Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Disaster of Disaster Capitalism

Watching the hapless and not-very-bright Theresa May implode through the very density of her commitment to her beliefs would be a pleasure if I didn't know that she has the potential to take us all down with her. Almost three years ago, I wrote a blog post about how David Cameron was the "worst prime minister since Chamberlain", never for one moment imagining that what came next could be worse: the soulless block of dictatorial wood that is Theresa May, a dangerous, difficult, confused, theistic non-entity who has so little imagination that the naughtiest thing she can think of having done is "run through some cornfields" as a child. She has managed to piss everyone off completely - as has the equally hapless and equally dim Jeremy Corbyn, but that is another story - to the point that the EU are throwing her lifelines, presumably knowing that the UK is not in any way in favour of crashing out of the EU without a deal, plainly her preferred option all along, as well as creating a climate of blame in which MPs are advised to travel in groups in taxis to prevent them being attacked: immediately after one of her speeches, my MP for Brighton Kemptown was assaulted in the street by some leave-supporting thug. Meanwhile, the government petitions website crashes as literally millions of people flood to sign a petition calling on the government to call off the whole sorry mess and remain in the EU.

Let me just remind everyone what this is all about. David Cameron, private schoolboy from Eton, fell out with his bestie, Boris Johnson, private schoolboy from Eton and they had a jolly big argument which meant that Boris Johnson had to get a new bestie in the form of Jacob Rees-Mogg, private schoolboy from Eton and form a secret club called the ERG or "European Research Group", which sounds frightfully dull but is actually frightfully exciting but not as exciting as the club that they all might have been members of where they possibly had to be fellated by a pig.
To try and sort all this out, Cameron held a referendum - which has subsequently been proved to have been interfered with by foreign agencies and has been ruled 'unsafe' - and the British pubic were duped into marginally voting to leave the EU, probably the stupidest idea in modern British Politics.

Now London is awash with fascists - actual "generation identity" fascists, the DUP and their ilk - and the government is out-of-control while Theresa May, like Violet Bott, just keeps repeating the same bad idea over and over until parliament crumbles and votes to support her awful deal.

Also, she has the most ghastly, cheap-looking Marks-and-Spencer-from-a-knock-off-market-stall 'chunky'jewellery, jewellery so ugly that Wilma Flintstone would have rejected it.

I'm optimistic that we have already passed the original date she set to leave the EU but I truly don't know what happens next.

On to more pleasant topics - though this unpleasant topic will briefly return before the end - and something I forgot to mention in the previous post. My colleague, Katy Tromans, has been working with the first year BA Jewellery and Object students to help build their skills and she came up with a project where they had to design and make little robots.

Robots! - 2

I think that the results are amazing and show incredible skills development in only half a year.

Robots! - 8

Robots! - 7

Robots! - 4

I love the character in so many of these: the personalities of the students who made them really shines through.

It only has one more week to run, but still time to get there if you haven't already, my collaborative show with Dan Russell is now installed in Sun Pier House in Chatham, an absolutely wonderful venue and a fantastic gallery space, worth visiting at any time.

Chatham Panorama - 1
View from Sun Pier House
The show will look broadly the same as it did in Birmingham but without the vertical element. Unfortunately, I used my camera to make a stop-motion video of us setting up, ran out of battery and didn't have my charger with me, so there is only this photograph!

A Waste Land - V2 - Install - Chatham

The event closes on Saturday April 6th, so please come along and join us for music, food from the Real Junk Food Project, Brighton, an artists' talk and a performance...

I can promise that this event is NOT happening:

Meet Minge Dance!

BA Jewellery and Object - Interim Show 2019 - 2

The BA Jewellery and Object students at the School of Jewellery were having their interim show, giving previews of the sort of work we might be privileged to see in the final graduate show. As ever, it is looking very exciting:

BA Jewellery and Object - Interim Show 2019 - 1

There is a LOT of politics in the show, which is good to see. From the personal -

BA Jewellery and Object - Interim Show 2019 - 3

To the global -

BA Jewellery and Object - Interim Show 2019 - 4

There will be more on these works as they progress.

The project Norman Cherry and I have been working on to try and engage young people with the issues around knife crime is now over. I can't really post any pictures of it due to the sensitive nature of working in schools but I can say that it has been a fantastic success. We are planning to scale the project up and move it forward. More soon!

In between all this, I've been in Brighton and have been listening to lots of music, starting with another fantastic event by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, "Murmurs", a concert of pieces by composers I had not previously heard, some of which was played on an instrument I had not previously heard, the sheng, or Chinese mouth-organ.

Murmurs - BCMG - 1

Rebecca Saunders' music is quite wonderful, being detailed by texture and sound quality as much as the more usual melody and harmony. I was reminded in an oblique way of the work of Giacinto Scelsi. Performed tonight were a new piece, "Murmurs", commissioned by BCMG, and an older piece, "CRIMSON - molly's song 1", which absolutely blew me away.

Also performed was a work by Donghoon Shin, who has been working closely with BCMG as a composer-in-residence and we heard his "Anecdote" for sheng and instrumentalists, reflecting his (by his own admission) strange life in Seoul, Korea!

Murmurs - BCMG - 2

The sheng part for this and for Jia Gouping's "The Wind Sounds in the Sky" was played by master sheng player, Wu Wei.

You can hear this unusual instrument here:

Next was a series of three evenings at the Birmingham Conservatoire, starting with the startling Conservatoire Folk Ensemble, one of our Vice Chancellor's recital series. I am not, as I've said before, a big fan of "folk music" of the sort which is beautifully lampooned by Reeves and Mortimer as "Mulligan and O'Hare" but will happily listen to Steeleye Span, Fado or Tuvan throat singing. This ensemble, however is something quite other and reminiscent in many ways of another folk tradition which I love, the Italian "banda", massive, ramshackle brass bands which play operatic themes and arias in a glorious, rumbustious racket. This is exactly what this amazing bunch of performers give:

Conservatoire Folk Ensemble

An added interest for me was seeing the performers in a different context from the way that I normally see them, so where they would usually be in a jazz band or an orchestra, here they are applying their talents to creating music which varied from 60s-John-Barry-style cinematics to a deeply mournful Greek song. Utterly thrilling. Joe Broughton, who leads the band, is brilliantly lively and very funny and, most endearingly, is plainly adored by his charges. Here they are, rehearsing, a couple of years ago:

Next up was Hugo Bell's (re)apropos, an evening of contemporary and experimental music for ensemble, electronics, video and a teapot!


I only really went along for the teapot as it features in a piece by one of my favourite composers, Alvin Lucier, "Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields)", a piece which takes fragments of the Beatles' melody "Strawberry Fields Forever" and then plays them back through a teapot.

For all that is sounds a bit naff, maybe even twee, it is ravishing.
Hugo's own piece was an electronic work with video, "Influence/Anxiety", unfortunately not on the Soundcloud link above and the programme was very strong. As will so many of these events, I discover something new to rave about and this time it was the absolutely breathtaking "Amproprification #6.1 'Kyrie', #6.2 'Gloria'" by Maximillian Marcoll in which 6 singers perform sections of Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli while their voices are variously amplified. It is hard to explain quite what this is like but it is rather as if Nobekazu Takemura had got involved...

As the singers are in the same room as the amplified playback, I cannot imagine how difficult this must be to sing.

Friday night brought the Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble to play another favourite piece of mine, Elliott Carter's "Triple Duo" and yet again, I was introduced to something wonderful, this time the Contrabass Clarinet.

Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble - 1

I love bass notes in an orchestra. Bass clarinet is one of my favourites - the opening of Moloko's "Pure Pleasure Seeker" made me grin with joy when I first heard it - and while I have probably heard a contrabass clarinet before, I can't think that I've ever noticed it and certainly haven't heard it solo, so Elizabeth Kelly's "Into the Depths" was brilliant to hear, foregrounding the instrument with a piano accompaniment and showing off the extremes of range and extended techniques of which it is capable.

Hard Rain Soloist Ensemble - 2

The rest of the programme was just as good, including pieces by Joe Cutler, head of composition at the Conservatoire and, of course, the Elliott Carter was incredible.

Sad to hear of the death of Scott Walker. I eagerly awaited each of his intermittent releases. I can remember hearing "No Regrets" on the radio when I was younger and even to my bombastic, youthful self - who would rather have torn my ears off than admit to liking "easy listening" - I found his voice captivating, both powerful and intimate at the same time. I was introduced to "Tilt" about five years after it was released by my good friend, Scott Lowe, and have never looked back, every subsequent album being a fantastic gem, no matter how complex and strange.

I know that there is a lot of music in this entry, but I'll leave you with "Epizootics!" from Bish Bosch.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Cute Apocalypse

Carnival of Cute - 2

Bathed in pink, Jacob Epstein's Lucifer looks disdainfully down on the crowd at this week's "Carnival of Cute" at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. There is no version of hell he could have imagined which could be worse than this...

"Too Cute! Sweet is about to get Sinister" is a fantastic show, curated by an artist I've been watching for some time, Rachel Maclean, probably best known for her work, "Feed Me":

It is mostly not her own work - though there is a new video piece - rather, she has designed an environment in which to display her own curatorial choices of work from the collections of the Arts Council and BMAG which sit on the uncomfortable boundary between "cute" and "sinister". Having always been unnerved by an excess of the deliberately cute and not really getting the more usually-defined cute objects (nasally-deformed dogs, babies, miniature fruit and vegetables, inanimate objects with eyes...), I enjoy that Rachel performs a high-risk balancing act in which she reveres the cuteness while simultaneously undermining it. There is a lot of fun in what she is doing but there is also a vicious skewering of the late-capitalist urgency for consumption, something which she makes explicit in the accompanying video and about which she spoke passionately at the reception.

Carnival of Cute - 11

It was rather a surprise to see her as a self-possessed, balanced and cheerful person!

The show is excellent. It is funny, thoughtful, disturbing and only after leaving do you realise that it is transgressive and shocking.

I have linked to this article before, but I think it is critical - late-capitalism needs the population to be in a constant state of angst. Rachel Maclean has exposed yet another tool in their kit.
The show runs until May 12th.

Carnival of Cute - 7

Carnival of Cute - 9

On the subject of late capitalism, I've been listening to the new album by The Specials, "Encore" (which is very good, exactly what I would have hoped for but with a bit of a 70s funk edge going on, a tango-tinged "The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum" and a song called "Breaking Point" which is one Optigon away from Tom Waits) and was also listening to Terry Hall being interviewed by comedian, Richard Herring. I'm not a huge Herring fan but listened because I haven't heard anything from Terry Hall since the eighties and wondered what he had to say, especially about the current state of the world, given his fantastically gloomy socialist view of the 1980s. As with so many of the socialists from that era, they were not suckered in by the softer capitalism - or is that centrist socialism? - of the early 2000s as they had seen what hard-line capitalism ("Thatcherism") had done. In this interview, Hall mentioned that his favourite book was "The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher" on the grounds that "I like a book with a happy end", which is a pretty good line but I was intrigued...

Discovering a new writer for me to enjoy. These are just fantastic short stories, all with a lovely balance of bleakness and humour. I've never read any Hilary Mantel before, having written off her "Wolf Hall" trilogy as the sort of historical romance stuff that you see people reading in airports and therefore it was something of a surprise to read these elegant, literary stories and to do a bit of research to discover that she's something of a literary superstar! That's what comes of judging books by covers...
Thanks to Terry Hall for that one.

If you are interested in the interview, it is on the Richard Herring podcast.

Music has been a big part of the last few weeks and this week I signed up to Bandcamp (yes, a full eleven years after the site launched!) after discovering that the new Test Dept. album was only available through that outlet. I've also been listening to the incredible Spellling and her album, Mazy Fly, which I also found on Bandcamp.

Crash Ensemble - Romitelli

Off to Dublin for a flying visit to see Crash Ensemble perform Fausto Romitelli's "Professor Bad Trip", a most incredible piece of music which I have wanted to hear live since I heard it on a radio programme some years ago, introduced by Jonathan Harvey. I subsequently became a bit obsessed with Romitelli's music, which really sounds like nothing by any other composer, but have never had the chance to hear much live. The performance in Birmingham of "Trash TV Trance" a few weeks back was the first piece I heard live and this is the second. I'm pleased to say that it exceeded my expectations and clarified so much about the music: the use of live electronics, amplification and spacialisation is not evident in the recording I have, nor is the importance of the 'cello in the central movement, played here with unbelievable bravado by Kate Ellis.


Here is the "First Lesson", conducted by Ivan Volkov

Lovely to meet up with composer from the Birmingham Conservatoire, Seán Clancy while I was there, too.

I didn't have much time in Dublin, so went for a wander the next morning, being really saddened by the way in which the city has embraced Europe and the EU without losing anything of its own identity.

Such a shame the UK is being driven to the exact opposite.

Leprechaun Museum

Perhaps we never had the same confidence in our own identity in the first place.