John Redhead wired for sound in Corbieres'limestone country.
And there, be Fembots.
So. I ended Colonists Out by ‘emptying’ all that nonsense of material dwellings and allowed the Big Soul to enter. I called it my ‘lie’, as good as it gets for now. The door opened and visitors arrived. ‘Make them welcome, they may have come a long way’, something seemed to say. Pretty much the format for all creativity that is free of a system and one that acknowledges the unknown and unlocks the heart. For me, this process is like a chunk of land uncharted, off the map, full of doubt, but packed solid with mysteries, enchantment, teachings and danger.
It also reinforces the true meaning of dwelling, not in the material but in a poetic sense. Colonists out, as a rough guide to ‘rant’ reconciles the forsaken man in his world to a revealing of the divine. This is to sing and to write and to paint and to promote a haunting feeling of what is concealed, forgotten, vanished, remote…destroyed. I assert that our true home is the language of creativity, designing, making, not regarding work or production, but as in a state of thought and being that dwells with the earth. It is with nature. It seems the rest of the living is packaging, making do with the business of alienation – another cup of tea?
And so to Perillos, and the ‘work’ with unknown visitors, which has become my home. Perillos is the flip-side to the uncharted land. Ancient medieval maps often used the term, ‘here be dragons’ or ‘Terra Pericolosa’ to illustrate land off the grid and unexplored. Land not documented and likely to put the traveller in jeopardy was symbolized by monsters and sea-serpents, expressing the human horror of venturing into the terrain without knowledge and security. The flip side? Perillos is mapped. We can navigate there without compass or a starry night. The roads, villages and towns nearby clearly marked, numbered and colour-coded.
The snaky contours of the terrain inform the traveller with a ‘vision’ of her body. The cartographers have done their job. They have in their own language, named the land. This language describes and informs. The artist names and informs in his/her own way, and it seems a powerful argument that the nature, that being we call landscape, calls to us to experience a different naming, a different essence altogether. This naming is a belonging and it sings with the land and is revealing and experiential. For some reason Perillos decided to leave the map and try and be forgotten. Almost as if to give it another go in some future, because at some time between the mappers and the dwellers, the naming got personal and serious. The myths, the legends, the folklore and the gossip surrounding Perillos are strange indeed. Mythology has an uncanny knack of entering the soul, perhaps because it contains such intense, compact material, like a stick of seaside rock, its codes deeply enriched within our bodies and bones?
I guess Perillos, as a state of mind, entered my consciousness from a project I started, ‘Walking the Milky Way’. This is a different naming and mapping of the land and one that is connected to the sky above – as above, so below. This was the attempted interaction of Cosmic and telluric energy through planetary oracles across Europe, from Compostella in Spain to Chartres in France and them Rosslyn in Scotland. This is a fairly esoteric journey and one the Druids initiated. The Druids were totally one with the land and we can only guess of the initiations that were commonplace. They dwelled with the hearth of the land. They revealed and reflected and added to the rich bank of experience – they didn’t attempt to contain, commodify or burn it up.
But no, it came before that. From Pic du Bugarach and Montsegur and my Cathare forensic, Remains of Occitania, walking the contours, sweeping the land for sounds, for screams, for tortured fragments, for a soul? From Dinorwic Quarry, Llanberis and the song of slate, the lament of evisceration from the belly of the sacred mountain, Elidir Fawr? Yes and no. It came from a lifetime of moving on rock. Initially as a climber, whose ego just went up and down, named, graded, commodified, burned it up and sold it on - but later, also as a climber, but a listener, in between, more and more, dwelling in reflection and ritual. There is a simple equation I use, Sound + Intent = Manifestation. Sound can be substituted for Climb. Intent is the key.
Perillos is an abandoned village in the Corbieres region of Roussillon, close to the Mediterranean in the South of France, previously Spain and is very close to home, at the moment. The Corbières are a sparsely populated, mountainous piedmont of rocky escarpments, evergreen oak forest and scrubland. This landscape type is classed as Garrigue, associated with limestone plateaus. It is windswept and relatively arid and a natural wine producing area. Apart from prickly dense thickets containing kermes oak, juniper and stunted holm oaks are the trees in residence. Aromatic lime-tolerant shrubs such as lavender, sage, rosemary, wild thyme and artemesia are its favourite inhabitants. All seems scratchy, spikey-sharp, knotty, dwarfed with attitude and on the defence – heady-perfumed as a hen-night.
Venturing into the Garrigue for the first time induces an intense feeling of something catastrophic or profound having just happened – as if prominent features have just fled leaving a desolate, ghostly presence. One struggles to find familiarity with its vast open-spacing, its pale glaucous hues, the confusing spread of unsettling panoramics spreading to horizons difficult to judge and cliffs unable to measure. It is surreal in as much as it is impossible to frame. I stare out as if half expecting a repeated pattern to present itself like on a curtain or tablecloth. Or even, in a theophanic sense, I stare out onto something not quite grasping some movement behind what I see.
The sun and the wind predominate this expanse and add to the troubling of the senses and can be savage. The restricted plants have evolved to cope with the intense solar radiation, clothed with leaves of white hairs and blotchy-pebbled surfaces. Their aromatic oils leaching into the rocky Garrigue soil make sure they remain scattered and dominant and ‘unbothered’ by other species. Like a military operation they are protected with an armory of sharps and chemical weapons to warn and harm visiting herbivory. From a distance, Perillos is camouflaged – or so it initially seems. Scouring the tableau of hills, blinking focus, one eventually discerns a subtle, hazy, pinky smudge; so far out-there to beg, ‘why on earth’? A pinky smudge of pale-clay pantiles, put there when land, dwellings and wells were synonymous. So, baked and odd and tussled, a fragrant but troubling start! The land seems to say, ’Speak, why are you here’.
Just over the hill, dramatic escarpments appear and in Arago Cave, beyond the popular, slabby climbing cliffs of Vingrau, is Tautavel, where Europe’s oldest human remains were discovered. It is here that the morphology of Tautavel Man was reconstructed. Not bad considering his age of 450,000 years – Homo Erectus Tautavelensis, as a French corporate fossil now rubs shoulders with crepe bars and coachloads of old bone tourists.
Not so Perillos, as yet. Its total dearth of signposting is both hostile and interesting. Local gossip has it that Perillos became abandoned when the folk there started having the same dreams. This was apparently a terrible dream. People stopped sleeping for fear of the dreams. Does this amount to the boundaries between reality and illusion being fused – does this beg distrust on our dependency on senses? For sure, what is beauty? What went on with the rock here? ‘If you could see the land as it really is you would freak’. Hmm. Voices were heard underground and angelic murmurings from the church. The last person, a Berger, packed up and scarpered with his tail between his legs after the second world war. The village populace became merged with the village of Opoul, about ten kilometers away down towards the plains of Perpignan. ‘Legend Weekly’ has it that Mary Magdalene and possibly a crucified escapee called Jesus came this way, after fleeing Judea in 33AD. There are many stories of her landing on the coast near Perpignan, and heading for Rennes le Chateau. The sweet water would have been agreeable.
On the ‘Myth Front’, the headliner centres around Babaos, a mythical beast, a winged snake with a human head, who had a penchant, of course, for devouring young girls. Lord of Perillos eventually terminated the beast with a weapon brought back from Palestine. A relic hangs in the church at Prat de Mollo to signify the eternal fight against the malefic animal. Perillos Plateau and the Castle have been suggested as a Grail Plateau, known locally as Terresalvaesche. Salveterra is the name of the chapel translating as Land of Salvation. Mount of Salvation has echoes of the Grail romance, Parsifal and Chapel Perilous echoes of Le Morte d’Arthur. The tomb of God, the Seat of Death, sacred caves of initiation and re-birth from the vulva of Mother earth, legends of doorways to the underworld, a pagan sacralised landscape, shared dreams, ancient apocalyptic processes, om-phallic stones - no wonder Perillos was said to be a place impossible for human beings to inhabit.
And here enters the demented Dali and his own eternal fight with the supernatural. Apparently he was completely changed by Perillos. He spent the last forty years of his hallucinated life troubled by its realities, dimensions and complexities. He didn’t call it a place but a state of mind that could only be inhabited by the initiated. The region is known for its Revelation’s postcode of 66600. Perhaps the cartographers habit of using the great Beast of a dragon with seven heads was prophetic? Dali called Perpignan railway station the centre of the universe and the location from where the universe would start to converge, with the catastrophic abduction of Europe. Perillos is mentioned in Patrice Chaplin’s book, The Portal. It is noted as an energy point signifying the void. It is here that one works through personal baggage and abandonment, letting go of the past and transcending victim-hood. The Portal takes the form of a vision-quest starting in Girona and is an initiates journey on the so-called Venus Square, following the constellation of the Great Bear – again, as above, so below. In this journey across Catalunya, the initiate travels to eleven sacred locations with certain attributes and performs specific spiritual practice. The journey ends on Pic Du Canigou, apparently a portal, signifying redemption and freedom.
So the land and the people tell their story. It goes on and on. I overdose and it is time to interact. I am not at all sure what I see and I cannot trust my feelings so I start to listen. I wish to interact in some way, at least to reveal an odd voice! I clutch my zoo-morph box. I set my input to analog, set the phantom power on, set the frequency to 44.1 and the mic set to Pad. Check levels, limiter and margins, and the original analog-animal-wave is laid down on tape. Analog is like messy-trad climbing and digital the equivalent of clinical-sport! I have worked with both. A digital sample is turned into 44,000 numbers stored per second of sound. The numbers are then turned into a voltage wave approximating the original. This recording can be compressed and never degraded. But I like degradation! I like the doubt, the unknown quality of analog. I never know what is collected in the black box until back in the studio - my miniature zoo of sounds. There is a breath and character in the analog sound that cannot be numbered or contained – it is still wild, scratchy-sniffy and breeding! And that’s all I know for now… until the exhibition at Perillos, if it exists at all? Meanwhile, it is said that the military are keeping an eye on it – now why is that?
But, in another dimension, back on earth but still regarding rock… the social-media interface of Twitter engages me back into a present headspace, if such a time-frame exists…? I decide to allow it.
A women’s climbing group objected to my comment on Twitter that muscled women athletes are not at all feminine and are just ‘women competing for death, illness, decline and warring factions - all the fine attributes of the male preserve’.
She replied: ‘Depending on your definition of femininity I guess. I find strength, competitiveness and athleticism very feminine’.
‘Sure but you talk for the attributes of sport and sport denies and represses that which is of nature – should women know better’?
She replied: ‘That which is of nature meaning what exactly? And why do you think sport represses it’?
‘You could say that the female warrior ‘competitor’ has traded her femininity for clean goals not of the natural world and not innate’.
She replied: ‘There is no trade there apart maybe of the attention of men with taste for vulnerable women nothing is lost’.
She replied: ‘You insist on using femininity as hegemonic femininity and that messes everything up in my view’.
‘That’s just cold feminist! In a warm divine sense perhaps she is the rock or something far beyond it. Respect’.
‘I do not talk of domination and sport is not my world - just that muscles male or female have little importance re-serious rock’.
Another reply: ‘Strength and athleticism is feminine and sexy, men need to get confident enough to accept this’.
So, fantastic indeed. At last, there we have it. One cannot expect a healthy discourse in 140 characters, but surely the compression speaks of a resounding war cry from the ‘hurting’ trenches. Nothing is lost? Everything is lost. Nothing and everything. We sit on the shoulders of giants, remembering nothing. From the ancient texts hidden on the Perillos map to the sacred passage of the Magdalene troop, I am brought ‘sexy’, ‘competition’ and ‘athleticism’ into my climbing psyche. Aghhh. My Trickster tells me to be ‘confident’ and not rant about libidinous strumming on the Vector stance! I live at one with the strong ‘feminine principal’, it informs my work, but I find such a defensive war cry so destructive, and anathema to the natural world. Okay, it is interesting for me to comprehend the wider influx attracted to today's climbing community, but why is no one laughing.... Or rather crying?
I detest all groups and associations, especially regarding climbing, which in my mind is ‘free’, but I don’t even know to whom I am talking to here, apart from a ‘dug in’ attitude from an army, so stand up, reveal your weapons and inform me what part ‘sexy’ plays in climbing, and more importantly, sound ‘social change’? What about corporate oppression? Using climbing as a competitive sport, as a sexy sport, as a uni-sex sport, regardless of big-knobs or juicy-twats, it is just so career-corporate-media-money-glory banal! All sport and athletics are corporate. And so fucking politic, so urban, so ‘of polis’ - of the city. All you do is support industry and psychologists! They love you.
I don’t believe agendas belong in the mountain and your divisions of ‘us and them’ belong in the city. What is sexy about a futile attempt to evade the flow of time and death? Get on a proper ‘messy’ route out of control, scratch and scrape, engage with vital social-change, engage with ‘land-dwelling-well’, grow up and learn something about self-respect and the energy and spirit of the substance you move through. Being in a group, being ‘sexy, athletic or sporty have no part to play in this endeavor.
I had never thought of women climbers climbing because they can be seen as sexy. I just thought they were good. Today, such agenda is so past its sell by date – who gives a flying-fuck if you think you’re sexy or not? For the sake of the Goddess, for Mary, fall off and die in the most un-sexy way possible! And the act of competing is so ‘disillusioned-male’, so full of male-knobsnot-ego! Where is your voice lasses? Stop being victims. Sort your feminine/abuse issues out in private not on the crag. Or come see the girls on the highway near me and talk abuse – at 40 euros ahead, they will show you who is in charge. Climbing can do without this garbage, almost ridiculous, almost criminal in its wet-nurse addiction role. If you can think beyond nail varnish and lip-gloss, improving skills and climbing grades you would understand the ‘nature’ to which I refer.
Personifying problems on the rock is not spiritual, merely cathartic. It has an energy that sucks. Be free. Don’t copy the lads, ‘chasing their phallus around toy-land in a perpetual neurotic state’. Wake up to the new age and levitate! My own trench of Tricksters suggest you keep your macho-sexy-ego posing on indoor walls and not offend the nature, for, at the end of a top-roping-sexy day, the feminine principal, the She you deny, would take your eye sockets for nests and your shaved, perfumed pudenda to sprout future growth!
‘I hunt for more than the horror of what is apparent. I am not handing out clean needles and doses of methadone… because it is society that is suffering… ‘
Okay, I know; a gentle slope sees me hurtling over a cliff – do I give a falling-fuck?!
I say Perillos and be damned to you all!
A French play on words - La nuit tous les chats sont gris – at night all cunts (cats) are grey.
John Redhead:2013....Photographs JR Collection
John Redhead on Soundcloud
John Redhead on Soundcloud