Friday, October 31, 2008

Remote Viewers of Love's Secret Domain : The Musick of Coil

For all their maybe doing a little bit of the too much love of the psychotropics, astral projection, kabbalistic magick, prophetic kooks, sparkling scrying mirrors, time travel and charged male symbolism in the past two decades - there's no music somewhat remotely equivocal to what the duo of Jhonn Balance and Peter Christopherson generated as Coil. Active in various forms in the early UK Industrial Music culture of the 1980's, Peter played no small role in the scene, being one of the original members of Throbbing Gristle, who's Industrial Records label is where the very genre name was coined. In retrospect, its apparent now how they were one of the few acts to salvage themselves from the ruin of the Post-Punk Industrial (can we say Goth?) sound by the time that genre imploded (read: commercial success and major label deals) at the end of the decade. At a time when most of their contemporaries were abandoning the inventiveness of analog hardware based tape collage, found-sound, junk-music, handbuilt racket and literal 'industrial music' in favor of studio theatrics backed by drum machines, synthesizers and preset sounds - Coil were forging their own sound from existing/custom software, heavily manipulated samples and digital/analog cut-up and collage. By the conclusion of the 1980's their sound was a heady melange of their own extreme brand of Pop-Industrial infused with such disparate influences as Surrealism, Dada, Italian Futurism, Acid House, Krautrock, early Computer Music, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Brion Gysin, Wilhelm Reich, Musique Concrete, LaMonte Young, their studies in Kabbalistic and Enochian Magick and adventurous cinema by the likes of Derek Jarman, Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger.

This period of their sound bore such strange fruit and surreal (and I do mean *surreal*) sonic ventures as the widely hailed (and equally loathed amongst their Goth/Industrial purist fanbase) albums as the warped LSD-disco of "Love's Secret Domain", the wonkily unhinged odds-and-ends collection "Stolen & Contaminated Songs" and the highlight of this period, 1996's cinematic "Coil presents: Blacklight District - A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room". Running parallel with all this activity, a side project Elph was initiated, exploring more abstract, purely electronic tonalities and textures culminating in 1995's "Worship the Glitch". Also, during this time were seen two volumes in the erratum-collecting anthology series "Unnatural History" which compiled together various unreleased versions, single B-sides and rare compilation tracks from the late 80's to 90's - and often featured their most unrefined, absurdist and malformed work. While retaining their original fascination with atmosphere, their 1990's work shifted the intended effect from dread, malaise and angst to one that inspired a disconcerting, cerebrally misaligned, often disorienting and decidedly more psychedelic mindstate.

Upping the 'bent' qualities of their sonic/philosophical music/psychological worldview to include extended Astral Projection facilitating tonal jams (with recommended psychotropic accompaniment) - 1999's "Time Machines" album arrived replete with a Scrying Mirror and instructions for attaining 'higher states' while listening/ imbibing. The turn of the century found them bringing more members and collaborators into the fold as they both expanded and refined their sound. Releasing a CD in the Raster-Noton label's new century celebrating "20 Minutes to 2000" series clearly established their new cultural alignments. By the beginning of the 00's they had moved beyond genre and scene codification into realms of what could only be called the advanced, the abstract and the weird. Making "Moon Musick" their new Modus Operandi, they sought to connect the surreal and crepuscular with the meditative and emotive in a sound more subdued, ritualistically pagan and melodic than any of their previous incarnations. The two volumes of "Musick to Play in the Dark", (most notably, the first) the limited edition tour releases; "Queens of the Circulating Library" and "Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil" along with the seasonally released Solstice and Equinox singles and the oceanic ambiance of "Astral Disaster" are documents of this dream-speaking, somnambulistic, nocturnal phase.

Later-period albums by the duo of Peter Christopherson and Jhonn Balance with then-regular members; Thighpaulsandra and Ossian Brown in their evolution as post-Industrial, post-LSD Disco, post-Kabbalistic Shaman Tone Time Machines, post-Terry Riley jamming with Harry Smith on computers whatever-the-hell -they-are outfit they became in the mid-2000's are best epitomized on the Musique Concrete-like "Restitution of Decayed Intelligence" and their extended exploration of the one-of-a-kind Russian ANS Synthesizer as the triple CD/DVD "ANS". It was during this time that the ongoing struggle in Jhonn's life with alcoholism and various health issues become more and more a factor, with him being unable to attend performances and many of their works being released as 'in progress' statements on limited CDR's direct from the Coil website. The highlight of these releases; "Remote Viewers" with its Burroughs/Bowles eastern exoticism and extended live string jams and what by all evidence suggested itself to be their finest album since "Love's Secret Domain" and "Blacklight District" - the majestic, grand, darkly ritualistic (and unfinished) "Black Antlers".

As always with Coil, things seemed in flux, this time though, it was with the sad news of Jhonn's (birthname Geoff Rushton) passing in 2004 due to a fatal accident that Coil's singular musical adventure into the unknown came to its conclusion. Peter's continued work on various unfinished tracks and unreleased projects continued through 2007 - with him having relocated to Thailand to complete "The Ape of Naples" and most recently the long-lost 1995 album for Trent Reznor's Nothing imprint "Backwards"posthumously. These both have been released in 2008 as a closing statement of sorts through their own Threshold House imprint and Important Records as a deluxe LP set. Though a more expansive representation of Coil's decade-spanning Musickal Adventure can be heard in the perfectly formed compilation they assembled as the double CD "The Golden Hare With A Voice Of Silver" in 2003. All photos : Coil live @ ATP 2003 : courtesy Steven Sampaio.

Link to The Wire 'Obscure Mechanics' article on Coil

Link to Important Records 'The New Backwards' site

Link to Threshold House Label site

Link to official Coil site