Perfect Sound Forever

Genesis P-Orridge

Interview by Billy Hell
(August 2007)

Genesis P. Orridge should need no introduction as the hermaphrodite extremist fronting art-magick experimenters Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and Thee Majesty. Now living in New York, he's recently rekindled his love of rock music, using it to espouse an exploration of future human evolution via pandrogyny on the new PTV3 album Hell Is Invisible / Heaven is Her/e out now on Sweet Nothing in the USA, Cargo in Europe, not to mention a long awaited TG reunion and new album ( The Endless Not on Mute).

PSF: It seemed to me that The Endless Not was the culmination of everything you've ever done, as if everything had been leading up to that. I think it's better than anything else you've done.

It is, isn't it? It's a weird one because we didn't expect that- I have to be honest. I don't know how it worked that way. It was an interesting experiment. We just got back together at Mute and they gave us the use of their studio to see what would happen and we started to jam, throw a few thoughts around. It just happened incredibly organically, very easily, much to our surprise, because there were still personality disagreements and tensions but it didn't make any difference to the actual creative process. We were all pleasantly surprised at how it worked. The hardest part for me was finding ways to write lyrics and vocals for it, because as I pointed out to the others, I'm twenty-five years older and I'm not the nihilistic angry young person I was then. I don't like to pretend to be a character, or pretend to be Genesis in 1976 or something. I had to look for a new voice that made sense now. That was the most difficult task. I think it worked!

PSF: There are a lot more lyrics on the PTV3 album than the Throbbing Gristle album, aren't there?

That's inevitable because PTV3 is an ongoing project...

PSF: Would you agree you tend to work more with atmospheres in Throbbing Gristle?

Yeah, and there's a jazzy touch in Throbbing Gristle. But on the Psychic TV album, I worked on the lyrics for several years. I was more meticulous than I've ever been before. I tried to get a real consistency in the structure of the lyrics on that one, and the messages, so there's almost a sense of a story unfolding, although it's somewhat abstract. It's all to do with identity. It's basically a re-investigation of the whole nature of identity and the malleability of identity as a sort of modern dilemma. So Psychic TV is very much of the present and Throbbing Gristle was a reflection of the past in the present, if that makes any sense...?

PSF: Yeah. Do you approach each recording as something unique?

I try to find a(n) unique voice for each one. I let the music sink in and try to see what voice... It's as if there are separate characters for the different pieces and I sometimes jokingly explain it as that there are all these people living inside my head that all need to speak. In a way, that's what it's like. I don't have a specific vocal style necessarily so much as a search for the voice of the particular idea I'm using. It's not quite the same as what other people do and its a lot more stressful at times because sometimes it takes literally years before the voice appears, playing live and rehearsing and jamming and so on. The balance is met where they sink into one another. It's like exploring a jungle you've not been in before and trying to find a path out.

PSF: It's funny that you said, "The balance is met" because that's what I was going to ask next. You say it's like having a lot of different voices trying to get out. Do you ever feel as if you hear the voices of dead friends?

It's very much like being in a trance, and channelling whatever's out there.

PSF: "The Worm Waits Its Turn" from The Endless Not reminded me very much of Jonh Balance of Coil, who of course died quite recently.

That might be because Sleazy (Throbbing Gristle's Peter Christopherson) mixed that one with Bryin Dall in New York and it was done separately from the other ones which were mixed by Chris Carter so it had a different touch. And that one was in fact my solo song. But yes, all kinds of people come out. Sometimes I hear little bits of Jim Morrison. All kinds of people float past. I almost smile as I hear them go past. It's very much like being in a trance and channelling whatever's out there. It makes it more exciting because I can watch it like a film. A lot of the time, I actually close my eyes and watch an idea of what I want to talk about and I visualise it as a movie. Then, I just describe what I see.

PSF: Does the image of Mount Kailash on the cover of The Endless Not tie in with that?

Yes, it was a deliberate reference to the need for a new approach. A more considered and compassionate approach in the time we live in - a rejection of the old aggressive totalitarian looking image. We wanted to do something that suggested its time to reconsider the human condition in a very necessary way because we're heading towards a really unpleasant dogmatic polarisation that is dangerous. We need to stop and reconsider exactly what it is we want to be as human beings, or we're fucked! I don't know if you've noticed yet, but on Mount Kailash, Sleazy noticed that there's almost a T/G flash on it. There's a line going down at an angle at the top of the mountain. Then it goes out and back again. He noticed that when he was looking at an archive of photos and we though, "Hmm, that should be it!"

PSF: Is Mount Kailash in Tibet?

It's actually in Tibet itself, in the Himalayas, but on the Tibet side. It's where Tibetan Buddhists and a lot of Hindus too feel that they have to make at least one pilgrimage in their lifetime. It's supposed to be where the gods and demons reside. A friend of ours who is Nepali has been there twice now. He spent nearly a year in the caves, walking all the way there. I think the Chinese have become a lot more tolerant of the pilgrims and the holy people visiting than they used to be so it's gaining in its potence again. Nepal is my favourite place in the world, and the Himalayas are my favourite place in the world.

PSF: Have you been there a lot?

Two times, but the first time was on and off for six months. We want to go back again this year and stay as long as possible. In my dreamworld, I'd stay there half of every year at least. It sounds awfully corny but the first time I went outside in Kathmandu, I felt, "This is where I feel absolutely at home for the first time in my life. I wonder why?" I wonder if there really is reincarnation or if it's just an atmosphere, but I feel absolutely attached in a way that I've never felt anywhere else. I just immediately wanted to be there as long as I could.

PSF: Do you ever get that with people, when you meet someone for the first time but you feel as though you already know them?

Oh yes, that's the way it is with Lady Jaye (Genesis' partner). We've been together since the first day we met, thirteen years ago. Definitely! Its nice when that happens isn't it? A lot of people I collaborate with are like that too. Brion Gysin was like that - a mixture of a mentor and a familiar friend. Those are always the most powerful relationships I think. Those are the ones that change you. Do you think there's reincarnation? Or what do you think it is when that happens?

PSF: I think reincarnation is quite likely but I can't say for sure. When you meet someone and it feels as though you already know each other, it's usually a sign you're heading in the right direction, I suppose.

It's difficult, isn't it? There are so many things that suggest it's possible. I was just reading a book about the nature of time and the fact that we try to measure it. Physics is beginning to realise with quantum mechanics that we've been trying to measure things that are immeasurable because everything permeates everything else, in which case, we would recognise previous loops. I think of existence as loops. The idea of reincarnation suggests we get born into a human body and then carry on learning. I don't think it's quite like that - sequences of loops. The trick is to break the loops until there aren't any left!

PSF: That's a very Throbbing Gristle way of thinking. It's almost as if you are describing the music of Throbbing Gristle.

Oh yeah! I think the nature of art is to try to explain how you perceive things so it would make sense that that would happen. But I think the looping has become something I'm feeling stronger than ever (about) rather than it just being absorbed into the way we work. We do that with PTV too, very much - a lot of the songs begin with loops or phrases repeated until something suddenly breaks through. The longer I live, the more I'm convinced that it's the equivalent of a series of videos I've been watching that keep on repeating themselves and its very frustrating. I'm trying to figure out how to stop the loops.

PSF: Talking of quantum physics, have you heard about this Large Hadron Collider that is supposed to be activated in November on the French/Swiss border? It seems these scientists want to make black holes and they don't really know what hell might break loose!

That's right, in the CERN scientific centre. I think that's crazy.

PSF: It does seem like the most ridiculously reckless thing the human race has yet tried to do.

I agree. I just read a science fiction book in which the whole Earth disappears because a scientist creates a black hole. I don't know if it was because of that Horizon program. It seems ludicrous. I don't know how they could possibly be that arrogant that they could think they could control something like that. The very nature of it is uncontrollable. They've said so themselves, so the arrogance of it is frightening. The result could be the last arrogant human attempt to quantify and control the physical world when in fact, what we should be doing is integrating all aspects of life and perception, not separating them out and trying to control them. We should be reabsorbing some of the things we used to have in terms of our relationship with nature and each other and community. Science is obsessed with separation and um...

PSF: Reduction.

Yes. And according to the Native Americans, they don't have a word for death. They use the word "separation" so that implies that science is killing various aspects of what we think of as consensus reality, just to prove their own potence. It's like this urge towards being a god, you know? It's just so ridiculous! Pointless. Aah, Lady Jaye just said, "Science is rife with knowledge and the absence of wisdom." It's fascinating. We're living in very interesting times. A very volatile time!

PSF: Things seem to be accelerating very much. Too much is happening too fast for any one person to keep up.

Yes, I know. Instead of really dealing with our behavioural issues and our personalities and our destruction of the ecosystem and our innate greed, we're just distracting ourselves with more and more gadgets and things that go faster and faster and faster in this denial of our own mortality. Everyone wants to go the fastest in an aeroplane, or run the fastest. Everything's got to be faster, faster, faster - faster computers, faster phones. It's just a completely empty, vacuous way of dealing with life. It's bound to become a disaster. If it's true that things are accelerating quicker and quicker on our body of knowledge and our technology is doubling quicker and quicker then at some point within the next ten years, it'll double before it happens and that could be a black hole, right?

PSF: It sounds kind of like it. We'd end up in the unimaginable.

Yes, exactly- some form of weird entropy that we can't even imagine. So the odds of crisis are very high but then sometimes, crisis creates mutation, and the PTV3 album is really the beginning of a statement that evolution and mutation are our best hope.

PSF: What do you think could be a positive evolutionary change for the human race?

Well, it depends how attached you are to the human body as a sacred thing. We think of the human body as not sacred. That's one of the great errors of the old religions, that the human body is the centre of everything. Our personal belief is that the evolution of the species is imminent in another sort of quantum leap and it will be where we finally let go of our romantic idea of the human body or of gender or the species being already perfect, and we use genetic engineering and cosmetic surgery and biological and cyber-organic attachments to completely redesign ourselves according to our wants and our needs and we become a species of infinite variety. So if you want to go into space, you use genes from polar bears to hibernate and maybe add extra arms and get rid of the legs because you're in a weightless environment. That's just an example. People have to let go of all their preconceptions of what we're meant to look like and how we're meant to function biologically and step into the actual future from our prehistoric state. We've let technology develop miraculously but we haven't bothered to change ourselves. If we change physically, then our way of perceiving things changes and we need to change the way we perceive everything. That's our dream, but for some people, it would be a nightmare. It's about whether people are sentimental about the human body or not. People are surprisingly resistant to change.

PSF: There's always resistance to change full stop, isn't there?

But I think with the human body even more so because of all these medieval religions that insist that the human is perfect, divine, a reflection of an angry god. I don't want to be a reflection of an angry god, quite frankly.

PSF: You've already embarked upon that path with pandrogyny and cosmetic surgery.

It's a matter of immersion in the idea to see how it might feel and where it might go and state quite clearly that we believe what we're saying and we're prepared to stand by it and submit to our proposals as far as we can. Wouldn't it be great if you could say, "I'd like to have scales or fur"? The environment is changing and we might need to be able to do that just to survive whatever happens to the weather or the ozone. I think we're going to have to really rethink ourselves and put ourselves not at the centre of life but just be one aspect of life.

PSF: I suppose the ultimate extreme of that would be that human consciousness would exist without a body.

Absolutely, well done! Of course, that would be the perfect final result.

PSF: Are you hoping to achieve that?

Oh god, yeah! We talk about that a lot. To leave the human body completely behind but maintain a sense of self, an individuated self, would be perfect.

PSF: Surely that's what music does in a way or seems to give the illusion of that sometimes.

Yeah, that definitely happens. With great poetry and good art but also music is very physical as well so you can really get lost in it.

PSF: It's easier with music.

Well, it's working with biological rhythms. It makes the cells resonate and the actual body resonate in a way that releases hormones and chemicals that give one an ecstatic blissed experience. It may only be temporary but it's definitely happening. It happens to the performers too. I was just doing an interview for a documentary about Ian Curtis and we were talking about how sometimes live on stage, he was just beatific. He was gone. He was somewhere else, just channelling. And that's one of the most sacred aspects of music that's forgotten. It has been reclaimed in the last twenty years to some degree by rave.

See Part 2 of the Genesis P-Orridge interview and our interview with Edley O'Dowd of Psychic TV

Check out the rest of PERFECT SOUND FOREVER