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Magic Visions: Roger Holden’s video tribute to William S. Burroughs, “Rub Out The Word,” premiered on “Night Flight” in 1988
Rub Out The Word — Roger Holden’s artistic grassroots music video tribute to William S. Burroughs — originally made its broadcast debut on “Night Flight,” during our “Take Off to Politics,” on Friday night, November 4, 1988, just four days before the presidential election which brought George H.W. Bush into office. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.
Holden — an inventor with numerous inventions to his credit — had always admired the recorded work of Todd Rundgren, who in the early 80s was already telling the music industry that the next big things would be the music video.
Holden, who was a musician and something of a futurist himself, knew that Rundgren was right, and so he began to explore the possibilities available to create digital artists through computer technology, and some of those experiments led him back to the writings of William S. Burroughs, who lived in Lawrence, Kansas, which was Holden’s hometown too.
Burroughs in the garden. Text reads: “W.S. Burroughs at rest in the side yard of his house looking at the sky, empty timeless Lawrence Kansas May 28, 1991. ‘But the car (dulls?) it’ he noticed when he saw this snapshot. Allen.” Photo and text by Allen Ginsberg.
The short video tribute featured footage that Holden had shot in Lawrence, accompanied by one of Burroughs’ early spoken-word performances.
Holden was an acquaintance of Burroughs’ best friend and longtime business manager, James Grauerholz, which led to a formal meeting with Burroughs in 1986, who two years later watched the video tribute that Holden had spent about two months on, from start to finish.
Burroughs is said to have rather ambiguosly proclaimed after seeing it twice, that it was “very interesting.”
Roger Holden, Centron Studios in Lawrence, Kansas, the commercial production house that for many years was the foundation of Lawrence’s film community. Centron’s 1950s black-and-white educational shorts (Why Study Home Economics?; Fire Safety Is Your Problem, etc.) were common classroom materials for young baby boomers, and years later some of the films enjoyed second lives when shown on TV shows like “Night Flight.”
Holden directed the motion-control photography, and handled all the visual effects and Amiga CGI graphics, but he had collaborative help from a lot of local Lawrence, Kansas artists (some of which wasn’t seen in the “Night Flight” broadcast.
See the full-length film here (posted by Holden on Youtube):
The film also features original paintings by William Burroughs (photos by Richard Gwin and Andy Wadsworth).
After airing on “Night Flight”, Rub Out The Word also aired on MTV in 1990 on their first internationally broadcast avant-garde video series, “Buzz.”
Holden became friendly with Burroughs over the ensuing years and invited him to stop by his animation studio, Magic Visions, where he showed him a stereoscopic three-dimensional image of a cat sticking its head outside of a computer monitor.
They began to discuss various computer-related interests, including a computer-assisted visual prosthesis project that Holden had been given grant money to pursue, as well as Holden’s interest in “computer-assisted holographic projection efforts.”
Burroughs clearly had an interest in computers and discussed some of his ideas about the melding of the human brain with computers through “altered perceptual states.”
Holden remembers talking with Burroughs about his idea that one day blind people might be able to perceive a computer-generated image through vibrations in their skin, or through 3D computer-generated audio.
Those discussions later led to Burroughs writing — on the inside cover of Holden’s CD of The Priest, Burroughs’ collaboration with Kurt Cobain — that Holden “always has tomorrow’s ideas today.”
William S. Burroughs’s inscription, on the inside cover of Roger Holden’s CD copy of Burroughs’ collaboration with Kurt Cobain.
Burroughs displayed, in Holden’s words, “great interest and enjoyment of computer-generated stereograms,” and since he had previously created some of those types of images on his own (what later came to be known as Magic Eye pictures, that ubiquitous 1990s phenomenon), he asked if Burroughs would like to collaborate on a new project together, incorporating some of Burroughs’ paintings into computer-generated 3D stereograms.
They eventually struck upon the idea to use small samples of his paintings rather than the entire image, digitally scanning the images and color-enhancing them.
Holden converted sections of fifteen of the author’s paintings into stereograms — wallpaperlike patterns that reveal 3-D images after sustained viewing — and says that both were pleased with the results for their visual holographic cut-up collaborative experiment.
Roger Holden and William S. Burroughs’s 1995 project, called “Cybernetic Cut-Ups,” contained what is thought to be Burroughs’s only known experiments with computers (using “cut-ups,” he invokes Brion Gysin and Burroughs’ noted compositional technique, “the use of techniques of control to produce random outcomes.”).
“In essence,” Holden writes about their work, “samples of his paintings were input as viral info elements into a 3D computer stereoscopic process. The 3D Cybernetic cut-up output resulted in complex holographic-like landscapes and objects. Our collaboration, including studies, involved more than a dozen images. Like all such attempts in art, some worked out better than others. A special few seemed to demonstrate some intriguing synchronicities.”
The three dimensional effects of these “cybernetic cut-ups” — when viewed with relaxed and slightly crossed eyes — form imaginary landscapes of extreme intricacy and depth not unlike those imagined works described by Burroughs in his 1981 novel in Cities of the Red Night:
“… as made by “some lost color process… used to transfer three dimensional holograms onto the… pages. You ache to look at these colors.”
One of these images was selected for display in the landmark Ports of Entry exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1996 and was documented in the accompanying book Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts, (p. 149).
This particular image is now in the permanent collection of the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas. This image may be viewed online at the following presentation created by the Spencer Museum of Art. It is the 6th image of 8 shown in the presentation.
Holden wrote that he hoped to publish a compendium of these studies and completed images some day.
Holden — who obviously with Burroughs an interest in science, computers and futuristic technological advances — also shared with the writer an interest in cats too, and he eventually ended up taking care of two of Burroughs cats, one of them given to him as a gift (it was named Porch by Burroughs because it had shown up on his porch one day).
The other cat was the white cat “Marigay” (the Searing White Light of Truth), a white, 13-pound brawler, which Holden says Burroughs believed was a “sacred cat.”
Burroughs mentions a white cat in Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs and also in writings found on the Interzone.org website.
Holden talked about this cat with VICE:
“In January of 1997, I received a call from William saying that he was trying to find a home for a great white cat. He asked if I would be able to help out because apparently the cat did not get along with the others. I went by his place a couple days later to pick the kitty up, and he went to his bookshelf and pulled out a book called Cat in the Mysteries of Magic and Religion by M. Oldfield Howey. He opened to a chapter about the history of cats in ancient magic and said, “This is Margaras, the White Cat—the sacred cat,” and that I should read a bit in this book about the overview of this cat in regard to magic and history. Immediately I realized that this “White Cat” he had found was very special in William’s viewpoint. Some knew the cat as Marigay, but later I nicknamed the cat Butch Burroughs. I let Butch roam the streets of Lawrence, and he was quite active outside and a pushy bully of a cat. But indoors he was really friendly.”
William S. Burroughs holding his cat Ginger in the backyard of his home in Lawrence, Kansas.
Read more about Holden’s and Burroughs’ “cybernetic cut-ups” in this post from March 2, 2010, written by Roger Holden and published at Reality Studio.org.