Sunday 23 November 2008

Swiss Interlude

In about 18 hours’ time I shall be shaking the asbestos dust out of my clothes, putting the Shunt Vault firmly behind me and heading for the clean air of Switzerland to deliver a programme of lectures and readings.

The events are as follows:

Monday, 24.11, 17.00-18.30, Lucerne, University of Applied Sciences and Art, Institute of Design – ‘Welcome to the Labyrinth’ an informal talk on exploring the digital regime, ‘assemblage critique’ and the concept of design as thought.

Tuesday, 25.11, 10.30-12.00, Bern University of the Arts – ‘Information as Art Form’ a lecture on the role of research and interdisciplinary practice in the development of my work as a writer. This will include a screening of ‘SpaceBaby’, plus a presentation of ‘Welcome to Mars’ and a reading from the book.

Wednesday, 26.11, 16.15-17.45, Lucerne, University of Applied Sciences and Art, Institute of Design – ‘Images of Ecstasy in Print Media’ a joint lecture with Dr Axel Vogelsang.

The poster reproduced above has been designed by students at Bern University of the Arts, to whom I offer my deepest thanks and appreciation. It feels as if I know you already.

Mondo Mancunia – Site Report Number Four

You say: ‘I keep waking up in this building.’

A broken iron bed frame on a bare concrete floor
This is where you break up.

Look at it: you can’t look through it.
It calls you
It sends you away
It obscures the facts
It no longer serves

There’s dust on your clothes

- The Dragman

Biting Tongues take to the main stage for the second and final time. A little of what follows is conveyed in the pictures reproduced above. With thanks and much respect to Graham Massey, Colin Seddon, Eddie Sherwood and Howard Walmsley: see you all in Paris next February.

Saturday 22 November 2008

Mondo Mancunia: Site Report Number Three

In a warehouse late at night
Someone’s lying on a bed sleeping
A white cloth covering his face

In a warehouse late at night
Flies circle in the light around the bed
Fires burn down the streets outside

In a warehouse late at night
Words are in production

In a warehouse late at night
You ask: ‘who is speaking?’
- The Dragman

Biting Tongues caught in action on the main stage, after midnight. Colin Seddon and Eddie Sherwood, Howard Walmsley, Graham Massey.

Friday 21 November 2008

Mondo Mancunia: Site Report Number Two

Day Two, and we are now becoming well acquainted with the clammy splendours of the Shunt Vault’s chambers. It has precisely the kind of dust that always shows up on your clothing, no matter whether you’re in dark colours or light. ‘Don’t touch the walls,’ Curtis, Simon James’s twin brother advised, holding up a damp set of fingers. Well, certainly not with all these tables of radiophonic gear and endless electrical cables snaking around the stage area, anyway.

The best part of setting up for today’s show was watching newcomer’s reactions to this labyrinthine cavernous space. Bruce and Kit Woolley disappeared after the sound check to watch a play being performed in another part of the complex, while Simon and Curtis were off playing pinball and taking photographs.

It’s such a pleasure to work with these people. To help me perform an expanded version of the ‘Welcome to Mars’ show first presented at San Francisco’s Other Cinema in September of this year, I was joined onstage by Bruce Woolley, taking a break from helping Grace Jones promote her new ‘Hurricane’ album, on Theremin and Moog; Simon James, who’s been recording extensively with DJ Format recently, on tape loops and table-top electronics; and Mark Pilkington, freshly returned from a Flying Saucer convention in Las Vegas, on gnostic sound circuitry. Their work together was as intensive and as sensitive as you would expect from such different but complementary backgrounds. Curtis James will be posting some pictures online soon. In the meantime, the top image in this post is of Simon James recalibrating his solenoids during the sound check: look out for further postings on his blog.

The other images were taken from the stage during the performance of ‘Dr X: A Version of Events’ that was scheduled for later in the evening. They show a view of my lectern taken during a musical interlude, featuring a page from the heavily marked-up text for this piece, plus some intimate views of Howard Walmsley and Graham Massey in action plus a selection of Massey’s research instruments brought over from Dr X’s underground lair in Manhattan for the occasion.

‘Oh for crying out loud,’ a newsman mutters sourly from outside the sealed iron doors of the Molecular Distortion laboratory. ‘How can such a simple investigative procedure go so completely wrong?’

Thursday 20 November 2008

Mondo Mancunia: Site Report Number One

The first night of Mondo Mancunia, a four-day festival of music from Manchester’s music underground, opened at Shunt Vault with a live performance of ‘Ego In Exotica Sum’ a memorial piece first presented in 2005 to commemorate the life and work of musician and arranger Martin Denny. This particular performance was dedicated to the memory of singer Yma Sumac, who was taken away from us recently. Amidst the crumbling brickwork, industrial joists and leaking pipes of Shunt Vault, we recreated a brief moment of Hawaiian paradise as we recalled the great days of Don the Beachcomber ’s Dagger Bar in Honolulu, where Martin Denny first developed his sound back in 1954, and the old Shell Bar in the Hawaiian Village Hotel complex in Waikiki.

One day it will be necessary for us to write a social history of special effects – a detailed account of all those things we have persuaded ourselves that we can see and hear and how we accomplished it – like seeing the ocean floor spread across the back wall of a cocktail bar, or holding a shell up to our ears and listening to the murmuring of waves breaking on a distant shore.

A studio recording of the oration from 'Ego In Exotica Sum' can be found at the Soundmuseum fm.

Pictures and commentary on events at Mondo Mancunia will be posted as and when they occur. Above: KH reads the funeral oration while members of Tool shed, sporting leis and fake Polynesian poly-blends, recreate the authentic Martin Denny sound, and the Easy Listening Gods show their pleasure.

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Welcome to Mars, Welcome to the Future

My sincerest, deepest thanks to everyone – too many to be mentioned here by name – who helped make the ‘Welcome to Mars’ launch at the Horse Hospital such a tremendous success last night.

I always thought that there should be more to blogging than pictures of other people’s parties. So here they are.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Towards A Social History of Machines

Lecture Three, ‘Towards A Social History of Machines’, will now be taking place on the afternoon of Wednesday November 19, between 2.00 and 3.30pm, in the usual place. For more information on this talk, including suggested reading and viewing, please go to the Topics column on the right, click on Lectures and then check the entry for November 10.

To get a fresh perspective on the relationship between human and machine movement, you might also care to look at the last two minutes of ‘Butterflies’ (‘Farfale’) a charming 1907 hand-tinted film, which you can access by clicking here.

The still featured above should be enough inducement to view this extraordinary ‘serpentine dance’, inspired by the very modern Loie Fuller. Be humble in its presence.

Monday 17 November 2008

Levittown PA Celebrates Launch of ‘Welcome to Mars’ Ahead of Schedule

A link currently on the Strange Attractor website reveals that the inhabitants of Levittown Pennsylvania have been a little previous in celebrating the publication of ‘Welcome to Mars’, which will actually receive its official launch at the Horse Hospital tomorrow evening (see Google calendar and previous post, dated November 15). According to Linda Moulton Howe of the Earthfiles website, reports have been coming in of a morphing sparkling aerial object seen over this former suburban housing project.

The report begins as follows:

‘November 13, 2008 Levittown, Pennsylvania – On July 13, 2008, I received a phone call from Robert Gardner, MUFON Field Investigator living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Bob wanted to know if I knew a scientist who could analyze “glitter” that had fallen from a pink-colored, aerial disc over an apartment complex in Levittown. Bob’s had talked with an eyewitness who first left him with the impression that sparkling, physical material had fallen onto a privet bush growing next to the female eyewitness’s apartment. After I asked questions in order to get physical material to a scientist who helps me with energy dispersive spectroscopy and other laboratory tests, Bob learned that there was no physical material. But the eyewitness wanted to know what might have happened to the privet bush growing next to her apartment door. She was alarmed when she found a dead bird near the privet bush the next day after the April 20, 2008, sighting. Later on, the female eyewitness’s daughter would also see the aerial craft.’

Levittown provides the focal point for the whole 'Welcome to Mars' narrative, linking flying saucers, behavioural modification, social sciences and civil defence strategies. Located on former agricultural land midway between New York City and the munitions plants of Long Island, the first Levittown was opened to the public in 1947, offering affordable housing in the form of small, detached single-family units made from prefabricated sections and standardized components. Suburbia had begun to extend its grand conformity into space.

A planned community of 6,000 households, each situated 60 feet apart on their own patch of ground, it quickly expanded to embrace a further 11,000. Its creator William Levitt, whose benign avuncular features graced the cover of ‘Time’ Magazine, then moved his operation to Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1952, where a carefully zoned development of 17,000 homes, complete with its own paved streets, electric lighting, off-street water, sewerage system, telephone and power lines, was quickly established. Levittown PA also boasted open greens, sites for public schools and recreation areas, together with five Olympic-sized swimming pools. By then, William Levitt’s company was knocking out production-line homesteads at a rate of one every fifteen minutes.

Hey, I only write this stuff - other people have to live it.

Saturday 15 November 2008

Welcome to Mars: A Strange Attractor Communication

The following message has just come in via the usual channels:

‘Welcome to Mars’ by Ken Hollings is now with us and we are taking orders via the Strange Attractor Shoppe. Order now to get a free copy of the accompanying 70-minute audio CD from Simon James - this won't be available anywhere else.

To buy it click here.

To see the press release click here.

We are also thrilled to announce a launch party for the book, on Tuesday 18 November from 7.00pm at the Horse Hospital, behind Russell Square tube in London. Simon James will be playing live analogue electronics and Ken will do a short reading. Entry is free. Bring robot friends.

And don’t forget that on 20 November, Ken Hollings, Bruce Woolley, Simon James and Mark Pilkington will be performing a live audiovisual spectacular based on ‘Welcome To Mars’ at the Shunt Vaults, as part of Graham Massey’s Mondo Mancunia festival. For full details click here.

The next couple of weeks are going to be particularly busy, but reports and photographs will be posted whenever possible as events unfold. Networked communication is all about the journey.

Top image: KH at the OC in SF - photograph by Kitty Keen.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Mondo Mancunia - The Ultimate Smack Down

A comprehensive guide to the entire event in a single glance...just give us four days, and we'll give you the world.

Monday 10 November 2008

Lecture Three: Towards A Social History of Machines

‘Poetry is made up of twenty-six letters.’
Stephane Mallarmé

In 1895 at the Maryinsky Theatre in the Imperial City of St Petersburg a revised version of Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake was presented to the public for the first time. Choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, one of its highlights was the ‘Entrance of the Swans’ in Act II, which required all twenty-four members of the female corps de ballet to file out onto the stage in one long line that would continually fold back upon itself. Executing a precisely repeated series of steps, each individual dancer copied the movements of those around her until every gesture had become duplicated, restated and superimposed. The effect was comparable to peering through the slots of a Zoetrope, a piece of Victorian parlour magic capable of creating a limited impression of animated movement. Machinelike and serene, enhanced by the dazzling flicker of strict repetition, human movement had entered the age of mechanical reproduction.

Using German media theorist Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter as a guide, this lecture considers how humans and machines have entered into shifting social relationships. From the pen to moveable type to Emerson’s invention of the phonograph, how we mediate experience has continued to change. As sound recordings are used to contact the dead, typewriters are devised to enable those with poor eyesight to write and the cinema becomes a place where those with poor hearing can learn to speak out loud. We will be looking the ways in which the sensory spectrum has been altered by the mechanical reproduction of sight, sound, speech and writing. Are silent movies really silent? Is the modern office a place overshadowed by the spectres of sex, love and death?

Suggested Reading:

Friedrich A. Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, translated with an introduction by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz, Stanford University Press, California (1999)
Lewis Mumford, ‘The Monastery and the Clock’ (essay), 1934
Ralph Waldo Emerson,‘Works and Days’, (essay), 1870
Jerrold Northrop Moore,Sound Revolutions: A Biography of Fred Gaisberg, Founding Father of Commercial Sound Recording, Sanctuary Music Library, London (1999)
Nicholas Carr ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ (online article), 2008

Suggested viewing:

Thomas Edison’s Frankenstein, 1909
Friedrich A Kittler lecturing in English at the European Graduate School, 2005

Lecture 3, MACD 2.00pm Wednesday, November 19, see Google Calendar for details.

Friday 7 November 2008

Welcome To Mars Is Here. It Moves Among You.

‘No one would have believed in the middle years of the twentieth century that human affairs were being watched closely by intellects vast and cool and remote, slowly and surely drawing up their plans for us...’

The years of waiting and speculation are over. We can finally reveal to the entire world that there is indeed life on Mars. It lives. It breathes and it’s watching you right now.

The books are printed and in the warehouse - the ‘buy’ button on the Strange Attractor website has now been activated. The first 200 orders filled come packaged with a limited-edition CD of electronic music from the original radio series. Here are the publicatuion details plus an extract from the press release:

Fantasies of Science in the American Century, 1947-1959
by Ken Hollings312pp, PB, £11.99, illustrated, index
ISBN: 9780954805487

‘Welcome to Mars is a map of the post-war Zone, a non-fiction Gravity’s Rainbow that follows the arc of Germany’s V2 rocket to the end of the rainbow - to America.’ Erik Davis, author of ‘Techgnosis’

‘Welcome To Mars’ draws upon newspaper accounts, advertising campaigns, declassified government archives, old movies and newsreels from this unique period when the future first took on a tangible presence. Ken Hollings depicts an unsettled time in which the layout of Suburbia reflected atomic bombing strategies, bankers and movie stars experimented with hallucinogens, brainwashing was just another form of interior decoration and strange lights in the sky were taken very seriously indeed.

‘Ken Hollings shows brilliantly how the extraordinary web of technologies that drove the Cold War have shaped not just our culture but the very way we think of ourselves as human beings. Welcome to Mars offers a rare and fascinating glimpse of the roots of the strange humanoid culture we live in today.’ Adam Curtis, director of ‘The Power of Nightmares’ and ‘The Trap’

‘Ken Hollings has placed his critical focus at the precise point where the high technologies of information control and social manipulation intersect the passionate search for scientific ways to probe the human mind. Welcome to Mars is a searingly accurate and deeply disturbing exposé of the fantasies of American modernism that have inspired the many nightmares and the few hopeful visions of our new Millennium.’ Dr Jacques Vallée, author of ‘Network Revolution’ and ‘Passport to Magonia’

As well as the CD of music by Simon James, a small run of postcards have also been produced using images from the book and these are being sent out with any orders from Strange Attractor Press.

Monday 3 November 2008

Lecture Two: The Future Is What Happens After You’re Dead

‘We’re all living in a science-fiction world today – and why not?’ – science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, in conversation with KH, 2005

‘Tomorrow is our permanent address.’ Marshall McLuhan

We connect Herbert Marcuse with Marshall McLuhan: the second lecture in the Bright Labyrinth series deals with how notions of history and progress have altered since we entered the 21st century.

Herbert Marcuse was a radical German philosopher and activist. Marshall McLuhan was a conservative Canadian media theorist. Both were concerned with the possibility of transcendence in an increasingly mediated mass society. Both also published highly influential books in the same year. From their first appearance in 1964, Marcuse’s 'One Dimensional Man' and McLuhan’s 'Understanding Media' had a profound effect on the emergent counter-culture in the United States. When anti-war protestors started chanting ‘The Whole World Is Watching’ in the face of public displays of police brutality at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, their statement echoed ideas that McLuhan and Marcuse would have understood and expressed in different yet complementary ways.

In tune with their times and commenting closely upon them, McLuhan and Marcuse used the rhetoric of science-fiction and futurity to express their ideas, both seeing in the theories of Lewis Mumford, the historian of science and technology, the starting point for acute social criticism. By the time of his death, Marshall McLuhan – the man responsible for introducing into mass consciousness such flashcard concepts as ‘the global village’ and ‘the medium is the message’ – had been largely forgotten, his writings on the media either dismissed or discredited. Rereading McLuhan in the digital regime, particularly in relation to Marcuse’s social theories, reveals many useful tools and insights for approaching today’s new digital media. In the process we also hope to expose – with a little help from Andy Warhol, Susan Sontag and some trashy science-fiction movies – the radical political thinker in Marshall McLuhan and the sophisticated media commentator in Herbert Marcuse.

Suggested reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man Routledge Classics, London (2002)
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, Routledge Classics (2002)
Marshall McLuhan and David Carson, The Book of Probes, Ginko Press, California (2003)
Stephen Amidon on Marcuse’s 'One Dimensional Man', New Statesman November 27, 2000
The essays ‘The Imagination of Disaster’ and ‘Notes on “Camp”’ from Against Interpretation and Other Essays by Susan Sontag (1966)
The chapter ‘Pods and Blobs’ from the book Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties by Peter Biskind (1983)
The Introduction and first chapter ‘Chronologies and Fin de Siecle’, from Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages by Eugen Weber (2000)

Related viewing:

McLuhan on YouTube and discussing the 1976 presidential debates on the Today show.
The Future is Not What It Used to Be, a film by Mika Taanila
Andy Warhol, Other Voices, Other Rooms, The Hayward Gallery 7 Oct – 18 Jan

Lecture 2, MACD 2.00pm Wednesday, November 5, see Google Calendar for details.