Monday, May 28, 2012

Chapter 10: GHOSTS OF FUTURES PAST: Sampling, Hauntology, and Mash Ups

 Live music versus dead music

In their essay "Defining Phonography," Eric W. Rotherbuhler and John Durham Peters argue that Edison's invention "made the very idea of 'live' music thinkable";  music, before then, had to involve the presence of living musicians (okay, there were tune-playing automata like music boxes, but the point basically stands).  Recorded music isn't "dead music," though, but undead, in a  "a state of suspended animation," as Rotherbuhler and Peters put it.  It can be brought back to life at will.

Phonography as séance  or ghost capture

In their essay Defining Phonography, Eric W. Rotherbuhler and John Durham Peters argue that " once recorded, music belongs to a spirit world of sorts. It is fixed in a state of suspended animation."

Jonathan Sterne uses the trope of the phonograph as a “resonant tomb”

Sampling and phonography / photography analogies

The sample is quite often likened to a photograph. But it's not so much a photograph per se as a specific set of techniques within photography that parallels sampling: cropping and enlargement. The detail that is zoomed in on and blown up is not spatial but temporal: a moment is freeze-framed that would otherwise be lost in the flow of music. As Lopatin argued, time can be arrested;  sonic perception is focused to a new depth and intensity thanks to the loop's repetition.  This refinement of aesthetic sensitivity on the part of the auteur-sampler allows him to locate seemingly insignificant micro-sections within larger structure--a bridge, a breakdown, a ornamental flourish of vocalese--and turn what is superfluous or unnoticed in the original structure into the centerpiece of a new structure.

The looped sample has a certain resemblance to porno logic (the pause button held for the cum shot, the non-narrative porno loop).  But its effect is as likely to be elegaic as an erotic.  Something about the repetition suggests the idea of the persistent memory: something flashing up repeatedly and unbidden from what Roland Barthes called the image-repertoire (the lover's repository of consecrated images and moments).  A classic example in hip hop occurs on Styles's 2002 weed anthem "Good Times" with the loop of a sped-up soul-diva (Freda Payne, from 1977) twittering "I get HIGH on your memory HIGH on your memory HIGH on your memory" (a song that ends with Styles, stratospherically stoned, signing off "I am the ghost… floating".) 

Another place where the sample and the photograph connect is that as we've grown more and more accustomed to outsourcing our personal memory to recording technology--using video-cameras, phones, etc--more and more of our recollection of the past is prismatically tinted with the specific quality of these media.  This is why certain kinds of film or photographic stock take on an elegaic aura; both their intrinsic deficiencies (it can be guaranteed that the digital camera and  phone-video quality of the Noughties will one day have the same kind of charm as Super-8) and the specific ways in which they age and decay will become fetishised.  Likewise, as hard as it can be to imagine, the shitty bit-rates of MP3s from the early Noughties will one day have a period vibe to them

Analogue versus digital

Some argue argue that there is a profound,  almost ontological difference between analogue and digital media. Eric W. Rotherbuhler and John Durham Peters see the analog recording as a direct trace left by the performer. "Phonography is at its heart a physical process. The angle of the cutting head and the proper setup of the phonography to repeat that angle and tracking is important not because of conventional encoding and decoding rules [as with the quite arbitrary codecs that operate with the CD, MP3, and other digital media], but because if the angles are not all correct the cause-effect rules of nature will vibrate the stylus in different ways than the cutting head first vibrated….  Analog playback… thus has a continuous physical relation to the original music recorded, while digital does not…  since the latter converts audio signals into code which is then used to reconstruct the sound. " The essential difference is between analogue as trace as an imprint left by the phenomenon versus digital as a measurement of the phenomenon that then enables it to be reconstructed."  

Rotherbuhler and Peters use the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce's distinction between  icon (a picture of fire), the symbol (the siren that announces there's a fire or the shouted word "fire!"), and the index (smoke from the fire, which, being miniscule particles of charred matter, is a direct byproduct of the flames), to argue that "the analog recording is an index of music because it is physically caused by it."  

If true, this "no smoke without fire" analogy explains why people talk of analogue recordings having "warmth", the sentimental attachment that people have towards vinyl albums and cassette tapes that don't appear to have towards CDs, let alone towards MP3s

Something similar seems to apply to photographs in printed form, compared with digital photographs stored in computers or displayed on the web. There is something about the old-fashioned, analogue-camera photograph in printed form that has fetish appeal.  In his book Camera Lucida Roland Barthes's ideas about the melancholy enchantment of the photograph anticipate Rotherbuhler and Peters's paean to the intimacy of vinyl recordings.  Barthes likewise sense a physical, cause-and-effect relationship connecting the photographic subject to the cherished picture he caresses with his gaze, holds in his hand.  Every photograph, for Barthes, is a kind of death mask of reality, a direct impression made by the face, or object, or scene, through the light rays bouncing off and onto the photographic negative.   The developed print is "the ectoplasm of 'what-had-been': neither image nor reality, a new being, really: a reality one can no longer touch". A ghost, in other words.  Barthes muses about "that rather terrible thing which is there in every photograph: the return of the dead" and compares the complex emotions stirred by photographs (sometimes of family members like his late, beloved mother, sometimes of complete strangers) to his experiences "listening to the recorded voices of dead singers" or seeing deceased actors in movies). He uses the term "this arrest" to describe how photography stops the endless, irrecoverable haemorrhage of loss that is existence-in-time.  What he describes is common to all forms of recording,  as is the further pathos of the mortality of the recording itself, which will not last forever but will be lost, like the android Roy Batty's memories, "like tears in rain".

Sampling as appropriation, expropriation,

Electronic musician Jon Leiedecker, who records as Wobbly,  uses the term "appropriative collage" to describe sample-based music


That word is ambivalent: it can mean taking something out of the domain of private property (as with the nationalization of industries) and giving it to the commonwealth. Expropriation of that sort has a communistic, "property is theft" overtone. But expropriation can also mean infringing the sovereignty of an individual, it can refer to the dispossession of an entire people (like the Native American tribes driven off their ancestral homelands into reservations

"Intellectual property is theft"

A common and long established idea -- as with The KLF, which stands for Kopyright Liberation Front, and a rash of recent academics (Lessig, etc) who have built careers around the premise that everybody (consumers, artists) would be better off in a world where culture-workers didn't own the objects and ideas of their devising. 

Robert Levine's Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back is an acerbic and counter-blast to this creative commons orthodoxy, mounting a firm and strongly argued defence of the notion of copyright as an imperfect but ultimately better than anything else anybody's proposing as yet way of recompensing the creative classes and media industries for their labour. Go buy it

Pop songs, sampled, turning love songs into drug songs / inappropriation

Here the element of violation involved is not just expropriative (taking copyright material and extracting surplus value by using it without permission) but what could be termed inappropriative (an aesthetic or moral use of the borrowed material in ways that might be offensive to the original creator)

Celebrity porn montages

Anticipating the famous film or music stars photoshopped into hardcore porn or just topless cheesecake shots, you had the stories of primitive proto-sampling done by obsessive fans as recounted in  In Fred and Judy Vermorel's Starlust book.  They document  the activities of female Barry Manilow fans who made crude (in both senses) cut-ups out of  snippets from  the singer's concert videos, editing together between-song banter and vaguely sexual-sounding vocal fragments from songs to create a saucily suggestive soft-porn Manilow megamix

Sampling as grave robbing, organ trafficking

"... Archived body parts are disguised in the binary functionality of data and pooled into larger circulatory flows..." 

"... Nietzche's body and conscience vivisectionists, vampiring organic flesh,and draining its fluids into cold streams of telemetry...."

"... the harvesting of the energy from the local and the bounded for the globaland unbounded.... Ours is a time of non-history that is super-charged by the spectacular flame-out of the detritus of the bounded energy of local histories"
---all from Arthur Kroker and Michael A.Weinstein, Data Trash

Proto-plunderphonic use of pop music in avant-garde collages

Other examples include Richard Trythall's "Omaggio a Jerry Lee Lewis", which was made in 1975. Trythall says:  It is a "musique concrète" tape piece using a performance of "Whole Lotta" Shakin' Goin' On" by R 'n' R great Jerry Lee Lewis as its source material. No synthesizer or computer program was used to create the sounds - all of the new sound material coming exclusively from tape manipulations of the original recording. The mixing and recombination of this new vocabulary, as contrasted with the original boogie, then suggested the final composition. It was released on LP by CRI in 1977 and later on CD by ReR Megacorp. It is dedicated to Irina Harris and the Class of 1957, Central High School, Knoxville, Tennessee. It is equally indebted to Rock and Roll, 50's/60's avant garde tape music and, most likely, too many Mad magazines!”

Charles Dodge also did a number of pieces based on pre-existing material, including 1980's "Any Resemblance Is Purely Coincidental " which involved the computer restoration and resynthesis of  a 1907 recording of Enrico Caruso. 

Crate digging

As the competition for rare grooves grew intense, an element of skullduggery entered the picture: stories of crate-diggers who arrived in an obscure town and immediately went to every public telephone booth and tore out the section on record stores from every copy of the Yellow Pages, to thwart rival collectors

Private Press

Private press is below the discographer’s radar, not making it onto official catalogues or into trade magazines: it's unmapped territory

Library Music and Utility to Samplers

Indeed the very fact that library was  arguably a form of sub-music--splinters of atmosphere or emotion that aren't developed because that was never the point of them--meant that it was like a bonanza of pre-selected, prêt-a-porter samples.

Hauntology: a buzzword in academia and the art world

See also Popular Ghosts: The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture, eds. Esther Peeren and Maria del Pilar Blanco

reviewed here by someone whose own book is titled Gothic Contemporaries: The Haunted Text

Hauntology, memoradelia, and other name-candidates for the emergent genre

 “Eldritchronica” , another term I briefly bandied, might be a bit of a mouthful but does capture both the playful spookiness and the fact that most of these operators have roots in Nineties electronic dance, (from  early UK techno and  IDM to trip hop)

"A Museum Come to Life" 

Concurring with Mike Powell from beyond the grave, Derrida  talks of a "spectral undercurrent to the archive" 

More from Mike Powell on hauntology, Ghost Box and particularly Focus Group

from his old blog, Peanut Butter Words and Ha-Ha Breath, hosted through the late great Stylus webzine

"The Focus Group sound is a collage; my first thought was that it was like a daydream that the first Books album - which I still enjoy pretty well - might have if it dozed off after half a joint on Saturday evening. Either that, or if you excised all of the song elements of Broadcast and wove the intros and outros into a gauze. Musique concrete for technicolor woodlands. Voices pass in and out, disembodied sounds strobe in a kind of decentered, contingent way; no primacy, no vows, no golden bands; drift.

"What really took me about the record was the notion of absence. The album suggests songs at every step, but it never delivers any; still, cognitively, it feels like I'm always chasing something bigger than I hear, following the proverbial thread through the labyrinth. It's thrilling, not disappointing;
Woebot called them a "portal", and I'd have to agree, but it's a portal in perpetual collapse. Resistance to crossing over into a full flesh sound world makes the experience doubly psychedelic; reality and unreality flicker in the same space, the tactile and intangible constantly fade into one another."

In another piece, for Pitchfork, he talks about Ghost Box's sound -- "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."

In the same piece, Mikey P was also possibly the first to make the hauntology / hip hop connection: 

"On a more metaphorical, more cerebral level, though, 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."

Boards of Canada: the original memoradelic crew?

"'There are textures in what we try to do,'" explains Marcus Eoin, 'which borrow from certain sounds or eras -- even in visual things that we do as well, artwork -- to trigger something, almost a cascade. It's like a memory that someone has -- even though it's artificial, they never even had the memory; it's just you're ageing a song. And then people feel, is that something familiar I knew from years ago?'"
Further reading on BOC as proto-hauntology, this post at Our God Is Speed by Greyhoos

Position Normal, Stop Your Nonsense: use of voices

“Hop Sa Sa"  varispeeds a kindergarten choir singing about monkeys, interjects a middle aged man's  quizzical suggestion "why not for donkeys?," and creates an inexplicably poignant coda by turning the song title's nonsense phase into an ostinato hanging in an echoey void.

Position Normal: Englishness

The name Position Normal highlighted Bailiff's fascination with the weirdness of mundanity.  "England has its ingrained habits," he told The Wire's David Stubbs. "You might meet Japanese people for the first time and their customs and habits seem weird--but then that bounces back on yourself, you realise how strange your own habits and behavior are, as seen from the outside."
"Jimmy Had Jane," one of the few proper songs on Nonsense, features a baleful Cockney voice crooning about a sordid sexual encounter perpetrated by a bloke with "pickled egg eyes," while "Bedside Manners" is a surreal medical monologue of seeming non-sequiturs that leaves you uneasy and queasy with the suspicion that the GP in question is actually molesting the patient he is condescendingly counseling.

Ghost Box and Englishness

When I heard the first transmissions from Ghost Box, I felt like their music was like an emanation from Michael Bracewell’s id, the dark dub version of his book England Is Mine.

Ghost Box and the other hauntologists are self-consciously playing with a set of bygone cultural forms that lie outside the post-Elvis/Beatles rock/pop mainstream, stuff that was either pre-rock'n'roll or remained outside rock'n'roll.    They conjure a Britain unaffected by Americanisation, in other words

Jim Jupp, Belbury Poly : “All this might be tied up with a special kind of national identity, nothing at all to do with jingoism, flags, sports, borders, anthems.”

The sampled voices are part of this. There's a certain wood-paneled, leather-elbowed, pipe-cleaner-wielding timbre that makes you think of teacher you once had, or the Radio 4 afternoon plays, games shows, and comedies hovering at the edge of your comprehension as a child. 

Outside the hauntology zone, you get similar nostalgia for a bygone Great Britain from groups like July Skies.  Their music, as heard on 2008's The Weather Clock, is inspired by "municipal parks at dusk… Lost youth, fractured memories of the 1970's…  pylons across fields, abandoned airfields…  endless childhood summers, dappled sunlight through leaves… Festival of Britain 1951… a bandoned Victorian hospitals…  concrete precincts and tower blocks, dreams of 50's suburbia… the sound of children playing faraway, old Ordnance Survey maps… test card music of the 1970's & 80's…".  Typical song titles include "Branch Line Summers' and "August Country Fires". In an almost too-good-to-be-true touch, the group's  Antony Harding works as a town planner in Solihull and he describes his particular interest in " things buried in your psyche that emerge when you see a building or a landscape, and then trying to summon up those feelings in sound-- especially examples that are decaying or dying."

But while July Skies's Myspace page fills the category "sounds like" with the word "1957", the group's music is more like 1989:  Galaxie 500 if they'd recorded for 4AD.  Dreampop rather than hauntology, the vibe is Arcadian, a golden-memory radiance as opposed to the time-out-of-joint queerness of Ghost Box et al. 

Public Information Films

Their disturbing effect was heightened, says Jupp, by “the sinister, melancholy quality to the music and the voice-overs, generally recorded in a slightly overloaded and distorted way.”  More PIFs-- about civil defense,  the dangers of letting your child walk over frozen ponds, and so forth--appeared on The Advisory Circle's debut full-length Other Channels,  a concept album about a housewife zonked out on tranquilisers watching morning television in a glazed sub-hallucinatory daze.

Television for children, unsuitable for children
On seeing the script for the 1977 series Children of the Stones (about a megalithic stone circle with mysterious powers over an English village), the director is said to have wondered aloud, "And this is for children?"
“TV music from my childhood is a more important reference point than library music,” says Jupp. 

an image from the Changes

Postgate Films
Jupp’s idea of Belbury Poly as the music for children’s TV programmes too weird or dark or sexy to be shown was inspired by the first series of Oliver Postgate’s Pogles’ Wood, which was pulled by the BBC for its disturbingly witchy atmosphere. 

Another Postgate show, Bagpuss, is the source of Jupp's penchant for "the sounds of oboes, clarinets and flutes", which he samples or creates using "the virtual Mellotron", a computer simulation of the tape-based, proto-sampling keyboard used by prog rockers. "They create a musty, sepia tone feeling like the atmosphere inside Bagpuss's bric-a-brac shop when Emily has gone home."

Library music, library record art

Ranging from stark modernist grids to surreal photocollages, from kitschadelic Op Art to bizarrely clumsy drawings that exert a macabre compulsion akin to outsider art, library record covers were produced, like the music itself, in factory conditions on a very tight budget, but they showed how utilitarian practicality and experimental impulses could combine to produce startlingly avant-garde results.  In 2005 Trunk pulled together a compendium of these sleeves titled The Music Library for the design book publisher Fuel, complete with texts written by Jerry Dammers, the man behind The Specials' "Ghost Town," and Julian House, the co-founder of Ghost Box.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop

here's my in depth piece on the BBC RW for the Guardian

a bonanza of images of the Workshop at different stages of its existence , plus record sleeves of particular talismanic releases

here's Daphen Oram in the very early days

and this is Delia Derbyshire of course

 a much later shot of Dick Mills showing the famous green lampshade used to create a tone by Delia D for her most famous piece whose title i'm blanking on (Veils and something or other)

sound effects

 the great David Cain album, a Ghost Box touchstone

and here's my review of this anthology from a few years ago

Trunk and Ghost Box: a love affair
There's something of  a mutual admiration pact between Trunk and Ghost Box.  Jonny was an earlier champion of  output by House (who records as The Focus Group) and Ghost Box co-founder Jim Jupp (aka Belbury Poly) and actually makes quite Ghost Boxy music himself based around samples and loops.  House for his part argues that “what Trunk puts out is much more interesting than the usual archivist labels… Jonny’s more like a folk art scholar. That vision of a lost Britain that Ghost Box draws its energy from is hugely influenced by Trunk’s commitment to the neglected artists of post war UK culture."

Spectrality, or the hauntological tingle-rush
Fredric Jameson, glossing Derrida, defines “spectrality” as that which “makes the present waver: like the vibrations of a heat wave through which the massiveness of the object world--indeed of matter itself--now shimmers like a mirage.”

Library music’s memoradelic effect

When hauntologists like Julian House use shards of library music as raw material----wistful, bittersweet orchestrations;  bright, child-like, sunshine-idyllic plangency; those "yellowy-brown" tones of ambiguously jazzy yet very British music used in B-movie thrillers or detective series to evoke unease, menace, a sense of corruption or psychological malaise-- they can play with and set in motion all the non-specific emotional associations ingrained from a childhood misspent in front of the goggle box.  Particular instrumental textures, types of chords, and analog electronic timbres set off  strange unplaceable reverberations inside of you.

After library music, after the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, after obscure soundtracks, after private press new age ... the new frontier seems to be pedagogical electronics and concrete --  music, when it's available, but mostly books for the classroom


Ghost Box: tales of cosmic horror and wyrd pastoralism

Belbury Poly’s Jim Jupp loves to point out that the first ever British television broadcast was the gentleman occultist and author of "cosmic horror" tales Algernon Blackwood reading one of his ghost stories. "The Willows", another Blackwood tale, is where Jupp got the title for the debut Belbury Poly album. The title track  marvellously conjures the weird energy that sometimes emanates from certain places in the English countryside. Bleak vistas like the flooded fields beside a canal in winter, color-leached grass undulating queerly beneath the dark, eerily clear water surface, or  deserted expanses of common land pocked with sunken pools of brackish water.  But also outwardly quite idyllic landscape where there’s just a palpable vibe of something “off”. Blackwood writes in The Willows of a mysterious "humming" in a secluded place, where the membrane between this world and another plane "is so thin that it leaks through somehow".  

“Caermaen,” the next track on The Willows, gets its name from another cosmic horror story-teller Arthur Machen.  Caermaen is Machen's fictionalized version of the Welsh town of Caerlon, which just so happens to be where Jupp and House grew up, spending many a happy boyhood hour roaming the banks of the River Usk or hanging out in a ruined amphitheatre. “Machen saw a landscape haunted with nature deities, weird troglodyte creatures, Roman ghosts and tormented Blakean visionaries,” says Jupp. 

Ghost Box are obsessed with the heathen heritage of the British Isles, everything from Morris dancing (which inspired the tune "Rattler's Hey") to Wicca (as filtered through horror movies like The Wickerman and Blood on Satan’s Claw).  The third Focus Group album We Are All Pan’s People playfully collided kitsch and eldritch by imagining the 1970s Top of the Pops dance troupe as Dionysian maenads cavorting  around the goat-man nature god.  “Early on we played with the idea of a manifesto based on cosmic horror stories,  English Surrealism, music for schools and colleges, and the dark side of psychedelia,” says Jupp.

Perhaps what connects these two Britains that obsess Ghost Box --pagan and pastoral versus modernized and progressive--is that both of them have faded into the past, eroded by the remorseless march of history.  They live on in a kind of enclave or conversation area of the imagination: Belbury,  the town in C.S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength.    Belbury Poly's second album  The Owl’s Map offers an audio-tour of this fictitious place with its “uneasy mix of ancient and modern", where  municipal amenities in the modernist style (the Polytechnic, the Public Library, and “the striking Community Fellowship Church”) contrast with a haunted manor house, a Neolithic stone circle, and “foreboding Iron Age ramparts”.   The CD booklet is wittily styled as a tourist guide, modeled on maps, pamphlets and guide-books they picked up in Oxfam. "You know the sort of thing, murky old photos of Chichester Cathedral,” says Jupp, adding that even the record cover's colour scheme is “inspired by those brown road signs that point the way to Roman ruins, falconry centres or stately homes.”

The attic of memory / seediness /mustiness 

Tracks like Moon Wiring Club's "The Edwardians Begin to Enjoy Themselves", Roj's "Yellow Peel" or Woebot's "Flapper"  resemble a modern sampladelic counterpart to the cabinet of curiosities: peculiar and unrelated sound-objects  juxtaposed in the same dusty-and-musty audio-space. An aestheticized microcos of the junkshop, or Bagpuss’s store.

Hauntological music is all about the persistence of the dead, the way the past lingers and sticks around as material relics, outmoded cultural artifacts, but also as the  residues  of folklore, custom,  superstitition, phrase and fable:  all the shabby mind- furniture that crowds the attic of the nation's collective consciousness.

In his 1935 travel book Journey Without Maps, Graham Greene wrote about how "seediness has a very deep appeal ... It seems to satisfy, temporarily, the sense of nostalgia for something lost; it seems to represent a stage further back." 

Mordant Music highlight this with their persistent imagery of rot, mold, and carrion.  One of the group's earliest releases was packaged as petri dish, while Dead Air's “Proof-Read by Spores” is a fantasy of “government protection literature gone musty and bacterial post-apocalypse, sporing and telling it’s own truth, growing a tale fresh on the pages...very stop-motion”.  Even the music of  Dead Air sounds like futurism in a state of decay: early ‘90s UK techno but with its pristine electronic surfaces mottled with moss, speckled with corrosion. The group's logo is the magpie, is a member of the corvidae family (crows, rooks, ravens, etc)

Mustiness, seediness, and wabi-sabi

This set of ideas and associatons to do with fadedness, dustiness, mold, pleasing decay, rust, etc may be the Western equivalent to wabi-sabi, which has been described as  a comprehensive Japanese aesthetic based around the acceptance of transience.  Beauty found in the "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete", as "evidenced in an object's patina and wear, or in any visible repairs"

"If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi." (Andrew Juniper, Wabi Sabi: the Japanese Art of Impermanence). 

"It nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."  (Richard R. Powell,  Wabi Sabi Simple)

Moon Wiring Club and Englishness

Moon Wiring Club originally evolved out of what was intended to be "a peculiar children's book, Strange Reports from a Northern Village." That project stalled but it did spawn the Blank Workshop website, centered around an imaginary town called Clinksell, which has its own brand of confectionery (Scrumptyton Sweets) and line of fantasy fiction (Moontime Books) .  It lives on also in the distinctive graphic look that Hodgson, a former Fine Art student, wraps around the Moon Wiring Club releases, drawing on influences like Biba's 1920s-into-1970s glamour and the strange exquisiteness of Arthur Rackham's illustrations and Victorian Fairy painters such as Richard Dadd. Moon Wiring Club and Blank Workshop is where all Hodgson's enthusiasms and obsessions converge: "electronic music, Art Deco, and the England of teashops, stately homes, ruined buildings and weird magic." And computer games music. "There is something about the  forced repetition that makes you remember the tunes in a unique way," Hodgson says, adding that in a certain way "Moon Wiring Club is meant to be Edwardian computer game music." 

examples of Ian Hodgson's wonderful artwork for the record sleeves of MWC and for the story of the imaginary town of Clinksell as developed on the Blank Workshop site

All my Moon Wiring Club writing is deposited here, along with some stuff on the Advisory Circle

Penguin and pedagogy / edify the common man

Ghost Box's design is modelled (especially early on) on the famous grid used for the covers of Penguin and Pelican (the even more edificatory and non-fiction oriented wing of the publisher).

Covers that are now fetishised and collected.

See the Pelican Project -

and here's one from my own collection

Here's some examples of Julian House's grid-homaging Ghost Box sleeves

More Julian House artwork for Ghost Box and related projects

Hauntology and the atemporal condition

Talking to Mark Fisher, Jim Jupp proposed the notion of  simultaneity as being central to Ghost Box,  a kind of  "eternalism and non-existence of time."  He described "the Ghost Box world" as "an 'all at once' place where all of the popular culture from 1958 to 1978 is somehow happening all at the same time….", which explained why "each release we put out looks like it comes from a particular moment in this period and yet can reference much earlier and later events at the same time."

Hauntology versus free folk
The idea of the "public" doesn't have nearly as much resonance in America as in the UK : it's hard to imagine an equivalent of hauntology that would fetishise the Hoover Dam, rural electrification programs,  or the ancient output of National Public Radio and Public Broadcasting Service programs. 

Hypnagogic pop as hauntological as atemporal
Spencer Clark: “the patina of different eras is like time travel…  the sound of the music is so important to me, the feel of it….”

The Skaters


an early piece from The Wire

James Ferraro

Talking about how he and Clark's music drew on a gamut of abject yet sterile mass-cultural totems---KFC, the Hard Rock Café chain, Miami Vice, mainstream blockbuster movies like Terminator, strip clubs, the bodybuilding craze, aerobics--Ferraro told David Keenan, "I've always viewed my music as just sort of plugging into a matrix of human-alien culture….  a world broadcast of media entities that jump out of the screen and merge with life via people internalizing them as soundtracks for life temples." The idea here seems to be a sort of hyper-reality version of animism, similar to J.G. Ballard's idea of the entertainmentscape as a pantheon of modern deities.

A kitsch sublime
 Spencer Clark's fixations on high-end luxury goods like chandeliers and Lamborghinis, plus his use of  tropical/oceanic  imagery ( parrots, camels, dolphins) recalls the "kitsch sublime"   of Jeff Koons sculptures.

As Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never -- a play on US radio stations, as in 106.7 FM, with a particular references to a station in Boston that played “smooth jazz” if memory serves me -- puts it, "the sublime is located in all times and across all brows at once

Dolphins Into the Future and New Age

my in depth review of Lieven Martens's thing


Sun Araw: where Pop Art and Psychedelia meet?

Cameron Stallones: "Once I start overdubbing onto the initial elements, the jam usually becomes emotionally fueled by some reference, album, or song. "Horse Steppin'," for instance, is actually a tribute to Neil Young. The beach vibes on Beach Head are all sort of channeling Zuma for me, though I think that's a little foggy. The new album Heavy Deeds is all flowing from Fela Kuti zones, '70s African funk, etc., but in the same way that Beach Head was flowing from Zuma, which is to say, vaguely.It's not an afrobeat record by any stretch, just faded impressions, some tone inspiration overlapping the sort of psychedelic modes I try to dwell in...   An organ idea from Steve Reich's “Four Organs,” or a guitar tone off a Big Star record, or a rhythmic idea from The Pyramids, or something like that becomes the wrapping for the idea that came from basking [in] the glow. It's important to me that the idea itself comes from beyond all that, but once the idea has been retrieved, it's a joyful celebration to deck it out in subtle hints and tributes to music, film, any cultural artifacts that I love. Those artifacts get fused with zones you've placed them in, and become important, glowing iconography in the mythology, and they help you find your way back there when you want to go"

Hypnagogic pop and Pop Art: further thoughts

Here's a post from my Hardly Baked blog that looks at the question of Pop Art, street Art, readymades, the collage aesthetic, and strays into looking at Hypnagogic pop sonically and in terms of the artwork :

"underpinning the whole century-long thing was one idea – a REALLY BIG idea - which is treating the objects of manufactured modernity as if they were nature, as beautiful as a tree or landscape... (c.f. James Ferraro's description of Far Side Virtual as "the still life of now" - the audio and video landscape of our digitized, augmented-reality daily surroundings)

"but also it’s a move of taking the non-art, the infra-art, and just moving it across a line... commerce becomes Culture, the mass produced aura-less product becomes the one-off, aura-full handcrafted object ready for the art market

"And as the Ferraro comparison suggests, it's the same move being made by the hauntologists and the hypnagogics (a lot of post-Ferraro music is Pop Art meets psychedelia), you take what is deemed beneath or outside Proper Serious Rock-as-Art, so that would be ancient cheese pop or mainstream AOR or library music (in the case of hauntology) or with Ferraro now it's ringtones and computer start-up jingles and so forth i.e. today's equiv to library/Muzak... and ythen ou say well actually if you tilt your head this way slightly , it’s sublime – or even (upping the ante) in some cases it’s just better and more weird than self-conscious Arty art-rock.

"And then the art work for a lot of those hypnagogic cassettes is chopped-up magazine images (eyes, lips etc) like a more grotesque and cack-handed version of what the British Pop Artists did... like the popcult unconscious throwing up all over the page (and that's no diss, i love all that artwork)

"the low > high context-shift

"Nicholas Katranis calls this artistic move "looking at what is right in front of you"

"for most people "right in front of you" nowadays means that what they can find on the internet, what’s trawl-able on YouTube etc etc

"e.g. oneohtrix scavenging for alchemy-susceptible materials on YouTube, the stuff that’s beneath consideration, infomercials or ancient clumsy computer graphics, or Chris deBurgh... or with Replica, the new LP, he's sampling from a DVD of 1980s and ‘90s daytime TV commercials "

This kind of music practise then creates a certain kind of writing characterised by a curious hyper-referentiality without irony.  e.g. 

 "Cos/Mes' Gozmez Land is a lush, tropical paradise where an advanced balearic civilisation resides in a state of permanent hypnotic enchantment. A land where exquisite Steve Reich peaks and Gamelan creatures fly through a Roger Dean rendering of the Paradise Garage, mesmerising as they intertwine with one another and the mathematically detailed foliage."

That's from 20jazzfunkgreats.

As I said in the Village Voice, all of this, the music and the writing, "from   distance it looks like postmodernism, but really it's something else: a mystical merger of Pop Art and psychedelia". 

This discourse comes from the artists as much as critics/bloggers -- indeed chances are the musicians blog or write paid criticism, while the bloggers and some journalists too most likely make music themselves, or run a label... or soon will.  So this miasma referentia appears in reviews but also the press materials sent out / placed online by the labels and artists, and in blog buzz that is more or less advertorial, except completely uncorrupt because nobody's getting paid ...   The writing feels like a direct emanation from the music, and is related to the phenomenon I've elsewhere written about: the rise of the concept-musician.


For the latest developments in hypnagogic and infracultural readymade scavenging / hyper-conceptualist netpop:  check out Vaporwave as discussed ably and sparklingly here and here  and here too  (that last one is about vaporwave sister-genre Distroi -  "underground artists using capitalist iconography and virtual imagery"  - identified by Adam Harper and related to the art/fashion site DIS magazine, which is digital Koons-izm to the Nth degree )

Oneohtrix Point Never, eccojams, hip hop’s loop-da-loop aesthetic, and the melancholy of not being able to stop time

"Pop music is horizontal by nature, it wants to tell you a story from start to finish," Dan Lopatin has suggested. " Echo jams make pop vertical and cyclical. …  Echo jamming is like DIY personalized psychedelic appropriated music. It's also a DJ Screw/John Oswald duo cover band."

Eccojams, loops, samples, and Walter Benjamin

Sampling is an extension of what Walter Benjamin analysed in his famous essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production: the new perceptions made possible thanks to technology. Cinema (and also sound recording)  "isolated and made analyzable things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception…. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended. The enlargement of a snapshot does not simply render more precise what in any case was visible, though unclear: it reveals entirely new structural formations of the subject." 

This didn't just apply to entertainment (the microphone allowing for a new form of intimate singing, the croon; the talkie and the camera close-up leading to more naturalistic, non-theatrical acting), but also to  scientific uses of film: it was possible to slow down the gait of a running horse to see how it actually moved, or observe what a drop of water looks like when it hits the surface of a pool. "Slow motion not only presents familiar qualities of movement but reveals in them entirely unknown ones….  which, far from looking like retarded rapid movements, give the effect of singularly gliding, floating, supernatural motions," suggested Benjamin, anticipating DJ Screw but also countless individuals who have messed around with playing their records at all available speeds, or winding them backwards manually with the needle in the groove.  

Talking about the interpenetration of art and science, Benjamin used surgery as an analogy for this refinement and intensification of perception.  Sampling, I've already suggested, invites analogies with vivisection, amputation, and Dr Frankenstein-style reanimation: violations of the organic unity of the body that lead to spectacular but unnatural and grotesque results.

Where this connects back to photography is the modernist invention of photo-collage. Intriguingly, before he became a musician,  one of the pioneers of tape-editing/musique concrete, Bernard Parmegiani experimented with photomontage. He would cut out a large number of image-fragments from magazines--human limbs, machine parts, and so forth--and then glue them into surreal assemblages.  His music-making would follow a similar process, starting with the building-up of a sound-bank, an inventoried miscellany of noises, before embarking on composition.   

Compared to the photocollages, though, Parmegiani's music has at least one extra element: "life".  Here the analogy shifts from photography to animation, and specifically those animators who use stop-motion film techniques to bring a queer vitality to photographic and illustrative material from old magazines and books (Monty Python's Terry Gilliam being the most famous exponent, if not the pioneer).  A variant of the animation technique known as cut-out (which involves characters, props and backgrounds cut out of paper, fabric or card), this is the closest parallel to Parmegiani's own modus operandi.  In Gilliam's case, it has a unique macabre fascination to it, given that images of once living persons (unknown or famous) are made to do absurd, undignified, or outright obscene acts.  

This brings us back to the insults, humiliations and dismemberments inflicted by the Plunderphonics crew, or the lumbering steam-punk clumsiness of very early sample music made by the likes of the Art of Noise,  who consciously linked what they did to Dada and  Futurism.  

You can see a parallel too in the evolution of sampling and animation: the trajectory that took them from the crude, labor-intensive methods that produced results that had a genuine aura of the uncanny  to the seamless, spectacular achievements of the digital era (CGI/Pixar in animation's case, Pro Tools and Ableton and other digital audio platforms with sample-music).  Massive increments in terms of mindblowing effects, microscopic detail and sheer density of simultaneous events are offset by the loss of analogue grain: an insidious seamlessness and sameyness.    Underneath the seemingly infinite variety of textures is a hard-to-put-your-finger-on homogeneity, like garments that are wildly different in shape yet cut from the identical fabric. Computers can create the most superficially “fantastical” images, but because you literally can’t believe your eyes, there’s none of that “dreamed” quality  that the analog-based forms of editing and collage seemed to create. 


Yesterdays New Quintet is an imaginary jazz group (the music is in fact all played and sample-triggered by Madlib) whose non-existent members then went on to record solo albums dedicated to particular eras and sub-genres of jazz.   In her Wire magazine profile of Madlib, Lisa Blanning describes the project as the creation of a kind of library music.  Undie rap also shares the fetish for analog forms like vinyl, which is foregrounded on  by the deliberate retention of crackle, surface noise and hiss of the sampled source records--as if to testify that, despite having been translated into digital encoding that sampling entails, the underlying  basis of the music has the authenticity of analogue.  Madlib takes this analogue obsession further than most: he doesn't make his music using a computer, avoids the internet and won't even communicate by email

The Caretaker: taking care of the bad music, dead music, shit music, music left for dead

"There was a great shop called the 78 record Exchange in Stockport where they seemed to have everything, from old ballroom music to the worst in 1980's pop," James Kirby recalls. 
Kirby also made pilgrimages to Belgium, which he describes as "a  magnet sucking in all of the world's worst audio… the country where vinyl goes to die."  

These mass graves of mass culture become a kind of compost heap in which polished commodities revert to the status of "raw material once again", as communications theorist Charles R. Acland puts it.

This makes me wonder whether hauntology, hypnagogia, readymades, merzbau are subsumable as  facets of Evan Calder Williams concept of  salvagepunk — “a return to the repressed idiosyncrasy of outmoded things”. Which Mark Fisher describes in these terms:  as opposed to 
"postmodern pastiche, in which any sign can be juxtaposed with any other in a friction-free space, salvagepunk retains the specificity of cultural objects, even as it bolts them together into new assemblages. That’s precisely because salvagepunk is dealing with objects rather than signs (from Desecration Row, in The Wire 319, page 46

Or as Big Shiny Thing blog asserts

"If postmodernist aesthetics led to “everything the second time around, without the innocence“, salvagepunk perhaps points to the field of possibilities opened up to those who avail themselves of internet-mediated access to “everything around, still, forever, without the memories“. Not an overloaded gluing-together of the familiar, but a reconsideration of the utility for assemblages of everything — of a kind which can only be possible when everything is always to hand."

The Death of Rave

What I said about it when it came out: "a massive sequence of thematically linked work entitled "The Death of Rave". So gargantuan that I've only made slight in-roads into it, but what I've heard so far is magnificent, even better than the Caretaker anterogade amnesia work. More than "the death of rave", though, listening I thought of "the death of a raver". Those wisps of barely identifiable vamp and stab and melody-riff that materialise out of the miasma, discernibly "classic" and "anthemic" yet eluding your memory's grasp: this perhaps is what ardkore would sound like to someone who'd had a major whitey and collapsed on the dancefloor, the mentasm stab dilating to infinity through the ears of someone in the final throes of heat-stroke."


DJ Mega-Mix

Norman Cook's alter-ego was just one of a flood of Brit deejay types involved in the DJ cut-up craze of late Eighties (Coldcut, J.A.M.M.S./KLF, M/A/R/R/S), and sampler-rocking rogues like Pop Will Eat Itself (whose "Def Con One" featured the Osmonds, Lipps Inc, The Creatures, the Isley Brothers and the Twilight Zone theme).

Mashups and Girl Talk

As W. David Marx and Nick Sylvester wrote in an incisive critique of the Girl Talkphenomenon, Gillis is the UltraFan: "He loves pop music— all pop music… It's all just so great to him. Implicit in his project is that: It's all so similar to him too. That it all sounds the same in the end. That listening to a bunch of songs we used to care about in his refracted, rejiggered form is, at its heart, the same exact thing, compositionally and otherwise, as listening to a brand new song by a brand new musician. Why bother, right?"

"This project…  he calls a celebration of pop music. What he himself doesn't know is we already had a name for it: la danse macabre."
Hauntology as “good pomo”, “good retro”?
The big question about hauntology is its relationship to the broader retro culture. Obsessed with the past to the point of being musical antique collectors, the hauntologists don’t, on the face of it, appear to be going against the grain. Indeed the academic blogger Alex Williams has critiqued hauntology's supporters like myself for seeing its "ghostly audio… as a form of good postmodernism, as set against the bad PoMo of a rampaging retroism."

The Freudian explanation for ghosts, derived with help from Hamlet, is that the spectre is the projection and by-product of an uncompleted mourning process, a symptom of a failure to let go and move on.  Hauntology, then, might be judged as literally symptomatic: it is one of a number of reactions to emerge within a pop culture that is saturated with its own history,  encumbered by the past to an unpredecented degree.  Hauntology is not necessarily "healthy" but that doesn't mean it isn't compelling, or timely (gangsta rap isn't helpful or socially positive necessarily, but it is aesthetically powerful. The timeliness of hauntology as an aesthetic strategy relates to a broad cultural transformation in the West during the last three decades of the 20th Century: what Andreas Huyssen, writing about the memory boom and the explosion in museum construction of recent decades,  characterized as a shift from an orientation towards "present futures" (modernism, in other words) to an orientation towards "present pasts".

Hauntology critiqued, doubted

by James Bridle, in the first of seven posts about the future.

"Much hauntology fails because it continues to assert a backwards/forwards model of time, a resurrection of an imagined past which is still too drenched in pure nostalgia to serve any revolutionary purpose.

"Hauntology feels like a symptom of future shock, a reaction. Caisson disease: a form of the bends brought on by too rapid changes of pressure when moving between the different levels (pressurised chambers) of the caissons used in building bridges. A symptom of the unevenly-distributed future, the isobars of our ever-shifting and expanding culture.

"Another test of hauntology is how it stands up to other reactions to present conditions. Bill Drummond’s The17 project is an attempt to reimagine music, its genesis in a rejection of the past. (The book.)

"He imposes a restriction: “only listen to music written, recorded or released in the previous twelve months by composers, soloists or ensembles who have never released music in any format at any time previous to the last twelve months.”

"But, Bill is disappointed: “everything I bought sounded like something I had heard 10, 20, 30 years before.”

"Out of this, and a number of other realisations, comes The17. This is the opposite of hauntology: to demand the radically new. Hauntology reinvigorates, reanimates the past—allegedly—turning the old musics to new purpose, much as Borge’s Pierre Menard does to the Quixote.

"I think my problem with hauntology is that it deals with the problem of the future by going back to the past. And that is fine: but it will not save us."


"When the past sounds more like the future than the present does, revival becomes progressive. Some of the coolest sounds that have been bombarding the space capsule where your 20jazzfunkgreats psychonauts float in a zero G lotus position cradling chunky pulse rifles as they await for their rendezvous with the Beat,  are those of the rave diaspora which kicked off many a year ago, spawning some of our most favourite bleeps, toots and horns, before sinking under the thick waves of excessive substance intake, whose bad digestion heralded much claustrophobic trashing in a zone where highly flammable outfits are the fashion de jour, and inane conversations with truculent hounds too frequent an event."

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