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.
Day #157/365: The Dalesman’s Litany; a yearning for imaginative idylls and a counterpart to tales of hellish mills
Now, I’m wary of harking back to some imagined pre-industrialisation idyll; as one of those whose thoughts are recorded in the book Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village says, the old ways which were often quite harsh at the time can come to seem like pleasant ideas and past times as the years put a distance between now and then.
Having said which this song, as sung by Tim Hart and Maddy Prior and which takes as it’s subject matter a yearning for a return to pastoral idylls, has stuck with me.
(A reasonably well-known example of where such pastoral impulses can lead is the modern folkloric legend of Vashti Bunyan briefly living in the forest before travelling by horse-drawn caravan over a period of years to arrive at an island community where you’re drawn to the old ways of doing things, while the local inhabitants are busy modernising, moving away from the old stoves, technology and associated ways of life.
I suppose to a degree in the era, the later 1960s and earlier 1970s, when this song and its fellows were recorded, that idyllic olde england view, the use and reinterpretation of traditional folk music and lore were sometimes part of a more experimental, exploratory strand in music and culture – or as I’ve mentioned before and to once again quote Rob Young from his book Electric Eden, a tendency towards a form of imaginative time travel.
Over time such music and culture has become subsumed into a more twee, conservative, chocolate box take on folk/folkloric culture, where now it’s almost hard to disconnect it from such baggage and even taint.)
Anyway, back to the song. The Dalesman’s Litany is a tale of an agricultural worker who has to choose between a life on the land he loves and knows and a life with his beau, as he is forced from his home to work in towns, cities and mines because the local landowner doesn’t want married workers.
It’s a very evocative recording, in particular in the imagery it conjures of the tongues of fire thrust out by furnaces as the once dalesman walks the lanes of Sheffield at night and also in the way it imparts a sense of an aching yearn to return to the moor and leave the coalstacks.
In some ways it’s a more personal counterpart to William Blake’s Jerusalem and it’s words of dark satanic mills.
“It’s hard when folks can’t find the work where they’ve been bred and born
When I was young I always thought I’d bide ‘midst roots and corn
But I’ve been forced to work in town so here’s my litany
From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me
When I was courting Mary Jane, the old squire he says to me
I’ve got no rooms for wedded folk, choose whether to go or to stay
I could not give up the girl I loved, so to town I was forced to flee
From Hull and Halifax and Hell, good Lord deliver me
I’ve worked in Leeds and Huddersfied and I’ve earned some honest brass
In Bradford, Keighley, Rotherham I’ve kept my bairns and lass
I’ve travelled all three Ridings round and once I went to sea
From forges, mills and coaling boats, good Lord deliver me
I’ve walked at night through Sheffield lanes, ’twas just as being in hell
Where furnaces thrust out tongues of fire and roared like the wind on the fell
I’ve sammed up coals in Barnsley pits with muck up to my knee
From Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham, good Lord deliver me
I’ve seen fog creep across Leeds bridge as thick as the Bastille soup
I’ve lived where folks were stowed away like rabbits in a coop
I’ve seen snow float down Bradford Beck as black as ebony
From Hunslet, Holbeck, Wibsey Stack, good Lord deliver me
But now that all our children have gone, to the country we’ve come back
There’s forty mile of heathery moor ‘twixt us and the coalpits’ stack
And as I sit by the fire at night, I laugh and shout with glee
From Hull and Halifax and Hell the good Lord delivered me”
The song was originally found on the album Folk Songs of Olde England Voume 1 (or even more originally Folk Songs of Old England) and can be found more easily nowadays on the Heydays compilation or listened to here.
Every so often I come across/stumble across/am pointed towards a song on my A Year In The Country travels that genuinely blows me away, that I feel brings something new to the world of what could be loosely called folk music.
Thee Betrothal of Alizon Device by Drcarlsonalbion And The Hackney Lass is one of those moments.
Blimey, what a song.
In these digital pages I don’t tend to explore the more pagan, witchy, demonic/supernatural* or horror aspects of otherly pastoralism all that much: when I do I’m more drawn to them because of the aesthetics, cultural connections and so on than their shock and well, horror.
But for Thee Betrothal of Alizon Device I shall make a definite exception.
It’s an entrancing, chilling, beautiful song. It takes the tropes and traditions of folk and folklore and journeys to somewhere… well modern. But still keeping the spirit of its source.
In a way it reminds me of how somebody like Josh T. Pearson has reinterpreted dusty Americana in his own image.
Unless you have a fair few pennies spare then a-listening to it in the electronic ether may well be your only option, something that I’m doing as I type. It can be found nestling at the start of Lancashire Folklore Tapes Vol. 1 here.
*When I think of the word occult I tend to think more of its use to infer hidden stories, history and knowledge than a particular kind of rituals in the woods: in that sense something like David Peace’s GB84 has been, can be (should be?) referred to as an occult history of the mid-1980s British miner’s strike; it delves into the untold, secluded corners of history, beneath the top-layers of official, well-known and accepted narratives and tries to offer an alternative or indeed otherly view of such things.
To my mind and ear, the explorations of arcane folklore carried out via the Drcarlsonalbion project are nearer to that sense or root of the word occult.
And with that I may well set off exploring this particular set of explorations further and return later to this place with my findings…
Now, Hand of Stabs are a curious and intriguing proposition, trio and well, phenomena.
In their own words:
“Hand of Stabs, from the South East of England, are a three-man collective who’s work draws inspiration from their exploration of local, often forbidden, landmarks. They create improvised sound pieces which can be simultaneously uplifting, difficult and intense using both traditional and homebuilt instruments.
Sharing a love of the history and sacred past of Medway Towns and surrounding countryside, and inspired by regular, often night-time walks through these spaces, they are creating a series of soundworks evoking and celebrating their essence.”
Their recorded music is resolutely experimental but also very listenable-to, it is both warm and unsettling and although often created in part with resolutely non-electronic equipment, it makes me think of electronica played on and summoned from the land and soil.
Also, when I think of Hand of Stabs I’m reminded of the likes of COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle, maybe a touch of Einstürzende Neubauten and even Herman Nitsch. There seems to be some kind of line or continuum from such cultural explorers and boundaries pushers to these gents but HoS have replaced forms of aggressive transgression with something more pastoral in its themes, while still creating work very far the centre of things and which delves in the hidden.
They often describe their work as Aktions and much of it exists only as a performance in a very particular time and space, often occurring in the green spaces and woodlands of this fair land. I find that somewhat refreshing in these days of zeros and ones where every single utterance and performance is recorded and pinned for posterity.
To intrigue the imagination, here are some of the themes and the ornithological soundtrack from one of their recent performances:
“…the demise of Beowulf, Medway estuarine piracy and fresh-water mermaids – with an awe-inspiring accompaniment from the cuckoos, nightingales, rooks, marsh harriers and herons of Northward Hill RSPB Reserve…”
While earlier in the year they collaborated on a performance, with dance accompaniment, based around a piano which was left in the woods for a year and played at the same time once a month, exploring and making use of it’s changing state.
Well, if that doesn’t capture the attention of ones curiousity, I’m not quite sure what will.
They cut a very particular dash to. Nice jib chaps. Always appreciated around these parts.
(Above photograph by Kevin Geraghty-Shewan.)
Day #154/365: Artifact #22; Portals and Pathways #2 badge, fridge magnet, keyring & makeup mirror set
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Now, I know there’s been an awful lot written about Berberian Sound Studio and it has been heaped with many a selection of praise but to be honest… well, the first time I watched it in the escape and darkness of a once celluloid emporium, I enjoyed it for about 45 minutes but then… well, I just became restless and it felt like a conceit that had gone on too long.
But still I was quite excited and intrigued by it as a piece of culture, the surrounding cultural connections and so forth.
So I bought it on shiny high pixel count disc the first day it came out for home perusing and watched it in wide-screen glory.
And the same thing happened. After about 45 minutes it lost me.
Move forward to approximately a year and a half later and for a third time I watched it again. This time on a tiny (for these days) non-widescreen television screen, briefly interrupted by adverts throughout, in the hours after midnight, having been up until the wee hours the night before taking photographs…
And this time it got me and drew me in. Maybe it helped because I was able to share it and its cultural connections with an also somewhat tired companion. I’m not sure.
And boy oh boy does this have some cultural connections. It’s hardly a hop, skip and jump before you wander into an unsettling pastoralism, lost celluloid, Ghost Box Records, the design of Julian House, the music of Broadcast, discarded recording mechanisms, past genre films within films…
In part I think what drew me in this time was the visual imagery, experimentation and atmosphere of the film.
In that and a wider sense it may not have the ragged energy that something like Videodrome does (with which it shares a number of similar themes – the stepping into an altered reality via recorded media, the degradation of its listeners/watchers/participants and so forth); it’s still quite a slick and polished presentation but it’s good to see a contemporary film which plays with presentation and form.
So many leftfield/independent/mainstream films are actually very conservative in their use of imagery, a shame in a cultural form which should be able to lend itself to flights of visual fantasy, ones that aren’t merely rooted in an attempt to provide ever more technical drawing accurate attempts at digital simulacra realism.
So, anyway, I don’t intend for this to be a review, more a few points of interest or questions accompanied by a bakers (devils) dozen of images from and around the film:
1) Julian House’s (Ghostbox Records/Intro/Focus Group) film within a film intro sequence. Lovely stuff (well, in an unsettling way), I can hear the score as I type.
2) The studio manager (?) looks as though he has genuinely fallen from a 1970s Italian giallo film. His presence, physiognomy and physicality are just right.
3) I love soaking in the tape boxes, edit sheets etc, knowing that Mr House designed them all… and the ferrous technology, its physical form and noises become such an intrinsic part of this story and it’s world.
4) Where was Toby Jones characters bedroom before it becomes adjacent to the studio?
5) Favourite part: where the film breaks through into the English countryside. A brief break into and relief via greenery and daylight, in contrast to the corridor, studio, bedroom, and night-time courtyard where the remainder of the film is set.
6) It’s a genuinely saddening film due to this being the last (?) piece of work that Trish Keenan of Broadcast worked on. It’s hard to shake that sense when watching the film. Hard not to wander what other fine pieces of work she would have brought into the world. A tip of the hat to you Ms Keenan.
Oh and the plot/setting… Well, basically a gentle, garden shed based British sound effects expert travels to Italy to work on a disturbing horror film and once he’s there life and art implode and fall into one another, his sanity possibly crumbles and he becomes increasingly part of/implicit in a culture and celluloid of misogyny which is masked/masquerading as art.
It is set in 1976 and in many ways is an homage to (comment on?) that period’s giallo genre (essentially stylish/artistic/left-of-centre gore/slasher films).
Watch The Equestrian Vortex trailer here (and then if you’re like me, watch it again a few more times and want to see the whole of this film within a film).