Monday 29 December 2008

See in 2009 with 'Mondo Exotica' on Resonance FM

In with the old: out with the new. Those wishing to withdraw from the aching pleasures of traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations might like to tune in to Resonance 104.4 FM between 1.00 and 2.30 am when they will get a chance to hear ‘Mondo Exotica’: a programe based on my conversation with Francesco Adinolfi at Barbican’s ‘Mambo Italiano’ event in October of this year.

The main topic of our discussion was Francesco’s book Mondo Exotica: Music for the Cocktail Generation, a study of Western culture’s fascination with ‘exotica’ recently published in translation by Duke University Press. It’s sad to reflect that so many of the people whose work we discussed that night are no longer with us: just this year Yma Sumac, Bettie Page and Eartha Kitt joined Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Arthur Lyman and Esquivel at that great Shell Bar in the Sky.

Resonance FM’s ‘Mondo Exotica’ broadcast will also feature extracts from the soundtrack of swinging comic-book crime caper Diabolik (d. Mario Bava, 1968): a work which never seems to bow under the cumulative effect of the years.

The image above shows KH, Graham Massey and members of Tool Shed performing ‘Ego in Exotica Sum: In Memoriam Martin Denny 1911-2005’ at Mondo Mancunia last month. A studio recording of this funeral oration can be found in the online collection of at Soundmuseum FM. You can search out the track by typing either Ken Hollings or Graham Massey into the museum's search engine.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Welcome to Mars Recast (Corrected)

A quick check of the Resonance FM holiday schedules reveals that the last episode in the original Welcome to Mars radio series is being broadcast by them on Christmas Day at 9.30 in the evening. There will not be a repeat broadcast, so if you don’t want to miss it, this is the time to tune in. Alternatively, you can follow the link on sound designer Simon James’s website and download it as a podcast.

As the calendar of forthcoming events on this blog is regularly being updated, it’s probably not a bad idea to subscribe to the RSS feed, saving you the trouble of constantly checking in. There are worse things to find cluttering up your inbox during 2009.

Monday 22 December 2008

Ken Hollings 3:AM Interview

‘It is in the nature of synthesis and control to disappear into the background precisely because they actually are the background. At the centre of the book is a preoccupation with human consciousness: how it operates and how it can be operated upon, what models can be used to comprehend it and which ones can be used to manipulate it. These are still issues that affect us today; we’re just a little more aware of it now’ - Ken Hollings, 3:AM

Andrew Stevens of 3:AM Magazine and editor of the 3:AM London-New York-Paris anthology has just posted a fairly extensive interview with me on the 3:AM website. Developed out of a regular exchange of emails between Andrew and myself over the past few weeks ‘Everyone Should Have Their Own Factory Catalogue Number...’ covers everything from my early days with Biting Tongues to the publication of Destroy All Monsters and the thinking behind Welcome to Mars. During the first two or three questions I was prepared to accept the email interview as the digital extension of a spontaneous speech act, but by the sixth or seventh question I was not so certain anymore. This is a fascinating form of exchange that requires further thought and exploration. Whatever is going on here shouldn’t be taken lightly. Who or what, for example, is actually speaking in an email interview?

The image at the top of this post was taken by Simon Tyszko during my recent reading at Phlight. See the previous post for more details.

Thursday 18 December 2008

In-Phlight Reading

The final live event scheduled for 2008 was a reading at Phlight before a very select audience of invited guests on the night of December 17. It’s a small space but an ideal one for an intimate evening. Simon Tyszko made me comfortable on an improvised stool and arranged for a small lamp to be carefully positioned right behind me by the kitchen sink, where a makeshift lectern had been set up.

My reading was from Welcome to Mars with an audiovisual accompaniment on DVD, featuring the electronic tonalities of Simon James and montage by Bruce Woolley, very similar to the one presented at the Other Cinema in San Francisco back in September. A video projector had been set up on top of the Dakota wing, above the audience's heads; and the screen itself was a magnificently crumpled expanse of ship's sail, the right-hand corner of which was held in place with a powerful magnet extracted, Simon told me, from an old Mac hard drive. David Ellis was busy in the background, documenting the entire reading on video for a future post of the Phlight website, while Kitty Keen was on hand to take a few pictures.

Through the vertical windows above, we can consequently see, under the majestic shadow of the wing: NORAD warning, the audience warming, Starman flying and Thelma Tadlock dancing. It was truly a memorable night. My thanks to everyone who took part.

Saturday 13 December 2008

In Memoriam: Bettie Page 1923-2008

And before the weeping love goddesses and adoring cupids have even had a chance to dry their eyes, the death in hospital at age 85 has been announced of the fabulous Bettie Page. The obituary writers at the LA Times seem to be working overtime for the Holidays.

‘In November 1957, Time carries a brief obituary for Dr Wilhelm Reich, ‘once-famed psychoanalyst, associate, and follower of Sigmund Freud, founder of the Wilhelm Reich Foundation, lately better known for unorthodox sex and energy theories’. As if to mark this loss, Superman’s virile presence disappears from the nation’s television screens after his series is dropped from the schedules in 1957, while ‘Queen of the Pinup’ Bettie Page abandons her career as a New York glamour model and vanishes without trace. Not surprisingly, the nation’s soaring birth rate lapses into a steady decline.’

From ‘1957 Contact With Space’ in Welcome to Mars.

And yet that smile of hers will remain forever with us: unfathomable, unreadable and magnificently innocent. Happy Christmas, Bettie.

Friday 12 December 2008

In Memoriam: Forrest J Ackerman 1916-2008

Lugete veneres cupidinesque...’ Catullus

The death was announced last week of Forrest J Ackerman - the man who brought Famous Monsters of Filmland into the world, shared his Tinsel Town mini-mansion with Kenneth Anger, worked as L Ron Hubbard ’s literary agent on the West Coast and represented low-budget special effects man Paul Blaisdell in Hollywood. It was Ackerman, according to his obituary in the LA Times who first coined the term ‘sci-fi’ back in 1954, inspired by the craze for high-fidelity sweeping the nation that year. Although the public’s fascination with hi-fi is documented in the chapter in Welcome to Mars dedicated to the events of 1954, I would have liked to include this new piece of information in the passage exploring the connection between hi-fi in the home and the music playing over the sound system aboard the nuclear submarine in the giant monster movie It Came From Beneath The Sea.

Ackerman was also present at the Dianetics Rally at the Shrine Auditorium LA in August 1950 where over 750 non-professional Dianetics groups met in one of the movement’s biggest public displays. His collection of science-fiction posters, props and related movie ephemera is unrivalled; the enthusiasm he showed for the subject throughout his life was without equal. The future will never be the same without him.

Monday 8 December 2008

Lecture Five: The Purple Death: Further Notes on Camp and the Rise of the Lowbrow

The July 1964 issue of Esquire magazine carried an article entitled ‘The New Sentimentality’ arguing that the early 1960s had fostered a new ironic, remote and unsentimental sensibility. It was now a matter of being cool in what appeared to be an increasingly overheated age. Written that same year, Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’ conveyed precisely that ironic distance, even to the extent of including Esquire magazine’s covers and content as examples of Camp.

The interest in Camp at this time, her notes suggest, implies an ironic detachment from the representation of feelings in order to rediscover those feelings. ‘Notes’, after all, are merely observations that have been registered but never fully considered. Events, the note-taker seems to be saying, are happening far too quickly for anything more. The use of the word ‘notes’ also suggests a lack of participation in the event itself: an uptown mentality looking at the goings-on downtown.

Downtown New York in the 1960s was where new underground communities were celebrating the impossibility of glamour in a tawdry world, who read strange new subtexts into the old Hollywood melodramas of fake beauty and fake suffering. We find this gleefully tragic vision in the films of artists like Andy Warhol and Jack Smith and see its energy running through the experimental music, movie and drug scenes of the period.

‘The Purple Death’ offers an outline of this new sentimentality that still appears so hard edged, ironic to the point of sarcasm and, above all, so knowingly modern in its attitudes and methods. The lecture will also look at how its unsentimental aesthetics still influence our take on the ‘lowbrow’ cultural enthusiasms of today. From Flash Gordon, Maria Montez and Batman to tattoos, pin-striping and Tiki lounges, Camp still holds considerable sway over the way we look at the world.

Suggested reading:

Sally Banes, Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance and the Effervescent Body, Duke University, 1993
J Hoberman ‘On Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures...’, Granary Books 2001
Stephen Koch, Stargazer: The Life, World and Films of Andy Warhol, (updated edition) Marion Boyars, 1991
Leffingwell, Kismaric, Heiferman (eds) Jack Smith: Flaming Creature, His Amazing Life and Times, Serpent’s Tail, 1997
Jean Stein & George Plimpton, Edie: American Girl, Grove Press, 1982
Andy Warhol and Pat Hacket, Popism , Hutchinson, 1980

Related viewing:

For the opening of Jack Smith’s ‘Flaming Creatures’, click here

For a glimpse of the magnificent Maria Montez in ‘Cobra Woman’, click here

Top Image: Maria Montez in ‘Cobra Woman’

Lecture 5, MACD 2.00pm Wednesday, December 10, see Google Calendar for details.

Today’s mood is: ‘stratospheric purple’.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Catching Up With Zurich Airport’s Fifth Expansion

How can you be in a non-place when you’re actually moving from Landside to Airside, connecting two major elements together simply by riding an escalator? Probably when all you’re doing is following the signs and the flow of passengers from one location to the other. Completed in 2005, the design of Zurich Airport’s Fifth Expansion makes a great use of natural daylight and views of the surrounding area. Personally I was more impressed by having four Swiss International check-in staff gathered around one of the new machines, showing me how to process my own boarding card and label my baggage. I guess it must have been a quiet day.

The unregistered transition from Landside, where the main rail transport hub is located, to the Airside, where arrivals and departures flow through the same extended concourse, reminds me once again that in airports, hotels, supermarkets and shopping malls, the figure in transit is the primary location: everything else is just a fixed point by which to organize yourself. You become the focal point of a non-place – if only by default.

I love the peace and suspension of an airport departure lounge and welcome the time I get to spend in such a spectacularly featureless space. On the de-territorialized frontier of the airport you can pay closer attention to your responses. At home people tend to forget themselves: everything is too familiar a reminder of who you are. The focussed minimalism of the airport highlights everything from displays of confectionary, alcohol magazine, pens and watches to the sudden appearance of a sports car (however do they get it there?) for promotional purposes.

This seems an appropriate post after the visit to Phlight last week – from the very local to the spectacularly non-existent. Such elaborate conceptual engineering is impressive on any scale, however. Airside may only offer landscape views of airplane wings but it's courtesy of its custom louvred shading system which extends the full length of the building’s facade, offering a continuous view of the airfield while automatically adjusting itself to climatic conditions.

I also enjoyed the visual theme of bioluminescent deep-sea creatures swirling around the curved walls of the Internet Point – particularly the accompanying note about some fish using their own light as a ‘sniper scope’ to illuminate their prey with a red light only they can see – plus the regular open wells of visual space connecting one level of the concourse with the other – making it hard to feel that you’re lost even if you still don’t quite know where you are.

Friday 5 December 2008

Night Phlight (Remembering Saint Exupery in Fulham)

‘It’s really hard to take a good picture of the wing,’ Simon Tyszko observed rather phlegmatically as I tried to line up a shot of the Dakota wing that is installed in his Fulham council flat. ‘It’s a bit like trying to take a decent picture of the aurora borealis. The effect is just a bit too big for the camera.’

He’s right of course. Taking a decent photograph of Phlight isn’t easy, so I fell back on an old trick I once learned from Andy Peters for photographing hot rods and dragsters: concentrate on one tiny detail and get that to represent the whole. Suddenly all the neat of lines rivets lovingly punched into place took on a strength all of their own. Having seen some of the footage taken of the wing’s manufacture, I can testify that this isn’t a mocked-up replica of a Dakota wing: it’s a Dakota wing. With every strut, brace, section and support in place, it’s an amazing piece of engineering in itself; and that’s before we get to the logistical problems of wedging it into a post-war South London council flat.

What’s equally remarkable about the relationship between the wing and the domestic space it occupies is the way in which Simon’s flat still divides itself up into habitable areas but does so by horizontal divisions: a flat wide plane separates the kitchen from his work area, the books are all arranged on their sides filling every conceivable free opening, while the bathroom, exposed to the entire room and far from the wing, offers the best view of it by far.

I was taken to Phlight by rogue enthusiast David Ellis, who is making a film about the wing's creation and its installation. On the way we stopped by the UK headquarters of the Aetherius Society, founded by taxi driver George King in London in 1958 but now with its main base located in Los Angeles. George King had a series of revelations in 1954 which led him to have direct spiritual contact with the Space Brothers; and for many years the front of the UK office, still based on the Fulham Road, used to have the cheeriest neon flying saucer hanging over the door. Sadly it’s now disappeared, as have all the pictures of flying saucers, shown whole and in section, which used to grace their window displays.

Very similar to the flying saucer photographed by George Adamski back in the 1950s, their display was always a reassuring reminder that spiritual advancement and technological progress were still linked together in some people's minds, and that a prayer battery was still being charged in the Aetherius Society basement. Unfortunately, one of the society members, who caught David filming me outside the shop window in full flow about 1950s saucer cults, took a slightly dim view of my enthusiasm for their work and declined to give us an interview – even though we hadn’t actually asked her to grant us one.

The rest of the evening was spent under the wing, making plans for me to do a reading from ‘Welcome to Mars’ there sometime later this month. I will be presenting an intimate version of the Other Cinema reading to an invited audience beneath the wing and then engaging Simon in conversation about aerospace, art and the future from the wing itself. It should be a most engaging evening. Above: two views of the wing with an open fire beneath it and neon tubes above; a close-up of the rivets and; finally, Simon makes tea on the far side of the wing while Ellis gazes into the flames. Antoine de Saint Exupéry would surely have approved.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Mapping Science Fiction in Bern

I spent a remarkably stimulating day last week with a group of Communication Design students at the Hochschule der Künste Bern in Switzerland. After delivering a talk, ‘Information As Art Form’, which outlined the development of my work as a writer and looked at some of the themes and ideas explored in ‘Welcome to Mars’, I was invited to lead the students in an afternoon workshop.

Joining in with the running of the exercise was Axel Vogelsang from the Lucerne University of Sciences and the Arts. Together we distributed a number of journals and magazines selected from the school’s basement library and distributed them at random among the students. They were then given exactly 20 minutes to find some fragment of text or isolated image that referenced in some way the concept of ‘science fiction’ – what it might mean in terms of identifiable shifts in thinking, altered attitudes towards history, progress, technology and nature, the body etc.

The students’ discoveries were then transformed into a network of key ideas and terms, worked out in a group seminar using a whiteboard and post-it notes. The first text proposed by a student to go up on the board set the tone for what was to come: ‘The first quality required of a prophet is a good memory.' What followed was an intense two hours of spirited debate and exposition.

Axel’s penmanship was considerably better than mine, which helps to explain the particularly graceful arrangement of ideas in the photographs displayed above. The picture of Axel addressing the whiteboard gives an accurate indication of the overall intensity of the session. My admiration, however, is entirely for the students, who helped generate the network of ideas. Thank you all for such an inspiring exchange.

One of the things I particularly loved about the Bern Hochschule was its ultramodern completely unfinished nature: the walls of raw concrete and plaster, the glistening lines of exposed heating ducts and naked track wiring. Everyone seemed so perfectly at home in this permanently hopeful environment, so it seemed entirely appropriate that we should have left behind only a temporary network of nodes and links fashioned out of marker-pen ink and post-its. These pictures are all that now remain of it.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Welcome to Mars Recast (Concludes)

Throughout December, Resonance 104.4 FM will be rebroadcasting the last four episodes of the original radio series of upon which my book ‘Welcome to Mars’, out now from Strange Attractor Press, 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 December 4, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday December 6, 15.30-16.00
Programme 9: 1956: ‘Greetings, My Friends!’
Weird radio signals from Venus, psychic driving and America’s first atomic powered singer. Bring a doctor.

Thursday December 11, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday December 13, 15.30-16.00
Programme 10: 1957: ‘Contact with Space’
That ain’t rock n roll, it’s Sputnik! Von Braun gets it right, UFO sightings reach their peak, and Bela Lugosi lives again! Bring a doctor.

Thursday December 18, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday December 20, 15.30-16.00
Programme 11: 1958: ‘Battle for the Mind’
Weird scenes from the Spook Pit, inside Eisenhower’s atomic bunker, and whatever happened to Leika the Space Dog? History like it’s never been before!

Thursday December 25, 19.30-20.00, repeated Saturday December 27, 15.30-16.00
Programme 12: 1959: ‘Teenagers from Outer Space’
What Jackie Gleason, Barbie and Lee Harvey Oswald all have in common, ‘scream for your lives it’s the Tingler’, plus a secret message from ‘Mars Sector 6’. We dare you to miss it

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

Monday 1 December 2008

Lecture Four: Morphology of the Wound

‘Lucidity excludes desire (or kills it, I don’t know); it dominates what remains’
Georges Bataille, L’Impossible

The fourth lecture in the Bright Labyrinth series deals with themes of ecstasy and excess and the impossibility of communicating such experiences in any rational or lucid form, least of all in an age of digital media. It will approach this problem historically by making connections between the writings of Georges Bataille, the Marquis de Sade, Saint Theresa of Avila and the St John of the Cross, seeing in their attempts to illuminate such extreme experiences as agony and ecstasy a struggle to maintain individual consciousness at the precise moment when identity itself is at its most vulnerable and threatened. The result is often delirium and paradox, within which we find a far darker truth residing: one that animates the Dionysian rituals of Vienna Actionist Herman Nitsch and the adolescent sadomasochistic fantasies of Kenneth Anger’s first film ‘Fireworks’.

Can such images of madness and violent excess survive into the digital regime, where identity seems to be of the highest importance, or will their meaning inevitably be changed? And, if this is so, are we in danger of leaving our bodies – hardened and hollowed out by liposuction, keyhole surgery and implants – far behind us? Or will the work of Franko B and Orlan take us into the future by connecting this new flesh with some very old rites?

Suggested reading:

Antonin Artaud ‘Jet of Blood’, performance script translated by Ruby Cohn, (1925)
Georges Bataille, Eroticism: Death and Sensuality, translated by Mary Dalwood, Marion Boyars 1987
Georges Bataille, ‘The Tears of Eros’, translated by Peter Connor, City Lights Books, 1989
Angela Carter, The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History,
Virago, 1979
Jane Gallop, Intersections: A Reading of Sade with Bataille, Blanchot and Klossowksi, University of Nebraska Press, 1981
Thomas McEvilley, ‘Art in the Dark’ (essay), Artforum, Summer 1983
Michel Surya, Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography, Verso 2002

Related viewing:

For more information on the Vienna Actionists and archive footage of their often extreme performances, click here.

To get a preview of Kenneth Anger’s ‘Fireworks’ click here.

To remind yourself of how 'Un Chien Andalou' by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel begins, click here.

Please be advised that the content of this lecture will not in any way be pretty. Top image: 'The Ecstasy of St Teresa' by Bernini.

Lecture 4, MACD 2.00pm Wednesday, December 3, see Google Calendar for details.