A Journal Of The Dark Arts
On this lovely slab, released in 2012 on the ever essential Editions Mego imprint, Seefeel/Scala/Locust member Mark Van Hoen investigates two central questions to the Forestpunk mission:
1. What are ghosts?
2. Why are we so obsessed with them?
In an insightful and poetically written review for Tiny Mix Tapes, album reviewer Max Power asked the question “What more is a ghost, anyway, than the intimate realization of the past interrupting the present?”
On The Revenant Diary, Mark Van Hoen was visited by the ghost of former productions, after finding a recording he made as a teenager, back in 1982. Inspired, Van Hoen resolved to strip back his production process, to rediscover the joy and immediacy of those early sound experiments.
The Revenant Diary is also a psychologically compelling listen, as it was created in the period right before Van Hoen inadvertently discovered that he’d been adopted, a fact which came to light as he was emigrating to the United States.
One can’t help but wonder if this return to the past was compelled by some internal lack, a wormhole where his biological parents should be. All of us find our way into the ghostly realms, drawn to the past, for various and personal reasons, and the artistic results are different for everyone.
These similarities, and the differences, tell us both about the medium itself, as well as the individual making a personal piece of artwork.
The Revenant Diary could definitely be read as hauntological, that is to say, the past living inside the present. Not only is it made with presumably archaic recording practices – in the mode of something recorded in the early ’80s, which it may or may not be, as this record sounds thoroughly contemporary, and not some piece of revisionist electronic music, but it is shot through with horrorscore strings (“Look Into My Eyes”), electronic bleeps that sound like a dream sequence (“I Remember”), and electric harpsichords (“No Distance”), that would not sound out of place on a Ghost Box or a Moon Wiring Club record.
And while MWC sounds like some sickly trap music audio collage, and Ghost Box makes imaginary themes for lost pastoral children’s television, Mark Van Hoen rearranges his memories into 11 tracks of temple techno and dark ambiance.
Consider “Don’t Look Back”, an early stand-out track. The beat leans and swoons, like a lopsided tape recording of a table drummer, as sonar synths pull you beneath the surface, and a voice, (one of the rare instances of vocals on this record), advise you, “Don’t Look Back”. It’s a track that sounds fresh and timely, even two years after it’s release – in line with today’s penchant for live analog electronics.
If we approach this record like an algebra equation, considering the pure threads of hauntology and live techno allows us to peer through the gloom, and see a glimpse of Van Hoen, as a person or an artist. He seems to have an attachment to the modulated human voice, particularly the female. In the same TMT review i referenced above, they quoted MVH as saying:
“I am a firm believer that your musical taste and identity is formed […] in your teenage years. The rest of my musical life will be spent trying to gain the expertise to communicate what’s in my head, or to get closer to the source, as it were.”
– Mark Van Hoen
We can’t help but wonder what formative musical experience drew Van Hoen to attach so strongly to the modulated voice? And, mere speculation here, as we’ll never know for sure, perhaps it indicates a longing for the mother? All of this would, of course, be subconscious, as Van Hoen was unaware of his adopted status, at the time this record was made.
The past manifests itself in the present in many ways. And what is Art, but a flowering of the dark unconscious into a material form, which allows us to know ourselves, and theoretically, hopefully, know each other.
This question of ghosts is an ongoing and important one, to my own life. As you know, i’m a lifelong devotee to the horror genre, but i cannot say definitively where this fascination comes from. I have revealed a lot of fascinating insights, over the years of my studies: thoughts about horror as society’s shadow, about the return of the repressed, and the need for a voice from people under-represented in the typical version of history.
The truth of the matter is, however, that i suspect my own obsession with ghosts and the afterlife stems from the fact that my dad died when i was little. The existence of ghosts or an afterlife would be the only way i would ever lay eyes on Joseph Franklin Simpson again in this lifetime. It’s interesting to notice and speculate how this childhood wishful thinking goes on to inform the rest of yr life, yr tastes and aesthetics. I think this longing, combined with a few early, formative memories of male bonding with my dad, watching Friday The 13th movies when i wasn’t supposed to, created a strong and fertile emotional bond to the horror genre, that has basically made me who i am.
And, as i mentioned in the last post on John Foxx, i am also personally touched by the haunting of former creativity. I became obsessed with sound, and the idea of making music, when i was 17 or 18. Being a proper Burroughsian, i carried a tape recorder with me everywhere, and started learning ways to mangle sound. Things came up in my life, that derailed that mission for close to a decade, mostly due to technical limitations. By the time I finally got some gear, i essentially went from having a handheld tape recorder to having an infinite studio, with every synthesizer and effect i ever could’ve dreamed of. On top of this, i’d been working as a sound engineer for years, by that point, and had heard a million records since those early tape recorder experiments, not to mention read a million album reviews.
I didn’t know what was good anymore. I wasn’t sure what i was trying to say. I was stuck, excited but frustrated, and had to dig my way out.
It’s all at our fingertips, the infinite potential to be creative. There’s a billion resources out there, but no one seems to be pulling them into one place, or arranging them in a sensible fashion. I spent over ten years, doing the grueling work of sifting through Google and tutorials and beating my head against the wall, trying to figure out who i am, and what i was trying to say. It all started to come clear, around the time i started Forestpunk. Basically, i am learning, trying to be great at what i do (mostly music and writing), and sharing my experiences along the way.
Mark Van Hoen reminds us to rip it up and start again. To make the art that you want to make, to bring yr own private obsessions to life.
Ghosts, psychological depth, and stately techno? Van Hoen manages to capture many of our obsessions, and writhes and grooves while doing.
Want to know what British spy thrillers have to do with new wave, folk horror, space rock, and dark ambient? Stay tuned, for more invisible threads and currents will be surfacing shortly.
Also take a moment to read a review i wrote of Mark Van Hoen’s most recent album, with his Locust project, After The Rain, also on Editions Mego.
Mark Van Hoen – Revenant Diary