Hauntology, Ghost Box, Paganism and British Folklore

22 Jan

An unusual post from me. But it’s something I feel I had to vent in to some sort of research based blog post. I often find myself falling endlessly into researching things I don’t even actually care that much about on the internet from the golden ratio found in the structure of the Amen Break to the true nature of DMT. Pointless I know. But one thing that always keeps playing on the back of my mind is the audio visual prowess of musicians such as Moon Wiring Club, Boards Of Canada, The Focus Group & Broadcast etc….

While not necessarily being linked in many ways, they all share a continuous deeply rooted vibe of English folklore and nostalgia. I can’t quite put my finger on how or why their harmonics (or inharmonics) trigger this sense of perception in me, or others for that matter. I know when listening to Geogaddi all that goes through my head is 1973’s The Wicker Man and obscure little villages embedded in the hilly countryside of Devon and Cornwall.

I often talk about the importance of british culture and urban lifestyles in modern day dance music. But this is a lot more deeply rooted than that. Despite only being 19, I can feel the sounds within these artists music taking me back to another place in time. Let’s take a look at The Focus Group first. Head of obscure record label Ghost Box Julian House aka The Focus Group is known for his mind melting psychadelic explorations into sound design. Creating what is quoted as being “pure nostalgic” music, welded together though bits and pieces of samples of old 1970’s TV shows, library sounds and public education video tapes shown in schools throughout the mid to late 1900’s and vintage electronics the BBC Radiophonic Workshop way. The Focus Group also recently worked with Warp act Broadcast on a mini album of half songs and sound collage oddities called “Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults Of The Radio Age”, a key album in what I’m trying to convey through this post. Musicians that really interest me are those that create a sound that is almost inseparable from location’s I’ve visited or those I haven’t but have a pre-determined knowledge of. While Burial creates a sound specified to inner city London, The Focus Group fills me with images of the Great British countryside in Autumn. Or even the psychadelic whirlwind of the UK in the summer of love in the 1960’s. Eitherway, the journey this music takes me on is enjoyable.

I’ll spare you my gushing love and respect for Boards Of Canada, If you don’t know who Boards Of Canada are you have probably been in Fritzl’s basement since birth. But I’ll say this. They are probably one of the most unique musicians to come out of electronic music and spawned a generation of copycats that can’t even touch their sound. But they have disappeared into obscurity since around 2009. Fingers crossed they make a comeback. They fit in with this post because similarly to The Focus Group, have a penchant for crafting sounds that spark an overwhelming sense of place in the countryside and a feeling of nostalgia. As well as their sound, Boards Of Canada are surrounded with so much superstition and curiosity that it adds to the feeling and haunting vibe of their sound. Based in a remote part of the Scottish countryside, rarely playing live shows and rumored to throw strange outdoor parties for themselves and the rest of their “Hexagon Sun Collective”, they are indeed an enigmatic pair. Fusing samples of 1970’s Boards Of Canada public notification videos, old television, dusty drum machines and analogue synths they create a sound so specific to themselves, they are irreplaceable.


Next up we have The Moon Wiring Club. It’s got to be said, I don’t know much about this guy, other than that he produces some extremely moving music and soundscapes. you can read a bit more about him here and listen to his mix on factmag. Similarly to the others, he produces a sound so specific to old England and creates the eerie nostalgic warmth of early explorations into electronic music through early analogue synthesis and tape experimentation.

“MWC is the alter ego of Ian Hodgson, and English eccentric in the grand tradition. Since 2007 he’s been delighting and occasionally confounding with his prolific output, graduating from hand-assembled CD-Rs to increasingly lavish vinyl and CD editions; his most recent full-length offering is the terrific Clutch It Like A Gonk.

Every Moon Wiring Club release tells a story, and each one is populated by characters from Clinksell, an imaginary community inspired by oneiric fragments of 1970s TV and VHS obscurities, the occult, steampunk, vaudeville, dated board games, weird children’s books and refracted memories of Peak District villages. Hodgson brings Clinksell to life through his own illustrations, which adorn every release and have become synonymous with the bewitching music contained within.”

– Fact Mag


But what category do we fit all this amazing music into? I wish it were as easy as to say it was just “Electronic Music”, but these days there is a name for everything, and to call it electronic music would be ignorant of what it really is, could you honestly categorize this stuff alongside Skrillex or Venetian Snares? I mean it is all electronic music after all?

Some people are calling it Hauntology. Relating back to some sort of philosophy inspired by Karl Marx, which I actually do not understand in the slightest. Hauntology does pretty much what it says on the tin. Eerie sounds that are not neccesarily what one would classify as music in it’s traditional sense, but capable plunging the brain into depths of feeling. I’ll spare explaining it myself. You can find a deeper explanation of this here.

And that is it. A rather constructive end to an otherwise pointless day of playing Worms: Armageddon and Tekken in my rather dull student house. Hope people read this and learn something

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One Response to “Hauntology, Ghost Box, Paganism and British Folklore”

  1. Mark Jackson January 23, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Looks like i have been Fritzeld. Never heard of any of these musicians, but enjoyed their dream scape sound. There is something vaguely familiar about the noise production, although, when i try to analyse them and attach a memory to them, it doesn’t seem possible, it becomes difficult to visualise the memory. However, if i just identify with the first feeling that comes to mind, it is reminiscent of, and predominantly an emotion – which manifests itself as a damp smelling 1970’s rainy afternoon coupled with the sense of hopeless despair, that your mum is still not back from the pub yet. Leaving me, a pyjamered little boy just wandering around, dying to be released from the tedium of a cold council prefab, with only a box of lego, a mini replica of a Rolls Royce ‘Silver Ghost’ and 3 ‘n’a half thousand marbles to keep him company. For me, the sounds are eerie and if you where to attach an existential meaning to them, they are almost the sounds of memories themselves.

    How strange that this Blog has made me think about memories and what potentially could be learnt from them. Not sure anything can be learnt from uncomfortable memories (like the above), as nothing positive can come from regressing back to a time when you felt vulnerable. However, reliving positive events in your life, when remembering euphoric memories, could certainly have some sort of therapeutic effect by recreating the feelings of well being experienced in the original event.

    Maybe this music should be know as retrospective regression or progressive relapse (that’s a contradiction).

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