Monday, 22 December 2008

Friday, 19 December 2008


It might be necessary to remove this post if the situation changes.
In the meantime, this is another 'life imitates art' moment.

ps - note 'Tom Paulin: Haunted by Rumour' in the background.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

mort! mort!

RIP Mr Graham.

ps- that's Alexander Trocchi at the end of the second clip...

Monday, 10 November 2008


I was sorry to miss Owen’s paper at HM the other day, so am unable to tell how it went down. His paper is typically excellent, but we feel compelled however, to if not exactly contradict, at least muddy the waters a little.

I will take Owen’s theses to be thus – that there is currently an architectural moment that can be described as Pseudomodernism, which is identifiable as ‘postmodernism’s incorporation of a Modernist formal language’. This Pseudomodernism is understood to be the architectural manifestation of the current form of neoliberalism. At one extreme of this system is the Iconic building, and Owen states that this has more in common with Googie, a crass American form of architecture than the modernism it would claim to be descended from.

1. Ever decreasing circles.

If we understand Po-mo to be the architectural discourse whose language was found most suitable for expressing neo-liberal messages in the built environment, then it is not too difficult to understand the current form of expression’s turn towards a language drawn from modernism. Owen is right to point out that, just as New Labour Thatcherism speaks a more socially aware public language than the did the original Thatcherites, so the architecture is expressed in less dominating terms. This raises a few questions, however; part of the original reason for the rise of Pomo is the perceived inhumanity of Modernism. An architecture of ‘sign’ was supposed to create a semantic bridge between the public and the institution embodied in the built form, thus lessening the dominating effect. The abstraction of form (despite its self and intra-movement referentiality, Il n'y a pas de hors-texte, after all) was seen as lacking accessibility, and the materialistic expressions were considered inhumane. Never mind that a large part of the reason for Modernism shearing itself of ornament was the complicity with inhumane exploitation that bourgeois, classical architecture represented. Pomo faltered for a few reasons, for example; the hegemonic success of British Hi-Tech, which suited a desire for ‘transparency’ in the world of shady business has been very influential in making a ‘modern’ style appropriate for institutions. As has the reaction to the shoddy quality of a lot of Pomo work. It is not exaggerating to say that most architects are ashamed of that period, and its ‘loadsamoney’ vacuousness. To reinvigorate architecture, a new modernism was sought, shorn of the inhumanity of the monolithic Corbusian legacy (I certainly saw posters in school decrying Corb for ‘crimes against architecture’). For this young architects looked to Aalto, Barragan et al, architects known for their ‘regional’ attempts at the international Modernism, as well as the Team X renegades (at least the more cuddly ones, like Van Eyck and Herzberger). This attitude of Modernism with a human face has coincided perfectly with the ideology of Nu Labour, if perhaps approaching each other along different vectors.

2. the meaninglessness of architecture

Unfortunately, it is not as if all the Pomo architects were born in the mid 70’s and died in 1997. Owen points out Farrell as an example, but the sorry fact is that an ideologically consistent architectural practice is an extreme rarity. Some of the original British Pomo was brought over from the U.S, in the form of one time arch modernists like SOM (Unilever Building?) or KPF. Most architects above a certain age have a few pedimented skeletons in their closet, and if you look a little further back, most of the Brutalism in the UK that Owen might imbue with transformative potential was designed by architects who then happily switched to Pomo, and then more than happily switched to pseudo-modern, decorating the outside of the office blocks with barcode facades and 3m high lettering that they saw in a copy of BD focussing on the latest in Dutch.
Both British Hi-Tech and Decon are both styles that found themselves in vogue, after lean periods. The French gamble on Rogers & Piano led to Lloyds, the most avant-garde building in Britain containing one of the most reactionary typologies. The large success of Gehry has led to more intellectual ‘decon’ architects being accepted, but only after their florid conceptualising is dropped as so much baggage, merely useful for gaining academic promotions and book publishing deals.

3. Googie: the architectural insult.

I am still unconvinced that Googie is the answer to Iconic architecture. Yes, of course it allows us to see just how far Iconic architecture is from having any high-minded or moral quality when it unwittingly shares the logic of outré form=logo with Californian pap, but this is not the whole story. Googie seems to me to be part of the ‘outsider architect’ tradition, from FLW and Bruce Goff in the US, individualists who have a particularly ‘American’ take on praxis, who have affinities with turn of the twentieth century expressionism – Gaudi, Mackintosh, Guimard, etc… Perhaps this works, except the particular thing about the current period is how this individualism can be so very homogenous. Altogether now – “We are all different!!!”

4. Victoriana

If I can make a couple of points regarding the revenge of Victorianism; let us not forget the ideological battles of eclecticism. Look at the Houses of Parliament – a classical building dressed in gothic garb. What about the museums of Albertopolis? The train stations up and down the UK (on which more in a second)? A century and a half ago the same problem existed; architecture was semantically drained. A plethora of approaches could be taken, and none would express a different code (despite what Pugin would say). Perhaps this is a potential that Modernism had - to set up a language of authentic communication, a powerful yet vulnerable idea. It was a project of Thatcherism to make sure that Modernist architecture became coded in the correct way – as cold, brutal, unforgiving, monstrous, carbuncular etc… a project which, it has to be said, was almost entirely successful. Nu-Labour arrives, and instead of changing the paradigm, it merely expresses it with smiles and caring rhetoric. Cameron is soon to arrive, and with him a return of philanthropy and 'giving something back' from what has been cruelly taken.

5. Brunelesque-y

One of the most exciting discoveries in my own work on Victorian architecture was just how much and in what way the iron and glass developments have been coded. Ever since 1851, the Crystal Palace has been understood generally as a remarkable achievement of engineering, and also the origin of the ‘Plan Libre’. These two points are correct, but it is far more complex. This purely material point of view is often accompanied by a qualification about the over-celebration of empire, and how this is BAD, but the cultural consideration usually doesn’t go much further. However, from a viewpoint at the beginning of the 1900’s, the train stations of the previous 50 years would be understood as marvels of science and ingenuity, although requiring a classical disguise to hide their shed-ness, but the Crystal Palace typology would be looked at as glorious follies: for every glasshouse or people’s palace that survives now, there were countless more that opened and closed dejectedly, the optimism of their birth unmatched by the income they generated. As Benjamin said; ‘The light that fell from above, through the panes between the iron supports, was dirty and sad’. This legacy of failure and melancholy, admittedly marginal, has disappeared in favour of an inherited rhetoric of structural progress; Brunel is the figure that most haunts British Hi-Tech, more than any other.

This has been a long way of coming round to the point that one pernicious idea in architecture has been the engineer’s interpretation of Modernism; a new technology must be used, because, well, it’s a new technology. The Decon crowd may have started plying their trade pre-computer, but the advance of computer technology has been one of the main factors in the acceptance of ‘Iconic’ architecture. Eisenman started reading Deleuze when computer-literate students entered his office; the vanguardism of the US scene, developing digital skills and tools led to the short lived late ‘90s ‘Blob’ phase of architecture, where hi-tech digital tools were coupled with nomadic / folded rhetoric to postulate a semi-virtual hybrid form of future information womb-space. The truth of an idea, though, is what happens when idiots start using it. Greg Lynn is not the truth of digital design, Ken Shuttleworth is. Right now we have a great many intelligent people developing ways to remove the architect from the design process. This may seem, in the academic environment, to provide myriad possibilities for opening up the discourse of architecture, reinvigorating the field of potentialities, but if past form is anything to go by, all the parametric revolution will give us are cheaper, quicker buildings that signify even less.
This, I think, is the hauntological problem of architecture.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Trio x 3 - New Jazz Meeting

On the subject of fusion, there's another release we have that is far more successful. The 'New Jazz Meeting', as it is called, represents a fantastic synthesis of disparate elements from a number of fields into a remarkably cohesive artistic statement.

Involved in the project are, as the name suggests, three trios. Representing the field of Improv, there is the late Steve Lacy, Peter Herbert and Wolfgang Reisinger. The second trio are 'New Musicians', Marcus Weiss, Phillipe Racine, and Paulo Alvares, and the third trio are electricians; Philip Jeck the arch-hauntologist, Bernard Lang, and Christof Kurzmann the E.A.I. maestro and member of The Magic I.D.

The foundation of the project is a composition by Lang, entitled Differenz/Wiederholung 1.2, which is performed 'straight' as part of the release. This, as its title suggests, is directly inspired by reading Deleuze. The Deleuzian-generated artwork is something we have had serious problems with, due to our exposure to Architecture's plundering of Capitalism and Schizophrenia over the last few years. Then again, Deleuze and Guattari do describe their work as a toolbox, to be utilised as one sees fit. Of course, this is an issue of fidelity - is it a faithful response to D&G when it is war-mongering, as in the IDF, or right-wing quasi-intellectual capital, as in architecture? Can we even describe Hardt & Negri as being faithful to Deleuze? We would suggest not, but that is a very large question in itself. On the whole, though, we are wary when an artist follows a literal approach to philosophy, the worst case we know of being the architectural response to The Fold. Lang's composition veers towards this approach, although in a far more humble manner than the examples above. Reading Difference and Repetition encouraged Lang "to break out of my former methods and plunge into the investigation of repetition, and the exploration of loops." This is not a statement that his work embodies the concepts, merely that he was suitably inspired by them to work forwards (although his latest works are named 'Monadologie', which suggests his forward motion may not be so forward as one might think). The composition itself is exciting and of course repetitious, properly addressing the issue of looping that 'New Music' often has trouble with. By breaking up fragments of a previous piece, we get to experience, in the context of acoustic performance, the effects that normally we expect from electronic or minimal music, namely patterns, superimpositions and syncopations. This combines with a gestural performance style to create a piece that swiftly shifts in dynamic from near-groove to all out chaos, all the while with a hypnotic phase-patterned quality.

Contra to usual improvisation practice, the musicians were all allowed to prepare extensively for their meeting. The laptop artists were given a previous recording of D/W 1.2 to experiment and perform with, and Jeck had dubplates of the piece made for his old turntables. The New Musicians had to perform the piece at the concerts, and the improvisers were given the opportunity to study it. This serious preparation allows the work as a whole to complete itself, to create a closed space of reference where everything is related inwards to another part of the experiment, without reducing the number of sonic potentialities given by the material. In doing so, deficiencies or restrictions normally experienced by each musical typology are overcome, or at least re-formulated, allowing for a rich and rewarding programme of experimental electroacoustic improvisation.

Over the generous (2+ hour) recording, there are numerous combinations of the artists, ranging from solo efforts from Kurzmann and Jeck, through duos, trios and quartets, and one track featuring all nine of the artists together. As mentioned before, the textures range from subtle overlappings of gesture to high powered blow-outs, without ever descending into macho posturing. Particular highlights are the duet of Jeck and Lacy, a highly stimulating clash of twisted haunto-funk and searching soprano saxophone, another example of that small genre of successful improvised communication between acoustic and electronic musicians. The track where Jeck goes up against the improvisors trio is exceptional, slowly rising into an aggressive crescendo of noise, the unhinged drums working surprisingly well against the turntables' locked grooves. Christoph Kurzmann is also excellent in his solo slot, again managing to be remarkably individual with his delicate palette of high pitched tones and clicking loops, and the nonet is excellent, everyone making adequate space for each other, yet still working powerfully with the source text.

Overall, the best aspects of this recording are the myriad intelligent blurrings that occur throughout. Each musician (at least the ones that we know well) is recognisably themself, yet they are also supple and submissive towards the overall structure of the piece. As an example of complex and structured improvised music, with a definite collective identity and intellectual direction, there is little I know that has surpassed it.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Santana / McLaughlin - Love Devotion Surrender

We recently had occasion to relocate ourselves, and thus also our possessions, which involved taking down and reassembling our music collection. It must be admitted that this includes some rather strange items, some of which we feel are worth opining on.

For some reason or other, we own quite a few early fusion records, most of which feature the guitar, or sometimes plenty of them. This is obviously related to the rise of rock music in the public esteem. Whereas bebop in the forties had evolved as the experimental fringe of the popular music of the time, by the late sixties a gulf had opened up in listening tastes, where even the most obnoxious reactionary jazz was now a minority taste. The democratising influence of Pop music, long before punk, had made of jazz a music conspicuous for its instrumental and intellectual demands. Jazz musicians, most conspicuously Miles Davis, were jealous and wanted in. Electrifying their instruments, and augmenting their groups to be more akin to hard rock they looked to capture some of the energy, kudos and commercial appeal of the new music.

It worked the other way round though; pop musicians with a particular interest in virtuosity or improvisation wanted some of the intellectual capital that jazz music had. They desired the greater freedom of improvisation that jazz promised, they wanted to play more complex and satisfying music, they wanted to be taken seriously. Jimi Hendrix was due to collaborate with Davis around the time that he died, and there are numerous other movements in that particular direction.

The album Love Devotion Surrender is an example of this cross fertilisation, and is also perhaps the most utterly preposterous record I possess. A collaboration between 'Mahavishnu' John McLaughlin, who was there at the accursed birth of the fusion monster, playing on 'In A Silent Way' and with Tony Williams' Lifetime, and 'Devadip' (yes, that's right) Carlos Santana, who has been eating out on just one good record since 1970. At this point they were both under the sway of Guru Sri Chinmoy, one of those charming chaps who earn money out of warm and fuzzy world-peace platitudes. Essentially the album is Santana guesting as part of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the big bad fusion daddies that we mentioned previously, although Larry Young and one or two of Santana's friends are also there.

The album is an early example of a genre that has become bloated and saggy with age and cliche, the John Coltrane tribute album. Even worse, this is a Love Supreme tribute album. Even worse, this goes all the way; from the very moment that the album begins you are assaulted with the sound of six musicians simultaneously practicing their scales at hideous volume, a direct lift from the late '60s collective horn improv method, Meditations or Ascension. Once it calms down somewhat, the rim-shots from the drums and the unmistakeable bassline let one know that this is a cover, a mimicking of the first section of Love Supreme. A little crass, you might say, taking Coltrane's 'It takes six hours of practice and at least as much religious study just to get me through one day without smack' epic confessional and treating it as a standard a la All the Things You Are. but then, subtlety is not this album's strongpoint, especially when the boys start half-heartedly chanting a few minutes into their machine gun guitar jam.

Naima comes next, a much more sedate achievement, but Santana seems so spiritually energised that he displays an interesting and irritating approach to long notes - just spewing them out as demisemiquavers, a habit that always seems to always trouble fusion guitarists when they pick up an acoustic. We've yet to hear somebody sing through a field of rolled 'r's, we don't see why guitarists need to play like that.

Track three; 'The Life Divine' is truly, truly mad. After a shimmering organ introduction Billy Cobham batters the shit out of his drum-kit, setting up a high tempo assault of percussion, onto which is laid a strangely charming descending minor chord sequence. This odd juxtaposition of brutality and prettiness then has the utter life soloed out of it by the two guitarists, all the while accompanied by hilariously unsubtle chanted couplets such as "the life divine... will always shine". Santana serves us with his offering first, which is gently melodic, interspersed with the usual screeching imitations of the cries of saxophones. It is worthwhile noting that Santana never leaves the home key - nearly all of his solo is built from the good old dorian scale, which contrasts with McLaughlin's more scholarly interpretation of the Coltrane ethos, reflecting their respective backgrounds in Rock and Jazz. Long, long lines predominate, no melody needs to be delineated by breaths, and so the solos go on, and on, and on, until eventually the song just fades away, as if they all just soloed on long into the night...

Oh well, we suppose that there was a market for this stuff at the time, and that it is born out of a sincere attempt to communicate some kind of spiritual message about love, yeah? but this genre gives rise to a terribly skewed notion of what virtuosity is and what it is for, one that has had repercussions in popular music to this day, resulting in the truism of 'this is why punk happened'. It is strange; the late '60s produced such fantastic jazz, from the chamber sophistication of the Davis Quintet, to the masterful madness of late Coltrane, to the intellectual and political work of his proteges, like Archie Shepp or Marion Brown, and all the other exciting music, yet it's strange that the intentions of the mainstream of this music could deteriorate so quickly, resulting in such utter pap as was generated over the next decade. And where the '60s had the marvelous record designs of Blue Note, Impulse! and other such labels,in the '70s the aesthetic degenerated, as well as the clothes, beards, sunglasses etc... It seems that these jazz musicians failed to realise that the trousers worn were as much a part of the success of a pop act as the sounds that were made, and that this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Told you so...

How mainstream are our views?

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Last Exit / Sonny Sharrock

Last Exit are the truth of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

I wonder if we get any points for noticing that DJ Shadow sampled Sonny Sharrock's '27th Day', from 'Monkey-Pockie-Boo' on the track 'Napalm Brain/Scatter Brain'?
Thought not.

p.s.- this video seems to get very Christian Marclay-y at the very end.

Ooh, it's like hearing a ghost!

Yet another popular culture reference to 'voices from beyond the grave' here, which we've written about before, specifically;
Last year the BBC broadcast a documentary entitled ‘How The Edwardians Spoke.’ It described how recordings of the speech of British POWs made by the German army during the First World War had recently been uncovered and it featured an expert in accents analysing the recordings and commenting upon the evolution of English dialects from that time till now. The highlight of that programme, much like what we see now, was the tracking down of the families of the men recorded and the playing of the recordings to them. Despite the fact that many of the men were not long dead and despite the families having many photographs of them, even as young men, listening to the recordings invariably left the families in tears, remarking that “It’s like he’s in the room!” The mechanical reason for this over-identification with the voice is, in my view, simple. When we look at a photograph there is a cognitive jump we have to make in order to identify the small two-dimensional image with the flesh and blood that it represents. On the other hand, a sound recording is both temporal and actual; temporal as it moves, it is encountered within the same duration of time as the person who generated it and actual because, disregarding the artefacts of the recording process, the replayed voice is in terms of oscillations in air pressure identical to its original utterance, hence the family’s retort “It’s like hearing a ghost!”.
The immaterial qualities of sound, the disembodied voice, its inherent repetition, its almost perfect reproducibility and its embodiment of the minimal gap between presence and absence, they reveal, accentuate, embody the truth of a certain aspect of being, namely, the not-here in the here.

We've been away a while. More to follow.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Chopin, Prelude No.20 in C minor, op.28

Fiddling while Rome burns, here's another arrangement, far more reasonable in terms of difficulty. The task of arranging this is fairly simple, the piece is built up of very 'guitar-ish' chords, lots of fourths and fifths, nothing that translates into bastard stretches.

What we admire most about this piece is its form. It has an ABB structure, but in a reversal of the typical dynamic, it starts loud and bombastic, before diminishing to end on a simple whisper, unable to maintain the grandeur of the opening. In that sense it feels rather more realistic than your usual musical fare.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Friday, 17 October 2008

Chopin - Etude m-f no.2

We're sorry for the silence recently, this has been for the usual real world reasons.
In the meantime, last night we arranged Chopin's dainty little piano etude for the guitar. If you want a better copy of it (including tablature for fingerings, etc...) just ask and we'll email you a pdf. It is rather difficult though...

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Miniature I

I know you're supposed to have footage of yourself in your bedroom when you do this, but sod off... This is a thematic improvisation from a few weeks ago.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Dr. Lacan's Being of Shame (II)

Well, what I meant to say, is...

Posted below we a have a homophonic french pun on ontologie, about 20 odd years prior to the popular one that we've all been discussing to the point of exhaustion. This is only really significant as a curio, but it does open out into issues with Lacan that I have...

What is it exactly that Lacan did? It is facile to state that Lacan analysed those who attended his seminaire or who read his écrits, but what he certainly was not doing was teaching them. An object like Dylan Evans' Lacanian Dictionary is not necessarily oxymoronic, but utterly misguided, for to treat Lacanian Psychoanalysis as if it was a curriculum, with credits that can be earned by memorising information is surely so far from the point as to be obscene. But then, the opposite is not the case, as Lacan wasn't merely sharpening the minds of his audience with difficulty for difficulty's sake. His work is not an example of itself, an argument I've sometimes resorted to when trying to explain his (and Derrida's) worth to laypeople (as contrasted with inept autodidacts like myself), but then of course, everyones an autodidact when it comes to Lacan.

The seminars I quoted from below are the most interesting Lacanian work I've read, with the diagrams of the four discourses, Master's, Analyst's, Hysteric's and then also the discourse of the University, the discussion of which makes for some of the most illuminating of Lacan's texts. He seems to have really believed that analysis provided something really other to the different discourses, which he talks of in terms of desire, but can also be thought of as power structures. Against the revolutionaries and agitators of his time, who it would seem were, in Lacan's eyes, accepting all to readily an already existing framework of power and knowledge, he insisted that psychoanalysis provided a glimpse of something truly radical. But then what would the glimpse be of, precisely? Perhaps it has something to do with analysis itself, not necessarily of the psyche. Uncovering a blind, godless knowledge known as science, that nevertheless cannot function without a leap of faith (and what is Meillassoux but the attempted renunciation of said faith in materialism?), Lacan sees knowledge as in the service of the University, in fact, as the University's desire, endlessly reproducing this knowledge and the mastery that is its truth.

But then, Lacan is strangely static and dynamic at the same time. If his idea of analysis as radicality, as the only radicality, holds, then it is obvious that radicality, in this system, can only ever be marginal, peripheral, and in a preemptive echo of bad deconstruction; always already at work. But the possibility of analysis emerges from a contingent historical process, the structures of intersubjectivity that do not exist for most animals, and did not exist for us in the same way until recently, in fact, may not even exist in the same way now. For does the University as we know it still conform to the University that Lacan speaks of (A University that was exemplary of the University discourse)? I'm not sure. But I wager that in Lacan one can find a lot that is fundamental to the structures of thinking that is perhaps not particularly useful as medicinal doctrine (the cry of 'where are his case studies?' - Lacan is not medicine, but neither is it homeopathy), or even education, but that helps to illuminate the desires behind thinking, understood as a practice.

Ubuweb have a fascinating collection of recordings of Lacan's Seminars. I had never really understood exactly how they were delivered- slowly, deliberately, and more than a little pompously.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Dr. Lacan's Being of Shame

It does have to be said that it is unusual to die of shame.

This visiting card never arrives at the right destination, the reason being that for it to bear the address of death, the card has to be torn up. “It’s a shame [une honte],” as they say, which should produce a (h)ontology [hontologie] spelled properly at last.

Being ashamed of not dying from this would perhaps introduce another tone to it, that with which the real is concerned. I said the real and not the truth for, as I already explained to you last time, it’s a temptation to suck the milk of truth, but it’s toxic. It will put you to sleep, and that’s all that’s expected of you.

for if you want your remarks to be subversive, you must take great care that they don’t get too bogged down on the path to truth.

The S1, the master signifier which holds the secret to knowledge in the university situation, is very tempting to stick to. You remain caught up in it.

Today I have brought you the dimension of shame. It is not a comfortable thing to put forward. It is not one of the easiest things to speak about. This is perhaps what it really is, the hole from which the master signifier arises. If it were, it might perhaps not be useless for measuring how close one has to get to it if one wants to have anything to do with the subversion, or even just the rotation, of the master’s discourse.

Lacan's Seminars, Book XVII, 17th June 1970

Monday, 22 September 2008

Wandering the Wharf

In honour of the current immaterial turmoil, we went a-wandering, looking for material evidence. We were accompanied by Lady Vergeht and the textual ghost of a certain Mr. Pevsner. Our journey began on the new 135 bus route, which links Crossharbour and Old Street, and conveniently passes E&V HQ (oh, where you three years ago, oh great five minute shordeditch-doorstep link?).

The square in which this fellow sits was a good four degrees colder than its surroundings; perhaps his mood had affected the microclimate. Below his face there runs a channel, totally dry upon our visit. It is conceivable that he has cried himself out. (Also note the Neo-Classicism, the defining cultural motif of the entire area).

Day in, day out, he stares at this glass wall, until either it or he goes.

This chap has been trapped in a forcefield created by the overwhelming symmetry of the Beaux-Arts planning of the area. SOM employ corporate magicians to generate conservative ley-lines.

This totem is where the dark energy of the area emanates from. The use of stainless steel cladding is supposed to be a nod to British Hi-Tech, despite the crassness of the Pomo form. Note Pelli's buildings for the WTC in New York. It must be said that perhaps it was the best decision - pink marble would have been a sickening sight, almost too much to take. This is also, of course, Robinson's memorial to Rimbaud.

Lynn Chadwick contradicted our sexual assumptions, by revealing himself to have been a man. His figures refuse to face either the totem, or the vacuous Louis Sullivan pastiches in the background.

This abandoned cafe gave a tantalising suggestion of what may one day become of the wharf, inshallah.

The end of history.

This is the infamous Slug & Lettuce, home to braying hordes every Friday evening, recently scene of much deserved consternation, though probably not nearly enough revelation.

The only thing even remotely interesting about this sculpture is its asymmetry and off-axis positioning. It seems to act as a transgressive supplement, the breaking of the rule that allows the rule to function ever more efficiently. Otherwise it is another boring example of both a maker of small objects making a large small object, and the mistaken conflation of structural daring with sculptural content.

Outside the Foster & Partner's HSBC building, a piece of architecture remarkable in its seemingly infinite dullness, a pair of lions sit, identical to those that guard the building's Hong Kong counterpart. This one is off limits - perhaps it has sensed weakness amongst the passing bankers and has made moves to pick them off? Or maybe a despairing broker tried to feed themselves to it?

Another Neo-Classical object, this centaur wonders why it was considered witty to create him without arms, as if they had fallen off in a non-existent period following antiquity, when he was made of marble.

25 Bank street, until last week home of Lehman Brothers, sat silently and opaquely in the cold sun. There were no stains on the ground, no signs of violence. The Barcelona chairs still sat in the lobby, waiting...

And we waited a while too, but nobody jumped (it was the weekend, after all).

At first glance we thought this represented a moebius band, but it has two 'faces'. The dedication plaque in the centre reads; "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened."

On the 9th of February, 1996 the IRA exploded a bomb at this exact location, killing two newsagents, who had not been evacuated in time, and causing £85 million worth of damage.

The following building will be explained in the words of its architect; John Outram.

My proposal is that Architecture can not be derived from 'dwelling' in any banal, roses-round-the-door, 'domestic' sense. To make such a reduction is a mark of what J.P.Sartre characterised as "l'homme, moyen, sensuel". Architecture is the diametric opposite of such well-upholstered, 19C, flaccidities. It is, instead, the making ourselves 'at-home' in the Kosmos. Architecture, and its only 'serious' purpose on a scale larger than the single project, is to build a general, large and civic lifespace that sets us, paltry humans, 'comfortably' situated within the Cosmos.

The source of the 'river of time and space' rises in its characteristic icon of a cave set within two mountains. This is the circular fan situated between two halves of the pediment - that have been deliberately split to register their division. From here the river flows downwards -registered by the blue (watery) bricks split by strips of lighter yellow. This river flows between the giant trees of the forest (nave) embodied by the main capitals with their foliate capitals. The forest, in its turn, is flanked by the enclosing 'battered' walls of sedimented brick which embody the 'mountains' that finally define the Vallery of Community, that is the ultimate spatial figure of the Architectural medium - equivalent to the dominating Vitruvian function of 'Commoditas'.

Having 'tumbled' down its 'valley' the 'river of space' passes under the 'gateway' to the Valley - embodied by the exaggerated white masonry surrounding the dark green entrance door. From there it flows outwards, towards the gate to Stewart Street, or the river Thames on the side of the 'levee'. It was not practical to inscribe the figure of the 'delta' which lies outside the 'gateway-door into the building'. Nor could either the street, or the River, be inscribed with the figure of infinity with which one may recall their 'bounding' identity as the 'death of the valley of community' by dispersion into the Ocean

We confined our work on the Vitruvian dimension of 'Venustas' - or the 'conceptual environment', on the outside. Even so, when the structure, whose iconography we have so engineered, is merely a large shed whose sole physical purpose is to pump dirty water from storm overflow sewers back up into the river Thames. One may well ask "What, then, is the legitimacy of our 'display'?

A simple answer, not entirely without weight in a 'free country' is that Ted Hollamby, Chief Architect-Planner of the LDDC, sole authority at that early time of its development, wanted it. Prime Minister Thatcher, with her drive to suppress all forms of 'government' decreed that the LDDC would only build infrastructures - roads, sewers and so on. It would not be allowed to 'express' its suspect 'liberal' and by implication Socialistic, culture by building anything above ground. The Isle of Dogs would be a monument to the ethic of 'commercialisation'. The three Pumping Stations were Ted Hollamby's only chance to introduce some 'quality'to the gruesome diet of British Developer's Drivel that marked the early years of Docklands.

There are still hints of a past here, it pays to leave artifacts of previous modes of production, to leave material relics.

We quenched our thirsts in a pub that has gigantic yellow skylons sticking from its roof. It was populated by a strange mix of local red-faced eastenders and two meter tall russian girls who had arrived by speedboat.

An incitement to occupy.

And finally, the walk ended at Robin Hood Gardens, looking strangely dignified in the setting sun.

The estate suffers most from its location. It is flanked to the east, south and west by busy roads, and thus has been hidden behind sound barriers that remind one of Virilio's bunker. But whereas a church has an eschatological link to military outposts, a home doesn't wish to speak 'war'.

As we passed, we surmised that there was a hybrid game of football/tennis going on in the sunken games pit, judging from the balls that flew above the parapet. Perhaps it was a spontaneous counter-unique sport to Eton fives?

The visual language of RHG is interesting, for representing a definite attempt to speak Modernism with a post-Corbusian dialect. The five points do not exist here, and there are no formal references to purism. Whereas most 'Brutalism' speaks fluent Corbu, from bullhorn profiles to shallow concrete vaults to ondulatoires and so on, we have here something not more, nor less ordered, but differently organised.

An atlas ought to be compiled of all the estate maps of London.

The buildings seemed casually indifferent to their uncertain fate.

A typical conversation runs as follows:

A: Modern Architecture is ugly.
B: Why is Modern Architecture ugly?
A: Because concrete is a horrible material.
B: Why is concrete a horrible material?
A: Because it is grey.
B: (Kills self).

And then home, as the sun finally set on what may well have been the last day of the 'summer'.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


Did I just hear George Osborne correctly on Newsnight?

Paxman: When you see institutions short-selling stocks, and thereby aggravating the crisis, what do you feel?

Osborne: Well look, no one takes pleasure from people making money out of the misery of others, but that is a function of capitalist markets.

UPDATE - After consulting BBC iPlayer, I can confirm that the above is verbatim.

UPDATE - Someone has linked to this page, saying the following:

The only problem is that they asked George Osborne to comment, and he said:

"Well look, no one takes pleasure from people making money out of the misery of others, but that is a function of capitalist markets."

Bloody marvelous. Let’s pour bullshit on the mushrooms and encourage them to grow.

The above quote is a gem for anyone wanting to find something to confirm their existing beliefs. I’m not sure what could have possibly been worse. How about “It’s good that babies will starve, because there is no such thing as society”?

Now, it's obvious that Osborne 'mis-spoke', which is why I did him the honour of transcribing his words exactly. But later in this chap's post he describes an exchange between Paxman and Naomi Klein:

Although to cheer us all up, they then got Naomi Klein on. She’s always good for a laugh, is Naomi. After vaguely beating about the bush for a few questions, Paxman lost his patience and asked her, “You sit there, all dolled up in your fancy suit that you bought in a shop, which is capitalist. So what do you want to see put in place of Capitalism?”

Paxman's actual words were:

"Naomi Klein, sure, you speak with all the authority and privilege of a child of a capit.. successful capitalist society. What do you want as an alternative?"

So where did that bit about the fancy suit come from???

Monday, 15 September 2008

Oh, you poor lambs!

Go here, and just try to feel sympathetic.

Some choice morsels:
"It is terrible. Death. It's like a massive earthquake," she said.

"I feel sorry for the managing directors - they were paid about 50% of their bonus in stock, that's been written off."

As some stood around contemplating their fate, huddled in circles or with their mobile phone or BlackBerry glued to their ear, most remained tight-lipped and made a quick exit.

Now, when we can no longer afford to buy any food, and when we can't leave the house because of fascist gangs roaming the streets etc etc, we'll remember to feel sorry for the well meaning people who got us into this mess. It was an accident!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

shameless self promotion

The website is beginning to take shape, there are some explanation-less bits of architecture on there, if you happen to enjoy looking at meaningless bits of digital imagery.

If you were to click on this link however, then you would find that I've been magnanimous enough to offer a selection of 'vignettes' for free download. They are some guitar & electronics ditties that were recorded and mangled in late 2006, when it was probably raining. Please help yourself, and perhaps even enjoy.

Reading list...

I haven't read this yet, but I get the impression that it's probably something I won't be able to find a single fault in. Forget anti-capitalism, we need anti-natalism...
Most people believe that they were either benefited or at least not harmed by being brought into existence. Thus, if they ever do reflect on whether they should bring others into existence---rather than having children without even thinking about whether they should---they presume that they do them no harm. Better Never to Have Been challenges these assumptions. David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence. Drawing on the relevant psychological literature, the author shows that there are a number of well-documented features of human psychology that explain why people systematically overestimate the quality of their lives and why they are thus resistant to the suggestion that they were seriously harmed by being brought into existence. The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view---that it is always wrong to have children---and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a 'pro-death' view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.

The only problem with the LHC is that it's only a 1 in 5 million chance...

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Hands Reunited

The one-handed music of Godowsky has its precedents too, and it's only appropriate that it would have been another of the 'composer-pianists', Alkan, who got in there first (there are examples by Czerny prior to Alkan, apparently, but his studies don't really count). His grand etudes, op.76, feature two studies, one for each of the hands on its own, followed by a study for both hands in single note unison. These are pretty damn rare, recorded only a handful of times (including Hamelin, of course), but there's a sparkling little connection that is worth noting. The Grande Etudes were written by Alkan between 1838 and 1840, which coincide with the writing of (Alkan's good friend) Chopin's 2nd sonata, which features a finale written in, of course, single note unison. It's fair to say that they would have known what each other was up to.

This is Rachmaninoff playing the Chopin finale.

And here is a strangely frat-boy rendition of the Alkan, with a false start. (skip to 1:27 to avoid)

Besides the similarities, the Chopin is far more accomplished, as you'd imagine, with a less anchored tonality and a greater dynamic range and scope for rubato, but the Alkan is definitely worth a listen, diabolical and olympian at the same time.