active maas

The blog of smart core writer Robert Maas

Robert Maas on drugs

This year, as well as a new novel, I’ve published two books about hallucinogenic drugs. A stretch, you might say. But drugs have always been a part of the Robert Maas universe. They’re what make it so dark, and so full of stars.

Most of my novels are a nightmare ride on bad chemicals, whether or not this is acknowledged in the text. For example, Grand Funk Central takes place in a New York mutated by alien drugs into a landscape threatening and strange. More threatening and strange than normal, anyway. The drug-like effects in the novel cause its characters, including a narrator called Michael Lourekas, who is also on a kind of everlasting amphetamine, to lose touch with reality, and to descend into paranoia and psychosis.

Michael is trapped in multiple prisons, including his own mind. He eventually discovers twin truths: anything he desires is permitted, but everything he experiences will be tainted with horror. As time slows toward a halt, he risks being ossified forever in a moment in time, much like the survivors of the Mosh he encounters, trapped half in a tree that had somehow fused into their bodies.

Out in space, the characters marooned on a retrieval ship in Residuum need to take powerful drugs to operate on their strenuous mission, though these drugs also cause devastating side-effects including nightmare horrors and madness. Sober reality, introduced into the plot in the form of an outsider called Nomi (perhaps shorthand for “normality”?), is more debilitating still.

I wrote Residuum in third person, but its purposefully choppy, staccato prose is a means of viewing events as if the reader is inside the madness of its characters where things that are familiar take on leering, gruesome new identities and language itself is disagreeable: quasi-sexual words such as puun, vulm, and yysch are used to describe everyday objects. When I talk of eyes in the walls, I do mean eyes, and the coprophagous toilets really are mouths.

Biome is about a drug that causes depression and a catatonic withdrawal from the world.

In The Music of The Rending Of The Night by Kare Mois, my most extreme and drug-haunted work, I follow a female narrator through ever-worsening drug experiences toward the horror of the bone room, which is an eternal bad trip.

In the third section of that novel, my characters are only able to find release with the use of a literally debilitating drug called Ambient that locks the body rigid while the mind whirls in disconnected madness somewhere that isn’t the gruesome fact of their imprisonment. The same drug is purposefully pumped into the same people as part of the urban control of the first refraction of this story, A Thousand Years Of Nanking.

‘Crossing The River,’ a short story in my collection Born From Ash, is, I think, the earliest story I have published, and might be seen as the origin of the entire Robert Maas obsession with nightmare rides on bad chemicals. In that tale a girl takes a type of hallucinogen that causes her to become literally unhinged in time, stuck in a loop in which she will relive the experience forever. It’s a first visit to the bone room, and a clear forerunner of some of the themes of Grand Funk Central.

So this is a world steeped in dangerous drugs, just like our own. Drugs that warp and destroy. But also drugs that keep you alive, and form moments of release from an even worse reality.

In other words, it’s a subject I know well. Hence Fantastic Trips earlier this year, a 780-page survey of how hallucinogens have guided and inspired humanity from our earliest primate ancestors bashing on a hollow log to the Boredoms’ drum bliss. And my latest release, Trippersonics, a wild and (in itself) hallucinogenic plunge into the most extreme psychedelic music ever created.

For each of 125 examples of this music, I provide an overview, a terrain map that shows you what to expect when you play it, and a frivolous, humorous, or merely irrelevant guide that explains the kinds of associations the music gives me. Some are descriptions of the music itself. Others are a trippy blur of images, or even short stories and poems.

Trippersonics is a formal construct, an absurdity played out over 240 pages with a straight face, but it is also one of the most heartfelt and genuine things I’ve ever written, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. It’s the work of many years, and part of a project of music journalism that I expect to take up much more of my time in the near future.

Even if you have no interest in psychedelic music, Trippersonics is something to savor and enjoy much like, for example, you might savor and enjoy a book on 125 bizarre species of Amazonian beetle even if you have no intention ever of going to the Amazon basin. Particularly if your curator and guide feels the urge to burst into poetry every so often.

Below is an example from Trippersonics, this one part of the guide to Pauline Oliveros’s 1966 piece ‘Big Mother Is Watching You.’ Enjoy the ride. Oh yes, and remember that in Biome the alien construct on Venus is called Oliveros. There’s probably a reason for that.

The chainsaw gang is looking for blood. Its rusty blades snicker. In rain-gnawed corners under iron bridges the victims hunch deeper in the shadows. They hear the motorbikes coming. They hear the throaty growl of the instruments. They hear the wild high keening of the gang. A young mother presses her rag-wrapped baby closer to her breast. Maybe tonight it will be her neighbor who is dragged out to be dismembered on the street. Maybe tonight will be another night she has survived.

You’re in the brown room, strung naked to the ceiling. Your toes claw uselessly at the splattered palimpsest of the floor. The chain bites into your wrists. It clanks as you heave your body sideways, trying uselessly to be free. In endless procession, in identical cells all around you, a constant background ambience of fear and pain and hopelessness, you hear the beating and screaming of the others.

The door bangs open. He’s young, this gang member. His eyes are pitiless beads in the sneering mask of his face. An electric drill with a long coil of a blade is cradled in his arms. You jerk at the chains, and then hang still, exhausted by terror. He’s not here to ask you questions. He’s not here to force a confession. He doesn’t want anything from you at all except your slow mutilation.

‘Big Mother Is Watching You’ is the sound of the ultimate authority long after that authority has turned the way of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. It is a world past the death of humanity, a place bored even by the torture and execution of pretend dissidents and traitors. The man slides the drill into your flesh with machine-like efficiency. It’s as if the entire act is choreographed. Your thigh, now. The music changes. And now your groin. He awaits, patiently, with no emotion at all, the next cue, and then presses the bloodied bit against your breastbone. He stands back. He shows no reaction to your screaming. You do not exist at all. And now your skull.

Trippersonics is available to buy in paperback on Amazon. The links are here. Don’t wait for a Kindle version. It’s a book purposefully designed to hold in your hands, and will never be available to buy in electronic format.


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