Films on Vimeo

Still from Distress Signals

Still from Ghost Walk

I’ve recently put a selection of videos on Vimeo. These are short films I’ve made with a number of collaborators: David Ashford, Miriam Austin and particularly Evie Salmon. They feature footage originally shot in New York, Paris, London and other parts of the UK. Combining this ‘found footage’ with specially prepared voice-overs, the films variously look at ‘dead’ media (video formats), strange locations (London churches, coastal areas, military buildings, sites of literary interest) and the link between image and spoken word.

More films will be added to the Vimeo page in due course. I’ve been making videos for years and have a large archive of tapes to work with. Some of the films are old, some are ‘new’ based on ‘old’ material and others I’m in the process of shooting. The current selection includes:

Ghost Walk: a film made with David Ashford about the churches featured in Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat (1975).

Distress Signals: a piece featuring footage of New York’s Coney Island, pre-Hurricane Sandy. Much of this area has now changed, almost beyond recognition. Some of these images appeared in an issue of the film magazine Vertigo.

The Bird: a video based on a performance piece by the artist Miriam Austin.

Territories: a video that tracks William Burroughs across New York, Paris and  London.

Codebreaker: a film about Bletchley Park, their coding machines and the peculiar corridors in the on-site huts.

Headlands, Trailer: a short trailer for the Headlands live show performed in Cambridge as part of the Festival of Ideas.  

Distress Signals, The Bird, Territories, Codebreaker and Headlands, Trailer were each made in very close collaboration with Evie Salmon. It’s her voice on the soundtracks. I shot and prepared the footage, she provided the spoken word element and the final composition of the finished films was a joint effort. These videos reflect and inform the live performances we do together which often involve spoken word, sound elements and film projections. Some of this material will be featuring in Territories, the upcoming book Evie and I are publishing via our friends at Contraband. As a multimedia artist, a brilliant writer and an interdisciplinary academic, Evie is a true polymath. It has been great working with her on these films and I'm looking forward to sharing the results of our current and future collaborations. 



Spaces of Conspiracy

Particular spaces generate particular events. Spaces gain significance from the happenings they harbour, but there are also set of invisible vectors that act as strange attractors. In the in-between of memory, history and architecture there is an excess that can sometimes, like ectoplasm, be caught when the light is right. 

1. Stairway: stone, rust, litter.  

'Original' event remembered from below, looking up. 

Vanishing chase to the bottom; a public argument; subsequent discussions indicate that the altercation was not all it seemed. Route now blocked. Reverb footsteps continue. 

2. Car park: concrete, white lines, engine heat. 

In the car, not pictured, as it and if it happened.

Argument across the flat space and stains on the car windows. Police trying to calm it down. Parking bays as crime outlines. Always accumulated bits. Broken. A hundred other incidents to be reconstructed. Workplace off in the distance. Gateway to a parade of offices, interlocking. 

3. River: Slate water, iron bridge, hole.

Follow this river to find a way out of the 21st century. 

Flecks of blue plastic in amongst the dirtied green. A sense of anticipation because it moves all the time. It looks more like a fuel supply than a water source. Channels like this all over the town. Most invisible though. That it should raise its head at this precise point adds another co-ordinate to the speculative map. 


London Month of the Dead / Voices of the Ether

I will be taking part in this year's London Month of the Dead. My talk, 'Voices of the Ether' will look at EVP, audio technology and a series of writers - including Iain Sinclair and William Burroughs - who have, in one form and another, attempted to have conversations with the dead. The event will be taking place in a wonderful venue: Brompton Cemetery Chapel. Details below. 


Stone Tapes, Electronic Voices and other Ghosts with James Riley
Saturday 27th October 2018 from 1:00 pm

Shortly after the publication of Lud Heat (1975), his visionary study of London’s Hawksmoor churches, the writer Iain Sinclair was interviewed by the BBC. Recorded in situ, Sinclair discoursed on the city’s resonant energies but upon playback - and much to the consternation of the BBC engineer - the tape contained no trace of their discussion. Instead, the creaking recorder yielded only malevolent sounding grunts and shuffles: unexpected séance noises and ghostly mumbles. 
The episode brings to mind Nigel Kneale’s drama The Stone Tape (1972) in which ghosts are the echoes of past experiences held by their physical surroundings, as well as Konstantin Raudive’s experiments into Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP): the appearance of ‘post-mortal’ voices on tape recordings made in silent rooms. Technical fault, ‘genuine’ visitation or creative embellishment: each of these encounters speaks volumes about the extent to which parapsychologists and artists alike seek to have conversations with the dead.  
Using Sinclair and other writers like William S. Burroughs as spirit guides to London’s haunted history, this talk will discuss EVP and the other ghostly voices that emerge when technology, creativity and the paranormal intersect.  

For tickets and full venue details, please click here

The 1960s: A Decade of Modern British Fiction

 Media of The 1960s
I was very happy to been invited to act as co-editor on the recent essay volume for Bloomsbury, The 1960s: A Decade of Modern British Fiction (2018). The book is part of the ongoing Decades series and brought together wide range of excellent essays dealing with various aspects of 1960s fiction. Topics included gay fiction, youth cultures, postcolonial writing, science fiction and experimental writing. I wrote on J.G. Ballard, Michael Moorcock and 'The End of the Sixties'. My thanks to fellow editors Philip Tew and Melanie Seddon. The book is available now and Nick Hubble has written a guest blog post over at the Bloomsbury Literary Studies site about it and the previous volume in the series on the 1950s.

Jonathan Coe / Video Aesthetics

Media of Jonathan CoeI recently wrote a chapter about the role of video and 'video aesthetics' in Jonathan Coe's great novel What A Carve Up! (1994). This looked at the references to VCRs in the text as well as the wider socio-economic context of the novel in which video established itself as the primary audio-visual technology. The chapter was included in Jonathan Coe: Contemporary British Satire (2018) edited by Philip Tew. The blurb for the volume reads: 

"In novels such as What A Carve Up! and The Rotters' Club, Jonathan Coe has established himself as one of the great satirical writers of our time. Covering all of his major novels, including his most recent book Number 11, Jonathan Coe: Contemporary British Satire includes chapters by leading and emerging scholars of contemporary British writing. The book features a preface by Coe himself and covers the ways in which his work grapples with such themes as class politics, popular music, sex, gender and the media."


The Enormous Room

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Recently I took part in the Anglia Ruskin conference, J. G. Ballard and the Sciences. Organised by Jeanette Baxter and featuring Christopher Priest, Fay Ballard and a range of excellent international speakers, the event was a really successful investigation of the intersections between Ballard's writing and parallel fields of investigation. I spoke about Ballard and sensory deprivation, a topic I've been interested in for a while. It was good to outline these ideas and also to reflect further on some of my recent experiences in floatation tanks: I'm all in favour of experimenting on the self, as it were. My thanks to Jeanette Baxter for including me on the programme. A big shout out should also go to the good people at Cambridge's Art of Float: if you want to experience the type of things John C. Lily and Paddy Chayefsky were talking about, check them out.
I've added my abstract for the talk below. The title comes from e.e. cummings' account of imprisonment, The Enormous Room (1922), a useful point of comparison with Ballard's 'The Enormous Space' (1989).

The Enormous Room: J.G. Ballard and Sensory Deprivation

In The Drowned World (1962), the ecological regression of the natural landscape to a Neo-Triassic state prompts a similar “archeopsychic” shift in human psychology. Consistent with Ballard’s other post-apocalyptic scenarios, access to these “ghostly deltas” of inner space is welcomed by the novel’s characters, particularly the biologist Robert Kerans.
Image result for ballard the drowned world

For John Baxter the “neuronic odyssey” of The Drowned World echoes the work of neurophysiologist John C. Lilly who, from 1954 onwards, conducted a series of sensory deprivation experiments using enclosed floatation tanks. As Lilly would go on to describe in The Centre of the Cyclone (1972) sensory deprivation prompted “mystical states” and allegedly enabled him to undergo a regressive anamnesis that permitted access to deep genetic memory. Lilly’s work paralleled that of psychologist Donald Hebb at Canada’s McGill University. Commissioned by the US Air Force, Hebb used dark, sound-proof isolation chambers to simulate the withdrawal of sensory stimuli from test subjects. Colin Wilson’s novel The Black Room (1971) drew on the McGill experiments whilst Paddy Chayefsky’s Altered States (1978) took the visionary aspects of Lilly’s work as its basis.
Image result for altered states book

In the case of Ballard, language and imagery redolent of this field of post-war experimentation appears across his career, not just in The Drowned World but also short stories such as ‘Manhole ’69’ (1957), ‘The Gioconda of the Twilight Noon’ (1964) and ‘The Enormous Space’ (1989). In each case the lack of sensory stimuli results in experiences of spatial, psychological and temporal expansion.  

After unpacking the link between Ballard’s texts and the surrounding context of sensory deprivation, I wish to mark out his thematic difference from the likes of Lilly, Wilson and Chayefsky et al. While they variously connect the experimental process to the discovery of a foundational human essence, Ballard’s narratives plot movements towards the dissolution, negation and reformation of human identity. In examining this representation of men in the process of disappearing, this paper uses the literature of sensory deprivation to interpret Ballard’s predilection for terminal identities framed as transformative states.

Night Time

Image result for itv night time ident

I was happy to have been able to speak at the recent conference At Home With Horror?: Terror on the Small Screen held at the University of Kent, 27th-29th October, 2017. I spoke about late-night television, dream-states and nostalgia. The paper allowed me to outline some ideas I've had for a while, in particular material that was sparking by a productive trawl of you tube for liminal television clips and other bits of forgotten VHS footage. Abstract below. My thanks to Katerina Flint-Nicol and Ann-Marie Fleming for organising such an interesting event.


Night Time: The Hauntological Horror of Television After Dark

When the major channels would go off the air you could […] pick up strange, other channels and you would see strange things […] That was really the core, the crystal at the centre of this movie, my experience with that, thinking: what if the images that you pulled up were really quite extreme, disturbing, possibly illegal? What would you do, how would you respond to that?

                                          ---David Cronenberg on the genesis of Videodrome (1983).

In August 1987, the British commercial television network ITV launched Night Network, a limited weekend schedule which extended the closedown time from 12.30 to 3am. After the experiment proved successful, ITV tasked its regional stations to develop similar programming as an attempt to generate 24-hour broadcasting. Granada, ITV’s service for North West England began Night Time in September 1988, an overnight (12-6am) service which continued until June 1995.

Image result for night time itv

As is indicated by archive footage viewable on You Tube and TV Ark, Night Time eschewed ‘family’ viewing and instead catered to an adult, culturally aware audience via a diet of American sports, confrontational chat shows, cult television and genre films, frequently horror. The visual language of horror was also incorporated into Night Time’s ‘ident’, continuity and promotional material. A typical trailer montage would combine quick-fire clips of Peter Cushing, Kenneth Johnson’s V (1983-1985) and Marius Constant’s theme music from The Twilight Zone (1959-1964). In keeping with the tone of the latter, Night Time knowingly framed its programming as an intercepted or otherwise interrupting broadcast from somewhere other; a type of Videodrome signal that appeared in the space between the nightly news and TV-am (1983-1992).

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In Haunted Media (2000), Jeffrey Sconce argued that “the premise of the ‘haunted TV’” central to Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1982) speaks of a residual fear; one that exceeds the boundaries of the cinema because the television set continues to “loom as a gateway to oblivion” back in the viewer’s domestic sphere. Much the same could be said of Paul Golding’s Pulse (1988), a suburban horror film shown on Night Time in the mid-1990s. Contemporary horror films maintain a televisual fixation but for the likes of Peter Strickland (Berberian Sound Studio, 2012) and Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow,2012) the connection lies at the ambiguous level of tone, ambience and influence rather than representation. When asked about their references points neither cite a specific example but speak instead of a nostalgic ambience of unseen films and half-remembered, late-night television.  With these and other examples in mind, this paper will use the graphics, content and format of the Night Time strand to consider the residual influence of horror cinema when consumed as post-midnight television. It will attempt to outline a type of ‘hypnagogic’ horror spectatorship that can be compared to the “hauntological confluence” recently mapped by Mark Fisher (and others) in relation to contemporary electronic music.