June 1st, 2013 | music
Would you like some intense, unsettling metallic drone and medieval clanging sounds to end the night with? Course you bloody would.
June 1st, 2013 | daybook
Aside from the Night Music that will fire around 3am. And the SPEKTRMODULE I’m hoping to produce at the weekend.
Anyway, I wrote this earlier:
I keep thinking I should do another “minimal web serial” on my site, late at night, to bookend SCATTERLANDS (which runs in the early PM).
Because I seem to have four minutes in each day where I’m not already doing something, apparently.
And, monstrously, the more I think about it, the more I suspect I like the idea. Which means I must be crazy. But there is a certain appeal to messing around with content and the expectations of a “blog.” A (god so ugly) word that’s become both malleable and meaningless as the net moves away from them towards streams and other things.
This, however, is home base. I don’t set up the control room on other people’s services.
(I want a Control Room so badly. Also I think my next office chair should be a Cybersyn.)
I’m also oddly fond of the term “minimal web serial” tonight. When thinking about something (week-) daily, I’d never really consider anything more than the single panel strip. At most, I’d maybe think about the single “screen” Greg & Rick do on LADY SABRE (the collection of which you can still buy into on Kickstarter – I have an entirely different revenue stream process for Minimal Web Serials hahaha, but I love what they’ve put together). No more than that.
Something probably very different from SCATTERLANDS, which is funtime stuff. Something more suited to posting at just past midnight.
If the notion amuses anyone, you can get me at firstname.lastname@example.org (eventually).
Right. My four minutes are up. I’m going to post control-room porn to Tumblr and get back to work.
May 31st, 2013 | guest informant
I’ve known Julian a few years now. He works in television as a writer and director: you’ve probably seen his work on DOCTOR WHO, if not on NEW TRICKS, SPOOKS or HUSTLE. He has a play coming up on Radio 4 next week, and I asked him to write a thing about it:
The Information Apocalypse: Creativity vs The Infernal Machines
Nearly 11.00am. A few months back. I get a call from Karen Rose of Sweet Talk Productions. She’s the radio producer I work with whenever I do anything for BBC Radio Four. Karen is pretty much a one-woman-band who seems to work twenty-four hours a day on a gazillion radio projects simultaneously and is never anything other than relaxed, happy and encouraging. She is, in other words, the anti-me. This morning she has an announcement:
"The deadline for Afternoon Play pitches is midday today."
"It’s nearly eleven o’clock now."
"Yes. Do you have anything?"
"Apart from the three ideas they already turned down for this slot?"
"Apart from those."
"Because after the Radio Drama award and the Sony nomination, you’d think Radio Four would be MORE open to my ideas, not less."
"You would think…"
"And yet they’ve turned down three ideas in a row. They say they really want me to do something for them and then they turn down three ideas in a row."
"That’s what happened."
"Do you want to pitch something or not?"
“Because fuck them, you know?”
"You don’t have another idea, do you?"
"Well if you come up with anything in the next hour…"
"Well if you do…"
"I won’t. I don’t have anything. And I’m busy on other stuff."
"Is the other stuff as self-regarding and petulant as this conversation?"
She didn’t actually say that last line because she’s far too nice, but she’s also far too smart not to have been thinking it.
I put the phone down and paced around my study, annoyed because, when you make up stories for a living, having to tell someone you don’t have an idea is a horrible defeat. I looked at the bookshelves; at a pile of books on information, memetics and computer viruses that I’d bought on a whim when I had a vague idea for a TV series about cybercrime. I sat down at my desk and opened Twitter, probably with the intention of writing something pithy (petulant and conceited) about how Radio Four were oppressing a creative impulse I actually didn’t have. The Twitter mob were out in force, attacking each other for using the wrong words to express support for an idea they all agreed with. I read a few vitriolic exchanges and something sparked. I opened up my email and bashed out a précis of the story that was now forming. I sent it to Karen twenty minutes later. Radio Four commissioned it the next day. Fourth time lucky.
What I wrote in that email was essentially this: It’s the day after tomorrow (over-morrow, in fact, because who ever gets to use that word in real life?) and a computer virus has been unleashed that has encrypted all the information held electronically in the world. Banks, medical data, debt records, criminal records; it’s all under threat. No one can get money out of the banks, no one can buy anything in the shops. Looting and rioting has already started and the governments of the world are panicking. The people responsible for taking all the information hostage want to parlay, so a negotiator is sent to meet with them in a hotel room to hear their demands and to try to resolve the situation.
That’s the basic premise but the meat of the thing is the idea, the "why?" Why would anyone want to take information hostage? This is where the books on my shelves and my experiences on Twitter had led me. Thanks to computers, there is now more information floating around the world than ever before; more, in fact, than we can actually cope with. Partly because there is so much (and partly because of the Laws of Thermodynamics, which you don’t need to trouble yourself overly with) we tend to reduce the information down to bite-size chunks so we can spread it around more easily. This is the basic notion of memes – ideas that are copied with variation and selection. We see this all the time "You are either with us or against us" was the rallying cry at the start of the War on Terror (the War on Terror is also a piece of reduced information; reduced, like the War on Drugs, to a nonsense phrase). The British government has successfully reduced the complexities of being unemployed to the word "scroungers" and the complexities of a right-wing capitalist economic system to "common sense". As we have seen even more recently, the complexities of two men murdering a soldier in Woolwich were reduced to "terrorism", an act of reduction so destructive that it resulted in mosques being attacked and idiots in balaclavas hurling abuse at anyone with brown skin. In this case, key phrases from a murderer’s address to camera (phrases which were themselves reduced from an existing reduction of a complex system of belief) were reduced to memetic soundbites with an almost irresistible synaptic connection to "terrorism". And the minute the media said "terrorist", that is what those two psychopaths became, just as the woman who bravely confronted them became a "heroine".
So we cope with all the information that bombards us by simplifying it down to bite-size chunks, the better to transmit it to others in a form in which it’s most likely to be retained and repeated.
There is an argument that posits that all human beings are is vessels made of information (DNA) and naturally selected for the storage and replication of information. Everything we say, do, wear or make is a form of information, a meme, to be copied by others with variation and selection. Information is king and we are but subjects. That being the case then the handing over of the replication and transmission role to computers could, in a dystopian fantasy such as the one I was dreaming up for a radio play, result in the rapid obsolescence of human beings. Computers process, copy, select and transmit more information than we can and they do it faster. Increasingly, we help them along by buying into the reduction of information; by retweeting and reposting pieces about "scroungers" and "fundamentalists" and "corrupt politicians" and by accepting the boundaries defined by these reductions as the ones within which we’ll frame our arguments ("Are the unemployed scroungers or not?" rather than "Is it useful to make a judgement on any human being purely on the basis of his or her employment status?").
We also assist in our own reduction through our use of social media; a 160 character biography becomes the sum total of who we are to thousands of strangers. A 140 character tweet or short Facebook update becomes our definitive opinion on a complex subject. Tone of voice, body language, grammar, even vocabulary itself; all the things we used to employ to illuminate and elaborate on the information we transmit, to give it nuance and texture and, for the love of God, to indicate irony, are falling away in favour of reducing information to binary components of love/hate, good/bad; the better to pass more information faster.
Are we playing into the hands of the information itself? Have we created information technology (or been party to its creation – surely all we did was help transmit the memes that led to this) to perform the task for which we came into existence, thus negating the necessity of our own survival?
This seemed like a decent premise for a radio play. It would be a play about an idea. I liked the notion of being someone who wrote plays about ideas. Then I remembered that I think those people are wankers, so I came up with a story to go with the idea. Then I threw in the Commedia Dell’Arte (because I am a BIT of a wanker) and a couple of twists that turned it, I hope, from a straight drama into something a bit more disquieting; a bit more, dare I say it, "Twilight Zone".
Time was really running out and I still hadn’t written the thing. I’m lucky in having developed good relationships with actors through previous work on TV and radio, so Karen was able to pick up the phone and secure the services of Nicola Walker, Tim McInnerny, Hermione Norris, Louise Brealey, Rufus Wright and Robert Glenister, all without having seen a script. We had an amazing, if hopelessly naive and trusting, cast and we had a crew. But we didn’t have a script and, more importantly for me, we didn’t have a title…
It seemed appropriate to the inspiration for the thing that I get my title online. I logged into Twitter and asked for titles for a play that would be a "locked-room" drama, like Huston’s movie of "Key Largo". The information causes us to make weird connections and the winning suggestion, by @eclecticmuses, was a good example. The phrase "Key Largo" had caused @eclecticmuses to make a connection to a lyric in the Beach Boys’ song "Kokomo", so she suggested "Kokomo" as a title. I liked the word but couldn’t immediately see the relevance. And so to Wikipedia, where we discover that Kokomo is a town in Indiana. They call it the City of Firsts because they built the first internal combustion engine there. And the Howitzer shell. And the first aerial bomb with fins. And the first canned tomato juice was made there. That’s all great and interesting, but not immediately relevant.
And then I read about Ryan White, the fourteen-year-old boy from Kokomo who contracted the HIV virus from a contaminated blood treatment in 1984 and was given six months to live. Despite doctors assuring the town that Ryan was safe to be around, he was expelled from school and harassed by many in the local community; someone even fired a gun through the window of his bedroom. This awful story was a perfect example of information reduction; in 1984 we knew exactly how AIDS spread but this complex information had been reduced to "don’t go near anyone who is HIV positive".
So a play about information is born of random information: books on shelves; Twitter outrage; a random title; the story of a persecuted boy. This is how creation happens because the very act of creation involves the replication of information with variation and selection. Nothing is original, everything is a combination of other things. For me it wasn’t just the books or the Twitter experience, if I listen to the play now, I can hear influences that I wasn’t even directly aware of in the writing; Global Frequency, The Invisibles, The Gone Away World, Sapphire and Steel… The list goes on because every act of creation is a mashing up of influences and experiences gained over a whole life to date.
And so maybe the way human beings combine these random snippets of information to create something new, maybe the connections we make and the way we remix the things we know and transmit them to others are what gives us the edge over the machines. Maybe our creativity is the real key to our survival. We can take that information and not just reduce it, we can make something new out of it. And the machines can’t do that. Yet.
"Kokomo" is the Afternoon Play on BBC Radio 4 on 5th June, 2013. (BBC link)
I can be found on Twitter, all day every day, committing every crime against information detailed above: @juliansimpson1
May 30th, 2013 | mobilesignals
May 30th, 2013 | scatterlands
Write text here…
May 29th, 2013 | daybook
Hi. I’m writing PR materials. That must be why I want to die.
FOUR CHAMBERS is a new group of British photographic artists, and I make particular note, in their copy for their new magazine:
Somewhere between an exhibition catalogue and a art zine, Four Chambers Issue 1 is an attempt to make physical what only exists in a digital reality.
There it is again. Eruption of the digital into the physical. (one ref)
Image above blatantly ganked from them, by the way.
Longread of the day is PAUL, a piece by Matt Fraction about a guy in his art school. Which, yeah, I know, but, seriously, read it. Everyone’s hopes, fears, dreams and fantasies about college/university in one post:
This was an art school. And amongst the rest of us, Paul was the freak.
Paul came to art school with a strategy: fuck all this. It was so preconceived, so controlled, and so well-defined he could have turned his whole senior year into a performance piece. He wanted to get laid, get drunk, and fuck around. Our school provided him with a unique opportunity to do it.
There was something else I was going to mention, but I’ve forgotten it, so here’s a photo from Jan Chipchase, currently in Japan:
May 28th, 2013 | daybook
The PR boat is approaching the harbour. All phone-based, so far: a long phoner in June for the AVENGERS: ENDLESS WARTIME graphic novel I’ve written for Marvel, and, now, lining up the interviews for DEAD PIG COLLECTOR’s release on June 18. The Marvel one will be the only big chunk of PR I do for that book, I think, at least until October. I hope there’ll be plenty for DEAD PIG.
It’s the part of writing for a living that’s the underwater chunk of iceberg: all the things you have to do as an aspect of writing commercially that doesn’t actually involve writing. And I’d much rather be a writer than someone who likes to give a lot of interviews about being a writer. You can’t resent it, because the alternative is nobody ever wanting to talk to you about your writing, and, therefore, deep obscurity and no-one knowing you’re writing work available for purchase, leading directly to having to get a proper job.
I am very sad that the hashtag #deadpig is already in regular use on Twitter. What could I use instead? #deadpigbook? That sounds… actually, it sounds a bit disgusting now I look at it. Shit.
May 28th, 2013 | stuff2013
The #instabooking thing is a way for me to publicly share what I’m reading, to some extent, and also a way to both keep some kind of timeline of what’s going into my head and also to present interesting or useful bits in a handy way. If it really bugs the eight people still reading this site, then I’m sure I’ll hear about it.
I’m working on the non-fiction book this week, in between a dozen other things. On Twitter, James Bridle reminded me that Timo Arnall of BERG has a Flickr account, and, there, I found this photo of Dan Hill of Fabrica giving a talk. Which I’m clearly going to have to find and gank, partly because it strikes a few sparks off one element of the book, partly because I want to see where he takes that. My abiding memory of Cognitive Cities was stories of people looking at the city like code, encoding the city (‘s processes), and then turning that data over and paying no attention to where that information went once it was out of their hands.
Also, I cannot right now come up with a better way to describe London. Look at London’s maps, and London’s streets. Plans and improv and eras just banging up against each other, road by road, sometimes door by door.
Look, I told you it was going to be free-association here this week.
May 28th, 2013 | station ident
This is warren ellis dot com. I am very probably still in bed. I hope you enjoyed yesterday’s ghost story by John Reppion.
I love this photo by Lizé Habig.
This week is a bit of heavy script lifting, a lot of thinking and a bunch of arranging and scheming. As such, the chances are that over the next several days this site will become either a lifestream illustrating the slow breakdown of my mind or a dead zone of inattention. Pick one! Vote on Twitter! Point and laugh! SEND SUPPLIES
May 27th, 2013 | guest informant
John Reppion is half of the writing team Moore Reppion. He asked me if I wanted to show you a new short story he wrote. I said yes, of course.
NEXT YEAR’S GHOST
Some people may think it morbid to take pleasure in a visit to a graveyard. I was once however, not only one who enjoyed such visits, but who actively sought them out. As a taphophile the diverse ornamentation of tombs and stones fascinated me and became a hobby of mine. My interest took me all around this island and, eventually to a small ex-mining town in the North.
The pit which had once been the lifeblood of the place had collapsed disastrously some three decades earlier and the community had never recovered. The once bustling town was now a morass of blind-eyed broken windows and slack-jawed black doorways with only a huddle of the more ancient buildings still occupied.
There was no priest in this place; its church bearing the same aspect of dereliction as so much of the surroundings and my examination of the burial-ground was completed more quickly than anticipated, most of the more ancient monuments having toppled or crumbled from neglect. Even the stark, lone, large slab inscribed with the names of those who had lost their lives in the mining tragedy was, I am ashamed to say, something of a disappointment.
My return journey not being scheduled until the following morning, I found myself faced with an evening spent in the under-occupied pub, or else alone in my dingy room above, and neither scenario appealed. My hobby had furnished me, almost accidentally, with knowledge of the folklore surrounding burial places, and I found it interesting to note that this was the eve of the feast of Saint Mark. I decided it might be amusing to pass my time observing that old custom which Keats so famously wrote upon – namely that if one watched over a graveyard on that night, the spectres of those yet to pass in the coming year would show themselves.
Seated on the mossy church step as midnight approached, the sight of a figure walking among the crumbling monuments brought me sharply to my senses. In the bright, clear moonlight I soon recognised the face of the pub landlord and fear turned to embarrassment. I began to stammer an apology but the publican only shook his head slowly and sorrowfully.
“They are coming”, the words spoken softly yet somehow left ringing in my ears as he trudged back into the shadows.
And come they did.
Customs have their purposes, forgotten to many though they may be, and I am witness to what may happen if such rituals are neglected or ignored. I had seen the next year’s ghost already. The landlord (as you have guessed) passed away peacefully enough within the allotted course and was buried in the old churchyard, but no Saint Marks Eve vigil had been kept in that ruined parish for many years. Those who came shambling after the publican – who should have come long, long before – could not be mistaken for the living; their bodies having been crushed and mangled in that awful cave-in of thirty years previous.
Illustration by DNS .
John Reppion’s most recent prose work can be found in JOURNEYS IN THE WINTERLANDS from amongruins.org . His collected writings for Steampunk Magazine – STEAMPUNK SALMAGUNDI — and his (highly recommended by me) Lovecraftian Liverpool short ON THE BANKS OF THE RIVER JORDAN are available from moorereppion.bigcartel.com .