The Transactional Dharma Of Roj
As Broadcast’s original keyboardist, Roj Stevens picked up a thing or two about weird audio, and this solo release transforms vintage meditational Library Music into an aural Wonderland of mysterious Germanic voices, glinting ambience and atavistic rhythm science. “Yellow Peel” and “Go Without Me” throb with Hare Krishna hand-drums and hypnotic tom-tom pressure, soaked in the washing-machine reverb of early concrete music. “A Beginning Word” even displays Suicide-al tendencies. This “hauntological” sound is something you either buy into or reject wholesale, but Roj’s psychic journey is among the most listenable examples so far.
The Ghost Box label continues along its unique trajectory, blurring the gauzy lines of separation between past, present and future. This debut from ex Broadcast member, Roj, is typical of a roster whose hallmark is the re-conceptualisation of past echoes, seeking to transform them into blurry mythical tapestries of a fantastical, though failed, future. The Transactional Dharma is populated by burbling electronics and bizarre sonic tributaries, but unlike, say, the work of some of the imprint’s other acts, the mode here is often less playful. Cashing in the cosy retro-futurism of groups such as Plone and, indeed, Broadcast for a more academic approach.
It’s easy to interpret many of the pieces here as a process or (re-) discoyery, in the vein of the BBC Radiophonic Workshops groundbreaking audio work. By stealing the clothes of such sonic pioneers, Roj could be attempting to show that there’s nothing new under the sun. Or maybe he simply wants us to cast our minds back for a better tomorrow?
Since 2004, the year Ghost Box was launched with Farmer’s Angle by Belbury Poly and Sketches and Spells by The Focus Group, the label has gone on quietly proliferating parts of the strange and immaculate parallel universe those records created. It may well continue until it has completely annexed reality, and releases in this one have become the esoteric and evocative fictions.
The Transactional Dharma of Roj feels like a perfectly logical extension of the Ghost Box world. To the gauzy cut-ups of Radiophonic Workshop, stereo effect records, public service announcements and Library Music, it adds oblique nods to Burroughs, Gysin and Brian Jones in Morocco, spiritual spoken word records, and early documents of hippy trail ethnomusicology. Roj (a former member of Broadcast who now lectures on electronic music) excels at creating little musical ecologies in which no element, whether bubbles of analogue bass, or tape-delayed xylophone or wood block, ever clicks into neat overlaps, yet everything coalesces nonetheless into coherent wholes. Its interest in rhythm is perhaps where it differs from previous Ghost Box releases more interested in running together patches of texture and atmosphere.
Though Transactional Dharma never exactly sounds like either Woebot’s album or J-Dilla’s Donuts, it nonetheless reminded me of both, for the ascetic refractions of rhythm in the former and in the latter, the evanescent ‘here and gone again’ quality with which crabwise grooves come together then disperse. The best tracks here unfold into a kind of uncanny life, like little clockwork toys, and while you can imagine Roj designed the set with the Ghost Box world in mind, his record is perfectly strong enough to stand alone, in a twilit zone of its own.