The Supernatural Past And The Ghost Of Studios Future

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’.

R3 LogoAs 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.

BryWolf2

I couldn’t find a picture of a Direwolf at short notice. But I think you’ll agree that Bryan here looks suitably visceral.

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…


‘But What A Gate!’ – The Reviews Are In

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:

Simon Reynolds, Blissblog:

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.

A Closer Listen:

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.

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The Active Listener:

[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. 

Robin Tomens, Include Me Out:

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.

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. 

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!


Howlround – Torridon Gate (A Year In The Country)

Robin The Fog:

Absolutely lovely review of our new album from Forestpunk. Thank you, Sir!

Originally posted on forestpunk:

Howlround-Torridon-Gate-Robin-The-Fog-Chris-Weaver-A-Year-In-The-Country-all-items-575x543Torridon 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.

Hither green 3.81The Radiophonic Workshop is a telling touchstone for “Torridon Gate,” as all of these squeaks, rattles, and flickering pulses were taken from one…

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Howlround Opens The Gate: New Album Out Now

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:

Gate Owners Tony & Kath with the Torridon Sessions master tape. We actually recorded almost an hour of new material – including around the house – but it’s only fair they should have SOME exclusive work for themselves!

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

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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:

howlround blimp

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
Howlround-Delight

James enjoys his JUST DESSERTS (artist impression)

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!


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 have to let the world in.

Golden Gate from Fort Point-lo

I’m sure I don’t need to explain that this photograph was taken from the same point as the sound recording, but on a different day. But just in case…

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?


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!


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