SFF Song of the Week: Jim Burns

This week’s SFF Song of the Week is from an SF legend…the wonderful painter-of-the-fantastical Jim Burns. I’m aiming to do a wee retrospective of Jim’s covers in a little while.

His choice this week is REALLY eerie…

Jim Burns writes:

Music..where would I be without it? Although music, in my studio, has mutated somewhat of late into ‘soundscapes’ and ‘noise’ and aural…’something or other’…

I think..I know…from talking to fellow ‘creative types’ – that artists and writers tend to listen to, OK – let’s call it music for now…in quite different ways..at least whilst ‘working’.

For a writer, music can surely drift dangerously close to being a major distraction? It has to be gauged, tempered, adjusted to collide in a way with the writer’s sensibility..a way that doesn’t throw an aural spanner into the churning imagination. I cannot see that it’s in any way possible to construct coherent sentences or plotlines whilst one’s earholes are being assaulted by discordant (or serious melodic come to that) sonic waveforms….other than the most innocuous of ‘background music’. Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony or Verdi’s Requiem belting out at high volume is hardly conducive to developing, say, a quietly romantic thread in a gentle tale. I’m not a writer..but I do on occasions write stuff..and when I do..I simply have to turn off the radio, the cd, tell people to shut the f..k up as I’m writing!!

So am I not right? Writers are at most listening QUIETLY to stuff in the background…pump it up when they take a break…

It’s not like that with artists. At least not with this artist..and from chats with other artists of the fantastical persuasion I’ve discovered that music …and sometimes quite loud intrusive or disturbing music is actually quite essential to the creative process. And strangely enough..a lot of artists who work in similar territory to my own appear to have not wildly differing tastes.

Apart from listening to a great deal of ‘quality rock’, folk, old stuff, new stuff – a hell of a lot of classical including opera – I’m drawn rather nerdily towards some ‘synth’ music..electronic stuff generally, Eno and post-Eno ambient, Berlin School (Tangerine Dream have a lot to answer for all the way back to ‘Phaedra’ in the early 70’s)..in fact all the material that has cascaded out from these genres catches my attention these days..and some of it is most emphatically listened to as a rather precise aural analogue to the things I am attempting to paint..or at least that’s how I perceive it at the time of painting. The sound I am hearing, perhaps the dramatic drive of a section or the bizarre effect of some cleverly sampled and altered piece seems to meld in my imagination with the gestural strokes of the brush or the precise squirt of the airbrush. It’s hard to define in words precisely what is going on – but on frequent occasions (not all the time..sometimes silence is a pre-requisite)..it is essential to have some rhythmic drive or abstract weirdness or familiar tunefulness going on in order to maintain creative momentum. Am I making sense?

So recently my work (rather deliberately) has taken a slightly darker, more personal turn. I want to go further down this road. Investigating in the meantime, music I think I might be interested in (and I do listen to a lot of music for its own sake)..I’ve discovered the extraordinary resource that the Internet is – as it is with everything – and the wild cornucopia of musician websites and ‘netlabels’ that is sitting there waiting to be investigated and where desired, downloaded. This is how I came to my current little musical obsession..’Dark Ambient’ music..and various sub-genres related to it, sometimes inclining towards the heavier, more atmospheric end of ‘Space Music’. So acts like ‘Nagual Art’, ‘_Algol_’, ‘Nors’klh’, ‘Between Interval’, ‘Astral Light’, ‘Dahlia’s Tear’, and many many more are really capturing my attention at the moment. But perhaps most of all a guy named Brian Williams, a fellow Welshman who records under the name of ‘Lustmord’. His 1990 album ‘Heresy’ is often considered the first true dark ambient release, but he has gone on since then pursuing ever darker material, some of it quite disturbing at times.

So what I’ve selected for this rather good idea of Philip Palmer’s is a piece which is here called ‘Main Title – Infinite Space’ – the first track in an unfolding and horrifically effective soundtrack to a short film directed by Charlie Deaux called ‘Zoetrope’..based on Franz Kafka’s disturbing story ‘The Penal Colony’. I recommend the whole soundtrack..‘The Harrow’ is particularly effective as an aural impression of the dreadful torture machine of the tale’..but one reason I’ve gone for the Main Title is because I get somewhere sampled into the guts of the piece a second much-loved old piece, I-won’t-call-it-a-tune…a chunk of Georgi Ligeti’s incredible music as used for the soundtrack to 2001 A Space Odyssey back in 1968. Which brings a very satisfying circularity to the choice from my perspective. At least I’m pretty sure it’s Ligeti’s ‘Requiem’ I’m hearing. You can’t always be sure with the tease of sampling…but at its best it’s a wonderfully synergistic process..and Lustmord is very good at this. I post this stuff regularly on Facebook..but response comes there none most of the time..so this might well be very ‘minority audience’ stuff! Hopefully you will enjoy this..but ‘enjoyment’ is perhaps not quite the right word with this kind of scarily portentous, brain-numbing, apocalyptic, heavy industrial ‘soundscaping’!

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