Quote Uncategorized

Biocentric – Gary Snyder/Patrick Geddes

Dipping into The Gary Snyder Reader and Jim Dodge’s excellent introduction:

[Snyder] views his work as inhabiting “the mythopoeic interface of society, ecology and language.”

He enlarges one’s delight in existence and amplifies the élan vital, the life force coursing through it all.  And if so doing he also, as Freeman House put it, “gives you the permission to use your senses and offers tools to take on the more destructive aspects of Western Civilization,” all the better.

The sense of work centred in place, of addressing a community that includes plants and animals as well as people.

The nature of imagination tends towards integration, inclusion and intimacy and as such is inimical to the alienation and homogeneity of corporate global capitalism, centralised government and the other forces of darkness that regard the planet as dominion rather than domicile, markets instead of hearths.

As his essays prove and his poems embody, Gary Snyder is among the most ferociously imaginative proponents of the bio-centric (“life-centred) view over the egocentric (self-centred) model.

Foreword by Jim Dodge, The Gary Snyder Reader, (New York: Counterpoint, 1999).

All of this also highly resonant with some of the key ideas of Patrick Geddes:

This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent on the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. Whereas the world is mainly a vast leaf colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.” 

Patrick Geddes final lecture to students at University College Dundee in 1918.

Everything I have done”, he once said at Le College des Ecossais, “has been biocentric; for and in terms of life, both individual and collective; whereas all the machinery of the state, public instruction, finance and industry ignore life, when indeed it does not destroy it. The only thing that amazes me, therefore, as I look back over my experiences is that I was not caught and hung many years ago.”

Rob Cowan quoting Hugh MacDiarmid and Geddes in Town and Country Planning, September 1979.


Now Playing: Ben Frost & Daniel Bjarnason – Solaris


2012 CE – The Stakes are High

Well fair to say that  there was not exactly an embarrassment of riches in the number of 2011 CE postings.  That is not to say that there was little activity.  Many randonnées, promenades, dérives and field studies were undertaken and valuable data collected for the archive. Perhaps it will be written up at some point and dribble out.  Perhaps not.  Some of this stuff needs time to gestate, energies need to be absorbed and connections mapped.  Anyway, the collective takes the view that linear chronology is much over-rated as are arbitrary time divisions such as months and years.  2011 CE should also be enough evidence that the trigger has been pulled to sink the final bullet into the twitching corpse of the delusionary grand narrative, of which ‘economic ‘growth’ is but one.  However, there is little doubt that we will continue to see politicians and the usual suspects spout their tired, unsustainable, ‘growth’ mantras in an increasing state of panicked denial. Perhaps their time would be better spent pondering Nietzsche’s thoughts on eternal recurrence or, even better, going for a walk.

So as a modest contribution to 2012 CE wellbeing, the collective will continue with their  excursions, deep topographical exploration and simply going for a walk.    We may even manage to write some of these up. Some may scoff at such pedestrian activities, yet let us not forget that recent calls for a “jasmine revolution” in China were met with armed police descending on public places to stop people “strolling”.

The stakes are high!



Now playing: Pete Swanson – Man With Potential

Quote Uncategorized

On Foot

“The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot”.

                                                                                                  Werner Herzog

Now playing: Alice Coltrane – Lord of Lords

Psychogeography Uncategorized


I pass the old Lexmark factory in Rosyth on an almost daily basis. One of those US campus style buildings, nestling incongruously amongst manicured landscapes, with obligatory pond and water features. 

This was supposedly the inspiration of ‘the factory’ in Gregory Burke’s Gagarin Way.  Another example of Scotland’s inward investment bribery policy whereby multinationals steam in hoovering up every ‘grant’ going and as soon as the subsidies expire they’re off to the next one. 700 jobs lost. The fluidity of global, multi-national capital.

The factory closed in 2006 and although some maintenance has clearly been going on, ‘nature’ has stealthily been making her mark. Lichens and green algae creeping over the sleek post-modern surfaces; roof foliage sprouting healthily; the pond now completely covered by water plants. How long before it all crumbles to dust reclaimed by greenery?

EDIT: A new sign has gone up this week!  Norwegian fish company Morpol is to buy the factory and use it to process Scottish smoked salmon.  Good news for Rosyth but wonder where the fish will come from? What sort of energies will a fish factory radiate? We shall monitor and investigate!

Now Playing : Asva – Presences of Absences.

Field Trip Psychogeography Symbol

Cup and Ring on The Binn – Burntisland

In a previous post, I wrote of being haunted by the cup and ring symbol.  In this wired, digital world, these cross-cultural, cross-geographic ciphers are all around us. Infiltrating our consciousness and yet remaining elusive and enigmatic.  Tune in and  they will reveal themselves in many unexpected places – from iPods to the X Factor, to packets of washing up powder.

How exciting to discover that some well-preserved marks exist on the north side of The Binn (Hill), the volcanic plug that overlooks Burntisland.  It’s unlikely that you would stumble across them without having been tipped a nod as to where they are – they have protected themselves well for over 4000 years.

Lets just say that when you find them, the setting makes perfect sense.  Vistas out over the Forth, high ground but sheltered.  The heavens and stars open above.  A place to capture energies of earth, wood, wind and sun; a place to  inscribe these enigmas upon stone. Make a mark.  An image of transmission; of energy radiating outwards, of ripples on the surface of consciousness being picked up by the tuned in antenna.  Perhaps our ancient forebears were also receptive to this idea, way before the discovery of radio waves begat such an adaptable and iconic image.

It’s a pleasant walk to the stones. Up through a sheltered path, heady aromas of rain drenched wood bark, soft underfoot.  Off to the left the sound of falling water. At the end of the path a steep scramble and over the stile.  A pause for breath and across the butterfly strewn meadow, until you pick up the path that heads up to the summit of the Binn.  A couple of ducks, glide aimlessly amongst the reeds in the pond on the left. Dragonflies hover like winged shards of stained glass and suddenly they are gone as if dissolved in sunlight. As you commence the climb up the Binn, the rocks are up on the right hand side.  A scramble over some rough ground and fallen trees and once you are in the vicinity, you will feel the pull of the rocks and there they are.

There are two key marks. One is a fully complete cup and ring, perfectly preserved.  Another smaller one has been started but remains unfinished.  I wonder why? It’s a blast to close your eyes and think that around 4,000 years ago someone had taken the time – many many hours – to carve these marks into this rock. This rock here – now! We can still only guess why and perhaps it is better that way. Do we want to know that it may have only been for some dull utilitarian purpose?  No! Here it remains today something quite beautiful and powerful, expressive human poetry. Materially tangible but elusive and meaning slips away, like grains of sand through the fingers, if we try to wring out its mystery in theories and guesswork.

Carrying on up to the summit of the Binn. There is a ‘top of the world’ sensation. Burntisland lies, directly below. Once home to Mary Somerville, pioneering mathematician and astronomer and the  Reverend Thomas Chalmers, radical, social reformer and founder of the Free Church of Scotland. Once described by Patrick Geddes as ‘an anarchist economist beside whom Kropotkin and Reclus are mere amateurs’.

Glinters of sunlight on the Forth to East and West as the wind whips up a frenzy of pebbledash rain. We are forced to take cover in a small natural alcove on the hillside. Sheltering from the elements, thinking of pioneering radicals just as our stone carving  friends would have done 4,000 years ago.

Now playing – Franca Sacchi: En

Poetry Uncategorized


Staggering, blinking into radiant sunlight.

Fresh blossom, spring air,

Salt tang, mirror sea.

Out here again,


out there again.



Now playing: Olivier Messiaen – Catalogue d’Oiseaux


They’ll never see as we do…

‘They’ll never see, as we do, the hidden spaces, the rampant ecology, weeds, wild flowers; hawthorn, dogwood, hedge-parsley, willowherb, tormentil’.

Iain Sinclair, London Orbital, (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 325.

Now playing: Sun Araw: On Patrol.

Quote Uncategorized

A New Year Slogan

‘Not Traditions – Precedents!’

Hugh MacDiarmid, The Scottish Chapbook, (1922-1923).

Now playing: Morton Feldman – For Bunita Marcus (performance by Louis Goldstein).

Field Trip Psychogeography

Carlingnose Point – NT135 809 O.S. Sheet 65

Part of the Fife Coastal Path between North Queensferry and Inverkeithing. Supposedly named by Norse sailors, given its physical resemblance to an old witch’s nose.

The carlin caught her by the rump, And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.

For a small area, it has clearly always been a site of fortification and strategic importance given its extensive outlook over the Forth. Evidence of anti-aircraft defences still exist and the silent dolorite stacks show the extent of quarrying in the 1800s to help build the bases of the Forth Rail Bridge. The area is now a SSSI designated site and given its relatively small size supports a diverse range of habitat and plant life.

Field Gentian

Bloody Cranesbill

Lesser Meadow-Rue


Bell Heather


Burnet Saxifrage

Hairy Rockcress



Calcareous Grassland




Song Thrush



Now Playing: Zappa – Make a Jazz Noise Here

Field Trip Psychogeography Sounds of Spaces and Places

Faust – All Things Must Pass

Delightful and profound cultural ‘happenings’ at the last Le Weekend festival which has taken place at The Tolbooth in Stirling over the past thirteen years. Arguably, the most inventive, adventurous music festival in the UK, it has consistently delivered a stellar mix of old and new sounds, film and ‘happenings’ which cut across and dissolve styles and genres. On the purely musical front, this years line up included highlights such as Ben Frost’s glacial noise minimalism, a new commissioned piece Oceans of Silver and Blood and Marilyn Crispell’s stunning piano improvisations.

One of the most enjoyable events for the collective was an audience with Jean-Herve Peron and Zappi Diemer from the legendary, iconoclastic, Faust. A touch of Fluxus style performance as they riffed on the theme of the festival: All Things Must Pass. Diemer, filmed and projected the room/audience in real-time whilst another screen projected some legendary performances of the band. Peron recited some text whilst performing drip painting and gradually uncovering the layers of wrapping over a lumpen shape to reveal their iconic cement mixer.  It all worked seamlessly, carried by Peron’s infectious enthusiasm and charisma. What was of most interest, however was how the ‘setting’ had made an impression on his text.  He recounted how he had been wandering in the graveyard next to the Church of the Holy Rude, blown away by the spectacular outlook from the ridge under the Castle with its vista onto the landscape of centuries of Scottish history – Stirling Bridge, The Wallace Monument, Highlands to the North, Fife to the East…. All of this had made an impact on Peron and was reflected in this clearly psychogeographically inspired happening.

The other event of the festival that stood out for the collective was a realisation of Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room. Lucier’s electro acoustic music and sound installations have long explored the physical properties of sound itself, the limits of auditory perception and the resonating properties of material objects.  In this piece, which by its very nature is unique in every performance, he examines the specific dimensions, acoustic properties and atmospheres of certain rooms.

The realisation took place in The Cowane Hospital, built next door to the The Church of the Holy Rude between 1637 and 1649. John Cowane aka the poetically named
‘auld staney breeks’ was a very wealthy Stirling merchant and Dean of the Merchant Guild who left funds for this building to be used as an alms house and the maintenance of thirteen elderly Guild members. It was also used for many years as the Guildhall where the Merchants gathered for meetings and dinners. The Guildry fixed the prices of goods, and dominated town council affairs.  Later the building was used as a schoolhouse and a hospital during epidemics. It is once again being used for concerts, meetings and ceilidhs, but the statue of John Cowane above the entrance and the portraits of Guild Deans inside remind us of its multi-layered history.

Auld Staney Breeks

It is said that at midnight on Hogmanay the statue of Cowane will come to life and do a little jig in the forecourt before returning to his post.To return to Lucier’s piece, it works by recording a short speech text which is then played back into the room where it is again re-recorded. The new recording is then once again played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated over and over.  Since all rooms have a characteristic resonance, the effect is that certain frequencies are gradually emphasised as they resonate in the room. Eventually the words become unintelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and tones of the room itself.  This process takes around 45 mins in Lucier’s recorded version. I forgot to check how long the Cowane Hospital realisation lasted but it did not seem as long as 45 mins although by its very nature, ‘time’ appears to become suspended as one is drawn in by the minute variations of each repetition. It is a very meditative piece and sitting in the oak panelled room, with the fading light, dribbling through the stained glass windows, all those years of history appeared to be isolated in these ghostly, disembodied harmonies.

Now playing: Faust – The Faust Tapes