June 8, 2009

Coil/Derek Jarman: pastoral psychedelia

Coil's "Journey to Avebury" was a ten-minute soundtrack made for a pre-existing Derek Jarman film, recorded in the early-mid 90s and never officially released; call it electronic-pastoral psychedelia, the flickering and hypnotic missing link between Tangerine Dream and Boards of Canada and an anomaly even within the collection of anomalies that constituted Coil's "songs of the week". You can see the music matched to Jarman's film here. The short film doesn't just record a visit to a historical (indeed, pre-historical) site; it is a piece of history itself, shot on Super 8 within Jarman's first year of film-making (1971) and an obvious product of the period's counter-cultural interest in occult secrets and mystical traditions. This is a film about the English countryside that seems rapturous in its appreciation, and it reminds you that for all of Jarman's antagonism to the dominant British culture -- especially during that grim stretch known as Thatcherism -- it's easy to put him within a group of ultra-English artists and mystics: your William Blakes, your John Dees, your Peter Ackroyds. See also his appropriation of Shakespeare in the similarly Coil-soundtracked The Angelic Conversation. Which is why we get this nicely paradoxical description: "radical traditionalist".