Sunday, 11 June 2017

Oscillatorial Binnage @ IKLECTIK - Tuesday 13th June 2017 - Post-Electronic Improvisation & New Electromagnetic Instruments

Rustlings at the horizon: an Oscillatorial Binnage rehearsal
For those who may have forgotten, Oscillatorial Binnage is a London-based experimental improvisation group containing Fari Bradley, Toby Clarkson, Chris Weaver and Daniel Wilson (this blog's humble author).  We employ a wide range of soundmaking techniques, from room feedback tones to stick-zithers; from touch contact cutlery to electromagnetic eavesdropping upon digital cameras.  Recently, FACT Magazine described us as creating "abstract noise from found objects and metal attacked with electromagnetic force-fields".   Indeed, this is our current modus operandi - it forms the basis of our long-awaited 'Oscillations: Post-Electronic Music' LP recorded in France a few years ago, employing the 'post-electronic' acoustic synthesis technique which we began to experimentalise in 2005, and which I pursue tirelessly here on this blog and wherever else I'm permitted to aerate.  In Oscillatorial Binnage, our individual explorations upon these instruments coalesce into living, breathing dronescapes from which rhythms and harmonies resound whenever the much-sought emergent states are achieved.

For more than a year, half of Oscillatorial Binnage (that is, Chris Weaver and Fari Bradley) have been engaged in an extended residency in the United Arab Emirates (where they have lectured, performed, released their 'Systems for a Score' LP, and built installations).   Their absence had muted Oscillatorial Binnage operations somewhat.  In the interim, Binnage member Toby Clarkson produced his feature length documentary 'Little Tsunamis', and I released an album that attempted to embody thoughts within tuning systems.   At long last - this month Oscillatorial Binnage are back together once again. A new gig this Tuesday June 13th at the Ikectik Art Lab - our first for a long time - promises to herald the upcoming release of the 'Oscillations: Post-Electronic Music' LP on Ash International later this year.  Our rehearsals have brought to light paradigm-shifting new sounds occupying realms between noise and tone; midway between percussion and harmony.  All puffery aside, the 13th promises to be an exquisite evening.

Oscillatorial Binnage's Chris Weaver coaxing emergent tones from electromagnetic gubbins
This event is the second in Resonance Extra's Extra Nights live broadcast series at Iklectik (the first of which was Milo T-M's groundbreaking 'Myrmomancy Music' last month [for which I was honoured to build viewing cases for; boxes within which live ants roamed]).  Dauntingly (for us), our upcoming Oscillatorial Binnage meditation/exposition at Extra Nights #2 will be shoulder-to-shoulder with greatness: it boasts the wonderful Lepke B. with his idiosyncratic sonic gobsmackingness, whilst the bill is helmed by US maestro and hardware hacking proselytiser Prof. Nic Collins, who gives a rare performance here in the UK.  Incidentally, a 'post-electronic thumb piano' - as used in Oscillatorial Binnage - is featured in Collins' landmark tome 'Handmade Electronic Music'.  Collins himself is no stranger to electromagnetic actuation - his backwards electric guitar virtually established the practice.  His performances are always engaging, instructive and entertaining.  So come see these wonders at Iklectik this Tuesday 13th June : Iklectik, 20 Carlisle Lane, London SE1.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Radionics Radio - 'An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies' (Sub Rosa)

Radionics Radio's An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies is released this month on the wonderful Sub Rosa label, available either as a download, or as a CD (which is accompanied by a 20-page illustrated booklet detailing the history of radionics' relationship with acoustics).

During the course of the Radionics Radio project many people enquired "isn't radionics a quack medicine?"  The answer is not so simple.  Over the years there have been many radionics researchers and practitioners, all characterised by a sincerely held belief that our scientific understanding of reality isn't all it seems.   Overlooking the ins and outs of radionic philosophy, Radionics Radio focusses firmly on the mid-20th century technologies, particularly those of Oxford's Delawarr Laboratories who were dedicated to establishing a physical basis for radionics.  This is because one of the most fascinating electronic soundmaking devices ever produced emerged from this laboratory.

Delawarr Laboratories' experiments with electronic sound began in the late 1940s, culminating in 1962 with the emergence of the Delawarr Multi-Oscillator.  The purpose of the Multi-Oscillator was to provide its operator with a means to find combinations of audio frequencies that related to thoughts (in a process similar to dowsing).  To those unacquainted with radionics, this may seem odd, yet composers do that selfsame thing whenever they compose: a theme is held in the mind (e.g. "a horse") and the music is intuitively built up.

In practice, the clinical Multi-Oscillator produced very dissonant drones in odd tuning relationships.  The sounds weren't viewed as music by Delawarr Laboratories, although coincidentally, the soundmaking techniques paralleled developments in avant-garde music.

Radionics Radio was launched in 2014 as an application: a web-based reworking of the Multi-Oscillator.  Controversially, I believe it's the UK's first ever publicly-funded radionics 'device' (funded by the Arts Council in a roundabout way).  The app was a single oscillator that users could control whilst thinking of a thought, intuiting any moments where the frequency corresponded with the thought.  A list of intuited frequencies would be sent in alongside the thought or phrase, and I would re-constitute them as drones to be broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM.  Gradually, sets of different thought-frequencies were sequenced in time, or even merged if harmonies corresponded.  Ultimately, a system was developed where microtonal scales could be built-up from thought-frequencies.

As I'm not a radionics practitioner, the app's main purpose was to collect sonic material for my compositions.  These compositions (such as 'Peter send me money so I can fix the boat you promised') are microtonal due to the nature of the frequency selection (which either "occultly" embody the thought, or are merely arbitrary selections, depending on your viewpoint).  It is during the process of composing with the frequencies that a form of mental searching takes place (comparable to radionic technique) to musically capture the mood of the thought.  Initially, Resonance FM listeners sent in thought-frequencies, but over time, more and more radionics aficionados from around the world experimented with the Radionics Radio app, producing submissions that somehow seemed more "plausible" (e.g. frequencies spread out more evenly)

An Album of Musical Radionic Thought Frequencies is the culmination of compositional complexity.  It only contains a handful of submissions (out of over two-thousand) that I have musically-worked-out as pieces.  Initially, I treated all the thought-frequencies as immutable chords, but soon realised that octaves and sub-octaves could be created from those frequencies without interfering with the unique harmonic moods (or detracting from radionic philosophies, viz. remarks on sympathy between octaves in Matter in the Making [1966])

An example is shown here.  One of Delawarr Laboratories' original thought-frequency sets is "Resentment" (8Hz, 59Hz, 80Hz, 130Hz and 350Hz).   Although it's a microtonal run of frequencies, it can be broadly represented on a score:

Microtones cannot truly be reduced to standard musical notes, but a full scale of "Resentment" in all its octaves and sub-octaves would look something like this:

And so this is the basis of the Radionics Radio album, which marks the end of my Sound and Music sponsored composer residency at Resonance FM.  A massive thank you to everybody who helped with this intricate project, and to all users of the Radionics Radio application!

Resonance FM will be repeating early episodes of the Radionics Radio radio series starting on Thursday 11th August.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Post-Electronic Music and Electromagnetic Force Fields at Hackoustic 2016

Yesterday I had the unexpected honour of giving the first presentation at the first ever Hackoustic Festival at the Machines Room, Hackney.  Prestigious as it sounds, this scheduling was a rather a chance outcome of other performers dropping out at the last-minute.  Nevertheless, it was a privilege to present an overview of my work there and it seemed to resonate perfectly with the Hackoustic theme.  I spoke about post-electronic music - something I've been steeped in since an epiphanic acoustic experience on a train in 2004.  Post-electronic music has its pros and cons: miraculous agitations are possible (that is, emergent sonic effects), but the instrumentation is often cumbersome and difficult to transport.  Inspiringly, some other Hackoustic performers had collapsible instruments: a very useful feature indeed, and something that should always be factored into apparatus-building at the planning stage (but which is easier said than done when working with found objects).

My presentation was prefaced with a preamble on the value of electromagnetic feedback force-fields in the resonating of objects.  Through the use of electromagnetic relay coils (akin to large EBows), it is possible to establish the elusive element of sustain in the Attack-Decay-Sustain-Release post-electronic system.  Attack, decay and release are all qualities achievable physically, but the sustain parameter - achievable with electromagnetism - completes the electronic / acoustic envelope control analogy.  Crucially, it allows physical waveshaping operations to be performed.  The summation of many years of these electromagnetic post-electronic experiments can be heard on the upcoming Oscillatorial Binnage album Oscillations: Post-Electronic Music (which should finally be released this year), featuring myself, Fari Bradley, Toby Clarkson and Chris Weaver performing on post-electronic electromagnetic assemblies (which actually tended to couple acoustically through the table to become a single super-instrument).

A multi-player instrument from our Oscillatorial Binnage post-electronic recordings
Somebody asked where further information on post-electronic music can be found, so the main purpose of this blogpost is to provide links to these two newly-uploaded papers: 'Miraculous Agitations: On the Uses of Chaotic, Non-Linear and Emergent Behaviour in Acoustic Vibrating Physical Systems' and the shorter 'Dumpster Diving and Post-Electronic Soundmaking' (originally published in the 2012 and 2014 Leonardo Music Journal respectively).  The former may serve as a primer or manifesto on the technique.  Both were written at a time when access to workbenches came easily - alas, it is all too easy to take such spaces for granted, as I'm currently in more cramped conditions.  Space is the major issue in the construction and recording of physical instruments.  Most of the aforementioned Oscillatorial Binnage album material was recorded at the wonderful Borde Basse studio in Southern France where we were spoilt for choice with vastnesses of space (hauling the stuff there was our necessary endurance for this luxury).  And so spaces such as the Music Hackspace (to which the Hackoustic Festival is attached) and its satellite workshops must be cherished.  Such spaces are the stronghold for acoustic experimentation in a digital world...

Post-electronic preparations at Hackoustic 2016

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Further remarks on synchronicity and coincidence...

One of my research interests is in old anonymous literature and how digital archives may be used to uncover the names of those long-unknown authors.  A few years ago Fortean Times published my exposé of the 1935 book Crook Frightfulness (written by an apparently delusional man pursued by evil ventriloquists).  As mentioned in the previous blogpost, this month, the Fortean Times #341 (June 2016) contains the fruits of my latest research - unmasking the identity of the author behind a strange book called Atomic-Consciousness published in 1892 - written by John Palfrey.

I found Atomic-Consciousness a few years ago at a junk shop, and considered it unusual enough to merit further investigation.  It turned out that the book was pseudonymously authored by a man who continually experienced (and instigated) coincidences.  He tried to turn this to his advantage with his attempts to force wished-for thoughts to recur as real events.  Coincidentally, this month's Fortean Times also contains Jenny Randles regular column which happens to be about coincidences too, or rather, Jungian synchronicity.  Randles observes first-hand that talking about coincidences causes them to happen.  This rings very true, because during my research into Atomic-Consciousness I decided to keep a detailed synchronicity diary of my own, just like its author did - full of events and dream-fragments - and every few weeks a few convergences of thought were noted.  But whether this was simply selective-perception or not, I don't know.  Most were recurring frames of inner thought rather than appreciable coincidences.

I'm not a natural diary-keeper and I've stopped maintaining the diary now, but my final synchronicity entry is a worthwhile example...  In the Fortean Times' 'Atomic-Consciousness' article, I cursorily cited Noel Edmonds' 2006 book Positively Happy.  In many ways Edmonds' book is similar to Atomic-Consciousness - it's full of semi-autobiographical anecdotes supporting the idea of willpower as a force to actualise wants.  The main difference is that Edmonds focussed on upbeat positivity, but Atomic-Consciousness is laced with profound negativity.  Its down-at-heel author was prone to ranting, particularly in later abridged editions where he raged at the lack of recognition of his genius - the publication of Atomic-Consciousness was said to be "a thunderbolt falling from Jovian sky".  Palfrey writes with great grandiosity (and weirdness): "Atomic Consciousness at first aroused, on account of originality in avalanching concept of thought, revelation and teaching: and by contravening established customs and opinions, with engrafted beliefs, counterblast of cyclonic furore in all classes..."

On the day I received the Fortean Times, I observed the 'Atomic-Consciousness' article and noted my mention of Edmonds' book, briefly wondering whether the jump between 1892's Atomic-Consciousness and 2006's Positively Happy was a too-surreal juxtaposition.  Then... synchronicity struck!  Half-an-hour later, I read on a news website that Noel Edmonds "blasts the BBC in YouTube video" where he dressed as a character named "Priscilla Prim", a nominally comedic video that some commentators interpreted as a "bizarre" and "bitter" rant at the BBC with reference to his own previous TV work.  This instantly conjured to mind John Palfrey's bitter Atomic-Consciousness effusions, but also the fact that John Palfrey wrote under the pseudonym "James Bathurst", just as Edmonds adopted the guise of "Priscilla Prim".
It seemed a very strange coincidence.  Mystery can be enjoyable, but to be frank I'm glad I'm no longer keeping a synchronicity diary, as expending energy in merely noticing these things can be distracting.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Fortean Times - June 2016 - John Palfrey aka "James Bathurst" - Founder of Modernism?

June's Fortean Times (#341) contains my feature that unmasks the self-proclaimed Founder of Modernism "James Bathurst" - now identified as John Palfrey (1846-1921) - visionary author of Atomic-Consciousness (1892) (and two smaller editions: Atomic Consciousness Reviewed [1902] and Atomic Consciousness Abridgement [1909] published with the help of his brother-in-law William Hurrell Popplestone).  The odd title is listed in the 1926 Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous English Literature, and it's only now that the author can be positively identified (which was no mean feat - but I'll save the investigative ins-and-outs for another blogpost). John Palfrey was a working man plagued by coincidences (or synchronicity, as Jung would later term it) which he often initiated himself through contemplative thought.  Atomic consciousness can be seen as analogous to Jung's collective unconscious, except that it actualises thoughts as events.  Atomic-Consciousness has too many dimensions of oddness to summarise here.

Atomic-Consciousness (1892)
The details of Palfrey's life and work appear in Fortean Times #341 (out now - and jam-packed with many other interestingnesses!).  This blogpost will offer another perspective.  What I find striking about Atomic-Consciousness is the seething resentment of its downtrodden author, particularly in the two later editions.  Under the guise of "James Bathurst", Palfrey later wrote that "gradually the theses propounded [in the 1892 book] became verified in all countries, regenerating conformably thereto, the field of science, and formulating the New Psychology.  Then a host of plagiarists voraciously consumed the fruits of my wisdom and labour".   There is a grain of truth that Atomic-Consciousness was rather ahead-of-its-time in its synthesis of science and the occult, but it was an obscure self-published book, and unknown to most people.  What was happening, Palfrey claimed, was that his thoughts were being intercepted: "my ideas taking flight as they come, the lesser or greater in resuscitation or origination, to sickening repetition of continuance by thrice hated parasite pests in profusion abounding".  He believed that the moment he conceived any novel phrases, they would be immediately stolen, later to reappear in print.  The only remedy was "deeper abstraction" (whatever that means).  'Abstract' would certainly be a suitable description for Palfrey's prose in the two abridged editions.

The original 1892 Atomic-Consciousness began with a humble apology asking the reader to bear in mind that its author was an unschooled working man.  By contrast, in the 1903 and 1909 abridged editions he furiously ranted in purple prose about the brilliance of his original work.  He titled himself as "Founder of New Psychology, the New Age [...], the New Mysticism, and Modernism".  Embittered by the lack of recognition, he blustered: "My sciento-philosophical work was the last and greatest accessible within finite apprehension; subsequent chance discoveries of manipulative wireless telegraphy, and the X rays, though of practical importance, were insignificant beside the profound problems expounded in my book".

Perhaps Palfrey is, in fact, the Founder of Modernism?  The anxious coveting of originality and the abhorrence toward plagiarism is a symptom of the modernist condition.  Indeed, he seems to have experienced the upheavals of modernity first-hand, both mentally, and as a physical confessed "human wreck" hailing from the Devon village of Whimple, "compelled to labour" in industrial towns, wishing himself to be maimed or injured during his railway employments simply to be freed from work.  His 1892 masterwork starkly articulates the plight of the thoughtful Victorian worker - suicide seemed attractive to him.  However, Palfrey was too self-regarding to champion any workers' causes: describing himself, he writes that "a man of thoughtful expression incurs from the lower ranks scoff and ridicule; so great is their ignorance" (Palfrey was, after all, gifted with an ability to intuit things most people fail to notice).  Experiencing the horrors of industry first-hand, the super-cantankerous Palfrey bemoaned civilisation, and once, when observing from a hillside a squalid townscape blotting the natural landscape, he nihilistically pondered with sneaking optimism "as to whether a few thousands of particularly developed minds, with strong will, may not cause some plague or fire to devastate 'civilised' countries".  As "James Bathurst", Palfrey was able to elevate and reinvent himself as a grandiloquent philosopher-seer with anarchist tendencies, critiquing everything, obsessed by the concept of transmissible thought energies, viewing mental processes in terms of electromagnetism...

Palfrey described how the etheric agency of atomic-consciousness causes any single thought to recur - "duality" is the law.  This means that coincidences occur in pairs, but Palfrey remarked that further repetitions may follow ad infinitum "if one bestows on a second or successive occurrence that thoughtful contemplation accompanying the first".  To frustrate and complicate things, atoms have polar (+ / -) properties, and since everything is comprised of atoms (including the human mind) one must therefore be "positive" or "repellant" to bring about any desired occurrences (which is a self-confident state of mind devoid of any wishfulness), and not "negative" (anxious, timid or wishful) otherwise adverse influences may take effect, creating an opposite outcome.  Because Palfrey was very emotional and downtrodden, he had difficulty maintaining the correct state of mind so conducive to bringing about his wants.

William Burroughs cruelly illustrates in The Western Lands (1987) how, when a mysterious "Wish Machine" is introduced that operates on occult principles, there is the warning: "Feed a whiny wish through the Machine, and you will soon have ample cause to whine".  On the mean streets of Victorian west-country towns, Palfrey illustrated that same unforgiving principle at work...

For more on Atomic-Consciousness, see this month's Fortean Times #341...

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Rose Keen and the Futurists

In June last year, myself and Ed Baxter produced the 'Art of Noises Centenary Souvenir Supplement' to accompany two concerts commemorating the Futurist Art of Noises at London's Coliseum in June 1914.  It contained all the most interesting newspaper cuttings relating to the original performances, Harvey Grace's essay, a pull-out colour poster of Russolo's 'Music' (1911), and a short essay I wrote...

During the course of the research for this little essay (which was rather hurried), I discovered one of those Jungian synchronicities that often crop up and cause momentary bogglement.  The Futurists had rather been pipped to the post, as a 'noise concert' of sorts had already taken place just five months earlier in Surrey.  It was the brainchild of Rose Keen (1884-1972), a classically trained musician.  The coincidence is that her birthday happened to be 15th June - the same day that the Futurists commenced their week at the Coliseum!  We may use caution in dubbing Rose Keen Britain's first Futurist, as subsequent research has revealed she did not pursue this particular radical musical approach (becoming a music teacher and concert pianist) but her concert remains an extraordinary feat.  She does not have any living relatives or children, therefore much about her remains unknown.  One possible lead was her former student Katharine Mowll, a pianist and teacher I wrote to earlier this year, only to discover she sadly passed away in July 2014.

What follows below is the full text from the 2014 concert supplement (some parts taken from an older blog posting here).  A much more comprehensive referenced account can be read in my 'Magnetic Music of the Spiritual World' from earlier this year.
In Godalming, Surrey, on the 15th June 1884, a girl named Rose Keen was born.  The daughter of a baker father and a confectioner mother, she became a student of the Royal Academy of Music.  At the age of 29, in late December 1913 she organised a daring concert where twenty performers, dressed smartly as servants, played upon pots, pans, kettles, saucers, cups, jugs and other kitchenware.  It was performed on a stage resembling a kitchen, and seems to have met with a positive reception in local newspapers: "the music, though distinctly futurist in idea, was by no means so inharmonious as that which futurist concerts are generally supposed to furnish".  Keen's concert may derive some influence from 'rough music' - the rustic noisemaking tradition of yore - but almost certainly drew upon her culinarily-geared home life.  One can only guess at the challenges she may have faced in pursuing, however briefly it may have been, that particular extramusical avenue.  There are scant reports on Keen's concert, but the few mentions of her "servants' kitchen" appear as a peculiar instance of osmosis: of fractious Italian Futurist sensibilities filtering through the press into light Edwardian cheer.

Keen's concert preceded that of the Futurists by five months, and her deletion to posterity owes much to her not producing enough of the other sort of noise: hype.  The 15th June (coincidentally Rose Keen's birthday) marks the date that the Italian Futurists first brought their Art of Noises to the UK stage in 1914.  F. T. Marinetti - the loudmouth instigator of Futurism - had visited the UK on previous occasions for artistic and poetic emissions, but in the summer of 1914 he brought with him Luigi Russolo, creator of the Art of Noises, and Ugo Piatti, the engineer who helped Russolo build his infamous noise intoners, or, as they were more literally translated from intonarumori at the time, "noise tuners".  The Italians arrived on the wave of Marinetti's thrillingly hyperbolic ventings, which, when played out, seemed to evaporate into guff on exposure to cool English air.  This becomes most apparent in Harvey Grace's 1914 review of the Futurists' Art of Noises at the London Coliseum - published here for the first time in print since 1914.  Reading Grace's remarks, there is a sense of cultures colliding, but not with a bang - incendiary Futurist statements appear instead defused, becoming mere whimsy.

In November 1913, Marinetti had enthused to the UK press: "in a few months, we shall have a full Futurist orchestra ready, composed of innumerable new instruments.  With wood and string and bell and wire we shall at last be able to reproduce the sounds of the modern world."   One single noise intoner had a low-key exhibition in London, January 1914 and was said to sound "like a lion roaring".  As can be seen from the selection of reports collected here, the press was mostly critical of these affronts to traditional music.  The Birmingham Gazette wrote thus: "Those Futurists who find matter for idealism in 'poverty, hunger and dirt' [referencing Thomas Hood's 1843 poem 'The Song of the Shirt' evoking the sounds of arduous toil and its dismal paraphernalia] should be made to save their symphonies for the future when, it is to be hoped, changed conditions will at least lend to their art an archaeological interest".

A rare photo of the innards of an original noise intoner - one of the larger upright varieties
The Art of Noises was first presented in Milan, then Genoa, in the early months of 1914.  The basic model of a noise intoner featured a string held taut by a movable lever.  The string was attached to a drum membrane that acoustically amplified the sound, which was then directionalised by a funnel.  Like a monstrous hurdy-gurdy, a wheel would spin against the string - vibrating it - when a handle was turned.  Other variations were developments upon this, but are less certain, as designs were never fully disclosed (one report, possibly erroneously, alludes to a bellow-based mechanism).  When the instruments finally arrived in London, some electrical versions had been developed.  The electric varieties were wired in trembling-bell style arrangements, in which a beater would electrically ricochet rapidly back and forth against the string or the drum membrane.

According to painter C. R. W. Nevinson, Marinetti was able to induce Oswald Stoll - manager of the Coliseum variety hall - to play host to the Art of Noises.  "Nobody else could've done it," exclaims Nevinson.  However, Arthur Croxton, the general manager under Stoll, suggests that it was actually he who first drew Stoll's attention to Marinetti, but nevertheless, Croxton was surprised when Stoll decided to engage him.  Croxton alludes to the booking of the Art of Noises as one of the few "mistakes"; the planned second week at the Coliseum was quietly dropped.  In this light of this, it is questionable whether - if the outbreak of war hadn't thrown everything into disarray - the Futurists would have still continued as planned across the UK (there were plans to tour to Liverpool, Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Vienna  - then Moscow, Berlin and Paris).

The view from the stage of the Coliseum
Such a new and unusual idea as noise-as-music would have benefitted from a more intimate venue.  Marinetti, staying at the Savoy, had previously given poetry readings at London's Doré Galleries whilst C. R. W. Nevinson banged a drum - these emissions were generally well-received in this cosier environment.  But the choice of the Coliseum for the Art of Noises was a characteristic Marinetti overstatement of grandiosity.  The London Coliseum was one of the finest variety halls in existence - a giant cavernous space.  The comic actor George Graves (who billed alongside the Futurists) described his own performances at the Coliseum as "barking into the chasm".  The overwhelming acoustic depth of the venue contributed to the weakening of the noise intoners' voices, and compelled the music-hall audience to rival, and even surpass, the noise of the instruments in what proved to be rambunctious scenes.

Noise and music had been combined long before the Futurists - it is seen in the 'descriptive' music of the 19th century, where storms, military battles and railways were imitated with special apparatus.  This was given an ultra-modern spin by the electro-musical entertainments of the late 19th century music hall, pioneered by J. B. Schalkenbach.  Such acts featured thematic noise effects electrically triggered, with the effects often placed within the audience space.  These antecedents had the noises ensconced within musical arrangements, and thus made palatable.  Russolo, on the other hand, radically forced unmusical sound into musical frameworks, modulating noise to musical ends using new instruments.  Russolo's Art of Noises went beyond simple imitations of real-world sounds; his notes reveal an advanced mode of listening: "my noise spirals are not mere impressionist reproductions of the surrounding life, but synthetically-treated noise emotions.  In listening to the combined and harmonized notes of the Exploders, the Whistlers, and the Gurglers, one scarcely thinks of motor cars, engines, or moving waters, but experiences a great Futurist absolutely unforeseen artistic emotion which resembles nothing but itself".

The players of the noise intoners were drawn from the Coliseum's own in-house pit orchestra who were initially reluctant to cooperate.  There was a perceived ridiculousness to the endeavour, and only when this comic aspect dawned on them, according to Arthur Croxton, did they become more open to the idea.  The players performed scores Russolo had prepared: 'Awakening of a Great City' and 'A Meeting of Motor Cars and Aeroplanes', notated using drum scores, but according to Croxton, the players did not pay any attention to the score, acting instead upon Russolo's conducting gestures, thus adding an (unwarranted) element of improvisation that, with hindsight, serves to heighten the revolutionary aspect.

The Art of Noises' week commenced on the 15th June, billed with comedians, vocalists, actors, acrobats, and short films.  The Futurists' turn was met with heckling, booing, hissing, animal noises and indelicate commentary, until one night Oswald Stoll persuaded Marinetti and Russolo to incorporate a gramophone record by Elgar into the act, which quietened the audience a little.  It is reported that Marinetti gave a rambling speech in broken English on the first night, whereas other sources - presumably referring to subsequent performances - say that Marinetti had discoursed in Italian and was apparently cut short.  The Manchester Guardian appears to refer to the second night, reporting that Marinetti was absent, leaving Russolo in charge.

On the 24th June, the Futurists' noise intoners were played at the annual Printer's Pie dinner at the Savoy Hotel, with the noise functioning as a punchline for Hugh Spottiswoode's long, rambling dinner speech (alluding to Marinetti's own rambling introduction to the Art of Noises).  Printer's Pie was a magazine published to raise money for a printers' charity.  The conductor of the Printer's Pie Futurist performance was supposed to be Sir Henry Wood (who had conducted Schoenberg performances earlier in 1914), but he was unable to attend, so Arthur Croxton took his role, and was made-up to look like him by the famous master of disguises Willy Clarkson.  It was a raucous evening with practical jokes, a baby elephant's indiscretion, intonarumori punctuating the speeches, and a boxing match between two characters who were revealed to be illustrators John Hassall and Tony Sarg.   It is not known if Russolo, Marinetti or Piatti were present, but it is said that the instruments were pelted off-stage after just a couple of minutes by the tipsy, raucous audience.   The Printer's Pie noise intoner performance places the noise intoners in a comedic context, and also gives much food for thought on the diverse dimensions of The Art of Noises.   A hundred years later, introducing two special concerts marking the events of 1914, Resonance 104.4FM's Ed Baxter identifies some of them: "an unparalleled iconoclastic act, an elaborately tedious joke, a reactionary act of cultural vandalism, a classic 20th century avant-garde gambit, a myopic aesthetic dead end, the last word in Italian organ grinding, the irrefutable foundation stone of contemporary sonic art, the worst variety act in history... or perhaps the most important concert of all time".

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Fortean Times - May 2015 - Early Electronic Soundmaking (Trolling in the 1920s)

The BBC's anti-oscillation pamphlet
It's not generally known that early valve radios were capable of producing electronic tones through the overuse of the volume dial (or 'reaction' dial).  From the 1920s onwards, valve radios could be pushed into radio-frequency feedback states, and audible sinewave tones could be produced by heterodyning against a radio station's frequency.  Problematically, these tones re-radiated through the home radio's aerial, causing 'howling' interference in every other set in the surrounding area tuned to the same radio station.

Fortean Times #327
May's issue of Fortean Times #327 contains my article Rogue Oscillators - the fullest study yet published on radio oscillation.  Anybody interested in early electronic music is advised to peruse it!  Particularly interesting is the evidence that some people oscillated deliberately, and in the light of modern noisemaking culture - exampled by tomes such as Nic Collins' Handmade Electronic Music - it may be reappraised as a rustic, unrecognised form of rogue pre-electronic music performed by anonymous rascals.

To coincide with the article, here I present a slice of oscillation: Song of the R33 (based on a runaway airship that allegedly had its radio communications interfered with by people oscillating their radios).  The only sound sources are oscillating radio valves, and it gives a rather exaggerated flavour of the kind of sounds that polluted the airwaves of the 1920s and 30s.

Leon Theremin c.1927
An oscillating radio's pitch couldn't be really controlled accurately - the tuning dial wasn't delicate enough to produce true melodies (and nearby radios wouldn't necessarily hear the same pitch as the oscillating radio), but putting one's hand near the radio could slightly affect the tone's pitch too.  This effect was seized upon by Leon Theremin, who took the oscillation principle and upscaled the capacitive body effect to produce his hands-free electronic instrument, the Theremin.

So, if you want to read about this curious pre-history of the Theremin sound, check out this month's Fortean Times #327.

To end this blogpost here's a poem about oscillation from a magazine called The Ironmonger, Universal Engineer and Metal Trades' Advertiser from December 1924:

The Knob-Twiddler

This is the story of Plantagenet,
Who fiddled about with his wireless set;
He plugged in the coils and he turned all the knobs;
He twiddled about with the thingummybobs.
The one thing Plantagenet never would do,
Was to sit down and listen to gentlemen who
Were doing their best to divert and delight
This ineffably curious twiddlesome wight.
Each time he picked up a melodious air
He knew he could tune in much better elsewhere.
Reaction was tightened; then let loose again,
His aerial howls made the neighbours complain.
Whenever the set was performing its best,
Plantagenet thought he would try out a test:
And caterwauls, mingled with groans and with squeals,
Disturbed all his family and ruined his meals.
But was he depressed? Not a bit! He would sit
Picking up funny noises that learners transmit.
For hours he would sit there in rapture sublime,
With knobs and plug-in coils agog all the time:

Perhaps you have heard the unfortunate fate
Of that knob-turning fellow, Plantagenet (late).
One night he was seized by a transmission wave,
Which transported him rapidly, on past the grave,
Into the limbo where knob-twiddlers end -
The place from which night-oscillations ascend.

So all the good people who twiddle the knobs,
Who will mess about with the thingummybobs,
Whenever they hear diabolic howls -
Should remember the army of Radio Ghouls
All ready and anxious to clap down the lid
On all men who do what Plantagenet did.