Skip to content

Karlheinz Stockhausen, PEN and the Solar System

October 2nd, a pleasantly cool morning after a horribly warm, clammy night. Orion and Sirius in the landing window on nights that seem clear, but are hazy. A white anemone tangling in the branches of our giant bonsai pine seems the right keynote for autumn, but really the garden still full of vivid colour: cosmos and verbena, gauzy showers of gaura and the little pearly yellow lotus buds still rising and opening in the goldfish pool. What amazing luck! says the BBC news. The driest September since records began! And almost the warmest. I'm such a curmudgeon, all I can think of is tree disease, the mass-death of the world's non-human animals announced this week, and the floods. I mean, right now, the floods of people, at our gates. (A prison fence around Calais, to keep them out. Just like the Mexican border! How Breaking Bad cool of us).


Saturday, we finally got round to visiting Shrinking Space's Digital Brighton show : a rare example of Peter and Gwyneth thinking must go and doing nothing, and yet actually getting round to it in time. In a huge dank hangar, graffitied like an underground car park, but which I think used to be a covered market, pairs of stools set by roof pillars dotted the endless grey concrete floor, some far in the distance, some close at hand. We get given headsets and MP4 players, and a quick induction by way of a very sketchy map. We wander. Disappointed at first: I never read the advertising properly, I'd been expecting an update on NASA's "music of the spheres" (sound transcription of the radio emissions of the different planets), and instead I was getting human voices, telling me solar system exploration things, I slowly became hooked. Interestingly, I didn't like Earth, it was too mundane (the Moon was a bit mundane too), and I didn't like the Sun, it was too big. I liked Venus and Mercury best of the planets, and Enceladus best of the moons, because it was most active, but it was difficult to hear Mercury: the Sun kept eating it. I liked Voyager a lot, because it was so thrillingly quiet, so mysterious; and I got confused by Rosetta.

Remote embodiment note: All the voices (apart from Earth and Moon) use the second person plural, uniformly, without a second thought. It's not a device out there, it is we. It is the people who are running the experiment, themselves. They have made a transition.

How fitting that the vast exhibition space was cold, drab and had no kind of atmosphere.

Ash Dieback

It's time I updated on this. So, the phony war is over. The real size of the invasion is emerging. There are currently 849 confirmed cases in the mainland UK and Northern Ireland. Do not be afraid, says the forestry commission site, like a doctor telling you what stage your cancer is at (not really, but it's rather the tone). These new figures represent better surveying, not new cases. I'm not afraid, I'm past that, but oh, I hate that horrible big outbreak in Lancashire, where I come from. I knew only God (ie, some level of genetic variant immunity) could save Sussex, the geography says so. But I was hoping . . . Anyway, it's not new bad news, right? Nor is it new bad news that we have more elms succumbing to Dutch Elm Disease this year, here in Fortress Brighton and Hove. It's expected that losses will continue: just the normal noises of the 21st century. A hiss and a sigh, a crackle of disembodied humanity.


Fred Vargas
and William Ryan, I only just discovered "Fred Vargas", lucky me. I think she's great. William Ryan isn't such a star, but I've just read both his books, police procedurals set in Stalin's Terror, and liked them both. Sounds bizarre, but it works. I also like his website, and the way he lists his sources, like a proper historian indeed; and as if people would like to know, like to find out for themselves. That's always been my attitude too.

Plus, and by no means least, James Smythe's The Machine, and Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker; in preparation for my date with them at the Southbank Centre on Monday 6th. I've cast myself as the critic on this panel, but if you are reading this, dear co-panellist writers, don't worry! I'm reaching into my activist-writer and critic past, with a piece from Imagination/Space.


And finally. . . belated congratulations to Gabriel Jimi Jones, who has handed in his Masters dissertation "Irrational Nuances: Stockhausen and the Performer in Klavierstucke I-XI". Fascinating stuff, almost spooky in a way, but maybe I better just hope he never reads the story I've handed in for Lynne Jamneck and T.S. Joshi's Gothic Lovecraft anthology...

I've spent the week wearily fixing the mistakes in my first proof of The Grasshopper's Child in solid form. It's coming along, this project, but now I also have to get Barry back, to fix the cover. Don't hold your breath.

For Your Diaries: October 11th . . . Is coming up fast. To TTIP or not TTIP? Me, I think I'll go to London and make it a combo: catch the GLOBAL FRACKDOWN event first. More on this later.