Celestial Vibrations and the Vortex
An interview with Steven Thrower of Cyclobe and Coil
First of all: what are "celestial vibrations"?
Cosmologists have detected a ripple effect in the background radiation immediately after the ‘big bang’. It’s currently unexplainable, a flaw in the expected pattern, one that betrays an ‘imperfection’ in the early universe. Some might see in it the ‘fingerprint’ of a creator. We like to use it as a greeting, I should mention we started using the phrase a while before we heard about the cosmological thing!
Please tell us how the formation of cyclobe came about.
Well to call it synchronicity would be oversimplification, but basically I met Simon when he moved in as Geff and Sleazy’s lodger, at the same time as I was leaving Coil. We soon realised that we shared musical ideas, or to be more precise we were able to stimulate each other to produce new things that might not have happened any other way. Hence Cyclobe.
Would you agree with the description of Cyclobe's music as "surrealistic soundscapes"? Do you see any artistic connection with the work of Nurse With Wound?
I admire Steve Stapleton’s things and I think perhaps he managed to get under the limbo bar before the definition of surrealism collapsed. Staplegun is more Dada, anyway. There’s a luxurious sense of purpose to the purposelessness of the surrealists, but I don’t think that the term has much currency any more, it’s as debased as the imagery of Magritte, slaughtered through advertising. The idea of revealing unconscious drives tied surrealism in with psychoanalysis too much, and I don’t want to cultivate those sorts of connections. There’s a kind of attitude which travels via psychoanalysis, like a parasite, which sees surrealism as simply a challenge to interpret, and so to control. Interpretation at this level is closure, and I don’t know of many ‘surrealists’ worth the name who seek closure!
As the years go by, I find it hard to accept terms like ‘soundscape’, although taken at a surface level I think I understand what people are trying to say. Music as panorama, as voyage through imaginary space, as exploration, sure... why not? But the word has ceased to mean anything because its frequent use gets in the way, distorting and compressing things. Different perceptual registers tend to merge in language, it’s not just peculiar to this term ‘soundscape’, there’s a widespread depolarisation of sensory domains and we’re encouraged, in modern life, to see this as good. A ‘soundscape’ could be anything from Tod Dockstader to a New Age meditation CD. Pretty much anything without a ‘beat’ could be described by some arsehole in the mainstream press as a ‘soundscape’. It’s a meaningless word, and although people we trust occasionally use it, there’s not a lot to be understood by it. Goldfrapp do ‘soundscapes’ if you read the mainstream press, and yet so do Tangerine Dream. I like both these groups and I can’t see anything much linking them.
The name Cyclobe reminds me of the "God with one eye"... ?
There are a lot of fragments and echoes in the name, we wanted something that felt like a meeting of different words without pre-existing itself.
There seems to be a strong sexual subtext with the music of Cyclobe. In which way is actual sexuality and sexual magick an aspect of inspiration to you?
It’s there before you start. It’s like you are on a train and asleep, then you awaken, but the journey has already started. Sexual awakening for me was creative awakening too. They were virtually simultaneous. Simon and I are both strongly in cahoots with our satyrs! Any ‘art act’ is a ‘sex act’ at some level, Francis Bacon took flesh as his subject matter, I would like people to listen to our music and hear a capricious sensuousness, we don’t depict physicality but we make physical structures, in and around the listener. People seem to think that physicality has to imply rhythm, as if dance music is the only physical music. We’re both very keen on the sensuous contouring of sound, the shifting and pulsation - we distrust ³the ol’ mama heartbeat², as much as Captain Beefheart did. Repetition is female, now there’s a novel idea! Beefheart’s music was ‘painterly’ in the sense that he was using multiple fragmented rhythmic forms to create something perhaps only the cubists had tried before. If anyone can listen to our music when they’re having sex, I’m flattered and amused, but for me music is usually an unwelcome intruder in sexual contexts. The sexual side of our music is more at a symbolic level anyway.
How do art and magic relate?
Incestuously? There’s a shared passion - both deal in charged potentials. Look at the words they can share - how many of us say things like ‘that song cast a spell on me’? There’s a similarity. ‘How can I change your mind?’ Through magic or music - both are transformative devices.
Do you expect any mythological or magical knowledge of your listeners?
Not really, we don’t create networks of references to be pored over like some academic treatise in an unknown language. The game is more to do with starting fires, setting off chain-reactions, detonating or igniting things, rather than defining or deciding. Provocation, not containment. We seek to join our listeners in the greater structures, we don’t preach or posture from somewhere inaccessible. The Residents once said Beginnings are endings for all but a few. That’s true - but their records, like ours, are designed for those few. The world is full of cancerous certainties, the more unlikely the pores we can breathe through the healthier we are. I dislike the notion of art as an interlocking field of references, to me the only good reason to plant codes is to mock the idea of encryption. If not, you either flatter someone (with an accessible code) or deny them (with an esoteric code). What’s so precious anyway, that we have to shield ourselves through code-making and challenges to the education of others? Tarkovsky was very hostile to the idea of his films being read as ‘symbolic’ - he abhorred the distance between self-conscious symbolism and the spiritual life. I would rather take Tarkovsky as a guide than Greenaway (as much as I like some earlier Greenaway films, I’m thinking of something like ‘Prospero’s Books’ as an example of excess coding).
How important is a magickal viewpoint to you?
I am slowly rethinking my ideas about magick as a way of perceiving reality. I spent years aggressively following what you might loosely call an ‘existential’ path - passing through a stage of joylessness, and a nihilism-with-affirmation that never quite offered enough - nowadays I arrive at a stage where I dismiss those old patterns, the conflicts remain but without the ideological rancour they used to carry. I suppose I’m holding out for a link between the new science and the old beliefs.
Are you or have you ever been involved in occult organisations like the IOT etc.?
I’m not sure, officer! I don’t think so - but apparently one of the preconditions is that you would pretend not to have joined if asked.
How do you relate to conscious drug use - today - and in the past?
Today... I have been drinking, and found it enjoyable. I am conscious of the fact that I must not make my current stomach ailments any worse by drinking too much, but nevertheless, I find this situation - the interview you’re reading on your side of the page - a lot more fun if I drink a little.
The past... I relate to my past drug use at an unconscious, hardwired, rewired, self-taught race memory level. My ancestral tree-frog is still high. Between 1983 and 1995 I more or less stewed, pickled, marinated and suspended myself in various chemicals, and even if I wanted to I would not be able to decant, precipitate, evaporate or seperate out these psycho-actives without losing myself in the process. The closest thing to a warning I can muster on the subject of drugs is - be aware that you will always be affected by your drug-intake. You can never return to a time before you cooked your brains. There is no turning back. Other than that, drugs are great fun and I heartily recommend them to all children.
As a writer it appears as a strange wish that "each and every word must die" - a wish that is also articulated in the early Futuristic manifestos. Jet the concept of Cyclobe is mainly instrumental. How do you relate to the spoken/sung word?
Firstly, I bet there are few writers who have not devoutly wished the death of the word. Interpreters, on the other hand, may feel panicked - writers are more likely excited. It’s the culmination of language, to be utterly quiet. Our music is mostly instrumental, yes. I feel as if there are two different parts of my brain operating on music and writing. Associations in music occur across many boundaries inaccessible to words. How many times have you had an argument - an argument with a loved one, for instance - only for the foundations of one or the other’s position to crumble because of a dispute over ‘tone of voice’? If you have been there you have entered a zone beyond words. Tones of voice are musical. There are no dictionaries for them. Worse still, they are endlessly debatable. Tone depends as much upon perception as intention. Is it ‘delicacy’ or is it ‘secrecy’? Is it ‘aggression’ or is it ‘honesty’? Music lives in these interstices.
Secondly, the title is ³Each and every word must die² - ‘must’ can be a demand of course, an imperative. On the other hand it can be a warning, a mourning, a valediction even. If all words must die, how carefully we should choose them whilst alive! There’s a tension, as in many of our pieces, between mystical and existential viewpoints nagging and arguing with each other...
Are you aware of the Vortex art theory of Lewis and Pound? The idea of the creative Vortex (= coil?) surrounding the artist seems close to the aura of your music.
I greatly admire Wyndham Lewis, and to a lesser extent Ezra Pound. They were amongst the earliest true modernists, and you can see recent phenomena like Bret Easton Ellis’s ‘American Psycho’ as Wyndham Lewis-influenced. Lewis was an awkward so-and-so, I loved that, although on the downside he didn’t have a place for eroticism, he was creating his own abyss through the vortex he described. His best work for me is ‘Malign Fiesta’, a great imaginative novel (the third of his ‘Childermass trilogy’) which Derek Jarman and I used to fantasise as a movie. Derek was also a Lewis admirer and between ‘Last Of England’ and ‘War Requiem’ he was planning to make the first Wyndham Lewis film adaptation, I think there was even a script outline. Lewis is very pertinent to the post-digital age, I feel, he saw reality as a conjunction of angles and planes, he was stubbornly resistant to the idea of inner selves.
The title "Luminous darkness" seems to refer to the myth of the Black Sun, a strong and risky source of inspiration, which is also mentioned in the Coil-song of the same title. What can you tell us about the 'black light district'?
When you can no longer tell black from white - has black won? Is ‘good’ the ability to define, and ‘evil’ the irreconcilability of opposites? Can blackness get lost in pure light? Is victory a black or a white concept? It rather depends on who writes history. We are insignificant, even the powerful, the magii, the wise and the foolish alike are only lint. Black Lint District. All the postures of power are temporary carnivals.
The aspect of a "luminous darkness" also awakes associations of the 'light' of Lucifer. Is this mythological figure of inspirational value for your work?
Absolutes are just inventions ideas unleash to tease themselves.
Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato, Andrea Bianchi, even Dario Argento were despised when I first saw their films in the early 1980s, or if not despised then ignored, invisible trash. I always wanted to change this. Currently I’m obsessing on the lesser known horror films of American exploitation cinema, away from the artistic values of European cinema, and beneath the US mainstream. America’s ‘low-brow’ commercial horror cinema is the subject of my next book.
Will there be a reincarnation of
the now legendary, very rare
Yes. I’m gathering together all the old material plus a huge amount of new stuff, the book version of Eyeball should be a condensation and intensification of the magazine. Harder faster, longer, nastier!
Are the films you write about a source of inspiration for Cyclobe? Do you use samples out of this context?
Some are inspirational, yes. And sometimes I sample from films, but not dialogue. My favourite films always inflect me, without my sampling them I can always hear traces of a handful of key film experiences: Performance, Possession, The Shining, Inferno, Martin, The Beyond, Vertigo, Stalker, Holy Mountain, Eraserhead...
Steve, you often refer to Jean Baudrillard. In which way is his postmodern theory of the simulacre related to the strange syncretistic sound of Cyclobe?
I’m reluctant to draw any parallels between Cyclobe and Baudrillard, firstly because Simon doesn’t read Baudrillard, secondly because, although I do, I find his work more an act of theoretical terrorism than musical inspiration. Having said that, there are insidious influences on my viewpoint. I see Baudrillard as a kind of sci-fi writer, as much as Ballard or Dick. He’s a troublemaker, a shit-stirrer, a loose cannon within the French intellectual tradition, but he’s also alert to the weave of the instant in a way that other ‘intellectuals’ are afraid to be. He is the closest we have to a Nietzsche writing today. You can be sure that if Nietzsche was a columnist for a modern political journal he would be regarded as a dangerous, pretentious, unhelpful trickster, delighting in the confusion of previously sacrosanct opposites and definitions. Baudrillard is a difficult writer to ‘defend’. He comes out with the most absurd and yet the most exciting statements, always located without fail on some almost invisible fault-line of modern thinking, areas presumed healed by pragmatism, Hegelian synthesis - an irritant, still nagging away at phenomenological anxieties in a world with no time to consider such core doubts any more. We’re all too practical now! ‘The table’ is most certainly there... We have political problems to solve, we can’t have our intellectuals stirring up these hornets’ nests, much less making them worse by suggesting there’s no solution, that the urge to create solutions is compromised by the inability to deal with evil. The situation between America and the ‘Terrorist Threat’ is classic Baudrillardian politics - the denial of the opposite leads to a trans-apparition of evil, where evil is everywhere and nowhere...
You have been an early member of Coil during three of their most important and influential recordings. What memories do you have of that era? How did you work together? Have these experiences lead to the wish to form a band that in a way continues these early experiments?
I learned a lot from Sleazy when I was making the Coil albums, especially technical approaches, but before this I already had the impulsiveness, or arrogance, to enter a studio and believe that I had the means to make something special. My old group Possession were driven by this determination, something happens when you begin your ‘work’ and although you can’t quantify it exactly, it’s like a conviction to produce - before you even start there’s a feeling you’ve got something. An effect precedes the cause. With that feeling, even the poor efforts find their place.