« | Home | »

Detritus from the Audio Sphere

Tags: |

The cover of The Museum of Loneliness, painting by Emma Matthews.

The cover of The Museum of Loneliness, painting by Emma Matthews.

Test Centre is a new micro-publishing outfit in Dalston that’s putting out a series of limited-edition spoken-word vinyl records. Its second LP, The Museum of Loneliness by Chris Petit, was launched earlier this month at the Whitechapel Gallery. There was a screening of Asylum, a film Petit made with Iain Sinclair in 2000, set in a post- apocalyptic world where a ‘virus’ has ‘created itself out of the protein soup of bad television with the sole aim of destroying its own memory’. Investigators are on a mission to recover the lost cultural memory, seeking out writers of the counter-culture: Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, James Sallis, Ed Dorn, screened in grainy chiaroscuro, tight black and white close-ups. Certain phrases of Dorn’s are caught and repeated, like a vinyl scratch loop; later in the film he reappears on a boxy TV in a desolate Texas motel.

The film anticipates Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence – the obsessive recording of a life through insignificant artefacts – and Hari Kunzru’s Memory Palace, a book and an exhibition which will open at the V&A in June. In Kunzru’s story, collective memory is erased by a magnetic pulse that wipes the digital world. A small band of Memorialists do their best to piece together what they can from ‘wetware’ – their own brains. These projects, though they’re based on books, find their natural home in galleries or museums; their concern is with curation, collecting and recording.

After the Asylum screening the audience trooped to the bookshop, and sales of The Museum of Loneliness were brisk. The anti-commercialism of this kind of work doesn’t exclude the market, only the mass market. This is the world of limited editions, books as collectible artefacts, handmade objects – the opposite of infinitely reproducible, intangible digital products. ‘The Museum of Loneliness,’ Petit says on the LP, ‘starts at the opposite end of dot com.’ And later: ‘The discipline of selection is the key to the first age of the internet.’ He and Sinclair are curators of their own archives, making use of Ed Dorn’s Literate Projector, a machine that chews up and digests old novels to produce or ‘uncover a new form of literature that was already there’.

Both LPs released by Test Centre so far (the first was Sinclair’s Stone Tape Shuffle) are composed of materials culled from earlier works. Petit’s record is a collage of readings (by him) of extracts from his novels (‘deservedly lost books’), elements from the soundtracks of Asylum and his most recent film, Content, and field recordings from ‘out-of-season resorts’. The whole is scored (or ‘smeared and spored’, as the record’s sleeve has it) by Mordant Music. He punctuates Petit’s voice, which is reasonable, measured, considered throughout, with amplifications and distortions of his hiccups and hesitations. Side A is entitled ‘Dead Drunks’, the drunks in question being three shady characters from Petit’s novels. Side B begins with a description of what the Museum of Loneliness contains, or what it is, if there’s a difference: it’s a museum without walls, or even a site. With a tussive explosion, this dissolves into Mordant Music’s fragmentary arrangement of ‘detritus from the audio sphere’, before recomposing itself into a litany of iconic moments in the history of cinema.

Test Centre’s other projects include a series of limited edition pamphlets, most recently Sinclair’s ‘Austerlitz’ and After, an account of a walk round Whitechapel in W.G. Sebald’s footsteps, guided by the poet Stephen Watts; a magazine; and, later this year, a shop. Two more LPs are lined up, from Stewart Home and Tom McCarthy.

In the early days of the phonograph, it was imagined that people might use it to make family albums of their loved ones’ voices. But it didn’t happen, and there’s something about the material capture of ordinary sound, familiar voices, whether pressed into wax or vinyl, that still seems strange. Think of all the people you have photos of whose voices you will never hear again.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • andymartinink on Reacher v. Parker: Slayground definitely next on my agenda. But to be fair to Lee Child, as per the Forbes analysis, there is clearly a massive collective reader-writer ...
    • Robert Hanks on Reacher v. Parker: Parker may not have the integrity and honesty of Marlowe, but I'd argue that Richard Stark writes with far more of both than Raymond Chandler does: Ch...
    • Christopher Tayler on Reacher v. Parker: Good to see someone holding up standards. The explanation is that I had thoughts - or words - left over from writing about Lee Child. (For Chandler se...
    • Geoff Roberts on Reacher v. Parker: ..."praised in the London Review of Books" Just read the article on Lee Child in a certain literary review and was surprised to find this rave notice...
    • pgillott on Wishful Thinking about Climate Change: Phrases like “monumental triumph” and (particularly) “renaissance for humankind” are overdoing it, but to suggest that there is no chance of ...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement