fork post never sent #1
jsb at polymathy.org
Wed Sep 17 15:39:05 PDT 2003
I'm always obsessed with something, or several somethings.
Right now it's various forms of the mystical and arche
"(who laugh and cry)who dream,create and kill
while the whole moves;and every part stands still"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Drawing on esoteric notions of alchemy and magick, the music of Coil maps a
hidden world of altered perspectives and arcane practices.
Story by John Everall
In an age of mercurial genre-crossings and mongrel hybrids, Coil remain pure,
uncontaminated; pursuing a singular vision in documenting an unconventional,
yet enormously valid, world view. "Certain tracks on certain Coil records are
designed to trigger altered states, whether this happens or not is to some
extent up to the listener," states the group's John Balance, outlining one of
Coil's fundamental concerns. "Without wishing to sound pompous, we want to
make sacred music. I don't mean something that assumes Messianic proportions
or delusions, but I think all good music should be an attempt to change
people's mind-sets." Balance comprises one third of Coil (the other members
being ex-Throbbing Gristle agitator Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson and recent
addition Drew McDowall) and is eager to pursue this subject: "I would regard
some of La Monte Young's music as sacred. Beefheart also, in an animistic
sense. I think his music has a very powerful shamanic quality to it. Music
conceived as pure entertainment I do have a problem with, but then again
certain music which is perceived as pure entertainment I would regard as
having these qualities; for instance, Martin Denny. Also Acid House, because
like The Butthole Surfers at their best, it took you to a point of brilliant
For over a decade Coil have warped, twisted and transmitted sound in a manner
pertinent to their immersion in the world of esoteric ideas. On 1985's
Scatology, the inspiration was explicitly alchemical theories. "Scatology
contained numerous references to the alchemical process," says Balance "I'm
obsessed with the idea of turning base matter into gold, transmuting base
materials, ie raw sound, into something else - the gold in the process. We
recorded some rather peculiar practices which we then transformed and
manipulated in accordance with our specific aims."
This idea of an alchemy of sound is an area they plan to re-explore for their
forthcoming album on Trent Reznor's Nothing label, Backwards.
"With Backwards we're returning to a lot of our original ideas and intentions.
On recent material we've used synths a great deal, but this time we want to go
out and make recordings in the wild and process them, twisting them around."
Coil's desire to process, twist and warp their sonic content has led to the
development of what they term, in homage to Occult artist Austin Osman Spare,
Sidereal Sound: "Obviously the term sidereal relates to stars, but also
through wordplay to looking at reality sideways, from a new angle or
perspective. So as Spare twisted images in space, we adopt a similar process
with sound. We've always been into sonic deviation and experimentation."
Coil's techniques of sound transfiguration adumbrate certain developments in
post-Techno and the Isolationist end of the Ambient spectrum. This is now
being acknowledged, if somewhat belatedly. The group's influence is readily
detectable in the work of Scanner (eavesdropping on mundane conversations was
pursued by Sleazy back in his TG days), several of the 'Isolationists' as well
as Autechre (who have consistently namechecked Coil of late). "There are some
interesting connections developing," says Balance referring to the group's
forthcoming collaborations with Autechre, Atom Heart, Bill Laswell and Tetsu
In the meantime, Coil have been working with William Burroughs. "We worked
with William on a track for Backwards. What interests me about William is his
mind, not the sound of his voice. So that is what we wanted to capture. When
we were working on the Ministry video "Just One Fix" [directed by
Christopherson and featuring Burroughs] we asked him to recite certain key
words and phrases for us. This material has a shamanic quality to it, really
it is a magickal spell. This is where we connect with William; he describes
the invisible world, he documents the hidden mechanisms. This is what we also
seek out; the secret mechanisms, the Occult, if you like, given that Occult
simply means hidden."
With so many artists currently flirting with Occult symbolism, grasping the
shadow rather than the substance, it is heartening to see artists such as
Coil, Bill Laswell, David Toop & Max Eastley, even Julian Cope exploring
arcane knowledge with lucidity and intelligence: "I think the majority of
people interested in the Occult are just confused," suggests Balance. "Those
with a genuine interest have something valid to communicate. I think somebody
like Julian Cope, in his Arch-Drude phase, has common interests with us. I
like people who have a tendency to be hermetic, abrasive, out of step, but
usually ahead of their time.
"I also have a great interest in the idea of sensory derangement being a path
to illumination. We toyed with the idea of calling our next album God Please
Fuck My Mind For Good, which is a quote from Beefheart where the double
meaning appeals to me. Love's Secret Domain was an instance of this; on that
album we were pushing things too far, both mentally and physically. Both
myself and Stephen Thrower [ex-Coil member] started seeing spectral presences
in the studio, which looked like the mummified figures of ancient kings and
queens. After finishing that record I collapsed on the floor, not knowing who
I was or where I was."
Coil's next release documents a variety of their esoteric interests. Entitled
The Sound Of Music, it compiles the music they contributed to Derek Jarman's
films Journey To Avebury and Blue, as well as the unreleased soundtrack to
Clive Barker's Hellraiser. Also imminent is their first album as ELpH, Worship
The Glitch, "ELpH is when we no longer recognize our presence in the music,"
explains Balance "It's the idea of taking the dead spaces, the mistakes and
The Sound Of Music and Worship The Glitch are due for release in the near
future on Eskaton (through World Serpent)
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