One final push for all mankind: After months of preparation The Delaware Road’s fully-immersive audio-visual seance finally takes place this Friday 28th July at Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker, with the last few remaining tickets now released and selling fast. ‘Immersive’ is a bit of a buzz-word these days, isn’t it? Well, rest assured that henceforth nobody will have license to use it ever again unless they too are planning an extensive “occult conspiracy thriller [and] audio-visual treat for fans of archived electronica, far out jazz and haunted folk grooves chronicling [an] obsession with sound, sex & magic” deep beneath a hillside somewhere in Essex, complete with live performances, sound installations, film screenings, fully stocked bar, map, emergency pack of ‘Delatabs’ and a lordly yet slightly terrifying host in the shape of one Dolly Dolly.
Howlround are going to be engaged in a three-hour tape loop installation in the Telex Room, where we’re hoping to conjure up some sound, sex and magic of our own, so do pop over, but try not to become entangled up in our cats cradle of loops. Of course that’s only one corner of the bunker and the event is designed to make full use of this most remarkable of locations, with performances, installations and screenings taking place continuously in chambers and secret spaces all over the complex; encouraging the audience to fully explore this remarkable facility. Preserved exactly as it was at the height of the cold war, Kelvedon Hatch was designed to house the government in the event of armageddon, and had it ever been used ‘in anger’ would have sheltered six hundred people from nuclear winter for a year or more. They would’ve envied the dead within a week. Thankfully your tickets also guarantee your safe departure.
He’s a pussycat really. Just don’t call him a hauntologist!
‘A simple title, but it makes the purpose of this concert clear. The aim is to raise a substantial amount of money to donate to charities and groups supporting the victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster. The artists participating are from a diversity of musical genres, they are united by their singular talents and an unswerving commitment to their art’.
MATINEE CONCERT (2pm – 4pm)
Beatrice Dillon (DJ set)
EVENING CONCERT (7.30pm – midnight)
Lee Gamble (DJ set)
Clive Graham of Paradigm Discs (DJ set)
Shadow Justice Crew (DJ set)
Full details here (or click on above image)
There are no advance tickets for each events, so just show up. There is a recommended donation of £10 on the door. Minimum Donation £5 on the door. Free entry for Grenfell Tower residents, firefighters and NHS medical staff.
This event is produced by Richard Thomas with the assistance and support of Fielding Hope and the team at Cafe Oto, Resonance FM and The Wire. Special thanks to Ed Baxter and Jennifer Lucy-Allan.’
Howlround are delighted to be playing at this most esteemed of festivals this Saturday, 8th July alongside Steven McInerney, Pascal Savy and Janek Schaefer! See you there!
Here at last is the transcript of my encounter from a couple of weeks ago with a quartet of members from the reformed Radiophonic Workshop, recorded while gathering material for the above BBC report on their first album of new material in over thirty years. Burials In Several Earths comprises an extended set of drifting, ambient excursions crafted from hours of playing and improvising together as a group and is now available as a lavishly packaged vinyl boxset with beautiful artwork – or a double CD version if you’re particularly into retro technology.
Ahead of their recent show at London’s Science Museum, I tracked them down at a secret rehearsal studio somewhere just outside of London, a small building near a busy railway line, crammed with an eye-watering amount of vintage analogue equipment that remained frustratingly silent throughout, due to an ongoing and pervasive technical problem that the band were trying to unpick. I arrived to find Paddy Kingsland (‘a couple of keyboards, an autoharp from the 50s with all the guts ripped out of it, computer and guitar’) on the phone to some sort of technical support helpline, while Peter Howell (keyboard, guitar and wind controller), Roger Limb – (keyboards and a U-Bass ‘which often raises people eyebrows – it’s a bass but not much bigger than a ukelele’) and more recent member, Workshop archivist and de facto bandleader Mark Ayres (‘surrounded by more synthesisers that is probably legal and a Macintosh computer and various gadgets’) all offered suggestions and scratched their heads. It seems that even several decades at the cutting edge of technology can’t prevent the odd hitch now and again. Their loss was my gain, however, as it gave them an enforced break in which to answer my questions, interrupted only by the remarkable squeaking sounds coming from Roger’s chair and the occasional passing express…
[Sudden sound of train siren]
Mark – Your next album there, Robin!
Have you ever had Steam Railroading Under Thundering Skies? A fantastic record, it’s literally old recordings of western trains in the US and thunder and rain and that’s all it is! It’s beautiful, no manipulation or anything, just those sounds!
Peter – You go to all this trouble to make this special sound and then the natural stuff sounds great! […] I was over in the Canary Islands on holiday and the exit ramp of the ferry that lets the cars on was moving to and fro because of the movement of the ship and the sound was brilliant! So I recorded it and put it through [synthesis app] Metasynth and there is a whole piece to be derived from those sounds, they were all harmonics of metal squeaks [vocally imitates this to his best ability] – a brilliant sound! Jane thought I was completely mad. I said ‘that is amazing’, she said ‘Amazing? It sounds bloody awful!’ [laughs]
Mark – One man’s bloody awful is someone else’s art!
Roger – In Maida Vale there were some good wind noises. There was, what was it, the door to the ladies?
Peter – I made a Fairlight sample out of it! I called it door wind. It sounded like a soprano! The most incredible sound!
Roger – Well, it did come from the ladies loo!
[Brief interlude while Paddy receives another phonecall from tech support and I record the sound of Roger’s squeaking chair, which was becoming such an intrusive presence that it was deemed prudent to make use of it – ‘when in Rome’ etc.]
So, Burials In Several Earths, a brand new album and the first release of new Workshop material in over three decades. Could we start by talking about where the title comes from?
Mark – There was a quote from [Francis Bacon’s 17th century utopian novel] New Atlantis pinned on the Radiophonic Workshop wall in the early days, Daphne Oram put it up – ‘we also have sound houses…’ I was mixing the record and I had no idea what the titles were [going to be], because it was pure improvisation. And I thought that New Atlantis might be an interesting benchmark, so I sat down and read it one evening and if any interesting phrase that might be a track title jumped out at me I made a note of it. I ended up with about 20 possible track titles and I went through them and I thought ‘okay “burials in several earths” that works for that, “things buried in water”, that works for that’. So that’s how the tracks got their titles. It was not inspired [directly] by New Atlantis but the titles came from it – and they fit pretty well.
Could we talk a little bit about the album’s gestation? In the old days obviously, composers at the Workshop would work to commissions and deadlines, whereas this is more communal and improvised in nature.
Paddy – It’s hugely difficult for us to work without a deadline because we’re so used to it and so used to somebody saying ‘well, we need this amount of music and it’s got to be this kind of thing’ – happy, sad, horrific, whatever it is – ‘in a certain time’. Without that deadline it’s quite difficult to get started on something! [So] when we had the opportunity to just experiment in another studio, not one that we were operating all the equipment in, we kind of jumped at that chance! It happened that we were working with other people as well and so it was all the more exciting. We had Martyn Ware [ex-Human League / British Electric Foundation / Heaven 17 plus a LOT more] and also Steve ‘Dub’ Jones of Chemical Brothers engineering/production frame, so quite good people working with us and we didn’t have any kind of preconceptions about what we were going to do. We just played for an entire day and came up with, I don’t know how many hours it was, but lots of material; which then Mark spent time going through and selecting bits and putting them all together. It made it a lot easier to come up with ideas and bounce off each other – a bit like improvisation except that we were more or less improvising with sounds rather than perhaps [just] the music side of things. So simultaneously trying different sounds out with each other as well as coming up with chords and all of that.
Mark – We usually work individually as media composers or whatever when we’re doing commissions. All these guys had their own individual studios [at the Workshop]. When we did our first concert at the Roundhouse a few years ago, I remember Peter and Paddy taking themselves off to work out the chords and voicings for Doctor Who. We left them alone for about half an hour and suddenly we could hear this chuckling and we went back and they said ‘do you know we’ve never actually done this’! They were doing the Lennon and McCartney thing, sitting opposite one another with their guitars and they’ve never done that before in their lives! This is a whole new phase, the first time we’ve all come together and worked together and so one of the things we did was that we teamed up with various groups of other people to see what would happen. So we’ve worked with various people like GhostPoet and in this particular session we were set up with Martin and Steve – and it was just fill the room with synthesisers and see what happens. And that’s a whole new way of working! Paddy and Roger have done a thing with Tom Middleton so there is a whole lot of that stuff as well which may come out one day. Roger and I have been working with Paul Hartnoll from Orbital, Peter and I did a session with Phil Manzanera, so we got all this stuff in the bag now and we just working out quite what to do with it going forward. But it’s very exciting, little groups of us getting together and not knowing what’s going to come out of this. Normally if you’re going to one of these things you try and turn up with a little bit of an idea in the back of your head. This one we didn’t. We all looked at each other and said, well, what do we do? So we all started fiddling and after about two minutes I waved through the glass and said ‘you’d better start recording’ because interesting things were starting to happen. And that’s what we did.
Very different from the traditional working to a strict brief or set of parameters, of course!
Roger – [finally abandoning his noisy chair] My view on this is that when we were working on commissions, the deadline was often quite frantic and sometimes you’d arrive at a place and say ‘oh, I wish I could explore down that passage, that path a little bit more because that was an interesting collection of sounds or an interesting way of working, but quite often you didn’t have time. At least this way we found or at least I’ve found that you can experiment more and spend time – time is always precious – but we’ve less constraint than there used to be and that’s quite an interesting way of working that we that we’ve discovered now rather than when we were actually at the [original] Radiophonic Workshop.
Roger, your background is as a jazz musician of course. So you must be quite used to improvising?
Roger – Well, I still do lots of jazz gigs and the thing is I’ve been doing jazz gigs since I was 15, I suppose. And other things – [for example] I’ve conducted choral unions! The thing about being a musician is if you’re lucky enough to do things in different fields, nothing is wasted. Though I might conduct the Messiah, I think the experiences I had playing jazz in Ronnie Scotts is [also] part of the background, if you see what I mean. As I said, nothing is wasted, there is a lot of music rattling around in my head and sometimes one compartment overlaps with another one.
Paddy – Desmond Briscoe who started up the Workshop with Daphne Oram used to say ‘you’ve got to fail sometimes, you can’t succeed all the time’. And if you have room to fail, you’re not frightened of failing; you eventually come up with something quite good! So working in that way, we didn’t mind if we made mistakes or started again, because we had that room to experiment properly. You’re not going to get anything good out of it if you play it safe all the time! The good stuff comes out when you’re on the brink of failure!
I often think wrong is actually just a version of right that maybe hasn’t been taken into account yet!
Paddy – The happy accident! It’s what a lot of our catalogue is based on!
Peter – Entire careers are based on serendipity! But going back to what Roger was saying, the fact that when you’re working to a deadline you don’t have time to take things to their logical conclusion. I remember several occasions when I got terribly involved with doing something, [but] the actual project or commission I was working on was not a very big one, it was only twenty seconds opening [music] or something like that. I got so involved in what I was doing and so intensely into it that I took the decision that it was far too good for them and they weren’t going to have it! [laughs] And so I actually put those tapes away, which was an hour and a half of development that I’d been doing and then had to think of something else for the twenty seconds! The sad thing is that those tapes don’t come to anything when you’re working for the BBC in the [original] Workshop, whereas nowadays those recordings would come to something and [this] album is an example of that of one of those things. It’s an extension of a long-form idea that’s taken to a logical conclusion, one that would not of been possible in the old days.
The next level – a continuation, then? To me it’s a lot more ambient and drifting in nature, compared to the older releases.
Mark – A lot of the early sound effects which Delia [Derbyshire] and Dick Mills did – Dick Mills was master of the ambient sound effects for Doctor Who and various other shows – a lot of it was ambient. We’ve been doing lots of different things, I mean there are six of us in the band we’ve been doing different things in little groupings and side projects and things and seeing what comes out really; and this was the first one which came together. But yes, people have said to me it wasn’t what they expected, some people thought they were going to get something more like The Fourth Dimension, which was Paddy’s album; some people thought it was going to be like Through A Glass Darkly, which is Peter’s album – piano, synths and guitar. I think the fact that it’s not what anyone was expecting is probably quite a good thing! And yes it is very ambient – the tracks end because that’s where we stopped and had a cup of tea. That’s the way we did it – we waffled on for half an hour and then we all thought well, that’s enough of that! In fact on the end of ‘Not come to light’, which is the shortest track on the album, if you listen very carefully you can hear people talking in the background. It’s lost in the reverb but what we’re actually saying is ‘that’s quite enough of that – put the kettle on!’ And that’s the way the album came together and I just thought it was fun to leave that in. Because it’s a little bit of a little part of the creative progress, what’s going on in the background.
Peter – We are working on lots of other new stuff that falls more into the category of individual tracks and is less extended and so harks back a little bit to more thematic content. So we’re able at long last now we are in the present situation of choosing what sort of things we do, and it’s really nice to have a bigger pallet at your disposal.
Mark – If you look at the [older] Radiophonic Workshop albums like 21 or The Soundhouse, there’s [solo] tracks by Paddy, by Roger, by Peter, by Elisabeth [Parker] et cetera, so we do have individual tracks. Our live set is built up of tracks that with we’ve each written, that we then bring to the band and work up as a performance. So everything we do is slightly different from the way that the Radiophonic Workshop traditionally worked. We’ve got the side projects, we’ve got the full band stuff that we doing – we’ve got about five projects in our back pocket, the question is finishing them to be honest and getting them out there!
Peter – That’s the trouble I especially have – finishing things! I love new things, but it’s not all positive because the negative side of it is that you never finish anything! I think [it even helps] having the deadline of a concert. We’ve got a concert coming up in July and I’ve written a new track for it and it’s been a really good discipline because I know I’ve got to get it all sorted by then, otherwise it [just] would’ve drifted on. So it’s still valuable to have deadlines!
Mark – And then he’ll be disciplining us because we’ve got to learn it!
Paddy – We’ve met with a lot of popularity and I think people seem to like [our work] very much and they’re very interested in it, but I think the reason they’re interested in it is because of those wonderful people like Delia Derbyshire and John Baker who came before us – and also we worked with them – and people like Brian Hodgson. We are standing on their shoulders, really, because they started it all and formulated all this kind of way of working. We are reaping the benefits and having people coming in and enjoying it, [but] we should say a word for them too, I think!
This brings me quite next nearly to my next question. Obviously many of those original Radiophonic staffers such as Delia Derbyshire, John Baker, Daphne Oram and others have now passed on. What do you think they would have made of all this?
Paddy – They’d laugh!
Would they want to join the band as well, do you think?
Roger – We’ve often thought of that, actually, what would Delia make of all this? I think because she was such a feisty lady, she probably would quite enjoy the idea. I don’t think she would come up on stage and do anything, but she would be very happy for us, I think. John Baker, he was a bit of a jazz musician as well, he went and did a few jazz gigs. I don’t know that he’d enjoy playing with us on stage, perhaps he would. I don’t know whether he had the overall, shall we say, arching ambition or discipline to do what we’re doing and of course he was quite a bit older than us. We’re old enough but he was at least 5 to 10 years older!
Talking of the discipline, though, if you listen to ‘Reading Your Letters’ [Baker’s famously complex eight second composition using the sounds of water bottles], the amount of cutting and splicing and microscopic edits that must’ve involved is staggering to think of! Surely that’s a huge amount of discipline?
Roger – It is, but it’s very much inward-looking if you know what I mean – it was just him and his tape machines and a studio. But certainly disciplined – he was obsessed, driven by it if you like and like a lot of [these] people probably close to genius. He certainly set the trend and made some wonderful stuff, but of course the main problem was – and we’ve talked about this many times – the techniques of the Workshop changed at the beginning of the 1970s and the whole business of tape cutting became less used. We went on to synths and multitrack working and eventually sequencing and digital recording, so [first wave members such as Delia and John] were not there at that time. I don’t know – they probably would quite enjoy using [these newer techniques] but it wasn’t their scene at the time.
Mark – It is interesting that the Workshop’s history does range from the early tape music experiments through to the theme tunes and all those sort of concept albums like Through A Glass Darkly and things like that – a real gamut of musical taste and technique. And that’s what we try and bring to what we do now. We don’t do the full performance art tape music because a lot of people that come to see our gigs want to hear the ‘Astronauts Theme’ or ‘Hitchhikers Guide’ or of course ‘Doctor Who’.
Peter – I tell you what they also like to see – an inordinate amount of gear on stage, which we’re standing in the middle of at this second and has taken us about three or four hours to set up! I’m glad to say we don’t take that long when we do festivals, but I think we want to put ourselves apart from those bands that are very, very sparse when you go and see them and [when] there is very little on stage. We are quite the reverse because I think people like to see the gear and they know it’s all being played live and an enormous amount of what we do is live. So I hope they’re getting their money’s worth!
The Radiophonic Workshop have inspired a lot of electronic music over the years, with artists such as Aphex Twin and Orbital naturally springing to mind. So I’m wondering if any modern musicians and producers have influenced you?
Mark – I think we’re all inspired by what goes on around us. I’m of the generation of Aphex Twin and Orbital, I am of that generation inspired by these guys who I’m now having this great pleasure of working with. I get people coming up to me at seminars and saying I listened to your Doctor Who music in the 80s and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing now, which is exactly what I was saying to these guys and to Dudley Simpson 20 or 30 years ago! So it just keeps on going and that’s great.
Roger – I’ve always enjoyed listening to Brian Eno’s music. He’s a wonderful genius. Though I go back to Joe Meek! I actually worked with Joe Meek in the early 60s, he showed us round his studio and his bathroom echo chamber and this wonderful machine that he played ‘Telstar’ on, so I do go back that far. I wouldn’t say that I wanted to copy or emulate him in any particular way, but I did feel I was stepping inside a little bit of history for a few days!
Mark – There is some amazing stuff out there. There are still people doing musique concréte and tape music and some fantastic experimentation. Brian Hodgson, Dick Mills and I were up at Delia Derbyshire Day over the weekend and they had loads of kids and adults coming in and doing workshops on how to put [sounds] together. Nowadays if you got a mobile phone with GarageBand on it you can do the kind of stuff that was being done back in the 60s and 70s and beyond, not using the exact same techniques but using digital facsimiles of those techniques. You can record sound, you can play with sounds and if like us you think there is music in everything from a squeaky chair to a trombone or a string orchestra or anything, if you hear music everywhere you can go out and you can make that music. Why not? Do it!
Going back to artists such as Orbital, I was recently attempting to explain the Workshop’s effect on the history of electronic music to some students by using a clip of that duo performing their amped-up version of the Dr. Who theme at Glastonbury festival from a few years back. Every time I watch that clip, I wonder what Delia would have made of their version. Would she have chided them or would she have been delighted to hear it and to see several thousand people dancing to something she’d had a hand in?
Peter – I don’t know that Delia would worry really because let’s face it she was doing a version of something written by Ron Grainer. And somebody who’s done a version of somebody else’s composition isn’t likely to worry if somebody else does a version [as well]! In fact Delia actually heard my version of the Doctor Who theme and she was very generous about it and she wasn’t at all upset that hers had been changed into mine, it was just a matter of moving with the times. No, I don’t think she’d worry, actually, I think should be quite excited about it!
Mark – Delia did say that your version of the Doctor Who theme was closer to the score than hers was. And she was very complimentary about [it]. She did write a letter of complaint to the BBC about one of the later versions, though!
Peter – Did she really? I didn’t know that!
Mark – She was in two minds about all sorts of things!
Roger – She was very down to earth person underneath. We think of her as all these wonderful ethereal sounds and she went around in flowing robes from time to time, but she was very down-to-earth really, wasn’t she?
Mark – Delia was a mathematician [as well as] a musician and she did sit with a book of log tables next to the desk to work out crescendos and diminuendos and all that kind of stuff. And tape cutting you know when a crotchet was 15 inches and a quaver was 7 1/2 inches – that was maths and they had to work all that out back then. We’ve kind of moved beyond that in terms of synthesisers and things, but Delia was well into working out the harmonic series, she was very mathematical the way she worked, but that’s not quite so necessary these days. Techniques have moved on!
— Radiophonic Workshop (@radiophonicwork) June 14, 2017
And with that, I thought I’d better let them get back to untangling their technical issues. I was sadly unable to attend the Science Museum show that followed a few days later, but I’m told it was a great success, so can only assume the problem was fixed and they were able to keep those techniques moving. Either way, Burials In Several Earths is out now and The Radiophonic Workshop look set to be unveiling quite a few more surprises in the coming months. Follow their activities here and here. Of course, a notable holiday-enforced absence from all of the above was amiable raconteur Dick Mills – the longest-serving member who also serves master of ceremonies during the group’s live performances – who was spending quality time with the Grandchildren that week. However, I did manage to catch up with this most affable and engaging member of the Workshop’s ‘first wave’ at the recent Delia Derbyshire Day in Manchester and will hopefully be bringing the fruits of that encounter to these pages soon. Though I’ll be needing a strong coffee before I have a crack at transcription and might have to publish in instalments! ‘Once you get him going’, etc. etc…
….And if you were one of those unfortunates who did miss it, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know that we’re going to be doing it again this weekend in Bethnal Green as part of the East End Film Festival, alongside a star-studded line-up curated by the Psyche Tropes label. It’s on Saturday evening at St. Johns and further information can be found either on the Festival’s website or the event’s Facebook page here. See you there!
In other live news, there’s just over a month to go before The Delaware Road, the immersive audio-visual extravaganza that’s set to take over the labyrinthine subterranean environs of the ‘Secret’ Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, a maze of corridors, offices and operations rooms deep beneath the Essex countryside. So labyrinthine, in fact, that chief strategist Alan Gubby, the man behind it all, has deemed it prudent to produce some maps of the venue in order to avoid, say, visitors to the event accidentally stumbling into two shadowy figures inside the bunker’s radio studio, engaged in some kind of obscure ritual conjuring up the voices of the dead. For three hours. While wearing robes. Haven’t managed to get my hands on one yet, but I must say they look decidedly spiffy if this publicity photo is anything to go by. Have you got your tickets yet?
In what is shaping up to be a busy summer, we’re also playing Sonic Waterloo on July 8th and Supersonic Festival on August 5th, but more on those later. For the moment, I’m also very proud to officially announce the launch of another collaboration with White Noise, following last year’s East Tower Dreaming, a performance and suite of compositions broadcast live from a West London tower block facing imminent demolition. Tower blocks play another, rather different role in this latest work, ‘Yes, Damage!!’, a mixtape of sorts featuring a number of new compositions created using a cassette recording of a pirate radio station from my mis-spent youth. The source material is a nondescript-looking, rather battered TDK D90 cassette featuring a recording of a station known as Pressure FM. Originally taped in the 90s by a family friend and sent up north to me, it quickly became something of a sacred text and now has a permanent place in the Foggy archives as a testament to a bygone era and also to the very beginnings of my own musical obsessions. It’s surprisingly hard to remember today that there really was an age before the internet, when vast swathes of information weren’t immediately available at all times and where any small-town engagement with thrilling new sounds emerging from from far away would be limited to the odd mixtape, a handful of 12″ singles bought with saved up pocket money and perhaps the odd dog-eared back-issue of DJ magazine (or a new issue read standing in WH Smith while being tutted at).
I’ve produced this work as an attempt to pay homage to the role played by this tape in my formative years and to shaping my ideas about music and sound in general. I’ve said it before – and I cannot overstate it – everything I loved about hardcore and jungle back then I love about concréte and acousmatic music now, in fact as I’ve always attempted to demonstrate there is a very clear lineage between the two. ‘Yes, Damage!!’ is an attempt not only to pay tribute to the unwitting part played by the likes of DJ Damage and his unnamed MC in my career as a sound artist, but also take that fact to its obvious conclusion and create something new – hopefully pushing the sounds on into the future. Have I succeeded? Well, the proof is in the Pirate Pudding, so it’s probably easier to just play it and decide for yourself, but if you would like to read more on the work’s gestation, there’s an accompanying article on the White Noise website where I’m in conversation with Sound Fjord’s Helen Frosi.
Produced working quickly to a deadline, I was a little unsure about how people would react to the piece at first, but I have to say the response so far has been amazing! And it’s strange how well the original tape lends itself to being processed and manipulated in this way. As I mention in my conversation with Helen, it’s curious how this era of early hardcore and jungle music seems to lend itself to slightly decayed and debilitated sound quality. Cutting edge when first released, tracks featured on the tape by the likes of Rufige Kru and Noise Factory now sound oddly primitive, as if they’d been deliberately designed in anticipation of to reaching this state of putrefaction further down the line. Much in the same way as you’re apparently supposed to give concrete several decades to ‘mature’ when using it as a building material (thanks for that nugget, Brutalist walking tour of Liverpool!), so it seems as if these records have mulched quite naturally with the sounds of tape hiss, over-compressed signal and faltering reception to blossom into something wholly other and ripe for the plucking. Of course this also means that you don’t get quite the same effect when playing the individual records at home, amazing as many of them are and much as I still love them. Something about them being mixed together on the fly then beamed out to a grateful city via a jury-rigged rooftop antenna is where the magic happens. What’s also curious is that this recording dates from some time in 1995 and there’s at least one incident on the tape where the MC refers to Damage’s selections (most of which date from 1992) as ‘Old Skool’. They were calling it oldskool even then, three years later! What a time of tumultuous change within electronic music – to my (admittedly biased) ears this was the last era of truly dramatic advances, where it felt like styles and sounds were evolving on an almost weekly basis. Surely logic dictates we should be calling it ‘Ancient Skool’ by now? Just a thought.
Hope you’d approve, DJ Damage, wherever you are…
Hello you. Crumbs, it’s been about three weeks since I last posted – how remiss of me, I’m sure you’ve been utterly bereft. But I wouldn’t want you to think this was due to lack of effort or inclination on my part, it’s just been such a busy few weeks round here that there’s barely been time to stop for tea, let alone bang out another breathless update, so if you’ll excuse me I’ll just give you a quick blast of highlights, then head off into the night again. There’s lots in the pipeline, but nothing I can give away just yet, so this is mostly a retrospective catch-up with a few thank yous thrown in…
First off, the thank yous must start with everyone who came to see Howlround live at Coventry Cathedral and the inaugural Further event in London at the beginning of May, two of our most memorable performances to date and occurring within twenty four hours of each other, separated only by one canalside tape-loop workshop, a cross-country train-ride and a truly awful Wetherspoons breakfast (though not in that order). The set at Further, the multi-sensory audio-visual extravaganza courtesy of DJ Food and Peter Williams also played host to our first ever live score of the Psyche Tropes film A Creak In Time, in which we recreated the soundtrack live using loops, spools and some choice extemporisations here and there. The photos were taken by Martin LeSanto-Smith and Zoe Plumb, whose index finger also provided vital tape loop ballast at crucial moments.
The evening also included an audio-visual set by Jim and Julian from Ghost Box, delicious local food, a vinyl stall provided by West Norwood’s Book ‘N’ Record Bar and a dizzying array of films, slides, colour wheels and projections, meticulously crafted and arranged our hosts Kev and Pete, who still found time to perform turntable duties on top of keeping the whole sound and light show in constant whirl. They should be highly commended for the effort and attention to detail that went into this one – truly a feast for the eyes and ears… (plus mouth). I’m told video footage will shortly be available, but for now these photos will hopefully whet your appetite for the next one….
Thanks must also go to The Tin Music and Arts and Snythcurious for organising the previous evening’s incredible Deliaphonic at Coventry Cathedral, where Howlround performed in celebration of the 80th birthday of Radiophonic pioneer and daughter of the city, Delia Derbyshire.
Certainly our biggest crowd to date, and perhaps the most remarkable venue in our already impressive roster of underground chasms, disused water tanks and Victorian cemeteries, Deliaphonic was compered by the delightfully ramshackle DJing skills of Jerry Dammers and fellow deck-botherer Jonny Trunk, plus live performances from Pete Kember of Sonic Boom, Hannah Peel and Dr. Peter Zinovieff. The latter, a radiophonic pioneer in his own right, presented two extended electronic works while regaling us with tales of the various conversations he’d had regarding their gestation; not only with Delia herself, but also, more surprisingly, with Beethoven. Unfortunately he didn’t go into details of which of the great composer’s notorious handicaps presented him with the larger obstacle – being either profoundly deaf or profoundly dead these last 200 years. Still, top marks for effort.
Howlround start to play and it the dissonant and elongated music is reminiscent of a slow train pulling to a halt. They are using lengths of tape and looping them around poles to create loops and stretch the sound apart, they appear to be mixing in tape, they have hooks with lengths on and they are carrying pieces around, threading them through the recorder and mixing the sounds into the music. There are strands of tape around shoulders and spinning across the space between the reels and the pole, I have never seen this done before and the mere sight of it is making the hair on the back of my neck stand up, this is how some of the classic albums I love were made. It’s brilliant, a shuddering and huge sound. (Extracted from an event review on the Fighting Boredom blog)
An incredible event inside a truly remarkable building. I think the lady herself would have approved – though I have my reservations on what Ludvig might have made of it all. What do you reckon, Delia?
We should also thank everyone who braved the rain to come along to the following morning’s family tape-loop workshop, particularly Tristan Stephens and his kids Izzy and Toby, who were immediately put to work balancing tape loops in the absence of Zoe Plumb (around a hundred miles away at the time – just can’t get the staff)! They all have permanent jobs on the team as soon as they’re done with school – I can probably just about match anything they’ll get from a paper round!
Speaking of legendary electronic works being performed in beautiful modernist Cathedrals, please do enjoy my latest BBC report on the subject of Pierre Henry’s Electronic Mass, finally performed last weekend in the striking modernist surroundings of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ The King, the space for which it was originally designed, and on the 50th anniversary of the inaugural mass for which it was commissioned.
Broadcast last week as the closing feature on Radio 4’s The World Tonight and also Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service on 6Music, the report features an interview with Henry’s trusted sound engineer Thierry Balasse, who performed the work live in the great composer’s absence and also Bryan Biggs from legendary Liverpudlian arts organisation The Bluecoat who helped bring the idea to life. Thanks must also go to Carly Townsend and Mark Goodall, without whom none of this would have been possible. Regular visitors to these pages will know that I’ve been a fan of the composer’s work for years, but I certainly never thought I would get to hear it quite like this – mixed live on a forty-something speaker installation, moving around the space and using the building’s seven-second acoustic delay to full effect. It was truly a remarkable experience, in which the mix of chants, cries, treated instruments and electronic tones gradually shifted from the altar in the centre of the Cathedral and travelled around, above and behind the audience – an important detail, incidentally, as the Cathedral originally caused some controversy by dispensing with tradition and placing the altar at the centre of the space, with the congregation surrounding it. Anyway, bravo, Messers Henry and Balasse – and I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store for the composer’s 90th birthday in December!
Original cue: It was intended to be a bold and futuristic new composition to mark the inaugural mass at Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral when it first appeared as a striking addition to the city’s skyline in the 1960s, but due to unforeseen circumstances The Liverpool Mass by renown French composer Pierre Henry missed its deadline. But now, to mark the Cathedral’s 50th anniversary, long running local arts venue The Bluecoat are preparing to finally bring the work back to the building that inspired it.
Tomorrow evening, the Liverpool Mass will receive its first ever performance at the cathedral, only half a century late. And like Henry himself, it has lost none of its ability to surprise. The composer continues to work each day, but as Liverpool is quite a long way from Paris when you’re almost ninety, it was deemed prudent to send his most trusted sound engineer along instead. Robin [The Fog] went along to observe preparations and to discover a work that, five decades after its composition, still retains the shock of the new…
Next up, an excursion to another historic location of a less sacred nature, with transport historian Andy Carter and his recent trip to the deep level shelters of Clapham South, a mile-long network of tunnels, passages and bunkers below South London, part of his ongoing project to shed light on the secret civic history of the nation, that has included recent visits to the abandoned platforms at Aldwych station, Euston and others, all documented on his Calling All Stations blog. He decided that the photos he took there deserved the ‘special sound’ treatment (to quote the BBC parlance from the days when people actually did this sort of thing for the Corporation, rather than in spite of it), and asked if I had anything suitable. Sadly the aforementioned hectic schedule meant that I was unable to come up with anything bespoke, but a quick rummage in the Foggy archives dug up some outtakes from the sessions that went on to make up the second Howlround album, Secret Songs Of Savamala, which with their stark resonant tones and metallic clangs worked a treat. Check out the finished prodcut below and read Andy’s orginial blog post on Calling All Stations here. Always a pleasure, Mr. Carter, and hoping to re-visit Aldwych station myself at some point. Last time I went there was for a rave in the ticket hall….
And finally, speaking of the haunting sounds coming from secret underground bunkers, tickets for The Delaware Road at Kelvedon Hatch are selling fast, particularly if you wish to arrive in the 1960s double-decker bus they’ve commissioned to ferry people to the venue and back! Better not sleep on this one!
Thanks to everyone who came along to Ambience Chasers at The Social last week, especially promoters Sonic Cathedral and Ulrich Schnauss and Mr. Richard Norris, though I feel I should probably apologise to the latter for my attempts to peer over his shoulder ever time he dropped yet another amazing track. Anyway, the above extract from Howlround’s set is taken from towards the close of our performance and pits a sample of the saxophone recordings of Jim Slade made for last year’s performances as a duo in Sweden and Copenhagen against the creaks, growls and protesting of our ever-mercurial slightly malfunctioning tape machine known as Delia. Still, if it sounds this good every time one of our old ladies needs a new drive belt (the opinion of Ben Soundhog – and he would know!), it might be a while before anything gets fixed.
Speaking of Delia, the time has finally arrived for Howlround to perform our live tape loop manipulation at Coventry Cathedral in order to celebrate the life, career and 80th birthday of Radiophonic pioneer and daughter of the city, Delia Derbyshire. We’ll be performing alongside such luminaries as Pete Kember (Sonic Boom), Dr. Peter Zinovieff, Hannah Peel, Jerry Dammers and Jonny Trunk – though I’m not sure Jonny is currently speaking to me, because I still owe cash for that copy of Delia’s legendary ESL104 LP he gave me. Might have to go in disguise!
In addition to this historic performance (and provided I survive the evening with my kneecaps intact), Chris and I will be conducting a demonstration of our curious profession the following day, so do come along to both events and join us if you can. Further information is available at promoter The Tin Music And Art’s website. Needless to say we’re absolutely honoured to be saluting such a legendary sound scientist in this manner, and are hoping her namesake tape machine will be on its best behaviour too…
The demonstration will occur at noon the following day and will end sharply at 1pm as we hurriedly pack our gear and dash back to the big smoke for our performance at Further, which takes place that evening at the Portico Gallery, West Norwood. It promises to be multi-sensory extravaganza featuring audio-visual performances from Ghost Box, DJ Food and Pete Williams, as well as films, slides, projections, oil lamps, local food and a special record stall provided by nearby venue The Book And Record Bar. As for Howlround, we’re going to be debuting the live score to A Creak In Time, the recently released film collaboration with Steve McInerney’s Psyché-Tropes label. For the first time ever you can watch the film and hear the soundtrack performed live and (hopefully) in sync with Steve’s vivid and lysergic imagery. ‘Image and sound alike point to some unfathomable oceanic bleakness’ as The Wire recently described the album, still available here. With luck both image and sound will point in the same direction at the same time! Very few tickets left at the time of writing, so if you’re planning to come, click here and look sharp about it! This summer promises to be quite a busy one for Howlround, as this freshly-published newsletter to my mailing list will attest.
I’m also delighted to add that A Creak In Time received a very favourable mention this week from the mighty Woebot himself, as part of a longer item about Steve and the considerable body of fine work he is amassing around the Psyché Tropes imprint:
‘[A] suitably cosmic suite of lemurian horns echoing through the galaxy’s fog, effortlessly mirroring the unheimlich soundtracks of classic sci-fi like Eduard Artemyev’s electronic score for Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” or even Kubrick’s use of Ligeti in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”‘.
Short of appearing on his now-legendary ‘100 Greatest Records Ever’ list, could there be finer accolade?! And then legendary Belgian label Entr’acte went and added a track from A Creak In Time to the latest in their series of regular mixtapes as well! It’s been rather a vintage week! Might need a lie down…