Ghost Box is 10 years old.
Today they release a commemorative compilation, In A Moment... Ghost Box
27 tracks (on the vinyl double) or 31 tracks (on the double CD and download versions), pulled from across their discography.
Go here to buy it and inspect the track list
I was really delighted to contribute the liner notes to In A Moment.. Ghost Box. Pure joy to write.
Ghost Box is my favorite record label of the past decade.
I'm not sure I can think of any other labels over that period where I've had the same consistent eagerness and curiosity to hear the next thing they do.
Sure, there have been labels during that time who have put out a lot of good or interesting stuff, like Pan, or that had a hot streak, like Not Not Fun... or maintain a highly considered, defined aesthetic, such as Blackest Ever Black...
But (not counting labels-as-outlet-for-a-single-artist, like Gecophonic Productions) in terms of labels where I've wanted to have everything they put out.... really, there's only been Ghost Box.
And Creel Pone.
(A revealing pairing. Revealing of where my head's been at, if nothing else)
(And of course Creel Pone is ten years old this year as well)
One of the most enjoyable things about the first two or three years of the label's existence was the way that Ghost Box - alongside their small but growing cluster of kindred artists and labels - became the focus for collective discussion.... a kind of collaboration of minds... a back-and-forth that took place primarily between blogs and writers at webzines, although it spilled into print magazines too.
Ghost Box & company had a catalyst function, rather like grime in the early days of this particular neighbourhood of blogs. You had a similar sort of passing the baton of thought.
So in homage to that moment I thought I would collate some of my favorite bits by other people talking about Ghost Box and its ungenre.
(In a few cases, they are talking about Ghost Box et al quite a few years before it and they came into being, but then the linearity of time is an illusion, agreed?)
"Songs are like lopsided Victorian automata, instruments mismatch in incongruent tempos... and sequences frequently crumble into soft-edged bliss before one's ears. It is almost as if the very action of their exposure is the agent of their collapse. Stranger still, though plainly audible, occasionally the music seems to disappear from earshot, becoming proverbially invisible, sinking into the netherworld of the unconscious. Recurrent themes serve as mnemonics luring the listener’s attention to the surface. Pieced together from the mustiest samples - children’s exercise records, vintage BBC drama, clunky Brit jazz and (most pertinently) library records, this is an archaeology of emotion, a philosophically motivated exploration of the power of not just one's childhood memories, but of the collective unconscious. In the work of The Focus Group and House's partners Belbury Poly and Eric Zann... memory is a theoretical portal to the phantasmal kingdom, not a trivial exercise in retro stylistics"
- Matthew Ingram, The Wire, 2005
"Ghostbox artists deal in a very British style of sound manipulation; perhaps it could be called music-hall concrète.... Sketches and Spells by The Focus Group reveals them as non-idiomatic cratediggers searching for the bits other than the beats, for the reflective moments that the headz miss. This is music by and for shoppers who come home with dirt ingrained deep into their fingerprints from flipping through stacks of old books and records at jumble sales and charity shops. It is as refreshing as the cup of hot tea served by the church bric-a-brac stall where you’ve failed to find anything interesting among the Sven Hassel novels and stained flannel shirts. Sketches and Spells is as warm and strange as a clockwork sunrise accompanied by a dawn chorus of steam driven birds. Super-dry jazz hi-hat work mixes with offhand synth-bass and slivered chirrups of sound sliced thin enough to be just impossible to place. There’s a lot of percussion but it’s the click-clack sticks, spacious triangles and tentative, carefully considered woodblocks of primary school rather than the dense free-for-all of the hippie jam (you can almost smell the wood-shavings covering childish vomit.)"
- Patrick McNally, Stylus, 2005
"The affect produced by Ghost Box's releases (sound AND images, the latter absolutely integral) are the direct inverse of irritating PoMo citation-blitz. The mark of the postmodern is the extirpation of the uncanny, the replacing of the unheimlich tingle of unknowingness with a cocksure knowingness and hyper-awareness. Ghost Box, by contrast, is a conspiracy of the half-forgotten , the poorly remembered and the confabulated.... Ghost Box releases conjure a sense of artificial déjà vu, where you are duped into thinking that what you are hearing has its origin somewhere in the late 60s or early 70s. Not false, but simulated, memory. The spectres in Ghost Box's hauntology are the lost contexts which, we imagine, must have prompted the sounds we are hearing; lost programmes, uncomissioned series, pilots that were never followed-up"
- Mark Fisher, K-Punk, 2005
"The artists on Ghost Box treat their historical fetishes-- British occult texts, science and informational films, the loose hokum of 60s counterculture, and the straight fits of academia and bureaucracy-- as clues and suggestions. A typical Ghost Box record might sound like it was recorded 30 years ago, but like it was being mixed as you listen; a sound so minced, collaged, and disjointed that it takes on crude animation--a museum come to life. They're historically obsessed, but completely nonlinear-- laser guns smuggled into a Civil War reenactment..... I keep coming around to comparing the music to early hip-hop. In 2008, sampling is de riguer. It's lip gloss. But I listen to Ghost Box back-to-back with, say, Stetsasonic because both linger in the post-traumatic shock of The Sample--in the shock of the sampler's ability to distort history, the ability to disembody, the ability to completely destroy the traditional image of time and space in music making. Grooves in Ghost Box's music, then, are constantly disrupted, disjointed. All players spectral."
- Mike Powell, Pitchfork, 2008
"Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss.... There is .... Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle... The word Mooreeffoc may cause you suddenly to realize that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future to be reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits; but it cannot do more than that: act as a time-telescope focused on one spot." - J.R.R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories", 1939.
"Herein is the whole secret of that eerie realism with which Dickens could always vitalize some dark or dull corner of London. There are details in the Dickens descriptions - a window, or a railing, or the keyhole of a door - which he endows with demoniac life. The things seem more actual than things really are. Indeed, that degree of realism does not exist in reality: it is the unbearable realism of a dream. And this kind of realism can only be gained by walking dreamily in a place; it cannot be gained by walking observantly. Dickens himself has given a perfect instance of how these nightmare minutiae grew upon him in his trance of abstraction. He mentions among the coffee-shops into which he crept in those wretched days one in St. Martin's Lane, "of which I only recollect that it stood near the church, and that in the door there was an oval glass plate with 'COFFEE ROOM' painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backwards on the wrong side, MOOR EEFFOC (as I often used to do then in a dismal reverie), a shock goes through my blood." That wild word, "Moor Eeffoc," is the motto of all effective realism; it is the masterpiece of the good realistic principle - the principle that the most fantastic thing of all is often the precise fact. And that elvish kind of realism Dickens adopted everywhere. His world was alive with inanimate objects." - G.K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens, 1906
“... Something that has obsessed me personally for a long time, is the idea of eternalism and non-existence of time. It’s the notion that everything that has happened and will happen and all parallel world outcomes are superimposed in one block time” - J.B. Priestley, Man and Time, 1964
"And then, what about that curious feeling which almost everyone has now and then experienced - that sudden fleeting, disturbing conviction that something which is happening at that moment has happened before? What about those occasions when, receiving an unexpected letter from a friend who writes rarely, one recollects having dreamed of him during the previous night? What about all those dreams which, after having been completely forgotten, are suddenly, for no apparent reason, recalled later in the day? What is the association which results them?.... Was it possible that these phenomena were not abnormal, but normal? That dreams - dreams in general, all dreams, everybody's dreams - were composed of images of past experience and images of future experience blended together in approximately equal proportions?" - J,W. Dunne, An Experiment With Time, 1927
"Time is only an illusion produced by the succession of our states of consciousness as we travel through eternal duration.... If you mistake the hybrid thing of which I am speaking for real time, you will come inevitably to the conclusion that everything in the universe is transient and rushing to destruction. In real time the exact contrary is the case. Everything which has established its existence remains in existence. A rose which has bloomed once blooms for ever." - J.W. Dunne, The New Immortality, 1938
"Tell me what you see vanishing and I
Will tell you who you are"
- W.S. Merwin, "For Now"