S. Alexander Reed, "Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music"

cover imageWhile there have been a few excellent books published about individual bands published over the years  (Wreckers of Civilisation and England's Hidden Reverse spring to mind), no one has quite gotten around to writing a definitive history of industrial music yet.  Reed, currently a professor of music at Ithaca College, has certainly made a valiant attempt though (and scored a major coup by getting Oxford University Press to put it out as well).  Assimilate is essentially half of a truly wonderful book: Reed does a spectacular job chronicling both the formative years of industrial music and its ties to radical art movements, but ultimately gets bogged down a bit in theory and some perplexing choices in focus.

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Sudden Infant, "Noise In My Head"

cover imageJoke Lanz has been a constant in the worldwide noise scene for over two decades and has always stood alone as a unique and inventive artist, impossible to pin down but always innovative.  This book presents the history of the project, as well as a massive documentation of Lanz's life and prolific performance art career, of which I was less familiar, but found captivated nonetheless.

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Ossian Brown, "Haunted Air"

cover imageThe dream of time travel has been achieved with the spectral photographs presented in this book, a collection of anonymous Hallowe'en pictures from America circa the years 1875 through 1955. Bound in soft black cloth the pages inside are windows onto the ghost memories of America, captured in the twilight years before the Hallowe'en had become fodder for a Hallmark industry churning out cards, candy and plastic decorations. This assemblage of photos portraying kids and adults dressed up as ghosts, witches, scarecrows, skeletons, animals, monsters, and stranger inexplicable beings shows unequivocally the thin line between life and death, reverence and revelry the day is known for. In bringing them all together some of Hallowe'ens primal atavism is restored.

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Peter Lamborn Wilson, "Ec(o)logues"

cover image Sometimes the words of Peter Lamborn Wilson feel like a cattle prod but here they are more akin to a shepard's walking stick. He doesn't use them to steer people further into the herd mentality, but to lead, and perhaps seduce, readers into pastures that are altogether much more verdant, free, and open. The poems and essays in this book are not the idylls of the king, or any ruling class. Rather they praise the swampy haunts of lazy fishermen who do more beer drinking than line casting and celebrate feral children revolting against a decayed suburbia. And while they take their cue from the Eclogues of Virgil, those being a type of buccolic poetry depicting rustic subjects and the care of cattle, Wilson makes a definite link between being idle, idyllic poetry, and a form of idolatry that is insurrectionist in its connotations.

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China Mieville, "King Rat"

cover image This novel is a resplendent supernatural tale moving to the brain rattling pulse of Jungle and Drum 'n Bass. These musical styles are the natural soundtrack for the book which was published when they were reaching an apex of popularity and polish in the late '90s. The arc of the story follows the deep bass tones of the genre, reverberating into the underworld of the sewers, and clamoring with explosive hi-hat snaps and brittle piano rolls onto the tarmac and slate roofed tops of London, where the book is set. This is a city book about city music crafted in apartments and blasted from cars, boom boxes, and sound systems smuggled into disused warehouses. This is a city book about city rodents sniffling through back alleys, searching refuse bins for a bit of scran, trying to avoid the daylight eyes of the human population. It is a book that agitated my mind in a most delightful way, as it has always been my opinion that good fiction–and music—should uproot the moorings of reality. This book did so with thunderous quakes and rhythmic undulations.

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Arcana V: Music, Magic and Mysticism

cover image The fifth installment in John Zorn's ongoing series anthologizing the writings, reflections, and critical insights of contemporary musicians and composers tackles subjects that are usually brushed aside in academic music journals, namely the occult. It is no secret that musicians, from time immemorial, have approached their art as if they were approaching the sacred. Magic and mysticism are twin strands woven into the fabric of musical history and they continue to excite new developments within the music of the present day. The numinous gets lip service in popular culture when the likes of Madonna parade their studies of Kabbalah, making the pursuit of arcane knowledge more of a fashion statement then an actual path and discipline. The best of independent music however has never shied away from being overtly esoteric, and is not watered down to suit the masses or make it more palatable to undiscerning ears. This book brings together essential writings from those who are comfortably at home in the intersection of magic and music, that liminal zone accessed by shamans and session players alike. As such it is a welcome addition to the library of not only the musical aspirant, but the magical as well.

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Schillerndes Dunkel

cover image A mystique of magic has lurked around books since the first scrolls were inked. Today a well made tome can hold just as much fascination. The one I hold in my hands casts a hypnotic spell as it looks back over the history of what has been termed the dark scene or dark culture. Editor Alexander Nym argues that the differences between the various subcultures surrounding industrial, gothic, darkwave and black metal music are all superficial, and that they share a number of common aesthetic positions. Looking through the 800 plus photographs in this book, many published here for the first time, it is easy to see that this is the case.

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Peter Lamborn Wilson "Abecedarium"

cover image As most elementary school kids know the letters of the alphabet are the building blocks used to construct tiny words, big words, made up words; with a dash of punctuation entire sentences can be built from letters making up short articles like this one or filling up volumes to create massive epic narratives or turgid philosophical treatises. Yet like the atoms that make up our universe the letters of the alphabet contain within them subatomic particles and secret histories. Peter Lamborn Wilson has done a remarkable service in teasing out the ghosts trapped within the Roman letters by tracing them back to more arcane iconographies, all the while giving a reminder that when writing originated it was considered a magical art, and one closely allied with statecraft. While those two functions have not disappeared they have been (deliberately) obscured as the symbols transformed over time.

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"The Wire Primers"

cover imageAlong with the "Invisible Jukebox" feature, The Wire’s "Primer" articles are one of the best things about the magazine. While this collection deals mainly in the better known end of The Wire’s remit, I found plenty of areas where my previous knowledge had been vague to say the least. Even considering not all the articles in this book were of particular interest, most of them were of a standard that left me wanting to listen to the music described and dissected within which is something that music journalism does not always manage to do.
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Nigel Ayers, "The Bodmin Moor Zodiac"

cover image Since 2006 Nigel Ayers work has been focused on the investigation of folklore and geography of place, specifically his home in Cornwall, England. As part of his ongoing guerilla sign ontology campaign to boycott consensus reality he undertook a series of ritual walks into Cornwall’s sacred landscape, documented in this book from 2007. Part narrative essay and part scientific log, with ample photographic evidence provided by his wife Lesley, it follows Nigel’s journey into the Otherworld through the zodiac gateways of the Bodmin Moor.
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Phil Elverum, "Dawn: Winter Journal"

Of all the reasons to visit Bodo Norway, personal crisis must be among the rarest. Nevertheless, in 2002 Phil Elverum (of Mount Eerie and the Microphones) spent the winter there to recover from a personal and artistic meltdown. Not one for a simple vacation, he stayed alone in a cabin a few hours outside the city. He passed the time writing songs, reading, and putting down his thoughts in a journal. Those journal entries make up Dawn, along with a collection of cartoons, photographs, and a CD of music he recorded during his stay.
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Nurse With Wound, "Images/Zero Mix (Deluxe Edition)"

cover image To celebrate the release of the three Angry Eelectric Finger albums several years back, Steven Stapleton salvaged paint and vinyl from a landfill and turned them into 100 paintings that were displayed in galleries in Ireland and Portland. Years in the making, all of these paintings are finally collected here in one hardbound volume. This lavish package also comes with the original source material on CD for the first time as well as an additional disc of music, making this one of Nurse With Wound’s finest releases to date.
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Melvins/ Brian Walsby, "Making Love Demos/Manchild 3"

I killed some time on my train journey home by briefly flipping through Manchild 3, the super cool Brian Walsby comic book that comes complete with a Melvins CD. The Making Love Demos disc that accompanies the package is simply a must for any die-hard Melvins head.
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Andy Wilson, "Faust: Stretch Out Time 1970-1975"

Andy Wilson has top notch credentials when it comes to Faust. For years he has been running the Faust Pages, the online Mecca for all things Faustian. The semi-official nature of this site means that he has had good contact with the various members of Faust and presumably he is in a good position to put together a decent biography of the band. Unfortunately Faust: Stretch Out Time 1970-1975 is a disappointing read. There is not enough focus on the band's history, instead Wilson spends more time giving his opinions and descriptions of songs that I suspect most readers of his book will already know intimately.
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Gavin Pretor-Pinney, "The Cloudspotter's Guide"

Co-founder of The Idler magazine has written a charming book full of science, myth, wit and nuance. Thankfully more of an artistic, spiritual, and cultural history, than a mere guide to identify types of clouds.

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Daniel Pinchbeck, "2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl"

 In his new book, Daniel Pinchbeck explores the approaching end of a five thousand year "Great Cycle" as prophesized by the sacred calendar of the Mayan and Toltec civilizations. Exhaustively researched yet remarkably engaging, Pinchbeck proposes that the end of the cycle will mark a worldwide shift in consciousness, if not transcendence, rather than the end of the world.
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FO(A)RM magazine, no. 4

Approaching its fifth edition, FO(A)RM is a interdisciplinary magazine published annually by Mathew Marble, Bethany Wright and Seth Nehil.  The text incorporates and fuses poetry, visual art, graphic scoring, scholastic essays, dialogue, fiction, and is typically accompanied by a disc of sound media, often particularly exciting given the frequency at which sound artists appear in the magazine.  Each issue has a thematic locus, this 2005 edition’s being topography, a group of ideas that should come as no surprise to those familiar at least with Nehil, whose recorded work alone and with artists like Mnortham, Jgriznich, and the Orogenetics collective draw heavily from landscape and natural spaces.
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Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerra

This book covers the history of a quite a few (but by no means a complete listing of) important indie/punk/hardcore bands: Butthole Surfers, Mission of Burma, Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr., Black Flag, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Husker Du, The Replacements, Beat Happening and Mudhoney. Those who are into any of the bands covered by this book should probably at least flip through it in a bookstore. The danger of course is that reading something about a moderately unfamiliar band can lead to fondness and back catalogue purchases of bands long ignored or simply missed the first time around. I am now the proud owner of Mission of Burma's oeuvre (as well as a bunch of other albums I hadn't heard before). Overall the book is an entertaining read, but uneven. Some band's chapters are rock solid and a good read all throughout — Butthole Surfers' is particularly entertaining — but some of his choices of focus are unusual (Beat Happening? WTF?) and flimsy excuses to bring up non-sequiturs (Mudhoney's chapter is essentially SubPop's chapter, really). Minor Threat AND Fugazi getting separate chapters seemed overkill to me, and there are notable absences in the stories — I understand that maybe Gibby Haynes or whoever, didn't want to give an interview, but there are repeated instances of missing members from bands (no Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag, or George Hurley from the Minutemen) as well as quite a few bands that should have been mentioned that weren't (no Bad Brains, Dead Kennedy's, Meat Puppets, Pixies, The Melvins, Circle Jerks, X, Germs, Descendents, SWANS, Flaming Lips or Misfits). Which isn't to say that the book is bad; it's just not as good or complete as I would have liked. When Azerrad is on, the storytelling can be quite engaging and will, as I say, make any reader eager to be listening to the music that's being described. When he's not on, the writing is just dull. It's worth looking at, but it's not a be-all end-all book about the indie scene in the 80's and if I had my 'druthers there'd be a second book featuring the bands he missed in this book.
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DAVID KEENAN, "ENGLAND'S HIDDEN REVERSE"

SAF Publishing
Although they are perhaps the most consistently innovative group of artists for the past two decades of underground music, the English post-industrial bands that evolved from the cultural monolith of Throbbing Gristle have long remained under the radar of the music press. Many of these "esoteric" artists thrived throughout the 1980s and have persisted until today, but most have been ignored by critics and writers, surviving only because of a loyal cult following bordering on the zealous. Only recently have established publications such as The Wire begun to validate these artists by documenting their activities and placing their music into the larger context of modern avant-garde experimentalism. Anyone who has followed these unique musicians knows that this attention is long overdue. David Keenan, a frequent contributor to The Wire and Mojo, has authored England's Hidden Reverse. Subtitled "A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground," Keenan has chosen to focus on the scene's three most enduring artists—Current 93, Nurse With Wound and Coil. The story of these three is told in chronological order, with Keenan attempting to give equal coverage to each. The prevailing thesis of his book is that David Tibet, Steven Stapleton, John Balance, and Sleazy Christopherson are not idiosyncratic madmen that fell from the sky, but are rather quite naturally following in the footsteps of a long line of English eccentrics and outsiders. To support this contention, Keenan takes the reader for many tangential side-trips, telling the stories of great and obscure figures such as Louis Wain, Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, William Lawes, Eric Count Stenbock and a host of others. It provides interesting background information, quite valuable for a deeper understanding of many of the lyrical themes of Current 93, the occult influences on Coil and the surrealist aesthetic of Nurse With Wound. For fans of these artists who have already digested the numerous interviews, fanzines and website material that has been available for years, this book offers a treasure trove of completely new revelations. Some of the startling anecdotes revealed in the book are truly unbelievable, such as the first meeting between David Tibet and Jhon Balance (which I won't reveal, except to say that it involves someone getting urinated on). Keenan does an admirable job of placing these musicians into the context of the post-industrial scene, giving a liberal amount of time to trace their connection to concurrent acts like Whitehouse, Psychic TV, 23 Skidoo and Sol Invictus. Keenan has interviewed a staggering number of the people who were there—the musicians, the scenesters and the witnesses—and the substantial amount of direct quotes lends credibility to the project. The book is copiously illustrated with hundreds of previously unpublished photographs. Although it is unmistakably a thorough study, there are a few nagging problems with England's Hidden Reverse. Among these is the disproportionate amount of time spent on the formative period of the timeline, to the detriment of the last decade of activity, which is the most fertile creative period for these artists. Latter-day masterpieces like Current 93's All The Pretty Little Horses and Coil's Musick to Play in the Dark are given only a few paragraphs each, which is unequal to their significance. Perhaps the most flagrant problem with this book is the near-total absence of any material regarding one of the best and brightest of the esoteric scene: Douglas Pearce. Death in June most certainly exerted a hefty influence on the development of Current 93's brand of "apocalyptic folk." Before David Tibet met Douglas P., his music was all tape loops and dense noisescapes. After their partnership, Current 93 adopted Death in June's approach, appropriating the sounds and aesthetics of 1960s psychedelic folk. Despite all this, and the fact that David Tibet and John Balance have frequently collaborated with Death in June over the years, Douglas P. was not interviewed for the book and his influence and importance in the scene is played down. Certainly Death in June's But, What Ends When the Symbols Shatter? and Rose Clouds of Holocaust are as epoch-defining as Current 93's Thunder Perfect Mind, Nurse With Wound's Soliloquy for Lilith and Coil's Love Secret Domain. Despite these glaring omissions, David Keenan's book is certainly an entertaining and essential document. Even those who are not already ardent fans will find much to like about Keenan's engaging prose and analysis. Also included with each hardcover edition is a CD collecting some of the most representative tracks from the three groups. All things considered, England's Hidden Reverse exceeds expectations as a captivating history of the most unique grouping of experimental musicians working today.
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Achim Wollscheid, "Resolving Interactions"

Selektion
Wollscheid might be best known for his musical work with P16.D4, Merzbow, or Asmus Tietchens, but in fact this is already the his third book, presented both in English and German. With this attractively-designed 100 page paperback, he draws a resume from 7 years work on an interactive computer-light installation piece in an public space; the district court in Frankfurt am Main. Everything is documented, from the original concept up to the final realization in a different building, all the technical difficulties, concluding with the writing of the book. Plenty of photographs are included (10 color, 43 blue-on-white), from a ceiling light piece to a light-flooded floor. In addition, explanations are thoroughly presented in a very understandable manner, both technically and conceptually.
Wollscheid says, "I'm convinced that contemporary artistic work which includes electronic data-processing has to be interactive, it should at least implicitly employ the repertoire of interactive processes and concepts." As with any good experimental art, questions are raised. What I'm wondering now is what practical use could develop out of the human / data-processing interface and where will it lead to ?

 

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