Friday, 23 September 2022

Paul Verhoeven’s American Futures on BBC Radio 4

I’ve spent a lot of the past few months working on an hour-long programme for BBC Radio Four’s Archive on 4 slot on the subject of Paul Verhoeven and the three science-fiction movies he made in America at the end of the twentieth century: Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers. Taken together, this loose triptych of grim fantasies lays out a disturbing archaeology of the future. Seen from the perspective of today, these movies offer startling insights into the hyperreality of the world we now encounter on a daily basis.


My producer and I were fortunate enough to interview some of the writers that worked with Verhoeven on these movies, notably Ed Neumeier, Michael Miner, Gary Goldman and Ron Shusset. We also managed to have a word with producer Jon Davidson and actor Kurtwood Smith, who brought a certain gleeful nastiness to his depiction of Clarence Boddicker in Robocop – I will never forget him delivering during the course of our interview such classic lines as ‘Can you fly, Bobby?’ and ‘Just give me my fucking phone call’. It really gave me the chills.


Over the summer we also had the opportunity to visit Paul Verhoeven and his wife Martine at their home in Holland. They were very gracious and hospitable; and we spent a wonderful afternoon with them, chatting about movies and comic books. I also recorded about two and half hours of an interview with Paul, extracts from which are featured in the show for Archive on 4. There were some amazing moments, especially when he spoke about his experiences as a child during WWII, his early movie experiences and his obsession with the life and death of Jesus. I’d been preparing a long time for this interview, pulling together details and references from Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers. At the end of the afternoon, Martine, who’d known Paul since they first met in high school at the age of 17, said that I had been quoting Verhoeven ‘the way Paulus quotes Jesus.’ So Martine definitely had the last word on that.


For those of you unfamiliar with Verhoeven’s work, here are some details on the films featured in my programme.


Released in 1987, Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop brings an outsider’s eye to post-industrial, premillennial America. It’s no accident that the film is set in Detroit, once of the beating heart of the US automobile industry, but a city already dying on its feet as the factories shut down and their workforce migrated to the suburbs. The central character may be a cyborg cop, brutally gunned down by a street gang and then reassembled using advanced technology, but the film’s real focus is the shift in economics during the late 1980s away from manufacturing and towards purely monetarist strategies. The company responsible for this, ‘Omni Products Corporation’, represents the rise of outsourcing and the privatising of public concerns (healthcare army, urban development space exploration…). ‘Good business is where you find it,’ corporate predator Dick Jones boasts. ‘Hell, we practically are the military.’ The fact that it takes a creature that is half-human and half-machine to police it all is a message that was not lost on the people of Detroit, who have been agitated to have a statue of Robocop raised in their city for over a decade now.


Based on a short story by science-fiction legend Philip K Dick, ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’, Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990) goes deep into corporate control of perceived ‘reality’, anticipating the ‘post-truth’ gaslighting of the Trump era and the rise of media controlled ‘smart cities’. 


Starship Troopers (1997) is also based on the work of a major West Coast science-fiction writer, Robert Heinlein. Its bugs-versus-teen-soap-stars narrative is the opportunity for a biting, deadpan satire on authoritarianism and its impact upon individual lives – a perspective that seems all the more relevant in the current political climate. Behind its depictions of media propaganda and military discipline is a movie that Daniel Ellsberg considered one of the most politically interesting films of the 1990s


There is also a wider narrative linking all three of these movies, and this is specific to the decades in which they were made. Each, in their own way, registers the first tremors of premillennial anxiety concerning the future, as ‘postmodern’ society prepared to leave one century and enter another. Using a palette that embraced comic-book violence, noir plotting, bloody violence and science-fiction imagery, Verhoeven and his scriptwriters managed to paint a shocking but thought-provoking picture of what was to come in the twenty-first century. 


Paul Verhoeven’s American Futures goes out on Saturday September 24 at 20.00 BST and is repeated in a slightly shorter version at noon on Friday September 30. It can also be accessed via BBC Sounds – for more information click here.


You have twenty seconds to comply…


Pictured above: Paul Verhoeven and KH gaze into each other’s eyes as if they are in love; Paul and Martine Verhoeven at home; Paul Verhoeven making love to the camera

Kurtwood Smith as Clarence Boddicker says you can keep the gum 



Friday, 15 July 2022

Incredible Night Creatures of the Midway!


There’s no calm or easy way to say this: on Wednesday July 20 The Howling will be performing at the BFI, presenting a special set to introduce a 4K restoration of Ray Dennis Steckler’s 1963 trash classic The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-up Zombies?! Get your tickets now! 


Howlround and I are back again, working with spoken word and analogue tape technology to pay tribute to a film that has had a deep influence on our embracing of Trash and Trash Aesthetics. Steckler was a key character in Inferno, the first volume in my three-part Trash Project, and is also listed among the damned and the fabulous in The Howling’s ‘David Gest, Liza Minelli, Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor’, a piece we like to revisit and reinvent in our sets. Get your tickets now!


The performance and screening will take place in NFT3 at the BFI on Wednesday July 20. 

The the whole thing starts at 18.15. 

You can find out more and book a seat by clicking here.


Get your tickets now!


Pictured above:  Ray Dennis Steckler (AKA Cash Flagg) in a scene from The Incredibly Strange Creatures; a detail from the movie’s original poster art; Howlround and KH rehearsing in NFT3, photographed by roving shutterbug @lahollings 




Thursday, 26 May 2022

Debut Release from The Howling - 'All Hail Mega Force'

Imagine your worst fear a reality. All Hail Mega Force is the first full-length release from The Howling: a collaborative project I started with sound artist Robin the Fog, aka Howlround. Our work is inspired exclusively by our shared love of text, audiotape and trash aesthetics. Ken Hollings + Howlround = The Howling. Our first performance took place at the Iklectik in September 2019 as part of a special programme to celebrate Tapeworm’s 10th anniversary.


During the pandemic we managed to continue working and conferring since then, sharing sound files, texts and mixes online, and one of the main results has been this release for Tapeworm. The two extended tracks contained on this audiocassette reflect our shared interest in Fluxus and how informal rules and permutations can be set up to work themselves out through loops and repetitions. The idea of instant, disposable one-off creations appealed to us a lot at the time, particularly as both pieces were conceived and developed during different phases of Covid lockdown in the UK. A straight line connects Terry Riley’s tape experiments in Paris from the early 60s with our experimental recordings in the Wimpy Bar on Streatham High Road, one of our favourite meeting places. 


The title and source material for these two pieces are derived from the 1980s kid’s adventure movie MegaForce, starring Barry Bostwik and Michael Beck. Designed to sell a range of Mattel hi-tech action toys, MegaForce tanked at the box office but lives on in the collective consciousness of those who share with The Howling a special love for Trash and Trash Aesthetics. 


‘All Hail Mega Force’ was created by reading combinations of the words 'All Hail Mega Force' into a voice memo recorder, transferring it to tape, cutting the whole thing as a single long loop and then stretching it across three reel-to-reel machines simultaneously, using two pencils and a pint glass full of loose change to try and maintain sufficient playback tension. Over time the loop started to degrade, which accounts for the increasingly slurry and unpredictable playback, plus frequent ruptures caused by the tape becoming jammed and having to be tugged through the machine workings by hand. Twenty-four minutes later and the result was a completed new work and a slight backache.



The text for ‘Are You Man Enough For Mega Force?’ was recorded live in the Wimpy Bar on Streatham High Road, 28 November 2021. It was cut to tape and looped on 3 December 2021 at Warrior Studios, Loughborough Junction. Dragged by motor and then by hand across two tape machines with copious amounts of closed input feedback provided by a third rushing in to fill the gaps. One take with no effects or overdubs, but one tiny edit in the middle when something fell over. 



Cover art is by the fabulous Deborah Wale of Tears/Ov, design and layout is by the amazing Philip Marshall, who was also responsible for The Howling’s Burger Bun Logo. Mega Mastering was by Steven McInerney. We are indebted to all three of them. Further details on this fine Tapeworm release can be found here.

‘The result,’ according to the  music blog Further, ‘is like an updated take on Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting In A Room”, except that Hollings wasn’t at home but at the Wimpy Bar on Streatham High Street. After listening to approximately 360 brilliantly evolving iterations of the b-side’s single enquiry – “Are you man enough for Mega Force?” – pushed through Howlround’s macho manipulations, I can confirm, regrettably, that I’m probably not.’


Robin and I have continued working together since the completion of All Hail mega Force. There is a new album of text/tape/trash compositions, plus a couple of very exciting performances coming up later in the year, including any absolute barnburner at the BFI over the summer. With The Howling, you can be sure that your worst fear is a reality.


Pictured above:


All Hail Mega Force cover by Deborah Wale and Philip Marhshall

Pack Shots by @lahollings

The Howling recording in Streatham High Road Wimpy Bar by Beth Arzy

Friday, 28 January 2022

The Howling play Iklectik Studios February 5 2022 - Be There

I am very pleased to announce that I will be joining the amazing Robin the Fog, AKA Howlround as part of ‘A Picture of the Picture of Dorian Gray’: an evening of events at Iklectik Studios taking place on Saturday February 5. Also on the bill are Tears Ov, Laura Angusdei and Alpha Duffau, so the whole thing will certainly be well worth your attention and support. 


This is only the second time that Howlround and I have appeared together as the Howling. I’m going to let the press release take over at this point:


The Howling is a collaborative project started by writer Ken Hollings and sound artist Howlround devoted exclusively to their shared love of text, audiotape and trash aesthetics. An intense collision of spoken word and tape effects, the Howling’s first performance took place at the Iklectik in September 2019. Since then, the duo has been working together online developing new material and techniques. This is only their second performance, so don’t expect too much from them.


Ken Hollings is a writer and broadcaster. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and he has written and presented critically acclaimed features for BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and Resonance 104.4 FM. His books include Welcome to MarsThe Bright LabyrinthThe Space Oracle and Inferno all available from Strange Attractor/MIT Press. His latest book, Purgatory, is due from them in Spring 2022.


Howlround, AKA, Robin the Fog, is a sound designer, radio producer, audio archivist, educator and occasional DJ. His work falls under the broad term of 'radiophonic' and includes composition, sound installation, field recording and documentary. original described as a 'second wave hauntologist', his current obsession is attempting to use closed-input feedback loops to create primitive techno, which is quite a long way from where he started.   

Tickets for the event are £10.00 in advance or £12.00 on the door. You can find all of the details 




Pictured above: Howlround in the studio, The Howling live at the Iklectik, September 2019, Howling logo by Philip Marshall 

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Adaptations of Destroy All Monsters available on audiocassette from Tapeworm

I am very pleased to announce that Tapeworm have just released on audiocassette some audio adaptations of scenes taken from derived from my first book Destroy All Monsters. These recordings, made in 2001 in the weeks before September 11, constitute a unique historical document. The order information for this Tapeworm release can be found here


A multistranded postmodern epic, Destroy All Monsters offers a radical retelling of Desert Storm, America’s military operation targeting Iraq, using imagery derived from MTV videos, CNN news reports, Japanese kaiju movies and anime, Hong Kong action flicks and tales of alien abduction. The book’s entire narrative nervously unfolds in an unstable of world of terror monsters, wrecked cities and dangerously tall buildings: where an event like 9/11 is inevitable. The book was officially launched by Marion Boyars Publishers on September 13, but distribution in the United States was delayed when ports on the Eastern Seaboard were closed to shipping post 9/11, leaving copies of the book stranded in the Atlantic.  ‘Published the very week of the “attacks on America”,’ Toby Litt wrote at the time, ‘Destroy All Monsters is genuinely, spookily prescient…as a progress report on Planet Earth, it seems to have timeslipped onto the front pages.’ Lydia Lunch praised it as ‘a hallucinogenic spiral into future nightmare’, while The Scotsman called it ‘mind bending reading.’


In the summer of 2001, I was approached by sound designer and electronic music composer Simon James, who wanted to create an audio adaptation of scenes from the novel to share with subscribers to a spoken word channel launched by totallyradio.  The idea was to record me reading my own words and then embed them in a soundscape that evoked the fragmented complexity of the original text. I concentrated on a small handful of threads from the overall narrative, while Simon directed and engineered the final recording. This resulted in the two sequences of words, sounds and electronic tonalities contained on this audiocassette: an unsettling portrait of people about to be overtaken by events.


In October 2001, having just got married in London, Rachel and I went to New York for our honeymoon, just as we had originally planned. We spent an unforgettable week in a city struggling to recover from the seismic changes that had just taken place while a sudden wave of anthrax attacks on government and media offices filled the news cycles. Rachel took a photograph of me at Ground Zero, where crowds of onlookers continued to gather, and the air still smelled of burning.


Simon James and I remained friends over the years, working together whenever we can. Simon is an outstanding producer, musician and sound designer, whose work combines electronic sources with field recording techniques and sound treatments, using sound to transport the listener to fantastical audio worlds. His latest release, Electro Smog, collects electromagnetic field recordings from Shenzhen's electronic markets, recorded while he was in China at the invitation of Musicity and the British Council.


These Destroy All Monsters audio adaptations marked the first occasion Simon and I worked together – subsequently we collaborated on the 12-part series Welcome to Mars for Resonance 104.4 FM and Connecting, an audio portrait of the original ‘phone phreaks’, for BBC Radio 3. We teamed up again earlier this year to make Fast Forward, an award-winning six-part documentary series for Kasperksy Lab. 


My thanks as always to Savage Pencil for doing the cover art for both the book and audiocassette incarnations of Destroy All Monsters as shown above, to Philip Marshall at Tapeworm, Simon James at the controls and, of course to Rachel for taking pictures three and four.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

BBC Radio 3 Presents The Summer Sounds of Ken Hollings

More by chance than design, the programmers at BBC Radio have organized a Ken Hollings mini festival over the middle two weeks of August. Forget the Proms. Forget whatever might be happening in Edinburgh. BBC Radio 3 loves me, and I love BBC Radio 3. The programmes are all repeats, and each of them has been available online since they were originally broadcast; but there is still something special about having a scheduled appointment to hear something over the radio. 


The details are as follows:


On Sunday August 8 at 18.45, there is another chance to hear Rewiring Raymond Scott, my take on the life and career of this amazing early force in electronic music.  For ‘Fast Forward’, the recent audio doc series that Simon James created for Kasperky Labs, Scott was the biggest influence on approach to sound design and presentation. You can find a link to the show here.


Then on Monday August 9 at 22.45, they are beginning a repeat of my five-part Essay series On Holiday with Nietzsche. You can find out the details behind this series by clicking hereThe link to the first episode, ‘Becoming What You Are’ can be found here.


On Tuesday August 10 at 22.45, you can hear Under the Mountain– the details are here.


On Wednesday August 11 at 22.45, you can hear ‘For Everyone and No One’ – the details are here.


On Thursday August 12 at 22.45, you can hear ‘A Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’  the details are here.


And on Friday August 13 at 22.45, you can hear the fifth and final part, ‘The Art of Ending’ – the details are here.


And finally on Wednesday August 18 at 22.00, BBC Radio 3 are repeating Right Between the Ears, a work for text and sound design created in binaural sound that explores my own personal experience of the human skull as a resonating chamber. For more details on the original concept, please click here. This one is definitely worth listening over headphones. The Radio 3 website details can be found here 


Radio is still a medium I love working with very much – it dates back to the time when I first started listening to talks and readings on Radio 3 as a teenager, discovering whole new worlds of sounds, experiences and ideas. I think the mind breathes deeper and better over the airwaves – even digital ones.

Monday, 22 February 2021

‘The Golden Disc’ and The Concept of Exceptional Success

The German artist and author Olaf Arndt of the group BBM recently initiated an online revival of the radical German artzine Die Aktion. Originally founded in 1911, Die Aktion published writing by Heinrich Mann, Andre Gide Erwin Piscator and Hugo Ball among others before succumbing to hyperinflation and expiring in the early 1930s . The intentions behind this new online edition of Die Aktion are laid out in its editorial

I was very happy to be invited to contribute a new and exclusive piece of writing to Die Aktion 4.0. Olaf asked for something on Brexit and Covid-19 and I said: ‘Of course. Can I write about The Golden Disc?’ Olaf replied: ‘Of course. What is it?’ I explained that it was a 1958 teensploitation film set on the London coffee-bar scene and starring Terry Dene, the UK’s answer to Elvis Presley. I added that a close examination of the film’s complex pathology would give a clear analysis of where I think we are at the moment. Olaf said that sounded fine, and to please go ahead. 

The form, structure arrangement of the finished piece has been drawn directly from Walter Benjamin’s last essay, ‘On The Concept of History’, which you can find here. It also owes a great deal to Deleuze and Guattari’s The Anti-Oedipus, the art of Richard Lindner and the rise in the local rose-ringed parakeet population of South West London. 

But mostly it is about The Golden Disc, which remains, for me at least, a shamefully overlooked B-movie masterpiece. 

My essay is called ‘On The Concept of Brexit, Covid and Exceptional Success: A Fable in Eighteen Parts with Two Addenda and Seven Supporting Quotations’. 

You can find it here

Thank you.