William Burroughs – 1976 – 1

William S Burroughs (1914-1997)

We continue with transcriptions of William Burroughs’ Naropa lectures
See earlier segments here, here, here and here

This second lecture was delivered on July 27, 1976

WSB: Ready?
Anne Waldman (on behalf of Naropa): I don’t think Mr Burroughs needs much of an introduction..

WSB: What I’m trying to do in these two lectures to give you something you can use and apply, something you can do, experiments you can perform. And I’m indicating some areas of experimentation in the hope that some of you willl carry these experiments further and come up with something new.In fact, some of you may already have done so – And some books that may turn you on to something. Now the first book that I’m using is the Handbook…
[Anne Waldman interrupts]
– There’s a sound problem. If you can project a little more and we’re going to close these doors..
WSB: Okay..
Anne Waldman: And move closer too..
WSB: Now can you all hear me?
Anne Waldman: There’s no amplification.
WSB: Oh.. I see…now I understand.. I’ll start over…

WSB: What I’m trying to do in these two lectures to give you something you can use and apply, something you can do, experiments you can perform. And I’m indicating some areas of experimentation in the hope that some of you willl carry these experiments further and come up with something new Perhaps, some of you may already have. And some books that may turn you on to something. Now the first book that I’m going to use is the Handbook of Psi Discoveries (which doesn’t seem to be in stock in any of the bookstores, but it’s on order and will be here, I think, in about ten days or two weeks. How many of you read the first book, Psychic Discoveries Behind The Iron Curtain ? – yeah – well this is a sequel to it, which is a real “how-to” book, “how to do Kirlian photography, or whatever with the equiplent necessary. And what I’m going to be discussing is tape-recorder experiments, and this book gives a very clear, concise, summary of the experiments which I will be discussing during these lectures. It’s Chapter 15 – “Your Tape-Recorder – A Tracking Station for Paranormal Voices?”.

It seems that recordings made with no apparent in-put have turned up unexplained voices on the tape. Now I’m quoting from the book – “Voice phenomena are done with a tape recorder and microphone set up in the usual way and using factory-fresh tape. No sounds are heard or emitted during the recording but on reply faint voices of unknown origin appear to have been recorded. Visible speech diagrams and voice prints have confirmed that these actually are recorded voices and the most complete source-book is a book called Breakthrough by Konstantins Raudive (that’s actually pronounced Rau-di-vay, it’s Latvian, but I think I’ll just stick with Raudive, or Raudy, for short). Published in 1971 by Taplinger Publishing Company in New York City.. Well, Raudive was one of the pioneer researchers in this area and he has recorded a hundred thousand phrases, selections from which are transcribed in his book (and other investigators have achieved similar results, including Dr Walter H Uphoff, who teaches parapsychology at the University of Colorado here in Boulder (I’ve been trying to contact him but haven’t been able to reach him yet) and these voices do seem an appropriate topic to take up at the (Jack) Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

Before discussing the experiments carried out by Raudy, I will describe experiments performed with Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, 12 years before Breakthrough was published, and, in fact, before it was written. Now these experiments started not on tape-recorders but on paper. In 1959, Brion Gysin said that “Writing is fifty years behind painting”, and applied the montage technique to words on a page and this tecjnique had already been used in painting at that time for fifty years, (it was, in fact, kind of old hat in painting). For a more detailed description of the method I can refer you to Loka, where a lecture I gave last summer (1975) has been transcribed. Brion copied out phrases from newspapers and magazines, then took his scissors and cut these selections ino pieces and rearranged the fragments at random. And these “Cut-up” experiments appeared in Minutes To Go in 1959 and I’ll read you a few selections so you can get the idea of the style and what they sound like.

September 1959 a collage from the Paris Herald Tribune, the London Observer, the London Daily Mail, Life magazine advertisements. Now this cut-up was made by Brion Gysin and there’s not a word of his own in it. It comes entirely from the source material:

“It is impossible to estimate the damage. Anything put up up to now is like pulling a figure out of the air. I’m going right back to the Sheraton Carleton and call the Milwaukee Braves. Miss Hannah Pugh, the slim model drew from a piggy bank a talent which is the very quintessence of the British female sex..”. “Ahead ahead ahead!”, they chanted in EW ORK, ONOLULU, ARIS, OME, OSTON. “Tobacco is our middle name”.. “There seemed little doubt however that Mr Eisenhower said, “I weigh 56 pounds less than a man, flushed and nodded curtly. Asked whether he had a fair trial he looks inevitable and publishes: “My sex was an advantage. He boasted of a long string of past crimes highlighted by a total eclipse of however stood in his path when he redid her apartment.” “Rich because beautiful bought brain. I said,”Bravo!” To think that a million men were fitted into long slots in an absurd position for the highest products of creation. Crowds stopped the traffic and it took more than 30 police to disperse them.” “Captain Bain was arrested today in the murder at sea in Chicago. He is one of the great Americans to see people from the front and kept laughing during the dark” “He streaked across the sky like a comet and crashed.” “Witnesses, from a distance, observed a roaring blast and a brilliant flash as the operator was arrested. A petite blue-eyed blonde streaked across the sky and clashed with Glasgow police. She had wielded a gavel with a walrus moustache and was thrown overboard. Her father, a well-known Artist until a bundle of his accented-brushwork blew up in the sky said, “We can’t do that yet. The reason I’m buying a new couch is to save money.She should have known better.” “If I’d known you were coming” ” Some looks are simply good right there.You hit her in this new revised edition of “After The Great Awakening“. “The sure way is with arrangement and also military appeal. Deep-eyed features and the rapt faces of discursive charm come from the sheer shining color of police” “I, Sekula, perfected this art,” along the Tang dynasty”. Might be just what I am look.”

Now that was made by Brion and here’s one that I made and you’ll see that they have, although the same criteria applies that there’s no words of our own in either one of these, but the selection, the whole thing will be different from one person to another.This is from San Diego up to Maine and, this time, it’s (the) New York Herald Tribune, (a) cut-up of articles on juvenile delinquency:

“The solemn accountants are jumping ship sir..All of them, sir..in the last skimpy surplus, sir…”Room for one more outside, sir”, they said and plunged Seventh Teen Age Future Molotov Cocktails last seen swimming desperately in sewage.Allies wait on knives.Valiant crowns drew a short 22 and heavy commitments.The Carribbean swells to a roar..A Negro snapped the advantages. Our show went on we’re proud of it. Who was rape and idleness. Anyone over homicide big enough to take punishment Wisconsin Milwaukee and later lesser crimes pudgy and not pretty. The words included “assault”, “murder”, “stratosphere” and his feet devoid of reality. Will Hollywood never learn? Unimaginable disaster royal nights teenage future time.”

and I’ll read one more, a short selection here (this was also my cut-up material):

“One ounce, said the druggist, of shit. Burn down the city. Savvy shit. Had a book he gave out . Ich Sterbe. they were drafted. Marks fourth day. We just dropped in to see some friends. A population of patrols Mr Flynn seeks position in rigged quiz show. Yeah but why? Swedish, unwelcome visitor to the warren? Talent was gone. The temple reeked of time principal and agents in force. Bobo has attractions. More fun than a barrel of keys. He makes a pig of ice. Tomorrow is always white and blue. A fine vigorous failure all members are worst this century .A sixteen-year-old boy might burn in continuous operation. Everyone has left Paris. I dislike facts. Professor killed accident in U.S. Don’t let me die this way.

Subsequently, we cut up the Bible, Shakespeare,Rimbaud and our own writing and anything in sight and we made literally thousands of cut-ups. Now when you cut and rearrange words on a page, new words emerge. For example, you have “h-a” on one cut page and you place that on another section and the line falls on “t” cut from another word and you now have the word “hat”. , which was not in the original text. A new word has been created by cutting the text. And words change meaning. For example, the word “draft”, as into the army, moved into a context of blueprints and contracts gives an altered meaning. New words and altered meaning are of course implicit in the process of cutting up and could have been anticipated. Other results were not expected. When you experiment with cut-ups over a period of time, you find that some of the cut-ups and rearranged texts seem to refer to future events. I cut up an article on.. written by John Paul Getty, and got “It’s a bad thing to sue your own father” (this was a rearrangement and wasn’t in the original text) and a year later one of his sons did sue him (I mean, it was purely extraneoous information, it meant nothing to me, I hadn’t.. no, nothing to gain, on either side). In 1964, I made a cut-up and got what seemed at the time a totally inexplicable phrase – “And there is a horrid air-conditioner” (I didn’t have an air-conditioner at the time). In 1973, I moved into a loft with a broken air-conditioner, which was removed to put in a new unit (but) you couldn’t get anyone to take it away. And there is three-hundred pounds of broken air-conditioner on the floor, a really horrid disposal problem, heavy and solid and emerging from a cut-up ten years ago. There are quite a few examples of this, and, as I say, if you experiment, I think you’ll turn some up sooner or later. We had no explanation for this at the time, just suggesting, perhaps, that when you cut into the present, the future leaks out. Well, we simply accepted it and continued the experiments

The next step was cut-ups on the tape-recorder and Brion was the first to take this obvious step. A step becomes obvious when somebody takes it – like, five hundred years of cannonballs before someone got the idea of a cannonball that explodes on contact (and that happened in the American Civil War, towards the end of the American Civil War – (and) probably dismissed as impractical by the military). From that point, of course, a series of steps led to long-range artillery and inter-continental missiles. Now why does it take so long for such obvious developments? Well, perhaps because the way is blocked by preconceptions, people just don’t think of it. Well, the first tape-recorder cut-ups were a simple extensions of cut-ups on paper. You record… There’s many ways of doing these, but here’s one way. You record, say, ten minutes on the recorder. Then you spin the reel [sic] backwards or forwards, just like that, without recording, stop at random, and cut-in a phrase (now, of course, when you cut in a phrase you’ve wiped out whatever’s there and you have a new juxtaposition. Now how random is random? We know so much that we don’t consciously know that we know that perhaps the cut-in was not random. The operator, on some level, knew just where he was cutting in. As you know, on some level, exactly where you were and what you were doing ten years ago at this particular time, You couldn’t.. (most of you couldn’t, there are a few freaks that can) make that knowledge consciously available. And in the same way, while you’re doing the tape, on some level, you know just exactly where your words are. So “cut-ups” put you in touch with what you know and do not know that you know.

Now, of course, this procedure on the tape-recorder produces new words by altered juxtapositions, just as new words are prduced by cut-ups on paper. Well, we went in to exploit the potentials of the tape-recorder – cut up, slow down, speed up, run backwards, inch the tape (that means work it back and forth across the tape-head), play several tracks at once, cut back and forth between two recorders. Now here are some tapes which Brion made with all the technical facilities of the BBC in London, and they show, I think, what can be done with the human voice and one phrase…[Burroughs pauses here to discover that he doesn;t have the tape] – quite clearly, unfortunately, I don’t have this tape.I may have it for the next session, I’ll ask Brion to send it along.

The point is that, as soon as you start experiments with slow-downs, speed-ups, overlays and so on, you’ll get new words that were not on the original recordings. There are then many ways of producing words and voices on tape that did not get there by the usual recording procedure, words and voices, that are quite definitely and clearly recognizeable by a consensus of listeners and sometimes you can clearly recognize the voice of someone who was not present at the session.

Now another procedure is to run.. a recording of words.. yes, to run recordings of words through a speech-scrambler, and I’ll quote here – “In 1968 with the help of Ian Sommerville and Antony Balch, I took a short passage of my recorded voice and cut it into intervals of one-twenty-fourth-of-a-second on movie tape. Now movie-tape is larger and much easier to handle. Splicing ordinary tape is a really laborious.. of course, you can make cut-ups that way, but it’s an awful lot of work, and rearrange the order of the twenty-fourth-of-a-second intervals of recorded speech. The original words were quite unintelligible but new words emerge. The voice is still there and you can immediately recognize the speaker. Also, the tone of the voice remains (if the tone is friendly, hostile , poetic, sarcastic, or whatever, this will be apparent in the altered sequence).(Now) I didn’t know at the time that I was using a technique that had been in existence since 1881, and I quote from an article in New Scientist, June 4, 1970 by Richard C French entitled “Electronic Arts of Non-Communication” – “Designs for speech-scramblers go back till 1881 and the desire to make telephone and radio communications unintelligible to third parties has been with us ever since. The messags are scrambled in transmission and then unscrambled at the other end. There are many of these speech-scrambling devices that work on different principles..In another device..the signal is chopped up into elements, a tenth or a hundredth of a centimeter and these elements are taken in groups and frames and rearranged in a new sequence” – So you just take your tape and cut it up into very small pieces and the pieces are rearranged into a new sequence. And this can actually be done, and gives a good idea what speech sounds like when scrambled in this way (unfortunately, I don’t have a tape of scrambled speech). And I’ve got words and voices from barking dogs – (and, no doubt, you can do much better with dolphins – So if you (just) hear English words from a dolphin, it doesn’t just mean that the dolphin ‘s mastered the English language at all, it simply means that they’ve said something that sounds like English). Now words will emerge.. Also words will emerge from recordings of dripping faucets. In fact, almost any sound that is not too uniform may reproduce words. You know the song “Every little breeze used to whisper Louise”... and the very trees, the very tree-branches brushing against her windows seemed to mutter “murder, murder, murder” – Well, the branches may have muttered just that, and you could hear it back with a recorder. Everything you hear and see is there for you to hear and see it. (If you didn’t hear or see it on some level, it would have no meaning for you).

Now we’re so accustomed to the erroneous either/or antithesis, objective or subjective – what I think and feel is one thing, what I hear and see in the street is purely random and therefore meaningless – that people may think that they’re losing their minds when they find that what they see and hear in the street has personal meaning for them.
Some time ago a young man came to me and said he was going mad, because street signs, overheard conversations and radio broadcasts seemed to refer to him in some way. I told him, “Of course they refer to you. You see and hear them!”

Now you can scan words out of a foreign language of which you do not know a word (and let me confess that I do not know a word of Arabic. Well, years ago, Ian Sommerville,Stewart Gordon, and your reporter had turned into the Rue de Vignes, just off the Place de France in Tangier. Walking ahead of us was a middle-aged Arab couple, (obviously poor people, down from the mountains), and one turned to the other and said, ” What are you going to do?”
We all heard it. Now perhaps Arab words just happened to sound like that (if I had an Arab person I could’ve checked that out) or perhaps it was a case of consensual scanning. I had a friend who went “mad” in Tangier. He was scanning out personal messages in English from Arab broadcasts. Now this is the more subjective phenomenon of personal scanning patterns. I say “more”, rather than pose the either/or subjective/objective alternative since all phenomena are both subjective and objective. He was, after all, listening to radio broadcasts.

to be continued. (continues – here)

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding at approximately twenty-six minutes in]

(An earlier version of this transcript appeared in Talking Poetics From Naropa Institute – Annals of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics – Volume 1 – (edited by Anne Waldman and Marilyn Webb), Shambhala, 1978)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *