We spoke with Charlie Looker about rotting pizza, becoming a Dungeon Master, how memes shape reality and the relationship between the organic and inorganic world.
I’d love to be a master of the canon of Western thought, and also a muscle-bound Adonis. But I’m more naturally built for music than either of those things.
Do you practice anything other than music that would require the same amount of control, methodology and discipline?
I have several things in my life which would require that same level of discipline, if I were to do them on the same level as I’m doing music. But I don’t have the discipline nor the time to do everything on such a serious level, unfortunately. I’m way into studying continental philosophy in my limited spare time. Fitness is somewhat important. I’d love to be a master of the canon of Western thought, and also a muscle-bound Adonis. But I’m naturally built for music better than for either of those things, so that’s where my discipline has always been channeled.
Your compositions are extremely curated. I believe they’re all made to be in place for strict reasons. Would you consider music composition to be a science? Or would you just consider it an extension of your will?
Music is absolutely not a science! Or at least, I don’t treat it as such. I don’t mean to devalue the hard sciences. But I have to be honest, on a personal level, I’ve always found them kind of boring and scary. But maybe that should change. Maybe I should get more into science. People tell me that the true vanguard of the hard natural sciences is now actually beginning to overlap with mysticism and the occult, which is an appealing idea to me.
My understanding of traditional Western scientific method is that it’s a way of predicting events in the world based on logic, creating a body of ideas considered to be objectively true based on the reproducibility of empirical results at a certain degree of regularity. To me, music doesn’t have to do with anything like that, or about producing what we call knowledge. I put my music together in a particularly careful and detail-oriented way, but ultimately the highly-wrought compositions are just vehicles for ecstatic ritual practice.
It’s true that a musical composition is a structure, and that might remind someone of a machine or a building or something, which is cool. But the difference between that, and science, is that truth versus falsehood isn’t at issue in the arts. A little kid making some weird structure out of popsicle sticks and glue might end up building something really complex, with many different interlocking parts, if the kid happens to be “smart” and focused or whatever.
But that structure wouldn’t necessarily be any more objectively “true”, or even any more valuable, than the amorphous mess made by some other kid who just impulsively breaks all the sticks in half, dumps all the glue onto the table, and makes a gross stick soup out of it. I would personally be more likely to find the first kid’s complex Popsicle structure more beautiful, but again, that’s just subjective, not a judgment based in validity or truth.
I have two kids, and I’m always amazed by how they unconsciously mirror my behavior, attitude, words and actions, even at a very young age. I have actually realized that they try to mirror animals and objects too. Do you think you still unconsciously mirror people or things as an adult? If yes, who and what?
Yes, I’ve come to realize that I’m pretty impressionable! There’s something kind of humbling about acknowledging that, but I think in the end I always swing back to a basic general core of individual integrity. I find myself imitating all kinds of things, though. I’ll unconsciously copy direct melodic phrases from music I’ve been listening to. Fashion ideas from my friends. Speech patterns from stand-up comedians. I have to be really careful with the philosophy stuff, especially with the Internet, because a lot of people and entities out there are deliberately trying to brainwash people toward nefarious ends.
The child is a redemptive figure, and encountering it leads to greater psychic wholeness, spiritual rebirth. There’s that hermetic union of opposites.
On the cover of your album Dream Seeds, you cite Paracelsus the Great: “Blessed is he that he is born during sleep.” I know Extra Life is over now, but since I have been interested in Paracelsus for a long time, I’m very curious to know your interpretation of those words. Does Paracelsus or any other 16th century philosopher influence your work?
I actually don’t know a ton about Paracelsus, but Hunter from Liturgy lent me a book of his aphorisms around the time I was working on that record, when I was in a serious phase reading about alchemy. But I think I got that quote from Jung’s book, Psychology and Alchemy. It was really Jung’s work on the hermetic tradition and the occult that inspired my lyrics for that record. I interpret that quotation as being about the child archetype in dreams, or the idea of dreams themselves as children of the unconscious.
When the child appears in dreams, it’s supposed to embody a part of the self, or a version of the self, that is stunted, not fully formed or integrated. The child is a redemptive figure, and encountering it leads to greater psychic wholeness, spiritual rebirth. So there’s that hermetic union of opposites, where the child is blessed in their stunted-ness, and the dreamer is blessed in their spiritual growth. But at the same time, the cyclical nature of the whole alchemical way of thinking also makes the idea of growth, or a “greater” self, kind of flawed, since you’re always coming back to zero.
Musical performance is a ritual where I think my individual will, or the collective will of the ensemble, and the crowd as well, can align to actually alter the material world.
What’s your knowledge of alchemy or magic? Do you happen to practice any?
I consider making music to be a kind of alchemy. Aside from the lyrical writing, sound itself is such a material phenomenon. The kind of focused practice of writing melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic material always feels like working in a laboratory, combining materials in order to draw out some kind of spiritual essence from them. The spirit in matter. Musical performance is a ritual where I think my individual will, or the collective will of the ensemble, and the crowd as well, can align to actually alter the material world.
As for actual practices that people think of as magick, like casting spells or hexes, I don’t really do that kind of thing. I briefly experimented with some of the procedures Genesis P-Orridge outlines in the Psychick Bible, without any particularly compelling results, but I didn’t really follow up or pursue it deeply enough. But lately, I’ve been feeling the urge to return to Genesis, as well as Burroughs and Brion Gysin. I was recently reading some work by Mark Fisher (one of my absolute favorites now) who was describing addiction as a cybernetic phenomenon, how Burroughs was ultimately a cybernetic thinker, and how cybernetic theory ties in with magick and the occult.
My somewhat recent issues with addiction, while completely negative and hopefully behind me, have been pretty informative to me about the continuum between the organic and inorganic. Using drugs, especially addictive ones, makes you feel the extent to which your brain is just matter, how thoughts are essentially just a thing that matter can do. Drugs are a really obvious case of opening your body, mind, and entire subjectivity out into outside processes of loops and feedback.
So, getting sober is motivating me to find new, more joy-increasing ways for me to interface with the occult energies of the inorganic realm, which apparently isn’t fundamentally different or separate from the organic realm, terrifyingly enough. So yeah, you could say that my follies with drugs have been a kind of failed shitty alchemy.
I’ve read a couple of very interesting writings by Giordano Bruno in which he explains how our own will has an invisible relationship with the will of elements around us. Like strong thoughts could actually have an influence on people, animals, objects and elements. He talks about “links” between dominance and submission. Of course, he wrote those ideas over 400 years ago. Would you say there’s truth in that, from your point of view?
I’ve never read Bruno, but I remember the name coming up quite a bit in Jung. Yes, I’m pretty open to the idea of thought being able to affect matter. Apparently, negative thinking over the years wears out your neurons and actually changes your brain. That’s just a minor, simple example of this. See, I guess I’m not so anti-science! But, of course, you’re talking about it on a more “occult” level. This makes me want to check out Bruno.
Talking about the material continuum as links of dominance definitely makes me think of the rich history of the entanglement of the occult with far-right wing politics and fascism. I was just listening to this fantastic podcast called Parallax Views, where they were discussing more left-inflected potentials for the occult. But the contemporary far right believes very strongly in, and has been practicing “meme magick” for a while now, and I think it’s completely real, although I disagree with their specific agenda.
Memes are shaping material reality, starting with our brain-matter. Memes are probably the most potent contemporary form of magick. I don’t practice meme magick, unless you count my Twitter account, but that’s pretty basic and low-voltage.
Can you provide key elements of your personality with a percentage amount for each of them?
No, I’m not going to do that. Those kinds of psychometrics are just alien to my sensibility. I just precisely notated every single part for a full album of 17-piece ensemble music, and meanwhile my room is filled with rotting pizza and I can’t find my car again. Does that mean I score high or low in conscientiousness? Maybe Jordan Peterson can weigh in!
Have you ever been into role-playing games?
Absolutely. Between ages nine and 13, I was super deep into D&D and Shadowrun. We’re talking tabletop RPGs, not video games, straight up dice, maps, and storytelling. I’m old enough that I even remember when they introduced AD&D Second Edition — RIP Gary Gygax.
It’s funny, I guess my answer to this question pretty much contradicts my response to your personality chart question, because those games are totally based in those character stats, strength, dexterity, etc. that I claim to be so averse to.
I was usually Dungeon Master, and I took great pride in making my own adventures from scratch. I rarely bought pre-made campaign modules. I loved hand-making all the maps, placing monsters and treasure, introducing ridiculous NPCs based off of other kids from school.
Finally, please list five books that influenced you and pick a random sentence from each.
The Lover, Marguerite Duras.
“A pleasure unto death.”
Sonny’s Blues, James Baldwin.
“For me, then, as they began to play again, it glowed and shook above my brother’s head like the very cup of trembling.”
Powers of Horror, Julia Kristeva.
“The corpse, seen without God and outside science, is the utmost abjection. It is death infecting life.”
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, Yukio Mishima.
“Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff.”
The Order of Things, Michel Foucault.
“If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, if some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility… were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of Classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”
Curated by: Julien Fernandez
Conducted by: Email
Published: November 28, 2018
Total questions: 9
Word count: 1897
Reading time: Seven minutes
addiction, Adonis, agenda, alignment, amorphous, Brion Gysin, canon, Carl Jung, Charlie Looker, child, classical, collective, composition, conscientiousness, continuum, cybernetic, ecstatic, ensemble, Extra Life, fitness, Genesis P-Orridge, Giordano Bruno, hermetic, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, impulse, inorganic, integration, Liturgy, machine, occult, organic, Paracelsus, parallax, performance, pizza, popsicle, practice, psychic, rebirth, redemptive, regularity, rotting, Union, vanguard, view, voltage, wholeness, will
About the curator
Julien Fernandez was born in Mayenne, France in 1976. He currently lives and works in Pescara, Italy with his wife, two kids and a dog, Lenny. He is captivated by structural relations between objects, animal behavior, contagion and magic, and is currently working on a mechanism that would classify mental images in the physical world. He also designs and envisions the day-to-day architecture of North of the Internet.
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