Tag Archives: Music

On Climate Change, Music and Activism in The Arts

13 Nov

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Rhea H. Boyden

It is late October 2018 and I am standing in my stepmom and dad’s vegetable garden at our family home in West Cork, Ireland. It’s raining. The leeks, kale, spinach and beets look delicious. This is the first time in my life that I have stopped to fully and truly appreciate and show gratitude for this garden. I am wondering if Ireland’s climate will still be stable and predictable enough to reliably grow vegetables in 2040 when I am 65 years old. I am thinking about the alarming new report that has just been published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that states the urgency of climate action NOW if we are are to cut risks of extreme heat, drought and poverty that will affect hundreds of millions of people in the coming decades. I have been reading a lot about climate change the past few months and I find it all completely distressing. I pick a leek. The rain begins to come down harder and I am getting soaked but I don’t care.  A headline flashes through my head: ‘Climate Genocide is Coming.’ As I unearth a few beets I remember a few more headlines: ‘It’s five minutes to midnight on climate change.’ and ‘New Outlook on Global Warming: Best Prepare for Social Collapse, and soon.’ I carefully pick a few leaves of spinach and kale and then finally go back inside the house to escape the rain.

2018 began very well for me creatively. I was reading nothing about climate change and science at all. After a few years of writing venue and DJ reviews in Dublin I decided to delve even deeper into music reviewing and I ordered a pile of books that would deepen my knowledge of what is going on technically in the electronic music I was listening to. I spent months joyfully reading all about music theory, the neuroscience of music, the history of dub and the rise of  electronic music. I talked to music writers and DJs about music. PHEVER: TV-Radio DJ Hugo McCann assisted me in my quest to learn more about the music. Last summer, in the middle of an unprecedented Irish heatwave, Hugo and I met up for the afternoon to listen to some music and analyse it. As we listened to one of his many brilliant mixes he patiently explained to me what we were hearing. ‘What is that sound?’ I asked. ‘That is a Jamaican concave drum,’ he said. ‘And that sound?’ I continued. ‘That is hi hat cymbals, and then you hear organs and a sequenced clap,’ he explained. I am intrigued. It is good to finally understand what I am listening to. I want to learn more. We moved on to his latest mix that he had just aired on his weekly show the previous weekend. I always love Hugo’s mixes but this one irritates me when I listen to it the first time. ‘It’s a bit too full on for my taste,’ I tell him. ‘Well, yes,’ he says, ‘The tempo of the promos I am being sent has been increasing in the past couple of years. The tracks keep getting faster and faster,’ he says. I tell him I find this no surprise considering the pace of people’s lifestyles as well as the temperature of the planet keep increasing too. And while we are enjoying the hot July day we are also fully aware that it is absolutely not normal for Ireland and we are already well over a month into a drought accompanied by record-breaking temperatures. We talk about climate change and environmental doom as we discuss Hugo’s mixes and where he draws his inspiration from.  


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PHEVER: TV-Radio DJ Hugo McCann

My intention after my meeting with Hugo was to continue learning about music and instruments  and to use this knowledge to bring my music reviewing to a new level. I haven’t published a single music review since then. Why not? Because I have been questioning the whole value of writing art, music and literature reviews at all with the increasing number of terrifying articles about climate catastrophe that keep pulsing through my newsfeed. So I have been reading every article about climate change I can get my hands on and as depressing as it is, I find it important to inform myself fully about the latest reports, data, projections, predictions and projects that are being implemented to protect the most vulnerable on this planet from the worst effects of climate change. And I have been talking to others about it. My friend Paul Sullivan in Berlin is a music writer, photographer and the editor of Slow Travel Berlin, a magazine I wrote for when I lived in Berlin. I have also recently read his brilliant book about the history of dub entitled ‘Remixology – Tracing the Dub Diaspora.’ ‘So what do you think about the spiritual and psychological implications of the latest reports on climate change? and ‘What do you think about the merits of continuing to review music and art? ‘ I asked him. ‘In terms of the arts and music as a response,’he said, ‘I would be tempted to say that first and foremost we should probably be dropping them in favour of direct political action. Maybe mass art protest could be useful but I think looking at paintings and listening to music just doesn’t cut it in the current climate,’ he said. I told him I fully agreed and that it was a recent encounter with a painting that made my blood boil regarding this exact topic. I was standing in the National Gallery of Ireland last summer in the large exhibit of  the work of German Expressionist artist Emil Nolde (1867-1956). I reviewed the exhibit in depth but one painting and Nolde’s description of it made me so mad. It was a beautiful oil painting of the North Sea painted in 1950. Nolde’s description of the sea was the following: ‘The wide tempestuous sea is still in its original state; it is the same today as it was 50,000 years ago.’ ‘Well, the sea is not in its original state any more!’ came my audible response in the middle of the gallery. Ocean acidification is killing off coral reefs and it is projected that there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.


Photographer, Writer and Slow Travel Berlin Editor Paul Sullivan

A little over a year ago we experienced the tail end of Hurricane Ophelia which wreaked havoc in the south and west of Ireland. Roofs were blown off houses and thousands were left without power. Last March we experienced the humorously named ‘Beast from the East’ – a blizzard which brought the U.K. and Ireland to a standstill. We are definitely not prepared for this. I have spent many winters in the United States and Germany where there is, of course, a great measure of snow and ice preparedness because it is the norm every winter. On my street in Dublin, the pavements never got cleared and they were packed with ice and snow causing many injuries to pedestrians. I did not suffer at all during either of these events. I didn’t lose power and I didn’t run out of food. My room was warm and I stayed home from work and read a tonne about art and music. I enjoyed the days off. I guess you could say I was pretty lucky. You could also say I was pretty smug and complacent. I feel that my reading of the past few months has stripped me of a great deal of complacency. My recent reading has informed me that we citizens of affluent countries most certainly will not be spared the effects of climate change for a whole lot longer than those in the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the world. We are all in this together. A leading climate scientist named Peter Wadhams believes an ice-free Arctic will occur one summer in the next few years and it will likely increase by 50% the warming caused by the CO2 activity produced by human activity. The temperature was 20 degrees above normal in the Arctic in early 2018.

During the blizzard last March I read and reviewed a wonderful memoir entitled ‘Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands’ by Will Carruthers who was a bass player in Spacemen 3 and Spiritualised, two pioneering British psychedelic bands of the 1980s and 90’s. His book is the funniest and most heart-wrenchingly real book I have read in years and I have been praising it and promoting it all year. Will writes so beautifully about music and politics, and life in a touring band and I have thoroughly enjoyed studying his work and listening to his music this year. I also asked him what he thought about climate change and climate doom and his first philosophical response was: ‘Every second is doomed to fall.’ I pondered this. He then said ‘Have you heard of the Dark Mountain project? It is a website for enviro goths who have abandoned all hope.’ I told him I did not want to abandon hope and that despair and gloom will not mobilise us into climate activism. He told me there was also hope to be found in despair. Will has also written about climate change and, in fact, I laugh out loud when I read what he has written. A bit of comic relief is essential. An excerpt from his brilliant piece on climate change goes: ‘A terrible darkness descends upon humanity, as nature claws back what is hers, eventually the balance is restored as cockroaches and rats get to have a go at the top of the food chain. The billionaires are the last to go, having been forced to watch the terrible fate of humanity unfold in real time with an increasingly uneasy feeling that survival might not actually be the best prospect, even if you are rich. The last human sound on Earth is the screaming of billionaires being nibbled by rats.’


Musician, Artist, Writer and Poet, Will Carruthers

No, I most certainly don’t want to give up hope and I also don’t want to give up reviewing art, music and literature either because it brings me a lot of joy and connects me to many wonderful people. I do feel, however, that my reviewing henceforth will become more focused on activism. I truly believe at a time when arts, music and cultural funding is being slashed and also not being prioritised in schools that writers, artists, musicians and DJs have a duty to fill this void. So I have been having a look around for people who are doing great things and one person I have connected with recently is artist Stephan Crawford who is the executive producer of the ClimateMusic project which is a group of scientists, musicians and composers based in San Francisco who create music based on climate data. They then throw concerts to communicate the urgency of climate change activism to the public. I asked him about it and he said: ‘Our concerts combine science-guided music with data animations and visuals to viscerally communicate the urgency of climate action. We then engage our audiences in conversations about solutions and we connect them to a network of organisations that can help them learn more about the issue, take action at home and build community around engagement.’ I am completely intrigued by the work of the ClimateMusic project and the following is a lengthy quote about a current project of theirs:

‘ ‘Climate’ is an original composition by Erik Ian Walker. It was made by identifying four key indicators and assigning each of these a musical analogue: Carbon dioxide concentration is reflected in the tempo of the composition with increasing amounts of CO2 accumulating in the atmosphere causing the tempo to speed up. Near Earth atmosphere temperature is represented by pitch where a rise in temperature translates to detuning, increased dissonance, harmonic complexity and/or a rise in pitch. Earth energy balance (the balance between incoming energy from the sun and outgoing heat from the Earth) changes are audible as distortion, ring, modulation (a wobbly metallic sound), volume and a general ‘unhealthy’ unevenness of the atmospheric tone. The greater the imbalance, the greater the distortion and the loss of natural harmonics. Ocean pH is represented by compositional form and as the pH in the ocean drops (becomes more acidic), the compositional form degrades.’

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I am thrilled to be reading this and it lifts my spirits and inspires me to read more.  For in it I have found a wonderful description that rolls into one the two things that have been preoccupying my thoughts the entire year; descriptions of music and climate change. I watched and listened to a clip of what this is trying to get across to the audience and essentially you hear very clearly how the pitch and tempo of the music increases to an anxiety-inducing level in line with carbon dioxide levels and earth energy balance over the years. It makes me think of another book I have been studying this year: ‘This is your Brain on Music’ by Daniel Levitin in which he writes: ‘Pitch is one of the primary means by which musical emotion is conveyed. Mood, excitement, calm, romance and danger are signalled by a number of factors but pitch is among the most decisive.’ And it also instantly reminds me of what Hugo told me about tempo increases in the music he has been airing on his show. I go back and listen to his mix again that was a bit too full on for me before. I listen to it twice and three times and with each listen it grows on me. It is dark and it is evocative of doom and gloom, but like all of Hugo’s mixes he has shared with me, it takes you on a journey. And I can’t help but think about environmental doom when I listen to it. Daniel Levitin explains is his book exactly why, from a neural perspective, I am making these associations: ‘Each time we hear a musical pattern that is new to our ears, our brains try to make an association through whatever visual, auditory, and other sensory cues accompany it; we try to contextualise the new sounds and eventually we create these memory links between a particular set of notes and a particular place, time and set of events.’ The event was the heatwave and the discussion with Hugo was about climate change and I am brought right back to that experience by listening to the music. It helps, of course, that the vocal samples in this particular mix of Hugo’s include the words ‘foolish’ ‘frightful’ and repeatedly the word ‘justice.’ It isn’t hard to link it to climate change. I now love this mix and it has become my climate doom soundtrack that inspires me to write and act.


Anthropologist, Writer and Eco-Feminist Activist Carolin Cordes

So what about Climate Justice? Another person I have recently become friends with is the lovely Carolin Cordes. Carolin is a writer, anthropologist, and eco-feminist climate change activist based in Dublin. She tells me the latest IPCC report has also spurred her on to greater activism. In her article entitled ‘Women, Climate and the Rise of Eco-Feminism’ published in Green News, Carolin writes the following: ‘In 2010 former president of Ireland Mary Robinson  founded the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice which works towards securing justice for the most vulnerable victims of climate change.’ Carolin points out in her article that climate change disproportionately affects those who contribute to it the least, and also that according to UN statistics 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. I have been talking to Carolin a lot and she and I have been sharing ideas and articles. Eco-feminism is a cause close to her heart. ‘Women have a strong link to the environment because globally they represent the majority of those working in small-scale farming, as well as resource management around water and wood,’ she writes. ‘Females also preserve strong traditional knowledge by saving seeds and farming organically, hence they protect the natural world with their long-term outlook.’  When reading Carolin’s writing I once again think about music and the maternal and feminine nature of dub that Paul writes about in ‘Remixology’. He writes beautifully about the penetrative and male nature of the heavy bass beat as it vibrates the body, but he also writes the following: ‘A great case has been made for dub’s maternal nature. Music listeners such as Simon Reynolds have noted dub’s ability to take us back to the ‘amniotic sea of the womb… the lost paradise before individuation and anxiety.’ ‘ Individuation is, of course, a hallmark of our carbon-fuelled society.

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The main piece of literature that has inspired me to write this piece is a 30 page research paper by Jem Bendell, who is a professor of sustainability leadership and the founding director of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability at the University of Cumbria. His paper entitled ‘Deep Adaptation: A Map For Navigating Climate Tragedy’ is both riveting and terrifying. He spells out in detail how doomed we are as a species by quoting all the latest climate data. If you believe what he writes, that we are now facing runaway climate change with no way of preventing it, as I am tending to believe now, he offers practical solutions to prepare ourselves for the coming decades of inevitable climate chaos.

He offers a three step plan of what he calls ‘Deep Adaptation’ – Resilience, Relinquishment and Restoration. How can we make ourselves spiritually and psychologically resilient once we have entered into the post-climate change denial stage which I feel personally, I am slowly moving into. Do we completely fall apart and lose all hope? No, we prepare, we collaborate and we adapt, something we are good at as a species if we put our minds to it. I think of my own resilience training. Every morning, I cycle 4.8 miles to work in Dublin and 4.8 miles home again in the evening. This may not seem like much, but I do it in all weather besides a hurricane or a blizzard. As the weather becomes more unpredictable this is something I need to plan a little more cautiously. I am dealing with traffic and dangerous obstacles every day. I believe it keeps me mentally and physically fit, enabling me to manage many other challenges in my day to day life.

Bendell writes- ‘Given that analysts are now concluding that social collapse is inevitable, the question becomes: What are the valued norms and behaviours that human societies will wish to maintain as they seek to survive?’ This question then brings us to Bendell’s second step in his plan which is relinquishment. On a more global scale this will mean moving away from coastlines and shutting down vulnerable industrial sites. On a personal level it will involve giving up personal pursuits that only exacerbate  problems such as flying. When I was recently home in West Cork my brother, who is now helping my father to manage our property, turned to me and said ‘Rhea can you come home some weekend soon and help us with firewood?’ With guilt I thought of the two flights I have just booked: one to London for New Year’s and another to Portugal in February. I love travelling. I have been doing it my whole life. My family and friends are spread all over the United States and Europe and the travelling lifestyle is one I am well accustomed to. Our property in West Cork has beautiful woodlands on it that my father has been sustainably managing for decades. It provides us with plenty of firewood for our wood-burning stoves. In the future I will spend more time at home chopping firewood and expanding our vegetable garden in the hopes that the climate will cooperate. It may not be glamorous but it is life-sustaining.

This brings me to Bendall’s third step which is restoration. What are the values that we will wish to restore that have been eroded in our carbon-dependent and growth-driven society? Bendell writes: ‘Examples of restoration include rewilding landscapes so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non electronically powered forms of play and increased community level productivity and support. When I read this I immediately thought of my closest neighbour in West Cork, a wonderful woman a few years younger than me named Jessica Mason. Jessica is a mother of two, a gardener and an environmental educator. She has a lot of great skills and a tonne of energy to achieve wonderful things in a rural community. After my decades of city life, I am very grateful to have someone like Jessica as my neighbour to offer me advice when I eventually move home, whenever that will be. I have also been talking to her about all these topics and we have been sharing articles and book recommendations.

Gardener, Mother and Environmental Educator Jessica Mason

If all of this seems alarmist and extreme it is also heartening to read what Bendell writes about how people react when he discusses his ideas with them. ‘In my work with mature students,’ writes Bendell, ‘I have found that inviting them to consider collapse as inevitable, catastrophe as probable and extinction as possible, has not led to apathy or depression. Instead, in a supportive environment, where we have enjoyed community with each other, celebrating ancestors and enjoying nature before then looking at this information and possible framings for it, something positive happens. I have witnessed a shedding of concern for conforming to the status quo, and a new creativity about what to focus on going forward.’

In a Guardian article from April 2018, 86 year-old British social scientist Mayer Hillman said ‘We are doomed.’ He told a shocked audience at the University of East Anglia that accepting the impending end of life on Earth as inevitable might be the one thing that will help us prolong it. He says when someone is told they are terminally ill they generally appreciate life more. He claimed that the important things will be music, education, community and love as we adapt to climate chaos. The best that can be hoped for is community support because the likelihood of us now pulling together as a planet and stopping carbon emissions are slim to none. The recent election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil spells catastrophe for the rainforests. He is only the latest in a series of far-right politicians to gain power across the world. And while scientists and activists work valiantly to provide solutions such as large machines that will suck carbon out of the atmosphere, such a machine is largely a fantasy, and in any case, to produce something at scale takes a lot of time and money, both of which are in short supply. I am not a scientist. I am simply quoting from what I believe are trusted sources and trying to make sense of it all for my own life. I am sure I will have critics for writing this essay, but it is too important and has been on my mind obsessively the past months to not write it.

Despite all this, I still live in hope and I find my solace in continuing to learn about music, writing, reading, and continuing to collaborate passionately with people I care about. The nature of projects I work on will likely change over the next while but I still do truly believe that the arts and music are important in helping us build resilience and form connections in an uncertain climate and by no means a frivolous pursuit.

Paul Sullivan writes the following in ‘Remixology’  ‘Since echo is also related to human memory (the human brain codes remnants – the echo – of a memory), it can be used as a tool to transport listeners to the past. Jamaica’s dub pioneers used echo in combination with the sentiments and spirituality of roots reggae to provoke a sense of Jamaica’s ancestral African roots.’ Does music hold the power to bring us back to the simpler lifestyles many of us led before our lives were so driven by consumerism and growth? I think of life in West Cork in the 80s. How we lived with very little money and no running water or electricity while my parents were building our house. We and most everyone else in West Cork lived pretty frugal lives. An important ritual in rural Ireland back then was the trad session in pubs. Everyone brought instruments and there was a great sense of community. I took Irish dancing lessons and I remember dancing in pubs a lot as a child. This tradition has nearly died out in Ireland. Perhaps it will return in the future. We have to live in hope for a restoration of less carbon-intensive activities otherwise what is the point.

I wrote this essay while I was sitting in bed alone on a rainy Sunday afternoon in Dublin in November. I spend a lot of time alone, but it is also worth noting that the word loneliness only entered the English language around 1800. I love my solitude to read and write but there is certainly a thin line between solitude and loneliness, for modern loneliness is, after all, largely a result of our pursuit of individual lives in a carbon-fuelled world.

 

There are other ways of living.

 

Thank you for reading my story.

 

With love and gratitude,

 

Rhea Boyden

Dublin, Ireland

November 2018

 

Many thanks to Paul Sullivan, Hugo McCann, Will Carruthers, Carolin Cordes, Jessica Mason, Stephan Crawford and many others besides for sharing their stories with me.

Photo of Will Carruthers by Francesca Sara Cauli

Thanks so much to Paul for his photo which he took of himself.

All other photos taken by Rhea Boyden

 

 

Review: Hang Dai Chinese – Dublin

10 May

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By Rhea H. Boyden

Over the past few months I have been going to a spectacular new spot on Camden Street in the heart of Dublin city: Hang Dai Chinese Restaurant run by Dubliners Karl Whelan and Will Dempsey. A few weeks ago, I was there on a busy Saturday night and I had the pleasure of being introduced to them both. Karl, who is the executive chef, had just pulled a beautiful duck out of the oven when I met him and he looked very happy with it. And so he should be. Hang Dai, which opened its doors last November is doing a roaring trade. ‘We are delighted with ourselves,’ Karl told me when we finally had a chance to have a longer chat about Hang Dai’s decor, food and importantly, its sound system which was custom built to the highest standards. Karl told me that they had played around with different ideas when trying to get the desired feel and ambience for the venue.

On one side of the wall there is a subway car with plush dining booths. I asked Karl how this idea came about. ‘Our original idea was to have a glass and rubber handrail going down to a subway in an open stairwell so it would feel like an escalator, but then the idea morphed and we started looking at train images and train parts. We were aiming for a sci fi-esque look.’ The result is spectacular. They commissioned talented graphic designer Donal Thornton to create the graphic art that fills the spaces where one would find subway ads. One of the graphics is a subway map of various nightclubs. ‘We wanted to do a bit of music lineage from Jazz clubs to modern day clubs,’ he told me. ‘We are also planning to update those graphics and keep them fresh,’ he said. On the opposite wall there are impressive dragon murals which are the work of artist Johnny Fitzsimons. ‘He is our resident artist and is currently working on more murals in the bathroom,’ Karl said.

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Karl, who was formerly executive chef of Luna Restaurant and sous chef of Michelin star restaurant Chapter One among many other fine dining places, told me that they have recently revamped their menu. I have sampled their asparagus spring rolls with spicy bean curd hollandaise, as well as the steamed eggplant in fermented chilli sauce and their super special fried rice, but the star of the menu appears to be the apple wood-fired duck. Karl and Will have been to China several times visiting Beijing, Hong Kong and Chendu to research the food and culture of China. One big aim of these trips was to learn how to prepare Beijing duck in a wood-fired oven. Another menu item that caught my eye was whole brown crab in the shell ‘typhoon shelter’ style. I asked Karl about it. ‘We are just coming into summer and it is crab season,’ he said. ‘One dish we ate in Hong Kong were these massive crabs at a restaurant under a bridge where the fishermen come and shelter with their boats from the typhoon so that is where the inspiration came for that dish,’ he said.

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And while the menu is superb, Hang Dai is by no means only about food. Co-owner Will Dempsey is a record collector and DJ and a lot of time and effort was put into having the highest quality sound system installed. They both want quality late night music with the priority being talented vinyl DJs playing using the handmade rotary mixer that was sourced in Japan by Will. The rest of the system was built by the talented Toby Hatchett, who is a boat builder by trade but also constructs custom-built sound systems in his West Cork workshop. I also spoke to him about his work at Hang Dai and he said: ‘The brief was that it needed to be a very clean, undistorted sound, so that the listening experience is very pleasant while people are dining and it is not too loud. I built the DJ console around the rotary mixer which is really the heart of the whole sound system,’ he said. Toby worked with sound designer and engineer Abe Scheele on the sound design of the room. ‘We measured the whole room with microphones and we did it in a very detailed fashion in order to get that clean, clear sound wherever you are in the room,’ he said. Toby also told me that he loves Hang Dai and that it is a joy for him to continue tweaking the system.

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Dragon mural by Johnny Fitzsimons

Toby also did the decor and sound system for the recently opened upstairs section of Hang Dai – The Gold Bar, which is also stunning with a fabulous balcony looking over the bustling Camden Street below. As I stood on the balcony with some friends speaking to co-owner Will Dempsey, he proudly pointed out to me that they get sun all day long which makes it the perfect spot to enjoy the smaller upstairs menu of 8 cocktails and 8 dishes. ‘8 is a lucky number in China,’ Karl told me, ‘So we thought that was significant.’ Downstairs there is an extensive menu of expertly crafted and delicious cocktails including a house favourite, the Hang Dai sour.

The roster of talented DJs includes Sally Cinnamon, Nialler 9, Aoife Nic Canna, Eddie Kay, Donal Dineen and many others. ‘We recently had Brian Cross in to play,’ Karl said. Cross who is originally from Limerick is a successful photographer and DJ in Los Angeles and he was home giving an exhibition of his work. ‘He is a success story, so we were delighted he joined us for the night.’

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DJ Aoife Nic Canna and DJ Eddie Kay at Hang Dai

DJ Aoife Nic Canna who shares a monthly Saturday evening slot with DJ Eddie Kay told me: ‘Eddie and I get on well and I love the ambience. Our job is to keep the diners there after they eat and to keep it a Saturday night party set. I really look forward to playing there more during the summer.’ I have been at Hang Dai a few nights when Aoife and Eddie were on the decks and their music certainly kept me dancing a little longer than I had anticipated. I was about to call it a night the last time I was there when Aoife played the thrilling new release from Irish producer Glenn Davis entitled ‘Body and Soul’. Hang Dai’s menu and cocktails enjoyed while listening to quality music surely are a treat for the body and the soul and I am very happy to have found such a great new local in the heart of Dublin.

Hang Dai is at 20 Camden Street in Dublin City

Photo of Duck by Terry Mc Donagh

Featured image of dragon mural by Johnny Fitzsimons

Thanks to Karl Whelan, Will Dempsey, Toby Hatchett and Aoife Nic Canna for their stories.

Review: Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands

11 Mar

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By Rhea H. Boyden

I am lying on my bed relaxing and listening to Spacemen 3’s 1989 album ‘Playing With Fire’ through my headphones. This is the first time I have ever heard this album and I am intrigued. I listen to it a second and a third time and with each play it grows on me more and more. I especially love the song ‘How does it feel?’ I have been prompted to listen to this album because I have just read Will Carruthers’ stunning memoir of his time as a bassist in Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, two pioneering British psychedelic bands from the 80s and early 90s.

‘How does it feel?’ I love this song and it really makes me think about my feelings after reading Will’s book. It is a book that takes you on a magical rollercoaster ride of feelings. At one moment I am laughing til my sides ache and the next I feel anger at the manner in which Will and his band members were treated by mainstream British society and the Thatcher government of the 80s. This anger is then calmed by reading on as Will writes beautifully, poetically and philosophically on a host of topics, and then I am laughing again as he tells yet another anecdote in his fantastic, self-deprecating wit and style. This book is superb. I am hooked. It makes me feel everything and I want to learn more.

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Musician, author and bookmaker Will Carruthers

I became acquainted with Will back in 2011 in Berlin. We lived in the same neighbourhood and had some mutual friends in the music scene and I saw him perform a few times. I have since been following his adventures as he moves around between Donegal, Ireland, Iceland, Berlin and other places. Now that I have read his memoirs I am intrigued by his multiple talents and am studying his work and listening to his music. ‘Can you tell me a bit more about the beginning of this song, ‘How does it feel?’ I ask Will on the phone. He fires back without hesitation: ‘Yes, it is a Vox starstreamer guitar using a built-in effect called a repeater.’ I tell him I would not have even known it was a guitar if he hadn’t told me. I clearly have a lot to learn. Quite apart from providing me with the technical descriptions of instruments, Will is a man who can write about music so beautifully which is refreshing and breathtaking to read in ‘Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands.’

Describing playing a gig in the north of England, Will writes: ‘I took myself, sliding, up to the top octave on the bass and held it for a perilously long time, until that high thin note hid itself in the drone, and when I ran back down the neck, the bass came surging up like a shark out of the deep blue sea.’ He writes about how well Spacemen 3 were received in the north of England: ‘Maybe they understood drugs and desperation more completely up there.’ Maybe indeed.

Will writes candidly and openly on many topics including his and the band’s drug use. It was part of the subculture they lived in as they struggled to survive in Thatcher’s Britain: ‘We weren’t very well adjusted to the prevailing reality of our times,’ he writes. Drugs and making music were his escape, especially, from the drudgery and repetition of factory life in Britain. He worked an exhausting night shift in a sheet metal factory in Birmingham ‘putting the same bend in five thousand identical strips of metal.’ His book details the many jobs he has held over the years as a labourer, builder and handyman – digging ditches and hauling buckets of cement. Living hand to mouth, going into debt and then trying to climb out of debt by cleaning windows, all the while, his love of playing music being the passion that sustains him through hard times. His descriptions of British politics of the era are spot on: ‘The deathknell for post-war optimism had been sounded and we were witness to the breaking of the social contract in favour of personal gain, war and hate. Despite this, we were somehow hopeful in our despair.’

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One of Will’s exquisite hand stitched books

Living hand to mouth and maintaining hope is challenging indeed, especially when you are a touring band and decent, cheap food is hard to come by. This book has many parts that are laugh-out-loud funny, but Will’s descriptions of some of the dreadful British food he encounters are hilarious. When invited by his bandmates for dinner he describes the roast pork he is served: ‘The piece of pig had been cooked beyond the limits of endurance and lay in the puddle of congealing treacle sauce as though it were undergoing some advanced form of culinary rigor mortis. It is said that we should not speak ill of the dead, so how then should we speak of the ill-cooked dead? This was a pig that had died twice, the first time at the hands of a slaughterman, and the second time of embarrassment at the indignities it had been forced to endure on the plate.’

With food like this who wouldn’t take drugs and escape into music for nourishment? In another chapter Will describes being stoned and playing at an arts centre in London. In this stunning chapter Will gets to the core and essence of what music does to your perception of time: ‘Spectral shapes, motifs and melodic archetypes drift in and disappear, while the occasional mythical beast emerges from the ocean of drone…and the drift of time is forgotten within the boundaries of limitless sound.’ Throughout his book, Will references having a strange and unique relationship with the passing of time whilst playing a gig and this has inspired me to read more about what other philosophers have to say on this topic. Pioneering American philosopher Susanne Langer (1895-1985) writes the following: ‘The elements of music are moving forms of sound; but in their motion nothing is removed. The realm in which tonal entities move is a realm of pure duration. Like its elements, however, this duration is not an actual phenomenon. It is not a period – ten minutes or half an hour- but it is something radically different from the time in which our public and practical life proceeds.’

How one segment of Will’s public and practical life proceeds when he is not performing music is summed up in his meeting with a dole officer who is challenging his claim to a payment of benefits. ‘Mr. Carruthers,’ the dole officer questions him, ‘What do you see your role in society as being?’ Will goes on the defensive to this question and asks the dole officer what his role in society is and that he simply wants the small government benefits that he is entitled to. This dole officer has very likely never considered how challenging life can be for people who are attempting, against all odds, to lead a life that is more artistically, environmentally, aesthetically and architecturally satisfying than what was on offer in the British towns of Rugby (Will’s hometown) Coventry or Middlesborough. Will’s description of the polluting chemical factories and hideous architecture of these towns are yet another impressive and well-researched part of this memoir.

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Hand carved lino for handmade books by Will Carruthers

A further chapter details how Will receives a green bolt of yew for his birthday. He has had a few lessons from a character who he refers to as Elron the Bowmaker on how to make a bow. He becomes fixated on the task at hand: ‘I was prepared for an epic revenge story of tragic proportions. I set about my task of making my weapon like a man quietly possessed. I felt wronged and felt only vengeance could make it right.’ I had to read this chapter twice before I understood that the enemy was an imaginary foe. I asked Will about it. ‘I deliberately made that part vague,’ was his response. And now I am beginning to see why. There is no one single enemy that you could possibly shoot the arrow at to make yourself feel better and so it is better to keep making good art and music than resorting to vengeance. This is the role of the artist after all, to make life a little more colourful, bearable and infuse it with meaning and emotion. Will’s wise words are arrows enough. I am reminded of an article by Maria Popova as she writes about Susan Sontag’s philosophy: ‘Sontag said: ‘Words mean, words point, they are arrows stuck in the rough hide of reality.’ Popova continues by saying: ‘If words are the arrow, we ourselves, our interior landscapes, our outward actions – the authenticity of our lives – are the bow.’

It is the authenticity of Will’s life that make his stories so compelling. ‘I never used that bow for anything except entertainment. In the end I chose music instead of revenge, creativity instead of destruction and something else instead of money.’ he writes.

Will is currently back in Berlin making books from his beautiful handmade lino prints. He stitches each book himself and is making stunning boxed editions as well. ‘So how many have you made so far?’ I asked. ‘About 160 and I am hoping to make about 300 in total before I leave Berlin again,’ he told me. ‘Playing the Bass with Three Left Hands’ is certainly a book that deserves a beautiful handmade cover.

A hand stitched copy of Will’s book can be ordered on his Squarespace website

Books also available on Amazon.
Photos courtesy of Will Carruthers
Photo of Will Carruthers by Francesca Sara Cauli.

Follow Will Carruthers on Twitter and Instagram

Review: Rich Lane at Ukiyo

13 Nov

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by Rhea H. Boyden

Last weekend Dublin music promoter Julie-Ann Smith hosted music maker and record-label owner Rich Lane from Stoke-on-Trent for a gig at Ukiyo. In the weeks leading up to the gig, the anticipation and excitement among my circle of friends and acquaintances was very apparent and so I felt it was an event that should not be missed.

Ukiyo, which opened in 2004, is a lovely Japanese restaurant in Dublin city centre run by Duncan Maguire. In addition to offering a varying Bento box and excellent sushi, they serve delicacies such as slow-roasted pork served with scented squash and the most delicious pan-fried hake and prawn gyoza served with a mouth-watering garlic and chilli dip. The restaurant has huge plate-glass windows allowing for perfect people-watching as you feast on the food or sip their cocktails that are expertly mixed by the friendliest of bar staff. As well as providing Karaoke booths downstairs, once the tables are cleared upstairs, a host of DJs hit the decks to provide further entertainment several evenings a week.

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Rich Lane 

One thing that especially excited me about attending Rich Lane’s gig at Ukiyo was that a lot of the people I have collaborated with or been introduced to in the world of Dublin dance music over the past year were also planning to be there. Ukiyo has become, and will likely remain, my local haunt because it certainly is a joy to have a place to go where I can meet my peers: others in their late 30’s and early 40’s and the bar was packed for Rich Lane’s set. Before playing Ukiyo last week, Rich was also a guest at PHEVER:TV-Radio on Hugo Mc Cann’s ‘Best Sets’ show. I spoke with Hugo and also with DJ/Producer and PHEVER boss Dean Sherry about their impression of Rich’s music: ‘Rich takes techno and house and slows it down and makes it more interesting,’ Hugo said. ‘Yes, and I really think he makes the transitions between the beats more interesting,’ Dean added.

Rich told me he really had a great night and was very pleased with the warm welcome he got in Dublin. He was Julie-Ann Smith’s guest last year for a gig at Pacino’s in Dublin and was delighted to return. He has been producing music for over a quarter of a century and has had a hand in producing hundreds of tracks. He is the owner of the record label Cotton Bud and also has a sideline in mastering. He does mastering for Sub:Sonic records, an Irish record label specialising in releasing a wide range of electronic music. The lovely guys from Sub:Sonic were at the gig too and Rich also played a few tracks released by them.

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On the night, Rich played many of his own tracks released by him on his label, as well as his lovingly recrafted and re-edited version of Sinead O’ Connor’s hit ‘Jackie’ from her 1987 album ‘The Lion and the Cobra’  which he made especially for the Ukiyo gig. ‘I love the relentless, driving tone of this track,’ he told me. ‘Its beautifully tragic, spooky and evocative lyrics and her uniquely passioned performance have always been spine-tingling.’ Rich also does the mastering for Logical Records from Spain who Julie-Ann Smith also hosted at Ukiyo back in September and he played a few tracks released by them too. It was at that gig that I first met Julie-Ann who has hosted various DJs including Craig Bratley, Duncan Gray, Chris Massey, Los Bikini and Javier Busto (of Logical Records). She told me she is really passionate about the music that Rich and all these guys make. ‘I love slow techno and chug’, she said. ‘A lot of it has a nod to acid house and I also love these dirty slow beats.’

I have been listening to Rich’s dirty slow beats whilst chatting to him and it has been a complete joy for me to get to know him better and also to discover that we have collaborated with some of the same people. He has enlightened me some more too on the process of mastering dance music. We also spoke of the the creative process in writing music lyrics and writing in general and the beauty of returning to unfinished work after it has been left alone for awhile. ‘My last track ‘Wolf in Shell Toes’ was on the shelf for about 8 years,’ he told me. ‘It was just sitting there waiting for me to add some lyrics to and then suddenly one day I was sitting in the pub with my kids with a notebook in hand and they came!’ he said. I love this too when suddenly you are filled with the creative energy to complete a project to satisfaction. You never know when it is going to happen, just as you never know who you are going to be collaborating with or who you will meet next. It certainly is an exciting journey. I will surely be keeping a close eye on Rich Lane’s work in the future, and of course, the work of the host of other amazing DJs whose work he does the mastering for.

Ukiyo Bar, Restaurant and Karaoke is at 9, Exchequer Street in Dublin city centre

Cotton Bud Logo courtesy of Rich Lane

Salon Series at The Liquor Rooms-Dublin

23 Oct

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by Rhea H. Boyden

Since June of this year The Liquor Rooms on Wellington Quay has been hosting a monthly Salon Series presented by their arts and culture manager Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan. It has featured panel discusssions, live performances and demonstrations highlighting the work of The Liquor Rooms’ altogether excellent creative community. The topics that have featured so far in this series have ranged from burlesque to coding to comic illustration and publishing.

Two weeks ago I attended the Salon Series’ fascinating and inspiring publishing event. Moderated by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan, the panel discussion included Irish editors and publishers Susan Tomaselli of Gorse, Marc O’ Connell of The Penny Dreadful, Eimear Ryan of Banshee and Declan Meade of The Stinging Fly. Set in the intimate and inviting vintage lounge of The Liquor Rooms, the talk centred around the challenges and successes they have each experienced with their journals to date. They publish short stories, personal essays and poetry predominantly, and were in agreement regarding their passion for print over online media. They also discussed their own histories and the leap they took from being writers to publishers and editors.

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Salon Series Publishing event at The Liquor Rooms

The Liquor Rooms, which recently celebrated its third birthday, describes itself as a ‘subterranean den of delight.’ And this it truly is. I have spent nights there scrutinising their unusual artwork and unique decor which includes an intriquing wall of old fireplaces. As its name would suggest, they also serve excellent cocktails and are multiple award winners at the Irish Craft Cocktail Awards. These can be enjoyed with a variety of gourmet delicacies which are also available.

The final Salon Series event of this year will be held on Wednesday, November 2nd at 7pm and will be a talk on and performance with vinyl, as well as the history of the Liquor Rooms. The panel will include resident DJ Aoife Nic Canna who has been Djing there since shortly after they opened, and also the hosts of the ‘Vinyl and Wine’ series Mark Whelan and Anthony Kelly. ‘Vinyl and Wine’ which is also hosted by The Liquor Rooms, is an intimate album listening party and discussion, encouraging people to really be present with music and share their experience of it with others. They recently featured an evening listening to and discussing David Bowie’s lesser known album ‘The Gouster.’

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 Aoife Nic Canna – Photo by Cris Llarena

Aoife Nic Canna, for her part, will be discussing her own history and experience of Djing in the Liquor Rooms and also the history of the building itself. She also held a residency at The Kitchen nightclub which opened in 1994 on the same premises and was owned by Bono and The Edge. Aoife has held multiple residencies at many clubs around Dublin for more than two decades, is an archivist at Near FM Radio, and is the producer of the fascinating six part documentary on Irish Club history ‘Folklore From The Dancefloor’ which aired on Near FM and community radio around Ireland in 2012.

Admission to the event is free and will include a tasting of special Liquor Rooms cocktails. Their beautiful website states that they ‘proudly serve liquors to make your tastebuds sing made by a creative team of cocktail craftsmen.’ Enticing indeed.

The Liquors Rooms is at 5 Wellington Quay in Dublin city centre and is open daily from 5pm til late.

Graphics and Photos courtesy of The Liquor Rooms and Aoife Nic Canna.  

Preview: RHYTHMBOX at Front Door-Dame Street

27 Jul

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by Rhea H. Boyden

With the August Bank Holiday weekend fast approaching I thought I would have a look around for something new and fun to do. Saturday happens also to be my birthday so I don’t intend to spend it being lazy and going to bed early with a book. I would rather hit the streets of Dublin to celebrate even though 41 is a rather unspectacular age and last year was in fact, my big birthday celebration. But I am a Leo after all, and Leos do not generally let their birthdays slip by unnoticed.

Yesterday I was introduced to Dublin DJ and producer Eric Whelan who celebrated and hosted his own birthday last April in a Dublin venue I had not heard of until I spoke to him; the lovely and lush Front Door Bistro and music venue on Dame Street in Dublin city centre where he and his friends are hosting an event this Saturday night. Eric Whelan, whose artist’s name is Steady State, told me he started collecting vinyl in 1994 and has been an enthusiast ever since. I was curious to hear more about the upcoming event. And although I do not own a single record of my own, I am certainly passionate about and love electronic and underground music. What better way to celebrate than to check out a new venue and meet more of the talented DJs and producers who create, collect and collaborate in the world of electronic music.

Scoundrel Sound System

Scoundrels Sound System

Eric told me that Rhythmbox is the promotional outfit that comprises him and his good friend Dublin DJ and producer Alan Nolan, and that they both had so much fun DJing at Front Door for his birthday that they can’t wait for their next gig there this Saturday night. So what should we expect this Saturday? ‘We’ve put a small night together to party with Sub:Sonic Records (Rob Parkes and Phil Wade) to tip the hat to their fine contribution to the Irish electronic dance music scene,’ Eric said. ‘With two new tracks due for release with Sub:Sonic any time now under Steady State, I really felt a celebration was in order,’ he told me. Rob Parkes and Phil Wade are joined by Tomas Frawley, who are all from Limerick. Together they make up Scoundrel Sound System and Saturday’s gig will be their Dublin debut.

Alan and Eric at Front Door

  Rhythmbox – Eric Whelan and Alan Nolan

The event kicks off this Saturday, July 30th at the civilised hour of 8pm and admission is free. Eric told me that we can expect to hear a selection of slow techno, cosmic disco and chug. On rotation will be the Rhythmbox residents with visuals provided by Eric’s brother Trev Whelan (Little Wolf).’With close to one hundred years of combined musical experience this promises to be a night to remember,’ Eric said. I have a feeling this will be a birthday to remember and I am very much looking forward to the event.

Front Door is at 15 Dame Street in Dublin City Centre

Photos and Graphics courtesy of Eric Whelan and Sue Parkes.

Essay about ‘Bereitschaftspotential’

22 Apr

by Rhea H.Boyden

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Exactly half a century ago, in the spring of 1964, Hans Helmut Kornhuber, the chief physician at the department of neurology at Freiburg University, and Lüder Deecke, his doctoral student went for lunch in the beautiful and serene garden of the ‘Gasthaus zum Schwanen’ at the foot of the Schlossberg hill in Freiburg. Their discussion over lunch was about their frustration at worldwide attempts thus far to investigate self-initiated action of the brain and the will. They were inspired, no doubt in part, by the fresh mountain air of the Black Forest to push ahead in their research using the primitive (but most advanced for the time) brain imaging tools at the university. After many test cases and a lot of research, the EEG (electroencephalogram) readings showed that there is an electrical signal in the brain that proves we are going to move a body part even before we want to move it. They had discovered the ‘Readiness potential’ or ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ and debates on whether or not we have free will continue to today in all disciplines from neuroscience to psychology and philosophy.

Now I am no scientist and my knowledge of neuroscience is limited. I have read articles about Alzheimer’s in an attempt to grasp a basic understanding of the disease which is rapidly stripping my dear mother of all sense and vitality, and I have read some articles in the past week or so to understand the title ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ the latest release by Automating which is the solo project of soundscape artist Sasha Margolis from Melbourne, Australia.

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                                                Lüder Deecke- Bereitschaftspotential Brain Image Scan

I have listened to the piece several times through with my good headphones relishing in Sasha’s sounds once again, with my eyes closed in meditation dozing into a dream world and seeing where it takes me thereafter in my writing. I have thought long and hard about why he has titled this piece ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ and what he intends with this title. I have come to the conclusion that it is a heavy and loaded title that has led my thinking and reading to some dead ends and frustration about what to do with all my notes that I have been frantically scribbling trying to make sense of it all from a neuroscientific perspective.

I have decided, therefore to not dwell too much more on the title and have a look at it from a more poetic and philosophical angle, for therein lies my ability to make sense of it. Here I quote Friedrich Nietzsche to send me in a better direction: ‘Free will without fate is no more conceivable than spirit without matter, good without evil.’

Nietzsche spent much of his time in the same stretch of mountains and woods not far from where Kornhuber and Deecke carried out their work, (more than half a century earlier)  and he found the fresh mountain air and peace most conducive to working in. He would take long walks in the woods stopping to take notes before returning to his room to continue working. Quite apart from his many groundbreaking philosophical ideas and writings, Nietzsche took a great interest in the human body.

I believe one reason I have become so frustrated in trying to write this review is because the title ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ forces me to think I should be writing about the mind, brain and consciousness when what I really want to write about here is the body. Nietzsche believed that what living things sought above all, was to discharge their physical strength. He also believed that knowledge was rooted in the body and that the whole of Western philosophy had a deep misunderstanding of the human body. It is little wonder that Nietzsche took such an interest in the body; he suffered immensely thoughout his life from various ailments, many of which were symptoms of the syphilis he supposedly picked up in a brothel during his student days. It is no coincidence that a large part of his philosophy contends that human suffering is inevitable and indeed, necessary to go though in order to achieve greater goals.

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 Photo of Statue of John Henry by Ken Thomas

This idea of Nietzsche’s that living things seek to dispel their energy makes me think of the core of Sasha’s philosophy behind his work and I quote from his website: ‘Sifting through the sonic waste and discarded technology left by the roadside of a world speeding too fast into the future.’ It makes me think of the men who have been replaced time and time again by machines, rendering their bodies and ability to dispel their physical energy useless, in essence, emasculating them. We do have a lot of waste out there, both physical and sonic and I believe it is the duty of everyone to reuse it all in some useful way. If machines have all but replaced our physical work, then what to do with all the machines once they turn to waste but to turn them into art to provide us consolation as we gaze at these post-industrial wastelands. Sasha deals with found sound in his work, but many others work with found objects; turning industrial artifacts that were not intended for artistic purposes into art to make a point, among other things, about waste.

‘Bereitschaftspotential’ released by Iceage Productions, runs for a little over 20 minutes and it is serious food for thought. To me the opening sounds are entirely industrial and repetitive. It is evocative of a machine turning or a small animal digging, trying desperately to get some job done and then in frustration giving up. I hear an electrical generator trying to start and then failing. This failing is frustrating to the humans who are trying to use this generator perhaps, but the peace they can then enjoy is then ever more appreciated; an appreciation which is then heard in birdsong. Quiet contemplation is to be found in nature and not to the sound of a generator.

The idea of this sound being either an animal or a machine is very exciting to me because there are so many examples in which we can compare an animal or a human to its machine counterpart. One example that immediately springs to mind is the horse. It was largely replaced by the train in the United States as the great railway building projects began there. And as exciting as it was to have all these new railways going across the country, they were built at a great cost in men’s lives.

Construction of Big Bend tunnel in West Virginia commenced in 1870 and the work was treacherous for the many men working on this project. They would have welcomed today’s tunnel drilling equipment (and dynamite). At least one hundred men died digging the tunnel, many of them black men. There is a legend about a certain John Henry who has been immortalised in a ballad performed by many singers including Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen. He worked on the railroad and was a ‘steel driving man’ and proud of it. One day however, a salesman came to town boasting that a steam-powered drill could outdrill any of the men. A race began, machine against man and John Henry won, beating the steam drill, but he eventually collapses when his body can take it no longer and dies leaving behind his wife Polly Ann and a baby. There is a constant beating of a drum in ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ which to me is the steady march of the working man before he collapses. To repeat Nietzsche’s quote: ‘Free will without fate is no more conceivable than spirit without matter, good without evil.’ Is this the battle of good and evil between man’s body and the uses and abuses of the machine?

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 Photo of Thomas Bayrle Exhibit at Documenta 13 by Erin Reilly

A couple years ago at the Documenta Contemporary art show I was standing with a friend observing an exhibit by German artist Thomas Bayrle. It was a pumping piston, and as we both stared at it she suddenly said: ‘It’s so sexual’. I had to agree with her. Bayrle says that he believes machines are a reflection of the body and he draws inspiration for his artwork from the precision of machines and engineering. Indeed, what can we do but work artistically with all these wasteful things we have created? Bayrle’s was only one of many exhibits at Documenta that provoked commentary on the effect of machines and waste on our bodies and the environment. In our post-industrial society many men have been left unemployed by the subsequent collapse of many of the machines that once sought to replace them. For the first time in history women hold more jobs and more college degrees in the United States than men and the implications of this are serious indeed for those who still believe in and strive for traditional family structure. A whole reshuffling of gender roles continues to happen and many men and women suffer from confusion and anxiety at what role they should play and a general frustration at modern dating rituals and body image. I know that one of my biggest sources of solace is to get lost in reading and writing and collaborating on meaningful projects with others. In doing so I can escape from the fact that I am nearly 39 years old and single, and have not necessarily fullfilled a certain role that a large part of society expects of me by this age. Thankfully I have an open-minded family who let me do whatever I want and are supportive and don’t judge me, but many women, and men too, suffer from not fullfilling certain expectations; especially when it comes to getting married and having children.

Most of the time I enjoy my solitude and only rarely do I get lonely. The constant barrage of city noise, human noise and industrial noise is hard to escape, and I relish it when I can get away from it. There is a lovely part in ‘Bereitschaftpotential’ that seems to me to be the sound of engines being swallowed by birdsong which again says that nature is triumphant over industrial noise. It signals a retreat into nature where we can again listen to our bodies and give them the peace and rejuvenation that they need. For without a healthy body it is very hard to have a healthy and clear mind to produce new poetry, songs and stories. Indeed, there is a burst of birdsong in ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ which is evidence to me that the willful person or animal has happily found peace again amongst the elements. The piece ends very abruptly leaving you suddenly staring into an abyss of silence which is quite uncomfortable. As much as we humans seek silence, its suddenness and completeness can be disconcerting. Nietzsche also said: ‘if you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.’

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Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche by Walter Kaufman 1882 (Princeton Archive)

I have spent considerable time gazing into an abyss and thinking about ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ and in the final analysis I can say that it has inspired me to think of our bodies, machines, animals, birds, walking in the woods, new creativity and then I think repeatedly about the horse. 2014 is the year of the horse in the Chinese calendar and it is a great year to gallop ahead into new adventure and take some risk. As I mentioned earlier, it was the horse’s body that was replaced by machines. 2014 is also exactly one hundred years since the outbreak of World War One which showed the disasterous consequences of cavalry warfare mixed with modern machine guns. Again: Bodies against machines! And to conclude it must be pointed out that Nietzsche, in his madness, finally broke down and embraced a horse that had collapsed on the streets of Turin in January 1889 before he then went completely mad and was commited to a sanitorium. There have been various speculations as to what was going through Nietzsche’s mind at the time, but I like to believe the assumption that it was the philosopher who was most skeptical of showing compassion for human suffering finally showing it for himself (he loathed self-pity) and for one of the most beautiful of animals, in a vain hope that both their bodies can have the will to survive against the machines and noise that drive them both mad.

Featured image is artwork by Ieva Arcadia accompanying  ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ released by Iceage Productions (courtesy of Sasha Margolis).

Link to listen to and purchase ‘Bereitschaftspotential’ by Automating on Bandcamp: https://iceageproductions.bandcamp.com/album/bereitschaftspotential

Review of Somnambulist

28 Mar

by Rhea H. Boyden

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‘Dreams are the touchstones of our characters’ -Henry David Thoreau

‘Mayday, Mayday!’ We hear this distress call repeatedly in the track ‘Projection’ but do we get the help we are looking for? Not always when we project all our hopes and dreams onto another person. The album ‘Somnambulist’ by ‘Automating’ which is the solo project of Sasha Margolis from Melbourne, Australia explores hopes, dreams and fears in an 18-track album. The album, released under the label ‘Wood and Wire’ is a tantalising collection of field recordings, found sound and tape manipulation. With track titles such as ‘PET Scan’, ‘Neuronal Response’ and ‘Repetition Compulsion’ we can expect this album to explore deeper states of consciousness and a yearning to make sense of the world through an understanding, in particular, of dreaming and various sleep states.

The album opens with the track ‘Alpha Wave’ and we hear the sound of a chirping bird. Is this a sign that the day has commenced happily? The Alpha brainwaves are present when we are relaxed, meditative, aware and enjoying the moment. It’s a positive note to start on, but as we listen to the album we hear that it explores a whole range of human emotions experienced in various states of sleep. The track ‘Delta Wave’ does not keep one in a happy and relaxed manner for long. It is sinister, spooky and frankly, quite terrifying to listen to. In fact, much of the terror, stressors and stimulants of modern life prevent many of us from reaching the delta brainwave state as often as we should- it is the state of deep sleep and unconciousness that is most restorative. Following this is ‘Voices of the Dead’ and in this track we hear a lot of wind and water. The voices of those we have lost can be found in nature if we listen closely, but we cannot stop the passage of time and hold onto that which has slipped away. I am reminded, when listening to these tracks, of the Gothic poem by Edgar Allan Poe: ‘A Dream within a Dream’- ‘I stand amid the roar, of a surf-tormented shore’ writes Poe, in great despair, realising that he cannot hold onto the dream that is slipping away from him. He sees that he cannot even hold onto one grain of sand that slips from his hand making him question the passing of time-the sands of time- and also whether everything he ever experienced was just a dream and never reality at all. Where does the border lie between dreams and reality? And what happens in that hazy land between waking consciousness and deeper sleep?

A lot of really interesting things can happen in that hazy land and that is the part of this album that to my mind, is really exciting. The track ‘Hypnopompia’ samples distant eerie voices. Are these the voices of creativity that speak to us as we awaken in the morning? The hypnopompic state is the state of semi-consciousness that is experienced coming out of sleep and many a writer and composer swears that the insights that hit them at this moment are the ones that turn into the best stories, songs and poetry. We all know that feeling we have in our gut first thing in the morning-the one that puts us in tune with our strongest emotions- erotic feelings or feelings of deep mourning. Sentiments of joy or loss. If we can capture the truth at the core of these feelings right then and there we can turn them into new energy and life in our various creative pursuits. The track that follows ‘Hypnopompia’ is ‘Synaptic Transmission’ and in it we hear fireworks which are a wonderful way of sonically sampling and expressing the workings of the synapses. Are perhaps the fireworks a celebration of the ideas that have been successfully captured in the hypnopompic state? Happy creative synapses at work that have been well exercised in the dream state?

In other tracks we hear chanting, church bells, organs, bleating sheep, speeding trains, a didgeridoo and muffled voices. How to make sense of all of this? In the track ‘Acoustic Encoding’ I am reminded once again of that Edgar Allan Poe poem, or indeed, any poem I love that begs to be read out loud. For this is what ‘acoustic encoding’ is: the process of remembering and understanding things you hear. When we read a poem out loud we are engaging in acoustic encoding.

The album ends with the track ‘Theta Wave’. This is the perfect finale as the Theta brainwaves are activated when you are falling asleep. New ideas and enhanced creativity occur in a Theta brainwave state. And after listening to an album that makes me ponder the colourful spectrum of human emotions in a dream state, it is very pleasing to end on a track that is a gateway to learning, healing and spiritual growth. In the Theta state we retreat again to the voices and signals that come from within us, and, most beautifully, we can connect to the divine, readying us again for a new morning in the hypnopompic state: another day of capturing our dreams and commencing the cycle over. ‘Somnambulist’ (which means sleepwalker) is a truly inspiring and thought-provoking album on many levels.

Images courtesy of Sasha Margolis

Sasha’s Sonic Waste

22 Sep

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by Rhea H.Boyden

Last Christmas I found myself wandering through one of Berlin’s many Christmas markets on a Wednesday evening. The market was practically empty and I was in a sombre mood. I had some money in my pocket and wanted to buy some gifts for the people I loved, but I was feeling uninspired by what I saw. ‘There is a lot of lovely stuff here’ I thought, ‘but it’s the same junk as every year’. I strolled through the whole market and purchased nothing but a simple ceramic bowl that caught my eye.

After strolling some more, I found myself standing in front of the market’s Christmas tree. The ‘tree’ was constructed of lots of metal pipes from which were strung various pieces of junk. Old tires, smashed up radios, ancient computers and broken bikes. It was strung with a nice strand of lights, only half of which were illuminated. In front of the tree was a big sign reminding us of how much waste we humans have produced and how we really should think carefully about what we purchase before doing so especially considering we are in the middle of a recession. ‘Well’ I thought, ‘Here we are being told NOT to buy things in the middle of a market in the middle of the Christmas season which is the most important time of year for retail business to make its biggest profits and turnover’. I heeded the sign and didn’t buy another thing at that market. I did end up buying small gifts for my family and friends last year, but I spent most of my money on good food instead.

A couple weeks later, I met an interesting young man from Melbourne,  Australia named Sasha Margolis. Sasha, whose  artist’s name is ‘Automating’ creates the most interesting sounds that really make me think deeply about our material world. While listening, I read his biography of his craft and it says: ‘Sifting through the sonic waste and discarded technology left by the roadside of a world speeding too fast into the future. Field recordings, found sound, tape manipulation, noise and effects units. Currently pursuing live and studio created binaural soundscapes and archaic tape based drones.’ When I read this I immediately thought of the Christmas tree again and all the junk that has been left by the roadside that people had nicely reused to decorate a tree and make a point at the same time. Sasha, as far as I can see, is reusing sonic waste and turning it into something useful: deeply inspiring sounds. As I mature, I start to really see the value of contemporary art forms, something I simply did not understand or see any worth in when I was younger. This past summer when I was at Documenta Contemporary Art show, I found myself standing in front of a big pile of scrap metal and junk that was one of the exhibits. One then asks: ‘Is this art?’ and ‘What is the value of this?’ The value of this of course, is to make us think about how much we waste and ponder more creative and artistic ways in which we can reuse, reduce and recycle and make our planet a more sustainable place for future generations.

Sasha pic living room

Sasha Margolis

I was recently killing time flipping through  a high end women’s fashion magazine in a doctor’s waiting room. The magazine was full of advertisements for very expensive make-up, jewellry and clothing. The article that caught my eye however, was one that claimed that you do not have to be ashamed to say you are broke and unemployed in the middle of a recession. It showed you how you can creatively mix and match the clothes you already own without wasting money you don’t have on more junk you don’t need. This article impressed me as quite ironic sandwiched in between advertisements for expensive luxury products, just as the scrap and junk Christmas tree was placed in the middle of a market which is there for one reason: to make a profit.

Some mornings when I am getting dressed for work, I realise I am all nicely dressed up to greet a new client and then I swing around, look in the mirror and spot a lovely hole in my black tights. I don’t let it bother me though. I go to work anyway, and at least several better dressed people will point it out to me during the day, and I just blithely say ‘Oh really, I didn’t see that, never mind!’ If there is one thing a girl could go bankrupt on, it is constantly wasting money on new tights every time the tiniest hole appears in them. I do, of course, eventually splurge on more tights and throw the old ones to the junk heap, but not before I get the chance to wear the ones with lots of holes in them, two pairs at a time, under jeans, where no one knows the holes are there apart from me, in the depths of Berlin winter. This is just one way that I try and reuse and reduce waste. The other morning, Sasha sent me a link to his latest album and again it immediately made me think of waste reduction methods. Sasha’s sounds keep me thinking for hours about art, renewal, waste, death and the cycle of life. He samples so many different sounds from engines to sheep, to fireworks and birds. Sounds from from rural areas and from cityscapes. His sounds send me into a dream world and a trance and inspire me to write about all kinds of topics, which is interesting because his latest album ‘Somnambulist’ released under the label Wood & Wire deals partially with sleep states. Well done, Sasha!

Sasha’s music is available for purchase on Bandcamp.

To read reviews of Sasha’s music check out his reviews page.