Dead Fingers Talk

Mark Jackson

Revisiting Dead Fingers Talk: The Tape Experiments of William S. Burroughs


                                                                               listen to your present time tapes and you will begin to
                                                                               see who you are and what you are doing here mix
                                                                               yesterday in with today and hear tomorrow your future
                                                                               rising out of old recordings
                                                                               everybody splice himself in with everybody else                                                                              

                                                                                                                                       William S. Burroughs


Dead Fingers Talk 2012 – The Mayan Caper is a series of sound art works and experiments by artists, musicians, writers, composers and curators inspired by the work of William Burroughs.

Few writers have exerted as great an influence over such a diverse range of art forms as William Burroughs. Burroughs, author of Naked LunchThe Soft Machine and Junky, continues to be regularly referenced in music, visual art, sound art, film, web-based practice and literature. One typically overlooked, yet critically important, manifestation of his radical ideas about manipulation, technology and society is found in his extensive experiments with tape recorders in the 1960s and ’70s.

In 2010’s Dead Fingers Talk at IMT Gallery, London, contributors were asked to provide a “recording” in response to Burroughs’ tape experiments.  Following on from this Dead Fingers Talk 2012 – The Mayan Caper at Galleri Box revisits some of these diverse works alongside what Burroughs called ‘Playback’ recordings: parapsychic manipulations of time and space that he believed would have definite, sometimes disastrous, effects.

Burroughs’ described his use of the texts and recordings of others as “closer to the facts of perception” than traditional artistic activity, which make his ideas especially relevant today amidst heated discussions on the copyright and reuse of audiovisual culture.

Inspired by the painter Brion Gysin, and yet never meant as art but as a pseudo-scientific investigation of sounds and our relationship to technology and material, Burroughs’ tape experiments provided early examples of interactions essential for artists working in the digital age.  This new exhibition demonstrates the diversity of attitudes to such a groundbreaking period of investigation.

Dead Fingers Talk 2012 – The Mayan Caper includes work by Alma/Joe Ambrose, Steve Aylett, William S. Burroughs and Ian Sommerville, Anthony Joseph, Cathy Lane, Eduardo Navas, Simon Reuben White, Giorgio Sadotti, Scanner, Terre Thaemlitz, Laureana Toledo and Ultra-red, with ‘Playback’ recordings by Alex Baker, Leslie Deere, Phillip Drummond, Lizzie Hughes, Mark Jackson, Duncan McAfee, Charlotte Norwood and Settimio Palermo.

Curated by Mark Jackson for Galleri Box.

The exhibition is presented in collaboration with IMT Gallery, London where Mark Jackson is curator as well as independently. He specialises in sound, audiovisual and inter-disciplinary practices.


All images by Hendrik Zeitler but for Burroughs portrait – Image: Dr. W / Eduardo Navas

With support from