Started listening to Alan Moore's workings th'other day. Workings is his term for the performances he does with Timmy Perkins and sometimes David J from Bauhaus, which incorporate poetry, music, and a non-boring reading voice. So far I've heard The Birth Caul, The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels, and The Highbury Working: A Beat Sèance. I just so happen to recommend thm'all:
Though Moore's all about trying new things, his workings so far seem to orbit the central theme of history/philosophy, in that order. Moore tends to start out with a wee story, afterwards expounding on the history of some area(r) of London or Northampton, afterwards poetically dissecting some continent of anthropology/sociology or metaphysics. 4instance: in The Birth Caul, he begins the poem by discussing his mother's death and his discovery of her (or possibly his grandmother's) birth caul three months earlier. (Three months earlier. If you listen to the working, I dare you to even imagine creating the whole piece in less than 3 months. I d-dare you.) Then he describes the history of Newcastle upon Tyne, spanning the early centuries of the first millennium up to this present moment (being, I do believe, 18 November 1996). Then he sings (in a poetic way, not a radio way) for about 45 minutes on the various philosophical meanings of the birth caul and the dark, murky waters of life from the point of view of the Average English Joe of his generation, beginning in this present moment and cycling back to childhood, birth, conception, and beyond. And then, beyond that.
That's what you might call the plot. It's an incredible artistic essay of the human condition in Moore's culture and time, which, it being a first world country on the cusp of the 21st century, offers a bunch of insights to our own experiences--at least it did for me.
What a lot of my friends tend to roll their eyes at is the poetry of it all. I haven't asked them personally, but the impression I get is that since these workings are, in essence, poetry, then they must be dense and boring and uneasily digested. Well, that's partially true: to really hear and understand every word would be a feat, given the spoken wordiness of the workings and the expert use of rhythm in both music and word...but what the hell? I like Tool and I can't hear a lot of the words Maynard sings. And Tom Waits for a lot of his later stuff. Even Nick Cave, to a wee degree. But I get the gist of it. Moore's workings don't orbit around a single idea, as I said above--he talks about history, philosophy, and in a very deep way, metaphysical theory (esp. in The Moon and Serpent). You're allowed--I'd even suggest you're supposed--to space out a few times during the performance. I mean, Moore's said some of the most brilliant things about human nature and art that I've ever read...I can't imagine the bloke would know as much as he does but still be dense enough to think that even the brightest person on earth can listen to an hour of rhythmical wordology and NOT space out a bit. But hey...hey hey...that's what I say.
The music is simple and ambient, as it oughta be. Tim and David don't weave the creepiest, doomliest soundtrack imaginable for The Birth Caul, nor the hippest, head-firstest soundtrack for The Highbury Working, but I think it works for the workings, really. Moore's poetry is supposed to be center stage, here, and their sounds are simple and repetitious enough to give the reader an injection of mood for the piece without distracting them from the point of the story and philosophy.
I've come to understand what I think to be Moore's idea of old-world poetry from reading his fiction, and in the end these workings sound like a good mix of the kind of storytelling bards were dabbling in in 9,000BC with modern sensibilities that Moore brings to the table being an occultist and politely (and very sensibly) English.
This isn't a very in-depth review of any particular working, just a review of the art form in general. It's my humble opinion that this kind of art ought to be given the go more often. Poetry is sickeningly disregarded the US in the past 15 or so years...maybe it's the same in other countries, I'm not sure. Nonetheless, it seems to me that if books (e.g. stories) are far and awee the market nowadays, then maybe these workings, with their poetic overtones and plot-tastic undertones, are the key to reintroducing poetry to a generation.
Anyways, you can find The Highbury Working at Top Shelf Comix's website. The other two don't seem to be available from any distributors (and so the artists don't get any revenue fron your purchase), so I feel no guilt in saying you can get them from a torrent engine. Moore has a bunch of other workings--4 or 5--that you can also get from Top Shelf. Check them out, tarnation.