Saturday, 31 March 2012

'Wishful Thinking: In Remembrance of Peter Christopherson'
 AV Festival, March 17th 2012

    I was, and am still, a big Throbbing Gristle fan.

     When I first really 'got into' music in the late 1970s (I was just too young and middle class for punk) they opened my eyes to lots of countercultural activities and it would be fair to say that they (and others like them) played a part in making me what I am today.

   The most interesting offshoot  of TG which came to an end, of sorts, in 1980 was Coil; at its core a duo of Peter(Sleazy) and John Balance. I was in touch with Geoff Rushton/John Balance for some years and did what might have been the first Coil article  for a little fanzine I edited.

    Coil travelled some interesting roads blending music and magick, bonded with a strong homosexual content, and whilst not everything was to my taste, their ritualistic soundscapes are still part of my regular listening, as is the melancholy ambient of Christopherson's final solo music project The Threshold Houseboys Choir, Coil having ceased with Balance's death in 2004.

    T.G. reformed some years ago, performing sporadically, but were also working on a project, instigated by Sleazy, that being a reimagining of Nicos 1970 album 'Desert Shore'. This project was not just the four  TG members but also contributions from others.

    With Christopherson's sudden death in 2010 the mantle fell on Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti to bring the work to fruition, a process which is still ongoing and due to be completed later this year. Newcastle's AV festival event world premiered a number of these works in progress as part of the larger evening dedicated to Chrisopherson's memory.

    The evening began with a single bell chime and an improvised soundscape of bowed and struck objects setting a suitably meditational atmosphere in the dimly lit cinema. This is slowly superceded by a recording of Durham Cathedral's interior, made by sound artist Chris Watson whose microphones picked up the subtleties of the rattles, footsteps, and draughts of a very early morning all amplified and tramsmuted by the sonics of the vast interior itself. there are no additional treatments made to these recordings. After some minutes of this Attila Csihar (of the groups Mayhem and Sunn O)))) added live vocals chanted, looped and fed back to the audience. 

L-R: Attila Csihar, Chris Carter & Cosey Fanni Tutti in rehersal
 A figure/mass of flickering lights moved around the space, the radios attached to him fighting the airwave static to allow snatches of Peters voice to be heard to those in closest proximity to it, while the screen showed a series of richly sombre coloured slides by Alex Rose, symbols of mortality, youths and colour fields overlaid and fading until darkness resumes.
'Radio Head' figure (performed by your scribe)
   Cosey then gave a short introduction to the Desert Shore pieces telling the audience that the opening sounds are Sleazy's with Carter/Tutti subsequently integrating them into each track. The four pieces presented were, as one might imagine, radically different from the spartan sound of Nico's original. I must confess that I have always liked the idea of Nico's music rather than the reality of it. Her voice can be nice; I love harmoniums, which she uses a lot, and John Cale performs on or produces on many of her lps; but easy listening it isn't and none of her albums (barring the excellent 'Chelsea Girls') hit the spot for me.

  Only one; 'My only Child' has vocals by Tutti and is perhaps as near to popular music as it gets, while 'Abschied' has vocals by Blixa Bargeld (of Einsturzende Nuebauten) and 'Le Petit Chevalier' is performed by Argentinean film director Gasper Noé. However the best piece is a wonderful version of 'Janitor of Lunacy' sung by Anthony (of the Johnsons) Hegarty, over an eerie backdrop of steel guitar and cornet. 'Janitor...' is one of my favourite Nico songs but Hegarty's unusual voice pays both homage to the original while making it more accessible, a win-win result for my ears. In fact the whole album promises to be great and would certainly be played more than poor Nico's original version- at least in this house.

    The final piece is not a 'Desert Shore' track but one assumes it will appear on the LP. Over an ambient backdrop, the vocals, "meet me on the desert shore" are spoken, whispered, murmured, layered and looped by the "voices of those who were close to him". It is a simple and surprisingly  moving eulogy to conclude the first half of the evening.

    The second half comprised of three films.

    The first is 'La Cicatrice Intérieure' ('The Inner Scar') 1970 by experimental French director Philippe Garrel and starring Nico; who provides the soundtrack that later became part of the 'Desert Shore' LP

    This The stills indicate the 1970s seriousness and posturing that ensues over what felt like a very looonnnng time. Though are some good images (deserts, lava, Iceland? etc), it really suffers from having no subtitles (apparently at the directors insistence) so you might be veiwing a scene ofa naked man on a cliff face innocently hacking at some rocks when, suddenly, from above, you have Nico shouting some German at you. At the end of one shot where the actors have trailed through some white landscape first Nico (after some more shouting) collapses. Her compatriot after trailing along another 50 yards or so then does the same. Much laughter ensued. I especially liked scene of the naked man in a boat containing an open fire sailing towards an icy shoreline. A health and safety nightmare, and wrong in so many ways. 

Even these moments of levity were not enough to prevent a large number of walk-outs. I think that the drugs must have been great in those days. My friend, who was a 70s hippie, thinks they were but isn't sure as he can't remember.

    Next was Jarman's 'Journey to Avebury' shot in 1971 (but with a more recent Coil soundtrack) and comprising of scenes en route to the stones. Each shot had a 'bleached out' summer feel to it (whether this was by accident or design I do not know, but I suspect filtered to achive the effect) and seemed to be held no more than, say, five seconds. This worked suprisingly well, as the colouring held the film together and is short at only 10 minutes.

    The main feature 'The Angelic Conversation' (1985) also has a Coil soundtrack and is, in my opinion, Jarman's best film. Over an ambient score of bullroarers, metal clashing, water running and dripping, drones and tones, Judi Dench reads extracts from Shakespeare's sonnets, to a slowed grainy overlaid semi-dreamscape series of images consisting of youths walking through smoke/dust, anointing one another, swiming and engaging in 'ritualistic' activity in a landscape that seemed to be high summer. 

    I have always felt that Jarman's more commercial titles( if one can call anything he did 'commercial') ie 'Jubilee', 'The Tempest', 'Carravaggio' were all overlong and needed pruning- but for me, in 'Angelic Conversation' the shots are sustained long enough to to seduce the eye but not to bore it. As an introduction to Coil and Jarman it cannot be be bettered and this formed a peaceful end to what had been a great evening.