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 Psychogeography Sounds of Spaces and Places

(Always) Between Something and Nothing

The white centre … is both an emptiness and an energy generator. Your eye is continually drawn back to its white silence, its void-ness. Then your attention is propelled out again along the twisting road-ways. The eye cycles back and forth between “something” and “nothing”.

Robert Rauschenberg - Mother of God

First Rauschenberg laid down a base coat of white paint on a 48-by-32 inch piece of masonite. Then on the top four-fifths of this white ground, he pasted pieces of maps of American cities: Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, St Louis, New Orleans Boston, Denver…

The twisting spidery roadways – dark lines radiating across off-white backgrounds crackle with shivery linear energy. This frenetic activity is silenced at the pictures centre by a great white circular void that hovers like a pulsating energy field. This void isn’t empty. Literally it’s a layer of brushed white paint that laps over the cut edges of the maps. Visually, the painted surface dematerialises into a humming whiteness.

Kay Larson on Robert Rauschenberg’s Mother of God

I recently finished Kay Larson’s wonderful book Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists.  I don’t particularly want to offer a review here but if you have any interest in John Cage then I guess that you will be well rewarded by reading it.

Like any great book, it’s the ideas that linger around afterwards that are of greatest value. They push, prod and poke. Unconscious spectres haunting the edges of conscious thought before demanding some form of engagement, application or reflection.  This perhaps explains why, for a few minutes last weekend I stood, in the dark, on a motorway bridge at Charing Cross, Glasgow.  A walk back to the station interrupted by thoughts about “something” and “nothing”. The traffic of the M8 motorway cascading underneath my feet and I’m recording it on my phone…

Charing Cross, Glasgow

Well clearly my silent piece…expresses the acceptance of whatever happens in that emptiness.  And the same thing was expressed by that empty painting, that white painting of Bob Rauschenberg.

John Cage

One of the most fascinating parts of Larson’s book deals with Cage’s conceptual evolution leading up to his (in)famous ‘silent’ piece 4’33”.  Larson makes the case that prior to 4’33”, Cage’s thinking was expressed in Either / Or dualities. His two lectures: Lecture on Something and Lecture on Nothing bookend this approach. Increasingly inspired by the Zen lectures of D. T.  Suzuki at Columbia University and the white paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, Cage moved towards the idea of the radical act that was required to detonate these dualisms.  His famous visit to the anechoic  (sound-proof) chamber at Harvard had shown Cage that ‘silence’ could never be an absolute absence of sound. Even in the scientifically quietest place on Earth he could still hear sounds. The high whine of his own nervous system and dull roar of his blood circulation. He heard the sound of his life in process and Cage concluded that there is no such thing as silence.

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

4’33” embodies the idea of life and art as a process.  As Larson says: “before anything else, it’s 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.

Well I use it (4’33”) constantly in my life experience. No day goes by without my making use of that piece in my life and in my work…I turn my attention towards it. I realize that it’s going on continuously…

Winter Trees, Kelvingrove Park


This may all sound pretty abstract but two events from a recent afternoon wander through Glasgow bring it all home. Heading back from the West End, the energetic bustle of Byers Road noticeably slips off the shoulders as you enter Kelvingrove Park. Welcomed into the crisp and brittle air by the bare winter trees, very few people are around and circumstances are conspiring to shift towards something approaching an urban ‘silence’. (The ubiquitous, low hum of traffic is always there, much like the sound of Cage’s blood circulation). Slipping into a kind of unconscious walking reverie, measured out in the rhythm of movement, I was brought completely into the moment by the spooling song of possibly a mistle thrush or song thrush high in a tree. What an enchanting experience to simply stop and listen to the cadences and Fi-ga-ro Fi-ga-ro refrains weaving a thread of song through the urban silence.  An oscillation between something and nothing. Lives in process. I managed to capture around 40 seconds on a pretty rough phone recording, by which time several people had gathered around wondering what I was looking at:







I wanted to be quiet in a nonquiet situation.

Later in the early evening, it is already dark and I’m walking back into the town centre . I stop on the motorway flyover bridge at Charing Cross. For a short time I just watch the traffic swoosh past underneath. Pools of light flooding the motorway and dispersing within seconds. The experience is strangely mesmerising and calming. The rhythms of sound vary depending on the sequence and number of cars across the three lanes. Like a childhood game, I start to guess which lane a car will appear in next. A chance operation in process. I then notice that occasionally there can be an almost complete drop out towards a momentary void of sound. For a few seconds no cars are in view in any of the lanes. Once again this is a rough recording but within this short clip it happens a couple of times:



After a few minutes of this hypnotic experience, I realise that I’ve been in the white centre of Rauschenberg’s painting.  The void. Quiet in a nonquiet situation. As I lift my head to look around, the roads and paths of the city spiral off in every direction. Energies of neon, arteries of possibility, encounters,  histories  and stories yet to come.

I walk towards Sauchiehall Street, always poised between something and nothing.

Now playing: Kevin Drumm – Tannenbaum


Richard Konstelanetz (ed), Conversing with Cage (London: Omnibus Press, 1989).

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

Robert Rauschenberg,  Mother of God,  1950. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Special thanks to Fraser Macdonald and Louise Arber for offering suggestions as to the identity of the singing bird. The wonder of Twitter.

Field Trip Happenstance Observation Poetry Sounds of Spaces and Places

4’33” on a train – John Cage Centennial, 5th September 2012

(c) Edition Peters

Our modest contribution to the John Cage centennial celebrations. On 5th September 2012, we decided to undertake a performance of 4’33″on the train from Falkirk High to Glasgow Queen Street. Raising and lowering the seat tray served to mark the three movements. During our ‘silent’ performance this is what we heard:

Low bass throb

                                              – of train thrum.


                                              – of pitched track squeal.


a sigh

a cough

a sneeze.

earphones fizzzzz and

crisps crunch.


fingers tap on digital screens

as turning pages            – fan

distant carriage whispers.


The shuddering recoil – from

                                                     – the slap of a passing train

all sound and silence cocooned

                                                    – underneath a bridge.

Out in the landscape

– an imagined Williams Mix:

Doppler-shifted siren,

birdsong and turbine whirr.


a ratttttttttttttling window

“tickets please”


the seat tray creaks.

Happy 100th birthday John Cage. In another place you are walking around Walden Pond with Henry Thoreau looking for mushrooms.

Now Playing: John Cage and David Tudor – Rainforest II / Mureau – A Simultaneous Performance (Part I)