Saturday, 28 January 2017
Sunday, 22 January 2017
Something is stirring. A ghostly flicker on a video tape, trapped between frames, or a half recalled smell from childhood. Unreachable.
Tightly curled, slowly unfolding, buried deep but pushing for the surface.
There is light behind the clouds.
A trill note dancing side side, up and down. Behind you, above you, swirling beyond your grasp.
Saturday, 21 January 2017
Thursday, 19 January 2017
Wednesday, 18 January 2017
Tuesday, 17 January 2017
Rambling thoughts, unedited/unfinished
What is the new modernity to be?
I've been reading Mark Fisher's work recently. It is terribly sad to have just discovered his insights only to then discover his death a matter of days later. One of Fisher's central contentions appears to be that without a sense of 'the modern' then the world is stuck in an aimless trough, repeating itself endlessly, suffused with a vague but essentially meaningless nostalgia.
This idea has nestled quite deeply in my mind, reading several commentators describing the reasons for the seemingly seismic political events has also led me to feel that it is the inability of people to summon up an optimistic vision of the future which leads them to turn away from the centrist liberal ideas with such surprising vehemence.
I have no desire to explore Brexit or Trump. It is what it is. What I think I do want to do is wrestle with this notion of modernism and modernity. They aren't the same thing on a level of academic discourse, but I don't especially want to have academic discourse. I want to probe a topic, to prompt a similar probing in others and I'd like that to be a broad notion, an easy to stomach concept that doesn't need a history or philosophy qualification.
Modernism is, to me, a sense that the lot of the human race can be improved by intelligent application of technology to the problems of living. It is a question of thinking fresh thoughts, or redesigning things to be explicitly different than the past. It is many things, but it is not nostalgic or sentimental. When it visits the past, it quotes it, as opposed to recreating or aping it.
Modernist thinking brings us redefined living spaces, it brings us are which recycles the form of previous styles but with a fresh purpose. It is a movement which does not accept that they way it now is the way it will be tomorrow, because we can do things different, use things differently, build things differently.
This is what has died over the course of the last 50 years. It's the belief in a radical social vision, a belief in change on a big level. You can see it everywhere you look, from the housing estates peddling identikit homes which show no real changes in design since the 1960s, to the complete disinterest in solving transport issues, to the steadfast refusal of TV executives to put on anything that might challenge, confuse or frighten people in it's form or content.
We are in a period of stasis. The change might feel radical but really, it's just a retread of old ideas. There is, of course, a modernity in our social attitudes towards individuals. There is a flourishing culture of ideas around gender and identity in particular. This is positive, but this is also fragile. In order to protect the social advances we've made, we have to think radically as the politics of the individual rely on the society around it. In short, I think what I'm saying, is: If acceptance and liberality (on a social level) is to flourish, we have to question what are hings we want and need from a broader society, what are the universal (or near universal) requirements of our people to achieve a sense of contentment and happiness.
Slavoj Zisek is much maligned, but he is spot on when talking of a desire to here what happens in 'V for Vendetta 2' - how does society reform itself 'after the revolution.' In other words, the progressive, the leftist, the radical, the discontented has to not simply oppose the force of darkness but act as if the revolution is here, now. It has to set forth radical notions which appeal broadly to people because they are intrinsically good ideas which improve the lot of the human being.
For a long time, the rhetoric of the above group has been simply 'more opportunity, more fairness, more kindness' - essentially, the same thing but softer, nicer, more thoughtful. Whilst on one hand the progressives have created a more open, tolerant and frank society, on the other, they have done little address inequality or economic freedoms. They've also failed to stop the dismantling of the apparatus of the state, the erosion of workplace representation or the saddling of the nation (both the nation as a literal state and the individuals that constitute it) in debts accrued by a tide of baseless, thoughtless consumerist recklessness.
So here we are. It is modern in the sense it is now. What is it? An echoing mall filled with bawling voices shouting hate and obscenities at each other about things they only half understand. A strange matrix world, where we lie suspended in our bubbles, fed on a soylent green-esque diet of reaffirming opinions and lifestyle jealousy. A kitch sitcom where we dress like 80s kids or 50s kids and laugh knowingly at our in jokes and lay out our clever cultural signifiers of own unique reference points without ever quite knowing why they are funny or clever because irony or something until one day shit gets real and actually we wake up and actually we're in ALDI and we're living in late era the Soviet Union really for all the difference it makes but with better cars and worse schooling.
So yeah, that's now, maybe, maybe not. Who cares, who wants really to analyse, this subgroups cultural significance, or the self referential nature of this or that. What we need, what we must do is move beyond the navel gazing about 'what it all means' towards a sense of what we can DO. What can be BETTER.
Where do we begin?
First of all, we change the rhetoric. We don't need opportunity as much as security, as stability. Opportunity is a word which has become synonymous with employment. I want opportunities to socialise, to congregate, to celebrate, to muse, to wander, to travel, to discuss, to exercise, to play, to learn and so on. I want opportunities which time brings. Which security brings. I want a freedom from anxiety and the precariousness of every modern existence. I want more than two days to drag myself out of a semi comatose state, into a feeling of possibility. This is opportunity, every bit as much as the opportunity afforded by employment which generally runs counter to these desires.
Secondly, I want to see technology harnessed for social good. I want to see everything become easier, better, quicker faster and universally available. There is an incredible opportunity to radically rethink so many things, from work, to the notion of citizenship, to education, to the way we live and the places we live if technology is embraced and invested in in a massive way. There is no earthly reason to build a project like HS2 when there is such deep inequality of access to information and culture. This could be addressed in so many ways. Maybe we don't need libraries. Maybe we do. But the fractured and ad hoc approach to digital culture, in which we have invited corporations to control the very network and access points, to curate the way we explore it, to choose what we see, to advertise to us through the content of our 'private' messaging is disturbing. We could do much better. Much, much better than this.
The single biggest failing of New Labour in terms of promises versus actuality is the question of transport. Here, we move far beyond the question of nationalised or privatised rail. We need to make car ownership feel like what it is. An anachronistic burden. We need to give opportunities for travel in quick, clean and spacious surroundings, moving seamlessly from mass transit, to smaller vehicles. Again, technology offers some hope here, but are we actually building the world around this possibility, are we enthused and romanced by this potential vision? There are so many ways in which this could be about equality, about a levelling and crucially, a levelling of something that doesn't matter. There is no reasonable argument that could suggest that it is infringing on someone's human rights or basic freedoms by building a super fast transport network which only utilised standardised vehicles. Which gave everyone the same access to those standardised vehicles. Surely in such an instance, the enormous benefits to the majority outweighs the classic white elephant of choice.
In media, we decry the 'dumbing down' of television, the 'nasty right wing' press, but what do we offer instead? Do we create, fund, support, write, submit? Do we have a vision of what we want the media to actually be? Do we make the noise that disturbs or seduces? Are we arguing for or arguing with?
EXPAND: SIMPLICITY VS CHOICE (REFRAME CHOICE AS DILEMMA)
SMALL VICTORIES - RECLAIM COMMON SENSE>
Monday, 16 January 2017
Sunday, 15 January 2017
Friday, 13 January 2017
Thursday, 12 January 2017
Wednesday, 11 January 2017
Waiting at a bus stop. Not knowing whether the bus will get me there. I am anxious about it. There might be one of those systems where you have to buy a card and scan it. I don't know. I could ask I suppose but there is no-one else at the stop aside from a kid, headphones on leant against the stop and spitting, little blobs of phlegm, bullet like. I keep staring out from where I am, past him. I am keen to give the impression I am not avoiding his gaze, but equally keen not to meet it. He is thin, wire thin, one leg out straight, the other bent, foot in firm contact with the wall of the shelter. He looks like to cross him would be an object lesson in potential energy, attracting his ire releasing it like a controlled explosion. His jacket is white. So white. As is the hat pulled tight over his head. I count the cars between spits, sometime 6, sometimes 7, one time 8. I consider if anyone has built a rhythm for a symphony around the spitting of a youth at a bus stop.
Finally, in the murk there is the tired drawl of the bus engine. It looks squat in the distance. I scrabble again in my pocket, fingers teasing and array of coins into the palm of my hand. I worry that I might need the right change. I worry that I might need to feed the money into a machine. To be in a city unknown to you is to be a little bit alien as has been noted. Nowhere is this more evident than in the unspoken, often completely unexplained vagaries of purchasing a ride on the cities mass transit network.
The bus arrives will a jolting halt and then in a way that seemed so futuristic only 10 or so years ago lowers the front end to the pavement. This isn't the newest of busses and the worn air of the surroundings is filled with the sound of whooshing air and wheezing pistons and the descent of the bus to street level is more arthritic than graceful.
The kid glances from his saliva projecting trance at the bus. His head barely turns, his eyes swivel. He looks at the bus, then at me. I hesitate. I've stood back to let the people off. One man bounds of the bus, walking in an alarming way that could be described as jaunty if it weren't for the fact he seems to have one leg which won't fully cooperate with the speed he want to go. A lady heaves what looks like a red and blue plastic mesh weave bag of washing that must equal her own body weight. Headscarf on and an implacable, stoic expression.
I hesitate again, I want him to get on, I want to observe how he navigates the act of ticket buying. Does he just profer a standard fare? Does he state a destination? Does he swipe a travel card?
I really don't want him behind me, he has a kind of nervous energy, pent up. Granted he has waited for the bus with a kind of Zen like focus on the same spot of pavement, peppering it as if in target practice mode for the world spitting championships, but I don't want to be stammering and rooting for change, asking questions about what the right stop for my destination is, all with my out of town accent which I know is ridiculous, this is a sprawling metropolis, not some Devon village where heads turn if a tread they don't recognise is heard walking toward the bar door.
He glances at me directly, the bus driver looks out, I can hesitate no more. The kid does a lazy push off with the foot that was still tucked up against the plexiglass wall, rubber sole kissing the spot where a lighter has been held against it till the plastic bubbled and browned.
I'm now trapped, no way out, kid behind me, door of the bus in front. I take the step quickly, gait trying to exude confidence. I mutter a request for a single to my destination. The driver mods at the coin tray. 'How much?' I enquire, knowing that for this journey my cover is blown. I'm marked out, not from round here, or perhaps worse, not used to getting the bus. It's £3.20.
I drop the money in the tray lingering to see if he gives me change and to my surprise he does. I tear the ticket, pleased at the fact it comes away clean. I turn to see the rest of the bus, engrossed in their own world, tapping and caressing devices, staring mutely out the window or grimly at their own knees.
A kid talks too loud to a woman who looks not to be listening too intently. A fat man is wearing just a shapeless t-shirt even though it is raining and the wind blowing it in unpredictable squalls against the windows of the bus. Two girls sit formally and quietly as if at job interview. Neat hair and sensible clothing, I guess they must be foriegn students or something. The fat man has carrier bags I have to turn side ways to get past. I wonder why he has such old carrier bags, the white plastic seems stretched and discoloured and I wonder idly why he doesn't upgrade them as this area of the city is hardly suffering from a shortage of discarded bags.
I pause for a fraction and consider the seat. I never want to sit too near the front for fear I'll take the seat from a disabled war veteran or someone with an oxygen tank struggling for breath as they struggle to a hospital appointment to try and prolong the struggle that every waking moment of their life must be.
I feel the presence of the kid behind me and decide to decide quickly. I move in what I hope is a lithe and athletic way towards the first of the raised seats above the rear wheel arch. I grasp one of the poles which extrude from the backs of certain seats and use my momentum to spin into the seat and finally relax.
The kid takes the seat two back from me on the other side of the bus, swaying as he sits as the bus pulls out into the traffic.
I lean back on a 45 degree angle, with no-one next to me, I can enjoy a view of the whole bus more or less from the raised platform. I look at the ceiling, the strip lighting which gives the bus a real feeling of warmth against the grey almost sleet weather outside. The bus is actually warm as well.
I close my eyes briefly and then struggle, almost habitually with headphones. The kid is still talking, but I drown him with sound and gaze at the adverts on sloping part of the bus, where the wall meets roof. An orthodontist, a phone card advertised partly in Arabic script. A job agency with a man in a hard hat and green body warmer and a smiling woman in a suit and a clipboard. Is she his boss or supposed to represent the job agency? Perhaps she just represents a different job and I'm not supposed to wonder if they're connected. I wonder idly if they paid for actual models or used their own staff or clients. Neither of them are unattractive but they don't look entirely comfortable in front of the camera.
I wonder if collectively as a society we are more comfortable in front of the lense since we hit an era of cameras everywhere, of documenting our every move.
The bus waits at lights then pulls out into big crossroads and takes a sweeping right, for a moment the rain stops lashing but it quickly resumes but with more focus on the other window. For a brief interlude we ride a duel carriageway and the view accross the sodden city is thrilling. You could imagine from here, such is the weather, it's like being in cloud, that the city goes on forever.
Tuesday, 10 January 2017
Shackleton is brilliant. If you don't agree then listen to the tracks below and then agree that you're wrong and I'm right.
This new piece is magnificent though, really. It recalls Coil, Throbbing Gristle type stuff, from time to time the sound of Shackleton's own earlier work, medieval sounding stuff and bizarrely put me in mind of musical theatre, some of the vocal work has a Sondheimesque quality to it, not so much in the content (though it could be lifted from some imaginary musical about pestilence, murder and plague) but in the delivery.
The whole piece has an orchestrated feel to it, yet is simultaneously self consciously synthetic. This 'digital orchestration' works almost better than I've ever heard, I'm struggling to think of a piece of 'orchestral' electronica where I've enjoyed the arrangement as much. More remarkable is the way the instrumentation really works - Synthesised violins sound like electronic instruments, choirs sound like sound effects but that's all good. I can't put my finger on why - I think it's the deliberate incongruity of the medium and the source material and how masterful the arrangement is.
This is music which in part could happily sit on Radio 3 yet has moments where you feel the hazy futurism and the beat swells in just the right way. It also has lengthy organ explorations which sit just the right side of irritating, being anchored by tight, fascinating percussion and the feeling that they are heading somewhere. Where though is another question. The record evokes medieval villages whilst at the same time evoking a mid future dystopia. It's a digital Wickerman in parts, tribal and ritualistic.
It's a shape-shifting force of a record, a magnificent example of having expectations defied and I'm struggling to think of a something released this year (ok, last year) which has sounded more intriguing and engaging through repeated listens. I like it precisely because it does things that leave me thinking, ' do I like this?'
It is for sale here
Monday, 9 January 2017
Sunday, 8 January 2017
Saturday, 7 January 2017
What we revere in nature is not always natural. Fells blasted and quarried, grazed and shorn of trees.
How we see this world is not always as it is. We see something better than the sprawl and depravity of the city but nature is not some moral agent, not some harmonious balance.
Nature is a story of starvation, of disease, of territory and scavengers. It is a story of flux. A story of tiny details and ugly beauty, of burrowing insects and fungus, of lichen and larvae.
There is nothing bucolic or idyllic about the fellside in the dark. The carcass of some creature lurking in the heather, stripped clean in a matter of days by the brutal ecosystem.
There are countless artists who make their mark in the world of 'darkness' imbuing the world with a presence of some kind of looming evil.
There are many who find their expression creating a sense of the 'light' giving the world a sense of optimism or beauty.
There are fewer who can record the world in such a way that it just is. Skelton sculpts vast soundscapes which evoke the soul cleansing majesty of landscapes like the West Pennine Moors and the quieter, wilder parts of Cumbria. Crucially though, he does this without recourse to sentiment and he captures both the light and shade.
Think the sheer primal delight of a mountain stream and the scent of thousands of tiny flowers but think also of the, plunge, grip and kill of the falcon, beak hungrily ripping life from bone or the vast expanse of nothingness swept by squall of icy rain or beset by a freezing, cloaking fog.
These landscapes may not be natural but they are something primal, something entirely separate from the faddish temporary fetishism of city life. There is something intrinsically timeless at least from our fragile human perspective of a landscape where the main physical features were moved by the last ice age.
In the glacial shifts of Skelton's music there is something beyond words, something that is almost (perhaps there is no need for the tentative qualifier almost) elemental. It is true. It is a music which speaks of life outside the narratives we construct to distract ourselves from the essential reality of life. It is the sound from the darkness beyond streetlights. If that sounds unwelcoming, ponder that the streetlights blind us from see seeing the stars. If we cannot gaze at the stars, how can we know who we are?
Wednesday, 4 January 2017
Here was hawk hovering high above tangled briar.
Gnarled stem and unchecked thorns run through twisted metal. Sheets of rusting corrugated iron punctured by bramble.
Here was foxes swift trot, unhurried, unharried except by the torchlight swift shadow of lead thieves.
Here lay slate, broken into four pieces, one big, three small on ground of rust coloured puddles.
Up there was a bow window, jutting over a road. Up there was grandeur, windows intact as if in respect to the memory of men who in years gone by smoked and worried about dwindling sales and foriegn markets
Here was badger, black, white and red in tooth and claw, her set abandoned as diggers roll in and the jaws of metal roughly paw and scrape at the earth.
There, in that patch of sky, were oily grey clouds, reflected in oily grey water of the pond that formed in the foundation of a building where strangely the door frame had been left standing like the single tooth a stinking hopeless mouth.
Accross the fetid rainbow slicked surface skimmed the shadow of starlings, a flock big enough to funnel, weave and turn as if folding the air. Then settling again on red brick walls all askew, half brick endings, undaunted in flight by the remaining wires strung between buildings, reminding me of communications in some trench in a war being forgotten by the minute.
The little birds just bobbed or dipped. Then landed and waited again. What they waited for I do not know.