Creeped out and compelled by the roving eye of the Dungeness lighthouse throwing a restless, milky beam into the fogged desert vista at four am. The most expansive and luminous star-scape we've ever seen. Galaxies within galaxies. No artificial light here, lighthouse eye aside. Just the lap of the tide, the stars, and the creak of shingle underfoot. We're at the end of the world, and our two hired minibuses just got tailed into the site by a police van. Is there a third vehicle? Yes, and it's not an ice cream van. Nope, we're not gonna touch your lovely nuclear power station, officer. Nope, there are no known activists in our ranks, officer. (Approximately ten of our nineteen present pilgrims are known activists). Nothing to see here. Move along and may your path be a peaceful one. Am I a student? How very dare you. I'm much worse - I'm an Arts-Council-funded composer, dontcha know. Yeah, I'm THAT wanker. That and three other conflicting stories from those engaged by the gun-toting ACAB droids. Ultimately, the unifying detail in all four opposing defences seems to be 'Brighton' which is apparently sufficient for them to let us go about our 'business', dutifully filed under 'harmless sun-worshippers'.
But what is our business? Our business is the fifth edition of a public sound art ritual called Platform On The Ocean, the premise of which I conceived in April 2014. It's essentially a set of minimal instructions:
Musicians gather en masse with acoustic instruments to perform a single, shimmering major chord in a resonant public space over an extended duration. Non-musicians and passing footfall are actively encouraged to participate.
We've played at an underpass opening onto Brighton seafront, beneath a huge viaduct as cars doppler-honked at rush hour, under the pier on the solstice, and in procession as part of Europe's first TransPride march. Dungehenge, as one of our number coined it, is the fifth, and as we've been scaling the white notes from a launchpad of C at our first edition, our agreed major chord was that of G. Departing in two booked minibuses – Priscilla and Leloo Dallas Minibus – from a car park just beyond Concorde 2 on Brighton seafront, with one driver barely in recovery from a night of violent gastric ejections in London, our mystery machine pilots tore down the ever-narrowing fogged-up lanes of rural Sussex attempting to navigate in increasingly trying conditions both exterior to and within the buses. As the hedonism mounted, and Boredoms thrashed at the tinny bus speakers, states and dimensions had already begun to shift. Earlier, chatting with friends it had dawned on me, in full-frontal objective hard-fact epiphany exactly how absurd this whole endeavour was:
Ok, so let's fill two buses with lunatics, hedonists and magi, take them on an all-nighter to a desert, in September, and have them drone on one chord, at five in the morning, to no audience.
Sounds perfect to me, no?
We pulled into a petrol station to revivify Priscilla – long-stopped serving. Three am? Slackers. Ah well, houmous and flatbread buffet on the unleaded pump instead? Sorted. Then suddenly we're in wyrd, rural Kent, and it's all gone a bit Lost Highway. All we can see are our headlights, and even these beams are getting dispersed and ghouled-up by the thick, descending fog. And so many of our pilgrims haven't seen this place in daylight yet. It's a beautifully desolate, sparely-populated area of England. Wind-farms, sheep (in whose fecal gems would be at present flourishing crops of mushrooms), boarded-up shacks, uninviting pubs, mesmeric sunsets and looming, brutalist power stations.
After dispensing with the armed officers, and promising we'd bed down in the buses until the first shreds of dawn licked the sky, we promptly bundled up – it's a desert, remember? - shaman-terrorist monks in procession to the beach, the roving eye of the lighthouse eager and restless. Star-gazing; galaxies within galaxies within galaxies; stars of every hue. Us Brighton-dwellers scarcely get to see stars so comprehensively painted across the sky.
Back in the vans; sleep proving difficult in anticipation of the dawn perfomance. Two hours pass in languid hilarity, then someone points out an azure silk creeping into the black pleats of star-pocked eschaton. Dawn is here! Again, we bundle up in our blanketed monastic gear, grab the instruments and head down to the same patch of beach – consciously out of (hopeful) ear/eye-shot of the slumbering denizens in their shacks. Hesitant at first, as ever with these disciplined but shapeless sonic emanations, the drone launches, picking up momentum and focus as we tune into the weird, timeless state that sets in when doing very little, for a long period of time. It's a beautiful sound – guitars, viola, melodicas, voices, percussion, violins, musicians spanning an age gap of fifty years. It waxes and wanes with a spatial drift as people wander the site, molecules cohering into temporary structures before dispersing into others. About forty minutes in, someone points out flecks of crimson cresting on the horizon. The light is now a fierce amber. Mesmerised, we intuitively walk en masse towards the sun, gazing into it with parallel wonder to which we afforded the stars only hours earlier. The drone takes a subdued turn. We're hooked on these burgeoning waves of light and heat. It's like watching something be born. The musicians, are slowing. Reduced to a band of around five – violin, viola, guitars, two voices, a murmur, dolorous high tones from our seventy-year-old vocalist, Sue Angel. The drone subsides in final purged notes as the sun, now dominating the vista in epic blaze overrides any intention we may have of continuing. Instruments are lain down. We drink, chatter; it's warming up. The papooses are shed. Instruments returned to the buses.
We head out to explore the site in daylight – many present have never been to Dungeness before. It's a landscape that has a very peculiar effect on the general psychical state of those within it. Some find it abhorrently desolate and freak out. Some (me included) thrive on its alien, desert, endlessly-extending hopelessness in every direction. Miserable bastards. Abandoned mariners' detritus thread around the abundant sea kale – rope, rusted cogs, smashed-up boats, upended shipping containers. And Derek Jarman's cottage and much-celebrated garden, around which a gaggle of us parade, enjoying the stone circles, the objet-trouve sculptures, and the Keats poem engraved on the gable end. Some of us melt into (well-earned) napping at the shoreline, the heat from the sun now beaming through our bones and muscles in a way that feels so loving after the sub-arctic chill of pre-dawn.
It's time to leave. Some of us are drawn to and gather little articles – slates, curious pebbles, a length of mariners' rope – and we board the two buses. One bus heads straight back to Brighton. The other rests in Hastings for food, at arguably the worst cafe in all of human and global history. The espresso is cold and takes twenty minutes to manifest. The Danish pastry is an apple turnover is a croissant which they don't stock. The toast is lukewarm Mighty White. The parasol which we must apparently self-erect is a convoluted death trap that nearly severs limbs and strangles its operator. In summary, this episode of the narrative proves significantly less transcendent than what has come before, disregarding of course the proprieters' profound transcending of our worst fears of how bad the place actually could be.
Back to Brighton; buses are returned unscathed. Au revoir Priscilla! A bientot Leloo Dallas Minibus! Thanks for the memories! Show us your arms!
I was awake for thirty-six hours. Some less so. Some more. Dungehenge has charged us all with a searing and serene bliss, it seems. I've been hearing music differently since we did it. Minutiae in production details making themselves present with greater prominence than before. I can't get the image of THAT dawn out of my head. And we barely got arrested. Oh well. Next time.