2014/12/07

Swarm

I have an article in the new issue of Performance Research, 'On Turbulence'. It's based on the swarm talk I presented last year. I've put my article outline below and you can find more information about the issue here

Auguries of Discord: Protest, Activism and the Swarm.

In November 2010 London played host to a series of large-scale student demonstrations against the proposed (and now implemented) increase in tuition fees. At the same time, the south coast of England was subject to a particularly high-rate of murmuration: the wave-like accumulation of starlings in the vicinity of mass roosting sites. Brought into synchronicity by broadcast media, these two events – ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ – point to the ambiguity and productivity of swarm behaviour.

As a concept, the notion of the swarm posits the seemingly paradoxical state of a singular collective, a constellate identity that exists in a position of homogenous heterogeneity. A swarm is not just a large group of creatures but a mass of individuals who are understood as a collective or a colony; an entity that works within and is constituted by a matrix of feedback and co-ordination. Generally applied to the activity of bees, ‘swarm’ has increasingly come to signify a trans-species form of intelligence and performance. Rather than denoting an insectoid equivalent to ‘flock’ or ‘herd’, the word has assumed significance as a noun and verb that describes “a group of individuals who respond to one another and to their environment in ways that give them the power, as a group, to cope with uncertainty, complexity and change”.[i] This is frequently coupled with a bipolar application that sees the word being used equally to describe an intended subject of control as well as the means of control. The swarm is indicative of both ungovernable, plural excess and invisible, decentralized organization.[ii]

In this article my aim is to investigate the synchronic and homologous connection between non-human and human swarming suggested by the events of November 2010. In offering ‘swarm’ as a concept to analyse protest activity, my intention is not to draw on the metaphorical resonance of the word and thereby engage in associative substitution. Instead, I will argue for the need to understand ‘swarm’ and ‘protest’ as concepts that exist within a metonymic relationship, one that is based on a particular point of connection between the two.

Specifically, if one sees the theatre of protest as a physical manifestation of “protestation”; a complaint, “the formal (written) declaration against a proposal”, then parallels can be established with the collective event that is performed by the swarm. Etymologically, ‘swarm’ relates to the Sanskrit word for “sounds, resounds”. Swarm thus describes the production of noise, hence its common association with the buzz of bees. Murmuration, understood as a form of swarm behaviour maintains this sonic emphasis. The term originally described the spreading of rumour, the continual utterance of low cries and the act of moving one's lips without speaking. Its application to starling movement follows the metaphorical revival of the term by W.H. Auden and Mervyn Peake. [iii]  In each case, then, the swarm is presented as a signifying, communicative entity. Just as the protest wishes to be heard, it is necessary to listen to what the swarm has to say. Drawing upon John Kinsella's notion of poetic activism, I will argue that the development of this connection can assist in defending the disputed efficacy of protest activity.[iv] Similarly, the synchronicity can also be used to foreground and critique the frameworks that obfuscate and neutralise the performative potency of group activism. My overall intention will be to offer the swarm as a primary tool for the navigation and propagation of contemporary turbulence.
 




[i] Peter Miller, Smart Swarm (London: Collins, 2010), pp. xvi-xvii.
[ii] For the science fictional flipside of Miller’s systems analysis, see Arthur Herzog, The Swarm (New York: Holt, 1974).
[iii]  Each of these definitions and word histories are taken from the current edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
[iv] See John Kinsella, ‘Standing Up to Aggressors’, in Activist Poetics: Anarchy in the Avon Valley ed. by Niall Lucy (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press), pp.16-23, p.16.

Reading

I was recently interviewed about the psychological and creative process of reading for CAM magazine. You can read the issue here. Many thanks to Lucy Jolin for getting in touch.

2014/11/07

Bad Tripping in Babylon

Many thanks to George Bickers for having me as a guest on Tripping in Babylon last Tuesday night / Wednesday morning. For his fourth programme, George looked at the 'Second Summer of Love': the rave period which symbolically constellates around Manchester's Hacienda. After introducing the theme, George moved onto the link between altered consciousness, psychedelic culture and notions of space. This was the subject of our conversation. You can hear the episode here (scroll down to 'The Hacienda Must be Built').

The interview allowed me to revisit some ideas that came out of the Acid Flashes event at Idea Generation, conceived, written and directed by Evie Salmon.

JR live at Acid Flashes / Idea Generation
Acid Flashes was a spoken word show that Evie produced to coincide with 'ON: Acid House Art and Twenty First Century Psychedelia', an exhibition of images by Luke Insect, Leo Zero and Dave Little. It was great to be involved alongside Malcom Guite and Phil Yarrow. The pieces performed that night were based on writings by Peter Hook, Hakim Bey, Bill Drummond and others. In addition to evoking the ambience of the rave scene, one linking theme was that of space: the manner in which rave activities intersected with urban geographies; the re-purposing of established spaces and the role of rave as a movement against spatial (and social) stratification.

As I discussed with George, I see this aspect of rave culture as signalling a point of departure from some of the general paradigms applied to the mid-to late sixties psychedelic scene. Although 'getting high' was something of a given in each case, I see the spatial co-ordinates of rave as being rather more horizontal as opposed to the verticality of Leary's vision of psychedelia. That's to say, rather than advocating an (essentially untenable) elevation beyond normative boundaries, rave culture occupied, transformed and re-used the existing infrastructure in pursuit of its ends. The whole notion of a warehouse party highlights that, like the early skater scene of the 1970s, the activity was not about finding an elsewhere but more about re-thinking the function of the post-industrial landscape. Inner space explored via a re-calibration of the alienating work space.

Rave's incarnation in Blackburn and Accrington is particularly interesting in this respect. According to the website Hardcorewillneverdie, this took full flight in April 1989:

Tommy Smith and Tony Creft take over the running of the illegal parties around Blackburn after the original organisers are arrested. With convoys of cars all tuned to 102.5FM the parties quickly grow in size and reputation. Almost every week empty buildings in and around the Blackburn area are descended on by thousands of ravers. Sett EndBubble FactoryUnit 7, Pump Street and many more abandoned buildings,warehouses and even an old abattoir are used for parties over the coming months.

There's a suggestive psychogeography here in which Bey's notion of the temporary autonomous zone appears to be specifically grafted onto spaces of industry and commerce. "Sett EndBubble Factory, Unit 7, Pump Street" were factory sites, commercial edgelands and container spaces. Some still are , others have ossified into seemingly 'public' retail centres. Either way, such temporary occupation and radical transformation at the level of purpose offers a model of narco-practice that is different to the philosophical utopianism of Leary's Millbrook. On a more speculative note, Sett End and another Blackburn rave site, Kent Street, were also the sites of long-running weekend flea-markets during much of the 1980s and 1990s. 

Sett End Road, Shadsworth, Blackburn (circa 2000)
As the stallholders left Sett End's car park on a Saturday afternoon and drove back through Shadsworth, the rave convey would begin to accumulate in the same spot, waiting for directions to the next occupation, be it warehouse or abattoir. I don't see this as an opposition. Instead it seems to me that two homologous economies - both autonomous and independent - used this isolated pub as their base of operations. The fluidity of these activities is a key part of their operations, but there may also be something about the particularity of the sites that also serve to attract such nomadism. Peter Ackroyd talks about certain parts of London (i.e. Clerkenwell) as spaces that maintain their own time zones. When plotting the countercultural map of the north, one might have to account for a similar sense of separation, a distinction borne out of the covert and plural use of certain continually resonant locations. 

*
Much of the history of rave in Blackburn, Altham and the North West is covered in Piers Sanderson's documentary High on Hope. Take a look at the film's website for news of screenings and release dates.

2014/10/30

Bad Tripping

It's been a good couple of weeks for events and occurrences linked to the ongoing Bad Trip project. First, last Saturday saw the English Heretic / Exploring the Extraordinary event Weekend Otherworld. As noted in a previous post, I spoke about Performance and the manner in which magickal language has been used as a means of describing its cult status. This fits into the project because not only is Performance a classic cul-de-sac movie but its been co-opted and examined by a wide range of writers who have read the film as a terminal index for the decade: Zachery Lazar, Chris Petit, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair. The last two are particularly interesting because Performance works - alongside Mike Hodges' Get Carter (1971) as the primary cosm for Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969. Mid-way through, Sinclair 'materializes' as Norton, his space-bound time traveller from Slow Chocolate Autopsy (1997). Speaking in perfect Sinclair-argot, Norton speaks of Performance as "occult celluloid", dangerous material that's "liable to flare up". Certainly, the idea of Performance as being materially connected to 'dangerous' forces works as a key signpost for the way in which I see certain cultural artefacts from the late-1960s as having accumulated a persistent resonance. My point was that this aura relates to the manner in which such texts intersect on the basis of a shared contextual significance rather than a specifically thematic consistency. Questions after the talk brought up Frank Howard's The Other Side of Madness (1970). On reflection, I think the negative spider-web seen during that film's credit sequence offers a good way of mapping this material: a network of links that doesn't support a 'centre', but a constant process of proliferation. I was pleased to find that this take intersected in various ways with some of the other papers from the event, particularly Evie Salmon's brilliant take on 'the geographic turn' in art and film, Hannah Gilbert's thoughts on horror and anthropology and Andy Sharp's idea of the 'poetic conspiracy'.

On Tuesday night there was a very interesting discussion of the project on George's Bickers' excellent radio show Tripping in Babylon. The show is a brilliant discussion of psychedelia and narco-culture that features sharp eyed cultural analysis from George interspersed with some great music. George is doing a fabulous job in curating his shows and they're all well worth a listen. During Tuesday's broadcast he very kindly referred to previous lectures and public events I've done as part of the Bad Trip project. It was good to know that it has been of use to his work. Listening to TiB is like being guided through a fascinating, ongoing essay. The whole format seems like a really interesting way to develop and disseminate research. Check it out!

2014/09/30

Trocchi / 3 AM



I have a stack of notebooks relating to the Alexander Trocchi research I conducted between 2005 and 2009. Previous posts have drawn on this excess material. One recent trawl yielded this missive: a quick review of a Trocchi event organised by 3:AM Magazine in October 2006. As the notes point out the event was small but the line-up of speakers was impressive: Michael Horovitz, Stewart Home, Tom McCarthy and Dennis Brown. 


Most of the speakers published their talks online shortly after the event and I’ve added links to these where possible. Home and McCarthy later went on to develop their texts into introductory essays for the most recent editions of Young Adam (Alma, 2010) and Cain’s Book (Alma, 2010). Even if you know the novels both of these editions are worth checking out. In his talk Home spoke about his mother and about Jamie Wadhawan’s Cain’s Film (1969). His essay ‘A Walk on Gilded Splinters’ that appeared in Iain Sinclair’s London: City of Disappearances built on this. Interested readers should also seek out his 2005 novel Tainted Love. 


I’ve tightened up the text a bit here and there but otherwise it’s taken verbatim from the notebook I was keeping at the time. I would like to say that my odd use of tense and fragmented syntax was done in homage to Trocchi but this was not the case. I wrote this at speed, on a train, very late at night.


Alexander Trocchi at The Three Kings, Clerkenwell 12 October 2006.


A night of readings and criticism organised by radical publishers Social Disease. Although by all accounts this event didn’t draw the impressive numbers seen at their last B.S. Johnson event, the line-up of speakers was excellent and the venue - a dimly lit upper pub room - was perfect setting for the evening's tales of drugs, sex and dangerous writing.


First up was poet Michael Horovitz who by candlelight read from Trocchi’s first novel, Young Adam (1954). He highlighted the novel’s debt to Beckett, praised its intense lyricism but also commented on its obvious shortcomings. Young Adam denies of any kind of distinctive voice to the character of Ella, being a particularly problematic aspect. Horovitz also talked about Trocchi’s role in the 1965 Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall, and it was this image of him as an organiser and networker which was to persist during the evening


Author and activist Stewart Home spoke next and illustrated the dizzying extent of Trocchi’s connections amongst the international counterculture. Home touched on the idea of Trocchi as an artist of disappearance and turned the lack of projection equipment to his advantage. The inability to screen Jamie Wadhawan’s Cain’s Film was read by Home as an appropriate symbol of Trocchi's own traceless nature.


Home commented that Trocchi main talent was that of drawing people into his circle. This mesmeric quality was central to Dennis Brown’s contribution to the evening. Brown acted as Trocchi’s literary assistant in the later, largely undocumented period of the author's life. Brown painted a picture of a man who on the surface appeared quiet, introverted and content to sit in a bookish corner with beer and a whiskey chaser. However Brown described how, once the talk began flowing, this appearance gave way to tales of Parisian decadence, sigmatic revolution, and - to those who were so inclined - the promise of a fix in the presence of a master junkie.


Trocchi obviously had a major influence on Brown, but he was also quick to point out the damaging and debilitating effects of his friend's drug addiction. The image of Trocchi sitting alone and motionless in the corner of a bar offered a significant counterpoint to the image of a galvanizing activist and artist conveyed by Home. These two perspectives came together in the final talk of the night from author Tom McCarthy. He read a fascinating paper focusing on Cain’s Book (1960), Trocchi’s account of heroin addiction in New York. McCarthy placed particular emphasis on the moments in the text where writing itself becomes the subject. From here McCarthy argued that rather than being merely a graphic diary of drug abuse, Cain's Book offered insights into what he called the "primal scene of writing"; a record of writing as process. Heroin does not produce this vision but instead works as a correlative in the text to Trocchi’s movement to the edge of language. The text narrates and investigates the movement of individuals towards a series of personal and communicative extremes.


What emerged out of the evening was an image of Trocchi as a distinctive but limited voice in post-war literature. However, as was suggested by the biographical insights provided and the analytic perspectives applied, there exists within Trocchi’s writing a wilful sense of self-destruction. Trocchi consistently seems to activate a process of obliteration or disappearance. That he is now being celebrated by small, secretive groups meeting in backrooms suggests that to some degree Trocchi succeeded in his bid to escape from history.

2014/09/07

Raymond Durgnat

The BFI have just published an excellent collection of material by maverick film critic Raymond Durgnat. Heroically edited by Henry K. MillerThe Essential Raymond Durgnat includes his reviews of Wholly Communion and Tonite Let's All Make Love in London originally published in Films and Filming. The latter is a particularly interesting attempt to conceptualize what might constitute a psychedelic cinema. There's also a brilliant translation of 'Aiming at the Archers' by Evie Salmon. The original text of this article (written for Positif) was a strange, quixotic and associative reading of Powell and Pressburger (amongst other things). Salmon has done a great job preserving the essence of the piece whilst also giving it a spine of clarity. Miller's insightful introductions and encyclopedic notes give Durgnat's work a much needed scholarly and critical overview. Durgnat's prolific and magpie writing life often make it hard to delineate his thought and methodology. This book lays it out straight. Well worth a look.

William Burroughs and Paranthropology

My article on Burroughs and the Moka Bar, 'Playback Hex
: William Burroughs and the Magical Objectivity of the Tape Recorder' has been published in a recent issue of Paranthropology: Journal of Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal. The issue contains a series of articles featured at last year's Exploring the Extraordinary conference at York. Check it out for great work by Hannah Gilbert, Andy Sharp and Mark Valentine.

You can read the issue here

2014/08/20

Weekend Other World


This October I'll be taking part in Weekend Other World, an event of "deep voyages ... at the intersection of film, fiction, music, anthropology, cosmology and occultism". I'll be talking about Performance, magick and conspiracy.

The event is a collaboration between English Heretic and Exploring the Extraordinary and promises to bring together some really interesting thinking. Confirmed speakers include Andy Sharp, Hannah Gilbert, Evie Salmon and Will Fowler.

There's a music event on the Friday at the Apiary Studios in Hackney and a day of talks on the Saturday at the Cinema Museum in South London. Tickets and event details here.

Last year's English Heretic event at Goldsmith's College was great. Really happy to be involved in this one....


2014/08/09

Manson Supplement

Supplementary notes originally included in an earlier draft of the Manson essay prepared for Transgressive Culture.


In 1982 David Toop wrote an article for Collusion, ‘Surfin’ Death Valley USA’, an investigation of the connections between Manson and The Beach Boys. Writing in 2003, Toop noted that in the years following the text’s initial publication, new information appeared on the subject ranging from “a profile of Bobby Beausoleil written by Truman Capote” to “a skip load of post-apocalyptic Amok – type sleaze on Manson and the Family”. He comments that one reader wrote in response to the article expressing “an unhealthy interest in snuff movies”. Compounding his tone of lamentation, Toop speculates that said reader probably “went on to write for Creation Press”.[i]

Here, Toop is referencing two idiosyncratic publishing houses, Amok Press, and Creation Books. Both have been instrumental in developing Manson’s ‘cult’ status. Amok published Nikolas Schreck's The Manson File, amongst others, whilst Creation’s Manson list contains Death Trip (1994 / 2009), a book that shares material with Schreck’s volume. Whilst these references acknowledge the extent of the Manson catalogue, the construction of a spectrum moving from Truman Capote to undifferentiated “sleaze” draws Amok, Creation and by extension the critical discourse that valorises Manson into a negative value judgement. The implication is that considerations of the Manson milieu that move beyond condemnation or attempt to extrapolate significance from “banal” coincidences of “geography, money and show-business” constitute a discourse that is itself problematically transgressive: “unhealthy” and sleazy; immoral, dishonest, disreputable.[ii]

Arguably, this point has some validity in the case of Tuesday’s Child naming Manson ‘Man of the Year’ in 1969. However, it is too simplistic to suggest that subsequent considerations of him as either “monster” or “prophet” inversely correlate with good / bad modes of analysis.[iii] This narrow binary distinction is not representative of the strategies that have characterized 40 years of cultural production and in particular the framing of Manson at the turn of the millennium. That is to say, when considering the metaphor of Charles Manson, it is not sufficient to unambiguously oppose such a phenomena. Instead, it is important to adopt a mode of analysis that assesses the diachronic metamorphosis of Manson’s emblematic status. Whilst he has consistently retained a symbolic currency, this is not a position – whether presented negatively or positively – that has existed in the absence of historical development. As such then, an evaluation of the particularized cultural artifact that is the Amok / Creation Manson requires consideration of the strategies underpinning its construction.

*

Amok Press was formed in New York in 1986 by Adam Parfey and Ken Swezey. One of its earliest publications was the manifesto-like Apocalypse Culture (1987) an attempt to analyse the forces “lurking behind” the “mass delirium” of the late 20th century, the belief expressed on the part of “occult prophets, nihilist kids, born agains and liberal humanists” that a “global catastrophe” was imminent.[iv] In practice, this investigation took the form of a series of mondo-like essays considering fringe thought and the extremes of human behaviour. In contrast to this subcultural anthropology, Creation Books, formed in London in 1989 by James Williamson and Alan McGee began mainly as a publisher of “imaginative extremes”.[v] Their initial manifesto, “the crucifixion of modern literature and the resurrection of the imagination” was realised through the publication of fiction and poetry by James Havoc, Alan Moore, Jeremy Reed and Stuart Home.[vi] Creation offered work that was “hallucinated and anatomical”: violent and sexually explicit in content, nominally ‘avant-garde’ in form.[vii] During the mid to late 1990s the company diversified into non-fiction, mainly covering cult film and countercultural art, but as Williamson has described, their initial stock in trade was “Poetry, pornography, pulp and plagiarism”.[viii]

Despite these generic differences both publishers used the ‘underground’ status of their authors as markers of their own marginal position as cultural producers. Parfey identified the contributors to Apocalypse Culture as “folk artists and folk researchers”, claiming that they acted as “more worthy cultural barometers than the often more clever but intellectually and emotionally corrupt professionals”.[ix] Similarly, Williamson presented Creation Books as an antidote to the “sexless confines of corporate publishing formats” and its material as a challenge to notions of “literary value”.[x] In this respect, the projects of Amok and Creation can be described as ‘transgressive’ as the term is understood in its primarily “disobedient”, contra-normative sense.[xi] That is to say, the intention informing their publishing programmes is one of “symbolic inversion”, the attempt to, by example, “present an alternative to commonly held cultural codes, values and norms”.[xii] In the case of Williamson and Parfey, such “values and norms” are those proposed by ‘mainstream’ publishing, (“Penguin and their obsolescent ilk”) and the disciplinary boundaries of professional academia.[xiii] It is through this lens of oppositional alterity that that the emphasis placed on Charles Manson, particularly by Amok Press can initially be understood. 

In the opening essay in Apocalypse Culture, “Latter Day Lycanthropy” Parfey provides a short cultural history of the struggle to either repress or release “the animal in man” and the apparent late-20th century shift towards the latter in art and culture.[xiv] Given his emphasis on contemporary shamanic performances and Transactional Psychology, Parfey’s essay could be seen to occupy the collection’s purported anthropological stance, expressing an interest in what Stuart Swezey, writing in the Amok Journal: Sensesurround Edition calls “the pursuit of a neurobiological basis for mystical and ecstatic experience”.[xv] However, the article also includes an illustration of a lycanthropic Charles Manson drawn by Nick Bougas for The Manson File and quotes the ‘manifesto’ of Radio Werewolf, a performance group led by Schreck that ‘celebrates the lunar force of animist apocalypse as a reaction against directionless humanity”. The implication is that within the cultural sphere represented by Amok, Manson acts as an exemplary figure of amoral misanthropy. He exhibits the necessary “psychic preparation for the millennial calamities which are thought to lie ahead”.[xvi]

Radio Werewolf performed alongside Boyd Rice’s Non at the ‘8/8/88 Rally’, a concert and ‘Satanic’ gathering that included Parfey, Anton LaVey and a screening of Frank Howard’s Manson film The Other Side of Madness (1970). Prior to this Schreck had made the “revisionist documentary” Charles Manson Superstar (1987) that operated as something of a companion piece to The Manson File.[xvii] In addition to making what Jim Morton describes as “hyperbolic statements about Manson’s relative innocence”, its opening narration attributes a conspiratorial importance to the dates of Tate-La Bianca murders.[xviii] Schreck describes how August 8-9th corresponds with other ‘significant’ events in history such as the detonation of the nuclear bomb over Nagasaki (1945), the birth date of serial killer Ed Gein (1907) and the LAPD announcement describing the activities of the ‘Night Stalker’ Richard Ramirez (1985). From this perspective, the 8/8/88 rally acts as a further iteration of this occult trajectory but one that centralizes Manson within the web of significance. The concert was not promoted as a celebration of the panorama of occurrences and figures referenced at the outset of Schreck’s film but specifically as a “reaffirmation of the ‘riding forth’ ritual conducted on the eve of the Tate murders in 1969”.[xix] The event thus seems to develop the image of Manson from that of celebrated misanthrope into an emblem of an almost archetypal ‘force’ of violence. By extension, the lycanthropic theory that Apocalypse Culture outlines is extended into the event’s ambivalent practice that oscillates between ritual and actualization. The rhetoric of ‘reaffirmation’ carries the sense of both commemoration and repetition as if to point to the memorialization of a previous act of violence as well as its reactivation through violence yet to come. 

This attitude of overt confrontation can be read in terms of Aesthetic Terrorism, which as George Petros describes in Art That Kills (2008) represented a key impulse in American underground art between 1984 and 2001. Jesper Aagaard Petersen has described this ‘movement’ as “a combination of rationalist Satanism and more expressive forms of post-punk”.[xx] In an analysis of Petros’ “portrait” Peterson observes that he attempts to elide religion and subculture through the discursive integration of Satanism’s “reactive transgressions” and “an avant-garde aesthetics” [xxi] We are told that in practice this takes the form of the “subversive use of past clich├ęs, knowledge and home truths being flung out of joint” as an expression of “frustration with politics, big business and mass entertainment”.[xxii] An associated discourse, John Aes-Nihil’s Aesthetic Nihilism codifies this subversion further as a reaction against society and mass culture through “the creation of art so extreme it verges on destruction”.[xxiii]

This framework of critical provocation offers a potential negotiation of the difficult territory that this work inhabits. The recognition of a symbolically violent artistic ideology could be seen to allow for a differentiation between “transgressive play and problematic politics”.[xxiv] Certainly, if its ‘satirical’ component is accepted, such negativity could be viewed in terms of a reflexive critique. However, the residue of ‘problematic politics’ remains insofar as the emphasis placed upon individuality, self-realization and self-empowerment (man into wolf) within Amok publications and their associated events could be seen in terms of an aggressive Social Darwinism. Ideas ranging from the cultivation of a millennial resilience to the creation of ambiguously “intense” work appear to connect social and artistic development to the exercise of personal ‘strength’. When mediated through the emblem of Manson, it is hard to perceive this antinomianism in terms other than an idealization of physical violence.

In the case of Creation, although the company published Art that Kills, the situation regarding their representation of Manson is less politically vexed. However, it nonetheless remains problematic mainly due to the extent to which he is repeatedly fetishized across their publications. In ‘celebration’ of the 40th anniversary of the Tate-La Bianca murders, Creation re-published Adam Gorightly’s The Shadow Over Santa Susanna (2009), a text that repeated Schreck’s conspiratorial claims whilst connecting them to further nodal points. Gorightly is a writer concerned with ufology, Forteana and conspiracy research, subjects that are not the specific preserve of Creation Books. However, the text can be seen as an appropriate publication choice as its mapping of the Manson web is indicative of the manner in which. Creation texts often seem to revel in the aura of Manson’s infamy and the range of culturally resonant connections extending out from the murders. ‘Mansonoid’ allusions are present in Creation’s early fictional publications especially by flagship author James Havoc. His short story ‘Zipper Fox: A Synopsis’ (1996) has characters “cruising the night sands in one of Charlie Manson’s old dune buggies”. In his foreword to Havoc’s Butchershop in the Sky (1999), Williamson attempts to cultivate a correspondingly ‘Luciferean’ persona for the writer.[xxv] Describing Havoc’s life in Brighton, Williamson parodies Ed Sanders’ prose style used in The Family to recall that “one young woman was encouraged to take LSD and lured back to find his flat literally draped in fresh meat. Oo-ee-oo.”[xxvi] In addition, Creation’s initial ‘sampler’ Cease to Exist (1991) took as its title the Scientology mantra that Manson used as the basis for one of his songs, later recorded by The Beach Boys as ‘Never Learn Not to Love You’.

In subsequent publications this fascination is maintained not so much by the contents of the often very different books, but in the language of the paratextual material used to market them. With a nod to Sonic Youth, Charlie’s Family (1998), an edition of Jim VanBebber’s screenplay for The Manson Family (2003) is described as offering an “uncompromising cinematic portrayal of the exterminating angels of Death Valley ‘69”.[xxvii] Death Trip is “an iconoclastic study of Manson as Psychopathic God”,[xxviii] whilst the blurb for Gorightly’s text merges this fatalistic energy with an appeal to the transgressive consumer, calling it “an illustrated kill-bible for the coffee-tables of all self-respecting true crime buffs, counter-culture freaks and teenage satanists”.[xxix] Recent publications such as Jack Hunter’s Surfin’ with Satan (2010) and Confessions of Psycho-Cat (2010) take this movement towards commodity fetishism one step further. Printed in single runs of only 69 copies they materially exploit the talismanic significance of 1969 to produce objects of high-value scarcity.

In each case, whether the promotion of Manson is figured as a means of cultural subversion or cultural commodification, it is a promotion that seemingly negates the human cost at the centre of the case. The resonance of the murderer is celebrated in the absence of a consideration of those murdered. As result, to use a phrase frequently included in Creation’s marketing, this artistic ideology appears somewhat ‘terminal’. It ostensibly reiterates a “cultish fixation” that does not cultivate value.[xxx] Whilst the individual cultural products participate, as highlighted in a level of critique, their surrounding publishing discourse works within a rhetoric of destruction that does not leave recognizable space for the subsequent development of the forms that such work seeks to deconstruct. 



Notes



[i] David Toop, ‘Surfin’ Death Valley USA: The Beach Boys and ‘Heavy’ Friends’, Collusion February-April 1982. Reprinted in The Sound and the Fury ed. by Barney Hoskyns and David Pringle (London: Bloomsbury, 2003), pp. 399-407.
[ii] Toop, p. 402. Synonyms from Collins English Dictionary (Glasgow: Collins, 2009), p. 213.
[iii] “Monster” and “prophet” from Swezey in John Gilmore, The Garbage People (USA: Amok, 1995) p. ii.
[iv] Adam Parfey (ed.) Apocalypse Culture (New York: Amok, 1987), p.13.
[v] Alan McGee was head of Creation Records and the publishing company, Creation Press, was set up as an adjunct to this main enterprise. In 1994 Creation Books became an independent entity under Williamson’s editorship. There was an interesting cross over between the two projects during the early stages. This included the company’s first publication, Raism (1989) by James Havoc and the accompanying album, The Church of Raism featuring Havoc backed by members of Primal Scream. See James Williamson, “Introduction: Apocalypse 451” in Dust: A Creation Books Reader (London: Creation Books, 1995), pp.i-ii.
[vi] Ibid, p.i.
[vii] Ibid, back cover copy.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Parfey, p.13.
[x] Williamson, p. i.
[xi] Part of the OED definition of 'transgression'. 
[xii] Barbara Babcock quoted in Peter Stallybrass and Allon White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (London, Methuen, 1986).
[xiii] Williamson, p.i.
[xiv] Parfey, ‘Latter Day Lycanthropy’, in Apocalypse Culture, pp. 17-27, p. 17. 
[xv] Stuart Swezey, Amok Journal: Sensurround Edition (USA: Amok, 1995). 
[xvi] Parfey, p. 26.
[xvii] Jim Morton, ‘Manson Movie Madness’ in Jim Van Bebber, Charlie’s Family (London, Creation, 1998), pp. 164-185, p. 167.
[xviii] Ibid.
[xix] See
[xx] Jesper Aagaard Petersen, '‘Smite him hip and thigh’: Satanism, Violence and Transgression'   
[xxi] Quoted in Petersen.
[xxii] Ibid.
[xxiii] The Archives of Aesthetic Nihilism place a significant emphasis upon Manson.
[xxiv] Petersen.
[xxv] James Williamson, ‘Foreword’, in James Havoc, Butchershop in the Sky (London: Creation 1999), pp. 7-11, p. 11. ‘Zipper Fox’, pp. 201-203, p.203.
[xxvi] Sanders references are also present in Havoc’s obscure 8 mm film Crimes Against Pussycat (1989).
[xxvii] Van Bebber, Charlie’s Family. Back cover.
[xxviii] 'Johnny Satan', Death Trip. Back cover.
[xxix] Gorightly, Shadow Over Santa Susanna. Back cover.
[xxx] Simon Dwyer, ‘The Plague Yard’ in Rapid Eye vol 2 (London: Creation, 1995), pp. 137-238, p. 197. 

2014/07/03

Occult, Magick, Evil and the Powers of Horror

The new issue of One+One is out and you can read it here. It's a special edition covering 'Occult, Magick, Evil and the Powers of Horror'. I have two articles included, one on projection and Night of the Demon, the other on Craig Baldwin and his film Mock-Up on Mu. Mark Goodall also has an article on Mario Mercier which is well worth checking out.....

Many thanks to James Marcus Tucker, Bradley Tuck and the rest of the One+One team for pulling this issue together.....

2014/06/20

Monolith

Last year I wrote a series of articles for the online and print magazine Monolith. I posted links to the articles on this blog as and when they appeared. The brainchild of writer Lore Oxford, Monolith currently operates an excellent tumblr site that features a visual archive of heavy sci-fi, cosmic psychedelia and fringe science. The great strength of the magazine was its ability to weave together the late 70s mood of Heavy Metal and Omni with a contemporary focus on current science, parapsychology and high strangeness. Monolith successfully channelled the atmosphere of late-counterculture, futurology and artistic experimentation that characterised Dune, Alien, Dark Star and is evident in current hauntological works like Beyond the Black Rainbow. This cosmic, air-brush aspect of neo-psychedelia is superficially well known but is still in need of a comprehensive mapping. Along with magazines like Arthur, Monolith made great strides towards the charting of this territory. I hope it reconfigures again in the future.



The following posts feature most of the articles I contributed to the magazine. I’ve already posted a text on telepathy that originally appeared on the Monolith site. The others cover Steve Quenell, in-vitro meat, and Area 51.  

Monolith 1: An Interview with Steve Quenell

“I'm not exactly sure when it happened but at some point in the 60's the hippy culture embraced the occult.”


Steve Quenell is a collage artist based in Seattle who has cultivated a distinctive visual style that combines heavy psychedelia, occult motifs and anthropological imagery. He has designed distinctive posters for Six Organs of Admittance, Black Mountain and The Black Angels and has also provided stunning album art for The Warlocks, amongst others. Aside from his poster work, Quenell continues to produce personal works that re-cast the ambience of the late-1960s into strange, hypnogogic landscapes.






Riley: Let’s talk about the word ‘psychedelic’. I read an interview with you in the Seattle Weekly that used the term in relation to your art. Elsewhere you’ve described your work as  “psychedelic collages”. What do you take that word to mean? Are you linking your work to the experience of altered states of consciousness and ‘mind-manifesting' experiences, or are you using it in a more panoramic sense to refer to a particularly resonant aspect of 1960s culture?


Quenell: In the 60's 'psychedelic’ was used to describe music, art, films, etc., during a time when certain artists began to link their experiences of altered states of consciousness directly to what they were creating. I use the term more in homage to the spirit of that time. I draw a lot of inspiration from the 60's and early 70's. But I also feel the word ‘psychedelic’ (as it relates to art) is a term that can be used when the fantastic meets the weird. Bosch, the Symbolists, the Surrealists, even sci-fi paperback artists (like Richard Powers) were psychedelic. I know that some people feel the word should only be used to describe black-light head-shop posters but I think it's much bigger than that.

Riley: With that in mind, are there any specific artists who you see as having a significant influence upon you work?

Quenell: I've been making this type of art for almost 10 years now and my influences have fluctuated but I always have my go-to guys...many of the 60's San Francisco poster makers (especially David Singer), Nik Douglas, James Koehinline, Harry Smith, and Polish film posters from the 60's. With the advent of the internet there's a constant stream of new and inspiring artists. I started a Tumblr account just to keep track of them all.

What really influences me is the feel of the late 60's and early 70's, from the vibrant print ads and the art-house films (especially the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky) to the widespread appropriation of occult imagery and ideas. These are the touchstones of my aesthetic.

Riley: I've mainly encountered your work via album covers. Do you work in collaboration with musicians to develop an image or do they request existing images?

Quenell: I've actually done both. For Heavy Deavy Skull Lover I already had several pieces done when a friend of mine heard through the internet that The Warlocks were looking for art for their new album. She thought my work would be perfect, gave me their email address, and they bought the pieces. Alternately, when I work with Ben Chasny (of Six Organs of Admittance) he has an idea ahead of time and we work together to come as close as I can to the vision he has for his cover.

Riley: I love that Warlocks cover. It does indeed seem perfect for the band and the tone of that album: intensity, animal ferocity but also a kind of beauty... Could you talk about this image in more detail? What’s being suggested through the juxtaposition of the animal mouths and the naked torso? When I look at it, the image seems to be suggestive of transformation, as if we are seeing a shamanic transmutation from human to animal at mid-point. Also, because there's a photographic quality to the image it seems as if it’s a still from a bizarre, long lost late-60s movie. Were these ideas that you were going for at all?

Quenell: Oh, thanks so much. The cover of Heavy Deavy is actually a cropped version of my collage Weird Scene at Dusk. Having just finished a very painstaking, meticulous piece, I decided I just wanted to construct a collage as spontaneously and off the cuff as I could. With this in mind I went through a stack of old magazine cuttings and found a burlesque body, wild dogs fighting, and a goat head. Everything fell into place and the piece made itself. The original art actually shows the full body with the goat head and the dogs fighting at her feet. Looking at the finished piece, it had a similar feel to the Hammer film posters of the 60's (especially the Dennis Wheatley series).

It, like most of my collages, has that balance of weird and beautiful that I strive for. I thought the vibrant colors of the stripper and her necklace were really beautiful. These juxtaposed with the ferocity of the dogs at her feet and the cropped goat head created a perfect composition. I always try to get that symbiotic relationship in every piece I construct.

Aesthetic is the key--an aesthetic that at its very essence is beautiful and wicked. I find aesthetic is more important to me than any overt message I might try to convey. I want my art to be open to interpretation. I really like your take on this one.

Riley: The edition of the Warlocks album I have also has another image on the inlay which your website identifies as Coronation of the Plague King. What’s the story behind this one?

Quenell: I had these patterns that I drew with Prisma pen and pencil lying around my apartment and I decided to cut them up. I noticed a shape forming from what I had cut out so I placed it on top of a bit of watercolor that I had done. Next, I added the hands then some flower patterns and then the skull. To this day I still love that piece. Its completion surprised me and forever altered the way I did my art because it was the first time I had ever used illustration, water colour, and collage all in one piece. Up to that point I was doing some illustration and a few simple collages but this was something entirely new for me.

Many of the artists I admire have this amazing balance of beauty and wickedness. In amongst them there are a select few that take it to yet another level that makes me question what I'm seeing. That combination of factors is a huge inspiration. For me, it doesn't get any better than beautiful, bizarre art that makes me do a double take. Francis Bacon, Moebius, AJ Fosik, Max Ernst, Bob Pepper, and even poster duo Seripop are a few of the artists that exemplify this.

Riley: It’s interesting hearing you talk about one of your own pieces surprising you once completed. It seems as though you were in some kind of trance. Is that how you see your creative process? Is it a kind of meditative exercise?

Quenell: I wasn't in a trance but I was definitely in a zone. When constructing a collage I sometimes have a basic idea in mind as I search through old magazines but sometimes I'll have no preconceived notions at all and I'll just rifle through my archives, putting pieces aside that look good. Then I'll start to take other aspects under consideration. Is it for a band or a show poster? What are the aesthetics of the band?  With these things in mind, the pieces just emerge. I have done rough sketches beforehand but almost every time the end product looks nothing like the initial sketch.

Riley: Why do you find that collage is a particularly effective medium for you? Is there an 'archival' or more ‘de-contextualising’ interest at work in your use of copies of National Geographic?

Quenell: I think I was drawn to collage because I found that I couldn't pay homage to the art I loved any other way. I don't like to paint and I feel confined by illustration. Nothing looks more of that time than the actual photographs from the 60's and 70's.
I don't consciously de-contextualize any image. The beauty of collage is that you can take just part of an image and get something completely different than if you used it in its entirety. That said I find that I am drawn to holy or ceremonial imagery because these images are often both beautiful and sacred.

Riley: Your work could be described as quite ‘dark’. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s unpleasant but the images seem to veer towards skulls, sinister creatures and foreboding landscapes. To return to the idea of the ‘psychedelic’, do you see this material as different from ‘traditional’ psychedelic images, the kind that that highlight peace, transcendence, pastoral imagery etc.?

Quenell: The darkness is the weird or eerie visuals that I'm drawn to. As far as what is traditionally psychedelic, I guess I'd refer back to how I define that term. To me those images are the building blocks of my psych compositions which I suppose aren't traditionally psychedelic but then again, what is?

Riley: In the Seattle interview you mentioned something that I found particularly interesting, the fact that when you were growing up, ‘a lot of the hippies were getting into the occult’. Could you expand on this a bit? I see a lot of occult imagery in your work, obviously with your Tarot images, but there's also your piece The Temptation of Kenneth Anger. Do you think there was a general shift in the late sixties towards an interest in the occult? If so, why do you think this occurred?

Quenell: I'm not exactly sure when it happened but at some point in the 60's the hippy culture embraced the occult. Maybe it was a hearkening back to pagan ideals; maybe it was an acceptance of all things weird, who knows. So by the time I was a kid growing up in the 70's the residual effects of this paranormal acceptance was everywhere--and (as someone who was drawn to the weird even at an early age) I loved it. Book stores had an occult section, department stores started carrying Ouija boards, etc. My own aunt bought an encyclopedia of the supernatural. So I still have an interest in the imagery of the occult (probably because many of the images make me question what I'm seeing) but I don't subscribe to it--I find it all kind of silly. That said, nothing tops a collage off better than a mandrake root or a hand of glory.

Riley: Kenneth Anger said that for him the process of making films was like casting a spell. Would you say that making a collage has similar implications for you? Jodorowsky also springs to mind here. Is he an artist you admire?


Quenell: Jodorowsky is one of my biggest influences but only in terms of composition and imagery. He has a very methodical, masterly eye for the symbolism he incorporates into his films (so did Anger). Personally, the final aesthetic of a piece is more important to me than any contextual symbolism.