Review Summary: It is Narrow Here...
The Ghost Box label has been at the forefront of what has become known as the Hauntology scene in Britain. Artists specializing in the use of samples and atmospheres that remind us of times from our past… bits and pieces of spoken dialogue from long forgotten PBS documentaries, strains of music that feel as if they would not be out of place during a NBC TV spot, absentmindedly taken in during reruns of “The Littlest Hobo” when you were 5 or 6 years old. Some artists, such as "Belbury Poly" or "The Broadcast", use these influences to paint an unusual, often psychedelic, portrait of their take on a modernized sonic past. Most often the material put forth has a harmless, albeit still disquieting, vibe that conjures images of schools and libraries, bad public service announcements and the sunny surrealism of “The Partridge Family”. Hidden at the periphery of the Ghost Box label, largely unknown (even by underground standards) and as a result distressingly unheard, lays Eric Zann’s “Ouroborindra”. If “The Focus Group” or the aforementioned "Belbury Poly" are the voices of the bright call of the Ghost Box then “Ouroborindra” is most certainly its nocturnal response.
Where other Hauntology artists take their primary inspirations from gentle psychedelia, British surrealism and old sci-fi, Eric Zann (as evidenced by his moniker) takes his from HP Lovecraft, EVP recordings and death. Where his labelmates work from a position of playfulness and nostalgia, Zann’s record is steeped in malice. The samples, when clearly discernible, are disjointed and rambling. Hacked bits and pieces of dialogue run over the buzz and hum of dead CVT tube television stations truly creating the impression that there are ghosts in your speakers. This is summed up most succinctly in the open track “It is Narrow Here” which features jabbering male vocals fading in and out of the foreground before a woman’s voice breaks the unsettling ambience with what can either be interpreted as nervous laughter or sobbing. Followed by the more musically driven “The Threshold”, with its twisting frequencies and warped oscilloscope noodling, the stage is set for a sonic journey into the liminal state between life and death.
At its core, especially when compared to most of the Ghost Box output, “Ouroborindra” shares the bulk of its similarities with dark ambient artists such as “Lustmord” or “Raison D’etre”. But where most dark ambient tends to root itself in deep, almost gothic, atmospheres and arguable beauty, Eric Zann forgoes those trends in favour of something very different. There are no passages of deep Gregorian chanting, no clattering of broken church bells or atmospheres of isolation and sadness. This is oppressive in a way that can be very difficult to quantify. Unlike most Lustmord or some Nurse with Wound, the aggression is not thrown in your face (-- not a dig, I am a big fan of aggression and all the aforementioned ambient greats), the fear and malevolence is very subtle causing you to question what you are hearing as the album plays through.
It ends up working so well specifically because of what it is lacking! While the atmospheres are dense and layered and the samples fabulously executed and numerous, there is never anything comforting to latch onto. The voices, although seemingly clear as day, remain frustratingly elusive such that their contents cannot be deciphered adding an element of unease that is simply not present in even the most extreme varieties of music. There are never simple melodies to ride along or moments of sullen beauty to get lost in. As a result, “Ouroborindra” ends up feeling like a real sonic representation of the nightmare state: familiar, sure, and full of possibility, but alternately populated with distressing entities and an unshakeable feeling that all is not well and very much outside of your control.