Friday, 29 June 2012

Big Books: A Quick Guide

Discussing "wordles" on Jessica Maybury's Perfect Fourth blog (where she had wordled some of her own fiction), it occurred to me that one of the fascinating things about wordles (when they fascinate)  is that they create the impression that they mimic the way we store things -the past, ideas, books, films, other people, even- in our heads. Purely fanciful, but I thought it would be fun to turn a few big books into wordles - it might even save those of us who haven't read them the trouble (I usually have a book on the go but I haven't read a fair number of them). OK, so the one above is a bit on the short side compared to those below. I was going to title them but as it turned out they either more-or-less titled themselves or were more intriguing without...

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Taking it Easy

We went to Beningborough Hall yesterday - a National Trust property near York. It contains a lot of portraits on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. I can't tell you much about it, as I enjoy such visits most when I just look around without reading a lot - I can never remember what I've read anyway. There were a lot of 18th century portraits - you could tell what they were because the people in them were wearing wigs. It's a period I find quite interesting. The only trouble is, history went in one ear and out the other at school and still does. I know it kind of began with Handel and ended with Haydn, that it was the era of Voltaire, Thomas Paine and of Dr Johnson (I think my interest was triggered by visiting his birthplace in Lichfield and reading his book Rasselas not so long ago). The fashions were cool, I think. People wore buckles on their shoes, men wore wigs and (when not bewigged) floppy silk hats and banyans. Then there were the coffee houses, where people discussed ideas and politics. And it wasn't all thinking, talking and writing: the century ended with the French Revolution.  As I write this I'm suprised I know even this much (assuming I've got it right): perhaps it just goes to prove the best way to learn anything is just to let it soak in.


A photo of Notre Dame on The Solitary Walker's blog reminded me of this. Cathedrals always do. The composer, Messiaen, was the organist just up the road at the Église de la Sainte-Trinité.  For me, it's music with a phwoar! factor...

Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Medicine Sessions

When I posted the other week about Manchester Musicians' Collective I found myself feeling somewhat nostalgic for those days - music that was not just produced to be commercial, music with a risky edge, creative acts enacted for the sake of being creative, artists (of all kinds) following their noses wherever they might be led. Then I find that The Medicine Sessions over in Ireland have  been posting their Youtube videos on Facebook (readers of Vick Guns' Watercats blog will know how they came about). There's definitely more than a whiff of that spirit (among others!) over there. No need for nostalgia. The other day I momentarily regretted that I couldn't just press a button and recreate the musical atmosphere of 1977. Today I similarly regretted that I don't live down the road from this pub...

There are great videos there of poets (Niamh Bagnell, and Peadar O'Donoghue - to name two I'm familiar with) and musicians, such as...

Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Went to Gateshead and Newcastle yesterday to see ~Flow, an installation floating on the Tyne that uses various electronic circuits and mechanical contrivances to turn the Tyne (it's turbidity, salinity, etc.) into sound. It takes just over an hour to get there from our house. We left it a bit late and it was touch and go when we arrived, not long before closing time, at the Quayside. ~Flow turned out to be moored on the Newcastle side of the river. We had parked on the Gateshead side only to find the Millennium Bridge raised to allow a sailing boat through.

Anyway, it wasn't long before they lowered the bridge so we were able to get across and see what was happening for ourselves. From the outside, with its water wheel, ~Flow looks like a cross between a Mississippi paddle boat and a garden shed. Inside, its creators have done for river-water what Hammer Horror did for the reanimation of human flesh. There are more than enough bottles, wires, cogs, levers, etc., to keep anyone whiling away the school holiday happy. It was well worth the visit. We drank it all in -metaphorically speaking- and retired, satisfied, to the Baltic Mill café.

There wasn't much on at the gallery there (although there are three exhibitions just about to open) other than an installation by Richard Rigg entitled "Lacuna". This takes the form of a shed half-filled with earth from a Scottish mountain. Mountain hut... Mountain in hut instead of hut in mountains... I can't say I felt that gripped. I would like to see the piano he'd modified so that all the notes played middle C though - only that wasn't being exhibited on this occasion.

On the way home I decided I under-rate myself as a visual artist. Anyone who wishes to view my installation, Garden Shed (2012) can do so by appointment. From the exterior it presents us with an ever-so-slightly rotten shed. The interior, however, presents us with a series of quasi-archaeological layers: rusty shears, sheets of black plastic, old buckets and empty plant pots address the issues of impermanence and alienation, the dichotomy between the desire to create and the need to survive... I could go on. Suffice to say, it has now taken on an aesthetic dimension which had, until now, eluded me.

I surprised myself. I think the new in art should be taken seriously. As Pound said, "make it new" (I'm sorry - that quote gets seriously overquoted). But then what is the new? Imitations of the new are old. Can one always spot the new when one sees it?

Also, I think I still have an echo of something Grayson Perry said ringing in my ears, to the effect that he was pleased to be a part of the 'modern art' world, but that he was concerned that many contemporary works of art were less interesting than the buildings they were exhibited in, relying on the milieu of the gallery space to confer the aura of an artwork upon them.

Talking of Grayson Perry, I've been glued to his current TV series All in the Best Possible Taste.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Manchester Musician's Collective

I've been meaning to post these for a long time. Manchester Musician's Collective began life in 1977 and I was a member for a while in its early days. As the leaflet explains (click on it to enlarge), we used to meet every other week in the Northwest Arts Centre basement. At first the meetings were musical events: people brought music they'd written to be played and people improvised together. As the collective took off, the meetings -I think- became more of an opportunity to plan and organise the regular gigs at Manchester's "Band on the Wall" club. Looming final exams concentrated my mind wonderfully and I drifted away.

The collective attracted a diverse range of musicians. I was a music student at the time. I was very much into 20th century music and trying to compose. An electronic piece I made, Onami, had one of its two performances at this gig. (I think I kept it for sentimental reasons - if so, it'll be in the attic somewhere, a crumpled tape on an old reel-to-reel spool). I also took part in "The Tent Poles" (finally billed as "Pride" as it came on before The Fall) - a structured improvisation, as I remember, devised by John Bisset (see the final Youtube video, below). These early gigs were pretty eclectic. Prominent among the members at the time were the percussionist  Dick Witts, experimental composer Trevor Wishart and the band, The Fall.

I tried searching Youtube for the bands and people involved in the gigs listed on the 1977 handout. Below is a selection from what I found:

Formerly "The Elite":

John Bisset ("The Tent Poles"/"Pride"):