Beacons, Barcelona and Bridges – Summer In Review

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:

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 just have to let the world in.

Incidentally, fellow Hitchcock devotees might like to know that this was almost the exact same location that Kim Novak threw herself into 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?


Let’s Go Back To Church

OC Coastal Latest Small

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?


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.

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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!

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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…


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