The full transcript of our interview is available here. Disclosure of bias: I slept on Edwin Birch’s slowly-deflating air bed this weekend and was fed a Biryani – integrity compromised, ritual seppuku seems my only recourse.

For such a low-key figure, Edwin Birch is available in a range of media. Writer of the forthcoming novella Babbage’s Disease, the album Anti-Matter and sporadically available in live form at White Rose Books’ Poetry Chat Show in Thirsk, though performances of his work are increasingly rare, so much so that he has released an EP of his most recent one called Two Short Things.

I met him on an Army Barracks in North Yorkshire to talk about, amongst other things, why exactly we were on an Army Barracks in North Yorkshire.

“It’s fun living on a partially sold of partially sold off Army Barracks, I like to pretend I’m in a particularly dull episode of Dr Who and there’s just members of UNIT strolling around.” Ever media-savvy, Birch was evasive to my line of questioning. I resolve to press him on MOD attempts to weaponize his particular brand of whimsical short prose.

“We’re at least 2 to 3 years off of actual deployment in theatres of war. We’ve had some promising results causing mild discomfort in cows and sheep.”

The MOD refused to comment on the use of Edwin Birch’s work in a combat scenario.

His limited deployment as a live performer in recent years has led Birch to revisit an early passion: Radio.

“It was The Goon Show that unlocked something, that was what made me want to write at 10 years old. I’d enjoyed Milligan’s children’s poetry, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, silly things, but the Goons were the perfect expression of that for me, thinking “this is what goes on in my head!” The realisation that this is their job! – to do silly voices, create weird sound effects and tell these silly stories! That was it for me, that was what I wanted to do.”

For Birch, audio is “the perfect medium for comedy”. His most recent full album, Anti-Matter, contains a mix of live and studio recordings, and is the product of a lifetime’s exposure to audio comedy and it’s unique ability to use your brain in a very readerly way, inviting listeners to bring their own visualisation to the succinct, absurd dialogues within. What results is a piece which is engaging without being prescriptive, description is used precisely rather than verbosely – Birch isn’t painting a picture in your head, he’s painting a picture with your head.

Birch’s performances all involve directly reading from a text, some presented as found documents, and narratives frequently populated with “C to H list celebrities” or more recently, Victorian scientists. “Using real people gives it that connectedness to our reality, then when something weird happens you’ve got that starting point that makes it a refraction, and you’ve got to have that link, otherwise it’s not surreal or absurd it’s just fantasy.”

“That’s one of the reasons I like using people like Charles Babbage, you know who he is, and in this scenario he has a disease, got that? Right, let’s move on!”

Pictured: The withering scorn of Charles Babbage for anything humorous this caption might have to say about him.

“I feel terribly sorry  for what I’ve done to Charles Babbage in the novella, I gave him this appalling disease and made him this deeply unpleasant person, he’s quite grumpy and aloof with the few other human beings he interacts with.” Is Babbage’s fictitious aloofness proxy for Birch’s own retreat to the bleak, beautiful, and decidedly non-populous North Yorkshire Moors?

No. “I’ve accidentally found myself in a very gentrified area of North Yorkshire, and want to be writing stuff which makes sense of that; ultimately when I’m rolling up to spoken-word events, I don’t get the same thrill I once did out of just alienating an audience. I prefer to bring them into a surreal or absurd universe, rather than just presenting an absurd or kind of alien world at them which repels them.”

Anyone not familiar with Birch’s early work can be forgiven this on the grounds that there isn’t any. Originally performing under the name David Beris Edwards, a real person with a passport and everything at Dartington College of Arts, where he began his involvement in the  Post-Neo Absurdist Anti-Collective  through then-Ambassador from the US, Olchar E Lindssan – currently publishing Babbage’s Disease through the independent Monacle-Lash Anti-Press.

Post Neo Absurdism had this to say about inclusion in this article.

Post-Neo Absurdists had this to say about inclusion in this article.

“I’m on the fringes of Post-Neo, very geographically disconnected. They’ve performed some of my work at the Marginal Arts Festival in Roanoke which they hold every year, my dear hope is that I’ll make it over there next year.”

Initially apprehensive about subsuming himself into a collective, even an anti-one, the embryonic Birch formed his own one-man movement, Contra-Realism, of which he was the sole member. When I attempted to contradict him on this, distinctly remembering Amy Oliver having frequent involvement in Contra Realist affairs, Birch’s response echoed Hans Richter in Art & Anti Art, marginalising the role of his female contemporary: “Amy joined in but was always a little skeptical, I don’t know whether she’d appreciate being referred to as a Contra-Realist, she helped out a lot!”

This movement-of-one was not without precedent in anti-art: “Richard Hülsenbeck of the Berlin Dada found Kurt Schwitters too bourgeois, because he held down a steady job and did artwork for advertising, and because of that, he wasn’t Dada enough, he also didn’t live in Berlin, he lived in a more rural part of Germany. So Schwitters response to this was to create his own movement which was Merz.” Birch is knowledgeable on the subject and doesn’t need much convincing to talk about it, that Hans Richter reference in the previous paragraph is his as well.

Pictured: The withering scorn of Richard Hülsenbeck for your bourgeois pretensions at captioning this picture.

“I was unsure of the extent to which Post-Neo would allow me to be humorous, to be tongue in cheek. I didn’t want to mess it up! I didn’t want to spoil it for everyone else! With hindsight that was such a silly thing for me to feel because Post-Neo is all about having fun… as much as it’s about anything, it’s about dicking about!”

Just as David Edwards would later perish (at least on stage; for tax purposes and on Birch’s passport he remains very much alive – someone has to go down to the shops and buy beans with which to nourish the parasitic super-ego) Contra-Realism’s short violent existence came to a violent end.

“It became a drawn out process of Contra-Realism publicly committing suicide, I walked around with a sandwich board on that said “Only 3 More Days of Contra-Realism!” then “Only 2 More Days…” and then eventually it committed suicide by jumping off a high wall.”

“Olchar does this wonderful thing where he will pull in interesting people he meets wherever he goes and finds a way in which their practices intersect with his interests, and uses Monacle Lash to do that.”

Edwin Birch is unlikely to be performing anywhere near you any time soon, but Babbage’s Disease will be published by Monacle Lash Anti-Press this year, and his most recent album Anti-Matter is available on band camp. If you want to get a feel for the delivery, I recommend Track 2, “An Experiment”.

He also post regularly on his tumblr.

This is only a fraction of what we actually talked about, reduced out of concern for your well-being, for more, check out the transcript.