“Silence seems antithetical to the city. Urban spaces are not just noisy, they are noise. To replicate the traffic sound of the Place de la Concorde during the rush-hour, George Gershwin incorporated actual Parisian taxi horns into An American in Paris. Inspired by the sound and motion of a train journey between New York and Boston, his Rhapsody in Blue aimed for “a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot,… of our metropolitan madness.” To conjure up New York City in his Amériques, Edgard Varèse placed sirens in his orchestra. The electric bells, player pianos and aeroplane propellers of George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique unleashed the crazed energy of the city so well it resulted in a riot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. By the time it reached New York, it was receiving critical notice along the lines of, “Makes Boiler Factory Seem as Quiet as Rural Churchyard.”
I’ve written a piece on urban silence and sound over on White Noise. Enjoy.
Wholehearted thanks to University of Chicago Press (and especially Levi Stahl) for publishing the U.S. edition of Imaginary Cities, available now in all good bookshops (and Influx Press for taking a chance on the book in the first place when others thought, not without good reason, that I was deranged). It’s pretty incredible to think of something you’ve written reaching towns and cities you’ve never been to and people you’ll never meet, and have such generous responses from readers. A.V. Club have given the book a very kind review (“a rich text worth pouring over carefully, one that defamiliarizes the mundane and familiarizes the exotic”) as have The Quarterly Conversation (“[an] ambitious guidebook to the metropolitan ideal”) among others. It can be purchased online here.
The intention was to write the book as part of a loose cities trilogy, though all are stand-alone. I’m just about to hand in the manuscript for Tidewrack, which focuses on the city I grew up in (Derry) through the Second World War and the Troubles, and I’m about to pitch the third, A Doll’s House, which is an Oulipo and Edward Hopper-inspired study of rooms and real cities. The Pandora’s Box of urbanism that was opened with the first book is continuing in talks and articles (more of those to follow). Thanks to everyone who came to our Bartlett talk by the way, especially to Luke Pearson for organising it, and Chris Kelly and Anna Smit for being such wonderful hosts and people when I was in London.
‘Revolutions arrive in colours. Green in Ireland, carnation in Portugal, yellow in the Philippines, velvet in Czechoslovakia, rose in Georgia, orange in Ukraine, tulip in Kyrgyzstan, saffron in Myanmar. One hundred years ago in Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg), the October Revolution was red. A year into Bolshevik rule, artists in a carnival mood painted trees in Moscow scarlet and violet. An incensed Lenin condemned what he called “mockery and distortion.” In every ideologue, there lurks a puritan. Years later, the dazzling multi-hued Constructivist wonders of Yakov Chernikhov remained unbuilt while the gargantuan blank facades of the Stalinskie Vysotki skyscrapers towered above the inhabitants of Moscow.’
On colour, and its absence, in Western architecture over on White Noise
If you’re in London and interested in games & architecture, come along to this; it’s a great lineup and it’ll be a lot of fun. It’s also free – you can register here.
In advance of the French and U.S. editions of Imaginary Cities , I’ve been speaking to Minor Literature[s] about writing, rebellion, film and the meaning of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Thanks to Thom Cuell and Momus for the questions.
Finishing the last pieces of my next book, Tidewrack, at the minute (it’s out early next year with Vintage & FSG) and planning a subsequent book about rooms that I hope will be a contemporary response to Gaston Bachelard’s wonderful The Poetics of Space. Lots of talks coming up soon, mainly in England, so keep an eye out.
Machine Books have just published a short e-book of mine in their ‘Style: In Defence Of…’ series. It’s on Expressionist architecture; a style and movement I’ve been fascinated by for a while. Down the years I’ve managed to visit quite a few of these buildings in Germany, Holland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and also see its influence here (hello Brutalism) and further afield in Asia and Australia. It’s, by necessity, a short piece but I hope it’s a good introduction to those unfamiliar with the subject and a counter to the various myths that have grown up around the style. I’ve included images of the references I made in it below as a reference or alternatively just to feast your eyes on. Enjoy.
Shared some brief thoughts and fears on drones and borders in Alphr and the New Statesman respectively (in great pieces by Thomas McMullan and Stephanie Boland). I’m sure there’s some Foucauldian combination/clash of the two developments awaiting us in the coming future.