Hauntology in UK

Various Artists – Hauntology in UK

While I have had the Eighth Tower compilation Hauntology in UK since the beginning of the year, it took the recent death of Philip Jeck (on 25th March 2022) to kickstart my writing this review. Jeck was a celebrated and experimental British composer in what became known as the field of hauntological music, known especially for his imaginative sampling and turntablism using vintage (and often dilapidated and discarded) record players and records. Jeck’s work was hailed by Mark Fisher as being one of the pioneers of the hauntology movement of artists, who drew on recorded musical history as part of their practice. And while Jeck is not a part of this compilation, dedicated to the memory of Mark Fisher, the compositions which comprise this collection are all imbued with the same spirit and vision, evoking cultural memory and aesthetics of the past, and imbuing them with a sense of a postmodernist future that could have been. (Intriguingly, the album was released on 7th January, when it would have seemed more appropriate to me to release it a week later on the anniversary of Fisher’s death.)

I first came across Derrida’s idea of hauntology at university, but it wasn’t until I came to the UK that I found there was a branch of music that had been given that label, and it is almost a quintessentially British thing, too. With antecedents such as the pioneering sonic experiments of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and progenitors such as Boards of Canada and Portishead, a particularly British electronic music trend evolved, and was expounded upon by theorists such as Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds. There is no one sound that is “hauntological”, and Reynolds’ statement that hauntology “doesn’t quite constitute a genre, a scene, or even a network [but] more of a flavour or atmosphere” definitely rings true. That flavour is deliciously prepared and presented by Eighth Tower Record’s Raffaele Pezzella (aka Sonologyst), who once again has curated an anthology of themed music beautifully, and perfectly. Hauntology in music is like an inverted and imaginative nostalgia. If it is a soundtrack for a lost film, describing a lost future, then Hauntology in UK is that soundtrack.

The album begins with the first of two tracks from Rapoon and Sonologyst. Rapoon is Robin Storey, a former member of Zoviet France (and the Reformed Faction thereof). If not necessarily recognised as part of the hauntology movement, Zoviet France share much of the the same aforementioned flavours and atmospheres, and Rapoon is inarguably associated with hauntology in music. Ghosts of My Life is a wonderful opening statement, with its aesthetic of the ghosts of memories, or the ghosts of futures that never happened. Ghosts, metaphorical and literal, appear throughout Rapoon’s discography, and I love the way this piece slowly builds and builds, gaining greater and greater intensity, but without ever feeling threatening or overwhelming. It’s more akin to a growing awareness and recognition of the ghosts of our lives, than a fear of them.

Next up is the first of two track’s from Howlround (aka the equally anonymous Robin the Fog). Robin the Fog is possibly one of the most well known (though still hardly known) artists on this compilation. Like many hauntological musicians, Robin the Fog is a multi-media artist, and this is one aspect that is always going to be somewhat lost on an audio anthology such as Hauntology in UK, which can obviously reveal only one facet of the works of these artists. As a musician and documentarian, Robin the Fog (and Howlround) are probably best known for 2012’s The Ghosts of Bush, a haunting sonic portrait of London’s Bush House, former base of the BBC World Service, which he recorded at night on the building’s tape machines.

The following track, with its punning title (as either Utopia Mist, or ‘Utopia Missed’, the title describes that aspect of hauntology concisely and cleverly), comes from Grey Frequency. As per his Bandcamp page, Grey Frequency “is the music project of artist Gavin Morrow. Through the manipulation of electronics, found sounds and field recordings he explores themes of memory, modern mythology, and the world of audio disintegration.” That’s almost a textbook definition of hauntology in music, so it’s hardly surprising to find Grey Frequency on this album. Likewise Pascal Savy. Savy’s 2018 album, Dislocations, was heavily influenced by the writing of Mark Fisher, and particularly Ghosts of My Life (yes, the same that gave its title to the opening track of this album – and even more reason why it is the perfect opening number). Sandwiching Savy’s piece are the second tracks from Rapoon & Sonologist, and Howlround.

Michael Bonaventure is another artist on this compilation who has a rather huge body of work, and his most recent release (to my knowledge) was on Eighth Tower Records (Bandcamp). This is perhaps the most eerie and haunted sounding of the pieces on this album, and would not have sounded out of place on Eighth Tower’s The Black Stone – Music for Lovecraftian Summonings. I admit I was expecting to hear more in this vein on Hauntology in UK, and although I love this dark ambient music that verges on horror, I was pleasantly surprised by the greater variety that Hauntology in UK provides. So much so, that even though I love this piece by Bonaventure, it comes perilously close to feeling out of place. However, it never crosses that line, and certainly deserves to be here.

As if to prove that point, along comes Foreseer (aka Drew Carpenter), whose track is almost the polar opposite of Bonaventure’s, and which has far greater impact for coming after it. Foreseer, as per the tags on his Bandcamp page, performs a take on hauntological music that borders on techno and drum and bass, while still rooted in the ambient genre. The best is saved for last, for me, though. I’ve raved before about Dead Space Chamber Music and I absolutely love their contribution to this compilation. Thus, Hauntology in UK ends, for me, as perfectly as it began! And while it might further your enjoyment of the album if you have at least a vague idea of hauntology (either Derrida’s original meaning, or as extended to describe a musical phenomenon by Mark Fisher), it is certainly by no means necessary. It’s a great starting point to explore further some of the artists featured, and as a personal suggestion to supplement your listening pleasure, I heartily recommend last year’s Witchcraft Murders by The Heartwood Institute.

01. Rapoon & Sonologist – Ghosts of My Life (8:06)
02. Howlround – A Slow Cancellation (3:10)
03. Grey Frequency – Utopia Mist (6:00)
04. Rapoon & Sonologist – Illusions of a Recent Past (4:45)
05. Pascal Savy – After Dark (5:51)
06. Howlround – A Failure of Absence (3:15)
07. Michael Bonaventure – Mavisbank (10:25)
08. Foreseer – Cruex es Faies (6:06)
09. Dead Space Chamber Music – The Grail Carol (4:19)

Total Time – 49:57

Record Label: Eighth Tower Records
Country of Origin: Various
Date of Release: 7th January 2022

Hauntology in UK – Bandcamp