrich von Kleist and Georges Bataille among others, he went in deep in his attempt to explain the effect that Joy Division had on him:

“At the heart of daily punishment and sufferings, in the very wheels of encroaching mediocrity, are found both the keys and the doors to inner worlds.”

Received with rapture by Joy Division fans – not least because the two songs were among the best the group ever recorded – the Sordide Sentimental single was an early recognition of the fanaticism, if not religiosity, that would surround the group. Ian Curtis loved the package, but then he above all knew how words and books worked as a threshold into other dimensions.

In the same way that Jim Morrison referenced Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night in the Doors’ moody masterpiece, “End of the Night”, Curtis dropped hints in song titles such as “Dead Souls”, “Colony” and “Atrocity Exhibition” that he had read writers as diverse as Gogol, Kafka and Ballard, while the lyrics reflected, in mood and approach, his interest in romantic and science-fiction literature.

This is not to legitimise Curtis’s lyrics as literature, but to make the point that, in the 60s and 70s, pop culture acted as a clearing house for information that was occult in the widest sense: esoteric, degraded, unpopular, underneath the literary radar. And there was a whole subculture and a market that supported these endeavours to go underground, to step outside.

Joy Division continue to inspire new generations of listeners, but they were very much a product of time and place. Ian Curtis was an avid reader who became a driven writer “trying to find a clue, trying to find a way to get out”. In the north-west of England in the mid to late 70s, he found the materials that he needed for his escape, only to discover that – as was evident from much of his reading – escape was impossible.

Like the Doors and the Fall, Joy Division were named after a book. Their inspiration was not Huxley or Camus, however, but a piece of Holocaust exploitation. The House of Dolls by Ka-Tzetnik (real name Yehiel Feiner) told of the areas in concentration camps in which women were forced into sex slavery: not the Labour Division but the Joy Division. By 1978, when the group adopted their name, the novel/memoir had sold millions of copies in paperback.

The early to mid-70s was a golden age of paperback publishing, both high and low. Apart from Penguin, with its vigorous science-fiction line that included authors such as Philip K Dick, Olaf Stapledon and JG Ballard, there were Picador, Pan, Mayflower, Paladin – the last with a wide-ranging list that included Jeff Nuttall and Timothy Leary. Selling for 50p and upwards (when an LP cost £3.25), these books were readily available to young minds.

In the Manchester area, there were several outlets for this jumble of esoterica, some left over from the oppositional hippie days. The historian CP Lee remembers shops such as Paper-chase and the leftwing Grassroots, while Paul Morley worked at the Bookshop in Stockport: “Tolkien was a huge seller, war books too, lots of experimental science fiction, as well as the Mills & Boon romances and tucked-away soft porn that kept things ticking over.”

Then there were the shops run by David Britton and Mike Butterworth: House on the Borderland, Orbit in Shudehill and Bookchain in Peter Street, just down the road from the site of the Peterloo massacre. As Butterworth recalls, all three “were modelled on two London bookshops of the period, Dark They Were and Golden Eyed in Berwick Street, Soho – which sold comics, sci-fi, drug-related stuff, posters, etc – and a chain called Popular Books”.

With his friend Steven Morris, Ian Curtis regularly visited House on the Borderland. Butterworth remembers them as “disparate, alienated young men attracted to like-minded souls. They wanted something offbeat and off the beaten track, and the shop supplied this. They probably saw it as a beacon in the rather bleak Manchester of the early 70s.”

“They came in every couple of weeks, sometimes more often. Ian bought second-hand copies of New Worlds, the great 60s literary magazine edited by Michael Moorcock, which was promoting Burroughs and Ballard. My friendship with Ian started around 1979: we talked Burroughs, Burroughs, Burroughs. At the bookshops he would have been exposed to an extremely wide range of eclectic and weird writers and music.”

Dropping out of school at 17, Curtis was an autodidact who took his cues from the pop culture of the time. In 1974, David Bowie was interviewed with William Burroughs in Rolling Stone. The actual chat was fairly non-eventful, but it made the link explicit – especially when Bowie was seen fiddling with cut-ups in Alan Yentob’s “Cracked Actor” documentary – and Burroughs would cast a major shadow over British punk and post-punk.

In the mid-70s, there was a sense – reinforced by the vacant, derelict state of Britain’s inner cities – that the bomb had already dropped. With its casual brutality and black humour, Burroughs’s accelerated prose – what his biographer Ted Morgan called his “nuclear style” – matched this apocalyptic mood. The lack of conventional narrative in his books plunged the reader into a maelstrom of malevolent, unseen forces and ever-present, unidentified dangers.

Joy Division rarely did interviews. In January 1980, however, they gave an audience to the young writer and singer Alan Hempsall. This was to be the only time that Curtis talked about his reading, and he mentioned Naked Lunch and The Wild Boys as two of his favourite books. The group had recently encountered Burroughs at their Plan K show in October 1979, though when Curtis approached the author to get a free copy of The Third Mind, he was rebuffed.

Curtis began writing in earnest during 1977, when he and his wife Deborah moved into their Barton Street home. In her memoir, Touching from a Distance, Deborah Curtis remembers that “most nights Ian would go into the blue room and shut the door behind him to write, interrupted only by cups of coffee handed through the swirls of Marlboro smoke. I didn’t mind the situation: we regarded it as a project, something that had to be done.”

His first attempts showed a writer struggling to establish a style. One of Joy Division’s most effective early recordings, “No Love Lost”, contains a spoken word section that lifts a complete paragraph from The House of Dolls. Songs such as “Novelty”, “Leaders of Men” and “Warsaw” were barely digested regurgitations of their sources: lumpy screeds of frustration, failure, and anger with militaristic and totalitarian overtones.

Like the group, Curtis worked hard to improve. His keynote early song for Joy Division, “Shadowplay”, explored for the first time the territory that he would make his own. Like a Burroughs cut-up, the lyrics shifted from a direct address to a description of a situation – often horrific or unsettling: “the assassins all grouped in four lines” – sealed with a first-person confession of guilt or helplessness: “I did everything I wanted to / I let them use you, for their own ends.”

By then, Curtis was exploring more than pulp horror. Deborah remembers him reading “Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hermann Hesse and JG Ballard. Photomontages of the Nazi Period was a book of anti-Nazi posters by John Heartfield, which documented graphically the spread of Hitler’s ideals. Crash by JG Ballard combined sex with the suffering of car accident victims.” Another favourite was Ballard’s 1975 High-Rise.

Deborah recently recalled that Ian never read these books in her presence, which she felt was “an indication to me that he considered them part of his work. They were important to him. It wasn’t something he did as relaxation or for pleasure. He was studying/working. Too important to try and concentrate on with someone else in the room. It wasn’t something he did as relaxation or for pleasure. His books would be on the floor next to his drafts.”

At Joy Division rehearsals, Curtis would act as the director, spotting riffs and working with Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris to turn them into songs. Once the music was completed, he would dig into the plastic bag in which he kept his notebooks and begin fitting words to music. As Sumner remembers in the film documentary Joy Division, “he would just pull some words out and start singing them, so it was pretty quick”.

Between 1978 and 1980, the lyrics poured out of him, enough for three albums and more. Curtis did not seek conventional narratives, but strived instead to create a situation in which the emotion came from the response of the narrator. As the lines shifted from the universal to the personal, the “I” was often trapped, as in a Greek tragedy, by forces outside his control: “We’re living by your rules, that’s what we’ve been shown” (“Candidate”).

Like many young men, Curtis oscillated between feelings of omnipotence and abjection, and his lyrics reflected this. The sense of a hero struggling – perhaps in vain – within a labyrinthine system is a common theme in Kafka, Gogol and Burroughs, among others. It’s not hard to see a thematic line from Kafka’s Control Officials (The Castle) to Burroughs’s theories of Control, or from the fatalism of the 19th-century Russians to postwar science fiction.

Ballard’s exquisite techno-barbarism offered a twist. Science fiction offers an alternative present, and Curtis used this language on Joy Division’s first album, Unknown Pleasures. Songs such as “Interzone” place desperate and forgotten youth, like the Wild Boys, in empty Mancunian landscapes. At the same time, there was a preoccupation with religious imagery and martyrdom, combined with a Nietzschean aloofness.

The words were, of course, only part of the package. Joy Division were a total artwork, right down to the record sleeves, the clothes and their posters. Live, they were brutal and impossibly intense: as a front man, Curtis placed himself completely in the moment with a persona that, intentionally or not, approximated the faraway stare of a seer: “I’ve travelled far and wide through many different times” (“Wilderness”).

It’s not hard to see how Curtis would have identified with the civil servant hero of Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, with his nihilistic disdain for the human “ant hill”: “We are born dead”. The problem of rock music is the idea of authenticity, the requirement that a front man should act out, if not embody, lyrics and mood. As Joy Division took off, he became trapped by his own script: “This life isn’t mine” (“Something Must Break”).

In the pivotal “Atrocity Exhibition”, Curtis wrote: “for entertainment they see his body twist / Behind his eyes he says, ‘I still exist'”. Though it refers to Ballard’s novella, the mood of the song is much more like Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. When asked about this by Alan Hempsall in January 1980, Curtis replied that he’d written the song long before he’d read the book: “I just saw this title and thought that it fitted with the ideas of the lyrics.”

It seems clear that Curtis used his books as mood generators. At the same time, his wife thought “the whole thing was culminating in an unhealthy obsession with mental and physical pain”. As she recently wrote: “I think that reading those books must have really nurtured his ‘sad’ side.”

As 1979 turned into 1980, Curtis’s mood grew darker. “Dead Souls” was a slice of HP Lovecraft horror, old and cold, that made the hairs stand up on your neck. Songs from the Closer period, such as “Isolation” and “Passover” – “this is the crisis I knew had to come” – showed the lyrical balance tipping into outright, anguished confessional. With its key words “will” and “again”, “Love Will Tear Us Apart” spoke of recurring emotional torment.

Nobody picked up the obvious signs. Tony Wilson, who is interviewed in the documentary, claimed he thought they were “just art”. Curtis’s final lyric, “In a Lonely Place”, echoes Jean-Pierre Turmel’s description of Bernini’s Ecstasy of St Teresa: “the marble, ghastly pale, set the body in a specific moment, between flesh and crystal, just before the tangible disappears and the soul flies away”.

Curtis’s great lyrical achievement was to capture the underlying reality of a society in turmoil, and to make it both universal and personal. Distilled emotion is the essence of pop music and, just as Joy Division are perfectly poised between white light and dark despair, so Curtis’s lyrics oscillate between hopelessness and the possibility, if not need, for human connection. At bottom is the fear of losing the ability to feel.

Nearly 30 years after his death, Joy Division have gone mass market: their music crops up in Coronation Street, or as a soundtrack for BBC sports coverage. I’m pleased the songs are receiving their due, but it’s also worth restating that the band, and its lyricist, were products of a particular time in cultural history, when there was an urge to read a certain sort of highbrow literature, and when intelligence was not a dirty word.

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Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, Narrated by William S. Burroughs

Häxan is a 1922 Swedish/Danish silent horror film written and directed by Benjamin Christensen. This version was updated in the mid 1960’s to include an English narration by William S Burroughs.

Based partly on Christensen’s study of the Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th-century German guide for inquisitors, Häxan is a study of how superstition and the misunderstanding of diseases and mental illness could lead to the hysteria of the witch hunts. The film was made as a documentary but contains dramatized sequences that are comparable to horror films.

With Christensen’s meticulous recreation of medieval scenes and the lengthy production period, the film was the most expensive Scandinavian silent film ever made, costing nearly two million Swedish kronor. Although it won acclaim in Denmark and Sweden, the film was banned in the United States and heavily censored in other countries for what were considered at that time graphic depictions of torture, nudity and sexual perversion.

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