Sunday 10 February 2013


These poems, cryptic fragments on white page, peopled by 'small people', 'dwarves', 'mutants', 'tiny dogs', somewhere between fairytale and B-movie-scene-schemata ("back in the mines, the dwarves"). Like the poems, compression as a kind of violence, balled-in on themselves, clenched fist-tight. A kind of gesture towards heroism, defiance ("I revolt / project"; "Swarms! we will bang into the sun / blinded") that just as often is met by statement of flat-out despair ("history's deaths mean nothing, you / nothing"), and a gesture anyway that implies a kind of bumbling slapstick (as if one could "bang into the sun," clumsy mutliple Icarus), body attacked from within, by epileptic-type fit (“my chest judder”), or from without, by the torture-style glare of artificial light (“spasm in this pit sucked / blind by white lights”), or in anger lashing out against inanimate object as damage ("the fist against deaf walls”). What the spasm’d-in pit is is unclear; locations remain cryptic, as holes, recesses, enclosed spaces that could be those of the body as much of outer physical space. Note the tight control of sound: "spasm in this pit sucked" mashes itself on the tongue to become "spit fucked" or somesuch, "blind white lights", shortened and then elongated i's in alternation. It sounds quite violent when pointed out or up like this, tho’ the effect of reading it on the page is that the violence has become small, a tiny, hideous croak (particularly given all the references to scale, a kind of opposite to the vast & booming spatial projection of the Olsonians); little feral fragments, cut-off dog-yelps; “little zombie spines yapping silly”; &c. When I saw Kruk read it at the Damn the Caesars jamboree in Cambridge last year, the sense was of a kind of twisted or twisting inward choking, not bitter or sardonic but in some sense almost private, its edge not quite comic but not quite full-blown horror. Real disquiet – you wouldn’t laugh, as you would, those guffaws, however sardonic, at barbed or self-mutilating ‘humour’ in, say, a Keston Sutherland poem. Or, say, Peter Manson. Maybe that’s to do w/the gendered dynamics of poetry readings. But I think it’s also a real quality of these poems, and shouldn’t be seen as anything like retreat. There's a desire for control over the poems’ destruction & battering ("floods water sense water talks water / When I Name It"), yet the statements are frequently assertions of failure, of inability to affect or to control change: "we inserted a history and now it won't stop"; "I ordered a hurricane and I am still on this island" - as if the invocation of natural catastrophe posed solution, petulant solution, outlash like the fist pumelling the 'deaf' walls (itself a curious perversion of purpose, as if the point of punching an object was to make it hear). Or the poem’s other major outburst: "the orchids are fake, stupid fake island and forest." 'Nature' here is no more than model, ornament, imitation, simulacrum - "again the fake garden, motionless plastic curves" - in an artifice where only the body can be felt to shudder or tremor into desire for something more, yet whose very shuddering or tremoring or desiring constricts into blockage & physical attack. And the body itself may at times be artifice: "my chest Metal", a plastinated pulse; the poem's "fake islands" not only being physical locations in which the body is placed, but as equivalent to the (bodily) "inner islands" mentioned elsewhere. As in, 'no man is...' - in which case this fake inner island is what you are not, but are told that you are (like the radio become "inhuman" (see below). That the humanity yr body asserts as even just mere howling or mute registration of pain in some sense mitigates against this, but is also circumscribed by it; that this is a discourse itself that can be turned into parody, into movie monsters, stupid little dogs and people under attack and in distress, rendered ridiculous and "pathetic".

The fist pummeling the walls, the deaf walls: why would a wall, by definition not a hearing object, need to be described as 'deaf'? As substitute for human interaction, beating the wall because no human will hear, that enclosure: deafness as loss of communication, meaning-capacity. Throughout these poems, they recur again & again: hearing, deafness, blindness - blocked voices, choked, inability to express pain or the trauma of history except in fantasy ("This time we are Great in our Smart / Bomb Time Machine Device"), reduced to a "dead noise, revolt noise" that remains trapped in sand, an unheard negation that gives the poem its subtitle (“Negation of noise / unheard”). This noise is radio, or it is howling (see poems I, V, XIII). The voice in these poems sometimes desires to be that noise, or to describe it, cut-off before it can announce, can name itself in declarative or confident identity (one poem ends with the cut-off line "-but I'm "); the outbursts or sneering assertions of failure are perhaps some other voice that invades it, or they are perhaps that voice's turning against itself and others on realisation of its own failure - "we go to fuck the mutants / we go to mutant them"; "the most pathetic poem is small people on fire." That burning humans could be a poem is strange enough - inverting the idea that a poem could be language made particularly beautiful or efficacious, instead figuring it as a kind of uncontrolled attack on the body, as a violence - that this is a degraded poem, the qualifier 'the most' indicating, perhaps, that all poems are in some way pathetic.

The assertion that "there is no depth", ending the sequence as a whole; that one cannot get beneath the surface of these poems, that they cannot be decoded through deciphering allusion, that the grid of referentiality is too vague to be pinned down exactly. Yet that they work with a small packed-in image-complex, cluster round body, garden, blindness (“Blinded,” “sucked blind,” “I have no / eyes”), deafness, light, noise, any gesture outwards, swarming towards the sun, warring against the mutants, liable to miserable failure or to turning against the wrong enemy (for are the dwarves, the small people, the tiny howling dogs, not the perverted mirroring of ourselves, the oppressed made stupidly small?). Shut up, "down you go," back into the mines, yr box, the trashcan of history. Yet in attacking the mutants, like a mercenary who turns hero in some movie, that violence ends up as solidarity: "I am with the mutant / firing limbs" -- that even the tiny howling dogs or the burning small people or the dwarves in the mine might not be cast down forever, that the "revolt noise" might not go unheard. This is the kind of reading that the poem in once sense seems to resist in its verbal clamp(put)downs, the uncontrolled danger its bodies face from themselves or from others, yet the very fact of the compression, the white space, the quality of fragment, suggests something else beyond the stutter, that which is cut short, the noise within the gnomic, bitter quietness, "mouths bitter in sand" or "thirsty, howling" become "swarms!" of "revolt noise." "It is stupid to wait."

Furthermore, while the "Negation of noise / unheard" might be placed in opposition to the "revolt noise" of the preceding line - negation as silencing - it might also be the negation of unheard noise. The noise, in other words, that bleeds through its negation; (heard) noise itself as the negation of unheard noise, of muting and silencing; noise as a negation of a negation, an oppositional force in the face of an official discourse which relegates all else other than itself to 'meaninglessness'. Speculatively - "the resistance which otherness offers to identity"; noise as non-identity. That which is reduced to silence, its mute sand-mouth, is that which is underground, that which the assertion that “there is no depth” would try to cover over, but which contradicts any such assertion - the "subterranean gallery" which is the scene of the fist-wall encounter, "bound underground on hooks," "the mine shaft / dumb", "back in the mines the dwarves, the presences." This underground is hell; it is the hell in which labour is trapped, peopled by the Morlocks of HG Wells' 'The Time Machine'. (The Time Machine could even be obliquely referenced here, as in the “Smart / Bomb Time Machine device,” where it seems to have been crossed with a weapon of war and perhaps, even, & more obliquely still, a Smart Phone [TM], although perhaps it would be best to say that it’s not so much a ‘reference’ as part of the cultural unconscious that the poem inhabits, that B-Movie legacy of sci-fi & monster movie that doesn’t feature so much as direct stereotype, archetype or what have you, but as a kind of under-texture that feeds into the poem indirectly: somewhat similar, one might say, to the way that the poetry of Ian Heames em- or de-ploys a computer game / sci-fi register.)

What sounds in this underground is that which is heard only as noise, as howling, as the sound of the poem's opening swarm who rush blinded into the sun, unused to the light. One recalls Dante's swarm of lamenting damned, whose resounding sounds of lamentation are likened to "grains of sand swirling when a whirlwind blows" (viz.: "in sand you hear dead / noise"). In Pulse Demons', named for a Merzbow album (more noise!), Eugene Thacker connects this Dantean swarm to the horde of demons whom Jesus drives into the herd of pigs ('my name is Legion, for we are many') interpreting both as symbols of the rebellious, virus-like horde, of how it appears to those in power, as the force of disorder, of multiplicity, of that which will not be contained in the one, the singular, the class that takes its interests to stand for those of all, that lie of universality. Michel Serres, from ‘Genesis’: “these demons are nothing but the calls of the world, or the moans of the others who are crying for help. Would you be frightened by this wailing?” Perhaps I'm extrapolating, politicizing this demonic or damned (in any case, monstrous, seemingly unformed) swarm to an extent that Thacker doesn’t, quite – tho’ of course the notion of the swarm has its political theorizations in Negri, Foucault, etc: quite a trend recently, in fact, even as it risks romanticization, abstraction from specific issues, a kind of free-flowing ‘poetics’ substituting for concrete political theory, much in the same way that Serres' own work seems ultimately limited by its ‘liberated’, post-Deleuze/Guattari stylistics.

But to continue, w/that caveat in mind. Authorities attempt to silence the noise-swarm of the masses, and when it comes through, it does not speak in their language. The radio is a model for this kind of communication: EVP, voice phenomena, white-noise voices, static, interference – the message that scrambles, distorts, and replaces the original, ‘clean’ communication, that is contained within it, yet that goes against it, that seems to come, and perhaps does come, from outside it, as attack. On the one hand, this implies that all voices are equivalent, that by turning the dial, you can silence one voice, push them back into the noise of radio noise, come to the next clean channel, the lush strings that drown out the loud scream. It's a matter of choice, in other words. Yet there are those moments when the radio interference becomes uncontrollable, resists the desire to remain on the safe channel. Voices in other languages, other dialects, bursts and blarts of discord break through. The voices of the excluded, of the repressed dead trying to speak to us (W. Benjamin at the back of all this). Transmissions from the City of Dis: the heretics, those who have spoken against the existing order. “Radio, when it's not human.” This inhumanity in fact as humanity speaking through the medium, rendered as ghost-voice, as noise, "waves of brutal as Cochlea." Cochlea: the auditory portion of the inner ear (innerness, again) – the “waves of brutal” thus as sound waves (tho’ obviously resonant with the water that flows thru the poems). We are instructed to "listen" to this crowded sound, this "high pressure Crush": and then presented with a space, as if what could be heard could be rendered only as a blank, the white page as either silence or noise, unrendered, only subsequently glossed as "radio." LeRoi Jones, from a poem collected in 'The Dead Lecturer': "And silence / which proves / but / a referent / to my disorder." For Jones, those "who speak of singing" have never heard song; their zen silence is inhuman, their "legends" are ossified monuments, are death. Silence itself becomes noise, or the possibility of noise, defined by its opposite & sometimes assuming the maleficent effect that opposite is supposed to possess. (Viz. Zizek's characterisation of non-violence as itself violent: silence as a violent silencing.) Serres puns on 'murmur' as 'mur-mur', that noise which penetrates even through a wall. Walls may close off torture or injustice to sight, but the noise leaks through that wall, under the door. And while the wall itself is deaf, the fist tries to punch through: perhaps the sound of its banging can be heard. But Serres, in his allusive build-up of puns & metaphoric constructs (in which, broadly speaking, the wall stands in for ‘rationality’ as force of containment) conveniently forgets the existence of sound-proof rooms, anechoic chambers, mines, bunkers secreted away underground, muffled by earth, by sand, or surrounded by water, marooned on islands. Kruk: "dead / noise, revolt noise." Dead air is the silence of the radio announcer who can't fill the time with noise, the void. But what fills that air here is, perhaps, the voices of the dead who have been silenced yet who can still be heard to shout out. The noise is dead, it is out to sea, on "a boat", Rimbaud's drunken boat, "water," the "hurricane," the flood, the water that floods sense ("floods water sense") - noise the amorphous, the liquid, never object, never solid - one might drown in it -- it "crush[es]...Madness & Truth." Yet this water is invoked, like the calling down of the hurricane, or the assertion that "water talks water / When I Name it." To name, through noise, to give voice to dead noise as the voice of the dead, as the noise of revolt, the project of revolt: "I revolt / project." Throwing yr voice at the walls, in the hope that they will break through them. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho. It is again the water that threatens "Nervous walls / with their cheap metal flickers" - water or "something" more amorphously "surging." Such might, of course, equally be read as an assault on the body of the individual, rather than the assault of the swarming, noisy mass on that which delimits and encloses them (the force of revolt read, as it is by Rimbaud, as natural catastrophe, hurricane, earthquake, flood: not as the containment of the political aspect of revolution through natural metaphor, but as the expansion of the political even into 'nature'; just as, here, there is no 'nature' but that of the body and its projections and enmeshings). And the strength of Kruk's poem is that it is, it could be both, that it is not some simple call to arms as I have perhaps been trying to read it, through seizing on these notions of noise, wall, water - and maybe that's just because of what I'm reading at the moment, reading in. Not that the poem is just open to that reading in, it is precise, as I said, in its image-complexes. But these complexes are used in turned-in and twisting ways, full of defeat and failure that is yet also the promise or negative image of the defeat and failure of said defeat. Does that do this justice? Not really. I haven't even got to the notion that these are 'after' Danielle Collobert - as translations, as modes of text generation, I'm not sure which. Which opens up a whole 'nother kettle of worms, can of fish. And I haven’t even talked about the recurrent “crkl.” But let's leave it there for now.

NB: Kruk's book originally published thru Punch Press, sold out. Reprinted in the mighty 'Crisis Inquiry', available thru Damn the Caesars or, in tha UK, from Mountain Press.

Sunday 3 February 2013

Roscoe Mitchell at Cafe Oto, 29.01.2013

(Mitchell played with John Edwards, bass, and Tani Tabbal, drums. This was the first night of a two-night residency.)

Mitchell can be heard saying to Tabbal, 'you start it off'. All the musicians have sheet music discrete on stands, and at first it seems as if Tabbal might be playing a notated drum part, repeated figure dropped as announcement -- entrance-utterance, entrance into trance, with little variations, the slightest temporal differences between repeats, as an ever-so-slight suggestion of elasticity in a mode of playing that enthrals by its engrossing steadfastness. Tabbal -- whom I don’t recall knowingly coming across before, tho’ he’s a long-time collaborator of Mitchell’s -- is all about clarity, a kind of loud directness rather different to the usual more skittery & insectoid playing along the European free improv model that we’re used to hearing in these parts. He thinks above all melodically, with the variant and elastic pulse-work that we expected from both free jazz and free improv players, true, but with an added and keen focus on repeating and working thru an area or phrase until he feels it’s done, even as he’ll also interrupt his own phrases in complexifying flying outburst. (Think, perhaps, and rather distantly, of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s blasts & back-beats with Cecil Taylor on ‘One Too Many Salty Swift & Not Goodbye’.) If this variation within a given area is exemplified by Tabbal in particular, the same is true, in a different manner and to a differing extent, of the leader's playing: his is much more deliberately smeared, notes bent & multiphonic'd & flutter-tongued as the scalar figures he so relishes, on which so many of his composed & improvised lines are built, are edged away from the orthodoxies of 'correct' western pitch, the mellifluousness of almost never-ending circular-breathed cycles stretched & snapped by a whorled wildness that slurs & veers from an almost sloppy-sounding intonation to the most tight & piquant of pitch-jumping figures: all raw smooth progression, it cuts like a knife. I mean, if you think the alto playing of Jackie McLean or the soprano playing of Steve Lacy is 'tart' or 'sharp', Mitchell, in a way utterly distinct from either player (as they are utterly distinct from each other in turn) makes 'tartness' and 'sharpness' a kind of credo. When he gets going on his excursions, minutes and minutes at a time get just sucked into spinning vortex hold, speed round constantly-shifting centre in incremental momentum advance, or not-advance, running like crazy in that spot.

It's hard to focus on details so much as on the block impact of sound - a kind of twitching, leg-shuddering 'high energy' maelstrom that sets its variations within a broadly-defined territory of circular, repeating-type figures that might be described as a sort of minimalism. But there’s no holy or bright pop-py ease here; rather, something more akin to voodoo possession, trance as excess energy burst, play of control & uncontrol, refusal to bend individual model to conformity, yet within a music that depends for its success on group interaction, pin-drop or -point con- and di-vergence. Mitchell’s cheeks puff in-out, neck veins pop, leg lifts and body bends in his overlarge suite & hollers finger-flayed mouthpiece-yelped peak out to Tabbal’s delight, a sustained smashing cymbal barrage almost drowning out the leader as Edwards’ grunted exhortations lift him in full thwacking thump, in dance with his bass, his foot too lifted, Tabbal grinning at commitment as physical force thru momentum & sustained polyrhythmic locking-in: Mitchell will stop, and sit down, and drink his water, & Tabbal will take a solo, again, as at the very start of the whole performance, going round his kit in ritualized repeated melody, or he and Edwards will duet in closest sustained concentration, Edwards sticking his bow behind the strings so it jerks and shudders against them as he rides and slides up and down those strings like effects pedal treatment; Mitchell picking up on the simplest of rhythmic phrases, of Tabbal’s, and turning it into a space-filled in, back in to the music, starting with one blast, as if by accident, doing the simple two or three note phrase as unpredictably rhythmical semi-synchronicity with the others, before you know it into another storm of rippling repetition which references that initial simple spur before totally moving on to some other place. You close your eyes to try and get some sense of how this kind of playing’s shaped, how RM’s constancy leaves or leads his bandmates to swell and drop behind, at points going into full body juddering train, runaway adrenaline ride, others chipping and jerking into spaces behind the still-continuing squall. But in the end that analytical framework just won’t really work as a way into the music, at least not in this moment of live listening, even as a sense of the structural dynamics at work is for sure involved in the dynamics of listening involvement as much as it must be for the players. What I mean is that part of the pleasure of the set is seeing how these blocks fit together, & that there’s an amazing willed surrender at the moment when you realize Mitchell’s GONE again, out there a minute (more than that!), and you settle in for the ride.

This music is like that, then, blocks with a potentially almost infinite amount of possibilities as variations within quite deliberately limited areas, bookended or juxtaposed with more stop-start ‘interactive’ passages, often involving Edwards & Tabbal while Mitchell recovers himself after another hollering storm. They play two sets, the first more broken up in that Mitchell plays for less extended periods, switching alto & soprano, and after the long piece does a lovely soprano ballad thing, unexpected in contrast, like an absolutely classic melody he never quite fixes to the ‘songbook’; & just stops after say two minutes of this with intermission announcement, and that way it sticks so much more firmly in mind. The second set begins with a long composed section, again on soprano, partly played solo, then the curious slow graciousness of RM’s notated melodic lines, serpentine in their unfolding, sinuous and extended, in contrast to rhythm boil underneath, Edwards’ bass at one point into harmonics so gently plucked as to suggest a less twanging mbira, those uncanny moments when he finds pitch and timbral ranges which almost exactly duplicate those sounds Mitchell’s at that moment exploring, then the exhilaration when he swings to more orthodox free bass territory. They almost get a fractured swing thing going at one point, Mitchell making his playing sound in the jazz lineage it does contain, way past Coltrane, speeding out on a different train, at the start of the second set someone sitting on a beer barrel in the corner obnoxiously playing an actual game on an actual mobile phone! As if trekking out to Dalston in this winter cold didn’t justify actually looking up and involving oneself in the music that one of the great abrasive players was throwing up, for you, and true enough he couldn’t continue once Mitchell had flown, and the bar glass clink and coughs that set up a protective barrier against quietness and space and attention – yes, that attention you might actually have to pay – dispelled into an audience caught dancing into the clipped, clattering, rhythmic interaction of severe viscera, cerebral is not the word, intensity of purpose, intents and purposes, the hipsters in the mist who peered thru the windows only to move on, scoffing at the old saxophone dude w/the shut-eyed jive, didn’t know what in hell they were missing. If Thurston Moore were here the place would be packed, rammed, jammed up to the rafters, to the gills with sweat & self-congratulatory celeb-anticipation. But what wd they know, this just is, still, ‘the new thing’, if newness is what shoots round yr body as electric current and dementedly mental concentration, material in space, music the matter of time, manifesting time in body-mind machine; RM’S infernal machines, perpetuum mobile, into the future in that simultaneous felt manifestation & erasure of time, moment into moment into climax as sustained, plateau & drop, & out you go –- WIRED! -- into that good night.