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Adi Newton on Pataphysics, ClockDVA, Electronic Music and Sheffield

Pioneer of British electronic music and frontman of ClockDVA and TAGC, Adi Newton who now lives in Cornwall, describes his many influences and collaborations. Interview Rupert White



Sheffield is a largish city (c500,000 population) and in the late 70's it was the birthplace of Cabaret Voltaire, ClockDVA, The Human League and Heaven 17. Can you describe what the city was like back then? What were the cultural influences and infrastructure that allowed these four significant electronic groups to emerge at this particular time and place?

Sheffield was at that time a cultural wasteland. But within the centre of Sheffield, just off the infamous West St, stood some Victorian former education buildings, part of which was occupied by the anarchic arts theatre project known as 'Meatwhistle'. 'Meatwhistle' filled a unique gap and gave inspiration, support and guidance to many who created and enjoyed their time there.

It was run by Chris Wilkinson, his wife Veronica, and co-helper, Justin. Chris was a playwright and former theatre director. In the late-sixties-early- seventies he wrote a number of notable plays classified as 'erotic experimental theatre': '5 plays for Rubber Go Go Girls' and 'Strip Jack Naked'. I found myself in this environment after leaving Art College, with a mind bristling with Anti Art, Marcel Duchamp and Alfred Jarry and, like my forebears, adopting the alternative identity of 'Violet Ray'. I had no pre-conceptions of ever getting involved in music, it was only through chance that it occurred. I have never considered myself a musician.

I joined forces with Paul Bower to edit and produce the New Wave Fanzine "Gun Rubber", hand printed on old thermal Xerox duplication machines and distributed by myself and Paul. This labour of love ran for several issues, and can boast one of the first Cabaret Voltaire interviews. I left the post to Paul Bower who continued the editorship for just a few editions.

Meatwhistle was a 'Thelemic Castle' for those early pioneers of Electronic, Ambient, Industrial, Minimal, Electro etc music. Meatwhistle was not a material resource but more a mind space where concepts and ideas could be given full reign and experimented with. In fact the Rabelaisian slogan 'Fay ce que vouldras' (Do as you will) describes the philosophy of Meatwhistle.

Instead of the theatrical experiments explored there, some of us went into the realm of sound with an ensemble named 'The Dead Daughters'. Existing for one fleeting performance this surrealistic trio featured Martin Ware, Synthesizer, Ian Craig Marsh, Synthesizer, and myself on Tape Machines, tape loops & treatments. No recordings or any other form of documentation exists apart from vague memories of a night that remains shrouded in mystery. What did evolve from this formation however was the more advanced group-conception known as 'The Future'. The main concept of which was the development of a totally electronic based music group, void of conventional instrumentation and without the egocentricity of personalities.

At this time were any of your influences specific to Sheffield and the North? I'm thinking dance music here, and Northern Soul, for example?
Iím not convinced by the idea of a regionalism in terms of its influence upon my own work. This idea that the northern industrial spirit somehow imbued itself into the fabric of our music doesnít really exist as far as I am concerned.

My influences were in the most part influenced by the Modern art movements of Europe and America. Artists like Francis Bacon, Marcel Duchamp, Alfred Jarry, Antonin Artaud etc have been a constant part of my development. I would also say the role of film has been and still is a major influence to me: the work of Tarkovsky, Carl Dreyer, Kurosawa, Deren, Anger to name a few.

My perspective is that of a painter. Thatís what I am and still remain. My work became a multimedia practice without my intention to make it that. It is essentially visual and conceptual. The side of it expressed through sound is part of the media disciplines/techniques I employ to create the work. So to me, my influences have a wide topography, thatís why I never focused on the UK, but looked to Europe and America and the rest of the world.

And to Germany? In terms of musical influence, how important were Kraftwerk, and some of the other German musicians, to you and to the other Sheffield bands? And what about their association with Brian Eno?

Kraftwerk most definitely were an inspiration to us in the early days and throughout, along with the other German electronic pioneers such as La Dusseldorf, Nue, Harmonia, Dieter Moebius, Cluster et al, which is where Eno got a lot of his inspiration from. I think Kraftwerk were the ones that deeply influenced the electronic sequenced rhythms.
Roxy Music were also big inspiration to all of us, and when Eno left, his collaborations with Joachim Rodelius and Moebius, and the albums he produced like 'Fripp and Eno (No Pussyfooting)', with the tracks 'The Heavenly music corporation' and 'Swastika girls', and the album 'Morning Star', were pointing towards new directions.

Bowie's 'Low' came at the right time blending the European electronic atmospheres of Harmonia/Mobius/Rodelius/ Kraftwerk with a pop aesthetic. It was a inspiring amalgamation. The albums Heroes and particularly Iggy Pop's The Idiot were great personal favorites of mine. All these albums still retain a great power, and a longevity that is missing in their work now.

Georgio Moroder/Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' owes a great debt to Kraftwerk. It was also a sound distinct from New Wave/Punk that signaled the new emerging electronica.

Before Kraftwerk my early influences came from the works of 'White Noise' featuring Delia Derbyshire and David Vorhaus from the Radiophonic workshop, Scott Walker's 'Tracks on Night Flights', early Ultravox/Jon Foxx era 'Systems of Romance' and the solo work of Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream (the album 'Aqua' for instance with its use of binaural recordings). Also the early electronic pioneers, like John Cage, Ilhan Mimaraglo, Lamont Young, Laura Speigel, et al.


Coming back to Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh: can you expand on your personal involvement, with both them and Cabaret Voltaire?
As I say the main concept behind 'The Future' was the development of a totally electronic- based music group devoid of conventional instrumentation, and without egocentricity. Well that was the theory.

As part of this we developed a system of democratic writing, called  C.A.R.L.O.S.: a cyclic and random lyric organisation system, a kind of word permutation technique that relates to similar techniques such as the one developed by Brion Gyson and William Burroughs. With this technique a cyclic vocal arrangement was also employed to overcome the convention of a lead vocalist.

'The Future' ended before it really started. This was due to two main reasons. Unlike the one stated on 'Blind Youth', The Human League site, at this point I did not own a synthesizer and used only an array of tape recorders and devices to treat loops and recordings. This atmospheric and avant-garde Musique Concrete- form of composition was too radical/un-musical for Martin to incorporate within what he envisaged should become a more accessible music group. The evidence of this can be seen in the early Human League tracks 'Rock and Roll part 1' and the Gordon's gin cinema advert. I can not imagine how one could incorporate treated tape loops into such music.
The second factor is no group can support two leaders or individual visions that incorporate a different aesthetic, regardless of its failings, and ultimately it giving way to the more conventional electronic pop of The Human League.

'The Future' did however create several interesting and advanced tracks such as 'Future Religion', 'Looking for the Black Haired Girls' (based around the notorious NYC serial killer 'Son of Sam' in the summer of 1977) 'Blank Clocks', and  'Almost Medieval' which was later developed and appeared under the same name and structure in the Human League canon as did the track 'Dancevision'. The Future original of which is far better technically from the playing aspect that the more produced version that appeared again under the Human League output. (see 'Golden Hour of the Future' also (picture above)).
But from The Future's transmutation came forth, both The Human League and ClockDVA, both of which reached different pinnacles far greater than could have foreseen from the improvisational experiments that occurred at Meatwhistle.

My involvement with Cabaret Voltaire was primarily as a friend, as we all use to hang out together at various places around West St in the centre of Sheffield. This area was the alternative or more left field area so we used to socialise in and around there. I had my studio just off West St where we had the Gun Rubber office and later developed a studio for The Future and then ClockDVA. Later Cabaret Voltaire also set up their Western Works studio, just off West St.

ClockDVA recorded a number of tracks at Western Works, including 'Anti Chance' on the DVA Album 'White Souls In Black Suits' a collaborative piece based around indeterminacy. Chris Watson of Cabaret Voltaire was the one who was more aligned to what can be described as classic avant garde techniques, so this piece is essentially more a collaborative experiment between myself and Chris.

I have also worked with Richard H Kirk on the production of the TAGC 12 inch 'Ha/Zulu' and some TAGC remixed tracks that have remained unreleased. Steven Turner and I recorded the track 'Uptown Apocalypse' for the B.E.F./HEAVEN 17 album 'Music For Stowaways' for Martyn Ware, Ian Craig Marsh. I think this is the sum of my collaborative relationship.

ClockDVA was a group that was probably more experimental than the other three groups we've talked about. Is that fair to say? In what ways were ClockDVA distinctive - in Sheffield and UK terms?
I think you are quite right in your appraisal.
To experiment you need to in some sense try to begin again, find a new way, open yourself to the possible, be prepared to deviate from the well trodden path. According to Zazen Master, Shunryu Suzuki, 'Beginners Mind' is an open state ready to try and explore, whereas the expert's mind is closed to further possibility.

The Human League quickly developed a more ordered and accessible music. Music that challenges is more difficult, and consequently not as accessible or commercially exploitable. For me the use of indeterminacy or chance, or the engagement of intuition, is still a vital element in creative work
I wanted to explore what the Surrealists called psychic automatism and to explore this within a musical framework. After the early electronic-based music we first developed, we began to work with live instrumentation in the sense of no pre-programmed rhythms or sequences, so that it was possible to shift time and dynamic content in a fluid and unobstructed way allowing for what positive psychology refers to as Flow.

The improvisation work explored on 'White Souls in Black Suits' is a direct example of this, first released on Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records label as a cassette release only. The album deals with themes of Existential and Surrealist philosophy and Alchemical Mysticism. The album is taken from fifteen or so hours of improvisational sessions recorded via a mobile recording unit.

The album was mixed and produced at Cabaret Voltaireís Western Works studio. The album includes a tape chance montage sequence in collaboration with Chris Watson who also helped mix and co-produce along with Richard H Kirk and Stephen Mallinder in collaboration with DVA. On 'Thirst' (album cover above) these methods are refined and more sophisticated but still retain that content of intuitive spirit a inner soul if you like. After 'Thirst' I became interested in the possibility of creating a more sophisticated hybrid with a higher production level.



Thirst (picture above) came out in 1981, and reached No1 in the British album charts. You mention Throbbing Gristle's label: Industrial Records which brought out the White Souls album. Genesis P'Orridge was from Hull originally, but presumably was based in London by then. Did you play with Throbbing Gristle, or work with Gen or any of the others?
Gen was by that time well established in London. And yes we played together in Leeds.

For three years prior to 'White Souls in Black Suits', the first publicly perceived official album of ClockDVA, myself and co-founder Steven Turner worked intensely on experimental techniques and composition with an electronic synthesis basis, always documenting and recording our works for archival resources. As early as 1978 The Anti Group Foundation (TAGF) was instigated, its aims and projects documented, and the basis of several works recorded.

In a letter dated 11th Sept 1979 from Genesis P-Orridge, a performance was envisaged at the ACME Gallery in Covent Garden. In that same year I visited GPO and the rest of Throbbing Gristle to hang out, and discuss the concepts around the projected film project 'Genesis and Genitals', shooting some 8mm film with Gen during this visit.

The planned filming of the TG Crypt performance was unable to take place when the Arts Council withheld the video equipment on the day of the concert (which previously I had arranged) for reasons which have never come to light. During this early period the ill-fated 12 EP 'Sex Works beyond Entanglement' was recorded for Small Wonder but not released as Small Wonder deliberated over its release for over a year, and in many ways altered the chronology of DVA releases.

It was only through Genesis P-Orridge's intervention that the master tapes and artwork were retrieved for prosperity and now finally will be heard as they where originally intended on the archive album 'Horology' which is due for release.

Many other works that gained only limited release via ClockDVA's private label DVAtion were only heard by the few. These included John Balance, a early supporter and admirer of DVA's music at this time. While he was at boarding school John wrote and produced the fanzine 'Stabmental' which ran 2 articles on DVA. One of the DVA tracks was 'Coil' which was from the unreleased 'Sex works beyond entanglement' 12'' EP. The title was later to become the name of the group John Balance formed with Peter Christopherson.

I considered John as a very special person. I stayed with him in Brighton when he was at the Polytechnic and we corresponded over a great period of time, so when he asked me if I minded that the title was used for the group name, I was honoured. It's still a great source of honour to me to think that this original and innovative group was in a special way connected.

When DVA appear as an electro-acoustic 5 piece it is without that process, without that history, so the true nature of DVA is closer to 'Buried Dreams' than it is to 'Thirst'. With the release of 'Horology' the DVA archive album with the material from 1977/1980 and its associated documentation, the position of ClockDVA will begin to be understand and realised, and the true history and influence of DVA .

Where did ClockDVA play? What were the performances like?

When we initially started playing live we wanted to take the context of the performance to a new level, to shift the focus. The fact that I had come from a visual discipline resulted in the need for me to have a visual aspect, so the use of slides, film, and stroboscopic, optokinetics was a development of my aesthetic. Over the years I developed this further and further, resulting in the expanded multi-media of The Anti Group.

Can you expand on this? What is The Antigroup (TAGC), and how is it different to ClockDVA, philosophically and musically?
TAGC are not a group, in the standard sense of a music group, but a variable collective of individuals contributing under the invitation and directorship of myself. Underlining this basic idea lays the deeper philosophical and theoretical work: the C derived from Communications also inferring the DNA code of genetics.
The primary concern of TAGC is the systematic research and development and documentation and the, expansion of the connections and concepts that are explored and experimented within the fabric of sound, and its theoretical possibilities and its advancement, exploring the psychoacoustic and the esoteric science of Sonology. Also the expansion of Consciousness whether via applied use of computers and audio-visual technology or via arcane systems of Magick or other Occult or esoteric sciences. TAGC are not concerned with the structure usually adopted by music groups.

At one point I was directing and organising an 8 piece ensemble then I was operating singularly. TAGC's function is not necessarily to produce sound or music-based work but to expand on these mediums, film or written documentation, research and development of ideas, performance, installation, etc. The orientation is derived initially from Alfred Jarry's Pataphysics and statements made by Andre Breton, in the Manifest du Surrealisme 1930, when he took up almost to the letter the formula of Hermes: 'Everything leads us to believe that there exists a spot in the mind from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the high and the low, the communicable and the incommunicable will cease to appear contradictory'. (Quoted in the sleeve notes of TAGC, first release 'The Delivery').

To what extent has electronic music been shaped by the technology that was available at the time? What has been your approach to technology - samplers and drum machines etc - then and subsequently?
I would say without intuition my work would not be possible, without true substance, unable to connect to the inner. Coleridge said that every work of art must have about it something not understood in order to obtain its full effect.
I think thatís the problem of the mass of todayís creative generation. The reliance on the technique or technology has resulted in a deluge of simulacra which Baudrillard speaks of. All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual in nature because art only exists conceptually, but this opening that Duchamp rendered has become a form of exploitation wherein the original conceptualism of Duchamp has been bypassed and replaced by an ignorant aesthetic of post-modernist fashion. The democratisation of technology is a two-edged sword.

So the Electronic Music of the late 70's in its early form was experimental in the sense that it was exploring new possibilities due to an available technology. But counter to this, true experimental composers had been in many ways creating similar kinds of sounds and sequences with less advanced systems and in some cases without.

Iím thinking here of John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Earle Brown, etc and on the other side Charles Dodge, Raymond Scott et al. I believe however that it is still the role of original thinking that remains central. I have used computer systems since the late 70's and still do, and there are many positive aspects which are of a great benefit. But I wonder what would happen if they all disappeared. I used tape recorders and tape loops, and tape delays prior to synthesizers and computers, and I would say they created some of the best and most original forms of sound. In 1985 I bought a number of bits of test equipment, like beat frequency oscillators, and signal generators which where used on the TAGC recordings Meontological recordings record 1+ 2 Test Tones. The first synthesizer I bought in 1978 was the EMS Synthi E. built into a suitcase, it was designed to apply acoustics to electronic treatments (picture above). I still have this and use it from time to time.

The Audio Visual works that we are engaged on now utilise Advance Computer aided elements as well as elements derived by a more psychical means. A combination integration of both a kind of alchemy of old and new conceptual and material realisations.

What about video? Did you make most of your videos from the early 80s? How did you do them exactly?
All the early DVA videos from Kinetic engineering where produced and devised by myself using a variety of sources. All the footage, images, and samples where then processed using some of the earliest available Computer aided Visual Digital programming and computer based systems, based around the Amiga B2000: a reasonably powerful system in its day.
Its been over 20 years since those videos where first made so its difficult to give the exact technicalities. I think whatís important, however, is the choice and the treatment of the images and the edit sequence. Techniques or technical processes are only a means to an end and that the end result is the factor thatís important. Do the images meld and expand the audio, and visa versa. This is the key. Most people are not concerned with techniques but with the visual stimulus. Technique and process are important to the end result, itís a challenge to devise ways to modify and expand the visual medium ,and its important for the artist to find new methods to extend the vocabulary ,but these are the challenges of the artist and technical creativity ,but of equal importance is to have the conceptual notion , and the inner vision ,and aesthetic eye to develop these into complete forms.

Have your live shows - both with ClockDVA and TAGC always involved videos? Is this still essentially a musical genre or is it a true hybrid - crossing over into something else? If so what, and does this matter?

For me the visual element is essential because I am primarily a visual artist. As previously mentioned from the onset of DVA, I employed visual aspects to the performance and representation, the aesthetic of the performer, the live presence. The earliest of these stemming back to 1978/9 and the ideas and visual experiments evolving from the live performance film document 'Shot By myself' of 'The Enigma of Isodore Ducasse' performed by P.T.I. This performance piece which was conceived and staged by myself was part of the formulization of the TAGC foundation. The performance piece and the resulting film are based on Otto Muehls ďMaterial Action ManifestoĒ of 1964, ďthe material action works with symbols (its difference from theater), which in themselves constitute the storyline, a consecutive series and mingling of symbols as self existing realities...they do not aim to explain anything, they are what they appear to be.Ē

To answer your question I think in the most part music groups add on the visual in order to use the medium to exploit the music for commercial gain. In TAGs case the role of the visual is a essential and vital expression of the intuitive and the work. What is the difference between hearing and listening? Once sound has entered through our ears, we begin to perceive through various listening modes. As our sight is influenced by psychological principles (known as Gestalt) and forms of illusion, so is our hearing. The perception of space, time, and tone follows certain rules laid down by our sensory system and processed by our brain, while entrainment is a special case of our body and mind being able to synchronize with an external rhythm that can then induce a specific physical or psychological state. Understanding how the potential, limitations, and quirks of our physiological and mental capacities influence our perception of the world through sound will guide us towards concepts that can be applied in cinema.

When we say expanded cinema we actually mean expanded consciousness. Expanded cinema does not mean computer films, video phosphors, atomic light, or spherical projections. Expanded cinema isn't a movie at all: like life it's a process of becoming, man's ongoing historical drive to manifest his consciousness outside of his mind, in front of his eyes. One no longer can specialize in a single discipline and hope truthfully to express a clear picture of its relationships in the environment. This is especially true in the case of the intermedia network of cinema and television and internet, which now functions as nothing less than the nervous system of mankind.

The prevailing messages of the so-called popular media have lost their relevance because a socioeconomic system that substitutes the profit motive for use value separates man from himself and art from life. When we're enslaved to any system, the creative impulse is dulled and the tendency to imitate increases. Thus arises the phenomenon of commercial entertainment distinct from art, a system of temporarily gratifying, without really fulfilling, the experiential needs of an aesthetically impoverished culture. The mass public insists on entertainment over art in order to escape an unnatural way of life in which interior realities are not compatible with exterior realities. Freedom, says Brown, is fusion. Life becomes art when there's no difference between what we are and what we do. Art is a synergetic attempt at closing the gap between what is and what ought to be. For me the entrainment of Visual and Audio expression is a creative need.


What are your current interests and future directions?
We are very much involved at this time in translating visual medias such as painting and drawing into a moving and evolving image, and the possible use of 3D to illustrate our work on TAGC Meon 3.

We have recently had the green light on developing the occultist Michael Bertaux's paintings into film and we are in the process of collaborative work on audio-visual material. We have some good friends who are organising and producing Michael's new book 'Voudon Cartography' and we are planning to coincide a TAGC installation piece based on the Meontological Research recording 3 and the exhibition of Michaelís paintings later this year in London. 

New TAGC recordings are based around historical wax and cylinder recordings taken from medical and scientific research areas as well as recordings from other resources such as the Cahiers du CollŽge de Pataphysique. New works will centre around the ideas proposed by Alfred Jarry concerning Pataphysics as explored in his writings, most notably in the 'Exploits and opinions of Dr Faustroll, Pataphysician', 'How to construct a time machine', and the novel 'Days and Nights'. Alfred Jarry, whose work prefigured the Theatre of the Absurd, Dada, Surrealism and Futurism also may have anticipated certain modern physics theories.

Jarry is most famous for his satire/farce Ubu Roi (King Turd), which ignited a scandal when it was first performed in 1896, and hasnít exactly been embraced by the mainstream in the century since. He is also known as the founder of 'Pataphysics'. 'Pataphysics', Jarry wrote, 'is the science of imaginary solutions...extending as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics.' The science of imaginary solutions. Two notions were behind Pataphysics: that of equivalences and the clinamen or slight decline of atoms falling.

In 1893, Jarry attributes to Ubu Roi the invention of Pataphysics, 'a science that we have invented and which is generally felt to be needed', but the real founding text is another: 'Les Gestes et opinions du docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien', a work finished in 1898 and published in 1911, four years after Jarry's death.

Book II, titled 'Elements de pataphysique' only occupied two pages but is of primary importance because it contains the first definition of Pataphysics: 'Pataphysics is the science that added to metaphysics, either in itself or outside itself, and extends as far beyond metaphysics as the latter extends beyond physics. Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions that symbolically attributes to the feature the properties of the objects described according to their virtuality'. The doctrine cannot actually be explained. Let us add that this science is also presented as the science of the particular and it deals with the rules governed by exceptions. Naturally the rule is 'an exception to the exception'. In other words, everything is pataphysics. The pataphysical dialectic revolves around itself like the ubic (spiral-shaped) navel that is its emblem.