Jeremy Deller Playback Session at Tate Modern


Laura Snapes and Jeremy Deller. On the floor, listening.

Jeremy Deller in conversation with Laura Snapes in the  Wolfgang Tillmans; 2017 exhibition. In a room kitted out with equipment provided by Tillmans from his own Berlin gallery for ‘optimum listening’. An entertaining choice of music and it did sound really good despite its origins in a laptop. The room itself though was a reminder of how important the environment is to listening…harsh lighting, acoustic panels, institutional carpet…it felt like attending a seminar. Deller was aware of this and tried to change the atmosphere by asking people to sit on the floor and, unsuccessfully, asking that the lighting should be changed. Easy to link this to Tate Modern’s often bland display policy that can seem like the lowest common denominator rather than elegant simplicity.

Here is the playlist….each with a link to youtube.

The Beach Boys – ”Til I Die’

The KLF – ‘Chill Out’…Deller played an excerpt from this.

Kraftwerk – ‘Autobahn’ (single version)


Sandy Denny – ‘Fotheringay’ or, alternatively, Fairport Convention – ‘Fotheringay’.

Freedom Singers – ‘We Shall Overcome’.


King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Jacob Miller – ‘Baby I Love You So’.

Grace Jones – ‘Walking in the Rain’.


Led Zeppelin – ‘The Ocean’…edited to omit the jam at the end.


Giorgio Moroder – ‘Utopia’

John Hopkins remix – ‘Disclosure’ by Magnets ft. Lorde.



3 (sort of) silences.


The drunk Totochabo spouts this ‘sham erudition’ in René Daumal’s A Night of Serious Drinking:

‘If it’s half-wits you want, you’d better go and look for them somewhere else, for we know jolly well that beneath the perceptible form of sound is hidden a silent essence. It is from this, this crucial point at which the kernel of the perceptible has yet to choose to be sound or light or something else, from this hinterland of nature where to see is to see sound and to hear is to hear suns, it is from this very essence that sound draws its power and its ordering force.’

(Translation by David Coward & E. A. Lovatt)


Hidden away in the extras of the BFI’s DVD of ‘The Great White Silence’, Herbert Ponting’s film of Captain Scott’s doomed Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole, are two audio recordings. These recordings were done by Chris Watson in Scott’s hut at Cape Evans, Ross Island. This one was made at 10 pm on the 10th January 2010.


Before each of 3 performances at Café Oto last week, the four members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago stood and faced the audience in silence. These ‘silences’ lasted maybe only half a minute and were terminated by a single note played on the saxophone by Roscoe Mitchell. This drawing was done from memory but with my eyes closed.


From left to right: Roscoe Mitchell, Junius Paul, Hugh Ragin, Don Moye.

‘Into the Maelstrom’


Accompanied by bird song, traffic, the conversation of roofers two doors away and a piece of heavy duty garden equipment from beyond the fence I sat in the shade at the end of our garden yesterday afternoon and finished reading ‘Into the Maelstrom; Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom’, David Toop’s new book. The book sets out an incredible network of associations and connections and has alerted me to a good deal of music that I will explore in the weeks and months to come. This is the first volume of two and covers the evolution of a set of ideas ‘before 1970’. But it is not a linear history and the narrative swoops and dives in time (up to the present day) and genre. Amongst its many strands the one that preoccupies me on finishing is ‘listening’. The importance of listening and the balance between listening and playing to the improvising musician is central to Toop’s exploration.

As a determined audience member I have been trying to sort out the relationship and/or the differences between the way musicians listen and the way that an audience listens. In these (mostly) small spaces the symmetry of performers and audience can suggest a yin and yang of activity and passivity. But this is simplistic and I am always brought back to Duchamp’s statement: ‘The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.’ In the case of the Large Glass this happened most obviously through reflection on the material of the work itself…with the viewer’s image literally transposed onto the surface of the glass. Something similar happens in that communal space of listening in relation to improvised music.

Then last night, five minutes walk away down that road that generates so much traffic noise, was the launch of ‘Into the Maelstrom’ at Cafe Oto. Some months ago David Toop asked if he could use one of my drawings next to a section he was writing about a performance by Angharad Davies and Lina Lapelyte. I realise that I have come to insert myself into the space of the performance (and the performance itself?) through making these quick, ‘blind’ drawings…last night Toop talked about my drawing (and those of the others in the book by Geoff Winston and Ross Lambert) as a parallel act of improvisation. The performances that formed the central part of the launch at Oto exemplified three distinct approaches to improvisation: long exploratory group work with five musicians, short concise duets with Toop reading and each musician playing in turn and then an unplanned hybrid of reading and four musicians playing. The juxtaposition of the structured (the text) and the wholly improvised (the music) highlighted the dichotomy that lies between control and freedom that is at the heart of ‘Into the Maelstrom’ and its rich netherworld.

into the maelstrom001

Performing with David Toop at Cafe Oto were (from left to right) Steve Beresford, Sylvia Hallett, Evan Parker and Elaine Mitchener.

And, to steal an idea from the Fife Psychogeographical Collective, I am now listening to David Toop, ‘Entities Inertias Faint Beings’.

Two nights at Cafe Oto. 26/27. iv. 16

steve b001

Steve Beresford at the piano

Night One.

The first a version of Cage’s ‘Indeterminacy’ with Stewart Lee, Tania Chen and Steve Beresford plus Chen and Jon Leidecker playing other Cage pieces and a piece by Chen herself. All performed with great panache and verve. I have seen the same trio ‘do’ ‘Indeterminacy’ before but this time I began to wonder if Lee’s comic persona and deadpan delivery was becoming, through no fault of his own, something floating free of the work. I know that many of Cage’s stories are intended to be funny and Lee resists the urge to ham up the comic effect, there are, after all, other constraints at work…but the audience will have their own way in these circumstances and in a piece like this the audience becomes part of the performance. Listeners can get it as wrong as musicians. If, as I suspect and as Duchamp kind of said, the viewer {listener} completes the work, then those listeners have a certain responsibility and can listen badly…I guess…

lisa busby

Lisa Busby x 2

Night Two.

The link to the second night was in the aleatory nature of one of the three acts. (The other sets on the night were by Andrew Tuttle and Chris Rainier). Lisa Busby combines various electronic bits and pieces with cassette and vinyl playback and her own, often distorted, voice. (To make another, incidental link…there was quite a lot of voice distortion in Susanna’s performance at the same venue in the previous week). Busby’s pieces are composed – just as Cage’s are – and they walk a thin line over thin ice. The possibility of failure lurks just below the surface and hovers just to the side of that line. Purposeful chance operations like the deck’s stylus positioned half into the record groove or accidental ones, like a malfunctioning Walkman, make for a surprising and unpredictable sound environment. Add to this Busby’s recognition of the need for ‘perfomativity’ and the experience of witnessing this unfolding work becomes particularly interesting. This is hardly thought through but I am beginning to wonder if this visual and experiential element in aleatory and improvised music is something that (some) women are more comfortable with than (some) men. In very different ways I have seen Rie Nakajima and Angharad Davies use space and what might even be theatrical techniques in their work to similar dynamic effect.

Lisa Busby’s website is here.

And this is a link to her latest album, ‘Fingers in the Gloss’.

Snapshot, Ridley Road, 5. iii. 16 at about 2 o’clock.

over a few minutes while I am sitting under an awning in the market eating a kebab roll and drinking a 35 pence cup of tea with hail coming down and on my right the grocer playing weekend only Indian film music is it? on the lower right the iron shod wooden-spoked wheel of one of the market carts carved with the name of its maker Hiller Bros on hire E2 in front of me there is a gap and then two streams of people moving left to right right to left beyond them the shoe stall the wig stall the bra stall where all the bras are white so the display is like an Antarctic landscape of cups and the stallholder picks up a detached stockinged leg and prods the fabric over his head where a pool is forming the water pours down onto the tarmac


Delivered as a 9 minute reading at 6 x 9 Salon in Herne Hill on 20th November 2015. This version is slightly amended and I have added notes and pictures – there were no pictures in the original spoken version. There was, however, a short demonstration of Achim Mohné’s work ‘One to Another’.



From ‘In The Labyrinth’ by Alain Robbe-Grillet:

‘The sun does not get in here, nor the wind, nor the rain, nor the dust. The fine dust which dulls the gloss of the horizontal surfaces, the varnished wood of the table, the waxed floor, the marble shelf over the fireplace, the marble on top of the chest, the only dust comes from the room itself: from the cracks in the floor maybe, or else from the bed, or from curtains or from the ashes in the fireplace.’

‘…the staccato sound of hobnail boots on the asphalt, coming steadily closer down the straight street, sounding louder and louder in the calm of the frostbound night, the sound of boots cannot come in here, any more than other sounds from outside. The street is too long, the curtains too thick, the house too high. No noise, even muffled, ever penetrates the walls of the room, no vibration, no breath of air, and in the silence tiny particles descend slowly, scarcely visible in the lamplight, descend gently. Vertically, always at the same speed, and the fine gray dust lies in a uniform layer on the floor, on the bedspread, on the furniture.’




After reading these passages I was reminded of a room in Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’. This is not what you would call a dry film…’Stalker’ is all damp and drips. Even the room I was reminded of turns out to have puddles, and maybe the room is, in fact, full of sand…so this association would be misplaced were it not for a very short sequence in which Stalker throws one of his trackers to test the veracity of the ground. The film shows the tracker bounce in slow motion through what I take to be dust…the motes stirring up into the air. The dull thump of the tracker as it lands is sound heading towards silence. Sound and matter becoming nothing. This is what dust does – first it actively suppresses, muffling sound, then it swallows the echo, the reverb. It is both sonic and material decay.



Here is Dickens or Pip describing Miss Havisham’s room in Great Expectations:

‘It was then I began to understand that everything in the room had stopped, like the watch and the clock, a long time ago. I noticed that Miss Havisham put down the jewel exactly on the spot from which she had taken it up. As Estella dealt the cards, I glanced at the dressing-table again, and saw that the shoe upon it, once white, now yellow, had never been worn. I glanced down at the foot from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it, once white, now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without this arrest of everything, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave-clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.

So she sat, corpse-like, as we played at cards; the frillings and trimmings on her bridal dress, looking like earthy paper. I knew nothing then, of the discoveries that are occasionally made of bodies buried in ancient times, which fall to powder in the moment of being distinctly seen; but, I have often thought since, that she must have looked as if the admission of the natural light of day would have struck her to dust.’

When I looked back at David Lean’s film of Great Expectations…it was cobwebs and not dust that he had used to signify stopped time. And, once again, sound was subdued, not absent.




The necessary silence at the centre of Jules Dassin’s film ‘Rififi’ exists because the robbery that generates the plot depends on it. In the still hours of a Paris night, the thieves break into the flat above a jeweller’s shop. Breaking through the floor has to be done as quietly as possible but there is a piano adjacent to where they work and much play is made of the intermittent and inadvertent striking of the keys before someone eventually closes the lid. This gesture of closing the lid also marks the sections in John Cage’s 4’33”. At the moment when the hole is made into the shop below, there is a single shot of a column of dust falling onto the floor – marking the arrival of silence in this space too.



dust breeding

‘Dust breeding’…this is the middle of this piece now and I have almost nothing to say, except that this picture, a photograph by Man Ray of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘The Large Glass’ with a year’s accumulation of dust suggests that while time has stopped, dust multiplies…that it occupies a separate, unhearable realm.



I have just bought a 7” flexidisc by the Swedish musician Carl Michael von Hausswolff. This is his version of John Cage’s 4’33” arranged for electric guitar and broken amplifier. Of course here he reverses the usual expectation of this famous so-called silent piece. Because the amp is broken it buzzes and, instead of closing a piano lid, von Hausswolff switches the amplifier off and on to mark the separate passages. This reminded me of how 4’ 33” is not about silence at all but about noise…the noise that comes to fill up any sonic void that we attempt to make. Except maybe for this one:



I am beginning to wonder if collecting recorded silences is a bit of an affliction but I remembered that I also own an album called ‘The Sounds of Silence’…a kind of Now that’s what I call quiet Volume 1. On this record there is a piece by Andy Warhol made for the East Village Other magazine in 1966. It is called ‘Silence (Copyright 1932)’ and purports to have been created by Andy Warhol aged 4. But this silence, unlike the dust induced silence of Robbe-Grillet or the dust that slows and extends the passing of time moving towards silence in ‘Stalker’, has no duration. This is not just time stopped but time negated.




Although he raged against the noise of the city, I wondered if Thomas Carlyle also wanted to deny time in his sound-proofed rooms at the top of his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. He had a room built within another room to exclude street noises and the sound of the piano from the adjacent house. But, though apparently sealed from the outdoor world, the wind whistled across the skylight and the sound of the next-door neighbour’s macaw still found its way into his space. Maybe in order to create silence sealing a room is not enough (as Cage noted in his visit to the anechoic chamber). And, as Warhol’s solution is impractical if not impossible – is easier said than done – it is necessary to impose the active ingredient of time in the form of dust.



Which brings me to my final stop. This is a record by the German sound artist Achim Mohné called ‘One To Another’. The grooves in the record have no content. When the record is played what you hear is the sound of the dust in the groove, the dust that has gathered there over time. The artist’s intention is that the record should be left out of its sleeve for 6 weeks in the space in which it will be listened to. On the occasion of my talk I made a different mix – leaving it to gather dust for only two weeks in a different room in North London. I’m not sure what my audience heard. The sound of time passing or the sound of time stopped? Or maybe, if they heard anything at all, it was just the sound of the rain falling on the roof above our heads.



Pages 141/142. ‘In the Labyrinth’, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1960). Trans. Richard Howard. Grove Press, New York, 1978.


‘Stalker’ directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1979).


Chapter 8, ‘Great Expectations’, Charles Dickens (1861).

‘Great Expectations’ directed by David Lean (1946).


‘Rififi’ (also called ‘Du Rififi chez les Hommes’) directed by Jules Dassin (1955).


‘Dust Breeding’ (1920). See:

On the day I wrote this piece I came across this image of Palmyra (here rendered in black and white). This opens the possibility of another chain of associations stretching out from dust to archaeology to ruin to destruction…


dust breeding


See/listen at:


‘Sounds of Silence; The Most Intriguing Silences in Recording History!’ edited by Patrice Caillet, Adam David, Matthieu Saladin on Alga Marghen. Cat no. alga 0406. (no date).

‘Silence (copyright 1932) also on ‘The East Village Other, Electric Newspaper’ re-release on Get Back Records. Cat no. Get 1012 (1998).


There is an interesting piece by David Ellison on Carlyle’s room at:


‘One to Another’ by Achim Mohné is available here: