Another year, another bout of the dreaded winter lurgy, resulting in two weeks of shocking inactivity, where my most productive achievement was alternating between staring at the ceiling and the discovery of several justifiably obscure shades of Glen A. Larson on youtube:
Rather beneath my dignity, I’m sure you’ll agree, but slightly more engaging than the ceiling.
My recovery has been significantly, ahem, ‘energised’, however, by the simultaneous arrival of several new projects from some esteemed friends and former colleagues, and as a token of my gratitude to these brilliant people I’d like to share them with you here and now. It will help to both spread the word and also make me feel less bad about having few of my own 2015 achievements to shout about as of yet. First up is the long-awaited publication of a collection of short works by storyteller, broadcaster and former America’s Got Talent contestant Guy. J. Jackson:
In this collection of rare, hard-to-find, and often too-short short stories, Guy J. Jackson wields his not particularly helpful but still relatively charming (at least compared to being chased) worldview in order to pretty much study and correct all of humanity’s foibles, or at least the ones that need correcting by the end of this year.
More familiar as a performer of stories in the verbal tradition, through innumerable shows on both stage and radio, short movies and a couple of albums (you might remember our collaborative Notes On Cow Life cassette from 2012), Guy’s distinctive mix of creeping intrigue and amiable surrealism loses nothing in it’s translation to the page (though I’ve included a recording of his reading an extract below for added measure:
The stories vary from several pages to the merest few lines and are great to dip into, but better to immerse yourself in – indeed I read the whole thing in one big greedy sitting. Grab your own copy here.
Next up, are you familiar with the work of DCW Briggs? He’s a graphic artist, comic publisher, musician and all round good chap, who has produced a huge body of work over the years, under a number of pen-names [pun intended] such as Hills Have Riffs, which just happened to be the nome de plume he chose when we collaborated on a 2013 mini-album Earl Grey Whistle Test, recorded in Bush House’s Studio S6 in the months leading up to the Ghosts Of Bush sessions:
Dave’s latest exploit is a collaborative exhibition with Andrew Walter at Studio 73 in Brixton Village at the behest of the excellent Indestructible Energy zine, featuring new works, collage, short-press comics and more. This Saturday (17th) sees the closing party, with live music from Mark Dicker, formerly of Trencher playing on a PA system loaned to him by noisy tearaways Part Chimp. Several years ago I found myself on the same bill as Trencher, and seem to remember their set being so loud that those watching in the front row actually appeared to be swimming through a sort of hot and viscous sound-soup. The prospect of one of their number playing on any kind of sound-system that Part Chimp consider fit-for-purpose in a space that small strikes me as a thrillingly brave and foolhardy move.
So, come down on Saturday, pick up some great short-press comics and original artwork by Dave and Andrew, have your ears blasted off and served back to you and perhaps invest in a copy of Indestructible Energy’s latest issue too. And of course you can always visit Dave’s DCWB Website. He doesn’t update it all that often, but it’s always worth the wait.
Moving onto equally exciting news, namely the recent launch of a new collaborative EP from Franziska Lantz and Howard Jacques. Franzi has of course appeared in these pages before, when we collaborated on Whirled Service, a session for BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction that I keep meaning to dig out the archive. Howard you may know from Resonance FM‘s excellent Bermuda Triangle Test Transmissions Department. The duo’s debut 12″, recorded as DPM357x is the first release on Franzi’s Global Warming Records, and while I know it’s a bit early to claim this as one of my records of the year, stranger things have happened! Purchase your own copy direct from the artists after their performance for Club Integral at Stoke Newington venue ‘The Others’ on January 23rd. I shall be there (in my capacity as a fan)and hope you’ll join me. Further information for those of you who are socially-mobile on their Facebook page here, including details of the other acts on the bill – No Cars, Flameproof Moth and Rucksack Cinema. Who says we’re running out of band names?
Finally, do you remember my writing last year about the kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of the Synaesthete album Array? Well, I’m happy to say the campaign was a success in more ways than one – this debut long-player from Sarah Tanat Jones’ sophisticated synth-pop project would be brilliant even if you weren’t a complete sucker for multi-tracked vocals, syncopated hand-claps, tick-tocking drum machines and lush, hand-painted artwork (Sarah takes care of that too). Available now from Kit Records and hugely recommended for fans of Tune Yards, Glasser and other left-of-centre electronic pop delights. Jolly good label, that Kit Records…
Right, that’s probably enough to be getting on with and certainly enough to stave off any more forbidden Glen A. Larson-cravings (or ‘Grand Larson-y’, if you’ll pardon the pun). As for my own affairs, I’ve got a couple of rather intriguing tape-music projects lined up for the next couple of months, which could prove most interesting as long as long as my own health and that of my tape machines holds out. They’ve been rather poorly too, of late, but I’m determined that the usual battle between triumph and disaster will resume with renewed vigour next week. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for this, out soon on Buried Treasure:
Standing here on the threshold of a brand new year, it seems only good and right to take a moment to look back over the past twelve months, a truly fantastic year for music and a truly awful year for just about everything else in the world. To that effect I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a special commemorative mixtape of some favourite moments of the former in an attempt to drown out the horrific and enduring effects of the latter:
With so much great music to choose from, it was never going to be an easy task, so I’ve narrowed down my parameters by concentrating purely on new releases over reissues (regrettably leaving out superb releases on Buried Treasure, Public Information and Suzanne Ciani’s wondrous music for Atari in the process) and tried to focus predominately on records that were, in my opinion, rather unfairly overlooked in the end of year lists appearing elsewhere. Now it’s finished I’m constantly being reminded of amazing works I left out, but nevertheless at the time of writing I find myself scaling the dizzy heights of ranking 20th in the Mixcloud ‘Pop’ charts, a truly humbling accolade which suggests I haven’t done such a bad job after all. Wonder if there’s a trophy or cash prize?
It’s been an eventful year at Fog Towers as well, with much excitement, intrigue and sonic adventure, so I’d like to hereby present my top 10 personal highlights of 2014 in no particular order. I realise that much of the following could be classed as shameless self-promotion, but then this is my own shamelessly self-promoting website, and if I don’t blow my own trumpet, who will? Strap on your ear-goggles and let’s roll:
1. Releasing Howlround’s third album Torridon Gate, to almost universally positive feedback and some truly humbling reviews. Thanks once again to Steve at A Year In The Country for all his hard work and to everyone who listened to, invested in or wrote nice things about it – a long list all by itself!
Not forgetting, of course, to give extra special thanks to gate-owners Tony and Kath of Torridon Road, Hither Green, whose generosity during Resonance FM‘s 2014 fundraising campaign kick-started the whole business. Could they have imagined what a can of worms their winning bid would result in? Could we?
2. A final live performance of the year in a basement in the gothic quarter of Barcelona, complete with standing ovation, encore and late-night tapas. Huge thanks once again to JP and Ale of 4’33” Cafe. Can’t wait to see what they get up to in 2015!
3. Meeting my heroes of the Radiophonic Workshop and actually getting paid by The BBC to do it:
Affable and fascinating characters all. A new album by the group, blending new compositions with re-worked classics is reported to have been completed, a decidedly promising omen for 2015.
4. Boards Of Kanyeda’s ‘Everything You Dig Is A Gold Balloon’, which spectacularly failed to go viral and cause any kind of massively financially-crippling but promotionally-lucrative legal frenzy. Still reckon it’s the best thing to have Kanye’s name on it in ages, though:
5. An extract from Howlround’s first ever live appearance features as part of the excellent Touch Radio series, alongside some particulalry lovely works by Aino Tytti, Philip Jeck, Chris Watson and much more. All available online and for free. You are warmly advised to fill your boots:
6. Performing at both Cafe Oto and The Beacons Festival at the behest of our friends The Octopus Collective. This latter ‘headlining’ performance (we were the final act of the evening in the only tent left open) elicited two of my favourite reviews of the year: ”Uncanny, mesmerising, difficult and sublime’ (Jonny Mugwump, writing for The Quietus) and ‘This is [the] s**t!’ (Anon). Our thanks and gratitude once again to John, Glenn, Jonny and our vocal supporter in the third row. Take a bow, sirs.
7. This picture of my ear by typewriter-artist Keira Rathbone, to commemorate her summer showcase ‘Brink’ at The Vaults Gallery beneath Waterloo station.
The collaborative sound installation was produced by Lolita Laguna and myself using recordings of Keira’s typing played through an amplifier into the cavernous expanses of the gallery over and over again; creating a haunting song of the tunnels that was to become the recipient of my single favourite piece of feedback this year – an incredulous ‘…But this is supposed to be a HAPPY place!’ from a fellow exhibitor. I’m not sure if it’s just my mind playing tricks on me, but I think she might actually have had a tail. For both of these reasons, I’m contemplating asking her to pen the sleeve-notes for the next Howlround LP.
8. Lots of fun with Aleks Kolkowski‘s installation of The Denman Horn at The Science Museum.
You can listen to my interview with Aleks for the BBC here or enjoy the special ‘horn-friendly’ edition of The OST show broadcast live from museum here. But I think this montage of Fog and Ship’s horns from the BBC Sound Effects archive recorded at the gigantic mouth of the horn is as good a place to start as any:
9. Speaking of Foghorns, here’s one of the greats. Immortalised in such classic works as Ingram Marshall’s Fog Tropes (reissued this year on Arc Light Editions) and Bill Fontana’s Landscape Sculpture With Foghorns (not reissued at all, but here’s hoping), the Golden Gate Bridge foghorns remain operational to this day. Part of a huge collection of sound recordings made in the US that I’ve so-far utterly failed to share with you all. Please be patient, all in good time:
10. Remixing a track from Brood Ma‘s excellent second album P O P U L O U S for the equally fine follow-up re P O P U L O U S. Expect to hear much more from this redoutable chap in 2015.
I’d like to close by wishing you all a Happy New Year and to propose a toast everyone who has supported my work in 2014, particularly that large and amazing collection of writers, bloggers, DJs, musicians, nerds, weirdos and other associates that I’m very pleased to call friends. Cheers!
Good news this week from both the past and the future. First to the future, and please enjoy this video, the soundtrack of which may ring a bell – albeit the tolling of a particularly lonesome and desolate one:
Yes, we’re very excited to announce a new Howlround composition (although those of you who follow me on Soundcloud might find it familiar) is to be included on The Delaware Road, a brand new compilation scheduled for an early 2015 release on Alan Gubby’s Buried Treasure imprint – indeed you might remember their excellent Rare Psyche, Moogs and Brass LP of library obscurities from earlier this year. We’re decidedly chuffed to have been asked, and to be sharing the stage with such luminaries as Ian Helliwell, The Dandelion Set, Monoslapper et al. Your choice of vinyl, CD or DL and more details will follow in due course, but in the meantime I can reveal that this new work has been created entirely from the sound of a squeaky microphone cradle in a New Broadcasting House studio. You can even follow this very studio on Twitter, if that doesn’t feel like too ridiculous a pastime, and perhaps send it a congratulatory message or two for possessing such inordinately musical properties.
Now for the past. In an absurdly coincidental piece of good-timing, we’re equally chuffed to announce that this aforementioned new composition, as well as a couple of choice selections from Howlround’s growing back catalogue, were used to add a little chilly gravitas to BBC Radio 3’s Sunday feature ‘The Supernatural North’ last week. Presented by “New Generation Thinker” Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough and produced by Philippa Ritchie, the programme ‘journeys to Arctic Norway in search of the supernatural world that haunts the imagination of writers such as Philip Pullman, A.S. Byatt, C.S. Lewis, Hans Christian Andersen and the authors of the medieval Icelandic sagas’.
As the dark winter nights draw in, our thoughts turn to all things Northern – roaring fires and woolly jumpers, snow, ice, and the faint jingle of Father Christmas’s sleigh. But across the centuries, a weirder, wilder North has lurked in the imaginative shadows: a North populated by mountain trolls, demons and direwolves, white witches and white walkers, snow queens and Sámi shamans. Following the trail of a 9th century Norseman called Ohthere, who travelled along the northern coast of Norway and down to the White Sea in Russia, Eleanor sets out from the coastal city of Tromsø in northern Norway. But whereas Ohthere wanted to survey the land and acquire walrus ivory, reindeer and exotic furs, Eleanor is looking for a stranger North – a place inhabited by mountain trolls, witches and giants.
I don’t know about you, but they had me at ‘dark winter nights’. Plus there’s an intriguing moment involving the penis-bone of a Walrus for added measure, surely something no self-respecting documentary can do without nowadays. At the time of writing, ‘The Supernatural North’ is still available here for your listening pleasure, but the BBC does have some funny ideas about just how long such material should be made available for general consumption; so you’re advised to dig in while you still can. And anyone else working on investigations into direwolves, white witches and the like that will require sound-tracking is warmly encouraged to get in touch. I think you’ll find our rates most competitive.
Oh, and Happy Christmas, Everyone! Festive tidings to you and your kin from the happy hearth here at Fog Towers. Hope your Christmas is restful and jolly and entirely free of televised Forsythian light-ent dancing atrocities. We can but hope…
Crumbs, has it really been over a month since I last wrote anything on these pages? Well, it’s certainly not for the want of anything to write about. The fact is it’s been a whirlwind of activity round these parts of late – mostly pertaining to the launch of the new Howlround album Torridon Gate on A Year In The Country and our efforts to promote it. Thankfully it would appear such efforts are starting to pay off – each of the four limited edition CD packages (Day, Night, Dawn, Dusk) is selling fast and the positive reviews have been flying in from all over the blogosphere. Most excitingly of all, I’ve just received word that The British Library’s Sound Archive have added a copy to their permanent collection. If that isn’t a compliment, then I truly do not know what a compliment is.
In a fit of characteristic modesty, I’ve included extracts from some of my favourite reviews below, thus achieving the twin objectives of blowing my own trumpet and buffing up my word count. They have been slightly abridged to avoid complete overkill, but feel free to click on the links and read the original post in full:
23 minutes of spectral splendour made entirely out of sounds produced from a garden gate! …[A]n amazing achievement, sort of like the missing link between Ekoplekz and On Land, or Stahlmusik gaseously expanded into Kosmische Musik.
Torridon Gate is a different beast, essentially a manipulated field recording of a garden gate. But what a gate! […] The Torridon Gate is a sonic symbol of a time and place, preserved by Howlround as a reminder not only of durable things, but of durable memories. Few would recognize this as a field recording; it comes across as an experimental electronic piece, haunted by echo and hum. The expected creaks are present, yet in these recordings, one can also hear ghosts. […] If one’s gate sounded like this, would one venture outside to close it? Perhaps not. But one’s gate does sound like this; we’re simply unable to hear it. This is the whole point of [A Year In The Country’s] Artifacts Shop: to uncover what is veiled, even if it remains beyond our comprehension.
[B]eautifully different, utterly chillingly and curiously affecting. …[T]here is something […] at play here; a desire to manipulate sound, twist it into shapes that emote, that frighten, entrance and ultimately affect the listener on a deep, instinctive, physical and emotional level.
“Torridon Gate”s single full length track veers from the most distant and echoed of cosmic drones to unearthly screeches to an all-out cacophony of metal wails and then back again. The artists’ measure of composition is faultless; there are peaks and swells in this sound as well as motifs, lulls and spaces within the spaces. This is a suite of sorts and is expertly paced. […] Recognisable as the source material only occasionally, mostly the sounds that emerge here are cold, spectral and disquieting but thrillingly so. It speaks of the worlds that are hidden in the everyday, the shadows and sounds we don’t see or hear but are there nonetheless, a world within a world. […] Stripped of the use of any studio trickery this is a major achievement in a musique concrete and tape collage lineage that includes Delia Derbyshire, Stockhausen and John Cage. Fans of hauntological artists such as Pye Corner Audio or The Caretaker will also definitely want to listen closely.
Whilst the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop are often (justifiably) name-checked in relation to Howlround, Torridon Gate’s obvious predecessor is Pierre Henry’s Variations Pour une Porte et un Soupir (1963). Maurice Béjart created a ballet based on it. […] Howlround’s recording succeeds by obfuscating the source, rendering the ‘real’ unreal and transforming the ordinary into an other-worldly phenomenon. The simple metal gate becomes a portal to…the spirit world of inanimate objects? Or can we hear the ghosts of all those who have passed through ‘the gate’ to life beyond this one we know? The gate as metaphor…if you like. Wherever your imagination takes you, Torridon Gate is an urban source response to the dark moors and haunted woods mythology of modern folklorist music-makers. In that sense, it is more ‘homely’, but the resulting sounds take you very far away indeed.
Torridon Gate will transport you – from Jupiter’s Moons to the Mines Of Moria. You might be led to believe that the Gate is an extraterrestrial artifact to fold space and time, but in fact, it’s just an ordinary garden gate.
All false modesty aside, I’d like to extend a huge thanks to all of our reviewers, listeners and supporters both mentioned above and elsewhere. It’s been so amazing to hear from people who ‘get’ what the album is about and have felt moved to share it with their own friends and followers. And I certainly never dared to dream that I would hear my work being compared to the likes of Delia, Brian and Pierre. What an honour!
Of course the spirit of full disclosure and the desire to obtain a balanced perspective and avoid accusations of bias naturally commands me to print the negative reviews as well. Thankfully, this has so far been limited to a single entry’ in the comments section underneath an otherwise positive notice on Mark Valentine’s Wormwoodiana blog, which I’m repeating here verbatim:
‘Evidently someone has time and money on his hands….’ Anon.
In fairness, I suppose this is a halfway accurate observation. One the one hand, releasing obscure, experimental musique concrete in a number of handmade limited editions is such an obvious path to fabulous wealth that I’m constantly surprised more people aren’t cashing in and releasing albums of their own street furniture. But TIME?! Sorry, Anon, but I must pull you up on this. There is very little time currently available on my hands or anywhere else for that matter. These days I barely even get a moment to update this website!
Absolutely lovely review of our new album from Forestpunk. Thank you, Sir!
Originally posted on forestpunk:
Torridon Gate will transport you – from Jupiter’s Moons to the Mines Of Moria. You might be led to believe that the Gate is an extraterrestrial artifact to fold space and time, but in fact, it’s just an ordinary garden gate.
Howlround is the joint effort of that much loved sonic alchemist Robin The Fog, who has gained an extra set of ears and hands in the personage of Chris Weaver. Robin The Fog has been using microphones and ferric tape to conjure the secret life of inaminate objects for a while now, most notably with The Ghosts Of Bush, one of our favorite records, where Robin The Fog approximated the soul of the grand Bush House, former home to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
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Howlround are hereby deeply proud and very excited to be officially announcing the release of our third album Torridon Gate on cult blog and record label A Year In The Country! Today’s post is in entirely black and white in tribute to their stark and arresting sense of aesthetics – and arrives only a full week after the album actually came out, but I think you’re about ready by now.
So, Torridon Gate, then. I’ve been told it sounds like the title of a lost novel by Philip K. Dick. But as it happens the thinking behind that title is actually rather prosaic – all of the music on this new album was created from a single recording of a suburban garden gate on Torridon Road, Hither Green, London. And that’s it. We attached a contact microphone to the metalwork of the gate and recorded as it opened and shut and moved in the wind. These sounds were then processed, looped and edited on three reel-to-reel tape machines with all electronic effects or artificial reverb strictly forbidden. Despite such restrictions and the limited sound palette in comparison to our previous work, we like to think the results are as haunting and beguiling as anything from our other albums, shifting from ethereal tone-patterns to demonic scrunches and back again. It’s certainly a long journey from the pleasant suburban street where it all began. Who would have thought a single ‘common or garden’ gate (pun intended) could offer such hidden wealth? Well, perhaps these two had an inkling:
The project started life as a prize on Resonance FM‘s most recent annual fundraiser, but quickly spiralled upwards and outwards. Perhaps you remember our ‘Howlround’s Home Haunting‘ auction item back in February, where we offered to provide a unique sonic portrait of the dwelling place of the highest bidder? Well, our thanks and gratitude must go to gate-owners Tony Alpe and Kathryn Everett, not only for a very generous winning bid (every penny of which went towards keeping Resonance on air, of course), but also for allowing us to share the results! ‘The gate was one of the things that attracted us to the house in the first place!’ says Tony, and hopefully after listening to this album you’ll join me in fully concurring with this statement!
Actually, there’s been a fair amount of concurrage (as it were) already, and I’ve included below a couple of extracts from my favourites so far (click on the link to read the whole review), In fact, feel free to send in some feedback of your own – if it’s particularly obsequious I’ll share it!! ;-)
“The result – a modern piece of musique concrete – is extraordinary, like the soundtrack of an old horror movie of the 50s, a fog of sounds in sepia tones that seem to emanate from another time” (trans.) – Rui Migel Abreu, 33-45.org
“Is it a portal to other worlds, a site of ghostly hauntings which follow on from the car crashes which resulted from not paying attention to all the road safety films… or perhaps the passageway between the galaxies that Quatermass must pass through in streaks of video feedback and ominous lighting effects in order to save London from a fate worse than Edward Heath?” – Richard Fontenoy, Freq
“I think the world inside a mirror would be very interested in you” – BBC Cantonese
EXCITING TORRIDON GATE QUIZ:
Now for the fun part. Written below are three statements, each as inherently plausible and theoretically sound as the other. And yet only ONE of them is factually accurate. Can YOU, dear reader, separate the wheat of truth from the chaff of falsehood? Read on:
- The widely-reported appearance of a giant dirigible emblazoned with Howlround’s distinctive logo above London’s fashionable Hither Green district was the first indication that an album of earth-shattering significance was, as they say, ‘about to drop’. And the hiss of escaping air caused by a leaky valve some twenty minutes later was the first indication that life was about to imitate art. Profuse apologies if that was your greenhouse.
- Secret solid gold copies of ‘Torridon Gate were hidden in Ironmongeries in five major cities across the world (including Barrow-in-Furness). Each copy contained two or three different numbers scratched directly onto the disc, and it is rumoured that when combined in the correct order, the full set of these numbers would allow the finder to make nuisance calls to Howlround member Chris Weaver. Luckily for him, only two have surfaced to date, one of which recently sold online for well over $1,000.
- The album was mastered by the brilliant James Edward Barker of Veneration Music, recording engineer, genius musician and the composer of the soundtrack to the notoriously unwatchable and completely-banned-forever video nasty Human Centipede 2. He was paid for his superb mastering efforts by having a large consignment of Butterscotch Flavour Angel Delight delivered to his house.
I admit, it’s tricky – they all just sound so entirely likely, don’t they?
Don’t they, James?
Answers on a postcard, please….
So, after months of labouring away in secret, here it is. Available now in a series of four beautiful limited editions from A Year In The Country, the label and blog that has developed a cult following through its continuous ‘searching for an expression of an underlying unsettledness to the English bucolic countryside dream’. Each edition – Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk – comes with a selection of unique hand-finished artwork and packaging, while the Night edition also includes a selection of badges, sections of the original tape loops used to make the album and more. All are available now from AYITC’s ‘Artefacts Shop’ with a download also available for those who no longer meddle with discs. We’re really proud of this one and hope you’ll like it too!