Hauntology (music)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Hauntology is a genre[1][2] or a loosely defined category of music[3] that evokes cultural memory and the aesthetics of the past.[4] It developed in the 2000s primarily among British electronic musicians,[5][6] and typically draws on British cultural sources from the 1940s to the 1970s, including library music, film and TV soundtracks, psychedelia, and public information films, often through the use of sampling.[1]

The term was derived from philosopher Jacques Derrida's concept of the same name. In the mid-2000s, it was adapted by theorists Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher.[1] Hauntology is associated with the UK record label Ghost Box, in addition to artists such as the Caretaker, Burial, and Philip Jeck.[1] Music genres hypnagogic pop and chillwave descended from hauntology.


In music hauntology is predominantly associated with a British electronic music trend but it can apply to any art concerned with the aesthetics of the past.[4] The trend is often tied to notions of retrofuturism, whereby artists evoke the past by utilising the "spectral sounds of old music technology".[7] The trend involves the sampling of older sound sources to evoke deep cultural memory.[8] Critic Simon Reynolds stated in a 2006 article that "this strand of 'ghostified' music doesn’t quite constitute a genre, a scene, or even a network. [...] more of a flavour or atmosphere than a style with boundaries",[3] although in a 2017 article he summarized it as a "largely British genre of eerie electronics fixated on ideas of decaying memory and lost futures".[9] A 2009 blog post by academic Adam Harper stated that "[h]auntology is not a genre of art or music, but an aesthetic effect, a way of reading and appreciating art".[10]

Hauntological music draws on varied postwar cultural sources[5] from the 1940s through the 1970s which lie outside the usual canon of popular music, including library music, film and television soundtracks, educational music, and the sonic experimentation of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, as well as electronic and folk music sources.[1] Other British influences include obscure musique concrète composers and Joe Meek's album I Hear a New World,[3] as well as psychedelia and public information films.[4] Also important is the appropriation of visual iconography from this earlier period, including graphic design elements of school textbooks, public information posters, and television idents.[1]

Artists typically use vintage recording devices such as cassettes and synthesisers from the 1960s and 1970s.[4] Production often foregrounds the grain of the recording, including vinyl noise and tape hiss derived from the degraded musical or spoken word samples commonly used.[11] Sampling is used to "evoke 'dead presences'" which are transformed into "eerie sonic markers".[11] Artists often mix antique synthesiser tones, acoustic instruments, and digital techniques, as well as found sounds, abstract noise, and industrial drones.[3]

Etymology and history[edit]

The term hauntology was introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1993 book Specters of Marx as a term for the post-Marxist understanding of what is perceived as the tendency of Karl Marx's ideas to "haunt Western society from beyond the grave".[1] In music journalism, Derrida's ideas were invoked by critic Ian Penman for his 1995 essay on the production style of Tricky's album Maxinquaye, though Penman did not use the phrase "hauntology."[12] In the mid-2000s, the word began to be more widely appropriated by writers and theorists such as Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher, who referred to the work of Philip Jeck, William Basinski, Burial, The Caretaker, and artists associated with the UK label Ghost Box as hauntology.[1] Fisher attributed this renewed discussion of hauntology to the emergence of lo-fi musician Ariel Pink in the mid-2000s.[13] In an 2006 article for The Wire, Reynolds identified Ghost Box's the Focus Group, Belbury Poly, the Advisory Circle as prominent in the trend, along with Broadcast, the Caretaker, and Mordant Music.[3]

Several elements of hauntology as a musical style were presaged by Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada.[14] Other progenitors include Portishead[8] and I Monster.[15] Reynolds also invoked sample-based group Position Normal as presaging the genre.[16]

Music genres hypnagogic pop and chillwave – sometimes deployed interchangeably with each other[17] – descended from hauntology.[18] The former is described as an "American cousin" to hauntology.[19]

Critical analysis[edit]

Hauntological music is identified with British culture,[19] and was described as an attempt to evoke "a nostalgia for a future that never came to pass, with a vision of a strange, alternate Britain, constituted from the reordered refuse of the postwar period" by The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality.[5] Simon Reynolds described it as an attempt to construct a "lost utopianism" rooted in visions of a benevolent post-welfare state.[3] A sense of loss and bereavement is central to the phenomenon, according to theologian Johan Eddebo.[20]

Liam Sprod of 3:AM Magazine stated that "[h]auntology as aesthetics is firmly rooted in the idea of nostalgia as a disruption of time," adding that "[i]nstead of mere repetition, this distance provides a sense of loss and mourning, [...] and revitalizes the potential for a utopianism for the present age".[21] Mark Fisher characterised the hauntology movement as "a sign that 'white' culture can no longer escape the temporal disjunctions that have been constitutive of the Afrodiasporic experience", calling it contemporary electronic music's "confrontation with a cultural impasse: the failure of the future".[22] Fisher stated that

[W]hen cultural innovation has stalled and even gone backwards, [...] one function of hauntology is to keep insisting that there are futures beyond postmodernity’s terminal time. When the present has given up on the future, we must listen for the relics of the future in the unactivated potentials of the past.[23]

Hauntological music is stated by academic Sean Albeiz to suggest "an uncanny mixture of shared but faded cultural memories with sinister undercurrents".[1] Hauntology (along with the hypnagogic movement) was likened to "sonic fictions or intentional forgeries, creating half-baked memories of things that never were—approximating the imprecise nature of memory itself".[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Albiez, Sean (2017). Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Volume 11. Bloomsbury. pp. 347–349. ISBN 9781501326103. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  2. ^ Reynolds, Simon. "Why Burial's Untrue Is the Most Important Electronic Album of the Century So Far". Pitchfork. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Reynolds, Simon. "HAUNTED AUDIO, a/k/a SOCIETY OF THE SPECTRAL: Ghost Box, Mordant Music and Hauntology". The Wire. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d Daniels, Alexandria. "A Study of Hauntology in Berbarian Sound Studio". Talk Film Society. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Whiteley, Sheila; Rambarran, Shara (22 January 2016). The Oxford Handbook of Music and Virtuality. Oxford University Press. p. 412.
  6. ^ Fisher, Mark. "The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology". Dance Cult.
  7. ^ McLeod, Ken (2015). "Hip Hop Holograms". Afrofuturism 2.0: The Rise of Astro-Blackness. Lexington. ISBN 9781498510516. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  8. ^ a b Rodgers, Jude (24 August 2019). "Dummy wasn't a chillout album. Portishead had more in common with Nirvana'". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  9. ^ Reynolds, Simon. "Why Burial's Untrue Is the Most Important Electronic Album of the Century So Far". Pitchfork. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  10. ^ Harper, Adam (27 October 2009). "Hauntology: The Past Inside The Present". Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  11. ^ a b Sexton, Jamie (2012). "Weird Britain in Exile: Ghost Box, Hauntology, and Alternative Heritage". Popular Music and Society. 35 (4): 561–584. doi:10.1080/03007766.2011.608905. S2CID 191619593. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  12. ^ Fisher, Mark. "The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology". Dance Cult. Without using either term, Penman’s 1995 essay showed that Afrofuturism and hauntology are two sides of the same double-faced phenomenon.
  13. ^ Fisher, Mark (26 April 2010). "Ariel Pink: Russian roulette". Fact.
  14. ^ Reynolds, Simon. "Why Boards of Canada's Music Has the Right to Children Is the Greatest Psychedelic Album of the '90s". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  15. ^ "Little Britain actor Paul Putner lets us leaf through his record collection". 8 February 2017.
  16. ^ Reynolds, Simon (2012). Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to its Own Past. London: Faber & Faber. pp. 333–335. ISBN 978-0571232093. Retrieved 4 February 2019.
  17. ^ Weiss, Dan (6 July 2012). "Slutwave, Tumblr Rap, Rape Gaze: Obscure Musical Genres Explained". LA Weekly.
  18. ^ Gabrielle, Timothy (22 August 2010). "Chilled to Spill: How The Oil Spill Ruined Chillwave's Summer Vacation". PopMatters. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  19. ^ a b Bell, David. "Deserter's Songs – Looking Backwards: In Defence of Nostalgia". Ceasefire Mag. Retrieved 17 August 2016.
  20. ^ Eddebo, Johan (24 June 2017). "In search of lost time". Catholic Insight.
  21. ^ Sprod, Liam (11 May 2012). "Against All Ends: Hauntology, Aesthetics, Ontology". 3:AM Magazine. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  22. ^ Evans, Polly (3 February 2017). "Is electronic music a threat to culture?". Varsity.
  23. ^ Fisher, Mark (2013). "The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology". Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture. 5 (2): 42. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  24. ^ Simpson, J. (2015). "Chapter Three - The Disintegration Loops, Hauntology, & Hypnagogic Pop". William Basinski: Musician Snapshots. The Music You Should Hear Series. SBE Media (Stone Blue Editors). Retrieved 14 January 2020.

Further reading[edit]