by Reverend Al
There are no rules as to how you should proceed. Cacophony grows organically, nurtured by example. The various lodges are different, but bear a family resemblance to one another. Like families, they may squabble, envy, backstab, and inspire. If you’re getting out of line, your family will let you know. If you don’t like it, you can always run away with the name.
The only contentious areas have generally been implicit political agendas (generally frowned upon, whether anarchist, libertarian, or worse) and “commercial” events (a vague concept — get reimbursed for services, materials, and rentals necessary to some events).
If you get different information from all of us, it’s to be expected. It is Cacophony, after all. Every branch has its own legitimate way of running things. The fact that we’ve survived for a few years is the only justification we have for our approach.
You May Already Be A Member
We assume you’re already some sort of bona fide eccentric or you wouldn’t be interested in Cacophony at all. Our tagline, “You may already be a member!” says a lot about how we operate. In a sense, we never create anything new at all. We never claim to come into a town
and teach people how to be amusingly subversive. They’re already doing it! We just raise the bogus flag, and see who will gather under the flagpole for further mischief.
Obviously there are a lot of creative malcontents out there doing the stuff they like to do, whether or not they’ve ever heard of our society. We assume you’re one of those. If you are, we’re lucky. If you have a few like-minded friends, we’re even luckier. And if you have some sort of near- evangelical fervor to spread the word, a lot of free time, maybe a bit of money, then you help yet one more city combust and cave in.
It All Begins With Lies
For me, Cacophony began as a hoax! When I first found out about it, through a flyer in a local coffeehouse, I was puzzled by the text that implied that the society had existed in Los Angeles for years and wondered where this mysterious body of subversives resided. After a few weeks trying to get ahold of the perpetrators (who actually resided in San Francisco), I discovered that if I wanted to find Cacophony in Los Angeles, I would have to set about creating it.
Though this was the beginning of Cacophony in the city of Los Angeles, Cacophony begins by the same process in everyone’s life by throwing themselves wholeheartedly into something impossibly absurd, an organization based upon chaos.
Cacophony is very nebulous, very loosely defined. Membership is unconscious. (“YOU MAY ALREADY BE A MEMBER!”) By maintaining this fluidity, we have been able to slip out of some problematic situations, make entertainingly hyperbolic claims, and disavow responsibility for specific naughty acts.
You’ll also need to lie. Especially lie to the media. They’ll be grateful for the more colorful copy. Yes, yes, yes, we all know the media “co-opts” underground culture, but that’s hardly a reason to shun it. Make the media your play partner. Chances are your “underground” interests were at some point nurtured by one of those media mongers, who makes a living by spilling the underground beans. It would be uncharitable to keep the fun of Cacophony to yourself once you’re “inside.” Share with the media, lie, contribute your myth-making skills to our culture.
Media particularly likes to regurgitate itself. You can feed them bits of press from our site here.
The thing that establishes a society is regular events, and a flyer that can be counted on to come out around the first of every month. People need to see Cacophony as
100 being somewhat stable to be attracted to it to a degree where they’re willing to assume some responsibility. It seems to me that when people try and start fraternal lodges in their cities, they take on too much responsibility, coordinating several events a month, and burn out. One event and one flyer every month is not an unreasonable
demand on any one person and it gives a lodge some credibility; if like minded others want to host events too, then that’s just fine.
I think every town needs a lynch pin to make sure that something, however meager, happens every month and that people see the flyers. Creativity isn’t too much of a burden, why not just borrow ideas from other cities? The real effort comes in at the very beginning, taking the initiative to fill a leadership role in the society. And remember, we do it because it’s fun.
The Cabal and The Crowd: A Historical Precedent
Have you ever glanced upon a fleet of miniature cars driven by fez-wearing Shriners and wondered how a centuries-old brotherhood could sustain itself on such frivolous antics? Why, the very idea is preposterous! Obviously, these antics are merely a ruse, camouflaging more sinister and entertaining lodge activities, including ritualized re-enactments of ancient sacrificial rites and nude demonic sex rituals.
Allow me to explain.
Freemasonry, like Cacophony (or any secret society worthy of the name), is structured to allow for many levels of initiation. Many of those “members” who believe they are already insiders are in fact little more than a blissfully ignorant buffer between a small but powerful cabal and the world it successfully manipulates.
Cacophony knows a good plan when it sees one.
Many of those who occasionally attend a large-scale event hosted by the society will add a little bohemian derring-do to their reputation by boasting to their friends of their close association with the society. They may even stay in touch with our activities through postal and e-mail updates. But their role remains that of spectators, not participants.
What many active participants in our society do not know is that there is a vast silent majority claiming allegiance to the principles of Cacophony. Currently there are more than 1000 subscribers on our mailing lists. A minority of 100 or so of these are subscribed to our Discussion List, the online entity intended to function as the society’s guiding body. The rest are passive recipients of one-way mailings announcing activities. An even smaller fraction of these subscribers actually trouble themselves to attend our monthly planning meetings downtown.
Experiences Beyond The Mainstream
What Kind of Events?
“Experiences beyond the mainstream” is the phrase that was first used by San Francisco Cacophony and remains a watchword for other lodges. In Los Angeles, at least, we use it to describe any of four types of events. They’re describe below not so much in terms of specific content, but how you might use these events to get more people involved into the collective effort.
Shows, Fundraisers, or Themed Parties
Thanks to pervasive media coaxing, most ambulatory humans at some point feel the need to sample “alternative” or “underground” culture. Most often this need is met by witnessing some form or other of musical performance understood to be edgy. Cacophony events of this category usually incorporate some such performance, but attempt to make some sort of extra push toward absurdity or provocation. These events, whether held in clubs, art spaces, or private homes, usually make some attempt to involve the audience interactively, but also leave room for socializing and shadows for skittish wallflowers. Frequently they may include what passes for “performance art.” If you’re doing things correctly, attendees at a Cacophony show will arrive eager and fearfully anticipating mess, smoke, and riotous acting out behavior. These events will come close to fitting normal music/art categories of “alternative” entertainment weeklies, and will therefore draw larger numbers of witnesses. A signup for a mailing list at the door is imperative to the society’s growth. In Los Angeles, we set a cover charge to pay for rental of sound/ light equipment, props, space, and to pay performers. If there are leftover funds, the individuals producing the event may keep some for their troubles, but also donate money toward future events of this type.
Field Trips to the Fringe
Visits to weird and fringy sites around your area. These are the most well-attended events. They are also the easiest to host, since they don’t require any organization more than a couple of phone calls to the site for hours and directions. A good book (easily available, though far from comprehensive) which lists odd sites is Roadside America.
More participatory, but still relaxed social atmosphere. Participants may create art to be used or distributed during the course of another event. In LA, they’ve created mail art to send, gifts for our rowdy Santas to distribute, cement filled teddy bears for pranks, props for Halloween events, costumes or vehicles for impromptu parades, or cookies baked for Jack Kevorkian.
Guerrilla Theater & Public Spectacles
These events are usually small because they require a lot of nerve. They usually involve costumes. Include facetious protest marches, human entrants attempting to enter dog shows costumed as dogs, or clowns making their way into an office building, pretending to
look for their party gig. These are the events the media likes covering. Whether or not they draw attendees, the events raise the general level of awareness and interest in what we’re doing.
Pranks, Hoaxes, Culture Jamming
The creation and deployment of outrageous, unsettling material. False flyers and tracts, billboard alterations, toasters glued to walls, bodies outlined in chalk on sidewalks, placement on shelves of bogus products (“cement cuddlers”), and booths offering services such as free casts for unbroken arms, involve more work than the costumed street theater, because slick presentations are needed to really deceive the public. Lots of talk generally about these more difficult events; follow through harder. Often carried out in solitude or quick nocturnal hits. Fear factor, plus laborious preparation, makes these the hardest events to pull off, those restricted to the dedicated few.
Where Do Events Come From?
In LA, we’ve had a core group of around 10 people who tend to take turns hosting events, which works out pretty well. Because I like to encourage new people to host events, I always back-burner my own ideas when someone new proposes something. If there’s a slow month, I pull up one of these ideas, or sometimes there is popular demand for an encore of a past event, which also eases the creative strain during lulls. Also, you should be stealing event ideas from successful lodges within the society.
Uh, What Does It Mean To Host An Event?
At some point after attending a few events, maybe years into the fun, someone may decide they actually want to feed the monster further. They want to “host an event.” Tell them this:
You show up for the event. You plan the event specifics (date, time, meeting place). You provide your phone number and/or e-mail as a contact for people with questions. You herd the group however necessary when the event begins. (This may simply amount to counting heads, determining when everyone who RSVP’d has arrived, and then announcing the plans to the assembled participants.)
You write up the event description (or provide a rough outline, depending on your writing aptitude). You invite your friends to the event, or at least talk it up on the discussion list. (Don’t expect a big turnout if you yourself don’t invite anyone, if you yourself didn’t encourage people both online and in person.) You solicit the help you need OR do all the preparations yourself (finding, making props, scheduling tours, calling for business hours, etc.).
Getting Along with the Other Weeds in the Sidewalk
We’re all there to crack the cement. And you’re probably all growing from the same soil. Here’s how Los Angeles grew.
At first, our calendar of events was mainly a bulletin board for events planned not so much as “Cacophony events” but “outside events” and drawing participants from within Cacophony. In any community, you’ll find a lot of like-minded people eager to share their talents in this way. Usually these people are marginal artists, zine-makers, or performers of one sort or another. They were doing their thing before the society came along, but tend to be drawn to it as a venue and tend to suggest events that feature their particular work or interests. Occasionally it can be touchy about “ownership” of events they produced when presenting them as “Cacophony events.” Clear language in flyers and announcements usually circumvents this problem, however. LA & SF Cacophony have used a “Sounds Like Cacophony” category in their newsletters to preserve distinctions while affirming bonds.
Starting with a Bang or a Whimper?
In general there are two ways to get things going; the first is by generating a notoriety with some large-scale event, like Portland did. This takes a lot of time to prepare and a lot of contacts.
The other way to go is the small scale word-of-mouth route. This is less showy and more like starting a social club for freaks, where people come to events not because of some grand theatrics, but because they like the people they’ve met. For this sort of thing to work, you have to have frequent gatherings to keep the people in touch, and you may have to accept some event ideas that don’t quite live up to any provocative ideals. But if you can get a core of people together, you can fine-
tune the aesthetic later.
When Zines Ruled The
Earth: The Hard Way
In November of 1999, LA Cacophony published the last issue of its hard copy newsletter, Tales from the Zone. We found online distribution to be much more effective for the reasons detailed below. It was a good thing to get in the mail. Fun to read and to look at, like a zine. But after phasing it out, we’ve noticed no drop-off in event quality or attendance, and that’s what counts.
One of the disadvantages of hard copy is cost; with around 250 subscribers, paper and copying costs around $60 a month, and postage; $110-120 a month. There was also a lot of work involved in laying out and finding or creating graphics. With a mailing list of any appreciable size, you need to have software and person dedicated to the task of maintaining it: entering new names as they come in over the phone or from sign-up sheets, and dispatching first-time samples and renewal notices when appropriate.
At the height of things, we made 700 copies per month, around 250 of these went into the mail, the rest were dropped at different locations around town, just to get the word out. In the beginning, just to get some action going, we mailed flyers to any potential Cacophonist whose name and address we could extract. Gradually, we gained a little notoriety and confidence and could afford to purge the freeloaders, but we still were sending out freebies to first-timers asking for a sample, or to people to whom we were returning various favors.
The Postman & The Armchair Cacophonist
A few years ago, we introduced two different rates of postal subscription: regular ($10 yearly) and fanatics ($15). In keeping with SF tradition, we’d always included little enclosures with our mailings (found objects, prank flyers, temporary tattoos, etc.), but the fanatics got a higher quality and quantity of these mail art additions. Near the end of postal subscription, we found that roughly 80% of our subscribers were fanatics. It seemed that since the majority of these people were enjoying Cacophony strictly as a postal phenomenon, they’d decided they’d might as well make it a more worthwhile postal phenomenon and kicked in for the extras. There is a curious, almost inverse relationship between attendance and paid subscriptions. Those who are generally out and about doing events seem almost less concerned with maintaining contact as “official members.” Those who keep sending in money year after year tend to be in more outlying neighborhoods or cities and seem to be content with vicarious “membership.” It’s almost as if the concept of membership were antithetical to the Cacophony ideal (or maybe that’s just what I want to see).
The writing in the calendar, whether online or on paper, has always been important. I think it’s vital to have a good writer fanning the flame when it’s raging and to keep the embers glowing while Cacophony is not so active. Cacophony can sustain itself for quite a while in a zine- like dormancy –good newsletters (whether there’s news or not) keep the armchair Cacophonist at the ready, as does online discussion. When a real-world event actually pulls itself together, they’ll be prepared to plunge in.
All Online From Here! You’re Soaking In It
You’re enjoying the advantages of online propagation right now naturally. And it’s only right. As a fringy endeavor, Cacophony now, naturally inclines toward any means (legal or otherwise) of eliminating the expenses of print production. The Internet not only allows this, but it has also encouraged more spontaneity in planning, by accommodating the ever present need for last-minute updates on meeting times and places—advantages not possible when the calendar was printed and mailed a month in advance. Online publication also encourages potential participants by providing more information via event photographs, interactive maps, and links to additional online information about field trip destinations, targets for pranks, or artists participating in shows.
We also have two types of email lists: REGULAR (a one-way list), which is used to announce each event several days before it happens, with copy lifted from the newsletter, and DISCUSSION, which is used to interactively plan events, brainstorm, chat, build up community, etc.. I’ve found the discussion list very, very helpful in generating more participation. Within the last few months in particular, most of the events have arisen from this list.
I was very hesitant originally about e-mail, thinking 104 that it was for a bunch of stay-at-homes who’d rather air opinions than do events, and while there is this aspect, it’s proven to be quite a good thing. A couple of years ago, I was opposed to dispersing information over the Net, thinking it was still too elitist, but today, particularly with employer-provided accounts, I think
it’s universal enough.
Besides merely posting the information on the Web, and sending e-mail event announcements, Cacophony has created an interactive online community dedicated to collective brainstorming, sharing news of about- town oddities and activities, as well as discussing other esoteric and subversive topics of common interest. These days it’s fairly common at Cacophony events to hear isolated loners emerge from the woodwork with the mention of an online identity or mail alias: “Yes, that’s me: Isolated@loner.net!” Many fast friendships and hush-hush allegiances can be traced to the recent birth of this online discussion list.
Culling the Online Herd
Of course there are problems with any system. Nasty, irritating discussion list parasites crop up. Here are our rules for subscription to the discussion list:
1) Posts should have something to do with events.
2) Never send pictures to the list.
3) Don’t reply to all when an individual response will do. The default setting sends mail to the entire group. There are 200 or so people on this list. Do they all need to hear your response? If not, please copy and paste the INDIVIDUAL sender’s name in over the “To” field.
4) No one liners. Examples: No “Hear! Hear!” No “I agree.” No “I’d be into doing this event.” A good use of this list is as a sounding board and informal survey, but when someone asks: “Is anyone interested?” please email your “count me in” to the INDIVIDUAL. Some of you have been doing this already. Thanks, Peter. It also helps when you include a reminder in the body of your mail like “If interested, please mail me back at pissy@ toomuchmail.com.”
5) No suggestions for events other people should do.
Brainstorming is fine, and I know it’s not always possible to pull the best stunts off, but a as a rule of thumb, make it something you would be willing to do.
You can’t really tell who’s full of hot air online. This calls for a meeting. Face to face. We’ve found that actual monthly meetings in the real world help determine who’s just an online know-it-all and who’s ready to roll up their sleeves and do something. If they never make it to an actual meeting to discuss the ideas they’ve been going on about, it’s clear that they won’t make those ideas happen. Then we know to just politely ignore them when they beat their chests online. Meetings are fairly loose, but we do go down an agenda, basically reviewing past events one by one, discussing ideas for the coming month bandied about online, and then opening the floor to whatever new ideas there might be.
I made it my job to go back each month and print out notes for the meeting consisting of ideas suggested that month by the online discussion. I’d call people’s bluffs and see if they’d squirm out or move forward with the idea. Naturally, in a tolerably short meeting, all details, even the date of the event itself, don’t get resolved. All the follow-up used to get hashed out (inevitably at the last minute) via phone tag.
Make no mistake; the Internet encourages anonymity, lurking, and vicarious living. The curious will want to learn about your lodge without having to commit any personal information (such as their Hotmail address). For all they know, we might be certified lunatics with stalker tendencies, or worse, marketers. While it might not be essential for a small, familial lodge, consider building at least the simplest of websites. Many ISPs provide free space for their customers. And we’ll link off the national site, so new members can find you.
Visiting the other lodge websites, you’ll find various approaches. Your webpage should at the very least have contact information, so new members can find someone willing to tell them where the next event or meeting is. Next, it might contain info on upcoming events or even
descriptions of completed ones. Eventually, you can add images, philosophy, links and whatever your little heart desires.
This advice is the culmination of the trials and tribulations of the LA chapter. Referring to them and other lodges, as your chapter grows, will spare you a lot of the headaches the other lodges had to endure. Good luck, agents.