I’M JACK

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“Here are dark telegrams from an expertly realised otherness that is Sunderland. Spare. Swift. Smart. And dangerous. Carrying us through maps of shame to rescue a convincing fiction of the past from its sullen entropy.”

Iain Sinclair

“Less a novel and more an assault on the senses, I’m Jack cleverly uses inter-textual trickery and deft Mackem parlance to create a portrait of a man obsessed. It is a forensic montage, a frenzied confessional and a stark commentary on the effects of public notoriety. I’m Jack is a story as pathetic as it moving, as haunted as it is necessary. It takes the true crime novel into an exciting new direction.”

Benjamin Myers, author of Pig Iron and Beastings

I’m Jack is an absorbing and fascinating read. Using multi-layered storytelling, a deep personal knowledge of Sunderland past, present and legend in a believable and hard-hitting blend of fact and imagination, it paints a genuinely disturbing vision of an obsessive, calculating and ultimately self-destructive personality.”

Bryan Talbot, author of Alice in Sunderland and The Adventures of Luther Arkwright

I’m Jack is compelling, troubling, fascinating, a delight to read.  It is a sublime anti-novel and a brilliantly original intervention into a most peculiar episode of recent history.”

James Miller, author of Lost Boys and Sunshine State

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Why I Want to Eat David Cameron

(with apologies to JGB)

Ion Chromatography has revealed that the face of David Cameron is rich in umami.

The ears of David Cameron are deliciously crispy when deep-fried and served with flaked sea-salt.

The cheeks of David Cameron will reward patient slow-cooking in their own unguent juices.

David Cameron has been raised on a diet of milk and acorns and his flanks have been daily massaged in craft beer. His limbs should be hung for at least forty days before being prepared for the table. The flesh of David Cameron will be marbled with fat and contains a unique enzyme that encourages the production of red blood cells.

The belly of David Cameron should be brined for at least five days and soaked in clean water for a further day before being braised in red wine with a bouquet garni.

Ask your butcher to joint the lower legs of David Cameron across the bone to produce four steaks. These osso bucci will yield a delicious marrow, which you can suck free from its casing. Serve with risotto Milanese and gremolata.

The liver of David Cameron has been tenderised by overfeeding. It should be poached in milk and made into a pate. Serve with a red onion marmalade and toasted brioche.

The kidneys of David Cameron are best devilled and served with a glass of black velvet as a luxurious breakfast.

The lights of David Cameron should be discarded.

The sweat-breads of David Cameron should be bread-crumbed and deep-fried.

The chitterlings of David Cameron should be marinaded in a secret mix of ‘erbs and spices.

David Cameron has no trout or snotters. He is not a pig.

The penis of David Cameron is considered a counter-aphrodisiac by the Chinese.

The testicles of David Cameron are known as Home Counties Oysters.

The brains of David Cameron have a creamy texture compared by some to that of scrambled eggs.

The heart of David Cameron will be desiccated. Care will need to be taken to remove the assorted growths and tumours that will have contributed to its long-term blackening. Typical slow-cooking techniques will likely be insufficient to make it palatable. Outlandish culinary experiments in mummification using preservatives and emulsions derived from ancient Egyptian models suggest that it may yet be possible to consider this part of the animal for the table although this course of action is not endorsed by the author.

GC-Olfactometry testing shows that the blood of David Cameron has base notes of naphtha and leather. It can be combined with oats and spices to make an unusually piquant black pudding.

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A Defaced Jar Chrism

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While the music of the Aphex Twin tells a story about the growth of the digital, the morphology of the face of Richard D James illustrates the parallel expansion of the digital into the visual arena. I Care Because You Do was the first release to use James’s face in its accompanying artwork: a lurid and sinister self-portrait, created in photoshop. Titles on the sleeve were also hand-written and a number of track titles were anagrams of Richard D James, Aphex Twin or Caustic Window. This use of autobiographics was, I think, an arch response to the general sense that electronic music was dominated, to use the argot of the time, by faceless techno bollocks. Well, here’s a face.

The fact that James was disinterested in engaging with the media leant this move a particular edge: the reclusive, or masked, counter-cultural artist stance has been parlayed many times since in various fields with varying degrees of success – Burial, Deadmau5, Banksy – and had precursors – The Residents, Underground Resistance. I think it’s fair to say that the reasons behind James’s media-avoidance were often misread and misrepresented but that, as many copyists recognised, it nevertheless proved to be effective in piquing public interest, particularly coupled with this apparently candidly autobiographical visual signature. What was distinct about Aphex is that he seemed to have decided to let the image of his face do all the media work.

The self-portrait was the seed. The video for Donkey Rhubarb took the image of James’s face and ran with it: or rather, plastered it over the faces of hip-thrusting, giant teddy-bears, and ground with it. A lurid and grotesque scenario, designed for the fried brains of ravers used to watching childrens’ TV while coming down. Reader, I was that raver.

The cover of the Donkey Rhubarb EP used a section of the face, repeated. James’s face was multiplying already, being emptied of its meaning content by repetition and reduplication. In a sense it was already reaching towards the digital – cut, copy and paste, batch process as aesthetic– as the music was doing the same, breakbeats sped and twisted out of danceable shape

The lurid nature of the self-portrait was the key, though, and Warp ran with it for the Richard D James album. Here, a cleverly lit photographic portrait fixed James’s face in the real but exaggerated certain features: the corners of the grin were raised – I’d guess this was done using the goo tool in photoshop? The lines on the face were exaggerated, perhaps using make-up. This is primarily an analogue face, but it has been digitally touched up.

Aphextwin come to daddy from M-Well on Vimeo.

The next step barely needs repeating: enter Chris Cunningham, Come to Daddy, MTV, and legions of US fans. James’s face has now been distorted, rendered in mask-form in 3-dimensions and placed on the faces of children. While James’s music was now using digital tools to perform incredible feats – listen to b-side Bucephalus Bouncing Ball for my fave from this period – Cunningham’s effects were still largely the analogue effects of the prop maker – no surprise that the TV screen acts as a womb, that old analogue medium birthing the king-mutant. Grotesquerie is the key here, the distorted, exaggerated face, the hybrid of child and adult, the long-limbed, underfed, Rich mutant: that flicker between horror and humour, the weirdness, rather than the cuteness, of the animated Dancing Baby run riot. While this riffs on Daily Mail fears of gangs of feral youths, it carries forward the raucously carnivalesque aspect of the Donkey Rhubarb short: the social order is disturbed. Once again it plays to the rave, to techno’s outlaw status, splicing it with a gothic body horror.

Aphextwin windowlicker from M-Well on Vimeo.

Windowlicker is a crunch moment. Digital grotesquerie unparalleled. Absolutely perfect photoshop work on the record cover – there is no way that the Aphex-porn woman hybrid isn’t a real thing, and indeed, each part of her was perfectly real – and the distorted visage of Rick now transmissible like a virus: from the Gene Kelly, pied piper pimp, to his bikini-clad dancers and finally the gurning, ponytailed, nightmare babe. Windowlicker obviously parodies the most misogynist excesses of hip-hop culture, but the proliferation of James’s face, its continual morphing into yet more distorted, chimeric forms, parodies mainstream culture’s obsession with image over content, superficial beauty over substance – emptying the image of any meaning and using it as endlessly malleable form.

That James’s face had become a virus was further emphasised when it was discovered after the event that it had been spectrographically inserted into the music of Windowlicker. Even the tune was structurally infected by the face. And so it has continued. Fans have made their own James masks. Various distorted versions of the face are mapped onto the faces of ravers at parties where he plays – in the digital realm of Aphex visuals, produced by Weirdcore, we’re all susceptible to the virus. The face is trying to escape its own aesthetic confines; the face has gone digitally feral.

afx seaside specials from Bloc. on Vimeo.

All of which makes the latest image for Syro an intriguing addition to the canon. I guess we could read it as reflecting James’s absence from commercial release since the Analord series – no faces accompanied that – the ten year hiatus visually represented as cuts, or folds. It achieves the now-familiar grotesquerie with a jaunty analogue technique – simple excisions – but it made its way into the world through the deepnet, the realm of the digital outlaw. Digital tools are now so broadly dispersed and embedded in our lives that their use is pretty much assumed – even analogue techniques will be achieved using digital tools. The digital is now most significant as a structural distribution network and so Syro first emerges through such a network. But the face is still there, shifting, mutating and doing some of the media.

I can’t wait for Syro. The first track available, minipops 67, is incredible – so many melodic elements, so much totally ideosyncratic electronic funk, it could only have been produced by Aphex, as will become abundantly clear if you listen to the vanity-tronica tracks uploaded to youtube and passed off as Aphex before the stream was released. This sounds new, in the way that was not supposed to be possible anymore. A most welcome return round these parts.

14/11/2014

ADDENDUM

This was going to be a link to an epic two-part Aphex interview posted at David Burraston’s noyzelab site last week but it’s since been taken down. Of relevance to the above bit of scribbling was explanation from Aphex of the Syro image – specifically, that it was intended to capture the mood of a microdot trip. It’s been a while but I remember microdot trips as being quite chilly and spare when compared to the relative warmth of a Strawberry or a Sonic, say, and they were renowned for their long-haul duration. It was never wise to inspect your own features under lysergic reorganisation: the folded-in effect is plausible.

Also of interest in the interview, which was primarily about gear, were sporadic outbursts of 9/11 truthism. I suppose it’s possible that Rich has gone down the wormhole – and certainly, twitter and “mainstream media” (nudge nudge wink wink) are buying this version - but as an alert (paranoid) Aphex follower I prefer to think of these claims as deliberately misleading truth-bait continuous with the career-long media policy of making shit up. They had something of the ring of a posteriori insertions to them, and the disappearance of the noyzelab interview – surely someone, somewhere has that cached, right? – makes it all seem like a bad dream.

Don DeLillo: The Word, The Image, and The Gun

A 1991 Omnibus documentary that I’ve finally got round to watching and wanted to post a.s.a.p. I read Libra about ten years ago but have only recently got the bug for the rest. It’s good to hear Delillo spell it out.

“Isolation, solitude, secret plotting. A novel is a secret a writer may keep for years before he lets it out of his room. Writers in hiding, writers in prison. Sometimes their secrets turn out to be dangerous to the state machine. For most writers in the West of course this danger is extremely remote. The cells we live in are strictly personal constructions.”
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HD and utilitarianism

In a bid to be more active here I’m going to start posting quotations. I’m getting up to my elbows in Modernism, and this from H.D. is worth sharing for its anger at the degraded status of the poet. Paydirt in the last two lines of this section.

So we reveal our status
with twin-horns, disk, erect serpent,

though these or the double-plume or lotus
are, you now tell us, trivial

intellectual adornment;
poets are useless,

more than that,
we, authentic relic,

bearers of secret wisdom,
living remnant

of the inner band
of the sanctuaries’ initiate,

are not only ‘non-utilitarian’,
we are ‘pathetic’:

this is the new heresy;
but if you do not even understand what words say,

how can you expect to pass judgment
on what words conceal?

H.D., The Walls do Not Fall, p.14 of Trilogy (Carcanet Press: Cheadle, 1973)

 

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I’m Jack

 

Harland Miller, The Consquence of a Failed Illusion (West Yorkshire Police Public Information Campaign), 2009

Harland Miller, The Consquence of a Failed Illusion (West Yorkshire Police Public Information Campaign), 2009

In conversation with Cathi Unsworth

I had tremendous fun sitting in the chair at a Contemporary Fiction Seminar event in conversation with my old friend and former colleague, crime novelist and Sounds and Melody Maker journalist Cathi Unsworth, and I hope this comes across in the video below. We covered quite a lot of ground talking at music selected to respond to Cathi’s work, but also hopefully addressing some broader concerns of the pop music and contemporary literature brief. I particularly enjoyed playing Nick Cave’s version of Stagger Lee in almost its entirety – still sends a shiver down the spine!

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Something weird this way comes

I’m very excited to be giving a paper at the Weird Conference a week on Friday. I’m going to speak about formal innovations in Weird fiction related to the spatial imaginary of the period, a kind of reversioning of Joseph Frank’s seminal essay ‘Spatial Form in Modern Literature’ as ‘Higher Spatial Form in Weird Literature’ that hopes to disturb Modernist border policing in an appropriately oozing and weird fashion.

To whet appetite, here’s Roger Luckhurst’s freewheeling and thought-provoking plenary from last year’s Weird Council with some urgent advice around 13 mins 40 seconds:

JG supplements

Tacita Dean’s film JG, opening today at the Frith Street Gallery, was inspired by a correspondence with J.G. Ballard shortly before his death from cancer in 2009. Dean was interested in the connections between Ballard’s short story ‘The Voices of Time’ (1960) and Robert Smithson’s masterpiece, Spiral Jetty (1970), a 1500 ft earthwork built into the Salt Lake in Utah. Ballard urged Dean to ‘treat [Spiral Jetty] as a mystery that your film will solve.’ I’ve not been able to make it in to see the film yet but Ballard’s papers are archived at the British Library so I spent some of yesterday nosing around in them.

I’m attempting to hawk around paying print outlets a piece based on that archival cratedigging, so won’t post it here until next week, but here’s some useful contextualising material. Ballard sent Dean the text of his short piece ‘Robert Smithson as Cargo Cultist’ (printed on the back of a proof page from Millennium People). This is published in Conley, Brian, and Joe Amrhein, Robert Smithson: A Collection of Writings on Robert Smithson on the Occasion of the Installation of ‘Dead Tree’ at Pierogi 2000 (Brooklyn, NY: Pierogi 2000, 1997) but is nowhere online, so with apologies to the publishers, here it is:

What cargo might have berthed at the Spiral Jetty? And what strange caravel could have emerged from the saline mists of this remote lake and chosen to dock at this mysterious harbour? One can only imagine the craft captained by a rare navigator, a minotaur obsessed by inexplicable geometries, who had commissioned Smithson to serve as his architect and devise this labyrinth in the guise of a cargo terminal.

But what was the cargo? Time appears to have stopped in Utah, during a geological ellipsis that has lasted for hundreds of millions of years. I assume that that cargo was a clock, though one of a very special kind. So many of Smithson’s monuments seem to be a patent amalgam of clock, labyrinth and cargo terminal. What time was about to be told, and what even stranger cargo would have landed here?

The Amarillo Ramp I take to be both jetty and runway, a proto-labyrinth that Smithson hoped would launch him from the cramping limits of time and space into a richer and more complex realm.

Fifty thousands years from now our descendants will be mystified by the empty swimming pools of an abandoned southern California and Cote d’Azur, lying in the dust like primitive time machines or the altar of some geometry obsessed religion. I see Smithson’s monuments belonging in the same category, artefacts intended to serve as machines that will suddenly switch themselves on and begin to generate a more complex time and space. All his structures seem to be analogues of advanced neurological processes that have yet to articulate themselves.

Reading Smithson’s vivid writings, I feel he sensed all this. As he stands on the Spiral Jetty he resembles Daedalus inspecting the ground plan of the labyrinth, working out the freight capacity of his cargo terminal, to be measured in the units of a neurological deep time. He seems unsure whether the cargo has been delivered.

His last flight fits into the myth, though for reasons of his own he chose the wrong runway, meeting the fate intended for his son. But his monuments endure in our minds, the ground plans of heroic psychological edifices that will one day erect themselves and whose shadows we can already see from the corners of our eyes.

I’d also like to draw attention to Eric Saxon’s MA thesis which is a nice piece of scholarship on precisely this relationship; and Smithson’s essay ‘Quasi-Infinities and the Waning of Space’ (1966, sadly a bit difficult to read in this form). There’s also a really solid article by Andrew Frost at ballardian.com. Suffice to say there is much to be read and thought around this relationship.

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