The Official Report on the Intransitionalist Chronotopologies of Kenji Siratori: Appendix 8.2.3 is an AI-generated, xenopoetic “glitch novel” of sorts, with a good portion of the book also given over to a randomly written and ordered set of strange and beautiful footnotes that were submitted by the 60+ members of the Ministry. This is a futuristic work on all fronts, and in order to contrast with the digitally obtrusive writing, and to play into our belief in“technological mutualism”, our packaging design and visual aesthetic is of a more analogue and DIY, old school cut and paste nature. What we have here then is a work of art that bridges past and future, but is firmly embedded in the NOW!
Andrew Wenaus explains:
The result is a work of xenopoetic emergence: a beautifully absurd, alien document scintillating with strange potency. Official Report on the Intransitionalist Chronotopologies of Kenji Siratori: Appendix 8.2.3 is a xenopoetic data/dada anthology that documents the activities of the artist collective The Ministry of Transrational Research into Anastrophic Manifolds. The anthology results from an experimental approach to impersonal literary composition. Similar to surrealist definitions, but on the scale of a technical document, members of the Ministry-poets, musicians, novelists, painters, curators, artists, scientists, philosophers, and physicians-were asked to offer a microfiction, poem, essay, fictional citation, or computer code, in the form of a footnote or annotation to a glitch-generated novel by iconoclastic Japanese artist Kenji Siratori; however, each participant wrote their contribution without any access to or knowledge about the nature of Siratori’s source text. After collecting the contributions, the “footnotes” were each algorithmically linked to an arbitrary word from Siratori’s novel. Bringing together algorithmically and Al-generated electronic literature with analogue collage and traditional modes of literary composition, the Ministry refuses to commit solely to digital, automated, or analogue art and instead seeks technological mutualism and a radically alien future for the arts.
Accompanied by a groundbreaking original score by electro-acoustic duo Wormwood, the anthology offers the radical defamiliarization and weird worlds of science fiction, but now the strangeness bites back on the level form. Readers should expect to discover strange portals from which new ways of thinking, feeling, and being emerge. A conceptual and experimental anthology, Official Report on The Intransitionalist Chronotopologies of Kenji Siratori inaugurates collective xenopoetic writing and the conceit that the future of art will consist of impersonal acts of material emergence, not personal expression. Consume with caution.
Book written by Kenji Sartori.
Footnotes by the Ministry of Transrational Research into Anastrophic Manifolds: Rosaire Appel, Louis Armand, David Barrick, Gary Barwin, Steve Beard, Gregory Betts, Christian Bök, Mike Bonsall, Peter Bouscheljong, Maria Chenut, Shane Jesse Christmass, Roy Christopher, Tabasco “Ralph” Contra, Mike Corrao, R.J. Dent, Paul Di Filippo, Zak Ferguson, Colin Herrick, S.C. Hickman, Maxwell Hyett, Justin Isis, Andrew Joron, Chris Kelso, Phillip Klingler, Adam Lovasz, Daniel Lukes, Ania Malinowska, Claudia B. Manley, Ryota Matsumoto, Michael Mc Aloran, Andrew Mcluhan, Jeff Noon, Jim Osman, Suarjan Prasai, Tom Prime, David Leo Rice, Virgilio Rivas, David Roden, B.R. Yeager, Andrej Shakowski, Aaron Schneider, Gary J. Shipley, Kenji Siratori, Sean Smith, Kristine Snodgrass, Sean Sokolov, Alan Sondheim, Simon Spiegel, Henry Adam Svec, Jeff VanderMeer, R.G. Vasicek, Andrew C. Wenaus [Ministry Director], William Wenaus, Eileen Wennekers, Christina Marie Willatt, Saywrane Alfonso Williams, D. Harlan Wilson, and Andrew Wilt.
All music composed by Andrew Wenaus and Christina Marie Willatt.
Performed by Andrew Wenaus, Christina Marie Willatt, and Kenji Siratori.
Packaging design and artwork by Colin Herrick.
Produced by Andrew Wenaus and Time Released Sound.
WARNING!! AS IS STATED ON THE BACK OF THE BOOK:
“Loved ones of those that disappeared reported that prior to their detainment, the victims were sent an unmarked envelope. The envelope contained a letter whose contents consisted exclusively of 317 black rectangular glyphs. Due to the still uncertain nature and status of this Appendix, Time Released Sound would like all readers to be aware of this history!”
Those of you that purchase the Limited Edition version will very possibly be sent one of these envelopes as well, sometime after you have received the book, so please be careful when ordering it!
I’m stoked to announce that next week I’ll be joining the teaching faculty in the School of Communication at the University of North Florida, thus ending three years of unemployment. I’ve been calling this my “Radical Sabbatical,” as I spent a lot of time on my BMX bike and my skateboard, but I also did a lot of writing. I really did a lot of writing.
I looked hard for a job when I left my last one in June 2020, but it being the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown, I quickly found that no one was hiring. Fortunately I’d been able to save a lot of what I’d made at my previous position, so I decided to just try to earn it. My dad always says to make sure you accomplish something every day, so I applied a strong reading of that advice and got to work.
So, as I start a new phase, what follows is a brief roundup of the results of my Radical Sabbatical. Read on!
When the lockdown started, I found it difficult to focus on the larger projects. In the months before, I’d started writing silly little poems about odd memories I had, tiny stories that didn’t fit anywhere else. I went back to those when I couldn’t think any larger. I eventually moved on to short stories and finally back to book-length writing, but not before I amassed a small pile of poems.
Abandoned Accountscollects those silly memories I started writing down, including reflections of walks in the woods at my parents’ house in the hinterlands of southeast Alabama, encounters with favorite bands and somewhat famous people, tales of travel and intrigue, and a few stray poems from as far back as 1990. It was an unexpected project, and I’m really proud of the results.
Fender the Fall
Fender the Fall is a short story about Chris Bridges, a lovelorn physics graduate student who goes back in time to return the journal of his high-school crush in order to save her life and his marriage. As you might expect, the plan doesn’t go as planned.
Tagline: You don’t know what you’ve got until you get it back.
It was briefly available as a standalone novella from Alien Buddha Press. I was fortunate enough to get Matthew Revert to design the cover and Mike Corrao to do the typesetting. As a result, it was a sharp-looking little book.
My friends Patrick Barber, Craig Gates, and I put together the pilot issue of a new zine called discontents. The content covers the usual concerns: music, movies, books, and poetry. We reached out to all of our old zine-era friends, so it includes writing by Cynthia Connolly, Peter Relic, Andy Jenkins, Spike Jonze, Fatboi Sharif, Timothy Baker, and Greg Pratt, artwork by Zak Sally and Tae Won You, as well as work by Patrick, Craig, and myself. Subjects include Ceremony, Unwound, Hsi-Chang Lin a.k.a. Still, Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, Crestone director Marnie Elizabeth Hertzler, Coherence director James Ward Byrkit, and others.
We did this one as a proof of concept (high-end content, lo-fi production) and will be releasing a full debut issue in the near future.
Follow for Now, Vol. 2
My second interview anthology, Follow for Now, Vol. 2, picks up and pushes beyond the first volume with a more diverse set of interviewees and interviews. The intent of the first collection was to bring together voices from across disciplines, to cross-pollinate ideas. At the time, social media wasn’t crisscrossing all of the lines and categories held a bit more sway. Volume 2 aims not only to pick up where Follow for Now left off but also to tighten its approach with deeper subjects and more timely interviews. This one is a bit more focused and goes a bit deeper than the last. It includes several firsts, a few lasts, and is fully illustrated with portraits of every interviewee.
“Relentlessly stimulating and insight-packed, Follow for Now is the kind of book I’d like to see published every decade, and devoured every subsequent decade, from now until the end of humanity.” — Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
There’s an updated version of Follow for Now, Vol. 2 coming soon!
Human Recreational Services
My old friend Erik Ellington asked me to write some things for his luxury shoe brand, Human Recreational Services. The collection I worked on is called Midnight Diamond, and I have to include it here as it was one of my favorite opportunities from the last few years. Here’s one bit I wrote:
As if trapped in a photograph by Ed Ruscha hanging on the wall in a David Lynch film, a young couple find themselves stranded along the lost highway in the deep desert. At a gas station, they stumble upon a door that leads to unexpected delights, a sudden contrast to their desolation. Figures emerge from the scene promising not safety but salvation, their boots made of distressed leathers studded with jewels, their movements imbued with the gestures of ceremony. Shoes sparkling in the sand, secret messages from parties hidden in back-masked 1980s metal. The flickering signifiers of ritual, dirty glamour marked by the patina of time. Midnight Diamond blends surrealism and serendipity with mystery and metaphor. Mining diamonds in the desert rough, uncertain times demand the discovery of unseen strengths in unexpected places.
“Too often philosophy gets bogged down in the tedious ‘working-through’ of contingency and finitude. Escape Philosophy takes a different approach, engaging with cultural forms of refusal, denial, and negation in all their glorious ambivalence.” —Eugene Thacker, author, In the Dust of This Planet
There’s a new edition of Escape Philosophy forthcoming. More on that soon!
Boogie Down Predictions
While I was writing my book Dead Precedents: How Hip-Hop Defines the Future (Repeater Books, 2019), I gathered up some friends, and we put together an edited collection as sort of a companion to Dead Precedents. Time was one of the aspects of both hip-hop and science fiction that I didn’t get to talk about much in that book, so I started asking around. I found many other writers, scholars, theorists, DJs, and emcees, as interested in the intersection of hip-hop and time as I was. As I continued contacting people and collecting essays, I got more and more excited about the book. Boogie Down Predictions: Hip-Hop, Time, and Afrofuturism is a quest to understand the connections between time, representation, and identity within hip-hop culture, as well as what that means for the culture at large.
“Roy Christopher’s dedication to the future is bracing.Boogie Down Predictions is a symphony of voices, beats, and bars messing with time, unsettling histories, opening portals.” —Jeff Chang, author, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
First Friday Art Crawl
I had a collection of illustrations and logo designs up at Reset Mercantile in Dothan, Alabama. The clip above was shot by Ryan Mills for Big as Life Media. If you’re interested, you can see a few pictures of the pieces on the wall or check out my illustration portfolio. Many thanks to Justin April for the opportunity.
My debut collection of short fiction, Different Waves, Different Depths, takes its name from a comment an old crush made once about her feelings for the author. It also describes these nine stories, varying in style from the literarily weird to the science fiction and in length from the flash to the novella. There’s even a pilot script in here.
“Working the borderlands between philosophy, sci-fi, and ultra-contemporary social critique, these stories illuminate our strange cusp moment in a deeply humanistic and bracing manner. A sharp, propulsive, and canny collection.” — David Leo Rice, author, Drifter
At long last I have finished my post-punk media theory book. Drawing from the disciplines of media ecology and media archaeology, as well as bringing fresh perspectives from music (e.g., Fugazi, Radiohead, Gang of Four, Run the Jewels, Christian Marclay, Laurie Anderson, et al.) and skateboarding, The Medium Picture illuminates aspects of technological mediation that have been overlooked along the way. With a Foreword by Andrew McLuhan, it shows how immersion in unmoored technologies of connectivity finds us in a world of pure media and redefines who we are, how we are, and what we will be.
“Very much looking forward to reading new Christopher, exactly the sort of contemporary cultural analysis to yield unnerving flashes of the future.” — William Gibson
The Medium Picture is forthcoming.
I also signed on to write The Grand Allusion for Palgrave Macmillan as a part of their Pivot series. I’m only a few chapters into this one, but it’s shaping up nicely. My dissertation was on the use of allusions in rap lyrics, and I’ve since wanted to expand the analysis to pop cultural references in other media. Our media is so saturated with allusions to other media that we scarcely think about them. Their meaning relies in large part on the catching and interpreting of cultural allusions, on their audiences sharing the same mediated memories, the same mediated experiences.
The Grand Allusion explores these experiences, yielding a new understanding of our media, our culture, and ourselves.
Hope for Boats
Somewhere in there, I decided I wanted to try to write a novel. The seed situation was a funeral and a parade on the same day in a small town, and the story has grown from there. On October 11, 2022, I read the Prologue of “Hope for Boats” to the Rotary Club of Elba, Alabama, on which the fictional town in the story is loosely based. If you’re into it, you can read the excerpt along with me at Malarkey Books.
More on this one as it develops.
I don’t know if I quite earned three years “off,” but I definitely tried. With all of that said, I’m looking forward to getting back into the classroom, corrupting young minds. My creative output might return to a somewhat normal pace though. You’ll be the first to know.
Many thanks to everyone who had anything to do with the above projects — writers, designers, editors, contributors, collaborators, even if you just read one of them — I appreciate it. Without you, all of this would just be scribbles in my notebook. Special thanks to my parents for tolerating me for the last year.
I’m on Talk Your Talk with my man Alaska this week. I’m the first guest on this spin off from his usual show, Call Out Culture with Curly Castro and Zilla Rocca, on which I was also the first guest. I did the artwork for their Michael Myers/Nas-themed “Killmatic” episode, too.
In this new one, we talk about my books, new, old, and not-out-yet, as well as a few high-minded social-science theories… and the raps, of course.
Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (2001), has been a source of inspiration for me for years. I recently wrote another piece for Lit Reactorcalled “Building a Mystery,” in which I speculate about what might constitute a taxonomy for storytelling, something akin to the usual concerns about character, plot, and structure, but different. Donnie Darko is one of the movies I analyze in the piece. Here’s an excerpt:
In a 2005 interview with Daniel Robert Epstein (R.I.P.), Pi director Darren Aronofsky likened writing to making a tapestry: “I’ll take different threads from different ideas and weave a carpet of cool ideas together.” In the same interview, he described the way those ideas hang together in his films, saying, “every story has its own film grammar, so you have to sort of figure out what the story is about and then figure out what each scene is about and then that tells you where to put the camera.”
Now, when watching a movie or reading a book, I often find myself trying to break down its constituent parts. Also, when writing or creating, I sometimes try to establish a loose taxonomy of the elements involved in the project, a list of the salient aspects of the story. These are orthogonal to the usual concerns about structure (e.g., the three acts, beat map, midpoint, climax, etc.), but they’re as important. Necessary but not sufficient.
You know how every recipe online comes with a life story? Kelly Lum ran a site called Just the F*cking Recipe. She was very good at just that kind of finding and fixing a problem we all knew was there but never bothered to do anything about. If you look around online, you’ll see how much everyone who knew her loved and respected her.
I found out this morning that Kelly passed away last week. It feels silly to say, but Kelly Lum was my first online girlfriend. We met through her website (spinsugar.com) in the late 1990s, and we stayed in touch for a long time thereafter. I hesitate to post anything like this, but given its online nature, I wanted to try to honor the memory appropriately.
She called me Chris, and I called her Lummy. That is until she finally told me that she hated the name. She had a special way of being brash and bashful at the same time. She was a truly unique person with a talent, a genius, and a wit all her own. She was way smarter than I am, and I miss the way she kept me sharp.
Kelly used to do drawings and write poems for the zines I was making. We did a website together for a few years in the early 2000s. It was sort of an online journal that we both posted to. Sometimes we were talking to each other, sometimes we were just posting nonsense. We started it when I briefly attended the University of Georgia. She came to visit me in Athens while looking at schools. In a letter from her just after that visit, dated November 13, 1999, she asked, “Will you take over the world with me?” She didn’t end up going to UGA, and I moved to Atlanta and then San Diego not long after, but we continued the site even after I moved again, back to Seattle.
We kept in touch off and on over the years, but I hadn’t talked to her in a long time. Her passing has me thinking hard about the nature of online relationships, and how to honor and memorialize seemingly such a tenuous connection. She and I weren’t together that long, and we only met IRL the one time, but she had a profound impact on me. Her passing has me mostly thinking hard about her.
She had a clarity of intent that sometimes came off as something else. The last book she posted about was The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan. The phrase on page 66 describing windows like eyes as intimating “not concentration, but heavy sleep” has new meaning now.
I lost a hard drive full of writings not long after we broke up. It contained a whole directory about her called “The Lum Diary.” I wish I could share something from that time.
Kelly Ann Catherine-Xavier Lum… Rest in peace, Lummy. I’m sorry I ever called you that.
Ian MacKaye is a lot of things, but he’s best known as the co-founder of Dischord Records and the bands Minor Threat and Fugazi. One of the ways he came to punk practices was through skateboarding, which he describes as a discipline, a way to reinterpret the world. Punk, as he explains below, is also a way to reinterpret the world. If languages are our lenses, then these are his native tongues.
I found Minor Threat in high school, after they’d already broken up. I got both of their cassettes at a record store in a mall on a trip through in Huntsville, Alabama. From there, I followed Ian through string of bands—Egghunt, Embrace, Pailhead—but when Fugazi came together, it was clear that something else was going on. My friends and I didn’t know that their first self-titled EP was the beginning a phenomenal 15-year run, but we knew it was something special. Where Minor Threat helped define the genre of hardcore, Fugazi was beyond that, a little bit outside of the genres we knew at the time. I remember driving to the skatepark in my 1973 VW Beetle shortly after getting that first tape. My friend Sean Young sat in the passenger seat rewinding “Waiting Room” over and over the whole way there. The opening chords of that song sound as fresh now as they did then.
Fugazi went on an indefinite hiatus the same year that MySpace launched. The timing is significant because MySpace briefly became the online place for music, for bands and fans alike. In 2018 they lost 12 years of their users’ files in a server migration catastrophe. The lost files include everything uploaded between 2003 and 2015, over 50 million songs by 14 million artists, as well as countless photos and videos. As we offload and outsource our archives to these services, we run the risk of losing them without recourse.
If there’s a lesson there, it’s the same one MacKaye lives by: self-reliance. He’s been keeping his own archives all his life, but I’ll let him tell you about that.
Roy Christopher:You and I both came up and were introduced to this culture through skateboarding. How did you initially get into punk?
Ian MacKaye: It was around late ‘78 that I first encountered punk—really encountered it—meaning that I thought about it. I’d obviously seen it years earlier because the media was talking about it, but my friends in high school started talking about it, and I started to really have to give it a think. One of the dilemmas of punk for me at the time was that punk and skateboarding were opposite. So, the punks that I knew would never skateboard because that just seemed silly, and the skateboarders I knew just thought punks were freaks. Of course, the skateboarders were largely guys who were jocks or who just wanted to party, so it made sense that they would hate something new. I had to make this decision about wanting to be a punk or a skateboarder. Now the good thing about skateboarding, given that navigation was so central to the practice, is that it was like learning a language. They say that it’s easier to learn a language if you’ve learned another language, and I think it’s because you’ve gone through the process of reshaping sound already so you understand that it can be done, you can communicate with different sounds. So, I think in the same light, the time I spent skateboarding and looking at the world differently was perfect practice and preparation for punk. Because punk required looking at the world differently.
IM: It was actually in many ways a perfect way to enter it. Now, ironically, as we all know, punk and skateboarding became almost synonymous later on, which is not surprising to me, but at the time it was separate. It didn’t occur to me since I wasn’t living in Los Angeles where you had the first skaters who really got into punk. They picked up on the sort of the radicalness for the freedom of it or whatever. You have Steve Olson or Dwayne Peters, Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and that crew, once they got into it, then suddenly, like within a couple years, you had skate punks.
RC:Yeah, by the time I came in, which was during the Bones Brigade era, they were already merged.
IM: Right, exactly.
RC:I didn’t know this about you, but I found out recently that you don’t have any effects on your guitar, and you did that on purpose because you wanted to push those limits.
IM: Not only that, but I’m anti-option. I’ve been a vegan for 35 years and whenever somebody asks me why, I always say, ‘why not?’ Because there’s a million great reasons to think about what you put in your body. The primary one is convenience, which is of course the death of the world, but I think that one of the great silver linings for me, especially in the olden days—not so much now because now it’s become more common—but what was so wonderful was that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking at a menu because there was one thing, and I was going to eat.
I like simple things like just in general. I think options are designed to confuse and delay. Another reason that I think there are so many options in our marketplace especially is to create sort of brand obedience. For instance, if you go to a larger grocery store and you go to their bakery section and you want to buy some bread, there’s usually about, 25 different kinds of bread, which is a lot of different kinds of bread when you think about it! Or cereals. There’s like 50 cereals! Yeah. That’s a lot of cereals, but I think the only way that one can retain their sanity and navigate that many choices every time is to pick the one thing, right?
IM: They pick the one kind of bread that they like. With the cacophony of options, they just reach in and grab the one, but here’s the thing: They’re all owned by one or two bakeries anyway.
The illusion is that we have all these choices we can make, but the net effect is that we don’t make choices because there are so many that they become incomprehensible. You can’t deal with it, so you just end up buying the one thing or getting the one kind of gas or the one whatever. I’m not suggesting that there were some evil geniuses thought this up [laughs]. I’m not like that. I’m not like a paranoid dude or a conspiracy guy, but—and this is a little bit like the skateboarding thing—I just learned how to look at things differently.
So, for me, options sort of get away from the beauty of a simple life. So, when you were talking about my guitar, yes, it’s true. I don’t like pedals. I never used them. I just thought it was interesting to just have one setup and then to use my body and the available volume knobs, the tone knobs, those things on my guitar and on the amp. What can I do to manipulate those things to create a variety of sounds, without having a computer just dial them up for me. I think one of the reasons that society is in a bit of a malaise is because of computers. The options provided by computers are completely overwhelming.
For those of us who were pre-internet and post-internet, we can really see the distinction. I’m not a Luddite and I’m not nostalgic. I don’t care about any of that. But the reality is that the relationship I had with music at a time where I would only be able to afford one or two records, and I would just have to go and listen to that record until I get to save up for the next record. I would listen to one record, you know, 40 times in a row. That experience is much more difficult when you have 4 million musical choices at your fingertips.
RC:How do you even know what you like?
IM: Right?! As a resource, it’s amazing. There’s a lot of times I’ll read some book about music, and they’ll mention some very obscure recording, and then I look and boom, I find it. I can’t believe it’s all there. So, I love the resource aspect of it, but I do think that that the relationship that I developed with music, maybe it’s harder. I don’t know. Because looking at my kid and other kids, they love music, but they’re kind of overwhelmed with options and choices.
So, I’m a little tongue-in-cheek when I say convenience is the death of the world, but I think options and convenience are cousins for sure.
RC:You could definitely make the argument.
IM: I like fewer options.
RC:I struggle with my students to get them to take notes or pay attention to things that they don’t need right at the moment because they live in such an on-demand kind of culture. You have created an archive—a Dischord archive, a Fugazi archive—and that’s one of the things that I’ve been trying to argue with them is that they need to be holding onto their own stuff and not relying on companies online. So, what was the impetus to build this massive archive of your stuff.
IM: Well, I mean, the Fugazi Live Archive is just one part of a much larger archive of Dischord- and Fugazi-related materials. I think the impetus starts with a very simple reality, which is I am 60 years old, and in my entire life I’ve only lived in three houses. I own two of them, and my dad still lives in the first one. As a result, I didn’t have to make that kind of painful choice about what I’m bringing and what I’m leaving or throwing away. So, there’s that. That’s just a reality. Then my mother was a journalist in the true sense of the word in that she kept journals for 60 of her 70 years. Not only did she keep journals, but she also typed them up and edited them. She kept filing cabinets of journals, letters, correspondence, genealogical work. She was an absolutely brilliant, brilliant person. She had a Panasonic cassette deck, and she would just leave it recording in a room. I used to think it was nice that mom liked to hear our voices when we were away, that she would record us. It wasn’t until she died that I realized, it wasn’t for her. It was for us, so we can hear her voice.
There was an emphasis on the idea of hanging on to things because they would take a different form as time passed. Maybe they would become more important, and you can always throw something away later. It’s not like you have to make that decision today. Later you can put it in the trash, but if you don’t need to throw it away now, then maybe don’t.
Then the next level is that I met Jeff Nelson in high school. He was in the Slinkees, and the Teen Idles. He’s my partner at Dischord Records. Jeff is a saver, a collector. I got hit by a car once and years later, I found that he went out and he scooped up all the pieces of the shattered headlight that broke. He still had that stuff. It’s just the way he is. He just has that kind of mentality, which I think resonated with my own tendency. So, both of us were just saving things because we thought they were important. I mean, you have to remember that this why Dischord Records was started: Not because we wanted to have a record label, but because we wanted to document something that was important to us. We didn’t think the world need to have a Teen Idles record. We wanted the Teen Idles record. It was important to us. So, things that were important to us, we hung onto, and we continue hang onto.
As a result of all those things I’ve just described you, these different circumstances, I essentially ended up with this massive collection of things. About 10 or 12 years ago, I had a number of friends die, and one of the friends who died, he had named a mutual friend to be the executor of his will. At some point, I asked our mutual friend how it went, and he said it was the greatest of gifts. Our late friend had basically identified, enumerated, and directed everything he had. I thought about it, and you know, my brain is big, and I know everything in Dischord House, but my brain stops when I die. So, I realized that I have all this stuff, but if I died and Amy and the others were going to have to contend with it, figure out what to do with it all. It was all mixed up because my life, my personal life and my musical life and the label life were all tied together. I know everything, but that’s what really got me thinking about time to start cleaning up and get things organized. I still have miles to go, but at least now things have been split.
I have all my personal correspondence at home, my other house: 40 years of correspondence. I saved all the letters that people sent me—90% of them or something. So, I had boxes of these letters in my eaves, and I sat for four years with an archivist named Nichole Procopenko, and we went through every letter. We put into a collection. We have a large collection that breaks down into different subsets, and now it’s researchable.
RC:Oh, that’s amazing.
IM: So, someone calls and says, ‘I’m looking for this early-eighties punk from Des Moines,’ and I’m like, ‘I can help you!’ [laughs] I freak people out because I can lay my hands on things almost instantly that are in the database. It’s all organized. Same with the tapes and fanzines and photos. That’s the archive. People keep saying, ‘aren’t you going to scan everything?’ No, I’m not. I have scanned the flyers because they’re the most liquid of things.
The other thing about it, which is interesting, is a part of what has affected your students is that… I can’t say this for sure, but I strongly suspect that the punk scene is probably the last youth movement that used paper. Like I know hip-hop came a little bit after punk, I just don’t think people are using as much paper. They weren’t corresponding as much. I think that there’s something really interesting about that. I think it’s important too, because the world that I’m a part of and was a part of back then was one that was beneath the radar of the industry, and since the industry controls history, that’s their job. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they celebrate industry figures. The Grammys every year hand out awards for best Song of the Year, but every one of those songs, if not on an actual major label, it’s distributed by a major label. What are the chances that of all the songs that are being written in the, in the world on any given minute of any given day, that every single best song of the year happened to go through a major? Statistically impossible. But that’s the way it works. They own the history. So as a result, knowing that, I feel like it’s important to hang on to evidence of prior civilization, the pottery shards that let people know that they weren’t the first.
RC:Those are awesome stories, Ian. I won’t take up any more of your time. I appreciate it. I’m glad we finally got to do this.
IM: All right, my friend. Good talking to you. If you ever find yourself in Washington, drop me a line, and I’ll show you this madness. You’ll probably get a kick out of it.
In his new memoir, Spaceships Over Glasgow, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite describes his teen years in terms eerily similar to my own: waiting eagerly for The Cure’s Disintegration to come out, whiling away the summer skateboarding, waiting to see them on “The Prayer Tour” in 1989. I did all of those things. Our paths diverged when he started making music and I started making zines. When he picked up a guitar, I picked up a copy-machine. We still revere the power of music in the same manner though.
I’ve always thought of music as being romantic. It can take you from wherever you are to somewhere else in an instant. When I was a teenager, in particular, I romanticized about music and musicians endlessly. I’d daydream about how records were made and what the lives of those making them were like. The music itself would set fires in my imagination.
The son of Scotland’s last telescope-maker, Braithwaite was perhaps destined for a life looking beyond the limits, his head aflame with sound. Once armed with his first guitar and exposed to the post-punk noise of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Sonic Youth and the shoegazing drone of My Bloody Valentine and Ultra Vivid Scene, as well as the goofy goth of The Cure, of course, he was on his way to the stars.
Mogwai is consistently one of my most-listened-to bands. Their blend of mellow prog, raging guitars, and soundtracky drama has held my attention for years. It’s no wonder they’ve scored several films throughout their nearly 30-year career. There’s a lot of slowly building tension and cathartic release. For a long time there were no vocals, and for a while after there were, I didn’t hear them. They were disguised, machine voices, awash in layers of guitar squall and feedback, vocoded beyond recognition.
Even with a space seemingly cut out for them by a family of description-defying groups, ready-made genres, and audiences lying in wait, some sounds still don’t seem to fit anywhere. When genre-specific adjectives fail, we grasp at significant exemplars from the past to describe new sounds. Following Will Straw, Josh Gunn calls this “canonization”: The synecdochical use of a band’s name for a genre is analogous to our using metaphors, similes, and other figurative language when literal terms fall short. Where bands sometimes emerge that do not immediately fit into a genre (I’m thinking of Godflesh, Radiohead, or dälek) or adhere too specifically to the sound of one band (e.g., the early 21st-century spate of bands that sound like Joy Division), we run into this brand of genre trouble.
Post-rock would seem to be just such a genre. Ever since Simon Reynolds posited the word as “perhaps the only term open ended yet precise enough to cover all this activity” in The Wire in 1994, there has been a post-everything-else. Sometimes it’s just lazy writing, sometimes it’s for marketing purposes, and every once in a while a genre has truly emerged alongside its parent designation. There seems to be very little consensus on exactly where rock crossed the line and became something else, but the desire to push rock past its limits has surely been around since those limits were established.
Even so, the roots of what has become post-rock run deep and in many directions, from previous genres like prog, ambient, jazz, industrial, techno, and Krautrock in general, to specific acts like CAN, Brian Eno, PiL, Jim O’Rourke, and others. Just when you think post-rock is too narrow a designation for the bands discussed, with one quick list, one sees how wide its waves crash. Jack Chuter’s 2015 book, Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-Rock, goes as far back as the New Romanticism of Talk Talk and its separate ways before moving on to Slint and Slint-inspired rock.
If any band is worthy of its own genre, it is Slint: a band certainly more talked-about than listened-to. About such talking and genres as they emerge in writing, the media historian Lisa Gitelman writes,
As I understand it, genre is a mode of recognition instantiated in discourse. Written genres, for instance, depend on a possibly infinite number of things that large groups of people recognize, will recognize, or have recognized that writings can be for.
As both Straw and Gunn describe canonization above, Gitelman contends that genres emerge from discourse, the talked-about. Subsequently, we internalize them. They are inside us. She continues,
Likewise genres—such as the joke, the novel, the document, and the sitcom—get picked out contrastively amid a jumble of discourse and often across multiple media because of the ways they have been internalized by constituents of a shared culture. Individual genres aren’t artifacts, then; they are ongoing and changeable practices of expression and reception that are recognizable in myriad and variable constituent instances at once and also across time. They are specific and dynamic, socially realized sites and segments of coherence within the discursive field.
With all of that said, the brand of post-rock that I am drawn to owes more to Mogwai than to Tortoise (e.g., Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, God is an Astronaut, Kinski, Hovercraft, Flying Saucer Attack, and Mogwai themselves, of course). Where Tortoise tends toward a sparse shuffle and strum, Mogwai has a propensity for layers of bump and rumble. Structurally, if the former were a lattice partition, the latter would be a brick wall. This is not to paint Tortoise (and their brethren, June of 44, Rodan, Rachel’s, The Shipping News, et al.)—or Slint—out of the picture. One of my all-time favorite bands, A Minor Forest, owes at least some of their sound to Slint. Any band pursuing this aural area has to contend with the mathematics of Tortoise and Slint, the guitar textures of Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine, the orchestrations of The Cure and Radiohead, and the electronic experiments of Aphex Twin and Autechre, among others. There’s a there in there somewhere.
It isn’t all taken so seriously though. One look at the track list on any post-rock record, and you’ll see that. Mogwai’s “Like Herod” from Young Team (1997) was named for the mishearing of someone saying “lightheaded.” Incidentally, that song’s working title was “Slint,” pointing to a post-rock cross-pollination years before Slint’s David Pajo sang back-up on “Take Me Somewhere Nice” from Rock Action (2001), which was notably as far from Slint as they’d ever sounded at the time.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Happy Songs for Happy People (2003) and Mogwai’s latest, As the Love Continues (2021). The former has been my main going-to-bed record for almost two decades now, since I picked up the CD at Off the Record in San Diego the day it came out. The latter is not only their newest record, it’s one of their best. Almost 30 years on, they’re still pushing themselves and making their best music. Not bad for the son of a telescope-maker and his music-obsessed friends.
It doesn’t matter what you call it, but noting the gauziness of genre doesn’t necessarily negate the pursuit of classification. As radically subjective as music fandom can be, it’s nice to have some buoys floating about.
“Welcome to the world of Pinecone Computers,” Miles Harding (played by Lenny Von Dohlen) reads from a computer manual in Electric Dreams (1984). “This model will learn with you, so type your name and press Enter key to begin.” Since the big-screen tales of the 1980s PC-era, the idea of machines merging with humans has been a tenacious trope in popular culture. In Tron (1982) Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) was sucked through a laser into the digital realm. Wired to the testosterone, the hormone-driven juvenile geniuses of Weird Science (1985) set to work making the woman of their dreams. WarGames (1983) famously pit suburban whiz-kids against a machine hell-bent on launching global thermonuclear war. In Electric Dreams (1984), which is admittedly as much montage as it is movie, Miles (von Dohlen, who would go on to play the agoraphobic recluse Harold Smith in Twin Peaks, who kept obsessive journals of the towns-folks’ innermost thoughts and dreams) attempts to navigate a bizarre love triangle between him, his comely neighbor, and his new computer.
From the jealous machine to falling in love with the machine, the theme remains pervasive. As artificial-intelligence researcher Ray Kurzweil writes of Spike Jonze’s 2013 movie Her, “Jonze introduces another idea that I have written about […] namely, AIs creating an avatar of a deceased person based on their writings, other artifacts and people’s memories of that person.” In the near future of Her, Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) writes letters for a living, letters between fathers and daughters, long-distance lovers, husbands, wives, and others. In doing so, he is especially susceptible to the power of narrative himself since his job involves the constant creation of believable, vicarious stories. His ability to immerse himself in the stories of others makes it that much easier for him to get lost in the love of his operating system, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), as she constructs narratives to create her personality, and thereby, their relationship.
Cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter calls our imbuing machines with more intelligence than they have—even when we know better—“The ELIZA Effect,” after Joseph Weizenbaum’s text-based psychoanalytic computer program, ELIZA. Hofstadter writes, “the most superficial of syntactic tricks convinced some people who interacted with ELIZA that the program actually understood everything that they were saying, sympathized with them, even empathized with them.” ELIZA was written at MIT by Weizenbaum in the mid-1960s, but its effects linger on. “Like a tenacious virus that constantly mutates,” Hofstadter continues, “the Eliza effect seems to crop up over and over again in AI in ever-fresh disguises, and in subtler and subtler forms.” In the first chapter of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, she extends the idea to our amenability to new technologies, including artificial intelligence, embodied or otherwise: “and true to the ELIZA effect, this is not so much because the robots are ready but because we are.”
More germane to Jonze’s Her is a program called KARI, which stands for “Knowledge Acquiring and Response Intelligence.” According to Dominic Pettman’s first and only conversation with KARI, as described in his book, Look at the Bunny, there’s a long way to go before any of us are falling in love with our computers. After interacting with a similar bot online, Jonze agrees. “For the first, maybe, twenty seconds of it,” he says, “I had this real buzz—I’d say ‘Hey, hello,’ and it would say ‘Hey, how are you?,’ and it was like whoa… this is trippy. After twenty seconds, it quickly fell apart and you realized how it actually works, and it wasn’t that impressive. But it was still, for twenty seconds, really exciting. The more people that talked to it, the smarter it got.” The author James Gleick comes to the conceit from the other side, writing, “I’d say Her is a movie about (the education of) an interesting woman who falls in love with a man who, though sweet, is mired in biology.” At one point in the movie, Samantha imagines the same fate for herself: “I could feel the weight of my body, and I was even fantasizing that I had an itch on my back—(she laughs) and I imagined that you scratched it for me—this is so embarrassing.” The dual feelings of being duped by technology and mired in biology sit on the cusp of the corporeal conundrum of what it means to be human, to have not only consciousness but also to have a body, as well as what having a body means.
Where some see the whole mess of bodies and machines as one, big system. Others picture the airwaves themselves as extensions. “Telepresence,” as envisioned by Pat Gunkel, Marvin Minsky, and others, sets out to achieve a sense of being there, transferring an embodied experience across space via telephone lines, satellites, and sensory feedback loops. It sounds quaint in world where working from home is normal for many and at least an option for others, but Marshall McLuhan was writing about it in the 1960s, and Minsky and his lot were working on it in the 1970s.
Still others imagine a much more deliberate merging of the biological and the mechanical, postulating an uploading of human consciousness into the machines themselves. Known in robotic and artificial intelligence circles as “The Moravec Transfer,” its namesake, the roboticist Hans Moravec, describes a human brain being uploaded, neuron by neuron, until it exists unperturbed inside a machine. But Moravec wasn’t the first to imagine such a transition. The cyberpunk novelist and mathematician Rudy Rucker outlined the process in his 1982 novel, Software. “It took me nearly a year to really figure out the idea,” he writes, “simple as it now seems. I was studying the philosophy of computation at the University of Heidelberg, reading and pondering the essays of Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel.” Turing was an early inventor of computing systems and AI, best known for the Turing test, whereby an AI is considered to be truly thinking like a human if it can fool a human into thinking so. Gödel was a logician and mathematician, best known for his incompleteness theorem. Both were heavily influential on the core concepts of computing and artificial intelligence. “It’s some serious shit,” Rucker writes of the process. “But I chose to present it in cyberpunk format. So, no po-faced serious, analytic-type, high literary mandarins are ever gonna take my work seriously.” In Rucker’s story, a robot saves its creator by uploading his consciousness into a robot.
NASA’s own Robert Jastrow wrote in 1984 that uploading our minds into machines is the be-all of evolution and would make us immortal. He wrote,
at last the human brain, ensconced in a computer, has been liberated from the weakness of the mortal flesh. […] The machine is its body; it is the machine’s mind. […] It seems to me that this must be the mature form of intelligent life in the Universe. Housed in indestructible lattices of silicon, and no longer constrained in the span of its years by the life and death cycle of a biological organism, such a kind of life could live forever.
In the 2014 movie Transcendence, Dr. Will Caster (played by Johnny Depp) and his wife Evelyn (played by Rebecca Hall) do just that. Caster is terminally ill and on the verge of offloading his mortal shell. Once his mind is uploaded into a quantum computer connected to the internet, Caster becomes something less than himself and something more simultaneously. It’s the chronic consciousness question: What is it about you that makes you you? Is it still there once all of your bits are transferred into a new vessel? The Casters’ love was strong enough for them to try and find out.
3 Douglas Hofstadter, Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1995), 158.
4 Ibid. 5Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 24–25.
6 As Hayles notes, “when information loses its body, equating humans and computers is especially easy.” N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 2.
7 See Marvin Minsky, “Telepresence,” OMNI Magazine, June 1980, 45–52.
8 See Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988). For another early example, see G. Harry Stine, “The Bionic Brain,” OMNI Magazine, July 1979, 84–86, 121–22.
Released in 1979, Douglas Hofstadter’s first book, the Pulitzer-Prize winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, is an expansive volume that explores how living things come to be from nonliving things. It’s about self-reference and emergence and creation and lots of other things. It’s well worth checking out.
For the cover of his heady tome, Hofstadter carved two wood-block objects such that their shadows would cast the book’s initials when lit against a flat backdrop. He went the extra step of working in the initials for the subtitle as well.
Earlier this year, I was inspired to emulate Hofstadter’s sculpture. I found a way to put the initials for my media-theory book-in-progress, The Medium Picture—TMP—into a similar configuration. This is one of my early sketches.
The sketches I did at least made the thing appear possible, so I started exploring physical options. After trying different materials and digging around craft stores, I finally found some letters that were about the right shape and would save me a lot of time toward the final object.
I was fortunate to find letters with similar proportions to the ones I’d been drawing. The first thing was to cut the M to make the P the top of the T. Like so:
After some papier-mâché tweaking, calk to round the leg of the M, and a coat of white paint, the object was ready to test.
Now that it physically existed, I knew the real test would be hanging it, lighting it, and capturing its shadows correctly. I built a contraption for just that out of things found around my parents’ house.
It was as sketchy as it looks. The object was suspended with two pieces of fishing line, and I had to turn off the air conditioning to get the thing to hang still for the picture. I found some pieces of foamcore in my sister’s old closet for the backdrop and gathered up tiny flashlights from all over the house.
With the LED flashlights propped and taped in place, this is the final set-up.
And this is the final shot. It’s not quite as intricate or as elegant as Hofstadter’s, but I’m pretty stoked on it. I think it will make a striking cover image and a fitting tribute to his work.
I belabored this process here because about half the people who see the final image ask me what software I used to make it. I know this could’ve been done digitally in any 3-D imaging suite, but I wanted to make it for real, just as Douglas Hofstadter had done.