Public-Access Esotericism: Pre-Social Occult Media


Doing research on the occult and esoteric spirituality (as one does) turns up all sorts of interesting personalities, writers and media programs. While traveling down Internet rabbit holes last year I pulled an obscure needle out of the YouTube haystack.

An account set up by electronic music and visual artist Ikipr had posted up a collection of public-access television programs produced in the early to mid-2000s. Esoteric Science Roundtable was a weekly program taped out of Austin, Texas, for their local public-access TV audience. Created and hosted by Kory Kortis, each weeks show was an hour long and focused on a single topic per episode. Some weeks featured in-studio guests like chaos magician Ikipr, while other weeks Kory gave a solo presentation on occult or consciousness material.



The hour also featured the classic public access live caller portion, which because of the live nature, consistently featured crank callers slipping through to scream on-air profanities. That was the era. Pre Facebook and Twitter, a program like that breathed the final days of a platform soon to be replaced by blogs, messenger groups, podcasts and all things social media.

Show topics delved into everything from Lucifer, Atlantis, occult warfare, the Golden Dawn, telepathy and divine feminine goddess worship. Guests included occult writer John Michael Greer, conspiracy researcher Freeman Fly and radio host, Jack Blood among many others. The guiding principle of the show was Enlightenment vs Enfrightenment. That mission statement sent a clear intent and purpose of shedding light on occult topics and spreading awareness about esoteric practices in order to combat negative public perceptions and misplaced fear of dark and malicious activities carried out by mysterious characters. 

The show did try to tackle and identify the true dark players of society in political and corporate positions of power but never in a fear inducing way that left the viewer feeling powerless or afraid. The positive nature of the occult comes from its self-empowering potentialities that can be tapped into through study of ancient truth and ritual. ESR had Freemasons on as guests and served as a counterpoint to the narrative that an 
Illuminati or New World Order is to blame for all the evil in the world and has always been a occultist or Freemasonic organization. Kory at least introduced to his audience that magic ritual or mystery cults are not inherently nefarious and that the outcomes of such involvement depends on the intention of the individual or group engaging with them. 



These weathered VHS videos on YouTube still strike me as interesting on a variety of levels. My interest in the analog media that I grew up on views the ultra low-tech production of the broadcast and graphics as super kitschy and underground. Like a printed zine, a public-access show is like a time capsule for a more innocent time. Kortis is as earnest as can be in presenting the subject matter and is clearly attempting to build community connections and educate his audience on hard to find literature and research. It all seems so novel in retrospect. It provokes so many questions for me about the functional process and behind the scenes action at the station.
"Access has been used by every type of Austinite - the famous and infamous, the mundane and insane - and for every reason. Like moths to a porch light, there's not a single politician in this town who hasn't put his or her face on access as election day approached. Richard Linklater used ACTV equipment to film part of Slacker. Robert Rodriguez used ACTV." – Michael Bertin, The Austin Chronicle 

Obviously, for anyone thinking of starting up a DIY show about any subject matter today immediately thinks of either a podcast or YouTube channel format for producing and disseminating content. Either one would be linked into Facebook, Twitter, Google + and stand alone site content, all aggregating together seamlessly across the inter-webs. Even terrestrial mass radio is losing relevance to on-demand viewing and listening platforms. I'm certainly not arguing for going back to the old days but I do have a certain nostalgia for analog systems of communication and media. I still have shelves of books, records, tapes, CDs, comic books and magazines taking up space in my house. I respond emotionally to physical things in 3D space. I love going to actual shops and spaces to bump into other humans looking for the same weird stuff.

In addition to producing the show, Kory also hosted a local metaphysical meet-up event for his audience to get together in person and have conversations and exchanges of information and research. I got in touch with him last year via email in the hopes of setting up an interview but plans fell through due to scheduling and time. He was kind enough however to send me some old stickers for ESR and some DVDs of shows not available online.



Things that I wanted to learn about public access had to do with interacting with the station, how to get green lit for a show, topic approval or oversight from studio producers and other technical aspects of access to studio equipment. I still toy with my own fantasy of putting together a show of my own. The first step of which would be to gain certification through training on all the necessary studio equipment. It sounds like an awesome experience and great fun but probably not something I have the time to take on in the near future. It all takes me back to fond memories of my high school and college television and film production classes. The whole technical and creative communication process of broadcast production is very fascinating to me.



The other interesting thing about the time and place that ESR was born out of is the fact that several other subculture shows were running on Austin Public Access at the time, including none other than conspiracy theorist turned right-wing Trumper, Alex Jones. For all we know, Jones has always been been a double agent or some intelligence asset. Back in those days, Jones was seen as an ally and forerunner of anti-establishment alternative media. Sadly, sober, intellectually stimulating conversation that Kortis dealt in doesn't have the mass audience appeal that hysterical, fear-mongering nationalists do. What there is no doubt about is the effect Jones and other ambitious Austin go-getters had on the local subculture of non-commercial media audiences and citizen freedom of expression. The access era that dates back to the 80s was so meaningful to Austin locals that a Kickstarter funded documentary film is currently in production.
"The Austin Access years were something of a Golden Era, before the advent of youtube. It's now fairly commonplace for people to post their conspiratorial/esoteric analyses of world events and pop culture, but, in that by gone era, people such as Freeman, Kory, Jeff Contreras, and yes, even Alex Jones, would have to prepare a show and haul themselves into the studio, operating the equipment themselves or with the aid of unpaid volunteers. And there was little thought of compensation for many of these do-it-yourself conspiracy theorists; truly it was a labor of love. Austin "slacker" culture helped to plant a seed which, with the ever-widening reach of the internet, now comes into full bloom. Respect."
I would love to know if Kortis has kept up his research into the esoteric and what commitments he still has to practicing magic or his involvements with social activism. I did connect with Ikipr on Twitter where he is active but Kortis does not maintain any social media profiles. The copies of ESR episodes were digitized from the analog feed onto a DVDR device and then uploaded to YouTube by Ikipr and are all that publicly remain of the show's history. It stands as a fascinating record of a particular occult subculture as well as the fruits of the ambitious amateurs once found on public-access. 

Below is an exchange I had with Ikipr about his recollections of being a frequent guest on ESR as well as his observations of the Austin alternative media scene dating back to the late 90's. We also touch on how DIY media has changed, mostly for the better. Interspersed in his comments are some videos of his very interesting electronic music tracks.


Ikipr

+ Was it challenging to only have an hour an get everything right in one take?
As a guest, covering all the topics I wanted to discuss with Kory within a single hour was difficult enough to compress that it required a bit of organization of my thoughts. I don't think shows had a limit of an hour for their time slots but Esoteric Science Roundtable was an hour-long broadcast. Austin Public Access producers could sign up for multiple time slots in a broadcast schedule though, I believe.
+ How many people are involved behind the scenes to make a good Public Access show? Was the crew made up of professionals, hobbyists, friends?
ESR was mostly made up of Kory and an assistant producer, I believe. They seemed on friendly terms outside of the show. Both were trained via APA's producer certification workshops (usually just one class I think) and while not professional per se, they brought an earnest, sincere, and motivated work ethic that bordered on pro. 
Early Alex Jones broadcast had a producer and borderline co-host in the control room as well in the form of Mike Hansen. He had a campaign for a local office at one point and in ways he seems almost unsung hero relative to early Infowars for those who might appreciate that community: https://www.youtube.com/user/MikeHansonArchives
+ Did the show have complete creative freedom for show content from the network?
I'm sure there were guidelines, like FCC type stuff, but I never heard of anyone having conflicts with APA over the philosophical content or slant of any content aired.

+ ESR delved deep into the occult, secret societies and even had an episode about Lucifer. Did you ever get complaints or threats from Christian Fundamentalists?
Personally, I've had more issues over the years with other occultist rather than Christians telling me our belief set is invalid. I've never noticed any comments on the youtubes of ESR that have a gripe to register from a Christian voice. ESR always did a good job presenting itself as ideas worth serious consideration. I think it comes off less confrontational with people's reality tunnels that way.
+ Before the explosion of blogs and podcasting, was Public Access an effective way to share underground ideas?
As a viewer of APA between about 2000-2005 or so, I can say it affected the local community, my peers and myself to have these ideas circulate in a freely accessible platform. There were more light-hearted shows.
Puppetose comes to mind. Cult of the Dead Cow repeatedly aired the Bill Hick's classic "Ninja Bachelor Party." Even clip shows that remind me of TV Carnage but sort of served as a prototype to the garbage-as-art model we see in Youtube Poop. 
There were Evangelical types, one of whom wore a toilet seat as a prop on his call in show if I recall correctly. Afternoons also played host to crazy old dancing ladies abusing green screens and old video mixing board 80's neon sparkle-text effects and feedback set to Casio keyboard soundtracks as these geriatric banshees shrieked in to karaoke mics. That show was actually a thing to behold. You'd just be flipping through the channels and then alluva sudden there's some sorta semi-psychedelic infinite space death gnosis thing going on with these old ladies and their keyboards. This stuff was really just a reflection of Austin's culture in ways too. 
The feedback to the local community and scene really seemed to come in the form of several information oriented shows: Esoteric Science Roundtable, There4Iam, Infowars and Reality ExpanderReality Expander was an amazing concept and ahead of it's time. Almost a podcast-like format for TV or maybe taking the idea of internet radio stations from the late 90's to cable television.

Chris Athanas must've booked countless timeslots to show material. It was usually lectures, interviews, etc. from other media and ranged from conspiracy material to more philosophical and spiritual subjects. He'd put quality late 90's/early 00's CG as the backing video along with some ambient music and he had a show that acted almost like the glasses from They Live for anyone tuning in enough. He did some live ones as well and ESR had him and Contreras as part of their roundtables a few times. All this really equated to what the kids these days might think of in terms of a "Stay Woke"-ish vibe that really seemed to cement locally in ways that ran concurrent to these shows. 
Alex Jones, love him or hate him, had the local show here in Austin well before Jesse Venture tried to take The Conspiritainment Complex nationwide with his show. I watched Infowars not only go from a local phenomena to one now commented on by CNN, but also saw its free publication in more and more places of business during its run. I think it's hard to deny there's some serious feedback locally from the stuff that used to air on cable access here, but part of that is the cultural locale, and the population density too. There was receptive a audience and may be in many urban centers.
+ How long was the show on the air and why did it end?
I can't answer this one about ESR but the high point in recent APA years seemed to be the years mentioned above, maybe 1999-2005 or thereabouts. I know of shows like the Freeman Perspective that ran until about 2007/2008 or so. He's transitioned to digital platforms well, but that was always part of his outreach strategy.
+ Are you still in touch with the show host, Kory Kortis? What has he been up to since the show ended?
I saw Kory recently. Not sure what he's up to exactly but we had a nice followup conversation about some of the ideas we discussed on the show. Namely, how my opinion on certain matters changed over the years. I was quite young when discussing those topics, about 21 or so, and I suspect no one should remain too fixed or rigid in opinions - probably an unhealthy thing to do.
Work with spirits comes to mind: I mentioned feelings about how one should be self-sufficient in magick and rely less on spirit favors as opposed to relying on your internal resources. There's aspects of that both true and untrue.
Self-sufficiency can never be underrated but although spirit work is tricky, it is likely worth communing with various levels of the unseen for the multitude of benefits offered in such work. I hope he enjoyed our catching up even half as much as I did.

+ What can working in a Public Access studio allow you to do that you can’t accomplish by making a video in your bedroom?
I'm not sure production wise that cable access is the way to go for producing your shows these days. I think if you have cable access in your local market and you're doing something you believe in, why not go ahead and pickup the producers license and a timeslot and then turn in videos produced either there or elsewhere.
Green screen setups, a digital camera and a mic are pretty low priced so the entry level for making something is lower than ever. Quality cratfsmanship is always a noble effort regardless of your toolset though. Investing study and time in anything makes a world of difference and it usually shows regardless of how talented or brilliant you may naturally be. 
+ ESR was on the same channel as the early Alex Jones show. What do you recall about his show back in the day? Did you ever run into him in Austin? Do you consider him to be a disinfo agent?
I've never met him. I heard he used to be up at the station alot. I'm sure all those guys knew one another at least as associates and sort of co-workers. I'm not sure how I feel about Alex but the recent Joe Rogen podcast was super lit so I'm glad the guy is doing his thing still even if he is selling water filters all day.  
I like the Bill Hicks identity switch conspiracy at least as a narrative. I think the Freeman Perspective (also an Austin Cable Access alumni) has an interesting story about Josh Reeves meeting Alex Jones, you might enjoy it for the lulz or Scientology-related speculations if nothing else.
Ikipr

+ Can you talk about your personal magick practice – what traditions do you work with and how does it connect to your art and music?
I started off learning Hermetics mostly through the Israel Regardie Golden Dawn material prior to ever working much with Chaos Magic aside from just "How can I hack this?" There were influences from some of Aleister Crowley's work but in retrospect it seems minimal other than acting as a catalyst for research and piquing my historical interest about the Golden Dawn schism and falling out he played a hand in. I'm no Thelemist for certain but Liber Aleph vel CXI is very well written and 777 has some nice charts (though David Allen Hulse and Stephen Skinner have made much more expansive books along these lines now.) 
I like to think I'm mostly invested in what many other magickians and researchers are now: connecting the dots through the antiquity of history and actually implementing the most complete form of these practices in a way that they are both practical to modern life and tested for validity of results. It's a bit of a tight rope act but worth it in ways, and all the more so when you're an artist too. 
There's a synthesis of religious and philosophical ideas in Hermetics akin to a sort of pantheism. As such, I am endlessly pleased to delve into recent translations of grimoires from a multitude of historic cultures. This has been the real magical renaissance since around the time Ouroboros Press released a copy of Picatrix in the mid-00's. We now have access to a lot of data that wasn't necessarily publicly available in any accessible form even 10 years ago.
There are too many saintly translators/authors/editors in recent years to name them all here, but the revolution was a return to tradition, not the Punk ethos of Chaos Magic. The "squabble" between Peter Carroll and Jake Stratton Kent over whether Necromancy is an art that should be engaged really exemplifies the struggle between those who've deep-dived the material and those who assume they know it after a reading a few blog post or some other cursory examination of a subject. Even just a few months of a serious course of study in magic will make you aware how little you know about the grand spectrum of it all and how much reverence, time, and focus the tradition deserves or demands for even partial mastery or comfort. 
Most of my musical systems of correspondence come from Paul Foster Case and are outlined on http://www.aleph9.com/Research/?page_id=100 
There are narrative levels of art not easily addressed by words and the same is quite true of people's magical practices too. Some of these levels of what I deal with, even in something as light-hearted and simple as my last chiptune release, are just too multi-faceted to easily surmise in words.
+ What do you miss about the experience or that time period?
Heh, the novelty these ideas seemed to carry before mass-exposure. The excitement of seemingly endless possibilities that have perhaps narrowed over the years as more eyes result in the waveform collapsing further into a particle. Everyone has a Youtube with their crazy hypothesis on current events now. 
Just look at the synchromystic community and their divination via Hollywood movies to see how low the bar has fallen at points for someone to have a voice in the overall discourse about this stuff. We're drowning in seas of information now, but it's not all good data. It's a signal to noise ratio quality issue but with ideas and the voices that convey them almost.
Just look at Pizzagate and David Seaman or Reality Calls, at best opportunistic people made a Youtube conspiracy commentator career out of it overnight. At worst, possible COINTELPRO/disinfo types propagated some distraction in "fake news" or drew attention away from the real issues in their dire need of that "fresh, original content" to keep the videos flowing.
+ Are you at all surprised with how poplar the occult is in alternative media these days?
I'm surprised by the aesthetic it's taken in ways. I'm all for all-access occultism without restrictions to information but I think study and consideration are still key and perhaps overlooked at times. There seems to be a lot of watered down occultism for product marketing and it's feeding back into what people in the occult communities consider valid forms of magic.
Basically, naming your metal band after a badly translated demon name you grab off a Geocities looking webpage isn't doing the work. Soft-grunge pastel vaporwave aesthetic & Tumblr-chic doesn't inherently imbue you or your efforts with more magical substance.
The part that surprises me is how often people go for the low hanging fruit of something like "Fuck it, just toss a pentagram in there and we'll seem deep or at least it'll play well with the in-crowd." So many seem to just want to rehash CMT and sell you a Peter Carroll/Phil Hine book penned by a different hand. Honestly, I was extremely reluctant to discuss Chaos Magic as a topic of conversation each time I went on ESR and I've feared being too strongly associated with that current ever since. I see it as very entry-level magic, which is necessary for access but not the whole Corpus of the tradition by any means.

+ What are the the media sources you get into today?
I disconnected my cable in 03-04 and encourage everyone else to do the same after deleting their Facebooks first. The Subgenius ideas of a TV body and Chip body as digitally modulated/affected portions of the human aura are really overdue for a comeback and might play well in the meme-o-sphere of posting.
But... I'm a bit of a modern DC/Vertigo nerd (though I do appreciate some older, more serious pre-Disney Marvel too.) The Flash is kinda cool despite the CW forced Dawson's Creek-esque love narrative they put in every show.
They've also got some questionable convolution of classic, well-known characters in ways. Seems to be a trend in attempting to revitalize old licenses but it's a hollow and transparent one really. I was seriously let down by the Hellblazer/Constantine adaptation on NBC. I'm hoping for more from the SyFy animated series. It might make for a better format for those story lines. 
I'm pretty lukewarm on the Preacher adaptation too. I wasn't very thrilled with Man in the High Castle or Stranger Things either. I think, in the case of the latter, the only thing it really had going was the 80's nostalgia and Kung Fury and possibly Turbo Kid had already really delivered to higher standards on that. 
Stranger Things wanted to be Goonies meets E.T. as a psychic MK-Ultra super solider child to have a dark twist in the plotline. Sure, they tossed in an underworld narrative but it all seemed like low-hanging fruit again. I miss when the monsters weren't 100% CG. Just watch the first couple Aliens vs. Aliens Resurrection (also with shoplifter and "drunk"-at-the golden-globes actress Winona Ryder) to see the difference in special effects based on actual filming vs. that of pure CG and tell me we're watching quality stuff now, TV production or otherwise. 
I'm not the biggest David Lynch fan since I tried reading Catching the Big Fish and then watched my music buddy destroy his copy in front of me after I told him how painful it was to flip through. That said, I'm still eagerly waiting for Twin Peaks and hoping guest spots like Trent Reznor don't ruin it and break the audio/visual/narrative entrancement too much. I'm cautiously optimistic though.
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