Monday, 27 July 2009


Spending a night in my old friend Don's house in South London, the first time I've seen him for many years. Lots of memories jogged and pleasurably unleashed in the course of the evening. Nefarious revisitings of previous 'lives'. Revenants awakened.

In the night, the door to my room swings open oh so slowly and in comes my mother, looking elegant and much younger than she was when she died about 20 years ago. She is pretending to be a ghost. She creeps towards me playing the game of spooking her kid. She jumps on top of me on the bed, making ridiculous theatrical ghoul noises, oohs and aahs, and we wrestle. For a moment, I'm genuinely frightened and try to bite her, my heart pumping. After a moment, we pause. My head comes up from under the covers, our eyes meet, and I realise it's a game.

'Hello love', she says, sitting up, smiling. 'I'm a ghost'.

When I wake up in the morning, the door is still open.


A few nights later in Devon, Sue and I are creeping alongside a wall at night, hand in hand, in silence. We don't want to be caught, and are walking quietly but freely on the grass. The wall goes on and on. We keep going where we are going. Then a small warm animal noise in the darkness in front of us: horse breath. We stop.

To one side - the direction we are heading - a group of horsemen are gathering quietly: they look like hussars in uniform, their swords are drawn, the horses' flanks catch the low light. The brief flare of a brass cuirasse, the glint of an eye. The horses paw the ground.

Then to the other side - the direction from which we've come - other horsemen walk slowly into the half-light, like actors quietly taking their place on the stage, their swords also at the ready. Gradually the numbers grow until all are present.

A silent stand-off, as the horses fidget; tiny sounds of metal, bits and blade. The calm before some sort of storm in this field of intersecting gazes.

We are caught in the middle, looking one way then the other. The confrontation is nothing to do with us, but we have no choice but to be there as it unfolds around us. Witnesses.

We wait. No one makes a move.

Monday, 6 July 2009

rhythm (that was then)

Bob Dylan: I've always been real content with the old forms. I know my place by now.
Sam Shepard: So you feel you know who you are?
Bob Dylan: Well, you always know who you are. I just don't know who I'm gonna become.

(Sam Shepard interview with Bob Dylan, in Rolling Thunder Review Logbook, 1987)

A hugely engaging conversation at a conference in Aberystwyth with Andrew Todd - architect, jazz drummer, writer, hilarious raconteur - in part spilling out of Andrew's plans to write a book about rhythm. I tell him about some of my drummer heroes: John Convertino (Calexico), Jaleel Bunton (TV on the Radio) etc. He talks jazzers. A few days later I send him a text by Sam Shepard, pasted below. Very Sam of the early 1970s: a kind of elliptical cartography of a particular 'America'. Sam was the drummer with the Holy Modal Rounders, on tour with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review. He was also 'writer-in-residence' on that tour, producing the Rolling Thunder Review Logbook. In this book of fragments, Shepard's fascinated by the myth of 'Dylan', his personae:

'Tonight Dylan appears in a rubber Dylan mask he'd picked up on 42nd Street. The crowd is stupefied. A kind of panic-stricken hush falls over the place. "Has he had another accident? Plastic surgery?" Or is this some kind of mammoth hoax? An imposter! The voice sounds the same. If it is a replacement, he's doing a good job. He goes through three or four songs with the thing on, then reaches for the harmonica. He tries to play it through the mask but it won't work, so he rips it off and throws it back into the floodlights. There he is in the flesh and blood! The real thing! A face-lift supreme! It's a frightening act even if it's not calculated for those reasons. The audience is totally bewildered and still wondering if this is actually him or not'.

Anyway, here's Sam Shepard's text about rhythm, the one I sent on to Andrew:

If everything could be sung to the standard rock and roll progression – C, A minor, F, G chords – then everything’d be simple. How many variations on a single theme? The greatest drum solo I ever heard was made by a loose flap of a tarpaulin on top of my car hitting the wind at eighty. The second best is windshield wipers in the rain, but more abstract, less animal. Like the rhythms of a rabbit scratching his chin. Vision rhythms are neat, like hawk scoops and swan dives. Slow motion space rhythms. Digging rhythms like shovels and spades and hoes and rakes and snowplow rhythms. Jack-hammer rhythms make Ginger Baker and Keith Moon look like punk chumps. Oilcan rhythms, ratchet wrench rhythms. Playing cards in bicycle spokes. A string of rapid-fire, firecracker rhythms. Propeller rhythms. Cricket rhythms. Dog claws clicking on hardwood floors. Clocks. Piston rhythms. Dripping faucets. Tin hitting tin in the wind. Water slapping rocks. Flesh slapping flesh. Boxing rhythms. Racing rhythms. Rushing brooks. Radio static buzz in a car when the engine is the dictator. Directional turnsignal blinkers. Off and on neon lights. Blinking yellow arrows. Water pumps. Refrigerator hums. Thermostatic- controlled heating systems. Clicking elevators with the numbers lighting up for each floor. Snakes sliding through grass. At night. Buoy lights. Ship signals. Airplane warnings. Fire alarms. Rhythms in a stuck car horn. Eating rhythms. Chewing rhythms. The cud of a cow. The chomp of a horse. Knives being sharpened. Band saws. Skill saws. Hack saws. Buzz saws. Buck saws. Chain saws. Any saw rhythm. Hammers and nails. Money clanking in a poker game. Cards shuffled. Bus meters. Taxi meters. Boiling water rhythms. Clicking ballpoint pens. Clicking metal frogs. Roulette wheel spinning rhythms. Tire rhythms. Whittling. Stitching. Typing. Clicking knitting needles. Parrots sharpening their beaks on wood. Chickens scratching. Dogs digging for moles. Birds cleaning their feathers. Cocking guns. Spinning guns. Bolt actions. Lever actions. Snapping finger nails. Finger popping. Cracking knuckles. Snapping bones. Farting. Spitting. Shitting. Fucking rhythms. Blinking eyes. Blowing nose. Coughing without control. Candle flicker rhythms. Creaking houses. Thawing ice. And you call yourself a drummer?

(Sam Shepard, ‘Rhythm’ [1973], in Motel Chronicles / Hawk Moon, London: Faber & Faber, 1985, 164-5).

Andrew's email response: 'Given my shoddy performance on Oleo I could add mashing potatoes to Shepard’s pantheon. (Jack de Johnette suggested listening to your boiler room.) Nice text: perhaps a little expansive, but that was then I suppose'.

Photograph: Sam Shepard & Patti Smith performing their play Cowboy Mouth, New York, 1971. Photo by Gerard Malanga

For footage of Sonny Rollins playing Oleo, with Alan Dawson on drums, see here

Sunday, 5 July 2009

dance (look at your eyes)

for vicky & gareth

We are so small we can barely be seen.

How can this great love be inside us?

Look at your eyes. They are small, but they see enormous things.

Loving actions are the seed of something,

A living-place.

Love means to look at yourself

The way one looks at distant things

For you are only one thing among many.

And whoever sees that ways heals their heart.

A bird and a tree say to them: Friend.

Look as long as you can at someone you love

No matter whether they are moving away from you

Or coming back towards you.

Some nights stay up till dawn,

As the moon sometimes does for the sun.

Be a full bucket pulled up the dark way

Of a well, then lifted out into light.

I want this music and this dawn

And the warmth of your cheek against mine.

Dance, when you’re broken open.

Dance when the bandages come off. Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.

Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

But no words will ever mean as much as a life.

So let the words stop now.

Open the window in the centre of your chest,

And let the spirits fly in and out.

Text read at the wedding of Vicky Major & Gareth Wolf, Saturday 4 July 2009, Harbertonford, Devon.
Poem adapted from Rumi and Czeslaw Milosz

Thursday, 2 July 2009

games to chase away fear

Some of the questions, invitational triggers, and 'games' devised by Pina Bausch for her performers to explore while devising the performance Valse (1982):

- Set a trap for someone
- Think of a simple phrase, say it without words
- Tell a story using sounds
- A photo album: poses
- Defend yourself
- How to kill an animal
- What can you do with one hand?
- Razor blade
- Invent a new peace sign
- Games to chase away fear

- How do you open a boiled egg?
- What do you think others want to change in you?
- Something for which you could use a drum roll
- Pairs in love walk in the street touching each other: how?
- A song about a tree
- You have to pack very quickly, you only have a tiny case, you don't know how long you'll be away: what do you take?
- Mark injurable parts of the body on your partner: show why they are injurable
- Your reactions when someone makes plans for you
- An exercise to make yourself stronger
- White handkerchief
- Express delight in six notes
- Leg art
- Plan revenge
- Erect a monument to someone
- An animal kills another: how?
- Curiosity
- Five laws for marriage
- Which parts of your body do you prefer to move?
- What does an animal say when caught in a trap?
- Magical formulae
- Ways in which you amuse yourself on your own
- Back to the wall
- Different ways to warm yourself
- Babies' movements
- What do you do to babies?
- Play a game with your own body?
- Animals' games
- Distress signals
- Pas-de-deux with two fingers
- Degradation
- A goodbye pose
- A sign for good luck
- A dance phrase addressed to your bed
- Up to me
- Do something for when you want to be loved
- What are you best at?
- Softening
- The plan's no longer working
- Mini-twist
- The language of curtains
- Photos for eternity
- Look who's there!
- A game to do with time
- Make something go away
- Parental advice
- What do you have of your parents?
- Summer
- An important thought in a rainstorm
- The way in which you hold on to someone when you're afraid
- What do you only do alone?
- A love poem
- Here's a bear, and you have to make it laugh
- Small, smaller, smallest
- Where is it?
- Carress
- They used to embrace like this ...
- Games with a piece of string
- Do something with your nostalgia
- Throw yourself into someone's arms
- Ports and ships
- A mini-show for oneself
- A bagatelle for an audience up there
- Fear of messing something up
- Look at an object with malice
- Excuse me
- Make a movement of expiration
- Shame
- A little movement you make when you have goose-flesh
- Hiss
- What you need to survive
- Waiting for news
- Pity yourself
- I hope we'll see each other again
- Wanting to escape
- Good news
- Have a good journey
- Go on, just a little burp
- Reflect on something to do with wind
- Be modest
- A hymn
- A baby massage
- The language of curtains

Translated by David Williams: from Raimund Hoghe, Pina Bausch: histoires de théâtre dansé, Paris: L'Arche, 1987

Photo: Detlef Erler

the tears of things (for pina)

'I'm not interested in how people move, but in what moves them ... We are very transparent. The way somebody walks or the way people carry their necks tells you something about the way they live or about the things that have happened to them. Somehow everything is visible - even when we cling to certain things ... Everything I do is about relationships, childhood, fear of death, and how much we all want to be loved' (Pina Bausch).

In no particular order, some images, culled from a reservoir that has coloured and buoyed my imagination for 20 years or more. These (and others) are indelibly etched into my psyche, and they proliferate and animate still: in my 20s and 30s, this work changed everything for me...

A group of women scurry across a leaf-strewn floor in pursuit of a man who plays the same short extract from Bartok's Bluebeard on tape. Rewind, replay, shuffle. Later, a slow somnambulist dance of partners, the women bowed and passive, their faces hidden, the almost-naked men masquerading their bodies - performing body-building poses to the audience, displaying them to both comic and alarming excess (1).

A woman in her underpants walks through a field of carnations playing an accordion. Around the edge of the field, guards patrol with alsatians on leashes. Later, Lutz Forster 'signs' the Gershwin song The man I love. Comedy and pathos in this overlaying of nostalgic heterosexual song and signing. The overlay doubles and re-doubles the song's lyrics, making them un-familiar and re-writing them. The male body mimes and 'tells' - through an iconic corporeal discourse of a possible love to which a dominant ideology is metaphorically 'deaf'. Forster himself is both source and site of the narrative, and detached from it, consciously showing/dis-playing it to us (2).

A group of besuited men repeatedly touch a solitary woman (Meryl Tankard) like a child - pinch her cheek, tousle her hair, pat her. Cumulatively over time, their actions constitute a kind of rape; intimate, patronising 'affection' is defamiliarised through repetition to reveal the shadows this infantilising tactile economy suppresses (3).

Two dinner-suited men, smug, self-congratulatory, mask-like smiles, posturing an image of suave gentility, wealth, sophistication. Then they squirt or dribble little fountains of champagne from their mouths - straight up, splashing down over their faces and suits, 'wetting themselves', like children. A kind of critical comic display of the infantile drives that underlie and inform their masquerade (4).

An environment of towering, bristling cacti, peopled by a discontinuous dream-like array of figures. Couples waltz. Passers-by pass by. A woman in bra and pants hangs immobile and upside down, her body apparently suspended from a cactus's spikes. A man force-feeds a woman, like a goose, coercing and constructing her; she lies inert. A man in a balaclava wheels another woman around the space in a glass tank of water; it's uncertain whether she has drowned or is dreaming, her body literally floating through space. A man in a skirt, shades and a leather jacket dances alone. A woman with two black shoes in her mouth struggles repeatedly to lift herself from the floor. A blindfolded man dances alone, a tea bag held over each eye by a red cloth, his partner a tea towel. Then there's a dancing pantomime walrus, and a group standing as if ready for a rather odd family portrait: a masked woman (one of those 2-dimensional Victorian paper cut-outs sometimes used for parties); two others beside her, their hats suspended above their heads, as they wriggle to fit inside them; and a slumped woman on a chair in front, her hair covering her face (5).

A man struggles across a field with an enormous wardrobe balanced precariously on his back. A drunken woman with a bottle in her hand shouts and lurches at the centre of a flock of sheep; the sheep respond to her every move, instantly and collectively, her impulses rippling out through this animal corps de ballet. A man, gravity-bound, chases a flock of starlings as they swoop and soar. Dominique Mercy in a ball gown, pinned to the wall of a room by a model helicopter hovering in front of him, buzzing him, its whirring blades pushing an updraft under his skirt (6).

A woman with impossibly long limbs and hair, a spectral somnambulist presence in a white night slip, dances through a maze of tables and chairs in a deserted cafe. A man clears her passage, his attention to his task all-consuming and selfless (7).

The everyday defamiliarised. The image as aggregation: the conjunction of bodies, objects, rhythms, music, space as psychic landscape. Even smell (the peaty earth in Rights of Spring). Bachelard's 'material imagination'. Brecht's gestus ablaze, signalling through the flames (8). Accumulation and repetition (what repetition?) Masquerade. The voyeuristic economy of spectating: the 'dis-play' of performing. Montage. E-motion: the continuous leak of affect. Excess. A corrosive theatricality. Irreducible ambiguity. Layers of fragmented narrative. Reversals. Ec-static exposures, uninsulated. Identities on the move. Possible worlds. The heart-land laid bare, in its resilience and fragility.

Love's work, its grain, its shapes.
The tears of things.


(1) Bluebeard.
(2) Nelken.
(3) Kontakthof.
(4) Two Cigarettes in the Dark.
(5) Ahnen.
(6) Die Klage der Kaiserin ('The Lament of the Empress').
(7) Cafe Muller.
(8) 'Gestus is at once gesture and gist, attitude and point: one aspect of the relation between two people, studied singly, cut to essentials and physically or verbally expressed. It excludes the psychological, the sub-conscious, the metaphysical unless they can be conveyed in concrete terms' (Brecht).

Images: Pina Bausch (photo by Donata Wenders, 2004); Nelken at Sadler's Wells, 2005 (photo by Tristram Kenton); Ten Chi, 2004.

To watch Lutz Forster's The man I love (from Chantal Akerman's 1982 film One day Pina asked me...), see here

For a listing of other Pina Bausch materials on YouTube, see here

Obituaries for Pina Bausch: Guardian, Independent, Times, New York Times