During a recent visit to Kiev as part of a selection panel for a call for sound and art works made by the ECAS network, I visited the Ukranian capital's World War Two memorial. I made my way through the Soviet era metro and out to the hills overlooking the wide Dnieper River, with clusters of imposing looking tower blocks beyond its opposite banks. After passing through a park, the gold-domed Pechersk Lavra and Memorial To The Holodomor Victims (the Ukrainian “terror-famine” in the early 1930s) I enter a pedestrian boulevard. At the head of it sit kiosks and cafes, with small groups of visitors escaping from the hot weather, sipping beer in the shade of umbrellas.
The broad boulevard stretches out under the hot sun for nearly a kilometre. I hear the muffled sounds of distant music being played. Suddenly, a loud and mournful male voice starts singing in contrabass right next to me. The entire boulevard is lined with speakers, blasting out a loop of emotionally piqued funereal songs, the sound crackling and warbling from disintegrating speaker cones and what could be poor MP3 compression. In the distance is a giant sculpture of a steel-plated woman warrior.
Further down, I come up to a large, covered section, partly made of poured concrete, shafts radiating out in rhythmic echoes from a Soviet star, embedded crater-like on a monolithic pillar to the left as you enter. There are several grottos, with the tinny sound of mournful singing reverberating around the cool space and bouncing off its hard walls. A roughly hewn socialist-realist frieze depicting rows of super-sized soldiers, workers and peasants, sits against the hard edged abstraction of the concrete. The march of figures lead through the grotto, and out to the other side, guns, farming tools and reinforcement bars pointing towards the warrior woman “Mother Motherland” (intentionally built just taller than the Statue Of Liberty).
Onwards, past another large cluster of gargantuan soldiers frozen in the midst of battle, two tanks face each other with their gun barrels crossed, both bizarrely painted in bright blue and orange, and covered in dots.
The elegiac songs continue, and from this position the guttural stops and warped, soaring vowels puncture the airspace with delayed echoes around the figure, the multitude of speakers sounding out the vastness of the space; a journey from the everyday to cosmic-scaled history at the foot of Mother Motherland.
Here she is, gleaming in the light, a sword thrusting skywards in one hand, in the other a shield emblazoned with Soviet hammer and sickle.
Inside the bunker-like pedestal supporting the Mother is the National Museum Of The History Of The Great Patriotic War (Of 1941–1945), that tells the history of World War Two and the Eastern Front from the Ukrainian, and Kievian perspective. Finished in 1981, the building and its collection are a time capsule from the late Soviet era. The figure was designed by the socialist-realist artist Yevgeny Vuchetich, famous for his grandiose sculptures glorifying Soviet heroism.
The two floors of exhibits take in much of the horror of that time, and aims to convey war through feeling, creating dramatic displays. Like how a title sequence of a movie sets up a tone for the following feature, music acts as a lead-in, preparing visitors for the main event ahead and helping define the emotional parameters of the experience.
The objects on show create a bleak impression: many are simply bits of detritus left over from battles, rusting shards of metal, decomposed boots. There’s the wreckage of an airplane, photos of unnamed victims hanging on its torn wing. Panoramas of fiery battle scenes are framed by soldiers’ heads cast in heavy bronze. A cluster of old speaker cones emit a painfully high pitched static tone (appropriate, though I imagine they were meant to be broadcasting something different). Elsewhere a vitrine containing a child’s jumper dangles off some barbed wire, tiny shoes sitting next to a pair of shackles.
In one section, if any visitors might have missed the point, a barrel of a cannon points at an old hessian textile, dotted with pictures of victims, a flower pot at its base.
In the last room are thousands of photographs of people, surrounding a banquet table lined with the canteens of the dead, phonographs placed intermittently along its length. Different brass instruments are suspended in the air, a swarm of disembodied horns mutely signalling victory.
The materials used emit feeling: cold concrete, lofty marble and austere granite, proud brass, melancholy bronze and energetic steel. All of them strong and hard wearing, each resonating at their own sensorial register.
The whole impression is one of overdriven, screeching emotion. It's so bombastic that my first reaction is how pushy and crass it is. My mind muddles the Soviet kitsch and atrophied, dramatised feeling with the caricatures of the former Eastern Bloc. And now updated to include cruel nouveau riche oligarchs with their tacky gold enamelled Louis XIV furniture, rudimentary capitalism and unrestrained ambition next to abject poverty – and other myths help to reinforce old assumptions about the East as depraved and barbaric.
Contrast the above experience with another type of remembrance: the British Commonwealth’s various iterations of Remembrance Day. They’re all based around a main event of two minutes of silent observance by attendees – performed by veterans and active members of national armed forces – and most usually organised around a cenotaph (empty tomb, in Greek). Communal silence rendered into a monumental sculpture. This silence is followed by a poignant, yet sometimes incongruously peppy tune called "The Last Post", a bugle call signalling the end of the day's duties, widely used in remembrance ceremonies.
Compared to a ten hectare complex of reverberating elegies and up-the-ante monumental sculpture, two minutes of silence seems a stoically restrained and tasteful method of remembrance. But crassness and refinement are to taste as politeness and rudeness are to manners. They are spectrums in which public performances of adherence to a social order take place. And both these examples don’t tolerate much deviation from obedient behaviour. If the National Museum Of The History Of The Great Patriotic War (Of 1941–1945) is a platform for individuals to play out a type of reverential melodramatics, the two minutes of silence reach just as authoritatively into the psyche.
Below is a video from the Australian Army Headquarters's YouTube channel showing a lone soldier playing "The Last Post". They've decided that it's more effective to have the bugler alone in the posh architecture, with dramatic worm's eye views of him and close up shots on blood red poppies and lists of the fallen on stone. It plays off of ideas of restraint and stoic poise, but it also overflows with a kind of melodrama.
As the distance from World War Two increases, its horrors slowly disintegrate in the mausoleum worlds of mediated myth and pomo relativism. The two World War's were proof of how we are always precariously close to tearing ourselves apart. Remembrance Day was started in 1919 and repeated so as to never forget World War One as the war to end all wars – but memorisation by rote learning hasn’t worked and never will.
Historian and broadcaster David Hendy once told me that “ultimately when people want silence, or when people complain about noise, there's a power struggle going on”. This links the above examples of ritual and memory, showing the role that power has in repeating these spaces and rituals – and being the cause of this ongoing misery. It’s clear that rituals of silence and melodramatic reverence are preventative measures against noisily active remembrance, something that at this moment can only be understood by the powers that be as an unpatriotic, violent attack on memory. But of course this noise would be a protest against hollow traditions, empty things used to perpetuate war-mongering, and the greed that usually drives it.
Music questions power and authority as much as it reinforces it. Kiev's memorial complex made me try to think of different types of music and remembrance that act against this mind erasing monumentalism. Enter that other ritual of self-forgetting, nationalistic memory and feeling control: the national anthem. Specifically, Albert Ayler's "Spirits Rejoice", a free jazz call and response riffing off the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise". Without irony it transforms all the hollow rompitypomp of a national anthem and makes it distinctly noisy and present. Its power lying in the fact that it has a very real object that it is ecstatically freeing up, rather than trying to escape from:
Recently I listened back to Glenn Gould's influential 1967 radio documentary The Idea Of North, part of his Solitude Trilogy. It features the voices of people who have had a 'direct confrontation' with the remote northern region of Canada's vast wilderness, describing the practical ins and outs of living there.
Gould was known as one of the greatest interpreters of Bach's Goldberg Variations. But he famously retired from live performance and instead spent long hours locked away in a studio, discovering ever more minute scales of perfectionism while cutting together choice recordings of his playing in an effort to create the most honed versions of the Variations.
He made the Solitude docs using what he called a 'contrapuntal' editing technique which mixed together multiple voices. It can sound noisy with the voices cancelling each other out in a kind of disorientating babble. But sometimes certain words and phrases leap out in quick succession, "endless", "ice", "nothing", "year after year" etc, creating a montage of verbal images.
At first it sounds odd that these intimate and warm voices are talking about such an expansively inhuman and cold place. Further into the recording a voice says: "You can't talk about the North until you've got out of it." And here's where the listener's journey enters into a more fictional space, the idea of The Idea Of North. Not only is the doc about hearing first-hand accounts of what the 'real' North is, it's about remembering it, re-imagining it and re-telling it from a distance.
Throughout the hour long broadcast the sound of a train rumbling along leads the listener towards this idea of North. There aren't any noises of nature like biting wind, wolves howling or footsteps crunching in the snow. Just the muffled sound of the Muskeg Express chugging its way further north along the tracks. The voices could have been recorded anywhere, but Gould places them inside the sonic and psychological space of a train. It's a space loaded with symbolism about fate, destiny, migration and nationhood (much like radio is too in the latter case). This mental space is also akin to that of Gould's perfect Goldberg Variations: it's a close, intimate and even claustrophobic space where one can focus intensely to the point of an epiphany (or hallucination). And though the people in the Idea Of North go to lengths to debunk myths about the north and of a macho 'northmanship' seducing travellers further and further north, the doc still creates a fantastical space, or at least a space where most anything could happen. For Gould, the north, is "a convenient area to dream about, spin tall tales about, and in the end, avoid."
In his book The Spiritual History Of Ice: Romanticism, Science, And The Imagination, Eric G Wilson writes about this blurred borderline between real and imagined spaces: "Fantastical worlds can become real in two ways – in the systems of the tyrant or the visions of the liberator. Likewise real spaces can become fantastical in a twofold fashion. On the one hand, a tyrant might fictionalise a physical space so that he can exploit it [...] On the other hand, a liberator might transform a humanised region into the sublime laws sustaining the cosmos. A poet might release chthonic energies underlying city grids."
The Idea Of North documents first hand experiences with the real north, but it also documents Gould's journey towards a productive north, mapping a place of serenity and contemplation over vast and empty tundra. Surrounded by frozen calm, Gould's single-track journey is drawn towards an imagined centre point where the constraining delineations of reality cease and imagination can take over. It's at the centre of the world where the mind can focus on smaller and smaller points of attention, tapping into the creative chthonic energies emanating from the magnetic zero degree. But for Gould it's a place best visited rarely as an obsessive mind is easily subsumed by this vast fantasy, no matter how far away the body is.
Adventures In Modern Music tonight features 90 minutes of brand new and unheard music as Derek Walmsley flicks through the upcoming Autumn releases, with fresh releases from Joe Colley, Mark McGuire, Ahleuchatistas, Francisco Meirona & Dave Phillips, Bjørn Fongaard and many more, all culled from the ever-bulging shelves of The Wire’s office. AIMM is broadcast every Thursday 21:00-22:30 (BST) at 104.4 FM for Londoners, streamed live at resonancefm.com for the rest of the world.
Fresh from the successful Sublime Frequencies UK tour last May, Omar Souleyman continues on through Europe, kicking off his set at Sonar 2009, 19 June:
Another new vid: Congolese group Konono N˚1 were set to play at last year's Sonar festival but unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute due to visa problems... The video below is of their soundcheck about a half hour before their scheduled set on friday 18 June. Though the lighting is low it's definitely the clearest view I could get as once the hall filled out it was nearly impossible to stay still from everyone dancing!
American artist and musician (and bandmate with Mike Kelley in The Poetics) Tony Oursler recently opened an exhibition at the Lisson Gallery in London. The show, which runs until October 3rd, features a mixture of his work from the 90's along with new work from this year, if you're familiar with Oursler's art then there won't be many surprises for you, but it's still well worth a visit. Using sculpture, painting, video projection and sound, Oursler combines a hand-made DIY aesthetic with images of obsessive habits such as chain smoking, internet addiction and compulsive gambling along with the sound of indistinct mumblings and sharp angry whispers. Wandering through the darkened galleries as the emanations from each work overlap with one another creates a sense of being in a space of conflict and psychological violence; as if caught up in an argument between a roomful of tatty puppets, disembodied heads and ghostly voices. This, along with the recurring image of smoking cigarettes and loops of neurotic reorganisation, creates a feeling of haggard claustrophobia as if afflicted with the cabin fever caused by sitting in front of a computer for far too long, exacerbated by the effects of nicotine withdrawal. Although this sounds somewhat distressing, the effect of being immersed within and jostled about by his work is a satisfying type of sensorial overload, even sometimes fun as the repetition and knee-jerk compulsiveness of the pieces become ridiculous.
Check out three video clips from The Wire's visit to Sónar 2008: The final performance of the Yellow Swans, a Mark Fell (of .snd) installation and a work by the Spanish artist Pablo Valbuena (both exhibited at the Centre d’Art Santa Mònica)
Yellow Swans 20 June 2008:
Mark Fell Installation:
Pablo Valbuena Installation:
There's higher resolution versions of this through The Wire's main site here.
Sound poet Christian Bök performing at Flarf
vs. Conceptual at NYCs Whitney Museum, 2009
A precursor to the INSTAL festival of new and experimental music and sound (scheduled for November), UNINSTAL, kicks off 9 May with the first part of a walk/screening event, In The Shadow Of Shadow, led by artists organisations The Strickland Distribution & Ultra-red. The walk focuses on the gentrification of Glasgow.
Following this, field recordist Eric La Casa and musician Jean-Luc Guionnet present House, one-shot subjective sonic portraits of four houses, their inhabitants and their relationship through sound, 13 May.
15 May hears Loïc Blairon's, It Doesn’t Say What It Says, followed by 'conceptual improvisor' Taku Unami's Inferno Quiz Show
On 16 May, The Strickland Distribution & Ultra-red return
return for the second and final part of In the Shadow Of Shadow, followed by
What Is To Be Done?, sound poetry and
conceptual writing from Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin and JLIAT
Tags: arika | art | Christian Bök | Craig Dworkin | Eric La Casa | events | Gigs | instal festival | Jean-Luc Guionnet | JLIAT | Loïc Blairon | News | Ray Brassier | Seijiro Murayama | Taku Unami | the stricland distribution | Ultra-red | uninstal
Experimental arts space Area10 is calling out for support to secure a longer term lease on their premises at Eagle Wharf in Peckham, South East London. Their lease is set to run out on 15 July.
Area10 have been in the warehouse space behind Peckham Library for the past eight years. Along with studio and rehearsal space for artists, they host and organise a wide variety of international art exhibitions, workshops, performances, and Audiovisual Art Lab, and other collaborative events.
They're currently working with the local council, Southwark, to gain a longer term lease so as to keep – and increase – their activities: They're asking their supporters for help and to sign a petition, along with a testimonial http://www.savearea10.org/
elnicho, a mail order project for experimental music (who co-curated the recent Radar festival in Mexico City), has curated an evening celebrating the musically omniverous, globe-spanning Sublime Frequencies series. The evening will feature tunes and projections culled from the extensive Sublime Frequencies catalogue, along with wild dancing. It all takes place on 13 May at the Galeria del Comercio, a gallery for free public art projects on the streets in Mexico City (in this case, one particular corner).