A rather hurried post at the culmination of a manic week preparing for our sound installation and performance for the Jardins Efémeros Festival in Viseu, Portugal. A more considered write-up will doubtless be forthcoming, but for now I thought you might enjoy these images and this extract from last night’s set in the magnificent C15th cloister of the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco – our first ever open-air performance!
Thankfully the intense heat combined with a slight breeze that threatened to blow our tape loops around had calmed by the time of our 23.30 performance, though the evening was not without its dramatic moments, including a significant chunk of our set in which our reel-to-reel machine ‘Delia’ appeared to give up the ghost completely. For added intrigue, it just so happens that our performance occurred on the 14th anniversary of the death of her Radiophonic namesake. I’m not a superstitious man, but I’m pretty certain there’s some symbolism at work in there somewhere. Thankfully she clicked back into life after some tense moments and a lot of silent pleading and is now recuperating in our surprisingly plush hotel:
Away from the stage, our sound installation at the Funerária D. Duarte runs throughout the festival and thanks must go to the staff for being so obliging in allowing us free play among the coffins in the back room.
The work itself is some twenty-seven minutes in total and consists of the Funerária staff (all members of the same family) talking about their work mixed in with a soundscape of Viseu using recordings gathered from local abandoned buildings and subjected to the patented Howlround treatment at our temporary studio in the back room of a former tie shop. Our favourite piece of feedback so far has got to be a reported ‘Mummy, where are all the dinosaurs?’
Jardins Efémeros runs until 12th July and it’s proving to be a remarkable achievement, quite literally transforming the town. Our gratitude must of course go to festival curator and lynchpin Sandra Oliveira, our translator Lino and all our new friends for being so welcoming and supportive. We’ve been so busy preparing for our own contributions since our arrival last week that we haven’t actually had time to check out much of the festival yet, but one thing that particularly captured my own imagination during a brief tea-break was Vanda Rodrigues‘ ‘Cloud Room’, stepping into which felt like entering a Boards Of Canada video!
Howlround will be performing as part of this year’s Jardins Efémeros Festival (or ‘Ephemeral Gardens’) in Viseu, Portugal on July 3rd at the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco. We’ll also be producing a sound installation in a funeral parlour! Click on the image below for more details and the full festival line-sup can be downloaded as a PDF here. Further sounds and images to follow – plus Pye Corner Audio and Holly Herndon are playing too! Hurrah!
It’s the first event in what is shaping up to be quite a busy summer for Daphne, Delia, Magdalena and Elisabeth, our quartet of sprightly though occasionally wonky reel-to-reel machines. So busy in fact, that I thought it might be an idea to embody it in poster form:
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who came to Speak No Evil‘s ‘Light And Shadow Salon’ last Thursday and to the staff of New River Studios for going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that our quartet of tape machines got home safely (it’s a long story). Great new venue, hopefully we’ll be invited back soon. I was intending to post an extract here from this first Howlround performance since that Barcelona basement last summer, but unfortunately due to a technical glitch I’m currently unable to do so. However the entire event was being simultaneously broadcast on Sonica.FM, so with a bit of luck we might be able to work something out. Thanks to everyone who came up and told us how much they had enjoyed our set, but for added amusement I shall leave with you with the unsolicited advice offered by an older gentleman in the audience who, after observing us conjuring a mass of howls, shrieks and clanks from our quartet of elderly reel-to-reel machines and a vast tangle of ageing, twisted tape, remarked that our live set needed to be a bit ‘slicker’ and ‘more professional’ if we were going to get anywhere. I thanked him and suggested he check out our alternative website http://www.spectacularlyandheroicallymissinghepointofthewholedamnedenterprise.com
Howlround are hereby announcing that due to circumstances beyond our control, Speak No Evil‘s ‘Light And Shadow Salon’ on Thursday June 25th will now be taking place at New River Studios, 199 Eade Road, N4 1DN. Nearest tube is Manor House.
There’s a Facebook Event page with details of the rather super line-up in full, which should have been updated with the necessary by the time you read these words. Apologies for the short notice and any confusion this may cause – but it’s rather out of our hands. Should still be a totally awesome event. though.
Howlround’s first live performance of the year (and for almost a year!) occurs at ‘The Light And Shadow Salon’ on June 25th. An evening of varied audio-visual performances, film, improvisation and even magic lanterns, it’s the brainchild of our friends Speak No Evil and takes place at historic London arts venue The Horse Hospital.
There’s a Facebook Event page with details of the rather super line-up in full, plus you can learn more about this most fascinating building (and how you can play a part in saving it from the relentless march of the sterile corporate behemoth currently ravaging our fair city) here.
Our tape machines are looking set to make up for lost time with a busy summer playing at festivals in both Viseu, Portugal in July and Copenhagen, Denmark in August; further details of which should be arriving on these pages soon, as well as details of a new Howlround LP in late summer/early autumn. To be honest I’ve no real idea yet what shape it might take, but I can reveal we’re sitting on a sizeable reserve of new material; and that after the vinyl reissue of Torridon Gate sold out in a single afternoon, I’m very keen to follow it with something fresh. Rest assured that any subsequent developments will be trumpeted loudly from the rooftops.
Speaking of reissues, you might remember Brood Ma‘s excellent P O P U L O U S (not to mention the follow-up r e P O P U L O U S featuring remixes by Yearning Kru, Ornine and myself), released on his Quantum Natives label last year. Well, it’s now been reissued on vinyl by Untold’s ever-superb Hemlock Recordings and sounds fatter than ever. I was going to write ‘phatter’, but I’m not sure that’s been culturally acceptable since about 1996. Suffice to say it still bangs and squelches in all the right places and I’m happily rinsing it round at Fog Towers all over again.
Equally excitingly, Ghost Box have just put out two of their finest releases on vinyl for the first time – 2007’s Quatermass-channelling Seance At Hob’s Lane by Mount Vernon Arts Lab and The Advisory Circle‘s sublime Other Channels from the following year. Both are highly deserving of the heavyweight vinyl treatment and Julian House’s artwork looks better than ever in twelve inches. And as if this wasn’t enough, The Advisory Circle’s Jon Brooks, never one to rest on his laurels, has just released another excellent new LP, Walberswick on More Than Human Records. Whatever his secret is, I do wish he’d bottle it!
And finally, while it doesn’t really have anything to do with the above business, this wondrous thing finally turned up in the post last week:
Isn’t it beautiful?
I’ve been hunting a Sesame Street record box for a number of years now, even going so far as trying to sneak off with one belonging to fellow Sesame-addict DJ Food while his back was turned. Now, after a decade of impatient online scouring and bungled petty-thievery, this little beauty has pride of my place on my shelf and plays host to my modest collection of slightly battered CTW and other Muppet 45s (including ‘I Love Trash’, as you’d expect), a rather marvellous single by Bert entitled ‘Clink, Clank’ and – though I’m embarrassed to admit it – my copy of the decidedly non-canon: ‘Big Bird & His Blowers’. That’s right at the back of the box, as you might expect and it should probably stay there.
Anyway, the discovery of this box and the aforementioned glut of reissues by some of my favourite artists have contributed not only to making June a rather exciting month musically, but also to my recent inability to put my hand in my pocket and get a round in. And so, as an act of contrition I thought I’d leave you with this charming performance of ‘Clink, Clank’ I found on youtube. Some might argue that all this is veering dangerously off-topic, but I feel I should point out that Bert’s delight in the strange sounds produced by his apartment’s plumbing not only has vague echoes of my own childhood but also sums up the Howlround modus operandi pretty neatly.
Besides, I love going off-topic. Get to it, gentlemen:
Presenting for your approval, Howlround‘s remix of a track from the new album by Devon Loch. Sleep Scale is out now on the redoubtable Kit Records, and also includes interpretations by Beams, Yaaard, Adam Ono and others:
The title ‘Howlround Follows Them Down’ stems from the fact that our quartet of tape machines were each going through a particularly ropey patch at the time and throwing some decidedly wonky shapes into the mix, a state of affairs that I was mindfully attempting to embrace, rather than submitting to hand-wringing despair. Were I permitted to don my philosophical hat, I might speculate that part of what gives Howlround’s music its distinctive savour is the knowledge that both the elderly reel-to-reel machines and the magnetic tape on which it is produced are all gradually degrading and that each turn of the loop only hastens their demise. I might then add that perhaps such ‘managed decline’, if treated sympathetically can produce music of a distinct and fragile beauty, rather like the way dying leaves change colour in the autumn, before winter comes and they turn into withered husks lying forlornly around the place, completely incapable of anything productive and just waiting for you to stub your toe.
For these reasons, and with all philosophical headgear firmly removed, I was and am determined as far as possible to follow the Revoxes down the slippery spiral to the scrapheap and hopefully create some kind of extended swan-song out of the results. After all, you can never be sure with these machines just how much time you have left, a fact that a more gifted writer would doubtless be able to wring all sorts of metaphorical postulation from. As for me, I’ll just settle for remembering that the pioneering Louis and Bebe Barron produced some of their most far-out sounds for the Forbidden Planet soundtrack by actually recording the death-throes of the primitive electronic circuits as they burnt out. The results still sound amazing six decades later and so you could say that those primitive circuits have out-lived them both. And Leslie Nielson.
All this lofty aspersion and dubious metaphor aside, however, I was a little unsure upon listening back to my interpretation of ‘Rapid’ as to whether I was actually satisfied with it. You can waffle on about the beauty of decay all you like (and I do), but it still has to function as music or at least offer a pleasing listen. My initial concern was that it made everything sound quite knackered, as though the bottom had fallen out of the track. Thankfully, when Devon Loch himself finally got to hear it his response was most positive:
Job done. So, moving on, now that the remix is out in the world, a couple of people have asked me to elaborate on the origins of the ‘ghostly and enigmatic’ voices that gradually emerge from under the sea of crackle and hiss in the opening seconds. And what a can of worms they’ve unwittingly opened in doing so, for while I’m normally hesitant in revealing my sources; on this occasion I’ve decided to allow you all a tantalising peek up my sleeve. To that effect, I can confirm that they are taken from THIS festering little object found nestling amongst the usual piles of Johnny Mathis and David Essex in an otherwise unremarkable charity shop:
A flexi-disc! With a title that unblushingly hints at sordid delights supposedly buried within it’s floppy grooves! I paid my 50p, ignored the cashier’s accusing stare, and headed straight for the nearest turntable.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of, ahem, handling one, these disposable, low-quality discs were often given away free with gentleman’s specialist magazines in the seventies and eighties, providing an aural dose of dirty smut to complement their centrefold images – or so I’ve been informed. At the same time they were also used by Readers Digest to flog their box sets of Andy Williams and James Last, though I’ll leave it to you to decide which was the more sordid use of the medium.
Anyway, for added value and because I have nothing better to do with my afternoon, I’ve taken the trouble of transcribing some of the contents of this unsavoury little disc below. Our story begins (or rather it lurches falteringly into motion) with the appearance of one Mr. Brewer, a man who sounds not unlike the Grandfather in the Werthers Original advert fallen on hard times; and who has arrived to hold up his end (ahem) of an appointment with a lady. Or has he? OR HAS HE?! Sit back and let the gripping narrative sweep you into a whirlwind of drama, intrigue and simmering eroticism:
Woman: At last, I was beginning to have my doubts about him. [calling] Who is it?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: It’s me. I mean. Mr. Brewer. Tom Brewer. I rang a little while ago and, and I made an appointment.
Woman: I’m sorry, Sir. We’re terribly busy. There must have been some mistake. Are you sure you’ve come to the right place?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: Yes, yes, I’m absolutely sure. I know I’ve come to the right address. I took it down from your advert. Please let me in. You do remember me. Please. It’s beastly cold out here. I might catch something frightful like pneumonia. Please let me in.
Woman: What did you say your name was?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: Er, Tom Brewer.
Woman: Brewer… Brewer, no I can’t say I recall that name, [and yet in clear contrast to what I’ve just said] it does sound faintly familiar. Did you say you phoned?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: I-I did. Please believe me. It was only half an hour ago.
Woman: Ah, yes, of course. I remember now. Do come in…
[This is where a more accurate dramatic portrayal might have inserted a door-opening sound effect]
Woman: Oh, you poor thing, you look so miserably cold, let’s warm you up with a nice cup of tea and take your coat off for you.
Mr. Brewer : Thank you. I didn’t expect to be treated like this. You know…
Woman: Now, don’t be like that, Mr. Brewer, if that is your name. There are some very peculiar men come knocking on the door. Disgusting men. I hate to think what sort of a place they imagine this to be. They’re dangerous too. Especially a night like tonight when I’m all alone. A lady has to be so careful.
Mr. Brewer : Of course, well, how stupid of me, I should have realised. How can I apologise enough for sounding so rude?
Woman: I should think so!
They continue on in this manner for some time. Just in case you’ve forgotten, gentle reader, that last harrumphing retort from our female protagonist has brought us almost halfway through a disc entitled ‘Uncensored Sex Party’. Do feel free to stop me if you felt any of the above was too near the knuckle for comfort, but I can’t help feeling that the title falls down on at least two counts – a third if you feel that it takes at least three people, some finger-food and the presence of a children’s entertainer to make a party.
Taking the first of these failures as an example, while this recording may indeed contain the full, unedited account of what transpired that cold evening, can something really be marketed as ‘uncensored’ if there’s absolutely nothing going on that might actually require censure? I mean, presumably programmes such as ‘Songs Of Praise’ or ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ are also largely considered uncensored (suggestively shaped vegetables notwithstanding)? It’s taking a bit of a liberty with the truth, quite frankly, even if I do find myself forced to concede that ‘Uncensored Sex Party’ does have more of a ring to it than other, more appropriate titles such as ‘Dreary Discussion Through Doorway’ or even ‘Write It Down Next Time, You Dozy Tart!’
Not that my opinion will count for much amongst all this seediness. As an outsider granted the occasional peep, the world of audio-only erotica has always proved slightly confusing to me. Remember my ‘Mucky Mixxxtape’ of a couple years back? The odds are that you do, it was by far one of the most successful endeavours I’ve ever placed a gentle-yet-firm hand upon. And after that there was my attempt to produce a short work for radio by systematically editing all of the smut out of a 1972 LP entitled ‘Midnight Cowpoke’. To my astonishment the resulting two minutes (from a forty-minute long-player) completely failed to make the final cut of a Radio 4 programme with the theme of ‘Misadventure’ – and I had been so confident they would bite my hand off (though not literally – I’m not that kinky). Anyway, on both occasions you might recall my wondering aloud just what sort of audience might actually find these records appealing? Who were they aimed at? Why would anyone want to listen to the sound of two jobbing actors faking it?
Well, as far as I’m concerned the discovery of this flexi-disc has only deepened the mystery. The only form of intercourse engaged in during this ‘Sex Party’ is mumbling through some meaningless, utterly perfunctory dialogue that seems almost scientifically programmed not to be listened to. When you further reflect that anyone as concerned about catching ‘something frightful like pneumonia’ as Mr. Brewer would surely not be partaking of any activity that involved wearing less clothes; or that our female protagonist constructs paradoxical sentences such as ‘I can’t say I recall that name, it does sound faintly familiar’ without missing a beat; it becomes yet another entry into my canon of things that shouldn’t exist, but somehow do. It’s growing to be quite an impressive list, with recent additions including John Leslie’s Scavengers (Wheel Of Fortune presenter in deep space!), the ‘Loving Remembrance Musical Egg’ and THIS*.
I’ve now totally forgotten why I was telling you all these things. Well, partly because I was so utterly depressed by the results of the recent election that I guess I’m looking for any excuse to lose myself in ephemera and try to forget that we’re now essentially living in a giant copy of the Daily Mail. Oh, and of course that the Devon Loch LP Sleep Scale is out now on Kit Records and a beautiful thing it is too. Limited vinyl with a handful of tasty remixes and beautiful artwork by Sarah Tanat-Jones. Buy it here while you still can and let’s put an end to all this filth!
* If you clicked here and managed to last right the way through the musical number, I’ll happily stand you a pint. You’ll be needing it.
Jolly hard work, DJ-ing, let me tell you. Back-breaking too, especially when you’re still lugging vinyl about long after your peers have embraced the joys of laptops, USB sticks, or just getting someone else to mix it for them. You need to keep your strength up if you’re going to sustain a full eight hours of being continually asked if you’ve got any Rhianna or whether you’d mind playing a song off someone’s iPod because it’s their birthday and they’re the only one dancing.
So what could be better than to take a nice juicy apple from the fruit bowl when you’re heading out the door? Perhaps cramming it into an empty pocket of your well-stuffed and spine-creakingly heavy record bag to serve as a mid-session pick-me-up? A nice Braeburn, perhaps? Delicious and full of vitamins!
Of course there’s always a risk that you might just forget about that apple, owing to the demands placed on your attention by the ageing hipster demanding to know if you have any ‘good’ music or the drunk woman who keeps asking for something ‘happier’ when you’re rocking the Prince Buster. There’s always a chance that your apple will merely end up residing uneaten and neglected in that very same pocket of your record bag. That pocket that you don’t really use for anything else and therefore see no reason to check all that often – perhaps only once every couple of years…
While we’re on the subject, I’d just like to point out that I’m still available for bookings and can be contacted through the usual channels. But for my next booking I think I’ll insist on taking carrots. As well as providing the improved night-vision so useful in darkened clubs, they’re also said to aid the memory. Though I can’t remember where I heard that…
Oh, and thanks to Victoria Forbes for the horrifically beautiful photos!
To celebrate my heroic non-inclusion in this year’s Record Store Day, due in no small part to failing to get my affairs in order, I was planning to use this week to spring something exciting onto a grateful world: namely a surprise vinyl reissue of Howlround’s third album Torridon Gate, in an edition of 100 only, complete with gorgeous screen-print of the sleeve by Hannah Brown of Modern Day Magpie and a natty translucent inner. However, thanks to the noble efforts of the good folk on my mailing list, I’m unable to do so…
The fact is, I sent my subscribers an email last week giving them first dibs on the new record and they literally bit my hand off – the entire edition sold out in less than twelve hours!
Sorry to disappoint those of you who missed out, but that really is your lot! The ‘name your price’ digital download is still available, but the number of regretful, peevish or outright inconsolable missives I’ve received in the last few days tells me it’s proving little consolation. However, the fact is that in my original email I promised it would be first-come, first-served, with no second edition and no re-reissue. And I intend to keep that promise until such future times as when it will prove especially financially lucrative to go back on my word and let everyone down – a major career retrospective, perhaps, a deluxe vinyl box set in mahogany, a nomination for the Mercury prize, that sort of thing. Frankly, such worries are quite a way off yet – not much point having a major career retrospective without having a major career first. But I digress…
I do plan to spring other surprises in this manner in the future as it’s quite an enjoyable (if not particularly lucrative) way of running my affairs and keeping my followers on their toes. If you’re not yet on my mailing list and gaining such preferential treatment yourself, why not send an email with the subject line ‘Yes! I wish to be kept on my toes re. this kind of thing in the future’ to robinthefog at gmail dot com? I will take care of the necessary and first dibs on my next vinyl surprise will be yours for the taking!
To Radiophrenia news now, and congratulations to Mark Vernon and his team for the culmination of a successful week of broadcasting to Glasgow and the surrounding areas on 87.9FM (while streaming worldwide online), with a wide and varied programme of original radiophonic works, lectures and performances, including a couple of new works by myself (along with the writer Leila Peacock, of course).
I’m extremely proud to report that one of them, ‘Mount Shock – Music For Microphone Cradle’ was chosen as the work to mark the final broadcast, signing-off and closure of the station at roughly ten minutes to midnight on Sunday 19th. Quite an accolade with over seven hundred pieces to choose from!
Penultimately, the Howlround tape-loop quartet finally came out of dry-dock last week when I performed a solo set (Chris still being on his arts residency in Dubai) for the music technology students of Havering College in Essex. It was good to be back behind the spools and the students responded well to my demonstration of what it’s possible to achieve without resorting to plug-ins, fx pedals and other bits of digital technology. In fact it went so well that for a moment I almost felt ‘cool’ and ‘relevant’, but thankfully those feelings passed before I attempted to get too far ‘down with the kids’. Could have been seriously embarrassing for a chap of my vintage.
And lastly, I’ve moved house too. 80+ boxes of vinyl, tape spools CDs, books and other assorted ephemera (not to mention my army of tape machines) have been successfully transferred to my new abode in Penge, thanks to the efforts of some very strong friends (both literally and metaphorically). This photo was taken at about the halfway point, when there was still some floor-space in which to stand swinging a camera. No such luxuries now. I haven’t seen the carpet since:
There are those who claim that moving house, performing a Essex-based solo tape-loop set and releasing a new record in the space of less than forty-eight hours is sheer, unadulterated lunacy. And you know what? I wouldn’t dream of arguing with such people. The upshot of all of this is that I’m currently sans-internet at the newly-appointed Fog Towers, which is why I’m writing this while day-drinking in Crystal Palace, next to two men engaged in a fascinating discussion about why it’s never a good idea to take cocaine at a funeral. If you’re thinking that sounds rather like stating the bleedin’ obvious, I should inform you that some poor misguided chump once offered me viagra at the send-off of a much-loved elderly relative, so perhaps such activities are more common than you or I might imagine. But all that’s for another time…
Anyway, for these reasons, and all of the above, it’s an exciting time. More soon, my friends, and don’t forget to subscribe if the mood takes you!