Prolific solo artist and former Ultravox leader John Foxx has taken inspiration from the emerging art of the cut-up movie for his latest album, Tiny Colour Movies. Involved in numerous projects at any one time and with a keen eye trained on the visual potential of his music (a fine example of this being his recent series of releases entitled the Cathedral Oceans), Foxx is determined to move forward and seemingly content to reside on the periphery. “I think I need an underground scene to work properly,” he tells David Davies.
“It’s really about a sensual appreciation of film. What fascinates me is that all the things we thought were rubbish before – the scratches, burnt-out bits and damaged pieces – look really beautiful and interesting when you digitise and project them. It’s making a new aesthetic out of the change of technology – very much like sampling, when old synthesizers that were not thought to be much good suddenly became regarded as beautiful again.”
John Foxx’s enthusiasm for the recovery and “repurposing” of pre-existing film stock is unmistakable. It has also fed directly into the writing and recording of his latest solo album, Tiny Colour Movies – by TMOnline’s estimate, his tenth (excluding many collaborations and three albums with the original incarnation of Ultravox) – which draws particular inspiration from the film collections of Arnold Weizcs-Bryant and friend Mike Barker.
“I wanted to make something that was almost innocent, like the films were,” says Foxx of an album that combines digital precision with analogue warmth. Listeners are likely to be reminded at various points of crystalline, Trans Europe Express-era Kraftwerk and the glacially slow-moving beauty of Harold Budd, but the emphasis above all is on simplicity. The result is an imaginative, fragmentary soundtrack to a selection of films that eschew commercial considerations like narrative in favour of celebrating the medium’s aesthetic qualities.
Foxx and many of those he has encountered during the last few years believe the cut-up movie to be a brand new art form. The musician himself has stitched together a sequence of “transitional moments like people opening doors” to create his own half-hour film, A Man Made of Shadow, although its life beyond the computer desktop is currently uncertain. Anyway, it’s not as if he doesn’t already have enough on, with Foxx’s industriousness since returning to music in the early ‘90s after a long hiatus putting many of his peers to shame. As such he tends to be involved in numerous projects at any one time, with Cathedral Oceans – which celebrates Foxx’s love of British and European cathedrals on a trio of evocative albums – providing the one constant. However, that sequence of work may now have reached a conclusion, and there are plans for a DVD “summation” of the project’s visual aspects later this year.
Indeed, Tiny Colour Movies is only the latest manifestation of a fascination with visual media that sees Foxx maintain a successful parallel career as a graphic designer. He returned to this sphere full-time during his absence from music in the late ‘80s, and continues to regard the work as a vital “annex” to his later output. The ongoing Grey Suit Music project is a case in point. “It’s just piano with film and video that has been manipulated,” he explains. “I really want to keep that side of things active, especially as the whole field is changing with new forms [like] virals and mash-up movies.”
A stream of collaborative work that has included projects with Harold Budd and Louis Gordon is also set to continue through forthcoming joint ventures with ex-Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie and percussionist Steve Jansen. “I liked a piece where Steve was working with a gong,” recalls Foxx. “I had never imagined myself singing along to a gong! I wanted to do some sort of Cathedral Oceans chant with that kind of instrument, and it worked very nicely.” .
Foxx seems rather less enthusiastic about the prospect of spending time with the recent reissues of Ultravox’s first three albums – Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!-Ha! and Systems of Romance. However, he is pleased that the remaster of the first album, in particular, restores “a whole layer of frequencies” missing from previous versions, and feels their re-emergence to be timely: “I can hear bits of that gene code present in other records, and quite a lot at this time. People are referencing that era a lot now.”
Still, Foxx can’t help recalling how the forward-looking period in which those albums were made soon passed, to be replaced by the kind of musical conservatism that would ultimately precipitate his own extended withdrawl from the scene after 1985 solo release In Mysterious Ways. “It was just like the end of punk, where I suddenly felt that the whole thing had become very exhausted. It can be good to stand aside, let it all rush past and get on with something else.”
That it took the first acid house records to prompt Foxx’s re-engagement is characteristic of a musician determined to push on into new territory. “I’m very wary of getting into nostalgia – I’m not interested in that at all,” he confirms. “I want to look forwards, not back.”
Tiny Colour Movies is out now on Metamatic, while remastered versions of the first three Ultravox albums are available from Virgin. Find out more about all things Foxx at and