Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Interview with Genesis P-Orridge, by Daniel Fuller Implosion Magazine Issue # 9; 1998
A friend had warned me of Genesis P-Orridge: "Be careful -he seems really out there."
I began to imagine the dimensions of the musician's personality: A beyond~aded cynic, perhaps? The perceived alien of greater or lesser intelligence? The psychotic, on-heavy-duty-acid persona derived from his music and writings? I wasn't sure what to expect.
Ironically, my first insight into the mind of one Genesis P-Orridge was offered by an answering machine message: "Hi, Dan. It's Genesis calling. You are supposed to interview me in about one hour. OK, I'll be here . . . bye."
Something seemed bit skewed. Setting up musician interviews is less a science, more an art. No matter how many times you confirm the interview with the band's management or publicist, odds are about 50/50 that the "artist" in question will be waiting by the phone.
So either Genesis was impatient as hell and just wanting to get this damn media inquest over with, or he really wanted to talk. Fortunately for me, it was the latter.
As the founding member of the bands Throbbing Gristle - generally considered the pioneer of industrial music - and Psychic TV, Genesis P-Orridge has spent the last 25-plus years paving his own surrealistic road. All along, he's been working with other pioneering musicians such as Pigface, cEvin Key and Merzbow, as well as the highly influential beat writers William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin.
Genesis was not only talkative but also animated and sincere. Even though Genesis may be in a constant transitional state, he spoke calmly and amiably. This was, I believed, the real Genesis P-Orridge, as opposed to the various personae he is fond of creating. His personae seem to hinge on genderless characters -usually male/female hybrids - who explore the sexual and social possibilities of such a make-up.
One such recent persona is Eva Adolph Brown Hitler, whom Genesis described as "the video mistress of ceremonies" for the current U.S. Pigface tour. "I was talking to [Pigface organizer] Martin [Atkins] on the phone, and he said it would be nice to have me introducing all the bands every evening," Genesis explained. "But, obviously, I didn't want to just sit on a bus and go all the way around, only just doing that."
Genesis created the character and used her/him in a videotaped segment. Thus, at every stop on the Pigface tour, Eva Adolph Brown. Hitler gives the intro onto a projection screen. "The story is, Eva Brown [Adolph Hitler's wife] was killed in Berlin, but Hitler escaped to Chicago and has been living the past 53 years in the boiler room of the Invisible Records building. The shock of the war and everything else has sent him completely insane. . . even more. He's gradually become Eva Brown. So he's now living as a transsexual Eva Brown. But because of his obsession with his mustache, that's the one thing he's kept."
On "High," the second CD of the newest Pigface album, A New High in Low (Invisible Records), Genesis contributed vocals and lyrics to "The Howler" Parts 1 and 2, which measure 30 and 19 minutes, respectively. The tracks represent a modus operandi that Genesis has spent years refining: working on a project without being in the studio at the same time or even at the same location as the rest of the participants.
"Martin and I did the whole second CD together," Genesis said. "He wrote a piece of sort of ambient music with him drumming and then sent me the cassette and asked me to write some kind of story to go 'vith it."
the process of manipulating someone else's pre-recorded tracks (or vice-'ersa) and adding parts that would have )nly come from this unique technique is ~omething Genesis said he has always ,een attracted to. "I like the idea of supply-ng myself as raw material and then letting )-omeone who I respect as a musician take :hat and build something I would have ~ever guessed or considered doing," he ,-aid. "The sharing of imagination by work-ng with different people - by collaborat-ng has always been a theme in what I ~o. I've always found it much more inter-,Csting to see what happens when two peo-)le or more get together and something is reated that could only happen because of :he sum total of all their skills and ideas omed together."
This approach also allows Genesis to participate in a dizzying array of projects, lending himself to creative and production approaches that otherwise may not have turned up. Take, for instance, his work with cEvin Key (of Skinny Puppy, Doubting Thomas and Download) on the project Music for Cats. As Genesis explained, there is good reason why the vocals on the three tracks he contributed sound as if they were filtered to emulate a lo4i telephone line. "He [Key] rang me from Vancouver and set up the studio, and then I rang back and did the vocals through the telephone onto tape. And then he could cut them up and rearrange them and use them however he wanted."
In addition, Genesis recently recorded 40 minutes ot spoken word and vocals on a DAT and mailed it to Merzbow in Japan. Merzbow a noise artist who takes Throbbing Gristle's use of feedback and distortion to new levels plans to use the Genesis DAT as a sound source for vocals on his next CD. The act of participating in a musical effort without even meeting the other artists (or, in this case, as Genesis confessed, without even ever hearing them before) is exciting to Genesis because the other artists can use phrases or entire sections of his vocals, however they want. Or they can "completely mangle it," he said. The contributing artist is left out of the decision loop, and the finished product is unique to that set up. For another project, this one headed up by French band Etant Donnes, Genesis - along with Lydia Lunch and Alan Vega (of seminal synth-damage band Suicide) is sending tapes to France to be assimilated into the mix.
genesis is working on a new vehicle that takes up where his last -- the political/philosophical-bent Psycic TV left off. Though Psychic TV which broadcast from 1982 to the '90s, is no more ("that mission is terminated", Genesis said), his new, yet unnamed project, which also includes Alex Furgussion of Psychc TV, has a more technology-based philosophy based on Genesis's newest persona, which he calls "Her Majesty."
Genesis described this new character as a "genderless creature," neither male nor female, not drag queen or king. As he explained, Her Majesty -- the character and the music project -- is on the de-materialization of human identity and how our physical being is perceived by the outside world. "For the first time, with cosmetic surgery or, for example, cloning, we don't have to have in any way the body in which our DNA has dictated," he said. "So it's a first time in history that our species can refuse the shape -- the evolutionary body shape our DNA has given us. Which is a very significant thing. I don't think anyone really knows what that might to yet. So Her Majesty is representing all the future possibilities of what might happen when we completely and utterly rebuild the body and even add extra bits."
Those future possibilities -- specifically cloning -- hold a great interest to Genesis. "I think it's a fantastically exciting thing," he said. "I am in favor of cioning because I think one of the reasons that society is being locked in such a negative loop for so long is that ultimately, sexuality is linked with replication, and that means that -- governments and religions -- larger ones -- have a vested interest in interfering in sexuality because they want to have some kind of control over the resource of how many people there are and what kind."
A common fear of cloning might be that the technique could be used to develop a race of super-humans that perhaps Hitler would have endorsed, but Genesis ignores such trepidation and rave of other possibilities. "I don't think that anyone is really interested in 'perfect people,' because it's such a subjective concept. I think how it is really going to come into its own is actually for space travel. l don't think it's practical to send lots of little frail human bodies in big metal tubes, for hundreds of years, to get to another planet. But what would be feasible would be to send a big metal tube with lots of cloned people in it, but still in test-tube stage, with some kind of timing mechanism to start the breeding process in time for them to arrive somewhere."
The stuff of science fiction? Or of psychosis? Maybe. Whichever it is, the late-40-something Genesis has apparently spent a bit of time thinking about it, because his tone was so enthusiastic that we might as well have been talking about his favorite food or beverage. Genesis's articulate manner gives a possible insight into his habit of generating personae -- maybe they allow what is inside him to be expelled out.
through the cloning discussion, Genesis's association with the late beat writer William S. Burroughs became quite apparent. Burroughs's themes -- when not based on his sexual experiences with young boys or the torments of being a junkie -- explore human kind's inherent self-destruction through the use of nuclear weapons and the mixed-blessing technology brings. Genesis and the author forged afnendship that dates back to 1971 and continued until Burroughs's death in August of last year. At first, Burroughs merely encouraged Genesis to take his artistic vision and apply it as he saw fit, Genesis said. "He was always incredibly inspiring and incredibly charming . . . very dry and witty, but a real gentleman."
Though there was a definite age gap when they met -- Genesis was in his early 20s while Burroughs was in his mid-5Os -- Genesis felt a sense of respect by the famous writer and said he always struggled to stay focused when around him. "I was a little bit intimidated and in awe, even after I'd known him for 20 years. . . . He didn't waste any words, he didn't waste any ideas and he didn't suffer fools gladly. You were always on your best behavior and always trying to keep your brain very efficient and clear, because he was."
Burroughs's inspiration also affected Genesis's writing. "People forget that I began as a writer," Genesis said. "I started writing for magazines in earnest in about 1963. So, in terms of my own absolute pleasure in life, I still love words. I love what happens with words; I love when you rearrange them, when you separate them from everyday meanings."
Genesis said he is currently writing a book that is so far called Breaking Sex. Its topic? "What happens when we no longer need to associate sex in any way whatsoever with biological reproduction."
In another writing project, the short story, "Howler," (published in the January/February '98 issue of Cups magazine) Genesis expounded upon the lyrics he wrote for the new Pigface CD. A sexually freaked psychedelic tale, "Howler" displays visceral character descriptions and detailed sexual atmospheres and moods.
the cut-up -- a technique pioneered by Burroughs and Gysin that involves literally cutting a phrase, sentence, paragraph or melody up into pieces, then rearranging them in an almost random sequence -- is a stylistic element that has been present in Genesis's music and writing since the beginning. His recent tape-trading collaborations can be viewed as an extension of the cut-up, but his early efforts with Throbbing Gristle made a more literal use of the device.
Another element Genesis said Burroughs and Gysin taught him was bringing multiple media together to create something new. "They also introduced me to the idea of including film with serious writing and trance music, and blending them in new ways, experimental ways, again to see what happens."
Coupled with some needed encouragement, Burroughs's words helped bring out the visions Genesis saw as young artist. "It was a real confirmation to have somebody of that stature encourage me and tell me what I was doing did matter and that I was not insane. And even though the rest of the world was confused by me -- or even trying to victimize me culturally and socially -- that was just part of the package."
Years later, Genesis was allowed a unique opportunity to release some of Burroughs's and Gysin's original audio experiments with the cut-up. "[We] were kindly allowed to go through William's archives and index every single tape he still had. He had all these shoe boxes full of cassette tapes and things" some forgotten since the early 'SOs. The fruit of that labor, Nothing Here Now but the Recordings -- released as the final recording on Throbbing Gristle's self-run label, Industrial Records, as "#1R00016" was a compilation of those early Burroughs/Gysin tape recorder experiments.
the beat-influenced music produced by Genesis and Throbbing Gristle left a sonic imprint on popular and under ground music. From 1975-'82, Throbbir Gristle, which also included Peter Christo pherson, Chris Carter and Cosey Fann Tutti, produced a form of music that was viewed as extreme, even as the roar and outrage of the mid-'70s punk explosion were erupting. Using socialist political theology as a starting point for its lyrics ar group philosophy, Throbbing Gristle's music probably scared and confused their early audiences, even the ones enthralled by the punk-rock snarl of the Sex Pistols. Often described as "rhythmic noise," Throbbing Gristle layered Genesis' spoken word and half-sung dialogues over synthesizers, screaming white noise, feedback, distortion, machine rhythms and early computer-based samples. For the most part, the effect was that of a free-form sound collage, though Throbbing Gristie did make occasional excursions into the pop-song form. Assume Power Focus (Hollows Hill Sound Recordings/Triple X) -- a recently released compilation of early Throbbing Gristle recordings - provide.' an accurate portal into this historic period.
Looking back at his experiences witt Throbbing Gristle, Genesis said he amazed at the impact the music made or him and on industrial music as a genre "I think, with Throbbing Gristle, we recog nized something inevitable and then did it And now I look back in hindsight, all these 23 years later, and I realize that we also, ir a way, invented or mutated or evolved an industrial music about production. So instead of being in the cotton fields singing . . . and the music being about that environment, it was about factories and urban cities and decay and post-war cynicism and nihilism and also exploration, in terms of the technology that was becoming available. I'm very proud of that."
He added that the mere fact of going into a record shop and seeing "industrial" listed as a style of music, next to rock, rap or jazz, is mind-blowing. "Very few people now could imagine a world where there weren't industrial music sections in record shops. And yet the fact is that, 23 years ago, nobody called any music 'industrial' except us.
"Some [people] just observe and comment, some people are happy to just be the audience, and some people are compelled from some strange, unknown reason, to actually try and execute and make it happen and manifest the dream," Genesis said. "Originally, we were manifesting a dream."
in director Joe Christ's film, Sex, Blood & Mutilation (1995), a self-described blood-fetish film, Genesis appears in scenes that include his girlfriend slashing his back with a razor, twisting his penis and -- in a scene that never made it into the film because of a camera malfunction -- vomiting a mixture of Gatorade, buttermilk and chunks of fluorescent crayons all over him. All in a day's work? When I asked Genesis about the film, the topic didn't even phase him.
"That was just an afternoon's light amusement. That wasn't really any big deal. I was already in New York anyway visiting a friend, and he [Christ] rang up and just said, 'Would you do something for this little video I'm doing?' and I just said, 'Yeah, sure.' A mild amusement to fill up an afternoon one day in New York."
As the hour-long interview came to a conclusion, Genesis seemed truly appreciative that someone - especially a struggling young writer - would take time out of their day to discuss his work and try and catch a glimpse into his world. In some way, I felt that, even though Genesis was availing himself to the media to promote his latest work and the re-release of Assume Power Focus, he was also encouraging me to continue with my writing just as Burroughs had done for him decades earlier. Or perhaps, it was yet another of his personae at work.
Article from Implosion Magazine Issue 9