Waiting for the Gift of Sound and Vision
Published in HEXEN 2039, Black Dog Publishing 2006
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
Military Intelligence isn't what it used to be.... So What? Human intelligence isn't what it used to be either. 2
John Cale, Sabotage (Live)
One summer's day in July 2006 the artist Suzanne Treister went to the Science Museum in London. There she was taken to a small room by one of the curators, where she sat down, and her companion placed on the table in front of her an object made of crystal in a silver frame. Treister got out a pad of paper from her bag, peered into the glassy sphere and over the next three hours carefully drew a series of images on the sheets of cartridge. In making these drawings she was attempting the act of 'scrying': using a semi-reflective surface as an interface to allow one to divine information about a distant event or place. Such techniques have been used across cultures and throughout history. In ancient Greek and Celtic cultures beryl and quartz and water were used; a Persian tenth century epic describes the 'cup of jamshid', which allowed the observations of the seven layers of the universe; and Nostradamus used a cup of water to generate his quatrains. It's the witch's or fortune teller’s crystal ball in Disney cartoons. The object that Treister was using is a globe of rock crystal that the Elizabethan magus John Dee said had been given to him by angels.
This act of trying to gain information through paranormal means is a component part of Hexen 2039 by Suzanne Treister. This documents a research project by Treister's time-travelling alter ego Rosalind Brodsky as she traces the intersections between the military and the occult throughout history, in the present, and into the future. She researches audio hypnosis and systems of brainwashing, and represents real, and imaginary crossovers between occult belief systems and programmes pursued by the American military. She unpacks the links between the occult group the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), of which the magician Alistair Crowley-the self-confessed "wickedest man in the world"-was a lodge leader, and the NASA Space Program. She investigates the history of sound technologies in the mass media and the arena of war. This remarkable material is extended into a science fiction scenario, where the representations of these events themselves become the carrier of information that can be accessed in the future by Brodsky and her research Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality (IMATI), to develop programmes of psychic control over others. What anchors this expansive work to the quotidian world is the actuality of these research programmes that are shaped by supernatural or occult beliefs, and the certainty that some of the techniques developed in these programmes are being used by the military today.
Dee was an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I and was considered by many of his contemporaries to be the most learned man in Europe. Certainly his library of 4,000 volumes was the largest in England. He wrote his "Mathematical Preface" to the works of Euclid to promote the study of mathematics and to bring its mysteries to a wider public understanding, beyond the walls of the universities, and he was among the first to develop applications of Euclidean geometric principles to navigation. He was responsible for developing a plan for the British Navy, coined the phrase "Britannia", and was commissioned by Elizabeth I to establish the legal foundation for colonising North America. He was at the centre of the scientific establishment of his time and, for a while, a significant political force at the Royal Court. He also believed that it was possible to make contact with angels, learning their Enochian language and thereby revealing the magical forces that shape the world below, as well as gaining access to the powers of the heavens above. He was not unusual in this mix of scientific and occult understandings; indeed he was very much a man of his time, or any time until the Enlightenment. It was only then that the supernatural was slowly levered apart from those explanations that gave a more mechanical causal model of the operations of the world. John Dee was also a close associate of Frances Walsingham, who with his network of 'Intelligencers' consolidated the secret service at the heart of the English State and its operations.
Among the places that Treister attempts to map on her paper, through the agency of the hazy surface of Dee's scrying stone, are the Stanford Research Institute at Menlo Park, California, USA; Fort Meade, Maryland, USA; the buildings of the Psi-Tech corporation in Beverly Hills, USA; and the geography of the MGM studio in Hollywood, California, 1994, when they were making the film Stargate.
The Stanford Research Institute was founded in 1946 by a small number of investors and executives in association with the University to be a centre of research and innovation in California. In the 1940s it worked with the petrol company Chevron to find artificial substitutes for tallow and coconut oil, used in soap manufacture, and it was responsible for identifying dodecyl benzene as a replacement for these products. Dodecyl benzene was later used by Proctor and Gable to produce the detergent 'Tide'. From 1972 to 1995 the Institute was the centre for Central Intelligence Agency funded research in to the possibilities of 'remote viewing'. Remote viewing posits that it is possible to project human consciousness from one place to another and to gain accurate information about remote and hidden locations-what Dee had earlier called 'scrying' and what Treister is doing at the Science Museum. The research at Stanford was initiated by the American government in response to reports of massive investment by the Soviet military in researching psychic phenomena. Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff developed a programme called Scanate, which specifically focused on a small number of individuals who seemed able to achieve some of these outcomes. A New York artist called Ingo Swann was central to this, and was responsible for developing the concept of 'co-ordinate remote viewing', where viewers were able to obtain information about a location given nothing more than its map co-ordinates. Swann is reputed to have drawn a perfect and accurate picture of an island using this technique. His research CV gives an idea of the rapid growth in the range and scope of their investigations:
The CV is accompanied by a statement that reinforces the official and covert nature of the undertaking:
The programme went through a number of name changes, from the frankly bizarre 'Gondola Wish', 'Sun Streak', and 'Grill Flame', to its final title of 'Stargate'. In a period of 20 years, over 40 people were employed on the programme, including 20 remote viewers. 'Stargate', and related projects, cost the US government about $20 million.
The CIA decommissioned the remote viewing programme in 1995, but by then it had already moved into the private sector. Major Ed Dames was a US Army and CIA intelligence officer and one of the first five people trained by Ingo Swann in the co-ordinate remote viewing protocols. He expanded the scope of these researches to places beyond even Swann's interplanetary and time-travelling undertakings, with sessions that targeted Atlantis, Unidentified Flying Objects and alien life forms. Even before government funding came to an end Ed Dames had set up the PSI-Tech Corporation in 1989, a private company dedicated to dealing with remote viewing and training through his trademarked programme Technical Remote Viewing TM. Dames became a minor media star, appearing often on the Art Bell radio show, which is widely syndicated across America and reaches between 18 and 40 million listeners. He used this as a platform for increasingly flamboyant predictions, from a warning about pathogens travelling in the tail of the Hale Bopp comet and global outbreaks of Bovine AIDS, to the death of Bill Clinton in a golf course lightning strike in 1988. He also told of how PSI-Tech had been employed by the US government as a remote viewing agency during the Iraq war: "We not only located the biological warfare or chemical canisters, we entered the bunker… the command bunker of Saddam Hussein and downloaded all his battle plans." If one visits their website http://www.psitech.net/projects.htm, details of their current programmes using Technical Remote Viewing™ are provided, including the source of the SARS outbreak and the site of the next attack by terrorists against American interests.
Looking at Treister's scrying glass drawings of the complex at Stanford and of the PSI-Tech buildings, one might at first presume that she has not managed to develop her powers to the level of those remote viewers trained by Swann or Dames. However, a casual look at the PSI-Tech drawings of the place where Bin Laden is allegedly held captive (a PSI-Tech hypothesis) challenges this assumption. 5 Treister's drawings are as loaded with information as those made by the professionals of the private sector. This correspondence serves to problematise the status of both sets of work: are we to presume that the remote drawings share some of the conditions of Treister's-that they are fictions or analogues? Or is it the other way around: that Treister's drawings share the psychic visionary qualities of those from PSI-Tech? We are not in a position where we can determine which of these readings might be 'true', and indeed like many of Dames' remote viewings the truth or otherwise is impossible to verify.
The slippages and relationships between the 'real' and the 'fictive' have been a constant theme in Treister's work. In Hexen 2039 she explores the fact that the Stargate remote viewing programme was closed a year after the production of the Stargate film in 1994, by Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Studios. This means that the film was being worked on before the programme was public knowledge. From the big screen version came the TV series Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis, which run to this day. All the narratives of Stargate hinge on a large translucent disc that provides access to different places across space and time. The film has this technology being unearthed in an ancient Egyptian pyramid; a rogue academic, who believes the pyramids were built to facilitate alien contact, is brought in to decode the symbols that surround the mirror and allow access to its power. There are a number of websites that insist that the symbols used in the film are the same Enochian alphabet that surrounds John Dee's scrying mirror and which later became central to the rites of Aleister Crowley. Treister generates, or uncovers, a series of coincidences, echoes and resonances through the history of MGM and the innovations in sound technology by Hollywood studios that may-or may not-contain significance, and so sets up a vortex of possibility that seems to promise infinite growth.
The great majority of the events that Treister is working with are actual and historical: no matter how extraordinary they may seem. The USA did carry out experiments into remote viewing and mind control for decades. LSD was brought to Berkeley as part of government brainwashing research, only for it to be leaked into the wider community by Timothy Leary and others, thus helping to chemically trigger the biggest anti-establishment movement of the twentieth century. There is a proven and documented link between Aleister Crowley and Jack Parsons, who was developing rocket fuel at the Pasadena Rocket research labs. Parsons was the leader of the Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis. In his teens, he had started a correspondence with Werner Von Braun, who was the designer of the Nazi Rocket program and was later central to the American space program and the Gemini project. In 1912 Crowley lived in Victoria Street in South West London, at the same time that MI5 and MI6 had their Headquarters there. Dr Harold Puthoff and Ingo Swann on the remote viewing programme at Stanford were both scientologists and were known to L Ron Hubbard. In turn, Hubbard had been a member of the OTO at the same time as Parsons. In 1992 Oliver Lowery patented his 'Silent Subliminal Presentation System'-a silent communication technology that carries information non-aurally to the brain. There are many who convincingly claim that these technologies have been experimented with in Iraq, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib (for example, Jon Ronson in The Men who Stare at Goats). The project also explores links between the Military industrial complex and Hollywood, suggesting ways that techniques in control may infiltrate the social sphere.
These are only some of the events that Treister describes in Hexen 2039, in her mapping of the ways that heterodox belief systems underpin and interact with more orthodox narratives of power. She then weaves these relationships into ever greater vortexes of implication, through combining them with more improvisational or poetic associations and archives, including The Wizard of Oz, the music of Mussorgsky, Walpurgis Night, the Brocken Mountain, television towers, The Witches' Dancefloor, the Harz Mountains, the Berlin Olympic games and the location of objects linked to magical rites available on eBay.
Some of these links that form Hexen 2039 are part of what might be considered the shared ecology of alternative history or conspiracy in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, intersections of events and people and groups that have attracted the attention of others and can be considered to be a significant part of this hidden geography. There are other correspondences that are unique to the work carried out by Treister and her researcher Rosalind Brodsky, and the Institute of Militronics and Advanced Time Interventionality.
Linkage is at the heart of the conspiratorial readings of history, and in turn this model relates to the way that we make any meaning of the world at some very deep level of our nervous system. Lewis Wolpert speaks of the way that the human brain has evolved to require causality:
Theodor Adorno, in his essay "The Stars Down to Earth" defines the 'occult' worldview as "the readiness to relate the unrelated", and this gives a central insight both into the histories that Hexen 2039 documents and the work's own structure and methodology. 7 Without doubt, we find in Hexen that the structure of the 'greater' (the work-the narrative that is made from the events) echoes the smaller (the events described), mirroring the "everlasting emphasis on macrocosm and microcosm" that Frances Yates claims lies at the heart of all occult systems. 8
As the combination of historical material with science fiction elements in Hexen 2039 indicates, the approaches generated by the drive to identify pattern and to 'make sense' are numerous and of necessity, as much creative and fantastic as they are (seemingly) analytical and reductive. In Umberto Eco's book Foucault's Pendulum, a character talks of the significance of the dimensions of the Great Pyramid:
Both Eco and Treister reveal and revel in the fantastic pleasure that lies at the heart of these acts of research and generation, this making of pattern and tracing of linkage. A pleasure so profound and deep that it becomes dangerous to the equilibrium and wellbeing of those who are at the service of this drive. Rosalind Brodsky, the fictional central agent of the research in Hexen 2039 is somebody, we are told both here and in No Other Symptoms: Time Travelling with Rosalind Brodsky, who may be profoundly delusional, only believing herself to be living in the future.10 As viewers and readers, we too are forever uncertain as to her exact position in time. Even if the delusional scenario is not the 'correct' one, Brodsky spends a lot of her resources and effort seeking analysis, to alleviate whatever her condition may be, from some of the greats of twentieth century psychology. In Foucault's Pendulum the generators of the fictional conspiracy end up being hunted by other conspiracists who believe that their construction is true, with fatal results. These scenarios address the effects of a subjectivity that has become excessive, which travels across those boundaries that lie between the social and consensual world and the more eccentric individualistic paths of solipsism and paranoia, and the dangers attached to this transgression.
In recent times computers have had a massive effect in amplifying the operations of subjectivity and non-mainstream constructions of reality. This is reflected in mass-media concerns of alienated youth alone in the bedroom, only with a Playstation or Xbox, or exploring the weirder shores of cyberspace and an internet that purportedly operates as an electronic incubator for weirdos, paedophiles and religious wackos who want to build bombs. Certainly the internet has destabilised mainstream readings, be this through the rewritable pages of the electronic encyclopedia Wikipedia or those pages offering a multitude of eccentric or paranoid or fictional retellings of history. This is an intellectual analogue of what Chris Anderson of Wired magazine recently dubbed the 'Long Tail' effect of the net on cultural commodities like books and films, where previously obscure or difficult to find independent and minority productions gain a market through the net, whilst at the same time the effect and monopoly of the blockbuster is undermined: no longer is it the central topic of discussion in the pub or workplace.
Tracing how new technology shapes our thinking has been a central concern of Treister's practice. An early series of paintings, 1998-1991, explored the implied narrative and syntactical constructions of the arcade video game and a later series of works, 1991-1992, used an Amiga computer to generate digital landscapes from the text and iconography of the video game interface. Later projects such No Other Symptoms paralleled the rapid shifts of technology through using cyberspace as a medium: the investigations and operations of the protagonist Rosalind Brodsky-with whom we navigate through the hidden spaces of her narrative and constructed history-was first documented as a website. This later developed into an artwork that combined a website and a printed book with a cd rom.
In Hexen 2039, Treister's use of computer technology is far less overt-but it has become embodied. The way the project forms a hallucinatory network from established 'fact' reflects the deep structures of cyberspace where multiple models and possibilities co-exist and are brought into play in an endless open-ended syntax: Hexen 2039 uses both the spaces of the real world and the logics of the cybernetic one to trace patterns and resonance across history and time; from John Dee to West Point Military Academy to a hypothetical future, 2039, when time travel research into military uses of the occult is translated into new technologies for psychological warfare.
The military is a compelling stage for this playing out of conflicting narratives of the supernatural and the scientific. From the start of human society, the roles of the warrior and those of the priest or shaman have been linked and warfare seen as a physical expression of otherworldly imperatives. Homer writes: "Thus spoke Zeus and gave the word for war, whereon the Gods took their several sides and went into Battle." The God of the Old Testament is famously a warrior god: "The Lord is a Man of War, the Lord is His name." Even in the twentieth century, righteous armies tend to be accompanied onto the battlefield by angels and other portents of God's support for their particular country or cause, as in Mons in 1914 where an angel allegedly appeared in aid of the British advance against German lines. On an individual level the constant awareness of death for the individual soldier, and the threat of immediate extinction and the coming to terms with the randomness of survival, generates a mindset open to supernatural understanding and explanation.
Over recent history, however, Western societies have become determined less and less by their particular pantheons of gods and spirits and increasingly through racial, cultural, political, economic or ideological difference. With this shift, the military and its operations are seen increasingly as an agency of 'rationality', as expressed by Carl von Clausewitz's dictum that "War is the extension of politics by other means." From the nineteenth century, the military essentially transformed into an agent of modernity, bringing the benefits of empire, as it saw them: civilisation, trade, sanitation and Christianity to a 'benighted other'. A force for, and of, 'Enlightenment', on many different levels. We can see this being played out today in the rhetorics attached to the invasion of Iraq, vis a vis the introduction of democracy and other Enlightenment values. The identification of the military with 'the modern' is reinforced through its central role in developing technologies that then shape wider society. These include interchangeable machine parts and mass production, the development of aircraft, and nuclear energy and electric power; the space industries; and, crucially, the semi-conductor, the computer, the internet and the new electronic world.
The desire to control others at a distance unites the worlds of magic and science and the programmes of the armed forces and military intelligence. A central theme in Hexen 2039 is the mechanics of brainwashing and mind control. Through links both real and fictional we are brought to a point of imagining the use of sound frequencies and vibrations and other forms of radiation to shape people's minds. Treister's exploration of the development of mind control technologies touches on art. Part of this is a sort of pataphysical critique on claims made for art—where the representations of an event have scientific readings taken of them. Music too has a central role. This is rather less a romantic exegesis on the potentials of art to shape human hearts and minds, (a rhetoric that the project does indirectly critique and address), and more to do with its power to carry information across space and time, and an exploration of some of its more basic and brutal powers. In The Men who Stare at Goats, Ronson writes:
'Jim' is Jim Channon of the 'First Earth Battalion', whose post Vietnam, new age manual first suggested sound as a means of psychic mind change that the US Armed Forces should think about using. In a manner parallel to the remote viewing narrative, these heterodox imaginings fed into mainstream operations, and sound was employed against Noriega in Panama and then in the siege at Waco. It is now being used in Iraq and in Abu Ghraib. Ronson writes of a Newsweek reporter:
Adam knew that the prisoners were housed in a yard behind the train station. The army had parked a convoy of shipping containers back there, and as Adam wandered towards them he could see a bright flashing light. He could hear music too. It was Metallica's "Enter the Sandman". Adam walked toward the light. It was really bright. It was being held by a young American soldier and he was just flashing it on and off, on and off, into the shipping container. "Enter the Sandman" was reverberating inside the container, echoing violently around the steel walls.... The song ended and then, immediately, it began again. 13
Research is already finessing and developing the technologies of sound to find ways of shaping behaviour without any signal being actually audible. Hexen 2039 traces these developments into a hypothetical future, a future where, as Kathleen Taylor imagines in her book Brainwashing, "we may be able to control which memories are kept and which are forgotten, which actions conceived and which remain beyond imagining... we may be able not only to generate a certain belief, but also then to 'fix' it, so that no further modification occurs, creating the ultimate impervious dogmatic." 14
In the book The Dialectic of Enlightenment (first published in 1944), Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno argued that there could be no social freedom without enlightened thought, but that equally the Enlightenment contained within itself its own seed of destruction. They also noted famously that the "program of the Enlightenment was the disenchantment of the world" 15. By this, they meant that this is the age when all-embracing, metaphysical or religious worldviews fall victim to the rationalising forces of modernity, and that modern consciousness is characterised by an instrumental reason that can only dismiss that which does not accord with its own conceptual dictates. The book is contentious in its implication of the role of the Enlightenment in the horrors of Fascism-it was written at the end of the Second World War, when opposed economic, political and ideological forces were wrecking Europe and the Pacific-however, the idea of disenchantment has shaped a default reading of the modern age. They wrote of the paradoxically destructive nature of this triumph, where, with the erasure of other forces and other gods, in the 'enlightened world' man himself becomes sovereign-and this sovereignty is exercised as the power to use and control nature. "The fully Enlightened earth", they write, "radiates disaster triumphant."
From our contemporary standpoint the paradox they describe takes on a different weighting. A resurgence in religious expression is defying the inevitability of the erasures that Horkheimer and Adorno were so confident came as part of the dialectic of enlightenment, and now it is theological and supernatural beliefs rather than political or ideological ones that seem to be becoming the engine of struggle. "The Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew has calculated that in the 1960s there was not a single religious or cult-based terrorist group anywhere, and as recently as 1980 only two of the world's 64 known terrorist groups were religious. Since then, however, Shi'a extremists alone have been responsible for more than a quarter of the deaths from terrorism." 16 Once again, the particular oppressive nature of these systems of understanding-based on otherworldly forces and revealed truths-are becoming manifest and clear. Not only in those societies that we the West might see as 'other'-Islam, for instance, with the resurgence of a radical fundamentalist political programme, but also in the West itself, where many are embracing the irrational or religious belief systems-be these the anti-rationalist expressions of postmodernity, new age systems or Christian Fundamentalism-in a reaction to the destructive changes of modernity. Many expressions and beliefs of the Enlightenment-such as universal human rights and female emancipation, to name but two-seem to be under threat both internally and externally.
Hexen 2039 operates as a microcosm that contains and articulates these macrocosmic movements. The work is not only a projection of a future dystopia; through it, the shadows of the past also move. In Treister's tracking of the supernatural and its seepages, as in Adorno's critique of the Enlightenment and its contradictions, we can trace the outlines of the greatest failure of the rational in twentieth century Europe-or the inevitable outcome of the rational, if we follow Adorno-the Holocaust. This dark secret act utilised the tools of modernity to achieve its terrible outcomes: mass transport systems, punch-card filing systems developed by IBM. It, and the Nazi state and war machine were facilitated through technology. Treister explores the relationships between the Nazis and occult organisations, and their Gothic imaginings and productions are conjured up in the atmosphere of Walpurgis nights and 'Hexentanzplatzen'. Carlo Ginzberg and others have spoken of how the crimes that witches were accused of in Medieval Europe-poisoning of wells, kidnapping of Christian children-were first leveled against the Jews, as indeed were the punishments exacted. Brodsky's diagrams use Kabbalistic gematria to find hidden meanings in lists of famous witches as well as all the items sold by a witchcraft shop in Dortmund. The mappings of influence across Hexen 2039 and its tracking of conspiracy brings to mind the most pernicious and resilient fiction of the twentieth century, Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and its malign history. It is part of the sophistication of the project that these histories are there to be put together by the viewer rather than being overt or editorialised by the artist, but the awareness of the dark outcomes of the failure of reason animates her exploration of attempts to harness magic.
Arthur C Clarke famously pointed out "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." In Hexen 2039, Treister brilliantly uses her scenario of research into real and imagined uses of the 'supernatural' and the occult by the military, as a way to explore movements and dialogues between scientific and Enlightenment projects and those based on pre-scientific models of the world. Hexen 2039 suggests the dark possibilities and promises of a resurgent 'non rationalism' allied to technological innovation, either in its development or in reaction to the changes that technology brings. Hexen 2039 diligently documents the many seepages between these systems that have already taken place. Treister extrapolates a future that seems grotesque and impossible, but then which is closely aligned to our present, where supernatural worldviews are shaping events around us, and systems and technologies of control and oversight are under constant development. The frightening thing about the Hexen project is the realisation of quite how long the powers of the state have been open to the approaches of the supernatural, and how closely the means and intentions of these opposing agendas have converged—and how much stranger things may yet get.
1. Pynchon, Thomas, Gravity's Rainbow, New York: Viking, 1973, p. 361.