Thursday, 19 August 2010

Coil – Colour Sound Oblivion: Disc 3 Convergence, New York , 2001 & Disc 4 DK Gorbunova, Moscow, 2001

CSO 3: New York 18/08/01 – Convergence
Mood: Glowing
Personnel: Jhon Balance, Peter Christopherson, Thighpaulsandra, Tom Edwards & Martin Schellard (additional performers Danny McKernan & Matthew Gibson)

CSO 4: Moscow 15/09/01 – DK Gorbunova
Mood: Glowing
Personnel: Jhon Balance, Peter Christopherson, Thighpaulsandra & Tom Edwards

Tracklist (same for both discs):
Higher Beings Command
Amethyst Deceivers
What Kind of Animal Are You?
Blood from the Air
I Am the The Green Child
Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil

The performances on the next two discs are examples of Coil’s second live period, what is often referred to as the Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil live era, one of which is excellent and the other extraordinary. The second time that I saw Coil play was the Persistence is All performance at the Royal Festival, London, on the 19th September 2000. This performance was considerably different from their earlier Time Machines concert, and represented an early outing for their second live manifestation. The set list at the London show was very similar to the two shows on these discs, the only difference was the earlier inclusion of Titan Arch from Love’s Secret Domain, which was replaced at the later concerts by the new song What Kind of Animal Are You? For these concerts the members of Coil were now all clad in what looked like highly reflective boiler suits with loose hanging straps, and they appeared to be made-up to look like they had received head trauma. Depending on the lighting being used, they have the appearance of brutalised cosmonauts having escaped from their straightjackets, or as headless glowing spectral figures haunting the stage.

By this point there had been a clear evolution from their restrained, disciplined and slow ritualistic performances into a much more violent and unconstrained mood, where the magickal intent was clearly somewhat different. Other changes were apparent, including the new set-list, alternative line-up, diverse instrumentation, and the striking visual backdrop. Whilst the two concerts from New York and Moscow in 2001 share an identical set-list, they actually provide some intriguing contrasts, so I thought I would review both of them together.

The New York concert on disc 3, Coil’s only show in the United States, was originally shot and recorded by Don Poe of Muteelation, and had been previously released by him as an officially sanctioned video and CDr. This was a well shot and well edited recording, with the sound and visual quality being of a high standard. For Colour Sound Oblivion Sleazy has undertaken some considerable additional editing, most of which involves blending the performance video with the backing projections to spectacular effect, which raises Coil’s performance to an even higher level of intensity. (Sleazy’s projections for these performances, along with the aural backing track, are included in the double DVD set which make up the final two discs of the box-set). Coil arrive on stage accompanied by Balance’s repeated intoning of Something from Musick to Play in the Dark 2,at which point Balance announces that they are dedicating the concert to the moon. The sound then morphs into the sweeping majesty of Higher Beings Command from Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil. The line-up and instrumentation for this show is slightly different from earlier performances, with Ossian Brown being replaced by Martin Schellard playing heavily processed guitar drones and Tom Edwards adding a very distinctive Marimba rhythm.

Thighpaulsandra can be seen playing one of the group’s rare and wonderful Fenix modular synthesisers throughout the concert, a key piece of sound equipment that largely defines the group’s early live sound, together with the later studio soundscapes of Queens of the Circulating Library and Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil. This beautiful piece of equipment is noticeably absent from the later Moscow 2001 performance.

The next track is a version of Amethyst Deceivers which delivers an interplay between a beautiful deep electronic pulse, that calls to mind the padding approach of a giant feline creature, and Edward’s angular Marimba. Schellard and Thighpaulsandra add stabs of guitar drones and electronic noise to accompany Balance’s heavily processed vocals. This is followed by what is arguably one of the highlights of this particular performance, the new track What Kind of Animal Are You? This piece is marked by a sense of urgency, trauma and intensity, beginning with angular and atonal electronics over which Balance vividly recalls a dream in which he was a large black dog and a man on a cross wearing a crown of thorns. Here Balance’s live vocal performance (unprocessed) begins to reach a new level of intensity, one that would increasingly define much of Coil’s live work. This is a remarkably powerful musical and vocal performance - dynamic, intense and terrifying. As the song’s opening section makes way for the frenetic and swirling electronic insanity of the mid-section, it becomes a kind of transformative ritual centred around one of the key magickal concerns of the group, namely the relation between man and animal. Balance seems to become possessed by powerful forces as he screams of becoming an animal (dog and salamander). This is contrasted by a careful and challenging insistence, signalled by a distinct alteration of the musical dynamic, that when you ‘peel your plastic back, you’ll see’ that man is the animal, that man is divine and that there is no time. It is clear that Balance has once again taken on the role of the intermediary between the dimension of man and animal, pursuing the transformative potential of moving from man to animal and then beyond. With this performance Coil are continuing and persisting with one of the key obsessions evident from the group’s earliest live ‘art’ piece from 1983.

Balance mistakenly introduces the next track as I Am the Green Child, but quickly corrects himself to announce Blood from the Air (from Horse Rotorvator). His vocals, again heavily electronically processed and distorted, are sung over the top of a restrained and disciplined musical performance that sounds indistinguishable from the original studio recording. Balance becomes a demonic messenger, singing of pain and dread, delivering the good news that everything changes and everything dies. Then comes I am the Green Child from Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil, a piece that is all angular marimba, resonant electronics and animal howling. Again Balance assumes a demonic role, emerging from some otherworldy dimension full of anger and vengeful humour. This track functions as dynamic preparation for the second highlight of this brilliant performance, the full-on vertiginous intensity and madness of Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil. The final sixteen minutes mark a controlled descent into an almost inconceivable realm of aural lunacy where Coil elaborate a true cacophonous wall of sound. This is a piece that appears to reveal (to me at least) their obvious concern with discerning and rendering tangible to an audience the invisible barriers and the limits that separate us from other dimensions, to render them manifest and to perform some kind of brief assault upon them. As we draw ever nearer to climax two naked male figures appear on stage bearing a large sheet of metal against which Balance performs the seemingly futile gesture of smashing his head. There is a chaotic sexual eroticism made manifest here, a beautiful masculine fecundity of colour and sound that swells, sweats, throbs and explodes. A fitting climax to a remarkable show suffused with dread, anxiety and ecstasy.
However, as is evident from the frequent stage visits by the venue’s sound technician, Coil’s performance in New York was plagued throughout by a number of technical glitches and failures. This doesn’t seriously detract from what is a quite outstanding concert (and video recording) that was extremely well received by Coil’s US fanbase at the time. But what does become obvious, particularly when you watch both of these performances next to each other, is that the New York show appears slightly disjointed and less coherent. The Moscow performance is, by contrast, the near perfection of this particular live manifestation of Coil. Here the set-list functions as a coherent whole, with the complex dynamics being allowed the space to build and function successfully. The high quality and close-up video recording of the 2001 Russian performance was made by FeeLee and has been previously released on VHS.

Watching this performance the extent of Coil’s desire for it to function as a ritualistic act of cleansing and transfiguration became clearer to me – they are elaborating animal becomings, allowing demonic voices to deliver their commanding messages about death, change and renewal, and summoning the courage to confront the limits, to dwell on the threshold and to attempt to go across (or as Balance says, to ‘go under in the company of animals’).

Coil again appear during the ritual invocation of Something, glowing and bearing the same head wounds as before. Balance announces a much longer dedication, which includes all those suffering from incarceration, either externally or internally imposed, those with the courage to live life as it should be lived free from the constraints of sexual inhibition and prejudice, and finally to madness. As was evident from the earlier New York show, this performance will be all about madness. Balance performs a series of significant invocationary gestures as they proceed seamlessly into Higher Beings Command, summoning the messengers from beyond and touching them down to the ground. The screened projections, which are identical to the New York show, are magnificent and are brilliantly edited with the close-up live footage (which is shot on stage during the performance). Coil’s line-up was slightly different from New York due to the absence of Martin Schellard and his processed guitar drones, which are absent from the overall sound presentation. Tom Edwards remains on Marimba throughout, and Thighpaulsandra is operating without the mighty Fenix synthesiser, which has been replaced by two smaller analogue keyboards and a theremin. The replacement of the Fenix by these different types of synthesiser gives the Moscow concert a very different and distinctive overall sound, particularly during the strange intense bursts of electricity that occasionally surge forth from the theremin.

As they move into the familiar rendition of Amethyst Deceivers (which is accompanied by a particularly beautiful and hypnotic visual projection) the close-up live footage allows us to see the way Balance is performing the electronic manipulation of his vocals with a hand-controller, which is fascinating to watch. The song offers a controlled prelude to the frenzied outpouring that is What Kind of Animal Are You? If anything Balance’s performance is even more intense, mesmerizing and extraordinary than the New York show. When I was watching this I became uncomfortably aware that Balance is bringing something formless and unnameable into being, he goes to the extreme to manifest a seething force or energy of the animal, and what’s more he succeeds. It is a hauntingly affective moment that displays the kind of total commitment and sincerity that Balance repeatedly displayed in his live performances. This was anything but Coil by numbers (‘just join the dots’). Balance uses the vulnerability of his ‘wounds’ to lay bare his own animal limits, and to summon up deep atavistic reserves and to channel them into being. It was at this point when watching this performance, which is so full of atavistic becoming, seething with erotic excess and a frenzied electronic automatism, that an intuitive link occurred to me – these performances were obviously a deliberate aural approximation of Austin Osman Spare’s atavistic and orgiastic animal magick. Spare’s art was always significant to Coil, and one can find numerous explicit (as well as implicit) references to his art throughout all of their work. Think here of the sidereal recordings that begin with Love’s Secret Domain and continue with Worship the Glitch and Black Light District. It should come as no surprise then that Coil should demonstrate an ambition to manifest Sparean tropes within their live work. To me the Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil era appears to manifest something akin to Spare’s Ugly Ecstasy and Seance art; voluptuous automatic sketches of erotic multidimensional becomings, where Spare employs a looping and sweeping autonomous line that traces the emergent organic forms at the very point of their magickal becoming from out of the shapeless non-organic mass, and strange pastels/paintings where an ethereal space, dominated by the colour green, is haunted by terrifying spiritual sirens.

These are works of interdimensional becoming, suffused by the erotic desire to transgress everyday boundaries of the normative and the organic, and they were always more than mere illustration or representation – the works themselves function as the means for enacting that becoming, they are gateways allowing the spaces for other (frightening, excessive and ancient) things to come through. This, it seems to me, was what Coil were aspiring to in these excessive and violent performances - animal becomings, demonic emergences, the activation of the ancient Ids of the world - Sparean and Lovecraftian manifestations.

The focussed discipline at work is evident in the stark change in dynamics as they perform Blood from the Air. This is about as good a performance of an individual track that Coil ever achieved. Balance is lyrically spot-on, and the song is perfectly paced and faultlessly executed. The intense and frenetic invocation of the previous track gives way to a tremendously bleak and powerful meditation on the inevitability of pain, death and transformation. This in turn acts as a reflective moment before we are once again plunged into the mad terrain of Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil. The demonic angularity and aggression of I Am The Green Child, with the stage bathed in beautiful green light and hypnotic vortices being projected behind them, leads to the inevitable descent into the final climactic episode. As we descend into the utter sonic chaos at the climax of the show the following words are repeatedly screened on the projection - GOD PLEASE FUCK MY MIND FOR GOOD. The DVD recording of the final section of the Moscow show perfectly captures Coil’s efforts to transcribe the seething contorted mass of becoming one perceives in Spare’s work into an aural and performative medium.

Here the Ugly Ecstasy becomes realised in the sheer overwhelming force of the sensory assault Coil manage to conduct. Something formless, unspeakable and previously intangible is glimpsed, felt and experienced during these final few minutes. Like Spare’s own magickal work, Coil also display an awe-inspiring degree of absurd splendour and grandeur that accelerates towards a vertiginous outpouring of dark visceral power. This is an environment momentarily transformed by Coil’s performance into a seething mass where everything appears to be fornicating, the automatism of the complex and layered electronic cacophony allows all kinds of things to become manifest from elsewhere. This is an utterly compelling spectacle, and a true marvel to have it captured on screen. As Coil exit the stage the following words are flashed up on the screen - 'RESIST THE THINGS YOU CAN FIND EVERYWHERE' - amen to that.

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