Saturday, June 27, 2020

Reprint by Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey 40th Anniversary

Continuing the series of blog entries about the 40thanniversary of 1980 the ‘golden year’ for all things Snatch Tapes and Storm Bugs brings us to the Reprint cassette by Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey. The tale of Thomas & Vezey has been told a number of times and is a good yarn, indeed such a good yarn that it often threatens to eclipse the music on the tape so in this retelling I shall try to balance the two.  

Claire Thomas & Susan Vezey fist appeared on Snatch 1 in 1979, and were one of many pseudonyms/band names under which I released music at the time. Along with Claire and Susan there was Vote Police, Vivien Devoy, and Ice yacht. Quite where the idea came from for a female alter ego or egos I can't recall - possibly it was a nod to Duchamp’s Rrose SÈlavy? The names were plucked from a page in a newspaper with the two surnames being swapped over.

The Thomas and Vezey track on Snatch 1 was entitled “Under Press of Sail” and was the first of a number of occasions when sailing terminology has been used for my track titles - despite having always being resolutely land bound. The piece was recorded using two VCS3s. One being triggered by a 32-step sequencer to provide the main propulsive rhythm and the other self-triggering something akin to a backward string sound. A few have commented that “Under Press of Sail” is like an early precedent for techno music. I don’t really know enough about Techno to comment in an informed fashion, but it does share the idea of a music based primarily not around chord progression or melody, but rhythmical patters that change tonally with parts dropping in and out. The track was recorded, as was most of Reprint in one take direct to tape.  

“Under Press of Sail” might have been the first and last we heard of Vezey and Thomas but in 1980 I recorded two long VCS3 tracks again using the sequencer, however this time with the output fed into a tape delay system using two Revox tape recorders. On machine one the signal is recorded before the tape then passes across the room to a second machine where it plays back. The distance between the machines determines the length of the delay. If the signal is fed back to the first machine long echoes of 2-5 seconds are created.  

The tape delay system entered into the fringes of the mainstream rock music consciousness with the two Fripp & Eno LPs No Pussyfooting (1973) and Evening Star (1975) along with Eno's Discrete Music (1975).  Tape delay systems had however been around for well over a decade originally pioneered by Terry Riley (amongst others) who christened the apparatus as a “time-lag accumulator”. Unlike contemporary digital loop pedals in which it is relatively easy to set up snappy rhythmical loops (as used by any number of contemporary pop acts), the tape delay system is by its nature far less precise and lends itself to the building up of long languid evolving passages - adding single note or phrases that gradually fade away. This fading is aided not just by the signal becoming quieter on each repeat but that it in a sense decays having been recorded and played back several times. The tape and the circuitry apply a kind of filtration. Characteristically on a two Revox set-up the bottom or bass end frequencies gradually roll off so the audio becomes progressively thinner as it becomes quieter. Use domestic reel-to-reels and the sound turns quite quickly into white noise.         

My intention on Reprint was to use much faster sequencer patterns than Fripp and Eno so as to build up a chattering and more percussive interplay. To highlight the colouring of the sound that takes place on each repeat a graphic equaliser was placed on the return signal between the second machine and the first so as to emphasise different frequency bands. The result is more akin to polyrhythmic electronic tap dancing than the soothing sounds often associated with tape delay.

The music was almost more of an academic study than the usual Storm Bugs sound and so the fictitious female knob twiddles were once more called into action as authors. Somewhat parodying the materialist approaches being used during the 70's in a number of art forms the short description on the sleeve of the cassette refers to the tracks as "a study in repetition and change using two different sources and two different treatments".

Credence to the existence of Claire and Susan was given by the fourth track on the tape “Bright Waves”. Over the summer of 1980 a friend of a friend Nancy Slessinger came to stay at the Snatch Tapes basement HQ in Paddington. Nancy’s musical tastes were more mainstream but one evening she talked about being in a choir and her love of Thomas Tallis, and I suggested we record a few phrases of her singing onto my old valve Revox. The next week I took the tape into the studio and put it through the tape delay set-up resulting in the layered drifting vocals one hears on “Bright Waves”. In contrast to the two “Reprint” tracks this was far more in keeping with how tape delay systems were traditionally used. The title was meant as part-celebration part-pastiche of the more ambient tape delay. One can see hear an early manifestation of the Sanderson desire to be both post-modernist and anti-illusory.

With all four tracks completed the tape was released in the late summer of 1980. The sleeve design made in collaboration with Steven Ball shows an ink drawing by him that has a floating wistful feel.  To accompany the release a press release was conjured which cast the pair as a Pre-Raethelite synthesizer duo with robes flowing as they strode across Blackheath. It was intended that the whole thing be a fairly transparent spoof. A small display board made by David Jackman with three Snatch Tapes cases was mounted on the wall in the Rough Trade shop in Notting Hill where it came to the attention of a young A & R man from Cherry Red. 

I received a letter from Cherry Red and it was suggested that 'Bright Waves' be included on a proposed  forthcoming compilation LP - Perspectives and Distortion with an LP by Claire and Susan to follow. I really should have come clean at this point but kept up the pretence. The A & R man became keen to meet Claire and Susan and I had to come up with ever taller tales of them being on a theatre tour in America and so on. Eventually it became clear that Claire and Susan would need to show themselves and as Nancy was still living in the flat it was suggested to her that she meet with the A & R man - after all she was singing on one of the tracks so there was some small slither of truth. I don’t remember if Nancy was Claire or Susan but one thing followed another and she found herself being invited by Cherry Red to tea with Quentin Crisp and meals out in Notting Hill. Interestingly I was excluded from these trips and it became clear that the A & R man intended to lure Thomas and Vezey away from Snatch Tapes. However one evening and after a glass of wine or two Nancy understandably couldn’t keep the pretence up any longer and broke the truth.  The next day I had a rather fractious phone call with Cherry Red, the LP was not surprisingly off though the inclusion of Bright Waves on Perspectives and Distortion was so far advanced that it went ahead and indeed “Bright Waves” opens the LP.  Technically it should be “Bright Waves 2” as those with keen ears will note it is a different mix to that on the original Reprint cassette.  

A small number of copies of Reprint included a fifth track; a ring modulator cassette tape loop piece by Philip Sanderson and Steven Ball entitled "Nein Nein Nein". This was included on the CD re-issue of the Reprint cassette by Anomalous in 2003 (NOM23). “Bright Waves” is the opening track on the On One Of These Bends LP released by Séance Centre in 2018. "Under Press of Sail" was included on Snatch 3 (1981) and the Vinyl on Demand Snatch tape compilation LP Snatch Paste (2006).  

As mentioned at the outset the Claire Thomas and Susan Vezey story threatens to overshadow the music on the tape and I still get the odd message outlining somebody’s disappointment on discovering after 40 years that they don’t exist. “Bright Waves” intended as part parody is of course the most popular track from the tape. You can hear the original Reprint tape in digital format here. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Table Matters by Storm Bugs 40th Anniversary

 The front and back sleeve of the Table Matters EP

1980, 40 years ago was a highpoint for all things Storm Bugs and Snatch Tapes. Cassette wise the Snatch 2 compilation, A Safe Substitute (Storm Bugs) and Reprint (Claire Thomas and Susan Vezey) were released, and on vinyl the Storm Bugs Table Matters EP.  The 7-inch was the first of the bunch to be released in May. 

The Rachel McMillan Halls of residencies Creek Rd with the power station behind

Having moved to London in September 1978 to attend Goldsmiths College I was holed up in a halls of residence on Creek Rd in Deptford. There was a coal-fired power station on the Thames just behind the building and as a result the halls was allocated twice the number of cleaners of other halls. The cleaners and I soon reached a mutual agreement however that they wouldn’t bother with my room as I had so much kit in there. From my parents house in Strood I had brought a motley collection of domestic reel-to-reel recorders and various rewired radios and cassette machines. 

Revox G36 valve reel-to-reel machine 

With the help of a student grant I was able to nip up to Charring Cross rd and buy a Kay/Teisco guitar, a Coloursound tremolo, bongos, xylophone and other assorted noise-making paraphernalia. I was already making use of the electronic music studios at Goldsmiths, but even though that was often empty during the day I couldn’t get in there more than once or twice a week so in parallel I was running a bedrooms ‘studio’. In early 1979 I was able to buy a reconditioned G36 Revox, an old tank of a thing with glowing valves, which had apparently been used, in some top-flight recording studio in London as a tape echo machine. As a favour an engineer reconditioned it with new heads, nonetheless it still cost £120, which was quite a sum in 1979. The Revox’s top speed was 7 ½ IPS but it was a quantum leap forward from the Philips domestic reel-to-reels. Aside from straight recordings you could make loops and bring to bear a range of tape editing and musique concrete techniques. 

In the Goldsmiths electronic music studio I was recording instrumental tracks using their range of EMS equipment (two VCS3s and a Synthi A). In the coal fired power station studio it was far more DIY with the somewhat random electronic noises produced by the Sythi Bug – a circuit bent radio with switches and potentiometers attached at various points and scratched records. It was probably finding some naturally occurring stuck groove in my poorly cared for record collection that led me to then take a scalpel to various discs to intentionally create what carelessness had previously done. Having the Revox I could have recorded and then looped sections on tape but there was something both fetishistic and sacrilegious about taking a sharp blade to black vinyl. Making a record partly from other records had a pleasing circularity to it. Scratched records by the Sex Pistols, Peter Baumann, and Lou Reed were all used to make Table Matters.

Scratched discs produce a click or thump as the needle jumps and I hit on the idea of feeding the sound through an old speaker on top of which was a biscuit tin lid with nut and bolts which would jump and rattle on the beat. Feed a guitar through at the same time and one had a fuzz percussion unit.

We have then the basic ingredients for the recording of  most of Table Matters aside from the vocals.  I hadn’t thus far written any songs and the process, which I still use to this day, was to record an instrumental track and then vocalise over it until some form of song like structure emerges. The microphone used was a cheap stage mic and copious amounts of echo from the Revox were added. The lyrics were a take on high street consumerism ‘Eat Good Beans’, ‘Cash Wash’, ‘Make Customers Matter’ a track inspired by a tape I had found in the store cupboard of a bookshop during a summer job in 1979. The tape was intended for the instruction and training of staff of WH Smith bookshops with a view to ensuring that they tried to make their shop the “favourite one in the town”.  

Rather than reflect on the tracks here is a review by Ed Pinsent from: the Sound Projector 16th Issue.

The 'Table Matters' EP was released on vinyl by Loop Records in 1980; it's five tracks of.      edgy, clattering mayhem, made with a combination of electronics, radios, guitars, tape loops, percussion and much more. Effectively a Sanderson solo set, this EP displays wild and rugged invention compressed into short bursts of electrifying genius; four of the cuts are only two minutes apiece. Using found spoken word tapes and warped voicings, Storm Bugs deliver something that is not so much a critique of consumerism, as a semi-nightmarish distorted view of shopping in England in 1980, replete with Kwik-Save signs, shoddy goods, and futile attempts to keep customers happy. ‘Table Matters’ is almost their Santa Dog; it's a perfect cryptic statement, almost inexhaustible in content, transpires in less than 15 minutes and leaves you feeling troubled for days. Great!

The tracks were finished in the autumn of 1979 and then mastered up at the Goldsmiths studio where touches of ring modulation were added or in the case of 'Our Main Objective' a VCS3 and sequencer pattern. The record was cut at Porky Prime Cuts in Portland Place. George Peckham had cut many of my favourite singles by the likes of T.Rex and was famous for squeezing as much volume onto a lacquers possible, and for his cryptic comments etched into the run-out grooves. Rather than today when often as not records are anonymously cut by a technician with the help of a computer, back then one could attend the cutting session, and though Porky didn’t seem overly excited by the material he did a great job. 

The lacquers were sent off in late 1979 to the Linguaphone Institute in Slough. Yes that same Linguaphone who had originally made language records but who were known for their high quality pressing plant. The record then entered something of a black hole. I would ring the factory in Slough once a week from a call box to try and ascertain progress only to be told that the disc was in the system. It wasn’t until early 1980 that the records appeared. 

 The screen printed and photocopied sleeve designs 

The record has been recorded and pressed on a shoestring basically by using money from my student grant and a summer job. The budget hadn’t stretched to labels or a cover. This was however where Steven Ball who was back in the Medway Towns came in. Steven convinced his landlord who ran various businesses to print a sleeve - free of charge or more accurately in return for acting as unpaid messenger boy. Steven came up to London and we went down the Charring Cross Rd where he took various black and white photos. From these the collage design for the cover was pasted together and the camera ready artwork prepared. Weeks went past with no sign of the sleeve and keen to get the record out and get some funds in, a number were sold with one-off photocopied collages I made. My then girlfriend over the Easter holidays went to a printing workshop in the Bristol and designed and screen printed some A3 poster sleeves, which  folded around the record. Finally in mid 1980 the ‘proper’ sleeves arrived (see top of page). 


Then it was off to Rough Trade who in the utopian spirit of DIY would at that point take a box of 25 copies of any new single pretty much without question. I had built up quite a few contacts through putting together the Snatch Tapes compilations and the associated listings in the NME and Sounds and so perhaps another 50 or so were sold that way. As Storm Bugs didn’t play live and indeed as has probably been gathered from the above were not really a band at all but in this iteration was just a keen nineteen year old and a tape recorder selling the remaining copies proved more difficult. Kris Needs in Zig Zag reviewed the record favourably and Rough Trade took another box for the UK. Surprisingly somebody in a Rough Trade affiliate in America had heard the record and wanted 50 copies.  It was these copies that were to enter in the collections of American aficionados of all things English and post-punk and which led to the inclusion of ‘Cash Wash’ and ‘Eat Good Beans’ on the I Hate The Pop Group compilation LP 20 years later and started the process of re-issuing the Storm Bugs material.

Though the promotion of the EP was somewhat haphazard there was an accompanying film made by Steven Ball on Super 8 shot in Chatham High Street for which I did a special remix of some of the music. Only a handful of people saw it back then but it has been recently transferred to video in a high resolution scan and can be seen here. 

Copies of the Table Matters EP with the ‘proper’ sleeve can be had for as little as £70 or as much as £400, ironically the rarer early sleeves can be less expensive as people aren’t always sure what they are. In terms of re-issues the 2007 Storm Bugs LP Supplementary Benefit on Vinyl on Demand includes both sides of the EP mastered from the original vinyl. Digitally the tracks are available via Bandcamp and for the 40th anniversary with the addition of instrumental versions of two of the numbers plus a live rendition of 'Window Shopping' from 2012. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Re-made Readymade (Re-edited)

An edited version of a blog entry originally published Tuesday, August 30, 2005

All of Marcel Duchamp's original readymades were lost during his travels from France to America and back. For the Galleria Schwarz exhibition in 1964 they were re-created in limited editions using the photographs that existed of them as guides. These then are the urinals, bicycle wheels, and snow shovels one sees in museum collections around the world, not readymades, but re-made readymades. But what are the issues surrounding this process of recreation, can indeed the readymade be re-made and still survive?

Duchamp always denied that his readymades had any intrinsic aesthetic qualities. The process of selecting (even if not for aesthetic reasons), and then reframing through the giving of a new thought is integral to the creation of the readymade. As readymade the object's original purpose no longer remains its primary raison d'êtrebut it cannot be said to disappear, it lies subdued in favour of the new thought. Exactly what that new thought might be in Duchamp’s readymades is unclear, it can be little more than the title, often a pun or word play. For example the snow shovel is called In Advance of the Broken Arm

In the process of re-making the readymades as limited editions the marriage of thought and object was arguably reconfigured. The 'easy’ aesthetic of the original mass produced item becomes replaced by the weighted and purposeful hand crafting of the object. The object is now made from start to finish for the sole purpose of art. What was previously readymade then becomes prepared and full of intention, in short made, and something of a contradiction as the tension between thought and object is lost.

Duchamp was no doubt aware of this, but the desire to exhibit may have swayed his better judgement for the integrity of the readymade would arguably have been all the greater had they remained lost - À la recherche du readymades perduperhaps? However this simple act of remaking, this small slippage, for which many museums are now grateful, created a stress fracture that runs through much contemporary art in which the inclusion of seemingly readymade (but actually carefully handmade) elements is commonplace.

The new thought denies the object its original purpose, cloaking it and generating artistic purpose, but to an undefined end other than its own transubstantiation. This tension creates what can best be described as a void between the readymade and its new thought/title. The space has a conceptual air but must remain empty so as to keep thought and object juxtaposed for their mutual survival in the endeavour. 

Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Michael Landy, Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum - the list of artists employing handmade readymades is almost a who¹s who of contemporary art. Unintentionally Duchamp began a process whereby artists seek to invoke the spirit of the readymade but by recreating them loose the tension between thought and object. 

Semi-Detached (2004) by Michael Landy is a case in point, A 1:1 replica of his parent’s house it is part of a poignant installation that focuses on his father’s life following an industrial accident. There is a pleasing juxtaposition between this replica of modest English vernacular architecture and the background of Tate Britain. Beyond the spectacle of the set design however there is no tension or space between thought and object. The space found in Duchamp’s original readymades is instead here filled with the pathos of the narrative of Landy’s father life. Similarly Tracey Emin’s My Bed(1998) becomes more memento mori or relic than readymade. Such practice perches precariously on the fault-line of Duchamp¹s slippage created by his remaking of the readymade.

[1]Marcel Duchamp, "Apropos of 'Readymades,'" talk delivered by Duchamp as a panel member of the "Art of Assemblage" symposium at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 19 October 1961. Published in Art and Artists, (July 1966), 47, and reprinted in Salt Seller. The Writings of Marcel Duchamp (Marchand du Sel), ed. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973).

[2] Marcel Duchamp, from an interview with Calvin Tomkins, New York, 1964. Published in Marcel Duchamp, ed,Calvin Tomkins and Adina Kamien-Kazhdan Gagosian Gallery, 2014.

[3] Marcel Duchamp in The Blind Man (issue 2)), eds, Henri-Pierre Roché, Beatrice Wood, and Marcel Duchamp May 1917.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Rumble of The Ruins

So I have a new album out. Whilst listening to your copy the following notes may bring some elucidation. 

1. Rumble of The Ruins 02:23
In 2012 I bought on ebay a one-chip synthesizer, the  SN76477 or "complex sound generator". Released in 1978 the chip was used in a variety of early arcade games and has a single VCO, LFO, noise generator, noise filter, an envelope (of sorts), and a variety of modulation options.

The circuitry needed some attention before it would make any sound, and was always a little idiosyncratic, but was pleasingly crude and a surprising number of tracks were conjured from it including pieces on the Ice Yacht cassette, and The Storm Bugs Certified Original and Vintage Fakes release. The Rumble of The Ruins track was originally intended as part of a collaboration with the Vas Deferens Organization Mutant Sounds boys called the Office Abandoned, but as that project has been put on hold (or even abandoned) for a number of years I decided to record a new version of the track for this release.

Don’t fade don’t fall 
Let the rumble of the ruins calm your storm 
As you sail bye-bye 
There’s a glory hole gaping in the sky 

Red crimson is the flow 
As urban conurbations teem and grow 
For sale, for rent 
Anointed teenage bodies bored and spent

The lyrics nod towards T.Rex (King of The Rumbling Spires) and the William Burroughs novel Cities of The Red Night.

2. Window Sill 02:18
An early version of this track appears on the Linear Obsessional 2017 Christmas compilation A View From a Hill loosely inspired by the supernatural (or should I say eerie) tales of MR James. This version was as they say fleshed out with guitar, shortwave radio, and percussion.

Walking in the woods one day 
I thought I heard a maiden say

Pushing through the bramble hedge
I saw her flaming ginger head

From the comfort of your window sill
You saw the outline of the hill
Climbing up to reach the tor
From the tangled bedclothes on the floor
He rose

Dipping in the stream that night
Under eel pool electric light

Walking down the wind worn path
Into the contours of the past
He rose

From the comfort of your window sill
You saw the outline of the hill
Climbing up to reach the tor
From the tangled bedclothes on the floor
He rose
There is another echo of Bolan in the opening line shared with his song The Wizard, and of course borrowed by him from many a traditional folk song and/or poem.

3. Au Coin du Jardin 04:34
The synthesizer, percussion and voices were recorded live on Ed Pinsent’s Sound Projector Radio Show in March 2019. The synthesizer is the custom made soft VCS3 app built in Max/MSP, I have been tweaking for nigh on seven years. Gradually it gets more character just like the original, but with more routing possibilities, and the ability to save presets, so in many ways it is ‘better’ than the actual, but would I swap it for the real thing - of course I would.  The treated voices describe a famous case of faux archaeology, the Glozel case. Just Google Glozel and find out. To the Sound Projector Radio Show track I added over phased guitar, it is a little tribute to Cosey who is the master of this kind of slide.

 4. Raven Row (You Know How it Goes) 03:06
In some alternate universe this is a sure fire hit from 1986 or thereabouts, but we are in 2020. A draft was played live by The Storm Bugs back in 2012, this version has slowly matured with ever more layers of guitar, strings, vocoder, and what have you added to the simple synth sequence played on the Nanozwerg and RotaSynth. File under London songs.

A lookey-likey lover whilst working undercover 
Took a liking to the brother of someone else’s mother 
He texted her each hour, even from the shower 
Pictures of his manhood hidden by a flower 

You know how it goes from Ealing to Bow 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 
You know how it goes from Strood to Soho 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 

A sea salty sailor said he’d catch you later 
Had to have a drink with a curious undertaker 
Formaldehyde hot toddy coursed around his body 
Rendering his manhood, limp and floppy 

You know how it goes from Ealing to Bow 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 
You know how it goes from Strood to Soho 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 

Searching for a top-up in a backstreet lock-up 
Ending up instead with a petal pink pop-up 
She inhaled briefly, kept on smiling sweetly 
Thinking all the while that this was kind of creepy 

You know how it goes from Ealing to Bow 
You know how it goes down Raven Row 
You know how it goes from Strood to Soho 
You know how it goes down Raven Row
5. The Elephant's Eye 03:00
The repeated synth sequence over which I first started singing had a touch of the Velvets about it, and though not a VU song Nico’s words from We’ve got the Gold came to mind -We've got the gold, we do not seem too old. This somehow morphed into - Please bring me silver, please bring me gold/ Tease me with your memories of being young and bold. Once the opening line was set the other words followed, a song for turning sixty too. Another influence is to the Faces Ooh La La, but the intent of the lines - I wish that I knew what I know now/ When I was younger/ I wish that I knew what I know now/ When I was stronger, is reversed so that it becomes - If only I knew now what I knew before/ When thought was just an impulse and love was something more.

Please bring me silver, please bring me gold 
Tease me with your memories of being young and bold 
Go fetch my suitcase, don’t forget my hat 
I left it sleeping under a Persian cat 

When you’re inside the elephant’s eye 
When you’re inside the elephant’s eye eye 

You might think it risible, you might think it a joke 
I’ve lost all direction, my head is full of smoke 
The trees gather round and beat their drums 
The wind claps and howls and blots out the sun 

When you’re inside the elephant’s eye 
When you’re inside the elephant’s eye eye eye eye 

If only there was a way out of this labyrinth of caves 
A jaunty little melody that rises up the staves 
If only I knew now what I knew before 
When thought was just an impulse and love was something more 

When you’re inside the elephant’s eye 
When you’re inside the elephant’s eye eye eye eye

 6. Funicular Freedom 04:11
A fellow Hastings resident was getting married at the De La Warr Pavilion in late 2018 and I had envisioned this track with its clanging vibes and sedentary procedural pace as some kind of celebration of the event. There are no lyrics per se as this is the first draft of the vocals. This is how I write all the songs just singing along forming words as one goes. There is then usually lots of revision. Pen and paper come out and over a couple of days ‘proper’ lyrics emerge, but in this instance I left things at the first stage with our lead character floating around on the West Hill watching the funicular going up and down. The title is a sly nod to Elton’s Philadelphia Freedom.

7. Funny Money 03:35
In 1976 when I should have been starting my A-Levels at the Grammar school I made a very ill-advised trip to London for a couple of weeks. The lyrics are inspired by this AWOL excursion but any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Musically we are appropriately enough in Pet Shop Boys homage territory. West End Girls being their finest moment.

Eleven fingers, seven toes, metal dentures, plastic nose 
Never happy, ever sad, take your Mandrax, call a cab 

Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Funny money let’s burn and spend 
Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Bunny money in the West End 

Down the Dilly nine o’clock, on the meat rack, pick me up 
Smells like honey, tastes like cream, petroleum jelly in your machine 

Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Funny money let’s burn and spend 
Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Bunny money in the West End 
Bunny money in the West End 

Never happy, ever sad, take your Mandrax, call a cab 
Tastes like honey, smells like cream, petroleum jelly in your machine 

Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Funny money let’s burn and spend 
Funny money won’t you be my friend 
Bunny money in the West End 
Bunny money in the West End

8. If You Take a Table 02:31
Found my old punky voice in the corner of the cupboard gasping for air, gave it and the old guitar a stroll and a breather.

If you take a table, and nail it to a chair 
Make your calculations on a follicle of hair 
A mystical analysis of alien underwear 

Then I don’t mind you wasting all my time 
Conservative affirmative, so absolutely blind 
No I don’t mind you cribbing all my lines 
Affirmative conservative, so absolutely blind 

If you take an astronaut, and pin him to the moon 
Decompress his chamber, and fill it with perfume 
And cushion your desire with a little red balloon 

Then I don’t mind you wasting all my time 
Conservative affirmative, so absolutely blind 
No I don’t mind you cribbing all my lines 
Affirmative conservative, so absolutely blind 

If you take a table, and nail it to a chair 
Make your calculations, pin him to the moon 
Decompress his chamber, and fill it with perfume 

Then I don’t mind you wasting all my time 
Conservative affirmative, so absolutely blind 
No I don’t mind you cribbing all my lines 
Affirmative conservative, so absolutely blind

9. The Golden Fleet 04:12
Another track recorded live on Ed Pinsent’s Sound Projector Radio Show in March 2019 with added guitar. Every time I search on Ebay for that elusive Rotherex jacket it always comes back with "0 results found for rotherex, so we searched for rother" and up comes al the Krautrock gems.
10. Broken Morning 06:58
What better way to end than on a long drone, using my own patent granular stretching system, with swooshes of shortwave radio. It is a bleak affair, I had in mind the 1977 Gilbert & George Red Morning series. This is my favourite G & G phase when their work resembled the style of Penguin politics and social affairs books from the 1970s.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Lumière et Son Revisited

Ten years ago in November 2009 Sam Renseiw and I started a year-long collaboration called Lumière et Son, a vlog as they were then called. Sam made the Lumières, minute long videos in the style of the original Lumière Brothers silent one-reel films such as La Sortie de l'usine Lumière à Lyon (1985), to which I then added sound. The videos were originally shown on line at the rate of roughly once a week, but as serendipity would have it they were ideal for the Kerry Baldry curated One Minute programmes, and so somewhat paradoxically several of the pieces reached another (and often wider) audience in the more traditional context of the screening room. 

To commemorate the ten-year interval I have for the last three weeks or so been posting the videos in chronological order on the Snatch Tapes Instagram page. Here also is the text of a presentation I gave at London South Bank University a couple of years ago when showing five or so of the pieces at a colloquium.

‘Lumière et Son’: a collaborative videoblog by Thomas Wiesner (Bergen School of Architecture) and Philip Sanderson (London South Bank University)

Paper by Philip Sanderson presented as part of The City as Modernist Ephemera, a one day colloquium at London South Bank University Friday 16th Jun 2017. 

The modern city and cinema grew together symbiotically, the one reframing the other in a form of topographical dance. We understand, and to some degree, live the city through the screen and the films that depict it, which in turn transform the streets into a soundstage, a mise-en-scène of often small ephemeral gestures. 

The city that never sleeps is all bustle and movement, and from early avant-garde films such as Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera (1929) or Berlin Symphony of a Metropolis (1927) by Walter Ruttman, through to more contemporary examples such as Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982), filmmakers have sought to capture the futuristic movement, sound and speed of the city. To do this the full arsenal of cinematography and editing techniques have been deployed: using combinations of montage, superimposition, camera pans, dolly shots, cranes, helicopters, fast editing, etc. All in an attempt to depict the crowds, moving cars, busses trams, trains and general hubbub of the city.

The inspiration for the project I’m talking about today by Lumière et Son predates all of this by taking us back to one of the very first films, the Lumière Brothers La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895). This silent one-reel film shot from a fixed tripod, lasts approximately 46 seconds and it was this form, that was perhaps surprisingly adopted in 2007 by Andreas Pedersen and Brittany Shoot and applied to making contemporary online video work. The constraints were that the videos should be no more than one minute in duration shot from a fixed camera, with no zooms, edits or sound. Such videos were named  ‘Lumières’ and Pedersen and Shoot set up a web site where contributions could be indexed and linked.  An enthusiastic adopter of the Lumière form was Thomas Wiesner a Danish architect who works under the online pen name of Sam Renseiw. Sam made a large number of Lumières and here I quote from an essay by Michael Spazkowski (2012) characterized by. “…a profound sensitivity to space and to how people and objects move along variously restricted and open trajectories”

Renseiw became a prolific maker of Lumières producing over 400. So much for the Lumière what of the Son? This is where I came in as the 'Mr. Sound' in what developed into a year long collaborative project in which a new one-minute piece combining moving and image with sound was uploaded to the Lumière et Son blog on a weekly basis where it was accompanied by a couple of lines that portray a fictionalised day-to-day artistic practice, somewhat spoofing the videoblog’s usual diaristic nature. So the first entry describes a meeting, “Lumière was studying a composition through a concrete letterbox at the Barbican, whilst Son was listening to music from Baron Blood", or “Lumière takes in a fine Polish performance, whilst Son only has ears for the Portsmouth Sinfonia and eyes for the Sugar Plum Fairy”. These small fragments built-up over the course of the year an online work  composed like the city of several fragments that could be recompiled in any
way the viewer chooses.

But hang on - on the face of it Sam’s Lumières are not in need of audio intervention, however to quote Spazkowski “Another defining stamp (of Wiesner’s Lumières) is a musician’s sensitivity to rhythm and tempo” this together with the fixed camera makes Wiesner’s Lumières especially receptive to the addition of sound, not used it must be empasised to reinforce the visual but to extend and develop it, to use sound to reframe and recontextualise what we are seeing, creating an audio-visual dialectic   

A guiding principle and influence in the use of audio within the project was John Smith's 1976 film The Girl Chewing Gum. The film opens with footage of what looks to be an everyday East London street scene; various people go about their business, walking left then right, crossing the road, pausing a moment and so on. What transforms the footage is an authoritative male voice-over that appears to direct the ‘action’ by issuing a series of instructions such as: “now I want the old man with white hair and glasses to cross the road, come on quickly”.  A ‘cue’ that is immediately followed by a bespectacled elderly man appearing from left of the screen, before quickening his pace as he crosses the street. A stream of other such commands by the ‘director’ are given and each time the on screen ‘characters’ seemingly reacts accordingly. It takes a few moments before we realise the artifice of a voce over added afterwards rather than being recorded simultaneously. 

Smith actively plays with the deception for only some of the street action is directed, and there are moments of absurdity such as when pigeons are asked to fly past, and the hands of a clock are told how fast to rotate. This all serves to confuse and upsets the linear temporal logic of the piece before finally the ‘director’ reveals that he is elsewhere, speaking from a field many miles away. What in part Smith is exploiting is the inherent adhesion between sound and image.

Eisenstein, Pudovkin and Alexandrov were the first to notice this adhesive quality in their 1928 Statement on Sound. Whilst they feared (and rightly so) that sound would be used to reinforce image, to create an hermetically sealed story world, the adhesive properties can also be used dialectically. If this causal link is broken, an asynchronous ‘push-pull’ dynamic is created, as seen in Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum, in which we are seduced by the voice appearing to direct the ‘action’ in the street, before the realisation that the voice was added post-filming, makes us reframe our view of the footage. Nonetheless, momentary adhesion occurs throughout the piece, and there is an ongoing revelation of the audio-visual mechanism at work. Several of The Lumière et Son pieces use variations on this ‘push-pull’ technique, with both voice and music employed to draw out and counterpoint elements within the moving image.

Though I make music myself the audio used in Lumière et Son was predominantly ‘found sound’ taken from a range of sources, including shortwave recordings, film and television soundtracks, YouTube videos, etc. These eclectic sources, mostly originating online providing the scope for a wide range of reframings.

Square Dance (2010) as with Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum,uses the voice as the key audio reframing device. The voice-over from a YouTube line-dancing tutorial repeatedly counts out a series of steps, “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight”. The footage shows a Polish square, which members of the public traverse at different angles and speeds going about their business. As the figures cross the square,many of them appear to fall into step, and in time with the counting, as if following the instructions. The correspondence is often brief, but for these instances, voice and image adhere on screen, and become located in the motion of the pedestrian, before the person falls out of step or exits the frame, only for a new synchronisation to occur as another person approaches from a different angle. We move seamlessly between everyday ambulation and the performative.

Spring Greens (2010) shows a young man and woman in a Danish park/garden. The man has a camera and gestures to the woman who removes her coat and begins to strike various fashion-shoot poses, whilst on the soundtrack we hear a couple talking. The on-screen couple are too far away for their lips to be seen, but their actions and gestures seem matched with the flow and tone of the discussion; she striking a pose after being asked to, he crouching to take a shot before we hear the shutter click. We at first assume that the sound and image are from the same location. The sonorities of the recording are however more interior than exterior, and though unlike Square Dancewhere there is a continual push-pull revelation, here we more slowly begin to question whether what we are listening to is actually from the park. For cineastes there is maybe a certain familiarity about the dialogue, and some will recognise it is as being taken (un-edited) from the soundtrack to Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) with the couple in the Danish park unwitting engaged in a remake or re-enactment of the photo shoot scene originally played by the actors, David Hemmings and Veruschka. 

As per the prediction in the ‘Statement’ (Eisenstein et al, 1928) that synchronised sound would be usedto provide “a certain “illusion" of talking people”, dialogue has developed as the key way in which a faux naturalistic world is created in mainstream cinema. Here the intention is to disrupt such certainties by creating a false adhesion, synchronising voice and action, but with dialogue that slowly reveals itself to be from outside the frame, indeed from a completely different film.  

In these two examples (Letterboxing, Goings On (2010)) it is music that is used as the principle reframing device. In commercial cinema, music is used to heighten on screen action, be it soaring strings during a love scene, or fast tempo beats to accompany a car chase. As Hamlyn (2003, pp167) puts it “music controls the emotional response to a scene”, thereby making it difficult for the audience to create their own reading. The mechanism by which this works is paradoxical, in that though Gidal (1989, pp 29) describes music as“filling the image”, in the context of narrative cinema, music is often sublimated, bound inside the image, almost unnoticed, with the visual element, the ‘action’, deemed to be what is emotive. 

Letterboxing, Goings On and Nutcracking which we saw at the start are examples of pieces that intentionally use music to reframe the visual, seeking to foreground its role in shaping our perceptions. This approach is a combination of that used by Chris Marker in La Jetée, in which sections o Boosey & Hawkes film library music help imbue the sequence of photographs with meanings and quasi-cinematic resonance; along with a nod (once again) to Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum, except in this case, instead of the voice, it is the music ‘directing’ the images.

Letterboxing shows a small group of girls playing rounders. We only see the lower half of the girls’ torsos, with the image cut off by a concrete lintel (creating the letterbox window), nor are the other players or the ball visible; all the ‘action’ is off-screen. Juxtaposed with this image is music from the soundtrack to Baron Blood (1972), which is of the type heard in many films of the ‘60s and’70s, with strings and vibraphone building a ‘dreamy’ atmosphere. Despite the music being composed for a different film, it melds with the Lumière creating a kind of reverie as the girls shuffle back and forth on their base with one of them (perhaps aware of the camera?) performing a half-hearted ballet step. Music and image combine, and yet the sound is not sublimated, for we remain aware the two are quite distinct and can perceive the affect the music is having. Finally, a minor chord sounds, and as if on cue, one of the girls runs out of frame. As when voice and image correspond in Belisha Code and Square Dance, the motion creates on-screen adhesion, pulling the viewer from the reverie and into the frame just as the girl exits, and the screen goes black. Having briefly tied us into the picture, the music then directs our attention out of the frame, and to what possibly lies beyond it.

The Portsmouth Sinfonia’s somewhat atonal version of the Dance of the SugarPlum Fairy (1973) is matched in Nutcracking to a shot of three workmen engaged in repairs to a house on a street in Poland, whilst members of the public walk past. The music creates flashes of adhesion with both the workmen and passers-by. Firstly, the rhythm from the bowed strings corresponds with the motion of the first pedestrian to cross from right to left (in a way not dissimilar to the counting in Square Dance), before the xylophone plays, and our attention turns to one of the workmen all but tapping in time with a small hammer on a tile by a door. We know that he can’t be playing the tune, or even miming to it, indeed he has been tapping all along, and yet we are drawn to the adhesion. The music builds, with a mournful brass section creating a comedic undertow as an old lady enters the frame from the left, pauses for a moment as if awaiting her cue, and then lugubriously traverses the frame, pulling a shopping trolley behind her. 

A nighttime scene outside the Glasgow School of Art is the source of the footage for Goings On. Nothing in particular happens:a car drives up the hill, two men walk past from different directions, and a figure on the right of the screen, who is initially in shadow, steps out from the darkness and rubs his hands. This no doubt innocent activity is infused by the guitar music of Glenn Branca’s The Spectacular Commodity (1981) adding menace and creating dramatic tension where none previously existed. The man in shadow begins to look suspicious: what or who is he waiting for, why is he there? Is the car on the way to a drug drop? Sound and image bind together in a way that seductively reveals the manipulation brought about by the music’s filling of the image. Had the scene been acted, part of a longer drama, we may well have been seduced into the director’s narrative world, but here we can feel our emotions being played with, demonstrating how the unscripted can so quickly and easily become ‘cinematic’ with the addition of a few chords. 

There were 44 Lumière et Son pieces of which today we have seen a few short extracts, all the videos are still available on the Lumière et Son blog and a few have had another life as part of the Kerry Baldry curated One Minute Programme. Focusing on the small scale, the ephemeral, the what might otherwise be unnoticed, the collection forms an alternativedepiction of the modern city in contrast to the dynamics of the city symphony. 

Eisenstein, S. M., Pudovkin, V. I., and Aleksandrov, G. V., 1928. A Statement. In: E. Weisand J. Belton (eds). 1985.  Film Sound: Theory and Practice.New York: Columbia University Press.
Gidal, P., 1989. Materialist Film. London: Routledge.
Hamlyn, N., 2003. Film Art Phenomena. London: BFI.
Szpakowski, M., 2012. Lumière and Son – A Discussion, a Selective Commentary & Some Remarks. Furtherfield.
[Accessed 10thJan 2016].

Antonioni, M. Blow Up(1966)
Brava, M. Baron Blood (1972)
Lumière Brothers. La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895)
Marker, C. La Jetée (1962)
Smith, J.The Girl Chewing Gum(1976) 
Reggio, G.Koyaanisqatsi(1982)
Ruttman, w. Berlin Symphony of a Metropolis (1927)
Vertov, D. Man with the Movie Camera (1929) 
Lumière et Son, videos by Philip Sanderson and Thomas Wiesner available at http://Lumiè The following videos were shown at the colloquium.
Belisha Code (2010)
Goings On(2010)
Letterboxing (2009)
Nutcracking (2010)                
Spring Greens (2010)               
Square Dance(2010)