John Murray Spear Builds a Machine God

A depiction of the New Motor. Artist unknown.

Ah, the 1800s were a simpler time. Before that whole Civil War mess, America was in the throes of the Second Great Awakening, with the Northeast so thoroughly scorched by religious fervor that a swath of New York was dubbed “the Burned-over district.”

Amidst this, Spiritualism was all the rage, too, so it didn’t initially attract much notice when John Murray Spear, a middle-aged Universalist pastor in Massachusetts, claimed to be receiving messages from dead men. Sure, it was somewhat strange that instead of talking to a deceased relative for comfort, he claimed that a “Band of Electricizers” made up of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others, had chosen him to bring a messiah into the world. But, in a twist fitting a new era, this savior was a machine, one that would, Spear relayed, “revolutionize the world and raise mankind to an exalted level of spiritual development.”

Those who already knew anything of the man might have figured he had simply snapped. Spear’s outspoken views on abolition and women’s rights, among other topics, led a number of churches to drive him out, and, in 1844, after a particularly vigorous denunciation of slavery, he was beaten and left for dead in Maine.

A picture of Spear, and the title page of a tome of the Electricizers’ revelations.

He recovered, and, in 1851, with the Electricizers’ plans dancing in his head, quit the ministry. Two years later, he began his work on the machine, with a result stranger than fiction.

A Little Night Music: Demdike Stare

Turn off all the lights, get under the covers, put on your best pair of headphones, and listen… if you dare:

Via Aaron Shinn (whose own fantastic work definitely deserves a Coilhouse writeup ASAP).

Demdike Stare is an occult-tinged music collaboration between Miles Whittaker and Sean Canty, two highly knowledgeable fellows from Manchester, each with a versatile background in DJing, record collecting and curating. Author Mike Powell’s review of Demdike Stare’s Triptych –one of the most interesting write-ups Pitchfork has posted recently– covers Whittaker’s and Canty’s work and history, both as a team, and separately. From that same review:

Demdike Stare is primarily a sample-based project, and “dark” is its organizing principle. Their logo is a skull, rose, and triangle; the cover of one of their EPs  is a visual riff on a Ouija board; and they’re named after a 17th-century witch– a quasi-gothic, English variation on the sci-fi and horror imagery that has saturated the American underground over the past couple of years. The tracks on Tryptych are droning and nightmarish: lots of close murmuring and distant wind, lots of groaning earth and quietly whining steam-powered machines, glassy techno keyboards and the buried wailing of undefined tribes. But like some drone (and most minimal techno) there’s usually a build or a climax, and one of the most consistently satisfying things about listening to Tryptych is that it takes music you might expect to be purely ambient and shapes it into something with a hump somewhere in the middle– something with a narrative to it.

Cover for Demdike Stare’s Forest of Evil EP. Buy their CDs and MP3s at Amazon or Insound.

There’s a captivating visual element to Demdike Stare as well– to accentuate their live shows, the band often projects footage lifted from a wide range of classic horror and giallo films, spaghetti westerns, and thrillers onto the wall behind them, then mixes live beats and samples into their tracks to match those visuals. Additionally, Demdike Stare’s listeners have come up with with several captivating fan videos, many of which are included in the above playlist [and are not entirely SFW, mind you], along with a great interview with Whittaker and Canty, for those interested in learning more about the team’s process. Or, if you’d prefer to keep things more mysterious, skip the interview, and just let yourself be swept away by the enigmatic loveliness of the music and presentation.

Previously on Coilhouse:

In Remembrance: Kenneth Grant (1924-2011)

Artist and researcher M.S. leDespencer has kindly written the following obituary in honor of Kenneth Grant. The more esoterically inclined readers of Coilhouse will immediately recognize that name. Those who are unfamiliar –but curious– may wish to click the many hyperlinks attached below and begin to explore Grant’s strange and beautiful work. Condolences to Grant’s widow, Steffi, their family, and friends. ~Mer

Portrait of Kenneth Grant by Austin Osman Spare

“So life takes fire from death and runs. Whirling amidst the suns.”
~A. Crowley
Liber Pyramidos

It was announced today that occultist, author, artist, and gentleman Kenneth Grant passed away after an illness on January 15, 2011. He was 86 years old.

Grant, long a compelling figure in the world of occultism, has a legacy that extends back over half a century. He was the last man alive to have close ties to Aleister Crowley, having served as personal secretary to “The Beast”, and having been initiated into the Ordo Templi Orientis and Argentum Astrum by Crowley himself. After Crowley’s death, Grant and his wife Steffi were among the few attendees at Crowley’s funeral service. Subsequently, Grant became well known for helping to keep Crowley’s concepts and philosophies alive in the troubled decades following his death, and for the further continuation and expansion of Thelemic ideas over six decades.

Kenneth Grant’s occultism was not the fervent, dry adherence of the ideologue. Rather, he fashioned a deeply personal, fantastical, dynamic, and intricate system of magic woven together from syncretic elements of Tantra, Voudon, Gnosticism, Surrealism, fiction and a variety of other exotic threads. Building on the foundations of Crowley’s work, Grant expanded the current understanding of the meaning and implications of the “Law ofThelema”. Much like the mystic William Blake, Grant forged his own path beyond esoteric speculation, writing first-hand accounts of what he perceived to exist outside of the range of mundane experience.

Over the course of sixty years, Grant cataloged his evolving exploration of Crowley’s system of Magick and philosophy across a series of nine books that came to be known as the Typhonian Trilogies. Grant had stated that he wanted the act of reading these books to be an esoteric experience in and of itself. Certainly, the trilogies contain a maelstrom of esoteric ideas, dream imagery, and highly technical esotericism that, for the receptive reader, can border on a consciousness-altering experience. In addition to these seminal works, Grant wrote a variety of articles, fiction, and poetry, all of which are being made available via his official publisher, Starfire.

Portrait of Steffi and Kenneth Grant by Austin Osman Spare

Grant is also responsible for the enduring legend of the occultist and artist Austin Osman Spare, who had a profound influence on both his and Steffi’s art and world view. As Spare’s executor, Grant helped to catalog and publish Spare’s paintings, drawings, and writings, securing his friend’s art the long-term influence and respect it wields today. Were it not for the Grant’s loyal championing, the world would most likely lack knowledge of the rich, haunting body of work that Spare left behind.

Mr. Grant is survived by his aforementioned wife, the artist Steffi Grant –who has been an integral presence in Grant’s work since the beginning– and their family. His work continues via the Typhonian Order and individual explorers the world over. Through whatever strange spheres or iridescent geometric shapes he may choose as his vehicle among the scintillating transplutonian stars, may his journey continue!

The Friday Afternoon Movie: Rare Exports 1 And 2

Well, dear reader, here we are on the cusp of Christmas, for some a yearly orgy of food and gifts in honor of the birth of Santa Claus and, for others, a terrible day which brings a visitation by the infernal Krampus. Regardless of whether you are gorging yourself or trembling in fear, we here at the FAM would like to offer you a few minutes of seasonal motion picture entertainment.

Today we present parts one and two of Finnish director Jelmari Helander’s thoroughly entertaining Rare Exports series, the third of which was released on December 3rd as a full length feature. Released in 2003 and 2005 they are presented as promotional/training videos for a company in Finland, Rare Exports, Inc, dealing with the tracking, capturing, training, and handling of Father Christmases for sale abroad.

It is an almost absurdly simple conceit and the entire exercise could have come off as completely banal were it not for the gravelly narration by Jonathan Hutchings and appropriately stoic performances from the main cast of Tommi Korpela, Jorma Tommila, and Tazu Ovaska, their grim visages a counterpoint to Otso Tarkela delightfully feral Kris Kringle. Jean-Noël Mustonen manages to capture both a stark beauty and palpable griminess with his camera, both of which do well to accentuate the moments of surreal humor throughout each film. For all the scenes of waving grass and abattoir-esque training rooms, these are still movies that feature three men chasing down a nude, 300 year-old Father Christmas and taking him down with tranquillizer darts, all in order to domesticate him so that he may have a child on his lap without having to worry about him eating them.

On another note, I must say that I really appreciated Helander using the same cast from film to film. Even the full-length release retains most of the original cast with the exception of Tarkela (for obvious reason) and Ovaska. Were this an American production, this may have not been the case, one need only look at the Finnish and American trailers of the new film to get a sense of how things could have gone horribly awry. It’s a small thing to be sure but I enjoy the continuity across all three films.

And that is going to wrap it up for this year’s Yuletide edition of The Friday Afternoon Movie. From everyone here, we wish you and yours a pleasant and Krampus free holiday.

“Whisper Hungarian In My Ear”

From Bryan Boyce (the same twisted genius responsible for that Teletubbies/Bush State of the Union meme and the Karaoke Hellhounds, not to mention a bunch of other craziness) comes this ridiculously beautiful/beautifully ridiculous “belly dance horror movie” made using footage from the 1932 public domain classic White Zombie and starring Bela Lugosi, along with, well… a whole gaggle of Coilhouse regulars!

Featuring hypnotic music by Dan Cantrell and the Toids. To see the entire original film, visit good ol’ To revisit the oft-mentioned splendiferousness that is Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes, click here or here or here or here or here or here.

A Requiem for Jean Rollin

image courtesy Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience

Jean Michel Rollin Le Gentil, French film director fantastique and “gentle poet of sensual horror”,  passed away yesterday (December 15, 2010) at 72, after a long illness.

Much beloved by his fans and horror connoisseurs, lauded for his bizarre genius and the unique, intensely personal vision he brought to his films, Rollin leaves a legacy brimming with uncanny beauty and perverse, morbid delights.

Though his works contained elements of horror cinema,  Rollin insisted he did not make horror films; instead he prefers the label fantastique, which he described as “the opposite of the supernatural”.   His story telling, marked by “surreal sensibilities” and a “narcotic narrative drive”, made for mysterious (and at times maddening) viewing; but the imagery, oh, the imagery. Languid and melancholy, romantic and doom-laden, the dreamy atmospheres Rollin crafted were truly like nothing else in cinema: “…hermetically sealed worlds of desolate chateaus, solitary vampires and violent seduction”.

According to Rollin’s son Serge, who spoke with Fangoria shortly after his father’s death, “Jean was surrounded by his friends, and was looking at the photos of his two granddaughters when he died.”

Jean Rollin (via)

Rollin was calmly uncompromising and self-assured to the very end. The filmmaker’s own words about his work and perceptions of criticism are as fitting a closing statement as any:

“Honestly, I don’t care [what people call me]. Some people say I’m a genius, others consider me the greatest moron who ever stepped behind a camera. I have heard so many things said about me and my films, but these are just opinions.

I am perfectly happy with what I do, because it has always been my choice.”

Elder Sign and Cthulhu Stocking Stuffage

From Joseph Nanni and friends (the same twisted souls who brought us that Necronomicon infomercial) comes this important, potentially lifesaving message about Elder Sign:

Sure, this clip has been circulating on the internet for a while, but as everyone knows, flying polyp infestations are most rampant during the holiday season. If you suffer from “an overwhelming sense of dread brought on by the realization of your own insignificance in the universe” that’s possibly being compounded by Seasonal Affective Disorder, rancid egg nog or overexposure to Glenn Beck-parroting (read: polyp ridden) in-laws, you need Elder Sign now more than ever.

And possibly some *cough* stocking stuffers from the HPLHS Bazaar:

(ElderWear: “Because you don’t want Shoggoths in your pants.”)

So Long, Sleazy

Yesterday, Peter Martin Christopherson, a.k.a. Sleazy, died suddenly in his sleep. He was 55. A founding member of Throbbing Gristle and Coil, as well a solo artist in his own right, Sleazy leaves behind an incredibly rich musical legacy and a great deal of gutted friends and fans. This shocking news comes just a month after the remaining members of Throbbing Gristle announced their regrouping under the name, X-TG, following Genesis P-Orridge’s departure.

Sleazy’s contributions to music and culture are immeasurable. From naked stage antics with Throbbing Gristle as one of the founding fathers of the industrial genre back in the mid-70s, to starting Psychic TV with Genesis P-Orridge and forming the intense, dark, trailblazing Coil with his partner, Johnn Balance, in the 80s, Sleazy has always been a fervent innovator. He designed iconic album covers, built his own instruments, created countless radical videos, spoke out against homophobia, and when Balance passed away after they spent over twenty years together, Sleazy held it together and started The Threshold HouseBoys Choir – a music project featuring computer-generated vocals and video. He continued creating until the very end.

In one of his most recent interviews, Sleazy said:

If I can die knowing I’ve helped put a few of us outsiders in touch, helping one another, particularly helping pass on what we know to other new people, and encouraging each other to be more proud of who they are, I will be a happy man.

Rest easy.

A Wistful Video-salute to the Dark Side

From 1995 to 1997, Sleep Chamber was my lullaby. Perhaps due to my taking the band’s name a little too literally, Sirkle Zero was on repeat every night. Soon after, Psychic TV entered orbit and the floodgates ov darkness were officially open.

Psychic TV testcard, used at beginnings of videos, performances, etc. Also my desktop. Also, I’m putting this on a T-shirt.

Yep, nostalgia abounds with the resurgence of darque music [and imagery, and the accompanying, deliberately lo-fi videos], that’s been steadily creeping forth over the past couple of years.

The video-playlist ahead began to take shape because all this new gloomstuff is blowin’ up and the pioneers of dark/experimental/noise/etc. deserve re-visiting and acknowledgment more than ever. And because the music below has managed to remain visceral and electrifying and relevant as ever. Also, having all these videos in one place? AWESOME. A shamefully incomplete tribute, the playlist features Sleep Chamber, Coil, Swans, Psychic TV, Nurse With Wound, and MOAR. Add your favorites in the comments section to flesh this baby out!

Crowleymass, LOLeymass

“I’m a little teapot…” By Charles Krafft. As seen on LAShTAL.

Quiver and quail, Thelemites, for Τὸ Μεγα Θηρίον‘s whelping day is upon us. What better way to acknowledge the degenerate rice-cooker than with one of David Tibet‘s crowning musical/lyrical achievements, a magickal rap ditty called “Crowleymass Unveiled”?

File this one under the ultra specific hybrid category of “Can’t believe this actually exists/Can’t stop laughing.” Along with this. Also, this.

Full “Crowleymass” lyrics posted after the jump.