Saturday, February 15, 2014
The first two sessions were only minimally edited: the beginning and end of recordings cut off, volume tweaked, tracks doubled up if necessary. Today there was more planning, more elements thrown together, and more editing. The results honestly aren't that good, and probably won't get released.
The first session, Drop, was put out last Saturday, a little sooner than it honestly should have been. Compromise In A Different Way is pretty weak. There are moments where it intermittently comes together, but on the whole it's overlong and unconvincing.
Sand Spit, the other track from the same session is better, though recorded much too quietly. But if you turn the volume up it gives a better idea of what Tear Fet is about. Much of it is devoted to making two or more vocal sounds simultaneously in a live situation. There is also an element of listening to the sounds and textures created and attempting to dig into them a little. Something almost meditative.
For the reasons just given, only Sand Spit from Drop is embedded below. If you play it you will need to turn the volume up, then turn it back down if you go on to play anything else.
Princess Road is a lot more focussed. Having walked an hour through the rain, and occasionally heavy wind of the tail-end of a storm I wanted volume, and I wanted the unpredictability of environmental sound.
That said, there were fewer ideas at the start. I simply turned up the gain on my Zoom recorder, leaned out the bedroom window, and let stuff happen.
The first track is Backyard, a simple field recording of the wind making noise in the backyard, and whole load of environmental sounds from beyond, most notably traffic on Princess Road nearby. The focus here is very much on listening to the various sounds.
The second track, Dirty Light, is by far the strongest vocal experiment from the three sessions. The description written for the session probably puts it best,
'Dirty Light sees Tear Fet experiment and improvise against and over the sounds from outside. Intrusively, though initially in short bursts punctuated by silence, the voice asserts itself as the site of action beneath and around which the other sounds form a setting. Longer passages are strung together, exploring different ideas. Towards the end the voice begins to adopt mimicry of the environmental sounds, the gaps between draw out, and the voice recedes until it's gone.'
A little on the third session after embeds of the two virtual albums (strictly virtual album, and virtual EP).
Drop (or at least Sand Spit)
Finally, today's session had a clear set of ideas, and a clear end-point in mind, but ended up falling flat. It began with recording a description of sensory confusion induced by a combination of stress and Citalopram. Then a couple of different vocal drones allowed to tail off and start again after drawing breath were recorded.
It was very apparent that these recordings were not going to work together. So a series of other sounds were recorded in hopes of rescuing something. They included the cat purring and batting the recorder, whisking water in a bowl, handling the recorder in such a way as to purposely make noise, and finally breathing into a mug in which the recorder had been placed.
So far various combinations edited together have sounded frankly unconvincing. The drones are of no use, the spoken description kills anything it comes into contact with, and the whisked water is uninteresting. Only the cat, the handled recorder, and the breathing interest me, but don't seem to work together.
As previously you can download the sessions free at bandcamp, or from my netlabel vetch at archive.org.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Unlike the paper volume and the kindle volume the work here is taken beyond the page or screen. Though for only a limited time. You have until 24 January 2014 to see it.
Unlike the launch events (for anthology and exhibition) generally none of the artists involved are present. Unless one or more happens to be wandering round, as I was at different times on Saturday, Sunday and Monday 4-6 January.
Like the anthology the exhibition is very dense with language, with meanings, and with varied material, thematic and textural approaches to the making of language art.
It's a compelling and haunting exhibition. Noticeably darker and rawer than the anthology. Impossible to apprehend in a single visit. I went three times, amounting to two and a half hours in all, and feel I missed a lot.
It's also highly recommended. If you can get there then please do.
And I do have a couple of criticisms. Only one of those is significant, and will emerge from my general impression of the exhibition. The other is merely a pet peeve, and I'll save that until a bit later.
So let's look at the exhibition as a whole, and then at some of the works that especially impressed me.
Have you ever stared at the concave of a desert spoon? At times it appears just what it is, the inside of the bowl of a spoon curved away from you. Then at other times the distorted reflections appear to pop out, to form a bubble that you can see but can't touch. Even reaching out to burst the bubble doesn't make it vanish.
That was the clear image that came to me on the Monday as I wandered through the rooms.
The exhibition keeps popping in and out of focus as either primarily visual or primarily textual.
In the anthology this effect is minimised because the pages are a standard format and a standard size. But in the gallery it is pronounced.
It took until my third visit to notice that I was spending a lot of time looking closely at individual works. This isn't unusual, or a bad thing. But what was striking was that I was spending almost no time taking a step back and considering how different works spoke to each other and to the space.
Instead I was taking time to read the text in some cases, and in others to examine the image closely. While the works conceptually and thematically seemed to have a series of relationships, visually and physically I was treating them as if they were in different buildings.
I think the reason for this is that personally I found the majority of pieces were either effective solely as text and not as visual work, or were visually compelling but textually not very interesting.
A handful (notably arthur+martha's a quilt for when you are homeless and Alec Finlay's SING/WILD/KIND/WOOD upstairs) were strong both visually and textually, and a few just didn't work for me at all.
That only really became apparent when I started to pull back from individual pieces and consider the spaces more widely.
Suddenly it became apparent that some works felt flat and confined. Rather than effortlessly entering into a dialogue with other works and with the space they occupied, they lay against the wall, bounded by the edge of the paper or the picture frame.
And I became aware of how generally monochrome the works are collectively. They lack colour, especially colour that feels integral to the piece.
Please be aware this is a subjective personal reaction. It's also a subjective personal reaction that in some crucial ways misses the point.
This is not just an exhibition of language art, it's an exhibition of ideas. The human condition here is not just one of the mind, or of simple pleasure. The human condition here is a fragile thing. It is subject to decline and decay. There is death, there are threats. The human condition is physical.
So Robert Fitterman's Holocaust Museum re-presents captions of photos from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington , DC. The exhibition catalogue states that 'by presenting only the text, the reader is consigned to draw upon his or her own experience with this catastrophic history.'
That's true, but I also found myself doing something else. With this, as with a couple of other works in the exhibition I found that in the absence of both identifiable human/emotional markers, and obvious aesthetic stimulus I tried to reintroduce human narratives into the gaps.
This is unusual for me, although I have emotional initial reactions to art, they're not normally something I act on immediately. They're also generally no more prominent than any aesthetic or intellectual reactions.
Another couple of thoughts on the piece before I move on. I liked that the room felt rough and incomplete, abandoned. It was also interesting how without the photos the bureaucratic aspect of their recording, which in turn recorded the consequences of the Nazis' bureaucratic horrors, is emphasised. Finally, in some way that isn't entirely clear to me (the shape of the room, the location relative to the rest of the rooms) it seems to echo Stephen Emmerson's Albion, the William Blake performance/installation upstairs. But I'll return to that quite soon.
No only does my main criticism slightly miss the point of the exhibition, it also fails to acknowledge how it marks out different approaches and limits to language art, including historic explorations, rather than a clearly defined field of endeavour. That means the practices, approaches and backgrounds of the various artists are wildly different.
And in spite of my criticism that much of the work is lacking in colour and tends to a self-contained flatness the monochrome and primarily textual SING/WILD/KIND/WOOD by Alec Finlay has a more visually compelling and spatially expansive presence than the more illustrative and brightly coloured After Henry James by Tom Phillips neighbouring it.
[Brief pause to change the record. I recently bought a record player, having been without access to one for years, and never having owned one myself (relying on parents, partners and friends). Consequently I've been on a vinyl purchasing spree, the highlights of which I may blog another time. I'd just finished listening to The Hunter Gracchus from a split lp with Kommissar Hjuler und Frau, and decided to switch mood to the controlled power electronics of Pharmakon. Both would fit neatly in different bits of The Dark Would.]
Individual works. Starting upstairs. I'm not going to discuss everything, just things that really jumped out at me.
Stephen Emmerson's Albion is the obvious starting point. I'm not sure what I think about this work. Or rather, I do know what I think, but it's hard to express without coming across as unduly negative.
I don't know how Albion might work as a performative piece since I haven't seen it, so I can't comment on that aspect. As an installation it's... okay. It strikes me as something that might come across better in video or photos, or in the flesh (as it were) if there are a few people in there. Otherwise I found it inert.
Don't get me wrong, I spent a fair amount of time in the room, and liked the images on the walls. And I participated, typing some text to fix to the wall with others' contributions. But that for me fixed what part of the problem was. There is an absence at the centre of the work. Nothing feels like it has a need to be there. And nothing to me speaks particularly of William Blake.
The idea of 'channelling Blake' (or anyone) leads to that pet peeve which I'll deal with in more detail later. But in essence I don't think there's much in channelling or automatic writing, or any other quasi-mystic approach to contacting some other, whether external or internal. Not much in it creatively, intellectually, or in substance.
But again, I may have been approaching the work in the wrong frame of mind. I was thinking of it as live art or as installation, in both of which cases I'd expect something a little more. But like I said, this sounds more negative than I mean it to. The piece obviously had an impact on me and generated a lot of thought.
Albion stands at the top of the stairs immediately ahead of you, so is natural to enter first. When you exit you turn left into the main space of the floor. Probably the most dominant works immediately on entering are the two huge paintings from Simon Patterson's Black-List series.
[Record change. Julia Holter's Tragedy. Again, it fits the exhibition well. Also I could do with listening to it again, quite a subtle and unflashy album. Probably one that needs listening to in its entirety several times.]
These paintings are based on scrolling film credits, with the names of blacklisted Hollywood actors, directors, technicians and screenwriters inserted. The text is white, subtly blurred as if projected, surrounded by black.
They're visually compelling, but rely on you knowing (or being told) what they mean. I don't mind being told what makes up a piece of art, but others might, and the paintings are after all just lists of names. I like them, and they work well in context.
More interesting to me though, in the middle of the floor nearby was arthur+martha's a quilt for when you are homeless. Humped as though someone is below it, and dimly lit from above, the quilt might be a prop in a play.
But against the absence, and absence of colour of Albion, and against the monolithic monochromatism of the Black-List paintings, the colour of the quilt (blue), and more fugitively the texts sewn into it (yellow and red among others), the blanket is wholly present and seems brighter than it is.
The texts are partial, ambiguous, sometimes unclear. Their fragmentary nature more suited to the project, to the exhibition, and to lived experience, than more complete sentences would have been. To me they reward attention, even when you can't construct something wholly meaningful from them, more than Mike Landy's Scrapheap Services on the wall opposite the Black-List paintings.
With Scrapheap Services you're confronted with an accumulation of tiny detail, both text and illustration, that frankly becomes a little wearing. It begins to feel like an obligation, and so you rebel, and go find something more pleasurable instead.
With a quilt for when you are homeless there is a pleasure and a challenge in finding and deciphering the texts.
And in its three-dimensionality, its colour, its physicality, the hidden nature of some of its texts, its sheer engagement with the world and undeniable there-ness the quilt brings together and holds together the diverse works in the main upstairs space.
There are a lot of works in that large space. Those that I've seen discussed enthusiastically elsewhere include Mike Chavez-Dawson's The Dark Would, Nine Realms of Dead Poet, Version 1a, Caroline Bergvall's Philomena (Exploded House 1-4), and one of Richard Wentworth's 'imprisoned' books. None of which massively impress me.
I'm a great fan of Bergvall, and like her pieces here, but they feel lost in this context. The Chavez-Dawson pieces remind me of Albion. They're more colourful, and the text here is obscured, but they feel like sketches, partial ideas. And partial ideas at that which produce a very familiar result.
Richard Wentworth's book is better, but again like Bergvall's pieces, it feels overwhelmed by the space and some of the other works.
Alec Finlay's SING/WILD/KIND/WOOD I've already discussed. It's a very outgoing piece that speaks to the space around it, and to other works in the space.
A handful of rooms lead off from the main space. At the far end from where we entered a short corridor runs left to a room. And also left (I think between the Black-List paintings) is a doorway to the first of two further rooms.
In the end room are a large visual text by Lawrence Weiner, TAKEN FROM THE WIND & BOLTED TO THE GROUND, which I'm afraid doesn't work for me as either text or visual piece; and smaller pieces by Fiona Banner (Bollocks and Sperm), and I think Jenny Holzer.
This last, a couple of text stamps, are the most intriguing works in the room. Unfortunately I can't remember the text on them any more, but I have a vague recollection that it is instructive/imperative/improving. Quite likely repurposed from elsewhere.
The first of the two other rooms is quite full of prints from significant figures like Guy Debord, and Ian Hamilton-Finlay. Of most interest there are a series of texts on large coloured sheets of paper that I couldn't see an attribution for.
They interest me because it is unclear whether they were created to be showed in that way, or whether they are drawn from existing texts. And if they are from existing texts, whether or not they were written by well-known figures, and if so, by whom.
This is a genuine ambiguity. They seem to reflect a particular kind of 20th and late 19th century tone, that might equally well be Nietzsche, Rand, Marx, or almost any significant philosophical or political thinker across the political spectrum.
The lack of contextual information benefits the pieces, which also benefit from being there in a large grouping.
The second room houses a large text from Philip Davenport, Mercury Hymn/Ian Hamilton Finlay is dead. This text works as a visual presence, but also read through its various permutations. And it interacts well with the neighbouring works in the other room. All have a kind of visually classical look to them.
I forgot to mention some of the other pleasures here, Maria Chevska's small pieces, including an extract from Kafka low on the wall in the corridor I mentioned a little earlier. Nearby on another wall, and higher up, is Eric Zboya's The Chasm of Lethe. Though the words are pronounced differently I enjoyed the proximity of Lethe to Leith, a little way down the road, where I was staying.
But most all I missed the inspired placement of Márton Koppány's The Secret around the entrance to the floor at the top of the stairs. You approach the floor through its enigmatic presence, and it frames the space beyond as a special, separate realm. You can read my take on the work early on in this earlier review of the anthology.
The upper floor contains a multiplicity of approaches, historical traditions, and approaches to the use of text in art, and of the incorporation of art into text works. It's here that you switch between modes of seeing most. But at the same time it's a good introduction to the works on the lower floor, or alternately as a palette-cleanser after that floor.
I'm aware that my review perhaps seems more critical and negative than I intended. I emphasise again, I really enjoy this exhibition, it's very strong and impossible to apprehend even in the two and a half hours I spent there. The density, richness, and ultimately for much of it the darkness it contains makes for a satisfying and stimulating experience.
So to the ground floor. For me this was dominated, physically at least, by three large works.
The first of these is Sarah Sanders' I Used To, which is both a large visual text, and the traces left by a performance. The space on this floor is arranged more conventionally as rooms leading off from a central corridor. It is on the walls of the corridor that Sanders has enacted her piece, the paint dripping to the floor. Though not so much that it obscures the text.
The second is actually a pair of works from Richard Long, ONE HOUR, A SIXTY MINUTE CIRCLE WALK ON DARTMOOR, and HUMAN NATURE WALK, TWENTY ONE WALKING DAYS ON THE HIGHVELD ON TWO PROPERTIES WITHIN THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND, SOUTH AFRICA, at either end of a room the length of the corridor.
The third is Robert Fitterman's Holocaust Museum, already discussed, and slightly aside from the other rooms. You have to approach it through a small, crowded space. But I'll come to that shortly.
Sanders' work is visually quite oppressive, heavy and dark, and speaking of change, with all the attendant emotional confusions and ambiguities that raises. Fitterman's work is visually lighter, but emotionally much darker. Change is there to, but so is refusal to change, in both positive and negative incarnations. Preservation of individual, or wider cultural/communal identity. But also traditional, irrational, enmities and fears. Long's work is quite different, more hopeful. Emotionally and physically lighter. Not in the sense of being slight, but in the sense of admitting more light.
And so to the rest of the lower floor. Again I'll talk about individual pieces in the context of their different rooms, so far as I can remember.
At one end of the corridor is a dimly lit room with a table inside. On the table is a cage that looks (from the small feathers still clinging to it) like it might be used to transport birds. I thought chickens, but I'm willing to be corrected. Inside the cage is a book of Stephane Mallarme, if I recall correctly.
Close to the entrance is a print of Tony Trehy's poem (Fabric Of) On Naming of Shadows. This would be a dense poem to read at leisure, on the wall of a gallery it's much more of a challenge. Though I did read it through in its entirety at least once I'd be lying if I said I remembered much about it. That's not a fault of the poem, or the exhibition, but of my approach to both.
Low down in the room on the far wall is a small LED display, another point of colour in the exhibition, that scrolls text almost one letter at a time. This is from Jenny Holzer's Lustmord series (which thinking about it, the other work by her in the exhibition might be too). When you read the unfolding text it proves sometimes disturbing, sometimes sexual. As the catalogue says, 'A response to the raping of women as a military tactic.'
The next room along is dark, with photo-negative images of line drawings and text (in some cases asemic) on lightboxes on the walls. Susan Hiller's From India to the Planet Mars. I thought this was a particularly strong room, and a fascinating sequence of works. At the same time it helped set off that pet peeve of mine, my dislike of automatic writing.
But I emphasise, this is a strong set of pieces, well worthy of space in the exhibition. Pieces indeed that almost prompted me to start sketching away in my notebook right there.
If the first of the smaller rooms feels like external constraints - architectural, mechanical, oppression by other people - imposed on the author, their subjects, and the reader, then this second room feels more like the liberation and illusory sense of revelation in the moments before waking properly. Or the similar states brought on by illness, tiredness, failure to eat properly, getting high, and any number of other altered states.
The third and final of these smaller rooms then is a room - attic, boxroom, garage - crowded with broken, forgotten or just unused items. Memories, aspirations, fears.
Truthfully there is more there than I can remember. And much of it seems resolutely domestic in scale. By which I mean much of it doesn't seek to make large, significant, or universal statements. Rather it speaks of specifics. Which for me can be much more important.
Consequently the room feels both crammed and slight. Both hissing with ideas and curiously quiet.
Or it could be an anteroom to the Holocaust Museum next door. Either a dumping ground for abandoned belongings or the few surprising things your mind won't let go of.
Among its small treasures: Laurence Lane's Uptight, an emotionally honest anecdote in both woodcut and print; Carolyn Thompson's The Eaten Heart, not by any means the only book to which a scalpel has been taken for artistic ends that I've seen, but effective nonetheless; Carol Watts' Jetty, A Tongue, frail sketch and hard to decipher handwriting.
There is more. Somewhere nearby, though I never found it, is a recording of Ron Sillimans' For Larry Eigner, Silent. And a recording of me wrestling with Long Lankin, which I did find, and was happy it sounded like a genuine thing.
The lower floor is more obviously, openly and viscerally emotional than the upper. It also has the most obvious disparities of scale, from the huge Long, Sanders and Fitterman works, to the smaller (and less outwardly ambitious) pieces in the third room. Which also, now I think of it, deals with questions of identity. Whether large, abstract, external signifiers like nationality that may mean nothing to some individuals, to smaller elements of personality, fears and guilt and pleasure, which may be far more important.
What then of the exhibition as a whole? As I said back at the beginning, it's dense, heavy with meanings and language. Ideas and emotions, large political and philosophical questions struggle to be heard against quieter but more insistent personal motifs. It's an exhibition both mental/emotional and physical, concerned with being.
Text and image collide. Sound and image collide. Light and dark collide. Monochromatism collides with brief moments of colour. Past and present collide. Large and small collide.
Throughout you feel your understanding of some of the denser works slipping away. Your sense of what language art consists of eroded. This increase in uncertainty is a good thing. It problematises rather than simplifies or manufactures spurious certainty. Even those works you may not like contribute to the whole and feel crucial to its conception.
In truth it's too capacious and dense an exhibition to take in quickly. But it's also an exhibition you have to work at to an extent. I was lucky to be able to take three days. I wish it had been longer. You don't have long left to get there if you want to see it, and you should.
A presumably mutated and transformed version of this exhibition will be at the Text Festival later in the year, where it will be fascinating to see how it has changed, and how it responds to the different spaces in Bury. If you miss Edinburgh, don't miss Bury.
Since in the end there was nowhere for it to go, but I'd embedded a few references to it through the review, I've left my (slightly edited) mini rant about automatism separately to the main text. Automatic writing, channelling, whatever, crops up in a couple of ways, and it's a practice I honestly have little time for. Blame the surrealists. I believe that rather than uncovering any useful insights, letting out the unconscious or subconscious, or achieving any supernatural contact, automatic writing simply reflects what's already there. Essentially whatever's already in your mind without the self-conscious, developed editorialising, but with a different conceptual framework in place that permits certain strategies and disallows others.
My opinion is that it opens a door to cliche, hackneyed (and sometimes offensive*) modes of expression or thought, and actually represents a limitation on truly imaginative or irrational strategies.
Insofar as I also regard it as a (less interesting, developed, rigorous, or imaginative) form of improvisation, it carries risks particularly for those with highly developed skills and/or working alone. The tendency being - unconsciously - to fall back on techniques, tropes, and approaches you're accustomed to using.
*That offence being probably unconscious, but likely to reflect the author's privilege. Hence that reference to surrealists earlier - I find most of the surrealist poetry I've read by men to be misogynist in the extreme. But I stress, that is not the case with anything in this exhibition.
[Just finished editing as a side of a record by Estasy, an Italian performance artist and rare male soprano comes to an end. The last record of the night before bed.]
Friday, December 13, 2013
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Terminal Cheesecake are live at Islington Mill, Salford next Saturday, 7 December 2013.
Terminal Cheesecake, with Gnod in support play Islington Mill in a huge pre-Christmas gig.
Also on the bill are Bong, Die Hexen, and Raikes Parade, joined by Tranarchy, Bratan, Dream Eyes, River Slaughter (can't find a link, sorry, though let me know if you have one), Rosanne Robertson, Debbie Sharp, Aulos' First Reed (again, no link I can find, though let me know etc.), Gary Fisher, Matt Dalby, and 2 Koi Karp. With DJ sets from Lucy Ironmonger, Chew Disco and Vulj, and visual stimulation from Khom, Woodcock and Grundstrom and Mark O'Shea (can't find a link I'm sure is the right one. Again if you know…).
Yeah, I'm in there as support on the second stage. I'll be performing a new song called 1934. With extended vocal techniques ranging from whisper through hysterical screams and subterranean mutters to volcanic roars it should be intense.
From the Facebook events page:
'Matt Dalby - via a mic, tiny amp and effects pedal -combines sound poetry with white noise and looped vocals. Dalby regularly incorporates traditional folk and blues standards into his performances. A recent rendition of "In the Pines" dissected every nuance of the lyric; by turns whispered and subdued, by turns wailed and hysterical.
An early, but slower and more restrained version of 1934 can be heard below:
More details on the gig/tickets etc. at the following links: The Quietus; Facebook.
The Dark Would exhibition runs from Saturday 7 December 2013 - Friday 24 January 2014 at Summerhall, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL.
Curated by Philip Davenport, and growing from the language art anthology of the same name released earlier this year that he edited, The Dark Would has its public launch at 7pm Friday 6 December 2013. Free entry.
The exhibition contains work from Jenny Holzer, Richard Long, Susan Hiller, Richard Wentworth, Simon Patterson, Tony Lopez, Sarah Sanders (who I understand is performing live at the opening on 6 December), Caroline Bergvall, Erica Brum, Ron Silliman, Mike Chavez Dawson and many more.
Included in the exhibition is my version of Long Lankin, a ten minute sound piece based on the folk ballad of the same name. Various different sung arrangements succeed and overlap each other, while extended vocal technique and field recordings create sometimes troubling textures and atmospheres.
See the link above, and the link here for further details.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The beach is the reason it would probably be an awful idea for me to ever move next to the sea. I like walking. I like walking on the seashore. I like walking in all weathers. I like beaches or shorelines that aren't sandy. I would have to walk on the beach pretty much every day, which would destroy my shoes even quicker than at present.
On my walk I did get a really nice (though cliched) recording of wave sounds. Wave sounds are rather like wind in trees, or traffic, or other similar distinctive, familiar sounds, in that they're actually pretty complex. To see what I mean, stop and listen waves on a pebbly beach for instance, with a view to imitating the sound with your voice. You'll find there are a lot of different sounds happening at the same time.
Yes, I've done a lot of that kind of listening over the last couple of years. This time last year when I was damn near hallucinating from my meds I almost drove myself into panic attacks trying to analyse and mimic the sound of wind in trees. And no, I never got close. You can do a crude, impressionistic, surface only version, but without a lot of voices or overdubs nothing like the real thing.
But anyway, back to the review.
Although before I do, even with the reasonably detailed notes I took, you should know my memory of this night is worse than for either of the others. Partly as a consequence of this I've had less luck attributing names to performers than for either of the other nights. As with Friday things start out sketchy and improve a little as it goes on.
Here I seem to have the same number of names as I do performers, but as far as I tell one of those names (Andy Guhl) played on the Sunday. Or at least, one of the performances I described in my notes for the Sunday was exactly what I see in videos of Andy Guhl online. Possibly he swapped days with someone.
Links once again (mostly) via of Colour Out of Space website.
Day 2 - Saturday 9 November 2013
The evening opened with a solo performer on the side stage with tabletop electronics, tapes and amplified objects.
There was a sense of fun and play about the performance, although I can't say I was riveted. That's probably more to do with it being the beginning of the night and my inattention than anything else.
Really, apologies to all those artists I can't name or adequately describe. Apologies also to readers who might reasonably expect a review to be informative.
The Y Bend (sorry, no link available)
I'm willing to be corrected, but I think the second performance was from The Y Bend. A review and photos around a third of the way down this page suggests I may be right.
They were a sextet, and played on the main stage. The instruments included guitars, voice, keyboards and toys.
My notes on the performance are inadvertently condescending, so I'll try to say what I actually meant in them here. The performance, the way the members of the group presented themselves, the whole set-up of their equipment was bold, colourful, and unusual. And the music itself was good, though for a sense of how it sounded you'll want that review I linked above.
However, the music didn't quite carry me along. It felt a little restrained. But I think some of that was context, and on a bill with more conventional song-based performers, their strengths would be much more apparent.
Jennifer Walshe & Tomomi Adachi
Third up was a duo of Jennifer Walshe and Tomomi Adachi on the side stage. They used extended vocal technique and sounds triggered from laptop. They were also one of the highlights of the night, and of the festival.
As far as I can remember there was no language being used, but glossolalia. Voices intersecting and pulling apart. Sometimes mimicking conventional tropes of song, sometimes exploring non-verbal sounds - whether abstract or more obviously physical. The whole supported by gestures - close to sign-language in Walshe's case, and seemingly devoid of intent to signify in Adachi's.
Although there was clearly a great deal of skill and mutual understanding in the performance, to the extent I wasn't sure how far any of it was pre-rehearsed or improvised, neither performer seemed to take themselves too seriously.
Very much recommended.
Fuuuu… I really ought to be tell you more about these, but my memory fails me. I remember I liked them a lot. At the time they were more of a highlight than Walshe and Adachi.
I can tell you they were a trio and played on the main stage. I can tell you their instruments were drums, flute/wind, and noises through pedals. I can even picture the wind instrument. But can I tell you anything more? Not a damn thing.
I suspect they were Roman Nose - or perhaps, since the links I've followed describe that project as a solo project, it was Jon Marshall as Roman Nose with Charlie Collins and Sarah McWatt.
Just so you know at least part of what I'm up against, here are my notes in full for this performance: '(4) drums/flute[+other wind thing]/noises thru pedals. trio, main. easily performance of the day so far. some *slightly* OTT reactions, but why not?' This is why I'm not a journalist.
The fifth performance was from a duo on the side stage. Or rather, as most were, a little in front of it. More extended vocal technique, this time set against some truly immense ringing glasses.
Actually, before I get into this, a quick digression on 'extended vocal technique'. The phrase, that is. Although it's a tremendously useful descriptive phrase (I've used it a lot, and will continue to use it through my reviews of the festival), I have serious problems with it. The main problem being it sounds so damn serious and Olympian. 'Extended' vocal technique. You get the impression of something elevated, abstruse, difficult to master and understand, and probably fun-free. That it's usually none of these things is irrelevant. I don't know what the solution is. Better writing maybe.
I was split over this performance. I wanted to like it: and the sounds were atmospheric, the whole set was well played, and the vocal work was excellent. But… But it wasn't an especially long set, and my attention was seriously wandering well before the end.
Lovers Ritual is a duo of Maya Duneitz and Ilan Volkov, both of whom I think have Primate Arena connections (see the review of Friday). They were on the main stage, Volkov on violin, Duneitz using her voice.
Initially, especially with Duneitz using a loopstation for her voice, I wasn't all that interested. I avoid loopstation these days because it's too easy to use to impose a structure (or illusion of structure) on improvisations. Not only can that stop you using more creative solutions, it reduces your responsiveness and ability to leap off at tangents. Or you can use it to fill silence (in the same way delay pedals often get misused). Personally I like silence, leaving gaps, letting some air and space in.
But then first Volkov and then Duneitz got off the stage and went onto the floor and into the crowd. At which point the set really took off. Crucially for me Duneitz went away from not just the loopstation, but the mic, and showed the real strength of her voice. She also got a large part of the audience involved in making a variety of sounds.
This final section of the set was much more compelling and exciting than what had preceded it, and easily lifted it to being one of the day's highlights.
Seventh up was a solo performer at the side stage. His tabletop setup deployed tapes, amplified objects and loops. Which meant that drawback of illusory structure.
But things improved for me right at the end of the set. The loop was removed and in its place a record placed on a loose spindle was spun manually while what I'm told is a magnetic cartridge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_cartridge (that bit with the stylus in it) was suspended by its wires on to the record. More of that kind of inventiveness, and the genuinely ghostly sounds it generated would have been very welcome.
Gwilly Edmondez & Posset & THF Drenching
Back on the main stage the trio of Gwilly Edmondez, Posset and THF Drenching impressed. All three made use of tapes and voice.
On the night I didn't mark this down as a highlight, curiously. The set was really good though. Unlike a lot of improvisors and other musicians they were not afraid to leave silences. A good range of techniques - vocal, and manipulating tapes/mics - were deployed.
I was never in any doubt that all three knew exactly what they were doing, and were bloody effective at doing it.
Oh boy, apologies to whoever played next. A solo musician on the side stage with guitar, voice and feedback. Apologies because I didn't enjoy the set, and wrote only the most cursory and dismissive notes.
The set was undoubtably well performed, but a little too somnolent and conventionally song-based for my taste. That said, it was very well received, which shows what I know.
Greg Kelley & Dylan Nyoukis
The main stage again. This time for the duo of Greg Kelley (trumpet) and Dylan Nyoukis (extended vocal technique).
This was another highlight. The combination of voice and trumpet worked better than you might expect. In part that was because there seemed to be a real empathy between the two. Kelley and Nyoukis made the most marked use of silence and space in addition to quiet passages of anyone yet in the festival.
There was also humour in the performance, particularly in the voice. It's good to let it in. Jumping the rails to get personal for a minute, the most liberating thing about discovering sound poetry (initially through recordings of Bob Cobbing and Henri Chopin*) was that I could be as childish, silly, or removed from technical mastery as I liked. Even now I like to sing only to deliberately waver off key, or interrupt it with a farting noise. For me it reconnects with the most joyful aspects of singing, restoring a degree of freedom.
*Incidentally, the first page of videos at that link currently brings up a short extract of Chopin at an earlier Colour Out of Space. Fuck, I wish I'd been there.
I'm also reminded of Culturcide's Tacky Souvenirs of Pre-Revolutionary America. I think because it's such a disrespectful and joyous record.
So there you go, Dylan Nyoukis, what happens when you mash up Bob Cobbing, Henri Chopin, Culturcide, contemporary improvisation, and childish vocal play. And that's a good thing, by the way. Not that it tells you much about how the set sounded.
The next performer played solo on the side stage. I may have been more divided about this performance than anything else. There were passages I liked, but then moments when I found it utterly insufferable and hoped it would end.
Part of that may have derived from the combination of sound sources, variously guitar, contact mic, or non-specific noisemakers fed through delay, and possibly other effects, with plenty of feedback. The non-traditional aspects were often great, but during the guitar passages it all got a bit too trad for me.
And that's the odd thing. There wasn't much I found meh or okay, or much of a transition between being onboard with it and then being bored of it. I tended to flip instantly from 'this is great', to 'oh god, make it stop', and back again. Which I guess is an accomplishment of sorts. Next.
Seriously? Another performance I liked, and yet my notes amount to a total of 19 words that tell me nothing about how they sounded. This however is a learning point. Next time I take notes on a festival where there are so many performers I need to write more descriptively about how they actually sound.
Anyway, this was a trio on the main stage. All three sang, or at least used their voices, and there was also viola and tabletop electronics. All I can tell you is (and I quote), 'good stuff, well performed. not quite a highlight but impressive nonetheless'. Gotta love that unintentionally patronising tone from someone who couldn't do what these performers did. Apologies again to them, to you, and anyone else. Sorry.
By this stage I was honestly (though inexplicably) tired. That probably means that the last couple of performers, and the final two, suffer from a degree of inattention and lack of engagement on my part.
Thirteenth was a solo performer on the side stage. They used a reel to reel tape with a loose loop of tape, which I think ran round a mic stand. They also deployed samples and amplified objects.
Honestly, the setup reminded me of Gary Fisher, though I didn't find the sounds quite as interesting.
That said, they were good, although might have benefitted from introducing a little more space into the sound. There again that might just be my current obsession and not worth worrying about.
And so to the end of the night. A duo on the main stage. The familiar tabletop setup, another reel to reel player with a loose loop of tape (this time hanging down), and electronics.
Unfortunately by this stage I was all out of energy, attention, and ability to write coherently. I get the impression that the performance and sounds were actually pretty good, but that I was simply too drained to appreciate anything. Really I think I only stayed to be sure I'd heard everything. So once again apologies.
I will say that Sunday's notes, and my memory of the performers are a lot better than for either day so far. I think that's mainly because Sunday was my favourite day of the festival, and there was so much there that I genuinely loved.
As with Friday's review, here's a list of the performers (with links) that I haven't been able to attribute to their respective sets. In fact it may be a good thing. Go check out their sounds and make up your own mind, without my blether muddying the waters:
Dinosaurs with Horns, DDAA, Roman Nose, Bridget Hayden, Andie Brown & Sharon Gal, Sindre Bjerga, Dan Melchior, M.Stactor, and Andy Guhl (though as I said earlier, I think he actually played on Sunday).
The review of the Friday is here.
A link to my review of the Sunday will get posted here when it's done. No promises when that will be. It may be up by the end of the weekend, but I can't guarantee anything.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
So here's a review from my notes sketched down as it happened.
Something to note: I mention electronics, or tabletop electronics a lot. That might mean anything from tablets, through tape/digital recorders, pedals and no-input mixing boards, to amplified objects and any other generic box with wires sticking out of it. I mention these things partly as a mnemonic for myself, partly to give a sense of what a performance sounded and looked like, and partly because I didn't concern myself to find out in great detail exactly what every instrument/noisemaker was.
Links via the Colour Out of Space page.
*Edit 16 Nov 2013 - I've had confirmation of the performers I couldn't name initially, so thanks for that. In the interests of honesty they were Primate Arena (1st), Skin Graft (5th), Kiko C. Esseiva & Vincent de Rougin (8th), and Dog Lady Island (9th). Acchiappashpirt were unable to be there, which explains why I saw fewer acts than were listed. All edits are either existing material left in but struckthrough,
Day 1 - Friday 8 November 2013
The evening performances at The Old Market kicked off with a quintet on the main stage. My notes tell me the main sound sources were a drum, voice, electronics, and (I think) bass clarinet.
My sketchy description of the sound was 'granular and textural. gentle. flashes of play.' That I'm afraid is as much as I remember of them, though I did enjoy the performance.
I'm pretty sure the second performers, a duo, were Occult Hand. They played on the side stage, with laptop, tapes, and keyboard. The music felt less detailed, or to put it another way, constructed more of atmosphere and washes of sound than the previous performance.
Poulomi Desai & collaborator
Poulomi Desai and a collaborator whose name I didn't catch were third. They were again on the side stage. Desai played a prepared sitar, and her collaborator tabletop electronics.
For me this was where the festival really took off. A loud collaboration that totally grabbed my attention, with a variety of methods and tools used to draw sounds from the sitar, including what appeared to be a wand vibrator. There was noise and buried snatches of recordings that I took to be Vedic chants.
A little frustrating that there's insufficient mnemonic information in my notes to give more detail of how they actually sounded. That does change. After the next two performers my notes are a lot more expansive and helpful.
However, Desai and her collaborator were one of the highlights of the weekend for me.
Next up on the main stage were Acrid Lactations, the duo of Susan Fitzpatrick and Stuart Arnot. They used voices, along with pedals and noises (from tapes, keyboard and electronics).
There was a genuine sense of fun about them. At times the performance seemed a little scrappy, but that's generally a good thing. If I were going to be harsh their extended vocal techniques might have benefitted from a little more diversity. That's really nitpicking though.
Since I was taken by surprise by the next performer, and especially by how brief their blast of noise was, I can tell you very little about them. My notes say it was one person, though I can't be absolutely sure. They were operating their tabletop electronics from the side stage.
What I do know is there was a brief blast of harsh and loud electronic noise that was over almost before you knew what was happening.
Refreshing. Had it been longer by a couple of minutes maybe more variety would have been welcome. But as it was it didn't stick around long enough for that to be necessary.
Woven Skull & Core of the Coalman
Back on the main stage was a sextet consisting of three drummers and three others playing violin, guitar, and what I believe to be mandolin. Again I couldn't tell you who they were. Possibly Woven Skull with Core of the Coalman.
I fucking loved it, though it was one of the more musically conventional sets of the festival. In truth probably a better fit for something like Birmingham's Supersonic.
The percussion was compelling and hypnotic, though there was enough detail in the (often voice-like) strings to add variety and interest. But I happen to like numbskull motorik dance anyway, with or without additional detail.
The group also had a slow, sepulchral projection of someone walking in woodland behind them. I only mention it because while it was good it operated with a little more subtlety and a little less certainty than the music, creating an interesting mismatch of sound and image.
This was another highlight for me, though in truth felt different from pretty much everything else at the festival. Think drone, psych, motorik.
Enzo Minarelli, exploring sound poetry with voice and pre-recorded backing should have been more up my street. But honestly, though well performed, something about the set just didn't excite me.
In part because I don't find text in itself a hugely compelling subject. But also because in sound poetry I'm more interested in the sonic potential of the voice than in linguistic events. Which really means that any problem I had with the performance is to do with me framing it in the wrong way. Applying a set of concerns and principals that run counter to what Minarelli was doing.
The pieces also came across as a little sketchy. As though they were fragments of ideas that had been fixed prematurely, where they could have stood to be expanded or deepened a little.
Despite my reservations the performance was very well received throughout.
Kiko C. Esseiva & Vincent de Rougin
I'm honestly not entirely certain where the next set happened. I think on the floor towards the back of the room. I was stuck somewhere between the main stage and the side stage. As far as I could tell the sounds were generated by tabletop electronics, laptop, or a combination of both.
I didn't enjoy the set. I found it protracted and uninteresting. A featureless, passionless grey drizzle of blips, crackles and meh that left me desperate for it to be over.
But evidently it's not made for me, and others undoubtedly understand it better, and get more from it.
Dog Lady Island (video starts on page)
Most of what I just said about the previous performance could also be said about the one that followed. On this occasion from a solo performer on the side stage with turntable, violin and electronics.
I could say the same, because to my ears it was almost identical. My notes say 'structurally + sonically very similar to the previous act. except the sound was muddier.'
So again, you won't get a sensible review out of me, since I fundamentally don't get this music, and don't enjoy it.
In my notes I do observe that my problem with
But again, now there's a name and a link for you to make up your own mind. And remember, this is all just my opinion, I expect - hope - you'll disagree with a lot of what I say.
Richard Youngs & Neil Campbell & Luke Fowler Trio
The trio of Richard Youngs, Neil Campbell and Luke Fowler came next on the main stage. They used voice, electronics, and what appeared to be a tablet. Despite knowing the names I can't say I'd previously heard much by any of the trio.
They played the second very short set of the evening. Thankfully it was another set I enjoyed, though not quite a highlight. Both voice and beats were fairly familiar, echoing variously English folk music, serious-minded 80's pop, 70's electronics, and some 90s post-rave electronics. But there was sufficient energy, variety and interest to keep my attention.
Alessandro Bosetti performed solo from a tabletop in front of the side stage. He used voice, and samples of voice triggered from (I think) a laptop.
For me this did everything that I wanted Enzo Minarelli's performance to do. It was sonically, and to my mind especially linguistically and peformatively much stronger and more developed. Definitely another highlight of the day.
The live voice and triggered samples integrated very well, and the whole came off as funny and smart.
Kenny Millions & Rat Bastard
I often find it easier to write more about performers I dislike than those I enjoy. In which case, strap yourself in because it's about to get rocky.
Friday night closed out with the duo of Kenny Millions and Rat Bastard on the main stage. Rat Bastard on guitar, Kenny Millions on mini guitar, mini sax, and vocals.
Now don't get me wrong, they're not bad musicians or performers. Quite the opposite, they're really fucking good. They are however really fucking irritating too.
So what's the problem? I think in part it's generational, you see among a lot of the punk generation, as well as immediate precursors and those following, a desire to deliberately violate taboos. I guess obvious touchstones would be the generally quite sly and insidious Throbbing Gristle, or the often preposterous Whitehouse. And that's certainly a valid approach to art, with a long history in most media.
On the whole there seem to be fewer musicians from subsequent generations doing similar things, except in the cartoonish braggadocio of some 80s metal, ditto some hip hop, and the galumphing stupidity of contemporary no-marks like Miley Cyrus.
The attack on audience sensibilities here consisted of projections of porn, a sex doll on stage, and Kenny Millions jumping into the crowd and berating people.
The last of these I have no problem with, it's something I've done myself, and I think it's to be encouraged and applauded. The sex doll wasn't too much of a problem either - I generally find them so removed from any resemblance to actual women, and conceptually so far removed from any notion of mutually enjoyable sex that they become absurd.
The porn however, I really didn't like. Now to be honest you could barely see it due to the projections overlapping with lighting. I could also have moved elsewhere and ignored it, and really enjoyed the set. But I knew it was there, and that got in the way.
I'm not a fan of porn. It mostly looks ridiculous and uncomfortable. It seems to rely very much on the viewer bringing to it a willingness to ignore these problems and use it as kind of a trigger for their own imagination. And that's ignoring the way it breaks up and objectifies women's bodies as sites for male gaze and male sexual gratification.
Porn is also much more easily accessible to much younger audiences than it was 30 or 40 years ago. As such it is a very different entity, with a very different relationship to contemporary culture than it was during the 70s or 80s. Which to me means that you perhaps need to be a little smart about using it in art.
Now I've seen very good use of still and moving porn images in some visual art. But here there seemed to be no engagement with the content of the porn beyond 'Hur hur, it's porn, it's shocking. Hur hur.' I mean Jesus, even switching out the heterosex porn for some gay hardcore would have indicated a little thought, or a genuine desire to be transgressive.
As it stands though, without context, without any apparent thought or intelligence, it just risks pissing off a huge section of the audience who are actually on board with you in almost every other way. tl;dr - great music, good performance, juvenile presentation.
Even though there were a few things I didn't get on the day, and at least one performance that actively irritated the shit outta me, I enjoyed the evening a lot. There were at least three real standout performances, and a few artists whose work I'll look out for in future.
Reviews of Saturday and Sunday to follow. I'll also add links to those reviews here when they're done.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
So, another gig at St Margaret's in Whalley Range. This time Silence Blossoms and Grew Quartet. A little sparsely attended.
If you haven't been before, like Sacred Trinity and St Philip's in Salford, St Margaret's is another Anglican church that allows its space to be used for gigs.
The church isn't as architecturally interesting as St Philip's (which is amazing), but the acoustics are decent for a church. Not intrusively echoey.
Mostly Buried Bones and Tubers Music arrange gigs there (more links for your favourites, you're welcome). I've seen drone, electronic noise, relatively conventional song or groove-based sounds, jazz, improv, tabletop electronics, and a bunch of other stuff at St Margaret's. The gigs there (and elsewhere, organised by the same people) are well worth attending if the less trodden paths interest you - or if you're just a little bored of guitardrumsbassmememe poprockindie whateverthefuck you can see anywhere anytime*.
So what the fuck was it like then? Let me start by misleading you. Silence Blossoms were up first, and through most of their set something was nagging at me. Elements of the sound were familiar, but from where? Eventually I pinned it down, I was being reminded of Tilt/The Drift/Bish Bosch-era Scott Walker.
But like I say, that's misleading. For a start Hanna Olivegren makes less use of recitative, and a little more of extended vocal technique than Scott Walker. And although the lyrics are based around poems, they generally seem to be of a less knotted and arcane nature than Walker's writing (which I prefer, your mileage may vary). Most crucially, musically they're coming from a different (arguably more contemporary) milieu than Walker. They also certainly have more in common with jazz.
Jazz, tabletop electronics, and improv are better, more accurate reference points. The songs tended to start quietly, often with electronics, an instrument, and voice making similar sounds before heading in different directions.
It was mainly at the beginning of songs that vocalisations other than straight singing were deployed. It created a sense of the pieces being almost improvised into being from nothing.
I really enjoyed the set, but at the same time I felt like something was missing. For me, despite the electronics, extended vocal technique and contemporary feel, it was overly polite and tasteful. Well-mannered in a way that I don't want art to be. There were no missteps, but at the same time no shocks or disruptions.
Would I listen to them again? Sure. Would I recommend them? Of course. Am I likely (at the moment) to add them to my regular listening? Maybe not.
But again that's just my opinion. No alarms and no surprises. But the same could be said of Grew Quartet, who I far preferred.
Again, jazz/improv in flavour, and again no great jolts. And yet the music felt somehow denser. Not in the sense of heaviness, but in the sense that there seemed to be more going on. Different players would seem to take the lead, before falling back and letting the next emerge.
Closing my eyes didn't create gentle, unified, slowly evolving images as Silence Blossoms had. Instead rapid sequences of shifting images flashed in front of me. The music always seemed to be shifting and mutating.
Consequently it's a little harder to describe Grew Quartet. Especially without resorting to cliche.
All I can say is the music felt alive, even during moments of quiet it seemed to pulse and move. It felt (accurately or otherwise) like there was a constant negotiation and testing between the players. Occasionally there were brief moments that felt like more familiar and conventional jazz, but they tended to be subsumed into (for me) more interesting developments.
Those cliched descriptions I wanted to avoid using then: there were, from piano especially, fistfuls of notes thrown into the mix. The instruments were played in their full extent: the body of the double bass scraped, strings of the piano plucked directly, the bass clarinet fingering and breath sometimes foregrounded, percussion sometimes clustering densely, sometimes accumulating a huge array of sounds, sometimes receding to nothing.
And there was a lot more to it than that. As I said I spent the set lost in the quick succession of images the music created in my mind.
Again I would definitely recommend you give them a listen, and preferably live.
Please do check out the various links I provided for more information on the musicians, and details of other stuff happening in Manchester and beyond. Above all, get out there supporting musicians and artists.
*I mean a lot of it's nice enough and all, and people have stretched the medium to make interesting sounds, but 60 years down the line it's mostly tired and played out. The most worthwhile mutations seem to be offshoots of offshoots that borrow from other traditions.
Friday, September 20, 2013
It's around 13 minutes long, and goes from quiet, to loud, to really fucking loud, then back down to nothing.
Saturday, August 03, 2013
Wednesday. A warm enough evening. Inside Kraak thick and heavy. Curiously quiet. A discerning (heh!) audience gathered for some great noise makers.
Infinite Gaah, Aulos' First Reed* (aka Kelly and Pascal of Part Wild Horses Mane on Both Sides), Usurper, Blood Stereo, and Pengo. A tour working south to north. Close to the end tonight I think. Told it might be a tired night. But there's no sign of it.
Play. A key to the night, to (aspects of) the performers. Infinite Gaah vignetting before other performances clues you in. Tiny bells, solo of cleaning teeth, stylophone, jabber and mutter. Apparently off the cuff. Exploring sounds, exploring possibilities.
And so Kelly and Pascal. Always fascinating, the kinds of things I really love about sound art and similar practices. Quite aside from musicianship it's the approach to instruments and noise-making. Coming to them anew. Not through notation, not through polite expectations of how an instrument should behave. Less 'what sounds are commonly made' and more 'what happens when I do this?'
What happens this time are rumbles, roars and howls at first. Then other sounds: chattering, skittering, chimes, scratches, blowing, skrawks. Noise ebbs and flows, builds, gets swallowed by feedback, then recedes again. A giant seashell that scoops you up, pumps your head full of sound and disgorges you out.
The tide, your own blood pumping, the after-echoes roar on. Splinters in your socks, in your teeth, in your hair. Beautiful.
More from Infinite Gaah. These great, sly, casual jugglings of sound and introductions to the acts. Acts, horrible word, too showbiz. What then? Bands? No, too conventional, it reeks of sincerity, of indie, that desperate combination of ingratiation and posturing. Artists, maybe.
Usurper then. Play. Most definitely. Structured and loose. Performed but not in the obvious attention-grabbing way. Guest vocals and interventions from Karen and Dylan of Blood Stereo's kid.
Usurper sit either end of a table littered with all kinds of shit. Anything that makes a noise: heavy balls, rulers, door handles, christ knows what else. They exchange phrases and play straight faced with their accumulated junk. I think the table's contact mic-ed either end.
It's a conversation of Beckettian repetitions. It's open-ended but bears the shape of something structured. It's noises almost at random. Almost like the talk is the music, and the clatters, boings, scrapes and shrieks are the interventions of a mechanical Mark E Smith spitting non-verbal non-sequiturs.
Blood Stereo back in Manchester only a few months after the last time. It starts with voice, sibilants, then generated wails and groans, tape sounds periodically muttering underneath. Although it doesn't start with language the jabber, rumble and squee eventually devolve into a repeated and varied phrase. Passed back and forth, out of synch, matching up, simultaneously emptied of meaning and filled back up again. Then they're done. Play, sound making, language (again, there's a lot of it about tonight), focus.
It starts familiar then bends out of shape. There's a kind of telepathy. Almost extends to the audience. You start out standing on a slope that little by little slips away from you, until you're lying on your back with thoughts circling.
More play from Infinite Gaah. Then Pengo. Honestly although they're described as legendary I haven't heard of them before. But that's my problem, my ignorance. The closest thing to conventional music tonight. But don't let that put you off.
Synth ticks, vaporous high pitched guitar skitter, tape tones through delay pedal, peripatetic recorder scrawls. Then more sustained synth sounds, guitar as a weightless veil in the background, delayed vocal drones, saxophone.
Nobody slacked off tonight, and everyone was compelling, drilling into the possibilities of sound from different angles, but there's a different energy about Pengo. Surprisingly refreshing for late in a tour in a hot summer at the end of a sweaty night when music and language have been pulled apart and picked over.
And that's all. Great night. Not enough people there if I'm honest, but the possibilities! The sounds! It makes you wanna run home and start bashing out your own experiments. So do it. Forget what you know. Start with your ears and every object open to messing with.
So next time then.
*Corrected from Aulos' Last Reed. Apologies, was writing on my phone from obviously fallible memory.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Once when I was a child I followed a creature, half glimpsed, into woods. It looked like a squirrel, or a bird, or a small person or monkey.
The creature led me to a collapsed, moss-covered house, where it sat and watched from a large wooden table overgrown and cracked.
In one of the drawers were glass jars of delicate bones, needles, thread, and a notebook that described how the author took the bones of tame animals after their death and stitched them together, giving them life.
I rebuilt the house, and make companions for the lonely creatures.
Saturday, July 20, 2013
It begins after a not very good night out sitting at around 3 or 4 am on a bench listening to birdsong and feeling happy with a touch of sadness.
Or it begins the first time last year I ended up leaving a club early boiling with irritation at others and frustration with myself.
Or it begins one weekend morning after a night out, improvising a minimal comedown song into being from fragmentary phrases.
Or it begins the first time I either decided not to go out because I knew I'd have a bad time, or just allowed time to run out on me so I couldn't make it somewhere I wanted to go.
Though it came later in the year perhaps it began when I bailed out on a night of exhibition openings and open studios partway round. I'd asked a few friends in advance if they were interested, but most didn't get back to me, and in the end no-one I knew well enough to talk to was out. I hate being on my own in these sorts of situations, and feel extremely out of place. Despite being frequently alone and not naturally gregarious, I do prefer being around friends, and get extremely lonely when I'm not.
Or it begins when I had a meltdown in a club and felt like self-harming.
Or it begins when exercising or meditating regularly became too challenging.
It had already begun by the time I started to feel resentful that friends and acquaintances seemed oblivious to what was happening, and unwilling to offer support. I'm aware this is unreasonable. It's a product of my depression, so don't go getting all butt-hurt and defensive. And in fairness some friends have been there for me.
It had already begun when I had my first panic attack in work.
It had already begun when I started taking short bits of video to try and capture some of the visual disturbances and synaesthesic confusion exacerbated by Citalopram (now replaced with, for me, more effective Mirtazapine).
Things were probably close to their worst when I went round to a friend's, and overwhelmed by too many people (a couple of whom were too loud and overbearing) and overloud music, I had a panic attack and left early. Apparently unregarded by the majority of people there, certainly no-one got in touch later to ask if I was okay.
More irrational and unfair resentment there, but it's important to be honest. On the night in question, and more generally across the last two years, I've felt ignored. Someone might say hi, only to move on to talk to someone else before I've even replied. Or they just acknowledge my presence and leave it at that. Or it might as well be I'm not there at all. Like I said, unfair, but true to my feelings.
It begins some time after the first, or second, or third, or fourth time I thought things were getting better only to come crashing down a couple of days or hours later.
But of course not. It crept up gradually; slowly draining joy from nights out; removing motivation to do things; making frustrations grow; taking away my willingness to socialise by exaggerating both my general anxiety and my social anxiety; and all the other insidious thefts it carries out.
Now in the last week I've felt, that after hitting the bottom, with around a month of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), several months of medication, and support from some friends that things are beginning to turn around. How long that will take, how many setbacks there'll be, I couldn't say. But it does feel like genuine progress has been accomplished.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
The address is easy to remember, http://www.santiagosdeadwasp.co.uk
There you'll also find easy links to my YouTube, Audioboo, Twitter, Tumblr and other blogs, Facebook pages for sound and film, and even LinkedIn.
In addition I have a diary of upcoming events (currently empty), links to my work that you can download for free, or spend your money on, a contact page where you can email me or leave a comment, and when I get round to adding the information my artist's cv and portfolio will be there.
The page is live now.
Look out for an announcement relating to another website I've set up sometime in the not-too-distant future...
Sunday, April 28, 2013
The Dark Would
The Dark Would is not a visual poetry anthology. A visual poetry anthology might attempt to show you the state of the art. A visual poetry anthology might lead you by the hand through related historical practices before reaching the present day. A visual poetry anthology would start from the proposition that there is an entity called visual poetry with specific boundaries, however fluid and contested they are.
The Dark Would is 'an anthology of language art'. Art using language as its material. Language using art as its vehicle.
There is a lot in this anthology that I disagree with. There are a lot of gaps in this anthology. This is all as it should be.
My review will be across three posts. This first one will look mainly at the print volume, which I've read right through more than once, and will continue to return to. The second will look in more detail at the Kindle volume which I only recently downloaded, and is over three times the length of the paper volume. I will concentrate mainly on the critical writing and interviews in that volume. The third post will look at everything else I wasn't able to cover in the first two.
Before I get to specifics, the declaration of competing interest. I am featured in both volumes the anthology, and I know the editor and several of the other artists.
The Dark Would is anthology as dialogue.
Several dialogues are contained within The Dark Would. A good way in to many of these is Márton Koppány's cover image The Secret.
The Secret is wordless, and in a sense imageless. It consists solely of non-alphabetic characters - three different classes of brackets. Three to the left, then a space in the middle, and then three to the right.
The brackets are not grouped in pairs or nested, so can't immediately be read as something possessing content. The absence of other text or symbols means the brackets could be either linguistic or mathematical, though their order doesn't conform to the normal hierarchy of either context.
Dialogue between art and science. Dialogue between text and non-text.
Where does The Secret sit within contemporary poetic practices? The unconventional use of punctuation and other typographical marks is relatively common within linguistically innovative work, though language is absent here. Nor is it uncommon to see such marks foregrounded in conceptual poetics, though The Secret doesn't appear to be conceptual.
Dialogue between different contemporary poetic practices. Dialogue between expression and conceptual work.
Is The Secret then visual poetry? Perhaps not, all we have are typographical marks without interference. Although space, around and within the piece, is crucial to its meaning in a way that's more characteristic of visual poetry than of text.
Dialogue between text poetry and visual poetry and concrete poetry.
The brackets that make up The Secret seem to occupy an unfixed territory. They are obviously visual, yet not recognisably illustrative - neither representational nor abstract. They have an obvious relation to text, even imply its presence, but there is no text.
Let's imagine that the brackets of The Secret were a picture, what might they be? In his interview for The Verb Philip Davenport, the anthology's editor, likened them to tree trunks. Trees on either side of an opening in The Dark Would/Wood.
For me they had a dual identity. At once prison bars preventing escape and slots in a drain grate allowing things to pass through. I read them more as the latter, as open.
Dialogue between presence and absence. Dialogue between poetry (textual, visual or concrete) and visual art. Dialogue between space and mark. Dialogue between present and possible futures.
The Secret featured in the last Text Festival printed on a large perspex square installed in a train carriage in the Transport Museum. At that scale too the piece worked brilliantly.
Dialogue between poem and site - page, gallery, elsewhere.
For me The Secret manages a fine balancing act. In the television series of The Shock Of The New Robert Hughes said,
'A sign is a command. It's something you take in all at once. It means one thing only […] Pictures are different. They're more complicated. They mean a lot of things, you scan them and their meaning adds up and unfolds. You don't get it all at once.'
The Shock Of The New, Part 8 Culture As Nature [my transcription, any inaccuracies are mine].
The Secret manages to be a cryptic sign, striking and easily recognisable, but at the same time a piece of art that rewards closer looking, becomes more interesting the more you look at it.
Dialogue between poem and poet. Dialogue between poem and poetics. Dialogue between poem and reader.
But let's get into the book a little further. I'm going to look briefly at ten pieces from the paper volume in the order they appear. Some are within the introductory pages. Some form part of series that feature elsewhere in the anthology, later in the print volume, in the virtual volume or in both.
from Smoke Town
The first of these pieces is a diptych, an image and separate text, from Smoke Town by David Austen which appears in the Kindle edition. The image to the left appears to show a bunch of dried flowers, the text to the right reads like the title of a film or pulp novel. Together they might be pages from an old magazine. But the combination of image and text is enigmatic.
There are echoes with other works in the anthology. Rich monochrome photographic images recur: Susan Hiller's First Aid: Homage to Joseph Beuys and The Paragon Case: Homage to Joseph Beuys (in both volumes); Tony Lopez's Homer, Arcadia; Hung Keung's Dao Give Birth to One; Tsang Kin Wah's The Seven Seals; and Sarah Sanders' I USED TO. The last three appear to be documents of two installations and a performance respectively.
Brief enigmatic texts that might be found text, or that echo a familiar, non-poetic context also recur: Erica Baum's untitled pieces (in both volumes); George Widener's Love, Birthday; Fiona Banner's Zero Poem, Sunset; Julian Montague's book-covers; Linus Raudsepp's pieces from The Exorcism of Anastasia Kirilenka; and Lucy Harvest Clark's I'm a Believer.
In any large anthology you'd expect similar strategies and works that appear similar though emerging from different strategies. Moreover none of these pieces seem cut from the same cloth, though most of them hint at intriguing broader worlds outside themeslves.
Wood of Thorns
Eric Zboya's Wood of Thorns is a from a series of pieces across both volumes commissioned for the anthology. The images look as though they might have been created by pencil or brush, though they may have been created on a computer. There is no text evident in Wood of Thorns or the other images. But this is true of other pieces in the anthology.
The images are mostly angular, spiky, almost as though scribbled, though clearly much more controlled. Parts of them resemble feathers, traces of objects in motion, birds, iron filings pulled by a magnet. It's almost like a return to the most basic mark-making.
Then again it might be the result of a conceptual process, rather like derek beaulieu's Flatland, mentioned in my essay for the anthology. Beaulieu also features in both volumes of the anthology - the shape of his piece in the virtual anthology echoing some of Zboya's images.
Lord Byron Died
Photos from Tacita Dean's Lord Byron Died also feature in both volumes. They show details of words carved into stone - some apparently professionally done, others messier and more informal. There is no contextual information in any of the photos.
This is found text, layered text. Text which may have personal significance but little obvious content beyond names and dates.
Tom Raworth's nine word poem is the third piece in the anthology proper. It consists of three sections, each of three lines with a single word. The word 'train' appears in a different place in each section, falling third then second then first.
It is the third piece in the anthology proper that is made of text. Admittedly, Tom Phillips' After Henry James on the previous page appears to be created from welded metal installed in a gallery space. And the way the 22 words are shaped and linked is interesting.
Raworth's piece is much more minimal, and deliberately less expressive. It is also a shaped piece, a thin line of text including the title and section numbers running down the page, and making use of the space around it.
The first piece in the anthology, from Rosmarie Waldrop's Calligraphy, forms a horizontal band across the centre of the page opposite Tom Phillips' almost square piece. Raworth's poem is a vertical band opposite Paula Claire's square Great Crested Newt Sonata.
Already we're being tipped off to look at pieces in relation to the page, to the space around them, and in relation to other pieces.
Great Crested Newt Sonata
Paula Claire's Great Crested Newt Sonata, already mentioned, shows photographic images of the undersides of (we assume) four Great Crested Newts. They have spotted, speckled markings that could be read as ink marks or text.
They also echo things that will appear elsewhere in the anthology. Most notably Nadya Collazo Llorens' Bokeh, which I look at later.
The choice of 'Sonata' in the title is interesting, avoiding the more literal 'sonnet' that the square shape might have led you to. It also calls to mind Kurt Schwitters' early sound poem Ursonate.
Yet again it's an example of found text, though on this occasion found text that is not actually text. In this it's different from the other examples of found (or potentially found) text I've mentioned so far. While they're more about recontextualising texts, this is about the human ability to find patterns and meaning in anything.
Edit 30 April 2013 I had the lovely surprise of hearing from Paula Claire this morning, who asked if I could add the following comments to the blog, which I'm more than happy to do:
'I gave a DVD perf for The Other Room's 4th anniversary that can be found on their website under OR31 with the 3 other poets that evening [link]. Included is my improvisation to the newt signs. I always ask everyone for vocal input in a live event, so it's just me and the newts --you must imagine what a group impro might sound like. I would really like it if you could add this comment as I cannot separate visual from sound.'
As it happened I'd played with the idea of talking about sound in connection with this piece, as I had with the the idea of talking about performance or installations in connection with other pieces. In the end I didn't, in part because the review was taking so long and I didn't want to get distracted by other thoughts.
from Motel Moods
We are back with minimal text for the pages from John M Bennett's Motel Moods. These are prefaced by an extract from an interview which features in the virtual volume, along with further text from Motel Moods.
There's a difference though. In the print volume the text is reproduced from scans or photos of the pages as published in 1980, in the Kindle volume the text is placed within the page as normal. Or to put it another way, without the framing device.
It's interesting that the physical page is used to carry the image of the historical page, where the virtual, non-existent page carries the words alone.
Liz Collini's Leaves, like other examples of her work that I've seen, is broadly speaking quite different from the other work in the anthology.
There are certain echoes of material in the Sarah Sanders piece I mentioned earlier, and there are a number of visual artists who make use of either text expanded to a large scale and placed on the gallery wall, or hand drawn or painted texts using actual fonts. Or at least lettering that resembles type more than it resembles handwriting.
But Collini's pieces do more than this. The text, the way it's drawn, the measurements and tiny marginal commentaries, mean that a piece like Leaves is more than just a single word. A single word, however impressively drawn, at monumental scale just wouldn't be that interesting.
Instead the space is interrupted, contested, the way each letter is drawn is problematised and commented on. From a distance the word appears provisional, incomplete, it bristles with annotations.
Curiously, although this is an area that interests me greatly, Collini's work is the only work I've pulled out because something in it fascinates me that seems to fully engage with three-dimensional space, and fully with questions of scale. Though neither of these is wholly apparent from either the paper or the virtual anthology.
Letter to my mother, Details
Harald Stoffers' Letter to my mother is another complicated visual space. Though here it is more crowded.
A handwritten letter, whose lines don't quite manage to be straight, written across or overwritten by lines like musical staves. But more wavering, more uneven, and not neatly divided into groups of five.
To me the pages look more like drawings than letters. They remind me of painstaking hand-drawn pictures of real and imagined cityscapes that I've seen from different artists across the years.
There are echoes of the piece elsewhere. Crowded handwritten visual spaces. Nick Blinko's untitled piece, and again Sarah Sanders' piece are the obvious immediate comparisons.
Philomena [Exploded House]
Caroline Bergvall's Philomena [Exploded House], a work in progress according to the interview at the launch event at London's Whitechapel Gallery, features across both volumes. The images in the Kindle volume are easier to read, to and give a greater clue as to the process of creation.
Texts are painted over and erased, leaving rough black squares of silence. Except that a mark, even an erasure is never silent.
I'm reminded of an album I have. Keiji Haino and Yoshida Tatsuya's Uhrfasudhasdd features tracks during which silences, complete absences of signal are interposed. Sometimes they function rhythmically, at other times they are a shock. Far more of a shock than the outbursts of noise that also punctuate the record.
Philomena never quite achieves that level of disruptive discomfort. It's hard to see how a static medium like print could achieve that kind of shock, which depends on suddenly confounding expectation.
While it initially seems that there's not much to see, the images do draw you back, trying to see under the erasing ink or paint.
Finally Nadya Collazo Llorens' Bokeh. I already mentioned the family resemblance with Paula Claire's Great Crested Newt Sonata. But the lines of out-of-focus dots also echoes the preceding images from Simon Patterson's Black List.
Where Boekh is black on white, Black List is white text on black. The text here is painted to resemble film credits, but is blurred at the edges so it appears not quite in focus.
Bokeh looks more like pages from a book, and indeed in the Kindle edition appear to actually be pages within a book, just unfocussed and impossible to read in the conventional sense.
The Last Vispo
The Dark Would is not the only collection of visual texts I've read recently. There is also Nico Vassilakis and Crag Hill's The Last Vispo.
On the whole I prefer The Dark Would to The Last Vispo. But The Last Vispo is stronger in two ways.
First, The Last Vispo is in colour throughout. The Dark Would doesn't show this, often very important, element at all.
Second, and for me more importantly, there are only extracts of a handful of essays and interviews in paper volume of The Dark Would*. The Last Vispo in contrast has a large number of essays placed throughout the book. I believe this kind of critical context is crucial. It helps readers with no knowledge of the field orient themselves. And it enables practitioners and others sympathetic to the work to ensure they have a voice in shaping the critical reception to the work.
Thinking back only a little over five years ago, before I had had any contact with any contemporary experimental practice, all I knew of visual poetry or language art was what I had encountered in mainstream textbooks and websites.
That mostly amounted to historical context that concentrated exclusively on text: altar poems, pattern poems, perhaps if the author felt adventurous illuminated manuscripts and calligraphy, especially Islamic. But on occasion it might include dismissive references to concrete poetry that made no attempt to understand the work. Or placed it in a misleading lineage with altar and pattern poems, with a strong suggestion that it was a novelty not worth serious consideration.
Both approaches are insulting and wrong.
As you'd expect neither The Last Vispo nor The Dark Would commit this fault.
Like I said at the start, The Dark Would is not an anthology of visual poetry. The Last Vispo is. Though even there I should note that there's a considerable overlap of contributors and techniques with Andrei Molotiu's (also Fantagraphics published) Abstract Comics.
While I like all these volumes, the two Fantagraphics books feel more like historical documents, or even coffee-table books, easier to buy, flick through and ignore. The Dark Would feels more open, more of a dialogue. It feels like a book you can return to, explore, find new things to try. A book also that you can argue with, that might sometimes echo where you're at, and at other times might be something you need to put away for a while.
It also feels very similar to the Voices anthologies I've frequently mentioned here and elsewhere. Something occasionally a little frightening, yet consistently fascinating.
The Dark Would rewards non-linear reading. Read (or flick) through it once or twice. Then take a piece that interests you, you may find that it echoes another piece, try to find that piece. If that artist has work in the virtual volume have a look at that. Read the biographical notes, which sometimes shed light on how a piece may have been created. If there is an interview with, or essay by that artist have a read.
Sometimes you may be able to remember that an artist has work in the anthology, but not what that work is. Look it up. Sometimes the work in the paper volume is continued in the virtual volume, at other times it looks very different.
Artists are in dialogue with their own work. Artists are in dialogue with each other. This proliferation of dialogue is one of the strongest components of The Dark Would for me. It's one of elements that's going to keep The Dark Would relevant for a long time to come, and make it a mesmerising read for years to come.
For this reason, in some ways its an anthology I wish I didn't have any work in. Not that I'm unhappy with my work, or unhappy to be featured in such an anthology, rather that I wish I could pick it up as someone with no knowledge of language art (or even visual or concrete poetry) and come to all this work as something utterly new. I can't imagine many reading experiences more exciting.
I hope I've indicated some starting points for your own journey through the book. Enjoy.
*I should note that there is a much larger amount of critical and contextual material in the Kindle volume of The Dark Would, a total of forty pieces. While they are in a section of their own, they are interlaced with the art. Where an artist has an essay or is interviewed, there is a link to that piece accompanying their work, and a link back to their work from the interview or essay.
Buy The Dark Would from Knives Forks and Spoons press and when you've done that download the Kindle volume from Apple Pie Editions. Don't worry if you don't have a Kindle, there are free downloadable readers available for other devices. The editor suggests Kindle Previewer, but I've found Kindle for Mac works better on my computer. I'm not sure about compatibility with smugphones, my Android phone has a Kindle reader, but bringing the anthology and the reader together has proved beyond me so far. It's a shame, it'd be nice to be able to carry it with me.