18 January 2006


Ermm...well it's about this, and this...this too, of course. And now it's inspired this thread at Dissensus. It appears to be a loose genre that seems to have been spontaneously invented by the blogosphere group mind. But it was always there, of course...bubbling away under the surface.

When I was a small child, my parents often did what parents still do today: use the television as a babysitter whilst they got on with more important things like doing the laundry, preparing dinner, or chatting with their friends on the phone. I do it with my own kids too sometimes. Of course, these days you can make sure that your children are watching something appropriate, either from one of the specialist kiddies' channels on cable, or a video, dvd, etc. But back in the early '70s, a child could be left alone in a room with just three channels...and about 50% of the things those channels broadcast were fucking strange. The recent interest in testcards must come from some buried childhood experience of being alone with one of those things staring at you across the room, with their funny, creepy little muzak jingles playing inanely in the background, or worse, the terrifying test signal electronic drone. When the channels actually bothered to show any programs, the results could be even weirder. A lot of that must've been down to the incidental music used. Whether queer little folky guitar melodies or random blasts of electronic oscillator chatter, the 'heads' in charge of composing and selecting the music that was beamed into our little minds were obviously on a mission to creep us out and scar us emotionally for life. My kids aren't scared of anything on the telly. I was scared witless on a regular basis.

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop are of course the benchmark by which all such hauntalogical activity must be measured. I wrote a piece on their Dr. Who work back in 2004, which sort of hinted at what I'm trying to express here. But there were many other obscure characters creating strange themes and jingles for media use. Their work would be compiled onto vinyl records and distributed only to television and radio production houses, where they would be put to use on a variety of projects. We call these vinyl albums 'Library Records'. I used to collect them years ago, but the collector's market has since pushed prices up prohibitively. Here's one that, on side A at least, generates massive waves of hauntological sensation in me...


electronia label"Electronia" is library music composed by W. Merrick Farran & Edgar M. Vetter, released in 1972 through Joseph Weiberger Ltd, London W1P. The main sounds came from 'Multi-Layered Synthesizer', with additional sound sources from coiled springs, bells, magnetic film, tape loops and...the human heart. It's exactly the sort of warped electronic doodles that used to soundtrack documentaries and children's sci-fi programs back in the day. Whether I actually heard any of these specific pieces as a child is unknown...who knows to what evil intent they were used? But whenever I listen to this record, the sensations are just like those eerie moments of solitude as a child on a wet Tuesday afternoon, alone in the living room...with the television. Haunting...


"fierce heartbeat with sudden sting followed by double heartbeat to climax and slow-down"


More 'haunting' speculation from Blissblog and K-Punk (who's best writing always seems to spooked-out, anyway). Although mainly guided by track titles, it's interesting that Simon includes Kode 9's "Ghost Town" in his 'web of ghosts'. I hear traces of hauntology in all the best dubstep, from Loefah, Vex'd...even some of the latest tracks from Moving Ninja. They're all quite a bit younger than me and in different locations, so couldn't possibly be tinted by the exact same early stimuli, yet there must be some basic shared experience that makes the connection. But if there's one dubstep release that comes closest to bottling the hauntological zeitgeist, it's must be Burial's "South London Burroughs" EP on Hyperdub. From the moment I first heard it I could tell there was something special about this release, bathed in a spectral fog of blurred sound fragments that evoke sensations that can never truly be grasped or understood. Still very little is known about Burial, although tellingly his contribution to Blackdown's 'End of Year review' was one of the most pungently evocative of the series.

Returning to Simon's list, and also the tracklist for K-Punk's mixtape, another thought struck me. The thing is, whilst reading Simon's post-punk book, I was compiling tracks from that period for possible blog use in a special folder on my hardrive. I thought I was basing my selections on my own 'guttertech' ideology, but looking through the contents of the folder now, it seems that I may have been subliminally guided by the forces of hauntology. Take this one, for example:


I've been interested in the San Fransico industrial scene for a long time now, although didn't actually get to hear anything by Factrix until quite recently with the release of their "Artifact" anthology in 2003. Naturally it was Simon's Village Voice review that first alerted me to it's existence. It's a great introduction to their work overall, but I felt compelled to select "Phantom Pain" cos it was on some whole deeper level. They got the drum machine to sound like that by recording it onto tape and then slowing the tape down to create that murky, subterranean quality.


Interesting that Mark and I both zoned in on this one, recorded by an earlier incarnation of The Human League when Adi Newton was still a member. One thing this track proves is that the music doesn't necessarily need to sound superficially haunting to class as Hauntology. It's actually quite a jaunty little tune, but it's the ability to tunnel through to buried experience that is the key - in this case the radiophonic TV doodles that I described in the previous post. Derive whatever meaning you like from the lyrics - they were assembled cut-up style using the CARLOS computer program! Although unreleased at the time, "Blank Clocks" is now available on the excellent "Golden Hour Of The Future" anthology.

Thought I'd finish by adding something fresh to the pot. Although I've practically hung-up my production boots now, I spent the best part of 15 years dabbling along my own creative musical path. During that time I flirted with many different styles, but there was one particular approach that's been there since the earliest days, something that I would keep returning to at regular intervals. Depending on when they were recorded, I might've referred to these pieces as 'dark ambient' or maybe 'isolationist'. But perhaps it was an unconscious attempt to become submerged in hauntological experience. The music was almost always created using analogue equipment, usually performed 'live' onto multitrack tape without any form of sampling/sequencing. Here's one from about five years ago...


Does it fit the genre? Dunno. Must admit I haven't actually heard any of this Ghost Box/Ariel Pink stuff that they're all raving about. Must check it out!