A magazine for thought.
Jonas L. Tinius
Wouldn’t you love
to go there
A magazine for thought.
Jonas L. Tinius
Wouldn’t you love
to go there
Friday 24th February 2012
Friday night saw the arrival in the Judith E. Wilson studio of David Grundy, Martin Hackett, Ben Watson, Dominic Lash, David Stent, and Justin Katko. The Judith E. Wilson Studio is a black box in the basement of the English Faculty at the University of Cambridge and as such tends to inflect everything it contains with an ‘institutional alternative’ feel. Nevertheless Jeremy Hardingham is amenable.
a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed solely in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge of its internal workings, that is, its implementation is “opaque” (black). […] The opposite of a black box is a system where the inner components or logic are available for inspection, which is sometimes known as a white box, a glass box, or a clear box.
The transparent transfer function on Friday night was as follows: thirty-odd people went into the Faculty, descending into the basement while Grundy wafted through the atrium to grant entrance to the last sorry stragglers with a swipe of his magic card or the push of a button—DG pushes buttons and doors open; into the mixture of these disparate particles a binding agent was introduced; at about eleven o’clock the ‘same’ people left, augmented so that they retained their temporal identities while becoming, in some sense, ‘cyborg’, if not quite as ‘borg as the imaginary voices that activated themselves into the universe, channelled in the sounds of Grundy, Hackett, and Chalmers’s DRACHMAE LUCKY STRENGTH (on Friday, without Chalmers, temporarily GET KATHY DRUNK (check your letters), or the man-machine Dominic Lash, whose sheer resistance to production-alienation in the diversely laboured production of sound from his instrument shocked all, we were nevertheless, it seemed, each in some small way added to, even if that addition could for many of us only consist of the disruption to our energy patterns by the acoustic waves trapped in that not opaque but translucid black box, and we got just where those manic behaviourists wanted us to be, at the right time, just as we came out, in mint condition.
THY CRANKED GUT
David Grundy and Martin Hackett opened, the Judithy’s usual two stand-up amps superadded by two amps seemingly sourced from the resplendent grad community at luxuriant Robinson College. Grundy and Hackett sat side-on to the audience, bent over their machines and facing each other from opposite sides of the performance space. Grundy worked his laptop while Hackett sought out bright constellations on the socket-board of his synth, a retro-like jamboree box not unsimilar in apparent concept to a ‘40s-era telephone switchboard. And indeed this was the overriding theme of their improv performance: listening in. Hackett did very little for the first few minutes it seemed; my eyes were on G, every few seconds agitating over to H in an ‘I can’t wait to see what this guy’s gonna do’ manner of every seasoned spectaculist. G’s constant adjustment of the dial on the amp to his immediate left, simultaneous with his animal-like crouch caused him to alternate in comparing-perception between wartime black-box radio operator listening in to the signals of an increasingly proximal enemy (what enemy? perhaps H, us?), and on the other hand, suggested by his frantic, amped-up tapping at his laptop keyboard, a desperately (and stochastically) burrowing field animal. He was digging in. The noises protruding from those amps were that waking cyborg, the naked T-1000 performing initial self-diagnostics on its semi-somnolent activation in an unfamiliar new world. When H got going he seemed gradually to build things up, finding different combinations, each combo shading the vestiges of the last, being shaded by it, too, as each sound-plane emerged from his acoustic enigma machine. Then there was a Goldilockian silence—analysed in the pub (‘not dialectics’—H) as ‘just right’, before the sounds barged back in. I saw Jeremy Prynne cleaning his glasses; he could hardly believe his eyes. Alternately I dropped and lifted my lids in attempts to reconfigure the experience: eyes closed I was that T-1000 in the unfamiliar place myself, but with them open I could watch G dig, while H sat still like a Cape-Canaveral Buddha, beeping out callsigns on a lunar waveform.
Ben Watson and Dominic Lash, having animatedly spectated these proceedings, got up to perform Turnpike Ruler (Equipage, 1994), Ben re-donning his leather jacket/ stage costume to slightly get up on the Judithy’s low stage. There followed some introduction in which Ben told us that he doesn’t do repeats, but no sooner than one establishes a personal principle of that kind does one have to break it, of course, and so Turnpike Ruler ensued, before seeming to break off halfway into a reading from a magazine from an automatic writing society somewhere in America, the extended imbrications of the tongue-twisters from Watson’s poem themselves being twisted into the relatively prosaic ‘20s-esque Russellian insistences of the read piece that technology could make everyone rich if we could only claim our rightful inheritance (the only four-hour work-week possible under today’s conditions can be purchased HERE as a package sold back). An interesting twist of the usual opposition between the acquisitive language of capitalism and the allegedly nonacquisitive language of so much high-school anti-capitalism (oh how I wish for it), a narrative opposition that is itself motivated by quasi-colonial Manichaeism (thank you, Hollywood), to bring communism back to its most effective and perhaps most uncomfortable (I want to say discomfiting?) cry: GIVE US THE GOODS. And it’s common for me these days to draw attention to the economics of attention, to our own process of ‘getting something out’ of watching or attending to Ben Watson and what he read. He seemed uncomfortable on that stage, somewhat proxily in Drew Milne’s domain (see ‘Drew Milke’ in Watson’s Shitkicks and Doughballs); he seemed also to lack belief in the vitality or necessity of his own performance, aware perhaps of how much his intro had resembled an apology, and every so often moved slowly around the stage, sat on its extremely low edge (is it a foot?) to signal Lash to take it away or ironically to ‘play those harmonics’ (wonderful); he seemed dispassionate; and moved with a cold energy through the accumulatory tongue-twisters of his poems before appearing to get disgusted, walk across the stage, pick up and read something else.
DARK TETCHY GUN
I haven’t mentioned much of Dominic Lash yet because I wanted to save it all up (austerity an’ all), but it was continually startling the facility, tactility, and effort involved in every production of sound from his double-bass machine. Watching Dominic Lash is not only about hearing music (and I am sure what I am about to write now is very facile, and you can see it coming, but here it comes) but about watching him wrestle through his relation with that magazine, successively alienating and integrating himself from and with its sound-production in turn. He seemed to come up at each moment with new ways of attacking the double-bass, trying to break its defence, before breaking it down and having his way with it. He scratched the back of its neck with the bow, its notched edge, he slapped and whacked, he even performed intertangital intercourse by rubbing the end of his bow along the gap between the strings. The whole night in fact now I think of it was noise produced by war and fucking. I think you should listen to/watch Dominic Lash. There was a recording made of Friday night (with I think a few technical hitches) to which I don’t have access but that I really want to see. He performed with David Stent who by turning his back to the audience simultaneously prohibited the usual spec-fest of shredding (for he did verily shred) and enacted the stereotyped behaviour of a pain-sufferer—shielding, in which the suffering crouches or bends their body to protect the pained site against an anticipated impact or otherwise negative stimulus—STENT hunched his shoulders forward over the body of his guitar, hiding his frets from our view. Returning again to thinking about blackboxes, those transparent-function machines, was Stent a black box? Movement of his arms, eyes, fingers was inferred from what we observed of his rearward, and sounds were produced; but the effect of the preceding acts, particularly the first, that of Grundy and Hackett, had been to defamiliarise from us the expected methods of noise-production; a tap on the same key differingly calibrated could produce a howling dog, a birdcall, an organ, etc. Stent’s performance played provocatively with this transparency question. He and Lash contrasted well: while DL was visceral, visible, DS concealed his interactions, furtive, back to us, digging that burrow DG was tapping into.
THY CAGED TRUNK
Justin Katko’s poem is called ‘Trigger Warning’ and it is part of the book ‘We Are Real (Critical Documents, Jan. 2012) and it was written with Jow Lindsay.
‘A tinderbox, by definition, must ignite. Do it justly.’
A trigger warning is a term born in feminist online communities used to describe the initial text before a story or recollection to warn posttraumatic subjects that the upcoming text or content may cause or ‘trigger’ a distressing flashback. The post- and re-traumatic subject as tinderbox is evoked here; London a tinderbox in which Mark Duggan, by definition, must die. In one way the quotation above is true, and in another it is false. But the way in which it is true, viz. that the only difference between a box of straw and paper and a tinderbox is its ideal designation, that is, the tinderbox is set to ignite while the box of straw is only a box of straw. Several trigger warnings operate in this poem: the codes that legitimate the escalation of police force on the basis of general and particular knowledge about the suspect. In the case of Duggan the trigger warning is a warning from London about police triggers. Or past that warning, long past. ‘Mark Duggan was shot by the police. Register the irony.’ London as a tinderbox, retroactively constructed to ignite—justly, I don’t know; justice seems like a catchment-word sometimes, one whose use is designed or set to allow certain feelings to fall into it and be caught neatly. This poem is about the August riots, by the way. Justin read well, sitting and eschewing the microphone. It felt intimate; he had a cold, the lyric he read between the two longer pieces he broke off halfway ‘cause it was painful. The farther and farther I get from the frenzy of the riots—and I don’t mean the rioters—the easier it gets to see where things lie, and why. I could talk about moments here and segue into something warm, but I won’t because, truthfully, I always find it difficult to say what I think of Justin’s poetry. I feel as though saying anything is always such a high wager, because the intensity of his demand as a poet, and of his poems, escalates the spiritual consequences of falling, whichever way one were to fall; and even to acknowledge the intensity of that demand is a hard, but the only, way to start. Don’t get me wrong: it’s absolutely fucking brilliant. And we all know whose side we are on.
Edit: Justin has provided these recordings of the night, made by Dominic Lash:
Links of Interest
The quality of being unrighteous, or (more often) unrighteous action or conduct; unrighteousness, wickedness, sin; sometimes, esp. in early use, Wrongful or injurious action towards another, infliction of wrong, injury; in mod. use generally connoting gross injustice or public wrong.
Etymology From iniquitas, a Latin noun denoting a quality, that something is uneven, wrong, unjust, unequal. From æquus, which is equal, just, or fair, and the word which gives equity.
iniquum can also mean false, fake, wrong.
In an obsolete sense, iniquity also denotes that which is adverse, opposing, etc.
This equation or ‘equity’ of unrighteous and unjust in the definition seems itself iniquitous, viz. adverse to my iniquitous purposes, and the righteous iniquity of many who would want what I want, which is not known at this temporal plotpoint. Iniquitous in the sense of the very equation of ‘righteousness’ with ‘justice’, and I mean Augusto Boal’s account of Aristotelian tragedy laid out in Poetics, done in Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed which generates the argument that the Aristotelian vision of tragedy is inherently conservative, AB’s argument running as follows:
To be iniquitous then, is to be unjust, to upset the harmonious balance, which is the only good way to be. Recognising that public wrong and injustice are not identical., do not tally up on this scale,
Consider the argument in the first chapter of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, that is: one has the right to throw whatever violence back in the face of one who has brought violence to you (collective), Fanon was unjust, and rightly so, because injustice has more to do with upset exchanges, than it does with injury; or rather it has plenty to do with injury, but righteously. There’s that wonderful moment in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil where the protagonist and the female lead go into a bourgeois department store. They have just picked up a package. Our protagonist doesn’t know what’s in that package, but he’s pretty sure it’s a bomb in there, tied up as neatly as the luxury products it’s going to explode. But then:
Directly after this an explosion occurs but I am not able to watch it in my country. The bomb goes off; Jonathan Pryce goes looking for her, finds and accuses her. ‘Here’s your bomb!’ she shouts, and hands him the parcel—uncannily (pointedly) intact amid the wreckage. Confronted with the hideous excess of the bourgeoise’s capacity for self-making, and his own mirror image, it is as if we, the audience and our protagonist, will the explosion into being, and are disappointed to find that the woman is not a terrorist. At this point the audience’s desire has been made to surpass the action of the film, and the film throws that back at us. There. You wanted more than I could do. Now what? The effect made is to raise one’s consciousness that ‘reality’ (in any case, more or less simulated) will never conform to ones devised fantasies of its own accord.
Thinking about performance again. How might this sense of iniquity inform the idea of false performance, or of a false voice in poetics, that to write for one’s voice is necessarily false in the sense that the voice itself is a cultural construction, a given, something handed down to you; but nevertheless the voice is undeniably there despite its falseness, and demands acknowledgement as a thing, almost an agent, with a real effect in the world. Knowing ‘what one comes out of’, claiming that, might be a necessary counterpunch to the failed liberal universalism that declares we are all the same and makes moves to discover that equity. The voice that kind of fantasy engendered in us by something like Brazil, how might it be used to throw that kind of surpassing back on an audience, on a room full of people?
Knowing where you come from, which isn’t equity, and knowing it isn’t equity, either; and in any case, once you know, you won’t want it, because some are more equal than others. After all, a nominal political/economic equity presupposes some object against which that equity can be defined—species, race, class, or geographical origin. Some animals are more equal than others. Which doesn’t mean celebrating, because the notion of equity is a collaborator in your oppression, even when you partake in it. I’m reminded of something in Anti-Oedipus now:
all the parts are produced as asymmetrical sections, paths that suddenly come to an end, hermetically sealed boxes, noncommunicating vessels, watertight compartments, in which there are gaps even between things that are contiguous, gaps that are affirmations, pieces of a puzzle belonging not to any one puzzle but to many, pieces assembled by forcing them into a certain place where they may or may not belong, their unmatched edges violently bent out of shape, forcibly made to fit together, to interlock, with a number of pieces always left over. It is a schizoid work par excellence.*
But not harmony. And suddenly Fanon’s masks are back again. Then what’s a voice got to do?
* D & G, Anti-Oedipus, trans. by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (Viking Press: New York, 1977).