Space Music: 'A Shunned Place' by Polypores

A Shunned Place
A Shunned Place
Concréte Tapes

A lot of the electronic music I've been enjoying recently fits into the "hauntology" classification: Pye Corner Audio, the Advisory Circle, Heinrich Dressel -- they all visit a region of vaguely-nostalgic electronic ambiance that suggests unexplained apparitions, dark wonder and perhaps a hint of documentarian objectivity to the whole venture.

The music of Polypores (AKA Stephen J. Buckley) certainly treads this sonic landscape as well. His release "A Shunned Place" resonates with mystery and I couldn't help but note the track titles as I listened to accentuate the resulting images in my mind: "Tread Carefully," "A Face In The Nettles," "Tunnels Beneath," etc. It all amounts to an ideal film score for a nonexistent mashup of "The Wicker Man" and "The Dunwich Horror" -- at least in my mind. Here's a taste:

You can pick up "A Shunned Place" in either cassette or digital form over at the Polypores Bandcamp page, where you can also explore his previous releases. The Polypores SoundCloud page also offers a great many hauntological tracks and mixes.

I decided to reach out to Stephen for some added insight into his work, as well as the cassette's place in today's music. He was gracious enough to answer my questions:

I've read where you've described your music as "low-fi sci-fi soundtracks to films that never existed. Advertising music for strange and curious products. Songs from distant radios with broken speakers." What's some soundtrack work that inspired you?

I really like the 70's/80's horror soundtracks. Especially the Italian stuff which crossed over with disco. I think that's probably evident from my latest album in particular. I really wanted to go for that vibe here. I love how the arrangements were pretty simple, especially compared with a lot of today's electronic music. But doing simple things well is a real skill. And often gets the better results.

I think my all-time favourite soundtrack is Air's "The Virgin Suicides."

On the "advertising music for strange and curious products" side of the equation, can you think of specific examples? I'm particularly interested in this because there are bits of advertising music from my own TV childhood that still resonate with me, though in some cases I cannot for the life of me recall them. I keep blundering though life in hope that I'll hear this one little electronic ditty from a early-90s community college advertisement again.

I don't really have any specific examples there! I think that description was written when I first started out doing Polypores, about a year ago. I was reading a lot of Philip K Dick at the time and part of what I wanted to do was to go for that old-school sci-fi vibe. Hence the description. I think it fit for my first two releases, but maybe not so much the more recent ones. But that might change. Who knows? I have been reading a lot of JG Ballard lately...

Tell me about "A Shunned Place." Where does this album take us in relation to your previous releases?

I have a specific set of imagery I associate with each of my releases. I tend to write based around this imagery (be it mental or an actual physical picture) and let it inform the music. They would be as follows:

  • Curiosities: Suburbia, but weird. The unusual occurring within a seemingly mundane environment.
  • The Investigation: 1970's science videos, anything relating to that. Think "Look Around You" meets The Dharma Initiative. With a charming naivety that has the potential to get sinister.
  • The Edgewoods: The places that are neither urban nor rural. Motorway bridges. Mobile phone masts. Concrete in the countryside. There is a beauty there, but also something a bit threatening.
  • A Shunned Place : A forest. A dark, dank forest. And its dark, dank inhabitants. Folk horror. Blair Witch Project, The Wicker Man, etc.

Is there an intended narrative flow to the album? As I listen to it and note the track titles, I certainly find myself assembling my own vague narrative based on 70s occult cinema and the like.

There wasn't intended to be a narrative, but I set out to do something that could be interpreted as such. It has a definite start and end. What happens in between is up to you. Like one of those "write your own adventure" books.

I'm somewhat familiar with collector and creator affinity for VHS as an outdated but nostalgically vibrant recording format, but I haven't really explored the cassette tape side of the equation. What is it about the cassette tape listening experience that calls to you?

All my childhood/early teen listening was on cassette so the sound deficiencies probably appeal to me on some subliminal level. I use tape machines to process a lot of my sounds. You can use them to compress, distort, EQ, speed up, and slow-down your sound. I also love the quality loss as an element of the sound. I've always been fascinated with decay within music.

The decision to release the album on tape came because I was approached by someone I knew who was starting a tape label, and he wanted to put my stuff out. Seeing as it fit with my aesthetic and approach, I thought it would be a great idea.

The cynical would call it a gimmick, but actually tape labels are making a real comeback at the moment. A lot of People don't really listen to music on CD anyway, even if they buy it. They just rip it to MP3 or download it. The CD is just a physical artifact to show that you've actually paid for something. If it's going to be that, it might as well be a cassette. It feels a bit more special that way.

Do you create your music with the cassette tape experience in mind?

Not as such. So many element of my sound have been tape-mangled in some way that I don't necessarily require that "tape" sound to be added to the master.

I did struggle with the length though. The album had to fit on a 45 minute cassette. I wrote about 90 minutes of music for the album. Editing that down was a nightmare. But I've managed to use some of the abandoned tracks on various compilations etc, so it's not all that heartbreaking.

Do you have any particularly cherished cassette tapes in your collection?

Not really, as my tape player isn't that great. I have like 6 machines, but I use them all for damaging or warping sounds rather than listening to them for pleasure.

I wish I still had my tape of Jeff Wayne's "War Of The Worlds," which my dad copied me from vinyl. I think it was taped over a Carole King album, because after WOTW ended, a Carole King song came out of nowhere.

What sort of equipment do you record on, and does this factor into the cassette format?

I record using some very cheap but powerful software called Reaper. For the first few releases I did a lot of layering and multitracking. But since I was asked to play live (by the same guy who runs the Concréte Tapes label that put out "A Shunned Place") I started adapting the way I worked so that I could play live. That influenced the writing of the album, and everything subsequently. My music is now recorded in a far more "live" way, getting all the sounds as I want them before they hit the computer. It's a more old-fashioned way of doing it, and you have less control over the sound, but I prefer it that way. I tend to create very quickly, I like it to be immediate. Like how a child paints. I want to minimise the time I spend fiddling around with a mouse and keyboard. That's nowhere near as much fun as turning knobs on hardware electronics.

In terms of getting it to tape, it's not really an issue. I send the masters to the label and they sort it from there. It's not difficult, just time consuming. I do occasionally need to sleep.

Space Music is a continuous exploration of our expanding cosmos of sound, with a semi-firm emphasis on electronic music. Explore years of posts right here, and sample a little of everything at the Space Music Sampler playlist on Spotify.