[μία συζήτηση με τον jim jupp των belbury poly και συνιδρυτή της ghost box που έγινε πριν από μήνες, λίγο μετά την κυκλοφορία του from an ancient star].
What is that "hauntology" that everyone connects Ghost Box with?
Hauntology was a genre name dreamed up by music journalist and author Simon Reynolds. I think it was something he saw not just as a music genre but a particular way certain artists evoke something like false memories. He included Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, and Mordant Music's Dead Air among other things. I believe it originally comes from Derrida, the French pronunciation being more like "ontology". It seems to have sparked of lots of conversations on blogs and forums, but it’s all quite intellectual stuff and quite a lot to live up to. It’s not something we mind people saying but it’s not like it’s part of our manifesto or anything.
Where does the name Belbury Poly derive from? How would you describe the project to someone that has never heard about it?
Belbury is the location for a sinister organization plotting world domination in C.S. Lewis's very unusual and little known adult Sci-fi novel "That Hideous Strength". I like to think of BP as half remembered soundtracks form a parallel world. I always aim at creating pieces of original music that people swear they heard years before, maybe forgotten TV soundtracks from their childhood.
Tell me about your birthplace and Arthur Machen. How much is the environment we grow up and live in responsible for our aesthetics?
I came to know Arthur Machen quite a long time after I got a home just down the road from his birthplace. For me it links not that mythologizing of our own childhoods. It’s only retrospectively that I overlay Machen's stories on a landscape that I knew so well as a child.
How did you become interested in music? Tell me about your musical background.
When I was in school there was a quite eccentric kid who had a couple of synths. This was in the early 80s when these things were not only really incredible and exotic sounding to me but they were incredibly expensive (he had rich parents I think). I was absolutely blown away by the sounds they could make and we formed a band - kind of early Human League/ Heaven 17 style. It was rally bad but it left me with a passion for playing music and experimenting with sound. During my college years I was in a kind of rave outfit for a while. Then in the early nineties Britpop era I was in an indie band for a few years playing organ and piano - playing a lot of gigs but never really making a career. I got sick of this and had about three or four years when I didn't play a note - but then started to gradually build up my own studio around some old keyboards I had over the years. I spent two or three years recording things and trying to find a sound and then in 2004 I got together with my old school friend Julian and we started Ghost Box.
What was the concept behind Ghost Box? Where does "music for schools" and "the boy from space" fit with all that scary stuff from Lovecraft and Blackwood?
We'd been into HPL and that kind of fiction since kids, and also we were both into vintage electronics and the two worlds seemed to sit well together. Through our love of old electronic music and soundtracks we linked this to public information films and soundtracks for educational TV we saw as kids. It just made sense for us to build an imaginary world around those elements, and it became more concrete as Julian started to create graphics for it and came up with the cover concepts like a series of old educational books.
Tell me about the idea of "eternalism and non existence of time"...
It’s just a personal obsession that I've had for a while. If I'm honest it probably stems from my own experiences of bereavement. But I came back to the notion through the works of cranky and forgotten British writers on the borders of science and the supernatural. People like J W Dunne and TC Lethbridge, obscure and forgotten even in the UK. It’s all about the idea that time is unreal and the whole universe of past events, future possibilities including all possible outcomes of random events exist all at once in one block. It’s just consciousness that gives rise to the experience of a plain passing through that block making events seem to unfold in sequence. I find that a comforting idea. Slightly bonkers I suppose. It’s also an aspect of the Ghost Box world; a kind of everywhere-town UK existing at all times from about 1958 to 1978 at once. So all these cultural references happen at once. That’s why (for us) any Ghost Box release might sound like a collision of jazz and glam, or folk and disco. It’s a kind of framework with definite boundaries in which we create quite a variety of styles of electronic music.
Your music is utterly British [I can't think of something more British today than the Ghost Box sound], nostalgic and futuristic at the same time, in a strange way. What is it that motivates your nostalgia? It seems that all English popular culture from 50s to 70s is concentrated in your releases...
I suppose I partly answered this one above. I'd add though that for us it’s not simply nostalgia for the past but nostalgia for an imaginary past, that idea again of half remembered stuff form the universe next-door. I'm always pleased to find out that this doesn't make our stuff totally inaccessible to listeners from other countries. Maybe for people who aren't familiar with all our references GB conjures up the stereotype of a kind of mad English eccentric working away in isolation on bizarre inventions in the garden shed. Kind of like Dr. Who I suppose.
Was there anything different about how you approached From An Ancient Star by comparison with The Willows and The Owl's Map? What are the inspirations behind it?
My working methods haven’t changed so much, but there are more instruments on each album as time goes by and I cram more stuff into the studio. A big influence on the new one was British TV composers Denton and Cook. In the late 1970s their synthesized themes were very familiar to British TV audiences. A kind of fun but slightly unfunky, British disco.
Tell me about the cover of the album and the extracts of Daniken and Lovecraft in the booklet and the theory that "we received visits from extraterrestrial intelligences in the remote past".
In that same period in the late 70's this chariot of the god's stuff was very big and seems almost plausible in those more innocent times. It occurred to me that this fitted in to the HPL mythology that we've kind of hinted at all along. It’s also referencing those TV documentary series "Like Arthur C Clarkes Mysterious world" or the "In Search of ..." series from the states. Also that whole are of pseudo scientific / sci-fi publishing, magazines like Omni.
You got 5 stars in The Guardian, the reviews are excellent everywhere, there are reactions of worship in the blogs all over the world. How do you feel about that? Is it something you expected?
Not at all! That's not just false modesty - I mean we're a tiny Do-it-yourself label with no publicity machinery - we even do the distribution ourselves so apart from royalties and licensing we're kind of outside the music industry. I'm not even all that young any more ! I'm thrilled when I have just one email from someone telling me how much a particular track means to them. That alone would make it worthwhile.
What was the first album that really mattered to you?
Album would be hmmmm... -Tubeway Army's Replicas? NO, maybe YMO's solid Stats Survivor? Or maybe Travelogue, or perhaps Trans Europe Express.
How is it like living in England today?
England and Britain as a whole seems like a strange mixture of contradictions.
On the downside: Υoung people have become depoliticized (It would take a hell of a lot to rouse students these days in the UK in the admirable way that Greek students recently took to the streets ). People here drink too much and are very short tempered and violent. Our principal export is now trashy TV formats and everyone here is utterly obsessed with the crappy culture and the commercialism they represent. On the upside: I feel that Britain is still one of the most creative powerhouses in the world in terms of design, art & music. Creative talent here is nurtured and respected. British people (particularly the English - and I'm Welsh by the way) have a rather touching sense embarrassment for their own history and culture. But are simultaneously fascinated with it. As soon as you leave a British city you often get the sense that the countryside here is at worst a historical theme park and at best a big open air museum. Politically like everywhere in the world I suppose it’s a disaster, but there is still a spark of something eccentric and creative. Also In my lifetime I've seen people become much more tolerant of the fact that we are a very multicultural society and damned proud of it too! It’s just a shame about the knife wielding psychopathic kids everywhere.
Tell me about the "series of short films set in Belbury". What exactly are they?
This is a very slowly evolving work primarily being put together by Julian. He is slowly accumulating segments of stop motion animation and footage that we'll gradually post on our website. So far there's only one part that can be seen on our site. So it'll gradually come together over a period of years probably. The idea is that every piece of music, sleeve art, printed artwork, catalogues and film we create fleshes out the world of Ghost Box and in particular the town of Belbury.
The role of design in Ghost Box releases is crucial. What is your convention?
Design has always gone hand in hand with composition for Belbury Poly and the other artists. We usually start from a point of some very rough demos and an idea or two that seems to spring from the music. We then gather lots of images and make actual mood boards which in the case of Belbury Poly will feed back into the rest of the recording process and inspire titles and further themes. By the time the recording is finished Julian will have a huge amount of images and copy which he'll resemble into a booklet design. I hope that all the music stands alone - but I think the whole Ghost Box experience is enhanced by the design that goes with it and the hints and cross references that spread across different releases.
Have you got any plans to perform live?
Julian and I don't make our main living from Ghost Box so we have very little time to put into it beyond recording and administering the label. Also as we're getting on a little we both have family commitments that make touring and performance virtually impossible for us. It’s why our release schedule is so slow! We'd love to do more things and have lots of projects we'll start as soon as we find time. As the label grows though I've been able to cut back on my day job and spend more time in the week running the label - so if it continues to grow who knows what we'll do in the future.