A Journal Of The Dark Arts
British sound alchemist Cousin Silas conjures Ballardian landscapes with dreary drones and newage pastiche on Ballard Landscapes 1 & 2
Yesterday was J.G. Ballard‘s birthday. He would’ve been 90 years old. It seemed a fitting time to revisit the strange worlds and dangerous visions of Ballard, when the light would’ve been slanting the way it was the day he entered this world in 1930, in the brief respite between the wars when Modernism stalked the Earth.
J.G. Ballard was so much more than a science fiction author. By his account, he even stopped writing sci-fi after 1966 with the publishing of The Crystal World (pictured above.) The fact that Ballard didn’t consider the technological dystopias of Crash, High Rise, or The Atrocity Exhibition says more about Ballard than the books themselves. We’ll never know another like him…
J.G. Ballard saw himself as much as a surrealist, if not more so, than a science fiction author. Factor in his medical and psychological training, before decamping first to the Royal Air Force than an ignoble life publishing pulp, Ballard possessed the perfect intellect and insight to perform the autopsy and forensic psychology of Modernity, which was starting to turn a bit with bloat and rot by the time he really came onto the scene in the late ’60s.
Although he would likely have loathed such grand statements, but Ballard was both a shaman and psychologist of modernism as well as a prophet of the emergent postmodernism, seeing the perils of late-stage capitalism coming down the barrel like a chambered round. Ballard’s fiction gave humanity to the emerging philosophies of Baudrillard; Deleuze and Guatarri; and Derrida, which can be frustratingly dense and unnecessarily coy even for those well-versed in continental philosophy.
Even more importantly, for all of his concerns, Ballard refrained from moralizing. He maintained the same sort of clinical detachment as many of his characters (some of whom even shared his name.) He was a champion of the “show, don’t tell” school of excellent writing in a way that i’m not sure we’ll ever see again, when an author’s every creation seems arc welded to their reputation. His entire ouevre could be seen as an illustration of “the views expressed in this work do not necessarily reflect the stance of the author,” that is perhaps essential to make truly great satire or dystopian literature. His years in the morgue seemed to have served him well…
This clinical detachment is part of what makes his works so unsettling. There is no epicness, no grandiosity to comfort in the face of catastrophe. Everything and everybody seem almost ambivalent, like the characters left behind in The Drowned World, resigned to their iguana dreams. In this, Ballard is the perfect poet for the declining anthropocene. While H.P. Lovecraft reacted with fear and superstitious dread to humanity’s declining influence, Ballard seemed to watch the world retreat like an object in the rearview mirror of some sleek German automobile, without so much as a shrug.
This is reflected in much of Ballard’s work, which gives as much, if not more, attention to the inhuman, with special focus on the built landscape and the land itself. Empty carparks; the non-places of post-industrial capitalism, concrete islands and non-descript corridors; abandoned houses and buildings. This makes Ballard’s worlds the perfect subject matter for ambient music.
To commemorate the occasion, i give you the first two volumes of Cousin Silas’ Ballard Landscapes, which is available as a free download via Archive.org. These recordings are rather beloved in certain underground circles and yet they don’t get enough love, in my humble opinion. Cousin Silas’ Ballard-inspired compositions, which was up to 7 volumes at my last count, bring out the best in both ambient music and J.G. Ballard’s texts, simultaneously. It truly answers the call shot forth by Brian Eno‘s Music For Airports, playing up the unease and inherent melancholy of public spaces devoid of people.
On Ballard Landscapes 1 & 2, you’ll traverse empty airports and non-descript industrial landscapes, exhaust pipes humming instead of cicadas. You’ll clamber down hatches and explore alien jungles, bursting into prismatic life.
Some of Ballard Landscapes 1 & 2 sounds like the outskirts of Blade Runner 2049 if Vangelis had done the score for that one, as well. Others sound like the sand room from Stalker, Woman In The Dunes, or an abandoned sub-division in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch if Theodore and Boris were to ingest some powerful psychedelics in those abandoned shells.
Ballard Landscapes 1 & 2 is darker than dark ambient. Even that still suggests a value judgement, a moral universe. These landscapes do not judge. They do not give a shit about you. This is music for industrial parts catalogs, for rotting buildings. The flags are all dead and even the ghosts of empire have long since gone to dust.
And last but not least, i call upon yr collective expertise as i sometimes do. What are some other artists, albums, songs, or recordings that have a Ballardian vibe, if any? That’s somewhat the trouble with subtle music like this, can be challenging to look up. Am looking for more post-industrial soundscapes and field recordings, more subterranean ambient music, more post-Humanity drones. Thank you in advance! And happy birthday, one day removed, to J.G. Balard!