Posts tagged ‘archives’

18 February 2015

Records Ruin the Landscape / review

I have reviewed David Grubbs’ book Records Ruin the Landscape for Music & Literature. Writing a review after devoting the last few years to my new book has been a rewarding process and one that has generated further writing already. It reminded me of how neither of my English books, En abîme and F.M.R.L.**, would have existed without my years in Italy working as a journalist: listening to records, reading books, reviewing them. There is a rigour that comes from writing reviews–an activity in close proximity with reading and listening–that thickens thought and demands attention.

(Then there’s a refusal of / removal from writing reviews, that occurs necessarily in waves — but this is the topic of another blog post)

** I need to write something about titles…


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

13 July 2013

another abîme


24 May 2013


[More excerpts from my research notes]

. . . . . .

I read some words by James Clifford: ‘A disciplinary habitus has been established around the embodied activity of fieldwork,’ he wrote sixteen years ago in his book Routes. Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century as he questioned ‘the habitus of the neutral eye’ in fieldwork and looked at the margins, at fringe activities such as the journals of travel writers, not constrained by diktats of ethnographical practice and free to explore instead more tormented questions that arise or are silenced when visiting a place. The habitus of the neutral ear often creeps into evaluations of recordings. Where do we stop treating a record as a document and begin considering it as an open field for entangled subjectivities?

Art versus Document. The dissident Surrealists were no strangers to the slippery edge between the two, their periodical Documents (1929-30) attested the imaginary and subversive potential in mutual crossing over between what is deemed objective (a ‘document’) and what is not. The unsettling impact of these documents is a function of the editing glance (in our case, ear) that deploys it. The notion that a recording/document is *only* an intact, unchangeable, objective source and ‘not art’, masks some practitioners’ unwillingness to come to grips with aesthetic and conceptual considerations.
Documents are not intact, unchangeable; recordings, every time we play them, are escapes out of fixity. Not a still aural presence, but a mutable entity that allows the listeners to slide into the space of their own fictions, hesitations, questions, not the certainty of a pre-set agenda. I’m interested in the shift from real to fiction and the sliding back from fiction to real that occurs every time we are confronted with recorded sounds. They prompt rather than document, they prompt the listener not to classify, but to interpolate. No recording can coincide with the event of each experience of hearing, and a recording is not a time-capsule-on-demand (the madeleine was an accident, not an enforcement of memory deliberately picked from a tidily organised collection of keepsakes). Time cannot be kept, we live and listen with records and documents, not because of them.

Now I think of the field of my experience, not recorded, but recalled. Where, and how do I articulate it, when I recall in listening and reading and then I write? Rather than considering memory, I’d like to think of the history of a memory, as it moves from fixed document to yet another reinvention, slightly different every other time, transformative and entangled. I think of sounds for which there cannot be any trace, no record, and what I can make with them. Once more I think of fabulation. Fable in the Renaissance was artificium occultandi, artifice of concealment. Think of all the veils, the tricks and devices that I can deploy. Therefore I cannot believe in the existing rhetoric around heritage and collections as frozen and transparent sites of permanence. I think of my heritage consumed into the spaces of reinvention, yet another artificium occultandi. It is a sense of unknown or ungraspable drift, that recordings can trigger. Not as untouchable documents calling for classifications or taxonomies, but eliciting what is not there: a shift, or, as I read in Landings by Richard Skelton, an attraction toward ‘the inert space that borders’ each sound.

To listen away from a place always tips over to listening in another place.

17 April 2013

reading/writing (Clifford Geertz)

This blog is becoming more and more some sort of expanded or annotated bibliography/filmography for my new book. One major portion of the bibliography will feature books and articles by James Clifford and Clifford Geertz, whose writings have been invaluable for me to articulate my attempts at connecting writing sound, self-ethnography, notions of ‘fieldwork’ in sound, subjectivities in the field, and the use of archives/collections.
Here is Geertz in The Interpretation of Cultures (1973):

‘What the ethnographer is in fact faced with […] is a multiplicity of complex conceptual structures, many of them superimposed upon or knotted into one another, which are at once strange, irregular, and inexplicit, and which he must contrive somehow first to grasp and then to render. And this is true at the most down-to-earth, jungle field work levels of his activity: interviewing informants, observing rituals, eliciting kin terms, tracing property lines, censusing households . . . writing his journal. Doing ethnography is like trying to read (in the sense of “construct a reading of”) a manuscript – foreign, faded, full of ellipses, incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries, but written not in conventionalized graphs of sound but in transient examples of shaped behavior.’


10 April 2013

Cabiria, loneliness, ritual

I watch Fellini’s Le notti di Cabiria and I’m transfixed. Before, I’d watched this film and La strada on TV when I was about four years old, and never again since. To date, these two films are my earliest memories of sadness, from an age when I could not have possibly ever experienced that type of sadness. Except through those films. I was always afraid of going back to them. So here we are, that sadness and I, thirty-odd years later. I find: a film of unstable balance between a profound sense of drift and emptiness (the bleak suburban Roman landscape, caves, open spaces, the main character truly lonely in every sense, no respite ever) and a lightness of touch, graceful interferences of unexpected gestures that place what is implausible in what is stark real. Rituals and representations exceed a self that is void, but not meaningless. At one point, Cabiria joins a pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Divine Love and asks for grace. One of the women in the crowd shouts at the top of her voice, speaking to the Virgin Mary: ‘I am REALLY asking you. I am REALLY asking you’. As if screaming was the space where belief is validated. Cabiria cannot quite scream and barely sings, she is hushed and overwhelmed by the chanting and the demonstrations, the gestures, yet she is the only one who believes (maybe because she’s speaking to herself, not to any divine presence). In the next scene they all sit on a lawn having a picnic, life goes on untouched by the empty yet repeated ritual, except for Cabiria, who is deeply affected by the fact that, after the pilgrimage, ‘nun semo cambiate’ (in Roman dialect, ‘we haven’t changed’). At the end, the space of utter truth is revealed to be the space of utter deception; unlike later films by Fellini, here truth and deception exist osmotically, they do not outnumber each other by means of cartoonish exaggerations. The edge is softer and I am more easily driven in the film, not as a spectator but enmeshed, affected.

(Then I thought of another harrowing scene of loneliness, staged faith, make-believe and loss of belief, in Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves, when Bess goes to church for the last time and can no longer sustain the double-voiced dialogue with God that she’s been staging up to that moment, deceiving or asserting her own self by speaking in two voices.)

10 April 2013

when ‘research’ reveals an encounter with past thoughts and everything coils

‘Why do we always do the opposite of that we like doing? Because, unable to achieve it fully, we try to attain it through indirect, ambiguous means.’
Pierre Schaeffer, In Search of a Concrete Music


Pierre Schaeffer.


Pierre Henry, Concerto of Ambiguities (1951)

Herman Melville, Pierre, or, The Ambiguities (1852)

or, the double book, or, the ambiguous nature of writing.

30 March 2013

writing the inner voice / casting my archive

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with a new writing technique. In response to an invite by Rie Nakajima and David Toop to take part in an event at Café Oto called Sculpture, I thought about the process of casting – about the interchange between mould and material, the empty and the full. How could I translate it into my own writing, where the cast would be my archive, and the material would be my words generated by it?

As a prompt, I decided to collect some thoughts around a certain sculpture and the words around it. Aptly, the sculpture I chose to begin with is entitled The Inner Voice and it induced a chain of thoughts not dissimilar to those that gave shape to my book, En abîme. I chose it not only because of its title, but because it exists in repetition and change, and because it echoed the title of another work I’ve been writing about, Inner Voices, a comedy written in 1948 by Italian playwright Eduardo de Filippo, featuring an enigmatic character who, disillusioned with life, refuses to speak (‘because the world doesn’t listen to him anymore’) and only communicates with the outside world by exploding bangers and crackers (and who only speaks again soon before he dies, saying: ‘Some silence, please…’)
I’m digressing.

The Inner Voice
is a sculpture from 1885 by Auguste Rodin: a body in torsion with no arms, its legs scratched off edgeless, in-between the stillness of matter and centripetal motion. Rainer Maria Rilke wrote of it: Again and again Rodin returned to this bending inward, to this intense listening to one’s own depth. Never was human body assembled to such an extent about its inner self, so bent by its own soul. Rodin himself said: My figure represents Meditation. That is why it has neither arms to act, nor legs to walk. Haven’t you noticed that reflection, when persisted in, suggests so many plausible arguments for opposite directions, that it ends in inertia? He later used the sculpture to illustrate a poem by Charles Baudelaire, Beauty: As lovely as a dream in stone, as clay eternal and as taciturn.
The arms might have been mutilated, or maybe they never were. Cast over the years in different materials, The Inner Voice is a muted reiteration. Rodin took the title from a collection of poems by Victor Hugo, who had said: The Inner Voice is the echo, certainly confused and feeble, but faithful, of that song that responds in us to the song we hear beside ourselves. I cannot quite hear the song of The Inner Voice but in half-guessed disturbances, never too far from its core, that is, never too far from the outer shell that casts one form into various materials.

For five days I have taken the inner voice as a mould, and I have cast it in a dismembered group of words, in proximity with my reading, as I learned by heart a paragraph from a new book every day, re-wrote it from memory the next day, and interpolated the missing parts with my own words – an experiment in enforced memory as it corrodes and actualises my archive, while I elicit more voices: an echo cast into shape, to fold my enchantment with words round, and back dissolving, and again.

The resulting texts raised many considerations about authenticity, the resonances built within the fabric of language, how we read and how we hear, a writing embroiled.
Plenty for the next chapter.



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”.   .   .   .   .)



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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