The James Worse Public Address Method: oxtensmoot

Navel-Gazers #24 is an interview with James Worse who is going to talk to us about oxtensmoot. It’s not exactly uncommon for an artist to dabble in a wide variety of media formats - sound, visual, video, words - in fact nowadays, maybe that’s the norm. And yet it’s not often that we encounter a multimedia artist quite like Jim. He’s got a sensibility which is so definitive and so distinct as to be instantly recognisable… whether he’s working with instrumental electronics, abstract videos, fabric designs, homemade typefaces and fonts, or spoken recitations in his imaginary “worsicle” nonsense language, you probably know it’s James Worse, or you’ve got a hunch. (If you’re hip)! After poking through Jim’s “public address method” discography over the past year, this recent 32-track release ‘oxtensmoot’ strikes me as particularly special. There’s a confluence of different elements here - electronics with speech especially - which I’m not taking for granted as it hasn’t necessarily occurred on the previous albums. And with the rapid succession of tracks I find the whole thing just riveting. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the “public address method”, in all its forms and incarnations… so who is James Worse? What makes this guy tick? Let’s find out..

AC: Thanks for doing this Jim! As I mentioned above, you’re an artist who bounces around from medium to medium, so first of all I’m wondering, what came first for you originally? The poetry, the music, the drawing? And where did it come from? And when?

James Worse: Thanks Andrew, I’m really pleased you’re digging what I’m doing! I’m grateful to have a chance to explain myself.

Firstly, I have to mention that everything I do is related to autism – my creative life is my interface with the world. It’s entirely possible that no-one will want to hear or think about the subject of autism, but it is intrinsic to my practice, it affects many, many people and I won’t shy away from it. More than that, I feel duty bound to address it.

It was through experiences with sound as a withdrawn kid that I understood a sensory relationship with my environment was possible. I began rhythmically drumming on objects, not to create music, but as a mental stimulation. It feels amazing to tap and drum on things and I do it a lot, it is my primary stim and it won’t ever stop. Doing this I experience a chemical high that is honestly more effective creatively than any prescribed or recreational drug I’ve ever used.

I use noise-cancelling headphones when I’m out and about, with a randomized playlist of sounds I’ve generated which help me to avoid sensory overload, panic attacks and stress. It has only recently dawned on me to what extent this motivates my sound creation. I don’t know if other folks have benefited from my sounds in this way. I’d be overjoyed if it were to happen – there is no data available on this as yet!

As I get older, I’ve noticed the different strands or disciplines of creativity becoming less distinct, so maybe I’m becoming more comfortable in my working methods. I feel as if it is all one organism that I need to treat well and respect, to permit it to wander and diverge and to allow it to make its own mistakes. I try not to question its motives. Writing feeds drawing feeds percussion feeds dreaming feeds ideas for something else. It’s the genuine me, I suppose – my physical self is fairly lost in this world. I find it painfully difficult and exhausting to communicate verbally, I just don’t pick up on the unspoken signals and nuances that are second nature to neurotypical people.

AC: Your comment about the difficulty and exhaustion of communicating verbally reminds me of an interview I did. The emails were so wasn't going well. At one point I offered to switch to video chat. It turned out to be one of my favourites. It hadn't occurred to me some people are more comfortable talking than typing - I'm the opposite. It sounds as though you're the same in this regard? Presumably you'd dislike a video chat (from what you said) but you seem comfortable typing. So your invented language - does that appeal to you as a more natural mode of communication?

James Worse: Forming my own language has been a source of infinite comfort and no small degree of joy for me – I am switching the narrative with it, in my universe I’m immovably correct and it’s the rest of the world that is struggling. The more emphatically stated the better I enjoy it. It is a mockery of verbal pomposity. I can’t stand people who assume a role of authority. Boris Johnson is the epitome of this, adopting an unwarranted posture of superiority through a performative display of linguistics. Everybody knows it’s all bollocks, but he still persists.

I hate the way language and text are weaponized to diminish us, to stop people thinking freely or to subvert their thinking. The words you use, the accent you have are signifiers that others respond to in the manner they are accustomed to. I like to think of myself as humbly chipping away at the linguistic structures that impoverish our lives. Ironically, in my answers here I am required to employ numerous grammatical and syntactic pirouesques to communicate what I want to say effectively. Piroesques appeared automatically before I could type pirouette and it definitely works better. This is my life.

Worsicles appear to me from nowhere, sometimes as an entire stream of sentences, sometimes single words, sometimes when I’m responding to a straightforward question (see ‘pirouesque’ above). I link these fragments together in a way that feels good and then I perform them. I love saying these words. I luxuriate in them, for me they have a richness and potency that is profoundly satisfying! They are themselves a verbal stim. They stretch and distort and acquire meaning and relevance to me once they are spoken aloud. I love to print my stuff, but the words are designed to be spoken. I love to imagine people reading my broadsides aloud to each other.

For decades, I have had a fixation with Surrealism and Dada and read everything I can get hold of on these subjects. Liberating the subconscious is a deeply seductive notion and it is clear to me that Worsicles come from that vivid realm of dreamery.

I imagine there may be those that think I’m trying to be whacky or far-out with my stuff and how I present it, but it is genuinely all a manifestation of my obsessions, it’s heartfelt and intuitive and is the only way I have of connecting to a landscape, a language, a social structure and a set of conventions which I experience as distant, hostile and overwhelming. I have to do it this way.

AC: You talked about how language is used "out there"... and the grandiloquence and pomposity of certain language. But it sounds like you're saying in a creative context, maybe that kind of artifice is actually... desirable? for some artists, even therapeutic? Generally speaking, do you think of art as an outlet for forms of expression and kinds of behaviour which aren't necessarily viable or constructive in everyday life? So in art - in contrast to everyday life - if we're "immovably correct" or stubborn or self-indulgent or obsessive or whatever, are those sort of... paradoxically, virtues? Is art a place where the rules are different? I think it is! but it's counter-intuitive and I'm curious your thoughts.

James Worse: I think ‘art’ is precisely the place to work out things that are problematic, difficult or uncomfortable to express in our lives. Being autistic makes it very difficult to be understood, or to have an equal social interaction. People tell me I’m rude, stupid, offensive, aggressive, blunt, weird, creepy etc. I don’t understand how neurotypical communication functions. My life has been spent being misunderstood, disbelieved or being regarded with doubt and suspicion. Ordering a sandwich without screwing it up is a big success for me!

Worsicles are a form that permits me free emotional expression – the way I choose to express the words is more important than the words themselves. It’s invaluable to me. I can define the parameters in which I operate. It’s my safe space. I couldn’t say those things in plain English because I’m too flipping autistic to communicate it verbally. I don’t really know what audiences make of it - they probably see it as rude, stupid, offensive, aggressive, blunt, weird and creepy etc! Hopefully the message translates and some people will grasp what I’m really communicating, who knows? It might sound incredibly sad and fucked-up to have to invent words because you can’t use normal spoken language properly, but I find it incredibly funny and it makes me happy!

AC: I suppose for people on average if we're seeking liberation, whether it's from suffering, from others, from reality... everyday life will tend to frustrate and disappoint us. But art always seems to deliver. In the autistic condition you're describing it sounds like that's just far more vital to how you function fundamentally in the world. I'm curious now, is creativity typically correlated to autism? Do you know of others who are using similar mechanisms to thrive?

James Worse:
I don’t know if there is anyone else using writing techniques similar to mine, but I know of a number of neurodivergent sound-makers who are using sound in similar ways. I’ve had some responses about sound being used to temper the effects of anxiety in particular.

Autistic people are highly creative thinkers and apply their focus to every field of interest - they are all so different and have such distinct approaches to negotiating life that I’m reluctant to make assumptions on the extent to which it drives anyone’s creative practice. It’s integral to how I live, but it may be quite incidental to someone else.

AC: Turning our attention to 'oxtensmoot'.. it’s a bit different from your other albums I think. Why don’t you tell us what it is and how/when/where/why you made it?

James Worse: There is no real change in the way I’ve approached things on Oxtensmoot - I think I’m learning how to better integrate my voice with the electronic sounds. I like tearing up my voice digitally, I really want to mash it to fuck. It’s an ongoing experiment really, attempting to refashion words and language at every stage of the process. What’s nice is when the computer does cut-ups of my words and I notice new Worsicles occurring from the folds of its own mysterious circuitry.

Oxtensmoot probably reveals a bit more of that side of my thinking. There is usually far less vocal stuff in my releases than anything else – it’s simply because the material takes a very long time to write.

AC: I wanted to ask about that.. on some of the tracks - a mucklark, her jilvery nightpellets, the hexigrike - I seem to recognise the Worsicles! They’re familiar from your other works. Could you explain how you create these texts, whether it’s all written down somewhere and organised in some way?

James Worse: Everything I write becomes part of an epic ‘poem’ I call Flark of the Dandibus. I’ve spent more than ten years on it so far and the longer it continues, the more monumental it becomes, the more I love it. I see this all as one continuous act of romantic futility. There are well over a thousand pages of it, all lovingly shoved into a box in the spare room in roughly chronological order.

Once I’ve finished a Worsicle it is printed out, ritually crumpled up and then flattened out. The reason I started to do this is because I am unable to memorise anything and I have to have an ‘idiot sheet’ when I’m performing. If the pages aren’t pre-scrunched, they are too slippery and difficult to turn over in my hands. When I’ve read a page, I usually throw it aside – sometimes people take them as souvenirs, which is quite sweet – although it does mean I have to print out a new copy. I compile a setlist for every performance, so I can accurately check which pages are missing. Some pages have been on the floors of multiple venues, in various countries and cities. Some have various boot-prints, notes, corrections, beer spills, sweat and unfathomable dirt on them. I quite like the idea of displaying these pages at some point – showing the deterioration over time. I wonder sometimes where those missing pages are. I performed in Berlin a few years ago and every single one was nicked.

I’ve always relished the idea of not publishing Flark of the Dandibus, that it should exist as a spoken piece that people might get to hear or might find a decaying fragment of. I love the idea of old epics that are seductively just out of reach. The notion of a storyteller, by the fire – conjuring all kinds of wonders for those that might listen, is very potent for me.

AC: One other thing this album got me wondering: what's your approach to musicality and instrumentation, in the conventional sense? As on most of the tracks - and in most of your work - there aren't many identifiable melodies or rhythms and the electronics are sort of abstract. And yet here, I seem to hear a guitar on lullifluct, a rhythm on the man-fangled hectogon, and on the bookend tracks bollescules and the ostroblost, you seem to be..singing? Is this "music"? Are you a musician?

James Worse: I flinch at the thought of calling myself a musician. I don’t have any musical education – which is fairly evident from my recordings! Poet, artist, musician are all words that make me feel decidedly queasy. Maybe it’s the suggestion of virtuosity or being a ‘master’ of something that I distrust. I quite like ‘soundmaker’ to describe myself. I have great admiration for people that are fluent with instruments and can go wherever they want to creatively with that ability. My approach is to go at it with some gusto and just enjoy how it feels to make the sound. To make the sound you want to hear. I really love playing the xaphoon but I’m aware that it hurts peoples ears a lot when I do. I have no idea how to use it, but it is incredible fun. Fun for me only!

A lot of music doesn’t sound to me like anyone involved had any fun making it, or it’s presented in a rarefied manner that kills its spirit. I suppose loftiness is the thing that really bugs me – somebody assuming the position of top dog. the enforcement of hierarchy in all forms gives me the shits. Fuck that.

AC: Before I google it: what's a xaphoon?

James Worse: It’s an odd little reed instrument, I don’t know enough about the terminology, but it probably exists somewhere between a recorder and a clarinet. They’re great. I can really get some ugly skronk out of that horn.

AC: Cool! Alright well now it is time to wrap things up here, I’d certainly like to thank you for talking to me. What’s next, are you working on anything new you’d like our readers to know about?

James Worse: Thank you Andrew. I’ve been working on a collaboration with the incredible saxophonist Quentin Rollet for a while so hopefully we will finish that in the next couple of months. I love what he does and I think it will be a very groovy thing! After that I don’t know what I’m going to be doing – more than anything, I’d like to just sit in a bean bag and read.

AC: Sounds delightful! Thank you again Jim!

James Worse can be found at his website and on Bandcamp at

Images by Zara Carpenter (1, 5) and Francesca Daisy Hill (3).

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