“My work is a continuum, the past feeding the present and vice versa. The album is an interpretation of my past and present, of my understanding the shifting perceptions of how they inform one another. One form creating another through a metamorphic process.”
There are a number of adjectives you could use to describe the career of Cosey Fanni Tutti. None of them, however, would do it justice, from her beginnings as a founding member of COUM Transmissions, to her work as a stripper and in pornographic films, to forming industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, to her work with life and musical partner Chris Carter as Chris & Cosey and with Nik Void of Factory Floor. It’s a quiet life, eh?
Which makes it relatively surprising that ‘Tutti’ is only Cosey’s second solo album, her first since the debut ‘Time To Tell’, some 36 years ago. ‘Time To Tell’ was recently given a deluxe release on vinyl – its first ever pressing on wax. In her astonishing autobiography ‘Art Sex Music’, she talks about a lecture she gave to fine art students at Leeds Polytechnic in 1982, the notes of which include “a cassette of a solo music recording I’d made in our small studio in Crouch End”, which would become ‘Time To Tell’. It was originally released as a cassette and a booklet by the zine Flowmotion in 1983, with the updated 2018 edition including a full colour reprint of the magazine, housed in a lovely gold foil-embossed gatefold jacket. About time too.
‘Tutti’, then, is best described by the great woman herself.
“It’s the only album I’ve made that is an all-encompassing statement expressing the totality of my being,” she says. “A sense of the past in relation to the present and everything in between.”
The record was originally developed as a soundtrack to her autobiographical film ‘Harmonic Coumaction’, and was first performed in her hometown of Hull back in February 2017 as a part of the COUM Transmissions retrospective during the UK City Of Culture event. ‘Harmonic Coumaction’ was later a segment of Cosey’s self-titled art exhibition as an audio-visual installation. Now as a fully-fledged album, the eight soundscapes found on ‘Tutti’ have been given a fresh lick of electronic paint, enhanced and re-jigged to be a distinguished release, differing from both the live performance and the art show. And my word, was this worth the 36 year wait.
‘Tutti’ opens with the title track, a pounding, trumpet-driven cut, the electronics fizzing against the low rumbles and swirls of textures. It feels like a statement of intent, a gut-punch to open proceedings and remind us (like we needed to be reminded) of the cosmic power of Cosey Fanni Tutti. ‘Drone’ starts off rather mutedly considering the title, minimal beats and scratches that slowly morph into a ricocheting vibration of sound; a sinister purr layered in noise. There’s what sounds like an unnerving voice that fades in and out of ‘Moe’, reminiscent of the Lynchian “backwards speak” in ‘Twin Peaks’, offset by the club-orientated pulses that parallel the sounds of Carter Tutti Void – this would not be out of place on a dancefloor.
Drawing on her past again with ‘Sophic Ripple’ (which could be a Throbbing Gristle B-side), there’s dark energy, eerie atmospherics that shimmer and growl, and even some sci-fi inflected moments that hum into life like the engine of a spaceship. ‘Split’ is just as ghostly, another song that could have been plucked from the Industrial Records catalogue circa 1979, while the thudding ‘Heliy’ is littered with soft breaths that swell around the groaning electronics.
‘En’ could soundtrack any of David Lynch’s films – like wind through a forest, its spectral creaks and haunted moans ripple throughout the track. The finale of ‘Orenda’ is somewhat quiet compared to the rest of the record, but this is by no means a bad thing. It’s an enfolding piece, a true culmination of Cosey’s past and present, combining elements from all over ‘Tutti’ into one powerful final note.
“My life is my art, my art is my life,” is the mantra Cosey lives by. And that’s exactly what ‘Tutti’ is. A “metamorphic process”, yes. One that mutates, looking back but never feeling dated, and rooted firmly in the 21st century. It’s both autobiographical and conceptual, and the perfect, if long-awaited, follow-up to ‘Time To Tell’. If there’s going to be a third solo outing for Cosey, we hope we won’t have to wait another 30-odd years, but ‘Tutti’ will be anchored firmly to our turntable for now. We’ll be surprised if this isn’t near the top of many Albums Of 2019 lists. What a way to start the year!