From When Giants Walked The Earth, 2008
“I was already aware of Anger as an avant-garde filmmaker,” Jimmy Page told me. “I remember seeing two of his films at a film society in Kent – Scorpio Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother [and] I was already aware of Anger because I had read and researched Aleister Crowley… [That] made him somebody I would like to meet. Eventually he came to my house in Sussex and I went to his flat in London.” It was during the visit to Anger’s London flat that “he outlined this idea for a film that became Lucifer Rising. It was then he asked me if I would like to take on the commission and do the music and I agreed to that.” It was a decision that would, quite literally, come back to haunt him.
According to Anger, he and Page had a “gentleman’s agreement,” and never discussed money, as their collaboration was to be an “offering of love.” The two of them would split the profits from the film, with Page taking all proceeds that were earned from the soundtrack. In response, Page set about creating his aural equivalent of Anger’s film and with it the most imaginative, evocative, if ultimately lost, music of his career. It was, he said, “an honour.”
Page now claims he was given no final footage to work with, pointing out that Anger had commissioned the soundtracks for both Scorpio Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother on a similar basis. All he was told, he says, was “that it was about the deities of Egypt.” And some of the characters: “You have Isis who would correlate to the early religions. Isis is the equivalent of man worshipping man, which is now where we have Buddha and Christ and all the rest of it, like the three ages. And then the child is Horus, which is the age of the child. Which is pretty much the New Age as it was seen.”
Back in 1976, however, he told Mick Houghton he’d been give a twenty-five minute opening sequence to work with. He was nervous, he said, because “the opening sequence is a dawning sequence which immediately brings comparisons with [Stanley Kubrick’s] 2001 to mind. The film was shot in Egypt and I wanted to create a timelessness, so by using a synthesizer I tried to change the actual sound of every instrument so you couldn’t say immediately, ‘that’s a drum or a guitar’. I was juggling around with sounds in order to lose a recognizable identity as such.”
Encouraged by the knowledge that unlike Zeppelin records which were designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, “This was going to be something which I knew was going to be shown in arts labs and underground cinemas and brotherhoods” he allowed his imagination to run wild. As well as running his electric guitar through an ARP synthesiser, his used a mellotron, his 12-string acoustic guitar, various keyboards, plus tabla drums and a tempura – an Indian drone instrument – all of which he played himself. For the climax he created a synthesiser effect: “These great horns that sound like the horns of Gabriel. It was a good piece.
The end result is, as might be expected, an unsettling listening experience. Beginning with a loud, hypnotic drone which continues for several minutes, what few melodies there are – by turns portentous, forbidding, weirdly euphoric – meld into dissonant cadences that both repel and attract, like an electric current. About two-thirds of the way through a thunderstorm erupts like a growling bowl movement into the aural mire, followed by Buddhist chants that sound like they might have been slowed down and corrupted, harmonic yet dense and ominous, at which point things appear to strive for some sort of staggered, juddering climax as another muted thunderclap is overhead in the distance.
Ultimately, the feeling repeated plays imparts is one of disorientation. Not entirely morbid but a feeling nevertheless of being scattered, dizzy… unhinged. Having played it all the way through several times, I have not been tempted to listen to it much since. Or as the eminent American music critic Juli Le Compte wrote: “Haunting and disturbing, this piece is highly expressive of Page’s strain of morbidity.”