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On Hauntology: Have you ever had the feeling that you’ve been here before?

February 17, 2008

The first thing I noticed when I opened the package that arrived in the mail, containing a new CD called An Audience of Art Deco Eyes by Moon Wiring Club, is that the design of the album as object is very beautiful. I was a little bit jealous that I couldn’t somehow claim some of the images for myself. (And this is interesting because even conceiving of an album as a well-craft object, in this day and age, seems willfully nostalgic.)

A visit to the Blank Workshop website will offer an elaboration upon Moon Wiring Club’s aesthetic: the site poses as a visitor’s guide to the fictional town of Clinkskell, Northern England. This, don’t you know, is the revival of Northern Glamour.

Apart from this good dash of provincialism (dare I say affected provincialism?), much of the carefully-crafted Moon Wiring Club aesthetic is supplied by Edwardian caricatures, the corners of modernism still tainted by fin-de-siecle sicknesses, gentleman-crankery, spooky-kitsch, old England, spookiness that’s kitsch because it’s spooky, dusty domesticity, kitsch that’s spooky because it’s kitsch. What this all means is that Ian Hodgson, that man responsible for Moon Wiring Club, is really a master at contextualising himself, and knows the importance of supplying his own annotations and supporting documents, misleading fictional scholarly apparatus and all. This is called covering your tracks, and I’ll get round to telling you why that’s a good idea.

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So what does it all sound like? Like consciously retro electronic music, full of library music loops and old English speech samples from King Arthur knows where. The Books sitting in a library, or a library sitting in The Book. Like watching the counterfeit education series Look Around You (see above) in the dark, with cuts to a Hammer Horror film. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop kitsching in the kitchen with M.R. James. Ian Hodgson is far from alone in his handling of such sounds and images, but apparently he strangely came up with his imaginary village independently of the perhaps better known Ghost Box; label which releases plenty of curiosities by artists with names like The Advisory Circle and The Focus Group, all from a fictional place called Belbury.

Is the coincidence spooky? Hauntology, you see, is a current tendency (let’s not call it a movement) in English retro-electronic music. As a genre, hauntology takes its name from a Jacques Derrida coinage, so fairly demands to be theorised. An article on the K-punk site elaborates on the meaning and implications of hauntology, and uses the following lengthy quotation which is easily worth reproducing in full:

‘The ghost as a cipher of iteration is particularly suggestive. At the beginning of Specters of Marx, Derrida talks about the way in which the anticipated return of the ghost may be mobilized on behalf of a deconstruction of all historicisms that are grounded in a rigid sense of chronology. ‘Haunting is historical, to be sure’, he writes, ‘but it is not dated, it is never docilely given a date in the chain of presents, day after day, according to the instituted order of the calendar .’ The question of the revenant neatly encapsulates deconstructive concerns about the impossibility of conceptually solidifying the past. Ghosts arrive from the past and appear in the present. However, the ghost cannot be properly said to belong to the past, even if the apparition represents someone who has been dead for many centuries, for the simple reason that a ghost is clearly not the same thing as the person who shares its proper name. Does then the ‘historical’ person who is identified with the ghost properly belong to the present? Surely not, as the idea of a return from death fractures all traditional conceptions of temporality. The temporality to which the ghost is subject is therefore paradoxical, as at once they ‘return’ and make their apparitional debut. Derrida has been pleased to term this dual movement of return and inauguration a ‘hauntology’, a coinage that suggests a spectrally deferred non- origin within grounding metaphysical terms such as history and identity.”
– Buse, P., & Scott, A., (ed’s), Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History, London : Macmillan, 1999,

The idea that this quotation builds towards — one of a “spectrally deferred non-origin” — is worth keeping in mind when wondering about the kind of ghost voices that Moon Wiring Club and company pluck from the earth or the ether. And notice, for that matter, how Derrida himself is hidden behind so many hyperlinks and metaquotations; in a simple matter of citation, the origin of the term itself is being somehow deferred, and Derrida is re-materialising only as a kind of cultural vapour. So be it. On the track “Living Furniture” one of Moon Wiring Club’s ghosts asks, “have you ever had the feeling that you’ve been here before?”.

Undoubtedly there is plenty that’s retro and revivalist about the work of hauntological musicians, and of course a lot of the fun is provided by a sort of retro-futurist kitsch; not of the soviet sort, to be sure, but of the vaguely wistful Arcadian sort — which even a Pete Doherty, on his own very superficial terms, was into. Translating, transfiguring this revivalism as haunting (and cutting the ghosts free of a non-origin), ensures that at least the recycling is creative. In other words, in other hands, in other lands, these activities could be considered basic folk art for today’s people. Except that the strength of commitment to the very aesthetic which suggests (electronic) folkiness means that our Moon Wiring Club man ends up being just too, too affected to be a pure folk practictioner… which I like, obviously.  Note the four supposed “members” of the club in picture below, all of them titled and aloof, and anachronistically brought together.

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What this all means is that I gladly add Moon Wiring Club to the Haunted House Music canon.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2008 9:35 pm

    Excellent post – I’ve very recently discovered the delights of the Moon Wiring Club and Blank Workshop, and your explanation evokes the whole aesthetic with such perfect and enviable clarity in addition to suggesting any number of thought-provoking ideas.

  2. March 7, 2009 12:37 am

    A very nice introduction to the excellent Moon Wiring Club, who have been featured a number of times on ‘Phantom Circuit’ (http://phantomcircuit.wordpress.com/listen-now/). “Hauntology” is it? Somehow we missed all that, but it sort of fits…!

  3. circuitphantom permalink
    April 8, 2010 2:44 pm

    Please enjoy our new interview with Moon Wiring Club, which can be heard in the latest edition of Phantom Circuit. http://phantomcircuit.com/2010/04/08/phantom-circuit-32/

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