Psychic TV - Themes box setThere's been a lot of activity around Psychic TV recently. First it was the publication of Thee Psychick Bible, Thee Apocryphal Scriptures ov Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Thee Third Mind ov Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth from Feral House. Then it was a revamped clothing line of vintage Psychic TV apparel from Mishka NYC. On the music front Vinyl On Demand released an elaborate Psychic TV vinyl box containing At Stockholm (a collaboration with White Stains), together with a 1983 live show from the Danceteria in NY alongside some Jarman themes and rare material. In the midst of this, Cold Spring have brought together all the Themes album released by Psychic TV as a beautiful box set.
Thee Temple of Psychick Youth was an occultural anti-cult inaugurated by Genesis P- Orridge, Peter Christopherson and others, along with input from co-conspirator Monte Cazazza. Often taking on the trappings of a religious organisation, TOPY strived as a means for personal development, self-development through ritual and sexual magick. For TOPY it was a method of de-programming free from societal norms and conditioning. It was a means of finding one's self. TOPY stood for personal change, and continual personal change. In the words of 'Thee Message of the Temple': "The Temple strives to end personal laziness and engender discipline. To focus the WILL on one's true desires, in the belief, gathered from experience, that this maximises and makes happen all those things that one wants in every area of Life."
Psychic TV, as the public face of TOPY, were a multimedia proposition. Film and video figured highly in the work of PTV: live shows were accompanied by video projections, with a multitude of monitors. Their own output featured montages, collages, subliminal images and cut-ups, years before the world of MTV and the pop video caught up. Psychic TV worked closely with filmmakers and artists. In the beginning Peter Christopherson figured prominently but later they enlisted the assistance of others such as Cerith Wyn Evans, John Maybury and of course Derek Jarman, with whom Genesis P.Orridge and other members of TOPY had become friends with. Prior to the inauguration of Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle (TG) provided an improvised score to Jarman's In The Shadow Of The Sun, and in return Derek Jarman filmed a TG performance at Heaven, London. After Psychic TV, Peter Christopherson as part of Coil scored the soundtrack to Jarman's The Angelic Conversation. Years before all that, though, Psychic TV spoke of launching their own cable channel. Even the group's symbol, the Psychic Cross, vaguely resembled a television aerial.
Most of the recordings on Themes feature early line-ups of Psychic TV, recorded as they were between 1982 and 1984. Each release was in accordance with the aims of TOPY. Some were soundtracks and functional music for ritual, some were concerned with internal contemplation, just as others could be used a means of de-programming. Themes were far removed from the pop excursions of Psychic TV. These were experimental, environmental and location based recordings, audio travelogues of the ritual landscape. Often, themes were repeated or reoccurred in subsequent volumes in different contexts, proving the Psychic TV maxim "Everything is interfaced and connected".
Themes was initially released as a bonus album accompanying the first Psychic TV album Force the Hand of Chance. Originally intended to accompany the video film, First Transmission the music also served as functional music for use in rituals by initiates of TOPY. Its aim was to attain certain psychic states and act as catalyst for change. It itself utilised a number of ritual instruments from New Guinea Headhunters Pipe, African Initiation drums to Tibetan Thigh Bone trumpets, a ritual instrument often of human origin. The loose improvised structures of Themes are a world away from the orchestral arrangements and pop structures found on Force the Hand of Chance. Themes veered from loose melodic piano based tracks to more ethno based percussive sound, with plenty of gongs, cymbals and bells alongside a brief snippet from the recordings made at Jonestown during the mass suicide. Listening to Themes now you can hear traces of Nurse With Wound in Part III, created as it is from cowbells, a Duchampian bicycle wheel and percussive clatter over feint ambient sounds, while the more ethno based tracks act as a precursor to 23 Skidoo's The Culling Is Coming. Themes featured an impressive cast of Stan Bingo, Genesis P-Orridge, Paula P-Orridge, Peter Christopherson and David Tibet, prior to their involvement in Coil and Current 93.
'Themes 2, Part One', utilised the work of Alexander Scriabin's and his composition The Poem of Ecstasy and "the chord of mystical union" where the orchestra reached a peak, this climax was then looped into a constant almost drone like sound and merged with burst of grating tones from the 'Vibrolin', a noise generator mutating sounds from a violin played by John Gosling (of Zos Kia and now Mekon) with a vibrator. Much more melancholic is 'Themes 2, Part Two' which features the plain melodic sound of Psychic TV. A jangly guitar performed by Alex Fergusson, over glockenspiel and plain drumbeats, ending up on some weird disjointed laughter. This same wicked merriment runs into 'Themes 2, Part Three' with the voice of Frater O.M. (Aleister Crowley) intoning in Enochian, the angelic language received by the Elizabethan occultist John Dee and his scryer Edward Kelley. Here the voice of Crowley is continually looped over chimes and experimental drones. For Themes 2 Psychic TV were Genesis P-Orridge, Paula P-Orridge, John Gosling and Alex Fergusson. This edition of Themes 2 is bolstered by the inclusion of the three tracks from the Temple Records release Unclean in a remastered format. Themes 2 was composed to accompany Home Movies, a series of Super 8s filmed by Derek Jarman and much of this was expanded upon for Themes 2 : A Prayer For Derek Jarman, originally released by Cold Spring in 1997, and included here as a second disc.
Themes 2: A Prayer For Derek Jarman compiles music composed to accompany video and films by Derek Jarman. From the earliest of days, Derek Jarman was a recurring figure in the work of Psychic TV. He appeared as Thee Temple spokesperson (mouthing the words spoken by Mr Sebastian) in the video for 'Message From The Temple', and worked with Psychic TV on the Mantis Dance Company ballet, Mouth Of The Night. Derek Jarman also found himself caught up in the Dispatches furore, when a documentary film on UK television falsely accused Psychic TV and TOPY of being involved in ritual "satanic" abuse, a deliberate witch-hunt which resulted in P-Orridge electing to remain in exile for a number of years.
The first two tracks return to the original vinyl release of Themes 2. 'The Loops Of Mystical Union' is an extended reworking of 'Themes 2, Part One'. Here the elongated drone, mixed with washes of dissonance acts like a static blur, continually looping back on itself, forcing the listener to impose sense on the unceasing peak experience being relayed. 'Elipse Of Flowers', itself 'Themes 2, Part Two', served to illustrate scenes of late-60's Swinging London garden parties filmed by Jarman on his Super 8 camera, to the (just) drifting sounds of Alex Fergusson's melancholic guitar chime. According to the liner notes 'Mylar Breeze' was recorded to accompany footage of a ripped piece of silver mylar snagged on a branch of driftwood glistening in the sunlight. The evocative piano score, of distant and close piano playing, is of course 'Mirrors', from the Unclean 12-inch. Interestingly Tony Peake in his exhaustive biography of Derek Jarman lists this Super 8 footage captured during the filming of Jarman's gay epic Sebastiane with the alternate titles Sebastiane Wrap aka Sebastiane Mirror Film or Mirrors. This version is extended to include 'Mylar Breeze Part 2 and 3' using the uncredited second version of 'Unclean' with its gothic chants and a reprised version of 'Mirrors', recorded and reedited by Larry Thrasher in 1993. Even in this modified form it remains an evocative and moving track.
Written in 1993 'Prayer For Derek' is intended as an invocationary prayer, based on Tibetan rituals. The track itself is a collage of sounds including the lulling waves running aground on the shingle beach opposite Jarman's Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent alongside bird song. As it progresses the collage takes in crying babies, massed ritualised chants to aid the late film director in his after-life journeys.
The final piece is 'Rites of Reversal' featuring the familiar snarling dogs (or is it angry wolves) that appeared on Dreams Less Sweet - or maybe it was 'Thee Full Pack' - mixed with low buzzing electronics. The track was used for Private Tape, featuring footage of William Burroughs filmed by Jarman when Burroughs was in London for The Final Academy event in 1982 (an event curated by Psychic TV which alongside Burroughs featured appearances from Brion Gysin, John Giorno, 23 Skidoo, Cabaret Voltaire, Last Few Days and marked the first ever performance of Psychic TV). Themes 2: A Prayer For Derek Jarman is a worthy addition to the Themes box set.
Unlike the previous studio Themes album, Themes 3 featured the audio only presentation from a live event from Chicago in 1984. The performance featured 20 video monitors, slides, and projections situated in an unordered fashion so none took precedence over the other. This was Television as Magick, with music adding to the sensory overload. Utilising the sounds from previous Themes albums, Themes 3 presents a collage of bells and chimes, ritual music, drones, wicked laughter, gurgling babies and sexual moans and groans. The voices featured include recordings of Aleister Crowley, Jim Jones and the live vocal outpourings of Genesis P-Orridge alongside Monte Cazazza, a key protagonist in the set-up of TOPY. Even here the droning guitars of 'Unclean' make an appearance.
The accompanying extra disc, Themes 3 CD2 features a pre-recorded audio and video presentation of a performance at the Longwood Theatre of the Massachusetts College of Art. Drawing on the set of Themes 3, this previously unreleased disc, opens with the voice of the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley, evoking demons to a fractured piano note. Ritual music is juxtaposed with wicked laughter before returning to the voice of the mystic and poet. Themes 3 moves from moves from passages of sexual moaning, gurgling babies, rhythms to the crazed rantings of cult leader Jim Jones over the opening strains of 'Unclean'. Operatic singing then leads into buzzing drones returning to the distorted voice of Aleister Crowley before cutting to 'Terminus', as it played out on the video monitors. Both Themes 3 discs appear less coherent in structure, partly due to the fact that they were intended to accompany a myriad of visuals. They do at the very least capture the interests of PTV at the time.
Interestingly while Paula P-Orridge has been removed from the credits of the previous Themes volumes, a whole disc is given over to the work of the late Lady Jaye, Genesis's second wife, and her "other-half" of the ongoing Pandrogeny project.
Themes 4: Lady Jaye subtitled Aesthetic Nutritionist collects a number of tracks from and featuring Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge. Some are simply lifted from the Psychic TV albums Trip Reset and Mr Alien Brain Vs The Skinwalkers, and the Thee Majesty album Mary Never Wanted Jesus. These include the Children's Stories 'Mother Jack' and 'I Like The Holidays!' These sadistic and wicked narrative based songs, along with the two tracks from Mr Alien Brain..., really only showcase Lady Jaye's work with Psychic TV/PTV3. Others, at least, retain something of a tenuous link to the "Themes" concept. 'Gobbledegook', a free form soundscape of grinding and jazzy beats laced with cartoon porn samples, and the experimental drone of 'Candy Factory' were at least produced for art exhibitions. 'The Final War', meanwhile, utilises some cut sound footage from the Bruce LaBruce film The Raspberry Reich. Here Lady Jaye lays down a "Pandrogyny rant" over disco beats and slinky basslines, provided by Bryn Dall (of Thee Majesty).
Direct orders from Cold Spring receive a bonus disc of Psychic TV Live in Basildon as part of an open air Peace Festival (which also featured Erasure) and as enjoyable as it is it is a very different Psychic TV to the Psychic TV featured on the first three volumes. Themes is a beautiful box in spot varnished sleeves with a 28-page booklet of rare photos and essays. Even here though the booklet, which focuses mainly on the earlier releases, features original texts that have been reworked. Given the varied discs and shoddy reissuing over the years, Cold Spring should have kept the focus on the first three volumes. The entire package would have felt more complete. As it is, it's been appended with a rather incongruous fourth volume that somewhat detracts from the overall package. A tribute to Lady Jaye may be necessary but it really doesn't fit alongside the original Themes albums. That coupled with the removal of Paula P-Orridge really makes it feel that history is being re-written. It's for that reason that I'm hesitant to wholeheartedly recommend the Themes box set. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but if you can set aside these misgivings then go for it, as there is much to delight, inform, contemplate and reminisce over. TOPY was never dogmatic, so with that in mind it's really up to yourself to decide whether you want to go for this. For more information go to www.coldspring.co.uk