Taginterviews

An Interview With FoolishPeople’s John Harrigan

Since 1989, FoolishPeople have been creating extraordinarily complex, intricate worlds of immersive performance magic. They’ve been commissioned by the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Arcola Theatre, Secret Cinema, the BBC, and the Wilderness Festival.

John Harrigan is artistic director and cofounder of FoolishPeople and we have been trying to find the time to get together and have a bit of a chat for quite some time, now. With recent world and personal events being as they are, we eventually came to the realization that there would be no time like the present. On a personal level, John and I have both experienced monumental losses, in the course of the past year, and it can easily be said that they’ve transformed us in some unexpected ways. We’ve also both been given new and unprecedented opportunities, and so now seemed like the perfect time for Technoccult and FoolishPeople to meet.

John’s raw openness about life, art, magick, and the process of creating living, immersive theater is amazing, and really made this interview process something special to facilitate.

Speaking of, let’s take a minute to talk about the process of this interview. I wanted to come up with a format that would do justice to the mythic otherworldliness that FP manages to breathe into every one of their creations, and eventually I settled on using Tarot in a traditional cross and staff formation to devise and guide the questions . Each answer got followed up with another clarification question, determined by another drawn card.

First ten cards and questions, John’s answers, second ten cards and questions, John’s answers. To frame the whole process, I intentionally opened with the Fool and closed with the World, the first and last cards of the Tarot’s Major Arcana. My questions are in bold, and John’s answers are in plaintext.

As a fun side note, the deck I use is the Dave McKean-illustrated Vertigo Tarot. When I showed him the pictures of the spreads, last week, John informed me that this style of deck was the first he ever owned.

So with that bit of synchronicity and without further ado:

Continue reading

Mindful Cyborgs Meets Buddhist Geeks: The Vincent Horn Interview

This week on Mindful Cyborgs Chris Dancy and interview Vincent Horn co-founder the Buddhist Geeks community and co-host of the podcast of the same name. Here’s an excerpt:

KF:       Cool. So let me ask you again on the topic of what Buddhist Geeks is. What’s the difference between a Buddhist Geek and a normal Buddhist or a Buddhist Geek and a normal geek?

VH:      Yes, it’s a good question. Well, let’s see. I’d say one difference is that most people that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks are not so sure that they are actually in fact Buddhist. That’s one interesting characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that I’ve noticed.

CD:      Like me.

VH:      Yes. Which is why we’ll see if you’re still in the closet by the end of this conversation. Yes, that’s one characteristic that’s very interesting. The folks that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks often are very skeptical, I don’t know if that’s the right word, or they actively question the validity of any particular model, especially one that originated 2500 years ago in terms of its absolute ability to explain things. I’d say that’s one characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that’s sometimes different than your average Buddhist practitioner. Some Buddhists are like that and others aren’t. Other people treat it much more like a religion in which they’re looking for all the ultimate answers to life and think that religion or the people who started it do have all those answers. Buddhist Geeks tend to question that assumption, and I think that’s a fairly healthy thing to do.

In terms of on the geek side I’d say one of the big differences between a geek and a Buddhist Geek I think … I’m sure you guys in Mindful Cyborgs know this. Most geeks tend to lean in the direction of becoming completely absorbed in their technologies without asking questions about why they’re using them or how they actually support or serve the deeper purposes or aims in life. Certainly there may be a lack of awareness in most of the geek culture about how these technologies actually impact our consciousness or direct first person subjective experience as we move about our day. I think the Buddhist Geek, not by any means rejecting technology, in fact we’re geeks so there’s a lot to be praised and loved about technology, I think Buddhist Geeks tend to ask questions about how that use of technology affects them in terms of their first person experience in terms of their ability to show up in life and participate in a meaningful way.

I think that’s one of the things that Buddhism really has to offer the geek culture is more of the sense of awareness of how our merging with these technologies is changing who we are and how we are and not to do that in some sort of deterministic way where we think oh, we have to, we’re going up in light in a singularity therefore we have to just surrender to what’s evolving. I think, no we actually have to look at these technologies and make determinations about what we’re going to use and what we’re not going to use. Are we fetishizing the technology or are we using it for deeper aims? I think those are questions that we’ve been asking with the Buddhist Geeks project. I think people who identify as Buddhist Geeks, although that’s a weird identity, would probably say they care about those kinds of questions.

You can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes and Stitcher, or download it directly.

Also: listen or read on for the chance to win a fabulous prize!

Continue reading

Arm Cannons and Futurism, an Interview With the Creators of Light Years Away

lab_Lightyears_004

After a while, most serialized webcomics start to look the same. Just about every series seems to strike a similar balance of influences from anime and western animation. But not Light Years Away, which draws inspiration from European sci-fi comics by artists like Moebius and Tanino Liberatore.

LYA is set in a world where many — perhaps most — people have cybernetic implants. But there’s a growing, violent anti-implant movement called the Puritans. The first story arc, Escape from Prison Planet, tells the story of Milo, a repeat offender doing time on an off-planet penal colony, where he ends up in the middle of a prison gang war between the Puritans and the implantees. Soon, however, he finds out there’s something bigger going on.

I talked with writer Ethan Ede and artist Adam Rosenlund — the Boise, Idaho based duo behind the series — about webcomics, the future of the series and other projects they have in the hopper.

Ethan Ede and Adam Rosenlund
Left: Ethan Ede Right: Adam Rosenlund

Klint Finley: First, I’m curious why you guys self-published online. Did you shop it around to publishers first?

Ethan: We self-published this story because we wanted to do it our way. Having control over our product is very important to us, that’s one of the reasons there are no ads on the site, because that is content we can’t control. At the time when we started Light Years Away we were shopping several products around to publishers and we wanted to put something out in the meantime. We actually picked LYA because it is the least like the stories we normally tell.

Adam: As well as the story being built for the format. We were kind of frustrated at the pitch process when we decided on LYA. We just wanted to get some stories out there and read, and at the time, no one was buying science fiction. The market was in contraction, and publishers were reticent to take a chance on what we were selling.

Continue reading

Technoccult Interview: Wilhelm Reich Comic Book Biographer Elijah Brubaker

reich panels

Elijah Brubaker is the writer and artist of Reich, a biography of Wilhelm Reich in comic form. Reich (1897 – 1957) was an Austrian psychotherapist known for his theory of character analysis. He fled Nazi Germany in 1938 and came to the U.S. where became obsessed with orgone, which he claimed was a universal energy. He also began developing technology based on orgone, including the orgone accumulator, which he believed could cure cancer, and the cloudbuster, which he believed could make it rain. He was eventually arrested for medical fraud and died in prison.

Reich is published by Sparkplug Books and is available in fine comic shops or directly from Sparkplug. You can read the first few issues online here.

This interview was filmed back in 2008 for Technoccult TV, but the audio and video were too corrupted for release. I managed to transcribe most of the interview, so here it is at long last.

Klint Finley: So you do a comic about Wilhelm Reich, were you involved in Reichian therapy before you started the comic?

Elijah Brubaker: No, I wasn’t involved in the therapy at all. I had read about Reich kind of anecdotally through William Burroughs. And he just seemed like this cool crazy guy, and he’s a great thing to talk about to your friends who don’t know about him. I just like to talk about esoteric bullshit at parties. My interest kind of grew after I read several biographies of him and I started looking at him as more of a person, so my interest comes from the compassionate part of it now. It started as “Ha ha ha, there’s this crazy quack” Now I feel like I’m a crazy quack too.

That really shows in the comic. You don’t vilify him or idolize him. It’s a really human portrayal of him. I think it’s generally sympathetic towards him, was that your intent?

Yeah, just today I was reading the back of a biography of Ayn Rand. And there was a pull quote on the back that said that the people who lionize her and demonize her equally do a disservice by dehumanizing her. That’s how I feel with Reich, he’s such a controversial figure that people don’t really look at him as human anymore, he’s just this series of events that happened or a series of ideas. They either agree or disagree and everyone has a strong opinion about it, but it’s not coming from a very humanistic point of view I guess.

How long did it take you to research it before you started on the comic?

I did strict research for about a year, and then I said “I’ve just got to get something on paper.”

Were your reference materials particularly difficult to find?

Yeah, at first. This book, Wilhelm Reich vs. USA, was pretty hard to find. I actually found it at the library, and I kept checking it out and checking it out and finally found it at Powell’s. I don’t read German. I would like to find some of the papers that he wrote that are only in German, but that would be sort of pointless right now.

Do you do any original research, like interviews with family members or people who knew him?

I wish I could. No. I started out thinking this was going to be a much smaller project. I would still like to travel around and find whoever I could to talk about it now. Originally I thought this would be a way for me to practice cartooning, essentially, of telling a true story in the most truthful way that I thought I could.

Did you expect it to be so long?

Well, I deal better with long works. So yeah, I thought it would be like 300 pages, but I didn’t think that I would have a publisher. I thought I would print like 100 copies and give out to friends.

Have you heard from any Reich experts who has taken issue with any of your portrayals?

Not that has taken issue, but I recently got an e-mail from a person that was at a conference on orgone and pulled out my comic and showed it to everyone. Everyone was really skeptical but semi-supportive.

The e-mail was essentially “Please don’t think mess this up. Graphic novels are a big deal these days and you have the potential to do our work some harm if you portray this in the wrong light. No pressure though!”

Well, it’s one of the most flattering things written about him, so it seems like it could do his work a lot of good.

Well, it’s still early in his career, I’m sort of interested in how people feel about how I deal with some of his more controversial views, his ideas on aliens and what not.

So you haven’t gone through any of the therapy at all, just as research even?

No.

Seen an orgone accumulator?

Yeah, I’ve seen an orgone accumulator, but they weren’t… I don’t know if anyone builds them professionally any more, but the person who owned it was the person who built it.

Are there any ideas of his that you’ve come to accept now, or that have affected you?

Well, since starting working on the book I think about sex in a lot less uptight way. I can actually talk about things in an open matter, where before it was like “teehee, he said the word erection.” I’m still a pretty uptight guy, I’m not going to talk about free love or anything like that.

Other than just freeing of my own language, I don’t think I’ve really adopted any of his teachings or whatever you want to call it.

I’m not exactly part of the anti-psychiatry movement or anything like that. But I’ve never been to therapy and I’m not looking to.

So you found out about Reich through William S. Burroughs — how did you find out about Burroughs?

You know, I can’t really remember. I think Naked Lunch was a book that my brother had in his apartment, just because it was a strange book and my brother likes strange stuff so he kept it around to show his friends. So one day I stopped by his apartment and didn’t have anything to read so I just picked it up. It’s not a narrative in any sense of the word, it’s almost just a collection of jokes or something. But I really gravitated towards it because everything I had read was just straight forward plot stories, and this had no plot and was just dirty and gross and was this guy’s entire brain smashed up. Ever since then I’ve looked for artists that do a similar thing, where it’s just self-expression whether you like it or not. I can’t say that my stuff is even close to that, but I hope that I’ve learned a little bit from that type of sensibility.

That actually makes sense looking at your work, that it would have been influenced by Burroughs, just the psychological aspect of it.

Right. I also like his unapologetic paranoia, because I’ve always felt a certain amount of “they’re out to get me.”

You have a really distinct style, how long did it take you to develop that, where did it come from?

I’ve always had an interest in that 20s era Weimar German Expressionism sort of stuff. And just through looking at George Grosz and Otto Dix and stuff like that, and trying to see what they were doing. I just sort of stole ideas from this person and that person.

You’re also working on a biographical comic on serial killer Billy Gohl. Why was his story so interesting?


I’ve always liked the idea of a serial killer as a boogey-man sort of thing. And Billy Gohl, there’s no movie about him, he’s not in popular consciousness yet.

His story is interesting to me, because he was accused of a hell of a lot more murders than he actually took part in. He was a braggart and a loud mouth. He said he cannibalized a man in the mountains one year.

Gray’s Harbor, Washington at the time was this rough port town where people would go missing all the time. The Christian population of the time looked down on the fact that he had a bar. Fights would break out there and they’d blame Billy Gohl.

He was made a representative of the sailor’s union and he was responsible for watching sailors’ belongings while they were out at sea. If they didn’t come back he was in charge of distributing the goods however he saw fit. Finding the families and everything. Chances were he’d usually just keep it. So his stories were “Oh this sailor I didn’t like, I just killed him and took his stuff.”

And people would show up floating in the bay. I think there was one year where the was just a little under 200 people found floating in the bay, and they referred to them the “floater fleet.” And Billy Gohl was eventually accused of every single murder that happened there, thousands of people over the time that he was living in Gray’s Harbor.

He was eventually convicted of two murders, one of which the court decided he didn’t even actually pull the trigger, he just convinced the other guy to pull the trigger. I don’t know how the legal wrangling were over that.

I think it’s a cautionary tale about how being a loud mouth and talking what a terrible person that you can be. Eventually you’re going to try to prove that and you’ll find your justice.

What’s your favorite work of your own?

Reich is the thing that I’m most proud of. I think the stories in Papercutter are a little bit more aligned with my sensibilities, I think I’m having more fun with those stories, but I think Reich is a more fulfilling story.

See Also

My wife’s intro to Reich and alternative psychology

Brubaker interviewed by Wizard Magazine

William S. Burroughs dossier

Technoccult Interivew: King City Artist/Writer Brandon Graham

King City cover by Brandon Graham

King City by Brandon Graham is a comic book about a guy named Joe and his cat Earthling in a far future metropolis run by spy gangs and evil sorcerers. It’s full of weird drugs, black magic, luchador masks and oddball humor.

This month Image Comics published a collection of all 12 issues of King City, which was originally serialized from 2007 to 2010. After a battle with testicular caner Graham literally gave his left nut to finish the book. He’s now working on Prophet for Image and Multiple Warheads for Oni Press. I caught-up with him to talk about Moebius, graffiti, technology in science fiction and more.

Brandon Graham

How many details about the city were conceived in advance? Did you create maps, or list of facts and details about the world the book takes place in, or did you just make it up as you went along?

I had some rough ideas about the characters but I pretty much made up the city as I went along. I was always trying to base places off of somewhere I’d been. I think of Joe and Pete’s place in the 2nd half of KC as being in Seattle’s China town. The diner where Pete meets Exiekiel to get information about the alien lady was me trying to draw a diner in Queens.

King City Board Game

King City, to me anyway, has a very spontaneous feel. I imagine you just making up each page as you went along, packing them with as much detail as possible. Or did you have a more structured plan for each issue?

I had a real rough structure for everything but I try to allow for a lot of drawing what I’m in the mood to draw. And I usually lay out the book in 4 or 5 page chunks as I go along.

It’s nice to just follow your mood with a page and try to find new ways to stay interested in what you’re doing. I like to think about what’ll be fun to draw on the next page forcing me to speed up on what I’m doing because I’m so excited about what’s next. And then there’s days where I’m just not thinking about what comes next and I’m just having fun making lines on paper.

King City appears to take place in the far future, and there are references to certain technological advances like nanotechnology. But in some ways it seems really low tech – I’m not sure we ever see anyone use a cell phone or the Internet. For example, Anna seems to have no way of reaching Joe or Pete remotely, she has to walk to their apartment to find Joe. Did you consciously decide to avoid having the characters use certain technologies or was this  just the way the story worked out?

Yeah, it was on purpose. I avoid certain things like cell phones or the Internet or anything too modern that would seem dated really soon. I was trying to make it feel like it was happening now but with all the sci-fi fantasy elements I felt like throwing in. Excluding all the crazy sci-fi-ery, the technology is probably at the technological level of the early 1990’s because that’s about what I can wrap my head around.

I think a lot about different eras of science fiction and how they portrayed the future. The sci-fi that reflects modern technology seems sleeker and smaller, and it makes sense but it doesn’t look as cool to me. I’m a big fan of the look of big clunky utilitarian 70’s sci-fi. But maybe KC is “20 minutes in the future” of 1992.

Brandon Graham "The Long Goodbye"
Graham’s tribute to Moebius

King City actually reminds me a lot L’Incal by Jodorowsky and Moebius and other old European sci-fi/fantasy comics. Moebius recently passed away, can you talk about his influence?

Yeah, Moebius is probably the artist whose work has influenced me the most. Him and Howarth, Shirow and Barlow. I like the Incal all right, but I’m really obsessed with the work he did alone.

I feel like he took a lot of the freedoms American underground comics were doing in the 60s and pushed them to a whole new level adding all kinds of elements from science fiction novels and really creating something new.

I’ve always been so impressed by the joy he seemed to put into everything he did. His comics read like he’s having a great time working on them and the nerve in some of the stuff he pulled off is fantastic. How he’d allow himself to change a character’s look so dramatically in the middle of a story or jump from something completely serious to the ridiculous. I could go on forever about all the elements of his work and his life that have impressed me.

I know you haven’t done graffiti in a long time, but did being involved in the graffiti scene in Seattle as a kid affect the way you perceive the urban environment? Do you think you’d draw cities the same way if you hadn’t been a part of that?

Yeah, I think it definitely affected how I think about cities, certainly the way you interact with your environment when you’re running around drawing on it. It’s nice to be able to fuck with the world around you – changing signs or just writing a response to an ad directly on the ad or having to draw something to fit on the surface you’re drawing on.

Bigger than that, I think graffiti really influenced how I think about the scene I’m in.

Can you expand on that?

The graff writers I was around really pushed the idea that the culture has to be treated with a fair amount of respect. You’re expected to know the history and you have to earn your place in it.

I think the comic industry gets dirty because people make the excuse that it’s a job. For me it’s that if it’s where I’m going to spend my life then I want to make it a scene that I’m proud of.

The pillars of hip hop influenced you when you were younger – what, outside of comics, influences you now?

Still a lot of hip hop, I think in the last couple years the wordplay in rap has really driven a lot of what I put into my stuff.

I think I’ve been really influenced by some of the authors I’ve been reading. Robert Heinlein’s way of rethinking the way future relationships work and his whole out look on life being so different from mine. I’ve been influenced with how William Gibson structures his books and certainly the way Haruki Murakami writes about food and music.

My misses Marian has been a huge influence as well. She’s coming at art from a much more fine art/literary way of looking at it than I was used to. She’s really good at challenging my ideas and helping me think about what it means to be a life long artist and how I talk about art. A big thing I learned from her early on was the idea of talking about the quality of work not from a “this is the best” but rather “this is my favorite”.

Prophet cover by Marian Churchland
Prophet cover by Graham’s wife Marian Churchland

Given the amount of improvisation in your work on King City, how different is it to be a writer, instead of an artist, on Prophet?

The whole approach is pretty different. It puts a lot of the weight on the guy drawing it, plus we go back and forth on the layouts and script. I do the text after the art is done so there’s lots of room to improvise.

I think it uses the same skills that I use in my solo work but it feels like a different animal.

Multiple Warheads by Brandon Graham

Other than Prophet what are you working on?

My main thing is Multiple Warheads that’ll be coming out later this year from Oni press. It’s a fantasy comic set in a fictional Russia. and I’m putting together an 80 page book of my sketches.

See Also

The Comics Journal’s interview with Graham

Inksuds’ video interview with Graham

Graham on what it’s like working with Liefeld, and the matter of how women are portrayed in comics

Technoccult TV: Hacktivists Peter Fein and The Doctor

In this video I speak with Peter Fein and The Doctor of the digital activist group Telecomix, which worked to keep the Internet available in the middle east during the Arab Spring by providing dial-up Internet access and even using fax machines to send information into Libya. The Doctor also works on the wireless mesh darknet project Project Byzantium. In this interview we talk about what Telecomix does and why it matters.

This interview has been a long time coming. It was conducted at Contact Summit in October, 2011. It was recorded at the end of a long day and we were all pretty tired. Please excuse the background noise, this was the quietest place we could find.

See also:

Forbes article on Telecomix

Ars Technica’s article on darknets

An idea for solving the distance problem in wireless darknets from acrylicist

My lists of “government-less Internets”: Part 1 and Part 2

Technoccult posts on decentralizing the Web and/or Internet

Technoccult Interview: Douglas Rushkoff On Kicking the Consensus Reality Habit

Douglas Rushkoff
Photo by Johannes Kroemer

“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.

“No, not anymore,” I told him.

“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.

“All of what?” I asked him.

“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.

Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.

Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.

“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”

“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”

But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”

But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”

“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”

He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”

He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”

He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”

So what stands in the way?

“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”

I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.

I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.

“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.'”

“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”

I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.

“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?'”

And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.

But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.

I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.

Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?

I for one choose not to be believe that.

Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.

But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.

Selections from The Dream Manual Artist Michael Skrtic – Technoccult Interview (Part 2)

Dream Manual Now tell me what I am here for

Selections from the Dream Manual is an “aesthetic grimoire.” On one level, it’s a collection of cut-up texts by Bill Whitcomb (occasional Technoccult guest blogger and frequent commenter) accompanied by collage paintings by Michael Skrtic for each line of text. On another level, it is a collection of excerpts from the employee handbook of the Ministry of Dreams. On both levels, it’s a remarkable and engaging work. As Antero Alli writes in his foreward, “Look at them as meditation portals to the cinematic dreamscapes of the Other Side, or if you prefer psychological terms, the Unconscious (and naturally “other” to the conscious Ego). Or, if you side with the Australian aborigines, the Dreamtime.”

You can learn more about it, and preview it, here. You can buy it from the publisher here or from Amazon.com.

Part one of this interview can be found here.

I found it interesting that everything right down to the typeface in the book is meaningful. Can you talk a bit about that?

Yeah. It’s all about packing. Density is what it is. It’s symbol density. How much can you pack into each page, each image, and each combination? If you start with the text, you got some very plain, random text that Bill assembled Burroughsian-style. He was assembling lots of text ala Burroughs and Gysin. He made these little stanzas that were just starkly beautiful, but were rather plain in and of themselves…they’re just sort of…pronouncements, but if you start with those and you start stacking images, so that the words couple with the images. Some years after the original dream manual was created Bill created the magical alphabet called the Alphabet of Dreams for another purpose. And as I was painting these things, the first paintings, I thought “Well, hmm, the Alphabet of Dreams.” I needed a textual element. Originally, I was thinking about sort of lettering the text comic book style on the paintings and then thought “Wait a minute, if I grab the Alphabet of Dreams which has these runic…each letter has an association.” In typical Bill-manner, each letter has two or three pages of associations, colors, days of the week, and astrological signs. So I thought that if I just transliterated Bill’s original text into the Alphabet of Dreams, I could use that as a pictorial element. It stacked another layer of symbolism on top of just the images coupled to the text. As we built this thing, we just kept packing and packing to point where, as you say, even the fonts Pentagramm and Pentagraf are based on a five-point star. The idea is that all this should act on you in a beneath-the-consciousness sort of way. Indeed, everyone we’ve been able to get to look at it, to play with it, to really read and experience it, has been totally blown away. Most recently, my neighbor who doesn’t read much – he works with the Forestry Committee in Sweden – his family are farmers. He has absolutely no interest in any odd occult stuff, but he read it from front to back and has been asking questions. He thinks this is completely fascinating, so even unlikely people seem to open it and get immediately lost in all the layers of symbols and meaning in it. You’ve got the text layered on there, and there’s that lovely little bit of foreword matter, and some of those strange line drawings that are placed about, and then the final end-piece. I think that’s one of the most interesting parts of the book – that last piece where we listed the image sources. All of these things came from airline magazine, or French fashion magazines while I was travelling through France or postcards from Tokyo. That just ties it to the rest of the world. Finally, as we were assembling the book, Bill wrote these really lovely descriptions of each of the paintings. Not just a dry description, but sort of a poetic description that provides you another route through it. In a way, I think Bill and I were both heavily inspired by the Dictionary of the Khazars. The Dictionary of the Khazars is really a sort of hypertext novel.

That was mentioned in the introduction. When was that published?

You know, it would have to be the early 80’s. I could actually check if you want, but it’s upstairs.

I can look it up online.

I’m sure there’s even a hypertext version these days – a true hypertext version.

Dream Manual I Could Use Your Help

As Antero Alli points out in the foreword, you and Bill avoid the question of what dreams are and what they mean. Do you have an opinion on that?

At different points in my life, I’ve had different answers with different degrees of certainty. I don’t know what dreams are. I’ve had prophetic dreams. I’ve had dreams that seemed just totally weird. As I was learning to speak Swedish fifteen years ago, I used to dream about John Wayne talking to me about Swedish. It’s a combination of prophecy, and processing daily actions, and you mind spinning loose and just relaxing and fantasizing, like watching TV, I think. No. I have no definitive answer about what dreams are.

Since you’ve just finished this seven year project, what are you going to do now or what are you going to do next?

There are two projects I’m working on right now that are totally unrelated or maybe they are, in an odd sort of way. I’m working on a children’s book called “When Gaia Dreams the World.” I’m doing the text and images for that, but that’s sort of in outline stage at the moment. At the same time, I’m working with Bill Whitcomb on the “The Hard-Boiled Tarot.” It’s a Tarot deck which uses modern popular culture genres like Weird Science, True Romance and Thrilling Detective Stories as suits. Like Selections from The Dream Manual, both of these projects deal with the dreams and stories we tell ourselves about the world around us.

Back to part one…

Selections from The Dream Manual Artist Michael Skrtic – Technoccult Interview (Part 1)

Selections from the Dream Manual Try This Experiment

Selections from the Dream Manual is an “aesthetic grimoire.” On one level, it’s a collection of cut-up texts by Bill Whitcomb (occasional Technoccult guest blogger and frequent commenter) accompanied by collage paintings by Michael Skrtic for each line of text. On another level, it is a collection of excerpts from the employee handbook of the Ministry of Dreams. On both levels, it’s a remarkable and engaging work. As Antero Alli writes in his foreward, “Look at them as meditation portals to the cinematic dreamscapes of the Other Side, or if you prefer psychological terms, the Unconscious (and naturally “other” to the conscious Ego). Or, if you side with the Australian aborigines, the Dreamtime.”

You can learn more about it, and preview it, here. You can buy it from the publisher here or from Amazon.com.

Part two of this interview can be found here.

Michael currently lives in Sweden, but is a true citizen of the world. I caught up with him by telephone to talk about the Dream Manual, his relationship with Bill and what he’s working on now. Tune in next week for part 2 of this interview.

Klint Finley: What possessed you to undertake this process of creating a collage painting for every line of Bill’s original Dream Manual?

Michael Skrtic: The Dream Manual appeared first in 1984 or 1985 in a magazine called The Negentropy Express, which was an APA (an amateur press association) by the Society for Creative Thought. I was one of the founding members of the Society for Creative Thought and I was immediately taken with Bill’s original text and the original short little collage things that he did to accompany the text. It sort of followed me around since then. In the early 90s, I had just moved to Stockholm and I was looking for a project. I thought, ah, I know what I’ll do, I’ll colorize Bill’s original collages, so I blew them up and I colorized a couple of pages, and then I got involved with something else. Fast forward to 2003. I had a new studio and I’d just finished painting strange diagrams on the floor to get the mojo right, so I started thinking about the Dream Manual as a possible thing to do. I started looking at it and realized that I actually could – that’s basically it.

I started thinking about all the places I’ve been, collecting collage material. I’ve been collecting collage material for many, many years. Each of the Dream Manual images has touchstones to everywhere I’ve been and all the other images I’ve gathered, so I started putting them together to see where I’d end up. That’s how it started. It took seven years of work from the second time I started. I started painting and spent about six years painting and another year with Megalithica Press getting the book ready for publication. That’s the physical story of the Dream Manual.

Selections from the Dream Manual cover

What states of altered consciousness did you employ while creating the collages and paintings?

None. [laughs] I was drawing on a rich reserve of that. But, painting is an altered state of consciousness. I have a very active style of painting, so I’m standing up and I’m sorting through hundreds and hundreds of images just stacked up in front of me. I’m going through these processes of, in a way, accreting the paintings. I’d step into my studio – which is a magical workspace – and start sorting pictures and to see how they would go with different paintings. Often, I was working on three, or four, or five paintings at once. It’s definitely an altered state of consciousness. It’s a magical state of consciousness. It’s sort of like meditation in motion – I guess that’s how I’d classify it.

Did you have any interesting dreams while creating this work? That you can tell us about?

You know, that’s a hard question because I have really interesting dreams all the time, but nothing really stood out. After I was done, there have been a couple of occasions where I felt, as we were creating the book, we were sort of opening a doorway to the Ministry of Dreams. The Minister of Dreams as a character and the Ministry of Dreams as an imaginary place became quite real during the period we worked on these things. Bill and I would talk three to five times a week during the time when we were working on the Dream Manual project. He’s on the West Coast, as you are, so I would get up at five o’clock in the morning and I’d go paint for an hour and then I’d call Bill and we’d talk for half an hour. I’d have morning coffee with Bill after I’d done my painting and he’d have his tea in the evening with me. Sort of a Nokia moment.

So you were in contact with him every day while you were working on this.

Basically. Four or five times a week. A lot. We’ve actually spent more time over the telephone than we have face to face over the time we known we’ve known each other. We’ve lived together a couple of times in Florida and in Texas, but most of the time we’ve spent with each other has been incorporeal.

Dream Manual Realized

Did you meet through the Society for Creative Thought?

That’s kind of funny. We’d heard about each other for two or three years before we actually met. I was living in Tallahassee, Florida. It was the beginning of the 80s and I had started a group on campus called the Pagan/Occult Discussion Group. We we’re trying stuff out. We were a bunch of people who had read a lot and were experimenting. It started as a discussion group, but that lasted about two meetings, until we said, hey let’s try some stuff. Bill was living in Thomasville, Georgia, about an hour north of Tallahassee, and a lot of the people in the Pagan/Occult discussion group knew Bill. So, for about two or three years, we had been hearing about each other. We finally met at a very strange party and both of us had the same reaction, namely “Wow, I’m supposed to meet this guy?” We were mutually unimpressed with each other.

Shortly thereafter we met again, and this time hit it off. He used to climb through the windows at night on weekends. That was
his favorite mode of entry to the house. He’d get done with work in Georgia and would drive down to Tallahassee and, usually on Friday night about one or two morning, I’d find Bill climbing through my window.

Onward to part two…

Erik Davis – Technoccult Interview

Erik Davis

Erik Davis has been covering fringe spiritual movements, underground music and subcultures for magazines like Wired, Arthur and Spin for the past two decades. He’s probably best known for books his books TechGnosis and Visionary State. He’s currently a contributor to several publications, including Reality Sandwich and HiLobrow. His web site is here and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Nomad Codes

Erik’s latest book, Nomad Codes, is a collection of several of his articles and essays. It can be purchased from its publisher YETI or from Amazon. I talked with Erik about the new book, the changing American spiritual landscape, and why he’s now pursuing academia.

Klint Finley: Over the last few years, while writing the essays that comprise this book, have you seen any significant shift in American spirituality? Has much changed since the publication of TekGnosis?

Erik Davis: Spirituality is always changing, because “spirituality” itself is almost defined by its informality, at least in contrast to those more organized movements we call “religion.” And even religions are always changing. Since the 1990s, there have been some intriguing developments, some cool, some odd.

One has been the extraordinary popularity of yoga, and what makes yoga particularly interesting is that it bridges between spirituality and a purely secular world of exercise and keeping fit. People don’t go to yoga for gurus like they did in the 70s — it’s about the “practice.” That shows some healthy pragmatism in some ways, but it also represents how easily spirituality gets commodified in America. I mean, yoga is pretty cheap when you boil it down–you on a mat on a floor. And yet it has become a whole industry.

Yeah, the brouhaha over Bikram yoga really exemplifies that.

Then there’s the 2012 thing, which has really grown tremendously, right on schedule. I have been tracking that for years, a combination of archaic dreaming and very contemporary apocalypticism. I knew some folks in British Columbia that all decided to adopt the 13 moon calendar for a while, and they lived their lives partly in that alternate calendrical frame. Pretty outside stuff! Then a year ago, my sister, who is not a freak by any stretch of the imagination, started talking about 2012 and what it meant. That represents quite a shift. Even Christian fundamentalists are talking 2012 these days. Everyone on the bandwagon!

Where does the title of the book, Nomad Codes, come from?

For me the phrase Nomad Codes really captures something about the 1990s culture that really influenced me and most of the writing in the book, even the later stuff. In some ways, we never leave our home-base cultural framework. In the early 1990s, there was a tremendous sense of novelty and possibility–the Internet was opening up, electronic music, a revived psychedelic culture, even “Twin Peaks” on the TV seemed to confirm that reality itself was warping. That sense of warp was captured by the figure of the nomad–slipping beyond the established narratives and institutions, not trying to root himself anywhere, flowing between the cracks. But all this stuff was happening in the context of an exploding media and particularly digital culture. So codes were, and are, everywhere. The world we perceive is partly dependent on our codes–not just our ethical codes, but the codes of perception and experience we use to program our engagement with reality.

Goa sunset by Koshy Koshy
Goa sunset, photo by Koshy Koshy

Do you have a favorite story from the book? One that you’re particularly proud of?

There’s a number of pieces that come out of really amazing trips and explorations I’ve one on. “Sampling Paradise” was about going to Goa in India in 1994 to hunt down the origins of raves; it was just when Psy-Trance was starting to leak into the west, and I went to some amazing parties. But the craziest time was my visit to Burma, which I write about at length. At the end of the piece, I am drunkenly dancing with a cute transvestite spirit-medium whose gaudy outfit was stuffed with currency. My wife was there at the time and she found it all hilarious.

I don’t have a copy of the book yet, so I don’t know if “Technopagans” and/or “Songs in the Key of F12” are included, but I wanted to tell you that those two article were formative for me.

Well thanks. They both nearly made the cut, but not quite. “Technopagans” was too long, and a little dated, and some of the ideas were repeated elsewhere. And not a lot of the music writing made it in, other than a profile of Sun City Girls and a long piece on Lee Scratch Perry. Maybe I should have given more thought to “Songs” though! That was a fun time to write about electronic music. I am curious though: how did they influence you?

Keiko Uenishi

I read “Technopagans” in 2000 just as I was starting to learn about chaos magic, and the way the article related it to tech culture kind of gave me the push I needed to jump in and start doing it.

I read “Songs in the Key of F12” around the time it came out, and it planted the seeds that eventually lead me to become a laptop musician myself – though it was years after reading it. I guess, like “Technopagans,” it told me “This is something YOU can do.”

That’s great. That’s why I love writing about subcultures: I get drawn toward things I want or attract me, and then I try to communicate the attraction and the appeal, even if I don’t end up becoming a chaos magician or a laptop musician myself.

Here’s a question someone on Twitter just asked me to ask you: Have you faced any challenges as an independent scholar outside the university system?

Well its funny you should ask. I have faced some challenges, and the unfortunate fact is that, in terms of getting paid, the challenges have only gotten larger the more established in my career I have become. I came of age as a writer at a time when I was lucky enough to be able to live off interesting magazine work–I got paid for the Goa piece by Details magazine, all expense paid trip and a good fee, even though they never ran the story. That world is gone, at least for someone with my interests, which have only gotten farther off the beaten track as far as the “mainstream” goes. Which is why I have decided to cross the great divide and enter the academy. I am at a religious studies program at Rice that specializes in magic, mysticism, and the esoteric tradition. I still like to think of myself as an independent scholar though, cause I am just doing what I want to do!

In a round-table on the impact of the Internet on writing, you said “I find the internet-driven pressure to make pieces short, data-dense, and crisply opinionated — as opposed to thoughtful, multi-perspectival, and lyrical — rather oppressive, leading to a certain kind of superficial smugness as well as general submission to the forces of reference over reflection.” Since then, Slate has reportedly found long-form pieces on its site to be the among the most popular. Have you seen any shift back towards a demand for longer form work?

Well that’s wonderful news. I have certainly gotten great reactions from the half-dozen longish-form pieces I have written for HiLobrow this last year or so. They werent super-long, but they were dense and careful and reflective. I think the interest for this kind of stuff probably never went away but the editors and the people designing magazine and online templates went for the short stuff. I will be a happy camper if the pendulum swings back.

What are your favorite publications, print or otherwise?

Online I rove; I rarely return to the same place as if it were a magazine. Print is more conducive to a regular relationship, in my experience. I love Fortean Times, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t have a subscription. Marvels and Wonders every issue. Coming to school I kind of went on a magazine diet though, so I am not reading the journals I normally do, from the annoying/enjoyable New Yorker to the occasional issues of Plazm. My parents just got me a subscription to The Economist, which is great because I don’t usually read that much news online, so it keeps me more “current”–whatever that means. But I like it because they write intelligently about this insane, totally fucked up world and somehow manage to seem chipper about it all.

Erik Davis at Burning Man
Erik lecturing at Palenque Norte camp at Burning Man in 2003

And what’s next for you? Are you working on another full-length popular audience book, or are you completely focused on academia now?

I have always written some stuff that had an academic twist–I’ve hard articles in almost half a dozen university press books. So I will be emphasizing that side of the equation while still doing as much online and magazine work as possible. I’ve also been doing the Expanding Mind net radio show on the Progressive Radio Network for a year and a half, and will continue to do that. It’s great because I have to push myself to discover new and interesting people–or to remember all the interesting people who have crossed my path, and bring ’em on and find out what they’re doing now. I love that conversational style. I am also working on an collection of Philip K. Dick’s writings from the Exegesis which is really fun.

Do you have any parting words before we sign-off?

Keep your minds open!

© 2016 Technoccult

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑