England's dreaming

Iain Sinclair summons up the spirit of John Clare.

Faster Than Sound: an English Journey Re-Imagined
Hoffmann Building, Snape Maltings

There are no buses to Aldeburgh, not any more, a fatalistic pensioner warned me during a protracted period of bus-stop purgatory in Saxmundham, Suffolk, en route to the first leg of An English Journey Re-Imagined. It turned out there was a bus, eventually, but her pessimism was a reminder of just how problematic an idea the "journey" has become.

An English Journey Re-Imagined was the idea of Paul Smith, founder of the record label Blast First, who proposed using J B Priestley's 1934 bestseller, English Journey, as a point of departure for a group of artists and performers, including the writer and film-maker Iain Sinclair, the comic-book-writing occultist Alan Moore, the folk historian and singer Shirley Collins, the German sound artist F M Einheit, and the composer and flautist Susan Stenger.

Much of the show was like a sophisticated history lesson on the area. Collins began with a trawl through the local folk song archive, while Stenger played snatches of Benjamin Britten's "Dawn", a melody plundered from Peter Grimes. Moore's dizzying rant on the history of Aldeburgh and the surrounding area discussed such figures as Raleigh, Britten and the dog-walking Ipswich Town manager, Roy Keane.

The title of Emily Richardson's film Cobra Mist refers to the top-secret American project at Orford Ness - the former military base on reclaimed marshland south of Aldeburgh, the construction of which led to rumours of UFO activity there. Richardson upped the ante, re-contextualising Orford Ness as another planet.

During the interval, the artist Brian Catling wandered about outside, playing electronic bagpipes and a rape alarm. The show closed with Einheit, a founder member of the German industrial noise group Einstürzende Neubauten, soundtracking footage of Second World War aircraft. Sinclair had visited the area's disused airfields, and told how they were built from the rubble of East End homes destroyed in the Blitz. Einheit, barefoot and wild-eyed, created a violent din using a household drill, breeze blocks and stones from Aldeburgh beach on an amplified sheet of metal.

As an alternative to Priestley, who was, in essence, a workaday commuter peering at the country from the window of a bus, train or chauffeur-driven car, Sinclair offered up the mad poet John Clare, who walked from an asylum in Epping Forest to his home in Cambridgeshire in search of his dead wife, living only on grass. This was the show's subtext: insanity as a refusal of the dominant culture, schizoid meanderings with no "direction of travel" (a phrase loathed by Sinclair). The following day there really were no buses to make the eight-mile trip to Saxmundham to catch the train home. So, summoning the spirit of Clare, we walked it.

This article first appeared in the 15 February 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Everything you know about Islam is wrong