drums beyond the silence

Cafe Oto. September 27th 2012.

I Remember (Memories Can’t Wait)

So Harry Matthews (b.1930) told Georges Perec (1936-1982) about Joe Brainard’s  (1941-1984) book I Remember (1970) in which he listed a series of memories of everyday occurrences distilled down to one or two sentences. Perec wrote his own version – Je me Souviens (published 1978) with 480 entries and an index. Gilbert Adair (1944-2011) in his book on British life Myths & Memories (1986) engineered a collision between Roland Barthes (1915-1980) and Perec referring to both Barthes’ Mythologies (1957) and Perec’s Je me Souviens. Adair thought it inappropriate to translate Perec’s memories immersed in French culture as they were and so he produced his own, peculiarly British, version of 400 entries. (‘270. I remember the bandleader Joe Loss and his vocalists Dennis Lotis and Lita Roza.’) Maybe there are thousands of other versions of this project (and maybe it is what the net is for) but I will refer to just one as it intersects slightly with my own history:   http://fifepsychogeography.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/i-remember-after-brainard-and-perec-nos-8-14-11th-february-2012-ce/

That one only goes up to 14 entries so far.

And here is the first half (1-29) of my I Remember edited down for this blog from an unknown number of entries to a total of 58. All these memories concern sound or music in one way or another.

  1. I remember my friend Matthew singing Return to Sender every time he batted back the tennis ball against the garage door around 1962 in Kirkintilloch.
  2. I remember my father buying me my first 7” single. Winchester Cathedral by the New Vaudeville Band.
  3. I remember the sound of ‘whisper jets’ passing over our house as they took off from Dorval Airport in Montreal in 1965.
  4. I remember opening the door of my room in the Luxor Hotel, Las Vegas to the cacophony of a multitude of slot machines from the casino floor.
  5. I remember my parents telling me about the ships sounding their horns at midnight to welcome in the New Year on the Clyde.
  6. I remember the very loud booming sound of the ice cracking on the St John River as it melted at the end of winter.
  7. I remember going into Bruce’s Record Shop in Kirkcaldy late one Saturday afternoon in 1972 and listening to Hunky Dory by David Bowie and having to work out if I had enough money to buy it and pay for my bus fare home.
  8. I remember going to Ronnie Scott’s Club on a Sunday night in the early 1980s to hear R. D. Laing playing piano. I can remember that Lol Coxhill played too but can’t remember anyone else who was on the bill.
  9. I remember seeing Billy Mackenzie of The Associates with his whippets in the Nethergate Centre in Dundee in 1979.
  10. I remember the tape recorder that my family bought in the early 60s. It was a Grundig reel-to-reel. We used it to record the radio and family singing. My brother and I duetted on ‘Till there was you’ and my grandmother sang ‘There was an old man who came over the hill’. The radio signal was seldom stable and other stations would creep into the ones we were trying to record. One of these phantom stations that we accidentally recorded was playing an Indian classical singer. This recording came to be known by us as ‘Darjeeling’ for some reason.
  11. I remember when we lived in Pont Clare, Montreal that we had a visit from a relative from Scotland. (I think he was my mother’s cousin). He played the bagpipes in our small living room one evening. This was a very intense experience.
  12. I remember going to see an opera by Donizetti in St John, New Brunswick with my school and thinking that I should be open-minded. The opera was Don Pasquale. Afterwards I couldn’t think of a single moment of the opera that I enjoyed.
  13. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to the sound of Thelonious Monk’s Solo Monk in Westfield, New Brunswick. This was my Mother’s choice of listening.
  14. I remember seeing John Martyn play at the Dundee University Student Union with Danny Thompson on bass. It was only recently that I realized that John Stevens was playing drums that night.
  15. I remember hearing Massive Attack and Portishead for the first time on the BBC World Service in the early hours of the morning when our daughter woke up. I guess this was 1991 when she was not even 1.
  16. I remember the first time we connected to the internet at home. We searched ‘Marcel Duchamp’. Minutes later the ghost voice of Duchamp came out of the computer’s speakers, speaking as if just to us across time and space.
  17. I remember one of the first friends I made at college, Brad, loved Spirit. Especially, I think, The Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus.
  18. I remember that last week the busker who plays on the ramp between the car park and Sainsbury’s was singing Little Feat’s Willin’.
  19. I remember the sound of the freight trains rumbling endlessly past the side of the second house we lived in in Westfield, New Brunswick.
  20. I remember sitting at a round table in the flat where I lived in Holland Park, London and hearing Fear of Music by Talking Heads for the first time.
  21. I remember that the first time I saw Roxy Music at the Edinburgh Odeon (?) my ears rang for a day afterward.
  22. I remember that, around the same time, my brother’s girlfriend introduced me to the music of Smokey Robinson. Previously I had thought that anyone who wore a suit and sang was misguided.
  23. I remember that in my last year at school I made a sculpture of welded steel. The sound of the rod when it fused to the metal was terrifying and it gave me nightmares. I heard a similar sound made by Thurston Moore and Mats Gustaffson a few nights ago at Café Oto but that was ok. I guess I have got over it.
  24. I remember seeing Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers twice in one week in London in the 1980s.
  25. I remember when I stood next to Robert Plant at a gig in a small pub in Camden in the early 80s and it never crossing my mind to speak to him.
  26. I remember the Theme to Route 66 by Nelson Riddle but nothing about the TV series. Maybe it wasn’t shown in Britain.
  27. I remember my copy of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band disappearing from the studio at college. Later I found an identical copy at the house of a fellow student but didn’t mention it.
  28. I remember that I bought a copy of Loaded by the Velvet Underground for 89p from Boots. (The price is still on the record sleeve – otherwise I might not have remembered it exactly.) I was on my way home from the dentist after getting a filling. I also bought a copy of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess that day and I began to read it while the record played and my jaw thawed.
  29. I remember the music we played at my Father’s funeral:                                                                          On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring by Frederick Delius,                                                              Janet Baker singing Nun will die Sonn’ so hell aufgeh’n from Kindertotenlieder by Gustav Mahler, The Sherriff by The Modern Jazz Quartet and                                                                               Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell.


I recently saw a box of cassettes sitting on a wall by the pavement. I can’t remember exactly what tapes the box contained but have a feeling it was mostly MOR crooning of the kind in which I have no interest. The only tape that seemed to be worth taking away (more as a token of the finding) was Beatles Oldies, a compilation from the 1970s of early Beatles music – as the title suggests. Weeks later I got round to listening to this in the car as I drove in the rain along the north shore of the Clyde. The tape, it turned out, was completely blank.

I have found many bits of recorded music over the years on vinyl, cassette and CD. The first of these I can remember is one I have already written about (The Rentals, New York). Some I documented when I found them, others I just have a vague memory of where and when I came across them.

Here is one of the more thoroughly documented finds:


 Mid-December 2010. CDs found in the street (Balls Pond Road-north side). Cleared from a former squat.


1. Talking Heads, ‘Best of’. No cover.

2. Soundtrack to A. R. Rahman’s ‘Bombay Dreams’. No cover. Subsequently given to Oxfam, Dalston.

3. CDR of Janis Ian’s ‘At Seventeen’. One song only, labeled on CD ‘At Seventeen!’.

4. CDR ‘Selections – 4 – Ian’. Tracks as listed on sleeve:

         1. Mary J. Blige – ‘Family Affair’

         2. Burning Spear – ‘Wailing’

         3. Can – ‘Don’t say No’

         4. John Prine/Nancy Griffith – ‘Speed of sound of Loneliness’

         5. Drive-by Truckers – Danko/Manuel

         6. Dorothy Moore – ‘Misty Blue’

         7. Tammy Wynette/KLF – ‘Justified & Ancient’

         8. Proclaimers – ‘Sunshine on Leith’

         9. Glasgow Gaelic Choir – (title udecipherable).

         10. Lou Reed – ‘High in the City’

         11. Ray La Montaigne – ‘Trouble’

         12. Elvis – ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’

         13. Michael Chapman – ‘Postcards of Scarborough’

         14. Alabama 5 – “hypo Full of Love’

         15. Tindersticks – ‘Tiny tears’

         16. Cash/Neil Young – ‘Little drummer Boy’

5. ‘Hortus Deliciarum’ Twelfth Century Gregorian Chants by Hidegard von Bingen and Herrard von Landsberg. Performed by Discantus and Brigitte Lesne.


There are a number of categories of found music:

Detritus from low-end street markets.

House clearance.

‘Street Gifts’.


And, I suppose, lost.

I am always slightly amazed when I find this stuff. The ‘dumped’ category seems particularly strange but maybe that is because I hold music (and things) in too much reverence. The category I have called ‘Street Gifts’ is the easiest to understand. Around where I live things are ‘offered’ on the street all the time. It is how I tend to get rid of unwanted objects that I think should not go to charity shops…just leave it out on the pavement and see if anyone wants it. Sometimes people will knock on the door to check that they can really take it. Sometimes I leave a note. Here is an example of a this kind of find with a commentary written at the time:

30. iii. 12

Discarded CDs found in the street last Saturday: (selected from a crate full)

Gong. ‘Planet Gong’.

Pink Floyd. ‘Wish You Were Here’.

Linton Kwesi Johnson. ‘Reggae Greats’.


Gong….I didn’t like them much back at the time of ‘Camembert Electrique’ when we all sat around on the floor in our student flats. But maybe now they could be interesting for their longevity – stuck in some meandering channel of progressive rock out of time and place.

Pink Floyd…There must be someone who would want this and if there are no takers I could always give it to Oxfam.

Linton Kwesi Johnson…This is clearly the record I was ‘looking for’. 5 minutes earlier as I took some rather mundane photographs of blossom I had been singing ‘Inglan is a Bitch’ to myself. That particular track is not on this CD but the co-incidence of finding another album by LKJ is, in itself, uncanny. When I put the CD in my player back at home it was fine on the first two tracks then it began to stick and jump. This is, of course, a problem with found stuff – it is seldom in the ‘VG’ category, let alone ‘mint’. I cleaned this one up a bit and when I put it in the computer it played fine. But it is still a damaged and only partial document, missing as it is, the back cover.


My best find this year was on a Saturday afternoon on Kingsland Waste after the stalls had packed up. This has been fertile territory in the past…but has tended towards things like compilations of the Greatest Hits of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. This day turned up a 7” vinyl disc without its sleeve lying on the tarmac…never a good sign for playability. It is a four tack EP by Jeremy Robson with the Michael Garrick Trio from 1962 called ‘Blues for the Lonely’. Here is Cascades:


‘Star-shaped Biscuit’ – not a review.

‘Onibaba’. Frame from opening sequence

Devised, written and composed by David Toop. Performed at Snape Maltings, Suffolk (Latitude 52.1631, Longitude 1.4967), 19.30 – 21.00, September 15th 2012.

In the pre-performance talk for his kind-of opera Star-shaped Biscuit, David Toop expressed his frustration with the concert hall as a venue for live music. He made this statement in a beautiful cubed rehearsal room with a pyramidal roof. Just a few metres away were numerous custom-built concert halls. Outside to the south of the complex of buildings that make up Snape Maltings are the reed beds that stretch along the River Alde. As well as his antipathy to the concert hall, Toop remarked on the particular sound of the wind in the reeds and related that sound to the film Onibaba (Kaneta Shindo, 1964). In fact the sound of the wind and the reeds had been the first thing I had noticed about this place too. As we sat in the late afternoon enjoying the unexpected gift of mid-September sunshine this sound was so striking that I felt we were already in hyper-listening mode.

After the talk the audience were led out past the car park and the building site where new apartments are being built towards Derelict Building no. 9. The route took us down an alley with a series of detached arches at its end making a Piranesian space that was in contrast to the finish of the rest of the complex. Turning left we were led through a doorway underneath six bays of a factory structure of cast iron columns with two floors above us. Beyond this space was seating and above that, where the roof should have been, there was just the still-light early evening sky. The space was enclosed by high walls but most of the floors were gone and the ground was scattered with detritus – stacks of felled timber, pallets, two rusting cars, ruined agricultural equipment. In contrast to the stark tranquility of the reeds this was more like the territory of Tarkovsky and Stalker.

Now I know that the siting of the work is not the work itself. This was the first and only performance of this piece so far and it was made for this location. (Though it will, no doubt be remade for other places.) The work/the composition/the opera consisted of an electronic track (dubbed “the Tape’ by the performers), 5 improvising multi-instrumentalists playing live, 3 singers, minimal costumes and staging, a few props, lighting. I found the sound of the piece completely mesmerizing but I was also mesmerized by the particularity of that place and that time. The sky darkened and stars slowly became visible above our heads. Bats wheeled in and out of the space swooping low over the head of one of the singers. Large moths moved around in the lights, sometimes fluttering slowly through the space and sometimes moving with astonishing speed from one side to another in front of the performers. Near the end of the piece there was the single audible external intervention of an aeroplane passing high overhead. So these were unplanned parts of the work called Star-shaped Biscuit; weather, animals, technology all conspiring to work alongside or against the work, further opening out the possibilities of the experience. Of course it would be possible to reproduce at least some of these effects but this would change their nature…turning chance into the design. So the work was not just a fragmentary sung text and was not just a series of overlaid and unexpected sounds. Instead it was these things plus those unique events in that space – extending upwards into Space like Powers of Ten in reverse – and at that specific period of time.

Singers: Lore Lixenberg, Elaine Mitchener and Jamie McDermott.

Musicians: Martin Allen, Simon Allen, Hélène Breschand, Sylvia Hallett and Jan Hendrickse.

Disappearance 2

Balls Pond Road. 2010-2012

Disappearance 1

Shacklewell Lane. 2010-2012

Georges Perec?

The first manifestation of this ‘project’ (I thought it might have been a book but for now it is this blog) was a notebook begun on the 9th of December 2010. This was an attempt to record different kinds of encounters with music…though not the music I selected and listened to. So I listed all the albums I bought, the gigs I went to, the music I found (mostly discarded CD-Rs) and I recorded instances of sound ‘made visual’ in various walks around my neighborhood. Then I started to write down memories of particular places associated with music in my past. All of this had an echo of projects by Georges Perec – particularly An Attempt to Describe a Number of Places in Paris and Je Me Souviens.
I have a (clearly flawed) memory of reading a short essay by Perec documenting all his purchases over the course of a day. I can only remember two of the items…a can of petrol for his moped and a jazz record (maybe there was a pen too. Or some writing paper). I wanted to know which record it was that Perec bought…but now I can’t find the essay and doubt if it was by Perec at all. The fact that I remember two of the items suggests to me that the essay does exist and is not a figment of my imagination. I have wasted a great deal of time on the internet trying to find this piece and I have tracked back through the Perec books I own with no success. On one blog:


there is a clip of Howard McGhee playing Shades of Blue but there is no explanation of why it is there. I found other stuff though. In the biography, David Bellos documents youthful sessions where Perec and his best friend would listen to sought after ‘west-coast jazz’ albums. In Perec’s Je me Souviens (published by Hachette in 1978 and not, as yet, translated into English)) – a numbered list of apparently random memories – there are (according to Perec’s index) 20 references to jazz.

Here are some examples:

4. I remember Lester Young at the Club Saint-Germain; he wore a blue silk suit with a red silk lining.
6. I remember that Art Tatum called a piece Sweet Lorraine because he had been in Lorraine during the 1914-18 war.
41. I remember a piece by Earl Bostic called Flamingo.
87. I remember when Caravan by Duke Ellington was a rare record and that, in those days, I knew of its existence without ever having heard it.
223. I remember record sleeves, most often jazz ones, drawn by David Stone Martin.
301. I remember Sidney Bechet wrote an opera – or was it a ballet? – entitled The Night of the Sorceress.

But none of this gets me any closer to working out the question about the jazz record and the can of petrol.

This is the second page of the notebook with various attempts to give the project a subtitle (it was already called ‘Like a Hammer in the Sink’ by then).

9. i. 11

At the end of 2010 I started writing a log of musical encounters of a non-musical kind. This is the entry for one day in 2011…an early morning walk to the market then a longer walk to Stoke Newington in the afternoon.


Early morning, Ridley Road, Dalston, 9th January 2011.




Walk on 9th January 2011.

1. At the corner of Crossway and Stoke Newington Road. 2 discarded CDs in the gutter:

‘Lovetouch. 5th birthday celebration. Saturday 24th of July 2010. CD mixed by DJ Supamaks, RNB, Hip Hop, Bashment, Funky @ Hidden Night Club…’

‘Funky Nation’.

2. Stoke Newington Baptist Church sign:

‘Robinson Music Academy. “All we require is desire”…’

3. Net Music, Stoke Newington High Street:

‘Music lessons, Musical Instruments & Accessories, Music Books, Internet café’.

4. V.G. Foodstore, Stoke Newington High Street:

Indian cassettes displayed between the garlic and the yams.

[It occurs to me now that this route took me past the shopfront used in this photograph. When I moved to Hackney in 1984 it was still there on Stoke Newington High street.]


5. The Mind Shop, Stoke Newington Church Street:

CD – £2 – ‘The Mantle of Orpheus; Henry Purcell’s last songs and the songs of his fellow composers who survived him.’ The Consort of Musicke.

12” vinyl single  – 50p. – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. ‘Perfect Skin’.

6. Lucky Seven Records, Stoke Newington Church Street:

12” vinyl single – £3 – Cocteau Twins. ‘Aikea-Guinea, Kookaburra, Quisquose, Rococo’.

7” vinyl single – £2 – The Members. ‘The Sound of the Suburbs’. VS242. In biro, on the label, the name ‘Alan McGee’.


Dundee/’New York’/London

Through 1979 and into 1980 I worked late into the night a lot. I lived and worked in a small attic room in the centre of Dundee. As I worked I listened to music and the radio. On many nights I would listen to the John Peel Show on BBC Radio 1 between 10 and midnight. There would be a blank cassette (C60 by preference) in the tape machine. Record, play and pause buttons would all be pressed down until Peel played something that interested me. I could maybe work out how many tapes were made this way at that time…they are all numbered though not dated. The tapes are a bit of a mess with the signal cutting out, bits of voice over and missing intros. I remember one night the local fire brigade’s radio interrupted and then they appeared in the street outside. Though I wrote down the artists’ names and the track titles, I often misheard things or omitted stuff so the tapes are not a ‘proper’ collection or even a very useful archive. They are, instead, a kind of snapshot of my interests at the time.

One track I recorded then was by a band I had never heard of ‘The Rentals’. (There is a band from the 90s called the Rentals but they are not related). The song was fairly stark, guitar-driven punk performed with some exuberance. Abandon even. The track was called ‘New York!’ and from what I could tell it was a celebration of the musical life of that city. The lyrics were ‘shouty’ rather than sung and some were not clear but I loved the line describing the city’s music ‘like a hammer in the sink’. It suggested rhythm without a tune…a kind of atonality.

On a Sunday afternoon in London in the early 1980s I was walking down Cheshire Street off Brick Lane and I was scanning the scattered detritus of the market. The street was much scruffier then and the market was ramshackle. Maybe I picked up other things that day but the two I remember are: an ex-library book by Isaac Asimov published by Gollancz with the distinctive yellow cover of that imprint and a 7” single with a picture sleeve of ‘New York!’ by the Rentals. It turned out that the song I had recorded on the radio some years before was the B side of the single. The A side was called ‘I’ve Got a Crush on You’.
As time passed I became fonder of this twice found record and I became more intrigued by the lyrics. Raking through my collection of singles I would often play it and try (though not very hard) to work out what the words actually were. Into the 21st century I did some internet research and I tracked down a website for two of the original members of the Rentals, Jane and Jeff Hudson.


After the Rentals broke up they formed an electronic outfit called Jeff and Jane and they still make music and art(and sell antiques). So I e-mailed them to tell them about the sequence of events I have described here and to ask about the lyrics and Jane replied. She said that the bit of the lyric I liked was actually:
‘the stratocaster blasts it
like a hammer in the street’
She didn’t reveal the rest of the lyrics.

When I thought about writing up this series of events I looked for the Isaac Asimov book. I realized I probably had not opened ‘Tales of the Black Widowers’ since the day I found it. Under the title runs the blurb:
‘A collection of finely spun puzzles, posed by the Black Widowers’Dining Club & recorded by SF maestro ISAAC ASIMOV’
One of these stories is called ‘The Lullaby of Broadway’. That could be for another time. In the meantime, you can hear ‘New York’ at: