How did a makeshift recording studio built from old timber, metal and corrugated roofing behind a family house in Kingston, Jamaica, become one of the most innovative studios in the 1970’s working with artists such as Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, Clash and Paul McCartney and Wings?
The equipment was pretty rudimentary and out of date compared to competing studios, but this didn’t matter to the talent and inventiveness of Lee “Scratch” Perry who would overdub layers of sound effects and instrumentation onto the recording tracks with unusual sounds created by exploring what was around him – drum sounds created by placing microphones in the base of a palm tree which was then hit rhythmically or in a drum booth surrounded by chicken wire, broken glass, crying babies, falling rain and cow noises. This was the Black Art, the recording studio of Lee “Scratch” Perry, the reggae and dub producer.
“I see the studio must be like a living thing, a life itself. The machine must be live and intelligent. Then I put my mind into the machine and the machine perform reality. Invisible thought waves – you put them into the machine by sending them through the controls and the knobs or you jack it into the jack panel. The jack panel is the brain itself, so you got to patch up the brain and make the brain a living man, that the brain can take what you sending into it and live.” (Lee Perry)
Just as Perry used his mixing console to create new creative work, New York artist Gary Simmons does the same with torn posters, reclaimed wood and old speakers in his exhibition “Post No Bills” at the Simon Lee Gallery in London.
Simmon’s early works were on old classroom chalkboards discovered in a studio space in a former school in Manhatten, from which he developed his “erasure drawings” to explore issues of American culture and racial and class identity on this fleeting and changing medium, drawing with white chalk on slate-painted panels or walls which were then smudged and rubbed to leave ghostly images that hinted back to the original drawings.
Inspired by the spirit of Perry, Simon Lee’s gallery is filled with music from the video of “Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark” – performances by Beans in New Orleans in 2014 and Ghostpoet in Basel in 2015 where Simmons invited musicians to rearrange old speakers in any way they wanted so that the music and the aesthetics of the speaker towers worked together. This is now refined into his speaker sculptures set in a frame made from wood collected from buildings devastated by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. They stand silent now, but ready to be wired up by musicians and brought to life giving enjoyment to musicians and their audiences.
Around the walls are panels of posters trying to cover the authoritarian “Post No Bills” sign by which authorities try hopelessly to protect their walls and hoardings. The panels feel as if Simons has collected timber hoardings from building sites where, despite the stencilled sign, it only took one poster, then a second, then a third and then the war was lost as they became locations on which to advertise gigs, events and new albums, as can still be seen today on university campuses as student societies maintain the poster culture.
Often hand-crafted and stencilled before the advent of photocopiers and digital printing, Simmons builds up layers of posters in these panels, reminding us that posters are here today and gone tomorrow and that underneath the layers there may be a cultural history of events long since forgotten. In this he also draws attention to the modern digital age where history is lost at the touch of the “delete” key on the keyboard.
Just as Lee Perry used his own creative talents to create new sounds from fairly basic materials, Gary Simmons does the same with sculptures and poster panels as he continues to explore politics, music, race and class within American and British culture.