Red was the colour he saw.
Red was the colour which swept a crowd of people moving with such speed and freneticness that their numbers could not be counted. A congregation who's prayer was movement. And in the air flew coloured beams of light, twisting and contorting - like the crowd - to the celebration of sound. Clouds roll their amorphous tissue through the fanatics, bellowing over the sweat soaked symposium with thick eye provoking dischordia.
He saw it with a type of vision usually reserved for more conventional occasions as if he was watching some majestic moment in nature. His fingers gripped his palms as his heart quickened to join the beat, the ancient beat. Here the neo-primitive unfolded itself in front of him like a colourful pop-up book from his childhood. He had never seen any of these people before. Turning to a girl nearby he saw closed eyes and a grin so calm it seemed as if she was redefining the very concept of peace.
His temples ached.
As coloured beams of light showered him in tunnels of crafted green fog, skies of stars clothed him. He smiled, and for some reason felt that it was all for him, a giant celebration for his existence. All these people filled with the desire to dance, throwing their bodies with hypnotised movement, were doing so for him. It was his vision and one where he was king.
This is the vision experienced by many when entering the rave scene, an overwhelming sensory sight. For the techno movement is nothing short of a giant celebration. A mass, both in the spiritual and mathematical sense of the word. It represents an ever growing congregation of people who join together to celebrate music, dance, freedom and light. Like the early pagan festivals the setting of the sun symbolises the beginning of celebration. Hundreds upon hundreds of them joining together in random venues throughout the country. Like the nomadics, these people change their site of worship regularly, moving to perhaps avoid detection or boredom. Once the sun returns the congregation disperses, thinning out through streets, alleyways and fields to recuperate.
The raves (or celebrations) themselves are complexly organised events which create a sense of both community and safety. The individual is swallowed by the mass and all is surrendered for group catharsis. Fashion and hair styles are almost standardised. Even the body is handed over, as all energy is sacrificed for the group through dance. Like the Dionysians, group hedonism creates an atmosphere of wild celebration. Unlike most youth based movements, the techno ilk is one where the individual is surpassed for the community. This creates a sense of unity and therefore seems to eliminate traits such as violence and sexual harassment, which is prolific in other sub-cultures - a fact which is also assisted by the low level of alcohol consumption at events.
The mass begins as a slow moving musical machine and all focus is forward. Dancing, one finds oneself unaware of others yet simultaneously fueled by the movement around them. Hypnotically pulled towards repetitive neo-primitive beats, individuals are thrown into radical states of movement incorporating all limbs of the body, searching for bliss through a trance-like dance state. Exhaustion metamorphosing into exhilaration, pain into pleasure. The d.j.'s falling comfortably into the roles of high priest(ess)s, faceless people who drive the congregation towards a spiritual alibi, a state of nothingness. They call for devotion through their music, mixing and scratching their sermons through high ampage speakers. Creating a non-stop sound which penetrates the congregation and drives them into wilder states of exhortation - much like the evangelical southern American preacher.
And then there is the question or issue of drugs, for the rave culture has seemed to generate some extremely bad press in this area. The recent death of a Sydney teenager helping to fuel the witch hunt. Like any dance based religion there is drug use and in the techno movement ecstasy is the drug. So personalised has this drug become to the movement that it seldom appears with the same frequency in any other youth based culture. Ecstasy is for ravers what cocaine was for the Mayan's or peyote to the North American Indians. It is nothing more than a means to accelerate a sense of spiritual catharsis and its effect only helps to strengthen the bond between the congregation. It helps provide a general group feeling of well being and heightens the ability to dance, thus making the trance state easier to obtain. The concept of harming person or property on ecstasy is alien, unlike the muddy high of alcohol. "E" is used as a sacrament, a small part in a large mass, and is not the emphasis of the celebration.
Ancient ritualistic peculiarities join with twentieth century technology as face painted members communicate with one another through two way radio head sets, or personalised hand signals. Others walk around viewing the event through state of the art large screen video recorders. Personal digital notebooks, e-mail addresses and hand held lasers are only a few of the other accessories one will find amongst the crowd.
Unlike most religious experiences the techno mass is an ever changing entity, moving with the congregation. As the music increases with speed and as members pull out to retire, giving all that they could (no longer able to participate with the intensity that the community desires) younger converts join. The concept of becoming stale is almost impossible. For what started out as a small underground movement, the techno experience, is gaining both numbers and support, as more and more people, young and old, filled with curiosity flock to join the celebration. This is a movement with ancient traits which date back to before Christ. Before organised Western religion people were making sacrifices, offerings, songs and dance to celebrate life. Here we see a montage of all which is primitive and all which is modern coming together to create a mass of people who want nothing more than to smile.
Kris Hemensley was born in the U.K in 1946 and moved to Melbourne Australia in 1966. He is a renowned national poet, playwright, short-story writer, critic and broadcaster.
His publications to date include, "Domestications" (1974), "Here we are" (75), "Poem of the Clear Eye"(75), "Down Under" (78), "A Mile From Poetry" (79) and "Trace" (86). His work has appeared in "Modern Australian Poetry", "Transgressions", "Oxford Australian Relgious Verse" and "Oxford Australian Short-Story Anthology".
He is involved in small publishing and runs a bookshop, (Collected Works) in Melbourne which specialises in small and underground pressings. He has edited three anthologies of promising new work including "Earth Ship."
In 1968, Michael Dugan, editor of the first "little magazine" of Melbourne New Poetry (and what was also called the "mini-mag explosion"), Crosscurrents, wrote a REPORT FROM A SOUTHERN CITY for I.T. --International Times --one of the sixties most influential papers-- in which he described the personalities, journals and events of a local vibrant and internationally aware Australian culture. It strikes me that today's small epistle invites deja vu, but in the cold light of reality it isn't. To what centre do we now report? And who are today's "we"? A postmodern spin on our account might titillate the jaded palate but I wonder which news could be news today...
The kind of new poetry whose origins and developing forms our friends Rothenberg and Joris are presently anthologising for the University of California, is either a passe history for today's nouveaux or is completely unknown to them. If some of us regard "avant-garde" as a genre now, too many others stake their own claims to the cutting edge in complete and utter ignorance of local and international experiments, both past and present.
Small press? "If Penguin won't take or can't take us, let's try Black Pepper!" Yes, madames et messiers, it's a collapsed market in Oz, wherein small press and the mainstream publish the same stock of poets, all thinking commercially. Professionalism has replaced necessity, career replaced vocation. Poets and novelists teaching nowadays either scoffed or wondered at my teaching "creative writing" in the 70's and 80's. I dropped out ten years ago at precisely the time they all became serious about it. Their graduating students hardly out of napkins but can flap a diploma at you and be introduced by their tutors to editors and publishers. Industry has replaced culture.
There's an abundance of desk-top publication --mostly sincere self expression and very bad literature, but then Literature relieved of its cannons isn't the be-all and end-all of culture, is it?
And yet, in a newspaper review recently I referred to the buoyancy of Australian poetry --the wealth of interesting work written and published, and a growing critical appreciation of our poets. And of course I applaud the diversity of new Australian writing, though it's hardly the type of thing I'd have anticipated praising ten years ago. Have radical and conservative exchanged places in term of rigour, literary ability, profundity? Has the openness of the progressives led to a revaluation of the older, apparently closed forms and subjects? Has there been an amelioration from the other direction? Sometimes the debates are more revealing, instructive, vital than the works generating them. The Demidenko affair, for example, along all of its many trails, is certainly superior and more worthwhile than the actual Hand That Signed The Paper. Ditto Helen Garner's The First Stone, and the novels of the so-called post grunge generation, which seem to be arguments in search of subjects not quite located in their books. However, the feminist war around Dorothy Porter's The Monkey Mask though astonishing was beside the point of not only the performance poem-novel but of the author's main ambitions in poetry...
At our writers and readers bookshop in the centre of town, I meet more devotional and metaphysical poets these days than grunge or performance poets --mainly because a bookshop devoted to poetry and ideas is off limits to the latter! I suspect this latest wave of naturalism/realism is already dissolving and sense writers will be experimenting with all the classical forms and thus renovating the tradition as we all approach the millenium.
The market collapses into a single denomination, the generations converge. Internationalism is less exotic as more locals partake in what used to be called "overseas".
As for technology... What did Sartre mean when he blathered no locomotives in alexandrines? And the Net? A kind of bazaar, a type of directory, but a "new reality"? Its "freedom" comes minus the value and evaluation. There's exchange without reward because of the omission of the tangible, like a transaction without a handshake or a kiss, an expedition without footprints. Of course, I'm now revealed as a Luddite!
In the realm of the senses this season's events will include PI.O.'s 700 page inner-city emigrant dialect poem, 24 Hours, and John Anderson's translation of the dream of the land, his oracular The Forest Laid Out Like The Night. They're both ten-year portions of life-works, Whitmanesque in detail and language-dance. But what discourse will receive them? What argument wreathe their poetry?
Collected Works Bookshop.
238 Flinders Lane
Melbourne, Vic. 3000.
"A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism."
Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1872.
"As at the time of the Manifesto, a European alliance is formed which is haunted by what it excludes, combats, or represses."
Derrida, Spectres of Marx, 1994.
The various upsurges in popular politics in the late 1960's, both in the West and in the Communist bloc, exposed the limitations of political parties of the Left. Paris, May, 1968: rather than siding with the students and workers, the French Communist Party sides with the State who use police force to end the commune. Similiar situations in Italy and Germany. In the same year, Soviet tanks roll into Prague, crushing any hope of popular revolution there. There is little difference in the politics here: Communism in both the East and West has become meaningless, Marxist politics has been subsumed into the State. After the brief flowering of activity in the 60's, political struggle has almost been stamped out in Western society, including the new democracies of the former Eastern Bloc countries. As the basis for a traditional political party, communism cannot work, it must be recreated.
The 1970's brought a restructuring of power in both the East and West whereby politics and economics were integrated: the State became inseperable from capital. We now live in an era where "society is collapsed into the logic and processes of capitalist development" 1 . This is how we must consider the situation today. In order to think politically, we can no longer think in terms of the autonomous individual subject that makes up collectives of autonomous individual subjects. There is no sovereign power but a complex network of systems: arrangements of socio-technological machines and arrangements of regimes of signs. A individual is inseperable from these arrangements.
Capitalism, however, continues to found itself on the illusory autonomous individual. This is a form of subjectivity created and structured by capitalism: "economic man", reduced to a function of capitalist production. Instead of considering society only in socio-economic terms as a vertical structure, we must flatten the vertical structure and draw lines through all socio-economic groups, horizontally, creating a new way of looking at political struggle - as micropolitical activity.
In general terms, I would like to briefly consider the contemporary crisis of community in the West, and propose a new consideration of communication from the Left.
The Rational Machine:
Our society is geared more and more to the production of reason, itself a circular discourse that generates rational subjects. Rational knowledge produces a common discourse, a community of rational individuals. Rational truth, considered infinite and universal, is the foundation of the rational community, the support of our culture from which we generate the entirety of discursive knowledge from logic to "common sense". The individual speaks as part of this common anonymous discourse which generates a particular type of community - a community of idealized individual subjects, apparently self-determining, self-originating and infinite, but in reality merely re-producing themselves according to the dictates of the rational machine.
Colonization by the rational machine continues throughout the "Third World" and increases within our own society with "informationization". Everyone must take a number, a one or a zero, there can be no inbetween. Rational discourse generates order. For the rational subject, there is a necessary imperative to think in a particular way. The empirical, sensual self is displaced in favour of an ordered self, the body becomes an instrument of production. Such existence is useful, servile. The rational community structures individuals in purely formal terms, as a functional unit of rational discourse. Within capitalist production, an individual is interchangeable with any other individual. My neighbour is seen in terms of an alter-ego, a parallel self opposed to me, a competitor, an enemy.
The rational community, a collective founded on production, necessarily excludes all those who do not conform to rational discourse. This "other community" is the community of the marginalized - foreigners, immigrants, the insane, criminals, mystics, drug abusers, sexual deviants. The labels they are given are loaded. Such irrationality must be categorized, normalized and integrated into rational discourse. Thus human pleasures are coded by capital's rational machine. Fear and paranoia are created, building foundations for racism and violence against "the other".
In the last two centuries, rational discourse has spread cancerously across our society in an attempt to explain every facet of human behaviour in reasonable terms. Where this is particularly evident is in the recent proliferation of "normalizing" systems such as the new sciences of psychoanalysis, psychiatry and criminology. The work of philosopher Michel Foucault initiated an archeology of rational knowledge, examining the scientific colonization of humanity in such new sciences. These new discourses function to eradicate "irrational" behaviour in the individual - madness, criminality, sexual deviancy, drug-addiction - marginalizing a section of humanity outside the realm of rational discourse.
This marginal community has one thing in common: death. Death is a break down in the rational machine, it does not "make sense". Faced with the death of an other, the individual realizes that he or she is not infinite. This profound moment is the end of rational truth, the end of homogeneity and a realization of a deeper community: the "mortal community", "our community in mortality more fundamental than every commonplace established by understanding, every productive collaboration, and every civic existence we can constitute, every work we can externalize, is ordered by the imperative to render present the concern for the other at the abysses of his or her dying." 2 . Faced with the death of an other, the rational community is exposed, something escapes from or slips through the cracks of rational discourse: death.
Neither the community nor the single individual has a telos: we are not going anywhere. If the human species was to become composed of perfect rational beings, complete, universal and infinite, it would have happened already. Similarly, we are never going to communicate more effectively than we communicate now, or than we have always communicated. Computer technology places top priority on the transmission of messages as cleanly, clearly and effortlessly as possible. A conversation conducted on purely rational lines, however, communicates nothing that one did not know already - all possible forms and contents are predetermined according to the laws of rational discourse.
The mass promotion in contemporary society of such clear, clean messages functions to marginalize: "Communication is an effort to silence, not the other, the interlocutor, but the outsider: the barbarian, the prosopopeia of noise." 3 . A communication theory based on clear transmission aims to abstract from the noise of the world a predetermined message, a one or a zero, there can be no inbetween.
In his book, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Jacques Attali offers this perspective: " ... the world is not for beholding. It is for hearing. It is not legible, but audible ... Nothing essential happens in the absence of noise" 4 . Noise is a source of power equivalent to the written word or the articulation of space. The rational community seeks to channel noise, to filter out all noise that is not the crystal clear repetition of the same. It designates background noise as irrational static or a mass of irrelevant information.
There is, however, another entry into communication, based on the recognition of the immense noise, the vibrations of intensity that issue forth from the singularity of the other who speaks. To communicate in this sense is to hear "the noise in the message", the excess that escapes rational discourse. Inbetween the words, in the material sound itself, in the face that speaks, exists another, more profound communication.
What is said is meaningless. The medium is not the message: the message is the message and only that. To hear is no longer a question of understanding what was said but of listening to the materiality of words, the infinitely discernible fragments that empirical knowledge reveals. To speak, then, is to expose oneself to the other. The other, who faces me in a relation of absolute heterogeneity, the other who is not interchangeable with me. To communicate is not to determine the boundaries of the one who speaks or the words said but to hear the boundless horizon of noise.
In these terms, communication serves no function. There is no exchange of information from point A to point B. It is merely an ejaculation, a cry, a burst of laughter, a discharge of excess force. While the rational machine depersonalizes, empties out an individual and replaces singularity with universal abstractions, under the new definition of communication proposed above, I cannot differentiate the message from the intensity of noise vibrating through me. I can never have any real knowledge of what you are saying but I feel your presence, and, as in death, I am haunted by your absence.
1. Guattari, F. and Negri, T., Communists Like Us: New Spaces of Liberty, New Lines of Alliance, trans. Michael Ryan, Semiotext(e), Columbia Uni, 1990.
2. Lingis, A, Deathbound Subjectivity, Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1989.
3. Lingis, A, The Community Of Those Who Have Nothing In Common, Indiana University Press, Bloomington & Indianapolis, 1994.
4. Attali, J., Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brain Massumi, Uni of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1985.
Mongrel Arts Sez yabetchafucknescy we've got afuckenripper of ahhh culturality happenin in our Sunburnt Funtry mate.
Underneath that stylish exterior there exists a cultural conscience of the highest order. Yes artists have risen from the sick bed of the cultural cringe and are now seeking therapy, through hybrid catharsis. Australia may be far-flung but is a highly absorbent country due to the fact that other nation's secrete deposits of their cultural identities on our shores, two years past the use by date. However, what may be someone else's trash becomes another's treasure. Australian artists are renowned for their recycling abilities. We take the abundance of incoming information and reshape it into artforms that far surpass the originals. Through this delicate inversion process, Australian artists have created a melange of creative genius coming out on top, on many occasions in the international art arena.
If we look into the performance world, we will find it is relatively small and yet highly potent. Australian performers are vastly experimental in their approach to theatre, taking into account the sometimes harsh environment, the material being presented has a unique rawness about it which creates a lively impact on its audiences. Modern outside influences can however be seen, with reference to such groups as Welfare State (U.K.), Survival Research Laboratories (U.S.), Dog Troupe (Holland) and Circus Archos (France), to name a few in the more experimental style.
In the early 70's, Australian theatre took a sharp turn in existentialism with a Melbourne based group "The Pram Factory" setting up an open minded approach to theatrical invention, through the many art attacks on the city and around the clock performances of improvised or rehearsed plays by contemporary Australian Playwrights.
In general, Australia in the 70's and 80's had its 'creative' mind in our colonial past, seemingly only interested in dredging up stories of cowboys rounding up horses and heroes being killed in war. Because of this, alternative theatre was so far on the fringe that no-one could see it.Ironically some of the most creative minds come from the most sterile environment, Canberra the nation's capital. The negative points of Canberra's culture interestingly leads to its artistic strengths. The large and faceless middleclass and the political factor encourages a strong intellectual and artistic undercurrent. The mid eighties in Canberra saw a rise in avant performance groups, keen on exploring cross art form diversity. Out of this environment groups such as The Doug Anthony Allstars and Splinters fell into fruition. The funding bodies were slow to recognise the potential of these groups The Doug Anthony Allstars being a much more compact and tangible unit were able to reach international recognition without funding support. Splinters, a much larger group with a more hybrid style of performance, found it difficult at first to catch the attention of funding bodies who were at the time more interested in mainstream pap. As with a lot of art that sits on the fringe, when it becomes popular two things happen, either in its popularity it becomes stale or in trying to get better funding has to assimilate and compromise some of its fringe credibility. Though this is still the case now, the soaring popularity of alternative culture has allowed contemporaries of these groups to find an environment in which they can prosper. Groups such as Snuff Puppets(Vic), Tri Clops International(N.S.W.), Post Arivalists(N.S.W.), Stalker, Theatre of Hell(Vic)and Odd Productions(Vic), are now recieving credit.
Theatre of Hell are an example of recycling pop culture. Their shows could be called "Trash Pantomime" in the sense that they often use kitsch imagery, tossed with ear-piercing sounds and crass, grotesque costumes, making a joke of serious artists and serious culture in general. A valid point, being that "pop " art and music was a reaction to the serious mainstream in the first place, just nowadays the spectrum for recycling is much broader. Starting off in Australia, they toured throughout Europe in the early 90's, discovering in general that the European community treated its alternative artists with respect, more so than in Australia. Because of the long history of art in Europe it is more respectable to be an artist than in many other countries. Theatre of Hell are about to relocate to San Francisco to vent their sense of humour there, watch out.
Odd is an interesting example. Odd liken themselves to the analogy of The Mongrel Dog ". Mongrel Arts ?
like alot of dogs jumped the fence to rut on it's mother and it's mother's mother and mother's mother's mother and it looks kinda weird but it's still a dog..........."
They define themselves according to situations arising , enabling them to traverse parameters existing for more solidly defined groups. Odd believes in exposing the backbone of any creative process as part of a performance. Painters, Sculptures, Musicians, Technofiles and Performers working to promote their individual pieces as one. When walking into an Odd production one will be confronted on all fronts with attacks both visually and aurally. By the time you get sucked into the music before you, a performance will be brewing just behind. Odd creates environments in which varying artforms can be best viewed, using dynamic forms such as live welded scultures and chainsaw carving, tossed with performance and music. The idea is to create a sensory overload in which an audience get swept in to the occasion blurring the lines between watcher and watched.
However, they do not limit themselves to these styles alone. As a production company Odd acts as an umbrella allowing individuals or smaller collectives within the organisation to create succinct performances.
A group who have just risen, started by students from the Art school in Canberra, work in guerilla art attacks. They don't have a title, they name themselves per each performance. Attracting artists from everywhere they have no particular style apart from a confrontational one. They find a abandoned building in a particular city, squat there the week prior to the show and set up their various installations. They hold their exhibition over two nights and then disappear. They like to let the building and the atmosphere dictate the themes worked with. For example, a proposed show in Sydney was to be in an asylum and called "brain wash". A show last year, set up with installations focused around a dead horse, attracted front page media attention, with calls of satanists and black magic rituals. It caused so much attention that parliament picked up the issue as a case of media blowout as none of the media had bothered to talk to any of the artists involved. With their second show they approached the media first, but received the same reaction. All this served to do was to gain them national attention, and for a television station to film a documentary on them. This brings up the question:" is all publicity good publicity?" Yes, nowadays the media must be used, manipulated and twisted for our own benefit, for this is the way into the future.
In the future broad based artistic groups with a more solid stance will lead the way. The usually tunnel visioned audience is slowly searching for greater diversity in what they wish to see. Picking through the mismatch of the global media, artists of the future will become more and more glorified recyclers.
Flopsam and Jetsam