Each of Ghost Box’s releases function as an ‘evocation-machine’, an entry point into a network of associations and memories that can be traced from experimental music through to film, television and literature. The records that have come out so far (by The Focus Group, Belbury Poly, Eric Zann and the Advisory Circle) have a sound and mood - electronic yet
folky, disturbing yet bucolic, that could be perfectly described as ‘uncannily familiar’. Ghost Box’s spectral electronica seems to emerge from a point where media, memories and dreams become indiscernible.
Julian House’s striking cover art, an oneiric combination of op art, textbook design and the occult, does not merely illustrate this aesthetic, but is an integral part of it. Julian, who made his name designing covers for groups such as Broadcast, Primal Scream and Stereolab, is Ghost Box’s co-founder and the man behind the Focus Group records.
FACT asked him about Ghost Box’s history and mythology
What made you start Ghost Box?
Myself and my friend Jim Jupp had been making music, independently and together, for a while, and also obsessing over the same things the cosmic
horror of Machen, Lovecraft, the Radiophonic Workshop, weird folk and the occult. We realised that we wanted to put our music out, but also create our own world where we could play with all these reference points. Starting our own label was the only way to do it.
You belong to a generation that got into folk through the Wicker Man. Is all of Ghost Box’s music tied up with visuals?
I think the key reference is Radiophonic Music, which is wildly experimental but also incredibly evocative of radio and television with which we grew up. It’s got a sort of duality to it. It’s haunting in its own right but also serves as a memory trigger. I think this dim, half-remembered aspect of old Hammer fi lms and Doctor Who is important. It’s not simply nostalgia, the music triggers something darker. You remember the strange ideas in these
programmes, the stuff under the surface, rather than just knowing the theme tune. I think this is why Library music is such an influence
you listen to it divorced from context and it operates on an unconscious level, like musical cues for missing visuals.
What's so special about the childrens programs of that period?
It was just after the ‘60s, these musicians, animators and fi lmmakers had come through the psychedelic thing and acid folk, and they had these strange dark obsessions that they channeled into their TV
programmes. When I grew up, Doctor Who episodes like the Sea Devils haunted me, the slightly shaky monsters and sets have their own uncanny horror, as do those loud blasts of atonal music. Someone like Nigel Kneale had obviously come from a tradition of HP
Lovecraft, of 20th Century science used as a background to cosmic horror and the occult. The themes he explored in the Quatermass series eventually found their way into Doctor Who, Children of the Stones, Sapphire and Steel. If you look at Radiophonic workshop, people like David Cain also studied medieval music. He made a great dark folky electronic album called ‘The Seasons’. A few of Paddy Kingsland’s arrangements even bring to mind Pentangle. It’s like there was this strange past/future thing that had come about through
Isn't there a certain relationship in Ghost Gox material between "spoof" and "spook"?
I like things that play with reference points in such a way as to throw you off balance. Rather than pastiche, where everything is on the surface, there’s a way of triggering ones memory of things that confuses rather than makes apparent. There’s also the sense with old electronic music of rediscovering, of reactivating abandoned
Much of the ‘hauntological’ dimension of Ghost Box music seems to come from the way it combines analogue and digital...
We like to confuse the boundaries between analogue and digital. Jim uses a combination of analogue synths and digital technology. With the Focus Group stuff there are samples of old percussion albums and digital effects, electronic sounds generated on the computer and processed found sounds. I think it’s to do with the space between what happens in the computer and what happens outside of it: the recording of space, real reverb/room sound and the virtual space on the hard drive. They’re like different dimensions.
What contemporary music do you feel an affinity with?
We have an affinity with other people doing weird folk and electronic things. Obviously Broadcast as well, we’ve been mates for a long time and share a lot of obsessions. Ariel Pink is a big favourite for both of us, also Sonic Boom’s EAR recordings, and Mount Vernon Arts Lab.
The name M B Devot comes up A lot on Ghost Box Releases. Who was he?
A strange, neglected ‘60s/’70s cultural theorist, who specialized in séances, dreams and the televisual revolution, an occult Marshal
What plans are there for Ghost Box?
Future projects include collaboration with Broadcast, and maybe a compilation with guest artists if possible. We’ll be expanding the roster gradually.