We Are All Explorers – MMU School of Art Degree Show 2013

We had a bit of a nose round the MMU School of Art Degree Show on Friday 14th June. Featuring the work of final year students across a wide range of media including textiles, film, photography, ceramics, graphic design and painting, the show was held at the All Saints Campus on Oxford Road from 15th – 19th June, and gave us a great opportunity to visit the impressive brand new Art School building. And of course we had to stop by the Saluation for the obligatory after-show pint! Here are a few photos from the show and the exhibits, hope you enjoy them.

El Tren Fantasma: Live At The Bluecoat

Chorlton Alternative Art Class
by Rebecca Harvey

Even when it’s quiet, there is sound. Wind still whispers, glaciers groan and your own heart beats. No one knows this better than Chris Watson – he of Cabaret Voltaire and Natural World; a strange CV, but one entirely assembled around sound. Here is someone who walks around with his ears open, listening not just to language and music, but to the elements behind them, the mechanics and organics, recreating a new language, a new music.

His work with the BBC’s Natural history unit is well-documented (from Springwatch to Frozen Planet), but over the years he has also released collections of his own field recordings – the most recent of which is El Tren Fantasma, The Ghost Train. There have been reviews aplenty of the album itself, but last week Watson was at The Bluecoat arts centre in Liverpool to present the UK live premier of this epic train journey across Mexico, alongside a new soundtrack to an avant garde video performance piece by Gina Czarnecki.

But how would a live performance of El Tren Fantasma work? By its very nature, listening to such a submersive aural piece is very personal – and an arts centre isn’t the first place you would think to head to enjoy a solo trip along the now defunct Mexican line from Los Mochis on the Pacific West coast, to Veracruz on the East. But, as he said when introducing the piece, the sound set up and acoustics you can achieve with the space and speakers of a prepared performance studio ups the scale of what you hear. “This is the first time,” he said, “that it’s being heard in the UK the way it was intended to be heard. So sit back and imagine you’ve poured yourself a tequila sunrise, and are taking a first class seat on the ghost train.”

The intensity of sound was astounding. It backed you into a bubble that became wholly occupied by the sights and smells conjured up by the complex interweaving sounds and textures. The train becomes a giant instrument, steaming across a crease in the landscape, the ricketty-racket of the train tracking the breadth of Mexico, beating a tattoo that Aphex Twin would be proud of. Of course that breakneck beat is just a train; that multi-tonal drone is muted metal on metal, the perfect harmonics and melodies are brakes and bells and the passenger chatter-natter is singing cicadas… But the clarity of individual sounds that such a scale of presentation gives, simultaneously enhances the overall journey – you see the woods as well as the trees, and over the course of the trip through forests and mountains and cities, the sounds become more than a sum of their parts.

The only problem with the performance was the images they were presented alongside – a huge floor to ceiling projection showed stills that bore little relation to what was being heard, and which instead rudely intruded on the cocoon woven by the story of the sound – an unnecessary attempt to reduce the ambiguity of location. Take away them, and the contrived train announcements that bookended the performance (and the album), and you have something startlingly good. Speaking to him afterwards, Watson worked out that he had over 100 hours of original material to sift and shape, and to render something so perfectly structured is a real feat – made all the more impressive with live mixing on the night for a seamless 40 minutes.

Ghosts are a recurring theme in Chris Watson’s work – apart from the Ghost Train, he also did a recent Radio 4 piece on starlings in the abandoned ballroom of the West Pier in Brighton titled The Ghost Roost. He records and recreates moments as a memorial, a memory of the temporary and the no more, bottling live events in their last moments, that once captured, are extinct. The preserved remains of a moment, a raindrop, a train journey fossilised in audio.

This article originally appeared on http://caughtbytheriver.net/.

Read more of Rebecca’s writing at http://wordswellseasoned.wordpress.com/.

The Sea of Trees

Art ManchesterThe most popular place in the world to end it all is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The vertiginous 75-metre drop ensures most jumpers die on impact with the water below; drowning and hypothermia claim the rest. Britain’s own Beachy Head, where Phil Daniels’ scooter met its symbolic end in Quadrophenia, comes in third. But it’s the silver medal holder that’s the focus of a new film, funded in part by the New York Foundation of the Arts.

Art ManchesterThe Aokigahara forest covers an area of roughly thirty-five square kilometres at the base of Mount Fuji. The trees crowd together in high density, obscuring sunlight and wind. This, along with a lack of fauna within its confines, gives rise to a crepuscular calm, an unearthly stillness that resonates throughout the forest. The area has demonic associations in Japanese mythology, and over the years has steadily built its reputation as a ‘good place’ to die. In one year alone, 108 suicides were recorded in the forest. The Japanese government has since ceased publishing figures in an attempt to downplay its morbid fame.

Into these gothic surroundings steps independent artist and film-maker, Joshua Zucker-Pluda. “Can a landscape have a soul? Can past events leave a psychic impression on a terrain[…]?” These questions are his jumping-off point for a haunting piece of experimental documentary film-making, reminiscent of Werner Herzog or Terrence Malick, treading/blurring a line between environmental psychology and paranormal investigation.

The Sea of Trees – Trailer from hamletpowpowpow on Vimeo.

Zucker-Pluda first came to my attention through his Roadside Picnic podcast, an intermittently updated ethereal journey through the abstract outer reaches of modern music. Since its first episode in 2005, the podcast has built up a cult following and spawned a series of limited edition vinyl box sets titled A Room Forever. A sense of otherworldliness pervades every aspect of the project, from the choice of sounds to the dark, minimal layout of the website and the accompanying photos, each image showcasing Zucker-Pluda’s preoccupation with landscape and the ability of his lens to make the familiar appear strange.

This aesthetic has been expanded upon in his latest film project The Sea of Trees, which takes its name from the Japanese nickname for Aokigahara. The film, which has received funding from the New York Foundation of the Arts (NYFA), the New York State Council of the Arts (NYSCA) and the Jerome Foundation, features some startling footage of the forest itself, mixed with interviews and anecdotes from numerous sources. The film is currently in post-production, having successfully raised the funds via a concerted campaign on www.kickstarter.com, and from the looks of the sample footage released so far it’s shaping up to be a breath-taking piece of film-making.

http://www.joshuazuckerpluda.com/
http://www.roadsidepicnic.com/
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/29067508/the-sea-of-trees
Sea of Trees footage on Vimeo