Ultrabold article below published Summer 2013

ub-3 ub2 ub-1SAL PITTMAN

The Butcher of Common Sense


Take a diversely talented creative collective, place them for ten days in an abandoned
radio station in the former East Berlin and record everything. The result is a
remarkable fusion of sound and vision that exploits both contemporary technology and
that of the analogue Cold War world.


Part of the idea of working in Berlin in that old
broadcasting studio, which was so important
during the Cold War in terms of pumping out
Beethoven and propaganda 24 hours a day, was
to engender a son of psycho-archaeology: so we
weren’t so much building things as uncovering
them – feeding off the space and the city. We
wanted to take that process, distill it and then
record it.


Jon Baker, the Neutrinos


The Butcher of Common Sense is an ongoing experiment in
music and an which has been evolved over a four year
period by a group of musicians, an artist and a writer, initiated by the explorations into music image and performance in architectural spaces by the band the Neutrinos
- Jon Baker, Karen Reilly and Mark Howe – and myself,
a visual artist and long-term collaborator. The project began with ten intensive days at Funkhaus Nalepastrasse,
a defunct former East German radio broadcast centre in
Berlin, where we immersed ourselves in its time-scarred
but imposing surroundings with the aim of experimenting and making a range of audio and visual art.
The original plan was not only to make an album
but also to experience a wider artistic adventure in
Berlin, and needed a derelict building or some type of art
space. Eventually we came across a studio based in the
Funkhaus complex, a vast and beautiful structure dating
from the early 1950s and designed by a former Bauhaus architect Franz Ehrlich.

Our creative process, our ‘Butcher’ method, came
through several years of working with spontaneous composition, improvisation and ‘cut-ups’ in both the
musical and visual fields, further amplified by a series of
creative evenings which we called ‘We Made Our Own
Entertainment’. These events were all about musical
experimentation: pieces created in 30 seconds; instantaneous film soundtracks and image making; ‘found’ instruments; free improvised singing – all done in preparation
for putting a team together to go to the Funkhaus to
explore these techniques and ideas further.
During the Berlin residency we documented everything. The musicians did a great deal of improvising
and acoustic exploration in the halls and corridors, all
recorded, and also made rule-based and game-based compositions. Simultaneously I worked on artwork and film
using a set of similar constraints, alongside our writer-in-residence Roz Coleman, working on prose streams and
essays. We got entranced by the notion that the building
would somehow have absorbed everything that it ever
’heard’, the idea of’playback’.
Returning to the UK, our first task was to gather all the
data from the residency. This comprised all the collected
and recorded sound, the illustrations, films and sketches.
There were also a large quantity of photographs, some
very beautiful, reflecting the space, while others were
simple documentation. There were also song maps and
lyrics from the musicians, scraps of doodles, notes, printed
texts and emails and general thoughts and instructions longside the essays and an abstract questionnaire filled
in by us all on our return.
Our starting point for the assembly part of the process was our Butcher technique. This was influenced
musically by the traditions of John Cage and John Stevens
- the leader of 1960s radicals The Spontaneous Music
Ensemble – and visually by William Burroughs, Hannah
Hoch and the Dadaist appropriation of everyday objects
in collage and photomontage, alongside the photocopy
fanzine art of early 1980s Europe.


The Artwork

My studio is in an old canning factory complex, four floors
up in Bermondsey with a view of the London skyline. It
has the familiar bleakness of a disused factory, having escaped any precious redevelopment; it has simple plaster-
board interior walls with an external one featuring original, unsealed windows. It felt appropriate to continue the
work in this space after the vast, overwhelming ghost of
the Funkhaus.
Though initially a daunting task in terms of its
volume, I took the photographs to a photocopier and
printed an A4 version of every image. The prints came
out showing many ghosts, initially obscured, in the white
sections of the copies, and this instigated the initial narrative idea, alongside the accounts, descriptions, preliminary illustrations and experiences, which were starting to
take shape. Mapping out a chart, I recognised rhythms
and motifs within the layers and this started to feel like
music. It needed to resonate with the sound so that the
relationship between the artwork and the recordings
became symbiotic.
As the Neutrinos worked on the demos and field recordings taken from the building, they sent them to
me and I used the sound to  generate authentic responses.
I put the essays on the wall of my studio and chopped
them into single lines of text that removed meaning and,
using the tradition of cut-ups, generated abstract stories
and new layers of narratives and reverberations. This led
to the initial graphic style as I worked on Concrete techniques to pursue visual rhythm, repetition and space.

The work at this stage didn’t necessarily have a hook
as its objective. It could have been a box ot images, a
newspaper, a manual. As the work was made it went on
the walls, in files, on the floor, in layers, through printers.
Stretching it, inking it, retracing it, enlarging it out of recognition, adding words, abstractions, collaging, reacting
to the contrast and the conflict.

We all found ourselves to be conduits for our chosen
discipline, so how to embody an experience in a set of
images… how to embody the sound? How to embody
the spirit of our residence?

It became clear when stepping back from the emerging imagery that there was now a definitive narrative
that concerned creative freedom. We all had our personal experiences of artistic hostility and these stories filled the
studio walls.

For a year I played nothing on my studio’s CD player
but the demos, the developing album and soundscapes,
and music and documentaries made in and about Berlin.
These collectively fed our story.

Karen would make periodical visits to the studio so
that we could work together with light boxes and projected photographs, developing the layering techniques
while being able to photograph quick responses to newly generated imagery. This was then inserted into a growing
file of images. Also, being a musician and frontwoman of
the band and of subsequent performances in the project
she was my ally and link between the music and art.

As a collective we had used the notion of games and
restrictions to aid the creative process, and the music continued to be made around improvised and game-style
formats. For the artwork response I wrote a self-imposed
structure around which I could format the design and
content, a graphic line that occurs throughout the book
as an obscured pathway:

NUMBERS 1 TO 9 (we were nine) AND OTHER












The edit

The final book works over a variety of narratives, structured around interconnected stories portrayed in images.
An abstracted contemporary graphic novel made up of
our individual stories of artistic resistance and release
suggested illustration in the style of a storyboard which
in turn led me to use cinematic conventions of graphic
matching and visual leitmotifs. Closeups and wide shots,
differing points of view invoke the wavering nature of collaboration, from the frustration to the elation of creating
something in the moment – the reason we were there.

It had to feel like the building, using constructs such
as the sense of claustrophobic walls, the breathing into
and out of the walls, both physical and mental. Echoes and memories, the acoustic resonance within a space.
The textures evoked within. Latex pages arouse cold
store memories and felted inserts imply acoustic protec-
tion and soundproofing. Font styles suggest found documentation and proclamation alongside styles alluding to
familiar reportage. A love letter to black ink and text as
image. Concrete poetry and the resistant beat within.


The Printing

Printing had to be true to the spirit of the building and
the city and the nature of the experiment and the residency. There were similar influences that crossed over
between the music and art and this aided the communication between me and the band. Together Karen and I experimented with various paper types. We found
old and beautiful established companies producing fine
artpapers and printing papers around the country but
none evoked old fragile documents or dusty pamphlets
imbued with the smell of old storage cupboards and decades of neglect. This is what we wanted.

Contemporary digital printing put restrictions on
paper choice if we were to remain within budget. The
small-edition run also prohibited any analogue printing
techniques. So we looked back to the original inspiration
the pre-digital photocopier. A machine that could take a
length of paper beyond super A3, a machine that could
allow double paper passes to create a black with a density
that went beyond simple black ink. A machine that could
take the finest uncoated newsprint, old stationery from a
warehouse in Holloway, wall lining paper, tracing paper,
layout paper and cheap pulpy sugar paper.

Much inspiration came from the ‘neo-dadaist Fluxus
movement of the 1960s, the finding of beauty in the
everyday. The DIY post-punk culture of typography and
print style, long associated with early 1980s Britain and
Berlin, had a particular style of graphic communication
and underground distribution of ideas and poster art.
It seemed appropriate that the photocopy would be the
printing technique for the majority of the pages. This was
an 18 month-long, concentrated process.

The book was bound in a hardback linen cover to
protect and contrast with the vulnerable pages within.
The book is ten inches square, which evokes and is in feet
driven by vinyl sleeve dimensions to aid the symbiosis.
It is packaged in an archive box from a long established
manufacturer, McCarthy & Sons, and is accompanied and
completed by the CD album, its sleeve letterpress pnnted
and embedded within the back page along with
10 inch vinyl soundscape record.


The Butcher of Common Sense Artbook was designed and
edited, with original artwork, by Sal Pittman; additional
artwork by Karen Reilly, also using material and reworked
material from The Butchers of Common Sense. Essays by
Rosalind Coleman.
The book was hand printed and constructed by Sal Pittman
and Karen Reilly in an edition of 150. Music by The
Neutrinos, with additional material by The Butchers of
Common Sense. Both the book and the individual album can
he found at butcherofcommonsense.

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