Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Throbbing Gristle - In The Shadow Of The Sun

Throbbing Gristle
In The Shadow Of The Sun


Released 1993 on Mute
Reviewed by Lord Lucan, 26/07/2000ce


This CD stands alone amongst Throbbing Gristle’s work as one of their most accessible and abstract recordings. It was never released during their existence, as it was the soundtrack to Derek Jarman’s film of the same name and had been inextricably linked to it until 1993, when this CD version was released. The soundtrack works perfectly with Jarman’s slow-moving, ritualistic Super 8 film which, being one of his earliest (1972 – 74), is also one of his most abstract. The music was improvised in 1980 to the film at a cost of only £100.

The whole thing has a ritualistic feel to it which is still present without the images. All of which conspires to make this a sinister piece of Kraut-alike space music. Not what you’d normally expect from TG. The sleeve notes to the CD state that the film was conceived as a ‘first move towards a genre of Ambient videos, watchable many times, in much the same way as Ambient music is used to enhance or complete an environment.’ So, a heavy nod towards Brian Eno, then. However, substitute ‘ambulent’ for ‘ambient’ above and you’re closer. There are too many jagged edges and barbs here to feel any kind of floatation tank drift.

The first ten minutes or so immerse you into a Pink Floyd playing Saucerful of Secrets circa ‘Ummagumma’ ambience, with abused slide guitar and lashings of reverb. The comparison stands up for the duration of this 54 minute piece, but the sheer duration gives this piece of music a different atmosphere. The whole thing feels like the soundtrack to an occult ceremony. Harsh synth sounds waft around in a most Klaus Schulze Cosmic Jokers way, but the sheer formlessness of this music means that we rarely find instruments coming together in a communion. The relationships between the instruments is more one of call and response. Wordless, disembodied, ghost-like voices call out through clouds of echo sending shivers up the spine. Vibes tinkle seductively one minute, to be rudely interrupted by nasty fuzz-guitar the next. The bass occasionally enters, moving the whole atmosphere onto something else. It’s as if we’re aimlessly hovering over an alien landscape in our clanky spaceship, which keeps shifting gear in the most awkward way. Those sirens start singing in the distance again, seducing us this time. Then our spaceship’s synth engines start to throb with ever-increasing power. Then it’s d-r-i-f-t time again, and we’re off on our meander around the weird magnetic fields of this planet, eventually disappearing into the distance.

The lack of concrete form makes this music circular, and so ideal for repeated plays. The closest comparison I can make to a Krautkopf is Guru Guru’s ‘UFO’ mixed in with the most abstract bits of Side 2 of all of Ash Ra Tempel’s albums and a large dash of ‘Live At Pompeii’ Pink Floyd. My spaceship comparisons are merely a suggestion of what can be visualised whilst listening to this record. Like I said, it also conjures up ritualistic feelings and can take you on a trip round inner- as well as outer-space. The lack of a coda à la ‘Schwingungen’ or ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ may put some people off, but this is fantastic improvised psychedelia with enormous power. And what an inspiration that a messy bunch of industrialists can do for £100 what Pink Floyd must have spent a small fortune trying to achieve! If you don’t have much time for TG you should listen to this (as well as ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’). It’s a speed-of-light r.e.v.e.l.a.t.i.o.n, man!


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