Spectral Spools, Amplified Olympia And XPylons

Olympia

It’s been a busy old week at Fog Towers since my return from Copenhagen, culminating in a morning spent wandering around the famous Kensington Olympia with some contact microphones looking for some hidden sounds to record. Currently in-between exhibitions and deserted save for a small army of cleaning and maintenance staff, I was lucky enough to be given full access to this enormous exhibition centre, including its surprisingly loud PA system. The reason for all this will be unveiled next month when I’m planning to return to the building to present the results of my audio adventures. For the moment I’ll just let it be known that playing the sounds of doors creaking, glass being rubbed and the ascension of a scissor-lift back into the cavernous main hall at high volume while staff continue their work undaunted was about the most fun it’s possible to have before lunchtime. Like being given the keys to an enormous empty toyshop…

In other news, here’s what the next Howlround album sounds like:

Howlround Spectral Analysis

Following a flying visit to Veneration Music‘s studio in deepest, darkest Kent, I’m very excited to be able to reveal this first glimpse of our next LP – quite literally. It has a title, cover artwork and, thanks to the nurturing hands of genius mastering engineer James Edward Barker, is now primped, polished and ready to go. As with our previous album, the services of this most talented musician/producer/polymath was largely paid for in Butterscotch flavour Angel Delight – a very reasonable price for a chap who’s just been working with Bruce Willis. We’re very excited about it all, but for the moment this enigmatic glimpse of the audio files is all you’re getting! Hoping for a November release, but you know how these things have a tendency to get held up…

On the same subject, you might remember me harping on about Howlround’s first ever music video few weeks back. Why not watch it again? It’s very good but I need to get the play-count up:

I mention it here again because the charity compilation album XPYLON from which this track (a collaboration with Ray Carmen’s abandoned playground) was taken is finally out and available in all it’s 16-exclusive-track glory. As well as benefiting a good cause, it’s also a tribute to Jonny Mugwump’s erstwhile Exotic Pylon record label and radio show,  and the stellar line-up below is the perfect testament to his legacy. All original and exclusive material and it’s a ‘name your price‘ release, which means you simply pay what you think it’s worth – but as 100% of all proceeds are being donated to mental health charity ‘MIND‘, a generous donation is always appreciated.

But don’t just take my word as to its quality, a rather flattering review courtesy of Jim Haynes has surfaced in this month’s Wire magazine:

Xpylon Wire Review

Now that the album has been released, I’m suddenly reminded that I actually feature on the album twice, firstly in my capacity representing Howlround and secondly as one third of new super-group The Trunchbulls, alongside Band Of Holy Joy lynchpin Johny Brown (who wrote the tremendously eerie accompanying text) and Exotic Pylon legend Dolly Dolly (who spoke it and did the eerily tremendous job one might expect after listening to his 2013 album Antimacassar). Anyway, put it down to a busy work-load, to concentrating over-hard on finishing off the aforementioned Howlround long-player or just encroaching senility, but somehow the memory of working alongside these two excellent fellows and the resulting ‘polyglot of Derbyshire-esque Radiophonics’ (thanks Jim!) slipped to the bottom of my mental pile. I’d better post it up here before it slips my mind again:

One thing I haven’t forgotten is Jez Butler‘s superb A Lighter Side Of Concrete from a year or so ago. Heavily influenced by the work of  twang-a-ruler-and-make-a-bassline-out-of-it Radiophonic Workshop legend John Baker, it’s an album of decidedly chirpy concrete-pop that I still feel has been rather unfairly slept on. Well, his latest release as part of the Twelve Hour Foundation with partner Polly Hulse is out now on a limited edition three-track 7″ and it’s really quite marvellous. Continuing the legacy of his solo album, it’s a ridiculously catchy affair that sounds like the theme tune to an early 1980s BBC Schools programme about robots or the periodic table – like something Paddy Kingsland might have cooked up for the greatest-ever episode of Zig-Zag, on a spring morning while enjoying a bourbon. Look, I’m running out of analogies, OK? Just give it a listen already!

And speaking of John Baker, I’m ridiculously over-excited at the imminent release of The Vendetta Tapes on Alan Gubby’sBuried Treasure imprint. Alan worked extensively on the Trunk compilation The Baker Tapes several years ago and I believe these tracks represent a further trove of ultra-rare obscurities from one of the Workshop’s true pioneers: incidental music, theme tunes, jingles and special effects culminating in a delicate balance of sleazy jazz, musique concrete and subtle electronics. I was excited then and I’m excited now, especially as I had confidently assumed that after the Trunk release the trail would have gone cold. After all, the BBC does have a deservedly awful reputation when it comes to preserving it’s own archive – though the recent BFI box set of Out Of The Unknown was most welcome, it served as much to highlight the fact that more than half of the episodes of that series have been lost forever, including stories by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asmiov and Nigel Kneale – a travesty, quite frankly. Thank heavens for enthusiasts like Alan who manage to get past the bureaucracy and red tape and finally give these treasures an airing! Limited edition and selling fast, don’t sleep on this one:

Well, that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Next week I’m off to York to record the sound of vintage Grandfather Clocks. Busy old summer…


Strøm: ‘A Study In Alluring Scary’

Soundvenue-cisternerne-done-3

Photos by Rasmus Kongsgaard

Well, what an adventure I had this week! Huge thanks to the Strøm Festival and to everyone who came down to the sold-out show at Cisternerne on Monday night to witness performances by myself and Logos. It was an honour to play in such an unique space with an incredible natural acoustic, so I made sure I stepped up to the occasion with a set of brand new material and the longest loops I’ve ever made, running for several meters across the space and balanced precariously above the permanently wet and grimy floor. They certainly appeared to impress the crowd:

Soundvenue-cisternerne-done-9

I realise it is customary at this point for me to include an audio extract from the performance via my Soundcloud Page, but on this occasion I regret to say that I’m unable to do so – the performance was deliberately tailored to play to the Cisternerne’s seventeen second reverb and so a simple ‘output recording’ would be missing half of the experience. I believe that there was some filming and recording taking place, so perhaps that will surface at some point, but for the moment those of you who couldn’t get a ticket will just have to take my word that it was an amazing experience. Plus I’m hoping that I will be allowed to give this historic structure the full ‘album treatment’ some time next year, a proposition that Strøm top-brass appear to be intrigued by, so all is not lost. Until such times, please enjoy these photos by Rasmus Kongsgaard together with some snappy sound-bites derived from running the article they came from through some slightly ropey online translation software:

Although cisterns are worth a visit in itself, it is electronic music of the most radical and uncompromising kind that is in the centre at tonight Power-event.

Soundvenue-cisternerne-done-7

There is no anywhere other than exactly here that these works may be noticed in this way. There’s nowhere else you can stand underground and fall in spell over a flickering candle while vaulting around you is echoing with issue noise from another world.

Distorted locomotive whistle, deep roar that could evoke an imam fair and elongated, umelodiøse soundscapes instantly puts the listener in a state of alluring scary. For although it is extremely difficult to get hold of the sonic bursts that puts both eardrums and stalactites in swings, and most of all sounds like the soundtrack to a dystopian sci-fi nightmare, it’s impossible not to be drawn into .

Soundvenue-cisternerne-done-4

The following afternoon I was performing my secondary role at the festival of leading a workshop on field recording and composition using some of the basic principles of musique concréte, as part of Strøm’s summer school programme open to students across Europe and beyond. This took place on a converted dredging ship by the docks, which made for a terrifically fertile environment for our class of 36 enthusiastic students to explore. Before long groups of people were scattered all around this waterside complex, looking for things to rub, hit and scrape. It was incredibly gratifying to observe these discoveries and to have such an attentive class, many of whom seemed to have a natural ear for spotting sounds ripe for manipulation – the small group I was leading found a very tasty drainpipe and nearly gave themselves permanent hearing damage in the process!

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A quick break from all the scraping, rubbing and hitting. Photo by Ingeborg Okkels

The plan had been for each small group to submit their best material to be dubbed onto quarter-inch tape and then for all the recordings to be appraised together as a class and worked into some sort of composition; while outlining some of the techniques that magnetic tape puts at one’s disposal. Unfortunately my quartet of reel-to-reels were feeling rather uncooperative that afternoon – perhaps still sore at spending the preceding evening in what was to all intents and purposes a dungeon – and so refused to put anything at anyone’s disposal what-so-ever. Thankfully I was still able to demonstrate some basic tape loop construction, though the bulk of the composition was demonstrated on my trusty-though-less-interesting laptop – did the job, just wasn’t as much of an immersive experience.

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Tape loop demonstration. Photo by Ingeborg Okkels

However, feeling that this itch hadn’t quite been scratched, I pulled out their recordings again when I arrived back at my studio last night and knocked the above short piece together. Hopefully it will retrospectively offer the students a clearer idea of the things we were discussing and provide some much-needed closure for me!

Before I forget, extra special thanks must go to Jim Slade (and family!), Pernille Krogmog and Allan Hansen for making it all happen, to co-performer and fellow-junglist Logos and of course to Laura Yawira Scheffer for being a shining beacon – quite literally as it was very hard to de-rig in the pitch darkness of the Cisternerne and her smartphone had a torch. Now I really must have a serious word with those naughty machines Daphne and Delia. I’m certainly not taking them on tour with William Basinski if they’re going to misbehave like this!

Oh, did I mention Howlround were going on tour with William Basinski? I did? Well, expect me to continue harping on about it for a while yet…

Decay Flier


Strøm Festival 10.08.15 – Sounds From The Cisternerne Sold Out!

Strom Poster

I wouldn’t say my career was ‘on the line’ as such… (arf arf!)

Tremendously excited to announce further details of my performance as part of the Strøm Festival in Copenhagen next week. I shall be playing a solo tape-loop set of almost entirely exclusive material, quite possibly including tracks from the forthcoming Howlround LP (which now has a title, a full track-listing and is awaiting the gentle touch of our mastering engineer – but I’m not giving anything else away just yet)! And just LOOK at the venue we’ve been given to play with! This is Copenhagen’s Cisternerne, an underground former reservoir with a seventeen second natural reverb. Seventeen seconds, ladies and gentleman!

Cisternerne I shall also be running a sound recording and composition workshop the following day on a converted dredging boat, so it just goes to show you how skilled the Danes are at turning recycling interesting locations into amazing arts venues! Both have now sold out, but you can learn more about the former here and discover what my biography reads like in Danish here. The mighty Logos is playing on the same evening, so it’s shaping up to be quite an event. Hopefully see you there, if you managed to get a ticket!