Listening in the car to an old tune of mine called “Funkmuppet” (subtitled “Dance Like A Muppet”) I suddenly realised that it’s in need of a rap. I’ve never written one before, but I immediately knew precisely how the rhythm of the lyrics should play out, how my tone should undulate, what style of rapping I wanted to do. It was crystal clear.
But just as I began to consider which topical subjects of the day I might want to cover in my lyrical discourse, Afrika Bambataa started rapping over it in my head instead. “What’s this phoney ceremony, hanging around…”, lyrics that are familiar to me solely due to their use by Bassheads in their classic upfront progressive house tune “Is there anybody out there?”. It fitted perfectly.
Now my role in the piece seems to have been relegated to waiting until he sings “Just get up and dance, you got to get up and dance, y’all just get up and dance” and then shouting “LIKE A MUPPET!”.
I think perhaps it’s best if I just try to forget that any of this happened.
This is a transcription of some notes I scrawled, somewhat drunk, in late 2002 while sitting in the audience at the Barbican Centre for London Orbital – an evening of readings, music, and sundry entertainment connected to Iain Sinclair’s book of that name. I, and a fair few others, were in attendance primarily due to the presence of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty on the same billing for the first time since their fantastic 23-minute performance on this very same stage in 1997 to launch “Fuck The Millennium” (which I also attended). Bill’s reading was wonderful — he’s always a consummate speaker-performer — while Jimmy’s band were, er, noisy. Ken Campbell was awesome; Sinclair himself read in the monotone of a particularly bad vicar’s sermon, conclusively proving that the writer of a book is not necessarily the best person to read it. I found the other participants of variable quality… I was young, full of hubris, and prone to epiphanies of the retrospectively obvious. As I grew increasingly incensed at some of the rubbish (as I perceived it) being presented to this huge audience, wasting our time, wasting a great opportunity, I started to scribble… the following is particularly harsh on one particular performer, but bear in mind that there must have been others who bored me sufficiently to want to keep writing instead of paying them any heed.
Bill Griffiths is playing
Something by Bartok
A plodding piece
Simple, 2-note chords.
About taking the stage
Like the Chechen Rebels
in the Moscow Theatre
But no guns
Ready to be Captivated
by the introduction
Bill Griffiths is reading
A poem of his. He reads
ted where they don't
belong, where they
And saying Nothing
that makes any sense.
Am I being cheated?
"You would do better,"
I agree, wholeheartedly.
Bill Griffiths is playing again
Something else by Bartok
A better piece this time.
One that actually requires
some skill, that actually has
some tune. He plays
And then it's over.
And all I can think is,
I need to network
with people like Iain Sinclair
Have my audience delivered
on a plate.
And fuckin' use the opportunity.
There are three films being projected: a slow-mo rear-view mirror scene in the rain in the centre; on the left a real-time forward-looking “this is you driving” boring one; but on the right, zoomed in, a view looking right. We see one-frame blipvert flashes of wheels zipping past on the other side of the central reservation, the rhythm of this occasionally broken by an overtaking car sailing serenely past on this side. We’re cruising the middle lane, but with a view normally denied to the driver, that of the sheer pace of humanity, the raw velocity with which we drive ourselves toward extinction. We are a pair of alloy wheels for one frame only, and then we’re gone.
There’s few a better opportunity for the peoplewatcher, the loner, to catch sight of other loners, other peoplewatchers, aliens, standing, sitting alone, watching, than at any event associated with The KLF. They stand, unashamed, at the edges but also in the middle of the foyer, watching, observing like I, but not making notes like I, just watching. Who are these people? Who am I? Was I?
Watching the films I realise that the point of motorways is to take you through, past; never to touch, feel or experience the countryside, the people, just a journey to get from A to B and not even realise how shit it was, our lives reduced to the need to arrive, never deviate from the course ordained for us by our wise Government Minister. Ours is not to question, just to fucking drive, got to get There, never mind all the cones, never mind having an HGV up your arse, never mind the grey, the black, the spray, the Nothingness, the shit food and shit service stations, never mind the White Van Man cutting you up for the umpteenth time that day, never mind the rain, the sales exec in his Mondeo, never mind the concrete just play spot the Eddie Stobart, it beats actually THINKING.
Encased in our
We feel nothing
see nothing except
what hits our windscreen.
No wonder people are
so divorced from reality
when the reality they face
day in day out
is the M25.
Of all the lame excuses, I’ve been putting off registering for this year’s JISC Dev8D conference because the registration form says they’ll be using Wordle to make badges for everyone, and there’s a space on said form to provide a blog/RSS feed or bunch of text which can be fed into it to summarise our interests.
I’ve got three personal blogs including this one, although the fact that I only frequently update the one about my musical activities under the alias of Quextal, and that until very recently, Source Of Life, to which I have occasionally released potentially-useful but dreadfully hacky Perl programs, had probably been broken for months, says a lot about the current priorities in my life.
Unfortunately, feeding Quextal into Wordfondle fails to give a decent summary of what that site is about. Useful things like the titles of posts, their tags, categories, and the contents of Pages, are all ignored by the analyser, and so the result ends up dominated by the artists who most often feature in the tracklists of my recent mixes. Apart from giving the impression that I’m some kind of music industry plugger / agent / record label boss, it also makes me look like a complete stoner because of my support of one particular artist.
Using ContentedLife (wot you are now reading) instead doesn’t fare much better – I guess it conveys quite well something of my tendancy toward an interest in random disparate topics, yet utterly fails to bring out what I consider to be the most important waymarkers within that randomness.
If I’m to be represented by a disconnected soup of words, I want at least some of those words to be a reasonable reflection of my real interests and character, leaving room for a bit of serendipity of course.
So this got me thinking… how would I “tag” myself? What limited set of keywords would I choose to represent myself to a bunch of complete strangers, if I had the choice? Which I do…
As music is my first and truest love and passion, I’d have to start with some descriptions of my current musical boatfloatery 1: epic evolving psybreaks / electrobreaks / nuskool breaks, chunky progressive psychedelic techno, journeying synthorganic minimal techno, glitchy breakbeat crunk, and miscellaneous interstitial trippy electronica. Of which, psybreaks is my particular speciality. Obviously, trying to describe music using language is an exercise in futility 2 — especially my music — but as far as I know, there’s no MP3 player in these badges, so I have to use these clumsy labels as bait to tempt and seduce those who may enjoy the kaleidoscopic taste sensations of my synaesthetic electronic cocktails…
(1 I am so pleased with my invention of the word “boatfloatery” (at the time of writing, not a single other hit for it on Google) that I intend to shoehorn it into a conversation at least once a day from now on, propagating its usage until someone I’ve never met adds it to Urban Dictionary…)
(2 The traditional quote is: “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” Usually attributed to Elvis Costello, but there’s some doubt about that. Anyway, I don’t reckon that’s quite right. I think of it like this: Trying to describe music is like trying to describe sex. It’s perfectly possible to do it, but it rather misses the point…)
I’d want to relate the fact that I’ve been hacking about with Linux, Perl, PHP and MySQL for so long that I’m about ready now to give the whole lot up and try gardening instead.
There’d be (in some cases, necessarily oblique) references to psychedelics and consciousness, healing and mysticism, Now, Spirit, Love, Nature, Gaia, and faeries. Ayahuasca would be explicitly named, for being all of those things while transcending them all.
It would make sense to throw in a selection of ideas that I find fascinating and engaging even though I’m never likely to get even close to fully understanding them, such as quantum physics (and metaphysics), fractals, stochastic resonance, sacred geometry, tectonics, astronomy, biochemistry, psychology, geography, weather, and basically anything that seeks to answer the question “How?” (even though we know that the real answer is it’s all just gnomes).
For the sake of a complete picture, I’d need to reference Eris, the number 23, and The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (furthermore known as The JAMs, also known as The KLF) — no longer the obsession they once were, but still resonant in the formation of my character. And yes, for the same reason, Monochrome would have to be there too… initiator of countless lasting friendships, not to mention an eight year relationship, and the two best kids in the world…
And, although it’s not really anything to do with my character (“you are not your job”, as a wise man once said), I suppose it would be sensible — given that this is a conference, after all — to include a couple of phrases about my present paid employment as a Linuxsysadmin and developer, which currently involves a fair bit of hacking around with EPrints and other Perl3 shenanigans.
3 Gets a repeat appearance to ensure it due prominence over that other scripting language beginning with P. No, not that one, don’t be obtuse. Although, basically, all programming languages whose name starts with that letter are rubbish, except Perl. True fact. It should by now be obvious why I make that exception. I, too, am Pathologically Eclectic…)
My original plan was to post an entry containing just these tags, repeating the ones I consider most helpful in summation of the mess of contradictions that is Me (psybreaks, for example, would have to recur several times). But while this would generate a more accurate badge, it wouldn’t exactly be an interesting read, and it may also cause search engines to believe that I’m attempting to spam their results. The ranking of this site has suffered enough from the demise of its old domain, I don’t want to get it completely blacklisted.
So, the idea now is, to write more entries to explain and expand on many of the terms above.
Hey, it could happen… somewhen…
Meanwhile, here is some music. And one more mention of psybreaks, because there isn’t enough of it in the world (a situation which I’m doing my best to rectify, in case you hadn’t guessed…)
Feeding just this post into Wordmangle (using the single-post feed link) results in a far more apposite summary of my interests than anything I’d hitherto managed. Exactly as I’d hoped. And using an article written about the process to feed into the process appeals to my (and probably every developer’s) aesthetic appreciation of the Meta, the self-referential.
With most of the emboldened words above only having a single instance in the text, many of them are getting left out. Perhaps that’s for the best. It seems to be picking a good subset, and while for example I feel Ayahuasca should be in there, so that it can be found by people who are looking, it oughtn’t be too big: it isn’t always a great idea to shout about such things to all and sundry (been there, done that, learned lessons). So I’m generally happy with the outcome. But it omitted The KLF, and Eris. For some reason, I feel they need to be in there, subverting the whole silly idea from within. So now they are. All hail! Fnord.
One of my favourite places in the whole world: Durdle Door, on the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
Well actually, the Door itself I can take or leave, although I quite liked being able to catch sunset through it thanks to the fact that I was there on a very spring-like day in January. You can’t get this angle later in the year.
But I love what surrounds the Door, and the walk to it and past it from Lulworth Cove (I never head towards the Cove…)
I even enjoy the drive to get there, at least the last 20 minutes of it when I come off the main roads and snake up a single-track road to the viewpoint overlooking Tyneham and Kimmeridge, where I stop for 5 minutes to enjoy the view and watch the clouds doing a dance that I have never seen them do anywhere else, as the sea breeze rising over the Purbecks pushes them away. All the way down here the sky could have been grey and overcast and drizzly and unpromising, but here is where the clouds are turned back, they shall not pass, and the sun shines on the Lulworth ranges. Then I continue along the range road to Lulworth, and realise that once again I don’t have enough change for the car park…
Climbing the hill above the main car park, heading away from the Cove, provides a measure of whether I’m less fit or more fit than on my previous visit (this time, less fit. Oops.). Detour to visit the hidden hill, with its portal to another dimension, to stand atop it and face the full fetch of the Atlantic wind. The perfect diffraction patterns of the bay to the east of the Door, flashing with a million reflected suns. The sound of the sea just to the west of here, in one particular spot where it sends waves of almost orgasmic energy through my body. The cliffs and rock formations along the beach, so striking it’s enough to spark an interest in geology in someone whose idea of hell, once upon a time, was to be dragged around a museum looking at dusty display cases full of rocks. “They’re just rocks”, I thought, but of course now they hold the secrets of the Earth’s past, and the history of life itself. Rocks are beginning to come to life for me, and this place is the catalyst.
Butter Rock marks the farthest west you can walk along the beach. From certain angles it reminds me of an Easter Island statue, except that it faces the beach rather than out to sea as they do. It seems to be the quiet guardian of this, the quieter end of the beach. Tourists at the Door end can be raucous and rowdy, but the guardian keeps this space for those of a more meditative persuasion. Few come here, and those that do talk in hushed tones or keep a contemplative silence. Even dogs are calmer here.
This is the only place to which I return regularly, and know I will continue to do so. Normally I like to explore new places, rather than revisiting old ones. But this place is special. It’s where I plug in to the grid, recharge with energy from all the four elements: earth beneath my feet and in magnificent display, water as the sound of the sea, air as the breeze that almost knocks me over as I stand atop the hidden hill, soaking up its power, refining my balance, and fire from the sun that has shone on me on every visit so far.
This is my power place.
How about you? Where do you keep returning to, not due to lack of ideas for alternatives, but because you love it so much, because it works for you?
“Do you believe in God?” she asked. The trouble is, “God” is such a loaded word/concept. So is “believe”.
My current quest is for experience. Belief is, by definition, outside experience: it’s an attempt to explain experience — at best your own, at worst someone else’s — to cage it and control it. Having been subsumed by beliefs of one kind or another for so long, for now I’m quite content to avoid them wherever possible. So what I’m left with is a kind of day-to-day “this is how things seem to me to be”.
Now that I’m over the existential angst that is probably an inevitable initial reaction to a pretty steep drop from absolute certainty to near-absolute uncertainty about everything I held as important, it works for me and I don’t feel any burning desire to “know” more.
Instead, I notice the way that certain ideas resonate with me, as if I hear the ringing of some crystal of “truth” that they contain, “truth” in quotes because it is a truth for me, for now, rather than for everyone for all time. Today, for instance, alchemy; one of my keywords on a certain social connection website. Someone asked me why it was there, so I explained that it was in the sense of self-development rather than turning base metals to gold, but this got me asking myself why I’d put it there, and realising that the key component of alchemical transformation is fire, and it burns. There’s nothing like going through hell to achieve enlightenment. Perhaps indeed it’s the only way. Death and rebirth. Fear is conquered after the first Bad Trip. And so on. Anyway, then she mentions Crowley and that’s synchronistic with the part of the Illuminatus! trilogy I’ve just got to on 3rd reading, the black mass, and all the while I was reading it I was observing my own reaction to it, the fear and disgust which can only be a residue of Christian upbringing since I have no direct experience of such rites. Do I want to? Not especially, but neither do I want something from my past to continue to hold such power over my present. It maintains, and is maintained by, a lack of belief in my own power, my own ability to experience all manifestations of life without being possessed by any one of them.
I don’t have many ambitions. In fact I try to leave the Future well alone these days, since it tends to have no basis in reality.
But there is one thing that I want to do — on such a deep level that I know with almost absolute certainty (as much as anything can be certain, and considerably more certain than the day-to-day things that most people take as certainties without question) that I will do it, somewhen. I know this, or strongly suspect that I know this, because I have no idea WHY I want to do it, or HOW I’m going to do it… and I feel a certain amount of fear about it. But it is just there, hovering, glittering in the hyperspace of my backburner consciousness, like how my innocent and what-might-now-be-called-Aspy hyper-literal imagination used to interpret the phrase “since you were just a twinkle in your father’s eye”.
I will go to Burning Man.
I probably will not go to Burning Man until I can chill out a bit about it, so to speak. Having this level of certainty tends to provoke expectations of epiphany. I need to reach the point of knowing, on that same deep level, that (a) life’s purpose is revealed in every moment, and (b) life’s purpose is to wake up enough to see what is being revealed in every moment and receive it. One of the appeals of BM in contrast to other festivals, which always seem like temporary opt-outs from the real world and I have adjustment difficulties at either end of them, is that it’s a completely blank canvas. It’s not a gig, it’s not a festival, it’s just a gathering in the desert, and nothing is there except what you bring. I feel that may make it easier to bring home and integrate whatever I experience, because everything was done by ordinary people, rather than a faceless organisation. And because I will be determined to contribute, and to feel like a contributor rather than a spectator. To be through doing, not viewing. To be consciousness moving matter, instead of a disembodied lost soul.