This beautiful painting, by Emma Matthews, forms the cover of Chris Petit’s new vinyl LP, Museum of Loneliness. It reminds me of the days when record companies had art directors who viewed the 12×12 space on the front of an album as an opportunity to do something interesting, creative, and complementary to the content of the package, which is what is happening here.
What is the Museum of Loneliness? In Petit’s words, it exists to “embark on a series of projects of infiltration” including audio projects that might feature “installations from the memory bank; non-radio exercises for radio and i-players. Sound montages for the electronic age, the audio equivalent to channel-hopping, sound quilts, alternative programming. Cubist radio. Post-DJ. Cut-ups. Audio junk. Electromagnetic slums. Music played in another room. Lonely songs for lonely places.”
There are no discernible songs, lonely or otherwise, on this album. On the first side Petit reads extracts from his fiction, including Robinson (1993), his debut novel; on the second he reads what is in effect the Museum’s manifesto. His voice is set into sound-beds compiled from a variety of sources — “last year’s traffic news… tinny surveillance recordings… dead weather reports… calls waiting… dial-up internet connections” — by Jess Chandler and Will Shutes of the Test Centre, the producers of this disc. There’s a short extract from it on this page; you’ll get the idea.
I first met Petit in the mid-1970s at Time Out, where he edited the film section. His career as a director started in 1979 with Radio On, a British road movie which made extensive and highly effective use of contemporaneous music (Berlin-era Bowie, Kraftwerk, Ian Dury, Robert Fripp, Wreckless Eric, etc). It was around that time that I sent him to Germany to write a long piece for the Melody Maker about what was happening in German music; he spoke to Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, to Frank Farian (the producer of Boney M), and to the producer/engineer Conny Plank, who gave him a memorable quote: “The future will be a little bit kitsch, but ice-cold.”
Some of that future can be discerned in Museum of Loneliness, which is released in an edition of 600 copies (www.test centre.org.uk). Petit will be appearing at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London on May 2, talking about his project and showing Asylum, one of the four films he has made with his pal Iain Sinclair, who will also be present.