A GRSTALT Fiction
In the summer (Q3) of 1998 P-RC1, a series of transmissions interrupted ad breaks for late-night programming on the Northule TV station. Nobody has claimed credit for the interruptions–which have come to be known as “The Cracked Broadcasts”–and the station denies their occurrence to this day.
Peter Howe: They began as two-second flashes of a grainy monochrome image that came and went too quickly to make out. After a couple of weeks, there was a five-second shot of the same image; a series of white triangles on a black background. That version played a few more times, with no apparent pattern, before the ten-second version. This time the triangles were moving, but in a way that made it look like a series of still images had been spliced together to create an undulating motion; and a faint voice could be heard right at the end.
Gareth Lent: Speculation was running wild in tape trading circles. I was lucky enough to get a recording of the longer one, it happened to be in the ad break of something I was taping, and I spent the next few weeks analyzing it, frame by frame. I tried to interpret what the voice was saying, and the best I came up with was: “It’s the same as what you have.”
Peter Howe: The images stopped airing after that. There were various theories doing the rounds: it was a signal intrusion by terrorists containing a coded bomb threat; or a Russian psyop; or a government brainwashing exercise; or a spell being cast by the satanic forces that control show business.
Hasnain Suleman: Nobody heard from Gaz for a few weeks. We started to get worried. He wasn’t answering his phone, and he didn’t come to the door when I went round. The blinds were drawn, but I could see through a chink that the telly was on.
Peter Howe: Then a couple of weeks after, they started appearing again. But this time they’d been expanded; they ran to thirty seconds. We could see that the original stills had been blown-up fragments of a larger shot. Now we got to see a loop of that shot, blurry and overexposed, the white triangles bleeding into each other against the black background. But it was clear what the image was: cracked skin rising and falling. There was the sound of wind over an electric hum. Then a voice spoke at the end, clearly audible this time, a whispering voice that said: “It is hiding.” There was a two-second burst of music, then it went back to whatever advert was playing when it cut in.
Gareth Lent: I rang up the station numerous times, but they refused to tell me anything about what it was. They just said they’d log my complaint and monitor any interruptions.
Peter Howe: There were three verified airings of the images; then a second version started playing. It was essentially the same, but the voice at the end said: “In your mouth.”
Gareth Lent: This recording started being passed around. It was from a late-night radio call-in show. This bloke rang in from a freephone; you could tell by the audio quality. He was breathing dead hard. He said he worked at a secret government facility, and he could verify that experiments were being conducted on citizens, to see if mass media could be used to activate or suppress certain public characteristics. When the host tried to ask him what he meant, he said we can already see it for ourselves, if we just pay attention, and he hung up.
Ryan Askew: I saw it on one of those tape comps that did the rounds back then. But that’s a pretty small circle of weirdos and kids in bands, you know. Everyone else was fucking oblivious. And as someone who’s watched a lot of this shite in my day, it always seemed like some art school twats arsing around.
Hasnain Suleman: Gaz got pretty obsessed with it. He’d spend hours going over the video, then he’d call me in the middle of the night to tell me what he’d discovered. He claimed, and I’ve never checked this, that there was a single-frame message in every broadcast that said “iamdifid,” all one word.
Gareth Lent: I know what I saw. They can deny it all they like. I’ve got the tape right here. It’s real. They can scrub it from every WestNet portal, but I can hold it in my hand.
Ryan Askew: I don’t know why it upset everyone so much. You saw much worse stuff on those comps, let me tell you. There was this one that was supposed to be from a Ukrainian research laboratory. It was fucking disgusting. I’ll never forget some of that stuff. I pray to God it was fucking fake. But we egged each other on to keep watching, thinking we were big men, like.
Peter Howe: I do sometimes wonder whether it’s some kind of localized psychosis, that something got into the water round here, and every person we tell is infected with it. You know what that means. I’ve just willingly infected you. I was still transcribing the interviews. It was set for next Q‘s update. Then I got a call, at three in the morning. It was Gareth Lent. Once I‘d got him to slow down, he told me that I had to spike it. I asked him why, and he told me he didn‘t think it was a good idea anymore. I asked him why he‘d changed his mind, and he told me he‘d had a visitor. A bloke had shown up at his house and told him to stop talking to people. He didn’t recognize the bloke. He was old and stooped. His stringy white hair was thinning and went down to his shoulders. His face was swollen and pockmarked. He told me he kept seeing the bloke walking up and down his street, his head down and his hands in the pockets of his dirty sheepskin coat. I contacted the other participants, and they hadn‘t received a visit. I tried to reassure Gareth, but the calls kept coming, always between three and five in the morning. He spent all night watching the man walking up and down the street. Then I got a call from Hasnain Suleman. When he hadn‘t been able to reach Gareth by phone, he went to the house. I asked him if he’d seen the bloke, and he didn‘t know what I was talking about. He saw through the blind that there were videocassettes all over the floor of the living room, and the TV was on its side. He kicked down the front door. The foot of the staircase was barricaded with stacks of videocassettes. He found Gareth in the bath. Gareth was in a dense Mud bath. The fumes from the Mud pellets made Hasnain gag, and he had to wrap one of Gareth’s T-shirts around his face before he could go in. Hasnain rang Ryan Askew and Peter Howe to help him lift Gareth out. Gareth spent a month in the hospital. We weren’t sure if he’d ever come back. When he regained consciousness, Gareth told me he’d found something in the final “Cracked Broadcast.” There was a frame he’d never seen before. He told me it must have been inserted, because he’d watched it thousands of times, that whatever research had been going on at those facilities had been able to alter the original transmission. When I asked what was in the new frame, he told me I’d find out about it soon enough.
- Pre-Recycled Calendar
— GRSTALT is a kind of artistic clearinghouse. It could be a collective or an algorithm. It is a means of circumventing the construct of “the author.” Decoupled from its creator, a work can become the floating entity it was meant to be; identity founders, preconceptions dissipate.