Word The Cat

Word the Cat

Heygate Heaven

Posted by Chris on July 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm  

London is a city built on power and restraint. Class strictures and verticality. The unending rise of the Shard, a physical metaphor for a brave new end of economic boom and bust driven by Qatari sovereign wealth. In its shadow, people are trying to live as they have done for the past forty years in state owned council housing. Over the past few months I made a couple of radio programmes about two estates in Southwark, the borough that hosts the Shard. They stretch south from Elephant and Castle, an area that is currently subject to a £1.5 billion urban regeneration project (the biggest in Europe). The Heygate estate is itself part of this regeneration plan, formerly housing around 4000 people, there are now two households left. It sits monolithic and largely empty, windows sealed with metal sheeting and electricity disconnected. Much of it is still open to the public, however and a visit will show you allotments which local residents have carved out of the open spaces, free runners climbing the concrete walkways and ruin tourists taking pictures on high end DSLRs.

I’ve been making a radio documentary over the past five months about the Heygate as it stands now, its past and its possible futures. It’s composed from the soundscape of the area and the voices of former and current residents of the estate, the original architect, a former leader of Southwark council, the head planner for the Elephant and Castle regeneration, academics and researchers. (stream below or listen here)


During this time I also worked on a hour long current affairs programme that looked at council housing and affordable housing london-wide. It was composed of some recordings from the Heygate, but also from the Aylesbury estate, a little further down the road from Elephant and Castle. This is one of the largest public housing estates in Europe and provides homes for around 10,000 people. Parts of the estate are being demolished and re-built according to a new rubric of ‘mixed communities’ containing ‘affordable housing’. Both of these are very slippery terms and, to put it mildly, there are serious concerns about how socially inclusive any new housing on the site will be. The programme was broadcast on London-based station NTS radio last month. you can listen here.

cosmopollination: a radio programme about urban beekeeping

Posted by Chris on October 14, 2011 at 3:52 pm  

Since April 2011, myself and Alyssa Moxley have been recording people who keep bees in London, their hives and the soundscape around… We spoke to people from Capital Bee, the Golden Company, Walworth Garden Farm and the Southbank Centre and recorded them tending to their hives and discussing what the practice of beekeeping and the organisation of the hive mean to them and to the wider urban environment. The programme was broadcast on Resonance FM on Tuesday 27th September.

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More and more organisations are turning to beekeeping as a way to embed themselves into the urban fabric. The bees activity is a (embed) code which draws upon the urban environment, condenses it and transforms it into food. Pollen from plants 3 miles around the hive is collected and transformed into honey. People with severe allergies seek out local honey because the pollen from their surroundings, re-processed into something benign and absorbable by their bodies can increase immunity. Likewise, a bank or arts centre can embed itself into their physical locality quite easily by putting hives on the roof and having the bees forage in parks, gardens and window boxes nearby. Airborne urban farming which stitches itself into the city and re-processes urban materials into food.

Here are some of our recordings manipulated and re-presented as a 10 minute soundscape. The bass is by “Variacoes em La” by Carlos Baretto.

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bee soundscape

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“After they developed social living, they realised that diversity was a help”

The queen bee carries around all the sperm she will ever use after one mating cycle. The bees in the hive will share the same mother, but have many fathers. Genetic variety in the hive allows for more gradated behaviour: If it gets cold outside, several bees will stop work and concentrate on insulating the hive with their bodies, if it gets cooler still, more bees will switch to working on insulation. If all the bees had the same genetics they would be more likely to switch behaviour at the same point, abandoning the other tasks in the hive. “They actually operate like they care less about identity and more about function. The function being preserving the conditions required to make new life.”

“honeybees bring in spring”

Bees are pollinators. This is one of the reasons that people are so worried about the colony collapse disorder. Honeybees (as opposed to solitary bees) move in an organised mass, the weight of their pollination is one of the factors in allowing the change in seasons to be realised and for new plants to bloom.

more information

Posted by Chris on August 9, 2011 at 1:07 am  

right now, lots of things are on fire. most of them are shops. a few houses are on fire in croydon. people have been evacuated from clapham junction. north london is kicking off. everywhere is kicking off. places with a stong sense of community (and local enfranchisement) have come out to defend. the turks & kurds in dalston, bangladeshis in green street.

this video of a woman (fantastically!) mouthing off is adding 100,000 views every hour:

nick clegg, now in coalition with the ruling tories, speaking about how drastic cuts would lead to violence a month before the 2010 election which brought him to coal-ated power:

also reports of hand to hand fighting between young people and riot police on the pembury estate in hackney. surreal mid-afternoon helicopter cam on people tooling up then fighting police by hackney central. a lot of this is received spectacle, especially when sky news keep cutting to car adverts, but capitalism gets the riots it deserves, and all those riots are centering on shops (and police in skirmish), not state buildings. people want fresh shoes, fuck it, i want fresh shoes too, and people can take them for free tonight. no-one on the telly can believe this is happening. that’ll wear off by the morning.

日本 voices

Posted by Chris on March 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm  

while the international media get caught up in the high drama of a nuclear catastrophe, things remain very bad in the quake hit area, the extent of which is only increasing as the situation develops and relief efforts are stretched. i recently returned from living in Japan for two years. i was based in Osaka, far from the the disaster zone (the Chinese government moved their embassy from Tokyo to the consulate-general there a couple of days ago). my friends, including the ones in tokyo, remain safe. the real tragedy is happening on the ground in the north east.

i thought it might be useful to share some voices and experiences from people living in Japan. these are from my friends on facebook and the kine-japan japanese cinema list, which i’ve been subscribed to for many years. there are some interesting thoughts and observations here on how people are responding on the ground in relation to the international media coverage. i won’t paste any pictures here, but my friend alex who also lived in Japan has a picture blog here with images taken by jesse ortiz, aika ortiz and erwin ortiz who have been working in the disaster zone.

if anyone i’ve quoted here sees this and has a problem with me using their words, let me know and i’ll remove them, but i hope it’s a useful exercise. comments at the bottom, if anyone else has voices to share.

“I just wanted to say that things are really horrifying and devastating in the northern regions which are affected directly by the earthquake and tsunami, but in Tokyo things are basically fine and normal given the present impeding circumstances. Of course, one can make oneself panicked by fearing about a possible nuclear power plant disaster like Chernobyl, or another big earthquake but most Japanese are calmly watching the situation, praying for the people working hard in directly dealing with the situation, those who themselves or their families are affected by the earthquake. Many foreigners who live in Tokyo have fled from Tokyo to safer areas, which is totally understandable, but makes me feel a little distant.

It took me a week to actually take a look at this mailing list. It’s just the way it is when one is experiencing a disaster like this, and I am not even affected, unlike those who have to live in the shelters with shortage of food, heat in the snowy cold weather, fear of radiation disaster, on top of everything, let alone having instantly deprived of their homes and loved ones… All they have is nothing but debts or mortgage of a house or a tractor that no longer exists or whatever they lost. But still many of them appreciate concerns and thoughts from people all over the world.” [ayako saito, tokyo, kine-japan, 17/03/11]

“My boss is stoic beyond belief – she just re-entered the building after a few minutes and when I came back an hour later, she was just sat in front of her computer clicking away, debris all around as if nothing had happened! … Well the epicentre was Miyagi prefecture up noth I think, so my boss has dismissed it as nothing at all! I honestly though I was going to die under that table – although I feel like I have bonded with my co-worker!” [nancy roberts, tokyo, 11/03/11 day of the quake]

“As someone who has been in Tokyo since August (currently in Kyoto to have a bit of a break from the aftershocks), I can say a few things.

1. The nuclear power plant story is being ridiculously sensationalized in the American media. Article after article and expert after expert have declared that there is absolutely no danger to anyone outside the immediate vicinity of the plant, and yet the major news outlets ignore these stories and continue to vamp up the fear. Worse, they do this at the expense of reporting on the real crisis, which is the 400,000 + people in the northeast who have limited food, water, and shelter and are already dying as a result.

2. Many people have made the decision to leave–at least temporarily–for a variety of reasons. Aftershocks were constant for the first 24 hours after the quake, and they continue even now. I personally have not slept much at all for the past week–partially because of the stress of the aftershocks, and partially because I have been dealing with frantic, panicked family members who were horrified that I hadn’t fled the city. I also worried about blackouts as my only heater is electric, it’s getting very cold, and kerosene / space heaters are completely sold out. I’ve left for a few days to get some sleep and try to re-group, but I plan to return. The bottom line is that even if there is no danger from the power plant, there are plenty of other reasons why people might choose to leave. And given the changing nature of the power plant situation and the huge amount of conflicting information available, I can understand why some people would be concerned enough to leave.

3. Regarding film archives and screenings–for the most part it’s business as usual in Tokyo. The scheduled blackouts have been avoided so far because people are doing a great job of conserving energy. Some universities have postponed classes and some smaller companies have shut down to allow their employees to spend time with their families, but most places are up and running. Very few Japanese are leaving the city (the shinkansen were crowded today as I headed for Kyoto, but Monday is a national holiday, so that’s not too surprising). If regular blackouts become a necessity this will of course impact daily life considerably, but for now other than slightly reduced train service, a gasoline shortage, and shortages of items like bread, milk, and rice (really just the result of over-buying, not an actual shortage), Tokyo seems pretty normal to me. I provide informal updates about the situation on the ground and links to helpful articles at http://gradland.wordpress.com. [lindsay nelson, kine-japan, 17/03/11]

“Dear all, please do not worry about me as I am miles away from the tragic destruction that has been caused by the earthquake and tsunami. I remain perfectly safe, but completely grief stricken about the tragedy that is unfolding here. I cannot thank you enough for your love and thoughts; I’m channeling them all where they are needed most: northern Japan, we’re thinking of you.” [roxanne borowska, shiga, 12/03/11 - day after quake]

“Although as one writing from the Kyoto/Osaka part of Japan that is distant from the immediate events, it is still possible to say a few things about what is going on here. At Kansai Gaidai there are nearly 400 students from around the world that are in some turmoil as pressures to return home from often poorly informed governments, parents, and so on who are often insisting on their immediate return regardless of the comparatively low risks faced by this area. Combing the web and foreign newspapers and comparing them with Japanese it is amazing to see the Orientalizing attitudes toward Japan and people in Japan, ranging from some French commentators referring to the reactor workers as “kamikaze” to impressions that people in Japan are unifed dupes of their government’s misinformation and that governments around the world are some how so much better informed and deeply thoughtful than anything going on here in Japan. Of course, the round the clock all-channels coverage going on here within Japan contains its fair share of absurdities both from official and unofficial sources. Yet patient looking around at the newspapers, TV and net sources also provides a lot of good information and viewpoints. It is tiring/distressing to see so many major foreign news sources spouting that they have the real information only to find them even confusing which reactor is which and garbling up other aspects. This is leading to a kind of hysteria that is the opposite of what is needed. People here seem to be going about their lives calmly while trying to sort through the news and events – it is often the Westerners that are going around with glazed eyes due to their reading of foreign accounts or the reverse – exhausted from long hours of email and skype conversations trying to calm down the anxieties of friends and relatives who are convinced that only by being outside of Japan can you know the “truth” of what is going on inside.” [paul berry, kine-japan, 17/03/11]

“Sometimes, it is difficult to respond so spontaneously.

The more implicated you are in the situation in Japan, it’s difficult to translate the feelings into critical writing.
Remember how long it took for leftist Americans to be able to start writing about 9/11 without feeling like you’re risking your
posiition, or alienating the masses.

If Kine-Japan has been silent, I’d take that as a sign of just how much “implicated” people feel in the crisis.

Perhaps it is now time to use our critical faculty to start challenging the worrying trend of “ethical” totalitarianism (perhaps it is enough to mention the cruelty of turning the inhumane work condition of the Tepco workers into humanist “heroic” stories), but I’d say it is a political choice to determine the right time to launch this.

a confused thought, no doubt, but I needed to posit this anti-intellectual response.” [shota ogawa, kine-japan, 17/03/11]

“Anyway we are aiding stuff till not delivered to victim. It seems than can’t deliver for disaster area. The foods are going corruption and people are starvation because of hunger. Its impossible to help victim at disaster area really messy and nothing life line. And that have nuclear happens. Everyone confuse everything bollixing.witch way is best? Must think best way and manage… We can’t go there if will go only make more happens and nuisance . I hope aid from garments and It will be quickly and soon.” [kazumi masutani, osaka, 17/03/11]

“I hope everyone can life of ordinary early [fast].” [shoko yamada 12/3/11 - day after quake]

sensory weapons

Posted by Chris on September 29, 2009 at 10:26 am  

as many of you may know, the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh last week saw the first deployment of a LRAD (‘long range acoustic device’) in America. this is not the first time it had been used. previous tests/deployments have occurred/are occurring in Prison Camp Bucca, Iraq, off the Somali coast against pirates/fishermen and by the Israeli army to break up a demonstration against the separation wall. Kode9 talks about sonic weapons in relation to fear, the psychological and nervous reactions to sound:

“We all know that a siren, an alert siren, an air raid siren, or your alarm clock, we all know what they mean, but there’s a level at which they just directly get on your nerves, they’re frequencies that are there to get on your nerves and to make you act, to make you alert, and to take action immediately. Because they’ve either woken you up or they’re a signal of danger. So there’s a direct immediacy of sound, getting under your skin, on your nerves, making you respond to danger, in a fight or flight… basically reflexive or autonomic response.” via

he cites Israeli jets systematically breaking the sound barrier by night over Gaza, blitzkrieg (screaming dive bombers over Britain in world war two) and a horn used by Maroons in Jamaica to signal/anticipate an attack on the English. the G20′s LRADevice marks a shift from this through its brutal physicality. the maximum volume is 146db (at a range of 1 metre). the human pain threshold for sound is 120-140db and this volume can permanently damage hearing. here, the sound itself becomes the object of fear rather than the thing it is co-conditioned with. here is some footage from Pittsburgh (be careful, it’s quite loud).

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what is particularly disturbing to me are the forensics of this idea. the police, army or a ship from the other side of the world, whose crew is willing to use it can effectively possess you by breaking down the barrier between an external and internal threat, co-opting your senses and using them against you. it doesn’t stop at sound; the following sensory devices are currently under development or on order (these below and much of this post borrowed from here).

Raytheon Corp.’s Active Denial System, designed for crowd control in combat zones, uses an energy beam to induce an intolerable heating sensation, like a hot iron placed on the skin. It is effective beyond the range of small arms, in excess of 400 meters. Company officials have been advised they could expand the market by selling a smaller, tripod-mounted version for police forces.

The Penn State facility is testing a “Distributed Sound and Light Array Debilitator” a.k.a. the “puke ray.” The colors and rhythm of light are absorbed by the retina and disorient the brain, blinding the victim for several seconds. In conjunction with disturbing sounds it can make the person stumble or feel nauseated. Foreign Policy in Focus reports that the Department of Homeland Security, with $1 million invested for testing the device, hopes to see it “in the hands of thousands of policemen, border agents and National Guardsmen” by 2010.

and the sonic ones in full:

Long Range Acoustic Device or “The Scream,” is a powerful megaphone the size of a satellite dish that can emit sound “50 times greater than the human threshold for pain” at close range, causing permanent hearing damage. The L.A. Times wrote U.S. Marines in Iraq used it in 2004. It can deliver recorded warnings in Arabic and, on command, emit a piercing tone…”[For] most people, even if they plug their ears, [the device] will produce the equivalent of an instant migraine,” says Woody Norris, chairman of American Technology Corp., the San Diego firm that produces the weapon. “It will knock [some people] on their knees.” CBS News reported in 2005 that the Israeli Army first used the device in the field to break up a protest against Israel’s separation wall. “Protesters covered their ears and grabbed their heads, overcome by dizziness and nausea, after the vehicle-mounted device began sending out bursts of audible, but not loud, sound at intervals of about 10 seconds…A military official said the device emits a special frequency that targets the inner ear.”

In “Non-lethal Technologies: An Overview,” Lewer and Davison describe a lengthy catalog of new weaponry including the “Directed Stick Radiator,” a hand-held system based on the same technology as The Scream. “It fires high intensity ‘sonic bullets’ or pulses of sound between 125-150db for a second or two. Such a weapon could, when fully developed, have the capacity to knock people off their feet.”

walls behind the scenes

Posted by Chris on June 30, 2008 at 4:12 pm  

finally back in front of a computer after sonar… personal highlights were bass clef’s new soca tune (and him bashing a cowbell along to it) as well as scotch egg beating several shades of scotch shit out of the sound. what’s funny is that I could have seen both these acts in London and Brighton respectively at any point in the past year (though obviously not with the same vibes).

On the other hand/hemisphere, I was looking forward to seeing konono no.1, but they weren’t there. must be visa problems i thought. sadly it was. a statement from the group’s manager:

“This is the Schengen zone. The countries pass the buck to each other and each one asks for different documents. They are stopping a group which earns money, feeds dozens of families and has no intention of living anywhere except for the Congo from travelling to Europe. The proof of that is that they have all returned to their country after numerous international tours.” via.

Biometric visas are soon to be EU-wide, but the UK is ahead of the game. Each member of the band must travel to the nearest UK visa office to be fingerprinted. In Konono no.1′s case the nearest office is 1500 miles away in Kenya. This proved financially and logistically impossible despite the intervention of Congo’s interior minister and the contingent factors that the band are veterans of several international tours, have the high profile of having recorded with Bjork and been put on a pedestal by the BBC. As in the case of Les Amazones de Guinée the UK still retains the right to turn musicians with visas away at the border. (via). Precedents such as Papa Wemba’s entourage might provide an excuse, but mass-fingerprinting (for both now and held for posterity) whether it happens to anyone (non-EU) who wishes to enter the UK or to every Roma person in Italylink -(with the echos of fascism and extermination that invokes) is terrifying, driven in no small part by the political logic of a permanent and total security emergency (“emergenza di sicurezza”) and the massive post 9-11 bubble economy that benefits from producing the technology such a situation claims to necessitate (you know that checking UK biometric visa applications is privatised and outsourced right?)

I should mention that in konono no.1′s absence el guincho stepped up and did a heavy percussive live set, but in the end that’s little comfort – especially for African musicians who don’t have konono no.1′s profile and who want to play in Europe. to explicate from one of the links buried above:

how can fingerprinting all visitors and EU nationals be considered proportionate? How can a system designed for the broad purpose of border management be limited in purpose? How can the European Commission ensure the quality of data when fingerprint and facial recognition processing is so unreliable? With no clear goal other than to use new technology how can this be seen as necessary? via.

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Konono no.1 at the Barbican, London in 2006. have old bald man must shock out.

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