Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Another journey we went on.

'To see oneself as if from the outside, to see oneself, as it were, in a romance' is how Keiller's Robinson phrases it, as we watch an inflatable Ronald Macdonald buckling up with laughter in the wind. Proverbially, we are living in interesting times, and yet it's as lugubrious an affair as it ever was.
We went east for this one. A long journey on the DLR takes one out through the recognisable urban landscape of zones 1 and 2, the odd forlorn grey church or Passmore Edwards philanthropic effort stands forlornly in amongst quotidian yellow terraces and post war blocks, all of which stare uncomfortably at the glistening Wharf, and the Blair-box post urban dwelling units, all mediocrity and lack of spirit, each made out of a hundred different materials, all of them cheap, all of them nasty.
Eventually though East London becomes something completely different. As the DLR proceeds along its raised path, it moves into the areas south of the Olympic joke; Silvertown, North Woolwich. Space opens out here, there are gaps between objects, factories, wastelands, sewage, the occasional outcrop of Victorian dock-worker housing. This is neither the inner London of familiar neighbourhoods, with their individual characters and attractions, but neither is it the seemingly interminable suburban London of small, identical centres surrounded by seemingly infinite stretches of disconcertingly banal houses. There is no topography out here, it is uncannily flat, and the sky seems larger, more oppressive.

You get out at Woolich Arsenal, make your way up the escalator through a terrible parody of eighties public art that might have once adorned a cocktail bar full of braying brokers. In this case the one who should know better is Michael Craig-Martin.

The first point of call, as it should be, is a caff, in this case a rather cavernous effort on Hare street. Just us at first, followed by a handful of yout' and then an elderly couple. The street itself looks rather upset, empty. We discuss the potentials of genuine Raskolnikoff-style loft-living in a dilapidated building across the street, and the appropriateness of a pound shop with a shrub growing energetically from its sign. After some food, coffee and a charitable donation of superglue from the proprietor, we're off, the route being from Woolwich, along the river to Thamesmead.

Woolwich Arsenal has military pedigree. This now manifests itself as a heritage museum, luxury flats in vintage buildings and strange old men wandering around in fatigues, looking rather camp. Not far away from us, a couple of these old queens were beseeching some young boys to 'MARCH!'. Inside the building they have a section of the Iraqi Supergun.

Gormley is the sum of all the public art ever created. It has something to say about the individual and corporeality, maybe. It's the art equivalent of a half-arsed fireworks display; ooh, aah, that's nice.

A coded message that we were entering sovereign territory. The logo has a sinister simplicity to it, easily carved into flesh with a blade.

There was barely anybody around. The whole day had the feeling of that strange over-provision of space that excites the hauntological imagination so; spaces built for ceremonies that there are no longer enough people to take part in. Rattling around in the old place when the kids have gone. There'll be a lot of this feeling soon.

Where old bikes come to die.

The Keillerian Picturesque.
A flat in the buildings to the right of the photo went on the market a year ago at £285,000. You can get one now for £120,000.

The charming prospect from a Negative-Equity Ghetto. While we passed, there were children playing nearby, the most spirited moment of the day at that point.

More anti-picturesque urbanism. This was parked in front of a square of eco-houses, all wooden framed windows, passive solar gain windows and ventilation towers. It must have taken quite a maneuver to get that into the bush in such an impressive fashion.

Everybody needs something to take the edge off it.

It's hard to quite see how a vicious monster is going to make children more likely to enjoy reading.

This mammoth warehouse was completely empty, not yet finished. And what a time to be finishing off! There's been much nonsensical chat about empty Woolworths and high street space being turned into art-space, but to find the closest equivalent to the to the riverside warehouses or the dead factories of previous generations, surely this is the unfortunate answer - gargantuan blairite distribution sheds?

The plastic sheathe containing this planning notice had filled up with water like a bureaucratic colostomy bag.

What you are now we used to be, what we are now you will be.


Where were you in '92?

We found the last remaining vestige of the snow in Britain.

This is the Ridgeway, a quasi-rural path covering Bazalgette's Southern Outfall Sewer, its blankness punctuated by the ubiquitous surveillance.

A badge of honour, apparently.

Beneath the Ridgeway there is a road whose only users were learner drivers, interminably going back and forth.

The right-to-buy in action.

Oh Corbu!

It seems that Thamesmead is losing walkways...

In fact, Thamesmead appears to be losing rather a lot of itself. This was once the health centre.

Like something from Pynchon, there appeared to be a conspiracy involving the post.

It looks like there's been nothing to report for a long time.

Except that romance can occur anywhere.

Nobody receives any messages here.


At the other side of the lake, horses roam freely.

What's all this about a new way?

We needed to rest, so we popped in for a little bit of milk-plus. Just to take the edge off of things. Although inside the bar certain unfortunate truths about East London became clear; that we were a long way from Kinsgland Road.

Welly welly welly well!

There was a demon spectre at the window here.

Note that on the wall of this community centre, the artist has depicted various different phases in the housing history of the area; The Brutalism, and the two methods in which it has been exorcised; Thatcherite reaction and Blairite apologetic eclecticism.

Nearing the end of the journey, awaiting our train back to Kansas, we were confronted with this poster, two unseemly characters who have been living on the walls for the last year or so, smugly staring at each other in satiated consumptive bliss. Laura depicted them at her last exhibition; they're probably estate agents.

And then, we left, to be injected back into the familiar city.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Deathprod - Imaginary Songs from Tristan da Cunha

One artist who I'm very surprised has never been mentioned in various discussions of hauntology in music is Helge Sten. One time member of Norwegian band Motorpsycho, and currently one quarter of quasi-anonymous prog-improv group Supersilent, between 1991 and 2004 he created a unique body of work under the name Deathprod, alas one of the silliest monikers I've come across.

The music he creats is electroacoustic, slow and minimal. It conjures forth allusions; to expansive skies, to enveloping fogs, to faded old photographs. Sten works with fragments of sound and brings forth the dirt and grain within them, using mechanical means to create an organic sound of disintegration. The music has a character that is at once monumental and totally vulnerable.

A selected output was released in a non-more-black box by Rune Grammofon in 2004, and I remember it being in the top 5 records of the year for '04 in the Wire. I might discuss other aspects of his work at another point, as it's certainly a point of reference for certain E&V musical projects, but at this point I'll focus on one part, the four 'Imaginary Songs from Tristan da Cunha'.

Tristan da Cunha is officially the most remote human settlement in the world. An active volcano situated half-way across the Southern Atlantic, it has been home to a permanent population since the early 19th century, a population which now numbers around 270, all descended from the original seven families. Of course by now they all have satellite TV, but the symbolic value of the remoteness is undeniable - it is said to be possible, once on the island, to be unable to leave again for a year. Deathprod's compositions use this remoteness as a thematic organising principle; the songs are named after different parts of the island; Burntwood, Stony Beach, Hotentott Gulch and Boatharbour Bay, and the mood of desolate isolation is palpable. The compositions themselves have no literal representative quality, however, preferring to focus on isolation as a broader concept.

The mode of creation of the four short compositions (lasting around two minutes each) is remarkable, and an excellent example of a proto-hauntological conception of musical composition. Sten travelled into the woods of Norway to record fellow Rune Grammofon artist Ole Henrik Moe's violin. These recordings were then edited by Sten, who then, and this is the most remarkable aspect, had them transferred onto wax cylinders, the Victorian forerunners of the vinyl record, whose deteriorated sound quality Sten then re-recorded to create the final pieces.

What a number of possible reference points this method provides us with: we can look back to Edison's original wax cylinder recordings, hauntingly distant to us now, or perhaps we can find parallels in Alvin Lucier's I Am Sitting In a Room, with its use of decay as a way of understanding, or characterising a specific space. The Disintegration Loops of William Basinski are a definite point of reference with their use of degradation as a generator of a kind of thematic development, and then of course there is the foregrounded audio decay of The Caretaker or Philip Jeck.

The pieces themselves ache with fragility, as if they were made entirely from ash (with all of the Derridean implications), ready to disintegrate with the slightest touch, yet possessing a clawing intensity. Along with the rest of Deathprod's oeuvre, the Imaginary Songs... deserve to be acknowledged as significant works of Ghost Music.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Songsmith Forever

As the world disintegrates around us, then it's nice to find that there's still some joy in the world.
It's like being at a cousin's wedding, forever...

Right. That's more than enough.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Naughty Shelving

It was with no small pleasure that I slid Schönberg's Structural Functions of Harmony onto the shelf alongside Cage's Silence, especially as they fit beside each other so snugly. We're not anti-Cage by any means, but there's something infinitely cloying about his quasi-naiveté, the innumerable anecdotes about mushrooms, and of course the incessant eulogisation (which is of course ironic, considering that's partly the genesis of his rebellion against Schönberg). I suppose also that one needn't be forced to choose - Schönberg represents the ultimate in mastery, demanding of the complete assimilation of the Classical tradition before smashing it up, and Cage is the epitome of aleatoric submissiveness (although of course this angle drifts a little close to a certain diet-buddhism of which Cage is so guilty).

Anyway, it's worth noting that as far back as the 1890's Mahler, Schönberg's greatest inspiration, specified that a five minute silence be observed between the first two movements of his second symphony. All he needed to come up with that idea was an insatiable thanatological obsession, rather than consultations of an ancient text on divination.

This is Mahler playing his own Das Himmlische Leben, recorded onto piano roll. Lo and behold, it's the source of Susumu Yokota's Card Nation:

ps- The phrase 'insatiable thanatological obsession' has just struck me as a bit stupid. Surely a thanotological obsession is the only obsession guaranteed to not be insatiable?

Sunday, 1 February 2009


1. 3 gentlemen including Steven Dudderidge entered the room and read out basically the same statement with regard to our place. he then gave us two minutes or "our guards will remove you".
2. We decided since none of our demands had even been considered to sit at the back of the lecture hall and non-violently resist.
3. 9 or so uniformed security guards entered the room and proceeded to remove the protesters from the floor with force and then throw them out the building into the cold. I do not think it unreasonable to say that this is likely illegal considering these are not police officers but simply security guards. Several screamed out in pain, belts were ripped etc.
4. Once all the protester had been ejected from the room the University guards etc proceeded to begin to look through the objects that remained in the room. This I believe is also a potential legal issue.

This is the same university that fucked up Hicham Yezza, don't forget.

I've written disparagingly before about the abysmal architectural nonsense being thrown up there, and I really don't think that it's outlandish to suggest that at management level, there's an ideological connection between the commissioning of vacuous sub-blairite cackitecture and their preferred response to a bit of politics emerging in front of them.

UPDATE- There's a seminar on the 'ASPIRE' sculpture tomorrow (3rd Feb). Maybe somebody could go along and tell them what they think?