I have a thing in the new MOJO - their 20th anniversary edition (pure coincidence, but still). It's a piece on Under Cambrian Sky by The Lowland Hundred and you should buy 1 copy of the magazine and 2 copies of the album. Immediately.
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Some writing! Just a short piece over at the Mostly Film as part of their Booker jamboree.
Harvest is Jim Crace’s 10th novel, and reportedly his last. It’s a book about the tragedy of the enclosures, about the punishment of transgression, and, on a simpler level, a meditation on the turning wheel of the seasons; it might also be a work of abandonment, of an artist openly denuding himself of his vestments. Read on...
Have also been updating this, periodically: SomeSmallCorner.
RIP, pt. 2. It was lovely while it lasted, but in the last year or so, it's been gasping and it was the right thing to do... It'll be live for a bit, then it wont. Such is the way of these things.
Better late than never. RIP.
In Memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984
She taught me what her uncle once taught her:
How easily the biggest coal block split
If you got the grain and the hammer angled right.
The sound of that relaxed alluring blow
Its co-opted and obliterated echo,
Taught me to hit, taught me to loosen,
Taught me between the hammer and the block
To face the music. Teach me now to listen,
To strike it rich behind the linear black.
A cobble thrown a hundred years ago
Keeps coming at me, the first stone
Aimed at a great-grandmother's turncoat brow.
The pony jerks and the riot's on.
She's couched low in the trap
Running the gauntlet that first Sunday
Down the brae to Mass at a panicked gallop.
He whips on through the town to cries of 'Lundy!'
Call her 'The Convert.' 'The Exogamous Bride.'
Anyhow, it is a genre piece
Inherited on my mother's side
And mine to dispose with now she's gone.
Instead of silver and Victorian lace
the exonerating, exonerated stone.
Polished linoleum shone there. Brass taps shone.
The china cups were very white and big --
An unchipped set with sugar bowl and jug.
The kettle whistled. Sandwich and tea scone
Were present and correct. In case it run,
The butter must be kept out of the sun.
And don't be dropping crumbs. Don't tilt your chair.
Don't reach. Don't point. Don't make noise when you stir.
It is Number 5, New Row, Land of the Dead,
Where grandfather is rising from his place
With spectacles pushed back on a clean bald head
To welcome a bewildered homing daughter
Before she even knocks. 'What's this? What's this?'
And they sit down in the shining room together.
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.
So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives --
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
Fear of affectation made her affect
Inadequacy whenever it came to
Pronouncing words 'beyond her'. Bertold Brek.
She'd manage something hampered and askew
Every time, as if she might betray
The hampered and inadequate by too
Well-adjusted a vocabulary.
With more challenge than pride, she'd tell me, 'You
Know all them things.' So I governed my tongue
In front of her, a genuinely well-
Adjusted adequate betrayal
Of what I knew better. I'd naw and aye
And decently relapse into the wrong
Grammar which kept us allied and at bay.
The cool that came off sheets just off the line
Made me think the damp must still be in them
But when I took my corners of the linen
And pulled against her, first straight down the hem
And then diagonally, then flapped and shook
The fabric like a sail in a cross-wind,
They'd make a dried-out undulating thwack.
So we'd stretch and fold and end up hand to hand
For a split second as if nothing had happened
For nothing had that had not always happened
Beforehand, day by day, just touch and go,
Coming close again by holding back
In moves where I was x and she was o
Inscribed in sheets she'd sewn from ripped-out flour sacks.
In the first flush of the Easter holidays
The ceremonies during Holy Week
Were highpoints of our Sons and Lovers phase.
The midnight fire. The paschal candlestick.
Elbow to elbow, glad to be kneeling next
To each other up there near the front
Of the packed church, we would follow the text
And rubrics for the blessing of the font.
As the hind longs for the streams, so my soul . . .
Dippings. Towellings. The water breathed on.
The water mixed with chrism and oil.
Cruet tinkle. Formal incensation
And the psalmist's outcry taken up with pride:
Day and night my tears have been my bread.
In the last minutes he said more to her
Almost than in their whole life together.
'You'll be in New Row on Monday night
And I'll come up for you and you'll be glad
When I walk in the door . . . Isn't that right?'
His head was bent down to her propped-up head.
She could not hear but we were overjoyed.
He called her good and girl. Then she was dead,
The searching for a pulsebeat was abandoned
And we all knew one thing by being there.
The space we stood around had been emptied
Into us to keep, it penetrated
Clearances that suddenly stood open.
High cries were felled and a pure change happened.
I thought of walking round and round a space
Utterly empty, utterly a source
Where the decked chestnut tree had lost its place
In our front hedge above the wallflowers.
The white chips jumped and jumped and skited high.
I heard the hatchet's differentiated
Accurate cut, the crack, the sigh
And collapse of what luxuriated
Through the shocked tips and wreckage of it all.
Deep-planted and long gone, my coeval
Chestnut from a jam jar in a hole,
Its heft and hush became a bright nowhere,
A soul ramifying and forever
Silent, beyond silence listened for.
I've recently got caught up in the Ash Akhtar creation explosion, otherwise known as Fervent Arts. Ash is a force of nature who tends to get shit done and produces things of an incredibly high standard. For his latest project, he took inspiration from a track by the John Shelton Trio and he and several others broke into Severalls, the derelict asylum on the outskirts of Colchester. Extra footage from the Aberystwyth area and post-production sound was provided by Tim Noble, and I wrote a script, built around a monologue for the central figure of the immigrant nurse. The film was picked up for the Danny Boyle-curated Shuffle festival and went down really well. We're hoping to do more with this story so stay in touch for news in the future.
This is for the kids who die,
Black and white,
For kids will die certainly.
The old and rich will live on awhile,
Eating blood and gold,
Letting kids die.
Kids will die in the swamps of Mississippi
Kids will die in the streets of Chicago
Kids will die in the orange groves of California
Telling others to get together
Whites and Filipinos,
Negroes and Mexicans,
All kinds of kids will die
Who don’t believe in lies, and bribes, and contentment
And a lousy peace.
Of course, the wise and the learned
Who pen editorials in the papers,
And the gentlemen with Dr. in front of their names
White and black,
Who make surveys and write books
Will live on weaving words to smother the kids who die,
And the sleazy courts,
And the bribe-reaching police,
And the blood-loving generals,
And the money-loving preachers
Will all raise their hands against the kids who die,
Beating them with laws and clubs and bayonets and bullets
To frighten the people—
For the kids who die are like iron in the blood of the people—
And the old and rich don’t want the people
To taste the iron of the kids who die,
Don’t want the people to get wise to their own power,
To believe an Angelo Herndon, or even get together
Listen, kids who die—
Maybe, now, there will be no monument for you
Except in our hearts
Maybe your bodies’ll be lost in a swamp
Or a prison grave, or the potter’s field,
Or the rivers where you’re drowned like Leibknecht
But the day will come—
Your are sure yourselves that it is coming—
When the marching feet of the masses
Will raise for you a living monument of love,
And joy, and laughter,
And black hands and white hands clasped as one,
And a song that reaches the sky—
The song of the life triumphant
Through the kids who die.
This first appeared at The Liminal.
‘I once saw a comedy sketch in which a cow was attached to a winch. The cow was winched up 200 feet, and for the first ten feet after it leaves the ground the cow is freaking out. And then above that: completely placid. Because it is no longer relating to anything. It has no fear, because it has no consciousness of what it is. Whereas a human would be freaking out all the way up. So I wonder if maybe that point at which a non-sentient animal stops freaking out, and we don’t, is where dread occurs.’ China Miéville
In 1958 Mark Rothko was asked to complete a series of paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant housed in Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building. It was quite a commission for an artist working in a field that many felt was obscurantist and practised by charlatans and mimics. Many questioned Rothko’s motives, and indeed Rothko himself eventually pulled out of the deal; but not before he was reported as uttering that he’d intended the paintings to “ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room,” and that he’d make “those rich bastards feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up”.
Anyone who’s seen the paintings – now in their own quiet reliquary in the Tate Modern – can see how inappropriate they would have been for a restaurant space, and apocryphal or not, you have to wonder at what Rothko was intending with such vast, imposing canvases – dense blocks of colour that have the feel of cave walls, of entoptic phantasmagoria, of portals. One obvious conclusion is to think that, however clumsily, he wanted them to do a kind of work, using dread to elicit a shift in consciousness. Dread as praxis.
Of course, in and of itself, invoking Rothko when discussing dread is completely relevant, but it’s not just a random signifier when it comes to Rites, the debut album from Bristolian and Subtext label-head Paul Jebanasam. For one thing, the cover is immediately redolent of Rothko with its hovering stripe of ever-reducing red between two dominant blocks of black; but there’s also the sonic use of dread that Jebanasam employs and the sense that he’s using dread in a particular way, and in the oldest sense of the word, as a kind of propulsive medium, a galvanising force.
Back in 2011, in a review for The Liminal, Andrew Bowman noted that dread was ‘back’. Dubstep, borrowing heavily from jungle and drum ‘n’ bass, had always invested heavily in the sonic possibilities of dread, indeed to the point that it became an empty signifier and lost any sense of wider cultural meaning and became invisible again. The likes of Demdike Stare flirted with similar possibilities, but the dread they invoked always seemed to be part of a wider strategy, more akin to outright horror – dread in this sense meant a kind of creeping menace, of something just out of earshot or ones field of vision. What the likes of the Haxan Cloak, Raime and other artists clustered around the fount of the Blackest Ever Black label seemed to be doing was something ‘purer’ – dread as end in itself. The key question was/is why?
It seems too obvious to simply state that the presence of dread is simply a temperature-marker of our times, but it’s the ‘neatest’ explanation, if you like. If you search back for dread-inducing music, you might alight on Bark Psychosis, 23 Skidoo, Throbbing Gristle, early Kluster – all music made in dread-ful times, but then couldn’t that be applicable anywhere, anytime? In The Long Revolution, Raymond Williams brought up the idea of a ‘structure of feeling’ – that most of impossible of things, to mark the felt sense of the quality of life in any particular period or time. His suggestion was that the structure was impossible to pin down, but that it operated in the most delicate and least tangible parts of our activity. With that in mind, dread in culture, and particularly in music, functions as a kind of collective emanation, a breath of doubt from our very deepest dreams. Going back to the question of ‘why?’, Kodwo Eshun, reviewing the same gig as the aforementioned Andrew Bowman, suggested that the dread invocations were a symptom of resignation – a sonic avatar of Romantic awe in the face of the impossible, the unrepresentable: listeners weren’t galvanised or even necessarily terrorised by the power of the music so much as willingly narcotized by it. Like much of dubstep this was stoner music, escapism, dread as lavender pillow.
All of which does beg the question: need dread make us submissive and powerless? Or more precisely, what is it about dread that renders us awestruck and dumb? In a recent interview with China Miéville, (by Juha van ‘t Zelfde, who is also curating an exhibition called Dread, due to open in September 2013) Miéville locates dread in the same affective field as the sublime, and ultimately in the same field as ecstasy – something he called a “politically and philosophically polyvalent condition”. His point was that dread, from a purely affective point of view, can quickly tip into something else, both into a kind of paralysis, something similar to what Eshun noted, or something more creative, subversive and powerful. Miéville notes that this valency is often seized upon by the right and can easily become something reactionary and politically dubious and that this might be an inherent tendency, but it need not be the case.
Now I’m not about to suggest that Rites is going to function as some guiding star for this re-figuring of dread, it’s too sombre for that, too damn heavy. But, but… there is something positive at the heart of it, something bigger than a mere ghosting of a series of tropes. Looked at purely sonically, it’s built from comparatively little – processed strings (viola, mainly), some processed guitar deluges, huge devotional drums and vast metallic drones, that sound scraped from the very centre of the earth, (which in the case of ‘IV’ they almost literally ‘are’, in that Jebanasam set up some ground loops – recordings of the earth-hum – which form the centre of the track). It’s possible to think of the drones as forming a kind of vaulted-chamber within which the drama of the individual tracks take places – like cathedrals of sound inside which vibrate the smaller details. The sound palette feels very new, unexplored; at times it brings to mind Locrian, at other times there’s a very ‘Subtext’ thing going on. ‘III’ and ‘IV’ in particular sound close to the forms Roly Porter explored on Aftertime, (released on Subtext in 2011) – the same brittle high tones, the clash of metal, and the fibrous, almost asbestos-like edge to the drones. There’s also the great looming presence of the Multiverse soundsystem, which gives the bass undertow a by-proxy subterranean gravity that in places shakes the recording to the limits of the possible. Overall, it is undoubtedly oppressive and decidedly brutal in places, in the way it wields a kind of industrial weight, but – and you have to hope you’re not imputing too much here, separating the curtains and inserting your own figures – the feeling of hope remains, of a force for some greater good.
All of this is complicated by the liturgical aspect to Jebanasam’s music. He’s spoken in the past about his appreciation for Korsakov and Arvo Pärt and the sense of humility it’s possible to feel when faced with the glacial beauty of some liturgical music, that raw sense of being in the presence of something numinous and eternal – figured in the almost process-like monumentality of the compositions. And of course, and this goes back to Miéville’s notion of the crossover between dread and the sublime, the response to this is nearly always passive, is passive in its very design. We bow, we retreat into our cells, godfearing and minuscule. Yet there are two other ways of thinking about this. One is to remove the religiosity from it altogether (which I think is Jebanasam’s view anyway) which leaves the awe and the awesome power of liturgical process music – and you’re close to something like John Gray’s notion of godless mysticism. The other is in the rasta conception of dread, which, in all its murky syntactic power, is also ultimately godfearing and humble and yet manifests itself in the wearing of the dreads, an accoutrement borrowed from the Mau Mau insurgents in Kenya – dread in all its humbling power, taken into the self and made concrete and given agency.
Maybe in the spirit of Ballard, we can take dread – this thing we suffer attacks of, this thing that we have no control of, that debilitates – and push it through itself to some unthought of conclusion: beyond torpor, beyond accidie, beyond non-engagement. Who knows. Maybe there is a source of untapped power. With all that in mind, Rites, which has the aspect of a beautiful requiem, might just as well be a call to arms.