Spanking – Matmos at QEH, London

Matmos have played twice in London in the last year or so. Firstly, a show at a make-shift space on the Old Kent Road and most recently at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, as part of the Meltdown Festival. They are savvy, self-mocking and cool enough to make incisive commentaries on where their work appears – ultimate space perhaps an underground club in Berlin. So, to see the show at the QEH is of course funny because this is a proper, grown up space for ‘real’ music (whereas the London show last year was literally in an empty car servicing unit).


For Meltdown they pull together a band with drums and electric guitar and, although not filling the venue, manage to deliver an entertaining show. The self-referential and deliberately ‘stagey’ approach works well, as we the audience comfortably seated await each piece. The stand out piece is a tribute to Alan Turing that evokes Nazi era video, decoding and textual reveals, layered with Matmos sound. Watching men (and it is usually blokes not women) huddled over laptop sets with Ableton plinking away can be deathly boring – but Drew Daniel manages to avoid all of these cliches as he anchors the groove and fires in beats and off beats. The elegant guitar playing of Owen Gardner provides subtle twang and scratchiness when required, as MC Schmidt anti-comperes us through the set. At one point a piercing electronic howl emits from a mixing desk and Schmidt easily forms this into the routine. At their best Matmos, play across the live and pre-recorded spaces, so that the works are always fresh but somehow grounded in a core idea. In fact many of the works clearly start out from a conceptual basis and in this instance the humour grins through the set.


We are treated to a final piece involving live spanking, glitch video and of course coin-tossing to determine who gets a seeing to. In this manner, we cross into the hybrid space that spans John Cage, industrial music, S&M cabaret and performance art. Not far away at Stratford the London 2012 Olympics breeze on with endless loops of the Chariots of Fire theme tune, while we sit and watch Schmidt’s right bum cheek get redder and redder. Thank you, Matmos.

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How did you know Lol, then?

Lol Coxhill

Lol Coxhill - picture Mike Stubbs

On a blisteringly hot day in July an unlikely group of people emerged from the overground rail line at Manor Park. Turning left, they formed a slow and jovial walking chain heading towards the crematorium. Men in their sixties in ‘pork pie’ hats with silver ear-rings and gangly fifty-something punks with anarchy symbols emblazoned.

The topic on the steady trudge towards the funeral – how did you know Lol, then?

I first encountered Lol Coxhill at the Oakhayes Albion Fayre on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk in the late seventies. As a young man, excited by the do it yourself aesthetics of punk, I had never heard such a sound emerge from an instrument. Lol Coxhill, standing beneath a tree and next to a lake, squirting out a mercurial and staccato set of breathy notes. I later learned that the instrument was a soprano saxophone and that this man was undoubtedly part of a chain of improvisers extending back to Lester Young and the roots of bebop. I owe Lol Coxhill a great debt, as those moments of listening to him led me off on a particular journey towards music and experimental art. Lol Coxhill was inspired by Lester Young and the free form nature of jazz – the goal ultimately to extend the medium while finding a sound. As Steve Beresford has observed, Lol’s sound could be detected within a few notes – a scramble of notes interspersed with reedy cat cries, pauses, longer silences and then occasional lower range howls. The sound was not so caught up in the potential cul-de-sac of free jazz, it was rather like listening to someone talk in a strange language, perhaps with comparison to Eric Dolphy.

Lol played around on the fringes of English culture and popped up all over the place. Always with the saxophone in case, wearing black clothing and the thin glasses seemingly welded to his head. Conjuring up this image again, he was a cool man in every respect – laconic, unegotistical and self-assured. It is interesting to reflect on this aspect of alternative English culture, unbothered by fame, out there in a field and maybe on drugs.

I next encountered Lol Coxhill near Lowestoft in Suffolk, performing as a part of a ‘band’ of somethings. The legendary – appropriate use of this word I think – Ian Hinchcliffe sang ‘God Save the Queen’ in a snarling and psychotic fashion, while the assembled musicians (Lol included) wore brown paper bags over their heads. Hinchcliffe, rounded the song off by setting fire to himself and watching the crowd as they winced. Sentimental perhaps, but Ian Hinchcliffe always set a high bar for his performances.

Lol Coxhill carried his saxophone and career across artistic borders with ease. It would have been easier to do the jazz festivals or work out as a side man on recording projects (which he did do). He formed unlikely alliances and collaborations with people such as Ian Hinchcliffe. At the King’s Head in Bungay, I sat with 7 other people as Hinchcliffe, Coxhill and Bruce Lacey performed a surreal performance largely concerned with penguin ephemera. Hinchcliffe emerged with slices of white bread, proceeded to intimidate everyone present with loud barking commands, while Lacey assembled the ongoing ritual. In the background Lol Coxhill played his saxophone while going up and down a child’s playground slide. The performance was topped off with a metal skull cap or egg cup which was placed on Lacey’s head. Hinchcliffe then placed an egg on top and burned the side of it with a flame torch. The smell was intentionally putrid.

Lol Coxshill spent time at Digswell near Welwyn Garden City, an artists’ commune and hang out. While there he recorded one of his best collaborations with Simon Emmerson and Veryan Weston – ‘Digswell Duets’. He also contributed to The Damned’s second album and had a part as a priest in Derek Jarman’s ‘Caravaggio’.

All in all, a wonderful life.

Lol Coxhill – Play Sax with Lol Coxhill – a film by Mike Stubbs (1986)

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Agit Disco

AGIT DISCOedited by Stefan Szczelkun and Anthony Iles, 2012 Mute Books
review by Simon Poulter, February 2012

Walking into a record shop in Hamilton, Ontario last year, it was as if I was going back in time. It is hard not to be sentimental about such places – the smell, the sense of anticipation and the overall experience of a physical space full of music. Oh, a physical space…

One of my favourite songs is ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ by the Only Ones and after scuffing around the shop I walked out with a used 12″ of ‘Special View’. Popular myth would have it that once upon a time there were formative list-makers, DJs such as John Peel, who would spend their time sifting through the world’s music and relaying it back to us via the fuzzy radios in our bedrooms. Then digital music formats appeared supplanting the rule of vinyl before music completely disappeared into data-space, evil piracy and downloads. Along the way the discourses between music, youth and activism changed when music as a popular networked medium gave way to the distributed torrent of the web. So music became ‘content’, free and subjected to random acts such as ‘shuffle’. The Poisoned Apple.

There is no shuffle in the work of Stefan Szczelkun. He has created a project in the form of a book that comprises of a series of suggested CD compilations assembled by invited cohorts. At first, the choice of a soon to be redundant medium such as the compact disc seems oddly perverse, yet Agit Disco offers a syncretic approach to the music histories that transport us from Muddy Waters to Mos Def. The contributors insights are of course reflective on their personal histories; for example Tom Jennings’ reminder that the source code of rap is direct action and not designer clothing. As far as I am aware there are no baseball caps or designer ales as a spin off from this book.

But Agit Disco is a book with a purpose. As soon as you pick it up you are reminded of the personal intimacy of the print medium. The book is anchored on the author’s long-standing connection to working class politics and its musical anthems and idiosyncrasies. As I have thumbed through it I have come to the unshakable conviction that with a straight shoot out between Google and Agit Disco, I would have a higher degree of finding something musically interesting from the observations of the contributors of the book. So there is still work to do on the algorithms of the semantic web, or higher granularity in the recommendations of a human who has listened.

The editors, Stefan Szczelkun and Anthony Iles, are fully aware that this is no contest and that their roles may lie more as archivists and not activists. While Julian Temple’s trilogy of films about punk act as an archaeology of personalities for example, there are still many layers beneath of lesser known mortals who have performed interesting acts. Indeed, Stefan Szczelkun’s credentials in mining and recording the cultural moments of London and the UK’s sub-cultures are impeccable and if I had one criticism of this book then it would be that it lacks a more in-depth narrative on these matters. But perhaps this is a future project that both the editors have in them, given the predominant focus on cult of personality in music writing and relative absence of a political story.

However in his introduction, Anthony Iles, expertly dispenses with the lame reconstructions and self-agrandisations of artists. Northern Soul, oh yes I saw that at an art gallery somewhere. He also points out that Agit Disco emanates from the blogosphere and a requirement to problematise aesthetics and criticality on music as a political force. Wryly, he draws attention to the contradictory status of celebrity within a countercultural milieu, so we have Stewart Home slotted in as a natural contributor here. Home’s playlist takes up the challenge wholeheartedly, recognising the importance of juxtaposition and classics – so we have Toots and the Maytals ’54-46 Was My Number’ spinning into ‘Don’t Be a Drop Out’ by James Brown and the “E Pluribus Unum’ by The Last Poets.

A comparator piece of writing that springs to mind is Paul Morley’s ‘Words and Music’, always bound to be trapped in time with its focus on Kylie Minogue. However, a quote from it:

“Some day music will only be air. There will be no objects to hold or fetishise and people will simply collect lists. No disc, nothing spooled or grooved, no heads to clean, no dust to wipe, no compulsive alphabetising.”

While most of this is true, we could argue that rather than collecting lists, more and more people are making them, as a consequence of distributed media and the disruption of the music industry distribution model. This is one of the most revolutionary actions of our time.

Agit Disco is therefore a project that combines friendships and associations with the full use of the extended communication of digital tools. It’s a book that utilises the aggregation effects of the web to hand the reader back some discrete thoughts and tunes.

Peter Conlin flags up Dissident Island [] and a reminder that music creates a mutuality among generations as we ‘pick the same stuff’. This is never more problematic for some, where in the UK, we have apparently selected political leaders, who as well as studying PPE at Oxford, were listening to The Smiths, hunting stags and wreaking chaos in restaurants.

The last contributor to the book, Tracey Moberly, signs off her list with ‘I Don’t Give A Fuck’ by Peaches (with samples from Joan Jett). A truly seminal track that never fails to bring a smile to a misty grey morning wherever you are.

Ending on an Amazon moment – for aficionados of the UK underground, you might also like Stefan Szczelkun’s ‘Survival Scrapbooks’.

To purchase Agit Disco go to Metamute

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Paul Morley in Conversation

Paul Morley in Conversation

An interview with Paul Morley as part of the McLuhan’s Message Programme curated for Watershed Media Centre in October 2011.


Duration: 1hour 5mins 39secs

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“Listening to Firefox” – presenters

“Listening to Firefox” is finally here! After months of planning and organising, our inaugural North West salon/meet-up for discussion across “wider implications of software culture” is happening at 2pm Sunday 15th of May over at Manchester’s MadLab.

5 practitioners have been invited to present extremely short (<3mins) single-slide examples of work across a spectrum of digital-art-technology. From there, the emphasis moves to an open and critically aware roundtable discussion of the wider implications of this practice:


Stephen Fortune – Data and Reality


Markus Soukup -  relicts / 2011

John O’Shea – Open Source Swan Pedalo

Nick Holloway – UK libraries cuts map

Caroline Heron – “Precarious Labour”


Listening to Firefox exists to create a space for open and engaged discussion across a spectrum of digital-art-technology practice with an emphasis on the social, cultural and political implications of this work.  This inaugural event has been co-organised by John O’Shea, Simon Poulter and Hwa Young Jung at MadLab.


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MadLab Manchester 15th May 2011

Wider Implications of Software Culture

The Event

  • What: Salon discussion and short presentations at Mad Lab in Manchester
  • When: Sunday 15th May – 2pm-4pm
  • Theme: “Open Source vs. The Big Society”


Listening to Firefox exists to create a space for open and engaged discussion across a spectrum of digital-art-technology practice with an emphasis on the social, cultural and political implications of this work.


Theme for this event: Open Source vs. The Big Society


Format: 5 practitioners are invited to present extremely short (<3mins) single-slide examples across a spectrum of digital-art-technology practice. From there, the emphasis moves to an open and critically aware roundtable discussion.


Rooted in practice, the event will facilitate greater peer awareness, cross-pollination and hopefully instigate conversations which need to be had!

Origins: Listening to Firefox emerged out of discussions held at the 2011 Metal/DEC Digital LAB held at Metal’s Chalkwell Hall in Southend on Sea. The LAB was facilitated by artists Graham Harwood and Simon Poulter and attended by 8 artists from a wide spectrum of disciplines.

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Listening to Firefox

…Now is perhaps a good time to resume our discussion about what we want to happen NEXT?

This is as far as we got:

“Listening to Firefox”
Sunday 15th May 2011
Manchester, UK time/venue TBC)
– Peer meet-up coinciding with FutureEverything festival

There are a couple of very interesting places in Manchester where we could all convene and, depending what people want to do, suggestions are currently Mad Lab (which is in the city centre, Northern Quarter) and Islington Mill (which is more industrial – about a twenty minute walk outside.)

I am imagining that we would eat some food together, have a chat and then have a plenary-type discussion where everyone would have the opportunity to share something relating to their own practice which has developed since beyond the Lab.  This format would provide a simple one-off opportunity to extend the peer environment we enjoyed during the Lab.

So – two questions:

Who would be intending coming to this? (Is it in your diary?)

What suggestions can people make regarding times, plan, preferred methods of communication etc.

I’ve copied this email to the blog so, rather than creating a huge email-list-tennis-session perhaps people could add their thoughts to the comment section beneath the post by clicking this link here.

Look forward to hearing from you all!


PS Here are some gems gleaned from the Lab discussions to refresh peoples memories:

*How can intimacy be scaled?*
*organise a situation where anything can happen. John Cage*
*shape-shifting and precarious labour*
*frequency spectogram (Julian Henriques)*
*beyond language and gesture*
*object oriented philosophy*
*databases and discipline*
*software culture – largest culture humankind has ever known*
*art as a methodology – art as action research*

PPS And – here is one possible interpretation of what “Listening to Firefox” could mean>



Emotional Geocaching

I am very interested in how we emotionally react to our surroundings when embarking on aimless wonders (otherwise known as a dérive). This concept is otherwise known as Psychogeography, which according to Guy Debord is:

“the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

The effects of a place on ourselves is very apparent in our day to day lives, from claustrophobic in the city to feeling free and content when back in the countryside. An interesting output from this is how people document their journeys through photography, writing, audio, video, sketching etc.


Being someone who does not know the surrounding areas of Westcliff-on-Sea and Leigh-on-Sea I decided to explore my own emotional reaction to these areas, whilst also documenting my travels at specific locations. I decided that I would do it in four ways: through photographing view-points from locations which drew me in; by taking audio recordings at these locations; using a GPS device, record the Longitude and latitude co-ordinates of these locations; lastly, I would also capture these places by recording them as semantic locations. The purpose of all this was as stated above, to explore emotional response, but with all of these tasks in place, it was also to see how this journey worked as an activity and as being something which could be mapped out afterward.


As well as absorbing information I also wanted to ‘hack’ the public space and leave something out there which would expand on the semantic locations. As can be seen below, this descriptions were very matter of fact and did not include any reasoning for choosing specific places or emotional reflection. I therefore decided to play on the concept of geocaching and leave my own mini containers (matchboxes so they would be biodegradable), containing my emotional reasoning.


Below is my documentation from the journey which I embarked on, starting with a map of the route:



1) Sat on a bench in front of Chalkwell Hall. 5th along from the left.



Time: 14:20:38



2) Standing on the bridge over the little stream which runs through Chalkwell Park.



Time: 14:37:31



3) Standing outside number 141 Kings Road.



Time: 15:01:07



4) Standing outside number 21 on The Drive.



Time: 15:23:13



5) In the park facing the row of shops on The Ridgeway.



Time: 15:44:03



6) On a wall, down a little lane, almost opposite Hall Park Avenue, between numbers 6 and 8 on the The Ridgeway.



Time: 15:59:19



7) Sitting on the wooden steps leading up to some mini changing tooms on the beach at the end of Chalkwell Avenue.



Time: 16:17:03



8 ) Almost under the railway bridge on Chalkwell Avenue. On your left as your walk towards the sea, just after the bridge.



Time: 16:33:48



9) Down a creepy walkway/lane thing behind the tennis courts.



Time: 16:43:16



10) In the ‘Nature Conservation Garden’ in Chalkwell Park



Time: 17:03:40



I tasked myself with this walk as it being something quite experimental and research based; I did not plan the route in advance nor I did not know exactly how I wanted to utilise the data collected from it. Having previously designed pervasive games and interactions in public space for other people in past work, it was refreshing to carry something out for myself and gage my own reactions to a piece, rather than thinking about the unknown other person. Interestingly, the journey became very algorithmic, each task becoming more embedded in every stop off and gradually turning into what one can only describe as laborious. I found it surprising, yet quite understandable, how something very much based on emotional reaction could mutate into something which felt very mechanic and almost forced. One could argue that the methodology set out by myself initially was bound to create this, through using GPS, taking down co-orindinates and writing down descriptions of locations as they were, elaborating on details as little as possible.


This still feels very much at the beginning of something to me. I am keen to carry out more ‘aimless walks’, in this way but at some point would also like to think about how other people could interact. with this project. It would be useful to use these ideas in relation to how local people perceive their area and emotionally engage with it.


Metal DEC Lab Interviews

The interviews from the Metal DEC lab are now online at the youtube page



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Light Responsive Animation

Animation Still

Click here to see an extract of the animation: animation(s)


Before I came to the Metal Lab I had been working to create an animation that would connect light to duration and time and explore an idea of exposure in digital format.  The lab offerred a great site to try out the apparatus. The were some nice windows with a view out to the amazing estuarine vista, there was a buzz of activity in the space in front of the window so the opportunity was there.

The apparatus itself would monitor light levels coming through the window using a light dependant resistor. This went through  a micro-controller, into the software and would in turn control  the brightness and contrast of an image captured through a video camera and then the frequency at which the images were captured.  When the images were captured they were uploaded to a server where they could be captured and compiled into a stop-frame animation.


Here is the patch for people who like these things:

Screen shot of the Max patch I created



The apparatus created a space for me to have many conversations and reflect on the critical environment of the labs and begin to take apart and address the individual elements of the work and how they interact with this idea of software culture.

My conclusion is something like…. why am I trying to create a device to capture an image in response to light when I have a camera already?



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