Concrete / Field: "A Theory of Psychic Geography"
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How do you make a narrative from Noise? How do you turn sound into a story, trick it into telling you a tale? Without words – without a traditional song-based structure – how do you create context or meaning; how do you politicise it?
I’ve been thinking about some of this stuff for a while now, and I know Mark Chickenf1sh has, too. I have a lot of admiration for Mark’s work as Concrete / Field and :M:1:9: – for his ability to channel his music in a focused and coherent manner, to tease ideas from it, to invoke in the listener the sense that there’s an under-story sitting somewhere inside the sonics. His music makes me feel that I’m being directed towards… something – that some cold, potentially-unpalatable truth awaits me at the centre of the oscillations and the sine-waves. Well, okay, maybe not a ‘truth’ - that’s too absolutist, too rigidly dogmatic; a dead-end. There is something discursive, something bi-valently directive about Mark’s work. It provokes a discussion with the listener. It doesn’t pre-determine an obvious response or conclusion; it points you at stuff, nudges you in a vague direction and lets you find your own way there. (Or, even better, it lets you wander off and end up somewhere other than where you expected). An acoustic walkabout. Dialectic Noise, anyone?
(First time I heard his jams I did a little inner *air-punch*)
The clue’s in the name: Concrete / Field. A zillion oppositional tensions are implied from just placing those two words together: The Open Vs. The Imprisoned; ‘Urban’ Vs ‘Rural’; or, to coin a neat little SituSlogan, pop-kids: Sous le béton, le champ: “…beneath the concrete, the field.” We’re tip-toeing around Hacker Farm’s own home turf here, skirting the edge of the woods – poking around in the hedgerow next to the motorway slip-road – and I like that. But Mark knows that binaries are basically a bad thing – that they bring potentially-irresolvable conflict to the table – so he’s climbed into the hitherspace where opposites overlap: those vague, uncontested, badly-mapped areas that sit between the Common and the Closed, the Public and the Private.
(The “/” that slid its way inbetween Concrete and Field)
In recent years, Mark has repurposed field-recordings of moor walks and coastal fog-horns, made them sound like imaginary last-century manufacturing processes; created something lumpenly physical from the sound of air moving through wires and trees. He has made the invisible more solid. His back-catalogue investigates the point at which industry almost evaporates, that moment where we discover that open space is actually bisected by an invisible grid of microwave transmissions. As Ballard makes clear in The Concentration City, the concept of “Free Space” is an illusion: you think you’re seeing a stand of trees – walking across a couple acres of open, uncut grass – but the air is owned by Vodaphone and territorialisd by T-Mobile. The sky is full of CAA-zoned flight-paths, the ozone patrolled by RyanAir.
What we once believed was empty has been divvy’d-up and licensed without our knowledge; it is crammed full of bandwidth and DABchatter. What we once thought was solid and unassailable – brutalist architecture; 70’s bus-stations and shopping-centres – is dematerialising into the realm of memory and imagination. Physical and digital – the past and the present – are passing each other in the aether. The air is saturated with SMS signals and stolen metadata, while the world of brick and tarmac is fading into the phantom zone. (The after-life, it turns out, is now a tax-intangible, decentralised blade-array in aisle number eight of a mall-sized server-farm). Mark is documenting that weird liminal intersect, the no-fly zone where these two states sublimate – catching that crafty shift from solid to vapour and back again – the point where they merge and blur, and end up being mistaken for their own ghosts. Spectral signal-noise, broken WiFi coverage, moss- and ivy-studded stonework, the bleached-out after-image of industry. Invisible bridle-path Lancashire; Capital migrating to The Cloud: it’s all up there on Bandcamp.
I also like that Mark doesn’t take the obvious route in his work; sure, it ain’t an easy listen, but he doesn’t go for the lazy approach, either: you know, press the Big Red Button marked “Noisetroll Shitstorm,” record for a perfunctory-but-punishing ten minutes, release, re-re-re-repeat [until the listener bleeds from ears //or// the artist’s signature-moves reap diminishing returns]. I fucking loved the Precision Components EP when I heard it: the rotary tones, the roil -- it’s Post-Industrial Meditation Music: a head-shop brain-machine that invokes some previously-undocumented Delta-Gamma-whatever-Wave state; it’s kinda trippy-but-not. Mark’s work is complex, multi-layered and pretty damn subtle... check the PC EP sometime: waveforms shift and swirl around inside your head, turn it into one of those foam binaural recording-skulls - a shortwave-enabled tumble-drier cycling through a series of unfathomable processes; his compositions suck you into a state of uneasy meditation. Whenever I listen to it, I can’t help but think: “What is this? What am I hearing here?” I can’t quite figure out if it’s physical, digital, imaginary… one section holds the ghost-echo of a 1950’s Midlands machine-tooling shop, the next sounds like a broadcast of some sort, then a broken modem on phantom dial-up, a threshing-machine, air-con hummm, 60’s telecomm leakage…
Infrastructure, fucking infrastructure. The zeitgeist feels like it’s all about hidden infrastructure right now. Ghost conduits, wires in the walls. Concrete / Field is the noise of Now oscillating back ‘n’ forth with the noise of Then. The sound of a century that can’t quite make its mind up whether to disappear or not, and Mark has, in his own peculiar way, helped nail that uneasy, skitterish feeling.
“The open moors can be evoked by a recording of a faulty drinks machine,” he tells me, completely straight-faced and unselfconscious, in an email.
We started talking about putting something by Concrete / Field last year. It was a slow process – and deliberately so. I think Mark’s raised his game on this album, and his game was pretty damn high to start with. It also took us both somewhere that I really didn’t expect to go (see, also: opening paragraph) -- and we sincerely hope it takes you somewhere else too.
A conversation about his music - how he saw it; what he wanted to talk about – took us nicely off-road, into weekend visits to holy wells (http://wellhunting.blogspot.co.uk/) and a whole new landscape suddenly opened up in his music for me. I’m sure it will for you too.
(If we pulled someone like, errm… Deleuze & Guattari from the cinema queue, they would probably say Mark’s music was, um, “decentred, fragmented and dynamic,” that they thought it was “polyvocal and nomadic,” rather than “biunivocal and segregative.” ///// “Yeah, it’s all about the layers,” laughs Mark.)
Ah, but fuck the theory, innit. At this point, tradition dictates I should actually tell you something about -- ahh, but you're a grown-up - you know how this works.
Opening track “Vertiginous Theatre” sounds luminous and gloopy – like a sort of electroacoustic lava-lamp: thick oil-swirls of sound suspended in the air, perpetually breaking-apart and reforming, but there’s an ill-wind blowing through the piece: the musical equivalent of a draft under an old door, or musty, damp air blowing through an ancient cave. The tone begins to darken, but it’s a gradual process – a tainting, a gentle corruption – and sat beneath it all, underpinning the piece, is a slow oscillation – a wavering collection of tones; an almost-chord – something queasily sombre that almost sounds like a church-organ.
“Zone of Avoidance” makes me think of tiny little wind-farms – hundreds of them (a UKipper’s worst nightmare) – their miniature turbine-propellers clicking away quietly to themselves on a hillside somewhere. The sound of wooden slats catching against one another: windmills, shuttered windows, broken fence panels. But then there’s a gradual shift of emphasis, the picture inverts itself, and it starts to feel as if we’re inside something, an enormous -- but, hey, listen --
I could describe Mark’s music ‘til the cows come home via the car-park. But it’s best that you hear it for yourself – apply your own imagination – see where each track points you when you take it for a short inner walk.
How do you make a narrative from Noise? Well, maybe we don’t need to. Story-telling is a function of our imagination and intellect; each story seeded by the complex clusters of memories and associations that we carry around inside ourselves. All those things that make us unique human beings. Mark’s music acts as 'triggers', a series of signposts. Pointers. It tricks the two sides of your brain into talking to one another: language // dreams, logic // recognition, inside // out.
(The “/” that sits between Concrete and Field)
C / F.
Just pick a direction and start walkin’.
Initial Ltd Edition (above) contains standard CD + packaging housed in hand-varnished / nailed wood rescued from a skip.