BRYONY QUINN is a writer, editor and lecturer based in the UK. bmbquinn[at] ABOUT BQ.

ALL PROJECTS —— [2015] OBLIQUE/OBLIKE is a collection of essays devoted to obliquity. Texts include: a speculative etymology, O-OB-OBLIKE, which reads into the conceptual, logical, textural and metaphorical potential of the word “oblique”; a contextual history of the forward slash, A TYPOGRAPHIC CHRONICLE OF STOPS AND STARTS; a series of fragment essays with photographs (HOW TO CROSS A SLOPE) that consider definitions of spatial and architectural inclination on the body; AERIAL OBLIQUITY, a text exploring perceptual shifts, impostor landscapes and the military units set-up for photographic interpretation at the start of the 20th century; a critical reading of Richard McGuire’s comic HERE and other narratives in art and literature that open windows (or tunnel out or fold or fling) the past into the future; and an extract from a slideshow of images and ideas — things that prop versus things that lean — designated as OBLIQUE OBJECTS. This project follows a general notion that lines of thought may not be perpendicular but that does not mean that they are random. [2015] ALBERTOPOLIS COMPANION is a book, website and series of podcasts that write around and over the South Kensington complex of Victorian institutes and museums that were built with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of 1851 (an area colloquially known as Albertopolis). The essay, ALBERT-O-POLIS, draws a critical cross-section of the words facetious coining and usage. [2014] OF AND FOR TURNER CONTEMPORARY is a series of essays, an event and a website generated in collaboration between Margate’s Turner Contemporary museum, David Chipperfield Architects and the Critical Writing in Art & Design programme at the Royal College of Art. Prompted by the lines “On Margate sands/ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing” from TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, GAPS is an essay that looks for architectural and figurative breaches in the museum and surrounding landscape. [2014] ROLLING HILLS, ROLLING RS makes use of the multiplicity of the word “cadence”, from vocal modulations to topographic undulations. This text appeared in CRITICAL WRITING IN ART & DESIGN masters programme at the RCA: a very short and very disappointed REVIEW OF MAGNIFICENT OBSESSIONS AT THE BARBICAN; THE BELLS OF LONDON ARE TIME MACHINES (which also appeared on; VIBES, PROPER TO MAKE ANY TONE — part-etymology and part-retrieval for the word “vibes” in cultural criticism, as per the likes of Samuel Pepys and Woody Allen. [2010–2015] OTHER BITS of published writing include AN INTERVIEW WITH NELLY BEN HAYOUN for issue one of NOWNESS on the occasion of Trevor Paglen launching THE LAST PICTURES into geostrationary orbit. And here are all the articles I ever wrote for IT’S NICE THAT.


All the vibes, the vibing, and vibe singular come from the abbreviation of the noun vibration and its specific context as “an intuitive signal about a person or thing”; collectively, “atmosphere”. This is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, now somewhat “colloq“. However, the OED continues, in many instances the meaning implied is more or less identical with the figurative use of its scientific definition in physics. That is, “the rapid alternating or reciprocating motion to and fro, or up and down, produced in the particles of an elastic body by the disturbance of equilibrium”.

In 1666 an instance that described a single movement of this kind was recorded by Samuel Pepys and later noted by the OED. “A certain Number of Vibracions proper to make any tone”. Though Pepys did not mean Vibracions figuratively – he was reflecting on the nature of sound as told to him on the street by the polymath Robert Hooke, specifically, “the motion in the particles of a sonorous body by which sound is produced” – the rest of this particular diary entry continues to serve as a convenient illustration for how the fate of its slang-heavy descendent, vibes, is a genuinely depressing, total waste of a beautifully, emotionally, onomatopoeically, “mighty fine” word.

He is able to tell how many strokes a fly makes with her wings (those flies that hum in their flying) by the note that it answers to in Musique during their flying. That is, I suppose, a little too much raffined, but [Hooke's] discourse in general of sound was mighty fine.

Vibes are the teenage generation of the latin family vibrare, and as such, they are woefully misunderstood. However, by definition, “good” vibes occur in vibing states of “on”, “with”, “to” and “off”. “Bad” vibes/vibing are invariably “out”. Occasionally I imagine these uses being retrieved from sad retirements in jazz basements, skunk-infused bedrooms or the space between ones inner eye and the supernatural ether. Almost from the very beginning of its abbreviated use it has been attached to such generically weird contexts with any noteworthy retrieval has mostly been for trade as an ironic currency in cultural criticism. In the 1977 film Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character, Alvy, trivialises a reporter from Rolling Stonemagazine in an exchange that goes–


Reporter: I was at that Rolling Stones concert in Altamont where they killed that guy, remember?
Allen: Oh yeah, were ya? I was at an Alice Cooper thing where six people were rushed to the hospital with a case of bad vibes.


The term and its long form has strong connections with certain subcultures, the easiest of which to pluck at are psychedelia and the Beat movement. Writing in the London Review of Books, Iain Sinclair chose “vibes” as the most appropriate verb with which to both build-up and un- do, via irony, the image of Frank Zappa as a man who meant sincere psych business: “He grazed a couple of pages of Joyce, picked up the vibes.” The good vibrations and resulting “excitations” received by the Beach Boys in 1966 from a nameless female is a sensation echoed through-out literary and sexy history. Nine years prior to Brian “Oom Bop-Bop” Wilson, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, for example, was published and in it, populated by the characters Bill and Joan; the “something curiously unsympathetic and cold between them” was really “a form of humour by which they communicated their own subtle vibrations”.

In psychedelia, vibes of the far-out variety are particularly associated with the imagery of the era. Clashing, illusionary, hallucinatory, migraine-inducing patterns and images perform an aesthetic level of disturbance as described by an Old English origin of the vibe family, namely, to “give out light or sound as if by vibration”. It would be odd to think what counted as psychedelic was not prompted by the synthesis of mind-expanding drugs like LSD. Employing science as an enabler for greater inner and outer environmental perception (of course) predates the hippies and trippers with a pertinent example being the Neo- Impressionists. George Seurat wrote a letter to a journalist in 1890 to explain the poetic colour formula for the optical theory he studied and applied in his paintings since 1884. In brief, it concerns luminosity; the measure of brightness. Seurat and his contemporaries were terminally concerned with light and colour is only ever that. Instead of presenting a blend on canvas, each primary and complimentary tone is singularly applied. The eye recomposes the effect of all these points both as individual notes and their resultant combination; this optical mixing had the intense intention of creating “retinal vibrations”. Prizes for your eyes.

Outside of the party, vibes do crop-up with sincerity in contemporary settings. They are opinionated spaces and blog-like, unconcerned with sophistication; especially on Twitter it has dual purpose as an emotional shorthand (imperative for the medium) and as a locator. To experience vibes is to do so firsthand. In going to the concert, standing in front of the painting, taking the drugs, listening to the fly or the radio (@TheStreamLab: “Great vibes live now from @kcrw studios in California w/ lounge act @morcheebamusic. Watch live…” 7:20pm, October 11, 2013), we take ourselves for the “particles” in the “elastic body” of our own lives; the “disturbance of the equilibrium” that defines vibration can only be the effect of experience. “All mass is interaction”, the physicist Richard Feynman said that. It’s a descriptive principle in the laws of all things; that which does not move at an atomic level, which does not vibrate, does not exist. In the same breath, from another RF, a poet with an echoic maxim: “All thought is a feat of association”. Robert Frost died five years before the first use of vibes was recorded in the OED (as 1968).