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

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Bright Labyrinth at the ICA

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
The Mall
London SW1Y 5AH
For tickets and more information, click here.

Pictured above: the LUNÄ Table by Marjolijn Dijkman

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Epiphanies and True Confessions: Part Two - The Heart Stops @ Noon

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.

See also:

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Epiphanies and True Confessions – Part One

Outside of entries in this blog and the occasional tweet I try to avoid at all costs using that most untrustworthy of all signifiers: the prefatory word and isolated alphabetical fragment,  ‘I’. There are, however, certain circumstances when its use is unavoidable if you still wish to write something that is both coherent and easily readable: travel writing, medical experiences and moments of revelation and change all come to mind. Each is a form of confession. You can shift them into the third person, I suppose, but that would seem to indicate that you have failed to adapt sufficiently to the circumstances. Furthermore it avoids a more important question: how can the untrustworthy signifier suddenly guarantee the ‘truth’ of a confession?

I am about to have two pieces of confessional writing, using my least favourite alphabetical fragment, published on the same day. One is a piece on my experiences with cancer, to be published in the SS15 edition Noon under the title ‘Mistress C’ – which deserves a post of its own. The other is my contribution to a new anthology published by Strange Attractor Press in association with The Wire. Edited by Tony Herrington, Epiphanies: Life Changing Encounters With Music is based on the long running column that appears at the back of each issue of the magazine. A different contributor is invited to write about some moment of profound change associated with music: traditionally a small private moment that transforms the way we perceive the world around us. It was Rob Young, who was still editor at the time, who contacted me about writing something. ‘We’ve just realized that you’ve never done an Epiphanies for us, he wrote. ‘Would you like to write about something?’
I tried to think of a genuine moment of profound surprise and disruption, after which it was impossible to listen to music in the same way again.
‘Can I write about hearing “Quiet Village” by Martin Denny for this time?’ I asked.
‘Oh go on then,’ Rob replied.

You can find out what happened in the Epiphanies anthology. It is an account I have tried to make as truthful as possible – which is not as easy as it might sound. Alternatively you can come along to the Apiary Studios in the Hackney Road on the evening on Thursday April 30 to hear me read my contribution along with Nina Power, Ed Baxter and Edwin Pouncey, who will be reading theirs. The anthology is an amazingly diverse collection, featuring experiences from Kenneth Goldsmith, Lydia Lunch, David Grubbs, Adrian Shauhnessy, Genesis Breyer P-orridge, Erik Davis, Brian Dillon and Sukhdev Sandhu – and therefore worthy of your time.

In the meantime I seem to have been indirectly responsible for Martin Denny’s exotic arrangement of Les Baxter's ‘Quiet Village’ being played on BBC Radio 3 as a result of the Epiphanies volume being featured on the Thursday April 23 edition of Late Junction. Whether this if for the first time or not, I am of course very proud.The next post on this blog will be about Noon, Mistress C and me. More soon.

Epiphanies Launch
Thursday 30th April
7.30pm until 12 (live music at 9pm)
FREE entry

Apiary Studios
458 hackney road London E2 9EG
020 7033 6806
07587 335 187

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Ludwig II: Dandyism, Decadence and Decay

On the evening of Monday April 20 at London’s Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, I will be giving a talk on one of my favourite subjects: the life, architecture and aesthetics of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He is one of the key figures in my next book on Trash and Trash Aesthetics and a constant source of fascination.

Ludwig II ascended to the Bavarian throne in 1864 at the age of eighteen. His first act as king was to invite his hero Richard Wagner to Munich. Those who understood or appreciated his deep passion for beauty and sensation would not have been surprised. Builder of extravagant palaces, shunning the day in favour of the night, lover of poetry, theatre and opera, Ludwig’s life was the embodiment of the ‘fairy tale as aristocratic dream’ – to quote his cousin Crown Prince Rudolf of Austrian. Ludwig was also quick to embrace modern technology – including electricity, engines, glazed spans and cement – in the realization of his fantasies, even though his dream of a flying throne, submarines and a death ray were never to become a reality in his own life.

 An inspiration to Verlaine, Huysmans and Crowley, his tragic death, denounced as a madman and stripped of his crown, remains a key myth for the 21st Century.

April 20th 6:30 - 8:00 pm
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art and Natural History
11 Mare Street
London E8 4RP

Tickets are £10 - £5 concessions

To book and learn more about this event, please click here.

See Also

Ludwig, Elvis, Michael at the Venice Biennale

Pictures from Nyphenburg and Herrenchiemsee by KH and the Daily Planet's roving shutterbug Kitty Keen