Shriekback - Nemesis

Shriekback on Tumblr

Barry has created a blog on Tumblr, and has written an intriguing bit of Shriek history. It certainly cleared up some of my original assumptions that they were dabblers in the occult.

You can see the original post at the Shriekbackmusic Tumblr, and I am also pasting it here, for the purpose of posterity.

Of Oracles

Shriekback always had a bit of a thing for oracles (or ‘oracular systems’ when pretension was high). We would stay up late interrogating the Oblique Strategies or the Tarot about what next to do with a new (or intractable) piece of sonic weirdness.

It was an 80’s zeitgeist thing, possibly -I didn’t know many people who hadn’t flirted with the I-Ching, albeit on a ‘keep-doing-it-till-it-says-something-intelligible-that-you-like’ basis- and maybe, also, a stage-of-life feature (one’s late 20’s being a time of big choices rendered more, not less, intimidating by your experience of life so far).

At any rate, there was a whole lotta consulting going on: the Rider Waite Tarot and it’s hauntingly enigmatic images (the Hanged Man and the Fool both featuring in early Shriek artwork and video), Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies (‘trust in the you of now’, ‘Cascades’), the I-Ching (‘it furthers the superior man to cross the great water’) the latter crossing into the mystic and then, completely esoterically: astrology, numerology, quasi-shamanic nature veneration (‘as I was doing my flowering tree ceremony I saw two crows flying south’). Not tea-leaves though (maybe a bag thing).

For consideration: what are we actually doing when we consult these things and why would you expect them to work? The answer is usually something like this: ‘I am aligning myself with the Forces of the Universe of which these apparently trivial things (as a result of my using them in this way) are an expression’ (which implies belief in invisible, arguably ‘spiritual’, energies) or else: (more De Bono-esquely) ‘I am trying to shift my rational mind out of it’s established rut by introducing random elements which will confuse and disable it such that a deeper, more creative part of my mind may assert itself’ (ie this is a trick I’m playing on my mind to get it to work more effectively -which is a rational position whether or not it works)
Sometimes -often, in comparative youth- the two might cross over. I hadn’t quite gotten over the idea that the Universe took a personal interest in me (after all, as David Foster Wallace says, ‘I had never had an experience that I wasn’t at the absolute centre of’) so it was ‘significant’, for example, that I pulled the card that said ‘do the washing up’. It could mean that I, in my life generally, needed to take care of lowly stuff, of the everyday necessities so that my larger creativity could then flow.
You see how easily an ostensible ‘strategy’ turns from a literal imperative into a semi-philosophical, attractively positive, prophetic utterance?
But, hold on, just because a random card told you something which you felt was meaningful does that discredit the ‘advice’ it gave? Perhaps the world is a mirror of our inner lives if we decide it is? And perhaps the oracles are just a way of deciding to make specific things meaningful. A randomly selected sample of the world which we can use to evaluate life?
And, further, if this is true at certain ceremonial times then it is potentially true all the time. Which is a bit overwhelming.
Of course this comes with all the necessary caveats: we see what we want to see, for a start.

Woody Allen’s famous diss of astrology -that he would believe in it if the horoscope said that tomorrow all the Capricorns will be hit by an egg truck and it happened- was preempted by the very impressive results from King Croesus’s comparative study of oracles back in 560 BC. He commissioned all 7 top oracles of the time to prophecy what he (Croesus) was doing at a particular moment. Apparently, the top-of-the-line Delphic Oracle aced it by correctly reporting that he was making a lamb and tortoise stew. Leaving aside culinary queasiness and the rather charming image of King (‘rich as’) Croesus making his own lunch we see a specificity in this which is untypical of oracular usage. Typically oracles have to be vague enough for us to project our own circumstances onto them.
Subsequent events, however, showed Croesus to have been somewhat cavalier with the good folks at Delphi. When he asked if he should attack the Persians and was told that, if he did so, ‘a great empire will be destroyed’ he neglected to ask which one, went ahead and had his own empire sacked by the Persians. Derr, one is tempted to add.

The other thing that can colour oracular objectivity is, of course, the question put to it. Questions -like stories- though their specifics are infinite, take only a very few general shapes:
(a) ‘I’m doing something I have mixed feelings about, should I carry on, modify or stop it?
(b) there’s something that I want, am not sure if I can have it, can I, and, if so, how?

Shriekback devised an oracular ‘Jar’ the contents of which are below, each phrase on a separate piece of paper and picked randomly from a jamjar. The thinking behind it was to address ambivalent situations with an approach that had worked in the past. It was often quite useful. Probably the single most effective was ‘explain yourself’ (one sentence).

Shriekback’s Wisdom in a Jar

the only way out is through

same thing all the way through at regular intervals

Draconian Measures

'it's only a demo'

No Shame : No Blame

remove anything even mildly unsound

To the Batpoles!

be indecently beautiful



explain yourself (1 sentence)

have a wank

make a nice cup of tea

get out of the building

shoot it through the head

It’s completely brillliant!!

don’t resist the line of least resistance

what about sex??

do the most interesting thing (without regard for the consequences)

break the monotony

avoid unnecessary suffering

keep faith with the original inspiration



be flexible

imitate your hero/heroine

make some money

silence, exile and cunning

make no bones about it

be petulant

be flexible

Deep Thort

5 minutes to live

it’s only a thought

give it away

sacrifice something important

run it up the flagpole

do something weird

The Big Picture

be a glacier

get some juice behind you

establish base camp

get some scaffolding

a very strict discipline

be a stickler for form

New Smells

run a tight ship


turn something down

do something degraded

get physical
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as laugh in watchers would hear!!!
very interesting. Want to read it again later. Thanks for sharing.