my father and adrian mitchell


Tonight was the reading by Adrian Mitchell, who I'd never seen in the flesh as it were. He provoked a lot of thought and a lot of emotion, although both are also attributable to the amount of time I've spent out of the house lately, exposing myself to new art.

Some of the thoughts were comparing Adrian Mitchell to other artists, some of them were about my father, others were about the acoustics of the space, and there might have been other thoughts I've forgotten for the moment but may throw in later. Ah, here's one, memory over recording.

The reading itself. Although he had apparently recently been ill he didn't strike me as particularly frail or his voice particularly weak. Especially for someone in his mid-seventies with what sounds like a pretty full workload for anyone. Of course the PA was good quality and the acoustics of the space are very resonant which helped. The reading was divided into sections, which I gather is a current practice of his, moving from Education through Love to War and Death, from memory, although I may have missed one or got the order slightly wrong. Although all the poems were strong, I found the death poems most affecting. There were three pieces that stood out - one using a dream of gaps in dry stone walls to represent the loss of friends, one about his father - or was that part of the same poem? Maybe. And there was a piece about Ivor Cutler at the end of his life. This of course was when I started thinking about my father and about death, and got quite upset

Curiously, although he did To Whom It May Concern at the end of the set ("Tell me lies about Vietnam"), with some updated references I didn't find it very powerful. It sounded out of time, and not because of the reference to Vietnam, but because of the structure. It sounded like something exhumed from a long gone time, related to Bob Dylan, to Alan Ginsberg, to the folk revival, and the collision of blues, rock, civil rights and anti-war feeling of the period. Although appropriately it was during this poem that he began to make best use of the acoustics of the space, incanting the poem and bouncing the words off the ceiling. But at that point he was moving in quite an animated way and tapped his lapel mic, causing a large bang through the PA, and making him restrain both his voice and movements for the remainder of the poem. This was a key moment for thinking about the acoustics, although there were others.

Before Adrian Mitchell, musician and writer Paul Taylor played trombone and read poems. I didn't really enjoy the poems, and I felt that his trombone playing could have been more unconventional. This was the point at which I first started considering the acoustics of the space. The way sounds work in a given space has been on my mind since earlier in the year when I began making sound poetry. More recently I've become increasingly aware of the materiality of sound, of the incidental sounds of the 'instrument' (voice, chair, cymbal etc) and the space in which it's played. I would have loved to have had the huge gallery space at the Whitworth Gallery to play with acoustically. Given the nature of his poetry and performance, and his recent health problems with his lungs I wouldn't have expected Adrian Mitchell to use the space in an exploratory sound-art way. He didn't need to in any case, he's a great poet, and his poetry is strong enough alone. I would have thought that Paul Taylor as a musician might have enjoyed playing his trombone off the surfaces of the space, being able to play against his own reverberations. As it was, the most interesting moments were when he muted his trombone and the movements of the parts of the trombone could be heard.

Although this comparison is the wrong way round, since I'm more familiar with Chloe Poems work it will have to be this way. Adrian Mitchell's work does remind me of Chloe Poems, in that both quite apart from the socialism and honest self-examination seem simple, naive, even crude on the page, but prove much more sophisticated and controlled when reading aloud. He also at times recalls, as previously mentioned, the similarly apparently unpolished Ginsberg, and at times blues indebted artists, including Bob Dylan. He read a long translation of a Brecht piece, which clearly meant a lot to him, and seemingly affected him even as he was reading it.

I was more affected by the mention of imagining conversations with his parents. One of my regrets is that I don't dream of my father as much as I'd like. Although I think now in a way that's actually a good thing. I have no desire to supplant my father with my own imagined version, and I don't want to scrawl all over the memories I have with whatever reassurances, questions or contradictions I want at the time. It was those reflections that led me to realise that I don't especially ever want to photograph or film or record any event that I go to - although this is of course a kind of record. It's not important that I see exactly what everything looked like, or where ever sound fell in relation to every other. What's important in live art is what you take away from the experience at the time. The emotional reaction, the ideas brought up by the event, the way you actually experienced is far more important than simply saying I was there.

The problem with entering an essay like this with disparate ideas but no structure is that eventually you can't go anywhere else unless you just keep following new trains of thought. Or call a halt.

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