I’ve been listening to Full Circle, the new album by The Advisory Circle.
First thing to notice: the cardboard sleeve is 12.5cm x 12.5cm with a single fold, unlike the previous 2 albums that were 14cm x 12.5 cm and had a double fold to create 3 interior panels (the earliest album had a jewel case for the CD and a single-folded inlaycard with no back card). So Trussonomic austerity is impacting the hauntological industry like everywhere else, even though they should be best placed for supplying a soundtrack for power cuts, flimsy boom & bust policies and failing governments.
The sounds are much as before: we have “Logotone” short tracks at the start and end. In between lies a mixture of analogue synthesisers, radiophonic effects, and very occasional samples which supply the only vocals. These are usually taken from public information films or documentaries, and invariably have an accent and tone of easy authority that vanished from British public life around 1985, only surviving in the quotation marks of TV near-history costume drama, and media satire. Hauntological music also references that extinct species of cultural quality-marking in its sleeve designs. These play at imitation of old Pelican and other series of sober non-fiction books. For more examples see the works of Pye Corner Audio, another GhostBox act. The mock-Pelican style is now getting rather passe, as Ian McEwan’s latest novel seems to be using it in its jacket design.
All Advisory Circle albums have a loose theme, though they are not fully structured “concept albums”. The original Mind How You Go started with the very first “Logotone” in which a female voice introduced the act: “The Advisory Circle – helping you make the right decisions” whilst electronic sounds buzzed in and out. That might be the first and last time a non-sampled voice appears in their oeuvre, and it established the premise that this is a broadcast of information to educate and reassure the perplexed citizen.
The full length album was a “Revised Edition” from 2010, expanding the original EP from 2005. I have not read interviews and I don’t want to know too much about the people who make these records. The music is often reminiscent of electronic theme tunes for early 80s shows that aspired to be contemporary and catching at the latest news, such as The Brack Report, which were usually scored by Christopher Gunning. “Nuclear Substation” and the excerpt “Nuclear Substation PIF” have the urgency of incidental music when the camera is hovering around outside the scene of the action, or characters are rushing to the next crisis.
Other Channels (2008) commits to the idea that these are fragmented broadcasts mixing up official and unofficial stations, perhaps also including by accident communications that should not be heard by the public at all. “Civil Defence Is Common Sense” starts with a note for teachers to contact for further information, implying that this message of reassurance is part of schools television and to be played to children glad to be out of the boredom of the classroom and in front of a lively screen again. “Swinscoe Episode 1” and “Swinscoe Episode 2” suggest they are cross-cuts from a fantasy or folk-horror work, somewhere near a Nigel Kneale work from Beasts, or Robin Redbreast. “Eyes Which Are Swelling” is perhaps the darkest and most unpleasant moment in the whole Advisory Circle discography so far, being something like the fatal climax of a rural horror chase or secret ritual.
As The Crow Flies (2011) sees the sound becoming a little slicker and closer to British film music of the 80s, and some of the minor Film 4 works such as Zina, which are now lost on long-deleted compilation cassettes such as Filmtracks (I’ve still got a copy). The pace is a little slower, evoking a world somewhere out in the country in Autumn. “Beyond The Wychelm” may be an allusion to the great unsolved, unsolvable mystery of WHO PUT BELLA away, which has been inspiring explanations in a variety of genres (espionage, occult ritual, black market intrigue) ever since the 1940s.
From Out Here (2014) takes us definitely into the white heat of the technological future. “Escape Lane”, “Experiment!” and “The Blue Energy Programme” are rhythmic and uplifting promotional music for new creations in a shiny new world of plastic antiseptic interiors. “Mr Foyster” is a rare moment of danger and concern, as a lecturing voice intones that “… the beta receptor sites are therefore blocked” and the sounds are frantic as we hear more about the potential for crises in the cardiovascular system. Looking at the timings of the tracks, we can see an irregular wave pattern as clumps of longer (more than 1 minute) works are interspersed with the shorter jingle-like one that are less than 1 minute. There seems to be a mood change downward with the very Gunningesque “Discipline Before Data” past halfway.
As we all know, Ways Of Seeing (2018) takes its title from John Berger’s book and TV series of art criticism that challenged idealist and mystical fancies with a hard materialist analysis. There’s not much of that audible here, though titles like “Time Shapes The Lens” and “A Mechanical Eye” could be faint allusions. Nothing is shorter than a minute apart from the opening Logotone. This is film music from European cinema about travellers whose lives are only complicated by their own attractions, no fears or threats from outside. Perhaps that’s the Bergerian connection, that it’s all art reproduced for the leisured class.
The latest album has titles and design linked to the subject of architecture and urban redevelopment, but as usual the absence of lyrics means we have to fill in appropriate imagery. This time there is a regular structure as the 16 tracks arranges as 4 blocks of 4, each block containing 3 tracks between 3 and 5 minutes and 1 less than a minute. The short tracks are all muffled and distant, sometimes cracked replays implying these are old traces of earlier lives breaking through the slick new electronic world.
Full Circle was also the title of a Doctor Who story. The TARDIS crosses over to a parallel separate universe and the scanner shows what it would expect in the normal one, which doesn’t match what is outside the box. What is outside turns out to be a world trapped in a cycle of rebuilding and repairing a way of life that was brought from somewhere else and appropriated as a false origin for local inheritors. The picture in the banner is the Starliner, standing on Alzarius for many generations.