ON THE EVE OF THE release of his new spooky EP collaboration with the disquieting electronic collective, the elder statesman of British synth alienation pulls MOJO into a labyrinthine parallel universe. Since it was formed in 2003 by childhood friends Julian House and Jim Jupp, the Ghost Box collective have been using music and design to create a weird imaginary world that feeds on the collective melancholy memories of post-war British pop culture. One key influence was the eight-track Ballardian ennui of John Foxx's 1980 album, Metamatic.
Foxx recently revealed himself as a fan of Ghost Box's own spectral aesthetic, resulting in a mesmerising sepulchral collaboration – Empty Avenues – with Box composers Jupp (Belbury Poly) and Jon Brooks (The Advisory Circle) as John Foxx And The Belbury Circle. Here are three clips from the EP, followed by John’s answers to a series of email questions on the topic that we sent him last week.
When did you first come across the Ghost Box guys? How did it happen?
I’d heard some of Jim Jupp’s tracks [as Belbury Poly] on the radio and liked them immensely. I looked them up and enjoyed the new universe. When [Foxx’s current collaborator] Benge [aka Ben Edwards] and I were making [John Foxx & The Maths’ 2011 album] Interplay we invited them down to meet up and have a preview of what we were doing.
What was your impression of them – the world that they built around their music?
They were very open to what we were doing – especially using that old equipment that Benge had. They also liked his Twenty Systems album. We both really enjoyed the ideas behind the Ghost Box label and Belbury Poly etc. – that idea of an annexe – a notional Polytechnic – some sort of a labyrinth generator – a parallel reality you can step into and out of, but eminently recognizable, made from fragments of lost pasts and futures that might have happened – all those public information films from the early ’70s and theme music from BBC science films and the Open University. You feel you only have to open a door and walk right in – it all exists somewhere very close.
“Ghost Box are constructing entire forgotten districts from fragments – from litter and dust. I feel I lived in that sort of world for years.”
Have you sat down and discussed their philosophy, or are you just interested in the sounds they make?
I really didn’t need to, because it runs oddly parallel with much of my own work – those ideas of the Quiet Man and his world run very close to the Ghost Box universe, I think.
Did they mention how John Foxx’s music has influenced them, fed into what they’re doing with Ghost Box?
They said they liked the early music I did – the Metamatic-era stuff.
Did you compose new songs especially for them or was it a question of working pre-existing songs into their sound world?
I worked with the tracks they sent. They sounded really good and it was an interesting challenge to make songs out of the raw tracks – work into the sounds and atmospheres and still try to come up with something surprising – something that still sounded like me – albeit me crossing over into the Ghost Box universe.
The songs do seem to address similar themes as those explored by the Ghost Box label: a street where the signs are wrong, inhabiting a time that we almost knew, yet... The songs also feel thematically linked – characters moving through urban areas lost, drifting, unnoticed. Intentional?
Yes – they’re the themes that interest me a great deal and always have. Ghost Box seem to have invented ways of making that world accessible. They’re busy constructing entire forgotten districts from fragments – from evidence that blows around like litter and dust. It’s an emotionally intriguing area. I feel I lived in that sort of world for years and years in London, and that kind of lost and found romance with a city is something I value a lot and revisit time and again. It’s always a wonderfully fertile ground for songs. I always see those songs as little films – all jerky and blurred. The title comes up – cue music – A Man A Woman And A City through the grain and scratches. You just step into the film. That’s all you really need…
Are you pleased with the finished results?
Yes. You know, you have to be able to surprise yourself with what you can do with other people’s work – especially people you respect a great deal. And you hope they’ll be pleased with what you do.
You seem very prolific at the moment. What are you up to next?
Bit of a list here – Benge and I are currently working on an album with Diana Yukawa – she’s a classical violin prodigy who wants to see what a recording studio can do – even its outer limits – vintage equipment, tape hiss and valve distortion, etc. – plus co-composing with people from outside that classical world. Benge is well into it, of course – all the wild analogue loopers and delays come out. You can hear the dust getting musical. Diana is wonderfully receptive, has phenomenal abilities and is intelligent and curious too - perfect. It’s a real adventure for us all.
I’m also gathering pieces for an album of domestic piano recordings called Electricity And Ghosts. A few of the tracks involve leaving recorders running in empty rooms all night, to see what they pick up. Some of the results have been fascinating.
Benge and I are also beginning to put tracks together for the next Maths album. Hannah Peel will be involved with recording too. We’re just discovering what she can do with monumentally amplified violin – as well as the synth playing and singing. Amazing talent, just busting to be let loose.
There are also plans afoot with Xeno And Oaklander, A few film makers, including Alex Proyas, Vincent Gallo and Macoto Tezuka. And some work with Clint Mansell who did the soundtracks for Moon and Black Swan, among others. It goes on…
Empty Avenues by John Foxx And The Belbury Circle is released today. Order from http://ghostbox.greedbag.com/buy/empty-avenues/.