Analogue Amnesty

Yesterday I visited Rachael Matthews and we had an extremely productive day. First of all we did some cooking, eating and washing-up. The washing-up can be heard on my Domestic Soundscape blog as soon as I get to write it up. One of the things I am extremely interested in with the washing-up project is how individual people will vary the task according to their own political/crafty/personality traits. Rachael is a knitter and a maker, so many of her insights about dish-washing relate to handmade cloths, but I was also really fascinated by her sensitive observations on the architecture of her kitchen and her adaptation of it, so that it suits her hospitality and not the bachelorhood of the house’s designer. Rachael also possesses a fascinating collection of tea-towels, including a war-time tea-towel that entreats men to ‘do their duty.’ Obviously the motto refers to duties inherent in war but for Rachael the tea-towel carries a revised message and entreats men to remember to contribute to the household. ‘Men: do your washing-up duty!’ she said yesterday, waving her hands enthusiastically at the tea-towel.

After washing-up and taking down the walking stick cosy display, (which was a bit sad) we went to Tatty Devine (which cheered us both up) and Rachael told me all about her current project, Analogue Amnesty. In the official material relating to the show, Matthews introduces the idea of the show like this:

Do not throw away tape cassettes. Bring them to Tatty Devine, or your local haberdashery shop Prick Your Finger. They will be spun into a chunky/aran weight yarn to protect you against the elements.

I couldn’t visualise how cassettes or videos might be pleasingly spun in with wool fibres and in my imagination I couldn’t see how any resulting such yarn may be used. However, in Tatty Devine where Rachael has set up her installation space, it is possible to immediately understand how Analogue Amnesty works. Drawing on a kind of punk aesthetic, the walls in the corner of the Tatty Devine boutique are plastered with the detritus of abandoned, analogue formats.The installation resembles a punk rocker bedroom with VHS videos, cassette inlays and the innards of dismantled tapes strewn over the walls. The shiny, black vinyl aesthetic is everywhere and it looks extremely incongruent placed, as it is, next to the traditional and homely elements provided by the spinning equipment Rachael has included.

In amidst the chaos sit a spinning wheel, a ball-winder, a swift, some scales, and large sacks of roving and merino wool-tops. Stacked neatly against the window lie beautiful cakes of shining yarn. On inspection these yarns vary massively in texture, thickness, colouring and pattern, and each one is neatly labelled according to the source cassette or video that is spun in with it. A very purple, slubby, hippyish kind of a yarn has a title including the phrase ‘really bad poetry phase,’ because the woman who wanted it to be spun into yarn wrote, (by her own admission) a lot of questionable literature during the time when she listened to the tape. A reggae tape has bits of green raffia sprawling out of thick and dreadlock-esque slubs in green, black, yellow and red, while still more tapes and stories nestle together in various balls. Rachael has been surprised to find that many visitors to the installation lean towards a kind of autobiographical experience of the project. They instruct on yarn colours, thicknesses and spinning styles according to their own, personal interpretation of the cassette or video. Anonymously donated tapes translate rather differently into yarn, along more literal or generalised lines. I carded, for example, some outrageous pinks for the video of ‘pretty in pink,’ and some white linens, mohairs and orange-red for a yarn including the video of Gandhi.

Pretty in pink.

The project benefits from Rachael’s open-ended approach; people can be personal, thoughtful and considered about how their tapes are spun or totally anonymous. The project can both operate on the level of a recycling collection-point where people drop in old tapes and have them re-spun into interesting yarns and on the level of personal portraiture where one can be much more specific and personal about how tape translates into yarn.

I am fascinated by the crossovers between craft, pop-culture, mass-production and hand-making that inhabit Analogue Amnesty. Even the style of the installation reminds me of how people identify themselves according to bands, music and films. The whole piece somehow reflects how identity is partly forged through our assimilation of, and engagement with, popular culture. Yet in the act of spinning the mass-produced tapes and turning them into yarn that can be hand-knit into items of personal significance, Rachael brings the iconic, popular, massive forms of the culture industry down to a much more individual level. Whatever is done to try and form an accurate translation from video or tape into yarn, subjectivity and the intimacy of ones’ own interpretation will ultimately define the result. Therefore, the Gandhi yarn will not in any way be representative of Gandhi the man or Gandhi the film; it will reflect my imaginative and cultural engagement with the idea of Gandhi. Likewise, the Pretty in Pink yarn, as carded and coloured by me, is not representative in any way of the film. I haven’t actually seen Pretty in Pink. My peripheral awareness of the film guided my choices of colour and fibre and the resultant pink yarn is mediated through my own understandings of the idea of a film called Pretty in Pink. I think this process of translation is fascinating; one can either define a yarn according to personal associations with the tape, or in a more general way.

After carding wool along general, populist lines, I decided I wanted to experience Analogue Amnesty in a different way and decided that for this to work properly, I would need to use a treasured tape. For the last year or so I have had a single cassette playing in my car. It was so overplayed before the end of its life that I had to crank the volume right up in order to hear the music on it. Recorded on the tape were random snippets of a radio show I used to listen to when I lived in Dublin, called ‘Here comes the night.’ One of the features of ‘Here comes the night’ was called ‘Headphones’ and during this section of the show, the DJ, Donal Dineen, would play exquisite musical delicacies. As detailed on the Today FM website,

Donal’s previous programme, Here Comes The Night, was first aired on March 17th 1997 and continued broadcasting to the nation for exactly 7 years. During this time, Dineen received rave reviews and attracted thousands of die-hard listeners along the way. A former editor and presenter of RTE TV’s ‘No Disco’, the radio programme was devised by him as a way of expanding further the range of music transmitted on that show as well as experimenting with new sounds and so on.

‘Here comes the night’ was the first radio show I ever specifically made sure I was free to listen to. I used to sit in quiet for sometimes 3 hours just listening to the show and I was really sad when it ceased to be broadcast. Many amazing bands were discovered by me via Donal Dineen; Belle and Sebastian, Sigur Ros, Cat Power, Nico, Beth Orton, Dabrye and countless others. I would end up on quests to locate obscure or discontinued music on the basis of what I had heard on ‘Here comes the night.’ I also discovered Nikki Giovanni’s poetry via his show, and in fact on the very cassette I eventually utilised for Analogue Amnesty yarn was a jazzy remix of her poem The Great Pax Whitie.

I didn’t have a very good system for recording the show beyond leaving a cassette in the machine and hitting record wildly at any moment when I liked what I was hearing. I don’t know when I recorded the tape; it is misnamed ‘cabaret of love’ on one side and ‘best of dd#2’ on the other. Snippets of news relating to the Catherine Nevin murder trial and Moby’s PLAY album locate the making of ‘best of dd#2′ somewhere between 1999 and 2003. Memorable tracks on the tape included Cat Powers’ interpretation of ‘I found a reason’ from her covers album, something incredibly haunting and depressing by Nina Simone, some very laid-back Orbital and other unidentifiable tracks that are committed forever to my memory without titles or artists appended.

I kept ‘best of dd#2’ in my car for months, playing it over and over and seeming to never tire of it. I explained to people that I would, one day, get sick of the cassette and at that point find something new to do with it. But it seemed that the longer I played the tape for, the more significant it became to me. There was something very cocoon-like about the tape. The worn analogue sound of the radio show and the decontextualised, out-of-date news reports made for a very insulating experience. It was philosophically odd to be driving around listening to old news reels whilst having no knowledge of current events. And the deterioration of the tape’s sound quality due to overplaying enveloped the entire recording in a syrupy, warm, audio-fuzz that became inexplicably comforting. I began to question my attachment to the tape and I realised that it was ceasing to be sonically interesting for me to listen to it anymore.

‘Best of dd#2’ developed a significance for me over and beyond its audio qualities and became a tape suffused with personal history and nostalgia. The ability of the tape to transport me back to an era long since passed was extremely potent. But having listened to it for almost over a year, I was confident that I had absorbed everything it had to offer me.

I am interested in how the tape backdropped so many drives with its looping repetitions, and in how my ceaseless listening to the tape might change the way I write or compose music. But it was time to move on from the tape.

There is something irrecoverable about the era I associate with Donal Dineen. It was a time in my early twenties where it felt very glamorous to be living in Ireland; a time of romances, curiosity, experimentation and bohemian choices. It was a time when cities felt exciting and new and when I felt sharp and brittle as a flint, all young and sexualised and vulnerable. I hold views in my head of freezing cold Georgian apartments full of intrigue and strangers and of the harsh light of hungover mornings. I spent a lot of time walking around on my own, taking in the smells and sights, revelling in the lights on the water of the Liffey and arguing with various boyfriends. I never had enough money. Arthritis was a deep and secret agony for some of this time and I was often deeply lonely. At other points I loved my solitude, retreating from the world into a very interior space inside myself. The era I associate with the tape is a time that feels further from me now than Ireland is physically and yet this time is in me, in the very fabric of me: that era, those places, those memories.

On the tape, records and adverts crashed into each other amidst waves of jazz and the heartbreakingly naked vocals of Cat Power or Nina Simone. Whole musical-scapes inhabited the recording. And somehow in listening to it, my troubled relationship to Ireland, my time spent there and my sense of myself in a strange city were recalled. Listening to the tape had something to do with desire, self-knowledge, regret, memory, time and the past.

Isn’t this how we all feel about some tape we have had? A favourite album? A film we loved? Have you ever heard a song and had a conversation with whoever is there about what you were doing when the song was released? Where were you when OASIS released their first album, or Born Slippy was playing in every single club in the UK… who you were going out with, where you were living, what your view was in the morning, where you were spending your time… music somehow holds the keys to those memories.

I felt that turning the cassette into yarn would be a good way of translating the irrecoverable nature of a lost era into a befitting form. I also felt that I wanted the tape to have a new and revised life beyond rotting in a box of discarded memories or interminably playing in my car. I also feel that the important thing about the cassette right now, is what it has come to mean or represent, rather than its audio content. Translating it into a form where it can no longer be heard does this very effectively. I’m still deciding what I’ll knit with it, but it was quite an amazing process to card the fibres I believe to be representative of how I feel about the tape, and to watch them being spun into yarn. The cake of yarn now has an emotional or imaginative resonance over and beyond an ordinary ball of wool and the whole process has been very interesting.

First, I carded the wool.

I wanted really dark, subtle colours streaking through incredibly soft fibres so I used a lot of alpaca and undyed blue faced Leicester. I also incorporated some streaks of white silk, for the insulating quality I associate with the tape. The colours are mostly based on my memory of walking around Dublin city at night. Bricks and water, early darknesses, starry skies and sulphur streetlamps all inspired the colour-choices.

Then Rachael spun the cassette, to put a twist into it.

Then she spun my carded wool.

…and then she plied the two together.

And now here is the yarn.

3 Responses to Analogue Amnesty

  1. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » Love Assignment #5: Build Memoryphones

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