haunted audio: dubversion
deleted scenes/rematerialized tangents/bloopers/offcuts
host of ghosts
* bands: post-rock outfit Ghost Wars, Kansas indie rock band Ghosty, Ghostland Observatory, Ghosts of Monkhood, Ghost Buffalo, Ghost Circus, Ghost Is Dancing, Ghost Machine, Ghost Machinery, Rein Ghost, Grandpa’s Ghost, I Am Ghost, Ghost Club, Ghost of Futureman, Ghost Son, Phantom Ghost, Ghost Fleet, Ghost in the Machine, White Ghost Shivers, Ghost Train, Ghost That Walks, Ghost in Light, Ghost Orchestra, Ghost of the Robot, The Ghost Orchid...
* labels: Ghost Labor Records, Ghostly and sister label Spectral..
* albums: Wilco’s A Ghost is Born, Opeth’s Ghost Reveries
* genres: American dark folk group Harvest Rain pursue a "ghost ambient"
* non-music: Steve Johnson’s The Ghost Map is just one of many books with “ghost” in the title this season, and wooa, what’s this: The Ghosts of Songs: The Film Art of the Black Audio Film Collective, 1982-1998 soon-come and co-written by speak-of-the-specter Kodwo Eshun
And that’s just tracking “ghost” not synonyms and cognates like haunted/phantom/spooky/etc
All in all, the absolute perfect year for My Life in the Bush of Ghosts to be reissued
Stop press: just trawling through the new issue of the Wire I passed a band called Ghosting in the Outer Limits section with a record called Why Not be Utterly Changed into Fire. But on my second pass through the mag I realized that in my delight I hadn’t even noticed that directly underneath the Ghosting micro-review was an add for a compilation on Record Label Records, entitled Ghostbusters III.
Stop stop press: Samuel Macklin informs there’s a Vancouver band with the ur- or do I mean echt- hauntological name A Spectre is Haunting Europe. But “sadly, they're a shitty indie rock act”.
music as inherently phantasmal
Beyond the figmentary nature of recording, there’s also the way that songs, even heard live in performance as opposed to recorded, always carry traces from the past, whether through conscious invocation (Dylan, the Band, the British folk revival) or thanks to unconscious borrowings and recyclings, the authorless and anchorless drift of idioms and inflections across the field of popular culture. All that Penman ‘the Song with a capital S’ bizniz. Or, equally, all that Greil Marcus/Old Weird America bizniz.
erratum: “Duppy conqueror” is a Marley and the Wailers tune not a Joe Gibbs one I believe. also, the dub/duppy theory is John Corbett’s poetic-etymological license; the word more plausibly coming from dubbing as in tape-dubbing as in doubling, although the idea of the double has its own spooky shadowlife what with doppelgangers etc
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti is generally—unanimously--linked by reviewers to the radio, on account of the AM-like distortion and blurriness. But for Ariel too it’s TV that’s the primal scene: his music stemming from his early childhood experiences of being plonked in front of MTV during the channel’s own infancy in the early Eighties.
allies and kindred specters
Queasy Listening/English Heretic
More info here and here
Belbury Poly and Eric Zann have recorded pieces for a compilation on Queasy Listening due next year
English Heretic = parody of the National Trust and similar heritage bodies, with “black plaques” placed at sites of esoteric and occult interest. They also produce artifacts like Wyrd Tales and the magazine/CD-R The Sacred Geography Of British Cinema , viz: “the results of a series of investigations and site visits to real locations that have been employed as the backdrops for some of the most powerful and frightening scenes in British film history. [ie. Witchfinder General, Wicker Man et al] Focusing on sites of violent immolation and qliphothic invocation, English Heretic provide a series of pocket guides to enable you to imbibe the troubled spirits that may now haunt these environs. With detailed scene synopses, walker's guides and field experiments for you to try out, The Sacred Geography of British Cinema aims to provide a tangible portal to fantastic and uncanny realms.” [for more info look under ‘Souvenir Shop’-heheheh-- at the English Heretic site.
a similar label cited by Ghost Box but not mentioned in the piece: Oggum, described by Woven Wheat Whispers as “a reclusive alchemical Welsh experimental noise and drone folk label”
Mount Vernon Arts Lab
Glagwegian chap called Drew Mulholland, many points of convergence
--into Radiophonic Workshop, Quatermass, etc
---friendly/collaborated with Coil and Add N To X
---played a gig in a disused nuclear bunker (c.f. Mordant Music and Kelvedon Hatch)
---went on a pilgrimage to the site where the Wicker Man was filmed.
More info on Mount Vernon Arts Lab and Séance at Hobbs Lane,
Stop press: news flash on the Ghost Box site:
“We are about to add a new artist to the Ghost Box roster; Mount Vernon Arts Lab. The first release, in February 2007, will be a reissue of the 2001 album "Seance at Hobs Lane", which featured collaborations with Coil, Adrian Utley of Portishead and Barry 7 of Add N to X.”
Julian House: “I was delving into the work of the English Surrealists and I've become quite fascinated by the work of Paul Nash. His painting of the Avebury standing stones was described as ' translating their cosmogonic, disruptive energy into rectangular or cylindrical volumes'. The thing with English surrealism was the way it has this background of english whimsy, Lewis Caroll etc, but was striving for modernist abstraction. Somehow this makes me think of British TV, Quatermass and Spike Milligan coming from the same place. Or the iconography or the Prisoner, Portmeiron’s architectural whimsy contrasted with the unsettling giant spherical rovers.”
dark side of psychedelia
a key book during the formative phase of Ghost Box was Gary Lachman's Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius, a book about the occult and paganism boom of the hippie era “which brought at least a couple of these threads together for us,” says Jim Jupp.
“Scarlet Ceremony”/Michelle Dotrice
aka Frank Spencer’s Betty
the Owl’s Map
the owl: the perfect Ghost Box bird-mascot, where the wholesome (children's story books from Winnie the Pooh onwards, bird-watching guides, owl as symbol of wisdom etc) collides with the umheimlich (spooky creature with ultra-acute nightvision). Nature studies meets the supernatural.
Jim Jupp: “I’d read Alan Garner's children's classic The Owl Service last year, it’s incredible and unsettling. The symbolism of the Owl really seems to resonate with the GB world, on one hand a fluffy kind of pedagogue and simultaneously a kind of representative of the dead and the night. Certainly it’s always used in textbooks and guidebooks, but its also a constant in mythology everywhere and of course the Tawny owl call is one of the stock signifiers in horror movies. We did a show for Resonance FM a few months back and I prerecorded continuity announcements read by my nine year old step sister. In one she introduced a character called The Learning Owl which lead into one of The Advisory Circle tracks and the idea of a children's TV character "The Owl" took root.”
the map: likewise collides the scientific/precise/diagrammatic/official-bureaucratic-governmental-landsurveying (all those symbols indicating building types, gradients, terrain, natural features and man-made monuments) with the more magical evocations (parchment scrolls, the manuscript illuminating occult path-ways, routes to the treasure…)
Julian House: “The title for one of the Focus Group tracks, 'Planning for Urban Green' was inspired by… the use of trees and green areas within a modernist environment… it has a resonance, pockets of vegetation that stir something within us... On the notes for Sketches and Spells I mentioned sequences of ordered greenery, but wasn't sure why this appealed to me. In Wales recently it struck me that what makes the British landscape interesting is the grid of hedgerows that agriculture has enforced over the fields and rolling hills. That this order is probably dictated by rules and reasons that tap back into the harvest, the seasons, things that resonate with the systems of the standing stones, ancient rites etc. Looking at them as an ancient geometry - Paul Nash translating the English pastoral scene into a form for exploring modernist abstraction.”
Jupp: “Belbury is a fictional English town from CS Lewis's novel, That Hiddeous Strength. It’s about a middle English University town in the post war period that is overrun by a sinister government organisation called the NICE who are advocating a scientific principle called "the abolition of man". It’s one of my favourite books, overlooked because ofa strong Christian subtext I suppose, but it has a wonderfully eccentric atmosphere like a cross between The Midwich Cuckoos, Lucky Jim and the scariest stuff from Lovecraft. I added the Poly, as the Polytechnics represent to me the notion of a bolder, more democratic and socialist education system rooted in an idealised pre-punk era. Like my music I suppose. Also I think the two words have a very poetic little chime.”
Jupp: “I'm interested in the idea that many (if not most) of the sightings of ghosts in the British Isles are along roads, certain British roads are teeming with ghosts by all accounts the A229 from Sussex into Kent has quite a lot and the A23 into Brighton is said to be the most haunted road in the country.”
“Your Way Today”
Jupp : ”Your Way Today” could be the theme to a regional radio show about events in the area or maybe a piece commissioned by local authorities to promote a small town. A couple of years back I found an old 7” in a charity shop called “A Journey to Northampton is a Journey into Space”, which as you can imagine is an execrable bit of 80s pop tat singing the praises of Northampton’s plentiful energy supplies and room for Development. The chorus line: “60 Miles by Road or Rail”, to London presumably.”
“The New Mobility”
Jupp: “Kind of Autobahn translated to British Rail. Maybe reminiscent of exciting new developments like The High Speed Train on Tomorrow’s World and Jimmy Saville giving the thumbs up to ‘The Age of the Train’”
From House’s afterword to The Music Library book:
“They're like concept albums. The concept is an abstract idea thats already in place and the musicians, various jazznik session musos and visionaries with effects boxes, have to interpret it - Industry in motion, Landcape, contemporary baroque, anguish and mystery. I like the themes and the track descriptions - neutral underscore: nervous energy: uneasy, sparse, thick chords, disturbed: as above with spikey interjections.The name Library has a resonance of archives, dusty volumes, musty rooms of filed memories and ideas. And looking for these records you sometimes feel like a character in an HP Lovecraft story, discovering arcane tomes in dusty backrooms and Parisian flea markets.”
Jupp: “My personal favourite library album is Ron Geesin's, Electrosound 2, recorded for KPM. Much of it is eerie pastoral analog electronica way, way ahead of its time and the second side is made up of clunky synthesized rhythms.”
musique concrete/the Goons/Radio 4/radio-plays
House: “I like the concrete thing as a journey/story on the radio, the folley with his box of gravel for footsteps, sheet of metal for lightning, sort of shamen/storyteller on sunday afternoon radio”
children’s TV music
Jupp: “The electronic horror of the Tomorrow People, the jaunty folky theme of Folly Foot, the little bits of harp or folk guitar that slotted between programs for schools and colleges and the spine tingling beauty of the Robinson Crusoe titles.…”
Jupp: “The first series of Pogle's Wood (I'm too young to remember it alas) was pulled by the BBC because it was too damned scary. He was very disappointed to have to turn it into more of a fairies at the bottom of the garden story, rather than something where cannibalistic witches dematerialised from dusty tree trunks and weird plant spirits moved around in murky woodscapes. I mention this because Oliver Postgate is such an important touchstone for Ghost Box…. For instance I love to use the sounds of oboes, clarinets and flutes either sampled or from the virtual Mellotron (a computer simulation of the tape based keyboard much loved by prog rockers) because they create a musty, sepia tone feeling like the atmosphere inside Bagpuss's shop when Emily has gone home.”
Jupp: “An old lunchtime children's program in the 70s. It consisted of short films from different parts of the world always with the same English voice over explaining what was happening, what was interesting though was the title sequence. In my memory this showed a weird sparkling crystal box slowly opening and rotating on a black background.”
television as ghost box
Television itself is innately eerie, though, isn’t it? If record players can seem like magical devices (I still don’t honestly understand how so much detail can be trapped in those tiny engraved grooves, then released by the scraping of a pin), television ought to invite even more superstitious apprehension. The word shares the ‘tele’ prefix (from afar, far-fetched) with telekinesis, telepathy and other paranormal phenomena.
Board of Canada as maestros of memoradelia
Jupp: “BoC are the absolute masters of this, they can convince you that you’re listening to the soundtrack of an old Canadian childrens’ film or a wildlife documentary but its done largely through an anachronistic language of hip hop breaks and sampling technology. Its wonderfully evocative stuff, I suspect it appeals to listeners of a certain age who get the musical references directly from memory as much as it does to younger listeners who would simply be transported into a grainy imaginary past. Irritatingly for me though and a tribute to their genius it feels like they have absolute ownership of certain sounds, especially those slowly modulated slightly detuned analogue synth sounds, that no one else can touch for fear of comparison to BOC.”
whose “playful sampladelia” Julian House admires. See also: Skint weirdo Req’s wraith-like version of hiphop and electro; even the odder moments in the oeuvres of Kruder & Dorfmeister and Mr Scruff. Ghost Box have ties to this period just before the cutting edge of electronic music went off into unloveliness, clicky-glitchy areas, or pure sound art.
wired/wyrd a/k/a electro-bucolica
Jupp on “Rattler’s Hey,” an attempt, he says, to imagine a Morris dance redone by the Radiophonic Workshop. “The tune could represent the preliminaries of some weird ritual, culminating in the more out-there hallucinatory experience of the next track “The Moonlawn”. Very much like the odd ritual folk dances hinted at by Machen in the White People and several other stories. “Rattler” is an olde Belbury world for a Morris man, plugged into the title “Shepherds Hey” a traditional (and real) country dance tune.”
“Rattler’s Hey” and similar tracks like “The People” (a nod to the White People), he says are “all about this idea of haunted landscape. Particularly the British landscape and the way we superimpose things on it like history, pastoral idylls, leyline networks or parallel fictional landscapes like Belbury or Machen’s Usk valley….It’s an often talked about national trait to romanticize the landscape, and helps blind us to the fact that it’s often polluted, noisy, choked with alien plant species or poisoned by industrial farming. But despite this it’s a landscape populated by ancestors, mythical figures, fairies, ghosts and other genius loci..."
Jupp’s Algernon Blackwood-inspired tune, “The Willows” flickers with a weird energy that reminds me of the unsettling atmosphere emanating from certain places in the English countryside. They might be bleak, like flooded fields beside a canal in winter, the color-leached grass undulating gently beneath the dark, eerily clear water surface. Or deserted expanses of common land pocked with odd sunken pools of brackish water. Or even outwardly quite idyllic—but there’s just a palpable vibe of something slightly “off”, as though the membrane between “realms” is thin here, allowing chthonic energy to leak through.
i/ The Focus Group, We are All Pan’s People
House: “The idea was to take this image of 70s pop TV and reconnect it to the pagan deity of Machen/Blackwood - sort of destabilising something that’s seen as kitsch.. like all those dances and TV special effects were really about ritual dances and intoxification.. I like the idea of this zone, a indefinable area where you're crossing backwards and forwards between kitsch, reference and eldritch uncanny”
ii/ Belbury Poly, "Pan's Garden"
the tune makes me think of 1920s fads for "Greek" dancing, toga-clad gentlewomen doing eurythmic movements in English country gardens (this image derived entirely from one of the Just William books I suspect). Jupp: “I believe [eurythmics] was also in a St. Trinians film... What I had in mind with “Pan’s Garden” was more like this little rustic Oliver Postgate feel, hence the light, airy and dusty melody to start and close. At the heart of this setting though is this suffocating Panic terror where the greenery and wildlife start to close in. Goes back to that Pogle's Wood thing I guess... The God Pan was an obsession of both Blackwood and Machen and to a lesser extent Lovecraft. I just read Mike Ashley's The Starlight Man, a biography of Blackwood, and it seems that his nickname was Pan amongst many of his friends, because of his passion for nature and the outdoor life. “
“Caermaen”/”Wetland”/ “Rorschach audio”
Jupp: “What I like about doing this is the new meanings that your mind starts to impose on the rearranged songs, new words and phrases seem to appear spontaneously. It reminds me of this EVP business or the “Rorschach audio” effect that causes the brain to look for meaning and patterns in random noise like windscreen wipers or radio static.”
“sensual but uncanny friction”
Bit of self-ghosting here, via Blissed Out's chapter on sampling, itself based on a 1987 article, and largely inspired by Salt-N-Pepa’s Hot Cool and Vicious and other Herbie Azor productions like Kid N’Play:
“Splicing together grooves, beats and chants, licks and stray murmurings from unconnected pop periods, [hip hop producers like Azor] create a friction, a rub that's both sensual and uncanny. Different auras, different vibes, different studio atmospheres, different eras, are placed in ghostly adjacence, like some strange composite organism sewn together out of a variety of vivisected limbs, or a Cronenbourg dance monster. In 'The Recording Angel', Evan Eisenberg argues that "phonography" bears the same relation to live music that cinema bears to theatre. What a record documents is not an event, but a phantasm constructed out of different takes. It never 'happened'. Sampling takes the fictitious nature of recording even further, creating events that never could have happened. 'Deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence', or what?!”
Each sample, if fully apprehended as what it is, serves as a portal through time. But then recordings are already ana-chronic portals, so sample-based phonography entails a kind of doubling of portals. The sampladelic record as a lattice of writhing wormholes through time…
Another pre-echo in this piece on John “Plunderphonics” Oswald’s Grayfolded project, wherein he made an ultimate version of “Dark Star” by compositing playing from a myriad of different live versions into a jamming-with-thine-own-self-or-selves Garcia-swarm: “Oswald's favourite reaction is "from a guy on the Internet who wrote that Grayfolded makes him cry, because it encapsulates 25 years of Garcia, and it's unreal in a way that gave him a very visceral sensation of it being a ghost."
Boosey and Hawkes
Admiral Greyscale: “They approached us on the back of Dead Air to produce some 'atmospheric drones' for them and we're in the process now...it's a natural habitat for MM and one which we hope to continue to reside in...I too thought that they had turned to dust, however, they have a vast online presence.”
the Admiral's graphic design-inspired surname = “the black & white tonal file format found in Photoshop, and.also the shades by which old TV test cards worked…...the colours of the Mordant Music rainbow”
a declassified nuclear bunker once intended to serve as a node of government after Soviet attack but now “a surreal, derelict and quite frightening tourist attraction,” says Greyscale.
i/ From the book Trash, an s.f. story called "The Harbingers" by Nyla Matuk concerns a character who is researching the mysterious disappearance of corvids from Chinese cities that have started practicising a “zero waste” policy of recycling:
“These birds always adapt to new human conditions… Corvids—that is, crows, ravens, jackdaws, rooks and other birds of the species—eat everything that presents itself in their environment: fleas off the back of pigs, corn in the fields, the livers of recently hatched garden snakes. The more carnivorous amongst them—carrion crows, magpies, and ravens --- scavenged battlefields of dead bodies for centuries. And they are clever at making conveniences for themselves. Some Norwegian corvids have been observed picking walnuts from trees, dropping them into the middle of a busy road, waiting for the carts to crack the shells for them.”
ii/ “Fallen Faces”, Dead Air’s sole song and incongruously rocky number on this mostly instrumental, electronics-plus-found-voices album, is the Mordant mission statement, its chorus goes “build our gallows high/we’re the corvidae.” It also claims that the two-some “walk like encryptions” and go “ghosting in Whetstone” (in search of a company that once marketed deluxe family-size nuclear shelters!).
Greyscale: “’Ghosting’ is also a term for a particular type of TV interference.”
The song incidentally features an unrecognizable sample from Japan’s ‘Ghosts’
Greyscale: “The title is in many ways supposed to evoke literally a fantastical impression of what “dead air” in the broadcasting sense sounds like at intense volume, very much like a black box recording of a warning dredged post-apocalypse”
Greyscale: “I can acutely remember at a very young age watching Philip flanked by the fabled Thames TV skyline, and making the same kind of connection with his delivery that I would perhaps with programmes specifically targeted towards me at that time”
Baron Mordant’s musical CV/resume
Baron Mordant: “Foetid and feeble forays into electronic music firstly with Johnson Engineering Co./Havoc for 400 Blows' label Concrete Productions and then with 'Deadstock' thru Orbital's Internal/London imprint...subsequent releases for Leftfield's Hard Hands label as 'Broadway Danny Rose' paved an uncomfortable breakbeat route.”
Greyscale: “Comprising of 7 three-dimensional views of comedian and poet Simon Munnery getting a massive hard-on in an orange boiler suit.”
“Dark Side of the Autobahn”
Baron Mordant: “It was released as an antidote to all the callous mash-ups that were gakking the airwaves up a few years back...it all fell into place so luckily, firstly asa thought-palette and then as an actual rendering... That VCS3 sequencer programmed by Dave Gilmour is genius and is bears a strong resemblance to that ''tunnel sequence'' in Autobahn. The constituents are Autobahn/"On The Run"/"Very Friendly"/"Sound Of Silence"/Stephen Morris on drums/Peter Cook outro...many of our favourite ingredients...no additional production...just the grafting of each piece.”
Dead Air packaging
Greyscale: “It’s the Dead Air logo, which is an ambiguous shape influenced by a very faceless corporate ideal...all things (or nothing) to all men...it's partly based on old ITV franchise identities, a font called Sinaloa, a mike, a teardrop, a paraboloid, light to dark, going underground etc...it actually took shape when I saw the logo created for the Gleneagles summit last summer...attractive and angular but quite vacuous...sharp but sinister...it all materialised early in the morning of 7/7…”
Mordant past/ Mordant future
* Baron Mordant’s solo album The Tower Parts I-VII , “a collaboration with an associate of Danish descent who introduced us to Burzum and his ilk...there's an ambient side to Black Metal that we foraged in this synaesthesic journey into an imaginarycastle, through it's dungeons and finally up its tower...there's certainly a Mordant element of infiltration and forgery to this release...in fact the sleeve artwork is the climbing tower in Stoke Newington made to look like a sinister Scandinavian castle.”
* MM011, Shackleton’s 'Stalker' … “a 'not quite right' producer who does not fit the 'dubstep' template comfortably...
* new split 10" Mordant Music/Shackleton out any day now. Check out Blackdown’s interview with Shackleton
* next big project: a a film entitled August '56
House: “From day one we had strange mood boards of found imagery pinned on the wall of Jim's studio, giving us guidance as it were. I suppose this relates to the thing I wrote in the Music Library afterword about library records packaging and artwork – “like the musicians and designer are working from the same brief.” And ‘“packaging that’s wrapped inside the music”. Our reference points are from music but also strange TV and pulp literature. Everything's happening at once, really, we're both doing music, discovering strange old films, recommending books to each other, finding images.”
Jupp: “A scientist and media expert, a bit like an English Marshal McLuhan, whose books explore television, ghosts and the collective unconscious. He disappeared in the mid 70's leaving behind extensive research papers and at least two books; The Tangled Beams and A Microphone in the Hedgerow.”
Jupp: “He was a respected Oxbridge archaeologist whose interest in psychometry and pendulum dowsing and its use in archaeology, caused him to be ostracized by the academic world. He became this kind of rural, amateur psychic researcher writing some interesting books speculating on everything from the afterlife, evolution, ancient history, ghosts and in particular – dowsing. His authorial voice reads something like John le Mesurier in Dad’s Army, very likeable and homely and a bit vague. I suppose he’s an ideal Ghost Box character representing both far out supernatural philosophies and old English parochialism. Julian Cope’s into him. I believe he put out a record by a “group” called the Sons of TC Lethbridge a couple of years back.”
music-making and design-work parallels
House: “What I get from Library music, in particular electronic and rhythmical/percussive experimental stuff, is the sense of analogue process. Not just analogue synths, but the analogue environment, the sound of instruments mic'd up in the studio, fed through various combinations of spring reverb, tape delay. You refer to Letraset, stipple etc which are right for the era, but for me it’s more the graphics that relied on photography, or the copy camera. Some 60s modernist type experiments in distortion through glass, setting things up in real space, photographing them, reproducing them via the copy camera with a hi contrast screen, or a dot screen. You can see it in the finished result, you don't quite get the same thing with photoshop. Also, cut and paste - the scalpel being a tool for doing layout and tape splicing. I suppose it’s about the studio as process, space of play, the reverb, spaces, angles, light of a room being a part of the result… The way myself and colleagues at Intro work is to try to inject some of that analogue process back in. We're not anti digital (and we haven't got room for copy cameras) but we take things out of the computer. Prints things out, re-photograph them under different conditions, scan them back in - and then digital technology, photoshop etc., comes into play. Sometimes nasty lo-res JPEG effects work well, image breakup that starts to look like woodblock.”
House: “I find British modernism clunky compared to some European design of the same time, but I don't mean this as a negative sentiment. Maybe it’s British austerity, a post war sensibility, something to do with the strange beauty of coastline bunkers and sea defences. The architects Alison and Peter Smithson are good references. They were the architects associated with the founding of Brutalism (the term comes from the french for rough concrete --béton brut). Their Hunstanton Secondary School is the blueprint for the secondary modern/ polytechnic we're so fond of, and they were integral to the fledgling British Pop art movement… It’s an understanding of the beauty of the institutional, a pop art of the concrete block and motorway sign, but also, for us, loaded with nostalgia. I think this is key to the GhostBox ethos, a nostalgia for looking forwards…
“The other influence was obviously Library records - these colour coded sleeves, the same design over and over, the fact of their not being commercial releases making them all the more beguiling. Something to do with the intrigue of the institutional. the fact that these records contained such far out sounds was made stranger to me by the anonymous, hidden studio background they originate from… I like that sense of an ongoing experiment/investigation. A modernist programme. 'Craft and anonymity' makes me think of the Arts and Crafts movement, a folkish collective that’s actually the birth of British modernism in a way.”
clash and commingle
sometimes the muddied emotions induced by Focus Group tracks remind of how when you mix too many colours together the result is always brown. C.f. the blog Brown Feeling, whose perpetrator explained to K-punk why the name: "Brown doesn't have any opposite in the color-wheel, and it's the color of feces so its always struck me as sort of abject and funny. And then with that in mind I tried to imagine being in a brown kind of mood and it just seemed kind of ambiguous and gross.'
House: “Love your triffid analogy, obviously makes me think of John Wyndham, particularly English sci-fi …But the name woodwind makes me think of whispering voices in the forest vibe. What I love with certain woodwind sounds, particularly on solo instrument tracks on Library LPs, is the way the sound goes from the breath on the reed, the physicality of it, into a pure tone, waveform.”
this idea of parallel world pop or alternative history research is not a new strategy of course but pursued by all kinds of artists, from Saint Etienne and Stereolab to Urge Overkill and Royal Trux, to Add N To (X) and Broadcast…
Ghost Box future
* reissue of Mount Vernon Arts Lab’s Séance At Hobbs Lane
* a new release from The Advisory Circle early next year.
* an EP by a Ghost Box supergroup, The Elsewhere Quartet, featuring House, Jupp, and two other artists as yet to be confirmed.
* Folklore and Mathematics manifesto/small press art magazine/periodical
* short film about Belbury
some misgivings about the H-word
* it’s a heavy trip to lay on these artists. The way the discussion has developed, it’s as though a Platonic ideal of what hauntology represents has coalesced that none of the original referent-groups could possibly live up to!
*it’s too vague--it doesn’t really capture what’s specific and notable about this cluster of artists, mostly from the UK and with a fairly defined if elastic set of preoccupations and approaches
* it’s somewhat misleading--“haunt” evoking too much the Gothick perhaps. As much as this music can be genuinely eerie in its formlessness and does move in mysterious ways, the outfits in questions are
i/ as much involved in playing with the cultural associations of ghosts/supernature/paranormal/paganism etc as actual performing some kind of audio witchcraft ritual or pierced-dick Coil-like sonic necromancy.
ii/ fun! the word hauntology occults, or do I mean occludes, the elements of playfulness and wit involved in what Ghost Box and Mordant and others do. (The initial application of the H-term was itself kinda playful, as opposed to some doctrinal/dogmatic alignment with Derrida). Ghost Box and Mordant Music alike are far from devoid of a sense of humour or fun, indeed there is a certain somber/solemn comedy involved. It certainly presses my buttons (talking of ghosts of one’s life, absent presences etc, the sensibility reminds me of certain figures in the Monitor camp and the way they would sift through cultural detritus and unfailingly find really odd things, sources of wonder and hilarity.) There is also an element to the music that is close to idyllictronic—real enchantment and rapt reverie. Again the avatar here is BoC, as opposed to Coil.
* hauntology as the discussion has developed has become too indexed to dub. Ironically, given the scorn for ideas of origin or presence, there is a kind of Origin Myth set up, as though It All Started in Tubby’s or Perry’s studio back in 1972. Yet far from being the last word in sonic hauntology, dub is not even the first word--there’s a whole tradition or set of traditions that encompasses musique concrete and psychedelia (and the latter’s extensions with Krautrock, Eno’s proto-ambient work) plus various oddball studio wizards and boffins like Joe Meek. Dub is just one phase and one zone is a much larger history of phantasmagoric music--spatialised music, sound made weird through the recording studio and tape-editing--there was stuff before dub existed, and there’s stuff since dub existed, sampladelic music, that doesn’t particularly have any of dub’s hallmarks or that much relationship to Jamaica. I think with the Ghost Box nexus and also with Ariel Pink it’s far more relevant to talk about “Strawberry Fields Forever” than Perry-Tubby Inc. Now that is a phantasmagoric record, on a production level (two different takes of the song spliced together; weird faded and melted treatments on the voice and guitar), and it happened half-a-decade before Perry/Tubby/et al got ghostified. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is also relevant because it’s a song about memory…. a particular anguished and contradiction-riddled form of nostalgia, longing for a time/place you never stole a happy hour.
Generally I’m of the persuasion that dub got over-theorised to the point of exhaustion some time ago (94-95-96, paralleling Macro Dub Infection, illbient, post-rock, Wordsound--who had an artist called Spectre as it happens). I’m really not convinced the music has much more to give us at this point, theory-wise! I also get a bit of a cognitive dissonance sometimes when reading dub theory and it’s all about deconstruction, spectrality, the uncanny, disorientation, this assault course of headfuck FX and spatial derangement etc… because so much of the actual vibe of your original 70s dub is... kindly. I got some Dennis Bovell reissues through the post the other day, Strictly Dubwise was one of them, and was forcefully reminded of this aspect of dub: it’s like this tender, forgiving, somehow wise music, not really a wrecking, derailing experience. Either that, or it’s sensual/sensuous, an erotics of sound, all about pure audio-erogenous delight, tantalizing flickers of sound. And because the classic Jamaican ’70s dub was wedded to roots reggae culture, it was essentially an adjunct to a religious music—roots being not far off a form of Caribbean gospel. So as much as the art of making the records technically involves a deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence, I think the whole point of the music is about a longing for presence: the sonic conjuration of the presence of Jah, the flickering radiances of the music akin to the numinous nimbus surrounding the Almighty.
* in conclusion (and this is something that people generally do seem to be concluding) sonic hauntology is a useful and profound and--hah--timely theory of music… but the H-ological is surely an undercurrent within all recorded music… the recording process being inherently eerie and out of joint .. perhaps the challenge is finding the H- within the most unlikely things … the shadows lurking within the most overlit and plastique mainstream pop … there’s a danger also that “hauntological” becomes the new “anti-hegemonic”, ie. valorized attribute of dissidence that theorists chase down and hallucinate in all kinds of things. But regardless, this “anywhere and everywhere” quality means that H-ology is not that helpful in terms of characterizing this particular cluster of artists.