Monday, 26 September 2016

Cold War Legacies: Systems, Theory, Aesthetics

I have an essay in a new collection of essays published by Edinburgh University Press. Cold War Legacies: Systems, Theory, Aesthetics is edited by Winchester School of Arts's Professor Ryan Bishop and Professor John Beck of the University of Westminster. The book connects Cold War material and conceptual technologies to 21st century arts, society and culture. From futures research, pattern recognition algorithms, nuclear waste disposal and surveillance technologies, to smart weapons systems, contemporary fiction and art, the contributors to this book shows that we live in a world imagined and engineered during the Cold War.

I am particularly pleased with this collection, not just because it includes contributions from the likes of Ryan Bishop, Jussi Parrika and Neal White, but because it contains the very last essay to appear in print that was composed while I was still undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer back in the summer of 2014.  The drugs they were giving me at the time had a strange way of enhancing my powers of concentration, meaning that whatever I wrote under their influence remains special to me. There is still some material from a larger project to be published at some point, but that can wait for the moment. In the meantime, here is the abstract for the essay, plus some key words to get you started:

‘The Very Form Of Perverse Artificial Societies…’
The Unstable Emergence of the Network Family From its Cold War Nuclear Bunker

Just as the ‘nuclear family’ was seen as a strategic element in the Cold War, dispersed into suburban enclaves of self-contained domestic units, so the ‘network family’ of today, distributed across social media now finds itself defined as a strategic element in a warring online community. This paper seeks to examine the shift in domestic security from its deep roots in the nuclear family under threat of nuclear destruction to the network family of today whose elusive and fragmented presence is experienced as both a threat and a defence position. Delueze and Guattari’s ‘desiring-machines’ are examined in terms of the impact Norbert Wiener’s theory of Cybernetics upon both popular culture and the theoretical models proposed by Marshall McLuhan and Herbert Marcuse. Even as the mass media communicate today’s moral panics over online security, antisocial ‘trolling’ and whistle blowers – which already seem a quaint piece of media archaeology – actions are depicted and explained in terms of a domestic instability, first perceived during the Cold War 1950s and 1960s, from ‘slacker’ Ed Snowden to Anonymous adolescent hackers and Julian Assange’s displaced national status.

Key Words
Cybernetics, networks, ‘desiring-machines’, science fiction, media archaeology, Cold War politics, defence strategies, suburbia, Hollywood, popular culture, war machines, hacker collectives, portable devices, interactivity, marginalization, Watergate, Anonymous, Wikileaks, Oedipus, ‘Molecular Revolution’

And here are some more details about Cold War Legacies: Systems, Theory, Aesthetics from the Edinburgh University Press:

Key Features

Makes connections between Cold War material and conceptual technologies, as they relate to the arts, society and culture

Draws on theorists such as Paul Virilio, Jacques Derrida, Luce Irigaray, Friedrich Kittler, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Michel Serres, Bernard Stiegler, Peter Sloterdijk and Carl Schmitt

The contributors include leading humanities and critical military studies scholars, and practising artists, writers, curators and broadcasters

234mm x 156mm
320 pages
20 colour illustration(s)

Hardback: 9781474409483
eBook (PDF): 9781474409490
eBook (ePub): 9781474409506

Monday, 6 June 2016

Website, Instagram, Twitter

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

Works for Magnetic Tape: TTW#82

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

The Cut-Up Method: ‘The End of the Civilized World’

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.’

See also:

Monday, 22 June 2015

Cut-Ups, Cut Ins and Minor Abrasions

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