In the first instance, John Foxx ‘London Overgrown’ album starts with what appears to be a long version of the opening track from the final instalment of the Cathedral Oceans trilogy released in 2005. Running at just over ten minutes (making it the longest piece in John Foxx entire recorded catalogue) “Oceanic II” may echo the track released ten years earlier and develop some of the structures thereon but it is a gentler more serene piece altogether.
“Oceanic II” © Andrew Marvick
No. 1 from the Overgrowth series, 2015. Oil, acrylic, watercolor, plaster and lacquer on wood panel, 9 x 12 inches.
Set on a calmer tide, its leading string parts come from a lower register more akin to a five-string double bass or cello than a violin. The tide is slower, rolling on the deeper waters of warm, rolling bass notes.
We sit as if in a penthouse apartment looking out across The Woods That Hyde Park Has Become surveying the treetop textures of the overgrown city that is revealed in shades of fading green wherever we look. In the ten years since we last stood here the leaves have thickened, the trees mature now. Some have become old, their leaves taking on the yellow and orange hues of twilight and autumn. The music has become more resonant and sombre, itself ageing and growing more still.
© John Foxx, 2013.
Printed on Hahnemuhle 308gsm Photo Rag Matt Paper. 51 x 41 cm
“Oceanic II” is a splendid cinematic introduction to the short films that follow, an overview of the next chapters in the ongoing of story of the Quiet Man adrift in a half-remembered city, visiting invisible place that may be found across any street. Its panoramic composition allows our view to drift over the Palace of Westminster, windows broken, tiled rooftops scarcely visibie now under bramble and creeper, to St Paul’s Cathedral where Wren’s niches, columns and buttresses lie half-hidden under bindweed and pigeon droppings. Further east, we can occasionally see buildings breaking through the canopy where the trees are thinner, the last vestiges of Spitalfields and Whitechapel, street patterns acting like geology and defining the species of trees that prefer different soil.
The architectural beauty and intellectual depth of London Overgrown further reveal John Foxx to be a skilled composer with a critical grasp of harmonics and texture. His understanding and familiarity with the instruments at his disposal enables the machines to be as much a part of the compositional process as the artist at the controls.
As J.S. Bach himself famously said:
It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.
But exactly why the piece is named as it is remains hidden too among the leaves and lichen. It is a true Foxxian illusion, and typical of the way in which many of his compositions (narratives, artwork and music) merge with one another, at times become indistinguishable. “Oceanic II” bears a similar compositional structure to “Oceanic” and serves as an introduction to the album that follows in the same way. It may be fundamentally the same piece slowed down, treated and disguised (audiophiles would recognise this more ably than I can) – but no more so than Foxx has done many other times. Usually these artefacts take on their own identity and have different names.
Whether both pieces were written and recorded at the same time is another mystery, but largely an irrelevance. Each could be older than most of the trees that now grow down Archway Road, or even the buildings that once served as recording studios in the verdant and labyrinthine Soho. They set a scene, and we can trace their roots back to the ancient Holy Well under Shoreditch where two men found a trickle of electricity running down the wall and plugged in a dusty suitcase full of echoes…