COSEY FANNI TUTTI
Cosey in 2015
the Engines of Industrial
by Cat Celebrezze
There are plenty of reasons to pick up Cosey Fanni Tutti's memoir, Art Sex Music. As a musician, she is under-referenced - especially in the United States - despite her influence on bands who now occupy the genre of sonic confrontation she helped architect as a member of the unclassifiable, post-punk outfit, Throbbing Gristle.
The memoir seeks to correct that oversight. Tutti's assiduously-detailed writing illuminates her origins in COUM Transmissions, that body-fluid enhanced, moral-panic inducing performance art collective that freaked out the commercial gallery world. Her carefully catalogued performance diary illustrates just how dedicated she and Chris Carter (partner and ex-TG member) are to their electronica output as Chris & Cosey, CTI, and Carter Tutti. COIL fans will be interested in her perspective on the house of experimental music her fellow ex-TGer, Sleazy Christopherson, built with John Balance. Feminists can find out just what it means to dive into the clandestine world of stripping and sex modeling, and emerge with art that transgresses, subverts, and inverts the social codes claiming to separate iniquity from "acceptable" society. Art rebels can find in Tutti a fearless critic, unafraid of calling bullshit on the art world's shifty relationship to the radical. You'll also get a stark glimpse into the psychosis/psychokinesis of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge that goes a long way toward explaining h/er hyper-prolific body of work that is Psychic TV and h/er notoriously squirreley ego. But by far, the most tantalizing and compelling reason to make your way through Tutti's 500+ page chronicle is to bring into focus the subconscious wraith that is Throbbing Gristle and, in doing so, reveal what fueled its engines as a founding collective of Industrial Music.
If, like me, you first knew of Throbbing Gristle only after the fact of their original incarnation spanning from 1976 to 1981, yet before the 2004 to 2010 reunion efforts (and the wonders of YouTube), understanding exactly what they were was difficult. Beyond a handful of singles, they only had three albums, all released on their self-made Industrial Records label with alluringly confusing titles - The Second Annual Report (1977); D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle (1978); and the anachronisticly named release, 20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979). During the mid- to late- 1980's, finding copies of these pressings outside of the avant garde-friendly West Coast cities of San Francisco or Los Angeles was next to impossible. If you did manage to get your hands on an import (or bootleg) cassette, it would be devoid of the usual contextual accoutrements found in the slick graphics of commercial consumer packaging expulsed in high quantities from the major labels. And what you would hear was a dark, hellish, terrifying (yet well-constructed and deliberate) maelstrom that had nothing to do with three chord punk-rock, which, in the mid- to late-eighties, seemed the only rebellious music left. Indeed, TG's absolute opposition to music made within a capitalist complex made one realize how empty the claims of Rock 'n Roll and Punk had become. TG's audio is better described as "bulletins" rather than "songs" - many tracks are live recordings and those that did come vis-a-vie the studio seem informed by the howling psychosis of bad acid trips. "Hamburger Lady" and "Persuasion," both off of the 20 Jazz Funk Greats, being cases in point. Alternately, other tracks have a sinister intelligence and a sheen of prankishness to them, such as "Hot on the Heels of Love" and "What a Day."
Given the fact of this scarcity, the only thing you had to go on were TG's words and the few publicity photos that show three sketchy looking guys and a leggy brunette. Said group presented in the early RE/search publications as more of a theatrical unit with subversive, cultish tendencies rather than a band:
"Special interests included tortures, cults, wars, psychological techniques of persuasion, unusual murders (especially by children and psychopaths), forensic pathology, venereology, concentration camp behavior, the history of uniforms and insignia, Aleister Crowley's magick, and much more. There were also deliberate attempts to apply the cut-up techniques of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin."1
Sometimes interviews turned toward instrumentation, revealing Tutti as the cornet and guitar player ("I use it as a rhythmic instrument" 2); P-Orridge as vocals and bass player, and Chris and Sleazy using keyboards, pedals, sequencers, and cassette machines to manufacture the onslaught. Unless you had the good fortune to see them live prior to their break-up in 1981, it was hard to imagine how four beings made of flesh and mostly water could create such an accurate, screeching soundtrack to industrial decay.
And here is where Tutti's book really satisfies. She goes deep into the history of Throbbing Gristle as it grew out of a triangulation between her growing experiential art endeavors, COUM Transmission's increased profile in the performance world, and the radical expansion of the sonic experimentation she, P-Orridge and Christopherson were on to with the addition of Chris Carter to the works. Tutti admits that though she, P-Orridge, and Christopherson had been friends/lovers/members of COUM, they "hadn't found a sound that gave voice to our deeper feelings and more radical ideas" 3 until after Chris Carter joined in. It was indeed COUM's last exhibition at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) that launched TG. The "Prostitution Show" featured a highly biological set of COUM artifacts, a stripper, a series of Tutti's sex modeling work and culled ephemera (from the original, distinctly non-art house, publications) and a performance by TG. The preview night ended in a fight, press backlash, government scrutiny of arts funding, and the moniker "wreckers of civilization" attributed to Throbbing Gristle, effectively launching them from an avant garde act to industrial music pioneers. Tutti sums it up with frank flourish: "From the limp, post-coital COUM penis to a fully erect Throbbing Gristle, up and ready for action. That kind of summed up both our change of attitude and all four of us as individuals." 4
The detail Tutti provides about these events is compelling. One of the biggest revelations is learning how Tutti supported both COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle with her nude modeling and stripping, showing a deep symbiosis between her art and music. There is also a wealth of information about TG's technical set up and the what each member brought to the sonic environments they built. Of course, the history of TG has been told a few times - Mute Records took an early interest in propagating the TG library and Genesis P-Orridge does some significant myth building in his own memoir Painful but Fabulous (and in every single interview he gives). Though P-Orridge is a fabulist, and valued for his trickster persona, Tutti's events-based and diary-based narrative illustrates just how deeply TG embodied what Jon Savage codifies as the five tenets of Industrial Culture: "organizational autonomy, access to information, use of synthesizers and anti-music, extra-musical elements, and shock tactics." 5
Tutti's memoir can also be read as a timeline of the evolution of Industrial from a dangerous and radical investigation into capitalist decay to something much more accepted, lauded and capitalized on today. Out of the ashes of Throbbing Gristle, which ended in 1981 as a casualty of the intense and often abusive relationship between Tutti and P-Orridge, came projects from members that reached much more traditional success and exposure - Tutti and Carter's dance/electronica as Chris & Cosey, P-Orridge's various Psychic TV formations, and Christopherson's work in COIL. Read with the knowledge of rock's re-appropriation of the synthesizer for pop purposes during the late 1980's, a move that tamed the sounds of acts like Cabaret Voltaire, along with the music industry's formulation and capitalization on industrial stars like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, and KMFDM, Tutti's memoir traces how the engines of industrial went from the chaos of machines to the hum of well-tuned motors. And yet, even given this trajectory of the genre they help birth, the brief reunion of Throbbing Gristle between 2004 and the death of Sleazy Christopherson in 2010, show just how apt a powerhouse they were as sixty-year-olds. Part II: The Endless Knot (2007) as an album is anathma to the rehash show that so many bands fall prey to upon reunion and confirm Throbbing Gristle's creative engines were still roaring. This is even more evident give that Tutti has a new solo album coming out in February entitled TUTTI (2019, CTI) 6.
Both her work with Throbbing Gristle and her sex modeling involved quixotically giving up control of sounds or images while still deliberately participating in and learning how to manipulate the creation of those sounds and images. 7 And her approach to memoir is no less meta. It is a bit of rhyzome, in that she presents significant entries from her diaries as an adventitious ordering structure and points of departure for the narrative. The effect is a proliferation of stories that move between the histories of her polyamorous personal relationships, some intense living environments, struggles with egos and expenses, revelatory highs about creative coups, and the contortions wrought by art, sex, and music - all as an answer to the words of her younger self. Tutti, a fanatical diarist, states in the Author's Note that using her diaries as the primary source for the memoir is a process that found her, rather than being the mode she began with:As I was researching... going through some of my old diaries to fact-check, I got totally distracted and drawn into my past... I finally closed the diaries and put them back in the cupboard, chronologically lined up... I knew at that moment what form my book would take. If I was going to enter the lion's den of my past, it would be by using my diaries as a primary source. 8This approach might not suit all readers, but instead of seeing the rapid-fire detail and chronological circle-backs as confusing or scattershot, the tone it imparts to her recollections is robust, clear-eyed, "pleasingly unfussy and... darkly funny." 9 One does crave there to be an index to turn to when positioning people and places. Without it, however, the memoir mirrors the conviction she clearly puts at the center of all her projects, whether art, sex, or music: that immediate connection and the experiential is more important that familiar structures and "givens" of society:We weren't messing around: there was nothing comfortable about a TG gig, for us or anyone else. We were thought to be confrontational but our intention was far from that. We wanted to connect, interact in a way the counteracted the mindless indulgences and spoon-feeding prevalent in the music business.10Her frankness is refreshing as it is democratic. Nothing is treated with sanctimony, all is recorded with candor, allowing physical detail and emotional states to exist on equal ground. Whether it's particulars of early TG gigs like the 1979 show in Berlin where they recorded the infamously aggressive performance of "Discipline," 11 or her personal history, such as her abortion at 19, her endearing friendship with early childhood friend, Les Maull, the death of Sleazy Christopherson in 2010, or the marriage and family built with Chris Carter, Tutti's voice is a defiant and unflagging in her willingness to tackle her history no matter how fraught the details. Tutti's life is not one removed from abuse. Her domineering father kicked her out in her late teens and the book details the upsetting cycling in which Genesis P-Orridge oscillated between "feeding off of her" like a battery, erasing her contributions to their work together, or being violently disruptive to their work and and to her physical and mental health. Yet her narrative never steps into tropes of victimhood. She sees her younger self clearly and emphasizes the agency she felt in these episodes. In contrast, someone who doesn't diary per se beyond keeping scraps of ephemera and cataloguing bits of phrases to trigger memory, might envy her ability to revisit the past guided by the voice of her younger self.
In an interview about her book, Tutti states accurately, "It's not a kiss-and-tell. It's just a tell." 12 And if anything, that's what the brutalism of Industrial was all about: telling the capitalist ruins that music and art are engines that will never stop being sworn enemies of that state of decay.
1. RE/search #6/7: The Industrial Culture Handbook (1983), p. 9.
2. Ibid, p. 17.
3. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti (2017). p. 240.
4. Ibid, p. 241.
5. RE/search #6/7: The Industrial Culture Handbook (1983), p. 5.
6. Hear one of the tracks off the coming album here: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/01/lose-yourself-in-a-new-track-f.html
7. Cosey Fanni Tutti | Sound & Vision | TateShots. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npGAxnpBvAk
8. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti (2017). p. ix.
9. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti Review - "Elder Stateswoman of the Avant Garde" in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/30/art-sex-music-cosey-fanni-tutti-review
10. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti (2017). p. 241.
11. Just watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8klW9trVTQ
12. On YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jajicmx2pCU
RE/Search #4/5: William S. Burroughs/Brion Gysin/Throbbing Gristle (1982)
RE/search #6/7: The Industrial Culture Handbook (1983)
RE/search #12: Modern Primitives (1989)
Art Sex Music is available from Faber Social
Also see Cosey Fanni Tutti's website
Also see artwork by Cat Celebrezze at Laminated Love and Joshua Tree Gallery
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