Nine people sitting on the basement floor folding paper into origami birds, four microphones hanging from the ceiling, a loudspeaker pair at each end of the room. A sound going on, unmistakeably but ambiguously emanating from this activity, suggestive of the palpitations of a locust swarm, the feeding of insect eaters biting their way through a bounty of desiccated wings and bleached bones. The white cranes accumulate, piling up in earthbound flocks next to their makers. I am conscious of furniture in the room, the chair on which I sit, the movement of hands, a thin garment hanging loosely on the wall, a vivid red teapot.

Gradually, patterns emerge in the sound, lulls falling mysteriously, overtaken by industrious surges. A Max patch is at work. Now the sound piece thins, leaving a sparse acoustic crackle that exactly matches the quick, concentrated effort of the folders. Their number has grown to fourteen. This is a durational piece – four hours at this point – so some of them have returned from a break. The atmosphere of dedication is the focal point that holds it all within its shape and volition, no obvious breakage points other than the sight of doing and making, the growth of birds.

Upstairs we speak in low voices, respectful of the crackling quiet below.

For a moment I think of Chim-­Pom’s installation pieces – Non-Burnable, Real Thousand Cranes and The History of Human – all of which refer to the vast quantities of paper cranes sent from all over the world to the city of Hiroshima each year and to the practice of Senbazuru, folding one thousand paper cranes connected together by strings. According to Japanese legend, a person who folds one thousand paper cranes – one for every year of the mystical crane’s life – will be granted whatever they wish for.

But then I think of the sounds of labour: the physical impact of an axe cutting into a tree, the making of objects by hand, a typing pool (as seen only in old films) or the agricultural workers in Suffolk who would ease the monotony of threshing by mimicking the patterns of bell-ringing, their flails beating the same rhythm on the elm floor as the bells in a church steeple.

There are those records in my collection devoted only to songs and sounds of working: a Folkways 10-inch LP, The World of Man: His Work, which, notwithstanding the title, includes examples of women working: a Norwegian woman calling cattle to the barn to be milked, a Japanese woman spinning thread, women waulking, pounding and pulling tweed in the Hebrides, singing to make the work go with joy and pace. Then more grim than that, Alan Lomax’s recordings of prison songs made at Parchman State Penitentiary, Mississippi, in 1947, and Bruce Jackson’s Wake Up Dead Man: Black Convict Work Songs from Texas Prisons, made in 1965-6, the percussive thud of axes and hammers resounding in hot air as they rise and fall in unison, beating the rhythm of songs like “Rosie”, “Grizzly Bear” and “Early In the Morning.”

Lucie Stepankova’s idea for Fold was to bring together a spatial composition with this physicality, the working of paper and legend, “[exploring] the sonority of the ancient tradition of paper folding (origami), its ritual aspects and meditative potential. It values collectivity, simplicity and the transcendental quality of repetition over a long duration.”

At the beginning of Yasunari Kawabata’s post-war novel, Thousand Cranes, a young woman serves tea to the male protagonist. She becomes known as the girl of the thousand cranes, simply because she “carried a bundle wrapped in a kerchief, the thousand-crane pattern in white on a pink crape background.” The image of a thousand cranes haunts the text. Starting up in flight or flying across the evening sun, their flashes of brilliance momentarily cut across guilt and suffering. “The sound of her broom became the sound of a broom sweeping the contents from his skull, and her cloth polishing the veranda a cloth rubbing at his skull.” Happiness is a wish.

Fold, a listening environment, was performed at Hundred Years Gallery, E2 8JD, during the afternoon of Saturday March 24th, 2018.

About davidtoop

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.
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