Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hauntology for a De-New America!

The rise of the retro-analog synth soundtrack in recent horror and science fiction films--both in and out of the mainstream--has brought us into a weird wondrous future alternate reality where perhaps, ideally, orchestral scores will stop. Maybe it's a question of age -- if you were an impressionable American or British child in 70s--grown up on film strips and 16mm bus accident third grade classroom shocks; whooshing PBS UFO documentaries and sci-fi trips like LATHE OF HEAVEN; Carpenter and Goblin electronic scores in cinemas and TV spots-then the sounds of yesterday's vision for the horror future, are now like the mystery of death and eternity tied into some deeper-than-nostalgic tugging, like a rope you're following through the Thing whiteout Arctic storm.

The rope itself is just white noise. It's where it leads you. You may not get there, but you 'get' there's no 'there' to get to, and that's better than a single 'there' ever could be.

random painting from Night Gallery
That said, even in the whiteout there are so many tangled and crossed guide ropes you could get lost right quick without the right guide. Pay me five teen dolor and I'll take you to see Simon Reynolds, Mark Fisher, and Ghost Box, all enthralled by the same thing, as I am, this moment of clarity when we finally remember that we've forgotten the present. We finally 'feel' that nostalgia and the endless proliferation of media have made the present impossible. In the face of so much immediate, accessible past, the 'now' dries up like a lake spread out along a desert flatland the width of a galaxy. Much of our 'leisure time' is now spent either shopping for or cueing up the next experience of the past (the next movie, book, track). The rest of the time were immersed in these past haunted worlds, now curated by ourselves; we've become our own channels' sole programmers. It's great. All we've lost is loss of choice as a chance to expand our horizons:

If you need a working definition of hauntology, here Reynolds rounds up some writers who best sum up the hauntology sound, he starts out with Matthew Ingram at The Wire ("memory is a theoretical portal to the phantasmal kingdom, not a trivial exercise in retro stylistics" and ends up with Dickens and then W.S. Merwin ("Tell me what you see vanishing and I / Will tell you who you are") and it all makes frickin' beautiful eloquent sense.

As I've said (but forgotten), I found it because I love John Carpenter and thanks to Netflix showing me The Machine and Beyond the Black Rainbow, I finally realized part of the reason why was all synth related. I was like oh wow, I love these movies but 50% of that love comes solely from their pulsing analog retro-futurist scores, both of which are on Spotify. From there the Moog crumb trail widens deeper into the black forest of retro-futurist analog sci fi TV and the 70s cryptozoological funk of Goblin, which in turn leads me unto Ghost Box, Scarfolk Council, and now Simon Reynolds and Ghost of my Life author Mark Fisher, who repurposed Derrida's original (Communist-spectral) meaning towards haunted music, via his childhood spent attuned to the quietly forward-thinking electronic music of BBC's Radiophonic Orchestra. Since England's never fully bowed their TV channels to the Lowest Common Denominator monetizing, or had to knuckle down to Christian boycott, the BBC of the 70s was deep and proudly into the occult, leading a whole generation of artists who'd done LSD in the 60s to the reins of the new decade, and the children's minds were right there in sync with these cool cats, in ways we all lost in the 80s, when videotape erased the mystery from media through the very act of preserving it. Britain's notorious 'Video Nasties' ban kept the mystery alive for a few more years than in the States, where collective desensitization to TV violence was already a huge problem (or not, depending on who you ask).

For me it all began with Boards of Canada's Music has the Right to Children in 1998 and then Zombi's Cosmos in 2003, tapping for maybe the first time into the retrofuturist analog rainy day weirdness of old 70s filmstrip tape accompaniments for elementary school primers on ESP, Argento frisson and druids. Since this stuff was all on CD, the warm pulsing sound of analog was the first time doubly ghosted and like a double negative became positive. The past sounded warmer and more organic, even more futuristic, than the immediate present. That's hauntology, and I'm hooked... at least until November, when those loathsome orchestras will inevitably return right as night starts lurching way forward sooner and sooner, snaking their way across the stand-still city like a rope of sweaty reflective mylar-enshrouded woe.

Here's my #1 of two Spotify lists:
Heirs of Goblin Carpenter

And now here's some of the more noteworthy soundtracks and soundtrack-ish works.

Cliff Martinez (2014)
Soderbergh's Cinemax series set in turn of the century surgery at the Knickerbocker Hospital would be a bore if the score was in the hands of an orchestral windbag like Howard Shore or John Williams, but Martinez realizes the power of hauntology at its fullest - not the actual past music (which was after all, trying to evoke its own past), but the retro-futurist music of remembering the past, or envisioning brutal operations under primitive instruments still screaming through the emotional machine, the amniotic pulse of analog which now seems so welcomingly inhuman in our overly human age that we cling to it like we would a churning life raft in a brutally tranquil sea.

John Carpenter(2015)
He's not the visionary filmmaker he once was but Lost Themes lets fans of the master know he's still got the gift of making superbly creepy synth-based music. Each track on here could well be the theme song from a classic early 80s or late 70s opus like Assault on Precinct 13 or Escape from New York, and whatever autumnal sights or sounds you see or are thoughts thinking while listening to JC's masterful mix of piano, electric guitar and analog synths are suddenly fraught with a sudden Panavision ominousness.

Umberto (2010)
Steve Moore's big band going for that Goblin-Carpenter vibe with an intensely percussive and bizarro rock 80s synthesizer twist, NNF calls it "electro-satanic Goblin worship."

Sinoa Caves (2014)
For when your floating down the street at dawn, chased in slow motion by your own shadow looming 60 feet tall and with burning coal eyes or are tripping your face off at an airport, part György Ligeti from THE SHINING and part Claudio Simonetti from TENEBRE.

Antoni Maiovvi (2013) 
Musik for remembering what it felt like as a 16 year-old driving home at night in the rain after seeing The Terminator at an empty theater in Woodbridge, NJ. As we learn in all the great writing on hauntology, that's what the uncanny frisson memory of the mediated grave robbers from outer space medias are for. Maiovvi's soundtrack is for a 'neo-giallo' short film set in Berlin. I'll probably never see it, but I do like the soundtrack.
Broadcast (2013)

Formerly a late-to-the-trip hop female fronted kind of Stereolab-Combustible Edison hybrid, Broadcast were nothing if not classy, cocktail retro swing-ready, and a touch derivative. Turns out they were just waiting for the 70s BBC ghost documentary childhood analog synth reverie to kick in to become the sickly and glow-in-the dark poster child for the hauntology movement via this merge with amniotic Focus Group. There's presumably some real occult documentary voiceover buried somewhere in this ominous, but always playful mix of tape loops, effect, and poppy little stabs; "the bee colony" is a classic example of their rare ability to bring in vocals without breaking the mood.

Zombi (2004) 
In the beginning, as far as this futurist giallo nostalgia went, there was just this bass and drums duo with an intensely percussive and bizarro world synthesizer twist. They've gone on to deliver great neo-giallo work that would be perfect on any Argento or Fulci film from 1971-82.

Advisory Circle (2014)
However you got here, this is where to stay, if  you're me, perusing the Ghost Box catalog, The Belbury Poly can get too upbeat, other acts too newsreel sample crazed but Advisory Circle never waver from the straight up 70s synth analog spookiness. "The Ghost Box aesthetic has expanded beyond spooky public information films full of roll necks and bowl cuts to something involving sharper cheekbones and haircuts. Their palette seems to shift from faded film oranges and browns to black." - Wire (B. Coley 7/15) so true, Wire.

Disasterpiece (2014)
From the very first notes of the very first shot, you just know, things are never going to be the same old concept of old sameness again.

Jeff Grace (2014)
".... while tipping its hat to John Carpenter [it] moves beyond mere cloning of ones influences. Jeff Grace feels like a real contender for the electronic score crown. Cold In July is undeniably a post millennial classic synth soundtrack that makes the terrific and very enjoyable music of Umberto, Zombi, Salisbury & Barrow feel like mere fanboys playing at wanting to be their heroes Moroder, Goblin, Tangerine Dream etc [...] Somehow he puts new textures into the atmospheres of these tracks and adds a new level of sophistication to synth scoring.(Space Debris - Cardrossmaniac)

Roll the Dice (2014)
Third studio album from the Swedish electronic duo with a history of Swedish TV scoring and DJ circuit touring though their forte is clearly an ominous analog horror-ready cinematic boom just perfect for walking briskly through the park while being shadowed by (or walking) a big black dog. (pick track; "Blood in Blood Out" - with its ominous thudding bass note piano keys banging ominously over a morse code echo and rising under current it's as if Carpenter's Halloween score had a moody son who was growing slowly with every three chord return into a gigantic mutant/

Tom Raybould (2010)
Dig these bizarro retro phat synth paranoid scores: Rayboulds is somewhere between Vangelis for BLADE RUNNER, John Carpenter for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and Tangerine Dream for SORCERER, and the perfect wallpaper for a crisp fall afternoon wandering through a dying landscape.

Steve Moore (2015)
"Cub is a retro-synth soundtrack that's so good it doesn't need to pretend it's anything new. This score is the sound of a man and his synthesiser creating fabulous minimal and spooky analogue sounds not unlike John Carpenter whereas Zombi were more like your full on horror prog rock group along the lines of Tangerine Dream or Goblin.(Space Debris)

Sleep Games -- Pye Corner Audio
Dead Air - Mordant Music
Room 237  (OST) - Jonathan Snypes & William Hutson
Access and Amplify - The Brain
From the Grave - Umberto
Brainstorm - Steve Moore, Majeure
Night Drive - Chromatics
Hic Stunt Leones - Alessandro Parissi
Belbury Tales - Belbury Poly
Drokk - Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury
Only God Forgives (OST) - Cliff Martinez
Polygon Mountain - Ubre Blanca
Ga'an - Ga'an
Solar Maximum - Majeure
Unicornography - The Focus Group
Psychical - Ensemble Economique


And when in England visit lovely:

and also lovely Clinkskell

This 2012 clinkety-clink riveter from Boing Boing pen plinketer Mark Pilkington explores muchly the fiction and authorial booky wook aspect: "Hauntologists mine the past for music's future."
And this quintessential post from Rouge's Foam scribe Adam Harper, explores a wide range of music, film, and art: Hauntology: the Past Inside the Present. 

Hard to believe it's from 2009. Were was I all this time? Ah, what a loaded question.



JULIAN HOUSE (Design/Videos)


And then Shout Factory debuts this the same week I'm writing this post... It's cometh. Who says America's behind the screens when it comes to hauntological excavastalgia?

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