Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Deeper into the archive

Digitized slide film photos of a performance in Dunlaoghaire School of Art & Design (DLSAD, now IADT) courtyard, 12.5.86, with fellow students, Ian Conroy, Sean Kelleghan and Ken Hardy. A somewhat shambolic affair despite a few rehearsals of a sort in the basement of the derelict remains of the yet-to-be-developed 'old building' as we used to call it (a former training centre for Christian Novitiates). Rain came down at one point but didn't didn't stop play. There is a recording but it's not great quality due to wind and rain on the mic, and not particularly great playing as I remember it.

Photos by Sheila Gorman

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Disinterred from the deep vaults

Rooting around the archive recently and gave this a spin for the first time in a very long time and was pleasantly surprised.. decent quality, and the playing ain't 'alf bad either. Improvised performance for my DLSAD (IADT) graduate show opening in 1987 with local friend and bass player Michael Mullen (who went on to play with Dublin bands Tension and Wheel). I made these contraptions with salvaged metals that were crudely welded together. They use a mixture of hubcaps and other small metals, flat steel, oil drums, car suspension springs and beer barrels which have been sliced in half and hung from a scaffold (heard at end of performance). These were purloined under cover of darkness from a nearby watering hole and set to the next day with an angle grinder. I still have them. I had seen the Bow Gamelan perform with Bob Cobbing at the ICA in London the previous summer and was completely fired up on my return and wanted to explore metals in a similar manner. I was also taking a leaf or two out of the work of Test Dept., Einsturzende Neubauten, Tools You Can Trust and z'ev, whose music I found exciting and inspiring.

Photos by Sheila Gorman

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Another new album

My latest album Unsound Fictions, has just been released. It is available via Bandcamp in digital form, and in a very limited artist's physical edition of 25 only, with unique cover and on-body artwork.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Spectral Vectors

Chelsea Wharf, August 1986

Rainham Marshes, April 2017

Spectral Vectors was created for Come Hell Or High Water, a monthly series of live events on the Thames foreshore at Poplar, organised by Anne Bean, Hayley Newman, Harriet Latham and others. It takes as its starting point the idea of ghosts of the Thames; river revenants in the form of lost sounds of previous times from the river's busier industrial past, such as ship's horns, tugboat horns, foghorns and other industrial sounds.

Expanding on this theme, the idea of things lost/buried/hidden/removed came to mind. Documentary radio footage relating to sunken unexploded WWII ordnance and tragic drowning was combined with recent field recordings of mine made with contact mics attached to cabling beneath Millenium Bridge at St. Paul's, amplifying sounds hidden to the naked ear, when the bridge is animated by foot traffic, wind coursing through it and sun warming it.

Hydrophone recordings also capture hidden sounds – various vessels passing, sounding thin and insubstantial as wind-up bath toys from a submarine perspective. Delving deeper, recordings made inside Greenwich foot tunnel feature; resonant metallic sounds buried beneath the river itself echo along the tunnel's length.

Municipal greed and acts of resistance also form part of the documentary material with Bob Hoskins enlightening Barry Norman in 1982 about various development scams along the river, Malcolm MacLaren talking about the Sex Pistols' 1977 riverboat gig, and riverboat men going on strike. This footage is animated by the addition of lost ship's horns, populating the river with a lively, boisterous presence.

My first forays into field recording began whilst on summer work in the 1980s, when I bought a secondhand recording walkman, and my first recordings were made on the Thames at Vauxhall, capturing, amongst many things on a busy summer river, the sound of a speedboat whizzing past, dopplering downriver. This can be heard later in the piece, just after Hoskins says, “...regenerating the river.. bringing it back to life..making it a playground for the wealthy.”

The piece ends with recordings I made on a visit to Rainham Marshes in Essex in 2017, as the pace slows down and distant perspectives come into view. Sounds from the far shore can be heard, lending a widescreen feel, with the low hum of industrial barges drifting languidly past. Larks enter the frame, endlessly improvising metres above me as I sit on landfill overlooking the Thames estuary, while pigeons flap busily around the concrete barges, sounding like distant handclaps.

These concrete barges were the site of a particularly memorable TV appearance by Bow Gamelan (on Channel 4's Alter Image in 1986), playing on and in the barges and in advancing tides (up to their necks at one point). Invoking the spirits of Paul Burwell and z'ev, whose ashes are scattered in the Thames, I improvised on a large cylindrical metal item on site near the barges. An extract from this enters low in the mix, panning back and forth across the stereo field, before quietly exiting.

The main intention of my trip to the barges was to record myself improvising inside them. Traveling out from Battersea, I timed my visit at low tide. Despite this however, the exposed ground around the barges was way too treacherous to negotiate; I would've sunk up to my knees in squelchy sand. So near and yet so far...

The piece opens with a pitch-shifted combination of older ship's horns and foghorns, which hove into view, as though summoned from the depths. These reappear to close out the piece, very low in the mix, as though already departing and quite distant; sinking back into the depths.

In memoriam:

Paul Burwell 1949 – 2007

z'ev 1951 – 2017

Many thanks to Ian Rawes for directing me towards freely available and immensely valuable BBC archive recordings.

The piece is freely downloadable for transfer to other listening media.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Shining (1980)

It'd been quite a while since I'd seen The Shining on the big screen, so I went to a show in The Lighthouse last Halloween, and was surprised to find that they were showing the longer version (about a half hour longer than the 'European' version). It's also a restored version, and it does look and sound really fresh.

With one or two exceptions, I'm really not sure what the longer edit brings. It throws the pacing later on when things are really kicking off, the rhythm falters, I found. The scene with Wendy thinking aloud about how to sort getting the Sno-Cat mobilised felt utterly superfluous.

Another scene where she's running down the corridors brandishing the knife and encounters a seated bunch of cobwebbed skeletons just feels like something out of a different film. This is also the scene of one of the more darkly comic moments when a man in dinner attire with colossal head wound declares, "Great party, isn't it ?"

Another scene with Wendy prepping food with a portable TV nearby with a news item about a search for a missing woman, and approaching snow storm really don't add anything, as is also the case with Hallorann's return scenes of asking the air hostess what time they land, and ringing a station mechanic just feel completely superfluous.

There is a scene with Wendy and Danny watching a film on TV (which isn't plugged in - this is a ghost story after all). Of course, being Kubrick, it's not just any old film, but an early 70s film called Summer Of '42, about a seemingly idealised memory of a sexual encounter between a teenager and an older woman, after which his life is irrevocably changed. Hints possibly at inappropriate relationships between one or other parent and Danny ?

Also, we are into Room 237 territory here, and forensic dissections of certain scenes hidden layers - in this case the number 42, which appears elsewhere, though you'd be hard pressed to find it, which apparently relates to 1942 and the Nazi's ant-Jewish pogrom 'Kristallnacht'. The Indian burial grounds on which the Overlook is built have been made pretty clear early on, so the idea of further references to cultural oppression seem perhaps.. a bit overdone ?

I still think 6 year old Danny Lloyd is remarkable. Apparently they were able somehow to film all his scenes without him realising he was in a horror film. He retired from acting at the age of 10 after appearing in TV film. He's now a biology professor.

One scene in the longer version which does work for me is the doctor's visit to Danny early on, and the grim revelation of Jack's dislocation of Danny's shoulder in a drunken rage, which Wendy tries rather pathetically to pass off as "just one of those things". The doctors expression just seems to scream "He what ? He dislocated his shoulder ?? How the fuck did he manage that ?? Just what the fuck is going on here ??". Though perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this scene is the lack of any follow-up check-ups.. but then stranded incommunicado in the Overlook for 6 months is really going to work wonders for the Danny's PTSD, isn't it ? No other kids to play with, taken out of school for a ridiculous length of time..

I really like the early scenes with Scatman Crothers (who plays Hallorann), he just oozes personality. I love the way he pronounces the word 'toast' with that slight ringing sibilance on the s. I also really like the scenes with Joe Turkel ("your money's no good here. Orders from the house"). He's so utterly deadpan and sinister, especially when lit from underneath and with the white bar light directly behind him.

One of my favourite scenes is with Philip Stone after he spills drinks on Jack ("I’m afraid it's Advocaat sir, it tends to stain"). I really enjoy how the conversation evolves in the bathroom as Jack thinks he's sussed him, but Grady turns the tables on him with an unsettling mixture of deference and threat ("I'm sorry to differ with you sir, but you are the caretaker.. you've always been the caretaker.."). The carefully measured way Stone paces and so clearly enunciates his lines is really chilling. Like Turkel's scenes, he's back lit by an oppressive white light. The camera looks slightly up to him, down to Jack.

The big set piece with the tidal waves of blood still thrills, but the big driver for many of the scenes is the incredible music which hums, pulsates, rattles, scratches, roars and screams in an incredibly grim, feral manner that animates the scenes to great effect. The sense of deep unease is all pervasive, like a draught of cold air in a room. Of course Ligeti, Penderecki and Bartok didn't compose horror music, the pieces long pre-exist the film, but they are remarkably apt selections. I wonder how Penderecki and Ligeti felt about how it changed the public's perception of those pieces, which inevitably are saddled with the horror association ?

I was surprised to see no credit at the end for the Ray Noble piece, Midnight, The Stars and You, sung by Al Bowlly at the end (or the music in the Gold Room sequence) - only the classical composers and the score creators, Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind.

A trailer for The Shining 'sequel' (why does it need one ?), Doctor Sleep put me right off any vague notion of going to see it.. way too tediously gothic and long winded. Didn't think much of the book anyway. The name Doctor Sleep makes me think of... Harold Shipman, as referred to in that Fall song, What About Us - "What about us ! Shipman !!"