Everything New Is Old Again: D.D. Denham, Ursula Bogner, Pye Corner Audio Transcription Service

As the radiophonic revival continues apace, a few interesting new albums have turned up on the horizon. Electronic Music in the Classroom, by one D.D. Denham, purports to be a collection of experimental recordings by Denham and his/her music students. Two albums by East German hausfrau and secret synth genius Ursula Bogner have been released—Recordings 1969-1988 and Sonne=Blackbox. (Her “Punkte” is included above.) And Pye Corner Audio Transcription Services have been releasing collections of tape transfers, such as Black Mill Tapes Vol. 2.

The stories of recovered and rediscovered radiophonics associated with these releases certainly sound plausible enough, but they’re actually all fictions. D.D. Denham is the creation of Jon Brooks, who also records as The Advisory Circle (and a little digging reveals a character by the name of D.D. Denham in the Hammer Horror film The Satanic Rites of Dracula). Bogner appears to be the creation of German electronic musician Jan Jelinek (and Momus has suggested that the photos of Bogner are no less than Jelinek himself in drag). Pye Corner Audio Transcripts “magnetically aligning ferrous particles since 1970” is more of an enigma, headed up by a mysterious Head Technician who occasionally surfaces to play live sets—but the sound of something like Black Mill Tapes Vol 2., while certainly owing much to the golden age of radiophonics, seems a bit more up-to-date than it claims to be. There’s a certain contemporary polish to all of these recordings, and an ear that’s spent a lot of time listening to the genuine vintage material can hear the occasional anachronistic tone or texture.

However, these aren’t hoaxes, not in the sense of something like the Piltdown Man or James Frey’s faux memoir. It’s not strictly meant as a deception; it’s a kind of historical fiction by way of music. In his Poptimist essay on Jürgen Müller Tom Ewing refers to this kind of invented history as “‘retcon,’ the comics or film term for the re-ordering of fictional continuums by new works”. The musicians behind Ursula Bogner, D.D. Denham, and Pye Corner are part of the ranks of what Simon Reynolds calls “hauntologists”, operating “in a zone of British nostalgia linked to the television programming of the sixties and seventies.” (In Bogner’s case, of course, Jelinek is operating in a German idiom rather than a British one, but the basic principle still holds.)

Why retcon? Why not simply release that kind of music under one’s own name, without all the fictions and the aliases? Well, there’s much appeal in the narrative of a “lost work”; after all, what’s the narrative of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop that I’ve been presenting here but that of lost work, unacknowledged genius labouring in obscurity? The packaging of these albums and the narratives constructed around them comprise a series of signifiers that connote nostalgia and anti-commercialism—although ironically, the carefully arranged image is just as calculated as that of, say, Lana del Rey or Beyonce. It’s just aiming for a different sort of audience and tugging on a different set of responses. Much as fan fiction depends on the reader’s awareness of the source canon, so do the neo-retro-radiophonics—both the self-consciously fictive sort and those that show influence without playing with retconning—depend on the listener’s nostalgic longing for an era when the strangest sonic experiments could be found slipped into the opening titles of the most mundane family entertainment.

References:

  • Retromania by Simon Reynolds. Faber & Faber, 2011
  • Momus, “Electronic Drag”, imomus.livejournal.com, 11/12/2008
  • Tom Ewing, “Imaginary Stories”, Pitchfork.com, 9/23/2011