Spools To Breaking Point

Photos by Joe Pitts. Spot the Ghost?

Presented for your approval, some sounds and images from last week’s top secret Howlround performance at Southwark’s Kirkcaldy Testing Museum. Top secret in the sense that I hadn’t actually been informed we were playing until the night before, which gave me little time to whip up my usual promotional storm.  Short notice, perhaps, but the chance to play alongside the behemoth machines housed inside this most fascinating Victorian testing site was irresistible. And that’s before we even mention our supporting of event hosts Oscillatorial Binnage as they prepared a very special site-specific performance.


As you can perhaps hear from this short extract, it proved to be one of our more ‘eventful’ sets, largely due to the mic stands we use to keep the loops taught proving less than stable on the uneven floorboards and the fourth Revox that serves as an echo unit proving inexplicably silent despite all our efforts at sound-checking. However, when you’re performing live improvised tape-collages using forty year-old reel-to-reel machines and an increasingly battered selection of loops, them’s the breaks; and the response from the surprisingly numerous crowd was most positive.  Among them was music critic Louise Gray who has written some very complimentary things about us as well as uploading some photos of the event on her blog, ahead of a reported review in next month’s Wire magazine:

…[C]an I also plug Robin The Fog and Chris Weaver’s Howlround’s two site-specific albums, Ghosts of Bush and, released last month, The Secret Sounds of Savamala, in all their strange and wonderful glory. They are the sonic equivalent of Rachel Whiteread’s casts of empty spaces.  

Anyway, before our heads get too big after such an accolade,  please enjoy some video highlights courtesy of cameraman Tommo and his Three Trousers blog. I particularly enjoyed the slow-motion bit at the end where our performance appears to have left the audience glassy-eyed and shell-shocked:

After we’d finished and bundled our sorry-looking loops back into the various Rover Biscuit Assortment tins they’d arrived in, it was time for the main act. Oscillatorial Binnage is/are Dan Wilson, Toby Clarkson, Fari Bradley and  of course my Howlround counter-part Chris Weaver (though I still can’t quite work out which one of us he’s moon-lighting). For this one-off performance, the group presented a series of sonic works exploring and utilising The Kirkaldy Testing Museum machines as electro-acoustic instruments. Piano strings were stretched, wood blocks crushed, metal grilles vibrated and everyday materials placed under extreme stresses to draw out their unusual musical properties. The highlight of the performance was the amplified action of the 450-tonne Kirkaldy machine itself going to work on a plank of wood while a well-placed contact mic captured the sound of it’s demise. It was loud, abrasive and really quite thrilling. It’s probably easier just to show you, so we turn once again to the documentary skills of Tommo:

I certainly can’t remember the last time a room full of people got this excited about wood. Thanks very much to the Merge Festival for helping to organise such an unusual event,  Joe for these rather groovy photographs, and to the good folk of the Kirkcaldy Testing Museum for having us. They’re a registered charity run by volunteers and surviving entirely on donations, so do please dig deep and help preserve this fascinating piece of our industrial heritage. Then perhaps we can come back and play again next year!  We could even find out what would happen if we subjected our quater-inch tape to such tensioning experiments?!  A very short performance and a lots of angry demands for refunds, I’ll wager…



Author: Robin The Fog

Sound Artist, Radio Producer, DJ, founder and chief strategist of tape-loop proejct Howlround. Devout Catalyst.

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