Big Other on Tate n Lyle’s Radio Play

Earlier this year I was invited by Paul and Rohanne at Tate n Lyle to contribute something to Radio Play: their quarterly radio broadcast where they present the creations of artists working across many, many different disciplines, reflect and speculate, and crack the overly-polished patina of so many other podcasts out there.

I really recommend listening: in this most recent episode I’ve discovered the work of John Giorno, whose faggy Beat Buddhist performance poetry conjures images of Allen Ginsberg eating Steve Reich’s ass while the latter twists some dials on a synthesiser. I really hope you’ll check out the whole episode, and all of Paul and Rohanne’s back catalogue too, because that’s what I’m going to do.

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Anyway, since I started making work with Gemma Nash (as part of CUTTER // NASH) in early 2018, sound has become a big part of my practice, and I’m thinking about how I can branch out further into sound design / sound art. As invitations go, it was incredibly timely. I had a week-long residency at The Marlborough Pub & Theatre in Brighton in February, and with some time and space to start making something new, this is what I came up with.

The Big Other (or simply Big Other, depending on how I’m feeling about the word ‘the’) is a 6 minute track that’s primarily a way of me getting to know the capabilities of Ableton, the music software I’m using, a little better. I really like how Oneohtrix Point Never describes themselves as a science fiction music maker. He invents genres with names like hypergrunge. What would this be: electrodirge?

The piece evolved out of downloading and playing with Sam Kidel’s Voice Recognition Denial of Service patch. It’s a combination of phatic noises and rapidly shifting reverb that plays over your voice, a way of ‘disabling the silicon ear’, foiling voice recognition technology’s ability to eavesdrop on us. You can hear it from about 2 minutes in. I then took the reverb patch and applied it to a drum track. You can find out more about Sam’s work here.

This coincided with first learning about the term ‘surveillance capitalism’. I won’t go into detail about what SC is, but in a nutshell: companies like Google use the data we produce to predict and automate our future behaviour via an insidious information architecture that exiles us from our own realities. The phrase ‘Big Other’ describes this architecture, and the term resonated with me for its poetic qualities.

I decided to play with singing through autotune for the way it automates, predicts and corrects the voice, and riffed some text around the idea of being exiled from yourself and your environment (‘useless juices’, ‘lifeless piazza’ etc). I ran some simple MIDI notes from Ableton through my MicroKorg and played with the filters to create the sound of something hyperventilating and blossoming into something inescapable.

I wanted a contrast to the neat and tidy auto-tuned voice. Gemma and I have been talking lots about how we can use technology to move away from vocal normativity into something queerer, stranger. I added some Max for Live randomisers to a pitch-shifter and erosion sound effect to create this shifting, restless, difficult to pin-down voice, and recited the text. I manually made the pitch go way off a couple of times in post-production, at points where I think it needed to emphasise something.

There are one or two accidental Easter eggs. I’ve no idea where the little ‘beep’ at 00:10 comes from, and the second ‘beep’ at 03:34 comes from a pop-up notification on my laptop that was picked up by my mic whilst recording. I love the timing after ‘Data Kink’. I think it’s great.

And that’s it. As I mentioned, I’m really interested in what it would be like to work as a sound designer or composer for other people’s projects. If you like what you hear and / or my thought processes, hit me up.

Credits
Gareth Cutter, with thanks to Sam Kidel’s DoS patch.

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Where are you at as an artist currently?

I’m thinking about how I can incorporate more live sound and movement into my performance, and the role / reliability of autobiography in my work. Having spent three years studying English & Creative Writing, I’m very comfortable using the written and spoken word but feel these practices will open more windows, artistically speaking.

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Recently I worked with Eirini Kartsaki who introduced me to some completely new approaches to my material that pushed me out of my comfort zone (and paid off with some great audience feedback from my performance at Camden People’s Theatre) and this weekend I attended a workshop on inter-disciplinary performance called ‘Babble’ hosted at Future Everything, which introduced me to the possibility of using live percussion on found objects using contact mics and loop pedals. As a frustrated drummer, nothing would make me happier.

What are you working on?

(I Was A) Teenage Volcano continues to evolve. After showings at Emergency at Z-arts, Manchester in 2015 and Sprint Festival at Camden People’s Theatre, London in March 2016, I’m looking to incorporate the aforementioned live sound and movement, embedding it more in the text material, which will also be put through experimental approaches. Robert Brown and I are also developing a short performance film as part of my Terminal Ferocity project. We’ll be working on this over the next few months before he jets off on his travels. For now, here’s a sample:

There’s also some spots of writing here and there, which I’ll be sharing when the time is write (ha!)

Anything else worth mentioning?

Yes, I’ve had a lot of fun turning a staircase into a volcano and creating a four hour durational, interactive sound performance for families at Haphazard at Z-arts in February, and performing to a crowd of three hundred or so people in an empty swimming pool wearing nothing but a silver paper crown, a pillow and my boxer shorts, acting the fool at Short & Sweet.

Photo (l – r): Gareth Cutter at Short & Sweet, image by Jody Hartley; I Am A Volcano at Haphazard, Z-arts, image by Tamsin Drury

What’s getting you excited right now?

1. The music of Anna Meredith.

2. Attending Buzzcut festival.

3. The Cognitive Liberation Front.

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Photo: Cognitive Liberation Front at Short & Sweet, image by Jody Hartley

Are You List(en)ing? X Top Performances Of 2014

Lists: they’re easy to write, easy to digest and even easier to forget, so are the perfect fodder for a blogger in search of something – anything – to say. We’re also rapidly approaching the end of one big unit of time and about to start another, so people are more reflective than usual and just want a sense of closure, please. Put these two phenomena together and you get the ubiquitous END OF YEAR list.

‘List’ can also refer to a ship leaning to one side, which is a bit like bias: the very thing an end of year list can reveal if you’re not too careful. My bias is the following: if it involved some kind of fluid flying out of or into an orifice, I more than likely had a whale of a time. Why? I don’t know; I just like to see people having a good time.

I’m not going to write a list. The avant-garde may be dead but I know what I stand in opposition to. I’m a paragraph man, and I like my paragraphs substantial. Oh, you do too? Then read on, my friend! As for the rest of you, quit while you’re ahead and get your opinions in Chicken McNugget-sized pieces elsewhere.

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CHRISTEENE

This blog looks at ‘performances’ rather than focusing on theatre or live art, mostly because I wanted to include Christeene at Bummer Camp, Islington Mill in my anti-list. She’s an artist who marries live music with character-based performance, and also fits my bodily-fluid bias. Her take on drag has been dragged backwards through the bushes by raging baby ponies to deliver a body-positive message of sex, love and ultimately, humanity. In contrast to the schools of drag which aspire to flawlessness, Christeene surrenders herself to the filth and imperfection that’s common to us all, wearing it as armour in her crusade against homogenisation within and without queer communities everywhere. She writes great music, too.

Islington Mill was also the setting for Melt Banana at FAT OUT FEST, and my first moshpit in ten years. Islington Mill has the unique quality of becoming a furnace when more than five people move animatedly in it at one time, so my abiding memories of the night are euphoric industrial pop noise, taking my t-shirt off in the first five minutes, panting like a dog for the rest of the set and trudging home in sopping wet denim: 5 STARS! Here’s hoping they don’t lose their live music licence in 2015 because of their crotchety neighbours.

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F K Alexander

I got a bit damp at Beacons Festival too, but this was on account of the weather rather than F K Alexander, who doused the audience with gob-fuls of water during her set in Steakhouse Live’s ‘Divine Intervention’ takeover. Appearing in a funny / intimidating costume pastiche of all things Scots-cliche, F K proceeded to demolish Big Country’s ‘In A Big Country’ like a scowling, ginger-wigged seraphim, armed with a ground-levelling monotone and brandishing a megaphone. Who needs twelve notes when one works just fine?

Festivals were a big part of my life this year, most notably Flying Solo at Contact and SPILL at Ipswich, which were home to lots of fantastic performances from the likes of Victoria Melody, Greg Wohead, Rachel Mars, Ron Athey, Katy Baird and many more. Of all these performances, I feel special mention should go to Peter McMaster‘s elegant and sophisticated ‘Wuthering Heights’, which interweaved the all male company’s autobiographies amongst scenes from Bronte’s classic novel. The result was a moving theatrical exploration of masculinity and identity, flirting with flamboyance and baring emotional wounds, with the climax coming during a devastating recreation of Cathy and Heathcliff’s parting scene. The tears almost flowed for me at Akram Khan‘s magnificent DESH at The Lowry too; a stately, virtuoso performance that almost literally brought the house down thanks to some impressive staging. However, I have a one public display of emotion per year quota, and Peter McMaster beat Akram to it. Better luck next time, Akram.

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MOUSE

There was no shortage of watery emissions from Mouse at the SPILL closing party, which I managed to dodge by taking up a comfy seat and watching the live feed in another room (those at the front will likely have been glad of the complimentary umbrellas). As I say, I like to watch people having a good time, whether or not that ‘good time’ means unfurling 10 foot of bunting from between their legs.

Not long after that, time became gooey and elastic in Forced Entertainment‘s  24 hour long version of Quizoola at The Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. Armed with cookies and coffee for a live art sleepover, I alternated between watching six performers take it in turns to ask and answer questions about everything from why women wear hats at weddings to who they think is going to die first; and napping in the breakout room. There were also times when I trod the liminal boundaries of sleep and wakefulness, and watched a peculiar dreamlike version of the show in my head, and others I spent just drinking in the collective atmosphere of commitment to see the show through to the end. I had to bow out halfway through the proceedings, but the sense of having been stuck in a post-apocalyptic underground bunker where there is nothing to do but speculate on a long abandoned outside world stuck with me long afterwards. The live stream allowed me to catch the closing half hour from the comfort of my own bed: bonus!

Which more or less brings me to here, sat here on the sofa at my parent’s house in the Midlands, tapping away and wondering what kind of loud, lachrymose and messy performances I might see in 2015. I’m already looking forward to performances from Rosana Cade, Brian Lobel, Lucy Hutson and Tom Marshman, so check back in 365 days to find out what other shows left an impression on me in 2015. I might even write a list.