A Pile of Books I Read in 2021

Some I didn’t finish, some I didn’t start, some I’m reading by proximity until I get on to turning pages, some keep getting started and left when something I want to read immediately comes along, some just take me forever to finish.

Semi-alphabetically and fiction first (and I’m very out of practice with writing about what I’m reading):

Ben Aaronovitch is the not-TERF white dude writing actually good magical fantasy set in London. Yah, the main character is a cop and my current rule is “don’t engage with new stories if they humanise the piggos,” but I’ve been reading the series since 2017 when Gala slipped me one. What Abigail Did Last Summer is more Young Adult or whatever it gets called but my reading level is, “This. This I can read.’ I have the upcoming one on order, and that’s how I am with Ben.

More sci-fi with Charlie Jane Anders, and Victories Greater the Death is her best ever? I think so. Not enjoying waiting for the sequel though. Am enjoying the thought of it turned into a live-action series (movie?) with Wakanda’s own Michael B. Jordan.

I have been thinking about how many white trans femme or trans women authors and writers are about at the moment, how much media attention they’re getting (good attention, especially in traditional media; not talking TERF attention here), and how on Twitter (’cos that’s where the writers congregate) there’s a heap of interaction and interlinking between white trans women. And I’m wondering where all the Indigenous, Black, Blak, Brown trans femme and trans women authors and writers are and why the ones I do know, Claire G. Coleman for example, don’t seem to be interacting or being spoken about in the same sentence much. I mean I think I know why, eh.

Akwaeke Emezi and Zeyn Joukhadar (both trans but not trans femme or trans woman) I somehow place in the same space as Claire. All three have had media attention, but I’m trying to be specific on the dissonance I notice. I see white trans femmes being grouped together, and interacting on Twit and other online media — and likely the algorithms amplifying this, and feel like all the others are somehow isolated or separate. Which is one part of it. The other part is these three write about and live in spirit worlds. I feel that’s very familiar to me, and part of why they appear to me solid, multi-dimensional, in full colour. Part of why I’m drawn to them — even when it’s scary, ’cos just reading of spirit worlds draws attention to me, wakes the spirit worlds I know.

I read Charlie Jane Anders because she’s writing sci-fi and I’ve read her for years since the early days of io9. There were a number of other very high-profile novels published by white trans femmes and trans women last year, which I have no desire to read. I don’t care for the stories being told (and in one case think the story is well dodgy), and don’t feel much affinity at all with the authors. And I’m actually concerned (though not surprised) that whiteness is playing a substantial factor in trans femmes and trans women having any kind of success as writers and authors.

That’s a whole fucking convo there, so I’ll move on.

Becky Chambers I have a relationship to I don’t understand. I don’t think I’m a huge fan, but there’s something about her novels I really enjoy reading. I don’t think too hard beyond that and I keep buying them.

Genevieve Cogman though. I did get a kick out of her Invisible Library series, but The Dark Archive is where I’m stepping off. It was the ending, where the previous Big Bad turned out to be a diminutive bad who might actually be on the good side (I dunno, it was months ago now), and the true(?) Big Bad was revealed. Bait and switch is not a narrative device I enjoy unless there’s a huge amount of prior work to make me care, and six novels in feels way too late for such a plot twist.

Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Phase wrapped up that massive universe (for the moment). He’s one of the two or three white cis dudes writing sci-fi I’ll read. It’s mainly because his space opera is so fucking epic. This one has a heap of his delicious weirdness he let loose in the Revenger trilogy, and being Reynolds, of course any celebration is swept away by the whole galaxy getting shafted a few hundred years after the end of this story.

Zeyn Joukhadar. If I was in my old days where I’d write a post per book and spew out hundreds of words, Zeyn would get extra. The Thirty Days of Night and The Map of Salt and Stars are my favourites of the year — and would be Books of the Year if I still did that — for personal reasons as well as he simply writes beautiful stories. And he’s queer and trans and Muslim and Arab, so duh highly unlikely I wouldn’t rate him.

Sliding from fiction to non-fiction, Massoud Hayoun’s When We Were Arabs covers some of the same ground as Zeyn Joukhadar, and reminded me of my father’s family, as well as a couple of moments which caused me to look very side eye at them and what ‘Turkish’ really means. Which is another stitch in the long, slow unravelling of family from that single sentence uttered over a decade ago, “That’s why your grandmother couldn’t stay, because the kitchen was not halal.”

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s As We Have Always Done comes from near the land I was born on and is probably the single most important book I read last year or last several years. Unlike a lot of the heavy politics I read, in books, in articles, on social networks, Simpson also describes ways out of the shithole mess colonialism and white supremacy have caused. I raved to everyone (pandemic everyone, that’s about 5 people) about this book more than once. That kind of book.

Audra Simpson’s Mohawk Interruptus, slightly further east from the other Simpson, I’m still reading. It’s one that got — haw haw — interrupted by other books. It’s one that I need to have the right attention for. Reading this together with the other Simpson is good, strong words.

Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages is another I’ve raved to everyone about. And I was reading it in 2020, slow reader, me. I’m including it here again because … because it’s probably my non-fiction Book of the Year, over As We Have Always Done, which is a tough call. Settlers and Europeans need to know the history which led to colonialism, white supremacy, invasion, genocide, ongoing occupation of stolen land (as well as cisgender heteronormative supremacy as both a tool of those above systems and actions, and conversely a separate system and action which used those above as tools, a kind of reciprocal system of shit, but that’s not so much a topic for this book). They need to know the long, deep roots of these systems which go back most of the last two thousand years — not as ‘proto-racism’ or ‘not really racism, more like xenophobia’ or whatever, but as actual, recognisable, functioning racism. Racism at encompassing and conscious institutional, political, religious, community levels, and at individual levels. Knowing better how this emerged and evolved in the European Middle Ages makes it possible to understand more clearly Renaissance, Enlightenment, Industrial, and 20th / 21st century colonialism and racism. And that in turn makes it possible for non-Indigenous people to read Simpson and understand deeply what she’s saying and what’s required.

A bit of astronomy and space science now. And racism. Shit’s inescapable like that.

Ray and Cilla Norris’ Emu Dreaming: An Introduction to Australian Aboriginal Astronomy is really an intro, more of a pamphlet I was reading to educate myself on Indigenous astronomy which turns up a lot in my novels. And you’d be surprised at how much has been written on the subject. And by ‘surprised’ I mean not at all, and by ‘much’ I mean really fuck all, and the stuff that has is either paywalled academic papers or insanely expensive academic books.

Ronald Greeley’s Introduction to Planetary Geomorphology turned out also to be very Intro and missing all the fun of the 2015 New Horizons Pluto flyby. I love me all things space science though, so I keep buying these books.

Chanda Prescod Weinstein’s The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred, is the one speaking about racism. Growing up Black and Jewish in East LA, going to Harvard, being queer and agender, these oppressions and marginalisations are inextricable. In my early-teens, I wanted to be an astronomer. Being a young, queer multiethnic trans femme back then — and so many of those words, their meanings, and how they were lived were not available back then — meant I failed out and dropped out of school way before that desire had a chance to bloom. Still love the stars though; still sad fuckall has changed in all the decades since.

What else?

I’m grouping these together: Tiffany M. Florvil’s Mobilizing Black Germany, Priyamvada Gopal’s Insurgent Empire, Johny Pitts’s Afropean, Asim Qureshi’s (ed.) I Refuse To Condemn. I haven’t finished any of these and at least one I’m unlikely to finish. They’re all important books. I really want to be enthusiastic about reading them. I’m just struggling with reading heavy shit (and there’s no way this stuff is not heavy) after two years of a fucking appallingly politicised and mismanaged pandemic response.

I’d almost put Adonia Lugo’s Bicycle / Race in with those. Maybe because I’ve been involved with racism and transphobia in professional / competitive cycling, as well a being very opinionated about bikes, walking, and public transport as the primary method of getting around in cities, and the need to massively reduce if not outright ban private cars and vehicles (yeah, I’m a devout hoon who loves the smell of hot engines and the sound of a redlining engine and I said that), I read this with hope and a bit of joy. I would absolutely do lazy laps of a city with Adonia.

And then there’s a few others I’m not going to mention, but the covers are below. All kinds of feelings and thoughts about all of them. This is already 2000 words and I needed to stop long before now.

Black Metal and Emergent Behaviour

Last night, while at Dasniya’s simultaneous departure gathering / private watching of the documentary video of Die Geschichte vom Soldaten, a friend remarked on how she needs to explain to over-enthusiastic lefties, brought on by a somewhat moronic person wearing a Burzum t-shirt at a queer shindig, that no, her Sunn O))) hoodie does not connote a crypto-facism. Oh, black metal, the empty signifier of all that is deliciously, seductively other.

This morning, taking the day off after absence of weekend, The Physics arXiv Blog brings me Moshers, Heavy Metal and Emergent Behaviour, where a bunch of researchers find that a mosh pit resembles a disordered 2D ‘gas-like state’, and a circle pit an ordered 2D ‘vortex-like state’. Though I’ll be picky and say I associate pits more with punk and hardcore, and various forms of headbanging and ‘hail satan’ arms with metal (I suppose the bro-ism of American nu-metal (hmm, should that have an umlaut? nü-metal … probably a ‘k’ or ‘v’ somewhere also. NÜ MKTVL?) crosses over substantially though being primarily concerned with appropriating displays of aggrotainment). Nonetheless, we shall overlook the link to the A7*cough*nümktxvl*cough*X moshpit … oh god fucking Hatebreed?). Maybe to say their physics is good but music preferences … This winter, I are mostly listening to Striborg.

(Parenthetically, I put Bolt Thrower and Crass on Dasniya’s iPod, in-between Munir Bashir and her ballet class music.)

And while mooching around in the early afternoon, Black Metal Theory gave Guido Seger’s master’s thesis, A Blaze in the Northern Sky: Black metal as an expression of extremist politics in modern day Europe. Oh dear, back to aforementioned empty signifier.

I was thinking of Žižek’s Tarrying with the Negative, the cover is a flag with a circular hole cut at its centre, where the coat of arms with red communist star had resided; the flag of the anti-Ceauşescu revolution. The hole is an absence of the prior, yet not yet reified into the (sadly predictable) subsequent; Žižek describes it as “‘sublime’ in the strictest Kantian sense'”, an open void where the “symbol standing for the organizing principle of the national life” once lay. It is both an inchoate sign of opposition, and a convenient dumping ground; that is to say, whether we wave the flag or interpret it, this empty signifier is the ideal repository for all meaning; it is never full, nor, curiously, contradictory.

Guido says his thesis asks the question, “What does black metal tell us about the resurgence of nationalist politics and racial violence that emerges under pressure of the European Union and what is the underlying cause of these sentiments?” A pertinent question, and to be unfair, I’ve not read it yet, and this isn’t a commentary of his thesis. Rather I’m stringing together a few things from the last few days which have metal – specifically black metal – and neo-nazism in common.

“What does x tell us about n?”, where n is ‘plague of fucking nazis’  and x stands for the unknown quantity, an empty signifier. Why, specifically, black metal? What is fascinating, enchanting about it that, say, the nazi skinhead/punk scene isn’t? Both are established around an identification with a particular culture where music, bands, record labels, venues form the locations in space through which the protagonists move. Both also have clearly delineated visual codes, either overt or subtle; clothing, appearance, demeanour as pictograms or acronyms that are not legible to outsiders: an anarchist punk might have a Crass bum flap, while a nazi skinhead white laces in their steelcap boots. Both nazi skins and black metallers have engaged in arson; the latter of churches, the former of immigrant asylums.

Perhaps more germane is that irrespective of the culture, various forms of fascism, extremism, and bigotry reside latently within, and simultaneously the culture as a whole is always ripe for appropriation and acquisition by these forms. How these manifest, and how they are discerned from outside is perhaps a function of the theatrical and symbolic within the culture. And black metal has both in abundance.

Conversely, the further ‘right’ one goes, the greater the uncritical and unreconstructed flirtation with symbolism becomes (I would say that certain aspects of the ‘left’ are also prone to this, which is perhaps a symptomatic of how close they are to their supposed opposites), which goes hand-in-hand with a peculiar appropriation of symbolism rather different from the one that cut the hole in the flag.

Metal again. Christian metal this time. Stryper anyone? To Hell with the Devil illustrates for me horribly and enthrallingly these internal and external forms. Without their christianity, they would likely still be metallers, perhaps not as famous. Regardless, as much as they were manufactured, their ‘metalness’ is is genuine, in that they came from within the culture. Their ‘metalness’ is simultaneously false, the visual codes wrong; it looks right, but then it doesn’t, and the demeanour of the music similarly so.

Perhaps a better illustration – back to fucking nazis, and German ones at that – is a recent piece in Der Spiegel, YouTube Neo-Nazis: The Far Right Updates Its Online Image. Ignoring Spiegel’s usual sensationalism, and regarding solely the accompanying image, we see a group of burning torch-wielding, black-clad marchers wearing expressionless white masks. There’s a lot of acquisition of symbolism going on here. Aside from the tired cliché of burning torches and their history with nazis, romanticism, and 19th Century nationalism, the black is specifically appropriated from anarchist / antifascist, Black Block / Autonomism, while the masks copy a far more recent socio-political movement, Anonymous and V for Vendetta.

What’s striking and material is how it is unsettlingly wrong. The components somehow do not sit properly together. Perhaps also there is a sense it is too serious, lacking in humour, self-aware irony, or just a certain lightness. This, I think, demonstrates one part of what separates right extremism from the culture within which it seems to reside.

The second part is that contrary to the culture itself, the comparable nazi version always comes after. That is to say, whether it is punk, skin, metal, or any other genre and its associated culture, irrespective of any always already present and latent fascist tendencies, in no case have these emerged from a prior existing right wing or nationalist music; the nazification always comes after and always requires this sub-genre to build an ill-fitting appropriation of and affinity with the existing theatre and symbolism.

Black metal has perhaps become ideally suited for this at the moment, as the empty hole into which all fears are dumped. Nazi skins, however much they dominate the stereotype are just that, and their imagery is tired, as evinced by the pseudo-Anonymous Immortals, (Die Unsterblichen – sounds like a German Evanescence bland metal band) and similar attempts to remake the not-so-far right. In black metal our desire for a perfect right-extremist Other can be found, and does not all the symbolism, all the acts prove this? After all, is Burzum not the perfection of black metal in its entirety, made explicit? The propaganda of his deeds preceding the manifesto.

Perhaps too, there is a fear of the theatrical, the corpse paint, the hair and clothing; the peculiar, almost embarrassing obsession with satanism, paganism, and romanticism that disturb maleness in a way the hypermasculine of skinheads, or the anonymous normality of Die Unsterblichen doesn’t and can’t. And let’s be clear, even the queer left privileges certain masculinities over femininity, the former always more genuine, more real, less troubling than the latter.

Well yes, there is something inherently untrustworthy in black metal, exactly as there is in industrial music with their crypto-fascist costumery (Throbbing Gristle and Laibach are obvious examples), which slithered uneasily over into either genuine neo-nazism, or ‘taking it far too seriously with an absence of critical distance given the subject matter’ (Death in June), and the commensurate hysteria of the media, government and left groups in response.

There is also something entirely unsurprising that music and its surrounding culture can produce Crass or Wolves in the Throne Room on one side, and Skrewdriver or Burzum on the other. A more realistic attitude might be then to maintain a certain scepticism towards all music and its surrounding cultures; an expectation that all will always at some place devolve to result in a nationalist sub-genre, and indeed from even before the ur-genre always already have.

Which is a very unsatisfactory place to finish.

It might be worthwhile to note that black metal is not unproblematic within the right extremist, national socialist world either.

What still troubles me is why specifically black metal? Why over all other genres is the real and presumed neo-nazism such a site of critical importance? And why now? It’s not as though it’s new, Varg Vikernes and the original Norwegian black metal scene is 25 years in the past. It’s also abundantly clear if, for example, I say I like punk or ska I’m not talking about the nazi offspring of either, and there is no confusion – whether or not such an absolutist statement is true – that the former is to its core opposed to the latter. The obverse in respect to black metal, and metal more broadly is curiously also the case. To say, “I like black metal,” is to be held suspect, it requires of me an explanation that is never sufficient; there always lies suspicion that I’m going off to burn down a church, and light a burning swastika off the embers.

Admittedly I do this also. Hold black metal slightly suspect that is, not burn down churches, etc. Perhaps because the signifiers of National Socialist Black Metal are not so clear for me, in the way that, say nazi punk is. Though come on, Google NSBM, if the heavy-handed ‘Nordic’ symbolism doesn’t immediately give it away, the obvious band names or album titles will; that’s if there isn’t an swastika or some other silly neo-nazi sigil. As with Stryker there’s predominately some subtle or glaring identification which doesn’t allow much confusion. So despite the clarity of NSBM signifiers, guilt still spills out and accrues across not just black metal, but all metal.

Which still doesn’t address the questions, or come any closer to framing them coherently.

the n+2 dimensional space for n>1 — day 9

The last proper day of rehearsal, where we have the entire time to ourselves. Tomorrow we find our way through a couple of tech runs, make something of light and sound, and have an approximation of a dress rehearsal. Friday is dealing with the detritus of that and fixing whatever remains for the evening showing.

I spent some time on my own, working my way through Gala’s notes, trying to change things into something I can feel comfortable with, analysing each scene to define the changing relationship to the ropes, getting stuck once more on the only scene without ropes. It wasn’t until around 2 o’clock, schedules for the coming days written up, all the impedimenta between us and Friday evening accounted for, that we began rehearsing.

Yesterday in the last time before our first run-through, we played through a scene of tying each other together, which ends on the floor and somehow became tormenting each other, savaging nipples, lips, nostrils with pinching toes. We worked through this again, from my self-bondage (for some reason I think of Ophelia and Gertrude, or more precisely of what I imagine Daniel Schlusser’s recent performance looked like), to paired humiliation (which is really not the right work, it’s more of causing discomfort with rope), and through this scene of shame.

I’d found a video of Osada Steve tying Madame Butterfly, and this roughness, along with some videos we’ve watched a while ago of Japanese Shibari masters grunting and muttering as they tie fell into this scene today. It’s a little rough, also painful, and has sometimes for me a disturbing air about it.

Dasniya and I swapped roles in the final scene in darkness. Now she ties part of the room into an installation while I am outside untying the remaining ropes. She thought this scene should go for around half an hour or more, depending on the first half.

I find myself spending much time disentangling nests of ropes that are the leftovers from each scene and run-through, coiling, laying them in order … We began a run-through around 6 o’clock, this time taking 45 minutes. I’m not sure if we were much slower, or if all the scenes together now last that long, or if yesterday we were just fast with nerves. It’s a lot for only a few days rehearsing.

Questions of music remain. We’re using André Jolivet at the beginning, and some Ligeti also – both wind chamber music compositions. Throbbing Gristle also make an appearance. This is, along with lights, something for tomorrow to sort out. I find it difficult being on the inside to hear the music; it’s not like we are counting to it, so it rapidly leaves my attention. Everything is reducing to technical questions, transitions, where to go when so it works with what comes later, all the usual arrangements of objects in space over time. What it looks like by this time tomorrow is probably mostly what it will be for Friday.

einstürzende neubauten 30

Between U- and S-Bahn returning home, Dy said, “Why don’t you write about this? After all, it’s a performance and you write about performances.” I replied, somewhat evasively, “errr…”, something about it not really being my field of knowledge, and also blogging is a particular, spontaneous occurrence, and when I’m reviewing, I’m thinking during the performance what I’ll write. So finding the thought shoved in and having 45 minutes to kill, here is something of a review.

Not in any particular order.

It occurred to me now, Einstürzende Neubauten are one of very few groups from my teens that haven’t disappointed me when I’ve seen them years later. Perhaps because they’re not doing reunion tours for the money (though the merchandise sales of the first night of their 30th anniversary tour at Columbiadamm probably paid for half the tour), nor for some asinine ‘love of the music and performing’ vapidity which is either dissembling on the first or an excuse for moronic 12-bar riffing that tries to capture what worked for earlier ‘hits’. Not an exersise in sentimental nostalgia in other words.

The 16 year old punk-goth wannabe Psychik (Temple of ~ Youth) TV-erin would have slid over in uncontrollable rapture; I was thinking, “I’m in Berlin! … At Einstürzende Neubauten!! … With an after-party pass!!!” Had it been when I was 16, I suppose the party would have been slightly less sedentary, home-before-babysitter-charges-for-overtime, but I think much of the audience was experiencing bewilderment at how they came to be almost middle-aged anyway, and how Neubauten went from punk holocaust at the forefront of industrial music to avante-garde chamber orchestra sextet.

I wasn’t quite convinced by the first piece, only three on stage in dark suits, Blixa singing, “You will find me if you want me in the garden … unless it’s pouring down with rain”, looking much like a Vegas crooner, tumbler of something strong and neat in his right hand, (Dy said his glasses) and wow, didn’t he used to be skinny bones in a heroin habit kinda way?, Alexander Hacke in white singlet (the only not in a suit), tattoos and handlebar mustache, possibly Lemmy and Peter Hooke’s lovechild … and then …

Uh! Brilliant! Moments of fucking brilliance. I should have been up the front having my eardrums savaged. I’ve never seen such a carefully orchestrated performance from a group that nominally falls under the experimental music genus outside of classical. So well-rehearsed, and not in a ‘tight’ sense of technical accuracy, though there was that also; rather the sense of timing and coherence present as a sextet is something I’m more used to seeing in chamber music.

Blixa, not so much band leader as principal of the group and all so clearly paying attention to each other even in moments of catastrophic noise; an unconscious familiarity that comes from being together for so long. The control also – this is perhaps what the rawness of thirty years ago was exchanged for: a depth, sophistication and subtlety; understanding the effectiveness of an explosive staccato bar amidst tense restraint. Music that breathes.

The last record I remember having I think was the one with the horse pissing. In the meantime, Blixa (and others) got married and had a child, whom Dy tells me he sings about. Yes, Neubauten on the joys of parenthood. I kept thinking back to the video I saw of them, somehow it made its way from the north to New Zealand, me not really understanding what they were or what Berlin was, them with a Butoh group DaiRakudokan, Halber Mench, … one of my proto-influences in how I thought of making art and performance, and now, unlike most groups they haven’t gone too far into making ‘songs’ with recognisable verse-chorus-bridge structure, melody shortcut to boredom – for that alone, that their attention has stayed so close to what they were doing thirty years ago… I wonder also about seeing Throbbing Gristle, that other monster from my youth, that wave of industrial music which pushed the idea of avante-garde contemporary music so far and which for me is the descendant of Musique Concrète, Ligeti, Stockhausen and the other classical troublemakers.

The lighting – on a different thing now – was beautiful. A flat backdrop tinged with muted secondary and tertiary tones, winter light where the intensity of colour comes from the near-empty palette – how saturated in hue icefields can be be … and cut by stark, hard white spots, shafting across the stage to draw focus, and at times … a half-cut drum full of shining blunt metal tubes. The attention brought to it by removing the light, the backdrop darkly bare until in its absence focus could only accrue there. Then lit by a single source as the metal fell like snow, like hail.

Maybe in the third or fourth piece, a noise, so out of place, cutting through, snagging and tearing as it ascended, losing the ragged mess it dragged until becoming a sharp, hard scream. Blixa. I can’t convey its unhumanness, it should be something that strips flesh and it gives me goosebumps to remember. Like Diamanda Galas and her voice, I think if anything Blixa has gone far beyond what he had thirty years ago.

In their entirety I thought this also. While somewhat subdued – or maybe it’s just a memory of the suffering loudness of so many industrial shams who confused volume with composition, I’ve falsely attached to Neubauten – it’s obvious they’re not simply uncritically trawling through their old stuff. Met with their own artistic growth is that of the technology they’re working with … ah moments of utter, overpowering awe … sublime, intoxicating percussion (and synchronised dancing) … I thought, “If only dance could be this good”.

(I’m not sure if it’s just I’ve ruined my ears, or being far up the back, but the left side sounded a touch murky at times, particularly when the bass melody fell into the same rhythm as the bass percussion, it became difficult to separate the two. But that if it was really there and other mixing issues will probably have been sorted out by the second show.)

Anyway … Disobey Disobey Disobey It’s the Law (I heard ‘Break the Law”, Dy heard, ‘Discipline’.)

all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 14

Xuan said to me, over lunch, “I never dream I’m an …”, makes little creeping tendril extraterrestrial fingers, “alien …”, “Oh, no”, I say, “Alien like foreign, not …”, pointing at sky.

Yesterday I have a blood test at the doctor’s, for hormone levels. Three vials taken and three biscuits in return. I thought that was a great exchange. And alleviated my plummeting sugar levels too.

Now thinking of going to the markets. Eat maybe, sit in Cibo and let my brain fray on its own, entertaining itself while I get to be passenger for a while.

I’m feeling rather exuberant after rehearsal today, and commenced enjoying the kick I get out of apprehension, that maybe this time I couldn’t pull it all together in two hours, make the Alptraum scene respectable, do something with the Rape of the Sabine Women stuff we haven’t visited for weeks, and go from start to finish when we haven’t done that for some time either.

Everyone has been slightly delirious today, not just end of the week tired-silly, but that with the jump-up-and-say-yeah energy usually only visiting when sustained by exhaustion. I think this was the right enthusiasm to suddenly shuffle it all together and miraculously plop out a finished piece.

I said something like, “Can you do that, but with your heads facing that way … (points at back wall) so this is front … (points to side wall) even though I’m sitting at the corner … here …”. It possibly is as self-evidently stupid as it sounds, nonetheless…

We got through making sense of Alptraum and pulling it into something like a scene so quickly I thought the clock was going slow. And I love it, possibly my favourite scene in the entire thing, along with the geniunely creepy Throbbing Gristle, it has for me a believable nightmarish tinge. I get uncomfortable and twitchy, like I want to swim in this mess and also get far away.

Sabine Women though after all that work has been reduced to perhaps five berserk attacks and none of the accompanying phrases. I’d love to see this section done properly, ten minutes of hysterical rapacious clawing madness, and assembled in such a way that it was both visually coherent, and not perilous to do in the way it can easily be when there isn’t time to make it that. I’m sad this has become one of the deceased. Though admittedly it was one of the founding ideas for pestilence, so perhaps better it stays where it belongs, with plagues and insanity.

So, to running the whole thing.

Xuan says, “Sometimes I have rape fantasies …” Everyone stands there bewildered. Tara says, “What are we doing?” Daniel says, “This is a disaster”. We fumble through quite beautifully. I’ve never seen it all together, and never seen it knowing this is the thing it will be, minor adjustments aside (major ones also unless I’m taken by weird compulsion). I said to Xuan, “Oh, I have to change the script again”. She is perhaps thinking I’m doing this to torment her.

I was really touched by them all, doing this peculiar un-performance.

It’s only fifteen minutes too.

all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 13

So after last rehearsal, I was variously meant to watch all the video on Friday, but too busy with Melbourne stuff, then Saturday, but was alleviating incipient symptoms of a freakout by having Daniel pour half a bottle of Vodka into me (the word for missing out on Absinthe: disappointment), Sunday, but recovering from said alleviation through a prolonged stretch of doing nothing with Tara, Sandrine, Alex, Daniel, Alison and sundry others, Monday, but forgetting to bring in both video tape and “six-pin to four-pin FireWire cable for a DV camera”. So Tuesday when I only have an hour for lunch to do the requisite watching and editing, foiled by my often-mentioned In-Out-Error-corrupt-drive-Bad-Sector madness. Laptop equals frisbee.

It’s like an old person with Alzheimer’s, and you give them too much to think about … or a really bad ice-cream headache. My poor old laptop really doesn’t enjoy much more than simple lines of text these days, preferably not formatted either. Anyway do you really care about my excuses? No, neither do I. But sometimes this harried approach causes things to happen in much the same way as if I spent the previous four days picking and scraping at it with a small needle.

We are only using the first of three ten-minute improvisations that came from my nightmares and vivid dreams, and then maybe only a couple of minutes of bits and pieces, plane crashes, kissing and the white-headed monster, Japanese rope bondage. It was quite a lazy approach from me, read the dreams, improvise on their content while Throbbing Gristle blares, video, cut the good bits out, learn them, and then …

Occasionally in rehearsal, I manage to make myself really quite uncomfortable. I used to be, I suppose, wary of this, or would shy away from what I’d made. In blowup a short piece I made while still a student, there was what now I would consider very tame, lots of writhing and gyrating of girls in underwear to The Yardbirds. I was really concerned that perhaps I’d gone too far, and also that I was somehow opening up some lasciviousness within that would not be easy to account for.

In hell, the strangling, going so far as to see faces turn hideously red and eyes go black, I was so disturbed about what was within me that would want to imagine this, and make it, and ask others to participate in what, honestly when it comes down to it every piece of performance made in some way is your own personal fantasy.

Daniel and Tara … not so much kiss, but nuzzle each other’s heads, hair brushing over their face neck, arms and hands the skin also nestling sleepily into each other, Daniel’s fingers contort and search out Tara’s head, his mouth a toothy maw, she oblivious still fondling him, he is about to eat her brains. It’s like a midnight Hammer House of Horror demon movie, but also something personally disturbing for me, I’m not sure why. I like though that I can find things that make me cringe or recoil or upset me, and that I can stumble on them without knowing they are there.

I only have one properly usable rehearsal left, and I’m so far from having either something coherently finished, or – more importantly from a production opinion, less important for me – having suctioned it into an eight-minute vacuum-pack. I feel though that today’s rehearsal, concentrating solely on the Alptraum stuff was completely worth it, despite whatever anguish my lack of attention to schedules may later elicit. It feels now somewhat finished, that is to say, no more making, no more tiny scenes or ideas to play with, this is all and now the time is spent on stitching it together, what scrap or shard sits best next to what other, and how to arrange them all so there’s something there.

Slightly conceited to say it’s even somewhat finished. The Alptraum stuff need to be made to something not just disconnected blobs, the Rape of the Sabine Women hasn’t been exhumed for weeks, and I have a queasy premonition when it’s all done I’ll have something closer to twenty minutes than eight, no matter how much I plead, “Can you do it faster?”

But it feels like something now, I can recognise it. Also I think I may have managed to not reiterate all the tricks I’ve done before. It’s become what I imagined, even though I had no idea what that is. Or … it’s become something that the feeling of which is right, no gaps in the teeth, no clunks or moments of “eeeeew!”, though it still exists at that stage in my head and somehow I have to do an amazing contortion act tomorrow to get it there, and although it’s only meant to be a short work, and has variously appeared on two previous occasions, I’d somehow like to see it grow … hours of me me me.

I’m watching Tara and Danny, who have told me I have to dance to Britney, or mime her words, or something equally scary. It’s been almost two months here and somehow the performance season is dragged across most of October so there’s maybe another month to go, but I’m going to miss this strange little family.

all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 11 & 12

It was Throbbing Gristle. Though I need to go into town and try and find a record shop in this town of superlatively bad shopping that has Mission of Dead Souls, otherwise … I was surprised at how much of TG I must have listened to, sampling various tracks from their albums on iTunes, not that I could say I could sing along to any, there was though a strong memory of place, being in Auckland living in squats and various stark concrete, rising damp soaked buildings and warehouses near the wharfs. And I’d forgotten both how unfriendly and anxiety-inducing their music is, and also their musical genius. To listen to them is to hear clichés, that’s how profoundly influential they have been.

I like the German word for nightmares, alptraum, not being particularly etymological, I see both ‘dream’ and ‘trauma’ there, and I like ‘alp’ like dying of hypothermia high in the mountains as the sun departs. I’ve been writing down my more memorable dreams this year under this name, not all terrifying, though all have something that caused them to remain. The last scene I’m making was to give Daniel, Xuan, Paea, and Tara five that had something in them for no especially coherent reason I thought were appropriate for this work.

Deciding to continue humiliating and embarrassing myself, one of the dreams starred Daniel, Xuan and Tara amongst others with a heavy implication of smut. Then there was the Nepalese plane crash and subsequent militia-versus-peasants gun battle in which I was shot in the arm and Gala found me bleeding in a sluggish stream and knowing it couldn’t be plugged or tourniqueted. A thug who burst into my house in Toronto and dug his fingers into me so deeply until I again knew I was dying. A poolside adventure in Italy or similar with a period like a bleeding torrent … Japanese rope bondage suspension …

Late last night at Cibo with Alison, I impulsively showed her the three-page script. I was then just as suddenly taken, like a rabbit startled in a car’s headlights, by what I’ve made over the last couple of months, and just how personal it is, and got quite scared by the reality of people watching. I wanted to pull it back from her, but also to try and read some trace of a response in her face. We five have been in our little world, like a strange unknown tribe deep in the Papua New Guinea interior, it’s very easy once I, once we all start to feel comfortable with each other and what we are doing to venture tremendously far from familiarity and safety. I talk about how in my work I try to imagine possible worlds, how I take this from the philosophers I admire, and then to realise perhaps it’s not so imaginary or theoretical, that we can make something livable, that the world, our lives, we are far more malleable and open to suggestion that we suppose. And now to be discovered … a momentary freakout.

I was thinking while reading over this, daydreaming too, “I hope I like it”.

It’s too late to change anything though, and anyway, it’s far more interesting for me to put myself in these situations that I don’t know what will happen. But I am now quite nervous and apprehensive about this. I guess my attitude towards myself right now in response is somewhat of, “Oh shut up and deal with it, you knew what you were doing,” though I’m not sure why I was doing it, (I’ll blame it on Garry-the-theme-this-year-is-gender-studies-Stewart), or that I do know what I am doing. I suppose I’m also worried about the others, that we could all wake up having found ourselves wondering what on earth we’ve done. It’s probably just me. I need to get trashed again this weekend.

We were going to read aloud one dream each but Xuan decided she was going to read them all. Yes I adore listening to someone trying to comprehend a language that is not really their own. I love too, what English becomes when it falls in love with another place. It is alive and always becoming something else, it really delights me, Chinglish in all its varieties, how one language adapts another in order to I guess to be understandable and in turn changes, and maybe also it’s not all practical, maybe sometimes too play and fun and games make the flowering.

I’m feeling slightly lazy in how I want to choreograph, and watching Paea rehearse I thought maybe what I do isn’t really choreography, and maybe I don’t really know how to choreograph, like an architect who has no idea of the engineering needed to establish a structure. After sitting around airing my dreams I just wanted them to improvise, that catch-all word for ‘do something’, while I filmed it.

This is the first time in this work I’ve brought the camera in. temperance and hell variously were entirely choreographed through the lens and editing. So being lazy, instead of feeling anxious that I have no steps to give, I just watched them and later will watch them again on film and cut-and-paste the bits I like and somehow assemble it. More minutes and seconds. I need to do some cutting myself, or … “actually guys, can you do it faster?”.

all the people i can remember sleeping with … day 9 & 10

Oh lazy huh? And today feeling awful, possibly from lack of sleep and I really hope not from Ebola. Anyway sitting in the State Library, not Cibo, downloading more doom and metal from the sublime Southern Lord, and trying to think of something coherent to write after missing last rehearsal’s expectorations and in the midst of a cycle of weird dreams that probably is due to making this piece in the first place.

The Rape of Lucretia started out as a scene that I imagined would be fairly involved but still a single idea. I saw it becoming just a repeat of what I’d done before, and I really didn’t want to do that, regardless of the abbreviated rehearsal period. It became first a very short thing that then wrapped itself around a slew of other variously connected ideas and sketches and suddenly gorged itself on the whole piece and made itself the opening number. Very clever.

I don’t think I’m being particularly coherent today. I had a slight panic earlier this week when I realised I had maybe two weeks to finish whatever it is this is, and that I’d also made around fifteen minutes already with stuff yet to be included in what is supposed to be only an 8 minute work. “Oops”, I thought, and buried my head ignoring these two salient matters and pretending it wasn’t happening. Is it irresponsible to jump and worry about landing when it happens? I can see a part of my near future where I say, “It seemed like a good idea at the time”, and receive glowers of disdain in return.

There’s only a few hours rehearsal a week, and the entire thing is spread out over a couple of months, but I’ve devoted an obsessive amount of time to this piece that I usually would have for a work much larger. Fun for me. It suits how my brain likes to stretch itself. It was this week also I felt that horrible moment when it was going to be whatever it already is, there’s not much time left for imagining something else, for it to live as a series of possibilities. I think that’s why I like making and playing as long as I can and having whatever is performed only barely ready to be seen so it isn’t ossified and dead, to deny it enough that it must keep growing.

I feel like I’m writing a eulogy here, like it’s already over.

So we tried to run it in some vague semblance of order earlier in the week, and it was an oddity that I promptly attacked with a pen. I have a script. I’m turning into a theatre director. Or something. I make them speak lines. (“I don’t do lines”, says Daniel, “I don’t do steps and counts”, I reply, and so we both do.) I like how Xuan reads, because reading English isn’t something she’s fluent at, and so the inflection, how we would designate a natural weight and flow and emphasis, is missing. It makes, for me anyway, a much more entrancing thing, to hear the words without emotion and so to have to decide what they mean, that is to say to judge their value, is this a good thing or a bad thing, and always there is something left beyond and after, so I don’t know.

I noticed yesterday, though the script and work has become very personal and autobiographical, just how elusive it is, how little can be divined from it, to describe someone as a series of attributes and yet to be irreducible to this. It’s swung between far too personal and far too theoretical at times, yet, and this is possibly an attribute of my personality I am only vaguely aware of its pervasiveness, there is my constant evasiveness and deferral.

And that I’ve made or am making a work so close to theatre and so far from dance, I suppose I should be worried when I’m trying to be a choreographer but it’s exhilarating that each time I make something I really don’t know what will result. I’m such a lush for that.

Two different pieces then. One that I am making without regard for anything but itself, the internal timeframe of the piece largely self-directed, the other entirely in the thrall of eight minutes. And while already way beyond that, I still need to make this final conjugation of scenes. Something of nightmares.

I was listening to Throbbing Gristle a couple of days ago. I suppose Genesis P-Orridge is another one of those lurking influences on me, so it’s not inappropriate I’ve been thinking of these scenes of alptraum along with the noise of T/G, and somehow becoming all that Rape of the Sabine Women biting and pinching hysteria. I think what I try to do is very elaborately assemble a precarious accumulation of things and then push it over and see if anything happens. All these notes and scrawls and thinking and … and I get into rehearsal and have no idea what to do. Like being lost in a forest and kicking at fallen trees hoping to find something edible.