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New Poetry Season / The Museum in the Park

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EVENFALL – The Narrative of a Sound

I finally met the musician Andrew Heath in 2017 at the launch of my book Imperfect having previously written a few poems inspired by his third album Europa. His music talks in a quiet, subtle voice about the changing world around us, it points out the fine details of a moment of silent reflection, a moment which only requires one to be still and to observe. The colours, the speed, the flight, the descent, the little fragments of life.

Andrew Heath performing at The Seventh Wave Festival. 2017. Blue Orange Theatre. Birmingham. U.K. Photo: © Alexander Caminada, 2017

Andrew Heath has spent over twenty years producing and composing experimental music. He has collaborated with Peter Maynard (Dust and Threshold, 2016, Disco Gecko Recordings, UK), the legendary musician Hans-Joachim Roedelius  and the composer Christopher Chaplin (Triptych in Blue, 2017, Disco Gecko Recordings, UK), the Dutch guitarist Anne Chris Bakker (Lichtzen, 2017, White Paddy Mountain, Japan) and he is currently working on a joint project with the Mercury Award nominated Toby Marks (Banco de Gaia).

A few months ago, Andrew invited me to collaborate towards his fifth solo album Evenfall due to be released later on this year. Several weeks after we completed the recording, inspired by the subtlety of his new album, I went back to his studio in Stroud and invited him to talk about his fascination with silences and with pauses. Over many cups of freshly brewed coffee we talked about the way we experience the world, through rhythm and speed, but Andrew explained how one could transform a world with only one sound.

Recording the scissors

MS: Would you place your music within the limits of a particular genre?

AH: As my music has developed, it seems to occupy different spaces. There are many names for this musical area I feel drawn to. Some call it ‘ambient’ but this is quite a broad term. I prefer to use words like ‘lower-case’, ‘quiet’, music without beats and without words and, I know people would then ask what is left but of course to me, the answer is, everything is left.

I became aware of music through listening to the world around me as a very young boy and one of my prized memories and an important formative sound moment in my life, was when my father came home from work with an old reel-to-reel tape machine. I was intrigued to discover I could record sounds on it and play them at different speeds, or turn the tape over and play it backwards. I had a microphone which I’d started using and I remember recording the sound of a pair of dressmaking scissors my mother had. When I played the recording back and slowed it right down it sounded like somebody had drawn a sword. From that moment, recording and transforming sound was something I would be constantly drawn to.

Andrew Heath. Stroud. Gloucestershire. U.K. Photo: © Alexander Caminada

MS: In terms of influences and directions…?

AH: Many things but certainly other musicians and their work. I am inspired by the American pianist Harold Budd, who worked with Brian Eno. I love his sense of timing. His playing is like notes falling downstairs, they just cascade in a beautifully ad-hoc way. I’m very interested in other experimental musicians like Roedelius and the Japanese sound artist, Sawako. An exciting recent discovery for me is German YouTuber, Hainbach who works a great deal with tape, and due to his music, I’ve begun using dictaphones which is an interesting new development for me. However, I think the biggest influence is the environment. The sound around us is music. It could be the song of a bird, which is very beautiful, but for me it can also be planes, my fridge makes amazing sounds. Any noises from our inside or outside spaces.

MS: Are you trying to make people aware of what surrounds us or is your music a product of your own reflection about the world and the passing of time?

AH: I am not trying to educate an audience but this is very personal music. Like an artist who is process lead, I am very interested in taking ‘found’ raw material from the environment around me and then processing and ‘treating’ these recordings building layer upon layer of sound. In my case, the pigments that I use are the piano, guitar and ‘found’ sounds. Where an artist will choose a brush, a pencil or a knife, I will use computers, software and tape.

Spaces between notes

MS: You use ‘found’ sounds as you call them, ‘raw materials’ from nature, being open to the randomness around you, but then you process it using technology.

AH: Yes, true, but I am being selective on the technology I use though or approve of. For me, the fascination of transforming, changing, processing sounds is all consuming and you can’t do that without technology – typically very modern technology. I start with just a few sounds, listen to the interaction between them, go down the rabbit hole and realise suddenly, I have the beginnings of an idea.

In my sound world, I try to find and then follow a path, as I go along, I become a collector of things. It could be a piece of wood, a stick, a stone and put them in my imaginary backpack. But then, as I build it up and up and up I realise that it becomes heavy and I leave stuff behind. I leave spaces between notes to reach an equilibrium.

MS: I understand that when you start to work on an album it can begin with something random. What inspired the album Evenfall

AH: I was deep in the Norfolk countryside – a real wilderness area with little woods and lakes. I was interested in making longer field recordings. I stood there recording in one place for about two hours. And it got darker and darker and darker. It started to rain. It was a magic moment of stillness that really informed the music on Evenfall.

To add to the magic, I must mention the amazing contribution from the young musician Lydia Kenny, Gloucestershire Young Musician of the Year 2018 who so kindly gifted me such beautiful soprano saxophone lines on the title track, ‘The Still of Evenfall’.

MS: When will the album be available and what follows for you this year?

AH: The album will be launched by Disco Gecko Recordings on 21st September 2018 at The Old Church, London and it will be available on ITunes, Spotify, Amazon as well as in CD format. Prior to this, I will be performing with Toby Marks at Extreme Chill Festival, Reykjavik, Iceland, 6-9 September 2018.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

Carrying the World

A chisel, a hammer, a lyre; reportage, intimate feelings, quips and criticisms. Maria Stadnicka’s poems are clusters of consciousness, graphic, material images of our world. Her language assaults, bends, cajoles, thrusts a saber into the darkness of the very language she employs to explore death, degradation, the non-recognition of the human individual, war, urban violence, in short, the all-too-present context of our daily lives. Is there an element of grace, a lyrical thread, an invocation of human beauty? Yes, if one can continue to believe in this beauty while contemplating the profound alienation and marginalization that characterizes contemporary Western societies.

Although Stadnicka writes in English, her native language, Romanian, is always close to the surface of the words, forging and sculpting the associations that create the poems’ presence. Her language mirrors the human mind, elliptical at times, obsessional from time to time, fragile and reflective when the moments present themselves. ‘A moon of salt unravels / the shadow between years, / unfolding a passage / grey chapter about mortality’ offers a lyrical entrance to the book. The reader moves swiftly into the core of Stadnicka’s vision, ‘the wounds of freedom’.

One of the most beautiful poems in the book is ‘Restituto’. Transformation of thought and body occurs as the voice of the poem articulates the ars poetica, an incendiary gesture born out of an already-condemned historical contex:

I covered my face with black ink
rounded all my possessions up
set fire to everything.

The gods hid in a poem
with a fresh loaf.

Just us now slicing away
to the end of my days.

What concerns Maria Stadnicka? How do these strangely forced collages that are hermetic and yet entirely exposed allow the reader entrance to her world? She is speaking about the discontinuity of personal space and the intrusion of economic and political forces in an individual’s life that leads to fragmentation and, ultimately, to the dissolution of one’s reality. The chance for the existence of a future or even the future is removed. Literature becomes the communication and solidarity that permit the step towards wholeness. In Stadnicka’s poems social, personal, and literary landscapes are fused and at times must be forcibly dislocated, both repositioned and torn apart, so that one can continue. The reader is drawn to the quote from Czeslaw Milosz that frames the book: ‘So much guilt behind them and such beauty!’

The title poem, ‘The Unmoving’, dislocates the predictability of images and pulls together the motifs of Stadnicka’s poetry. A book slips, the world is seen as ‘a time-capsule sent flying into space’, a missile wakes the ‘half-dreaming’ narrator, someone is walking down the motorway, people materialize with a dog for sale, ‘The music absorbed what was left of Rana Plaza’ and the reader is once again confronted with the Savor Building collapse that killed 1,134 people in Bangladesh. The narrator is displaced and ‘The ground settled between reference points.’

In a sense, The Unmoving is a defense of the marginalized, the poor, the displaced and disabled. The poems create a sense of urgency and mystery. The only escape from the imposed absolute of non-being is resolution to go forward illogically and irrationally free. ‘For the first time, I / walked. Blind, absent. / I became tomorrow.’

@Andrea Moorhead, 2018

Review published in ‘Stride Magazine’.

‘The Unmoving’ is available here.

The Trophic Chain and Other Animals

 

‘Man has continued to evolve by acts of disobedience […] daring to say no in the name of his conscience. His intellectual development was dependent on the capacity for being disobedient to authorities who tried to muzzle new thoughts and to the authority of long-established opinions which declared a change to be nonsense.’

– Erich Fromm, On Disobedience

 

The recent Twixter development with reference to the Eyewear Publishing’s abrupt fall from grace looks like a time-bomb waiting to go off for a few years now. (If you use social media, you can easily find out what I am talking about, so I am not going to revive it, for ethical reasons. It has already taken too much of my headspace, plus it is not the focus of what I am about to say.) Regardless of what is going to happen next, I cannot but bring up a wider issue – the present symptomatic state of the literary space, and, particularly, the publishing industry.

At a time when competition is supposed to promote quality and integrity, a well-oiled trophic chain keeps on growing; and the institutions building this up seem unable to ‘snap out of it’ as the pressure to ‘make it, and make it big’ has become a scope in itself. (I use the concept ‘institution’ in the sociological sense.)

The general turmoil is now backfiring on writers trapped between their need to get work published and the pressure to accept arrogance, humiliation and to conform, ad literam, to the publisher’s demand (in some cases). But if the book sells, all is forgotten and forgiven. Before you know it, it slowly becomes common practice. Then it is widely spread across, used as a functional business model and, finally, adopted as a cultural value. What for? Just to prove that neoliberalism works well.

There are many brilliant independent publishers too, with a natural propensity towards quality and excellence. Some are young, some are struggling to survive, and others are actually doing really well. I have admiration for all of them and I support their journey. The beauty in their work (and, ultimately, their success) comes from their ability to reject the established cultural food chain. But to break a system, one needs to create another. And why shouldn’t this system be about more agents which say no, which disobey, which continue to change?

As a writer, I can only keep my side of the bargain through writing and saying no in my own way.

I say no to submission windows, for instance. As I don’t write between nine and four with a lunch break and a bit of time for elevenses, I prefer publishers with ‘open windows’. I prefer to work with people rather than with systems. One has to recognise there is some scope in accepting submissions only at certain times. One must consider the publisher’s high volume of manuscripts, the financial constraints, staff availability and so on. However, there are two further considerations to make here:

a). some publishers recognise their struggle to manage two hundred submissions over a period of four months, whilst others, with less staff, manage over four hundred in two months. Is it a matter of grit, determination, passion, or just management?

and

b). secondly, rather more important to me, the problem of equality and diversity. The idea of preferential treatment to subscribers and their own protégées. And you can also jump the queue if you are Carolan Fluffy. What happens then with the young, the very young or the struggling writers unable to afford subscriptions, or talented writers at the very beginning of their career? They need to join the queue and wait longer to have their manuscript read. (And, in some cases, it takes months, if not years to get a response.) One would have thought that in such a competitive market things could have been more efficient, and more honest.

I say no to submission fees. This is simply based on arithmetic. Browsing through the writing competitions promoted via official channels, and adding up, the monthly sum for submissions is higher than some writers’ food bill. A high percentage of great writing and talent gets overlooked. And if this is not the publishers’ loss, it is certainly our cultural loss.

In a society where cultural losses are neglected, the freedom of expression has no meaning and obedience is identified as a virtue.

Maria Stadnicka, 21st July 2018

Tears in the Fence Festival – Defining Courage

Until recently, we had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same’. This has been, for a long time, our definition of ‘courage’ and ‘risk-taking’. But the notion of ‘inevitable future’ described by T. Snyder is now more nuanced; if we summarise the past twelve months of socio-economic and political headlines. And to add to this, the cultural space has not taken a step sideways either. I am just considering the #MeToo movement, the mediatic tsunami which followed, plus the implications it had on the Nobel Prize for Literature. There are so many other examples I could think of. And they all lead to an evident sense of empowerment and courage coming from the overlooked, the marginalised socio-cultural voices.

But when I think of courage in culture, at a practical level, I go back nearly a year ago. In 2017, I was invited to read at Tears in the Fence Festival, Stourpaine, Dorset. The Festival focused then on the theme ‘Politics of Engagement’ at a moment when the idea of Brexit started to become a slow torturous reality. Being part of the Festival, listening, reading, connecting with brilliant voices and writers, left me impressed to tears; for I had discovered a powerful and intelligent event, edgy and European, with great openness and with the potential to change our cultural trajectory. It felt avant-garde. Georges Braque would have liked it and so would Beckett.

This year, I will be privileged to be joining Tears in the Fence Festival, between 14th-16th September, and it will be, no doubt, another inspirational experience, with even more exciting poetry readings, books, talks and discussions, responding to the theme ‘Hidden Connections’.

In a recent conversation with David Caddy, the Festival director, I wanted to understand what the difference between the festival and other literary events across the country was.

David Caddy: Firstly, through the range of poetic approaches on display and the international flavour with poets from different cultures and languages. There will some language centred poets, some prose poets, New York School, Australian, South African and a number of European voices.

MS: And this would be…?

DC: The Festival has a long prehistory going back to 1995. From 1995 to 2001 we had an international festival which eventually ran for five days. From 2003-2005 we had three weekend festivals, in London. We resurrected the festival on a smaller scale in 2014. This is thus the 14th edition.

MS: How is the festival funded? Through self-funding? And when I say this I have in mind the degree of autonomy and independence which come with the freedom to choose a focus, as well as your participants, rather than respond to popular literary demand.

DC: Yes, the festival is entirely self-funded. We rely upon tickets sales and donations to cover the costs. This gives us a high degree of independence in terms of whom we can invite to participate. We are not subject to any prescribed official list of funded poets. We can take more risks and have more alternative or experimental poets, whether they are spiritual, political or language centred. Poets that wish to read know that they will be able to take more risks and be themselves as there will be a well-read audience. It’s also a coming together and celebration.

MS: Taking risks is a complex concept within the literary space. Each literary festival likes to take risks, but it needs to sell tickets too and sometimes the market is dictated by over-promoted writers, with big publishers and literary agencies behind.

DC: Exactly true. There needs to be a space for the less marketed and more independent poetry voices. We give space to the outsider voices and poets; our earlier festivals had themes such ‘Difference and the Other’, ‘Visionaries and Outsiders’ and ‘Commitment’ to illustrate the point that dissident voices need to be heard.

MS: Your risk-taking does not shy away from experimental nor from critical analysis. You have chosen ‘Hidden Connections’ as this year’s theme. At a time of socio-economic and political turmoil, coming from North America, the Middle East and the EU, how does the Festival intend to respond having chosen this topic?

DC: Such themes generate good discussion and conversation. Poems will generate sparks and illuminate less well considered areas within these wider issues and perhaps debate, as the audience grapples with new implications and contexts. By bringing a range of strong and independent voices together there will be poems and sub-themes emerging, that shed light on darkened areas. Poets respond to one another’s poems and impulses. They will talk and think anew as a result of new insights. This is a complex and unpredictable phenomena, also very exciting and stimulating. New friendships are made, and books bought.

MS: And..as a preview, what events should the readers and the audience look forward to?

DC: There are a number of special events. Lou Rowan, the poet, novelist and editor from Seattle, will be reading. He is noted for his great clarity and humour. To hear him will be a treat. Elisabeth Bletsoe is a spell binding performer who recently hasn’t performed much. She will be a joy to hear. Martin Stannard has returned from China after a decade and his witty poetry will be as hard-hitting as ever. Perhaps with Chinese translations. Louise Buchler’s feminist poetry from a South African perspective will be different. Carrie Etter, an accomplished American poet and prose poet, has another distinct voice. Laurie Duggan is giving his last UK reading before returning to Australia. He is a poet with a big heart and internationalist perspective. There will also be a celebration of late Lee Harwood, whose multi perspective poetic approach offers a way to uncover hidden connections.

Tears in the Fence Festival will take place 14th-16th September, Stourpaine Village Hall, Dorset.

Further updates and information about tickets, events, accommodation, books can be accessed at http://tearsinthefence.com/festival or here.

Maria Stadnicka, July 2018