Thursday, 31 August 2017


After a fairly nondescript couple of days (hence they have not been described in these pages) of hammering away at the script and malingering around our Bourges digs recovering from Monday night's accident, Thursday begins with a little light leg treatment before we join Robin-Tyrek in the Bandits-Mages van for a trip to the shops.

Niemczyk changes my dressing.
We try to upcycle and recycle as much as possible at Universal Ear Studios, partly out of the belief that it makes little sense to ransack the planet in the name of modulating the soul, but mostly out of adherence to the quasi-mythical cineaste and TVaste Francis Dove's aesthetic school of 'clunkyism'. Of course, we need some things to stick these old bits of junk (and cardboard) together, so we start at Brico Dépôt for masking tape and paint brushes. On the way out, we are shocked to see La Dépôt stocks a range of doors that are both named and styled after the fourteen members of arch-villain Being's girl gang in one of the many unfound UNIVERSAL EAR spin-off series. It's surely a work we should look at in closer detail in the near future.

Who would you cast in each of these roles?

Honing Robin-Tyrek's cardboard-sensing capabilities.

Outside, however, the sky mocks our efforts with row upon row of perfect cartoon clouds and a pink castle that's clearly been made with the cardboard from a giant toilet roll. It is surely time for a classic French 2-hour dejeuner.

We lunch on gourmet fast-food burgers and dreadful coffee amongst the concrete gardens of Bourge's inhuman industrial suburb (which we should actually make a point of boycotting since it's killing the city). Robin-Tyrek fills in some gaps in my knowledge of the local history, particularly the subcategories of fire and pastry, and suggests that the 'ass' of the cathedral that was pointed out to us the other day is just one of many profane flourishes to be found around the building, reasoning that the cathedral took so long to build that the workers just got bored and started freestyling. Now that's what I call heritage!

Next we make the journey to an Emmaüs du Cher outlet packed with dusty, half-broken, once-beautiful things-de-house, from tasteless oversized and completely desirable furnitures to stinking books and haunted ornaments. The counter-intuitive, hand-crafted, and in many cases vernacular nature of these objects is a testament in miniature to a time before the helicopters came to drop Brico Dépôt-sized architectural onesies packed with affordable, car boot-friendly goods across the west's under-exploited sub-suburbs. As we prepare to leap into a project that can't help but highlight the absurdity of the things we label and treat as heritage objects and locations, it sort of makes one want to scrape the filth off those wretched, beautiful former possessions of wretched, beautiful former people and reanimate the DNA in a corrugated-iron warehouse theme park of the bad taste and good times of the city's countless golden ages.

I can't wait for this band to come on.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017


Yesterday, that is. A day of meetings - the final one, with DESTINY!

In the A.M., Niemczyk and I finally read the screenplay for Tympanum from cover to cover, making a preliminary pass to sketch out some possibilities (categorising what is possible to shoot, given the prevailing laws of light, and what is otherwise) and removing not the impossible parts, but the unessential (which always seems a shame).

We’ve seen the movie now. It’s too long and it destroyed its creators. (But more on that later).

A lunch meeting is held with Robin-Tyrek, assistant director and more, who promises she has “a lead on some cardboard”. Regular viewers will know how important this is. We pitch the movie to/at her, starting with the whole UNIVERSAL EAR concept and leading to the polyauthentic reveries of the new episode; Robin-Tyrek’s expression seems to suggest flabbergastery at the childishishness of our endeavour, but she clarifies that she is flabbergasted merely at the scale of what we must achieve.

The lunch team moves onto the Bandits-Mages HQ, where the first disaster is to happen. Niemczyk and I are pleased to catch up with Boris Lehman, who is in town on archiving business - not least archiving the faces of all whom he meets with the little handy snapper that hangs from his neck; but when I step back to pose with him for Niemczyk, I manage to put my foot through the floor of the Bandits-Mages production office. The scar will prove to be a cruel pre-parody of things to come.

Next, we scour the B-M shed with Quentin Aurat, trying to tick as many pieces of equipment and junk as possible from our need-list, but mostly adding newly-spotted items to our want-list. Outside, where the land that Bandits-Mages share with the neighbouring Emmetrop organisation is being re-configured into office, performance, and garden space, Niemczyk narrowly avoids being decapitated by an industrial digger.

The evening, and a group dinner chez B-M chief Isabelle Carlier in her divine water-mill conversion home. Lehman gives us a slide show of a workshop he attended last year, and a secret preview of a new movie on which he collaborated with a mutual friend; I make an excruciating screening of It’s Nick’s Birthday, the problems with this movie - shot a decade ago - only illuminating (undesirable) flaws in the new project; and Niemczyk shows her painterly Gjemsel to the acclaim of a plum tart-devouring audience.

A peaceful ride home through the quiet suburban roads of Bourges is punctuated by the slamming of a spinning pedal into the back of my right calf on our arrival. Indoors, while reading about the impending nuclear war, I notice blood dripping down my leg, but think not too much of it until I roll up my trousers to discover a pinky-sized lump missing from the flesh. In all likelihood, rival filmmakers have tampered with the pedal of my Bandits-Mages-issue bike.

It’s not a wound that’s going to heal itself without polyfilla, so we call a taxi to the hospital - on the far side of town - where a three-hour wait gives us a chance to put the wound, the creative crisis and the nuclear apocalypse into perspective. Five artfully applied stitches later, the taxi operator recognises my foreign tones and orders us the reverse taxi back home. If only script-doctoring were so painless.

Sunday, 27 August 2017


Today, a kind of safari party with Isabelle Carlier, only instead of the wilds of the savannah or the parquet, we took to the marshes of Bourges. Over five gruelling courses of the Marais Cathedrale Food Tour, we met local artists, shared audition flyers, and digested a new, non-circular circuit of the city, all before the acid reflux of a script consultation between Niemczyk and myself in the evening.

On a cathedral/heritage note: as we passed around the front of that already-explored building, a member of our party named Francoise promised to show us 'the ass of the cathedral', so that we expected to be taken to its rear. Instead, she pointed to an obscure, high-up sculpture, amongst the angels and devils and so on, of an ass: a disembodied derrière with just the hint of a pair of balls hanging beyond. 

Not wanting my assumption - that this was some 13th-century apprentice craftsman's cheeky, illicit signature, unnoticed by his superiors (with the exception, surely, of the almighty one) between countless more sacred motifs - to be corrected, we hurried on to the cheese course before Niemczyk could get a photo. Watch this space!

Saturday, 26 August 2017


A trip for provisions saw us chance upon the monthly flea market. A modest affair, but one stall in particular was crammed with old books on Bourges and esoteric matters, as well as sheet music, stereoscopic views of Paris and the like. 

I picked up an old suitcase-friendly guide to Bourges (with a darling font I just have to share with you, perhaps in the form of Tympanum's intertitles) and Popular Tales and Legends of Berry and Sologne, hoping to find some dirt that hasn't yet found its way on to the internet. Both books are in French, so it could take some time.

Drunk on mothballs, I made my way to a table of postcards, photo albums, and old negatives, and spent far too long sifting through the latter, before finally settling on a pack that seems to describe a post-war re-enactment of ye olde times in the vicinity of the cathedral, and - more intriguing - a set of negs recording the various chairs of a wealthy domestic interior, a Perecian sort of endeavour, or perhaps a pre-echo of today's attempts to 3D scan every space and man-made object of note in case we should wish to regenerate them later in the name of heritage, or just lack ideas for posh new furniture.

Naturally, the pictures carry more gravity in the negative, but I present below the crudely scanned and inverted collection, plus the most romantic of frames sliced from the day of the re-enactment.

I might also draw your attention to today's release of an excerpt of the chapter of Harley Byrne's memoirs that we are focussed on (p)re-animating in movie form, when not getting caught up in hidden heritages and carefully tucked away spaces.

Friday, 25 August 2017


The (p)reconstruction of the Curse of the Phantom Tympanum script is reaching completion; or at least the first stage of completion, after which we’ll have to smash the gaudy monstrosity to rubble again and pick out the bits we want to film. The shape of the residency itself took a little more form as we met with Bandits-Mages boss Isabelle Carlier and project assistant Delphine Robin-Tyrek, who will work alongside tech guru Quentin Aurat to ‘get it all happening’.

Our reunion/introduction meeting painted a curious landscape as conversation drifted from the practicalities of working with Berruyers (as the locals are known, although the term is not without controversy), to the twin regional pastimes of witchcraft and alchemy, to the impending arrival of Boris Lehman, ‘Godfather and filmmaker permanent resident’ of Bandits-Mages, with whom I visited the infamous Bosnian pyramids in 2014, to the idea of a film that encapsulates ‘The French’ – of which our hosts’ surest guess was that it must be Bruno Dumont’s P'tit Quinquin.

Hipsters put a football through this vintage window just yards from the 800 year old stained glass of the cathedral while we stood and laughed.
To business, though, and we postponed the local auditions for one week in order to give everyone (not least yours truly) a chance to prepare, and also to try to rouse some more talent on this Sunday’s mysterious social tour of the city (including the epic grid of marshes that bubble away just to the north-east of the alchemy district).

Afterwards, Niemczyk and I finally wandered inside the imposing cathedral, my ears headphoned and wired to the sound recorder, so that I didn’t notice how quiet it was until we stopped recording. While hardly silent, the cathedral turns out to be a cavern of microscopic noises, whispers, hiccups, stumbles, and digital camera shutters; the most prominent sonic motif, a cynic might note, is the jangling of coins.

The well-to-do of the past eight centuries have co-opted various little lounge pods around the insides of the cathedral, each trying to out-do the last in the eyes of god and the Joneses, and as Niemczyk pointed out: probably some serious deals were cut here across the years.

That feeling when your head's off and it's a bank holiday weekend and there's no way you can see a man about it until Tuesday.

It suggests a double–purpose for those echoing expanses. Not only must the preacher or what-have-you bellow to be heard, his Latin kumquat-ex-deuses indecipherable in the loud smudgy fear-inducing acoustics of the church, but conspirators must keep their voices low to be intelligible to their collaborators.

Today, a more intuitive use of the premises - in line with the ideal that heritage sites should move - might be as some alien sports venue, the peculiar unreachable balconies, sticky-outy bits and ribbed, phallic columns just waiting to be thrown a dodecadodecahedral ball, a unicorn polo squad, and a book of esoteric rules and rumours.

And that’s just the inside! As we might've noticed during our dehydration-defying crawl past the mighty tabernacle three days ago, the exterior's quite a sight, too. "It’s impressive," mused Niemczyk, "but is it beautiful?"

Personally, I feel some affinity for the medieval wretch responsible. Clearly intimidated by the profile of the job, he threw everything he had at the damned thing.
When all hell breaks loose around you, what is there to do but shrug.

Likely considering a small investment in salvation.
All photos courtesy of Aleksandra Niemczyk.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017


Day 2: mostly about creating that second ear (see: Day 1).

We seemed to find our rhythm today. Following yesterday's atrocious camerawork, I switched to the sound recorder to gather street ambiences along the left 'ear' - the western half of the sinister circle that’s printed on local maps of Bourges. I think I’m more comfortable framing sounds. Meanwhile, Niemczyk took a freer, more expressive approach to filming those areas where the circle corresponds to a place that can be accessed by the public. 

We took more stills today, which should make the finished document a little richer for the casual viewer. We joke that we are making the world's most pretentious holiday movie, but deep down we know we're doing work whose tremendous importance will only be recognized several generations along the line.

Of course, I forgot to delete yesterday's sound file so the recorder cut out 48 minutes into today's walk. We continued recording sounds moments later with Niemczyk's iPhone; my left ear, then, will have a little sonic nick cut out of it, and a flat top.

Curiously, today’s prescribed semi-circuit happened to take us past the cinema where my movie Epizoda ? played last November, and also past the Rue Mausecret, giving us the exact view that I saw on Google Maps and which you probably remember me Tweeting about, six months ago almost to the day. As the (indispensible) Encyclopedie de Bourges tells us, via Google Translate:

‘It is a very old neighborhood, which included both the Jewish neighborhood with the presence of the synagogue, and undoubtedly the neighborhood of mysterious or dubious practices constituted by sorcery, black magic or alchemy. Thus, we find the street name "Montsecret" as early as 1541, which will see the spelling of his name changing. For some local scholars, two versions of this street can be brought, namely "my secret", that is to say a street that contains unknown elements, or "mau secret" that can be translated as "bad" And then we touch black magic.’

This seems like a very good sign.

Window display on city cafe. (Photo credit: Aleksandra Niemczyk)

 The first of the real-life characters from the montage who we have been able to locate. (Photo credit: Aleksandra Niemczyk)

Tuesday, 22 August 2017


I am currently without a digital camera, so this entry has been illustrated with stock photographs.

We are building a team, here in Bourges, for our project: to (p)reconstruct a lost episode of an unfound time-travel adventure serial of the future -

UNIVERSAL EAR: The Curse of the Phantom Tympanum

- and to carry out various other tests, experiments and disciplines. The episode itself is set in a future Bourges where (following the over-zealous efforts of a corrupt heritage minister) wise-cracking holographic statues and ontologically dubious virtual heritage sites have more or less ousted any form contemporary human life (or ‘live heritage objects’ as we might become known).

We are putting together a team, but for now it’s just Aleksandra Niemczyk - my partner in love and art – and myself ‘in the field’, with support from the Bandits-Mages team back at base. Our crew arrives at the beginning of September; Lockwood and Betts will of course rejoin us in their roles as heroic Harley Byrne and his nemesis, Being, mysterious mistress of disguise.

In the meantime, we’re working on finding a better job description for Niemczyk’s role in this project in relation to mine, aside from her role as production designer: co-pilot? augmenteer? vasulker? I had some idea that the ideal term might be found somewhere in the nomenclature behind ‘three-strip’ film; the idea that we’re each exposing different prime colours of the finished thing. But there’s no word there that would look cool enough on a business card.

Today, we attempted a sort of dérive soumise (does that just about translate as ‘submissive drift’?). Rather than the follow the traditional counter-spectacle spirit of the dérive we embraced city planning and the heritage industry by beginning to follow, as closely as possible, the route of a sinister circle that appears on the city map to demarcate everything that is within an 8-minute walk of the famous cathedral. A circle which, even if its position was quite deliberately chosen for reasons shadier than tourist convenience or to make particular emphases, must still contain some element of randomness, some unexpected ambiences (ambience is a key element of Phantom Tympanum). We hoped, in other words, to grab a slice of the city’s sound life while illuminating some conspiracy that would tear apart city hall and the Alchemists Guild.

The Cathedral of St Etienne of Bourges. (Actual
Cathedral of St Etienne of Bourges not shown).

Niemczyk taped the sound as we went and, if our footsteps give us away on the recording, we were quite disciplined in remaining wordless. Occasional bursts of my Super 8 camera motor when we reached points that were touched by the circle will both augment the ambience and help us to align the film material with the sound material when the former is eventually processed.

Unfortunately, my British foolhardiness led us out on this scientific expedition at the height of the day’s heat and, when we abandoned the project at the exact halfway point, we found ourselves dehydrated and without water in a town whose high streets suddenly seemed devoid of any tabac or even so much as a Tesco Express.

Casting our principles to the wind, we cut back straight through the city, cross-sectioning our sacred circle, past the cathedral, our will fading. The historic stone dissolved like a hallucination or an unconvincing virtual reality transition, into endless sand dunes peppered with melting monuments: we were to die in the desert.

Thankfully we were two, and our mutual encouragement (even when Niemczyk slowed to photograph an abandoned shop or stencilled graffito that briefly rematerialized) saw us reach the south-west of the city and the familiar sight of Le Panier D'Auron grocers where you can always get a litre of water and a plastic-wrapped croissant. Logically, our plight cannot have lasted for longer than 16 minutes, but time is subjective when all you see around you are shimmering mirages of the re-animated, location-specific historical moments you’ve been reimagining in front of a laptop for the past six months.

Tomorrow we will attempt to complete the other half of the circle. Seeing as Niemczyk was on sound duty today, I’ll take it tomorrow – giving us, in effect, one semi-circular ear each on the city. Is there a job title for Niemczyk somewhere in that image?

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Amateri in Sarajevo

Mr Cole's movie Amateri, or The Lost Innocents, will play at Sarajevo Film Festival next week. As you may remember, the video was produced as part of an artist residency at Kino Klub Split, and is a poetic interpretation and perversion of the history and culture of the Kino Klubs of the region of the former Yugoslavia.

EVENT: Amateri at Sarajevo Film Festival
WHERE: Art Cinema Kriterion, Obala Kulina bana 2, Sarajevo 71000, Bosnia and Herzegovina
WHEN: Tuesday, 15th August 2017, 15.00 
COST: 5KM (€2.55) (buy online)

Monday, 7 August 2017

UNIVERSAL EAR: A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear is now online

The first episode of Mr Cole's artist film series UNIVERSAL EAR is now available to watch online in full.

UNIVERSAL EAR is a lost adventure serial charting Harley Byrne’s ongoing mission: to capture and make available for download “all the world’s music, ever.”

Mr Cole and his roaming, ever-evolving Universal Ear Studios team have made it their business to (p)reconstruct this unfound serial of the future, episode by episode into infinity. Other texts, videos and supporting experiments have also materialized.

A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear was produced during an artist residency at Nexus Art Cafe in Manchester in May 2010 and premiered at Abandon Normal Devices in August 2012. The film stars Stewart Lockwood and Tuesday Betts; music is by Aidan Smith.

In this episode,  heroic ex-postman Harley Byrne travels back in time to 19th century Romania, to record the world’s first ever remotely delivered electronic music. But while recovering from a dramatic splash-landing, he finds himself falling head-over-heels for his host, the sultry inventress Nola Luna. Is she really all she seems? Will she let him record her electronic ‘Orchitron’? Or will Harley Byrne finally be thwarted in his ongoing mission: to record and make available for download all the world’s music, ever?

A new episode of UNIVERSAL EAR will go into production during Mr Cole's forthcoming EMARE residency at Bandits-Mages in Bourges, France.