RAFT on RESONANCE 104.4 fm Episode 13

Tune in to Resonance 104.4 fm on Tuesday 15th October, 5 pm, for episode 13 of RAFT!

Credits for this month’s episode:

“The Whale” composed and performed by Zashiki Warashi Taiko & Flute duo

“The Whale and the Thames” Written and narrated by Chiara Ambrosio

A conversation with Simon Seddon at Pollocks Toy Shop

DEEPMIND

The city has a deep mind hidden away from its body- recoiled from its muddy veins and sinews- a deep mind that holds itself apart like a secret incantation, only partly understood. It stirs in its tall glass womb, probing its own hidden depths to learn how deep it can burrow without flesh to bind it.

The deep mind sees the skin of the city, fragile paper shroud stretched by humble hands touched by the ages; it watches it tear and stain with the dirty small print of tiny bodies and brief lives that hardly leave a mark, and yet are caught, one way or another, in the fabric of this story. It tries to understand, but subtle interventions and  small transgressions cannot be deciphered by the deep mind, its synapses blinded by their own scope and ambition, missing the smallest signals like the smallest fish slipping through the trawling nets.

The city has a deep mind that watches it grow old, then young again, in an endless cycle of death and rebirth. It casts its shadow over the fractured ages that only the deep mind can grasp all at once, sweeping over them all like a cloud, teasing out what remains like splinters sticking out from unpolished wooden floorboards, absorbing them in the network.

The city has a deep mind that spins an invisible story, longer than all of the ages of the city put together. It started before the clay turned to brick, and now it lingers, unsure of what comes next because the signals have grown unclear. 

The city has a deep mind that dreams itself awake at night. 

It searches for its reflection on the slumbering dark waters of the flowing river, finding only the face of another- but somewhere deep beyond it a promise of itself, someday, when the visions of sleep become the bare white bones over which to start building anew.

 

THESE LONDON BONES

The longer you dig, the further they burrow, these London bones.

Brittle and smooth, bleached by the tides, they rattle with every pull and heave. 

They float on the surface of the swollen river, exoskeletons given to the air, just beyond reach.

Unable to support motion, they drift with the currents instead, choking their spent stories down in the mud, until a tug draws them back to the light, sputtering, tattered and broken.

Mute runes, your discarded meaning will come alight again once pieced back together by fingers dirty from the digging.

ROOTS

They cut a hole inside the concrete floor in front of the tallest building, the one that casts its shadow over the belfry of the cathedral, dampening the ring of its bells.

Inside the hole, a tangle of roots, wet and hard, heaved, breathless from the burrowing, like sweating tissue inside an open wound.

A musty odour rolled out and over the pavement of the city towards the dark river, summoned by its changing tides, leaving a dark imprint on the white concrete as it flowed.

I stared into the hole at the roots.

Enveloped in darkness, clusters of light emerged like boats out at sea- fishing boats blinking their lights over a vast and immense expanse of space.

A city seen from above, in its complexity and multiplicity, flattened, unraveled, cast out as a net in which constellations are caught.

Like when observing a galaxy, more becomes visible the further away we get.

Moving vehicles are light signals, pulsating through the night, roads the lit-up arteries that connect urban organs together and keep them irrigated and alive.

When seen from above these electric networks appear as mystical and poetic systems, devoid of their mechanics.

Night reveals the delicate essence, the tenuous connections, but it also erases nuances: the small details need to be stumbled upon in order to become visible again.

Come back to the ground, and look up: the sky is never black, but a milky hue that absorbs all the light spilling out from streetlamps and windows, suffocating the stars, lost in that bright labyrinth.

And the roots that heave below the pavement, waiting for a crack to return and reclaim the surface with their throbbing, uncontainable grace.

Every little twig will burn.

A FOLD IN TIME

It fades into view-

My home, my vessel, airborne and unmoored.

 

The city, my body, my story.

 

A place and a time, to settle over all other places and times

Like dust on a table.

 

No more than a mote, but I move through these streets like electricity, for a while,

And they are crowded with the living and the dead,

And their stories, buried in the ground, will turn to brick

and rise once more.

 

A fold in time, 

And the years gather together on the shores of this river, 

watching a familiar face appear, once more,

against the darkening sky.

Same eyes, same hat, same words in the mouth,

hands folding yellowing paper-

ancient secrets, simple spells, still hidden, still crumpled, still lonely.

 

Turn the pages of the night,

a black book on which silver ink glistens, tracing shapes twice forgotten-

A bird, a flight, a wilderness before the flood.

 

Backs turn as I walk by.

 

The city, our stories, our darkness,

A gathering of elements on the horizon, 

Fire and ice rewriting the boundaries of our loneliness

While we stand in doorways, waiting for the storm to blow over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAFT on RESONANCE 104.4 fm Episode 9

Listen again now!

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Tune in to Resonance 104.4 fm on Tuesday 21st May, 5 pm, for episode 9 of RAFT!

This month’s credits:

“A Fold in Time” written and narrated by Chiara Ambrosio with an improvisation by Zashiki Warashi Taiko and Flute duo.

“Walking Ella, one morning in Haggerston Park”, a conversation with filmmaker and activist Andrea Luka Zimmerman

“Shackle the Dust” written and performed by Bird Radio, featuring Camberwell College of Art improvisation group Stairway to Limbo.

THE BRIDGE (Some thoughts about Extinction Rebellion and beyond)

Waterloo Bridge at dusk never felt so close to Utopia.

In the darkening sky the full moon faded into its bright shape, rising between brutalist buildings and the mercurial river, overlooking a garden growing out of cement, against all odds.

The tarmac, adorned with drawings of whales, birds, flowers, butterflies, bees- relieved for a while of its heavy burden- did what it could to conjure green fields and the heady bustling of microscopic life crawling within it. The same life that is fading out of existence on our planet species by species, day by day.

Bright city lights appearing on the horizon and above our heads reminded us that this was still a metropolis, bound to its rhythms and rituals- and yet today, somehow, so different from yesterday.

The eerie quiet of a road overtaken by feet, song, bodies: an incongruous pedestrian choreography reclaiming its place in the middle, not just on the edges- where it is often too easily framed out of view.

A disgruntled young man, one of those people so often unseen, was walking up the bridge complaining aggressively about the chalk flowers and the peaceful uprising to a tired policewoman clad in bright yellow, who in turn replied with her concerns about austerity, and how profoundly it had depleted the city’s resources. As they walked along the bridge side by side, their conversation quickly turned to the universal right to speak up and be heard, touching on the fundamental principles of civilian coexistence, and the inner workings of a system that is failing most.

I thought about how a space like this, cleared of its business, cleared of its speed, can turn into a truly democratic place for debate, a Petri dish in which everyone has a chance to be seen and heard, no matter how small, slow, uncouth, quiet or marginal.

The gesture of the public reclaiming public space is a powerful reminder of how things can be, against everything we are told to the contrary. Bodies have the power to clog the arteries of the city-as-commerce and reframe our collective view onto the city as a space for exchange, growth, and- above all- care. It can also provide a necessary access to other realities, often invisible to our own, as the bridge becomes a conduit and a connector- a space in between here and there- however far the distance between any given here and there may be.

A few days before Extinction Rebellion declared the beginning of two weeks of disruption in London, I was walking at night along an unusually deserted Southbank on my way to the Tate Modern for an all-night performance of Gavin Bryars“Jesus’ blood never failed me yet”.

This seminal piece was composed as a series of arrangements for orchestra to accompany the voice of an unnamed homeless man singing a psalm, that Bryars recorded on the streets of London in 1971 while collecting sounds for a documentary about Elephant and Castle, and then looped over and over, turning the voice into a steady, unbreakable pulse at the very centre of the music.

On that night, Tate Modern stood dimly lit on the banks of the Thames: people slid quietly in and out of its only open door at this unusual hour, while the elegant trees glowing green shivered in the breeze like gentle sentinels.

The hall inside the Tanks was a raft, a shelter open to all who would be saved. Audience and players shared the same space, gathered in a circle around the frail but unbroken voice of an unnamed, long-gone old man, rising above his own marginal existence to possess the building and all those inside it for the entire duration of the piece- 12 hours. Different sections of the orchestra took turns in accompanying his voice, at times sustaining its flight, at others guarding its intimacy, with absolute commitment and devotion.

This performance of the piece was presented in association with Streetwise Opera, The Museum of Homelessness, The Academy of St Martins in the Fields and other organisations who work with people who experience or have experienced homelessness. And so the art gallery became, for one night, the real shelter it ought to be: the lost, the wandering, the homeless, the curious, were all welcomed in; some listened in rapture, others slept on the floor by the walls, hot drinks and food were provided for free throughout the night, and for 12 hours all shame, prejudice, categorization and division crumbled before the unshakeable truth of one man’s voice testifying to the hardships, dreams and courage of all.

No altar or pulpit was needed for that kind of communion: together we floated on the waves released by the sound of the man’s voice, the strings, the choir, the brass, guitar and percussion, beating like one large, heavy heart.

It takes great courage to see and hear things into existence, to allow for anyone who might, to occupy their rightful place on this planet. By placing the homeless man’s voice at the centre of the matter, quite literally, Bryars was exercising his privilege- the privilege of not being homeless, tired, constantly holding on to the edge with broken fingernails- to create a shared space for reflection and revelation, to propose, through his imagination, a way to recast the world in a more fair and just balance.

Too often we accept to unsee what upsets us, whether through shame, pain, or fear. We allow one single narrative to cast its long and dense shadow over all others, until we too are blind to everything but the surface. We unsee the cracks and what takes shelter inside them, we unsee the slippage, the overspill, the torn edges, the rips and tears in the fabric of our own reality. We unsee the truth in the lines on our faces, we unhear the voices pleading for our attention, help, and care- often even our own voice, troubled by the effort.

And the city aids us in this process of erasure, enhancing our speed, the distance between us and our introversion, pushing us further inside our bodies, away from our limbs, making us recoil like snails inside the most hidden part of our chests- shoulders tense, arms disengaged, safe from contact, safe from action, safe from deliverance. Alone, silent, impotent and withheld.

Reclaiming the centre of the street as a place in which to reach out from within our individual stories- colliding with other bodies moving along complementary trajectories, amplifying one another’s voice, offering and receiving shelter- is a radical practice of empathy and defiance, a necessary exercise in courage, commitment and humility.

Today we rise as Extinction Rebellion, focusing the attention on climate justice, and on the worlds’ governments urgent need to declare a climate crisis and act now- but beyond the timeframe of these two weeks, what remains is our urgent need to connect to one another and engage in conversations that can bridge over the torrents of division swelling everywhere around us, challenging the destructive, hypnotising refrain of “business as usual”.

Waterloo Bridge, now “cleared”, will continue to dream of the week in which it grew into a garden, as it continues its patient practice of joining together two opposing sides.

This kind of rebellion is a matter of survival and it can no longer be avoided.

“To those who do not know that the world is on fire, I have nothing to say.” Bertolt Brecht