Monday, 6 June 2016
It has been way too long since I posted anything on this blog - not because I have lost interest in the medium but because I have simply been too busy doing things to report back on them. This blog was always intended as a substitute for my woefully dated website, which now has the appearance of a strange prehistoric insect that has been inadvertently preserved in amber by some casual hand. The site is currently being updated and should be online sometime soon, but the process has taken far longer than I had anticipated. In the meantime I have recently started a Hollingsville account on Instagram and will continue to post on this blog and on my @Hollingsville Twitter timeline.
My health has continued to improve over the past year, and I find myself busier than ever. Once again my sincere apologies for the protracted silence on this blog. To make up for it here are some graffiti skulls and some other details I photographed recently in Leake Street. It ain't Hollingsville, that's for sure, but it felt like home.
Saturday, 23 January 2016
I am pleased to announce that my first spoken word album is now available on audiocassette from the amazing Tapeworm label. I am delighted to have contributed to this remarkable series of tape releases. Works for Magnetic Tape will be officially launched at a special event being hosted by The Royal College of Art on Wednesday January 27. The details are contained in the flyer above.
The three tracks that make up this audiocassette release reflect my interest in how differently written text operates from spoken word. What separates and makes them distinct from each other – and what happens when one is translated into the other?
A longer version of the text for ‘There Must Be Something Wrong With This, Sally’ first appeared in volume 19 issue 4 of the Leonardo Electronic Almanac: ‘Without Sin: Freedom and Taboo in Digital Media’ edited by Lanfranco Aceti and Donna Leishman. It, in turn, is a reworking and expansion of some themes that occur in my book The Bright Labyrinth: Sex, Death and Design in Digital Regime (Strange Attractor Press, 2014). These particular themes and their development were occasioned by my fascination with a homemade record, identified on the label only as ‘Sal Boo’, featuring two drunk teachers trying to get their recording device to work properly. This piece of mechanized circular madness remains for me one of the most remarkable recordings ever made – I still listen repeatedly to ‘Sal Boo’ and find new things in it each time. You can download a PDF of my original essay here. The reading is in several sections, with electronic backgrounds and interludes supplied by Mark O. Pilkington, to whom I am indebted for his patience and care in the final production of this piece.
‘Ideas Are One Thing, And What Happens Is Another’ was commissioned in 2012 to be read as part of a performance to celebrate the centenary of John Cage’s birth. Subtitled ‘A Neatly Ordered Sequence of Texts’, its ten parts contain personal memories of my time with Cage, together with thoughts on what constitutes ‘an idea’. The actual title is a line from the Cage’s 1961 lecture ‘Where Are We Going? And What Are We Doing?’. At my request, Graham Massey supplied the backgrounds for this reading: the sounds of a needle stuck in the runoff grooves of various records to be selected by him – the one brief moment of ‘silence’ certain to be on every release. Graham also very kindly agreed to do the final mix and edit of the track, making its basic components sound more elegant and informal than I could have managed on my own.
The readings for both of these tracks were recorded by Simon James of the Simonsound at the old BBC radio studios in Brighton. This cramped and darkened space might seem too small to be haunted; but the old green baize-covered desk set up with a mike and lectern, together with the thick glass screen separating it from the control room, were definitely speaking from another age. More up-to-date was the language school located immediately above where I was to do my reading; as a result we had to pause frequently as students clattered up and down the stairwell just on the other side of the studio wall. Simon did a fantastic job of editing the various takes together into a smooth whole.
‘Parasitic Infestation’ was originally written as an introduction to The Art of Worms, The Bookworm’s debut publication documenting the cover art for The Tapeworm’s first twenty-five audiocassette releases. The book was launched at a special event, ‘Worm Eats Bear’, on October 20, 2011 at the Bear Pit in London, where this reading of my essay was recorded live. I love the raw immediacy of this recording and am very happy to include the track as it is – in memory of a remarkable evening. The Art of Worms is currently out of print, but you can find the complete text here.
I decided to call this collection Works for Magnetic Tape primarily for nostalgic reasons. When, as a teenager, I first started exploring avant-garde music, I quickly discovered that listings on albums or in catalogues of a twentieth-century composer’s ‘works for magnetic tape’ – as opposed to ones for string quartet or piano trio – usually contained the weirdest and most interesting stuff to my untrained sensibilities. It is a shame that the category appears to have fallen out of favour. The title also refers directly to the audiocassette medium itself and is an expression of my pleasure in contributing to The Tapeworm’s grand designs.
‘Works for Magnetic Tape’ is a Project Thrust Production
‘Project Thrust – The Name You Can Trust’
Cover art by Savage Pencil
Saturday, 25 July 2015
As a follow-up to my recent documentary for Radio 4, ‘Cutting Up the Cut-Up’, I have been working with Dan Shepherd of Farshoreline Productions on an online supplement: ‘Cutcast Up-Pod’, which is currently available from Soundcloud. When editing the original programme Dan and I quickly discovered that we had recorded far more material than we could comfortably fit into a show that was scheduled to come in just shy of half an hour. This is quite often the case when making a radio show for the BBC. In this case, however, we found that we had accumulated a lot of really fascinating material on the audio cut-up process – Vicki Bennett, Lenka Clayton, Cassetteboy and Armando Iannucci all went into great detail about what kinds of methods to follow, which machines work best and what kind of material it is best to start with. Vicki Bennett and Armando Iannucci shared a passion for local radio news , while Lenka Clayton and Casstetteboy both demonstrated a more systematic and painstaking approach to cutting up words. Editing the four speakers together, with an absolute minimum of scripted links, offers insightful information to anyone interested in developing their own cut-up skills. As William Burroughs always liked to remind us: ‘any number can play.’
'Cutcast Up-pod' – featuring additional material from Chris Morris and Negativland – is available here.
A short piece on the cut-up method I wrote for BBC News Online – also with online examples from Negativland and Chris Morris – is available here.
RIP Don Joyce (1944-2015) – ‘….then I feel so bad.’
Monday, 22 June 2015
Back in February of this year I received an email from Dan Shepherd of Farshoreline Productions. He said he was producing a programme for BBC Radio 4 about spoken word cut-ups and could I spare some time to talk with me over the phone. Dan called me a day or two later, and we were still talking nearly two hours later – initially he had contacted me to see if I would like to appear in the show but about halfway through the conversation he asked if I would be interested in presenting it. This offer was unexpected but extremely welcome – I had been either too sick or too busy on other projects last year to think about pitching any shows to either Radio 3 or Radio 4 over the forthcoming season.
As Dan had initially been thinking of doing the show without a presenter, I would not be causing any problems for anyone by immediately saying yes. Fast forward neatly six months and you can hear the result of our collaboration at 11.30 on June 25 and then on BBC i-Player shortly after that. As well as archive recordings of William S Burroughs and Brion Gysin, together with audio cut-ups by Walter Ruttmann and Douglas Khan, we also have interviews with artists Lenka Clayton and Vicky Bennett, Burroughs biographer Marry Miles, Cold Cut’s Matt Black and DJ Food, who took us through his amazing record collection. It was great to get even a small musical take on the cut-up, even though we didn’t really have the space to dwell on this much beyond sketching the connections between the spoken word, hip hop and techno. It would, for example, have been great to look more closely at the ‘cut in’ records released from the late 1950s onwards where lines and fragments of hit songs are spliced together to create nonsense narratives.
I was immediately struck by the enthusiasm everyone showed for the cut-up in all its different forms – great stretches of the interviews were unusable because we were all laughing so much, but the stuff we did get was worth it. Lenka Clayton was fantastic describing how she arranged all of the words of George Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech into alphabetical order and what it told her about political rhetoric. Vicky Bennett made a compelling argument for spoken word cut-ups as a form of folk culture similar to pictorial collages. Barry Miles probably gave us the most useful definition of the cut-up as the best means of clearing a dinner party when your guests don’t show any sign of leaving. This is the kind of social advice Emily Post would never have offered her readers.
Recorded in a secret location (actually his front room), Cassetteboy gave a fascinating account of how he used the transcripts of party conference speeches to create the infamous Cameron Conference Rap and extolled the excellent quality of conference recordings, which allowed every word to be heard clearly. I got the impression that given the choice between making a point and getting a laugh, he would probably choose the latter. He is definitely a problem solver – the room was stacked with board games, and he was drinking from a mug with ‘I Love Spread Sheets’ printed on it. He also has a self-effacing charm that only serves to make his satirical assaults all the more innocent and murderous at the same time. Apparently he is not looking forward to another five years of cutting up David Cameron’s speeches.
Dan also managed to grab about half an hour with Armando Iannucci while he was in London finishing up post-production on the latest series of Veep. We both thought it would be a long shot getting him for the show, considering his heavy work schedule, so we were very pleased when his office made the arrangements. It turned out, however, that they must have said yes to all such requests, which meant that over the next two or three weeks Iannucci seemed to be appearing on just about everything short of the shipping forecast. He gave us a charming and brilliant interview, however, and was completely focussed on answering our questions.
Dan has collected some outtakes and extra material from all of the interviews, plus some additional text from me, which we are hoping to post on the Farshoreline website sometime over the summer. Working on this programme reminded me of Burroughs’ comment that the cut-up was the friendly thing to do and that ‘any number can play’ so long as they have tape recorder to hand. His comment is entirely appropriate to an experience that seemed to be more about sharing information and insights than disrupting logical thought and storming the reality studios. That said, these are definitely some of the guys I want on my squad when the time comes.
Cutting Up the Cut-Ups
11.30, 25 June 2015
BBC Radio 4
Pictured above: KH vs. Cassette Boy, KH vs. Armando Iannucci – for publicity purposes only – photographs by Dan Shepherd
Wednesday, 3 June 2015
On Saturday June 6 between 2 and 6 pm I will be taking part in a panel with Mark Fisher, Caroline Edwards of Birkbeck University of London and Mary Margaret Rinebold. The session is dedicated to ‘Changing Prospects’, dealing with change and our collective sense of futurity; and I will be presenting some extracts from The Bright Labyrinth and publicly reaffirming my desire to be reincarnated as Astro-Boy one day – although there are some who fear that this may have already happened.
The event is part of the ambitious fig-2 year-long cycle of exhibitions and installations. This panel is one of a series instigated by the artist Marjolijn Dijkman. To give you more information on this exciting project I am reproducing the programme notes for this event below:
A three century old ritual is reimagined by artist Marjolijn Dijkman in the form of a week long presentation of ideas and discussions called ‘LUNÄ Talks: Uncertainty Scenarios’. The LUNÄ Talks take place around a table, a reproduction of the original table which accommodated The Lunar Society of Birmingham, where pioneers of the Industrial Revolution debated Philosophy, Arts, Sciences and Commerce, every month on the night before full moon. Three centuries later, this table, becomes a platform to develop and expand the knowledge production of our times. The programme includes conversations about the notion of Time, recent developments in Neuroscience and explorations in Big Data, amongst others. The programme of invited speakers posits seeds of thought planted to flourish in a close future.
Saturday’s session will concentrate on the notion of change in relation to the locus of collective imagination of the future. We will explore different approaches, which are utilised to motivate and trigger seismic shifts relating to the world around us.
LUNÄ is based on the Lunar Society of Birmingham, which was formed from a group of amateur experimenters, tradesmen and artisans who met and made friends in the Midlands in the 1760s. The original Lunar men gathered together for lively dinner conversations, the journey back from their Birmingham meeting place lit by the full moon. Members included the ﬂamboyant entrepreneur Matthew Boulton, the brilliantly perceptive engineer James Watt whose inventions harnessed the power of steam, the radical polymath Joseph Priestley who, among his wide-ranging achievements discovered oxygen, and the innovative potter and social reformer Josiah Wedgwood. Their debates brought together philosophy, arts, science and commerce, and as well as debating and discovering, the ‘Lunarticks’ also built canals and factories, launched balloons, named plants, gases and minerals, managed world-class businesses — and changed the face of England.June 6
2 – 6 pm
The Institute of Contemporary Arts
London SW1Y 5AH
For tickets and more information, click here.
Pictured above: the LUNÄ Table by Marjolijn Dijkman
Sunday, 10 May 2015
My second piece of confessional writing appears in issue 3 of Noon and deals with a considerably more recent epiphany: the moment last year when I was informed by a surgeon that I had a ‘non-benign mass’ nestling in my colon. I have posted material on this blog about my progress last year with Mistress C, but this is the first opportunity I have had to write about for print publication and I am very grateful to Jasmine Raznahan and Hannah Barton at Noon for giving me the opportunity to do so. When they first invited me to contribute material for their SS15 edition, dedicated to the theme of ‘Modern Love’, I almost hesitated to suggest that I write about my time with cancer. They proved to be genuinely enthusiastic about the possibility, however, and immediately saw how it would fit within the context of love in a world where shadows are growing longer. Our conversation gave me an opportunity to outline my thinking on how to approach writing about something as subjective as the experience of serious illness.
Drawing upon notes and journal entries written mostly in hospital wards and waiting rooms, ‘Mistress C: The End of the Affair’ is partly dedicated to those who have encouraged me, either in person or online, to write about my take on cancer. This short essay is only the first tile in a greater mosaic that I will be returning to over the coming months – I hope I will have the time to complete it one day. The text is also partly dedicated to ‘R’, who was with me the whole time and is still around to offer insights into what I have composed so far. It is entirely possible that people will disagree with how I have written about my diagnosis and surgery (placating the chemotherapy gods for six months deserves a story in itself) or may not recognize their own experiences in what I have to say. If it furthers greater dialogue about what is widely perceived as one of the physiological nightmares of modern times, then I am content.
My sincere thanks are due to everyone at Noon for treating the text with consummate respect. You can obtain issue 3 ‘Modern Love’ from the ICA bookshop and Tate Modern or order it direct from their website or from Antenne Books - make it your spring and summer reading.