Monday, 26 September 2022

Microwalking

I've just written and posted a free e-book. 'Microwalking' is a pamphlet about short walks. It includes descriptions of several examples taken from Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales. As it says in the pamphlet: 'A 'microwalk' ... contains, in microcosm, the kind of experience one can enjoy in a far longer walk. Scrambling up a stream-bed, enjoying a panoramic view, negotiating tricky terrain, encountering a waterfall or a hidden valley.'

To read it as a flip-book, just click on the link, and 'enlarge' as one would a YouTube video. It is, I think the easiest way to read it:

https://issuu.com/rivron/docs/microwalking

Alternatively, you can view it on Scribd in a more easily print-outable version:


Microwalking by Dominic Rivron

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

The Sea, The Sea




I've just finished reading Iris Murdoch's novel, The Sea, The Sea. Ageing actor and director, Charles Arrowby, decides to retire from the limelight. He buys a house, Shruff End, in a remote spot on the coast of the North of England. It's a strange, dilapidated place with no electricity. The sea, only a short walk from the house, looms large.

He seeks solitude: among other things, to write his memoirs (the text of which becomes the book). However, his old friends, uninvited, seek him out. Not only that, but he discovers that his first sweetheart, now old, like himself, lives in a nearby village. She and her husband have bought a bungalow there.

Arrowby, though charming, is a controlling, manipulative monster. He gives a disarmingly honest account of his doings. He seems not to realize how unacceptable and out of the ordinary his behaviour is. The seeds, though, are there for the rest of us to see. Talking of his love for his father, he says 'if you long and long for someone's company you love them' – a remark that might be innocuous when seen in some contexts, but which turns out to be revealing in the context of this man.

Again and again, as the story unfolds, he describes the controlling, abusive behaviour of others while seeming blind to his own. Having been a famous theatre director, he seems to think he can direct the lives of real human beings the way he directed actors. He thinks of himself as the magician, Prospero. The whole book, in fact, has the feel of a Shakespeare play.  It helps that many of the characters – Arrowby's old friends – are actors. The way the house itself and the sea let us know how the balance of the universe (and Arrowby's mind) have been disturbed has a Shakespearean feel to it, too.

As the book goes on, it becomes clear that the man who thinks he's a magician is no more than a bully, incapable of foreseeing, understanding or caring about the effect of his actions on the emotional life of others. The real magician in the book is his cousin, James, a (retired?) soldier and Buddhist. To explain much more would be to give too much away, although at one point, Arrowby asks James about a man he'd once seen at his London flat:

'Oh him,' said James, 'he was just a tulpa.'

'Some sort of inferior tribesman I suppose! And talking of tulpas, what about that Sherpa that Toby Ellsmere said you were so keen on? The one who died on the mountain?'

James doesn't pick up and correct his cousin's facile assumption. (Incidentally, it's not the only time Arrowby's racism breaks through). If he had, he would have explained that in Buddhism, a tulpa is 'a magical creature that attains corporeal reality, having been originally merely imaginary'. It can also be defined as 'a type of thoughtform capable of independent action, with a persistent personality and identity; a kind of modern imaginary friend.' (Wiktionary). That Arrowby is cheerfully oblivious to the real meaning of the word is an irony that reverberates through the book Iris Murdoch would have us believe he's written.

The Sea, the Sea won the Booker Prize for Murdoch in 1978. Has it aged well? I'd say so. I first read it back in the 1980s. Re-reading it now, it's still an enthralling read. 







Tuesday, 26 July 2022

Field

I've just finished making a short film - the first for a while. Coming across a cornfield when out on a walk reminded me of a childhood experience...



Tuesday, 19 July 2022

Excuse me, can you help me please? I’m terribly worried

I'm a fan of the work of Andrew and Eden Kotting. I'm also a fan of John Rogers' weekly walking videos. I was particularly pleased therefore to see that, this week, John Rogers' walk incorporated a visit, with Andrew and Eden Kotting, to their latest exhibition, Excuse me, can you help me please? I’m terribly worried (runs until Sat 30 July at New Art Projects, London). 

The whole film is well worth a watch, but if you want to cut straight to the exhibition visit, start watching at 12:30. The gallery website can be found here.
For anyone who doesn't know, Andrew Kotting has often collaborated with his daughter, Eden, going right back to his first full-length film, Gallivant, which documents a trip he made round the coastline of Britain in the company of Gladys, his 90-year-old grandmother, and a then 9-year-old Eden.

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Of Lighthouses and Lagoons


We recently returned from a holiday in Cumbria. We stayed for a week on a caravan site in Haverigg. The site's situated on the edge of a lagoon on the far side of which stands a lighthouse. The lagoon was once a vast industrial site - an iron-ore mine - which has since been flooded and turned into a nature reserve. Literary associations kept popping into my head all week: every time I looked out of the window and saw the lighthouse I found myself thinking of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and of Mr Ramsay telling his son that the weather wouldn't be fine

Fortunately, it was fine. I didn't have to resort to cutting out pictures from the Army and Navy Stores catalogue to while away the time. And then, looking at the surface of the water, which stretched away to the lighthouse from just outside the door of the caravan, I couldn't help wondering what lay beneath it. It would be interesting, I thought, to lower an underwater camera into the water, to explore the landscape of the lagoon-bed see what remained of its industrial past. I was reminded of JG Ballard's The Drowned World - another book I very much enjoyed reading. I had a silly thought, too, that this was the way Mordor might look, fifty years after the defeat of the Dark Lord, the pits of the orcs landscaped, filled with water and turned into bird sanctuaries and suchlike.


It's a few miles north of Haverigg to Silecroft beach. You get there down a road that winds back and forth over the railway line through a series of level crossings. There's very little there - once you've driven through Silecroft village, there's a small caravan site, a handful of old, substantial houses, a couple of bungalows and little else. The beach itself is a shingle beach that curves away to the north for miles, up towards Ravenglass and Sellafield. On a good day, we were told, you can see the Isle of Man. On our first couple of visits, try as we might, we could see no sign of it. Then, one particular clear morning, we drove down to the beach and there it was - hilly, substantial, filling a good part of the horizon. It's easy to see where myths of magic vanishing islands come from.





Friday, 22 April 2022

Moten/Lopez/Cleaver

Brandon López and Gerald Cleaver have been working together for some years as a duo making innovative improvised music. Both are established figures in the New York Jazz scene. On this album they've come together with American poet Fred Moten. It was recorded during the pandemic, in the wake of the George Floyd rebellion.

Combining poetry with jazz goes back a long way. The idea, however, while retaining curiosity value, has never become mainstream. The Beats and, later, the Black Arts Movement tried to develop it. Some of the results have become iconic. This album, which has been compared to the work of Amiri Bakara with the New York Art Quartet, may well be up there with the best.

The problem – according to detractors – is that one is never sure what to concentrate on, the music or the poetry. This is a mistake, I think. As TS Eliot said, 'genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.' One can think of the poet in this context as just another musician, only a musician playing with words. If one is paying the right kind of attention to the poetry, there is no need to be preoccupied with trying to understand it. The words work like notes, the phrases like musical phrases. Just listen and you'll find out what you need to know. This doesn't mean the meaning of the words will be lost on you: Moten is poet who writes powerfully about the politics of being black in the USA, of how – referencing the death of George Floyd – “somebody black and poor can't breathe”. The title of the first poem/track on the album tells you what it's standing up against: “the abolition of art, the abolition of freedom, the abolition of you and me”.

Moten's poetry is ideal for this kind of project. Its phrases live for themselves, like the latest thought of an improvising musician. Derek Bailey once said of improvisation words to the effect that improvised music was like music without memory. This quality of living in the moment, shared by Moten's poetry – on one level – and musical improvisation, is what I think makes this album work so well.

I don't think it'll be forgotten in a hurry. I don't buy much vinyl but I'm tempted to buy it for that reason - and because, if I do, I can sit it next to my Iskra 1903 double LP (1972), which it reminds me of, possibly because that, too, hit me between the eyes when I first heard it. Bailey, Rutherford and Guy released that album of improvised music fifty years ago, in a different country, in a different context. Hopefully people will still be listening to Moten/López/Cleaver fifty years from now, too.


Monday, 18 April 2022

.​..and I think the little house knew something about it; don't you?

I always keep a look out for any new releases by Jumble Hole Clough. If you don't know it, it's the brainchild of Colin Robinson of Big Block 454, which describes itself as 'making exploratory, highly individual music that encompasses rock, funk, electronica, folk music, Dadaist collage and much more besides.' Jumble Hole Clough seems to have grown out of this. It started out, as Robinson puts it, 'to produce music influenced by the landscape, industrial remains and experiences around Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire'. I would respectfully suggest that although JHC retains some of the eldritch oddity that I associate with that neck of the woods (it was once my stamping ground, too), it has, over the 39 albums now produced under the name, gone beyond it.

Of the 38 albums produced prior to this one it's hard to single out a favourite but mine is probably Answers on a Postcard. They're all more than worth a listen.

.​..and I think the little house knew something about it; don't you? is something of a departure – but less of one than might appear at first glance. It's a collection of generative music, an approach which has certainly not openly figured in JHC's music so far. As Robinson explains, 'you set up a system and some rules... A variety of probability and aleatoric functions are used, such as Turing Machines and nested Bernoulli gates. The probability process means that the music gradually changes over time.' Reading this, it was hard not to think of the work of Brian Eno. However, I was reminded of something someone once said of John Cage, that however much he used processes and aleatoric techniques to put distance between himself and his music, it still, somehow, managed to sound like John Cage. For all the processes, this album still manages to sound like Jumble Hole Clough - but in new and unexpected ways. The quirky, eldritch quality still shines through.

Jumble Hole Clough -as Cage once said of Satie- is indispensable.


Microwalking

I've just written and posted a free e-book. 'Microwalking' is a pamphlet about short walks. It includes descriptions of several ...