Archive for February, 2013

21 February 2013

5. being but an ear

Today I’ve been trying to write about a problematic tendency, in field recording, toward the dissolution of the recording subject into the field. Trying to come to terms with such notion, I recalled a line by Emily Dickinson who wrote of ‘Being but an Ear’ in a context in which the coincidence between the Ear and an all-encompassing, all-listening Being is a premonition of death. The illusion of a ‘pan-auricular’ (!?!) approach is shattered in such premonition, but what does it mean to keep tending to it?
(For the next chapter of my book, I’ve been returning for months to the question: what is this compulsion of collecting, recording, recording, keeping?  .   .   .   .   .   “A death-blow is a life-blow to some”.   .   .   .   .)



21 February 2013

Patrick Farmer interview, part 1

In December last year I interviewed Patrick Farmer about his book try I bark, for a short article commissioned by The Wire. Below you can read the full-length interview. It will be followed in a few weeks’ time by a second instalment, that Patrick and I have decided to add on to our first email exchange, and that will consider other aspects of writing and listening (and responses to more recent texts).

D. One point I’d like to introduce has to do with words as recordings, and specifically your connection of writing with field recording – which forms did it take during your residency in Estonia and how did it result in try I bark?
(Incidentally: one of the first written texts known to mark the passage from Latin to Italian, from the 8th century, addresses ‘writing’ as ‘field’)

P. Arriving in Mooste I had no intention of writing, other than notes to self, aides to memory and my usual habit of scrawling ideas that would later find homes in other mediums, my suitcase was full of my usual, recording devices, booms, various microphones, hydrophones, leaving little room for anything else, I had one empty notepad and one pen.
I grew up in Wales, specifically Powys, which is the largest of the counties yet, and I don’t know if this is still true, has the smallest population, so through a tacit introduction to isolation, I learnt quickly that a lack of human life certainly does not mean you are alone, hiding up trees and watching badgers coming out of their sets at sundown, fish biting at my toes in remote lakes, herons flying out of the ferns that grew well beyond my height, but I wasn’t prepared for the intensity that I found, or found me. Mooste is an environment in which all layers are exposed, possessing minute differences, yet paradoxically this seclusion, it is so incredibly loud, and I would imagine each person would experience this differently, some choosing to gravitate toward the communities there, myself, being as I was not in a good place when I arrived, I went further into that melancholy, I became fixated by it, experiencing it as I did, through the topography of place, which became universal. I was unable to separate the silver birch from aspects of Greek myth, from my own bones, and so I think, from the earth, not the land, I came to rest upon field recording then as a thing in need of its own method, where field, as a concept, does not exist as something that can be tied down. That a recording, a document, a conversation, no matter what form it may eventually take, only pertains a relevance to that moment, and so cannot be considered integral, rather ephemeral, like the scattering of willowherb. And like willowherb, these ideas, they require a lot of day light, and room, to disperse, to change and move their infinitesimal patterns, their veins.
This does not necessarily mean I agree with myself. I think of John Berger’s concept of field, of Charles Olson, William Carlos Williams, Toshiya Tsunoda, Michael Pisaro, William Blake, Benjamin Lee Whorf, and now Meillsasoux, each inspires me as much as in turn they confuse me as I move on to the next in light of the previous. Each is a field, and so bares some resemblance to the other, but upon closer inspection, when one spends time, remains still, or walks round and round the perimeter, in mind of a thousand different things (I find succumbing to multiplicity and losing sight of totality unfortunately quite easy to do). So this book could have easily been a field recording, I don’t know where else it could have come from, there are of course differences, to large to go into here, as the scale of interpretation – I have often thought that as a listening experience, field recording is much more solitary, as a method of interpretation, than say reading prose, or shall I stick to the term poetry, who knows. But if I read only one small section of try I bark, I can see myriad interpretations opening up, an oxbow grafted to an oxbow – the image of walking in circles I think is one of the most regular occurrences in the book – adhering to the circumference – and all this leads me to consider that the ties between writing and recording sound can create more chimera’s, to borrow Baudelaire’s image, than any of us can comfortably carry, where their existence becomes so loud, thus we become so nauseous, their smell overpowering, and as we are bent double, their weight forcing us down, we are of course able to discover a whole new reality, no longer vertical, but this is no good, as we then exist in far too many places, and so this impossibility of a dual existence, for me, leads to over saturation, and the all too easy speculative and comparative misinformation of the ties that bind. This awareness is far from consilient, as I have found that creating these inferences where there need be none, lends itself to what Roland Barthes has called an ‘extreme disparity of structure’, but it goes further than that, as Barthes was referring to the watered down experience of the reader, or the listener, but here I think it refers to the diluted interpretation and perception of the, shall we say creator, or perhaps I should say troublemaker, which no doubt leads to an even less vital, or poignant, experience for those on the other end, and on and on it goes.

D. As I read try I bark I found the text at times drawing me in, at times prompting me to lift my head off the page and consider the environment (sonic, but not only) around – the recording of your field, encountering, inhabiting and affecting my field and my recordings and every time anew. I thought a lot of this and how the words call me in and push me out of the pages. Then I thought of this writing as a mark of impermanence, not total or concluded but prompting other dynamics. The discovery of my being here (in every different here), reading, not in your place but in mine and connected to yours through these words.

P. Yes, try I bark, is certainly not a sonic book, I would like to dismiss such a nonsensical term, if it is to do with field, then it is to do with everything my capacity can contain, consider, relate to, comprehend, whiff, everything I can perceive as I stick my head down the well, occasionally coming up, not for air, but for a reminder, for difference, that neither one pertains a relevance over the other, because they are so different, and should be treated as such.
I have never felt much of a kinship for a writing, in this instance, that tells you what to think, that covers ones eyes, nose, ears, mouth, that binds hands behind backs and ties legs together. With this in mind, I find my book completely ordinary, in every way, and that is what I seem to be striving for, not only in my writing, but when I write prose scores, and more and more, when I perform.
A few years ago I became obsessed with the French naturalists, with Zola, Balzac, and now I find myself drawn to the so-called nouveau roman, to Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, to Duras stepping out of her door to listen, to exist, and Grillet, sitting in his bath and memorising texts, not to the soup of adjectives of Flaubert – though I will always marvel at the skill and depth of character. I know most would disagree, but I find a lot of similarities in my text to every day life, indeed they are portrayed in a manner specific to me, whatever that is, taking influence as I do from as much the poet Susan Howe as two male squirrels chasing each other round and round the bark of a veteran oak. And like everyday life, they are plurivalent and open to an ever expanding and contracting interpretation and forgetfulness.
This can be nothing but a field, I do not know how to leave, it is not a recording of one, and I would ask, is this a good thing? Adding to the already abundant layers, but everything one adds, does it replace what they remove? And I seem to have been through this before, with microphones, trying to remember to learn from my misgivings, or immaturities, the befuddled conception of a one who struggles to find the merit in what he or she is doing in the world. I realise this is incredibly wooly, and as such, quite suffocating and warm, as I wrote try I bark in July it was so very hot, another atmosphere I wasn’t prepared for, too hot to sleep with the flies buzzing around me, so the last thing I needed was wool. But this restlessness of material, of wool, is inherent in the book, I never stopped moving away from environment, from the Lucretian cobwebs, or in this case the farmyard animals coats, but I always returned to the same place, to the silver birch trees that lined the lake, the jetty that stuck out over its tension and existed amongst the reeds that seemed to want no part of it. I don’t know what that means, all I know is that it continued to happen.

D. try I bark as reading experience, non amplified, no possible synopses or critical points, it’s an encounter, not only of you and the environment but also you with the words you write, sometimes it’s as if you’re meeting them on the page, or marvel at them, you discover an-other in the words (maybe heautoscopy ties in here?) A constant discovery to the point of no longer being safe in knowing: is this, as you say at one point, ‘being part’?

P. Yes, this other is something that both fascinates and horrifies me, I can never get away from the others beating throat, though I can’t see it, or hear it, I know I create it, it is a throat that could not be more different from mine yet when it opens I can hear only myself, and I am lost. One could spend their entire life researching this, manifest as it is in objective reality, as much subjective and metaphysical. The saddening history of the exploitation of twins, of merging. Watching a Beech grow over the years, its branches, if they are not shed, as is so often the case with Beech, merging into each other, folklore is full of this metamorphosis.
Part of me would like to spend as long as it takes now peeling this writing, as if I have a choice, wondering as I strip away, whether I am creating the layers, breathing into them, or whether discovering, or receiving? So this book is wholly exploratory, as is my enjoyment of walking – something I cannot get away from as I write. I wish to move away from field recording, if only to forget for a time, to not be lumbered like Sancho panza by this Don Quixote.

D. There are no page numbers in try I bark, it defies quotation/reference and invites to be in there, in the space of reading (and of poetry as doing). There is also void in these pages: the unheard? There seemed to be nothing to decipher behind the white, no hidden codes other than what is unravelled in my reading and listening and again and again. The book seems to challenge the notion of ‘document’ as something fixed; rather, I’d say document as the changeable trace of the experience that made it – it points at a transience, it constantly re-makes its field – this suggest that there isn’t one prescribed way of being in an environment.

P. I’m not entirely sure what is unheard these days, in our imaginations we hear everything, and we have always felt it. and ecologically speaking, hiding behind the sense of magnificence and awe, there is a softly bleating sadness. Writing, I have said, is a way of exploring the auditory imagination, of hearing that which did not exist until that moment, but I feel no solace in this history, I used to, but it was short lived. I wish to peel away the layers, as I have no wish to go back there, try I bark concerns two weeks in July of 2011, and of course I am the only one who has the imagistic references, the life behind and around the shapes on the page, but when I read again, something I have done a little for this interview, environments merge, not only physical, but geographical, biological, historical, even economical, I try to live vehemently in the ‘real world’, the local, as Williams said, the present that is all we can hope to know. So I do not look at the book to look back, simply to look.
With this in mind, you are right when you say there is nothing to decipher, I have no message for others, it is an open work, I cannot dismiss the thoughts that come to the mind of another, environment is only a word, I would spell it differently every time I put pen to paper if I thought it would make a difference.

D. The introductory text of the book says it is to be read out loud and outside. There are Latin words, rhythmic and visual arrangements throughout these pages: words are not just signifiers but also shapes and sounds. It seems you’re forcing various degrees of transparency and opacity of the words, once more to open up to the actual experience of reading beyond prescriptive interpretation.

P. The Latin was included as, well, as a vague attempt to portray my confusion and joyful bewilderment with the ever expanding boundaries of a flora and fauna beyond my experience, but also because of their beauty of form, regardless of their history, it does not matter to me one bit whether the reader finds the will and inclination to research the meaning around the shapes. And the enjoyment of saying these words out loud, perhaps even in the presence of the very thing they are referring to, is a pastime all to itself, reacting with whatever topography one chooses to be surrounded by, embracing the shapes of a rebounding and disintegrating echo.

D. Thinking of the interplay between words as recordings and words in recalling, how much do you write on site and what happens in the editing process?

P. I would love to answer this, or try to, but I think I would cover pages and pages in the refutal, and yet begrudging acceptation, of the notion, validity and existence of what it is to document.

D. Any particular thoughts you might (or not) want to disclose about/around the title of the book?

P. Ironically, considering its function as a sheath, a coating, protection, my own particular interpretation of bark has differed from most others. Most have leapt to the resounding noun of animals, yet I saw it as the book itself, the cover, the images contained therein – it’s thought that the word bark is derived from birch, which is its own association in the book and sticks out beyond the pages, though perhaps this just expands the page, rather than leaves it. Though funnily, a bark can also be considered as a cry that resembles another, I like to think this interpretation rings true for either noun.


19 February 2013

More responses to En Abîme: Luciano Chessa, Will Montgomery

This seems to be the month when many readers are finding some time to respond to En Abîme. Two more comments:

“With the incantatory circularity of a responsorium, Daniela Cascella weaves the threads of sound and life in a tapestry of ringing depths and aching beauty. Cascella plays on the same emotional chords, on the same poetical league as the artists she draws from: Marini, Melville, Pasolini.
And just like in Pierre’s recalling and refashioning, she constructs a fresh form out of mutilated remembrances, out of physical and psychological remotedness: the listener has become a composer.”

Luciano Chessa, author of Luigi Russolo, Futurist. Noise, Visual Art and the Occult (University of California Press, 2012)

“En Abîme is a highly individual work of aural archaeology, sifting layers of sound, literature, autobiography and history. Cascella’s project of writing sound dramatises both the continuities and the discontinuities between reading, writing and listening. The range of references and disciplines embraced by these reveries is remarkable: from Pasolini to Cage, Melville to Mika Vainio, protest songs to Alpine chants. Cascella has a wonderfully sensitive ear for the ways in which private and public histories resonate together.”

Will Montgomery, English Department, Royal Holloway, University of London

18 February 2013

Allen S. Weiss on En Abîme

When En Abîme was published, I sent a few copies of the book to a number of people and put a different postcard inside each copy. The postcards were a secret hint at other layers in the book, images that had been with me while I wrote it, and that had seeped through my thought processes and in the writing in a less evident way. I was so glad to read the response that Allen S. Weiss wrote to my book, and to see that he did see the postcard as part of the reading experience. Allen’s book Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia (Wesleyan University Press, 2002) is one of my key references for thinking of listening and recording, the making and unmaking of memory. Here are his words on En Abîme:


Two recent trilogies, of very different types, are particularly inspiring in regard to current considerations of the archive: Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, The Museum of Innocence, The Innocence of Objects – an extraordinary trilogy of novel, museum, catalog; and Daniela Cascella’s fascinating En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing, described as an “archival fiction,” where the trilogy is internal to the volume: meditative, discursive, nostalgic. I received En Abîme accompanied by the postcard of Salvator Rosa’s Jacob’s Dreams (1665), one of the most famous representations of the biblical passage (Genesis 28: 10-19) recounting Jacob’s Ladder, the dream that the Patriarch experienced after falling asleep during his flight from Esau. Particularly enticing – for the gastronome and wine-lover that I am – is the wine flask that appears at Jacob’s side, perhaps the efficient cause of this most famous of dreams, as I like to think that this is the earliest example of the aesthetics of intoxication, but I am nevertheless wary of anachronism. Vertically, we see the ladder, with the ascent and descent of angels, a fabulous axis mundi that proffers the very heart of the dream, articulating sleep and wakefulness, reverie and thought, immanence and transcendence, exile and homecoming. Horizontally, opposite the celestial ladder appears a wild landscape – more reminiscent of the terrible beauty of the Apennines than of a biblical topography – a paysage moralisé that distinguishes fantasm and nature, nostalgia and utopia, the autobiographical and the historical, the intimate and the political, the promised land of the biblical dream and the actual site of the painter’s awakening to landscape. But it is a most silent painting, despite undertones of the visibly apparent murmurs of the angels’ prayers, the rustling of leaves, and the breath of the wind. The oppositions, contradictions and paradoxes suggested by this painting offer a veritable allegory of En Abîme, a sort of pictorial epigraph. An irresistible impulse in the context of a book on sound would be to evoke Arnold Schoenberg’s Die Jakobsleiter (the unfinished oratorio of 1917-1921), that fascinating moment when the composer moved from free atonality to dodecaphonic music, from the decomposition of an old musical regime to a new sonic world order. This move from silence to sound suggests the necessary supplement to Cascella’s archival fiction, the archiving of those sounds that inspired her words. Where Pamuk has already written an elegy to Museums of Reading and Writing and created a museum thereof, what we now need is a Museum of Listening.

– Allen S. Weiss, February 2013

12 February 2013

4. Henri Michaux

I first met the words of Henri Michaux in 1996 and keep returning to them when I need to deviate from any attempt at coherence (I want to write gaps and discontinuities as I inhabit sounds and books). For my writing, his words mean the limits that I can push.  And with great evocations / creations of sounds. I’m currently attempting a translation of a fragment from ‘Ordeals, Exorcisms’ entitled Creakings – dreadful, absurd, exhilarating – which I’m going to use in my next book. But for now, I’ve just come across this:


First Canto

I heard words in the darkness. They had the gravity of perilous situations involving important personages in the dead of the night.

They were saying – these words – in the obscure shadow.
They were saying confusedly. They were all saying “Woe! Woe!” and did not cease, crying always “Woe! Woe!”


Then a voice burst out which was not recognizable and the flowers of life began to stink, and the sun was no more than a memory, an old mat put behind a door that you won’t go through again, and men, almost losing their faith, were silent, were silent with a silence which takes your breath away, the kind that comes in summertime, at evening in the country, when after the last birds, and then the last insects, of the day have gone in, and before those of the night have come, a tomblike silence suddenly falls.

11 February 2013

3. The sound of Baudelaire’s words

The sound of Baudelaire’s words for some of his readers (I found these while reading Roberto Calasso’s book, La folie Baudelaire):

‘Now he quietly converses with each one of us.’
André Gide, Preface to Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du mal (1917 edition)

‘… softened like the sound of carts heard at night in the muffled boudoirs.’
Maurice Barrès, La folie de Charles Baudelaire (1926)

‘… like a word spoken to your ear when you least expected it.’
Jaques Rivière, Études (1912)

7 February 2013

2. repeat

A fragment by Gerard Manley Hopkins:


6 February 2013

1. Kiss Me Deadly

The opening sequence in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).
The sighs, the song, the voice, the titles and the road.
The reference to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White.
By that master of deception and inversions, Robert Aldrich:

6 February 2013

notes for a beginning

Over the last few months I’ve been tentatively drawing an outline or depicting a landscape for my next (as yet untitled) book. I keep returning to André Gide’s Marshlands as a possible place to explore (writing a loosely-knit story in which a book is hinted at but never revealed although immanent in the writing) and I have been reading satire old and less old – Lucianus and his dialogues, all existing on the surface of language and yet addressing indirectly the end of the world, the unsurpassed metaphysical spaces of Romantic Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi and his Operette morali dialogues, and another Italian writer called Giorgio Manganelli who recorded a radio programme in the 1970s featuring a series of Impossible Interviews (with characters such as Tutankamon, the medium Eusapia Palladino, Charles Dickens).
I’ve been reading satire out of the urge to say something about ‘The Church of Sound Art and its Dark Habits’ (this might be the title of the work I’ll repeatedly hint at in my book and never write): it first occurred to me about a year ago while watching Pedro Almodovar’s Entre tinieblas (Dark Habits) and thinking of the pernicious/ridiculous/paradoxical consequences of self-confinement, in the film and (by my arbitrary transposition – inspiration it might be?) in ‘sound art’: addiction, obsession, denial, compulsion, etc… But I am digressing, more on this in later posts.

So I’ve been experimenting with a number of forms and I’m more concerned with this aspect rather than with ‘the topic’ of my book because I know that I research ‘the topic’ every day, even when I’m not aware of doing it – it has to do with a certain angle in which we choose to encounter the world and with a certain glance toward whichever surrounds us, it has to do with attending to books, sounds, words: constantly. This for me is research. Absorption driven by a strong core. For now I’ve been occupied with these: voicing, historically layered sounds in a site, the ephemeral, personal/collective histories. Collections most of all, as I revisit my archive as a case study and begin to think and read of other people’s archives and collections too. Many interviews being planned.

A few years ago a friend of mine, an artist, sent to me a photo of an x-ray of his grandmother’s lungs. ‘I have to do something with this image’, he wrote. He didn’t know what, but he knew that image was part of a meaningful creative kernel. I relate a lot to this state of being drawn to something before knowing why. With this new book I’m not entirely in control of my topic, rather I’m trusting my attraction to certain shapes and voices and recurring objects/sounds/places and I’m spending a lot of time with them to the point of exhaustion, even when I’m not quite sure how they might fit rationally in the book. They will infiltrate it anyway. While writing En abîme I learned how this work process can lead to revealing discoveries. There are at least six or seven presences or places that keep reappearing every week and I’m sure they will all appear in the new book too.

I must note that when I say I return to certain places and objects and sounds and books or paintings, these are not meaningful because of their generic qualities, or because of their importance within a subject. There is always a very particular twist in them that I care for, or something out of tune, or a very specific aspect that strikes me, and these specificities will work later on as hinges for each of them to exist within the pattern of the book.

I’m not planning on publishing my work in progress on this blog, but I will start posting, as I’ve just done, some work notes on method and structure, and some of the obsessions that will inhabit the book. May we get lost in them.

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