I have been thinking about this entry for months…at least since visiting Taiwan in 2013. I have been putting it off for two reasons…

  1. It deals with religion…particularly Buddhism. I know next to nothing about Buddhism.
  2. It is also ‘about’ my friend Tom who died some years ago. This blog doesn’t quite seem like the place to talk about him…the blog doesn’t usually stray into personal territory. Tom was a Buddhist and he knew I was sceptical and an atheist. I didn’t want to write something about him that was slight. Maybe what follows doesn’t add up to much but now I think it is better to write something than say nothing.

I was going to start with a postcard that I bought in Dens Road Market in Dundee in the mid-1970s. Tom might have been with me at the time, I don’t know. My memory of the postcard was that it was in black and white and showed a group of traveling musicians in Nepal or Tibet. I have just found the postcard after a long search and this memory is only partially accurate. It is in black and white, there are two musicians, two acrobats and a large family group with horses in the background…so they are probably nomadic performers. But the location of the picture is ‘Kirgisen’ which is now Kyrgyzstan. The people in the picture are probably Muslims and not Buddhists. So this opening paragraph, instead of making a direct link to Tom, opens up questions of memory.

I didn’t see Tom between him telling me he had cancer and his death. He thought there was more time than there turned out to be – I wanted to believe him and did. The last time I saw him he left me this card:


‘Nam-myho-renge-kyo’ is a phrase to be chanted. ‘Kyo’ is ‘the sound or vibration that connects everything to the universe’. At Tom’s funeral outside Glasgow there were beautiful unaccompanied Buddhist chants sung by his friends from the temple of which he was a member…suddenly it seemed to me that I had underestimated his beliefs. I regretted not seeing him before he died. I was sad that we often did not see eye-to-eye though I also knew that our friendship had been robust and we never fell out. We grew up quite close to one another before we met and there were, I think, many complicated bonds between us…bonds of difference and bonds of similarity. If Tom had been asked to depict the chanting he might have drawn this:






I might draw this:







In Taiwan, I found myself in a culture where Buddhism and its manifestations were never far away…even though it was probably not the kind that Tom adhered to. One afternoon, as part of the work I was doing there, I visited the University Hospital and there were street stalls selling little ‘Buddha boxes’.











Our guide advised me against buying one of these because she said that they were just for people who were dying. I didn’t believe this (it turned out I was correct…they were being sold at the hospital to give comfort, not to accompany the dying into the next world).

Then that evening we went to one of Taipei’s oldest temples. Compared to any Christian church this place was really lively but there was no music (I am not entirely sure of this…maybe there were prayers).  I picked up one of the free cassettes:





Then we walked around the Night Market…if the temple had been an intensive visual and olfactory overload, this was multiplied in the market and had an added layer of cacophonous sound. At a corner near the temple I stopped and recorded a woman sitting on a bicycle chanting the name of Buddha.


Compared to the sound at Tom’s funeral, the cassette tape and even the little Buddha box, this chant is harsh and discordant and it is the flip side of the calm that these other sounds generate.

I think about Tom most days.

Silent Dalston revisited (2008-2014)

Kingsland Road

Kingsland Road

In January 2008 I put together an album of photographs and posted them on that very well known social network. Thinking about this group of pictures lead eventually to this blog…an edited version of one of them provided my ‘profile’ picture. Passing that particular site recently I noticed that the sign had gone and the shopfront had been stripped back. This prompted me to revisit the photographs and their sites. Some things have changed round here since 2008 and, luckily, others have not. Here is the first part of the two parallel albums.

King Henry's Walk

King Henry’s Walk

Shacklewell Lane. 2008. 2008, 2014

Shacklewell Lane. 2008. 2008, 2014

Kingsland Road

Kingsland Road

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Ridley Road Market

Balls Pond Road

Balls Pond Road

13 from ’13 (= ‘zero)

cassetteHardly a ‘best of’ or a ‘top ten’ (or even top 13). Here are 13 sonic experiences from 2013 kind of rushed because it’s time to get onto 2014. They come from all over the place and all over time:

1Ten Freedom Summers (3 nights in November at Cafe Oto). Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet with the Ligeti String Quartet and Jesse Gilbert…for its ambition, historical perspective and generosity.wls4001

2Head Slash Bauch (2002). AGF. I got this in Oxfam back in the summer. Fragmentary and unresolved music that I kept coming back to for the rest of the year. At the end of the year I picked up a BBC sound effects CD for 49p in the same Oxfam…’Trains BBC CD SFX 041’…just as unresolved and compelling on one listen but with less ‘depth’ I guess. Still…here from the ‘Trains passing’ section is Track 42 ‘Single diesel locomotive passes under a bridge.’ (with unidentified birds).

3. The sound of the wind passing through metal fins on the top of the world’s second highest outdoor viewing platform on the world’s fourth tallest building, Taipei 101 Tower.

4. All Comes to an End with Disco in Hell. This was one of a number of compilations that I made last year…mostly the content defined by which CDs I had picked up in charity shops. The title was a gift and now I can’t remember where from (though I know that Russia and Chris M were involved and maybe he can point me in the right direction). I have a sentimental attachment to cassette compilations and have carried this through to these. I even like that they have their physical manifestation in those much-unloved and derided slender silver discs…


5. That impromptu gig in Belo Horizonte…see https://likeahammerinthesink.wordpress.com/2013/09/

6. ‘Listening evenings’…an indulgence. Three or four times a year I get together with 2 friends and we listen to recorded music together. In strict rotation we play our tracks in the hope of surprising, educating, delighting. We usually get through about 30 tunes in an evening…almost too much but a pleasure from beginning to end.

7. Innocence is Kinky by Jenny Hval (2013). A great album and a stunning performance with her band at the Vortex in May.

8. Keith Tippett solo at Oto…see: https://likeahammerinthesink.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/keith-tippett-cafe-oto-30-iv-13/ But also so many other Cafe Oto gigs: Marc Ribot solo and Trio, Thurston Moore with John Edwards, Fire!, Little Annie and Larsen and on and on. And more in 2014…

9. The Necks generally…the new album ‘Open’ and 2 nights at Oto.

10. The Sixteen at Christchurch, Spitalfields, 17th December. For the space and a programme of Poulenc and Britten.


11. Musica Electronica Viva…Oto again. (Alvin Curran, Richard Teitelbaum, Frederic Rzewski). Because I should have known about them but didn’t and went along ‘blind’. http://cafeoto.co.uk/mev.shtm

12. Pictures of Sound; One Thousand Years of Educed Audio: 980-1980. (Dust to Digital 2012) Patrick Feaster. I have not really made my mind up about this yet…the CD is made up of sound ‘image’ (sometimes notation) translated into actual sound – hence the ‘educed’ bit. So as sound it can be elusive and as translation, somewhat melancholy. The book explains the process of doing all this and the author claims these are ‘ways you should be able to duplicate yourself…’ Hmmm. Here are some samples: http://www.firstsounds.org/sounds/

13. The last record I bought and the last record I listened to in 2013. (Complete with the cover it came in.) The over-familiar suddenly fresh and alive again and now stuck in my head still on the 3rd January 2014.


Belo Horizonte, 22nd August 2013.

We went to the opening of an installation in the New Market in Belo Horizonte. The work was a series of films projected onto the brick wall of one of the workshops in the space. The films by Maria de Fátima Augusto were selected by moving empty bottles in a crate. These beautiful films showed the life of the various artisans who worked in the market. One of them featured the guitar mender and as part of the opening he and his friends were playing in a rather casual way next to the bar. I say rather casual because the combinations of players changed all the time and most of the people at the party paid no attention to the music at all. There was a succession of long melancholic songs all accompanied by guitar and the occasional solo or duet on guitar. I recorded quite long segments of the music with conversation and background noise intruding throughout. This piece was a duo played on 6 and 7 string guitars. I asked the more loquacious member of the pair of players to write down both their names (this was being translated by a friendly interlocutor)…here is what the guitar player wrote in my notebook:


In the way of these things, my recorder’s memory filled up during the recording of the guitar duo, so it is cut short…so it goes. Rather than apply a fade out I have left the recording with its abrupt cut-off.

Victim of Sound.

another side

Just to get some practical things out of the way: I bought this copy of ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’ in Oxfam on Friday. It cost 99p but is in awful condition. The kind of condition that would make it unsellable elsewhere I think. That said it seems to be an early issue of the LP…maybe the first British pressing. For the gen on this look here:


The title I have used for this piece comes from the song ‘Ballad in Plain D’ (side 2 track 4). In the context of the song the phrase is hardly relevant to my subject matter (‘Her sister and I in a screaming battleground, And she in between, the victim of sound…). In fact what I am really writing about is sound – the victim of time.

On Friday night I decided to risk my stylus and play the record. There is a lot of background noise throughout and the record skips and pops. In fact background noise is probably the wrong phrase – the music and the scratches are on just about equal footing.  This should class it not just as unsellable but unlistenable, however I found myself listening to it all the way through. There was something complete about the ‘damage’ to the record that made the extraneous noises continuous with the music. I wondered how the record had reached this thorough state of destruction. Someone had gone on playing this record for years as it deteriorated. At first (in 1964? 65?) the scratches were minimal and probably annoying but maybe it didn’t skip too much – especially if the listener taped a coin to the arm of the Dansette. But then the record was left lying around on the floor and in piles of other records. Maybe it wasn’t played too much at parties – certainly not if there was dancing involved but probably later on when everyone was too drunk or stoned to dance. So did it belong to one person through the years of its decline? There are fragments of a sticker that suggest to me that at some point it has been re-sold. And if that is what happened, did its second owner buy it in this state or were they responsible for the deterioration? Obviously I can never know these things.

But, hearing these mostly familiar songs working their way out from behind all that surface noise I was aware that what I was experiencing was a kind of listening archaeology. And what I was discovering was sound with patina…a patina that hinted at the possibility of a story without divulging that story. I can listen to the songs from this record as digital files and they come out clean and pristine. (I just checked that I do have this album on my computer…I do. but all the songs are labeled as ‘Black Crow Blues’…another kind of corruption/deterioration). But that sounds like a different album to me. Hearing the thoroughly messed-up vinyl was like really hearing something from the 1960s. ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’ was released nearly 50 years ago. Harry Smith released his Anthology (archaeology?) of American Folk Music in 1952. The oldest selection on the Anthology (‘Sail Away Lady’ a fiddle tune by “Uncle Bunt” Stevens) was recorded in New York on March 29th, 1926. That’s only 26 years before the release of Smith’s compilation. When I listen to ‘Sail Away Lady’ it sounds to me like it is coming from a long way away…both spatially and temporally. (I’ve just listened to it on my computer with all its grain and digitized patina). Does ‘Another Side…’ now qualify as ‘Old Weird America’? After all, the recording pre-dates a huge number of Alan Lomax’s field and studio recordings that are now seen as an American national musical heritage. Does the fact that Dylan is still alive, that he has had chart hits, that he is commercial, that he plays huge venues, that he is, among other things, a rock star preclude his induction into the Old Weird Hall of Fame?

If I listen to ‘It Ain’t me Babe’ (Side 2, Track 5 of ‘Another Side…’) on my computer it sounds like it is existing in an eternal present. It probably does not sound like it did in 1964 after all its transformations and processing but who knows? Who can say what something sounded like 49 years ago? Our ears were different then. Now it is a file, a collection of zeros and ones – no longer the sound of a tiny sapphire point bouncing along a track between the ridges in vinyl. So my experience of listening to my fucked-up copy of ‘Another Side…’ is neither authentic nor definitive. Instead it is a slice of a past, freighted with the marks of too many moments to comprehend.

I guess I should do my own damage and put the thing back into circulation but I’m not sure I can trust the next person who picks it up and looks at those mangled grooves to put it aside. Sometimes what seems like a palimpsest is just a piece of junk.


Stockholm (1)

22nd March, 2013

From Centralstation to Södermalmstorg.

From Centralstation to Södermalmstorg.

From Centralstation. This is one of my favourite urban walks….south from the station over Gamla Stan to Södermalm…it is a walk without the constant background sound of traffic and it encompasses a rich variety of architectural spaces. The over-riding sound is of footsteps and the low background babble of conversation. In fact, today, I start by leaving the station by the wrong exit so I need to cross Vasagatan, a dual carriageway, before walking up the steps into the St Clara churchyard. This connects via a back street to the pedestrian shopping street Drottninggatan which in turn leads to the bridge crossing onto the small island of Helgandsholmen where the parliament building is situated.

The passageway which bisects the parliament connects to another small bridge that crosses a dark, culverted waterway which always flows with an alarming rapidity. Today there is a demonstration in the open area on the other bank and I need to walk round this…there is a chant that sounds like ‘Shame Sweden, Shame Espresso’ – clearly this is only half right. I think later that I should have recorded this.

From here up the long, steep steps lead into the area behind the Royal Palace which is dotted with sentry boxes. The route follows the curved outer face of the barracks and then meets the end of a wide, sloping plaza with statuary and an obelisk looking out across near-distant water. A small street leads into a square (Stortorget) where the Nobel Museum is situated. Off to one side of this square is a beautiful well-head with water (movement and sound) frozen in stone on its four sides. This is a photo that I took on another trip.well-head

The streets from the square slope down and eventually emerge onto the south side of Gamla Stan at Kornhamstorg where the containment of the narrow streets in the old quarter ceases. It is always a confusing negotiation across what seems to be a series of bridges, walkways and roads here and this is the first space since the road outside the station where there is any appreciable traffic noise. The sounds of buses, trains and cars intermingle here. Looking at this area on a map it is clear that it is actually a single, wide bridge with a narrow waterway running through it. Leading out of Södermalmstorg, Götgatan rises up the hill. Walkers only encounter the occasional car on the crossing streets. From the top of the hill there is a vista culminating in the dome of the Ericsson Globe . Over the top and down the hill Götgatan ends in Medmorgersplatan, the square in the centre of Södermalm, and here the traffic noise begins again in earnest as the square runs into a large wide street….

I Remember (Memories Can’t Wait)

So Harry Matthews (b.1930) told Georges Perec (1936-1982) about Joe Brainard’s  (1941-1984) book I Remember (1970) in which he listed a series of memories of everyday occurrences distilled down to one or two sentences. Perec wrote his own version – Je me Souviens (published 1978) with 480 entries and an index. Gilbert Adair (1944-2011) in his book on British life Myths & Memories (1986) engineered a collision between Roland Barthes (1915-1980) and Perec referring to both Barthes’ Mythologies (1957) and Perec’s Je me Souviens. Adair thought it inappropriate to translate Perec’s memories immersed in French culture as they were and so he produced his own, peculiarly British, version of 400 entries. (‘270. I remember the bandleader Joe Loss and his vocalists Dennis Lotis and Lita Roza.’) Maybe there are thousands of other versions of this project (and maybe it is what the net is for) but I will refer to just one as it intersects slightly with my own history:   http://fifepsychogeography.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/i-remember-after-brainard-and-perec-nos-8-14-11th-february-2012-ce/

That one only goes up to 14 entries so far.

And here is the first half (1-29) of my I Remember edited down for this blog from an unknown number of entries to a total of 58. All these memories concern sound or music in one way or another.

  1. I remember my friend Matthew singing Return to Sender every time he batted back the tennis ball against the garage door around 1962 in Kirkintilloch.
  2. I remember my father buying me my first 7” single. Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band.
  3. I remember the sound of ‘whisper jets’ passing over our house as they took off from Dorval Airport in Montreal in 1965.
  4. I remember opening the door of my room in the Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas to the cacophony of a multitude of slot machines from the casino floor.
  5. I remember my parents telling me about the ships sounding their horns at midnight to welcome in the New Year on the Clyde.
  6. I remember the very loud booming sound of the ice cracking on the St John River as it melted at the end of winter.
  7. I remember going into Bruce’s Record Shop in Kirkcaldy late one Saturday afternoon in 1972 and listening to Hunky Dory by David Bowie and having to work out if I had enough money to buy it and pay for my bus fare home.
  8. I remember going to Ronnie Scott’s Club on a Sunday night in the early 1980s to hear R. D. Laing playing piano. I can remember that Lol Coxhill played too but can’t remember anyone else who was on the bill.
  9. I remember seeing Billy Mackenzie of The Associates with his whippets in the Nethergate Centre in Dundee in 1979.
  10. I remember the tape recorder that my family bought in the early 60s. It was a Grundig reel-to-reel. We used it to record the radio and family singing. My brother and I duetted on ‘Till there was you’ and my grandmother sang ‘There was an old man who came over the hill’. The radio signal was seldom stable and other stations would creep into the ones we were trying to record. One of these phantom stations that we accidentally recorded was playing an Indian classical singer. This recording came to be known by us as ‘Darjeeling’ for some reason.
  11. I remember when we lived in Pont Clare, Montreal that we had a visit from a relative from Scotland. (I think he was my mother’s cousin). He played the bagpipes in our small living room one evening. This was a very intense experience.
  12. I remember going to see an opera by Donizetti in St John, New Brunswick with my school and thinking that I should be open-minded. The opera was Don Pasquale. Afterwards I couldn’t think of a single moment of the opera that I enjoyed.
  13. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to the sound of Thelonious Monk’s Solo Monk in Westfield, New Brunswick. This was my Mother’s choice of listening.
  14. I remember seeing John Martyn play at the Dundee University Student Union with Danny Thompson on bass. It was only recently that I realized that John Stevens was playing drums that night.
  15. I remember hearing Massive Attack and Portishead for the first time on the BBC World Service in the early hours of the morning when our daughter woke up. I guess this was 1991 when she was not even 1.
  16. I remember the first time we connected to the internet at home. We searched ‘Marcel Duchamp’. Minutes later the ghost voice of Duchamp came out of the computer’s speakers, speaking as if just to us across time and space.
  17. I remember one of the first friends I made at college, Brad, loved Spirit. Especially, I think, The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus.
  18. I remember that last week the busker who plays on the ramp between the car park and Sainsbury’s was singing Little Feat’s Willin’.
  19. I remember the sound of the freight trains rumbling endlessly past the side of the second house we lived in in Westfield, New Brunswick.
  20. I remember sitting at a round table in the flat where I lived in Holland Park, London and hearing Fear of Music by Talking Heads for the first time.
  21. I remember that the first time I saw Roxy Music at the Edinburgh Odeon (?) my ears rang for a day afterward.
  22. I remember that, around the same time, my brother’s girlfriend introduced me to the music of Smokey Robinson. Previously I had thought that anyone who wore a suit and sang was misguided.
  23. I remember that in my last year at school I made a sculpture of welded steel. The sound of the rod when it fused to the metal was terrifying and it gave me nightmares. I heard a similar sound made by Thurston Moore and Mats Gustaffson a few nights ago at Café Oto but that was ok. I guess I have got over it.
  24. I remember seeing Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers twice in one week in London in the 1980s.
  25. I remember when I stood next to Robert Plant at a gig in a small pub in Camden in the early 80s and it never crossing my mind to speak to him.
  26. I remember the Theme to Route 66 by Nelson Riddle but nothing about the TV series. Maybe it wasn’t shown in Britain.
  27. I remember my copy of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band disappearing from the studio at college. Later I found an identical copy at the house of a fellow student but didn’t mention it.
  28. I remember that I bought a copy of Loaded by the Velvet Underground for 89p from Boots. (The price is still on the record sleeve – otherwise I might not have remembered it exactly.) I was on my way home from the dentist after getting a filling. I also bought a copy of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess that day and I began to read it while the record played and my jaw thawed.
  29. I remember the music we played at my Father’s funeral:                                                                          On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring by Frederick Delius,                                                              Janet Baker singing Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n from Kindertotenlieder by Gustav Mahler, The Sherriff by The Modern Jazz Quartet and                                                                               Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell.

Georges Perec?

The first manifestation of this ‘project’ (I thought it might have been a book but for now it is this blog) was a notebook begun on the 9th of December 2010. This was an attempt to record different kinds of encounters with music…though not the music I selected and listened to. So I listed all the albums I bought, the gigs I went to, the music I found (mostly discarded CD-Rs) and I recorded instances of sound ‘made visual’ in various walks around my neighborhood. Then I started to write down memories of particular places associated with music in my past. All of this had an echo of projects by Georges Perec – particularly An Attempt to Describe a Number of Places in Paris and Je Me Souviens.
I have a (clearly flawed) memory of reading a short essay by Perec documenting all his purchases over the course of a day. I can only remember two of the items…a can of petrol for his moped and a jazz record (maybe there was a pen too. Or some writing paper). I wanted to know which record it was that Perec bought…but now I can’t find the essay and doubt if it was by Perec at all. The fact that I remember two of the items suggests to me that the essay does exist and is not a figment of my imagination. I have wasted a great deal of time on the internet trying to find this piece and I have tracked back through the Perec books I own with no success. On one blog:


there is a clip of Howard McGhee playing Shades of Blue but there is no explanation of why it is there. I found other stuff though. In the biography, David Bellos documents youthful sessions where Perec and his best friend would listen to sought after ‘west-coast jazz’ albums. In Perec’s Je me Souviens (published by Hachette in 1978 and not, as yet, translated into English)) – a numbered list of apparently random memories – there are (according to Perec’s index) 20 references to jazz.

Here are some examples:

4. I remember Lester Young at the Club Saint-Germain; he wore a blue silk suit with a red silk lining.
6. I remember that Art Tatum called a piece Sweet Lorraine because he had been in Lorraine during the 1914-18 war.
41. I remember a piece by Earl Bostic called Flamingo.
87. I remember when Caravan by Duke Ellington was a rare record and that, in those days, I knew of its existence without ever having heard it.
223. I remember record sleeves, most often jazz ones, drawn by David Stone Martin.
301. I remember Sidney Bechet wrote an opera – or was it a ballet? – entitled The Night of the Sorceress.

But none of this gets me any closer to working out the question about the jazz record and the can of petrol.

This is the second page of the notebook with various attempts to give the project a subtitle (it was already called ‘Like a Hammer in the Sink’ by then).

9. i. 11

At the end of 2010 I started writing a log of musical encounters of a non-musical kind. This is the entry for one day in 2011…an early morning walk to the market then a longer walk to Stoke Newington in the afternoon.


Early morning, Ridley Road, Dalston, 9th January 2011.




Walk on 9th January 2011.

1. At the corner of Crossway and Stoke Newington Road. 2 discarded CDs in the gutter:

‘Lovetouch. 5th birthday celebration. Saturday 24th of July 2010. CD mixed by DJ Supamaks, RNB, Hip Hop, Bashment, Funky @ Hidden Night Club…’

‘Funky Nation’.

2. Stoke Newington Baptist Church sign:

‘Robinson Music Academy. “All we require is desire”…’

3. Net Music, Stoke Newington High Street:

‘Music lessons, Musical Instruments & Accessories, Music Books, Internet café’.

4. V.G. Foodstore, Stoke Newington High Street:

Indian cassettes displayed between the garlic and the yams.

[It occurs to me now that this route took me past the shopfront used in this photograph. When I moved to Hackney in 1984 it was still there on Stoke Newington High street.]


5. The Mind Shop, Stoke Newington Church Street:

CD – £2 – ‘The Mantle of Orpheus; Henry Purcell’s last songs and the songs of his fellow composers who survived him.’ The Consort of Musicke.

12” vinyl single  – 50p. – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. ‘Perfect Skin’.

6. Lucky Seven Records, Stoke Newington Church Street:

12” vinyl single – £3 – Cocteau Twins. ‘Aikea-Guinea, Kookaburra, Quisquose, Rococo’.

7” vinyl single – £2 – The Members. ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’. VS242. In biro, on the label, the name ‘Alan McGee’.