Such is the appetite for real radiophonic inspired recordings that recent reissues have become an industry in themselves, with the now rightly celebrated and previously underrated greats of British electronic experimentation, like Delia Derbyshire, Daphne Oram and John Baker, the subject of lavish and brilliantly documented packages. We’re now celebrating an era of British electronic innovation that was both as mainstream as Doctor Who and as underground as anything else in the world in its field.
These rediscovered artists have in turn inspired a new generation of new electronic innovators mixing up a skewed take on their folk history, with wonky forward looking electronics. Check out the intriguing and occasionally certifiable Moon Wiring Club, the bonkers Bee Mask, the post Detroit utopianism of Lone, electro maverick Keith Fullerton Whitman and his reissue programme of obscure electronic curiosities on the Creel Pone label, as well as a whole host of post dubstep purveyors haunted by the city bound, post rave resonances of that other hauntologist’s dream, Burial.
Hot on the heels of all that – innovators both contemporary and recently rediscovered – comes a relatively recent hauntological variant: the faked reissue. Like early hip hop practices with blacked out on body labels and relentless crate digging for the rarest samples, this seems to come from a similar but appropriately skewed place. Inspired perhaps in part by ambitious and rightly applauded reissue programmes such as that of the indefatigable Johnny Trunk at Trunk Records, some of the more canny travellers on the hauntological journey have sought to introduce us to ever more obscure rarities, off the radar since they were recorded, and only now being brought to light. Crate digging of the most blue chip kind you may think, but in this world of information overload, not all is as it seems.
As with the Radiophonic type reissues, context is all here, and like all good subgenres this one has a growing history. You could say it all started with the much-vaunted rediscovery of obscure 70s electronic disco innovators Black Devil Disco Club in 2004, with a Luke Vibert backed release on Lo Records. With a great back story about an obscure 7” single, purchased at a local Boot Fair, and the subsequent rediscovery of a forgotten 70s library music innovator’s excursions into electro disco, it was a leftfield fan’s trip to heaven. That it is rumoured to be the work of electronic maverick Luke Vibert and other label mates doesn’t diminish the fact that many bought the record as a testament to its status as an artefact of a lost time – a re-contextualisation of present innovations through the recently forgotten past.
There are more recent and arguably even more elaborate rumoured hoaxes. There is the case of Ursula Bogner, the intriguingly named German housefrau, and her lost electronic innovations recorded between 1968 and 1988 – which could be seen as a clever attempt to capitalise on the recent celebration of the doyennes of the BBC Radiophonic workshop, with a correspondingly fantastical and intriguing backstory. And then there is Jurgen Muller’s Science of the Sea – a beautifully packaged reissue of a private press of the electronic compositions of a reclusive German scientist in the late 1970s, which surfaced in summer 2011.
Line this up with other documented ‘real’ rediscovery stories, such as Trunk’s promotion of the forgotten library music composer Basil Kirchin, their reissue of the forgotten music to the 1979 BBC TV series Life on Earth by Edward Williams, and their repress of ‘lost’ jazz classics by the Michael Garrick Trio, and you enter a hauntological hemisphere with legitimate re-issues vying for space with fake histories and electronic re-imaginings in a heady whirl of fascination for the obscure, the odd, and the outsider. The fact that some of the above were most likely elaborate PR hoaxes and rumoured to be the work of producer/label owners eager to provide the market with fresh mythology, perhaps still does not diminish their current significance if we see them in the appropriate context. In all cases it is the familiar hauntological subtext that once again proves seductive – the one that speaks of music’s redolent of the whiff of abandoned spaces, decaying architecture and shifted perspectives. The one that taps in most crucially to the idea that each of these remounted pieces of history or fragmentary cultural moments, fake or otherwise, must have a compelling narrative of some kind, one that can help us try to understand a rapidly unfolding and sometimes confusing digital future.
As cultural commentator K Punk – aka academic Mark Fisher – has recently stated in a discussion about the Ghost Box label: “Ghost Box releases conjure a sense of artificial déja vu, where you are duped into thinking that what you are hearing has its origin somewhere in the late 60s or early 70s. Not false, but simulated, memory. The spectres in Ghost Box’s hauntology are the lost contexts which, we imagine, must have prompted the sounds we are hearing; lost programmes, uncommissioned series, pilots that were never followed up … this is sound which offers itself as a series of part-objects, supplements, a collector’s kit for a collection that can never be complete.”
Perhaps it could be argued that what hauntological or hauntologically inspired works do is attract specific attention to the cultural moments that establish their context, whether fake, imaginary or re-contextualised, bringing us into greater proximity to the particular circumstances of their production, further drawing attention to the work’s contextual layers and thus its status as a resonating artwork.
Hauntology, conscious or unconscious, doesn’t just replay the past, it is a function of a desire to understand the issues and problems of the present – or as BOC might have it – the issue of ‘the present inside the past’. It is also a function of the recurring problem of the archive – the incomplete and impossible ordering of the past that informs our notions of both the present and the future.
Furthermore such works draw closer attention to the role of received memory, as well as to the myriad functions of cultural re-contextualisation. More than ever the world wide web gives us access at great speed and in incredible detail to the minutiae of cultural reflection like no other medium ever has before. The past can be endlessly re-played and re-analysed with no escape from the constant re-contextualisation of that history.
Leftfield musical culture is littered with these kinds of fragments, a history written around the specific histories of the loners, the outsiders, and the misunderstood responsible for a never ending archive of ‘lost’ masterpieces. The linking factor to their appeal is often their apparent ambivalence to commercial concerns. This is not the same mechanism as the discovery of a long lost rehearsal tape by a rock band that has since gone on to legendary status. These are satisfyingly fleeting snapshots of moments from an impossibly well-documented cultural history, where no stone can be seen to be left unturned in the blogging culture. It springs from a celebration of the outsider and the leftfield, and is a function of a hauntological impulse to challenge the impossibility of the archive, to summon up remnants, re-process fragments of stories that don’t necessarily join the dots or fit a coherent narrative, but instead mark out the oddness and otherness of a lost time re-projected, that it may help us to imagine a fast unfolding future.
(You can read Part 1 of this feature here: Hauntology made Flesh Part 1)
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Advisory Circle – Other Channels; As the Crow Flies
The Focus Group – We are all Pan’s People
Belbury Poly – The Willows; From an Ancient Star
Moon Wiring Club – Spare Tabby at the Cats Wedding; Somewhere a Fox is Getting Married; Clutch it Like a Gonk
Bee Mask – Canzoni Dal Laboratorio Del Silenzio Cosmico
Lone – Everything is Changing Colour; Lemurian; Ecstasy and Friends; Emerald Fantasy tracks
Keith Fullerton Whitman and the Creel Pone reissue label:
Too many to list – dip in
Burial – Burial; Untrue
Black Devil Disco Club – Disco Club EP
Ursula Bogner – Recordings 1968-1988
Jurgen Muller – Science of the Sea
Basil Kerchin – Abstractions of the Industrial North
Edward Williams – Life on Earth
Michael Garrick Trio – Moonscape
Oneohtrix Point Never – Rifts; Returnal; Replica
Kona Triangle – Sing a new Sapling into Existence
Letherette – Letherette EP
Keaver and Brause – The Middle Way
Mount Kimbie – Crooks and Lovers
Jay Bharadia – The Yeticave