Friday, 3 July 2009

Looks and sounds bad

Interesting video from YouTube: Kate Bush's 1986 Experiment IV, a Quatermass-style story about the development of a lethal sound at a research establishment; it still manages to be scary despite the jokey treatment. I don't know if it's a case of conscious/unconscious allusion, but the scenario is remarkably similar to David Langford's "What Happened at Cambridge IV" (in the anthology Digital Dreams, 1990) about the development of a lethal image at a research establishment. The latter is within Langford's mythos that started with his 1988 "Blit" (originally in Interzone) and continued in "comp.basilisk FAQ" (Nature, 1999) and "Different Kinds of Darkness" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 2000).

See Motif of harmful sensation for many more examples of this idea. This is an Internet Archive document, because in March 2009 it was deleted from Wikipedia as original research. However, it's worth preserving as a catalogue of the myth, literature and culture concerning sights and sounds that can grab the mind in some harmful way (not necessarily fatally). This very common in SF and fantasy, which is no surprise (classically, Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos and Robert W Chambers' The King in Yellow spring to mind), but it extends to other genres such as mythology (e.g. the Medusa) and comedy (notably Monty Python's sketch about a deadly joke). A lot of the examples outside SF are entirely new to me. I'd never read Mark Twain's "A Literary Nightmare", for example, and while I'd heard of the Paris syndrome that fazes Japanese tourists, I didn't know about two other forms of culture shock, Jerusalem syndrome and Stendhal syndrome.
- Ray


  1. Caught my attention for several ancillary reasons.

    I've never seen the video before; but I did include the song, along with your "Lord of the files" (also in Digital Dreams), in the same required study pack for some science and media students in ... oh, probably late '90s.

    Just watched the video through...

  2. This and many others I'd never seen either (no TV when they were first released). I know it's a bit of an author-is-dead situation, but I'm not disappointed to finally know just what KB had in mind. I'm very poor at extracting meaning from pop songs, and usually end up with some Mondegreen-riddled Tourette-y mess.

  3. An interesting question whether one really knows from a video what the song writer really had in mind ... or rather, how far that has been diluted by what marketing people, promoters, video director, etc, had in mind.

    I shall have to think about that one.

  4. This is one of Kate Bush's videos where she both wrote the song and directed it, so I assume it reflects her intentions. Others are collaborative to varying degrees. For instance, with Cloudbusting, there's no doubt about her concept: she said in interviews that it was based on Peter Reich's Book of Dreams. But the actual video development was collaborative: conceived by her and Terry Gilliam, directed by Julian Doyle.

  5. "A dozen or so Japanese tourists a year have to be repatriated from the French capital, after falling prey to what's become known as "Paris syndrome".

    That is what some polite Japanese tourists suffer when they discover that Parisians can be rude or the city does not meet their expectations.

    The experience can apparently be too stressful for some and they suffer a psychiatric breakdown."

    Hey, I feel that way about life!