Live from the Orgone Accumulator – What’s in a Name?
In The Century of the Self, a trailblazing documentary series for the BBC in 2002, Adam Curtis explores how psychoanalysis begat the advertising/marketing techniques that transformed Western society into a consumerist hellscape (my words) from the mid- to late-20th century. If you haven’t seen it, go ye forth.
Greg and I have been watching Adam Curtis films for many years, and while we can always find something to bitch about, his ideas are powerful and, in my world, mostly correct. As such, they’ve melded with my thinking and writing. (Très dangereux!)
We recently released the first Doctor Body EP. Now, Doctor Body is a project with vocals, but it’s not a project about vocals. It’s improvisatory, it’s weird, it’s experimental, and it’s NOT about singing a song. You can check it out if you want to see what I mean:
Naming projects where the music revolves around the vocals is generally a pretty easy task: some bit from some song stands out, and that becomes the name. Or there’s some overarching theme that just calls out to be the name. But a Doctor Body release has nothing like that. It needs a name that comes from the id, just like its music. Which brings me back to psychoanalysis and the Century of the Self.
While I won’t make Adam Curtis’s full argument here, the general gist of the series is that Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, began to realize in the 1920s that psychology and psychoanalysis could be used not just to manipulate the individual, but to manipulate the masses as well, thus laying the groundwork for the teeming evil that is corporate marketing today. Once the ball start rolling in this direction, it didn’t stop.
A powerful figure in this history is called Wilhelm Reich, a disciple of Freud’s in the 1920s who split off from Freud when he challenged his view of psychoanalysis. For both Freud and Reich, human beings were driven by primitive animal instincts. They differed, however, on what to do with these instincts. Freud thought our unconscious minds were a seething pit of violence, and they should be repressed.
For Reich, these unconscious forces were the best part of people, and it was their repression by society that made people dangerous and unpredictable. Not only that, the driving force at the center of humans was the libido, a wildly powerful energy. If humans were able to release this energy in its pure form, they would be happy and powerful. Not to get too racy, but people should be having insane orgasms all the time to be mentally and emotionally healthy.
This was a problem for the Freud clan. By the 30s, the Freudian branch of psychoanalysis was dominant, and led by Anna Freud, who was a virgin and against sexuality. So Wilhelm Reich was cast out of the psychoanalysis community. As many European societal cast-offs were wont to do at the time, he ended up moving to the USA.
Shortly after, he became convinced that he had discovered the source of libidinal energy, which he called “orgone energy.” He could capture orgone energy*, he thought, by building Farraday cages and other machines that could pull the energy from the environment and concentrate it. He called these machines “orgone accumulators.”
He was eventually arrested by federal authorities because he claimed to be curing cancer with his orgone accumulators. He died in prison, completely cast out by the psychological establishment.
But although his orgone accumulators couldn’t cure cancer, ironically his ideas would experience a resurgence that would lead to a cancer of their own — libidinally-charged, hyper-individual advertising techniques, and the death of the counter-culture movement in favor of a radical individualism that became a radical consumerism. Or, so says Adam Curtis.
But what does this have to do with Doctor Body, you ask?
Doctor Body is the musical outlet where both Greg and I get to put our conscious minds away, and let our unconscious and subconscious minds drive the bus. We try to throw away our song-writing and compositional techniques and let the powerful forces have free rein.
Music is, in itself, a powerful and primal force. So in our ideal world, we, the musicians of Doctor Body, would be channeling this powerful force in its raw form. To do this, we could really use a machine to help. An orgone accumulator.
So yeah, there you go. The connections may be under the surface and not so obvious, but they’re strong, and you can find them if you look. Really, there couldn’t be a more perfect Doctor Body title!
* Also interesting and fun — orgone as a concept went on to be co-opted by many insane and/or dishonest people, including Sherry Shriner, the head of a reptilian alien conspiracy cult. Orgone wielded by her followers saved people from countless alien attacks, including an entire Super Bowl! If this sounds fun to you, check out the Sherry Shriner season of The Opportunist podcast.