NR 2 Kwartaal 1 1985
Note : this article appeared in the second issue (first quarter of
1985) of the Dutch magazine tresspassers W.
It was originally written in Dutch and has been as good as possible translated by me.
Systems planning korporation
Sozialistisches patienten kollectiv
Surgical penis klinik
A flag that covers a whole load : records, videos, pamflets, starting with the idea of aberrant behaviour and resistance against normalisation. Complicated texts, shocking imagery, deranged music. Metal and fire, garbage as instrument, destruction as a theme, long before all this found its way on a bigger scale.
Now : a radical turnaround on the cover of the new LP MACHINE AGE VOODOO:
"Put your shoulder to the wheel Use your muscle nerves of steel Strike
it hot make a hit Beat the livin out of it". No loaden introduction, but
a easy to shout with slogan. On the last record and during recent concerts,
backed with stylised metal beats, coloured with elektro/disco effects.
The transformation of the earlier ingredients to transparent cliches ?A
shift from anonimous hardcore to hit-ambitions with a trendy image ?
Junk Funk ?
"La consommation de rêves et de fantasmes a atteint la cote
d'alerte. Entre les dix millions de stations vidéo et de radio,
le cinéma, les deux milliards de journaux et de BD, de photos, les
cliques au lazer, les cassettes autoenregistreuses etc... on va arriver
a un ennui mortel. Nous avons tourné et retourné des rétrospectives
des années 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 et 80, au moins 30 fois et
nous avons lancé au moins 20 styles pour les années 90, depuis
le ridicule post moderne jusqu'à l'actuel nihilisme post ère
patronale. En ce moment moi et 3000 techniciens nous mettons sur pied la
plus grande rétrospective jamais imaginée basée sur
la relance de Fred Astaire. Le spectacle durera deux semaines, un film
de 36 heures, 13 disques au lazer avec colonnes sonores, 22000 BD"
in Liberatore & Tamburini/Ranxerox à New York
"Take the idea of proliferation, which seems to be extremely relevant
to our society at the moment. This is the age of everything proliferating
- information, nuclear armament, cancer, disease, psychosis... So I really
think that's worthwhile analysing in terms of modern archetypes, and probably
would be for the next few years. After that, the idea of convulsion of
everything: massive rapid changes, total upheaval, an age of extreme mutations
- things like that which might come after the proliferation age... I would
like to see the convulsion age. That's the one I would like to theorize.
It's really the anarchist idea of total revolution - continuous revolution
where everything is in constant change and you no longer need any landmarks
to get a fix on"
Graeme Revell (SPK) in RE/SEARCH 6-7
On the covertext of the 12" DEKOMPOSITIONES, SPK defends an intriguing theory : after the first dark ages, known by a lack of information, we should now return to a new dark age, with an excessive informationstream, generated by media and controlled by the ruling ideology : an "information overload" that numbs the individual and leaves him no chance to work with the own creativity. The constant informationstream paralyses the autonomous imagination.
On the other hand there is a missing of real, usable information, that carries new, stimulating ideas : "l think there is an information starvation at present and technology will create the possibility of knowing everything about everything" (Ballard in Studio International, 10/71). So just the opposite of the "overload".
Information has a double face : it can be used for indoctrination, inculturation, normalisation, as instrument of conformism, but on the other hand it gives opportunities for knowledge and insight. The individual must make a selection, search for positive information but resist against conforming tendencies. That resistance is very important for SPK : "resist the pressure to become commercialised images" (covertext DEKOMPOSITIONES). That resistanceshows itself by the music, images and textswith a strong controversial character.
Destroying ruling tendencies by proposing new attitudes is a difficult strategy, surely in the domain of expressionforms like music. Every expression implicates styling, simplification of reality and the use of categories, now matter how hard we try to avoid those traps. Expression in the margin, separated from the conforming standards has the risk to come up with own standards and propagate itself as the new tendency : "No matter how you try and make it anti-church, anti-state, anti-whatever you think has been porced upon you, you inevitably come up with some kind of morality of your own. And the problem arises: how do you manage to do that without porcing it on anybody else who might not want to be influenced?" (Graeme Revell in Ballard interview, RE/SEARCH 8-9.)
That contradiction resembles strongly the impasse of subversive ideologies (being a contradiction): "With their attacks, they try to heat up the repression-apparatus until it surpasses its boundaries and people come in revolution against it. They want to be, from their communistic vision, on the forefront, while the anarchists don't want to make up for others what is best for them." (Ludo D, spokesman of 'Zwart en Rood', in Knack 21/11/84). But also anarchism that proclaims itself as the only true ideology, gets trapped in the same net.
Bottomline, common and marginale trends are the same; marginal ones are even worse, since they are hypocrite - because they try to affirmate their marginality and also try to infitrate the public - and because they often are a justification for lots of crap that's send into the world.
Next to that complete independent and sincere viewpoints can be more
easily recuperated by the system: "What is interesting now is that the
time span between the 'rebel'- the 'revolution'- and total social acceptance
is getting shorter and shorter... In the future, you'll get some radical
new idea, but within 3 minutes it's totally accepted and it's coming out
in your local supermarket.." (Ballard in Search & Destroy, 1978).
GRAEME REVELL I
SEPPUKU, the name under which we brought out DEKOMPOSITIONES, means "ritual suicide", it was about the ritual suicide of SPK as independent group. DEKOMPOSITIONES was our last independent product. From the beginning we had planned to have only two elpees and then stop with it.
Our call for resistance and opposition against commercial structures, was a call to the public as to hold strong against the pressure. In case of SPK, you could say that after DEKOMPOSITIONES, we ourselves acted against those principles.
If that would really be the case, we would have adopt for another name. To us, there is a continuity. SPK is now a popgroup, from a clear choice of working within the reference of popmusic, but also to break out of the standards and the boundaries, just as we did it in the independent reference.
There it was more easy to realise our ambitions, because coming up with new things was the standard so you could do whatever to get your public. In popmusic, strict rules are to be played, this is very frustrating. For us it is a disappointment to find out we have to thin our music to get a chance to be heard. The only efficient strategy seems to start with a certain dose of conformism and then get harder and harder, without losing the token place.
For this moment, SPK is not yet "soft" enough to get in the popmusic world an unanimous good advice, but we don't feel like doing concessions that would implicate a real break with our principles. In Australia we have experimented some weeks with real, smooth popsongs but that seemed impossible to keep up. The same problem we see in other media. In film it looks impossible to attain very much from an extreme position.
It says a lot that David Lynch, after ERASERHEAD and THE ELEPHANT MAN, works now for the DUNE-project, placing him in the world of Spielberg and Lukacs. Films of Tarkovski or Nick Roeg turn in London for maximum a week. That's why a lot of talented cineasts take off with commercials and popvideos. That has to be very frustrating. Another point is that film is a medium that is strongly based toward the bourgois midclass, specially the experimental, newer cinema. Film seldom breaks through that class barrier, unless we're talking about rubbish. Same is true for art in general. Only music seems to have the power to be original and to break through to the working class.
But even if SPK, without betraying the own character, would sell massive amounts of records to fifteen year olds, than one should ask why it happens. Is the public really aware of the ideas behind the product or does it consume the music as an easy cliché that was packed by the media in a category : Prince = sex, SPK = metalworkers. On our last record we never use real metal, all sounds are created artificially with the Fairlight-computer, but nobody noticed that. We are catalogued as a "metal band".
To escape that reduction process, there is only one solution : constant
radical change. But with that, you lose all chances on continuous success.
Inertion versus creativity : a deadly impasse.
Instead of placing other, revolting information against force fed information, the existing information can be turned against itself. Cut-up and collage are techniques that recycle information, give it a new meaning, perverting by giving it the original colur or context. Desintegration and reconstruction. That form of interpretation or transformation seems mostly more powerful than the most radical anti-strategy. A good example is the Yugoslavic group Laibach, that uses totalitarian images to confront totalitarian regimes.
One big disadvantage : the difference between real conformism and cynic
conformism is mostly unclear (the attitude of Laibach could be interpreted
as real totalitarian).
GRAEME REVELL 2
"Fuck everything" is an impotent attitude. That was also clear with punk : all those youngsters with a circled A on their leather jacket, without knowing what it really meant. That loss of nuance is regrettable. I would never call myself anarchist, am more fascinated by symbols, behavioural archetypes, that cover a complex load, where one-sided positioning is impossible. The eagle is the symbol for America, but also for Germany. So called "fascistic" architecture is find everywhere. Was the as extreme left positioned Maoistic regime, where thousands were executed because they were thought to be intellectuals, in fact not extreme right ? (WITH LOVE FROM CHINA goes about that duality).
I like to work with ambigue data that causes contradicting reactions because they can be seen from different contexts. The cover illustration for MACHINE AGE VOODOO shows, at first glance a fascistic building, but the underlying idea comes from an art documentary, THE SHOCK OF THE NEW, where buildings from Nüremberg and Chicago/New York are placed next to each other and seem to be part of identical the same architectural style.
You have to choose : or you radically react against something and then you should take a clear, determined and assuring attitude with ready to grab arguments or you make use of dangerous symbols, by with you push the public to think. You are predicant or you give them problems.
You can look from two sides why people are suppressed : on the one hand you have the Burroughs-meaning of control and paranoia, where I do not agree. Otherwise you have the version of Ballard, where everything turns around confirmation : in fact we want to be in that situation, but why do we want that ?
If you attack openly certain situations, you don't get to the core of the problem : the why of that situation. You try to get rid of structures without questioning the background of it. That lack of perspective makes clear why those counter-attacks become so easy part of it, why radical left becomes identical as radical right. It is not the point of analysing who has the power and who is suppressed, but to uncover the essence of power itself.
Within the popsong, with the product alone, you cannot transmit real substantial things. The only manner is to position yourself as a person who makes a product, but apart from that also someone who can announce something. For that reason, any interview is more important than the concrete output of SPK. On the record, you touch upon a problem, give some elements that out of it have to be placed in a certain context.
Of course, the system is so organised that alone as a "popstar" you get the chance to spread a message. Lots of potential impact of a medium as television gets spilled by giving space to nitwits that are very popular but have nothing to say. I measure the chances for SPK to get via those channels to a large public at 1%, but it still seems to me worth trying a little longer.
It is all very difficult. Even media people with a good attitude forget that they support bands like Duran Duran or Kajagoogoo by not talking about them, while they crush SPK by attacking us on trivial points. Also we are the first to admit that our strategy is not perfect. That has a destructive effect.
Take a group like Cabaret Voltaire : intriguing music, but also fascinating ideas.Those show less and less in recent interviews, there is only talking about the creative process, without references to other aspects, as if they are afraid to be attacked on it. Especially now they have reached a certain status - which they apparently won't loose - this is a sad loss. A sort of self-censorship (plus an anti-intellectual attitude, by which I can't agree). To show only "the acceptable face" of SPK, I would find deeply frustrating.
Up until now, the tour went surprisingly well : no "sell out" slogans. The part of the public that thinks like that, has stayed home apparently. It is a pitty we didn't get to the TOP OF THE POPS world, where we would have reached virgin ears.
Maybe with the next single, that will carry the appropriate title SEDUCTION.
Seduction, but with "unadjusted" and so "unappropriate" ingredients : kokaks,
Eventually the whole strategy is about the acquisition of control : commercial images, send and controlled by others, must be bowed to commercial images under control of the individual. This is very clear in the most important instrument by which society dictates its ideology, the publicity-machine : publicity is in the hands of the ruling ideology only effective when her real motives rest covered and it can act out its seductive task. When one succeeds in uncovering that strategy, it looses its impact and can be used in opposite sense.
An example : the potent Marlboro-cowboy tries to trigger the macho-feelings of potential smokers (be a real man, smoke Marlboro). He who knows this, gets loose from the unconscious seduction and can resist against the strategy. Than, the Marlboro image gets used to contest itself : only a collage of 10 or so cowboys together, is enough to make the used cliché completely ridiculous. One can even go a step further by making a collage of Marlboro man with a vacuumcleaner or at the dishwasher. Much more efficient than any feministic pamflet.
The same we see in porno, where the hidden seduction of soft pornography is more dangerous than the clear purposes of hardcore variants, which can more easily be used to question exploitationmechanisms.
The continuation of the images, used in society, fits in the SPK "catastrophic strategy" : in stead of resisting against the pressure, one can enforce it, so that there follows an explosion.
That strategy has a meaning from the knowledge that no system can exist forever, because at a certain point there grows an annoyance that automatically gives rise to reactions. That is why you can undermine the system by agreeing with it as powerful as possible so the inherent decay will be sped up. You can fight a hype, but you can also blow it up to exagerated proportions to make room for renewal.
The "catastrophic strategy" is a nice theoretical principle, but in reality it is hard to work with. It is difficult to not believe in the things where one is busy with, to make on purpose bad music.
Even if it would be in the cards of the fans of the earlier "hardcore" SPK, I don't believe that the turn towards a danceable sound on the new elpee MACHINE AGE VOODOO can be explained by the "catastrophic strategy". The music is still too hard, contains deviant sounds and subversive texts, as "it's more than the rhythm More than the word How can you be scene and not herd" of "Dance to the punk Dance to the pop But what're you gonna do when the beat stops?".
On first hearing, those elements are not directly clear, and SPK is
often - rightly - accused of the fact that the real content of the music
is only revealed after a thorough chat with the makers of it. Nevertheless
it can be said that MACHINE AGE VOODOO is not a tryout for lighthearted
commerciality but a product that is tought about and on which is hard worked.
GRAEME REVELL 3
SPK works always from concepts. I am very interested in the medium itself - have studied linguistic and semiotic. For that reason we are sometimes accused lacking spontanity (while Depeche Mode for example should be spontane. They have stolen all the ideas that we had. Putting robbery and spontanity on the same line seems totally unlogical for me). Spontanity gets not blocked by thinking of what you do, on the contrary, it sets free personal ideas.
All our products are the result of a long growing process. Even a bizarre record as LEICHENSCHREI only came to existance after months of preparation. For that music we got lost of everything we knew that was already used, to get as original as possible. For example the use of concrete sounds : dropping pieces of iron meters hgh from chimneys, throwing frozen knives from behind a wall in a can with boiling oil,...
That delivers a specific form of quality. Within the popmusic, the criteria are different, there are certain predefined codelines. But even with that in mind, you can go for quality. I am really proud on certain songs from MACHINE AGE VOODOO, especially WITH LOVE FROM CHINA.
It seems to me really unthinkable to make music from the position "give the public what it wants : nice rubbish".
That attitude generates not one stimulans.
MACHINE AGE VOODOO came in first instance from the urge to constant renewal, that is characterised by the group. SPK sees itself as a band that shows up every year with something new : "When a designer walks down a street and sees his/her original designs have filtered through to chain stores, he/she knows it's time to move on" (Sinan in NME, 24/11/84). SPK points out that they were the first to use metal and garbage for musical purposes, but on the other hand they do not want to be categorised as a "metal band".
From a realistic point of view, one could say that after all the controversial work, SPK wants to get to a larger public, out of a need for recognition and to get the older work under the attention.
From a malicious point of view, one could add that the ambitions won't get realised, because it is easier to produce chaotic sounds from a marginal position or under the hood of controverse than to come up within normal standards (the competitive worlds of music business) with a high quality product. In concerts SPK has often the problem to meet the criteria of rhythm and melody.
But maybe the band just won't play the competition, and one could see MACHINE AGE VOODOO as a sort of inverse experiment : for a group that has been the whole time part of the world of hard industrial music, it is a real challenge and so a real experiment in the true meaning of the word to make quality dance music without betraying the earlier principles.
Also the recent products of Cabaret Voltaire or the 12 inch CALAMITY
CRUSH of Foetus are the result of this idea.
GRAEME REVELL 4
To make structured songs is no problem. I was schooled classically (my mother was an opera singer). It was very interesting to work out all sorts of arrangements and to be able to play everything myself.
The experiment exists in the seeking for the boundaries of the medium : pieces of ethnic percussion, gunsalvo's and hammering in a song. Very unusual, especially now. A year or two, three ago, some attempts were made and excepted, but now the whole formula has been brought back to formalised dance music (that's what HIGH TENSION is about). Dance music is not by definition negatif : I mean that you can think by your feet but that broadened implication seems to be missed in the current mainstream market.
Competition within the standards against marginality out of it. The classic example of every "political" strategy is to be marginalised. It is very good for the midclass-social-democratic society to be viewed as liberal, that it can show that it tolerates "marginal" activities.
As long as the "weirdos" stay on their territory, everything is fine and nothing changes. That is a much handier method than that of the totalitarian regimes, who try to destroy the "evil" but as result of this get very strong reactions.
That is what happened to the independent music scene : being shifted comfortably out of the margin of the establishment, whereupon all the present potential has been thinned to nihil (Throbbing Gristle split into different artistic parts that meant nothing for anybody).
"Begriffe wie Ausserbürgerlichkeit, Asthetismus, Exotismus, Dandyismus,
Tendenz zum Rausch, Perversion und Abgrund, die ambivalente Bewegung zwischen
Grenzzuständen und Extremiagen, Satanismus und religiöse Mystik,
Erotismus und Spiritualismus, Subjektivismus bis zum Exzess. und hohe Artistik
der gefeilten Form, morbide Irritabilität, der Sinn für zarte
geistige und sinnliche Nuancen, todessüchtige Selbstpreisgabe und
Heroismus der künstlerischen Durchformung der Existenz (...) Das Bewusstsein,
sich in Gegensätz zu allen menschlichen Normen und Konventionen zu
setzen, läst den Dekadenten zu einem absoluten Gefühl seiner
Jürgen Sänger/Aspekte dekadenter Sensibilität/1978
GRAEME REVELL himself was, in Australia a psychiatric nurse, task where he saw himself as a guard and upon which he specifies that it was he who controlled the switch for giving electroshocks.
In the themes of SPK, there is a lot of attention for the krank house, hospitals and prisons. They are seen as regularising instruments in the hands of the society, machines where deviant behaviour gets crushed by normalisation procedures.
In earlier times, let's say in the middle ages, kranks and criminals were excluded from society, getting hidden, or they were exhibited, as exotic animals in a zoo, examples of how the normal men not was and should not behave himself.
After that, tendency that has become stronger until now, they tried to cure deviant behaviour, to get it adopted to the conforming standards, resulting in reintegration.
That is just the same : deviant behaviour gets approached from exclusion/inclusion, with the society and the individual identity as a reference point. The actions to inclusion are even more neglectable, as they try to destroy every identity.
Since the krankhouses have been evolved into hospitals, deviant behaviour has no more asylum or place to exist - even if these are out of normal society. "Our intrest in social deviance must be to maintain and extend the disability of the system to keep its margins under control" (Graeme Revell in RE/SEARCH 6-7). Graeme Revell has got many ideas from the french philosopher Michel Foucault who treats the same problems in works like L'HISTOIRE DE LA FOLIE, NAISSANCE DE LA CLINIQUE and SURVEILLER ET PUNIR (resp. 1961, 1963 en 1975). SPK likes to make references to the french philosophers : in the bibliotheque of Graeme Revell we find names like Gilles Deleuze, with his theory of man as wanting versus needing machine, Baudrillard and his analysing of consumer society and Bachelard with the psychoanalysis of archetypes.
All of this heavy stuff, mostly from the structuralistic side, where to me nice-talking often replaces real content and where interesting theories in stead of completely worked out theories are presented.
"Since, say, 1945, when the spectres of mass psychosis strides across the communication landscape (the spectres of the atom bomb, of the Nazi death camps, of the misuse of science, and so forth) I think that one no longer can be objective (...) One's entering into a paradoxical realm where the psychopath is the only person who can imagine - who is capable of imagining - sanity, of concieving what sanity is" (Ballard in RE/SEARCH 8-9). A society that suffers itself from collective madness and is deranged , has no more right to judge upon deviant behaviour or a-normal visions.
Also SPK speaks out for the breaking up of categories as insiders/outsiders
or normal/abnormal. Absolute originality should not be judged negative
(being "misregarded" is a soft point for the group). Nonconformist standards
should be bend over to standards of differenciation. But alone the accentuation
of being different, of the difference towards the mass implicates that
the category normal/abnormal in the thinking of SPK has not been washed
away completely, just because there is a sort of magnetism from being different.
Getting charged by society proves the own identity, getting not understood
would mean superiority. Graeme Revell charms his ego by being labelled
a "peculiar person" . In a recent interview with NME, he complains
about the disagreement with the BBC to show a SPK video, but how would
he react if the BBC would find the video marvelous, if there would immediately
be a commercial reseller to distribute the video on large scale, if, to
get it rough, all idiots would dance enthusiastically on the music of SPK.
GRAEME REVELL 5
Honor, that's what it is about. The concept-art from the 60's and 70's has fallen many times on its face. If I would make a movie now, it would be full of content, I would talk about human values, like honesty and honor (very Nietschean - I am born a 100 years too late).
No individual strenght but honor, the responsability of the individual against itself and against aal the others. A very pure socialistic idea.
On that ground, normalisation procedures fill me with a big disgust. Michel Foucault covered in his work the period 1775-1825 and showed how the whole attitude of European men changed in that period, like as a completely different kind of human approached the same reality on a completely different manner. For the prison or hospitalsystem it is not important to know whether the people were part or not of society, but what position they had in or out that society.
Before 1775, the society of the spectacle : the penalty, the execution had to be seen and still the criminals and "ships of fools" that sailed along the European channels (must have been fenomenal). Everything was an exhibition, as a rarity or a regrettable example.
As time went, this became too dangerous, not because the public didn't love those deranged people or couldn't stand no longer the "theatre" but because the public began to sympathise with the criminals or lunatics. In the prisonsystem, the criminals were stabbed down, tortured, beheaded, in short twenty times executed, to be sure they were dead. This had to be stopped because the mass began to feel sympathy for the criminals and so it happened that they were liberated by the population. From that point of view, the taking over of the Bastille was an important symbol of the episternologique breakpoint.
It is notably that such breakpoints in the mentality happen often at the end of an era or maybe are strongly situated at the end of a millenium.
Since then, men tries to integrate deviant behaviour, on a very dirty base, through a sort of liberal normalisation process. In America, prisons are getting privatised. Companies are making offers to run a prison. They go with each other in competition : we can hold the prisoners for 20% cheaper". Rentability criteria for guarding and caretaking !
What hopefully will happen is that the degree of tolerance versus abnormality becomes bigger. That evolution is already on it's way, I think, measuring the reactions we had against our first videos, where for we used images from medical musea and autopsies.
In the last five, six years, the talking about freaks has come more to the surface; one hears even things like "le freak, c'est chic" in discotheques. the whole city of New York has become like Fellini City; only there it becomes ridicule, a sort of neatly maintaine garbage belt.
Concerning the question of well or not being turned on BBC, it would be a whole lot easier if our music would be accepted by them and we could complain from that position how things are being done in that institution (now our complaints seem a bit hypochritic).
In England (the only country where a non-official station is still called "pirate" ! - the few initiatives get cut out like weed) the BBC has an absolute monopoly, they just control everything (it is about the BBC that George Orwell wrote 1984 !).
For the radio, about twelve middle-aged people decide what records will be offered to a nation of more than a hundred million listeners. No university radio, no free radio.
In the rest of Europe - I think for example at Radio Centraal in Antwerp - our music has been turned for years, from the beginning.
Being not accepted by the BBC can be a compliment, but what counts
is that this situation is neglectable, and that the mass is not prepared
to do something against it. It is said that there never will be a revolution
How far can you go by cultivating aberrant subversive behaviour ? Maybe
men can come up with a political justification for terroristic actions
from the Baader-Meinhof organisation or the deregulating activities of
the Onkruit movement, but to what degree is it responsible to give someone
like Charles Manson stardom ?
GRAEME REVELL 6
On that point I always distanciated myself from Throbbing Gristle. What they did was supporting a system that selected star deviants, like Charles Manson or Jim Jones. With that you join the image that the sensational press ("the sunday newspaper idea") hang up of that kind of people : special, rare fools who have to be locked up - the society doesn't get questioned in that. There isn't talking about a general social syndrome, like that wouldn't exist.
That's why we have chosen the name SPK (in stead of RAF or IRA : the Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv (a group patients from a Heidelberg institute who build up a terroristic unity under the slogan "KilI for inner peace and mental health" but blew themselves in the air in an attempt to make bombs) had also dangerous (though very interesting) ideas but had no sensational actions and so did not get stardom from the media.
In DER SPIEGEL it was always Baader Meinhof versa SPK, and we choose
for the last as a sort of antithese against the first.
For RE/Search the pictures of SPK were taken from a shooting stand. On stage, the group makes often use of fire. Destructive images are happily applied. Therefore there exists a reasonable, but to me a much too often used explanation : to fight against establishment with its own weapons. The atrocity exhibition tries to show in all its nakedness the horror of society. Not the violence that is spewed by the media, for which we have become numb by the overload, but the real thing.
Graeme remembers from his psychiatric career some hard to forget images, the ultime horrorn a thousand times worse than any other mediatised scene. A direct, painful contact, no distant view upon a stylised screen.
But the atrocity exhibition is more than a complaint : "ATROCITY EXHIBITION" portrays a doctor who's had a mental breakdown. He has been shocked and numbed by events like the deaths of the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe. To make sense of the modern world he wants to immerse himself in its most destructive elements. He creates a series of psychodramas that produce grim paradoxes. They suggest things like the possibility of Vietnam having some good effects, or of car crashes serving a useful purpose within the social organism, or of a purgative aspect of the assassination of public figures, just as there used to be in ancient ritual murders, and always has been in the death of charismatic figures like Christ" (Ballard in Books and Bookmen, 4/71). With SPK it goes not that far : there is no search to take responsability for destruction, but nevertheless there is a kind of attraction to it and the game with the sickening images gives some excitement.
That game with deviant, abnormal elements, where upon there rest a taboo, fits in the whole of consciously cultivated cultural decadence : resist against the mass by coming up against their ruling laws and giving sense to what is generally marked as "bad taste".
With that it is important that there is a clear border between imagination
and reality : "I'm not thinking of psychopathology simply in terms of
sadism and meaningless cruelty and all the rest of it, but rather the deliberate
immersion of oneself in all sorts of destructive impulses - let's say the
deliberate immersion of one's imagination in all sorts of destructive impulses"
(Ballard in RE/SEARCH 8-9). With that the these that the exploration
of horrors on the level of the imagination can work exorcising, it can
take away the drift to commit real criminality.
GRAEME REVELL 7
There does surely exist a fascination for violent and "sickening" images. The danger is that you show them in a context of scandal. By showing such an "atrocity exhibition" it is wrong to show for example deformed bodies and with that include the reference to so called perfect bodies.
It is more the question of what is beautiful, esthetique, fascinating, and why.
Much of the noise that we made previously was meant to pose the question of the why of the quasi unlistenability of it. In our new video, we let beautiful and horrendous images flow in each other, again to research if there is a border, where it lies and by what it can be explained.
What does really happen in that sound, in those images ?
In literature, Graeme Revell finds the work of the french writer Joris-Karl Huysmans (End 19th - begin 20th century) very intrigating, and that says alot because Huysmans is somewhat the most important representant of the cultural decadence around that period, he has also marked the oeuvre of for example Baudelaire.
From that point LES FLEURS DU MAL is a loaden title : the flowers of the evil. A means to valorisition of the negative aspects from the human sensory world. The complete work of Huysmans can be regarded as a search to a positive colouring from suffering and pain, first from a decadent consciousness (he who suffers disassociates himself from the grey mass) than within a satanic, strong sado-masochistic reference wherein the psychopath from the middle-ages Gilles de Rais (the historical counterpart from Charles Manson) plays an important part, and at last from the catholic knowledge that pain has a stimulating effect, this is why martyrs become automatically saints (the more horrendous their suffering, the higher their status in the army of saints).
Huysmans had a, till than unsurpassed, gift to find beauty in the morbid, the bizarre : "Les jardiniers apportèrent encore de nouvelles variétés (het gaat hier om zorgvuldig door het hoofdpersonage uitgekozen bloemen - JL); elles affectaient, cette fois, une apparence de peau factice, sillonnée de fausses veines; et, Ia plupart, comme rongées par des syphilis et des lèpres, tendaient des chairs livides, marbrées de roséoles, damassées de dartres; d'autres avaient le ton rose vif des cicabrices qui se ferment ou la teinte brune des croûtes qui se forment, d'autres étaient bouillonnées par des cautères, soulevées par des brûlures; d'autres encore montraient par des chancres, quelques-unes, enfin, paraissaient couvertes de pansements, plaquées d'axonge noire mercurielle, d'onguents verts de belladone, piquées de grains de poussière, par les micas jaunes de la poudre d'iodoforme. Réunies entre elles, ces fleurs éclatèrent devant Des Esseintes, plus nombreuses que lorsqu'il les avait surprises, confondues avec d'autres, ainsi que dans un hôspital, parmi les salles vitrées des serres. - Sapristi! fit-il enthousiasmé" (Huysmans, A Rebours).
As far as it concerns myself, the SPK preferences for images from medical atlasses, the iconography of death and decay come for a part from that same fascination. It should be noted that the Huysmans book, A REBOURS, is translated in english as AGAINST NATURE, while the real title should be more neutral, like "against the grain". That putting on the same level of deviant behaviour with unnatural tendencies opens a whole lot perspectives, in the sense that the ruling ideology defends its norms as "natural".
The next book of Huysmans had an even more meaningfull title : LA-BAS ("there under"), an exploration to what seems the gutter of society, but after that it got a counterpart in LA-HAUT ("up there"), the transcript of a search to a religious, even mystic valorisation of existence, and with that the first part of the huges catholic oeuvre of the writer; that would find its place to retraite houses and bibliotheques of godfearing persons (who, without knowledge of the often censored earlier oeuvre, apparently didn't see that the "new" Huysmans hadn't let down his deviant fascinations, on the contrary : in SAINTE LYDWINE DE SCHIEDAM he gets in detail for hundred pages on the rotting proces of the martyr who let herself deay on a mestheap and his traveling report LES FOULES DE LOURDES is a colourful precessor of the film FREAKS by Tod Browning, a monster gallery.
It is remarkable that, now a century later, the same shift from cultural decadence (the industrial esthetic), over black esoteric (the renewed attention for figures like Aleister Crowley) to artstic religiosity (the Temple of Psychic Youth), with an incalculated dose perversion (Foetus who likes to nail him on a cross), manifests itself again. A search that is inevitable for the fin-de-siècle ?
On first view, that religiosity is not present with SPK. More about
"LIVING is one of the most boring things one can do. The really exciting things, the most interesting experiences, go on inside one's head, within those areas covered by the intelligence and the imagination" (Ballard in Penthouse, 9/70).
With SPK imagination and intelligence are well represented, and the slogan from '68 "all power to the imagination", is still used now, fifteen years later, as resistance against the rusted establishment. But the members of SPK like to use also the iconography of brute force, full of references to images from MAD MAX or to the metalworkers myth that is so often exploited today.
Individual affirmation seems mostly to grow from energy, the primary
force to feed the resistance.
GRAEME REVELL 8
During our concerts, I notice that an energic approach - with some simple techniques - immediately give a reaction.
Our set is, starting from the more accepted numbers of the elpee, in one sense or another focused on the last pieces, where we hit it hard : stroboscoops, shouting, glowing metal sparks that are fired upon the public, rattling with chains. Only on that occasion the public stops with only watching and listening; the impact gets broader and deeper : or the mass scaredly retracts (what happens most), or the public takes the stage by force and it is us who have to leave.
That galvanised reaction, that gets people to do something what they wouldn't do in normal situations, I find essential. It may not be restricted to a pure intelligent or imanigative composed show. (Encouraging is that mainly during those extreme blasts in the concerts SPK was applaused enthusiastically - JL).
"Traversons ensemble une grande capitale moderne, les oreilles plus
attentives que les yeux, et nous varierons les plaisirs de notre sensibilité
en distinguant les glouglous d'eau, d'air et de gaz dans les tuyaux métalliques,
les borborygmes et les râles des moteurs qui respirent avec une animalité
indiscutable, la palpitation des soupapes, le va-et-vient des pistons,
les cris stridents des scies mécaniques, les bonds sonores des tramways
sur les rails, le claquement des fouets, le clapotements des drapeaux.
Nous nous amuserons à orchestrer idéalement les portes à
coulisses des magasins, le brouhaha des foules, les tintamarres différents
des gares, des forges, des filatures, des imprimeries, des usines électriques
et des chemins de fer souterrains. Il ne faut pas oublier les bruits absolument
nouveaux de la guerre moderne (...) Notre sensibilité multipliée,
après s'être fait des yeux futuristes, aura aussi des oreilles
futuristes. Les moteurs de nos villes industrielles pourront dans quelques
années être tout savamment entonnés de manière
a former de chaque usine un enivrant orchestre de bruits".
Luigi Russolo/L'art des bruits/1916
The Futurists were so full of the modern sounds that they signed up themselves to enjoy cacophony that was war. In Russia, during approximately the same time, the poet Majakovski directed from the roof of a state-building a city-symphony with as ingredients the shouting of the masses, the sirens of factories and the thundering salvoes of canons. Some decennia later those conceptions of music as sound and sound as music were taken up in the studio's of the ORTF in Paris, where people like Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer got into experiments where even the maniacal noisechaos of Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten would be seem pale to.When SPK integrates drilling machines, metal pipes and petrol cans in the instrumentarium, one can hardly speak about avantgarde. Nevertheless the group can postpone that they promote interesting ideas from the past, that never found general attention and that by this they deliver a positive attribution to the creation of music. Especially because those deranged sounds now get placed within the spectre of popmusic.
The legacy of "musique concrète" - the use of raw sounds
in a musical reference - gets also attention on their own MUSIQUE BRUT
GRAEME REVELL 9
In 1952 you had the controverse between Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer. Very amusing, they really hated each other.
Our first elpee, INFORMATION OVERLOAD UNIT, was an attempt to get into Stockhausen's conceptions as far as possible, the second LEICHENSCHREI was made after I had written a book about Schaeffer and had experiments in his direction, somehow without the electronic overdose by with the experimenters at the ORTF-studio's were so possessed. Those influences were very important, just like the music of Edgar Varese or Charles Ives, for example. What amased me was that in the sector of industrial music, there was much talk about the concept "sound", raw pure noise in an anti-musical context, without the fact that anybody ever heard of above mentionned componists.
The idea behind the name of my MUSIQUE BRUT label has, despite the contentuary likeness, less to do with the "musique concrète".
I have chosen for it after the example of the ART BRUT collection in Switzerland, and that is much closer from where I come from, the psychiatric hospital where I worked in Australia. The collection consists of the work of ninety people, from psychiatric institutions or from fanatics who sculpture all the wood in their house, making castles with shells, exhibit strange machines in their backgarden.
Or the man who, along the Normandic coast sculptures dwarves in the
rocks. Maniacal, excessive behaviour.
MUSIQUE BRUT. That name "brute music" implicates the vagueness of concepts like artistic styling.
Norms of melody and rhythm, artificial paterns from the brain of men, are of little importance. Coding is limited to a minimum. In the balance of spontaneous nature versus organised culture, the focus rests on the first.
That is way it is logic that Graeme Revell wants to bring out on the
label also music from mentally handicapped, because he places their spontanity
GRAEME REVELL 10
The MUSIQUE BRUT series will be the first full experiment since long time in the music world, even if it will be connected by a classical dimension (I hope to get the records out via the NONESUCH-label). I will find that work a lot more stimulating than the music we make now, even if the dedicated projects to Adolf Wolfli (found his own notation system to write down totally personal music pieces) and Harry Partch (experimented with tone scales) will not be realised by ourselves, but for the memory of those forgotten geniuses, and with that also for the public.
What fascinates me especially are the broadening possibilities that are given by the technological evolution. One of the records from the series will contain music based on insect sounds. Previously you heard such a sound, and that was it. Now one can go deeper into it : there exist soundcomputers were you can split up one such an insect sound in 150 different different soundwaves, from which you can eliminate one or more to create a totally new global sound.
At last you can speak about real sound material, that you can edit and transform within the smallest components, and that is a whole revolution in regard with the oldfashioned getting guitar effects and tapeloops. Eventually the thinking patterns of men could undergo a radical shift, by adding so many until now unseen pieces of reality.
It is only a vague hypothesis, but maybe that shift towards a macroscopic approach and treatment of the world the epistemologic breakpoint for this millenium (I wopuld like to write a book about that).
Electron microscopes and such are only a primitive start. The only brake on it is that those "mind-expanding" machines are very expensives (a positive aspect to our contract with a big company : we invest all our money in such machines).
Specially for the public, the releases from the MUSIQUE BRUT series will be accompanied with the needed info. With Partch and Wolfli mainly the people and their ideas will be put in the spotlight, while on the insect record the process of creation of the music will be presented. That will be necessary and interesting.
Going with that an expensive, attractive package, even a bit over the top. That is mainly a reaction against the fact that, when somebody comes up with something from the domain of madness, people expect it will look like something that was made up by an organisation that has no money. I think it is better to take care that those records don't look a "low class independent product".
I see MUSIQUE BRUT as a sort of naive art, but from a new idea of the naive art, in the sense that somebody like me, with a classical background starts from the principle to make something from whatever what. Like a real futurist. The concept "naive" implicates not the absence from artistic norms but a primary drift to create, a form of excessive art making.
Adolf Wolfli live 30 years in solitary confinement but never stopped working; he broke a pencil and immediately asked for another. An extreme example of someone who can't stop creating. Nonetheless there is no complete decodification (even I feel an enormous drift to create, but still I don't see myself as naive - without speaking about artistic pretentions, because otherwise I would be now in New York doing incomprehensable interviews with William Burroughs).
The french philosophers Deleuze and Guattari treat that event (they call it "deterritorialisation"), the breaking up of the initially perfect functioning human machine to a deranged whole; in that they differentiate different stadia, that also exist with the artistic creation. The zero level, the complete lack of reference points and attributing criteria, one never reach.
Adolf Wolfli was very aware of the musical norms of his time; he was
really convinced to compose strict orthodox mazurka's, only the end-result
turned out different, but this he did not know.
The use of raw material, the negation of streamlined sofistication, points to a return to primitive honesty, the same honesty that the first man was able to when he got to create the first tones from available material from his near environment.
That idea of primitivism shows itself also in the second part of the title of the new MACHINE AGE VOODOO record. Nowadays, there is much reference to old rituals, but people tend to forget that those (especially initiation-rituals) had a strong indoctrinating function.
A ritual is a social activity, and surely no reaction against the organisation
of society. That is why an individual ritual is a contradictio in terminis.
GRAEME REVELL 11
With voodoo it is especially interesting it goes about a composite : central-african but also west-indian and french elements. I possess an African mask that is in fact an amalgam of the most diverse ingredients. It is very impressive, but it don't seem to have a real basis.
Voodoo is a magical form with so many different sideforms, a massive heap of symbols and rituals of different roots, a religion from which the face didn't grew from one specific background and that gets therefore grip on all those different ethnics, where it spread itself. A kind of massive influence, without specific ethnical liaisons.
In that sense the title MACHINE AGE VOODOO means that the same is going on in modern society with technology, that becomes as a matter of fact a generally spread religion. We find ourselves in a period where technology puts absolute values and pretends to give answer to questions about existence. Sense-making from a to magical dimension blown up technocracy. It is the magical power of technology that takes responsability and support for modern wars.
Religious elements have only a meaning when they respond to a need of sense-giving, fulfilling a function in society. That is why the renewed attention for the occult or christian mystic is not relevant : those forms of magic have no more sense, give no perspective for the modern reality. That is what technology does. The secular and the religious have changed place : the concrete, technically world becomes magical while old believings get reduced to the common or even don't get any more understood.
Rituals can fullfil a system confirmative role, especially initiation-, wedding-, and deadrituals. But they can also have a liberating function. One gets born in society, belongs to it, and liberation is hard to put on the same level as an unreturnable breakthrough of that environment. It has affection with the manner on which the individual can behave and act.
A lot of rituals are centered around surviving, with a swearing of the given, a technique to put to ones hand, make sense of it. An expansion, more than a liberation in its radical meaning that comes with a break. The individual seems to need those rituals to valorise its existence, to know the quality of it and to explore it.
In that sense, the machine can also work liberating, give creative power, while we may not forget the same time that it gets used most of all in the first place for control and repression. Only after it is tested on military domain, a whole lot of new discoveries can be checked for positive meanings.
Social and technological progression have always a positive and negative
side. Liberation is always relative, can never be total. It is important
to work through every concrete situation, finding a small road or exit
from the place where you stood initially, the center.
The title MACHINE AGE VOODOO is surely clever, because it contains two
terms for which now exist a big emotion. Does SPK makes use after all from
the strategy of misconception, by sticking trendy ettiquettes on a subversive
message, that covers up its controversial character in a handy manner ?
GRAEME REVELL 12
On that I will only remark that MACHINE AGE VOODOO is a nice title because
you never find those elements of design together : or primitive symbols
or machines. Bauhaus versus Expressionism. Both poles are mostly put against
each other. The idea to combine them makes clear we are a very technological
race, but probably also the most vicious specie that walked the earth.
Modern man is enormously talented, but uses progression only for its own
immediate advantage. Poor, short sighted man.
Jan Landwijdt/Mechelen FOUNDED in Australie, 1978/ changing personnel,
core members Graeme Revell and Sinan/NO MORE/KONTAKT/GERMANIK 7" (Side
Effekts)/FAKTORY/RETARD/ SLOGUN 7" (Side Effekts)/MEKANO/SLOGUN 7" (Industrial)/lNFORMATION
OVERLOAD UNIT LP (Side Effekts)/SOLLIPSIK EP (M Squared)/LEICHENSCHREI
LP (Side Effekts, Thermidor)/AUTODAFE compLP (Walter Ulbricht Schallfolien)/DEKOMPOSITIONES
12" (Side Effekts)/METAL DANCE 12" (Desire)/JUNK FUNK 12" (WEA)/MACHINE
AGE VOODOO LP (WEA)/cassettes LIVE AT THE CRYPT (Sterile)/LAST ATTEMPT
AT PARADISE (Fresh Sounds)/FROM SCIENCE TO RlTUAL (Viva Italy)/numbers
on A SELECTION compLP (M Squared)/THE LAST SUPPER cassette (Adventures
in Reality)/ALCHEMY cassette (Sterile)/video: DESPAIR/ literature:
RE/SEARCH 6-7, Industrial Culture handbook, 1 983/RE/SEARCH 8-9, J.
G. Ballard, 1 984/(RE/SEARCH: 20 Romolo B. San Francisco CA 941 33)/J.
G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash, Concrete Island,/High-Rise,
Triad Panther Paperbacks (Dutch translations in Meulenhof SF Pockets) J.
K. Huysmans, A REBOURS, éditions 10/1 8/J. K. Huysmans, LA-BAS,
éditions Livre de Poche/Charles Baudelaire, LES FLEURS DU MAL, éditions
Livre de Poche/Robert Baldick, LA VIE DE J. K. HUYSMANS, éditions
Denoel, 1958/Luigi Russolo, L'ART DES-BRUITS, éditions L'Age d'Homme,
1975/Pierre Schaeffer, LA MUSIQUE CONCRETE, éditions Que Sais-Je?/
Michel Foucault (most important work by éditions Gallimard)/Liberatore
& Tamburini, Ranxerox, L'ECHO DES SAVANNES/Albin Michel/Jurgen Sanger,
ASPEKTE DEKADENTER SENSIBILITAT, Frankfurt, 1978.
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