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Wild West #7. Moab. Alan Turing and the Beats.

I want my character Alan Turing in Turing & Burroughs to make friends with a woman. What if he meets up with an early electronic composer, as he has some facility in that direction thanks to his Delilah analog voice encryption project.

[Today’s photos are mostly from around Moab, Utah, and particularly from the Arches National Park, although the photo above is of an aspen near the Flaming Gorge.]

They barely had the phrase electronic music in 1955. They called it musique concrète, see Wikipedia history of electronic music. Some called it acousmatic art, where that weird word means you can’t see the source of the sound. They used Ampex tape recorders, sampling natural and manmade sounds (like factory noises and ship sirens and motors) collaging them, speeding them up, slowing them down, echoing and looping. Sometimes playing a tape track with live instruments.

I’ve been reading the cool book of interviews, Pink Noises for inspiration. One woman in there, Annea Lockwood, taped a burning piano, the mike wrapped in asbestos. And she went the length of the Danube, taping it’s various sounds.

[Coming into Moab in driving rain. High plains drifters.]

Burroughs himself was really into tape recordings for a time, come to think of it. Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen were active in the late 40s and early 50s. They had the idea of synthesizing music via electronically produced signals. In the U.S., John Cage was involved with the Music for Magnetic Tape Project. Turing’s friend Christopher Strachey wrote a music program for a computer based on an early Manchester computer.

[Earlier: long portico shadow at Yosemite Lake Hotel.]

My fictional character named Judy Green is the woman composer. I’m thinking she’s gay, and Turing, who sometimes skug-shapeshifts into a woman named Abby, is pursued by her. The “imitation game” to the second power.

I see Alan Turing (mostly shapeshifted into a simulacrum of William Burroughs, but sometimes looking like Abby) driving from Palm Beach to SF with someone like Neal Cassady. Certainly Neal himself could fit into the story, given that we have Burroughs already. But I feel some uneasiness about writing about Neal. It might be gauche, derivative, dull. I don’t want to come across as a Beat fanboy. It would be better to invent my own madman. Make it fresher. Yes, I enjoyed writing the Burroughs chapter, “Tangier Routines,” and Burroughs might even come back. But that doesn’t mean I have to put in pop-up cameos for every single Beat.

[Gotta love those “hoodoo” formations.]

So okay, the cross-country driver isn’t Neal. I recall the name of a character who was just about to make an entrance when I broke off work on a never-finished novel in, I think, 1982. I think his name was Vassar Fogarty. Vassar could be Alan’s driver instead of Neal. A (fictional) lesser-known friend of Burroughs’s.

And Vassar could be into some soul-sleeping jive along the lines of Neal’s Edgar Cayce stuff. Only it’s sort of true, and Alan is picking up telepathic or chthonic vibes.

Maybe Turing doesn’t like Vassar at first. Vassar’s a bumptious blue-collar stoner, and it seems like Alan would have to be sexually attracted to him. But at a personal level, Turing dislikes him initially. He’s won over into some intricate mind analysis game. Maybe Vassar gets Turing to be stealing gas and food. And Judy is making music out of it. And using her tape recorder to rob people.

[Pure Wile E. Coyote territory.]

While in Abby form, Alan tells Judy that his friend is getting a ride to SF with another friend, Vassar Fogarty, and Abby can ride along. When Judy gets in the car, it’s just Alan and Vassar, and she’s uneasy. Vassar wants to have sex with Judy and she’s putting him off. Alan calms Judy, and at the edge of town he shapeshifts into Abby. Vassar is impressed. Suppose they go for a sexual three-way that night or the next. Alan/Abby is happy to be getting Vassar’s embraces, and Judy’s happy to be making it with Abby as well.

It might be interesting, after they get to San Francisco, to have Alan use skug power to swap genitalia with Judy Green. The couple would be a metaphor for a certain kind of man-woman pair. “She wears the pants.” Oh, I don’t think I’ll do that, the readers might not like it. And Alan wants men, not women. He’ll get a real boyfriend.

[Ambient gnarl.]

Re. Alan’s boyfriend in SF, I figure he’s not Allen Ginsberg, for the same reasons why I don’t want to use Neal Cassady as a character. But the boyfriend is, I think, an experimental film maker along the lines of Bruce Conner. And the film maker and Alan do go to the famous Gallery Six reading where Ginsberg read “Howl.”

[Stalking the giant ants along the Colorado River.]

I’m thinking I’d like to work some giant ants into the novel. The first SF movie I really really wanted to see (and my parents wouldn’t let me go) was Them, a giant ants movie. Giant ants are very 1950s, after all. I just watched the movie again last night on Netflix instant watch, it was awesome, even if the ants are just ten-foot stuffed toys being waved by grips off camera. The ants resulted from the radiation mutations from an A-test of 1945, and the movie is set in 1954. Perfect.

Possibly Turing causes the giant ants with his tinkering? Perhaps the pursuit of the giant ants leads him into the A-blast? I’m tempted to reprise the scene in that otherwise weak 2008 movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, where Indy wanders into a fake suburban town set up to test the effects of the blast, and the houses are full of mannequins. Alan could have Burroughs along with him for this, heaping scorn on the ‘burbs.

7 Responses to “Wild West #7. Moab. Alan Turing and the Beats.”

  1. thunt Says:

    burroughs loved recording. Once he recorded “advice for young people”:

  2. kek Says:

    Hey, Rudy…how about maybe, as inspiration, Bebe Barron (who, with hubby Louis) tape-spliced together the soundtrack to Forbidden Planet in ’56…she’s a bit of a forgotten US electronic-music pioneer…

    They lived in Californa in the mid-50’s, etc, I think, but hung out with John Cage, etc in NY before migrating out West. Not gay, though, plus her husband might get in the way of yr rapidly evolving plot.

  3. Elliot Smith Says:

    Delia Derbyshire ( is my pick of female experimental electronic musicians. She worked for the BBC starting in 1960. Her main claim to fame is arranging the original theme tune for Dr. Who. Genius, virtuoso, posh, English, and quite gorgeous:

  4. Rudy Says:

    Thanks, Kek. I read about the electornic Forbidden Planet sound track in the Wikipeidia article on electornic music. I’ve just put Forbidden Planet on my Netflix queue. I’m not thinking that most of my characters have to correspond to specific historical characters, so the details of Bebe’s life aren’t a prob. It’s a cool gig.

  5. Anon Says:

    As always, great blog and photos. I love the phrase “ambient gnarl.”

    Regarding early electronic music, have you heard of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop?

    Delia Derbyshire was one of the group’s most well-known members. And Delia sounds like “Delilah . . .”

    The combination of music and an alternate-universe Turing brings to mind Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations:”

  6. Steve H Says:

    AMBIENT GNARL would be a great name for a rock band. I could totally see them warming up for Pink Floyd.

  7. Steve H Says:

    I was born in 1954, just like rock-n-roll and giant ants. It was an interesting year.

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