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September 4th, 2007 - click opera
February 2010
September 4th, 2007
Tue, Sep. 4th, 2007 02:08 pm

On Sunday I missed the event of the millenium: in a field not far from the Bauhaus in Dessau a cornerstone was laid for the largest pyramid in the world, a pyramid which, it is hoped, will eventually house the cremated remains of millions of humans. I missed this amazing event not because Dessau is quite far from Berlin (in fact there were shuttle buses running from Alexanderplatz), not because the people hosting the event are conceptual pranksters whose politics are a little worrying, not because the last prank of theirs I attended was disappointingly diluted (the promised blowjobs were replaced by jazz wank), and not because a part of me feared being offered on the pyramid's cornerstone as a human sacrifice. No, I missed the unveiling of the Great Pyramid of Death because the weather was a bit glum.

"Please attend the premiere of A Cornerstone Cringle," came the invitation from composer David Woodard, describing the composition as "a brass prequiem dedicated to all future internments within the great pyramid, the world's largest cremains-only cemetery". The accompanying promotional material made the prequiem (a requiem commissioned before one's death) sound a bit like a necrophile version of my Stars Forever project; What Is A Prequiem outlined how you'd go about ordering a "music composition... intended to ease one's passage through the death process". Woodard (in the guise of the Los Angeles Chamber Group in Deutschland) advised the moribund to "order your Prequiem at least one month prior to your anticipated death". Against this was counterpoised the slogan "Celebrate Life Now!"

Woodard came up with the Prequiem concept back in 2001, when he unveiled "Ave Atque Vale", a prequiem designed to steer Timothy McVeigh's soul heavenwards. McVeigh, who killed 168 people, assisted the composer to alter a piece he'd originally written for Jack Kervorkian ("Farewell to a Saint", it was called back then). In press at the time Woodard described McVeigh as a "master high comedian" but also compared him to Christ: "Like Christ, McVeigh will be 33 and nearly universally despised at the time of his execution".

The Great Pyramid is an architectural extension of the prequiem idea. Woodard and friends (people like writer Christian Kracht and designer Rafael Horzon) claim to have founded a company to build "the world's first monumental tomb and memorial site, open to people of all nations, cultures and religions". They claim Rem Koolhaas will head a competition jury (also allegedly comprising the head of the Bauhaus, the editor of Italian design mag Abitare, and Miuccia Prada) to select the final design for a necropolis near the Bauhaus (target of much of Horzon's humour) which will perhaps resemble the Ryugyong Hotel, Pyongyang's unfinished pyramidal tower (North Korea was the subject of Kracht's last book).

"Gradually growing stone by stone," runs the prospectus, "the structure could out‐size the Giza pyramids within just a few decades. Each stone is set for one human who has contributed to the fortunes of mankind. Significant economic growth can be expected in the region where the Great Pyramid will be built, as hundreds of thousands of visitors come to inspect their potential burial site or pay respects to loved ones."

This death-as-economic-boom argument raises a huge issue, one we here at Click Opera are very interested in: the question of the Necro Dollar. Is the erection of a pyramid of death the only way to bring an economic boom to Dessau, a shrinking city? But isn't it a bigger question? Death and dollars seem better friends than ever these days. There are the obvious instances where death is turned into dollars -- think of Dick Cheney's use of the Iraq war for personal profit. But there are other, less obvious places where death and dollars walk hand in hand.

Think of how you have to go retro necro if you want to turn a profit in the UK music press these days. Think of fiftysomething "fifty quid man", the pig in the pipe of the music industry's sales charts. Think of how much of Berlin's economy revolves around "atrocity tourism". Think of the racist robots being developed in Japan to care for the nation's burgeoning geriatric population, and their secondary function of keeping younger, less geriatric immigrants out of the land. If you live in the US dollars and death are connected mostly in your foreign policy. If you live in Europe or Japan they're connected because you have an aging population dominating the economy.

The "Friends of the Great Pyramid" may be creepy provocateurs, but I think they've hit on a pretty vast theme. Sure, Eno and his mates set up the much more benign Long Now Foundation. But, with the foundation stone set for the Great Pyramid of Death, it's worth remembering that death is even more "now"... and even longer.