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John Foxx > London Overgrown > UK Compact Disc - Digipak > Notes
SUMMARY...
Format : Compact Disc
Catalogue Number : META58CD
Label : Metamatic Records
Release Date : 30 March 2015
Country : United Kingdom
London Overgrown
LONDON OVERGROWN
For over thirty years I've been writing about, filming, photographing and exploring a city. Assembling a travelogue of an invisible place that may be found across any street.

Even though we may live in the same physical space, we all carry our own vastly different maps of it - from personal routes and shortcuts to all the embedded connections of accumulated memories, associations and experiences. Our own maps of our own city.

Over time, these form other, subtler forms of architecture - constructions of time and memory, the materials made up of millions of tiny moments of recollection accumulated by passing through the same streets for years, through seasons, weather, and all the personal and universal events that may have taken place there. Millions of places existing simultaneously, a revolving nebula of moments. Gradually, these become interleaved with all the avenues and rooms and corridors, altering the places we often visit, the places we find ourselves wandering through.

This is how the city becomes overgrown. We do it to make ourselves more comfortable, and in doing this we invest our lives into the fabric of the city. The stones and concrete and glass are eventually overlaid with millions of tiny personal events, like leaves and their shadows, connecting everything together. Branches and roots go along every corridor, through every room.

As I made this music, I was experimenting with layering of reverberations and long echoes. I'd been entranced by the almost mystical sensations of merging and dispersal encountered by singing in church architecture when I was a boy in the school choir. These time-displacing buildings enabled us to harmonise with our own voices returning from the walls. I was struck by the glimpses of vastness and depth that I experienced at times, and the sensations of personal dispersal and merging with something much bigger than myself. Through these experiences I also discovered how ancient prehistoric, even pre-human, chants evolved through negotiating the reverberant architecture of oceans, then caves, then cathedrals and churches. It was all truly architectural music.

Later, I was able to make a studio in Shoreditch, London and experiment with new technological devices capable of making a notional architecture of almost infinite dimensions, creating incredibly long echoes and reverberations - a completely new ecology of sound. I also discovered the trance like states one can enter when working with rhythms as slow as two beats per minute and how ghostly melodies, notes and spectral harmonics can appear out of the miasma. I felt I was making my own version of architectural music, but this time using a new electronic architecture. Somehow it all chimed with the evocations of ancient architecture and the past. Modernism often seems to feel obliged to destroy connections with the past - as if that is some vital qualification for its own existence. I simply wanted to form a continuity with the past, using modern electronic equipment and instruments, and to investigate these new possibilities in an evolutionary - not a revolutionary way.

Negotiating all this productively required a sort of letting go - allowing the architecture to affect whatever you put into it. You come to feel like a sort of ghost exploring a vast city. I also happened to be writing about the Quiet Man at the time - a character living in an abandoned overgrown London. The mode and moods of the music seemed appropriate to this, as if the ruined and overgrown architecture had generated these pieces spontaneously, as time and the wind and weather moved along the streets and squares.

Some other connections:- This theme of an overgrown city recurs constantly in art and writing and imagery - from the 18th century art of Capriccio, to modern newsreels, to present-day science fiction films. Piranesi's etchings are no less effective, moving, and thought-provoking than that archetypal image of a massive, half-buried Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet Of The Apes.

I think that my own deep interest in this theme probably began by living through a series of coincidental social and historical transformations.

As a small child I remember watching Quatermass - the Nigel Kneale science fiction serial - on television. This used actual footage of the London Blitz at its climax. Around the same time I also saw the terrifying newsreels of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the very moving films of a silent city of Dresden. Since I was too young to understand the events, or the differences between them, I assumed all these to be part of the same film, and all equally real.

This imaginary film also connected with the events in my own life. The place I lived in - Lancashire - was changing. I grew up through the dissolution of the factories. As cotton mills and other workplaces closed, my playgrounds gradually became the overgrown and half-ruined factory buildings. I remember an office where brambles grew from piles of rotting accounts books, all beautifully hand written in Stephen's blue-black ink, a lifetime's work in the process of being reclaimed by nature. Nearby was an upper floor where a birch tree had taken root in the rotting floor and grown out of a huge window opening, toward the sunlight.

Another playground was the overgrown estate belonging to Lord Leverhulme at Rivington. This was long abandoned and its systems of lakes, waterfalls and half-ruined pagodas were gloriously overgrown, covering an entire hillside. In town, I watched films in the huge Deco cinemas - the Odeon, Pavilion and Empire - until they also began to close down and became derelict and empty, as television altered the economic balance.

As an art student, I encountered the etchings of Piranesi, Daumier's vision of a future tourist sketching the empty ruins of Thameside London, the art of Capriccio, Gandy's paintings of Soane's Bank of England as a ruin, and Debussy's Engulfed Cathedral. Around the same time, I went to the first hippy 14 Hour Technicolour Dream at an almost derelict Alexandra Palace in London, watched Resnais' Last Year At Marienbad and Cocteau's Beauty And The Beast. All these fragments seemed to connect, forming an emerging and recognizable theme.

Later, I lived in squats in abandoned houses in the capital. Found photographs of the ruins of Angkor Wat and Petra. Played music in the gorgeous empty Royal property around Regents Park. Found Turner's Interiors at Petworth series. I made a recording studio in Shoreditch and lived in Spitalfields when they were both virtually abandoned. A tree grew out of the upper windows at Holywell Lane when we moved into the building. Streets nearby, and the abandoned rail line across the road, were overgrown. In summer, the seeds of purple loosestrife would blow across Shoreditch High Street, illuminated by the evening sun.

I went regularly into Highgate Cemetery, when it was closed and wildly overgrown. Discovered Bomarzo and Tivoli Gardens just outside Rome, Rievaulx Abbey and Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. I found the romantic overgrown gardens of Scotney Castle in Kent. All the time exploring abandoned buildings of all kinds around London, often at night. I began to collect movies, mostly sci-fi films, containing scenes of abandoned and overgrown cities. When digital technology allowed it, I began to put these scenes together, in an attempt to make a documentary of My Lost City, the City As Memory.

Along the way, I came to understand something of the themes I was attempting to distill. Some of them formed a continuity with the 18th century Romantic Movement that gave rise to the concept of contemplative ruins, including deliberately constructed or maintained ruins or follies. The poem Ozymandias by Shelley provides another element of this. Other aspects are provided by Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, sections of the novels of JG Ballard, William Burroughs and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

I was intrigued by this device of the ruin as a means of seeing the present in the wider perspective, against the power of Nature and inexorable time, as well as my own elusive ideas of the City As Memory, The Lost City and The City as personal and connective topography.

Another annex of all this is a strong desire to present a proposal for an actual city - for instance, a plan for London as a beautiful new overgrown city. Perhaps this might be initiated gradually, by obtaining permission to allow a street or two to become overgrown. If this works out, it may come to be seen as a way of greening London and London might then become the first Post-Carbon city.

Let's practice vertical gardening over buildings everywhere. Create the Hanging Gardens of Shoreditch, The Glades of Soho. Let's have floating overgrown islands moored on the Thames - they can make bridges and movable, modular, floating landscapes. Let's open up the pavements and glass them over so we can see all Londons hundred rivers flowing under our feet. These can be planted with fern mosses and lichen and illuminated at night to make spectacular walkways.

Let's resurrect Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Allow Hyde Park to spread through Soho to the river. Encourage Hampstead Heath to meet Richmond Park at its borders, via all the squares and gardens and rooftops, right across London. Let's make London into a truly green city...

John Foxx February 2015

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