Live performance: Bruce Gilbert
“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold”. Turkish proverb
In a financial context, gold is synonymous with reliability and security. Culturally, gold is the standard of fame and success. The latter is not the same as the former. Number 1 records are not iconic as they once were, and PR/TV/streaming and social media promotion is rarely matched by physical sales and attention to the music.
In the UK, Gold is one of the nation’s biggest exports; a contradictory situation considering Britain has no gold-mining industry and scant gold reserves remain – (the main holdings in South Africa were sacrificed in 1940 at the front of World War 2 in order to pay for much-needed weaponry and the Lend Lease Act with the USA1). Britain prevailed nonetheless. The 2008 banking crash depleted matters further. More recently, Brexit brazenly traded 1940-style rhetoric and was said to be key to maintaining Britain as a financial centre. Current analysis suggests this is not going to plan.
Gold isn’t merely about manufacturing nor having and holding, it’s about shadow trading and occluded communication between those who keep no loose change in their pockets, and the ones who move the argent. Electronic. Oblique. Offshore. Gold prices and currency transactions move faster than the blink of an eye.
Just as well, given that political Net Zero climate ambitions and international ‘commitments’ are achieving next to nothing. To be mined, gold needs cyanide, lead and mercury. For a standard gold bar (400 troy ounces), 5000 tonnes of earth need to be extracted and to create a wedding ring, between 4 and 20 tonnes of rock need to be processed. The ore is left by the roadside, simply collateral pollution2. Gold is essential to the jewellery business, but more significantly to telephony and electronics. No gold, no phones.
Gold is still glamour. How many cultural and musical moments celebrate the glory of gold, from antiquity to Spandau Ballet? Glamour, ‘gramerye’ in middle English, means an excellence in grammar and a talent for communication.
This is perhaps a way of understanding gold in its context of alchemy – the process of turning base metals into gold by using the ‘philosopher’s stone’: transforming blackness into shining metal and its lustrous energy. In mediaeval times, artists who would not call themselves artists and adepts who were in defiance of the church, set out a template and an intention which we can now view as more of a metaphor and beacon of hope, yet we know little of the details of their process, their ingredients and their instruments3. We can only imagine.
1. 1940, Clive Ponting, Hamish Hamilton 1990
2. Material World, Ed Conway, WH Allen 2023
3. The Golden Game, Stanislas Klossowski de Rola, Thames and Hudson 1988
Bruce Gilbert is best known as a founding member of Wire. Since Wire, he has made solo interventions in spoken word; as co-creator of the Dome project; production and instrumentation for AC Marias; to soundtracks for Michael Clark. His collaborations one couldn’t begin to list. He has released solo material on Mute, Editions Mego, and Touch amongst many others.