“londonunderlondon” by Mark Fisher and Justin Barton Review  // Future Over Future


Wed 20 Sep 2017 |
“londonunderlondon” by Mark Fisher and Justin Barton

Corsica Studios, London [UK]

There is a ghost haunting London. It’s Mark Fisher. “londonunderlondon”, a sonic installation presented at Corsica Studios on Wednesday 20th September, is a hypnotic 90-minute audio essay of London’s underground history.

This sonic installation is not accompanied by visuals. This is a smart choice because the small audience is invited to listen and daydream. There is no cinematic effect, there is no
dialectic between the sonic and the visual. No solution but listening. The acoustic exercise creates a collective connection with the soundtrack of London’s underground history presented in the audio essay. It’s a way to tune in with the city’s agency.

Starting from an indefinite present, the voice of Mark Fisher guides you through various areas of central London. Shops, museums, other shops. The walk becomes rather boring and the urban sounds take over.

Throughout the installation is difficult not to think about Burial. Not only because the night is promoted by Hyperdub Records, but mainly due to his proximity with Fisher and Barton’s storyline. Burial’s latest releases “Subtemple”, “Beachfires” and
“Rodent” contain elements of what we hear during “londonudnerlondon”. The sounds of the dark water splashing along the banks of Temple station. The nocturnal beachfires that once embraced the Empire’s capital, the underground kingdoms of London’s urban animals. The author of “Archangel” is still capturing London’s suspension between a neglected future and a compressed present. As we know from Fisher’s political aesthetics, when social alternatives are blocked the past sounds like today, future music is impossible and the present is…disturbing.

A few minutes into the audio essay, Fisher’s poetic voice becomes sweeter and tender, we are lowering our perspective and descending into the realm of micro-politics. The more we listen, the smaller we feel in front of this urban mega-machine, or, as the poster at the entrance of the club proclaims, London is like “a mortifying structure”. The impression is that we are encouraged to think about the built environment through the eyes of a minuscule creature.

“londonunderlondon” has more than a dozen sections and it’s easy to lose count. There is an alternation between sections narrated by multiple voices (male and female) and non-vocal audio tracks. These capture the shifts in the fictional elements and suggest temporal leaps between different historical periods.

Some of these thematic periods should be familiar with Mark Fisher’s readers and friends. Marx’s Gothic London, with the City’s vampires and their anti-vitalistic dead labor. Charles Dickens and street children. TV series like Doctor Who. Jingles from Fordist advertisements. There is also a set of sections that are as playful as eerie. We listen to the docks loaded with opium at the time of the 19th-century wars in China. We get to know the families of pigs and wild boars inhabiting the network of tunnels below our feet. And more underground legends, “a deeper and wider London”.

One section – however – stands out. It’s the third, positioned between two audio-only sessions characterized by the flabby and the drilling sounds of depression, respectively. In this section, we hear an amused Mark Fisher taking us to a submerged London, where
iguanas and tropical forests cover the city in green. It’s unclear – and this gives a sense of peace – whether we are projected in a post-human future or, on the contrary, at the beginning of times, when London was still attached to the continent. It is perhaps here, in the juxtaposition of past, present and future that Justin Barton – who I now see sitting on the floor – operates. Because ultimately, I felt, if it sounds is in our reach.

// Alessio Kolioulis

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