A Tone For My Sins

BNCS Edit

For those of you limbering up to accuse me of resting of my ‘BBC Resident Hauntologist’ laurels (in truth I have yet to be challenged regarding this, but it can only be a matter of time) I hereby present a small taster of a much bigger BBC-related hauntological study planned for later on in the year. It’s going to be a sequel of sorts to ‘Ghosts Of Bush’ but I can’t tell you much more than that, partly because I’m sworn to secrecy, but mostly because I simply haven’t got a clue how it will end up, other than a better idea of what it WON’T sodding-well sound like, thanks to some rather tiresome recent developments. But let’s focus on the positives – I have some nice new demos on my hard-drive and when the time is right and I’ve tweaked them to perfection, hopefully quite a large audience will get an ear-full.

Speaking of new demos, this track ‘The BNCS Blues’ came about during a quiet half hour alone in one of the studios used by the BBC Arabic programme ‘XTRA’. You might remember this fine show very kindly ran a feature on the Bush House record last year, so I knew they wouldn’t object if I borrowed their studio and used it to muck around instead of doing any of the remotely useful or sensible things that I’m actually paid for. And thanks to the BBC’s new ‘transparent’ policies, when I say ‘alone’ I actually mean ‘sitting in a glass box in full view of the entire building’. Great days.

Thrillingly, BNCS stands for ‘Broadcast Network Control System’ and consists of a computer screen containing a number of ‘shortcuts’ to lots of different things useful to the making of current affairs radio. A bit like a virtual patch-bay, you can assign different audio feeds to your mixing desk, connect to different studios, monitor different radio networks, have someone thousands of miles away read your headlines, or you can even scream ‘HELLO CAIRO, ARE YOU THERE!!!!!????’ at five o’clock in the morning. The choice is yours.

One other thing a BNCS panel has is a number of tone generators. To explain it to the small number of regular visitors to this site who aren’t impossibly geeky, a standard 1Khz tone (or sine wave – gosh, I’m even starting to bore myself) is used by studios to test sound levels, to send signals to each other and on rare occasions make weird ethereal noises.  Everything here was made using a number of these tone generators and an automated time-check signal similar to the speaking clock, only better of course because this is the BBC, darling. Of course I have to admit that although BNCS generated every sound you’re hearing, most of the trickery took place in the edit. The tone generators only play at a single, unwavering frequency and volume, but as they are a ‘pure tone’ they can be sped up or slowed down to create pretty much any pitch you’d care to create, including that rather splendid low end. And although I pride myself on very rarely working with additional effects, unmodulated sine waves sound remarkably flat, so a little reverb here and LFO there helped give the piece some atmosphere. Not a bad evening’s work. Sound really is the most incredible medium when you stop to consider that everything here with the exception of the automated voice started out as this:

In other news, I can confirm that Chris and I are booked to play our first ever Howlround gig at The Great Escape Festival in Brighton.

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This is partly thanks to Resonance FM curating it’s own area at the ‘Day For Night Stage’ (Brighthelm Centre, Queens Rd, BN1) on 16th-18th May, and I highly recommend coming down if you can make it to catch some of the very special performers spread across the three days, including Khuljit Bhamra, David Thomas, Jali Burama Mbye, Kinnie The Explorer, Birkwin Jersey, Beatrice Dillon, Fletcher, Ian Helliwell, Monster Island, Elle Osbourne Trio, Saturday Sun, Why I Onions and more. Pretty auspicious company to be mixing in, and I must confess to a certain amount of trepidation of taking our notoriously unpredictable set up on the road (or indeed plugging it in to the mains, as only last week we discovered that one of our machines had spent at least part of it’s career ON FIRE). It’s a total step into the unknown for us and the sort of thing that’s really quite hard to rehearse, as most modest three-bedroom houses aren’t really built to accomodate five tape machines, loops, mixing desks and PA systems without displacing housemates and upsetting neighbours. Fortunately we’re on at noon on 18th, so unless the proverbial one man and his dog file regular copy for The Wire, we should just about get away with it. Cross our spools and hope to die…

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