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The garden: a walk

July 16, 2007


Here’s what you didn’t expect when you agreed to walk with me in the garden.

We enter the garden, and a gardener gets an earful from a belligerent Mancunian. It’s the penultimate track on the recent Von Sudenfed album (that is, Mark E. Smith’s happy collaboration with German electronica duo Mouse On Mars), and apparently Smith isn’t happy about the noise of what sounds like a hedge trimmer. “You know it’s Sunday don’t you?”, he asks. “So you just watch the grass?”. Then, without obvious connectives: “I know fucking bigger fellers than you, alright?”.

What’s a field recording doing towards the back end of an Anglo-German collaboration, and why does it involve Mark E. Smith abusing the gardener? Time shifts a bit, and now it’s the previous song on the same the record and Smith is on about a man who “just kept singing… ‘I was in my garden'”. To whom Smith replies, “You don’t look like no god-damn singer-songwriter to me!”. We wonder for a moment whether electronic music, and post-punk art, and pre-digital imaginings re-nutured for a post-digital age, will always run amuck like this when it’s allowed into the garden. Then we leave, before he sees us.


We acknowledge without surprise that we could well be in Eden, or the site of some other past rebellion. Andrew Marvell is astounding the Parliamentarian general Fairfax with flighty comparisons between the flowers in his country garden and civil war soldiers ready to mow each other down. It’s probably a mark of the fertile collective consciousness of the English people, overgrown with suspicion, that, in this year of our Lord 1652, he sees civil disobedience in a blade of grass. Traipsing unmetaphysically through the grounds, he teaches lessons to Fairfax’s daughter and does what he can to keep his head on his shoulders. On occasion the garden overnaturally overgrows him, and his world is annihilated — how would he put it later? — to a green thought in a green shade. We wake up in Another Green World.


In this green world, Brian Eno is tending a bush of ghosts — obliquely, strategically. His father was a postman — an ambient postman — and he is an ambient gardener. A tiny motor ticks and clicks to keep his garden growing. The breath of the plants produces atmospheric events that become music with names like In Dark Trees and Sombre Reptiles. An especially sombre reptile, a mechanical lizard, treads along the artificial grass (centuries before Astroturf) of the parlour-garden of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It is Ludwig’s pet, and it is just as romantic as he is. J.-K. Huysmans makes enthusiastic observations on the highly artificial forms of the organic world and retires to his room to write nightmares. The garden is a technology, and has been ever since the business with Eve and the serpent and Apple, whose products are self-generating and rhizomic.


We see a woman who, like Mark E. Smith moments ago next century, is in conversation with a gardener, and her language is just as colourful. Far from making complaints to the gardener, though, she is making obscene requests of him. And Lady Chatterley does not see a man half mad with desire and pride keeps asking Maud to come into the garden, too. Bryan Ferry, having put roses round his door, sits in the garden growing potatoes by the score, all because he had promised to do so several decades earlier on the first Roxy Music album, before Brian Eno went off to be a different ghost in a different bush. This continues for several centuries and my other soul grows as bored as a newborn kitten.

In a strange reversal of what I thought to be true, every plant here has been named after one of the minute-long tracks on last year’s album by Zavoloka and AGF called Nature Never Produces The Same Beat Twice. So we walk around in the ordinary grass and think about David Toop’s book’s Haunted Weather, the fabrication of spaces, digital collaboration, the fact that the electronic sounds resulting from my digital primitivism at the start of my recent collaboration with Anne Marie Varrella were described to me by Lauren as sounding like baby frogs swimming in salad oil. Sombre amphibians. She rakes a desk-garden that I have not photographed.


Sadie Plant is talking about plants with Carsten Nicolai, who is also Alva.Noto, and when he is Alva.Noto he designs sounds that are dry gardens, and the two of them wonder what biological forms can learn from digital gestures. Alva.Noto’s recordings are clearly interested in the slow growth of plants. If only either of us could remember how photosynthesis worked then perhaps someone would let us leave, but a late-medieval poet, whose name has been lost in the longer grass, is even now burdened with the dream-vision that led into the garden in pursuit of a little girl who is also an opulent pearl. He did not expect to find himself in a perspex Japanese garden, a cube teeming with dragons and serpents and serpents and fish and birds; and he did not expect to find Momus making descriptive and prescriptive notes as the sun shrinks tiny. The garden is weirder than wilderness.

The garden is empty, because Carsten Nicolai has installed it that way. The Garden Is Full of Metal, because that’s the name of Robin Rimbaud’s homage to Derek Jarman, who helped his garden grow just as he himself was wilting. The garden is full of moss, because of David Bowie and Brian (oh no!) Eno, who, being ambient, is fascinatingly inevitable. With his oblique strategies and his loops and his roundaboutness, I would not expect him to be our guide. We’re completely lost; we still have every hope.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2007 5:38 am


  2. Kate Davies permalink
    July 26, 2007 3:58 pm



  1. The garden: a supplement « The Ideal Tiger
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