A Long Time Between Suns
“A Long Time Between Suns”, The Otolith Group’s latest exhibition at Gasworks in Vauxhall, offers a unique opportunity to showpiece the concerns of a collective whose lineage can be traced back into the Black Audio Film Collective and the Cybernetic Culture unit at Warwick University. Last week they presented Mark Fisher’s audio-essay “LondonunderLondon”, which was originally broadcast on Resonance FM in 2005. Fisher may be better known to some in his Kpunk guise (a site which lingers somewhere between a blog and a thinking machine), and his piece centred on a series of themes which reappear in that space.
“LondonunderLondon” sounds as if it were made by the cyborg children of Iain Sinclair. There appears to be a conjunction between his psychogeography project and Kodwo Eshun’s notion of sonic fiction in an attempt to produce an alternative map of the city. It is fiction that really comes to the fore here, and one could certainly identify the presence of Ballard. The opening passage, focusing on a walk through Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road, was a kind of channelling of the detached, analytical voice that occupies High Rise. But what Fisher and the other voices of the Otolith Group have produced with “LondonunderLondon” is not only an audio walk through the spaces of the city, but also an engagement with its temporalities. The essay encounters what Eshun called the capability of buildings to act as recording devices, architectural machines soaking up the sounds of all who passed through them. In fact it was suggested that ghosts could be thought of as playbacks, the sonic memories stored in these buildings seeping out into the streets (interestingly The Overlook Hotel was mentioned as a way to think about this). As much as “LondonunderLondon” was an encounter with the city’s ability to memorialise its inhabitants, it was also an imagining of what is to-come. The dystopian feel of the London Fisher can see forming on the horizon is both terrifying and compelling, but as he maintained, that future is always in part here amongst us.
Despite the unavoidable intensity and richness of the essay, I have some nagging criticisms which gather precisely around the strengths of the work. “LondonunderLondon” is at points too well read, and too aware of itself to realise all its own possibilities. It appears to have emerged too easily out of an engagement with both fiction and philosophy, particularly through the Derridian preoccupation with haunting. There was a moment, around the imagining of a lagoon in Wandsworth, where the essay threatens to break out of these references. The thing starts to take shape around a deep thrum, almost as if the work was taking on a pulse, taking on a life and moving ahead of those of who conceived it, but unfortunately this moment was too fleeting.
Perhaps “LondonunderLondon” should be considered in relation to other recent soundworks which have also sought to operate at the juncture between the sonic and the geographical. The mappings and playbacks which Dusk and Blackdown’s “Margins Music" and Burial’s two albums (they apparently were made with night bus journeys in mind) produce, offer something which I think “LondonunderLondon” misses out on. But I suppose there may be a distinction to make between music and the Otolith Group’s attempts to realise and release sonic fictions. Putting any reservations about Fisher’s audio essay aside, sonic fictions is certainly a project I believe needs to be given room to develop and work itself out. One possibility that springs to mind is an uncanny resonance with the improvisatory poetics of Nathaniel Mackey, a writer who operates in the breaks between modernism, sound and mythology.
Edit: just a quick note to say that the Londonunderlondon project was incorrectly solely attributed to Mark Fisher when it was in fact a collaborative work between Fisher and Justin Barton.
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Entries tagged as london
I must get my shit together and buy this. For now it's book of the week on Radio 4. Sinclair, via Neil Pearson, sounds on fine form - closer than ever to the elusive alchemical mixture of poetry and prose. There's also some Miles in there to ease the passing.
Westfield - Being and Buying
By 2012, the economic and social geography of London will be reconfigured: a clogged, dirty, disregarded centre made obsolete by vehiclesoliciting destinations at east and west. It now appears that these customised funny-money cathedrals are the final solution, New Labour's response to the meltdown of the financial markets. Current political philosophy chimes with Westfield's primary thesis: 'Being and Buying. Lifestyle, not just product.'
Iain Sinclair on the new Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush
The Cairngorm Massif
Cracking edition of the Guardian Review yesterday:
A beautiful piece on Nan Shepherd - the keeper of the Cairngorms - by the, at present, untouchable Robert Macfarlane. Shame the cheapest copy of the book I can find is for £30... (Edit: make that £60 - the power of a good review...)
Iain Sinclair moves a step closer to ubiquity with this great piece on Robert Camberton, an obscure writer about the denizens of London...
And, finally a companion piece by Robert Hughes to the huge Bacon show that is imminent at the Tate Modern. See also Peter Conrad's revealing biographical melange on Bacon from a couple of weeks back.
Iain Sinclair (picture by Simon Crubellier)
I've been wondering about the transcript of this for some time, and now I see from the mighty Ballardian that it's finally appeared - Iain Sinclair and Will Self discussing the relative merits and histories of Psychogeography at the V&A. It's a mess, but an engaging, intruiging mess, with Self getting buried under the usual Sinclair blizzard - who is becoming the consumate orator. On some level it's odd that Sinclair has accepted Self's popularising of the psychogeography tag, as he's been scathing of it, and him, in the past. But what I think this points to is a tacit acknowledgement that the psychogeographic movement, in its latest incarnation at least, has reached some kind of end-point and will shortly disappear underground once more, the haunt of edge-worriers and tunnel-creepers, which to be fair is what Sinclair has always been anyway. Where Sinclair goes from here is anyone's guess - his book on Hackney, his lifeswork one supposes, is out next year...
Also from Sinclair - this scabrous rant in the latest LRB about the Olympic Park complex in the East End.
This is East London, four years short of that 17-day corporate extravaganza, the ‘primary strategic objective’ to which we are all so deeply mortgaged.
I’ve been meaning to put together a few thoughts on the deluge of free newspapers that flood a London commute, but K-punk’s musings on the (paper)waste land of London Bridge convinced me that it has already been done in ways that I could never surpass:
“Look around the carriage, snapshot of a MySpaced city: diversity without difference, homogeneity without communality - bodies reduced to claustrophobic zombie meat fighting for space, background hum of mutual hostility simmering, yet everyone is reading the same thing...”