The Advisory Circle
Don’t believe what your parents tell you the real Sixties and Seventies were all about chase scenes involving Routemaster buses and bowler hated criminal masterminds; zero-gravity orgies under binary star sunsets, and futuristic consumables that merely to gaze upon would caress away the dust from the minds eye, unleashing lysergic rainbows. At least, that’s how it was if you were a piece of library music.
If the past few years have seen compilations such as Barry 7’s Connectors pay tribute to that optimistic world where there was a synth sound to describe every facet of modern life, Other Channels imagines its flipside. Instead of springing from the studio ready to swing in suburban sitcoms, gad around with adverts or spend a morning with the testcard girl, this could be the library music that was left on the shelf, forlornly gathering dust with only the paranoid mutterings of public information films for company.
The Ghost Box ethos is one of hauntology, reanimating the lost promises of new towns, atomic technology and postwar utopianism as ghosts to join with an older England of folklore and paganism. But having previously fished around in the collective nostalgia pool in his King Of Woolworths guise, here Jon Brooks flees to the suburban fringes of the label’s fictional epicentre, Belbury, holing himself up in a fortress of analogue synths. Inside is refuge from the brave new world where the crisply paternal voices who deliver links between educational programming and those warning of impending nuclear attack~ “Civil Defence is Common Sense” are chillingly similar. Mogadon Coffee Morning blinks repeatedly in an attempt to focus upon snippets of gossip and talk of soft furnishings, but is lured away by woozy noodling that spirals languidly like synchronised swimming for the unconscious. You’re not even safe inside your mind, though: Fire, Damp St Air, suggests a psyche infiltrated by TV films, where bereft yet sickly strings battle with consoling clarinets for the emotional high ground.
This is Jon Brooks, aka The Advisory Circle’s first album proper for Ghost Box. He lives in remotest Derbyshire, amid tapes of old analogue and Library Music. One can picture him floating around in a lonely 70s time bubble against the temporal permanency of Belbury Hill. Prior to this, he released the EP Mind How You Go, which showed that he is an aficionado of old Public Information films – indeed, as a listening aid for Other Channels it might help the listener to get hold of a copy of the DVD Charley Says, a collection of short PI films broadcast between the late 50s and early 80s, including their infamous Protect And Survive guides to what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, which are both comical and frightening. Brooks has clearly drawn on this for inspiration, as well as the grainy, often bleakly concrete soundtracks to these broadcasts – hence, tracks like “Civil Defence Is Common Sense” and “The Coastguard”. However there is a lot more to Other Channels than simple surprise at dredging up rusty, half-remembered memories of yesterday from the attics and riverbeds of the subconscious.
Brooks has done what all decent sample based or concrete music should do – assembled something organically new from the dead tissue of the old, something which could only be conceived in its own time. Hence “Keep Warm, Keep Well” and “Eyes Which Are Swelling”. With their deadly pile-up of barnacled analogue, sepia dub, will o’the wisp windscreen wiper effects and granular transistor interference, they represent a veritable topography of a certain cultural area of nostalgia as experienced from the unique perspective of the 2lst century although evocative of the past, this sort of simultaneist layering is very much a present day studio phenomenon. “Hocusing For Beginners”, meanwhile, sounds like what started life as a piece of cheesy, mid-morning Muzak which has matured strangely and become encrusted with age. However in contrast to the likes of a Jeck or a Basinski, The Advisory Circle doesn’t always convey the past as distant, bobbing far and forever away, but at times makes it feel almost shockingly intimate and alive. The general reminders I get from Ghost Box music are of the rheumy bliss of days off school, or the music they cranked up during breakdowns in TV transmission – moments, in other words, when time magically, mundanely and momentarily stood still. These can be re-experienced most pleasingly on the frozen halcyon likes of “Sundial”. Other moments, as on the Quatermass like mock horror of “Swinscoe Episode l: Enter Swinscoe”, are like monochrome flashbacks, perhaps to moments of pure, gasping childhood terror – like the Public information film moment in which a boy, running barefoot across a beach, is about to step hard on a large, protruding piece of broken glass. Brooks’s intermittent but vividly fore grounded use of samples is key in this respect Other Channels makes intelligent nods in the direction of retro-electronica on “Everyday Electronics”, successfully conveying just how eerily, ominously new electronic music sounded in the days before it become numbingly ubiquitous. Meanwhile, on “Farmland, Freeland”, Brooks wisely acknowledges the curious role of the flute in futurisms past, from Debussy through to Kraftwerk.
If there is any kind of political agenda to Other Channels, it’s in its occasional fixation on Public Information broadcasting, one which is strongly alluded to on his Mind How You Go EP concluding as it does with the decontextualised admonition, Keep out! The voices of impeccable male diction, here speaking in the 70s but forged much earlier in the 30s and 40s, may be looking out for your best interests – don’t step on that frozen pond, keep up to speed with civil defence but what was then soothing now sounds sinister. We no longer trust these men, these apparent relics of a more reassuring, avuncular era however although they do not operate as overtly in our lives nowadays, they have not gone away. More fundamentally, Other Channels intimates that while the past may be dead, the ghostly imprints it leaves are very active and mobile, effective and real.
Ghost Box just keep getting better and better. On this, the label’s 10th release, Jon Brooks AKA The Advisory Circle heaps glorious tune upon glorious tune. Light synth melodies and fuzzy music fuse throughout to form a thing of rare beauty. Just buy it.
The Advisory Circle’s debut is the most fully realised expression of the Ghost Box label’s aesthetic to date. Its artists inhabit a half-remembered zone sure to resound with impressionable listeners of a certain age. Clean, cold sounds echo the electronic incidental music of 1970s public-information films and weird children’s television.
Beautifully assembled packaging, by the designer Julian House, suggests some long-abandoned government social experiment. Other Channels uses snatches of speech and fragments of banally beautiful melodies to conjure a vivid suburban nightmare of Mogadon coffee mornings, treacherous frozen ponds and imminent nuclear war that both chills and charms.
Sunday Times Culture Magazine