Belgradiophonics

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Trespassing on the railway in the name of sound art. Photos courtesy of Milica Nikolić

You join me in Zurich airport as I await my flight to London. I’m homeward-bound home armed with several new Learning English records (a personal weakness), an oil painting of slightly dubious vintage planned for my kitchen (which, amazingly, is the first thing I’ve ever unwittingly smuggled through customs) and a hardrive full of new and curious sounds and images. I’ll be writing more  in the coming days (internet access here is limited, so I probably should have left out all of the above) but I just wanted to share with you the first fruits of my sound portrait of the Savamala area of Belgrade, produced in the flooded basement of the ruined ‘Spanish House’, balancing precariously on snowy concrete steps in an attempt to extract some Savamalian ghosts. All will be explained in due course, but for now I wish merely to say a huge thanks to all of the incredibly talented and passionate new friends I’ve made over the course of the week, and to urge you to visit the Camenzind Belgrade website to find out more about this amazing project. In the meantime, I’m going to start sifting through my folder marked ‘ship’s graveyard’ to see if I can find some audio treasure. And at a cost of roughly £4.70, this pot of Earl grey had better be the greatest ever brewed…

PS Would  you believe me if I told you that the acoustics on this recording are entirely natural and that no artificial echo or reverb was used in it’s creation? I almost didn’t believe it myself! Working with sound never fails to surprise me, even now…

Steps leading to the flooded basement of the Spanish House. Looks even better when it's snowing...

Steps leading to the flooded basement of the Spanish House. Looks even better when it’s snowing…


Earl Grey Whistle Test

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I hereby present the latest release on my bedroom imprint The Fog Signals for your approval, a mixtape of softs produced in collaboration with Mr. Dave ‘Hills Have Riff’s’ Briggs and recorded in the same basement studio using the same tape machines as The Ghosts Of Bush. And yet  Earl Grey Whistle Test is not a sequel to that record, for Studio S6 is now well on it’s way to being turned back into a swimming pool and the tape machines have long since been either beaten senseless with a hammer and thrown into a skip (creditable rumour) or auctioned off for astronomical sums. There appears to have been very little leeway between these opposing fortunes, for which we can only assume the BBC is making good on it’s mooted attempts to dramatically reduce waste and recycle a much greater percentage of it’s material. Not that I’m bitter. Anyway, I’m drifting…

As l was saying, this album is actually something of a prequel. All of the music here was recorded in the few months before the Ghosts… sessions began, as Dave and I started to improvise and experiment with tape loops, whistles, mandolin and assorted objects we found lying around the studio, all while drinking copious amounts of the titular beverage. It was my first time experimenting with reel-to-reel machines and also the first time I’d gone anywhere near making music for several years. These late night sessions proved quite eventful –  feedback snarled out of unexpected places, tape spooled everywhere, loops were snapped, mistakes were made, lessons were learned, punches were thrown*. But after a few of these clandestine evenings we had amassed a collection of brief, improvised sketches, largely recorded in mono and in a single take. It was all tremendous fun and definitely paved the way for the ghostly tape loops that were soon to follow, but I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them. It wasn’t until almost a year later when I was getting fidgety for what of something to tinker with over Christmas that I got the idea of extracting some of my favourite moments from the confusion of files marked ‘S6 Robin and Dave’ on my hard-drive and editing them together into a mixtape of sorts. So I did. And here it is.

It’s perhaps a little wonky in places, but I like to think ‘Earl Grey Whistle Test’ is the sound of two people on their way to a discovery, a sort of sketchbook where the tape manipulation techniques that would eventually go on to haunt the corridors upstairs gradually took shape. Plus there’s gorgeous original artwork by Dave and yet another classic photo from Hannah Brown. A physical cassette release was on the cards and may well still occur if enough people demand it, but I got a bit bored of waiting for the people at the cassette plant to get their s*** together and decided to put it out anyway. I hope you enjoy it and that, in the context of famous prequels, you’ll find it more Pre-Emptive Strike than Phantom Menace.

As for the official Ghosts… follow-up, that’s still some way off but with Chris Weaver on board and some freshly-repaired tape-machines at our disposal, work can now begin in earnest. Not that we haven’t been busy in the meantime. Noses have been firmly on the grindstone. I’ll explain more in a couple of weeks when I come back from Belgrade. Oh, yeah, I’m off to Belgrade next week to make some Serbian Radiophonics. Did I not mention that? Hoping to find some духови!

*This is a complete lie. Have you ever met Hills Have Riffs? I doubt he’s ever thrown a punch in his life. Kick-boxing is more his thing.


The POKE they tried to BAN! (and succeeded!)

Do you know what a ‘Butt-fast Joy-Girl’ is? Or a ‘Hanky Panky Humper’? No? Well, pull up a sturdy pew and loosen some buttons.

You might remember a piece I made last year entitled ‘A Corner seat in a smoker facing the engine’ for the Radio 4 series Short Cuts. Presented by In The Dark founder Nina Garthwaite and produced by Eleanor McDowall for Falling Tree Productions, Short Cuts was a selection of brief encounters, true stories and found sound, ‘a showcase of delightful and adventurous short documentaries’. The response to ‘ACSIASFTE’, which went out as part of the first episode was fantastic, particularly the report I received from one anonymous listener who claimed to have ‘laughed until [he] wept and nearly crashed [his] car’. In fact, thanks to an excellent job by Nina and Eleanor the response to Short Cuts was so overwhelmingly positive that a second series was quickly planned and the call for fresh submissions sent out. Unfortunately by this point I was rather busy putting the finishing touches to ‘The Ghosts Of Bush’ and didn’t have much time to spare conjuring up new work. Luckily, inspiration soon popped up:

Yes, I’m afraid we’re back here again. Some of my more adventurous followers might remember the Mucky Mixxxtape I produced a couple of years ago, a dirty little voyage into some of the smuttier echelons of my record collection, featuring Blowers and Freaks aplenty. It  remains far-and-away my most popular mixtape and one of the things for which I am best known, which just goes to show it’s unwise to question your public. Or indeed approach them.

Anyway, one of the mooted episode titles for this new Short Cuts series was simply the word ‘cut’, and  my own genius idea was to apply this theme to my copy of the thoroughly odious 1971 American pornographic recording ‘Midnight Cowpoke’, a cheap and tawdry affair telling the story of a country bumpkin named Clyde visiting New York for the first time and somehow arriving at the front door of two women or ill-repute. A cloistered fellow, he has no idea of the ways of the flesh (indeed he assumes at first that they’re conversing about chickens and donkeys) and it’s left to our ‘butt-fast joy-girl’ duo Marge and Vicky to teach him a few decidedly unpleasant lessons. In short it’s three bad actors pretending to have sex over the course of  forty-two grubby, tiresome minutes, entirely fake and pretty much unlistenable. My plan was to approach the recording scientifically  like some kind of audio surgeon with too much time on his hands and seamlessly hack and snip away every last vestige of badly-acted eroticism, every last one of the record’s copious profanities, and every single moment of ‘there’s-no-way-you-could-actually-be-doing-that-while-providing-such-a-lucid-running-commentary’ incredulity in order to glimpse at the bare bones beneath. What, if anything, would be left?  And so I took up my tools and got down to business (if you’ll pardon the…, er,  well…)

Perhaps predictably, the results were pretty insubstantial. The original LP, as mentioned above, weighed in at forty-two minutes. After my comprehensive de-filthing campaign, the newly re-titled ‘All Cow, No Poke’ lasted less than two:

Synopsis: Clyde has come to The New York. He recently went to a big dance. His dad owned a farm but died from cancer.  He sold the farm but kept the lumber rights on the remaining five hundred acres. He’d like to purchase some furniture.

That’s it.

Why did I do it? What did I hope to achieve? Well, perhaps it was because this record constitutes another entry to my aforementioned list of things that I couldn’t quite believe existed. And also because I can’t help but find the sheer banality of these left-overs fascinatingly surreal. At what point  when making a pornographic recording does the producer decide that there needs to be some sort of sub-plot involving lumber-rights and the purchase of furniture and what does he hope this will add to the proceedings? Is it all in aid of giving bad actors a credible narrative to work with? The addition of dramatic realism?  And if so, what’s so exciting about lumber? They even manage to miss out the obvious joke about ‘having wood’ which surely would have been covered before lunchtime on day one at porn school. Why bother including such drab, everyday pointlessness in a recording which is otherwise a piece of ridiculous escapism? Are purchasers of this record going to feel let-down if there’s not a good story to accompany all the dinging and donging? Would the intended demographic pay the slightest attention to such details even if everything else was removed?

In hindsight, I should have realised that these weren’t quite the kind of questions that the kettle-boiling listeners of Radio 4 were particularly desperate to find answers for, and although I’m told it raised a giggle round the Falling Tree offices, they tactfully suggested it was perhaps just a little bit racey for a daytime nationwide radio programme. A bit rich if a rumour I heard regarding a recent episode of The Archers turns out to be true, but let it pass…

Thanks, Bungle!

Anyway, the good news is that Short Cuts carried on without me and was of course every bit as brilliant as the first series. In The Dark have got some great listening events planned for 2013 and ‘All Cow, No Poke’ finally got it’s inaugural hearing last week on the Dexter Bently Hello Goodbye Show as part of Resonance FM‘s fundraising bonanzer. They proved to be far less worried about the impact it might have on the sensibilities of their lunchtime audience, but then Hello Goodbye has delighted in blasting it’s listeners with all kind of noisy filth for over a decade now. And while we’re on the subject,  thanks to everyone who tuned into the four-hour marathon OST show presented by myself and Hannh Brown of Modern Day Magpie. We were really chuffed with the results and I’m delighted to announce that the test pressing of ‘Ghosts Of Bush’ fetched a whopping £77! All proceeds, as mentioned before, go to keeping the greatest radio station in the world on air and advert free for another year. Well done to you all!

PS If this is your first visit to this site, please let me assure you that all this smut is very much the exception and that I’m hardly ever forced to censor my material using stuffed animals. Honestly, hardly ever…