54. Cochlea (at CSM Kings Cross)

During a busy week in London, sometimes a little oasis of time opens up that you hadn’t anticipated or accounted for. In these times, that you call ‘Downtime’, you seem to find yourself again, reconnecting with some authentic aspect of self that is not compelled by duties and responsibilities and anxieties, but simply lives, and thus lives more roundly, joyfully, more deeply. Art informs such experiences and caters for these moments by providing the throbbing megalopolis with numerous refuges within which you can find temporary sanctuary.

You visited the magnificent British Library concourse between Euston and St Pancras stations, and there indulged yourself in a small exhibition based on the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘Alice in Wonderland’. You also visited the Crypt of a church by Euston station to try and catch the end of an exhibition by some recent graduates of Chelsea’s MA course working alongside  students from Munich. But you were too late, the works were being pulled up and out of the dark cold vaults, and placed in the backs of vans.

The show was called ‘Ruins of Time’. You walked in noting what a challenging space this is to master with almost any form of painting, sculpture, photograph, video or installation, but sensing it might be an excellent venue for sound art. Before you left the premises you managed to make the perhaps predictable quip that you had at least seen the ruins of the ‘Ruins of Time’.

You had also hoped to venture further down the Euston Road to yet another crypt where a group of friends is showing new paintings, but time and duty caught up with you. You sought refuge in the peace-loving Quaker’s ‘Friend’s House’, then opted instead for the sumptuous Wellcome Institute nearby. The shows here are sadly closed on the day you visited but you managed to surreptitiously eat your humble packed lunch there, and quickly browse the bookshop before returning to work.


Photo by Will Webster


The event that really marked your week in art however was ‘Cochlea’, a sonic event staged a few days later by CSM MAFA students, and sited in a new, spaceship-like annexe recently installed on the college’s roof.

You must apologise at this point if your blog sometimes appears biased towards certain locations, institutions etc. to which you too often return, but in truth that is only because you are restricted every week to writing and posting on some experience that you managed to fit in around your busy workaday London life, or on something which is in fact a part of your working week.

Sound art is also something we have discussed here before (e.g. see Susan Philipsz at Tate Britain) and it continues to appeal to you as a form of undiscovered continent for 21st century artists. It may be significant but over the past few years you have become almost inordinately passionate about Radio, haranguing your friends to listen to this or that show as a kind of contemporary masterpiece. You are also fascinated by the dialogue and difference between fine art and popular song, so whenever you catch one of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Soul Music’ series you invariably become immersed.

This week, durin a show about an inanely happy 1970s hit single, you found yourself listening emotionally to a recording of a deaf woman experiencing hearing for the first time. She consequently breaks down in tears as she experienced her nurse testing her newly installed artificial cochlea by simply reading out the names of the months of the year.You can hear it at the following link for about the next 21 days following the posting of this week’s blog: BBC 4 ‘Soul Music’ episode


Photo by Will Webster


For CSM’s ‘Cochlea’ event you were met by students and staff who ushered you out onto the roof of the college’s Kings Cross building. You briefly admired the spectacular view before entering the ‘spaceship’. Once seated within, a 30-minute sequence of sonic events was artfully unfurled.

For professional purposes you subsequently requested detailed information about the artists, works, titles, durations (all listed below), and some photographic documentation, but first -in the empirical spirit of this blog – it is best to simply pass-on what you recall of what you experienced, even if this leaves some gaps or perhaps creates some inaccuracies.


Photo by Will Webster


Speakers played a collage of sounds, which, you were informed later included elements of those recorded by the Voyager spacecraft, sounds from within a mother’s womb, and the hissing of Scuba Diving equipment (all appropriate to the particular space you were in.) These were punctuated by the repeated sonic image of a siren, slightly anachronistic you thought, the warning of another, a different war, a war of another place and time. But then, perhaps not.

On this very day politicians in Westminster were haggling over whether or not to ‘go to war’ in Syria, an act which was really just the latest extension of a war stretching across the world from refugees in Scottish villages to mines in Afghanistan, and which has been raging sine at least 9/11 and possibly ever since WW2. London is braced for terror attacks like those in Paris but it hasn’t, as yet, suffered aerial bombardments of the kind that have reduced so many cities in the Middle East and Afghanistan to rubble in recent years. that is something almost impossible for us to imagine but which millions know very well. This siren is therefore relatively safely recorded for you, but inevitably makes you think of its origins. From where did such a mechanised sound evolve? The howl of a wolf perhaps? Some ancient, animal warning?


Photo by Will Webster


The recorded sounds were then interrupted when two of those sharing the space with you stood up, pulled open newspapers, and started reading news reports, one from the Daily Telegraph the other from a tabloid paper. News about refugees now clashed in the air with news about celebrities. The readers occupied the small performing space like ominous monuments and they seemed to have been teleported in from the rush-hour station platforms nearby.

As the readers reached the end of their recitations the door opened and someone entered with a smart bag from within which they unravelled some technical equipment – wires, plugs, sockets and devices. You were briefly reminded of a hospital, of home visits from a doctor, but this arcane specialist turned their equipment on themselves, inserting a lollipop-shaped microphone into their own mouth and connecting it to a portable amplifier so that their breath grew louder and clearer in the space. Meanwhile they examined themselves, strangely, knocking hard bone discovered here and there, and, finding their body amplified and wooden-sounding, they they explored the familiar self, betraying no expression, as if it were in fact a newly discovered, life-sized puppet version of the self.


Photo by Will Webster


At one point there was a knock at the door but it seemed to go unanswered leaving you to wonder if it too was a brief and dramatic work of art? Thus sound attunes us to new kinds of minimal and forensic attention. Another collage of sound emerged, breaking up the sequence of sonic events and performances as they began to assemble a loose narrative in your mind.

Then three of those seated with you in the room stood and moved to face each other in a close triangle. They commenced whistling, each a single and similar note, sustained for as long as they could and then repeated the gesture. They gradually created a sonic space, an invisible harmony, somewhere in between them. Again expressionless, they seemed to serve their art, directly, essentially, and without ego, as if to work in service of their breath, and thus in service of their very life. As they remained standing, gently whistling, exhaling from pursed lips they sometimes made you fear they might run out of breath and collapse in a heap in front of you.


Photo by Will Webster


In fact , the longer they stood  and sustained their single notes the more coherent your slightly morbid reading of all these events, on this war-like day in London, grew. You started to think of these vertical bodies as whistling, not through joyful human agency, expressing the very fact of life, but perhaps whistling in the way that inanimate objects, even the bodies of the dead, might be activated, ‘sonicised’ (as the current jargon goes) by careless winds wistfully passing through them.

After a short period of uncertainty, the unmistakable sound of of applause finally closed the event, only for its ‘Reprise’ to begin soon after and for a subsequent audience. You walked out and back down to your workaday world, thankful for having been so transported, by this strange space, this ‘spacecraft’, by this art, these artists and by the special, increasingly rich and rewarding realm of sound, here investigated as a relatively unexploited medium by a new generation of artists.

‘Cochlea’ artists and their works in chronological order as performed in the event.

Subash Thebe, Title- Dark Matter Futuro, Duration- 4:30 mins

Alex Dipple with Shaun Joynson, Title: Two Texts 2015, Duration 2.00 mins

 Iman Awadh, Title: Interruption, Duration 00.25 sec

Christelle Viviers, Title:  Body_Tapping, Duration:  4 mins

Catarina Cubelo (with Nicola Lorini and Manji Kikuma), Title- We are Whistling, Duration- 7 mins

Harley Price, Title : Incarnation Implanted, Duration : 5 mins (interrupted by Iman’s piece at 3:00 mins)

Iman Awadh, Title: Interruption  Duration: 2.30 mins












2 thoughts on “54. Cochlea (at CSM Kings Cross)

  1. Reblogged this on CTS at LCC and commented:
    “At one point there was a knock at the door but it seemed to go unanswered leaving you to wonder if it too was a brief and dramatic work of art? Thus sound attunes us to new kinds of minimal and forensic attention. Another collage of sound emerged, breaking up the sequence of sonic events and performances as they began to assemble a loose narrative in your mind.”


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