Throughout his career, Antero Alli has accomplished a plethora of groundbreaking creative work, and is most known for creating a variety of original performance works using Paratheatre processes since 1977, and experimental video documents and feature fiction films since 1993.
I discovered him through his Angel Tech class at the online Maybe Logic Academy which had us students conducting real life experiments to increase our intelligences as part of the Eight-Circuit Brain model of consciousness brought to the west by Dr. Timothy Leary. I am also appreciating Alli's applicable astrology teachings as well as his creative films, which draw from his Paratheatre work.
Alli has been fortunate to be at the right place at the right time: as a young man moving around California and the west coast with his experimental theatre and in a punk outfit, writing esoterica in Denver in the '80s, and living in Seattle as editor of the Talking Raven Quarterly in the '90s. He continues to conduct his Paratheatre, make films, and is putting the finishing touches on Angel Tech 2, (working title) from his lovely Berkeley home where I interviewed him.
AL: Where were you born? Where has life taken you?
AA: I was born in Helsinki, Finland 1952, November 11. After three years, my mother, my grandmother, and my little brother and I migrated to Canada where we lived for seven years and then after that we all migrated to Los Angeles, California. So the first 17 years of my life was a series of westward migrations, that is something of significance for me since now after living on the west coast for more than 30 years or more I feel I am a creature of the west coast of the United States, but genetically, or on a deeper family sense I also feel like an outsider. I'm not an American citizen, I'm a Finish citizen with an alien registration card, a green card. I am legally here as an alien.
To make a really long and winding story short, I left LA at 17, headed up to the San Francisco Bay Area and for the next 10 years I made an art out of poverty while writing and directing experimental theater works, and then touring them up and down the northern California coast. Around 1983 I moved to Boulder, Colorado. During my four years there I got married, had a child, got divorced and wrote four books. So a lot happened there in that four years. Then between 1988-1995 I lived in Seattle, Washington where I started up a newspaper called the Talking Raven Quarterly, a rebellious literary quarterly featuring the writings of Hakim Bey, Robert Anton Wilson, Rob Brezsny along with a lot of local and nonlocal poets. We did that for four years. Around this time I started experimenting with video and began what was to become a prolific 18 year span of consistent film production which led me back to Berkeley, California in 1996 and save for a brief return to Seattle to produce my play, "Hungry Ghosts." I've been in Berkeley ever since.
How did your beginnings in Finland influence you?
I left Finland when I was three. Though I was very young I was raised with the language and with the cultural baggage that comes with growing up in a family whose origins differ from the surrounding culture — we were aliens. I think being raised by two strong Finnish women cultivated in me a kind of outsider sensibility. Living in America as a Finn allowed me to view American culture from a distance. It's given me a perspective. Though a part of me identifies as a Finn, and I identify myself more as a human being so I'm not a nationalistic Finn. I have stories about that I would like to tell but I won't right now.
Let's talk about the online class I've been taking through the Maybe Logic Academy — based on your book Angel Tech, which came out in 1985 and is based on the eight circuit brain.
Angel Tech was first self-published in '85 and took about five years to write, so I was writing it from 1980-1985. It's about the practical application of the Eight-Circuit Brain model first made public by Timothy Leary. I first discovered it in Robert Anton Wilson's book Cosmic Trigger back in '78. While I was reading the book a series of bizarre coincidences led me to sitting on a couch in Robert Anton Wilson's living room. From there I became involved with his circle of friends in the Berkeley Hills, when he was living there, in what was called back then Discordian Salons, where scientists, writers, and poets convened in these informal and jovial think tanks. I was just a kid, around 26, and for reasons I still cannot fathom, Bob took a liking to me and invited me back to more of these salons.
Attending the think-tanks, I mostly didn't say anything. I was a fly on the wall taking in all the amazing energies and information passing back and forth between people like Jack Sarfatti and Greg Hill, who is responsible for this little book called Principia Discordia, and of course Bob, and his wife Arlen. These Discordian Salons were a kind of rotating skeleton crew of different poets, philosophers, and scientists who met mostly to exchange ideas. Bob had a favorite thing he liked to do and that was read these almost pornographic Irish limericks just to make people laugh, get their spirits up and that's how he did that.
Then I had read Bob's book Prometheus Rising which is his take on the Eight-Circuit Brain model, and before that I read Exo-Psychology which was Timothy Leary's introduction to it. After reading those books, I was inspired by their different approaches but felt that something was missing. What was missing was how this particular model was not given enough practical application. I felt that maybe I could introduce ways of not just applying it but in some ways embodying it, so it didn't just remain an eloquent system in the abstract strata in our conceptual understanding. I found ways to introduce meditations, exercises, rituals and tasks to trigger the states of consciousness that the circuits are really only acting as symbols for. My aim was to gain full access to the various experiences the symbols represented.
Could you tell us how the eight circuits fit together as a system?
Well, the Eight-Circuit brain was actually a model introduced to Timothy Leary by a Rutgers University Scholar of Religious Studies that visited Leary during his Millbrook days in the early '60s. He introduced Leary to a rather esoteric understanding of the Hindu chakra system, not in any kind of pop-psychological way, but something rather quite hidden. Leary was really taken by it and I think he picked up quite a bit of new information from this scholar. Leary then changed several terms and began to find neurological, scientific, and sociological contexts to update what he believed was this archaic system with more scientific terminology. Part of the way he did this was by coining the term, "Eight-Circuit Brain," but the actual system was not something he actually created. He popularized it.
So the system is loosely based on the energy centers of the body linked to various glands and neurologies toward a full brain model for intelligence increase. The basic idea is that it lets you test your own intelligence through each of the eight functions of intelligence: physical intelligence, emotional Intelligence, intellectual intelligence, social intelligence, somatic intelligence, psychic intelligence, genetic or mythic intelligence, and quantum intelligence. These eight functions, or brains, are all interacting with each other and are all active in various degrees of expression and latency in every individual depending upon background and how awake they are to what these circuits represent in their own bodies, their own experiences, and their every day lives. The system is a tool to test your capacity for confessing ignorance in each of the 8 levels towards increasing your intelligence in each by the degree you are able to absorb, integrate, and transmit or communicate the experience of the information and energy inherent to all eight circuits.
The definition of intelligence Leary introduced is quite brilliant in that he borrows it from the trinary function of the most basic unit of biological intelligence, the neuron, and its capacity for absorbing, storing, and transmitting information and/or energy. I liked how this model was based on biology and so I began testing it for myself and discovered all kinds of sources of ignorance and vanity for not wanting to admit that. When I finally realized that vanity was not as interesting as increasing my intelligence, I blew my cover and started confessing ignorance wherever I could. This opened things up quite a bit and over many years, this helped me find all kinds of ways to engage, absorb and transmit my experiences through all eight levels. My process of writing Angel Tech involved testing all the tasks, meditations, rituals, and exercises many times over until I found enough consistency in my results to consider that my work might actually be useful to others.
Something that stands out is that Angel Tech is done in a really fun way, with art, jokes and fun collages. You made a system which was translated from an ancient chakra system to something that is totally accessible to more people. People will find this different.
I appreciate that. The presentation is very important to me. Right around the time it came out I had just finished a short lived but very enthusiastically engaged period of being in a punk rock band, "The Frozen Beauties," that I wrote the music and lyrics for. We performed in clubs in the Bay Area back in 1980, right before I began writing Angel Tech. I wanted to approach this whole process in a more DIY punk ethos, which is partly to blame for the book's aesthetics.
What I am totally fascinated with at the moment is Chapel Perilous (which was the course topic of this week). How would someone know if she were in Chapel Perilous?
(Lighthearted sinister laughter) Chapel Perilous is a phrase that I use to simply refer to non-local strata or a place which is out of time and space, where aspects of our selves, of our existence, drift away and hide from us. Someone would know they are in Chapel Perilous in a number of ways. Maybe you might sense that you're living a lie or a half life, or are haunted by the feeling of missing something but now know what. You could be doing all the right things externally and maybe even get approval for it and confirmation from peers, society and teachers, but if you still feel as if life is passing you by, maybe you have taken up residence in the Chapel Perilous. There's that sense of something missing. Sometimes big chunks of ourselves become invested in a place that is beyond time and space, that has neither here nor there. We are in a kind of extended limbo zone. Chapel Perilous can become its own mythos or metaphor for a shamanic process of soul retrieval, a quest to get yourself back into the realm of the living again.
I see three basic ways people enter the Chapel. Either through the front door, the back door and/or the trap door. The back door of the Chapel happens when people get trapped in a pit of inertia as a result of excessive redundancy in their lives, you know, repeating the same old routine over and over again and until they enter a numbing condition of narcoleptic amnesia, a sleepy kind of condition. Then there are those who enter the Chapel Perilous through the front door of novelty overdose where they're exposed to such an overwhelming influx of new experience and information that they don't have any time to integrate or stomach any of it. You become a kind of nervous monkey as anxiety more or less guides your daily existence.
What kind of information?
The front door entrance of Chapel Perilous is through a path of novelty. That means any situation where you are absorbing information and/or life experiences that are completely new. You have no previous reference for it, no previous maps, nobody told you about this. It can be very exhilarating up to a point, until the anxiety sets in. And everyone has their own threshold for how much uncertainty they can permit before their nervous systems start producing anxiety. Anxiety is a natural, biological, psychological and neurological response to reaching your uncertainty threshold. Anxiety is the symptom that lets you know you've reached your limit of how much uncertainty you can permit, your limit of novelty. If something is truly uncertain, you don't know what's going to happen next and you don't know how much you can take of that uncertainty until you reach your limit. That threshold differs for each person. Some people can tolerate a lot more uncertainty than others.
The third way of entering Chapel Perilous is the trapdoor. People fall into the trapdoor when an outside shock happens beyond your control and comprehension and throws you for a strange loop. It's a little like having the bottom pulled out from beneath you. Like when you've been paying rent at your ideal apartment for five years and then suddenly you get an eviction notice and everything unexpectedly and suddenly changes. The bottom falls out and you're free falling until you find another place to live. Another example of an outside shock is when we encounter individuals through a very sudden and deeply profound attraction. It's like, oh my god, I'm in love and I didn't want this. That kind of transformation can shake things up. Then there are the types of outside shocks that come with the sudden loss of loved ones to death and sickness and things like that. The trapdoor entrances typically happen as outside shocks rattle our cages, you know, the curve balls that life sometimes throws at us all.
How does one get out of the Chapel Perilous?
That's a very interesting question. A lot depends on how you entered and what your individual circumstances are, your mental landscape and what's really going on. Bob Wilson pointed out that one of the main features of Chapel Perilous is that it's a product of the mind, of thought. I think that's quite insightful. If you can find a way to see past the mind, or if you can use the mind to see past itself, then you become receptive or aware of a reality beyond the products of thought. When you realize the Chapel is held together by your own thinking, you can guide yourself out of the Chapel by moving around your thoughts. Oftentimes, the thinking is circuitous. It just goes around like a dog chasing its tail, that is, until you can see beyond the dog, beyond what the mind creates. Like the experience of silence, whether it's silence within yourself or silence you find walking through the dark woods, if you can quiet the mind you can find an exit out of Chapel Perilous.
Some people never get out. Some people, like myself, who have been in and out so much that I go in on purpose sometimes because I need the disturbance occasionally, because I live a fairly comfortable life. So I create my own disturbances to throw myself off balance.
Care to share one of your personal examples?
(Laughter) Actually, because it's a very valuable device of mine, it's something I would never publicize or talk about.
Now can you speak about your paratheatre?
There's actually a good segue way from Chapel Perilous into the paratheatre work. A lot of people that enter the paratheatre process with me are in one way or another trying to get out of Chapel Perilous. The paratheatre work provides certain tools and formats for finding your way out because the aim of this work is about restoring our capacity for direct experience, which is to say, beyond what the mind creates. It's about accessing sources of energy in your body as movement resources that have very little to do with the conceptual mind. The focus of each three hour work session is highly physical, visceral and even though we work on the mental level, we don't work with concepts. The mental plane level that we work with is specific to the intellect's ability to pay attention. We work with two types of attention. The first attention is that awareness linked to thinking, language, and the automatic assignment of meaning and the labeling of experience. That's typically the attention most people in society function with on a daily basis because we are always trying to interpret, label and make sense of things. In the eight circuit model that would be like circuit three.
There's a Second Attention that is not awareness linked to thinking or language. It's that awareness that links to presence, energy and phenomena. It's more an awareness of pure perception or seeing, that does not automatically assign meaning to what it sees. The more we assign labels to experience, the less perception we have for experience, the less we see and the more we assume. The function of the second attention is seeing: simply seeing. I have seen this kind of attention help guide people out of Chapel Perilous. By expanding this capacity to see, to perceive beyond our assumptions and interpretations, we can see past the products of the mind, past the thinking process. By experimenting with paying attention to any phenomena without labeling, it is possible to find a new way of seeing and perceiving. This second attention tends to be stimulated in paratheatre work.
Paratheatre work is in essence a non-performance-oriented ritual technology for Self initiation, with a capital "S," in the way Jung refers to the Archetype of the Self. The purpose is to access, express, and embody the internal landscape. The internal landscape is made up of energy centers in the body itself. The body also carries its own wellsprings of memories, images, with terrific forces often buried in the muscles and cells, forces we excavate and release through convulsive expression in sound, movements, action and gesture. This work is physically rigorous and depends on a strong commitment to feel the body deeply. The deeper the body is felt, the more likely the body gives up these energies, images, and memories that we allow to animate us into action, sound, and gesture.
I borrow techniques from theater, modern dance, various singing techniques. We also borrow heavily from zazen meditation in a central technique I call No-Form, which we apply in a standing posture, not sitting. This is a stance of vertical rest that supports a kind of internal emptying that, on a subjective level, allows an intimacy with the Void. Coming into this intimacy with Void can grow on you until eventually you might even begin knowing yourself as an expression of the Void. This process, unlike traditional zazen is not for us an end in itself. We don't use the No Form technique in any attempt to reach samadhi or bliss. We use it as a ritual tool, as a bridge for cultivating internal receptivity to begin opening to the energy centers, pulses, and rhythm centers in the body itself. This minimizes the tendency for drama therapy or play-acting or improvising, none of which involves paratheatre. Through the deepening receptivity afforded by the No Form standing position, we are able to give ourselves over to these forces and impulses in a more honest way. It is not improvising or play-acting since we are not pushing our will. We're rendering ourselves to be receptive enough to be moved, convulsed and otherwise taken by these energies within our own bodies and allowing them to guide and move us where those energies want to go. What this does is bring people into a more dynamic and direct experience of their own bodies and their own way in which they experience life. When it happens, it's anything but conceptual. It's revitalizing.
This work restores the capacity for direct experience. As people get better at that and knowing what it is, they are less likely to be duped by the mind which is a liar and a whore, or the conceptual mind that hasn't learned to relax its control or tyranny or consciousness over the body. The paratheatre work helps provide a context, a medium, and even structures and techniques for people to explore ways of expressing themselves. When people are more or less locked in their minds, or stuck in their heads, that becomes a chief source of frustration for them in this work. If they're able to get out of their heads and drop down into their bodies, they also stand a better chance of finding an exit out of Chapel Perilous.
Can some someone who wants to get it, keep at it and be able to do the work?
Yes and no. Sometimes what we want isn't what we get, no matter how bad we want it. Certainly, desire and enthusiasm are important. There is also a certain willingness to sacrifice one's attachments to preconceptions, assumptions and expectations of what's going to happen to allow reality to happen.
What paratheatre projects you are working on now?
What I have been tending to for the last year and a half, with the group of eight, has involved what I call the Dreaming Ritual. The Dreaming Ritual requires a unique type of dream recall for movements, kinetic properties, discovered in the dreams we have at night. I say it is a unique type of dream recall because people typically find that they are not able to remember movements right away. They can remember images, characters, colors or emotions, but to actually single out a movement is not so easy. The aim here is to find a movement in your dream, whether it's a movement you do, or someone else or something else does, that you can precisely replicate when you wake up. You have to be able to actually do the movement as close as possible to how you remembered it in the dream.
We need to find three movements, whether they are in one dream or three separate dreams it doesn't matter as long as they are coming from the dream. A minimum of three, some people will have up to five, six or seven movements. What we do with the movements is stitch them together to create a movement cycle which we then execute and we perform. We develop several levels of performing that dreaming ritual from the most mechanical level which is just to physically perform the series of movements as a cycle, a nonstop cycle that carries its own rhythms.
The end of the first movement is stitched to the beginning of the second movement, and the end of the second movement is stitched to the beginning of third movement. The end of the third movement comes around to the beginning of the first movement and it becomes this circle. That's the movement cycle and the dream choreography. Then when you physically perform it, it expresses its own rhythms. Because the movements originated in particular dreams, very often when you're performing it again while awake, those images begin flooding your consciousness. Sometimes an emotion was buried since dreams carry all kinds of not just personal, but more mysterious forces and emotions. So these forces start emerging simply because the dream movement acts as a kind of talisman or a charged kinetic property we take into the waking world and perform with our eyes open.
We've been working on a series of different dreaming rituals for about a year and a half. We work for maybe ten weeks at a time, twice a week, three hours at a time in what I call dream labs. Right now we are finishing our final lab which we will bring up to perform up on Mount Tamalpais at night. Why I'm interested in ritual process in terms of the eighth circuit is that for me it brings a kind of embodiment, or an application of certain forms that have been capable of triggering for people a kind of eighth circuit experience. There's all kinds of benefits, it depends on the person doing it. Different people have different reasons for doing it. Basically the effect of this ritual is that it brings about a very powerful and all-encompassing unity so you don't feel isolated any more. There is a sense of really being a part of all things as an expression of life. It's very difficult to find the words to describe this experience. One way I struggle to convey these impressions is through filmmaking.
You've seen my film "The Mind is a Liar and a Whore" which is my most accessible film, my most normal film. All my other ones are very much tied into the dream lives of the characters and how the dreams act on their lives, the decisions they are making, and the relationships they get into. I'm constantly in one way or another exploring the interface between the daytime and the dreamtime and how awakening inside this interface acts on our lives. How it changes or transforms our personalities, and the kind of individuals we wind up becoming simply because we are exposed to the effect of dreams in our waking life.
What about all the people who say they do not dream?
In this hypermedia saturated culture, especially with people born in the early 80s on, I think there is a certain imagination lobotomy that has occurred where the external media technologies and sources have gradually usurped the poetic genius or our innate ability to image their own realities. So we succumb to images more gorgeous, interesting, fascinating, or compelling than we can create out of our own imaginations. So the imagination dies, it withers — imagination death or soul loss is involved. I think part of also what gets lost is dream recall.
Personally I don't really think that it's that people don't dream, but that they've lost dream recall. There's an association in my mind between the loss of dream recall and power loss in people's lives. People losing power, losing the ability to influence the world in ways that are meaningful to them. So power loss, loss of dream recall, loss of imagination are all tied into a larger cultural epidemic resulting from this acceleration of media technology and its interface with human consciousness. Especially any kind of immersion software like video gaming, VR technology, and sometimes even films and television and other kinds of media too, where it just overwhelms and sabotages or takes over the individual imagination.
How do you think people can be empowered?
The way I hope to contribute to society, or to people, probably more at the level of subculture for me, is to continue creating with the intention for stimulating and resuscitating the imagination. This is my politics. My political incentive is to incite a serious of tiny riots in people's imaginations and find new ways to light the fuses of new information bombs that go off in people's minds so they are forced to use their imagination to grasp, engage, or involve themselves in what they are doing. Imagination is the new canary in the cultural coal mine; imagination death precedes loss of the soul.
Art by James Koehnline