British artist-musician-designer Peter Christopherson died in his sleep Wednesday night at the age of 55. His creative work has been an inspiration for me in many ways since the mid-1970s, when he first made his name as a member of the Hipgnosis design team, responsible for some of the more stunning album cover art of the era, including Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here and Animals and Peter Gabriel’s first three self-titled albums. He was also a founding member of Throbbing Gristle, arguably one of the most influential groups in the industrial and post-punk musical movements, and directed dozens of jaw-dropping music videos in the 1980s and 1990s for acts including Rage Against the Machine, Erasure, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Van Halen, Yes, Paul McCartney and Robert Plant. He had a keen creative aesthetic, and added equal measures of style and grit to each of his projects.
Any one of those accomplishments would have impressed me on its own, but the field of endeavor where Christopherson actually had the most profound influence and impact on me was in his post-Throbbing Gristle work with the experimental music group, Coil, built around his personal and creative partnership with John Balance. The duo and their revolving cast of collaborators were astoundingly prolific from 1982 to 2004, at which point Coil ceased to be, after Balance died tragically at the age of 42 following a fall in their home. Coil’s catalog easily ranks as the most challenging and rewarding creative canon I’ve ever encountered, as they were capable of truly frightening, gut-churning feats of musical alchemy (The Unreleased Hellraiser Themes and Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil come to mind, to cite but two examples), while also producing some of the most haunting, beautiful music I’ve ever heard. Their arrangements, instruments, lyrics, melodies, titles and package designs routinely made me pause, think, and explore. I learned a lot from them by looking and listening.
So in honor of Peter Christopherson, here in the time of his flying away, and in memory of John Balance, six years after he passed, I share three of my favorite Coil songs below, culled from the more beautiful end of their creative spectrum. It’s sad to ponder both of the group’s guiding visionaries leaving us so prematurely. They truly touched me with their art. Pay your respects to the vultures . . .