Colour Sound Oblivion – A Review

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A Focus on the Live DVD Boxset

A Review-in-Progress By Kiefer Gorena

Before I begin, I should note that this will be a critical review of the set. I recognize the pain editing the set put Peter through, how difficult it was for him, and of course I sympathize with him. Given the circumstances of the set’s making, the fact it was the last big project Peter finished and released in his lifetime, and the truly expansive contents of the set, I am truly grateful for its release. However, I want this review to set all of that aside and judge the contents of the set on their own merits first and foremost. I do find many problems with the set, but any shortcomings I may state in this review are NOT personal attacks on Peter or his editing skills at all, so please do not accuse me of such. Do not let any of my criticisms take away any enjoyment or love you may hold for the set or Peter himself – I don’t want that and I am certain you don’t either. These are just my opinions. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

Physical Packaging

“In the early 90s Geff commissioned a wooden fireplace from a handsome gay carpenter friend of of ours called Spud, and he chose to inlay the words Colour Sound Oblivion into it.

Within a few months of its completion, Geff and I were standing in the Chelsea funeral directors, looking down at Spud’s dried out corpse, unrecognisable compared with the charismatic ruffian we had so recently known and loved. Once Spud knew he was sick, and the treatments were making no difference, he had deliberately OD’d, but he was already nothing but walking bones.

The Colour Sound Oblivion Coil Live Video box is named by and dedicated to him. I wish I’d thought about it before…” – Sleazy

For starters, I don’t own the boxset myself. Please don’t let that kill any shred of credibility I may have. CSO had a very limited run and remains an expensive item. I hope to buy a copy for myself someday, but I just can’t afford to right now.

Regardless, I have digital copies and scans of the set’s actual contents and have seen and gone through a physical copy in person once before. To recall personally handling the box, the packaging is absolutely gorgeous, jaw-droppingly beautiful. The smooth surface feels great on the hands, and the lock on its face makes it feel like you are opening a treasure chest. Inside the open lid is a plastic tag, either blue or red, with a number on it, denoting the edition of the box and its serial number. As you can see, the box is packed with material. It’s a tight squeeze, so taking all the contents out and trying to put it all back in can be difficult and messy. Included are 16 DVDs, 13 of which are housed in four cloth bags identifying the band’s different stage outfits, each representing a specific live-incarnation of the band (one fluffy, one with a mirror on its face, one gray and smooth, and one with a black sun sewn onto it), a 15-page booklet containing John Balance’s funeral program and an essay written by Peter on the boxset, 124 postcards of the band live or traveling while on tour delicately wrapped in a blue ribbon, and a few other inserts. The CSO 1 sleeve, the Air Gallery gig, is not housed within any of the live incarnation sleeves for obvious reasons. Funnily enough, the fluffy sleeve takes up most of the room in the box and is the hardest to get resituated!

Every disc is packaged in a little cardboard sleeve. The gig discs detail the following technical information:

Catalogue No.
No. of Cam(s)
Feeling [Live Era of Concert]
Sound [Source]
Disc includes extras after show? – Yes/No
Step through songs? – Yes/No
Switch angle for projections? – Yes/No

There are no printed track-listings included for the gigs, only for the Coil Reconstruction Kit. Said kit contains MOST, not all, of the backing video projections the band would employ during their live shows and a mixdown of the backing audio tracks Peter would play. It also includes a note which says that the backing audio tracks and projections are available for use under a Creative Commons license, though it specifically notes “Wraiths and Strays” was not included as it was heavily sampled from the King of Woolsworth track “Montparnasse.”

It was considerate of Peter to include the informative booklet. The funeral program speaks for itself, while the essay, entitled “Colour Sound Oblivion: Coil manifest in front of a live audience” details how Coil started performing live up until the final Dublin show, his opinions on John performing live, a few anecdotes of the troubles Coil faced on tour, notes on how some of the backing projections and music came together, thank yous to the live Coil members and the tapers of the shows, and the Dublin show. It’s a great read. The only downside is that it’s riddled with spelling and grammar issues, indicating it was possibly written in a single draft.

The photos are all gorgeous – most of them seem to be candid shots of Coil traveling as opposed to actual gig pictures, but they’re fascinating to flip through all the same.

I won’t go over the differences between each edition, but I will say each edition of the set differs slightly in physical content. You can find that information here:

The Switch Angle and How it Affects the Technical Stuff

Most of the gig DVDs include a second selectable angle wherein the user can switch from the performance footage to the backing video footage. I want to discuss the technical aspects of encoding onto DVDs because technicalities such as implementation of the switch angle play big roles throughout the set. According to Google: “A single sided, single layer DVD disc can hold 4.7gb of data and 2 hours (120 Minutes) of video in (SP) standard record mode. DVD 4.7gb discs recorded in (LP) long play mode can record up to 3 hours (180 minutes) of video and recorded in (EP) extended mode play, you can record up to 4 hours (240 minutes).” This principle also applies to analogue video tape recording, though to my knowledge it doesn’t necessarily apply to digital video recording. In SP mode, the video runs in standard quality. In LP mode, frames may be dropped, block noise may appear, and most importantly video quality may be downgraded.

EP mode is not a concern on CSO, but SP and LP are. For the DVD to be optimal quality, the total combined video footage can be no more than two hours. The recordings of gigs by themselves on this set range from 23-83 minutes, so any occasion a switch angle is employed, that time gets doubled (at least, as far as I can tell). Peter stated at the end of CSO 7 that he wanted the DVD to be optimal quality, so he did not include a switch angle on it, since the gig recording and interview footage ran for a combined time of ~93 minutes by themselves and adding another ~69 minutes would hve downgraded the DVD from SP to LP mode. My qualm is that not every DVD was encoded for optimal quality in this manner, when such such an approach would have been ideal for the viewer. The switch angle really wasn’t necessary, as it more often that not eats up the DVD’s allotted time for SP mode, preventing ancillary materials from being put onto the DVD instead. It’s also rendered almost completely useless due to the “Coil Reconstruction Kit.”

Take CSO 3 and CSO 4, for example. Counting the gig footage, switch angle, and ancillary materials, both of them contain less than two hours of video, resulting in SP mode for both DVDs. However, CSO 3 omits soundcheck footage of the New York show, most likely to satisfy the two conditions of optimal quality and having a switch angle. Now don’t get me wrong – the switch angle is a nice touch, but if I personally had to sacrifice optimal video quality, the switch angle, or extra material, I would sacrifice the switch angle in every single case. The video quality and bonus material is just too important. Where extra material is missing, we usually don’t know if it’s a lack of material available or if the switch angle is eating up time on the DVD, and I shudder to think it’s the latter in any case. As it stands, the switch angle is a novelty that usually just gets in the way.

CSO 8 is another example. The performance video is 83 minutes, but there is also a switch angle, so the 2 hours and 26 minutes prevents the DVD from hosting optimal quality for no real reason. This also plagues CSO 10, 11, and 14 – all four DVDs use switch angles and are in LP mode because of it when they could be in SP mode.

Except for CSO 7, in cases where there aren’t switch angles, i.e. CSO 5 and CSO 12, the backing video projections are integrated with/overlayed onto the gig footage in unique ways. I’ll discuss this further when I speak of each individual CSO disc.

The only cases where I feel the switch angle is beneficial are CSO 13 and CSO 14 because they hold projections not included on the Coil Reconstruction Kit. CSO 13 contains the lightning video used at the Jesi show during “Teenage Lightning” and CSO 14 contains the “Stranded with Gifts” video and fire projection for “Going Up,” which are all gorgeous videos, especially for “Going Up.” I’m not sure why the falling snow projection was used for “Going Up” on the kit, but whatever.

The DVDs Content

Before I get to the actual content, I want to mention that Black Sun Productions and draZen released edited backstage footage of 2002-04-04 Zurich and soundcheck footage of 2002-04-06 Bologna as “invocations to bring Colour Sound Oblivion into existence” onto Youtube and Vimeo in 2008 and 2009. Those full recordings would not surface until 2016. Peter himself put out a sampler video for CSO shortly before its release, which included clips of every DVD except CSO 5, CSO 9, and CSO 14. Moving on…

Each disc opens with a digital title card which mirrors the information included on the disc’s cardboard sleeve. Sometimes a sample (of varying manipulation) of William Burroughs saying “Colour sound oblivion” will play during this moment. If a gig needs further contextualization, Peter also notes additional comments before or after the gig portion plays.

The rest of the review is coming soon…

An edit of the 23rd May 2004 show in France is included in the CSO boxset