In a sub-basement deep below Brighton Town Hall, I’ll be using theremin, stories from the archives and my own automata to recall the lives of Britain’s self-styled nuclear survivalists. In the 1980s, while most of us lived in fear of Armageddon, this small band of enthusiasts prepared for nuclear war with relish, as though it was an extended, underground caravanning holiday.
This surprising, strangely moving and sometimes darkly funny show is based on rarely seen discoveries from the British archives. I’ll be accompanied on the night by actor Colin Uttley and by Hugo, our dilapidated, robotic ventriloquial sidekick who will be reading government announcements.
This show started as a 25 minute talk at the Catalyst Club, Brighton, and the Port Eliot Festival. It provoked a flood of memories and high emotion from audience members who grew up in the shadow of the bomb. That’s why I decided to create a full-length show for the Brighton Fringe, with music and automata. Nuclear missiles marked our lives, even though they remained in the silos – I’m hoping this show will get under the skin.
8pm Tues 7, Wed 8, Mon 13, Tues 14 and Wed 15 May
Old Police Cells Museum
Brighton Town Hall
Brighton BN1 1JA
The Brighton Festival Fringe is fast approaching and I’m hard at work, devising a new solo show Horlicks and Armageddon which will be taking place in a city sub-basement from 7-15 May. Here, I’ll be mixing music, film, robotics and readings from the archives to tell the little known story of Britain’s nuclear ‘survivalists’. In the 1980s, while most of us lived in fear of nuclear war, this secretive band of enthusiasts prepared for it with relish, as though it was an extended underground caravanning holiday.
This show includes a musical performance in which sounds are triggered and modulated live by a Geiger counter sensing radioactive materials. I’m looking for someone with expertise in nuclear physics to cast an eye over this performance, in rehearsal, and offer some informal advice. I can offer a small fee for your time. If you’re from a progressive science communication institute who might be interested in sponsoring such a venture – I’d love to talk. Do get in touch!
On 30 March, I’ll be performing live at Flatpack Festival, Birmingham, as one of a series of events celebrating the heyday of Birmingham Arts Lab. Here’s Alan Moore talking to Flatpack curators about arts labs in the 60s and 70s. With its lack of hierarchy, its collaborative working and an atmosphere which encouraged wild creativity, the arts lab scene has strong affinities with hacking and making culture today.
Wolfgang, robot drummer (photo Agata Urbaniak)
My performance is one of a series curated by Vivid Projects. I’ll be playing live on theremin, laptop and other electronics, accompanied by my robots - details coming soon. In the meantime, here’s a photo of one of my latest works: Wolfgang, a Kling Klang-inspired robot drummer. Wolfgang had his debut performance earlier this month at Spirit of Gravity, Brighton, and is one of the machines joining me on stage at Flatpack.
The Brighton Fringe is fast approaching and here’s a round-up of the shows I’m bringing this year. There’s a solo show of archival oddities and music, exploring Britain’s 1980s nuclear survivalists; a Spacedog set at Jane Bom-Bane’s music café and a theremin jam with Leila Dear, curated by Strange Attractor and Disinformation.
Horlicks and Armageddon
This new, solo venture takes place in a sub-basement refuge, deep under the streets of Brighton. I’ll be using electronic music, automata and spoken word to recall the secret lives of Britain’s self-styled nuclear survivalists. In the 1980s, while most of us lived in fear of Armageddon, this small band of enthusiasts prepared for nuclear war with relish, as though it was an extended, underground caravanning holiday. This event includes rarely seen documents from the National Archives.
20:00: 7, 8, 13, 14 and 15 May 2013
Sub-basement, The Old Police Cell Museum, Bartholomew Square, Brighton BN1
Tickets £8.50/£6.50 Book on the Brighton Fringe website.
Apart from a few brief theremin performances, I’m stepping back from live shows over the next few weeks as I’m working intensively in the studio.
This month, I’m composing music for The Effect, a sharp and witty new play by Lucy Prebble (writer of Enron). The Effect is a ‘clinical romance’, exploring the nature of love and sanity and the boundaries of neuroscience. The composition is somewhere between music and sound design – I’ve been engaged in a lot of last-minute Max/Msp wrangling to make the bleeps, clicks and drones of the laboratory and transform them into musical riffs. I’m working alongside the brilliant sound designer Chris Shutt – I’m hoping you can’t tell where his sounds end and mine begin. The Effect opens at the Cottesloe, National Theatre, on 13 November and runs until the end of February. It’s a joint production with Headlong and is directed by Rupert Goold.
As soon as The Effect is open, I’m taking an excursion to Belbury. Spacedog are delighted to be working on a 7″ single with Belbury Poly, due for release in early Spring 2013 as part of the Ghostbox Study Series. I’m also contributing to a code-based album and am featuring on an release by another fine electronic artist (details coming soon).
On 12 October, along with my fellow Spacedogs and Professor Elemental, I’ll be fulfilling a life-long ambition to play electronica on the end of a pier. We’re joining forces for the brand new Arts by the Sea Festival, Bournemouth.
Book tickets here: £7 (£6 concs.) or £12 (£10 concs.) for combined ticket with Paper Cinema Odyssey.
As well as performing our own music, we’ll be asking the professor to join us for some rarely-heard acoustic versions of a song or two from his own repertoire – including a number about man owls.
Ray Lee’s marvel, The Ethometric Museum, will also appearing at the festival.
You can hear a taster of our set for free on Saturday 29 September when we’ll be playing at Cafe Flirt, Bournemouth (no booking required). We’ll be there with at 10:30pm with vocals, theremin, percussion and our famous uncanny robots. Do come!
After years quietly suffering theremin envy, Spacedog percussionist Stephen now has his own electronic effects machine. In some recent experiments, we’ve wired a mediaeval bell tree to live video projections so his bell strikes can control part of the show. You can see this small electrical wonder in action on Sunday 30 September, when we’ll be playing free in the Brighton Digital Festival closing party.
Expect a set comprising theremin, wired percussion, robots, peculiar scientific films and wires.
Thanks to all of you who came to see Spacedog and Project Moonbase at Rocket Lolly this weekend. I had a wonderful time, playing theremin and sharing my archive of peculiar vintage science clips. As you can probably tell, I spend a lot of time in the archives, hunting for treasure. We’d love to take the show to other destinations so do get in touch if you’d like to host a Rocket Lolly evening at your venue or festival.
Those of you who came to the show might be interested to hear this number from the archives again. It’s a wonderfully optimistic song about the future of women’s lives in the age of electricity, recorded in 1935 by the Norwich Corporation Electricity Department. The song features Helen Raymond and the Sydney Baynes Orchestra. It’s available from archive.org under a Creative Commons Licence.
For one night only, Spacedog are taking over the big, BIG screen at the Ghillie Dhu, Edinburgh, and showing vintage infrasonic terrors, smoking robots, mind control experiments, space age fashions, bizarre time and motion studies and other gems from the archives. A feast of scientific and technological curiosities on film, from 1900 to present day, Rocket Lolly makes its Edinburgh debut on 15 April, bringing the International Science Festival to a close. Many films are accompanied live by Spacedog on vocals, vibes and theremin and the night will include some live performances from our robot pals.
8pm Sunday 15 April
The Ghillie Dhu, 2 Rutland Place, Edinburgh EH1 2AD
90 minute film-show with live music followed by a DJ set
Tickets £10 (£8) Buy your Rocket Lolly tickets online
On the night, we’re teaming up with Edinburgh’s finest retro-futuristic outfit Project Moonbase who are making a rare visit to planet Earth. They’ll be on hand to answer your queries about the future and to turn the Ghillie Du, Edinburgh, into the finest space age cocktail lounge as DJ Bongoboy takes to the wheels of steel. Hear a preview of Project Moonbase on iTunes.
This weekend, I’m heading to Sheffield to perform at the Megadork, an electronic cabaret for the city-wide Lovebytes Festival. I’ll be there with fellow Spacedog Jenny Angliss, my theremin and a few of our robot pals. Our set will include a new number featuring The Ventricle, my ox blood red 1960s handbag which pulsates like a human heart.
The Megadork is at the Showroom Cinema, Sheffield, 7pm, on Friday 23 March – see the Lovebytes website for tickets. On Saturday lunchtime, we’ll be performing for free in the Winter Gardens for the Lovebytes headphone festival. On Friday night, we’re sharing the bill with some very fine fellow hackers, including one of my heroes Paul Granjon. If you’ve never seen him in action, here’s an early film of him with his cybernetic parrot sausage… READ MORE
I’m back in Brighton after performing at QEDCon, a festival of talks and performances exploring science, technology and skepticism. Thanks so much to the organisers and volunteers for making the weekend run so smoothly – Stephen Hiscock and I had a fine old time.
Those of you who saw my talk ‘Voices of the Dead’ might enjoy this video. It features the voice recording I made on wax during the show, using an Edison phonograph. You can hear three voices. The first is Helen Chorley, reciting a poem, and the last is me, signing off. If any of you can pass on the name of the plucky individual who talks between Helen and me, I’d be really grateful.
As a thereminist who performs live with robots, the only time I suffer ukulele envy is when I have to set up or strike a show. After years of arm ache and stress before gigs, I’m trying to adopt the carefree life of the ukulele player by re-engineering my equipment so it can be carried on the bus, wheeled onto the stage, plugged into a DI box and played. The life of the ukulele player doesn’t need to be the stuff of fantasy – that’s why I’ve thrown myself into this re-engineering task – a job that’s unglamorous but essential. Currently, you’ll find me obsessing about flight cases and castors and pouring over ebay pictures of old prams. READ MORE