Cosey Fanni Tutti talks with Dangerous Minds about her first solo album since 1983

Photo by Chris Carter

Next week, Cosey Fanni Tutti—visual and performance artist, author of Art Sex Music, member of Throbbing Gristle, COUM Transmissions, Chris & Cosey, Carter Tutti, and Carter Tutti Void—will release her first solo album since 1983’s Time to Tell. The erotic undertow and ghostly foreboding of the music on the new LP, Tutti, which originated as the soundtrack to the autobiographical film Harmonic COUMaction, take me to a wonderful place. Cosey kindly spoke with Dangerous Minds by phone on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

What are the sources that you used for this album? How did you record it? The press materials say that it’s mostly based on source material from throughout your life.

Yeah, that’s right. All the audio sources for the album were taken from recordings throughout my life, whether they were audio voices, phone calls, anything like that, which we’ve always recorded and I’ve always recorded for a long, long time now. And because the original music for Tutti was done as a soundtrack for a film that was based on images throughout my life, that’s why I used the audio for the same thing, so they both married up, and they represented me, basically. Yeah, and then I manipulated it all, so that’s where it all came from.

That’s so interesting, because the only vocals I recognized are on the song “Heliy.”

Yeah, I was singing live.

Can you identify any of the people whose voices appear on the album in different form?

No. [laughter] I can but I won’t. It’s people that literally have been in my life, and it’s not so much about recognizing their voice so much as. . . it’s just the essence of everything that contributed to making me who I am, and it was like that with the visuals and with the audio.

Is this the Harmonic COUMaction movie? Can you describe it for me?

Well, it’s like I said, they’re still images taken right from my birth, it begins with—to put it in context, when I was asked to do something for the Hull City of Culture, which, Hull is where I was born and where COUM really started, began there, and I was asked to do something there and put together a COUM Transmissions exhibition, retrospective. So I was working with all that material, and then I was asked to do a live performance, and at the same time I was doing my autobiography, so everything kind of came in right at the correct moment for me, so one thing fed the other. And I decided to do a film, like I said, of visuals that represented who I was from the town where I was born, where the exhibition and the City of Culture was taking place, and that’s when I put all the audio together for it as well.

In the film, there’s images of me, there’s my parents when I was born, my sister, where I lived, so there’s geographical references as well as personal references to people. And I did it so they’re all morphing into one another, a kind of visual representation of me being formed, basically. So everything is, like, running and melting from day one, and people turn into other people, into buildings, into—even my pet dog Tremble is in there. Everything is there that was really important to me throughout my life and recorded, and it all just becomes transformed into me, as this metamorphosis of who you are and what formed you. So the visuals are like that, and there’s like things collapsing in and then reforming into something else. That’s how I visually decided to present how I felt about my life.

It sounds like a representation of your “art is life, life is art” philosophy.

Well, yes, it’s all there. It is, actually; that’s what it is, you get the impression, then. That’s where my work is based and continues to be based, is how I traverse this planet, basically, and how it affects me and how the people I come into contact with affect me, and all the forces at play: emotional, physical, geographical. It’s important, ‘cause that’s how we all are, to be honest.

Can you tell me a little about that event? Was there any kind of a COUM reunion? I don’t know who’s still around from that period.

Yeah, it was quite sad, actually, because we’ve lost some people along the way, like everybody has. For the exhibition, I did a new piece as well, which was called “COUM Talks,” and it was basically talking heads of seven original members of COUM. And we lost one of those after I interviewed him. All these people, I had filmed, with just a few questions about COUM—when they joined, when they left, what it meant to them, any particular part of COUM that stood out to them as a memory—and then after that they could talk about what they wanted, really. So I had these seven screens in the exhibition room, and each person was reflecting on COUM and what it meant to them and their little memories, it was really interesting.

And Tim Poston, one of the first founding members of COUM, as well, was the one that sadly passed away. But it’s quite serendipitous, really, ‘cause when I was putting this together, he’d got in touch with me before I got in touch with him [laughs], and he was working in India at the time. You should look him up, he’s an incredible person. When I met him, he was telling me about figuring out how to get ultrasound to work to help irrigate arid areas and things like that. He’d also done research and provided a really cheap way of testing eyesight in India, in the villages there, so people could get treatment, that kind of thing. He was an incredible person. He got in touch with me, and I told him about what was going on, and he happened to have a brother who lived in the same area of the UK as me, and he was going to visit him. So we met up, and I said, “Do you want to do this interview for the exhibition?” And we met up and filmed him, had a lovely time together, and then about six months later he passed away. It was really sad. But then again, I think it’s quite wonderful that he was recorded. His piece, in particular, people absolutely adore, because he has a very. . . peaceful demeanor. He looks like Gandalf, for a start [laughs], so you get some idea. And he has this beautiful staff that he’s always carried around with him, so he’s been Gandalf before. . . maybe he took it from Gandalf. So we met him here, and had a wonderful time with him, and then lost him, sadly. But he was in the exhibition, which was wonderful, and COUM meant such a lot to him. And that’s a new piece that I did for the exhibition as well.

Was it strange at all to be recognized as sort of “official culture” in Hull? I imagine that would be gratifying, but it seems so different from the way COUM was received at the time.

Yeah, it was a funny one, really. That kind of acknowledgement had gained momentum over the past, I guess, 15 years, where I’d been included in group shows in my own right, as well as contributed for COUM, over the years, so it wasn’t so strange. But I kind of thought it was quite ironic. It’s the kind of thing that we would have embraced as COUM, if COUM had still been going. Kind of, like, Yeah, that’s a little bit unexpected, but great! We’ll run with that.

I was given the option of different spaces to do the exhibition: the Ferens Art Gallery, which is kind of, like, quite institutional, and there’s one at the college, the Philip Larkin Gallery, which were both really beautiful. But then I was given the option of a place that could be refurbed, which was bang in the middle of where we used to do all the COUM street actions, and that just felt so right, even though it was derelict at the time [laughs] when I went ‘round, had a look. I said, “Oh, it’s got to be here, because this is where we were, this is where the spirit of COUM was.” So it was carefully planned in that respect. So to be accepted, but then at the same time impose the actual spirit of COUM on it as well, that, Yes, we’ll have that, but we’ll want this space here—that’s the best place, because it’s where we worked.

It sounds like some serendipity was involved overall.

Yes, definitely. It was quite uncanny. There was a lot of things like that going on at the same time. The momentum of that element of serendipity kind of went through the whole, well, two years of preparation, yeah.

I listened to the audiobook of Art Sex Music, which is really wonderful. I know that you were estranged from your family; had it been a long time since you’d gone back to Hull?

No, I’d gone back to Hull ‘cause my sister still lives there, and Les has lived there, has never moved out. So I’ve always gone back to visit Les, right from. . . yeah, when Nick was born, ‘82, we were back in Hull with Les. I’ve always gone back, I’ve never felt estranged from Hull at all, it’s just my place there has changed in itself.

It’s not the Hull I remember—even more so now, because there’s been a lot of regeneration going on because of the Hull City of Culture. It’s not the Hull I remember like London isn’t the London I remember, either, when I go back there. Places change, and what it means to me, it doesn’t mean that to people who are there now [laughs]. But I still have a real fondness for my time there because it was instrumental in a lot of things I do, and informing me, and forming me, from the very beginning. That was where things began for me.

Much more after the jump…

Posted by Oliver Hall
08:20 am
A Dangerous Minds exclusive: Carter Tutti Void talk about their new album, ‘f(x)’
09:55 am

Carter Tutti Void’s first album, Transverse, holds the record for the longest a CD has stayed in my car stereo. I’m not sure what makes it the perfect soundtrack for driving around my apocalyptic city, but I think its appeal has something to do with the balance of opposites: it’s head music that grabs ahold of your loins, at once ugly, sexy, scary and fun.

Carter Tutti, of course, is the name Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti have been using since the turn of the millennium for their 34-year, post-Throbbing Gristle partnership. (Earlier this year, the pair revisited their 20th century selves on Carter Tutti Plays Chris & Cosey.) In May 2011, Carter Tutti invited Nik Colk Void of Factory Floor to join them for a performance at a festival in London celebrating the 30th anniversary of Mute Records. Transverse combined live recordings from that show with a single studio track.

On the trio’s second release, f(x), out on Industrial Records on September 11, they return to the nocturnal territory of Transverse, now operating at an even higher pitch of intensity. I don’t know of other contemporary music that works quite like this: for me, the first effect is overwhelming dread, which transforms into pure ecstasy if I just give it enough time (and, as Chris suggests below, turn it up loud enough). The band kindly answered a few questions I sent by email.

Since Transverse was mostly recorded live, this is Carter Tutti Void’s first studio album. How did you record f(x)? What did each of you play?

COSEY:  We set up in our studio at home as if it was a live gig and jammed and recorded each track three times. The process was pretty intense and transcendent in the way it took form—each of us bouncing off the sounds, responding, leading, holding back, riding the waves of the rhythms and other sounds we worked into the mix.

CHRIS: Cosey plays guitar through a Guitar Rig controller and processes her vocals through an Eventide H9 effect unit, her sample banks and sequencer loops are all in Ableton Live which she manipulates using two Korg NanoKontrollers. She is very ‘hands on’ during a performance, live or in the studio. For CTV I just ‘do beats’. The main rhythms and grooves are from my custom Machinedrum SPS-IUW+ going through a bunch of effects units. But I also trigger extra rhythm loops from my Kaoss pads. The bass-lines are being triggered from Ableton Live via a Novation Launchpad and I control all the levels and effects for my set-up using a Livid DS1 MIDI mixer.

For the f(x) album we pretty much all had our usual set-ups but we separated out all the different elements we each use and fed all those channels—I think it was about 16 in total—into a Mackie Onyx mixer which was sending multichannel audio to Logic Pro X.

To me, the album title and the track names (“f=2.4,” “f=2.5,” etc.) suggest the output of a machine varying with the input, though I’m not sure what to make of that. Tell me about the title.

COSEY: Take out the word ‘machine’ and put ‘people’ and you have it. It’s about ‘form’ as I mentioned in the way we recorded the tracks. I feel the way we work together is very much about the ‘x’ elements (we three) that constitute the ‘form’—being the end result of our creating together as one. The sound is everything. f(x) is the formula for ‘function’ and we function as (x) to produce that sound. But it’s as far away from a ‘machine’ as you could get. It’s a very emotional creative process.

CHRIS: In its most basic form f(x) is a formula and we are the elements.

I know what it feels like to listen to this music—for me, there’s a familiar combination of dread, fascination with the shifting tones and textures, and an ecstatic feeling of self-dissolution, a bit like taking a drug. What does it feel like to play this music?

COSEY: It’s difficult to describe how it feels when we play together. I enter a different space and abandon myself to the sounds we generate, working with them and weaving in and out or driving forward as the moods shift. It’s about intuition, rising and falling passions and most importantly relinquishing any preconceptions. The sounds can change so much from studio to a live situation with a big PA system, so I work with what I have—including the atmosphere. Working on the fly is a rush to say the least and I can get distracted by the intense emotions sometimes but that’s part of my enjoyment as well as seeing the people getting so much out of it too.

CHRIS: It’s strange because not one CTV show will ever sound like another. And although we have certain recognisable elements to each track—mostly the beats or Cosey’s vocals—there is no beginning and no end, as such, to each track. Also because there is a tremendous amount of improvisation going on we are never quite sure where the tracks will take us, or the audience. Which can be quite disconcerting sometimes. Sometimes we go way outside our comfort zones, so to speak, but that can be a good thing.

NIK: I feel a lot of adrenaline so maybe like driving a fast car, it’s 50% control and 50% allow the sounds I’m creating to run wild.

Do you plan to tour?

COSEY: We don’t do tours per se. But we have a Carter Tutti Void gig in Italy in November. Chris and I have some really big projects we’re working on at the moment and Nik is busy with Factory Floor gigs.

CHRIS: Unfortunately not.

What are the ideal conditions for listening to f(x)?

COSEY: It’s uncompromising and relentless so best enjoyed in total surrender. When I was listening to the final mixes in the studio, it felt so powerful as it built up, like an invocation. It was wonderful to be taken over in that way.

CHRIS: Honestly I don’t know. We’ve been listening to it on all kinds of systems—large, small, headphones, in-car—and it seems to be a different experience each time. But it definitely benefits from being played loudly, that way you can REALLY get into it.

Where do you go for ideas? For entertainment? For news? What are you excited about?

COSEY: You make it sound like there’s some kind of ‘ideas’ store. I don’t go anywhere. Life happens. News arrives via TV, internet, newspapers, word of mouth. Entertainment can be on a trip to the shops or in great series like ’Spiral’. I rarely watch regular TV programmes unless they’re documentaries—or athletics. I get excited by something I’ve never experienced before.

CHRIS: I have no idea, they just come to you out of the ether. Oddly though I occasionally think of ideas for tracks when I’m reading a novel. Make of that what you will.

Tell me about the relationship between Carter Tutti Void and Factory Floor.

NIK: First time I met Chris and Cosey after a Factory Floor show at the ICA. Paul Smith from Blast First introduced us. At the time Factory Floor was a three piece. We heavily relied on eye contact and instinct to keep the machine rolling on stage. Cosey and Chris later said it reminded them of how they play in TG.

Nik, how is playing in Carter Tutti Void different from playing in Factory Floor?

NIK: The majority of what I play in CTV is limited to guitar, in Factory Floor I play guitar, vocals and electronics. As guitar is my main instrument it’s exciting to focus all my attention on stretching my sounds with the bow and stick and play in response to Cosey—so perfect to play with another atypical guitarist.

f(x) will be released on Industrial Records, the label Throbbing Gristle founded almost 40 years ago. Do you have a sense of continuity with the work TG started?

COSEY: In some ways I find it similar just because of the way we work. And that wasn’t intentional. When we first did Carter Tutti Void we were in a great position where we could do anything we wanted. Total freedom is a gift and I guess that’s comparable to when we did TG first time round.

CHRIS: I guess so… as Cosey says primarily due to the way we three work together. I certainly don’t hear any similarities with what TG did.

I just revisited Cosey’s Time to Tell, and it made me want to ask: How much control does a performer have over a crowd? What do the performer’s desires have to do with the crowd’s desires?

COSEY: I’m not sure anyone is ever completely in control—performer or other. As far as I’m concerned control exists in part as a point from which to lay out your intent. From that moment, it’s about negotiation, spoken or unspoken. I’m not into dictating how people should be or respond to my work. I love dialogue and control tends to close that down. The crowd are an essential part of our live work and we like to work with them, delivering and responding to the feedback. It’s a shared moment. I’ve often worked against desire. It suggests expectation and I have an aversion to expectation. I prefer to open things up and discover something new.

CHRIS: Control can be an illusion and it’s such a random thing too. I’ve been to shows—but I’m not naming names—where the audience have been in raptures over what’s going on onstage while I couldn’t care less. Other times C&C have performed and I think the audience aren’t connecting with what we are doing but then at the end of the show the place erupts into mad screaming pandemonium and we have to go back onstage and play an encore to keep everyone happy.

From my friend Greg: With so many titles and sonic experiments to your credit, has the process of recording become more methodical or intuitive?

COSEY: It’s got better and better over the years especially with such great technology at our disposal. Obviously we’ve acquired technical skills along the way and that allows us to maintain an intuitive approach—which has always been our primary approach. The only methodical part of our work is our dedication to archiving everything we do.

CHRIS: No not yet. I think it’s partly to do with the fact that we are forever changing what gear we use to produce music. Of course we have a basic recording process that hasn’t changed much and favourite instruments we return to but—and this goes way back to TG days—we adopt, abandon, acquire and dispose of instruments, equipment and gear in random cycles. Sometimes we’ll hear of a piece of gear we’d like to try using—it doesn’t have to be a new thing, it could just as well be something retro. If we can’t afford it we’ll look through the studio cupboards and see what we haven’t used for a while and sell it to fund something else. It’s basically recycling but getting new (or old) gear can be quite inspirational in itself.

Chris, are there likely to be any more hardware products along the lines of Gristleism and the Gristleizer?

CHRIS: Well it’s funny you should mention the Gristleizer because there are secret plans afoot as we speak. Unfortunately I can’t say more right now but something is definitely coming this way—cue spooky music.

When Carter Tutti played at REDCAT ten years ago, my then-girlfriend and I worked security: we stood in front of the stage at the end of the show so no one could steal your gear. Is this a continuing problem? What has been stolen in the past?

COSEY: My worry about theft is based on the fact that we can’t afford to replace gear that’s stolen and that some of it is irreplaceable. When we play live we want to ensure we deliver so if anything goes ‘walkabout’ then the show is lost. It’s about protecting your work more than materialism. We know bands that have had equipment stolen and it’s devastating. Our Art is our life so we have to ensure we have the means to create.

CHRIS: Well it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s been going on forever. I‘ve lost count of how many bands we know that have had equipment stolen over the years. I know most people think bands are paranoid or overzealous about protecting their stuff but we have to be realistic. I had a friend who had a drum machine stolen, and another who had his laptop stolen which meant they couldn’t perform. One had to cancel a tour because he didn’t have any back-ups for his laptop—which is pretty dumb I know. But there are a lot a musicians who are basically living from hand to mouth these days and can’t even afford a spare hard drive.

Carter Tutti Void’s f(x) comes out on September 11. Pre-order it on CD and LP from Industrial Records, Forced Exposure, or Amazon.

Posted by Oliver Hall
09:55 am