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Punk/Noise Panel 4B

Robert Boyle Lecture Theatre

Ian Trowell (Independent scholar based in the Fens) – ‘Where the system starts: Throbbing Gristle vs Architectural Association’

In March 1978, the musicians Throbbing Gristle performed at the Architectural Association in London, a rare appearance of the band and an even rarer incorporation of live music performance into the confines of the Architectural Association. The band, a transformation of the avant-garde performance artists COUM Transmissions instigated in October 1976 as a part of the controversial art exhibition Prostitution, were coterminous with the nascent phase of UK punk rock. Using the cultural zeitgeist of punk to gain access to a wider audience demanding new practices of confrontation and controversy, Throbbing Gristle promoted their philosophies and explored the codes of performance. They sought to go beyond punk and expose its limitations and inherent inflexibilities, such that live appearances were marked by extreme reactions of the audience. Coining a new genre of industrial music, the band provoked an architectural dialogue at multiple points: they drew motivation from a fierce critique of the built environment of industrial society, they sourced and manipulated the direct sounds and experiences of that environment, and they questioned the spatial codes and possibilities of where music can be performed and consumed. In addition, the band utilised the tactics of embellishment and mythology, and the subsequent remembering of their performance at the Architectural Association has been subjected to this process. This paper, as a part of a wider body of research examining the live appearances of the band, explores their intent and assesses their success in creating a critical dialogue with architecture.

Chris Bailey (Plymouth College of Art) – ‘Imperfect Orchestra – A Battle Between Performance and Ethos’

A reflective case study of Imperfect Orchestra that explores the transition from “a bunch of punks making a film score” to an “ensemble of amateur musicians commissioned to produce contemporary performance art”, and the impact this has had on our methods of production, membership and ethos. 

Imperfect Orchestra began as a tongue-in-cheek dig at class based notions of a traditional “Orchestra”. It began as a group of friends producing a Film soundtrack for live performance by Dr Allister Gall (Imperfect Cinema) in 2013. The process was socially anarchic: all members were instrumental in writing music that supported the development of that first score. Anyone who kind of played an instrument – and several who couldn’t – were invited to be a part of it. 

Since then, we have worked with a range of artists, collaborators and commissioners, and have received thousands of pounds in funding. As the years have progressed and our work has increased in scope, our methods have evolved. Developmentally, we have become more proficient in working as a collective but the range of people who are involved has shrunk, the amount of ‘non-musicians’ involved has dwindled and we have begun to morph subtly into a legitimate “Orchestra” with classical instruments and notation.

So how does an organisation hell bent on using the word “orchestra” as a means of class-based subversion, end up fighting with itself to remain relevant and to justify its name and ethos as something “Imperfect”?

This case study would draw on material in our archive – available at

David Howcroft (No Audience Underground Tapes) – ‘The Manifesto’

David Howcroft the owner of N-aut (No Audience Underground Tapes) a diy cassette only label based in Northumberland that documents and archives the “no audience underground” scene in the Newcastle and Gateshead region presents a transformation from Morrison Blockader (41N-aut) to Tesco Blockader(93N-aut) addressing the statement ‘noise’ and the question whether ‘anyone can do it’.

This seminar will present ‘The Manifestio’ to attendees and create the environment for a Socratic discussion.

All welcome please bring with you your DeBono hats !


Published by Gustav Thomas

Claws & Tongues was started in order to provide a visible yet fluid platform with which to try out ideas for writings by Gustav Thomas that may or may not lead elsewhere, as in articles, chapters, essays, papers zines or books. Gustav Thomas is my real name in so far as it comprises the two middle names included on my birth certificate, which, as a bona fide part of my ‘real’ name makes it only a half-alias. I’m not ashamed, especially, of what one would normally consider my ‘real name,’ but I don’t intend to use it on this blog or announce it here, in this ‘about’ text, or anywhere else on this blog. That’s not because I wish to keep it somehow hidden or secret – to find out what my framing monikers are would be very easy since I’ve never sought to keep them separate from Gustav Thomas. Rather it’s because that ‘real’ name is the one that teachers, headmasters, employers, medical receptionists, the Inland Revenue, medical staff, authorities of any kind, and so on, and on, has been so thoroughly used by, and thus inextricably tied to, such institutional protocols, that it leaves me, as an individual who, like any individual has the capacity to access their own agency, very little space or scope for developing the potential power and effectiveness of that agency. Gustav Thomas happens to also be my facebook name and as a musician I also chose it (actually the first time I used it) as the pseudonym I use whenever I produced 8-bit Techno on a Gameboy (I haven’t ruled out extending that use to any beat-based project should I pursue any in the future, in preference to either Virginia Pipe or Copydex, the latter being, for obvious reasons, a strictly plunderphonic collage vehicle, anyway). Gustav Thomas also conveniently encapsulates my two ethnic provenances as half Slovene and half Welsh; they are also the first names of both my grandfathers, one a fairly well known (in his time) Slovene writer, novelist and educationalist, the other a WW2 colonel among officers who led the Normandy landings, for whatever significance that, or any other part of their own rich histories, can have, here, or in anything else that I do. Above all, I have started this blog because in my professional life, which is academic, I have made the decision, officially, to have my research assessed (by the various state bodies that do that, through the RAE, REF etc.) as much through my thinking and writing as through my art practice, which it has been exclusively so far. The kind of writing I intend to do is the kind of writing I’ve always done, over the past 15 years mostly on internal departmental blogs meant as teaching support, and will almost completely draw on things I’ve been thinking and saying within an academic context during that time. My first extended pieces, then (those that are 10,000 words or more), are being extracted from my brain as a matter of almost pathological necessity, freeing up space before I can move on and at least learn new ideas, if not make them and articulate them formally. Given the context, and my stage in life (a 50-year-old whose two kids have left home), I fully intend not to start teaching myself to write in a recognizably formal-academic style; nor do I intend for my writing to be considered as such, albeit there are inevitable traces of academia in what I’m writing due to my having earned my living as an academic for – already - too long. Instead my intention is to improve, develop and extend the style I already have which will have probably begun somewhere in early childhood when I first scrawled some short stories with the vague idea that I wanted to be a ‘writer’ and, above all which has evolved through at least three decades of learning, loving to know about, talking about, and teaching about music, art and the ideas, impulses and inherent discourses that inhabit and surround them. I am aware that I have a propensity to criticize certain other artists and commentators harshly, often with extreme formulations, in a manner easily identifiable as arrogance or some such self-interested tendency. I’m not sure exactly where that emerged from; it could be the years of being fully committed (because I knew it was right) to a mode of expressive practice that operates very consciously, and critically, beyond the reductive ring-fencing of ordained culture, what most people think of as Music and Art - Culture; it may well be, though, that I learned such an approach from certain writers I’ve read over the years – it’s in Dostoyevsky, Bukowski and DeLillo in ways I can see in my own mannerisms, but also in someone like Ben Watson/Out To Lunch, whose writing on music and ideas not only had a big impact on me but certainly also encouraged me to be bold and direct about what I knew needed saying, not least because – and this is central to everything – the way in which music, popular music, popular arts and cultures are dealt with on the day-to-day ordinary level, as in what people consume, accept and ingest, how/why they do it, manages to circumscribe completely the immeasurable seriousness regarding how politically and ideologically penetrating all art is (and was always meant to be), but especially (and this is embarrassingly tautological in a way that’s generally ignored) that which is thrust upon a people at great expense by its state and the (almost entirely) corporate (read: oligarchal) interests the State serves. I’ve been accused by colleagues of being too polemical and by Ben Watson as not being a polemicist at all, in both cases meant as identifying a weakness; I would say that to consider anything I write as polemical would be to negate any capacity it may have to say something useful – too much is being said and done by modern humanity that is unfathomably (self-)destructive. My drive in all this comes from a need not necessarily to oppose and take up the position on any opposite pole; rather I just feel that someone (as many someones as possible, starting anywhere at all, including just ‘me’) needs to be engaging in a tendency to question, starting with the very simple interruption, ‘Hang on a second… that can’t be right.’ There are tens of thousands of writers and artists already doing that very well, of course. This blog is merely a workshop from which to start making my own contribution more discernible and, just possibly, useful.

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