After Unitary Urbanism: Towards Urban Solitude


A Column

Jay Glass Dubs/Eli Keszler/King Midas Sound/Nihiloxica/Daphne Oram/Ossia/Finlay Shakespeare/Tilliander

“Who we are has never been more incompatible with who we need to be. What we have become is the greatest threat to ourselves and the planet. We have been perfectly groomed, psychologically and spiritually, for disaster. We have become hard. We are the people of the apocalypse” – John F Schumaker

Forty-six-years after the New York Dolls established that frustration and heartache is what you got, we are slowly beginning to recognise the surreality of the human personality crisis at the heart of the uber-consumer experience. The state of the average being’s social character is that of mere marketing personality: condemned to eternal suckling on the cathode ray nipple, except even that analogy has now been superseded by cyborg-served algorithmic moon beams done super rapid on a laser beam. The age of cultural infantilism is upon us, psychological neoteny is where it’s at, baby. Thoughtlessness is the new black; the cult of the individual dictates that my pain and sadness is more sad and painful than yours. Narcissism, sociopathy, dishonesty, inequality, all strutting their stuff along a catwalk near you. This moral blindness in the face of mutually assured destruction has become the norm. When I was at school, we had a mock election, the apathy party won. How prophetic that now seems: “We are at risk of losing our sensitivity to the plight of others” – Zygmunt Bauman

Unitary Urbanism emerged from the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus/Lettrist International‘s Alba Platform in 1956, and was further contested by the Situationist International (SI) well into the early 1960s. At its core, it concerned the rejection of functional approaches to urban architectural design, and the compartmentalised practice of detaching art from its surroundings. Unitary Urbanism challenged the grayscale of metropolitan edifice to question where function ends and play begins: “‘Whatever prestige the bourgeoisie may today be willing to grant to fragmentary or deliberately retrograde artistic tentatives, creation can now be nothing less than a synthesis aiming at the construction of entire atmospheres and styles of life. … A unitary urbanism—the synthesis we call for, incorporating arts and technologies—must be created in accordance with new values of life, values which we now need to distinguish and disseminate” – George Williams

Urban Solitude, meanwhile, has materialised from the post-everything miasma of cultural collapse to conceptualise the irony of dislocation theory and disconnection in urban environments. Metropolis: a place called home by many, and a home to many without a place. Urban Solitude imagines the technological bubble we inflate around ourselves to shield us from the energy and competition of the metropolitan landscape, one that can overwhelm every sense of our bodies if left to its own devices. Despite the intensity of our urban surroundings, there are gaps in the space/time continuum, and we access our seemingly cherished solitude via uber-modern means: when left to our own devices. Absence of conversation; lack of human connection; a dearth of any collective experience, the human mind loses focus on what it means to be a part of something bigger than the self. Externally, you are consumed by the streets, you feel a part of their energy. Internally, you are distracted and detached, bonded algorithmically, a slave to the rhythm. Solitude becomes the co-existence of being just another face in the diseased arteries of the metropolitan thoroughfares. Urban Solitude expresses the death of the collective experience to question where society ends and self begins.

Triumphant in the aftermath of ‘Epitaph’ (Bokeh Versions), Jay Glass Dubs broadcasts yet further emissions from the eternal echo chamber in the form of a 7″ for Joachim Nordwall‘s Dub On Arrival imprint. ‘Thumb Dub’/’Index Dub’ deliver exemplary dubwise deconstructionism of the highest order in just under 10-minutes. ‘Index Dub’ is the more abstract of the two cuts, with hints of the choralism of ‘Epitaph’ interred deep within the competing reverberations. ‘Thumb Dub’, meanwhile, errs backwards, into JGD’s recent past, with a cut and dub that vaguely resembles St Etienne‘s version of ‘Only Love Will Break Your Heart’, but I could be mistaken. I often am.

Hot on the heels of the unmitigated glory of ‘Stadium’ (Shelter Press), Eli Keszler is back once again, like the renegade master that he most assuredly is, with a new 3-track EP, ‘Empire’ (Shelter Press). Keszler’s unremitting quest for stillness, tranquility and beauty in a dystopian metropolitan landscape continues at languid pace. A soundtrack to urban solitude, clinging abstractly to the illusion of order during unspecified decline, Keszler refines and redefines similar tropes to those explored on ‘Stadium’ at the intersectionality of free jazz, expressionism, percussion and electronics.

‘Solitude’ (Cosmo Rhythmatic): “a meditation on loss. A loss that has been enforced and unexpected. It’s about processing the irrational and incessant feelings of rejection and loneliness, like listening to the tenderness of love disappear to be replaced by skewed logic”. Reduced to a duo, once again, Kevin Martin and Roger Robinson reconvene as King Midas Sound, for a tortuous 12-track trawl through the North Sea of despair. Dressed in partnership with Japanese contemporary photographer, Daisuke Yokota, his monochromatic tones and textures ideally compliment the obsessive, compulsive negativity that dominates ‘Solitude’. Over minimal electronic soundscapes, Robinson recalls the intensity, diction and delivery of Linton Kwesi Johnson in his dread beaten and bloodied despair. This is a painful listen, and anyone who has danced with Elizabeth Kübler-Ross will recognise the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance at play. Melancholic and immersive, ‘Solitude’ is the sound of an amplified pain and sadness more sad and painful than even our own.

Nyege Nyege Tapes maintain their productive start to 2019 with this impressive cassette release from Nihiloxica. ‘Biiri’ expands on the promise of their 4-track self-titled cassette debut with this further 4-track exploration. Honed by a year on the road, Nihiloxica dig ever-deeper into the rich seams of the Bugandan techno underground to mine the progressive developmentalsim at the heart of ‘Biiri’. Fusing electronica to the indigenous core of their traditional influences, Nihiloxica evidence the immemorial at the epicentre of their darkness as a portal to transcend space and time.

Dropping as I type on Modern Love associate, Young Americans, ‘Oramics’ is the long-overdue vinyl reissue of the Clive Graham compendium of Dapne Oram, material originally issued on CD in 2007. Electronic music pioneer and contemporary of Delia Derbyshire, Oram was the founder and first director of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. Distinguished by its eclectic light and shade, ‘Oramics’ has been mastered at Dubplates & Mastering in Berlin to allow the listener to travel back in time for that ‘almost-there-when-it-mattered’ experience. Over two and a half hours through 44-tracks, this is a journey into sound art at the moment of its inception. The sublime ‘Bird Of Parallax’ could have been recorded just yesterday, for all these ears are worth. I defy anyone to explain the process by which such visionary practice can transcend decades to remain artistically relevant to this day. Mic up that Kango, Blixa, this is the sound of ground being broken, echoing down the wormholes of relativity.

Daniel Davies, aka Ossia, has been toiling away on what would eventually become ‘Devil’s Dance’ (Blackest Ever Black) for almost as long as some of us have been anticipating it. In this temporary unequal world, that expectation can still capture the imagination at a time when we are actively encouraged to lower any expectation is a wonder in itself. I’ve been waiting on ‘Devil’s Dance’, doggedly, for months, a period of time equivalent to eons in this era of the short attention span. Set in concrete, built in the vast spaces between sounds, ‘Devil’s Dance’ transpires as it transcends, to dwarf its contemporaries. Sprawling from the speakers with Babylonian intent, Ossia captures the multifarious essence of myriad soundsystem cultures down the ages to fashion a masterpiece of isolationism that invokes the all-encompassing dread at the intersection of solitude and society. At its widest vistas, ‘Devil’s Dance’ embraces the modern composition of Lucy Railton‘s ‘Fortified Up’ with the oscillating glissandi of ‘Vertigo’, the 23-minute culmination of Ossia’s transcendental meditations. Elsewhere, ‘Radiation’ offers glimpses of Mats Gustafsson‘s Fire! through the lens of Ollie Moore‘s sombre sax, whilst ‘Hell Version’ delineates comparable hauntalogical tundras to those of Demdike Stare‘s ‘Wonderland’. Ossia has masterfully defined 2019 barely two months into its infancy: this is a record that will stay with you far beyond its allotted fifteen fame-filled minutes with this fanzine writer.

Previously unknown to me until a month ago, the variegated talents of Finlay Shakespeare’s ‘Domestic Economy’ (Editions Mego) are a revelation to behold. Steeped in the lineage of 80s electro-pop and dark-wave, ‘Domestic Economy’ invokes a pantheon that includes The Normal, Robert Rental, Thomas Leer, Blancmange, Depeche ModeThe Human League, Heaven 17, et al. With a vocal that echoes Mark Hollis, Robert Smith and Peter Gabriel at times, Shakespeare exudes an existential angst that defines the edginess of his art as a balance of emotional and rational practice. Supported and abetted by Russell Haswell, Shakespeare’s uncanny ability to bring retrospective structure to improvisation fair takes one’s breath away. ‘Domestic Economy’ is a post-everything implement that no informed household should be without. It’s a record that keeps on giving, one that will rest close to this turntable for many years to come.

And finally, to complete an admirable roster for this month, and thematically conclude this column, the second offering from Joachim Nordwall‘s Dub On Arrival imprint is this absolute belter from Andreas Tilliander. Swathed in the aura of Basic Channel, ‘Expect Resistance’ conjures the revolutionary intent of the Situationist International (SI) as viral carrier demanding a generational shift away from apocalyptic Urban Solitude towards ‘Respect Existence’. The greyscale is no longer the oppression of our architecture, but instead the oppressive architecture of our very minds. Art interpreting life, life interpreting art. Interpretation is everything. Interpretation matters. We have to reconfigure out what’s going wrong here. One of theses days, we’ll get ourselves organasised. Find the common ground. Identify commons. When we share, everyone wins.


Jean Encoule - February 24th, 2019

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