Sunk Head

Orbital Operations for 5 May 2024

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta, where I find myself busier than expected — I’m scripting at the same time as I’m developing a new project and cutting a trailer, and so absolutely sunk down in competing trains of thought that I can’t get into newsletter mode — so I’ve dragged a long fragment out of the archive for your hoped-for amusement.







Letters about the creative life by Warren Ellis, a writer from England. Was this forwarded to you? Subscribe.


📖 “Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial vessels dry; this is repeated over and over; eventually it can be calculated in advance and becomes part of the ceremony.” THE APHORISMS OF FRANZ KAFKA (UK) (US).

🎙️ MOUNTAINLORE by Laura Cannell, fourth in her year-long series of EPs.

🖉 I was talking to Troy Nixey the other day and he introduced me to the work of Polish surrealist artist Zdzislaw Beksinski, which just blew me away. Completely inspirational. Start with his WikiArt page.



“It is good to chase one’s dreams, but bad, as it mostly turns out, to be chased by them.”

Franz Kafka

Pirate television used to be a science fiction signifier. MAX HEADROOM, for instance. Its overwhelming mediapocalyptic televisionscape may kindly be considered prescient, if not obvious, but one of its more charming elements was the pirate tv station Big Time, run from a converted Winnebago by ancient British punk Blank Reg (the incomparable William Morgan Sheppard) . The first MAX HEADROOM tv film, aired in 1987, was subtitled 20 MINUTES INTO THE FUTURE. Pirate television was already 22 years old. The first pirate television broadcast that I know of was transmitted from Sunk Head, an illegally-occupied Sea Fort off the coast of Essex.

On 9 November 1965, at around 4.20 in the morning, a hundred-foot aerial atop the four-storey-high Sunk Head tower chucked a signal across eleven miles of water and fourteen miles inland. The broadcast was reportedly a still image, ghostly and monochrome: a white globe with a star and two Ts atop it, and the name of the nascent pirate tv station: Tower TV.

Sometimes I think that the real world was always moving faster than science fiction: it’s just that back then the real future was broadcasting at 4.20 in the bloody morning and no-one was around to see it.

Everything is happening at once. In the emergent digital condition of reclamation, archiving and open access, there is at least two generations whose concept of cultural time is completely confused by the fact that Nirvana can be discovered in exactly the same context as a new band.

(My kid’s ears just pricked up and she’s about to text me to call me an arse for that one.)

This was a big concern in the 2010s: architect Rem Koolhaas’ “Cronocaos”, music writer Simon Reynolds’ “Retromania.” and Bruce Sterling’s popularisation of “atemporality.” Sometimes it felt like there is very little difference between right now and, say, 1966 – the year Philip K Dick published NOW WAIT FOR LAST YEAR, the year after Tower TV whispered across the water. Now it’s just the ectoplasm we breathe in every day.

In 1966, Delia Derbyshire pays for Pink Floyd's taxi as they visit her at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett is months away from the beginning of his end. Yoko Ono is months away from being naked on Delia Derbyshire's floor for no particular reason. The INTERNATIONAL TIMES recently commenced publication, launching at a Pink Floyd gig. (Radio Tower is now broadcasting spottily from Sunk Head, in international waters.) The film THE WITCHES, written by QUATERMASS creator Nigel Kneale, has been released. It was Kneale who both brought science fiction to British tv, in its very earliest days, and also the writer who most strongly yoked modern sf to haunted histories. And issue 7 of radical architecture magazine ARCHIGRAM is published, under the theme of “beyond architecture,” packaged with a resistor, to denote, in the words of Archigram member Dennis Crompton, the “end of the Faraday era, if you like, where the ways of processing electrons were through valves and various devices that were based on late Nineteenth century discoveries.”

Crompton goes on to describe one piece of the magazine, as written by Warren Chalk: “it’s a letter from Warren to David about ghosts and phantoms. And again, it’s Warren thinking out loud, as you might say, thinking that ghosts are his memories of the past in architectural design and music and social events, and the phantoms are from the future.”

1966: University of Strasbourg Student Union funds are lifted by Situationist sympathisers to print Andre Bertrand's short comic RETURN OF THE DURUTTI COLUMN, which used stills from Hollywood movies in a process then termed detournement: familiar materials recontextualised in opposition (or at strange angles) to their original intent. This is something so common on the internet now that some people may not know there's a word for it. It became the way we piss about on the net and do our business.

Everything is collage, everything needs prior art. And now we have nothing but prior art, decades of it, endlessly accessible for our needs, the constant ectoplasm we draw down into our screens.

(The only useful Google hit I could find for Andre Bertrand ten years ago was, funnily enough, the Wikipedia page for an attorney who specialises in copyright law.)

Hell, most of our popular commercial art now is collage of some kind.

1966: and Dr Konstantin Raudive is listening to the radio. He is inside a Radio Frequency (RF)-screened laboratory. He is hunched over the radio, a microphone, and a tape recorder, listening intently to a dead frequency in the medium band. He is listening for the voices of ghosts. This is what he called Electronic Voice Phenomena: the idea that the dead are speaking to us through radio, somewhere down deep in the medium wave, around 29 megacycles.

Today, EVP is more commonly termed Instrumental Trans-Communication by the ghost hunters of the world: ectoplasmic informational traffic between the spirit world and any electronic device. Including, of course, networked digital devices.

What if they weren’t ghosts, but phantoms?

Sunk Head, by the way, was blown up with more than two tons of plastic explosive in 1967. The light and heat from the blast could be seen and felt more than fourteen miles away.

I was born six months later.



At that embed link, the first look clip from Coppola’s MEGALOPOLIS. If the embed doesn’t work - I haven’t tried that before - this direct link may work.

I build myself playlists on Amazon Music so I can play them over the Echo in the kitchen and I wonder how many people remember this one, currently sitting at the top of a playlist simply named “OLD”:

Normal service will resume next week.




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The best “build once, sell twice” asset.

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Sometimes I just put my hands in my lap, close my eyes and count my breaths for five minutes. After a few, my breathing naturally slows down. The first time it did that, I learned something new: in observing breath, you observe how much you don’t breathe - the pauses between breathing. It’s weird. Observe the pause. Especially when it feels like the world just will not stop and everything is happening at once. There are pauses you can live in, where everything is quiet and you can catch up a bit. Look after yourself. See you next week.


I’m represented by Angela Cheng Caplan at the Cheng Caplan Company, Joel VanderKloot at VanderKloot Law and David Hale Smith at Inkwell Management. Please add [email protected] to your email system’s address book or contacts and move this to your primary folder when you get a minute, thanks.