Traveling Through Coiled Time
The enigmatic album Time Machines, from the iconic experimental group Coil, was remastered and reissued by Dais Records in October. Though John Balance’s passing marked the end of an era for Coil and for industrial music, Balance and Peter Christopherson’s lengthy discography as Coil was monumental for the experimental scene of the late 20th century. Coil somehow managed to switch seamlessly from the sounds of jazz-metal chaos from Horse Rotorvator to the stuttering horse-acid sampling of Love’s Secret Domain to the orchestrally electronic “Equinox” and “Solstice” singles.
Though they were known for their genre-bending, Time Machines was notably different from the music they had produced beforehand. Because of this, they released it under the alias Time Machines in order to differentiate the abstract drone of this side project from the rest of their discography. As the years passed, Coil felt less and less obligated to satisfy a certain sound or aesthetic and eventually followed with the release of their 2000 album Coil Presents Time Machines, where they continued their experimentation with drone.
Calling Time Machines simply a drone record, however, is at best limiting and at worst reductionistic. John Balance and Peter Christopherson manage to disorient listeners in their understandings of time and space with merely three or four oscillations of one-note noises, layering their changing pitches and tempos over each other in a seemingly infinite manner. With each track titled after hallucinogen chemicals, Coil evokes an otherworldly sense of temporal displacement as the electronic drone of each of the song drowns out listeners’ realities. Out of the few sounds that they do employ, they somehow create feelings of dread, of mesmerization, and of calmness, all at the same time. These tones cycle over each other in a way that evokes the sacred music of Tibetian rituals, while still maintaining their electronic punk sound.
The album starts off with “7-Methoxy-β-Carboline: (Telepathine),” which begins with bassy buzzes emerging from silence. They are joined by synthesized vibrations which grow louder at a pace as unhurried and relaxed as viscous honey. These electronic vibrations glitch ever so slightly, sounding increasingly sporadic until its chaos becomes exact and rhythmic. It manifests itself into the forefront alongside the growling buzz that materialized in the beginning. The various sounds alternate in speed and dominance, gracefully dancing around each other. These seemingly never-ending sounds rotate around the listeners’ heads at a slow but sure pace, mimicking (and perhaps enhancing) the hypnotic effect that comes with ayahuasca, where the telepathine compound occurs.
Though all four of the tracks on Time Machines are similar in composition, the resulting styles were far from monotonous. Though “5-Methoxy-N, N-Dimethyl- (5-MeO-DMT)” was the shortest track on the album, running at ten minutes, it managed to convey a completely separate mood. Bright and whimsical, its plentiful changes in pitch and tone continually shape-shifted, creating new creatures of sound all while using the same note, the same instruments. At times, it sounds as if a melody is present even though closer inspection reveals that not much has been done in terms of traditional songwriting. Suddenly, the high-pitched ringing comes to an abrupt stop, leaving only a ghostly sub-bass buzz indicative of a come-down from the DMT high. This eerie tone carries onto the album’s closer, “4-Indolol,3-[2-(Dimethylamino)Ethyl], Phosphate Ester- (Psilocybin),” where a deep, pitch-bended synth is joined by barely-there sirens and a painfully satisfying pierces of shrill beeps. The 26-minute track echoes out with a guttural vibration that fades into silence.
Time Machines was not an album that was meant to be dissected — rather, it is meant to be experienced. Words alone can only scrape the surface of the effects that Time Machines has on the listener’s psyche. Even without taking any of the hallucinogenic drugs referenced in the song titles, Coil alters the listener’s sense of reality they had before embarking on the Time Machines odyssey, making sure that everyday processes of thought and understanding are thrown into a dark and surreal abyss where time is no longer linear.