November 18, 2003


How can anyone ever disprove the brain-in-the-vat theory/the Matrix theory. It seems impossible to counter it. We only experience what our body tells us is happening. Electronic pulses: that is all this reality we experience is. The ever-excellent Baal on the Matrix. Well, as I once remarked, what is interesting about the brain in the vat theory is the vat not the brain. Contrary to certain Cartesian readings (which would suggest that subjectivity is what is most real), the brain in the vat theory implies that subjectivity is a machinic function.

The great disappointment of the Matrix is that, in any case, and, as I've said before, it wouldn't make that much difference whether you were in it or out of it. I for one would vote to be in the Matrix - what's to gain from fighting your way to the 'truth' except some poxy 'enlightenment', pointless paranoia, hokey melodrama and tedious, interminable fight scenes? The fact is, you have personal relationships with people who look exactly as they do in 'reality'. Compare this with Vanilla Sky: a completely enclosed solipsistic world in which the lead character only seems to be having relationships with others. That seems to me a relevant difference, unlike the differences between the Matrix simworld and the world outside it.

OK, this is said without seeing the third one. I fell asleep in the second one, which reinforced my impression that it was like a dream of looking over someone else's shoulder while they were playing a videogame. Interrupted by some of the most inept, comic geeks' idea of 'intellectual' dialogue. That scene at the end with the Architect was toe-curlingly embarrassing; as, for a matter of fact, was that 'club' scene at the start (like the Duran Duran Wild Boys video twenty years too late, and worse).

Wow, I'm angry today.

Suffice it to say that I was as surprised at Baal's admiration of the Matrix trilogy as I was at Angus' claim that Pulp Fiction was the best film of the nineties.

Don't even start me on Tarantino. Although I don't need to bother. Since even his admirers couldn't get it up for Kill Bill, it's pretty obvious that his iconic days are numbered.

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This just in from Marcus at Rephlex:

"Rephlex are releasing a 4 x 10 inch vinyl set of works by the bbc radiophonic workshop just in time for Christmas!

The 4 x ten inch vinyl version we are releasing features the members‚ work given roughly a side per member, except Delia Derbyshire, perhaps the most celebrated of all the members who gets a whole record to herself for the first time ever.

It brings together tracks from the recently released radiophonic 1 and 2 cd's ."

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Wind whistling.....

Just in case there's anyone still out there: believe it or not, to compound the recent overwork situation, I've actually been ill with that floating virus which seems to be afflicting most of the British population at the moment.

I haven't given up....

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A frightening world is an interesting one to live in....
- Magazine

The head of Strategic Air Command, General Tommy Powers, was famous for laughing off the effects of nuclear radiation on genetic mutations with the quip: 'Nobody has yet proved to me two heads aren't better than one.'

And then you start to think about drugs and the bomb and you remember back to all those 50s movies where all these kids are doing nuclear drills, the air-raid siren goes and all these kids get down on their hands and knees and they hold their arms over their heads. You think: what's going on here? and it's obvious - they're worshipping the bomb, they're like atomic Muslims, the mushroom has become this Mecca and they're pointing towards the East. The bomb is mutation and the kids are going "mutate me, mutate me", "melt me, meld me".

The plan that he inherited was, "Mr. President, you just tell us to go to nuclear war and we'll do the rest." And the plan called for devastating, indiscriminately, China, Russia, Eastern Europe - it was an orgiastic, Wagnerian plan

Really fascinating piece - beautifully researched and written - by Oliver at Citta Violenta on the Cold War. The Cold War - and particularly those moments in the early Sixties when it nearly went thermonuclear hot - has always exercised a grim fascination for me. It's certainly impossible to imagine the k-punk canon - Joy Division, Foxx, Magazine, Cabaret Voltaire, Grace Jones - without its 'influence', although 'influence' is too weak a word for the deep level psychic insistence of the Cold War on that generation. 'Death disco' was it: this was a music that repudiated pleasure and identified with the nonorganic and the fatal. Their implied worlds were either teetering on the edge of annihilation (Joy Division's 'Exercise One') or had actually imagined the unthinkable. Check the way the guitar feedback on the intro to 'Exercise One' resembles pterodactyl (sp?) screeches, almost as if it were anticipating the stone age to which we were about to be bombed back.

Nothing exposes the redundancy of 'privatized psychonalysis' - the view that the unconscious can be understood in opposition to the social - than the recurring nightmares of total annihilation we all routinely had back then. But another Freud - the Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle and Civilization and its Discontents - seems to speak as the prophet of the Cold War.

What we have to come to terms with, this Freud says, is that as a species we desire destruction and death. In this sense, we are profoundly and deeply irrational. Yet, in that familiar paradox Freud makes his own, our drives have their own ineluctable logics and rationales.

Freud's perspicacity here can easily be apprehended when we consider the cold eagerness with which Kennedy's military advisors were contemplating their 'orgiastic, Wagnerian' plans for massive pre-emptive nuclear strikes. On one level, their preferred option was purely 'rational', a detached calculation based upon probabilities and outcomes. On another level - but at the same time - it has to be seen as a rationale, the finding of reasons for a pre-existing drive towards total destruction. What can account for this enthusiasm except a terrible libido, a monstrous desire?

And that's the fascination of the kata-punk music. It isn't 'protesting against' nuclear war, its desires cannot be 'socialized' or humanized; it is in fact the most socially unacceptable desire possible. The libido of impersonal death. Death drive pop. Annihilism.

Posted by mark at 08:37 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 12, 2003


I finally got round to watching my tape (ahem) of Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape. What an amazing piece of work.

Kneale is cybergothic up to his eyeballs. His standard move is also to offer a scientific remotivation of the supernatural. I say remotivation because this is not a reduction of the supernatural to the scientific. What became slightly irksome about Dr Who in the Pertwee phase when it continually 'borrowed' this move from Kneale was the Doctor's airy waving away of the supernatural in the name of science. Kneale's method is more subtle. It's true, Kneale agrees, as science since the enlightenment has maintained there is no supplementary spiritual substance, but the material world in which we live is more profoundly alien and strange than we have ever imagined. (Better to talk of the hypernatural than the supernatural in Kneale's case). And rather than insisting upon the pre-eminence of the rational (and therefore also of the human subject alleged to be the privileged bearer of reason), Kneale shows that an enquiry into the nature of what the world is like is also inevitably an unravelling of what we are.

In the Stone Tape, a group of scientists take up residence in a new research facility. It quickly becomes apparent that the building is haunted: one of their number, a female computer programmer, is particularly 'sensitive' to the ghost (a servant girl from the nineteenth century who died in a mysterious fall). Inevitably, the scientists go from sceptical dismissal to a manic need to explain and map the phenomenon without much of a pause for breath.

What is particularly interesting about The Stone Tape from the point of view of our particular corner of the blogmos is that it is about a new recording medium. Kneale's thesis is that hauntings and ghosts are particularly intense phenomena that are literally recorded by matter, by the stone of the room. (Hence the 'stone tape' of the title). What the scientists had been looking for, apparently coincidentally, was a new, more compact and durable recording medium (the Stone Tape was incredibly prescient about the shortcomings of magnetic tape). But what the haunting phenomenon offers is the possibility not only of a new recording medium, but of a new player: the human nervous system itself. In their moment of exultant bliss (before the inevitably bleak denoument), the scientists laugh and joke about the prospect of a totally wireless communication system: transmissions beamed directly into your head (like Gibson's cyberspace, but without even the trodes). Can miniaturization pass through another threshold such that this becomes possible? Or is it a question not of miniaturization at all but of tuning the stimuli?

In the end, of course, it all goes badly wrong. The scientists' obsessive activity has wiped the tape - or at least wiped away the thing last recorded onto it. Something else, something more ancient, stirs beneath, terrifying the female computer programmer into literally falling into the footsteps of the nineteenth century girl, plunging to her death in a state of total terror.

So what Kneale raises in the end is the breakdown of the distinction between the player and what is being played. To begin with, it seems that the ghostly screams are passive and inert, as incapable of exerting agency as the dry rot that afflicts the haunted room; yet in the end, it is the human beings who are revealed to be caught in a terrible compulsion to repeat. It is as if the room - the site, it is eventually implied, of some unimaginably ancient place of sacrifice - solicits the scientists into precipitating yet another death, into playing out the same old sequence once again. The human players are themselves part of an aeons-old pattern of senseless repetition.

All recordings are ghosts.

But are we really more substantial than they?

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November 07, 2003


Toast and water .... How does that even work?

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November 06, 2003


Well, it's really fantastic to be able to hear Wiley's 'Ground Zero' (courtesy of Matt). I've had the two versions on constant play since I downloaded them. The drumless version is especially evocative: a kind of aural tableau, a slow dissolve between black and white stills of the exposed, charred skeletons of the twin towers. Fascinating the way the drum programming on the other version oscillates between 2-step offbeat slinky, junglistic scurry and ominous hip hop menace.

What is it that the mournful synth line reminds me of? There's a suggestion, bizzarely enough of the electro-waltzes of the Stranglers' Men In Black . (Haven't thought about the Stranglers since Goldie mentioned them back in the day). Yes, that's close, but I'm sure there's something else...

In any case, Wiley, like sometime collaborator Jammer (thanks to Simon for sending me the Jammer mix CD from Deuce BTW), seems to fit right into k-punk's heart of darkness. Or heart of ice. The abstract neo-electro of 'Ground Zero' is not so much orientalist darkcore bliss as orientalist darkcore dread.

Actually, all of this links to the other big event of this week for me. Seeing Threads repeated on BBC4. Thirtysomething readers will remember being traumatized by this in the early eighties.

The teleplay begins as a simulated documentary about the impact of a nuclear strike on Sheffield, but ends up as a coolly Bergmanesque vision of a literal hell on earth. The early post-blast scenes - with survivors huddling into barricaded-in basements, fearful of and hostile to outsiders - were reminiscent of nothing so much as Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Near-total anomie, society stripped back to its Hobbesian bare minimum.

What Threads brought to unlife was the virtual apocalypse haunting the k-punkconscious. As Kneale's The Road shows, the Bomb haunts the unconscious, not as a spectre from the past, but as a virtual future so terrible its shockwaves echo back through time. Ballard says that there are times - particularly times of great trauma - when the unconscious and the external landscape are flat with one another. This is what nuclear devastation would be like: the raw material of total nightmare, worse than the worst nightmare imaginable, now real. Reality at its most nightmarish even though it is reality in its purest form: no escape, no return, the traumatized population literally cannot live with this, so they don't, auto-numbing themselves into the simulated death of blank-eyed shock.

So many electrifying images, worthy of the most intense film: an almost oneiric scene in which, amidst swirling radioactive dust, a woman - her eyes coalmine black and totally devoid of affect - clings onto the shrouded corpse of a baby. The eyes, the eyes: vaguely questioning but dazed, dazed. This can't be happening, this is happening, the trauma victim's mantra. Soldiers frisking the dead body of freshly shot looter for a packet of crisps. 'Salt n vinegar. It would be. I hate those.' A woman giving birth in a filthy abandoned hangar, with only a chained-up barking dog for company. Hospitals like charnel houses, like that Baconoid facility in Jacob's Ladder.

A decade later. England as a Medieval country again... The massively reduced population hoeing an unyielding earth... Language attenuated, devolved into rough, guttural injunctions, reflecting a new harshness in social relations. No compassion, which is yet another luxury from a bygone age no-one can even remember any more.

Posted by mark at 11:42 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack


It's really got that bad.... No entries for so long that it the page is literally BLANK.... Well, I've been denying myself blogtime in a bid to stay ahead of work, an increasingly impossible, Sisyphean labour: the more work I do, the more I seem to need to do. I was determined to be REALLY ORGANIZED this college year and not fall into my usual habit of chaos mismanagement --- but it's congenital. I just can't stay sorted out. I HATE ADMINISTRATION... That's partly because I am incapable of doing it, suffering from a stupefyingly disabling level of absent-mindedness. I tried to write a brief note to a colleague today and I had to make FIVE ATTEMPTS to do it. Just a few lines... Handwriting anything is near-impossible for me now... I think I might have attention deficit disorder....

Work. It's never going to go away. Everyone has to do it.

I know, I know. Doesn't make it any better, does it?

I haven't got much else to talk about at the moment. But I wanted to break radio-silence, in part because of kind enquiries from Mr Ingram and Mr Reynolds.

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