Music geeks and musicians, and artists in general, have placed a premium on obscurity, on the making of limited editions and hard to get albums. There is something enticing about what is Not Available. The unheard album, the lost studio track, the book that is so expensive you will never be able to buy it, and therefore never know what it contains, becomes a cipher for the numinous, for mystery. The search for the obscure becomes a spiritual quest.
Sometimes the edification of the obscure is annoying. No one wants to be sitting in a bar or coffeehouse next to a hipster who can only talk about how cool such-and-such a band is because hardly anyone else has heard about them. These snobs give off an immature reek. Ownership of a limited edition items becomes a mark of elitism in the possessors imagined hierarchy of self-worth.
On the other hand, one of a kind and limited editions break up the monotony of sleek mass produced products and forms of work. They exist as threats to the status quo. Not everyone can have them because not everyone will like them or understand them or need them. At the apogee however are works made without the intention of ever releasing them to the public. They may be shared in private or enjoyed alone by the creator. It is in this category that albums such as The Residents, “Not Available” fall into.
The work was inspired by the legendary Bavarian composer and sometimes Resident collaborator N. Senada. It was a direct application of his theory of obscurity which states that an artist can only truly create pure art when the expectations and influences of the outside world are not taken into consideration. Thus The Residents recorded their album in secrecy with the intention of never releasing the work until they themselves had forgotten about its existence. It only took a few years after recording however before the album was released. The release of their album Eskimo kept getting pushed back and so the record company, Cryptic Corporation, demanded this treasure from the vault. It now exists as a testament to the power of creating something without compromising the potential vision inherent in a piece of work in favor of what might be termed, “market forces” which are ever a threat to the artist who would keep her integrity.
The album Pagan Day by Psychic TV is similar. Subtitled, Sketches from a Notebook, the songs were recorded onto four-track tape by Genesis P-Orridge and Alex Fergusson as part of an evening ritual. They were doing this just for fun, a way of relaxing and being creative as they watched the children play while the sun went down. The album was made just for the fuck of it, and only later released, almost like an afterthought.
The Theory of Obscurity could be equated magically to Silence, the fourth power of the Sphinx. These are the secret operations no one ever knows about. They are not done to achieve lasting fame, but to hermetically seal the circle of art in which the operation is performed. These acts remain invisible to all but the denizens of the Inner Planes. The majority of magical work partakes of the draught of silence.
In artist work then, remember the power of silence. The notebook, sketchbook, dream journal, albums and songs which no one but you alone have heard are pregnant with power. The act of making something for you own eyes and ears alone has tremendous value. These pieces can later inform and instruct when work needs to be done for other eyes and ears. It isn’t just practice, though that is part of it, but is also about planting seeds. Some of them may sprout and grow to maturity later, others may simply rest and be reabsorbed into the soil after being added to natures compost heap. Either way the imagination will be fortified.
William S. Burroughs personally destroyed at least a thousand pages of his writing. In a lecture he gave at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics he said, “Sinclair Lewis said that if you have written something that you think is just great and you cant wait to show it to somebody he said throw it away it’s terrible. Now this is very often true. I had the experience of say writing something that I thought was just great and I read it the next day and said for God’s sakes tear into very small pieces and throw it into somebody else’s garbage can. It’s awful. And that is one of the deterrents to writing – the amount of bad writing you’re going to have to do before you do any good writing.”
The important thing is to have something to throw away, to do something and not speak about it. This practice will in turn fortify the practice of editing, of cutting, of letting go. Silence is also an aspect of Invisibility. The cultivation of invisibility can be used when engaging in various aspects of guerilla art and illegal public art.
There is another aspect to things being Not Available, and they are particular to a world where the resources people grew accustomed to during the trip upwards to Hubbert’s Peak will not be around anymore. Accordingly, the making of certain types of work which rely on industrial products will no longer be available. Gaps in production, transport of once common goods will be de rigeur. Ingenuity is the red headed step-child of necessity; as such she won’t have all the same toys to play with as her elder siblings had. She’ll have to learn how to work with the scraps available to her, mix her own paints, fix her own guitar. The visions she has may not feasibly translate into works on the physical plane of existence. Therefore what she builds may only be available on mental and spiritual levels.
1. The Residents, “Not Available” album
2. Psychic TV, “Pagan Day” album
3. William S. Burroughs Workshop – Jack Kerouac Conference, Naropa University, Bolder Colorado, July 23, 1982 as Transcribed from the Original Audio Recording by Marcus D. Niski.