Highgate Cementery

hg6hg5Last Friday afternoon I had some free time  between two moving and fun evenings watching the Instant Composers Pool at the Vortex so I took a trip up to Highgate cemetery. This came to be as part of a long considered mission to see where Karl Marx is buried. Having failed the last time I was  in London to make it even though I fully intended to get there it seemed like too good a chance to miss. My previous date with it having been given over to the Horniman Museum’s instrument collection in Forest Hill. I took the tube to Archway then walked up the hill past school kids and people getting on and off buses with granny trolleys. Managed to get pleasantly lost and walk pretty much all the way round the perimeter of the graveyard before finding the entrance. The cemetery is surrounded by incredible houses which must date from when Highgate was an outlying district of the city; the area around the graveyard has the real feel of a small hamlet enveloped by London. Once inside it is a strange little world all to itself; a small universe managed by volunteers making decisions by committee. Its easy to move about on the main paths which are paved but all the smaller ones resemble muddy country tracks moving between some wonderful old trees. Graves with roots wrapping round them. It’s a great place. Marx’s headstone is of course something of a social realist nightmare a huge concrete plinth with a sculpture of his head atop. It’s not the original headstone, which was apparently much more modest; the current one was raised by subscription by The Communist Party Of Great Britain in 1954. I spent a couple of pleasant moments there thinking.

hg4Around me two Spanish couples and a group of middle aged German men I imagine to be a Trade Unionists holiday outing from the Ruhr Valley are taking pictures. I walk down the hill stopping off to draw birdsong at Patrick Caulfield’s self designed “DEAD” memorial, Douglas Adams and at a few other points on the many benches dotted about. The day before I’d picked up a really interesting looking double CD of British birdsong published by the British Library and CD by Ostad Elai from Honest Johns in Ladbroke Grove. More on to come no doubt.

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Psykick Dancehall 5

A drawing of birdsong and piece of writing about it were published by Psykick Dancehall up in Glasgow at the end of last year. It’s a bit of a meditative memory exercise in response to one of long list of questions posed by Dancehall.

See below or here in published context; the text layout and way it interacts with other contributes is worth seeing.

  1. Recount a family anecdote that the sounds you are hearing now put you in mind of.

 

Not so much an anecdote but a sense of place and sounds where family is. I am listening to and drawing bird sounds in my parents garden. The idea of drawing sounds is inspired by work I’ve done in the last year or so with Naomi Kendrick and Dan Bridgwood-Hill. Dan and myself improvise and Naomi draws what she hears on huge sheets of paper; it works as a really exciting process for us all, working collectively across implied boundaries presented by form. It’s made me think differently about the possibilites of sound, drawing and mark making and led to situations like the one now: I’m actively listening to my surroundings and drawing as automatically as possible what I hear.

 

Being in the garden of the house I grew up in presents an overwhelming sense of childhood memory, warmth and belonging but also subtle changes and dislocation since it has been a long time since I lived here and was part of the daily rhythms of the house and garden; I am a visitor now. It lies squarely in fairly nondescript surburbia, the multiple possibilities of the city of Leicester just to the south: music, gigs, records shops, rehearsal studios, pubs, smoking, drinking, curry, walking home after missing the last bus…. To the north the gentle rolls of the midlands countryside: woods, fields, fields bisected by roads, birdsong, mechanised farming, small knots of council estate added to villages, looming power stations, distant motorway drone, pylon hum…

 

Considering the birdsounds from childhood: blackbirds song and their nests, blackbird trapped in the old chimney, its distressed flapping amplified through the walls, it’s really injured we discover once my dad has coaxed it out; later he has to finished it off, my sister and I don’t realise at the time. Finding the tiny wrens nest much later on in winter once the leaves had fallen, wood pidgeons demented with a tiny black pupil in the middle of a huge white eye, huge swooping flocks of chattering starlings waiting to fly south gathering in the swaying poplars, geese honking overhead in a V on their way to raid a cornfield for supper, thrush listening with its head sideways for worm sounds just below the surface, kestrels sometimes…

 

Hearing some of these birds and sounds again and pencil scrabble as I try to keep up with the pace and rhythms flying in from all sides; the mixture of turn taking and intuitive entry and re-entry into the overall soundscape fascinates me, with so many individual voices present, there is much more listening going on than actual vocalising; a vital part of collective music making. I stop drawing once enough layers of memory are present in the density of the pencil marks.