2016 In Retrospect Part 2 – Spools Out

Hello you. This second part of my 2016 retrospective was supposed to appear on these pages over a week ago, but the new year has brought with it fresh challenges and fresh demands for my attention, so there’s been precious little time to marshal thoughts and stockpile memories to treasure. I realise that by now it’s probably far too late harp on about the old year, particularly as so many of you are probably trying to blot out the fact that it ever happened. Nonetheless, I’m a firm believer in starting each new year with a blank canvas, and that a certain amount of deck-clearing and slate-cleaning is paramount before doing so. Plus the fact is that despite the many unpleasant and upsetting incidents that occurred, both personally and in the world at large, the year still offered up a number of opportunities to engage in highly stimulating projects, many of which I consider to be worthy of at least one last hurrah before I finally send them packing. So here, with minimum of fuss, are ten randomly selected moments that actually gave me reason to get out of bed in 2016:

1. Live at the Brunel Museum:

Starting off nice and simple, Howlround’s final set of the year took place just a few weeks ago at the bottom of Brunel’s shaft in Rotherhithe, East London, courtesy of Adam Parkinson, Rob Mullender and Goldsmith’s EAVI collective. Could there be a more appropriate venue for our performance of industrial-mechanical concréte sounds played out on vintage equipment? Off the top of my head, only one, but that comes along later…


2. Radio Revolten:

As part of a month-long series of experimental broadcasts and performances in the East German city of Halle, Howlround provided two live Revolten sessions, the first a live performance alongside Chris Cutler (in fact, due to his having to catch an early flight we were technically headlining!) and then the studio session broadcasting live on FM across Saxany-Anhalt, from which the above clip is taken. Oh, and I also ended up DJing for almost six hours in the cinema and then spent most of my wages on weird old electronica LPs in a sleep-deprived stupor. A damn fine way to spend a week, all told, if  little costly.  Thanks to Knut and Sarah from Radio Revolten and Glenn from Octopus Collective for making it all possible, plus Gabi Schaffner for this decidedly spiffy photo:

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3. Halim El-Dabh Profile:

What an honour it was to talk to the great man and pioneering composer Halim El-Dabh for Radio 4, in celebration of his new album Sanza Time, produced in collaboration with the musician Ron Slabe and released during his 95th summer. Halim first made electronic music history far back in 1944, and has no plans to retire any time soon (‘I have a whole big job ahead of me!’ he chuckled when I broached the subject), let’s hope we can all match that sense of wonder and excitement when approaching our own centenaries. Frankly I’m still amazed Radio 4 let me cover it…

Halim


4. East Tower Residency, White City:

Produced in conjunction with arts organisation White Noise and Resonance FM, Howlround’s brief here was to create a site-specific performance and a suite of recordings designed to capture the essence of this unloved and neglected part of the former BBC Television Centre complex in the weeks up to its demolition. Using nothing but the sounds of the building, the project began with wandering around the deserted upper floors gathering source material and ended with a live performance and broadcast from the top of the tower in front of an audience of invited guests. A personal highlight was discovering the most magnificent bass tones simply by pushing my sound recorder into a large cardboard tube left in one of the offices and hitting record – hey presto, phat dubstep-style bass with no effort at all!  Strange to think that these recordings are now pretty much all that is left of this former long-term home of youth programming, the destruction of which came almost immediately afterwards. Whereas Amboy, that other main inspiration for recordings produced this year, had been a more or less a ghost for years and remains so today, this building was rapidly becoming one the entire time I was there. Now there’s practically nothing to show it ever existed. Apart from some luxury flats, but it’s not as if they’re in short supply in London nowadays, is it? Still got a handful of recordings from these sessions I’d like to put out at some point….

East Tower - Picture East Tower - Lights


5. Delia Derbyshire Day:

A report produced for Radio 4 back in January, celebrating the legacy of the pioneering ‘sculptress of sound’ Delia Derbyshire through premiering rare and previously unreleased recordings from her archive, commissioning new works from modern artists inspired by her work; and even engaging in Radiophonic composition workshops for children and families. A pleasing mixture of unheard treasures and opportunities to inspire ‘the next generation of wonky musicians’ as workshop leader Caro C put it. ‘I think [Delia] would have been ticked pink …and then pitched in!’ added archive custodian Dr. David Butler. Could not have said it better myself…


6. The Museum Of Last Parties:

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The most amazing evening, performing at the Museum of London at the behest of the ever dapper of Mr. Jonny Trunk. Howlround spooled tape loops with DJ Food on decks ‘n’ FX to create a sound installation over the course of several hours, all to an audience lounging on asteroid-shaped beanbags and all in the very shadow of the 2012 Olympic Torch! We haven’t yet had a moment to go through the three hours of recordings we captured that night, but I’m sure it’ll surface somewhere eventually. Quintuple vinyl box set, anyone?

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L-R Weaver, Trunk, Fog, Food


7. The Blow Vol. 2:

So proud of this split cassette recorded with Time Attendant for Manchester’s Front And Follow label. Howlround’s side of the cassette was created entirely from a single sound source discovered on a trip to legendary almost-ghost town Amboy in the Mojave desert, with my friend Kaitlyn and a Garth Brooks CD. The strangest thing is how cold and slushy it ended up sounding, despite being recorded on one of the hottest, driest days I’ve ever experienced, something that I’m putting down once again to the endlessly transformative properties of tape. The reviews went even further:

‘Manually manipulating reels that feel like they’ve only recently been exhumed, the duo weave a dense tapestry as haunting and immersive as Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson‘s Legend Of Hell House Soundtrack’ – The Wire, Nov 2016

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8. Live at Brompton Cemetery:

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Beating Brunel’s shaft by a narrow margin (not a sentence I ever imagined typing), venue of the year was certainly the gothic domed splendour of this listed Victorian chapel as part of the London Month Of The Dead festival. Set in the heart of one of London’s historic ‘Gardens Of Sleep’, could there be a more suitable venue for a candlelit autumnal performance of Howlround’s ghostly tape loops, unearthly wheezings and spooky clankings; all consumed by a sell-out crowd through the warm fuggy glow of a Hendrik’s gin cocktail, one of the strongest liquids this scribe has ever imbibed? I very much doubt it! Once again, nothing has been done with the recordings as of yet, but I’m quite sure they’ll come back to haunt us all eventually, once I get a moment to go through them! Thanks to Stephen from Antique Beat, Suzette from A Curious Invitation and that one lady who jumped up to help when one of the tapes started spooling all over the floor of the chapel. Greatly obliged, all….

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Photo by Ben Soundhog

Thanks must also go to Nick and Sam of Hook Research, who shot this rather super video of my preparations for the performance as part of an article entitled ‘Hearing Hidden Worlds’:


9. Cities And Memory London Underground Sound Map:

TheNextStation

Cities and Memory in collaboration with The London Sound Survey produced this epic sound-map of the London Underground that mixes up field recordings of many of the stations on the network with a number of artistic interpretations provided by a diverse selection of musicians, producers and sound artists. Perfect for getting lost in, you could spend hours happily immersed in the huge amount of work available for you perusal. Or if you happen to be in a hurry, Howlround’s own contribution, a treatment of Embankment Station, can be found here. Far more pleasurable than having to interact with the London Underground in real life, as I’m sure I won’t need to tell you.


10. A Creak In Time:

As a final choice this was a no-brainer. Two years in the making, Howround’s fifth album proper is the soundtrack to an astonishing experimental film by Australian director Steven McInerney, released on 180g vinyl (complete with streaming and download links) on his own Psyché Tropes imprint. Almost certainly the most beautiful looking-and-sounding project I’ve ever been involved with. It’s early days still, but already had kind words from DJ Food and Dr. Alex Paterson of The Orb, with hopefully more to follow. Order your copy here.

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For this soundtrack, the group have created their most ambitious work yet, made entirely from tiny and insignificant sounds, that, when amplified and extended via magnetically charged oxide particles of the tape, take on a dramatic new identity. 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, 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 combined, marking a dramatic new direction for all involved.


Well, that’s enough to be getting on with. There was so much else I could have written about, so many other great moments – I haven’t even touched on all the amazing episodes of Near Mint, for example – but this is probably enough to be getting on with.  Plus the bar where I’m typing this is playing a soundtrack full of those heartfelt acoustic songs that are always about catching people if and when they fall, so I think we’ll just consider my slate well and truly cleaned and hopefully you’ll join me in heading into the New Year with a smile on our lips and a song in our hearts.

I’m probably the last person on Earth to get round to it, but ‘Happy Belated New Year, Everyone’! Wishing you and yours all the very better for 2017….

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