Has hauntology also penetrated contemporary music? The term was coined in 2005 when critics Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds began to describe a sort of network of artists, mainly English, among which the musicians of the Ghost Box label and others spiritually related played an important role.
This term was very lucky. The concept, borrowed from Jacques Derrida’s book “Specters of Marx” (1994), is based on a play on words around the terms “ontology” and “haunted”which allowed the author to exploit the philosophically problematic entity of the ghost (the to be/not to be, presence/absence) to reflect on the mysterious resistance of Marxist ideas after the death of communism.
The concept of hauntology was hugely successful in academia, where it was used as a theoretical framework for lectures and essays on memory and ruins. But it has also been transformed into a watchword in the art world: in the first decade of 2000, works based on archives, historical memory, lost and fallen futures were in vogue.
“This strand of “ghostified” music doesn’t quite constitute a genre, a scene, or even a network. But it is an entity, nebulous and as yet nameless. “Hauntology”, my early nomination for genre handle, is tad clunky and carries a heap of post-structuralist baggage (it’s Derrida’s pun on ontology, part of his attempt to track the undercurrent of “spectrality” in Western thought, especially Marxism). “Spectral music” is already taken, referring to a very particular form of avant-classical composition. “Memoradelia”, as proposed by critic Patrick McNally, is just a little too neutral, lacking the spook factor. And “eldritchronica” (another of mine), while cute and accurate (most of these operators have roots in Nineties electronic dance: early UK techno, IDM, trip hop) is just a bit of a mouthful. So perhaps it’s better that this remains a genre-without-name: more of a flavour or atmosphere than a style with boundaries. Perhaps this whatever-it-is ought to elude our grasp, like mist or mirage. ”
And even certain musical niches, particularly dub step, have drawn ideas and mental panoramas from these ideas. In particular, the glacial near future evoked by the atmospheres created by Burial, well documented and analyzed by Mark Fischer in his book “Ghosts of My Life”.
Extraordinary mythographer, Burial proved to be a sound poet capable of articulating the existential malaise, the melancholy and the afflictions and of a place, the wounded London, populated by the victims of ecstasy, by the nihilism emerging after the happy hangover of the rave years and the economic crisis caused by the collapse of sub prime mortgages. And contemporary music? The great absent. For years I have been looking for traces of hauntology in the works created by academic composers, but nothing.
Now, finally, a sign of life. The emergence of a connection between the subculture of contemporary guitar music, which I like to call the “conceptual guitar” and the subcultures deriving from popular music. It took time, but a message was picked up. On September 25, 2020 the cd by composer Brendon Randall-Myers was released for the independent label New Focus Recordings, the title is already a manifesto: “Dynamics of Vanishing Corps”. Created thanks to a residence sponsored by the Jerome Foundation at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn, the composition, which is divided into five parts, was presented for the first time at Roulette Intermedium in 2017.
and was subsequently performed by the Dither electric guitar quartet at Bang on a Can’s LOUD Weekend and The Stone NYC in 2019.
Dither performing Brendon Randall-Myers’s “Dynamics of Vanishing Bodies” at New Music New College on April 21, 2018 in the Mildred Sainer Pavilion of New College of Florida.
The album was recorded at Brooklyn’s Greenpoint Recording Collective and mixed by two-time Grammy nominee Mike Mike Tierney. On the New Focus Recordings website you will find this presentation text “At the root of Randall-Myers’ piece lies a palpable sense of ‘absence as a felt presence’; of the pain felt facing a void when a loved one has gone. The loss of his grandfather ignited this haunting sense of absence, as did lengthy periods apart from his wife (then based in Beijing while on a winding path to a Green Card). Randall-Myers describes the space around him as having been both empty and ‘full of memories’. “I was in our apartment surrounded by our stuff and communicating digitally with her, but with no idea when I’d be able to be with her in that space again.” This separation directly informed the emotional intensity of dynamics of vanishing bodies, formulating as it does delayed reflections of itself; organised within its five-movement structure as “event” followed by “ghost of event”. Does it remind you of anything? Please listen:
If Burial is a sampling magician, managing to generate strong and livid sensations using only sampled voices, broken break-beats and sound effects from musique concrete, then Brendon Randall-Myers is a genius in using the possibilities offered by the virtuosity of the Dither quartet. The guitars become sampling and micro-beats. The hum of the amplifiers, the feedbacks that pay homage to Glenn Branca’s volumes and the manipulations of the pedalboards replace the dub spaces, the diaphanous voices and the electrostatic crackle of Burial’s albums and if the strength of Derrida’s concept lies in the idea of being obsessed from events that never really happened, from futures that never happened and that float in the subconscious of our societies like unsatisfied ghosts, then “Dynamics of Vanishing Bodies” is the “conceptual guitar” version of the connections created by Mark Fisher and Simon Reynolds. This sense of temporal disjunction can be appreciated even more through videos:
I could listen to Auras millions of times, getting lost in the broken rhythm, in the electric short circuit, in the metallic dripping generated by the haunted guitars and tuned in twenty different ways. Thank you so much! What an incredible record.
Mark Fischer, Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures, Zero Books; Illustrated edizione (30 maggio 2014)
Simon Reynolds, Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to its Own Past, Faber and Faber; Main edizione (5 gennaio 2012)