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Showing posts by Tony Herrington about events

Off The Page: A further digression #4

Tony Herrington

Once you've popped 'n' locked to this obscure slice of early 80s Transatlantic electro-soul, check for the credits, which harbour an unlikely link to one of the events happening at the Off The Page festival this weekend (and I don't mean Dave Tompkins's talk on the history of the vocoder: the track might be a prime slice of cyborg funk, but all the silicon synthesis is in the low end; the vocals remain strictly carbon-based).

Anyway, back to those credits: edited by Double Dee & Steinski, produced and engineered by Adrian Sherwood, mixed by Sherwood and Tom (Tommy Boy) Silverman, issued by Body Rock Records, a subsiduary of Tommy Boy itself, the original channel for technologized R&B. So far so good. But what's that? Hmm, a familiar looking name in the writers' credits. 'S Beresford'. Could it really be? You bet your life it could. But who'd'a thunk it? We all knew he was the nutty professor of Brit reggae, Adrian Sherwood's go-to guy whenever the On-U Sound boss needed some strange sonics or oblique strategies to goose up his latest bass odyssey. But Steve Beresford, the Everywhere Man of UK Improv, a playa in the emergence of boogie down fonk? You couldn't make it up.

This YouTube post is another nugget unearthed by the consistently dazzling Your Heart Out blog. I'm going to write about the blog in the Unofficial Channels column of the forthcoming April issue of The Wire. But for now, download Skimming Stones, the latest YHO post. It's a derive in the form of an essay through some of the dimly-lit back streets and alleyways of London’s late 70s/early 80s reggae underground (a favourite site of investigation for YHO) which along the way notes Beresford's presence at the intersection of any number of the capital’s contemporaneous sonic subcultures: LMC messthetix, subversive chart pop entryism, post-punk aktion, and of course, the alternative universe that orbited around the On-U Sound label.

At Off The Page Steve will be talking with John Keiffer (of the festival's co-producers Sound And Music) about a life lived in the thick of London's Improv scene. But one aspect of the Improv aesthetic that is not much acted or commented on these days is the way it enabled a musician like Beresford to operate almost at will across a whole host of musical activities that received wisdom still tells us were mutually exclusive – "to play, inspire, provoke and create,” as Steve Barker once put it. The same applies to David Toop, of course, another Off The Page guest, who in the period immediately following punk rock's year zero partnered Beresford in any number of audacious border-crossing sonic endeavours, from Alterations to General Strike, The Flying Lizards to Prince Far-I's Cry Tuff Dub Encounter Chapter 3.

It all feels a long time ago now. But so what? As Michael Chion tells Dan Warburton during his Invisible Jukebox interview in the new March issue of The Wire: "When I like something, I don't think of it as being from 1968 or 1980 or whenever. It's the present, for me." And for me, listening to Akabu’s "Watch Yourself” (or any of the many other records that Beresford, or indeed Toop, appeared on during the same period), the distant past suddenly materialises in the here and now to sound as immediate as any present you might care to mention.

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Off The Page: A further digression #3

Tony Herrington

The closing event of Off The Page this coming Sunday promises a collaborative and performative lecture by Claudia Molitor, Sarah Nicholls and Jennfier Walshe that will “muse on radical (or irreverent) modes of music notation”. What form this event will actually take is as elusive and mysterious as all the projects initiated by these mercurial composer-performers, who between them incorporate elements of film, theatre and multimedia into aesthetic strategies that playfully subvert the furrowed-brow, testosterone-heavy atmospheres of the kind of 'New Music' scenes they all emerge from.

When I asked Claudia for some inside information on her role in the scheme of the thing, she sent me the following photographs.

They look a little like images of hennaed hands, but with Persian tracery replaced by notes on staves. The mail from Claudia that accompanied the photos referenced Heidegger's theory of zuhanden (which translates from the German as 'hands-on'), using it to emphasise her highly tactile approach to the actual material process of composition: “Zuhanden? is a series of images that engages with my ‘visceral’ relationship to notation... In Zuhanden? the focus is on the physical reality of the act of notating and its transmission onto paper by hand."

How will such a seemingly prosaic notion be combined with Jennifer Walshe's multiple personas (her Miller Corp website is a twilight zone of alt.realities and shifting identities) or Sarah Nicholls's 'inside out' pianos?

Who knows? But from where I'm sitting it has all the makings for a fascinating way to (sp)end a Sunday afternoon.

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Off The Page: A further digression #1

Tony Herrington

It's by way of some sweet synchronicity (as opposed to careful programming) that appearances by Robert Wyatt and Scritti Politti's Green Gartside will top and tail the Off The Page festival in Whitstable this coming weekend.

Way back in the days of North London’s burgeoning post-punk underground, writer Ian Penman was a regular visitor to the now legendary squat Green shared with the other members of Scritti Politti, and he has recalled how Wyatt's Rock Bottom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard albums would reverberate through that famously squalid Camden house night and day, insinuating themselves into the occupants’ addled but expanding collective consciousness. And sure enough, in 1981 when Scritti’s still sublime sounding “The ‘Sweetest Girl’” single was released by Rough Trade, who should pop up playing piano but Old Rottenhat himself.

What Green and his comrades recognised in Wyatt's music was a shared belief in the pop song as a cultural agent that could act on you rhetorically and sensually at the same time. (Of course, just a few years earlier this was the self same notion that Wyatt’s colleagues in Soft Machine had utterly failed to grasp, and so they kicked their greatest asset out of the group – duh!) The directions that both Wyatt and Green have pursued over the years have kept faith with the idea that if you build them right, pop's shiny plastic vessels will be sturdy enough to accommodate and transport anything you might care to load inside of them, even Stalinist propaganda and Derrida-derived post-structuralist theory.

This Friday in Whitstable, at Off The Page's opening night event, Robert will be discussing live on stage some of the music that has most animated him over the years, and without wanting to give anything away, all of his choices somehow reconcile the urge to innovate or proselytize with the desire to craft perfect pop moments. Meanwhile, on the Sunday afternoon of the festival, Green will be going head to head with Mark 'K-punk' Fisher in a discussion that will no doubt make the synapses snap as it attempts to deconstruct the processes by which such a seemingly flimsy form as the three minute pop song can both distill and amplify hyper-advanced philosophical concepts, and in turn can be re-energized (rather than overloaded) by absorbing such heavyweight material.

Can’t wait!

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Off The Page: A further digression (in the form a competition) #2

Tony Herrington

Everyone attending this weekend's Off The Page festival will get a free copy of a special souvenir booklet that has been produced in a one-time-only hand-made edition of just 200 copies. For the booklet, all the festival’s speakers, delegates, guests, etc were asked to select a favourite piece of writing or thinking on sound or music. The resulting selections range from the philosophical musings of Ernst Bloch to a poem by Philip Larkin, David Bowie prognosticating on the future economy of music to Ian Penman riffing on Bryan Ferry, Lester Bangs hymning Van Morrison to Alex Ward analysing Derek Bailey. The booklet in which all these and more are now reproduced has been designed and assembled by The Wire's art director Ben Weaver. We are holding back five copies of this one off document in order to offer them as prizes in a competition, just in case you want one (and believe me, you want one) but can't make it to the actual event itself.

All you have to do to win one is tell us which of the Off The Page speakers went for John Cage's "Goal: New Music, New Dance" (from his book Silence) as their favourite bit of music writing. Was it Matthew Herbert? Jennifer Walshe? Or Christian Marclay?

To enter, send your answer to with 'Off The Page competition' in the subject line. Closing date: this Friday 11 February.

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Lords of the new church

Tony Herrington

The Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling, site for some of the performances at this year's Le Weekend festival

Why do so many so-called experimental music festivals insist on programming events in goddamn churches? (For recent evidence from the UK, see Sotto Voce, Le Weekend, and the slightly too prosaically named London International Festival of Exploratory Music.) No doubt the acoustics are mind-blowingly reverberant, but then the same could be said of an empty factory or warehouse, and let's face it, in the current era of drastic capitalism there is no shortage of such structures, all ripe for creative, even provocative, repurposing.

By implication if nothing else, the notion of experimental music has always been bound up with radical and ongoing critiques of prevailing and oppressive value systems, and concurrent attempts to erect new humanistic paradigms in their place.

From Luis Buñuel to Lydia Lunch, there is a long and noble history of artists staging performances in churches as acts of subversion, taking the good fight deep inside enemy territory, calling down the walls of the establishment by blaspheming the fuck out of its most sacred strongholds.

But what we are dealing with here is something else again, a minor cultural phenomenon that arrives as a particularly dispiriting consequence of current trends in which postmodern irony conspires with the hubris of curatorial culture and the requirements of public and private funding bodies for ever more 'novel' initiatives, to render meaningless the stuff these events are supposed to be providing new platforms for.

In such a context, moving contemporary experimental music into a church setting is tantamount to an admittance of failure, a betrayal of its original revolutionary stance, an acknowledgment that the old order is still standing so we might as well give up and move right on in alongside it.

In effect it is the latest example of a bourgeois art class nullifying vernacular modes of expression by once again giving priority to aesthetics over politics.

Plus, like all sites dedicated to supernatural idolatry, churches give me the creeps.

I can appreciate why the curators and producers of experimental music events might want to escape the conventions of the proscenium arch, and find new contexts in which to present music whose practice, among other things, is predicated on proposing new social relations (which is one reason for the rise of the gallery environment as an alternative if somewhat compromised space in which to present new sound works). But replacing an arch with an altar is no way to go, frankly.

More radical, empathetic and imaginative thinking on the part of the curators, and less collusion on the part of musicians, is required if we are to find sympatico spaces in which to present music that exists in revolutionary opposition to the forces that look to crush our very souls with ever more mediated and policed spectacles, from The X Factor to the kind of middlebrow entertainment packages masquerading as genuine culture that are programmed by major art spaces in just about every city in the Northern hemisphere.

In the aftermath of the UK coalition government’s systematic dismantling of the structures that were erected to democratise this country's post-war society, raising such a seemingly minor issue might seem like decadent pissing in the wind. But as the good Lord knows, the devil resides in the detail.

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Jeff Keen: public meeting

Tony Herrington

Brighton's Lighthouse organisation is hosting an emergency public meeting to discuss how best to secure the archive of local underground film maker and artist Jeff Keen.

Keen is ill with prostate cancer, and also faces eviction along with his wife Stella from their current home in the town. This necessitates them moving into Keen's studio, which currently houses his archive, which in turn necessitates relocating the archive to another location. Any interested parties are urged to attend the meeting at Lighthouse in Brighton on 28 July, whether to show support, or to offer practical solutions.

Keen is one of the UK's pioneering experimental film makers. Three of his short films dating from the mid-1960s are currently on show as part of the exhibition Blow Up: Exploding Sound And Noise (London-Brighton 1959-1969) at Flat Time House in South London. The exhibition has been curated by The Wire's David Toop and Tony Herrington.

A DVD box set of his films, Gazwrx, was issued by the BFI in 2009.

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