Saturday, 28 November 2009

Sonic Cement and Locks

First, the new version of Marc's promo video is online - we worked for about a week recording and editing the sound as well as editing the visuals.

Last week I was assigned the task of creating the mud-cement mix we apply to the tire walls. I imagined this to be an easy though quite dull job, something not preferrable to the therapeutically pleasing application of the cement.

The procedure consists of several stages. Half a bucket of water is inserted into the mixer. Then half a bucket of cement. This is mixed until fluid and consistent. Then half a bucket of hay. Then, slowly, a bucket of junk-soil (soil which is contaminated with waste material, rubbish, construction rubbish etc), adding more water gradually so the mix remains fluid. Then a bucket of manure. Then three buckets of soil, all interspersed with water so the mixture never becomes too dry or too lumpy.

As, coincidentally, described in this video which Marc and I made last week:

The mixer is quite noisy. You can hear it all around the grounds when it's running. However when you're infront if the barrel you hear a deeply complex blend of harmonics which slowly evolve as the barrel fills and as the material chifts in consistency. What begins as a rough serrated grumble becomes a sloshing whorl. Still the 2 part rhythm is audible - the barrel's physical structure creates a pattern which is completely regular yet divided in 2. As more material is added and the mix becomes heavier the rhythm doesn't slow but deepens: the harmonics generated by the hollow barrel grow richer with the dampening qualities of the mix and new high frequencies emerge around the switch (halfway through the rhythm). The grumble begins to take on a more diffuse, warmer texture and the flow of the rhythm becomes lumpy as the increasingly solid mix ceases to flow and begins to be flung around the barrel. Still the 2-part rhythm defines parameters within which the slop and flow creates its counterpoint, polyrhythms occuring and shifting always within the same bounds. The high frequencies could be the ghost of a melody, or just the screech of a metal caress. The grumble becomes a growl over the course of ten-fifteen minutes until the barrel is released, the finished mix ejected into a wheelbarrow for delivery to the mud-appliers. The barrel returns to its hollow clunk.

If it's not already apparent I found myself drawn hypnosis-like into the sound of the machine. I've always liked the unintentional beauty of machine-noise, the inhuman rhythms and unanthropomorphic, simply mindless flux of utilitarian process. Accidental music. Meanings that happen from a place where intention is impossible is such a startling idea.

After break I brought my Iriver MP3 player to record the sound. Unfortunately I couldn't find the plug-in mike for it (it's here somewhere, in a random pocket or sock) so had to make do with the internal mike - this meant that the sweet spot just infront of the barrel which catches the resonance full-on was missed by the recorder. Still I got about two hours of it, including nonchalant chatter between us workers, and the regular powering up of the solar water heater next to us. Unfortunately this may be my last chance to record it as in the afternoon I spent so much time concentrating on adding the materials slowly enough and at the right points to generate the pleasing sonic additions, Marc came and shouted at me for taking so long. The next day he specifically gave Ben the job.

I had a date in Tel Aviv on Thursday night. Thursday is the start of the weekend here, and the city was just coming alive as I arrived. We had a good time, which involved soup - not always a great thing, but this soup was way above average - and ice cream. I thought it was quite cool that an ice cream parlour stayed open into the evening just like a bar would, but it was even better that about a quarter of the selection were dairy-free sorbets. I had one scoop of chocolate and one of strawberry. They were stunningly nice, though tragically I couldn't finish it after the huge soup. We also got to check out the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which is really very good - if a little heavy on the impressionism for my liking. Still, it's massive and one could easily spend a whole day there.

I'd timed things coming back quite badly. I knew that Jonas and Ben were going to a party in Tel Aviv on Friday and that Marc is away all week at a conference, but hadn't quite resolved the fact of the house to myself with the need to get in. I realised as the taxi pulled up outside that the doors were undoubtedly locked and I didn't have a key. Actually a key had never occurred to me, there always having been someone else in whenever I had previously gone away. I tried all the doors anyway - they were indeed locked. I looked in all possible places for a spare key - either on the part of Marc (unlikely given his conscientiousness) - or my colleagues...nope. It was 4.00PM on Friday and just beginning to get dark - Jonas and Ben would be away until the trains started again at 8.30 Saturday evening. I had plenty of cash but, as the taxi driver had informed me, they (like all other public transport) stop working at 4 on Sabbath. I'd been unintentionally very lucky to get to Bet Shemesh at the time I did. The very real possibility of sleeping outside occurred, step-by-step, through my mind - while in itself not too unpleasant, with no food, no shops open, no bars (or indeed civilisation) within walking distance, and - ah... - no water, as well as the knowledge I would have another fourteen hours after dawn until I could eat, drink, surf, etc. I stood and felt like a bit of a fool for about half an hour. There's a curious kind of dissonance in being locked-out. One can touch the exterior walls, just as one always has before. One can see inside, to the warmth and happy cosiness of convenient access and provision; electricity, refridgerators, cooker and laptop. Yet one is barred from entering. Not morally, just physically. One still has the same right to enter one always did. It's just a material fact that you can't, and yet one which is so important. A mere two feet away is a place which is still exactly the same as it was 24 hours ago, yet it feels so very different simply because of a single lock - or indeed multiple locks. Entry points which were unquestionably transversable in the past and functioned at the flick of a switch from inside now fundamentally prevent a desideratum which is literally close enough to touch. The question 'How is such a thing possible?' hangs unresolved in the mind - the sequence of events is clear, yet the situation feels so unnatural.

In much of life it is easy to spectate the plight of others, their misfortunes, their choices, their approach to life. We all do this from the easy-access inside of our own lives, and frequently find ourselves asking "but why don't they just do x?" If they just made a simple choice then circumstances would resolve so much better. The unacknowledged assumption is that everyone experiences circumstances the same way we do - that the warmth and security (or lack of it) which empowers some is there for everyone, or that the lack of it may not irremediably alter the relationship to the facts of existence, to the world and circumstances we encounter. The world outside is not a single fact - it is conditioned by ones ability to remove oneself, at will, to the inside. The power dynamic does not appear within a factual, reductionist account of the environment, but it is an inextricable element of a subject's experience of that environment.

So, after my thirty minutes of scowly contemplation I did what I should have done to begin with and overcame my humiliation. Marc sounded in a good mood when I called, and told me he wasn't certain but number 16 might have a spare key. Otherwise he didn't know what to suggest.

They did. A young gentleman spoke to Marc on the phone, opened the back door for me bfore striding away, acknowledging "Shabbat Shalom!" with a wave and grin. Yes, now it will be I thought.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Last weekend was my trip to Jerusalem. Crikey, I've got so many photos and so much happened. Two days is obviously not enough to see such a place - really two weeks would be more appropriate. I will have to return at some point, though I'm not sure when.

Getting there was not as simple as Tel Aviv, due to my hitchhiking-failure (it was too early really). In the end I caught a bus rather than train, which in itself was quite good because I got to appreciate some more of the scenery around Bet Shemesh. I was also sitting close to some young yeshiva students from America. It was interesting listening to these talmud scholars in the making discuss their activities and life there, which was clearly very much the same as teenage male life everywhere.

I arrived in the New City and took a stroll in the direction of the Old City. These designations indicate the new Jewish development (largely since 1948), and the older area which is divided between Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians, and exists as a walled complex since - I think - the 1600s or so.

This road was actually King George St. I admire these culture-hackers' proficiency though, it looks perfect until you see the edge of the slightly-askew sticker.

Like I say, the New City is very new. It became almost tiring after a while, to be in a place where all the architecture comes from the same 60 year period, and is all still shiny and undamaged by time's arrows. That said, the architecture is still very nice, and distinctly modernist.

I liked this - slightly polemical? - map.

I dropped into a couple of souvenir shops, both of whom instantly swooned as I was their"first customer today!" and "business very slow". They offered me a generous discount in order to guarantee my custom. I was impressed, and the at first place I bought a couple of nice things and found a handmade amulet with a hexagram and a large amount of hebrew text. I asked him what this meant but he was somewhat coy - I suspected it was some kind of protection charm.

I began the walk to the Old City, stopping only briefly to stroke several stray cats.

Despite the wealth and sophistication of the New City, there are frequent reminders of how new - and unprepared-for - it was. This motorway seems to hang in midair above a deserted construction site which they haven't got around to covering up yet.

This is the approach to Jaffa Gate. The name is really quite amusing these days, it makes me think of newspaper headlines: Prime Minister questioned over Jaffagate cake-or-biscuit scandal!

I had planned my movements quite well. I had a basic map in my Lonely Planet Guide, and was heading toward the Tourist Office to get a proper detailed map, as well as ask questions about location specifics.

Frustratingly, Jerusalem had different plans. Ones that didn't include making my weekend easy. On strike for what, I wonder?

A backpacker I mentioned this to noted that 'tourism' is really one of those public services that the authorities could let strike indefinitely - they would not be met with an ever-increasing pile-up of foreigners queuing for advice, unlike rubbish collection or teaching where disputes are resolved with promptness.

Inside the Old City.

After the Tourist Office I happened into another very sparkly souvenir shop, which had a steady stream of multinationals outside it. I stopped to admire the window display and was quickly accosted by a young Armenian man who was enthused to inform me that I was his "first customer today" and because "business very slow" I would get a special 20% discount. Wankers, I thought cynically. I enquired about some prices and he asked me where I was from "England! You get special 30% discount - I can tell you not rich American!" He was correct, I was not. I spent nearly twenty minutes in the store, during which the price of a particular ornamental knife dropped from 1800 shekhels to 550 and he repeatedly assured me that he was giving me a much better pice than he usually charges because he liked me and I was a young English student. He also ordered for me a very strong and peculiarly earthy tasting Turkish coffee, odd but quite pleasant. This was in no way an attempt to ingratiate me, just a part of his "traditional Armenian hospitality!" he said, always with one eye on the door.

The shopkeepers were beginning to piss me off so I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This was a nice place, but I was feeling too tired (and indeed quite wired from that Turkish coffee) to really appreciate it. Here are some pictures.

I wondered around the dense, frantic markets in the Old City some more, ignoring stallholders' attempts to start conversation. I was disappointed to discover the entire Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslims on Friday and Saturday, though I should have known.

I was staying at New Palm Hostel, just outside Damascus Gate. This is in an Arab area, the difference between here and the New City is quite astonishing.

I was kind of worried by the outside of the hostel. It was the cheapest I could find at 45NIS per night. However inside was like the Tardis (sort of) - freshly marbled walls, everything smelling new, shiny and very upmarket.

They proved to be an incredibly relaxed operation. There was only one key between us for the room, meaning that it could never be locked. The receptionist didn't ask for any money, and defused every question with a hand wave and "don't worry, don't worry".

The dorm room was by far the best in Israel, in fact I think the best hostel room I've had anywhere. The beds were smooth, solid pine, comfy mattresses, non-peeling non-stained wallpaper, and a friendly German room-mate. Couldn't believe my luck.

Although, the view from the window left something to be desired.

Yeah, like - a view. Why create a window at all when the external wall of the hotel obscures any sight of outside? Why not make the floors of the inside match the external windows? What was going on with this place, which seemed increasingly like one hotel stuffed en-mass inside a completely different one?

Johannas, the friendly German, and I took a walk to the Western Wall. Sabbath was rapidly approaching (as rapidly as a day of rest can anyway) and rabbinic fervour was mounting. We watched from beneath our cardboard kippas as spontaneous activity burst from isolated groups of black-clad, enormous hat-wearing men: some sang and danced in circles, some chanted while rocking back and forth, some were trying to call their comrades over. There was no organisation whatsoever, and in a way the scene reminded me of a nightclub as groups of friends perform their own special rituals, lose each other and mingle, constantly jostled by the neighbours.

I'm impressed but also quite surprised that the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site and one which for several centuries (18 in fact) was inaccessible to them, is now open 24 hours a day to anyone and everyone of whatever background or faith. Security is tight, but once in you can do whatever you like there short of photographing, smoking or phoning on the sabbath.

This is a shot from the distance. You can see the Dome of the Rock behind it.

Johannas and I left to get drunk. After a couple of attempts we found a bar which I had read about called Hataklit (The Record). It was happy hour and they were playing Public Enemy, always a good sign. The barman was a young Israeli who had dodged the draft and did little to hide his distaste for typical Israeli politics. There was also an American and and an Australian, and we enjoyed a couple of hours of international banter.

I had quite a nice sleep at the hostel, though the third person in our room snored VERY loudly all night. I left and ate some felafel. God damn, Arab felafel and humus is MUCH better than Israeli. Sorry, but it's true. An amazing breakfast, more than I could eat plus another one of those Turkish coffees for under 20NIS. I also got my chili fix, something I'd been missing the past two weeks. Here they didn't have salt and pepper on the tables - their condiments were two varieties of pickled chili.

I had earmarked some places to visit, and there was a free tour of the Old City at 11AM. First, the Garden Tomb.

This is a site claiming to be the tomb which Joseph of Arimethea provided for Jesus. It is maintained and staffed by an English organisation, which provided the welcome relief of English accents for the first time since I left Birmingham. I felt instantly soothed. The garden itself is very nice, and also quite English funnily enough.

I walked back to the Old City through the markets for the tour and bumped into the friendly American we had met in the bar last night. We took the tour together, and it was really good.

This is an excavated Roman Street, originally 30ft wide.

Glass-encased menorah by the Western Wall

Some Mamluk architecture.

This rooftop is notable because, in the middle of an Arab area it houses a group of Jewish families. The barriers are there for their protection.

Coptic Orthodox Church, on part of Via Dolorosa, I think. The cross here is one that tourists can use to replicate Jesus' fateful journey.

These rooftop dwellings are the last property in the Old City of the Ethiopian Church. It's crazy to think that people live their lievs in these places, but then it's crazy to think that people live in Old Jerusalem itself. The city is so frantic, buzzing with activity and history, different religions and lifestyles jumbled on top of one another with barely space to breathe; a city contained within walls four hundred years old, the holiest place in the world but also somewhere you have to watch your wallet at all times.

Don't remember what this doorway was but it looks nice.

Some photos from the New City, as I ambled around waiting for the trains to start.

This is so bizarre - every brick is numbered according to row and column. It made me think of the Shi'ur Qomah, an early Jewish tradition where God's bodily parts are described, measured and named, all in arcanely inconceivable terms, by Metatron.

The main shopping plaza has some very good sculptures

Old City from outside.

View from Jaffa Gate.

Crusaders, I guess - tastefully hidden by a tree.

View from the ramparts. Usually you can walk a long stretch of the ramparts but of course it was closed for Sabbath. I did stop to chat and drink tea with the doorman though, who was an elderly Israeli who worked there 7 days a week. He was an odd chap, and sort of unnerved me by stroking my arm as he shook my hand. Really appreciated the tea though, I felt much better afterwards.

Armenian church, under repair

Two inside (the doubtless incorrectly named) King David's Tomb

There are two recent BBC articles on Jerusalem which I found quite interesting: the first is an account of life in the city, and from what I can gather entirely accurate. The second is more about the political struggle, but still makes for worthwhile reading.

Nothing else much happening at the farm. I'm working with Marc on the video or putting mud on the wall. Lucy left on Thursday so we're down to just three people now - Benjamin, Jonas and I. I'm gradually writing my PhD proposal which Philip Goodchild at Nottingham has expressed interest in.