Afternoon Dust

nathan's blog

Why listen to music?

It’s that feeling again, that nameless anxiety, the squeeze of the shoulders and tightness of the neck, the shallow breathing: shouldn’t I be doing something? Starting a campaign. Joining a political party. Writing erudite polemical rants for The Guardian. Almost anything other than what I’m doing now, in fact. Which is sitting on the sofa, listening to music.

Laura Oldfield Ford — Chthonic Reverb

The dérive was invented by the Letterist International in the 1950s, so it is said, though its roots go back much further, to Baudelaire’s notion of the flâneur and probably beyond. Pick an orientation, start walking; change direction on an impulse, an intuition, drawn by the name of a street, the shape of a traffic island, the forlornness of a tree. Be led by the city. This practice is central to Laura Oldfield Ford’s work as an artist, and the starting point of her new exhibition at Birmingham artist-run space Grand Union.


A friend recently asked me to dig something out of my archive for him, but somewhere amidst the years’ multiple computer and OS changes the fragment of writing he was looking for seems to have vanished. I did manage to find the following poem, which struck me as seeming particularly resonant in these uncertain days, hence the posting:


We tread carefully, dust clinging
to our feet; the clicking
of latches.
Thoughts unpacking themselves.

Where we go there are no
footprints, only inverted shadows:

we can’t pronounce
the name of our country,
the nation to which
we belong.

The sun charts our progress
with her sextant.
Windows open and close,
their frames glistening
like the surface of a lake
seen from below.

Voting with my conscience

I suppose it’s about time I set out my position on the forthcoming UK referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union. I thought about discussing the factual inaccuracy and irrationality of some of the arguments being put forth by proponents of both options on the ballot paper, but I realised that this would be pointless, because this isn’t a referendum that will be decided by reason or rationality. Besides, I came to understand that my own leanings around this issue were ultimately based less on reason than on a certain kind of faith. But more on that later.

Reading notes: listening, openness, migration

Every Song Ever by Ben Ratliff

On holiday I read Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now, by New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff. The author’s intention was to propose strategies for listening to and appreciating music in an era when vast amounts of it are available for free on the Internet, through legal streaming services services or illicit downloads. His starting assumption was that technological and economic shifts have produced corresponding changes in listening habits, requiring different approaches to the art if we are going to get the most out of it. I wandered glibly into the book, thinking it would be entertaining to read something by a professional, qualified music critic; I came away with a bit more than I’d bargained for.


And that, folks, was the 100th post on Afternoon Dust.

Manon de Boer — Framed In An Open Window

“The present could be the past; it is the past.”1

The demolition of Birmingham Central Library

Listen to demolition vehicles rip into the old Birmingham Central Library, while a busker bugles merrily on.

In The Future They Ate From The Finest Porcelain

I’m in a darkened space, watching actors in another darkened space act out dreams and memories. I hear a conversation between a woman and her therapist: the woman describes a dream in which porcelain plates rain from the sky, at first floating gently like leaves but gradually falling harder and harder, until she is cowering beneath a deluge of porcelain. She also discusses her younger sister, who was violently killed at the age of nine by unnamed ruling forces, and who sometimes still appears to her in her dreams. On screen, I see two girls in what looks, to my untrained eye, like traditional Middle Eastern dress; the older girl reaches out to the younger, who turns away.

John Akomfrah — Vertigo Sea

An onslaught of images: boats sailing, drifting, floundering; waves surging and crashing; schools of fish and flocks of birds darting and dancing in shapes and patterns that sometimes resemble whales comprised of hundreds of individual gleaming parts; pineapples and coconuts hanging from branches by pieces of string; extremely graphic scenes of whales being slaughtered and butchered, huge slabs of meat the size of breezeblocks being pushed down holes or suspended from crane hooks; people dressed in exquisite period dress, posing almost immobile in a series of tableaus vivantes, dozing and dreaming on picnic rugs, or writing intensely with quill and ink; fat rain drumming on an intricately-decorated silver helmet, making a dull pinging rhythm.