Monday, January 31, 2011

Cliffe Marshes 25 January 2011 part 1 & 2

The Lumen Log - Part 1

Following our recent interview I was asked to accompany Sanderson and Ball on a field trip to Ciffe Marshes, the location for the filming of the original Green on the Horizon. Both Sanderson and Ball were intending to document the journey on camera but it was felt useful to have an impartial ‘third man’ to log the proceedings in note form.

We arrived at Higham station at about 11 AM. Upon arrival both Sanderson and Ball made use of the Victorian toilet facilities at the station before we set off over the railway bridge, passing through Lower Higham and then up Church Street towards the marshes.

At the top of Church street we turned left past a small cottage which I was assured was once a pub and onto the start of the footpath. The ground was heavily waterlogged from the recent rain and we had walked but a few yards before the path became impassible having turned into a small pond. Alternative routes were sought to the left and the right but here streams were found to block the route. After some deliberation we retreated a short way and entered a field looking for a way round. However after some time spent circumnavigating the field we found our route once again blocked by a stream.

It was felt best to try an alternative path altogether via the church. We retraced our steps through the village, passing a somewhat over excited Alsatian dog whose owner looked on impassively as it barked at us furiously before reaching the level crossing and finally on to the marshes.

We were now not at the beginning of the day’s planned route but rather the end point and so it was agreed we would to try and rejoin the intended path. We climbed a gate and began traversing a field. Overhead were two sets of impressive pylons and a number of telegraph poles. Sanderson had brought along some stills from Green on the Horizon and attempted to correlate the shots with the landscape before us. Meanwhile Ball took out his iPhone which it soon became clear was the only map/navigation device we had.

After some zig-zagging to avoid the more waterlogged parts of the field we found ourselves in the bottom corner close to the original path but with our progress frustrated once again by a stream. This would become a regular pattern throughout the morning, as it would seem that all the fields on the marshes are surrounded by streams or drainage ditches. Each field has one or more gates leading to another similar field. However upon entering the field it is far from clear where the next gate is, if indeed there is one as some fields are effectively islands. On repeated occasions we arrived at the edge of the field within sight of our intended destination but thwarted by yet more water.

This maze like reconnaissance went on for about an hour and a half with much criss-crossing and retracing of steps. We passed through fields of sheep and cattle that looked on bemused at the lack of progress we were making. Sanderson began suggesting that we should perhaps rewind altogether and take the designated footpath. Ball ignored this suggestion but began to spend more time peering intently at his iPhone.

By one o’clock we were but yards from the estuary wall but once again we were separated from our goal by a stream. It was felt that lunch was in order and so a short break was taken for sandwiches. After yet more studying of the digital device Ball announced that with a slight detour back through a couple of fields we might find the original path. Slightly reluctantly we tramped off expecting another set of maneovers but as luck would have it we did indeed find the path a few moments later. Spirits noticeably lifted; Sanderson got out his mp3 player and from the headphones came the sound of extracts from the original soundtrack to GOTH whilst Ball rested his HD camera on a fence post to record a passing container ship as it glided glacially by.

From the estuary wall (also known as the Saxon Shore Way) we could see over to Kings North power station, which was pumping out grey smoke into the already leaden sky. Whilst no doubt environmentally unfriendly it was a pleasing sight. A few yards further on we had an encounter with one of the many Shetland ponies that have now inexplicably taken up residence on the marshes.  Sanderson attempted to feed the pony some tangerine but the rather mournful animal was not the least bit interested letting the fruit fall to the ground.

 Part 2

A little way on we reached the elbow in the shore wall where the concrete second world war anti-tank blocks are still situated. This was the location for two of the original sequences; the first showing ‘the girl’ Judith Langham lying curled up on one of the blocks with her small portable tape recorder, and the second section in which Judith negotiates the blocks, appearing and disappearing behind, and then in front of them. This Sanderson informed me was achieved using the Super 8 camera’s dissolve setting, which allows for ‘in camera’ effects. There was no such magic on this occasion, though a curious déjà vu was created when Ball placed his iPhone on the block where the original shot had been taken.

I asked if the new performers, William Fowler and Leigh Milsom would be accompanying us on a future visit to the marshes to re-enact the sequences, but received a mixed response. Ball suggested that yes this was indeed the plan, but the answer from Sanderson was more opaque, creating the impression that perhaps that this was not a trial run but the actual shoot. 

It was now early afternoon and the weather was getting noticeably worse with the sky darkening. After some debate it was agreed to push on to the final destination of the original film Cliffe Fort, whilst the light was still good enough. We trudged along the shore almost in silence until somewhat unexpectedly as we came closer we could make out a figure on top of the fort. This was a man dressed in full army camouflage equipped with rifle. As no soldiers are currently stationed at the location we assumed he was some kind of enthusiast, though Ball looked concerned as he pointed his camera towards him to shoot some footage that he might repay the compliment. Whether his rifle was loaded it was impossible to tell but it was a slightly disconcerting sight. Having spotted us the ‘soldier’ however posed and grinned, his rifle aloft. Just at that moment from overhead came a whirring sound, and looking up we could see a small yellow single-seater helicopter, the sort one might glimpse in 1960s spy films. I began to wonder if all this was coincidental, or whether perhaps Sanderson and Ball had resources beyond my expectations, and this was all some elaborate prank. If so they were good actors as they seemed as nonplussed as I was by the turn of events. 

We were now by the rear of the fort and at the time of filming over twenty years before, it had been possible to gain entry to the fort through a gap in the fence, indeed there is a shot of ‘the girl’ doing just that. The metal fence was still there, but a further small fence had been added presumably to stop children and filmmakers gaining entry. This was broken down at one point and thinking that this offered a way in we slipped down the bank only to find ourselves ensnared in brambles, and after much muttering about torn clothing it was decided to abandon trying to get into the fort fro today at least, and we began to retrace our steps back towards the railway station. This proved relatively simple compared with our incoming journey, taking less than half an hour. We stopped on the way at the church which as with many village parishes was open, to firstly remove the caked mud from our shoes, and then to record a version of the ‘theme’ from Green on The Horizon,which Ball whistled as he walked back and forth in the resonant space. Back down Church lane and a couple of much needed drinks were had at the Railway Tavern, and then it was off back to London. 

Note: since writing the Railway Tavern has closed and Kingsnorth power station has been decommissioned. The marshes remain in a state of flux. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

from the first visit to Cliffe Marshes in 25 years

the path starts here
there are no reliable maps of the marshes
this changing landscape
sun behind pylons
static, static overhead

Monday, January 17, 2011

a straight line is not always the shortest distance between two points

As previously noted, Guy Debord's psychogeography is very much an urban phenomenon, which shouldn't be too surprising as his spiritual forebears were urban flaneurs like Blake, De Quincey, Baudelaire and Benjamin, whose mix of literary gravitas, visionary pretensions, and vague transgressiveness, have their echoes in contemporary psychogeographic aspirants like Ian Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd. Debord's own definition of psychogeography was helpfully vague: "...the study of the specific effects of the geographic environment, consciously or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals", but one suspects that with most of the flaneurs who like to bandy about the word, the individuals upon whose emotions and behaviours the geographic environment is having an effect is particularly themselves.  

Patrick Keiller, who is also often characterized as a contemporary psychogeographer, would on the face of it, after his film London, appear to have left the urban behind to take psychogeographic practices out into the broader field and fields of suburban and regional England, a process continued by the recent Robinson in Ruins. It would be misleading, however to think that this meant that psychogeography had become in any way ruralized. In fact it's probably more accurate to say that, what passes for the countryside of England has become urbanized. While it may not be located within an urban conurbation, the English rural is almost entirely industrialized in one way or another, to greater or lesser degree, from industrial scale farming through to the production of power be it nuclear, wind or water, or the production of consumers in shopping centres, at least in the world that Robinson inhabits.

Alfred Watkins
Alfred Watkins, the discoverer of ley lines, who wrote at length about his discovery providing countless examples and speculation as to their significance in his 1925 book The Old Straight Track, is too often erroneously cited as an early example of a psychogeographer.  Watkins’s discovery could be easily summed up, although not dismissed, by saying that he found that ancient man-made features in the landscape (buildings, burial mounds, churches, fords across streams and rivers, etc) are frequently found to be aligned along straight lines that could be described across the countryside. Watkins's ley lines are not exclusively rural and are also found in urban places, but due to rural architecture being more spaced out they are more easily traced visually at ground level. It was Watkins's practice as a landscape photographer that first alerted him to the phenomenon, crucially though he never ascribed any psychological properties to geography as a result of his discovery. He speculated about the material history of the landscape and the activities of its inhabitants, but didn’t made the leap into the kind of imaginary and metaphysical realm that psychogeographers inhabit.  

Objects that exist in the physical environment that humans inhabit, whether human-made or 'natural', are entities unto themselves. The imaginary inscribing and/or ascribing of psychological or metaphysical properties to them is a purely cultural invention, and in the modern period can be seen as an extension of humanism's project to describe the world in correlation to the human, whether rural or urban, psychogeography rests on a similar conception of 'the real' as existing to be exploited by the human imaginary.

In his book Electric Eden Rob Young suggests that the British Isles hasn't produced 'driving' music in the same way that say the US or Germany has. Due to the lack of space for long roads on the land mass, Britain " not large enough to have generated a culture of the open road... travel is more commonly linked to the sense of a quest, a journey undertaken for purposes of knowledge or self-restoration... the British road is a road to the interior, of the imagination rather than a physical coverage of distance...". Young cites this in explanation for the 1960s counter cultural back-to-nature flight from the city to imaginary mystical Edenic rural idyll. This seems a fair observation, however he then seems to conflate this with Alfred Watkins and the Land Art of the likes of Richard Long. While an English exotic mysticism of ley lines, their link to water divination, dowsing, the occult and new age Earth Mysteries culture, might have been given legitimacy by the re-publication of The Old Straight Track in 1970, it was never speculated upon by its author, spiritual and supernatural significance was attributed after the fact, first in the 1930s and then in the ‘60s.   

left: Alfred Watkins Arthur’s Stone, Dorston, Green Way Sighted to and Beyond the Mound
Black and white photograph, published as fig.14 of Alfred Watkins, The Old Straight Track
right: Richard Long A Line Made by Walking 1967
There is however a remarkable similarity between the images produced by Richard Long and Alfred Watkins.  I would venture that there is a distinction that needs to be drawn between the photography and writing of Watkins and both the psychological meanderings of psychogeography and occult ley line mysticism.  By unhitching metaphysics from psychogeography, we might get closer to Watkins's original project, which has much more to do with measuring distance into the past.

Like Watkins, Richard Long's Land Art is concerned with the land itself, with the fact of being in the landscape the activity of measuring it, the conceptual project of seeing it not as an extension of the human imaginary, but as an entity in itself, upon and within which the human is but one agent, almost as the imaginary extension of the land, not vice versa. Long's work  displays little or nothing of the back-to-nature romantic essentialism of the hippies who fled as far as the remote isles of Scotland. They tend to be concerned with the material physicality of being in the landscape, resulting often in formal and structural investigations framing, measuring, tracing, traversing the land and its environmental phenomena. This is equally if not more true of much of the landscape film of the 1970s: the work of Chris Welsby with their sophisticated interaction with phenomena of the landscape, Michael Snow's La Région Centrale, or some of the films of Guy Sherwin, David Parsons, Nicky Hamlyn and others, which engage with formally precise filming of rural landscapes, born from the relationship between the camera and features in the field, very much in the same mold as the equally grounded level explorations of Watkins. 

left: frames from Riding Ring, Guy Sherwin, 16mm, 1976
right: the device used to make Stream Line, Chris Welsby, 1976

frames from Vertical David Hall, 1969
David Hall's 1969 film Vertical is perhaps even closer to the spirit of Watkins with its perceptual framings and frames in the landscape, the relationship with how things line up with distance and perspective, and its illusory games. For Hall, like Watkins, standing stones are objects of spatial reference, not sacred or mystical sites.

An excellent research paper on Alfred Watkins can be found at the Tate Research site.

None of the Apostrophe S trilogy uses the formal Watkinsesque approach to photographing the landscape; perhaps when we made those films we were too close to a time when there had been something of a reaction to structural film.  I do however remember someone referring to Green on the Horizon as having echoes of a ‘film coop formalism’, or some such thing.  Equally the project does trade on the supernatural associations with ley lines, dowsing, ghost sightings, and so on, that I am somewhat scornful of above.  Indeed Hangway Turning became something of a catalogue of such phenomena.  Having said this I think this was always presented as something of a consciously constructed and appended fiction, somewhat self-aware of its vague absurdity and by extension the absurdity of the myths and urban legends that were attached to specific places while simultaneously helping to define their identity as places, and associating these to the broader cultural frame of myths that might relate to them.

Hangway Turning

Original Treatment

This was the original treatment and indeed script, story board and anything else you care to mention for Green on the Horizon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Measuring Distance

Three videos from Youtube all about measuring height or distance. Interesting to watch the different camera angles/techniques. The first video looks to have been shot some years ago (1970s-80s?) in the classic information film style (copied/spoofed by Peter Greenaway). Notice the different number of shots from different angles and the use of zoom. Though documenting a continuous process the use of detailed close-ups gives a pleasing discontinuity and a certain fetishistaion. (Note you will need to fast forward through the dull diagram sections). 

The next video shows a style which is much used by contemporary Youtube information videos and has its origins in TV programmes such as Top Gear. Using fixed tripod shots with the presenter talking directly in an animated/physical fashion to camera (rather than using a voice over as in the first two videos). the presenter moves in and out of frame at the beginning and end of shots with his commentary providing a link between shots creating the impression of a continuity as if he were walking directly from one shot to another in real time. The presenter also often points to or at things in the frame almost as if it were a picture or backdrop. There is a nice touch in this video on the thumb shot when the commentary was clearly recorded in a complettly different space.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Taking Steps

Typically, a conventional navigation system helps users locate routes or paths from one location to other locations. However, the conventional navigation systems use maps, streets, and/or a Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate routes or paths. A problem exists with the conventional navigation systems when the user is in a building or other structure, where there are no street identifiers or a map. Another problem may be attributed to a poor or nonexistent connection to GPS satellites due to the user being inside a building or other structure, due to reflection off the exteriors of large buildings or other objects, due to destructive interference of the signals from towers in urban areas, or due to the type of construction materials used in some buildings. These problems make it impossible to rely on the conventional navigation systems to find paths or routes. Thus, when a recorded route or a recorded path is needed later, there would not be one available to help the individual retrace steps.... 

...Techniques for creating breadcrumbs for a trail of activity are described. The trail of activity may be created by recording movement information based on inferred actions of walking, not walking, or changing floor levels. The movement information may be recorded with an accelerometer and a pressure sensor. A representation of a list of breadcrumbs may be visually displayed on a user interface of a mobile device, in a reverse order to retrace steps. In some implementations, a compass may additionally or alternatively be used to collect directional information relative to the earth's magnetic poles.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

known locally as 'The Turnlock', in the mid-division of the county

Walking from Aylesford via Eccles, the village just visible in the southwest of the map, I arrive at the junction and turn left towards Burham.

Immediately the road turns quite steeply down a hill and round a sharp bend. According to the map the path that leads to the tunnel entrance is somewhere around here, but there are no accessible paths from the road opposite Little Culand, Culand Farm and Petts Farm...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Now we are getting somewhere

Guy Debord unquestionably saw the  dérive as a primarily urban activity going so far as to say that “Wandering in open country is naturally depressing, and the interventions of chance are poorer there than anywhere else.” and that …”the primarily urban character of the dérive, in its element in the great industrially transformed cities that are such rich centres of possibilities and meanings…”.

The city in which every space is rich with nuance; continually contested and defended, mapped and redrawn through time and space offers itself up as the natural habitat of the dériveur but should the countryside be so easily dismissed, indeed did Debord misread the potential for out of town deriavtion ?

Certainly it is true that the country is depressing for the city dweller for though it offers a possible retreat from the caffeine like stimulus of the street just as soon as we have got ‘away from it all’ we feel immediately alienated; our senses simultaneously under stimulated and overwhelmed as the oppressive open sky bears down on us offering no shade or comforts. For whilst the city presents a continual series of opportunities for pleasure (underpinned in the capital by commercial transaction) the countryside offers no such joys. In an open field the best thing to do with one’s money is to set light to it to keep warm.
Physical discomfort is everywhere in the country and the townsman is ill prepared with the wrong clothing, shoes, headgear, baggage and most of all temperament. Nonetheless if the dériveur can overcome these obstacles and indeed possibly integrate them into his or her dérive the country side is a rich source of possibilities. Far from being in any sense wild and unplanned it as worthy of psychogeographical study and reinterpretation as any street or avenue.
Arguably indigenous Australians and Canadians were the first landscape dériveurs: mapping the terrain they traversed as an ongoing narrative. The projected landscape of dreams, criss crossed and continually redrawn to reflect changing weather patterns, migratory animal movements, plant growth, seasonal variations is a form of daily dérive in which movement is the norm and one is only ever camped out and never settled down.
The contemporary countryside offers few such possibilities. Though stripped of the simple financial exchanges of the city in which time and space can (and indeed increasing have) to be bought every acre in the countryside is mapped, parcelled managed and commodified. Even set aside, land allowed to idle is a paid for and carefully (un)managed to sets of guidelines.

But for every sign declaring ‘private property keep out’ there is a footprint asserting a right of way; a declaration of the temporary nature of land ownership and the ancient right to traverse the terrain, and tread the ground, creating paths and track ways  from A to B and back again but possibly via C or D or even F. Such track ways can be both immediate – the ill advised short cut through some unlit scrubland always advised against and yet always taken or so ancient that they form Ley Liens or with a magnetic pull drawing the walker along the arteries of a psychogeographical  energy grid linking nodal points. The repeated traversals creating a ritualised focus for the accumulation and discharge of energy influencing the land and people around them.

Lest we get confused though it should be made clear the contemporary countryside dériveur is no rambler equipped with Gortex, stout shoes, thermos and proper maps. On the contrary the outdoor dériveur should come ill equipped physically and mentally and be prepared to get lost, to stumble both literally and psychogeographically upon the terrain. The contemporary countryside dériveur should come equipped with recording and playback devices (hand held or otherwise) and an open mind filled with vaguely remembered stories, rumours and half baked and misunderstood theories. Above all they must be resolute and painstaking in the pursuit of the purposeless nature of the activity ideally recording anything and everything. Finally they must be prepared to abandon the project at the first possibility before then retracing their steps through the time and space of tapes and terrain.   

Monday, January 3, 2011

Return to Sender


The staff at the new Post Office Counters Distribution Centre, built at Aylesford in 1994, seemed from the very earliest days to have more than an unfair share of ill-luck. In fact, in many cases, it was too slight a term to call it ill-luck; it was very serious personal misfortune which in some instances was deeply damaging to those involved. In the first three years of the building's existence each one of the twenty three employees experience alarming personal disturbances. There was a variety of tragic domestic and work-related problems. There were illnesses, breakdowns, marital problems, the unexpected deaths of relatives, broken hearts and a whole range of other dramatically upsetting matters.

There seemed to be no accounting for such adversity. No one had ever before experienced such a run of troubles, spread as it was, right across the workforce. It was certainly beyond any reasonable expectation, far beyond coincidence. And not unnatuarally the men and women working there began to talk among themselves, speculating about what might be the cause of so many unhappy afflictions. As one of them said at the time: 'You try every rational explanation but it's been three years now and everyone in regular contact with this place suffers from it.'

What the employees had begun to feel was that there was something extraordinary about their workplace. It was new, a modern industrial unit which ought to have been a pleasure to work in, but it was somehow depressing. There were even some who believed that they had seen apparitions in the building. It was almost, some staff dared to think, as if it was cursed. There were suggestions that these worries ought to be addressed to senior officials but there was some fear about how such concerns might be received. What were people at head office going to think if they received a letter from staff at Aylesford saying that they thought the building was cursed? It is likely to be dismissed as silly, hysterical nonsense.

And it was at that point, in the summer of 1997, that someone proposed calling in Kevin Carlyon. Some of them had read about him in the newspapers; others had seem his at times on Meridian News or heard him on the radio. Why not ask him if he could help? It would be unofficial, of course. No one at head office would likely to sanction calling in a witch. But it was worth a try and so they contacted him at his home in St Leonards, near Hastings, East Sussex.