Day #178/365: The cuckoo in the nest: sitting down with a cup of cha, a slice of toast, Broadcast, Emerald Web, Ghost Box Records and other fellow Shindig travellers…
Now, on the occasional time when I wander down a high street and into a newsagent in recent years, I don’t tend to expect to find a magazine that takes as its subject matter hauntological and interconnected culture and/or a touch of otherly folk music.
But this issue of Shindig magazine would have been one case where I might have discovered such a publication as sometimes it can be found nestled alongside other more generally culturally appealing periodical tomes…
Shindig is an independently published magazine that focuses on psychedelic, garage, beat, powerpop, soul and folk music, often from or influenced by previous eras. Although it does tend to explore experimental electronic work, you’re probably more likely to discover the likes of The 13th Floor Elevators, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, The Pretty Things, The Flamin’ Groovies and The Chocolate Watch Band on the cover than, well, contemporary electronic experimentalists, avant-garde cinema inspired, psychedelic modernist band from around and about The Black Country, such as Broadcast…
…but there is one issue that’s something of a cuckoo in the Shindig nest.
That’s issue 32 (which I have mentioned in passing before, see Day #59/365). Shindig is generally a fine publication but this particular issue is particularly fine in terms of the interests and pathways of A Year In The Country.
Why is that?
Well, let’s do a list of the contents:
1) Broadcast are on the cover: well, that’s a good start around these ways.
2) The Children Of Alice: Inside there’s a ten page (yes, ten pages indeed) article on the band/interview with James Cargill by Thomas Patterson. It covers Broadcasts history and influences, their work and geographic relocation, some rather classic photographs, James’ future plans and well… the subject of the sad passing of Trish Keenan, which is dealt with in a respectful manner. Oh and the article has a two page illustration by longstanding Broadcast collaborator Julian House.
2) The Noise Made By Trish: in which Seasons They Change author Jeanette Leech celebrates Trish Keenan and her work.
3) Your Hidden Dreams: a wander through some of the electronic pioneers who could be considered to have led the way towards Broadcast, including Silver Apples, Suicide and United States Of America.
4) An Electric Storm: a consideration of the arrival of Delia Derbyshire, fellow BBC Radiophonic Workshop companion Brian Hodgson and David Vorhaus’ White Noise album, subtitled “Mark Brend Chronicles the birth of “hauntological””.
5) Sounds From The Living Room: In which Dan Abbott chooses what he considers Broadcast’s 10 best releases…
Okay, pause for breath… and then there’s…
6) The Equestrian Vortex: an investigation of Berberian Sound Studio and its accompanying soundtrack by Broadcast.
(Above Trish Keenan and James Cargill partake in tiffin accompanied by neighbours from the semi next door, Alex and Maxine Sanders, who’ve popped round for a little afternoon channelling of witch cults of the radio age.)
7) But then there’s an 8-page consideration of the stylish sleaze and cinematic transgressions of Italian Giallo cinema by Jame Blackford (BFI) and Lee Dorrian (Rise Above Records), which considers the genres connections and influence on Peter Strickland’s Berberian film… oh and there’s a 2-page illustration by Mr Julian House again.
Wandering away from such things and more towards folkloric culture…
8) Ring Out The Solstice Bells: A brief consideration of the co-tour by The Trembling Bells with former Incredible String Band chap Mike Heron… oh and that’s accompanied by a quick mention of Witches Hats & Painted Chariots, the Shindig associated book on The ISB and psychedelic fok, plus a smidgeon about The Green Man festival.
9) A Half-Remembered Past: wandering back towards hauntological shores, there’s an interview with the aforementioned Julian House and Jim Jupp of Ghost Box Records… accompanied by a label primer featuring The Focus Group, Pye Corner Audio, Belbury Poly, The Advisory Circle and former Broadcast-er/current Children Of Alice-r Roj.
10) At The Dragon’s Gate: An interview with Kat Epple of psych-folk-becoming-cosmic-electronica-became-released-on Finders Keepers Records duo Emerald Web (well worth taking flight with the ravens here).
11) Long Live The Children’s Film Foundation: Vic Pratt (also of the BFI… they get around you know) looks at the decades of celluloid adventures, japes and scrapes of well, The Children’s Film Foundation.
12) Glowing Reputation: wandering back to the fields of psych folk, there’s a four page consideration of two of Mike Heron’s solo albums by Alex Nielson.
13) Reviews of albums by wanderers through the otherly fields including Spriguns of Tolgus, The Memory Band, The Incredible String Band… oh and Mark Goodall’s (he of the Timecode: Hauntology 20 Years On conference) book Gathering Of The Tribe, which is a consideration of occult/secret knowledge creation and undercurrents in music.
Well, what can I say? To be honest, I think just the Broadcast/James Cargill article alone would have been enough to have me smashing the old digital piggy bank, counting out the coppers and passing them through the ether.
Although of course there are acres and acres of writing to be read in the ether along similar subjects, there’s still something precious about when that package drops through the letterbox and there is also something to be said for being able to sit down with a cup of cha and a bite of toast to peruse and soak up a more finite, edited, consideration of culture (mind the sticky fingers on the pages though).
Consider a purchase of the magazine here.
One of the stranger larger scale films to have escaped from the celluloid dream factories…
“Death approaches! We are all mortal again! Now we can say ‘yes’ to death, but never again ‘no’. Now, we must make our farewells: to each other, to the sun and moon, trees and sky, earth and rock, the landscape of our long waking-dream.”
It could be seen as being part of the mini-genre of films from the 1970s that dealt with population control and/or ecological/resource collapse/disaster that I seem to return to in these pages (ie Z.P.G., No Blade Of Grass, Soylent Green, Phase IV, Logan’s Run etc; see Days #83/365, #88/365 and #149/365).
“And I have looked into the face of the force that put the idea in your mind. You are bred, and led, yourself.”
But I think this is one of the most genuinely strange of them all, particularly as it appears to be quite a big budget, star scattered production (I guess this is what happens when film studios give open-ended creative freedom to people after they’ve made a big hit film – the director, John Boorman, had been given that pass after the success of his city slickers up against the folk from the woods and swamps film Deliverance)… to use a phrase from the film itself, this is one of those times when popular culture goes “renegade”…
“We’ve all been used!… And re-used… And abused!… And amused!”
It feels like a genuinely psychedelic and dreamlike (or to use the more academic, hauntology text appearing phrase, oneiric) experience in many ways… a dissonant, challenging blockbuster/spectacle film in a way, full of “I can’t actually believe that this was allowed to come to the big screen” moments, questioning of societies actions, elements of 20th century fairy tales and philosophy amongst, well, the thigh length boots, nudity, guns and entertainment.
(Reading the film’s director talking about its making, there was possibly a literally psychedelic element to its production; “Um, it was the 70’s, and I was doing a lot of drugs. Frankly, even I’m not entirely sure what parts of the movie are about.” All the better for that lack of knowing and over exposition…).
“Forcing the hand of evolution…”
And it’s one of those pieces of celluloid where if, as film critic Mark Kermode says in his book “The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex: What’s Wrong with Modern Movies”, big budget escapades actually rarely lose money in the long-term then it makes me think it’s a shame that such dedicated, off kilter, visions aren’t allowed to be realised a bit more often. Or again to semi-quote Mr Kermode, if you’re going to make these big blockbusters and they probably won’t lose money, why not make them good?
“You have penetrated me. There is no escape. You are within me. Come into my center… Come into the center of the crystal.”
The plot? Well, the rich and powerful have secluded themselves behind an invisible barrier in an earthly paradise of bountifulness and eternal life, while the rest of the world has turned to scrubland and society has crumbled and reverted to a more or less medieval way of life. Out in those wastelands are exterminators who literally cull the population at the orders of the secluded powerful, who supply them with weapons to carry out their bidding, which are delivered by a flying, tribute collecting stone godhead… but then one of the exterminators manages to gain entrance to the endless idyll… and well, I don’t want to give too much away if you’ve not seen it…
“I looked behind the mask, saw the truth.”
The secluded paradise is a curious mix of advanced technology, new age-isms and a kind of indulgently folkloric way of life… these are dancers at the end of time (to quote Michael Moorcock in a book series with not too dissimilar themes in part of a privileged elite living in a bubble world of luxury and indulgence at the expense of the rest of the world); but it is an idyll which is degenerating and many of those who have been dancing its slow, indolent, self-regarding waltz for hundreds of years are slipping into a literally catatonic state of apathy or have to come to just wish to be able to end their unending lives.
“I am innocent of psychic violence.”
It’s a film full of beauty and brutality (and Brutals); lithesome eternals wander the bountiful lands in flowing semi-transparent garments, all democratic, liberal (and conformistly oppressive) decision-making, in stark contrast to the hirsute, futuristic Mexican fetish banditry of the interloper from the wastelands who breaks into their lands, bringing with him action, virulent fertility and the violence of change…
“The vortex is an obscenity…”
I would recommend a trip into this particular vortex and a seeking out of the tabernacle with Zed or as one of the taglines said step “Beyond 1984, Beyond 2001, Beyond Love, Beyond Death”…
Other trails and pathways: talking of beyonds, if you should be drawn to the lysergic otherlyness of Zardoz then you may wish to take a wander amongst the arborea of Beyond The Black Rainbow, where I think you may find traces of the vortex…
..or to wander slightly off track, join in the Future Dance and enjoy the critiquing of the echo chamber conformity of social media popularity rituals via the App Development and Condiments episode of criminally under-exposed (on these shores at least) series Community and its affectionate tribute to such 1970s sf dystopias as appear on this page. Highly recommended and makes me chuckle quietly just to think of it.
Well, while I was thinking about the work of John Wyndham (see Day #173/365)…
As I think I’ve mentioned some of this before but at a young age, when I was living in a small country idyll – population approx. 300, attendance at school across all 7 years of infant and junior approx. 30 – I began to discover the work of John Wyndham… initially via The Midwich Cuckoos (the copy I read had the last page torn out and so for years I didn’t know what happened at the end of the story)…
…this lead over the coming years to numerous readings (or attempted readings) of his fiction*, alongside various viewings of the flickering adaptations of his work; The Seeds Of Time, the hidden mutations of The Chrysalids, Trouble With Lichen, The Kraken Awakes… but the two that I’ve always been drawn back to are The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids and their tales of rural idylls overtaken and sown with eldritch children or of mankind struck down and left to fight amongst the soon to crumble ruins of civilisation and out in country compounds against vastly evolved nature…
I like the way that when books which stay popular are reprinted over the years, their new artwork and cover designs often capture and reflect the spirit of the times in which they were commissioned. This seems to be particularly true in the cases of genre fiction (science fiction, crime, fantasy etc); the contents stay the same but the covers quotas of luridness, sleaze, paranoia, wayout-ness etc varies and changes…
Along which lines here’s a selection of my favourites of The Midwich Cuckoos and Day Of The Triffids.
While looking up the fictions of Mr John Wyndham, I also had a peruse of the 1981 BBC television adaptation… images from it genuinely gave me the heebie jeebies. I know it did when it was first broadcast but I don’t think it’s just a reflection of that. There’s something about the triffids in this version that is genuinely gruesome and unsettling. Yes, they don’t look “real” in the way that digital generated later versions may do but they do look part of the real world. You don’t want to be around them.
There’s something about much of modern-day British television drama/genre programs that’s just terribly unconvincing. I tend to think of them as being like Children’s Film Foundation productions but not in a good way; adult programs without an adult spirit (characterisation? intelligence? lighting?). I can’t quite say what it is but as Mark Fisher says in Ghost Of My Life, they don’t look lived in, though it’s not just a visual problem… hmmm.
If you should plan on sleeping with the lights on, you can watch the intro to the earlier TV adaptation here. I suspect I may well return to such flickerings around these parts…
*And as I also think I’ve mentioned before, a curious thing, the way that youngsters of a certain age are drawn to apocalyptic, dystopian, cataclysmic visions of the future; The Hunger Games would be a modern-day version of this I suppose… I know at the time I was drawn in part to some such stories as the idea of being left alone in the world meant I could raid the toyshops for all the LED electronic games and batteries I needed. You have to get your priorities right in a post-disaster world.continue reading
Limited edition of 52. Each print is signed and numbered.
59.4cm x 21 cm / 23.4″ x 8.3″ (same width as A2, half the height of A2).
Printed with archival Giclée pigment inks on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 100% cotton paper.
Something of a favourite around these parts is the film Strawberry Fields. I’m not quite sure why…
It’s basically a film about a postwoman who is possibly running away from the loss of her mother and her over demanding, somewhat unsettled sister. She seeks escape in some seasonal strawberry picking fields and the film becomes a compressed microcosm of lives, loves, family and friendships, all of which seem to fracture, stumble and tumble in a brief moment of time.
The setting feels like a world unto itself; it comprises mostly of just the picking fields, ramshackle semi-derelict buildings, temporary accommodation, deserted beaches, neglected barns and equipment, the concrete brutalism and shabby infrastructure of the local railway station and monolithic overhead roadways (spaghetti junction relocated amongst the fields and flatlands). Everything apart from the roadway looks cobbled together, patched up, built from whatever could be found…
And the colours in the fields are often just ever so slightly over vivid, adding just a touch of unrealness to it all…
Adding to that, it’s a world curiously free of controlling older adult influences. There’s possibly only one such person whose face is seen… the characters feel like barely contained adults rampaging as unsupervised children through emotions and this brief snapshot of life…
And when I first saw the images of the overhead roadway when I was heading towards A Year In The Country, something chimed inside me, the juxtaposition of nature and the unforgiving, un-beauty of this man-made structure seemed to sum something up… it made me want to pick up and my camera and find where it was, to capture the spirit it represented.
Strawberry Fields is a vision of the countryside and coastal hinterland as a form of literal and emotional edgeland: the structures, physical and personal, are thrown together, tumbledown, temporary, in a state of flux…
…which leads me to the film Wreckers.
In this the often relaxing vision of the village as an orderly country idyll is gently flipped on its side: a tour around the village leads not to “Oh, that’s a pretty church” but to a cataloguing of who did what traumatic thing where, the emotional relationships and rules feel like they have reverted back to some earlier unregulated medieval time.
As in Strawberry Fields, the physical structures aren’t neatly polished chocolate box visions of the countryside; the cottage that should have roses running up the outside and be full of quaint comforting knickknacks is in the process of being renovated… but it doesn’t feel like it’s being spruced up, rather that it has had its niceties stripped away and left raw, the other buildings shown are generally tumble down throwbacks and bodged together barns.
These films are a brief view of places where normality and the subtle veneers of civility and civilisation have quietly stepped back for a moment and come unfrayed around the edges…. or as the title of this page says, here the hinterland/village is shown and seen as a form of edgeland.
PS Nice soundtrack to Strawberry Fields, largely by Bryony Afferson and her band Troubadour Rose. All slightly dusty Americana tinged folk songs that lodge in the mind for days, drones and snatches of ghostly vocals.
The trailer to Strawberry Fields can be viewed here and you can pick your own here. Despite what I’ve written above, this isn’t a grim, gritty realist drama. In many ways it’s a gentle, touching film… not too dissimilar could also be said about Wreckers (though that is possibly a touch more emotionally harsh as a film).
File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #24/52.
I was watching The Village Of The Damned and it seemed like the perfect summing up of one of the themes of A Year In The Country: an imagined sense of an underlying unsettledness to country idylls, of something having gone wrong and rotten amongst the hills, valleys and sleepy little high streets of this green and pleasant land.
I think I was rewatching the film as I expect I saw it when I was young and I knew one particular piece of dialogue very well but consciously I couldn’t remember having seen it…
So, the film: a quick precis of the plot; a typical English village suddenly finds all its inhabitants have passed out and anybody who tries to enter the village or its surrounding lands also loses consciousness. The army and authorities are called in to try and find out what’s going on. The villagers awake apparently unharmed and it would appear life can go on more or less as normal in these bucolic surrounds but months later all the child-bearing age women find themselves unexplainedly pregnant. When born, these children all have similar piercing eyes, striking hair, advanced intelligence, powers of mind reading/control and possess a hive mind where if one of them learns something they all do. They are truly the cuckoos in the nest and their powers, possible amorality and drive to survive threatens the villages way of life, lives and possibly mankind’s rule and existence.
It is a film full of iconic imagery, nearly every scene arriving with at least one more: the early collapse into unconsciousness of that most British symbol of pastoral civility, the bobby on a bicycle, via nighttime mobs with burning torches and the children themselves with their emotional detachment, silver hair and glowing eyes.
In many ways it could be seen to be the flipside or even accompaniment to the film version of Quatermass and The Pit: that film is a post second world war consideration of the battle for genetic superiority/purity/control as experienced in the still recent historic conflict. In The Village Of The Damned an amoral, Aryan race are seeded amongst the population, determined to survive and colonise whatever the cost.
There’s more than a touch of horror fictions previous and future to the film: shades of Frankenstein when the villagers take it upon themselves to form the aforementioned burning torch bearing mob in order to rid themselves of this technologically biologically advanced new life form and later The Omen, with its sense of a cold detached cuckoo in the nest, with telepathic/telekinetic powers beyond our ken or control and who will use those powers to despatch any threat or adversary.
One thing I found interesting was that the scenes set in the local village shop/post office look like a modern-day drama recreation of such things: it’s full of the now simplistic looking boxes and cans of food from that era, that I am so used to seeing in slightly over neat and tidy contemporary period drama productions that they don’t like they were real or ever truly existed.
This is a world that seems to only be populated by perfection diction upper middle-class figures of control and authority or the local pub drinking working class and it’s terribly, terribly white. Which was possibly indicative of how things actually were then but to the modern eye it’s such a set, defined and delineated society…
…and those upper middle classes seem to take it all curiously in their stride and apart from the very occasional emotional outburst (mostly from a female and rarely the educated males) don’t get too het up about the fact that they have essentially given birth to and are being threatened by some unexplained, actually very other biological force. It is generally dealt with the same level of emotional alarm and froideur as if it was merely some socially rather unacceptable gaffe.
Although these cuckoos are essentially a hive mind or colony, their leader or more vocal spokesperson is played brilliantly by Martin Stephens, just the touch of a smile playing about his lips as he stares otherwise without emotion at his mother after sending someone to a fiery departure (he would appear to have been the go to young actor for such quietly unsettling preter-naturalness in the early 1960s as he also appears amongst the reeds and willows of The Innocents: see Day #106/365).
And going back to the analogies with the recent(ish) historical conflict: the way the British or at least the social class with authority, deal with these invaders, these colonising cuckoos, is shown to be very decent in comparison to how the rest of the world might. Reason generally prevails and we are for talking, consideration, study and compromise: elsewhere there may well be brutality and the simple application of military force to deal with the problem.
The film is based on the novel The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham, which I read when living in a tiny country village when really rather young, I suppose not to dissimilar to the setting of the book.
And in common with the book/film, although it was most definitely a country idyll, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these pages we were surrounded by symbols of a readiness or warnings against those who might be tempted to trespass on these lands; low flying planes flew overhead regularly, practising avoiding enemy radar, there were abandoned concrete pill box defences in the fields, unexploded military ordinance would be found from time to time and the disposal experts would have to be called in and there was a map in the local information centre which as youngsters we considered near mythological as it apparently showed where aeroplanes had crashed during wartime…
…oh and that’s before we get to the two ancient looking even then brown Bakelite boxes in and around my domestic home life that were nuclear air raid sirens (see the About page for more on that) or why my friend had a working Geiger counter (that also appeared to be from another earlier technological age, all valves and flickering needles) that was used as a toy. Why and wherefore did it come from? I’m not sure…
I have something of a soft spot for the work of Dom Cooper. I first came to his graphic design and singing via The Owl Service, in particular A View From A Hill (something of a classic reference and early starting point for A Year In The Country, see Day #30/365). He put together the artwork for that album and uses quite simple, modern and minimal design work in conjunction with matt card/printing to conjure up and reinterpret the imagery and spirit of folklores past and make it feel like a precious piece of work.
That reinterpretation of symbols and imagery from folklore and folk culture is something of a theme with his work, something that can be seen in his work in creating icons for The Owl Service below:
From View From A Hill I wandered along to Weirdlore: Notes From The Folk Underground (see Day #85/365), wherein hs artwork takes imagery from previous eras, repastes it and lets it tumble forth in a vaguely unsettling manner…
And then onto his place in the fields of zeros and ones and discovering his work for/with amongst others Nicholas Palmer and Michael Tanners pastoral tinged instrumentalists the A. Lords, fellow Owl Service compadre Nancy Wallace, more work after Weirdlore for Folk Police Records release of Adam Leonards Nature Recordings, the underground folk collective Rif Mountain with which he was (is?) involved and his own Straw Bear Band…
Which brings me to his music and singing. Something of a favourite around these parts. Dom Cooper has a very distinctive voice that words fail me how I’m going to describe it. There’s some level of emotion that he brings to songs that just gets me, a sort kind of darkness or intensity without being po-faced about such things.
3 songs to go a-wandering through:
When I was thinking how to describe these versions of traditional songs, my mind just thought there’s a kind of brutal British blues-ness to these folk songs, a certain stomping vehemence that made me think just a touch of some of the musical accompaniment on Michael Gira’s Angels Of Light, which creates and reinterprets dusty Americana into something considerably darker on tracks such as My True Body (tread gently and carefully, these are not easy shores)…
So it wasn’t a great surprise or such a cultural hop-skip and jump to see The Straw Bear Band appearing on a Rif Mountain release called Conversations With Death (Five excursions into dark Americana)…
“Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down”: In a way The Straw Bear Band’s version takes Nottamun Town and Lyke Wake Dirge and adds a touch of such diggin’ in the dust and hooves stamping to them… Just compare Pentangles reverent version to The Straw Bear Band’s. One is an offering up, one a blast of defiance from a sinner. I’ll let you guess which one I think is which.
(Above is the Midwich Cuckoo inspired illustration that accompanied The Vexed Soul EP… and as an aside, Nottamun Town is a song that has been recorded by a vast array of people, including Jean Ritchie, Bert Jansch, Fairport Convention, Shirley Collins with Davy Graham and one of my own particular favourites, the privately pressed gently psych/acid folk version by Oberon. Lovely stuff.)
Also, if you should be a-wandering, the version of The Bear Ghost that he sings on the 2012 remaster of The Owl Service’s Garland Of Song (which can be found here) is well worth a listen. On this the earlier versions gentleness and sense of summoning lost spirits is tightened, hardened and toughened up into something fearsome, fearful, heartbreaking and haunting.
PS It has been a while since any more music has come forth from amongst the stalks and stems of The Straw Bear Band. A shame as I think they’re one of British folk music’s genuinely semi-underdiscovered gems.
Day #169/365: On your marks… the return and reprise of the corporeality of vibrations in the air… and a bakers dozen of Clay Pipe Music
I’ve found it interesting watching the way that limited edition physical releases of music has returned in the world.
Catching hold of such things is now almost a competitive sport (well, as near as I expect many of the people, self included, who enjoy such things to actually participating in competitive sport); blink and you’ll miss the release and just see those dreaded SOLD OUT words blinking in front of your eyes.
In order to listen to the music there’s often not a particular need to physically own these artifacts, so something else is at play.
The design, physical artifacts and presentation of much of the music that can be found on the pages of A Year In The Country (for example via Ghost Box Records, Folklore Tapes, Second Language Music, Finders Keepers Records or indeed Clay Pipe Music who grace this particular page) could be seen to be of equal or at the very least of great complimentary importance as the shape of the vibrations their compositions make in the air.
To quote Mark Fisher, from his Ghosts Of My Life book:
“…it is the culture constellated around music (fashion, discourse, cover art) that has been as important as the music itself in conjuring seductively unfamiliar worlds…”
The phrase cover art is of particular importance here. It’s not just cover art in the sense of a photo or two and some text but in terms of relating to a physical artifact in all its non-virtual glory and the world and spirit such things can conjure. These objects have become our totems in these days where animals and natural objects are not so much part of most people’s everyday lives.
This isn’t a post to say “In my day it was much better, it was all fields and gatefold sleeves you could look at on the bus on the way home”. I have and listen to music in all kinds of forms, via an increasingly dizzying array of methods, platforms, formats etc.
Wasn’t digital music meant to wipe this out? Weren’t we by now supposed to have one small black box that contained all our media (strapped no doubt to our silver space suits as we jetpacked about). While wandering up to and through A Year In The Country I’ve dragged out and dusted off a variety of discarded tape recorders, set up my record player permanently again for the first time in years, listened to music tumbling forth from all kinds of digital devices from smaller than a box of cigarettes to the size of a not so smallish suitcase. And that’s before we get to the slew of digital platforms for perusing and discovering music via the ether…
I’m not a luddite, a traditionalist or my way or the high way about these things.
And yet… if you were to ask me which pieces of music were really precious to me, often they’re ones that in one form or another that I’ve had the urge to buy in physical form. Not exclusively but a fairly high percentage.
I don’t need to do that. Often I already have the music as a perfectly listenable to set of zeros and ones but I want something more… some other form of interaction.
Sometimes I find myself being swept up by a piece of music or culture and I want to own it, to have another form of interaction, maybe to help pay its creator more than the splinter of a pence they’re possibly reimbursed via a passing listen in the ether…
…maybe it’s in part a generational thing, I grew up when physical objects were part and parcel of listening to music and imbibing culture…
Although I have noticed that at times when the package arrives through the post I think “Hmmm, I’m not sure I actually want or need that” and realise that it’s part of me acting on well worn paths, habits and reflexes… curiously as well, often when that happens it’s after the arrival of vinyl.
Curious as once that would have been something of a king around these parts whereas now I don’t really mind what the actual vessel is that carries the message is as it were, it’s more to do with something intangible, the world and visions a particular object creates and summons… oh and preferably a good thick spine so that I can see it sat on the shelves and let my mind wander, more of which in a moment.
Sometimes such an artifact and document of culture will arrive and it’s a precious thing all of its own (which leads me in another moment to Clay Pipe Music)…
In part maybe the ritual of hunting down physical releases, the “got it” sense of satisfaction is part of it all. Maybe it is that sense of wanting a totem that can sit on the shelf and I can look at and send my mind wandering as I walk past.
Hence I suppose the tendency to offer digital downloads to accompany tape, vinyl etc releases; it’s offering the choice of how to listen to music but also possibly an admission of the potentially different functions of the various forms… though the contrary curmudgeon in me quite likes the way that as far as I know in it’s earlier days the Folklore Tapes releases were just that; no zeros and ones, you had to dust down that tape recorder.
Anyway, along such lines, if you should want to see how the physical forms of music can compliment music then I expect you would not need to look much further than Clay Pipe Music.
These are lovingly created and crafted pieces of work, generally put together and illustrated by Frances Castle who runs Clay Pipe Music. Some sense of actuality and humanity is returned to the very aesthetically average, useful and utilitarian digital discs. A sense of warmth and the natural world is somehow imbued into these releases.
It’s interesting as well in that the often bucolic, pastoral world created and surrounding Clay Pipe Music is summoned and sent out into the world I think via the sprawling environs of the metropolis… to reinterpret Rob Young’s phrase from Electric Eden, it could be seen as a form of imaginative geographic travel or returning to the idea of conjuring unfamiliar seductive worlds; the fields and pastures as the “other” when you’re living amongst its opposite.
Although, having said which, a number of releases they have put out deal with travels through city based hinterlands, sometimes once idylls and glimpses of places where nature breaks through and attempts to return through the cracks: in particular Darren Hayman’s Lido which examines closed and abandoned open air swimming pools or Jetsam and Gareth E. Rees A Dream Of Life Of Hackney Marshes, which is a journey through edgelands strewn with Victorian ruins and pylons, circled overhead by kestrels.
Anyway, lovely stuff. If I had a time machine I would try and own much or all of it.
Visit Clay Pipe Music here (where you can also join the egg and spoon race for a copy of the 3rd edition of Tyneham House on the 2nd of July 2014).
Or where you can realise that you’ve definitely come last in the sack race for Jon Brook’s Shapwick, the original releases of Tyneham house, Darren Hayman’s Lido, GP Hall’s Embarkation, The Hardy Tree’s The Fields Lie Sleeping Underneath and Michael Tanner and Kerrie Robinson’s Thalassing.continue reading
Limited edition of 52: Box set includes:
1) The Gateways Are Open string bound book.
2) The Cities Are On Fire waterproof sticker.
3) The Lore And Losses Of The Land waterproof sticker.
4) The Dark Lights From Beyond mirror keyring.
5) Monitoring The Transmissions #2: The Shadows And Vestiges After The Fall see-through metallic badge.
6) The Unholy Numbers makeup mirror.
7) The Reaping Amongst The Stones fridge magnet.
9) Intricacies and Intrigueries badge.
10) Intricacies and Intrigueries: Inverted Vision see-through metallic badge.
11) Atavistic Memories keyring.
12) Pastoral Phantasmagoria print.
All housed in a rigid cardboard hand signed, hand stamped and hand numbered box.
Trails and Influences: Electronic Ether. Case #22/52.
Over the years I’ve often been drawn to the idea of soundtracks for imaginary films, or even visual work which creates imagery from imaginary films.
While wandering towards A Year In The Country and while walking through this year there have been quite a few such things that have caught my mind, ear and eye.
Here are a few of those:
1) Tales From The Black Meadow
I’ve briefly mentioned this before. This in parts could be seen as the soundtrack to an actual imaginary film, documentary and book. The music here is but a fragment of a whole that has slipped through… from where?
I have previously delved through the archive material that has been generated (found?) via this project at Day #32/365 and Day #9/365) and there’s a whole world and wealth of such things if you dig out amongst the digital moors.
I would particularly recommend a listen to the Main Theme. Listen to it and start wandering through the archives here.
2) Hexagons Above Dovestones from Supernatural Lancashire 2
This is a piece of music that although it’s not specifically stated that it’s meant to be the soundtrack to any imagined piece of televisual or celluloid trickery, when I listen to it, it so makes me think that it is or should be a lost piece of music from an unsettling 1970s children’s TV program…
As Trish Keenan said, the avant-garde without the popular is rubbish, popular without avant-garde is rubbish and this makes me think of that as it’s a very listenable, accessible piece of music but it starts and wanders off into buzzing drones and siren call wails.
In that way it also connects up with some of the source material from which some of the music on this page draws: times when work which pushes the boundaries of culture somehow snuck into mainstream broadcasting and screening schedules (or as Ben Wheatley commented about The Owl Service: “You wouldn’t even fathom showing that to children now. That’s what would pass as adult drama now, even quite difficult adult drama…” or on Children Of The Stones “you’d barely get that commissioned now if you were Steven Poliakoff…”, see Day #136/365).
(I have this on vinyl but it’s not to hand as I’m writing this. Darned. If it had been, I would’ve saved myself the experience I just had where I was listening to it on headphones without realising that Tales From The Black Meadow was still playing. It was the first time I listened to it on headphones I thought blimey, what’s going on with this, I’ve never noticed the sense of it being two songs at once before. The resulting disconcerting sound and the mixing of two soundtracks to imagined worlds suited the work in a way. Anyways…).
3) The Book Of The Lost
And while I’m talking about music to imaginary cathode ray flickers from other eras…
“With the likes of The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, Blood on Satan’s Claw and Psychomania unsettling their collective memories, they constructed in meticulous detail a number of their own lost folk horror movies, complete with synopsis, cast and crew, production companies etc, then created songs and dialogue pieces (supposedly) based on these imaginary films. To tie up their dark gathering of lost movies, they used the device of a decidedly low-budget, hastily slung together television series called The Book of the Lost which would play these films (fittingly) in the graveyard slot. The album took its name from this series.”
Much of the music on this page often draws from, plays with and/or creates imaginary soundtracks to the small cannon of otherly British television from the late 1960s until about 1980, sometimes more overtly than others (the aforementioned Owl Service and Children Of The Stones in particular).
At the same time as those televisual points of reference, I think The Book Of The Lost and some of this other work could also equally soundtrack early 1970s portmanteau horror films that often seemed to feature the apparently ever lasting Mrs Joan Collins.
Think Tales From The Crypt or Tales That Witness Madness; a product (and symptom?) of a time when British cinema was tumbling and hurtling towards its own demise via cheap exploitation fare, whether sex comedies or schlock and horror (although I’m quite fond or at least culturally curious about some of such things).
As an aside, it’s interesting the urge to reinterpret, create, rehabilitate and recreate such themes sounds and imagery. I’m not sure that it’s just budgetary constraints that stop practitioners from creating whole new films or programs around such work.
Maybe it’s more about trying to interact with and capture the spirit of the original programs and films, the thoughts, visions and journeys that they have inspired rather than strictly wanting to create fully realised new episodes of television programs etc.
5) The Equestrian Vortex
And I suppose this post would not be complete without mentioning this particular imaginary film within an actual film.
I’ve said it before around these parts but the accompanying video makes me want to see the whole film. The one created by Julian House and soundtracked by Broadcast, not the one directed by Giancarlo Santini.
Well, after a somewhat longer, more theoretically heavy post yesterday, I thought I would take things down a gear or two via a visit to a saggy old, baggy old cloth cat.
When I was young (really quite young) Bagpuss seemed to be playing on television on a more or less permanent loop. I used to sit there with bated breath, hoping it was the one about the chocolate biscuit factory (I can still hear the “Breadcrumbs and butterbeans” ingredients cry of the mice as I type).
In case you should not know, Bagpuss was an animated British television series from 1974 that featured the goings on of a set of normally inanimate toy creatures in a shop for ‘found things’, who come to life when the shop’s owner, a young girl called Emily, brings in a new object and they debate and explore what the new thing can possibly be.
It’s something of a classic and has a sweetness, uniqueness and gentle melancholia even that I don’t think has ever been repeated or equalled. It was made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate, who also created such other exemplary and distinct work as softly psychedelic and just a touch pop-art space age animation The Clangers and Ivor The Engine, which features dragons who instigate a search for the pre-decimalisation coinage that they need for the gas meter in the dormant volcano where they live.
Theirs was work that didn’t feel like it had been created as part of an assembly line, targeted at a cultural marketplace, it was more personal and precious feeling and feels nearer to examples of some kind of folk art.
Which makes it somewhat appropriate that the soundtrack albums to The Clangers and Ivor The Engine have been put out by Jonny Trunk’s Trunk Records, as I would concur with Julian House of Ghost Box Records when he said that rather than being an archivist record label proprietor “Jonny’s more like a folk art scholar.”
He goes on to say “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”…
…that sense of a lost Britain is something that I could link to Bagpuss as in many way it is the lost, arcadian, edenic, idyllic and idealised vision of a golden age of England incarnate. A sleepy village world full of shops full of discarded nick nacks, eccentrics, a sense of never-ending lazy afternoons, gentle exploration and industriousness, all sepia and vintage vignette tinged.
And this is a world curiously unsullied by the dirt, grime and grasping of commerce; the shop where Bagpuss and his compatriots lives doesn’t sell anything, everything in the window is just a collection of things that people had lost.
It was only a couple of years ago when I was heading towards A Year In The Country that I listened to some of the music from Bagpuss again, possibly for the first time since those young years.
I was surprised to hear that some of it was particularly accomplished folk music. I think to my young ears it had just been music (and since hearing it again, part of me also wandered if somewhere along the line seeing this program and its accompanying music, soaking in the pleasant escape of its way of life might have been one of the roots that grew amongst a fair few others to become some of the culture I’m wandering amongst in A Year In The Country. Hmmm, scratches beard and ponders).
Anyway, delving further I discovered there was a surprisingly cultural/political connection to the music:
Some of the voices and all the music in Bagpuss was played and in part written by Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner, who via Rob Young’s Electric Eden book I discovered had been former alumni/apprentices with Ewan Maccoll and Peggy Seeger’s The Critics Group (a kind of “master class” for young singers performing traditional songs or who were writing songs using traditional song/folk structures).
Maccoll was a left-wing folk musician, activist and poet. who was married to fellow folk singer and activist Peggy Seeger, who was once-upon-a-time blacklisted by the American government for what they considered politically unsafe travel to various communist countries. Maccoll was barred from travelling to the US with his wife due to his political views.
By gosh and balderdash. The things and people that we allow our children to be exposed (indirectly) to. Bolsheviks, lefties and trouble makers the lot of them.
Well, actually, that’s precisely what it was.
Curiously, a little more delving and I discovered that Sandra Kerr went on to lecture in folk music and taught future generations of folk musicians including The Unthanks and Emily Portman…
Anyway, back to the music from Bagpuss. I think my favourite is still The Miller’s Song. You can view its gentle, folkloric, snapshot of agricultural work, life, seasons and produce here (featuring a curiously out-of-place and anachronistic modern combine harvester).
Read about a live performance of the Bagpuss music by Sandra Kerr and John Faulkner here and maybe, if like me you have a fondness from younger years for a certain saggy old cloth cat, mildly rue missing it.
The full text of the article on Ghost Box Records that the Julian House quote is taken from can be found via Mr Simon Reynolds here.
Day #163/365: Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life and a very particular mourning and melancholia for a future’s past…
Now, I’ve been waiting for this particular book to arrive for a good year or two… and yesterday it did indeed do that.
One of the quotes on the back, from Bob Stanley, says “A must read for modernists, and for anyone who misses the future. This is the first book to really make sense of the fog of ideas that have been tagged as “hauntology”“.
And in but the first chapter, The Slow Cancellation Of The Future, it does start to de-fog those ideas. Thoughts and theories that I had but which I hadn’t quite been able to put all the jigsaw pieces together suddenly started to connect and form the picture on the front of the box.
In fact, there are enough ideas, clarification and de-fogging in those 27 or so pages to fill a book or two.
One of those “I don’t want to put this down” and looking forward to getting up in the morning so that you can read some more publications.
So, where to start? Well, at the beginning I think… and with a quote or two from that most odd television series, which it would be even if it hadn’t been made for mainstream transmission, Sapphire and Steel…
“There’s no time here, not any more… This is the trap, it’s nowhere and it’s forever… Temporal anomalies are triggered by human beings’ predilection for the mixing of artefacts from different eras.”
Which is a somewhat apposite quote for the cultural times we live in and also quite possibly hauntology as a cultural idea and project.
“In conditions of digital recall, loss itself is lost… It is no longer necessary to physically move in order to access the whole history of culture…”
“ It was through the mutations of popular music that many of us who grew up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s learned to measure the passage of cultural time…
“…it doesn’t feel as if the 21st century has started yet. We remain trapped in the 20th century… in 1981, the 1960s seemed much further away than they do today… cultural time has folded back on itself, and the impression of linear development has given way to a strange simultaneity…
“Why did the arrival of neoliberal, post-Fordist capitalism lead to a culture of retrospection and pastiche?… Could it be that neoliberal capitalism’s destruction of solidarity and security brought about a compensatory hungering for the well-established and familiar?
“Despite all it’s rhetoric of novelty and innovation, neoliberal capitalism has gradually but systematically deprived artists of the resources necessary to produce the new… If there’s one factor above all else which contributes to cultural conservatism, it is the vast inflation in the cost of rent and mortgages…”
Phew, about time somebody actually properly talked about this. He goes on to say how it was no surprise that in the late 1970s/early 1980s there was a huge upsurge in creative innovation in New York and that this happened at a time when rents were cheap and accessible.
Although I don’t know Mark Fisher’s personal financial situation (and that’s his right and choice to keep that private), I find it interesting that a book/set of thoughts as well-developed as The Ghosts Of My Life has been penned by somebody who, according to the short biography at the front, is employed in academic institutions.
They could be seen as one of the last bastions where the resources for new thought, dreaming and exploration hasn’t been as restricted. Unfortunately, that space to dream and explore is being paid for in part by the future debts of some of its participants rather than being factored in/acknowledged/respected and dare I say it, funded, as part of societies needs.
Curiously, when you think about it, all this space for cultural expression via new digital forms has at the same time often brought about a big reduction in and/or few viable business models that underpin those forms for the creators of the content and culture that make them interesting and viable; plenty of cash for those who design/produce/market etc the physical devices and delivery systems, pin money for those who fill and supply them.
The monetary side of how people create cultural work and also fill the cupboards and keep the lights on isn’t something that’s generally considered or discussed in interviews… it’s like some dirty little secret but without the correct underpinning it’s hard for the work to happen and/or for the whole process to be socially inclusive.
(That inclusion of people from less financially cushioned backgrounds is something which Mark Fisher also touches on in terms of its degradation and decay in recent decades in this first chapter… well I was saying there are enough ideas in this one chapter to fill a book or two… as an illustration of that I think this Day/post about it contains the most words of any post so far in this A Year In The Country journey ).
“Producing the new depends upon certain kinds of withdrawal from, for instance, sociality as much as from pre-existing cultural forms but the currently dominant form of socially networked cyberspace, with its endless opportunities for micro-contact… has made withdrawal more difficult than ever before… in recent years, everyday life has sped up but culture has slowed down…”
Bleep bleep bleep (x near infinity).
“Why hauntology?… When it was applied to music culture – in my own writing and in that of other critics such as Simon Reynolds and Joseph Stannard – hauntology first of all named a confluence of artists. The word confluence is crucial here. For these artists – William Bansinski, The Ghost Box label, The Caretaker, Burial, Mordant Music, Philip Jeck, amongst others – had converged on a certain terrain without actually influencing one another. What they shared was not a sound so much as a sensibility, an existential orientation…
Which I think is something I was trying to root out and get out in my previous post (see Day #162/365); what has been labelled hauntology isn’t a strictly defined thing but those who have been associated with it do share an interconnected but disparate vision or interests. Sometimes there’s something in the air culturally that people somehow connect with at the same time even though they have not physically or consciously been aware of what the others are doing along similar lines (another example from a different culture was Madness and The Specials both coming to a kind of mutated version of ska music and culture at similar times in the late 1970s before they met and worked together).
“The artists that came to be labelled hauntological were suffused with an overwhelming melancholy… As to the deeper cause of this melancholia, we need look no further than the title of Leyland Kirby’s album: Sadly, The Future Is No longer What It Was. In hauntological music there is an implicit acknowledgement that the hopes created by postwar electronica or by the euphoric dance music of the 1990s have evaporated – not only has the future not arrived, it no longer seems possible. Yet at the same time, the music constitutes a refusal to give up on the desire for the future. This refusal gives the melancholia a political dimension, because it amounts to a failure to accommodate to the closed horizons of capitalist realism…
“Haunting… can be construed as a failed mourning. It is about refusing to give up the ghost or… the refusal of the ghost to give up on us. The spectre will not allow us to settle into/for the mediocre satisfactions one can glean in a world governed by capitalist realism…
“What has vanished is a tendency, a virtual trajectory. One name for this is popular modernism… popular culture definitively established that it did not have to be populist….
“The kind of melancholia I’m talking about… consists not in giving up on desire but in refusing to yield. It consists… in a refusal to adjust to what current conditions call ‘reality’ – even if the cost of that refusal is that you feel like an outcast in your own time…”
These passages are part of the book’s expression of anger at the ways things have become in society and culture, the current discarding of popular modernism and it’s sense of a progressive, inclusive direction in society and how in part hauntology may be a response or resistance to that.
The anger isn’t presented in a hectoring form, rather as reasoned and thought-provoking arguments/observations, accompanying which the academic/theoretical considerations of the book are presented in an accessible, inclusive manner and language.
“Music culture was central to the projection of the futures which have been lost. The term music culture is crucial here, because it is the culture constellated around music (fashion, discourse, cover art) that has been as important as the music itself in conjuring seductively unfamiliar worlds.”
In many ways much of the culture around hauntology has attempted to recapture a holistic form of culture, to create those “seductively unfamiliar worlds”. The visual aesthetics and physical objects that contain and present some of the associated music has come to be of great importance, of equal if not sometimes more so than the music it contains.
Curiously in this case those “unfamiliar worlds” have often been created by reinterpreting and reusing the familiar from times gone by, whether visually or in terms of sounds. You could say they are haunted by spectres of the past (which kind of neatly brings me back to the origin of the word hauntology).
I expect I may well be revisiting the pages and thought of Ghost Of My Life somewhere and sometime around these parts…
Visit Ghosts Of My Life in the ether here. Read an extended extract from the first chapter here. Read more digital missives and considerations from Mark Fisher here. Visit Laura Oldfield Ford (who illustrates the book) and her Savage Messiah work here.continue reading
Day #162/365: Hauntology, places where society goes to dream, the deletion of spectres and the making of an ungenre
This is a page about a rather draconian deletion of the phrase hauntology when used to refer to a genre of music on probably the electronic ether’s most popular encyclopedia. Below is the text of the discussion leading to that deletion.
Wikipedia:Articles for deletion/Hauntology (musical genre)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
< Wikipedia:Articles for deletion
The following discussion is an archived debate of the proposed deletion of the article below. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page (such as the article’s talk page or in a deletion review). No further edits should be made to this page.
The result was delete. Consensus is to delete — PhantomSteve/talk|contribs\ 14:19, 8 March 2010 (UTC)
Hauntology (musical genre) 
Hauntology (musical genre) (edit | talk|history | links | watch | logs) – (View log • AfD statistics)
(Find sources: “Hauntology (musical genre)” – news • books • scholar • images)
Neologism made up by one reviewer. Ridernyc (talk) 04:50, 1 March 2010 (UTC)
• Delete hoax Shii (tock) 16:22, 1 March 2010 (UTC)
• Note: This debate has been included in the list of Music-related deletion discussions. — • Gene93k (talk) 01:08, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
• Delete – Hauntology is not commonly considered a musical genre. Therefor hauntology (musical genre) should be deleted and not (!) redirected. gidonb (talk) 21:34, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
• Merge and redirect to Ghost Box Records. Almost the whole thing could be comfortably placed in the “Aesthetics” section with little modification. — Gwalla | Talk 21:55, 2 March 2010 (UTC) Why would we take unsourced information from here to expand the unsourced information there? Ridernyc (talk) 23:14, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
• Comment From what I could find, the very existence of hauntology as a musical style is rejected by the relevant musical community. This community claims that what is described as hauntology is an effect at most. Between the strong “hoax” and light “unsourced”, I think the term “fringe POV” covers hauntology (musical genre) best. In either case, the combination of hauntology with the words musical genre and the contents of this article are misleading and should be deleted. gidonb (talk) 00:38, 3 March 2010 (UTC)
• Delete Totally subjective and undefinable and unsourced term for another music sub genre. Guyonthesubway (talk) 19:09, 3 March 2010 (UTC)
• Delete. It definitely seems to lack notability. I looked at the fifth reference, and IT SOURCES WIKIPEDIA! Ha, what a joke for that to be cited on wikipedia. Backtable Speak to meconcerning my deeds. 00:49, 8 March 2010 (UTC)
• Delete The sources citated actually indicate pretty clearly that it is not a musical genre and that it is a neologism.–SabreBD (talk) 10:28, 8 March 2010 (UTC)
The above discussion is preserved as an archive of the debate. Please do not modify it. Subsequent comments should be made on the appropriate discussion page (such as the article’s talk page or in a deletion review). No further edits should be made to this page.
I would say the “Consensus it to delete” is a touch erroneous. If not a little dictatorial. And as Simon Reynolds (via whom I discovered this) points out, those doing the deleting have taken a fair few steps to make sure their own work is not deleted or modified. Do as I say and not as I do…
Just as with the above deletion via consensus, a larger mass of consensus does not necessarily mean something is correct but type the word hauntology accompanied by the word music into a search engine and you’re likely to get about 60,000 pages to look at.
That would tend to imply that there is not a “Consensus is to delete” in the wider world, at the very least there is a “Consensus is to discuss, explore, consider, create and debate”.
So, maybe rather than deleting the whole notion, making the debate around whether it exists part of its page would have been a more reasonable or culturally democratic thing to do.
Although it’s hard to definitely define what hauntology is, it has become a way of identifying a particular kind of music and cultural tendency. It’s fluid, loose and not strictly defined but if I was to talk about…
2) A tendency to see some kind of unsettledness and hidden layers of meaning in Public Information Films, TV idents and a bit too scary/odd for children though that’s who they were aimed at TV programs from the late 1960s to about 1980 (think The Owl Service, Children Of The Stones, The Changes)…
3) Graphic design and a particular kind of often analogue synthesized music, that references and reinterprets some forms of older library music, educational materials and the work of The Radiophonic Workshop…
4) A re-imagining and misremembering of the above and other sources into forms of music and culture that seem familiar, comforting, unsettling and not a little eery, ones which are haunted by spectres of its and our cultural past (to loosely paraphrase Jacques Derrida or I expect to loosely paraphrase others paraphrasing Jacques Derrida)…
…well, I think that a reasonable number of studiers and enjoyers of a particular subsection of culture would probably think I was talking about hauntology and heading in the direction of the likes of Ghost Box Records, Mordant Music and the like.
I’ve never really had a problem with subcultural genre labels, as long as they’re not used to enforce unmoveable, restrictive, unevolving cultural norms and regulations (and as I think I’ve said before, at the very least they can make it easier to navigate records stores, whether of the scarcer bricks and mortar variety or the more intangible digital ones).
At the same time as setting out a group of hauntological cultural pointers above, I don’t think that the formation of overly strictly defined and defining cultural definitions is the case with what has come to be labelled hauntology.
Though those who have been identified as its practitioners often had a well defined vision of their esoteric world and culture before being labelled as such and although there may be some common threads and shared sensibilities in this (debated) genre, it has retained a fair degree of cultural and aesthetic diversity.
A quick peruse of the aesthetics and visuals to be found in the eldritch educationalism of Ghost Box Records, the playful psychedelic whimsy of Blank Workshop and the occult, hidden history experimentalism of Demdike Stare, all of which have at one time or another been labelled hauntology, I expect will easily demonstrate that diversity.
In one of William Gibson’s books there is a discussion between two characters about how subcultures were once a place where society went to dream but they have died out because we began to pluck them too early, to shine the spotlights of media attention and mainstream cultural market forces on them too quickly before they had the time to fully develop and gestate.
Today such things which have been able to fully bloom are rare and precious.
In light of that in a way I think it’s possibly good to celebrate when a subculture has had the vision of its participants coupled with space and time to gestate and so has been able to develop into what can be identified as a genre, one which has its own characteristics and world view as uniquely as something like Ghost Box Records and some of the cultural endeavours that have been labelled hauntology.
Because of that space, time and vision the resulting culture has proved particularly hardy from those spotlights of attention and has not been diverted or subsumed from its path; it has been able to be a small cultural plot of land where you can go to dream or at least let your mind wander.
Thanks to Simon Reynolds, via whom I first found out about this deletion (who was tipped off by someone called Pete Diaper). You can read his full text about it here and here. You can see the original page about the “Consensus is to delete” here.
PS All the images on this page/post/day were taken from an electronic/digital search using the words hauntology and music.
PPS Re-reading the original text about the deletion of the genre again, it made me smile because it reads like it could be some form of background text or discussion in a cyberpunk novel from the earlier days of that cultural form…
…and what with many of the ideas of cyberpunk/cyberspace and zipping around the electronic ether having become part of everyday life rather than new, cutting edge cultural/technological developments, the text/discussion/deletion in itself has come to feel a little like a piece of hauntological work and could be said to be haunted by spectres from a cultural past…
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I think for much of my life I’ve been fascinated by what have become known as edgelands, way before I even knew that’s what they have come to be called.
Edgelands, what are they you may ask? It’s a phrase that refers to the edges of towns and cities that are neither urban nor countryside, the undeveloped or developing areas, out-of-town retail areas, the land surrounding power stations, scrublands, wastelands, semi-derelict areas, semi-industrial areas and so forth.
These are often the places where society creates, stores, repairs, discards, forgets about and disposes of the things it physically needs and they are often starkly aesthetically neglected, though in contrast can also become something of a haven for nature and wildlife.
I think in part my experience of the countryside was more such places for much of my childhood, something that Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts talk about in their book Edgelands. Maybe in part because they were as far as it was easy (or allowed) to travel when I didn’t have independent access to motorised transport.
Maybe also because they were/are places I was drawn to: they contain many of societies overlooked and often unsupervised nooks and crannies and so represent an ideal playground when you’re a child.
Even when I did (briefly) live in the actual countryside when I was young, the places I often played in, explored and was fascinated by often had more than a touch of the edgelands to them: building a dam across the river next to an old crystal deposit encrusted railway tunnel, a concrete military pillbox sat incongruously at the edge of a field (as contemporary war planes flew low overhead, practising avoiding radar detection), an overgrown and more or less abandoned local graveyard where you could scare yourself by moving and peering inside the walls of old monuments…
…a road that had broken up and collapsed down a hillside and where the intrepid could pry the cats-eyes from the remains of the middle of the road (these were reflective glass markings that were used on UK roads)… the craters on hillsides where we would excitedly scavenge rusted machine remains, thinking they were sites where planes had crashed (they may well have been, quite a few planes had crashed around those parts and there was even a semi-mythical map in the local information centre that told you where the sites were)…
And that’s before we get to playing in actual edgelands, places that could have been real life Public Information Film settings that warned children of the dangers to be found there: playing below humming electricity pylons and tumbling amongst the abandoned fridges and washing machines on a hillside that led down to a river that would change colour depending on what was being pumped into it (see Day #81/365)…
…or the edge of town once airforce base, now camping park complete with can, bottle and possibly spectre filled air raid shelters (see Day #94/365) or in later years wandering on grey Sundays through the local industrial estate, where a coffin factory shared space sandwiched between fields and the main road with a poultry processing establishment, all to the soundtrack of suitably upliftingly depressing music on a borrowed portable cassette player.
So, anyways, it’s been interesting of late discovering that there is a whole body of literature and creative work which has focused on these hinterlands.
This work travels from Edward Chell’s Soft Estate book/exhibition on such places when they are found at the side of motorways (see Day #115/365 and image to the above left) and his use of the dust and debris that can be found there to create his artwork…
…through to the literary, poetic exploration of such things in the aforementioned book by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts: Edgelands – Journeys Into England’s True Wilderness, wherein the authors collaborate and document their travels, personal memories and connections to these liminal landscapes, taking in along the way childhood dens, container ports, wastelands, ruins, mines and the endpoints for societies automobiles.
…and then onto the Edgeland/The Outer Edges film/music/photography project by Karl Hyde/Kieran Evans (from which most of the photographs on this page are taken) which is in many ways a psychogeographic wandering through what feel like semi-uncharted lands and lives which are overlooked, strewn with debris, a faded, battered beauty, nature and pylons…
…or the roots and origin of the word Edgeland’s via Marion Shoard’s moving, artful Edglands essay (the start of which is below, read the full essay here):
“Britain’s towns and cities do not usually sit cheek by jowl with its countryside, as we often casually assume. Between urban and rural stands a kind of landscape quite different from either. Often vast in area, though hardly noticed, it is characterised by rubbish tips and warehouses, superstores and derelict industrial plant, office parks and gypsy encampments, golf courses, allotments and fragmented, frequently scruffy, farmland. All these heterogeneous elements are arranged in an unruly and often apparently chaotic fashion against a background of unkempt wasteland frequently swathed in riotous growths of colourful plants, both native and exotic. This peculiar landscape is only the latest version of an interfacial rim that has always separated settlements from the countryside to a greater or lesser extent. In our own age, however, this zone has expanded vastly in area, complexity and singularity. Huge numbers of people now spend much of their time living, working or moving within or through it. Yet for most of us, most of the time, this mysterious no man’s land passes unnoticed: in our imaginations, as opposed to our actual lives, it barely exists.
When we think of the land of Britain we think of town and village, countryside and coast. Our image of Kent is still one of towns, wealden or coastal, neatly demarcated from downs, orchards and fields. When we think of Scotland we think of Edinburgh Castle and heather-clad hills. We are, of course, also well aware of the great conurbations. But not of the edgelands.
The apparently unplanned, certainly uncelebrated and largely incomprehensible territory where town and country meet rarely forms the setting for films, books or television shows. As we flash past its seemingly meaningless contours in train, car or bus we somehow fail to register it on our retinas.”
That has been relatively recently republished by Little Toller Books and you can view the faded introduction by him of the accompanying film here (the start of which couldn’t be more hauntological friendly if released as part of a Ghost Box Records project with title graphic design by Julian House… see image below).
That particular book was published in 1973, which considering the social/political/economic strife of the UK at that time makes its subject matter of plants and nature creeping and surving through broken concrete, covering bombsites, thriving in cities and the associated sense of neglect and collapse somehow appropriate.