Slow-walking with Marina Abramović

© Marco Anelli 2013

© Marco Anelli 2013

I was leaning against a wall in the Serpentine Gallery just watching people when Marina Abramović walked over and stood in front of me. Elsewhere in adjoining rooms there were some people sitting in chairs focussing on brightly coloured squares of paper on the walls in front of them. In one large space some were standing on a dais, their eyes closed. Many held hands. In another room, there were about eight others seated on simple wooden chairs at simple wooden desks engrossed in a task of counting lentils or grains of rice. Behind them, there were some camp beds on which others were lying, covered by bright blankets. I watched Marina tuck people in. She used slow and tender gestures, but the association for me was one of exam halls and hospitals and that was too close to my recent past.  I gravitated to another room where a number of people were walking slowly, slowly up and down, up and down the gallery. Everyone wore sound-baffling headphones; no one had a watch and phones and electronic devices had been secured in lockers beforehand. Time was not so much suspended as interiorised. Time and speed: the two are part of a whole.

“Hello,” Marina whispered to me and two strangers on either side of me. She signalled that we should take off our headphones.  She smiled. “I want you to walk the length of the gallery seven times. Slowly. I will show you the tempo. The purpose is to slow your body, to oxygenate it. You will find that your mind is like a Ferrari, but, kids, you’ll really enjoy it.” It was nice being referred to as “kids” in her Serbian accent. And with that she took my hand and I took the hand of the stranger on my other side and we walked, slowly, slowly, slowly.

The thing about walking so slowly, so mindfully, is that it’s difficult. Sometimes you unbalance and wobble and your companions squeeze your hands and steady you. This was a comforting, comradely feeling. Marina left us after half a length and we became a trio doing our exercise. At one point we overtook another walker – I felt like the Usain Bolt of live art – but that was ok. It wasn’t a competition and it wasn’t as if we were all cruising for the artist’s attention. After our seven walks, we separated and melted away from one another.

For 512 Hours, named for the duration of the exhibition itself, artist Marina Abramović has filled an empty gallery with people. She moves amongst them, issuing gentle instructions. (It’s crucial that this ceaselessly changing work flows, and in this, Abramović has been helped through her collaboration with Paris-based choreographer Lynsey Peisinger.) What happens? What can people create out of nothingness? This is the most stark of Abramović’s body (pun intended) of endurance works. The emotional reflections and projections that made The Artist Is Present at Moma so intense an experience are not here, or if they are, they are subdued. Absent, too, is the asceticism and (sometimes) fury of earlier works. (Think of Balkan Baroque in 1997 at the Venice Biennale where she washed a Sisyphus-sized mound of bloody cow bones in the wake of the collapse of her native Yugoslavia and the horrors that ensued.)

In making art with no object, it is, perhaps, as if Abramović wants us, each participant, to acknowledge and welcome our own agency in the world. To stop and listen. One might say that her focus is what allows the participant to be present, which would make 512 Hours a companion piece to the Moma show. And, given the velocity of the world just yards away from the interior of the gallery, that is a remarkable gift. MA



512 Hours is at the Serpentine Gallery, London. It ends on 25 August 2014

Marina at Midnight


Reviews published in the latest edition of Tempo.

Polansky et al.

Louise Gray

Tempo / Volume 68 / Issue 269 / July 2014, pp 86 – 88 DOI: 10.1017/S0040298214000205, Published online: 16 June 2014

Link to this article: How to cite this article:

Louise Gray (2014). Polansky et al.. Tempo, 68, pp 86-88 doi:10.1017/S0040298214000205

Request Permissions : Click here

“It’s true, mister!” – Mama K’s True Stories

A long time ago when a lot of us worked at City Limits (I was its music editor), I asked Michele Kirsch to write a column for us. She was (and remains) an old and fabulous pal from our NME days and she always told extraordinary stories: about her days in her native NYC, about 1980s downtown, about her life in London, anything was game and everything was strange. She was writing the folk column at CL in those days, too, and we always knew when a story was about to begin because she’d push her typewriter forward and launch into one. “It’s true, mister!” was how they always ended up and they were always hysterical. In fact, that’s become a catchphrase for quite a few people.

The CIty Limits fax machine was on the ground floor and we were on its third floor. Mama Kirsch’s True Stories was a hit from its first week. Each time a new one arrived, a shout would ring out from downstairs: “Mama Kirsch’s in!” and the fax would be passed up the stairs, everyone reading it as it progressed upwards. Deborah Orr, one of the editors, quickly moved the True Stories into the main pages of the mag. The stories were unique: a kind of Cookie Mueller (minus the drugs) for our times. Come to think of it, Michele loved Cookie Mueller.

Things changed. City Limits was fatally wounded by the economic recession in the early 1990s. It was bought out. We all left. We did other things. Many of us have stayed in journalism to the detriment of sanity and income. And Michele Kirsch, after some time away, has resurrected the True Stories. Her WordPress page (see my earlier re-posting) reprints one of the original ones.

Can’t wait for more, and remember, they’re all true.

Find Mama K’s True Stories at: 



A long time ago I slept with the stars, sort of.

mama k's true stories

I slept with a bunch of celebs over a long weekend in the 80s.

Well OK, not live in person. 
For one long weekend in the early 80s, I was locked up in a small room in New York’s West Village. The sole furnishings were thousands of back issues of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. This was a storage space for unsold copies and my good friend Buzz was squatting in it, his taxi-driver wages not sufficient to cover any sort of rent. It was uninhabitable. He lived there for two years.

It was early on in the Reagan era. We had such a mutual horror of this president and, looking back on it, of life in general, that we decided it might be best to hide away, read poetry and spend any spare money on Valium. It was so easily available on prescription back

View original post 733 more words

Musicworks: the soundworlds of ‘musician-citizen’ Victor Gama

© Rajele SL

Victor Gama playing on the dino, one of his invented instruments. Photo © Rajele SL

Part of my article on the artist, instrument-builder and musician-citizen Victor Gama is out now in the latest issue of Musicworks magazine. Gama, an Angolan-Portuguese artist based near Lisbon, draws no distinction between the fields of the social, myth and the artistic — they are all of one concern. His concept of the musician-citizen is of huge importance for any serious artist.

photo © Victor Gama

Nests built by the sociable weaver birds in the deserts of southern Africa inspired Gama’s two-player instrument, the  toha. Photo © Dillan Marsh

Get Musicworks‘ Spring 2014 issue for the full article; meanwhile check out the links and videos that Musicworks have included on its online version. Web links and resources Musicworks Victor Gama Victor Gama’s Tsikaya – Huambo Música Sessions is available now on CD

Metal machine music: Howlround + Oscillatorial Binnage, the Kirkaldy Testing Museum, London


While I’m waiting for my review of Music at Breaking Point to appear in the forthcoming issue of The Wire (December 2013), here are a few photos to whet the appetite of those interested in the audible ghosts of the industrial past. Staged at the former Kirkaldy Testing workshop, a 19th-century example of precision in Victorian industry and now an independent museum, it was part of the 2013 Merge Festival and produced in conjunction with Resonance FM.

And can I also plug Robin The Fog and Chris Weaver’s Howlround’s two site-specific albums, Ghosts of Bush and, released last month, The Secret Sounds of Savamala, in all their strange and wonderful glory. They are the sonic equivalent of Rachel Whiteread’s casts of empty spaces. (Click on the link below to hear a snippet of the Kirkaldy set.)


Note the tin of Fray Bentos steak and kidney pie, which was possibly amplified by the transducers of the Binnage quartet. Or not. The woman in white appeared in a stairwell window and watched Howlround’s set with intense interest. She pressed her hands to the window now and then. She was so still and quiet we wondered if she was a ghost.


By the way, the Testing Museum needs volunteers. Contact them on the link below. You might get to meet longterm volunteer Perry Perrin, the woman we thought was a spectre.

Resonance FM
Howlround’s Secret Songs of Savamala
Howlround live at the museum, 26 September 2013 
Kirkaldy Testing Museum, London

Jack it up (again)

Traxbox: its 16 CDs probably weigh less than a single original Chicago Trax 12-inch record ever did

Traxbox: its 16 CDs probably weigh less than a single original Chicago Trax 12-inch record ever did

My poor postman (it was a man), how he suffered. But what pleasure he brought. Between about 1987 and 1989, large boxes of 12-inch singles would irregularly arrive at my London flat. The postman would stagger up the stairs with each box. They’d been sent by a woman called Judith at Chicago Trax, a record label in – yes, Chicago – and the boxes contained house music from Marshall Jefferson, Frankie Knuckles, Phuture, lots from Robert Owens and so many more. It was acid house and deep house at its most experimental, its most extravagant, its most essential. I loved it and I loved the London DJs, musicians and clubs who played it: Mark Moore, (the late and lamented) Eon (Ian Loveday), Baby Ford, Danny Rampling, Kid Batchelor, Mr C, Shoom, RIP, Hedonism, that place on Sunday nights that Nicky Trax ran in Soho and of which I have momentarily forgotten the name.

Back to Trax: I wondered a little about quality control — some of the discs weighed a ton, as if two blobs of vinyl had been placed on the factory’s pressing plattern instead of one and sometimes the labels weren’t centred, which meant that watching the disc revolve on a turntable was slightly eye-bending. I wrote about this music in The Wire and the NME, City Limits and Soul Underground at a point when many people weren’t writing about it, teasing out the connections between this new electronic music and the earlier experimental work of the (classically trained) musique concrète and minimalist composers.

Fast-forward 25 years and it is with considerable awe that I see that the first 75 of Trax’s singles have been gathered together by Ian Dewhirst at the Demon Music Group in what can only be described as a wonderfully berserk labour of love. The Traxbox has 16 CDs of the stuff, all remastered and no vinyl blobs in sight. Rare records have been traced and everything has been remastered. Oh, and the 100-page booklet reprints reportage and photos from people who were there such as Jazzy M, Judge Jules, Dave Swindells – and me. It’s very nice to see my Soul Underground article reprinted among such names.

Traxbox is out on 30 September 2013.

Jennifer Walshe on the Guinness minimalists, Irish drones…

Image… and other surprises. My profile of the London-based composer prankster is in the latest issue of Musicworks. It’s all fun but there is an inventive seriousness behind the artist’s fictions.

Photo © Blackie Bouffant

“Can I ask you a question?” – Forced Entertainment’s 24-hour Quizoola!

A few months before Forced Entertainment brought its 24-hour endurathon performance of Quizoola! to the Barbican’s Spill Festival, I got my first smartphone. Nothing special in this – I am probably the n-billionth person on the planet to have an iPhone to fiddle with, but I have noticed how unquiet the device has made me. I can choose to be switched on day and night. I have multiple social media apps with which to ignore people. Of course one can turn off push alerts and all these things, but actually who does? I have spent months fighting the urge to fiddle with it and I am not the first person to succumb to an obsessive-complusive-data tic. It’s unpleasant.

Terry O' Connor and Tim Etchells about 22 hours into the 24-hour Quizoola!

Terry O’ Connor and Tim Etchells about 22 hours into the 24-hour Quizoola!

I mention this because of two things: first, I’m thinking about listening and silence and stillness in preparation for a lecture I’m giving on John Cage in Brussels next month (see tenuous link below) as part of The Wire magazine’s Primer series; and secondly, because succumbing to the rhythms of Quizoola! was a relief. Like all of Forced Entertainment’s durational works, Quizoola! – a theatrical situation that is part quiz show, part interrogation – is, to some extent, informal theatre. You could enter and exit at will; there are no delineated seats to be kept to; and none of the codes that pertain to behaviour at more conventional performance, which means there’s the option of phone fiddling. Yet Quizoola! has always been a ritualistic performance – at any one time, two performers, smeared with clown makeup sit in a circle ringed with lightbulbs and ask and answer questions from a wodge of over 2,000 scripted questions (some, this time, submitted in advance by the public); a third performer sits disinterestedly on a ticket desk at the door of the auditorium.  Lies, evasions and truths are on show. And ritual, in the way it focuses and condenses that which is left outside, has a way of becoming that is real. Quizoola! is about endurance and about witnessing in real time: to opt out of it, once it’s begun is somehow to pull oneself away from any engagement. Sod the iPhone: Quizoola! – always brilliant, insane, funny and profoundly moving – is a network of its own devising.

How did a show that originated as a 45-minute performance commissioned in 1996 (by the ICA and the National Review of Live Art) turn into a 24-hour performance? It’s true, Quizoola! has been growing in length over its lifetime – six hours, 12 hours and now an entire day. (Tickets were sold in 12-hour blocks: the performance began at 11.59pm on the Friday and ended at 11.59pm on the Saturday – slouchy chairs were set out for the audience in the Barbican’s basement Pit space and Quizoola!-branded eye masks provided.) Possibly Tim Etchells and five other company members wanted to push the piece as far as they could and the occasion of the Spill Festival of Performance was a good platform to do it. And this was a push into new territory, out of tiredness into a hysterical creativity in which cascades of questions – at random: Name five lies parents tell their children; What are babies for? What is electricity? – generate ruptures, regroupings, shock. It’s sometimes vicious as well as very funny: this was about 20 hours in and Claire Marshall was being savaged by Terry O’Connor:

Q: What is the French for 12?

A: I don’t know. I can’t remember.


A: I  can’t remember. [Tries to count in French. Fails]

Q: What is the French for 20?

A: [miserably] I don’t know. In German, it’s …


A: I’m not.

Q: What is another word for 12 in English?

A: I don’t know.


A: Un, ooone, deux… I don’t know.

Q: When did you last go to Ikea?

A: Recently. A few months ago. It was in Montpellier, actually.

Q: [Incredulous] How on earth did you communicate?

The thing is compelling: a live webcast meant that I could watch Cathy Naden and Claire Marshall on stage at 7am while I was in my kitchen. At that stage, the performers were relatively fresh: it was much later that guards slipped. The frisson that went through the theatre when Catholic clergy were referred in one answer as “superstitious kiddy-fiddlers” was audible. It’s two weeks since Quizoola! ended and I still miss it.

The end of Quizoola! Forced Entertainment takes its bow

The end of Quizoola! Forced Entertainment takes its bow

Forced Entertainment is in the process of editing highlights of its 24-hour Quizoola! for its website. In the interim, here is an excerpt from an earlier version of the show

Forced Entertainment

John Cage: The Wire Primer series, Brussels, 19 May 

Happy 40th birthday, New Internationalist!

© New Internationalist,

© New Internationalist,

New Internationalist is an Oxford-based monthly magazine that punches far, far above its weight. Its investigative journalists are the best-briefed in their areas and its campaigns in favour of global fairness, equity and humane polities as of right are righteous.

Here’s a timeline – – with some of the magazine’s  activities marked. Of course, as its music columnist (I think that my first piece for them was about Brit ragga musician Apache Indian in the early 1990s), I’m prejudiced but I also know what I’m talking about when I wish NI and all who sail in her many more years of what they’re doing.

Subscriptions available from