William S. Burroughs & Brion Gysin
This is advertised as featuring rare recordings of the authors and artists William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin and while it is a recording taken from original tapes held and licensed from the British Library, it's worth pointing out that this was originally released on CD by that institution on their label as part of their The Spoken Word series in 2012. I won't dwell on that as this is a wonderful vinyl edition featuring the complete recording of a Williams S. Burroughs reading in Liverpool in 1982 as part of The Final Academy, together with performances by Brion Gysin of a selection of his permutated poems some of which aired on the BBC, alongside some home recordings made by them both in Paris in 1970.
Right from the off we're deep in junkie territory with 'The Beginning is also the End' as Burroughs postulates on addiction, and, in turn, the nature of control where junk requires a human host but the largest portion of the recording documents Burroughs' reading at the Centre Hotel in Liverpool on the 5th October 1982 one of many regional events which took place in Manchester and Liverpool as part of The Final Academy. Organised by David Dawson, Roger Ely, and Genesis P-Orridge, The Final Academy was a multi-themed celebration of the work of Burroughs and Gysin, in the form of readings, films, music and performance. The main event was held over the course of 4 days at The Ritzy Cinema, Brixton featuring artists, poets and writers and performances from 23 Skidoo, Last Few Days, Cabaret Voltaire and Psychic TV, alongside screenings of the Burroughs films - Ghosts At Number 9, Towers Open Fire - shot by Anthony Balch in the sixties. Burroughs' reading from the Hacienda, Manchester and the aforementioned films were released on video by Ikon under the title The Final Academy Documents, and subsequently reissued on DVD by Cherry Red.
As such, this recording covers many of the same texts featured in The Final Academy Documents but delivered here with a greater clarity. A significant portion of the reading is taken from his then just completed novel The Place of Dead Roads, originally titled The Johnson Family, where he elaborates on a code of conduct used to describe good bums and thieves. Burroughs is funny, and at his best recalling a sighting of an unassuming shabbily dressed man he spotted in Tangiers in the company of Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville: "My god! That's a harmless looking person". They never saw that man again but they got the message: he's a Johnson. Burroughs also introduces the autobiographical protoganist and shootist Kim Carsons, unearthing his dark character and his abominable obsessions with ectoplasm, spirit guides and unspeakable rites. Offering words of advice, as told to Kim Carsons by his father in his last words: "Stay out of churches, son. And don't ever let a priest near you when you're dying. All they got a key to is the shit house. Swear to me you will never wear a policeman's badge."
In those mid-Western tones Burroughs mulls on space, immortality and themes of biological warfare. He's at his most prescient when he speaks of anti-vaccination cults, which were something of a self-limiting phenomenon as the cultists eventually contracted smallpox and died out largely due to the literature impregnated with smallpox Kim Carson distributed.
Interestingly Burroughs pays tribute to Denton Welch, who he regards as "one of the principal influences on my work", with a reading of 'Lunch with the Sitwells' taken from Welch's diaries relating a fraught meeting he shared with Dame Edith Sitwell and her brother Osbert where they discussed the merits of literature such as D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover and the poet Radclyffe Hall. It's quite a telling choice as Sitwell it should be remembered argued strongly against the merits of Burroughs' Naked Lunch, firing off a letter to the Times Literary Supplement stating that she did not wish to spend the rest of her life "with my nose nailed to other people's lavatories."
Other readings come from Nova Express about the do-rights alongside another outing for 'Twilight's Last Gleaming' which marked the first appearance of Dr Benway. Burroughs was a prolific literary performer so some of the texts may be familiar but the entire performance exemplifies Burroughs as the master showman, playing to the audience, imitating voices and delivering the prose in that inimitable dry, sardonic drawl.
Burroughs is synonymous with the cut-up and fold-in techniques often deployed to text, and later to sound and film. These are largely absent in the readings from Burroughs but apparent in the Brion Gysin section of the album. It was Brion Gysin who, of course, stumbled upon cut-ups, a technique Burroughs would utilise in works such as the Naked Lunch and The Ticket That Exploded. Brion Gysin has always been a bit overlooked but posthumous retrospective exhibitions such as Unseen Collaborator and Brion Gysin: Dream Machine and its attendant book alongside Tuning In To The Multimedia Age, as well as Trapart's His Name Was Master (featuring interviews conducted by Genesis P. Orridge, Peter Christopherson and Jon Savage) have helped steer Gysin in from the shadows. Where Burroughs applied permutations to the written word, Gysin would explore their potential with tape.
In 1960 Brion Gysin recorded a number of sound poems with the BBC. The provenance of the recordings is unclear so it's difficult to say if they all featured within the same broadcast. Gysin, as he said often, believed that "Writing is fifty years behind painting. I propose to apply the painters' technique to writing: things as simple and immediate as collage and montage" and on the first piece 'Cut-Ups Self-Explained', which featured in The Third Mind, he explains how to apply cut-ups and the intention behind the permutated poems in a text that is itself permutated. When put through the equipment several times it resulted in words that had never been spoken or intended, proving that words have a vitality and meaning of their own. Words don't belong to anyone.
His voice is disjointed and paused on 'I am this Painter Brion Gysin' and you can hear him scrawling the words on a board, accompanying his reading but it feels with the lack of accompanying visuals that we're missing something.
'Pistol Poem' consisted of a single shot captured on tape. Rerecorded as if from a distance of one yard, two yards and so on, it would be then permutated and accompanied by Gysin reading the numbers. Its random and rhythmic formation, lead Gysin to claim "Believe it or not, you can dance to this". It is perhaps one of the highlight of the Gysin section.
The permutation technique is applied to the other tracks including 'I've Come to Free the Words', 'No Poets Don't Own Words', 'Junk is No Good Baby' and 'Kick That Habit Man' inverting the meaning of the message, as all combinations are exhausted and used up. Gysin would return to 'Junk Is No Good Baby' and 'Kick That Habit Man' with Steve Lacy on Songs and on Self-Portrait Jumping an album conceived by Ramuntcho Matta featuring Don Cherry where the permutated poems were given a playful backing of funk and world music, while many readers here will be familiar with Monte Cazazza's take on 'Kick That Habit Man' which featured on his Something For Nobody single released on Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records.
Other tracks such as 'Calling All Reactive Agents' and 'I Am That I Am' involve greater use of the BBC technicians and feature sound manipulations with the former, which surfaced on Break Through In Grey Room, resulting in a collage of sped up recordings and simultaneous voices reading the text. According to Gysin in Here To Go: Planet R-101, 'I Am That I Am' was the first of the BBC recordings and something he regarded as an "acknowledged sound poetry classic". It is again permutated where his reading is spoken and subsequently subjected to sound treatments passing from echoed into pitch shifted movements and eventually lost in a haze of sped-up processing.
Speaking to Terry Wilson in Here To Go: Planet R-101, Gysin was keen to explain where Burroughs had pushed things through the typewriter, "I pushed them that far through the tapeworld." It was an experiment that shocked the BBC technicians who were only too glad to bring the session to an end, perhaps early as Gysin believed the recordings were to take place over a week only to discover that it had been cut to 3 days. When it was eventually aired in 1961 under the title The Permutated Poems of Brion Gysin the broadcast received the second lowest ever audience approval ratings of the time. Notwithstanding that it's fair to say that the recordings featured on this album represent the best presentation of this archive session.
The three versions of 'Invisible Art' which close the album offer brief sketches of multi tracked recordings as Burroughs and Gysin map out the possibilities from their rudimentary tape experiments, with Brion Gysin's 'Silky supple mirrors to be folded...' even seems to allow some JouJouka type music to slip in to the background.
This is a great release from Cold Spring who many, many years ago released an interview tape of Burroughs, Gysin and Genesis P-Orridge, and while this isn't that cassette, this vinyl collection is one of the most worthwhile, if not essential, releases from Burroughs and Gysin. Direct orders from Cold Spring also include an artcard and can be purchased from Cold Spring
Official Cold Spring promo video
Brion Gysin - Pistol Poem note this isn't taken from the Cold Spring album
Interesting footage of Genesis P-Orridge visting Brion Gysin in Paris.