Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: Iona SinghJuly 26, 2019
Exploding Appendix Questionnaire: Nikola GocićAugust 15, 2019
The Exploding Appendix Questionnaire is an ongoing data collecting exercise that, drawing upon divergent public figures from different intellectual disciplines and artistic practices, seeks to create an ongoing and ever-expanding map of ideas. Through this ever-expanding map of divergent views, we seek a kind of dialogue that, in both its overlaps and contradictions, creates a kind of hive-mind, which, in turn, helps contribute to the intellectual unfoldings of Exploding Appendix’s overall mission.
For the Exploding Appendix Questionnaire, we have asked some of our favourite intellectuals, activists, artists, creatives and commentators to contribute to a series of 11 generic questions. The same generic questions have been sent to everyone, and what you read below is one response to this.
1. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Daniel Spicer and I live in Brighton. I do a number of different things. I am a jazz critic, music journalist, author, broadcaster, improviser and poet and I also run Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival. In this respect, I draw a lot of personal inspiration from some of the great polymaths of the ages – people like Harry Smith, Kenneth Rexroth and John Sinclair – who seemed able to pursue multiple disciplines with equal vigour. I feel it’s important not to limit oneself but to spread tentacles in every direction in search of opportunity and excitement.
2. What are your biggest influences in art, literature, music and cinema?
As a poet, I’m indebted to the whole Beat/San Francisco Renaissance/Black Mountain/New York School vortex for showing how to fuse the visionary with the vernacular: Allen Ginsberg, of course, for updating the mystic confessional of Blake and Whitman in a flash of atomic-age insight, and then others such as Philip Whalen and Diane di Prima for showing what can be done with it on both a magical and a political level. I’m also drawn to surrealism and the liberating properties of dreams and automatic writing – as pursued convincingly by Philip Lamantia and others – and moved by the almost child-like vision of surrealist-outsider Alfred Starr Hamilton. I’m also continually inspired by friends such as Keston Sutherland, Verity Spott and others on the Brighton/UK poetry scene who continue to produce amazing work, and also by Sean Bonney, now Berlin-based, who is, I think, a singular voice of righteous (in)sanity in these trying times.
I’m not a musician but I do greatly enjoy investigating the possibilities of playing as an improvising non-musician. That means, while I’m not conventionally schooled in how to play any particular instrument, I’ve given myself permission to see what can be achieved from a more instinctual and spontaneous basis. Lately I have been playing a lot of piano but I also play trumpet, bamboo saxophone, violin, harmonica, recorder and whatever else might be to hand. For me, it’s largely about seeing what can be done by marshalling energy rather than thinking about melody. In this respect, I’m influenced by free-jazz artists such as Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor. Ornette Coleman’s cavalier insistence on exploring instruments he wasn’t trained in is also an inspiration. There were a couple of formative personal experiences that opened this practise up to me: one was visiting Hugh Metcalfe’s infamous Klinker Club in London a few times in the late 90s/early 00s and seeing people making truly exploratory improvised sounds purely for the joy of discovery; another was witnessing US free-folk troupe Sunburned Hand of the Man perform in Brighton in 2004 and being amazed and enchanted by their artlessly playful spontaneity. It was something of a ‘punk’ moment for me inasmuch as I thought “I’d like to give that a try.” Fortunately, I soon met up with a likeminded crew interested in jamming, which became the band Bolide in 2007. The noise/experimental scene was very fertile in Brighton at the time, which gave us many opportunities to play, which we embraced wholeheartedly. Bolide’s activities have slowed somewhat in recent years, though we have never officially ceased operations. Now, however, I’m in an extremely stimulating improvising trio called In Threads with Bolide drummer James Parsons and poet/musician Verity Spott on cello, and I’ve also recently struck up an interesting duo with Paul Khimasia Morgan who plays a neck-less acoustic guitar body with electronic effects.
I feel it’s worth stating that, across almost all my creative endeavours, I think the most important influence on my work is the pursuit of a certain trance/bliss/ecstatic state. A hugely formative period in my life was my enthusiastic participation in the rave scene of the early 1990s in both Manchester and the M25 area. The repeated experience of dissolving into an ego-less/oceanic consciousness and loving group-mind blew a hole through my imagination in a most profound and lasting way. These days, I have neither the time nor the energy to be regularly taking the strong drugs that can deliver such a state, but I still feel powerfully compelled to try and access the experience as often as possible. While I had been listening to jazz since I was teenaged Kerouac fan, my later discovery of the more liberation-orientated, ecstatic free-jazz and, subsequently, noise and other forms of pure energy music, was, in this respect, a major revelation insofar as these sounds seemed to provide the most convincing route to eyes-rolled-into-the-back-of-the-head, blissful abandon that I had encountered outside of the rave/drug scene. For me, now, writing poetry and, especially, making music can offer a portal into a similarly liberated trance-zone – as does my practise of Vedic meditation.
3. What, for you, is the purpose of art and culture?
There’s a danger that art and cultural trappings can become a kind of safety blanket, insulating us from engaging with the harsh realities of existence. How comforting it is to close the door, shut the curtains and immerse ourselves in the music and books we love. How easy to spend evenings anaesthetised by the movies of Jodorowsky, Herzog or Tarkovsky. That’s why I think it’s hugely important to create. Certainly, as a critic, I feel my opinions are given more credence by the fact that I also make my own work. That element of risk seems, to me, to be essential. I think it was Terrence McKenna who said something about how making art is the only course of action open to us that is entirely unmediated by others, our only chance to do something truly of our own volition. It comes from us, out of nothing. It’s the living manifestation of whatever free will or personal agency is left to us. Alan Moore talks about how every creative act is also a magical act. This is 100% true. Write a poem or paint a picture and you can bend the universe to your vision of reality, even if just infinitesimally. Then, if enough if us do it, we create the culture – which gives us something to enjoy on our nights off.
4. What makes something subversive?
The subversive is anything that enables us, even for a fleeting moment, to glimpse a vision of reality that isn’t following the official script. This could be through art, through altering one’s consciousness with drugs, meditation or magic, or it could be something as simple as travel. This year, I went on trips to India and Morocco and, on both occasions, I was struck by the sense of freedom and perspective gained from being in a place where the bullshit narrative of Trump/Brexit simply wasn’t part of the psychological landscape (though India, of course, has its own problems right now). I think subversion is often about hitting an emotional and intellectual re-set button and seeing things with fresh eyes.
5. How would you approach the task of winning friends and influencing people?
Once I would have simply said, “have a few drinks.” These days, I’m less thirsty. Anyway, I’ll be 50 next year so the idea of making friends is less important to me than it used to be. I’ll stay in and read a book, if it’s all the same. The ones who are important to me know where I am.
6. What does individual freedom mean to you?
Realising that money is an illusion and that poverty is a state of mind is a huge step towards being free. Never let anything as dreary as arithmetic stop you from doing the things you want to do.
7. Is there, for you, a relationship between the personal and the political?
8. What is the root of society’s problems?
Generally, fear born of ignorance. Right now, greed calcified by the death grips of capitalism.
9. Will technology liberate humankind?
Not by itself. If we’re going to make the transition to a post-industrial/post-capitalist society – which we must if we mean to survive – it’s also going to take a profound spiritual recalibration, I think.
10. Do you have a vision for utopia?
Yes, and I think we’ve already seen a glimpse of it. I’m convinced that the great post-war/20th century countercultural experiment, which began with the Beats in the 50s, through the hippies in the 60s, punks in the 70s, so-called Industrial culture in the 80s and finally the rave scene in the 90s has shown us elements of what a spiritually transformed humanity could look like. I feel immensely privileged and grateful to have been able to take part in the last breaking wave of that experiment in the 90s, before the internet and a monoculture in fearful rigor mortis changed our notion of how an underground operates. I’m fully aware that these scenes had their faults and yet I truly believe that they also offered intimations of a better way of living – particularly the 60s dream of a new culture based on love, spontaneity, creativity, spirituality, ecological wisdom and the inalienable right to alter one’s state of consciousness as one sees fit. Of course, some will say that this was a failed experiment that proved its own impossibility. But I believe that what we witnessed was actually a birth pang, a foreshadowing, a brief flash of a fundamental transformation that humankind will one day experience. I’m essentially a radical optimist. I just hope things don’t have to get too much worse first.
11. Finally, Where can people find more of your work?
I write about music for The Wire and Jazzwise magazines each month.
My book on Turkish psychedelic music Anadolu Psych: The Turkish Psychedelic Music Explosion 1965-1980 was published by Repeater in 2018.
Eleusinian Press are due to publish my forthcoming book Lost In The Vaults: Rare Collectibles and Forgotten Gems from the Jazzwise Magazine Archives in September 2019.
I am currently working on a book about German free-jazz pioneer Peter Brötzmann, to be published by Repeater in 2020.
Brighton-based imprint Slightly Off Kilter, will publish a book of my poems and collages in early 2020.
Some of my poems can be read online at:
My radio show, The Mystery Lesson, featuring free-jazz, improv and other experimental sounds, can be heard on Sundays at 9pm on Radio Reverb 97.2FM in Brighton and streamed at https://www.totallyradio.com/shows/the-mystery-lesson
Paul Khimasia Morgan and I released a collaborative cassette, Sepertae, on the Linear Obsessional label in 2018 https://linearobsessional.bandcamp.com/album/sepertae
In Threads will release a vinyl LP entitled Orange Justice on the Eyeless Records label in October 2019.
Music by In Threads, Bolide and other projects can be heard at my Soundcloud page https://soundcloud.com/mystery-lesson
Also, this page features some of my musical field recordings – inspired by pioneers such as Paul Bowles and Deben Bhattacharya – recorded in Morocco and India in 2017 and 2019 respectively. I recently spent some time with sufi trance musicians the Master Musicians of Joujouka in the Rif Mountains of Morocco and hope to be able to share some of my recordings from that trip soon.
Founded in 2015, Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival focuses on deep, left-field jazz, featuring artists from the US, Europe and the UK. The festival is taking a break in 2019 but hopes to return in 2020. http://brightonalternativejazzfestival.com