Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs
Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs
28th May – 18th July 2010
Dead Fingers Talk is an ambitious forthcoming exhibition presenting two unreleased tape experiments by William Burroughs from the mid 1960s alongside responses by 23 artists, musicians, writers, composers and curators.
Few writers have exerted as great an influence over such a diverse range of art forms as William Burroughs. Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine and Junky, continues to be regularly referenced in music, visual art, sound art, film, web-based practice and literature. One typically overlooked, yet critically important, manifestation of his radical ideas about manipulation, technology and society is found in his extensive experiments with tape recorders in the 1960s and ’70s. Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs is the first exhibition to truly demonstrate the diversity of resonance in the arts of Burroughs’ theories of sound.
listen to your present time tapes and you will begin to see who you are and what you are doing here mix yesterday in with today and hear tomorrow your future rising out of old recordings
everybody splice himself in with everybody else
The exhibition includes work by Joe Ambrose, Steve Aylett, Alex Baker & Kit Poulson, Lawrence English, The Human Separation, Riccardo Iacono,Anthony Joseph, Cathy Lane, Eduardo Navas, Negativland, o.blaat, Aki Onda, Jörg Piringer, Plastique Fantastique, Simon Ruben White, Giorgio Sadotti, Scanner, Terre Thaemlitz, Thomson & Craighead, Laureana Toledo and Ultra-red, with performances by Ascsoms and Solina Hi-Fi.
Inspired by the expelled Surrealist painter Brion Gysin, and yet never meant as art but as a pseudo-scientific investigation of sounds and our relationship to technology and material, the experiments provide early examples of interactions which are essential listening for artists working in the digital age.
In the case of the work in the exhibition the contributors were asked to provide a “recording” in response to Burroughs’ tape experiments. The works, which vary significantly in media and focus, demonstrate the diversity of attitudes to such a groundbreaking period of investigation.
Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs is curated by Mark Jackson. The project is supported by the London College of Communication, CRiSAP and ADi Audiovisual and has been made possible by the kind assistance of the William Burroughs Trust, Riflemaker and the British Library.
Elena tells me: “Marc Twain said: “While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats”. And sends this pic from Vienna to add to the buses as trinkets collection no doubt – we will take over the world eventually. Thx.
And while we are on the subject of Cats. Perhaps I will start a reading list to add to my ‘Politics of Cats’ piece in an early Stimulus Here:
Soseki Natsume 1905/2002 “I am a Cat” Berkeley: Tuttle Publishing.
Kurt Vonnegut 1963 “Cats Cradle” New York: Dell Publishing.
Burroughs 2000 “Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs” which has lots to do with his cats, like Fletch. Grove Press.
more to come…
So this is Kendra Shaw the adorable space junkie in the Battlestar Pegasus kitchen having a bit of a snack. Its from the new BSG Razor telefilm (which I just got to see thanks to my dealer Terrence or Torrent or whatever he’s called). The film is full of surprises related to the Pegasus and its crew though I’m not telling. You find out Kendra is a powderfiend at the very start, so this is not spoiling – though there are lots of things to spoil, which means I guess I will refrain from commenting on it for a while. I did think the first half was better than the second – but perhaps that’s my preference. Laura K and I have been commissioned to write still more on the entire thing when the final series is aired in 2008 – we get a whole month to polish our chapter after the last episode, which goes to air in the US in August or so (starts April, so 20 weeks from then I guess). We will have more to say about Gaius and the Hybrids seem pretty interesting. Anyway, cute junkie trash as Kendra is, she is no Bill Burroughs, though I do wonder what she might have scribbled in her flight diary, doodling in her rack, ravings of note [stardate 23475.3] – yes, there might hang a tale. And just what kind of happy juice is she injecting into her neck? The Battlestar Wiki [all the spoilers you can eat] does not seem to know. Whatever it is, it certainly seems to ease the pain.
The beautiful arabesques of the writing of Raymond Roussel, still evident in translation, are most interesting as discipline (contrivance, organisation, code, device), and made all the more alluring by the discovery, in 1989, of a trunk full of manuscripts. I have always been interested in the manufacture of text, and the versionings required. First draft, second draft, the processes of revision… The mechanizations we invent in attempting to get around the ways words are always already prefigured, so as to say the same thing anew.
Writing as a craft is not besmirched by a patent ‘method’. Roussel wrote according to a calculus, as has often been remarked (Ford 2000, Foucault 1963). There are sentences with parentheses inside parentheses that multiply into entire books. Meanings are deferred and referred back to each other, and the first word is both clue and angular destination. Sure, there are cryptograms in Jules Verne – and these fascinated Roussel so much he went to meet that author in 1898 (Ford 2000:17) – but experimental writing was never more elaborate before Roussel, or so it seems from the cache found in the attic in 89.
Unleash the word hoard. Cubist, Dada, Oulipo, Lettriste. Experimental writing, even where obscure, retains a special critical potential; perhaps best outlined in English by Burroughs as a work against control. The word cut-ups were something he considered a useful way to expose control orders. Burroughs as political oracle may seem reckless – an extravagant, untamed, rampant, enthusiasm – and a writing greedy for meaning (thanks Tinzar) – but isn’t this just what might sidestep control?
The orders of language certainly have us in a tight squeeze – grammar, spelling, typography, layout, html, the aesthetic use of empty space (black here, white there). What do we need to do so as to sidestep this pious complex? Nietzsche proud as punch to write such good books? Ginsberg running hysterical naked in the negro streets at dawn [Moloch still being dragged to heaven]? Kathy Acker attacks on high school and on Don Quixote? Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave harmonic mumbling even? Amidst the welter of words there is precious little time to stop and consider our faith – an experimental church, with a god-botherin clergy raging at our misdemeanours, and demanding sacrifice on altars. With Roussel as the fallen high priest become demonic victim, and hero.
Ford, Mark 2000 Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, London: Faber and Faber
Foucault 1963/1989 Death and the Labyrinth, Editions Surkamp
The pics are of a Japanese Communist Party rally in Tokyo. Pink t-shirts! Talked with the comrades about war, and housing. Still translating their policy document.
Cadavers, lifeless bodies, the return of the dead. Over the holiday period the quiet streets of London have been bothering me a little. Alarmed as I am with Christmas carols and hangings on the news – a veritable hauntology has me walking about as if in a dream. Yet people keep on bringing me ghosts. Three times this week, and all through the first term course on Capital, and with two PhD students working the theme (if slowly) into new areas… frightening me to reach for my familiar references – Ghost of Chance by William Burroughs was my first suggestion: it’s a pirate story about Captain Mission (drug fiend, utopianist) and his pet lemur called ‘Ghost’, battling the Christ-Sickness and other plagues destined for the Museum of Lost Species. The Captain himself becomes a ghost on death – stranger than anything Johnny Depp saw Keith Richards do… Of course much more worthy reading on this theme would pursue spirits in Hegel, Marx, the spectral…
So scholars may be worried by spooky stories. But what, I wonder, is all this anxiety about really? Haunting and ghosts are interesting as metaphor or trope certainly. But incorporeality and disembodied form just doesn’t do much – it seems intangible, somewhat vacuous. These ghosts on their own are a bit whispy, shady and faint. I need to find bodies that matter – and I want to know just what point of connection all the current death-talk might have to the socio-political world. It seems a bit abstract at present. So I have two sets of questions:
A. Should not all this talk of ghosts first of all be connected to the forgotten inmates of Guantanamo? To the spectral dead of the twin towers? To the thousands killed by imperialism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Somalia? These ghastly scenes should surely scare us. Somebody needs to organise more than a séance to set the creaking of the system into context – this entire planet is haunted, the walking dead are legion. Vampires suck our flesh.
B. The theme of ghosts might also be questioned as a focus for social theory – I mean, why have these apparitions returned with a vengeance just now? Perhaps the abundance of ghost writings that have appeared since Derrida wrote Spectres of Marx indicates the powerful return of Christianity and/or Christmas pasts: Scrooge and/or the Holy Ghost struts the world stage in a way not seen since temperance. Is this secularism in retreat before the new manifestations of fundamentalism(s)? Or was secularism always underpinned with a faulty reading of Marx’s opiate routine? The first cry of the oppressed masses is a commune with the dead…
Is this the fetish character of capital turned into demons and ghouls? The residue of the dead body. In many stories ghosts can travel through walls and now they seem to have infiltrated everything everywhere. I have been disturbed the past few days by a story Mick Taussig tells in his great new book Walter Benjamin’s Grave, where our intrepid anthropologist-hero is asked by a Putumayo farmer if he knows how to smuggle cocaine past the police and army guards. He did not. “Well, you get a dead baby and open up the abdomen, remove the intestines, pack cocaine paste in, sew up the abdomen and, with the baby at the breast the good mother cuddles her precious cargo through the roadblocks and, who knows, perhaps to Miami and New York as well” (in Taussig 2006:86).
The residue is now also in the body. We certainly welcomed the New Year in high spirits. I find all this as shocking as the grainy images of Saddam on his string. No longer pantomime.
Having been gifted a copy of Klaus Maeck’s film ‘Commissioner of Sewers’ (thanks Jo and Howard), I’ve also been reading again about Uncle Bill’s schoolboy education at Los Alamos. He attends a ranch school in the mountains, a rural retreat – evocative of all things heroic in the west. Yet, soon after this formative adventure playground scenario, the rustic homestead scene has grafted upon it the think tank of advanced military science. The Oppenheimer and Roosevelt gang move in, about to wreak ‘destroyer of worlds’ god-like devastation upon Japan. I think there are several reasons to worry here. The colonial conquest context of the old West continues today in the hybrid science of nuclear physics, as militarized space exploration and the commercializaed death of the weapons program, with new metals et cetera, stress-tested in space, not always with success. The spin-offs include both the development of building tiles and security cladding, as well as laser technologies and satellite surveillance, all of which have practical use in imperialism’s ‘war on terror’ as war on Islam, and which continue to enforce U.S. economic hegemony in business.
So when they turn your school into a think tank you gotta be concerned that the wrong kind of space mission is underway. What I am saying is that the little biographical curiosity about how Burroughs’ school was turned into the lab that brought us the atomic bomb is not just a salutary lesson about hi-tech boffins hiding in the hills. The corporate turn that turns your school into an ‘incubation centre’ has the same underlying motive and murder-death-kill mentality that stretched from the slave trade to international labour law. Education in the pursuit of dollars, the teaching factory privatised and commercialised, calculation favoured over thinking.
That said, did the courses Burroughs did at Los Alamos prepare him for the critique of mugwumps, centipedes and space invaders that brought the world to the ruin that it is today?
If it has become too easy to join the rapid-mouthed pundits who denounce ‘the spectacle’ for, as it were, a living (an easy living), then equally it is too easy to hope that setting out an alternative thinking to the society of the spectacle can be achieved by saying nothing more than the name ‘Debord’. But it certainly is not furthered by hiring other pundits to rebrand your space as a lab, and even a lab without boffins. What is that about? (goldies’ students and staff can see the college rebranded today in the great hall – I’m sure I’d prefer the skull-and-bones to any logo FutureBrand will come up with). Maybe we will institute a Burroughs think tank (dream on), or a Debord think tank (nightmare), but we will not think (more dream) that this will mean the end of tanks. OK, next movie pleasde. Where is that tank girl when I really need her?