Thoughts

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 [http://www.dissidentisland.org/] 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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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!

John

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>

 

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Processes of organisation

I feel pushed to respond to the entry John made after our discussion on Friday morning as I feel that I have been misunderstood and do not find the label of skeptic appropriate. I wish to outline a few of my current frustrations I have with the cultural environment in the UK at the moment.

 

The discussion arose from a question of how to continue once the workshop was over. How can the ground covered over the past week be developed further and whether or not we felt there was anything we could do to support each other in our long term goals for the future.

 

From this we decided that we should try to meet up again in a few months time and set John the role of organising it.

 

The discussion then turned to the ways in which groups and artists organise themselves and the level of control they have in producing and exhibiting the type of work they would like. John brought up the point that he felt there should be a way to circumnavigate  cultural organisations whom he feels siphon off the (public) funds available and act as gatekeepers in cultural production – artists becoming employees of the organsations when they fulfill the remit set for residency programmes or commissions and do not get to wholly dictate the manner in which they work.

 

I perhaps did not make this clear at the time, but yes, I do agree that artists should continually find ways in which to produce and display the type of work that they find critically interrogating and should not chase the funding money pot, adapting their methods to suit the desires of the organisations strategic agenda if they do not feel it fits with their own outlook.

 

However, regardless of whether you are an individual or group working directly with the public funding bodies or you are receiving funds through a supported cultural organisation at some point there will still be the need to provide reasoning for your allocation of funds and evidence of its impact. This is a task in itself and one that requires knowledge of the relationship outlets have to funding bodies and the goals (goalposts) those bodies have had to set and which you must fit into (otherwise there will be no funding). The cultural organisations all came about for their own reasons and in the eyes of funding bodies they must also come up with their own strategic plans for the development of artistic production within their self-designated context. This secondary and perhaps more narrow set of specifications within the funding structures can of course bring about further hurdles for artists to hop over on the way to the fruition of their ideas but these constraints can also be enabling in that they promote particular forms of practice and help to better establish them by developing a platform dedicated to its exploration.

 

I know I’m going of track here but I suppose what I’m trying to say is that regardless of how we manage to gain access to funds so that we may make and promote our work we will still have to provide reasoning to the powers that be as to why we should have it in the first place. The organisations and individuals still have to spend lengthy hours filling out forms and building the case which can at times undermine the work itself.

 

John pushed the notion that a group can continue for the longer term without any central co-ordination. I do not feel that a group or organisation can and as I have tried to outline above it is because in the long run, if they want to access public funds or become larger entities in order to further promote their ideas they will then have to take on the role of administration. You suggested that this would be absorbed into the group and members would take it upon themselves to carry out this task in a act of self governance. I then responded by saying that these less artistic tasks will become more time consuming to the point where people will be unwilling to give up so much of their time unless they can have some sort of recompense, namely income.

 

As Simon pointed out there are pressure points at which organisations do alter their structures, some close in upon their decision making processes, creating a line between management and production and allocating these roles appropriately. It is here that groups must be vigilant in reaffirming the equilibrium so as not to create a hierarchical distinction between the two roles. Rather they should maintain access to broad opinion but not in such a way that it becomes an endless and debilitating task – seeking to strike a balance and knowing when to move on or quit.

 

The insistence during the discussion of entirely open means of organisation where everyone is self-governing, especially in light of funding cuts when opportunities will become all the more sparse, feels a little too close to the recent conservative initiative of the ‘Big Society’. People willing to offer a significant part their time for the greater good. A reasoning that asks people to absorb disproportionate cuts in public spending brought on by the economic crisis by a Government that is trying to get out of providing key public sector services (health, education, culture etc) yet protecting the very financial infrastructures that brought this situation about. I suppose my frustration has been unfairly directed, instead I should be asking the core question effecting all of these instances which is how we value cultural production because at the moment we are pushed into viewing it as a direct capitalist transaction and have to quantify it in monetary terms to prove impact within society. Currently we are being pushed further and further into treating artistic production as a consumer object or service, one that requires a proved rate of return on investment and I find that the re-appropriation by the Conservatives of the long established practice within arts communities of self-organisation into their ‘visions’ for society a difficult pill to swallow. I believe that public provision of culture is something that should be protected and feel it is not being accurately defended against and ever encroaching commercial value system.

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UN SPACE?

Graham Harwood invited me to have a walk on the ‘mud’, which was a very fascinating meditative experience. It was shortly before the tide would arrive in the afternoon so we had around 30 minutes to walk through the ‘drill’ of water, which is a little river bed. Interestingly you actually walk in that drill as it has a harder soil than the mud beside, which is very sticky and makes walking nearly impossible.

Since a couple of years I am interested in the phenomenon of travel and it’s impact on the perception of space and dimension. The walk as the ‘basic’ human walking speed provides a very close connection for the individual to its surroundings, sensory experience and memory.

The ‘mud’ walk brought us to an ‘in between place’, which is accessible at certain times either by foot or boat. The space is probably more considered as a water area than a soil area in our psycho geography. The cyclic accessibility interestingly relates to gravity between earth and moon.

 

stills from video fragment 'UN SPACE'

 

I filmed a bit and started to work on an experimental video fragment (sketch). The walk as a starting point for creating an audio visual fragment might seem naive, but it brings about a meditative element reminding on the dependence of human activity in relation to its situation of the planets climate condition as well as its unique set up in the universe.

As a result I tried to create an ‘in between space’ visually, which is not easily to locate and which allows the imagination a drift for identifying it.

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Paranodality in Southend-on-Sea

This morning we found ourselves talking about activating peer groups and their different modes of organisation.  Simon brought in ideas from network theory and if I understand correctly the point – the strength of the weakest links in a network will correlate directly to the effectiveness of the network.  Caroline maintained throughout a skeptical viewpoint of the forces involved which act to instrumentalize the role of artists into a capitalist media machine.  Disparagingly she quoted Chris Morris’s satirical Shoreditch anti-hero Nathan Barley: “I am a self-facilitating media node.”

 

From my own perspective I agree that it is important to challenge and reflect upon existing models of collective energy, and work and how this activity becomes constituted, ritualised and institutionalised.  What limitations can we place, in the form of an “ethic” or “attitude”, which might prevent or subvert the emergence of patterns of behaviour which we do not want to perpetuate?

 

In conversation with Metal chair, Jude Kelly yesterday a very intriguing (and perhaps paradoxical) question was posed:

“How can intimacy be scaled?”

 

These fascinating discussions are, of course, from the privileged perspective of viewing and building a “model” and this activity and speculation must be distinguished and recognised as only one small part of building relationships within the “cultivation” of a peer-group.

 

An interesting email I read several years ago seemed to posit a counter-view to “network-logic” by thinking in terms of something called “para-nodal” space (the ‘space’ which is not represented on the network map of nodes and their connection).  I am going to copy and paste the email below (I’ll send a quick email to the author too – I’ve never followed this idea up really but I think it has had a profound effect on how I think about the relationship between “models” and “life”).

 

//Updated 12:45 – here is a link to a website for Ulises Mejias //

 

From: “Ulises A. Mejias” <EMAIL ADDRESS>
Date: 22 April 2008 01:57:01 BDT
To: empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Subject: [-empyre-] unwired sustainability
Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>

My apologies for not having posted as actively to this list during my time as moderator this week (technology is partly to blame, but mostly it’s my fault). I want to end by providing my own take on wired sustainability.

I believe networked forms of production, collaboration, activism, and mobilization will be essential to figuring out how to engender more sustainable relationships with the world and with each other. However, in my own work I try to examine the very unsustainability of the network episteme, of this ‘wired’ logic.

Since the distance between two nodes within the same network is zero, and the distance between a node and something outside the network is practically infinite, it follows that a node can only see the world in terms of other nodes. Something that is not a node is, for all practical purposes, invisible. I call this tyranny of nodes “nodocentrism.” Nodocentrism is the assertion that only nodes need to be mapped, explained or accounted for. It is a reductionism that eliminates everything but the reality of the node. Nodocentrism informs a model of progress or development where things not on the network must and should be incorporated in order for them to exist (this is the ideology that informs the discourses of the digital divide, pervasive computing, etc.).

In opposition to nodocentrism I use the concept of paranodality. Contrary to what is represented in network diagrams, the space between nodes is not empty or dead, but very much alive. In fact, this space–the paranodal–acts as the only sustainable site from which we can articulate a subjectivity separate from the network, from which we can unthink the network episteme. The paranodal is, as Ranciere would
say, the part of those who have no part, the site where disagreement, not consensus, takes place (and hence, the locus of the political).

Of course, to unthink the logic of the network is not to pretend the network doesn’t exist, or to refuse to deal with it, but to re-imagine one’s relationship to it. The relationship of the paranode to the network is perhaps like the one of the parasite to the host (and here I’m borrowing from Serres): the parasite inserts itself into the
communication process, between the sender and the receiver, disrupting the communication by being ‘noise’, and forcing the system to adjust to its presence. In this context, the paranode can be described as a parasite of the network, an element that lodges itself between nodes, distorting or introducing noise into the information that passes between nodes, and forcing the network to adjust to its presence.

I guess what I am suggesting is that perhaps sustainability is not wired, but unwired. What is subversive and creative is not the network episteme (wired logic), but the parasitical disruption that can provide a way to think outside the logic of the network, to disidentify from it, and to resist its nodocentric view of the world.

_______________________________________________
empyre forum empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au http://www.subtle.net/empyre

 

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A game of QR chess

QR Code is a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.

QR-code look basically like this:

example of a qr code

My interest in these codes was among others a pure visual one. (more…)

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I fell in love with Transistor

I have recently started to suffer from a weird affection; one I didn’t think was possible: I fell in love with Transistor. This fascinating machine composed of n- and p-type semiconductors has enough personality as to allow current through it only under certain conditions. For transmission to be enabled the machine needs to be touched in a particular way. Isn’t she wonderful?
(more…)

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How Quickly Can We Glue Some Shit Together

Off the back of this mornings conversation I figured I’d get the ball rolling on this topic.

I have a lot of experience of the frustration of muddling through layers of code abstraction with only an inkling of what is going on. In part this is an experiment to see how quickly I can accomplish what I want via searching the distributed knowledge of coders via Google. For a long time I have been uneasily conscious of how much my knowledge of code and efficacy of getting code work done hinges upon my efficient use of boolean search strings and knowing which forums to glean first.

I want a rough and ready way to analyse the movement of the tea leaves from the POV of the webcam. I searched for “image analysis perl” and in (0.15 seconds) approximately 299,000 results were returned. I believe I am found what I am looking for on the third returned hit (http://w3.biosci.utexas.edu/atkinson/software/Scripts.html) a series of scripts designed to track the movements of flies. I imagine that pattern won’t be dissimilar from swimming tea leaves.

But I need to split my webcam captured .ogv file into individual jpgs for this script to work. I go through several iterations of search strings before this one “split .video into frames ubuntu separate” returns the hint I need (http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2691996/ffmpeg-split-into-frames). This is stack overflow, the site that Tim counselled us on.

[evolution of search strings = split .gov into consecutive jpg, split .ogv into consecutive frames, split .video into frames ubuntu separate]

From this page I knew what I wanted was: “ffmpeg split jpgs”.

 

But then I needed to know how to install ffmpeg. And then I discovered that ffmpeg won’t convert ogv files. So then I need mencoder to change my .ogv files to avis which can be converted by ffmpeg into separate jpegs for the purposes of the script which I found so quickly.

I believe everything I want to do could be done quickly via a knowledge of PD or MAX or similar programs. However I wanted to test if it was possible to quickly assemble some code in a hodge podge magpie manner. In

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A Swan on the Thames

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