Sunday 26 June 2011

In The Studio With My Cat Is An Alien

I have just returned from a short stay in Turin as a guest of Roberto and Maurizio Opalio who explore sound and space together as My Cat Is An Alien  – we first encountered each other when we performed together on the same bill at Spectra 09, a festival in Valencia dedicated to conspiracy culture. We very much enjoyed each other’s company, so I was very pleased to accept their invitation to visit them in their Alien Studio: a small basement gallery where they create their limited-edition artworks and ‘art edition’ music releases. We managed to cram so much into the two or three days I spent in their company – together with their close collaborator and creative associate Ramona Ponzini – that it will require a few posts to cover everything that happened. I am, however, currently in the process of writing up my experiences for publication in a future issue of The Wire and am also happy to offer here some preview snaps taken inside the Alien Studio with the promise that there will be more fascinating stuff to come.

Pictured above: Roberto Opalio with his Polaroid camera; Roberto and Maurizio Opalio with the wire alien figure featured in Roberto’s film Light_Earth_Blue_Silver; Maurizio Opalio standing in front of some of his artwork; Ramona Ponzini posing with the toy alien figure featured in Roberto’s film Alien Blood

Monday 20 June 2011

‘Atom Town’ Reading At Arts Catalyst

On the evening of Thursday June 23, I will be presenting a short reading at the new Arts Catalyst studio on the Clerkenwell Road as part of a public preview screening of Gair Dunlop’s remarkable short film Atom Town, about life in the shadow of the Dounreay reactors. There will also be a performance of suitably retro-futurist electronic tonalities specially created for the occasion by Erstlaub. As arranged with Gair, my reading will cover the irradiated rise of the American suburbs in the years immediately after World War II and is based around writings leading up to, and including, Welcome to Mars. A PDF of the Atom Town catalogue, containing my essay ‘Temporary Storage: Notes on the Dounreay Fast Reactor, Citadel of the Future’, is available to download by clicking here.

The screening takes place at 7pm on Thursday 23rd June at Arts Catalyst, 50-54 Clerkenwell Road, London EC1M 5PS. I hope to see some of you there.

Pictured above: Images from Gair Dunlop’s photostream on Flickr, including a couple of production stills from Atom Town. To view some short clips from the film itself, please click here.

Saturday 18 June 2011

Onstage At The British Library With The Radio Science Orchestra

‘The future started a long time ago, and we’ve been living there ever since. The equipment you see on display here, like the music it plays, has come to you from another world – one that is a dim and distant reflection of your own, shifted down towards the furthest end of the spectrum. This is Mars calling, bringing you yesterday’s sounds today…’
It is always a pleasure to take the stage with The Radio Science Orchestra and a rare thrill indeed to bring the whole show to the British Library: my thanks to everyone who took part in a wonderful event, either as performers or members of the audience – and a special thank you to Daily Planet roving shutterbug Kitty Keen for being on hand with her trusty box brownie to capture a few fleeting moments and keep them safe for the future.

Pictured above: KH at the lectern; Joy Smith communing with her orb; Bruce Woolley going seriously analogue with Kit Woolley on bass guitar, KH in a blue mood; Charlie Draper at the Theremin, Joy Smith on the harp and Andy Visser on everything else; KH on the far side.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Martians and Communists at the British Library

On Friday June 17 I am making a rare live appearance with my old friends the Radio Science Orchestra at an evening event organized as part of the British Library’s ‘Out of This World’ exhibition. Coordinated and led by the legendary Bruce Woolley, the RSO specializes in combining the sounds of vintage electronic instruments with more conventional items such as harp and woodwind. In the past we have presented shows together at the ICA to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik with Thomas Dolby and a collaboration at Bath’s ICIA based around themes from Welcome to Mars and the RSO’s History of the Future album release.

On Friday night we bring you ‘Return to Mars’: an exploration of cosmic easy listening, master scientists from outer space, hybrid humans, Soviet cosmonauts and alien messengers. Sharing the bill with us are Global Communications, making their first live appearance since…well ever, really, plus DJ sets from Rob Da Bank and Jon Hopkins, and the whole thing will take place in the British Library’s palatial departure lounge of an entrance hall. For more information, click here.

Meanwhile here is some extra text from the British Library press release:

The British Library celebrates Out of this World: Science Fiction but not as you know it with a unique music event featuring rare live performances by Global Communication and The Radio Science Orchestra plus exceptional DJs Rob da Bank and Jon Hopkins.

The retro-space sound of the Radio Science Orchestra featuring theremin and other futuristic instruments is the brainchild of Bruce Woolley, the phenomenally talented writer and producer of everything from Video Killed The Radio Star (The Buggles) to Slave To The Rhythm (Grace Jones) and A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld (The Orb). Tonight’s special show is entitled Return To Mars and features the visionary SF musings of writer Ken Hollings.

See you there…otherwise I’ll see you in the next world...don’t be late.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

‘Tender Vessels’ by Cathy Ward and Eric Wright

It seems to be increasingly the case that if you wish to find a reasonable account of current events, visit an art gallery; artists tend to be more reliable investigators of the state of human affairs than the average journalist these days. Should you prefer poetry to headlines, however, then you should look no further than the work of Cathy Ward and Eric Wright. Published by Strange Attractor Press in association with Galerie Toxic of Luxembourg, Tender Vessels offers sumptuous documentation of one of their more recent shows. As always, their work demonstrates the extravagance of artists who don’t waste the smallest thing if they can possibly help it – everything is used and nothing is wasted. The result in visual terms is a kind of post-industrial folk art, offering a detailed glimpse of lives spent in the shadow of dark and terrible forces.

In this particular case, Ward and Wright examine the baleful influence of industry and empire as historical processes – a theme ably discussed in the accompanying essays by Mark Pilkington and Doug Harvey respectively. Punctuated by quotations from Milton, Melville and Defoe, and illustrated with photographs of rituals and riots, Tender Vessels is a mixed-media show in which the richest materials appear to have been thrown together either by shipwrecks or sacred rites. Economic progress is consequently revealed to be just another tribal fetish fashioned to protect us against the coming storm. Those who recall the elegant tourist-centre trash of Ward and Wright’s Transromantik project may be tempted to believe that, swimming against the tide of history, Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid has finally had her revenge.

Tender Vessels
Cathy Ward and Eric Wright
£19.99, full colour, PB, 120pp
ISBN 9781907222047

Pictured from top to bottom: The Luddite Revolt/Home Rites; The Initiation Rite to the Order of Gain; Before the Gold Rush; Tender Vessel

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Catching Up With Santa Pod Raceway

Based around the runway of a former WWII airbase, the Santa Pod Raceway is a recurring architectural marvel made up of tents, trucks, marquees and trailers. Formerly part of Poddington Airbase, the drag strip becomes the focal point two or three times a year for FIA Top Fuel events featuring monstrous cars and even more monstrous engines. Burning up vicious chemicals like nitro-methane, a form of underwater explosive, and capable of hitting speeds over 300 mph, these mad desire machines are designed and built to do one thing extremely well: go as fast as possible in a straight line over a quarter mile in a matter of seconds. Effectively a road that leads nowhere, the drag strip becomes the focal point for a temporary city that comes alive with strange mechanical life forms during the course of a meeting. Unfortunately the recent Bank Holiday event was rained off – which meant that a lot of them never left the workshop. It’s been a couple of years since I last visited this earth-bound space station; and while the protracted rain made any form of racing impossible, it did give me a chance to photograph some of the pit area, where crews continued to work on and exhibit a range of top fuel funny cars, classic slingshot dragsters and wicked fuel-altereds in a makeshift historical gallery of human engineering.

Pictured above: tents, trucks and raingear; a top fuel engine being worked on in the pits; a fuel-altered dragster on display; a classic slingshot under canvas - with thanks to Izabel and Roger K Burton of the Horse Hospital for organizing the visit.