Collaborations with Ben Morris
A pivotal collaborator since 2011, Ben and I have performed three duo commissions, for the Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool Music Week and Cafe Oto, all commissioned by Mercy, and a trio sound art performance with Dylan Nyoukis.
We have published one limited edition, art and poetry collaboration - a book-in-a-box with Like This Press in 2013, the contents of which were exhibited at the Darnley Gallery and the Rich Mix Arts Centre in London, as well as being published in journals like Lighthouse and Tengen.
The Estates of Westeros
The Estates of Westeros is where avant garde poetry meets avant garde illustration. Whether perception or reality, housing estates are environments of occlusion, claustrophobia and damage, and poetry about them has a responsibility to reflect this complexity and intensity in its tone and form. The Estates of Westeros is a meditation on this living space through the universe of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones, and where Gilles de Rais explores the absurdity of mythmaking in that which once was real, the Estates ... explores the grinding realism at the heart of the fantastical. Published by Like This press as a book in a box in 2013. http://www.stevenjfowler.com/books-in-boxes-like-this-press/
We're Getting Married in the Morning: Cafe Oto - June 12th 2012
It's the first time I've ever performed at Cafe Oto, though I have attended shows there often. It was really pleasing to do so with Ben Morris, whose practise has been extremely influential to my own for many years. When we met, and still to this day, his understanding and control of his medium is far more advanced than my own, due to both his sense of patience, subtlety and experience, and he has been generous in offering me a new avenue into sonic conceptualism, an organic offshoot from my own work in avant garde poetry
It was also a great pleasure to perform for Mercy. Nathan Jones is one of a few remarkable figures in poetry and sonic art I am fortunate enough to call my contemporary who is genuinely enthused by complex and intense performance, and who will do the hard work it takes to get that performance a proper stage and reception. He feels a stringent sense of responsibility to promote the work of others and this kind of selflessness is integral to the building of a scene of dynamic poetry and sound performance. I know I speak for Ben when I say to have the opportunity to work with Mercy producing these new commissions is a privilege.
The evening was a really engaging but sadly I was ill and not really able to comprehend properly what was going on around me. I had been dragging some sick around for awhile and then rehearsing for this piece, in the mask, which really boiled me, a few days ago in a tiny studio under a railway bridge in Bermondsey, it really sent me over the edge. We nearly had to cancel the performance in fact, I had been yakking two days up to this night and had stomach cramps and sweats even on the way over to Dalston
In the end, the performance was something I am pleased with, of course never wholly, but conceptually. I had really hoped it would explore avenues of delirium, confusion, kineticism - that it would not just be about violence and force, as some of my other pieces have been. I deliberately made the format of my punching non combative, so I stood still, used 'James Toney' type hands, with sloppy angles and no power form, and would emphasise my breathing and noise and would create motion blurs, using speed, rather than some dumb platform for the force of my punching.
It was gratifying to find an offshoot of my thematic interests, where energy and intensity are fundamental but do not become intimidating, and it was really pleasing that many were kind enough to say they did not experience repulsion but confusion and intrigue. The piece was found strange rather than aggressive I think, and it will be a memory for me, it was torture in the mask, I felt so ill!
The piece is called "We're getting married tomorrow" and is described as "A piece of conceptual sonic art in collaboration that explores notions of exhaustion, suffocation, exertion & kineticism, drawing together a specific mode of bodily, as well as vocal, experimental expression and innovative performance."
A Spy Vanderung Inem Vildness: Liverpool Music Week - November 2011
http://mercyonline.co.uk/who-we-are/what-we-are-up-to/article/a-spy-vanderung-inemvilderness Steven Fowler on a spy vanerung inem vilerness
chosen zeyer a sakh tandem chosen vegn der shifl people; pitsink fishes fun
zilber gat bisl shits der redonda filosofye fun parnose arayn tsvey
languages vu zign iz der tsuersht shpan fun khayes bagern holding eyns
shlus aroyf shmidern & mit honour mernisht neyn farshemen zikh arayn yesh
der tsuersht zign vu der nebish iz nisht nu forgotten nisht nu tarnished
removed keyn unter der drerd vu der vaser shines nu likhtik oyf der fishes fun"
A question I am seeking to answer is what is the relationship of an individual to a group he knows he cannot be a part of? Any discussions of Jewishness are profoundly loaded with the history of the 20th century and present a paradox of inference. And it is precisely because any statements of criticism or advocation lie within a vastly extangled nexus of meaning and history, precisely because it is almost an impossibility to speak clearly without being trenchant, that I seek this subject matter. It lends itself thus to the abstraction necessary and fundamental at the heart of sound poetry and sonic art - those mediums of returning to the root, to the base of language and expression, and that which possesses the core of kabbalistic speculation, the language itself is the medium of the concrete in concepts of the divine. So the clearing away of articulation returns us to an ethical beginning, a space where things can be said about the unsayable we have created for ourselves in the last century of European history.
So, superficially, the work is about the relationship of a gentile to Jewish culture, to elements of that intellectual and religious tradition, to the mantra of scholarship and language and learning. It is about how feelings that border on the metaphysical in definition cannot be expressed in the language we come to use for them, analogous to the way our historicity has made elements of criticism against the same tradition unpalatable and useless as a direct given. Rather both contrasting feelings must be understood, unspoken, in the abstraction of sound.
Yet, in a strong sense our methodology shares more with Tristan Tzara's African Kru poems than with Paul Celan's "polychrome of apparent actuality". The posit here is self-parody, here is Yiddish tracing German language and nostalgic in its invocation by an outsider, playing with the notion that Yiddish is a half-lost, forbidden language, and we are embracing its purported cryptic nature in a blind reclaiming of its sounds, mispronounced, to make audible its German roots and to deconstruct, in a parody, the deconstructor as a failure, failing with good intentions and humour.
The kabbalistic significance of words are central here too, the vital precision of language in the Jewish tradition. We are recalling one of the many stories of the Golem, where the word Emet (life) is inscribed on the forehead of the homunculus lump of clay to bring it to life, and by wiping away the E, we are left with Met (death), which will bring the creature back to earth and rubble. Language is the medium in which thought takes place, it is the building blocks of meaning and consciousness, when it is taken to the realm of non-sense, it is beyond that normative restriction. It can say less and so say more.
The ‘a spy vanderung inem vilnderness' is then a sound poem, a sonic experiment, a piece of music - projected in shades of colour rather than language, in inference of meaning rather than narrative."