How does the light get in?
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Communities
In a change from our normal programming, a review of HowTheLightGetsIn, Hay-on-Wye's music and philosophy festival.
Philosophy may be a subject of vast ideas, grandiose systems and awesome speculations, but it is also a field swamped in a thick, treacly inertia - which is why I think it appeals to me so much.
Thus, imagine my delight that a festival of philosophy is held on my doorstep every year - if we accept that my doorstep is 30 miles away from my house.
Speaking of doorsteps, I got to stare listlessly at a few as I spent three quarters of an hour crawling through traffic trying to escape Hereford.
Anyway, I made it to Hay and discovered that the idea of finding somewhere to park was a great silliness. In febrile desperation, I drove into a field and skied, slid and nearly jackknifed atop some superbly insalubrious mud.
Watching all this was a sort of artisan steward. He beckoned. I greased thither. "You can't park here, mate," he glowered, as my dejected car sank into the muck.
I abandoned the car and made it to the festival in plenty of time to have completely missed the first show 'Heresy, Truth, and the Future'. As Kant might have put it, "Bugger, but never mind".
So I took to strolling. HTLGI is a minuscule festival; about the size of the average badger sett. How it manages to host 14 million people over the course of its 11-day duration is a mystery (check this).
Anyway, sopping with rain and marinated in particularly ruddy mud, I settled on a comfy sofa and awaited the emergence of quasi-realism fan Simon Blackburn - I was finally about to get my philosophy fix.
A distinctly un-Simon-Blackburn-ish man appeared on the stage. He apologised: there would be no Blackburn tonight - not even Tony.
Mr Blackburn's event was called 'Mirror Mirror', and would have a been a exploration of the history of narcissism. Well, I hope Mr Blackburn takes the time to reflect on his non-appearance - it's not all about him (I'm joking).
Disappointing, but as Plato put it: You can't make breakfast without first preparing the hens, the bread, the mangoes...
A little despondent, I stepped back out into the mire and sought succour (alcohol). David Aaronovitch shimmered by: bearded, non-conspiratorial.
I paid a lot of money for a glass of wine, my palm spasming as the cash departed.
It was film time, so I went to watch 'Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams' - a Professor Simon Schaffer-fronted gaze into the world of early automata.
This is a fascinating and beautifully crafted piece of work, and Professor Schaffer's enunciation is so manically crisp and unusual that I felt myself drifting into a classy catatonic state. Dreamy diction.
Though the word was never used, halfway through the film it suddenly struck me that it was a deeply philosophical piece. Automata that can write; that can play music; that can play chess (even if that one did turn out to be a hoax). Well, I can write (sort of); play music (sort of); and play chess (no hoax, but very poorly). Ah, I thought - functionalism (probably)!
Feeling clever, I simpered off to watch Phildel, musical person. Introducing a song, she told the rapt crowd that the piece alluded to the banshee - the ghoulish female entity that stalks Ireland's moribund. Phildel was told by her mum that her grandfather was not just teased by the banshee, but actually physically killed by her! The singer added: "To this day, I still don't know how my grandfather actually died." Killing the mood, I thought "shouldn't be too hard to find out".
Phildel has a voice like Debussy's velveteen snow swishing around your earlobes. Her ethereal songs are little seas of sound. "Do you think she does requests?" quipped a wit, quietly, deferentially.
The witching hour was approaching, so I headed off to 'Midnight Mayhem' - a title with immense promise.
We crowded into a dim tent, horse and rabbit-headed pagans fluttering among us. The debate: 'Night Vs Day - which is more better than what the other one is?'.
Apologising for the Night, and sticking it to the Day, was the curious hack Laurie Penny. As far as I could make out, she was a last minute stand-in for someone else. Worshipping the Day was a man with a rabbit mask on. The debate was interesting, wistful - but hardly amounted to 'mayhem'. 'Midnight Meanderings' would have been apter.
A little later, comedian Ahir Shah - whose earlier act I had partially eavesdropped through some tent canvas (he sounded very funny) - turned up to take over from the rabbit and defend the diurnal.
Anyway, the whole thing descended into obscurity and I comprehended less and less.
The night over, I somehow found my car - which, to my delight, wasn't caked in police tape - and settled down on the backseat for a shivering, mud-damp night in a foetal position. As I drifted off, I thought of David Aaronovitch and wondered if he was sleeping on the backseat of his own 1998 Astra.
In summary, though you might not have garnered it from this 'review', HTLGI is excellent, terrific, thrilling, and a little bit scary. From now until 1 June, an absurdly eclectic and brilliant lineup is willingly performing for your intellectual fortification. Check out the programme here.
Pictured: An appalling picture of Phildel (Copyright M Salsbury 2014)