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Burial’s Tunes 2011-2019 and Spectres of Spectres Awash in a Landscape of Static: Wanderings 17/52

Burial is the recording alias of William Emmanuel Bevan, who has been releasing music since 2005, initially anonymously until his identity was revealed in 2008, although he has remained reclusive, giving few interviews and avoiding public appearances.

While Burial’s eponymous debut album released in 2006 and the 2007 follow up Untrue could be considered a spectral take on electronic dance music, they still retain a discernible and reasonably easily recognisable sense of drawing fairly directly from dance music such as garage and jungle. However much of the work on his compilation album Tunes 2011-2019 (2019), which collects together work from a number of singles and EPs he has released on Hyperdub, sounds more akin to the spectres of spectres of dance music, a far off faded fever dream of it.

The music on Tunes 2011-2019 could be considered to create and represent an alternative view or version of hauntology, one which may only subconsciously, coincidentally or even accidentally connect with or be informed by the themes and characteristics of hauntology such as a melancholia, yearning or nostalgia for lost futures, the reimagining and misremembering of past cultural forms and the use of the audio flaws of older physical media to create a sense of time out of joint and edge memories of previous eras.

If you could leave digital files of electronic dance music buried in the earth for a decade or two and they slowly rotted and deteriorated here and there, as photographic film can, then when they were unearthed they might sound like sections of Tunes 2011-2019. But only if the music somehow contained dreams and memories not so much of nights lost in the euphoria of clubland but rather created an atmosphere that invokes a sense of roaming the streets and late night garage shops of a city that you know but can no longer remember the name of, looking for some way out, something you could never find, that you never knew but hoped and longed for.

The tracks on Tunes 2011-2019, as with much of Burial’s work, are full of the imperfections, crackle, drop outs etc of physical recording mediums, and on the album’s track “Nightmarket” the listener is taken on a journey through a fractured audio landscape where melodies and elements of more traditional song forms offer a false sense of security, expectancy and normality before it all not so much fades away but at times just suddenly drops away below you and leaves you awash in a landscape of static. It is both brutally urban and softly dreamlike, and there’s a John Carpenter meets Blade Runner atmosphere at times as voices infrequently intone “Come with me”, “The frontier” and “I’m here”, which seem like seductive invitations that are more siren call than rave siren.

Interconnected with what writer and academic Mark Fisher called the conjuring of “audio-spectres out of crackle” in relation to the work of Burial, Tricky and Pole, Burial and Boards of Canada could be considered to represent two flip sides or undercurrents of spectral or hauntological audio; distantly related publicity shy urban/rural cousins. (Footnote 3) Both use older analogue media’s flaws to conjure a hazily distant “past inside the present” and almost hallucinatory atmosphere, although Burial’s perhaps has a more submerged and less overt or conscious philosophical underpinning. Rather Burial’s work on Tunes 2011-2019 contains a more instinctive seeming creation of its spectres, which could be seen as interconnecting with the spectres of the primal release and escape of dance music, culture and events which can be found in his music.

Returning to conjuring “audio-spectres out of crackle”, below is the section of the article which that quote is taken from: Mark Fisher’s “London After the Rave: Burial” article, which was originally published on his k-punk website in 2006 and republished in his 2013 book Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures. (Footnote 4) The book was one of the first, if not the first, to focus on and extensively explore hauntology as a cultural form and in it Fisher wrote passionately and evocatively about Burial’s work, alongside interviewing him:

“[Burial’s debut album could be considered] a collection of the ‘dreamed songs’ Ian Penman imagined in his epochal piece on Tricky’s [debut album] Maxinquaye. Maxinquaye would be a reference point here, as would Pole – like both these artists, Burial conjures audio-spectres out of crackle, foregrounding rather than repressing sound’s accidental materialities. Tricky and Poles ‘crackology’ was a further development of dub’s materialist sorcery in which [as written by Penman] ‘the seam of its recording was turned inside out for us to hear and exult in’… But rather than the hydrophonic heat of Tricky’s Bristol or the dank cavern’s of Pole’s Berlin, Burial’s sound evokes what the press release calls a ‘near future South London underwater. You can never tell if the crackle is the burning static off pirate radio, or the tropical downpour of the submerged  city out of the window.'”



Elsewhere at A Year In The Country:


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