Within listening is intimacy. The path to intimacy – with phenomena, other beings, objects, time, sensuality, the aliveness of things – lies through listening. A passing through. Seiji Morimoto, holding a rectangular metal box, slight movement, angled towards and away from light, chiaroscuro (as Caravaggio, as Georges de La Tour, as Robert Motherwell), tweaking controls; a small noise emerging, like pond weed in sunlight. Small moths flutter into the light of a table lamp, orbit fitfully, vanish. I thought of the tactical evasions used by moths when they detect the ultrasonic clicks of hunting bats: to emit their own high frquency clicks as a jamming mechanism, to fly erratically, to plummet to the ground as if dead. This is the most intense form of mutual listening, reciprocated clicks bouncing off bodies, clicks fired out into vacated space as one half of the partnership plays dead. Two heads, both strikingly classical in their own way, are in relation to each other; one dips close to the ground, the other is immobile, coaxing signals from a box. Later I remember Victor I. Stoichita’s account of a photograph taken by Gianfranco Gorgoni in 1974, of Andy Warhol and Giorgio De Chirico: “Though probably a snapshot, it nevertheless has the force of an oracle. It is the lighting that makes the photograph so dramatic, so much so that it is difficult to believe the snapshot has not been touched up. In any case, due to the unusual lighting, what could have remained a simple social record becomes an image of a transfer of power: through the freak pose, De Chirico passes his shadow world over to Warhol, together with an entreaty that he be its master (from A Short History of the Shadow, 1997). Trains scream, the hard exhaust of a motorbike passing through, distantly a cover version of Jorge Ben Jor’s “Mas Que Nada” and (again later) I think of Takuma Nakahira’s photographs, street scenes of sooty black, lamp black, blasted by flares and abysses of light. So there are snapshots, nothing else. (Cafe Oto Project Space, evening, 19 September 2017).
listening, the listener listening and listening stillness listening/movement listening listening to listening to listening
Ricocheting as a 1960s teenager between blues guitarist, art school dropout, Super 8 film loops and psychedelic light shows, David Toop has been developing a practice that crosses boundaries of sound, listening, music and materials since 1970. This practice encompasses improvised music performance (using hybrid assemblages of electric guitars, aerophones, bone conduction, lo-fi archival recordings, paper, sound masking, water, autonomous and vibrant objects), writing, electronic sound, field recording, exhibition curating, sound art installations and opera (Star-shaped Biscuit, performed in 2012). It includes eight acclaimed books, including Rap Attack (1984), Ocean of Sound (1995), Sinister Resonance (2010), Into the Maelstrom (2016, a Guardian music book of the year, shortlisted for the Penderyn Music Book Prize), Flutter Echo (2019) and Inflamed Invisible (2019).
Briefly a member of David Cunningham’s pop project The Flying Lizards (his guitar can be heard sampled on “Water” by The Roots), he has released fifteen solo albums, from New and Rediscovered Musical Instruments on Brian Eno’s Obscure label (1975) and Sound Body on David Sylvian’s Samadhisound label (2006) to Entities Inertias Faint Beings (2016) and Apparition Paintings (2020) on Lawrence English’s ROOM40 label. His 1978 Amazonas recordings of Yanomami shamanism and ritual - released on Sub Rosa as Lost Shadows (2016) - were called by The Wire a “tsunami of weirdness” while Entities Inertias Faint Beings was described in Pitchfork as “an album about using sound to find one’s own bearings . . . again and again, understated wisps of melody, harmony, and rhythm surface briefly and disappear just as quickly, sending out ripples that supercharge every corner of this lovely, engrossing album.”
In the early 1970s he performed with sound poet Bob Cobbing, butoh dancer Mitsutaka Ishii and drummer Paul Burwell, along with key figures in improvisation, including Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Georgie Born, Hugh Davies, John Stevens, Lol Coxhill, Frank Perry and John Zorn. In recent years he has returned to collaborative performance, working with many artists and musicians including Rie Nakajima, Akio Suzuki, Max Eastley, Tania Caroline Chen, John Butcher, Ken Ikeda, Elaine Mitchener, Henry Grimes, Sharon Gal, Camille Norment, Sidsel Endresen, Alasdair Roberts, Thurston Moore, Jennifer Allum, Miya Masaoka, Extended Organ (with Paul McCarthy and Tom Recchion), Ryuichi Sakamoto and a revived Alterations, the iconoclastic improvising quartet with Steve Beresford, Peter Cusack and Terry Day first formed in 1977. He has also made many collaborative records, including Buried Dreams and Doll Creature with Max Eastley, Breath Taking with Akio Suzuki, Skin Tones with Ken Ikeda, Garden of Shadows and Light with Ryuichi Sakamoto and co-productions (with Steve Beresford) for Frank Chickens, the 49 Americans and Ivor Cutler.
Major sound art exhibitions he has curated include Sonic Boom at the Hayward Gallery, London (2000) and Playing John Cage at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (2005-6). In 2008, a DVD of the Belgian film – I Never Promised You a Rose Garden: A Portrait of David Toop Through His Records Collection – was released by Sub Rosa, and in 2017 his autobiography – Flutter Echo: Living Within Sound – was published by Du Books in Japan. His most recent records are Dirty Songs Play Dirty Songs (Audika, 2017), Suttle Sculpture (Paul Burwell and David Toop live, 1977, Sub Rosa, 2018), John Cage: Electronic Music for Piano with Tania Chen, Thurston Moore and Jon Leidecker (Omnivore, 2018), Apparition Paintings (ROOM40, 2020), Field Recordings and Fox Spirits (ROOM40, 2020), Until the Night Melts Away (with Sharon Gal and John Butcher, Shrike, 2021) and Garden of Shadows and Light (with Ryuichi Sakamoto, 33-33, 2021).
He is Professor Emeritus at London College of Communication.