Witch Switch

Below is one of the best album-covers I’ve ever seen. It’s a triumph of subtlety and simplicity:

Burning Witch, Crippled Lucifer (1998)


The American blackened doom sludge-sters Burning Witch used Sorgen / Sorrow (1894-5), a painting by the Norwegian painter Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914), to conjure an atmosphere of despair and darkness. Here is the original painting, skilfully combining snow, darkness and despair:

Theodor Kittelsen, Sorgen (1894-95)


But while the painting and album are good examples of less-is-more, the album is also an example of less-and-more. Part of its power comes from the contrast between the simplicity of the wandering figure and the complexity of the scripts used for the band’s name and album title:

Crippled Lucifer (detail)


Usually images are more detailed than writing. Here it’s the reverse. And while you can easily read the writing, despite its complexity, you can’t “read” the figure, despite its simplicity. Kittelsen’s skilful simplicity raised questions that can’t be answered. Is the figure male or female? Why is it sorrowful? Where is it going?

Well, you can say where it’s going in one sense: it’s walking from left-to-right. And that made me wonder whether the album could have become even starker in its contrasts. If you’re literate in Norwegian or English, you naturally read images from left-to-right, because that’s the direction of the Roman alphabet. On the album, you read the figure and the writing in the same direction. They contrast starkly in other ways, but they don’t contrast there. So let’s try making them contrast there too. Compare these two versions of the cover:

Crippled Lucifer (original cover)


Crippled Lucifer (figure-and-snowscape mirrored)


I think there’s something emptier and more despairing in the mirrored figure, walking from right-to-left. On the original cover, the figure is in some sense walking into the future, despite the weight of sorrow it carries. As we read from left to right along a piece of writing, what’s to the left of our eye is the past, and what’s to the right is the future. The figure carries the same implication. And because the figure moving towards the highly-complex-but-perfectly-intelligible band-name-and-title, there’s almost an implication that its story will be told, even if it’s moving towards death or suicide.

When the image is mirrored, all that disappears. Moving from right-to-left, the figure seems to be walking into the past, not the future. It’s no longer near or moving towards the complexity-and-intelligibility of the band-name-and-title. It’s abandoning the world more strongly: there’s no hope, no future, no implication that its story will be told.

I think the same happens, though less strongly, when the original painting is contrasted with a mirrored version:

Sorrow (original)


Sorrow (mirrored)


The contrast is less stark because, unlike the album-cover, there’s no complex patch of writing in the painting and the figure is moving away from what writing there is: the artist’s signature in the bottom left. In the original, the figure is abandoning identity and intelligibility by moving away from the signature. That’s why I’ve removed the signature in the mirrored version of the painting. It would be anomalous on the right, whether or not it was mirror-reversed, and it would be anomalous if it stayed on the left.

Finally, here’s a photo of two musicians in Sunn O))), the band into which Burning Witch eventually evolved:

Sunn O))) in black robes


In the original, Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are walking from right-to-left. Here’s a mirrored version for comparison:

Sunn O))) photo (mirrored)


I think the original photo has more power, because the robed figures are walking against the grain, as it were — against the direction in which our Roman-alphabet-conditioned eyes read a photo.

Golden Goat-God’s Gateway


Although this blog stands strongly and sternly against the use of any drugs weaker than water (which is all of ’em), some interesting art has been inspired by those weaker drugs. The front cover of Bongzilla’s Gateway (2002) is a good and skilful example. Please be aware, however, that smoking grass is more likely to induce psychosis than turn you into a golden goat-god. Especially coz artificially strengthened varieties of grass are not what Gaia intended. (dot dot dot)


Post-Performative Post-Scriptum

Yes, the horns on the album-cover are those of a bovid, not a caprid, but I like to think of the image being that of a goat-god rather than a bull-god.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #66

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Pygmies and Secret PolicemenFootball Against the Enemy, Simon Kuper (1994)

Writhing Along in My AutomobileCrash: The Limits of Car Safety, Nicholas Faith (Boxtree 1998)

A Boy and His BanditBeloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinoüs, Royston Lambert (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1984)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Game of Zones

The Badminton Game by David Inshaw

David Inshaw, The Badminton Game (1972-3)

I first came across this beautiful and mysterious painting in a book devoted to British art. Then I forgot the name of both artist and painting, and couldn’t get at the book any more. Years later, I’ve found it again on the cover of a paperback in a secondhand shop. I like the way it combines zones: the domestic and the dendric, the lunar and the ludic, the terrestrial and the celestial. And it’s full of fractals: the trees, the clouds and, implicitly, the moon and the two girls playing badminton.

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #46

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Machina MundiThe Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution, David Wootton (Allen Lane 2015)

Wandering WondersPlankton: Wonders of the Drifting World, Christian Sardet (The University of Chicago Press 2015)

Love BuzzA Buzz in the Meadow, Dave Goulson (Jonathan Cape 2014)

Quake’s ProgressThe Million Death Quake: The Science of Predicting Earth’s Deadliest Natural Disaster, Roger Musson (Palgrave Macmillan 2012)

Sin after CinGargoyle Girls from Beelzebub’s Ballsack: The Sickest, Sleaziest, Splanchnophagousest Slimefests in Scum Cinema, Dr Joan Jay Jefferson (TransToxic Texts 2016)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #42

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Feats for the EyesDrawn from Paradise: The discovery, art and natural history of the birds of paradise, David Attenborough and Errol Fuller (Collins 2012)

Heart of the MatherChaotic Fishponds and Mirror Universes: the maths that governs our world, Richard Elwes (Quercus 2013)

BergblumenEnchanting Alpine Flowers, Alfred Pohler, trans. Jacqueline Schweighofer


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Performativizing Papyrocentricity #37

Papyrocentric Performativity Presents:

Maths and Marmosets – The Great Mathematical Problems: Marvels and Mysteries of Mathematics, Ian Stewart (Profile Books 2013)

Be Ear Now – Sonic Wonderland: A Scientific Odyssey of Sound, Trevor Cox (Vintage 2015)

Exquisite Bulgarity – The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, Mark Kushner (Simon & Schuster 2015)

Stellar StoryDiscovering the Universe: The Story of Astronomy, Paul Murdin (Andre Deutsch 2014)

Terms of EndrearmentShe Literally Exploded: The Daily Telegraph Infuriating Phrasebook, Christopher Howse and Richard Preston (Constable 2007)


Or Read a Review at Random: RaRaR

Life in Vein

William Sharp, “Victoria Regia or the Great Water Lily of America (Underside of a Leaf)“ (1854), viâ Jeff Thompson

William Sharp, “Victoria Regia or the Great Water Lily of America (Underside of a Leaf)” (1854), viâ Jeff Thompson