This is from my mixtape number 34, Side B ‘Radio Invicta/JFM Soul Show – a Sunday afternoon in August 1981’. Recorded from a pirate radio station onto cassette and then transferred digitally via Audacity so you will need to excuse the quality. If you get to the end there is a snatch of the Birthday Party crashing in…but even before that there is some great music.
Blame growing up watching Rawhide and High Noon on television in the Sixties…but I have a liking for ersatz ‘cowboy’ songs. Because I couldn’t find my copy of ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’, here are two Frankie Laines with an instrumental interlude from Mr Twang, Duane Eddy.
- Rawhide (N. Washington, D. Tiomkin) 1959.
- The Wild Westerner (D. Eddy, L. Hazlewood) 1962. This is the flip side of ‘Ballad of Paladin’
- High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) (N. Washington, D. Tiomkin) 1952.
Delivered as a 9 minute reading at 6 x 9 Salon in Herne Hill on 20th November 2015. This version is slightly amended and I have added notes and pictures – there were no pictures in the original spoken version. There was, however, a short demonstration of Achim Mohné’s work ‘One to Another’.
From ‘In The Labyrinth’ by Alain Robbe-Grillet:
‘The sun does not get in here, nor the wind, nor the rain, nor the dust. The fine dust which dulls the gloss of the horizontal surfaces, the varnished wood of the table, the waxed floor, the marble shelf over the fireplace, the marble on top of the chest, the only dust comes from the room itself: from the cracks in the floor maybe, or else from the bed, or from curtains or from the ashes in the fireplace.’
‘…the staccato sound of hobnail boots on the asphalt, coming steadily closer down the straight street, sounding louder and louder in the calm of the frostbound night, the sound of boots cannot come in here, any more than other sounds from outside. The street is too long, the curtains too thick, the house too high. No noise, even muffled, ever penetrates the walls of the room, no vibration, no breath of air, and in the silence tiny particles descend slowly, scarcely visible in the lamplight, descend gently. Vertically, always at the same speed, and the fine gray dust lies in a uniform layer on the floor, on the bedspread, on the furniture.’
After reading these passages I was reminded of a room in Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’. This is not what you would call a dry film…’Stalker’ is all damp and drips. Even the room I was reminded of turns out to have puddles, and maybe the room is, in fact, full of sand…so this association would be misplaced were it not for a very short sequence in which Stalker throws one of his trackers to test the veracity of the ground. The film shows the tracker bounce in slow motion through what I take to be dust…the motes stirring up into the air. The dull thump of the tracker as it lands is sound heading towards silence. Sound and matter becoming nothing. This is what dust does – first it actively suppresses, muffling sound, then it swallows the echo, the reverb. It is both sonic and material decay.
Here is Dickens or Pip describing Miss Havisham’s room in Great Expectations:
‘It was then I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago. I noticed that Miss Havisham put down the jewel exactly on the spot from which she had taken it up. As Estella dealt the cards, I glanced at the dressing-table again, and saw that the shoe upon it, once white, now yellow, had never been worn. I glanced down at the foot from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it, once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without this arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.
So she sat, corpse-like, as we played at cards; the frillings and trimmings on her bridal dress, looking like earthy paper. I knew nothing then, of the discoveries that are occasionally made of bodies buried in ancient times, which fall to powder in the moment of being distinctly seen; but, I have often thought since, that she must have looked as if the admission of the natural light of day would have struck her to dust.’
When I looked back at David Lean’s film of Great Expectations…it was cobwebs and not dust that he had used to signify stopped time. And, once again, sound was subdued, not absent.
The necessary silence at the centre of Jules Dassin’s film ‘Rififi’ exists because the robbery that generates the plot depends on it. In the still hours of a Paris night, the thieves break into the flat above a jeweller’s shop. Breaking through the floor has to be done as quietly as possible but there is a piano adjacent to where they work and much play is made of the intermittent and inadvertent striking of the keys before someone eventually closes the lid. This gesture of closing the lid also marks the sections in John Cage’s 4’33”. At the moment when the hole is made into the shop below, there is a single shot of a column of dust falling onto the floor – marking the arrival of silence in this space too.
‘Dust breeding’…this is the middle of this piece now and I have almost nothing to say, except that this picture, a photograph by Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘The Large Glass’ with a year’s accumulation of dust suggests that while time has stopped, dust multiplies…that it occupies a separate, unhearable realm.
I have just bought a 7” flexidisc by the Swedish musician Carl Michael von Hausswolff. This is his version of John Cage’s 4’33” arranged for electric guitar and broken amplifier. Of course here he reverses the usual expectation of this famous so-called silent piece. Because the amp is broken it buzzes and, instead of closing a piano lid, von Hausswolff switches the amplifier off and on to mark the separate passages. This reminded me of how 4’ 33” is not about silence at all but about noise…the noise that comes to fill up any sonic void that we attempt to make. Except maybe for this one:
I am beginning to wonder if collecting recorded silences is a bit of an affliction but I remembered that I also own an album called ‘The Sounds of Silence’…a kind of Now that’s what I call quiet Volume 1. On this record there is a piece by Andy Warhol made for the East Village Other magazine in 1966. It is called ‘Silence (Copyright 1932)’ and purports to have been created by Andy Warhol aged 4. But this silence, unlike the dust induced silence of Robbe-Grillet or the dust that slows and extends the passing of time moving towards silence in ‘Stalker’, has no duration. This is not just time stopped but time negated.
Although he raged against the noise of the city, I wondered if Thomas Carlyle also wanted to deny time in his sound-proofed rooms at the top of his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. He had a room built within another room to exclude street noises and the sound of the piano from the adjacent house. But, though apparently sealed from the outdoor world, the wind whistled across the skylight and the sound of the next-door neighbour’s macaw still found its way into his space. Maybe in order to create silence sealing a room is not enough (as Cage noted in his visit to the anechoic chamber). And, as Warhol’s solution is impractical if not impossible – is easier said than done – it is necessary to impose the active ingredient of time in the form of dust.
Which brings me to my final stop. This is a record by the German sound artist Achim Mohné called ‘One To Another’. The grooves in the record have no content. When the record is played what you hear is the sound of the dust in the groove, the dust that has gathered there over time. The artist’s intention is that the record should be left out of its sleeve for 6 weeks in the space in which it will be listened to. On the occasion of my talk I made a different mix – leaving it to gather dust for only two weeks in a different room in North London. I’m not sure what my audience heard. The sound of time passing or the sound of time stopped? Or maybe, if they heard anything at all, it was just the sound of the rain falling on the roof above our heads.
Pages 141/142. ‘In the Labyrinth’, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1960). Trans. Richard Howard. Grove Press, New York, 1978.
‘Stalker’ directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1979).
Chapter 8, ‘Great Expectations’, Charles Dickens (1861).
‘Great Expectations’ directed by David Lean (1946).
‘Rififi’ (also called ‘Du Rififi chez les Hommes’) directed by Jules Dassin (1955).
‘Dust Breeding’ (1920). See:
On the day I wrote this piece I came across this image of Palmyra (here rendered in black and white). This opens the possibility of another chain of associations stretching out from dust to archaeology to ruin to destruction…
‘Sounds of Silence; The Most Intriguing Silences in Recording History!’ edited by Patrice Caillet, Adam David, Matthieu Saladin on Alga Marghen. Cat no. alga 0406. (no date).
‘Silence (copyright 1932) also on ‘The East Village Other, Electric Newspaper’ re-release on Get Back Records. Cat no. Get 1012 (1998).
There is an interesting piece by David Ellison on Carlyle’s room at:
‘One to Another’ by Achim Mohné is available here:
I was thinking about making a mix from the cassettes that I photographed in a previous post. The first box I lifted out was this one. According to the notes on the sleeve, one side has 5 tracks by Free (+ Layla) and the other is a selection of songs by Brian Ferry and Roxy Music. I wasn’t sure of my strategy for making a mix but thought I would just listen and work it out as I went along. The ‘Free’ side – Side 1 – has a couple of songs then the music cuts out to be replaced by what follows. This is an edited version. I have taken lots out (including a burst of the aforementioned Layla) but I have not put anything else in. I have not yet listened to all of Side 2 though it begins with ‘Where do you go to my lovely’…
Here is a track from an album made in New York in 1958. The record is a piece of anti-Soviet propaganda called, as you see, ‘Dreams of Golden Prague’ and its sleevenotes bemoan the influence of communism on Bohemia and suggest that the terror imposed there is merely a preliminary to a take over of the ‘Free World’. The rant on the back cover occupies the space where one would normally expect to find performer credits so I don’t know who is playing. The front cover meanwhile shows Golden Prague through a rose-tinted glass. I took the liberty of ‘improving’ this track which I believe is called ‘Vērím-tango’. (Those accents are wrong). I’m interested in how a simple shift of the sound can change the nature of a song….in this case adding echo has, I think, brought a much needed sense of melancholy to bear on the tune and its delivery.
A reader asks:
about Brian Eno – when you listen to this locked groove does it play smoothly or can you hear the needle kind of popping after each circle?
Here is a recording of my copy…I would say that this pops too:
And for all you locked groove fans out there….you should probably head over to RRRecords from Lowell, MA and get a copy of this:
|RRR-1000||1000 lock grooves – 20 artists, 50 grooves each – AMK, Aaron Dilloway, Thomas Dimuzio, Kevin Drumm, carlos Giffoni, Incapacitants, GX Jupitter-Larsen, Jason Lescalleet, Francisco Lopez, Lasse Marhaug, The New Blockaders, Jerome Noetinger, Prurient, RLW, Damion Romero, Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock, Sudden Infant, Keith Fullerton Whitman, C.Spencer Yeh, Otomo Yoshihide||RRR LP||$20.00|
You can also find it here:
But frankly the digital version just doesn’t do it.
Over and over and over and over and over…..and out.
Maybe 40 years ago I would have left the Scala ecstatic but last night the melancholy behind the surface got to me. I thought I was immune to this performance – especially leaning against the balcony rail up there in the gods, higher than the lighting rig, looking down at the real audience with all those back-lit smart phones blinking up at me. Up there was alienation territory…like I was asking permission of myself never to come along to this kind of gig again. I was thinking about live performances, about how the music I hear at Cafe Oto works best live with the recorded ‘version’ acting as a stand-in for the actual event. And I was thinking that music that I listen to first as produced, song-based work almost always disappoints live. The band look slightly too old to be singing these youthful anthems of elation and doubt. They run through a set of moves and poses that come from the book of rock cliché – the pigeon toed, legs apart guitar stance, punk hops, raised fists.
But about half an hour into their set the singer Torquil Campbell theatrically halts the intro to ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’ to tell a story about the ritual he performs every time he comes to London…something about taking the Northern Line to a particular café then standing outside his father’s former house…and instead of feeling distant listening to this sentimental tale I began to dissolve into the present and as the music started I thought about my father and about my life in London and I could feel tears welling up. From there on in I was prey to every naïve or sophisticated nuance of the songs. I was even moved by the audience taking over the chorus of the song ‘Your Ex-Lover is Dead’ (‘Live through this and you won’t look back…’) and I fell for the repeated line ‘put your hands up ‘cause everybody dies…until then, nothing ends’ in the disco thump of ‘No One is Lost’. I have had the feeling of being the oldest person in the Scale before and it could be that I am too old to be at a gig like this…but only because I am at the other end of the experience from the rest of the audience. But as I am entirely invisible there is no reason they should notice…
Here is a link to the ‘official video’ of ‘Hold On When You Get Love And Let Go When You Give It’…hard to relate this to my reaction above, except that this film has a certain sentimentality and/or melancholy too.
This is the 100th post on this blog…I had meant to do something clever like choose my favourite 3 LP box set (3 x 33 and one third…geddit?)..it was going to be either Yessongs or Escalator Over the Hill (no it wasn’t). But I was never going to get round to that and, in the meantime, I found a black bin bag containing around 130 CDs on Kingsland Road this week. Some were unplayable, there were a few free films from newspapers and some old software. There was one CD full of someone’s holiday pictures. The rest were mostly singles, either ‘Landfill Indie’ or the kind of R&B that does little for me. Still I retrieved 27 from the pile..the rest have already gone to Oxfam. Before I did this I recorded the shortest track from each CD for the purposes of experimentation…more of this at some future date maybe. Here is the first experiment/unholy racket…ten tracks that ended up at the beginning of the list played simultaneously and mixed down…it ends well I think.
This is one of two private recordings I bought recently in a St Andrews charity shop. The other was recorded at Levy’s Sound Studios, Bond Street, London W1 sometime in 1956. This one has no date though maybe the code S.V.12/37. is an indication. I suppose the date of 1937 would fit with the design of the label but I don’t know anything about the history of this kind of recording and I can’t find out anything about Sona-Vox Studios. The piece of music, as you see from the label, is Poulenc’s Mouvement Perpetuel (actually the first of three movements) performed by Miss M. McKendrick.This is the recording of Miss McKendrick playing the piano in a room that no longer exists at 186 St Vincents Street, Glasgow.
This music was used by Alfred Hitchcock in his 1948 film ‘Rope’. In this section of the film Farley Granger plays fragments of the piece (in a room that never really existed) while he is being quizzed by James Stewart.