Sunday, 18 January 2015

Off The Page: the Oslo Defenestration

A quick note to note that I been invited by nyMussikk to speak at ‘Off The Page’, a one-day festival about music and writing being held in Oslo on January 24.  Presented in association with The Wire this ‘music festival without music’ (their words) also features appearances by Savage Pencil, Marcus O’Dair, Okkyung Lee and Lasse Marhaug, plus New York ‘No Wave’ legend Arto Lindsay. I will be talking about The Bright Labyrinth and some its major themes. Starting with a remarkable homemade recording made by two drunken high school teachers over half a century ago, I will be analysing the developing relationship between music, writing and design in the digital age, with specific reference to Richard Wagner, Ludwig II of Bavaria, John Cage, Les Baxter, Marshall McLuhan and Norbert Wiener.

Keen followers of this blog may remember the time when I spoke at the first ever ‘Off The Page’ event, held in the lovely seaside town of Whitstable – a man threw himself out of the window in the hotel bedroom next to my own. You can read an account of the incident here. I am genuinely curious to see what will happen this time.

'Off the Page'
Kunstnernes Hus
25 January 2105
11:00 - 22:00
Music Fair 11:00 - 16:00
Program 12.00 - 22.00
Fee: Kr 250 / 150 (half day ticket)
Tickets available through the nyMusikk website

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Labyrinth at Noon

All display begins and ends in the mind.

Big, bold and very colourful, Noon magazine is only in its second stage of incarnation and, like all exotic insects, is brightest and most alluring in its earlier stages of development. Things are at their clearest before Noon, which is when shadows approach the smallest and most clearly defined state of their existence. Passionately concerned with fashion, fine art and ideas, the magazine must constantly be reborn in order to renew its alien beauty.

I am therefore very pleased that issue two of Noon – ‘AW14’ for those who know about these things – contains some extracts from my latest book The Bright Labyrinth. These are pieces taken from different parts of the text and reworked –sometimes re-edited or completely rewritten  - into a new sequence that outlines one of The Bright Labyrinth’s principal themes relating to progress, memory and experience. The text is featured alongside contributions from Alasdair McLellan, William Gibson and Douglas Coupland – you can find a review of the issue courtesy of It’s Nice That by clicking here.

A new magazine is a good place to start a new year – and supporting print publications is even better. Noon is available from Antenna Books, can be ordered from The Village Bookstore in Leeds and is on sale at the ICA and Tate Modern – although the best way to find out the magazine’s availability is to follow @noonmagazine on Twitter.

A Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

William S. Burroughs, Morphine, Cancer and Me

I managed to celebrate the centenary of American writer William S. Burroughs hooked up to a morphine drip and reading the last few chapters of Cervantes’ Don Quixote in the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. I guess some things are just meant to be: on reflection I cannot think of a better way to commemorate the life of God’s Own Junkie than by becoming one yourself if only for the briefest of moments. To be honest, morphine proved to be the most indifferent of pleasures – the nurses and doctors had to keep reminding me to take it during the early stages of recovery from my surgery. Even so I had the grey bruised flesh and collapsed veins to go with the experience – although morphine can only be blamed for a small amount of the damage my body sustained while being plugged into the medical space station I inhabited during this time. On sleepless nights I would often listen to some of the Burroughs extended tape experiments contained on Real English Tea Made Here as if they were a radio serial – so the connections between morphine, cancer and cut-ups made real sense to me at the time.

Soon after my discharge from hospital, I was handed a copy of the William Burroughs Special issue put out by Beat Scene to mark the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth. Included among the special features, essays and profiles, was the reprint of a short review I wrote of the William Burroughs ESP Disk release Call Me Burroughs, given an entire page of its own. Apart from these experiences, I though that the centenary year would pass me by – however, I have been invited to speak at a special event devoted to William Burroughs in Manchester on Sunday December 14. Part two of a two-day festival, ‘everything is permitted’ offers a symposium on how we read and register Burroughs’s influence. Others taking part include Professor Oliver Harris, Michael Horovitz and Dik Jarmen. I will be reading relevant extracts from The Bright Labyrinth and talking about the film collaborations between Burroughs and Anthony Balch. There will also be a panel discussion about Burroughs. I am sure we will all think of something to say. I am of course delighted to have the opportunity to acknowledge in public the early influence Burroughs’ work had upon my own writing and thought.

‘everything is permitted’
12.00 – 18.00 hrs
The International Anthony Burgess Foundation
Engine House,
Chorlton Mill,
 3 Cambridge Street
 M1 5BY

For more information and to order tickets, click here

See also: Dead Fingers Talk - William Burroughs (I thought about this cover a lot while I was in hospital)

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Bright Labyrinth Launch at Central St Martins December 3

After almost a year waiting patiently for me to regain some strength following my recent treatment for cancer, Strange Attractor Press and Central Saint Martins School of Arts and Design are happy to announce that there will be a launch event to celebrate the publication of my latest book The Bright Labyrinth on December 3.

The event will be in two parts:

Between 4.30 and 6.00 I will be giving a lecture, ‘Extraterrestrial Being’ on the relationship between design and writing as exemplified in the new book. Then from 6.30 until 9.00 there will be a party, a book signing and a short reading from The Bright Labyrinth. The location of these two separate parts can be found on the invite reproduced above.

The whole celebration will be taking place at Central St Martins. If you wish to attend all or part of this, you must RSVP beforehand for security reasons. Please follow this link and either select either ‘Extra Terrestrial Being’ if you wish to attend both the lecture and the party, or ‘Fleshy Human’ if you can only make it along to the party. Or you can use the tiny url featured on the invite to make the same choice.

It has been a long hard road trip to get here, so I hope you will be able to come along and celebrate with me. 

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Welcome to the Freak Zone - Enter the Freak Zone

I have recently been talking to Radio 6’s Stuart Maconie about how music is used in science-fiction movies and playing some of my personal favourites, including the OSTs for ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ and ‘Akira’. The recording of our conversation is being broadcast as part of Stuart’s ‘Freak Zone’ show on the evening of Sunday November 23 between 20.00 and 22.00 hrs. 

My sequence should come on on around 20.45. 

‘Freak Zone’ is a BBC music programme dedicated to the weird, the wonderful and the unexpected in modern music, and this special edition is dedicated to music, outer space and the future. The show can be accessed through the Radio 6 website and will also be available for listening after the initial broadcast.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Situation Normal: Breathing the Same Air

As my health is now starting to improve following the departure of the chemo gods in the autumn, it seems like the right time to start mentioning some of the other things going on in my life.

For example, I have a new essay, ‘Breathing the Same Air: Cold War Sci-Fi’, in the latest BFI compendium Days of Fear and Wonder, which has just been published to coincide with the British Film Institute’s extensive festival of Science Fiction movies taking place between late October and December this year. The essay was specially commissioned by the compendium’s editor, James Bell, and appears alongside pieces by Mark Fisher, Roger Luckhurst, Helen Lewis, Adam Roberts, Kim Newman and Marketa Uhlirova. It was written during the height of summer when the chemical activity inside my body was reaching some kind of critical peak, which might explain the essay’s fascination with toxic environments and incompatible life forms as metaphors for the ideological and cultural fissures that were opened up during the Cold War. As with the film festival itself, Days of Fear and Wonder offers a comprehensive overview of what has quite often been overlooked as a vital film genre and covers a wide range of its facets, including politics, science and technology, evolution and mutation, costume design, architecture, kitsch and alien cultures. It is consequently well worth the attention of anyone who visits or reads this blog.

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Days of Fear and Wonder, edited by James Bell, ISBN 978-1-844457-861-0, British Film Institute, £16.99.

More information and ordering details can be found here.

Pictured above Days of Fear and Wonder cover art.

Monday, 28 July 2014

While I Was Sleeping…

Just recently my old friend Aleksandra Mir gently reprimanded me for not updating this blog since I posted the first details of my illness back in February. She is, of course, absolutely right; and I must apologise sincerely to anyone outside of my usual Twitter and email circle for not keeping them informed of what has been going on. I knew that I would return to a different network when I left hospital, but I had no idea it would be one from which I would absent myself for such a long period of time. There are a number of reasons for this, and I will list some of them here by way of an explanation and an update.

While the surgery was successful in cleanly removing the tumour that was growing inside me, it took a long time to adjust to life outside the hospital again. The six or so days I spent in there had a deeper impact on me than I had realized at the time. To me if felt as though I were inhabiting a huge space station: an impression that was only strengthened at night when you heard the entire building humming and respiring and regulating itself. The photographs included with this post – taken as always by the Daily Planet’s roving shutterbug Kitty Keen – are from the day before I was released from hospital and also document the first time I had taken any steps outside the ward since my surgery. They say more about my state of mind when going back into the world than anything else I could write here. One friend characterized the pictures instantly with the comment: ‘At last – the missing outtakes from Tarkovsy’s Solaris.’

The period of recovery from the surgery was the only thing I could actually describe as progress, but as this involved going for long daily walks, catching up on email correspondence and getting back to work on my writing and other activities, it left little time for posting further details online. I kept the Twitter account updated, but I got too interested in what everyone else was doing to mention much about my own condition.  I will be posting links and details of some of things I have been up to over the recuperation period during what remains of the summer in an effort to update this blog as thoroughly as possible.

Once I was deemed fit enough to withstand it I was put on a six-month course of fairly brutal chemotherapy, which I will also describe in more detail in a later post. At this stage it is enough to note that living with anti-cancer drugs is like living with Vodou spirits inhabiting your body on a daily basis – they come and go as they please, and you tend to do what they tell you to. You are also prone to long periods of fatigue and spiritual lassitude (no god rides a human for free – this much I know is true) and you have to learn to work around them. Again writing and immediate daily concerns took precedent over posting online details about what was happening. The other problem with chemotherapy is that there is no sense of the ‘progress’ I had blithely assumed I would be able to describe once I emerged from hospital. Chemotherapy is basically a banquet of poisons – it never makes you feel ‘better’ in the way that one assumes normal medicine might do. On the contrary, you deal with side effects and physiological uprisings, sudden flare-ups and moments of pure stoned abandonment – they are still drugs, after all, whichever way you look at them. And how do you describe that in terms of ‘progress’? I am asking this question while about to start my seventh cycle of treatment out of eight and looking forward to an end to this particular feast.

The last – and probably most important – reason for taking so long in posting something was that I was completely unprepared for all of the messages of support, offers to visit and the emails containing good wishes and good thoughts for the future. Aside from the time and effort it took to reply to them, they also produced within me a certain reticence. I now realize that, for all the talk of ‘pathological oversharing’ taking place within social networks, I still perceive the network itself as being essentially formal in its manner of operation – it relies upon protocols and agreements and codes in order to function effectively. Part of me still has a fond attachment to the early days of the otaku when it was about trading information among formal strangers more than anything else. I perceive this severe sense of formality as functioning like a hypersensitive nervous system – it retracts and shrinks away from certain forms of attention, however welcome they might actually be to the recipient.

In other words, I am profoundly grateful to the vast majority of those who took the trouble to contact me since my February 3 blog post; it meant so much to me that it nearly dislodged me from my own network. But then I did say that things might change, didn’t I?