Sometimes I think I am doing something important and sometimes I am just thinking about thinking about doing something important.
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week of 17 March 2017

Back when I lived in Glasgow, I remember one day when Alex Neilson was telling me how thrilled he was about the solo music he was then working on (which I think was his Directing Hand project). I can’t remember his exact words, but he said something to the effect of: ‘I’ve reached a point now where I can hear something in my head and then play it, and it sounds exactly like I imagined it’. The translation between idea and recorded product was, to him, invisible. I was impressed by this, even jealous. In terms of my own music at the time, nothing could have been further from the truth; even the recordings I’m most proud of (like the unreleased Lied Music and Intro to Pterodactyl albums, or my Boat Trip LP) took on a far different form as actual recorded music than whatever idealised vision existed in my head.

This used to trouble me. In the years when I actively defined myself as a music or sound-based artist, I was racked with insecurities about what I was doing. I felt pressured by the immensely brilliant work of my friends and peers, and I often wondered if I actually enjoyed making music, or if I just felt obligated to, since music was so important to me. It was always a struggle and I often fell victim to procrastination, laziness and cynicism. I kept trying; there were so many idealised sound-forms that I wanted to unleash from my mind, but couldn’t.

After all, I grew up reading record reviews in zines —  and on the nascent Internet -- but wasn’t able to hear much of what I read about. These were the days before Napster, Bandcamp and BitTorrent, so most of what I wanted music to be lived inside my own imagination. I still devoured music recordings as much as possible (ask anyone who’s ever helped me move house) but, for example, I would often read about (or have someone describe) a band or artist and then only eventually hear maybe one of their records. And it was rarely anything like I imagined. 

(I’m fascinated sometimes by the gap between when you imagine something and start turning it over in your mind, creating worlds and realities around it — and when you actually experience the real thing and then adjust your memories and projections to the reality. It’s not just music - I can think about friends whose houses I had never been to, but imagined them, sometimes even mentally projecting a floorplan and interior decor. And then the instant that I actually visit their flat, I immediately lose my imaginary floorplan/interior and can never even recall it, for so strong is the lived experience.)

I realise now that some of my biggest influences are not actually of recorded music, but the idea of what I imagined something could sound like, from the imperfect descriptions as conveyed by verbal language. I love that potential, and I’m actually saddened that current and future generations are unlikely to ever experience this, since they are at all times just a few clicks away from anyone’s entire discography, on demand.

Anyway, at some point a few years ago I got over my issue with not being able to reproduce musical ideas from my mind. I no longer dream of Alex’s mastery (though I sure appreciate him); I learned to enjoy the discord between my intentions and outcome, and to see that approach to translation as a major part of what characterises an artist's uniqueness. What I’m describing here is a fairly boring, quotidian narrative of creative maturity; a Portrait of a Tape Manipulator/Israj Improviser as a Young Man. Still, while music-making has become something only in the rear-view, this enjoyable discord is still present in me.

I write about this now as a way to avoid directly writing about Temporary for two newsletters in a row, though little else has occupied my mind recently. Well, here goes: since the beginning of this month, the place has exploded, being filled every day and night with interesting people and activities. We’ve done this largely without compromising on our ideals. What I’m most proud of is that as Temporary gains momentum, it’s not becoming more work; things are actually getting easier for us. We designed this project to hopefully alleviate the administrative burden of a culture space and decentralise content, production, promotion and responsibility. It’s far from perfect, but I think we are definitely on the right track.

So this is a case where maybe I have achieved Alex’s experience, if only in this one specific circumstance. Temporary now is exactly what I imagined and dreamed it could be six months ago, when we first unlocked the door. Perhaps these are Famous Last Words - let’s check in after an entire year has passed - but it feels nice to be able to measure that my imagination is exactly six months ahead of reality.

Apologies if this sounds cocky or bragging. From my experience there are few times in life when everything seems to synchronise, and I know it’s probably fleeting, so I’m just trying to enjoy it.

I’m taking time now to actually re-read a book: Michel Butor’s Mobile. I first read this back when lived in Kentucky, and revisiting this is nice especially after coming back from the crumbling USA. As experimental literature goes, it’s actually rather accessible. I’d recommend it to people who haven't read much avant-garde fiction before, but would like to explore that world.

Mobile is an extremely abstract trip through America in the late 1950s, built around the repetition of city/town/place names. The writing moves from (for example) Fairfield, Montana to Fairfield, North Dakota to Fairfield, New Hampshire, though telling us hardly anything about these places; this beautiful repetition is broken up by the numerous italicised voices: lists of birds and wildlife, narrative fragments from travel brochures or other historical records, and unattributed quotes. 

It’s a bit like some of Cage’s writings (Diary comes to mind) and a bit like poetry. It’s probably my favourite American road novel, and it was written by a Frenchman, has no narrative, and was possibly written by simply thumbing through an atlas. Yet it somehow attains a transcendent beauty, which is it’s hypnotic and fluid. The preface to Dalkey’s 2004 reprint (by John D’Agata) relates it to Eisenhower's Interstate highway system, and from there, to national defence and the Cold War; it’s an interpretation so left-field from my own experience with the text that it really threw me. While this casts a hell of a pallor over the novel, it actaully magnifies its possibilities.

Another foreigner writing about my home country: JG Ballard’s Hello America, which I picked up randomly while browsing library shelves. I had the same problem here that I have with all of the other Ballard I’ve read - no matter how amazing his ideas were (and they were definitely amazing), his prose isn’t engaging, and I find the actual process of reading him to be a chore. This one had a particularly great premise - America has been abandoned due to an energy crisis and climate change; a hundred years later an research expedition from Europe lands on the shores and discovers all sorts of bedlam, including President Charles Manson and a gang of ‘Native Americans’ with names like Heinz and Pepsodent. 

Not much time for film or TV,  but soon.

I’m starting to catch up with my old pal Giles Bailey as he’s graciously invited me to be part of a project this summer. I highly recommend the first issue of his zine, TALKER, which consists entirely of a long, thoughtful interview with artist and performer Ian White. Get it:

This is hardly obscure, but the Guardian’s long article on what will happen when then Queen dies was actually 1000x more fascinating than I expected it to be:

OK, it’s getting late and forces are amassing here for ‘Temporary Overview Effect’, where we will collectively sleep while projecting an image of the Earth as seen from space.

Til next time,

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