Legendary co-founding member of Throbbing Gristle and Coil, Peter Christopherson checks in again with us, this time on his new collaboration with Ivan Pavlov, SoiSong, the legacy of Coil and the ongoing distractions of a pleasant environment.
Brainwashed: Since last we had heard from you, it seemed you were determined to be working on your own, with only collaborators of your own creation to work with. Since then, Danny Hyde collaborated with you on the Remote Viewer re-release and now you're working with Ivan Pavlov in SoiSong. Why the move back to collaboration?
Peter Christopherson: For a while after Geff's (Jhonn's) death I was conscious of being on my own, both in the sense of coming out of a partnership, and if living in a foreign and exotic country, and so wanted to be self reliant, independent of the need for others esp people with serious illnesses such as Geff, who was alcoholic. However it soon became clear to me that working with others with whom one already had a relationship, certain shared tastes and a working method, was twice as easy! ,-)
With full respect to GPO and Balance, I did wonder about the implications of following a career with two very complicated, dynamic and eccentric people with what was to be digital frontmen of your own programming. Am I drawing unfounded conclusions there?
Hehehe. Unfortunately the more dynamic ones frontman the more dynamic ones band. Sad but true ,-)
I have so far not been able to match the dynamics of those earlier bands by myself. I am hoping with my new band SoiSong, which I have created with Ivan Pavlov of COH, to replace the need for a frontman in live shows altogether, just with bass.
Is SoiSong a one-off collaboration, or should we consider this your main focus now? The myspace posting seemed to indicate that this was the true successor to Coil over Threshold Houseboys Choir.
I suspect the Threshold HouseBoys Choir will continue to release occasional special 'specialist' items such as the Form Grows Rampant CD/DVD, but I find it too hard to play live as a solo artist, so I expect most of my "higher profile" appearances, shows, etc., will be as SoiSong, if it works out as well as I hope.
The chemistry between me and Ivan is different from anything I have done before, so that is interesting but also unfamiliar. I respect his live sound, and albums greatly, so basically I just want a piece of that action.
You have previously referred to the Threshold Houseboys Choir release as a work-in-progress and that the CD/DVD release of last year was really a stopgap. Do you plan to further flesh out the concept, or are you now fully putting yourself into SoiSong?
I would think THBC releases would be infrequent and to address more whimsical and bizarre topics and audio paths, that I am not able to find outlet for within the new SoiSong genre. Maybe it will be five or even ten years before THBC resurfaces, who knows?
In what physical incarnations should we expect to see SoiSong manifest itself? Will there be art editions? Apparently there's a live recording from the private show in Japan already in the works, but how soon are the official releases going to be available? I recall there was to be a mp3 edition available in advance of the physical release?
Our idea is to make basic versions of all the music available as free downloads from the myspace page, as well as in the future, from a public section of the SoiSong.com website.
In addition we hope to provide more developed versions of material (probably also in FLAC) from areas of the SoiSong website accessible only by password. Different passwords (and hence the downloads and information they can access) will be specific to attendees at different shows, and to purchasers of different Art Editions. We will be selling Art Edition cds at our shows and thereafter by mailorder from a SoiSong store, accessible through SoiSong.com. This will likely be going live mid-June.
While you and Geff were clearly serious about what you were doing, you both seemed to have retained an unshakable humility through it all. Clearly you still honor and love Geff's memory. But now that it's past you, and Geff's gone, to what degree does Coil's work require reverence? How do you resolve retaining your own humility while still treating Geff's legacy with reverence?
There continues to be a demand from people for Coil cds, who either didn't buy them in the first place, or have lost various albums over the years - downloads do not suit everybody. And insofar as I can, I will continue to re-issue the old World Serpent catalog CDs.
In some cases such as the two Musick to Play in the Darks I have repressed the cds identically to the originals. In cases such as Remote Viewer and Black Antlers, the originals were cdrs made quickly to meet a tour deadline, and I felt I could say more on that subject, so added the second "half-cd" while leaving the original intact.
In other cases such as Astral Disaster, the work was originally released in two versions a vinyl LP recorded and mixed live in a day (of which there were only a small number of copies) and a remixed cd version. If I can I will make both available together, for archival purposes as much as anything, and try to keep the price sensible.
The New Backwards is an addendum to The Ape of Naples, because it too is made using some of the tracks we recorded or developed in Trent Reznor's New Orleans studio. Rough mixes from that time have been floating around the Net for years but were pretty rubbish, and neither Geff or I wanted to release them or could see how to make them work. Unfortunately their relevance and power has changed as a consequence of Geffs death... After a considerable amount of new work, I feel they have now been brought up to a standard which Geff would have loved and approved of.
I want to resolve a lingering fanboy debate that has been the source of a number of arguments on the mailing list. Some love the reissues and remixes, and some do not. The question of what degree you own Coil's legacy after Johnn's passing has been called into question. I don't want to put you in a position to have to defend yourself against snipes, but I do feel you're the best person to speak to them, even if only in an ambiguous fashion.
To be honest I do not subscribe to the Coil list for precisely this reason. It would do me nothing but harm (and hence impair my ability to do Coil or anything else) to get embroiled in such skirmishes, but I would hate to think people thought any of the re-releases or new tracks were made for anything but artistic reasons.
If anybody suggests to you that I am being disrespectful, or irreverent to Geff, his memory, or the standard of our work together, please tell them from me, "fuck off."
How many more Coil special editions are you interested in doing?
As long as there is a demand for the Coil catalog on disc, be it cd or Blu-Ray I will try to maintain its availability. If there is a memory stick or sugar cube in years to come that can contain the entire Coil archive, and still be affordable, convenient and interesting for people, I'll make one.
What ever became of the material Burroughs recorded with you, since it didn't turn up on The New Backwards?
Geff and I travelled to Lawrence Kansas to film William as part of a video shoot for Ministry. I still (somewhere?) have a copy of the footage, which may technically belong to the record label but who cares? I have not used it simply because it does not seem appropriate to the kind of music that interests me these days.
The implication has been made that TG is not yet finished with its second coming. If its not too naive of me to ask, what remains to be said or done by the four of you collectively? Is another record possible or planned? More shows?
There were three european TG shows at the end of May and beginning of June (Paris, Barcelona, Athens), with more possible in October.
We have not had suitable offers from any promoter or venue in the US, simply because, by comparison with other home-grown bands of similar standing, TG IS expensive, since the four members have to fly from different corners of the world, some have specific health or travel requirements, and its not SO much fun that any of us a prepared to do it for nothing!
Material from the ICA Studio Installation last year is intended to provide material for at least two new albums including our version of Nico's Desertshore album, but these are yet to be completed, since we all prefer to prioritise our own projects where possible. There is also archive material both audio and video of the shows we made in Berlin at New Year 2006/7 which will probably see the light of day at some point.
After that we don't know. Several collaborations with well-known artists have been proposed.
The four of us are on relatively cordial or even friendly speaking terms, especially now we have all be through great personal loss and/or ill-health, but there remain deep differences about what we now like, and are like, and what we all contribute to TG, and these remain as 'irritants' that could be seen as positive or negative depending on ones mood. ,-)
In the U.S., we were awfully disappointed that TG couldn't make it over here for shows, but obviously there is nothing really barring SoiSong from making it stateside. Are you looking to book anything here or are you still booking on a show-by-show basis for the time being?
Unlike TG, Ivan and I ARE willing to do shows for little actual profit at the moment, but the dollar is so weak right now, that even reasonable expenses for the two us, coming from Stockholm and Bangkok, and the great distances involved in travel across the USA, add up to a sum that would need venues to sell 1000 or more tickets (even more for one off shows) and there just isn't sufficient knowledge of SoiSong or interest on the street to draw those kind of crowds.
Someone urgently needs to develop the technology so one can attend shows remotely...
You've been in two immensely popular, and immensely successful experimental projects. Is it at all daunting trying to follow them, or does their success even have any relevance to your current work?
It IS sometimes daunting if you start to worry about people's expectations, but my philosophy has always been NOT to worry about expectations and just try to do something as interesting and exciting FOR ONESELF as possible. Of course this can be hard too...
Is it easy for you to truly leave them behind and focus on the present and future when so much of your audience seems focused on your past?
Fortunately I am not focussed on the same things as my audience. Generally when you make an album you have to listen to it so many times, especially when mastering and checking manufacture, when its too late to do anything, or change anything, you usually don't want to listen to the album any more after that for a while. I almost never put on a Coil album to listen to for pleasure.
Is the success of your past projects a burden?
Only to avid collectors! ,-)
Seriously, I feel honoured and grateful that so many people have respected, been encouraged by, or enjoyed what I've done. If you mean is it a burden to 'live up to' or maintain, I don't really feel it so, because I have discovered that I can only remember so much. The available space I have for sound is limited. I cannot remember much of the albums I made before 2000, although they would probably sound familiar if you put them on. Its like TV shows -you don't remember you've seen them already till you start watching....
What does your workday look like? Being in your own space, with your own priorities to tend to, do you find yourself able to remain constantly focused, or do the usual day-to-day obligations (sleeping, eating, laundry) interfere with your process?
...given the distractions of a pleasant environment.
I do believe that the creativity of a country can be viewed as having a direct proportional relationship to how crap the country is. England for the most part is a miserable place to live, and so people there spend a LOT of time and energy working at being creative, so get a lot done. In contrast Thailand is a wonderful place to live, and so people mostly just like to have fun, and so have become very good at THAT...
I have not yet managed to find a practical and efficient balance between the two, and so tend to fluctuate wildly between days or even weeks in the studio working with the curtains closed, unaware of the time (but answering email), and days or even weeks at the beach having fun, unaware of the time (not answering email), which causes all my various collaborators to have kittens! ,-)
Fortunately, in the environment I have chosen to be part of, I do not currently have to worry about any of the obligations you mention (sleeping, eating, laundry)!!!!
How do you generate ideas for your work? Is it messing about with software, or do you start with more concrete ideas before working to flesh them out?
My work process is usually one of selection and editorial. In other words I try a lot of things, often seemingly at random, and select those I like, then work hard to refine those, then select from the results, then refine again etc. So it IS really "messing about with software" although that seems to have a slightly derogatory tone to it ,-) What is important is to continue refining and improving till the idea that has been growing subconsciously all along becomes apparent at the surface, and then to recognise and give flesh to it, and to go on refining and perfecting until you simply can't make the project any better!
To borrow a line from Coil, when you think of your recorded output do you think of music? The reason I ask is because even when you work in more traditional music structures, you're quick to introduce an element that subverts it. Do you feel any obligations to "traditional" musical structures as such?
I feel no obligations at all!
But to answer your question, I am not capable of making proper "traditional" music, and have always regarded that capability as a disadvantage in doing what I do. Certainly it would be easier to play live, if I could sit at a keyboard and play "traditional" jazz or classical music, but knowing how lazy I can be, I think that it would detract from my efforts to do things unconventionally, which is what makes my work stronger.
If I draw on variable amounts of 'familiarity' in the sounds that I make, it's largely to provided a sense of security that can then be undermined or subverted. Having said that, at the same time, I do not enjoy too much rawkus-ness. I appreciate Merzbow but do not play his records.
The most important value any music (including what I make) can have is a kind of emotional charge or resonance. This is imbued by the creator of it, at the time of its creation, and also varies on the listener side as well. Different emotional needs in the listener can be met or not met by the music, depending on all sorts of variables.
Is there a specific goal for you as an artist?
I believe that, for humanity to progress, the model of the world, of reality, that parents pass on to their children needs to be replaced when the kids are in their teens by a darker more complex vision. One, taking into account all kinds of miasma, multiple plans of existence, sexual liberation, human perversity, idiocy, and beauty. I feel that only benevolent outsiders, such as visionary homosexuals who bare their artistic souls in public, are fully qualified to do this. As long as children stay with the model of reality provided by their folks, no progress will be made.
My goal is to provide the same service for like-minded kids, that William Burroughs did for me, when I first read the Naked Lunch as a 13 year old in the back on a dingy WH Smith's bookshop in Pontefract, Yorkshire...
Do you have any sort of agenda, or is it day-by-day?
Its mostly day-by-day ,-) and a question of balance - trying to stay aware of the subtle shifts in the Currents, conscious of how close one is to the edge, and to dangers (real or otherwise), yet at the same time giving reign as fully as possible to one's fantasy and imagination. Also trying to move closer to the positive and self-creative aspects of ones imagination, and further from the self-destructive aspects - actually, maybe this is the same thing. The making of artistic work is a by-product of the above process...
Do you find you have a very tangible vision of what that idea is at the fore, or is it typically something that reveals itself progressively as you go?
Definitely the latter.
Is there any sort of overriding ambition for SoiSong, or is it more finely focused on fruits of the collaboration?
Other than to continue to have fun, and to make new work that is enjoyable, I have no ambition! ,-)
Ivan is interesting in that it's clear he thinks about music, and sometimes almost in a very theory-based sort of way. His work certainly has strong sensual flavors, but you can't help but be aware the authorial drive behind it. How does this perception measure up to your perception in working with him?
Ivan's creative process is, as yet, a mystery to me - that's part of what makes the collaboration interesting to me - as well as his music of course. I think he is probably caught between the intellectual processes and traditions he acquired when studying in the former Soviet Union's 'science hotbed cities of learning' which have very high academic standards, and a wilder Russian frenzy fueled possibly by vodka and the delicate aroma of cunt.
How much of a relationship do you allow yourself to have with popular culture? Are you fairly well insulated from it in Thailand, or is Western culture as pervasive one might fear?
Popular culture? What is that? ,-) I have a growing relationship with Thai popular culture, as well as Asian culture in general. On the other hand, I have just checked the UK singles chart, and I have only heard of 14 out of the top 40 artists in the chart, and am only familiar with the sound of about 3 of them.
Formerly I would have regarded this as not fitting in with what I said before about "being aware" but now I do not consider it important.
With regard to your nickname and reputation, has there ever been a sexual situation you've encountered where you've thought to yourself, "Oh, this is too much," and found yourself outside your limitations? Do you have limitations? I suspect there might be a number of very good stories in a more luridly toned autobiography... *nudge*
I don't think I've ever found myself in a sexual situation that was "too much" from the point of view of morals, or limitation in the sense of something being "unacceptable behaviour."
I can imagine their might have been situations where things were being done to someone against their will (and I have seen such things in films - true or otherwise - indeed made such films myself) that I subsequently found I did not enjoy. I will not now watch particularly sadistic films, that profess to be non-consensual, because I feel they hurt ME.
I certainly do NOT hold to the view that "anything goes" if the person/victim/bottom in question does not want what's going on, regardless of the circumstances.
Obviously on the other hand there are many circumstances that appear be somewhat sadistic in nature that are in fact consensual, or even desirable, and invariably the "bottom" really is in control!
Given how much time has passed between Thatcher at her "prime" and the modern day, in which a knighted Sir Elton John and his partner are able to marry, has your perception as a homosexual artist who has made work about homosexual culture changed? Or is the political end of the culture completely off your radar living in Thailand?
Gay culture in the UK is pretty much 'off the radar' for me, and UK politics certainly so. In fact I find it difficult of use the words "UK", "gay" and "culture" in the same sentence.
I have chosen to live in a country where the is no taboo or prejudice against homosexuality, and many families regard it as a plus to have a gay or cross-dressing son.
In fact, in my experience, 99% of so-called 'straight' boys in Thailand, are only flattered and amused when another man (even one much older) smiles or comes on to them. I'm glad to say many will go further, and be happy for the man to assist them in getting their 'rocks off' without any feeling other than the desire for simple pleasure.
To me this seem so much more 'cultured' than the UK where the same behaviour would likely leave you in hospital with a fractured skull if you pick the wrong guy, or even if the boy IS gay, with nothing but abuse for daring to suggest such a thing....
For sure young trendy "gays" here want to be seen wearing the right underware, and buying the right chair or lamp, just as much as in they do the UK, but that has nothing to do with culture.
The web seems to have put everything on the table for discussion. To your mind, are there any sexual taboos that still need liberation?
I guess you mean lots of words ending with "...ophilia" ,-) and maybe you want me to be 'shocking'...
They ARE two "taboos" which I think are correct and there for a reason - One is non-consensuality - You can't do things to people they don't want.
The other is to do with inexperienced, un-developed, or under-age children. I think we are all sexual beings up to a point, but children deserve the right to discover things in their own time, and in their own way, and its wrong for adults to take advantage of their senior or more powerful position.
I believe that it is a fundamental human right to reach ones first orgasm alone (albeit suggested by friends, playmates, brothers, sisters etc). The connection between pleasure and self-discovery forged in this way, provides a foundation and inspiration for the whole of one's creative adult life. It certainly has, mine.
I find it appalling that an adult would want to steal the epiphany of that moment, simply for his own selfish, inconsequential ejaculation. Just as I find it appalling that an adult (especially a parent) could EVER say to a child "You're useless, you're ugly, you'll never be any good..."
Thoughtless damage to a lifetime of potential brilliance, joy and wonder for the child, and for the adult, the gain of almost nothing - an immediately forgotten moment of not-feeling-quite-so-bad about themselves.
At the same time, I also want to say that the current fear millions of good, kind men have of being seen to show any kind of interest in children, appreciation of them as people, for showing ANY affection to kids at all, even to their own children, is an terrible madness that western society only seems to be encouraging.
Care, interest, love even, is not the same as abuse.
The fact that is okay these days to say to your kid in public "you useless little shit" but not cuddle him, is pure evil.
Apart from this, I believe what consensual adults want to do together in private is up to them - the details, props, positions, nobody's business but their own...
However I also think that friends might reasonably say to one another "Well yes I will do that (or you can do that), if you really need (me) to, but why on earth would you want me to?" - maybe not on a first date, I guess... ,-)
Things like scatplay have become relatively mainstream these days, yet the notion of even mentioning shit when Coil first emerged was somewhat controversial (much less issuing press photos of yourself seemingly covered in it). It all seems to have come full-circle and I was struck by how from the beginning of your career to now, your career has really encompassed a period of radical social change and way-more so than the 60s are relentlessly given credit for. I do wonder what a new and fresh-faced Coil would have stood against if the timeline was shifted forward 25 years, especially with all that the so-called information age has done to make fringe culture easily accessible to all.
For myself, I wasn't really aware that we were "standing against" anything at the time (other than maybe Hypocrisy in a small way), and that was certainly not desire or intention we had. All I felt we were doing was being honest about particular personal obsessions that, maybe for the first time, we did not fear being revealed. The notion of social stigma simply did not occur to us, maybe in part because we knew we would be perceived as underground anyway. In fact the clarity and openness were tremendously empowering, as they always are.
If there were a "new" Coil, it might be harder to do that now, partly because any similar personal 'risquÃ©' revelation is more likely to be mis-interpreted as clichÃ©, and also because it might be harder to 'fly under the radar' these days. Also I think sexual deviance from the bell curve just isn't so interesting anymore. "So you like traffic wardens to put their feet up your ass... and...?"
I've recently read somewhere that you might regard yourself as being more of a Buddhist these days, but knowing what I do of your relationship with programs of spirituality, I think that's probably a simplified version of your spiritual sense of self.
Its true I am not educated in the teachings or ways of Buddhism. However I do believe that any kind of religious practice can achieve results (in oneself at the very least) and so I participate in local rituals for accumulating "merit" or good karma, and I try to follow the 5 precepts (with mixed success), since you will recall they are:
1. Do not kill
2. Do not steal
3. Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
4. Do not make false speech
5. Do not take intoxicants
Actually #3 seems to be open to interpretation, and many Buddhist scholars now take a view similar to mine (see above) but #5 is still a hard one for me. Too many places I still want to go, that are too hard to get to on one's own! The perfect religion for me would be one that differentiated between intoxication for educative purposes, and intoxication simply to avoid problems or discomfort. The former being okay in my view, whereas the latter I can see (especially having lived with Geff for 20 years) not likely to progress humanity towards Nirvana!
Thailand is regarded as one of the most naturally spiritual places in the world, so I'm certain there's more to this. Is there anything to clarify?
I have mentioned this in interviews before: I believe that the combination of heat and humidity in Thailand results in humans having less awareness of their skin - where they end and the rest of the world begins. The consequence of this is that people here become more sensitive to other equally tenuous beings, spirits, ghosts, demons etc. and so naturally spiritual...
Also incidentally during sex, I believe one less aware of where you end and they begin, which is nice! ,-)
Do you have a favorite pop song (of any era) that if your fans knew you loved it, the knowledge of it would ruin you?
Hehehe that's easy:
God bless Mother Nature, she's a single woman too
She took off to heaven and she did what she had to do
She taught every angel to rearrange the sky
So that each and every woman could find her perfect guy
It's Raining Men! Yeah!
Humidity is rising - Barometer's getting low
According to all sources, the street's the place to go
Cause tonight for the first time
Just about half-past ten
For the first time in history
It's gonna start raining men....
Actually, I didn't get into this song till Kylie's version came out, and Geff starting singing it - the Weather Girls' version didn't hack it, for me - too Miami.
I could maybe be tempted by Thai versions of Boney M vinyl albums too, if I see any later on...