Gnawing at bits of a video I’m working on. With a piano in it.


Below is an extract of a 15-minute video I made a few months ago. What you see here is indicative of what goes on for the full quarter-hour: just me displaying details of the house with an outstretched hand and a video camera. Fairly boring. It’s not a work in itself, just a sketch of some ideas, but it has a bearing on the piano video I’m developing.

At around 00:29 the kettle needs attention. My only free hand has to take it off the boil even though it’s still trying to get on with the job of putting everything on display. The awkwardness and the silliness that result are altogether missing from the piano video — not a problem in itself, but it does help me think about what the piano video lacks. This kind of humour isn’t necessary to the formal structure I’m trying to examine in the piano video, but I’ve noticed it often accompanies this structure where I’ve found it elsewhere.

The structure I’m talking about is a kind of matching up between material that’s on display and material that’s doing the displaying. When the hand tries to manoeuvre the kettle while also trying to display the manoeuvring of the kettle, it’s trying to be itself and point to itself at the same time. The incongruity of the proposition — or even the paradox of it — shows up in the awkward manoeuvres of the hand.

Over the past few years I’ve been struck by how often this particular shape of incongruity is accompanied by this particular kind of humour. I’m thinking of some examples of metalanguage I wrote about some years ago: John Barth, Donald Urquart and David Lasnier. Or the losing of Tracey Emin’s lost cat posters and the poncif we say made the whole scenario possible. Or the Kardashians. Or the squashed rat episode I’ll write about another time. Or Ed Ruscha’s Some LA Apartments or perhaps, just about, Paul Knight. And in my own work there’s O-, Painting Things Red, the surfaces of the house, Musica Practica, A Line Describing a Curve, olololo, and various scraps of writing.

In each case there is something hilarious (is hysterical a better word?) about the attempt to cut through representation and match up the represented thing with the fact of its representation. When the matching up is exactly right there’s a neatness to it — or perhaps a pointlessness, an exact cancelling out to zero — that makes every bit of the operation click into place like a perfect quip.

This isn’t to say the piano video needs humour; perhaps it wouldn’t suit the tone. But I can see it has the shape that humour often sharpens.


At 00:34 a finger jabs the keyboard exactly in sync, following a period of detachment between audio and video. The conviction of this movement seems to force sound and image back into synchronicity.

Can I give the hands this work to do?


What I like is the upward lift of the fingertip at 8 seconds, and the way the key sounds not at the moment of attack but release.

Credits: pianist Rossella Rubini plays ‘Lunantica’ by Enrica Sciandrone.