Concrete Cathedral

This weekend Little Gem Records launched the physical release of my documentary series ‘Mad Scientists of Music‘. The series is available now from Little Gem‘s store (located off Parnell Square, just across from the Ambassador Theatre), on their awesome ‘little gem’ mp3 player format. It’s an extremely limited release – so pick up a copy from the shop (or from me in person) while you can.

To celebrate the launch, and as part of the Na Hailtiri series of location specific improvised performance events, a bunch of artists featured in the documentary performed this weekend in an incredible abandoned space on the outskirts of Dublin. Performers included FYED (Fionn Wallace A.K.A. Fyodor and Ed Devane, A.K.A. Withering Zithering), Deathness Injection, Luxury Mollusc, Caoimhe Lavelle and Glotchbot. Thanks a million to everyone who played and came along.


More videos from the event here. Videos courtesy of Sebastian Dooris.

On Podcasting & Irishness

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I was a guest on the Irish Times Off Topic podcast yesterday. We chatted about what separates podcasting from broadcast radio, and the future of podcasting as an industry. It was one of those classic situations which emerge in interviews, whether for a job or in the media, where what you’ve prepared doesn’t quite match up to what you’re expected to talk about. Alas, although I’ve been making podcasts for almost a decade, as I don’t actually listen to any Irish shows I was a particularly poor spokesperson for the medium here. There are many many great short Irish radio series available in podcast or streaming format – the latest being Alan Meaney’s ‘Sound Conversations‘ series. There are also some high quality Irish broadcast radio programmes that make themselves available as podcasts. For example Culture File, the RTE Lyric FM show I’ve been lucky enough to contribute to over the last few months. However when it comes to really great, podcast native, Irish shows, I’m in the dark. If you know of any great ones, please mention them in the comments and I’ll do what I can to promote them in future.

Let me race to point out, this isn’t a failure of Irish podcasting – I’m sure great shows are out there. It’s in part to do with the nature of the medium, which although bound to language is fundamentally international. My own tastes are diverse and eccentric enough that the shows I enjoy tend to be geographically and topically electric. It’s also a natural outcome of my own conflicted relationship to Irishness. I’m from here clearly, but it’s an identity that emerges for me only emerges in contrasts – in moments of unbritishness or unamericaness – rather than as a sense of national pride or felt identity. I don’t watch Irish television, enjoy Irish (or indeed any) sports, speak the Irish language or feel a connection to the myths and legends celebrated by the celtic revival. I don’t read Irish newspapers or (despite working in the industry) listen to broadcast radio here. I’m not passing judgement on these things, or replacing them with the shibboleths of another preferred culture. It’s simply that nationalism, whether it be a felt pride of nationhood or the iconography and ritual accompanying it, have never held an interest for me. Perhaps it’s alienation, or merely a poor cultural fit. Either way, don’t take it personally Ireland, it’s not you, it’s me.

I know what you’re thinking – who does this poltroon think he is going on the radio to talk about Irish podcasting? I’d be the first to agree I’m in no position to talk about it. Alas there was a bit of a misunderstanding all round. Irish Times writer Declan Conlan had seen me speak about podcasting earlier this year at the NUJ freelance forum. That event included a matched pair of talks. I spoke about the history and future of podcasting, while Colm Coyne – whose in depth knowledge of Irish radio and media is unimpeachable – spoke about the podcast scene over here. I’m fascinated by podcasting as a medium, and as a variety of forms of spoken word art and entertainment. But given that there was another guest on Off Topic to talk about podcasting in general – Jason Phipps, head of audio with The Guardian – Colm would doubtless have been more able to answer ‘the Irish question’.

Here’s my talk from earlier this year, at the National Union of Journalist’s ‘Freelance Forum’, where I spoke about the commercial viability and future of podcasting.

Here’s Colm Coyne speaking about the Irish side of the well, coin.

The Typewriter – Culture File

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Perhaps you’ve seen it. One of those instantly recognisable meme images, that neatly confirm our prejudices with a concise and tweet ready bon mot. The image shows a young man, trendily emaciated and nebbish, Brooklyn casual in navy and white stripped boaters, below his aquamarine shorts and Warby Parker goggles. He sits on a park bench, oblivious to his anachronism, pecking away at an analogue typewriter. ‘You’re not a real hipster’, the text smugly asserts, ‘until you take your typewriter to the park’.

Quoth another readily shared bon mot, ‘Christ what an asshole’.

As with so many pieces of received wisdom, this one is a primary source only about the beliefs of those who spread it. Look we say, as we reblog, tweet and post it to Facebook, ‘I spurn the ironic adoption of outmoded technologies, for I am unpretentious’. Unhappily for the hipster cliche, it turns out that our sartorially stereotyped analogue aficionado is in reality a writer ‘The Roving Typist’, making what must be an agonisingly modest living selling custom hand typed short stories, written one at a time.

I came of age, just as the typewriter was becoming obsolete. Say what you will about the destructive impact on concentration, artistry and erudition the computer hath wrought. For me, the spellchecker made writing possible. I remember the sinking feeling, just before my junior cert, on being instructed by a particularly pernicious crone, only ever to use words that I could spell. Well thats it, I thought. I’ll be handing up a blank English paper. I’m not actually dyslexic, the technical term is subclinical auditory working memory difficulties. But without the smooth forgiving inline recommendations of autocorrect, I’d be at sea with two es.

But that doesn’t make me immune to the allure of ageing technology – the pleasing hum of a vinyl record enticing you to listen all the way through. The pen gliding over paper, devoid of the distractions of the internet. Working with clay, or paint, in a tactile medium, making things that exist even when the power goes out.

The typewriter is something different, a tool that attained a mythology inseparable from it’s use. The iconic silhouette and the clammer of it’s chattering teeth are endlessly evocative – inseparable from the toiling writer, the sweating journalist, the bun mopped ladies of the secretarial pool. It is at once feminine and brutish. A tool which cracked open the workplace for women as it subjugated them into mere transcribers. As Friedrich Kittler, in his meditation on technological media ‘Gramophone Film Typewriter’, called the typewriter a ‘discursive machine gun’, ‘Typescript’ he wrote ‘amounts to the desexualization of writing, sacrificing its metaphysics and turning it into word processing.’

The permanence of typing, the ink spilled like blood, the trees felled and boiled to make the paper – has the quality of murder. Typing prose is a kind of creative destruction – connected to our colonisation of nature. The writer as a one man printing press, a wild egoist making permanent his thoughts. How strange that this machine, with it’s digital keys, engineered to bureaucratise and mechanise the act of writing, seems romantic to us. Will future generations eulogise the laptop, collecting battery heavy early models, propping them up on park benches to pay homage? I doubt it. There is something unique about mechanical machinery – something at once unearthly and comforting. The typewriter a beast that comes to life, only at our touch – magnifying our strength and dexterity. It is vulnerable to injury – clogging with paper, teeth knotting together. It hungers for ribbon.

It is not purely analogue. Florian Cramer in his essay ‘What is Post digital’ argues that the type writer, with it’s keys chopping information into ‘discrete units’ can be considered digital. And yet, each tap bears the mark of our fingers varying pressure. As a child I used to practice typing without ink. The slalom of my dancing fingers, marking the paper like footprints in snow. Hidden messages that could be uncovered like grave rubbings.

For some writers this physical connection, the hypnotic rhythm of words on paper, is a self conscious escape from the ferocious intangible. Words become real, only when spoken or written. And it’s here that the digital realm is a deadly peril. The computer lets us to reedit at a moments notice. The internet leaks endless accelerating accretions of material – reference and competition, distraction and response. So many voices, drowning out our own. So many screaming certainties, making certainty suspicious. The world becoming software dissolves our words.

The typewriter is a cathect, a storehouse for our feelings about the past. If the act of writing changes what is said, then writing on a machine purpose built and laden with history cannot help but shape our words. Taking the trouble to type, mastering the mechanical spider, binds our ideas in paper. A single vulnerable edition, peppered with human mistakes. A naturalised piece of the world, ready to blow away in a slapstick breeze. Perhaps it’s this image, the loose leaves of a novels single copy escaping it’s author, colliding comically with a street full of machinery, that captures something of the draw of the typewriter today. For a writer, the maelstrom of words which pours from the screens around us, can be overwhelming. A break is needed, a discontinuity, writing as retrograde amnesia. One word at a time.

Download: ‘Typewriter’


Tracks used

Eric Satie – Parade – Performed by Griffyn Ensemble
Leroy Anderson – The Typewriter
Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle – Typewriter Tip Tip Tip
Liars – They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top – The Garden Was Crowded and Outside
Billy Fury – Gonna Type a Letter
Alicia Keys – Typewriter
Type of Music (featuring a typewriter) – Jon Brooks

  • S: typing on keyboard.wav by kgatto | License: Attribution
  • S: Roomtone With Window Open.wav by constructabeat | License: Attribution
  • S: Mysterious Transitions by Celticvalkyria | License: Attribution
  • S: Bedroom tone.aif by bennychico11 | License: Attribution
  • S: Picking_Up_TackleBox.wav by Krisboruff | License: Attribution
  • S: Getting up from bed by avakas | License: Attribution
  • S: sewing 2.mp3 by jimsim | License: Attribution
  • S: Kocking door and open door.wav by rivernile7 | License: Attribution
  • S: Jigsaw Rev 02.wav by JustinBW | License: Attribution
  • S: turning in bed.wav by Yuval | License: Creative Commons 0
  • Sightless Cinema – Culture File

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    White Cane Audio Theatre is a group of blind and visually impaired participants (aged 20’s to 80’s) led by theatre director Ciarán Taylor of Carpet Theatre with radio programme maker and composer Rachel Ni Chuinn (The Shape of Sounds to Come –Lyric Fm), and facilitated by the National Council for the Blind in Ireland with the support of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Arts Office. The group has been meeting for nine months exploring audio as a means of shared expression. Sightless Cinema is a presentation of some of the work generated during the project.’

    I spoke to the group last week as they were finishing up recordings for the soap opera episodes based on their real life experiences, that serve as part of the project.

    Sightless cinema, a live event showcasing the groups work, takes place this Thursday at UCD’s student centre cinema at 6.30PM. Contact: carpettheatre@gmail.com for ticket details.

    Download: ‘Sightless Cinema’

    William Morris in Dublin – Culture File

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    Download: ‘William Morris in Dublin’

    William Morris, considered the founder of the late Victorian Arts & Crafts movement in architecture and design, twice visited Ireland. He toured the country, delivering lectures on art and socialism. The influence of Morris’s design philosophy, and to a lesser extent his political leanings, can be seen to this day in a number of Arts & Crafts buildings in Dublin, including Clondalkin library, Charlveille Castle Dining Room, and Senior College Rathmines. I visited Whitechurch Library (a 1911 building designed by legendary Irish architect John Byrne), in the company of art historian, Dr Eimear O’Connor, to discuss the enduring influence of Arts & Crafts in Ireland.

    Special thanks to Librarian Breda Bollard for allowing us use of the library and providing a tour of the space.


    Tracks used

    Herman Finck Medley – The K-Nuts Medley: Gilbert the Filbert – I’ll
    Make a Man of You Yet” by Kelli Uustani
    The Mosquito’s Parade (studio) – Ian Whitcomb
    John McCormack – Dear Little Shamrock
    Andrew Grumman – Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS- Five Variants of Dives & Lazarus

    ‘Paraudiolia 1′ sound art at IMMA

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    Excited to announce that a piece I created for Blue Bottle Collective’s Hibernation Radio project is being played at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, as part of the ‘More Than One Maker‘ exhibition. Massive congratulations to all the Blue Bottle Collective! You can listen to the piece, which explores Dublin’s rejection of it’s young artists and creative communities, below. The piece is playing on a loop along with a selection of other pieces from ‘Hibernation Radio’, in the main square of IMMA until mid June. Facebook event here.


    Download: Paraudiolia 1 [It’s not that way it’s over here]

    Pigtown Scratchings – Culture File

    Pigtown Scratchings is an occasional multidisciplinary event in Limerick, created by science and music collaboration Softday. Last week I headed down for Lyric’s Culture File, to speak to some of the multidisciplinary artists featured in this years event.

    Featuring: performance poet Roger Gregg, musician and sonic artist Günter Berkus, contemporary dance artist Angie Smalis, storyteller Steve Lally, and audiovisual artist Leon McCarthy.

    Download: ‘Pigtown Scratchings’

    Notes From a Performance Art Piece – Culture File

    Download: ‘Notes from a performance art piece’

    Notes from a performance piece

    Phase 1 – Destroyed by Life

    NO EXPRESSION, EYES OPEN, SLOW
    NO FEELING, EMPTY, SLAVE
    EXHAUSTION

    1 – Electric awaken
    2 – Rise, slowly painfully
    3 – Crawl to feet
    4 – Splash alive
    5 – Trudging walk
    6 – Slow pickup case
    7 – Ride invisible train
    5 – Smash with hammer
    6 – Knocked back by an invisble wave
    7 – Collapse
    8 – REPEAT 1 to 7
    9 – Hanging / rope break
    10 – death

    When Sebastian Dooris asked me to help him with one of his ‘projects’, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I had recently been knocked down, pushed off a forty story building and shot through the heart.

    Seb and Emma Injection make up the experimental musical duo ‘Deathness Injection’. Improvising each ferocious new performance, the pair don outrageous costumes, dual theramins, and fuse industrial beats with pedalled improvisation. They perform on beeches, in art centres or abandoned space, sometimes with fellow noise makers like Luxury Mollusc, occassionally with hundreds of passers by. Now me, I’m about as musical as a puppys snore. Luckily Deathness Injection didn’t want me to play with them, they wanted me to dance.

    I didn’t let my lack of formal training, or the fact that I’ve never danced in public slow me for a second. I realised I had everything needed for such a performance. Cycling thighs, a house mate with a bachelors degree in special effects make up, and no shame what so ever.

    My inspirations – Beckett’s Catastrophe, Bob From Twin Peaks, and Oliverier de Saganzan, whose 2008 piece ‘surmodelage du crâne et de la face’ is the number one hit when you google ‘French performance artist’. The obvious ridiculousness of a middle aged man wigging and twitching to improvised industrial noise music, only increased the appeal. regieme

    I begin to craft a skull cap, a waxy nub to keep my hair clean during my on stage transformation. I ordered a silver one piece suit from the internet, that would faile to arrive in time – decreasing the shiny strippyness of my planned denoutement. I began a regieme of physical training, cycling daily around the Pheonix park, dilligently entering all meals into MSN diet tracker.

    Phase 2 – Transformation and rejection

    1 – Rise with new life
    2 – Discover brief case
    3 – Worship / find solace in case
    4 – Meet audience eyes
    5 – Open case – HANGING OVER (pushup, crawling in)
    6 – Build face – hiding in case – ORGASMIC – SLOW – MOVING and crawling
    7 – Start with beak – rolling eyes
    8 – Moaning / uncovering
    8 – PAINT face – with hands
    9 – Self discovery / celebration – BEND BACK – RISE with awkwardness
    10 – New Body – Animation dance
    11 – REJECTION – quivering fear walk – Tormented by music
    12 – Cowering – invisible box
    12 – collapse
    13 – On back limb writhing
    14 – Fight to rise – stand
    15 – Cruicified

    In the video of our first rehearsal, I’m visibly nervous, pacing about in a Trinity FM hoody, awkwardly making shapes. Little did I realise how a mere month of rehearsals will build from this quivering flesh a transfiguring artist.

    Private parties, crustie hippies in their water logged mountain idyls growing vegetables, juice and credibility – not so much bugging out as tuning out, turning off and plugging out. Their music an ironic mix of 90’s hardcore, high BPM industrial techno and Bauhasian baroque retro classics.

    Somewhere between a large house party and a small festival, Species Gothic Arts and Culture Gathering – wilfully hidden in the Leitrim mountains, is part of a new breed of curated parties. Not quite the debauched bacchanal of the 90’s rave scene, neither the security heavy Disnified boutique festivals that have sprung up on the wake of the death of Oxygen: Vantastival, bestival, Knock * Stocking – for every one of these mini festivals there are a douzen events like this. New age hippies, crusties and outsiders coming together to make psychedelic art, play their music ear bleedingly loud abd wear their freakiest clobber. Performers include Tragedy Vampires, Sugarplum Suicide, Kraven Brainz, DJ Fracture, Burden, DJ Flesh, Venus De Vilo, Last Bus to Nowhere, Bending Wrongs, Fallen Demon.

    Phase 3 – Persecution and Assimilation

    GRADUALLY BECOME MONSTER

    1 – Shake off / break off face
    2 – Sliding feet leg invert
    3 – Hand across face to reveal expressions
    4 – Lapping and suckling / abjection
    5 – Feet together move top waving plant – Bob
    6 – Lick and creep forward in one place – predated to predator
    8 – Trusting legs in place
    9 – Slow lurking walk – Pappa Lazaru
    10 – Hands over head – Guermo Del Toro
    11 – Shit on case
    12 – Molest and consume case
    13 – Engage audience
    14 – Start to suffer
    15 – Calcify
    16 – Breaking and slowing and crumpling
    17 – Can’t reach the case – fighting the seizure
    18 – Horrible realisation and standing – this is real

    We are deluged of course – what else in early May Ireland. Everywhere tents collapse like soufflés or blowing away all together in the gale force wind. We congregate in a corrugated shed plastered with Halloween themed folk art. A shrine to Wednesday Adams & Cthulhu shares wall-space with a Rubenesque blacklight water nymph and a two tone skull gobbling Laverne wood cut.

    After civilisation collapses we’ll all live like this – small clumps of sustainable humanity hammering club thumpers into the encroaching night. The rolling hills of Leitrim are an ideal location for this kind of escapist awakening. The moss eroded walls of ancient small holdings climbing erosion rent hills of gorse and bracken. Old polymorphous woods concealing fairy secrets and freudian sins.

    The outskirts of Leitrim are one of those places, like Waterford and Kinvara, where Britain’s new age travellers settled in large numbers as the UK grew rabbidly intolerant of their wandering ways. All across Ireland little enclaves of second and third generation hippie kids have grown up, fertilising the local arts scene.

    King of the mountain is Illiocht O’Brainz, a dread locked Irish American clad in a kilt, Dennis the Menace jumper with a storm cape thrust over his shoulders like a lord of Winterfell.

    Along with his wife, artist Harriet Myfanwy Nia Tahany, they serve as a nexus for local artists. Their property is a haunted mansion dotted with ram skulls, soft core fairy pinups, a bottles of potions with names Life Renewal Potion. The grounds have been prepared by a corps of young artists, dotted with decomposing corpses, miniature graveyards and alien sculptures.

    Armed with a vague familiarity with the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and the instruction to create a physical interpretation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, I set out to make a holy fool of myself. I don my skin wig and paint my face with clay in the portaloo. Hurrying back to the performance shed I swaddle my head in a rain coat to stop it melting off. I lie on a hemp tarp in this overly bright room. The music begins. Time slows. I am the tormented man, struck down by the weight of society. I smash my mime hammer against the rocks of social obligation. As the first act reaches it’s titanic crescendo I bend down to pick up an invisible noose, and end my futile existence.

    I rise again in act two, crawling desperately towards a case containing what? Some salvation? Some dream of a better existence? I paw and lap the case with ferocious need. Finally it springs open in my hands and I bury my face within. The audience crane forward, what’s he building in there? Finally, after an eternity of thrusting and heaving I emerge from the case, a hideous creature of clay transfigured by their disapproving eyes. I stumble about, screaming and twitching, like a fawn born wrong. Finally I am crucified – my arms hammering themselves into the air, as my breath collects in great simpering clouds. A one man allegory for lots of deep things.

    Act three, I am born again – a sexy rapacious beast, revelling in the horror. I shake off my latex skull cap – unashamed of my human hairThey have made me one of them, and they shall suffer for it. I crawl about on hands and knees, lapping at them, in a display of terrifying eros. Seb climbs from the stage and I rise to twitch with him. But it’s too much for me, I turn to the audience in horrendous revelation. This is what I have become. I look down at my hands, drenched in clay, my suit, a mix of the white and black paint I previously poured over my head. I turn to them as if to say – see, see I am a man after all. I assume a pose at once proud and abject. I wait for the music to finish. It doesn’t… I’ve horribly mistimed my big finish. Think fast, I think… I could stand like this for a bit, or wait, no, the old faithful foetal position. That’s the ticket. I shrink into a ball and wait for the end, as we all do, ultimately. It is magnificent.


    Tracks used

    Live recording, ‘Deathness Injection at Species 2015′
    Deathness Injection – Deathness Before the Storm
    Deathness Injection – Testament
    Deathness Inection – Sexy Veil of Shame
    Deathness Injection – Clangwarp

    Ed Devane’s Dodeca Cycle – Culture File

    Ed Devane, featured in part six of ‘Mad Scientists of Music‘, is one of Ireland’s most innovative musicians. Having moved away from producing rigid programatic electronic music, Ed is at the forefront of combining electronic sounds and analogue instrumentation. For his recent Dodeca Cycle piece in Dublin’s coach house exhibition space. Ed constructed an installation that allowed up to twelve people to collaboratively construct or accompany a performance. His work is centred around this opening up of musical collaboration, building on rather than escaping from the ubiquity and accessibility of electronic music. I spoke to Ed for Culture File.

    Download: ‘Dodeca Cycle’


    Tracks used

    Arbour by Soil Creep
    Little Gem by I heart the Monster Hero
    Chambers by Biggles flys Again
    Heir Apparent by Sea Pinks