8 April 2014

Toward Beyond the Object

Saturday 12 April: Beyond the Object, the third in Offering Rites, a series by David Toop at Central St. Martins.

Here is the column of books with objects in them, which I’ve been building while reading, thinking and writing toward Saturday. Objects: absurd, imagined, unreal, absent, unnameable, personified, rhymed and destroyed – however, written.
On top of the column is the usual, now decaying book, the incomplete Italian edition of Melville’s Pierre, the object which I’ve been using for a year to host my words, the absent object in my previous book. In parallel with the column of books, I’ve been writing a column of words toward beyond the object. All of this will be there on Saturday, many words that won’t find any space or time but will drive the reading, such as the object-soul in Arthur Machen’s The Inmost Light or those poems that are beyond the object but are too long to be read.
‘What are the boundaries of an object?’


photo 1


photo 2


photo 4


photo 5

15 March 2014

Dark, the Dim Hear

On Thursday 20 March I will read at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, near the Magic and Ritual displays, as part of Resonant Voices.

The way I’ve been working with my readings for some time: led by each given theme/prompt/question/title, I collect clusters of thoughts, I write fragments, gather words from books, and I use time.
I use the time of my thinking and reading toward ‘the event’, I bring everything I’ve collected toward it up to that point, then I respond to whatever circumstances arise in the given place and time of my reading, and more or less improvise a new construction.

Here is a chart of texts, notes and prompts gathered so far – some as yet unwritten, some hidden, some to be completed in the next few days.


Votive Offerings

I give you an ear because you saved my ear.
I give you an eye because you saved my eye.
I give you a leg because you saved my leg.
And my foot.
And my torso.
And my heart.
My heart.

But what would I give you if you saved my voice?

1923.47.27_Brass amulet against evil eye

Magic and trial by ordeal
A hand. Cast brass amulet, against the evil eye. From Naples.
[written to be read aloud, to become breathless in reading]
The dim here always struck me. It’s dark, the dim hear as I tentatively tune in voices and whispers from the past. The dim light in the museum, the amulets against the evil eye, the empty drawers under the glass cabinets prompt me to linger in the voids and in the gaps, to imagine and recollect gestures and rituals around them: they set up a scenario and make me step into a past, in the Seventies in Southern Italy, when in dimness of memory I hear, out of the hazy layers of my recollections I hear a grainy persistent breath, a fatigued whistlebreath emitted not as a sign of life, but as the last aural sign of a life about to expire, it is my great-grandmother in her bed, not because she is ill but because she is very old, slow, at the border of life yet clings to life, poisonous and persistent like ivy my grandmother would say, lying, breathing in a dark grey room at the end of a long Sunday afternoon, when dusk comes in, in my recollections I hear the dim, recall a persistent broken sigh in the shape of a breath and then a stop, a convulsive breath and a stop, as if a rusty hook had caught that breath to prevent it from expiring, and she lies in a tall bed, maybe tall because I was little, although I later learned that bed at the time were in fact taller (to prevent mice from climbing up, or so my grandmother would say) I hear that convulsive breath as coming from an underworld of hidden whispering galleries, it is my great-grandmother’s but to my hearing it sounds as if it is the whole room breathing, and I’m left there, I can barely see her but I hear my larvae-great-grandmother disappear into her broken sigh, sighing herself into the room. Other voices are plotting next door. For some days I have been weighed down with a persistent headache and sickness. They bring her a small bowl full of water and a bottle of olive oil. She pours some drops of olive oil in the water and begins to hum, hums, a circling incantatory spell begins to coil around my hearing, then out of that bundle a tiny hand appears, withered and wiry, shadowed by wrinkles and by time, as she repeats small circular motions on my forehead with the tip of her thumb mumbles mumbles, I’m unsure if she really means anything or if she is just repeating a gesture passed on to her, soiled and half-broken, across who knows how many generations, I’m unsure whether to laugh at all this or be very serious and solemn, I am here little I listen but I don’t know what’s going on and maybe I’m not supposed to. Why is everyone suddenly so serious and solemn. Many years later I learned, in a car at night, speeding past the streetlamps at the edge of town where rubbish heaps, half-built tower blocks, concrete walls taken over by ivy and nettle bushes hide another past and another layer underground, past one of the few surviving mythraeums that nobody ever stops to visit, the light and speed and summer air taking my breath and absorbing me in that uneven mix of ritual and disillusion, of life expiring and ritual dying, of spells persisting yet changing, it all came back to me in a flash, ferocious like the heads of pigs hanging in the windows of a butcher shop to point at its deathly sales, a glimpse of something recalled in a splinter of a moment in transit, ferocious because it was her last spell before her death, later I learned I’d been subjected to a spell against the evil eye.

Three Women. A tale of magic, deterioration, listening and transmission

A skull carved on lava. Southern Italy, 1917. / 
The Count of Sansevero, Raimondo di Sangro. Magic underground in Naples. Gesualdo da Venosa.

On 23 September 1889 in a wing of Palazzo Sansevero in Naples, a small bridge connecting the palazzo with the family chapel collapses. The accident reawakens interest in one of the palazzo’s accursed inhabitants, Raimondo di Sangro, prince of Sansevero (1710-1771). The cause of the collapse is a water leak, but soon the rumour spreads that the night before the accident, strange noises rising from the underground vaults of the palace and sinister omens had announced the imminent ruin. The palazzo had once belonged to magus, prince and scientist, alchemist and scholar Raimondo de Sangro. A legend swarming with ghosts and a building full of voices.

A magic cord, Malta 1907 black and white tapes. Found in a mattress. / Chord or cord. Listening, reading, writing, spinning.



The empty drawers.

‘To communicate something in order to let it circulate, so that once it has been cast out to others it will come back to him/her a little more magical, like the shields of the Northwest American Indians, which are endowed with greater and greater value the more often they have been the object of ceremonial exchanges.’
Michel Leiris, Scratches.

Of objects removed.

objects removed

21 February 2014

table of contents

I might not have a title yet for my book, but I have a table of contents:


‘Sound’ is as real as ‘hell’ (after Dante)

I’m no longer a reader: I’m a starer

Hush, hush


Borders, Horizon


Lakes, Sounds, Sculpture, Really

A nosegay of culled flowers


By ordeal

Cabiria, Suspiria

Inner Voices

Votive Offerings

The Great Beauty

Date with Siren

It hears me

These Sounds



21 February 2014


This is a text that I wrote recently for a favourite artist releasing a new record for a favourite label of mine:




30 January 2014

new chapter: caves

An old photocopy with notes from last year.
It has become the diagram for my next chapter.
I like the way the very last part of the scan at the bottom, folded back from the photocopied page because it was not meant to be there, actually belongs very much to the whole project.


22 December 2013

the great beauty

I’ve written a new part of my book in response to this film, The Great Beauty, that I’ve been obsessed with since I saw it. Or better: I’ve written in response to my memory of the film, having only watched it once, at the cinema, not making any notes. I am partly restless to finally watch it again, partly reluctant, in any case curious to see how the writing will change on a second and third (and more) viewing.  So far I’d never warmed to any of Sorrentino’s films, I always found them too stylised, controlled and smart; this one though, there’s an undercurrent of unrest and a magma of discontent, it is a portrait of void and of Italy’s void and standstill, doubled up in the standstill of a writer who doesn’t write. And there’s Rome at its best and worst and warmest, at its most vivid and most decadent. Sharp points throughout, about art and about politically engaged art. An unforgettable scene of suspended beauty in Bramante’s Tempietto. Parties, how Romans like their feste. And there’s Neapolitan wit, which I miss. Then a while ago I found out that the film’s main actor, Toni Servillo, is going to be next year at the Barbican, in a play I’ve also written about, Inner Voices by Neapolitan playwright Eduardo de Filippo, and I don’t know if it’s because this year I’ve returned to many Surrealist books and texts, all these coincidences begin to stir me profoundly and now I know it’s really time I finished this book. Enough for a new year’s resolution.



29 November 2013


I’m reading an excerpt from my book in progress tomorrow at Arnolfini, Bristol, as part of their Salon: Fictions and Ethomusicology. 


27 November 2013

These Sounds

In recent months I have become more and more concerned with responding to sounds by working on pacing and form. I’ve been writing a series of texts that start with a seemingly rational proposition and then crumble down into interpretive delirium: for me it’s a way to reclaim the enjoyment and complexity and intermittent incoherence in listening, and to work with the residual aspects of listening, all those thoughts and detours that are often dismissed as irrelevant and that seldom find a place in texts on sound.
I’m interested in trying to state the inability of naming ‘these sounds’ and yet the possibility of writing them nonetheless.

For example I constructed the following text in anticipation of and response to the sounds in a new CD by Stephen Cornford, Music for Earbudswith repetitions and accelerations. I imagine it like a monologue read very fast.


The only information on these sounds I had from Stephen was: ‘The CD is called Music for Earbuds and is composed entirely from headphone feedback which makes some surprisingly organic (as well as electronic) sounds.’ I spent the following week dwelling on these surprisingly organic sounds as I imagined them, before even listening to them – or maybe I had begun to listen anyway. I have a habit with listening. When I hear of a record or sound piece before I hear it, I anticipate and deliberately infiltrate my experience and memory of it. Call it an exercise in fabulation, an investigation of the tangles in the listening-writing space, or simply the will to prove that a sound is never a self-standing entity but is connected, haunted and contaminated by its listeners and their histories. So here I am, skirting the edges of these not-yet-heard sounds, listening to, listening in, but always out. I have a habit with listening, it responds to titles before I listen, or maybe because I have always been listening. Music for Earbuds… ‘ear, buddy! Who’s out there? Sound it again, please? Who’s that? Hear! I have a habit with listening. It makes me write and today after playing over and over these sounds at last, I write: ringing buzzing these sounds spiralling frenzy. These sounds so stark and stubborn, as a listener I hit against their form, I slide on their surfaces. These sounds so alien yet alluring call me to spend time with them, attend to them. These sounds mark the edges of hearing and understanding. The rest will remain a mystery, this ring buzz these sounds spiral frenzy. I have a habit with listening and sometimes it’s obsession. These sounds take me to the edge of understanding. The edge here is the ear that hears. My listening encounters nothing but itself in these sounds. There is no key into or out of these sounds, only the endless play of their fabrications. Shatter any notion of sound as signifier. If I had to name these sounds it would be something wild and resounding: an incantation that returns and turns and generates a new meaning in itself, like these sounds. Why am I listening to these sounds? Because they’re there, and because they’re there I want to explore them and as I try, I fall into the circle of these sounds as I fall into the circle of myself. This circularity has no claims, it bounces the responsibility of listening back onto me. And I haven’t even started telling you of the void these sounds are set against. This void behind these sounds resounds my fluttering thoughts, terrors of understanding, interpretive delirium: Listen to the tweeting of the mechanical bird, listen to The Inner Dialogue Of The Lonely Mechanical Bird. In their exaggerated detachment these sounds mock the easy, dangerous assumption that a recording is true: maybe, maybe there is a mechanical creature, somewhere in my thoughts that thankfully does not have to be true to be experienced. I spend a good half hour contemplating this creature spawned by these sounds, crazed wind-up-toy running in circles. Its tones, sharp or rounded, puncture my understanding with their presence. The tangibility of these unnameable sounds. Is it a trap? Even the sounds of my keyboard as I type against these sounds, sound more terse and metallic. In these shortening days in the end of summer, there’s three of us and it’s a crowd: myself in the room, the headphone on and in my head, the mechanical bird with its metallic peal in my mind. These sounds. At the end I realise I might not have written much about them. I was too busy listening and writing these sounds, in but always out. In my brain they stay, at peace until they’ll reawaken to the next obsession. Go, listen yourselves. I told you I had a bad habit.


26 November 2013

reading L.I.S.T.E.N.

Tonight I’m reading my L.I.S.T.E.N. text – that you partly saw here and partly read here – at Flows, an evening of readings curated by Christian Patracchini at Vibe Gallery, The Biscuit Factory, 100 Clements Road, Bermondsey, SE16 4DG.
More info about the project: http://wp-flows.tumblr.com

24 November 2013

always the shadow and not the prey / records of reading with writing

Each section in my book in progress is prompted by a page from another book. In somehow reverse fashion than the five blank pages in my copy of Melville’s Pierre, onto which En abime collapsed, these pre-existing pages are an attempt to bring reading into writing, even closer. Records of reading into writing.

Here is one of the prompts – most likely I will try and re-print these pages into the book as they are, as facsimiles, with my marks and underlinings (made at different points in time), each chapter merging into and out of each page:






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