Dust/Silence/Time

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’.

 

1

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.’

 

2

stalker4

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.

 

3

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.

 

4

rififi

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.

 

5

dust breeding

‘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.

 

6

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:

 

7

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.

 

8

TC

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.

 

9

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.

NOTES

1

Pages 141/142. ‘In the Labyrinth’, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1960). Trans. Richard Howard. Grove Press, New York, 1978.

2

‘Stalker’ directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1979).

3

Chapter 8, ‘Great Expectations’, Charles Dickens (1861).

‘Great Expectations’ directed by David Lean (1946).

4

‘Rififi’ (also called ‘Du Rififi chez les Hommes’) directed by Jules Dassin (1955).

5

‘Dust Breeding’ (1920). See:

http://www.metmuseum.org/collection/the-collection-online/search/271420

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…

palmyra

dust breeding

6

See/listen at:

https://soundcloud.com/ideal-recordings/cm-von-hausswollff-plays-john-cage-ii-ideal126-flexi-7

7

‘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).

8

There is an interesting piece by David Ellison on Carlyle’s room at:

http://www.nla.gov.au/ojs/index.php/AJVS/article/view/1858

9

‘One to Another’ by Achim Mohné is available here:

http://touchshop.org/product_info.php?cPath=31&products_id=520

 

 

Christian Marclay at White Cube

Thurston Moore with the London Sinfonietta.            8. ii. 15

Thurston Moore with the London Sinfonietta. 8. ii. 15

'Surround Sounds'

‘Surround Sounds’

I recently found myself reading ‘Lightness’, one of Italo Calvino’s essays from ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’.* (I say ‘found myself’ because the book was sitting on the table at which I was sitting at…reading it was not part of my plans for the afternoon.) The essay is structured around various literary sources – hardly surprising I guess as that it is writing that Calvino is addressing – and it draws on classical literature and in particular the work of Lucretius and Ovid. But as I struggled through the essay I found myself thinking about Christian Marclay’s exhibition at White Cube.

'Surround Sounds' on paper.

‘Surround Sounds’ on paper.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time there recently – there is always some new reason to visit. As someone who works with exhibitions I often feel a sense of detachment (or relief or anti-climax) at the moment of the exhibition’s opening. Up to this point, it has been a thing in flux where there is a sense of progress and development but also a place into which the unexpected can intrude. Once the public comes through the doors however, the exhibition is ‘fixed’ or static. Marclay’s show, on the other hand, is a site for events, improvisation and manufacture. Each Saturday and Sunday during the run of the exhibition there are performances in the largest of the White Cube’s galleries. Saturday is for improvised music and Sundays works, performed by members of the London Sinfonietta, are commissioned and, more or less, composed. Each performance is recorded direct to a master disc and on the following Thursday and Friday the Vinyl factory’s mobile pressing plant turns out 500 vinyl records for each set. Sleeves are then silk-screened (by Coriander Press) in the same room and then the records go on sale in the shop. These activities take place within the galleries where Marclay’s more conventional art works are displayed; a room of glasses with the potential to become a vast glass harmonica and another room with a collection of boxes with bottle glass fronts magnifying and distorting the sheet music for a number of drinking songs. In other spaces there are displays of paintings and prints as well as the complex, immersive (yet silent) animation ‘Surround Sounds’ and, along White Cube’s main processional space the wonderful sounds and video composition that is ‘Pub Crawl’. On weekdays students from London college of Communication and the Royal college of Art perform numerous Fluxus works in the gallery, further extending the exhibition.

Yuki Kobayashi performs Yoko Ono's 'Water' (Spring 1964).

Yuki Kobayashi performs Yoko Ono’s ‘Water’ (Spring 1964).

Set up for Mark Sanders. 14. ii. 15

Set up for Mark Sanders. 14. ii. 15

This being a commercial gallery, entrance to the exhibition is free but all the performances are free too. It was this that informed my first reactions to the show (or maybe my second reaction – the work in the show is consistently engaging). This felt like an extraordinarily generous offering on a number of levels. I presume that all the performers and composers are being paid whilst also being given a very public platform. The visitors meanwhile are being presented with a range of musical experiences from a huge variety of musicians, some with international reputations and all with distinctive talents and skills. More generally there is an inclusiveness built into all of this through proximity and, in the best possible way, through access and interaction.

Rie Nakajima. 21. ii. 15

Rie Nakajima. 21. ii. 15

In talking about the work in the exhibition – as if it could be taken out of context of the continuing and changing life of the event – I found myself searching for the correct adjective to describe what my first visit felt like. Without really thinking about it I described it as ‘slight’ and new instantly that this was wrong. Then I said ‘not deep’ but that suggests ‘shallow’ and that is not right either. When I read Calvino’s essay his idea of ‘lightness’ had an immediate resonance, especially as he is using lightness in such a positive way. He quotes Paul Valéry: ‘One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.’ Calvino talks about ‘the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world – qualities that stick to writing from the start…’ and his efforts to retain the ‘quick, light touch I wanted from my writing’.

Adam Bowman, Steve Beresford, Mark Sanders.    7. iii. 15

Adam Bowman, Steve Beresford, Mark Sanders. 7. iii. 15

It seems to me that Marclay has achieved this trick. His exhibition has escaped from inertia. I think that it would be safe to say that there is no inherent critique in either the performances or the work on display. These events exist in their own terms dancing and tripping at once, discordantly, harmoniously and elegantly through the everyday. They take the quotidian as a starting point but shift the perspective, alter the point of contact and retune our receivers.

Nicolas Collins. 21. iii. 15

Nicolas Collins. 21. iii. 15

* ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’, Italo Calvino, Translated by Patrick Creagh. Penguin, 1988.

Before Stars at the Scala

The banalities of a rock show (is it a rock show? Pop really….a saving grace) . Obligatory dry ice….I’ve been in this venue when they pumped the stuff out at 1 o’clock in the afternoon…going to the Scala is to enter a liminal space outside of time. Those swooping coloured lights are another banality but I guess it’s all part of the show…..

I can’t quite forget the Scala in its desperate cinema days in the 80s when it still bore the marks of its previous incarnation as the Primatarium…it was always cold and down at heel and it still is. Right now though, I am appreciating it’s other good points….the strange, largely forgotten, balcony that I guess was the gods. Here is another pleasure:

2015/01/img_7990.jpg
So it is still some kind of reminder of the faded glamour that was Kings Cross as opposed to the current hyper-gentrifying version.

I’ve seen Stars before (at/in Heaven 3 years ago) and it was a pretty lousy experience. I put my disappointment down to the space and the sound. I know that Stars are one of my weaknesses (unadulterated/unashamed pop with undertones of melancholy seeping up through the optimism). You never know….tonight may be different.

Missed/Remembered/Mis-remembered

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:

card002

‘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:

circle001

 

 

 

 

I might draw this:

circle002

 

 

 

 

 

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’.

https://likeahammerinthesink.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/box.mp3IMG_5047

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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:

IMG_5046https://likeahammerinthesink.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/chant.mp3

 

 

 

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.

taipei

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.

Four or five approaches to The Necks (more or less oblique)

PB kit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Motion

Some years ago, in the first days of mobile phones with cameras, I shot some moving image from a train window. I was just messing about…seeing what the camera could do in movie mode. I guess that because of some ‘primitive’ processing technology, the camera couldn’t keep up with the speed of the movement. Almost everything was blurred, the vague green skyline of trees shooting past, lots of rail-side detritus going by out of focus. But what I really liked was the effect of passing telephone poles. In my ‘film’ these appeared as diagonals rather than verticals. The digital image processed from the top to the bottom and it couldn’t cope with the passage of the poles. This lost movie came back into my mind as I listened to the Necks at Cafe Oto a few weeks back. There is often something in their music that seems to refer to landscape and movement but as part of the process of synthesis it comes out twisted and distorted. On the second night of the two gigs that I attended I wrote in my notebook: ‘weather, landscape, machinery’. An atmosphere, a place, musical instruments.

 

Redshank

On the morning of 5th November (between the two Necks gigs) I woke up earlier than usual and listened to the radio. At 05:58 on BBC Radio 4 there was ‘Tweet of the Day; the Redshank’. All of the programmes are available to listen to here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/totd/all…scroll down and you will find the redshank broadcast.

In my slightly drowsy state I imagined the redshank joining the Necks in a long improvisation. Three machines (piano, bass and drums) plus voice.

The next day The Necks were in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios recording with Evan Parker (the saxophone as voice). You can read about this session at Richard Williams’ blog here:

http://thebluemoment.com/2013/11/07/the-necks-in-london/

And if you are fast you can download the session here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/ljs

Of course, unlike The Necks, Parker has previous in avian collaboration. If you can find it, listen to his album ‘Evan Parker with Birds’ (trd001).

 

The Delirium of Beginning/The Anxiety of Ending

I remember in 1990 as Caroline and I set off for an unseasonal trip to Skye we dropped in to see her father, Philip. He was ill and didn’t get out much then and said to us just before we left: ‘It’s wonderful setting out on the road…’ He was probably a little jealous of the trip were about to undertake but he said it with genuine enthusiasm. This music always has that sense of setting out on a journey…one step, one foot down on the pedal, one deep breath and away. And then as the sound develops and the musicians and listeners find themselves all in the same vehicle, treading the same path, traveling the same road, (for me at least) a tension creeps in. I think: ‘how did we get here from there? I remember where we were but the journey so far is a bit hazy…right now it is in sharp focus but what’s been going on?’ And then I think: ‘how does this end?’ And I wonder if there is some of this anxiety built into the performance for the players too. And is it the same for all improvising musicians? I’ve heard musicians fluffing the end of improvisations, faltering when they should be decisive, not quite knowing how to stop. (See Miles Davis’s advice to Coltrane on this point) Has that got to do with being too relaxed about the shape of the journey – somehow believing that it goes on forever? The Necks have been playing together for many years now and they have a sense of time and space that has milestones, landmarks, triangulation points…they know how to stop but also know that they need to keep listening to each other and keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. They know when to brake in a way that their listeners maybe don’t…it keeps us guessing. Each Necks session is a familiar journey made strange.

Lloyd Swanton, 4. xi. 13

Lloyd Swanton, 4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

4. xi. 13

5. xi. 13
5. xi. 13