Dancing about architecture
from Conductive Jelly zine, 2005

As part of the Antiliterature section of just-outside-Sonar events, David Toop did a reading from his newest book Haunted Weather. Toop writes, makes music and writes about music. Writing about music, someone suggested once, is like “dancing about architecture”. In point of fact, dancing about architecture, in every sense of the phrase, is a highly enjoyable pursuit. Even if some of us are, like Midge Ure, dancing with tears in our eyes. The lugubrious yet inspiring David Toop is one of the principal influences on this particular pamphlet series, it was our pleasure to bewilder him with which fact as we waited for his lecture.

It was in a church on the Carrer Hospital, or a former church, buffed up to be a centre for arts. Wooden chairs were set out in two blocks, and glowing from the weather we processed down the nave to take our seats. The minutes were passed in looking at the stapled handouts, a translation of Mr Toop’s presentation. On the little stage at the front a table with a laptop computer, a small mixing desk and some bottles of water formed another focal point as we waited. With the slight echoey hum of the PA around the vaulted ceiling, all that was missing was a couple of old ladies buzzing about with handfuls of flowers and some dripping green oases.

The ministerial air continued as the very quietly spoken Toop stepped up, apologised for speaking in English, and began a one hour exploration of atmospherics. The lights were dimmed and his laptop emitted a succession of white noises, sounds of water, birds, his fingers hovering as if in benediction over the sliders on the mixer. In the belly of the vault, an illuminated music scholar intoned the lesson. Toop’s tone was dry and measured, emphatic. But when he broke off and we sat for time bending moments listening to the hisses & crackles and trickles in the subdued light of the old church, he had an expression that suggested he was walking speculatively through some landscape alien to everyone, in particular himself.

Toop appears a man at a remove from most of what we call “music”, finding it instead in the quotidian. The creak of a gate as a fox noses inside the garden, the hum of travelators, the way the knock of a vacuum cleaner on a door can recall with vivid clarity a dead relative… the effect sounds can have on emotions is inscrutable. Toop seems haunted by them. There’s a weight of sorrow over him, sensitive to the sound of the universe, which suggests a combination of depressed genius and… well. Part of me wants to play him the Greatest Air Guitar Album In The World Ever that we sit nodding to over breakfast the day after.

“Get the Thin Lizzy on, Dave. Some Rainbow! There y’are!”

That’s just part of me though. His ideas animated the chats we all launched into afterwords, stepping into the evening light a little dazed, sat in a bar up the road.

This review is over two weeks late – I’m blaming ASH CRISIS ELECTION CHAOS distractions.

SO Tuesday 13 April 2010, to the Miller, SE1, for an evening of drone sounds, psych-rock and “atonal pointillism” with Faux Amis,  Alexander Turner, Moon unit and Chora!

Time was (a few years ago) that such a gig would have had me clutching for the pen to scribble down some fever’d cosmic visions, suggestive and suggested sci-fi snippets, some of which were subsequently published in a short-lived music zine Conductive Jelly what I wrote.  I may dig some of those out for your edification (threats!…) There were retrofuturist sparking transformers, drumkits imagined as CGI monsters, images of ruined machine-age civilisations overgrown with creepers, like Deep Thought in the Hitchhikers film.

A lot of it was meant (in my head, anyway) to be read aloud, not really as stories but word string theory excerpts, playing with the zounds as a sort of written accompaniment to the percussive/drone/abstract alinear anti-pop sort of things I was being introduced to by my pals. Luke, who played guitar in a band I was in, had started doing such sonic experimenting with Andreas (from Moon Unit). Indeed they still are doing it, Lanterns be their name, and they can be found on myspace. I did some “sleeve notes” for one of their early recordings, and very kind
of them to let me near their work it was too.

That, reader, was then. However, at the Miller, I sat watching and listening and they, the words, just weren’t there. In a little flash of insight I not only recalled the memorable phrase ‘dancing about architecture’ (and that’s a great site, by the way) but I jumped a step along and did not feel a second’s remorse for having to re-cap my pen and pocket my book and just sit there basking in the sound. Different things inspire me to write, and it clearly wasn’t meant to be the music on the night, then, but it was inspiring in a different kind of way, in that it was a pleasant realisation of having found oneself in a superb new chapter or even volume without noticing.

The writer Amiri Baraka came out with this great idea of an ‘expression-scriber’, which would allow every kick, elbow, scream grunt and itch to be recorded… It struck me, as it has many times before when at their gigs, that the ‘stick a contact mic on it’ ethos of artists like Chora, Lanterns et al comes very close to that kind of immersive total expression.

Thusly, enough of this wittery. Go to their websites and check them out, buy their CDs and records. Here are some photos from the gig (taken on my phone, I know the quality’s variable). If you really want some more words, you can click on the photos for additional commentary.

And a noiseriffic time was had by all!