Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Rose Keen and the Futurists

In June last year, myself and Ed Baxter produced the 'Art of Noises Centenary Souvenir Supplement' to accompany two concerts commemorating the Futurist Art of Noises at London's Coliseum in June 1914.  It contained all the most interesting newspaper cuttings relating to the original performances, Harvey Grace's essay, a pull-out colour poster of Russolo's 'Music' (1911), and a short essay I wrote...

During the course of the research for this little essay (which was rather hurried), I discovered one of those Jungian synchronicities that often crop up and cause momentary bogglement.  The Futurists had rather been pipped to the post, as a 'noise concert' of sorts had already taken place just five months earlier in Godalming, Surrey.  It was the brainchild of Rose Keen (1884-1972), a classically trained musician.  The coincidence is that her birthday happened to be 15th June - the same day that the Futurists commenced their week at the Coliseum!  We may use caution in dubbing Rose Keen Britain's first Futurist, as subsequent research has revealed she did not pursue this particular radical musical approach (becoming a music teacher and concert pianist) but her concert remains an extraordinary feat.  She does not have any living relatives or children, therefore much about her remains unknown.  One possible lead was her former student Katharine Mowll, a pianist and teacher I wrote to earlier this year, only to discover she sadly passed away in July 2014.

What follows below is the full text from the 2014 concert supplement (some parts taken from an older blog posting here).  A much more comprehensive referenced account can be read in my 'Magnetic Music of the Spiritual World' from earlier this year.
------
In Godalming, Surrey, on the 15th June 1884, a girl named Rose Keen was born.  The daughter of a baker father and a confectioner mother, she became a student of the Royal Academy of Music.  At the age of 29, in early January 1914 she organised a daring concert in her home town where twenty performers, dressed smartly as servants, played upon pots, pans, kettles, saucers, cups, jugs and other kitchenware.  It was performed on a stage resembling a kitchen, and seems to have met with a positive reception in local newspapers: "the music, though distinctly futurist in idea, was by no means so inharmonious as that which futurist concerts are generally supposed to furnish".  Keen's concert may derive some influence from 'rough music' - the rustic noisemaking tradition of yore - but almost certainly drew upon her culinarily-geared home life.  One can only guess at the challenges she may have faced in pursuing, however briefly it may have been, that particular extramusical avenue.  There are scant reports on Keen's concert, but the few mentions of her "servants' kitchen" appear as a peculiar instance of osmosis: of fractious Italian Futurist sensibilities filtering through the press into light Edwardian cheer.

Keen's concert preceded that of the Futurists by five months, and her deletion to posterity owes much to her not producing enough of the other sort of noise: hype.  The 15th June (coincidentally Rose Keen's birthday) marks the date that the Italian Futurists first brought their Art of Noises to the UK stage in 1914.  F. T. Marinetti - the loudmouth instigator of Futurism - had visited the UK on previous occasions for artistic and poetic emissions, but in the summer of 1914 he brought with him Luigi Russolo, creator of the Art of Noises, and Ugo Piatti, the engineer who helped Russolo build his infamous noise intoners, or, as they were more literally translated from intonarumori at the time, "noise tuners".  The Italians arrived on the wave of Marinetti's thrillingly hyperbolic ventings, which, when played out, seemed to evaporate into guff on exposure to cool English air.  This becomes most apparent in Harvey Grace's 1914 review of the Futurists' Art of Noises at the London Coliseum - published here for the first time in print since 1914.  Reading Grace's remarks, there is a sense of cultures colliding, but not with a bang - incendiary Futurist statements appear instead defused, becoming mere whimsy.

In November 1913, Marinetti had enthused to the UK press: "in a few months, we shall have a full Futurist orchestra ready, composed of innumerable new instruments.  With wood and string and bell and wire we shall at last be able to reproduce the sounds of the modern world."   One single noise intoner had a low-key exhibition in London, January 1914 and was said to sound "like a lion roaring".  As can be seen from the selection of reports collected here, the press was mostly critical of these affronts to traditional music.  The Birmingham Gazette wrote thus: "Those Futurists who find matter for idealism in 'poverty, hunger and dirt' [referencing Thomas Hood's 1843 poem 'The Song of the Shirt' evoking the sounds of arduous toil and its dismal paraphernalia] should be made to save their symphonies for the future when, it is to be hoped, changed conditions will at least lend to their art an archaeological interest".

A rare photo of the innards of an original noise intoner - one of the larger upright varieties
The Art of Noises was first presented in Milan, then Genoa, in the early months of 1914.  The basic model of a noise intoner featured a string held taut by a movable lever.  The string was attached to a drum membrane that acoustically amplified the sound, which was then directionalised by a funnel.  Like a monstrous hurdy-gurdy, a wheel would spin against the string - vibrating it - when a handle was turned.  Other variations were developments upon this, but are less certain, as designs were never fully disclosed (one report, possibly erroneously, alludes to a bellow-based mechanism).  When the instruments finally arrived in London, some electrical versions had been developed.  The electric varieties were wired in trembling-bell style arrangements, in which a beater would electrically ricochet rapidly back and forth against the string or the drum membrane.

According to painter C. R. W. Nevinson, Marinetti was able to induce Oswald Stoll - manager of the Coliseum variety hall - to play host to the Art of Noises.  "Nobody else could've done it," exclaims Nevinson.  However, Arthur Croxton, the general manager under Stoll, suggests that it was actually he who first drew Stoll's attention to Marinetti, but nevertheless, Croxton was surprised when Stoll decided to engage him.  Croxton alludes to the booking of the Art of Noises as one of the few "mistakes"; the planned second week at the Coliseum was quietly dropped.  In this light of this, it is questionable whether - if the outbreak of war hadn't thrown everything into disarray - the Futurists would have still continued as planned across the UK (there were plans to tour to Liverpool, Dublin, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Vienna  - then Moscow, Berlin and Paris).

The view from the stage of the Coliseum
Such a new and unusual idea as noise-as-music would have benefitted from a more intimate venue.  Marinetti, staying at the Savoy, had previously given poetry readings at London's DorĂ© Galleries whilst C. R. W. Nevinson banged a drum - these emissions were generally well-received in this cosier environment.  But the choice of the Coliseum for the Art of Noises was a characteristic Marinetti overstatement of grandiosity.  The London Coliseum was one of the finest variety halls in existence - a giant cavernous space.  The comic actor George Graves (who billed alongside the Futurists) described his own performances at the Coliseum as "barking into the chasm".  The overwhelming acoustic depth of the venue contributed to the weakening of the noise intoners' voices, and compelled the music-hall audience to rival, and even surpass, the noise of the instruments in what proved to be rambunctious scenes.

Noise and music had been combined long before the Futurists - it is seen in the 'descriptive' music of the 19th century, where storms, military battles and railways were imitated with special apparatus.  This was given an ultra-modern spin by the electro-musical entertainments of the late 19th century music hall, pioneered by J. B. Schalkenbach.  Such acts featured thematic noise effects electrically triggered, with the effects often placed within the audience space.  These antecedents had the noises ensconced within musical arrangements, and thus made palatable.  Russolo, on the other hand, radically forced unmusical sound into musical frameworks, modulating noise to musical ends using new instruments.  Russolo's Art of Noises went beyond simple imitations of real-world sounds; his notes reveal an advanced mode of listening: "my noise spirals are not mere impressionist reproductions of the surrounding life, but synthetically-treated noise emotions.  In listening to the combined and harmonized notes of the Exploders, the Whistlers, and the Gurglers, one scarcely thinks of motor cars, engines, or moving waters, but experiences a great Futurist absolutely unforeseen artistic emotion which resembles nothing but itself".

The players of the noise intoners were drawn from the Coliseum's own in-house pit orchestra who were initially reluctant to cooperate.  There was a perceived ridiculousness to the endeavour, and only when this comic aspect dawned on them, according to Arthur Croxton, did they become more open to the idea.  The players performed scores Russolo had prepared: 'Awakening of a Great City' and 'A Meeting of Motor Cars and Aeroplanes', notated using drum scores, but according to Croxton, the players did not pay any attention to the score, acting instead upon Russolo's conducting gestures, thus adding an (unwarranted) element of improvisation that, with hindsight, serves to heighten the revolutionary aspect.

The Art of Noises' week commenced on the 15th June, billed with comedians, vocalists, actors, acrobats, and short films.  The Futurists' turn was met with heckling, booing, hissing, animal noises and indelicate commentary, until one night Oswald Stoll persuaded Marinetti and Russolo to incorporate a gramophone record by Elgar into the act, which quietened the audience a little.  It is reported that Marinetti gave a rambling speech in broken English on the first night, whereas other sources - presumably referring to subsequent performances - say that Marinetti had discoursed in Italian and was apparently cut short.  The Manchester Guardian appears to refer to the second night, reporting that Marinetti was absent, leaving Russolo in charge.

On the 24th June, the Futurists' noise intoners were played at the annual Printer's Pie dinner at the Savoy Hotel, with the noise functioning as a punchline for Hugh Spottiswoode's long, rambling dinner speech (alluding to Marinetti's own rambling introduction to the Art of Noises).  Printer's Pie was a magazine published to raise money for a printers' charity.  The conductor of the Printer's Pie Futurist performance was supposed to be Sir Henry Wood (who had conducted Schoenberg performances earlier in 1914), but he was unable to attend, so Arthur Croxton took his role, and was made-up to look like him by the famous master of disguises Willy Clarkson.  It was a raucous evening with practical jokes, a baby elephant's indiscretion, intonarumori punctuating the speeches, and a boxing match between two characters who were revealed to be illustrators John Hassall and Tony Sarg.   It is not known if Russolo, Marinetti or Piatti were present, but it is said that the instruments were pelted off-stage after just a couple of minutes by the tipsy, raucous audience.   The Printer's Pie noise intoner performance places the noise intoners in a comedic context, and also gives much food for thought on the diverse dimensions of The Art of Noises.   A hundred years later, introducing two special concerts marking the events of 1914, Resonance 104.4FM's Ed Baxter identifies some of them: "an unparalleled iconoclastic act, an elaborately tedious joke, a reactionary act of cultural vandalism, a classic 20th century avant-garde gambit, a myopic aesthetic dead end, the last word in Italian organ grinding, the irrefutable foundation stone of contemporary sonic art, the worst variety act in history... or perhaps the most important concert of all time".

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Fortean Times - May 2015 - Early Electronic Soundmaking (Trolling in the 1920s)

The BBC's anti-oscillation pamphlet
It's not generally known that early valve radios were capable of producing electronic tones through the overuse of the volume dial (or 'reaction' dial).  From the 1920s onwards, valve radios could be pushed into radio-frequency feedback states, and audible sinewave tones could be produced by heterodyning against a radio station's frequency.  Problematically, these tones re-radiated through the home radio's aerial, causing 'howling' interference in every other set in the surrounding area tuned to the same radio station.

Fortean Times #327
May's issue of Fortean Times #327 contains my article Rogue Oscillators - the fullest study yet published on radio oscillation.  Anybody interested in early electronic music is advised to peruse it!  Particularly interesting is the evidence that some people oscillated deliberately, and in the light of modern noisemaking culture - exampled by tomes such as Nic Collins' Handmade Electronic Music - it may be reappraised as a rustic, unrecognised form of rogue pre-electronic music performed by anonymous rascals.

To coincide with the article, here I present a slice of oscillation: Song of the R33 (based on a runaway airship that allegedly had its radio communications interfered with by people oscillating their radios).  The only sound sources are oscillating radio valves, and it gives a rather exaggerated flavour of the kind of sounds that polluted the airwaves of the 1920s and 30s.



Leon Theremin c.1927
An oscillating radio's pitch couldn't be really controlled accurately - the tuning dial wasn't delicate enough to produce true melodies (and nearby radios wouldn't necessarily hear the same pitch as the oscillating radio), but putting one's hand near the radio could slightly affect the tone's pitch too.  This effect was seized upon by Leon Theremin, who took the oscillation principle and upscaled the capacitive body effect to produce his hands-free electronic instrument, the Theremin.

So, if you want to read about this curious pre-history of the Theremin sound, check out this month's Fortean Times #327.

To end this blogpost here's a poem about oscillation from a magazine called The Ironmonger, Universal Engineer and Metal Trades' Advertiser from December 1924:

The Knob-Twiddler

This is the story of Plantagenet,
Who fiddled about with his wireless set;
He plugged in the coils and he turned all the knobs;
He twiddled about with the thingummybobs.
The one thing Plantagenet never would do,
Was to sit down and listen to gentlemen who
Were doing their best to divert and delight
This ineffably curious twiddlesome wight.
Each time he picked up a melodious air
He knew he could tune in much better elsewhere.
Reaction was tightened; then let loose again,
His aerial howls made the neighbours complain.
Whenever the set was performing its best,
Plantagenet thought he would try out a test:
And caterwauls, mingled with groans and with squeals,
Disturbed all his family and ruined his meals.
But was he depressed? Not a bit! He would sit
Picking up funny noises that learners transmit.
For hours he would sit there in rapture sublime,
With knobs and plug-in coils agog all the time:

Perhaps you have heard the unfortunate fate
Of that knob-turning fellow, Plantagenet (late).
One night he was seized by a transmission wave,
Which transported him rapidly, on past the grave,
Into the limbo where knob-twiddlers end -
The place from which night-oscillations ascend.

So all the good people who twiddle the knobs,
Who will mess about with the thingummybobs,
Whenever they hear diabolic howls -
Should remember the army of Radio Ghouls
All ready and anxious to clap down the lid
On all men who do what Plantagenet did.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Using Radionics Radio - Sending in your Frequencies, and Avoiding 'Zero Readings'

The Radionics Radio website began asking for your thought-frequencies in May.  As documented previously, the project is a development of the groundbreaking electronic sound experiments of Delawarr Laboratories in the mid-20th century.  Through the art of radionics (where the mind is said to tune in to unknown energies), it was proposed that any thought can be converted into chords of frequencies.

The idea that concepts can be rendered as clusters of frequencies is an avenue of radionic thought that's still adhered to in some quarters - see The Electroherbalism Frequency Lists, for instance (based on the work of Dr. Rife).  The idea resonates with homeopathic medicine which is based on infinitely subtle 'essences'.  So, when a thing or a concept is intuitively linked to a set of frequencies, it is said by some that the combined waveform possesses this same 'essence' of the original concept.

If you haven't tried Radionics Radio already, I urge you to have a go.  If anything, it's a good crash course for radionics newcomers.   However, care must be taken to avoid 'zero readings'.

Since it's launch, there have now been 100 blank submissions to Radionics Radio.  These are not usable.  These submissions contain the thought - but not the frequencies.  Obviously, without the frequencies there is nothing Radionics Radio can practically do with the thought.

An example of an unusable 'zero reading' submission.  Has the user missed out on $10,000?
The Thought Box
To remedy any confusion, a simplified step-by-step guide to using the website can be found on the Radionics Radio blog.   It's essential that the list is populated with your frequencies.  The most important thing to know about the Radionics Radio app is the use of the '1' and '2' keys on the keyboard to switch between modes.   The cursor must also be rotated close to, or inside, the circle that appears around the Thought Box (to avoid accidentally clicking on other dials and buttons).

So...  what happens to the thought-frequencies?  Well... they are mathematically analysed for patterns, and also thought-coupling harmony experiments are taking place (more reports on this will appear soon).   But basically, the thoughts are broadcast acoustically and electromagnetically: modulated over ~104.4MHz via Resonance FM, London, from the aerial on the roof of Guy's Hospital.

There have only been a limited number of broadcasts so far due to insufficient thought-frequencies to fill half-hour slots.  So, please continue using the website.   Early experiments indicate that when the same thought (e.g. 'compassion', 'win lotto', etc.) with different frequencies from different people are all mixed, there is possibly a strengthened manifesting effect.

Whilst on the subject of non-physical phenomena, I should also explain that Resonance FM's outbound transmission room containing the feed to the aerial is permanently acoustically irradiated with each thought in sequence.  This is a room nobody generally goes in - it contains the active equipment to feed the aerial relay.  See the photo below:

The Radionics Radio 'secret' sonic irradiation in the inner sanctum of Resonance 104.4FM's studios.
This is how it works: a vintage loudspeaker box receives an audio feed from the Radionics Radio computer.  The quiet sound of each thought being played is constantly droning in this secret little room.  Every submitted thought is cycled through in 60-second segments.   What does this actually do?   Nothing physically.  It's not picked up by any microphones.  Nobody can hear it unless they put their ear to the door.  However, this is a form of acoustic homeopathy.  All the live feed equipment is acoustically exposed to the thought-frequencies.  This is in keeping with radionic philosophy (specifically the practical interventions of Delawarr).  The 'essence' of the thoughts are thus supposedly conveyed into the transmission - during every single Resonance show - unheard!

This unusual 'under-the-radar' 24/7 diffusion is another way to maximise any potential radionic effects.  It is merely a supplement to the actual Radionics Radio broadcasts, and the live irradiation events, but this constant 'non-physical' broadcast aims to satisfy anybody more ensconced in radionic philosophy who is considering higher level use Radionics Radio (such as submitting manifestations, wishes, etc. rather than abstract concepts [which are also very welcome of course!])

More thought-frequencies submissions are needed.   More data increases chances of discovering curious patterns or harmonisations.  Please visit radionicsradio.co.uk and view the help video.

Submitted thought-frequencies are all played in sequence inside Resonance FM's transmission room.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Radionics Radio at the Science Gallery: Thought Diffusion Experiments

This coming Tuesday - 7th October - there will take place a diffusion of 'thought frequencies' at the Science Gallery Pop-Up in Boland House, London Bridge.  It forms part of the Radionics Radio project, which is an extension of the groundbreaking acoustic radionic experiments conducted by George and Marjorie de la Warr at their Delawarr Laboratories beginning in the late 1940s.

Radionics is a fringe science that, through Delawarr Laboratories, led to the first long-durational electronic sound experiments of the 20th century.  Delawarr was particularly concerned with the way electronic tones interact acoustically in the air - at the first International Congress of Radionics in London, May 1950, George de la Warr demonstrated interference patterns produced by multiple loudspeakers, each respectively playing single tones that radionically related to the body (for instance, the larynx mucous membrane: 133Hz, 264Hz and 455Hz).  The lively interaction of these frequencies in the air (as opposed to being mixed together into a single loudspeaker) was said to contribute to the 'acoustic therapy' process.

The classic Delawarr finger-stick rubber detector pad
Delawarr's acoustic frequency diffusion set-up c.1947
The clusters of frequencies were originally identified by concentrating on a thought whilst turning an electronic oscillator and rubbing a 'detector pad'.   Whenever the finger encountered a 'stick' - or some friction - on the pad, the frequency was noted down.  In this way, frequency combinations relating to thoughts were obtained.

Delawarr Laboratories never regarded their radionic research as music, but one of the first people to discern the correspondences between radionics and sound art was the electronic composer Daphne Oram.  Oram had an interest in Delawarr's sonic experiments, but her research in this direction remains unpublished.  However, there is a radionics undercurrent in her 1972 book An Individual Note of Music..., where she muses that objects and concepts possess wavepatterns that, through perception, intermodulate with our own individualised mental wavepatterns (hence the 'individual note' of the title).

"In every human being there will surely be tremendous chords of wavepatterns 'sounding out their notes'"  Daphne Oram, An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics, 1972.

Anybody remotely interested in electronic music and its origins will find interest in these experiments, and the Radionics Radio irradiations at the Science Gallery are quite noteworthy in that such experiments have never been trialled before on this magnitude.   The audience will be privy to combinations of 'thought frequencies' harvested from the Radionics Radio web application (the latest version v2, enhanced by Jonny Stutters, offers more accuracy and wider compatibility).  The irradiations will also be broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM at a later date.  Delawarr applied for a radio broadcasting license in the late 1960s to similarly broadcast audio radionic tones, but were refused permission by the GPO who stated "we are unable to agree to the use of radio in the way you propose."  Only now is this vision becoming reality with the help of Sound and Music.

Please visit www.radionicsradio.co.uk to convert your thoughts into frequencies.

Additional thanks to Jonny Stutters, Dr. Ed Baxter, Peter Lanceley for assistance with the diffusion experiments, and John Dignan for the generous donation of audio equipment.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Radionics Radio Application v.1 Goes Live!

A radionic broadcasting instrument at the Science Museum
A small but distinguished audience bore witness to the first ever presentation of the fringe science of radionics at the Science Museum last Friday.  Radionics has long since been at odds with established science, so the convergence is quite significant.  Admittedly, it was unofficially sanctioned: the exhibiting of the Delawarr radionic broadcasting instrument was carried out under the umbrella of Resonance FM, temporarily installed in Aleks Kolkowski's Exponential Horn room at the museum.  The presentation formed part of my Radionics Radio launch show (featuring fringe-science expert Mark O. Pilkington) - an exciting new experimental project that pushes electronic sound to/beyond its limits!  More on that in a moment...  But you may be wondering: what is radionics?

In America, radionics is often termed psionics - the psi prefix emphasising the psychical aspect.  Radionics began as a method of diagnosing and treating illnesses, but gradually expanded its application to agriculture, mineralogy, finding faults in cars (as described in Bruce Copen's Radiesthesia for Home and Garden), making wishes, and finding lost aeroplanes, and is now bewilderingly wide-ranging in its scope.

General radionic theory posits that it is possible to embody a thought or concept as a run of numbers or frequencies.  The most important component in a piece of radionic equipment is the user.  The user thinks of a thought, rubs his/her finger on a detector pad - a smooth or slightly rubberised surface - and at the same time turns a control until a 'stick' or some friction is intuited by the user.  This indicates the control's position now corresponds to the thought, and the other controls are positioned in the same way.

Radionics is characterised by the use of elaborate electronically-styled equipment, resembling radios, or even analogue synthesisers.  The idea that a thought carries with it its own waveform was central to the groundbreaking research of Delawarr Laboratories in Oxford.  They sought a physical basis for radionics, and in the process, built many powered radionics devices that actually did produce electronic waveforms in a similar manner to synthesisers of the time.  The author Duncan Laurie, in The Secret Art, recognised how Delawarr had preempted experimental music: he concludes, "without realising it and with little or no subsequent credit, the De La Warrs had initiated and explored an important venue for artistic discovery".

The Delawarr Multi-Oscillator (with 'detector pad')
In the classic book detailing Delawarr experiments, Matter in the Making (1966), Langston Day and George De La Warr write:
"It appears that thought is a complex vibration in some respect akin to known forms of radiation. (...) With sufficiently delicate instruments it should be possible to analyse a thought, and this in fact is the case. (...) Suppose a thought is held in mind, such as the general concept of some particular disease.  If the frequency dial of an oscillator is slowly turned, a stick will be occur on the detector pad at a series of different frequencies.  When these are listed they are known as a 'frequency run'."

In the mid-1960s, Delawarr planned to broadcast specially devised therapeutic audio frequency clusters into people's homes via a radio broadcast transmitter, but the GPO didn't grant the laboratories a license, and the project was never realised.  But now, in conjunction with Resonance FM and Sound and Music, a homage to these experiments is underway.

Anybody can now attempt to convert their thoughts into frequencies using a specially developed web application: Radionics Radio.  Any conceivable thought can be converted to a 'frequency run', from "green grass" to "light birds hooting in the trees, what will the day bring?" (incidentally, these two thoughts were merged and broadcast at the Science Museum on Friday).  Submitted 'frequency runs' will then be reconstituted into tone clusters and broadcast on Resonance FM. [Thanks to users 'Asterism' and 'Radiomind' for those two thought-frequency submissions!]

Users of Radionics Radio should bear in mind that some patience, concentration and perseverance is needed.  The web application is modelled closely along 'medical' lines in keeping with the original Delawarr instruments.  A help video can be seen on Youtube:



The whys and wherefores of radionics are outside the scope of this blog post, suffice to say that in order to get any results from it whatsoever, it is necessary to tautly suspend your disbelief!  To anybody interested in sound and electronic / experimental music, Delawarr Laboratories' medical / intuitive experiments with soundwaves (starting in the late 1940s) form a fascinating parallel universe of electronic sonics.  Some more information can be found on the Sound and Music blog - which is highly recommended for newcomers to radionics.  More to come....

Radionics Radio can be accessed at www.radionicsradio.co.uk.  Special thanks to Sound and Music, Diana Di Pinto, Mark Pilkington, Chris Weaver and Ed Baxter.

Friday, 6 June 2014

A Robotic, Artificial Intelligence 'Local Poet'

On Friday I was a guest on William English's Wavelengh on Resonance FM (currently in residence in Aleks Kolkowski's Exponential Horn installation at the Science Museum).  It was a broadly book-based theme, and we both brought with us various books and ephemera.  W. English, being an established book-dealer, presented some absolute gems as predicted.  I'd anticipated that my own selections would be lacklustre in comparison, so I attempted to dig out some 'exclusives' for him.   (The 'exclusives' may not be particularly satisfying, but they're as-yet-unheard exclusives nonetheless!).

In 1996, a cache of poetry pamphlets by a local poet named Bill Cooper were discarded by a bookshop where my dad worked.  The title of the publication was The People's Poet.  Unhappily, it appeared that The People were not so interested in The People's Poet, and all copies were thrown out - however, I rescued a few.  Bill Cooper, through his poetry, appears a down-to-earth romantic who likes chicken, sparking Russett cider, roast pork, prawns, beef, beer, darts, Kirsty Macoll and moments of tenderness.  His publication started me off collecting what I used to call "crap poetry" - but now the term "rustic poetry" seems more respectful.

Some other examples of ultra-middle-of-the-road poetry.
Here are two examples of Bill Cooper's poetry:

Barbed Wire Dreams

I've been dreaming
Barbed Wire Dreams
That cut and shock inside.

I've not been sleeping too well
Recently.


Irish Coffee

If feels so cold
And damp and chilly
I wish I could be
An Irish Coffee.


Bill Cooper, in his obscurity, represents an archetype of rustic local poetry.  His ultra-middle-of-the-road style was so rustic, in fact, that it appeared to me that it could be easily replicated by statistically analysing the text and generating new "robot Cooper" poems using a computer running a Markov chain, that is, a system of probabilistic text analysis.  In practice, however, it was quite difficult.  A few years ago, I typed out the entire text into a special computer program I had built for this purpose (using the data processing parts of MaxMSP), creating a tweakable Markov chain - the foundations of 'artificial intelligence'.  This program would be a 'robot local poet' modelled on Bill Cooper, and it was hoped that the poetry generated would retain the distinctive deliciously bland style of Cooper himself.

The results were generally too abstract to pass as true 'Cooperisms'.  However, certain iterations of text generation spawned some rustic profundities that seemed passable as Bill Cooper musings.   I added punctuation, inflection, and fed the results into a speech synthesiser.  The results were played on Wavelength, and can now also be heard below:


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Clickety-Click update : Plagiarism in the Music-Hall

H.F. Juleene (aka John Parsons)
Of late I've been delving deeper into the overseas exploits of H. F. Juleene and Dot D'Alcorn with their Mephisto electro-musical entertainment.  As stated previously, their Mephisto act was stolen from that of J. B. Schalkenbach, but they toured overseas in places Schalkenbach hadn't set foot.  To its credit, Mephisto attained some originality from Dot D'Alcorn's role as Mephisto's operator; she was described (by Juleene himself) as "the only lady electrician in terrestrial orbit".

Earlier this month The Wire's website hosted a rendition of Juleene's Clickety-Click, performed by Fari Bradley, featuring an electrical clicker built by myself.  The song was published in score form around 1887, and is highly likely to be scored for Mephisto, with the clicks played on an electrical adjunct.

I've made a recent discovery that adds a new dimension to Clickety-Click and demolishes its claims to (musical) originality...

In 1887, Mephisto was touring around the US, playing in Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Chicago and New York.  Incidentally, some curious things happened on this tour - at the Lyceum Theatre in Chicago, June 10th 1887, Mephisto's bare wires were rigged onto chairs to electrically shock the audience at key points during the act.  An old man suffered an injury and sued both Juleene and the management.  Juleene and D'Alcorn saw the potential for publicity in this, and sought to contrive another incident of this sort, which they did later that year at the Brooklyn Theatre by consorting with the management to publicise another - fake - lawsuit.

Compared to other acts of the time Mephisto was a novelty, but it remained a rip-off to a gobsmacking extent: Juleene piled audacity upon audacity.  The new discovery concerning Clickety-Click reveals yet more audaciousness.  Whilst in Philadelphia, Juleene was evidently exposed to a very similar song called Clickety-Click March (c.1881) by Fred T. Baker.  Baker's version also featured the "clickety-clicks" written beneath the score, but the piece did not emerge from any electro-musical context.  Juleene appears to have retranscribed it, slightly altered some parts, and stamped his name onto it when it was published as Clickety-Click in The Musical Million (a weekly periodical published by Dot D'Alcorn's father, Henri D'Alcorn), presumably safe in the knowledge that no UK readers would recognise the melody.  Evidence still suggests that the so-called "electrofanatic" Juleene intended the clicks to be played electrically, but this episode highlights the smoke-and-mirrors nature of the music hall - where all is not what it seems, and everything is touched by piracy.

Plagiarism and priority disputes are still a concern today.  This is especially so in electroacoustic music where compositions are characterised less by 'songcraft' and more by basic 'active principles': harnessing natural phenomena where compositions are goaded to emerge almost automatically with minimal composerly intervention.  Such 'active principles' are so elemental that today's electroacoustic composers often clash over things as simple as amplified beetles on tin foil.  Recently, Prof. Nic Collins visited London from Chicago, and as we conversed on this topic in the King's Arms pub, he gave his own perspective.  Many of his students, he said, often proffer ideas that appear to hold new promise, only be told that "Alvin Lucier did that thirty years ago".  Lucier was Collins' former teacher and was composing experimental music throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s that rigorously employed natural acoustic principles.  Indeed, Lucier has perhaps explored all the most elemental 'active principles' for principle-driven electroacoustic musical compositions.  But anyways... More on this anon.... There's no need to be defeatist about the paucity of unexplored 'active principles', as the principles are incredibly variable depending on circumstances and environmental factors, and there is much variety still to be had from things as elemental as, say, feedback... and clicking...