“The Ungoogleable Michaelangelo” is a Los Angeles based transmedia artist whose latest work as Scottish Necromancer-Rapper “Void Denizen” pushes almost every boundary imaginable in the service of both depth and humor.
Interviewed by Future Fossils Podcast host and fellow media-juggling weirdo Michael Garfield, this conversation surfs the violet psychofluid across space, time, and identity.
Video for “Necromancing the Philosopher’s Stone”
Video for “PETRIFIED”
Michael Garfield: Thanks for chatting with me about your new videos! Once again you’ve managed to bring together an unbelievable stew of influences into works that bring ancient cosmologies and esoteric practices into a modern and relevant framing. And it’s hilarious. Nobody has ever made me laugh so much about necromancy. What got you into this project/alter ego to begin with, and why high-tech occult Scottish hip hop?
Michaelangelo: Looking back at it all, the beginnings of it are as strange as its continuation. A few years ago I found myself in the peculiar circumstance of spending a few days in the company of a former Mexican gangster (picture an older, pudgier Danny Trejo type) who loved to tell stories. And I’m talking stories of violence, gore, and glory that would put Tarantino to shame. When I found myself back in my own little world relaying these tales to my friends, I noticed I was speaking with the same inflections and Mexican accent as this ominous character.
Realizing I had absorbed some of his patterns, and that this was not particularly healthy, I decided to “wash it down with some Scotch,” meaning I’d simply start speaking in a Scottish accent to, shall we say, clear the palate. Consequentially, I continued to speak in that accent for 6 days! It was supernatural, like I was possessed. I started to notice how certain phrases sounded really good when they were colored by these tones. And judging by how people responded, it appeared to have an enchanting charm.
That’s how it began. From these phrases I started writing some rhymes, and met up with an Israeli producer friend who helped me realize what was to become “Shrimpimp,” the first Void Denizen track that later received an accompanying video. (As part of our deal, Liran, the producer, said “I’ll help you if you promise to make a video for it. I don’t care if it’s you sitting on the toilet, so long as it has a video.)
In short, a Mexican influence + an Israeli producer + a Dutchman make Scottish rap. Though it has since become more rhapsody than rap, in my opinion. Nor is it limited to Scottish anymore.
The necromantic, techno-divination elements sprung forth from a convolution of ideas I’d been juggling in my mind for a while. The inspired madness that Void Denizen embodies for me seemed the right container for exploring these “Séance Fictions.”
I remember serving tea in the Full Circle Tea House at Burning Man 2013 and you stopped in as “Voight Denison” aka “Void Denizen” with an entire entourage of people who may not have realized you aren’t Scottish, because you were in unbroken character all week. It was amazing, strange, and kind of scary. Your earlier “Shrimpimp” video gets into that idea of finding yourself by assuming the identities of other people. That video, as well as the video for “PETRIFIED,” features scenes with you and two other you’s all seated together at the same table. You even credit Michaelangelo, Michael Jacobs, and Void Denizen as three different actors in the credits.
This seems pretty perfect, in light of your clearly stated desire in the shorter “Philosopher’s Stone” video to pass through the looking glass of our liquid crystal computer displays and into the world of the ancestors, where identity is so much more complex and permeable, and interwoven.
You talk about this in “PETRIFIED” with the not-entirely-alternate history of the ancient Scottish “interknot” connecting everything behind the play of appearances.
Where are you hoping this “inspired madness” will lead you?
|I hope it will lead me to ever more inspired madness, a fire stoked by the audience’s co-creative participation. These videos (or the songs on the record) aren’t really for passive viewing; they’re an invitation to set one’s story-plotting gears in motion. The phrase “finalizing infinity” has stuck with me for a while. It’s a poetically absurd notion, a coincidentia oppositorum, but I think that it does in a sense encapsulate where I’m hoping all this will “end” up. I hope to be able to convey a transcendent realm with its own intrinsic logic, where language is as twisted as a double helix, where myth mashes with math, where the walls of space, time and limitation are plowed down in the minds of the audience, so that they in turn will be inspired to settle their amused confusion by finding their own interpretation of what they’ve experienced. And I believe that what they find will tell them something about themselves, and how they view the world.
The trinity of me that you mentioned illustrates a sort of solipsistic transcendence. A place where all is one, and all is you. Which is not to imply that no one else exists, but that how you know another is ultimately by battering them in your own mindful substance (in the flour-y sense, not in the sense of “assault and batter”). Knowing this, all kinds of shadow play can potentially be avoided.
It also illustrates the multiplicitous facets of the supposedly singular self.
“Finalizing infinity” DOES feel like the Great Work of the alchemical project in general. Of course, you can’t expect to do that as a mere producer or consumer. The whole algorithm of “passing through the screen” does suggests, invites, and implies the notion that your audiences get more out of it by getting into it, which may be why there’s such a powerful aura of Alejandro Jodorowsky looming over this entire project. Your sets and costumes, staging, and shots all have a very “psychomagical” feel to them, acting on a rich soil of archetypal associations in me.
What you’re talking about as the cosmic solipsism of the one-self pretending/incarnating as the multiplicity is very much in line with films like Holy Mountain and its Tarot/Zodiac in motion.
Back to that double-header emphasis in these two new videos of the liquid crystal computer screen and the aurora trapped inside of labradorite. You seem like you are teasing at what Terence McKenna called the “violet psychofluid,” that “translinguistic matter” in which that braided double helix of language finds its most resonant expression in the ancient yet increasingly timely animistic notion of living stones and a sentient mineral world. It’s like we’ve been desperately wrong all this time about meaning and mind being locked in the human skull and projected “out there.” This revelation, lived, would “finalize infinity.”
Those are all very good points and insightful observations. Though there was never any intentional fashioning of the aesthetic after Jodorowsky’s lore, his tangible influence is undeniable. My approach to creation is always a matter of allowing the channel to get ahead of its meaning, which is to say ,”shoot first, ask questions later.” More precisely, “create first, interpret later.” It’s an exercise in trusting the process, and trusting that “higher” part of me that remote controls little-old-me and my team through the dark landscape of The Bigger Picture, lighting the way bit by bit like the illuminated tiles in that “Billy Jean” video. Afterwards, or sometimes during the filming process, I’ll notice how my biggest influences have managed to “outfluence” into my work. Creation is the great wringing of the sponge in that respect, the brain itself being an absorbent and spongy matter.
But of course I alone cannot take credit for the resulting inside-outfluence. It takes a village to raise the dead, so it is largely a matter of wringing out the collective sponge. Luckily the talented Hillary Andujar and Jeffrey Cravath, who were the wings that helped this project take flight, share many of my aesthetic appreciations.
There are indeed also certain psychomagical stagings, wherein the performers are being moved through symbolical gauntlets with the intent of moving them beyond what they, in their daily lives, are trying to overcome.
I’ve come to refer to this project as an alchemical comedy. All throughout it there are subtle sleight-of-hand moments that strive to balance or unify opposites–male/female, up/down, in/out, which is indeed part of the Magnum Opus. I hadn’t considered McKenna’s psychofluid in this equation, but you are entirely right in drawing that parallel.
The notion of the northern lights being trapped inside a labradorite is actually a piece of inuit mythology. It is said that an inuit warrior split the stone open with his magical sword and released the lights into the sky.
I love that part of the “PETRIFIED” video where you all pass around an apple and take bites from it and then spit out quartz crystals. The humor of that scene, the unexpected final moments and their potent transformation — that comedic part of this is a vein that runs through all of it (like quartz, really).
Do you see comedy as essential to the point, investigation, meaning of it, or is it just a part of you that shows up in the work as part of that melange of “outfluences”? Comedy, again, being all about surprise, and surprise being quintessential to the study of quintessence.
I’ve always resonated with inuit lore. There’s this balance of sweetness and savagery to their art–smiling faces made of whale bone for example–which makes sense since they live in hostile environments and rely on each other for warmth. The best metaphor I can come up with for this an image of a puppet show for kids where the puppets are freshly batted seals. Sweet, but savage.
The gentleness and warmth with which you approach freakin’ NECROMANCY is definitely one of the standout dimensions of your project, for me. “The Other Side” is not the other side, it is the deepest part of YOU. No need to be afraid of it, let’s take dark matters lightly–name the demon and engage it in a conversation, and it turns into your ally.
Humor is definitely a part of me that I can’t escape, but I like to think that it’s always rooted in something more serious. It’s the best medicine, they say, and it’s also the spoonful of sugar that helps the less-easy-to-stomach medicine go down. When dealing with this kind of deep, dark, esoteric subject matter it’s important to keep it light and fun, without compromising the message. I think the delivery of the message is hinged on the balance of these extremes. To make light of the dark — that’s the alchemical way, right? The further you thrust towards non-duality, the more the mind (and its perceptual/communicative technologies) will bend, distort, and warp, which if you have a sense for it, is humorous.
This is a good point as well, about The Other Side being the deepest part of you. Part of this macabre “communication with the dead” ordeal is really just about connection to the imagination, because that’s where the departed live on. And the imagination is perhaps somewhat synonymous to the illuminated unconscious…and again that “all-you-inverse.”
(That’s supposed to say “all-you-niverse,” but autocorrect has into own divinatory, word-bending merits, ha!)
The apple is a prominent symbol in both these videos. It’s a visual pun that interchangeably reminds us of forbidden fruit, poison, and technology. A great way to get to the “core,” which in Dutch is called “het klokkenhuis” (literally translated “the clock-house.” And where does time reside? Infinity!)
Given that you just “went there” and linked the apple motif to the core of reality and the “clock house” (Holy Cow!) I want to situate this in one of my favorite explorations, which is our ideas and experiences of time. This is huge in your work, whether you’re pulling a kind of William Irwin Thompson net-animistic riff on the indwelling spirit realms and entities of our 21st Century devices (that crystal-bearing apple as both nature and technology), or joking about the ancient Scottish “Interknot” nonlinearity in time, not just identity.
Where do you place your work in a larger sense of the esoteric traditions, and how do you understand these videos as artifacts created by a future ancestor communicating with (what seems to me) a simultaneous, eternalist “Long Now“?
Maybe it helps to orient this with the three Greek notions of time I learned from archetypal astrologer Becca Tarnas: Chronological (clock time, numbered), Cairotic (felt time, timeliness), and Aeonic (the eternal nature of every moment, which you’ve already brought up).
Wow. Beautiful premise and question. This comes back to what I mentioned earlier, about allowing the channel to get ahead of its meaning. I deeply resonate with the idea of a “daemon”, and the time-travel paradox of some kind of future self passing gifts backwards in time to insure its own existence in the future. Two other terms for this are “genius” and “daena,” each of which pointing towards a similar phenomenon. Namely, that of a guardian, guiding spirit that may just be a “bigger” part of you.
I sort of picture it like an iceberg submerged in the timeless waters of forever and I’m the tip boring into time and more and more of me become visible over time. What’s interesting is that the Genius was considered the spirit that looks over you at birth. Birthday presents are a tradition based on this belief. Those presents were originally offerings to one’s genius. The daena is considered female, so I think of it in terms of anima, and is also said to appear at birth, watching over you. Then it disappears, only to return at your deathbed. Only now it’s appearance has changed in accordance with your actions in life. It has become more beautiful, or its has become an ugly horrendous monster! I equate this with my childhood imaginary friend, who similarly disappeared but returned to me through my encounters with that amazonian “apple” Ayahuasca. I talk about this in-depth in my Ayahuasca Monologue from a few years ago.
(The philosopher Giorgio Agamben talks about this Daena phenomenon in his Profanations. Here’s the quote. It’s fascinating.)
In terms of historicizing my work, I have a hard time with that. I’ll leave that to history. Time will tell.
I like the thought of Michael Jacobs, Michaelangelo, and Void Denizen as three islands poking up from the same iceberg. Interesting that you’d bring this all up, as I’ve had some powerful encounters with my anima over the last few years that took her from a poltergeist literally vandalizing my house, to a guiding voice of intuition and “imaginary friend” or animal spirit familiar appearing in both my dreams and trip. Most recently was an intense experience wherein she descended into me and I saw myself from both perspectives simultaneously. I was her, admiring Michael, at the same time that I was me, grateful for the fact that I no longer felt the need to seek outside myself this image of a perfect woman. To find one’s genius is to be complete unto one’s self. Where all that fits in time, I don’t know.
Maybe you’ve received some vision or instruction from your future self of how this work will unfold? Do you have some idea of what comes next for Void Denizen?
That’s a beautiful and necessary integration that would recommend for anyone. Activate your anima!
As far as the future of Void goes, it’s difficult to say. He’s a vehicle I’m not ready to trade in yet, but what form he may take or where he will lead me next remains a mystery. I took this opportunity to use my musical storytelling as a springboard into filmmaking, which was always the goal–I just took a long detour that prepared me through writing, painting, music, and performance, all of which converge in film. I’m here in Los Angeles now building a career as an actor and filmmaker, so I don’t doubt Void, who is in a sense my daemon, will be with me every step of the way.
(By the way, there are poltergeist references on the album too, which resonate with your experience.)
Awesome! One thing I’ve learned from years of knowing you is that your creativity is uncontainable. I wouldn’t have it any other way – how else will you interrogate the boundaries betwixt the living and the dead, the male and female, void and imagination?
Yes! I will do my best to live that truth up to my deadline.