Monday, December 25, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

these are my favourite individual pieces of music of 2006
scritti politti, “the boom boom bap”
scritti politti, “petrococadollar”
scritti politti, “snow in sun”
scritti politti, “e eleventh nuts”
scritti politti, “cooking”

scritti politti, "no fine lines"
scritti politti, "throw"
scritti politti, "road to no regret"
scritti politti, "robin hood"
mordant music, “we are the mean”

mordant music, "plant room"
mordant music, "man on a spool"
mordant music, “fallen faces”
burial, “forgive”
burial, “southern comfort”

burial, “gutted”,
burial, “u hurt me”
hot chip, “over and over”
hot chip, “the warning”
jay dee, “won’t do”
jay dee, "so far to go"
jake thackray, “country boy”
jake thackray, “it was only a gypsy”
jake thackray, “brother gorilla”
jake thackray, “on again on again”
jake thackray, “sister josephine”

lady sovereign, “hoodie”
lady sovereign, “love me or hate me”

lady sovereign, "public warning"
lady sovereign, “my england”

lady sovereign, "a little bit of shhh"
lady sovereign, "nine to five"
lady sovereign, "fiddle with the volume"
arctic monkeys, “mardy bum”
arctic monkeys, “red lights indicate doors are secure”
arctic monkeys, “riot van”

arctic monkeys, "still take you home"
arctic monkeys, "dancing shoes"
arctic monkeys, "the view from the afternoon"
arctic monkeys, "i bet you look good on the dancefloor"
arctic monkeys, "a certain romance"
ariel pink, “getting high in the morning”
ariel pink, “hardcore pops are fun”
joanna newsom, “emily”
belbury poly, “the people”
jarvis cocker, “quantum theory”
scott walker, “the escape”

clipse, "mr me too"
ricardo villalobos, "fizheuer zieheuer"

these are my favourite assemblages of 2006
scritti politti, white bread black beer

mordant music, dead air
burial, s/t
juana molina, son

lady sovereign, public warning
hot chip, the warning
arctic monkeys, whatever people say i am, that's what i'm not
belbury poly, the owl’s map

joanna newsom, ys
clipse, hell hath no fury

this is in a category of its own: admired but seldom desired
scott walker, the drift

these are some records from 2006 i found ear-catching/admirable/partially excellent

kode 9/spaceape, memories of the future
matmos, the rose has teeth in the mouth of a beast
jarvis, jarvis (second side only)
johnny dark, can’t wait ep
thom yorke, the eraser
booka shade, movements
esg, “purely physical”
first nation, s/t
various artists, serious times
kudu, death of the party
the caretaker, theoretically pure anterogade amnesia

black devil disco club, 28 after
bass clef, a smile is a curve that straightens most things
xylitol, functionary
various, the world is gone
various, get physical vol II--4th anniversary label comp

espers, espers II
jay dee, the shining/the shining instrumentals
jay dee, donuts
tv on the radio, return to cookie mountain

panic at the disco!, "i write sins not tragedies"
wolf eyes, human animal
the knife, silent shout
squarepusher, hello everything

v/vm, sabam
ricardo villalobos, ach so EP
brightblack morning light, s/t
boxcutter, oneiric
om, conference of the birds
sunnO))) & boris, Altar

these are my favourite assemblages (re)released/reprocessed in 2006 but not recorded in 2006
jake thackray, jake in a box: the emi recordings 1967-1976
desmond leslie, music of the future
broadcast, the future crayon
byrne & eno, my life in the bush of ghosts

ariel pink, house arrest
the doors, perception
faust, faust IV
ike yard, 1980-82 collected
various artists, anthems in eden
delta 5 , singles & sessions 1979-81
blackbeard aka dennis bovell, strictly dub wize
this heat, s/t

the beatles, love

these are some of the non-sonix that grabbed me in 2006
dave peace, the damned utd
rosamund purcell, bookworm

stanley crouch, considering genius

these are some cool things i heard in 2006 that aren't out until 2007
infinite livez vs stade , art brut fe de yoot on big dada
the focus group, we are all pan’s people on ghost box
panda bear/excepter , "carrots/KKKKK" split 12" on paw tracks

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Woebot takes a giant stride ahead of the pack with the launch of......

! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
two kids TV commercials that caught my eye:

Burger King's Dance Dance Revolution


the Blue Man Group percussion toy

now i can remember going to see Blue Man Group in the early '90s when it seemed... not exactly underground but certainly some distance from mainstream, not that different from things like the Bow Gamelan Ensemble... the music played even sounded a bit Krautrocky or at least in the vicinity of Cul De Sac (whose Ecim just got reissued incidentally)

now they're an Xmas gift for tots, you can pound the percussion tubes while watching a video of the men in blue...
The Rockcritics TV Guide: a start
(US version)

Kogan Knows Best

The Wire

Whose Line Is It Anyway?: the Be Here Now Sessions

The David Gilmour Girls

Dexter's Midnight Runners

okay, now I need your help...
Genisphere with Qusomes

It sounds a bit like a neurofunk era drum'n'bass act, on Renegade Hardware maybe.

But it's not.
This being the Year of Dubstep, there is a massive great piece on Dubstep in the new issue of Signal To Noise, loads of pix and in-depth interviewage with major players like Loefah and Kode 9. The writer, Cindy Chen, starts off by discussing my concept of “the hardcore continuum” and does quite a nice job of explicating it. But while totally sympathetic to the notion herself, she does note en passant that the concept has faced “accusations by many as being too Brit-centric, pompous and self-referential”.

Really? I mean, I can’t say I’ve noticed particularly. My impression was that people either seemed to more or less agree with the idea or give Nuum-talk a wide berth. But perhaps there is a whole squadron of back-biters out there quibbling and complaining. Either way, never let it be said I'll flinch from wrestling with a straw-man!

“Pompous”: okay, fair enough, I mean if you are the kind of person who is averse to theorizing per se, you might well find the notion somewhat bombastic. “Self-referential”: I don’t understand this, especially as the referent (ie. the scene itself) does not bandy the term around, release tracks with titles like “Nuum Ting Dis”. The referencing is coming from selves who are slightly outside the referent! “Brit-centric”: now this is the daftest one of the lot. It’s Brit-centric to the extent to which what it is talking about is a British phenomenon. No one would accuse funk carioca (which is totally a ‘nuum in its own right, going back to the bailes of the Seventies) of being Brazil-centric or Rio-centric, or complain about a treatment of dancehall that located it in the specifics of Jamaican sound system culture and political-economy, struggles between garrison communities, etc etc.

For sure, there are outposts across the world of Anglophiles (sophisticated Anglophiles who have learned to get past stage 1 Anglophilia, ie. the equation of Englishness with sophistication/refinement/literateness etc and embrace this nation’s avant-lumpen ruffage industry)… outposts of stage 2 Anglophiles who dig the music and try to build scenes modeled on the UK original. But the motherlode is the motherland. There are plenty of other continuums out there, even hardcore ones (the Euro-hardcore Belgium>>>>Rotterdam>>>>Frankfurt/PCP>>>>Scotland/Rezerection gabba-nuum>>>>); America has its post-electro Southern diaspora of city-based gangsta booty musik. But
this particular Nuum, it’s a UK thing.

That said, dubstep marks a new stage in the nuum's evolution in so far as it teeters on the verge of dis-placing itself. More than any Nuum-output of the last 15 years it seems to have the potential to go internatty. It doubtless will remain nourished by the indigenous tradition, sourced in London and similar UK cities like Bristol. But being instrumental and far less local-colour oriented than grime, it has a greater fit with all those old Nineties notions of techno as postgeographical music, or the related macro-dub/hyperdub idea of dub as virus.
And therefore has the potential to re-root itself in other urbanzones across the globe, where earlier offshoot scenes--2step and grime--failed to transplant themselves in foreign climes.
Okay, as we're trawling the music mags, how about a little game? Guess who this musician is, interviewed in Uncut not once but twice, first describing his "Desert Island Disc", and then a few pages later, picking his Album of the Year and sticking out like a sore but very welcome thumb amid the sorry shower of aging Britpoppers who reckon Kasabian, Midlake (The Trials of Van Occupanther!?!?!?!?), and Muse are verily the dogs bollocks.

Desert Island Disc
Tha Dogg Pound--Call Iz Active
This record is different from all Snoop's others, it's got more personalities in there. He doens't sing all the time, there are different characters that pop up. They work in crews, four or five people involved at one time. It's a discussion group, in a funny kind of way. I saw him the other day on TV, and he was talking about his sponsorship of football teams; he had 2000 members already. It's funny because Al Sharpton was complaining about how rappers should contribute more to the community. I like Snoop's style, as a man. He's the one that got away. the one that did something.

Album of the Year
Kokane--Back 2 Tha Clap
One of the originators of G-Unit finally gets his turn. His take on the whole West Coast Gangsta Hop is much more soulful than gangsta, especially the track "When It Rains, It Pours", a heartbreaking song that most uncharacteristically ends with a comment about his mother.

Any idea?

A clue: read it aloud, in a baleful Welsh accent.

That's right.

It's John Cale!

I know he did that album last year or the year before, with Timbaland-influenced beats, but still...

"I like Snoop's style, as a man"... I can just hear him saying that in his grave 'n' gravelly tone.

I heard that Snoop/R. Kelly single "That's That" the other day coming out of a shop doorway, and suddenly thought: blimey, he's been around a loooong time. 14 years. Which means career-wise he's at the Honi Soit point or something. (Or maybe Tha Blue Carpet Treatment = Blue Mask). "That's That" has up to now irritated me immensely with its lackadaisically jaunty melody, but suddenly, seeing the video yesterday, I decided it was genius. It's got a real "getting away with it" vibe about, spelled out in the video when Snoop drops his usual blase impressed-by-nothing frown and is sorta shuffling about in this lazy-dance way with a stoned shit-eating grin exactly midway between smug and sheepish. Like, "how easy is this?".
"There's always tomorrow" -The SR

I got that in an email! Turned out to be a band called The Slack Republic.

It reminded me of this quote from a Burial interview in FACT that Sit Down Man You're a Bloody Tragedy highlighted a while back:

The tunes I loved the most…old jungle, rave and hardcore, sounded hopeful. It sounds stupid, but it’s like they were trying to unite the whole UK, but they failed. So when I listen back to them I get kind of sad. All those lost producers…I love them, but it’s not a retro thing: those tunes still sound amazing"

That had made me think of how, during my "Nineties week" a month or so ago, the music still sounded like the future--not a "lost future", sepia-tinted and pathos-laced, but actually like the future. The future that the broader culture had somehow retreated from. Like the furthest point on a trajectory. Or a bridge to tomorrow that was never finished, such that the music just hangs there, in space, poised, pregnant with possibility. But as much as this has something to do with the futuroid elements in the music, that feeling was conjured equally by the more soundtracky/melodic/arrangement side of the tunes. A feeling of optimism, confidence, eyes-on-the-horizon, hope.
Last year it happened midway through Kate Bush's Aerial; this time we were listening to Playing With Fire by Spacemen 3. I'm talking about Unsilent Night, this annual East Village peripatetic sound-art twist on going Christmas carolling, where sundry downtown musician types and their friends wander through the streets of lower Manhattan carrying boomboxes playing loops that together escalate into a Reich/Riley-esque sound-swarm. I wasn't taken so totally unawares as last year but Joy was, wondering to herself, "hmmm, Spacemen 3 sounds even more wondrous and ethereal than I remember", than she glanced out the window and saw the throng wending their way up Avenue A. The loop this year was based on a bell sequence so sounded, in massed form as a cloud of interlapping and saturated overtones, especially Yuley and heartwarming. Have yourself an avant, avant Christmas.
S-O-V on the OC, last week

the tune was "Love Me Or Hate Me" i think
(and is that descending electro blip riff nicked from Rhythmatic or Ability II or one of them bleep crews? sounds familiar)

and now I hear that she's going to be on the OC again, early next year, with--blimey--a cover of "Pretty Vacant"

ah the muscle of the mighty Jay Z!

M-E on the S-O-V CD, in the O-M-M

linked belatedly, reviewed prematurely (not out in the UK until March, heinously)

(trust me those typos are not my handiwork, especially not the mis-spelling of the artist's name at the top!)

mystified by the lack of love for Public Warning in the community--what's not to like?
Wire contributor Sam Davies makes an interesting point:

"I think there's a case to be argued that, increasingly, the spectral or disembodied isn't only to be located in the thematic (names of songs, tracks, albums), but the very way music is experienced.If you look at the all-conquering iPod, it can only function because of compression: whether AAC or MP3, frequencies deemed 'inaudible' by psychoacoustics are left out. Certain sounds are factored out, because it is believed the human brain doesn't really notice them when certain other sound-events are happening, or because they're beyond the range of human hearing, etc. Personally I think I can recognise compression: it does funny things to the human voice, and also acoustic guitars and cymbals. But the point is, people are definitely listening to 'less' of the original recording than before, to a 'disembodied' version. And the iPod is now the only way that many people engage with music - witness those home docking systems, which mean the iPod (and massive compression) is what they listen to whether at home or on the move.

"Admittedly all this does beg the question whether ALL recorded music, vinyl/CD/cassette, partakes of the spectral condition (and I think it does), but 1) I think it's the first time the general drive for higher fidelity has run backwards, towards a greater 'ghostliness', and 2) I think it's hilarious that after years of sales discourse on 'sound quality' and the hi-tech, arguing that CDs are essential and demand-driven, people/consumers have become so obsessed with dematerializing their music collections. The 80s Holy Grail of sound quality has quietly absented itself from the debate."

to which I chimed:

"Actually when i first heard ipods (and also mp3s through my computer) my standard riff-of-curmudgeonly-complaint was "there's something missing in the body of the sound", which is totally akin to your point. this kind of omnipresent spectralisation of sound maybe relates to the syndrome i've been gesturing at with the term "anechronesis"--that sensation you get off cultural artefact neither of this time nor of an earlier period, but somehow stranded in limbo. An undead quality. Sort of spectral but nothing like the "ghostly un-body" that me and David Stubbs used to talk about in re. My Bloody Valentine/AR Kane/Sonic Youth (which might have been our pre-reading-D&G pre-echo of body-without-organs, come to think of it).
MBV in particular used to talk about trying to achieve "the not really there sound," a quality they identified with music that had been recorded over and over, a tape of a tape of a tape. Or that you get in classic-era dub or psychedelia that was recorded on four-track and therefore relied on dumping of tracks onto tracks, "bouncing down" i think is the term they use, resulting in degradation of the sound, the numinous wispiness of that Perry-produced Congos album, say. These kinds of effects really do feel "ethereal" whereas the kind of thinning out of sound that you refer to, the ubiquitous and insidious reduction in the thickness of experience, I would relate that not to Deleuze & Guattari but to Virilio's writings on speed. Mp3s et al, that is the right texture of sonix for a culture based around acceleration, skimming, overload... an age where we're flitting about and processing insane amounts of data and therefore experiencing things in a brittle, flighty, inconstant way, as opposed to immersive listening, aural contemplation, protracted rapture."

to which Sam offered further concurring and elaborating remarks, viz:

"In really out-there dub you feel like there is some presiding spirit moving through the ruins of the original rhythm/arrangement (I've made it sound overly Gothic, but you get the point). Whereas the MP3 effect isn't one of uncanny possession but rather a draining of body and presence: a vampiric sucking dry (even more Gothic, but still . . .)

"Maybe it has something to do with the (trusty old) analogue-digital opposition? With analogue sources (MBV/AP/Lee Perry) you're aware on some level that these sounds are being overlaid on (or erased from) the physical tape. So sounds taped over old sounds can have palimpsest-like effects (Sonic Youth recorded Experimental Jet Set over the Sister master tapes, and I'm assured that on a good pair of earphones you can hear Sister in the silences). Or, transferred from one reel to another, mixdowns through old analogue desks etc), the sound gathers dust and loses definition, acquires that sepia patina . . . Whereas digital still feels like a sense-data stored on a virtual spreadsheet, endlessly re-writable, safely sterilized from the messiness of reification into the real, flawed world. Perhaps the brain is able to register (subliminally) the different signatures of analogue decay and digital bittiness, and we then overlay our own cultural associations. So analogue is acquiring the spookiness of Victorian photography, and digital media are still too fresh and new to have this revenant quality. (But then there's plenty of anxiety about computers having minds of their own, ghosts in the machine, AI . . .)I

"I'm thinking out loud now, so better sign off & decide whether I actually agree with myself."

Hey man, no worries: the motto of this blog is "not fully baked".
Ethan Brown, recently in New Orleans on a story assignment, brings haintological [note new spelling, to avoid confusion] tidings:

"One song that I heard several times when I was down there (playing in bars and Internet cafes and the like) was Japan's "Ghosts." It was incredibly strange and disconcerting; the song kept popping up wherever I went...obviously even weirder still because New Orleans is not just a ghost town but an entire city fearing a future even more dystopian than the present... "

It could only be eerier if the record he kept hearing was the Burial album..

Friday, December 08, 2006


You what? This is your ball? Really? I just saw it lying there in the playground. Been having a kick-around. Actually, it’s not really suitable for this game. Bit heavy. Have it back, by all means. There you go.”

I am totally happy to cede the H-word to anyone who feels they have first dibs and a firmer grasp. Still I can’t resist taking nom du père in vain one last time. Many Marxists were upset by Derrida’s filial gesture, their reaction was kinda “heir, today? where were you yesterday?!”. In his afterword to Ghostly Demarcations Jacques responds:

’Proprietorial’ is a very good word. I would suggest making it still more precise: prioprietorial. For, spelling it that way, one lays claim not only to property, but also to priority, which is even more likely to provoke a smile.”

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

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

children’s TV

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.”

English surrealism

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…)

garden cities

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.”

road signs

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’”

library music

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.…”

Pogle’s Wood

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.”

Picture Box

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.”

Big Beat

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'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”

Kelvedon Hatch

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.

corvids/carrion/canny plunder

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’

Dead Air

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”

Philip Elsmore

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.”

View Mastur

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 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 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's partly based on old ITV franchise identities, a font called Sinaloa, a mike, a teardrop, a paraboloid, light to dark, going underground actually took shape when I saw the logo created for the Gleneagles summit last summer...attractive and angular but quite but 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 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.”

MB Devot

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.”

TC Lethbridge

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.”

clunky design

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.”

alternative pasts

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.

Friday, December 01, 2006

oldskool reload in the area!

db and the riff raff crew

none of that nu- nonsense!

strickly 92 93 style seen

Good to see some Futurists are still stalking the Lower East Side! And look at the pathetic attempt to cross it out with what looks like crayola by some outraged olde punke! Stenciled at various junctures on the Bowery near CBGBs, this graffiti is somewhat mystifying though, since the club's lease expired some while ago and the building currently looks like this:

Still as an illogical howl against the Heritage-isation of rock (isn't CBs going to be recreated in Las Vegas, city of simulation, a la Hard Rock Cafe et al?) this is definitely something to come out in solidarity with.

Perhaps if I'd ever been there when it was the epicentre of something I might have felt a twinge about its demise, but nah, not a tear...

I can recall only a few memorable gigs there: PJ Harvey's NYC debut; AR Kane circa that Luaka Bop compilation or maybe it was even New Clear Child, doing freakishly accurate-to-the-record live performances of all their Up Home/69 classics (when in their late 80s heyday AR Kane gigs they'd been amorphous to at times Ariel Pink-live degrees). Oh, and Cop Shoot Cop, possibly the Lower East Side's last true Futurist rockers come to think of it, who even had a song called "Smash Retro" or something to that effect, and who berated the CBs audience's impassivity with "I am not your television set".

Mainly the things I remember about CBs: it had a really horrible toilet. And the most disgusting backstage dressing room I've ever seen--densely encrusted with stalactities or do i mean stalagmites of chewing gum stuck on the low ceiling...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

well these people seem pretty confident they're in the business of "tomorrow's music today" -and look who've they got on the cover

more on the war of the pazzes

An aside in a Dissensus thread (I forget which) some weeks ago to the effect that “Nineties music sounds shit now, doesn’t it” made me wonder… well, does it? I don’t need too much prompting to go on a major back-to-da-90s kick, so I dug deep in the closet and had a bit of week back there…. Ultramarine, Wagon Christ (still think Throbbing Pouch is towering, magical, and mystified by the paucity of love out there in the community for this album), loadsaloadsa ambient jungle , even some Orb, never got around to DJ Shadow though… And I can confidently say that, as far as my ears can tell, "no, actually, it doesn’t sound shit. It sounds, in fact, glorious". Well, there was a moment several years back when I put on Omni Trio “Renegade Snares” for the first time in a long-ish while and thought “oo-er it does sound a bit cruddy ‘n’ muddy, the production, the drum sounds…". But it’s well past that now, that phase of cringing at the only-recently-cutting-edge-but-now-already-dated which so often afflicts dance music, that phase is some way behind us… and the best of that decade sounds, once more, unimpeachably great... And then a lot of the other stuff--and there was so much dance music, electronic music, in the 90s, things moved so fast, fragmented so multiply-- well I think that stuff too s going to be salvageable as kitsch actually quite soon…. who knows, even things like FSOL’s Lifeforms or Sven Vath may enjoy a second coming as the Esquivels of their day!

But relistening and inevitably rethinking this music, it also made me consider the recent discussions about the future (and nostalgia thereof), the issue of futurity/futuristic-ness in music, and what exactly do we mean when we describe a music as futuristic or a certain exponent as a Futurist? How much is rhetoric and how much is substance? Can sound itself be a kind of rhetoric?

Because so much of this Nineties music did talk itself up as future-music and see itself in those terms. You got in the interviews and you got it from all the science fiction, bit-kitschy-even-then packaging /artwork/typography… and not least you got it in the band names and track titles (Omni’s “Living For the Future”, Noise Factory’s “I bring you the future, the future, the future” riff used in “Futuroid”, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse a/k/a Foul Play’s “We Are The Future” ... not forgetting Phuture of “Acid Tracks” fame naturally, and that “ph” itself becoming the coding for FUTURISTIC as with Photek and and countless other examples eg 2steppers Phuturistix revealing their roots in drum'n'bass with their moniker as much as neurofunkazoid trax)… So much of this music as it happened was received and felt and written about as future music (which I’m sure philosophically presents some problems--if it’s happening-right now, how can it be from the future or of the future?)…

There’s various ways to take the idea of “future music”--the angle of futuristic as literally predictive of what tomorrow’s music will sound like ("tomorrow’s music today" was actually Melody Maker’s slogan at one point if I recall, but that meant more a tipsheet, you-read-about-it-here-first rather than a futurist credo, Front 242 Skinny Puppy and Young Gods covers withal)… or perhaps in another sense, "future" applies because if the underground is the vanguard it’s because it’s bringing right here right now what will eventually be the common everyday stuff of mainstream popular music… well you could say that did and didn’t happen with the technorave/drum’n’bass/et al …. some of the ideas seeped sideways into rap and R&B, or they popped up subliminally in adverts and movies and TV scores… but no, faceless techno bollocks did not, ultimately, vanquish and eclipse for all time songs/guitars etc.

And then (as discussed earlier, towards the end of this post) there’s “futuristic”, which involves playing with received ideas of the future as already established in science fiction and futurology and popular science programmes/books: the imagery of cyberpunk and space-age whatnot that pervaded techno, D&B, etc, and pretty shlocky-kitschy stuff it was too, a lot of the time, whether slanted to the utopian or the dystopian). So for instance, synthesizer tones per se were already established (from the late 60s onward, through movie soundtracks, then with Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream, also in jazz-fusion, etc) as connoting the Future/Outer-Space.

And there is another category that I’m going to designate “futuroid”, in homage to the aforementioned Noise Factory track, and that would refer to genuinely unforeheard, cutting-edge, out-of-nowhere elements in music. So the actual futuroid elements in jungle were the beats and the bass-science (not so much the dubsway rumblizm but the more radically mutational and counter-intuitively pretzel-like motion-shapes of bass-goo), and in techno it would be those sounds and effects that weren’t part of the established 80s synthpop palette (e.g. mentasm, or acid when it first appeared). In all the rave styles, though, there tends to be a mixture of the genuinely futuroid and the merely futuristic.

Further complicating all this is that some of the mood of the music that made it feel tilted towards Tomorrow--that mood in, say, ambient jungle/artcore drum’n’bass of brimming optimism and anticipation--is actually created with backward-looking elements. So in the case of Omni’s “Living for the Future” it’s the John Barry influenced soundtrackisms that
create the eyes-on-the-horizon feeling. (A different set of soundtrackisms, I expect, contributed quite heavily to darkside and techstep’s dystopian futurism). Likewise with the Bukem end of things, there’s a lot of harking back to to 70s fusion, jazzfunk, O/S/T thematics…

These thoughts were brought into relief when rummaging through the closet for 90s stuff I stumbled on a CD I haven’t listened to since I got it, Breakbeat Science: two CDs of 1996 drum’n’bass plus a fat full colour booklet of interviews, as done by those Volume people who did the Trance Europe Express/Trance Atlantic series (I remember thinking how this development signified that d&b had crossed over into middlebrow). 10 years old, poised between Logical Progression and Techsteppin’, it’s a curious artifcact, and quite a kitschy relic in itself… and naturally every bloody interview is riddled with references to “the future”, uttered by interviewee and journalist alike… and yet d&b is already at that point where the rhetoric is slipping out of synch with the actual achievement… in part because the producers ideas of how to advance the music actual involve backward steps (musicality, soundtrackism etc) … in retrospect it becomes clearer than ever that hardcore was way more futuroid than jungle--it had the breakbeat science, the radically non-naturalistic, no-relation-to-the-acoustic-instrument bass-plasma element, but it had other elements too: radical vocal science, with the squeaky voices, the voice-as-riff played percussively on the sampler keyboard, the sampladelic voice-goo smearage… the unforeheard Beltramoid synth-timbres and stab patterns…. even those manic Morse Codey piano vamps were more what-the-fuck futuroid than the glancing minor-key jazzual keybs in drum’n’bass… Yet I suspect there was significantly less “we are the future of music” rhetoric during hardcore than later on, cos everyone was in the rush of the now. Did I even used the F-word at that time? (Actually in the end of 92 Wire ardkore piece, I said listening to the pirates “you know you’re living in the future”). But generally, rave in its pure form was about the now.

Perhaps there’s a three-way division here.

Artists who make an overt ideology out of their aspiration to make tomorrow’s music today (this would include quite a few techno people, but also a group like The Young Gods, or earlier, the Art of Noise--both of whom could also be seen as having a relationship to the actual early 20th Century movement Futurism, adding a tinge of retro-Futurism)

Artists who play with science fiction imagery, a set of signifiers and associations that refer back to a tradition of how the Future was envisaged or sonically imagined. For quite some time--even in the early 90s--this kind of thing already had a retro-futurist tinge to it. Again lots of techno artists went in for this kind of imagery but so did a lot of genres (synthpop, industrial, space music) outside the dance field.

The actually emergent or unforeheard elements in music.
(Why not call this ‘modernist”? Well, Modernism is itself a style, a period-bound thing to the point where there is such a thing as retro-modernism… Not all futuroid things are going to manifest as stark/lacking ornament/bleak/brutal/abstract/functional/minimalist, i.e. the clichés of modernism…. For instance breakbeat science as it evolved turned into a kind of rhythmic baroque, and wildstyle graffiti, while futuroid and futuristic, was not Modernist in that style-defined sense of stark etc).

To map this onto the old Raymond Williams residual/emergent dichotomy, most musics that are any good or at all enjoyable or have any impact on the wider culture are going to involve a mixture of futuroid and traditional. A wholly Futuroid music would probably be as indigestible as Marinetti’s proposed Italo-Futurist replacement for pasta--a dish of perfumed sand.

Finally, “futuroid” is not solely a property of electronic music or computer-based music… To pick only the most consternating example, I would say that the style of guitar-playing developed by the Edge in the early days of U2 (“I Will Follow” to “With or Without You”) was as futuroid as anything done by most electropop artists at the time… furthermore that the futuroid in music can exist without any accompanying trappings of the futuristic either in sound or imagery

PS As I finish this I’m listening to the last track on 8-Bit Operators, an 8-bit tribute to the music of Kraftwerk… it's a version of “Man Machine” by gwEm and Counter Reset that is either live or simulated-live … the shaky-middle-class-English-voiced parody-MC calls out “alright Bagleys, how do you feel out there this evening… speak to me Bagleys [massive crowd cheer] …we want to say a big shout out to Kraftwerk and all the ravers in the world…” (Bagleys being this old British Rail depot turned dance venue near King's Cross which is
where in 93 I went to one of the first jungle-as-Jungle raves… and now I think about it, they had an old skool room even then…). But yeah, talk about retro-futurism! The music--sort of techo filtered through an indie-rock lo-fi amateurism and archness--is actually kinda like how I thought Nu Rave would sound. The track ends--“Easy my fellow junglist warriors, until the next time, gwEm and Counter Reset, out of here”--and I don’t know how to feel…

PPS and what do you know, in marvellous synchrony, Dorian Lynskey asks whatever happened to the future?

blimey, Battle of the Pazzes!

it's a bit like that period in the.... 14th Century was it?... when there were two Popes.

(because i gather the Voice is going to be doing P&J as per usual)

i know Matos wouldn't embark on this without the Dean's blessing; i wonder if he's going to ask him to do one of his epic surveys of the Year in Music*?

* a grim task indeed this year where everybody, but everybody i know--including matos himself, usually a poptimistic sort--seems to be agreed that twas verily the shitest, dullest, nothing-a-gwan year they can remember

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Flicking through the just-arrived new issue of the Wire, a "w000ooah, hold-up thurr a minute" moment: a massive Primer on "Texan hip hop", meaning DJ Screw and kin, from Mr David Stelfox. Lots of full-colour pix--the last time there were this many black faces in the Wire was when I did my guide to Grime a year ago. Congratulations Dave, quite a coup.

A pretty meaty issue all told. Great big cover story by Phil Freeman on the Melvins (one of those bands I always wanted to like, wanted to get into... They're quite an arty bunch right? it's all very conceptual isn't it -- indeed there was a dense piece on them in Artforum some years back as I recall that seemed to reckon they were bloody clever and playing all sorts of sharp games with rock iconography, deconstructing "heavy" and "dumb", exposing the device G04 style. Or something. From what I remember of their major label crossover LP though it sounded a bit like Mountain but without the erm melodic grace and majesty ... still i'll have to give them another go one of these years). Piece on John Surman who I remember from having been an ECM fan for some while but this is about his early days as fiery free jazzer. One on Funhouse sax-blaster Steve Mackay. And (chiming with the Cage-bashing theme of the previous Wire issue) a Cage-related book gets reviewed whence is plucked this from Stockhausen, slagging JC in 1988:

"He has no inner vision: he doesn't hear.... it is just a shock in the history of the European tradition that someone like him can be called a composer... until the middle of the 20th Century... one always expected musicianship, a very special kind of craftsmanship"
from theory to practice: a soon-come hauntological intervention from Acid Nouveaux
moving meditation on the Year in Techno and his year in life from Mr Sherburne

must hear that 35 minute villalabos balktan-tekkno track...
you gotta love this sharity blog Time Has Told Me

"prog and folk" is its avowed remit, but mostly its folk, and mostly its Britfolk – and you're thinking "oh yes how terribly fashionable, vashti/watersons/ISB-love for the freak-folk massive" but nah, this guy is a serious scholar, there's very little of the wilfully wyrd (some COB, bill fay, ISB solo stuff and rarities, etc) but overall it's much more the real-deal Britfolk--the world of chunky sweaters, wood-whittling, women with wenchy complexions but clad in knee length leather boots. The kind of thing that was still lingering around at the end of the 70s, early 80s, the kind of people us with our Penthouse and Pavement and ACR 12 inches liked to scoff at (but now who's laughing, eh)

So you get a lot of things like this lot, Silver Birch

how ghostboxy is that, that they were originally called The Forestry Commission!

Or this sturdy-looking fellow who rejoices in the name Cyril Tawney.

And the even more marvellously named Vin Garbutt

And then the ur-Britfolk (non-wyrd, non-acid folk) combo Hedgehog Pie

Like so many of the sharity blogs you can see how the logic of obsessive specialist collecting has taken this fiend on a strange, barrel-scraping, cranny-of-History-rummaging journey

the motor principle neatly condensed in this phrase--"one of the best, most obscure”--as if the two things were identical!

that collector logic has driven Mr Time Has Told Me (who appears to be Japanese--now that country is the empire of retro isn't it? did you know there was a bizarre fad in Japan for groups that did immaculate reproductions of Elizabaethan madrigals and the like? Ryuichi Sakomoto of all people was involved in one of them), driven him further and further afield: Irish folk, French folk, Dutch folk, what he calls "Canadian hippie folk", and even, and I love this, to outright Christian folk (like this record, Young Folk in Worship) . And even, apparently, Christian psych folk which seems like it ought to be wrong.

I don't download any of this stuff, I hasten to add, just visit for the album covers and titles and band names, like this dude , or this what-the-fuck sleeve, or gorblimey this one. and seriously you have to click on this one.

A couple of sharity-blogz on a similar tip, if not quite so hilarity-rich:

Fat Pam
(some Quebec Folk in there, and more “UK Xtian Folk”)

Grown So Ugly
is "owl" set to be the new "wolf"?

here's a much older example
IP hilariously bemused/amused by a bizarrely erudite protest placard seen on TV news

actually some good friends of ours named their son Soren...
if Marc Bolan had been frum he might have named his breakthrough album this

here's some even more kitschy specimens

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Watching Woodstock the other morning, for the umpteenth time (strangely, though, i don’t think I’ve ever seen it all the way through.. I always seem to come in somewhere in the middle), it struck me: was 1969 the absolute worst year for music ever? A similar thought flitted across my mind recently when PBS was doing its annual fund-raising drive and seemed to think a concert film of Blind Faith performing in Hyde Park that same year was what would prompt the punters to cough up a donation (and hell, maybe they know their demographic, which is Anglophile and babyboomer). But Blind Faith was just dull; Woodstock, that’s a whole other order of ordure. Is there anything more obscene in rock than Joe Cocker’s blackface bawling? (He and Janis are surely the most unsalvageable elements from the entire decade). Perhaps 10 Years After’s Alvin Lee’s having-a-fast-angry-wank grimacing during the interminable "Coming Home/Baby Please Don’t Go” jam-arathon comes close. Especially combined (or even juxtaposed--do they go split-screen during that sequence, i can't remember)with the look of idiot bliss on his bassist’s face, who silently pounds his instrument’s soundboard in time to the beat with eyes closed in rapture, like the jizz whizzing past his earholes and over the audience's collective face are the most sublime sounds he’s ever heard! Now I’m a big Sixties person as you know but practically everything in the movie makes me cringe and recoil. The inanities uttered! And everyone looks so ugly, so badly dressed! The hair probably looked cute in ’66 when they first started growing it out, but as the decade's end approaches it's looking really bad. And most of all the terrible music, from Santana to CSN to Sha bloody Na bloody Na…. Just about the only good bits*: Richie Havens, surprisingly… Country Joe, well yes we all like "fixin' to die" the anti-draft satire don't we … oh and Sly of course… But even Jimi torturing the Star Spangled Banner goes on a bit. Intriguingly, the music was at its most dire at the precise moment that Rock was at its most demonstrably Important as well as at its most self-Important.

* I of course still get a tingle when the two Suburban Base samples appear -- “that kid’s gonna be far out” (John Sebastian onstage talking about one of the births that took place during the festival, as used on Sonz of a Loop Da Loop Era’s “Far Out”)… and then “you’ve heard the heavy groups, now you will hear morning maniac music” (Grace Slick, introducing the Airplane at dawn, as used on Lick Back Organisation’s “Maniak Musik”)