Posts Tagged ‘William S. Burroughs’

Editions Mego – EMEGO226 – 24th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

The latest work from Florian Hecker, A Script for Machine Synthesis is described as ‘an experimental auditory drama and a model of abstraction’. The press release continues, explaining that ‘A Script for Machine Synthesis presents a complex simplicity that spirals in an unending manner as an audio image of the uncanny valley. It is the third chapter in the trilogy of text-sound pieces Hecker has collaborated with the philosopher Reza Negarestani. A resynthesized voice outlines procedure as procedure itself unfolds… The suggestive encounter with a pink ice cube is a conceptual point of departure for a scene in which linguistic chimeras of descriptors are materialized through synthetic trophies, mental props and auditory objects. Exeunt all human actors, A Script for Machine Synthesis is an experiment in putting synthetic emptiness back into synthetic thought.’

I’m reminded of a number of theory-based text works centred around automation and abstraction, ranging from William Burroughs’ cut-ups and Brion Gysin’s permutations, to Philippe Vasset’s 2005 novella, ScriptGenerator©®™, via Stewart Home’s experimental audio piece, ‘Divvy’, which used computer-generated voices to read the two simultaneous narratives. The concept of the removal of the author from the creative process is nothing new, and while a robotic takeover may have been more greatly feared in science fiction works of the 1970s and 1980s, the fact of the matter is that the threat is greater now than ever before – but people are generally too wrapped up in reality TV or killing themselves just to make ends meet and to pay the bills that the technological developments of the last decade or so have gone largely unnoticed: instead of a seismic shift, the takeover has been gradual and insidious.

A Script for Machine Synthesis exists in a strange territory between territories, or, more specifically, times. While drawing heavily on the paranoias – and, by its sound, technologies – of preceding decades, it’s very much a contemporary work in terms of its concept if not so much its rather retro-sounding execution.

A Script For Machine Synthesis is not an album one listens to for its textual content: it is a drab, monotonous work which centres – aside from the introduction and credits – around a single track some fifty-seven and a half minutes in duration. Slightly fuzzy monotone voices narrate the process of the process in the style of technical manuals, and lecturing a highly complex theory in the driest, dullest of styles, while bubbling synths and electronic scratches and bleeps provide distracting incidentals which aren’t quite distracting enough to break the monotony. It’s hardly riveting from a sonic perspective, either. At points, the words become practically inaudible as digital distortion and file corruption disrupt the audio. Skittering, warping interference do more than interfere with the audio flow, but create a certain cognitive dissonance which engenders a sort of subliminal tension: I find myself growing twitchy and jittery, manifesting in increasingly awkward head-scratching, and a difficulty in sitting still. It could just be a unique individual response, ad of course, any experiment will produce different results with different subjects, but sitting by candlelight with a relaxing pint, I can’t readily identify any other factor which may explain my growing discomfort.

This is, of course, the ultimate synthesis of theory and practice, and more than anything, the experience of listening to A Script For Machine Synthesis bears strong parallels to the digitally-generated screeds of text published by Kenji Siratori in the late 90s and early years of the new millennium. That is to say, it’s a concept work which, while far from enjoyable, is undeniably admirable in its audacity and its absolute commitment to explore the concept at its core to its absolute end. This is art.

 

Hecker - Script

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Consouling Sounds – 25th November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

The title of Barst’s first full-length album is a reference to William Burroughs’ novel of the same title. Of course it is. Burroughs’ influence on music is immense, and where the is no direct absorption of his ideas or methodologies, musicians since the 1960s have been citing him as an influence. He remains, arguably, one of the ultimate countercultural icons of the twentieth century.

While Barst acknowledges ‘the fragmented, the transcendental and the viscerally unsettling imagery of his work’ as an inspiration point for this richly detailed sonic journey of an album, there’s also a nod to the cut-up technique devised and formalised by Burroughs and Brion Gysin in 1959. There’s logic to this. The cut-ups, both on paper and when subsequently applied to audiotape suggested immediate practical applications in the production of music, and if there was a link between the concept of the cut-ups and the work of Throbbing Gristle, it was acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Foetus who really rendered the connection a direct one.

The cut-up intrinsically connotes a hybridity, a drawing together of eclectic sources, a combining and collaging of fragments to forge a multi-layered intertext, while simultaneously providing a creative liberation, in which the creator is subservient to the material.

While Burroughs claimed to have abandoned the cut-up by the time of his final trilogy, which consisted of Cities of the Red Night, The Western Lands and The Place of Dead Roads, there was a certain disingenuousness about this: the cut-ups continued to inform his writing, albeit in a more subtle form, and with the editorial input of James Grauerholz who reshaped the works with an eye to a more commercial text. The result was a more accessible mode of writing, but one which evoked something of a fugue-like state, in contrast to the annihilative cerebral barrage of his works of the 1960s. This is perhaps the point at which Barst most readily intersects with Burroughs, in offering a work which, as the press blurb explains, sees ‘layer upon layer…fitted to build up a work of art… Cutting up sounds, and layering them from very subtle to incredibly huge.’

The album effectively has five tracks, but they’re mastered as two, corresponding with the sides of the vinyl: as such, track one consists not so much of three tracks or chapters (‘The Threshold / The Rite / The Passage’) but three movements segued together to form a longform piece. Likewise side / track two features ‘The Western Lands / The Fields’

Screeding noise fills the spaces in the rich shoegaze swirl of the first movement. The drums are muddy, partly submerged, distant amidst the maelstrom. The whole thing drifts… ‘The Rite’ is built around an insistent beat and pulsating, looped synth motif. It’s perhaps the most overtly structured, and the most overtly electronic track on the album, laying down an expansive desert groove that transports the listener to another space altogether. An immense sonic swell bursts into a multi-layered, infinitely-faceted cathedral of sound, which gives way to engine-like drones. What is this? Where are we? In the afterburn, tectonic thuds shake. A deep, murky bass warps and grinds against a decayed industrial rhythm to create a sinister, post-apocalyptic soundscape.

The moody, dark ambience of the title track melds an almost ritualistic, ceremonial spiritualism to a thumping electronic beat. Low in the mix, the vocals howl out in a barely intelligible expulsion of soul-burning anguish. Part black metal, part Prurient, devastatingly barren, it’s perhaps one of the most innovatively genre-breaking tracks I’ve heard all year. The vastness of ‘The Fields’ is an experience beyond words. The percussion hammers out hard, but low, grinding explosively but largely buried in the immense swathe of layered sound which is totally immersive. But then, the storm is over. The grace and elegance of the piano-led play-out is contrasting in the extreme. But this is beautiful music, and provides welcome respite.

The Western Lands is an accomplished work, and an incredible achievement, both conceptually and sonically. A different kind of epic.

 

 

Barst - The Western Lands

Gargarin Records – gr2035 – 1st November 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

Something is very wrong. Ok, so there are lots of things that are very wrong, but in particular, there’s something wrong with A K Klosowski, and by the sounds of things, his audio archive. And his tape deck  – or decks, to be more accurate. Listening in 2016, one might think that whatever combo of kit constitutes a ‘kassetteninstrument’, something is awry, that the heads are worn and the tapes are chewed, with loops and samples continually playing at random, all at once.

But context is important here and the mic on this album creates digital technology by a mile. As the blurbage explains, ‘Long before digital sampling was affordable for everyone, A.K.Klosowski invented his Kassetteninstrument, a custom-made music apparatus consisting of eight SONY-Walkmen combined with a mute/demute mechanism. The outputs of the instrument could be controlled both by hand and by an automatic trigger module. In addition, a drum computer and some effect machines were fed into the circuit. This technique allowed for very intuitive and simultaneous control over the analogue tape sources.’

Eight Walkmen? That would have required some wedge back in ‘82 to ‘84 when these recordings were produced. …plays the Kassetteninstrument is perhaps an album of its time, but still holds up on every level in 2016. It’s chaos from the offset, and the whole album is a riot of snippets and sounds, bits and pieces, crushed together to create something… different.

Elsewhere, grating, mangled synth sounds and extraneous noise skrawks and clanks hither and thither, and processed beats slither and jitter beneath vocal snippets, robotix voices, whipcracks and car crashes. It’s all going on: synapse-popping, electrode-melting disco and stuttering 80s inspired electronica interfuse in an audio wilderness.

At times it’s an awful cacophony; at others, the mood is playful, while at others still, it’s darkly sinister. Bendy organs and warped tape loops, stretched and scratchy, make weird, woozy wigouts. With motorik rhythms twisted out of time, it’s like Krautrock on acid, with nods to Throbbing Gristle and Suicide, William Burroughs and Cabaret Voltaire. It’s pretty fucking cool.

 

A.K. Klosowski - …plays the Kassetteninstrument

Ernest Jenning Record Co/Khannibalism – 15th July 2016

Edward S. Robinson

Fans of William S. Burroughs rejoice! An album containing new recordings of classic material gets to see the light of day, only fractionally short of 20 years after it was recorded.

If my proclamation appears tinged with sarcasm, it’s only slightly so. I am as enthused as any Burroughs enthusiast over the release of Let Me Hang You. How could I fail to be excited in the face of new audio work from the seminal author? On his death in August 1997, Burroughs left an immense gap beyond literature. Often imitated and even more often referenced and invoked, no-one else could really write like Burroughs. Despite his imploring other writers to adopt the cut-up method in the 1960s, Burroughs’ work remained distinctive because it was produced by Burroughs. To write like Burroughs required Burroughs’ mind, and if history has proven anything, it’s that Burroughs was unique a one-off.

Because this is Burroughs, an author whose biography subject to the same intense scrutiny as his major texts, the origin and evolution of this album is worth quoting from the official press release here:

‘Shortly before his death in 1997, William S. Burroughs was recorded reading some of the most shocking yet outrageously funny sections of Naked Lunch, his powerful fever dream of a novel.’

It’s perhaps not the place to comment here on the extent to which this feels exploitative or like an exercise in recycling, not least of all because Burroughs spent his career recycling material and it’s clear from the now legendary spoken word performances he gave in the 1980s when promoting his final trilogy that he was keenly aware of the enduring appeal of Naked Lunch, the book to which he essentially owed is subsequent career. As such, recordings of selected highlights from his career-defining (if not necessarily definitive) novel seem to provide a fitting sign-off, and its’s a shame we have all had to wait so long for them to surface.

The press release renders the account that producer Hal Willner (who has worked with Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull, and perhaps more significantly, worked on Allen Ginsberg’s The Lion For Real and two previous Burroughs albums in the shape of Dead City Radio (1990) and Spare Ass Annie and Other Stories with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (1996) and Burroughs’ manager James Grauerholz also recruited a team of world class musicians including Grammy winning guitarist Bill Frisell, pianist/keyboard player Wayne Horvitz and violist Eyvind Kang to add a touch of their experimental genius over the course of several sessions. Given his avant-garde credentials, Kang was, I would say, a particularly inspired choice.

The blurb continues: “Subsequently abandoned, these recordings collected dust on a musty shelf as forgotten as a piece of rancid ectoplasm on a peepshow floor. However, in 2015 Willner re-examined this unfinished masterpiece and sought additional help from King Khan, the eccentric Canadian punk/soul frontman that he and Lou Reed had befriended in 2010 following an incendiary performance by his The King Khan & BBQ Show at Sydney Opera House as part of a Lou Reed/Laurie Anderson curated festival. Willner sent Khan the recordings and asked him to add his gris gris to this already extremely perverted gumbo.

Khan in turn contacted vocalist/composer M Lamar (creator of the Negrogothic manifesto and the identical twin brother of transgender actress Laverne Cox) and Australian psych/punk act The Frowning Clouds for help with contributions that further heightened the unsettling mood of Burroughs’ narration.’”

Here we see new strands of the Burroughs legend in the making, and to what extent the recordings were subsequently adjusted is unclear (and indeed anyone’s guess. Perhaps in another 20 years’ time we’ll hear the ‘unmixed’ version, a Burroughs equivalent of Let it Be stripped of all of its Phil Spector intrusions). In many ways, the extent of any alteration made later matters little. After all, as the author himself said in an interview in 1974:

The past only exists in some record of it. There are no facts. We don’t know how much of history is completely fiction… There’s no record this conversation ever took place or what was said, except what is [recorded]. If the recordings were lost, or they got near a magnet and were wiped out, there would be no recordings whatever. So what are the actual facts? What was actually said here? There are no actual facts.

So, it’s 2016. There is nothing here now but the recordings. And, it must be acknowledged, these recordings are exceptional. The clarity is striking particularly against classic albums like Call Me Burroughs.

Anyone who has heard Burroughs reading before will know what I mean when I refer to that voice. Delicately picked strings drift in before that voice starts up. As ever, familiar yet alien, dry and detached. Given how late in the author’s life the recordings were made, and given how frail he became in his later years (although given that he survived decades of heroin addiction and a triple heart bypass in 1991), what’s most striking about these recordings is just how strong Burroughs sounds. Of course, frailty is relative, and Burroughs clearly had the constitution not of a proverbial ox, but something beyond human or even biological in origin. And so what’s perhaps most striking ‘They call me The Exterminator,’ he croaks as the album’s opening line. And it feels like some kind of homecoming.

Evaluating an album of this type is incredibly difficult, particularly on account of the level of personal investment so many Burroughs fans – myself included – have in is work. By this, I mean that everyone has their own version of Burroughs and their own personal appreciation of Burroughs and his work. Better just stick to the facts here.

The musical backing to ‘Manhattan Serenade’ (AJ’s Annual Party?) Purple-assed baboon… climbs up a woman…runs up and down the bar) evokes the Joujouka players and the exotic mysticism of Tangiers, where much of the manuscript that would ultimately become Naked Lunch was written. But this is intertwined with chimes and dissonant industrial drones. Burroughs’ ability to adopt high-pitched ‘shrieking posh woman’ voice is magnificently incongruous, and very funny indeed.

As much as he’s renowned as a satirist, Burroughs’ skills as an entertaining and extremely humourous spoken-word performer are often overlooked. On Let Me Hang You, Burroughs demonstrates a keen sense of delivery and timing.

‘This you gotta hear…’ is how the begins ‘This You Gotta Hear’, and proceeds to spin a yarn about a boy who follows his father’s instructions to ‘get a piece of ass’ literally. Because while the mosaic-nature of Naked Lunch and the cut-up method which would become his signature in the 60s and inform his subsequent work position Burroughs as one of the greatest innovators in narrative form of the 20th Century, he was also a master storyteller. ‘son, here’s $20… go get a good piece of ass.’ Against a skewed, barren country backdrop, Burroughs delivered a typical routine – brief, pithy, fantastical and darkly funny, and with a bone-dry delivery.

‘Disciplinary Procedure’, one of the album’s longest tracks, is a passage which represents the kind of horrors that Burroughs’ reputation was based, an expletive-filled scatological explosion, with the refrain ‘shit on the floor’ echoing out over one of the most overtly ‘rock’ backings I’ve heard Burroughs’ voice put to, sounding musically more like 80s John Giorno Band than Burroughs. For all that, it works well, and provides contrast, not least of all against the haunting experimentalism of ‘Lief the Unlucky’, on which Burroughs recounts the character’s misfortunes with ass-fuckings and Sani flush enemas galore.

‘AJ’s Annual Party’ stands, along with the Talking Asshole as one of Burroughs’ definitive and most notorious routines. Presented here as ‘Let Me Hang You’, it’s unquestionably one of the album’s high points. Discordant guitar scrapes and dissonant noise accompany a collage of endless hangings, jockstracks, spurting cocks and jissom. There are numerous other recordings of key passages from Naked Lunch, including those gathered on Disc One of the Best of Giorno Poetry Systems four-CD box set and the triple-CD audiobook of Naked Lunch, but this one arguably has the edge and could yet stand as a definitive recording.

There’s more skewed blues / country behind ‘Clem Snide’, and while it may not be the type of musical backdrop most commonly associated with Burroughs, it does work, and in truth the idea of Burroughs set to jazz or industrial tape loops has always seemed like a forced history. And so, in context… why not? Wouldn’t you?

 

Burroughs - Let Me Hang You