Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Music

Meet Me on the Desertshore

by Chad Parkhill , December 11, 20123 Comments

 

Photo credit: -cp

It’s easy, and inaccurate, to reduce Throbbing Gristle to a band obsessed equally with sex and death; but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t obsessed with those very topics. Take the cover of their seminal 1979 album 20 Jazz Funk Greats: a lovely shot of the four members of the band on the heath at Beachy Head, Britain’s foremost suicide location. As for sex, that album includes the proto-techno track ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’, where Cosey Fanni Tutti pushes the human/machine coupling of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ and pushes them further into the cybernetic field—where Summer’s vocalisations sound like a performance of sex, Tutti’s insouciant moans sound, more shockingly, like sex itself. But their true obsession was the infinite, the inconceivable beyond to which both sex and death continually point.

For a band that was so preoccupied with endings and what lay beyond them, their own end was ignominiously swift. After breaking up in 1981, all four original members of the band — Chris Carter, Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti — reformed in 2004. They recorded two new albums in the following years and were at work on a third, a front-to-back cover of Nico’s celebrated 1970 album Desertshore. Then, in October 2010, P-Orridge refused to perform in the final dates of the band’s world tour. Carter, Christopherson and Tutti completed the tour under the name X-TG, and shortly thereafter — less than a month after P-Orridge broke with the group — Christopherson died in his sleep. Whatever plans the four members may have had to reconcile their differences, Throbbing Gristle was no more.

In the absence of Christopherson, and with P-Orridge remaining uncooperative, Carter and Tutti have set themselves up as the custodians of Throbbing Gristle’s legacy, remastering and reissuing five of the band’s albums last year. Desertshore (released with a companion disc entitled The Final Report) continues this work, albeit in a more involved way: the Desertshore recordings were nowhere near completed, after the band decided to scrap their first attempt at it. After Christopherson’s death, Carter and Tutti approached several vocalists that Christopherson had admired to help them complete the record. Armed with the original recordings, new recordings by Christopherson, and these guest vocal tracks, they set about synthesising a definitive release. This final version of Desertshore is therefore a unique document: it is a posthumous testament to the power and fruitfulness of a creative bond between three remarkable individuals.

The source material is, of course, an integral part of what makes X-TG’s Desertshore so affecting. Nico’s own Desertshore is a famously difficult album — full of long harmonium drones, plinking harpsichord, and raggedy strings courtesy of John Cale’s unorthodox arrangements — and one that feels glacially-paced, even though its eight tracks speed past in under half an hour. There’s a sparseness to the album quite in keeping with its title, which allows for moments of utter heartbreak and beauty. Indeed, it’s fair to say that X-TG’s Desertshore doesn’t quite have the impact of Nico’s original — but this is hardly a withering criticism, since both records have completely different aims.

The opener of X-TG’s Desertshore, ‘Janitor of Lunacy’, makes the differences between the two projects plain. Where the original is carried along in a gyre of harmonium tones, this version resonates with a low pulse augmented by chittering digital blips in the high end — one of Christopherson’s favourite tricks. Over the top of this chillingly perfect soundscape comes a career highlight of a vocal take, courtesy of Antony of Antony and the Johnsons. X-TG’s ‘Abschied’ sounds to my ears like a polished update of Horse Rotorvator-era Coil — the tinny military snare drums and clink of finger cymbals (or are they coins?) bring to mind both ‘Ostia (the Death of Pasolini)’ and its coda, ‘Herald’. Einstürzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld adds an appropriate amount of Sturm und Drang to Nico’s German-language lyrics. As far as radical deconstructions go, ‘Le Petit Chevalier’ is unrecognisable — sung by film director Gaspar Noé, it’s as much of an auditory overload as his film Enter the Void is a visual one, Noé’s voice garbled beyond all recognisable humanity and intoning the threatening promise of the petit chevalier, ‘j’irai te visiter’ [‘I will visit you’]. Where Nico’s version of the song achieves its menacing effect by matching the lyrics with the singsong voice of her young child, X-TG’s version renders the voice of the song as pure, terrifying alterity.

My two favourite tracks from X-TG’s Desertshore are ‘The Falconer’ and ‘My Only Child’, and given the tenderness of the vocal takes, it comes as no surprise to find out they were delivered by two of Christopherson’s closest friends and collaborators. ‘The Falconer’ is delivered by Soft Cell’s Marc Almond, who has recorded with Christopherson’s post-Throbbing Gristle project Coil. The ubiquity of Soft Cell’s cover of ‘Tainted Love’ has rendered Almond’s voice unsurprising, but this track — where Almond double-tracks his voice an octave apart — restores its strangeness and beauty. The vocals on ‘My Only Child’ come courtesy of X-TG’s own Cosey Fanni Tutti, and speak of her own deep emotional connection to the late Christopherson. It’s hard not to listen to this song — originally written by Nico as a hymn to her only child, Ari Boulogne — without thinking of Tutti as a mother sending her child alone into the great beyond, full of sorrow that she cannot guide him. In many ways ‘My Only Child’ is the emotional crux of X-TG’s Desertshore — it appears early on Nico’s Desertshore, but X-TG’s is rearranged so ‘My Only Child’ is the penultimate track. Which leads us to the final track, and the sole original composition on the album, ‘Desertshores’. Against a spare backdrop of a simple piano figure and monastic chants, a succession of Christopherson’s friends and collaborators utter a single line: ‘meet me on the desertshore’. It’s a profound elegy for a man whose musical career plumbed the depths of sonic ugliness and tore at the very seams of music, always looking for ways to move ahead, leave behind the formulaic, and go beyond.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer. His published work includes music criticism, lifestyle and travel writing, academic pieces in philosophy and literary studies, and fiction.




9781408857175

Lou Heinrich

To see each other’s innards: Intimacy in Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress

In Stone Mattress, Atwood’s stories make a remarkable study of intimacy, of seeing each other’s innards, in different partnerships. Through the domestic details she describes, her masterful characterisation and her sharp tone, Atwood crafts the mundane into the profound. Read more »

9781863957120

James Tierney

Dissonance and Tradition: Andrew Ford’s Earth Dances

Earth Dances: Music in Search of the Primitive is a vivid and rarely less than astute history of the debt modern music simultaneously owes to the inheritances of tradition, and the texture of dissonance. Read more »

monroe

James Tierney

Survival and Contradiction: Jacqueline Rose’s Women in Dark Times

This book’s most impressive trick is in the way it pulls together seemingly disparate figures. In this fierce, insightful and wide-ranging collection, Jacqueline Rose calls for nothing less than a reformulation of feminism. Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

fx-2015-winter-tcajpeg-069cb_c0-146-3500-2186_s561x327

Rebecca Shaw

Billy, Don’t Be a Homophobe

As a non-heterosexual person who has lived my entire life in a heteronormative world, I have a finely tuned antenna for homophobia. Loaded terms, like those used recently by Billy Crystal, are becoming more common, as it becomes less acceptable to state openly that you get an icky feeling when you see two people of the same sex kiss. Read more »

B5QJwMhIYAAfjxG

Rebecca Shaw

A Tale of Two Penises: Double Dick Dude and the invisibility of male bisexuality

For the past year I have found myself fascinated by penises. If I’d been to the races, I would have created a monstrous dick fascinator to wear as a beautiful physical representation of my mental state. But let me be clear, I have not been captivated with all or even many penises. My fascination has solely been aimed at the two penises owned by the man known only as ‘Diphallic Dude’, or more casually ‘DoubleDickDude’. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

cdn.indiewire

Kate Middleton

On the Trail: Wild and the voyage of the modern woman

Strayed articulates the question that drives so many pilgrimage narratives: ‘What if I forgive myself?’ That same question perhaps suggests why female-driven journeys are resonating with audiences now: self-reliance and the abandonment of a conventional life have long been male-dominated themes. Read more »

Film Review Selma

Anwen Crawford

An Urgent and Motivating Anger: The politics of Selma

How to approach a figure with the reputation of a secular saint? One achievement of Selma – and it is a film of many achievements – is to reanimate King as a living, breathing man; a man of politics, strategy, and absolute, underlying resolve. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

39154_4f8f076801b89b442752af76ac226fc0

Anwen Crawford

Satire and Scandal: Revisiting Frontline

Frontline’s makers could not have anticipated the long, web-based afterlife of their creation, though they might not be surprised that their targets – the rampant egotism and moral hypocrisies of tabloid journalism – remain just as current. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

wowx5-artwork-012-full

Katie Williams

Killing Monsters and Making Memories: How virtual worlds facilitate communication

When I hang out with my brother, we joke, make fun of each other, and swap stories about mutual friends. Sometimes, we’ll each pack a bag of stat-enhancing potions and go out to kill large monsters. It’s been well over a year since I saw my brother in the flesh – but thanks to World of Warcraft, I interact with him on a daily basis. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »

The-Rabbits-2015-1280x470

Jane Howard

Thinking Outside the Box Seats: The future of Australian opera and musical theatre

If we want to see new work and innovation grow in opera and musical theatre, we need to consider how they might develop within our culture. Read more »

MovingMusicAndreCastellucci1

Jane Howard

The (Sometimes) Beauty of Being Alone at the Theatre

I often go to the theatre on my own. One of the great joys of writing reviews is that even when I attend productions solo, I still get to talk (write) about them at length after the fact. Seeing theatre is a wonderful activity to do unaccompanied, because as soon as the performance starts, everyone is alone in some way. Read more »