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!
My first post in almost a month and I’m afraid it’s another rushed one, mostly playing catch-up and paying some Howlround-related dues. Firstly, Chris and I would like to express our sincere thanks once again to the amazing JP and Ale of 4’33” Cafe for not only hosting us in Barcelona back in August, but for turning the results into this beautiful short film posted onto Facebook. A wonderful souvenir and a perfect introduction to the Howlround live experience! Please enjoy:
Secondly, The Quietus has published a very entertaining review of this year’s Beacons Festival by that most affable gent Jonny Mugwump, including some decidedly favourable comments about Howlround’s late-night tape-loop contribution. You are warmly encouraged to read it in full on their website here, but for our immediate purposes I’ll just modestly quote the flattering bit:
“…[Howlround were] by far one of the strangest sets of the weekend as well as being one of the highlights [...] uncanny, mesmerising, difficult and sublime. Utilising vintage reel to reel tape decks, Weaver manipulates physical loops of tape that Robin feeds into the machines. The utterly indescribable sound however is lent extra gravitas through the almost theatrical physical requirements of the performance. There are giant loops of tape hanging everywhere and the delicacy and intricacy of handling them lends the set an overwhelmingly eerie atmosphere. Howlround live is a séance – the act of channelling rendered in physical form. Suitably sonically infected, the night takes on strange shapes and you sit down with new friends knowing that this is exactly what a festival should be about”.
While Mr. Mugwump naturally has our gratitude, it’s also a relief to hear he survived long enough in order to file his report – I’m told the weather really did get rather biblical after we left. In addition I feel I must apologise to him and to all of you for the slight grammatical error I caused while tweeting about it. Promise it won’t happen again:
— Howlround (@Howlroundmusic) October 1, 2014
Finally, my thanks to the lovely and ever-patient Kaitlyn Spillane and my other stateside friends for an incredible three weeks of American adventuring. From the burning forests of Yosemite, to the salt planes of the Mojave desert, the ghost towns, abandoned hillside military encampments, empty motels, ‘wave organs’ (more of which later) – we covered it all. There’s a huge amount of recordings to wade through and it may be quite some time before I’m ready to share anything, but share it I certainly will in due course. In the meantime, please enjoy this recording of that most iconic part of San Francisco’s soundscape, the foghorns of the Golden Gate Bridge. The extract below was made in the densest fog I’ve ever encountered – despite standing directly underneath the gigantic, bright-red, mile-long, 230 metre-high structure the bridge might as well have not been there at all. I don’t even think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that you can hear the fog in this recording – certainly not when you consider the fact that sound does travel differently in foggy conditions. Unfortunately, one sound that travelled rather too well was that of a nearby trio of wastrels who were so entranced with this mighty display of the elements that they decided to chinwag incessantly about nothing throughout all of my efforts to capture it. Ah, well, sometimes you have to let the world in.
Incidentally, fellow Hitchcock devotees might like to know that this was taken from almost the exact same location as the one from which Kim Novak threw herself into the foaming waters of the bay during one of Vertigo‘s more dramatic moments. Listen to the booming of the foghorn over the thunder of the seawash here and I think you’ll get a real sense of just what a poor decision this would have proved:
They certainly wouldn’t have got much filming done on the day of my visit, though nowadays the heightened security measures would have prevented the need for any heroics on the part of Jimmy Stewart. What price freedom, eh?
After last week’s possibly-miraculous Outer Church-related coincidence in Barcelona, and as perhaps some kind of cosmic riposte to my comments about the potential alignment of the planets in contributing to it, I’m rather sorry to report that church overlord Mr. Joseph Stannard has booked a three-date coastal tour of the UK at the precise moment when I’m not in the country to enjoy it. Cosmically bad luck on my part, particularly with such a jolly fine line-up. Might I respectfully suggest you partake in my stead? Further details here. Further details with the added social networking benefits of Facebook here.
Seriously, I am very sorry I won’t be there. The last night is at Brighton’s Green Door Store and it seems only yesterday that Howlround were there doing a turn of our own at the Outer Church compilation launch. Happy days, eh Chris?
Must dash, am off on a sonic adventure to the US to chase ghost towns and desert songs. My first stop after the airport will be the nearest branch of Radio Shack to buy an adaptor for my contact mic, which I’m hoping to dangle off a few monuments. Perhaps I should wear my Outer Church T-shirt while doing so and see who else I bump into?
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.
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.
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!
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:
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…
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…
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 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!
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…
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.
Howlround’s live manipulation of stretched, looped reel-reel tapes craft shifting soundscapes Fri 2am Into the Woods http://t.co/0rpUQbvGiI
— BEACONS (@BEACONSFEST) July 30, 2014
And just look who’s back in town:
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:
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!
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!
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:
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!