David Toop - "Hot Pants Idol"

BAR 020 CD

‘Hot Pants Idol’ is an album in which selected atmospheres and texts of David Toop’s book “Exotica: fabricated soundscapes in a real world” blend together with music specially composed by Bill Laswell, Paul Schütze, Jon Hassell with Spirit World, Scanner, John Oswald, Talvin Singh, Rhys Chatham and others. Reading texts from Exotica, which “plays fast and loose with all notions of ‘fabrication’ and ‘reality’” (The Wire), Toop wanted music that captured many different states of mind and body, that evoked apocalypse, sex and death, romanticism, speed, the texture of moss and the movement of animals, strange exotic environments, ghostly disappearances, fabricated life and drive-in cinemas.

Around 1967 or ’68 I went out to a Sunday evening event held at a psychedelic club in London. The club was called Middle Earth; the event was a ‘happening’ called Float, with performances by artists such as Yoko Ono, Stuart Brisley and Peter Dockley. What struck me that night was artist John Latham, slicing through books with an industrial power saw, the cutting of paper and card amplified to massive noise levels by a contact microphone. I picked up one of the discarded half-books – once a florid romantic novel – and took it home. Reading through the decapitated story, I found strange images and surreal coincidences. I began to construct a novel from the disrupted purple prose. Then, secretly, I read long passages from the novel into a cheap cassette recorder. In 1995 I wrote ‘Ocean of Sound’, a book that revisited many concerns of this period, including the book cutting ceremony of John Latham. After publication, I was invited to read from ‘Ocean of Sound’ at clubs; I read over music from the accompanying compilation CD and began to find something fascinating in the conjunction of spoken text and music. More and more the readings drifted away from the domain of lecturing, and as they did so they became more like a dream text, floating in and out of the atmospheres created by music, becoming music itself. I had given two readings in 1998 – one at The Kitchen in New York City and another at Liverpool’s International Symposium of Electronic Arts – for which I had chosen to read from the book I was then writing – ‘Exotica’ – using my own music as part of the sound design. These readings had become a performance piece with a very particular mood of intimacy bordering on voyeurism. They seemed to create a space in which writing – a side of myself that I had tended to dismiss as functional – could merge with my music. I imagined how the readings might sound with a sequence of music that reflected the diversity of the stories. When Roland Spekle suggested that I might record the stories, I asked a number of friends and past collaborators to contribute a new track. I am grateful to them all for being so generous with their music and so supportive of the project. I am also grateful to all the promotors who have booked me to read in Europe and America over the past four years; to Pete Ayrton at Serpent’s Tail who was happy for me to use extracts from ‘Exotica’ in a different context and to Roland Spekle who suggested the idea of making ‘Hot Pants Idol’ a few years ago and persisted until it was done.

David Toop

19th April 1999

Short Circuit

Near dark, carried on the bare back of a painted drum, I found

myself sailing over blackened, smoking islands. Fires had been lit,

and smoked for years until their oily haze cancelled the sun.

Hovering for days, I watched the planes land and take-off, some of

them crashing into hillsides, erupting into fireballs that rolled

down into the total darkness of the valleys. Strangely enough,

tourists still came. They were fascinated by the apocalypse. Once

they were sunburned. Now they clustered at night with soot grimed

faces, drinking arak spirit, eating contaminated fish served up on

palm leaves in corrugated iron shacks, listening to apocalypse music,

a short circuit, the globe in a circle, so exotic.

White Powder/The Spiders

Once I had gained their confidence, the ancient singers told

me stories after sunset. Neon had been appropriated for poetic

diversions by the goddess of light, they said. She wrote impenetrable

haiku in drunken scrawling worms across the skies. Her hero was the

calligrapher Bosai, who once signed a folding screen thus: „Written

by old man Bosai, totally drunk.”

The god of sound blasted his own terse, enigmatic comments

through tannoy systems in rail and air terminals. After dark, the

shapeshifters climbed onto high bridges to swing their bullroarers

until dawn. They hoped to appease these capricious, mystifying beings

but the gods were enthralled and appalled by the multitude of

echoing, metallic musics which rose through the night air.

They related their curious story of the spider-robots:

dysfunctional  and abandoned mechanical creatures that scratched

calligraphic inscriptions in the salt caves. In the far distance, a

generator throbbed. Once in every hundred years, a blind worm would be

caught by a spider claw and dragged across the salt. The unexpected

thickness of the line was aesthetically pleasing to the spiders.

In general, the spiders were bored with their own creations.

Consequently, they would try and entice more worms into their orbit

with hypnotic high frequency signals. The results were never as they

hoped, for these high tones generated strange heterodyning swirls

when crossed by the ultrasonic patterns of bat cries. Huge insects,

even tiny oilbirds, would drop dead onto the floor if they passed

through this crossfire. In unlucky cases, a bird would fall into the

middle of an inscription, destroying centuries of work in one ugly

explosion of white powder. At times such at this, the spiders

questioned the value and meaning of their efforts.

Ink Of the Ants

When the monsoon came, the encampment ecology mutated. Rotten

fruits glowed in the trees, phosphorescent, radioactive, explosive.

Shaken by the vibration of howler monkey calls, the branches released

their volatile decorations. Each soft luminous fruit startled the

more timid animals as it smashed on the forest floor. After decay

came dust, the ink of the ants and other small insects, who wrote

intricate essays on the history of movement and complexity. If the

wind was strong enough to suck nasal moans from

woodpecker holes, then the essays revealed their impermanance.

For three months, rain misted the sky. Deep fungal growths

filled every crevice. Walls shaded from white into Egyptian umber,

the colour of hot sand soaked in blood. Rain sodden, the plaster had

cracked, breaking into stigmata and open sores. Soft moss rounded

harsh angles and a once pristine surface trembled with slow life.

Touching became an adventure. Dry had become damp. The cool shining

skin of our shelter, like chrome at its peak, now grew fur.

Microscopic tentacles waved in each minor breeze and hues that had

once seemed organic, subtle, natural were overtaken by the livid

smears of true nature. Overhead, Meteo-Sat predicted more rain.

Immersion Gallery

I had found a friend. She had taken a job at the aquarium,

feeding sharks and barracudas in the deep pool. The job requirements

insisted that she swim naked, with no breathing apparatus or

defensive weapons. Every day I watched her work, convinced that each

time would prove fatal. Later, she would whisper details of the day’s

work, though every day seemed much as the last. Exactly poised in the

chaotic boundary between one medium and the other, she would lose all

orientation. From below, the world was a silvered melting blur; from

above, the reflections of foliage and sky were overlaid with such

photographic precision that a third zone emerged in the intermingling

of shape and colour. She could see this world but holding it, she saw

it fracture into droplets and fall away. Microscopic points of light

darted in her eyes. Her chest tightened and then she would be forced

to plunge back into olive darkness, gulping water  as she dived. This

giddy feeling induced a brief state of bliss during which she was

convinced she heard the spiralling melismatic songs of seals as they

hunted under the winter ice. Submarine light cast shadows over the

winding trails of urchins, brittle stars and rabbit-eared cucumbers.

Some were estimated to date back three hundred years or more. Some

were moving now, imperceptibly extending their length into the

darkness of the simulated ocean trench. Lined up at the port panel of

the immersion gallery, every observer experienced an ignorance of

distance which held them in suspended animation for a moment. The

sound of heavy duty ultrashock fencing collapsing across thousands of

miles of desert in a graceful wave rang in their ears.

The Ten Commandments

. . . Charlton Heston stretches his arms wide, Moses parting the Red

Sea in Cecil B. Mille’s The Ten Commandments. Behind him, the sky is

black and blue, bruised by God’s wrath. A photograph of a drive-in

movie: these arms are opened to enfold a congregation of cars,

blue-hooded, soft and silent. The cars are immobile, film fixated,

but the way they are ranked, pointing in a vee towards the huge

screen, gives the impression that they are racing forward, like

penitants running into the healing arms of an evangelist. Behind the

huge screen, a sparkle of city lights, like fireflies over a field,

and then beyond that, another sky, sulphurous and poisoned.

A Cartographic Anomaly

For two months the tea chest sat in one corner of the room.

While my daughter slept upstairs, I busied myself with Booty Shaker

videos, Sumo tournaments, X-rated Manga, fitness product

infomercials, Tamagotchi websites, Ringo Lam films from Hong Kong.

Exploding heads, bodies like tropical fruits, beings that sprouted

tentacles, self-evolving non-human entities, cities on fire. I had

heard Ringo Lam describe the process of making his films in a terse

formula: no money, no time; just do it. That was the kind of art I

liked, the kind of art that fed my very private despair.

Then I remembered the story of the cartographers nightmare.

For years a new world map had been in preparation. All major

floodings, earthquakes, erosions and volcanic eruptions were

monitored. Every new state, devolved territory and fissured country

had been accounted for. Every dictator’s ruling on name changes and

boundary claims had been evaluated. Where possible, the outcome of

guerilla wars had been determined by secret organisations in order to

comply with the shape of the map.

The map was published to huge acclaim, its detail and accuracy

outstanding, its beauty breathtaking. Less than one year after

publication, a new island appeared in the Indian Ocean. Roughly the

size of Madagascar, the island lay to the south of Sumatra. There

were people living on the island; culturally, they seemed

uninteresting to the world. There was little chance of Steven

Spielberg rushing to film them. Anthropologists who specialised in

South-East Asian studies were excited, however, since the kinship

system they discovered was minutely yet significantly different .from

anything previously encountered. Then, suddenly, the island vanished.

No earthquake tremors were reported, no UFOs had been sighted.

Satellite photography proved its disappearance without giving any

clue to the cause. The media treatment of the event was structured

according to the response apparatus activated by a sudden,

catastrophic and totally inexplicable plane crash. Rolling news

reports were illustrated by pictures of nothing in particular,

followed sharply by analysis, blame, exoneration, the hard news

rounded off by human interest stories questioning the value of

councelling, the wisdom of foreign travel, the madness of science.

Inevitably, the island’s retreat back into its oceanic source led to

eventual indifference. Perhaps the entire incident had been a

fantasy, a media fabrication, an elaborate diversion from something

malign taking place on the other side of the world. Only conspiracy

theorists maintained an interest. Of course, the cartographers could

hardly forget. In a collective death pact reminiscent of posthuman

Webcults they committed suicide.

The Long Sleep

Fasting in the Sonora Desert, I dreamed a vision of a

different America. Gliding north on the air currents of a hissing

seed-pod rattle, I looked down at Southern California. Spread below

me, the swimming pools of the rich and famous gleamed like shards of

a Mayan mask, broken into neat rectangles of turquoise jade, then

tossed into the wilderness. No longer the slim, handsome young man

with the Robert Mitchum chin, slick sweep of blond hair

aerodynamically supercharged for the space age, Les Baxter eased the

bulk of old age into a lounger by the pool and slid into reverie. He

was sitting in an old theatre, completely alone. Stravinsky’s

Firebird was playing, yet the orchestra pit was empty. Painted

backdrops were carried on stage by men dressed in black, like the

puppeteers in Japanese Bunraku. They showed river scenes, a yellow

slick threading through arboreal overhang. Just as soon as a backdrop

was erected, so it was taken down and replaced by another. He saw

paintings by Gauguin, Picasso, Rousseau, Paul Klee, followed by

images of masks, totems, sacred animals, sacrifice; they came and

went so quickly, making him aware of his slowing senses. Drums

throbbed, a voodoo incantation, the sound of a journey upriver, into

the unknown. A woman walked to the centre of the stage, wearing a

zebra stripe dress cut low in the bust and skintight. She reminded

Les of the voluptuous June Wilkinson. Featured on The Spike Jones

Show, back in the early Sixties, Wilkinson would bend forward, one

hand on her thigh, the other on her hip, and lower her cleavage onto

the faces of the audience as they ate their TV dinners. Spike would

stand there holding a couple of big round maraccas, ear to ear

grimace stretching his ugly face. Then there was Sandy Warner, black

haired model who posed for Martin Denny covers. Same kind of big soft

bosom as June Wilkinson, not like the concrete outcrops every girl’s

hauling around on her chest these days. All that stuff, nothing

compared to what you see now, what your dollar can buy, and even

then, way before then, you had the smokers with their Joan Crawford

clones sucking on some guy’s woody woodpecker, but in their time they

were hot, those valleys of lust.

The woman stared into the darkness of the stalls and Les felt

as if his mind had been split open, probed with a rubber glove,

scooped out. Then she did that June Wilkinson thing, leaning forward,

hands in just the right places, and with the voice of a demon, she

began to recite: „tabu, taboo, tabuh, tamboo, taboo, tabuh, tamboo,

tabuh-tabuhan . . .” As the bathetic riches of the spell resonated in

his head, throbbing with the mantric bamboo power of Gamelan Jejog,

Les knew he was falling into the long sleep. His power gone, he faded

from sight.

Neo-Noir

By day we slept under nets, hot breezes thick with the perfume

of crocodile kill, stagnant water and rotting flowers. Our becalmed

raft rocked gently, green lake slap-slapping beneath us in an occult

language taught to amphibians by fish but kept secret from humans.

Woken by sharply falling night, we lay in stupor and gazed upwards,

watching satellites track their way through the white star shower.

Bats jerked and wheeled in the ultrasonic hunt. By the edge of the

lake, a gulping percussive web of frog signals threaded into such

unpredictable complexity that we felt ourselves sucked into depths of

electronic interference, imagining we were inverted, suspended in

space, looking down into a vast bowl of seething abstract life.

In another region, on land . . . neon and shadow, oil lamps,

shredded posters, crackling electricity, the sizzle of ghee and

chilli, chattering drums and the roll of bass. The city coiled

itself. Stretched violins shuddered and soared over the blare of traffic. Piloted at a

malevolent serpent crawl, the limousines of neo-soap stars nosed out

fleeting gaps between ox carts and buses, bicycles and mopeds, their

smoked windows blind to limbless beggars. Distant sirens made us

nostalgic for the harsh crying beauty of Ramnaryan’s sarangi.

Scanning across temporal frequencies with our most powerful receiver

we picked up an ancient All India Radio broadcast . . . flute

scientist Pannalal Ghosh exploring the serene evening mood of Raag

Yaman, soft notes of wood and breath melting into the drone, the

occasional glitches of time-zone slippage adding to our sense of awe.

As always we began our evening on the water with biomechanics,

chanting and clapping drum rhythms with our bodies. Loose, fluid, our

throats open, we moved onto our living history, opening up a precious

page in the digital archive, leaning forward at the centre of the

raft to hear transcriptions from interviews with great film directors

from the past I read aloud Bhaskar Chandavarkar’s comments on Ritwik

Ghatak: „He was of the view that the whole sound track, flowing

alongside the visual track, must be treated as the music track. We

had heard about his making the track literally ‘thick’ at a mixing

and recording session in a Calcutta studio.

„While mixing, he heard the whine of a projector leaking in from

the projection room. Ritwikda heard the whine awhile and then advised

the recordist to leave it as it was. ‘Let the window remain open’, he

said.”

Paddling to the centre of the lake where we felt the highest

margin of safety from water pirates and cops, predators and spy-eyes,

we hooked into the satellite and clicked on our call sign. Let the

window remain open.

Dream Fluid Laborat

My friend the swimmer had been forced into dangerous work by

the marginalisation of some speculative research that obsessed her

and a group of young colleagues. Media pundits tagged them as the New

Pharaohs but amongst themselves, they were the Nu-Bi-an Alchemists.

Surrounded by stuffed crocodiles, the tusks of marine mammals, poppy

seeds and belladonna, dogfish bones, frame drums and other

traditional arcana, they claimed to be guided by oracular

pronouncements from Nu and the Chaos-gods. Researching mummification,

they sought a substance they called the Dream Fluid. This fluid, once

isolated from the corporeal body, could be analysed for its structure

and reconstituted in any form. One day, archives would be richly

stocked with Dream Fluid samples, or so they believed. Future

generations would be able to replay the unknown and buried dreams of

people whose thoughts, beliefs and visions would have otherwise

passed from the earth with negligible impact. At this point, the

technology of the Nu-Bi-an Alchemists was slow to reveal this

wonderful potential.

Art Of Ruins

Exotica is the art of ruins, the ruined world of enchantment

laid waste in fervid imagination, the paradox of an imperial paradise

liberated from,colonial intervention, a golden age recreated through

the lurid colours of a cocktail glass, illusory and remote zones of

pleasure and peace dreamed after the bomb. Nothing is left, except

for beaches, palm trees, tourist sites with their moss-covered

monuments, shops stocked with native art made for tourists,

beachcomber bars and an absurd perception of what may once have been.