Saturday, October 31, 2015

Traveling the Backwards Path to the Musick of Coil


Like the posthumous novel, there are on occasion albums that appear in the world in the wake of their creators that redefine the artist's trajectory, effectively rewriting their past with it's influence. "Backwards" is such an album. After the rapturous vocal invocations and dream-murmuring of Jhonn Balance ceased upon his accidental death in 2004, his creative partner and ex-lover Peter Christopherson spent the ensuing years having relocated to Thailand, building a shrine to the decades of their shared creative project, Coil. Assembled from sessions ranging from more than a decade old to just weeks before the Jhonn's fatal accident the album was a hauntingly melodic, funereal, maudlin affair. "The Ape of Naples" and it's companion release "The New Backwards" both released in a deluxe vinyl box set in 2007, were the last funereal echo of the dou's decades of shape-shifting psychedelic decadence. Work had also begun on a comprehensive archive of their recorded output, but the "Colour Sound Oblivion" box set was to be the only publicly released artifact of this endeavor before Peter's own demise in 2010. Shortly before his death, in a 2009 interview as part of Resonance FM's feature, "Peter Christopherson on the Hour of the Apocalypse" he spoke to the aesthetic and technical nature of those recordings from a decade before. In the interview he details Coil's choice to never release the fruits born of the sessions spent in the mid-1990s following an invitation to record in Trent Reznor's New Orleans studio. A decision partially born of the recordings being a product of the influences of their time and setting, which as the years passed Christopherson felt Coil had moved beyond. There were also complications with Nothing Records' larger corporate umbrella, Interscope, and the the legal requirements of it's release producing a confluence of factors that caused the album to be shelved. First temporarily and then, as the new century arrived, permanently. Regardless of the the holding field the album itself was contained in, it's mythic status continued to gestate through the decade, occasionally inflated by Coil revealing the inner workings of their "Obscure Mechanics" in philosophical interviews in the pages of The Wire.

At the time a quartet comprising the central constants of Peter and Jhonn, who were then joined by Drew McDowall and Danny Hyde, all involved describe recordings sessions that were fruitful and often inspired. Balance quoted in interviews at the time, spoke of the recordings as a vehicle for exploring the idea of sensory derangement as a path to illumination. In a 2012 in-depth piece for Compulsion Hyde's account of the sessions some 20 years before is that they were fueled by the enthusiasm of travel and the setting of a city abundant with history and it's own richly bohemian pastiche of cultures. As well as the benefits of what he describes as "a very fine studio", there was the intensified blood and passion drawn from working with a crew that were operating in heightened form, particularly he cites; "Geoff Rushton [Jhonn Balance] had been taking vocal lessons as his voice just seemed to project power that I hadn't heard before." Variously titled, "International Dark Skies", "God Please F*ck My Mind for Good", "Fire of the Mind" and "The World Ended A Long Time Ago", the album has gone through as many titles as iterations over the years. From the original 1993 demo cassette leaked from Torso Records to the various tracks appearing via Coil's short-lived Song of the Week series, to a 2001 Dutch Radio4 broadcast containing both demo and New Orleans studio mixes to the aforementioned assimilation of the session's material into the corpus of "The Ape of Naples" and "The New Backwards". The immediate years that followed were prolific as Coil continued into even further-afield esoteric realms of aural exploration, generating numerous side projects and pseudonyms along the way. Their "Black Light District: A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room", the Scrying Mirror enhanced Time Machines and ritualistic Solstice series hinting at the spectral, haunted atmospheres and semi-improvised, open-ended songforms that would characterize the later Musick to Play in the Dark albums of the millennial cusp. Balance and Christopherson were rarely known to look to their own past, particularly in the throes of this new body of somnambulistic Moon Musick. As Astralnauts making forays into "The Sounds of Blakeness" the hope that they would return to the New Orleans sessions became more and more remote.

This month the decades-long story of the album's abstruse genesis comes to a conclusion amid a flurry of activity. Jon Whitney of the longstanding online music and underground culture entity Brainwashed has issued a statement establishing among other things, the ongoing continuance of his work on their shared endeavor in the wake of Peter's death. Upon the occurrence of the Brainwaves Festival in 2008 he and Christopherson began the assimilating and building of the highest quality materials available representing Coil's recorded history into the intended corpus that would become the Threshold Archves. As the entity sanctioned by Christopherson and the family of Geoff Rushton, the archives have released the first of their proposed series in response to releases of varying propriety issued this month by other parties. Foremost among them, Danny Hyde has produced his personal master tapes of the completed "Backwards" album from the British and New Orleans sessions in a edition newly remastered by Gregg Janman. Hyde's statement on the Cold Spring Records site crediting it's entombment for decades at the hands of Interscope to Universal Music's "grey men", and their legal contract concerning it's initial release. For those looking to explore the 22 years of mystic, psychedelic, rapturously unique and deeply beguiling music Jhonn and Peter created over the decades of Coil's existence, there is no better guide to their cultural continuum than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground". More concise compendiums tend to be on the exiguous side, but few resources online balance Coil's deep plumbing of the esoteric with their occasional alignment with the cultural milieu better than Russell Cuzner's Strange World Of... feature for The Quietus, "Serious Listeners: The Strange and Frightening World of Coil". A more personal take on their latter ritualistic Aural-Astral phase can be had in my own assembly of words from 2008, inspired by what was then believed to be their final recordings, "Remote Viewers of Love's Secret Domain: The Musick of Coil".