Mark Harwood – A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name LP


A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name is a two part audio drama that charts the life of a middle-aged Australian man in the throes of an existential crisis, brought about through a series of unforeseen circumstances that collectively threaten to undermine the fundamentals of his existence. It’s a work that explores the sound of a mind collapsing under pressure, where lucidity is traded for mania, and eloquence reduced to a scattershot of primal rambling and abstract self-reflection. It’s man-as-animal, cowering in a cage, teeth exposed, as vulnerable as it is unpredictable. It’s the sad musings of a failed musician turned stand-up comic, left alone in his squalid flat to reflect on life’s undelivered promise with only the constant playback of his odd routines for distraction. It’s a palimpsest of derelict ideas and unloved skits, etched onto the tattered skin of Salmon Run and worn before an audience of no one. It’s a series of wrong turns and dead ends, a puzzle, a game, a confession, but above all else, A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name is the greatest record Astor never made. – Graham Lambkin


Conversation on Radio Kapital, Poland by Wojciech Rusin


I’ve seen Mark Harwood’s live performances several times but haven’t really bothered with recordings until now – some exceptions aside. The gigs are disingenuous exercises in deflection from the absurdity of the audience-performer situation, typically shifting the burden of attention somewhere else, such as on a collaborator or the venue itself. A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name is his first solo release away from his previous persona of Astor and the self-reflexive title is a heads-up to the paranoiac-critical method he employs here. As much a ritual as Nitsch’s actions (though Henning Christiansen is the more appropriate avatar here), Harwood offers up a platter of scraps, a baffling collage of field recordings, garbled dialogue and musical moments too unformed to be considered doodles. The slow-paced restlessness never settles in the push and pull between ego and self-negation, trying to present himself in as an unflattering light as possible without tipping into romanticised self-abasement. In trying to deflect from himself, Harwood creates a collage out of the musical equivalent of a child trying to register the exact moment he falls asleep. For this ritual, whatever transformative effect it had on the artist is beside the point; it is left to the listener to meditate on what significance may be found in this unconscious arrangement of unresolved residua. – Boring Like A Drill

LOVE LIFE ONE HOUR – Radio interview with Mark Harwood by Patrick Quick: “So, I’ll start at the start, even if it’s not an intuitively comfortable place to start mentioning other work/artists by comparison. I very quickly thought of Artaud’s last work, To Have Done With The Judgment Of God. If you don’t know it, here’s the original recording, and here’s the English translation. It was for radio, though never broadcast. It’s really quite an insane performance/script. The similarity that I think caught me is that it starts with this stuff about schools in America, this weird thing about collecting sperm from children because America doesn’t need workers, it needs soldiers … and it all sort of winds into this bit about American products and the nature of preparing for war, some big plan, a goal. The content of your album does not feel all that dissimilar. You’ve got this frame about school/education, and you seem to end up in the ennui of trying work out what the nature of doing anything at all is about; perhaps, therefore, what learning is, training oneself, being active, being productive, and so on—trying to establish the ground on which one would ‘aim for something’. There’s the recurrent mention of coffee, the stimulant with productivity connotations. You’re dealing with parcels, too, if I make it out, so I’m presuming that’s work, it’s routine at least. There’s this total homogeneity that you’re suggesting with all the white noise that, to me, sounds like layers and layers of room recordings with little being picked up by the mic. (I could mention Lucier’s Sitting In a Room, too.) It’s a kind of psychotic focus on monotony, and the vacuousness of ‘activity,’ even progress, to kick it into that register. And like Artaud, there’s a glib picture of sexualisation going on: it’s the “sperm test,” not sperm collection, it’s a test. And you’ve got that one line about someone (presumably you) being called a faggot in school … I mean, they’re two sides of an extremely cruel coin about the nature of being processed out through life by others, institutions, the manifold of third parties that hold expectations, and oneself—it’s in keeping with ideas about structuralist film, too, in that the medium you’re in starts to arrange a relay between formal constraints and societal constraints by addressing the way meaning is coded into the work — but, to stop listing for a second, it’s crucially still incredibly funny the whole time. I could really probably go on, but that might be enough of an indulgence on my part, reading them against each other. I’m not provoking a response to Artaud from you, I just mean to account for how I’m making sense of the album. I’m definitely curious if there’s any particular influences for this work—which, I’ll also mention for no reason other than this is so so diff to the Astor work, from memory. The Artaud comparison is illustrative too of the fact that the work feels so ‘wordy’ but there’s really not a lot of vocalised sound in there that you could possibly make a transcript from. It’s a very peculiar thing to come out of the album. It’s performative, and inwardly so, as if there’s mostly only voices being repeated in the head, and they’re losing their ‘original’ fidelity and pitch. I suppose, too, I’m wondering what the madness really wants to be about, it’s got a wandering quality for sure, but I can’t tell if it has agency. The title of the record is as content as it is sarcastic—which is maybe a product of negotiating the fact that this album has the quality of a memoir from a certain angle? I love the idea of it as a memoir, at least” – Patrick Quick

Proper heavy-as-your-life blinder this; Penultimate Press caretaker Mark Harwood stages a midlife existential crisis on vinyl with a rawly penetrating mix of vulnerable candour and oblique mundanity riddled in its unpredictable transitions of field recordings and f*ck knows wot. It’s difficult, paranoid, but somehow deeply empathetic and uncannily also one of the most acute articulations of lockdown mindsets that we’ve heard. Don’t sleep. RIYL Graham Lambkin obvsBoomkat

A Perfect Punctual Paradise is incredible work — really tense and detailed and surprising and moving and frayed at the edges. A real accomplishment. – Steven Zultanski
Mark, just back from away and listened to this record – it is extraordinary, an absolutely fucking wonderful thing. Beautiful and terrible, scorched and ghastly funny and very sad and swallowing. – The Legendary Geoff Cox

Noise Not Music – Favorite Eponymous Debuts of 2020 :

Penultimate Press operator Mark Harwood’s eponymous debut is less of a clear-cut case than the others on this list, but it is the first release by Harwood on his own that is also an official “album” (costs money, in concurrence with the label’s M.O.; physical edition), and it is also titled quite appropriately. It’s also my favorite work by the London artist so far; Astor was never really my thing, and the “Covid 5” piece he contributed to Amplify 2020 was my first indicator that he was moving in a slightly different and more intriguing direction. A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name can be read (listened to, if we’re being picky) as the “audio drama that charts the life of a middle-aged Australian man in the throes of an existential crisis” it is explicitly stated to be, or you can simply process it as a surreal collage with a strong abstract narrative element—I’ve enjoyed it both ways. For me it’s ultimately not a vehicle for immersion, but for voyeurism: a grimy, dust-streaked window into the decaying life of another is presented for your observation. Smirk and laugh at his spectacle of misfortune, distance yourself from the pain that threatens to phase through the glass and infect you, revel in your safety as the passive witness. Then panic as the desolate world before you won’t let you leave.

“Let me be blunt here, I do like completely insane and unhinged music.”– Mark Harwood interview at Cyclic Defrost

I’ve known Mark Harwood for a long time. You can read more about that in the Cyclic Selects he kindly did for us a few years back. He’s released music as DJ Quokenzocker and more recently as Astor, which blurs field recordings with the physical process of recording itself, as well as electronics, and a variety of weird sonic techniques. His most recent album is under his own name though, and this is significant. He sent A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name to me a couple of months ago. Its semi confessional structure with abstract field recordings, odd low key instrumentation and weirdly pitched anecdotal memories really threw me. I couldn’t work out if it was emotionally, almost painfully raw, or if the weirdness and abstraction were some form of emotional cloak, and it just gave the appearance of being uncomfortably intimate. It did however elicit quite an emotional impact. I was anxious, confused, though also really intrigued – yet I had absolutely no idea what it was or how to even begin to write about it. I can’t think of another time where I was this literally lost for words.

So I copped out, didn’t write a review and instead reached out to him to try and get a sense about what was going on in his world and how a work like A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name could ever come to exist. And if I’m being honest I was also a little bit worried about him.

Cyclic Defrost: Are you okay?

Mark Harwood: Yes. I’m fine. Thank you.

Cyclic Defrost: I ask because it seems like you’re having a midlife or existential crisis. What makes you desire to share it, and what has it been like to release it into the world?

Mark Harwood: Had. Maybe. Who knows? Life can throw things you don’t see coming. I had a lot of that last year. We have all had that this year. The desire to explore such themes came from a means of trying to be honest. Not all ‘music’ should be feel good and carve your mind into a particular form. I wanted to explore the fringes most ignore or pretend are not there. I was actually terrified to release this lp. When I received the test pressings and listened to those it did cross my mind that this is insane, but the response has been great. I have people write to say they can relate to the mood and this internal dialogue / anguish, this hazy paranoid fever that lurks within this record is something I share with others it seems. I was happy when it was out. It does it’s thing now. Nothing more for me to do about it.

Cyclic Defrost: To what extent was the process of creating A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name cathartic? I wonder if the act of working through the material, editing and mixing, reflected a similar process with some emotional issues. How do you feel about artists who use their art to process and work through their issues?

Mark Harwood: I’m not sure it was ‘cathartic’ but it was something I felt I had to do. I had all these internal dialogues rolling around in my brain every day so the spoken word parts were recorded very quickly whereby I pressed record and just let all these things pour out on their own terms. It is more a psychological exploration with no particular conclusion. It was constructed with no predetermined effect on the listener. It does seem to be aligned within the realm of tragedy (tragi-comedy) but I personally don’t feel there is any resolution, cathartic or otherwise.

Cyclic Defrost: With lines like “I used to be called a faggot by the girls in my school,” it’s brutally honest. Was it important for you to make it so raw or revealing? And is it revealing? What do you think caused you to reflect on your school experience – even offering a copy of your school report?

Mark Harwood: I once read an article on anxiety and that the root of all anguish is memory. It explained that people who suffer from an extreme form of Amnesia have very little anxiety as they can no longer recall these things that would bite away at a ‘regular’ human. In this sense I was accessing painful memories from early on, but also pleasant ones like the part about the lizard. I used to love seeing blue tongue lizards when playing in the school yard.

I find it fascinating that you can be sitting in a car in London in 2019 and suddenly a very vivid memory from 1985 suburban Melbourne comes to the fore. The record jumps around time and the extremes of human existence, both the gold and the dirt. Having said this I don’t know why I got stuck on school issues, likely they were some of the most prominent incidents of that stage of development. Outside of school I was a pretty quiet kid, either riding my bike alone or staying indoors listening to music and reading books, so less ‘action’ there. The school report appeared when working on the artwork, I was just going through a box of old things and this appeared. I forgot I had kept this. I did poorly at High School and subsequently re-reading all these teachers tear me apart I very much enjoyed. I particularly enjoyed the one I reproduced for the insert which is the summary of my performance in year 11 drama class. It was so perfect in describing my character, my ‘performances’ today and this record. I decided to include it as a facsimile which became the full stop to finishing the album.

Cyclic Defrost: It does seem more personal, notwithstanding the use of your own name as the artist, it’s also peppered with spoken reflections. I’m curious about some of your sound sources and their meaning to you?

Mark Harwood: The sounds and musical components are the clothes line to peg the words on. They’re a backdrop to accentuate the mood, whether it’s paranoid, playful or perplexed. I would say it’s one third things I made, some electronics, farfisa organ etc. One third field recordings I made and one third things I grabbed from elsewhere. film’s, youtube, dvd extra rips etc. Some of these recordings I had been lugging around with me for a couple of years and used as sequences of backing tapes when performing. The romantic melancholic classical part on side A was one of those but I have no idea what that piece of music is nor where it came from. There’s a part at 10:25 mins in Side A where I say (lower in the mix) “I love the stars as they sit high in the sky, I love Bell’s Palsy when it fucks up the eye”. That music was playing in a bathroom at a restaurant in Metz, France. Myself and my partner really like it and stood in the shared part of the bathroom as people came and went about their business. The words I threw on top in this kinda joke Nick Cave way, the first part is something he would say with these grand gestures of his. The second part happened to me, I woke up one day 8 years ago with Bell’s Palsy. And it really fckd up my eye. I was not able to close it fully for 9 or so months and even now I see a distorted me when I laugh in a mirror. These grand ambitions slamming against the reality of things. Christmas confronts mundane chores such as packing up records and labelling the boxes. A lot of the record moves around these elements.

Side B starts with some of my shitty electronic music which falls into a sequence taken from Robert Altman’s 3 Women. I love the way he addresses family in that film. Something I can relate to. The second part of Side 2 addresses the experience I had in Chile towards the end of last year. My tour there happened to coincide with this enormous wild social upheaval. It really was total anarchy and by far the wildest thing i have ever experienced. I had a fckd up head anyway from betrayal in London and fell into this so it was a very extreme state I found myself in. Then being tear gassed repeatedly, shot at my military etc… At this point in the record I am turning around in my head the fantasy of London online political hysteria and opinion vs the brutal violent physical reality of the Chilean movement. There is a small block of music which is very early recordings of The Mapuche of Chile a friend sent me on vimeo. The last part of the lp as it leaves you are field recordings from the protests, but a more calm side of it all, the coughing is from tear gas, the electronics are to depict the disorientation I found myself amongst at this time. Let me be blunt here, I do like completely insane and unhinged music. Things like The Shadow Ring’s ‘Lindus’, that’s really on the spectrum for me and it excites me to enter into, witness and experience such states of mind. Whitehouse’s Cruise would be another good example. I would put the fantastic Barn Sour 7” released on careful catalogue this year in the same category. A friend mentioned Artuad’s ‘To Have Done With The Judgement of God’ after he listened to the album, which in turn made me think of the Fassbinder film, ‘Satan’s Brew’, two other examples that I feel fall into this category.

Cyclic Defrost: What was the process of making it? Did you know what you were doing at the time? Do you know what you’ve done now?

Mark Harwood: It was part conscious and part a free for all. The various sound sources came together fairly quickly as they are laid out in the final work. The spoken word parts were also made in two sessions of pressing record and ranting away. I tend to talk to myself a lot and finding myself trapped alone at home this year only accentuated this and made this part easy. It all came together fairly quickly and ironically with little anxiety.

Cyclic Defrost: “I love the midday coffee,” there’s also the mundane – elements of daily life. What made you desire to include these elements of everyday?

Mark Harwood: No idea to be honest. I do love a cheeky midday coffee though. The narrative covers a vast spectrum from the routine to random, early memory to current daily doings. It’s possible I wanted to cover a range of aspects of ‘living’.

Cyclic Defrost: Many of the field recordings are strange and ill defined, lots of clunking, banging on a table over gentle electronics. For some reason a lot of it makes me anxious. Does this say more about me than you? How did you decide what field recordings to use?

Mark Harwood: I think there’s an undercurrent of edginess to the whole thing but it’s actually rather gentle. It plays on a certain heaven/hell/tension/release dynamic which ultimately could be responsible for a degree of listener unease. Sorry about that.

Cyclic Defrost: Graham Lambkin calls it “a palimpsest of derelict ideas and unloved skits, etched onto the tattered skin of Salmon Run and worn before an audience of no one.” Is he correct? How would you describe A Perfect Punctual Paradise Under My Own Name? Does it all make sense to you? Is it supposed to?

Mark Harwood: Yes, haha… it all makes perfect sense to me. It is me. It is the sound of me. It could be construed as a study in memory, hope and a flawed existence. It’s not only machines that make glitches.

Cyclic Defrost: What’s the difference between Astor and Mark Harwood? Do you anticipate we might hear more from this Harwood character in the future?

Mark Harwood: Pretty sure I’m gonna stick with the Harwood. He’s more fun.


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