Imagine a hissing voice intoning to the off-beat rhythm of a large drum carved from ebony and decorated with scales and feathers.
A sonorous accompaniment radiates from a lattice work of animal hair held together by nails plucked from inhuman fingers, driven into stone, and stretched taut by the madman who plays it.
But enough about Tom Waits
We are here to celebrate a tome which details and illuminates music inspired by, and dedicated to, the fantastic mythos created by the master of the weird tale, Howard Phillips Lovecraft. There is more of it than you might think.
Try the grim humour of The Darkness of The Hillside Thickets:
Or the brutal drones of Aklo
For the complete package check out Nox Arcana led by fantasy artist Joseph Vargo, who not only supplied the stunning cover art for the book in question, but also recorded a concept album based on Lovecraft’s ‘book of dead names’ the Necronomicon.
It would be remiss of me not to mention my personal favourite: the HP Lovecraft Historical Society, who issued a CD entitled Shoggoth on the Roof in which they replaced the libretto to the entire score of the musical Fiddler on the Roof with a new one about cultists who worship inorganic life forms. All recorded, played and produced to a high professional standard. I was privileged to see the choral group rehearse this copyright-challenging piece on a Hollywood soundstage back in nineteen and ninety eight.
These people don’t do it for the money. Neither did Lovecraft. He considered his own amateur status as a writer of weird fiction to be a badge of merit. Nobody pays the gardener but everyone enjoys the sight of a beautiful garden.
Gary Hill won’t make a fortune from The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H. P. Lovecraft, or be interviewed on breakfast TV about it, but it had to be written. He had the steely nerve to listen to many hours of nerve-jangling dissonant music in order to be able to document this pile of throbbing audio protoplasm, and still remain alert enough to conduct lucid interviews with the producers and composers. The book is exhaustive, detailed, and nicely sliced into chapters on each strand of the genre.
You might know something about Metallica’s mythos dabbling or the 60’s psychedelic outfit named after the author, but you may be under-informed on the sonic disturbances of Swiss band Samael led by someone called Vorph, who had this to say about the influence of Lovecraft on his works:
‘His pandemonium is rich and it leaves a large place for imagination. He had sent arrows through some of the darkest place of the mind, and what words can no longer explain music can express.’
The introduction to the book by esteemed Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi is expressed more conventionally and wafts literary credibility to the project, although sometimes I wish that he took himself a little less seriously. Maybe we should cut him some slack. He has, after all, been a long serving acolyte of HPL and I don’t suppose he’s made a million while doing so.
So here’s the great conundrum: a polite resident of Providence Rhode Island writes about cosmic evil in the nineteen thirties. Years later many inspired musicians gather in darkened rooms across the world to create sinister music suggestive of other realms and praeter-human intelligences. Then another writer documents this great surge of necromantic activity….
All of this is done with a great deal of care, dedication, craft and…
It’s an upside down world ain’t it?
TROLL SPOILER: yes I am aware that HPL wrote a story about a deranged violinist and a science fiction tale about sound rendered into solid matter. Unsurprisingly these works have stimulated some of the music mentioned in the book.
More information in this interview with the Gary Hill :