Saturday 6 January 2018

Pan Review of the Arts - No. 5

Editorial: A new year spawns a renewed Pan and here He's very much on the fore-hoof. Former music journalist and weaver of supernatural tales NINA ANTONIA presents her debut novel, The Greenwood Faun (Egaeus Press), the first number of the first European fantasy magazine, The Orchid Garden (Zagava Press) is reissued in facsimile, and composer/musician ROGER ENO offers us a few words on his latest album, This Floating World. (Never off Pan's Sunday morning playlist). Enjoy.

books & art.

Did you come late to the supernatural as a writer, or had you been writing to the genre for years prior to publication?

Nina Antonia: Although I was always an avid reader of the supernatural, it took me a long time to find the confidence to express myself as a writer of the genre. It might have had something to do with having been a published author in another realm, oddly. However, the artists that I covered as a rock journalist were never what you might call mainstream and I’ve always been interested in ‘outsider’ themes and more outrĂ© characters. Hence, when I had my first supernatural piece published, ‘South West 13’ for Egaeus Press, in their ‘Soliloquy for Pan’ anthology two years ago, it merged the two strands of fantasy and music, Pan meeting Marc Bolan on Barnes Common. It was the perfect configuration. I suppose Pan was the rock- star of his day, nymphs and satyrs his followers, dancing to his vivid tune. Pan opened the door for me. Unfortunately, the music industry has become terribly constricted, there is little freedom left. If you look at Glastonbury at its inception, where it would have been quite enchanting, especially in such a mythical setting, to the money making, corporate backed juggernaut it has now become, there’s little left for dreamers. I doubt that Pan would be playing the main stage, do you? Esoteric and supernatural themes have provided me with the latitude that music and its once wayward crew, used to. We all need a mystical moon to dance beneath.

How and when did you discover Arthur Machen?

NA: Everything goes full circle doesn’t it? I discovered Arthur Machen through musician and author, David Tibet, many years ago. Although David has a band, Current 93, he was also publishing hard to find supernatural/fantasy titles via Ghost Story Press, so there was a cross over between esoteric music and literature. In the misty in-between our path’s crossed and he gave me a copy of ‘The Hill of Dreams’ and I don’t think I’ve yet recovered. It was rather astute of David, when I think about it. How did he know that I’d be so enraptured? Perhaps there’s a little bit of Pan in every musician that hasn’t sold their soul. No other writer has had such an impact upon me as Arthur Machen. There is something very unsettling yet beautiful about his work, a greater knowledge of ancient things unseen but present, yet very accessible to read. Machen is a master of his craft, he transcends the page. For someone like me, who doesn’t believe that what is in front of us constitutes the entirety of existence and that there are mysteries, Machen is indispensable. He wakes you up to another reality. ‘The Greenwood Faun’ is a direct consequence of Tibet having introduced me to Machen all those years ago. The circle was completed when David agreed to write something to go on the cover of ‘The Greenwood Faun.’

How did you settle on the idea of a sequel to his 'Hill Of Dreams' for your first novel?

NA: The idea of ‘The Greenwood Faun’ as a sequel to ‘The Hill of Dreams’ seemed to come out of nowhere, it was an unplanned yet pressing need that was pleasant but insistent, like Pan’s pipes. However, I also believe that our inner life much like the life of dreams, formulates things before we become aware of them. ‘The Hill of Dreams’ is a fascinating work; it reveals new aspects of itself with each re-reading. Plus, I empathised with Machen’s struggling author, Lucian Taylor, who loses his way in life, as he is trying to commit his mystical vision to paper. A book is a composite of many things – for example Chatterton also appears as a reoccurring motif in ‘The Greenwood Faun’ based on the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting by Wallis. Like Lucian Taylor, he is another young author who sacrifices his life to his art. Late one winter’s afternoon, when the book was still a phantom, I was in the vicinity of Euston station. Twilight was ebbing into night and it was very cold. I looked up and became aware of a young man with hair the colour of an autumn sunset, that same burnished russet gold of the Wallis painting. The young man looked like an apparition of the painting. It was as if he’d just stepped out of the frame. As you would imagine, he was not in good shape sadly, far too thin, the face full of suffering, even at a distance. I felt stricken by his despair but then he literally wasn’t there anymore. It was extraordinary. Was he corporeal or a vision? Either way, I shan’t forget. London is full of ghosts.

Writing to – rather than about the supernatural – requires a subtle and poetic prose-style that intimates otherworldliness from often quite familiar settings or situations. After you've decided upon the plot and characters, do you find this easy to achieve or do you feel the need to keep re-drafting?

NA: Interesting question: Everyone has a different way of going about writing. It’s as individual as their fingerprint. However, there do seem to be formulas that people who have had the opportunity to study, might be inclined to follow. The main thing is to find what works for you. I always felt that writing was like having a palette of paints and finding the right words was more about discovering what gorgeous things you could do with the mixture of shades, it’s why the Pre-Raphaelites are so rich, how many shades of green are there in a Burne-Jones’ portrait? You build a mood like a colour wash- from emerald to peacock to jade. Gustave Moreau is another inspiring artist, he creates a bejewelled effect. It’s like the visual equivalent of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ which ravishes the mind’s eye. Wilde’s work is brilliantly ostentatious; Arthur Machen sculpts the intangible from nature and realistic improbability. Rather than redrafting, I tend to make layers of impressions.

Of all the rock stars you've met and written about, who strikes you as closest to the model of the late-Victorian decadent?

NA: I always thought that Marc Bolan, Prince and Johnny Thunders were contemporary dandies. Very dainty creatures but they also strutted like royal peacocks. They are all very mythic and quite unreal and enchanting. The imagination is captured by people who have managed somehow to escape being merely flesh and blood and transcend earthly boundaries to become something we can dream about. You could include Adam Ant in that canon as well, as Prince Charming but they have to be at a step removed. Johnny Thunders was rare in that he could weave that magic even when the going was tough and there was holes in his shoes. That is the epitome of ‘casting a glamour.’ You can’t let reality seep in even if the rain does. Nico has always greatly appealed although I never met her but I have written about her, because she was like something from one of Poe’s stories, a European relative of the Usher family with an odd little harmonium on which to play eerie tunes.

Many thanks to Nina Antonia for her time. You can read about Nina and her work here:

You can purchase a copy of Nina's debut novel here:

Twitter:  @ninaantonia13

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Der Orchideengarten, Edited by Alf Von Czibulka, Zagava Press, (Newly-translated by Helen Grant)

"...The art of horror and the horrific dominate(d) the creative work of all peoples...before they discovered the beauty in them... That is the cruel truth of this book, but, at the same time, it is its triumphant testament. Pan lives." (Alf Von Czibulka, Editor, from Wilhelm Michel review, The Orchid Garden, Jan. 1919)

The year 1919 is, perhaps, best known to today's afficianados for the release of The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari. Yet, the film was just one product of this last great generation of the literary and artistic movement that was Gothic German Romanticism. Since the foundations laid by the castle-led Gothic had long since passed, 'horror' had to become more psychologically ambiguous and, dare I say, refined. Freud's seminal study, 'The Uncanny' (Unheimlich), defining what John Mullan has precised as 'making strange what should be familiar,' also found release this year.
  Of course, it isn't possible to separate the political context of the material from the historical. Both editor Alfons Von Czibulka and publisher Karl Hans Strobl were burgeoning fascists' being, at this formative time, advocates of German nationalism.
  The fading cannon-smoke of loss pervades this debut issue of four short tales, two poems and a final page of new book reviews. Czibulka's debut editorial unflinchingly states his – and so the magazine's - nationalist perspective. "Wake Your Sleeping Talents!" he declaims in the heading. 'Imagine what the German people could achieve,' he adds, 'if every German were in their rightful place!' Almost a century on, this chilling call to arms also sounds an ironic resonance in pockets of inner-city England today. Unsurprisingly, not long after this, Czibulka himself would find his own 'rightful place' in the Nazi Party.
  In Rudolf Schneider's 'dream' of the title, the protaganist is invited by a well-dressed man to join in the shooting of innocents by bow and arrow as some macabre sport of no reason. An inevitable satire on the recently-ended '14-'18 War. '18. XII. 18' by Paul Frank, and a case of unwitting Eastern possession unfolds as a dropped diary page for this very day is pursued by a man who tries to find himself.
  'Master Jericho,' by Orchid Garden publisher Karl Hans Strobl, is the most traditional, Grand Guignol-type tale. An aged organ-player, based solely at a local chapel, attracts much attention from his music at once irresistible and cacophonous. It proves a source of vampirism. Appropriately, 'Bats' by Max Rohrer is a sonnet to the night creatures, purveyed in adjectives of Gothic garishness. Strobl would go on to specialise in literary horror.
  'The Way to the Scaffold' is the fourth and final tale, a reprint of a Victor Hugo, and – inevitably, but brilliantly - subjective perception from a prisoner en route to his execution. 'Nocturnal Visitor' by A.M. Frey is a superbly sensuous and chilling second poem on hiding from a night terror that itself crouches just out of sight.
  Closing this debut issue are 'The Greenhouse – The Weird And Wonderful' by Dr. Max Kemmerich and 'Fantastic Books.' The former feature various anecdotes on 'mysterious music,' the use of face powder in the 18th century and a mischievous use of the Christ appellation. The latter are hagiographic book reviews on new titles by contributors.
  The art throughout the magazine is spearheaded by Edwin Henel's striking black, red and yellow cover of a blood-engorged orchid breaking through the skylight of a greenhouse on a barren, reptilian plain. (Henel would go on to produce memorable commercial series of scenic and sporting posters). An image that, perhaps unwittingly, reverses Czibulka's pronouncement of there being beauty in horror. A misjudgement that forewarns on the wrongheadedness of fascism. Stark and striking monochrome work by Paul Neu, Franz Hecht and Wilhelm Heise also feature in this welcome reissue.

You can purchase a copy of Der Orchidengarteen here:

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This Floating World
by Roger Eno

'This Floating World' is a collection of short piano based pieces which is a distillation of a method of working and thinking about music I'd been pursuing for some time.
  Every morning I'd get up, go straight to The Clerestory (my studio) and improvise a piece. I'd then, if deemed necessary, change notes, get rid of elements and, more rarely, add to the thing. Thus, over months I collected fifty or so pieces (my memory is pretty shoddy), which I then left alone. After a while, usually whilst doing other things, I began to listen to them and select the ones that in some way stood out-this could be for a melodic idea,an harmonic sequence, the length of gaps in the piece, the 'colour' of a piece or any number of other passing considerations.
  I finally whittled them down to the length of a short album. I tend to like things that leave you wanting more rather than completely sating ones interest, which I then very conscientiously put into a running order. This is an element that I regard as extremely important in an overall work.
  I consider this one of my most personal recordings. 'This Floating World' is unashamedly 'domestic' in its creative base. The titles mention my eldest daughter, my wife and features the voice of my younger daughter on 'Empty Room.' The vinyl album comes with a booklet containing original stories pertinent to the feel of the music, plus a selection of photographs that I feel also lend themselves to the flavour of the disc. It also features, on the final track, my dear old upright piano, which has followed me around since I was fifteen-years-old. This instrument is a very close friend of mine. I love the openness, the spaces between notes and humility of the music; not a very humble thing to say, I'll grant you. I like that there is no real 'focal' point to the pieces, that they just appear live for a little while and disappear again.  
  It is this last element which lends the album its overall title, for there is nothing firm or concrete here; no stout foundations or secure bases. This album looks at the world as drift. Roger and out. (Roger Eno)

You can find out more about Roger and his work here:

This Floating World is available on the Recital label: