The cut-up literary technique has deeply informed avant-garde artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s art and life

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has had a long career on the cutting edge of creative thought and confrontational art.

JUN 7, 2017 10 AM
 Before reading about what the avant-garde musician, performance artist and thinker Genesis Breyer P-Orridge will do when s/he headlines the first evening of the No Response Festival on June 16, it’s useful to know one fact: P-Orridge identifies with being “pandrogene.”

P-Orridge sees it as an effort to have the concept of identity transcend gender — transcend the physical body, even. It’s related to the deep love P-Orridge felt for wife Lady Jaye Breyer, and their desire to evolve through surgical alterations beyond male- and female-ness into a third gender to match their united consciousness. Since Lady Jaye “dropped her body” in 2007, P-Orridge has sought to keep their spiritual oneness alive — using the term “s/he” as gender identification and saying “we” and “us” as much as possible instead of “I” and “me.” Theirs is a fascinating and passionate love story, already the subject of a documentary.

“It’s really very simple,” P-Orridge says during a telephone interview. “We were both in love so incredibly deeply we wanted to devour each other, not like cannibals but as consciousness — to embrace each other and let go of every sign and thought of individual ego to become one new being created by the combination of the two.”

P-Orridge, born in England in 1950 as Neil Andrew Megson, has had a long career on the cutting edge of creative thought and confrontational art — a first band, Throbbing Gristle, basically defined Industrial music in the 1970s. P-Orridge has headed Psychic TV since the 1980s, which has made music bracingly experimental, though sometimes downright catchy — 2016’s Alienist has a rousing version of Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire.”

S/he has worked as a personal assistant to LSD proponent Timothy Leary and also became deeply influenced by the literary technique of cutting up and rearranging text to serendipitously find new meanings, a device developed by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin in the ’50s and ’60s. 

“We worked with and were friends with Burroughs from 1971 until he passed away,” P-Orridge says. “During those times when we knew each other, we took what he was saying about cutting up language to go deeper — if you imagine words are alive, what’s their agenda?”

Burroughs and Gysin have had a profound impact on P-Orridge’s multifaceted career, as will be evident when P-Orridge and Edley ODowd (drummer from Psychic TV) offer a multimedia presentation at the Woodward Theater for No Response.

“It will be a unique backdrop of video cut-ups and imagery, contemporary chamber music by Edley and then my voice,” P-Orridge says of the live performance. “We call it expanded poetry, because there’s an improvisational aspect to it. We can start reading something, then it can become a political rant, then it can become a philosophical memory, and so on. We follow written lyrics and poems and also invent as we go. We’ve been doing it all over Europe and the world.”

P-Orridge says the performances are drawn from a large archive of poems, lyrics, quotes and more. 

“When we are about to do one of these performances, we’ll go through them and certain ones will just jump out and feel right for that moment in time,” s/he says. “Those we’ll take as anchors, but often within 10 minutes we’re completely channeling and it bears very little resemblance to the original skeleton of words. It’s using language as shamanic texture.”

P-Orridge has found crowd response thrilling — even, or perhaps especially, when s/he is before audiences whose primary language isn’t English. 

“(They) seem to actually hear me and to convince me that what we thought about language is true — that it’s almost like words live and convey information even if you don’t know what they mean individually,” P-Orridge says.

P-Orridge’s interest in the boundary-busting power of avant-garde arts was partially shaped when s/he was 15 and heard the famous 1952 John Cage composition featuring 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence. 

“We were very fortunate at about 15 years old to find a copy of ‘silence’ and it blew my mind,” s/he says. “That to me was like The Rolling Stones hearing Southern Delta Blues. John Cage is the professor of inclusion, isn’t he? He’s the one who said that even when there’s theoretically silence in the room, the shuffling of feet, the cough… all of that is part of the work. It’s always been important for me to look for ways to be in a gestalt mind with the audience, to allow them to be part of what happens.”

Now, more than ever, society is realizing that gender identity is fluid enough to be changed, if desired. But P-Orridge takes a different tack. 

“Some people feel they’re a man trapped in a woman’s body,” s/he says. “Some people think they’re a woman trapped in a man’s body. A pandrogene just feels trapped in a body. It’s not about gender. It may be about identity, but ultimately it’s the eternal existential question: ‘Why am I here, how can I think, what is my consciousness, how do I receive information?’ ”

For P-Orridge and the late Lady Jaye, a path forward was suggested by the cut-up literary technique championed by Burroughs and Gysin. 

“So with myself and Lady Jaye, we thought, ‘OK, William and Bryan say that cut-ups are the product of a third mind that only exists as a combination of the two — it doesn’t exist separate from that,’ ” P-Orridge says. “We say, ‘What happens if we do this to this to the sacred body, the flesh, the obsession?’ We say, ‘Now we have actually cut ourselves up to become a new individual being.’ That’s the pandrogene — the two of us combined in absolute total surrender, fueled by unconditional love.”

The question of whether that is painful misses the deeper intent, P-Orridge says.

“It’s not about, ‘Does it hurt?’ ” s/he says. “It’s about, ‘Is this improving my existence and my relationship with being alive?’ Is this doing something for people around me that’s positive? Is this doing something important for my group, my tribe, my demographic — something that helps them understand being alive, too? And is it something that makes sense to the species in the long term?”

P-Orridge emphatically believes the answer to all those questions is yes.

GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE headlines the No Response Festival at Woodward Theater on June 16. Tickets/more info:

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