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Showing at Gimpel Fils Gallery, London until the 11th October 2014 M-F 10 – 5.30, Sat 11 – 4pm 

The film is a visual performance to an eleven minute section of the soundtrack of Spielberg’s 2005 War of the Worlds, starting 22 minutes in when the war is underway. This is made in a domestic setting in a Tel Aviv suburb by various means: short scenes are acted out in a playful way with the use of domestic tools and everyday objects as plausible sound makers used by foley artist impersonators; children and adults lip sync to the moments of dramatic dialogue and action; the main interior room used is the kitchen. Inserted into this is a restrained use of theatrical props, mainly a rubber severed hand, and short snippets of news footage of war in Israel. The Spielberg sound design, mixed with the music composed by John Williams, is of course high-end and this contrasts, sometimes to comic effect, with the make-do quality of some of the props used to mis-represent the causes of these sounds. To rise to the challenge of the ‘War of the Worlds’ action a lot of things are smashed up including a basketball that crashes through a real window. Alarm clocks, hoovers, blenders, gas flames, spillages and domestic accidents appear to contribute their sounds. Who knows, some of these things may have actually been used by the Hollywood foley artists who are famous for their inventive use of everyday objects.

Guy Ben-Ner Soundtrack2

The film is very affecting after the recent Israeli offensive but was in fact made at the time of the previous somewhat smaller scale conflict in 2012. The lightness of the playful action makes us feel the relation between our domestic lives and its comforts and the violence that is inflicted in other parts of the world. Perhaps it is not necessarily as a result of the production of domestic commodities but it is certainly a product of capitalism as a whole. We benefit whilst others suffer. This is all conveyed with frying eggs, children’s balloons, toddlers plastic trikes and the other paraphernalia of family life.

It gives a new meaning to the common trope used in US feature films in which the all-American family is beset by aliens trying to threaten their dream lifestyle. In this video the trope is reversed and the war appears to emanate directly from the family. People are seen as active agents, even the children are swept-up in playing with the violent sound effects rather than simply being subjected to its illusion. The key point is I think play. Play suggest an approach that produces new ways of thinking. Somehow this collage seemed a more empowering way to engage with the Palestinian Israeli conflict than seeing the endless TV footage, which I have watched recently with head in hands. It also sets it in a more global context.

“Whose attacking us?” yells one Ben-Ner’s 12 year old son. Later: “It’s come from some place else!”; “Where? Europe?”; “No! Robbie, not Europe”.

It is also of course about cinematic illusion and how meaning can be subverted. It allows us a distance on the Hollywood sound track, we hear it as constructed, unreal and made up. It relates to the history of appropriation in art and film which is mainly the collage or re-editing of the visual elements as in Scratch video a British movement of the early ’80s. (George Barber being one of the most well known). Although in experimental film the use of ‘found footage’ goes back, at least, to Bruce Conner’s ‘A MOVIE’ in 1958. Of course films have been made to fit existing music tracks and again Conner produced a notable example in 1961 (Cosmic Ray to Ray Charles recording of “What’d I Say”). But has any artist appropriated a substantial section of a single movie soundtrack before? Not that it matters, but leave comment if you know of one.

I guess it could be seen as a joke about family conflict but we are diverted from this interpretation by the use of the newsreel footage. I thought that the phoney foley and the fun lip-syncing provided an kind of instruction manual of what we should all be doing in our homes and neighbourhoods to deconstruct the Hollywood feature films that assail us. Don’t just sit and consume the films, act them out and remake them. The artist, who was lounging outside the gallery at the largely empty opening at Gimpels, said he wasn’t going to make another one reusing a movie soundtrack. The idea was done for him – the process completed. But I think this process could be productively emulated. OK, maybe not as minutely and carefully constructed or as imaginatively prepared (each few seconds of the soundtrack had its carefully designed visual analogue), nor as dramatically poignant, but still it would be a good way of people critically engaging with film media.

His other work that includes a film made in IKEA’s domestic sets, shot without permission (Stealing Beauty – 2007) is always made with his family as the protagonists. The work can be found on Ubu Web.

A soundtrack of ‘War of the Worlds’ by John Williams was released by Decca in 2005.

Guy Ben-Ner Soundtrack1



Stills from video used courtesy gimpel fils

Best ever Agit Disco album just republished on SoundCloud in August 2014


It is really great to see this important and little known album re-issued again on SoundCloud after twenty years. It was first issued as a cassette tape for those who frequented 56a Infoshop and its networks in South London. I was struck by its eloquent and radical lyrics and beautiful, inventive instrumental backing when I first heard it. Certainly it was the stand-out album of political songs of the Nineties in South London. I had seen Steve Cope perform his songs solo on a few occasions like at a St Agnes Place squat party, but these recordings of the songs with other talented local musicians frame Cope’s powerful lyrics with a musicianship that makes them works of art as much as heart-felt protest songs.

Each track on Soundcloud now has a carefully chosen image that adds something to the digital presentation that the analogue tape could not of course have. I wondered if this was the result of a particularly magical recording session but Martin says “It was essentially live music, so I never thought of the recording (on Fostex 8 track) as being exceptional, just a different thing.” Also looking at the cassette liner notes it looks like different tracks were recorded at different locations.

The song ‘Animals’ makes me cry every time I hear it. Such a passionate and poetic song. My favourite of the whole album. It addresses peoples in-humanity in a deeply felt alliance with all animals, with nature even, against the violence of oppression and exploitation targeted by the callous few against the majority of people. It also works as a statement against cruelty to all life. For me it achieves a singular artistic statement that sums up the righteous anger that liberation needs. An important and necessary emotion that is hard to express most of the time. Its key chorus-line: “I’m with the animals” is spat out over a rolling and hypnotic bass rhythm. About 4 minutes in there is some brilliant growling trumpet playing by Martin Dixon that expresses the build-up of outrage in a way that reminds me of the expressive power of some of the best modern Jazz playing.

For Martin it is “The greatest piece of music I have ever had the good fortune to be involved with.” That is saying something when I think of all the stuff Martin, now reborn as a photographer, has done in his musical career. So its not just me that rates this track so highly!

The whole album sounds tight like it has been carefully ‘arranged’ but Martin remembers his contribution as coming from improvisations that gave him melodic phrases that might change with each performance.

The other favourite track of mine is ‘Attitude Problem’ which expresses ideas about working class identity at a time when I sometimes felt that I was one of only very few people trying to write about them (e.g. Collaborations, Working Press, 1990). Compared to my attempts this is a concise talking blues that just makes the whole con of there being ‘no more working class’ crystal clear. For many years I fantasised about this song being on Radio 1’s breakfast show and it being a top ten hit for weeks on end in the way that ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was. But this song has clear ideas rather than a simplistic punk pose of defiance. Not maybe as musical or poetic as Animals, nor as emotive, but still it was a powerful message the discussion of which was suppressed for the majority of the population. I still feel that if the whole of the UK working population could have heard this catchy song then politics would have changed overnight. Maggy and her vile follower, Tony traitor Blair, truly would have been: Out! Out! Out!

These are just two of my own favourite tracks. I’d love to hear what you think about the other tracks which are all good.

Annotated track list.

1. Shattering Silence – About taking our voices back from subservient silence.

2. Couldn’t Happen Here – Police brutality with a counterpoint of flute and a nice baseline.

3. Wandsworth Prison – More on bourgeoise jurisprudence which starts with a sample reminding us of “The crime of poverty”. With some good banjo and catchy lyrics: “The worst of the conmen are in your town hall”.

4. Rue the Day – Our current democratic option is ‘voting for the bosses’ – why are we so complacent? We are still free to think! “We pander to the plunders, we got nothing to say.” The suggestion here is that it is mental scars from oppression that limit our thinking.

5. Attitude Problem – “Thought I was working class, but after all that it was an attitude problem”, One of my favs, see above. Open the windows, turn it up LOUD! Who does the jobs that make out lives go well?!

6. Great Expectations – “More of the same”, or “hunger for change”? “I just saw more strength in one drying tear than all of the military shipped out of here…”

7. Viva Zapata! – A gesture of solidarity towards the ongoing postcolonial struggles. Nice flute solos but perhaps the least inspired lyrics.

8. Why are you fighting? – An appeal to stop fighting amongst ourselves and target the real class enemies. “Its the men in suits that are kicking you!” Great rhythm guitar.

9. Animals – My top music track of all time! See above.

10. On The Blade – A plaintive satire on our Queen’s Annus Horribilis (1992) and by implication the exclusivity of our ruling class. Beautiful ending.

Best album of political songs

A ‘French Agit Disco’, an annotated list of songs made by son and mother, Francis Haselden and Sharon Kivland, was offered a for an ambitious Agit Disco benefit for London’s Housemans radical bookshop in April 2014, in response to the wider Agit Disco project. Agit Disco is an archive project. It refers to the ‘domestic’ record collections both in physical form in our houses and flats and in our memories. The process of selection is a critical process of second distillation. The first process occurs as particular records, CDs, and MP3s are bought or otherwise obtained from the mass of commercial commodities that reflects systemic interests or constructs a panoply of material which is not conducive to challenging these interests or thinking critically about them. Selectors produce their Agit Disco playlist. Intellectual processes of review, comparison, and evaluation bring into focus the themes and effects of this heritage of listening. Then a collaborative and communicative process happens. The playlist is produced as a real object, a ‘mix-tape’ that can be given, sent, heard by others, or imagined, finding its place in archives to be heard again when the right moment arises, perhaps with others, at a real disco, a party, an after-dinner session. The process generates proposals and statements, and it is important the tracks are liberated from systemic worlds of commodity and become part of another gift economy.

The French Agit Disco song titles and commentary were printed in a slipcase booklet that formed the cover of a plastic CD case containing an audio CD of the playlist. The first nine songs are organised into groups under the following genre sub-headings printed in red: Chansons (from 1957 and 1965), ‘Ye-Ye’ (from 1966 and 1967) and ‘a few chansons from May 68. These are then followed by two songs from 1979 and 1980, and then a final three from 2001, 2008, and 2011.The audio CD that accompanied the booklet was presented as a keynote to that event.

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The Scratch Orchestra’s Nature Study Notes’ performed at Chisenhale Dance Space on  Saturday 28th June 2014  7.30pm  64-84 Chisenhale Rd, London E3 5QZ  

Click to hear a recording of Nature Study Notes

Photos of the event by Martin Dixon are now  archived here:

‘The Scratch Orchestra’s Nature Study Notes’ – performed by an ensemble of original Scratch Orchestra members and new performers including: Jane Alden, George Chambers, Linn D, Carole Finer, Sharon Gal, John Hails, Bryn Harris, Les Hutchins, Robbie Lockwood, Geraldine McEwan, Matt Scott, Hugh Shrapnel, Stefan Szczelkun, Emmanuelle Waeckerle, Ali Warner.

Nature Study Notes is a collection of 152 written instructions or ‘scores’ that was published as a booklet by Cornelius Cardew at the beginning of the Scratch Orchestra in 1969. The scores are called ‘rites’ and were used in many of the early Scratch Orchestra concerts. This is a music improvisation and visual performance event about one hour duration.

One review leads to another:


I must say, in hindsight, that the improvisation rites have an overall uniqueness – almost a new art form with elements of theatre, music, visuals – but amounting to something else. They have great variety (reflecting the individual character & preoccupations of the author) but an overall character (if this makes sense!).Hugh Shrapnel, 24-12-2013


We made a rough programme so that popular rites that people wanted to do at the same time or which specified a group performance, didn’t clash. Other rites to be played by individuals, duos or trios are not listed below.

Skeletal Progamme mark2

20.00 HMSIR 5 led by Hugh Shrapnel starts the concert. When this ends we do rite CCAR17 ‘accompaniment and solo’.

20.09 ABP 128 co-ordinated by Jane. ‘9 basic sounds’

20.16 CCSR 18 ‘elected soloist repeats an action’ Ali Warner leads

20.25 HSBR 34 ’six deep breaths’ (group version) led by Bryn. NB dispersed in time version led by Sharon.

20.27 CFIRNTFM 145 ‘flower piece’ co-ordinated by Carolyn.

20.29 DJ68 led by John Hails ’slow metamorphosis to a snarling mob’

20.36 CCRR 66 co-ordinated by Carolyn ‘radiant rite’

20.40 FRLMDP 47 conducted by George ‘musical notation’

20.48 CCAMMR 129 ‘Look upward, move backward’ ensemble version co-ordinated by Sharon

20.54 BHUSR 35 ‘sing our own song finale facing the audience in a line’ led by Stefan who will signal start.

c20.57 after completing your song return to the space and continue quiet or visual improvising.

21.00 quiet ending..

21.30 Take our leave.

There won’t be a programme as such at the venue so this gives some idea of what occurred for those that came and those that didn’t

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The first live event since the launch of the Agit Disco project six years ago. This benefit for Housemans Bookshop had 16 Agit Disco selectors working simultaneously on two floors of the Surya Centre from 7pm until 12 or later. Thanks to Nik Gorecki at Housemans for organising it. Plenty of people came and there was a good vibe in spite of the rather short sets.


Agit Disco1




















Selectors included:

Mark Faulkner  (ex Room 13 Scotland) who had come down from Fort William!

Caroline Heron with a video set

Sian Addicott with a set of Welsh resistance,

Stewart Home with Rebel Soul

Andy T  with his varied but tight set,

Neil Transpontine did a set on the Miners Strike,

John Eden – dancehall and reggae

Tom Vague – Post punky reggae party related to Notting Hill area

Luca Paci – resistenzia Italiana

Nic Gorecki – Roots rockin

Martin Dixon – old vinyl agit disco rediscovered

Micheline Mason – Political folk

Marc Garrett – his own mainly contemporary set

Sharon Kivland – French agit disco selection

Tracey Moberly will be at North Pole so we played her CD.

One of the headline acts to go on at 11pm is PAUL JAMROZY who was co-architect of ‘Agitative Industrialists’ Test Dept formed in the decaying docklands of South London in the early eighties. TD created percussive music with industrial debris and electronics, producing large-scale location responsive projects. Their infamous sonic assaults were regarded as a test of physical endurance that pushed the sonic envelope. Their work developed with the advent of new technology journeying through the underground dance scene and into hybrid global music.

Post TD his individual practice evolved within the wider digital diaspora of experimental sound artists and electronic practitioners. He has worked under many guises including Satellitic, Deep Face, Full Spectrum Dominance and most recently C.3.3. inspired by his music workshops inside Reading Gaol. His Polish background has also had a strong influence on his work and led to the formation of Bigos Planet an Anglo-Polish cultural radio programme for Resonance FM.


IMG_2209Cornell Campbel record snapped in the window of Sister Ray in Soho London – photo processed in Decim8

Good article on the Pete Seeger heritage:

Charles Trenet’s patriotic ‘Douce France‘ 1943 was reinterpreted in 1986 by the French rock band Carte de Séjour (meaning “green card”, “residence permit”), whose lead singer was Rachid Taha.

“The social context of the time and the identity of the musicians (born in France from Algerian immigrants) give it a completely different meaning. To take this standard patriotic song and to sing it with this “furious irony” was actually very provocative and can be considered as an act of protestation against discrimination.”

Here is a more recent version by Madjao:
 Thanks to Sharon Kivland

What did people make of Gordon Sumner’s aka Sting’s TV concert on 22nd December with Jimmy Nail? (1). On the one hand it was a promo for his latest album ‘The Last Ship’, on the other an impressively reflexive return to the subject matter of his working class childhood in the ship-building town of Wallsend in the North East of England.


photo credit: ‘Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums’

He was refreshingly honest for a celebrity. He told us that as a boy he was scared of going into the shipyards because of the noise and danger. He was inspired by catching the eye of the ship-launching Queen Mother from her regal RollsRoyce. He thought that this might have sown the seed of his aspiration to grandeur that later drove him to become a pop superstar. That was before the whole ship building industry in the North East went belly up. His songs deal with all aspects of that community from the militants to Read More »

In 1994 Nelson Mandela, Madiba, became president of South Africa. That year The Mad Professor a Guyanese record producer in South London suburb of Thornton Heath began to bring out a series of agit-disco albums under the title Black Liberation Dub.

Black Liberation Dub 1front

Black Liberation Dub  Chapter 1  1994

“Reverb slashes through the tick-tocking pulse of “Chip on the Slave Master Shoulder.” The song is almost entirely rhythm. Even its bassline is more an indistinct presence than a palpable element.” Nathan Bush

Includes tracks with titles ‘Slavery 21st Century’, ‘Freedom Must be Taken’, ‘Black Skin, White Minds’, ‘Colonial Mentality’.

Brilliant cover graphics hammer home the message of liberation.

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