Laura Snapes and Jeremy Deller. On the floor, listening.
Jeremy Deller in conversation with Laura Snapes in the Wolfgang Tillmans; 2017 exhibition. In a room kitted out with equipment provided by Tillmans from his own Berlin gallery for ‘optimum listening’. An entertaining choice of music and it did sound really good despite its origins in a laptop. The room itself though was a reminder of how important the environment is to listening…harsh lighting, acoustic panels, institutional carpet…it felt like attending a seminar. Deller was aware of this and tried to change the atmosphere by asking people to sit on the floor and, unsuccessfully, asking that the lighting should be changed. Easy to link this to Tate Modern’s often bland display policy that can seem like the lowest common denominator rather than elegant simplicity.
Here is the playlist….each with a link to youtube.
This is a complete sketchbook from 23rd January to 1st February 2017 in lieu of a longer text. James Moore and Marc Ribot playing John Zorn’s ‘the Book of Heads’ at The Stone (soon to close), New York. Simon Fisher Turner on laptop with Shiva Feshareki on turntables at Cafe Oto. Night One of The Art Ensemble of Chicago with Roscoe Mitchell, Hugh Ragin, Junius Paul and Don Moye also at Cafe Oto.
Accompanied by bird song, traffic, the conversation of roofers two doors away and a piece of heavy duty garden equipment from beyond the fence I sat in the shade at the end of our garden yesterday afternoon and finished reading ‘Into the Maelstrom; Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom’, David Toop’s new book. The book sets out an incredible network of associations and connections and has alerted me to a good deal of music that I will explore in the weeks and months to come. This is the first volume of two and covers the evolution of a set of ideas ‘before 1970’. But it is not a linear history and the narrative swoops and dives in time (up to the present day) and genre. Amongst its many strands the one that preoccupies me on finishing is ‘listening’. The importance of listening and the balance between listening and playing to the improvising musician is central to Toop’s exploration.
As a determined audience member I have been trying to sort out the relationship and/or the differences between the way musicians listen and the way that an audience listens. In these (mostly) small spaces the symmetry of performers and audience can suggest a yin and yang of activity and passivity. But this is simplistic and I am always brought back to Duchamp’s statement: ‘The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.’ In the case of the Large Glass this happened most obviously through reflection on the material of the work itself…with the viewer’s image literally transposed onto the surface of the glass. Something similar happens in that communal space of listening in relation to improvised music.
Then last night, five minutes walk away down that road that generates so much traffic noise, was the launch of ‘Into the Maelstrom’ at Cafe Oto. Some months ago David Toop asked if he could use one of my drawings next to a section he was writing about a performance by Angharad Davies and Lina Lapelyte. I realise that I have come to insert myself into the space of the performance (and the performance itself?) through making these quick, ‘blind’ drawings…last night Toop talked about my drawing (and those of the others in the book by Geoff Winston and Ross Lambert) as a parallel act of improvisation. The performances that formed the central part of the launch at Oto exemplified three distinct approaches to improvisation: long exploratory group work with five musicians, short concise duets with Toop reading and each musician playing in turn and then an unplanned hybrid of reading and four musicians playing. The juxtaposition of the structured (the text) and the wholly improvised (the music) highlighted the dichotomy that lies between control and freedom that is at the heart of ‘Into the Maelstrom’ and its rich netherworld.
Performing with David Toop at Cafe Oto were (from left to right) Steve Beresford, Sylvia Hallett, Evan Parker and Elaine Mitchener.
over a few minutes while I am sitting under an awning in the market eating a kebab roll and drinking a 35 pence cup of tea with hail coming down and on my right the grocer playing weekend only Indian film music is it? on the lower right the iron shod wooden-spoked wheel of one of the market carts carved with the name of its maker Hiller Bros on hire E2 in front of me there is a gap and then two streams of people moving left to right right to left beyond them the shoe stall the wig stall the bra stall where all the bras are white so the display is like an Antarctic landscape of cups and the stallholder picks up a detached stockinged leg and prods the fabric over his head where a pool is forming the water pours down onto the tarmac