Archive for November, 2012

28 November 2012



Daniela Cascella is a writer based in London. Her research is focused on listening and sound across a range of publications and curated projects. Her third book En abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing. An Archival Fiction (Zer0 Books, 2012) explores writing sound in relation to memory and landscape, and fictional tropes in criticism. She was contributing editor of Italy’s leading music magazine Blow Up, her essays have been published in books and catalogues internationally, her articles and reviews have appeared in Organised Sound, The Wire, Alias/Il Manifesto, MusicWorks, Contemporary, Before moving to London in 2009, Daniela worked in Italy as a music journalist and curator specialising in sound art.

Rod Mengham is Reader in Modern English Literature at the University of Cambridge, where he is also Curator of Works of Art at Jesus College. He has written books on Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Thomas Hardy and Henry…

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10 November 2012

hush, hush

I will never grow tired of this film:

10 November 2012

It seemed I’d stepped…

It seemed I’d stepped from the rainy morning walk into a room of frozen thought. The room was full of people between their twenties and their seventies and yet it seemed most of them had agreed to set their understanding on an average age of middle. Middle thinking, I mean. The safety of the shared, mental age of middle. Wrapped in self-aggrandising frameworks, the curators sheltered their thoughts behind the flat screens of presenting (as in: ‘I’m not making any statements here, I have nothing to question, I’m just presenting these slides to you’). Artists tiringly repeated conformed formulas to forcefully comb their pedigreed works into more flatness. ‘I am … a sound artist’, sound thundering in the vast chambers of ego. Theorists theorised. In the frenzy of tidying up ideas, they forgot to listen. ‘Sound art’ had a German accent, stuck in the vexing rhyming refrains of problematisation extrapolation presentation documentation. Images of silenced monuments of sound kept parading in the slideshow, more remindful of tombstones than of any presumed ‘activation of the public space’. Activating what and whose space remained unclear. Been there, mourned. Still tombstones of what is safe and comforts, words kept being emitted but added up to nothing. [in a whisper]: Today it is Thursday, tomorrow we die. Today you’re dressed up with sound art and a lie. The wind rattling the window panes and the rain hammering down the night before echoed in my mind and in my body that could not sleep. How I wished someone had brought those sounds into that room and into their words. I want to tell you what I could not write. Can a voice connect fragmented records. You have strong voices, for another route. You have strong voices uprooted.

And nobody in that group of middles would acknowledge confusion – unless in a quote legitimised by someone else. Then they could lock it in a safe and wear it occasionally as an embellishment. And nobody among those middles would pay attention to the sounds and voices of elsewhere, pointing elsewhere. Alright love, you’re sweet. Let’s move on to the serious stuff now. To the practical bits, that is. Ooo the good practical ones. Prone to the mantra of wherethereispublicfundingtherewillbesoundart. With speakers. Lots of them, so we can then take nice pictures of these emblems and produce a catalogue.

In the room, most artists speak the same language. My problem is not with their works: it’s in how they speak of them, the words they use, the trite and worn-out expressions that say no more. They show slides, play snippets of sounds almost apologetically. They say: ‘You should have been there to really understand the installation’. Their language becomes transparent. It’s the opposite of sound. Sound fleets, ever unfathomable: while language becomes too familiar, to the point when certain expressions are taken for granted. ‘You should have been there to really understand the installation’. Why then are you, and we, here in this room, discussing your work, if you say we should have been there? Is this space then a deterioration? A denial of the fact that we’re here? Are we sorry to be here? Or is it a nod to the fact that few people have been there and by consequence they are the sole retainers of that experience, and can control it? I want to be there when I can but I also want to be here, and this here is not derived, weak, or less significant. To celebrate the permanence of The Archive of ‘having been there’ means control: to imply that only a small number of chosen few can access that there is dangerously tied to power. Meanwhile the living records of sounds move around, with mess and contradictions: in the people who were there and heard them, and in those who weren’t but still can experience them, and re-make them in their thoughts. Remember Edison via Villiers? ‘It is helpless to represent the voice of conscience. Can I record the voice of the blood?’ I can hear those impossible sounds, in his (their) words: not having been there. Sonic palimpsests are written and muted and they infiltrate perceptions and dissolve in them, they move.

Two days later, early one morning I left, heading back to my inward time, feeling the cold rush of wind on my face and the clear nordic air sweeping my thoughts. For a long time the previous evening I’d thought about the middle thinking I’d witnessed and its vain belief that documents can inscribe the middle thinkers in history. I wanted to listen to another thinking, to the silenced. As I stepped on the bus to the airport, I could hear the turmoil of more voices. It was time to go and write them. Like Kathy Acker said or maybe it was Chris Kraus, as a writer I don’t make things up: I perceive and record. And, let me add, I voice.

9 November 2012

En Abîme: The Wire review by Agata Pyzik

Agata Pyzik wrote a detailed and insightful review of En Abîme in the December issue of The Wire (#346).

“Mise en abyme means placed into the abyss. In art theory, it refers to an image containing a smaller copy of itself; in postmodern literary theory it becomes a tool for analysing complicated texts that contain a number of subtexts. To be thrown into the abyss could also be a description of what happens when we listen to music, especially that which contains unfamiliar, non-musical sounds. Here, it’s a writing device, allowing Daniela Cascella, who is Italian, to use English as a Verfremdungseffekt, or distancing effect, which reflects the polyphonic nature of memory and indeed the multiple texts of the mise en abyme. Among the stories she tells is one of a real abyss, recounting how Nero’s villa, Domus Aurea, was rediscovered in the 15th century by a boy who had accidentally fallen into a hole that led to the ruin. Such vivid, bodily experiences recur throughout En Abîme.

African-American poet Audre Lorde coined the term biomythography; here, Cascella complicates the genre of memoir by referring to an “archival fiction”. Her book is a personal meditation on her life, giving the impression of someone trying to pick up the pieces and put them together in a meaningful way. As a music writer and art historian, she has travelled widely to her objects of passion, curiosity or fascination, and the book oscillates between several geographical spaces, which in turn evoke metaphorical spaces. One is a Protestant cemetery near the Spanish Steps in Rome, where Gramsci, Keats and Shelley are buried. Another is New York, where Cascella researched a dissertation on the interdisciplinary avant garde magazine Possibilities, edited by William Baziotes with John Cage and Robert Motherwell. In New York she befriends Baziotes’s widow, Ethel. And in Berlin, she meets Mika Vainio, who, instead of giving her a straightforward interview, plays records to her.

Rome, a place of pilgrimage for many poets, writers and artists, is a city that åprovokes memories for Cascella. One of these is of listening to Bella Ciao, a compilation of workers’ and partisans’ songs, with her brother. The compilation is named after a famous song sung by the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy and later covered by punk groups. In 1964, at the Spoleto festival, Giovanna Marini, a friend of communist film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, sang this song to a scandalised public who were not keen to be reminded of the past. But Cascella is haunted by the past because she wants to understand it, and she draws upon the experiences of other visitors to Rome – Herman Melville, Rainer Maria Rilke and Italian poet Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work uses various dialects and languages – to help her to put together her own existence. A novel by Melville, Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities (later filmed by Leos Carax as Pola X, with a soundtrack by Scott Walker), where a prospective author writes two versions of a book – one for the reader and one only for himself – is the basis for a chapter of direct self-commentary on the author’s own reading and writing.

Somehow this cascade of disrupted impressions makes sense. I felt at times as if the voice of the late Chris Marker was speaking to me – Cascella has a similar aphoristic style that recalls Sans Soleil’s meditations on memory. She never neglects the political aspect of her stories, all of which are painfully immersed in history, like the song “Bella Ciao” – the book’s real heart, and its musical leitmotif. En Abîme is, like Marker’s films, a road book, and as in his creations, there is at the end an elusive but firm sense that our world has transformed a little.”

5 November 2012

facts around En Abîme / 2. Waterlogged








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