Electronic music pioneer John Foxx has released a new album – The Machine. The album was released on February 10th and is available for purchase via Metamatic. This quite dark electronic soundtrack was recorded by John Foxx and Benge for the theater production of E.M. Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’.
The music is a beautiful mix of soft synth sounds and dark ambient pads, paired with more shamaish type vocals on top. The elegance of Foxx & Benge’s musical expression is clearly visible throughout the album, adding that familiar electronic soundscape that we´ve come to associate with the duo. The songs fit nicely with the theme of The Machine Stops and Foxx’ unmistakable vocals adds another dimension to the performance version. But is it daring? Not really, Foxx & Benge seldom steps out of their comfort zone and patented audio experienced we have heard many times before, so in all honesty, although crafted to perfection, if you have any of the last decade of Foxx albums you will not need to run to the store to get this one. But if you are in fact scheduled to see the live performance of The Machine Stops you are most likely in for a treat.
The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard ‘cell’, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge. The album includes some different mixes to the edits used in the stage play so that it flows as an album in its own right. Apart from the new mixes created, The Machine also contains abstract, atmospheric vocals by John Foxx and Elizabeth Bernholz (Gazelle Twin). Artwork is by Jonathan Barnbrook.
Kuno alone questions the planet’s dependency on technology, but in his struggle to break free from its control, can he reach the Earth’s surface before the Machine stops?
“You talk as if a god had made the Machine…Men made it, do not forget that.”
Listening in on the compositions by Foxx and Benge, as part of the performance where the action is chilly rather than truly fearful, the story is clearly expanded by the soundscapes. First routinely soothing notes, then a rough wall of noise. Finally a burst of choric, almost sacred music, as humans enter a non-mechanical universe.
Foxx said about The Machine Stops “I’d read it in 1964 when I was at school and it had fascinated me then,” adding that his love of Yorkshire, where he lived as a lecturer at Leeds College of Art, was a further reason for his interest in the collaboration. The soundtrack was finalized in May 2016 and a one-off performance by Foxx and Benge called “The Bunker Experience”, followed by a Q&A session was held in the York Cold War Bunker on 9 May.
Below John & Benge perform excerpts from the soundtrack to The Machine Stops
Stereoklang made an interview with John Foxx a couple of years ago where we discussed the legacy and work of John Foxx. One interesting thing that we came to discuss is John’s continues search and exploration of electronic music in general, but also in particular where new ideas and inspiration comes from.
You’ve once said that Stockhousen’s theories are more attractive than his music but the theories makes you review what you are doing and put them in another light. – What theories and ideas inspire your work, currently?
I’m always interested in what happens when you remove a major factor from a form – my whole stance on electronic music for instance was to see what happened if you took America out of popular music – it was quite a challenge – but very rewarding. In the end, that was Metamatic. I’ve long been interested in French music around 1900 – the Parisian rejection of Wagnerian excess, and the will to create something minimal and elegant– here we have the music of Satie in particular.
Satie particularly wanted to remove anything dramatic or grandiose. In doing this he devised a new form, using solo piano. I love this music – it is so beautiful and elusive and seems deceptively simple, but it is actually very difficult to be so simple. I’ve also been exploring the origins of modern media, such as Television, Radio, Telephone etc. and made some very interesting discoveries –
For instance, a surprising common factor in their invention is that it was partly motivated by a desire to explore the possibility of communication with spirit voices. Spiritualism was a very popular concept when Logie Baird, Marconi and Graham Bell were working – here is a link to a BBC site which details some of this http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4185356.stm
Scientific methodology was the way they assumed was suitable to investigate such phenomenon. In doing this, they each made significant discoveries, which eventually led to the development of modern media. (We still use the term ‘medium’ to describe a modern technological communications process, for instance, when this was previously used as a term for someone who claimed to communicate with spirits). All this has coincided with another thread of theory – I’ve long felt that we don’t really understand media – what it is, what it can do, how it is affecting us. One small instance of this – we are surrounded by ghosts of the dead, yet we don’t think this is at all odd – we can watch the image of Marilyn Monroe anytime we want to. She is made of light and electricity, she talks dances, sings, smiles, yet she has been dead for forty years, she is dust – yet she lives on. We all see her from time to time. What else is that image but a ghost?
I am simply attempting to find a way of describing what is happening, so it can be seen better, so I can begin to understand such media processes, and their effects on us, more clearly. All this merged with the interest in Satie, during the making of a set of recordings of simple piano music, recorded in my front room. At first, I wanted all the sounds of the mechanism of the piano and the sounds from outside the windows to be audible. During playback, it was fascinating to hear sounds I hadn’t noticed at the time –breathing, movement, even voices through the wall, from the neighbour’s house.
It was all strongly reminiscent of a séance, especially since these were often conducted in front rooms or parlours. (In Britain, this is the term for a room kept as the ‘best room’ for receiving visitors, also where the piano would be kept). So I began combining these piano pieces with other recordings made in various environments, including a machine left recording at night in empty rooms. Some of the sounds and the stereo movements captured in this way are really startling.
I also recorded white noise from an untuned crystal radio and slowed small sections of it, to obtain apparent words and phrases. It’s a method of examining the grain of sound – to find things buried inside it. I guess the unconscious, plus our instinctive desire to connect and make patterns, both come strongly into play here. Both of these seem well worth encouraging, since they equally apply to the way we comprehend music. The recordings will be released later this year, and will be titled ‘Electricity and Ghosts’. Since beginning these investigations, I discovered another artist working in a parallel way – Susan Hiller, who currently has an exhibition at Tate Britain, in London. http://www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/susanhiller/default.shtm Her work simply acknowledges the importance of the inexplicable – its presence and purpose in human life, from an artistic and anthropological perspective – meaning a humanist, empathic, participatory one. It is also a welcome reply to some recent, rather oppressive and authoritarian statements by self-publicising scientists, who are bullying popular opinion at present. As she says in one interview – ‘”Artists’ research disturbs the kind of research that scientists do”. Her work certainly seems to offer a far broader perspective than the scientists’ does.
John Foxx And The Maths
Release Date: 10/02/2017
Full track listing:
John Foxx And The Maths : The Machine
01. The Ghost In The Machine
02. The Other Mother
03. A Dark Illumination
04. Tidal Moonlight
05. Hive Frequency
06. Transworld Travelogue
07. The Iron Bible
08. Star Thief
09. Animal Mechanical
10. Genetic Hymnal
11. Memory Oxide
12. Vortex Logic
13. Orphan Waltz