Although I’ve been working on culture-related projects for a few years now, I have always considered myself to be someone who hasn’t really drunk the koolaid of the creative economy. For sure, there’s plenty of good stuff going on, but there’s a lot of nonsense too and a lot of people believing their own mythology.
Hence when Arshad and I went down to Digbeth for a meeting with Phil Hession yesterday I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was prepared to be broadly cynical. Phil is in Birmingham for a few short weeks with a residency based at Grand Union. He’s built a splendidly Heath Robinson contraption which enables him to record audio onto CDs by etching them with a nail, much like cutting a groove on a record:
He’s been experimenting with this device, taking it out into Digbeth and recording ambient noises, snatches of stories and songs as well as some of his own singing. Each CD contains about 2 minutes of recording and can be played back on a standard record player. The playback sound is very like early wax cylinder recordings, lots of crackle and noise, space and atmosphere, all underpinned by the rhythmic cranking of the mechanical arm used to drive the cutting of the CD.
Phil sings very beautifully, demonstrating the process to Arshad and myself by making a recording of him singing in the studio space.
This is genuinely joyful stuff. What struck me, however, was that this was almost the opposite of cultural intermediation. Phil hadn’t really worked out what he wanted to do with the recordings or even, really, why he was doing them at all other than the fact that he could and that it was kinda cool.
He’s got a show coming up in Digbeth in early March. Definitely worth checking out.