Red Light Radio

   The procedure I set myself for ‘Red Light Radio’ was: whenever I stopped at a red light I had to have the radio playing a pop music station and then film through the windscreen using my phone until the lights changed. I did this for about a month.
   I thought of it as a road movie. I was thinking of films like Radio On by Chris Petit and Robinson In Space by Patrick Keiller. I like the way Radio On is so slow. Long lingering camera shots with very little happening. And the use of music in the film. The character will put on a tape of Kraftwerk and just sit there listening to it. Then knock it off. (Click). In Robinson In Space there are these lovely static shots of mundane everyday scenes. (Click).
   It seemed like these were a sort of film version of psychogeography. Petit later filmed London Orbital with Iain Sinclair. He also wrote a book called Robinson, strangely. The name seems to crop up. Possibly a reference to Daniel Defoe.
   I like the idea of Marc Auge’s nonplaces, which are similar to the heterotopia and zone concepts I’ve been using in my writing – trains, airports, supermarkets, service stations – places which though uninteresting to me in their intended functional way, seem to attract me in a sort of aesthetic and ambient way. Mark Fisher has coined the term ‘non-time’ – (Click) & (Click) – which to me is an extension of nonplace – the time of text messages and chat rooms – how I can respond now to something you said yesterday – time becomes more flexible – it can be really fast like text messages and instant messenger, but it can also be slow, like how emails and forums allow time to pass before you respond – the term ‘chat room’ evokes conversations as spaces, which they are, conversation as not just a temporal event but a spatial one – what you say remains behind when you leave the room and someone arriving months or years later might reply.
  Ben Lerner talks about something similar in his novel Leaving the Atocha Station. He’s on a ‘Talgo’ train from Madrid to Granada with his girlfriend:

Isabel removed the silver sticks from her hair and leaned her head against my shoulder and drifted off while I flipped through the Tolstoy for a half-remembered passage about a train, but couldn’t find it. It didn’t matter; every sentence, regardless of its subject, became mimetic of the action of the train, and the train mimetic of the sentence, and I felt suddenly coeval with its syntax. Because the sentences of Tolstoy, or rather Constance Garnett’s translations of Tolstoy, were in perfect harmony with the motion of the Talgo, real time and the time of prose began to merge, and reading, instead of removing me from the world, intensified my experience of the present.

I put the book down and began to think: this strange experience of reading, the sense of harmony between the rhythms of a reproduction and the real, their structural identity, so that the subject of the sentence was precisely the time of its being furthered – this was what I valued in one of the only people I described as a “major poet” without irony, John Ashbery. I fished his Selected Poems from my bag, careful not to disturb Isabel, and opened it at random and read a little. Here also one could experience the texture of time as it passed, a shadow train, life’s white machine. Ashbery’s flowing sentences always felt as if they were making sense, but when you looked up from the page, it was impossible to say what sense had been made; while they used the language of logical connection – “but,” “therefore,” “so” – and the language that implied narrative development – “then,” “next,” “later” – such terms were merely propulsive; there was no actual organising logic or progression. Reading an Ashbery sentence, an elaborate sentence stretched over many lines, one felt the arc and feel of thinking in the absence of thoughts.

  I like this idea of when you’re reading, you’re experiencing time. I like the sensation when I lose concentration and end up just being carried along on the surface of the language. So that you can read it and feel like you’re going somewhere and it’s only when you’re halfway down the page that you realise you have no idea what you’ve just read. While the sentences might not be ‘about’ anything, they capture the movement of time, that sensation of thought or consciousness changing from moment to moment which gives us the impression of time happening. It made me think of Kraftwerk, where the repetitive beat stays the same, making you feel like you’re staying still, even while its propulsive rhythm keeps you moving forward. They were inspired by the experience of rail travel I suppose.
   In an interview with Tao Lin, Lerner mentions Cory Arcangel’s video piece ‘Clouds’: “It’s a Super Mario game in which he’s removed everything but the clouds. It reminds me of a John Ashbery poem. To be in the world of the game and to have time passing but for it no longer to be game time… it opens up an experience of purposelessness and is quite beautiful.” (Click). Follow the link in the interview or watch Clouds here: (Click).
   Video games are relentlessly teleological, goal-orientated, and this is the element Cory Arcangel seems intent on removing. E.g. another video called ‘f2’ where the cars are removed from the driving game F1 Racer leaving only the road, white lines scrolling towards the bottom of the screen. And ‘Video Ravingz’: a version of Mario 2 where the user wins the game simply by inserting the cartridge. ‘Clouds’ is almost a still image and only just a film. He’s removed almost all narrative elements to leave a very minimal amount change. Jackson Mac Low made a film event called ‘Tree Movie’: ‘Select a tree*. Set up and focus a movie camera so that the tree* fills most of the picture. Turn on the camera and leave it on without moving it for any number of hours.’ Andy Warhol went on to develop the idea with his static cinema movies. That seems similar to the static cameras in Robinson in Space. I think that technique would be very appropriate to documenting the psychogeography of nontimes and nonplaces.

Steven Hitchins is a poet from the South Wales Valleys. Grew up in Abercynon, currently living in Pontypridd. Poetry has appeared in Poetry Wales, Fire and Chimera, articles in Junction Box. Read at the Hay Poetry Jamboree 2011 & 2012 and at Poets Live in Paris. Publications include The Basin (LPB 2011), Palisade Winters (LPB 2011) and Bitch Dust (Hafan 2012)




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