Westward by Iceberg

The EMC must admit that it doesn’t work on the best experimental music 24/7. Occasionally it watches the odd sporting contest. The other day, whilst watching the US Open, we saw a commercial for Dassault Systemes, a kind of data imaging software company, which proposed to find a way of moving icebergs from the polar regions to areas of the earth that need fresh water, following a theory proposed by the engineer Georges Mougin. You can see a lot on this proposal at: http://www.3ds.com/icedream/ .

iceberg being towed in dassauly systemes simulation

But the Scratch Orchestra got there first, in the concert ‘The Journey of the Isle of Wight Westward by Iceberg to Tokyo Bay’, a research project proposed by Brecht & McDiarmid Research Associates (yes, that George Brecht!) and delivered sonically by the Scratch Orchestra at the Chelsea Town Hall, 15 November 1969. In this realisation, individual SO members researched aspects of the project and performed them simultaneously. You can read about this in John Tilbury’s book, Cornelius Cardew: A Life Unfinished (Matching Tye, Essex: Copula, 2008), p. 391. In Michael Parsons’ article ‘The Scratch Orchestra and Visual Arts’, Leonardo Music Journal, volume 11 (2001), 5–11, Parsons described how Christopher Hobbs ‘tolled a deep bell at regular intervals to warn of the island’s progress’. Frank Regan and Roger Wright provided feedback with a Uher tape recorder, and, writes Tilbury, ‘There was joyous celebration when the equator was crossed’.

Now that Dassault Systemes has caught up with the Scratch Orchestra, they might want to go the whole hog — how are they going to detach the Isle of Wight? Obviously just a technicality: we’ll be looking for garlic festivals and regattas in Tokyo Bay very soon!

Author: Virginia

Virginia Anderson is a writer who messes with the EMC Blog. She specialises in the study of experimental, minimalist, and free improvisatory music. She also plays clarinet, and has recorded on Zanja, Advance, and Rastascan Recordings, specialising in new works for Eb clarinet and free improvisation.

4 thoughts on “Westward by Iceberg”

  1. Hello,
    my father, Tim Mitchell, was in the scratch orchestra and often tells us tales about the goings on and the characters. The other night he was talking about the performance of the Isle of Wight travelling to Tokyo bay, so I googled it, and to our surprise this article popped up.
    It was wonderful to read about it and tie the article to his story, we all got a real kick out of it, thanks.

    1. Dear Sam, Thanks so much for telling us about this. Does Tim know that there is going to be another performance of The Great Learning — in its entirety — in July at the Union Chapel? I’m just about to put up a notice about it (or our mousy assistant admin will do so). It would be great to see him, and you perhaps?

  2. I was at the first meeting of the Scratch Orchestra with my boyfriend at the time, Roger Sutherland. Being the youngest person there I was terrifyingly asked to ‘compose’ the first concert that was set for Chelsea Town Hall.
    Panicking, I immediately retreated to art, and suggested that there had to be paint and colour. I was not at the concert, but I understand that the council were not thrilled with the aftermath of the concert! I would love to know more of how it was.

    1. Oh, thanks for this, Pauline! I’ll have to ask Chris Hobbs about this and see what we can find about what went on. But what a great anecdote: I didn’t interview you for my thesis, more’s the pity.

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