A tribute to Robert Anton Wilson
Photo from Salamanderphoto.com – click here for 3 pages of fantastic shots from the evening.
(UPDATE 14/04/08: Full video posted at bottom of this post!)
First up an admission, much as I could – with judicious googling and wikiing – carry off a convincing impression of a knowledgeable Robert Anton Wilson fan, I have to hold my hands up and say I didn’t actually know much about his work before this evening. I was there because, well put simply any night that brings together my favourite act of all time, Coldcut, ambient legend Mixmaster Morris, V for Vendetta/Watchman author Alan Moore, and Bill Drummond from the KLF immediately ticks the boxes for unusual and absolutely essential.
Wilson is best known for his 69-71 Illuminatus! Trilogy a “satirical, postmodern, science fiction-influenced adventure story; a drug-, sex- and magic-laden trek through a number of conspiracy theories” or so says wikipedia (I will be attempting to read it myself soon). The evening served an education for those unaware of Wilson’s work but also got across not only the swarming mass of ideas involved but also the mans wit. Such as this posted on his blog a few months before he died:
Wavy Gravy once asked a Zen Roshi, “What happens after death?”
The Roshi replied, “I don’t know.”
Wavy protested, “But you’re a Zen Master!”
“Yes,” the Roshi admitted, “but I’m not a dead Zen Master.”
Compère for the night was the wonderfully theatric Ken Campbell who unfurled great sprawling anecdotes about RAW, while his eyebrows courtesy of some heavy up-lighting appeared to reach up and over the entire front row. He also unintentionally got the biggest laugh of the evening declaring “and now more music from Mixmaster Morris and Coldplay“.
It was in fact only one half of Coldplay (Chris was busy), but Matt Black, Morris and Mike Sterling (Juxta) created an hour and a half’s worth of stunning audio visual trickery, that resembled a documentary being remixed on the fly. According to Mixmaster Morris they cut up 15 hours worth of Wilson’s lectures, including a whole day purging all the “umms” and “errrs“.
It’s a pleasure to see Mixmaster Morris again, some 15 years after an acid charged student incarnation of myself last saw him wandering around Brixton Academy at an Orb all-nighter in a splendid head to toe silver spangly suit. The suit has been replaced with a brand new purple? number but his blissfully chilled out sounds and DJing remain as good today as they were back then.
Some of the initial tracks suffered due to RAW’s voice being slightly muffled (a bit like listening to a philosopher through a cup held up to your next door neighbours wall) but thankfully the majority of the set placed the wit and intelligence of Robert Anton Wilson right to the fore. The later tracks in particular were superb, culled from a video reply Wilson sent in response to Matt Black’s questions a couple of years ago and had never been aired before.
The Kinetic factory blog described the music:
“a mix of ambient electronica, with elements of dub and shoegazer, and fragments of Wilson’s lectures/recordings dubbed over that, along with topical visuals, processed, layered and mashed up in quintessential Coldcut fashion. The music was divided into four segments, with different themes: Wilson’s life, conspiracies, reality tunnels, Timothy Leary’s 8-circuit model of human consciousness, Aleister Crowley, Terence McKenna’s 2012 singularity, and so on.”
Listen: Coldcut – “Autumn Leaves (Irresistible Force mix)” (MP3)
The Irresistible Force – “The Lie-In King” (MP3)
The Irresistible Force – “Symphony In E” (MP3)
Buy: The Irresistible Force “It’s Tomorrow Already” from Ninjatune
Sadly the Rising High label folded so Morris’s first two albums can be found on ebay
Aside form the music there was of course a feast of guests to pay tribute. Introducing one Ken Campbell explained that he had first come across the person as a brilliantly talented young set designed when he was creating a stage version of Wilson’s Illuminatus Trilogy. He managed to fashion wonderful sets on a budget of virtually nothing, and the production successfully transferred to the Roundhouse. One day the set designer said he was popping out to “get some Araldite” and was never seen again! “Ladies and gentlemen Bill Drummond” said Campbell.
“I’m a total fraud even being here. I don’t actually know much about Robert Anton Wilson, and I couldn’t be arsed to help him when he was dying “
Not the most conventional opening to a tribute you’ll ever hear from former KLF’er Bill Drummond, who went on to explain himself.
As Wilson’s life slowly slipping away over Christmas, Drummond was contacted to try and raise some money to see him through his dying days. Guiltily he admitted his reaction was “No fuck it they should have an NHS, why should I pay?“. As if this wasn’t bad enough when Wilson died, he got a call asking him to come do this, and even worse he was offered a fee (which he managed to get doubled).
With some of the audience suggesting he “Burn it” Drummond requested that people came and saw him in the foyer after the show with suggestions of what he should do with the 750 quid he eventually got for doing the show!?
It was an artfully under-prepared but very entertaining speech Drummond explained how Wilson’s “Illuminatus! Trilogy” somehow weaved itself into every stage of his career from his early work on the Illuminatus stage show back in the 70s, borrowing the name “Justified Ancients of Mu Mu“, right through to his latest project “17”, the last of which he only realised when rereading the book for the third time for this show.
He also recounted a difficult period when working with Teardrop Explodes. Finding himself short of inspiration and direction, he persuaded the band to head to Scotland in the hope that Ken Campbell would be just the man to show them what to do next. Unfortunately Campbell was still sore from the Araldite incident and demanded £100 for any advice. What’s more having scrambled the money together, Drummond and the band eagerly awaited Campbell’s wise words, to be simply told… “Wilder“. And so that’s what the album ended up being called.
Next up Alan Moore – something of a legend in the world of graphic novels – has the audience spellbound reading two extracts from Wilson’s work. With a huge grey beard and his fingers covered in elaborate metal gothic finger jewellery, Moore is a charismatic figure. The first extract from “Masks of the Illuminati” tells of an LSD induced orgy featuring Queen Victoria, dildo’s and buggery, read in a manner that had you savouring every line, although there’s a strange antipodean lilt to Moores voice. According to Ken Campbell, Moore will be featuring in a Simpsons episode called “Husbands & Knives” later in the year 🙂
He finished with what looked like a hand written poem on Wilson’s life and work. In turns serious and funny its a perfectly pitched tribute to the man, and another magical moment in an evening it was a privilege to attend. Mixmaster Morris has since mentioned making some of the footage available soon, and possibly doing the event elsewhere in the country.
Robert Anton Wilson:
“I would hate to be taken seriously. Serious people are always so grim and uptight that they make me want to dance naked on the lawn playing a flute. Of course, as Mavis says in the first volume of the trilogy, nothing is true unless it makes you laugh, but you don’t really understand it until it makes you cry. The basic situation of humanity is both tragic and comic, since we are all domesticated apes with marvellous 30-billion-cell brains, which we seldom use efficiently because of domination by the older mammalian parts of the back brain. I mean, we’re living on the Planet of the Apes, man. Is that funny or serious? It depends on how broad your sense of humour is, I guess.”
Emma & Glen wore synchronous stripy tops and used RAW power to escape speeding tickets
Squirmelia was moved by Alan Moore
Basilar said lots in a language I dont understand.
Salamander took 50+ superb behind the scenes pics, and shots of the event
Loads of Robert Anton Wilson downloads
UPDATE – Matt Black posts full video of night below: