His Name Was Master, the book. Andrew M. McKenzie Q&A part three

Andrew M. McKenzie is best known as the sound artist The Hafler Trio. McKenzie met Brion Gysin and has been involved in many Gysin-related projects, including the editing of Brion Gysin – His Name Was Master, a book of texts and interviews by Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and Peter Christopherson (of Throbbing Gristle and Coil). McKenzie spoke to CTS Ryan about the book’s thirty-year gestation, the scene it emerged from and some of its themes. 

This is the third part of a four part series. Part one is a Gysin-tinged Q&A, mostly about McKenzie’s life and work. Part two covers the Dreamachine kit, part three focuses on the book, Brion Gysin – His Name Was Master, and part four will further explore Gysin’s work and influence.

Brion Gysin – His Name Was Master - book cover

Pictured: Detail from the book cover of Brion Gysin – His Name Was Master

You edited the book Brion Gysin – His Name Was Master (Trapart, 2018). It took thirty years for the book to appear. What happened?

I was living in Holland, but I was still in touch with Genesis P-Orridge [Gen]. The plan was that I was going to write a book about him, but it wasn’t going to be the conventional sort of biography, because Gen was not that sort of person, I thought. And to that end, I went to Brighton and I stayed there for a week [in 1984] and I was given permission to look through all of the filing cabinets.

I was allowed to look through all of the archives, every single piece of paper. And of course, a lot of that had to do with Burroughs and Gysin. I photocopied documents on their terrible old dying photocopier and I photographed a whole bunch of stuff.

I went through all of it, and lo and behold, I was also going through cassettes. In Brighton there were a whole bunch of helpers and one of the things they used to do was copy cassettes. They had one of these old fashioned cassette copiers which used to copy at double speed. It was really old and really crappy but there was a set of the interviews that Gen and Sleazy had done with Gysin in 1982, as well as the stuff that John Savage had also done, which was a year later or something.

Their plan was to do a Gysin book in the same way as they had done with Burroughs.

“… they took hundreds of photographs of paintings. A lot of those paintings are now lost, I think.”

I still have somewhere the prospectus for this book that they planned. The Re/Search people had been to Gysin’s apartment – and they’d photographed basically everything. They went to Paris, they took hundreds of photographs of paintings. A lot of those paintings are now lost, I think.

They wanted people to support it financially and they never got the money because there were going to be so many colour plates in it. Nobody was going to be able to justify a book about an artist that not  many people had heard of, with full color plates and all the rest of it. So that never happened. 

So I said, “well, look, this sounds like a really interesting project”. Nobody had transcribed any of these tapes. I said “I’ll do it”, and Gen said OK – so I copied all of these tapes. I didn’t take the originals. 

I copied all of these tapes with his full knowledge, just like all the photocopies that I made of all of his old texts, all of his correspondence with Gysin and all that stuff. I went back to Holland and I typed it all out. It was an enormous amount of work.

The recordings weren’t great. They had been recorded on a Sony Walkman with some dying batteries over the course of two or maybe three days. It was warm [during the recordings], so the windows were open, which allowed all of the drumming and all of the noises from the Pompidou Centre to come in. And the tape recorder was sometimes nowhere near where it should have been. And Gysin gets up and walks around and does stuff. A recipe for confusion.

Genesis P-Orridge listening to Gysin speak, Paris

Pictured: Genesis P-Orridge listening to Gysin speak, in Gysin’s apartment in Paris. From a video uploaded to the Internet Archive.

When [Gysin] would use a French name, he had a very strong American/Canadian accent, so that confused matters. But he also would say them in very strange ways as well. It took a very, very long time to actually work out who he was talking about in a lot of cases. And there were little bits missing as well.

I typed it all out. I printed it all out. I had them bound. I sent one copy to Genesis, one copy to Terry Wilson, and I kept one.

This was all very good, and at this point, Gen was still in Brighton and they had Temple Press.

“… because of a perceived threat from Scotland Yard that he would be arrested, which we now know is actually bulls**t.”

The plan was to print it up as a book released by Temple Press. However, not very long after that, Gen left the country.

He was in Thailand and Nepal and a few other places and basically decided not to come back to England because of a perceived threat from Scotland Yard that he would be arrested, which we now know is actually bulls**t.

But he used that as an excuse to disappear off to America. And nothing more happened with the book.

At a certain point there was a plan that I was going to write the biography of Gysin. This was in tandem with this biography of Gen as well. I was in contact with Thames and Hudson and I had a very strange meeting there.

All sorts of people came out of the woodwork who claimed Gysin owed them money. Paul Bowles and, you know, all sorts. They’d got a hint of the fact that this book was going to be written. And so I started receiving all these very weird messages from people “well, you know, I can talk to you, but it’s going to cost you this much because Gysin actually owes me this much” and it went on and on.

Eventually I had enough of the whole thing. It was going to be too much trouble basically. And there were a lot of people who felt that they owned Gysin. They would agree to talk to me, but it would be like £500 to talk to them for an hour or something like that.

Then it got into all sorts of legal stuff. I’m not a legal brain in any way, shape or form. So I washed my hands of the whole thing. And just said “OK, well that’s it”.

Genesis P-Orridge and Andrew McKenzie

Thirty years later…

Thirty years later, I’m doing some editing for some videos put out by Carl Abrahamsson, a long time associate of Gen. He has been publishing books for many, many years. I said “I’ve got this Gysin stuff. I still have this copy of what I typed out”. He said “I’ll ask Gen about it”, and Gen said OK.

So I dragged out the manuscript and we scanned it all in with optical character recognition.

I went through the whole thing again and listened to the tapes again to match up what I thought I’d heard thirty years ago with what I could now check on the Internet. In some cases I was right, some cases I was completely wrong.

I was able to clear up the sound [of the tapes] with software. And I [continued] making the notes that I’d started years ago with Gen’s help, actually, because he knew about some of the things they were talking about that I had no Idea about and he gave me some notes. So for [P-Orridge] to claim that I stole the tapes and that I guiltily gave them back is just so far from the truth that it doesn’t even bear repeating.

I made all the footnotes, I cross checked everything I edited in such a way to try to reflect the way he spoke, because in some ways, a lot of the meaning is lost if you just type out [Gysin’s] words. The dramatic way that he says certain things, and the sort of campness of some of it – I tried to reflect that in there. So when you read it, you hear his voice.

I don’t know whether it succeeded or not, but it didn’t seem to make much sense to just type it out verbatim. He was telling stories. He had a captive audience basically, who were doting on him. And he made use of it, and he was just telling these stories. Some of those stories he must have told hundreds of times, but some of the stuff that came out of it he probably hadn’t talked about before and they were useful historical things, because, of course, that generation is gone now.

Artwork by Brion Gysin

Pictured: Gysin artwork in Gysin’s apartment in Paris. From a video uploaded to the Internet Archive.

The book is done. It’s done well, I think. There are some parts of it which I think are genuinely useful even today. And some of it is interesting from a historical point of view. It does ramble a bit, because that’s how he talked. I didn’t want to neaten it all up.

It was just two fans [P-Orridge and Christopherson], basically, coming over [to see Gysin]. He was very flattered by the fact that they were talking about doing all these books and introducing him to a potentially new audience and all the rest of it.

They’re sitting at the feet of someone who they really are in awe of and he lapped that up. He just likes telling these stories and smokes a lot of dope and drinks a lot of whiskey. The rambling gets more and more out of hand as the day goes on.

As far as I know it’s the last of any of this stuff. I don’t think there is such a substantial amount of recorded interview with him left. There may be some bits here and there, but I think it’s the last big lump of it.

In the meantime, Thames and Hudson put out Tuning in to the Multimedia Age and I don’t think there’s much more.

The plan had been for them, you can hear this in the interviews, you can hear them talking about “We’re going to put this book out and it’s going to be like this and like this”, at that point it was Gen that was going to put it out with the help of RE/Search, and then it all fell to pieces.

So it’s been a bit of a labour of love, because I’d promised to do it. Maybe it was supposed to take 30 years to come out, I don’t know(!).

Mr Grauerholz praised it. So that’s one thing, I suppose.

You mention that there are some useful ideas in the book. What do you mean?

Brion Gysin listening to Throbbing Gristle

Pictured: Brion Gysin listening to Throbbing Gristle, in Gysin’s apartment in Paris. From a video uploaded to the Internet Archive.

His [Gysin’s] attitude towards how art should be. He’s got one foot in the camp that art is supernatural in some strange way, that art is kind of magic, that art is beyond mortal life. And he really understands that. It seems to be very clear, to me anyway, that he really did understand that there were, what I’ll call, higher powers involved with this.

And on the other hand he has a very strong grasp of art as commodity. People talked about it when Warhol was at large – about the whole idea of art as commerce. But we seem to have forgotten about that now.

And [Gysin] points this out in a very good way.

“… even if you don’t have any money, even if you’re not successful, you can still be aware of how culture is completely and utterly interwoven.”

And I think he also ties together a lot of things. In the same spirit as not seeing differences between disciplines. That he can quite easily go from subject to subject because he’s not a specialist. And he can point out things simply because he’s able to contrast these things with other things and then put them in context.

There are many bits [in the book] where you go; how did he manage to make that connection? It’s really quite a revelation. People don’t see the wider picture anymore. They’re too busy focusing on one particular detail because “we don’t have any time”.

Everybody is so busy and trying to drink from the fire hydrant and consume as much information and ideas as possible. To actually do something where you can step back and see the bigger picture about how this fits in with this and how this fits in with that – is an art which is being lost.

And he demonstrates this. I think one of the subtexts of the book is that he’s demonstrating this, the idea that you can be aware even if you don’t have any money, even if you’re not successful, you can still be aware of how culture is completely and utterly interwoven.

There is no way to separate art from any of the other things. There’s no way to separate politics from gossip. There’s no way to separate high society ladies from starving artists in garrets in the Beat Hotel.

The way that he actually puts all this together, it gives you a vision of a world which is connected.

Again, we know this intellectually. We know that this is how it is, but the way that he demonstrates it makes it seem very real. I think that’s very useful.

See also

Q&A part 1: About Andrew McKenzie
Q&A part 2: The Dreamachine kit
Q&A part 3: His Name Was Master (this page)
Coming soon:
Q&A part 4/4: More on Gysin’s work and influence

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