Archive for the 'the song of waiting' Category


Partials and Hum Notes: Boyle’s Great Bell Said It All.

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There’s a scene, perhaps one of the greatest in cinema history, in Tarkovsky’s André
Rublev in which molten metal pours down the hillside in rivulets towards the mould
of a giant bell buried beneath the ground. The blood and sweat of the foundry
workers is rewarded when the residue is chipped away to reveal an emormous,
gleaming bell which, when rung, sounds out its perfect note to the delight of the
assembled peasants and dignitaries. In those pre-industrial times, Rublev is set in
the 15th Century, a bell was the crowning achievement of the craftsman. Bringing
communities together from far and wide, it represented a rallying cry, a vibration
that struck awe into the hearts of men and women. The temperature of the metal,
the make-up of its alloy, the precision of the mould’s symmetry all affect the tone
any bell sounds. The bell that sounded the beginning of London 2012 Olympic
games was a commission from the historic Whitechapel bell foundry in East London
and though it’s well tempered tone represents the refinement of millennia of bell
making technology, its single note is augmented by many, variable partials and hum
tones, above and below its single, tuned note. Determined by the shape and density
of the bell and the position of its clapper, these subtle variations produce a complex
of sound that cannot be predetermined.

In sounding that giant, beautiful bell to open this celebratory pageant, I believe
Danny Boyle was saying something profound which resonated throughout the
whole ceremony. Here is a single nation, Great Britain, comprised of a complex of
national tones: those of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Here is a
single event, the Olympic Games, comprised of a multiplicity of national voices. In
his wonderfully poetic review of the event Ai Weiwei observed that ‘A nation that
has no music and no fairytales is a tragedy’. Boyle’s emphasis on the music and
literature of Great Britain positioned us as a success. Caliban’s waking dream
depicts a land so full of voices, noise, ‘sounds and sweet airs’ humming about the
ears, that he hopes the dream will never end. It was this Britain that Boyle wanted
us to celebrate. As Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ gave way to the sweet, untrained voices of
children, we could hear the character of the individual nations that compose the
union. From Blake’s eccentric vision of a hallowed English soil to the lyrical
melancholy of Ireland’s ‘Danny Boy’, from the defiant ‘Oh Flower of Scotland’ to the
mellifluous Welsh hymn, ‘Bread of Heaven’, these songs revealed themselves to be
more than unofficial national anthems. As rugby songs, sang on the terraces of the
single sport played to a world class standard by all the nations of the union, they are
the people’s songs, chosen by some mysterious, collective consensus to express
each country’s national pride and idiosyncratic temperament.

The choice of the profoundly deaf percussionist, Evelyn Glennie, and a thousand
drummers to soundtrack the vibratory shock of the Industrial Revolution seems,
with hindsight, to be a no brainer. The eerie rhythmic pulse and hey nonny flutes of
Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ album sat in faultless, musical declamation to images
of the literary ghoul’s that have fueled a million children’s nightmares and the
selfless nurture of NHS nurses or Mary Poppins respectively. With Queens and
clowns, heroes and villains, remembrance and loss, the whole shebang unfolded in a
narrative worthy of Shakespeare’s dramatic gifts and as the celebration of popular
culture and the technological revolution wound up, a love story emerged as its
beating heart. A romp through 50 years of film and popular music extolled our
cultural diversity (much to the chagrin of certain Tory MPs) and the thrilling
exuberance of British pop music needs no extra comment from me. Save to say that
Grime is a British invention: a frenetic, anglicized mutation of hip hop, that emerged,
in reverse order out of dubstep, drum n’ bass and jungle. Akin to the attempts of
poets like William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore to define an American
modernist poetry before the Second World War, British rappers and musicians
sought out, and found, a quintessentially British expression of the Afro-Caribbean
Diaspora and its cultural canon distinct from the hip hop from New York and Los
Angeles. It’s the basis of a cultural export industry which they manage, incidentally,
with a flare for business and civic responsibility this government could only dream
of. On a less earnest note, Dizzee Rascal, wearing his East London postcode (E3) on
his chest, summed up our nation’s confident engagement with the rest of the world
with his rhyme:

Some people think I’m bonkers,
but I just think I’m free,
Man, I’m just living my life
There’s nothing crazy ‘bout me.

‘This is for everyone’, the epithet given by Tim Berners-Lee for another British invention, the World Wide Web, extended the bell’s resonant metaphor yet again. Here Boyle reminded us, is a single invention that has assimilated all mankind’s creative brilliance, and deviance, to become a world bell/brain, ringing with a consensus forged from our manifold expressions of self. After several thousand excited athletes from several hundred world nations had paraded to a compilation LP – ‘Now That’s What I Call Rock and Pop’, Volume 300, maybe? – Boyle, and it must be said, his musical directors Underworld, gave us The Arctic Monkeys. The sentiment behind ‘I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor’ could not have been more apposite as a tribute to an assembly of some of the most glorious physical specimens humanity has to offer. It also served as a nice reminder of Alex Turner’s brilliance as a performer and a poet. This is the man, after all, who once rhymed lines ending, ‘Ford Mondeo’, and ‘…even say ‘owt’. The Sheffield Bard’s rendition of ‘Come together’ turned a working class hero’s blues into an anthem for world peace as flouro, rave-doves on BMX bikes flocked in loose formation around the stadium’s perimeter.

Next the diverse efforts of good will ambassadors, peace and civil rights
activists from around the world were recognized and brought together to carry a
single flag which betokened human endeavour at its best. In this celebration of
human stories, no one was excluded, not farmers or factory workers, not suffragettes
or carers, not inventors, engineers, builders, athletes, activists or artists,
and most important of all, not children. As those anonymous young people lit that
beautiful, symbol of unification and Two Door Cinema Club’s Alex Trimble sang
‘Caliban’s Dream’ backed by choirs of children we were all, as Wordsworth once said, ‘invisibly repaired’. Momentarily, societal divisions of every kind: class, race, sex, age, dissolved. What Ai Weiwei might have to say about Weetabix would be worth reading but his timely, kindly memorandum told us, lest we forget, that it is our songs and our stories that unite us, that make us all great. Though it may not last, let’s chant a non
denominational incantation that all our unpredictable hum notes and partials can
continue chime in harmony with the great bell, our beautiful planet. Last Friday
Boyle’s bell rang out and we remembered who we are as single nations, joined
parochially as union of nations under the flag of Great Britain, and with all the countries of the world as an Olympic family. So, let’s try to keep the bell ringing, if only for the sake of the kids.

Ai Weiwei’s review

Einstein pictured with Le Corbusier

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On truth, revolution and violence 0

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During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
George Orwell

It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
Voltaire

Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.
Joseph Goebbels

Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.
Mahatma Gandhi

As a rule of thumb, if the government wants you to know it, it probably isn’t true.
Craig Murray

Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army.
Edward Everett

Technology and transformation 0

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It’s been an astonishing week.

I’m a (self funding – only because I got a free education, paid my taxes etc…) doctoral researcher at St Andrews and my subject is the impact of technologies on the art we produce, specifically on poetic voice and music. A sub heading might be ‘why kids like hiphop/dubstep etc… but you can’t get them to read poetry’. This summer I was teaching poetry to 16 year olds and though my lessons were unconventional, and not all a success, there were amazing moments when I heard the voices of my own tutors (Don Paterson, Kathleen Jaimie, Robert Crawford, John Burnside) in my head and really felt the master/student continuum. In short, I taught my kids something (via Alexander Pope and Dolly Parton) and they taught me something. Yet poetry is not the sort of subject that is likely to get me any kind of job, except in teaching, and one that the new fees system will not encourage students to study. So this weeks events have raised the question for me – if no one studies it, who will teach it to the next generation and the next. Or philosophy, or art, or music. And without them, what kind of society will it be?

I’ve spent the last couple of months writing about how the invention of telegraphic communications, recorded sound and cinema informed the work of artists at the turn of the last century. Back then, the dramatic pace of technological and scientific change inspired great artistic movements and powered the change towards the modern western democracies we know. Excerpt:

The ubiquitous nature of temporality the Einsteinian revolution has introduced necessarily presents any sociological or critical analysis with the problem of relativism. The observer and the observed are locked together in a reality that is entirely ‘perspective-dependent’. As David R. Maine suggests ‘Time and communication always interpenetrate’ (305):

Until now, I never understood what Twitter was for – what Stephen Fry was having for lunch at an airport never interested me much. But what a 16 year old was experiencing while ‘kettled’ on Westminster Bridge, now that really is interesting – and I’ve become familiar with ‘trends’ and ‘hashtags’ and I watch the videos, read the blogs that people are posting and which counter the coverage that the mainstream media are churning out. (NB. Dismayed that the BBC, with the exception possibly of Paul Mason, are so terrified of this government that they are covering the student protests like they were the subs on the Daily Mail). Or maybe they’re just out of touch, they don’t understand that the protesters real-time interaction with networked media is a powerhouse for change. I didn’t until Thursday.

In On the Genealogy of Morals (1887) Neitzsche tells us that multiple perspectives are necessary in the service of key philosophical constructs such as ‘truth’ and ‘knowledge’.

‘There is only a perspective ‘seeing’, only a perspective ‘knowing’; and the more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes, the more complete will be our “concept” of this thing, our ‘objectivity’…

This week I saw middle class kids empathizing with the angry, urban kids who were about to lose the EMAs that help them go to ‘college’. That kid with his banadana across his face, saying ‘ If you take away this 30 quid allowance, what’s to stop me ending up selling drugs on the street’. He’s right, and you know what, I had no idea about the EMA and its proposed abolition. The student protests, for all the negative press and the media emphasis on the violence of the protesters, (not so much on the violence of the police), have brought important issues to light. His mate said, ‘yer get me’ and now, because of the protester’s dissemination of this information, I do. Not everyone does, but now a lot of people do. This leveling of perspective, this solidarity, that the protesters are experiencing, is happening because of the technologies that empower them.

There are things that as a dyed in the wool Labour voter I accepted from the Blair government and I question the wisdom of that now. In a Wikileaks kind of way, I figured there had to be real political imperatives behind our decision to enter the war in Iraq (maybe the US were going to withdraw all their defence spending from British Aerospace, or close all their UK military bases resulting in a load of ordinary working men and women losing there jobs?) I didn’t know the truth of it, but I trusted the Blair government and supported their decisions. Now I think they were wrong (and so was I).

So I can understand why young people looked for alternatives to Labour, I understand why Clegg and co seemed attractive, but the old adage, ‘vote Liberal, get Tory’ turned out to be true. A few months on and the streets are filled with smoke, children are being beaten and their grievances misrepresented. It could be profoundly depressing, but the student protests are energizing a spirit of rebellion in a population grown fat on our own complicity with the free market economics of successive Tory and Labour governments. We all have to take responsibility for it for sure, but it’s understandable that the ridiculous excesses of the banking class are hard for people to stomach. The poor, the sick, the young – there is no justification for swingeing cuts that will affect their wellbeing and damage their futures. Not while we hear of people taking bonuses of £40 and £50 million and corporations dodging their tax. And we do hear. For the first time in history there is an unmediated platform for the opinions and interests of the masses. No media tycoons, no repressive governments, no financial institutions, can impede its vision. There are many eyes and they’re telling us what they can see.

The dubstep rebellion

Good film

Amazing pictures

15 year old speaks

a black rainbow

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notes

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I think I have lost faith in words. They are so literal.

Poem Without an Image

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They will tell me that my poem needs an image,
a lamp-lit puddle or the shadow play
of our lovemaking on the bedroom wall;

that reading it’s like eating raw onions –
not the sweet, white, Spanish kind
but the homegrown, green-headed kind

that make you cry without emotion. If I must
conform, then here; a wheelbarrow; a man;
a woman; an envelope behind a picture frame.

Introduction…

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With the invention of recorded sound in the late 19th Century new demands on
the processes of human consciousness transfigured the way we perceive the world.
In this new mirror all perceivable sounds were reflected back to us, and into us,
and for the first time since the invention of alphabetic script, the hegemony of the visual sense over the shaping of human thought came under direct challenge. Waves of amplified, compressed, and regurgitated sound, the voices of the dead and the living, echoes of the past, fantasies of the future, fact, polemic and persuasion, entered our lives on cylinders, discs and via radio transmissions. As this disembodied babble began to unfasten human consciousness from its literate self, the preservation and dissemination of all human knowledge, for two millennia the charge of a literate sensibility, entered a process of synthesis with this new technology…

Sonority, unlike visual perception, is ever in motion, unstable, ephemeral. Its
presence ‘arrives’ (Nancy) and passes away in a totality of resonance and
referents that are both physical and psychological. From the birth cry to the death
rattle the human body ‘… resounds as it listens’ (Nancy) and every sound we
hear has its own tone colour, or timbre, which maps its unique characteristics
spectrally. Timbre cannot be annotated or systemized. It is a ‘language of effects’ (p
59) which envelopes us from within, and without, making us integral, specific, to its
vibrationary process. In language it is intonation and stress, or prosody, that colours
our communication and is ‘an intrinsic part of the whole communicative process’
(Karpf). Our congenital affinity with acoustic resonance, and the human desire
to pattern sound into the codes and conventions of poetry and musical expression,
are rooted in auditory cognizance and any exploration of the subject must consider
not only an analysis of sound itself, but the impact of the technological revolution in
sound capture that has changed forever the way we hear the world.

chant #1 0

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Poetry has concerned itself too much with words. Language and oral communication are now highly mediated by the technologies we have created. Yet the potency of allegory; narrative; repetition; methods for patterning sound and meter; are still capable of transcendence. Poets should apply their understanding of these powerful, mnemonic techniques not just to the written and spoken word but to all the media at our fingertips. In that way poetry will permeate our lives, and a prosody of relativism underpin all our expression.

I can see the word ‘huh?’ (in Don P’s handwriting) written in the margin beside the phrase ‘a prosody of relativism’ and it’s true I can’t quite yet explain what I mean by this. There’s that grim expression of Orson Welles’, that ‘we are born alone and we die alone’ but perhaps if we think of it as being alone in our own consciousness it seems less bleak. Noone else can ever be inside my head and heads and hearts, science tells us, are inextricably bound together. One beats out the rhythm, the other draws its unique semantic conclusions. Time and the perception of experience. This is Einstein’s relativity. The rhythm of individuals, the rhythm of cultures, these are something… something I’ll come back to.

some cherries 0

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Here are some cherries.

Some lovely cherries!