An extraordinary adventure last Saturday, witnessing The Foghorn Requiem, one of the strangest and most memorable musical performances I’ve ever encountered, standing with many hundreds of others on the cliff-top near the Souter Point lighthouse listening to horns of all sizes calling out to one another across the waves; then a mad cross-country dash while frantically editing in order to have my report ready for transmission on the World Service the following morning. Thankfully Virgin trains was running on time for once and my ridiculously over-priced ticket granted me access to a table and a power socket, so by the time my enormous fluffy microphone and I arrived back in Euston, my three minutes destined for the morning’s editions of ‘Newshour’ were pretty much knocked into shape. I wrote a quick cue for the benefit of the presenters, made a final nip-and-tuck, gave it a metaphorical pat on the head, uploaded it onto the BBC server then fell asleep on the nightbus.
And so I’m very happy to say the following morning the Souter Point Foghorn was heard by an even greater number of people than the hundreds (thousands?) present on the shore, those on board the huge Ferry that joined the flotilla of much smaller craft gathered off the coast, and of course the many, many thousands more within the horn’s reputed 20-mile range, who no-doubt cocked a quizzical ear to the skyline:
“For well over a century they brought comfort to some and terror to others, but in recent years the distinctive sound of the foghorn has all but disappeared from the UK coastline, rendered obsolete by modern technology. But yesterday the locals in South Shields in the North of England were treated to a sound that many thought had disappeared forever. The Souter Point Foghorn came out of retirement in spectacular fashion to lead a flotilla of ship’s horns and a sixty-piece brass band in an ambitious musical tribute to a vanishing tradition. Hundreds of spectators lined the cliff tops and covered their ears in anticipation. Foghorn expert Robin [The Fog] joined them”.
I’m not going to add too much more as I hope that the above does this ambitious event a reasonable amount of justice. Sarah Angliss, the Brighton-based composer, roboticist and all-round genius has written far more eloquently on the subject on her own blog than I could manage on this much sleep, so feel free to head over there and have a read. But I must offer huge congratulations to artists Lise Autogena, Joshua Portway and composer Orlando Gough, who worked so hard over the past couple of years to bring this incredible event to fruition. A few days before the performance Lise might indeed have commented ‘It’s crazy to work so hard for so long for something that only lasts fifty minutes’, but what an unforgettable fifty minutes they were. It began with the massed ranks of the Felling, Westoe and NASUWT Riverside Brass Bands slowly marching to their positions along the cliff path, a lone trumpeter atop the lighthouse itself and the specially-tuned horns that drifted in from the flotilla gathered off-shore. Thanks to Joshua’s unique technological innovations the musicians and ships horns were able to play in synchronisation in spite of the distances involved, creating the curious spectacle of ancient apparatus and ultra-modern GPS technology working together to serenade ‘the grand old man’.
Ah, yes, the ‘grand old man of the sea’. The title of this page comes from a comment made by one of the Newshour Editors attempts to describe the sound of the foghorn itself which was far better than anything I’d come up with – so I decided to steal it. It was no mere sound but an actual physical presence – it simply vanquished everything in it’s path. I was standing some reasonable distance from it’s distinctive twin mouths, but every time it sounded I discovered that my upper lip would twitch involuntarily for a few minutes afterwards, a sensation entirely new to me. Rather off-putting when you have hands full of microphones and nothing to steady it with. Mind you, compared to the large number of wailing children escorted to safety by their parents every time it blew, I thought I handled the whole thing rather manfully!
In spite of Orlando’s evocative score, the single most memorable moment was reserved for the the climax of the performance, when the foghorn gave everything it had in one final, epic, minute-long roar which managed the curious feat of being both ear-splittingly, spine-crackingly loud and incredibly moving. It was like the death-throws of some huge monster tearing out it’s lungs until there was nothing left but a whimper. As a sound it was both frightening and fabulous. As a metaphor for the local area’s slowly dying maritime traditions and ship-building history and of all the other foghorns up and down the land falling silent in turn, it was enough to bring tears to your eyes. Not so manful after all..
This recording I’ve made in no way does it justice. But how else could I explain?
Thanks should also go to Chris Weaver and Fari Bradley for their most valuable help, Connor Walsh for somehow being simultaneously adventurous and practical and Bernice, Debbie and the PR team for literally saving my bacon on the day. Well, not literally, but the pints will certainly be on me next time they find themselves in London. Perhaps they could bring my ears with them? I think I left them somewhere on that cliff-top…
I’ve now attained the fortunate position in life where as soon as any kind of cultural event themed around the subject of ‘Fog’ appears on the social calendar (both the phenomenon of fog itself and any object bearing qualities that could be classified as fog-like or fog-related), my inbox becomes awash with messages from well-wishers alerting me to it’s imminent arrival. And so when word spread that John Carpenter’s soundtrack to his 1980 creep-fest ‘The Fog’ was about to get the deluxe reissue treatment thanks to the folks at the Death Waltz Recording Company, it didn’t take my confidants long to join the dots. After all, as one of them pointed out, it’s my nom de plume. But frankly, who wouldn’t be excited about a double-heavyweight vinyl featuring a veritable glut of extra cues that never made the original release and artwork by a certain Dinos Chapman? Even the discs themselves looks pretty gorgeous:
While not a quivering mass of anticipation, it’s fair to say I was pretty jolly bouncy by the time I received the weblink to where the freshly minted release was said to be waiting for purchase. But unfortunately it proved to be a bad link in quite a number of ways, whisking me off-course to one of those weird holding pages that simply list a number of ‘related’ search topics that in reality seemed squarely aimed at desperately amoral middle-aged men. The internet seems convinced that whenever hunting for obscure vinyl, tickets to the theatre or flowers for mother proves fruitless, an extra-marital affair, a cure for baldness or a Thai bride is just the thing to soften the blow:
…And so today as I return from an admittedly enjoyable week of elicit encounters in a Static Caravan with a group of over-50s Playstation enthusiasts (don’t tell my Ukrainian wife!) it looks as if the curse has struck once again: The new pressing appears to be sold out everywhere and copies already selling for ‘Bugs Bunny Money’ on Discogs. The Fog has rolled out. Damn.
However, all this excitement caused me to reminisce on the occasion a few years ago when I paid a visit to the lighthouse at Port Reyes on the Californian coast which served as one of the locations for the film. You might remember it as the location of DJ Stevie Wayne’s radio station (KAB, Antonio Bay) and I thought I’d include a few pictures here, NOT as a stroke of sulky hauntological one-upmanship, but purely because this particular part of America is one of the most staggeringly beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Alright, perhaps I’m sulking just a little bit…
As you can see, there would be very little room for a radio station in the lighthouse. I have a feeling those scenes were probably filmed elsewhere using the magic of editing. Inside there’s just about a enough room for the lamp itself and a nice lady in a US Parks uniform. I didn’t like to broach the question of cat-swinging, but in such cramped conditions I doubt we would’ve accomplished much.
Most exciting was the old engine room containing the fog horns. Despite the sunny weather the lighthouse’s horn was in operation when I visited, although of course it’s just a modern electronic tone these days. There’s no way I would’ve stood this close if these horns had been in operation. And of course they wouldn’t have been positioned in-dooors:
Oh, California, you really are lovely. if it weren’t for the earthquakes and rattlesnakes I would move to you first thing tomorrow morning. Perhaps some nice US promoter on the West Coast fancies booking Howlround for a live tour? Just a suggestion…
Speaking of Foghorns somewhat closer to home, I hope you’ll be joining me in attending the Foghorn Requiem taking place this Saturday at Souter Point Lighthouse on the North-East coast. A gigantic composition featuring three brass bands and a flotilla of vessels out at sea, all lead by the incredible voice of the Souter Point foghorn, one of the few remaining working foghorns in the UK (no longer operational, but maintained for special occasions such as this), it’s the work of artists Lise Autogena and Joshua Portway with composer Orlango Gough and apparently new technology has been developed to enable ships horns several miles offshore to play in time with musicians on the shore. The performance starts at 12.30 on Saturday 22nd June and I shall definitely be there in my capacity as a fan of foghorns and also in my capacity as a broadcast journalist. In the meantime you can find further information by clicking the link above and get a teasing glimpse of just what the foghorn sounds like by watching this quite charming video that I found on youtube:
I’ve also been raiding the BBC Sound Effects database for foghorns again and thought you might like to hear one of my favourites. This very short but somehow instantly familiar recording was made in 1968 in Southampton Harbour, and that’s pretty much all I can tell you about it. Absolutely wonderful, though:
If all goes according to plan, things are going to get even more Fog-horny on these pages in the coming months. I think I can safely say it’s going to be ‘a blast’.
A noisy great blast.
Welcome to my Foggy Lounge. Pour yourself into something comfortable and slip on a glass.
Yes, it’s yet another hand-picked selection of vinyl favourites, this time a more laid-back affair featuring some of my favourite library and easy-listening jams, designed to provide spiffing and leisurely accompaniment to an excitable crowd at a sold out show at Shoreditch’s hipster-hotspot Village Underground, waiting for an after-dinner set by those Public Service Broadcasting fellows. I would particularly urge you to savour this one, as many of these tracks are on LPs that are not normally allowed to leave the house and have now been filed back in my impenetrable vinyl dungeon. Indeed I spent the entire evening terrified that some sort of thievery (presumably by a telepathic crate-digger in a magic fishtail parka that gave him invisible powers) might occur if I took my eyes of them for more than a second, despite the fact that I was in a DJ booth surrounded by two sound engineers, a lighting guy and the chap whose headphones I’d borrowed. And of course not forgetting that speedy discrete getaways are quite hard to pull off when carrying a bag of records so heavy that you end up doing a pretty convincing impression of the letter ‘S’. That said, if I ever catch the fellow who swiped my pristine Urban Shakedown 12″ back in 2001 it’ll be the absolute worst for him. I haven’t forgotten, oh no…
Fortunately this event wasn’t really an Urban Shakedown sort of an evening. More of a Gentle Urban Tie-Adjusting.
Thanks again to Willgoose and Wrigglesworth. Both of whom looked dapper as hell.
I’m sure many of you will have spent countless nights fretting over just what is to be done regarding the matter of ‘The Illuminati’. You have? Yes, I thought so. Well, you are by no means alone and will doubtless be relieved and delighted to learn that there is hope – an evening spent wasting time on the internet rather than finishing off my new album has lead me to discover an answer of sorts to this age-old question from Wisbech resident and hard-dance maestro DJ Basshammer. Here it is in full:
What are your initial impressions on beholding this artwork? Perhaps you’re already trying to decipher it’s secrets for yourself? Is it an image of a mushroom cloud looming over a deserted nuclear wasteland? Or a large jellyfish holding an inflatable question mark? Or a skull crowned by a single black banana? Personally I’m drawn to the contradictory presence of both the ‘f-word’ and a parental advisory sticker, the latter’s arrival at the bottom right surely too late to be of much practical assistance after the former’s pride of place in the top left. A bit like warning someone to ‘mind their f**king language’. Or we could say it’s ‘f**king the stable door after the horse has bolted’. Actually, that doesn’t make much sense. Still, let’s stick to the matter at hand, shall we? F**k the illuminati. What do you make of it?
Perhaps you are wondering what this phrase could possibly mean? Some of you might even be tempted to ask just who The Illuminati are? And why should we want or need to ‘f**k them’? How does one spot Illuminati? Is there a uniform or secret handshake? Is one required to set traps? And more pertinently, is there a specific Wisbech Illuminati chapter upon which this Basshammer fellow is focusing his ire?
His biography is carefully worded and gives nothing away:
hi my names anthony steward aka bass hammer i have bin djing now four about 13 years now i haved played qwite a thew styles from house speed garage to trance hard trance hard house hard dance hardstyle hardcore gabba and drum and bass i love play all kinds stuf. [sic]
Not much help there. This mysterious and elusive fellow is certainly hiding something. You can’t claim to straddle the vast expanses that separate trance, hard trance, hard house, hard dance and hard style without at least implying a certain familiarity with the arcane and forbidden arts. Clearly more research was required, so I immediately asked my friend Victoria. I look to her in all matters of the occult because she once gave me an old reel to reel machine that came with a spool of tape featuring what appeared to be the voices of the dead. In the end it turned out to be one of Pink Floyd’s gloomier album tracks played at the wrong speed, but it remains closer to the beyond than I’ve ever managed on my own. Plus she once read a whole book by Dan Brown that wasn’t that famous one.
‘Who exactly are the illuminati?’ I asked her.
‘Essentially’, she replied after sighing and putting down whatever it was she’d been doing before I interrupted her, ‘the illuminati as we generally refer to them were the clever and ‘enlightened’ people of the Renaissance period, which marked a fundamental advancement in human knowledge that manifested itself in literature, philosophy, art, music, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry; and occurred roughly between 1400 and 1700′.
‘All that in a single afternoon?’, I asked, hilariously mistaking the turning of the centuries with the ticking of the twenty-four hour clock, itself a product of the enlightenment (I expect).
‘No’, she replied, affectionately slapping me across the face, ‘the Renaissance period existed roughly between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries and it’s movers and shakers included scientists, writers, philosophers and artists. They were called the Illuminati because light is associated with knowledge and these new ways of thinking incurred the wrath of the church who hastily imposed a window tax to hamper their efforts. Window tax stopped clever people from rebelling against church, government and the established order because the Illuminati would have found it very hard to read in the dark (though it remains unclear whether a lamp and bifocal tax was also instigated). Plus if you flip the word illuminati upside down it still says illuminati even though it is upside down, which is very significant. Dan Brown says so. The black death came just before the Renaissance, you know. That’s also important. Can I go now?’
Thanking her profusely before she made her excuses and sprinted for the door, I turned to that other great bastion of universal truth – the internet. According to a wikipedia article I scan-read while waiting for the kettle to boil, the earliest use of the term refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, a secret society of the enlightenment era founded to oppose superstition, religious influence over public life, abuses of state power, and to support women’s education and gender equality. It was founded in 1776 by the first lay-professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt: Adam Weishaupt:
All very well, but what possible chain of events could these wise, noble and historically significant Bavarians possibly have set in motion that might incur the wrath of a trance DJ in Wisbech? Well, stand by for a major revelation: In the 17th century certain inhabitants of this particular corner of Cambridgeshire became known as the ‘Fen Tigers’ because of their resistance to a plan to drain the local fenland (in spite of the scheme’s resulting in Wisbech becoming a prosperous and wealthy centre of commerce). Armed with this information and operating on a whim (plus about four hour’s sleep) I discovered that superimposing Adam Weishaupt’s face onto Basshammer’s artwork gives us our missing link:
We see now that Basshammer’s artwork is without doubt a carefully disguised image of Bavarian philosopher Adam Weishaupt’s head exploding into a giant nuclear mushroom cloud in front of a backdrop (if you squint) of devastated Cambridgeshire fenland. Clearly Basshammer still feels the torments of his ancestors most keenly, and like them, looks upon change, progress and the adoption of radical new ideas with the deepest suspicion. This is further proved by his championing of genres such as hard dance, hard trance, hard style etc., all of which have been in a state of terminal regression since about 1995.
Ergo, f**k the Illuminati.
My work here is done. I defy anyone to spot a single flaw in my reasoning. And to those of you quick to suggest I’m just turning a pice of inept Photoshoppery into a half-arsed and baseless conspiracy theory, I can only laugh bitterly at your profound lack of insight. I’d like to personally thank DJ Basshammer for showing us the way and if you’re feeling brave why not listen to a couple of his mixtapes here. I managed seven whole minutes. See if you can top it.
I’d also like to thanks the combined forces of Victoria and Wikipedia for helping me get to the truth. Perhaps we could collectively call them Vickypedia? Just a thought…
Next week I’m planning to investigate the ulterior motive and shadowy persuasions of the person who sent me THIS in the post. The dirty blighter:
Hmm, can’t remember what else I was supposed to be doing today. The new album? Oh, I’ll get round to it eventually…
Very excited (and rather late!) in announcing my participation (albeit in a slightly remote manner) in a special broadcast from Tasmania today (Sunday 2nd June at 16.00-17.30-pm local time – which for my UK posse is the moderately unholy hour of 7am).
RADIOPHONY : HAUNTED AIR is a programme of soundworks being broadcast simultaneously from the Cast Gallery, North Hobart, Tasmania and nine radio stations across the world; and is curated by Julia Drouhin, who you might remember as one of the masterminds behind ‘Radiophonic Creation Day’ a couple of years ago (alongside Coraline Janvier -also exhibiting here). Julia describes the event as ‘a call to think about the aesthetic issues of creative airwaves as a ghosted space occupying radio waves. We usually ignore that space even if it’s all around us. How dead air can be a wireless vehicle for the human psyche? Sound recording practice questions space and time perception, built on personal subjectivity, social schematics, and chemistry. Crossing fields of energy gives an opportunity to touch immateriality and invisibility. Listening to a space is not natural. We are used to seeing things, we can close our eyes, but we can’t close our ears. Permanently immersed into the sound of everything, our brain selects the noise. It’s interesting to learn how to listen : the inaudible becomes audible. RADIOPHONY : HAUNTED AIR creates a gap between live and dead air and will stimulate the magick but often forgotten radiophonic space’.
RADIOPHONY : HAUNTED AIR has invited 20 artists from France, UK, Brazil, Argentina and Australia: Frédéric Acquaviva (FR), Sébastien Béranger(FR), Dinah Bird (UK), Colin Black (AUS), Andrea Cohen (ARG), Beatriz Ferreyra (ARG), Michel Guillet (FR), Idiot Lust (AUS), Coraline Janvier(FR), Wayn Malm (AUS), NOUS (Annabelle Blin + Joël Riff) (FR), Joachim Montessuis(FR), Philippe F. Roux (FR), Gaël Segalen (FR), Aymeric de Tapol (FR), Dudu Tsuda (BRA), Valérie Vivancos (FR), Robin The Fog (UK), Gregory Whitehead (USA).
The programme will be broadcast simultaneously from the Cast Gallery and nine radio stations across the world: Edge Radio (Hobart, Tasmania), Radio Papesse (Italy), Radio Patapoe (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Soundart Radio (Devon, UK), TEA FM (Zaragoza, Spain), Radio Campus Paris ( France), Radio Campus Rennes ( France), Radio Panik (Brussels, Belgium), Radiolab (United States), Mobile Radio (workshop in Sweden), Radio ? (Ougadougou, Burkina Faso). That pretty much covers the globe as far as our purposes are concerned.
For my part I’m contributing a slightly remixed version of some of my favourite loops from ‘Ghosts Of Bush’ and I’m very proud to be in such fine company! What better way for my UK friends to kick off a Sunday morning lie in? Or for those of you further afield, perhaps something to enjoy with a nice Sunday brunch? More details including the full schedule and participant biographies can be found here. Thanks to Julia and the Cast Gallery for asking me to participate and apologies as ever for just copy and pasting much of this from their website. But time is not on our side! Plus I’m writing it while simultaneously trying to keep a BBC Cantonese programme on air and hoping nobody will notice. The very programme whose signature tune opens ‘Ghosts Of Bush’ and gives it those lovely bass frequencies. What marvellous synergy!
POST-SCRIPT: Synergy be damned, it turned out I was completely wrong about the timings as I noticed that UK participant Soundart Radio 102.5FM in Devon broadcasting it this afternoon. It would appear, then, that when they said ‘simultaneously’ they meant whenever your locality reached 1600 on Sunday 2nd June. Not to worry, though, I believe podcasts will soon be available for those who missed out.
You see? This is why I need a manager…