False Start

I wrote this some time back. Tinkered with on many occasions but still going nowhere. It was in a file with two other ‘false starts’ so that is why it is labeled ‘3’. Maybe I am posting it for the sake of posting something on this much underused blog.



So the Visitor walks out of the front door one morning – she is going to a meeting or an exhibition or for a walk. And when she opens the door there is an unfamiliar city out there. It’s not that it is some future city or something from Dickens. No monorails or organ grinders. It’s kind of like a city or cities that she knows but this particular combination of elements is not familiar. Where there should be a tree – there is a post box. Where she would expect to see the bus stop and the almshouses there is some kind of toll-booth and a trailer park. And why ‘trailer park’ rather than ‘caravan park’ or even ‘caravanserai’? Anyway, it is an enclosure for semi-nomadic dwellings. The threshold of the door is the same as it ever was, the door too is the same. The house number is the plate stolen from the power station that became an art gallery. There is still that metal boat sitting in the fanlight and this makes the Visitor think of the shadow of the glass on the wall at night. This shadow has changed recently as the streetlight was moved. [And thinking about it now…isn’t there the handle bar from a burnt-out scooter on the shelf next to the fanlight now? And, even more recently didn’t someone add a deer skull to this arrangement?]

All this makes her wonder if this new building is the first phase of a traffic management scheme. During a previous stay the bus shelter on the other side of the street was moved. The bus stop used to be to the left of the house and now it is straight in front of it allowing people waiting for a bus to stare in through the ground floor window. This is offset to a certain extent by the entertainment to be had from watching the watchers. Now that they have erected this tollbooth – or is it a border post? – that exchange with waiting passengers has been removed. Instead of a procession of drunks, addicts, religio-maniacs and schoolchildren there are interchangeable officials in peaked caps. The thought crosses the Visitor’s mind that this booth/kiosk is just a front for a surveillance operation. Drugs? Bus-lane misuse? Did she fail to notice a revolution that has split the city? Does the border between the two territories now run along the road north of the house? Or maybe the border runs north-south so that it goes through the terrace. This could get complicated. Is she going to have to deal with this difficult new situation and re-learn whole systems. How will she make a living? She is supposed to be making a study of this place. Suddenly she realises that the other occupants left the house before her this morning. How are they coping with this new world? Maybe it has all changed since they left or maybe this shift is local so they are still experiencing the city as it was yesterday. It is tempting to close the door again – either just retreat inside or try again.


Or go and write that experimental novel that the Visitor has been thinking about for years. Maybe this is the experimental novel and she has been thinking about it for so long that she has entered into it. And that reminds her of the dream she had last night:


‘I was a different sex and much younger. I lived with lots of people in a tall house with an L-shaped plan. And then one day when I was standing on the half-landing of the stair the floor began to move and I realised that the short leg of the L at the back of the house was about to part company with the rest. I jumped to safety in time to see a whole section of the building split away and then come to rest making a void a few feet wide at floor level. Eventually I worked out that the breakaway part of the house had hit the adjacent structure and this had halted its total collapse. Then later I found out that people from the next house had colonised the fallen part. I thought it was time for me to remove my belongings but then I couldn’t work out what was worth keeping.’


It was only thinking about it later she realised she was dreaming other people’s artworks. Bits of Gordon Matta-Clark crossed with Gregor Schneider.


Back on the doorstep, no chasms have opened up at the Visitor’s feet, nothing is splitting so she thinks that maybe it is ok to go out and she is just experiencing some temporary mismatch between memory and reality. Cognitive dissonance. Nothing more than that thing about dolls houses that she meant to put in her book. It went like this:











Actually that last part of the last sentence was added later and is still something of a mystery. She can’t remember where she was when she wrote that.






Description of a town in Italy. Around 1986.


Spaces strung out along a line


A series of disjointed arcades


Arcades that shift


A small room opening off the street


Accretions of space


A garden


The square off the street


The square as crossroads


A marker in the square


Accidental effect: one pillar of the arcade blocks the vista


Inside the palace:

Two globes (celestial and terrestrial) and the vestigial library

Fortified against the world but also containing it

2 at once

2 places at once

being in 2 places at once


A few seconds of blindness

When I showed some of my ‘live’ drawings recently there were a lot of jokes about drawing with my eyes closed. That, of course, is not what I do. I look at the subject of the drawing but not at the drawing itself. Last night at Cafe Oto for the first of the ‘Art of Improvisers’ season I did two very quick drawings of the saxophonist Julie Kjaer. One with my eyes open and one, as an experiment with my eyes closed. And there was almost no difference. Some of this is due to visual memory I guess but there is also ‘body memory’ involved…and the fact that the two drawings were done, pretty much, back-to-back.

A flawed archive

I put some pictures of part of my collection of found playing cards up on Instagram, a couple of weeks ago. The layout and pictures were inspired by Graeme Miller’s installation of found cards in Cornelia Parker’s exhibition Found at the Foundling Museum[i]. After I posted the pictures I realized that there was a mistake in the layout as I had substituted a 3 of hearts for a 3 of diamonds. Around the same time a friend made a comment to the effect that the inclusion of a found box was an aesthetic or conceptual error. (Maybe you were right Andy). So. In order to correct these mistakes here are new versions of the photographs. Various substitutions have taken place between these pictures and the Instagram ones and between the photographs of fronts and backs.



Because I spent some time going through the cards one otherwise directionless Saturday morning I thought I should record some of my ‘findings’ related to the collection. Here they are:

Since whenever it was I started this collection I have found 296 individual or small groups of playing cards. There are two complete packs that are not part of this total. I have found 61 hearts, 64 spades, 69 diamonds, 76 clubs and 26 jokers. I have only found one 5 of diamonds which means that I only have one complete ‘pack’ of various found cards. Apart from jokers, the card I have picked up most often is the jack of diamonds…there are 10 of these. I have found 28 jacks, 28 kings, 25 queens and 25 aces. I have only found 13 5s. I am pretty sure that I found cards in: London, Edinburgh, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Venice, Palermo and Taipei but I don’t know which ones or where else they might have come from.[ii]

Thinking about Miller’s display I was reminded, not just of my own collection, but also of something I had read some years ago – a Situationist strategy enacted in Glasgow involving dérives and found playing cards. But I could remember no more than that so I put the thought aside.

This week, browsing in my not usual local charity shop I came across a copy of a book: ‘8 Metaphors (because the moving image is not a book)’[iii]. I bought the book as its 8 authors and 16 contributors looked interesting and because the publishers (Lux) used to be situated about 100 yards from where I was standing. Leafing through the book later I noticed a conversation between 2 filmmakers, Stina Wirfelt and Deborah Stratman. Wirfelt’s opening gambit is: ‘I’m republishing ‘The Joker’ text I sent to you.’ This rang a bell and, misguidedly, I went online to find this text with no success. On a second look I realised that ‘The Joker’ had been republished in the book I was looking at. Furthermore, the text had been scanned from Stewart Home’s anthology ‘Mind Invaders’[iv]. This was the Situationist strategy that I had half-remembered and I had clearly read it in Home’s book. ‘The Joker’ is credited to ‘Workshop for a Non-linear Architecture’ but no individual author is named. It describes the accident of finding two consecutive cards on consecutive days (the 3 and 4 of diamonds…notably not the 5 of diamonds the card I have only found one of) and the discussion in the Mitre pub in Glasgow that lead to the idea of a game of Urban Poker played across cities and over time. Here is an outline of the rules:

‘Two or more drift teams, containing between one and half a dozen navigators, would begin at a given point in time to search for found playing cards. The cards would naturally have to be the genuine ‘unsolicited object’ (in Breton’s sense of the word), although dishonesty in regard of such matters would be left, as is only natural, to the subjective nature of the individual(s) concerned. Initially each team would seek five cards, a number of which would be burned, or in other words discarded. Once this agreed number had then be refound, the hand would be brought to a close and publicly declared, e.g. Full House, Pair, Ace High, etc., the winning team being the one with the best hand.’[v]

Miller in the label for his playing card collection at the Foundling Museum says: ‘It is hard to avoid the notion that they [the playing cards] convey fateful meaning, yet it is impossible to work out what that meaning is’. ‘The Joker’ makes an explicit reference to walking. These two strands are brought together in this passage from the essay Drifting; Some Journeys Followed by Dominic Paterson in ‘8 Metaphors’:

‘When he was writing his ‘Reveries of the Solitary Walker’ Jean Jacques Rousseau made a note on the back of a playing card: ‘My whole life has been little else than a long reverie divided into chapters by my daily walks’[vi]

Up on the first floor of the Museum there is an old display case showing some of the tokens left between 1741 and 1760 by the mothers of ‘foundling’ children at the hospital. These tokens were intended as a means of identifying the children at some later date. Here is one:


I thought that the cards I have collected dated from the early 1980s to the present but another friend pointed out that I was doing ‘this kind of thing’ in Dundee in the 70s. So this assemblage of found artefacts is the least useful kind of archive. The objects in the archive have no recorded dates or locations. Of course, this could all be part of a game I have been playing, without knowledge, for 40 years.

Dominic Paterson ends his essay with an account of Ralph Romney’s problematic contribution to the Situationist journal in the form of a psychogeographic study of Venice. (Problematic because its late delivery was the cause of his expulsion from the group). Here is Romney recalling the project:

‘And the thing that struck me most was that when people go to San Marco, they are encouraged to look at the mosaics above their heads. In my case, maybe because I have a slightly hunched back or for whatever reason, I look at the ground.’[vii]



[i] Miller’s installation is called ‘Picked hand’.‘Found’ at The Foundling Museum, London. 27th May – 4th September 2016.

[ii] My notes. 23rd July 2016.

[iii] ‘8 Metaphors (because the moving image is not a book)’. Luke Fowler, Laura Gannon, Duncan Marquiss, Laure Prouvost, Grace Schwindt, Samuel Stevens, Stina Wirsfelt, Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa. Edited by Isla Leaver-Yap. Lux, London, 2011.

[iv] ‘Mind Invaders’ Edited by Stewart Home. Serpent’s Tail, London,1997.

[v] Quoted in ‘8 Metaphors’. Unpaginated section. ‘Previously issued as a privately circulated pamphlet’.

[vi] Ibid. P 140.

[vii] Quoted in ibid. P 144. (From Romney’s book ‘The Consul’.)



A rather wonderful sound installation called ‘Phantom Railings’ by an organization called Public Interventions on Malet Street on the wall of a small (private) park. The railings here (like many other sites) were removed during the Second World War to be melted down and re-used as guns or tanks…can anyone confirm that lots were dumped in the North Sea as they were the wrong sort of iron? Anyway, electronic eyes track passing pedestrians sounding out the absent railings as if they were being hit by a stick – so passers-by can make a mix by walking back and forth along the pavement. Seeing the Vimeo films on the website almost spoil the accident of finding this…but as Kurt Vonnegut used to say: ‘So it goes’.





Leafing through Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (as you do) my eye was caught by the word ‘gramophone’.

‘4.014                        A gramophone record, the musical idea, the written notes, and the soundwaves, all stand to one another in the same internal relation of depicting that holds between language and the world.

They are all constructed according to a common logical pattern.’

Fair enough.



A complaint: at Cafe Oto this week for two nights to hear the Marc Ribot Trio (with Henry Grimes and Chad Taylor). These were fantastic gigs full of inventiveness, virtuosity, attack and a bunch of other superlatives. There was both wonderful ensemble playing and great solos from all the musicians. I am for enthusiasm and I believe it is important that audiences convey their enthusiasm to the performers when the music has finished. Oto till now has been (mostly?) free of that old convention of applause for solos but on Tuesday and Wednesday nights I was thrust back into jazz club days where the flow of musical invention and development was interrupted by a lot of clatter from the audience. Neither ‘so it goes’ nor ‘fair enough’ apply in this situation.

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.