SEEDBANK 3: Rewiring Realities with Coil’s Time Machines

SEEDBANK is a sporadic review series highlighting recent history’s most influential, cultified and all-around masterfully crafted documents of experimental music, ranging from pioneering works to modern day classics.


Rapidly approaching its 20 year anniversary, Coil’s Time Machines is seeing a well deserved reissue on Dais Records. The album, inspired by both long-form traditional religious music and powerful hallucinogenics, feels as relevant as ever within the contemporary slew of dronology. In a recent interview with Noisey, Coil’s Drew McDowall discusses the concept of transcendence, how it relates to the work, and distinguishing his definition from the highly problematic clichés the word often imparts. Rather than anything overtly spiritual, the transcendence that McDowall points to is more inline with the notion of immanence, that, Time Machines possesses the power not to necessarily lift the listener to new heights, but to drag them down into a greater sense of their current reality. It’s a distinction that is fundamental in grasping the full scope of the album, acting as point of entry to this music’s ability to alter one’s perceptions of time.

Time Machines was primarily McDowall’s undertaking, but it was the collective mind of John Balance, Peter Christopherson (two other core members of Coil) and McDowall that honed the work as a gateway to a kind of figurative time travel, where the music could cause the listener to lose track of their common reality, altering temporal boundaries as a form of dissolving time. This far-out thinking will forever be inextricably tied to drug use, and by naming each of these four tracks after a unique hallucinogenic chemical compound, the band does fall into the trap of attempting to extract from an already depleted, beaten-to-death relationship—even if this was conceived 20 years ago. However, McDowall is wise to point out that you don’t need to take drugs to understand this music, but that the music itself can act on behalf of the drugs. Having found myself drifting off to the album on many sober occasions, I can speak to this statement’s validity.

Akin to the cyclical sounds of nature (rain, wind, frogs, cicadas), and evoking the gravitas of deep space and abundant darkness, Time Machines has aged into one of only a few full-fledged classics of post-Cagean minimalism—along with NWW’s Soliloquy for Lilith and, I would argue, Kevin Drumm’s Imperial Distortion. Time Machines’ pieces rarely amass beyond a skeletal framework, but its affect is immense. Each of the album’s tracks is focused on a single tone produced by means of modular and/or semi-modular analog synth work. Variation emerges via simple filtering and by dabbing colour onto the album’s monochromatic landscape. A single tone might do little more than gently undulate for several minutes, but the feeling of wanting the music to change never arrises, which leaves me wondering how much of the mechanics behind this music one is even able to consciously perceive.

On the album’s second track, “2,5-Dimethoxy-4-Ethyl-Amphetamine: (DOET/Hecate),” one perhaps best hears the sonic representation of time slippage. Like a camera lens’s aperture in a constant flux, the piece’s singular tone slithers along a rolling wave, its cloned self constantly breaking off and petering out into the void. With “5-Methoxy-N,N-Dimethyl: (5-MeO-DMT),” there is a heightened urgency that adds to the familiar framework, where on album closer, “4-Indolol,3-[2-(Dimethylamino)Ethyl],Phosphate Ester: (Psilocybin),” the tone collapses back into mantra-like meditation. As a whole, the music decays more than it grows, consistently in check with the simple ideas that birthed it. Like any Coil endeavour, McDowall has noted that there would be no point in starting if it didn’t ultimately have a profound effect on one’s psyche. Suffice it to say that Time Machines achieves this and more.

Visit Dais Records for your copy.


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