Thursday, 15 October 2015

New Website

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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Strange Sounds in the Sky: High Frequency Active Aural Research

In 2011 people from all over the world started reporting that they had heard eerie noises seeming to emanate from the sky. The ‘phenomenon’ went viral and You Tube houses numerous videos of the ‘hearings’. As the videos play out over several minutes each, sounds can be heard that range from growling choral sounds to reverberating tuba. The scenes are usually views of empty, residential areas. The camera is pointed at the pixelated open sky. What unifies the footage is that the listeners seem to believe that the sounds are real and attribute them to a grand source, christening them: Strange Sounds in the Sky, Sky Roar or God’s Shofar. Responses to some of the video uploads have revealed a more mundane rational behind them. For instance, the a recording of sounds in Terrace, BC Canada 2013 was described as a melody by Kimberly Wookey:

The City of Terrace later took responsibility for the sound by posting a note on their Facebook page that they were preparing for some repaving work, and that the noise was produced by a grader blade while levelling the ground. The joy of the videos is their dual nature: if I choose to hear supernatural sounds I can but I can also hear the distorted sounds of planes, industrial tools, fans - various infrastructures vibrating, a fault in the electric grid, telephone wires, air caught in water or gas pipes. Link to a compilation of the videos:

 Many reports pinned the cause of the sounds on the research at HAARP: High Frequency Active Auroral Research facility for the study of ionospheric physics and radio science - based in a US Air Site in Gakona, Alaska established 1993 and temporarily closed. It was funded by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, University of Alaska and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Where there is military research there is often conspiracy theory and HAARP has been the target for some colourful ideas from mind control to weather control. Some online comment writers believe that the technology at HAARP will be used as part of an oppressive New World Order: ‘With the use of telepathic electronic two-way communication, HAARP wave technology can reach everyone on earth’ or it is seen as being used as a ‘second coming’ or the Apocalypse.

The aim of their research, say HAARP, was to understand the effects of the changing atmospheric conditions of the ionosphere that ‘begins approximately 35 miles above the earth's surface and extends out beyond 500 miles. In contrast to the dense atmosphere close to the earth, which is composed almost entirely, of neutral gas, the thin ionosphere can distort, reflect and absorb radio signals.’ The research is conducted by stimulating small areas of the ionosphere with a high power, high-frequency phased array radio transmitter and measuring the results of the artificial excitation. The aim is to make these systems for invisible transmissions more reliable for satellite communications: GPS and Ultra High Frequency systems and military surveillance. These systems, infrastructures in themselves, also aid in the securitising of utility and communications infrastructures.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Listening Seminar 3

Pleased to be taking part in this. More details on the Vocalities Course Blog - part of The Aural and Visual Cultures Department, Goldsmiths, London.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Cataclysm: tornado destruction from CCTV footage

There is a series of videos on YouTube of footage rescued from CCTV systems that managed to keep running during some of the worst USA tornadoes. These images are a melancholic reflection of the loss and fear endured during these cataclysmic disasters. The CCTV camera images, often attached to residencies, sometimes capture the malfunction of the camera as the tornado hits the electricity supplies. They have a still, stubborn resilience - always angled high above to oversee the scene of pool, driveway, porch or school playground, gym, car park. They are different to the footage taken by people on mobile phones that are uploaded alongside - whose reasonable reactions of panic and fascination are captured in zooms, shakes, abrupt loss of framing. These are fragile movies made by machines, at a time when no human can bear the conditions to watch.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Weekend OtherWorld

Weekend OtherWorld will be a brilliant event with presentations, films and performances at Goldsmiths College on Saturday 27th April. This event is being put on by English Heretic and MA Aural and Visual Cultures featuring English Heretic, Mark Fisher, Dean Kenning, Savage Messiah, Nicola Woodham, Tristram Adams, Carey Robinson, Haunted Shoreline, Antony Clayton, Mark Pilkington, Will Fowler, Hannah Gilbert, Alison Gill, Blue Firth, Cerys Thomas, English Heretic, Ken Hollings, John Cussans, Lisa Cradduck, Roberto N Peyre. (I hope I haven't left anyone out.) The presentations sound fascinating and I can't wait to see them. The venue is room LG01 in the New Academic Building at Goldsmiths College from 1pm to 8pm and is free.

Here's an outline of the event cited from English Heretic's post.

Weekend OtherWorld aims to realise a new form of aesthetic broadcast. It imagines a parallel present where the forensic documentary intensity of 1970s television, evidenced in World In Action, Man Alive, Weekend World and Chronicle still exists but at a sorcerous angle to reality. What if the earnest authority of these programmes could be extended to occult aesthetics. With hard hitting, convincingly paranoid reports of the concrete irrational, Weekend OtherWorld subverts the roundtable format of the current affairs programme to broadcast a series of films, presentations and concomitant discussions from a potent broth of hermetic psychogeography, revolutionary sacrifice, aesthetic psychopathology and eerie capitalism.  Distilling the essences of the recent AGM, the afternoon programme will further attempt to define these new breeds of creative research. By exploring reality at a sorcerous angle, might we also find that the machinery underlying politics and culture is a magical construct?

To give a bit of context to the work I'm presenting. I read a series of essays on the Amazon Economy published by the Financial Times that I had got to via a link to an interesting article about Amazon recommended by Mark Fisher. I was inspired by one reference in the essay Robo-pricing by US retail correspondent for the Financial Times based in New York, Barney Jopson to a story around selling a biology book 'The Making of A Fly'.  Michael Eisen, a biologist based a Berkley UC and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, noticed that a book he wanted to buy on Amazon had risen in price to over two million pounds, his full post is here. The biologist worked out that just two sellers were competing in price over the same item. But that there was a pattern to the pricing. One seller had set his algo pricing to always be 1.27 times more than his competitor, yet his competitor had set up his system to by .99 times less. So as one price rose the other would rise too, but just a little bit. Eisen proposes that one seller likely did not have the material item at all. He simply listed the item at a higher price than his competitor. The plan was that when he made a sale he would buy up the cheaper book and then sell it on for a profit. This links to a number of practises mentioned in essay. I think Eisen neatly makes the point that algorithmic pricing can go absurdly wrong, especially when these chance pairings of sellers activity happen. Just before the anomaly was noticed by the sellers the book price had risen to $23,698,655.93. Since reading his article I have spoken to several people who have noted anomalies in pricing on Amazon, new children's books going for £600 and the like. Jopson's cites the 2010 'flash crash' as another possibly monstrous algorithmic moment. 

Sellers have a choice of software vendors to choose from who can provide endless amounts of data about their competitors. Much trading jargon and principles has seeped into this arena. Companies like Mercent who make ecommerce software for online retailers (not sure what words have been hybridised for this, merchant, percent, mercenary, cent, mercy, acquiescent....I could go on....) thrive on speculation about the habits of consumption based on an obsession with metrics. There is more to write on this and much has been written in the excellent current Mute Magazine 'Slave to the Algorithm'. 

For me I was fascinated by the literal problematic of the absence of the book worth twenty three million dollars. I immediately imagined an empty shelf in an ecommerce warehouse. So from this idea about an impossible object sprang a story that I've developed into an audio play The Gift Experience: where a cult springs up around an empty shelf where a set of screwdrivers priced at over two million pounds are not being stored. I also wanted to combine some element of this sinister obsessiveness of retailers with the everyday habits of consumers. How a trip to the same cafe every morning at the same time on your way to work becomes a seed for a wave, a pattern that is utilised to try to predict or influence your next shopping move. This is surely a kind of pathalogical stalking, a revelling in the implicit. I was especially interested in the whole issue of analysis of data about shopping habits that made me think that in the future we wont need to shop at all, commercial distributors will already know what we want before we do and will simply deliver to our house. I'm pleased to be working with actors Robin Bale, Susannah Ashfield, Tony Burden and Victoria Riley on this short play. I'm planning on developing the work more to fit a radio slot and to run it again in June.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Inescapable Angles: A Psychic Folly

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space was in circulation when Roman Polanski made Repulsion. Published in 1958, it appeared in English translation in 1964 just one year before the film’s release. Bachelard observes an intimate relationship between the form of a domestic dwelling and its inhabitants. Corners, garrets, drawers, chests all affect a way of being. In turn, the occupant leaves a trace on their home both physically and in the realm of memory and the imaginary. Polanski too made much of this interdependence in each of his ‘Apartment Trilogy’ films: Repulsion (1964), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). They all encapsulate the feng shui nightmare of cheapskate landlord’s conversions: thin walls, creaking floor boards, damp and drafts. Polanski’s architecture of choice is the late Victorian flat with its excesses of cornicing, cast iron radiators, sash windows which all provide details for his lingering camera. These are pads with ‘character’, ornate abodes that have an agency in his films that make them unsung stars. For Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, the South Kensington flat she rents serves as an escape from the busy streets and bustling beauty salon where she works. It is a place where she can resist the advances of suitors and relax with her sister, Yvonne Furneaux. Gradually, it houses and mimics her mental collapse where she becomes locked into an alternate reality of paranoid visions and catatonia. Polanski’s scenes of ‘living walls’ are some of the most memorable in the psychological horror genre.

Many writers have tried to decipher Carol’s mental state. Is she depressed? Schizophrenic? Is she ‘sex repressed’, or possessed by ‘demons’ of the unconscious mind as Bosley Crowther reviewing for The New York Times would have it in 1965. Or, more delicately, was she abused as a child? The cryptic family portrait we see in her lounge might suggest this. The film shrugs off definite answers but what is clear is that Carol is terrified of being ‘broken into’. Her comfortable routine is shattered by her sister’s oafish boyfriend and his clumsy stuffing of his toothbrush and razor into her water glass. Sexual imagery here speaks for itself. It is often mentioned in write ups of the film how openly Polanski exposes the intricacies of Carol’s demise. But just what does this involve? My interpretation is that Polanski creates a psychological space with his sophisticated use of the mechanics of cinema - a space where a woman is terrified of intruders and then he invites us in. We are with Carol every step of the way, perceiving the world as it is to her: when she is alone in the house, when she is visited in the night by the imagined rapist grabbing and pushing in close. We are given the spare key and invited to take up a kind of multiple occupancy of Carol’s mind. Polanski makes us psyche-cine intruders, able to come and go as we please. It is this that makes the film so unsettling and perversely enigmatic.

So what of this filmic architecture, how does Polanski build this cine interior? To me his methods are Lovecraftian. By fragmenting and dislocating sound and image Polanski creates monstrous and unearthly reconfigurings of the banal. One observation I made in seeing the film again was the fracturing of one of the early moments where Carol is walking outside and passes by a roadworks site. Piles of rubble suggest disintegration and recall the cracks in the pavement and wall that Carol is fascinated with. One of the workers, sweating and wearing a soiled vest leers at her and suggests ‘a bit of the other’. This one scene then splits into tiny shards that resurface during the remainder of the film. A similar vest keeps reappearing in the flat, as if it moves of its own accord. It is a sign of Carol’s curious disgust of male sexuality - one she finally absorbs into her own horrific version of domesticity. Later and quite separately from the initial workmen scene, Carol appears even more disturbed on her walk home. Here, within the drums and percussion of Chico Hamilton’s jazz score it is possible to hallucinate the sounds of car horns and drilling. The film is shaped by these explosions and dream logic arrangements. Cinematography (Gilbert Taylor) sound editing and mixing (Tom Priestley and Leslie Hammond), editing (Alastaire McIntyre), art direction (Séamus Flannery) are the building materials for Polanski that result in this psychic folly.

In Poems to my other self(1927) Albert-Birot pre-empts Polanki’s concerns in Repulsionand indeed his words suggest one of Polanski’s interior tracking shots. Bachelard selects this quotation in Poetics:

…Je suis tout droit les moulures
qui suivent tout droit le plafond

I follow the line of the moldings
which follow that of the ceiling.

Mais il y a des angles d’où l’on ne peut plus sortir.

But there are angles from which one cannot escape

Bachelard is a good way into Repulsion. Architecture as a metaphor for mental states was Bachelard’s calling card. But can’t we go a bit further. If the South Ken rented flat is symbolic of Carol’s psyche then surely we need to address what it means to equate a woman’s mentality with rented accomodation. I am thinking figuratively here. I don’t want to suggest Carol is a real woman. But let’s unpack this trope of woman as rented flat. Dido would sing years later that her ‘life is for rent’, and make Disney-esque laments about how unsettled and ungrounded as a person she is because she doesn’t actually own her flat. For naughties Dido homeownership was the ur-state of being a sorted post personal development woman. Girly independence a thing of the past or is it for Carrie Bradshaw in Sex in the City 2?  She manages to keep her single lady place on in the middle of New York (‘not the right time to sell’ is the narrative glue here). This allows her to go through rebellious married woman discomfort as she boomerangs from the crash pad to her opulent home with Big. For Carrie marriage doesn’t have to mean submission, but it ‘kind of’ does too. Ambivalence here is not liberating, just compliance dressed up as dithering. Another post might attempt to embrace the complexity that is Sex in the City 2 another time.

The South Ken flat is lewd, it’s creaky and unprivate. It’s got cracks and gaps under the doors. No family home would be like this. It speaks of the improper. It says: ‘these residents have got it coming.’ These are the ones that don’t want to sacrifice their freedom to the god of mortgage repayments. Social pariahs now, and more so since they can be slightly smug about not making the repayments all those years just to sit on a valueless property. The tenants can get out quick, they are not contributing to growth. There is no glory in lining the pockets of landlords, but less so in flaunting now useless mortgage debt disguised as a good investment. So thanks Bachelard for making us look at architecture as mind, but lets also think about the kinds of architectural signals that have become burried in the economic psyche of late-capitalism. Home owning took off in the 80s and it could be argued that there were less frowning attitudes towards renting. But still the film is a way for me to articulate this short hand, the way attitudes towards women are implicit to the extent that film narratives work because of them. These attitudes are bound to their economic position.

This use of the rented flat trope is used by Polanski as shorthand for flighty, economically uncommitted, untethered, transient, more at risk and vulnerable. How would the story have been if she had been married and in her own home. The valid excuse for her to kill the men would not have been madness but moral good. Her economic state would be all tied up in this version of the story. Cinema is very good as a tool for pointing out just how much women need an excuse to do anything. They cannot just do it because they want to or because they have reason to as individuals. As wives or protectors of the family (male dominated) home their behaviour is validated. The female psychotic must be explained by madness or dissolved into death. Female violence at large is inexplicable within patriarchal mores. Polanski wanted to create the portrait of a psychotic woman and part of his schemata was to present her as ‘the tenant’. The impermanent the unbound economically, the insignigicant and not quite a citizen. She is a virgin and a tenant, open territory, no-one’s yet, not citizen nor girlfriend or wife. She is placeless. As Polanski wanted to create this horrific affect of inviting us into her psyche, then it makes sense for him that we are ‘her first’, this makes for a greater ‘affect’ and as someone described to me his response to the film, a further sense of ‘ickyness’. By icky I mean this implicit, sneaky sense of being a seated cine sadist. We become complicit in Polanski’s plan for our viewing experience, we don’t turn away. It’s simple perversion and I’m not knocking a culture for viewing sadistic material in celluloid fantasy form, or for that matter real physical sexual sadists but Polanski’s methods for getting us here are notably underhanded.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Property Tours

Looking back at an old post on Burnt Offerings today I am making connections about some recent research into property tours and urban exploration. What binds these two phenomena is the style of filming where a mobile phone or small handheld camera is used to capture the POV moving shot through the front door into each room. Property tours allow the potential tenant to view before they view for real, the estate agent is alone and moves around the house narrating the pro's of each room on site. A strange quirk I have noticed is where the toilet has a bow round the seat or loo paper has been arranged on the seat, presumably as a sign that the 'deep clean' at the point of vacation has taken place, and the toilet has not been used since. The urban explorer is usually alone too, predicting reasons vocally on site as to why the property has been abandoned, often finding photographs and papers left in a hurried departure. There is a sense of the devil may care as they move up to the second floor or into dark basements that makes me think that they are aware of their role as Blair Witchesque narrator. In both YouTube genres the consciousness of the camera as presented via a style of filmmaking that is familiar from the horror film - the POV shot from the perspective of the killer/voyeur. Property tours videos are varied, I've been looking at: unfurnished rental, furnished rental, hi end sale, low end sale, hi end holiday home and low end holiday home.

Most holiday home property tours make me feel sad as what they sell is a place to have 'time off work'. These brief glimpses of involved time: with children, cooking, reading, cycling are spoken of as impermanent holiday activities that must be made the most of. The subtext is that this is a dream that will disappear when you leave. They also suggest that they can provide your fantasy for the aspiration that is no longer even a feasible option as you struggle to make ends meet and worry about how you are going to pay for your children's education. These are aspiration holiday camps where you can play at being the ideal couples who drink rose and eat asparagus everyday of the week, at having the time to aspire.

Hi end sales are uncanny in their use of automatic opening and closing doors that lend these furnishings an animistic quality. I wonder how the maker of this video could miss The Shining references, I've lent a hand:

Then I couldn't resist this either, it's a cheap effect: