A soundchronicity experiment with Keith Fullerton Whitmanâ€™sÂ album Generator
Iâ€™m sick of the way my head swivels about on my neck.
Left to right… right to left… straight ahead.
I spend my days looking around at things: cars, trees, strangers, walls, the contents of my fridge, the expression of concern on my familyâ€™s faces.
Yes, I know what exactly youâ€™re thinking, thereâ€™s always the option of looking down.
True. You can just about navigate the streets while staring only at pavements, drains and fag butts. When Iâ€™m tired of looking around at things I spend a lot of time looking down. Thereâ€™s a great deal going for it.
Stick on your earphones. Ignore the periphery. And hey presto, youâ€™re a passenger in your own body, passively watching the ground rush beneath you.
But try walking while staring up at the sun, the stars, the moon, the infinity of space. Itâ€™s difficult. Suddenly youâ€™re disconnected. No compass, no direction, and the fear youâ€™ll skid on a terrine of dog-shit and disappear down a manhole.
For weeks at a time I forget to look at the sky. No, actually. Not forget. I donâ€™t bother.
Thereâ€™s a rival to the sky and itâ€™s called the spreadsheet, the unwashed pot, the shit-soaked nappy the dog has just shredded on the bed.
I rarely pay attention to what’s above me.Â I miss the upness of things.
IntroducingÂ Whitman’s Upness Generator
Two days ago I headed out to the marshes with Keith Fullerton Whitmanâ€™s Generator on my iPod. In this collection he sets in motion a series of self modulating electronic sequences. Pulses, bleeps and drones organise themselves into cosmic mindfuck odysseys.
The result is what seems to be an accidental sonic universe. Except, of course, itâ€™s guided by the hand of Whitman, the pantheistic god who gets the ball rolling, sets the parameters, cuts, arranges, selects.
As I listened to Generator‘s cosmic swell my eyes were lifted heavenwards. And there it was. The beginning of the rest of the universe. AÂ gateway planet of cloud mountains, blue lakes andÂ islands.
â€śThatâ€™s it!â€ť I remarked to Hendrix, who was sniffing his own piss. â€śFor the rest of today Iâ€™m only looking up!â€ť
I strode onto the Hackney Marshes arena with my head tilted skywards like a solar panel, electronic oscillations in my ears, calling â€śHendrix, Hendrix, Hendrix!â€ť to make sure the dog stayed close.
Near the trees I could navigate easily, but once out onto the playing fields it I could see almost only sky. It was as if I’d been lifted from the ground.
Like Fullerton Whitmanâ€™s music, the London sky is organic and industrial. Itâ€™s only like nature.
You can stare up and try toÂ imagine you’reÂ anywhere in the world. But donâ€™t be fooled. This vista is London born and bred. Thereâ€™s always a crane, pylon or tower stabbing at the periphery of your vision. Youâ€™reÂ like aÂ junkie fantasising about clean white sheets while slumped in a nest of needles.
On this day the sky was busy. A blimp floated over Leyton.Â Areoplanes traced the geometry of routes created by stressed air-traffic controllers. And circling the earth above, a halo of space rubbish, satellites and dead Russian dogs.
It struck me. The topography of the London sky is as decayed and human as the city below. Except for one difference. The clouds arenâ€™t a liminal landscape between country and city, theyâ€™re the edgelands between earth and infinity.
As Generator‘s self-perpetuating synths pulsed and fornicated the universe grew larger and more discordant. CosmicÂ battles raged above.Â Time unfolded. I stopped andÂ watched as the sun burned a hole through a mass of black cloud sulking through the cirrus.
Suddenly I didnâ€™t feel like walking any more. This A-to-B lark seemed a bit pointless, considering the vastness of everything.
I sat down on the green grass. Then I lay on my back. Then I told myself something I already knew.
The moral of the story, with thanks to Jeremy Kyle, Sesame Street etc.
The trouble with looking down too much is that it makes you feel bigger than you really are. For that moment when you stare in disgust at the moron whoâ€™s pushed past you in the bank queue, you believe youâ€™re a giant in a world of Lilliputians.
But look up at the sky and you’ll realise that youâ€™re two ants arguing over a leaf smeared in bird shit.
POSTSCRIPT – Bluperint for the Human of the Future
Bollocks to being humble. I wish I really was a giant ruler leading a world of Lilliputians. If this were to be the case, Iâ€™d order top scientists to breed a new kind of human being. One that can navigate the streets and behold the vastness of sky at the same time. A human permanently aware of the infinite.
Perhaps they could startÂ him offÂ in a jar, then progress from there. I donâ€™t know, Iâ€™m not an expert.
Whatever, I’d hand over something like this to my scientists.