The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'underground'
With the recent Royal Wedding and the upcoming Olympics, London's public transport authority has declared war on underground explorers, whose activities have now become a matter of national security:
"Normally we would have been dished off to the graffiti squad," Otter says. "But because of the wedding we ended up with detectives much higher up."
Last month TfL applied to issue anti-social behaviour orders which would not only stop them undertaking further expeditions and blogging about urban exploration but also prohibit them from carrying equipment that could be used for exploring after dark. Extraordinarily, it also stipulates they should not be allowed to speak to each other for the duration of the order – 10 years.
There's a new article in WIRED interviewing members of the French underground explorers/guerilla repairers/real-life troglodistes UX; i.e., the people who set up a secret, fully outfitted cinema in the Parisian catacombs and subsequently covertly repared the clock in the Panthéon (and then made the mistake of notifying the officials responsible for the building, who deliberately broke it again out of spite); this article, largely drawn from an interview with one Lazar Kunstmann, has some details about the origins of the movement, its motivations, and some of its techniques:
Thirty years ago, in the dead of night, a group of six Parisian teenagers pulled off what would prove to be a fateful theft. They met up at a small cafè near the Eiffel Tower to review their plans—again—before heading out into the dark. Lifting a grate from the street, they descended a ladder to a tunnel, an unlit concrete passageway carrying a cable off into the void. They followed the cable to its source: the basement of the ministry of telecommunications. Horizontal bars blocked their way, but the skinny teens all managed to wedge themselves through and ascend to the building’s ground floor. There they found three key rings in the security office and a logbook indicating that the guards were on their rounds. But the guards were nowhere to be seen. The six interlopers combed the building for hours, encountering no one, until they found what they were looking for at the bottom of a desk drawer—maps of the ministry’s citywide network of tunnels. They took one copy of each map, then returned the keys to the security office.
In some places, UX has been able to create covert connections between networks, using (among other tricks) an invention they call the rolling basin. This is a passage in the bottom of a tunnel that appears to be a grate with water under it; in fact, both grate and water are part of a movable tray on rollers. Voilà trapdoor to another tunnel in a different network. The tray itself is made of concrete, so even if someone raps it with a stick, it sounds solid.
So what does the group do with all this access? Among other things, it has mounted numerous clandestine theater productions and film festivals. On a typical festival evening, they screen at least two films that they feel share a nonobvious yet provocative connection. They don’t explain the connection, leaving it up to the audience to try to discover it. One summer, the group mounted a film festival devoted to the theme of “urban deserts”—the forgotten and underutilized spaces in a city. They naturally decided the ideal venue for such a festival would be in just such an abandoned site.Kunstmann has some quite scathing words about the officials notionally responsible for the preservation of France's historical and cultural patrimony, a duty which UX claim they've derelicted:
Kunstmann has a gloomy view of contemporary civilization, and in his eyes this affair illustrates many of its worst faults—its fatalism, complacency, ignorance, parochialism, and negligence. French officials, he says, bother to protect and restore only the patrimony adored by millions—the Louvre, for example. Lesser-known sites are neglected, and if they happen to be out of public view—underground, say—they disintegrate totally, even when all that’s needed is a hundred-dollar leak repair. UX tends the black sheep: the odd, the unloved, the forgotten artifacts of French civilization.
It seems that the problem is exacerbated by a culture of officiousness endemic to France's public service, where the purpose of an office is often overshadowed by the ego of the holder of the office and his (or hers, though, to be honest, usually his) need to stake out turf and engage in territorial pissing matches. Hence the neglect of anything not immediately prestigious and the active hostility to those who show up said official neglect by doing something about it.
UX have learned their lesson from the Panthéon incident; since then, they claim to have repaired some 15 other sites, though have kept the details secret:
I ask him to elaborate on their choice of projects. “We can say very little,” he replies, “because to describe the sites even a bit can give away their location.” That said, one site is “belowground, in the south of Paris, not very far from here. It was discovered relatively recently but elicited very strong interest. It totally contradicts the history of the building above it. In examining what’s belowground, one notices that it doesn’t correspond to the information one can obtain about the history of the site. It’s history in reverse, in a way; the site was dedicated to an activity, structures were placed there, but in fact the site had been dedicated to this activity for quite a long time.”
A group of urban explorers have infiltrated one of the holy grails of underground facilities: London's Post Office Railway, shut down in 2003 and now securely fenced off. Their account and photos are here:
Sleepy City is a website run by someone who (a) is a very good photographer and (b) enjoys sneaking illicitly into underground railway tunnels, drainage systems, abandoned buildings and the like, illegally taking gorgeous photographs and posting them online. Most recently, they posted an epic feature on the Paris Métro, complete with some fantastic photographs:
(via Boing Boing)
Watch: A US Air Force documentary about the building of Camp Century, a nuclear-powered subterranean city under Greenland's polar ice cap, in 1960 (on YouTube; parts 1, 2, 3, 4). Camp Century was abandoned in 1966 after the ice was found to be less stable than expected.
The UX, the secretive Parisian underground exploration group which built an underground cinema in the city's labyrinthian catacombs, pulled off an even more impressive feat last year: breaking into the Panthéon and surreptitiously repairing its clock, all without the authorities knowing about it:
Getting into the building was the easiest part, according to Klausmann. The squad allowed themselves to be locked into the Panthéon one night, and then identified a side entrance near some stairs leading up to their future hiding place. "Opening a lock is the easiest thing for a clockmaker," said Klausmann. From then on, they sneaked in day or night under the unsuspecting noses of the Panthéon's officials.
The hardest part of the scheme was carrying up the planks used to make chairs and tables to furnish the Untergunther's cosy squat cum workshop, which has sweeping views over Paris.
The group managed to connect the hideaway to the electricity grid and install a computer connected to the net.Neither the Panthéon's staff nor the authorities noticed anything until the UX's surreptitious restoration cell, the Untergunther, notified them of what they had done. The officials, being officials, didn't appreciate the act; the administrator of the Panthéon was sacked, and the state initiated legal action against the restorers. The group has recently been cleared of any wrongdoing, and is working on another secret restoration mission.
But the UX, the name of Untergunther's parent organisation, is a finely tuned organisation. It has around 150 members and is divided into separate groups, which specialise in different activities ranging from getting into buildings after dark to setting up cultural events. Untergunther is the restoration cell of the network.
Members know Paris intimately. Many of them were students in the Latin Quarter in the 80s and 90s, when it was popular to have secret parties in Paris's network of tunnels. They have now grown up and become nurses or lawyers, but still have a taste for the capital's underworld, and they now have more than just partying on their mind.And here and here is more about the UX and Untergunther. (It is not clear how these groups are related to "La Mexicaine de Perforation", the group credited with the underground cinema uncovered in 2004.)
I wonder how much of an inspiration those secret catacomb parties of the 1980s were on the characters of the "troglodistes", the sewer-dwelling guerilla frogmen in Jeunet and Caro's film Delicatessen.
(via Boing Boing)
Secret plans by the Victorian government to build a 15-kilometre underground railway line under Melbourne. The line would link North Melbourne and Caulfield, and take two of the sets of lines that currently go through the loop. It looks like the loop would be left servicing the Burnley and Clifton Hill lines, and possibly the Sandringham line, and Richmond and South Yarra stations would become a lot less busy, losing a few now redundant platforms.
Internal emails show the option favoured by the Department of Infrastructure was for a 15-kilometre underground rail line linking North Melbourne and Caulfield stations, which would include new subway stations at Royal Parade (intersection of Royal Parade and Flemington Road, servicing the University Of Melbourne), Melbourne Central (upgrade of existing station), Flinders Street (underground extension to the train station), and Domain (intersection of Domain and St Kilda roads).The whole exercise is said to cost only AUD2bn, which sounds implausibly cheap for 15 kilometres of tunnel. Public transport advocates are not impressed, though, and assert that the money could be better spent extending the railway network to car-dependent areas like Doncaster, and finally running a railway line down that invitingly wide median strip along the Eastern Freeway.
If this scheme goes ahead, though, it looks quite plausible to extend it to the Doncaster line. Given that it goes from North Melbourne station to the corner of Royal Parade and Flemington Road and then down Swanston Street, it would execute a pretty tight S-shaped turn under North Melbourne, and be heading east at Royal Parade. Thence, it would be fairly simple to have a branch line going straight east, under Carlton (possibly with a station on Lygon Street), Fitzroy (with a possible station near Brunswick or Smith Street) and Collingwood, before emerging right in the middle of the freeway. Whether any government would stump up the money (especially when car-dependent swinging electorates want more freeways and cheaper petrol) is another question.
Meanwhile, British transport consultant Sir Rod Eddington, who has been contracted to do a study on Melbourne's transport needs, has said that Melbourne's transport system is still "a work in progress". Then again, couldn't the same thing be said about London's (at least by Ken Livingstone)?
TIBET is the nom de guerre of a Swedish underground artist, in the literal sense. His art involves making 11"-tall statues out of concrete, taking them into tunnels beneath Stockholm and gluing, welding or drilling them into the solid rock. Of course, very few people will actually see them down there, though given that they're going to be around for a long time, eventually someone might.
Word of the day: "roentgenizdat": pirate copies of Western pop records made in the Soviet Union, using used X-ray plates as a medium:
Owing to the lack of recordings of Western music available in the USSR, people had to rely on records coming through Eastern Europe, where controls on records were less strict, or on the tiny influx of records from beyond the iron curtain. Such restrictions meant the number of recordings would remain small and precious. But enterprising young people with technical skills learned to duplicate records with a converted phonograph that would "press" a record using a very unusual material for the purpose; discarded x-ray plates. This material was both plentiful and cheap, and millions of duplications of Western and Soviet groups were made and distributed by an underground roentgenizdat, or x-ray press, which is akin to the samizdat that was the notorious tradition of self-publication among banned writers in the USSR. According to rock historian Troitsky, the one-sided x-ray disks costed about one to one and a half rubles each on the black market, and lasted only a few months, as opposed to around five rubles for a two-sided vinyl disk. By the late 50's, the officials knew about the roentgenizdat, and made it illegal in 1958. Officials took action to break up the largest ring in 1959, sending the leaders to prison, beginning an orginization by the Komsomol of "music patrols" that later undertook to curtail illegal music activity all over the country.Crackdowns on illegal music copying? I guess some things never change.
And via this piece, a fascinating paper on the historical political development of Soviet rock music, and how the Communist state alternately shunned, attempted to coopt and suppressed rock and other popular music, ultimately coming off second-best:
Another problem the youth confronted when beginning to form groups to play rock 'n' roll, was the shortage of instruments and equipment. Electric guitars were almost non-existent in the USSR until the early sixties. Most instruments were manufactured in Eastern Europe and sold in the USSR in small numbers. The most notable were ten guitars that appeared in an East German-sponsored instrument shop in Moscow in 1966. All ten of the guitars were bought in the first hours that the shop was open and immediately resold at twice the price of purchase on the black market. Many groups were forced to make their own instruments or purchase copies of Western guitars that were produced by unofficial manufacturers. One of these manufacturers in 1969 managed to publish in a popular mechanical magazine a technique of converting an acoustic guitar into an electric one using a telephone voice coil, and shortly therafter there were reportedly no functioning public telephones in all of Moscow.
The Kremlin had very high-level meetings on how to approach the youth and address their cultural tastes with socialist didactics. It seemed that the Party was beginning to consider concessions to the youth, meaning to establish control over the musicians and fans. A "Beat Club" was established at the Melody and Rhythm cafe in Moscow, offering many activities to its musician membership, and applications which requested lots of personal data, flowed in by the hundreds. The club promptly closed down after receiving these applications and handed them over to the Soviet secret police, who now had dossiers on hundreds of Moscow's rock musicians.
At this point appeared the Vocal Instrumental Ensemble. The VIAs, as they were known, were required to register with the Ministry of Culture and "were urged to write and perform songs on topics wuch as space heroes or economic achievements." They followed the philosophy of Khrushchev's commentary on socialist art, "We are for music that provides inspiration, that summons people to exploits on the field of battle and in their work." The VIA represented on one hand, official Soviet recognition of rock as an art form, but on the other hand, a return to Socialist Realist didactics. The bands were named in accordance with the intended positive nature of their work, such as 'Singing Guitars,' 'Songsters,' 'Blue Guitars,' and 'Happy Guys,' harkening back to the Socialist literary prescription for 'positive heroes.' Comparing these names with those of some "unnofficial" groups of the late 60's renders an interesting contrast: Hairy Glass, Little Red Demons, Soft Suede Corners, Russo-Turkish War, Witchcraft, Fugitives from Hell, Midnight Carousers, Symbols of Faith, The Economists.
The best known of the VIAs was Happy Guys (Veselye Rebiata) who were "amply supplied with the best equipment through official channels, but [were] often instructed to add deadwood to the ensemble, giving jobs to the sons of cousins of official persons" who simply didn't plug in their instruments in performance.
An interesting phenomenon happened with the rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice; "Jesus Christ Superstar." It was smuggled into the USSR immediately after its release in USA in 1971, and immediately banned after its production in Vilnius in 1973. The opera was inspiration for many rock groups, and millions of fans despite its being banned, because unofficial rock groups performed much of the score at their shows. Performances occurred throughout the 70's and by the end of the decade, the signature theme song was adopted by the Soviet television news program "Vremya." A popular, religious rock opera had more weight than the dictates of the Soviet cultural bureaucracy.
In Estonia the situation was unique. Tallinn was a sort of Mecca for the Soviet hippies, and though there were Estonian VIAs, the number of unofficial rock groups did not drop significantly. Estonia gave Soviet rock as many talented musicians as Leningrad and Moscow combined. The Estonian branch of Melodija, being autonomous from the Moscow branch, even recorded some unofficial groups. Finnish television had been responsible for bringing televised music programs to the Estonians, whose language is similar to the Finnish language, and yet quite unintelligible to most Russians. The language barrier made possible the lyrics of many Estonian groups that were often anti-Russian. In later years this led to an enormous nationalist movement in Estonian rock, that republic being the first to declare national sovereignty in 1985.
Then disco made its appearance in the USSR, and a form of pop culture was much more readily accepted by cultural officials than ever before. The rhythm and inocuous lyrics apparently lulled the crowd and had little of the countercultural undertones and hooligan followers for which rock was notorious. Discotheques were seemingly ready made venues for both benign music and socialist indoctrination. Though this seems to be the ulimate in bad taste given the contemporary Western attitude toward the 70's disco, a national effort was made to assess the possibility of socialist didactic programs being mixed with the musical fare. Moscow registered 187 officially sponsered discotheques by 1978. Saturday Night Fever was released 1979, and John Travolta's character in the movie was appealing to the ideologues who were always looking for 'positive heroes' for the youth culture. At this time, Western recordings were being issued on Melodija, with the tremendously popular Swedish band ABBA being the first, with a manditory counterpart release in the West of a Soviet group.
In the early 80's Baltic punk rock was surfacing as another import from the West. Latvian discos became scene of unrestrained violence. Much of the vehement protest of the Baltic punks was against the inordinate amount of soldiers taken from those republics to fight in the war with Afghanistan. The independence movement there had some inauspicious beginnings, but their case was historically justified in their eyes.
(via Boing Boing)
The Telegraph's Sukhdev Sandhu goes into London's sewers with the "flushers" who work there:
There is one story that many flushers in London like to recount. It concerns a fat iceberg that had been building up below Leicester Square over the course of a whole decade. Eventually, this 150-square-foot "slug of hardened fat" grew so large that it was impassable. A gang of flushers armed with supersucker machines spent six weeks one blazing summer trying to dislodge it. By the time they finished they were reduced to using ice picks to hack away at the white mountain.
"It looks like a huge packet of lard. It shines in the dark and gives off this phenomenal transparent heat. Within ten minutes, as soon as you stick a shovel in it, you could slide through. The water comes at you like a dyke. The risks are colossal. Later, an animal food company got in touch because they wanted to buy and recirculate the fat."
After three decades, veteran American fringe publisher Loompanics is closing down, and is liquidating its entire catalogue at half price. Their works include from conspiratological alternative history, anarchism, atheism, Satanism, extremism, visionary/crackpot ideas, drug literature, criminal how-tos (for educational purposes only, of course), various 1960s-vintage utopianisms, and a lot of freaky shit; well-known titles published by Loompanics include the Principia Discordia and How To Disappear Completely.
In Tokyo, where space is at a premium, they now have underground farms under the city:
Perhaps, if/when the oil crash causes the collapse of transport-based economies, such farms beneath farmland-deprived cities may help keep them somewhat viable.
First there were signs advising London Underground users to carry a bottle of water at all times; now, the managing director of the Underground has advised passengers to have a shower before travelling on the Tube. Because it's presumably easier to get everyone to do so than it is to install any sort of air conditioning in the ancient system of tunnels that comprises the Tube. You'd think that at least the Tube could meet people halfway and install coin-operated shower cubicles in their ticket halls?
The existence of a vast network of secret tunnels and bunkers beneath the Serbian capital of Belgrade has recently emerged after two soldiers guarding an entrance to the complex had been shot dead in mysterious circumstances. The complex was built by Communist strongman Josip Broz Tito, and was designed to resist nuclear attack (presumed to come from Stalin's USSR, with which Yugoslavia had broken off ties); up until recently, its existence was so secret that even NATO military planners didn't know about it (though Saddam Hussein might have, as he hired the construction firms involved to build a similar bunker near Tikrit). It is suspected that fugitive Bosnian Serb war criminals have been sheltered in the tunnels. Meanwhile, local civilians are calling for it to be turned into a tourist attraction.
The French underground explorers/guerilla art collective responsible for the recently discovered underground cinema speak to the Graun:
Huddled round a table in an anonymous Latin Quarter bar, the group's members - of whom only Lazar wanted to be named - relate past exploits: rock concerts for up to 4,000 people in old underground quarries; 2am projections in a locked film theatre; art and photo exhibitions in supposedly sealed-off subterranean galleries.
The Chaillot underground cinema is now definitively closed, even to a drill-toting and determined urban explorer. But even if the Paris police may have reluctantly (and with considerable embarrassment) decided its builders were neither terrorists, neo-Nazis nor satanists, they would very much like to charge them with some offence. "As far as we know, they've been reduced to going for theft of electricity," said Lazar. "However, we covered our tracks so well that the electricity board has apparently told them that short of digging up every cable in the district there's no way of knowing where we took it from. But they're not happy. They've seen a tiny fraction of what we do, and it's a big deal for them."
Police in Paris have stumbled across a secret underground cinema in the catacombs. The fully outfitted cinema was protected by a sophisticated alarm system and adorned with symbols including swastikas and stars of David. Its stock of film turned out to be mostly 1950s film noir, with nothing illegal or even offensive.
"The whole thing ran off a professionally installed electricity system and there were at least three phone lines down there." Three days later, when the police returned accompanied by experts from the French electricity board to see where the power was coming from, the phone and electricity lines had been cut and a note was lying in the middle of the floor: "Do not," it said, "try to find us."
There is an extensive network of catacombs under Paris, most of which is off-limits to the public, though frequented by groups of "cataphiles", who sound somewhere between the Cave Clan and the troglodistes in the film Delicatessen.
The recent discovery of three newly enlarged tunnels underneath the capital's high-security La Santé prison was put down to the activities of one such group, and another, iden tifying itself as the Perforating Mexicans, last night told French radio the subterranean cinema was its work.
Patrick Alk, a photographer who has published a book on the urban underground exploration movement and claims to be close to the group, told RTL radio the cavern's discovery was "a shame, but not the end of the world". There were "a dozen more where that one came from," he said. "You guys have no idea what's down there."
Ted Jesus Christ GOD is a man with a plan to protect America from terrorism. This he intends to accomplish by building sealed underground cities for the worthy to move to. The cities would be deep underground (deep enough to guard against burrowing nukes sent by America's evil enemies), with huge lift shafts, sealed ecosystems, and farms growing natural ("Creator-original") food. Only the most virtuous and genetically pure 37,000 Americans would be allowed to live in the cities; Satanists, Pagans, atheists and "DarkSide people" (I guess they're the ones with the black clothes and facial piercings or something) would be ostracised to up top, where they'd be easy pickings for the forces of evil. Also, alcohol, drugs and pharmaceuticals would be banned, as for thousands of years people survived well enough without them. Oh, and the the X Files are real, only "X" stands for Christ, and they're a secret FBI/CIA programme to isolate demonic DNA and hunt down and destroy Satan. We know this is true because he has angels with IQs of 10,000 telling him it is.
Sleepy City is a collection of very cool-looking photos taken mostly in (and under) Brisbane. The subject matter tends towards underground tunnels, abandoned buildings, sodium-lit concrete wastelands and derelict machinery, though the uses of colour and composition make the mundane seem magical. (via MeFi)
While land prices keep rising and the cost of building skyscrapers increase, recent improvements in tunnelling technology are making building underground an increasingly attractive option. Can we look forward to a future of subterranean cities and high-speed intercontinental subways?
If they are large enough, caverns will feel like the outdoors; they might even be plumbed for "rain" and specially vented to create "wind." Artificial weather will keep the air crisp, while artificial light sources - from vast LED arrays, fiber pipes carrying light from the surface, genetically engineered extra-phosphorescent lichen - will infuse this superspace in an eternal dawn. Sunbathers, though, will need to call for the elevator.
And, as always, artists are the shock troops of gentrification:
If history is any guide, artists will be the first to actually move underground full-time. They have a knack for converting industrial and commercial spaces into highly desirable residential real estate. Looking at their airy studios, we'll decide underground space isn't so dreary after all.
<SPECULATION> I wonder how the economics will work; will above-ground real estate become a highly-prized status symbol for the ultra-rich? Or perhaps pollution, ozone depletion or other catastrophes (nuclear fallout perhaps?) will make "up top" into a slum inhabited only by outlaws and untouchables; and as the mole people tuck their children into their beds belowground, they'll tell them blood-curdling tales about the monsters and fiends who live on the surface (much as have been told throughout the aeons about any desolate wastelands outlaws take refuge in). </SPECULATION>
Japanese journalist buys a vintage map of Tokyo, and notices inconsistencies between the locations of subway lines. Digging a little deeper, he comes to the conclusion that there is a secret network of tunnels beneath Tokyo, dating back decades, whose existence is still being actively covered up by governmental authorities. So he publishes a book about this, only to find himself virtually blacklisted by the media. Is Shun Akiba a paranoid crackpot of some sort (like the ones you hear complaining that the establishment is "suppressing" their revolutionary new theory of physics), or is there really a conspiracy of silence about the tunnels under Tokyo? (I recall that Japan doesn't have a strong tradition of transparency in government.)
A look at Burma's burgeoning rock scene, where bands with metal-sounding names like Iron Cross and Emperor perform Beatles covers and country & western numbers. Isolated totalitarian states sure are weird places.
In Cuba, where the government aims to control every aspect of the flow of information, one needs special permission to borrow most books from libraries. As such, speakeasy libraries are the latest form of dissent, and seen as the latest threat to socialism:
"I can't just walk into a public library and ask for books on Afro-Cuban religion," said Luis Antonio Bonito Lara, a retired engineer and avid reader. "I can't even ask for copies of Granma from two years ago without special permission. It's enormously frustrating."
(Remember, this is the Another World that the people protesting outside the Nike store will tell you Is Possible.) (via Reenhead)
Russia's answer to the Cave Clan call themselves Diggers of the Underground Planet, and explore the vast labyrinth of tunnels beneath Moscow, finding everything from secret subway lines and disused facilities of various sorts to Neverwhere-like societies of fringe dwellers and sinister groups of uniformed men doing god only knows what:
According to the Diggers, the underground is also a refuge for former prisoners. It is against the law for ex-convicts to reside in the Russian capital, so those who do move to the city must find inconspicuous lodgings. Some settle in basements with good air-conditioning systems and two or three exits. Sometimes they gather in groups, living by "prison laws."
In a tunnel under the Centrobank building, the Diggers observed uniformed people in masks equipped with powerful halogen lamps. The Diggers were afraid to follow them lest they should come under fire. So far, security services have not taken the Diggers' reports of these sightings seriously.
Under the Skliffasovsky clinic the Diggers encountered people dressed in monk's robes, carrying torches around a strange-looking altar made of stone. They were performing some sort of service and singing. When they saw the Diggers, they hurriedly disappeared.
(via bOING bOING)
Salon has an interesting article on urban exploration, namely the activity of exploring abandoned buildings, tunnels and other parts of the urban environment where one is not meant to go. (via Slashdot)