Two nights at Cafe Oto. 26/27. iv. 16

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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’.

David Toop and guests play Mieko Shiomi

David Toop, Rie Nakajima, Angharad Davies and others performing Mieko Shiomi’s piece from 1963, Boundary Music.


Coming through the doors of a ground floor gallery at the Whitechapel, each member of the audience was shown into the centre of the space and encouraged to wander. When I came in I asked if this applied to the performance too, little knowing that the performance was already in progress. There was no stage but seats were spread around randomly. People sat around the edges of the space, some with paraphernalia spread before them, a couple holding conventional musical instruments. A single floodlight on a stand illuminated the centre of the space but around the walls edges and corners became indistinct. Some of the performers were already engaged in making sounds and moving through the room. Someone walked around carrying a set of chimes, another was positioning lights under tissue paper and setting off small battery driven motors. Gradually each performer began to engage with the instruments or with the room like sleepers waking. Movements, gestures, sounds were all marginal, almost tentative. As the room filled up the blurring of audience with performance increased. The sounds of chairs being moved, the brief cry of a baby, murmured conversations all merged with the intentional micro-sounds of the piece. At one point I moved my foot across some piece of metal on the floor and another audience member turned round expectantly as if this too was part of the work. One of the performers peeled an apple and handed out the slices, another offered small wooden boxes and then, minutes later would wordlessly retrieve them. One person filmed throughout, many others took photographs but none of these actions were intrusive. At the time there seemed to be no obvious structure to the performance and it was truly immersive with participation enacted through the mere act of being there. Reading the score afterwards I realise that it is all structure…an instruction so simple that each sound and movement falls within the framework.

The piece ‘ended’ as it had begun, without anything to mark its edges. The sounds trailed off, some of the audience drifted out, performers began to pack their stuff away. No applause, no announcement. ‘Boundary Music’ is, in effect, still being performed.

Making drawings as I moved around I felt as if these too were part of the work. I usually edit the drawings in these posts but in the spirit of the piece I have included all 25 of the drawings I made here. Speaking to David Toop in the space later he talked about the possibility of failure that is inherent to the work. I found myself wondering how failure might manifest itself here, what imbalance might occur between the various participants and how we would recognise it.

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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.

Resonance at Oto




Rie Nakajima

Rie Nakajima

Resonance Radio 104.4 Fundraiser at Cafe Oto, 13th February 2014.

Rie Nakajima has a particular take on performance. For the second time on seeing her at Cafe Oto she set up her table of paraphernalia at the back of the space. So most of the audience need to turn 180 degrees and readjust their viewing positions. For the first part of her set she sits on the floor in front of the low wicker table thoughtfully activating the various battery driven gadgets that are her instruments. The process is gradual – she takes her time before setting the mechanics in motion. It almost looks like she has never done this before and is working out the logistics of it as she goes along. And in some ways I guess she is doing just that. About half way through she gets herself a seat but even then she is crouching over the table. It is as if she is buried in the work at hand – buried not just in the sound but also in the actions that produce the sound. Unlike many performances the audience are drawn into this position too – searching along with her for the next move, the next noise as if it was a process of archaeology. We are all looking down watching the small spectacle of movement, sound, action, repetition. This all demands a certain commitment of attention from the audience….and this is what Nakajima, her performance, her music, requires. This is an exercise in close, communal listening.

Yuri Suzuki reinvents the DJ.

Yuri Suzuki reinvents the DJ.








Janek Schaefer

Janek Schaefer




Janek Schaefer presents his half hour radio special.

Janek Schaefer presents his radio special.





Oscillatorial Binnage

Oscillatorial Binnage