PETER MARTIN CHRISTOPHERSON "SLEAZY"
DURING HALLOWEEN 2010 MY HOUSE IN NORTHERN ITALY WAS FLOODED AND I WAS LOCKED THERE WITH NO ELECTRICITY AND NO HEAT FOR TWO DAYS. BUT ON THE 2ND OF NOVEMBER I RUSHED OUT THROUGH THE MUD THAT WAS STILL FILLING THE ENTRANCE AND HEADED TO BOLOGNA TO ATTEND WHAT LATER BECAME PETER’S ONE BUT LAST LIVE PERFORMANCE.
Peter Martin Christopherson was born in Leeds in 1955 and as a teenager became interested in photography and graphics. During the ‘70s he started to work as a designer with music-involved agency Hypgnosis, responsible for some of the most remarkable covers of that decade, such as Pink Floyd’s “Atom Earth Mother” and Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy”. He is also credited for having been the first to take a photo of the still unknown Sex Pistols during their early days.
But in the ‘70s he also became involved with a project that in its evolutions has for certain aspects been far more important than the Sex Pistols themselves. This was COUM Transmission, a performance company founded by the groundbreaking artist Genesis P-Orridge (so called because he had to live on porridge due to lack of money) and his girlfriend Cosey Fanny Tutti. Their performances, formerly acts of weird body language, soon became involved with sound experimentations, as can be heard on the recently released album of COUM Transmissions, “The Sound of Porridge Boiling”. This is where Peter, with no musical experience, was first involved with electronic sound manipulations and noises. COUM soon dismantled in favor of a permanent music entity, which was completed with the involvement of Chris Carter, the only one of the four to have a musical and electro-technical background.
The last performance of COUM Transmission in 1976 was Throbbing Gristle’s first. From that moment on, for five years, TG released tons of disturbing music (mainly under their own label Industrial Records) and made several remarkable concerts. Their imagery was a full-range look into humans’ darkest depths: serial killers, concentration camps, child pornography. Their first issue as a band went down in 1977: United/Zyklon B Zombie, then followed by “Second Annual Report” which featured several live recordings and the track “After Cease to Exist”, the soundtrack of a COUM Transmissions’ film. The “First Annual Report”, featuring material from ‘75-’76 was issued under this name only 20 years later, collecting material from the very first cassettes they had recorded and sent to friends.
Beyond the immediate shock, what TG aimed to do was “to make people think” instead of doing what they were told to. This is why they’re also often associated with the anarchist-punk movement and took part in Crass’s Toxic Pamphlet with some “Industrial News”.
After the release of “D.o.A. the third and final report of Throbbing Gristle” (1978), which included some disturbing non-musical recordings and a solo track for each member, their sound started to become more refined and cleaner, as can be heard on the following release “20 Jazz Funk Greats” (1979), which features some of the most pop-like songs of TG. The following year TG recorded a studio-live album, in the presence of some friends, in order to capture their raw energy and power but in a good quality recording. This goes under the name of “Heathen Earth, the Live Sound of TG”.
During all these works Peter and Chris constantly focused their research on audio tools and, along with using some of the best ones that were produced at that time (Korg MS-20 and Roland stuff), they developed their own synthesizers and effect processors, as well as what is to be considered the first keyboard controlled sampler of all times.
1981 saw the end of the mission, Gen and Cosey split up and TG dismantled (Cosey was now in love with Chris, and she is still now). A final release with a crown of thorns-wearing pope on the cover came out claiming that “Mission is terminated”.
Far from being without ideas, Gen and Peter went on to give life to a new disturbing creature: Thee Temple Of Psychick Youth, a sect-like organization whose aim was to focus on the inner self’s possibilities of realization and happiness. This temple was completed by a visual and musical organ, Psychic TV. That same year, aided by Alex Ferguson of Alternative TV, they released a first, historical album, with a self-explanatory title: “Force the Hand of Chance”. The music was less groundbreaking than TG’s, and softer, but still very peculiar and somehow transcendent. One track can be, in my opinion, considered as PTV’s paradigm: “Terminus - Xtul”. Along with the musical extent, Gen and Peter wanted to put on a proper TV broadcasting, filled with neverending psychedelic images and weird tales of life. While working on it they were joined by Geff Rushton (long-time TG fan and Peter’s new lover) and Paula P-Orridge (Gen’s first wife who gave him two daughters, Caresse and Genesse) in the making of their second, amazing album “Dreams Less Sweet” which is even softer but, again, incredibly deep.
Something weird then happened after PTV’s first cassette came out, since it featured some heavy snuff footage of kids being given electronic drug-like shock by a doctor, with the result of the death of one of them. It was never sure if this stuff was stolen from police archives (as it was told) or if it was a fake made by Peter himself. What is sure is that police broke into the PTV archives and charged Gen, while Peter (who was probably the real responsible one) eventually chickened out. The two split up, but PTV would go on till the present day releasing a huge amount of records and taking part in the 90’s acid house rave-o-lution.
A new history then began. Geff Rushton (aka John Balance) had left PTV before Peter and for a while first joined David Tibet (a Psychick Temple member) in his Current 93, then moved to Zos Kia and finally started his own thing, COIL, being reached shortly afterwards by Peter. Their first release was a split with Zos Kia, called “Transparent” and it’s dated 1983. But it’s with their first own EP, issued the following year, that Coil really took the first step through the doors of magick. It was titled “How to Destroy Angels” (name recently re-used by Trent Reznor for his new project) with the sub-title “Ritual Music for the Accumulation of Male Sexual Energy” and includes a brief script which states the utilization the recording was intended for: getting rid of music as a banal form of entertainment and restoring its spirit-beneficial and sacred role, which was properly its own for centuries, being mostly connected with different forms of religious practices. The male-only aspect is important as well, since Coil take their principal foundation in the love between John and Peter, and the exploration of it in all its forms, especially the ones connected with Aleister Crowley’s magickal practices (as openly stated in the script). The work also contains a reference to the god Mars, male divinity of spring and warfare, since his power may be used by men in a positive form of the evolution and renovation of themselves, through discipline and self-control, in order to get rid of silly prejudices and of the fear of the unknown. This statement can be considered a paradigm of all Coil’s future works, which will be almost infinite (my itunes counts about 35 different albums and still some are missing) and every time different from what had already been done, but still permeated by an un unbroken spirit which seems to give magickal power to every single extent, making it become a new piece of an enormous and invisible cathedral, founded on the bowels of the Earth and raised up over the clouds and the skies, appealing to eternal Space.
I can’t mention here due to limited space all of their releases (each one, in my opinion, deserves a listening), so I’ll limit myself to considering some of their most remarkable ones.
The first proper album from Coil is “Scatology”, published in 1984. In it we can see the definitive crystallization of their mission as an entity devoted to the inner re-se to developing a point of view which may be independent from what is already accepted and encoded. The cover is a graphic masterpiece (behind which we find, as usual, Peter’s hand), with their new logo (a ten tips black sun) surrounded by a detailed description of every musical piece provided. Songs themselves move from nervous sampled collages (“Ubu-noir”, “Panic”), made possible by the introduction of the sample-keyboard Fairlight, to wide inner-voyage soundtracks (“At the Heart of it All”), to disturbing heavy rhymed songs (“The Spoiler”, “Solar Lodge”). Contents are chosen from an imagery going from sacred shit experiments to primordial chaos, from vampires to sewage workers’ sodomy, from LSD to burning churches… the richness of such works resides also in the impossibility of its categorization. There’s no way to describe how it sounds, everyone should listen to it at least once! This is true also for the following release, “Horse Rotorvator” (1986), which, again, is a collage of impressions taken from what is hidden beneath the surface of things, although the music seems to be less chaotic and harsh, becoming cleaner, gaining value both in composition and poetical expression. Among the others worth mentioning are “Slur”, the prototype of a new rhythmic industrial style which has its magic feature in the obsessive percussions, “Ostia (the Death of Pasolini)”, dedicated to the mysterious death of the infamous Italian director and poet “guilty to keep the world turning”, which is a perfect synthesis of melodic and orchestrated parts together with electronic-industrial elements, “Penetralia” in whose electric guitar samples we can hear a forerunning of what will be one of the characteristic elements of bands such as Nine Inch Nails. The last three songs of the album deserve some particular attention: the first of the three is a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire”, which is great even before you listen to it: imagine finding a cover of such a classic song in a noisy-industrial album of this kind! It’s the joining of spirits devoted to the cult of what goes beyond “normality”, the union of classicism and experimentalism along the way which leads to self-understanding. Again it is the synthesis of different forms which perfectly collide to give birth to something new. In the tracklist this is a prologue to a further step into classical imaginary, “The Golden Section” where a tv-announcement like voice (which may recall the one on PTV’s “message from the temple”) speaks of the brotherhood between Eros and Thanatos, the basilar drives behind human behavior according to Freud’s theory. This is the one but last step before a beyond-going final with an adequate title: “The First Five Minutes after Death” which seems to carry us to that land of no one where being men comes to an end, as a threshold standing before the doors of a darkness which is somehow not scary but intriguing. This album is considered worldwide as Coil’s masterpiece and was composed with Stephen Trower (who was later to form Cyclobe with Ossian Brown) as the third member.
The following year sees the release of a b-sides compilation under the name of “Gold is the Metal (with the Broadest Shoulders)” which consists of unreleased tracks from previous recording sessions, in which there seems to be a more pop-like vein that will eventually become the band’s focus in the next proper album of 1991 “Love’s Secret Domain” (LSD). Songs like “Windowpane”, “The Snow” or the title track reflect this straight-rhytms approach and a more canonical structure and singing, although unpredictable tunes make their appearances in “Disco Hospital” or “Teenage Lighting”, a song that will go through several re-recordings during the works of the following years. Guest on the album is also one of the band’s best friends, Marc Almond. About this work should also be mentioned the videos made for “Windowpane” and “The Snow” which forerun the psychedelic colorful tastes of the ‘90s and the one for the title-track which was shot in Bangkok, almost fifteen year before Peter chose it as his hometown.
During the mid-’90s Coil’s work will be somehow divided into many side projects and soundtracks, much of which will remain unreleased, like the themes for Hellraiser or the ones for “Gay Man’s Guide to Safer Sex” and “Sarah Dales Sensuous Massages”. The light was seen instead by the works made for Derek Jarman’s “Blue” and “The Angelic Conversation”. The most remarkable work of this period, which may sound like a prologue in the evolution of their sound, is “Time Machines” an album which wasn’t released properly under Coil’s name but as “Coil Presents Time Machines”, since it sounds completely different from anything else they had ever published. It consists of four tracks, each very long, and each named out of some particular psychotropic substances; in fact tracks were eventually recorded out of the use of these drugs and aimed to evoke the same effects on the listener, having as a basis a particular frequency which may help to lose the feeling of time as a mono-directional flow. Heavy analog synthesizing and drone-movements around the core frequency are the substance of this powerful work, that, if listened with attention, may really lead the mind beyond the normal states of perception and help the creation of time-slips as some ritual religious chants (Tibetan ones for example) used to do.
The first project of the new course of Coil, coming out starting from march 1998, is a work inspired by the solstices and equinoxes, with a mini album for each one to take place during the year. The list of releases is as follows: “Spring Equinox: Moon’s Milk or under an Unquiet Skull”, “Summer Solstice: Bee Stings”, “Autumn Equinox: Amethyst Deceivers” and “Winter Solstice: North”. Each of these works seems to reflect Coil’s new vein as the joining of heavy electronic drones with soft-orchestrated sounds and dreamy vocals. Straight rhythms are abandoned in favor of something more vanishing and yet radical because of the range of sounds used and because of the quasi-religious and sacred atmospheres. New arrivals in the band also helped in providing this change (although the minds behind the project will always remain Peter’s and John’s): Thighpaulsandra, long time collaborator of Julian Cope, member of Spiritualized and synthesizers master and William Breeze as acoustic instruments performer and also Ossian Brown. During the next two years new masterpieces will be added to Coil’s work panorama. “Astral Disaster”, recorded during Halloween of the same year in London under the level of river Thames and two volumes of “Musick to Play in the Dark” (1999 and 2000). The first is a work mostly focused on the theme of the sea as a fundamental source for the life of our planet and from a cosmological point of view, as necessary to astral life itself. The album title and some songs (such as “the Mothership and the Fatherland”) reflect this spatial approach, as if the preservation of the seas was something necessary for the well being of the entire solar system. Music is very minimal and obscure, with John’s high voice coming out of celestial orbits and getting straight inside our wounded souls, as when he becomes “The Sea Priestess” and reads the lyrics written by Aleister Crowley as he lay mind blown in his room of nightmares in the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù (Sicily). The two volumes of “Musick to Play in the Dark” are somehow more refined and properly electronic, but still permeated by a moon-soul (the new phase of Coil is in fact named“moon musick”, the first one was instead about the sun) leading outward to some enlightened places and inwards to some enlightened states. Each song is a hymn, an air whispered through woods at night, a voice inside the head while sleeping, an eye which never closes, a colorful darkness. One of the greatest achievement of Coil with these works, in my opinion, is that, despite the large use of digital tools and computers, everything from them still sounds warm and human and never only machine-like. This warmth lies beneath the sound itself, it’s something pure and unaffected by the evolving technological aspects. John is the voice of this natural humanism and Peter the priest orchestrating the chants of this pagan function.
Along with these releases Coil began again to perform live and undertook the first shows in nearly fifteen years. Several mini tours throughout Europe and also the US and Canada took place and each of them was somehow surrealistic and mind-changing. Sometimes John appeared on stage on drugs and dressed like an escaped madman, while Peter and Tighpaulsandra stood behind synthesizers and machines and some random members played acoustic instruments like marimbas and violas; other times the sets were only quiet ambient-drone like, with visuals creating a deep atmosphere; other times (like during the tour of 2002) Coil were aided by external members doing body-art performances on stage. An immense archive of Coil live activity was made available by Peter a couple of years ago under the name “Color Sound Oblivion”, a release which consists of 16 dvds and features images of indescribable visual strength and sound force.
Coil last period saw some remarkable experimentations on the ANS synthesizer, a unique machine placed in the University of Moscow, named out of composer Alexander Nicolajevitch Scriabin, one of the firsts to figure out relationships between music and images, which in fact provided the possibility to generate sound starting from image creation and viceversa. The result is simply named “ANS” and came out in a box in 2003. During the very final days they were recording new stuff and also some albums such as “Black Antlers” were released as cd-rs along the tours. Coil final performance was in Dublin on the 23rd October 2004. John Balance died on 13 November 2004, falling drunk down the second floor of the house he shared with Peter. The final release (after the already programmed live album “… And the Ambulance Died in His Arms” named by Balance before his accident) is “The Ape of Naples” mixed by Peter out of the last recordings. Some songs here are again more electronic pop-like but many are still deep, powerful and mystic. It includes also the re-working of two classics “The Last Amethyst Deceiver” and “Teenage Lighting 2005” which testify to the continued evolution of their material and also the basis of their huge legacy.
After some hard times Peter re-located himself in Bangkok and started working again on several projects. In 2004 Throbbing Gristle re-united and released a four-track record named “TG Now”, which issued some of the material that was reworked for their first proper album in 25 years: “Part Two: The Endless Not”, that was released in 2007. Both the album title, which is a wordplay derived from the common Tibetan-Buddhist symbol also used in the album and known as “the Endless Knot” (symbolizing the interdependence of all phenomena) and the cover, an image of sacred Mount Kailash of Tibet - destination of pilgrimage for Buddhists and Hindus and in many cultures believed to be the center of the world - reflect Peter’s latest interest in Buddhism and its imagery, something he will also focus on during his life in Thailand. Musically speaking, the album is again groundbreaking: Throbbing Gristle invented industrial music in the seventies and re-invented it thirty years later, updated in the technological equipment but still unbroken in the spirit. A new consecration for a project aimed to help people in opening their eyes on the reality they live in: again TG push people to explore new points of view towards the world and towards themselves. TG had already taken up live activity and several concerts followed after the release of the album. Many documents of these live shows are available, most of them coming from the same year 7-DVDs release “TGV” which contained footages of both the old and new period and a 64 pages booklet designed by Peter himself. During the new performances TG performed old material, reworked and updated (never sounding “ancient”) along with the newest stuff. 2008 saw a couple of performances to mark thirty years from the issue of “First Annual Report”, an audio document of which can be found on the album “Thirty-second Annual Report” issued the same year in 777 copies. TG also made a three day “installation” open to the public in which they worked on the covering of Nico’s album “Desertshore”; they recorded everything and made it available as a 12 cd wallet named “Desertshore Installation” and also produced an album called “The Third Mind Movements” out of the jamming made during the installation. The definitive version of “Desertshore” is still being worked by Chris Carter and Cosey Fanny Tutti and should be released before the end of 2012. In 2010 TG started another tour but Genesis left it after the first date in London and the remaining three performed the other dates as X-TG, pushing their music to a even more violent and powerful level although they were without their hysterical frontman. The only recordings available and some video footages can be found on the website x-tg.com.
While working on the new TG stuff Peter also dedicated himself to a solo project, named “The Threshold Houseboys Choir” after Coil’s own label Threshold House. The first album, “Form Grows Rampant” was issued in 2007 and featured a 5-tracks cd and a dvd with Thai ritual footages. The music is soft, with a lounge-exotic appeal and engaging bass riffs. The most distinctive element of these recordings is, however, the special treatment of indigenous vocal samples and of computer-generated vocals, which create simple and yet deep and intriguing melodies throughout the whole work. A second work was released the following year under the name of “Amulet Edition” and contained four mini cd-rs for a total of nine tracks, essentially similar in style to the ones of the previous release, with a couple of ambient-like extents and also the use of more marked rhythms. The cds were packed in a bag which also contained a real amulet and a print of the Sanskrit sacred syllable “OM”, another proof of Peter’s latter religious involvement.
Along with his solo experience, Peter began a collaboration with long-time Coil friend and fan Ivan Pavlov, aka CoH, a Russian Sweden-based sound artist with a harsh radical style. The project was named Soisong and produced two albums: “Soi-Jin-No-Hi” in 2008 and “xAj3z” the following year, in which electronic drone-like sounds and acoustic jazz-like samples of drums, guitars, trumpets and vocals coexist in harmony and freshness of sound. Both the cds were cut in an octagonal format and cased in special origami covers, proving Peter’s never-ending research and cure also in the design field. They performed their first show together in Tokyo in 2008 and then held a few selected concerts around the globe in the two following years.
Peter died in his sleep between 2 and 6 am of the 25th of November 2010, in his bed, in his house in Bangkok and not alone. Further details of his death were never told. Peter joined Johnn again in the fields of ether and left an enormous legacy to anyone who may take up the path of sound experimentalism or of inner exploration, that, in this case, run together hand-in-hand.
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