West India Dock

My studio is on the jetty of West India Dock so, to end this series of posts, I’m going to concentrate on the river outside my door. Below is a historical overview of the Docks and after that photographs that I have taken of activity on the River while I have been working here. I will end with a series of sound posts from Seth Guy.

Main Trade

Despite being outside the centre of London, West India Docks set a precedent for London dock systems, both with its design and operation. Initially it dealt solely with produce from the West Indies, except tobacco, supervising the loading and unloading of vessels as decreed by Parliament. As a result, West India Docks mainly traded in rum, molasses and sugar. Other items that were imported and exported, included: Jute  Coir  Oil Spirits & Wine  Shell  Horn  Cork  Indigo Spices Baggage Coffee  Hardwood

During the 20th century, the docks also handled grain and, as refrigeration became common, meat, fruit and vegetables also became regular commodities. South West India Dock mainly dealt in the timber trade.

Types of Vessel

The West India Docks were constructed to berth large sailing vessels and accommodate the many lighters that serviced the Thames. The docks were also used by a large number of barges, which transported coal around London. The design of the West India Docks dictated that sailing vessels should enter the docks from the Blackwall Basin and lighters enter via an entrance on the Limehouse side. This prevented congestion and made it easier to control the loading or unloading of the vessels. The conversion of the City Canal into the South West India Dock, added much needed berths. However, the dimensions of the dock entrance, despite being a foot deeper than the rest of the dock system, limited the number and size of the vessels berthing, to less than 6000 tons.

The docks continued to be used throughout the 20th century. In 1943, the Rum Quay at West India Docks was used to build concrete petrol carrying barges for the war.

Statistics

  • The West India Docks covered 295 acres, much of which is now covered by the Canary Wharf estate.
  • The original dock system consisted of two parallel docks. The 30 acre Import Dock was 155 metres long by 152 metres wide. The 24 acre Export Dock was 155 metres long by 123 metres wide. By having separate docks for loading and unloading, it was hoped to avoid vessels taking up valuable quay space for long periods of time.
  • The Limehouse entrance and the Blackwall Basin linked the dock system to the Thames. There were two sets of locks in each basin, connecting the basins to the river and to the docks. From 1806, the docks could also be accessed via the City Canal.
  • The basins allowed up to 20 vessels to enter the system at high tide. The docks could berth a maximum of 600 vessels at any one time.
  • City Canal was purchased by the West India Dock Company for £120,000 for conversion into the South West India Dock. This created a further 29 acres of dock space.
  • 6 metre high security walls surrounded the dock system, as did a ditch that was 2 metres deep and 3.7 metres wide. The site of the dock dictated strict security arrangements, including patrols of armed guards.
  • The warehouses were designed by George Gwilt and built by William Adam. They were usually five storeys high and built using locally made brick with limestone dressings. They had distinctive semi-circular and round windows.
  • There was a continuous line of three-quarters of a mile of warehousing, lining the Import Dock. This housed nine vast sugar and molasses warehouses. The Export Dock had fewer buildings lining the quays.
  • The company employed 200 full time labourers. A range of tradesmen also operated on site including coopers, painters, carpenters, blacksmiths and engineers.

http://www.portcities.org.uk

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In the summer I had the bizarre experience of watching the Italian warship ‘destroyer’ Luigi Durande de la Penne come through the dock and past my studio. Here are some photographs I took:

luigid1  luigi

I was extremely lucky to be able to watch the Festival of Tall Ships from the vantage point of the jetty. Here is a selection of photos I took:

tallships1  tallships2

tallships3  tallships4

tallships5  tallships6  tallships7  tallships8  tallship9

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Seth Guy’s sound recordings:

1 Tower Bridge Riverboats:

‘Excerpt of a field recording made on a very windy day at the riverboat launch at Tower Bridge. Several boats arrived and left, each with a multitude of passengers on board and those waiting to get on. Apologies for the wind noise.’

2 Two boats back to back churning water:

‘Brief excerpt of a field recording of two riverboats back to back churning up the water between them. Recorded on the key side at Tower Bridge amid the tourists. Very windy day, apologies for the wind noise.’

3 Riverboats leaving and arriving:

‘Excerpt of a field recording made on a floating jetty on the Thames at Saunders Ness. A boat leaves picking up no passengers to go east toward Greenwich, and then another arrives to pick up three passengers to go west toward Tower Bridge.’

Thanks so much to Seth for all of the recordings he’s made.

Mirrorcity: the fictional and the real.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Henry Somers-Hall is a Philosopher currently teaching at Royal Holloway, University of London. He co-edited the Cambridge Companion to Deleuze and has written two monographs on Deleuze:

Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

Hegel, Deleuze and the Critique of Representation: Dialectics of Negation and Difference (Albany: SUNY Press, 2012)

I know Henry because he contacted me to use a detail of my drawing Field 4 for the cover of the second of these books, which I was very happy to agree to.

When I knew that Henry was going along to visit Mirrorcity recently, I asked if he would write some thoughts for this blog which he very kindly agreed to.

Here they are..

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‘JG Ballard believed that reality had already exceeded the visions conjured by science fiction by the end of the 20th century.’

The Ballardian Plato

I want to explore here the significance of the fictional exceeding the real, with reference to some of the works in the Mirrorcity exhibition. In what sense does the real exceed the fictional? Ballard’s claim is that the modern world essentially involves an inversion of the categories of the real and the fictional:

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind: mass merchandising, advertising, politics considered as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the pre-empting of any free or imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. (RE/Search #8/9: J. G. Ballard. RE/Search Publications, 1984, 97-8)

The world is run through with categories of thought that allow us to live with ease and without consideration – the paradigm being for Ballard the suburb, ‘the optimum of what people want’ (R/S, 15) which is also ‘the death of the soul’ (R/S, 15). In response to the simulacra of the modern world, the artist’s role is, by a parallel inversion, to open moments of reality within the fictional.

For the writer in particular, it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent reality. (R/S, 98)

As such, for Ballard, the artist’s role is one of the selection and sorting of different images. The artist applies a test to experience, and chooses those images which escape from convention and the death of the soul. This question of the selection of the real places the artist in dialogue with the philosopher (and indeed, Ballard himself claims that ‘science fiction at least attempts to place a philosophical and metaphysical frame around the most important events within our lives and consciousness’ [R/S, 97]). Ballard’s project here reiterates the aims of the founder of the Western philosophical tradition, Plato. The key question that Plato asks is how we can tell the difference between the real and the pretender – how can we determine the differences between our encounters which have a basis in reality, and those which are merely illusory. By way of example, in the dialogue, the Statesman, Plato asks what it is for someone to be a statesman, and develops the definition of statesmanship as ‘knowledge of the collective rearing of human beings.’ (Plato, Statesman, 267d) Once we have this definition, we are still faced with a difficulty, however, as it appears that there are a large number of people who fulfil this description: ‘merchants, farmers, millers and bakers’ (Statesman, 267e). The task of philosophy is not to formulate definitions, but to select those beings that are legitimate, and the rejection of those who are not, a process Plato equates with the separation of precious metals from their alloyed state by means of fire. Merchants, farmers, millers and bakers all fulfil the definition of the statesman, so we cannot determine the difference between them by simply relying on the way that they appear. Rather, philosophy takes the form of genealogy. For Plato, philosophy involves seeing which entities can be seen as copies of an eternal realm of forms, and which are merely transient appearances.  Those that participate in permanence are real objects, whereas those that do not are mere simulacra. In many dialogues, we have the introduction of a myth. In the Statesman, the visitor introduces the fable of two cosmic eras, that of Cronos, and the present age of Zeus. Each of these gods allows ordered existence to carry on in the world by ensuring that the universe continues to revolve around its circle.  By incorporating a myth into the structure of our enquiry, we are able to resolve the question of which of the various contenders is in actual fact the statesman. That is, myth provides an archetype by which to properly separate the pure gold of the statesman from the mixed elements of the other figures. How does it do this? Well, these gods’ governance of the universe provides us with a model by which to assess which of the claimants is the true statesman. Thus, ultimately it is mythology that completes the philosophical project of Plato’s dialogues. How does this process of selection relate to Ballard?

Icons and Phantasms

For Plato, the world of appearances contains just shadows or copies of real things. Those copies that resemble real things have more reality than those which do not. An important point to note, however, is that there are two ways in which something can be a copy of, or resemble, something else. The visitor sets these two ways out in the Sophist:

Visitor: One type of imitation I see is the art of likeness-making. That’s the one we have whenever someone produces an imitation by keeping to the proportions of length, breadth, and depth of his model, and also by keeping to the appropriate colours of its parts.

Theaetetus: But don’t all imitators try to do that?

Visitor: Not the ones who sculpt or draw very large works. If they reproduced the true proportions of their beautiful subjects, you see, the upper parts would appear smaller than they should, and the lower parts would appear larger, because we see the upper parts from further away and the lower parts from closer. (Sophist, 235d-236a)

Something can therefore resemble the way something is (in which case it is an icon), or just in the way in which sculptors may employ tricks of perspective, it can resemble the way something appears (in which case it is a phantasm). The true statesman resembles the Idea or form of the statesman in the first of these senses. The pretender only resembles the appearance of the form, not the form itself. The problem, therefore, is to distinguish the candidates who bear a true likeness from those which merely appear to. At the heart of the difference between real images and fictional images for Plato is therefore a difference in the conception of space. There is a difference between the way something appears, and the way it actually is – the geometry of the painter and the geometry of the architect. For Plato, what is privileged is the geometry of the object understood in its mathematical clarity, outside of the vicissitudes of temporal experience. For Ballard, on the contrary, clarity is precisely what obscures our understanding of the essence of things. His story ‘The Intensive Care Unit,’ for instance, extrapolates to a society where interactions between individuals are only permitted via television. This sense of the clearly defined is an extrapolation of the clarity aimed at in the modern city. Ballard talks of Dusseldorf as the city ‘where nothing is ever allowed out of place.’ (R/S, 15) This clarity of vision, where the world is clearly demarcated, is the limit of the ‘voluntary self-limitations which allow human beings to go out, sit down, walk down the streets, take planes, and lead bourgeois lives with videos and word processors.’ (R/S, 21)

Here we can see the first essential difference between the Platonism of Ballard and that of Plato himself. For Plato, it is the illusory that is unclear. We can’t determine whether objects of appearance are tall or short, beautiful or ugly, because they are in space and time, and hence can at different moments have contrary properties. Clarity occurs when we consider the world apart from the way that it appears. For Ballard, on the contrary, it is the clarity of the world that is an illusion. As he puts it,

The mere existence of our own sort of musculatures, the particular skeletal morphology of the mammal, not to mention the whole vast system of inventions and dampers and blocks and subterfuges of various kinds – elaborate mental languages and visa systems that operate on all sorts of borders of the brain, which is in itself an incredibly elaborate structure – if you could only shine a light through the whole of it, existence would seem as bright as the sun! As shocking as a blast of sunlight, or a blare of noise. (R/S, 21)

Central to Ballard’s approach are, therefore, ‘perceptual dislocations’ (R/S, 51) that break through the web of fictions that constitute reality. There are two moments to the Ballardian approach. First, there is the dislocation that breaks through the banalities of the fictional. Second, there is the real that we then encounter. Works such as the photo-montages of Stezaker create images through juxtaposition that prevent the normal functioning of the mental languages and visa systems of the brain by slipping between categories. As such they disrupt the smooth assimilation of the visual stimuli they present. Similarly, Tim Etchells’ City Changes projects a set of mutually contradictory descriptions of the city. In these cases, we have the mode of disorientation and fragmentation that opens the way to the real.

We can find an example of this defamiliarisation of space in Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition:

Tallis stood behind the door of the lounge, shielded from the sunlight of the balcony, and considered the white cube of the room. At intervals, Karen Novotny moved across it, carrying out a series of random acts. Already, she was confusing the perspectives of the room, transforming it into a dislocated clock. She noticed Tallis behind the door and walked towards him. Tallis waited for her to leave. Her figure interrupted the junction between the walls in the corner on his right. After a few seconds her presence became an unbearable intrusion into the geometry of the room. (Ballard, Atrocity Exhibition, 43)

Here, what is behind appearances is not the unified object, freed from the contradictions of appearance, but instead a fragmented space, without the unity of the elaborations of the brain. As an exploration of this realm prior to the fictions of the real, Ballard writes that ‘fiction is a branch of neurology: the scenarios of nerve and blood vessel are the written mythologies of memory and desire.’ (R/S, 149) Just as with Plato the exploration of the individual is also the exploration of the city, so it is with Ballard, who notes that from the architectural spaces of the city, we could reconstitute the psychology of a people. (R/S, 44) Such a fragmentation, therefore, does not simply open out onto a new perspective, but also onto the complex network of affects and interrelations that gives rise to our neurology. In this aspect, Emma McNally’s works go beyond the simple fragmentation of perception to posit an order behind our world that does not share the structure of the object, but rather presents the complex traces and paths that lie behind our simple conception of the world. This is the second moment of Ballard’s model. In this sense, one can draw a connection between the inversion of Platonism in Ballard’s writing, and many of the artworks on display at Mirrorcity.

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Today’s sound is Seth Guy’s Deeper River (version 4) …

‘A treated prepared microphone recording originally made at City Airport. Wind, rain, and aircraft providing much of the noise and atmospheric sounds throughout. As with previous “Deeper Rivers”, headphones are advised':

Layla Curtis’ River Thames

Recently there was an exhibition called ‘Bridge’ at Museum of London Docklands.  A print of Layla Curtis’ ‘The Thames (from London Bridge, Arizona to Sheerness, Canada)’ was included.

The Museum of London Dockland is so interesting and a pleasure to visit:

http://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands/

I have always loved Layla’s work.  I went to her ‘Tong Tana’ (part of Matt’s Gallery’s ‘Revolver part 1′) a while back and it was riveting. Here’s the text from the website:

‘Curtis’s work has a focus on mapping and the ways we represent terrain and locate ourselves and our movements through space. Previous projects include collages made of maps; drawings produced through the use of computers and satellite GPS technology whilst in Antarctica with the British Antarctic Survey; and video work made with parkour practitioners from London.

Layla Curtis spent four weeks in the rainforests of Borneo with the semi-nomadic Penan – one of the last surviving hunter-gatherer tribes in South-East Asia and acknowledged masters of tracking and hunting.

Her intention was to obtain point of view (POV) video footage of a Penan hunter’s solo journey with blowpipe and poisoned darts through dense jungle near Ba Jawi, one of Borneo’s last remaining pristine rainforest wildernesses. A Penan hunter agreed to go out with a head mounted camera as well as binaural microphones – designed to accurately record sound as experienced by the human ear – and the resultant recordings provide the material for this project.

I aim to place the viewer in the centre of the action and thus experience the journey from point-of-view of the protagonist. I aim to create a heightened sensory experience for the viewer and create an immersive viewing experience within the gallery space. Each of the films will comprise of a single take of POV footage – the content and pace of which will be entirely dependent on the self-determined course of the hunter.
— Layla Curtis

http://www.mattsgallery.org/artists/curtis/exhibition-1.php

But, more relevant for a blog about working on West India Dock jetty, here is the text and a selection of images from ‘The Thames':

The Thames (from London Bridge, Arizona to Sheerness, Canada), 2013

Layla Curtis

This ten-part collage examines the etymology of place names along the shores of the River Thames, tracing their global namesakes and name-givers and revealing in the process many of the river’s industrial and colonial histories.

In this new fictional geography The Wallace Line divides the river just east of the Dartford Crossing and an island in Canada, formed by a meteorite crashing to earth over 200 million years ago, replaces the site of the Millennium Dome. Further out to sea, the Thames Estuary spawns a host of new islands including Montgomery Island; a place surrounded by wrecked ships, ‘Uncharted Rocks’ and ‘Inadequately Surveyed’ waters.

The Thames (Section 1: From London Bridge, Arizona to Salt Island, British Virgin Islands)

In 1967 London Bridge was dismantled, relocated and reconstructed piece by piece in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, USA. This section of the work begins by returning the bridge to its rightful place upstream of Tower Bridge.

Some of London’s many namesakes are included in this section; examples include London, Ontario (Canada) and New London, Texas (USA). Additionally, those places on the Thames that have taken their name from elsewhere (Russia Dock, Canada Water, Greenland Dock) and thus reference the Thames’s historic whaling, timber and seal fur trading histories are represented using fragments of maps from their namegivers.

Maps depicting Dog Islands, a group of tiny islands in the British Virgin Islands, are collaged together to form the Isle of Dogs, while an island in Canada formed by a meteorite crashing to earth over 200 million years ago replaces the site of the Millennium Dome.

Many historic voyages of discovery have set sail from the Thames including Martin Frobisher’s 1576 search for the Northwest Passage. This part of the river was also the main departure point for the English colonisation of North America and the West Indies – many of the key protagonists, destinations, ships, and trade resulting from these voyages are represented by places bearing their names.

Curtis Thames Section

The Thames (Section 2: From Sugar Island, Maine to Cut n Shoot, Texas)

Many notable ships were built and re-fitted in dockyards along the Thames, including HMS Beagle, which was launched from Woolwich in 1820. Charles Darwin used the ship on his famous survey voyage around the world from 1832-6. Some of the places Darwin encountered, along with the Australian city that later took his name, are included in this section of the work.

Several more of The Thames’ namesakes feature on this stretch of the river. Thamesville, Thames Centre and North Thamesville, are all found in Ontario Canada, located along the familiar sounding ‘Thames River’ that also runs through the Canadian cities of London and Chatham-Kent.

On the site of the Ford Motor Company’s former vehicle assemble factory at Dagenham, fragments of maps from Dearborn, Detroit are collaged alongside other USA towns named Ford, Fordland and Ford City, while one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, located in Silvertown on the north bank of the Thames, is represented by the tiny Sugar Island.

Curtis Thames Section 02

The Thames (Section 3: From Convict’s Bay, Bermuda to Tilbury, Canada)

Maps of Wallace, Port Wallace, Wallaceburg, Wallace Center, and Russell Lake are clustered around the section of the map that would normally depict Grays – a small town on the north shore of the Thames and home to British naturalist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace from 1872-76. Wallace identified the faunal boundary line between Asia and Australasia and in this new fictional geography Wallace’s Line divides the river just east of the Dartford Crossing.

Convict’s Bay, Bermuda, once a location for British prison hulks, is re-located to the north bank of the river. Prison hulks housing convicts in decommissioned ships were once used on the Thames and convict ships transported prisoners from London to Australia and other penal colonies within the British Empire. Maps depicting many of the destinations of the prisoners are used throughout the collage.

In this re-imagined world Ebbsfleet International railway station literally brings Brussels and Lille closer to London; while Tilbury docks, a huge container port known for its grain trade, is transformed into a yacht anchorage and marina for cruise ships.

Curtis Thames Section 03

The Thames (Section 4: Pocahontas, Arkansas to Conrad, Iowa)

Writers Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad both used places along the Thames as settings for their novels. Conrad, who lived for a time at Stanford-le-Hope, Thurrock, wrote many lyrical descriptions of the river, from its mouth right up to the inner London docks and wharfs. In The Mirror of the Sea he wrote ‘It is an historical river; it is a romantic stream flowing through the centre of great affairs’. Conrad’s reoccurring character Marlow, tells the story of Heart of Darkness onboard the ship Nellie anchored at Gravesend.

Gravesend also has historical connections to Pocahontas, daughter of Native American Chief Powhatan. Pocahontas sailed to England following her marriage to English tobacco planter and colonial settler John Rolfe. On route back to Virginia, Pocahontas became ill and died in Gravesend in 1617. Several landmarks and locations are named after Pocahontas including a riverboat currently operated from Gravesend. Pocahontas, Rolfe and Powhatan are all represented here by places bearing their names.

Curtis Thames Section 04

The Thames (Section 5: Petrolia, Canada to Shell Beach, Massachusetts)

The tiny towns of Oil Trough, Oil City, Oil Springs, Gasoline, Gastonia, Shell Beach and Petrolia pepper the map on the north bank of the Thames – a region synonymous with oil refineries and petroleum products. While on the south bank of the river, Cliffe’s building materials industry is hinted at by a splattering of place’s named Gravel and Sand.

The Thames (Section 6: From Admiral Cove, Canada to Colony, Texas)

As the mouth of the river opens out towards the sea, it spawns a host of fictional and displaced islands, thematically clustered into mini archipelagos. Sugar Island is spliced with maps of places named Colony and Colony Town, while a nameless island constructed from a naval reservation and a region named National Defence, playfully includes a bay named Dutch Harbor. The Thames’ strong links with the Admiralty, Navy, defence and colonial history are alluded to in this part of the map.

The Thames (Section 7: From South End, Canada to Northumberland Island, Canada)

Southend-on-Sea’s famous pier is reconstructed from fragments of South End container terminal located in Nova Scotia, Canada. At the end of the new pier lies Navy Island – placed there in reference to the Royal Navy takeover of the pier in WWII. To the east, the Southend amusement park known as Adventure Island is replaced by Pleasure Island.

Coals Island, Northumberland Island, Gateshead Island, Whitby Point and Miners Bay all reference London’s historic reliance on coal brought to the Thames on colliers from the North East. Captain Cook, who had worked for a firm of Whitby coal shippers, later took ships named Endeavour, Resolution, Adventure and Discovery on voyages across the globe; each of these ships were originally Whitby built colliers refitted on the Thames for expedition use.

The Thames (Section 8: From Drakes Bay, California to Tristan da Cunha)

A northern branch of the Northwest Passage takes a northeasterly course through Sir Francis Drake Channel, past the Cook Islands and then off the page near Drakes Bay. While a southerly branch takes a journey towards an unknown destination, curving through seas marked ‘no passage’ and ‘area to be avoided’.

The Thames (Section 9: From Medway, Maine to New London Bay, Canada)

In this re-configured geography, the Northwest Passage arrives at Wreck Cove, situated on the fictional Montgomery Island – a place surrounded by wrecked ships, ‘Uncharted Rocks’ and ‘Inadequately Surveyed’ waters. The island is named after the SS Richard Montgomery – a WWII ship that lies wrecked on this spot, still precariously packed with explosives.

On the mainland, just south of Montgomery Island, is Canadian New London, where the birthplace of a different Montgomery happens to be marked on the map. Along the shore, and around Kent Peninsula, lies Queenborough – now taking the name Portland after the cement works located there. Offshore a cluster of small islands hints at its timber trade. Nearby, fragments of maps reading ‘Deadman’s Point’, ‘Deadmans Island Park’ and ‘Dead River’ are collaged together to form Deadman’s Island – a salt march where dead bodies were once deposited from prison hulks moored in the Swale.

 Curtis Thames Section 09

The Thames (Section 10: From Cape Verde Islands to Thames, New Zealand)

In the final section of the work the Northwest Passage passes by Madeira and Cape Verde Islands before ending its journey at Thames, New Zealand.

http://www.laylacurtis.com/

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Today’s sound post from Seth Guy was ‘made using a prepared microphone hung off the quayside into the current of water flowing from an outlet into the Thames at Harbour Quay in West India Docks, London.’

White noise

whitenoise

The image above was made whilst listening to the sound of rainfall in earphones.  Rainfall is considered to be a natural source of white noise. The adjective ‘white’ is used to describe this type of noise because of the way that white light works. White light is made of all the different colours (frequencies) of light combined.  White noise is all of the frequencies of sound combined.

I was attempting to break down the gap between ‘reception’ and ‘transmission’ by transcribing as neutrally as possible the rhythm of rainfall into a sort of graph. The words ‘graph’ and ‘graphite’ come from the word ‘graphein’ which means ‘to write or draw’. The resulting image is like a visual form of white noise: a screen of static.

This is from a text about the sound artist Francisco Lopez’s ‘Sound Voyage Through the World’s Waters':

‘The sound of water is a prototypical example of broadband sound, that is, a sound that contains many different and simultaneous audible frequencies. In a sense, is a kind of sound material that contains, as a possibility, all the imaginable tones and harmonies.’ http://www.mediateletipos.net/archives/7711

I have always been interested in breaking down the ‘figure/ground’ relation.  In order to ‘focus’, the ‘signal’ – that is to say the thing that is considered important or meaningful – is isolated from the ‘noise’ of what is considered unimportant, superfluous, insignificant, undesirable, excessive. Clarity of focus demands no blurring or grey area. Grey area is an ill-defined situation or area of activity not readily conforming to a category or set of rules. It is an uncomfortable state where sense and non-sense are ambiguous. It is not a state conducive to ease of functioning.

I like to think of the staggeringly immense amount of data being generated by something like the Cern project, where the stream must be attended to in order to find possibly meaningful pattern in the chaos – but without clear criteria for what is ‘meaningful’ and without any clear idea of what they’re even looking for.

The following is an excerpt from a very interesting book ‘Reverberations: The Philosophy, Aesthetics and Politics of Noise’ (eds. Goddard/ Halligan/ Heggarty Continuum 2012)

‘We might think of noise as ground and meaning as figure rising from the ground, but caught within it’s field in order to function.  More basically, what any system necessarily excludes as noise are all levels of organization above and below it that include its own conditions of possibility, hence the informational account of noise as a lack of organization being a state of fundamental distortion.  Noise is indeed static or interference but not that of an unorganized chaos so much as patterns of organization alien to the norms of a specific system – that which Serres refers to as ‘the parasite’.’

In cinema the screen of static has been used as a portal for intrusions from the ‘beyond’. For example, in the 1982 film ‘Poltergeist’, the analogue TV screen, when not tuned in to a particular channel, would form a conduit for dark whispers in the static… and the trope continues even after digital technology pursues the grail of perfect clarity of signal.  The twilight has always been the half way state where forms drift and blur, where dream, fantasies and imaginings can disorientate and take hold.

There is now the digital technology to help you recreate with greater subtlety and nuance the ‘noise’ of celluloid.

Here is the artist Tacita Dean on the subject:

Analogue, it seems, is a description – a description, in fact, of all things I hold dear. (…) the film image is different from the digital image: it is not only emulsion versus pixels, or light versus electronics, but something deeper—something to do with poetry. . . . I should not eschew the digital world… but for me, it just does not have the means to create poetry; it neither breathes nor wobbles, but tidies up our society, correcting it and then leaves no trace.” (“Analogue”, exhibition catalogue, Schaulager Basel 2006)

Questions of tuning in, tuning out, retuning, broadband attention, creating the conditions for many voices, interruptions, disruptions, continuities, discontinuities seem to recur in Mirrorcity.  For example, Aura Satz speaks of drone, the ‘underlying hum of the city and the tuning in and out of human speech:

‘The dial tone plays when the telephone is off-hook, indicating that the system is live and a telephone number can be dialled, a sustained signal of ‘lines open’, awaiting transmission and connectivity. The composition suggests an experience of tuning in and tuning out, amplifying the multitude of voices in the ether, the meaningful and meaningless messages in a state of constant transmission.’

and Susan Hiller is described as

‘ (being) interested in the areas of our cultural collective experience that are concerned with devalued or irrational experiences: the subconscious, the supernatural, the surreal, the mystical and the paranormal. She engages with these experiences and phenomena that defy logical or rational explanation through the rational scientific techniques of taxonomy, collection, organization, description and comparison. She does not, however, apply systems of judgment to the work, refraining from ever categorising the experiences as ‘true’ or ‘false’, ‘fact’ or ‘fiction’.

While I worked on Choral Fields over the Summer there were some amazing storms. I listened to the rain while I worked on clouds of static. Here is a short video of the sight and sound from the studio:

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Today’s post from Seth Guy is his Deeper River (v2)

‘Drone made from treating a prepared microphone recording with effects. Headphones recommended. Original recording made at a nature reserve below the A13 bridge near Canning Town, opposite City Island.’

The architecture of Canary Wharf tube station

To add the next strain to the daily polyrhythmia of West India Dock, here are fifteen architectural details from Canary Wharf Station.

Canary Wharf

I catch a bus from Charlton to North Greenwich station every morning and then take the tube to Canary Wharf. I’ve taken many photographs of the stages of this journey.

Graphite allows for the building up of multiple space, it is a material for palimpsest thinking.  Graphite is made of layers that shed easily, it is very sensitive to touch of any sort, from the quietest to the violence of marks made by pencils hammered percussively or loaded into electric drills and jigsaws.  Graphite can be erased or sanded away to ‘give ground’. Giving ground is what creates the conditions for divergent spaces to coexist in the space planes of the drawing.  I attempt to make a grey area or middle ground where any possible space or rhythm can be incorporated. I try to find passage between divergent spaces such as bird-flight and the architectural.

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Seth describes the following sound recording ‘Railing encircling Sluice Gates at East India Dock Basin':

‘This is an excerpt from a long concrete recording made by walking in a large continuous circle and a then a figure of eight with a stick held against the railings next to the sluice gates and pedestrian bridges at East India Dock Basin. The park here is extraordinary; mainly concrete save for the hundreds of iron railings surrounding the sluice gates and Thames path, the water in the Basin leading into the river and a tiny scrap of grass and scrub for dog owners. It was mostly deserted when I visited, except for a few joggers. In the river there’s three connected concrete jetties on spindly stilts, strangely reminiscent of electronics components, (giant microchips, capacitors, resistors), as though the the river’s current serves to provide them with some mysterious purpose.’

Cuban Classics: A Night in Havana

On Tuesday 2 December, Latin Rediscovery presents a special evening at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room with a Cuban flavour.

Young Cuban pianist Marcos Madrigal, who has won many international prizes for his interpretation of Latin American music (most recently in Jaen, Spain and Panama), makes his Southbank Centre debut alongside opera singer Ann Liebeck and the great Cuban jazz virtuoso violinist Omar Puente.

From the left: Omar Puente, Ann Liebeck, Marcos Madrigal

From the left: Omar Puente, Ann Liebeck, Marcos Madrigal

The Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona is the focal point of this evening of solo music for piano, Spanish songs and works for violin and piano by contemporary Cuban composers Guido Lopez Gavilan and Omar Puente.

The theme of the evening is a journey through Classical Spain in songs by de Falla, Granados and Rodrigo, and piano works by Lecuona that are inspired by the sounds and colours of Spain. At the end of the first half of the concert, we cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach Argentina through songs by Ginastera. Madrigal is a noted interpreter of the music of Ginastera and recently received the special Ginestera Prize in Panama from the composer’s daughter.

The journey continues though Brazil in the second half of the concert, with the gorgeous Songs of the Amazon by Heiter Villa-Lobos, a composer who uses classical structures imbued with the colours and textures of folk music and African beat. The concert ends in Havana in a feast of Cuban piano music, songs and violin pieces by Lecuona.

Soprano Ann Liebeck has worked with Madrigal many times, performing Latin American and Spanish repertoire. She recently performed with Puente in tango/opera fusion show Violetta’s Last Tango, presented to a full house at Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall in May alongside bandoneon player and Olivier award-nominated composer Julian Rowlands, who was guesting with Omar Puente’s tango band.

After a long career in Italian opera, it was natural for Liebeck to fall into the Latin American repertoire and she has now been dancing tango regularly and on stage for 2 years. Dance is vital to the interpretation of this programme and Liebeck asserts that ’Madrigal and Puente are both star Salsa dancers!’

This theatrical evening is set to evoke the glamour of 1930s Havana, one of the richest cultural centres of that time. Madrigal is preparing to release his new recording of the Complete Piano Works of Lecuona in Autumn 2015.

Tuesday 2 December
Cuban Classics: A Night in Havana
Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, 7.45pm
Find out more / Book tickets

The White birds of West India Dock

While I have been working at West India Dock I have become increasingly attuned to the daily rhythms of the area.

The White Birds of West India Dock

The white birds seen in this photograph routinely sit together at the head of the jetty. If the tide is coming in, the wind moves towards the jetty too and the birds all sit with their backs against it.

When a loud engine sounds from a fast motorbike crossing the bridge, it’s sonic blast propels the birds into the air and they circle for a while over the water before returning to their position on the jetty.  I like this sort of relationship across ‘categories': the sonic waves and the airborne birds. The rhythms of flying birds and traffic sound have certainly been transcribed in the drawings’ polyrhythms.

Today I am going to post Seth Guy’s Floodtide (Tidal Sonification)

A field recording made beneath the Floodtide machine beside a car with its engine running.

Floodtide (Tidal Sonification) is a sound sculpture by John Eacott and Andrew Baldwin at Trinity Buoy Wharf which translates the tide of the Thames into sound.
For more info see: www.floodtide.eu/play