Monday, April 1, 2013

April’s Peculiar Person of the Month: Writer and Ritualist Adel Souto

David Rondinelli

Adel Souto toasts readers of T.P.L. NYC
Adel Souto is a man of many talents. A musician, writer, and artist, Adel has made a ritual out of self expression. In fact, many of his ventures are based around rituals. A work in constant progress like many of his art pieces, he raises the stakes for himself by completing different rituals to experience what insights they can bring him. Challenging himself to everything from long boughts of silence to journal writing with his non-dominant hand, he hopes to bring more awareness to himself. Whereas some rituals are harder than others, he feels quite content to keep on pushing himself forward. Read all about his many experiences as he is April's Peculiar Person of the Month.

This Peculiar Life NYC: You are big on rituals, you completed one recently where you didn’t speak for a month. Could you tell me what inspired you to complete such a task?
Adel Souto: In October of 2010, I had the luxury of living a rather difficult, yet easy-going enough, life to facilitate something I’ve always wanted to try. While I’ve done much shorter periods of silence (longest being 4 days), I thought a month would be an amazing stretch (and stress) to attempt, while living, and working, in NYC. I’ve been enchanted with, and reading of, the paths of the mystics since early Catholic school, and later began to actually practice, and live my life in such ways, around 1998, when I was in my late 20s. Sacred vows of silence are acts one can find from East to West, so it’s intrigued me for some time.

T.P.L. NYC: Take me through the experience of what it was like to stay silent for so long?
A.S.: I’m in the process of finishing up a book on the subject, so I’ll be brief, as not to give away too much, but I learned you have to be hyper-aware at all times, and it’s just as rough on the person you live with, as it is on you. Lastly, by week four I had practically a breakdown. Some of it was a little too intense, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, and even still attempt shorter spans.

T.P.L. NYC:  What do you feel you gained from doing a task like this? In addition, what do you gain out of any ritual you do?
A.S.:  I have learned so much about myself. I can now read and understand signals from my body. I understand so much more about myself as a person from who I am to why I did certain things. I write “did” because much of this has helped me break earlier addictions, bad habits, and a previously piss poor attitude.

T.P.L. NYC: You have done several rituals that almost appear like challenges to yourself. How do you decide what ritual you are going to complete next?

A.S.:  In all honesty, many of these come up organically, and sometimes on the spot, several days to even hours before I begin them. Normally, I get an idea, often one I’ve always wanted to try anyway.

Next, I’ll be doing a sleep deprivation experiment (not a ritual). I have read that the longest anyone has ever stayed awake is 11 days, and while I will not be going for a record or even attempting to match that, I wish to experience, and feel firsthand, the effects of not sleeping for long terms, or, at least, much longer terms than I’ve already experienced.

T.P.L. NYC: You completed another ritual in which you didn’t shave and you used a certain comb on your beard. What was the purpose of this ritual and what made you want to do this?
A.S.:  The ritual was 156-days-long (close to six months) of self-denial, as well as adapting an appearance I normally would not.
First, were the acts of self-denial. I used to smoke cigarettes and top off every meal with some type of sugar snack, like candy. I quit both for the period, as well as a handful of other things.
Secondly, I’m bald and clean shaven, as I prefer that look. Even my style of dress fits that. I have only grown a beard once (for three months), and it was not for me. I find it uncomfortable, as well as unappealing when attached to a face like mine. I grew out my beard, and hair, to deal with looking like someone I would normally not look like. Admittedly, the comb became a byproduct of the beard. After month two, I began to stroke it, then pulled out the comb, and began to meditate while combing it. It was one of the few things that helped me deal with it, as dealing with it was a bit vexatious throughout.

Souto's beard ritual reveals a before and after of what he went through.

T.P.L. NYC:  I can’t help but ask. You also mentioned that you have taught yourself how to have a 45-minute orgasm. Tell readers how you accomplished something of this nature?
A.S.:  You may have misunderstood.

I, after years of hard work, actually got to “open the third eye”, and had my pineal gland stimulate my hypothalamus, which dumped massive amounts of neurochemicals into my system.
The first time caused a 30 minute experience (only a part of which were the 5 - 8 full-body orgasms), and my second attempt was another 45 minute experience. Now they are not so extreme, and I can even function when in these states. Even so, the full experience is a nonstop, fountain-like explosion of white light seemingly within the head, a fire-like purple light emitting outward from my chest, a feeling of levitation (though firmly on the ground), and those pulsating orgasms (without ejaculation).
Outsiders also claim my hands are hot to the touch when I do this, though I am uncertain if it is part of my experience, or a coincidental outside contaminant.

T.P.L. NYC: If you have a regular orgasm now, do you even feel it or consider it to be as potent?
A.S.:  Great question! Without a doubt it has affected me. The regular sexual feeling is almost completely gone from my penis, and I now have orgasms that are more full-bodied. The normal sensation in my genitals is no longer there, but has wildly moved to my head, of all places. I guess it’s even truer in my case when saying the biggest sex organ is your mind.

T.P.L. NYC:  What are some of the other rituals you have done and what was their purpose?
A.S.:  All rituals and experiments are done to learn something about myself. Sometimes done to help change bad habits, or, at least, understand them, to otherwise simply see if these acts are possible, without losing my mind as much as possible.
Some have included: short-term and long-term fasts (both food and liquid), writing in a journal for a year and a half using only my non-dominant hand, the previously mentioned vows of silence, but also vows of chastity, and other acts of self-denial, plus smaller, more repetitive rituals of observance, such as a month-long reverence ritual for femininity.

T.P.L. NYC: Is there a ritual that you have done that you found to be the hardest to stick to and complete?
A.S.:  Yes, the few which had me quitting my addictions.

T.P.L. NYC: Which one did you find particularly fun or easy (prolonged orgasm excluded)?
A.S.: The month-long vow of silence. I wouldn’t say “fun”, but it was a great experience. I would relive it again. I learned so much about myself, and about society as well.

Adel with a candle against a painted wall

T.P.L. NYC: You have an expensive background in art, writing, and music. How do you know which medium your creative ideas will take?
A.S.:  Like my ideas for rituals, I have ebbs and flows of creative ideas, though they usually come in spurts in one productive field at a time. I have been a little scatterbrain here and there, but I mostly work on art for a few weeks, then music for a few days, write a while, etc. Though it’s been quite some time since, as I’ve experienced a few years now of almost nonstop creative influence, I do have periods of inactivity, too.
I would like to state here that I do work a full-time job, in case anyone mistakenly feels I’m fortunate enough to lounge around, and think stuff up (though I do fit time to do just that).  I also do my own Photoshop graphic designs, Dreamweaver website layouts, merchandise distribution, etc. “Work hard, play hard,” is one of my many mottos. I know it can be hard to make ends meet, as well as follow your creative spirit, but if you feed that spirit, it can turn into a demigod.T.P.L. NYC: You have started doing lecturing on occult influences in photography; could you explain a little about this? Is this photographing supernatural occurrences or people actually using supernatural forces to create works of art?

T.P.L. NYC: You have started doing lecturing on occult influences in photography; could you explain a little about this? Is this photographing supernatural occurrences or people actually using supernatural forces to create works of art?

A.S.:  The lecture I wrote is on varying occult influences in and on photography. I started off with comparisons between alchemy and chemistry, which helped spawn the photographic process. Then, the photograph as documentation device for occult lodges, and mediumistic practices in the early 1900s, as well as primitive and fetishistic religions and cults who used photographs in magic spells (both for beneficial or hurtful practices). I finish off by discussing the photographic rituals of Brion Gysin in the late 50s, and end on current photographers who use magic and ritual in the artistic process of photography.  

T.P.L. NYC: You started writing your own zines in the late 80’s and have since gone on to write for major magazines such as Details and Psychology Today. What do you feel is the major difference between writing for yourself and for established magazines?
A.S.:  A paycheck.
If you are honest, and can live with yourself honestly, you will write what you know, and - if not - write fiction. Anyhow, the work will find its way into the right, and sometimes wrong, hands (if you put it out there), and someone will publish it. A few will pay you. Some say there is more leeway with self-publishing, but, if you give it to publishers that release material similar to yours, they will probably let you say whatever it is you want. If someone is being censored, they may have the wrong publisher (maybe even one who stands to make more off you, than you off them).

T.P.L. NYC: You self-published a lot of your works, what are some tactics you did to build your audience and maintain it after all of these years?
A.S.:  Rule One: promote, promote, promote. Too many people think they have such a great idea, it will sell itself. Few can discover what is left buried too deeply.

Rule Two: Network, network, network. You are only as strong as your support system. Also, fans are friends, and the nicer you are, the nicer their words are about you. Be sincere and humble, because the world hates a phony, and sooner or later, those types are left to show who they are. 

Adel gives some support to his band mates.

T.P.L. NYC:  You seem to be very busy on all kinds of projects, what are some other things you enjoy doing besides working so much?

A.S.:  I love a good game of chess. Conversation, and reading, as it keeps the mind sharp, and I really do enjoy them.  I’m a big movie buff, so I try to squeeze one or two in a week. If it’s rare, I also enjoy the hunt. Spend time with my cat, and the people who make my life better. Music is a big part of my life, so I’m out at a show about once a week. With all that, the previously mentioned “lounge around, and think stuff up.”

T.P.L. NYC:  Are you mostly a self-taught artist or did you have formal training? How did you juggle learning all these different skills, or did your life go in phases?
A.S.:  A little bit of everything. When my family first moved to the U.S., my father drew sketches for things he built to sell. He taught me a bit of that. In grammar school, they thought I was artistically inclined, so I did get some attention from teachers, and a bit of study, all the way through high school.
After that, it’s all been self-taught, especially with computers. When I made my ‘zine into a website in 2000, I learned website design, and a bit of Photoshop. When I began to put out material, I got better at Photoshop. When I got into film and photography in 2007, I learned editing programs. It never ends, but (I joke) as a unit of information collection I kinda like it.

T.P.L. NYC: Who are some of your influences in music, art, and writing?
A.S.:  There are just too many to name, and I know I’ll skip some, but here goes: All the classics, of course, so recent and contemporary artists include writers Robert Anton Wilson, Adam Parfrey, Jim Goad, Simon Dwyer, Lisa Carver, Adam Gorightly, Joseph Campbell, William Burroughs and Gary Gygax; artists Austin Spare, ManWoman, HR Giger, Salvador Dali, Brion Gysin, Alex Grey, Andy Warhol;  musicians Angus MacLise, Genesis P-Orridge, David Tibet, Bobby O (especially when writing for Divine), Jello Biafra, H.R., Z’ev, Blixa Bargeld, Los Angeles Free Music Society, Lee 'Scratch' Perry; film makers John Waters, Andy Copp, Jim Van Bebber; and many, many friends in my personal life who inspire me. As Isaac Newton wrote, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

T.P.L. NYC: Of all the works that you have completed could you share with us if there is a painting, song/album, or piece of writing that you have done that sticks out to you the most?
A.S.:  Birth pains are bad, so you tend to love/hate them all equally. Still, I do love my disposable camera project a lot. In this project, I choose one motif, then photograph several series of them on disposable cameras. I ask artists to then work on the camera itself, so it becomes a work of art. The owner of the piece has to figure out how to get the photos within, without destroying the exterior work. I have one series finished, titled Throwaways, with artist Anthony Mangicapra, and two others currently in the works, while two more are in the idea stages.

Souto's Throwaways piece 

T.P.L. NYC: You have been in some galleries. How did you go about getting your work exhibited?
A.S.:  Networking and promotion. I couldn’t get to many of the places I’ve been without the help of friends and backers, as well as turning folks on, who just like art, to my ideas.

A pice from Souto's A Joyous Swastika
T.P.L. NYC: What was the reaction you got for your project A Joyous Swastika?
A.S.:  Wonderful! People know it’s done with no hatred in my heart.
The ancient symbol of the swastika stands for many things, to many cultures, which are completely innocent. I understand that it symbolizes horror to some, and plain negativity to others, but I also understand enough to know those horrors were done under a banner with a hakenkreuz (the symbol for Nazi Germany), and I vow never to play with that specific symbol, and especially for what it stands.
That aside, one cannot ask Buddhist, Vedic Indian, Chinese (the word “swastika” is Sanskrit) or any other cultures who currently use it, and have for millennium, to stop because a group of men and their insane ideas defiled a part of its long history.

We need to hold those who were responsible for what happened, as well as never forget. If a symbol is needed to define what that horror is, as the hakenkreuz, I am fine with that, so long as they are fine with someone like me using the swastika.

T.P.L. NYC:  You are working on a new autobiographical material; what was your life like growing up?
A.S.:  Extreme. My father was one type of person, my mother another. Good people, with bad ideas on raising children (and maybe even living their personal lives), but they sacrificed a lot to let me be where I am. When we first moved to this country, they starved so my sister and I could eat. My childhood is a mixture of long episodes of boredom, peppered with explosive moments of insanity.

T.P.L. NYC: Your bio mentioned that you are from Cuba, how long did you live there?
A.S.:  Not long; about a year. My father was a Spanish citizen, and we moved to Spain soon after my birth, until Franco stepped down, then we came here.

T.P.L. NYC: You also lived in Miami, what was the art scene like down there? What brought you to New York City?
A.S.:  The art scene in Miami is like the art and music scene in NYC. There are schools, galleries, premier shows, seminars, and so on, but it turns out you can make just as much of yourself at home in any city or town across the world nowadays. Admittedly, if you are going to stay away from these cultural centers, and the game systems that revolve around them, then you better work the previously stated Rules One and Two even harder, through whatever channels you have, be it snail mail, internet, social media or whatever is the next wave.

What brought me to NYC was that I knew it was the cultural hub that it is, and thought, “I could make a paycheck somewhere and struggle with my art, or struggle with work in NYC, while making a decent time of it with art.” I’ve lived hand-to-mouth time to time, and knew it would be a struggle, but felt it was the best step to keep growing. I also had a handful of decent friends from back home, and a few other new ones I made while here, who have helped make the transition here easier. As I mentioned, we’re only as strong as our support system.

Also, I have a peculiar history with this city. It was the first place my family came to when we moved to the U.S.; I tried to make it here in the early 90s, and ran back home to Miami; would visit on tour every few months to years; and have always met so many wonderful people in NYC, and from NYC, who changed my life. I knew I needed to make a life here for some time.

T.P.L. NYC: How did you come up with your band name 156?
A.S.:  In the early 90s, I sang for a hardcore band, Timescape Zero, which had a dark image and lyrical twist, I chose a stage name I thought would be fitting, Adel 156. It is an allusion to Aleister Crowley, and his “scarlet whore” Babylon. Though an occult reference, I thought it also fit as a street tagger’s name, with a hint of gang affiliation - many images the band went for - so I kept it.

Ever since, a few friends have kept the 156 moniker for me, so when I began the experimental industrial act I currently record as, I dropped my name, and stuck with simply 156.

Souto's album cover depicting his stage name

T.P.L. NYC: So this blog is about peculiar people. Of all the different projects that you have worked on, which one do you feel is the most peculiar whether it be finished project or experience?A.S.:  With all the experiments and rituals I’ve done, as well as some of the material I’ve produced, both organically and from these experiences, I’m going to say something a little peculiar: be in a band.
I’ve learned that I have stage fright, and cannot handle being looked at by a large number of eyes.

When I speak, and can see who I am speaking to: the larger the crowd, the larger my panic. Not sure if you noticed my shaking at Paul Lucas’ Show and Tell, and that was a group of 20 or so. It’s different when I stand there, pouring my heart out, hoping people understand me.
Yet, when I make music, especially when I sang for the punk and hardcore bands, I get up on stage, and something turns off, while someone else is turned on. I forget the audience is there, and then I dance, pantomime, fly about, jump and holler, preach like in church, and the spirit makes the crowd give me an “Amen!” Somehow, “that guy” couldn’t care if they’re there or not. I was not who I normally am on stage, but ever since my pineal gland experience I have been filled with more confidence (much more), and that liberated person is emerging more and more in my daily life. Still, I find I hold much anxiety. That’s why I know these things need to be done routinely, but, like any mind-altering experience, in moderation.

T.P.L. NYC: What do you feel is the most peculiar thing you have experienced in New York City?

A.S.:  I could never point to just one experience. The last three years have been a riot.
The natural moments include having the “Brooklyn tornado” uproot a tree in my backyard as I stood on my back porch in 2010; looking out the window on Broadway and 34thStreet from an illegal poker house to see people filling the street after the 2011 earthquake were two good ones.

By another’s hand, watching Kenny Millions freak out a small handful of people at a show.
By my own hand, I’d have to say the vow of silence maybe. It had me adjust to living here under odder circumstances than most would want to try.

Maybe in 2005, when a band asked me to do vocals for them, when they opened for Bad Brains at CBGBs, and having folks like Joan Jett, Moby, and Steve Buscemi in the crowd. Well, that’s more surreal, than peculiar.

To learn more about Adel Souto and his work, check out his website:

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