Landscape Fragments

26 May 2009

The eviscerated brownpaper bag carcass of a large McDonalds finds shelter by a low wall, the corpse disassembled in all directions, cold fries scattered like bones, those white plastic containers of dipping sauce that were her eyes, the foil lids peeled back on pools of dark congealing red. It is morning en route to the train station and elsewhere on the pavement a rain of crushed Tic Tacs has fallen, like a strange gift of the early sky.

Later, as the sunlight floods the glass sides of the long covered walkway between terminals, a single bird, incongruous, beautiful, flies its whole indoor length, tracing the same line as the travelator, skimming just below the white steel structure of the ceiling and just above the heads of the few bleary passengers who trundle luggage towards check-in. The bird is a straight line factored with a single undulation, a line drawn in the air, an articulation of pure direction, and opposite from yours.


Classic thunderstorm. The sky flickering on and off in great planes of white light. The rain and thunder sound like heavy trucks moving down below in the street. Here in this place, with the high windows and the long curtains/drapes the storm feels as much Dracula as it does real life. You pad to the bathroom after waking around 3am, barefoot, not turning on the lights because you don't want to ruin the scene, and the shapes of your belongings, the furniture and the unfamiliar landscape of the room are picked out in the flashes here and there. The suck and turbulence of the night wind at the partly open window throws the curtains in a maze of strange directions – panicked flapping, wrenching, twisting, inflating like a sail, breathing them in and out, yanking at the rings which bind them to the pole, the water of rain spitting in and out of the edges of the darkened, flashing aperture. When you stand at the window (heading back to the bed) and look down you see the rain sheeting the pavement and the car roofs, even the tall trees below you torque, wrench and knot in the gale, flimsy and helpless.


Thirty-Nine Or So To Do

20 May 2009

Starting next week I have a project Thirty-Nine Or So To Do at Tanzquartier Wien as part of their Giving (up) instructions programme which is subtitled ‘On precarious instructions for action’. The work – evolved from and remixing my previous SMS project Surrender Control – involves a series of SMS instructions sent to subscribers/participants over the eleven-day duration of the project.

Announcement info:

TIM ETCHELLS (UK). Thirty-Nine Or So To Do.

Thur. 26 May – 5 June 2009. Interactive SMS Project.

Senders and receivers of an SMS text message normally know one another personally; every mobile-phone number saved thus tells the story of a friendship, acquaintance, of trust in advance. In his project Thirty-Nine Or So To Do, Tim Etchells, director of the Sheffield-based performance group Forced Entertainment, uses this individual aspect of SMS communication on a group of people who are unknown to him. Over a period of 11 days, Etchells sends SMS instructions to various participants – whispers them, as it were, into the ears of strangers. The messages range from simple instructions, such as ‘go outside’, to complex ambiguous invitations, such as ‘take a risk’. In the field of tension between intimacy and anonymity, a space develops in which our everyday life can be perceived anew in the interplay of the instructions of the game and individual responsibility. Registration from mid April by SMS to mobile phone number +43 664 660 ** **, code word SUBSCRIBE (limited number of participants).

Production: Tanzquartier Wien, Giving (up) instructions – programme.


19 May 2009

Opening sequence for an Americanised TV show about some guys who are working to politicise the dead.

Bar late at night. Everyone at the table has had too much to drink.

Trouble is the fat guy says, they got so little profile, so little motivation and no organisation whatsoever.

What do you expect? says some newcomer rookie bearing tray full of drinks – the dead have nowhere to live..

Hey, says a jaded looking woman, we don’t call them dead round here, we call them Deceased.

Fat Guy: Whatever. Don’t mind her, bad day. The next round is on me… Their possessions get dished out to others, their properties get taken away from them..

Plus – (another rookie, this one a Latino) – you even try to get a lawyer, a cop or a social worker to speak to… the deceased and see how fast you get laughed out of the room.

Brunette With Attitude: “NO DOGS. NO DECEASED” I saw that sign.

Fat Guy: On top of that, on top of that even – most of them are confused.

Jaded Woman (laughing): Yeah. Worse than the schizos.

Rookie One: Whaddya mean?

Fat Guy: Most of these guys just don’t know how the world works anymore.

Another Fat Guy: I never saw such cluelessness.

Rookie Two (Latino): PLUS the dead are getting shafted day in and day out on issues like intellectual property. It’s basic stuff.

Rookie One: Underdogs?

Another Fat Guy: Those suckers make illegals look lucky.

Brunette With Attitude: So hard to get them motivated. And so hard to get them to think about the bigger picture.

Fat Guy: Some Deceased been that way a long time and they still can’t see further than the accident or the fact their husband remarried so quick. Try getting them interested in Unionisation? Or a protest march of some kind? Forget about it.


Meanwhile, on another note, liking this from Lars Von Trier at a Cannes Press Conference for his horror movie Antichrist.

“I don’t have to justify myself. I make films and I enjoy very much making them. You are all my guests, it’s not the other way round. I work for myself and I do this little film that I’m now kind of fond of and I haven’t done it for you or the audience so I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation.”


And watch out for the mockingbirds.

The Shipment

16 May 2009

Looking forward to seeing Young Jean Lee‘s performance The Shipment again next week in KunstenFestivaldesArts. I’ve been meaning for ages to write something about Young Jean. I saw her third piece Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven in Toulouse last year, at least a year after everyone else saw it, since it seemed to play in almost very festival of contemporary theatre I came across – usually a week before we arrived or a week after we left. Dragons.. was a response to the experience and representation of Korean people in America – it was strong, funny and playfully self-conscious. Her new work The Shipment is also about racial stereotypes, racism and representation esp, this time, in respect of African Americans. When I met her last year she was in the middle of a very tough workshopping process on the piece and had already junked one whole version of the it. She’s since junked a second version too and the completed show is basically version three. What I find interesting about Young Jean (a Korean-American Shakespeare scholar who quit her research on the West Coast, moved to New York and wanted to make a theatre that didn’t really seem to exist) is that in many ways she comes from outside the by-now well known patterns of contemporary devised performance. Her approach seems close to ours at times for sure -her writing and making processes are deeply collaborative, full of discussions, opportunities for interventions by the performers.  I can also say that the mode of trying endless mixes, remixes, variations or versions of the material until coming up with something that seems to function also rings a bell from our own laborious processes! (We have a joke in the rehearsals often that our method is to try every bad idea first, slowly eliminating them from our enquries until we get to what’s interesting.) Young Jean is also pretty obsessed with the role of the audience and with shifting the relationship between the work and those watching. What’s different though is that Young Jean’s work often takes place in or around the realm of the dramatic – and in the mix of what she does you’re likely to find characters talking to each other, dramatic scenes and stories and at least a hint of the kind of representation that (out where Forced Ents have tended to live at least) you won’t see too much of these days. Even a quick glance at Young Jean’s work though and you see that it stays far from the zone of realism or well-made-plays. You aware that everything on stage exists inside one or more sets of quotation marks, and any reading you make of what’s happening is of necessity an uneasy one – you’re required to watch and read and to watch yourself watching and reading, and at the same time to watch the watching and reading of those around you in the auditorium. I saw The Shipment in New York when it opened at the start of the year and I really liked it – it’s a brave and refreshing piece, a tight symphony of discomfort. And it’s so great to see issues like racial and cultural identity taken on in this headlong, smart, self-conscious way. When you watch Young Jean Lee and her great group of performers get to work in this piece – blurring between stand up, fast forward narrative and sustained ironic/not-ironic drama – you get a hint of what’s left inside the theatre machine, and a great reminder that we shouldn’t leave politics to the realists.

If you want to, watch Hitting Video – prologue video to Young Jean’s Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven. Watch a clip from the show. Watch a long conversation between Young Jean and Philip Bither of the Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis.

Current Show

Down Time - Tim Etchells - Installatin View

My videos Down Time and Kent Beeson… are in the group show On Joy, Sadness and Desire at SMART Project Space in Amsterdam (Arie Biemondstraat 105-113, NL-1054 PD Amsterdam) along with work by Sebastian Diaz Morales, Mathilde ter Heijne, Mark Titchner, Iona Nemes, Freee and Pia Lindman. It runs until 28 June 2009. Installation shot above by Niels Vis 2009, all rights reserved.

Wright Stuff

15 May 2009
Session Timeout


Every day I like to put a little bit of time aside and just.. forget about it. Then at the end of the year I get a few days to myself.

I have to be asleep by one o clock in the morning cos my dreams are gonna start no matter if I’m asleep or not.

‘Thinking about dead-pan and the idea of ‘absent presence’ (or present absence) in performance I had a mini Steven Wright revival in the last few days. Great stuff on YouTube. It’s genius what he does.


Following an earlier post (A Revamped Procedural Sky System) about landscape and sky generators for computer games and with a nod to The Broken World, my friend Graham Parker mailed with a link to this great blog sequence describing a project to build a procedural city generator. Something about the self-sustained, self-contained nature of these that I really love – the idea of an endless fictional urban space, animated, endlessly varied within a set of minimal parameters, also this explicit relation whereby maths/systems produce fictional landscape.


Overheard in Brussels, in a bar sometime the night before last. Two guys talking. One leaning forward on the table, the other leaning back in his seat.

“It seems as though information is the currency here..”

In General

10 May 2009
General Noticeboard


Nice posts from Mike Harrison concerning his list of ‘some good fantasy‘ and a later list of ‘some interesting science fiction‘. More recently he’s added to the former with a Swift-like proposal that the canon of fantasy be rebuilt/extended to include such things as L’Oreal ad campaigns and the life and death of Jade Goody. Funny and bitter. Good stuff in the comments there too.


Meanwhile things aren’t looking so good for the pirates.

Grass-roots, antipirate militias are forming. Sheiks and government leaders are embarking on a campaign to excommunicate the pirates, telling them to get out of town and preaching at mosques for women not to marry these un-Islamic, thieving “burcad badeed,” which in Somali translates as sea bandit. There is even a new sign at a parking lot in Garoowe, the sun-blasted capital of the semiautonomous region of Puntland, that may be the only one of its kind in the world. The thick red letters say: No pirates allowed.

Whole NYT article here.

Loops in Time

9 May 2009

Richard Gregory at Quarantine mailed re the stuff I posted a couple of days ago on The Fall/Ajanta Cinema. (Oh, turns out my Fall thing was as I feared a re-post from earlier, where I posted it alongside some notes about Joy Division, so apologies for the repetition. It’s hard to keep track of time around here.)

Richard wrote:

Just read your blog posting about the Ajanta. I saw the UK Subs there in ’79 – the gig Aaron refers to. I think they were supported by Anti Pasti too (every gig in Derby at that time seemed to have Anti Pasti on the bill).  I know I went to the Ajanta but I remember so little about it. Stirred up lots of memories for me – Buzzcocks supported by Joy Division at the Assembly Rooms in ’79 (“Love and peace Derby” : Pete Shelley with long white scarf around his head) and having to leave to catch the last bus back to Belper just as the Clash were playing White Riot – I think that was at the Kings Hall…. Ah, the olden days.

Didn’t see The Fall until years later, at an Easter Monday gig in Manchester, supported by the then little-known Happy Mondays. This connects to a strange event for me. I went to that gig with my mate Mike (now a lecturer in philosophy, and working with me on my next piece, Make-believe).

About a year or two later I dj-ed regularly at a club in Leeds (the Phono, downstairs in the Merrion centre).  Got invited by a girl I didn’t really know, Rebecca, who was a regular at the Phono, to dj at her birthday party in Liverpool.  Mike and I went over.  He was a student in Liverpool.  After the party (in some club that I don’t remember) we went back to Rebecca’s shared house.

Mike and I sat on the floor in her housemate’s room, chatting in a roomful of people – all of them strangers to us.  I looked up and there on the wall was a photo of Rebecca and her housemate, grinning for the camera, at that Fall gig in Manchester.  Just over her shoulder, intently watching the band, was me and Mike.

In a later mail Richard added these fragments, too good not to share:

All that spitting…  Shame the spitting never crossed over into theatre.  I’ve seen a fair few shows I’d like to have spat at.

And this:

Great thing about the Phono was that it was run by two guys – identical bearded twins.  One worked the door, the other ran the bar.  I worked there for 3 months before i realised there were 2 of them.  I only knew because he offered me a lift home and – fuck – there was another one in the passenger seat.  I thought he was just very nippy between door and bar.

Aaron meanwhile sent the pic below of the band he was in back then (he’s playing bass), here supporting TG, which means I must’ve seen The Corridor twice at least. Strange fucking country the past.

The Corridor - Ajanta Cinema Derby - Aaron Williamson



8 May 2009

The big question of  the day seemed to be if it was better to be living but dead, or dead but somehow alive.


Stepping into some kind of nightmare circle. "It's the typical scene in American novels – the two guys talking in the changing room in the gym" says one deaf old bloke to another in the changing room at the gym.

In the pool itself the guy ahead of you in the lanes stops for a moment to chat to the lifeguard. "Hows it going?" the latter asks. "Not bad" the swimmer replies, "still getting used to life without Heidi and Claire". "That's been a while now hasn't it?" says the lifeguard. "Yeah" says the guy, in a way that quietly implies it really hasn't been that long, or at least not long enough.


Step Off The Stage

7 May 2009

Mark E. Smith. Ajanta Cinema Derby, sometime in 1977 or 1978, back at the time when he was talking at least as much as singing, punctuating the songs with extended delirious rants about the proliferation of psychics and Cash & Carry stores or the possibility of time travel or how much he did not like Doncaster, or the audience or Stalin you could never be sure which. Huge fucking row of music, small audience. A venue that used to be, by some incomprehensible irony, The Derby Playhouse (I mean before they built that new one with hexagonal barstools and purple orange cross-hatch carpets) and was by then (the old playhouse, re-named as Ajanta Cinema), a semi-derelict music venue run by some Asian guys maybe as a front for a drugs ring at least if you believed what was gonna be in the paper ten months later, who knows.

Just in front of the stage there is a space that used to be seats, but which has been for some months now an extended no-mans land, a zone of smashed floorboards and seat-remains – a cleared space created when the first gig took place here and at which the room allowed for the crowd was patently not big enough and so by Mutual Agreement the seats were kicked to pieces by those present, the debris for the most part lifted high and Hurled Asunder, causing minor injuries. It is this space – directly to the front of the stage that Smith has his eyes on, when he turns around, neglecting the routine that he himself has characterised as ‘backs to the audience and pass the hair-dye mate’ though he of course has no hair dye. This space, right there in front of the stage, this no mans land, is clearly bothering him, big time. Maybe cos there’s no one in it – I mean there’s only fifty people in the venue max and most of them are leant against the walls holding lager cans. And maybe its bugging him – this space – cos he’s not sure who’s it is. I mean – he’s on the stage and he’s wandering all around it like he owns the fucking place, which for all extents and purposes he does – but somehow he doesn’t seem so happy there on the stage – like he’d really like to be somewhere else, in some other place, a bigger one perhaps. Like somehow the stage is too small because it isn’t a whole world.   What does the character Price say about the nightclub in Trevor Griffith’s play Comedians? Something like: When I stand up there on the stage  – I still hit my head on the ceiling. It might be literally true – but mainly of course he means it more like a metaphor – a way to say, that the world which Capitalism has on offer isn’t big enough yet to accommodate his dreams or imaginings.

Anyhow back in Derby in either ’77 or ’78, Smith won’t take it for long. He’s at the very edge of the stage by this point, walking back and forth, pacing on the exact border, looking down off the low rise and into that other space – that other world, no-one in it and everyone eyeing it, a space in this case between him and the rest of us, a space not quite his and not quite claimed by the rest of us. Time passes. And then there’s a moment like there always is, a moment so good I won’t ever remember it, and could not in any case describe it, a moment in which he makes the jump and steps off the stage. He’s off, he’s over, gone into the emptiness down there, the band oblivious or inured to his probably amphetamine whimsy, and the music’s all thump and screech and grind and he’s wandering, caterwauling, out into the no-man’s land/wasteground that he’s somehow made his own now, barely tethered by the microphone lead and in some ways never to return.

That, was an inspiration. And no mistake of all.

Corridor Fall Poster - Aaron Williamson

More than a year ago I wrote a text for the inaugural symposium at Spill Festival in London. I started with the passage above (which I don’t think I’ve posted here before – apologies if I did). The whole text – about stages, performance, and all sorts – got published a while back. Anyways. I’ve since had a small correction from my friend the artist Aaron Williamson along with the image above.

Aaron wrote:
I was interested in your invocation of the Fall at the Ajanta Cinema in Derby. My band, the Corridor, were the support at that gig and there were no more than 30 people in the audience (including the support bands)! It was in June 1979 and not 77/78 as you wrote: it’s possible the Fall played in Derby at an earlier date but not at the Ajanta as the first gig put on there by the I.D. gang (Dave Bonsall, Pre-De) was UK Subs in January 79.

I’ve known Aaron since sometime in the early ’90s I think – but had no idea that I’d seen him perform back in the ’70s! We must’ve been at a lot of the same gigs together. Aaron also flagged that “a Derby lad Johnny Vincent, has recently published a book that focuses on the Ajanta Cinema as a punk venue“. I’m intrigued – my memories of all that are a bit blurred.

Still on the late ’70s and hoping not to get too nostalgic for the misery. Hard not to notice the resurgence of interest in the wreckers of civillisation Throbbing Gristle who are touring again. A bunch of links and a new interview at Boing Boing. I’m seriously wondering about going to Glasgow to see them – it’s about 30 years since I first saw them last (again at the Ajanta in Derby) at a gig that’s still pretty much burned into me.