When it comes to things that make me happy, its been said that I’m pretty much an open book. Indeed, as I’ve had cause to remark in the past I’ve attained the enviable position of having friends and well-wishers across the land and beyond queueing up to inform me of any imminent cultural developments that might just tickle my foggy fancy. And so it proved once again last weekend when I received a deluge of messages asking if I was aware of an impending BBC Radio 4 programme presented by musician, sound-artist and all-round genius Matthew Herbert, that would undoubtedly be ‘right up my street’- ’The Art Of The Loop’:
Matthew once made an entire album from the sounds of a single pig’s life, so he’s no stranger to the benefits of loops and sampling. He talks to producers, musicians and loop-creators and experiments with technology ancient and modern; he hears from looping’s defenders and detractors and looks into a musical future which he finds fascinating but many find terrifying. And, along the way, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer.
As you may remember, Mr. Herbert and I have a modicum of shared history. A couple of years ago we experienced something of an altercation involving conflicting respective sonic tributes to former World Service buildings, which caused some to label him my ‘arch-nemesis’. It was a period in my career that came to be known as Herbertgate, though I need hardly point out that I have always been a huge admirer of his work, if perhaps less of a fan of the BBC commissioner that sparked the furore.
Anyway, ‘The Art Of The Loop’ is a predictably fascinating listen and, as ever, what makes Herbert stand head-and-shoulders above so many others is that his work investigates the philosophical and political implications of these looping and sampling process as well as merely demonstrating the clever and beautiful music that results in playing with sounds in this way. At the time of writing, there are merely a few days left to listen again, so I urge you to click here while you still can. I do wish Radio 4 would keep it’s archive online for a bit longer…
Curiously, it was the final sentence of the programme description, he builds a dance track out of a Radio 4 Continuity announcer that really caught my attention on this occasion, providing as it did a sudden jog of the memory back to a simpler time when I was a young undergraduate with big, impractical dreams and very little common sense. For yes, dear reader, I too once made a dance track out of a continuity announcer. What are the chances? Could ‘Hebertgate’ be about to enter a dramatic new phase?
Hardly. Memories of my music undergraduate days are hazy, not because of any time spent sowing the proverbial wild oat, but merely, as my dear old Gran used to say, because I’ve had a sleep since then. But one incident from that time is all-too-well preserved and it concerns a simple DJ culture workshop being run as part of my BA Hons in contemporary and popular music. Not terribly dramatic flashback-material, but stick with me.
Originally arranged by my course tutor and planned as an academic yet informal demonstration of various DJ techniques and their influence on dance culture and modern music in general, the Music Department made the decision to publicise the workshop by inviting a local TV news crew. I assume the theory was to promote the department’s open-minded approach to new and different compositional techniques alongside the more traditional classic approaches they were renown for . But sadly getting the media involved proved decidedly unwise, as that night’s programme transformed a perfectly competent and interesting workshop into that bastion of regional news teams everywhere, the ’light-hearted “and finally” slot’. Presumably there were no kittens up trees or amusing photos of phallic-shaped vegetables that evening. ‘If the man at the turntable is a doctor and he’s spinning discs’, sniggered the reporter of DJ, saxophonist, sound artist and respected academic Dr. Matthew Sansom, ’does that make him a “spin-doctor”‘?
Ha. Ha. Ha.
Anyway. incensed at this outpouring of scorn at the expense of my noble profession and filled with plenty of righteous ire, I quickly set about working on a riposte. If the idea of dance music being played at a major academic institution was so ripe for local news parody, I reasoned, how would they feel at finding their words incorporated into a dance track of their own? And so I took to creating a piece of music using nothing but the voices of the studio presenter and the news reporter. The only exception was the kick drum, which is taken from the contemporary Robbie Williams song ‘Rock DJ’ that opened the report, which should tell you everything you need to know about just what a nuanced and thoroughly researched piece of television I was dealing with. In some small way, it felt like making them eat their words. Or dance to them, still haven’t quite decided if the analogy works. Not that any of that really mattered more than getting one over on the establishment. Hear me roar, local newscasters!
The results were… well, look, it was a long time ago. Don’t judge it too harshly…
It goes on for quite a while longer, but I think that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Certainly nothing that will give Mr. Herbert a sleepless night. I know you’re probably wondering how on earth I ever managed to scrape a 2:1, but I’d like to think that what the piece lacks in skilful technique, it makes up for in youthful vigour and rebellious spirit, as well as being a crude but useful way of exploring the compositional techniques that would go on to help create more meaningful and significant later work. I mean I’d like to think that, really I would. The most comforting thought is that these days we’re all a little older, a little wiser, and no longer have to look towards regional news teams to define our existence. For that at least, we must be grateful.
Oh, and I can assure you this marks the end of my trawling the personal archives. I made an awful lot of very terrible stuff back then and thankfully had the good sense to lose most of it. In fact, I’m very glad that I went through my ‘embarrassing demo’ years before we reached our current situation where it’s absolutely impossible to lose anything. Rather makes me wonder if sharing this with you now isn’t just shooting myself in the foot…
Congratulations to Resonance FM who, thanks to the hard work of its volunteer workforce and the generosity of its listenership, managed to raise £20,000 in this year’s fund-raising auction. And Howlround are very proud indeed to announce that our ‘Home Haunting‘ contribution, in which the highest bidder receives a unique piece of sound art created entirely using recordings of their place of residence; raised a not-too-shabby-at-all £250! Congratulations to our mystery winner, who shall be receiving a house-call in the not-too-distant future.
Let’s celebrate with a brief extract from last month’s set at another great alternative music institution, Cafe Oto, where the Howlround tape loop sound-system spooled a well-received set at the behest of the The Full Of Noises festival. With thanks to The Octopus collective for having us and Ryoko Akama, The Alpeh, Lauren Redhead and ORE (amongst others) for a splendid couple of evenings of frequently extraordinary music.
I’m keeping it brief this week as there’s currently a gigantic pile of new material I need to finish and I keep making excuses to avoid it. But if the masochists amongst you haven’t quite had your Foggy Fill, you might like to know that I’m currently being featured on ace music blog Tiny Mix Tapes, where I talk with Mr. Daniel Emmerson about my work in Howlround, tape manipulation, flooded basements, oldskool jungle and the nature of sound in general. I certainly warm to my subjects, in fact I probably go a little too much. Have a read here.
Updates of new music and other projects will be appearing on this page in due course, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with a cartoon sent to me in response to our Cafe Oto invitation by itinerant modular synth tinkerer Mr. Daniel Hamilton, which made me laugh so much I thought I’d share it with you:
I’m sure it can’t have escaped your notice that Valentine’s Day is almost upon us again. As a rule I generally don’t give the remotest flying toss about the pink and fluffy notions surrounding February 14th. Indeed, if I were to conduct an impromptu audit of the net worth of each of my own dalliances with the fairer sex, it would boil down to little more than a woolly hat and a slightly battered copy of ‘Reggae Owes Me Money’ by The Ragga Twins. And this is rather a shame, because today I find myself forced to convince you, dear reader, to show some love to the highly-regarded but sadly endangered cultural institution that is Resonance 104.4FM.
The coming week brings Resonance’s annual fundraising marathon, where the hard-pressed staff of this volunteer-run, community arts radio station (and registered charity) try once again to raise enough cash to keep afloat for another year. Unfortunately it’s going to be harder than ever this time around as the Arts Council are demanding that each institution they deal with now have a sort-of ‘rainy day reserve’ of at least £50,000 in the kitty before they apply for further funding. I can’t personally imagine too many charities being in that enviable position, and Resonance is certainly not one of them, so the challenge this year looms larger than ever.
All is not lost, though, as various programme-makers, artists, supporters and friends of the station are putting on a whole host of fundraising events, including live music, comedy, cultural debate and ‘The Relatively Good Valentines Do’, all of which I would urge you to attend (further details here, the Café Oto event looks particularly magnificent). They’ll also be an auction of rare goods, desirable objects and unique experiences on the Resonance website in the coming week or two. Which makes this an appropriate moment to hereby unveil my own contribution to the 2014 Fundrasing Marathon:
HOWLROUND’S HOME HAUNTING!
A snappy title, what? Allow me to add some clarity by quoting the official press release in full:
Having gained widespread acclaim for their two site-specific LPs ‘The Ghosts Of Bush’ and ‘Secret Songs Of Savamala’, the tape loop manipulation duo Howlround are now offering one lucky Resonance FM listener a chance to discover some ghosts of their very own.
The duo use only acoustic field recordings of a particular building of structure, and create unique sonic portraits by weaving these sounds through a quartet of reel-to-reel tape machines with uncanny and beguiling results, a process that Record Collector magazine describes as ‘Aural Ectoplasm’. Now, to coincide with Resonance FM’s latest fund-raising campaign, the duo are offering the highest bidder something a little more bespoke: a unique hauntological composition created using recordings of their very own home, place of business or favourite local landmark; a sonic portrait created just for them and presented on an edition-of-one spool of quarter-inch tape (plus mp3/WAV files).
In short, it’s a far more interesting and slightly spookier version of those ‘aerial photograph of your house’ offers. It’s also a chance to own and help create a unique piece of sonic art and keep the greatest radio station in the world on the air. As an added bonus we’ll even throw in a very rare test pressing of the latest Howlround LP ‘Secret Songs Of Savamala’.(Quick Disclaimer: The personal visit part of the offer is only open to those living within a 50-mile radius of the Resonance FM Studio in Borough High Street. Everyone else is encouraged to enter, but will need to create their own recordings (with guidance) and send them to Howlround for processing. The chosen space does not have to be your place of residence, but no trespassing or breaking and entering will be undertaken in order to make the recordings.)
So, please do get bidding for a chance to own a Howlround edition of ONE and to help the radio station that has made this tape-loop quartet and so many other amazing projects possible. Most importantly, you’ll need to follow the auction instructions on the Resonance website in order to place your bid – please DO NOT try to do so by contacting me personally or they’ll just be a world of confusion!, Our item number is E21 which can be found along with many other delightful items up for grabs on the official auction spreadsheet HERE (it goes live at noon on Monday 10th). Bidding starts at £100, so let’s see some nice large offers, please! RESONANCE FM NEEDS YOU MORE THAN EVER!
In other Howlround news, we’re currently donating 100% of all vinyl sales of the ‘Secret Songs Of Savamala’ LP to the Resonance appeal until 16th February. And eagle-eared listeners may have heard closing track снежaнa (or Snow Woman) included on the most recent edition of Stuart Maconie’s Freakier Zone on 6Music, as part of an edition exploring imaginative use of field recordings. The programme is still available to download here and also contains recordings by Peter Cusack, Chris Watson and Lee Paterson. Huge thanks to guest host Peter Meanwell for including us amongst such auspicious company! We should also thank the Full Of Noises collective for putting us on at Cafe Oto last week, as part of an equally impressive line-up. And once these fund-raising shenanigans are over, rest assured we will!
What’s that? It’s midway through January and this website, that chronicler of my Foggy affairs and calling-card to the world is still wishing everyone a Happy Christmas? Oh, dear, better get it sorted out…
Firstly, happy ‘Almost-February’, everyone. I trust your Festive season was well-spent and you are now looking to the year ahead with ears to the wind and noses to the porthole. Despite working before, throughout and after Christmas and New Year, I managed to attain a moderate degree of caroused-ness, much of it cheese-related (eg. sticking handfuls of the stuff in my ears as Gran has to have the telly really loud in order to complain about how Midsomer Murders isn’t as good as it was when that other chap was in it). Plus, without dropping a single hint to anyone, my gifts included some Radiophonic vinyl, a copy of the newly-released English translation of key text In Search Of a Concrete Music by Pierre Schaeffer, and these little beauties:
How lucky I am to have family and friends who appreciate how much I love these things. And who also appreciate how desperately I could use just one smart shirt…
Now, you could argue that my writing about what I got for Christmas does not a particularly interesting post make. And I’d be inclined to agree with you. But the fact is, dear reader, that the past couple of weeks have been decidedly unproductive, and while I was hoping the new year would see me bouncing up and down and pummelling you with details of exciting and imminent projects, the spirit has been willing but the flesh particularly weak. The fact is, that after such a hectic few months and a busy Christmas, I succumbed to what everyone appears to be calling ‘Man-flu’ and have spent much of the last week in bed. Feel free to send me a message of sympathy at this point if you feel moved to do so. You’d be the first.
So, I’m still a little groggy, a little snotty and a little unkempt (hence the title of this posting). But I’m back on my feet and looking forward to another busy year. For starters, there’s Howlround’s set on 31st January at the Full Of Noises event at Cafe Oto (details here). There’s plans for a new LP and a couple of other releases on The Fog Signals label, although we’re currently negotiating a proper distribution deal, so there’s paperwork to contend with before anything else. And, as of yesterday, I’ve started tinkering with a rather exciting new commission, working with a collection of sounds from the other side of the world, which are proving most stimulating!
But for now, please enjoy once again this demo from our performance at Kings Place last December (still only just over a month ago) that I thought was worth another posting. Hopefully it will whet a few appetites for the 31st!
Yours, in anticipation of a veritable mountain of Get-well correspondence,
PS Just realised I could have made a joke about wearing my influences on my sleeve. I must be sicker than I thought…
Nearing the end of 2013, perhaps the most manic twelve months of my life so far, my thoughts naturally turn to winding down my affairs, bidding the old year adieu and settling into my happy hearth for the usual Rover Biscuit Assortment and familial arguments regarding how ridiculously out-of-date the questions in our ancestral copy of Trivial Pursuits are (thus giving our elders distinct advantage). Unfortunately, however, RADIO DOES NOT SLEEP, so I shall basically be at the coal face right the way through into January; and any suggestions of egg nog, tasteless knitwear and chesnuts roasting on an open hostess trolley must be dismissed as mere romantic untruths. In fact, such is the intensity of my current work-rate that I probably won’t even have to scrape any frost off the grindstone before returning to it, as there will have been precious little time for any grind-frost to have accumulated.
But I’m not complaining. Well, obviously I am complaining a little bit, but I wouldn’t want you to think that this has in any way affected my natural sense of festival. In fact, I’d like to share one last little treat with you before we all find ourselves staring into the cold, harsh dawn of 2014. To whit, I finally got around to uploading my recent DJ set in support of the mighty Public Service Broadcasting and their triumphant courduroy-and-balloon-splattered sold-out homecoming extravaganza at The Forum in Kentish Town last month. It’s been hanging around the Foggy archives for a few weeks now, but what with more pressing matters such as the preparation of a technically demanding and logistically ambitious performance at major arts venue (complete with malfunctioning tape machines) to be dealt with first, it rather got swept under the rug. Well, that rug has now been firmly shaken down. Don’t get me wrong, those affable PSB fellows Willgoose and Wrigglesworth did as magnificent a job as ever, but I think most reasonable people would agree that it was the warm-up DJ that everyone had really come to see and the results of that momentous night can now become my Christmas gift to the world:
And it’s not just me getting into the festive spirit either. The greatest band on earth, shouty London funksters Chips For The Poor have just released a Christmas single entitled Rinsell The Tin-Cell, which is available completely for free here. Obviously I don’t have to tell you it’s up to their usual completely awesome standard. Get downloading!
That’s probably enough festivity to be getting on with. All fake-humility aside, it really has been the most incredible year, crammed full of weird and wonderful highlights. I’m aware that tradition dictates I should attempt some 2013 retrospective, but frankly we’d be here all night. Let’s just say that whether crouched in a flooded basement in Belgradea or on top of a cliff in Northumbria listening to foghorns; or at the bottom of the ocean trying to create the realistic howling of a shoal of imprisoned fish (thanks Radio4!), it’s been a year of fascinating sounds aplenty. My thanks goes out as it always does to my amazing collection of friends, colleagues, comrades, fellow diggers, odd-balls and obsessives for the support and encouragement you’ve shown along the way. I consider myself very lucky to know so many dedicated and passionate individuals and I’d like to wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I can’t wait to show you some of the exciting things I’ve got planned for 2014!
In the meantime, does anyone know what colour running shoes somebody called Zola Budd apparently wears? It’s for a yellow wedgie, if you’ll pardon the expression…
Now that we’ve had a full week to let the dust settle, Howlround would like to say a huge thank you to all of our friends who came down to Kings Place on Sunday 8th December to watch us quite literally play the building. It was great to finally bring to fruition a project several months in the making, and the feedback and support we received have been hugely encouraging. Particular thanks must go to our official photographer Lisa Hack, who took all of these amazing pictures and asked for nothing more than a pint of shandy and a pat on the back. She received both.
Highlights of the performance itself will doubtless appear on these pages once we’ve had a chance to go through it all properly and pull out our favourite moments. In the meantime, here’s an extract from one of our demos we put together beforehand in preparation, this one made entirely from a single recording of a Kings Place door handle. Altered rather drastically during the final performance, it’s presented here for your delectation, in it’s original unmolested form; along with a significantly accelerated version of our specially prepared stage visuals:
There’s plenty more where that came from, I can assure you. Our thanks once again to promoter, Esther Ainsworth, lovely sound engineer Carina and my own dear Father, Mr. The Fog Snr, who was severely reprimanded by the ushers for his attempts to smuggle bottles of sparkling water onto the stage. Let this be a lesson to us all.
With our ushers, sparkling water and radiophonic old-world charm, Howlround is fast becoming a decidedly classy and distinctive affair. By the time of our next performance at Cafe Oto in January we’re even hoping to have acquired a butler. Fingers crossed…
It’s official: Howlround will be at Kings Place on Sunday 8th December, unveiling a brand-new and unique performance of secret sounds recorded in the bowels of this gleaming and futuristic structure, situated on the banks of the Canal in the recently modernised Kings Cross area of Central London. Tickets and event details here. There’s also a Facebook Event Page for those social-networkingly-inclined amongst you.
The press release: Howlround will be unveiling a semi-improvised composition/performance played on reel-to-reel tape machines using the ‘hidden’ sounds of the building itself and the analogue tape manipulation techniques of musique concrete to create an alternative portrait of the space, exposing hidden and mysterious depths. With all artificial effects and additional reverb strictly forbidden, the raw sounds will be allowed to tell their own story, often becoming impossibly strange and otherworldly within a few passes of a tape loop across a play-head, creating a spatial exploration at times akin to an aural séance.
It should also be quite a spectacle as we desperately try to get our increasingly temperamental vintage Revox tape machines to do our bidding live on an actual stage in front of a seated audience without imploding spectacularly. It’s our most ambitious work yet and will NOT be repeated, as well as potentially being the final outing for our increasingly fragile dinosaur collection, so make sure you catch it.
For anyone unfamiliar with Kings Place, it’s a multi-purpose labyrinth of a place consisting of performance spaces, galleries, a rather classy restaurant and lots of office space belonging to The Guardian and The Observer (which are newspapers). Armed with nothing but a hand-held recorder and a contact mic, Howlround were granted access all areas and recorded everything from pianos being moved, harpsichords being tuned, sculptures creaking, wine glasses, metal poles, mic stands, squeaky doors, a leather sofa and a sandwich toaster from the cafe. We shall be playing these sounds and nothing else inside Hall Two friom 4pm. At the time of writing everything is in its early stages but is sounding most beguiling. There will also be an interactive session after the main performance, where we’ll be playing with sounds donated by you, THE FANS. Can you think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon in December? Nope, me neither.