Pleased as punch to be part of this stellar line-up celebrating the launch of Buried Treasure’s concept compilation of modern day Radiophonia. Tickets are available here and selling fast. Don’t sleep on this one! Please enjoy this rather super trailer with further atmospheric details:
…And if you fancy a teaser of Howlround’s own contribution, here’s a sneak preview:
Please enjoy this latest report for BBC Radio 4 and The World Service on the subject of last weekend’s series of performances in the bascule chambers underneath Tower Bridge. Hidden below the waterline deep underneath one of London’s most iconic structures, these cathedral-like spaces serve to contain the gigantic counterweights during the lifting of the bridge’s central span (each weighs about a thousand tonnes or something ridiculous like that), but until last weekend few indeed would have been aware of their existence and fewer still would have been granted the privilege of climbing down into the chamber for a closer inspection. In fact, for the many hundreds of people strolling along the bridge around lunchtime last Saturday, the only clue that something out of the ordinary was about to occur below them would have been the sounds of distant brass pulsing mysteriously from somewhere beneath their feet. Or perhaps a Robin The Fog-shaped blur that nearly ploughed into them while heroically sprinting the final 200 yards to the entrance down to the chamber – thanks entirely to the incompetent, ever-delayed machinations of the accursed Southern Railways. Sorry if that was your umbrella…
The initial inspiration for the project came from a recording of this vintage machinery at work that was originally made by Ian Rawes of The London Sound Survey. Iain Chambers’ coming across it proved to be the catalyst for an original composition ‘Bascule Chamber’ in which the brass section of the Dockside Sinfonia play along with the sound of the bridge to uncanny and beguiling effect. Before long this unlikeliest of stages was set for a series of concerts featuring two more original compositions by Iain and an interpretation of John Cage’s ‘Aria’ by the soprano Catherine Carter; each performed live and taking full advantage of the chamber’s unique acoustics.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realise just how far up my street (or hidden somewhere beneath it) all this activity is, particularly as I’m a huge fan of both The London Sound Survey and Langham Research Centre, the radiophonic performance group of which Iain is a key member; so I’m aware of the potential for accusations of bias. Nonetheless, I feel no hesitation at all in labelling these events a triumph and it would certainly appear that the enthusiastic reception from the crowd bears me out. Equally, so does the many disappointed people I’ve spoken to since who didn’t manage to get tickets. All I can say is that I hope my report gives some flavour of what went on down there and that apparently the concerts will be broadcast in full on good old Resonance FM at some point soon. Plus you can find both of these estimable gentlemen discussing the project and much more on the London Sound Survey blog here.
Moving on and continuing a busy weekend (though thankfully with less sprinting), I’d also like to present a few images from last Sunday’s sound installation at Mansion House in St. Helen’s Square as part of Vespertine York‘s latest sold-out event: A new sound-work created entirely from magnetic tape and the various ticks and chimes of the numerous antique clocks that until recently had populated this now empty shell.
Vespertine cordially invites the people of York and beyond, to a guided tour of the Mansion House with a twist! This event will be a rare opportunity to see the Mansion House as it is awaiting renovation; the unfurnished, raw building will provide the perfect backdrop for performances and music.
The source material was collected a month or so beforehand. In the intervening period all of these vintage timepieces were removed, along with the furniture, carpets, paintings and other fixtures, pending the building’s year-long closure for extensive refurbishment. It was a strange experience indeed to bring these recently gathered sounds back to the newly bare walls and exposed floorboards – almost like filling this grand building with the memories of its own departed furniture. The results were very positively received by the groups of visitors touring the house, with one even moved to compare it to the soundtrack to Tarkovsky’s Solaris. That, my friends, is one way to make me very happy!
Also on the bill were the truly remarkable Sheffield-based anti-choir Juxtavoices and the multi-instrumentalist duo McWatt – both well worth checking out – plus food, drink, games, stories and more. And all for free! No wonder it sold out so quickly! Thanks very much to everyone who came along and showed their support and to Vespertine York for being such amazing hosts and for giving us such an awesome space to play with. It’s the latest in a series of events they’re curating, so their website is definitely worth a perusal and you’re advised to book your tickets early.
And as a last-minute edition to today’s business, I’m happy to announce that I make an appearance in the latest issue of Caught By The River‘s regular publication An Antidote To Indifference, writing about some of my adventures in tape, alongside articles by Melissa Harrison, Chris Watson, Richard King, Emma Warren and many more. This is the second issue to be edited by legendary sonic curator Cheryl Tipp of the British Library’s Sound Archive (amongst many other goodly works) and thus promises to be even more of a cracking read than usual. Pre-order your copy here.
News of the new Howlround album arriving imminently. But after all this I might want a nice lie down first…
For those of you who couldn’t make it to today’s panel discussion, ‘Is Sound The Forgotten Sense?’ that was part of a series of talks at this year’s 100% Design showcase, please enjoy this sonic portrait of Kensington Olympia that was unveiled as part of my presentation:
Should architects and designers think more about using sound in new and exciting ways, rather than only focusing on acoustics? Our speakers all use sound innovatively from those that ‘play’ a building, to creating soundscapes that react to spaces and engage audiences in new ways. The panel includes Martyn Ware, founder member of iconic bands Heaven 17 and The Human League, who now creates 3D immersive audio landscapes with architects, artists and brands through his company Illustrious, designer Tomas Klassnik, and sound artist Robin the Fog, who will create a bespoke sound design for 100% Design. Chaired by David Michon, editor of Icon.
You might remember I blogged quite excitedly about visiting Olympia back in August and being given free reign of the building to explore and record. At the time the venue was a blank canvas being cleaned, maintained and generally prepared for this major four-day exhibition. The above work, commissioned by 100% Design derives from making a series of recordings of the naturally-occurring sounds of the building at work (band-saws and other tools, scissor-lifts and other maintenance vehicles, cleaning brushes etc.) along with various objects that I came across on my travels round the building, including doors, windows, temporary fencing, coat hangers and so on. The staff were kind enough to then let me take these recordings and play them at high volume through the venue’s PA system, using Olympia’s high arched ceiling as a giant reverberation tank – the biggest space I’d ever had the pleasure of working with and a glorious cacophony that somehow didn’t distract the cleaning staff from their appointed tasks one bit. Who knows, perhaps this sort of thing is a regular occurrence?
…And to think until today I’d never heard a recording of my thumb amplified through the public address system of major exhibition venue!
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) August 20, 2015
Thanks to 100% Design for having me, to Martyn, Thomas and David for being such fascinating company and to everyone who expressed an interest in my work. Sadly, due to some sort of annoying technical hitch I was unable to play an extract from Jacob Kirkegaard‘s 4 Rooms, which was a tremendous shame as it was a terrific example of one of the points I was trying to make about working with particular acoustic spaces – is it pure coincidence that these recordings of abandoned public spaces in the Chernobyl sound so desolate, lonely and foreboding, despite being in essence just recordings of amplified silence? Or does our awareness of the tragic history of these rooms and the inherent dangers of returning there have a part to play?
Here it is, anyway, and you’ll find more information on the album here. Still makes me shiver…
Now that the dust has settled, please take a moment to enjoy some sights and sounds from last week’s Saisonscape: Decay tour, where Howlround played a trio of dates across the UK alongside the great sound artist and tape-loop manipulator Mr. William Basinski and recent Quantum Natives signing Kepla. The video and images shown here were from the final night of the tour at The Kazimier in Liverpool, which was perhaps the most visually impressive of the three, with the loops teetering and wobbling upwards from the stage and disappearing over the balcony. It’s a miracle the whole thing held together at all, quite frankly, even with all the scaffolding parts and other heavy metallic items lying about backstage that we borrowed to stop the tape jumping off the spools…
My enormous gratitude must go to Art Assembly, in particular the amazing Julia Dempsey, as well as Messers Basinski and Kepla for being such affable and entertaining touring companions, not forgetting Victoria Hastings for doing such a fantastic job of documenting the whole thing. More photos to follow, no doubt, but I think it’s this one that makes me the most proud:
Must also thank everyone at The Kazimier as well as Cafe Oto in London and Salford’s Islington Mill for their warm welcome. I haven’t had a moment to go through all the recordings yet, but doubtless more audio from these events will surface before long. The response from the crowd each night was hugely encouraging and bodes well for the imminent release of our new album…. but more on that later!
Excited to announce I’m off to Indonesia for a week hunting for new sounds to incorporate in some future work, and am looking forward to some adventures in the land of gamelan and birdsong! This means I will be largely out of contact for the next week and unable to respond to the usual deluge of listeners’ letters, fan mail and demands for cash, so please bear with me. I shall certainly be back in good time for Howlround‘s tour with William Basinski & Kepla – I wouldn’t miss it for anything and the London date at Cafe Oto sold out weeks in advance!
Hopefully all should tick over quite nicely for a week in my absence. Album number FOUR is currently being manufactured and I hope to have a further update soon. But for now, I thought I’d leave you with this extract from the Howlround archives while I’m away, especially as today, Friday 4th September, marks two years since the official launch of our second LP Secret Songs Of Savamala in Belgrade, Serbia:
The album launch party, as you may recall, took place within the ruins of The Spanish House, the former customs building with the highly evocative flooded basement that had inspired its creation . The above film, created by combining the first side of the LP with the beautiful photography of Milica Nikolic Micikitis, was screened that evening to an crowd packed with collaborators, colleagues and friends, sounds and images reverberating off the roofless walls and into the night. It was a very special feeling to be able to return the sounds back to their source, though for some reason I’ve never shared it online until now.
My grateful thanks go once again to Milica, vocalists Mirjana Utvić and Anita Knežić, Leila Peacock, Axel Humpert and the staff of Camenzind Belgrade, NO-FM and the Goethe Institute. Good friends all and I miss them. Hopefully we’ll all work together again before very long. Belgrade certainly isn’t short on items of sonic fascination!
For further details on that album’s gestation, you can also check out this archive interview with Tiny Mix Tapes from a few months later where I talk about …Savamala and also its predecessor, The Ghosts Of Bush. Thanks once again to Daniel Emmerson for this one!
Right, that’s quite enough nostalgia to be getting on with, better dash to the airport. Hopefully see you at Cafe Oto on 15th!
…And to think until today I’d never heard a recording of my thumb amplified through the public address system of major exhibition venue!
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) August 20, 2015
It’s been a busy old week at Fog Towers since my return from Copenhagen, culminating in a morning spent wandering around the famous Kensington Olympia with some contact microphones looking for some hidden sounds to record. Currently in-between exhibitions and deserted save for a small army of cleaning and maintenance staff, I was lucky enough to be given full access to this enormous exhibition centre, including its surprisingly loud PA system. The reason for all this will be unveiled next month when I’m planning to return to the building to present the results of my audio adventures. For the moment I’ll just let it be known that playing the sounds of doors creaking, glass being rubbed and the ascension of a scissor-lift back into the cavernous main hall at high volume while staff continue their work undaunted was about the most fun it’s possible to have before lunchtime. Like being given the keys to an enormous empty toyshop…
In other news, here’s what the next Howlround album sounds like:
Following a flying visit to Veneration Music‘s studio in deepest, darkest Kent, I’m very excited to be able to reveal this first glimpse of our next LP – quite literally. It has a title, cover artwork and, thanks to the nurturing hands of genius mastering engineer James Edward Barker, is now primped, polished and ready to go. As with our previous album, the services of this most talented musician/producer/polymath was largely paid for in Butterscotch flavour Angel Delight – a very reasonable price for a chap who’s just been working with Bruce Willis. We’re very excited about it all, but for the moment this enigmatic glimpse of the audio files is all you’re getting! Hoping for a November release, but you know how these things have a tendency to get held up…
On the same subject, you might remember me harping on about Howlround’s first ever music video few weeks back. Why not watch it again? It’s very good but I need to get the play-count up:
I mention it here again because the charity compilation album XPYLON from which this track (a collaboration with Ray Carmen’s abandoned playground) was taken is finally out and available in all it’s 16-exclusive-track glory. As well as benefiting a good cause, it’s also a tribute to Jonny Mugwump’s erstwhile Exotic Pylon record label and radio show, and the stellar line-up below is the perfect testament to his legacy. All original and exclusive material and it’s a ‘name your price‘ release, which means you simply pay what you think it’s worth – but as 100% of all proceeds are being donated to mental health charity ‘MIND‘, a generous donation is always appreciated.
But don’t just take my word as to its quality, a rather flattering review courtesy of Jim Haynes has surfaced in this month’s Wire magazine:
Now that the album has been released, I’m suddenly reminded that I actually feature on the album twice, firstly in my capacity representing Howlround and secondly as one third of new super-group The Trunchbulls, alongside Band Of Holy Joy lynchpin Johny Brown (who wrote the tremendously eerie accompanying text) and Exotic Pylon legend Dolly Dolly (who spoke it and did the eerily tremendous job one might expect after listening to his 2013 album Antimacassar). Anyway, put it down to a busy work-load, to concentrating over-hard on finishing off the aforementioned Howlround long-player or just encroaching senility, but somehow the memory of working alongside these two excellent fellows and the resulting ‘polyglot of Derbyshire-esque Radiophonics’ (thanks Jim!) slipped to the bottom of my mental pile. I’d better post it up here before it slips my mind again:
One thing I haven’t forgotten is Jez Butler‘s superb A Lighter Side Of Concrete from a year or so ago. Heavily influenced by the work of twang-a-ruler-and-make-a-bassline-out-of-it Radiophonic Workshop legend John Baker, it’s an album of decidedly chirpy concrete-pop that I still feel has been rather unfairly slept on. Well, his latest release as part of the Twelve Hour Foundation with partner Polly Hulse is out now on a limited edition three-track 7″ and it’s really quite marvellous. Continuing the legacy of his solo album, it’s a ridiculously catchy affair that sounds like the theme tune to an early 1980s BBC Schools programme about robots or the periodic table – like something Paddy Kingsland might have cooked up for the greatest-ever episode of Zig-Zag, on a spring morning while enjoying a bourbon. Look, I’m running out of analogies, OK? Just give it a listen already!
And speaking of John Baker, I’m ridiculously over-excited at the imminent release of The Vendetta Tapes on Alan Gubby’sBuried Treasure imprint. Alan worked extensively on the Trunk compilation The Baker Tapes several years ago and I believe these tracks represent a further trove of ultra-rare obscurities from one of the Workshop’s true pioneers: incidental music, theme tunes, jingles and special effects culminating in a delicate balance of sleazy jazz, musique concrete and subtle electronics. I was excited then and I’m excited now, especially as I had confidently assumed that after the Trunk release the trail would have gone cold. After all, the BBC does have a deservedly awful reputation when it comes to preserving it’s own archive – though the recent BFI box set of Out Of The Unknown was most welcome, it served as much to highlight the fact that more than half of the episodes of that series have been lost forever, including stories by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asmiov and Nigel Kneale – a travesty, quite frankly. Thank heavens for enthusiasts like Alan who manage to get past the bureaucracy and red tape and finally give these treasures an airing! Limited edition and selling fast, don’t sleep on this one:
Well, that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Next week I’m off to York to record the sound of vintage Grandfather Clocks. Busy old summer…
Well, what an adventure I had this week! Huge thanks to the Strøm Festival and to everyone who came down to the sold-out show at Cisternerne on Monday night to witness performances by myself and Logos. It was an honour to play in such an unique space with an incredible natural acoustic, so I made sure I stepped up to the occasion with a set of brand new material and the longest loops I’ve ever made, running for several meters across the space and balanced precariously above the permanently wet and grimy floor. They certainly appeared to impress the crowd:
I realise it is customary at this point for me to include an audio extract from the performance via my Soundcloud Page, but on this occasion I regret to say that I’m unable to do so – the performance was deliberately tailored to play to the Cisternerne’s seventeen second reverb and so a simple ‘output recording’ would be missing half of the experience. I believe that there was some filming and recording taking place, so perhaps that will surface at some point, but for the moment those of you who couldn’t get a ticket will just have to take my word that it was an amazing experience. Plus I’m hoping that I will be allowed to give this historic structure the full ‘album treatment’ some time next year, a proposition that Strøm top-brass appear to be intrigued by, so all is not lost. Until such times, please enjoy these photos by Rasmus Kongsgaard together with some snappy sound-bites derived from running the article they came from through some slightly ropey online translation software:
Although cisterns are worth a visit in itself, it is electronic music of the most radical and uncompromising kind that is in the centre at tonight Power-event.
There is no anywhere other than exactly here that these works may be noticed in this way. There’s nowhere else you can stand underground and fall in spell over a flickering candle while vaulting around you is echoing with issue noise from another world.
Distorted locomotive whistle, deep roar that could evoke an imam fair and elongated, umelodiøse soundscapes instantly puts the listener in a state of alluring scary. For although it is extremely difficult to get hold of the sonic bursts that puts both eardrums and stalactites in swings, and most of all sounds like the soundtrack to a dystopian sci-fi nightmare, it’s impossible not to be drawn into .
The following afternoon I was performing my secondary role at the festival of leading a workshop on field recording and composition using some of the basic principles of musique concréte, as part of Strøm’s summer school programme open to students across Europe and beyond. This took place on a converted dredging ship by the docks, which made for a terrifically fertile environment for our class of 36 enthusiastic students to explore. Before long groups of people were scattered all around this waterside complex, looking for things to rub, hit and scrape. It was incredibly gratifying to observe these discoveries and to have such an attentive class, many of whom seemed to have a natural ear for spotting sounds ripe for manipulation – the small group I was leading found a very tasty drainpipe and nearly gave themselves permanent hearing damage in the process!
The plan had been for each small group to submit their best material to be dubbed onto quarter-inch tape and then for all the recordings to be appraised together as a class and worked into some sort of composition; while outlining some of the techniques that magnetic tape puts at one’s disposal. Unfortunately my quartet of reel-to-reels were feeling rather uncooperative that afternoon – perhaps still sore at spending the preceding evening in what was to all intents and purposes a dungeon – and so refused to put anything at anyone’s disposal what-so-ever. Thankfully I was still able to demonstrate some basic tape loop construction, though the bulk of the composition was demonstrated on my trusty-though-less-interesting laptop – did the job, just wasn’t as much of an immersive experience.
However, feeling that this itch hadn’t quite been scratched, I pulled out their recordings again when I arrived back at my studio last night and knocked the above short piece together. Hopefully it will retrospectively offer the students a clearer idea of the things we were discussing and provide some much-needed closure for me!
Before I forget, extra special thanks must go to Jim Slade (and family!), Pernille Krogmog and Allan Hansen for making it all happen, to co-performer and fellow-junglist Logos and of course to Laura Yawira Scheffer for being a shining beacon – quite literally as it was very hard to de-rig in the pitch darkness of the Cisternerne and her smartphone had a torch. Now I really must have a serious word with those naughty machines Daphne and Delia. I’m certainly not taking them on tour with William Basinski if they’re going to misbehave like this!
Oh, did I mention Howlround were going on tour with William Basinski? I did? Well, expect me to continue harping on about it for a while yet…