A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Little Gristle With That, Sir?

Another of the books that's currently at the printers is Drew Daniel's study of Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats. Mostly written in a linear, track-by-track style, the book makes great use of interviews with the band members, and veers off on the occasional, fascinating tangent.

Here's an extract from the chapter on "Still Walking":


In certain ways, “Still Walking” is the shrillest, most difficult track on the album, and bears a certain family resemblance to harsher TG songs such as “D.o.A.” and “Hit By A Rock”. It is dominated by a drum machine pattern snarled into a textural traffic jam by Chris Carter’s Gristle-izer. The rhythm evokes a martial polka, but doubles back upon itself at odd times, suggesting dancefloor mutiny, or ischemic distress. The pronounced flanging makes the snare runs cast metallic, distorted, shadows across the beat. Reinforcing this sense of processing run amok, numerous elements in the mix are run through constant panning, modeling the titular walk as a nervous, side-to-side hopscotch across the stereo field. Inside this pattern-prison, Cosey’s guitar-through-processing and Gen’s violin-through-processing surface as the sonic main characters still walking through the halls of flanged rhythm in search of escape. Cosey’s guitar alternates between riff-like figures and firework trails of noise, with squeals and scrapes from Gen’s violin occasionally caulking the gaps. The spoken vocals which sidle into the mix at the one minute mark are the least distinct of any Throbbing Gristle song, and that’s saying something: one can almost always detect Gen’s signature keening through even the thickest soup of tape hiss and amp abuse, but here the four separate personalities of the members of TG dissolve into an indistinct crowd of deadpan mutterers, a non-specific gathering of males and females intoning staggered versions of what is gradually revealed to be the same text. Occasionally, certain words recur and interlock at random, muffled and just audible beneath the chaos and scree that surrounds them: “that’s the whole problem”, “each time he said”, “all of us do it”, “spell of semen”, but without the lyric sheet it is unlikely that the full text would be discernible (nor is it clear that the lyric sheet is entirely accurate). The oblique lyrical snippets hint at a resolution, a domestic, occult scenario kept just out of sight, and the panning of the voices and noises adds to this sense that you are only catching momentary, partial glimpses of a greater whole. The overall effect is a tease: one is being given too much information, and yet the band is also holding something back.

Drew: Who did what on “Still Walking”? Gen has said in previous interviews that you wrote the lyrics with him.

Sleazy: Have you got the lyric there?

Drew: Yes. [reads lyrics] Do you remember coming up with particular lines or images?

Sleazy: The second half of it is more of a cut-up. Cosey and I used to do this sort of thing spontaneously. It was almost like we were both having a separate conversation with somebody else, but the combination of alternating lines between us produced a third mind.

Drew: Sort of like automatic writing, but instead done through rhythmic speech? Each of you taking turns with rapid fire phrases, one after the other?

Sleazy: Right, and the two together would resonate. Individually the conversations we were having in our minds were with somebody else, but [we would speak in] combination. The lyric you just read me, it strikes me now that the first half is basically all Gen, but the phrases that have a banal aspect to them, that’s more likely to be me. [laughs] The point is that it’s the combination of all of them that is interesting, not any phrase in particular.

Drew: Do you remember what the book was that keeps falling open at the same ritual?

Sleazy: I don’t remember in particular. Gen at this time had an interest in the occult and was starting to investigate Austin Osman Spare. I know that by 1980 he had an [artwork] by Spare. The occult aspect was always something that was around in the background, though much less so with TG than with Coil. There was an occult sensibility.

Drew: I was wondering about “spell of semen”, if it was a reference to sexual magic?

Sleazy: Yes, I’m sure it is. The ideas and the practice of sexual magic and all of the things that became more developed in the first two Psychic TV albums were already beginning to be present and were beginning to interest us. But TG was so anchored in the banal aspect of popular culture that at that time those things still seemed very exotic and obscure. Not totally on message as it were. This is the first time that strand really became apparent.

Drew: I notice that in “Still Walking” there is a line “share of thee water”, with the “thee” spelling. That’s something that you’d been using throughout the Coum era; it predates TG.

Gen: And before. I started using “Thee” and “E” (for I) in 1966 for a book that I wrote called “Mrs. Askwith”. And one of the characters was talking in that way, with that spelling. To immerse myself in the character I began using it all the time, so that I could find out what the character was like, what her opinions were. It’s very much like method acting. There are characters that I meet at other levels of consciousness and I try to give them a voice.

Drew: What about the “spell of semen” reference?

Gen: It’s obviously from me, and it’s a reference to what became the rituals of T.O.P.Y. I began experimenting with it in 1961. I was first told that I was mediumistic in 1960 by my grandmother, who had also been a medium, a professional medium. And that is when I began to focus more consciously on magickal practice. I intuitively always included sexual magic in that practice.


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