A Journal Of The Dark Arts
technical notes: “”I was working a lot of nightshifts… and as a result would often have the place largely to myself during the small hours of the morning. On my journeys around Bush House… I used to love listening to all the sounds around me: the creaks and rumbles of the old building echoed up and down the stairwells and through the corridors, even the most mundane of noises suddenly taking on a new significance in the half-light. Like so many historic buildings around London, Bush House is constructed of Portland Stone, which is a wonderfully resonant material to work with… the stone construction of the walls coupled with the high ceilings gave you this extraordinary reverb. I would whistle to myself on the landings and then listen as the whistle fluttered round the space for what seemed like an eternity, transforming as it did so into something much stranger, as if the building was adding a few tones of its own. I liked to think these were the sounds Bush House made when it thought nobody was listening!
“No artificial echo or electronic effects were used in the making of the album… These are genuinely the sounds of the space.”
The Ghosts Of Bush’ was created entirely using the natural acoustic sounds of Bush House, the iconic home for the past seven decades of the BBC World Service which closed its doors for the last time on July 12th 2012. All of the sounds were captured in the small hours of the morning in empty offices, corridors, stairwells and other hidden corners by a Studio Manager working overnight. These recordings were then dubbed onto quarter-inch tape in the basement studio deep in the bowels of the South-East wing using two of the surviving reel-to-reel machines.
Adjusting the playback speed of the spools and ‘bouncing’ the recordings between the two tape machines lead to the discovery of a number of interesting phrases and sound textures which were then looped, layered and fashioned into rough compositions. Over time the tape would start to degrade and alter the nature of the sounds, while occasional echo was created by recording and playing various loops simultaneously, feeding the sound back into itself. The entire album was produced using these simple methods, and no other effects or studio trickery have been used. Thanks to the sonorous quality of Bush House’s Portland stone walls and high ceilings, the natural resonance of the space was all that was needed.
These are the sounds the building makes when it thinks no-one is listening, the sounds of many sleepless nights spent isolated in a labyrinthine basement surrounding by a crepuscular soundtrack of creaks and crackles. It’s an attempted homage to the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop who crafted the most incredible of sound-worlds from the most basic of sources. But mostly it’s my way of saying goodbye to a building that I and so many people have loved.
When talking of historic structures, the old clichéd approach is to wonder what one might hear if the ‘walls could speak’. I like to think that with ‘The Ghosts Of Bush’ we come closer to hearing them sing: One last song about the passage of time and the impermanence of all things, with the ghosts of the machines joining in. The last hurrah of a bygone era, of obsolete equipment and of a studio that has since fallen silent forever.
‘it’s amazing how little effort you have to make to make Bush House sound spooky’.
– robin the fog
The Ghosts Of Bush:
The Ghosts Of Bush is a lovesong to a building, the home of the BBC World Service for over 70 years, the inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. There are ghosts in the basement, it was the former site of the BBC Canteen, and one of its broadcasters, Georgi Markov, was stabbed with a poisoned umbrella in 1978, resulting in his death four days later.
Psychogeography is all about peeling the layers from familiar sites, in an effort to dive beneath everyday banality, in search of poetry, inspiration, the spirit of a place (genius loci). Whether yr looking for specters or ley lines, it is an investigation into the unknown and the unseen.
“a sonic portrait of a place”
Sound art is remarkably adept at simulating the strange fugue state that is the heart of psychogeography – with the ability to hone in on incidental sounds in a hallucinogenic granular fashion, and then layer and process those recordings with historical ephemera and sci fi sound hacking. It approximates the feeling of being somewhere, and that gooseflesh adrenalin rush creeps up yr arms, to the back of yr neck, towards yr pineal gland. Time starts to slow down, as the mind approximates the apprehensive childhood state, senses standing on tightrope wire, wondering if you are alone, wondering what else is out there.
Robin The Fog beautifully illustrates a couple of key concepts, shows the kitties how it’s done.
listening to space
One of the most stereotypical usages of psychogeography is looking for resonant spaces, places that seem to vibrate and hum out of time. Whether it’s a stone circle or a Victorian haunting, many a flaneur are wandering around their respective cities, looking for holy places. Significant spots are like pressure points, nerve endings, or transistors and diodes, and you get a charge and buzz when you get near them. The sonic alchemist is looking for that holy dread, that feeling of hair standing on end, evidence of the sublime.
Once you even begin to suspect that such a discipline flourishes, and the same goes for the style of music caught on The Ghosts Of Bush, it can drastically effect the way you listen to space, and how you spend your time. You are overtaken by the granules of distant traffic hum and feedback; you are distant by highly present at the same time. Otherworldy, i guess you could call it. This is what happens when you go looking for other worlds, i guess.
The Ghosts Of Bush is comprised of field recordings made in the belly of Bush House in the dead of night, and very spartanly tweaked. It will leave you wondering what yr own house sounds like, in the dead of night when no one is looking. It will leave you smiling affectionately at yr small army of household appliances, just waiting to spring to life like the Sorcerer’s broomsticks, and be called into the service of an industrial symphony.
i read an interview with Boyd Rice a while back, talking about the early days of his harsh noise/industrial soundscape project NON, in which he talked about the total lack of post-processing in his noise music. This music is all about the space, creating an interesting acoustic environment and capturing it. This technique can be heard from musique concrete to harsh noise, there is a sense of the analog, the presence of actual objects and of the human hands. I predict we will see ever increasing amounts of this sound and style, as we are increasingly surrounded by digital art.
It seems that people are overwhelmed and lost by the potentialities available in the digital realm. Every direction is the same as no direction at all, and i see more and more musicians claiming ‘handmade and homemade’ as part of their artist statements. Look at the trend of rough-hewn, handmade Electronic Music that we’ve been watching with great interest, the likes of Opal Tapes or the legions of modular tweakers. Its kind of funny that listening to 2013 sounds like Detroit in the late ’70s, but i’m down with Drexciya and Cabaret Voltaire, so this is not a bad thing.
The Ghosts Of Bush is a primer on how to make compelling tape-based music. Essential listening for the fledgling sound sculptor!
The final layer of The Ghosts Of Bush we will leave you with, (i could go on and on, about a record like this), is the absolutely uncanny experience of deep listening to a place while in another place, and another time to boot. This is not something people had to psychoanalyze 100 years ago. We’ve been undertaking these sonic derives through other times and cultures lately, trying to find the heart and soul, the geist of a movement, and as such we’ve been inundated with atmospheric noise from the British countryside, and the rattling of haunted lifts at night, which are superimposed over my daily existence in America’s Pacific Northwest. On one hand, they blur and meld, in a non-temporal hyperspace, an unheimlich continent of the innerspace. On the other hand, when comparing and contrasting places, it is easier to see them clearly, as long as one does not get lost in the delusion that one is an expert on the subject because you’ve listened to lectures and found sounds from a place. I am obsessed with British Culture, and prefer to surround myself with it, but i’ve never been, and everything i’ve ever learned is secondhand and hearsay. One must resist the pretentious lure of exoticism, remain humble and inquisitive, the mark of a true psychogeographer.
What is interesting about listening to The Ghosts Of Bush is that this particular place was the center of the BBC World Service, the hub of British Culture to the rest of the world for over 70 years. How many transmissions were made during those 7 decades? And how many lives received those transmissions? Robin The Fog told a story in an interview about going to Africa, as part of his job with the BBC, and hearing the BBC World Service playing out of a window first thing, getting off the plane. How many people, in far off places, have these sounds as an amorphous example of British-ness? Recording the incidental sounds, the atmosphere and acoustics, then amplifying, skewing, warping, bending, stretching… This is like the dreamlife of Bush House, and as such, a dreamcitadel of Information for multiple generations, all over the globe.
Many many thanks to Robin The Fog and the fog signals, for reminding us to pay attention and listen to our environment, to not get washed away in an antedeluvian flood of information.
He has a track on the brand new compilation from The Outer Church, which i reviewed for Freq Magazine. They’re printing a second batch right now, and is an essential introduction to British wyrdtronica. Get it here.
There are still a few copies of The Ghosts Of Bush available on vinyl. Third and final pressing. Don’t sleep!
He is releasing a new album this month, Secret Songs Of Savamala, with his new project Howlround. They are playing on Sept. 4th, at The Spanish House in Belgrade. More info: https://www.facebook.com/events/235440283270331/
more info on Bush House: