A Journal Of The Dark Arts
On his newest, former Ultravox frontman John Foxx utilizes a limited template of archaic synthesizers and drum machines, to simulate the sensation of breaking through the screen + falling through time. It could be an alternate soundtrack for the 1980 film Somewhere In Time, starring Christopher Reeves, if he had fallen in love with a blurry VHS image.
A lot of producers seem to be embracing limitations, as a way to free up inspiration and creativity. Examples of this can be seen/heard in the acid workouts of Bass Clef and Hieroglyphic Being, and the renaissance of modular magicians.
This serves a bifurcated purpose, as modern musicians find a way through the distractions of modern life, it also serves to re-legitimize the original sounds that inspired their methodology. As a result, lo-fi, homemade industrial electronics and private press synth records sound fresh and exciting.
Evidence Of Time Travel is an excellent illustration of this tendency, as Foxx and D’agostino’s synths and beats sound great, on this short and focused instrumental album.
Foxx and D’agostino know to keep it simple, with only three or four elements happening at the same time. Things kick off with “The Forbidden Experiment”, with an iridescent flanged LFO; a clean drum machine, which sounds like it might’ve rested on top of a Hammond organ in someone’s living room in 1977; some clockwork sequencing, and a string sample, that sounds like listening to a Mellotron through a wormhole in space and time. “The Forbidden Experiment” sets the stage for this album’s conceptual conceit, which i have interpreted as an old television set, acting as a portal to far off times and distant climes.
If “The Forbidden Experiment” is the sound of being swallowed by the wormhole, “Evidence Of Time Travel” would be the rabbit hole itself. Woozy, detuned bass synths meet electric harpsichords and a muscular drum beat, with just the slightest shimmer of dub echoes. It’s the most Ghost Box moment on here, referencing Foxx’s album with The Advisory Circle from last year for Ghost Box, Empty Avenues.
In the figure of John Foxx, we have a direct line from old world, cold wave European romanticism, via his work with Ultravox, to the unheimlich Hammer Horror worlds of Ghost Box and the fucked up Britannia of Mordant Music and Moon Wiring Club, as well as tangential connections to ’70s speculative fiction (more on that later). It’s also possible to draw sonic similarities to the horrorscores of John Carpenter, and recent dancefloor modulations.
If one were to stick strictly to surface level attributes, the realms of hauntology, mnml electronics, dark ambient, acid folk, library music, old soundtracks, and various forms of metal would be kind of a far stretch. However, if you’ve been keeping up with the cultural discourse of the past decade or so, a hidden picture begins to emerge – an invisible trajectory.
I noticed a trend across various newer releases, that draw some unlikely comparisons, so i picked this album as a launching off point. Stay tuned, over the coming days, to connect the dots and delve into the unseen soul of this modern age.
John Foxx and Steve D’agostino have also solved one of the inherent riddles of instrumental music: how to make your release stand out, without using words? The duo, in conjunction with the visual artist Karborn by creating an ambitious, immersive multimedia experience, at evidenceoftimetravel.com. Karborn’s images of blurry, mangled TV screens, did much to color the mental images that flooded my mind, while listening to this record.
Of course, a record need not have some grand concept to make it a compelling listen. It’s about the music, after all, and one’s melodies and harmonies should stand up on its own. Evidence Of Time Travel does not disappoint, in this category. Foxx’s decades of musical experience come across in these electronic vignettes, with ghostly organs and spectral choirs taking turns taking the bridge. Foxx’s gear sounds great, and so does the production, making a complete and highly satisfying package, that you can listen to, again and again.
John Foxx, almost more than any musician i can think of, has captured the essence of quiet isolation of the modern man. His is the sound of isolated living rooms, in the middle of the night, where the refresh rate of transistor tubes stains the silence, like the hum of robotic hornets. This is the sound both of longing, as well as contentment, living in the imagination, free to travel where you may.
To be as transparent as possible, i must say that i am personally very grateful for Foxx’s recent work, and this school of primitive electronics in general. As i frequently mention on these pages, the inspiration for Forestpunk comes from teaching myself how to be a writer and musician. I’m trying to make sense of the unlimited resources available to the most humble producer. This hand-me-down Mac i’m typing on, from my friend’s decease grandmother, is 1000 times more powerful than Black Ark Studios, where Bob Marley got his start, and Lee Perry worked his black magick. It’s kind of daunting, that so much of the masterful art of the past was done on a 4 track. Really, if yr a creative person these days, you have no excuse not to create.
The result of listening to minimal masterworks such as these is it gives a sense of legitimacy to old electronic demos. Do you remember the first thrills of setting up a sequencer and a drum machine, and running straight to tape? Have you ever had that experience? The fact of the matter is that i went such a long time with no gear of any kind, i was thrilled out of mind, the first time i got to record a cheap synthesizer, and began to emulate the art that i adored.
That thrill has never left, but there’s a decade’s worth of critical panning, making me feel self-conscious about my ragged, homemade tape experiments and pedal fuckery.
With Evidence Of Time Travel, John Foxx invites you to step backwards through time, and decide for yrself, objectively, how you feel about art, without the industry hype of trends and public tastes. If you like it, and it feels good, DO IT! If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t.
If you care to see the ways that minimal analog electronics connect to folk horror, shoegaze, space rock and beyond, make sure to stay tuned over the next couple days!
If you happen to be located in London, you have a chance to hear this music performed live, as part of the BFI’s Sci-Fi: Days Of Fear And Wonder series. More info available here.