Wednesday 30 July 2008

RAND Corporation on Radio 3

On Tuesday August 5 at 21.15 hrs, BBC Radio 3 is repeating my recent feature on the history of the RAND Corporation – this extensive piece includes interviews with current RAND president Jim Thomson, their veteran expert on international terrorism, Brian Jenkins and Paul Baran, the original architect of the ARPANET, progenitor of the Internet and everything that we now take for granted online.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Ellsberg, a former RAND analyst who was responsible for leaking what became known as ‘The Pentagon Papers’ to the New York Times, which revealed how seriously mired America had become in Vietnam. One thing that Ellsberg revealed during our conversation, which was not included in the programme, was the rapidity with which he was escorted from RAND’s Santa Monica headquarters recently. He had come to visit a friend in his office for lunch but was barely in the building long enough to say ‘hello’ before the guards arrived to see him off the premises. I guess you really can’t go back…

As for Paul Baran, he later left RAND to co-found and run the Institute For the Future in Menlo Park with Dr Jacques Vallee, among others. I had a chance during our interview to ask Paul about his involvement with Dr Vallee. ‘Jacques is a really interesting guy with a lot of interesting ideas,’ he laughed. ‘People tend to forget that he also has absolutely brilliant mind when it comes to computers and computing systems.’ Even so, it was still surprising to come across the two names together in the same context.

For more details on the programme, visit

To visit the Institute For The Future website go to

There is of course no need to visit the RAND Corporation’s site – they will shortly be visiting you. For more information on the history of RAND and its twisted relationship with the popular culture of the 1950s, check out Welcome to Mars when it becomes available from Strange Attractor Press in October 2008.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Laurie Lipton Knows Where You Live

Had the real pleasure recently of meeting the American artist Laurie Lipton at a party thrown by mutual friends. I have long been an admirer of her work: mordant allegories and scenes of brooding banality finely etched in pencil that in no way prepare you for meeting the woman herself. If William Hogarth were ever to be reincarnated as a Mouseketeer, he might pass for a second Laurie Lipton.

It is always tempting to read finely etched shadows and a precise attention to detail as being indicators of an equally precise and fine moral vision. However, the opposite is more likely the case: crosshatching, shading and an overabundance of detail suggests that there are nothing but grey areas. Whereas Blake sees only a single thin and wiry line separating the wise man from the knave, Hogarth and Lipton present moral relativism as a nightmare of the senses.

We talked a lot about how the drugs and visionary madness of the sixties had their roots in 1950s suburbia and how the entire project could only end in one way: isolation, silence and alienation. Laurie also told me about a series of large works depicting housewives, blissfully unaware that they are trapped in dangerous ‘wired’ versions of the suburban home. Artist Cathy Ward said that she saw one of the new works while visiting Laurie at her new studio in Bethnal Green and that it is amazing.

If anyone knows what’s lurking under the floorboards in your dream home, it’s Laurie Lipton. Check out her work at

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Marshall McLuhan of Toronto

Returned home late last night to find a September 1967 copy of Toronto Life waiting for me – a gift from my friend Adair Brouwer in Canada. The cover shows a grim-faced Marshall McLuhan standing in front of an illuminated street scene.

‘Toronto is a HAPPENING!’ reads the headline.
‘Downtown’ says the illuminated sign behind him

While the text for the accompanying photo-shoot could easily be filed under ‘Marshall McLuhan: The Word-Play Years’, it seemed as if his spirit had somehow spread throughout the entire magazine: one that in 1967 advertised ‘Turn-On TV’ on Channel 11 and ‘a new and daring concept in go-go psychedelic interpretations’ at the Friars Club: ‘famous for roast prime ribs of beef, also featuring spare ribs and steaks’.

‘Go-go Dancer,’ McLuhan responds in the main body of his text. ‘Virgin in deep frieze. The inner trip doesn’t need any connections with the outer world. The dancers become icons, things. There is no storyline. They live out of time in an eternal present.’

A random selection of articles to be found elsewhere in the same issue of Toronto Life also suggests McLuhan’s influence: ‘A Cunning Little Game Called One-Downmanship’, ‘Why Not a Cellar in the Penthouse’, ‘How To Tell If You’re A Progressive Conservative’ and, my personal favourite, ‘Fragrance is a Thing Called Scent’.

To detect an idea’s influence is perhaps to be aware of how quickly it manages to blend into the foreground

Monday 21 July 2008

Radio Science Orchestra Review

A review by Andy Sharp, responsible for the amazing English Heretic site, of Memories of the Future, a live audiovisual collaboration between the Radio Science Orchestra and myself, has just appeared in the August issue of The Wire. The performance took place on April 25 2008 in the main auditorium at Bath University at the invitation of the Institute of Contemporary Interactive Arts. I was reading extracts from Welcome To Mars, while the Radio Science Orchestra performed extracts from their latest album release, Memories of the Future.

Memories Of The Future is a brave and highly idiosyncratic undertaking,’ Sharp writes. ‘Combining the information-rich commentary of writer Ken Hollings, the music of The Radio Science Orchestra and a dense visual narrative, they manage to execute their concept with considerable panache and charm.’

The full text of his review can be found on the Radio Science Orchestra website

To find out more about the Radio Science Orchestra, and listen to some of their streamlined, electronic easy listening click here

To commune with the spirits, avail yourself here

Saturday 19 July 2008

End Transmission: Derek Raymond Remembered

At a very special event held at the Horse Hospital on Thursday night, Cathi Unsworth, eminence blonde of the London Noir scene, summoned up the spirit of departed crime writer Derek Raymond with the aid of bell, book and candle. The bell was rung between each act of remembrance, the candle burned with a feeble determination throughout the evening and the book, of course, was Raymond's masterpiece I Was Dora Suarez.

Those attending the Suarez Seance included Richard Strange, channeling one of the scenes from Dora Suarez, accompanied by James Johnson and Terry Edwards from Gallon Drunk, recreating their performance with Derek Raymond at the NFT back in 1993. Photographer Simon Crubellier was on hand to capture the moment - I am indebted to him for the photograph reproduced above of Johnson's equipment, positioned to one side of the summoning table. Those interested in seeing more should go to - there is a sardonic tenderness to his work, as if he were constantly reminding the world to mind its manners.

The Sohemian Society was in attendance, doing great work to honour some of the more wayward lives of this great and disgraceful city, as was crime novelist John Williams and Geoff Cox, who brought Derek Raymond and Gallon Drunk together in the first place - it was, he recalled, an ugly time and London was an ugly place - the connection seemed a wise one.

Communing with dead spirits, even ones who don't expect much after death, requires a certain degree of optimism. Derek Raymond, after all, could only be born after public-school delinquent Robin Cook killed himself off. But for all the pessimism of his books, Williams remarked, Cookie remained the very soul of optimism in life - which might explain the number of failed marriages he left in his wake. Present at Cook's death, holding his hand as the man's spirit departed this world, John Williams still recalled his feeling at the time that there seemed little to hope for beyond this world. Except perhaps in the memories of others.

For more information on the Suarez Seance or to source books and CDs etc, please visit or

Friday 18 July 2008

Dr X Redux

A short film, 'Dr X: A Version of Events', has just been posted on YouTube - it was put together by Howard Walmsley and features excerpts from three separate performances of 'Dr X': a recasting in text, visuals and electronic sound of the old Lionel Atwill movie. Based purely on scrappy recollections of seeing the original Dr X on late-night TV, I composed a text that brought together electricity, cannibalism and murder into a dark parody of old 1930s radio serials - Howard Walmsley supplied the visuals and Graham Massey laid down the original electronic score.

Excerpts from the first performance at the Royal Institution in London May 22 2004 have been combined with material shot during a follow-up performance at the Green Room Theatre in Manchester that same summer and at a subsequent show in the vaulted basement of Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry as part of Futuresonic 2006. The picture above was taken during this last performance.

Last year Simon James made an excellent recording of me reading 'Dr X' unaccompanied at the Permanent Gallery in Brighton - courtesy of Jay Clifton at the Hammet Story Agency - I hope to have this put up on the blog at some point in the future.

To see the 'Dr X' documentation, either click here or go to the Biting Tongues MySpace Page - they both lead to the same dark place.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Ghost Box: Test Transmission

Spent most of last night huddled in a secure location with Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records and Mark Pilkington from Strange Attractor. Conspiracy is such fun when you're in the right company.

Ghost Box is one of the nation's few institutions to appreciate the spectral presence that media take on as they pervade our lives - what gets left behind are only fragments of voices and the outlines of faces, a few phantom gestures and shared memories. By giving a narrative shape to such presences, Ghost Box releases always feel more like transcriptions of some past event rather than resorting to the status of being mere events in themselves - they have made a precise art out of fading into the background. Just try searching for Julian and Jim in a crowded public place and you'll see what I mean. Similarly, all three issues of Strange Attractor Journal seem to have emerged into the world fully-formed rather than simply having been published.

I' m not really in a position to go into any great detail at this stage, but there was some excited talk of further exchanges once the next Belbury Poly release goes into circulation - and quite a lot of speculation about test transmissions, thought projection, the pernicious influence of the cathode ray tube as opposed to the modern LCD flat screen - plus Mark told a great story about being chased out of Esalen by the Institute's security guards - but then we've come to expect nothing less from him. Newspaper story of the day: 'Man Saws Off Own Head In Protest'

To find out more about Ghost Box and to check out their new T-shirt design, visit them at They'll be waiting for you.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Mars Update

Due to the grave paper shortage affecting the Chinese printing industry - and with similar reports now coming from in India as well - publication of my forthcoming book Welcome to Mars is being put back to Autumn 2008. In the meantime Strange Attractor Press has been using the extra time to sort out details on the Welcome to Mars soundtrack CD, featuring some of the electronic score created by Simon James for the 12-part Resonance FM series upon which the book is based. Simon not only produced the original live shows but also acted as sound designer, bringing a particularly dark alien charm to each show. Those interested, should definitely check out his website - which includes a link to the i-Tunes site where all 12 programmes are available as a free download.

The soundtrack CD will only be available with the first 200 copies of Welcome to Mars to be purchased directly from the Strange Attractor website and will feature the following tracks:
1. Welcome to Mars radio series intro 2. 'Absolute Elsewhere' 3. 'Falling Meteor' 4. 'Battle for the Mind' 5. 'Song of the Siren' Part One 6. 'Song of the Siren' Part Two 7. 'Modular Edit I' 8. 'Contact with Space' 9. 'Bells and Scrapes' 10. 'Oscillator Interlude' 11. 'Voyage to the Moon' 12. 'Greetings, My Friends' 13. 'Modular Edit II' 14. 'Flying Saucers over America' 15. 'Meet the Monsters' 16. 'Bell Tolls' 17. 'Other Tongues, Other Flesh' 18. Welcome to Mars radio series out 19. Welcome to Mars live at Interesting 2008 20. Project Thrust sound logo

Track 19 is an extra added bonus - recorded at the Conway Hall in London on June 21 as part of 'Interesting 2008' it features Ken Hollings on voice and text, Simon James on electronics and prepared tape loops and Curtis James operating the tape machine. To get a sneak preview of the performance, visit either Noisy Matchbox or go straight to the Strange Attractor at - both are well worth checking out.

The photograph at the top of this post was taken during the reading and gives a pretty accurate impression of what the stage looked like from where Simon and Curtis were operating their equipment - the heavy wood lectern I am using had to dragged out from a back room hidden behind the screen. It gave the entire reading a suitably religious feel. From Graceland to the Conway Hall - my thanks to whoever took the picture.

Monday 14 July 2008

Ken Hollings Inc

The Ken Hollings Corporation will soon be in an advanced state of readiness. In the meantime, we shall continue to defend the bunker by whatever means are at our disposal. Consider yourselves warned.