The founder and longstanding frontman of Killing Joke releases his first solo album in the mastercore series; an orchestral interpretation of the band’s music played to the chorus of the St. Petersberg Symphonic Orchestra. The record, entitled ‘Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass For Choir and Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music of Killing Joke’, represents a vision for peace in a world brimming on war, an ambition to lift the listener up to a state of conscious awareness and an exploration into Coleman’s own rich classical music heritage. He speaks about his early musical awakening, the battle for world peace and what really happened with the PledgeMusic campaign.
How did you first embark upon this project?
What I do before I start any major project is I dream it first. I’m lucky because I have almost total recall in my head, for example, I can hear music and can score whole sheets of orchestra inside my head. I couldn’t do it in my 30s; I can do it now. I can do it in milliseconds; I know where everything belongs and how you do this is quite simple. Think of your favourite song. You’ve got to be able to listen to it from beginning to end in every detail inside your head. You can practise this and have the ability to shut off extraneous sounds from outside. I go from cafe to cafe – I like grand cafes with high ceilings – and I sit there and dream and think how must it be, how should it be, how should we do it? I just see what turns up and start hearing things internally. That’s how I do it.
And being well travelled too must help get the inspiration…
What’s important is to have a series of contracts in your life. The way I write music is I forget about music; get a life philosophy, fall in love, travel…be in a succession of different cultures so you’re always in a state of shock on every level. By being in a new culture you must be alert, you must have situational awareness; it keeps your mind ticking over. Be in different cultures surrounded by different sounds and noises. When people have too much routine they actually get old quicker.
How did you set about composing the music for this album?
I never work until I feel like it. Normally what I do when I’m composing is I hire a house and get my friends round and then we start arguing or get high…and then I tell everyone to shutup and start playing when I feel like it. So I’ve got an unusual approach to everything. When you’re looking at complex systems you have to reduce everything to their basic components. So once you’ve got a six-part harmony it’s just a question of placement. I did that in milliseconds in my head.
It started early in my life because I started a choral and classical tradition when I was 6, so by the time I was 13 or 14 I was very successful with international festivals – singing and violin – so I was set for classical music. And then of course rock ‘n’ roll happened and I was a punk. I went back to classical music around the age of 22 and then studied intensely for another 10 years – orchestration this time – so I could write effectively for any instrument. From there the rest is budget…when there’s no budget I still use a pencil and paper. I get tables and mark the music out with pencils and the piano.
Did you have to go to Russia to consult the orchestra?
I sent my scores way ahead of time to the conductor. When you’re working with a full chorus with a symphony orchestra everything has to be recorded together. So when you’re dealing with an ancient Sumerian language thats 1400 years old and no one knows how to pronounce it (I had to consult with the professor of etymology at St. Petersberg University and he educated the choir on pronounciation before my arrival) that’s the importance of getting the score ahead of time. You have to get one score to the choir master with a piano rendition and one score to the conductor.
When I was in Russia I normally work with the state orchestra of St. Petersberg. We were pushed up to Russia’s oldest orchestra suddenly under the climate when all the British diplomats had been expelled. Everything in Russia goes through the state. Everything is centralised and I’m no exception to that; I worked through the minister of culture. I’m one of the few Western artists that work in Russia with the current climate of Russiaphobia manufactured in the West (because they want a war; they think Jesus is gonna turn up quicker). The world is in a terrible situation. We’re looking at such a bad year next year that I hope you and I are still alive.
If you add onto that the fact that we no longer live in a bilateral world of the USSR and the USA in this new cold war, it’s a much more dangerous situation. We’re heading for what’s termed a complex systems failure – we’re going into an area of unforeseen consequences starting very, very soon. And I’ve seen this coming all my life. I see my work with the symphony orchestra in Russia and my work with the United Nations and Lucis Trust as a way towards world peace. Last week I was a guest at the UN. The US hasn’t paid its subscription to the UN so this is the last month that everyone in the UN gets paid – it’s fallen to bits. That’s how bad the world is now. And if we’re going to go into war with China and Russia it’s because we have a public that’s no longer prepared to put their balls on the line and speak out against this. Elon Musk is certain that war is gonna happen and bear in mind that one nuclear weapon is 65-miles radius. One on London takes out Madrid, Berlin and Reykjavík and everything inbetween. We’re looking into the abyss of extinction or setting evolution back 50 million years. How does it feel?!
I found the track, ‘The Raven King’, dedicated to your late friend, very uplifting and forward moving.
It is, that’s right. To summarise on that, “The dead live by love, consciousness survives death” is [a quote] that my brother Dr Piers Coleman made (he’s one of the US’ top scientists and an atheist may I add not a mystic like me). I always talk about the dead in the present tense. If you like, Paul can be here now, he can sit in that chair next to you if you like, smiling at you…probably looking at your arse!
I wanted to lift people’s spirit up to planetary consciousness, nothing less. I listen to it because it lifts my spirits. By listening to it I can connect with the divine. Unless we experience planetary consciousness we’re looking at total extinction.
Why did you choose to reycord this particular selection of tracks?
‘Cause they’d be the last tracks you’d ever think of…and to annoy my colleagues. But I make sure everybody gets the same money. It’s an important thing…one of the things that I’ve learned through Killing Joke is that communism works. We work for each other because we split everything equally; we’re collectivists not marxists.
What do you mean by ‘gnostic mass’ and The Great Invocation?
Atheist is I don’t believe; agnostic is if something happens to me maybe I’ll believe there’s forces or a divine and gnostic is I have experience and therefore I have arrived at certain conclusions. The gnostic tradition generally speaking is mostly misunderstood by the Judaic or Christian viewpoint because essentially we see the god of the old testament as the dark god; the demiurge. If you have a look at the old testament, if Yahweh was a person they’d be tried in the International Criminal Court for genocide. Yahweh is the dark god; an inorganic predator. It’s an apocalyptic cult.
The Great Invocation is the mystical prayer of the spiritual arm of the United Nations. This project was doomed, but when I started using The Great Invocation, mysteriously the funding came.
Can you talk about the origination of your interest in classical music?
Plato said, “All knowledge is remembering,” and I’m inclined to agree with that. My relationship with music is like an arranged marriage. When I was four and my brother was six it was decided that he do science and I do music so it’s never really been much of a choice for me. What did surprise my atheist parents is when I embraced the English choral tradition. I was very lucky because from the age of seven before I was in Killing Joke I had a teacher who was amazing and he taught me violin, a little bit of conducting and choral tradition, and this was a huge passion of mine.
My childhood was singing in the cathedrals across England with The Royal School of Church Music and then missing loads of school by going on chamber music courses and to beautiful manor houses across England. So I had an incredible childhood and it culminated in winning the Cheltenham International Festival and other international festivals, and that was before puberty kicked in. Then I started listening to rock music and that happened overnight. But before that I remember Brian Jones…my grandmother was a mentor for Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones. So he was a regular visitor to my house up until I was seven years of age.
What were some of the epiphanies and milestones that shaped the person you are today?
Well the first epiphany happened in Montserrat in Spain when I was 4-and-a-half or 5-years-old. I had a vision that changed my life: that I must do music and I’m protected by a goddess. I wear the Black Madonna around my neck. That experience shaped my entire life. I was born into an atheist family but I’m a mystic. There are many milestones…I don’t know where to continue, we’d have to have a very long talk. There’s been many huge milestones.
What about your time in Egypt?
Egypt started in 1981 for me. I went there because I’m fascinated by the antiquities (even back then there was a lot of demonisation of Arab culture through the media so I found it a big shock there was such a warm welcome and people were really wonderful, totally different to my preconception of the place). But what I found was the people and the music and eventually that resulted in studying for a short period in Cairo Conservatoire. And then recording in the Great Pyramid…the experience we had there was that we were covinced the pyramid is many things but one of the things it is is conscious technology. Our recording engineer fell asleep in the King’s Chamber and when we started the ritual there he saw thousands and thousands of alien eyes. They’re linked to the people who built these places.
What happened with the PledgeMusic campaign? Fans never received a copy of the release, what do you want to say to them?
[PledgeMusic] were under – it didn’t even cover a third of it. What I didn’t say is that the management I had at that time refused to hand in any accounts, but I never had any money anyway. Was there any money? What happened? And then Pledge went under. I dont want to talk about legal cases but this project was started by a dubious ex-manager who tried to stop me even having access to Killing Joke’s Facebook. A very nasty piece of work actually, and he set this up knowing it would fail ’cause he had a grudge with me and I had a massive falling out with him. And so he said if we do this with Pledge I can peel off 10 grand and put it in my pocket. Well that didn’t happen. What happened was I got into massive problems.
The next thing I know the very same manager says Jaz Coleman’s gonna be doing the Dudley/Coleman album, ‘Songs From The Victorious City’, to raise money to finish the recording. Without consulting me, they wouldn’t give me any budget to fly any Arabic musicians over to do it with and it would have run at a loss anyway. The whole thing was a setup! I was set up to fail, no preliminary budget was done and if it was he knew it would fail. It was done to set me up. And they lost the battle ’cause [the album] happened…and when I started using The Great Invocation and the occult forces thereby, I had my first dream in 25 years: I saw an orchestra in the Tsars palace. Two days later I had the funding and I was on my way.
I’m no longer with the manager that wouldn’t give me any accounting…it’s a miracle that the recording went ahead. I’ve done what I can [with the Pledgers Q&A event], the record came out and the profits of the record are going to an NGO of my choice. So if it makes [the fans] feel any better I didn’t get any money either.
‘Magna Invocatio – A Gnostic Mass For Choir and Orchestra Inspired By The Sublime Music of Killing Joke’ is available now on CD, double vinyl and digitally.
All photos (except colour) © E. Gabriel Edvy/Blackswitch Labs.
© Ayisha Khan.