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A Whirlpool with Seductive Furniture: The John Foxx Interview

Author: • Jul 11th, 2006 •

Category: architecture, Chris Marker, Chris Petit, film, Iain Sinclair, Ian Curtis, interviews, music, Philip K. Dick, psychogeography, surrealism, William Burroughs

by Simon Sellars

Ballardian: John Foxx Interview
an image from John Foxx’s Cathedral Oceans project

John Foxx, the former lead singer of Ultravox, is an undisputed electronic music pioneer. Before Midge Ure came along, the band’s three Foxx-driven albums, Ultravox! (1977), Ha! Ha! Ha! (1978) and Systems of Romance (1978), fused near-future melancholy with icy man-machine interfaces and the remake/remodel aesthetic of Eno-era Roxy Music, betraying a demonstrable Ballardian outlook — all crumbling cities, random genders and the ‘music that machines make’.

Foxx left Ultravox after Systems of Romance, tired of the group mentality. In 1980 he was back with his first solo album, Metamatic, which birthed the all-synthetic ‘metal beat’ sound. As Foxx says, he was ‘reading way too much J.G. Ballard’ when he made this album, and it’s obvious: JGB is etched into every groove, from the car-crash scenarios in the lyrics to the glimpses of shattered glass, plazas, underpasses and urban sites of psychological degradation. If you know a bit about Ballard, you’ve probably heard of Metamatic, even if Foxx’s work is less familiar: it’s the one that always gets namechecked as the archetypal Ballardian album.

A few more well regarded albums later, and Foxx disappeared from the music scene for around 10 years. Using his real name, Dennis Leigh, he worked as a visual artist, designing book covers for the likes of Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson. In the 1990s he again made music, mainly in collaboration with Louis Gordon, with a thoroughly modern update of the Metamatic sound. He also found time to release three CDs of his Cathedral Oceans concept, ‘architectural ambient music’ that seeks to tease out the latent psychogeography – and spirituality — of urban ruins. As we find out in this interview, Cathedral Oceans, too, is not a million miles from Ballard…

The continuum is also found in Foxx’s latest album, Tiny Colour Movies, featuring the imaginary soundtracks Foxx composed after viewing the ‘found film’ collection of Arnold Weizcs-Bryant. As Foxx writes in the liner notes, “Arnold Weizcs-Bryant … has a huge collection of movies from many sources and in many different media. He stipulates that the movies he collects must be short – none is more than seven or eight minutes long, and some have a duration of only a few seconds. He insists that these represent a new kind of art … the movie made outside commercial considerations, for the sheer pleasure of film. This category can include found film, the home movie, the repurposed movie fragment”.

Foxx’s channelling and championing of Arnold’s media-interruptus aesthetic would do Talbot/Travis/Travers in The Atrocity Exhibition proud. I spoke to him about the continuing influence of JG Ballard in his work.

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– Simon Sellars
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NOTE: Part 2 of this interview can be found here.
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Ballardian: John Foxx Interview
Still from the ‘No One Driving’ video, 1980

I was in retreat from bands, mightily convinced that electronics were the future, and reading too much J.G. Ballard. I lived alone in Finsbury Park, spent my spare time walking the disused train lines, cycled to the studio every day and wobbled back at dawn, imagining I was the Marcel Duchamp of electropop. Metamatic was the result. It was the first British electronic pop album. It was minimal, primitive technopunk. Car-crash music tailored by Burtons”.

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– John Foxx, Assembly sleevenotes, 1992.
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SIMON SELLARS: During the Metamatic era, which Ballard books were you reading and how exactly did Ballard’s writing influence you?

JOHN FOXX: I was reading Crash and High-Rise. And Burroughs — The Wild Boys. These were all making a sort of continuous landscape I recognised which intersected perfectly with living in London in the mid-to-late 70s. Grey, grainy, exhausted. Yet a constant tantalising feeling of some kind of event or entity always about to manifest itself. A whirlpool with seductive furniture. That’s why you stay. You get edges of the same kind of involvement with the place as I understand hostages can develop for their captors.

The car-crash scenarios were particularly resonant for me, for three reasons. First, a perfect metaphor for my own life and what was happening with technology: an enjoyable journey interrupted by a couple of crashes. Second, I love and fear cars, how they’ve changed cities, landscapes, economies, our apprehension of time and our view of our own bodies – and the way they have made new and terrible crimes possible. Three, because I’d been involved in two car crashes and so had some good friends. The beautiful Hiang Kee (who played synth on the TV performance of ‘No One Driving’) was, by complete coincidence, just emerging from surgery to remedy severe facial damage caused by a windscreen in a crash. The TV appearance helped her regain some confidence.

The Burton’s bit was to ensure the landscape was British – not confusable with America, which I love but I’m always trying to eliminate from some aspects of my work.

The geometry of the plaza exercised a unique fascination upon Talbot’s mind.

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J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition, 1970
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Across the Plaza
A giant hoarding of Italian cars
Across the Plaza
The lounge is occupied by seminars

Down escalators, come to the sea view
Behind all the smoked glass no-one sees you
A familiar figure comes to meet you
I remember your face
From some shattered windscreen…

From the Plaza
The highways curve in over reservoirs
On the Plaza
A queue is forming for the cinema…

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John Foxx, ‘Plaza’, from Metamatic, 1979
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How do you think your relationship to Ballard’s writing has changed over the years? In 2006 would you still count him as an influence?

Of course, it alters over time. Just as memory does. I think he’s now part of the beginning of a collective understanding of aspects of the ways technology can affect us, and how human desires intertwine with all that. So, I feel many of his ideas can only continue to gather resonance.

From the late 70s to the early 80s, it seemed that most “post-punk” artists were happy to claim Ballard as an influence: Numan, Siouxsie, Ian Curtis, Cabaret Voltaire, yourself… Why did Ballard have resonance for such a particular group of musicians back then?

I think some of this may have been an attraction to the new modes of physical and intellectual violence on offer and to the uncompromising outer edge stance. This attraction naturally alters as the ‘mode of the music’ changes. Many other writers have since begun to colonise what JGB established, and elaborated that grammar to deal with new technological events, but it’s still essentially the same stance.

He was the first radical and relevant novelist of this technological age in Britain. You had Burroughs and Philip K Dick in America but they were connected to the beat movement, using drugs as a lens, reflecting an American landscape. I always enjoyed JGB’s Englishness, living in a middle-class suburb writing about a new landscape we’d only just come to live in – more akin to McLuhan’s academic/romantic take on the unrecognised present.

I think what Ballard maps out so well is that moment of surrender to the terrible. A total, inevitable, final embrace. After Hiroshima we really had no choice. It was impossible to pretend that the world would ever be the same again. We all sleep there every night, now. Ballard blueprinted all that like no one else I’ve ever read.

Ballardian: John Foxx Interview
UltraFoxx: John in 1977

As far as musical subcultures go, why doesn’t Ballard get namechecked today?

Ballard has much more competition for attention now: a flood of engaging, contemporary writers. There is also the moment of contemporary recognition, where a generation recognises and comes to trust an author. After a while the writer becomes part of that generational landscape and succeeding generations need to find their own. It takes a while for the contemporaneity to fall away, so a writer’s relevance can be more accurately assessed. It’s too early to view Ballard like that yet. Sometimes it’s enough to be relevant to that generation only.

As a marginal digression, I have a theory that we can’t truly understand anything without a direct sensual involvement. Sensuality is an intellectual device, which allows understanding, and I include eroticism with all that. So we have this terrible need to become entangled in order to comprehend.

I suppose another part of this compound is a wild and often forlorn hope of somehow being able to absorb and dominate the thing eventually. As irrational and recognisable as the urge to jump from a high place in order to surmount the fear.

Just as EL Doctorow was the first to use real historical characters in a fictional matrix, then a stream of others began to do the same: Ackroyd, Winterson, Rushdie, etc. Doctorow receives little credit for this and is not as well known as the others here, yet he did it first. Ballard is in a similar position. A writer who invented a territory that was colonised swiftly and efficiently by many others. Happens all over.

All day the derelict walls and ceiling of the sound stage had reverberated with the endless din of traffic accelerating across the mid-town flyover which arched fifty feet above the studio’s roof, a frenzied hypermanic babel of jostling horns, shrilling tyres, plunging brakes and engines that hammered down the empty corridors and stairways to the sound stage on the second floor, making the leaden air feel leaden and angry”.

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– J.G. Ballard, ‘The Sound Sweep’, 1960
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Architectural Music. The music is … made of layers of echoes and reverberations. The form of chant now known as Early Music was allowed by large-scale architecture – through harmonies which occur when a human voice responds to its own delayed reflections from the walls of churches and cathedrals … Through new reverberation technology, we can now sing into digital architecture of infinite dimensions. Layers of music and image can interconnect seamlessly and in the same ways for the first time, since they have recently become part of the same digital continuum.

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John Foxx, ‘About Cathedral Oceans’, 2005
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I read that you pick up ideas for music by “listening to ambiences”. Do you respond to the “ambient” nature of Ballard’s work, to the sonic/architectural elements in his writing? It seems to me that Ballard’s work records the ambient hum of the technological landscape, which is then reflected in inner space.

Yes. There’s a lot in how we respond to cities — and how we use them to build ourselves — that we are just beginning to get to. I like the idea of architecture and the city as an extension of the human body. This springs also from McLuhan, but Ballard elaborated the idea and explored it in literature. I also like his ruminations on time and on memory. These are both subjects that preoccupy me more and more.

I feel that cities and organisations of all kinds are built on this same unconscious matrix. We keep elaborating outwards on our own internal structures — libraries are an extension of memory — rooms can represent compartmented thoughts and feelings, even fears and moods. Television is an extension of the eye, radio of the ear, etc.

Ballardian: John Foxx Interview
John Foxx’s ‘Motorway Demolition/Public Memory Project’
(From the Cathedral Oceans website)

I also feel that streets and avenues are neural pathways we re-use to reprogram ourselves with layers of memory and association. I think all this is amoebic in origin and we’ve replicated it outward since then, as an evolutionary survival and colonisation mechanism. We’re all still hard at it, building the old coral reef. Ballard has used many of these kinds of thought experiments beautifully as components of his writing, manifesting them in landscape and detail.

An intimate knowledge of urban ambiences is a joy as deep as anything in Green Nature. I have a fascination with Grey Nature, or Technicolor Nature – ecologies are emerging which are as subtle as anything Green. In cities, you have to walk and experience and try not to allow your knowledge or present understanding prejudice your reception of the experience. Requires a trance like state and concentration combined with suspension of disbelief. Watch out for traffic.

He sank to his knees in the soft loam which covered the floor, and steadied himself against a barnacled lamp-post. In a relaxed, graceful moon-stride he loped slowly through the deep sludge … On his right were the dim flanks of the buildings lining the sidewalks, the silt piled in soft dunes up to their first-floor windows … Most of the windows were choked with debris, fragments of furniture and metal cabinets, sections of floorboards, matted together by the fucus and cephalopods”.

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J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World, 1962
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Down Oxford Street the buildings were festooned with ivy and Virginia creeper. Trees grew from the windows of Selfridges, the pavements and Tarmac were split by plane trees spreading across Marble Arch from Hyde Park, purple loostrife waved in the breeze scattering its white, floating seeds, glowing in the late afternoon light.

Above him the sky was bright blue now, and the light was going golden across the top edges of the crumbling buildings. At the bottom of Oxford Street stood the tall Centrepoint tower, its remaining upper windows glinting, while most of the base was covered in vines. (mile-a-minute vine especially had grown out from many of the gardens, and living up to its name, had swamped quite a number of roads and buildings in the city)”.

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John Foxx, ‘The Quiet Man’, 1982
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The “car-crash” element in Metamatic is often used to identify Crash as Ballard’s major influence on your career. But is JGB’s The Drowned World another kind of “ur-text” for you? Were your visions of a verdant London (and, by extension, Cathedral Oceans) inspired or at least informed by Ballard’s imagining of a devolved Earth, with its urban areas overgrown by jungle and swamps?

Ballardian: John Foxx Interview image from Cathedral Oceans

This began long before I came across The Drowned World. I was relieved when I read it because, at first, I feared it might have taken the territory I was developing. But I do think it had an effect of defining more closely what I was doing with Cathedral Oceans, if in a negative way.

The visions of an overgrown London also began earlier and there is some correspondence there. I’d seen a painting of an aerial view of woodland, which on closer scrutiny turned out to be a view of a ruined overgrown London from the top of Centrepoint. I also remembered a Daumier engraving of a view of a deserted London being sketched by a future tourist.

Such images are part of a long tradition of contemplation of ruins, being useful devices for meditations on the works of humankind. Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’; the end scene of the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes; Quatermass and The Pit; and Celebrity Surgery being other useful ones that immediately spring to mind.

Your myspace bio says that when you gave up music and worked as a visual artist, you illustrated a Ballard book cover. What book was that and can you tell me a little about the process by which you arrived at a suitable aesthetic?

Sadly, I never made an image for a Ballard cover. I worked on new books by lots of authors I enjoyed — Anthony Burgess, Jeanette Winterson, Shakespeare, Doris Lessing among many others. I would have been more than pleased to do something for Ballard, along with Burroughs, Ishiguro, Auster, Byatt, Doctorow, Pulman, Calvino… Ballard’s would certainly have been derived from video or Super 8mm — found, damaged footage. Books may move in future, so a flickering film loop is perfect.

The images of surrealism are the iconography of inner space. Popularly regarded as a lurid manifestation of fantastic art concerned with states of dream and hallucination, surrealism is the first movement, in the words of Odilon Redon, to place ‘the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible’. This calculated submission to the impulses and fantasies of our inner lives to the rigours of time and space … produces a heightened or alternate reality beyond that familiar to our sight or senses … To move through these landscapes is a journey of return to one’s innermost being”.

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J.G. Ballard, ‘The Coming of the Unconscious’, 1966
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Your work seems to have the logic of dreams, of Surrealist art, where externally illogical worlds function perfectly well according to their own internal logic – Redilon’s “logic of the visible at the service of the invisible”.

I’ve always felt dreams are important and a number of coincidences — and waking experiences involving dreams — and memories of dreams as a component — continue to bear this out. There’s a neat intersection here with cinema. I think cinema can be a sort of public dreaming — the same time shifts, flashbacks, and so on. It seems that the language of cinema is being drawn almost entirely from dreams and we are witnessing an externalisation, an extension of this process, through technology. Of course, cinema is a compound — made of ingredients from theatre and literature as well, and those bear separate attention.

Songs are an interesting compound of music and words as chant — a hypnotic process, where the operator attempts to slip a piece of dream cinema under the door while the recipient is distracted. An attempt to persuade the listener to suspend disbelief long enough to watch the movie. But it’s an internal movie. One composed of the listener’s own experience. All you do is allow a space big enough for the listener to walk inside and construct their own movie, while believing that it is all someone else’s work.

This strange and poetic film … is a fusion of science fiction, psychological fable and photomontage, and creates … a series of potent images of the inner landscapes of time … this succession of disconnected images is a perfect means of projecting the quantified memories and movements through time that are the film’s subject matter”.

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J.G. Ballard, ‘La Jetee’, 1966
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Your lyrics freeze moments in time — while also suggesting a kind of neurological time travel. Maybe in the same way that memories work. Or photographs. We know that Last Year in Marienbad is one of your favourite films, but is Chris Marker’s La Jetee another influence?

Yes — I really enjoy La Jetee. One of the first flashback movies. After this it gradually became part of the language but its taken around forty years to get fully assimilated — an incredible and singular act of originality on Chris Marker’s part, since film is such a fast moving medium. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the latest version. It’s taken that long for everyone else to catch up.

You can only find this place by drifting. It is impossible to walk directly here. You must first surrender yourself to the tides of the city. Takes years to do it. Slowly the tides will take you here”.

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John Foxx, ‘The Grey Suit’, 1997
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Do you see your philosophy and ideas as embodying a “psychogeographical” aspect, echoing Guy Debord? I’m especially thinking of your notions of “drift music” and “drifting through the city”.

Yes — I was Debording before I came across his ideas. Everyone does it to some extent. It’s just that their attention is on other things, allowing the really important aspects to slip by. What’s in this slipstream deeply interests me.

… Petit remains the most Ballardian of British film essayists. There’s an element of shared background – colonial childhood, public school, suburbs – but it goes deeper than that. The fascination with a frozen aesthetic of motorways, business parks, airport hotels: franchised Surrealism. A present tense world of swift, spare sentences; a controlled surface disguising a sense of loss, a damaged past that can only be annealed through the rearrangement of images.

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Iain Sinclair, Crash, 1999
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Ballardian: John Foxx Interview
John Foxx today

It seems a similar approach to the London Orbital book and film by Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit. What do you think of their project — which, of course, is refracted through Ballard — to reclaim London as a narrative space for drifting?

It’s about time – London was neglected as a mythland before Ballard. I used to wonder why, when it was so gloriously filthy and sprawling and magical and repetitious and various and shifting. Richer than Los Angeles or New York, bleaker than Beijing. More concealed than a convent. Driftland in Excelsis – or at least in Albion.

First Ballard, then Ackroyd came along from a completely different angle — now Sinclair is on the case. It’s good to see this happening. Chris Petit’s film was a brave early attempt to weave all these elements together and stands as a sort of historico-fictal documentary fragment. It blueprints a lot of British film possibilities that haven’t been taken up yet.

I was excited by this at the time, because it looked like the beginnings of a sort of New British Cinema Verite which has been hinted at but hasn’t quite happened. Kes is another example, in a different genre. An interesting evolution through three directors. He began life as Antoine Doinel in Truffaut’s 400 Blows and ended up filleted as Billy Elliot in a ballet frock. How we kill our finest.

We always need these accounts so we know who we are and where we live, as directly opposed to the generic readymades available through most media. These mostly have sinister subtexts anyway and so are best ignored. I remember not watching TV for two years and discovering I lived in a different country. Get out there and walk.

What do you think Ballard’s greatest contribution to late-20th-century/early-21st-century art has been?

Making new images of where we currently live. Positing terrifying new aesthetics, then evolving it all to a fully realised state.

Each afternoon in the deserted cinema Tallis was increasingly distressed by the images of colliding motor cars. Celebrations of his wife’s death, the slow-motion newsreels recapitulated all his memories of childhood, the realization of dreams which even during the safe immobility of sleep would develop into nightmares of anxiety.

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J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition, 1970
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The old newscasts affected him greatly, the Kennedy assassination, the images of Christine Keeler, early Beatles footage, all in a slightly worn Black and White. He edited together a film containing all these images and more, and played it constantly. He found it profoundly moving, the images gaining even more emotive power with each viewing. All these characters of his past moving in old daylight, waving and smiling and moving on”.

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John Foxx, ‘The Quiet Man’, 1982
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The Atrocity Exhibition reads like an instruction manual in how to disrupt mass media and recontextualise technology — a manual you would appear to have digested, judging from the above quote. Now, what strikes me most about your liner notes to Tiny Colour Movies is the sense they give of a continuous history of people working in the margins to break down this notion of filmmaking as a monolithic, mysterious, endless process — it really did put me in mind of the ‘T’ figure in Atrocity reconfiguring the media landscape ‘in a way that makes sense’ (as did your ‘Quiet Man’ story). Is there a line we can draw that connects The Atrocity Exhibition to “The Quiet Man” to Arnold Weizcs-Bryant to Tiny Colour Movies?

Sure. We can easily draw several dozen lines in and out. Some ideas are cumulative.

Will Arnold’s collection ever be made available for public screenings?

There are plans.

Clearly the time is right for a proper real-world revolution in filmmaking — we have the tools and the new technology — and, as Arnold’s collection demonstrates, the precedent.

Movies will be played with, just as sound was sampled, for fun and surrealism. Simply because it can be done. I remember positing this five years ago in a talk at the London College of Music and Media. Around that time, I made a movie called A Man Made of Shadows from several other movies. This made a new movie from existing films by collaging, repurposing, hommaging, stealing, sampling, appropriating. Whatever you like to call it. ‘Repurposing’ is my current fave term, along with ‘theft’.

Watch out Hollywood. Movies had better get used to this because it will happen. Inevitable. A financial legal structure already exists to deal with ownership and payment from sampling in music, but this hasn’t been investigated yet because lawyers and laws don’t cross pollinate easily, but it will happen.

Everyone can now make films and this wasn’t possible until three years ago. But like music, film is a swarm activity. Solo filmmakers and commercial cinema will increasingly arrive at Tarnation-type scenarios, and I expect some obsessive genius to make solo high-grade commercial animations in the near future.

Entirely new forms will evolve. Documentary is in for a huge revival. We will now get to know how everything works — from the inside. There will be a great deal of government counter information and myth planting. Virals, Flashmovies, phones, Epaper, and Ebooks will generate new and hybrid purposes, some unguessable, some too sordid to contemplate, and others a sheer delight.

Old media will get cannibalised all along the way. There will soon be a swift download – the Napster equivalent for movies. Pornography will become a mainstream Hollywood genre. Everyone will film everyone else doing everything. Virals will be endemic and there will be much inverted subversive hijacking of these new forms by crafty commerce. There will always be a grubby subcurrent. We’ve already had snuff movies and happy slapping. God help us. Some of it will get worse as surveillance increases in efficiency.

Ballardian: John Foxx Interview

What’s the next step, then?

New folk tales will evolve. For example, from people filming infidelity with other people’s wives then emailing it to them. Awareness of this will force modifications in behaviour and new etiquettes. Office parties will become more guarded from now on. Mobile phone cameras are the next device for urban dramas of all kinds.

I was fortunate to be able to view some of the Weizcs-Bryant collection recently … They were like flickering transmissions from another world. Here you see old sunlight from other times and other lives. Juxtapositions of underwater automobiles, the highways of Los Angeles, movies made from smoke and light, discarded surveillance footage from 1964 New York hotel rooms. After the viewing, I began to understand what Arnold meant when he spoke so passionately about the intrinsic beauty of the medium — how the scratches, the grain, the bleached out sections, all once regarded as imperfections, can now be appreciated as qualities — elements which only add to the mystery, the emotional and intellectual resonance, and the sensual appreciation, of film”.

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John Foxx, liner notes, Tiny Colour Movies, 2006
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Ballardian: John Foxx Interview illustration by Dennis Leigh

We’ll also need to develop new aesthetics of film, to regard elements formerly regarded as faults as intrinsic qualities inherent in film itself. The beauty of scratches, bleached out film ends, emulsion faults, grain, frameslip, etc. Just as we now value surface scratches in audio sampling.

Scale will also be a vital component. New projection technologies are emerging. I want to see a 24-hour showing of a single close up from a selected Hollywood movie. Let’s bathe in it. Project it 500 feet high. Onto smoke. Onto clouds. Into oceans and lakes. Project vast slow-motion home movies so we can dissolve into a glorious buzz of glowing grain. Let’s have a sunset at each end of the sky — or all night. Project people as buildings and buildings as skies.

The possibilities of projection and digitisation are multiplying as we speak. LCD shirts showing SloMo pornography. Naked GlowClothing. Invisibility suits which display the background at any viewing angle, picked up by woven nanocams. Steadycam projectable faces — change your face every two hours.

It will drive us all crazy when SpamVision rogue projection advertisers get started.

So, will simplicity be the crucial thing (systemically, of course)?

Only if you have to operate a damn computer.

Or will the angle between two walls have a happy ending?

Now you’re kidding me.

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– Simon Sellars
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AFTERWORD: A thought occurred to me within hours of posting this interview: are the ‘found movies’ of Arnold Weizcs-Bryant fictitious? Something had been nagging at me about the aphorisms attributed to Arnold in the Tiny Colour Movies liner notes: they ‘sound’ exactly like John Foxx. Also, Arnold’s nowhere to be found on Google, which is no indication of anything, really, but all the same I can’t help wondering: do the filmmakers in Arnold’s collection — indeed, does Arnold himself — even exist? The liner notes are brilliantly evocative, full of urban explorations, such as the burnt footprints on sidewalks that ‘Frank Watts’ is supposed to have captured on video.

Ballardian: John Foxx Interview Apparently, this is a still from a ‘Frank Watts’ film.

Foxx writes: “On his habitual walks through London, Watts gradually came to notice something strange. He often came across odd, burnt patches on pathways and more secluded pavements. These were always small and often contained the charred remains of items of clothing or shoes. Watts conjectures that these places appeared as a result of a person at such a location being subject to some intense discharge of energy such as a lightning strike, or possibly an unknown method of transportation or vaporisation”.

Urban drift; walking through the city; submitting to psychic entry points … surely this is yet another brilliantly evocative John Foxx short story? Yes — the more I think about it, the more I think that’s the case … re-reading the liner notes, the parallels with these ‘filmmakers’, with their obsessions and aesthetics, to Foxx himself now seem all too obvious (let’s not forget that ‘John Foxx’ is a character that Dennis Leigh himself has said he inhabits because ‘John Foxx is smarter than me’).

Arnold’s ‘filmmakers’ are called Robert Rouncefield; Jerry Golden; Earnst Lubin — like ‘John Foxx’, these are humdrum yet fanciful names, mythical yet ordinary, dull names to the point of incandescence. Their bios and summaries exhibit all the traits of the condensed novels in The Atrocity Exhibition

One of them’s even called ‘Alan Marker’: surely a nod and a wink to Chris Marker! But infused with a ‘suburban English’ first name… the section on ‘Alan Marker’ even reads like a precis of Chris Marker’s career, with particular reference to La Jetee (which, of course, we discussed in the interview). Foxx writes: “For the past four years Alan Marker has made a fascinating series of short films …. the images are carefully framed and sequenced moving film clips and loops as well as photographic stills … The result is a strange merging of the subject with the projections. A sort of modern mediumistic transference appears to take place. The faces seem to melt and reform into each other as the initial subject dissolves into a series of hybrid identities, nebulae of remembered and incorporated personalities. These films … are surely unique in the history of filmmaking”.

It all seems so obvious now. I’ll go so far as to say that I’ve been had…but I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Rereading the interview, I can now see that John was scattering clues throughout, dropping hints which I blatantly failed to tune into: the Marker exchange; the Ballard book cover that never was, with its ‘found, damaged’ Super-8 aesthetic; his admiration of ‘the beauty of scratches and bleached out film ends’, identical to the elements that have so engaged ‘Arnold’ (and which I quoted); his belief in cinema as ‘public dreaming’; his cryptic answer to my Atrocity/TCM comparison… I feel like I’ve been the unsuspecting guinea pig in a very clever thought experiment conducted by Dr Foxx.

These people do not exist.

When I asked ‘John’ if ‘Arnold’ would make his collection available to the public, he said ‘there are plans’. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong and a real person named Arnold Weizcs-Bryant, with his precious cargo of ‘found films’, will one day emerge from the shadows. But maybe more likely, it will be John himself who will step into the spotlight, with a collection of moving pictures that represent the first tangible fruits of his own oft-stated ambition to make ‘samplefilms’…

Of course, it doesn’t matter either way: fictitious or not, the results will be incredible. And inspiring. And Ballardian to the max.

– Simon

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..:: LINKS
+ John Foxx: Seductive Whirlpools, Part 2 More in the Key of John
+ Metamatic: Official John Foxx Site
+ Official Cathedral Oceans Site
+ Rockwrok UltraFoxx tribute site
+ ‘old sunlight from other times and other lives’: John Foxx’s Tiny Colour Movies patented ‘k-punk’ analysis
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18 Responses »

  1. I’m a filmmaker, and my pupose aside bigger projects, is to make small movies as long as I live… I’ve already made a lot of this kind of very short movies. When I bought Tiny coloured Movies, I was nailed to the ground, I heard the soundscapes I normally make myself for these small movies.
    I feel a kind of synchro….

  2. we’d love to see your films, geert….

  3. excellent and worthwhile conversation. most illuminating.

  4. A good link to a previous conversation strand – Ballard and his influence/congruence on/with music.
    More than a few Ballardian references in Mr Foxx’s music.
    “It’s a burning car”.
    And the real Ultravox albums, the Foxx-led ones still sound wonderful. Just ask Arnold.

  5. http://www.geertwachtelaer.com… there are some influences in my films

  6. Hello, excellent piece of work, excellent website.

  7. Great interview – very interesting and revealing to connections with Foxx’s lyrical work and his love of JG Ballard. SInce reading this I’ve bought ‘THe Drowned World’ and so far I’m really enjoying it!

  8. that’s great to hear alex — another victim!

  9. Very interesting indeed. Enjoyable reading.

    Regards

    PM
    One of the original old time fans of john foxx

  10. Brilliant stuff. Foxx is a genius. I hope to use a lot of his music in my new sci-fi thriller to be shot in Moscow. All Foxx fans keep your eyes open…

    The Tik-Tok Man

  11. Friday Links…

    Some links for a late Friday afternoon…

    A Walk Through Durham Township: Cousin Mike on a Flooded Basketball Court

    Have been meaning to link this for a while: a simple photoblog that wanders around Durham Township in Pennsylvania. Its both beg…

  12. All this Arnold Weizcs-Bryant stuff reminds me of Malcolm Le Grice’s Little Dog for Roger (1967). A very short avant-garde film of found footage set into a loop. It was black and white, unfortunately, but well worth watching. I only ever saw it once. In 1978. And I’ve never forgotten it.

    Just tried a Google search and it appears he has a webpage.

  13. jacuzzi…

    As cyber space continues to cumulate whirlpool test sources, we’ll work to deliver them to you….

  14. [...] the interviews here http://www.ballardian.com/john-foxx-interview http://www.sleepybrain.net/john-foxx-seductive-whirlpools-part-2/ with many thanks to Simon Sellars, [...]

  15. [...] can also find an earlier interview with John Foxx on http://www.ballardian.com/john-foxx-interview Thursday, November 13th, 2008 Media, Tiny Colour [...]

  16. [...] the interviews here http://www.ballardian.com/john-foxx-interview http://www.sleepybrain.net/john-foxx-seductive-whirlpools-part-2/ with many thanks to Simon Sellars, [...]

  17. [...] Foxx sees Ballard as “the first radical and relevant novelist of this technological age in Britain”. [...]

  18. What’s up friends, how is all, and what you want to say about this paragraph, in my view its truly remarkable
    designed for me.

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