Music Experiments with Terror
Guest writer JOSEPH STANNARD takes a look at the increasingly haunted quality of modern experimental music in the UK.
Over the past few years, it has become apparent that there is a weird current coursing through a great deal of modern music. Explicitly or otherwise, artists have been evoking the uncanny and ghostly in their work, producing sounds with the capacity to inspire a sense of creeping unease. The influence of Arthur Machen, William Hope Hodgson, Nigel Kneale and Delia Derbyshire has been noted, while some have used French philosopher Jacques Derrida’s term ‘hauntology’ to describe the manner in which these artists locate the past within the present. This isn’t to suggest that they belong to any kind of scene; what they share is their location on the threshold between magic and science, truth and fiction. As a music journalist, I have written extensively about this area of music; I have also established an event in Brighton called The Outer Church where several of these artists have performed live. Here, for your delectation, are seven notable examples of haunted audio.
Broadcast And The Focus Group
Witch Cults Of The Radio Age (Warp)
Inspired in part by the 1968 occult shocker Curse Of The Crimson Altar (a British film loosely adapted from HP Lovecraft’s The Dreams In The Witch House) this collaboration between Broadcast’s James Cargill and Trish Keenan (sadly no longer with us) and The Focus Group aka Ghost Box co-founder Julian House is a gloriously disorientating example of modern psychedelia, fusing songcraft and Radiophonics to haunting and seductive effect. Check them out here.
Drawing on the Cornish folklore of his youth, the endlessly creative Kemper Norton now resides in Brighton, where he toils away at a body of work which incorporates electronic and acoustic instruments. Norton’s “slurtronic folk” frequently conjures images of desolate moors and deserted villages haunted by capricious entities such as buccas, knockers and piskies, occasionally hinting at dark, bacchanalian rites taking place just over the tree line. Check them out here.
The Creep (Important)
An eerie, droning tribute to some gnarled pre-Christian deity, the 2005 debut album from the synth/guitar duo of Holy McGrail and Howard ‘Iron Man’ Marsden is steeped in rural psychedelia and pagan mystery – listen, and you can almost feel the twisted limbs reaching up to drag you into the bosom of the earth. Equally worthy of investigation is Slomo’s second album The Bog, which features a spoken contribution from the Modern Antiquarian himself, Julian Cope. Check them out here.
London Transmissions (Tuesdays Music)
With their crepuscular guitar figures and spectral keyboard melodies, this shady outfit contrive an atmosphere of subterranean urban dread akin to that of Gary Sherman’s 1973 tube horror classic Death Line and its 2004 successor, Christopher Smith’s Creep. The CD release comes complete with a DVD of seven short films including the disturbing gyno-horror mini-epic Spider Baby, Baby. Check them out here.
Black Mountain Transmitter
The Black Goat Of The Woods (Aurora Borealis)
By day, Belfast’s James R Moore is a talented and accomplished artist and graphic designer. By night, he dons the BMT mantle and conjures up such darkside sonics as this continuous 40-minute composition. Drawing on 70s horror soundtrack pioneers from Goblin and Fabio Frizzi to Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter, Moore crafts an eldritch, arboreal atmosphere, more than justifying the title’s reference to Lovecraft. Check them out here.
Pye Corner Audio
Black Mill Tapes Vols 1-3 (Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services)
Overseen by the mysterious Head Technician, this Kent-based project is devoted to the restoration and release of a series of found tape reels containing electronic music of an peculiarly unsettling, otherworldly nature – along with other, less explicable, sounds. “I edited out the worst of the strange disturbances,” claims the Head Technician. “Several remain, however.” Check them out here.
Ouroborindra (Ghost Box)
The darkest missive to crawl forth from Ghost Box’s fictional village of Belbury, Ouroborindra takes the terrifying weird fiction of Machen and Lovecraft as its inspiration, its murky drones and nerve-jangling chimes exuding inhuman menace and cosmic threat. Released in 2005, the album has yet to receive a follow-up. Perhaps Zann now resides in another realm altogether. Check them out here.
Check out JOSEPH STANNARD’S The Outer Church blog here.