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Jon Wozencroft
is In Wild Air

Jon Wozencroft is a Senior Tutor at the Royal College of Art responsible for sound, moving image and photography on the Visual Communication programme, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary structures. He holds monthly, cross-college, sound seminars that explore the invisible aspects of art and design practice.

Jon started independent multimedia publishing company Touch during the last few months of a postgraduate course at the London College of Printing in 1982. The idea was to extend the scope of a record label by combining music publishing with the level of curation afforded to fine art. On graduation he got a job at the Reader's Digest as an art editor working on special books. He spent a few years working in the print/editorial business whilst dedicating as much time to Touch as possible, producing a series of audiovisual magazines, and getting the chance to collaborate with New Order, Derek Jarman, Gilbert and George, Joseph Beuys and Cabaret Voltaire, among others.

Jon’s research and practice centres on the impact of digital systems on the creative act, and by extension their influence on human experience, behaviour, and how we perceive the world. To avoid the pitfalls of an ‘All and Everything’ approach, his work focuses on the switching relationship between sound and image, and the examination of the new structures – and the breaking down of the old ­– that determine modern perception.


…And Culture Clash

The distinction between high and low art melted for my generation. I was listening to The Beatles from the get-go, aged 5, and I managed to persuade my Dad after constant pleading, to take me to see the Fab Four live at the Hammersmith Odeon in December 1964… It was an early induction into mass hysteria. You couldn’t hear anything above the screaming.

Years later, by now a student, a big influence was George Steiner... Notably Language and Silence, In Bluebeard's Castle: Some Notes Towards the Redefinition of Culture and On Difficulty.

At the time I was listening to a lot of Jamaican music, and the reggae vocal group Culture’s landmark intervention in 1977 When The Two Sevens Clash chimed with my sense that ‘something is happening and you don’t know what it is’. Post culture? What can that mean?? – This was some time before Postmodernism became a way of explaining away the situation.

Cut to the present day. I have a 15 year-old daughter who is starting to go to gigs. She likes grime in particular, and those concerts tend to start closer to the midnight hour than an acceptable bedtime. On top of this, the spectre of digital media and constant distraction.

I can’t be doing with Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, they eat time. Mobile phones, it is possible, will someday be recognised as a serious health hazard, similar to the way the dangers of tobacco were first highlighted in the 1950s. People have the impression that nothing ever changes, but mobile phones are for me the essence of a situation whereby revolution becomes devolution.

I think YouTube and Tumblr are of a different order. In next to no time we have come to take the internet and online access for granted. To quote Joni Mitchell, “You don’t what you’ve got till it’s gone”. To be able to see the amazing stuff that is uploaded by bedroom fans and collectors is a continual joy. But it also may reinforce the contemporary pressure that nothing can be better than that which has already been done. I know my students feel this very strongly. They never witnessed the original breakthroughs, when cultural interventions really did have a power and were not instantly mediated. It creates a sense of remorse in Pop Culture, the notion that a generation has “missed out” on the main action. This is not nostalgia, but the reality of the situation. Tonight I came across a 1966 TV clip of Love performingMy Little Red Book and that was superlative. We all miss out… I never got to see Nirvana when I had the chance!


Joy Division

This one is a killer category. I am privileged to know and love so many great people, and of course, quite a few who are now dead (eg. my Mum and Dad, whom I miss daily). So one Friday afternoon, I hitched down from the North-East to London to see Joy Division play for the second time. Got there early, thankfully, met with my good friend Tony Baker to grab a good seat, and we found a spot in the two-row balcony at the back, with a grandstand view of the stage.

Next to me was this guy taping the concert on a ghettoblaster. This gig was amazing, I feel a bit of a cliché saying it was life-changing, but it was, the opportunity of watching Ian Curtis project himself, observing and listening to how he was opening up both his and the audience’s perception.

It’s difficult to describe this concert (8th Feb 1980, you can hear it on YouTube and on CD)… it was avowedly ritualistic. We, the paying public, had no idea of Ian’s epilepsy at that juncture; JD seemed to be at the top of their game and this one hour performance resonates still.

By 1982, when I started Touch, I had the good fortune to work with Rob Gretton, New Order, Andy Robinson, Peter Saville; later in the sequence, an extraordinary thing happened. In 2007, as a result of internet/research activity with various collaborators, outside Waterloo station, I met Duncan Haysom, he who was sitting next to me at the ULU concert with the ghettoblaster; he had recorded almost all of the JD gigs he attended and gave me the ULU master tape to use on CD 2 of the ‘Closer’ remaster that Warners released that year.

My experiences of working with Joy Division and New Order, and their fanbase, seemed to show the essence of generosity, (one of the biggest bands in the land giving away key recordings for free to small labels), and an insight into how to deal with incredible amounts of bad fortune and music business bullshit.

Postscript: Licht Und Blindheit, namely the songs Atmosphere and Dead Souls, was a major catalyst for starting Touch, released as a 7-inch single in March 1980, inside a folder of mysterious artwork and text, on an obscure French label, Sordide Sentimental. I think it’s the Mona Lisa of vinyl records.


The Preseli Hills

In 2004, at an event organised by Martyn Ware, “The Future of Sound”, I met Paul Devereux, whose work I’d know about for a while. We had the shared ambition to delve deeper into sound as the king of the senses and he told me about his idea of “Archaeoacoutics”, investigating the role of sound in prehistory.

At the time, art-college academics were being persuaded into RESEARCH as must-do part of our work. Paul had started looking into Bernard Fagg’s comment in the 1950s that the Stonehenge bluestones has a special acoustic quality – it had already been established in the 1920s that these stones had been transported from the Preseli hills in SW Wales, to the Salisbury Plain 200 miles away. Why did they choose these in particular? Thus far, every research had fixated on the question, ‘How did they transport them?’.

Preseli isn’t an easy place to get to, and unlike Dartmoor, the Lake District, the North Yorkshire Moors, there’s almost zero tourism. It is a breathtaking landscape – though we insisted, it is first and foremost a soundscape. The stones to be found amongst the random rocky outcrops, spotted dolorites to give them their geological status, were frequently lithophonic. When tested with a quartz hammerstone, some sounded like bells, others like bamboo, some like a tin drum. It is a pure phenomenon that is impossible to explain.

Preseli brings divinity to your heart just by the act of being there. It’s supremely odd that it is not a venerated place like Stonehenge and Avebury, which of course has its advantages. Paul’s assertion is that Preseli was a prehistoric ‘holy land’.

The other aspect, this also being research about research itself, was the need to trust one’s intuition and senses with no way of getting any ‘scientific’ conclusion, so it is about mystery and our relationship to it in this strange era. The area needs far more in-depth research, but the funding bodies think we are bonkers and instead favour those who do digital, software-generated replications of heritage sites and their sound fields.


The Leica Compact Camera

More about the border between the rational and the irrational, especially with regard to ‘brands’. To say I am immune to branding culture would be a lie.

I’m not trained as a photographer. I have only a basic idea of how to develop a print in the darkroom. I once had a 5x4 plate camera inherited from my Grandfather but it was nicked in a burglary before I learnt how to use it.

For years I did shoot everything on 35mm but this became unsustainable as production facilities like Metro went into meltdown with the advent of digital cameras. And then, a window opened, in what seemed to be a perfect marriage between analogue and digital with Leica’s D-Lux series, made in collaboration with Panasonic in Japan.

The word is, you can buy the Panasonic Lumix model for a margin of the price of the Leica, it’s essentially the same thing. But I don’t believe it is, I have worked with both. The cynic says that I’m paying £300 extra for the Leica logo, but there is something in the detail that I can’t put my finger on, so I happily pay the difference. It this merely modern superstition at work??


Jonathan Crary 24/7

Books and more books... Crime fiction (Val McDermid), pop biographies (I loved The Big Midweek by Steve Hanley of The Fall) – basically anything beguiling. The late 80s were a golden age of cultural theory, notably the French school of authors like Baudrillard, Virilio, Finkelkraut etc. whose work prefigured many of the syndromes and pathologies of digital culture. I’m attracted to ideas that are ‘ahead of their time’ and texts such as Xerox and Infinity (JB) and Crepuscular Dawn (PV) strongly communicate – “Don’t say I didn’t warn you”!

One recent work really impressed me – Jonathan Crary’s 24/7 – Late Capitalism and The Ends of Sleep (Verso Books, 2013). It weighs in at a succinct but devastating 128 pages, and is an excellent primer into how new technologies erode the fabric of time. Time is Money, and now Sleep is Money.

It’s really difficult to write about the present condition. Everyday life is changing/mutating so rapidly that as soon as you have made an intervention, it risks being already out of date.


Neurology and The World of Augustus Pablo

When I was 20, I was a passenger in a car accident that left me with a serious head injury and two months in a coma. Luckily I recovered, but doctors suspected I might be permanently impaired or maybe suffer some kind of relapse, so I was referred to top neurologists and given the Clockwork Orange “What do you see in this picture?” test routine. My case was something of an enigma; I underwent brain scans when such technology was still in its infancy. Here’s not the time to go into details but the specialists diagnosed that my left and right frontal lobes looked to have been ‘squashed together’. I’d already been deeply affected by the hospital experience and it would take me years to come to terms with it (if I ever have). Unsurprisingly, this was the next gateway into becoming more absorbed by questions of consciousness and perception than I already was.

Dub music became my soundtrack through this, in particular, Augustus Pablo’s LP East of the River Nile. Pablo plays the melodica, generally taken to be a kid’s instrument, and his fusion of resonating rhythmic shapes with this childlike lament I listened to again and again. His music has an unsurpassed sense of space, vibration, devotion. It’s a vivid companion to the edge-lands of Joy Division and one of my favourite LPs ever.