A recent blog by David Toop using one of my drawings…https://davidtoopblog.com/2017/07/31/raw-materials/
The opening event at Portland Hall, Little Titchfield Street where Jimi Hendrix jammed with Cream a week after arriving in London. On Monday 13th June playing in front of that hallowed stage, from left to right: Steve Beresford, Terry Day, Peter Cusack and David Toop. More to follow at Oto Project Space and Cafe Oto from tonight…
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.
A strange, all-consuming experience at Pontin’s, Prestatyn this weekend. The holiday camp was as much part of the environment as All Tomorrow’s Parties and one of the pleasures of the weekend (the music was another) was sorting out the juxtapositions and overlaps between the two. Obviously, there is a good deal to say about the whole event so I will skip that bit.
Saturday morning there was supposed to be something called ‘Mixtape Swap’. I have been making a series of mix CDs over the last few years that are based on the end-of-an-era discs I find at my local charity shops for 99p each. I thought I should bring along some of this output for trading. Either I missed this event or it didn’t actually happen and despite an announcement from the stage I found myself carrying 12 different mix CDs in their unique covers around with me (I like twelve. A dozen…one for each month of the year. Twelve subdivides into three four times.) While listening to Jonny Trunk talk about library music later that day I decided to give them away…gifts rather than swaps. So here is how I disposed of the 12 CDs:
- Given to Jonny Trunk after his talk.
- Left on a table next to Stage One on Saturday afternoon.
- Given to Tania Chen after her performance with David Toop.
- Given to David Toop after his performance with Tania Chen.
- Left under a monitor on Stage 3 after the Evan Parker, John Russell and John Edwards performance.
- Given to a male stranger outside the chalets on Sunday morning.
- Given to a female stranger in the same spot about an hour later.
- Left in the ‘win’ slot of the Tuppeny Falls game in the arcade.
- Left in a box set by Rhodri Davies on the merchandise stall.
- Given to a man called Ben who tapped me on the shoulder and said he remembered me from the announcement on Saturday….he told me something about why he had nothing to swap but I couldn’t really hear him.
- After leaving one on a malfunctioning ‘shoot ’em up’ game in the Arcade I noticed it was still there much later so I took it back and gave it to a laughing couple who were wedged into some too small rocking teacup thing.
- Concealed in Chalet 508.
David Toop organised and orchestrated this conversation/collaboration/improvisation featuring Shelley Hirsch, Sofia Jernberg & Elaine Mitchener. Normal (eloquent) speaking voices drifting into and out of song as if shifting with unseen currents. Elaine Mitchener suddenly and unexpectedly demonstrating how she had spent the day looking for the structure in Kurt Weill’s ‘My Ship’ – singing fragments of the first line. Almost heart stopping in its brilliant, broken complexity.
An invitation to the audience to join the discussion made me feel protective towards us listeners…there was a lot of talk about control and the performer but I think that listening demands that control is relinquished or, at least, suspended. In this, listening is not passive but it could be seen as a form of surrender. Us listeners are not mere consumers just because we are ‘silent’…the act of listening can form the space of the sound as much as the production of that sound.
David Toop, Rie Nakajima, Angharad Davies and others performing Mieko Shiomi’s piece from 1963, Boundary Music.
Coming through the doors of a ground floor gallery at the Whitechapel, each member of the audience was shown into the centre of the space and encouraged to wander. When I came in I asked if this applied to the performance too, little knowing that the performance was already in progress. There was no stage but seats were spread around randomly. People sat around the edges of the space, some with paraphernalia spread before them, a couple holding conventional musical instruments. A single floodlight on a stand illuminated the centre of the space but around the walls edges and corners became indistinct. Some of the performers were already engaged in making sounds and moving through the room. Someone walked around carrying a set of chimes, another was positioning lights under tissue paper and setting off small battery driven motors. Gradually each performer began to engage with the instruments or with the room like sleepers waking. Movements, gestures, sounds were all marginal, almost tentative. As the room filled up the blurring of audience with performance increased. The sounds of chairs being moved, the brief cry of a baby, murmured conversations all merged with the intentional micro-sounds of the piece. At one point I moved my foot across some piece of metal on the floor and another audience member turned round expectantly as if this too was part of the work. One of the performers peeled an apple and handed out the slices, another offered small wooden boxes and then, minutes later would wordlessly retrieve them. One person filmed throughout, many others took photographs but none of these actions were intrusive. At the time there seemed to be no obvious structure to the performance and it was truly immersive with participation enacted through the mere act of being there. Reading the score afterwards I realise that it is all structure…an instruction so simple that each sound and movement falls within the framework.
The piece ‘ended’ as it had begun, without anything to mark its edges. The sounds trailed off, some of the audience drifted out, performers began to pack their stuff away. No applause, no announcement. ‘Boundary Music’ is, in effect, still being performed.
Making drawings as I moved around I felt as if these too were part of the work. I usually edit the drawings in these posts but in the spirit of the piece I have included all 25 of the drawings I made here. Speaking to David Toop in the space later he talked about the possibility of failure that is inherent to the work. I found myself wondering how failure might manifest itself here, what imbalance might occur between the various participants and how we would recognise it.
At the end of last week I found myself visiting 3 galleries in less than 24 hours. Each visit had a musical dimension:
The Horse Hospital. X-Ray Audio. I read about this in the Guardian in the morning and discovered that I was already too late to get tickets for the planned performance but I thought it would be worthwhile to drop by. When I got there they were setting up for the evening and trying out a couple of odd-looking discs – both from Ukraine. One was a 7” transparent red flexi with an illustration of a swan in a pond…the audio was a cheesy folk song…this one had to be taped onto the deck to stop it from slipping. The second was a postcard disc…it looked like it was of a painting of an old church in Kiev and the pirated audio was the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’…
Here is a scan of the beer mat of one of the Soviet era records cut onto an x-ray plate:
Drawing Room. Chromosome Damage Listening Session. This should have been really interesting. The artist of the current show, Daniel Guzmán, had selected a bunch of records that he listens to while he works in his studio in Mexico City to be played in the gallery. These were to be combined with some music from his own band, Pellejos. I liked the idea of listening to the music while looking at the drawings. For some reason only 3 people were present at the event and this took the edge off the whole thing. Still, I heard Jorge Reyes for the first time…
White Cube, Bermondsey. David Toop at the Christain Marclay exhibition. The second gig in a series of performances in the gallery. This is a generous undertaking on both Marclay’s and the gallery’s part. Toop’s considered and exploratory sound making and his fragile delineation of a ‘stage’ drew the audience into an intense dialogue with the space and the music despite the austere surroundings of the White Cube white cube.
49 Americans, Café Oto, 4th May 2013.
Fol Chen, Shacklewell Arms, 5th May 2013.
- Though there are a lot of them, 49 Americans are not what they seem…not even a band according to David Toop. (“Think of The 49 Americans as a band, in the conventional sense, and you’re lost.”) Maybe there have been 49 members since their inception…who knows? Tonight there are about 20 of them.
- The 3 Americans are really three Americans though. From Los Angeles, Cailfornia.
- Andrew ‘Giblet’ Brenner, the 49 American’s moving force, used this as a throw away line between numbers: ‘We are the 49 Americans…people playing at playing music.’
- How did it come about that Fol Chen got Brian Cox to do a spoken word version of ‘In Ruins’(‘A message from the subcommittee for public safety’)? ‘The bonfires are blocking the streets tonight…’
- As far as I can tell the 49 Americans have reformed tonight (for one night?) to launch the recently re-released albums ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘We Know Nonsense’.
- How does it make sense for a 3 piece (there are more of them really…but tonight they are a 3 piece) twisted-pop band from California to play a gig in the sleazy back room of a hipster pub in Dalston – for free? After the gig I put this question to the singer, she said: ‘Don’t ask..’.
- The 49 Americans play damaged rather than twisted music. They are all ‘proper’ musicians who have not/hardly rehearsed. But beautiful moments of synchronous funk emerge nevertheless.
- Fol Chen, on the other hand, play things that they have clearly been working on but in an off-hand, devil-may-care and also exhilarating way.
- The 49 Americans have two special guests who are kind of in the not-band but who are also apart from them. Leafcutter John provides some tasty electronic noises and Alice Grant sings…at one point they assemble a song from lines chosen at random form 49 American titles.
- Fol Chen have got a singer, a drummer and a guitarist and some electronic backing tracks to fill-in vital twiddly baroque bits.
- Fol Chen have one red light slightly behind them and to the left. They play on a small raised stage with the drummer in an arched alcove at the back. For the last number the guitarist gets off the stage and plays in the audience looking back at the band. But this seems un-theatrical- as if he just wants to see what it might be like to be in the audience.
- At Oto, the 49 Americans had a bit more light than the audience though they were not lit in any conventional sense. They have long breaks between songs while the musicians re-arrange themselves.
- And 14. Consecutive nights in Dalston about a quarter of a mile apart. What makes the conditions for this to happen and for it all to seem quite ordinary?