my varroa hell

Welcome to the future.  Sorry for the mess.  Well, actually that’s your fault.  It’s cleaner on the inside I promise.  I’ll just buzz you in…

In 36 BC Marcus Terentius Varro proposed that the hexagon design bees like is the most full equilateral shape that tessellates.  It has the minimum periphery which means the most honey, or living space in this case.  The theory was mathematically proved in 1999 by Thomas Hales.  Acoustically it’s not too noisy either – no right angles.  Not that that matters since I got this problem with my ears.

The shell is aluminium and aerogel, 50% collector panels, 12 volt appliance wiring, super-insulated windows with liquid crystal shades for internal temperature control.  Heat comes from either a wood stove or a peltier solid state heat pump running off ground heat, depending on how much power we need.  Cooling, similarly.  We cook in the solar oven on the side sometimes, but mainly on woodgas or in the microwave.

When I first found out that bees were starting to disappear I really freaked out the way I used to freak out you know when you’re a kid and you see the wrong movie at the wrong week and it just stays in your head and wrecks your life for a few years.

Listen, I’ll make you cappuccino. I have a Faema of my very own. You know what that is? It’s not the Dilettante’s plastic kitchen model.  It’s one of those real restaurant espresso machines with an eagle on top.  I’ve been off work since the buzzing started.  Too disorientating to direct bicycle traffic by body-popping and blowing a whistle.  There’s other stuff, like my fingernails coming off and these weird course hairs.  I’ve been getting drone allowance since then – you have to donate your sperm to the state, go to the Hand Job Centre (trans drones get Eggs Benefit).  Families are disastrous for your mental health.  So are relationships.  These are outmoded concepts for us.

I keep my wordthingpersons in my medicine cabinet: the three wine corks are MY, VARROA, HELL.  Since the vast servers that power the cloud-based internet keep blinking on and off, we’ve been experimenting with swarm-based internet technology premised on the fact that insects co-ordinate reams of information without the need for any centralised databases.  Also it’s good for Alzheimer’s.

This is where I keep my food.  I got Sichuan pears from the food bank – the only other thing they had was lab-raised cheese burgers which I can’t stand since they learnt to make them too realistic.  Because I never used to eat meat before anyway.  I got tons of dandelions, that’s the main thing I eat.  Then there’s this fake honey stuff, Phoney.  I just use that if I need to take the taste of cheese burger away when they don’t have any pears in the bank.

Being on the drone is Okay, you get to sit around reading old cli-fi novels and perusing artefact based movie-worlds.  My teal green Fender Jazz bass, a rare colour, it was discontinued.  The pick-ups are totally rusted but I still like to play.  In fact there’s so far you can go with music with just abstract thought and vibrations I often wonder whether the audible part is all that important.  Put your hands on the table and I’ll play you my favourite riff.

Marx said that what makes the worst architect better than the best of bees is that they make some kind of plan first.  But wait, do they need to make a plan to make the plan?  And so on?  What if they make the plan automatically, neither toiling nor spinning, in a state of grace.  The map is its own territory.  Comb ready for use is known as drawn comb and wax was one of the first substances to bare human inscription.

Sometimes I get maudlin.  I found this old copy of ‘Sniffin’ Propolis’, a bee fanzine from 2012: ‘Nature is like a kind of celebrity.  We look to it for escapism, we project onto it all these ideas of holism and health and strength and perfection, completion, that you don’t really feel living life from the inside.  We build it up and knock it down without stopping to think – hey maybe it’s the same for them as it is for us.

‘Now I’m looking after a colony of bees I don’t want to treat them like celebrities.  On the course I went on they were always opening up the hive which was designed so you could survey them, frame by frame, like paparazzi.  It would be nice to let the bees make their own comb, just the way they want in the privacy of darkness, and regulate the temperature of their home without it being screwed with.

‘The bees are celebrities.  We feel like we know them but we don’t.  They’re shorter in real life.  Celebrity can be good.  Think of fans.  Fans aren’t united by nationalism, creed, colour or even belief or knowledge.  They celebrate the same thing and that’s enough and that’s how it works with the bees.  The bees can introduce people to each other and foster friendship, the same way they introduce flowers to each other and allow them to reproduce, the same way we fall in love to pop music and movies.  There is something self-sacrificing about celebrity, they mediate our relationships, they are always between and so can’t impose themselves as real things in their own right.

‘I work in the café across the street.  One of my jobs is to buy the cheapest honey possible from Tescos:  cheap bulk honey that’s been laundered from China and India, stripped of pollen, diluted, flown millions of bee miles in bumblejets, round and round the globe, then decanted into cute artisan pots to go with hipsters’ waffles, then rinsing the leftovers down the sink.  Plus I have to mow the clover and rip out the wild flower meadow that springs untidily from the gravel pathway like nose whiskers, for the prissy people on the private housing estate who pay me to do grounds maintenance, pausing to let the stoned bees get last orders in.

‘All the early computer generated animated feature films were about insects.  Antz, A Bug’s Life, Starship Troopers.  What is this collusion between primordial life forms and contemporary media technology?  The ticky stop-motion way they move, the infinite hardness and smoothness of their armour, the way they appear in vast co-ordinated numbers, like they’ve been copied and pasted.  The sea was one of the first things God made.  If He was using a computer He would have saved it to last, along with fluffy things and things that move at all smoothly.  The world wide web is named after a sticky trap you can’t escape.  When the prime minister was called out for referring to immigrants in Calais as a swarm, wasn’t this apiphobic?  A swarm is simply a highly intelligent and organised assemblage of people waiting to find somewhere to live.  Didn’t insects invent civilisation and agriculture?  Every single company now has a hexagon for its logo.  Are we hot-desking and zero-houring and smart-phoning and neo-conning and neo-nicotinoiding and disrupting and accelerating our way into an insectoid future?’


[The third paragraph is taken from Vinay Gupta  Paragraph four is taken from a You Tube interview with Douglas Coupland.  The fourth sentence of paragraph one and the description of the coffee machine in paragraph five is from the 1986 remake of The Fly.  The last three sentences of paragraph five are from Red Dwarf, Holoship]

writing snoopy for president

What was life like before movies? Nothing moved. The world was a frozen picture. Zeno described how in the ancient world, Achilles, the fastest runner in Athens couldn’t even overtake a tortoise. Because in order to get even half way, he would first have to get a quarter of the way and in order to get a quarter of the way, an eighth of the way and so on into infinity so that Achilles would have to do an infinite amount of things before he could even move a mm. The obvious answer is some kind of flip-book or the rapid succession of frames creating the affect of smooth movement and continuous identity. The movie was born.

In Genesis the tree doesn’t need to have any real different properties from any other tree, its very nomination by God as the tree is expedient enough. The tree is a kind of fake machine – it doesn’t really have any objective properties that make it particularly particular and even if it did they wouldn’t contribute to it being the tree – that has already been asserted. Think about it – if God made another tree be the real tree they shouldn’t eat from and told them the wrong tree, well… what would be the point of that? Well what would be the point of the tree being the real tree? Even less. The point is that this tree brings reality itself into existence: ethics and alienation and self consciousness. There is a necessary connection here. The tree is a model of a tree – it doesn’t even need to be a real tree, so it should be made on a soundstage. It doesn’t even need to have bothered evolving or being inscribed in any pre-symbolic mode. In the beginning was the word. ‘Word’ is an arbitrary set of shapes. The shapes in a real machine tessellate together in ways that guarantee some definite outcome. But a real machine has fake affects.

The tree is a kind of machine or media – it produces a certain kind of reality. The garden is like a movie set or art installation or a diorama of a proto cinema. And we’re in a multiplex where each scene or screen is itself a kind of movie and the idea of a movie is this story about a machine. It could be Short Circuit or The Time Machine. Or Back to the Future. But any kind of story about a machine will also work as a movie. The theory that witches were associated with riding broomsticks because they would hang from harnesses in sensory deprivation chambers whilst absorbing psychoactive substances through their mucus membranes is a movie. It tells us about a real thing that makes illusions. A material inert substance (the drug) imbedded in a kind of scientific logic. Which generates fake things. The witches harness is a kind of cinema. A scene of a cinema. The movies are always about a kind of weird cinema that’s basically a machine that’s either fake or real and if it’s real it brings about fake things and if it’s fake it brings about real things.

Plato told a story about a machine. It was a cave containing a fire, an audience with their backs to the fire and stage hands moving pieces of wood between the fire and the audience’s backs such that, constrained by chains and blinkers, the audience would take the shadow figures on the wall in front of them as real. But the real audience of the movie, us, knows that the audience in the movie is duped and this epistemic gap is what motivates the movie. No-one ever made a movie where the protagonists are in this kind of totalising situation and don’t see through it. Imagine the Matrix but Neo doesn’t find out he is living in a virtual computer generated reality. The Truman Show where Jim Carrey never figures out he’s the star of a reality TV show. Plato’s cave but nothing happens, everyone just sits there watching shadows. 1984 and Winston Smith just goes to work and believes whatever lies the Party fabricates. These scenarios don’t become stories until our position collapses into that of the protagonist.

The witches VR suite and Plato’s cave are elaborate affairs and seem to differ from the tree in that they have real objective properties which cause hallucinations. But on closer inspection these turn out to be fake machines as well. Look at time machines: HG had one like an exercise bike (he invented exercise bikes as well as time machines), Marty McFly a car. If you take the wing-mirror off does it still work? As long as what’s really making the machine work is OK yes. The myth of progress and our power over machines were heavy myths in the Victorian era, or in the Enlightenment, or in our own time. Only a story about a fake machine has the power to show us the truth. The more the fake machine approaches the status of a real machine the more it is inclined to break. Built in obsolescence is a kind of fakeness.

Descartes hypothesised an evil demon. He saved on a lot of shadow puppets and brass handle bars. What he did was he kind of made the inside of our heads into a Plato Cave. But even then, why the head? The idea of the ghost in the machine. The short version: the ghost. But a ghost (or better an evil demon or electrodes stimulating the brain) is a real machine and it can only produce fake things. If there was no ‘desert of the real’ for Neo to wake up in he could only experience simulations controlled by a real-ghostly machine. Without chains and a cave, Plato’s protagonists would have nothing to escape from. The Cartesian theatre has room for one and nothing really happens. It was a lousy movie.

It was with Wagner that we approach something a bit more like the cinema we know today. It was roomier. A technical hitch caused all the house lights to go down, plunging the audience into blackness. Capitalism is a kind of fake machine generating the illusion that it is necessary (and therefore producing illusions) but actually it is responsible for our actual real conditions – whether you will live or die, need or receive healthcare, work in a sweat shop or a think tank or not work at all.

Wagner tried to disguise the orchestra but he at least needed some small gap to let the sound out. The tendency to encase technology has continued (like Apple or the Utilidors under Disney Land) along with the reverse tendency to let the guts hang out which started with Brecht. Stressing the realness of the machinery to give away the illusoriness of its contents never worked as a mode of resistance. The ending Plato edited out from his movie is that after the hero leaves the cave and basks in the eternal truth of Idealism, he goes back into the cave with some popcorn to watch more shadow puppets. The movie Space Jam makes constant references to vertically integrated branding and export processing zones.

But branding and fragmentary approaches to film making also provide an opportunity to make stories about fake machines.  By aestheticizing the production process itself the machine is deprived of what makes it real – its products.  The products are the production and as such they shine with a disconcerting lack of any buffer, any kind of screen to cover the excluded mechanics.

bop art

It started as a way to memorise jazz standards when I was studying jazz.  Taking a different route through them helped me fix the territory in my mind.  Mash-ups, new connections, helping root things.

Then I started picking up some low-key jazz gigs – playing background music in hotels, running singers nights and jams in pubs and clubs.  Weddings.

It was great meeting and playing with musicians and participating, in a very humble and tiny way, with an art form I’ve always loved, but playing to a general audience made me realise that we were meant as a kind of trope, an idea of jazz, not something people really related to.

I didn’t feel like that on my previous gig, playing in a cheesy holiday camp ballroom house band every night.  We played fox-trots and waltzes and medleys of war time nostalgia for the old people, backed line-dances with Radio 2 pop songs for the families along with revues of musicals like the Blues Brothers and Mary Poppins, discos and party games.  We were like a vast juke-box firing off cultural memories.  I started thinking, music is made up of tunes, not notes.  The connection was direct and authentic.

But there was another wall – not a wall of specialised, elitist distance, but a wall of speakers, monitors, amplifiers.  This battery of ammo lined up against the audience, against the band so the sound saturated you.

Lets get real – it’s people manipulating little toys of string and wood which affect the air around everyone and casts a spell of meaning and understanding.  And it happens in a unique setting: in a room, with these people, in a city, on a night.

So when I started to put on my own gigs, I knew what tunes the musicians knew and in what keys and styles they were used to, and I could rearrange them on the gig to incorporate the material people generally know so people could see what we were talking about and improvising about with each other, even if they didn’t know anything about jazz.  TV themes, ring-tones, film music, 90s hip-hop and rock would spring out of bossa nova and be bop standards.  Other times we’d play well-known standards with a feel from something that got stuck in my head, like a reggae tune or a different jazz track.

No-one plays the music everyone knows!  Whilst the various forms of folk and jazz are embedded in social practices, aural transmission, practice, jamming etc, the culture to which we are indigenous – consumer culture – is in peril.  We’re not encouraged to participate and take ownership of this music.

But this is what jazz used to do before hip-hop.  The old musical numbers and vintage pop songs which make up the vast body of jazz standards was the main-stream pop-culture of the time.  Hip-hop took over when jazz became more about itself and bands like Negativland fought to re-appropriate pop.  Then the internet washed over everything, leaving only the unique live experience on the shore-line to salvage.

And I want to use that live experience to talk about every-day life, improvise with whatever piece of driftwood is to hand and play really old fashioned jazz.

[First published on July 18, 2011]

now the lit poop version

Gigging is all we really want to do. To make a living playing music seems, if not the noblest of ambitions, then something pretty close. To gig night after night had an honourable and romantic tradition, at least it appeared so to us. If you can play well and are versatile enough, you might be able to join that illustrious brotherhood, that select band of musicians, who provide the backing behind crooners, jugglers, strippers, magicians, and singing comedians.

In her justly famous book, The Art of Memory, Frances Yates describes the mnemonic technique utilized by the classical orators of Greece and Rome to remember their long speeches (a technique regularly practised by rhetoricians up until the spread of typographic texts during the late Renaissance).

Almost everyone in the band is at least a generation older than me and had been playing many of the tunes for years. I set up my equipment at the back of the room, where shortly a pile of charts are thrown in my direction. They are covered in beer stains and crossings out, where codas have been moved, whole sections transposed or quite simply missing. I manage to look confidant despite my apprehension as the band swings into a Woody Herman tune called ‘Woody’s Whistle’.

The birth of jazz: musicians made new use of what was available – marching-band instruments from the Spanish-American War. Jazz also made use of different forms of music, from ragtime to blues and impressionistic classical music.

The orator would imagine an elaborate palace, filled with diverse halls and rooms and intricate structural details. He would then envision himself walking through this palace, and would deposit at various places within the rooms a sequence of imagined objects associated with the different parts of his planned speech.

I believe, by the end of the tune, that I managed quite well, although there were vaguely disgruntled noises emanating from the trumpet section when what I had obviously improvised did not exactly tally with the notes that had been written. I also manage to busk Ellington’s ‘Take the “A” Train’ without being derailed, although I can now see a few unconvinced and shaking heads in the saxophone section.

Thereafter, to recall the entire speech in its correct sequence and detail, the orator had only to envision himself once again walking the same route through the halls and rooms of the memory palace: each locus encountered on his walk would remind him of the specific phrase to be spoken or the particular topic to be addressed at that point within the discourse.

Later, jazz ran improvisatory riffs on show-tune standards. Or think of a cover version: a composition that already exists is revisioned by another artist. The original composition still exists, and the new one dances on top of the old one, like an editor writing notes in the margins. Hip-hop and dance DJs take snatches of different songs that already exist in the culture and stitch them together to suit their own needs and moods. The folk tradition in action: finding new uses for things by selecting the parts that move you and discarding the rest.

Disaster, though, is just around the next bend. I don’t yet know this tune, and what is more, it is played at such a lick, in double 6/8 time, that I simply can’t keep up. Within sixteen bars it is apparent to everyone , including myself, that I am no Charles Mingus, or anything even close. I abandon even attempting to read the chart and while ‘The “A” Train’ may have safely reached its destination we are now in the wreckage of a full-fledged, high-speed rail crash. The band collapses in a disheartening heap of broken saxophone runs, comical trombone glissandos, and the tragedy of soaring trumpet lines brought disastrously to earth.

[Paragraphs 2, 5 and 7 from The Spell Of Sensuous by David Abram, 4 and 8 from Reality Hunger by David Shields and the rest from Broken Music by Sting]



There are no capital letters on the internet.  The internet resists  reification.  It is clean and invisible.  Its shit don’t stink.  But  like a Sun God it demands tribute, sacrifices – rare metals and the  poor.  Vast megaservers are powered and cooled in equal measure by  vast hydroelectric damns, but are they serving us or are we serving  them?  And what do these seductively kitsch tablets and devices want  from us?  Plastic never decays, it cheats death – nature’s greatest  invention.

Social networking sites, such as twitter, facebook and  personwordthing, don’t have anything to do with these issues however.  They exist on the internet and the internet is clean and invisible.  The internet is the post industrial landscape, the pure relational  placeless space of the knowledge economy.  Apple factories are  physical, the internet is metaphysical.  So when devising a new social  networking site I realised it would have to not depend on computers.  The internet is for everyone and not everyone can have a computer.  I’d also have to make something totally out of my control, incapable  of surveillance, because the internet is decentralised.

Having foregone computers, I got to thinking about data as a kind of  non-physical stuff to make my site.  Data goes back to the 17th  century – back then it was called ideas.  Ideas are infinitely  replicable and combinable and exist in a subject object relation.  Descartes had a lump of wax.  The wax was composed of softness,  yellowness, warmth and smelling of bees.  He could imagine a red piece  of wax that smelt of owls, reproductions of sense impressions, data  management by the subject, or user.  The user was forged from a series  of world historical events including the Reformation and the  Copernican revolution.  Using implies distance (if you are using me,  you are not my friend, we are not together).

Whilst its causal bases are heterogeneous (it could be randomly  generated by a computer or the result of someone filming a cute  kitten), data itself is perfectly smooth and homogeneous.  That’s why  you can’t say what the difference between red and green is for  example.  The thing is – there’s no data on social networking sites!  Everything on facebook is boring, exciting, coincidental, sick-making  etc.  How can data be funny or make you jealous?  Data is useful, it’s  so useful we become users, that’s why since the Archimedean point  sought refuge in the ego, we’ve sucked the natural world up like  milkshake.  The Cartesian ego is just a weird data receiving node,  it’s not even conscious.

So data is something we can’t see.  In the metaphysical world of the  internet, data is always behind things.  Data is matter – the basis  for sight and sound but unknowable in itself.  Even 0s and 1s are a  representation of data.  Information is a difference which makes a  difference (0 and 1 are different but so what).  But it’s hard to see  how even this difference which makes a difference makes any difference  to the user.

So I got to thinking about apps – some kind of organising principal so  the user could make sense of all this bland data/info.  Kant  introduced apps – time and space for example.  Now we have stuff like  where’s the nearest Chinese restaurant? but it’s the same, we’re just  running out of ideas.  Software is apps.  By endowing the user with  apps her experience makes some kind of sense – things are meaningfully  orientated.

But meaningfully orientated towards what?  Users don’t use social  networking sites, people do.  In order to interrelate people, social  networking sites use things that don’t get used.  Husserl turned ‘To  the things themselves!’  The spec for things to be a personwordthing is that they must be an object you can fit easily into the palm of  your hand – like a mouse and the way the cursor is about the same size  as the icons.  When you look around you see a lot of shunned objects –  on the street, in your house – penlids, packaging, broken ephemera,  snail shells.  Useless realia, abandoning the ego, the user.  Take  them under your wing, activate them, collect, curate, constellate.  Link differently.  They are not data or information existing in a  subject object relation.  They are minted from the same world as you,  uniquely scarred and set by the same contingencies, harmonising with  your own being.

There are more important things to do.  But we will do these things  anyway.  Because they occur with the blessed earth, social networking  sites are pre-modern, incorporating that which is found anywhere into  a meaningful social/representational rhizome.  This is why instead of  the 140-character limit I introduce the word.  The word of  personwordthing is quite loosely defined – I’ve heard examples such as  coffee machine – is that hyphenated?

The internet is like a mirror, preaching to the converted.  So in a  sense the person of personwordthing is always you, just as on  facebook, twitter etc but the person can also be someone who is  related to you via the exchange of thingwordpersons, they could also  also be you having turned to themselves.  A sock for example may be a  conglomeration of your uncle and ‘clown’ but it may have been given to  you by the Queen.  The theology of trinitarianism is how you chose to  analyse the unity of thing, word and person.

Because the totally invisible, instantaneous nature of the word and  person of the personwordthing are encumbered in the form of a  corporeal object – they have to be transferred by hand.  Even in the  case of computer data, a handheld object (CD) being transferred by  hand is faster in most cases than servers.  personwordthing runs at  this improved speed.  You needn’t carry too many wordthingpersons out  of the house or have many at all – the mysterious lack of objective of  personwordthing is intended as a way of allowing you to enjoy an  offline existence more easily.

Reaction to thingpersonword determines a person’s self awareness of  superstition, as well as the general level of superstition.  By  committing ontological taboos about correct access and use of the  internet, the traditional channels of power are disrupted.

[First published on November 22, 2011]