Simon Reynolds sounds off about the music of hauntology
The Ghost Box artists have a "haunty" aspect in the sense that they're interested — in a simultaneously playful and serious way — in all kinds of pop culture to do with the supernatural and horror, from the Algernon Blackwood/Arthur Machen tales of cosmic horror, to the Hammer House of Horror movies, to Doctor Who, to ghost stories. Again, there's a nostalgic aspect in the sense that these things, first encountered as a child, have a profound effect. British children's TV had some really creepy and macabre stuff on it. In retrospect, you wonder, "What were they thinking broadcasting this stuff to under-10-year-olds?"
Ghost Box has fun with the cultural associations of all this stuff. There is a really pleasing clash of the campy and the genuinely disquieting in the way they handle it. It's not some goth/industrial scary thing, which I think is where people get confused — they put on the Ghost Box records and discover they're quite pleasant and enjoyable.
I like the main three Ghost Box groups very much — The Focus Group, Belbury Poly, and The Advisory Circle. And Roj made a cool album, The Transactional Dharma of Roj. The label's most fully realized, brilliant record is Advisory Circle's Other Channels. But in terms of individual peaks, I'd say certain tracks on Focus Group's Hey Let Loose Your Love and Belbury Poly's The Willows are among the most remarkable music of the past decade. For me they find this place between idyllic and eerie that just presses all my buttons, especially when you add the overall framework — the design and the concepts have this dry, poker-faced humor to them.
A similar vibe is going on in the records by Moon Wiring Club and Mordant Music, who are the other two central hauntologists for me. The Caretaker, a.k.a. Leyland James Kirby, has also done some really great stuff, but it's more amorphous and drone-y.
SFBG Inside and outside of a deployment of library music, does hauntology appeal to you more than "retrofuturism" as an idea and a practice?
SR They are similar, or they overlap. The Ghost Box guys and Mordant Music are into the whole nostalgia for the future trip. Part of the appeal of something like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is the futurism of it, the alien impact it had on impressionable ears, now inevitably filtered through a scrim of bygone charm and quaintness.
SFBG What future forms might hauntology take?
SR It may well be that every generation will come up with some kind of working-through of its recent past, the stuff that affected it most intensely as children. If you look at Ariel Pink and all the people he's influenced who've come through recently, it's bound up with a different memory-set: '80s pop, MTV, and radio.
Through Dec. 5
(Oct 29, 6-9pm "Hauntology at L@te Event with Interdisciplinary Intro Panel and musical performances Indignant Senility, Barn Owl, and Jim Haynes)
Berkeley Art Museum
2626 Bancroft Way, Berk.