What is hauntology? To begin with, it comes from a book, Specters of Marx, by the late French philosopher Jacques Derrida. As explained to me by culture theorist Steven Shaviro, Derrida's "neologism 'hantologie'" is "pronounced almost identically to 'ontologie' (ontology), thus the primacy of being is supplanted or supplemented by the insistence of what haunts." Another culture critic/blogger, K-Punk (Mark Fisher), is responsible for connecting Derrida's neologism to a type of electronic music that feels and sounds haunted. K-Punk believes that this type of music, ghosted music, is the leading expression of our times, our age, our lives, which are wired to the big geist, or to use the words of Goldfrapp, to the "super brain."

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"Why hauntology now?" asks K-Punk. "Well, has there ever been a time when finding gaps in the seamless surfaces of 'reality' has ever felt more pressing? Excessive presence leaves no traces. Hauntology's absent present, meanwhile, is nothing but traces..." The editors (Shaviro, K-Punk, and Jon Dale) of a book that is in "the vaporware stage," and when in the paperware stage sometime next year will be called Sonic Hauntology, write in a call for proposals: "We seem to be living in a time when pop music is haunted by what Simon Reynolds calls 'comments on half-erased or never-quite-attained song form'... Specters are unsettling because they are that which cannot, by their very nature (or lack of nature), ever be fully seen; gaps in Being, they can only dwell at the periphery of the sensible, in glimmers, shimmers, suggestions."

All of this is very vague, very mystical, but it captures a feeling, a mood, a sonic condition that makes sense when you listen to music like the dub of Kingston's Lee "Scratch" Perry, the dubtech of Berliners Basic Channel, the dubstep of South London's Burial, and the abstract hiphop of Tokyo's DJ Krush.

Let's begin with Perry, particularly his 1976 masterpiece Super Ape, which is one of the most influential dub albums from that time. What haunts the LP are two types of African ghosts: first, the ghost of African slaves who worked on plantations from sunup to sundown, or lost their lives during the trip across the Atlantic. Second, are the ghosts in songs like "Three in One," the ghosts of great African ancestors who lived in civilizations that were ruled by powerful and generous black kings and queens. The dub calls these ghosts to the present, and for a moment Kingston's tenement yards in the slums are glowing with the booming magic of African ancestors. With its reverberations, its distant voices, its floating arrivals and departures, its reflections and refractions, its depth charges, its beeping signals of distress and hope, dub, or abstract reggae, is eternally haunted.

The marriage of Detroit techno and Kingston dub gave birth to Berlin's dubtech. The main makers of dubtech are Basic Channel, a preeminent musical force in the '90s. In 1996, Kodwo Eshun, the British critic who wrote More Brilliant Than the Sun and is a slated contributor to Sonic Hauntology, described the music of Basic Channel as "sounds [that] set out to tap the system's energies, capture its underground echoes, read and feed into its steady flows of communication. The rhythms feel like severed live wires instinctively feeling their way back to the energy source. And when they finally connect, on the trail-out grooves called, appropriately enough, 'Radiance i/Radiance iii,' the rhythmic pulses burst, irradiating the city above and suffusing it with a shimmering electronic glow." The same can be said about the dubstep of Burial, a South Londoner whose music shimmers, glows, irradiates. Burial is superbrained and superhaunted. In his self-titled CD on Kode9's Hyperdub label (www.hyperdub.net), whole neighborhoods—with their clubs, churches, pirate radio stations—can be heard moaning, weeping, calling out to the living, and freaking out the living.

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With abstract hiphop, the most haunted (or hauntological) producer is certainly DJ Krush (second is DJ Vadim, particularly his work in the mid-'90s). The second part of DJ Krush's new CD, Stepping Stones: The Self-Remixed Best, "Soundscapes" should really be called "Ghostly Japan." In Burial's music there is an interaction between the dead and living; in Krush's most radical music, like the remix of his creative zenith, "Kemuri" (or "Smoke"), we only hear the dead. His is a whole hauntology, a ghost world that has completely absorbed the real world. recommended

charles@thestranger.com