Sunday, April 01, 2007

Alice Coltrane - Universal Consciousness

'Universal Consciousness' is a record of jazz psychedelia and kaleidoscopic polyrythms and lush technicolor fields of Hammond organ ... of an interplay of violin and harp and and drums and bass that is exceedingly nervous, twitching, even neurotic in some parts, and blissfully, sedatedly calm in others ... of such a complexity that the music at times appears to be swirlingly chaotic, bewildering ... a record which presents a confused and unintentionally kitsch pot-pourri of Indian and Islamic and ancient-Egyptian new age imagery (such a strange combination of the mysticisms of utterly different societies, one sedentary, hierarchical, autocratic, mummifying and pyramidical; the other nomadic, military, expansive and conquering; and the last ... well, Indian) ... a record in such a naively poor taste that one can not help but forgive it and give oneself over to the queasy, doubtful pleasures of it's outdated mysticism ... and finally, a record whose sensuousness contradicts the ascetic discipline of the Vedanta and Yoga ...

When I first listened to the album it's neurotic quality made the strongest impression. Even the beautific smile of Alice Coltrane on the album's cover art seems a little desperate, a little lost. That doesn't surprise: Alice Coltrane created the record in 1971, only four years after the death of her famous husband. The entire album appeared to me to be a denial of death, and a denial of the death of her husband in particular. In the liner notes she writes: "Ohnedaruth (John Coltrane), who since four years past repaired to a city of shining radiance, situated in a point in space where stands a mammoth Colossus of Three Worlds, will sound the valourous hymn to the dead in war (...) on a flute". Trane isn't dead, he is not effaced, he is not abolished, he just moved house! And Alice Coltrane's quest for enlightenment is - when read with Bataille analysis of Yoga in "L'Experience Interieure" - a project to surpress pain, a project to deny death. Even the album's title, "Universal Consciousness" refers to a complete and utter absence of non-consciousness, to an absence of materiality, i.e. the absence of death.

But then again, it is all too easy to read the record against it's grain, to misuse it, to use it not for austerity and ascetic discipline, but to let the music lead one to laughter, love, vertigo and madness: 'Universal Consciousness' is dramatic and powerful.

The album was erected as a pyramid for John Coltrane. But hidden inside this pyramid is a labyrinth in which the listener may lose himself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't think this record is kitsch in any way. And I'd be a bit more relaxed about Bataille etc. being referenced if the writer appeared to know the difference between 'it's' and 'its'.