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SAL 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 art 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 alongside 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 book 
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 
ABSTRACT DEVICES

TWO FIFTHS DOWN THE
 PAGE

OVERLAPPING LAYERS

CONCRETE WORDS

BECKONING

REPETITION

REFLECTION

RHYTHM

TEXTURE

BLACK

SCALE

TEXT

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
art papers 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 indeed 
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 a 
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 
be found at The Butcher of Common Sense.

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