Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Chris Watson

Christopher Richard Watson is a Sheffield-born musician and sound recordist specialising in natural history. He was a founding member of the musical group Cabaret Voltaire, and Watson's work as a wildlife sound recordist has covered television documentaries and experimental musical collaborations.

Watson was a founding member of two influential experimental music groups, Cabaret Voltaire and The Hafler Trio.

He has released three solo albums of field recordings: Outside the Circle of Fire, Stepping into the Dark (which won an Award of Distinction at the 2000 Prix ARS Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria), and Weather Report.

He has also released a variety of works in collaboration with other artists, including Star Switch On, a collaboration with Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic, Philip Jeck, Hazard, Fennesz, AER and Biosphere. In 2007 he released Storm with BJNilsen, and in 2011 "Cross-Pollination" and "El Tren Fantasma". All of these recordings were released on Touch.

2003's Weather Report was named as one of the thousand albums you should hear before you die in The Guardian.

His sound recording career began in 1981 when he joined Tyne Tees Television. His television work includes Bill Oddie Back in the USA and Springwatch.

In 2006 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Technology degree by the University of the West of England "in recognition of his outstanding contribution to sound recording technology, especially in the field of natural history and documentary location sound".

In 2010 he devised an art project at Liverpool's Alder Hey Children's Hospital, using sound recordings made by children to calm other young patients as they received injections and other treatments.

The Musiara Gate - Touch Sampler 2

Mara River At Night - Stepping in to the Dark

Demonic Laughter - Touch Sampler 3

Out Of Our Sight - Outside the Circle of Fire

Selected radio programmes:

The Reed Bed - Series of five, fifteen-minute radio programmes, broadcast on Radio Four from 19–23 March 2007.

A Guide to Garden Birds - Series of five, fifteen-minute radio programmes, broadcast weekly on Radio Four from 22 May 2007.

A Guide to Farmland Birds - Series of five, fifteen-minute radio programmes, broadcast weekly on Radio Four from 22 August 2011.

Selected album discography:

Stepping into the Dark (1996, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Outside the Circle of Fire (1998, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Weather Report (2003, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

El Tren Fantasma (Chris Watson album) (2011, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Selected collaborations:

Star Switch On with Mika Vainio, Philip Jeck, Hazard, Fennesz, AER, and Biosphere (2002, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Number One with KK Null and Z'EV (2005, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Storm with B. J. Nilsen (2006, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Cross-Pollination with Marcus Davidson (2011, Touch (UK) Touch Music)

Further information here, here and here.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Stone Tape – A TV play by Nigel Kneale and Peter Sasdy

A team of scientists working in an abandoned mansion to develop a new recording medium discovers that one of the rooms, considered for decades to be haunted, may be made of a type of stone that can store sounds and images.

Nigel Kneale has returned to the ghost story on several occasions in his career, but The Stone Tape stands as perhaps his finest single work in the genre, and his most typical. Asked to come up with a Christmas play, rather than providing a traditional ghost story (which he successfully did later on with The Woman in Black (ITV, tx. 24/12/1989)), he produced something far more original and challenging.

The play focuses on the relationship between three scientists: Jill, a talented computer programmer attuned to psychic phenomena; her arrogant, egotistical and ruthless, if frequently charming, boss (and lover) Peter; and Collinson, the foreman on the project and confidante to both of them. Their differing personal experiences of the mansion's haunted room provide the framework for the drama and are drawn along traditional gender lines. Kneale's script explores male and female perspectives, contrasting rational problem solving and the application of the scientific method with intuitive and emotional responses and solutions aligned with a compassionate feeling for people and their circumstances. Peter and Jill stand at the opposite poles of this dialectic, and as their inability to communicate their differences increases, so their personal relationship disintegrates. Collinson comes somewhere between the two, as the main identification figure for the audience. Iain Cuthbertson gives a powerful yet restrained performance in the role, which was expanded considerably during filming as his character replaced the one played by Michael Bates, who became unavailable when the shooting of some scenes had to be rescheduled.

The special effects in the climax, in which Jill is pursued by ancient shapeless creatures and taken back thousands of years to a high sacrificial altar before falling to her death, are often startling, despite their crudeness. The use of sound by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, however, is highly sophisticated, with atonal electronic sounds used to merge music with the noises made by the scientific machinery.

Although reminiscent of Kneale's own earlier Quatermass and the Pit (BBC, 1957-58) in the way that science unleashes supernatural forces from the past, The Stone Tape can also be seen as a dark meditation on Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', with Peter as a Scrooge figure, basically uncaring of those around him, who eventually learns the error of his ways through supernatural intervention, but only when it's too late.

Sergio Angelini

Psychogeophysics / Psychogeography

The bulk of the following text is edited from the Wikipedia‬ page concerning Psychogeography, as it stands, as of 15 August 2013. With additional text and images, here and there, as and when.

Judging by the concerns expressed at the outset ('This article may be too technical for most readers to understand') and the amount of citations dotted here and there (Who?), Wikipedia‬ is not entirely happy with the entry.

However The Hauntological Society does not find it wanting.

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like to fold my magic carpet, after use, in such a way as to superimpose one part of the pattern upon another. Let visitors trip. And the highest enjoyment of timelessness-in a landscape selected at random-is when I stand among rare butterflies and their food plants. This is ecstasy, and behind the ecstasy is something else, which is hard to explain. It is like a momentary vacuum into which rushes all that I love. A sense of oneness with sun and stone. A thrill of gratitude to whom it may concern-to the contrapuntal genius of human fate or to tender ghosts humoring a lucky mortal” A section from Vladimir Nabokov’s 1966 (revised) autobiography: ‘Speak, Memory

Psychogeography was originally developed by the avant-garde movement Lettrist International in the journal Potlach. The originator of what became known as unitary urbanism, psychogeography, and the dérive was Ivan Chtcheglov, in his highly influential 1953 essay "Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau" ("Formulary for a New Urbanism").

The Lettrists' reimagining of the city has its precursors in aspects of Dadaism and Surrealism. The idea of urban wandering relates to the older concept of the flâneur, theorised by Charles Baudelaire. Following Chtcheglov's exclusion from the Lettrists in 1954, Guy-Ernest Debord and others worked to clarify the concept of unitary urbanism, in a bid to demand a revolutionary approach to architecture. At a conference in Cosio di Arroscia, Italy in 1956, the Lettrists joined the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus to set a proper definition for the idea announced by Gil J. Wolman "Unitary Urbanism - the synthesis of art and technology that we call for — must be constructed according to certain new values of life, values which now need to be distinguished and disseminated". It demanded the rejection of functional, Euclidean values in architecture, as well as the separation between art and its surroundings. The implication of combining these two negations is that by creating abstraction, one creates art, which, in turn, creates a point of distinction that unitary urbanism insists must be nullified. This confusion is also fundamental to the execution of unitary urbanism as it corrupts one's ability to identify where "function" ends and "play" (the "ludic") begins, resulting in what the Lettrist International and Situationist International believed to be a utopia where one was constantly exploring, free of determining factors.

In "Formulary for a New Urbanism", Chtcheglov had written "Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams". The Situationists' response was to create designs of new urbanised space, promising better opportunities for experimenting through mundane expression. Their intentions remained completely as abstractions. Guy Debord's truest intention was to unify two different factors of "ambiance" that, he felt, determined the values of the urban landscape: the soft ambiance — light, sound, time, the association of ideas — with the hard, the actual physical constructions. Debord's vision was a combination of the two realms of opposing ambiance, where the play of the soft ambiance was actively considered in the rendering of the hard. The new space creates a possibility for activity not formerly determined by one besides the individual.

However, the Situationist International may have been tongue-in-cheek about some parts of psychogeography. "This apparently serious term 'psychogeography'", writes Debord biographer Vincent Kaufmann, "comprises an art of conversation and drunkenness, and everything leads us to believe that Debord excelled at both". Eventually, Debord and Asger Jorn resigned themselves to the fate of "urban relativity". Debord readily admits in his 1961 film A Critique of Separation, "The sectors of a city are decipherable, but the personal meaning they have for us is incommunicable, as is the secrecy of private life in general, regarding which we possess nothing but pitiful documents". Despite the ambiguity of the theory, Debord committed himself firmly to its practical basis in reality, even as he later confesses, "none of this is very clear. It is a completely typical drunken monologue with its vain phrases that do not await response and its overbearing explanations. And its silences". Before settling on the impossibility of true psychogeography, Debord made another film, On the Passage of a Few Persons Through a Rather Brief Unity of Time (1959), the title of which suggests its own subject matter. The film's narrated content concerns itself with the evolution of a generally passive group of unnamed people into a fully aware, anarchistic assemblage, and might be perceived as a biography of the situationists themselves.

Among the rants which construct the film (regarding art, ignorance, consumerism, militarism) is a desperate call for psychogeographic action:

“When freedom is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into a dream, becomes a mere image of itself. The ambiance of play is by nature unstable. At any moment, "ordinary life" may prevail once again. The geographical limitation of play is even more striking than its temporal limitation. Every game takes place within the boundaries of its own spatial domain”.

Moments later, Debord elaborates on the important goals of unitary urbanism in contemporary society:

“The atmosphere of a few places gave us a few intimations of the future powers of an architecture that it would be necessary to create in order to provide the setting for less mediocre games”.

Quoting Karl Marx, Debord says:

“People can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is animated. Obstacles were everywhere. And they were all interrelated, maintaining a unified reign of poverty”.

“Perhaps it’s that you can’t go back in time, but you can return to the scenes of a love, of a crime, of happiness, and of a fatal decision; the places are what remain, are what you can possess, are what is immortal. They become the tangible landscape of memory, the places that made you, and in some way you too become them. They are what you can possess and in the end what possesses you” Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Since the 1990s, as situationist theory became popular in artistic and academic circles, avant-garde, neoist, and revolutionary groups emerged, developing psychogeographical praxis in various ways. Influenced primarily through the re-emergence of the London Psychogeographical Association and the foundation of The Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture, these groups have assisted in the development of a contemporary psychogeography. Between 1992 and 1996 The Workshop for Non-Linear Architecture undertook an extensive programme of practical research into classic (situationist) psychogeography in both Glasgow and London. The discoveries made during this period, documented in the group's journal Viscosity, expanded the terrain of the psychogeographic into that of urban design and architectural performance.

The journal Transgressions: A Journal of Urban Exploration (which appears to have ceased publication sometime in 2000) collated and developed a number of post-avant-garde revolutionary psychogeographical themes. The journal also contributed to the use and development of psychogeographical maps which have, since 2000, been used in political actions, drifts and projections, distributed as flyers. Since 2003 in the United States, separate events known as Provflux and Psy-Geo-conflux have been dedicated to action-based participatory experiments, under the academic umbrella of psychogeography.

Psychogeography also become a device used in performance art and literature. In Britain in particular, psychogeography has become a recognised descriptive term used in discussion of successful writers such as Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd and the documentaries of filmmaker Patrick Keiller. The popularity of Sinclair drew the term into greater public use in the United Kingdom. Though Sinclair makes infrequent use of the jargon associated with the Situationists, he has certainly popularized the term by producing a large body of work based on pedestrian exploration of the urban and suburban landscape. Sinclair and similar thinkers draw on a longstanding British literary tradition of the exploration of urban landscapes, predating the Situationists, found in the work of writers like William Blake, Arthur Machen, and Thomas de Quincey. The nature and history of London were a central focus of these writers, utilising romantic, gothic, and occult ideas to describe and transform the city. Sinclair drew on this tradition combined with his own explorations as a way of criticising modern developments of urban space in such key texts as Lights Out for the Territory. Peter Ackroyd's bestselling London: A Biography was partially based on similar sources. Merlin Coverley gives equal prominence to this literary tradition alongside Situationism in his 2006 book Psychogeography, not only recognising that the situationist origins of psychogeography are sometimes forgotten, but that via certain writers like Edgar Allan Poe, Daniel Defoe, and Charles Baudelaire they had a shared tradition.

Psychogeography, as a term and a concept, now reaches more British eyes than ever before, as novelist Will Self had a column of that name which started out in the British Airways Inflight magazine and then appeared weekly in the Saturday magazine of The Independent newspaper until October 2008. The concepts and themes seen in popular comics writers such as Alan Moore in works like From Hell are also now seen as significant works of psychogeography. Other key figures in this version of the idea are Walter Benjamin, J. G. Ballard, and Nicholas Hawksmoor. Part of this development saw increasing use of ideas and terminology by some psychogeographers from Fortean and occult areas like earth mysteries, ley lines, and chaos magic, a course pioneered by Sinclair. A core element in virtually all these developments remains a dissatisfaction with the nature and design of the modern environment and a desire to make the everyday world more interesting.

"Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals" From Critique of Urban Geography (1955) by Guy-Ernest Debord

Further information here, here & here. Video content here, here & here.