Your Wilderness Revisited

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Your Wilderness Revisited is a project I’ve been working on with William Doyle and Sapphire Goss for almost three years now.

FKA East India Youth, Will has been reinventing his approach to his music for a while now, pitching this project to me in 2015 as an expanded artistic project about home, suburbia and the eerie nature of existing in the kind of “New Build” developments that are now synonymous with English suburbia.

There is a lot of overlap here between thinking on this blog but it’s not a project I’ve ever mentioned here before (I don’t think), attempting to keep different strands of what I do separate from each other. I’m kinda over that at this point, particularly when these are so relevant to the politics of this blog as I see it.

So, here’s an announcement: following a minor setback behind the scenes (which Will has detailed on his Facebook page), his first major outing of the new project’s live show is due to take place at Chats Palace, London, on January 17th. Come down! It is not to be missed.



Last year, we previewed the project at the East End Film Festival, each of us introducing the project and our view and role in it. Below is my intro which I read out on the night, drawing parallels between what we’d been doing and Mark’s The Weird and the Eerie.

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I wanted to say something about strangeness.

When Will and I first started exchanging emails about this project in early 2016, I had just started tentatively on a project of my own exploring a neighbourhood in East Hull where my biological family had lived. Having grown up in West Hull and having never met my biological relatives, I had explored the environment anticipating some sort of connection or surprise. What I found was a place surreal in its familiarity — a neighbourhood with the same kind of houses, the same layout, as the one I had grown up in on the other side of the city. “What would life had been like if I’d grown up here?” I had thought beforehand. It was strange to realise it probably would not have been so different.

Most of the photographs that make up my contribution to Your Wilderness Revisited were taken some time last year, somewhere in the UK. Despite living with these images for quite some time now, they have been affected, for me at least, like most things this year, by the death of Mark Fisher in January. For those who don’t know, Mark was a writer and cultural theorist best known for his 2009 book Capitalist Realism. He was also a lecturer at Goldsmiths in the Visual Cultures department where I am currently a Masters student. What I would like to do with my little introduction to Your Wilderness is give some extra context to these images with a little help from Mark’s last book, The Weird & The Eerie.

In the introduction to the book, Mark writes about the entangled double-bind of the weird and the eerie in relation to our experiences of the strange. He begins by discussing Freud’s concept of the unheimlich — which he translates as the “unhomely”. He writes:

Freud’s unheimlich is about the strange within the familiar, the strangely familiar, the familiar as strange — about the way in which the domestic world does not coincide with itself. […] Is it about making the familiar — and the familial — strange? Or is it about returning the strange to the familiar?

Mark hopes to rescue the Freudian strange from its familiarity by exploring his own nuanced conceptions of the weird and the eerie instead. He begins with the weird, describing it in relation to “that which does not belong.” He writes:

The weird brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the “homely” (even as its negation). The form that is perhaps most appropriate to the weird is montage — the conjoining of two or more things which do not belong together.

Discussing the eerie, he writes:

A sense of the eerie seldom clings to enclosed and inhabited domestic spaces; we find the eerie more readily in landscape partially emptied of the human. What happened to produce these ruins, these disappearances? What kind of entity was involved? […] the eerie is fundamentally tied up with questions of agency. What kind of agent is acting here? Is there an agent at all?

(It is far too tempting to invoke letting agents here…)

These two descriptions of the weird and the eerie say a lot about all our approaches to this project. Montage is an obvious part of all our approaches but even deeper than the aesthetic is the intent. As Will and Sapphire have made clear from their introductions, this project is not an attempt to judge these spaces for their familiarity. They are too easy a target in that regard. Rather the intention is to find the beauty and potential in them but that is not to pretend these spaces aren’t strange.

The four central photographs here — double and triple-exposures exposed onto a single negative in camera — are the only ones to feature a human presence — a presence that both ruptures and is inseparable from the environment around it. These images are concerned precisely with the thresholds, egresses and the between which Mark writes are central to a weird that “denaturalises all worlds, by exposing their instability, their openness to the outside.”

The aesthetic form of these environments, with their repetitive geometric shapes, is easy to focus on but what is harder to capture and express is their affect on the psyche and precisely the human agencies that shape these spaces despite themselves. They can so often be over-designed that, when walking around, any sign of human individuality or nature undoing design jars the senses — and that experience is often not unpleasant. It is precisely what is needed to imagine new alternatives and potentials for these spaces; to stoke creativity and imagination, and these instances are more affective for the adolescent brain, in particular, than we care to acknowledge.

Mark writes later of the eerie that it

has to do with a detachment from the urgencies of the everyday. The perspective of the eerie is to give us access to the forces that govern mundane reality but which are ordinarily obscured, just as it can give us access to spaces beyond the mundane altogether.

The letting agencies that govern these sprawling mundanities are certainly worth being wary of, but our own agencies can offer these spaces (and their future iterations) many more potentials — and that is why they are worth revisiting.



Xenogothic Radio #2: The Breakdown and the Breakthrough

From Xasthur to Kanye West to Albert Ayler to Sister Nancy and back to Phil Elverum.

Episode #2 is about breakdowns and breakthroughs.



The more time I spend putting these together, the more aware I become that this is not my natural habitat.

Please forgive my tongue being slightly too big for my mouth and please forgive my laziness over going back and pronouncing words properly.

I never nitpick on this blog. I’m not about start now.


Previous episodes: #1

Dagga This, Dagga That: Miss Red at Corsica Studios

The loudest night I ever went to was at Corsica Studios. A Dillinja DJ set for Ø. The bass shook the whole venue. I took my girlfriend — not a junglist — who opted to sit outside because the sensation of bass inadvertently vibrating her vocal chords was not one she found very enjoyable. On necessary breaks from the mayhem, it felt like the piss trough upstairs threatened to become violently unhinged from the wall, unleashing untold horrors on the party below.

Bass is beautiful because it shakes everything loose.

Tonight I am here for the Miss Red album launch, waiting to hear The Bug, Flowdan, Grandmixxer and the woman of the hour herself. As I enter the main area, my eye catches a succession of signs that read: “Volume levels tonight may be excessive. Hearing protection is FREE at the bar.” I haven’t seen a sign like it here before and I’d think of myself as a regular visitor. This is, however, the first time I’ve been to the venue since they installed their new Funktion One sound system — an upgrade that, I thought at the time, could not have been better timed, occurring shortly after this night was announced.

The question remained: What were my ears in for?

Continue reading “Dagga This, Dagga That: Miss Red at Corsica Studios”

Carl Stone and the Complexities of Real Life

There was a strange but minor uproar on experimental music Twitter recently. A Pitchfork review of the new Carl Stone retrospective, Electronic Music From the Eighties and Nineties, ruffled some feathers and, when you read it, it is very easy to see why.

The review, by Daniel Martin-McCormick, comes across as a piece of writing that lays the writer’s own insecurities on the table and then attempts to talk about them somehow objectively, eschewing any kind of self-awareness.

Straight out of the gate, the reviewer positions the work as the product of the “cloistered realm of academia”. His main argument from there on out is that Carl Stone has simply reinvented the wheel, removing all emotional resonance out of sampling techniques that were, at the time, novel but are now old-hat. He writes:

Though noteworthy on technical and historical levels, ‘Electronic Music’ flags emotionally, vacillating between maudlin optimism and a half-baked minimalism. … [Stone] seems all too concerned with making sure his listeners feel safe and attended to, and the work suffers as a result. In the academy, an appealing artist statement and a complex process can go a long way, but for music to make a real impact you need to take a leap beyond the page. ‘Electronic Music’ jumps up and down with impressive energy, pointing excitedly towards the future, but in the end stays put in a quickly receding past.

Is he reviewing the album here or just Tim Rutherford-Johnson’s historicising liner notes…? If you were confronted by an album that left you stumped, which you didn’t know what to feel about and sought refuge in the words on the sleeve, this is the sort of review I’d expect to read.

The biggest issue that many seem to have with the review, however, is elsewhere. Just one sentence. Even if you’ve chosen to go through the wringer of overly generous defences of subjective taste, it is a moment that feels like an egregious leap into territory that I don’t even know what to call:

Stone is clearly reaching for an emotional connection, but he remains oddly disengaged from the complexities of real life.

Many on Twitter have rejected criticisms of the review, informing those offended few that Carl Stone is not some sacred cow who cannot receive a negative appraisal. There is, of course, a tremendous difference between a “bad review” and a bad review… Frankly, I think this sentence above might be one of the most incredible sentences I’ve ever read in a context such as this.

For me, this jars with when Martin-McCormick makes reference to the way that “an appealing artist statement and a complex process can go a long way” in the context of critiquing stuffy academia. What is today considered by so many to be a painfully pretentious crutch for mediocre expression is something to be championed here, it seems, over this relatively austere and minimal anthology of “dated” works.

Compare this second retrospective album by Carl Stone to Laurie Spiegel’s The Expanding Universe, also released by Unseen Worlds back in 2012. The CD liner notes of that release are extensive, particularly in reissued form. Inside the booklet, technical information and context are offered freely whilst, on the cover of the album itself, Spiegel conducts an interview with herself. After rattling quickly through her CV and evading pressures to overly define her sound, she waxes lyrical about her entangled process of creation and research in a way that is very much of its time, betraying a residual spirituality, a hippie sensibility, which jars with her cutting edge and pioneering computer music.

Spiegel rejects the conservatism and anally retentive practices of conservatoire students before she goes on to write about her music in a way that was, I imagine, at the time, refreshingly candid, affective and uninhibited. She writes:

My pieces are most strongly concerned with feelings, actually, but no matter what I feel, my mind is always active. Every piece is different, and I suspect that every good piece has all the aspects of being human in it which are integrated into its creator, probably in the same balance. Each piece I do reflects what’s happening in me at the time I create it. Sometimes a particular idea or emotion will dominate my awareness while I’m working, but the rest of me is still acting on the piece as I work. The intellect is a great source of pleasure, and wants expression just as the emotions do. They are not really separable.

When this reissue came out, I myself was a second-year undergraduate art student and I remember reading Spiegel talking to herself and thinking: “Yes! Why should I smother my own work in jargon-laden over-explanations and technical exposition? What is missing from my art school education is feeling. That’s what I want to express.” And so I did, ditching an “artist statement” at my degree show for a mix CD instead — describing what I was doing with sound made just as much sense as describing what I was doing in half-understood words. I’m sure it remains a common feeling felt by young art students and always has been. There will always be those who are serious about play but resent the game.

Carl Stone, I must confess, I know nothing about. Maybe he felt the same as Spiegel in making these compositions. Or maybe Martin-McCormick is right. Maybe he’s some fuddy-duddy academic composer who plays with technique but has forgotten how to feel. I don’t know how Stone lives his life but, living with this music, embracing its distinctly non-academic mystery, I’m captivated. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I read a review that I disagreed with on quite so many levels. (Although I also don’t remember the last time I read a review on Pitchfork…)

Opener “Banteay Srey” feels heavily reminscent of last year’s PAN complication, Mono No Aware, despite predating it by almost 30 years. “Woo Lae Oak” is a minimal slab of Steve Reich violins and pan flutes, a jarring combination if ever there was one, which nonetheless evokes a new underside that is both other and complimentary to its Different Trains-esque sonic frontierism.

Stone is certainly channelling many iconic modern composers here but what is most endearing about this release is the blissful new heights it takes these motifs and the understated manner in which it does so. It’s one of the most enchanting records I’ve heard so far this year. If it is devoid of reference to real life’s complexities, perhaps that’s because it is music for soothing them. And to do so with such grace, this side of the 2010s ambient revival, with an archive release no less, is no mean feat.

Ambient Photography

An old post from an old blog, 2014


Ambient music has had a resurgence of late. In many ways, it’s never really gone away. 

The history of ambient music is fascinating and complex. Explorations of it — from Brian Eno’s discography and David Toop’s Ocean of Sound — often avoid making points about style and form, instead discussing philosophies towards sound and ways of listening.

With this resurgence in my mind, I came across two essays on photography that used Muzak — the very music that catalysed Brian Eno’s own ambient music — to negatively describe a certain kind of photography.

The first was a blogpost by Colin Pantall in which he railed against the majority of photography that we see all around us — “visual Musak, that inadvertently lulls us into a state of thoughtless consumption”. For Pantall, the pervasiveness of a photography so bland must surely be (negatively) affecting how we visually experience our society.

The second was a description of a similar phenomenon by David Campany in his take on the increasingly obligatory State of the Union address written to accompany the 2014 Deutsche Bank exhibition, Time Present:

The further photography moves from known objects, the less reliable its description of the world. If, as we are often told, the photograph is a universal form of communication, it is only at the level of the obvious and the already understood. It is clichés and only clichés that bind us in this increasingly fragmentary world, argued Gilles Deleuze. Indeed, what there is of a “global language of photography” is made up of images of commodities, celebrities, sunsets, and other clichés of locality. “Viewzak.”

Both use ‘Muzak’ in a context fitting with our cultural lexicon and they are certainly not the first to make such a comparison. The word ‘Muzak’ lives on (albeit only just) as a synonym for the worst examples of derivative and reductive corporate cultures that dilute the truly artful.

Continue reading “Ambient Photography”

A Forest

Come closer and see
See into the dark
Just follow your eyes

Into the trees

Suddenly I stop
But I know it’s too late

I used to work with a burly Welshman called Marc.

Marc liked music and we would talk a lot about our favourite records.

Most of the time we worked together it was to install exhibitions and so this was often the perfect time to listen to albums and talk about them. Other times, we’d just listen to the radio.

This morning, whilst on the bus into work, The Cure’s A Forest came on and I was reminded of the last time I had heard that song. It had come on the radio whilst I working with Marc around three years ago.

Marc began to laugh to himself when he heard it and told me a story about seeing The Cure at Glastonbury in 1986. I’ve never been to Glastonbury but one part of its reputation that precedes it is the size of the festival site itself. Marc said this can be irritating but it has its uses.

He told me that, whilst standing around all day, eating and drinking and listening to music, he had felt the need to relieve himself. He walked around for a while but felt that this was an “evacuation” that warranted more privacy, shelter and a wider berth than your usual duck behind a tree…

Marc decided to walk for some distance, away from the festival site, away from camp sites, away from any potential passersby.

He found himself walking through a forest, through patches of bluebells and wild flowers, and soon he was in a suitable clearing, alone.

Marc dropped his trousers to his ankles, placed a selection of large leaves in a pile in front of him and attempted to squat next to a tree.

Before he had had a chance to exert any pressure on himself, he heard a low rumbling sound. The clearing around him gradually came alive with activity, like a storm had brewed out of nowhere, and then continued to excite itself beyond the possible influence of any natural source.

Before Marc’s very eyes, too shocked and too unstable to move, buffeted by the violent currents of air now billowing around him, his pre-selected leaves lost to the wind, a helicopter descended into the clearing.

As it touched down, a succession of bodies, their heads bowed towards the ground out of reach of the rotor blades, exited the helicopter and made their way to the edge of the clearing, towards the festival site, some carrying bits of equipment and lighter instruments.

The final person to disembark the helicopter, their hair a black bramble mess, caught Marc’s eye as they looked up towards their destination and, were it not for the force of air at their back, may have otherwise stopped in horror at the sight of Marc’s Somerset greeting.

It was Robert Smith.

Understanding

The best thing about Jungle is that every first encounter with a tune has the potential to be ungrounding. Not only is that the general sensation of the genre as a whole, but sometimes a track comes along that has you falling over yourself all over again.

Just when Jungle starts to become familiar, all it takes is one track to make everything feel strange again. This track somehow manages to unground itself three times over the course of its seven minutes, denying you of the one thing it seems to promise: understanding. It is a masterpiece.

RIP Tango.


K-Punk on “Tales from the Darkside” for FactMag:

Translating rave frenzy into jungle dread, ‘Tales From The Darkside’ runs at a cartoon-hectic pace, with its stabbing riff sounding like pitched-up electro, Mantronix’s ‘Bassline’ running at  +8. The brief, speeded-up-to-chirrup rap sample you hear, though, is from Eric B and Rakim.