Cut Grass Radio Show, Music and Landscape


We were recently asked to select a few tracks and talk about them for Cut Grass, the music show on totallyradio, hosted by Grasscut.

For anyone not familiar, Grasscut are the landscape-focused, musical duo of composer/producer/vocalist/musician Andrew Phillips and manager/musician Marcus O’Dair. As Grasscut, they have released two albums on Ninja Tune, with their third album Everyone Was a Bird – ‘an album born of footfall’ – recently released on Lo Recordings. Sleeve notes are by none other than Robert Macfarlane.

Grasscut have performed across Europe and worked with musicians including Robert Wyatt, John Surman and the Kronos Quartet. Marcus has also written a highly acclaimed, authorised biography of Robert Wyatt, Different Every Time, published in 2014.

The tracks we selected for the show were by: John Cage, Wire, Vashti Bunyan, Black Box Recorder, Barry Guy and Laura Cannell. There is a host of other great music featured and also extracts of readings by the poet Charles Olson.

You can listen to the radio programme here


We also wrote a piece for the Grasscut blog, loosely based around several themes connecting music and landscape:

In a Landscape

Secular Pilgrimage

Specific Places

Sound in Spaces

Arterial Connectivity

Apocalyptic Landscapes


The piece outlines in more detail the reasons for our track selections and pulls in a whole range of other music including: Patti Smith, Sandy Denny, Áine O’Dwyer, Brötzmann & Bennink, La Monte Young and Corrupted. You can read the piece here and/or read a couple of extracts below.



In a Landscape

Silence is not acoustic. It is a change of mind, a turning around.

John Cage

In a Landscape, a composition by John Cage is, arguably, one of the more ‘tuneful’ of his works. Written for solo piano or harp, it throws a nod towards Satie and borders on Impressionism. The title as an existential statement could hardly be bettered. Not walking through a landscape, but the conscious realisation of (being) in a landscape. It is also worth noting that Cage’s (in)famous silent piece 4’33” was first performed in a landscape. The Maverick Concert Hall is an open-air theatre, on the outskirts of Woodstock, New York, which was built in 1916 to present ‘Music in the Woods’. Kyle Gann notes that there about as many seats outside of the hall, as in, and that oak, maple hemlock and shagbark-hickory trees intrude gently upon the listening space. On the evening of Friday, 29th August 1952, the pianist David Tudor opened and closed the piano list as instructed by the score. The merits or otherwise of the ‘silent piece’, 4’33”, have and will continue to be debated, but if nothing else, our view is that it is an invitation to really listen and become aware of your surroundings. Cage himself notes that the sounds he heard during the performance included the wind stirring, raindrops patterning the roof and the noise of people as they walked out …

Kay Larson says: “before anything else, (4’33”) is an experience.” It is a proposition that says, in notational shorthand: stop for a moment and look around you and listen; stop and look; stop and listen. “Something” and “Nothing” can never be divided.

Perhaps a useful thought for any landscape wanderer to ponder …


Secular Pilgrimage


We have always been attracted to the idea of the motivated journey, or secular pilgrimage such as Werner Herzog’s walk from Munich to Paris recounted in Of Walking in Ice. The other dimension is the juxtaposition of an idea or image of a place, constructed before arriving, and the lived reality of actually experiencing it. In early 1970s New York, a young Patti Smith, obsessed with the poet Arthur Rimbaud, hatched a plan to travel to Harar in Ethiopia to find Rimbaud’s (imagined) lost valise:

I would return with the contents of the mysterious case, preserved in Abyssinian dust, and present it to the world.

Attempts to raise funding for the trip from “publishers, patrons and literary foundations” were met with bemused nods and Smith concluded that “the imagined secret papers of Rimbaud were not a fashionable cause.” However, Smith did manage to scrape up enough funds to head to Charleville in France, the place where the poet was born and buried. Smith recounts her experiences in a short text Charleville:

“I carried my raincoat and ventured into the Charleville night. It was quite dark and I walked the wide and empty quai Rimbaud. I felt a little afraid but then suddenly in the distance I saw a tiny light, a small neon sign — Rimbaud Bar. I stopped and took a breath, unable to believe my good fortune. I advanced slowly afraid it would disappear like a mirage in a desert…”

A bar where she would feed the jukebox with a: “crazy mix of Charles Aznavour, Hank Williams and Cat Stevens”.

This short book is a combination of the idealised image of a place, carried by Smith and the reality of her lived experiences such as finding the Rimbaud museum closed and bringing some blue glass beads from Harar to Rimbaud’s grave. “I felt that, since he was unable to return to Harar, I should bring a bit of Harar to him.”

Of course Smith’s pilgrimage experience seeps into much of her subsequent writing. The power of place imagined, experienced and carried within:

I gotta move from my mind to the area

(go Rimbaud go Rimbaud go Rimbaud)

‘Land’ from Horses.

The full blog piece can be read here:

All of the Cut Grass radio shows can be listened to here:


Kyle Gann, No Such Thing as Silence, John Cage’s 4’33” (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010).

Kay Larson, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists (New York: The Penguin Press, 2012).

Patti Smith, Charleville (Paris/Arles: FondationCartier pour l’art contemprain/Actes Sud, 2008).

Observation Uncategorized

Of Walking in Ice – Werner Herzog, Kenneth White and Liminal Pilgrimage


If I actually make it, no one will know what this journey means.

I’m following a direct imaginary line.

Werner Herzog’s Of Walking in Ice is arguably one of the great texts of existential walking and pilgrimage.  A short diary, never intended for publication, all is reduced to the (a)lone figure of Herzog moving through a landscape, trying to cope with a litany of physical discomforts and atrocious weather conditions which write themselves on his body.  If psychogeography is an increasingly used, abused, and slippery signifier, it is clearly absent from Herzog’s practice. There are no dérives here. This is walking as an act of resistance against the ultimate inevitability of death and as a process to absorb and internalise the landscape rather than make any attempt to open up and engage with it. This is an immersion into the mind and soul of the “I” pitted against malevolent nature that cares little for humankind.

I set off on the most direct route to Paris, in full faith, believing that she would stay alive if I came on foot. Besides I wanted to be alone with myself.

In November 1974, Herzog received a telephone call from a friend advising him that the Of Walking in IceGerman film critic Lotte Eisner was seriously ill and would ‘probably die’.  She was 78 years old.  Herzog responds: “I said that this must not be, not at this time, German cinema could not do without her now, we would not permit her death”. As an act of secular faith, he decides to walk from Munich to Paris and strides out on what turns out to be a three-week odyssey. Armed only with a jacket, compass, duffel bag, new boots (!) and some survival money, Herzog sets out from Munich on 23rd November and eventually arrives in Paris on 14th December. Along the way, he endures increasingly intense levels of physical discomfort, shelters from the hostile weather in chapels and farm buildings, breaks into unoccupied houses to sleep and gradually withdraws and tries to avoid any prospect of human contact:

Then snow, snow, rainy snow, snowy rain; I curse Creation. What for? I’m so utterly soaked that I avoid people by crossing sodden meadows, in order to save myself from facing them.

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, only rain, I can’t recall anything more. It’s become a steady, even drizzle and the roads become endless.

The soles burn from the red-hot core in the earths interior.

In spite of all the physical ailments that Herzog endures, I find the book strangely uplifting as it is clear that the process of walking is an almost shamanic ritual that allows access to what he has described, in other interviews, as ‘ecstatic truth’.  It is as if the repeated act of placing one foot after another gradually opens up the mind to a transcendent dream state where fact and fiction merge and new ideas are born:

Traveling on foot has nothing to do with exercise. I spoke earlier about daydreaming and that I do not dream at nights. Yet when I am walking I fall deep into dreams. I float through fantasies and find myself inside unbelievable stories. I literally walk through whole novels and films, and football matches. I do not even look at where I am stepping, but I never lose my direction.

It is not difficult to imagine how Herzog’s obsessive, driven characters may have been dreamt into being during this process of walking pilgrimage.

In Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit makes the point that by going on a pilgrimage, one has left behind the complications of one’s place in the world – family, hierarchy, and duty and the pilgrim enters a truly liminal state. A state of being-in-the-world on the cusp of past and future personal identity – a state of possibility.  Solnit also reminds us that liminality is derived from the Latin limin, a threshold. As the pilgrim steps over the line, symbolically and physically, s/he is stripped of status and authority, removed from a social structure, maintained and sanctioned by power and force, and levelled to a homogenous state of being with fellow pilgrims through discipline and ordeal. However, if the sacred pilgrim is bound by a sense of comradeship and communion with fellow travellers, there is no such comfort for Herzog and nor is any sought.

Herzog’s existential, shamanic, pilgrimage also reminds me of the great Franco-Scottish poet, White Pilgrim of the Voidessayist and geopoetician Kenneth White whose work is also centred on walking as a means of ‘opening a world’ and, in particular, establishing a fundamental relationship with planet Earth.  White was involved with Alexander Trocchi’s Project Sigma in the 1960s and took part in the Paris évenements of 1968. This lost him his university teaching post which led to him going ‘on a long walk in the Basque Country’.   White is inspired by what he calls ‘intellectual nomads’ such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Thoreau and Patrick Geddes (all keen walkers) who he views as having wandered from the ‘motorway of Western civilisation’ in order to find new ways of thinking and living.  (As an aside Giles Deleuze was one of the panel who judged White’s doctoral thesis on intellectual nomadism).  White has undertaken  numerous long walks and geopoetic pilgrimages such as his travels in Asia which are  collected in the volume Pilgrim of the Void. (the title says it all!)  This includes an account of White walking in the footsteps of Basho from Tokyo to Hokkaido:

All alone
with an old crow
in unfamiliar country

which reminds me of one of the rare occasions in Herzog’s book where he achieves some form of solace and communion with the natural world:

A nuthatch was tapping on a tree and I stood there a while, listening to him, as it soothed me.

Off course, as Herzog arrives in Paris, the question has to be asked. What happened to Lotte Eisner?  She is tired and weak, but still alive and given that she manages to push a chair over to Herzog, is possibly in better shape than he is:

Someone must have told her on the phone that I had come on foot – I didn’t want to mention it. I was embarrassed and placed my smarting legs up on a second armchair which she pushed over to me. In the embarrassment a thought passed through my head and, since the situation was strange anyway, I told it to her. Together, I said, we shall boil fire and stop fish. Then she looked at me and smiled very delicately, and since she knew that I was someone on foot and therefore unprotected, she understood me. For one splendid, fleeting moment, something mellow flowed through my deadly tired body. I said to her, “Open the window. From these last days onward, I can fly.”

Lotte Eisner lived for another nine years and died in 1983.

Now Playing:  Thomas Köner – Permafrost


Paul Cronin, ed, (2003),  Herzog on Herzog, (London, Faber & Faber).

Werner Herzog, (1978), Of Walking in Ice, (Delf, Free Association, English translation 2008).

Michael Gardiner, (2006),  From Trocchi to Trainspotting, Scottish Critical Theory since 1960 (Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press).

Rebecca Solnit, (2001) Wanderlust: A History of Walking (London, Verso).

Kenneth White, (1992),  Pilgrim of the Void (Edinburgh, Mainstream).