….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…
Portland Place And Creaking Bass – Live At The Royal Institute Of British Architects + Ambience Chasing At The SocialPosted: April 13, 2017
Finally uploaded, please enjoy this new composition, commissioned by Nick Luscombe’s Musicity project and the Royal Institute Of British Architects. Created entirely from recordings made inside the institute’s remarkable headquarters at 66 Portland Place, this version is a stereo remix of a work unveiled at Musicity’s gala event on April 4th, which also featured excellent performances from High Llama’s frontman Sean O’Hagan, the gorgeous twisted folk of Stick in the Wheel and future-soul doyenne Throwing Shade. Amongst other delights, there was a fascinating installation in an adjoining room by Paul Bavister’s Audialsense project, which was also an attempt to explore the hidden sound of this most remarkable of buildings, but using a very different set of parameters and with a completely different set of results – a sort of digital yin to my own analogue yang. A thoroughly stimulating evening was had by all, and my thanks must go to Nick as well as Meneesha, Lisa, Emily and Gabriel at RIBA for making it all possible.
— Ben Derbyshire (@ben_derbyshire) April 4, 2017
Founded by the esteemed Late Junction presenter as an on-going project to investigate the relationship between sound and architecture, Musicity has been gaining momentum for some time now, and of course needless to say its approach tallies with a lot of ideas I’ve been exploring myself over the last few years – and indeed that I positively jumped at the chance to work with such an auspicious building! The finished composition features recordings of a number of metallic coat hangers, a hinge on an interior door and footsteps on the fabulously creaky floor of the main hall, some of which were played back and re-recorded through the hall’s ceiling-mounted PA speakers for additional weight and depth. The recordings were then manipulated on a single loop of tape, over and over until it was in a state of advanced decay, giving them the pleasingly ‘chewy’ and scrambled feel that I was hoping for – a possible side-effect of exposure to the vintage tape compositions of Kuniharu Akiyama that I’ve recently become fascinated by (take a bow, John Hawken!).
In other news, I’ll be returning to this particular neck of the woods and to the live circuit on Tuesday 25th April, when Sonic Cathedral and Ulrich Schnauss unveil the latest in their Ambience Chasers series of events at The Social on Little Portland Street. Howlround will be performing alongside a DJ set from Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve’s Richard Norris in a venue that contains many happy memories of for me, not least clearing the dancefloor with a particularly lovingly crafted DJ set at a recent Resonance FM listening event – though in truth it might have had rather more to do with the bar closing. Either way, this time I’ll be covering the dancefloor with spent loops instead!
Hello you. A very hasty update a very long way from home and on exceptionally dodgy hotel wifi to let you know about the Musicity event I’m taking part in on April 4th at the Royal Institute of British Architects in Central London. Featuring a programme of live music, sound installation, talks and readings, this evening of ‘stimulating sight and sound’ aims to ‘explore the ways in which artistic expression can be used to bring a new dimension to the way we experience cities and the world around us’, and is hosted by Musicity founder, BBC Radio 3 Late Junction host and broadcasting legend Mr. Nick Luscombe.
— Nick Luscombe (@nickluscombe) March 28, 2017
It is the continuing mission of Musicity to ‘encourage people to explore the city musically, architecturally and experientially by commissioning musicians to compose original tracks in response to a building, site or place in the city that inspires them’, and so to that effect I will be presenting a brand new bespoke work on the night that has been inspired by various recordings made during a recent tour of the Institute’s striking headquarters at 66 Portland Place, W1B. Needless to say the building had plenty of secret sounds to discover and I should quickly thank Meneesha and Gabrielle at RIBA for allowing me to experiment with playing back some of them on the venue’s PA system – sounded great but did rather spook one of the guided tours.
There will also be live music and talks from: Stick in the Wheel, Throwing Shade (Ninja Tune) and Sean O Hagan (High Llamas), as well as a sound installation by Audialsense, an audio performance by Kinetic Conscription and an awful lot more. Tickets and further details available here or by clicking on the above image. Really looking forward to this one – even though I haven’t quite had a chance to finish my piece yet. Will certainly have to roll up my sleeves when I make it back to Blighty…
Yet more exciting news on the reception of the new Howlround LP A Creak In Time, as The Wire magazine have very kindly hosted an exclusive clip from the film on their website to go with their extremely flattering review of last month. It joins last week’s equally glowing reviews in Electronic Sound and Wallpaper* Magazine, so the album appears to be gaining quite a bit of traction. Which is just as well, because we’ll be screening it (ahead of a bespoke live performance) at Deliaphonic, Coventry Cathedral on May 5th, in the company of Peter Zinovieff, Pete Kemper of Sonic Boom, Jerry Dammers and more. This promises to be quite a remarkable evening, so do come along if you can. Click on the image below for details:
…And then on the following evening, back in London, we’ll be performing the film with a live soundtrack at the inaugural Further, a new series of immersive audio-visual evenings curated by DJ Food & Pete Williams at the Portico Gallery in West Norwood. It’s the first time we’ll ever have played the film live and even I’m not entirely sure how that’s going to pan out, but I’m very much looking forward to finding out! Plus the Ghost Box chaps are headlining and I’m told there will be oil projections. What’s not to like?
In other news, this week’s Near Mint was the last in the current series as the show takes a well-earned break after a solid year of broadcasting. I realise this sudden absence from he airwaves will have left several people inconsolable, but rest assured that the show will be back for a new series in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I’m leaving you with a triple bill of the last three episodes, although admittedly this is partly due to the fact that a hectic couple of weeks have meant that I haven’t been keeping this site up quite as diligently as I should have. Plus I’m just about to head off for a couple of weeks’ much needed holiday, so am hoping that this little lot will tide you over until I return:
We’ll start with the most recent, a trip into the world of London-based artist Larry Achiampong, whose work examines the interplay between the modern world and his traditional Ghanian heritage through field recordings, hip hop and video game soundtracks. Listen in for some extracts from his remarkable and imminent new album Untitled, as well as tracks from his back-catalogue which blend vintage high life recordings with the influences of contemporary beat-makers such as J Dilla, Flying Lotus and Madlib. Very strong stuff!
The previous week’s show welcomed back our friends Luka and Vanja from Belgrade’s Discom label, with another exciting new release to show off – Sidarta the only album to date from prog-fusion-electronic rockers 37°C. Recorded in 1979 (apparently in the same studio as Gary Numan’s Are Friends Electric?), it’s another gloriously psychedelic excursion into the far-out sounds of the former Yugoslavia from the label that bought you last year’s excellent Yugoslavian Space Programme LP. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this one!
And lastly, some hardcore hothouse action, as we head up the garden path for a quick frolic with the flowers. Anne Chase dreams of getting herself covered in sap, while the unlucky Mrs. Briers comes to a sticky end in front of a giant orchid patch (that is, a patch of giant orchids). This programme was primariyl designed to be consumed amongst nature, be that in the woods, down the park or up against a window box, and went down exceptionally well here at Fog Towers where my houseplants haven’t stopped smiling since.
Right, that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Meet you back here in a fortnight. Until then, keep your ears to the wind and noses to the skyline…
Huge thanks to Thomas Howells and Wallpaper* Magazine for this extremely flattering review of Howlround and Psyché Tropes audio/visual project A Creak In Time. ‘As a rumination on both the firmament and the infinitesimal’, he writes, ‘A Creak in Time is timeless and singular: a cinematic triumph of style and substance’. Read the full article and watch an exclusive extract from the film here.