Going Further – Future Sounds In Sacred Spaces

Hello you. Crumbs, it’s been about three weeks since I last posted – how remiss of me, I’m sure you’ve been utterly bereft. But I wouldn’t want you to think this was due to lack of effort or inclination on my part, it’s just been such a busy few weeks round here that there’s barely been time to stop for tea, let alone bang out another breathless update, so if you’ll excuse me I’ll just give you a quick blast of highlights, then head off into the night again. There’s lots in the pipeline, but nothing I can give away just yet, so this is mostly a retrospective catch-up with a few thank yous thrown in…

First off, the thank yous must start with everyone who came to see Howlround live at Coventry Cathedral and the inaugural Further event in London at the beginning of May, two of our most memorable performances to date and occurring within twenty four hours of each other, separated only by one canalside tape-loop workshop, a cross-country train-ride and a truly awful Wetherspoons breakfast (though not in that order). The set at Further, the multi-sensory audio-visual extravaganza courtesy of DJ Food and Peter Williams also played host to our first ever live score of the Psyche Tropes film A Creak In Time, in which we recreated the soundtrack live using loops, spools and some choice extemporisations here and there. The photos were taken by Martin LeSanto-Smith and Zoe Plumb, whose index finger also provided vital tape loop ballast at crucial moments.

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The evening also included an audio-visual set by Jim and Julian from Ghost Box, delicious local food, a vinyl stall provided by West Norwood’s Book ‘N’ Record Bar and a dizzying array of films, slides, colour wheels and projections, meticulously crafted and arranged our hosts Kev and Pete, who still found time to perform turntable duties on top of keeping the whole sound and light show in constant whirl. They should be highly commended for the effort and attention to detail that went into this one – truly a feast for the eyes and ears… (plus mouth). I’m told video footage will shortly be available, but for now these photos will hopefully whet your appetite for the next one….

Thanks must also go to The Tin Music and Arts and Snythcurious for organising the previous evening’s incredible Deliaphonic at Coventry Cathedral, where Howlround performed in celebration of the 80th birthday of Radiophonic pioneer and daughter of the city, Delia Derbyshire.

Certainly our biggest crowd to date, and perhaps the most remarkable venue in our already impressive roster of underground chasms, disused water tanks and Victorian cemeteries, Deliaphonic was compered by the delightfully ramshackle DJing skills of Jerry Dammers and fellow deck-botherer Jonny Trunk, plus live performances from Pete Kember of Sonic Boom, Hannah Peel and Dr. Peter Zinovieff. The latter, a radiophonic pioneer in his own right, presented two extended electronic works while regaling us with tales of the various conversations he’d had regarding their gestation; not only with Delia herself, but also, more surprisingly, with Beethoven. Unfortunately he didn’t go into details of which of the great composer’s notorious handicaps presented him with the larger obstacle – being either profoundly deaf or profoundly dead these last 200 years. Still, top marks for effort.

Howlround start to play and it the dissonant and elongated music is reminiscent of a slow train pulling to a halt. They are using lengths of tape and looping them around poles to create loops and stretch the sound apart, they appear to be mixing in tape, they have hooks with lengths on and they are carrying pieces around, threading them through the recorder and mixing the sounds into the music. There are strands of tape around shoulders and spinning across the space between the reels and the pole, I have never seen this done before and the mere sight of it is making the hair on the back of my neck stand up, this is how some of the classic albums I love were made. It’s brilliant, a shuddering and huge sound. (Extracted from an event review on the Fighting Boredom blog)

 An incredible event inside a truly remarkable building. I think the lady herself would have approved – though I have my reservations on what Ludvig might have made of it all. What do you reckon, Delia?

We should also thank everyone who braved the rain to come along to the following morning’s family tape-loop workshop, particularly Tristan Stephens and his kids Izzy and Toby, who were immediately put to work balancing tape loops in the absence of Zoe Plumb (around a hundred miles away at the time – just can’t get the staff)! They all have permanent jobs on the team as soon as they’re done with school – I can probably just about match anything they’ll get from a paper round!

Junior Radiophonicist Izzy Stephens was forced to stand like this for AGES!

Speaking of legendary electronic works being performed in beautiful modernist Cathedrals, please do enjoy my latest BBC report on the subject of Pierre Henry’s Electronic Mass, finally performed last weekend in the striking modernist surroundings of Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ The King, the space for which it was originally designed, and on the 50th anniversary of the inaugural mass for which it was commissioned.

Broadcast last week as the closing feature on Radio 4’s The World Tonight and also Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service on 6Music, the report features an interview with Henry’s trusted sound engineer Thierry Balasse, who performed the work live in the great composer’s absence and also Bryan Biggs from legendary Liverpudlian arts organisation The Bluecoat who helped bring the idea to life. Thanks must also go to Carly Townsend and Mark Goodall, without whom none of this would have been possible. Regular visitors to these pages will know that I’ve been a fan of the composer’s work for years, but I certainly never thought I would get to hear it quite like this – mixed live on a forty-something speaker installation, moving around the space and using the building’s seven-second acoustic delay to full effect. It was truly a remarkable experience, in which the mix of chants, cries, treated instruments and electronic tones gradually shifted from the altar in the centre of the Cathedral and travelled around, above and behind the audience – an important detail, incidentally, as the Cathedral originally caused some controversy by dispensing with tradition and placing the altar at the centre of the space, with the congregation surrounding it. Anyway, bravo, Messers Henry and Balasse – and I can’t wait to see what surprises are in store for the composer’s 90th birthday in December!

Original cue: It was intended to be a bold and futuristic new composition to mark the inaugural mass at Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral when it first appeared as a striking addition to the city’s skyline in the 1960s, but due to unforeseen circumstances The Liverpool Mass by renown French composer Pierre Henry missed its deadline. But now, to mark the Cathedral’s 50th anniversary, long running local arts venue The Bluecoat are preparing to finally bring the work back to the building that inspired it.

Tomorrow evening, the Liverpool Mass will receive its first ever performance at the cathedral, only half a century late. And like Henry himself, it has lost none of its ability to surprise. The composer continues to work each day, but as Liverpool is quite a long way from Paris when you’re almost ninety, it was deemed prudent to send his most trusted sound engineer along instead. Robin [The Fog] went along to observe preparations and to discover a work that, five decades after its composition, still retains the shock of the new…

Next up, an excursion to another historic location of a less sacred nature, with transport historian Andy Carter and his recent trip to the deep level shelters of Clapham South, a mile-long network of tunnels, passages and bunkers below South London, part of his ongoing project to shed light on the secret civic history of the nation, that has included recent visits to the abandoned platforms at Aldwych station, Euston and others, all documented on his Calling All Stations blog. He decided that the photos he took there deserved the ‘special sound’ treatment (to quote the BBC parlance from the days when people actually did this sort of thing for the Corporation, rather than in spite of it), and asked if I had anything suitable. Sadly the aforementioned hectic schedule meant that I was unable to come up with anything bespoke, but a quick rummage in the Foggy archives dug up some outtakes from the sessions that went on to make up the second Howlround album, Secret Songs Of Savamala, which with their stark resonant tones and metallic clangs worked a treat. Check out the finished prodcut  below and read Andy’s orginial blog post on Calling All Stations here. Always a pleasure, Mr. Carter, and hoping to re-visit Aldwych station myself at some point. Last time I went there was for a rave in the ticket hall….

And finally, speaking of the haunting sounds coming from secret underground bunkers, tickets for The Delaware Road at Kelvedon Hatch are selling fast, particularly if you wish to arrive in the 1960s double-decker bus they’ve commissioned to ferry people to the venue and back! Better not sleep on this one!

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