on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2016 23 Nov

Intensive care music

von: Ian McCartney Filed under: Blog | TB | 5 Comments

There’s a shop in London that is so exclusive its website isn’t indexed by search engines. I don’t remember how I discovered its existence. I think maybe someone forwarded me a hyperlinked URL for this obscure, somewhat mysterious entity.

The clock is broken. Time slid off its face, by and by evaporating. Its 6 upside down is a 9 now. All of which is to say the exact when of my visit to this place is unrecorded. It could have been 2014, 2013, 2018. I simply don’t care when it was (or will be). Time-stamping memories is a reductive process. Especially those that have a psychogeographical element. And those that may not have happened yet can’t be time-stamped anyway. The clock is broken. The calendar is torn. Everything is broken. Everything is repairable. Forward. Je me promène. Principalement je me promène.

I’m fairly sure it was in Hackney. (LOL wher da fuk else LOL.)

Sunny day, virtually cloudless, low humidity. One of the 3 or 4 days of the English year (in Scotland you only get 1 or 2) when someone from Southern Europe would look up at the sky and not start crying (I love the UK weather and its limitless greyness but that is a whole other blog).

I’d been in Finsbury Park earlier that day looking for John Lydon’s old house. Without an address it was a deliberately pointless exercise, and I didn’t find it. Late breakfast (more of a brunch, really) at a cafe up the road from Finsbury Park tube, then onto Hackney. I’d had to call the shop to book an appointment. You can’t just walk into this shop. You have to phone and go „hi, can I visit your shop at 2pm please“ and they go „yeah, that should be okay“ and you give your name.

So I get there at the appointed time, and LOL of LOLs, the fucking thing doesn’t seem to exist. In this totally anonymous, slightly inauspicious street in Hackney. The street number I have been given appears within a range of numbers (you know, like 21 to 28 X Street) – and that range refers to a faded office reception area behind a locked door leading up to a personnel agency with a strange name and vaguely disturbing logo. (It reminds me, fleetingly, of Michael Landy’s Scrapheap Services and I LOL silently to myself. (All LOLs are silent. Especially the loud ones.)

And I stand there, like a plum. In the pleasant Hackney sun. It’s either late Spring or early Autumn. Warm not hot sun. If my life was a cartoon (and I am not sure it’s not) then at this point there’s a big thought bubble above my head going: Fuck this. I check the address on the unindexed website on my phone. I go to the top of the street and check I am on the right street. I do not want to make the mistake I made the time I went on foot from Gare du Nord to Montreuil only to find out the city has 2 streets with the same name and the one I walked to was the wrong one and had nothing in it. And the right one would only have been a 6 minute walk from the station.

A woman appears. She looks like Rickie Lee Jones did in 1989. She even has the hat. She is American. I tell her I am looking for the mystery shop and she tells me she is too. We spoke for a while about music. (Or will do if this a memory from 2017 or beyond. Calendrical entropy, mate. Calendrical entropy.) She owns a record label She knows her stuff. I mention that my main listening pleasure is records like Plateaux of Mirror and The Pearl. And she came out with a classic line. She says: „ah, thats real intensive care stuff“. And it was one of those moments where it’s like in your cartoon world a lightbulb flashes above your heed. Cos there is an element of intensive care in this music, somehow. What a fucking brilliant description. (I have been in intensive care many times but only ’so to speak‘. I had a summer job one year cleaning various hospital wards, one of which was intensive care. There is an ambience in intensive care, unmistakable. The pay and status of the job were so low as to be laughable, but for me it was an honour to do this work.)

The Pearl, by Brian Eno and Harold Budd is my favourite record this week. (According to LastFM I played „Late October“ 724 times throughout 2012 so I’m guessing it was a favourite then too.) It’s almost a VR experience. There is depth perception going on in some tracks, as well as sunlight through gaps in the forest roof. It’s a very playable record, and one that you can either concentrate or not concentrate on, depending on how you feel. You can tell Harold Budd is a poet here, despite there not being any words – well, not along the surface anyway. Maybe there are subterranean lexical streams in which words float like blue/white canoes saying things like „moss“, „lichen“, „Mnemosyne“ – the latter a word that is always best unworded and off the page, for structural reasons. Boom.

If I ever truly loved an LP it is this one. It is fucking giant. And yet no way overbearing or serious. There is no such thing as serious music anyway. Its intentions – like those of satire or fine art – may be serious. But the enaction of art is play. No matter what you do with paint or a drum, you’re a beta chimp at play. Imagination is more important than unlaughing seriousness. The cosmos is partly the sound of laughing. The big bang is a bang of mirth as well as fireworks. And music is just an echo of the sound of creation.

Anyway, eventually the American woman’s friend turned up. An American rapper. He knew the people in the shop and texted them to come out and meet us. The rapper was friendly and I could tell he found my Scottishness amusing, but I couldn’t help feeling that these people – however congenial they may be, were on a different plane to me, the working stiff who used to mop hospital floors. The woman asked for and took a note of my email address before the rapper showed up. She was going to send me some music. She didn’t. But I like that anyway.

Eventually we get led into the shop. It’s kind of like a cave, or a spaceship. Low ceilings, slightly weird sealed off from outside world kind of feeling. In one room is a bar. Nobody is behind this bar; the walls are stocked with spirits labelled with logos I’ve never seen before. The other 5 or 6 rooms are full of clothing. I doubt anything costs less than £700 here. I am more of a Levi’s/Adidas guy. Time to go. I find her and I say goodbye to her, and then go back up the stairs and onto the anonymous Hackney street. And I think of the Rickie Lee Jones lookalike’s phrase „intensive care music“ and I think „I will need to use that phrase“.

This entry was posted on Mittwoch, 23. November 2016 and is filed under "Blog". You can follow any responses to this entry with RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. Michael Engelbrecht:

    What a joy to read!

  2. Martina Weber:

    Adrian Tomine might draw a whole graphic novel using this stuff. Steve Erickson might write a 150 pages novel and Jürgen Ploog might use it for his cut-ups, he would add some drugs and sex and end nowhere. But in fact I love this time and space shifting story exactly the way it is, listening to the pearl the first time.

  3. Lajla Nizinski:

    What the fuck is intensive care music? Is that music played on the Intensivstation?? Is that James Last Music, which was played, when Wolfram was pushed into that CT? Why did she say that? Is she a Robbie Williams Fan?

  4. Michael Engelbrecht:

    Oh, just give THE PEARL a listen. It“s THINKING MUSIC, MUSIC FOR THE NIEMANDSBUCHT, and it can as well be INTENSIVE CARE MUSIC. I would love to hear it, in case, and I’ve been in an INTENSIVSTATION once upon a time. It’s for diving.

    THE PEARL would be great as part of a soundtrack for Don DeLillo’s NULL K (if it would become a movie).

    Robbie Williams, James Last?! Nope.

  5. Ian M:

    I think the American woman was thinking obliquely and that her description brought in ideas of silence, calm, hope, science, opioid analgesia, and – possibly – the guy who unseen/unnoticed in faded lime green scrubs, mops the floor.

    The Pearl is not muzak – it’s actually quite challenging listen. Don’t surface too soon or decompression sickness awaits.

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