A companion to Paraudiolia 1 (a piece composed as part of Bluebottle Collective’s ‘Hibernation Radio’ project), Paraudiolia Part 2 deals with degeneration in a cosmic context – the personal and collective dementia experienced as we flail beyond our capacities. This is a series of works employing musique concrete, anonymised interview and reflexive writing, to reflect on disillusion.
This is an episode of the new Dead Medium new podcast. This will be a best of show, including drama, interviews, sound art, comedy and gonzo ‘journalism’. We’re on itunes now, or you can subscribe to our RSS feed here.
The Dublin Enquirer has a new article about Exchange Dublin today. Alas it takes the standard Irish journalistic route where ‘both sides’ (in this case DCC vs a couple of ex-Exchange volunteers) are presented as representing fixed positions that each have merit. Specifically an ‘assistant city manager’ is quoted as saying, “It became clear that they were not in a position to develop an appropriate governance structure which would allow for a return to the premises… This was made clear at meetings.”
Let that sink in for a second… Imagine the monumental arrogance of insisting that a private institution close because a public body dislikes its organisational structure. It’s like telling a business owner they have to close shop, because no one at the council likes their manager. What made Exchange unique was it’s organisational structure. This wasn’t ad hoc, lax or ineffectual – it was considered, highly developed, unreasonably effective and democratic to an unparalleled extent. Every meeting was open to anyone to not only attend, but to participate all decisions affecting the space. Every event, every publication, every decision was made through the consensus of those most interested in its outcome. Exchange was genuinely democratic – in stark contrast to Dublin City Council, which outside of it’s elected counsellors is a bureaucracy wildly hostile to community initiatives. In fact describing the council itself, representing a pitiful 42% of the electorate as democratic, stretches the word to the point of parody. While it makes sense that appointees of a state bureaucracy would dislike dealing with democratic decisions, would be naturally hostile to having to engage on an equal footing with a rotating cast of actual human beings, the certainty behind this clerk’s dismissal of an institution which had a positive impact on the lives of tens of thousands of people – before being crushed out of existence – is grimly amusing.
The idea that the city should dictate the management of a private institution is the issue. What made Exchange work so well was its democratic management, and what ultimately led to it’s disillusion were the moves forced on it by the council to adopt a more conventional, top down management style. This isn’t a business vs idealism thing. Exchange always paid its rent, and after the first few months, was entirely self funded through events and user contributions. The non-heirarchical organisational style is actually on the rise in progressive multinational businesses like Valve, Semco and Zappos. An unelected bureaucracy couldn’t be expected to have an informed opinion, either on the Exchange in particular, or the efficacy of running institutions democratically. Exchange didn’t need to change it’s management style – the city authorities needed to tolerate diversity. Imagine if rather than blaming problems like youth drug use on the few spaces that provided an alternative to delinquency, they’d encouraged and supported the project!
Ironically – Exchange really did have a number of structural issues. These were a direct result of the city’s insistence on specific points of contact with persons with specific responsibilities. What ultimately killed the space, as much as it’s direct shut down by the city, was the departure on mass of most long term volunteers about a year before it finally closed. A direct response to the concentration of control of the space into a couple of volunteers who served as de facto points of contact. Gradually Exchange drifted away from being democratically run – in exactly the way the city insisted it must, losing much of its good will and inclusiveness along the way. A process which seems to have occurred numerous times in the Dublin arts scene, as once democratic galleries were compelled to become professional bureaucracies.
On a more positive note, I’d like to talk a little about some of the things Exchange did achieve in it’s short life. I’m quoted briefly in the piece, but I thought it was worth posting the complete response I sent to the writer, Louisa McGrath.
“Exchange was a place that had a profound impact on my life. When I left college in 2008, Ireland seems a pretty hopeless place. The boom had served to make rent unpayable to a recent graduate. While there were some jobs available, they seemed to be exclusively in sales and marketing, advertising and clerical tasks – empty uncreative, bureaucratic busywork: What the anthropologist David Graeber calls ‘bullshit jobs’. It seemed that doing something meaningful in Ireland, connecting with people on anything other than a directly exploitative and insincere level was impossible. At the same time, emigration was prohibitively expensive, and as a mature student, I’d aged out of most of the ‘kick them into the sea’ alternatives for dealing with unemployment.
Then the recession hit, and things got better quickly. A group of young NCAD and Trinity Students announced they’d be holding a public meeting to open a community art space. I heard an old friend from college was involved and dropped by in the weeks before the meeting. I started clumsily helping out with renovations. Rather than squatting or occupying a space, the group – Roisin Byrne, Jonah King, Andreas Von Knobloch, Anna Wu and Dylan Haskins – had applied for, and miraculously received, a small grant from the young ensemble scheme. With the money they’d begun renting a space in Temple Bar, with the blessing and moderate oversight of The Project Arts Centre. That space would become ‘Exchange Dublin’, and over early months of experimenting with various models from ‘open space’ to project groups, it became the first ‘consensus run’ art space in the city. This meant that Exchange was entirely governed by the decisions of its users – anyone who went along to weekly meetings could decide what events, activities and renovations would take place.
Exchange served as a beacon of hope in the city. It’s impossible to describe exactly the feeling of the space. Institutions have their own timbre, like pieces of music. We all know what an office feels like, a restaurant, a pub, an art gallery. But the atmosphere was different from all of those. It was open, and non-commercial, relaxed and energising. It attracted tens of thousands of people – from locals to tourists, professional artists to the homeless. Visitors were not passive spectators, they made things, put on events, learnt how to dance, paint, tell stories. After a couple of years, as the recession brought down commercial rents still further, other similar galleries – none quite as open, but all sharing an ethos of community over profit, a belief in the necessity of a real ‘third space’, sprouted up. Some of these spaces were glorified gig venues, others commercial galleries with a community touch – what mattered was that they opened up possibilities in the city. The possibility of ordinary people engaging in the creative arts, the possibility of sitting down and talking without needing to be able to pay something. The possibility of a democratic use of space, in a city that lacks even basic street furniture.
Unfortunately, Exchange was always in conflict. Temple Bar Cultural Trust quickly decided that a space it could neither understand nor completely control was unwanted in Dublin’s largest supermarket. After the Cultural Trust imploded amidst allegations of mismanagement and outright theft, Dublin City Council became our landlords. DCC too, couldn’t quite come to grips with a collectively run space – and over time imposed increasingly strict conditions on Exchange’s continued existence, from documentation which had to be filled in every time furniture was moved (which happened dozens of times a day in a multiuse space), to mandatory volunteer training, to requiring the name of every visitor. A mountain of bureaucracy was piled on, and relations quickly deteriorated. The institutions of the city took a ‘ah here now’ attitude to a place which didn’t need them, but over which they unfortunately had power. This wasn’t an isolated incident, literally dozens of similar spaces have been shut down in the city in the last two years including Mabos, Subground 43, Space 54, Dublin City TV, Supafast, Bluebottle Collective, the Factory, Moxie Studios, the Joinery, and even Semora Spraoi, the longest running democratically run community space in the country. Some of these spaces were forced out by rent increases, others by reductions in public funding, others through over zealous policing. Ultimately, all the closures had the same effect – to make the city less creative, less hospitable, less culturally diverse, and even more rapacious.”
Exchange’s lifetime may have been brief, but it wasn’t without impact. For me, learning to run events, host gallery shows, perform comedy, teach creative writing, and simply be involved in a real creative community, changed my life completely. I wasn’t aware it was possible to live a life surrounded by people who spent their days exploring what it meant to be alive, rather than being fixated on trudging toward retirement in the certainty that nothing better or more interesting than office life is possible. Exchange gave me the confidence to pursue radio production, comedy, writing and film making. It made me understand a little more clearly that things our culture values, are all too often worthless status symbols and vapid entertainment. It made me realise that people are able to incredible things when all the barriers between them – be they money, degrees, or self importance, are for a moment dropped. I was better person in that space, and I keep a little of it with me. I know so many people who do what they do today – whether it be graphic design, fine art, standup, music or dance – because Exchange let them release their potential. Not in a ‘look at how much you can make’ kind of way, but in a ‘look how real life can feel’ way. Spaces come and go, and ruthlessly commercial cities like Dublin will always seek to extinguish any unprofitable distraction, but Exchange was and is proof that even a place as cold as Dublin, and be the warmest city in the world.
Kino is an international filmmaking movement that’s been running in cities around the world since 1999. The concept is simple – aspiring filmmakers of all levels of experience, meet over a weekend; write, direct, edit and screen films all in a two day blitz. Over time the movement has expanded to included week long ‘international kabaret’ events. The next of these is planned from July 12th – 19th in Dublin. I’ve participated in two Kino events, doing everything from writing / directing to sound, acting and even craft services. What’s unique about the event is the openness to filmmakers of all levels of experience and none. Camera people who work professionally in the industry, rub shoulders with first time actors and vice versa. It’s a full immersion introduction to the minimum viable product of a film. If you’re interested in taking part, you’ll find all the info you need at Kino’s facebook page. Back in March I attended one of the Dublin Kino D weekends, and spoke to Kino D founder George Hooker, as well as a bunch of enthusiastic attendees. Take a listen.
Meg’s Moorley’s ‘artist led archive‘ is a wonderful storehouse of the wisdom and work of numerous art collectives over the last four decades. The archive, which tours as a series of exhibitions and discussion events, is part of the permanent collection at the National Arts Visual Library at NCAD. I spoke with curator and artist Megs Morley, at the recent Artist Led Archive exhibition at IMMA.
All tracks used in this piece were from CD’s included in the Artist Led Archive (complete list below). Many of these works were included on the incredible ‘The Sound We Are Now‘ release from 2007, featuring some of the most beautiful and evocative sound artists working in the last decade. The Sound We Are Now is available from Farpoint Recordings, the label which curates a panoply of incredible sound artists and experimental musicians.
The Sound We Are Now – Anthony Kelly & David Stalling – Powerstation 3
The Sound We Are Now – Thea Herold – Same Same but different
Gary Phelan & Mark McLoughlin – Random Access Soundworks – Kevlar Second Chants
The Sound We Are Now – Johannes S. Sistermanns – to disappear / appear
The Sound We Are Now – Alan Lambert South Shore
David Stalling and Anthony Kelly – Urban Utopias – Ghost Signal
The Sound We Are Now – Jürgen Simpson – Kepler
Alan Lambert – The Man Who Cycled To The Moon – Tiny Tiny
This weekend Little Gem Records launched the physical release of my documentary series ‘Mad Scientists of Music‘. The series is available now from Little Gem‘s store (located off Parnell Square, just across from the Ambassador Theatre), on their awesome ‘little gem’ mp3 player format. It’s an extremely limited release – so pick up a copy from the shop (or from me in person) while you can.
Perhaps you’ve seen it. One of those instantly recognisable meme images, that neatly confirm our prejudices with a concise and tweet ready bon mot. The image shows a young man, trendily emaciated and nebbish, Brooklyn casual in navy and white stripped boaters, below his aquamarine shorts and Warby Parker goggles. He sits on a park bench, oblivious to his anachronism, pecking away at an analogue typewriter. ‘You’re not a real hipster’, the text smugly asserts, ‘until you take your typewriter to the park’.
Quoth another readily shared bon mot, ‘Christ what an asshole’.
As with so many pieces of received wisdom, this one is a primary source only about the beliefs of those who spread it. Look we say, as we reblog, tweet and post it to Facebook, ‘I spurn the ironic adoption of outmoded technologies, for I am unpretentious’. Unhappily for the hipster cliche, it turns out that our sartorially stereotyped analogue aficionado is in reality a writer ‘The Roving Typist’, making what must be an agonisingly modest living selling custom hand typed short stories, written one at a time.
I came of age, just as the typewriter was becoming obsolete. Say what you will about the destructive impact on concentration, artistry and erudition the computer hath wrought. For me, the spellchecker made writing possible. I remember the sinking feeling, just before my junior cert, on being instructed by a particularly pernicious crone, only ever to use words that I could spell. Well thats it, I thought. I’ll be handing up a blank English paper. I’m not actually dyslexic, the technical term is subclinical auditory working memory difficulties. But without the smooth forgiving inline recommendations of autocorrect, I’d be at sea with two es.
But that doesn’t make me immune to the allure of ageing technology – the pleasing hum of a vinyl record enticing you to listen all the way through. The pen gliding over paper, devoid of the distractions of the internet. Working with clay, or paint, in a tactile medium, making things that exist even when the power goes out.
The typewriter is something different, a tool that attained a mythology inseparable from it’s use. The iconic silhouette and the clammer of it’s chattering teeth are endlessly evocative – inseparable from the toiling writer, the sweating journalist, the bun mopped ladies of the secretarial pool. It is at once feminine and brutish. A tool which cracked open the workplace for women as it subjugated them into mere transcribers. As Friedrich Kittler, in his meditation on technological media ‘Gramophone Film Typewriter’, called the typewriter a ‘discursive machine gun’, ‘Typescript’ he wrote ‘amounts to the desexualization of writing, sacrificing its metaphysics and turning it into word processing.’
The permanence of typing, the ink spilled like blood, the trees felled and boiled to make the paper – has the quality of murder. Typing prose is a kind of creative destruction – connected to our colonisation of nature. The writer as a one man printing press, a wild egoist making permanent his thoughts. How strange that this machine, with it’s digital keys, engineered to bureaucratise and mechanise the act of writing, seems romantic to us. Will future generations eulogise the laptop, collecting battery heavy early models, propping them up on park benches to pay homage? I doubt it. There is something unique about mechanical machinery – something at once unearthly and comforting. The typewriter a beast that comes to life, only at our touch – magnifying our strength and dexterity. It is vulnerable to injury – clogging with paper, teeth knotting together. It hungers for ribbon.
It is not purely analogue. Florian Cramer in his essay ‘What is Post digital’ argues that the type writer, with it’s keys chopping information into ‘discrete units’ can be considered digital. And yet, each tap bears the mark of our fingers varying pressure. As a child I used to practice typing without ink. The slalom of my dancing fingers, marking the paper like footprints in snow. Hidden messages that could be uncovered like grave rubbings.
For some writers this physical connection, the hypnotic rhythm of words on paper, is a self conscious escape from the ferocious intangible. Words become real, only when spoken or written. And it’s here that the digital realm is a deadly peril. The computer lets us to reedit at a moments notice. The internet leaks endless accelerating accretions of material – reference and competition, distraction and response. So many voices, drowning out our own. So many screaming certainties, making certainty suspicious. The world becoming software dissolves our words.
The typewriter is a cathect, a storehouse for our feelings about the past. If the act of writing changes what is said, then writing on a machine purpose built and laden with history cannot help but shape our words. Taking the trouble to type, mastering the mechanical spider, binds our ideas in paper. A single vulnerable edition, peppered with human mistakes. A naturalised piece of the world, ready to blow away in a slapstick breeze. Perhaps it’s this image, the loose leaves of a novels single copy escaping it’s author, colliding comically with a street full of machinery, that captures something of the draw of the typewriter today. For a writer, the maelstrom of words which pours from the screens around us, can be overwhelming. A break is needed, a discontinuity, writing as retrograde amnesia. One word at a time.
Eric Satie – Parade – Performed by Griffyn Ensemble
Leroy Anderson – The Typewriter
Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle – Typewriter Tip Tip Tip
Liars – They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top – The Garden Was Crowded and Outside
Billy Fury – Gonna Type a Letter
Alicia Keys – Typewriter
Type of Music (featuring a typewriter) – Jon Brooks
‘White Cane Audio Theatre is a group of blind and visually impaired participants (aged 20’s to 80’s) led by theatre director Ciarán Taylor of Carpet Theatre with radio programme maker and composer Rachel Ni Chuinn (The Shape of Sounds to Come –Lyric Fm), and facilitated by the National Council for the Blind in Ireland with the support of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Arts Office. The group has been meeting for nine months exploring audio as a means of shared expression. Sightless Cinema is a presentation of some of the work generated during the project.’
I spoke to the group last week as they were finishing up recordings for the soap opera episodes based on their real life experiences, that serve as part of the project.
Sightless cinema, a live event showcasing the groups work, takes place this Thursday at UCD’s student centre cinema at 6.30PM. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org for ticket details.