Title: Spindle and the Bregnut Tree
Artist: Ix Tab
Label: Ix Tab
Spindle and the Bregnut Tree is an unsettling listen. Unsettling because it’s strange at a basic sonic level and unsettling because it feels so profoundly personal. There are worlds woven into these tracks and this depth of abstracted emotional content seems to make the music vibrate at a molecular level and as such expand beyond the available sonic terrain. The 12 tracks are pieced together from recordings made as far back as 1987 and ‘collected in a variety of locations, mostly midway between the deepest West Country hallows & the skaen boundaries of the 303’ so the collection also functions as a kind of aural incunabulum (here be monsters) – though I’d be dubious as to how useful it’d be as a dowsing tool to locate specific places. It’s a difficult job to merely describe how the album sounds, as these feel as much like landscape eructations and captured neuronal blips as anything else; but, if pushed, this has elements of Richard James’ early psychedelic explorations and the outer reaches of Coil’s more nocturnal experiments. (Or, more obscurely, the feedback from some afterlife machine onto which ‘they’ uploaded the combined yammer of Balance and Sleazy’s consciousnesses.) There’s also something of the analogue bubbling of Cluster, particularly on the 18-minute epic of ‘Oggle Hatch’ which resolves out of a welter of psychic babble into a beautifully simple synth refrain. But influences aside, this is very much a unique project with its own peculiar sonic idiolect, and it’s a project that clearly deserves to be more widely heard. Go forth.
More minimals over at The Liminal.
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Entries tagged as psychogeography
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.
Thomas de Quincey
In the Sinclair/Will Self talk at the V&A we linked to a couple of weeks back, Sinclair gives an explicit nod to Thomas De Quincey - essaysist, sometime muse/albatross of the Wordsworth's and legendary opium addict - as the father of the art of psychogeography:
I think the whole tradition goes back to De Quincey and one particular phrase that he uses: the ‘north-west passage’ [see chapter 3, Confessions of an English Opium Eater -ed]. He describes, in the English Opium Eater, finding himself within the labyrinth of the mind, within the labyrinth of London. There is a concept called the ‘north-west passage' -- which is like the thread in the maze, like Ariadne's thread -- which could lead you out of London if you contact it. And he makes reference to Frobisher's voyages, the idea of actually navigating a passage through the ice to find a way out, to find a way between the Atlantic and the Pacific. And of course people attempting this disappear, they fall prey to cannibalism or scurvy or whatever.
De Quincey is the one who sees that this is a metaphor that applies perfectly to London, and that notion he floats is then taken up by later romantics like Arthur Machen and Edgar Allan Poe. They they sift it and test it.
This Radio 4 show from back in May whilst never explicitly about De Quincey's link to the genesis of psychogeography, is very much about his love of walking and his phenomenal stamina. (The urge to walk became psychopathological later in his life and fired by his laudanum addiction he was driven to walk incredible distances - when he lived in Edinburgh he apparently measured out his back garden and walked over a 1000 miles in a 90-day period).
The programme is presented by James Crowden who inherited De Quincey's walking stick which had been in the Crowden family since De Quincey's last landlady had presented it to Samuel Crowden back in the 1870s. The programme traces Crowden's last walk with the stick as he returns and donates it to its spiritual home, Dove Cottage - home to William and Dorothy Wordsworth and where De Quincey lived after they had left.
Download (from the marvellous Speechification): Thomas De Quincey - Walking A Stick Back Home
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.