Christian Marclay at White Cube

Thurston Moore with the London Sinfonietta.            8. ii. 15

Thurston Moore with the London Sinfonietta. 8. ii. 15

'Surround Sounds'

‘Surround Sounds’

I recently found myself reading ‘Lightness’, one of Italo Calvino’s essays from ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’.* (I say ‘found myself’ because the book was sitting on the table at which I was sitting at…reading it was not part of my plans for the afternoon.) The essay is structured around various literary sources – hardly surprising I guess as that it is writing that Calvino is addressing – and it draws on classical literature and in particular the work of Lucretius and Ovid. But as I struggled through the essay I found myself thinking about Christian Marclay’s exhibition at White Cube.

'Surround Sounds' on paper.

‘Surround Sounds’ on paper.

I’ve been spending a good deal of time there recently – there is always some new reason to visit. As someone who works with exhibitions I often feel a sense of detachment (or relief or anti-climax) at the moment of the exhibition’s opening. Up to this point, it has been a thing in flux where there is a sense of progress and development but also a place into which the unexpected can intrude. Once the public comes through the doors however, the exhibition is ‘fixed’ or static. Marclay’s show, on the other hand, is a site for events, improvisation and manufacture. Each Saturday and Sunday during the run of the exhibition there are performances in the largest of the White Cube’s galleries. Saturday is for improvised music and Sundays works, performed by members of the London Sinfonietta, are commissioned and, more or less, composed. Each performance is recorded direct to a master disc and on the following Thursday and Friday the Vinyl factory’s mobile pressing plant turns out 500 vinyl records for each set. Sleeves are then silk-screened (by Coriander Press) in the same room and then the records go on sale in the shop. These activities take place within the galleries where Marclay’s more conventional art works are displayed; a room of glasses with the potential to become a vast glass harmonica and another room with a collection of boxes with bottle glass fronts magnifying and distorting the sheet music for a number of drinking songs. In other spaces there are displays of paintings and prints as well as the complex, immersive (yet silent) animation ‘Surround Sounds’ and, along White Cube’s main processional space the wonderful sounds and video composition that is ‘Pub Crawl’. On weekdays students from London college of Communication and the Royal college of Art perform numerous Fluxus works in the gallery, further extending the exhibition.

Yuki Kobayashi performs Yoko Ono's 'Water' (Spring 1964).

Yuki Kobayashi performs Yoko Ono’s ‘Water’ (Spring 1964).

Set up for Mark Sanders. 14. ii. 15

Set up for Mark Sanders. 14. ii. 15

This being a commercial gallery, entrance to the exhibition is free but all the performances are free too. It was this that informed my first reactions to the show (or maybe my second reaction – the work in the show is consistently engaging). This felt like an extraordinarily generous offering on a number of levels. I presume that all the performers and composers are being paid whilst also being given a very public platform. The visitors meanwhile are being presented with a range of musical experiences from a huge variety of musicians, some with international reputations and all with distinctive talents and skills. More generally there is an inclusiveness built into all of this through proximity and, in the best possible way, through access and interaction.

Rie Nakajima. 21. ii. 15

Rie Nakajima. 21. ii. 15

In talking about the work in the exhibition – as if it could be taken out of context of the continuing and changing life of the event – I found myself searching for the correct adjective to describe what my first visit felt like. Without really thinking about it I described it as ‘slight’ and new instantly that this was wrong. Then I said ‘not deep’ but that suggests ‘shallow’ and that is not right either. When I read Calvino’s essay his idea of ‘lightness’ had an immediate resonance, especially as he is using lightness in such a positive way. He quotes Paul Valéry: ‘One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather.’ Calvino talks about ‘the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world – qualities that stick to writing from the start…’ and his efforts to retain the ‘quick, light touch I wanted from my writing’.

Adam Bowman, Steve Beresford, Mark Sanders.    7. iii. 15

Adam Bowman, Steve Beresford, Mark Sanders. 7. iii. 15

It seems to me that Marclay has achieved this trick. His exhibition has escaped from inertia. I think that it would be safe to say that there is no inherent critique in either the performances or the work on display. These events exist in their own terms dancing and tripping at once, discordantly, harmoniously and elegantly through the everyday. They take the quotidian as a starting point but shift the perspective, alter the point of contact and retune our receivers.

Nicolas Collins. 21. iii. 15

Nicolas Collins. 21. iii. 15

* ‘Six Memos for the Next Millennium’, Italo Calvino, Translated by Patrick Creagh. Penguin, 1988.

3 Galleries.

At the end of last week I found myself visiting 3 galleries in less than 24 hours. Each visit had a musical dimension:

The Horse Hospital. X-Ray Audio. I read about this in the Guardian in the morning and discovered that I was already too late to get tickets for the planned performance but I thought it would be worthwhile to drop by. When I got there they were setting up for the evening and trying out a couple of odd-looking discs – both from Ukraine. One was a 7” transparent red flexi with an illustration of a swan in a pond…the audio was a cheesy folk song…this one had to be taped onto the deck to stop it from slipping. The second was a postcard disc…it looked like it was of a painting of an old church in Kiev and the pirated audio was the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’…

good v_edited-1

Here is a scan of the beer mat of one of the Soviet era records cut onto an x-ray plate:


Drawing Room. Chromosome Damage Listening Session. This should have been really interesting. The artist of the current show, Daniel Guzmán, had selected a bunch of records that he listens to while he works in his studio in Mexico City to be played in the gallery. These were to be combined with some music from his own band, Pellejos. I liked the idea of listening to the music while looking at the drawings. For some reason only 3 people were present at the event and this took the edge off the whole thing. Still, I heard Jorge Reyes for the first time…

White Cube, Bermondsey. David Toop at the Christain Marclay exhibition. The second gig in a series of performances in the gallery. This is a generous undertaking on both Marclay’s and the gallery’s part. Toop’s considered and exploratory sound making and his fragile delineation of a ‘stage’ drew the audience into an intense dialogue with the space and the music despite the austere surroundings of the White Cube white cube.

The audience

The audience


David Toop in performance.

David Toop in performance.

An absurd way to spend an evening…?

At the O2 for ‘Ennio Morricone; My Life in Music….


I’ve been avoiding places like to O2 and am spoiled by the scale of Cafe Oto and the Union Chapel. So coming to see/hear Ennio Morricone is an exception to my gig-going habits. Something of a pilgrimage I suppose. I think the event only began to make sense to me during the second part of the first half when the orchestra was joined by the chorus and a solo soprano (Susanna Rigacci) performing a suite of Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtrack material. But even then it wasn’t loud enough and the space was just too big…