Essentials of Spontaneous Prose at Bondi Feast

kerouac

The last three weeks in Sydney has been Bondi Feast, which is Phil Spencer / Tamarama Rock Surfers’ annual winter festival out at the Bondi Pavilion. It’s a pretty lovely occasion, heaps of shows, forums, events and gigs all right by the sea.

Last year, Hadley and Jess and I performed Teen Makeouts one night, and it was utterly unnecessary and also lovely. This time around, the extraordinary Gin Savage directed a production of Jess and my piece Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose As Read By Jessica Bellamy and David Finnigan.

I don’t really know what to say about this – in fact I won’t say anything, I’ll just let you read it here if you like. Basically, Jess and I wrote a play in response to Kerouac’s guide for how to be a writer. It’s a list of rules and ideas that I found pretty inspiring, and we talked about them and wrote about them, and that is the play.

Two writers talking about writing is (to my mind) pretty unstageable, so it was totally delightful that Gin Savage took this on as a project, and with a whole array of lovely collaborators, she made it into far more than the text we wrote. The audience were seated around a pool of water, into which was projected animations, in which was dispersed dry ice, and on another wall an overhead projector sending up Kerouac’s rules, and over it all a beautiful soundtrack and two actors playing the part of Jess and myself.

Jodi McAlister wrote a lovely review of it on her Theatre From The Backseat blog:

Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose is a gentle, contemplative, rich piece of theatre. Actually, I’m not entirely sure it’s technically “theatre” per se (but then we would get into a whole debate about what constitutes theatre and there would be definitions and stuff and no one wants that). It’s certainly not theatre in the traditional sense. It’s more akin to a radio play, but it’s not quite that either. I wondered for a while if it would have been best as prose – I think I certainly would have liked to read it, because there’s a lot in it and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff – but on second thought, I think theatrical conceit added a lot to it. We as audience sit around a pool of water, watching and listening as conversations and snippets of stories ripple across its surface.

One of the stories Scheherazade tells in the Arabian Nights (I think that’s where I remember it from!) is about a man who, entranced by a pool of water, sticks his head into it. While his head is in the water, he lives lifetimes: he conquers cities, defeats dragons, rescues princesses, all that kind of thing. When he removes his head from the water, only a few seconds have passed. (This story was part of Kenneth Slessor’s inspiration for Five Bells, BTW.) It’s easy to imagine that the pool of water in this show is the same kind of pool – full of infinite stories.

In this case, the stories were framed by, or came from, or maybe even emerged in spite of, Jack Kerouac’s guideline for writers, which are being discussed and talked through by two writers sitting in a café. Normally, I would find a show about two writers sitting and talking about writing unbearably self-indulgent – and there is certainly an element of indulgence here – but one of the things I really liked about this show was the way that stories kind of kept crowding their way over the top of the rules for prose. The two writers describe the best way to get close to the story, a kind of monstrous creature which you must submit to. There was one line which described language not as a dress you can pull off but as a tattoo, something imprinted on you, something bound to you. And yet in the midst of this, story is happening anyway without much interference from them – they are distracted by people sitting a few tables away, wondering if they’re getting married or divorced.

There’s a Daoist meditative ritual called zuowang – literally, sitting and forgetting – where you sit and stare into water and forget all your training and education in an effort to learn simply to be, to return to a state of pu (lit. “uncarved block”), which is the natural state of humans. I was reminded irresistibly of this during Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose, staring into the limpid pool that was our theatre. Many of Kerouac’s rules were kind of about this: removing barriers and preconceptions and pretensions to literary technique so that you were able to face the story in a kind of pure state. I don’t think we as audience ever exactly achieve a meditative state – there is way too much to think about in this – but there is something very enchanting about staring into water and letting words bubble over you. It removes a number of the barriers that usually stand between audience and language in the theatre. There seems to be an inherent contradiction in Kerouac’s rules, in that rules in general seem to be figured as a kind of restraint. I think Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose is fascinating in its theatrical realisation of this idea.

It was intense to watch – I’d forgotten how personal it was, and how specific to the time and place we wrote it, and the people and situations we wrote it about. I found myself really caught up in the feeling of having other people hear these intimate details about my life, and them being shared with a group of strangers, and that group of strangers having (mostly) no idea that it was my (our) stories they were hearing.

I found myself hoping like crazy that other people could glean some insight from these personal tales.

Mostly though, I was so grateful that it was happening – grateful to Phil Spencer for producing it, grateful to Ginny for making it happen, grateful to all the artists / performers / creatives involved, grateful (always grateful) to Jess for being such an incredible collaborator, grateful to all the people whose stories we borrowed.

And also I came out of it wanting to write. So that’s a thing.

Also, while we were hanging out, Jess and I shared with each other our drafts for our new Teen Makeouts pieces, which we are performing with Hadley in Brisbane next month at the Queensland Poetry Festival, because POETRY, motherfuckers. Apparently.

Studio notes while recording the new Finnigan and Brother EP

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Chris and I are in the studio this weekend with Reuben Ingall, who is producing the new Finnigan and Brother EP. I wanted to call it Finnigan and Brother Winter In Canberra 2014, but Chris has vetoed it owing to it being a terrible idea. What will we call it then? Will we borrow a title from our list of potential band names? (probably)

Right now Chris is recording guitar lines for the new Finnigan and Brother ‘single’ – though when I say single, you best believe I don’t know what that word means or what I’m talking about. He and Reuben are using the guitar to replicate various electronic percussion effects – ‘a static wash side-chained to a kick drum’ – all I know is it sounds like the new Ital Tek record and I’m happy.

This is one of the best parts of the process for me. I get to sit here and listen to music get assembled, and be a part of it, but at this stage I’m mostly just along for the ride. Meanwhile I’m trying to edit some of the lyrics, capture the key ideas and lose some of the dross. I’m not a great editor, so this is a tricky part of the picture for me.

online dating may seem a little artificial
but making a dating profile prompts you to think about your best qualities
and challenges you to put them up front

it’s important to be with someone you can trust under pressure
and for that reason it’s great to get to know someone in a challenging setting
like on a mountaineering course
or backpacking somewhere remote

Recording one track over two days is a pretty delightful experience, in part at least because Reuben is an extraordinarily capable producer with a good understanding of our aesthetic. It’s also bringing it home to me how ridiculous it was for us back in 2012 to record the entirety of Finnigan and Brother Spend A Month In Colombia and the Psychic Radio EP – 18 tracks – in one day. So many props to Nickamc for rolling with us and somehow pulling that off.

This approach, on the other hand, is giving us room to focus on the details, try out different ideas, assemble a palette of effects and sounds specific to this song, and structure them thoughtfully. I got to have multiple attempts at recording vocal sections, and Reuben has even multi-tracked my voice to emphasise certain lines (‘RFID cat flaps’ and ‘e-cigarettes’). All of which is delightful.

This is part of a 3 track EP we’re putting together for release in a month or so, including a collaboration with Bec Taylor and (hopefully) a studio version of one of the tracks we debuted at Bad Slam in March this year. Mr Shane Parsons is working with us on a video for this track, the so-called single, which is, I guess, a love song?

you need someone who makes your heart beat faster
mix tapes
nightclubs
great gigs
nights at home
playing GQ on the EQ full volume in the shower

More soon, yo.

Photo on 19-07-14 at 1.48 PM #2

The future is uncertain, contested and ultimately shared

So in early 2012 (what’s that, about 2 and a half years ago?) I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to research the interface between contemporary science and the performing arts. It was (still is) one of those totally unexpected moments where everything you’ve done so far somehow adds up to something far, far greater than you could possibly have anticipated. I’m hugely lucky, and hugely grateful.

Over January – March this year, I travelled to 13 cities in North America, Europe and Asia (travelling only east) meeting with groups and individuals doing interesting things at the intersection of arts, science and policy. I met with around 50 people, each of whom gave me a good portion of their time and chatted with me about interesting projects and big ideas.

The two big threads that emerged from the writing were the cross-disciplinary fields of Experiential Futures and Systems Gaming, both of which are loose terms intended to capture some interesting work emerging in recent years from collaborations between scientists (futures scholars and systems scientists) and artists (of all kinds, but focusing on the performing arts in my analysis). Both these fields, in my mind, offer really interesting opportunities to open up the dialogue around big issues and challenges.

The end result is a report capturing some of the more examples of this kind of practice I encountered on my travels, a case for how they might be employed more broadly to shift the national conversation on broad challenges such as climate and global change, and a bit of a how-to guide for science-artists.

The report takes its name from a line in Mike Raupach’s introduction to the Australian Academy of Science’s Australia 2050: Living Scenarios book: ‘We face three basic realities: the future is uncertain, contested and ultimately shared.’

The report is hosted as a pdf on the Churchill Trust’s website, but I’ve also made it available as a wordpress blog, for ease of reading. Go on, get amongst it:

uncertaincontestedandultimatelyshared.wordpress.com

There’s plenty of people and organisations that I need to thank and acknowledge in the writing of this, but I’ll leave it to the Acknowledgments section.

If anyone has any thoughts or comments or feedbacks, I’m keen to hear it – keep me in the loop.

 me in NYC – image by pep pe

New writing: Seizure, Boho and Kill Climate Deniers

‘No time for poetry but exactly what is’

Aight then in the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s Essentials For Spontaneous Prose, I’m not going to waste time with an elaborate update of what’s been happening recently, it doesn’t matter. I just want to mention three things that I’ve written, which I’d like to invite you to take a look at if you’re interested.

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Firstly, I was commissioned by Justin Wolfers to write a piece for the online journal Seizure, as part of his Alt Txt series. The series consists of works about the internet, many of which were in the Alt Lit style. I don’t know much about Alt Lit – hella ignorant finig – so I wrote a personal essay on a topic very dear to my heart: the ways in which we curate and personalise our computers and online identities.

There’s nothing here that hasn’t been said already, and more elegantly, by writers like Aleks Krotoski, Doug Rushkoff, Anab Jain or the New Aesthetic blog, but at the same time it was a pleasure to get all these thoughts out and in one place, and to have the privilege of working with Justin as an editor. It’s entitled I Have Friends Who Are Growing Gardens, and you can read it, if you like.

There’s a degree to which I try to scrub my online persona clean – at the very least, to try to be aware of the traces I’ve left online. But the worst of it is, it’s not even up to me. In a majority of cases where someone has been fired or arrested for an incriminating photo or an unfortunate anecdote that surfaced on social media, it wasn’t them that posted it but their friends.

We are implicating each other all the time, and it is harder and harder to opt out.

I don’t doubt that there’s enough material on my website and social media history for a sufficiently motivated muckraker to find a bit of mud to fling at me, but even if I vigorously scrubbed my online havens clean, my online presence is much more than just the data I’ve personally uploaded – I’m a node in a larger network. Each of us is a data point in the bigger picture of our community, referenced and located by the people around us as much as by ourselves.

Honestly, no matter how much I think and hear about it happening, I find it almost impossible to connect what I say to my laptop in the privacy of my own home to the idea that hundreds and thousands of people could end up reading it.

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Secondly, I spent last week as a participant in a CSIRO workshop entitled Modelling Planetary Boundaries. As the only non-scientist in the room I didn’t have a lot to add, but it was thoroughly mind-blowing and really one of the best weeks I’ve had in years. What this group of physicists, ecologists, meteorologists and economists were seeking to do was to model the entire human-earth system. Not just that, but their aim was to include social processes in this model, so that human behaviour and society was intrinsically a part of the earth-system.

In response to that eye-opening experience, I wrote a blog post on the Boho website explaining (as best I am able) why you’d attempt to create such a model and how you go about it. This is especially exciting for me because of how it links into Boho’s Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster, which is about to kick off in London in just over two months’ time.

One idea which has been gaining significant traction in recent years is the idea that we have recently moved into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This is a period in the earth’s history in which humankind has become one of the most significant drivers of the planetary systems. For decades, if not centuries, humans have been altering the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, changing the biosphere by driving species extinct and transporting new species around the planet, altering the activity of river systems and changing land use, all at a global scale.

In hundreds of million of years’ time, when humanity’s existence has been reduced to a thin smear of rock in the geological record, future species or alien visitors will still be able to detect our presence through the spike of radioactive minerals resulting from humanity’s nuclear weapons tests.

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Finally, I recently stole (another) idea from Declan Greene. When we first met back in 2009, Declan showed me an early draft of a play he was working on entitled Pompeii LA. The 2012 Malthouse production was a stunning piece of theatre, but one of the things that most impressed me about the early draft was that Declan was quite consciously aggregating the content out of a project-specific tumblr, kind of like a digital scrapbook.

I decided to borrow the idea wholesale, and for the last few months I’ve been collating bits and pieces on a blog as the basis for a new script entitled Kill Climate Deniers. Evolving out of discussions with director Julian Hobba, the first draft had a reading at the Street Theatre last week, and it is ridiculous and overblown and badly written and yet, and yet I quite like it. So if you’re curious, have a glance at the blog. If nothing else, there’s a good selection of late 80s / early 90s club music on there.

 

What if we invited climate deniers to describe what piece or pieces of evidence it would take to change their mind on climate change? Make the criteria as loose as they like, they can name it. And if they can’t articulate any piece of evidence that could convince them, then they have to accept that they’re not debating?

Wouldn’t work. Not worth it. They’re not arguing a position, they’re arguing to make noise, to stall us, to prevent us doing what needs to be done. They need to be worked around.

And if they can’t be worked around, they need to be removed.

By ‘removed’, I don’t mean killed.

Get amongst it – killclimatedeniers.tumblr.com