Standing here on the threshold of a brand new year, it seems only good and right to take a moment to look back over the past twelve months, a truly fantastic year for music and a truly awful year for just about everything else in the world. To that effect I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a special commemorative mixtape of some favourite moments of the former in an attempt to drown out the horrific and enduring effects of the latter:
With so much great music to choose from, it was never going to be an easy task, so I’ve narrowed down my parameters by concentrating purely on new releases over reissues (regrettably leaving out superb releases on Buried Treasure, Public Information and Suzanne Ciani’s wondrous music for Atari in the process) and tried to focus predominately on records that were, in my opinion, rather unfairly overlooked in the end of year lists appearing elsewhere. Now it’s finished I’m constantly being reminded of amazing works I left out, but nevertheless at the time of writing I find myself scaling the dizzy heights of ranking 20th in the Mixcloud ‘Pop’ charts, a truly humbling accolade which suggests I haven’t done such a bad job after all. Wonder if there’s a trophy or cash prize?
It’s been an eventful year at Fog Towers as well, with much excitement, intrigue and sonic adventure, so I’d like to hereby present my top 10 personal highlights of 2014 in no particular order. I realise that much of the following could be classed as shameless self-promotion, but then this is my own shamelessly self-promoting website, and if I don’t blow my own trumpet, who will? Strap on your ear-goggles and let’s roll:
1. Releasing Howlround’s third album Torridon Gate, to almost universally positive feedback and some truly humbling reviews. Thanks once again to Steve at A Year In The Country for all his hard work and to everyone who listened to, invested in or wrote nice things about it – a long list all by itself!
Not forgetting, of course, to give extra special thanks to gate-owners Tony and Kath of Torridon Road, Hither Green, whose generosity during Resonance FM‘s 2014 fundraising campaign kick-started the whole business. Could they have imagined what a can of worms their winning bid would result in? Could we?
2. A final live performance of the year in a basement in the gothic quarter of Barcelona, complete with standing ovation, encore and late-night tapas. Huge thanks once again to JP and Ale of 4’33” Cafe. Can’t wait to see what they get up to in 2015!
3. Meeting my heroes of the Radiophonic Workshop and actually getting paid by The BBC to do it:
Affable and fascinating characters all. A new album by the group, blending new compositions with re-worked classics is reported to have been completed, a decidedly promising omen for 2015.
4. Boards Of Kanyeda’s ‘Everything You Dig Is A Gold Balloon’, which spectacularly failed to go viral and cause any kind of massively financially-crippling but promotionally-lucrative legal frenzy. Still reckon it’s the best thing to have Kanye’s name on it in ages, though:
5. An extract from Howlround’s first ever live appearance features as part of the excellent Touch Radio series, alongside some particulalry lovely works by Aino Tytti, Philip Jeck, Chris Watson and much more. All available online and for free. You are warmly advised to fill your boots:
6. Performing at both Cafe Oto and The Beacons Festival at the behest of our friends The Octopus Collective. This latter ‘headlining’ performance (we were the final act of the evening in the only tent left open) elicited two of my favourite reviews of the year: ”Uncanny, mesmerising, difficult and sublime’ (Jonny Mugwump, writing for The Quietus) and ‘This is [the] s**t!’ (Anon). Our thanks and gratitude once again to John, Glenn, Jonny and our vocal supporter in the third row. Take a bow, sirs.
7. This picture of my ear by typewriter-artist Keira Rathbone, to commemorate her summer showcase ‘Brink’ at The Vaults Gallery beneath Waterloo station.
The collaborative sound installation was produced by Lolita Laguna and myself using recordings of Keira’s typing played through an amplifier into the cavernous expanses of the gallery over and over again; creating a haunting song of the tunnels that was to become the recipient of my single favourite piece of feedback this year – an incredulous ‘…But this is supposed to be a HAPPY place!’ from a fellow exhibitor. I’m not sure if it’s just my mind playing tricks on me, but I think she might actually have had a tail. For both of these reasons, I’m contemplating asking her to pen the sleeve-notes for the next Howlround LP.
8. Lots of fun with Aleks Kolkowski‘s installation of The Denman Horn at The Science Museum.
You can listen to my interview with Aleks for the BBC here or enjoy the special ‘horn-friendly’ edition of The OST show broadcast live from museum here. But I think this montage of Fog and Ship’s horns from the BBC Sound Effects archive recorded at the gigantic mouth of the horn is as good a place to start as any:
9. Speaking of Foghorns, here’s one of the greats. Immortalised in such classic works as Ingram Marshall’s Fog Tropes (reissued this year on Arc Light Editions) and Bill Fontana’s Landscape Sculpture With Foghorns (not reissued at all, but here’s hoping), the Golden Gate Bridge foghorns remain operational to this day. Part of a huge collection of sound recordings made in the US that I’ve so-far utterly failed to share with you all. Please be patient, all in good time:
10. Remixing a track from Brood Ma‘s excellent second album P O P U L O U S for the equally fine follow-up re P O P U L O U S. Expect to hear much more from this redoutable chap in 2015.
I’d like to close by wishing you all a Happy New Year and to propose a toast everyone who has supported my work in 2014, particularly that large and amazing collection of writers, bloggers, DJs, musicians, nerds, weirdos and other associates that I’m very pleased to call friends. Cheers!
Good news this week from both the past and the future. First to the future, and please enjoy this video, the soundtrack of which may ring a bell – albeit the tolling of a particularly lonesome and desolate one:
Yes, we’re very excited to announce a new Howlround composition (although those of you who follow me on Soundcloud might find it familiar) is to be included on The Delaware Road, a brand new compilation scheduled for an early 2015 release on Alan Gubby’s Buried Treasure imprint – indeed you might remember their excellent Rare Psyche, Moogs and Brass LP of library obscurities from earlier this year. We’re decidedly chuffed to have been asked, and to be sharing the stage with such luminaries as Ian Helliwell, The Dandelion Set, Monoslapper et al. Your choice of vinyl, CD or DL and more details will follow in due course, but in the meantime I can reveal that this new work has been created entirely from the sound of a squeaky microphone cradle in a New Broadcasting House studio. You can even follow this very studio on Twitter, if that doesn’t feel like too ridiculous a pastime, and perhaps send it a congratulatory message or two for possessing such inordinately musical properties.
Now for the past. In an absurdly coincidental piece of good-timing, we’re equally chuffed to announce that this aforementioned new composition, as well as a couple of choice selections from Howlround’s growing back catalogue, were used to add a little chilly gravitas to BBC Radio 3’s Sunday feature ‘The Supernatural North’ last week. Presented by “New Generation Thinker” Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough and produced by Philippa Ritchie, the programme ‘journeys to Arctic Norway in search of the supernatural world that haunts the imagination of writers such as Philip Pullman, A.S. Byatt, C.S. Lewis, Hans Christian Andersen and the authors of the medieval Icelandic sagas’.
As the dark winter nights draw in, our thoughts turn to all things Northern – roaring fires and woolly jumpers, snow, ice, and the faint jingle of Father Christmas’s sleigh. But across the centuries, a weirder, wilder North has lurked in the imaginative shadows: a North populated by mountain trolls, demons and direwolves, white witches and white walkers, snow queens and Sámi shamans. Following the trail of a 9th century Norseman called Ohthere, who travelled along the northern coast of Norway and down to the White Sea in Russia, Eleanor sets out from the coastal city of Tromsø in northern Norway. But whereas Ohthere wanted to survey the land and acquire walrus ivory, reindeer and exotic furs, Eleanor is looking for a stranger North – a place inhabited by mountain trolls, witches and giants.
I don’t know about you, but they had me at ‘dark winter nights’. Plus there’s an intriguing moment involving the penis-bone of a Walrus for added measure, surely something no self-respecting documentary can do without nowadays. At the time of writing, ‘The Supernatural North’ is still available here for your listening pleasure, but the BBC does have some funny ideas about just how long such material should be made available for general consumption; so you’re advised to dig in while you still can. And anyone else working on investigations into direwolves, white witches and the like that will require sound-tracking is warmly encouraged to get in touch. I think you’ll find our rates most competitive.
Oh, and Happy Christmas, Everyone! Festive tidings to you and your kin from the happy hearth here at Fog Towers. Hope your Christmas is restful and jolly and entirely free of televised Forsythian light-ent dancing atrocities. We can but hope…