Friday, 3 April 2009

Ghost Box

Britain still has its surprises, its secrets. On a recent visit to Broadstairs in Kent, this writer stumbled across a book entitled Ghost Stations in a dusty old second-hand booksellers. The book comprises barely-credible 'true' stories of haunted British airfields written in a stilted, untutored style. Yet it's still a compellingly eerie read, the fact that it was discovered in a town which seems decidedly more Pagan than Christian, its charity shops full to bursting with occult tomes, only reinforcing its weird energy.
It is precisely this energy that Jim Jupp and Julian House, founders of Ghost Box, have been tapping into for the last five years. The pair cite "library music, folklore, programmes for school and colleges, British horror movies, lost soundtracks, haunted landscapes, defunct educational establishments and weird supernatural stories" as key influences, while the label's design aesthetic (credited to House, an in-demand graphic designer) adds a further dimension of authenticity to the project, evoking Op Art, 60s-style abstraction and the celebrated house style of Penguin Books.
The music itself often relies on a similar collage-based aesthetic. By turns the work of Belbury Poly, The Focus Group, The Advisory Circle and Eric Zann recalls the library cues of the KPM company, the pioneering experimentation of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the electro-nostalgia of Boards Of Canada and the sinister, site-specific ambience of Brian Eno's On Land... although the label's latest release, From An Ancient Star by Belbury Poly, incorporates elements of disco and dub, illustrating that the Ghost Box aesthetic is malleable, adaptable.
"Through each release we like to expand on the Ghost Box world and rediscovered films, TV, records and books constantly feed into this process," enthuses Jupp. "A book that Julian and I have both recently read which seems almost to have come from the Ghost Box world is Kingsley Amis' The Green Man, and personally I've been enjoying the soundtrack music of Richard Denton and Martin Cook [composers of the theme tune to cancelled BBC pop-science show Tomorrow's World] which has influenced the latest Belbury Poly release."
Jupp and House aren't simply indulging in nostalgia, however; their fascination for the hidden, lost and forgotten sheds a mysterious glow on Britain's past, present and future.
"Part of what we try to do with every Ghost Box release," explains Jupp, "is to recreate the feeling of stumbling across an intriguing and mysterious old book or record in a junk shop, giving that sense that these mysterious artifacts could somehow be windows into a whole hidden world."
Given Ghost Box's fascination for the hidden, haunted Britain (metaphorically and otherwise) have Jim or Julian ever been haunted, spooked, bedeviled, bewitched or otherwise supernaturally affected?
"Unfortunately not that I can remember," replies Jupp, "although if you ask any of the other Ghost Box artists I think they'll all agree that by working on the label and each release we're often surprised by bizarre coincidences and connections. I think my own interest in the supernatural goes right back to experiences of sleep paralysis, out of body experiences and waking as a child. All that strange stuff that happens between sleeping and waking has always made me suspect there is more to reality than ordinarily appears to us."