A Spanish Howl (And The Curious Case Of An Outer Church T-Shirt)

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You might think that taking over a week to upload some sound and images to these pages from Howlround‘s triumphant gig at 4’33” Café in Barcelona is a rather shoddy way to run a website. And I’d be inclined to agree with you, while letting slip the fact that since we returned I still haven’t got round to the necessary but highly-tedious task of untangling the huge pile of tape loops that were hurriedly scooped off the floor at the close of the performance, our de-rigging having been made all the more urgent by the promise of some impending late-night tapas. And the fact that I still haven’t done any laundry. But in truth, it’s been another busy week. I’m heading off to the US in a few days, hoping to find fresh inspiration recording desert ghost towns and other haunted spaces, so I’ve been trying hard to wrap up all of my various affairs before I go. I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time swearing at Photoshop while fiddling with the cover artwork for a new Howlround release scheduled for the autumn, but more on that at a later date.

There are scant few places in Barcelona to fix a tape machine when it goes wrong. The chances of a good servicing behind these shutters were slight indeed…

What is rather shoddy, however, is leaving it this long to give huge thanks and gratitude to JP and Ale of 4’33” Café for being such fantastic, supportive and entertaining hosts (and for taking the above photos), to Robert and the Base Elements Gallery for allowing us to perform in their magnificent 12th century basement in the Gothic quarter; and also to our many new friends in the large and enthusiastic crowd who gave us such a huge reception – our set met with an ovation and our first ever encore!

Speaking of which, perhaps the strangest moment of the entire trip occurred a few hours before the show as we were returning to our B&B in the Montjuic district to pick up our gear. Walking up the road towards our lodgings, we were suddenly stopped in the street by a lady who pointed at the Outer Church T-shirt I was wearing and asked ‘Are you Robin?’ Despite the enormously high profile I enjoy from years of art radio broadcasting, DJ-ing between bands and creating obscure sound art, it’s still a surprisingly rare thing for me to be recognised in the street, particularly when that street is in a city I last visited on a school art trip at the age of 16. But then this interloper was no ordinary lady – it was Rosa Arutti, local musician, sound artist, part of the rather super Nad Spiro and subsequent gig attendee. I guess you could call this a tribute to the enduring influence of Mr. Joseph Stannard‘s great institution and to the power of T-shirt sloganeering. But even so, I wonder what kind of crazy alignment the planets must have been in to allow this chance meeting in a small side-street in a strange city at the very door of our bed & breakfast? How does Rosa herself account for this amazing coincidence?

‘Well,’ she commented in a subsequent email, ‘they say Montjuic is the magic hill. I think I’m going to get myself an Outer Church t-shirt !’

Nad Spiro have something of the magic about them too. Check out this recent album:

Before we left, JP and Ale also took some time to show us around the site for their new venue, currently under construction, which they intend to open as Barcelona’s answer to our own Cafe Oto here in London. The prospect of such a venue opening and what it might offer to the city is a most enticing one, as is the hope of being able to accept their invitation to come back and perform there once  it does so!

In other news, I noticed while flipping through the latest issue of The Wire on the plane over that I get a mention in their charts page – another minor ambition fulfilled with thanks to The Geography Trip! Incidentally, if you haven’t bought their latest release by The Resource Centre yet, you jolly well ought to go and do that now – it’s a quiet marvel and is apparently recommended ‘for fans of Terry Riley, birdwatching, John Cage, that warm feeling you get when remembering your first school and Music concrete'; which I imagine will tick plenty of your boxes too. I can’t find that much coverage of this splendid label anywhere else online, which is rather an oversight on the part of the internet.

Very proud of this. But not smug. Well, perhaps just for a moment…

As for the immediate future, Chris has returned to Dubai to continue his residency (which appears to be going really well – you can keep up to date with his exploits on his own blog here) and I’m going to be packing my trusty Edirol and an 8GB flashcard in my hand-baggage and hoping for some fresh audio adventures in California in the coming week (but no earthquakes, please).  Work on our next release(s?) will continue remotely, though our original plan of sending demos to one another via tape spools in the post has been abandoned for the far more economical benefits of We Transfer. It’s much less romantic but infinitely more practical and I guarantee you won’t be able to spot the difference.

It was great to have Chris back, though, and what an amazing month we had. And, once again, how lucky we are to have so many good friends who support what we do. And to have friends who make nice T-shirts. Glad to know them all!


Bringing Home The Beacons

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In real life the sun was much smaller and the lightning bolts rather bigger…

Thanks to everyone who came to see us HEADLINE the Friday night of the Beacons festival – and as we were the last act of the evening in the only tent left open, I feel I can declare this statement technically accurate. Look, we’ve even got an appropriately surrealistic picture by the great Matt Colquhoun to prove it:

Howlround by Matt Colquhoun

Howlround at Beacons by Matt Colquhoun

As some of you will be aware, the specific nature of a Howlround performance often requires having my back to the crowd; but my spies cunningly placed among the festival-goers in attendance have revealed that the reception to our set fell into three broad categories – a small but noble group who were enchanted, a slightly larger group who were rather baffled and a very small group of one who was actually quite outraged. This is all to the good – the last thing anybody wants to inspire is indifference. My favourite comments so far have included ‘brilliant’, ‘strangely remedial’, ‘eerie as f**k’ and ‘is this supposed to be an act?’, all of which I’m hoping to fit on the sticker attached to our next LP.  Why not have a listen to this brief extract and send me your own three-word review? I’ll print the best ones!

From my own perspective, our set was not without it’s challenges, particularly as our new UHER reporter machines were proving a little impetuous and uncooperative. But of course that element of risk and the chance that it might all implode at any moment is a key factor in Howlround’s live performances – the frequent bouts of frantic loop un-tangling, bursts of unexplained noise and sudden huge silences should always be considered part of the experience. Allowing this margin for error, failure or perhaps even outright disaster is what gives the performance an extra frisson. Not that this is the easiest thing to explain to a crowd of mashed-up ravers who have spent the last few hours ‘going hard’ in the Resident Advisor tent. As it were…

Into The Woods

Our thanks once again must go to John and Glenn from the Octopus Collective for inviting us and being the entertaining and fascinating company they always are. One of my personal highlights from the festival was Glenn’s Bread Board Orchestra workshop, which turned several large groups of random strangers into chopstick-wielding band-mates, jamming for hours and making a wonderful racket – like a Tescos-powered Gamelan ensemble. I’m hoping they’ll put some of the recordings on-line at some point so I can share them with you. Naturally Chris and I had to have a go. Followed by another. And another…

Breadboard Orchestra by Matt Colquhoun

Howlround help out / hinder the Breadboaord Orchestra. Photo by Matt Colquhoun

Other favourite moments included Dām-Funk‘s vocoder-keytar jams (deserving a far higher billing), Special Request‘s house set suddenly ramping into an hour of glorious, teeth-grinding jungle, an extended tea and cake session with our old mucker Jonny Mugwump and Jez Riley-French treating me to a personal performance of his hydrophone recordings (it was very early in the morning and I was the only other person in the tent). Even the appalling weather was not without it’s comedy value, particularly when Chris got whacked and nearly blown over by a flying sign-post warning him to expect high winds. Who says Mother Nature doesn’t have a sense of humour?

Up next is Cafe 4′ 33″ in Barcelona on August 22nd. We’re hoping for slightly less rain.

Howlround_4-33flier


Howlround MK2 – Into The Woods We Go

Howlround are very proud and excited to announce that our first gig for several months (and our last UK gig for 2014) will occur this weekend in the ‘Into The Woods’ tent, at the Beacons Festival, Skipton, Yorkshire. And it’s a particularly special one for us as it marks the debut outing for our vastly more portable new live soundsystem!

Howlround Live Mk2

With our recently-acquired quartet of (comparatively) lightweight ‘reporter’-style machines, we’re hoping to massively increase our range and effectiveness as a live unit while massively decreasing the risk of damage to our spines, our heavy-yet fragile Revoxes and the walls and door-ways of my flat. From henceforth the plan is that these much-smaller UHERs will take on our live duties while the Revoxes remain permanently set-up in the Howlround studio, which will hopefully save lots of endless rigging and de-rigging every time we perform and increase our productivity by a factor of hundreds.

Working with tape is never that simple, of course, and it’s entirely unlikely to prove plain sailing:  these new machines run at a much slower speed, half that of the PR99s, which has meant some frantic work re-dubbing and cutting new loops over the past week. We also haven’t had time to properly put our new quartet through its paces yet, or monitor it’s effectiveness ‘in the field’ – going by past experience there’s always that slight chance that they’ll take umbrage with the atmospheric conditions, the country air or the position of the moon. However, I’ve no doubt that such unpredictability will add an extra extra frisson to our ‘witching hour’ live set, which will occur in the small hours of Saturday morning. And of course we will be testing the machines in an actual field…

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We thought we’d treat ourselves to a new Avatar!

Thanks to our friends The Octopus Collective of Barrow-in-Furness for once again asking us to perform. And as ever there’s a superb line-up of performances, films and other happenings to enjoy; including The Aleph, Ex-Easter Island Head, Jez Riley-French and the brilliantly named Shatner’s Bassoon amongst many others. Further details can be found here.

And just look who’s back in town:

Howlround Chris arrives just in time to admire our brand new selection of loops - all taken from a forthcoming release!

Howlround Chris arrives just in time to admire our brand new selection of loops – all taken from a forthcoming release!


A Most Uncommon Type – Keira Rathbone and the Sounds From the Vaults

It’s been rather quiet on these pages the last couple of weeks, though I can assure you in the off-line actual world things have been busier than ever. Much of our time has been taken up finishing off the next Howlround project – we’ve been beavering away at in secret for a couple of months now, it’s pretty much finished and sounding quite super;  just waiting for our mastering guru to work his magic. We’ve also got a couple of rather exciting live appearances coming up in August – our first in several months – with details to follow. But for the moment our most pressing item concerns a typewriter and some tunnels:

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Yes, celebrated typewriter artist Keira Rathbone‘s latest exhibition BRINK comes to The Vaults gallery at the end of this month and features a number of collaborations with artists of different persuasions alongside her own distinctive works – including a new sound piece produced by Lolita Laguna and myself. Our contribution was produced several weeks ago by visiting the cavernous halls beneath Waterloo station that make up the exhibition space, armed with some recordings of both Keira’s typing (she uses a contact microphone which makes it sound tremendous!) and the ambient sounds of some of the locations where she produces her work; such as the river bank of her native West London. These sounds were played  through a portable amplifier placed at one end of the vault known as the ‘long wet room’, with the results being recorded at the other. This new recording was then played back into the space and the process repeated – five times!

Vaults-close

Laptop and amp in repose.

It was an idea partly inspired by works such as Alvin Lucier‘s I Am Sitting In A Room and Jacob Kierkegaard‘s wonderful and terrifying 4 Rooms, where continuous recording and playback within a given space starts to expose that space’s natural resonant frequencies, often rendering the source material completely unrecognisable as it does so. This kind of transformative-process and the ease with which it’s often possible to break down common or everyday sounds into something wholly other is, as regular visitors to these pages will attest, an obsession of mine;  though even I was astonished at the metamorphosis that had occurred by our fifth attempt. And because of the continuously ‘active’ nature of the space, each subsequent layer added it’s own  flourishes; be it the sporadic water dripping from the ceiling or the bass-heavy rumble of train wheels overheard. At the time of writing Lolita is putting the finishing touches to this dense sonic stew and the resulting composition will be installed in the space as part of the exhibition, premièring at the private view on July 31st. The rough-cut sounds great, so I’m very much looking forward to hearing the finished work being ‘put back’ into the space. Seems only yesterday I was doing the same thing in Belgrade customs house!

Vaults

Results were actually much more deafening than you might expect…

To celebrate the launch of BRINK and as a promotional wheeze, Keira has set about immortalising the assets of her various collaborators by producing typewriter portraits of their eyes and ears. To that effect, here is a picture of her posing with my left ear, a salute not only to a body part described as ‘damn sexy’ by someone on the internet; but to an organ that has consistently earned it’s place as my very favourite and most-useful physical accoutrement:

KeiraTypedEar

Anyway, I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Keira’s work is amazing (as is Lolita’s!!), so make sure you pay the exhibition a visit somewhere between 1st-23rd August.  The official Vaults website has further details and there’s also a Facebook event here for you social media types. She has even suggested we have a DJ battle as part of the private view, so there may be one further collaboration to come!

Finally, outside of the vaults I’ve been immortalising some assets of my own, chiefly by making another ‘guerilla’ promotional video for Howlround using my favourite tape loop, which sadly expired from sheer exhaustion not long afterwards. Thankfully it’s appearance in this video has given it a kind of immortality, so why not click play and help a small part of it to live forever? Moreover, particularly as the sounds in this video have gone on to form the cornerstone of our next release, why not watch it over and over and over again? In doing so you’ll increase our play-count and be granted rare insights not only into how the loop came to meet its end, but also just what I have been doing with my evenings over the past few weeks.  You might even gain a teasing-yet-fascinating glimpse into our new release’s gestation – everyone wins, most of all YOU!


The World Service Gets The Horn

I know I’ve been harping on about the Denman Exponential Horn installation at the Science Museum quite a bit here and on the social networking of late, but the fact is it’s just an amazing object that has to be both seen and heard in-situ to be believed. However, with this report produced for BBC World Service and broadcast last week, I’m hoping I’ve finally got the whole thing out of my system. You’ll hear Aleksander Kolkowski, the audio historian responsible for restoring Roderick Denman’s magnificent creation explaining both the past and present of the horn, accompanied by a selection of sound effects from the BBC archive, selected and mixed by my Foggy self. Those of you who heard my OST Horn Special a month or so ago will find many of these sounds familiar, including the fabulous historical recording of Tutankhamun’s Horn that opens the piece; but given the response I’ve had so far, I can’t imagine repeating this ‘glorious cacophony’ will cause too much upset. And just to clarify, that recording of Tutankhamun’s horn actually dates from 1939, as no original 13th Century BC recordings are thought to exist. I do hope this revelation will not impair your enjoyment too greatly.

The exhibition runs until 27th July and I urge you to pay a visit before the horn falls silent again!

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PS In hindsight I could probably have chosen a more dignified title for this blog post. Doesn’t really chime with the usual shroud of mystique in which I smother my work…


Want To Stay In The Loop? Follow Us!

This is how all Howlround tracks start and end: tangling themselves around my studio! And there’s been a sudden massive increase in said ‘tanglings’ recently…

Do you know something? It would just make my day if only you, dear reader, would follow Howlround on our new website and/or on Twitter with just the same unquestioning diligence! Plus they’ll be plenty of amusing visual gags to savour, such as my recent successful attempt to become more streetwise and urban by becoming a GRIME producer!

HowlroundGrimeProducer

Grime, get it? Grime. Very clever.

Gosh, this ‘viral marketing’ is a doddle….


Counting Off The Beat – Remixing and Kickstarting

A few random bits and pieces to bring to your attention this week. Firstly, do you remember that remix I produced for shouty London groove-merchants Chips For The Poor back in 2012? Well, I enjoyed doing it so much that it’s only taken me two years to produce another (with apologies to Gum Takes Tooth, who have been waiting almost a year for theirs – I swear I’m working on it!). This latest reworking is for the new  Brood Ma Remix album on the awesome Quantum Natives label, that shadowy collective of beat-makers, programmers and graphic designers that includes Ornine, Yearning Kru and Brood Ma himself amongst others. If the name sounds familiar, it could be because his second album P O P U L O U S was the subject of a very flattering review in last month’s Wire magazine. To my ears it sounds like OneOhTrix PointNever or Autechre trying to make an oldskool hardcore record (with hammers), and indeed Daniel Lopatin has confessed himself a fan. Wasting no time at all, remix album re P O P U L O U S is out this week, and I’m very pleased to have asked to add a contribution. Two remixes in as many years? Nothing can stop this runaway train!

“r e P O P U L O U S” is a view of the original work from 7 different perspectives, as seen through a virtual reality headset slowly fossilising under ash and magma. Two of the album’s tracks, ESTEEM and NRG JYNX, have been rehewn and augmented, different stresses placed on the nervous euphoria and heat-hammered visions of the originals: Ornine’s chittering percussive trance ritual, Al Tariq’s industrial dancehall schematics, Recsund’s melodic electro strata, Yearning Kru’s cthonic collapse, Lyd’s open-air psychedelic zone, Robin the Fog’s claustrophobic pleasure release, and Ana Caprix’s distant, mourning viewpoint. These excavated snapshots reveal a wider panorama of a world moments before the inevitable” 

You can check out re P O P U L O U S on the above soundcloud link or download the entire album here for FREE! There’s plenty more to be had, including the original P O P U L O U S long-player at the delightfully panoramic Quantum Natives website, while Brood Ma’s debut full-length F I S S I O N for Mantile Records is also well worth hunting down. I’m a bit of fan, can you tell?

Next up is Sarah Tanat Jones, a musician and illustrator that Chris and I met when Howlround took over the Alien Jams show on NTS Radio back in May (or rather we were invited by host Chloe Friedman and politely made ourselves at home, but ‘took over’ sounds more edgy and exciting). Sarah produces electronic synth-pop under the name Synaesthete, equally groovy illustration under her own name (the above ‘Record Shops of Soho’ is, entirely predictably, my favourite) and co-runs the Kit Records label. Her music is very much in the vein of  artists such as Glasser, and I’d even go so far as to say that her recent EP Earth and Air contained more glacial electro pop brilliance in its four tracks than on much of the former’s recent album. This is my personal favourite:

Now Sarah is asking for help to record her debut LP, Array, a CD and picture-book project combining her two talents. Releasing albums being the expensive business that it is, there’s a Kickstarter campaign that could do with your support here, with lots of nice benefits up for grabs. including original artwork. At the time of writing the totaliser is nudging just over the halfway mark with less than three weeks to go, so get cracking. You can also buy the Earth and Air EP here.

Lastly, and on a note that couldn’t be more different if it tried, I was sorry to hear this week of the death of Francis Matthews, the actor who, as part of a long  and distinguished career, played detective Paul Temple; but was probably better known – somewhat to his chagrin- as the voice of ‘that bloody puppet’ Captain Scarlet.  The archetypal dashing and debonair Englishman, I was lucky enough to interview him along with Alex Fitch for Resonance FM’s ‘I’m Ready For My Close-Up’ way back in 2009; and as there doesn’t seem to have been much else in the media by way of a tribute, Alex has dug up the original podcast. Hope you enjoy spending some time in his company as much as we did!


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