It has been shown that since the onset of the global pandemic the whole world is quieter (Dr Stephen Hicks). Just finished is an article called Good Vibrations: Living with the Motions of our Unsettled Planet collectively written by a group of experts at Bristol University and funded by Bristol University’s Brigstow Institute, where I’ve been the invited artist.
Art works springing from this project – are paused. There is global element to them and working with seismic sources from great distances, and recordings from The Arctic Circle [Artist & Scientist Residency Program, 2018] they include:
– A durational dance/art piece All Terrain Training,
– An immersive large-scale sound work with multiple subs cello and double bass Earth Din
– An installation with earth activity sound/data played on a record (LP) made from rock – Rock Record.
These are on the proverbial shelf for now – however….
With the onset of lock down and like others there’s a refocusing on the ‘really close up’…
Within my house a chance prompt via the Musicians Union allowed me a return to the Feldenkrais Technique, where I have become interested in the physical connections of bone sinus tissue with wood and string in relation to my own cello playing.
Confinement has brought the near at hand under the microscope. A focusing in on ‘skin’ instigating conversations with collaborator and animator Vicky Smith and sound artist Matt Davies, recording under the skin
Contacting the ‘world’ via a screen has warped the view again and another project I’m part of is developing ideas around self-isolation in an attic where a duo dance improviser and filmmaker Brenda Waite and Anna Cady.
Shirley Pegna is a sound artist and musician from Bristol, who’s work in concerned with field recordings, improvised sound making and composition. She is interested in sound as a material where elemental signals can signify in the perception of our habitat. Collaborations feature in her work including lately – scientists at Bristol University Geological Department and specialists at the University Of the West of England Fine Art Printing Department, dancer/artists including Brenda Waite, Kyra Norman and Will Pegna. Artists and musicians – Copper Sounds, Veridian, Louie Pegna and Dominic Lash. She is a member of BEEF of the infamous Brunswick Club in Bristol.
I’m reading a lot of non-fiction at the moment—on herb gardens, metals, stones, and the early histories of northern California. But I recently went through a period of Charles Willeford (Pick-Up) and Leonard Gardner (Fat City)—brilliant neo-noir set in the shadowy lanes of San Francisco and the wide open highways of Stockton, California.
A beautiful guide to starting an herb garden and an “evocative excursion into the lore & legend of our common herbs.” I had read Beston’s The Outermost House, which includes so many astonishing passages on sound as it relates to the sea, but recently discovered Herbs and the Earth through an article by translator and poet Lydia Davis.
Wanderer, writer, linguist, anthropologist, rancher, translator of Native American languages—California legend! Jaime de Angulo was translating and transcribing stories and songs in northern California at nearly the same time Knud Rasmussen was doing so in Greenland.
I feel like I’ve been reading this book for years. It’s always on the nightstand and I return to it a few times a month—almost as if consulting an oracle. Some chapter titles from the book: Beautiful Sounds—Sublime Sounds, Echoes, Music of the Spheres, Language of Birds, Corallina, Influence of Climate, Electrical Appearances!
An essay in which Hamvas begins by discussing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and then pivots into a discussion of bird song, which is completely marvelous. I have Herbert Pföstl to thank for this discovery.
Personally, I’m focused on a project with the working title of Hydaspes. I can’t share too much about it at the moment, but it is a long-form poem that looks closely at both stones and sound—it’s dedicated to my mother. The river Hydaspes was said to furnish a musical stone and—when the moon was waxing—this stone gave forth a melodious sound.
Kirston Lightowler is a writer, publisher, and archivist who has worked with analog film and sound since her days at the San Francisco Art Institute. She founded Epidote Press in 2014, an independent publishing imprint based in northern California’s Point Reyes Peninsula. EP is devoted to publishing historical texts, as well as art and writing concerned with landscape and the poetics of place. The press is informed by her interest in natural and environmental history, reading and the art of research, folklore, and translation. EP is particularly interested in publishing work that exists at the intersection of art, literature, and science—finding associations and connections across branches of knowledge and fields of meaning.
Succulents (a bit late this year): Boweia volubilis, Delosperma napiforme, Rhinephyllum broomii
Three disparate but overlapping books … Life Without Air, a collection of poetry and texts circling around airlessness, toxicity and suffocating relationships and environments; Paul, a novel about passivity; Lovebug, a nonfiction about species, intimacy and infection, the output of researching zoonotic diseases for my PhD. The first two are more or less finished, and the third is a very weird book to be working on just now.
Also some reprieve from writing – I’ve been spending time with my microscope and collecting samples, which has led to a lot of weird new intimacies and intricacies.
Daisy Lafarge is a writer, artist and editor. Her first poetry collection, Life Without Air, and a novel, Paul, are forthcoming from Granta Books. Her pamphlets include understudies for air (Sad Press, 2017) and capriccio (Spam Press, 2019). She received an Eric Gregory Award for poetry in 2017 and a Betty Trask Award for fiction in 2019, and her visual work has been exhibited in galleries and institutions such as Tate St Ives, Talbot Rice Gallery and Edinburgh Art Festival. Daisy is currently working on Lovebug – a book about infection and intimacy – as part of a practice-based PhD at the University of Glasgow.
In early March, just as Covid 19 was beginning to make itself felt, three weeks or so before lockdown began, I went to Wales for a couple of days to record some audio at a peat bog near Crickhowell. The site is used by the poet Allen Fisher in his Black Pond series of poems and paintings. One part of Fisher’s poetry sequence uses an early Morton Feldman score as a structuring device, and my work-in-progress is a translation of the text back into audio. Shortly after this trip, I fell ill. All three of us in the household were out of action for most of March with what now seems likely to have been a mild variant of Covid. As a consequence, my lockdown hasn’t been as active as that of some others. It’s been longer too. I’ve watched a lot of film noir (Kansas City Confidential was a real discovery), some Jean-Pierre Melville and other Mubi-sourced fare. I had a bad Bergman experience, and I’ve glugged down a fair few gallons of Netflix product. Also Gogglebox. I’ve spent some time with the Cristanne Miller edition of Emily Dickinson and with Barbara Guest’s poetry and criticism. I’ve listened to the Strangeness of Dub podcast, Kim Gordon, the Amplify online festival, Beatrice Dillon, Tony Allen’s work with both Hugh Masekela and Moritz von Oswald, Dale Cornish, Christian Wolff (Philip Thomas’s lockdown uploads), and 60s and 70s Miles Davis. I haven’t listened to Seth Cooke’s new release, as it comes on an SD card encased in a cube of black concrete. (There’s audio on Bandcamp, but wouldn’t that be missing the point?) I made a mixtape of wonky standards (Derek Bailey, Paul Motian and more) for a friend. And I edited an interview that another friend had conducted in the mid-90s with his late grandmother. This gave me the pleasant sickbed task of cutting together her wartime recollections with some of the music she’d heard on wax cylinder in her childhood (Caruso, Melba).
This tinkering with audio and familial memory chimed with an unboxing experience. The cardboard box I’m talking about contained musical scores written by my late grandfather. It came to me to me when I cleared my late parents’ house in January, and I’ve only just retrieved it from storage. It had been sealed for 30-odd years. My grandfather was born in 1901. He was a draughtsman by trade but he wrote music for most of his adult life. He had conservative tastes, and was not keen on most 20th-century music (though there was a foxtrot among the papers). I can’t read sheet music but most of the work is operatic in nature and, as my Dad’s accompanying note makes clear, C19 in idiom. Only one of my grandfather’s pieces was ever performed. He seems to have been undaunted by his lack of success, returning to composition year after year. He clearly had many bursts of enthusiasm, but almost nothing in the box is finished. There’s the beginning of an operetta on the Herne the Hunter story (ie the Windsor-based ghost tale); and another on Cinderella. Some of the music is devotional. Most of the notebooks contain only a few pages of music, followed by many more blank pages. There’s a small box that contains fragments scribbled on the backs of envelopes and other scraps of paper. There’s a bulging A4 envelope of sol-fa doodles that I’ve yet to open. There’s also an appealing-looking fragment composed in the early 1950s and transcribed by my Dad from memory in the mid-80s. I wondered about the mediumistic thrill of being the next son to channel this melody 35 years later. It was, after all, a father’s-father’s message-in-a-bottle. On the late-May Bank Holiday, I laboriously transcribed the piece into Logic Pro X’s score editor, which I’d never used before. The fifth bar contains just a few notes and the instruction ‘etc’, so I was dealing with a loop. Interesting! Actually, no. Not at all. Not at all. The fragment turned out to be an infuriating ear-worm. The joke was on me. Careful, as they say, what you wish for.
Will Montgomery teaches contemporary poetry and poetics at Royal Holloway, University of London. He recently co-edited the essay collection Writing the Field Recording with Stephen Benson, and his monograph on short-form poetry is out this Autumn. He also makes music.
I’m working very slowly – for me… I think we have to find our own pace now.. be kind to ourselves and try not to measure ourselves against others or by previous modes. The days are strange and whilst we have versions of lockdown in common, it affects us differently.
Code Music Over the last few years I’ve been working on a suite of pieces for classical instrumentation derived from the sonification of data, with a focus on binary code. I’m just busy working on the latest iteration, a piece for soprano and semaphore flags for the singer Rosie Middleton. Previous works in the series have been performed or exhibited as audio visual installations, the first was a collaboration with 16 week old foetus in utero, the second a simulated flight path over the planet Mercury. This code poem shares my fascination with the contradictory forces at play when humans perform the precise language of code. The push and pull between precision and interpretation on non repetitive forms. I’m almost finished the work, which is as much choreographed as it is composed. Originally set for live performance as part of Rosies’ program about speech and voicelessness, it may become a film. Virtual rehearsals start soon.
We are Heard I’m working on a project with the artist Andy Holden for Bedford Creative Arts – a sound work for and with the residents of Queens Park. Like a lot of other projects, it’s been disrupted and so we have modified the project to include sound recordings of this highly diverse, mostly immigrant neighbourhood during lockdown as well creating art packs with work sheets to be delivered to the homes of children from for the local schools. Many of them don’t have access to digital or online tools, so it’s coming up with creative and simple ways to get children to listen, reevaluate their environment and be creative. The initial ambition to work with participants at closequarters has had to be recalibrated for the foreseeable future. Challenging but a good use of the daily exercise time. We’re documenting and recording using both ambisonic and stereo microphones.
Mira Calix is an award-winning artist and composer based in the United Kingdom. Music and sound, which she considers a sculptural material, are at the centre of her practice. Her work explores the manipulation of the material into visible, physical forms through multi-disciplinary installations, sculpture, video and performance works. Calix’s practice is deliberately disjunctive, allowing research, site, and subject to influence a fluid choice of materials and mediums.
Spending time with my teenage son has been good. On an almost daily basis we’ve played a game of chess (I’m getting better) and watched an episode of the 1990s Alaska-set comedy Northern Exposure.
Working on and thinking about:
I’m fortunate to be employed and that’s still very much the case through lockdown, so am actually very busy, mainly marking currently. And it’s been heartening to see how students have adapted to the situation and submitted some really creative and thoughtful framings of performances. So that’s been surprisingly positive actually. Less positive is zoom fatigue, and how tiring it can be going from one remote meeting to another.
Creatively I’ve set myself a little challenge of learning and filming one piece a day from Christian Wolff’s ‘Keyboard Miscellany’. I’ve played a few in the past, but mostly these are new to me and it’s proven to be a fascinating and rewarding project for me. At the time of writing I’ve nearly done, with only 5 pieces left, having recorded 55 over 60 days (5 days off during a brief illness) though Christian’s just sent me 2 new ones, and I suspect a few older ones may turn up over coming weeks. They’re like little gifts, or postcards he’s composed for people, most of them taking letters from the names of the dedicated as the basis for the musical material. You can find the whole set here
I’ll be done with these soon, so not sure what next. Will work on some other pieces by Christian for my next sub Rosa recordings. And maybe I’ll use this time to make a start learning Cage’s Etudes Australes, pieces that I’ve always wanted to learn but never got round to it.
The amount of new releases out there, both aural and visual, streaming, digital releases, festival alternatives, plus the Bandcamp first of the month days, is amazing but can be overwhelming too. So I’m going to take my time and steadily enjoy and explore many of these. In particular am looking forward to checking out the new Cafe Oto Takuroku releases
And I’ve been listening to Radio 3 a lot more than usual. Knowing that there’s someone there, sharing music with us all, is both precious and rather old-fashioned. In particular I’m enjoying hearing Elizabeth Alker, Kate Molleson and Sarah Walker’s programmes.
Philip Thomas plays piano, as a soloist and with experimental music group Apartment House. Recent CD releases include a set of Morton Feldman’s music for solo piano, a set of Christian Wolff’s solo piano music, a double disc of John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra and Wolff’s Resistance with Apartment House, and portrait discs of music by Christopher Fox, Jürg Frey, Bryn Harrison, Cassandra Miller, Tim Parkinson, Michael Pisaro, James Saunders, and Linda Smith. He is currently Professor of Performance at the University of Huddersfield, co-Director of CeReNeM, and publishes widely on issues relating to performance and experimental music.
Taking care of my kids, getting inspired by their creativity, home schooling that is not an easy part, just finished a solo album (recorded last year in a big water reservoir in Berlin) that took pretty much all my attention while I was by myself since the lockdown, now feeling excited to start to try out new ideas but first a long list of boring stuffs to do.
Born and raised in Yokohama, Japan, Sauvage moved to Paris in 2003 after studying jazz piano in New York. Through listening to Alice Coltrane and Terry Riley, she became interested in Indian music and studied improvisation of Hindustani music. In 2006, she attended a concert of Aanayampatti Ganesan, a virtuoso of Jalatharangam – the traditional Carnatic music instrument with water-filled porcelain bowls. Fascinated by the simplicity of its device and sonority, Sauvage immediately started to hit China bowls with chopsticks in her kitchen. Soon her desire of immersing herself in the water engendered the idea of using an underwater microphone and led to the birth of the electro-aquatic instrument.
I am lucky enough to have arrived just in time to begin an artist residency on the island Suomenlinna in Finland, a few days before the world really began to lock down. The island is wonderful, and I have the freedom here to go walking each day, I am so grateful, as normally I don’t have stable housing at all. Becoming familiar with the island, its non-human inhabitants and how it changes day to day has been something of a mental and emotional health saver really. I’ve been making audio recordings, of the weather (it’s very windy and also very changeable here from sun to snow), my studio, the large numbers of barnacle geese which descended on the island about half way through, feedback, and a little cello.
I’ve also been making these large frottage drawings, which I think are something akin to an act of recording. These pieces, like some of field recording/feedback work I’ve been working on here, create imaginary ‘recordings’ of physical space, objects, and textures, fictional landscapes. I’ve been taking rubbings of my interior walls, outdoor stone walls, trees, and rocks, making them part of the one tracing, a recording of an impossible surface. I feel like this is a good thing to do when spending so much time within interiors, maybe everyone should be making frottages of their walls?
Judith Hamann is a performer/artist from Narrm/Birraranga (Melbourne). Her current work includes an examination of ‘shaking’ in her solo cello performance practice, the creation of new works for cello and humming, and a discourse based research project ‘Materialities of Realisation’ with Charles Curtis. Judith has worked with many lovely people, for example Dennis Cooper, Áine O’Dwyer, Alvin Lucier, and Eliane Radigue. She holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from University of California, San Diego, where she majored in contemporary cello performance and is currently without a fixed address. Amateur stick and poker, travel spice pro.