Tuesday, 20 September 2011

randomness September - ancient circuits are long and winding

I wanted to start this another way, but then I read the disturbing news that in Saudi Arabia a man has been beheaded for sorcery. Whatever else might be said, not least "Salem witch trials", as the New Statesman article today says "the disturbing fact remains that in the 21st century a key western ally is still executing people for a wholly imaginary crime". 

Switching back to reality, of sorts, John Landis has a new book out called Monsters In The Moves: 100 Years Of Cinematic Nightmares, and tells Wired magazine about the best celluloid beasts, among them Griffin Dunne's decaying werewolf victim in Landis's own An American Werewolf In London, Christopher Lee's aristocratic vampire in Dracula (says Landis on this "all monsters are metaphors") and Ray Harryhausen's Cyclops in The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad. 

At London's BFI cinema, the surrealist layers of Maya Deren's experimental film-making are celebrated next month in a Maya Deren season that includes the famous Meshes Of The Afternoon, (my unlikely introduction to Deren,  as a still from this was used for the cover of an early Primal Scream single), Deren's other "chamber films", her famous voudoun documentary The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods Of Haiti, a biographical tribute to Deren, a one-day symposium hosted by the London Consortium, outtakes, posthumously compiled footage, work by film-makers inspired by Deren and the wonderfully named Seance For Maya Deren, where those film-makers discuss Deren's influence. Ritual In Transfigured Time is still my favourite piece by Deren herself, a quietly pulsing, abstract exploration of time and fate through subconscious otherworld realities and ritualised choreography. And also it features Anais Nin. Meantime, I'd been noticing and noticing noticing the day to day sounds of everyday, like the bicycles and bells amid the traffic on Euston Road, and the ever-present hum behind everything, like a constant electric generator, even in the middle of the night. Then, by chance, though not so mysterious a coincidence given my radio listening habits, I caught Hearing The Past, a BBC Radio 4 documentary where Professor Jim Al-Khalili investigated time-travelling using sound and technology, otherwise known as archeo-acoustics, sound art, and the implications for sound design for the future. This tuned me in to the concrete Stonehenge in America and back to Thomas Hardy's description of Stonehenge at the end of Tess of the d'Urbervilles - "What monstrous place is this," said Angel. "It hums" said she, "Harken". I liked the idea that Stonehenge's acoustics match up to modern acoustic venues, (albeit that Stonehenge's stones were, notoriously, realigned and straightened along the way) and that it might be used as a template for outdoor venues, a reminder of the news a couple of years ago that Stonehenge itself had been an ancient music venue. So, going to a gig really is a visit to the temple, then. But that idea of history resonating all the more when other senses added to either reading or watching a video reenactment, now that really was a magical conjuring.

A couple more quick finds.

First, an 1846 guide to the meaning of Avebury, Silbury Hill and other ancient sites in The Druidical Temples Of The County Of Wilts, by the Rev E Duke, a fellow it's easy to warm to as he keeps apologising for potentially boring his readers, ponders the inclusion of certain herbs in the druids records in the manner of 'well, they were the wisest of the wise, so I suppose they had their reasons' and grumbles about the oversights of his peers in pondering the planetary worship and astronomical legacy writ large on the Wiltshire landscape.

Second, Michael Kinsella's book Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore And The Search For Ong's Hat, exploring the quests to follow supernatural legends and sometimes reenact them. Along the way Kinsella shows how the modern day overnight ghosthunting trips or under the radar urban explorers of abandoned asylums echo the spiritualists own legend trips, often using technology like the telegraph and particularly the camera, and documents the explosion of the part-mystery, part-game online legend trip of Ong's Hat in the 1990s. All of which reminded me of the times of wanting to visit the local 'haunted mansion' as a kid, or of friends sneaking into abandoned hospitals in recent years and getting a thrill from seeing doctors coats and other paraphernalia and ephemera in some kind of Marie Celeste kind of setting, and the potential for what might be around the next corner ...

Lastly, Now That We're Being Honest is an American website with a nifty batch of occult-related posts. Thanks, not least for tipping me off to a flickr set of vintage spirit photography and a Parapsychology Conference in the state of Virginia that I too wish I could attend.

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