Happy New Year! Hope you all had a smashing festive season and wishing you the very best for 2018. Christmas is always a very special time of year at Fog Towers as I leave the cares of the big smoke behind and head up north to the family bosom, catching up on local gossip and enjoying both home-cooked food and and endless rhetorical questions about how could I possibly have gotten the dogs that filthy along the way. On the other hand, the frequently foul Cumbrian weather also offers a green light for a yearly indulgence in one of my less admirable tendencies: drinking beer in front of repeats of both Bullseye and Knight Rider.
It’s like he’s staring right into my soul and berating all of my post-1983 life choices… pic.twitter.com/67KH6BtLXx
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) December 28, 2017
Though about as far removed from each other as can possibly be imagined, David Hasselhoff and Jim Bowen were both staples of a 1980s childhood, and the fact that there is absolutely nothing else on that I want to watch is either an indictment of the current state of British TV or merely the natural continuation of a befuddled sense of judgement instilled in me by such programming as a youth: at that tender age the sun-kissed open highways of California seemed to merge so seamlessly with the efforts of Ian and Carol from Barnsley to win a Mini Metro. However, I wouldn’t want you to think for a moment that I’ve slipped into slovenly habits, for there has been much activity afoot during the large stretches of the day when neither show was on. Firstly, there was my 2017 Best Of Mix, finished just before Christmas:
A heady brew of some of the very finest music to have crossed my threshold in the last twelve months, it’s currently riding high in the ‘Experimental Chart’ (at this stage I will take whatever accolade I’m handed) and still available above for your listening pleasure. But even these delights are small potatoes compared to the various kinds of excitement caused by transforming my parent’s dining room into a mini Radiophonic Workshop!
Pure Feedback created on Mum and Dad’s dining room table. pic.twitter.com/HrfC6TiTec
— Howlround (@Howlroundmusic) December 30, 2017
Don’t tell Mum pic.twitter.com/BcBAGLJ721
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) December 30, 2017
Don’t tell Mum, part 2 pic.twitter.com/CzR3TV7u6X
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) December 30, 2017
My experiments were messy and hugely fun, though frequently thwarted by the table having to revert to its original intended use (typically signified by arrival of actual potatoes). Nonetheless, these sessions generated a great deal of interesting new material that I’m looking forward to tinkering with further, once I’ve found a restraining mechanism as reliable as Mum’s novelty reindeer candlesticks. While such experiments have left me firmly convinced that I really must bring a 30kg suitcase full of tape machines home for all future Christmases, I should clarify that there was a very good reason they accompanied me on this particular occasion: ‘Winter Solstice Soundscapes’ at Carlisle’s Vinyl Cafe on December 21st:
I know I’ve said it before, but if you told me a few years ago that one day before too long I’d be able to buy LPs by Meredith Monk and Sun Ra and Lee Hazelwood in my old hometown just by walking into a shop (and getting a coffee and scone while I was about it), I would have shaken my head sadly and fetched you a doctor. But it’s true. And so of course when proprietor James suggested I come and play some haunting sounds to warm up winter solstice, I jumped at the chance. And when I then asked my Dad to give me and my 30kgs of equipment a lift to the venue, a twenty-mile round trip in the pouring winter rain, he jumped at the chance too!
It was a fantastic evening, with performances from Howlround and local ‘Hauntronica’ artist The Heartwood Institute, plus mulled wine and mince pies for everyone. While the crowd seemed to enjoy Howlround’s set, I must confess I was less happy – as is frustratingly common with tape performances, everything sound-checked beautifully, only for naughty old `Daphne to completely lose the plot for the entire duration of the set, foregoing her usual ‘whirling dervish’ tape delay splendour in favour of some kind of inexplicable and apparently unfixable grating electrical hum. In hindsight it would appear that powered speakers mess with her delicate little insides, bless her, though as you can see from the short Twitter clip posted above, she did appear to have regained her senses by the time she reached my parent’s dining table. I’m just hoping all this doesn’t foreshadow another expensive repair bill – I swear in my next life I’m just going to stick to mastering something inexpensive and simple, like a flute, penny-whistle or kazoo. Anyway, here’s a brief, hum-free extract from the set, combined with some faintly-trippy home-made visuals created one evening last week using a phone camera, a wine glass, and a fervent desire not to leave the sofa (Bullseye was about to start and my comfortable seat was being eyed by a muddy spaniel).
Super, smashing, great. My sincere thanks to James at The Vinyl Cafe for having me, and I implore you to visit the shop on Carlisle’s Abbey Street if you’re passing – or at least visit his website and/or Facebook page. Thanks must also go to Stephen Benson for the gig photography displayed above (follow him on Instagram, why don’t you?) and to Jonathan of The Heartwood Institute for both playing an awesome set and providing the PA. His latest LP Secret Rites has just been released this week on the mighty Polytechnic Youth label, and damn fine it is too. Why not put that Christmas money to good use and bag yourself a copy?
Yes, that is the Knight Industries Two Thousand leaping off a 200ft cliff before landing smoothly on the beach below, in complete disregard of the basic laws of physics. There’s a very good reason the show wasn’t called ‘Faintly Plausible Rider’! pic.twitter.com/MYhJLeL6hE
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) January 2, 2018
Hello You. Presenting for your delectation my latest hotly-anticipated annual Best Of Year Mixtape, featuring a great big sackful of my Foggy favourites from 2017. Over two and a half hours of amazing tunes from the last twelve months, lovingly mixed and blended for your infotainment. It seems to be going down a storm on the social media as well, so why not join the party and fill your boots?
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) December 24, 2017
It’s been such a bumper year for music and I’ve been so swamped with amazing new material that it’s been hard to pick a single favourite LP; though it might well be Simon James’ brilliant Akiha Den Den soundtrack, which has been providing plenty of spooky atmospherics to my recent nocturnal perambulations around the hometown.
I do have a favourite track, though – The glowering ‘Boylan Devils Mix’ of ‘Glass’ by Logos. Beautifully minimal, bleak and brutal, in places it’s little more than a single bass note baring its teeth, while shards of noise whip and whirl around your ears. I’ve been trying to make Howlround tracks like this all year (with occasional success – results forthcoming in 2018), but nothing beats the moment here when all the other elements fall away and the ‘drop’ hits you. This whole ‘Weightless’ scene has fascinated me this year, though I’m aware I might be a little late to the party…
A close second, for very different reasons, was Orbital’s cover of Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’, recorded exclusively for that most excellent of publications, Electronic Sound Magazine. Of course, compared to Logos and Boylan’s effort above, this track has a rather vintage feel, but I loved the playful use of samples and the quirky humour they applied to this famously austere Teutonic classic, blending that familiar itchy rhythm track with recordings of actual ‘Numbers’ stations, a trip to the Supermarket and dear old Polly Styrene to give it a uniquely British spin. Plus they’re one of the greatest live bands ever:
These are just two among many – I could write pages and pages about all the great music I’ve been sent this year, but time is not on our side and I’ve spent a fair proportion of today chasing the Christmas spirit round the bottom of a glass, so it’s probably best to quit yammering and just give you the aural injection. For added intrigue I’ve included links to a few of my favourites below. All of them are worthy of both your time and your money – and released on tiny independent labels, so probably sorely in need of both!
That’s probably enough to be getting on with. Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, particularly the ever-growing pool of artists, producers, DJs, collectors, curators, nerds, oddballs and weirdos that I’m privileged to call friends – I’m a lucky chap indeed to be surrounded by such richness! Here’s hoping for more sonic adventuring in 2018…
Final Howlround gig of the year and I’m playing my dear old hometown for the first time EVER! Live in-store at Carlisle’s excellent Vinyl Cafe alongside The Heartwood Institute. An evening of mulled wine and wintery sounds to warm your cockles. Hope to see some of my northern contingent there?! In the meantime, further information can be found at the Vinyl Cafe Website and Facebook Page. Go, have a click and befriend them, won’t you? I certainly never ever thought I’d see the day when you could walk into a shop in Carlisle andbuy Meredith Monk LPs. What a world!
In other news, I’m busy compiling my now-traditional Festive Mix of personal favourites from the past twelve months, which looks set to be another bumper-packed goody bag. It’s going to take a while to put it all together, so I thought that you might appreciate a reminder of last year’s effort while you’re waiting. Proof that even though the vast majority of 2016 ‘sucked on toast’, it still featured more than its share of essential bangers. Probably just as well…
Rather a hasty update once again, thanks to the delights of faltering wi-fi and a frustrating lack of elbow-room (first world problems!) but there’s a few things I wanted to draw your attention to before I start my yearly tidying of my Foggy affairs in preparation for the festive season. Firstly, world-building collective Quantum Natives are celebrating their recent appearance on the cover of The Wire with this special label mix of Native classics from their ever-expanding back-catalogue. It’s exactly the kind of rich sonic stew we’ve come to expect from this label and I’m rather proud that it concludes with my remix of Brood Ma’s ‘ESTEEM’ from his r e – P O P U L O U S album of 2014. I’ve always had a soft spot for that track, so chuffed to see it included in such fine company. Fill your boots below and then enjoy the full length original remix (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron) on their Soundcloud page here.
On a similar note, you may also remember Howlround’s inclusion on the Front And Follow 10-year anniversary compilation LESSONS that I posted on these pages a few weeks ago – a very fine double CD of killer jams from Pye Corner Audio, Leyland Kirby, Time Attendant and more. Now label co-founder Justin Watson has compiled a special retrospective mix for respected online periodical A Closer Listen, featuring a smorgasbord of audio intrigue from the label’s rich back-catalogue; including ‘Unnatural History’ from Joseph Stannard’s 2013 compilation The Outer Church. It’s one of my earliest ambient works and also a rare example of a track actually released under my own name, though I have to confess its existence had rather slipped my mind until this timely reminder. Find it below – and many more goodies besides:
I must also draw your attention to the latest edition of Touch Radio, a 2016 live performance from the Iklecktik archives by genius ambient composer Pascal Savy. Having recently posted links on these pages to a couple of his feedback works, Pascal now tells me he is shopping around for a label to release his latest album Dislocations. Interested parties should form an orderly queue over at his Twitter page. Touch Radio enthusiasts might remember that there’s also a Howlround edition in the archives, which is an extract from our first ever live appearance way back in… was it 2013? Guess it must’ve been. Forgive the uncertainty, but I don’t trust the integrity of the wi-fi signal I’m on to make a proper investigation. Besides, I’m not sure I want to be reminded of our first faltering steps into the live arena, or the various injuries to property and person caused by carting four full-size Revoxes to the south coast and back. I still bear the scars from that time I tripped and took a chunk out of my kitchen wall, which then went on to put a sizeable dent in the return on my deposit – even though it was clearly just a polyfiller job. Still, no guts, no glory, eh?
And finally, please enjoy this recent live set from Simon James at West Norwood’s Portico Gallery. Better known as the man behind The Simonsound, Black Channels and this year’s magnificent Akiha Den Den soundtrack (selling fast, grab one here while you can), here he is performing a live set on his magnificent buchla synth at the latest Further event. I arrived late to the party, so I’m extra glad he’s popped it online for our enjoyment. It’s a gorgeous chilly sound, matched perfectly by Strictly Kev and Peter William’s far-out visuals. My only criticism at the time of writing is that it’s not quite loud enough to drown out the Karaoke Khristmas Karnage I’m currently enduring. That’ll teach me not to leave the house in December! And if I have to listen to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ one more time I can assure you there will be both guts AND glory!
Hello you. How was your weekend? I do hope it was a bit less dramatic than mine:
— Howlround (@Howlroundmusic) November 25, 2017
Curiously, the above is not an edited version of some longer video, I’d literally just started filming at that exact moment because I figured the centre wouldn’t hold for very long and that I’d better capture it for prosperity quick-sharpish. The aforementioned centre held for a further ten seconds before unleashing mere anarchy on the studio. But one snarled-up tape loop, a Buddha-shaped dent in the floor and a quick flash of my bare knees on social media (you’re welcome, ladies!) wasn’t the worst of it. Far more disturbing was the distinct burning smell and coils of grey smoke coming from one of the Revoxes when I switched her on. I’m hoping it’s just some rogue dust smouldering, but smoking machinery is never really a good omen, is it? My guess is that another expensive repair bill is on the way – plus the usual attempts to try and bribe my old chum Lucky Cat Zoe into driving me to Southend again. Hopefully the pull of seaside crate-digging and a fish and chip supper in the shadow of the longest pier in Europe will still be as strong for as it was the last time…
Speaking of the perils of vintage technology, check out Running On Air’s new collection More Than Machine – Remixes, which came out last week. Better known as longs-standing artist, producer, composer and promoter Joe Evans, the track ‘More Than Machine’ originally surfaced last year on Running On Air’s self-titled collection of unreleased 90s electro nuggets via Patterned Air Recordings. Now he has gathered together a collection of friends, colleagues and associates to re-interpret the track, including Howlround, Clive Henry, Ekoplekz, Farmer Glitch, Kemper Norton and more. My current favourite in a crowded field is Lo Five’s squelchy ‘Pain Deconstruction’, but I’m also a sucker for Stephen Christopher Stamper’s ‘Rave Tape Amnesia’ – though that might partly be because I’m sad enough to be able to tell you exactly where he found the sample. Oh, those mis-spent teenage years…
‘Each artist was asked to push the track in whatever direction they wanted and encouraged to take it as far away from the original as possible’, as Joe explains in the album’s liner notes, ‘Lost summer raves, machine intelligence, and jack-booted tyranny are some of the themes that emerge. The result is an extraordinary collection of surprises that almost develops its own narrative, easily standing as an album in its own right.’ Can’t argue with him there – plus all profits from the release are being donated to Freedom United, an organisation dedicated to combating modern slavery throughout the world. A great listen and a worthy cause, so click on the above image to order your copy.
Continuing on the theme of new releases by small-but-mighty labels, just check out this forthcoming missive from Buried Treasure, home to Revbjelde, The Dandelion Set and the ever-growing, many-headed beast that is The Delaware Road. Currently finishing off a strong year that has seen releases by Alan Sutcliffe, Yuri Morozov and the self-titled Revbjelde LP (one of my very favourite releases this year), plus the multi-sensory take-over of Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker back in the summer; Buried Treasure now has it’s sights on 2018 with the announcement of the release of Logic Formations by Jerry Siedler, a DVD promising ‘over 2 hours of vintage 1970’s style video graphics & modular atmospherics inspired by the super rare 1970’s EMS Spectron video synthesizer’. Plus you get a 10 track download of modular music designed to accompany the videos. Out in January 2018 and already available to pre-order here. Shut up and take my money!
And lastly, special mention must go to the latest release from the ever-superb Ghost Box label, Outward Journeys by The Belbury Circle – a collaboration between Belbury Poly mainstay Jim Jupp and synthesiser wunderkind Jon Brooks of the Advisory Circle, Cafe Kaput and much more. Entirely predictably, it’s a gorgeous work of warm synth fuzz and crisp tick-tocking drum machines, plus a couple of guest vocal turns by the legend that is Mr. John Foxx.
Sounding to my ears not unlike a punchier, stripped down version of Oxygene, or perhaps some great lost library LP soundtracking a British Transport Film commissioned to demonstrate how sleek and sexy Intercity Rail Travel was going to be in the 1980s, Outward Journeys might wear it’s beating electro heart on its sleeve (quite literally, with Julian House’s superb artwork which appears to be channelling an entirely fitting Commodore 64 vs. Ceefax aesthetic), but as ever with this label, these chaps have too much pedigree to ever lapse into parody. Plus Jon Brooks has already released one of my other favourite LPs of this year, Autres Directions on Clay Pipe music – like most of his back-catalogue, already long sold-out and looking likely to sell for ‘Bugs Bunny Money’ on Discogs. Better jump on this one while you can!
Hello you. First off this week, I’m attempting to clear the decks in preparation for the next Howlround project, due sometime in early 2018, so it seems like an appropriate moment to share this youtube video of a work in progress that I uploaded several months ago and then promptly forgot ever making:
If memory serves correctly, I was testing out some new material with footage I’d made during a trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year and I remember thinking that the sound and image made surprisingly natural bedfellows, despite having very little in connection with one-another. I have absolutely no idea what the source material for the soundtrack was, but I would imagine it was from creaking recordings similar to the ones used on the Psyché-Tropes LP. I also have the feeling there was some birdsong thrown in, but I honestly can’t remember – I’ve had a sleep since then, as my dear old Gran used to say. One thing I can tell you is that no voices were involved, even though it might sound like a drowning opera singer in places…
I’ve also just been sent some images of The Quiet at Abney Park Cemetery Chapel from a couple of weeks ago and thought I’d share them here. A memorable event, another unique venue to add to my ever-growing list and a great pleasure to be involved, particularly the moments where myself, Jenni Roditi, Charlotte Chw, Adam Kinsey and chief strategist Sam Enthoven all improvised live together for the finale. Thanks must also go to Rucksack Cinema for the projections, Zoe Plumb for rolling up her sleeves and making things happen (as usual!) and of course Lucy Brady for the super photos:
It’s been a quiet week on these pages as I’ve been away in the Highlands, collecting sounds and soaking up some culture, so the next few days at Fog Towers are going to involve quite a bit of nose-related grindstone action, while I file my latest BBC report and attend to some editing work that’s been simmering on the back-burner during my absence. What’s the subject of my latest BBC mini-feature, I hear you cry? Well, it’s a bit of a surprise, but I’m quite excited about it and will hopefully be revealing all soon (metaphorically). In the meantime, feel free to check out my recent piece on the subject of last week’s Captain Beefheart symposium at Liverpool’s Bluecoat for Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ here (the item starts at exactly 39.30 and closes the programme). I meant to share it with you last week, but it turns out Loch Ness lacks decent wifi almost as much as it lacks any sign of prehistoric beasties.
On a more sensible note, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Edinburgh in the near future, do be sure to head to Scottish National Museum Of Modern Art and check out Susan Philipsz‘ multi-turntable sound installation Seven Tears, on display in ‘Modern One’ until February 18th. A quietly stunning work, in which the drifting glacial tones played on a series of clear vinyl discs randomly blend and beat against one-another, it was one of the biggest highlights of my trip. Well, that and a quick spot of crate-digging in good old Underground Solu’shun on Cockburn Street. It would have been rude not to pop in!
And finally, I must give a quick plug to the latest release from Belgrade’s excellent Discom label, which arrived in the mail while I was away. Run by audio-archivist husband-and-wife team Luka and Vanja and dedicated to giving the forgotten electronic and experimental musics of the former Yugoslavia ‘a second chance’; they’re following up recently issued lost ambient-prog classic Sidarta by 37°C and 2016’s superb Yugoslavian Space Programme compilation with Could You Find Your Analog Mind? by 1980s Serbian synth-tinkerers DATA. It’s out now and available from all reputable outlets. And it’s bloomin’ marvellous.
A collection of electro-pop nuggets recorded by the group between 1981 and 1984, these tracks were once thought lost forever, and it’s entirely thanks to Luka and Vanja’s stubborn determination in tracking them down that they’re seeing the light of day at all. The results are a revelation – it’s astonishing to think that this material has been sat on various shelves for over thirty years, never considered worthy of a release before now. Seriously recommended for fans of contemporaneous groups such as Yellow Magic Orchestra and Telex, or perhaps the early 80s LPs of the Bruton Library, and of course 21st century synth scholars such as Datasette and Max Tundra. Limited copies available, on beautiful heavyweight blue vinyl, so click on the images to order yours before they all fly…
All the trappings of first class: Antimacassar, arm-rest, half-table. Still worth it, even if I do end up with a £1000 fine! pic.twitter.com/3nFoJA9dPe
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) November 19, 2017
As you can see from the above, I’m now back in London and gradually returning to the standards to which I am accustomed, so normal service should be back up and running before very long. In the meantime, please enjoy this photograph of myself and long-suffering friend Kaitlyn, taken on top of a very windy Arthur’s Seat. For some reason this image puts me vaguely in mind of the sleeve of Hi Scores by Boards Of Canada, so I’m now thinking the two of us ought to make an album of spooky Scottish electronica together. Unfortunately she’s really more of a Garth Brooks kinda gal, but stay tuned and perhaps I’ll be able to bring you some concréte-country developments at some point in the not-too-distant future. Keeping my shortbread fingers crossed…PS If you managed to get through this article without sniggering in a puerile fashion at the name ‘Cockburn Street’, give yourself a pat on the back. I swear that’s not how you pronounce it…
The celebrations for the release of Front And Follow’s 10th anniversary compilation Lessons continues with the unveiling of a new film by Scott Byrne, featuring extracts from Howlround, Swine, BLKwBEAR, TVO and Time Attendant. Having previously made films for Kemper Norton and Exotic Pylon, Scott’s latest is now streaming over at The Quietus. Or you can just watch it here. Either works And don’t forget to order your copy of Lessons here if you haven’t already done so!
Also this week, I would like to here implore you to support this online petition to preserve the home and studio of pioneering composer Pierre Henry, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 89. As the preparations continue for the celebration of what would have been his 90th birthday in Paris (and I’m rather hoping to be able to bring you some highlights from their weekend of events) have a read of this fascinating article from RBMA, including some beautiful photographs of this most unique of living and working spaces. I’d also recommend setting aside an hour and treating yourself to a viewing of The Art Of Sounds, if you haven’t seen it yet – a fascinating 2007 portrait of the great man at home and at work. It’s a humbling thought that he was still composing daily until just a few months ago. A remarkable life and an incredible body of work, surely this is one legacy we should be falling over ourselves to try and preserve?!
And finally, I must once again on a sad note once with the news from Kent, Ohio of the passing of pioneering Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh. You might remember I interviewed him last summer and we talked about his decades-long career that included changing the face of electronic music for ever in the year of 1944, time spent at the Columbia-Princeton Centre for Electronic Music; and the release of his latest album Sanza Time, a brand new electronic work produced in his 95th year. Possessed of a warm and gentle personality that shone through even down a slightly temperamental Skype line, Halim uttered the first of many chuckles when I suggested that after eight or more decades spent travelling the world and making pioneering music, he had probably earned himself a retirement. ‘I’ve got a whole big job ahead of me!’, he laughed, before going on to reveal the details of yet another commission he was then working on; ‘Still there’s ahead of me so much to know’!
I have mentioned Halim’s work often to groups of students and workshop participants when travelling around various academic institutions talking about the history of electronic music and creative use of sound; and I always got a collective intake of breath whenever my audience discovered that the pioneer behind the 1944 ‘Wire Recorder Piece’ was still composing! Let us hope that by the time you and I reach the age of 95 we will also be able to say with confidence that ‘there’s still so much to know’. Bravo, Halim, and RIP.