Michel Faber & Andrew Liles


Year: 2014
Label: Dirter (DPROMCD104)
Format: CD

Bring Bring
It Was The Germans
Early Clues
The Cause
Crackpots Love Radiation
Shiny Carapaces
False dawn
Every Manky Stray
Rodent-Like Newborn To Fluffy Adult
Eating Your Head

Collaboration with the renowned author Michel Faber.

Michel is the author of the Whitbread-shortlisted novel Under the Skin which was brought to the big screen in 2014 by Jonathan Glazer. He is also the author of the highly acclaimed The Crimson Petal and the White, which was adapted into a four-part TV series for the BBC in 2011. He has also written the novellas The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps (2001) and The Courage Consort (2002) and has won several short-story awards, including the Neil Gunn, Ian St James and Macallan. His latest book is ‘The Book of Strange New Things’.

‘Ohrwurm’ is a sinister tale, written and narrated by Michel with musical interludes, refrains, leitmotifs and sound design supplied by Liles.

Released in 6 panel digipack CD with artwork by photographer Eva Faber.


The Germans, in all innocence, came up with the word: Ohrwurm. Earworm. An inanely catchy song or jingle that will not leave your consciousness no matter how much you dislike it. In the final years of capitalist civilisation, earworms of a very different kind arose. Earworms of a lethal disposition.

Early clues to the impending apocalypse were subtle and easy to miss. A few hundred people in different cities dying of unexplained causes. So what?  Humans are temperamental mechanisms and they expire for inexplicable reasons all the time. Many death certificates are sheer conjecture. The fact that Mrs Whatserface from down the road had grown increasingly confused and then dropped dead was a matter for gossip, not existential panic. But when the numbers soared – when the dead began to choke the morgues and disfigure the shopping malls – it was belatedly understood that a new plague had come into the world. Autopsies became more focused, pathologists stopped wasting time and energy on blameless organs like the heart, stomach, lungs and liver. The brain was where the evil was done. Slice open the brain, cleave the hemispheres apart, and you would find creatures that should not be there – louse-like parasites whose minuscule mouths were crammed with grey matter. The brain-eaters had arrived to exterminate mankind.

The cause? Sexual immorality, said the fundamentalists. Food additives, said the health freaks. Poison in the water supply, argued the conspiracy theorists. An extraterrestrial virus, suggested the Sci-Fi geeks. All these possibilities and more were investigated by an increasingly desperate confederacy of scientists and physicians, themselves prey, like everyone else, to sudden death from the disease. After exhaustive tests, the earworms were finally traced back to their source: the mobile telephone.

Of course, the possibility that mobile phones were carcinogenic had been mooted for years, but the target of suspicion – whether by scientists or paranoid cranks – had been the radiation. Crackpots love radiation because it is invisible yet harmful, a combination that thrills their conspiracy-addled brains. Scientists love radiation because it can be measured. They can point out that the rotations of molecules induced by the mobile’s electromagnetic field raise the temperature of the human head by only a fraction of a degree, less than would be achieved by the sun coming out from behind the clouds. Whereupon the Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz – the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection – declares itself unconvinced, and insists that more research needs to be done. All this kerfuffle and claptrap – all this discussion of thermoreceptors and watts per gramme – was barking up the wrong tree, of course. The true danger posed by mobile phones was not in the signals they emitted nor anything to do with their function. It was, like most deadly evils, organic in origin.

Encased within the shiny carapaces of these devices, in tiny but significant quantities, lurked a complex ecosystem of minerals and chemicals – mercury, lithium, lead, arsenic, beryllium, tantalum, cadmium, zinc, antimony, polycarbonate, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, brominated flame retardant, as well as dozens of trace elements from the exotic soils of Inner Mongolia, Jiangxi and Guangdong. It was these ingredients, combined with microscopic motes of skin, sweat and body oil from the flesh of the phone users, that bred the deadly organisms. The innards of the telephone functioned, in fact, like a miniature android laboratory, an experimental environment dedicated to conceiving and nurturing the smallest form of life. The organisms proliferated as invisible mites which penetrated the pink flesh of the phone user’s earlobes, and then burrowed deeper into the head, eventually making their home in the spongy cauliflower of the brain, growing into slender, translucent grubs. The earworms fed frugally, keen to maintain a viable host-parasite relationship, but the relationship tended to last only a few months before there was more worm than brain and the host expired in terrifying fits of delirium.

Among the most troubling of symptoms of earworm infestation was palinacousis, an auditory affliction in which the sufferer, upon hearing a sound, continued to hear that sound over and over and over, despite there being no repetition in acoustic reality. In extreme cases, people whose heads echoed ceaselessly with the most maddening noises – the squeak of faulty furniture, the barking of neurotic dogs, the slimy croon of Spandau Ballet’s ‘True’– were driven to suicide.

A false dawn of hope came two years into the epidemic, when it was discovered that one group of people were apparently immune to the earworm: cat lovers. It appeared that the ownership of a feline conferred a mysterious immunity. Dogs, rabbits and hamsters didn’t cut the mustard: it had to be cats.

Of course, once this was known, there was a desperate rush on cat ownership. Every manky stray, every kitten hitherto destined for drowning, every old and ugly shelter-dweller mouldering on Euthanasia Row, was snatched into the bosom of needy families. Bankers and stockbrokers who had plundered billions without the slightest interference from the law were shocked to find themselves legally prevented from buying up cats in bulk. Each citizen was allowed just one. Rap stars, R&B bimbos and other celebrities, accustomed to provoking heightened adulation in their fans by vulgar displays of wealth and privilege, procured cats for each of their swarm of servants and hangers-on, but quickly discovered that the reaction of the public to such flaunting of feline excess was not starstruck envy but righteous rage. Pampered divas were found murdered in their mansions or even dragged from their limos by chanting mobs. Before long, the rich learned to be discreet about their cats. Pretentiousness about cat brands went out the window, too: formerly shameless snobs adjusted their standards so that a lowly tabby was as good as a Persian purebred. The middle classes, meanwhile, waited in line for each litter of fresh kittens, and read with anxious interest the news reports (possibly merely rumours) of cat farms where an animal could be reared from rodent-like newborn to fluffy adult in 72 hours. There were reports too (again, possibly rumours) that legions of abandoned dogs were being rounded up, slaughtered and processed for cat food, whose sales had increased fiftyfold. In the post-earworm landscape, no one would admit to disliking cats anymore; it would be tantamount to disliking antibiotics or plasma. As for the gluten-free soymilk drinkers who had once declared that they were allergic to pets, they eagerly buried their faces in the abdominal fur of their new pussies as though indulging in trans-species cunnilingus.

The irony of all this brand-new cat love – as epidemic as the epidemic itself – was that it was totally ineffective against the disease. Only long-term, leisurely exposure to the feline antibodies, absorbed through the skin molecule by molecule over a period of years before the advent of the earworm, had the desired effect. It was prophylaxis, not cure. If you had always loved cats, your love had inoculated you; if your affection was new and cynical, you could stroke the fur as much as you wished, you could sleep with your cheek on the cat’s flank, you could submit to the creature’s raspy tongue on your knuckles or the smell of kitty litter on your thighs, and none of it would stop the earworms eating your head.