Opasnosti sjećanja, žaljenja i nostalgije.
“Don’t look back”, repeats one of several voices within Mark van Hoen’s The Revenant Diary, his fifth solo album and first release on Editions Mego. Surrounded by weighted beats, analogue synthesizer drones and granular dirt, the unidentified, siren-like female voice’s advice is as much seduction as warning. Tellingly so, for as well as being both Van Hoen’s most ambitious and his most accessible work, The Revenant Diary is an eloquent meditation on the allures and dangers of memory, regret and nostalgia. The album's foundation was shaped by a memory and a chance encounter. While remastering some of his early 90s releases and Peel Session tracks, Van Hoen – a founding member of Seefeel, who also worked as Locust and in Seefeel offshoot Scala and has collaborated with Slowdive, Robert Fripp, Edison Woods & Esben and the Witch amongst others – happened upon a track he had recorded in 1982. Attracted by its simplicity, he was inspired to record the basis of The Revenant Diary on 4-track tape, using a minimal set-up, reminiscent of his first early 80s musical adventures as a young teenager. The recollection of one of these – a 13 year old Van Hoen's experiment in reel-to-reel tape recording of an ineffectual pop song playing on the radio, which spuriously transformed it into a spooky amalgam of backwards church organ and unintelligible voices – provided an evocative inspiration. The Revenant Diary pivots on this combination of complex reflection and simplified technology. A determinedly analogue affair, it brims over with Van Hoen’s signature sounds: immersively decayed drones, almost broken ambient surfaces and lulling rhythms, with granular crackle providing spectral grit. Fragments of female vocals pepper the album, and notably dominate the 10-minute epic “Holy Me”, one of Van Hoen’s most complex compositions, in which non-verbal sounds rub delicately against each other in an otherworldly choral composition. Less song-based than his last solo work, the well-received Where Is The Truth [City Centre Offices, 2010], its palette and structure are more descendants of the 1995 album Truth Is Born Of Arguments, which utilised a similar combination of decayed atmosphere against a granular / glitch rhythmic structure. Tracks like “Laughing Stars At Night” and “Unknown Host” exude a powerful emotional undertow, as alluringly woozy as they are intensely contemplative. But this is no exercise in Instagram-style disposable nostalgia. Van Hoen’s adroit juxtapositions of gauzy textures evoke the blurred luminescence of 16mm film and the rich, colour-saturated hues of rediscovered Polaroid photos, as the cover artwork, designed by Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley, acknowledges. The Revenant Diary expertly renders displaced memory daze in lushly melodic, gently delirious electronic sound. - editionsmego.com/release/eMEGO-136
A very welcome return for Mark Van Hoen, the Seefeel founder member best known his ambient techno work as Locust and under his own name on Apollo and R&S in the mid-90s. The Revenant Diary, his first release on Peter Rehberg's Editions Mego, follows last year's fine City Centre Offices set Where Is The Truth, and explores similarly deep electronic sound-worlds, but it's less obviously song-based, and has different origin: while remastering some of his earliest recordings, Van Hoen was struck by the simplicity of a recording he made in 1982, a reel-to-reel experiment that, through serendipity as much as anything else, achieved a truly spooky, spellbinding result. Freshly inspired and reconnected to his young music-making self, he resolved to make his new record on 4-track using a minimal set-up. The resulting album is recognisable Van Hoen - all decaying drones, star-gazing synths, hypnotic rhythm and richly layered crackle - but there's a directness and an honesty to it that is palpable and refreshing even out of context. It's truly haunting music, with memory as its central theme - particularly powerful is the swirling 'Don't Look Back', and the epic closer 'Holy Me', a layered collage of voices reminiscent of Peter Christopherson's work in Coil and with CoH. Amazing cover art from Stephen O'Malley too. - boomkat
Time is the alarming issue, the aspect of our lives most subject to the social pressures of the day. As average working weeks increase, we’re enjoined ever more to indulge in colour-supplement leisure activities (“get making those memories”, as a recent advertising slogan had it). In the face of systemic crisis, we’re haunted by the vague sense that time’s running out; simultaneously, we seem to have more of it than ever, in abundant archives, in multiplying ephemeral media of memory-inscription (Twitter, Facebook, blogs). Our memories press maddeningly in on the present, bursting into the body of music, at the very moment they threaten to disappear. As archivists carry on their pursuits (witness the hauntological barrel- scraping of the Found Objects blog and the continuing vogue for austerity chic), the quality of that time seems to matter less and less, just so long as it’s passed.
The latest solo album by Mark Van Hoen, an early member of Seefeel who has also worked as Locust, seems to come with the same set of conceptual baggage as all the nostalgia-swollen albums of recent years. But there is immediately a disturbing spark. The story goes: listening back through his archive, Van Hoen came across a track made in 1982 by his adolescent self, setting off memory recall of even earlier recordings; in turn he was encouraged to try a more primitive recording set-up of the kind he started out with, with a four-track recorder and minimal equipment. Potential pitfalls suggest themselves immediately – is this just soft-focus recreation of simpler times, the sonic equivalent of the midlife crisis car? From the first, though, Van Hoen avoids them. The beats are rough and ready, with cutting hi-hats and a loping kick like distant depth-charges, with frayed at the edges synth-strings and a female vocal as if imported from a horror film. Nowhere is the percussion sophisticated – as with his sometimes portentous 1990s work, Van Hoen occupies a corner of electronica untouched by Techno and House’s seductions. The mixing is queasy and out of joint, as if Van Hoen were adopting a deliberately broken language, feeling out the possibilities in stuttering, cracked versions of his familiar gestures. Notably, where Van Hoen sang on last year’s Where Is The Truth, here the voices are borrowed, though whether from vocalist Georgia Belmont or sampled is hard to tell .
The same kind of primitivist impulse lurks behind much of the last few years’ fetishisation of analogue and modular technology – think of the clunky beats of Ekoplekz, or the laborious, semi-aleatoric methods of Keith Fullerton Whitman’s synth works. It not only evokes the relationship you have with music technology when starting out, and the directness with which you can alter sound, but in addition the physical particularity of analogue – tape recorders with their buttons that clunk and click, synths, drum machines, guitars with knobs for settings and tone, turntables and the motion of needles and record surfaces. All this filled the adolescence of musicians of a certain age. Van Hoen seems fascinated on The Revenant Diary by certain granular qualities of noise, the kind of roughened grain (usually applied by him to the voice) often arrived at by happy accident. This echo of adolescence is far more compelling than the dumbed down version that lies at the core of, say, chillwave, and far truer to the difficulty of teenage years. The perspective on the agonies of adolescence that comes with age is gained at the expense of its sense of possibility, of a meaning that saturates every second, and from which it is in reality inextricable. Van Hoen maintains this desire, this danger – adolescence as a wager, a roll of the dice.
His position is complicated by one of the narratives hiding behind The Revenant Diary: he was adopted as a child, a fact that became the sort-of subject matter of Where Is The Truth. “Don’t look back” warns the voice at the centre of the eponymous track, not because getting stuck in the past risks our facility to make ideas of the future (the traditional argument against nostalgia), but because its truth content is under question, if not hollowed out. It’s worth noting that Van Hoen, although working with his youthful set-up, doesn’t use particular textural or idiomatic signifiers in the manner of Hypnagogic pop. In this respect, the beatless tracks are what strike you here – “37/3d” is a minimal construction of static burbles, pointillist synth and backward, overlapping voice; “No Distance” is the kind of haunted sequencer architecture explored on Oneohtrix Point Never’s early releases; “Holy Me” is nine and a half minutes of solo multitracked voice, I Am Sitting In A Room as remixed by Oval. There’s a sense of suspension in these tracks, a glittering sadness, but also a refusal of the particularising pathos of meaning, which pins sound to a particular time.
Diaries seek to organise life; month after month, year after year, experience is recorded. The present nostalgia for analogue media and all its (as often as not, trashy) content is perhaps a longing for a moment when time could be experienced this way – coherent, slowly accumulative, the pseudo-cyclical passage of seasons and festivals. To be suddenly dispossessed of a past, to have what lies at the centre of your self-image disturbed, is something like the condition of Western society today, with the rug pulled from under it by economic and social crises. What is swiftly becoming clear is how useless nostalgia is in getting a grip on our own sense of time, not least because it leaves us with alienated figments of time, emptied of historicity. The Revenant Diary, confronting us with unremembered fragments of Van Hoen’s self, confounds all of that. - Dan Barrow
Sometimes, at night, I sense something, and then I don’t. I don’t know what exists in the dark, although I’m sure something does. A revenant, undoubtedly. A returner from the dark: just as Proust’s narrator finds his childhood through a madeleine dipped in tea or as Sebald’s Austerlitz finds his orphanhood in an abandoned room in an English railway station, a life already lived comes back unexpectedly. What more is a ghost, anyway, than the intimate realization of the past interrupting the present?
The Revenant Diary is Mark Van Hoen’s ghost story. “[The] record was already mostly done before I found out,” he said in a recent interview. The voices were added later. It is now well known that his adoption had been covered up and discovered accidentally during his emigration to the United States. But while his last album, Where Is The Truth, was an explicit attempt at processing what had been discovered, The Revenant Diary, composed in the darkness of unknowing, sounds more like a question weighed down in the unconscious, a sense, something before the words that speak articulate pain — buried deeply. It’s unsurprising, then, that from material already composed in the dark, he adds a voice. First, in “Look Into My Eyes,” a broken, unintelligible voice that drifts from right-to-left through the channels of a headphone. Second, in “Don’t Look Back,” the titular words repeated through the slow walk of the beat: “don’t look back, don’t look back (back).”
In the same interview, Van Hoen says, “I am a firm believer that your musical taste and identity is formed […] in your teenage years. The rest of my musical life will be spent trying to gain the expertise to communicate what’s in my head, or to get closer to the source, as it were.” In 1982, he recorded a song that, when happened upon nearly three decades later, would provide the aesthetic foundation for The Revenant Diary. Composed and recorded and produced, minimally, as though in a memory of his earliest recordings, as a teenager, he put together the album. There is an initial simplicity to the album that morphs, gracefully, into an understatement. The album is expressing a melancholy without sentimentality or histrionics, and a nostalgia without foundation in a gimmicky appropriation of cultural artifacts. The aural texture is a woven assemblage of ambient synth patterns, warm basses, cold arpeggios, and certain Kraut-psych sensibilities into a modest, but rich electronic music. It might be “teenage” in its orientation, but it is an adult album in its serious and mature rumination — and affirmation.
Throughout the final track, the voice sings out, over and over again over nine minutes of spectral praise, “holy me!” One voice becomes two, and then becomes three, and more, while a muddled organ plays sporadically. No narcissistic anthem, this is the subtle hymn of a displaced man, questioning in the dark, declaring himself, orphaned, teenage, all of it, in a singular, mature, and maturing whole. It’s as clear of a statement I can think of about what a good album he’s made. -
Mark Van Hoen raises the spectre with this slice of Proustian Techno; 2012’s The Revenant Diary.
On this lovely slab, released in 2012 on the ever essential Editions Mego imprint, Seefeel/Scala/Locust member Mark Van Hoen investigates two central questions to the Forestpunk mission:
1. What are ghosts?
2. Why are we so obsessed with them?
In an insightful and poetically written review for Tiny Mix Tapes, album reviewer Max Power asked the question “What more is a ghost, anyway, than the intimate realization of the past interrupting the present?”
On The Revenant Diary, Mark Van Hoen was visited by the ghost of former productions, after finding a recording he made as a teenager, back in 1982. Inspired, Van Hoen resolved to strip back his production process, to rediscover the joy and immediacy of those early sound experiments.
The Revenant Diary is also a psychologically compelling listen, as it was created in the period right before Van Hoen inadvertently discovered that he’d been adopted, a fact which came to light as he was emigrating to the United States.
One can’t help but wonder if this return to the past was compelled by some internal lack, a wormhole where his biological parents should be. All of us find our way into the ghostly realms, drawn to the past, for various and personal reasons, and the artistic results are different for everyone.
These similarities, and the differences, tell us both about the medium itself, as well as the individual making a personal piece of artwork.
The Revenant Diary could definitely be read as hauntological, that is to say, the past living inside the present. Not only is it made with presumably archaic recording practices – in the mode of something recorded in the early ’80s, which it may or may not be, as this record sounds thoroughly contemporary, and not some piece of revisionist electronic music, but it is shot through with horrorscore strings (“Look Into My Eyes”), electronic bleeps that sound like a dream sequence (“I Remember”), and electric harpsichords (“No Distance”), that would not sound out of place on a Ghost Box or a Moon Wiring Club record.
And while MWC sounds like some sickly trap music audio collage, and Ghost Box makes imaginary themes for lost pastoral children’s television, Mark Van Hoen rearranges his memories into 11 tracks of temple techno and dark ambiance.
Consider “Don’t Look Back”, an early stand-out track. The beat leans and swoons, like a lopsided tape recording of a table drummer, as sonar synths pull you beneath the surface, and a voice, (one of the rare instances of vocals on this record), advise you, “Don’t Look Back”. It’s a track that sounds fresh and timely, even two years after it’s release – in line with today’s penchant for live analog electronics.
If we approach this record like an algebra equation, considering the pure threads of hauntology and live techno allows us to peer through the gloom, and see a glimpse of Van Hoen, as a person or an artist. He seems to have an attachment to the modulated human voice, particularly the female. In the same TMT review i referenced above, they quoted MVH as saying:
“I am a firm believer that your musical taste and identity is formed […] in your teenage years. The rest of my musical life will be spent trying to gain the expertise to communicate what’s in my head, or to get closer to the source, as it were.”- Mark Van Hoen
We can’t help but wonder what formative musical experience drew Van Hoen to attach so strongly to the modulated voice? And, mere speculation here, as we’ll never know for sure, perhaps it indicates a longing for the mother? All of this would, of course, be subconscious, as Van Hoen was unaware of his adopted status, at the time this record was made.
The past manifests itself in the present in many ways. And what is Art, but a flowering of the dark unconscious into a material form, which allows us to know ourselves, and theoretically, hopefully, know each other.
This question of ghosts is an ongoing and important one, to my own life. As you know, i’m a lifelong devotee to the horror genre, but i cannot say definitively where this fascination comes from. I have revealed a lot of fascinating insights, over the years of my studies: thoughts about horror as society’s shadow, about the return of the repressed, and the need for a voice from people under-represented in the typical version of history.
The truth of the matter is, however, that i suspect my own obsession with ghosts and the afterlife stems from the fact that my dad died when i was little. The existence of ghosts or an afterlife would be the only way i would ever lay eyes on Joseph Franklin Simpson again in this lifetime. It’s interesting to notice and speculate how this childhood wishful thinking goes on to inform the rest of yr life, yr tastes and aesthetics. I think this longing, combined with a few early, formative memories of male bonding with my dad, watching Friday The 13th movies when i wasn’t supposed to, created a strong and fertile emotional bond to the horror genre, that has basically made me who i am.
And, as i mentioned in the last post on John Foxx, i am also personally touched by the haunting of former creativity. I became obsessed with sound, and the idea of making music, when i was 17 or 18. Being a proper Burroughsian, i carried a tape recorder with me everywhere, and started learning ways to mangle sound. Things came up in my life, that derailed that mission for close to a decade, mostly due to technical limitations. By the time I finally got some gear, i essentially went from having a handheld tape recorder to having an infinite studio, with every synthesizer and effect i ever could’ve dreamed of. On top of this, i’d been working as a sound engineer for years, by that point, and had heard a million records since those early tape recorder experiments, not to mention read a million album reviews.I didn’t know what was good anymore. I wasn’t sure what i was trying to say. I was stuck, excited but frustrated, and had to dig my way out.
It’s all at our fingertips, the infinite potential to be creative. There’s a billion resources out there, but no one seems to be pulling them into one place, or arranging them in a sensible fashion. I spent over ten years, doing the grueling work of sifting through Google and tutorials and beating my head against the wall, trying to figure out who i am, and what i was trying to say. It all started to come clear, around the time i started Forestpunk. Basically, i am learning, trying to be great at what i do (mostly music and writing), and sharing my experiences along the way.
Mark Van Hoen reminds us to rip it up and start again. To make the art that you want to make, to bring yr own private obsessions to life.
Ghosts, psychological depth, and stately techno? Van Hoen manages to capture many of our obsessions, and writhes and grooves while doing.
Want to know what British spy thrillers have to do with new wave, folk horror, space rock, and dark ambient? Stay tuned, for more invisible threads and currents will be surfacing shortly.
Also take a moment to read a review i wrote of Mark Van Hoen’s most recent album, with his Locust project, After The Rain, also on Editions Mego. - forestpunk.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/mark-van-hoen-the-revenant-diary-editions-mego/
Former Seefeel member Mark Van Hoen has been releasing solo material under a variety of aliases since the early '90s, but his career apparently began a decade before that. The Revenant Diary is inspired by his rediscovery of recordings he made in 1982 on very rudimentary equipment, and its eleven tracks are meant to pay tribute to the crude, honest quality of that material.
Sure enough, Van Hoen's productions are caked in earthy grit, which gives the distinct feeling that they're in some way relics. In spite of this, there's an underlying sense that the artist's past anxieties have not yet been totally quelled; there's a resigned urgency throughout, as if his need to move forward is at odds with the crippling weight of the past. This is especially apparent on the vocal tracks—the clouded downtempo lurch of "Don't Look Back" meets a lucid intonation of the title phrase, and the result is a kind of foreboding beacon.
But of course, the project is about looking back. Van Hoen doesn't heed the track's advice, and he sinks deeply into his past with fairly high-drama results. On "Where Were You?" a slow, skittery rhythm undercuts a pleading arrangement, and the track is eventually sewn together with an icy synth. The washing machine churn of "Unknown Host" is blanketed by soaring vocal tones, while "Garabndl X" has elegiac, decaying strings, faintly accompanied by industrial rumbles. The crowning piece, though, is the finale, "Holy Me." The track is nine-and-a-half minutes of textured, strangulated vocal drones, sealing the record with a plaintive flourish.
As the title suggests, The Revenant Diary is an extremely personal work, an intense exhumation of Van Hoen's own ghosts. However, many of its sentiments resemble those of a younger generation of artists recording for labels like Tri Angle. Van Hoen may be submerged in his own past, but the melancholic apprehension of the record is thoroughly universal. - Steve Kerr
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