photo credit: Nariman el-Mofty

Fitzcarraldo Editions will publish Egyptian political prisoner Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s You Have Not Yet Been Defeated in the UK on 20 October 2021.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah, 39, is arguably the most high profile political prisoner in Egypt, if not the Arab world. A leading
figure among the young technologists and bloggers of the 2000s he rose to international prominence during the
revolution of 2011. A fiercely independent thinker who fuses politics and technology in powerful prose, an activist whose ideas represent a global generation which has only known struggle against a failing system, a public intellectual with the rare courage to offer personal, painful honesty, Alaa’s written voice came to symbolize much of what was fresh, inspiring and revolutionary about the uprisings that have defined the last decade.

Alaa has been in prison for most of the last seven years and many of the pieces collected here were smuggled out of his cell. From theses on technology, to theories of history, to painful reflections on the meaning of prison, his voice in thesepages – arranged by family and friends – cuts as sharply relevant, as dangerous, as ever.

Alaa Abd el-Fattah is an Egyptian writer, technologist and political activist. He is currently being held in indefinite
detention in Egypt. He was a central figure in the blogging movement of the early 2000s, a vanguard of free speech and radical discourse that would become one of the catalysts of the 2011 revolution. Committed to using both on-the-ground activism and online platforms to push an uncompromising political discourse, Alaa was 24 when he was first arrested under Hosni Mubarak. Since then he has been prosecuted and arrested by the three other Egyptian regimes of his lifetime. After the coup d’etat of 2013, he was among the principal targets of the counter-revolution and has been held in the regime’s prisons since then.

Publishing internship (6-month placement)

Fitzcarraldo Editions is currently recruiting for a 6-month publishing internship through the DWP Kickstart scheme, paid at the London Living Wage. Providing support to Fitzcarraldo Editions’ staff, the publishing intern will be involved in every aspect of the publishing process, including editorial, production, publicity, marketing, foreign rights and general office administration. The position will suit someone able to work as part of a small team but also willing to use their initiative and work on their own. Attention to detail and an interest in contemporary literature are essential.

Suitable candidates must be aged 16-24, based in London, currently be claiming Universal Credit and are required to apply through local Job Centres following a referral from their Work Coach. Deadline for applications: 28 April 2021.

Anyone interested should speak to your Work Coach as soon as possible, quoting the postcode (SE8 3DX / SE1), as well as the job title and organisation.

OWLISH by Dorothy Tse, translated by Natascha Bruce

credit: Dorothy Tse

Fitzcarraldo Editions’ associate publisher Tamara Sampey-Jawad has acquired UK & Commonwealth ex Canada rights to Owlish, the first novel by Dorothy Tse – one of Hong Kong’s most celebrated writers – from Kelly Falconer at the Asia Literary Agency. Ethan Nosowsky and Anni Liu at Graywolf Press will publish simultaneously in the US in spring 2023. The novel will be translated by PEN Heim-winner Natascha Bruce, and is Fitzcarraldo’s first Chinese-language acquisition.

Unfulfilled in his marriage and his career, middle-aged Professor Q embarks on a doomed love affair with a doll called Alice. Obsessed with his new love, he fails to notice that sinister forces are encroaching on his city –  until the security of his own life is called into question. Set in an alternate Honk Kong, Owlish is a boldly inventive wake-up call, forcing readers to confront the perils of apathy, complacency and indifference.

One of the founders of the Hong Kong literary magazine Fleurs des lettres, Dorothy Tse currently lives in Hong Kong, where she teaches creative writing at Hong Kong Baptist University.  Her awards include the Hong Kong Book Prize, Hong Kong Biennial Award for Chinese Literature, Taiwan’s Unitas New Fiction Writers’ Award, and the Hong Kong Award for Creative Writing in Chinese. Dorothy has published five short-story collections in Chinese, and has garnered attention in English since the 2014 publication of her collection Snow and Shadow (translated by Nicky Harman; longlisted for 2015 Best Translated Book Award). With translator Natascha Bruce, Dorothy was a winner of the 2019 Words Without Borders Poems in Translation Prize.

Lynn Gallagher’s Postcards by Jeremy Cooper

In Bolt from the Blue, Jeremy Cooper, the winner of the 2018 Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize, charts the relationship between a mother and daughter over the course of thirty-odd years. In October 1985, Lynn moves down to London to enrol at Saint Martin’s School of Art, leaving her mother behind in a suburb of Birmingham. Their relationship is complicated, and their primary form of contact is through the letters, postcards and emails they send each other periodically, while Lynn slowly makes her mark on the London art scene. Here, Jeremy Cooper takes us through some of the postcards that appear in the novel.

[p.245] Carla Cruz’s postcard ‘To be an Artist in Portugal is an Act of Faith’, 2003

All my books, sixteen or more publications to date, novels and non-fiction, are centred on subjects I know and care about. In the case of Bolt from the Blue, the world inhabited by Lynn Gallagher is personally familiar to me, her progress as a young artist in London from the mid 1980s till the death of her mother in 2018 is informed by my friendship with artists of her generation, several of whom are named as themselves in the novel. Although I did not think of this when settling down to plan the book, in the course of writing it I decided to lend Lynn one of my more recent key interests: the collection of artists’ postcards. Being an artist, it soon became clear that Lynn would need also be the maker of some of the postcards she sent to her mother over the years, and instead of inventing spurious and possibly inadequate works I pretended it was she who created the examples from my collection. For instance, the painting on the Gordon Matta-Clark postcard described on page seventy-three of the novel is in fact the work of a young Spanish artist called Cristina Garrido, an MA graduate from Wimbledon College of Art, in a technique she used in another of her manipulated postcards, part of my gift in 2019 to the British Museum.

Every postcard sent by Lynn actually exists. As a way of communicating Lynn’s politics, I mostly selected on her behalf commercially printed cards from the political section of my collection, which is in the process of preparation for a substantial exhibition planned for Tate Liverpool. Some of these postcards, particularly the outstanding body of work published by Leeds Postcards between 1979 and 1996, were printed in relatively large numbers and, being easy enough to find, appear in several of my exhibitions. Paul Morton’s great Thatcher card [p.42] and Richard Scott’s graphic I Don’t Give A Shit What Your House Is Worth [p.15] were both illustrated in the catalogue which Thames & Hudson published of my British Museum show The World Exists to be Put on a Postcard. Spare examples of these two Leeds Postcards will also go to Liverpool. Another show I am working on, of artists’ portrait postcards, is planned for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and will include a rare postcard image of the avant-garde American performer Vito Acconci [p.118] – he is one of Lynn’s ‘favourite artists’, and one of mine too. Already fixed for 2023/24 is an exhibition of European artists’ postcards at the Dresden Kupferstich Kabinett, of the same size and scope as the British Museum show, resulting in the permanent gift by me to Dresden of another thousand cards, including the artist Carla Cruz’s postcard To be an Artist in Portugal is an Act of Faith [p.245].

[p.227] The most recent of the postcards, Jonathan Horowitz’s anti-Trump diatribe, was in fact not yet made when I describe Lynn’s Mum sending it on January 2016 from Spain to her daughter in London. The publishers, Primary Information of New York, produced a series of these polemical postcards, stating that they ‘see the need to double down on this form as a political space embedded with the urgency, diversity, and complexity of voices that are the hallmark of our times. Who better to do this than artists?’


[p.18] The Guerrilla Girls collective of a fluctuating group of unnamed women artists was founded in New York in the mid-1980s and is still active today, hiding their identity by wearing guerrilla masks in public.. One of ten billboards presented by the Public Art Fund in 1991, this one was sited on West Side Highway at 48th Street, New York.


[p.106] This Leeds Postcard, published in 1984, strongly represents the hundreds of postcards they made for trades unions and other left-wing groups, printed on the reverse: ‘NALGO, Britain’s biggest white collar trade union, is campaigning for equal pay for work of equal value.’ Jo Morris’ design was originally published the year before in her book No More Peanuts: Evaluation of Women’s Work.


[p.69] Gender and sexuality were standard subjects in political postcards, seldom more poignant than in the set designed by Aboud-Sodano and published in the mid-1990s for free distribution to combat AIDS by the Terrence Higgins Trust. The Irish designer Alan Aboud made his name with work for Paul Smith.


[p.79] The main body of postcard work in my museum exhibits is of cards designed by artists for significant shows, such as this rare early YBA survival, an invitation to the opening on 20 May 1998 at Kölnischer Kunstverein. The Goldsmiths-trained artists Sarah Lucas and Angus Fairhurst were living together at the time and sharing a studio in Clerkenwell.



[p.42] The founder in Yorkshire of Hot-Frog Graphics, Paul Morton, designed a number of Leeds Postcards, this dot-to-dot card of Mrs Thatcher in 1984, captioned on the reverse: ‘Thatcher Therapy. Take a broad, black, water-based felt-tip pen and follow the dots until Mrs Thatcher’s face is obliterated. Wipe clean and it’s ready for the next go. In no time at all you’ll be looking forward to starting the day with fresh vigour.’


[p.118] Vito Acconci, a lifelong radical, used this 1959 image of himself in the marines on an invitation postcard to his solo show Rehearsals for Architecture in 2003 at the gallery Kenny Schachter/Rove in New York. Acconci said of architecture: ‘Maybe you can sneak something in. You can sneak something in that maybe gives people a chance to think.’


[p.94] This is another of those postcards which Lynn claimed to have made herself but is, in this case, one of an ongoing series by Duncan Wooldridge begun in 2007, in which he meticulously removes with an India rubber the writing in a message on commercial postcards made from Gillian Wearing’s photographs of 1992-3. Standing in a shopping precinct in Peckham, South London, the tattooed man had written the message CERTIFIED AS MILDLY INSANE


[p.30] Like other cartoonists of the period, Angela Martin worked on groups of themes and characters, most of them feminist in essence, publishing postcards with The Women’s Press, Cath Tate Cards and, most frequently, Leeds Postcards. Another postcard of Martin’s ironical Famous Radical Feminist Sayings, also published by Leeds Postcards in 1994, read ‘The personal is … IKEA’.


Bolt from the Blue publishes 27 January 2021

Esther Kinsky and Caroline Schmidt on gardens

While in lockdown, Esther Kinsky, author of River and Grove, and Caroline Schmidt, translator of Grove from German to English, have both been focusing on gardening. Here they share one of their email exchanges about gardening and photographs of their successes.

(EK to CS, May 29 2020)
How is your little cherry tree doing that seemed like a shivering waif in the March sunlight? One of my cherry trees in the orto (planted last year) has five immaculate cherries to show for itself. The fruit tree miracle is my peach tree, also planted last year, which is full of little flat vineyard peaches. 

But the flowers! The first wave of rose bloom is already over, and unfortunately my great project of having an old English climbing rose (nicely named ‘Shropshire Lass’) intertwine itself with a late blooming violet Clematis on the rose arch hasn’t worked out, they’ve just missed each other, the tips are touching, but the lass has finished her first bloom (rosy white, as befits the name) while the clematis is only just coming out and looking a bit stark with nothing but the thin black iron of the rose arch to match its deep violet. Maybe next year they shall wed.

My seven English roses have all survived my learning curve here in Italy, some are thriving more than others. Roses are such strange creatures, they are characters really, sometimes they make me think of cats because they also do as they please. But probably I’m just an impatient and inconsistent gardener, too greedy for beauty. Apart from that, I’m almost aghast at the size and copiousness of my snapdragon (up to my shoulders), Sweet William, and Nigella, and Echinacea. The former two come from a 70 cent Lidl seed packet, I have to confess (I hate Lidl and usually limit my shopping there to cat food, but the seeds have proved to be quite something). I really recommend Nigella, these wispy flowers in so many shades of blue, very undemanding, after the blossom they form pretty seeds pods, and the seeds make a wonderful spice (black cumin).

Last year’s English poppies have self seeded and are now, probably after some cross fertilisation with the wild red poppies, developing the most amazing colours and colour effects, I attach a few photos, they are so delicate and short lived, and that’s why their beauty is so touching. I hope we’ll manage an Olson week this year and you’ll see the garden.

Did I tell you how much I like your project to offer a kind of collaborative residency? Maybe I can come and contribute something one day, and write a text about Altfriedland, the birds, the Wende.. But I’m not good at building work, so you’d have to find something else for me. Sewing curtains, or gardening. A week of weeding! Not such a nightmare in the sandy soil of the Mark, as Martin used to say. Apparently the Mark Brandenburg was called the sandpit of Europe in the 18th/19th century. (The Friuli is charmingly named the pissoir of Europe because of the precipitation). Considering the martial inclinations of the Prussians the name is rather deceptive.


(CS to EK, June 2 2020)

Your flowers are gorgeous, and you’ve convinced me to take a trip to Lidl the next time I’m in Seelow.

Helga says it was a bad year for peaches. She is 80 and lives alone. Every evening she sits down on her veranda and says to her garden: ich weiss du bringst mich um, aber ich liebe dich!

Whenever I water the garden, I imagine the neighbours are rolling their eyes, thinking: there she goes again, giving the weeds a drink! But being a negligent gardener has its advantages. After avoiding eye contact with our blackberry bushes for days, which were drowning in stinging nettle, I was pleasantly surprised to find they had sprouted three squash plants, as big as squirrels. The seeds must have come from the compost.

And when you don’t have a lawn, you have other things, like Storchschnabel. The seedpods are nutty, supposedly; they tasted green to me. Still, I appreciate that the name invites you to see them as beaks.

Readings MINOR DETAIL by Adania Shibli and Elisabeth Jaquette

Minor Detail begins during the summer of 1949, one year after the war that the Palestinians mourn as the Nakba – the catastrophe that led to the displacement and expulsion of more than 700,000 people – and the Israelis celebrate as the War of Independence. Israeli soldiers capture and rape a young Palestinian woman, and kill and bury her in the sand. Many years later, a woman in Ramallah becomes fascinated to the point of obsession with this ‘minor detail’ of history. A haunting meditation on war, violence and memory, Minor Detail cuts to the heart of the Palestinian experience of dispossession, life under occupation, and the persistent difficulty of piecing together a narrative in the face of ongoing erasure and disempowerment.

Reading Aloud Allowed

Antonia Lloyd-Jones, translator from Polish, describes her experience of reading her own translation for the audiobook recording of DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD by 2018 Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk

When Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, was shortlisted for several prizes including the Man Booker International award in 2019, there were a number of public promotional events, at which I did readings from the book. To maximise the opportunity, I never read the same extract twice. I chose dialogue-free extracts, and made the unconventional narrator sound eccentric, to catch the audience’s attention, and give them an idea of the whole book – black comedy, with this strange character at its heart. These readings were well received, and even though the book didn’t win any prizes, I was rewarded by kind comments and excellent sales. To my surprise, several people asked if I was going to read the audiobook. I hadn’t heard of a translator doing that, but authors read their own work, so why not? I asked Jacques Testard, the publisher, if it was possible. He liked the idea, but although hoping to make an audiobook, he didn’t yet have the resources.

Meanwhile the much larger American publisher was planning to record one, so I offered my services, but was told I sounded too British. The job went to an American professional actress of Polish origin, who read it with a mild Polish accent, and won an award for her reading. I was disappointed, but realised I’d expected too much. I thought the whole thing was off and forgot about it.

Almost a year later, Jacques told me that Fitzcarraldo had received a grant to make some audiobooks, and would I still like to record Drive Your Plow… for the UK market? I immediately said yes, although I knew it would be a challenge.


How to get it wrong

The recording schedule was tough – three days to read 268 pages. I felt nervous on the first day, and soon discovered that I wasn’t properly prepared. Of course I knew the text well, but I had never read the whole thing aloud to an audience before, just short, self-contained pieces, for a few minutes at a time, to make an impression quickly.

On that first day I expected to record six chapters, but after four, Kate Bland, the audiobook producer, said she thought we’d better stop to allow Tamara Sampey-Jawad – the Fitzcarraldo editor responsible for their audiobooks – to hear it, and decide if that was what they wanted. It was obvious from her tone that it wasn’t what she would have wanted. I asked her to tell me straight what I was doing wrong. She was diplomatic, but made some general suggestions: I wasn’t differentiating the characters well enough in the dialogues, and I wasn’t getting the pace right for long sections where the narrator describes a scene at length, or expounds one of her bizarre theories.

I was crestfallen – so I was out of my league. As someone with no professional training, I’d been presumptuous to imagine I could do this. I was afraid Tamara would listen to the recording, agree with Kate, and ask me to stop. Instead, she liked it, and I was back on board. But I knew I should listen to Kate’s warning. I asked to defer the recording to give me time to do some more thinking, and to prepare properly.


How to get it right, possibly

In my efforts to find a new approach, first I consulted friends: an actor who has recorded lots of audiobooks, and a theatre director. They gave good advice, and prompted me to listen to some existing audiobooks with a new ear. I also read the entire book again, aloud, to rehearse, which earned me some funny looks on public transport.

As I read, I highlighted the dialogue to give myself visual cues for the lines spoken by different characters. I realised that I shouldn’t give them accents or strong quirks of speech, because I wouldn’t remember who spoke how, it would be hard to keep up, and it could sound off-putting or patronising. Instead I simply had to alter the tone to reflect who was speaking and what they were saying – act the lines, as it were, and pause between them to allow the listener to keep pace with changes of speaker.

Most importantly, I realised, or rather remembered, that the narrator was the key to the whole reading. When I translated the book to be read on paper, I had made sure that although the central character, Janina Duszejko, is plainly eccentric, she shouldn’t be too weird, or the reader wouldn’t want to stick with her to the final page. For the purposes of the story, ideally the reader needs to sympathise with her, even though she’s a rebellious non-conformist who rubs people up the wrong way. More than that, the reader needs to become complicit with her as she embarks on some unusual behaviour. I think she sounds quite stylised in Polish, and it works, but for English-language readers I instinctively feel she should be a little less overtly strange, so in my translation I reined her in a bit, to make sure the reader found her likeable as well as odd.

Now I realised that I needed to do the same thing for the listener. Reading aloud adds another layer of interpretation – reading off the page for themselves, the readers understand the text in their own way, but the actor reading the audiobook inevitably interprets, influencing the listeners’ response. While in short bursts at public events it had been all right for me to add a tone to tell the audience that Duszejko is eccentric, that was the worst thing I could do when reading the entire book. It would become annoying after an hour or two – and that’s what Kate had picked up on. I was making the narrator too alien, and ultimately unsympathetic.

So I took a new approach, and read it straightforwardly, as me, rather than the way I imagined the character might sound in real life. And it all fell into place – reading it without encumbering myself by “acting” the narrator allowed me to change the pitch, pace and tone when I actually needed to. I felt much more relaxed when I came to do the recording, and wasn’t fazed by the dialogues either. Of course I can’t be the judge of the result, but Kate seemed happy with my change of approach.


How it works in practice

If you’re wondering how audiobooks are made, the producer sits you down in a recording studio, carefully adjusting the seat and the position of the microphone to make sure you’re comfortable. Then she shuts you in there alone, taking her place on the other side of a glass screen, at a computer showing the sound levels. She speaks to you through a microphone, occasionally making useful comments. In my case, the book was on a stand in front of me as I read, and I made pauses to turn the page, a noise that has to be edited out afterwards.

It’s impossible to read for long without fluffing. Some sentences took several goes, making me feel like a scratched CD that’s juddering. Some words just decide to be bolshie: I had trouble with ‘retrograde’, ‘particularly’, and ‘deaths’. Thankfully, the producer removes all the false starts, coughs and splutters, making the recording sound smooth as silk. So yes, there is some mild cursing, but it ends up on the cutting-room floor.

The text included two songs, one very famous, but on my theatre director’s advice I didn’t attempt to sing, but spoke them. I had to check in advance some dates in German, and how to pronounce some unusual words, including ‘adipocere’, ‘Ephemerides’, ‘pyknic’ and ‘butyric’. Oh, and Cucujus haematodes.

Of course, as the translator, I couldn’t resist making a few tiny amendments as I read, and even found a mistake, where a ‘not’ had been left out, so the audiobook is slightly different from the printed edition.

And it was bloody hard work – try reading 104 pages aloud in a period of six hours with two half-hour breaks. After the first day I felt as if I’d swallowed tin tacks. Hurray for Strepsils and especially for (disgusting but effective) Vocalzone throat pastilles, honey and lemon juice.


What I learned

Even after translating this book, reading the whole text aloud showed it to me in a fresh light. It confirmed what I knew, that Olga Tokarczuk is a brilliant writer. Perhaps only a former psychotherapist could have created the extraordinary Janina Duszejko, who talks a lot of truth and common sense, but who can also come across as seriously unwell and out of control. Reading it again so intensely made me have new feelings about Duszejko – she partly inspired me as I found myself sympathising with her often extreme views about animal rights and human folly, and she partly made me want to get away from her at high speed as she gradually slid off the rails.

Perhaps some people will like my reading, and some won’t – the sound of someone else’s voice is a personal thing. But I hope I’ve done justice to Olga Tokarczuk and her extraordinary creation, Janina Duszejko.

Thank you to everyone at Fitzcarraldo Editions and Cast Iron Radio.

Esther Kinsky and Caroline Schmidt present GROVE

In Grove an unnamed narrator, recently bereaved, travels to Olevano, a small village south-east of Rome. It is winter, and from her temporary residence on a hill between village and cemetery, she embarks on walks and outings, exploring the banal and the sublime with equal dedication and intensity. Seeing, describing, naming the world around her is her way of redefining her place within it.

Here, author Esther Kinsky shares photographs of the places that inspired Grove and gives a reading, followed by a short talk by the translator, Caroline Schmidt on the experience of translating Grove.




Days of Mush

An annotated playlist from Dan Fox

Listen here.


‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ – Junior Parker
‘Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.’ I’m trying, believe me.


‘4 Skies’ – Arto Lindsay
The lyrics to this song describe changing meteorological moods; ‘a sky like a room’, ‘a most violent sky’, ‘one sky on stage’, ‘a seething, crumpled sky’. Lindsay’s sparse guitar reminds me of a time-lapse video of rapidly moving clouds. The clear blue opening quickly becomes overcast. Billowing white cumulus grow into dark, rain-filled towers of cumulonimbus, before dispersing and leaving only wisps of cirrus. It’s helpful to remember that for almost all of human history, news alerts on your phone did not mark time.


‘The Twilight Zone’ – The Ventures
Welcome home!


‘17 Days’ – Prince
‘Is that my echo?’ Prince describes being alone for 17 long days and nights. But as this solo piano number attests, he’s no slouch when he’s stuck at home. If Prince can do it, so can you.


‘New Number Order’ – Shellac
One million and one, twenty-two, seventy-five, eleven, eleven. This is the new number order. Tuesday, Saturday, next Wednesday, last Monday, two weeks on Sunday the 99th of Monthuary.


‘Anxiety Montage (1952–1955)’ – The Carl Stalling Project
Carl Stalling composed music for Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons, which is why his music is perfect for today’s ‘run-off-a-cliff-and-your-legs-are-still-spinning-but-the-ground-has-fallen-away’ feeling.


‘Houses’ – Elyse
‘I could never make it in your house / You could never make it in mine.’ A ballad for solipsists. Or a song about the need to respect different domestic needs, even in love. He likes to get up late, but she’s an early riser. They’re minimalists, but we enjoy having things to look at on the walls. You want to watch The Tiger King, I don’t. Etc.


‘What’s He Building?’ – Tom Waits
Rear Window is widely regarded as one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films because deep down, at the core of human consciousness, we are all nosy neighbours. ‘I heard he was up on the roof last night signalling with a flashlight. And what’s that tune he’s always whistling? What’s he building in there?’


‘Big Louise’ – Scott Walker
It’s fun to speculate about what your weird neighbour is doing in his garage all day, but it’s more important to keep an eye on those who are isolating alone on their ‘fire escape in the sky’.


‘Simmer Til Done’ – Maximum Joy
Research estimates that, as of April 2020, in the New York borough of Brooklyn some 15,000 personal essays were being written under the title ‘Love in the Time of Coronavirus’, and a further 7,500 crowdsourced documentary films were in pre-production, all titled ‘The Isolation Diaries’. Sources suggest that as many as 90,000 cookbooks titled ‘The Survival Kitchen’ may also have been written globally, as fears mount that a shortage of flour in grocery stores across the world may predict a steep growth in men explaining at tedious length how to make ‘like, the perfect sourdough, bro’.


‘A Letter From Home’ – ‘Blue’ Gene Tyranny
My first book with Fitzcarraldo Editions, Pretentiousness: Why It Matters, began with the lyrics to another ‘Blue’ Gene Tyranny song, titled ‘Leading a Double Life’. This one comes from the same haunting album, Out of the Blue, released in 1978. Tyranny described this composition as an attempt to describe ‘the development of consciousness over three “sizes” of time: (1) over thousands of years (based on the work of Julian Jaynes), (2) within a person’s lifetime from childhood to adult perceptual illusions (based on the work of Jean Piaget and others), and (3) at micro levels (eg. involuntary events, sudden feelings/thoughts)’. But it’s also simply a beautiful letter from home.


‘My Other Body’ – General Strike
The one that shares space on buses and in cafes, breathes without a mask, shakes hands. Here, Dawn Roberts sings beautifully from Michel Foucault’s ‘Mental Illness and Psychology’.


‘Behind the Door’ – Vernon Green & The Medallions
Isolation, doo-wop style. Between the 2 minute and 2 mins 20 second mark is a falsetto backing vocal that can shatter glass.


‘I Gotta Get Away From My Own Self’ – Ray Godfrey
A masterpiece of quarantine soul. It’s ambiguous whether the ‘you’ referred to in Godfrey’s lyrics is a lost lover, or the singer’s own mind.


‘City’s Hospital Patients’ – Teri Summers & The Librettos
The hospital system, explained. Needs an additional verse about morgues reaching capacity, PPE shortages and struggling healthcare workers.


‘Depression’ – Sound on Sound
A song titled ‘Depression’ which features a chorus that goes ‘‘Move and jump! / Dance and funk!’ is the definition of putting on a brave face.


‘Winter’ (feat. Kathy Acker) – Peter Gordon & David Van Teighem
‘Yesterday is all I’ve got.’


‘Big Science’ – Laurie Anderson
‘You know, I think we should put some mountains here / Otherwise, what are the characters going to fall off of?’


‘Zones Without People’ – Oneohtrix Point Never
Music to look out of your window to.


‘Lonesome Town’ – The Cramps
This forms part of a tiny sub-genre of song – a favourite of mine – in which the singer imitates heavy sobbing.


‘Heartbeat’ – Wire
The kids are asleep. Your eyes will stage a sit-in at the back of your skull if you try watching anymore Netflix. The room is dark and silent. You feel icy. You feel cold. You feel old. You are mesmerised by your own beat. Like a heartbeat. Like a heartbeat. Like a heartbeat. Like a heartbeat…


‘The Bushes Scream While My Daddy Prunes’ – The Very Things
As well as a good way of getting fresh air and exercise, gardening can be a therapeutic activity in difficult times such as these.


‘Zombie’ – Fela Kuti
Somehow this makes me think about joggers.


‘Running’ (feat. Congo Ashanti Roy) – Voice of Authority
Speaking of exercise.


‘Southern Nights’ – Alain Toussaint
When all this is over, we will sit outside together, watch the sun go down and drink mint juleps.


‘Suo Gân’ – arr. by John Williams
Searching for something to do under lockdown recently, I decided to learn Welsh. I do 10 or 15 minutes a day using a language app on my phone. I don’t know nearly enough to translate this Welsh lullaby, although I do recognise the word ‘cariad’, which means ‘love.’ It is my mum’s first language, although growing up in the south of England I never learned any besides a couple of basic phrases. My mum is in her 80s, and is immunocompromised as they say, not that we ever used that term before now. We are currently separated by 3500 miles of ocean, but the small part of the day I spend on my Welsh lessons is a way for me to feel closer to her.

This recording of ‘Suo Gân’ is John Williams’ arrangement from the Steven Spielberg movie Empire of the Sun. The film is an adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel, based on the author’s experiences as a boy during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai in World War Two, another story about families separated by powers beyond their control.

Time for bed.


‘Jimbo’s Lullaby’ (from Children’s Corner) – Claude Debussy
I learned to play this on the piano as a teenager. The piece is slow and limpid for the most part, but certain passages demand extremely quiet yet nimble playing. My rendition usually sounded like it was being performed by elephants wearing ski gloves, which is apt as the piece describes a stuffed elephant beloved of the composer’s daughter, Chouchou.


‘Celestial Nocturne’ – Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman & Les Baxter
The choral sound in this – those rousing, swooping mixed male and female ‘ahhhh’s – reminds me of old Hollywood films of the sort that only seem to materialise on dreary afternoons at home.


‘Dreaming’ – Jon Hassell
I’ve been on a film noir binge lately so all my dreams sound like this. Noir is the cinema of being stuck, unable to escape from circumstance.


‘Closed Circuit’ – Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani
If you have a sleep disorder, as I do, then you’ll already be familiar with the ways in which time can stretch like long fronds of chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoe. Thoughts become hard to let go of. Pacing the apartment at 3 a.m., I try to find places for my mind to travel. Listening to this piece, I like to imagine myself on a night train crossing Europe, passing through fields, mountains, towns and cities.


‘Valley of the Shadows’ – Origin Unknown
‘Felt that I was in this long, dark tunnel.’


‘Wild Dream’ – Joe Tossini
Nine times out of ten, when a friend says to you ‘I had a wild dream last night’, you just know it’s not going to be that interesting. So anyway I had a crazy dream last night that the Finnish government had issued an edict about the coronavirus crisis in the form of a poem, which they’d had translated into English and circulated internationally. I saw a verse of it spray-painted on the wall of a house, like graffiti in solidarity with a political cause. I would repeat it here but it’s too wild.


‘How Long?’ – Charlottefield
As we have stated before, indeed, that is to say, or rather let me put it another way, the issue is, if we reframe it, so as not to put too fine a point on the matter, and notwithstanding, if I may digress, while acknowledging and hearing what’s being said but instead coming back around to try and clarify this another way, we cannot answer such a question without first paying attention to the structures which allow one to query, or alternatively, and to put it in more concise terms, or to use a different terminology that’s less, arguably, with regard to your fourth question and to return to my second point, it is imperative that the transparency of our position on this with respect to viz and re and thus and a propos other positions, but not exclusive of them is, to coin a phrase, one which will, at the end of the day, bring together all sections of our community, yet offer closure without a shutting down of what is to all intents and purposes contrary to reports you may have read, which brings me back to the vital fact of the matter that, now more than ever, we cannot afford, if I can put it simply and bluntly, to take myself out of the equation for a moment here, and we have nothing but the utmost certainty that, now more than ever, the gravity of the current situation necessitates and underscores, now more than ever, both in the now but ever more with respect to the future, the vital responsibility which, now more than ever, weighs heavily upon the shoulders of every member of society to come back around to the original question.


‘Slow Down’ – The Feelies
‘Hold on / Keep on trying / Keep on trying / Slow down / You can make it / Try and make it.’


‘Thatness and Thereness’ – Ryuichi Sakamoto
A sense of which is smothered by thisness and hereness.


‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’ – Charlie Megira
Charlie Megira died in 2014 aged just 44. The title of this song describes his sound perfectly. The sound of 1955, 1985 and 2025 occurring simultaneously. Time out of joint, as Philip K. Dick would have it.


‘The Carnival of the Animals: XII. Fossils’ – Camille Saint-Saëns
Camille Saint-Saëns’ suite The Carnival of the Animals is best known for ‘The Swan’, but I love the fact that the movement preceding his cygnet love song is dedicated to fossils, to deep time life.


‘Breathe’ – The Cure
‘Breathe on me / Be like you used to be.’ Almost a sick joke these days, but isn’t that proximity of one body to another what many of us are longing for? The Cure’s music suits many occasions because nobody does histrionics quite as vaguely as they do.


‘Is It All Over My Face’ and ‘Tower of Meaning’ – Blood Orange
The way Devonté Hynes’ interprets the great Arthur Russell here is to layer the downtown, experimental Russell – those yearning, arcing horn notes – on top of the disco Russell. It has the effect of replacing the innuendo and flirtatious joy of the original ‘Is it All Over My Face’ dance track with a mood of sadness and concern. This is music to sew masks and wash hands to.


‘Don’t Go’ – Awesome Three
Stay in, if you can. In any case, this one takes me where no walk outside or aeroplane trip could; England, summer of ’92.


‘Dub War (Chapter One)’ – Dance Conspiracy
Stay with me for a moment in the early 1990s rave reverie. ‘Nobody move / Nobody get hurt.’


‘The Bells’ – Billy Ward & His Dominoes
In which a man hears the sound of his own funeral. He didn’t wash his hands.


‘Breadline Britain’ – Communards
Recorded in 1986. Or yesterday. Either way, Jimmy Somerville has one of the most impressive falsettos in the business.


‘Somebody Else’s World’ – Sun Ra
‘Somebody else’s idea / Of somebody else’s world / Is not my idea of things as they are. / Somebody else’s idea things to come / Need not be the only way to vision the future.’


‘You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks’ – Funkadelic
Did you hear about the woman who began hoarding toilet paper when the Suez Crisis broke because she thought the world was on the brink of collapse, and then died years later when her ceiling collapsed under the weight of all that loo roll? This goes out to all the panic buyers out there. May your haemorrhoids be painful.


‘Chicken 80’ – Social Climbers
Remember the animals in the shade of the old oak tree, cool summer breeze, no ruffled feathers?


‘Television’ – The Beatnigs
I came across this on YouTube the other day while nostalgia-bingeing episodes of the early 1990s music programme Snub TV, a show which made a big impression on the adolescent me. The clip captures the band – fronted by Michael Franti and Rono Tse – playing this song live in San Francisco, using power tools and multiple drummers. I imagine the TV-is-government-propaganda message of this song would have felt dated for a long time (and their bike-messenger-hiphop style certainly pins it to a bygone era) but it resonates again under a president obsessed with Fox News and ‘the ratings’.


‘Sinister Exaggerator’ – The Residents
Fitzcarraldo Editions is an anagram of ‘Act Lizard For Sedition’, and everyone knows that the Earth is run by a secret cabal of space lizards who govern using 5G mind control transmitters implanted in the wings of crows, ravens, jackdaws and other corvidae birds. If you remove the ‘r’ from ‘corvid’ you get ‘Covid’. ‘R’ is the 18th letter of the alphabet. Add 1 to 18 – 1 being a close homophone for ‘won’, meaning success or victory – and you get 19, hence ‘Covid-19’, a disease which will bring ‘victory’ to the evil reptile overlords. One plus 9 equals 10 ie. a one and a zero ie. binary code ie. all computer devices are infected and must be destroyed. The only way that the human race is going to survive the pandemic is to ‘act lizard’ which will scramble the corvid/covid mind control messages, a strategy ‘for sedition’ which can be augmented by protecting oneself using the same blue and white colour combinations that are used on the covers of all Fitzcarraldo Editions aka Act Lizard For Sedition books. The wavelengths of these colours on the visible light spectrum have, according to resistance operatives planted deep within the Military-Indie-Publishing-Complex, been proven to jam reptilian communication frequencies.


‘Gospel for a New Century’ – Yves Tumor
‘On that summer, but I can’t be there / And this ain’t by design… / How much longer ’til December?’


‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ – Bill Frisell
Frisell’s guitar style sounds like cautious optimism.


‘Bob the Bob Home’ – Lounge Lizards
Each time I hear this song, I think of my adopted home, New York City. Maybe it’s John Lurie’s sax playing that sets me off, I have no idea. I also have no idea what the title refers to. Is Bob the Bob Home an instruction? ‘Hey pal, why don’t you just bob the bob home, huh?’ A game? ‘Balance the ball on your nose, then Bob the Bob Home into the net!’ Maybe it’s about someone called Bob. Not just any Bob, but the Bob. Bob, The Bob. The Ur-Bob. Original Bob. First and last Bob. Or there may be a comma missing after that first ‘Bob’: Bob, the Bob Home. Bob, Home of the Bobs.


Theme from ‘Escape from New York’ – John Carpenter
‘In the City’ (from The Warriors) – Joe Walsh
New York City action movie themes are currently filed under ‘songs of lamentation’.


‘An Open Letter to NYC’ – Beastie Boys
Staying with New York, this one is pure cheese. A real stinky camembert. Honking stilton melted over corn and dipped in syrup. But when I heard it the other day – beamed from the shuffle subconscious to the epidemic epicentre – it brought a lump to my throat.


‘Les Fleurs’ – Minnie Riperton
The Earth abides.


‘Hsaing Kyaik De Maung’ – Kyaw Kyaw Naing & Bang On a Can
Naing is master of the pat waing, a set of 20-plus tuned drums, arranged in a circle around the performer. This piece begins sedately, then around 1 minute 20 seconds, Naing lets rip. A joyous noise. The title roughly translates from Burmese as ‘the man who loved music’.


‘Healing Song’ – Pharoah Sanders
About five years ago I saw the elderly Sanders play for three hours straight in a small Brooklyn club. It’s one of the greatest gigs I’ve ever seen. It took me an hour to get home afterwards. I floated the entire way.


In C – Invisible Polytechnic
(The original recording was released on vinyl, and is split in two: Side A and Side B.)

Five years before attending that Pharoah Sanders show, I helped make this recording of Terry Riley’s landmark composition, In C. We released our version on the Junior Aspirin Records label I run with my friends Andy Cooke and Nathaniel Mellors. There are many things about In C that I find beautiful, from its elegant interlocking structure to the latitude it allows for improvisation. Yet the quality that resonates strongest for me is Riley’s generous insistence that any group can have a go at playing it, amateur or professional, and that anyone can find something to enjoy in performing it, no matter what standard of musician they are. Every version of In C is different, and there are many interpretations of it from musical cultures across the world. Our version features some twenty professional and amateur musicians. It puts Western instruments alongside Eastern, electronic sounds next to acoustic. Each time I listen to it I think of how music is an excuse to be social, to be in a room with other people, a rare thing right now.

At the end of the ‘Side B’ half of the piece, you will hear an exchange between two people. This was recorded at a yoga centre on Divisadero Street in San Francisco, which used to the location of the San Francisco Tape Music Center. In C premiered here in 1964. I had asked a friend who lived in the city, Ben, to go there and record the ‘room tone’ of the space. We originally thought we’d use this ambient sound as a subtle background colour, a secret homage to the composition’s history. What Ben ended up capturing was an awkward exchange he had with a woman about to attend yoga class. She had never heard of Terry Riley or the Tape Music Center, and judging by the recording, Ben was unable to convince her that either was of interest. The room’s history had gone, its past was of no consequence. All that remained were two people trying, and perhaps failing, to communicate. For a work of music about improvisation and listening to those around you, it seemed more fitting to use this bathetic conversation than our initial, more dry and conceptual idea.

Some years later, Ben abruptly ended our friendship for reasons I never understood. I was hurt, but today that friendship feels like an old dusty venue, a place in which memorable things happened that cannot be recreated.

One review of our recording of In C described it as sounding ‘autumnal,’ and that adjective has always felt accurate.


‘Lost in the Stars’ – Kurt Weill, performed by Lotte Lenya
‘And sometimes it seems maybe God’s gone away / Forgetting His promise that we heard Him say / And we’re lost out here in the stars. / Little stars, big stars, blowing through the night / And we’re lost out here in the stars.’


Alternatively, you can skip this playlist and go straight to Dick Slessig Combo’s 42-minute version of ‘Wichita Lineman’. Repeat as necessary.


Fitz Carraldo Editions