Monthly Archives: November 2013

PDP-11

There seems to be an increasing latency between when I hear about something on Front Row, or Night Waves, and when I see it. At least I have trained myself to make a note of when exhibitions finish, for that last weekend or (more usually) last day feeling. In this case, it was six months, from May until November. In my experience the National Gallery is bearable during the Friday late night opening,  so it was the last Friday when I want to see Michael Landy‘s Saints Alive. I’d seen where it was a few months ago, during a peripatetic School of Life event, which ended with a look at a mosaic and some Turner/Constable paintings.

I saw that the invigilator was handing out fairly large circular orange tokens. Naturally, I assumed they were to be exchanged for an Experience, or perhaps thrown at something. (Later, someone turned around and asked “does everyone have one of these?”, not really waiting for an answer). One of the perils of the near-the-end experience is the occasional lack of supporting documentation. Here, there were no explanatory leaflets at all, just ranks of empty plastic holders. I’d remembered Mark Lawson (probably) talking about the degradation of the pieces over the course of the show, and indeed there were large scratch marks on the torso smacked by Thomas, which was very loud. As I heard someone point out, the chest is hit by the wrist, rather than the rock that the hand’s holding, which seems a bit of a swizz. I saw someone picking up a mushy-coloured t-shirt from the lucky dip, and wondered whether he’d fed it into the contraption, for retrieval, after several attempts. The gallery staff were mainly suggesting that people be patient, before stepping on the various triggering systems, owing to the in-built delays (presumably intended to avoid mechanical failures caused by over-active children or moronic students). I then went through the middle room, passing an out-of-order lady, to watch the film. As usual, you had to keep a careful note of the point at which you started as it went around again, to ensure you saw everything. Someone there, taking notes in a small pad, seemed to be staying through several repetitions.

When I went back into the main space, leaflet reinforcements had arrived, so I didn’t feel so deprived. There was a list of some of the paintings from which Landy had drawn inspiration, listing where they were. Having worked out that the promises of the chance to win a t-shirt related to the lucky dip, I persevered, starting the hook on its journey many times. Eventually, it emerged with the t-shirt, and the gallery person encouragingly told me that it was mine, and that I could keep it. People aren’t used to such rewards, I suppose, and wonder whether they need to hand them in. A new invigilator had appeared and she went around switching on the power, adjusting mechanisms, then triggering the machines, with some pride.

Back home, I watched Andrew Bujalski‘s Computer Chess, via Curzon On Demand. I think I’d only seen one of his ‘mumblecore’ films before, but the trailer snippets I’d seen of this one were intriguing. Instead of watching on a laptop, as usual, I tried using a small desktop connected to the vulgar telly. While this worked, the machine was trying a little too hard, so the viewing experience was less than perfect. This didn’t really matter, though, because Bujalski shot the film with early 1980s vintage equipment anyway, so degraded fidelity felt appropriate. The opening was very clever and I liked the way it became more mystical and playfully arrogant about its own curious world.

 

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More than 20 notes and you run out of air

Sometimes the Saturday morning pfaffing takes far too long and extends beyond the reach of From Our Own Correspondent, even into notional Moneybox territory, not that anyone other than sickeningly-moneyed boomers ever listens to that. On Friday I took advantage of the late opening at Tate Modern to see the Saloua Raouda Choucair show, and the last few rooms of the Paul Klee, which I had to rush through at the recent Members’ evening, not having allowed enough time. Walking back to St. Paul’s to head back to my affluent inner suburb, I saw lots of fencing and banks of seating, which I realised must have been for the Lord Mayor’s Show on Saturday. Hmmph – they got in the way.

Today Ian told me that I could enter St. Paul’s without charge as a result of the ‘show’, which fitted in quite well with my wish to see the RIBA Forgotten Spaces show at Somerset House. However, I dallied so long that I was worried I wouldn’t get in. When I arrived, I saw lots of people streaming away from the cathedral and a few groups heading towards the entrance then disconsolately away. Thinking that somehow this prohibition didn’t apply to me, I walked up to the entrance, only to have this confirmed by a guard. Tsk.

At least it wasn’t far to walk to Somerset House, and I even remembered the way from an excursion to Yorkshire Bank late last year. The ice rink is now in force and I didn’t think that many people would be interested in the RIBA display. In fact, there were quite a few. It begins in a narrow passageway, with four Lightwells showing entries to the competition. Further on a seat with umbrella had been provided. The main set of entries was in the Deadhouse. Each one has two large cards, one explaining the overall plan on top, then one below with specific details for what the project would provide. Some of them have sculptures in adjoining alcoves, including bicycles, trees and a model of the Post Office Tower. For some reason the Silvertown Flyover attracted several entries – just too attractive a spot to urban improvers? One parent I heard told his son it was

Intellectual stimulation

to which he replied

Intellectual stimulation? My legs hurt and I want to go home

A much younger child announced with some pride that he could turn one of the screws on the mini-scaffold.

I had planned to go next to a free part of the Rest Is Noise weekend at the South Bank, so I headed there, slightly puzzled that there were lots of people heading into Somerset House from the Embankment. There were even more outside and my progress up the steps to Waterloo Bridge was very slow. The bridge itself was closed to traffic and full of people, reminding me of nothing so much as walking away from a football match. Then I remembered that there was to have been a fireworks display along the Thames at 5pm, perhaps explaining some of the strange noises I’d heard while in the Deadhouse. I found the sign for the Rest Is Noise events, down in the (…) Spirit Level. I found where I thought the performance should be, but the door was closed and it looked like a video was being projected, which didn’t seem right. However, that was the correct space and I did enter later, halfway through.

Conlon Nancarrow was one of many musicians I heard about only because of the sadly extinct Mixing It on Radio 3 in the early nineties, filling up many SA90s. Because of this, even the music is rather austere and unapproachable, I don’t miss a chance. In the ‘White Room’ they’d effectively recreated Nancarrow’s studio with projections and a display of his scores, with the player piano at the other end. One of the seated people had her eyes closed for large parts, which seemed incredible to me, because it’s extraordinary to be able to watch the operation of the piano, observe the patterns of holes on the sheet before they’re read then see their manifestation on the keys. Once it had finished (the pieces are restricted to around 10 minutes by the length of the piano rolls), Dominic Murcott was surrounded by people asking questions (which also permitted close-up gawping at the instrument). I agreed with him that recordings of this music just aren’t the same, because they miss the noise of the pump and the risk that the machine will break. One person said he’d heard  Nancarrow on John Peel, which I don’t remember, but would like to be true. While the player piano was intended to be able to reproduce the full dynamic range of a pianist, Nancarrow used it in a rather extreme way, exploiting the fact that the instrument could surpass human capabilities. He’s doing this again several times on Sunday and I’m very tempted to go again, to hear his introduction and a piece in its entirety. (He was kind enough to give me a very quick summary, including why he was included as part of the ‘superpower’ segment of the festival). Plus there are small shots of free Tequila available.

After some research, I decided to forego Gravity at Curzon Mayfair in favour of Nosferatu the Vampyre at the BFI, which is showing for quite a while but this was on the large screen at NFT1. Late as I was, I was able to buy a good seat right in the middle. Stunningly good, as ever from Herzog, and I was pleased to see the kindly man from Kaspar Hauser as Van Helsing. A very different (and effective) performance from Kinski, and a rather young Adjani was very good, too. As you’d expect, the ending is more bleak than redemptive.