The Wire


New book explores the life and work of Bob Cobbing

Bob Cobbing in Stockholm, 1972. Photo by Charles Amirkhanian

The first ever book dedicated to the life and work of Bob Cobbing, one of the most protean figures of the UK postwar underground, has been published by Occasional Papers. boooook is a collection of new essays edited by grandson William Cobbing and Rosie Cooper that spans his various activities as poet, performer and organiser, with contributions from Hugh Metcalfe, David Toop, Andrew Wilson, Will Holder and more, alongside a host of archival material.

“We wanted to highlight his position as a key player in some of the most important moments and movements of the British avant garde, for example the Destruction In Art Symposium in 1966 and the Anti-University, which was founded in 1968,” write Cooper and Cobbing. “This collection connects Bob to these movements in new ways – for instance, a significant amount of material provides a clear link from his approach as an organiser of film societies in North London in the 1950s to the formation of the London Filmmakers Co-op. Such a large part of Bob's work was about facilitating other people, setting things in motion rather than promoting himself.”

Cobbing, who died in 2002 at the age of 82, was an important figure in the 1960s London scene through his position as manager of countercultural bookshop Better Books. More than a mere book seller, it was a key node on the international art and poetry network – it hosted a reading by Allen Ginsberg in 1965 that led to the International Poetry Incantation later the same year, although Cobbing’s place on a planned tour with the Beats was blocked by Gregory Corso, who objected to the UK poet’s work. “Andrew Wilson annotates an advertisement for Better Books in Poetmeat,” write the editors. “Wilson's annotations give an amazing sense of how important Better Books was for the production and distribution of material, and its international links.”

The book is a culmination of a year of events dedicated to Cobbing titled Bob Jubilé. Although his work as a sound poet remains influential – Cobbing’s recordings form part of Julian Cowley’s sound poetry Primer in The Wire 339 – it is, by its very nature, ephemeral. Bob Jubilé was an attempt to understand his work in the present day: “We’ve commissioned and presented exhibitions, performances and new works by Hugh Metcalfe, Benedict Drew, Holly Antrum and Rhodri Davies among others, as well as organising a symposium, and conversation with Kenneth Goldsmith. All of these projects started with conversations and time spent in the family collection with many different people: helping us to understand how we might channel Bob's energy, as well as the archive, into the book.”

boooook explores the international context of Cobbing’s sound poetry – Sanne Krogh Groth sheds light on his collaborations with French colleagues including Henri Chopin, as well as his “text sound composition” recordings for the Stockholm label Fylkingen, with fellow poet Åke Hodel. But the editors argue that Cobbing’s work remains just as relevant in the here and now. “Bob is a very good example of someone whose primary motivation as an organiser is to respond to what is necessary and interesting within a given situation – using brilliant organisational skills to bring people together to produce amazing things. We can still learn a lot from that.

“Bob was an autodidact,” they conclude. ”He was formally trained as an accountant, but he had also been a teacher, signwriter and farm labourer before being internationally recognised on the avant garde scene in his forties. In an increasingly professionalised world, it's hard to imagine a career like that happening now – which is a great shame.”

boooook is published by Occasional Papers

Watch video of the UK premiere of Earle Brown's Calder Piece

American composer Earle Brown, the creator of open form musical construction, collaborated with artist Alexander Calder on Calder Piece, in which four percussionists are conducted by Calder's sculpture, Chef D'Orchestre. Brown originally called his open form works mobile compositions, inspired by the moving sections of Calder's sculptures. The two met in 1953 and became friends.

The performance begins with the musicians placed equidistant from the mobile, and they are asked to imagine an image of the mobile superimposed over the score, and then perform the areas of the score that correspond to that reading of the mobile's position. The piece involves over 100 percussion instruments that the musicians dart around to play as they read the sculpture and respond to its changing position -- including the petals of the mobile itself.

The sculpture was completed in 1966, and Brown completed the score shortly thereafter, as a commission from the Paris Percussion Quartet. Calder Piece was first performed at the Théâtre de l'Atelier in Paris in 1967, and has been performed rarely over the following decades, in France and the US. This performance, on 10 November 2015 at Tate Modern, was the first time it has been performed in the UK.

The performance was part of the exhibition Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern, which runs until 3 April 2016.

John Cale revisits Music For A New Society

Photo by David Reich

John Cale’s next album is a complete reworking of his 1982 masterpiece Music For A New Society. Called M:FANS, Cale’s new takes on his old society songs are made up from original samples and new audio. “During the making of M:FANS, I found myself loathing each and every character written about in those original recording sessions of Music For A New Society,” explains Cale. “Unearthing those tapes reopened those wounds. It was time to decimate the despair from 1981 and breathe new energy, rewrite the story.” However, the original, albeit remastered version of Music For A New Society will also be reissued, with three previously unreleased tracks added as a bonus. Both albums will be released on 22 January 2016 by Domino, available individually or as a package in vinyl, CD or download formats.

To coincide with the release, Cale will be performing at London’s Roundhouse on 3 February.

Watch the video for M:FANS’ “Close Watch”, featuring Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman and directed by Abby Portner.

Makino Takashi and Rei Hayama film screenings in London

Screen shot from Inaudible Footsteps (2014)

Close-Up and OtherFilms have curated a night of screenings by the founding members of Tokyo film collective [+], Makino Takashi and Rei Hayama. Promising a night of “hallucinatory distortions evoking chaos and patterns, nature and organic forms”, the programme includes Takashi's 2014 production Phantom Nebula – featuring a live soundtrack performed by Takashi himself – and three Hayama shorts, Inaudible Footsteps, Reportage! and Some Smallness Coming From Land (all made in 2014). A Q&A with both film makers will follow the screenings. Takashi has previously collaborated with musicians and artists like Jim O’Rourke, Colleen, Chris Corsano, Lawrence English and Floris Vanhoof. To read more about him, see Nick Cain’s feature in The Wire 362. Hayama’s soundtrack to her film Kodomo Ga Mushi No Shigai Wo Umeni Iku (translating as A Child Goes Burying Dead Insects) was released in 2013 by Ultra Eczema.
The films will be shown on 25 November at Close-Up Cinema, London. Tickets are limited to 40 persons. More information can be found here.

Crowdfunding campaign to publish book on noise in South East Asia

A crowdfunding campaign has been launched for the first book aiming to chart the spread of noise music across South East Asia. Called Not Your World Music: Noise In SE Asia, it will document noise, electroacoustic, industrial and experimental music and sound art in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and other ASEAN countries. Co-authored by musician and Syrphe label boss Cedrik ‘C-drík’ Fermont and Dimitri della Faille, of the Belgian label Disques Hushush, the book will be self-published and it’ll come with a CD. “In our experience,” they explain, “knowledge about art scenes in South East Asia is very often published by Western publishing houses and record labels. Books and CDs come with a very high price tag and are difficult to find outside Europe and North America. This global inequality in the access to knowledge and culture concerns us a lot. Choosing to self-publish the book will have the added perk of making it much cheaper. It will be sold at the lowest possible price on the internet and to some indie distributors and stores. And, because we firmly believe knowledge should be freely available to all, we have also decided to make the PDF version available as a free download.”
At the time of writing, the campaign has 13 days to go. Pledges start with a $2 button.

Light In The Attic reissue This Heat records

Photo by Lesley Evans

Light In The Attic are about to reissue the only three records South London trio This Heat produced during their lifetime. Formed in Brixton, London, in 1976, the trio consisted of Charles Bullen, Charles Hayward and the late Gareth Williams. Light In The Attic’s reissue programme includes their 1979 debut album This Heat and its 1981 sequel Deceit, plus their Health And Efficiency 12" from 1980.

Set for vinyl release on 22 January 2016, the three records will include a booklet with notes and archival photos.

For more about This Heat, Wire subscribers can read Mike Barnes’s 2005 feature about the trio’s intense rehearsal and recording sessions with producer Dave Cunningham at London’s Cold Storage studio in The Wire 258.

Saul Williams set to release new album MartyrLoserKing

The rapper, musician and activist Saul Williams is set to release his first album since 2011's Volcanic Sunlight on Sony. Called MartyrLoserKing, it is being marketed as a concept album based around a central character living in Burundi who hacks under the alias MartyrLoserKing. The album was announced earlier this year with the release of the track “All Coltrane Solos At Once (feat Haleek Maul)” via Soundcloud, which was accompanied by an essay described by Williams as “an annotated middle finger” to a system that doesn’t look after the best interests of the majority. He explains, “What is the perspective of those who ‘#staywoke’, who resist? It is a mixture of seeing through the lies and deception used to keep common folk, the non-questioning/active participants, in a state that defeats the commoner with hopes of one day entering the elitist one per cent while killing unions and widening the wealth gap, and the desire to engage more people to speak up and out against the powers that be.”

Two videos from the album are up online: “Burundi” and its sequel “Horn Of The Clock-Bike”

MartyrLoserKing will be released on 29 January 2016 by Fader and Caroline International. He will also be touring various cities in the US throughout November and December.

Luke Fowler & Mark Fell collaboration at Whitechapel Gallery

Mark Fell. Photo by Mayumi Hosokura

The Glasgow based film maker Luke Fowler has collaborated with the Sheffield’s producer-cum-choreographer Mark Fell for an exhibition about computers and music making. Taking place at London's Whitechapel Gallery, the multimedia exhibition uses sound, text and image in order to “examine the development of early computer music languages that have been obscured by more commercially viable options”, says the Whitechapel website. The exhibition looks at how music has been shaped by experimenting with unfamiliar programs and computer coding, and users’ interactions with them.

Last month saw electronic producer Fell make his debut as a choreographer with a new light, sound and performance work Recursive Frame Analysis at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center in Troy, New York.

Fell was featured on the cover of The Wire 377. Computers And Cooperative Music-Making will run at London Whitechapel Gallery until 7 February 2016.

New history of the Radiophonic Workshop published

Daphne Oram working on the digitised Oramics system, late 1980s

A new history of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and its key associates has been published by Obverse Books. Written by veteran music promoter and writer Ned Netherwood, whose Was Ist Das? blog is an important node in the the Yorkshire underground scene, An Electric Storm: Daphne, Delia And The BBC Radiophonic Workshop covers the group from its inception in 1958 through its 1990s dissolution up to its modern reincarnation under the guidance of Matthew Herbert. Netherwood gained access to the archives of key Workshop members Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, and interviewed surviving members Brian Hodgson and Elizabeth Parker, as well as notable Workshop archivists such as Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom, and Clive Graham of Paradigm Discs, who issued the landmark Oramics compilation in 2007.

The first half of the book provides a “story of the people” behind the Workshop, while in the second half Netherwood attempts an in depth disography of both the workshop and its members. “The most fascinating for me are the extremes”, he enthuses. “On one hand, their collaborations with avant garde poet Lily Greenham are the most exhilaratingly strange work they carried out and then at the other end of the spectrum there’s Paddy Kingsland’s disco based project Swag. A binge through their discography has plenty of variety.”

Material in the various Workshop-related archives provides several major themes in the book. “The most striking thing in Delia’s archives were the plans she made for her music. Vast intricate sheets of numbers and equations that looked more like advanced chemical formulae than music plans. Music and maths really were indivisible for her,” he explains. Even after numerous recent reissue projects, “the amount of unreleased Radiophonic Workshop music in the archive is mind-boggling. There just does not seem to be much of a will at the BBC to do anything with it.”

Obverse Books is primarily known for its sci-fi publishing. But there’s more to the Radiophonic Workshop connection than just kitsch memories of their Doctor Who theme tune. “I’ve been surprised by just how many leading luminaries of the British experimental music scene are hardcore Doctor Who fans,” notes Netherwood. “ Since I announced I was doing the book, I’ve found myself in chats with artists who regularly grace the pages of The Wire. Although my publisher is better known for science fiction, the guy who runs it is really into bands like Nurse With Wound and Can. I was asked to do it because he liked what I do with Was Ist Das?.”

The book attempts to pack both a history and a complete discography into a volume that’s a relatively short 272 pages. But for Netherwood this is an important addition to the relatively scant literature on the group. “The 1983 BBC book was very accessible but is long out of print and, for obvious reasons, does not cover as much of a timescale as I have,” he argues. “Also nobody has gone into such detail about the music commercially released.” For the members he talked to, revisiting work that is in some cases five decades old still conjours strong feelings. “[They] seem proud of their achievements, although pleasantly surprised by the enduring legacy of their work,” he reports of Hodgson and Parker. “Also as both of them were there when changes at the BBC meant the end of the Workshop, they both still carry a lot of very strong feelings about how they were treated.”

Ned Netherwood’s An Electric Storm: Daphne, Delia And The BBC Radiophonic Workshop is published by Obverse Books

Matmos announce new album

Photo by Josh Sisk

Baltimore’s cleanest electronic duo Matmos have finished their new album. Called Ultimate Care II, it’s composed entirely out of sounds generated from a washing machine. The release is the duo’s follow-up to The Marriage Of True Minds, their parapsychological debut released by Thrill Jockey back in 2013, which saw Drew Daniel and MC Schmidt attempt to telepathically communicate with the experiment’s subjects. The sonic components on Ultimate Care II were created from their own Whirlpool Ultimate Care II model washing machine, crafted from the sounds the machine emits in full cycle. Matmos also treated the washing machine as an instrument in its own right. Friends like Dan Deacon, Max Eilbacher (Horse Lords), Sam Haberman (Horse Lords), Jason Willett (Half Japanese) and Duncan Moore helped in the playing, sampling and sequencing of Matmos’s washing machine. In addition some of them even used it for its intended purpose. Matmos’s Ultimate Care II will be released by Thrill Jockey Records on 19 February. The pair plan to take their washer on tour with them some time in 2016.

Listen to a track from the release: