The mining industry has always been the backbone of the South African economy, and it still is. A healthy and sustainable mining sector should accordingly form part of the focus of our efforts to heal this country and its people. Nevertheless, the history of mining in South Africa has been and continues to be characterised by the oppression and exploitation of workers under the policy of the migratory system. The new dispensation of 1994, rule under the African National Congress, did not assist much in changing the conditions at the mines. It continues to turn a blind eye to the unjust wages and living and working conditions of miners.
Six years after the Marikana massacre we have still seen minimal change for mineworkers and mining communities. Although much has been written about the days leading up to 16 August 2012 and how little has been done, few have analysed the policies and system that make such a tragedy possible. Lonmin Platinum Mine and the events of 16 August are a microcosm of the mining sector and how things can go wrong when society leaves everything to government and “big business”.
Business as Usual after Marikana is a comprehensive analysis of mining in South Africa. Written by respected academics and practitioners in the field, it looks into the history, policies and business practices that brought us to this point. It also examines how bigger global companies like BASF were directly or indirectly responsible, and yet nothing is done to keep them accountable.
“This publication, which starts by examining the long-term business relations between BASF and Lonmin, goes on to drill deeper into the hard rock of the persistent structures of inequality. By doing so we will understand that Marikana is not the tragic failure of an otherwise improving economic system but rather a calculated form of collateral damage.” – Bishop Jo Seoka, former president of the South African Council of Churches
I have an essay in this book – if you’re interested, you can get hold of a copy via Jacana. The book also appears in German as Zum Beispiel BASF. Über Konzernmacht und Menschenrechte, published by Mandelbaum.
We are proud to present the official music video for Nyanda Yeni, the first single of Thabang Tabane’s upcoming debut solo album, Matjale.
The music video, directed and edited by StraitJacket Tailor, is composed primarily of archival footage taken from apartheid-era cinema from South Africa. The images are borrowed from 1950s films and variety shows with some footage for 1970s propaganda films endorsing the notion of ‘separate development’. By taking apart old apartheid-era films and their fallacies of coonish fantasy, it slices and splices them in order to re-order their meanings. In other words, it subverts. Taking us for a loop. Also included in the film are short video clips of the legendary, late Dr. Philip Tabane performing, creating an arch that links father and son in life, love and malombo.
The archival clips are choreographed in a loop emulating the spinning of a record on a turntable, but also the vertiginous séance-like spin of a dance or chant for rain.
StraitJacket Tailor is a record collector, archivist, and award winning documentary film director/producer.
Nyanda Yeni is now available on most digital platforms.
The album, Matjale, drops digitally, on CD and on vinyl on Friday, the 14th of September, 2018.
Credits for Music Video:
Produced by Sifiso Khanyile and Boxcutter Studio
Directed and edited by #StraitJacket Tailor
Credits for Track:
Nyanda Yeni by Thabang Tabane
Music composed and arranged by Thabang Tabane
Lyrics from Traditional Song
Performed by Thabang Tabane (malombo drums, hlwahlwadi, toys & vocals), Dennis Moanganei Magagula (djembe, hlwahlwadi & toys), Sibusile Xaba (guitar & sounds) and Thulani Ntuli (electric bass guitar)
Produced by Thabang Tabane, Andrew Curnow & Dion Monti
Recorded by Andrew Curnow & Nhlanhla Mngadi
Mixed by Dion Monti & João Orecchia
Mastered by Norman Nitzsche at Calyx Mastering
Recorded live at the Tabane household, Mamelodi on 28 August 2016.
Executive Producers and A&R – Lindokuhle Nkosi, Chumisa Ndakisa & Andrew Curnow
Lovingly presented to you by Mushroom Hour Half Hour
A film by Bill Morrison / Music by Michael Gordon / Blu-Ray Trailer / An Icarus Films Release
Often compared to Stan Brakhage, Bill Morrison created DECASIA entirely with decaying, old found footage, melded to the music of Bang on a Can’s Michael Gordon, performed by the 55 piece basel sinfonietta. The result is a delirium of deteriorated film stock, a moving avant-garde masterpiece that leaves its meaning open to interpretation and, most importantly, your imagination.
“Bill Morrison’s DECASIA is that rare thing: a movie with avant-garde and universal appeal…. Morrison is not the first artist to take decomposing film stock as his raw material, but he plunges into this dark nitrate of the soul with contagious abandon. Few movies are so much fun to describe. Heralded by a spinning dervish, DECASIA’s first movement seems culled from century-old actualités: Kimono-clad women emerge from a veil of spotty mold, a caravan of camels is silhouetted against the warped desert horizon, a Greek dancer disintegrates into a blotch barrage, the cars for an ancient Luna Park ride repeatedly materialize out of seething chaos.
“DECASIA is founded on the tension between the hard fact of film’s stained, eroded, unstable surface and the fragile nature of that which was once photographically represented. Michael Snow contrived something similar in the chemical conflagration of his 1991 To Lavoisier, Who Died in the Reign of Terror-in which he purposefully distressed new footage. But Morrison is far more expressionistic. A second opposition arises between the lushly deteriorated images and composer Michael Gordon’s no less textured, increasingly ominous drone. (Unlike Philip Glass’s scores, Gordon’s never overpowers the visual accompaniment-even when it escalates to wall of sound.) A third opposition might be termed ideological.
“On one hand, DECASIA…can be taken as a cautionary advertisement for film preservation. [like] Morrison’s 1996 short THE FILM OF HER, an imaginary romance about the preservation of paper prints in the Library of Congress, celebrating what the archivist Paolo Cherchi Usai calls the “monumental necropolis of precious documents.” On the other hand, DECASIA is founded on a deep aesthetic appreciation for decay. (“Cinema is the art of destroying moving images,” per the gnomic Cherchi Uchai.) The solarization, the morphing, the lysergic strobe effects on which the movie thrives, are as natural as the photographic image itself.
“As DECASIA continues, the calligraphy of decay grows increasingly hallucinatory and catastrophic. The sea buckles. Flesh melts. A boxer struggles against the disintegration of the image. Wall Street is half consumed in flames. A dozen little parachutes dot the cracked sky. A group of nuns traverse a courtyard that frames an Italian landscape in severe perspective, evoking a Renaissance vision of the Last Judgment. DECASIA [seems] Hindu in its awesome spectacle of violent flux. The film is a fierce dance of destruction. Its flame-like, roiling black-and-white inspires trembling and gratitude.” —J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
“I popped Morrison’s video into my VCR and within a few further minutes I found myself completely absorbed, transfixed, a pillow of air lodged in my stilled, open mouth. Now, I’m no particular authority on film, but I do know one-Errol Morris. A short time later, when I happened to be visiting him, I popped the video into his VCR and proceeded to observe as Morrison’s film once again began casting its spell. Errol sat drop-jawed: at one point, about halfway through, he stammered, ”This may be the greatest movie ever made.” —Lawrence Weschler, The New York Times Magazine
“Compelling and disturbing! Swimming symphonies of baroque beauty emerge from corrosive nitrate disintegration as rockets of annihilation demolish cathedrals of reality.” —Kenneth Anger, filmmaker
“A stirring, haunting modern masterpiece…Bill Morrison has created a unique artifact, as enigmatically authoritative as Max Ernst’s collage novel “Une Semaine de Bonté.” It makes you think of Joseph Cornell’s memory boxes, Robert Rauschenberg’s time-stuffed assemblages, Anger, Hitchcock. It makes you feel that the art, as opposed to the business, of cinema does have a future – even if it has to be found deep in the past.” —Jonathan Jones, The Guardian
‘Cinema was born in 1895. In 2015, the original device has disappeared – such is the world, techniques vanish and others emerge: “There is no doubt that death is the youth of the world” [said Georges Bataille, in L’Histoire de l’érotisme]. I initiated my cinematic research at a transitional moment, in 1990, and started to present it in 1992. In 1993 in Washington (USA), I started a series of photographs figuring photograms of films corroded by the passing of time and storage condition, which was exhibited in New York two years later at MoMA. Since then, I have been watching films in Western film libraries and private collections, harvesting “decomposed” images affected by the passing of time. Without retouching them, I select the improbable and rare ones, those on which the marks of time enter in dialogue with the image to the point where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the actual image and its destruction process. Jean Cocteau claimed that cinema filmed “death at work”. It seemed interesting to identify death at work at the core of the medium, within the material and invisible layer allowing us access to the film: the reel. So I ventured through cinema, with great patience – it takes fifteen days, eight hours a day, to watch a feature film frame-by-frame –, reflecting upon the instability of film archives, their support, the conditions of their appearance and disappearance (I was far from imagining that the proper reel could vanish!). I fancy the idea that figures and locations filmed a century ago resurface differently at other times and that I was able to capture this hazardous encounter with the ills affecting the medium. Furthemore, the fact that these images exhale beauty, strangeness and intensity is a nice complement: grace befalls anywhere.’
– Eric Rondepierre, The Mark of Time.
That impossible photogram, as Roland Barthes said. An object which is not (even) an object, but at the same time is actually two objects. It doesn’t (really) belong to the cinema or (simply) to photography ; it is more than a photograph yet less than a film. It is, therefore, a sort of axis or fold, the precise crossing point (punctum) between cinema and photography. Eminently paradoxical, the photogram is the touchstone of Eric Rondepierre’s work which is acutely conscious of the delicate balance on the razor’s edge where cinema meets photography in their most intimate specificity.
Eric Rondepierre’s work always starts with a film, or more precisely with the image-matter of a film. Rondepierre is not interested in cinema as the reflection-projection of a film on a screen, in a consumer relation to what is watchable, with its imposed length and speed, uninterrupted flow, impression of movement, perceptive fiction, transitory illusion – in other words the magic of the large cinema-body on the screen. What interests him is the film as actual film strip, a material sequence of fixed images intimately and appropriatively related to its object. Film images that you can not only see but also touch, hold, manipulate and collect.
In other words, Rondepierre aims at what is most authentically photographic at the very heart of cinema. This is of course profoundly contradictory. The photogram is an impossible object : it is both film’s condition of existence and its total negation. Obviously a film consists only of photograms, yet seeing a photogram for what it is (the frozen image of a film) necessarily means not seeing the film, which can only exist fully as movement. Seeing a film flow past automatically implies not seeing photograms, nevertheless the very essence of a film since they disappear, absorbed into the projection process. Photograms are the only real images and the only invisible images in a film. This is the ontological paradox which makes photograms into cinema’s blind «spots».
Don’t believe too much in what you can see. Learn to not see what is displayed (and therefore which hides). Learn to see beyond, beside, across and beneath. Look for the spot in the image, texture in the surface, negatives in positives and latent images in the negative ground. Follow once more the route mapped out by the psychic photographic apparatus, shifting from eye to memory, from appearance to unrepresentable. Dig down through the layers and levels like an archaeologist. Photographs are only surfaces, they have no depth, only a fantastic density. Behind it, beneath it or around it, one photo always hides (at least) another photograph, or a film. It is a question of screens, and here you enter in a singular universe, the one of an individual by the name of Eric Rondepierre.
More information HERE.
Last night at the opening of the new non-profit space, A4 Arts Foundation, I had the wonderful opportunity of playing music that responded to artworks in the wide-ranging exhibition curated by Ziphozenkosi Dayile and Kemang Wa Lehulere.
Here’s the blurb, and I urge you to pay a visit if you’re in Cape Town.
You & I – A group exhibition curated by Ziphozenkosi Dayile and Kemang Wa Lehulere
Please join us for the opening of our inaugural exhibition, “You & I”.
13 September 2017 at 6pm, at A4 Arts Foundation, 23 Buitenkant Street, District Six, Cape Town
About You & I
You & I is a group exhibition that looks at how people come together, asking after the conditions and dynamics of the collective.
Curators Ziphozenkosi Dayile and Kemang Wa Lehulere pull back from any attempt to survey collective practice, opening instead with a series of lyrical articulations. Across the exhibition, instances of community are placed alongside searching questions of who ‘you’, ‘I’ or ‘we’ may indeed be?
The exhibition includes photographs, sculptural installations, films and an instruction piece – and extends for three months with public programme of live performances, screenings and discussions.
Participating artists include Yoko Ono, Zanele Muholi, Santu Mofokeng, Glenn Ligon, Moshekwa Langa, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Malick Sidibé, The Propeller Group, Eugene Paramoer, Goddy Leye, Molefe Pheto, Meshac Gaba, David Goldblatt, Mwangi Hutter, Adrian Melis, Haroon Gunn-Salie, James Matthews, Mushroom Hour Half Hour, Pierre Fouché, Billy Monk, Brett Seiler & Luvuyo Nyawose, Gugulective, Avant Car Guard, B4 Food, Dan Halter, and more.
You & I is the first exhibition at the new premises of A4 Arts Foundation – opening to the public as an arts centre from 13 September 2017.
A4 Arts Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the arts in Southern Africa. A4 is grounded by an understanding of art as a reciprocal resource, a catalyst for innovation, and a medium of collectivity.
Configured within a three-storey warehouse on Buitenkant Street in Cape Town, the A4 Arts centre hosts a gallery and project space, as well as a multimedia library.
This video is one of the things I treasure most on Youtube – it gives me chills every time. It’s a recording of Liz Mitchell of Boney M performing “Motherless Child” live with the Les Humphries singers in the early 1970s. It’s incredible how Mitchell seems to be singing about her removal from herself via recording, its simulacral persistence beyond her existence in that moment… And the wavering picture also speaks of analog decay, arrested and mummified by its digitisation from analog video and (again lossy) upload to Youtube. And then, of course, the song’s origins in slavery and dispossession. So many degrees of loss, so many layers of noise.
It’s weird how the recording industry warps experience. We can sometimes forget that every recording is only one iteration that was captured and set in stone as “The” Definitive Performance, when really it just happened to be captured that particular time among many, many other possible times. Records, like photos, pluck moments out of time and concretise them… And they are the only thing we’re left with later to glimpse a whole era. That’s why densely detailed archives such as Ian Bruce Huntley‘s, where there were many recordings of the same bands made during the same era, are so interesting. I’ve posted here, and in the preceding post, recordings of the same band on two consecutive nights.
One of the lovely things about everyone having a camera in their pocket on their phone is that this is not something that is rare anymore, and the democratisation of shared experience is a very powerful and positive thing. One of the horrible things is that there is just such a volume of recorded stuff (much of questionable quality) being generated that the brightest nuggets of wonder can be drowned in the dross… Too much recording and we have a shaky, pixelated backup of every moment kept on hard drives, that no one ever has time to live through twice, to the extent that everything melts into undifferentiated, indigestible “big data” and can only be apprehended as statistics. I feel very ambivalent about it.
I think it’s really important that, whenever possible, we still have experienced photographers, videographers and sound recorders assigned to do this stuff, so that in years to come what we are left with are some beautiful and considered recordings, and not just a haunted avalanche of muddy glimpses.
Pick an old photograph of you. Go back and look what was happening in the world around the time it was taken.
1 September 1984
It was a Saturday. The US president was Ronald Reagan. The UK Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. In that week of September people in US were listening to “What’s Love Got To Do With It” by Tina Turner. In the UK “Careless Whisper” by George Michael was in the top 5 hits. Amadeus, directed by Milos Forman, was one of the most viewed movies released in 1984 while First Among Equals by Jeffrey Archer was one of the best selling books. (From HERE).
In South Africa, on 3 September 1984, the day the new constitution creating the tri-cameral parliament became effective, and the day upon which the first executive state president took the oath of office, the Vaal exploded and unrest and rioting spread countrywide. Read more HERE.
From SA History Online:
12 July, A car bomb explosion in Durban, Natal, kills five and injures twenty-six.
13 July, The last all white Parliament ends its last session in Cape Town.
16 July, Supreme Court Act No 2: Provided for the separation of the Ciskei judiciary from South Africa. Commenced: 16 July 1984
27 July, Republic of Ciskei Constitution Amendment Act No 10: Removed the post of VicePresident. Commenced: 27 July 1984
30 July, Campaigning for the new tricameral Parliament begins.
30 July, South Africa has held up supplies of British weapons to Lesotho and the UK has complained several times about the delays, officials said today. South Africa has decided to close its Consulate in Wellington instead of waiting for New Zealand’s new Government to carry out its pledge to shut down, New Zealand’s Prime Minister David Lange said.
August, Elections for Coloured and Indian Chambers of Parliament.
August, Boycotts and demonstrations in schools affected about 7% of the school population. In August demonstrations affected 800 000 school children.
7 August-9 August, Conference of Arab Solidarity with the Struggle for Liberation in Southern Africa, organised by the Special Committee against Apartheid, in cooperation with the League of Arab States.
8 August, The government is to grant self government to KaNgwane. This is seen as confirmation that it has finally abandoned its land deal with Swaziland, of which KaNgwane was to have been a part.
14 August, Lesotho rejects South Africa’s proposal for a draft security treaty.
16 August, An explosion, believed to have been caused by a bomb, ripped through police offices near Johannesburg today, a police spokesman said.
17 August, The UN Security Council rejected and declared null and void the new racist constitution of South Africa. It urged governments and organisations not to accord recognition to the “elections“ under that constitution. (Resolution 554)
22 August, Elections to the House of Representatives among the Coloured community show overwhelming support for the Labour Party. Official results record only a 30.9 per cent turn out and protests and boycotts are followed by 152 arrests.
28 August, Elections to the House of Delegates among the Indian community are marked by a low poll, protests, boycotts and active opposition by the UDF. Results show eighteen seats for the National Peoples Party (NPP), seventeen for Solidarity, one for the Progressive Independent Party (PIP), four for independents.
30 August, Prime Minister Botha declares that the government does not see the low turnout at the poils as invalidating the revised constitution.
31 August, KaNgwane proclaimed a self governing territory.
31 August, South Africa declared the black homeland of KaNgwane on the Swaziland border a self governing territory. The Swazi Council of Chiefs of South Africa, which backs a controversial plan to incorporate KaNgwane into Swaziland, warned of possible bloodshed in the territory if it is granted independence.
September, Mr P.W. Botha was elected the first executive state president in September. 1984-1986.
September – 24 January 1986, From 1 September 1984 to 24 January 1986, 955 people were killed in political violence incidents, 3 658 injured. 25 members of the security forces were killed and 834 injured. There were 3 400 incidents of violence in the Western Cape.
2 September-3 September, The revised Constitution comes into effect.
3 September, As South Africa’s new Constitution was inaugurated at least 26 people died in riots and police counterattacks in black townships, according to press and news agency reports. Reuter reported that the military has been brought in to guard Government buildings in Sharpeville and other black townships.
3 September, 175 people were killed in political violence incidents. On September 3 violence erupted in the Vaal Triangle, within a few days 31 people were killed.
5 September, P.W. Botha is unanimously elected to the post of Executive President by an Electoral College composed of the majority parties in each house fifty NP members of the white House of Assembly, twentyfive Labour Party members of the Coloured House of Representatives, and thirteen National People’s Party members of the Indian House of Delegates.
10 September, Fresh detention orders were issued for seven opponents of the South African Government freed by a court on Friday. The seven, including Archie Gumede, President of the two million strong anti apartheid United Democratic Front, had been held without charge since just before the controversial elections to a new Parliament in August.
11 September, Following unrest and rioting in the townships, the Minister of Law and Order prohibits all meetings of more than two persons, discussing politics or which is in protest against or in support or in memorium of anything, until 30 September 1984. The ban extends to certain areas in all four provinces, but is most comprehensive in the Transvaal.
12 September, South African riot police used tear gas and whips in Soweto as unrest continued and a sweeping ban on meetings critical of the Government came into effect. Opposition leaders criticised the ban, saying that the Government appeared to be overreacting to the unrest, in which about 40 people had died in the past fortnight.
13 September, Six political refugees, including the President of the United Democratic Front (UDF) seek refuge in the British consulate in Durban, and ask the British government to intervene on their behalf.
13 September, Six South African dissidents hunted by police in a big security clampdown today entered the British Consulate in Durban, British officials said. Police had been trying to rearrest the six, leaders of the United Democratic Front and the natal Indian Congress, following their release from detention last Friday on the orders of a judge. Major military manoeuvres were conducted by the South African Defence Force in its biggest exercise since World War II, which, the Times contends in a separate article, will surely be interpreted by the neighbouring States as a show of hostile preparedness. The exercise seemed to illustrate the successes and the failures of South Africa’s efforts to circumvent the international arms embargo imposed in 1977, the paper adds, noting that Western military specialists were impressed by the manoeuvres.
14 September, The inauguration of the new President, P.W. Botha, takes place. Under the revised Constitution, the post of President combines the ceremonial duties of Head of State with the executive functions of Prime Minister. Mr. Botha is also chairman of the Cabinet, Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and controls the National Intelligence Service which includes the Secretariat of the State Security Council.
Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, gives an assurance that the six refugees will not be required to leave the consulate against their will, but also states that Britain will not become involved in negotiations between the fugitives and the South African government.
15 September, Members of a new Cabinet responsible for general affairs of government and three Ministers’ Councils are appointed and sworn in on 17 September 1984.
The leader of the Labour Party, the Reverend H.J. (Allan) Hendrikse and A. Rajbansi of the NPP are appointed to the Cabinet as Chairmen of the Ministers’ Councils, but neither is given a ministerial portfolio.
17 September, Over the weekend, South Africa’s new President, Pieter W. Botha, announced the appointment of a Cabinet which, for the first time in South Africa’s history, includes non-whites.
The two non-white Cabinet members, the Reverend Allan Hendrickse, leader of the Labour Party, and Amichand Rajbansi, whose National People’s Party is drawn from the Indian community, were sworn into office in Cape Town, along with the other members of the new 19 man Cabinet for General Affairs, which is otherwise all white.
18 September, South Africa’s black gold miners today called off their first legal strike, which lasted just one day but, according to mine owners, saw 250 workers injured during police action against pickets.
19 September, Riot police firing birdshot, tear gas and rubber bullets clashed with 8,000 striking gold miners, killing seven and injuring 89, police said today.
24 September, Minister of Foreign Affairs, ‘Pik’ Botha, announces that in retaliation for the British government’s refusal to give up the six men, the government will not return to Britain four South Africans due to face charges of having contravened British customs and excise regulations, and believed to be employed by ARMSCOR.
25 September, South Africa and the UK faced what could be their worst diplomatic crisis for several years because of tension over six dissidents hiding from police in the British Consulate in Durban. Pretoria said last night that in retaliation for London’s refusal to evict the fugitives it would not send four South African back to Britain to stand trial on charges of illegal export of arms.
26 September, Five of the political detainees are released and on the same day the banning order on Dr. Beyers Naudé is lifted.
Schools reopen, but 93,000 pupils continue to boycott classes.
28 September, South Africa was told by IAEA to open all nuclear plants to international inspection or face sanctions by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The resolution was passed by 57 votes to 10, with 23 abstentions. The US and other Western nations opposed it. The resolution was tabled by Morocco on behalf of African States.
2 October, The death toll in rioting and clashes with police has risen to over sixty.
2 October, The Government took into custody the leader of South Africa’s most prominent anti-apartheid group and held him under security law. The arrest came as four blacks were killed in a day of unrest in black townships raising to at least 61 the number of people killed in the past month in ethnic violence and 130,000 black students boycotted classes.
The Wits Anthropology Department is pleased to reopen its Museum collection with
If we burn there is ash
An exhibition by Talya Lubinsky
with contributing artists Meghan Judge, Tshegofatso Mabaso and Thandiwe Msebenzi
and performances by Lebohang Masango and Healer Oran
Wits Anthropology Museum
Wednesday 7 September 2016
Walkabout with the artists Thursday 8 September 11:30-13:00
On Christmas Eve of 1931 a fire broke out at Wits University’s Great Hall. At the time, the façade of the Great Hall had been built, its stone pillars and steps creating a striking image of the university in the young colonial city. But the University had run out of funds, and the building that would become Central Block, had not yet been built. Erected behind the grand façade of the Great Hall were wooden shack-like structures, which burned in the fire. These wooden structures housed the collections of what is now called the Cullen Library, as well as the Ethnographic Museum’s collection. Initiated by Winifred Hoernle, head of the Ethnography Museum at the time, the collection was largely comprised of pieces of material culture sent to her from the British missionary, William Burton, while stationed in the ‘Congo’ region.
The fire burned hundreds of books, paintings and artefacts. Some of the only objects that survived the fire are clay burial bowls from the Burton collection. Able to withstand the heat precisely because of their prior exposure to fire, these bowls remain, but are blackened and broken by the 1931 fire.
The exhibition, If we burn, there is ash centres around this story as a place from which to think about the value of colonial collections of material culture. While the origins of the 1931 fire remain unknown, it nonetheless provides a space in which to think about the potentially generative qualities of fire.
Ash, the material remains of fire, however elusive, does not disappear. Even when things burn, they are never fully physically or ephemerally eliminated. Ash is not just the physical remains of that which has been burnt. It is also used as an ingredient in cement mixtures. It is literally transformed into a building material.
Using ash and cement as a poetic relation, this exhibition asks about the potentiality of burning in the project of building and growth. Ash and cement serve as a provocation on the question of what is to be done with the material remains of a violent colonial past.
For further information, please contact Talya Lubinsky (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Kelly Gillespie (Kelly.Gillespie@wits.ac.za)
This coming Tuesday, find out more about the extraordinary archive of photographs and live recordings made by Ian Bruce Huntley in the 1960s and early 1970s. In 2013 I was involved in putting this archive of recordings online, which you can explore HERE.
Keeping Time: Ian Bruce Huntley’s South African jazz archive
by Jonathan Eato
Ian Bruce Huntley is not a name that you’ll find readily in the burgeoning annals of South African jazz. Unless, that is, you talk to the dwindling generation of jazz musicians who were working in South Africa in the mid-1960s. Tete Mbambisa remembers Huntley as the man who ‘recorded our gold’, and this Huntley did through a series of remarkable photographic images and live audio recordings. Having privately preserved these records for over forty years, throughout the state repression of grand-apartheid and into the democratic era, they have recently been made available for the first time.
This talk will consider how, in the face of increasing political oppression, Huntley’s archive documented a community of vernacular intellectuals exploring and developing ideas in counterpoint to much commercially available South African jazz post-‘Pondo Blues’.
For more info:
tel: 021 650 2888
Facebook event HERE.
Jacques Derrida appearing as himself in Ken McMullen’s Ghost Dance, interviewed by Pascale Ogier in 1983. He’s talking about #PokémonGo from 3:40 ;).
First having read the book of myths,
and loaded the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
I am having to do this
not like Cousteau with his
aboard the sun-flooded schooner
but here alone.
There is a ladder.
The ladder is always there
close to the side of the schooner.
We know what it is for,
we who have used it.
it is a piece of maritime floss
some sundry equipment.
I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.
And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
you breathe differently down here.
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed
the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.
This is the place.
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body.
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold.
I am she: I am he
whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes
whose breasts still bear the stress
whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies
obscurely inside barrels
half-wedged and left to rot
we are the half-destroyed instruments
that once held to a course
the water-eaten log
the fouled compass
We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
our names do not appear.
From Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972. W. W. Norton & Company, 2013
This is a post from a few years ago. Julia Clark reminded me of it today.
A still from here, at 0:27:
it is so startling to see yourself somewhere you are not
in my sleep
i am this dancing girl
in the weimar nightclub
and i buzz with black holes
between the nets of swinging cliches
kurt weill refrains
they’re all unravelled, sucked away
and i’m left with only questions
to clothe her dancing bones
so who was she?
and what was her name?
what was her favourite food?
how did she move?
was she a good dancer?
where did she work?
was she in love?
was she lonely?
did she have a brother in the army? a lover?
as she donned that “vaterland” hat, did her chest swell with pride
or was it just the dress code?
where was she in 5 years’ time?
did she have any children? grandchildren? where are they now?
do they also look like me?
more and more questions
and all from just a 1-and-a-half second cutaway to anonymous archive in
a lousy louise brooks documentary
i feel dizzy
eisenstein was right
montage is dangerous.
Susan Buck-Morss, writing in 2001 on Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history, marked by the critique of progress in the name of a revolutionary time which interrupts history’s chronological continuum:
The only power available to us as we, riding in the train of history, reach for the emergency brake, is the power that comes from the past… One fact of the past that we particularly are in danger of forgetting is the apparent harmlessness with which the process of cultural capitulation takes place. lt is a matter, simply, of wanting to keep up with the intellectual trends, to compete in the marketplace, to stay relevant, to stay in fashion…
So, what in God’s name are we doing here? The litmus test for intellectual production is how it affects the outside world, not what happens inside an academic enclave such as this one. [Walter] Benjamin himself held up as the criterion for his work that it be “totally useless for the purpose of Fascism.”* Could any of us say of our work that it is totally useless for the purposes of the new global order, in which class exploitation is blatant, but the language to describe it is in ruins? Of course, we would be horrified if decisions on academic hiring and promotion were made on the basis of what our work contributed to the class struggle. The disturbing truth, however, is that these decisions are already being made on the basis of ensuring that our work contributes nothing to the class struggle. And that, my friends, is problematic.
*Benjamin, preface to ‘Work in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. In: Benjamin 1969: 2 18.
In Pandaemonium Germanicum, 5/2001, pp. 73-88. Read the full article: Susan Buck-Morss – Walter Benjamin – between academic fashion and the Avant Garde.
The Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative, where I work, is hosting an interesting conference next month:
Southern African Pasts Before the Colonial Era, their Archives and their Ongoing Present/Presence
16, 17, 18, July, 2015
Archive and Public Culture Research Initiative
University of Cape Town
“You can write and remember but for our part we are simply izithunguthu” (Thununu ka Nonjiya, 1903, in James Stuart Archive, vol.6. p.289)
Thunguthu (Isi), n. One flustered or put out, made to forget by being scolded or cross-questioned, though well-informed. Colenso’s Dictionary (4th ed., 1905, p. 627)
In late 2014 the sixth volume of the James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighbouring Peoples (edited by the late C.de B.Webb and J.B. Wright) was published by the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, bringing the number of pages of edited, translated and annotated archival text to a total of 1697 (excluding indexes), organised alphabetically from Antel to Zwayi, under the names of 185 primary interviewees.
The conference celebrates this remarkable editorial achievement and its contribution to the enquiry into the southern African past in the many eras before the advent of European colonialism. It also foregrounds and seeks to take forward new developments and thinking about these eras. It does this through a double focus on the different forms of archive relevant to the various eras and on the innovations – conceptual, theoretical, methodological, technological, practical or creative – involved both in mobilizing such archives, and indeed other materials considered to be not-archive, and in pursuing enquiries into those eras.
The conference will be organised around four central themes:
- the making and remaking of the James Stuart Archive;
- the nature and forms of archive, and indeed other forms of historical material, pertinent to these eras;
- the meanings of pasts designated “pre-colonial” in the present, and in past presents;
- innovations- conceptual, theoretical, methodological, technological, practical and creative – in enquiry into these eras.
The Making and Remaking of the James Stuart Archive
The James Stuart Archive is a rare southern African treasure for a number of reasons, of which two are particularly significant. The first is that while the collection is undoubtedly the work of the collector, and has been fundamentally shaped by him in ways that are the subject of ongoing critical scholarly investigation, the recorded texts also offer insight into the thinking of the various people whose accounts Stuart recorded. The bulk of the material was documented between 1897 and 1922, when Stuart interviewed some 200 people whom he considered to be well informed on contemporary and historical matters relevant to the region. He took detailed notes in the course of the conversations, often seemingly recording people in their own words. His working methods, the contributions of his interlocutors and all the other factors that shaped the archival texts, are the subject of ongoing scholarly attention. The combination of the extensiveness of the corpus and the nature of the material covered by interviewer and interviewees, often dealing with topics little discussed elsewhere in written documentation of the time, makes it one of South Africa’s most valuable historical resources pertinent to the late independent era in south-east Africa, as well as the colonial period that followed.
Archive and its “Others”
The past decade has seen the paying of close attention to the making and shaping of archive in many forms, while archive/s have also been the subject of sustained theoretical and methodological discussion. Long understood to be a time without an archive, the eras of the past before European colonialism and enquiries into them both draw from and contribute to, in distinctive ways, the larger critical discussion about archive, itself otherwise decisively shaped by European intellectual history. The conference theme on the nature and forms of archive focuses attention on these distinctive ways, seeking to understand what they mean for the wider understanding of archive and what they mean for enquiries into the long southern African past.
We welcome papers not only on similarly iconic text-based archives (like the much celebrated Bleek and Lloyd Archive of material collected from /xam and !kung speakers between 1870 and 1884) but also on lesser known text-based sources, including ones which might heretofore have never been explicitly treated as archives. The conference hopes to interrogate taken-for-granted distinctions between primary and secondary sources. When, for example, is a published account be considered an archive, and of what precisely is it an archive? We are interested in discursive materials that may not take a written form, including poetic forms, songs and invocations, and in interrogating critically the notion of “oral tradition”, seeking not only its disaggregation, but also careful reassessment of the conceptual apparatus associated with it.
We are especially interested in the nature of materials that are relevant to the remote past which have been or are yet thought of explicitly as “not archival”. Items of material and visual culture are widely used as sources for various aspects of enquiry into the past, but often in a manner that assumes that they have a timeless cultural relevance. We invite papers that build on recent work which historicises such items, paying close attention to particularities of provenance, circumstances and effects of collection, classification and curation. Current work is beginning to recognize incorporated, as opposed to inscribed, archival forms, notably embodied forms of materials that refer to the past. We invite contributions that grapple with the complex challenges involved in exploring, for example, contemporary instances of spirit possession and rituals concerning ancestors, for what they might add to an understanding of the distant past.
The Entangled “Pre-colonial”
How do we think of what has been termed the pre-colonial beyond the strictures of prepositional time? The academic orthodoxy teaches us to approach it as the distant past, as an evacuated experience, as a domain of specialists. And yet, our everyday scenes are stamped by its uncanny fecundity, its untheorised proximity, its entangled lives in the contemporary. In a variety of different ways – imaginatively, expansively, subjectively, critically, affectively – contemporary artists, writers, family and clan historians, politicians and intellectuals engage the body of inherited materials that academics and lawyers use as “sources”, often with very different purposes, from the celebratory through the denunciatory to the parodic. All of these engagements with the eras of the past before European colonialism, and with the ways in which the colonial and apartheid eras dealt with the earlier periods, undertaken by historians and many others, contribute to contemporary understandings and meanings of the distant past and fall within the purview of the conference.
In the nineteenth century, many colonial intellectuals took the history of the region before colonialism seriously enough to record and collect materials pertinent to it and to write its histories. In the post-conquest context of the twentieth century, the many eras of the long past, and indeed the history of indigenous people in the colonial and apartheid eras, were systematically ghetto-ised as the subject of the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, linguistics and prehistory, and as requiring a specialist conceptual apparatus pertinent to the study of ‘tribal’ or ‘pre-modern’ societies. Unpacking the legacies of this conceptual apparatus requires comparative perspectives from across and beyond the continent attentive to the cross-genealogies of the tribal and the modern. These concepts have lingering effects that are yet discernible. In trying to think about the past beyond the warranty of these concepts, we also invite reflections on the ways of being in the world in which that past may not necessarily be an object of capture.
Our conference, therefore, is inevitably an engagement with the new. As it seeks to break out of the academic ghetto-isation, its exploratory restlessness challenges the established boundaries of disciplines, regions and identities. What happens when we consider enquiries into the past before European colonialism in the light of the contemporary insights on religion and affect, fashion and beauty, embodied knowledges, decoloniality, performance theory, border epistemologies, theory from the south, and so on?
The conference rationale is founded in a long view of history, seeking to subvert persistent habits of treating the past before colonialism as another country, and the advent of colonialism as the history of the region’s starting point with only a passing nod to, or introductory paragraph on, what went before. What happens when histories of ideas, modes of thought, institutions and practices, and the changes which they have undergone, are traced across the early state, late independent, early colonial, apartheid, and even post-apartheid, eras? In the conference even the latter, provisional, periodization would itself be open to debate and question.
For more information, please email APCemail@example.com.
Filmed in 2011 at Mary Reid Kelley’s home and studio in Saratoga Springs, New York, the video artist and painter discusses her video work “You Make Me Iliad” (2010). In researching the lives and experiences of women who lived during the first World War, Reid Kelley was struck by how few first-hand accounts she was able to uncover. Mary Reid Kelley explains her attempts to reconstitute an experience that would have otherwise been lost to history by creating an imagined narrative involving a prostitute, a soldier, and a medical officer.
In black-and-white videos and drawings filled with punning wordplay and political strife, Mary Reid Kelley presents her take on the clash between utopian ideologies and the realities of women’s lives in the struggle for liberation. Performing scripted narratives in rhyming verse— featuring characters such as nurses, soldiers, prostitutes, and saltimbanques—Reid Kelley playfully jumbles historical periods to trace the ways in which present concerns are rooted in the past.
Watch an excerpt from another of Reid Kelley’s works, Sadie the Saddest Sadist on Reid Kelley’s website.
Sadie, the Saddest Sadist (7 minutes, 23 seconds), 2009, is set in Great Britain in 1915, according to a free booklet that includes the video’s lyrics. The title character, a munitions worker, wants to learn a trade “so [she] could be a traitor.” She meets Jack, a sailor (played by Reid Kelley in drag), and with “passions inflamed,” she requests rousing war stories. His sung reply: “Calm down sweetheart / Britannia rules the waves.” In pledging herself to him, she offers her “surplus devotion,” and after their off-camera tryst, she sings, “The stains on my sheets / will come out with some lemon / I know that you care / by these Marx on my Lenin.” Live action alternates with stop-motion animation in which dancing refrigerator magnet-style letters spell out the dialogue or toy with it, as when “surplus devotion” is anagrammatized into “spurs devolution.”…
… Reid Kelley’s interest seems to be primarily in historical material, expressed in details such as the patriotic flyers that hang on the walls behind Sadie and Jack when they meet, which urge citizens to conserve food and to fight for king and country. Her fine ear for popular verse makes Reid Kelley’s work rich fun for those who are, as Jack describes himself, “verbally inclined.”
Miss May Whitley kicks ass with panache and palpable glee in this British Pathé clip from 1933, entitled The Weaker Sex! (Sayest Thou!) Who said “weaker sex?” The intertitle reads: ‘Slow motion demonstrates exactly how 7-stone-odd, scientifically applied, can defeat 14 stone.’
The Archive & Public Culture Research Initiative (where I work) has invited Esther Peeren, author of The Spectral Metaphor: Living Ghosts and the Agency of Invisibility (Palgrave, 2014), for a week of intense discussion, academic exchange and engagement around the theme of the ghost/spectre both as archival metaphor and as conceptual figure in post-colonial and cultural studies.
Peeren is Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam, Vice-Director of the Amsterdam Centre for Globalisation Studies (ACGS) and senior researcher at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA). Her current research projects explore global spectralities and rural globalization.
On Tuesday, 26 August, she will deliver a lunchtime lecture, Lumumba’s Ghosts: Immaterial Matters and Matters Immaterial in Sven Augustijnen’s Spectres, in the Jon Berndt Thought Space (A17, Arts Block, Upper Campus, University of Cape Town). In her analysis of Belgian artist Sven Augustijnen’s 2011 multi-media exhibition, Spectres (which focuses on the mystery of the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the independent Republic of the Congo), Peeren argues that a focus on immaterialities-as-spectralities prompts the viewer to take seriously that which is not immediately apprehensible, or deemed inconsequential. At the same time, it transforms our understanding of matter itself, since immateriality is inevitably implied in materiality, both metaphorically (materialities may be considered immaterial, insignificant) and literally (over time, materialities may transform, decay or even disappear).
Appealing to Jacques Derrida’s concept of spectrality, her analysis shows how Augustijnen’s work, especially the feature-length film included in the exhibition, moves the materiality of the immaterial and the immateriality of the material centre stage, and lays out the consequences of this double imbrication for individual and collective understandings of history, memory and the archive.
If you’d like to attend pn 26 August, RSVP to APCfirstname.lastname@example.org.
The New York Times recently published an evocative long-form article penned by John Jeremiah Sullivan about the enigmatic Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, woman blues musicians who haunt the archive with just six songs ever recorded, pressed on cheap, poor quality 78s by Paramount in 1930, as was the custom with “race” records not intended for mainstream markets.
I have been gripped on every listening by “Last Kind Words Blues” since I first heard it on the soundtrack to Crumb in the late ’90s (the same place Sullivan did), so I understood what Caitlyn Love, who did much of the the on-the-ground research for Sullivan, meant about its haunting her. From her blog:
When I first started doing research for John Jeremiah Sullivan for his article about Geeshie Wiley and Elvie Thomas, two women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace, I kept Wiley’s song “Last Kind Words Blues” on repeat for days. I hadn’t listened closely to her songs before this project, but I was aware of the mythology around them. Now, I found myself hearing something new: a haunting, a mystery.
I began my research splitting time between the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research, hunting among death, birth and marriage records, and the Houston Metropolitan Research Center, looking through old maps, photographs and city-directory records. All of these materials provided context for the era that Lillie Mae (Geetchie) Wiley and L.V. Thomas lived through.
Eventually we learned a great deal about Thomas’s personal history. But leads to Wiley went nowhere. I made myself dizzy scrolling through rolls of microfilm to find any meaningful clue. She had disappeared. The trail only picked up once, but it picked up sharply.
“We may have found Geeshie’s grave yesterday. Not 100 percent but optimistic,” John wrote in an email to editors at the magazine.
Continue reading about Caitlyn Love’s quest HERE.
Read John Jeremiah Sullivan’s piece HERE – it’s beautifully written, and reflects in deep ways on the romance and violence of the archive.
And this is the short version of the story, from a Youtube comment posted last week:
It is now believed that Elvie (L.V. Thomas nee Grant) and Geechie (Lillie Mae Wiley) recorded all of their songs in Grafton, WI for Paramount in 1930. According to L.V., she would play and Geechie would “bass” behind her or she’d play (guitar) and Geechie would “bass” behind her. Thus, it might very well be Geechie we hear doing this fine guitar work. L.V. turned her back on the blues (life) and dedicated herself to her local church in Texas. Geeshie disappeared into the unknown. Recent records indicate she killed her husband with a knife in 1931. She may have changed her name/I.D. to avoid being found.
SO VERY EXCITED TO BE ABLE TO SHARE THIS AT LAST! I’ve had the privilege of being involved in putting this amazing archive online over the past few months.
Find out more HERE, and then visit the archive for free downloads of more than 56 hours of jazz played in Cape Town between 1964 to 1972 by South African musicians — some famous, others who have had little exposure. Download a PDF of the book, browse the pictures, engage, enjoy!
This is what Facebook is really for. Here is a funny conversation that evolved into a collaborative portrait in layers on my wall over a few hours today, a particularly suffocating Monday. I’m keeping this as a snapshot of what creative people used to do when bored silly with social media in 2014.
Meanwhile, on another thread…
Rechercher (French definition): “To search for, to look for” and also “to search again, to look for again”.
Both “search” and “research” are the same word in French, it seems. This makes sense: even if something was once common knowledge, after it is hidden it is no longer “there”; it has fallen from awareness. So you have to seek for it again, that which is not there. In “research”, you never know what is actually there until you find it, or there would be no need to look. You dis-cover it again, un-cover it anew.
Archives are fascinating places of preservation-with-intent to look in, and they are always tantalisingly incomplete, however exhaustive… But nothing beats the thrill of finding a treasure hoard saved by happenstance.
To “ondersoek” , in Afrikaans, is to look under other things… The term implies a palimpsestic patina, an accretion, a build-up of layers that must be lifted, peeled off to see underneath… the mother lode, the genealogy. Sometimes you know exactly what you are looking for; sometimes you don’t. You may only have a misty hope that there is anything there at all. It can be useful to lose focus, too, because you become open to other routes, other offshoots, that may take you further than your original hunch.
On Saturday, in a poky little shop in Kalk Bay, I found a trove of old sheet music: popular tunes from the 1920s and 1930s, the top few layers of it in torn, grubby disarray. A thrill ran through my fingertips as I started re-moving each sheet from the pile, putting it aside systematically. There was nothing of great interest until I got quite a way below the dusty surface layers, where most people’s patience obviously runs out (this is the trick with digging – to delve deeper, to expend more energy, more time than everyone else – om onder te soek, for there lies the gold). There was no way I could stop.
Buried in the pile, under piano exercise books, I found something that really astounded me… it almost made me shout for joy: many, many of the scores had ukulele chord diagrams on them! In all the popular sheet music I had ever been acquainted with before this, these diagrams were provided for guitar – with five lines for the five strings. These all had only four lines. It became clear to me on seeing this that, along with piano, ukulele was most likely the popular amateur instrument of choice back in the 1920s to 1940s, and not guitar. It makes sense when you listen to the jazziness of the pop arrangements of the time, and how well the chord progressions work technically with a ukulele’s tuning – GCEA. I would suppose that the guitar ousted the uke in popularity with the ascent of blues and rock and folk, in which different chords and tunings predominate, and for which the guitar’s EADGBE tuning is a more natural fit… How lovely to realise that this instrument I play very amateurishly, considered a funny curiosity by most these days, was accorded far more value in the past!
What this little discovery means for me, practically, is that I can now play all these very old jazzy tunes with no in-depth knowledge of musical theory. Even the songs I have never heard before can be found with a bit of effort on the internet, listened to, and re-played, provided someone else along the way has seen their value. As long as they were ever recorded, be it on wax cylinder or 78rpm, they may have been digitised. And, as they spin up on my hard drive, a vortex is created, opening a wormhole back to the instant that band played for the first time as the cylinder turned. And the song comes back from the dead as my fingers form the chord shapes, stutters back to life as I sing my breath into the words. Technology is powerful magic, all the more so when it takes account of its historicity.
Information technology is not only about making the future more slick and manageable; it is also about keeping the past accessible… Essentially it is about conquering linear time and space. The prolific recording of moments allows us to live unconstrained by the present moment and space we’re in, almost continuously if we so wish… (For example, people sit on Facebook as they are out for coffee with a friend. Once they have “checked in” at the cafe, they check out what other people are doing elsewhere on their phones, then frame themselves carefully for a photo in that space and capture the moment, uploading it to join the feed for others who are moving through spaces connected via radio waves to know about. Very little other than eating, drinking and self-referential preening is going on in most coffee spots.)
The sheer volume of recording that goes on now is unprecedented. Imagine reading Twitter logs in a century – every ordinary so-and-so with a Twitter account, with their own account of an event… The hyper(in)significance of every moment of our lives being documented is overwhelming to think about. How will historians of the future ever manage to filter out the noise from the signal and deduce anything?
Or, will the noise be the signal – the fragments the whole? How does this affect our memories, our critical faculties, our creativity, our relationships? New technologies confer on us immense power that should be used wisely and with sober discernment, not trivially… as that dumb what’s-her-face model Leandra found out last week when tweeting 140 racially offensive characters cost her her modelling career and dignity, with satisfying, devastating swiftness!
So, anyway, I pulled out a large wad of music sheets; slowly, carefully replaced what I didn’t take for someone else to find. Tried to conceal my excitement as I got to the till; thwacked the pile down and asked nonchalantly, “How much for this old stuff?”
“Two rand a sheet.” After counting to fifteen the old guy stopped and said “I can’t be bothered to count higher than fifteen – it’s yours for thirty bucks.”
I paid thirty rand for all of it. That’s less than a cocktail or a sandwich in the seaside cafes lining that road. So few people seem to see value in this stuff. Not even antique dealers. To them it’s just quaint ephemera.
Research involves following the intuition, the hunch that something lies hidden out of time, out of sight, out of mind: perhaps recorded imperfectly, decaying, deliberately saved. Or, like these priceless music sheets, just debris left in a place where it makes no sense to anyone who has stumbled across it yet… In danger of being lost forever if someone doesn’t come along with enough focused curiosity to re-cognise it as valuable, to think it back into meaningful connection with right now.
To me, the serendipity of finds like Saturday’s feels more than coincidental. If the person looking didn’t happen to be me there at that precise moment, it would probably have been a non-event. Even if it were the me of last year leafing through, I wouldn’t have known what I was looking for. Would have seen the music but not had a ukulele and maybe not noticed that the chord diagrams had only four strings, not five. The me of just a few months back would have seen the music with interest but not known the extent of the 78rpm archive online (having become aware of the degree of coverage of obscure songs through something I have been working on in the past month) and so left it because I didn’t know the songs and didn’t know there was a way to hear them. I don’t often look through second hand stores these days, broke as I am. On Saturday, something compelled me to step inside as I was passing. It felt as if me and the music were drawn together. It felt magical.
This is Rosalia Chalia (1863-1948) singing “I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls” from the opera The Bohemian Girl, composed by MW Balfe in 1843, recorded on wax cylinder in 1901…
… And here’s the incomparable re-recording engineer and archivist Ward Marston talking about this forgotten Cuban soprano, and the physical realities of trying to rescue recordings of her from obscurity — fascinating:
The past clicks us into focus.
There’s a slid-hinge to the edit.
In this photo, your father frames you
like a fish he wants to remember—
slipped and tin, temporarily pliable,
propped on his knee.
Let’s take your brother, here,
blue-faced and stuffed, full of berries out the
bottom of the backyard, off the bramble
of his foot, rolling from the cabinet’s
carpet like a gum to its tongue,
small and sand-favoured;
his cheek still a linen chest of flesh
before he turned himself down
for girls who developed with their legs poised
stern as oars. They were his wife. Their skirts
unassailable septums, bone-walled. And their
factory-lit health, a tythe
I find myself paying,
and saying, “What’s honest is what lines it,
is the advertorial milk blanket of your insides,”
while my friends ask, “Is this how shit always is?”
and listen, and wonder, what fresh therapist
will chug the construction belt of their counsel,
tap court shoes square and cocked, to knock
the Morse code of medication, and send us
nearing ourselves, for three months, or about.
So, I smoke the scalpel of memory, instead,
and scour love in its clot, as time consults
like a ruler. And each inch knows this
is the telling. This is the business of my life:
to talk that bread out of its dripping
with the small, sauced animal of my knife.
Posted here with kind permission from the author.