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.

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