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:

The surface of the River Thames

One hundred photographs of the the river from outside the studio at West India Dock jetty on Monday morning (24th November).
It has been such a pleasure to work in such close proximity to the river over the last few months. I’ve started each day drinking coffee and looking at it’s moving surface for a long while before I start drawing.

The drawings I have made for Mirrorcity are called ‘Choral Fields’. The word ‘choral’ points to the idea of ‘Khora’ as well as to the idea of the many-voiced and multi-rhythmic. I am trying to draw entanglements of rhythm that enfold as many ways of thinking about rhythm as possible within the space and time of the drawing – including the geometries of the city, the flows of data, telecommunications, transport systems, water, weather, the movements of birds, aeroplanes across the sky leaving contrails in their wake.

Looking at the surface of water is a way to think about the multi-rhythmic – or the ‘polyrhythmic’ as Lefebvre calls it (Lefebvre wrote widely on politics, philosophy and sociolgy. He is best known for his writing on everyday life, cities and the production of space).

The following is an excerpt from his book Rhythmanalysis which I have been reading recently:

‘To grasp rhythm and polyrhythmias in a sensible, preconceptual way, it is enough to look carefully at the surface of the sea. Waves come in succession: they take shape in the vicinity of the beach, the cliff, the banks. These waves have a rhythm, which depends on the season, the water and the winds, but also on the sea that carries them, that brings them. Each sea has it’s own rhythm..But look closely at each wave. It changes ceaselessly. As it approaches the shore, it takes the shock of the backwash: it carries numerous wavelets, right down to the tiny quivers that it orientates, but which do not always go in it’s direction. Waves and waveforms are characterised by frequency, amplitude and displaced energy. Watching waves, you can easily observe what phycisists call the superpositon of small movements. Powerful waves crash upon one another, creating jets of spray; they disrupt one another noisily. Small undulations traverse one another, absorbing, fading rather than crashing, into one another. Were ther a current or a few solid objects animated by a ovement of their own, you could have the intuition of what is a polyrhythmic field and even glimpse the relations between complex processes and trajectories, between bodies and waveforms ..’

Seth Guy is an artist who works with sound. He has kindly agreed to contribute to this blog with sound he has collected from the vicinity of the studio. We went for a lovely walk recently in the direction of Trinity Buoy Wharf, I took photographs and Seth recorded. Since then he has been walking long tracts of the riverside paths and making further recordings.

This first is called ‘A Deeper River’ (version 3). It was made using a prepared microphone at East India Dock Basin.

To finish, here is an excerpt from Chloe Aridjis’s ‘Sleep Institute’ (via the MIRRORCITY newspaper, edited by Tom McCarthy.)

‘As for the reflections on water, these include glitter patterns, wake patterns and cat’s paws. All manner of caustic networks – patterns produced by sunlight projected onto undulating water surfaces – have been glimpsed by the insomniacs under observation.

Various individuals have reported seeing messages refracted in glitter patterns on the Thames; these ensembles of sun glints, instantaneous flashes of sunlight reflected for a moment on a sloping wave and then gone, must be read quickly before they vanish. The messages, duly recorded by the institute’s sleep technicians, are too confidential to share with the general public, but apparently have something to do with carbon tax, council tax and bicycle tax.

Others have mentioned an extreme susceptibiltiy to cat’s paws – dark regions of water where wind touches down and tenses the surface – and claim to spot them not only on water but on the sides of buildings, the concrete suddenly appearing dimpled and dark. Every surface, they say, is at the whim of the wind.’

Web We Want – digital art and online creativity


The second weekend of Southbank Centre’s Web We Want festival is dedicated to the creative opportunities the Web has afforded. Across two days – Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 November – we present a diverse programme of digital art and online creativity – interactive installations, technologically enabled performances and vintage computing, to physical installations and workshops which investigate themes of data, privacy and surveillance.

The entire weekend programme is free and is listed in full on the Web We Want website.

What does the Web look like in real life?

This second weekend of three focuses on digital creativity, interactivity and play and features artistic responses to living in a connected world. The festival includes works which explore what physical communities look like online and ask how we make the Web, and the issues surrounding the Web, tangible in real life, as part of a physical festival.

Play Your PlaceBuild the Web We Want game  – is ongoing open artwork and online game-building platform which invites participants to create, remix and share games about the Web We Want. Previous iterations of Play Your Place have asked people to build games about the issues facing their neighbourhood. Now Play Your Place invites the Web We Want audience to create a game about the global Web community.

James BridleRorschmap: Streetview Edition is a digital artwork which bends images from Google Streetview into kaleidoscopic new shapes. Artist James Bridle describes the work as a ‘love letter to London’, and visitors to the Web We Want festival will be invited to create unique digital artworks from the Google Streetview API by entering their postcode. James Bridle is also currently artist in residence at the Hayward Gallery Mirror City exhibition.


Play Your Place – ‘Play the Web We Want’


James Bridle ‘Rorschmap: Streetview Edition’

Two new commissions: Stefanie Posavec and Jeremy Bailey

Another example of a physical manifestation of digital in the real world is a new commission designed by information designer and data artist Stefanie Posavec. Open Data Playground is a collection of floor-based games and interactions based on open datasets (collections of data) from the digital space. Stefanie was previously artist-in-residence at Facebook.


Stefanie Posavec ‘Open Data Playground’

Tackling the issue of rampant objectification of the body online, ‘Famous New Media Artist’ Jeremy Bailey creates an online performance for Web We Want investigating the objectification of the body and wearable technology.


Jeremy Bailey investigates body objectification and augmentation

Artist responses to privacy and surveillance

Artist Adam Harvey has developed various counter-surveillance artworks and privacy products which are displayed in the Privacy Gift Shop exhibition. Adam will present two workshops: CV Dazzle; which explores how hairstyling and make-up can be used as camouflage from face-detection technology and Privacy Happy Hour – which invites you to make a piñata in the form of a security camera, and destroy it.

Aram Bartholl is an artist who invites you to Kill Your Phone; by sewing a handmade pouch which blocks phone signals and prevents tracking (functioning as a Faraday cage). A second workshop designed by Aram –  What Is A Pixel? – introduces young people – now living in a pixel-invisible, retina-enabled world – to the concept of pixels by making swords inspired by the the incredibly popular online game Minecraft.


‘CV Dazzle’, Adam Harvey’s CCTV-baffling make-up designs


‘Kill Your Phone’, making a signal blocking pouch for your mobile

Hayward Gallery – End User: exhibition, tours, performances

As part of Web We Want, the Hayward Gallery presents an exhibition which sees contemporary international artists take a critical approach to the complexities of the internet.

End User includes work by Cory Arcangel, Aram Bartholl, Ami Clarke and Richard Cochrane, Tyler Coburn, Jon Rafman, Erica Scourti and Liz Sterry. Their artworks examine how the web alters social relations and raises questions about identity, privacy, and the ownership of information.

End User runs from Thursday 27 November in the Hayward Gallery project space. Throughout the Web We Want festival weekend, there are a number of End User tours, from Ami Clarke and Richard Cochrane, and Liz Sterry and show curator Cliff Lauson. Additionally, Tyler Coburn will present Postscript on I’m That Angel, and Erica Scourti will create a new digitally-enabled performance.


‘Kays Blog’, artist Liz Sterry recreates an online blogger’s room from Tumblr posts

See the full programme online

In addition to the above, The Centre for Computing History present the Gaming Lounge and WWW.TV installation, there are workshops on How To Build A Website and an invitation from the World Wide Web Foundation to shape a Magna Carta for the Internet.

For the full Web We Want programme including details of all free installations, workshops, digital art and performances, please see:


I (Emma McNally)  am currently showing drawings ‘Choral Fields 1-6′ as part of MIRRORCITY at Hayward Gallery.
These drawings were made in a small space at West India Dock jetty right beside the Thames (kindly facilitated by the Canal and River Trust).
I’ll be regularly posting things made, seen and found in the vicinity of the jetty on the Southbank Centre blog for the duration of the show.

So, to start, here is a great video, ‘The London Evolution Animation’ (via Adam Greenfield):

The LEA was developed by The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (UCL), as a partnership project between Dr Kiril Stanilov -The Centre for Smart Infrastructure and Construction (University of Cambridge), Museum of London Archaeology (with the Mapping London and Locating London’s Past projects) and using data from the National Heritage List for England, courtesy of English Heritage. It was initiated and directed by Polly Hudson (PHD).
The London Evolution Animation (LEA) shows the historical development of London from Roman times to today, using georeferenced road network data brought together for the first time. The animation also visualizes (as enlarging yellow points) the position and number of statutorily protected buildings and structures built during each period.

Further information on its production can be found below.


Kyung Wha Chung: The Legend Returns

This December, celebrated Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung returns to Royal Festival Hall for her first UK appearance in over a decade.
Watch this video to see Korean violinist Kyung Wha Chung talk honestly about her career, injury, and comeback.
Kyung Wha Chung performs a recital of Mozart, Prokofiev, Bach and Franck.
Tuesday 2 December
Kyung Wha Chung
Royal Festival Hall, 7.30pm

An interview with Eugene Drucker of the Emerson Quartet

The multiple award-winning Emerson Quartet makes a welcome return to Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall  Sunday 16 November 2014. Book tickets here.

Emerson Quartet. credit Lisa Mazzucco

Emerson Quartet. credit Lisa Mazzucco

The best way to ruin a joke is to explain it. So without going too far in deconstructing one of Haydn’s best-loved quartets, Op.33 No.2 ‘Joke’, suffice it to say that if you don’t know it you’re in for a surprise. In this work the great composer demonstrates his good humour, as well as the ceaseless invention that earned him his title as father of the string quartet. Gene Drucker explains: ‘Beyond the sense of him being witty, he’s playing with listeners’ expectations. He’s not only trying to be funny, but to achieve the unexpected.’

Haydn didn’t in fact call this quartet the ‘Joke’: like all his quartets’ nicknames, it was applied later by others. However, Drucker says, ‘I can’t imagine he meant anything other than a humorous effect. The whole finale is a lighthearted romp. This idea of disrupting expectations is part of an open-ended approach to any form of music or even other arts: maintaining suspense, not letting the audience become complacent.’

Beethoven, too, was not ready to allow his audience to become complacent, and this is nowhere more apparent than in his Grosse Fuge, which Drucker describes as, ‘one of the most startling and trailblazing pieces of work ever written in any genre’. Indeed, Stravinsky described it as ‘an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever’. The audience was so baffled when they heard the piece played as the last movement of the Quartet Op.130 in 1826 that Beethoven’s publisher demanded he write a more palatable ending, which became the standard sixth movement for many years, with the Grosse Fuge published separately as Op.133 for those less faint of heart.

Although Drucker notes that it was unusual for Beethoven to compromise his artistic vision accepting this, he suggests both a pragmatic reason – Beethoven would make more money with the extra movement – and also a psychological one: ‘Beethoven knew these quartets were not going to be understood by his contemporaries. He was thinking about the future, about posterity, so I think he just wanted to get the music out there.’ The Emersons always play the movement in its rightful position, in accord with Beethoven’s original intention.

There are multiple demands of playing – and listening to – such a challenging work. Drucker explains: ‘One is stamina and that’s true for listeners as well as for us. For the audience it’s mental, auditory stamina; for the musicians it’s a physical thing, too. We try not to overwhelm the audience, because so much of the music is loud and forceful. Clarity is important because the voices vault over large distances and there’s a constant overlapping, but it’s important to hear the lines.’ He admits, ‘It’s hard for audiences to listen to the piece, but it repays the effort.’ It repays the players’ effort too: ‘It’s as if Beethoven discovered a process for extracting the most extreme form of energy from his material. As a performer, if I’m tired and I come to this movement, I feel galvanised by this energy. Sometimes I can feel chills up and down my spine when I’m playing it. It demands the utmost from the performers, but it gives back, too.’

Between the Haydn and the Beethoven on the programme, the Emersons perform Ravel’s Quartet, premiered in 1904 in Paris, nearly 100 years after Beethoven’s Op.130, a sound world away from that of the great German composers. How does the quartet achieve the required difference in character? Drucker says, ‘Part of it is in the way we bow. We use a different contact point when playing Ravel or Debussy, not as close to the bridge. The closer you play to the bridge the more resistance there is from the strings and that creates a different palette. The harmonies inspire us to look for these colours.’ He draws an analogy with the Impressionist art of the time: ‘Lines are important in those paintings, but colour and the physical sense of paint on the canvas are also important. The need constantly to shift colour is stronger in Ravel than in the other great music we play.’ If any programme offers a chance to sample great music, it’s this one.

© Ariane Todes

Farewell to London Literature Festival

On Monday evening, 13 October 2014, James Runcie (Head of Literature and the Spoken Word at Southbank Centre) introduced the Man Booker Prize Readings with these words. We thought it was such a good way to see out the festival and celebrate all that we achieved this year that we wanted to share it with you too.

Happy reading, and don’t forget: words can change the world.

Welcome to this, the final event at the London Literature Festival.  We started, two weeks ago, with the Forward Prize for Fiction and end with this, the Man Booker Prize Readings.

In those two weeks, over 20,000 people have come to literature events here at Southbank Centre – many of which were free.

We’ve commissioned a new poem from Alice Oswald, a new play by Craig Taylor, a Gavin Bryars cantata celebrating the work of William S Burroughs, and staged a new adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

We’ve paid tribute to Maya Angelou, set up a debating chamber, brought 100 plays from all over the country into one room, and staged our first Young Adult Literature Weekender – at the end of which one person wrote on the wall:

“Reading is Dreaming with Your Eyes Open.”

Our work celebrates the power of art and the imagination to change lives – and tonight we are very grateful to the organisers of the Man Booker Prize for bringing us the best in contemporary fiction.

It’s wonderful to celebrate the power of fiction at these high profile events, although I’d like to add that here at Southbank Centre we are equally keen to support, encourage and collaborate with writers at every stage of their career; at the beginning,  at the peak, and even when others think they might be on the way down because – this being literature – hope is our currency.

Writing, publishing, and reading are all acts of faith and trust.

And all the exceptional writers you are about to hear tonight can have cause to be hopeful – not least because Hilary Mantel has only published a volume of short stories this year.

We are proud, for example to have already staged events this year with three authors on the shortlist: Karen Joy Fowler, Neel Mukherjee and Ali Smith – and last year we arranged the first London event for Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries before she was even long listed for this prize.

I think it’s important to take a punt on people, on writers – to believe in them, to encourage the unacknowledged legislators of the universe, and to nurture and celebrate all that we believe to be good about literature.

In an age of shouty solipsism and pointless celebification, where the literati somehow feel pressured to become the twitterati, reading offers something quieter, more focused and more long-lasting. It’s not just about  impact, but resonance.

Literature should offer the pleasure of discovery, transcend expectation and leave us – after we have stepped into the lives of others – thinking differently about the way we live an improved life.

The greatest happiness often comes from outside ourselves.

Other worlds.  Other wonders.

So let’s find them.

Thank you to everyone who came to this year’s London Literature Festival and helped make it so great.

Keep up to date with literature and spoken word at Southbank Centre, because we’re certainly not stopping there! Come and join us as we plough ahead with our autumn season. And to make sure you don’t miss anything, sign up for emails, follow us on Twitter or find us on Facebook.