EM Forster’s short story ‘The Machine Stops’ was published way back in 1909, an incredibly prescient and apocalyptic vision of an Earth that is virtually incapable of supporting human life.

The population is driven underground, existing in cells and communicating with each other remotely. Additionally people’s lives are governed by The Machine, the art of human contact has been lost and interaction is accomplished by seeing things on screens… sound familiar?

This recording has come about as a result of Foxx and Benge being commissioned to create a soundtrack for last year’s play based on Forster’s story. To be honest, if any musician is qualified to soundtrack a dystopian play about a civilisation run by a machine, then the involvement of JOHN FOXX is a complete no-brainer…

Foxx is quoted as saying “I first read E.M. Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’ in 1964, when I was at school. It struck me then as prescient and original. When I started discussing the music for this production with Benge, I read it again. In the intervening years the internet had happened, and of course the world had changed dramatically, yet the story was still ahead of it all – an amazing feat of predictive imagination for something written in 1909. I’m quietly pleased to be able to collaborate with such an astounding piece of seminal sci-fi.”

The opening ‘The Ghost In The Machine’ is more of a soundscape than a music piece, wide panning (almost breath-like) white noise evokes a barren and desolate earth whilst a menacing JOHN CARPENTER Moog bass hovers menacingly in the background. ‘The Other Mother’ is classic Foxx, a dark but catchy monophonic synth part, with an underpinning semi-discordant string line. The background noise in the track betrays the source material of Foxx and Benge’s enviable vintage analogue synthesizer collection.

One of the limitations of soundtrack work is often in its ability to function as a standalone work once divorced from its accompanying imagery; in the past works by acts such as TANGERINE DREAM have shown that it is possible, but often tracks used for short visual cues (‘A Dark Illumination’ here being a case in point) leave the listener wanting more than its sub-2 minute running time.

‘Hive Frequency’ is another case in point, the first track here to introduce some drum machine work and reminiscent of Benge’s work with WRANGLER, its linear analogue sequencer part drifts through the track’s 120 seconds but ultimately doesn’t end up really going anywhere. At 5 minutes 26 seconds ‘Transworld Travelogue’ is the longest track featured and has more of a Berlin School aesthetic with echoed interlocking sequencer lines overlayed by a typical gliding ‘Metamatic’-style Foxx lead. Analogue synthetic percussion and a repetitive sawtooth bass give this piece more layers and as such a better listening experience as a standalone work.

Following on, another short track ‘The Iron Bible’ almost sounds like it features (shock horror!) a digital synth whilst ‘Genetic Hymnal’ use of an organ sound helps give it its title and the introduction of a sequencer part towards the end recalls TANGERINE DREAM with some added ambient bird sound.

Photo by Ed Fielding

‘Memory Oxide’ is the first track here to feature FOXX’s vocal albeit in a highly reverbed and chanted form and alongside the previous track is very reminiscent of his ‘Cathedral Oceans’ ambient album. Final piece ‘Orphan Waltz’ is all beautiful (and wonderfully epic) analogue strings and deep filter swept synth bass and provides a satisfying conclusion to the album, although weirdly doesn’t actually appear to be in 3/4 time……

‘The Machine’ just about has enough in it to satisfy JOHN FOXX fans, but some of the tracks are unlikely to get much in the way of repeat play due to their short and functional nature. If anything the album serves more as an excellent promo for the stage play and as such will doubtless encourage fans to seek out the work and catch it during its theatre run through February and March this year.

‘The Machine’ is available as a CD from https://johnfoxx.tmstor.es/cart/product.php?id=30941

The album is now also available as a limited edition vinyl LP in a silver metallic sleeve from https://johnfoxx.tmstor.es/cart/product.php?id=32383



Text by Paul Boddy
15th February 2017, updated 24th June 2017