the Machine That Goes Ping

Another day spent largely asleep, with the radio on. Getting out of bed involves what is swiftly becoming a ritual of spasms and stifled screaming, and not in a nice way. The leg doesn’t like being shifted to another position and complains lengthily and loudly. And they’re playing Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony a lot on the radio.

If that seems a trifle disjointed, well, that’s what it was like.

I’ve bought tickets to a thing at the Barbican so (given that I can’t get my money back) I’m going to suffer and go anyway. Traditional British stoicism in the face of potential financial loss, which has also governed my approach to guitar craft over the last few days – two half-hour sessions of unfocused just-sitting-there, one clutching a guitar, one not. But I did it.

The thing in question is a performance to accompany Ian Sinclair’s book London Orbital. Laura has come down from Suffolk and thought it might be a nice thing to do. Besides, it has Ken Campbell in it.

The effect of the Third World War on the London bourgoisie was devastating. There was more than enough shelter space, but when the bombs began to drop, half of them were still in the bar and another twenty-five percent were still looking for a good parking space…

Not in the most generous of moods. I shan’t discuss it chronologically, but rather…

Ian Sinclair was consistently entertaining and (if I may use such a word) urbane. His writing is constantly on the go, allusive, diversionary, stretching for an extra reference or metaphor or observation. Consequently it can be a bit tiring to read, but hearing it read changes that, and I realise how witty it often is, how portentous it isn’t quite. Interesting to compare with Kevin Jackson’s piece, which is written in standard-issue funny-journalese and consequently heavy-handed and false. Where with someone like Sinclair there is a sense of someone immersing themselves in a story, with a journalist there is always the notion that they are spinning a story out of their experiences. I’ll think about that, but it suggests to me that Gonzo works.

Sinclair even manages to work in a reference to David Rodinsky, which is quite impressive in a way.

Ken was fab, but then he always is. He talked about ferrets and ventriloquism and the Gastromancer of Peckham for five minutes. What a show Sinclair and Campbell could produce.

Bill Griffiths read a poem and played two pieces by Bartok on the Grand Piano. However the piano was dreadfully miked/EQed. I imagine they don’t get much call for Grand Pianos in the Barbican hall.

J.G. Ballard didn’t show up, being ill. Which is a shame. Sinclair and Chris Petit performed his bit between them, using a cardboard cutout which Sinclair claimed showed the moment Ballard contracted his debilitating cold.

Aaron Williamson provided a divertingly bad several minutes of a chap in a silver suit carrying a silver-painted wheel with a silver-painted plastic chair mounted on it. He very painfully crawls onto the stage under the “weight” of this and makes it three quarters of the way across before loosening the wheel and attempting to saw the chair in half with a blade mounted to his belt. Eventually he breaks the chair by sitting on it heavily. A technician comes on to tell him he’s had his time, so he pulls on the wheel and very slowly and painfully starts to crawl toward the side door, in darkness, the lighting having switched to Sinclair standing at the podium. When he finally makes it to the door (halfway through Sinclair’s next piece) a cheer goes up.

Having read the biography I assume that it was a reference to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Also it’s a blessing that he couldn’t hear the heckling.

Laura mentioned afterwards that if he’d had the physical skills he could have pulled it off. Perhaps that’s true of all such Art: A performance artist with real movement skills is a mere mime; a video artist who is competent at shooting and editing becomes simply a film-maker. Their ineptitude is somehow a mark of their authenticity.

There was a lot of music, or at least Wire (or as they were calling themselves tonight, WIRE) stood in a line behind a table and showed how dull the interface between middle-aged men and technology can be. The one with direct control of the iBook jumped up and down whenever the drum beat came in. Wire used to be a jumpy and diverting new wave outfit. This sounded like something that Hawkwind in 1973 would have rejected as “a bit dull really”.

There were also two performances by Scanner (more than slightly stupid flash site here.

I suspect Robin Rimbaud isn’t his real name either.

Scanner’s gimmick is plundering the airwaves and stealing people’s tedious, mundane mobile telephone conversations and then, by some magical process known only to himself, making them even less interesting. Scanner is to vaguely arty events what Christopher Biggins used to be to B List celebrity parties. Front Row on Radio 4 is always noting some cultural event or other by commissioning “a new audio piece by Scanner”. It’s very difficult to tell whether this is a sign of desperation or mere laziness. In any case, any one piece by Scanner is very difficult to distinguish from any other piece by Scanner and Front Row might be better off finding out whether Lance Percival still did those calypsos. At least that way we’d get jokes.

Bruce Gilbert of WIRE also provided occasional loop things under Sinclair’s monologues that were pleasant enough in a background sort of way.

I do actually quite like electronica. When I was a lot younger, in fact I liked it a lot more. That is to say when the last lot of people were doing it or the lot before last. But in more and more of this sort of “event” the Powerbook (and I love the Powerbook) is posited as some sort of solution to a problem that doesn’t exist apart from the performers own sloth and ennui. It’s the sight of a group of men, as in the Monty Python sketch, too jaded to pay any attention to the miracle of birth any more as they’ve become so hypnotised by the Machine That Goes Ping.

Jimmy Cauty and some friends, dressed as Motorway workmen, performed a short stab of death metal, that was fairly diverting, though, and somehow fitted in with the evening.

So whereas I didn’t necessarily think it was a success directly I am an Englishman and can thus derive a lot of secondary entertainment from the opportunity to whine.