Noise and performance-art legend Genesis Breyer P-Orridge was at the Berlinale last week for the premiere of two film projects. He assembled Ghosts#9 from material he’d salvaged in London in 1980, including excerpts of The Cut-Ups film collaboration between William Burroughs and Antony Balch. And New York-based filmmaker Marie Losier’s atypically romantic documentary The Ballad Of Genesis and Lady Jaye traces the relationship between Genesis and Lady Jaye Breyer, who died in 2007. Applying Burroughs’ Cut-Up technique to their own bodies, they underwent surgical procedures to look more alike with the ideal of merging into a single pandrogynous being. Jet-lagged but sipping on champers, this is what he (using the pronoun “we” in reference to Lady Jaye’s continued presence) had to say.
Dazed Digital: Ghosts#9 contains material Antony Balch shot from the mid-60s of William Burroughs and Brion Gyson - how did it end up in your hands?
We were living in Hackney in a squat on the dole. I got a phone call from William from America saying “Genesis, there’s a real crisis, you’ve got to help us.” Antony Balch had died. He’d shared an office in Soho, and they’d decided to throw out all his stuff including all the films he’d made. William and Brion wanted me to go and save it. We had got the dole cheque, so we had to make a quick decision to cash it and get a taxi into Soho to the address they’d given me. When we got there workers were coming down the stairs with big cans of 35mm film about to throw them into a dumpster.
DD: What made you decide to edit it into a film?
It dawned on me there was all this amazing stuff that no-one had ever seen, some of it’s from the 50s. And it’s unusual to make whole movies with 35mm - Antony wandering Paris, Tangiers and London with this massive camera is hard to imagine.
DD: Balch is sort of a forgotten figure, but in the 60s was also doing some radical programming…
He had a deal with one of the soft-core porn cinemas in London and that’s where they first showed The Cut-Ups, on a slow night. They were very amused at the stuff that got left behind after the film, they said there were just hundreds of items of clothing and shoes and underwear and all kinds of things all over the floor, and no-one could quite figure out why. I think it short-circuited people’s brains.
DD: Why the title Ghosts#9?
Some of the tins said “Guerilla Conditions” and the others said “Ghosts at No. 9” which we liked better. The soundtrack is from another project we had with William. He’d invited us to Kansas to go through all his Cut-Up experiment tapes. We kept saying to William everyone’s been hearing about them but no-one’s ever heard them, so let us make an album of highlights. After seven years he agreed. We released an album called Nothing Here Now But the Recordings on Industrial Records.
DD: How did you assemble the film?
It was done in the tradition of The Cut-Ups, at random. There’s a deep magical reason. William and Brion had a really deep belief the Cut-Up was a way of revealing the nature of reality. That if you consciously structured something you were influencing it with your own particular life and prejudice and it couldn’t be pure and wouldn’t necessarily tell you anything new. They leave it to the material itself to explain or reveal connections and collisions that otherwise would never occur. It’s the product of this collaboration, the third mind, and that’s been so influential on my life, with myself and Lady Jaye. We decided to apply that to the body and identity and create a third being that was the combination of two.
DD: What’s the original context of some of the other material?
Klaus Maeck, a Hamburg filmmaker, wanted to have William in his film Decoder. He arranged to shoot a scene in London where William was working in an electronics shop selling tape recorders to the main character who was the leader of a cult swapping the muzak in McDonald’s for noise tapes so people would riot instead of just enjoying their food. That’s why you see William waiting in the street saying: “When is it gonna happen?” And there’s a book that never got published by William called The Alternative Boy Scouts Manual. We found cassette tapes of William reading the entire text of the book but putting in all the punctuation for somebody to type it up later. The chorus of the book is “Bugger the Queen”, and it’s all about how to destroy the royal family. It never got published. We asked William why and he said because he was afraid of what they’d do, because they are so insidiously powerful.
DD: How did you first meet William?
It was way back in 1971. We were reading a Canadian mail art magazine called File and in the middle was an image-bank request list called the Yellow Pages. People doing mail art in Fluxus were all in there and one of them said: “William S. Burroughs wants camouflage for 1984.” We wrote a letter which went on just insulting him. About three weeks later a postcard came through the door. It was from him and it said: “If you’re ever in London come and see me. Here’s my phone number.”