Tuesday 30 September 2008

Catching Up With the Hyatt Regency Atrium

Anyone interested in time travel should take the opportunity, if they can, to linger awhile in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. Just two short escalator rides up from Drumm Street, opposite the Embarcadero BART stop, it is widely held to be the largest atrium in existence. Designed by architect and property developer John C Portman, it was built in the early 1970s, at a time when NASA’s Apollo space programme was winding down while greater emphasis was being placed upon the creation and maintenance of orbiting space stations. What you find yourself straining your neck to fully appreciate is a space ark fashioned out of raw concrete.

The Hyatt Regency is the perfect embodiment of a space that has been ‘hollowed out’: everything clings to the inside edge of its vast interior. Instead of having to negotiate mazes of corridors superimposed on each other from floor to floor, all rooms are accessed by a series of tiered balconies that run around the space’s inner perimeter. Instead of a central enclosed core of elevators and stairways, its points of access have moved out to the very periphery of the building, placing it as far as possible to the outer corner of the atrium.

From the outside it looks like nothing at all: just a series of introspected concrete grids, slits and ledges, its overall shape defined by the gap left between existing structures. In this respect it looks forward, not to the worlds of Logan's Run and Battlestar Galactica, but to the urban fortresses Frank Gehry created in Los Angeles during the early 1980s, such as the Goldwyn Library.

At the same time, the Hyatt Regency’s design looks back to the work of architect Morris Lapidus, responsible during the 1950s for a fantastic line in resort hotels, such as the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. ‘You want to have fun,’ Lapidus said of his creations. ‘Don’t try. You are in my hotel. You’re having fun.’ Lapidus piled excess upon excess. To visit one of his hotels was to find yourself inside a movie: each experience was shaped and structured as a series of cinematic illusions. The lobby of the Fontainebleau, for example, was famous for its spectacular grand staircase that led nowhere. The building practically had the experience for you. Not surprisingly, John Portman started his design firm at the same time as Lapidus was creating movie sets in which his customers could act out lives that were removed from their lives. We can trace a similar line of thinking to a statement made by John Portman in 1976.

‘Architects in the past have tended to concentrate their attention on the building as a static object,’ he wrote in The Architect as Developer. ‘I believe dynamics are more important: the dynamics of people, their interaction with spaces and environmental condition. We must learn to understand humanity better so that we can create an environment that is more beneficial to people, more rewarding, more pleasant to experience… Buildings should serve people, not the other way around.’

Two executives in white shirts, bound for one of the Hyatt Regency conference rooms, brushed past me while I was taking these photographs. ‘It was fantastic,’ one said to the other excitedly. ‘He presented all our issues in one thirty-second deliv.’ But that’s another story.

Saturday 27 September 2008

‘Mondo Mancunia’ On Hold

I very much regret to announce that, for health and safety reasons, all live music events at the Shunt Vault have been suspended for the next two weeks. This suspension will include ‘Mondo Mancunia’, the four-day residency curated by Graham Massey due to start on Wednesday October 1. You can only imagine, given the small amount of notice we have been given, what a bitter disappointment this news has been to all the participants in ‘Mondo Mancunia’. New dates for the residency are being discussed at the moment, however, and I hope to be able announce details on ‘Mondo Mancunia Redux’ in the very near future.

Friday 26 September 2008

In the Compound with Naut Humon and Li Alin

Spent the last few hours in San Francisco down by the water’s desolate edge, near Candlestick Park, to visit Recombinant Media Labs’s new temporary home at ‘the Compound’, a building in an industrial park where Naut Humon , doyen of the city’s emergent Industrial performance scene, once ran regular nights of sensory overload. ‘The double doors used to be flung open,’ he recalled, pointing at the Compound’s tall entrance, ‘and the audience would be greeted by smoke and lights and noise pouring out of it.’ The cops, it seems, rarely bothered to come out here – and still don’t, if the chain link fencing, fly tipping and scavenging are anything to go by.

The Compound is now providing a temporary home for Recombinant Media Labs: a high definition multi-channel audiovisual system known as ‘Surround Traffic Control’. Featuring ten large video projection screens arranged to form a full 360-degree aspect, this enclosed performance space is also equipped with an awesome 16.8.2 horizontal and vertical sound diffusion system, capable of earthshaking volume levels, but with the lightest and subtlest of response. Flexible enough offer any number of playback possibilities, RML’s capabilities can also be scaled up or down to fit all types of rectangular space, thereby offering access ‘processes that expand the aesthetic and technological boundaries of panoramic installation, surround cinema, and immersive a/v performance'. Artists who have already worked with RML include Morton Subotnick, Biosphere, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Pole and Semiconductor.

Naut is currently working with singer and artist Li Alin on developing a touring version of the RML, which should be visiting Europe in the next four or five months. They are also developing a repertoire of songs as Careen Ajar – I heard a rough live mix of one played back over the RML’s impressive sound system and it has a physicality to it you won’t want to miss.

From nights of aggressive splendour at the Compound to the RML, Naut Humon has continued to explore the senses, not so much as individual conduits to experience, but as a unified field of merged effects. You longer see with your eyes and hear with your ears in the depths of RML’s playback facilities: you perceive with your whole body.

Pictured from the top down: Naut Humon and Li Alin at the RML desk, KH feeling out the space, and outside the Compound with Naut and Li, giving us an elegant impression of what 21st Century trailer trash should really look like.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Welcome to Mars at the Other Cinema

The above are just a few of pictures taken by Kitty Keen during last Saturday’s Other Cinema presentation at the ATA on Valencia Street. ‘Paranoia in Orbit’ marked the start of the OC’s 24th season, and the audience was treated to free champagne and donuts to mark the occasion. Watching Craig Baldwin prepare the cinema was a small education in itself: multicoloured Acme Move-e-lites were plugged in behind the bar area, a giant inflatable alien was set up beside the screen and an amazing selection of movie clips set running to welcome an enthusiastic crowd of guests. Craig himself introduced the evening, laying down the subtle spirit of informed strangeness that underscored the proceedings.

I am pleased to report that my presentation of material from Welcome to Mars was extremely well received: thanks in no small degree to the fantastic electronic soundtrack put together by Simon James and the visual montage assembled by Bruce Woolley of the Radio Science Orchestra. I’m hoping to bring this 35-minute presentation to London in the very near future.

Megan Prelinger Shaw’s lecture on how the US aerospace industry used science-fiction illustrators to help sell themselves to the public after the establishment of NASA in 1958 was particularly revealing. Her book on the subject, due out next year, will definitely be worth waiting for. Meanwhile the Soviet bloc propaganda footage artist John Davis had brought back from a recent residency in Moldavia brought whoops and cheers from the audience, although for entirely the wrong reasons; Elvis looks great, even when his presence is meant to signify the inevitably destructive contradictions of capitalism.

From the top, Kitty Keen’s camera has caught a couple of moments from the ‘Welcome To Mars’ presentation, Craig Baldwin laying it all down for the assembled guests, plus Ken Hollings in spirited conversation with celebrated author and magus Erik Davis just before the ATA doors opened. Also present but not photographed: Rick Prelinger of the Prelinger Archive. More on him in a future post.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Homage to the Other Cinema

Anyone in or around Valencia Street in San Francisco this Saturday might like to know that I am reading extracts from ‘Welcome to Mars’ at the Other Cinema during its first presentation of the autumn.

I’ve been looking forward to this event since it was first arranged with Craig Baldwin earlier in the summer. I am huge admirer of his work and enjoyed my previous visit to his underground laboratory, beneath the sidewalks of the Mission district at Easter 2007. For more details on the reading, please check either the Other Cinema website or Google Calendar. In the meantime I cannot resist reprinting Craig’s copy for the evening in its entirety.

‘Kook-expert Ken Hollings jets in from London-town for the North American book-launch of his "Welcome to Mars", a sub-pop Cult Study of Fifties America, on the bizarre intersection of cybernetics, behavior modification, atomic weapons, and UFOs, highlighting how these currents were refracted through the visual surfaces of popular culture, domestic design, and suburban living. Responding from the US side, Megan Shaw Prelinger, representing her own forthcoming book "Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race", recalls the Eisenhower years with a fascinating flight through a pictorial history of aerospace ads, retrieved from her own SoMA library. For the third leg of this Cold War re-visitation, local A/V artist John Davis returns from, yes, Moldavia, with the media-archaeological remains of the very last Soviet newsreels, reflecting on this same period, but from the other side of the "Iron Curtain"! He screens the most astonishing agit-prop artifacts, and in fact performs an original sonic score, to a particularly uncanny iteration of Soviet Surrealism. Paranoia in orbit.’

The Other Cinema is at 992 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110 – telephone (415)648-0654. Fun starts at 8.30pm. Admission is $6.00. Bring everyone you’ve ever met in your entire life.

Tuesday 16 September 2008

RAND Online

A recent post on that magnificent online fun palace of the mind, Boing Boing reminds me that an MP3 of my RAND documentary for BBC Radio 3, ‘All Your Tomorrows Today’, is available from Speechification.

For more info on the fascinating enigma that is RAND, see my blog post for Wednesday July 30, 2008 ‘RAND Corporation on Radio Three’ under Live Media.

Saturday 13 September 2008

Nature Red in Tooth, Claw and Breakfast Nook

Bruce Gilchrist of London Fieldworks has sent me this image from their latest project, ‘Super Kingdom’, an installation of luxury show homes for animals in the ancient enclave of King’s Wood, Challock in Kent. This particularly forthright bird box for the unreconstructed masses is indentified by Bruce as the ‘Stalin’ show home – the deliberate inversion of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International being, one assumes, a particularly sardonic comment on the historical fate of the European avant-garde. Similarly, their Mussolini bird house contains echoes of EUR, otherwise known as fascist Italy’s Third Rome.

In every dream home, a mantrap: in the past animals have usually shown more taste than humans in their choice of habitat. Bruce Gilchrist and Jo Joelson have a subtle way of reminding us that we’re really not that much different from the beasts in the field – we simply have bigger weapons. Go to the LFW gallery page for more images.

‘Super Kingdom’ opens on Sunday September 21 and is a Stour Valley Arts commission and is free to the public and open at all times. But you’d better go in disguise.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

'Ego in Exotica Sum' Online at Sound Museum FM

On September 14, Soundmuseum.FM goes online. One of its exhibits is an edited studio recording from ‘Ego In Exotica Sum’ a piece Graham Massey and I created in together in 2005 to commemorate the life of Exotic Easy Listening’s greatest champion, Martin Denny. Denny was a hugely inspirational figure for both of us; and we would avidly collect copies of his 1950s and 1960s releases from record store bargain bins and charity shops.

When Graham called me with news of Denny’s death I knew we had to do something to honour his memory. ‘Ego In Exotica Sum’ consisted of a funeral oration singing the man’s praises against a backdrop of exotic electronic sounds and Tiki images from the Massey archives. A live combo, brought together for the occasion, performed note-perfect renditions of Denny’s arrangement for ‘Quiet Village’ from the first 'Exotica' album, plus ‘Fire Cracker’, Denny’s most famous individual composition, under Graham’s musical direction. The performance took place at The Green Room Theatre . The Biting Tongues website carries a full report on the performance in its news pages, together with pictures.

'The launch of soundmuseum.fm,’ according to Mediamatic ‘marks a transformation of context for sound art with its presentation of contemporary international works in optimum conditions: the virtual, dimensionless surroundings of the World Wide Web and its networked listening communities.’ The event is being marked by a special performance in Amsterdam – check Google Calendar for more details.

There are plans to perform an expanded version of Ego In Exotica Sum’ at Mondo Mancunia in the Shunt Vault on October 1. Look out for more details in the finalised line-up for the this four-day event, which should be posted very soon. In the meantime the complete text of ‘Ego In Exotica Sum: In Memoriam Martin Denny 1911-2005’ can be found in Strange Attractor Journal III. The image accompanying this post, incorporating the piece’s opening lines, is by exoticist designer Claire Harmer. 'We rob ourselves of paradise by our very presence there: to see it with our own eyes is to see it vanish before our eyes.'

Saturday 6 September 2008

The Horse Hospital's Fifteenth Birthday Party

On the night of September 5 the Horse Hospital threw caution to the wind and celebrated a decade and a half of upsetting the apple cart, polluting the main stream and providing a welcoming home for the good, the bad and the very necessary. Kitty Keen caught a little of the occasion on her camera. From top to bottom for your pleasure: me giving a short reading from a dramatically lit stage area, Martin McCarrick performing on his new harmonium, plus man of the hour Roger K Burton apparently attacking the official Horse Hospital birthday cake with what seems to be an acetylene welding torch.

Those also in attendance at a packed and bustling event included Dave Knight, who played an amazing short set of seething controlled feedback, photographer Ruth Bayer, who seemed to be absolutely everywhere at once, the majestic Karl Blake and violinist Kimberlee McCarrick, who is currently nursing a damaged tendon in her little finger. Filmmaker Nicholas Abrahams miraculously materialized just after the cake was cut. There was really nowhere else to be.

For more information on the last fifteen years at the Horse Hospital and for signs of what is to come, visit http://www.thehorsehospital.com/

Thursday 4 September 2008

SpaceBaby Screening At Less Remote

On September 30 there will be a screening of ‘SpaceBaby’ at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow as part of an evening curated by Arts Catalyst for this year’s ‘Less Remote’ conference on space and space exploration.

‘SpaceBaby’, which had its first public viewing at the Whitechapel Gallery in London on June 6 this summer, is a film I’ve been working on with Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist of London Fieldworks over the past year or so. They asked me to develop a script with them that would feature documentation of their SpaceBaby performance/installation at the Round House as part of Arts Catalysts’ ‘Space Soon’ Conference in September 2008.

Bruce and Jo entered into a suspended form of social hibernation during the course of the four-day event, working at night and sleeping during the day in specially designed capsules. Blood samples were taken regularly to produce a genetic map of how their bodies responded to the inversion of their normal circadian cycles.

In the finished script we examined how time and the rhythms of the body influence consciousness and our sense of identity. Footage from earlier experiments conducted by Jo and Bruce at St Thomas’s Hospital was also included, along with some weird scenes shot in a Yotel, some disgusting sequences featuring rats (on loan from the London Dungeon) scrabbling around in a maze, plus some neatly choreographed laboratory procedures captured in the genetic research labs at Leicester Hospital as they processed the Roundhouse blood samples.

The above picture, taken by Bruce, shows how far some of the researchers will go in the name of art – God only knows how far they’re prepared to go in the name of science. Working with Bruce and Jo is fun.

For details on the ‘SpaceBaby’ project, visit the London Fieldworks website at:

For more information on, and to book tickets for, this year’s Less Remote, please visit: http://www.lessremote.org/curated.htm

To sign up for Arts Catalyst’s amazing e-bulletins, click on http://www.artscatalyst.org/forum/NOTICEBOARD.html

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Outside The House of Olav H Hauge

The top photograph was taken outside the house where Norwegian poet Olav H Hauge used to live. It is located in Ulvik, a small town at the end of the Hardanger Fjord in Norway. Hauge lived and worked here most of his life, tending the orchard and writing poetry, until his death in 1994.

As chance would have it, we wandered into the centenary celebrations of Hauge’s birth in Ulvik town-square on August 18 while looking for a road that would take us up into the forest. There were flowers and a small PA system and the speeches were all in Norwegian, but I am a sucker for any commemoration of a poet’s life, especially one who translated Mallarm√© and Rimbaud into his native tongue.

Hauge’s own poetry, particularly in Robert Fulton’s translations, reads like William Carlos Williams, which is no bad thing at a time when the stripped informalities of modernism seem so appealing once more. The collection is called ‘Leaf Huts and Snow Houses’ and is available from Anvil Press, whose website is also stripped and informal in a modernist way, so if you want to find out more about the collection, go insetad to http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?qsort=&page=1&matches=7&browse=1&isbn=9780856463570&full=1

The thing I particularly like about Hauge’s home, however, is that it offers the most spectacular view of ‘Bare Island’: a baleful crescent of land just off the shore of the fjord, where people were taken to be executed. At dawn a boat would take them out to the island, where they would be beheaded. The entire fjord forms a natural amphitheatre around Bare Island, so don’t let anyone ever tell you that the Norwegians lack a sense of drama. Besides, what could be more charming than a twentieth-century nature poet with a constant view of an execution site?

To learn more about Olav H Hauge, please go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olav_H._Hauge

In the meantime the 2008 Ulvik Poetry Festival, taking place between September 18 and 2, is dedicated to Hauge’s memory. More details can be found at www.poesifestival.no

Let this be a lesson to you never to start a new blog in the height of summer.