David Toop – “Voices Through Smog”
Thursday 10th February – 19:00-21:30 – Book Tickets
Smog is a composite of smoke and fog, a term coined in the late 19th or early 20th century to describe an urban confluence of industrial and domestic airborne pollution. London was famous for its so-called ‘pea soupers’ and in 1979 I interviewed my grandfather – Syd Senior – and uncle – Bob Purver – on the subject. At the time I was working on a reminiscence aid project, exploring possibilities for helping elderly people suffering from memory loss. I still have the tape, recorded with the three of us gathered around the fireplace, my grandfather and uncle delving into memories of impenetrable smogs and the acetylene flares used to light a way through them, along with other memories stimulated by our conversation, particularly food, drink, economics and the pressure of patriotism in the early 20th century. In recent years I have been using bone conduction speakers to play back tapes that have some meaning in my personal memories, amplifying them in performance with small transient resonators made from metal, wood and paper. Old voices and music, usually from the dead, come to life through these humble materials. The poor quality of the tapes combines with the physical characteristic of the resonators to create sounds that are thin, ghostly and intermittent, as if transmitted through some ethereal radio of things. Retrospectively, we can see that smog was an omen, a sign of what was to become an emergency in our lifetime. For painters like Monet and Whistler the London fogs were fascinating phenomena in which objects became hazy and obscured. Similarly the tapes I play back through tiny bone conduction speakers are voices of lost worlds, musical forms that have disappeared or the reminiscences of my now long-dead ancestors.
Voices Through Smog is a performance for bone conduction loudspeakers, tapes, resonators, electronics and other instruments.
David Toop (born 1949) plays bone conduction, resonators and buzzers, strings, paper, magnetism, archival memories, flutes, electricity and other materials. He has been developing a practice that crosses boundaries of sound, listening, music and materials since 1970. This encompasses improvised music performance, writing, electronic sound, field recording, exhibition curating, sound art installations and opera. It includes eight acclaimed books, including Rap Attack (1984), Ocean of Sound (1995), Sinister Resonance (2010), Into the Maelstrom (2016), Flutter Echo, a memoir first published in Japan in 2017 (2019) and Inflamed Invisible: Writing On Art and Sound 1976-2018 (2019). Briefly a member of David Cunningham’s pop project The Flying Lizards in 1979, he has released fourteen solo albums, from New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments on Brian Eno’s Obscure label (1975) and Sound Body on David Sylvian’s Samadhisound label (2006) to Entities Inertias Faint Beings (2016) and Apparition Paintings (2021) on ROOM40. His 1978 Amazonas recordings of Yanomami shamanism and ritual were released on Sub Rosa as Lost Shadows (2016). In recent years his collaborations include Rie Nakajima, Akio Suzuki, Tania Caroline Chen, John Butcher, Ken Ikeda, Elaine Mitchener, Henry Grimes, Sharon Gal, Camille Norment, Sidsel Endresen, Alasdair Roberts, Lucie Stepankova, Fred Frith, Thurston Moore, Ryuichi Sakamoto and a revived Alterations, the iconoclastic improvising quartet with Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack and Terry Day first formed in 1977. Curator of sound art exhibitions including Sonic Boom at the Hayward Gallery (2000), his opera – Star-shaped Biscuit – was performed as an Aldeburgh Faster Than Sound project in 2012. His most recent record releases include Garden of Shadows and Light, a duo with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Breathing Spirit Forms with Akio Suzuki and Lawrence English and Until the Night Melts Away with John Butcher and Sharon Gal.