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In Writing

Read a fully annotated version of John Foxx's chart in The Wire 381

November 2015

John Foxx explains the reasoning behind his chart selection in The Wire 381

“This isn’t a list of all-time favourites,” says John Foxx, who compiled a chart for The Wire 381. “The tracks are in no particular order. They are things I listened to in the last few weeks, for various reasons, but all interesting in a number of ways I’ve tried to describe here.” Read the reasons behind his choices.

Glen Campbell
Wichita Lineman (Capitol)

One line from a Jimmy Webb composition sung by Glen Campbell “I hear you singing in the wires”. This phrase from the Jimmy Webb song has lodged in my brain so much that lately I’ve even been dreaming it. A couple of years ago, on tour in Australia, I remember discussing a musician who was generating music by attaching microphones to long distance telephone lines across the country. These resonate in the wind and the mysterious whispering sound carries hundreds of miles along them. I was really taken with that idea, and the lyric instantly popped into my mind from the Jimmy Webb song that I’d admired since the 1960s.

I watched a documentary about Glen Campbell on television recently. A couple of nights later I was busy dreaming a disembodied version of the words, manifesting somehow through distant wind and wires. I realised I had to do something about all this, so I cut the line out of the song, mixed in and stretched some of the end orchestration and other stuff, to make a new piece of music. I’d really like to use the telephone wires recording too, but can’t seem to find it. Anyhow, it’s beginning to attract other fragments to itself (always a good sign), so may eventually become consolidated into something of interest. I do hope so.

Keith Jarrett
Paris Concert (ECM)

Keith Jarrett’s idea of improvisation using classical themes and motifs rather than jazz cliches is intelligent and satisfying, because it continues that natural musical evolution embracing improvisation over original themes, which connects Bach via Satie and Scott Joplin to jazz and modern popular music, and which the arrival of the orchestra interrupted. Jarrett’s early solo concerts always had a marvellously lyrical and contemplative beginning and some very beautiful ideas and motifs manifested. However, I don’t enjoy the later developments in each of these concerts – I suppose these may be based on some concept of Indian raga where the rhythm speeds up and the playing becomes more intense. After a beautiful beginning, Jarrett would eventually build up to heavy rhythmic attacks on the piano. For me, this completely destroyed the mood brought on by his earlier lyricism. I became so exasperated that I edited the concert recordings to make new versions, for my own listening pleasure. I had a great time repeating and integrating the best sections, to make very long – but still interesting and enjoyable – pieces. There was plenty of material. So now I can really focus on the lyricism, without being jolted by the ensuing piano pounding.

Miles Davis
Kind Of Blue (Columbia)

Bill Evans’s piano on Kind Of Blue is a true miracle of sideways playing; an elision of supremely, gorgeously sly musicality. It weaves and hovers, creating unforeseen possibilities and availabilities, rays of secret light opening up new interconnected alleyways all around, under and over the other towering structures in the music. The album is an illuminated New York – an entire city and time transmuted into emotional musical tones as subtle and precise as a Hopper painting, with the refined poetic assurance of a Doctorow novel and the emotive immersion of a movie by Lumet. I think that – like the entire album – Bill Evans’s discreet piano work will remain forever as some of the most intelligent, elegant, dignified, connective and luminous playing we’ll ever hear. I’ve searched and searched for something similar, some solo work of his where this kind of playing might be more fully exposed and explored, but Evans never seems to have consolidated that particular direction in his work.

Again, I’ve resorted to lifting and looping sections of it to make new listening pieces, purely for my own edification and education. Not because I dislike anything at all about this album, but simply in an attempt to focus more intently on just what Bill Evans is up to among the foundations of all those eternal monuments.

The Move
Blackberry Way (Regal Zonophone)

A wee lost miracle of a recording by Roy Wood and The Move. A beautifully daft and brilliant piece of 1960s Britpop, as good as any of the same period Beatles songs. Makes me laugh with its sheer joy and cheek. It represents a lost universe – a strange, uniquely British strand of pop music that began with The Kinks, Beatles, Small Faces, and was later glimpsed for a brief moment in ELO, before being lost among leaden waves of Prog.

In McDonalds (Hyperdub)

When I was a kid I always rooted for the Hooded Phantom at wrestling matches in the town hall. Once, all the local teds rushed into the ring to try to rip his mask off, but he managed to slip out in the confusion, anonymity intact. From then on, I tended toward anonymous loners, from Batman to the Lone Ranger, then Phantomas – that urban phantom loved by the surrealists. And right in that tradition came Banksy, Aphex and the latest South London successor, Burial. Great titles, such as “Night Bus”, “Street Halo”, “Stolen Dog” and “In McDonalds”, carry gloriously broken bits of music. Hold it all in your hands in the rain.

Jaques Brel
Au Printemps (Domain L’on se Marie)

Heard this in passing this week and I was instantly captured by the beginning. Such a beautiful melody sung in a clear, unaffected manner by the female voice. Of course, Brel was a genuinely original songwriter and he revitalised French chanson into a more relevant modern form.

It interests me that we don’t really have a tradition of chanson of this sort in Britain. The lone urban man reporting back from the heart of the city, like a phone call from some late night bar. I suppose Sinatra was the closest we ever got, but of course he wasn’t quite local. In France there are dozens of these heartbreak adult storytellers, all beautifully adept at their art. I’m there at the moment and this sort of thing constantly comes on the radio and gets played in cafes. It’s a delight to hear a different sort of episodic randomness and a different emotional environment as you walk around.

Thomas Tallis
Spem In Alium (Linn)

This is a piece of sheer genius from a man who, in the 1500s, wrote some of the most astonishing, wondrously beautiful choral music ever. It is so incredibly sophisticated and complex. A perfect model of the way nature provides complexity by gradually layering many simple forms together to eventually create fantastically complex organisms such as a flower, the weather, or a human being. Whenever I hear Tallis I’m transported back to St Mary’s, Chorley, where I was briefly in the choir. I often came to choir practice early, so I could invent my own solo chants. It was blissful to use a building to make my own faltering music. I began to realise then, that these forms were in part a response to architecture – a truly architectural music.

Does it Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego)

I heard this when we performed at a festival in Krakow. Hannah Peel, Benge, Serafina Steer and me. The promoter’s lovely assistant Maria had it on in the car as we drove around, and it easily merged with the stone courtyards, tramlines, her presence, the small coffee shops and bars and the city’s tragic history. We also got to shake Morton Subotnick’s hand, and later saw Chris and Cosey playing in the great dark Museum of Engineering building.

It is beautifully open and simple music, relying on synth textures for its effect and seemed to be waiting to be connected to anything you’d care to impose on it. So now I associate it with that city and the superb time we all had there. Music can do that. As Karborn says, it’s a sort of time travel, and that’s what I use this for.

L’Aigle Noir (Philips)

Her music is about as tragic and brave as you can get. It is also Parisian through and through, and from inside all this complex wrapping emerges an account of a life lived despite a crippling emotional beginning. Sometimes it is all just too much to take, but at the right moment it can be devastating.

Morton Subotnick
The Silver Apples Of The Moon (Nonesuch)

A visionary with a Buchla synth made this superb record. I was lucky enough to meet him in Krakow.


Cold Waves And Minimal Electronics Vol 1 (Angular)

A well curated, fascinating and heart-breaking collection of lost music from the early 1980s. Electronic music absorbed punk as quickly as The Thing could eat a Norwegian. All that hopeless anger got transmuted into a celebration of deep, dark cool as everyone went into local solo genius-in-the-bedroom mode. These tracks channel the genuine flavour of it all and in many ways more accurately than the chart bands of the time.

When I began making music, I wanted to make a British industrial equivalent to the blues but using European forms rather than American ones. Roughly recorded stuff that told our stories like no other music could: folk music for a post-industrial age. Well, here it is. Pure electron folk music. Post-industrial, Brit Euroblues. It was great that it evolved and even went back to America, via Detroit, Chicago and New York dance music. And it continues to move back and forth internationally, mutating at every turn. I guess Aphex and Burial are the inheritors and evolutionary successors of all this now.

Xeno And Oaklander
Italy (Wierd)

Proper New York synth music. And they look as good as they sound – angular European model, analogue power and effortless agility, like a Euro art movie shot in a skyscraper. Majestic multi-storey, moving architecture. They have depth, surface and a long, cool courage.

Jon Leifs
Requiem Op 33b For Choris (Bis)

I heard a fragment of this on BBC3. It is strangely beautiful very north European music, glacial and clear as winter sunlight. I want to listen to it much more. It reminds me a little of Gorecki, but the emotional tone is restrained and the music is a little more angular.

Smoke Fairies
Drinks And Dancing (Full Time Hobby)

Steve D’Agostino and I did a little work with The Smoke Fairies some years ago and they have intrigued me ever since. Then, they seemed a little like a new manifestation of Holly Golightly in that Truman Capote story. We were convinced that they would go on to make some truly fascinating music and this album is a marvellous beginning. They’ve walked through the mirror and found themselves. I really like the weary, smoky, dawn-coming-up-in-the-city feel of this. Delicious, tarnished, melancholy. Perfume on the sheets. Superb.

William Basinski
The Disintegration Loops (2062)

Nigel Kneale – who wrote Quatermass – also wrote a story titled The Stone Tapes concerning a building that recorded events in its fabric and replayed them as ghosts. It's not as far fetched as it sounds, since magnetic tapes can, of course, carry images and sounds and are essentially made from the ground up and reconstituted stone in the form of iron oxide and petrochemical plastics. The concept of allowing them to wear out and gradually lose their ghosts of sound (or image), is emotive and also resonates with the pleasures of architectural ruins, fading photographs, memory traces and archaeologies of all kinds.


a man after my own heart

What an enticing list, made moreso by John Foxx's evocative, multi-tiered, crisply poetic descriptions. Over the decades I have learned a great deal about our modern world from John Foxx; now I will learn more.

This was a great idea. It has a bit more depth than a simple list.

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