The Manifold Ghosts Of Christmas: In Wales, Dickensian London… And Space.

Hello You. Hope you have had a splendid Christmas with lots of family, food and fun in the correct ratios. I got two whole days off and spent them mostly outside surrounded by a blur of dogs, so I was happy. I was even happier on Boxing Day, which brought glad tidings of not one but two lengthy packages aired by the BBC that evening, in spite of my being ensconced up in the hills of Cumbria in the midst of the aforementioned canine-blur. Thanks to these tidings, I’m able to finally share with you a short radio drama I produced a few months ago with award-winning Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor. It’s a piece of fiction she wrote inspired by a particular 419 Scam letter that went viral earlier this year.

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419 letters, a kind of ‘phishing scam’ designed to trick gullible people into parting with their money, are a common enough occurrence, of course. Shortly after the death of Michael Jackson, I received an email that purported to be from his Doctor, claiming that as the King Of Pop™ was now unable to complete the ‘charity tour’ he had been planning, this had somehow freed up millions of dollars that he now wished to donate posthumously to sad orphans with leprosy or something. It speaks volumes that this arrived in my inbox at roughly the same time as the quack in question being sentenced to jail on prime-time US television for the involuntary manslaughter of the most famous person EVER. Most 419s are more sanguine and keep their feet firmly on the ground: they are generally written by pastors or exceptionally pious widows who happen to find themselves sat on a veritable goldmine that they can’t access due to a cruelly bureaucratic twist of fate – and only a random internet user like YOU can save the day. Generally banal but not inconceivable, it’s certainly true that very few of these letters play quite so fast and loose with the outer limits of plausibility as this one from a Mr. Bakare Tunde:

I am […] the cousin of Nigerian Astronaut, Air Force Major Abacha Tunde. He was the first African in space when he made a secret flight to the Salyut 6 space station in 1979. He was on a later Soviet spaceflight, Soyuz T-16Z to the secret Soviet military space station Salyut 8T in 1989. He was stranded there in 1990 when the Soviet Union was dissolved. His other Soviet crew members returned to earth on the Soyuz T-16Z, but his place was taken up by return cargo. There have been occasional Progrez supply flights to keep him going since that time. He is in good humor, but wants to come home. In the 14-years since he has been on the station, he has accumulated flight pay and interest amounting to almost $ 15,000,000 American Dollars […]

You get the idea – it’s basically a piece of science fiction that has now inspired another. Produced over the course of several weeks during the summer and with a voice track recorded from Lagos down the world’s worst ISDN line, ‘Afrofuturist 419’ was finally published a month or so ago in science fiction journal Clarkesworld Magazine, who very kindly allowed it to be broadcast on the BBC World Service’s flagship news programme Focus On Africa in celebration of Nnedi’s recent awards success. Here, Focus presenter Audrey Brown introduces  the story:

It’s traditional to tell each other spooky stories at this time of year, but today we’re bringing you something a little bit different. The Nigerian American writer Nnedi Okorafor has had a particularly busy year, with her science fiction story Binti winning both the 2016 Nebula and Hugo Awards for best novella, adding to the long list of accolades for her stories that explore other worlds and fantastical realms while retaining a strong connection to her Nigerian heritage – part of a wider tradition that has become known as ‘Afrofuturism’.
Here she presents her own take on a rather less noble form of storytelling that also got a lot of attention in 2016 – a so-called ‘419 scam letter’ begging for help in getting a stranded Nigerian Astronaut back to Earth. Recently published in celebrated American journal Clarkesworld Magazine, this audio version stars famous Nollywood actor Tchidi Chikere, members of the BBC’s Hausa service – and our own Robin [The Fog] on hand to provide the Sound FX. It’s not for the faint hearted… 

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Incidentally, it may interest you to know that the various sounds of ‘The Thing’ that features in the story were largely created with handfuls of paper and soap, while the bleeping spaceship atmosphere was provided by analogue synth tinkerer Mr. Jonny Stutters. You can find the transcript as it appeared in Clarkesworld here. The post also features the original audio files of the story, which can be accessed directly here. But for the full effect, listen again to Focus On Africa’s Boxing Day edition here for the next thirty days or so. Extra special thanks to Nnedi and Tchidi for being such a pleasure to work with, Haruna, Maura and Rachel from the BBC’s African services, Jonny and his magic bleeping boxes and of course to Clarkesworld Editor-in-Chief Neil Clarke for allowing us to broadcast it in the first place. Much obliged to you all!

All this excitement was followed a few hours later by something much more earth-bound and traditional, a seven-minute report I produced on the history of audiobooks at Christmas that closed that evening’s edition of The World Tonight on Radio 4. Introduced by Matthew Rubery, author of recently-published The Untold Story Of The Talking Book, it features numerous ghosts of Christmas past – quite literally with the inclusion of a 1934 recording of perennial favourite A Christmas Carol as well as the vintage voices of Charles Laughton and Dylan Thomas bringing us some festive tales of days gone by. You can listen to the feature as it went out on The World Tonight on the BBC website here (about half an hour into the programme) for the next few weeks, thought it’s probably best consumed within the next day or so, while savouring your last vestiges of Christmas cheer.

Speaking of which, while it doesn’t have much to do with our business here today, I used my Christmas gift token to buy a copy of the new Oxygene 3 album by Jean-Michel Jarre. Dear old Father Fog used to play me a cassette of the original Oxygene to calm me down as a baby, in doing so perhaps unwittingly kick-starting my complete infatuation with all aspects of electronic sound. It’s a work I’ve always loved and this latest volume is a most worthy addition to the series, but I can’t help feeling that someone in the packaging department might be harbouring a grudge against the Gallic synth master:

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Not very respectful, but it did raise a giggle or two when shared on Facebook. Don’t worry, M. Jarre. I still love you! I really do, actually…

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Look To The Skies – Howlround Shoots For The Moon

Hello you. It’s been an exciting couple of weeks, what with the physical stock of the new Howlround LP A Creak In Time finally touching down at Psyché Tropes HQ and our undertaking a busy weekend of live shows to celebrate its arrival. It all kicked off on Friday afternoon with the vinyl finally showing up – and the curious sensation of something in the air that evening as I travelled across the capital on my way to yet another one of my glamorous showbiz shindigs. Moments later I was proved quite literally correct when I emerged from Liverpool Street station, looked up at the sky and beheld that the very moon itself had taken on an uncanny resemblance to the album’s sleeve-art. Next thing I know, I’m getting a buzz in my pocket with the news of a long-awaited arrival in Hackney Central. Could this be some sort of sign? An emphatic YES, quite frankly:
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I was regrettably unable to personally capture this moment – commuters were tutting and zig-zagging past me, plus my phone doesn’t even have ‘Snake’ on it – but thankfully fellow sound-shaper Janine A’Bear responded to some frantic texting and took the above photograph from her garden in Amhurst Road. Of course a mere snapshot could never do justice to the full incomprehensible wonder of the celestial miracle being worked high above our heads (the moon being quite a long way from Hackney, after all), but I do hope it offers you some idea of the kind of mystical forces that are clearly throwing their cosmic heft behind this latest project – bending the conventional laws of physics to give the UK’s premier experimental tape-loop quartet a lunar leg-up. I hereby have the utmost confidence in proclaiming Howlround the first ever band to successfully incorporate a heavenly body into a promotional campaign and to henceforth brand this the greatest and most cost-effective piece of viral marketing EVER. How you like them silver apples, Coca Cola?!

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The following morning I was able to inspect the vinyl first-hand and I have to say it’s been more than worth the wait. A Creak In Time looks and sounds absolutely magnificent, beautifully mastered and pressed on heavyweight 180g vinyl with full-colour inner and outer sleeves, as well as a link to stream the film in full online and of course the obligatory digital download. Full credit must go to film director, creative whirlwind and Psyché Tropes lynchpin Steven McInerney for doing such a fantastic job of putting it all together. Please watch the trailer, enjoy these glossy promotional shots of the album in all its glory, then head over to the Psyché Tropes website to order a copy of your own:

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Thanks also to everyone who came down to IKLECTIK the following evening for the official launch party, held as part of a two day residency by sound artist Pascal Savy. The event featured live performances from Pascal, Steve under his Merkaba Macabre alias and of course ourselves; as well as the premier screening of the A Creak In Time in front of an extremely enthusiastic audience. Could their be a more appropriate venue for launching such a project into the world than this secret corner of central London that still retains much sense of its previous life as a Buddhist monastery? Thanks once again to Pascal for inviting us. Hoping to hear new music from him in 2017 as well!

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Photo by Strictly Kev

The following evening, and in keeping with Howlround’s ever-growing reputation for playing in unusual venues, we played the Rotherhithe Shaft at the Brunel Museum, a remarkable piece of engineering history now given a new life as a performance and exhibition space. Part of another two-day residency, this time courtesy of Goldsmith’s College and their regular EAVI events; we shared the bill with Lee Patterson, Áine O’Dwyer  and the duo of Wajid Yaseen & Anthony Elliot. I must say this was one of my favourite performances of the 2016, an absolutely fantastic event and a great way to finish off a busy year. Even if Elizabeth did conk out about ten minutes into the show. Oh, those stubborn old ladies…

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Photo courtesy Hypo.io

You can jude for yourself by listening to an extract from our set above, a loose interpretation of one of the tracks from the A Creak In Time using some of the loops that didn’t quite make the final cut. It might not quite capture the effect of blazing it out at high volume deep within the bowels of the earth, but it will hopefully offer an impression of just how deep and dark things got – literally! Thanks again to Adam, Rob and the team for having us. I wonder where we should try and play next? ‘First band on the moon’ would certainly be a nice accolade and after this week’s happenings it all seems a little less highly implausible…

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Finally, in a change of subject, please enjoy not one but TWO editions of Resonance FM’s Near Mint show, in an attempt to atone for my slackness in bringing them to your attention over the last couple of weeks – although frankly there are only so many hours in the day. Entitled ‘Copenhagen Contemporary Classics’ and ‘Slightly Strange Sevens’ they respectively contain some of the most beautiful recordings I’ve bought to you over the last few months – and some of the very strangest. For best results, listen to these shows end-to-end, enjoying the curious frisson that comes from juggling the austere minimalist majesty of the likes of Vanessa Amara against recorded instructions on how to play the bongos, balance your ‘equipment’ or operate a typewriter at 130wpm. As so frequently happens on these pages, it’s a chance to celebrate once again the subtle interplay between the utterly sublime and the completely ridiculous:

Right, that’ll do it for now. Suppose I’d better get cracking on putting my end of year music mix together. It’s been a particularly bumper crop for 2016, which given the state of the world at the moment is just as well….


Up The Creak! – New Howlround LP / Film Now On Pre-Order And There’s A Premier Screening Too!

Hello You. And welcome to a most exciting and auspicious day in the History of Howl! For it is today that, following a seemingly endless period of keeping the whole thing under our hats, I can finally reveal to you Howlround’s latest and greatest work, a unique audio-visual project produced in collaboration with filmmaker Steven McInerney and bearing the title A Creak In Time. 

Two years in the making, the original soundtrack LP is now available to pre-order from the Psyché Tropes label, pressed on heavyweight 180g vinyl with printed inner sleeve. Plus each copy comes complete with digital album download and a link to stream the film in full online. All that for a bargain £12 plus shipping. Not too shabby!

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Pre-order your copy here.

It’s a hugely proud moment to be sharing this with you, it’s been a long trip putting this project together we’ve been stubbornly refusing to let anything out the gate until it was just right. Steve in particular has been a real lynchpin, agonising over every shot, every cut and every frame – but as you can see from these production stills it’s been more than worth the effort. Just take a look at some of the images below, they’re nothing short of astonishing!

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From The Obligatory Press Release:

The players: Comprised of Robin The Fog, Chris Weaver and four reel to reel tape machines, Howlround create unique and immersive compositions and performances by direct manipulation of natural acoustic sounds on magnetic tape, with all additional effects and artificial reverb strictly forbidden. For this soundtrack, their most ambitious yet, the group have created a striking body of work made entirely from field recordings of different objects creaking: tiny and insignificant sounds, that, when amplified and extended via magnetically charged oxide particles begin to take on a curious new identity.

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…Taken from source material discovered in London, Yosemite and the Mojave desert, these sounds, through simple manipulation, gradually cast off their moorings and head into space, leaving their original identities far behind and chiming perfectly with the film’s recurring themes of transformation and altered perception, switching scale in a heartbeat from microscopic topography to the vast distances of the cosmos. Shot entirely on 16mm film with a  musique concréte soundtrack, it’s both science and fiction and marks a dramatic new direction for all involved.

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The Director: Steven McInerney is an Australian born multidisciplinary artist based in London. He is the founder of Psyché Tropes, an experimental label and film project focusing on the synaesthetic intersections between sound and its visual counterpart. Working predominately with 16mm and sound he creates recherché non-narrative works using in-camera and camera-less filmmaking techniques while performing live audio visual shows as Merkaba Macabre.

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Making Planets: Steven McInerney on the set.

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Official Album Launch and Premier Screening on Saturday December 10th

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Of course any album worth it’s 180g needs a launch party and it just so happens that we have two – sort of! First off there’s the Official Launch and Premier Screening of the film at London’s Iklektik on Saturday 10th December as part of a two-day residency by artist Pascal Savy. It will be the first ever public outing of A Creak In Time and there will be live performances by Howlround, Steve’s Merkaba Macabre alter-ego and of course Pascal himself to celebrate. A former Buddhist temple and one of the Capital’s best-kept secrets, we can’t think of a more appropriate venue from which to launch this new project in style! Further information is available here and tickets, which are expected to sell sharp-ish, can be found here. Please come celebrate with us if you can!

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If you can’t make Saturday night, Howlround will also be playing a (moderately!) more traditional tape loop set at the world-famous Brunel Museum the following evening, Sunday 11th December. No stranger to unusual venues, we’ll be spooling up inside the tunnel shaft itself alongside Lee PattersonÁine O’Dwyer and Wajid Yaseen & Anthony Elliot, all at the behest of of Goldsmiths as part of their regular EAVI events. OK, so not exactly a launch party per se – it would be a little cheeky/wildly inaccurate to suggest that all these goodly folk were gathered here purely because we happen to have a new record to show off, but we’re certainly hoping it will help spread the word a little further. Tickets are available here. NB as both of these events happen to be spread over the weekend, do please make sure you’ve got the right dates!

In Summary…

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New Howlround Vinyl! Hurrah!

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Tickets to the Premier Now Available! Hurrah!