THE PLAGIARIST Strikes Back: Losing the Plot (Again)

When I signed up to participate in the segment of the Leeds Bookend Festival curated by Pastiche Magazine, which has been good enough to publish my work in the past, I figured it would be a good lineup and moreover, the availability of a multimedia lot meant I would have the opportunity to try something I’d been wanting to do for years, namely the full PLAGIARIST multisensory live experience.

It was a gamble: one of those pieces that if I pulled it off, it would be spectacular and annihilative all at once. But if it didn’t quite happen, it wouldn’t so much be a disaster as a pathetic disappointment, akin to Spinal Tap’s ‘Stonehenge’ debacle. Conceivably one of the funniest moments in film, you wouldn’t want to be in the band it actually happened to. But artistic achievement is all about risk-taking.

The idea was to take one of the versions of film I’d posted on YouTube (I’d made three different edits), remove the bulk of the audio track of me reading, add significantly more white noise and feedback audio (a ‘sample’ of course) and then perform the bulk of the reading live. What could be simpler?

Aware that I only had a couple of weeks I set to work straight away. By which I mean I set to scouring my hard-drive for the files, but to no avail. The final AVI files were there, but not the editable projects, which I’d (foolishly) assembled in Windows Movie Maker. They weren’t on my backup hard-drive either. I should by now have realised I was asking for trouble in having offered to take the slot, which was still unconfirmed. Nevertheless, I figured they were probably on the hard-drive of the PC I’d used to produce thee original film, which was still in storage in the loft. So,at the weekend, after an hour and a half trying to locate the old HP base unit and monitor, and another half an hour almost breaking my neck trying to lug it down the loft ladder perched on top of my head, I discovered that the project files were missing. This left me with a week to recreate something that had taken me almost two months to create the first time around,some three years previous. But at least I had made an important decision: to flog the old desktop, because it’s needlessly cumbersome and completely redundant (although I do yearn for a more solid keyboard than the one on my new Toshiba Satellite Pro, which is nice enough laptop overall but doesn’t type as well as my old Asus. Yeah, yeah, workman, tools, etc.).

As I slogged away for a succession of late nights, I became increasingly square-eyed and more concerningly, debilitated and frantic in equal measure. Progress was reasonably swift, and infinitely less fraught than thee first time around, partly because I knew what as doing and partly thanks to a significantly more powerful computer. Even so, as the deadline loomed I had to break off to complete my research for, compile questions and then conduct an interview with Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line for Paraphilia Magazine. He’s in LA, I’m in York and I had to sync times and dick about with software as I’d lost the programme I used to record Skype hook-ups when the Asus had croaked a couple of weeks before.

Having the interview in the bag and an email confirming times for Saturday’s show didn’t resolve my reservations about performing what was perhaps my most brutally confrontational conception in a shopping centre in a large city in the late afternoon / early evening. The lineup, however, was excellent, and included a number of writers I’ve been impressed by in the past, notably Rab Ferguson, Laurence Reilly and ‘punk poet’ Henry Raby.

Anyway, Saturday rolled around and I had my reworked audiovisual tracks ready and while I knew there’d be a projector and screen, wasn’t sure about a PA so bunged my speakers – a pair of Labtec Spin 85s I’ve had for about eight years – into my rucksack before heading for a train. I’d road-tested them in the living room after they’d been in storage for a couple of years in the loft and was pleased by how much poke they had given their dimensions and wattage. I was reasonably well-rehearsed, but had elected to pick some passages at random in keeping with the spirit of both the book and the performance. The only real downer was that I’d developed conjunctivitis in my left eye, which was by now swollen and streaming. I also managed to get confused about train departures and arrivals in relation to the slot, so arrived more than an hour early to find the place dead.

At least I’d located the venue and this uncommon error on my part afforded me an hour in which to sip a leisurely pint of the Magic Rock Brewing Company’s superbly hopped High Wire West Coast Pale Ale (5.5%ABV) in the Brewery Tap and read some of Jim Thompson’s Savage Night while I reflected and mopped my eye, which was growing increasingly itchy and painful.

On my way back to the Customer Service Lounge, where the readings were taking place, I took the time to truly soak in The Trinity shopping centre. I ambled casually past the shops – standard fare and then some: H&M, Boots, Next, a new Primark to be opened later in the year – and made a lap of the watering holes I’d bypassed in my eagerness to hit the Tap. It was in passing these sleek, anonymous façades that I began to feel particularly uncomfortable, and peering in past my reflection in the plate-glass frontages and through blurred eyes into the interiors the the full horror of the air-conditioned nightmare that is The Trinity really hit me. The Trinity is a faceless, shiny architectural vacuum of personality that is in so many ways the physical manifestation of the multi-layered geometrical hells Ballard depicted in High Rise and The Atrocity Exhibition.

It wasn’t simply the construction and layout and the lack of soul, but the vapid, superficial nonentities it seemed to be packed with, all shouting at one another to be heard over the reverberated sounds of music and other people’s interlocutions and telephone conversations. This was all amplified through my own filters, and as such my response to the situation was more pronounced and more acute, but even had I not been feeling particularly edgy, I would have still felt an intense paranoia as I paced by traversal to make a suitably timely arrival at my destination.

Before the event got under way, I had the opportunity to chat with Henry Raby, and to speak briefly with Laurence Reilly, who informed me that reading The Gimp had left him somewhat traumatised. I deferred thinking what kind of effect the piece I as about to do might have. Frustratingly, I would have to leave before Henry’s session-ending multimedia piece, but Rab Ferguson would subsequently deliver a reading that was confident and solid and Laurence’s performance – and performance is the word – was immensely powerful: he guy really got out of his skin and into character.

As the first few of speakers took their turns following a brief introduction from curator and Pastiche editor Clare DeTamble, I found myself struggling, again with the space and the context, namely of a large bright-lit area resembling an airport lounge, with an pen front and situated off a large brightly-lit concourse. The customer service desk, compute terminals and large-screen TV with BBC News 24 playing silently but with subtitles all contributed to the disconnected sensation and the strangeness of the whole thing. Most of those present were either reading or had come along with a reader for moral support. The Trinity staff would occasionally answer the phone, but mostly milled about distractedly, but very few casuals crossed the threshold, and even fewer took seats.

It wasn’t entirely surprising: I found myself struggling as I watched the other readers. It was no discredit to their texts or performances that I was finding it difficult to focus on their words, as they were half-buried in passing noise and conversations. Even amplified, I suspect it would have been a challenge. And it was at this point that I realised THE PLAGIARIST REWIRED was the perfect piece for the setting.

Having endured torture of shopping mall, it was only right I should be afforded my revenge and wreak psychic havoc on the very location that caused me such existential alienation and distress. By the time it was my turn, I was adrenalized and raring to go. The lack of volume, the less than perfect angling of the screen, the small audience, the TV in the background, the weird, bright performance space that no-one could possibly describe as an auditorium… none of it mattered.

I paced the area in front of the audience like a man possessed, stamping one way and then the other, and then standing close to the front and presenting a confrontation stance. Behind dark glasses (handy at the best of times, essential for creating mystique and hiding the sick eye) I was wired and observed an array of expressions ranging from nonplussed to horrified. I was in the zone. The words flowed from me at increasing volume and pace as the images flickered and the shards of noise shot from the speakers – not nearly as loudly as Id have liked, but still, the effect was there. As the piece reached its climax, the words looped and fragmented, while the images strobed behind me and electronic white noise completed the sensory assault.

My other prior engagement back in York meant I had to slip out during the next speaker’s set, so I wasn’t able to stick around for feedback and to gauge the reaction. I suspect most of those who witnessed the performance thought I’d lost the plot. And that’s fine, because as I always say, plot’s overrated anyway.

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism VIII: State of Independence, or, All’s Well at The Inkwell

The seven ‘Changing Face of Consumerism’ articles I ran on MySpace in 2008 and 2008 all shared a common theme, namely lamenting the sad decline of the real – both in media and commodity, with ‘reality’ television being a pisspoor ersatz approximation of any reality I’ve ever known, and ‘real’ shopping experiences being slowly subsumed by the virtual marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progress, and have long been a big fan of on-line shopping, being one who doesn’t cope well with crowds or endless hours of pavement-pounding in search of goods, but by the same token, I’m a strong advocate of consumer choice. Despite what the global marketplace on-line tells us, we as consumers do not have infinite choice, not least of all because while some niche outlets fare well on-line, many have gone to the wall because the same kind of corporate giants that slowly erased all of the small independent stores from the high streets of each and every town have steamrollered the little on-line traders out.

As city centres everywhere become identikit clones of anywheresville, so our sense of location becomes diminished: the only thing to differentiate, say, Leeds from Lincoln, isn’t the choice of shops, but the size of each branch, and after a mooch round M&S, Boots, Game and HMV, stopping for a uniform coffee in a Starbucks or Costa before going on to… well, it doesn’t matter. I mean it really doesn’t matter where you are, the experience is pretty much the same. Fine, so you know what you’re going to get, but the experience of discovering a little specialist shop tucked away somewhere is radically different and appeals to a whole range of senses. However hard Amazon try to replicate the browsing experience of specialist independent book and record stores with features like ‘look inside’ and the song snippets you can listen to, in addition to the list of recommendations based on what you’re looking at and what other shoppers have also purchased or viewed that functions as a mimesis of the friendly and enthusiastic guy behind the counter who just loves his books or music and knows everything there is to know, like a living, walking encyclopedia, it just isn’t the same. There’s no substitute for browsing.

And so it was that I was practically skipping when The Inkwell opened in York a few weeks ago. A little shop stocking secondhand books, records (with a few selected new titles), CDs and cards, it’s the kind of shop you used to drop into, rummage around and find something wonderful you didn’t even know you wanted. The owner, Paul Lowman, is clearly an unashamed enthusiast first and a businessman second, and while such a venture is the kind that will never make him rich, and would make many lenders and entrepreneurs alike squirm in discomfort, it’s a shopper’s delight. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Inkwell is aimed at a niche market (by which I mean discerning shoppers: Paul’s philosophy is according to the website, “COOL STUFF FOR ALL!” Popular Culture is about democracy – inclusivity, not exclusivity) specialising as it does in books on music, film and pop culture, with sections on the Beat Generation, Art, Philosophy and a noteworthy – not to mention impressive – selection of pulp paperbacks, all in remarkably good condition (yet reasonably priced, with titles marked up at between six and ten quid).

The vinyl, too, is all in great nick, and the range, though limited, is all about quality and catering to a particular kind of discerning alt/hipster customer. There’s no mainstream pap to be found on the racks: instead, there are sections devoted to Garage, Psych, 90s Indie, Spoken Word / Comedy, and even Burlesque. Yes, if you want the kitsch sleaze of yesteryear, then the range of sexploitation titles in both audio and written media is exceptional.

It’s a tiny little place, made all the more cramped by there being a pair of school desks in the middle of the room, upon which a choice of books are casually laid. It’s all about the browsing experience (they serve coffee too), and an eclectic mix of music is spun – at high volume, and all on vinyl, naturally – on the turntable in the corner by the counter. Of course, it’s simply one’s man’s vision, one man’s obsession made manifest… but what’s wrong with that? But equally, why should a shop such as this succeed in a climate where major chains are going to the wall? The answer, I believe, is simple. In attempting to appeal to everyone, the major chains ultimately cater for no-one. In aiming to cover a vast market based on some kind of assumed generic average consumer and broad populism, the chains become Xerox copies of one another: reliable, perhaps, but ultimately forgettable and wholly impersonal. A shop like The Inkwell isn’t about conquering the world or trying to cater to all tastes: it knows its market and knows it well – because by being the shop its owner wants it to be, it’s catering for like-minded individuals (there’s that word again!). It’s unique in every way, and every item in stock is essentially a one-off. It has the personal touch and is memorable. And that’s why it has a better than average chance of success.

So, on the opening day I left with a brand new hardback copy of Brion Gysin: Dream Machine (a bargain at a tenner given that it retails at £25), a read but respectable copy of The Dark Stuff by Nick Kent (£3) and a vinyl LP – a copy of Fade Out by Loop, again in top condition (EX as Record Collector would have it), for a fiver.

I returned this week and was pleased to see some of the stock had gone and new stuff had taken its place, meaning I was able to add a copy of the original 1971 Olympia Press edition of S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanas to my library. The tenner asking price was more than fair, especially given the condition.

Does The Inkwell represent the vanguard of the counter-revolution in the world of retail? Perhaps not, but I’d like to think that other independent stores will begin to pop up, not just in York, but in every city, and soon. It’s unlikely that this is how the economic situation will be recovered, but being able to rifle some good books and records in a pleasant environment certainly makes these dark times a lot more bearable.

The Inkwell Online is cool – www.ink-well.co.uk – but not nearly as cool as being there.

 

Inkwell

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk