Monday 30 November 2009

‘History and Hardware’ A Lecture on the Mechanical Reproduction of Sound and Vision

On Wednesday December 2, I will be giving a lecture to BAGD students at Central St Martins on how we are all still recovering from the technological disaster that occurred when sight and sound were mechanically copied and reproduced for the first time in the nineteenth century. Titled ‘History and Hardware’, the talk will take place in G12 at 16.30. I hope to see you then.

Using Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter as a guide, this lecture will look at how humans and machines have entered into a complex series of 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 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 at how the sensory spectrum has been altered by the mechanical reproduction of sight, sound, speech and writing. Are silent movies really silent? How out of our minds do we need to be to listen to our own voices? Is the modern office a place overshadowed by the spectres of sex, love and death? What does this lever do?

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

Reproduced above: The Roundhay Garden Scene, shot in 1888 (all two seconds of it) and the first moving picture ever made, courtesy of YouTube, where ghosts come to life out of pure habit.

Sunday 29 November 2009

With Renée Glynne at Resonance FM

Twice in one week: recording shows for Resonance FM is starting to feel like a regular job. Following on from the Krautrock Kristmas Special, I find myself back in the Resonance studio again, this time to interview the remarkable Renée Glynne for their weekly film slot, Imreadyformycloseup. Renée has been involved in making movies, both here and abroad, since she was a production secretary on Gabriel Pascal’s Caesar and Cleopatra back in 1945 – although she also has earlier credits that this to her name – and has been responsible for script and continuity on such movies as The Quatermass Xperiment, Performance, Fire Maidens from Outer Space and Jean-Luc Godard’s One Plus One, to name only a few personal favourites. The lady has some stories to tell, from taking tea with George Bernard Shaw to having Mick Jagger and John Binden flashing their pickles at her in Soho. We recorded enough material for a couple of shows, which should go out over the Christmas period. More details on this blog as and when they come up.

Pictured above: Renée Glynne and series producer Richard Thomas setting up; Renée and KH taking a break from the recording

Saturday 28 November 2009

Recording Resonance FM’s Krautrock Kristmas Special

It felt good being back in the studio at Resonance FM again, this time at the invitation of Richard Thomas to record a Krautrock Kristmas Special, a show inspired in part by the recent successful release of Black Dog Publishing’s Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and Its Legacy, which features my essay ‘Background Radiation: The West German Republic Tunes Into Cosmos’. I consequently found myself in conversation with fellow contributors David Stubbs and Mark Pilkington, together with the volume’s editor, Nikos Kotsopoulos. Also joining us were David Knight Arkkon and Unicazürn fame and the writer and musician Frances Morgan.

The result was a free-flowing session that mixed roundtable conversation with an ambient sound mix of classic krautrock tracks by the likes of Tangerine Dream, Faust, NEU!, Kraftwerk, Cluster and Harmonia. The mood was expansive, while the range of subjects covered ranged through drugs, politics, technology and personal reminiscences. The final cut of the show will be broadcast over the holiday period in two formats: first as two separate one-hour shows and then in a special two-hour mega-mix. Dates and times are still to be confirmed, but I’ll post more details as soon as I have them.

Pictured above, from top to bottom: David Stubbs, Nikos Kotsopoulos, Dave Knight and Frances Morgan settle in; Frances Morgan and Mark Pilkington take it in turns to point and click; Dave Knight, Frances Morgan and Mark Pilkington talk hallucinogens; Mark, the session’s engineer, checks the levels.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson (They Don’t Really Care About Us)

Zero Books are about to publish their long-awaited anthology of essays on the death of Michael Jackson: edited by Mark Fisher, The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson includes my latest essay ‘And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Kings: At The End Again with Elvis and Michael’, which was completed over the summer while media speculation concerning the disposal of the star's remains was still at its height. Here are some extracts from the Zero Books press release - you can find a full version on their weblog:

Providing an antidote to the mixture of unthinking sentimentality and scurrilous prurience that Jackson usually attracts, this book offers impassioned and informed answers to the urgent questions that Jackson’s death has posed. What was it about Jackson’s music and dancing that appealed to so many people? What does his death mean for popular culture in the era of Web 2.0? And just how resistible was his demise? Was another world ever possible, something perhaps utopian instead of the consensual sentimentality of a world hooked on debt, consumerism and images? The essays in The Resistible Demise Of Michael Jackson consummately demonstrate that writing on popular culture can be both thoughtful and heartfelt. The contributors, who include accomplished music critics as well as renowned theorists, are some of the most astute and eloquent writers on pop today. The collection is made up of new essays written in the wake of Jackson’s death, but also includes Barney Hoskyns’ classic NME piece written at the time of Thriller.

Contributors: Marcello Carlin, Robin Carmody, Joshua Clover, Sam Davies, Geeta Dayal, Tom Ewing, Dominic Fox, Jeremy Gilbert, Owen Hatherley, Charles Holland, Ken Hollings, Barney Hoskyns, Reid Kane, Paul Lester, Suhail Malik, Ian Penman, Chris Roberts, Steven Shaviro, Mark Sinker, David Stubbs, Alex Williams, Evan Calder Williams

The Resistible Demise Of Michael Jackson
Edited by Mark Fisher
Publication date: November 28th 2009
Press enquiries:

The book is available for order on and

There will be a launch event on December 2: expect a full report and updates in due course.

Pictured above: MJ on the set for the very last time, from the Black Missouri website.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

God’s Assassins vs. The Nova Conspiracy

Just about to appear in print is the first volume in the new ‘Devil’s Histories’ series from Ian Allen books. God’s Assassins: The Medieval Roots of Terrorism by Gavin Baddeley and Paul Woods features several extracts from a long conversation I had with the authors earlier in the year: the interview ranged across everything from mind control experiments and the writings of William Burroughs to the ‘military-industrial reality’ of the late twentieth century, as outlined in Welcome To Mars. Here’s an extract from the press release for this extraordinary book:

‘Terrorism the deliberate use of fear as a political tool is mostly regarded as a modern horror, implemented by bombs, hijackings and assassinations. But the roots of terrorism stretch far back to the Middle Ages, when the forefathers of the modern world s most uncompromising Islamist terrorists, such as al-Qaeda, laid down their murderous creed. According to tales brought back to Europe by Marco Polo, the Grand Master of the Assassins fed his followers with hashish before they were indulged with the sexual favours of young houris. The Assassin was then told he had experienced the heavenly garden of Paradise and would spend all eternity there, provided he lived and died in the service of the sect. In God’ s Assassins, the authors reinterpret the history and mythology of the Assassins, to create a thought-provoking collision between past and present which includes: The bloody narrative of the Crusades, when East met West in holy war. The history of assassination in furtherance of religious or political ends, and the myth and reality of drugs as a mnemonic to murder. The concept of brainwashing and the belief in creating sleeper assassins. The recreation of Hasan-i-Sabbah as a phantom subversive by cult writer William S. Burroughs. The Assassin’s creed of modern-day Islamists, with their belief in martyrdom through murder contrasted with the progressive thinking of the Ismailis, the true descendants of Hasan and his Nizari sect. This vibrant living history is compelling reading for everyone intrigued by the crises of our age. Dispelling the idea of political and religious assassinations as a peculiarly modern phenomenon, God’s Assassins also explores the chilling implications of Hasan-i-Sabbah’s legendary dark maxim: Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.’

For an even more detailed press release, click here.

Receiving a copy of the book in the post reminded me of the surprise I felt back in September when watching the trailer announcement for Mark Boswell’s forthcoming feature film Nova Conspiracy at the Cambridge Film Festival and seeing my name listed in the credits. Somehow I can never bring myself say no to any interesting bit of collusion. It’s a subject that I also hope to address in The Bright Labyrinth, as I am clearly my own worst enemy in this respect.

Sunday 15 November 2009

‘The Future is Back’ Resources

Many apologies for this late serving of data, but I have been busy over the past couple of weeks writing up the notes from the November 4 as one of the chapters to The Bright Labyrinth, which is my new work in progress. Thank you all for attending my lecture – and special thanks to Ed Cornish for setting up his announcement for the talk as a desktop background for all the computers in Southampton Row. I hope you will find some of the links and connections reproduced below of some use.

This 1955 press report on Disney’s Tomorrowland, comes courtesy of Matt Novak’s fabulous Paleo-Future blog – like a lot of visions of the future, it has had to be constantly updated. Featuring a historical overview of different visions of what used to called ‘tomorrow’s world’ the Paleo-Future blog is an endless source of research delights.

And this wry overview of the whole impending 2012 future shock is from the io9 blog. They cover everything from NASA projects to what Joss Whedon is doing with his time now Dollhouse has been cancelled – read selectively, it supplies some highly diverting news items and opinions. Use sparingly as you can spend all day reading it. Both blogs, however, are worth subscribing to.

For more of the same check out the Marshall McLuhan website – it has its moments.

Best of all, however, is the Marshall McLuhan Playboy interview from 1969, which offers a pretty efficient summation of his views on the emergent understanding of electronic culture in the 1960s. Professor McLuhan also enjoys long walks on the beach at sunset, sincere people and driving in his hot-pink 64 mustang with the top down.

Further suggested reading (if you can still be bothered):

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 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:

The Youtube clips posted above pretty much tell their own story, but you may also want to check out Mika Taanila's The Future is Not What It Used to Be , his film portait of the Finnish mathematician and inventor Erkki Kurreniemi - for more on the process of storing data on yourself, have a look at Wired's profile of Microsoft's Gordon Bell and his MyLifebits project.

Monday 2 November 2009

'The Future is Back': A Lecture on Marshall McLuhan

On Wednesday November 4, I will be giving a lecture on rereading Marshall McLuhan in the digital age for BAGD students at Central St Martins. Titled 'The Future is Back', the talk will be held in G12 at 16.30. I hope to see you then.

‘I have no theories whatever about anything. I make observations by way of discovering contours, lines of force and pressures. I satirize at all times, and my hyperboles are as nothing compared to the events to which they refer.’ Marshall McLuhan

The future is back…so where’s my jetpack? 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, however, reveals many useful tools and insights for approaching today’s new media. The lecture also deals with how notions of history and progress have altered radically as we entered the 21st century. From the motorway to the humble light bulb, McLuhan’s views on how media extend our sensory responses to the world have a renewed relevance, reflected and redefined in the theoretical writings of Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio and Friedrich Kittler.

My thanks to Ed Cornish for the publicity material, reproduced above.