Wednesday 29 October 2008

Welcome to Mars Recast (Continued)

Throughout November, Resonance 104.4 FM will continue to rebroadcast the original series of radio shows upon which my forthcoming book ‘Welcome to Mars’, published by Strange Attractor Press next month, is based.

‘Welcome to Mars’ is a live twelve-part series of unscripted reflections on the fantasy of science in the early years of the American Century which I created with electronic sound production by Simon James. Between 1947 and 1959, the future was written about, discussed and analysed with such confidence that it became a tangible presence. Each episode of ‘Welcome to Mars’ tells a tale of weird science, strange events and even stranger beliefs, set in an age when the possibilities for human development seemed almost limitless. Over the next few weeks you will be able to hear the following episodes:

Thursday November 6, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday November 8, 15.30-16.00
Programme 5: ‘1952: Red Planet’
What happens when the world ends and no one bothers to show up, weird scenes at Cal Tech, and do electronic brains know something we don’t?

Thursday November 13, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday November 15, 15.30-16.00
Programme 6: ‘1953: Other Tongues, Other Flesh’
Contact with beings from outer space, ‘he’s been reading those trashy science fiction books again’, and what could possibly be wrong with the CIA offering you a drink?

Thursday November 20, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday November 22, 15.30-16.00
Programme 7: ‘1954: Meet The Monsters’
Big Trouble in the South Pacific, Seduction of the Innocent and ‘what are all these voices doing inside my head?’ We dare you to miss it.

Thursday November 27, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday November 29, 15.30-16.00
Programme 8: ‘1955: Popular Mechanics’
Inside the Space Ships, a Black Sunday in July, and how to drive a scientist crazy in eight easy lessons.

These shows can be heard on 104.4 FM or live stream direct from the Resonance FM website.

Monday 27 October 2008

Lecture One: Welcome to the Labyrinth

‘If we dared and willed an architecture according to the kind of souls we possess (we are too cowardly for that!), the labyrinth would have to be our model’ Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘Daybreak’, 1881

‘It is no longer possible simply to communicate a precise body of knowledge founded on a rigid status quo’ - Konrad Wachsman, ‘The Turning Point of Building’, 1961

While Microsoft was asking the world ‘Where Do You Want To Go Today?' in its first global marketing campaign, French anthropologist Marc AugĂ© in his book 'Non-Places: Introduction to An Anthropology of Supermodernity' described the passage of an international traveller through a series of temporary meaningless locations. The Bright Labyrinth is made up of a shifting series of links and nodes, equally temporary and equally without meaning in themselves, and yet they form part of a digital regime that has informed every aspect of our lives.

From the Labyrinth created by Daedelus to house the fabulous Minotaur, described in Book VIII of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, to the audible spaces, transparent barriers, invisible directives, electronic gateways, plans and outlines imagined by architect Rem Koolhaas for Wired magazine (issue 11.06 June 2003), we have found ourselves caught up in networks that respond to us and to which we in turn are obliged to respond. The embodiment of behaviourist strategies developed in the previous century, these networks have become ‘Bright Labyrinths’, laboratory mazes within which we appear happily doomed to wander forever.

Lecture One explores the geography of the Bright Labyrinth from the totally wired U-Cities of China, Japan and Korea to the interactive realm represented by Dusseldorf’s Real Future Store, where products loaded with RFID chips and Quick Response barcodes communicate both with consumers and with themselves.

‘Welcome to the Labyrinth’ will also examine how network theory has been developed in books like Network Practices: New Strategies in Architecture and Design , edited Anthony Burke and Therea Tierney (Princeton Architectural Press) and Akira Suzuki’s Do Android Crows Fly Over the Skies of an Electronic Tokyo? The City Landscapes of Japan (RIBA) as well as in the experimental cities presented in the films of Semiconductor.

By being able to see the network in the labyrinth and the labyrinth in the network, we can begin to develop a new series of attitudes towards research, making connections across disciplines that can ultimately inform and enrich our practice.

Illustration: ‘Operant Conditioning Chamber’ designed by behavioural psychologist B F Skinner.

MACD Lecture 1, Wednesday October 29, see Google Calendar for details

Saturday 25 October 2008

Nude on Mars

Reports coming in on a regular basis indicate that issue 14 of Nude magazine has finally emerged blinking into the daylight, and copies are appearing on some of the world’s more discerningly stocked shelves. As well as up close and personal features on Jaime Hernandez, Terry Southern and Sunny Buick, Nude is running a prepublication extract from ‘Welcome to Mars’, along with a short interview with its blushing author - yeah, that's my name in the bottom right-hand corner of the cover. There is also a particularly insightful review of NASA space art by Yoshi Tanaka. And all for £3.95. How can you say no? You can’t. You just plain can’t.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Mondo Mancunia: Three Readings and Two Performances in Four Days

The Ken Hollings Corporation is delighted to announce that ‘Mondo Mancuncia’, the four-day event curated by Graham Massey at the Shunt Vault is now happening between November 19 and 22, having been cancelled last month due to health and safety reasons. Miraculously the original schedule has managed to survive with most of the listings unchanged.

I’ll be delivering the funeral oration ‘Ego in Exotica Sum: In Memoriam Martin Denny 1911-2005’ on Wednesday November 19; narrating ‘Dr X: A Version of Events’ plus reading extracts from ‘Welcome To Mars’ with a soundtrack of electronic tonalities performed by Mark Pilkington, Simon James and Bruce Woolley on Thursday November 20. Then on Friday November 21 and Saturday November 22, I will be performing with the original line-up of Biting Tongues.

Here’s the programme in full – please note that some events are taking place in different areas of the Shunt Vault complex, which explains some of the more eccentric timetabling in the listings below:

November 19
8.00 pm EGO IN EXOTICA SUM: In Memoriam Martin Denny 1911- 2005
Spoken word/audiovisual piece written by Ken Hollings and Graham Massey in 2005: Martin Denny’s 1950 s ‘Exotica’ combo recreated by members of Toolshed: ‘We rob ourselves of paradise by our very presence there: to see it with our own eyes is to see it vanish before our eyes.’ The text of the oration is reproduced in full in Strange Attractor Journal III.

9.00pm SEAMING
Music written and performed by Seaming To, an electronica artist, songwriter and classically trained vocalist. Known as the vocalist with Manchester acts Homelife and Toolshed and guest on several recent albums by Liela, Robert Wyatt, Herbaliser and Mr Scruff, tonight Seaming To is performing many new songs with her new band.

10.00 pm TOOLSHED
Formed accidentally as a ‘house’ band in Manchester’s Northern Quarter club scene, Toolshed was the name of Graham Massey’s monthly club night. Electronica acts such as Autechre, Mathew Herbert, Squarepusher and Kieren Hebden all came to play live sets. The Toolshed Allstars monthly sets grew from two people to a 28-piece orchestra at one point. Centred around Massey’s laptop and instrument collection, established MCR musicians such as Paddy Steer (Homelife),Richard Harrison (Spaceheads) and jazz violinist Graham Clark (Gong) were joined by newcomers such as vocalist Seaming To and drummer James Ford .

DJ for the evening will be The Simonsound

November 208.00pm
DR X: A Version of Events
Spoken word with video and live electro-acoustic soundtrack. Filmed nearly 70 years ago in a revolutionary new two-colour separation process, the Hollywood thriller ‘Doctor X’ is a largely neglected film these days. Its title, however, has entered popular culture as a cipher for everything mysterious, secret and strange. Writer Ken Hollings, in collaboration with composer Graham Massey and filmmaker Howard Walmsley, uses mythically enlarged recollections of the original film to create retrofitted images of a totalitarian futuristic New York in which AC electricity is banned and ‘radio psychics’ are used in the detection of crimes. Examining electricity, crime, scientific inquiry and pathological behaviour, Dr X was originally commissioned for the Royal Institution event ‘Electra: Electricity Culture’ in 2004. This is a new expanded version has been created especially for Mondo Mancunia. For a preview clip, click here.

Ken Hollings reads extracts from his new book ‘Welcome To Mars', published by Strange Attractor Press, to an accompaniment of contemporary footage from the Prelinger Archives, plus live electronic tonalities performed by Mark Pilkington, Simon James and Bruce Woolley. This is an expanded version of the show I performed last month at the Other Cinema in San Francisco.

10.00 pm TOOLSHED
The second half of the Toolshed residency: not a repeat performance of Wednesday night as a different line up will be in place.

DJ s this evening are Resonance FM’s Kosmische DJs

November 21
Long running duo of Richard Harrison (drums) and Andy Diagram (electric trumpet and electronics). TRICLOPS.
Lotta Continua ‘super group’ comprising three of the label’s artists in a car-boot sale electronic orchestra.

Homelife duo Paddy Steer and Anton Burns have now amassed a sizable back catalogue of releases under the moniker Homelife. It’s almost a home recording experiment that grew into an orchestra, gathering in some of MCR’s finest musicians, one by one, to create the work with hand-carved care. Then with equal attention to detail to recreate the music and take it on tour: a labour of love which continued for several years. Now a duo, Anton’s song-writing has come to the fore, nicely balanced by the DIY approach to the instrumentation that keeps it more akin to outsider music than traditional song forms.

Emerging out of the dark days of post-punk Manchester, Biting Tongues represented an uncompromising attempt to blend electronics, text and dance beats to harsh and overwhelming effect. Renowned for their unique high-energy performances and experimental video projects, the band’s original line-up featured writer Ken Hollings on vocals, multi-instrumentalist Graham Massey, filmmaker and saxophonist Howard Walmsley working together over the fiendish rhythm engine made up of Colin Seddon on bass and Eddie Sherwood on drums. In close collaboration with premier Manchester labels New Hormones and Factory Records, Biting Tongues recorded a series of album EP and 12 releases as well as ‘Feverhouse’, their ambitious independent film project released on video by Factory Ikon.

In 2003 the original Biting Tongues reformed to perform selected shows at the ICA and Islington Mills, with Hollings, Massey and Walmsley working together on new audiovisual presentations such as ‘Dr X’ at the Royal Institution in London as well ‘Ego In Exotica’ and the ‘Lonely Creatures’ series of short films at the Green Room Theatre in Manchester. With their back catalogue available on CD, the band is currently enjoying some long overdue credit for their innovative pre-digital slicing and dicing of sound, text and vision. ‘Effortless ferocity,’ The Wire remarked of Biting Tongues’ return to live performance, ‘as exhilarating and as urgent as ever.’

DJs for this evening Resonance FM’s Kosmiche crew and Kelvin Brown + Special After-show Performance featuring GRAHAM CLARK and GRAHAM MASSEY. Graham Clark is one of the UK s leading improvising violinist. Combining Massey’s electronic landscape with Clark’s virtuoso playing, the duo has been performing together off and on since 1977 most recently at a sell-out show at the Manchester Jazz Festival.

November 22
8.00 pm MAYMING
Featuring Semay Wu on cello and electronics and Seaming To on vocals and electronics. The line between improvisation and lost songs from a past world blurs whenever this duo start up their magic.

(See yesterday’s entry)

Fresh on the heels of their first single release ‘The Don’ the SOT are the UK’s premier Ladies Combo Organ Quartet. Born from an eBay addiction to vintage Italian transistor organs, a hybrid form of prog-disco has been developed, while trying to fit function to the form. Described by Angry Ape as ‘Giorgio Moroder’s daughters running rampage with sequins and sequencers through a Dario Argento movie’, the Sisters of Transistors are the ultimate Dark Party Band.

One final information explosion – hear everything in every dimension. Nothing will ever be the same again. Ever.

DJ s for the night Liela Arab and Kelvin Brown

Doors Wed & Thurs 6pm-11pm, Fri 6pm-12midnight, Sat 8pm-12 midnight,once inside bar open ‘til lateEntry fee £5 Wed & Thurs, £10 Fri & SatEntrance on Joiner St inside London Bridge Tube Station.
For more details on this unique event click here or here.
Top image: Ken Hollings, Graham Massey and members of Toolshed perform 'Ego In Exotica Sum' at the Green Room Theatre June 2005.

Monday 13 October 2008

Lutz Dammbeck’s ‘The Net’ at the Roxy Bar and Screen

Anyone finding themselves in Borough High Street on the evening of Tuesday October 14 could do considerably worse than drop into the Roxy Bar and Screen for a special showing of Lutz Dammbeck’s The Net: The Unabomber, LSD and the Internet. The screening begins at 7.30 pm, and I have been asked by event organizer Richard Thomas of the Hectic Peelers, in association with Electric Sheep magazine, to offer some introductory comments on the film.

Known to his FBI investigators as ‘the Unabomber’, Dr Theodore ‘Ted’ Kaczynski carried out a campaign of mail bombings against universities and airlines from the late 1970s through to the mid-1990s, killing three and injuring twenty-three more. He would later argue in his manifesto, ‘Industrial Society and Its Future’,that his actions were necessary in order to make humanity aware of the threat posed to its freedom by the recent advances made in computer technology. But how did a gifted mathematician come to dedicate himself to such extreme acts of resistance? Dammbeck’s visually stunning quest for the Unabomber links together multiple nodes of cultural and political thought, circling through themes of utopianism, anarchism, terrorism, the CIA, LSD, Tim Leary, Marshall McLuhan, Stewart Brand, the Macy Foundation Conferences, Nam Jun Paik, particle physics and behaviour modification. Not for the faint-hearted, this is a dazzling complex, visually lush exploration of information as collective hallucination: a trip into the media matrix as unravelled conspiracy theory, made up of archive footage, in-depth interviews and extracts from the director’s own correspondence with Kaczynski, now in the Federal ADX Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

Presented in German and English with subtitles. Contains brief scenes of cranial surgery. For more details, check the Google calendar. Even the Unabomber thinks about the future...

Sunday 12 October 2008

The Mambo Kings

On Wednesday night in front of an enthusiastic audience of hepcats and cool kittens packed into Barbican Cinema 2, I finally had the chance to meet with Italian music journalist and broadcaster Francesco Adinolfi, author of the book Mondo Exotica: Sound Visions Obsessions of the Cocktail Generation. The event was promoted as ‘Mambo Italiano: Exploring Exotica’, and we were sharing the bill with Mario Bava’s Danger:Diabolik – probably one of the greatest films ever to emerge from the entire history of the Seventh Art. We talked about the lure of the exotic for an intense but all too brief half hour before the movie rolled and Diabolik began his groovy 1960s reign of futuristic terror. I was intensely grateful for Francesco’s high-speed delivery and quick responses, developed during the run of his ‘Pop Corner’ show on Rai Radio 2, packing together dozens of tunes with astute political comments and texts sent in by his enthusiastic listeners all in an energetic thirty minutes.

Fortunately Resonance FM was on hand to record our conversation for a forthcoming programme on exotic easy listening, cold war social fantasies, sixties pop culture and the politics of what Francesco described as the ‘degree zero rebellion’ that would take place in the millennium fold between 1997 and 2001, when kids started listening to Martin Denny, Yma Sumac, Arthur Lyman Frank Sinatra and Esquivel while music’s capacity for ‘authenticity’ sank deeper and deeper into question.

Thanks to Francesco’s lovely wife Cristina, the Ken Hollings blog is able to bring you some pictures from the event. The top one captures KH and Francesco Adinolfi on stage and in full flow. The one below shows KH, Francesco and event organizer Jay Clifton of the Hammet Story Agency sharing a quiet moment just before the doors open. Also present but not shown were crime novelist Cathi Unsworth and the writer Harriet Vyner , author of Groovy Bob, an amazing oral biography of gallery owner Robert Fraser. They are currently working with Jay Clifton on a Barbican event early in January 2009, themed around some of the darker forces shaping what painter Richard Hamilton characterized as ‘Swingeing London'. That one will definitely be worthy of your attention.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Tod Dockstader of Westport Connecticut

A real-time analogue conversation with Matt Woebot last week brought my attention back once again to the interview with tape music pioneer Tod Dockstader I conducted at his home for The Wire in the spring of 2005. After its initial publication, an electronic version was posted, with the magazine’s permission, on the Unofficial Dokstader Website, which is where Matt had first encountered it. The site also offers a fantastic introduction to this remarkable musical innovator from his earliest tape experiments to recent large-scale projects such as the vast ‘Aerial’ series of compositions based around shortwave ‘dead airtime’.

The interview was one of the longest I have ever conducted, running to over six hours of material as we sat together on Tod’s back porch and talked through two entire afternoons while he alternately sipped a cold beer or lit up another cigarette. It was rare to meet someone as sensitive to technological shifts – from making wire recordings in high school to editing the sound effects on 'Gerald McBoing Boing' cartoons for UPA, he seemed to appreciate that historically the medium was the moment. He told me that when Bob Moog first showed him a working modular she said he felt like the village blacksmith seeing a Model T sputter down the village street for the first time. The days of manipulating sound on magnetic tape would, he felt, soon be over – well, there may be more than a few who might dispute that, but their interests are now being pursued under a very different regime.

Dockstader also, it turns out, had a great historical feel for place as well. He described life in the Los Angeles hills in the 1950s, racing sports cars round their hairpin bends in packs that included James Dean or watching a Warner Brothers crew outside one of the storm drains in the LA River, filming the final battle between the US Army and the giant ants in the movie ‘Them!’. He also told me about the miserable time he spent in Montreal rigging out one of the pavilions with an audiovisual piece for Expo 67. In sharp contrast to the cheery internationalism of the Montreal expo, the gloomy hostility of the local inhabitants made for an intensely miserable experience. In another of the Cold War’s neat reversals, the global perspective had replaced the local – but you’d still find yourself being stared at while you drank alone in any of the neighbourhood bars.

During the 1960s Dockstader had moved his home out to Westport Connecticut to what was, at the time, one of the main commuting destinations for the advertising execs working on Madison Avenue. With trains running regularly out of Grand Central Station and with New Canaan (whose decline and fall were chronicled in Rick Moody’s ‘The Ice Storm’ ) one of the next stops up the line, the journey from New York out to Westport CT has taken on almost mythical status. From three-martini lunches to the wood-panelled station wagon waiting at the other end, this was the lifeline to the New Atlantis of the 1960s. How happy it makes me to think of Tod sitting on his back porch looking out on it all.

Sunday 5 October 2008

‘Welcome to Mars’ Series Recast

A recent Boing Boing post from the wonderful David Pescowitz, with whom I spent an all too brief evening in San Francisco last month, has reminded me that the ‘Welcome to Mars’ podcasts are still available online. At the same time I have just been informed by Resonance FM that the original twelve-part series of weekly broadcasts is about to be repeated at 7.00 pm on Thursday evenings from October 9 onwards. Please check either their website or the Google Calendar opposite for details on each episode as it comes up.

Before it became a book, soon to be available from Strange Attractor Press, ‘Welcome to Mars’ started out as a twelve-part series of live shows I created with sound designer Simon James for Resonance. Simon and I had collaborated on a number of performances with the working title ‘Welcome to Mars’ at the Brighton Cinemateque and Bristol’s Cube Cinema, plus one-off presentations for the Gage Festival in Hull, totallyradio and Brighton’s Radio Reverb. In each case I’d provide spoken-word content in the form of either a reading or a series of unscripted comments, while Simon produced an electronic soundtrack to accompany my words. I had by then already started researching the weird connections between people, technology and events that seemed to inform the very deep strangeness of the 1950s and for some time had wanted to work through the period, year by year, bringing some narrative order to it all. Simon had an uncanny ability to pick up on what I was saying and create the perfect sounds to go with it: a haunting blend of analogue reverberations and digitally precise interventions.

Many people remarked on the intensity of our live work together, so when Richard Thomas at Resonance invited me to create a series of broadcasts on the subject of weird science and popular culture in the 1950s, I already had a title for the project and the perfect producer to hand. It was Simon who first suggested that I present the show live and unscripted, working from notes prepared in advance so he would have some idea of what themes I’d be tackling each week. We were also both adamant that the show would have a definite sound, from the title theme and opening credits through to the trailer for next week and the ‘Project Thrust’ logo at the end. The three-part structure for each programme remained fairly constant as well with Simon counting me in and out of each sequence.

From March through to May in 2006, Simon and I would meet every Wednesday afternoon at Resonance FM’s old studio in Denmark Street and perform the show live between 3.30 and 4.00pm. Simon would punch up the ‘Welcome to Mars’ theme, I’d take a sip of water, look one last time at my notes, and then we’d start. Afterwards Simon would post each episode as a podcast on his simonsound website. The response to the podcasts was extremely encouraging:

‘Highly informed…will be fascinating to anyone with even a passing interest in popular culture, politics and science’ – English Assassin

‘A powerful portrait of confusion, alienation, and suspicion’ – Againstwot

‘An excellent synthesis of modern history, Forteana and SF. Mr Hollings speaks with ease and authority about a fascinating period of the twentieth century, and I only wish there were more than twelve episodes’ – Five-Star review, iTunes

‘Six hours of wonder for your iPod’ – Music Thing

‘Wow. Fascinating. Go get it’ – Self Storage

It was a fabulous series to do and wonderful to work so closely with Simon over such a protracted period. You can listen to the original radio series by following this link.

Friday 3 October 2008

‘Mambo Italiano’ at the Barbican Cinema

Tired of the Cold War yet? On Wednesday October 8 the Hammett Story Agency in association with Barbican Cinema presents Mambo Italiano: Exotica Explored. Here is some information from the press release:

‘Italian writer and musicologist Francesco Adinolfi will discuss his book Mondo Exotica: Music for the Cocktail Generation, a study of Western culture’s fascination with 'exotica' during the 50s and 60s through music – Martin Denny, Yma Sumac and the later subgenres of exotica such as the mood music and spy music composed for Italian films of the 60s. Francesco will be interviewed by Ken Hollings, the London-based novelist and cultural historian (Welcome to Mars, Destroy All Monsters) with a special interest in Cold War-era popular culture.

‘Their conversation will be followed by a screening of Diabolik (d. Mario Bava, 1968), a tongue-in-cheek 60s Italian spy thriller starring John Phillip Law & Marisa Mell, based on a popular Italian comic-book series and featuring the kind of exotica-influenced film score that will be under discussion.'

The event starts at 8.45pm at Barbican Cinema 2. For more information, click here