SCHOOL OF HAUNTOLOGY – D.D. Denham’s “Electronic Music in the Classroom”

by Olga Drenda

Editor’s Note: We at TEoB would like to warmly welcome our lovely new writer from Poland, Olga Drenda!

One of the main protagonists of hauntology, Jon Brooks of The Advisory Circle, revisits the 1970s audiotheque again. While his paramount project, drawing inspiration mainly from public information films of that era, studies extensively the subtle institutional manipulation and the disquiet of discreet monitoring (“everything is under control!”). This time, Mr. Brooks invites us to explore a fictitious electronic music workshop for schoolchildren.

Listen to “In the Begining” [ti_audio media=”11546″]

Our guide and host in this odd sonic playground is a mysterious composer D.D. Denham, allegedly active in the mid-70s, who presents the results of his pupils’ efforts in the field of sound-making. 16 adventures with analogue synth devices and tape-looping give a wondrous and thoughtful insight into a child’s imagination which is, in its untamed creativity, able to create a sound illustration to nearly anything, if given proper tools to express it. Even though it’s Jon Brooks himself only who releases his inner child in these compositions, they do sound believable. Musically, the mysterious Mr. Denham and his pupils are as close to The Advisory Circle mothership and its BBC Radiophonic Workshop inspirations as, on the other hand, Laurie Spiegel’s Appalachian Grove. The main ingredients used here are outer-space, thereminesque effects, cat’s meow, simple piano motives, tape loops, drones and spooky sound distortions. In other words, it’s fun. The topics span the whole imaginarium of a 1970s British smalltown schoolkid: creepy television themes, Cold War fears, animals, weird vicars, science fiction and reality as scary as fiction.

Listen to “The Way the Vicar Smiles” [ti_audio media=”11548″]

Perhaps the easiest and the most logical way to explain Brooks’ ability to channel a child’s imagination is the fact that he has himself begun his musical education at a very young age. Immersed in the world of sound from early childhood, he developed curiosity about playing with sounds, what resulted in mastering a number of musical instruments even before the beginning of any formal education. The anxious sonosphere he likes to operate in stems from his fascination in the gloomy aura of the 1970s, when synthetic music provided a soundtrack for the fears of Western civilization.

Listen to “Two Teeth Missing” [ti_audio media=”11547″]

The background D. D. Denham story written by Brooks is inventive and convincing. As we can read in the introductory note, „you can practically smell the tape loops as they whiz around jars and broom-handles in makeshift schoolroom studios. You can see the soft light as it chinks through the heavy, lined curtains covering the windows”. Indeed we can. The vintage synthesizer sounds created in the imaginary classroom are not only a sonic tunnel to the world of pioneer electronics and The Scary Visions Of The Future (how oddly up-to-date now), but they also bring a certain special kind of nostalgia to mind. Electronic Music In The Classroom is a project of fiction, but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t have been really recorded at that time. Evoking the era when musical education – as it seems – really did count, it makes the listener long for radio plays, decent film and TV soundtracks, and, of course, a time machine.

Electronic Music in the Classroom (Cafe Kaput, 2010) is available here.

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