Archive for the ‘Off Topic’ Category

Imaginary Landscape

April 7, 2014

Lowndes Square

Lowndes Square was one of several projects designed by George Basevi, the architect son of a London merchant of the same name; he trained under Sir John Soane and his early work includes the St. Thomas’ Church in Stockport as well as Belgrave Square – also in London – which took sixteen years to complete. Basevi was similarly responsible for designing the Founder’s Building at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but died before it was completed (with Charles Robert Cockerell – who designed the Ashmolean – stepping in to finish the job). Lowndes Square is, so I read, a twist on what was typical of Belgravia. Whilst it features the white stucco grand terraces beloved, then at least, by the likes of Cubbitt and the Hardwick unlike Belgrave Square’s houses – which the aforementioned assisted in designing – Basevi kept tighter control on Lowndes and enforced uniformity by being its only designer (perhaps by pulling planning strings with his cousin Benjamin Disraeli?). Today it is occupied by oligarchs. Roman Abramovich owns a property there worth an estimated £150 million, but I saw that in the Daily Mail so who knows.

Rich Bastards

The Jumeirah Carlton Tower, a 5 star hotel that describes itself as ‘the essence of Knightsbridge’ and ‘a beacon of British style and sophistication’ sits just behind Lowndes Square and is, I think, the site where Susan Maitland is hurled to her death by what might be called a ‘global weather event’, whereby the speed of the wind increases exponentially until much of the Earth – with perhaps the exception of the far extremities, already windswept in their own icy way – is reduced to powdered stone. There is nothing left of the structures that we have built. Donald, her former husband, who had returned back to his apartment in the complex via armoured personnel carrier could do nothing but stare; he ‘saw her for an instant, catapulted through the updraught rising from the street, bounce off the roof of the Embassy building and then spin away like a smashed doll into the maze of rooftops beyond.’

In the strictest sense, which I would imagine to be anathema to Deleuze and Guattari were they still alive, Susan’s death is not a line of flight. I mean it is in a literal sense, in that she flies out of the window and bounces off of the roof of the Pakistan Embassy (or High Commission as it is listed today), but in a looser sense it still qualifies, in the context that ligne de fuite can cover ‘not only the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing into the distance’…note the avoidance of the rest of that quote and its disavowal of flying. Susan is obviously disappearing in to the distance, reflecting Donald’s collapsing support network – which he had assumed no longer mattered, hence his planned departure for London Airport at the opening of the book – but she is also fleeing. Her death is an escape from complicity in the destruction that follows.

1 H P

The apartment building Donald steps in to, prior to finding Susan semi-hiding out, is in reality an expensive hotel in Knightsbridge, but whilst reading of the gradual destruction of the Capital all I could picture was One Hyde Park, its empty corridors and expansive, shiny floor space (possessed but uninhabited, private security guards stalked by the ghosts of venture capital and secretly executed hedge-fund managers) a proxy for the abandonment of any semblance of interest in the ever-increasing gulf between owners and owned. It has always been thus; at least it isn’t a future of skies filled with nothing but buildings turned to dust. Oh. Excuse me. Donald’s remaining friends in military intelligence, either before or after Susan’s death (I forget which), have to enter a similar complex by blasting through an underground garage, the only point of entry, a security precaution designed by – I think – a man named Marshall as a way of keeping out undesirables. Later, much later, a similar entrance is required to allow access to a gigantic reinforced concrete pyramid, poorly anchored, eventually destroyed, but again designed solely as an insulated system. No connection between multiplicities, no transformations just exteriorities and people staring out at exteriority.

There are three potential walking routes from my house to the University where I work. Two of them converge at this point, with one initially tracing a line along the Hull Road which heads east out the city before snaking up Greendykes to the main vehicular access point to the campus, and the other following the school route past St.Leonards (via a cut-through I mentioned here) and then a shortcut between hospital buildings at The Retreat, the mental health centre established by William Tuke (his confectionery associate, Joseph Rowntree, is buried on the fringes of the grounds). The former route I use infrequently, and more often as a return route if I am accompanied by colleagues who live off the east road. The route includes the nunnery my house backs on to – soon to be redeveloped as student flats – and a number of new-build flats already partially occupied by students. The buildings have been given suitably-York names to remind people of a rough geography of the North, what we might call landscape-factoring structures; there is Bolton (after the castle), Helmsley (after the market town and castle) and Rievalux (after the abbey). These are names referring to other examples of the built environment, allied to buildings not really faintly similar to their namesakes. No bother. Further up the road, there is another set of student flats called The Boulevard. It has a security gate at the front, private security personnel inside, and an architecture that reaffirms the prevalence of flat pack thoughtlessness in design.

‘By the time I came to England at the age of sixteen I’d seen a great variety of landscapes. I think the English landscape was the only landscape I’d come across which didn’t mean anything, particularly the urban landscape. England seemed to be very dull, because I’d been brought up at a much lower latitude — the same latitude as the places which are my real spiritual home as I sometimes think: Los Angeles and Casablanca. I’m sure this is something one perceives — I mean the angle of light, density of light. I’m always much happier in the south — Spain, Greece — than I am anywhere else. The English one, oddly enough, didn’t mean anything. I didn’t like it, it seemed odd. England was a place that was totally exhausted.’

The point where the two routes meet – linked to earlier on Googlemaps – is a small road that has no real access for vehicles except as a drop off point. Until recently Googlemaps had this road listed as the main route in to the University. I attempt to highlight the mistake, owing to my cartographical OCD, but Google offered no feature whereby mistakes could be reported. Seemed odd, or potentially demonstrated Google’s control over the ways in which we interpret territory, or our understanding of the spaces we move through. Perhaps not as extreme as the case last year where Costa Rica was invaded by Nicaragua based on Googlemap inaccuracies over borders. Google’s spokesperson suggested that ‘by no means should they [the maps] be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries’. Good to know. On the new Googlemaps, which appears to remove the old left hand info bar in favour of presenting a full page map with the old information embedded in the image itself, even the unofficial footpath through the trees to the back of the Biology block is included. There is something about this that makes me feel slightly grubby, the idea that this shortcut carved out by dog walkers, occasional student walkers and cyclists, is now codified by Google. Here, the creation of the path, what Lefebvre might term the representational space of walkers, is captured and made representative space, the preserve of the planners, and no longer lived in the same way. A reterritorialization on behalf of quasi-accuracy.

The third route to/from work heads from my house towards the school but diverges at this point. This is one of several entrances to Walmgate Stray, an area that is also known as Low Moor and is, as far as I’m aware, common land. Last year cattle were a frequent sight on the Stray, and made negotiating a route home slightly trickier. As with the east road route, I am more likely to take this route on my way back from work, rather than on the way there, with the exception of last week when low fog in the morning made the route an obvious choice based exclusively on ‘eerie atmosphere’. The route from work involves crossing the Stray partially on a paved path (where a colleague nearly ran me over on their bike several years ago as we headed to the Fulford Arms pub; again, this was in thick fog) before heading north under the usually heavy arms of trees, the mental hospital playing fields on the right behind a high wall, and the currently fallow allotments on the left, behind a low fence. The route between these two zones climbs gently to a peak which seems to be the highest point for 30 miles. From the top of the hill you can see the White Horse at Kilburn.

Roulston Scar

Last Easter, with snow still on the ground, I walked out to the White Horse along Roulston Scar (accompanied by my wife, and Stokes and Vicky who were visiting; they had brought homemade crème eggs which were the stickiest thing I have ever eaten). The snow was peppered by dog shit, which detracted somewhat from the view across the Vale. Eyes down, not up. You had to pass the gliding club to get out to The Horse. From the viewpoint around about the horses head it was possible to see the Minster through ‘powerful binoculars’. The scar was appropriately windswept, largely barren, but well walked as evidenced by the number of families in the tea room back at the car park. It was also, I learnt afterwards, one of the key sites in the Scottish War for Independence; the location of the Battle of Old Byland, where Edward II was defeated in 1322. The horse itself was carved on to the hill at the request of Thomas Taylor, a local who had seen the Uffington Horse in 1857 and wanted something similar for his village (or so writes Morris Marples in the 40s). None of that Neolithic symbolism for them.

Lamel Hill

The hill I walk across on my way home has something much older underneath it. The University, around July last year, set up a series of walks and talks around the area and fixed info points to walls from which I learnt about some of this. The walks/talks themselves were cancelled due to inclement weather (rain rather than fog). There is a hint of older structures and uses near the high wall, with a series of undulations and mounds that are clearly man made, but then I’m no archaeologist (or, for that matter, much of anything else). More information here I believe.

The hill was used during the Civil War. As the highest point in the area, cannons were positioned to fire in to the walls at Walmgate Bar, which still bears the marks of prolonged attack during the Siege of York. The gun platform was set up in 1644. Prior to that there was a windmill there. Before that, according to excavations done at the site, it was an Anglian cemetery, the 38 inhumations found there facing East-West. My route off the hill takes me back along the path of the birds at midnight. The spectaculars of history – by which I mean that all of history, by codifying its events and its ‘important people’, becomes spectacular regardless of representational accuracy – and the mundane nature of my walk, beneath the flight of a cannonball, interlink. I am, temporally-speaking, unable to escape the territory.

‘In the centre of Times Square a giant saguaro cactus raised its thirty-foot arms into the overheated air, an imposing sentinel guarding the entrance to a desert nature reserve. Clumps of sagebrush hung from the rusting neon signs, as if the whole of Manhattan had been transformed into a set for the ultimate western. Prickly pear flourished in the second-floor windows of banks and finance houses, yucca and mesquite shaded the doorways of airline offices and travel agents.’

Drowned

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Works consulted, in no particular order, include:

Lefebvre, H. 1991. The Production of Space. Wiley-Blackwell.
Marples, M. 1949. White Horses and Other Hill Figures. Sutton Publishing.
Deleuze, G and Guatarri, F.1980. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Vol. 2. Trans. Brian Massumi. Continuum Press.
Ballard, J.G. 1962. The Wind From Nowhere. Penguin Books
Ballard, J.G. 1962. The Drowned World. Berkley Books
Ballard, J.G. 1975. Interview with James Goddard. Available here

Guest post: Lee Broughall

January 27, 2014

A paragraph or so of text for Matt in order to contextualise video number V077A – Review of specified time period in allegory 2006-2013.

The second half of 2013 was vastly different to the seven preceding years. I used to spend my days in front of a computer screen in an office, broadly cut off from the world. Now I spend my days in front of a computer screen in a spare bedroom, broadly cut off from the world.

Whilst I am contractually obliged not to detail the events leading to this change in circumstances, the past year has nevertheless had a significant impact on the content of my continual march towards death.


Resultingly, I have decided to attempt an expression of recent themes through the combination of two hitherto uncombined film scenes. Since it would be unwise for me to comment further, given the aforementioned contractual obligation, I will allow you, dear reader/watcher, to draw conclusions that are subject to the whims of your own prejudice and experience. You’re welcome.

Guest Post: Chris Stokes

January 20, 2014

For his January/New Year guest contribution to T.I.S.A.R, Chris wanted to highlight some of his photographic work. Pictures first (which are pretty damn impressive), information second.

 

About Chris:

Former member of Tomfire et al, Chris studied for his BA in Photography and Video at the University of Lincoln, graduating in 2005 with a First Class Hons. With job prospects in a slump, Chris took a year off to live and work in Japan where he began to develop a taste for street photography, especially the phenomenon of sleeping in public places – a habit the Japanese seem to embrace.

Upon returning to the UK, Chris found employment as a graphic designer, a role which eventually led him to London and to a career as a freelancer.

With fingers in all pies, Chris continues to shoot photos and videos alike, often in collaboration with long term friends and fellow artists and creatives.

Some words from Chris:
“Throughout my travels, I amassed a ridiculous number of photos and having made the (tentative) switch to digital back in 2002, this means several hard drives worth of photos, most of which have never seen print, or until now, any outlet at all.

Having used services such as Photobucket and Picasa from the early stages and watched them fall at the feet of the mighty Flickr (a service I have struggled with due to the strangle hold of Yahoo) I’ve finally decided to launch my own photo-blog / portfolio and allow my photos a life of their own. I’ve long loved Tumblr (although that too is now owned by the Demon Yahoo) so it just seemed the best place to do it.

Please feel free to follow me, reblog and share my pics, just please link back to me. And if you need a photographer or have an idea, give me a shout!”

More information (including larger versions of all the images above) is available here.

The next post will be a New Year contribution from Lee Broughall.

Undecimber

December 18, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A clearing in a wood surrounded by dead trees; the skeletons of birds and small mammals litter the floor. A sunken pond in a field. A man has cycled out to it and he lays asleep on the grass, his feet just touching the water. A morning so cold crows appear to have frozen in the air.

On the news, there is footage of Pakistani villages that have been destroyed by drone strikes. The drones are controlled from a room in Virginia. A few years ago there was that Army advert designed for young people – 18 or 19 perhaps – using Xbox controllers to pilot spy cameras attached to craft that look similar to drones. I think the advert was banned.

…a long sensitive pause is held till almost unbearable; then he looses…his tremulous hollow song. It echoes down the brook, breaking the frozen surface of the air. I look out at the west’s complexity of light. A heron, black against the yellow sky, kinked neck and dagger bill incised, sweeps silently down into the brook’s dark gulf. The sky infuses with the afterglow…

Animal trafficking discussed in seminars a few weeks ago. Belem do Para on the news as well. A tough port where there is a price for everything. Animal trafficking is the 3rd most lucrative business after drugs and gun running; 20 billion dollars a year. The man is speaking Portuguese, but I cannot read the subtitles without my glasses. Get in the suitcase.

…east of my home, the long ridge lies across the skyline like the low hull of a submarine. Above it, the eastern sky is bright with reflections of distant water, and there is a feeling of sails beyond land. Hill trees mass together in a dark-spired forest, but when I move towards them they slowly fan apart, the sky descends between, and they are solitary oaks and elms, each with its own wide territory of winter shadow. The calmness, the solitude of horizons lures me towards them, through them, and on to others. They layer the memory like strata….who are we at war with this week? Earlier, a man asked me for money. Carlos is yelling in to the trees, trying to attract monkeys. He’s wearing a relatively smart shirt. Perhaps I can use this discussion? A bald parrot looks like half a Christmas bird. The animals are terrified of human beings.

On the way to work in the morning, the new tar on the road has created a ludicrous amount of run-off, so it’s difficult to cross the road; the whole thing is more like a river now. Someone’s dog has shat all about the place. The three toed sloth is very easy to catch. One thousand dollars. Carlos is trying to tempt monkeys with a half-eaten banana. Sensibly they are ignoring him. He is described as ‘Brazil’s worst hunter’. He gets thirty dollars for a sloth.

The office is freezing. Strip lighting is painfully bright, and the lamp is too dim to read from properly. I’ve had communications from a number of people, a variety of messages, some of which I misread and respond to with information that is perhaps less than helpful, and later correct myself with apologies. ‘Hotdog Johnny’s is a great place!’ ‘My mother was born 1912 and she’d vote for him’. A reach which other people do not have. Find a compromise.

The first week, my dreams are confused. I am told my trousers are all wrong for the role. What am I expected to do? During the day – the real day – other nocturnal statements plague me, and it takes me a while to recall the separation between the real and the imagined. The man has lost a lot of weight as a result of gastric band surgery. There are explosions outside the window, but my legs ache too much to move over and see if any of them are any good.

…near the brook a heron lay in frozen stubble. Its wings were stuck to the ground by frost, and the mandibles of its bill were frozen together. Its eyes were open and living, the rest of it was dead. All was dead but the fear of man. As I approached I could see its whole body craving into flight. But it could not fly…

Energy drinks keep me awake. I’ve been ill a number of times. First some sort of flu, now an internal infection which hopefully won’t require anything more than time to fix: this is what I’ve been told. The old people flats have crumpled cans and empty bottles in the hedges. What is the matter with these people?

A red-throated diver, sodden and obscene with oil, able to move only its head, will push itself out from the sea-wall with its bill if you reach down to it as it floats like a log in the tide. A poisoned crow, gaping and helplessly floundering in the grass, bright yellow foam bubbling from its throat, will dash itself up again and again on to the descending wall of air, if you try to catch it. A rabbit, inflated and foul with myxomatosis, just a twitching pulse bleating in a bladder of bones and fur, will feel the vibration of your footstep and will look for you with bulging, sightless eyes. Then it will drag itself away into a bush, trembling with fear.

She says 90% of illegal immigrants enter the country and go on benefits. This is clearly bullshit. She strongly disagrees with things she knows nothing about. There are a number of maps on the wall. I can see pretend areas of London. No. Real areas, the areas people create or imagine or move through. Billy is looking down on me, with that withering stare. His eyes are sunken, his hand curled in to a half-fist. His complexion is thin, but you know that he is furious inside. At twelve thousand feet two planes collide. The wind is ferocious and there is fire in the sky for a moment.

We’re at the Jeep, and she bundles me inside. The animals are waking up at this time of day, as the sun sinks a little and the heat drifts off to some other shifting continent, except they all ran away didn’t they? My heart is pumping fast. My pupils are dilated. But I will be OK.

The Lion-man of Hollow Rock

May 2, 2013

St Waleric
At some stage, around 529AD, San Benedetto da Norcia established a monastery on a prominent hill top eighty or so miles south of Rome; this was to be one of many such monastic communities (he had already established a dozen at the time of founding Monte Cassino) that operated under the Regula Benedicti, a guide that expounded on all elements of daily communal living, everything from a taxonomy of monks to the order of service in the kitchen. Alongside this, the rule of the master (or abbot) was paramount. Benedict wrote the Regula in Monte Cassino, supposedly entertained the king of the Ostrogoths, and finally died there. Before all of that, Gregory the Great suggests that a temple of Apollo (the Greek and/or Roman God of light/sun/healing/music etc.) existed on the hill top, and Benedict’s first act in founding his monastery was to smash the temple.

B17

Nearly fifteen hundred years later, Benedict’s monastery was itself destroyed, part of the five month battle between the Allies and the Axis. Monte Cassino formed part of the Gustav line, a series of German fortifications built by the Todt Organisation, that ran from just north of the Garigliano River to the mouth of the Sangro River.Major-General Francis Tuker, at that time head of the 4th Indian Division, saw the monastery as either a stronghold for German forces, or as having the potential to serve as such in the future. The actual ordering of the bombing came from Brigadier Harry Dimoline, on February 11th 1944, under the auspices of Tuker who was in bed with tropical fever in a hospital in Caserta. According to Hapgood and Richardson (2002), every subsequent investigation in to the bombing found that all the casualties and fatalities from the attack where Italian civilians seeking refuge from the fighting on the hill top. The estimate of those killed is somewhere around two hundred and forty. Ironically, the ruins of the monastery were subsequently used by Axis forces as a stronghold.

I should probably use this opportunity to intercede; as with the majority of my long winded and rambling posts (clearly this is going to be one), a series of coincidences and themes have coalesced and this is the result.

I have just finished reading A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller. Canticle was the only book published in Miller’s life time, and it garnered praise from both science fiction (in its broadest sense) fans and literary critics alike; it won the 1961 Hugo Award, and is viewed by some as the ancestor of Cormac McCarthy’s grim post-apocalyptic father-son road-trip novel The Road. The book is split in to three sections, each separated by six hundred or so years, and begins after The Flame Deluge, an apocalyptic event of roundabout-now that not only destroyed cities and people, but also knowledge. The book kicks off with a novice (or perhaps ‘anchorite’ in Benedict’s schema) called Brother Francis Gerard of Utah – a member of the as-yet-uncanonized order of Blessed Leibowitz – finding a number of relics from pre-Deluge times (a shopping list, a schematic of some electrical circuitry, the skeleton of a woman) in the cellar of a destroyed building out in what is now the desert of North America. After much detailed scholarship, in which the artefacts are sent to New Rome following a heated debate about provenance, the monastery is eventually able to confirm the connection between these artefacts and Leibowitz, the skeleton being his wife’s, the documents being written in his hand. That initial discovery, and the way in which Brother Francis attempts to understand what he has found before it is taken away from him, echoed my own faltering attempt at comprehending what I saw whilst at the British Museum a fortnight ago (more to come later); the intentionality behind certain gestures and ideas. For Brother Francis it is the meaning behind words, such as ‘pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels’, and their wider, Higher, significance, that meaning obfuscated by time in such a way that the prosaic becomes the exalted. In my case it was attempting to understand the art and culture of a civilization that existed during the last glacial period. This comparison, between Francis’ confusion and my own, popped in to my head whilst I looked around the incredibly tacky museum gift shop, trying my hardest to blot out the juxtaposition between the His-and-Hers Cave-man rubber duck and the exhibition I had just stared in awe at.

Miller committed suicide in 1996, following the death of his wife. He had been a recluse for many years, but in that time had sketched out a sequel to Canticle that was eventually completed by Terry Bisson. Joe Haldeman, author of The Forever War which also won the Hugo award, stated that Miller suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome ’30 years before it had a name’; in one sense, it could be argued that Canticle acted as a coping strategy for Miller, a way of understanding the things he had seen and been a part of during the Second World War, including his bombing raid over the Italian countryside in February 1944.

Canticle

I was reading Canticle on the train as I travelled to visit my parents a few weeks back. Whilst back, I went to the British Museum for the Ice Age exhibition, which I found to be profound in what it contained, though not necessarily in its dual focus, which attempted to connect ice age art with contemporary art; there is undoubtedly a relationship, espoused by modern artists themselves, but the presentation of art inspired by the neolithic paled in comparison to the genuinely awesome pieces on display. There was something very strange but also very moving about connecting with places and artefacts from the distant past, even if it is in the confines of a curated exhibition (as if there is any other way with this sort of material). On a sensory level, the shapes, lines and curves of ancient objects are eerily familiar, echoed in the work of the contemporary art so poorly displayed in the exhibition – the ice age sculptures of distended human figures, or the abstract form of a reindeer say are present in the work of Mondrian, the sculptures of Moore and Giacommeti – but I found that the unease I felt came from the confluence of the uncertainty fostered by the chronological distance between the creation of the art and my own afternoon sojourn around the museum, and the thematic similarities between Ice Age man, and broader contemporary concerns; the role of women in society¹, what seemed like the search for stability and certainty in a deeply dangerous environment (evidenced in a variety of decorative talismans), and the apparent need to create maps. This last point is perhaps an odd one, but I was struck by how crucial representing space appeared to be, understanding the environment they passed through, or paused in. What are now considered abstract maps were carved in to wood, or bone. Space, or rather the traversing of space, was represented through artistic representations of animals; horses and reindeer caught mid-stride, flat fish etched on to rock in a cave a thousand miles from the sea, demonstrating a territory far more expansive than anything I expected. This is made all the more curious when juxtaposed with the lives of people just five hundred years ago, who would live and die in the same village without ever having left its boundaries (though this says more about the shift to agrarianism than anything).

A series of attempts at constructing a cartographic representation of the lives they were living. Not that it would have seemed like that necessarily, but the act of placing all these items next to each other in a series of barely-lit rooms produces that effect, even if many of the items are in fact tens of thousands of years apart. In a small and pathetic way, I feel like that is what I am trying to do by writing things down still; charting the partial connections between objects, ideas, places, spaces from my own tiny and largely uninteresting existence. I think this is why, on a number of occasions whilst walking around the exhibition, I was genuinely astounded by what I was seeing, to the extent that I had to sit down and think whilst mostly elderly people milled about me. That incomprehensible gap between then and now, that experience and knowledge lost in underground rivers and tectonic shifts, the miniature cogs turning in my head trying to process all the elements, and failing, as Brother Francis Gerard of Utah had done when trying to understand a civilization build on notions of rationality and scientific progress whilst simultaneously standing in their ashes.

Lion Man

One of the most amazing, and frightening, pieces on display was the Lion Man of Hohle Fels. ‘Man’ is perhaps wrong here; the one thing the exhibition really solidified was the importance of women in the lives of Ice Age man. The sculptures on display were almost entirely women or animals, the former cast as obese and in possession of gigantic breasts, symbols of virility, power, potency². Recent work on the site has posited that the Lion Man is actually a Lion Woman, owing to the lack of mane; from my very limited grasp of what I have seen, a woman would be more understandable and in keeping with other artefacts found around the same time and area. There’s some pop-archaeology for you. What did the Lion Wo/Man represent? A deity, a talisman, a warning, an offering. Opinion is divided from what I have read subsequently. What I found startling about it was the return of that peculiar feeling of familiarity. The eyes, the mouth of the lion; it looked as if it had been recently made, but was in fact forty thousand years old, carved from the ivory of a mammoth tusk. The sort of deep time that is impossible to full comprehend. The split between understanding and bafflement.

The video accompanying the figure showed a craftsman who had been commissioned to recreate the Lion Man for the exhibition, using approximated tools and techniques. He took four hundred hours to create his Lion Man, and this was without the constant threat of death, hunger, exposure etc. This also made me wonder about the home lives of these people, the spaces in which they found time to dedicate themselves to creating things like the Lion Man. Except home was obviously movement, constant procession, a sort of ad hoc stability in forever motion. The maps they made were maps of their homes, the paths they had walked, the old ways they had created.

Flute

There were a number of musical instruments on display in the exhibition too, dated at around thirty thousand years old. They had been made from antlers, and other hollowed-out pieces of bone, in much the same way that the Lion Man had been constructed (only taking less time I presume). The blurb that accompanied the instruments again highlighted how little was known about the intentionality of music in the ice age world.

At the same time as reading Canticle (not literally ‘at the same time’, but ‘around’) I was listening to Noise: A Human History on Radio 4, presented by David Hendy from the University of Sussex (the whole thing is archived for well over a year if you want to catch up). The series opens with the recreated noise of bison in French caves once occupied by Neolithic man, and how the noises of animals were recreated in caves perhaps as a way of understanding the horror of the environment or as a way of connecting to spirits within the rocks themselves, rocks that would later bear the mark of artist’s makeshift-brush strokes. Later episodes chart the importance of sound throughout the course of our problematic development, including pieces on the voices of angels…well…how that impression can be given at Wells cathedral (if memory serves) by singing down a tube, and the torture of bombardment in World War One. The second episode, which I had listened to the week before going to the British Museum, featured the talking drum³. Victoria Ozohu explains that

In ancient times, the talking drum was used for a variety of purposes from being a musical instrument during celebrations, to a sort of telegram for relaying messages during times of war or to announce the arrival of a visitor. It was invented in Oyo by Alaafin Ajiboye as a means of communication before the invention of writing and it was assembled for the Alaafin, as his musical outfit whenever he goes to war, to motivate his army.

Listening to the sound of the drum, communicating messages between communities separated by dense forest, I was again struck by how little I understood of these methods of comprehending space, circumstance, meaning. The beating, or not-beating, of the drum is not as simple as Morse code, in terms of individual letters, but rather it represents groups of words – the discussion in the programme involves ways of describing sunsets – an entire language completely inaccessible to those outside of Yoruba culture. Looking at the instruments in the display cases at the British Museum, I could imagine what they sounded like, but not what those sounds were conveying. What I think this demonstrated was that what we are left with is our own distinct collection of things, and the language they represent to us through their associations and partial connections; from this we attempt to chart the vague often intangible links to other abstract forms, looking for meaning, consciously or otherwise.

Guile Point

Autumn, 2010. I am in Northumberland with Zo and my parents. We have been out on the promontory/island at Lindisfarne, a monastery founded by Saint Aidan well over a thousand years ago to restore Christianity to the pagans of  Northumberland. Windswept faces, the line of tourists – rather than pilgrims – snaking along the causeway, boats stranded by low tide on the sand banks. In the distance, the navigation beacons of Guile Point, guiding ships through Burrows Hole, around Long Ridge and in to the harbour. They look like obelisks left by some unknown civilization, a warning of the heathen terror that lies in-land perhaps, or the site of some ritualistic celebration (except they were built two hundred years ago). In the distance, a storm rolls in off the sea.

Cross

Later, we are wandering around Alnmouth, the car parked alongside an empty golf course that seems to circle the town. The shops and pubs are open, but the people are seemingly absent. We walk down on to the beach, and I stare across the river mouth to Church Hill and take a picture. An Anglo-Saxon cross rises up at the summit. The chapel of St. Waleric apparently sat here, the location of the synod which, according to Bede, saw St.Cuthbert named Bishop of Lindisfarne around 684; following the Christmas Day storm of 1806, where the river was forced to the north, Church Hill was cut off, and part of the village was washed out to sea. I turn, and take a different, colour photograph. My Mum is looking out over the river mouth to the island; the people are gone because, unlike our little party, they can see the gathering storm approaching from the south.

Storm

_________________________________________

¹  A discussion of the notion of the female gaze in ice age art is explored in this video that was made for the exhibition; this depiction of ice age women (albeit non-human) is less informative.

²   The power and terror of ice age life, embodied in these figurines, was neatly encapsulated for the contemporary viewer by a series of smashed fragments of similar female sculptures, found in the graves of women who had died in childbirth.

³   This is a different kind of talking drum.

_________________________________________
Hapgood, D. and Richardson, D., (2002). Monte Cassino: The Story of the Most Controversial Battle of World War II. Cambridge Mass., Da Capo Press.

The Holy Trinity

April 9, 2013

Roof View

A bit late for Easter this, but there we go. Last week, shortly after it opened, I went to Trinity Leeds, the insert-hyperbole-about-regenerating-The-North-exclusively-via-retail-experiences shopping centre which opened to much fanfare around the 20th of March. By ‘much fanfare’ I mean that the local news decided it warranted an entire half-hour programme dedicated to it, broadcast from the Fosteresque glass roof¹. So this is my discussion about my own experience of the place, and by discussion I mean ramble.

Aside: interestingly, I note that when Trinity was a ‘quarter’ rather than a ‘trinity’, the architect attached to the project was Enric Miralles of Scottish Parliament/Palafolls Library/Torre Mare Nostrum fame rather than Chapman Taylor of Heathrow Terminal 5 and Drake Circus fame (another shopping centre awkwardly obscured by a church). If this original project had gone through, perhaps there would have been more chance of the glass roof being made of wool. That’s a reference to Miralles designing buildings that look a bit like things vaguely related to the cities they reside in.

Construction

Anyway, I was slightly annoyed by a shopping centre warranting that level of coverage. Relatively little time was given over to the employment side of things (something like 3000 jobs created, in a sector which increasingly epitomises uncertain and temporary labour) in favour of marvelling at the shiny-shiny on display; one particular highlight was Harry Gration demonstrating how an interactive ‘gesture wall’ works, but more on this later (worth mentioning that I found it shit, because the number of people passing by made all gestures appear on screen as near-identical beams of light…this probably indicates something about the nature of activity in the corridor where the wall is situated). I was already planning on going to Leeds before this shopping centre opened, ostensibly because two new beer bars had opened and this is much more of a priority for me², but the streams of people entering and exiting were too much to tip-toe around the fringes of; black-hole like, I gravitated towards the event horizon.

Except it was more of a confusion between absolute and apparent horizons; I was annoyed by the actual experience of being in Trinity (except you’re never quite in it; it’s more of a roof over some streets with added walkways thrown in for good measure), by trying to move through Trinity, by which I mean the entirety of being in the shopping centre; the architecture, the ways in which the movements of people are controlled, the layout, the facilities. All the elements are there, but thrown together in a haphazard way, seemingly at odds with the ‘ideal shopping experience’. Is this a good thing? Not really. More uncomfortable, irritating. Not what is expected, but not exciting as a result of this. Peculiar zones rubbing against each other, symmetry gone awry, people unable to fathom how to use the spaces created for them.

Cathedral

You’d think, from the look of it, Trinity Leeds conforms to George Ritzer’s notion of ‘cathedrals of consumption’, that is consumption centres which

‘are structured, often successfully, to have an enchanted, sometimes even sacred, religious character. To attract ever-larger numbers of consumers [they] need to offer increasingly magical, fantastic, and enchanting settings in which to consume’

Trinity is a locus for the purchasing of commodities, and appears to offer the fantastical, not in terms of the shops themselves which are identical to most shopping centres, but in terms of the facilities that it has which others do not; and Land Securities should know all about that³. Some of Trinity’s features – according to the website at least – include concierges, mobile charging stations (coming soon), shop and drop facilities (your bags, not you as ‘the shopper’) and, and I realise this might be considered little more than miniature gilding, seats for people to use whilst waiting for other people to use the toilet. And what toilets they are: as badly designed as the layout of the tiny food court where pedestrian overpasses end in abrupt corners and people bottleneck around ‘awkward’ wheelchair users desperate to find an elusive lift to the exit. To return to the toilets – assuming we can find a way back – to use the cubicles for a shit you have to walk through two rows of back to back urinals, down the middle, as if you are inspecting the troops. This is all very odd. The other features I mentioned are contained within a service lounge type area, conspicuously empty when I walked past, devoid of both shoppers and staff, unlike the 30 or 40-strong queues outside all restaurants in the aforementioned food zone on the top floor (“I’m not waiting three fucking hours for a shitty T.G.I Friday’s” was probably the favourite, and most accurate, observation I overheard). Perhaps things will pick up. There were only 130,000 people through the doors on opening day after all.

ASIDE – Interesting as well that Ritzer has recently moved away from this idea, to ‘new cathedrals of consumption’, the virtual near-infinite expanse of Amazon.com for example. No need for an expensive all-singing, all-dancing locale, when the spectacle can shift to endless commodities; the only limit is what you can imagine yourself owning. Ritzer’s move is prompted, he suggests on his blog, by the noticeable decline and closure of such sites, making Trinity a peculiar proposition, particularly considered the current consumer market and the forever-shit economy we appear to be stuck with as a result of successive short-sighted governments and the systemic detach-collapse-rebuild cycle of our beloved capitalism.

It is also worth dwelling on the religious connection in the name and location. Foremost, we can see that there is a curious juxtaposition between the purpose of a cathedral, religious experience and the actual physical arrangement of space in Trinity: we have the glass ceiling, allowing a view of the Heavens except this is where any attempt at a connection drifts off. The ceiling doesn’t quite work. As interesting a feature as the glass roof is supposed to be, the layout of Trinity actually funnels people in through a central atrium to increasingly dark corridors lined with shops, more a catacomb of consumption. The ‘fantastic’ element is the preserve of one very small section of the building, before shoppers wind through the dingy, half-lit tunnels to emerge back out in Albion Street, which now separates ‘Trinity East’ and its glass dome, from ‘Trinity West’, the rebranded Leeds Shopping Plaza which is still covered in MDF hoardings advertising a new food court and whatever else is going to populate the redesign when it is eventually finished. I find it odd when a space designed to enchant and, ultimately, make people shop, does such a decent job of using walkways and passageways to force them through the building as quickly as possible. Where is the space to stop, to marvel, to dwell on the glory of purchasing on credit.

Church

Trinity is, of course, the name of the church at one entrance to the shopping centre (there are many, many entrances, a panoply of mini-Batu’s with stairs leading to Topshop or Next rather than Lord Murugan’s shrine). Well, The Holy Trinity is what it is called. It is sandwiched between one of the Boar Lane entrances and a several-storey McDonald’s. There is a weird gap around the church, presumably the result of planning conditions, where a number of benches are set out for sitting, but these are squeezed in between the cold walls of the church and the featureless walls of the shopping centre, so unless ‘prison’ is the relaxing vibe they were going for, this seems like a tacked-on attempt at usable space. I walked past this area – well, was dragged past by a sea of shoppers heading for the McD queue – and a girl dressed entirely in black stood in the middle of this unused space, offering hand gestures and a fixed smile as if she was the host at a Shanghai club in the late 1920s. I tried to watch her for a bit, but was pulled inexorably onward. It was incongruous with everything else around me and brilliant for it, space instantly subverted from its supposed use. It reminded me of this photograph of Lee that I took at 4am on the morning Liam was hospitalized in York during my stag do.

Ambulance

The first stones of the Holy Trinity Church were laid in 1722. According to Linstrum, William Etty, the York born artists famous for his nude scenes taken from mythology, was paid nineteen guineas for the design of Holy Trinity Church. The cost of construction for Trinity Leeds is estimated at £378 million (I can only speculate as to the architect’s fee).The church has operated as a gig venue and community arts hub for quite a while, and appears to be working on ways to integrate itself within the development which bears its name. Let’s hope not too many people simply walk past it on the way in to the shops, or to the reclaimed meat-in-a-bun shop which it adjoins; though how many people walked past it before? Probably the same amount.

I’m not suggesting that Trinity is somehow opposed to the idea of consideration and reasoned thought (as Ritzer suggests, these spaces are supposed to be rational), that by boxing in spaces where this is possible (such as the church) and using architectural features to force people to keep moving it prevents anything but passing-through. This would fly in the face of evidence to the contrary; a quiet room for ‘contemplation, prayer and reflection’ will be opening Autumn 2013. What it does instead is demean and degrade public space, or areas where the control, use and appropriation (if deemed appropriate) lies in the hands of the people who use it. They define what happens, rather than owners who mould the space to extract as much money as possible.

Burton Arcade

Originally, the Trinity Quarter project looked at replacing a number of the tatty arcades that fanned out from the main shopping street, Briggate. There was The Empire, The Burton, Market Street and Trinity arcade itself, as far as I can see (ignoring the Victorian Quarter obviously, with its debt to Burlington, as it has relatively little similarity to the run-down local businesses which occupied these sites in the past). The regenerated approach to Trinity East from the Corn Exchange – which I assume was the site of the old Market Street arcade – is now a series of glass fronted retail units on two levels, the eye-line shops suspiciously vacant except for cardboard cut-out signs advertising the shops on the upper level, already a jumble of ethnic hairdressers and salons, financially ghettoed above the seething masses, where rents are lower, and customers fewer; this is Trinity paying lip-service to local business, providing an adjunct space that in no way matches the bombast of the Dome a hop-skip-jump across Briggate. Redoing this area has enabled an increase in rental costs and the misguided impression that there would be some sort of osmotic relationship between Big Brother (in every sense of the word) next door and an already-sickly sibling. In this case, some effort is no effort at all on the part of the developers. When I walked through, bored staff from the upstairs units were leaning over the railings, watching potential customers stream through on their way to…where else. Regardless of how down-at-heel the old arcades were, they were not simply there for transit, for endless passing-through; they were repositories of old ideas, and plans, and the dregs of the industries on which Leeds made its money, before ‘money’ was how it made its money. I think a similar argument is being made in relation to the Castle Mall in Sheffield.

Oh right, I was going to mention the gesture wall and forgot. Just that it reminded me of a passage from Benjamin (appropriate considering the location):

‘The innermost glowing cells of the city of light, the old dioramas, nested in the arcades, one of which today still bears the name Passage des Panoramas. It was, in the first moment, as though you had entered an aquarium. Along the wall of the great darkened hall, broken at intervals by narrow joints, it stretched like a ribbon of illuminated water behind glass. The play of colors among deep-sea fauna cannot be more fiery’

In the case of Trinity, the wall is simply another bauble that people pass by, on their way to somewhere better, except no-one has quite worked out where that is yet. Amongst the throng, the most common thing I heard from people was ‘how do I get out’. An interior that is architecture as pantomime, a farce of floors that are near impossible to escape from (in the atrium, I was forced to leave through Next because I couldn’t find an escalator that went ‘down’, foolishly assuming it would be on the same side as the ‘up’). If it is designed around flows, and peaks, and history, and indexes, and behaviour patterns, and the needs of local businesses, and consumers themselves then I for one am utterly fucking baffled by the place.

Benjamin Paris

_______________________________________________

¹ Although it does look a fair amount like the atrium inside the British Museum, there are also parallels with the Sage Gateshead. This is perhaps more apt as the Sage looks like a bug pupa, and the opening photo of this post looks like that bug hatched, and is now slithering its way towards consuming the church

² BrewDogs Leeds, which is tucked away behind the Corn Exchange and was pretty busy on a Good Friday afternoon but had some excellent Cocoa Psycho on, and Friends of Ham on Station Road which was very busy on a Good Friday afternoon and had an excellent Mikkeller Coffee Stout on.

³ Land Securities, the owners of the centre, have numerous other such sites dotted about the UK including The Galleria and Lakeside in the South and, you would think in direct competition to Trinity, the White Rose Centre on the outskirts of Leeds. Cornering the market I think that is known as.

Equinox

March 22, 2013

The last thing I have to write, appropriately enough, is the conclusion. With six months or so left to go, all chapters have form, and content, to one extent or another. Some require a certain amount of work to get them up to a decent standard; others are almost entirely finished and require a brief glance over for typos and my usual grammatical mistakes. ‘Get it down, and then you can look at it in its entirety, and work out where to go next.’ I am simultaneously liberated and terrified. I started this blog a few years back with the intention of using it as a way of discussing the process of assembling my PhD (it is definitely assembled, so much so that my methodological justification for almost everything comes from Deleuze/Strathern/Haraway) but I’ve not really used it for that at all, aside from the odd post discussing some half thought-through idea I’ve had. The majority of the content has been about music, or something to do with nature. In fact, even now I am avoiding the actual discussion; perhaps this is because I spend a lot of time discussing it with myself as I write it. Why would I want another forum for going over the same territory?

I feel at this point I should mention that I don’t really know the purpose of this post, just that I should write it. It may be of limited value to any/everyone, including me, so drop off when necessary if you haven’t already. Besides, all this is is a brief window of uncertainty, before I convince myself of something else.

I’m not sure of the purpose. Some sort of publicised exegesis in which I attempt to understand why I have spent a significant amount of time on a piece of work which is of borderline interest to myself by this stage (fatigue – I don’t know if I genuinely believe this). The fact that this is potentially seen or read by people with whom I work or am about to work is perhaps problematic, but then the continual maintenance of identity through social media sort of forces you in to a corner in terms of having to consider what you can and what you cannot say. This is what I am saying at the moment. It will change. There is nothing wrong with changing positions; as José Pacheco says, we are all hypocrites.

I interrupt myself to check email (nothing), Facebook (always nothing), Twitter (nothing). On my return, I rethink the sentence about the ‘worth’ of what I’ve done, but do not change it. Before you finish a thesis – actually near the start – you’re supposed to think about how you market yourself with what it is you’re working on, because this is how you get a job at the end of it. I am at a stage where I can nutshell my thesis I think. I picked a case study (for various reasons) – hauntology – to see how music cultures operate in a sort of web 2.0 setting. The traditional ways of understanding these sorts of cultures is through understanding the participants, or consumers, and the places they went and the people they met. With my case study, this was more difficult, so I tried to find other ways of locating things; I did this by looking at spatial practices and what I ended up calling temporal incursions, that is, the way that musicians create work which allows audiences to question notions of chronological time. I threw in a fair amount of Deleuze and looked at specific pieces of music, because aesthetic discussions are often missing from case studies, or at least the ones I’ve looked at. I also tried to find out how participants contest boundaries and identities, and the different rituals of resistance they employ; what needs to be resisted is probably something I’ll write a journal article on next. Reading this back, I realise that this all sounds ridiculously specific, so at least I’ve cleared the ‘specialism’ hurdle. Why it is important is more of a challenge; I think my conclusion will say something about dialogics, and how we might understand culture through unending dialogue. As Hassan-i-Sabbah might have said, nothing is true, everything is permitted.

The way I have moved through academia has been ‘slowly’ for the most part, almost entirely the result of financial issues. No funding for a Masters meant I worked in a supermarket for a year to pay for my tuition fees. No funding for a PhD meant I spent two years working in a supermarket to pay for some of it, then a job at the library and teaching undergraduates to continue paying for it. In that time, I have had plenty of opportunities to consider what exactly it is I want to be doing when I am done. The issue up until now is that the long term goal has always been short term in reality: complete a Master’s degree, complete a PhD. Throughout my time writing the PhD (four years it will be when it’s finished) I sort of assumed I would then go in to lecturing, but I am increasingly uncertain of this as I reach the end point.

Part of this is to do with my experience of being a PhD student. I’ve got on well with the department, most of the people in it, but situating what goes on within a wider context of the current changes to Higher Education has sort of pulled me away from wanting to stay any longer than the end of the PhD. A lot of what happens is geared around treating students as consumers (which of course they are), but wrapped up in this is the idea of equipping them with specific skills and making sure they feel they are getting their money’s worth. This is difficult to put together. For a start the NSS assumes that by the end of their degree students will be able to ascertain the worth of what they have studied; I’m not sure that reflection – or at least reasoned opinion – kicks in quite so soon. And we have to do everything in our power to make sure they’ve had a good time, because if they haven’t and we score poorly on the NSS, our League Table rating is jeopardised. This seems like a peculiar way of approaching things, but then I think this is because my assumption, and the reason I went to University, was intellectual curiosity was more important than getting a specific job. This is still a problem for me. What is more of a problem for people currently studying at University is that they are perhaps operating on the assumption that these skills will help them find work, and they won’t.

Primarily I think I started the PhD to prove that I could complete something sizeable, and because I was interested in ways of thinking about the things people do, and how they do them together. My training for undertaking the project was minimal – most Masters students in Sociology are taught a range of techniques for approaching complex research tasks – because I didn’t study Sociology at Masters level, but this enabled me to avoid inculcation in certain ways of doing things, and I was able to experiment. The downside of this is that while I think I have produced something interesting, I don’t have all those skills that are expected of me in terms of taking on research positions. I am no quantitative researcher. I look at things, and think about them, and write about them; sometimes I put things in strange orders to see if changes the results. Sometimes it does, other times it doesn’t. I write down what I’ve found regardless. That doesn’t sound like a pitch that would work at an interview. But I feel like trying out these ideas are better than having none at all, better than being really good at certain kinds of research procedures but having fuck all imagination.

I think another issue is that the automatic assumption is if you are studying for a PhD (at least one where you haven’t come from a business which is funding it) you are intending to stay in academia. I was intending to do this, but I think the amount of time I have spent at University (11 years) means I now want some time away from it, to try my hand at doing the handful of things I am good at elsewhere, away from the stipulations and control mechanisms of formal education. The sector needs time to settle, and this is unlikely to happen for a while (REF, change of government etc). And I need to decide what I actually want to do. This seems like a stupid admission when I am 30 this year, but then that assumes that your life course is supposed to move in one particular direction, or that certain things need to be achieved. This is, obviously, bullshit.

At the moment, what I want doesn’t extend past ‘writing’. I want to write more. I have always written. This year I have been relatively hard working, in that a novel that I have not really been working on is now 40,000 words longer and actually reads ok. This I have enjoyed doing. I don’t for a minute imagine I can make any money doing similar things, probably less likely than my finding a lectureship or research project I am actually well suited to, but it makes me happy. I am going to try and get a short story published this year, as this is a more achievable goal than a journal article (despite having one out to review at the moment). I am also going to try and finish the novel. Meanwhile, the supposed vital stuff, the employment and that, is pretty much immaterial. This is the plan as of 11.23 on Wed 20th March 2013. My intention is also to spend more time on music, having made little in the past year.

I have fleeting notions of what I want, what I don’t want. For some reason I put them up on my blog on this occasion. This will al change again next week no doubt. I read this all back before posting and didn’t change anything. I am inconsistent even within a half hour of typing. I suppose that’s better than thinking you’re right and blindly following it to a conclusion based on a faulty premise. You have to justify everything you do. I am simultaneously liberated and terrified.

______________________________________

Recent listening:

Dadub – You Are Eternity

Barn Owl – V

David Bowie – The Next Day

Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl

The Year

January 31, 2013

As with every year, I have compiled a list of various aspects of my life. These appear to involve a) drinking, b) reading and c) listening to music. I am intending on adding to these categories over the next twelve months.

Also, I wanted to add that the blog has been sparse of late, owing to my inability to juggle commitments effectively; it is also my intention for this not to be the case in 2014. January will also hopefully see the return of the year in review, with an expanded scope that does not simply include music. The WDT/VSTM archive will continue in January.

2013

What I remember doing:

Writing, all the time, every day. Being an incredibly inattentive gardener and watching many things die. Not travelling as much as I’d hoped to, and not seeing people as much as I wanted to.

Alcohol:

Estimated total spend: £1143 (assuming £3 a pint; the balance here being that some are more, and some are less, and does not take in to account that I tend to drink half pints).

Increase/decrease?

An increase in spending of £520, though if I used the same logic from last year, I actually only spent £571, which is less (last year’s total being £643)

Top ten beers:

10. Kissmeyer – Uusigi Syndrom
9.   Brewdog – Cocoa Psycho
8.   Chesire Brewhouse – Galaxy Blues
7.   Cromarty – Red Rye Ale
6.   London Fields – American Black IPA
5.   Beavertown – Gamma Ray
4.   Buxton – Jaw Gate
3.   Magic Rock – Dancing Bear
2.   Harbour – Imperial Chocolate Stout
1.   Brodies – Hackney IPA

(Special mention also to Brooklyn – There Will Be Black and Bristol Beer Factory – Southville Hop)

Brodies were generally grand all year, as were Magic Rock, and they would have scored more in the top ten if I weren’t self-imposing a rule about only having one beer from each brewery. London breweries did well on the whole I think, with London Field’s being pretty great, along with Pressure Drop, Redchurch and Portabello. Beavertown were also good though they managed to produce one of the rankest beers I have ever tasted…

Top ten worst beers:

10. Oak Leaf – Hole Hearted
9.   Tim Taylors – Ram Tam
8.   Great Heck – Navigator
7.   Marble – Ginger 6
6.   Camden – Gentleman’s Wit
5.   York – Dino-sore-arse (charity beer I think)
4.   Beavertown – Sour Brown
3.   Leeds – Funfair
2.   Beartown – Bearskinful
1.   Wild Beer and Fyne Ales Collab – Cool as a Cucumber

Cool as a Cucumber was undoubtedly the worst beer I tasted this year; gherkin rather than cucumber. Not refreshing on a warm afternoon. Sour Brown reminded me of a Gueuze, which I am not a fan of (I should have guessed from the name) and Camden Wit just tasted too much like Earl Grey Tea. These beers failed because the flavours used in them didn’t work. The Beartown, York and Leeds beers were simply badly made.

Music:

Top albums:

20. Danny Paul Grody – Between Two Worlds
19. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
18. Theo Parrish – Black Jazz Signature
17. M. Geddes Gengras – Collected Works Volume 1: The Moog Years
16. Darkside – Psychic
15. Arve Henriksen – Places of Worship
14. Iasos – Celestial Soul Portrait
13. Netherworld – Alchemy of Ice
12. Ben Frost – FAR
11. Clark – Feast/Beast

10. Sean McCann – Music for Private Ensemble
9.   Star Rzeka – Cien Chnmynad Ukrytyn Polem
8.   Tim Hecker – Virgins
7.   Roly Porter – Life Cycle of a Massive Star
6.   The Flaming Lips – Terror
5.   The Dead C – Armed Courage
4.   Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
3.   Jasper TX – An Index of Failure
2.   Mo7it Al-Mo7it – Jerusalem In My Heart
1.   Paul Jebanasam – Rites

My overall impression of music this year has been how downbeat everything is, in the sense of the feeling of malaise rather than the musical genre.

Most listened to tracks:

10.  Colin Stetson – The Stars In His Head
9.    Clinic – For The Season
8.    Saroos – Henderson Island
7.    Miles – Lebensform
6.    John Brooks – Twelve Woods
5.    James Holden – Rannoch Dawn
4.    Forest Swords – Irby Tremor
3.    David Bowie – The Next Day
2.    Emika – Centuries
1.    Boards of Canada – Reach For The Dead

Best compilations:

5.  Various Artists – The Outer Church
4.  Various Artists – Zirko: Advanced Music from Ukraine
3.  Various Artists – Where The Dancefloors Stand Still
2.  Various Artists – Who’s That Man: A Tribute to Conny Plank
1.  Various Artists – I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America 1950-1990

10 male deaths in May 2013 (in no particular order):

24th – Michael Crozier

15th – Jens Elmegård Rasmussen

5th – Robert K Ressler

26th – Jack Vance

31st – Tim Samaras

23rd – Hayri Kozakçıoğlu

22nd – Sigurd Ottovich Schmidt

16th – Heinrich Rohrer

1st – Stuart Wilde

7th – Ray Harryhausen

Intentions for 2013 (red = success):

Finish PhD
Finish Shinje
Record some new/collaborative music (completed)
Work out what exactly to do with my life once I have completed No.1 (half completed)

Additional credit achievements:

Got an actual job.
Became an uncle, twice (required no skill on my part).

Intentions for 2014:

Finish PhD (no choice on this one really)
Finish Shinje
Go cycling around the Orkneys
Find a new job
Travel more
Sort out journal publications
Pub

Comparison with 2012:

I may have consumed considerably more alcohol this year, possibly as a result of getting a new and very stressful job, but this is difficult to be certain about (the consumption that is, not the job).
I pissed around a lot less, again as a result of the above.
I read more, I slept less.
I feel like, on the whole, I did not achieve what I wanted to achieve in 2013, despite the resolutions for 2013 being fairly nebulous. Perhaps though this is just the constant anxious state we are supposed to live in now. Downbeat ending.

Summary image for 2013:

Liam Butler 4: Damien Jurado – Maraqopa

January 31, 2013

Damien Jurado

After many attempts by my brother, over a period of years, to get me to listen to Damien Jurado, it was not until hearing his 2010 offering Saint Bartlett I finally realised out why he had persisted for so long. Knowing that I’d missed out on a decade of material, I would later spend a small fortune catching up, another one of my economic fails. Maraqopa’s theme is a mixture of light and dark, fragility and endurance, joy and pain, tender and raw. The opening track Nothing Is The News has an airy psych-folk feel with lush arrangements, vocal layers and instrumental textures (no doubt influenced by indie white boy Shins bassist, part-time singer songster come now sought after producer Richard Swift). Life Away From The Garden offers the contrast with a down tempo song about flashbacks to the nuances in a long gone relationship supported by an eerie school choir (which reminds me a tad of SMOG’s eerie use of a school choir on Knock Knock). Damien Jurado is typical of the kind of artist indie white boys with a penchant for the obscure, you want to introduce to your friends a carefully crafted cd/playlist but don’t want acquaintances and the other scum out there listening to/hyping. If you like your American folk music this will knock your socks off but keep it schtum!

 

Liam Butler 3: Will Johnson – Scorpion

January 30, 2013

Will Johnson

I would describe myself as a part-time fan of Will Johnson’s Centromatic. I always enjoyed hearing their tracks on Uncut compilations but never made the leap of purchasing their music (only really listened briefly to one or two albums on Spotify). I was convinced to make that leap on seeing the video to the single “You Will Be Here, Mine” where the aforementioned Will Johnson dressed rather too dapper for a man of his ilk, possibly for a date, possibly for a funeral, is driven around an empty field and country lanes in a golf cart by a scantily clad, obese, booze hound. I’m a sucker for lo-fi, alt-country and singer-songsters and this album ticked all those boxes which meant it was easy to get me hook, line and sinker. Melancholic lyrics about death and loneliness complimented by husky, tortured vocals set against sparse instrumentation. It’s not all doom and gloom, “Rosanky” is an instrumental that will have you stomping and/or quietly nodding to yourself.


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