CoH at Atonal 2017: “Expect immense power”
Although he generally observes a rather distant attitude towards musical scenes and carefully stays away from hype, Russian-born musician CoH, aka Ivan Pavlov, no longer needs an introduction. Whether his radical electronic solo journeys as CoH, or the excellent collaborations with artists such as Coil, his immense body of work has forged him a solid reputation as an experimental musician. Ahead of his performance at Berlin Atonal 2017, here’s an interview in which he talks about his future releases, the electronic scene in Russia, takes a look back at his collaborations with Cosey (CoH plays Cosey) and his human and artistic experiences with Coil.
The Brvtalist (Yannick Franck): Hello Ivan, thanks a million for doing this interview. I’ll first get rid of the usual questions if you allow me to. For instance, is there going to be a new release by CoH available any soon?
CoH: There are two records coming out this year: in September - COH PLAYS EVERALL, which is the outcome of a project John Everall and I started back in 2013. In November - a refreshed retrospective collection of songs I have recorded with various singers over the last 18 years, called COHGS.
TB: On the solo side, what are the recent evolutions in your motivations to make music? Are there changes in your composition strategies? Is your approach changing much or do you stick with the same creative strategies?
CoH: The last couple of weeks I have been rehearsing for the Atonal show, otherwise I am beginning to work on a soundtrack to a short video production. I am also researching two possible installations in art spaces, which feels quite unusual. For many years I consciously ignored/avoided the domains of ”modern art”, however, I feel very good about the people who invited the effort this time, so I decided to give it a try. As a backing track to all this, ever since the publication of the most recent album, MUSIC VOL. I, have been recording a new COH album, continuing the explorations of silence - both absolute, as absence of sound; and relative, as an effect that can be achieved through volume level manipulations. Of a particular sudden inspiration are the later works of Jon Hassell, where I found interesting aspects related to the subject of silence. As a consequence, I spend more time with classical instruments, looking for the ways of unrecognizably imitating their abilities at ”enchanting the ear”.
TB: How do you relate to contemporary Russia? Do you feel connected to certain musical or artistic scenes there anymore?
CoH: Surprisingly enough, I am now more active in Moscow than ever. Both of the ”artistic” projects mentioned above are, in fact, happening just there. I’ve been quite ”hermetic” throughout most of my ”career”, keeping away from various scenes, both in the West and the East - so now it feels like a discovery. To me it is unusual to meet several new people at once, and to see them interact with each other - ian interaction driven by genuine enthusiasm. Of course, it is not something particularly unique to Russia or to the time we live in, but this level of sincere enthusiasm can now be found there connected to solid financial and logistical abilities, which was unthinkable back in the nineties when I left the country. This connection opens possibilities even to someone as ”non-scene” as me. So yes, while it would be a too early overstatement to say I feel ”connected”, I am definitely excited and happy to make a move closer to the country and its people.
TB: Are there any further collaborations with AV artists such as Tina Frank to be expected?
CoH: I wish. Tina and I always look for possibilities and ways of working together - I believe we have a very good understanding of each others work now, after collaborating on many various projects in the past. It’s just a matter of finding the time and the occasion - I would be most happy to be able to announce a next work with Tina, whenever it may happen.
TB: In the “to get rid of but impossible for me not to ask you” questions, I’d love to know how it’s been working with Peter Christopherson as Soisong (note to the readers: if you don’t know it check it out. It is just wonderful.) and earlier with Coil? Did you have the chance to meet in person on a regular basis? How did you relate to Sleazy and John’s most particular philosophy? Can you say you had similar interests? Did you have the chance to have meaningful conversations with them or the opportunity to share relevant ideas, concept?
CoH: We have been friends for years - both with John and Sleazy, having met in 1997 through John Everall. After that I used to visit London every now and then, also seeing Mika and Ilpo (of Panasonic) who used to have a squat in town. Steve Thrower and Ossian Brown - they were running a funky bookstore in Soho, as well as Drew (McDowall) before he moved to the US. I can say that both Sleazy and John were extremely sensitive towards ideas, moods, or what this should be called.. also towards sounds. So even with spending an occasional hour on the phone with Balance once in a while, much of the more profound communication was pretty much ”unspoken” or ”between the lines”. At the same time, we seem to have shared a common, resonant humour between us, as well as a rather transparent sincerity and openness, regardless of how intimate the subject would be. With all that, just hanging out with them, or having a meal, or working in Coil’s studio has been pure joy to me. A joy of humanity, so to speak.
We have become progressively closer with Sleazy over the time he lived in Thailand as I used to visit 2-3 times a year. We’d go to Japan together, or he’d fly over and stay at my place when we were touring, or recording in my studio as Soisong. I even managed to get him go to the gym with me in the mornings (I still wonder if it was entirely for the sake of seeing me shower afterwards! :) and my daughters would cook him lunches, calling him a pirate because of the ring he used to have in his ear. Sleazy’s company was always warm and generous, he was very patient and he had this comforting ability to find amusement in the most difficult of situations.. or in the darkest of subjects.
TB: Did you have a chance to read Cosey’s book? I found your work with her very inspirational. You said in an interview that you talked with her about sexuality at the time you collaborated, which is not extremely surprising. Were those conversations rather about your respective experiences or rather on a general, philosophical aspect?
CoH: No I haven’t read the book as generally I don’t read, but thank you for the kind words, I am glad you found COH PLAYS COSEY an emotional experience. I did my best trying to zoom into the details of the voice, putting them against each other in the way that would communicate the essence of what was not mentioned in our conversations with Cosey, something that is not generally available through a discussion, or through written language. In our exchange we never went into details of sexual preferences or practices - it would have been rather pathetic, I believe. However, the making of the record in itself could definitely be referred to as a sexual encounter, where I play Cosey in a multitude of ways - as a male actor plays a female, trying to immerse into the dark depths of the character; or as a game of pretending through which you can win what you desire; or even most literally playing a sensual object, a voice in this instance, as a mere toy, or an instrument in skillful hands. The resulting record ended up being an attempt at presenting the masculine take on feminine sensuality, and I would like to emphasize ”take”, rather than ”view” of sensuality. In that sense, to me it *is* an artifact of ”sex” or ”sexuality”, in a very intimate explorative context.
TB: About your participation at Atonal Festival 2017, could we have a word about what will take place there?
CoH: Having performed at Atonal back in 2015, I have a rather clear understanding of what sound will make better sense - I will be revisiting the material featured on the 2012 COH album IIRON. Expect immense power. After all, the venue is a power plant!
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