Well, I did promise you a moderate revelation of sorts….
I’m very excited to announce the premier of a brand new work on BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction this Thursday 29th August. Comissioned by the programme itself and entitled Whirled Service, it’s something I’ve been tinkering with in closely guarded secrecy for the past several months and was produced in collaboration with the vocalist and performance artist Franziska Lantz. It’s also the official sequel to Ghosts Of Bush and was created using very similar techniques, though while that album was a fond farewell captured on analogue tape, Whirled Service is an entirely digital exploration in the bowels of the recently completed New Broadcasting House:
Opening with a montage of the building’s many language services (including Hausa, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Arabic to name but a few), we then hear time itself falter and slow as the sounds of the building gradually multiply and take over, station idents, jingles, test-tones, air conditioning ducts, radiators, lifts, corridors, studios and postroom trolleys are all flipped inside-out and forced to sing. When dropped by two octaves the door buttons at the main entrance suddenly sound like a brace of foghorns mournfully calling across the sea, while the soporific movement of a fire safety door is like the creaking of a hull.
Regular Resonance FM listeners will probably remember Franziska Lantz for her long-running found-sound-and-text programme on the station, Drift Shift. She was a natural choice for a collaborator as so much of her work uses different architectural spaces, including a current project creating percussive and vocal improvisations in an empty East London hospital which I’m probably not supposed to be telling you about yet. For this collaboration she worked with the original demos to create a series of beautiful vocal pieces which were then recorded inside the building itself, often in the stairwells at the rear of Broadcasting House to take advantage of the natural acoustics – the microphone placed two floors up.
These recordings of Franzi’s voice echoing through the stairwell was then incorporated back into the original tracks and given the same pitch-shifting and editing treatments as the initial recordings. In fact it’s often very hard to work out where her voice ends and the sounds of the building begin, though there are several places where she sings unaccompanied, sounding to my ears at least like Gregorian or Buddhist chanting! She can also be heard singing along with the testing of the fire alarm at the beginning of part two, and the result is one of my favourite moments in the project.
Ever the reverse-perfectionist, I would like to make it clear that no specialist equipment, expensive microphones or advanced computer effects were used over the course of these two ten-minute pieces. Everything you are hearing were created using objects and acoustic spaces found in New Broadcasting House and the music was produced simply by making adjustments in pitch and a small amount of editing. No conventional instruments or computer plug-ins were involved, though we occasionally allowed ourselves a little reverb here and a spot of low-frequency oscillation there to bring certain elements to the fore and to prevent these entirely digital recording from sounding too dry. I realise that if I had a pound for every time I’d speculated on these pages about how little effort is often needed to create a “genuinely uncanny sound world”™ I could buy us all dinner, but that doesn’t make it any less true or the sounds we found here any less remarkable. Perhaps this building already has a few ghosts of its own after all?
With this in mind, I hereby present My New Broadcasting House Sonically Interesting Top Ten, or SITT. I was originally planning a ‘Sonically and Hauntologically Interesting Top Ten’, but thought the better of it.
The SITT-Parade In No Particular Order:
- The squeaking microphone cradle of Studio 52A which, after the application of a smidgeon of reverb, sounds a bit like a cello.
- The weekly testing of the fire alarm and evacuation system, which goes on for about three hours in the middle of the night and sounds like the clarions of the apocalypse.
- A trolley purloined from the postroom badly in need of oiling. The postroom is staffed by obsessive record collectors and oldskool junglists, so convincing them to let me borrow it was a piece of cake.
- The freight elevator in which the aforementioned postroom trolley was recorded.
- The Broadcast Network Control System with it’s selection of tones and idents, all begging for a spot of the aforementioned LFO.
- The two microphones permanently on duty in the tower of Big Ben. Technically BBC property and accessed through the aforementioned BNCS panel in an NBH studio, so definitely not cheating.
- The ominously humming cupboard next to the canteen. Still no idea what’s going on in there.
- The buzzers next to the revolving doors in reception, all pitched slightly differently for no apparent reason (now deactivated because everyone else found them hugely annoying).
- The fire door in the stairwell connecting the Peel Wing Reception to Basement Level 1, which doesn’t so much creak as evoke all the sadness in the universe.
- The beautiful voice of Franziska Lantz, recorded on the landing of the fifth floor of the rear stairwell as heard from the eigth floor. Not technically a feature of the building, but the sounds shaped her and she shaped them in turn, like a sort of sonic chicken-and-egg equation, only much better.
So, do please tune into BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 29th at 23:00 BST, where you’ll hear this new work several months in the making as well as the usual diverse mix, including work from Radiophonic Workshop legend David Cain and the sound of Brazil’s Urban Underground, all cooked up into a rich sonic stew by redoubtable host Mr. Nick Luscombe, himself an old Resonance stalwart:
Special thanks must go to Franzi for being such a pleasure to work with, Nick Luscombe and James Parkin for being such a pleasure to work for, Michael Rossi and Zoe Lukas for much appreciated help and enthusiasm and finally Danny Cox and Russell Newlove for letting me use their photographs on this posting. Greatly obliged to you all…