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Writing by Al Neil | Al Neil
Vancouver Art in the Sixties

Writing by Al Neil

This is a selection of writings mostly chosen from his books West Coast Lokas and Changes. Neil began his publishing career with regular features and articles in the Georgia Straight newspaper. The work often focused on the autobiographical and was influential on other writing that followed. Much of Neil’s work was not published, but was used in music compositions, collages and performances.

Al Neil - Excerpt from The Georgia Straight, 1968.

My final bit of advice to my fellow musicians is this.
1. Stop listening to music immediately, especially your own. Sit stock still in the lotus, breathe deeply from the old gut reactor and tune in on some hard-edge electron vibrations and other groovy pataphysical mutterings from the void.
2. Take off them diamond rings and Carnaby Street threads, pack all that crap in just once and stand there balls naked. Stop using music to groove up your stud prowess with chicks. This includes using your axe as an extension of the old skinny-dipper.
3. Stop hiding behind them virtuoso cliche C 7ths motherfucker. More and more people know you are lying.
4. Okay, peace. You are ready to begin. Get out from behind those conditioned reflexes and remember this. Rock-bottom elements of sound: Pitch (any pitch, not just Equal Temperament), timbre (the same tone played by different instruments, the difference in timbre being the result of the energy giving partials and undertones quivering around the tone. This is KLANG). Duration of the sound, its morphology (dying away), dynamics. There is also silence, some say. That’s all we need to know, isn’t it?
5. You get all that together and then by golly, you are now ready to put back on those diamond rings, climb into them Carnaby threads, remember your music lessons.


Now dramatic personal edict calls me, Seamus Finn, master of Essence saddled for the flight of sound and mirth into the back cortex of your skull by way of the formation of basic music turning and returning to the LARGE SPACE OUT THERE, beginning with the awesome howling of the universal human spirit.

Video - "88 Keys"

This silent video by VJ Krista Lomax features the written quotes and photos of Al Neil. During the Al Neil Project (2005), Lomax worked with Carole Itter to produce video collages from Neil’s music and work that were used in the events surrounding the project. We have included some of this video on the site. (8 min. 17 sec.)

Watching the video on this site requires the free Flash Player.

“Visionary Assemblage: A Builder’s Psychosis.” The Capilano Review 2.1 (Fall 1989): 8-9.

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Antonio Gaudi’s great church, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and the crazy soaring junk towers at Watts, Los Angeles, of Simon Rodia (who took the consumerism of the coke bottle to unassailable heights), were structures formed by a certain beatific specific of mind know only to paranoid schizophrenics. With Sam of Watts, as Rodia was locally known, the paranoia was dominant because he alone built the fence keeping away intruders while he was building, ever upwards, his strange lifetime work of genius. The magnificent edifice he created, now known worldwide as the Watts Towers still stands in the black ghetto among memories of fire and blood of the riots of 1968. Rodia had skills, bravery and dedication of an unknown nature.

The conjunction of form, content and found material actualized in the object has always been a goal of us latter-day collagists and assemblagists; in my case to work within and overcome my well-founded paranoia and schizophrenia.

In music, when tones roll they split into configurations of waves called the sine, either out of the throat or from sublime ancient instruments such as the flute. From this meditation comes the timbre, the sounds of the body in relation to the spirit and the aether.

What we like-minded musicians are intent on is worrying the airwaves by inserting other sine waves into the aether to boost up the world sound timbre into the positive skull or carapace of the heavens where it could reflect back positively from red or blue planets and contribute to saving the earth. By these means, the forensic dissolution of the sound waves are once and ever controlled and into the bounds and charter of the right to beauty. So, in sound I practice gathering the castoff junksounds around all of us and bring them into the power of the combine.

I think great store should be put in the appearance of anomaly. The twisted and conjoined space between evil and perfection is manichean and will never be reached, but there is a slim opening in collage music for the Klangfarben to lustre; a sun ray through a crystal. When playing music in this manner, after long minutiae of tautology, one can see or feel a blinding light and hear it: then there is nothing and a return to tautology.

Here’s to Gaudi, Sam of Watts, Hieronymus Bosch, Paolo Soleri. Indeed, to all the members of the paraschizoid gang who did not die before leaving their brief signature of all things, just as did the great mystic, Jakob Böhme. Those matters of art and spirit are always in my mind and hold me to the earth, in midst of wars and pestilence.

Finally, let’s hear it for Kurt Schwitters, who had no trouble with his psychic demons. The great master of Hanover simply ignored the international art racket and worked daily with his psycho-pathological energy on his MERZ house, caverns of plaster and junk.

Anyone in his right or left mind would have to say that Paolo Soleri’s earth-silt dwelling and sculpture in the Arizona desert at Arcosanti fit right in there with the idea of the pathology of the builders I am writing about. The dream of building one’s own habitat with castoffs and built to the summit of confusion to all but the artists themselves justified finally the bizarre spirituality of their work and, of course, the longevity of the work and the wonder of its being.

The amazing structures at Hanover, Barcelona, Watts and Arcosanti were and are ornamented with useless fabrics of spiritual quest. That is to say it was a pathological and manichean quest by Schwitters, Gaudi, Rodia and Soleri to back off evil and destruction they could see every day, and design and assemble huge spaces where only the good, bright and beautiful could survive.

I’m not a philosopher, I’m an artist. But as a paraphrenic, I would have gone straight inside walls as a basket case, or into the ground, kill or be killed, stared doubly at walls, if it hadn’t been for the examples of Soleri, Schwitters, Gaudi and Rodia who dedicated their pathologies to, in some cases, useless assemblages to the human spirit.

It is no new insight to speak of schizophrenic art saving the mind of man, or woman or even child from disintegration, atrophy, catatonia, or pills, dope, electroshock, the looney bin. I’ve known since the early ‘60’s that I am a paranoid schizo, and in hindsight much earlier. This is no big deal to harness the split or divide the line between the I and the thou, the manichean and the perfect, to form up the disparate into the One.