Not quite sure where the last week has gone, but here is my report for BBC World Service and Radio 4 regarding the recently released documentary How We Used To Live. Directed by Paul Kelly, written by Travis Elborough and Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, with a beautiful original soundtrack supplied by the band’s Pete Wiggs, it’s an archive movie that has been getting some splendid reviews, including five whole stars in The Guardian.
Produced to promote a screening of the film with a live soundtrack at BFI Southbank in London as part of their London On Film season, it’s appearance on these pages is indeed a little late to be of any practical use, but the season continues throughout the summer with many other delights in store and I’m reliably informed that How We Used To Live will be imminently available on DVD via Heavenly Films. I certainly hope so, it’s one of my very favourite cinematic experience of the last couple of years. Have a listen while admiring the following stills to whet your appetite:
In other exciting news I was granted a rare insight this week into the working methods of the late musicologist, instrument-builder and experimental musician Hugh Davies, with a trip to the Science Museum‘s labyrinthine storage facility at Blythe House in West London. Their vast archive contains a number of his original tape loops and other equipment donated by his estate, and it was my job as a reel-to-reel tape loop aficionado to help with their cataloguing and digitising, along with Aleksander Kolkowski (who you might remember was responsible for the museum’s Denman Exponential Horn exhibition last year) and Dr. James Mooney of Leeds University, whose research project into Hugh’s work was the catalyst for all this activity.
It was a task not without its challenges as much of the splicing tape used to create the loops had dried out completely over the years, requiring careful replacing – but in a way didn’t cause any damage to an already aged and brittle format, which required a most steady hand. Much of the material appeared to date from the early 1970s, though some may have been a decade or more older than that and indeed I worried that some of the tapes would be completely unplayable – apart from anything else it’s very hard to play even fresh tape loops without damaging them a little, they don’t give up their secrets easily. Thankfully they displayed tremendous fortitude and and nearly all of the loops in the collection rewarded our patience with some strange audio treasure of one sort or another. Housed in a variety of domestic cardboard boxes (including the former home of some Zartbitte Schokolade, complete with Hugh’s hand-written notes, doodles and another annotations, it was a humbling to think that we might be the first people to hear this material in over four decades. And of how much longer the sounds buried within these loops might have survived had they not been captured digitally. The boxes have disappered back into the archive and who knows when they’ll next see the light of day? It could be another thirty years!
Obviously I’m unable to share any of this material with you – it’s not my research! But James was very excited by our findings, as we all were, and I’m sure at some point in the future he’ll be ready to share them with the wider world. Until that happens, I’ll leave you with a classic short clip of Hugh at work, including some virtuoso egg-slicer action!
— BBC Radio 6 Music (@BBC6Music) July 18, 2015
First off, thanks very much to Stuart Maconie and producer Rebecca Gaskell for allowing me to play records and talk foley on BBC 6Music’s Freakier Zone this week. If you missed it and fancy hearing 100% exclusive extracts from Howlround‘s very-nearly-finished fourth album (including one track so new it had to be hurriedly assembled prior to broadcast) plus personal sound FX selections including the immortal ‘Grotbag’s Cauldon’, you can listen again here. There’s treats aplenty, even if I do say so myself!
Speaking of exclusive treats, I’d like to hereby present for your approval Howlround‘s first ever promo video and the unveiling of another brand new track ‘OH’, produced in collaboration with abandoned playground aka US musician and fellow tape enthusiast Ray Carmen:
The track is created entirely from microcassette recordings made by Ray in the 1990s – of his infant daughter, chimes in the park and distant train sirens. As soon as we heard them it quickly became apparent that they were crying out for some deep spool action and Ray has very kindly obliged. Some have called the results our finest work yet, or at least our most accessible. I’m happy to go along with either, quite frankly.
Howlround are also very pleased to reveal that an edited version of the above features on a brand new 16-track charity compilation XPYLON, released on August 5th and featuring Kemper Norton, Cindy Talk, Time Attendant, Dolly Dolly, Ekoplekz alter-ego Gloria Gloucestershire and side-projects by members of Hacker Farm and Band Of Holy Joy – all artists released by or associated with the now sadly-defunct record label and radio show Exotic Pylon. 100% of proceeds from the sale of this compilation will be donated to mental health charity Mind, so it’s a worthy cause as well as a thoroughly stimulating listen. Pre-order your copy here.
Incidentally, the compilation also features an exclusive track by The British Space Programme, the latest project by ace music producer and Quiet World label-boss Ian Holloway. The debut BSP album Eyes Turned Skyward is out now and is really rather super. Unfortunately Ian recently had a rather nasty altercation with a flight of stairs, resulting in a horrific-sounding knee-injury, swiftly followed by hospitalisation and surgery, so it looks as if future projects might be somewhat delayed. Thankfully he appears to be on the road to recovery, though justifiably a little miffed with being house-bound. Why not help speed that recovery along by browsing the extensive Quiet World catalogue and perhaps making a purchase or two? Just a thought…
Finally, you might have noticed the ‘OH’ promo video is dedicated to broadcaster, inventor, and polymath Bob Symes, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The reason for this dedication will be immediately apparent to anyone aware of the great man and his work, but I would urge everyone else to take five minutes out of their lives and watch this clip of him in action on BBC TV in the 1970s. Whatever your opinion regarding modified coffee tables, if the sheer, unbridled enthusiasm he shows towards the subject (as for seemingly everything he turned his hand to) doesn’t warm your heart, nothing will. An ‘eye-smiler’ as my flatmate observed when I forced her to sit through it. Or as Bob himself might say, ‘Really remarkable’. Bravo, sir, and RIP.
Howlround back in the lab for one final stab at finishing the new LP. This Vine video uploaded by Chris during the session (he has a smartphone!) caused much excitement on Twitter over the weekend, so I thought you might appreciate a re-appraisal. Look closely and you’ll count four machines in use simultaneously, with tension and restraint being provided in the absence of a mic stand by Buddah (which is oddly appropriate), the handlebars of my bike, a pint glass full of batteries and small change; and of course my ‘Stockhausen Syndrome’ mug, which is probably the single funniest object I own…
A number of surprisingly effusive people have already contacted us enquiring just what kind of composition were we cooking up with such a glorious tangle of tape and when they would be able to hear the results? Well, sooner than you might think as it happens as I shall be doing a turn on Stuart Maconie’s Freakier Zone on BBC Radio 6 Music this coming Saturday evening. We’ll be discussing the relationship between music and foley, which is of course PURE HOWLROUND TERRITORY, so I’ll be playing some selections from our catalogue including an extract from this latest work-in-progress, as well as examples of some of my favourite ‘composed sound effects’ from the great Radiophonicists of the past. There might even be something from the forthcoming Howlround album! Join us there, won’t you?
Now that the dust has settled, Howlround would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended both our performance and sound installation as part of the Jardins Efémeros Festival and also to everyone who helped in making it come to pass. There are far too many people to name individually, but particular gratitude must go to Sandras Oliverira and Rodrigues, Filipe Oliveira, Lino Ferreira, Jose Cruzio, the staff of both the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco and the Funerária D. Duarte and of course the ever-resourceful sound engineers Cristóvão Cunha and José Marques for putting up with our myriad of strange demands! And of course to Rui Miguel Abreu for kick-starting our participation in the whole affair – we owe all of these people several beers and will do our best to make good on this at some point. It was certainly one of our most memorable performances both for location, attendance, reception and dramatic incident – though thankfully poor Delia now seems to have recovered! Here’s a brief extract again in case you missed it:
And what a magnificent festival it’s been, encompassing performances, installations, workshops, sculptures, exhibits and DJs that took over the whole town, attracting both young and old, local and international. Unfortunately, the preparation of our own works required much squirrelling away in the backroom of our temporary studio-cum-abandoned-tie-shop and missing some fine work as a result, but we did our best to catch up where possible. Pye Corner Audio (the only other UK act on the bill) and Not Waving‘s joint set was predictably awesome but there were plenty of new personal discoveries too including supercharged garage punk from Dirty Coal Train plus ethereally brilliant solo sets from Johnathan Saldanha and Hysterical One Man Orchestra, both of HHY & The Macumbas. To our great regret we missed their group’s collective performance due to being locked in the museum (and who hasn’t had that happen to them at some point?), but made up for it with Lybomyr Melnyk‘s lengthy, dexterous and evocative solo piano works in the splendour of Viseu’s 16th Century Cathedral, not to mention Barcelona’s Eli Gras incorporating sound toys and bizarre home-made instruments into a set that had all the infectious enthusiasm of a kid in a sonic sweet shop. Away from the live music, DJ Sonido Tupinamba dropping some Yma Sumac and Martin Denny in the town square was a perfect backdrop to a restorative afternoon beverage and I really should also thank that one bar (the name of which escapes me) that both allowed and encouraged me to spin Oldskool Hip Hop on a borrowed laptop. Fun times, but there’s so much that I’ve left out!
Sadly the festival (including our sound installation at the Funerária) ends this weekend, but if you’re in the vicinity there’s still plenty to see before the curtain comes down and the gardens themselves are cleared away on Sunday night. Our thanks go once again to festival curator, organiser, lynchpin and hardest working woman in Portugal, Sandra Oliveira, for putting the whole thing together and not sleeping for days. We’re hoping you get to have a holiday at some point – and that you’ll let us come back next time!
A rather hurried post at the culmination of a manic week preparing for our sound installation and performance for the Jardins Efémeros Festival in Viseu, Portugal. A more considered write-up will doubtless be forthcoming, but for now I thought you might enjoy these images and this extract from last night’s set in the magnificent C15th cloister of the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco – our first ever open-air performance!
Thankfully the intense heat combined with a slight breeze that threatened to blow our tape loops around had calmed by the time of our 23.30 performance, though the evening was not without its dramatic moments, including a significant chunk of our set in which our reel-to-reel machine ‘Delia’ appeared to give up the ghost completely. For added intrigue, it just so happens that our performance occurred on the 14th anniversary of the death of her Radiophonic namesake. I’m not a superstitious man, but I’m pretty certain there’s some symbolism at work in there somewhere. Thankfully she clicked back into life after some tense moments and a lot of silent pleading and is now recuperating in our surprisingly plush hotel:
Away from the stage, our sound installation at the Funerária D. Duarte runs throughout the festival and thanks must go to the staff for being so obliging in allowing us free play among the coffins in the back room.
The work itself is some twenty-seven minutes in total and consists of the Funerária staff (all members of the same family) talking about their work mixed in with a soundscape of Viseu using recordings gathered from local abandoned buildings and subjected to the patented Howlround treatment at our temporary studio in the back room of a former tie shop. Our favourite piece of feedback so far has got to be a reported ‘Mummy, where are all the dinosaurs?’
Jardins Efémeros runs until 12th July and it’s proving to be a remarkable achievement, quite literally transforming the town. Our gratitude must of course go to festival curator and lynchpin Sandra Oliveira, our translator Lino and all our new friends for being so welcoming and supportive. We’ve been so busy preparing for our own contributions since our arrival last week that we haven’t actually had time to check out much of the festival yet, but one thing that particularly captured my own imagination during a brief tea-break was Vanda Rodrigues‘ ‘Cloud Room’, stepping into which felt like entering a Boards Of Canada video!