Two evenings with Tender Buttons.


  1. Sunday 26th November at Iklectik with Steve Beresford, Gino Robair and Steph Horak, Trio Sowari and Tender Buttons (Tania Chen, Gino Robair and Tom Djll).
  2. Monday 27th November at Foyles with Tender Buttons and John Butcher.
    Steve Beresford, Gino Robair, Steph Horak.

    Steve Beresford, Gino Robair, Steph Horak

    Trio Sowari

    Trio Sowari

    Tania Chen

    Tania Chen


    Tender Buttons


    Tender Buttons with John Butcher


    John Butcher


    Gino Robair and Tom Djll


    Tania Chen

Alterations Festival

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…alterations001


Alterations Festival at Cafe Oto

‘Into the Maelstrom’


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.

into the maelstrom001

Performing with David Toop at Cafe Oto were (from left to right) Steve Beresford, Sylvia Hallett, Evan Parker and Elaine Mitchener.

And, to steal an idea from the Fife Psychogeographical Collective, I am now listening to David Toop, ‘Entities Inertias Faint Beings’.

Two nights at Cafe Oto. 26/27. iv. 16

steve b001

Steve Beresford at the piano

Night One.

The first a version of Cage’s ‘Indeterminacy’ with Stewart Lee, Tania Chen and Steve Beresford plus Chen and Jon Leidecker playing other Cage pieces and a piece by Chen herself. All performed with great panache and verve. I have seen the same trio ‘do’ ‘Indeterminacy’ before but this time I began to wonder if Lee’s comic persona and deadpan delivery was becoming, through no fault of his own, something floating free of the work. I know that many of Cage’s stories are intended to be funny and Lee resists the urge to ham up the comic effect, there are, after all, other constraints at work…but the audience will have their own way in these circumstances and in a piece like this the audience becomes part of the performance. Listeners can get it as wrong as musicians. If, as I suspect and as Duchamp kind of said, the viewer {listener} completes the work, then those listeners have a certain responsibility and can listen badly…I guess…

lisa busby

Lisa Busby x 2

Night Two.

The link to the second night was in the aleatory nature of one of the three acts. (The other sets on the night were by Andrew Tuttle and Chris Rainier). Lisa Busby combines various electronic bits and pieces with cassette and vinyl playback and her own, often distorted, voice. (To make another, incidental link…there was quite a lot of voice distortion in Susanna’s performance at the same venue in the previous week). Busby’s pieces are composed – just as Cage’s are – and they walk a thin line over thin ice. The possibility of failure lurks just below the surface and hovers just to the side of that line. Purposeful chance operations like the deck’s stylus positioned half into the record groove or accidental ones, like a malfunctioning Walkman, make for a surprising and unpredictable sound environment. Add to this Busby’s recognition of the need for ‘perfomativity’ and the experience of witnessing this unfolding work becomes particularly interesting. This is hardly thought through but I am beginning to wonder if this visual and experiential element in aleatory and improvised music is something that (some) women are more comfortable with than (some) men. In very different ways I have seen Rie Nakajima and Angharad Davies use space and what might even be theatrical techniques in their work to similar dynamic effect.

Lisa Busby’s website is here.

And this is a link to her latest album, ‘Fingers in the Gloss’.

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.

’49 Americans’ + 3 Americans



49 Americans, Café Oto, 4th May 2013.

Fol Chen, Shacklewell Arms, 5th May 2013.


Some points:

  1. 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.
  2. The 3 Americans are really three Americans though. From Los Angeles, Cailfornia.
  3. 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.’
  4. 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…’
  5. 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’.
  6. 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..’.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Fol Chen have got a singer, a drummer and a guitarist and some electronic backing tracks to fill-in vital twiddly baroque  bits.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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?
    The 49 Americans

    The 49 Americans



Fol Chen

Fol Chen














31st January 2013


1. At the Kurt Schwitters exhibition in Tate Britain as the sound of the Ursonate leaked out from the central room…trying to work out where the fragment of ‘phonograph record’ was in the collage.

kiss 1

2. This Prince single from Dalston Oxfam. 59p.

3. Telling my son. Ivo,  about how ‘That Lady’ (by the Isley Brothers – but I couldn’t remember that at the time) was stuck in my head…but also thinking that the intro of acoustic guitar followed by that wailing electric guitar and wordless falsetto vocal is really wonderful. This song is almost ruined by too much exposure…too much radio play and being played in the background in too many shops.

4. At the Vortex Jazz Club after hearing a duet by Han Bennink and Steve Beresford, talking to Ivo about the validity of ‘prepared piano’ as a musical strategy.

5. Evan Parker, John Edwards, Han Bennink. Vortex Jazz Club, Dalston.









6. Listening to Instant Composers Pool Orchestra and thinking about the band I heard in the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi in the 1980s. They were playing jazz in a lounge style but they also kept drifting into an almost subliminal version of Indian music. It was like an inflection within the sound. Well, I think that is how they sounded. I think I may have got drunk that night and so much time has passed. Out of time and space.

7. ICP’ s cellist, Tristan Honsinger’s single vocal intervention into the ICP set sounding just like a fragment of Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate.

Imitation of Life, Los Angeles. 31. x. 12

So a couple of days ago  I steeled myself and drove to Amoeba Records on Sunset and Cahuenga in Hollywood. I had been told that Amoeba would ‘blow my mind’ but I thought this was just a bit of Cailfornian hyperbole and I was sceptical. The underground car park below the store allowed for 1 hour free parking and I thought that would be plenty. In fact I have not seen so much vinyl in one place since the Oxford Street Virgin Megastore before the advent of the CD. There were two huge rooms on the ground floor full of new and second-hand CDs and records. Mostly pop and dance in the front with jazz and classical in the back. Faced with so much stuff I suffered the usual indecision and ended by buying what seems like a random selection of things:

‘Jazz Jam 4’ on vinyl for the beautiful cover by David Stone Martin. (With Count Basie, Benny Carter and many others)

‘The World of Harry Partch’ on vinyl to represent ‘weird’ America.

‘Heart Failed in the Back of a Taxi’ mixes CD single by Saint Etienne because I am a fan.

Three 7″ singles plus a CD as a package by the Nels Cline Trio called ‘Ground’ – for some local colour.

‘Imitation of Life/Double Indemnity’ on CD by Steve Beresford and Tristan Honsinger (with David Toop and Toshinori Kondo) because I thought it would be great.

Peter Brotzmann Clarinet Project, ‘Berlin Djungle’ for the same reason.

Heinner Goebbels and Heiner Muller, ‘Der Mann im Fahrstul’ because I thought ‘Stifters Dinge’ was wonderful.

Two Luciano Berio albums – ‘Epifanie/Folk Songs’ and ‘Laborintus 2’ because I love them both.

Then when I took everything to the counter I spotted a copy of Talikng Heads ‘Speaking in Tongues’ in the Robert Rauschenberg cover. On the plastic sleeve was written ‘Clean Sealed Orig! No yellowing!’ so I succumbed and bought that too.

My one hour time limit was probably useful as I might have just gone on and on juggling possibilities and ultimatley buying far too much. (There are still a couple of things that I wonder if I should have not put back.)

I thought that the perfect follow-up to this spree would be to go and look at the metaphorical stack of platters that is the Capitol Records Building on Vine. (‘Take me down to Vine Street. Stop when you hear that Bad Beat…’). Looks like just the number of records for a 12-stacker…this is Los Angeles after all.

Capitol Records Tower. Welton Becket Associates, 1954-6.

I have been having some difficulty finding things to listen to on the radio in the car in LA. Mexican and Korean pop (the seemingly ubiquitous ‘Gagnam Style’) are ok for a while. I’ve bumped into very sober and patchy classical stations too but none have seemed to fit my driving in LA mood. I thought that on the way back from the record store I would play some of the new CDs I had bought. First I played the Saint Etienne single and that was fine…mixes of a song that I already knew well with some added bad beats. The Nels Cline CD was sealed into a bag with the 7 inches so that left the Beresford or the Brotzmann. I thought the latter might be a little too ‘full-on’ for driving so I put on ‘Imitation of Life’. It begins in quite polite mode with something like a chamber ensemble then slowly begins to fall apart. At some point as I was driving I realised I was probably breaking the law in the US by driving without carrying my license with me. I am fairly new to the roads of LA so these factors added together made me feel a bit anxious. As the music developed so did my anxiety and when there was a sudden crash followed by whistles I was momentarily confused only to discover that these were on the CD and not on the street. Soon after there was a man shouting his innocence (‘I didn’t do it!’) followed by the sound of sirens and my paranoia returned in spades but I made it home safe just as the music ended.

Then yesterday at LACMA I saw this image in a small exhibition on Expressionist cinema:

Otto Dix. ‘Larm der Strasse’ (Street Noise) from the portfolio ‘Neun Holzschnitte’, 1922.

A perfect evocation of the urban sound field made in Berlin in the 1920s; just as relevant to the streets of Los Angeles in 2012.