File under: Trails and Influences: Touchstones. Case #29/52.
A bit more than a couple of twirls round the sun ago there was a fine sort of interview by Rob Young (Electric Eden) with Misters Jim Jupp and Julian House of Ghost Box Records in Wire magazine.
I say sort of as actually it was one in a series of regular features called Invisible Jukebox where musicians and the like are played a set of pieces of music without being told what they are, asked if they know what each is and then that tends to be a starting point for various topics of conversation.
This article in particular has grabbed my imagination as it seemed to become a space that explored, expressed and encapsulated the Ghost Box world, ethos, inspirations, reasonings and so forth.
So with that we have:
1) Rob Young: (on Ghost Box Records) “...a boutique record label for a small group of artists who find inspiration in folklore, vintage electronics, Library music and haunted television soundtracks. The packaging and musical aesthetics evoke, and subtly mutate, aspects of British culture between the late 1950s and late 70s, alluding to uncanny forces underlying the era’s utopian social planning and education policies.”
2) Rob Young: “Do you think the sinister edge of your own recordings attempt to compensate for a lack of dread in modern pop?”
Jim Jupp: “I think so – it harks back to the Cold War thing… that kind of sci-fi dystopia, which probably nothing to do with social, political and environmental disasters and more to do with sci-fi scenarios.”
4) Jim Jupp: “One of the ways I use samples is to reconstruct songs, or to create songs that weren’t there.”
5) Jim Jupp: (on Boards of Canada and Position Normal); “They were very different things, but triggered the idea of memory in a kind of very un-obvious, non-nostalgic way. I still don’t think what we do, or what they do, is nostalgic. It triggers things. But it’s more like some kind of weird, unconscious therapy session… some kind of weird regression thing that actually goes back to little nooks and crannies you weren’t aware of and makes connections.”
6) Julian House: “There are things that are very impure, and I’ve never minded that sense of artifice in music. Like you say, there is something strange and folky and ancient but actually it’s manufactured by certain generations. A lot of what we receive is actually someone else’s memory and interpretation of the ancient past.”
7) Julian House: “We think about Ghost Box as a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult. And it’s often in those strange things, like the interstitial images in Hammer films, or the ‘day for night’ blue filter that was used to films those scenes in [films like] Plague Of The Zombies, it all has a power…”
8) Jim Jupp: “We often get asked about ghosts and the occult, but the ghosts in Ghost Box have more to do with memories and TV screens than real ghosts.”
9) Julian House: (continuing from the previous point); “It’s a place where television memory and the supernatural meet.”
Jim Jupp: “…we’re not really about a real occult idea, but Ghost Box explores a world which is more about the uncanny rather than the occult. It’s more about fictional spaces and meta-fiction spaces in your head which have a reality, but there’s not necessarily a ritual to access them, so it’s accessed through fiction or music. That’s how we work on that world, with those things, rather than dressing up and robes and incense.”
11) Rob Young: (On the period of 1958-1978 that Ghost Box often draws from); “Why that 1978 cut-off date?”
Julian House: “The landscape changed. The post-war sensibility – that essentially left-leaning utopian sensibility that created things like the Radiophonic Workshop – was chopped off at that point.”
12) Julian House: “What you do through exploring strange avenues of memory and old media, is you hold a mirror up to something; you’re not commenting on it.”
Sometimes you read something and it coheres a set of thoughts you’ve been having and considering. It may not necessarily directly discuss those ideas but somehow it brings strands of though together for you…
That was the case around identifying and defining certain characteristics of what has become known as hauntological culture when I read Mark Fisher’s Ghosts Of My Life (see Day #163/365), also via the thoughts and writings of Rob Young the differences between pop/folk culture and the way that folk/hauntological culture have been used forms of imaginative travel/transportation (see Days #4/365, #40/365 and #190/365).
This happened to a degree with this piece of writing; it brought together some thoughts and considerations I’d had of media transmissions and their use in serving a not dissimilar purpose to those which in the past magic and/or folkloric rituals may have done.
I’m not dismissive of either, though I am a child of an age of electronic communications rather than of magic in the traditional sense. I’ve tended to think of certain pieces/sections of culture as possessing a form of magic or casting a spell in a way but not in a way that those older terms need to be used, it’s just that they have a transportative element to them; they can create a world to step into or that draws you in.
The terms and rituals of magic, spells etc are phrases/ideas from a previous eras operating system and that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be of use but they have become marginal (and dare I say maybe a little inefficient). Although they have gained a certain exotic, otherly, touch of the forbidden currency as the years have gone by and that marginalisation by newer techniques has occurred.
As I was saying, some creative work can be transportative, encapturing, revealing and exploring hidden meaning and layers in the way that I think was the intention with some older ways and rituals; or to return to the Ghost Box chaps earlier words “a strange interzone between pop culture and what is nudging the idea of the occult”.
If you should look up the definition and roots of the word occult and alongside the more ritualistic view you may also find “communicated only to the initiated, esoteric” and it’s origins come from words that meant conceal, to hide… which are concepts which could well be applied to worlds such as those created by the likes of Ghost Box Records, it’s language and slightly hidden away from/separate to the mainstream/often scarce or limited edition artifacts.
And there is something ritualistic about sitting quietly in a darkened room, alone or with others, to be transported by the flickering ghosts of (once) cathode ray or (once) flickering celluloid stories or the act of placing the emblem of a particular culture on a turntable or into its tray and letting the sounds transport or wash over you. It’s a continuum really in some ways rather than an either/or, new/old ways, rituals/transmissions.
In a more secular society we have turned to other things and ways to express our beliefs and in which to put them. Bill Drummond says in his book The 17 that those who need a lot of music today are quite possibly people who needed a lot religion in the past. There may well be something in that. Modern day methods to achieve similar results as the old ways? The symbols, rituals, representations and vessels of our interests, hopes, transportations, beliefs and faiths have changed but there may well something of the sacrament in them still.
Anyway, this is a fine, fine piece of journalism and discussion. The above quotes are but a snippet and I would highly recommend seeking it out the whole piece. You can do so in physical artifact form here, here and here or if shelf-space is restricted then you can do so via the ether here.
Various pathways around these parts on the way to Belbury Parish:
Ornithological Intrigueries. Signal and Signposts. Tales Of Geographic Peace (featuring a further interface between Mr Young and Mr Jupp). The Parish Circular.