MonthFebruary 2011

Cyberculture History: Did Gary Numan Predict Facebook?

Gary Numan Replicas cover

With Numan’s first album, Tubeway Army (‘78), it was already clear that Numan’s songwriting was concerned with the relationship between man and machine and what we would now call the post-human condition. It includes lyrics like “Me I’ve just died / but some machine keeps on humming / I’m just an extra piece of dead meat to keep running,” from the track “Life Machine.” Anyone listening to a lot of Gary Numan will notice that the word “me” figures heavily in his lyrics. The song “My Love is a Liquid” from the same album features the lines “can’t meet you face-to-face / There are no corners to hide in my room / No doors, no windows, no fire place.” In our times, this is a blatant comment on the way the internet mediates social relations.

Numan’s following album, Replicas (‘79), couldn’t be more drenched with prophetic visions of the internet and Facebook. The opening lines of “Me! I Disconnect from You” – in itself a charged title – are metaphors for botched Facebook relationships: “The alarm rang for days / you could tell from the conversations / I was waiting by the screen / I couldn’t recognize my photograph / Me, I disconnect from you” – the line about the screen doesn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the late ’70s, unless Numan was specifically talking about an imagined form of communication. It practically goes without saying that “disconnecting” from someone entails ending a Facebook relationship or, even worse, de-friending someone. It doesn’t even require analysis to see why the following track, “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” is rich with Facebook meaning. The track “You Are in My Vision” anticipates critiques of television by theorists like Marshall Mcluhan, Jean Baudrillard, and though not a theorist, naturally Cronenberg in Scanners and Videodrome, with its lines “Fade to screens of violence / Like a TV screen but silent / Where the victims are all paid by the hour.”

Thought Catalog: Did Gary Numan Predict Facebook?

Someone in the comments points out that some of this isn’t as enigmatic as it seems:

most of his lyrical elements, especially in Replicas, were references to a dystopian science fiction novel he was writing but never finished. the ‘friends’ he talks are identical robots that could be hired and used for any purpose, and “the life machine” is about a comotose individual being sustained by a machine. it’s all quite directly inspired by numan’s favorite writers, and as such one could more perhaps more aptly say that william s. burroughs or phillip k. dick “predicted the future”. still interesting though. numan’s contributions to modern music and popular culture are woefully under-appreciated.

To be clear, Numan has distanced himself from his early sci-fi lyrics. He told Electronic Musician:

Science Fiction has no influence on the music, especially lyrically, and especially now. To be honest I only ever wrote a handful of songs that were remotely connected to Science Fiction and they were all nearly 20 years ago. The ‘Replicas’ album, or bits of it, one or two things on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ and one or two things on ‘Telekon’. I would say about 15 songs, maybe 20, out of a total of well over 300 to date have anything to do with Sci Fi. I think because I became successful with electronic music, a newish thing 20 years ago, and a song called ‘Are Friends Electric’ (it was that song that launched me in the UK anyway) I was given a Sci Fi label that stuck long after I’d moved on to other things.

For the curious, via Song Meanings, here’s a bit from William S. Burroughs’s story “Astronaut’s Return” that is clearly referenced in “Down in the Park”:

Ugly snarl behind the white lies and excuses. […]
DEATH DEATH DEATH

So many you can’t remember
The boy who used to whistle?
Car accident or was it the war?
Which war?

The boy’s room is quite empty now. Do you begin to see there is no face there in the tarnished mirror?

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…

Voynich Manuscript Carbon Dated to Early 1400s – About a Century Older Than Previously Though

voynich manuscript

The Voynich Manuscript has been carbon dated to somewhere between 1404 and 1438:

Using radiocarbon dating, a team led by Greg Hodgins in the UA’s department of physics has found the manuscript’s parchment pages date back to the early 15th century, making the book a century older than scholars had previously thought.

University of Arizona News: UA Experts Determine Age of Book ‘Nobody Can Read’

(Thanks Paul!)

This rules out Leonardo da Vinci as the author, which was my personal favorite theory. da Vinci was born in 1452. It also rules out John Dee and Edward Kelly, who lived in the 16th century. It also of course rules out the possibility that Voynich forged the manuscript.

Cyberculture History: First BBS Launched 33 Years Ago Today

Ward Christensen brought his Computerized Bulletin Board System online 33 years ago today. From Wikipedia:

In January 1978, Chicago was hit by the Great Blizzard of 1978, which dumped record amounts of snow throughout the midwest. Among those caught in it were Christensen and Randy Suess, who were members of CACHE, the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists’ Exchange. They had met at that computer club in the mid 1970s and become friends.

Christensen had created a file transfer protocol for sending binary computer files through modem connections, which was called, simply, MODEM. Later improvements to the program motivated a name change into the now familiar XMODEM. The success of this project encouraged further experiments. Christensen and Suess became enamored of the idea of creating a computerized answering machine and message center, which would allow members to call in with their then-new modems and leave announcements for upcoming meetings.

However, they needed some quiet time to set aside for such a project, and the blizzard gave them that time. Christensen worked on the software and Suess cobbled together an S-100 computer to put the program on. They had a working version within two weeks, but claimed soon afterwards that it had taken four so that it wouldn’t seem like a “rushed” project. Time and tradition have settled that date to be February 16, 1978. Christensen and Suess described their innovation in an article entitled “Hobbyist Computerized Bulletin Board” in the November 1978 issue of Byte Magazine.

Wikipedia: CBBS

(Thanks Trevor!)

More info:

Christensen and Suess’s telling of the the history of CBBS.

CBBS memoris on the BBS: The Documentary site.

BBS: The Documentary A documentary on the history of the BBS.

RIP Brian Barritt, Leary’s Collaborator on the 8 Circuit Model

Brian Barritt

The writer Brian Barritt was a lusty, Pan-like figure who sat at the heart of the counter-culture for over 50 years. A friend and collaborator to such notables as Timothy Leary, William Burroughs, Alex Trocchi and Youth of Killing Joke, he was particularly active in the Beatnik, psychedelic, Krautrock and rave scenes.

Brian Sydney Barritt was born in Coventry in 1934, and his early childhood shaped by the Blitz. Part of the roof of his home was lost during a bombing raid, while his school was destroyed, interrupting his early education.

His education ended when he left Broadheath School in Foleshill, Coventry at 15. He worked briefly at the local Jaguar factory, where he upholstered seats on the Jaguar XK120s, before he joined the Merchant Navy. His late teenage years, spent in ports and brothels from Japan to the Cape of Good Hope, included a little gun-running and the start of his life-long love of opium; these years, he later claimed, were his real education.

The Independent: Brian Barritt: Counter-culture writer who collaborated with Timothy Leary

(via The Daily Grail)

Electronic Taoist Deities Now Accepting Prayers in Hong Kong

Wong Tai Sin’s new prayer hall

And speaking of digital polytheism:

Over the Lunar New Year weekend Vivian Choi made her annual visit to Wong Tai Sin, one of Hong Kong’s largest Taoist temples, to ask for blessings in the new year. But instead of burning dozens of incense sticks in the age-old Taoist tradition, Ms. Choi slipped a written prayer into a small box. An electronic deity statue then lit up and blew artificial smoke, signaling the acceptance of the offering.

As worshippers welcomed the Year of the Rabbit, Wong Tai Sin temple in Kowloon ushered in a new era of its own: high-tech Taoism.

For 100 million Hong Kong dollars (US$13 million), the 90-year-old temple created a underground prayer room — decked with gold and marble and equipped with LED lights and motion detectors — just in time for the Lunar New Year holiday, which started Feb. 3 and is expected to draw more than a million visitors to the temple over two weeks.

Wall Street Journal: Taoism Goes High Tech at Hong Kong’s Wong Tai Sin Temple

See also the iPad confession app.

New Study Fails to Prove That MDMA Causes Cognitive Impairment

obama ecstasy pills

In contrast to many prior studies, ecstasy users in the new study showed no signs of cognitive impairment attributable to drug use: ecstasy use did not decrease mental ability.

The resulting experiment whittled 1500 potential participants down to 52 carefully chosen ecstasy users, whose cognitive function was compared against 59 closely-matched non-users, with tests administered at several stages to make sure participants were telling the truth about their drug and alcohol use.

Science Daily: New Study Finds No Cognitive Impairment Among Ecstasy Users

A small sample size, but this study does not make the same errors that many other studies did.

Timothy Leary Debates Ram Dass (Richard Alpert)


Watch Ram Dass and Timothy Leary Debate in Educational & How-To  |  View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Speaking of Tim Leary, above is a debate between him and Ram Dass – the two were close at Harvard and Leary turned Alpert on to psychedelics.

For more on Leary check out our dossier.

Cyberculture History: The High-Tech Pagan Origins of the .to Domain Names

Here’s a fun discovery: the founder of the company that commercialized the .to top level domain name is none other than Eric Gullichsen, co-author with Timothy Leary of Load and Run High-tech Paganism-Digital Polytheism. Here’s an article on Gullichsen from Time Magazine in 1999:

The two Erics decided the best way to beat the com system (and make some easy money in the process) was to circumvent it. There’s nothing magical about the letters com they reasoned; why not just use, say, .to for Tonga?
So in 1997, with the Crown Prince’s permission, Gullichsen and Lyons started Tonic Corp. and began selling Tonga domain names on a first-come, first-served basis. Bummed that the cool website name you thought of is already taken? Visit www.tonic.to with a valid credit card, and they’ll sell you the same name in the .to domain. Price: $100 for the first two years. You can still host your site from your PC in Topeka, Kans.; the name will just be registered by a company based on an island you probably can’t find on a map.

Time: He’s the Master Of His Domain Name

What did Gullichsen decide to do with his earnings?

And with the cash these virtual companies siphon out of the old world order, Gullichsen plans to build a new one. The crown prince has given him the run of a tiny Tongan outrider island, which Gullichsen hopes to turn into a prototype sustainable environment. “I’m setting up an ecologically closed community,” he says. “I’ll have a wind generator, solar panels, a geodesic dome and hydroponics. I want to live off the grid but still be online–be connected to the global fabric but from a venue that is free from regulation and in harmony with the environment.”

I wonder what ever happened to him.

For more on the intersection between occulture and the high-tech world, check out Erik Davis’s classic article or his book Techgnosis.

Al Columbia Finally Reveals What Happened to the Big Numbers # 4 Artwork

Sebadoh
Sebadoh cover with Al Columbia’s Big Numbers art

In an interview on the Inkstuds podcast, artist Al Columbia reveals what happened to the artwork for Big Numbers # 4. Comic Book Resources transcribes the reveal:

I was roommates with all the guys in this band called Sebadoh, which were particularly large back in the day — Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney, and Jason Loewenstein, they were all hanging out. And Eric Gaffney was gonna put out this single, this little split single with somebody, and he wanted artwork for it and he wanted me to do something. He was big into collages and stuff like that, and we got the idea that I would chop up all this Big Numbers artwork and make a collage out of it for his album cover. I don’t know how I got the idea, but I just hated [Big Numbers] — I didn’t want anything to do with it, I had already quit it or I was going to, I knew I wasn’t going to have anything to do with it. So we put every page on a chopping block, one of those big slicers, and I just chopped it up madly for about a half hour — just sliced the whole thing up with a chopper. And Marc Arsenault, who’s the Wow Cool guy — I don’t know if anyone knows who he is, the minizine guy — he was a good friend of mine, he came over and just looked horrified. He stood in the doorway and watched me chopping up all the artwork and just went “Oh my God!” I think he must have told somebody I’d done it, and that’s how that [story] got started. But I think even before that, there was something [going around] to that effect. That might have been what influenced me to do it: “Well, they’re saying I did this, I might as well.” I can’t remember, though. But it wasn’t like “Oh my God, I’m gonna flip out, I can’t stand this!” It wasn’t this breakdown. It was just like, “Oh, this’ll make a cool record cover.” That’s it. That’s all it was.

Comic Book Resources: The day indie rock defeated Alan Moore: Al Columbia reveals what happened to Big Numbers #4

See here for some background on why this is a big deal.

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