Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Humphrey Lyttleton RIP

From Wikipedia: "On 18 April 2008 Jon Naismith, the producer of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, announced the cancellation of the upcoming spring series of ISIHAC owing to Humphrey Lyttelton's hospitalisation to repair an aortic aneurysm. Rob Brydon was asked to deputise for Lyttelton during the tour shows. A further email on 21 April 2008 reported that the BBC were "unclear precisely how long Humph's recovery period will be" but Lyttelton was "otherwise fine and in very good spirits". Lyttelton died peacefully following his surgery on 25 April 2008 with his family around him."
An odd figure to pay tribute to on this blog, maybe, but Humph's deadpan presence at the head of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue was one of the most comforting to me on the radio, of a Sunday. It's particularly poignant, because the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth was apparently the venue he and the ISIHAC team were to record at when he was hospitalised. There's a nice tribute to him over at Marcello Carlin's The Blue In The Air. All else we can say is, he'll be missed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Club Anemone 4 (As We Had Run Out Of Clever Titles)

Unfortunately, things may become rather more sparse around here than of late somewhat soon: my return to work has coincided with the eventual advent of spring, or something vaguely resembling it. There are too many records about which to write, and insufficient resolve: spirit strong, flesh weak, etc. Anyway, enough of that, because this is post is designed to spread the news about the fourth Club Anemone, occurring at The Central in Poole on 1st May, starting at 8PM in the evening, entrance £5/£4 concessions. The attraction of the "slightly more poppy" (Hardsparrow) Aidan Smith is bolstered by Expeditionguide and the ever-entrancing Animal Magic Tricks. So come!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dead Shops Three (After cLOUDDEAD)

Joining in the litany of shop deaths, Dragon Discs, the secondhand CD emporium just down the road from me, closed down a couple of weeks ago. For two days the owner - a pot-bellied, bearded and often sullen chap who could be hearteningly avuncular when he felt like it - was giving away vinyl and CDs free (I did actually manage to score some semi-decent freebies, including a copy of the 'Blue Monday' 12" (without die-cut cover, unfortunately), and vinyl copies of Bartok's Music For Strings, Percussion And Celeste, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, in addition to a Transglobal Underground remix album (not so impressive)).

Dragon Discs was also where I bought my first Public Enemy albums, Roxy Music's self-titled debut, my Galaxie 500 albums, and My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, and its prog-postered walls will be sorely missed. Bournemouth's already lacking an independent record store (the nearest is Square Records in Wimborne, at least 15 miles away), and now only has two secondhand CD and vinyl stores (charity shops excepted, for obvious reasons). I'm almost beginning to be glad I'm moving away soon, except for the fact that Warwick and Coventry have fewer record stores than Bournemouth...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Instal Festival 08 Part 3

Saturday 16th February

“At times, the ignorance of the young excites me. Such ignorance is a kind of silence.”
--Julian Barnes, The Silence.

The first time you hear a piece of music is the most weird and fraught, maybe, of all experiences (give or take.) A solipsist may insist that it is literally the first time the piece of music has been heard, period; whilst I can’t quite agree, it certainly feels that way sometimes: like the sun’s first shining on the face of the virgin earth. At its best, it feels like coming into contact with something older than yourself, something not just coming into existence at the flick of your attention. Listeners complete the circuit: Zen scholars asked the question “If a tree falls in the woods, and no-one can hear it, does it make a sound?” to point out that both listener and sound are part of the concrete world, and one can’t do without the other.

After the first listen, there is an increasing sense of familiarity, of the feeling that you, the listener, are growing up and old with a piece of music, that has become intertwined with your life. I first heard Richard Youngs’ debut solo album, Advent, on the train up to Glasgow for Instal (my first visit to that fair city), and found it almost shocking how odd it was, how different from my expectations, however vague. Listening to it again and again as I walked around the city during the next couple of days, it became almost a comforting in its concentrated, electric abstraction – the first section, in which Youngs sings, in a voice reminiscent of Syd Barrett, a mere couple of lines: “From the start/Don’t fall apart/Friends will like you/You’ll be there to laugh.” His voice, whilst abstracted by the delay applied to it (or is it just bad recording?) hypnotises and wriggles its way into the listener’s mind by repetition, avoiding any easy route, unlike the ‘smarm-and-charm’ tactics of most modern singers. Nobly, altruistically, he fills the silence, rather than taking advantage of it. Youngs recorded the LP in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, the small, stifling London satellite town where he grew up; it was the last recording he made before moving to Glasgow, making approximately the same trip I did. An escape trajectory that I’ve yet to complete, maybe never will, except through the medium of records and books – the movement of Advent from simian-simple piano-and-voice beginning to transcendental electric-storm end.

Anyway. A shave and a leisurely breakfast cured something of the sluggishness I felt that morning, but the less than ample conditions of movement put them right back. I had, once again, no change for the bus, so headed South and East along Gallowgate, the only commercial oasis for a long, long distance. The East End is about as dingy they get: street after street of sooty, weathered brick, crumpled leather faces, the only active spots the Irish pubs lining Gallowgate, the shabby grocery shops (2L bottles of Irn-Bru for a quid), the junk shops that make up St. Andrews’ Market, facade daubed with pro-Celtic slogans. Just south of the Barrowland ballroom lies the Barras, a warren of near-dilapidated box buildings, greasy spoons, garages doing cheap deals (angry bulldogs kept on a leash near the street window) and, every weekend, a market where you can pick up the same shit you’d get from the back of a lorry; to the south-east, on the bank of the Clyde, lies Paddy’s Market, so-named because it was where Irish immigrants sold their clothes to make ends meet. The entire place exudes the smell of wasted lives, recycled dog-ends, poor cleaning, mulled-over Guinness, years of fucking cunting burning resentment… No Hearts fan without a deathwish, let alone an atheist (who, incidentally, couldn’t give a fuck about football) would set foot in this place. But, desperate times, etc….

Spotting the same sign I had seen the day before – ‘Music And DVD Select’ – on Bain St., I tried it. The place could have been made of plasterboard, it was so bare and flimsy. One long CD rack, the only albums under ‘Male Vocal’ (Kenny Rogers, Jim Reeves, etc.) and £2 CDs of Irish and Scottish folk – the kind knocked out for bar fees, and given about the same amount for design and promotion, each one containing variations on the same ten songs. The books – placed in exactly the same attitude as the CDs (weird) – were awful, pastel-covered Jilly Cooper (or, worse, Marian Keyes) rip-offs. So I almost barked with laughter when I came across James Campbell’s Paris Interzone for 30p. The proprietor was a grizzled old man, wearing a tracksuit, baseball cap and glasses thicker than the bottom of a Jamesons’ bottle; he seemed less than pleased when I handed him a twenty. His friend, shorter and stouter, with a face like a dehydrated baby, sucking on a wet roll-up and wearing a shell-suit so bright it would shame a nu-raver, looked completely impassive as the guy slowly pulled handfuls of change from his bum-bag. “Make sure ye’ve go’ some change next time” he half-threatened as I scurried out.

Eventually, one eye on the clock, I caught the bus West and North to Glasgow School Of Art. Pretty sure I was late for the Self-Cancellation talks, I could barely muster enough sense of mind to figure out that the Mackintosh Building, the main part of the School, was right in front of me, spending 10 minutes going around the block looking for it. The School Of Art is widely recognised as the best work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the best architect Scotland ever produced: a remarkable piece of integrated design, its beautiful wood interiors carrying the same graceful feel as the carved stone exterior (lithe Art Nouveau curves preventing the box structure from looking dull or monolithic), incorporating natural motifs but abstracting them away from sentimental pastoralism. Despite fin-de-siecle art’s reputation for gimmicky exoticism, the Mackintosh building makes perfect, restrained, organic sense – its borrowings from Scottish vernacular architecture, French Symbolism and Japanese design are wonderfully integrated to the building’s utilitarian purpose, in a distinctly modern way, creating a better aesthetic environment, whilst improving its practical possibilities. I noted the way the interior segued from dark wood panels to white-walled corridors stuffed with students’ materials, without any sense of jarring, as I walked down to the Mackintosh lecture theatre. Resigned to the possibility that I had missed Stewart Home, I watched from the back as sound artist Louise K. Wilson began her talk.

I have to admit to losing the theme somewhat as she swept on – after beginning by positing ‘radiance’ as the essence of self-cancellation, capturing the movements of simultaneous decay and propagation involved, she seemed to slip into an ongoing free-association concerning her own audio-art installations. Throughout, I couldn’t help thinking that she could have simply slipped the word ‘hauntology’ in at pretty much any point: her interest in the secret histories left behind in Cold War architecture – RAF Farnborough, at which American B-52s were stationed, where she created an audio installation collating and broadcasting 30 years of air traffic control data; Orford Ness, Suffolk, where Britain’s nuclear weapons and power programmes were developed, and whose desolate landscapes were haunted by Wilson’s recordings of nuclear generation – and in the memorial possibilities of space and sound – Yannis Kyriakides, with whom she collaborated on the Orford Ness project, Record Of Fear, whose music explores duration and the approach to non-existence; Jacob Kierkegaard, whose Four Rooms album on Touch explores what might hide in the resonance of rooms (in that case, churches and houses in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl) – suggest she’s probably a Ghost Box and Philip Jeck fan. It was a very nice surprise when Stewart Home came forward to speak last (evidently I had missed Michael Colligan), especially as he had a bit more, uh, ‘substantial’ take on the matter: he mainly spoke about how Gustav Metzger’s theories had impacted on his own art, particularly the Art Strike he conducted between 1990 and 1993 – “a kind of psychic warfare against the people who owned the gallery system”, apparently. You can almost see it as the logical endpoint of the self-cancelling tendencies of the cultural movements – Lettrisme, the Situationists, punk – that Home has valourised and chronicled: instead of helping to create an alternative system of distribution outside the galleries, don’t even do that, but devalue the commodity itself to the point of nothingness. I particularly liked the laconic way in which he described how he came to the business in the first place – “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I became an artist” – and showed off his home-video remakes of classic Lettrist and Situationist films (just waving the DVD: “There, you’ve seen it now.” Actually, in the case of Howls In Favour Of Sade, there really wasn’t a lot more to see.) After some time (I get the feeling he does this relatively regularly, but still doesn't enjoy it - or anything for that matter) he threw a block of copies of his latest book into the crowd (he had joked he might burn them, swigging on a bottle he claimed was petrol.)

From the art school, I went, haltingly – again, the result of poor knowledge regarding the public transport system into the West End, eventually ending up just south of Kelvingrove Park. The lushest part of the city, it was absolutely lovely to walk through as the sun came out, passing the beautiful Gothic beacon of Glasgow University, surveying the sweet Victorian and Edwardian detached houses that make up of the architecture in the West End. If you were wondering (I know I was) where the (pseudo-)bohemian inhabitants of Scotland’s culture capital are kept, look no further: it might have been Oxford, so sleepy and pleasant was it. I feel distinctly ambivalent these days about the notion of escape that gripped me so hard when I was younger: the seductions of hipster/bohemian culture (the relatively easy life of the independent, socially connected artist/writer) still exert an almost subconscious pull, even as the economics involved place it irremediably out of my grasp, and the cultural/economic malaise that results from it (Vice-style political and philosophical apathy, relentless gentrification and class cleansing) makes me sick to my stomach. This dream territory is the prowling ground of the new media class, rulers in disguise: Glasgow School of Art apparently possesses the second fewest working-class students in the country, putting it ahead even of Oxford and Cambridge. (And let’s not forget Bob Hardy, bassist from posh cunts Franz Ferdinand, went to GSA – a fine option if you can afford to be in a band.)

After touching down briefly on the Great Western Road, I visited the University’s Hunterian Art Gallery, but only saw the first floor before I had to shoot off. Apart from a small Rubens, the gallery’s best asset was its formidable Whistler collection. I’d always had Whistler down as a dour, traditional, paternalist painter, largely based on the almost deliberately stiff composition and stark contrasts of his Portrait Of The Artist’s Mother. It was a pleasant surprise to find, therefore, that not only was Whistler interested in the light and colour of the Mediterranean, but he was a frequent full-length portraitist of young women, rendered here in spare, graceful and colourful brush-strokes. I walked back to the West End section of Argyle Street, where I paid a visit to Volcanic Tongue. It’s pretty much the oddest shop I’ve ever been to: a single flat, which you have to get into via a backyard staircase, with a single rather claustrophobic room for the merchandise. The guy manning the tiny counter was very helpful, but I felt very embarrassed, mulling endlessly over various things, and in the end only buying Jandek’s Newcastle Sunday and Masayuki Takayanagi’s Eclipse before skittering out.

It was around 4.00 in the afternoon, and the sun was still out when I went back into the darkness of the Arches. As soon as I came in, two men in suits – one long-hair, one with glasses and a neatly-trimmed beard – sat on a pair of stationary bicycles, balancing scripts on their handlebars, and began pedalling. They huffed and puffed as they delivered their lines, mostly in an odd not-quite-right tone that highlighted the artificiality of declaiming a text. Particularly a text that isn’t the author’s: Spinning is assembled from manifold sources, mainly concerned with education (inc. Liam Gillick’s Notes For An Art School and Ionesco’s The Pupil), pedagogy, psychoanalysis, boredom and artistic production. How the texts were meant to thematically fit together is anyone’s guess, but I think what ‘assemblers’ Simon Morris and Nick Thurston were driving at is a means of removing the clichéd ‘sacred self’ from the centre of artistic production and education – getting rid of the ego behind the ‘author function’, which is something I wholeheartedly approve of.

The piece itself highlighted, to a certain extent, the problem of ‘translation’ as it applies itself to conceptual art and theatre. The vast catalogue-essay supplied by Craig Dworkin for the Translation event – looking, with its footnotes, rather incongruous next to David Keenan’s badly punctuated notes about that night’s Energy Birth Forms event – left me none the wiser after a couple of minutes of reading. To what extent is it necessary for people to ‘get’ the piece? And what is the nature of ‘getting it’? This questioned cropped up again when a trio – one man, two women – appeared at the end of the arch. Whilst the man, heavily bearded and sporting what I think was a green Melvins tee, gibbered, grunted and growled, Aileen Campbell – looking like a slightly more sallow Kim Gordon – made small chittering noises, like a dormouse being tortured, and the lady next to her – younger, quite attractive, of probably Japanese heritage – emitted screams that seemed to force their way out of the back of a choking throat and come out frayed, meeker than intended. They manoeuvred around each other’s voices, warping their textures and patching them together into a kind of weird body-horror soundtrack. In case you didn’t guess, it became a little wearing after a while, so it was nice to hear behind us what sounded like straight-up noise, as Barry Essen directed us towards the corner and the mixing desk. We were almost all stood around with no idea what was going on; the only thing to go on was the distant sound of what I thought might be grime or folk music buried deep in the dissonance buzzing ahead of us, and a little figure in glasses, black-and-white striped top, and big headphones. I made the tiniest of talk with Allen Upton as this guy worked his way through the crowd; he thrust a microphone in the face of each person he approached in the crowd, the sound blaring out of the speakers seeming to slowly correct itself as he advanced forward – less clashing trash frequencies, more tower of babble, voices slowly invading the mix. When he approached, he very courteously and enthusiastically introduced himself as Jarrod Fowler, asked where I was from, whether I was having a good time. I could barely speak at this point, 3 days of drifting isolation having damaged what little capacity for socialising I had, so my answer was embarrassingly stuttered and perfunctory. “You’ve got to ask me a question” he prodded, so I asked him, like a doofus, what the theory behind the piece was: apparently, he had mixed and looped every song in the then UK Top 40, and was playing them out behind us. As a prize for being such a little trooper, I got a lucky dip CD, and picked out ultra-reductionist electronic composer Richard Chartier’s Of Surfaces. I still haven’t listened to it.

It was then that Kenneth Goldsmith, every inch the San Fran. dandy (sharp suit, rollneck jumper, slightly shapeless pork pie hat, non-ironic moustache) reared up out of the fog and beckoned to us to sit down, crowd around. He began by reading out a nonsensical text in Gaelic, then acting out a couple arguing over its meaning, all in that same sly, warm tone. He then pulled out the biggest laugh of the festival, reading out a series of letters – fictional or not, I’m not sure – to Kenny G., moving from an insipid narrative of an infertile couple finally conceiving after hearing G.’s holiday hit ‘Miracles’ to an angry broadside against smooth jazz delivered in the loudest and most excoriating of voices. He proceeded to read an excerpt from Soliloquy, a transcription of every word he spoke for a week; the bit he read appeared to be from an evening where he was getting ready for bed and, ahem, 'getting busy' with his wife. That was followed by a long one-man dialogue between a policeman and a senator accused of picking him up in a public toilet, Goldsmith jerking about and repeating like a broken record as he went into dirty detail about the act he was denying. The entire Translation idea, whilst definitely entering into the work of all the artists at the event, seems, in retrospect, to have been really a framework for language-based shenanigans and fanboy dream line-ups from that field. It was, also, merely a prelude to what would happen later that night.

After calling my parents outside, and buying some supplies from Somerfield – no need for, or interest in, restaurant meals – I visited Ensemble Wandelweiser’s room: past the restaurant, through a Staff Only door, past the artists lounge and the toilets, the quietest of quiet spaces. Wandelweiser is the collective headed up by flautist Antoine Beuger and violinist Burkhard Schlothauer, who, along with the likes of Taki Sugimoto and Mitsuhiro Yoshimura, has taken Cage’s almighty gauntlet – 4’33” – and run away with it, producing a torrent of works that situate sounds so slight they border on the non-existent in positions so determined and silence so rigorous, that it’s a wonder anyone would bother to listen to him at all. You may as well listen to the birdsong, and I suspect that’s what Wandelweiser wanted in the first place. If Cage, in 4’33”, declared all sound to be valid, then the clank of chairs, the sound of the Energy Births Forms players soundchecking in the Arches not too far away, were just as much a part of the sound in this space – 3 men sat in opposite corners, bright light highlighting the imitation wood flooring, the relatively comfortable chairs – as that the musicians made themselves. Against a barely-audible background drone coming from a CD player, the musicians – one (looking like a younger Jonathan Harvey) playing what looked like a tiny harmonica; Radu Malfatti on trombone, looking like a slightly more worldly Buddhist monk; and the redoubtable Robin Hayward on tuba – at seemingly rigorous and regular intervals, squeezed out the tiniest of sounds, pinched and muted, for a duration of seconds. I could see the mini-harmonica player in front of me reading from a score that I could have sworn was just empty pieces of paper. Wandelweiser are intent, more than anything, upon investigating through praxis the ontology of sound – what exactly is the difference between something and nothing in music? And whilst it can be incredibly dull on record – Sugimoto and Malfatti’s 2003 double CD set Futatsu apparently contains “about two minutes of sound in total” – in that space they created an atmosphere that seemed to crackle with stillness, run with tranquil electricity. Not knowing, perhaps, what it is you’re meant to ‘get’ might be the best means of understanding such a situation: just getting used to the concrete situation, the way you experience sound.

As it was, I had to go back up to the main arch for the next event. Knowing the make-up of even half the line-up (the other half lay shrouded in something resembling mystery) made me somewhat fearful: David Keenan, saxophonist in jazz extremists Tight Meat; Donald Dietrich, sax player in Borbetomagus; Japanoise veterans Incapacitants (only one of whom was able to make it – the other couldn’t get the time off from his job at a major bank); Alan Silva, double bassist, synthesiser player and pioneer of all-out post-Coltrane collective free jazz. When I got to the entrance, I happily took a pair of free earplugs; seeing two drummers set up at the back, along with an enormous, anachronistic koto (played, as I later found out, by Michio Yagi), and a guitarist (later revealed as Marginal Consort player Kazuo Imai) put the fear of God into me further. If it hadn’t been for my ignorance of the nature of what was planned for that evening, I might not have allowed myself to be sucked into what followed. The basic concept was pretty simple: a physical and psychological experiment, to see what happened when high-energy improv conditions were kept up for a duration beyond what any listener, let alone performer, would consider sane – 3 hours of all-out collective blast, eschewing all notions of ‘listening’ as they exist in the quieter end of the free improv pool. How would the musicians react? How would the sound itself change? How would the experience of the audience, fatigued and battered by hours of sound, change? Of course, the reasoning behind the event was, perhaps, foggy and flaky at best: Reason No. 1 Why I Don’t Really Trust David Keenan As A Music Writer is his tendency to slip into cod-Beat mysticism, to believe that the effects of psychedelia are neuro-psychological evidence in themselves. In the accompanying programme notes, Keenan asks: “What kind of forms are given birth to when you are absolutely shattered… thinking in terms of nothing but primitive shapes and caveman ugh, your brain most vulnerable to divine invasion?” It’s an incredibly dubious question, because it presumes too many things; but we were about to find out anyway.

I stood one or two people from the front, most of the people around me sloshing around Red Stripe cans while the musicians faffed about. When they decided to begin, it took a couple of seconds for them to hit their sound peak; which is saying something, considering what kind of a height they were at: the air was absolutely screaming with painful, torturous frequencies, merging into one assault. At first I thought that it was simply Toshiji Mikawa’s decimating analogue electronics, his wire-chewing and frantic knob-twisting conjuring up a constantly-shifting, but monotonous and unyielding spray of skin-peeling feedback, so loud it was impossible to hear the other musicians. After about ten seconds, I put my earplugs in as far as I could; after about two minutes, I screwed them back out slightly, so that I could actually hear slightly more than muffled screeches. I started to wonder when Mikawa was going to let up and let some of the others be heard. It was only after fifteen minutes of relentless pounding that I realised that they were being heard: the sheer weight and endless battering torrent of sound from the eight players was so much that the sound-system essentially rendered it as one chest-crushing block of noise, merged just as musicians claim they form into a ‘group-mind’ in the course of ‘non-listening’ multi-directional simultaneous improv. By about then, we had gotten the point. Each ongoing minute merely replicated and extended the experience. Over the next three hours, I spent much time twisting the earplugs in and out of my ear, trying to get to the point where I could locate individual elements; occasionally, I would catch a glimpse, or think I did, of Dietrich and Keenan’s beyond-brass yowls and sprays of honks, or the howls from Kazuo Imai’s guitar as he scraping metal down the fretboard or smacked the bridge with chains; I might, if I concentrated hard enough, be able to single out the angry cymbal spray and deep, rolling toms of the two drummers (Ben Hall of Graveyards, and Sabu Toyozami, formerly of Masayuki Takayanagi’s New Direction Unit) who flailed endlessly at the back like robot gorillas; just maybe I might think that I’d heard some of Junko (vocalist with Hijokaidan)’s muttered and shouted syllables as she stalked the stage in an over-sized Hellraiser tee, or Yagi’s koto let out a few sweet plunks somewhere in the voluminous top end of the mix.

Much of the time was spent trying to pin down particular strata of noise to particular artists – trying to work out whether a particular noise I heard matched up with a particular player’s movements. Just occasionally, I took out the earplugs altogether and just let the whole wash over me; every time I did, it was profoundly strange, like stepping out of the eye into the storm itself, only to find that, after a while, you felt at home there as well. After a couple of minutes, however, I would start to get a headache and earaches, and popped the earplugs back in. My memories of the event are horribly fragmented – I can barely assign a position within the three hours to any image, let alone what time they occurred within each hour. It’s as if time had been condensed and then pulled apart again, scattering the events all over the place. There were some moments where it did actually seem to deliver on the promise, kicking from top gear into turbo-charged auto-destruction: when Kazuo Imai, in Rambo headband, utterly drenched in sweat, stood up and proceeded to hyperactively shred his frets like an overenthusiastic teenage rocker for about ten minutes; when Keenan, sweat running off like a waterfall, staggered forward, still blowing, and fell over Mikawa, shrieking in his ear; or when Alan Silva, who looked bemused and intimidated for the past, uh, hours, sawing away at his bass, put it down and started dancing; or little touches like Dietrich’s frequent scissor-kicks and duets with Junko, who put her mike down his sax (double entendre alert!), the two occasionally bumping butts, the front of Dietrich’s Hijokaidan tee shaking. There were even moments when some of the protagonists did actually drop out, even if it was only for a second, letting us actually hear Dietrich’s manipulated squawks and tube-assisted bassy sax garbles, or Yagi’s spacey bowed koto. Towards the end, I could see an assistant standing by the side of the stage with a sign saying ’10 MINUTES’, and wondered they’d stop on time. When the three hours were up – my legs aching, gut rumbling, body and eyes shattered – he held up a sign saying ‘STOP’. He may as well have tried to stop a freight train; he kept signalling to the sign with his torch, but they kept on. Eventually, some of the musicians up the front began to stop, but it took at least another ten or fifteen minutes for the others to take the hint. As it wound down, Keenan, Dietrich, Imai and the two drummers left a last cloud of cymbal spray, vibrato wails and guitar signal. Before stopping. Barry Essen asked us to get out as quickly as possible, revellers for club night Death Disco already filtering in.

I left, barely able to feel my extremities, disorientated, perhaps slightly mad. I considered maybe trying to get something to eat, but every restaurant was packed with Saturday-night types, and I didn’t fancy my chances trying to eat fish and chips in the street. Hence, I wandered around for about half an hour, listening to Raccoo-oo-oon. I came back to wait in the line at the side of Stereo. The side door descends through a long, dank staircase, its walls papered with adverts for gigs gone by, into a neon-lit dungeon of a venue. After waiting a veritable age for someone to begin playing, three people came on – vocalist Aileen Campbell, on her left Neil Davidson, carrying an acoustic guitar, and, on her right, someone all in black, carrying a tuba (later to be revealed as Robin Hayward.) Davidson conjured up long, sticky drones, pulling both hands down a violin bow stuck in the bridge of his horizontal guitar; Campbell barked out pre-lingual syllables, chitinous skitterings, high throaty scrapings, mutant scat notes. This was meant to be a sonic recreation of a trip up the Glasgow University belltower; as soon as Robin Hayward – who seemed surgically attached to his tuba, his body reduced to a mere bellows – began spitting out huge, rumbling detonations of pitch-black sound, you could see it. An infernal machine coming together, slowly grinding to a halt as Campbell intensified, chattering like a broken typewriter. I could hear the art students around my feet chattering loudly throughout; emphatic snores came from the back. The mood, oddly, was lightened, when two young men, both grossly overgrown and underwashed, came on stage afterwards, to a semi-rapturous welcome. I thought, for a second, that these were the two I had come to see, Kylie Minoise and Nackt Insecten (who together make up KMVSNI). I was somewhat disappointed when they kneeled down on the stage and started playing what looked like a tiny pinball game. (I later found out that, as Usurper - for 'twas them - they do this sort of thing a lot.) They moved on to playing tiny plastic tubes, wiggling them while they blew air at two mikes. I couldn’t take any more – noise would have given me enough flight-or-fight adrenaline to stay awake, but I couldn’t stand two quiet things in a row. I left.
The route back to my digs - I was becoming so used to it I could go without even looking at the map - was, as usual, long and grim. As I came past the Union of Strathclyde University a bunch of kids spilled out onto the pavement, the dreaded post-punkoid indie blaring out of the union door behind them. They looked as if they couldn't be more than 16, 17. One girl, dressed in a gold lamé jacket, oversized shades, skinny jeans that fitted just so, was laughing and shouting (in the Glasgow accent that's so becoming to the fairer sex), clearly drunk. I thought, perhaps, about the gap between myself and them; I despised, them, as always, and envied their innocence (as always), the silence that lets the noise in. And then I didn't envy them. Perhaps my noise, my ill-gained knowledge, despite everything, was worth keeping.

Monday, April 14, 2008

These Fragments I Have Shored...

Also, whilst we're here, a couple of places to point out: the Arika organisation is now putting photos and video from this year's Instal up at their website, along with Matt Hulse's Seenoisehearlight documentary on Instal 2006. Watch out for Ellen Fullman's beautiful Long String Instrument, a CD of which (in collaboration with trombonist Monique Buzzarté) is reviewed by K-Punk in this month's Wire. The Arches' and Arika's resident photographer Bryony McIntyre (who's responsible for the above image) is also filling up her Flickr page with work from the events of this February.

In addition, I've only just discovered the wonders of Touch Radio, a webcast offshoot of one of my favourite record labels: particularly recommended is Chris Watson's beautiful sound documentary The Sound Of Islay.

Furthermore, anyone who knows of musical and artistic goings-on in the Coventry, Birmingham and Warwick areas, I'd love to hear from you. I've been accepted to Warwick's Creative Writing and English Literature course, and will need something to keep me away from the usual rock bottom...

What Was I Saying...? Oh, Yeah...

An interesting post over at Sit Down Man... on the operation of books and bands "as portals". Maybe this phrase alone is what I've been trying to get at all this time; my work is done, and retirement beckons. (Um, not quite.)

Speaking of which, Owen mentions "the inability of the blogger ever to guess why some posts get 0 comments and others get 20 plus...". A question that continues to vex me considerably (hint, hint...)