These recordings, made in 2001 in the weeks before September 11, constitute a unique historical document. They are spoken-word adaptations of scenes taken from Destroy All Monsters, the first book by acclaimed writer and pop culture alchemist Ken Hollings. A multistranded postmodern epic, Destroy All Monsters offers a radical retelling of Desert Storm, Americas military operation targeting Iraq, using imagery derived from MTV videos, CNN news reports, Japanese kaiju movies and anime, Hong Kong action flicks and tales of alien abduction. The books entire narrative nervously unfolds in an unstable of world of terror monsters, wrecked cities and dangerously tall buildings: where an event like 9/11 is inevitable. The book was officially launched on September 13, but distribution in the United States was delayed when ports on the Eastern Seaboard were closed to shipping post 9/11, leaving copies of the book stranded in the Atlantic. Published the very week of the attacks on America, Toby Litt wrote at the time, Destroy All Monsters is genuinely, spookily prescient as a progress report on Planet Earth, it seems to have timeslipped onto the front pages. Lydia Lunch praised it as a hallucinogenic spiral into future nightmare, while The Scotsman called it mind bending reading.
In the summer of 2001, Ken Hollings was approached by sound designer and electronic music composer Simon James, who wanted to create an audio adaptation of scenes from the novel to share with subscribers to a spoken word channel launched by totallyradio. The idea was to record Ken reading his own words and then embed them in a soundscape that evoked the fragmented complexity of the original text. Ken concentrated on a small handful of threads from the overall narrative, while Simon directed and engineered the final recording. This resulted in the two sequences of words, sounds and electronic tonalities contained on this audiocassette: an unsettling portrait of people about to be overtaken by events.
In October 2001, having just got married in London, Ken and Rachel Hollings went to New York for their honeymoon, just as they had originally planned. They spent an unforgettable week in a city struggling to recover from the seismic changes that had just taken place while a sudden wave of anthrax attacks on government and media offices filled the news cycles. Rachel took a photograph of Ken at Ground Zero, where crowds of onlookers continued to gather, and the air still smelled of burning.
Ken Hollings is a writer and broadcaster whose main concern is the relationship between culture and technology. He has written and presented numerous critically acclaimed features for BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and Resonance 104.4 FM His other books include Welcome to Mars, The Bright Labyrinth, The Space Oracle and Inferno all available from Strange Attractor/MIT Press. His latest book, Purgatory, is due from Strange Attractor in Spring 2022.
Simon James is a producer, musician and sound designer based in Brighton, UK, whose work combines electronic sources with field recording techniques and sound treatments, using sound to transport the listener to fantastical audio worlds. Simons latest release, Electro Smog, collects electromagnetic field recordings from Shenzhens electronic markets, recorded while he was in China at the invitation of Musicity and The British Council.
The Destroy All Monsters audio adaptations marked the first occasion Ken and Simon worked together subsequently they collaborated on the 12-part series Welcome to Mars for Resonance 104.4 FM and Connecting, an audio portrait of the original phone phreaks, for BBC Radio 3. In 2021 they teamed up again to make Fast Forward, a six-part documentary series for Kasperksy Lab.