Magazine article Artforum International

Cover Notes: Bob Nickas on X-TG's Desertshore/The Final Report

Magazine article Artforum International

Cover Notes: Bob Nickas on X-TG's Desertshore/The Final Report

Article excerpt

WHEN A SONG OR A PIECE OF MUSIC is reimagined, we find ourselves in a loop, where points in time echo one another and reverberate, as if the original and the interpretation simultaneously emerge from speakers positioned to our left and right: the auditory as a form of mnemonic stereo. So it is with X-TG's "reimagining" of Nico's 1971 album Desertshore, a project with a circuitous backstory. X-TG comprises the trio of Chris Carter, Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Together with Genesis P-Orridge, in 1975 they formed Throbbing Gristle, the pioneer of industrial music. As with many highly charged collaborations, theirs was thrilling and tenuous, and produced works that lasted even as they themselves did not. Over the course of thirty-five years, the group united, imploded, improbably reformed, then went their separate ways once more. Following the unexpected death of "Sleazy," Carter and Fanni Tutti, minus P-Orridge, completed Desertshore in tribute, pairing it with The Final Report, a second album of music drawn from the trio's last sessions. This event is thus an occasion to consider musical translation among generations, and the fault lines that run below the surface of all artistic collaboration.

One of the more elusive icons of the 1960s, Nico is closely associated with the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, who brilliantly introduced her to the band in 1966. His instinct, as always, was visual, but the interplay of manic rock 'n' roll and a resolutely aloof "chanteuse" of polar opposites who could embody the s/m of "Venus in Furs" opened up a psychological dimension where grit and glamour played off one another. While Nico only sang three songs on the Velvet Underground's 1967 debut--"All Tomorrow's Parties," "Femme Fatale," and "I'll Be Your Mirror," the last written for her by Lou Reed--they triangulate the era's Velvety, Warholian remove.

Desertshore was Nico's third solo album, produced by John Cale, who provided nearly all of its musical accompaniment. Cale, along with the Velvet Underground's first drummer, Angus MacLise, was that band's link to the avant-garde--to La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, and to Tony Conrad--playing a pivotal role in the band's introduction of Minimalism and drone music to rock, driven by his eerie electric viola. After Nico's departure from the Velvet Underground, it was Leonard Cohen who suggested the harmonium, the instrument with which she subsequently accompanied herself. Nico doesn't so much sing as project a determined, naked oration. While it is common to refer to the voice as an instrument, in the space between Nico's lungs and the bellows of the harmonium there is the sense of a body doubled, a chest that resonates and is breathing, alternately wavering and steadfast. Placed within Gale's rarefied arrangements, her work has a timelessness related to sacred and liturgical music, particularly Indian ragas. Given that he was her most empathic collaborator, Cale's contribution to Desertshore--and to the releases that immediately preceded and followed it, The Marble Index (1968) and The End (1974)--is so essential that to call these solo records seems inaccurate at best. If the recordings they made together can be seen as a formidable triumvirate of art rock, The Marble Index remains, forty-five years after the fact, a masterwork.

When Christopherson conceived of Throbbing Gristle covering an album by Nico in 2006, he chose Desertshore over The Marble Index, with its imposing status, and The End, which includes a lengthy version of the titular song forever identified with the Doors and '60s psycho-baggage. Desertshore was likely seen as open territory, offering any number of permeable points of entry--a more available body, as it were. Listening to both recordings of Desertshore back-to-back, what Christopherson must have intuited is how Nico's compositions form an evocative whole, a song cycle in its truest sense. Though the running time of Desertshore is barely thirty minutes, it has an expansive, cinematic quality, and in fact several of its songs appear in Philippe Garrel's 1972 film La Cicatrice interieure, as do Nico and her then-nine-year-old son, An. …

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