We set up an old tape recorder on the kitchen table where many a dinner soiree was held over his New York years and hit record. Each of us took turns listening through headphones live to the noise and interference going down on analog tape as it slowly turned. After half an hour we played the “results” back, intently noting the slightest sonic detail. Like good, objective, laboratory researchers we made notes, both on paper and recorded onto a cassette with the Sony Walkman I had with me. It was almost a parody of an autopsy on TV Final report from the Bunker? Nothing! Oh, how we hoped for evidence, but we got just the expected hiss and short-wave Twilight Zone type sounds. Regardless—and Crowley was fastidious in reminding the initiate of this—we did not fall into the trap of “lust of result.” Sometimes only one phenomenon occurs to vindicate a theory, sometimes things seem unrepeatable. In terms of this text, what is significant is that Burroughs truly believed in the possibility of communication with the soul after physical death, long before he went public with that in Last Words.
As a footnote to this experiment an extra event is worthy of mention. During 1985, Psychic TV were recording a song about the deceased/murdered founder of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, called “Godstar.” Still fascinated by the Raudive book and Burroughs’ dogged exploration of its technique as a magical tool, I arbitrarily, on impulse, told Ken Thomas (my co-producer and creative engineer) to leave track 23 of the 24-track analog tape empty. After all the elements of the song were recorded in the traditional multi-track way I instructed him to re-run the master tape with every track muted except track
23. This track was to be on record, but with absolutely NO form of microphone or even a crystal receiver plugged in, simply a tape running through a deck with no scientific means of recording on one track. Ken seemed to think this was both illogical and “a bit spooky,” but to his credit, he went ahead and did as I asked anyway. When we played back the previously virgin, pristine and blank track 23, much to our amazement, we heard a metallic knocking at a few points! We replayed and replayed the track, it was definitely there and had certainly appeared during our “token” Raudive/Burroughs experiment; yet it seemed random, and was not a “voice.” Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity and suggested Ken replay the track with the vocals of the lyric and some basic elements of the music added in the mix. The knocking sounds came very precisely under a sequence of words in the exact phrasing and position of the following, “…I wish I was with you now, I wish I could tell you somehow…” (Later I would change the
lyric to “I wish I could save you somehow.”) If I am truly frank, I took this as a sign of approval of the song and its message, which is that Brian Jones was murdered and received a callous treatment at the hands of the media during his last days. He became, for myself and many other fans of his iconography, a scapegoat in the essential magical and sacred way. Sacrificed, at the very least, by ignorance and greed to the consumer and materialistic machine of linear reality. It is worth noting that at the time we were taping the song the consensus opinion, and official coroner’s verdict was “death by misadventure” with a lot of media hinting that he either drowned during an asthma attack, or he was so high on drugs that, despite being an athletic swimmer, he drowned right in front of his current girlfriend and guests. Our “magical” message tended to imply there was more to the story and eventually, during the 1990s, a builder Jones had hired, Frank Thorogood, confessed on his deathbed to murdering Brian Jones by holding him under water. Whatever you may choose to believe, it certainly appears to me that there are ways to make contact with realms considered Other via the most simple of tape recording devices.
A “magick square” glyph utilizing the name “Gen” inscribed in a copy of his groundbreaking novel “The Process” by Brion Gysin during a visit to the author’s home in London 1981. From the collection of Genesis P-Orridge
Burroughs, and Gysin, both told me something that resonated with me for the rest of my life so far. They pointed out that alchemists always used the most modern equipment and mathematics, the most precise science of their day. Thus, in order to be an effective and practicing magician in contemporary times one must utilize the most practical and cutting-edge technology and theories of the era. In our case, it meant cassette recorders, Dream Machines and flicker, Polaroid cameras, Xeroxes, E-prime and, at the moment of writing this text, laptops, psychedelics, videos, DVDs and the World Wide Web. Please note that earlier we discussed the possibility that the universe is a holographic web constructed of infinite intersections of frequencies (of truth). Basically, everything that is capable of recording and/or representing “reality” is a magical tool just as much as it is a weapon of control.
Burroughs, and Gysin, both told me something that resonated with me for the rest of my life: They pointed out that alchemists always used the most modern equipment and mathematics, the most precise science of their day.
The first question Brion Gysin asked me, in Paris in 1980 was “Do you know your real name?” I replied, yes, (assuming it was Genesis and not my given name Neil) and then inquired as casually as I could, “Tell me about magick?”
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Brion Gysin in Paris, 1980. Photo Peter Christopherson
Brion Gysin was born in Taplow, England in 1916, but indicative of the unspecific density of his visitation on earth, (and I use the word “visitation” because until his dying day in 1986, Brion insisted that in being born human he was “delivered here by mistake”) his conviction of mislocation, and with it a disruption of a different, perhaps parallel, dimensional existence, fueled his remarkably deep sense of irony and Otherness and was a central quality of his body of magical artistic work. Gysin was a transmediator, a 20th century renaissance man, a multi-media explorer and innovator. Innately disciplined, he would continually paint and draw, extending his calligraphic journeys into what Burroughs would describe as “…painting from the viewpoint of timeless space.”
During my conversations on magick with Burroughs during the 1970s it became more and more clear to me that Gysin was pivotal in the history of the magical unfolding and the techniques of cultural alchemy that had drawn me to his Beat oeuvre and from thence, I desired to make direct contact. During my conversations on magick with Gysin, the cassette tape-recorder that I had with me was tolerated only on the condition that certain key teachings were spoken whilst the tape was switched off. As he presented it quite plainly to me, “Magick is passed on by the touching of hands.” In other words, certain ideas and methods are handed-down master to student, one on one, directly in each other’s physical presence. This agreement has been honored ever since, and remains so. Nevertheless, just to have confirmation from him that it was indeed true that his work was contemporary magick, not simply artistic or literary experimentation was a great solace and gave me determination in my personal path.
It was Gysin who first recognized the potential of cut-ups as a means to update and upgrade writing and art, and as a contemporary application of magick. In collaboration with Ian Sommerville and Burroughs he discovered and made cheaply accessible, the Dream Machine; “the first artwork to be looked at with eyes closed,” the story of, and implications of, which are marvelously catalogued in John Geiger’s book The Chapel Of Extreme Experience. In that book for the first time, out of a kaleidoscopic cyclone, a blizzard of revolutionary scientific information and ultra-visionary creation, we are exposed to an incredibly significant creative and conceptual
exploration of consciousness via “flicker.” In terms of possibility, both Burroughs and Gysin would often quote Hassan I Sabbah, the “old man of the mountains,” who from his fortress in Alamut, Iran was rumored to have controlled, using brutal assassins, a huge swathe of ancient Arab civilization. His motto, “Nothing is True, Everything Is Permitted” recurs over and over, especially in Burroughs’ books. It is not so far from the Thelemic precept, “Do What Thou Wilt is The Whole of the Law,” a theoretical connection that Burroughs appeared to acknowledge towards the end of his life.
Gysin spent 23 years living in Morocco. During that time he ran a restaurant called 1001 Nights and would invite a group called The Master Musicians of Jajouka to play music for the guests as the entertainment. He told the story, more than once, of how that business crumbled after he found a magick spell “…an amulet of sorts, a rather elaborate one with seeds, pebbles, shards of broken mirror, seven of each, and a little package in which there was a piece of writing … which appealed to the devils of fire to take Brion away from this house.” Very shortly after this discovery, he lost the restaurant and ultimately returned to Paris. On one of my first visits to Paris to meet with Gysin I was blessed with a special evening. After looking into the Dream Machine for a couple of hours, Bachir Attar, then the son of the Master Musician of Jajouka
—he is now the Master Musician himself after his father’s death—and his brother, cooked me a ceremonial meal. During the feast Bachir played flute music that he told me raised the Djinn, the little people, and the spirits who would bestow great fortune upon the listener. Despite the friction of the era when the restaurant was lost, a very powerful magical bond remained between the ancient system of magick and the most contemporary of elaborations represented by Gysin.
Night Of The Feast Marrakech, watercolor on old paper (paper circa 1810) by Brion Gysin 1967. From the collection of Miss Jackie Breyer P-Orridge
Calligraphic magick squares were one of the techniques most commonly applied by Gysin. He would reduce a name or an idea to a “glyph” and then
write across the paper from right to left, turn the paper and do the same again, and so on, turning the paper around and around to create a multi-dimensional grid. Gysin believed this “scaffolding” allowed the Djinn to run with the intention of “exercising control of matter and knowing space.”2 The same techniques and consciously driven functional intention also permeated his paintings. In a very real sense, everything he created was an act of sorcery.
Brion Gysin stares into a Dream Machine circa the “Beat Hotel” era (1957-63) using flicker to travel outside any constraints of time or space. From the collection of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
William S. Burroughs described the central difference of Gysin’s painting as follows:
“All art is magical in origin … intended to produce very definite results. Art is functional; it is intended to make things happen. Take porcelain stove, disconnect it and put it in your living room, it may be a good-looking corpse, but it isn’t functional anymore.
Writing and painting were done in cave paintings to ensure good hunting. The painting of Brion Gysin deals directly with the magical roots of art. His paintings are designed to produce in the viewer the timeless ever-changing world of magic caught in the painter’s brush. His paintings may be called space art. Time is seen spatially as a series of images or fragments images past, present, or future.”
Gysin felt trapped and oppressed by materiality, but optimistically searched for techniques to shortcircuit control and expectation. He accepted nothing as fixed and permanent, reducing the most intimidating formulae of language to animated permutations that become portals of behavioral liberation. If, as we have seen, the Universe consists of interlaced frequencies, that pulse and resonate at various interconnected rhythms, then his search was for a future beat that would liberate the body and mind from all forms of linearity. Each magick square is essentially holographic, suffused with a directed unity. Intertwined in his grids as confirmation and illustration of the magical ideas proposed are examples of routines, exercises with words, and densely cut-up texts. What we observe is a complex, deeply serious mind, an occultural alchemist, camouflaged by passionate humor.
In Gysin’s works and writings we are blessed with a perfect example of the storyteller teacher. A practiced, post-technological shamanic guide to the mind, providing exercises, navigational tools and data to assist us in the essential process for magical survival and for the exploration of this strange place in which we unfold our physical existence(s). A domain we call earth, society and life but rarely call into fundamental question. Rationality and materiality have generated a depth of inertia so profound that it could destroy our potential as a species to survive or evolve. All the more reason to re- appraise and study, as magical masters, the instructive works of Burroughs and Gysin as we traverse the 21st century. As science confirms the revelation of this space time neurosphere to be an holographic universe, I have no doubt that Burroughs and Gysin, redefined as occultural alchemists and practicing magicians, are destined for an accelerating appreciation for the seminal influence of their cultural engineering experiments.
View From Peggy Guggenheim’s Window In Venice, watercolor on paper by Brion Gysin 1959. Gysin informed the author that this picture was a rendering of the light flashing on the water at dawn. Created in the magick square formula. The original is actually in shades of pink through to white and utterly breathtaking. It also demonstrates how what seems abstracted at first is actually an image of “what is really there” in the same way cut-ups reveal “what it really says.” From the collection of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
Marrakech Market In The Daytime, watercolor on paper by Brion Gysin (undated). From the collection of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
There is an exquisite mastery of perception that these discoveries unfold. Both Gysin and Burroughs use a serial seduction of detail. Meaning is shattered and scattered to become a more accurate and truthful representation of this arbitrary plane we needlessly confine by using the word-prison “reality.” Consecutive events are subverted as we read, revealing the fragility and distortions that our conditioned senses filter out for simplicity of behavior and illusory reason. Nothing tends to remain as it seems, but becomes as it’s seen. Contradictory experience is portrayed as equally perceived, parallel images and thoughts. Mundanity is turned strange and disturbing.
“Abandon all rational thought”
Burroughs and Gysin, as master mackinaws, grasp the elasticity of reality and our right to control its unfolding as we see fit and prefer. They consolidate our right to active participation in the means of perception, and their proposal of the nature of consensus being is still quite revolutionary. As we navigate the warp and weft of biological existence and infinite states of consciousness,