Tuesday, July 31, 2012

His Life in the Ghosts of Bush

"A hauntological last hurrah"--The Quietus reports on The Ghosts of Bush House, a project by a chap who usually goes by the moniker Robin the Fog but here ops for the artist name The Fog Signals.

This Robin fellow worked as a studio manager at the BBC World Service, which is being decimated by huge cuts. In an act of advance audio mourning/"memory work", he went around the World Service's soon-to-be-closed HQ at Bush House on the Strand, recording nocturnal atmospheres and reverberations. Working in elements taken from "the World Service’s ancient reel-to-reels" (an echo there perhaps of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts), he wove his indoor field recordings into what may well be the ultimate hauntological artifact.

Ghosts of Bush obviously chimes with the Ghost Box/Cafe Kaput/et al preoccupation with the Public Sphere as something that's faded away, something to mourn (but also to celebrate/cherish/protect as per Danny Boyle's Olympics ceremony). Says Mr Fog, "I’m an ardent believer in the World Service and in public service broadcasting in general. It’s an incredible ambassador for British affairs and is renowned for its integrity and trusted the world over." But Robin also references that ultimate H-ological icon of public broadcasting, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: "The nicest compliments of all have been those who compared [Ghosts of Bush] to the produce of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, an organization which has been a huge influence on my work and which I always used to fantasize about joining, despite its closing almost a decade before I joined the BBC."

More on how the project came about:

"I was working a lot of nightshifts... and as a result would often have the place largely to myself during the small hours of the morning. On my journeys around Bush House...  I used to love listening to all the sounds around me: the creaks and rumbles of the old building echoed up and down the stairwells and through the corridors, even the most mundane of noises suddenly taking on a new significance in the half-light. Like so many historic buildings around London, Bush House is constructed of Portland Stone, which is a wonderfully resonant material to work with... the stone construction of the walls coupled with the high ceilings gave you this extraordinary reverb. I would whistle to myself on the landings and then listen as the whistle fluttered round the space for what seemed like an eternity, transforming as it did so into something much stranger, as if the building was adding a few tones of its own. I liked to think these were the sounds Bush House made when it thought nobody was listening!

"No artificial echo or electronic effects were used in the making of the album... These are genuinely the sounds of the space."

You can listen to and name-your-price purchase The Ghosts of Bush House here.

"All proceeds will be donated to BBC Media Action (formerly The World Service Trust), helping in their mission to 'harness the power of media and communication to help reduce poverty and assist women, children and men to claim their rights'."


Pure word association reminded me of the composer Ingram Marshall, whose Fog Tropes was inspired by "the sounds of the maritime environment around San Francisco Bay"

Marshall also recorded an album based around "the soundscape" surrounding and inside the Bay's infamous island prison Alcatraz (another public institutional building fallen into disuse, but with less edifying assocations than Bush House). Marshall recalled going on expeditions with his photographer collaborator Jim Bengston and recording "the sounds of buoys, birds and fog horns as well as singing and gambuh flute playing in some of the resonant spaces of the prison. I also captured the famous roar of the cell doors's mechanized closings--this chorus of metal echoing through the wildly reverberant spaces of Alcatraz is probably the perfect sound print of the desolation and utter finality of the place." I reviewed Alcatraz along with other resonant music/New Age releases here.