Babe Séance: Nigel Kneale and the Glass Bodies

If you’re offended by scantily clad women or the colour orange, please look away now:

What’s the meaning of all this semi-nudity? Well, I was recently approached by the writer Sukhdev Sandhu (who you may remember wrote that very complimentary feature about The Ghosts Of Bush in last month’s WIRE magazine) and asked if I would be interested in contributing something to A Cathode Ray Séance,  the day-long celebration of the work of legendary screenwriter Nigel Kneale taking place this weekend in New York City. I certainly did and I certainly have!

I chose as my inspiration Kneale’s landmark 1968 TV play The Year of the Sex Olympics, which depicts a future society where the masses are kept sedated by a constant televised drip-feed of softcore pornography and lowest-common-denominator trash. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the play is credited with predicting the rise of reality TV, particularly such classics of the genre as Big Brother, Celebrity Love Island, Librarians Gone Wild etc. and is therefore arguably more relevant in the modern age than upon its release forty-five years ago. I mean I’m pretty sure back then you couldn’t buy a daily newspaper where the TV guide gave you a nipple count. Though I’d have to check….

My interpretation Glass Bodies is another collaboration with writer and artist Emma Hammond and with the exception of her monologue, is created entirely using processed samples from a single recording of late-night UK TV channel Babestation. For those of you unfamiliar with this televisual feast, it basically consists of one or more painted ladies dressed in impractical swimwear jiggling around on a mattress in the hope that someone will phone in and chat for the staggeringly reasonable fee of about £10 a minute. Goodness knows what you’re supposed to converse about. The debt they owe the work of Nigel Kneale, perhaps?

The track forms part of a limited edition compilation Restligeists, a cassette tape of ‘specially-recorded Knealiana’ available at the event itself, that also features The Asterism & Xylitol, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Center, Mordant Music, and The Real Tuesday Weld. A stellar line-up, but copies are limited, so don’t sleep if you want one!

Sadly, work commitments and the lack of a plane ticket means I won’t be able to attend, much as I’d like to. But for those of you in the vicinity, the event takes place this Saturday from noon at The Michelson Theater, Room 648, 721 Broadway, New York [at Broadway and Washington Place – here’s a map] and is free and open to the public. Here’s a quick run-down of what to expect, that I copied and pasted from the Strange Attractor website. Apologies for such laziness, but time grows short!


Midday: Introduction (by Sukhdev Sandhu)
12:15: Screening: The Stone Tape (1972, 90 min) (introduced by Dave Tompkins)
2:00 – Screening: Murrain (1975, 60 min) (introduced by Bilge Ebiri)
3:30 – Panel Discussion including Mark Pilkington and Will Fowler
4:45 – Screening: ‘Baby’, from Beasts (1976, 60 min)
6:00 – Screening: Quatermass and The Pit (1967, 97 min) (introduced by David Pike)
8:15 – Musical Performance: The Road (1963) – reading / live synthesiser and percussion soundtrack by Rose Kallal, Micki Pellerano and Mark Pilkington of a long-lost Kneale TV play

Nigel Kneale (1922-2004) was a visionary dramatist, a pioneering screenwriter-auteur, one of the most important British science fiction writers of the 20th century. In works such as the Quatermass trilogy (watched by one third of UK television owners), The Year of the Sex Olympics and The Stone Tape, Kneale forged singularly visceral and unforgettable fusions of horror, spooked thriller and Cold War-era weirdness that have captured the imaginations of artists and intellectuals as diverse as Pink Floyd, Monty Python, Greil Marcus, psychogeographer Patrick Keiller and novelist China Mieville. The radical sound designs these dramas deployed (often courtesy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop), allied to their prescient explorations of the eldritch fringes of auditory Albion, have attracted the attention of theorists such as Mark Fisher and the Ghost Box record label.

A Cathode Ray Séance is a day-long celebration of this hauntological icon whose work, even though it paved the way for well-known series such as Doctor Who, is less familiar to American than to British audiences. Staged by the New York-based Colloquium for Unpopular Culture (Kiss Me Again: The Life and Legacy of Arthur Russell; Leaving The Factory: Wang Bing’s Tie Xi Qu – West of the Tracks) in collaboration with London’s Strange Attractor(, it will include rare screenings, talks by Kneale admirers, and a special musical interpretation by Mark Pilkington, Rose Kallal and Micki Pellerano of Kneale’s legendary-but-lost 1963 drama The Road.

To mark A Cathode Ray Séance, there will be available for sale copies of a very limited-edition book designed by Rob Carmichael (John Cale, LCD Soundsystem, Animal Collective ‘Crack Box’)and featuring contributions by a wide range of musicians, artists, curators and cultural theorists including Sophia Al-Maria, Bilge Ebiri, Mark Fisher, Will Fowler, Ken Hollings, Paolo Javier, Roger Luckhurst, China Mieville, Drew Mulholland, David Pike, Mark Pilkington, Joanna Ruocco, Dave Tompkins, Michael Vazquez, and Evan Calder Williams.

Initial copies will come with Restligeists, a tape of specially-recorded Knealiana by The Asterism & Xylitol, Emma Hammond & Robin The Fog, Hong Kong In The 60s, Listening Center, Mordant Music, and The Real Tuesday Weld.

PS I was also going to close by featuring a link to a full-length youtube video of ‘The Year of the Sex Olympics’ but someone appears to have removed it. Dashed thoughtless. Oh, well, here’s a video of some of the opening scenes at least. Sit back, have a brightener and enjoy:


Author: Robin The Fog

Sound Artist, Radio Producer, DJ, founder and chief strategist of tape-loop proejct Howlround. Devout Catalyst.

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