Much More Than Machines

Hello you. How was your weekend? I do hope it was a bit less dramatic than mine:

Curiously, the above is not an edited version of some longer video, I’d literally just started filming at that exact moment because I figured the centre wouldn’t hold for very long and that I’d better capture it for prosperity quick-sharpish. The aforementioned centre held for a further ten seconds before unleashing mere anarchy on the studio. But one snarled-up tape loop, a Buddha-shaped dent in the floor and a quick flash of my bare knees on social media (you’re welcome, ladies!) wasn’t the worst of it. Far more disturbing was the distinct burning smell and coils of grey smoke coming from one of the Revoxes when I switched her on. I’m hoping it’s just some rogue dust smouldering, but smoking machinery is never really a good omen, is it? My guess is that another expensive repair bill is on the way – plus the usual attempts to try and bribe my old chum Lucky Cat Zoe into driving me to Southend again. Hopefully the pull of seaside crate-digging and a fish and chip supper in the shadow of the longest pier in Europe will still be as strong for as it was the last time…

Speaking of the perils of vintage technology, check out Running On Air’s new collection More Than Machine – Remixes, which came out last week. Better known as longs-standing artist, producer, composer and promoter Joe Evans, the track ‘More Than Machine’ originally surfaced last year on Running On Air’s self-titled collection of unreleased 90s electro nuggets via Patterned Air Recordings. Now he has gathered together a collection of friends, colleagues and associates to re-interpret the track, including Howlround, Clive Henry, Ekoplekz, Farmer Glitch, Kemper Norton and more. My current favourite in a crowded field is Lo Five’s squelchy ‘Pain Deconstruction’, but I’m also a sucker for Stephen Christopher Stamper’s ‘Rave Tape Amnesia’ – though that might partly be because I’m sad enough to be able to tell you exactly where he found the sample. Oh, those mis-spent teenage years…

‘Each artist was asked to push the track in whatever direction they wanted and encouraged to take it as far away from the original as possible’, as Joe explains in the album’s liner notes, ‘Lost summer raves, machine intelligence, and jack-booted tyranny are some of the themes that emerge. The result is an extraordinary collection of surprises that almost develops its own narrative, easily standing as an album in its own right.’ Can’t argue with him there – plus all profits from the release are being donated to Freedom United, an organisation dedicated to combating modern slavery throughout the world. A great listen and a worthy cause, so click on the above image to order your copy.

Continuing on the theme of new releases by small-but-mighty labels, just check out this forthcoming missive from Buried Treasure, home to Revbjelde, The Dandelion Set and the ever-growing, many-headed beast that is The Delaware Road. Currently finishing off a strong year that has seen releases by Alan Sutcliffe, Yuri Morozov and the self-titled Revbjelde LP (one of my very favourite releases this year), plus the multi-sensory take-over of Kelvedon Hatch Nuclear Bunker back in the summer; Buried Treasure now has it’s sights on 2018 with the announcement of the release of Logic Formations by Jerry Siedler, a DVD promising ‘over 2 hours of vintage 1970’s style video graphics & modular atmospherics inspired by the super rare 1970’s EMS Spectron video synthesizer’. Plus you get a 10 track download of modular music designed to accompany the videos. Out in January 2018 and already available to pre-order here. Shut up and take my money!

And lastly, special mention must go to the latest release from the ever-superb Ghost Box label, Outward Journeys by The Belbury Circle – a collaboration between Belbury Poly mainstay Jim Jupp and synthesiser wunderkind Jon Brooks of the Advisory Circle, Cafe Kaput and much more. Entirely predictably, it’s a gorgeous work of warm synth fuzz and crisp tick-tocking drum machines, plus a couple of guest vocal turns by the legend that is Mr. John Foxx.

Sounding to my ears not unlike a punchier, stripped down version of Oxygene, or perhaps some great lost library LP soundtracking a British Transport Film commissioned to demonstrate how sleek and sexy Intercity Rail Travel was going to be in the 1980s, Outward Journeys might wear it’s beating electro heart on its sleeve (quite literally, with Julian House’s superb artwork which appears to be channelling an entirely fitting Commodore 64 vs. Ceefax aesthetic), but as ever with this label, these chaps have too much pedigree to ever lapse into parody. Plus Jon Brooks has already released one of my other favourite LPs of this year, Autres Directions on Clay Pipe music –  like most of his back-catalogue, already long sold-out and looking likely to sell for ‘Bugs Bunny Money’ on Discogs. Better jump on this one while you can!

Analog Cockburn Kandy

Hello you. First off this week, I’m attempting to clear the decks in preparation for the next Howlround project, due sometime in early 2018, so it seems like an appropriate moment to share this youtube video of a work in progress that I uploaded several months ago and then promptly forgot ever making:

If memory serves correctly, I was testing out some new material with footage I’d made during a trip to Sri Lanka earlier this year and I remember thinking that the sound and image made surprisingly natural bedfellows, despite having very little in connection with one-another. I have absolutely no idea what the source material for the soundtrack was, but I would imagine it was from creaking recordings similar to the ones used on the Psyché-Tropes LP. I also have the feeling there was some birdsong thrown in, but I honestly can’t remember – I’ve had a sleep since then, as my dear old Gran used to say. One thing I can tell you is that no voices were involved, even though it might sound like a drowning opera singer in places…

I’ve also just been sent some images of The Quiet at Abney Park Cemetery Chapel from a couple of weeks ago and thought I’d share them here. A memorable event, another unique venue to add to my ever-growing list and a great pleasure to be involved, particularly the moments where myself, Jenni Roditi, Charlotte Chw, Adam Kinsey and chief strategist Sam Enthoven all improvised live together for the finale. Thanks must also go to Rucksack Cinema for the projections, Zoe Plumb for rolling up her sleeves and making things happen (as usual!) and of course Lucy Brady for the super photos:

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It’s been a quiet week on these pages as I’ve been away in the Highlands, collecting sounds and soaking up some culture, so the next few days at Fog Towers are going to involve quite a bit of nose-related grindstone action, while I file my latest BBC report and attend to some editing work that’s been simmering on the back-burner during my absence. What’s the subject of my latest BBC mini-feature, I hear you cry? Well, it’s a bit of a surprise, but I’m quite excited about it and will hopefully be revealing all soon (metaphorically). In the meantime, feel free to check out my recent piece on the subject of last week’s Captain Beefheart symposium at Liverpool’s Bluecoat for Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ here (the item starts at exactly 39.30 and closes the programme). I meant to share it with you last week, but it turns out Loch Ness lacks decent wifi almost as much as it lacks any sign of prehistoric beasties.

Loch Ness
Loch Ness: As you can see, our hotel was extremely drafty and barely received a whisper of 4G signal. My comments in the guestbook were judged harsh but fair.

On a more sensible note, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Edinburgh in the near future, do be sure to head to Scottish National Museum Of Modern Art and check out Susan Philipsz‘ multi-turntable sound installation Seven Tears, on display in ‘Modern One’ until February 18th. A quietly stunning work, in which the drifting glacial tones played on a series of clear vinyl discs randomly blend and beat against one-another, it was one of the biggest highlights of my trip. Well, that and a quick spot of crate-digging in good old Underground Solu’shun on Cockburn Street. It would have been rude not to pop in!


And finally, I must give a quick plug to the latest release from Belgrade’s excellent Discom label, which arrived in the mail while I was away. Run by audio-archivist husband-and-wife team Luka and Vanja and dedicated to giving the forgotten electronic and experimental musics of the former Yugoslavia ‘a second chance’; they’re following up recently issued lost ambient-prog classic Sidarta by 37°C and 2016’s superb Yugoslavian Space Programme compilation with Could You Find Your Analog Mind? by 1980s Serbian synth-tinkerers DATA. It’s out now and available from all reputable outlets. And it’s bloomin’ marvellous.

A collection of electro-pop nuggets recorded by the group between 1981 and 1984, these tracks were once thought lost forever, and it’s entirely thanks to Luka and Vanja’s stubborn determination in tracking them down that they’re seeing the light of day at all. The results are a revelation – it’s astonishing to think that this material has been sat on various shelves for over thirty years, never considered worthy of a release before now. Seriously recommended for fans of contemporaneous groups such as Yellow Magic Orchestra and Telex, or perhaps the early 80s LPs  of the Bruton Library, and of course 21st century synth scholars such as Datasette and Max Tundra. Limited copies available, on beautiful heavyweight blue vinyl, so click on the images to order yours before they all fly…


As you can see from the above, I’m now back in London and gradually returning to the standards to which I am accustomed, so normal service should be back up and running before very long. In the meantime, please enjoy this photograph of myself and long-suffering friend Kaitlyn, taken on top of a very windy Arthur’s Seat. For some reason this image puts me vaguely in mind of the sleeve of Hi Scores by Boards Of Canada, so I’m now thinking the two of us ought to make an album of spooky Scottish electronica together. Unfortunately she’s really more of a Garth Brooks kinda gal, but stay tuned and perhaps I’ll be able to bring you some concréte-country developments at some point in the not-too-distant future. Keeping my shortbread fingers crossed…PS If you managed to get through this article without sniggering in a puerile fashion at the name ‘Cockburn Street’, give yourself a pat on the back. I swear that’s not how you pronounce it…

Petrichor, Pierre and Halim

The celebrations for the release of Front And Follow’s 10th anniversary compilation Lessons continues with the unveiling of a new film by Scott Byrne, featuring extracts from Howlround, Swine, BLKwBEAR, TVO and Time Attendant. Having previously made films for Kemper Norton and Exotic Pylon, Scott’s latest is now streaming over at The Quietus. Or you can just watch it here. Either works And don’t forget to order your copy of Lessons here if you haven’t already done so!

Also this week, I would like to here implore you to support this online petition to preserve the home and studio of pioneering composer Pierre Henry, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 89. As the preparations continue for the celebration of what would have been his 90th birthday in Paris (and I’m rather hoping to be able to bring you some highlights from their weekend of events) have a read of this fascinating article from RBMA, including some beautiful photographs of this most unique of living and working spaces. I’d also recommend setting aside an hour and treating yourself to a viewing of The Art Of Sounds, if you haven’t seen it yet –  a fascinating 2007 portrait of the great man at home and at work. It’s a humbling thought that he was still composing daily until just a few months ago. A remarkable life and an incredible body of work, surely this is one legacy we should be falling over ourselves to try and preserve?!

And finally, I must once again on a sad note once with the news from Kent, Ohio of the passing of pioneering Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh. You might remember I interviewed him last summer and we talked about his decades-long career that included changing the face of electronic music for ever in the year of 1944, time spent at the Columbia-Princeton Centre for Electronic Music; and the release of his latest album Sanza Time, a brand new electronic work produced in his 95th year. Possessed of a warm and gentle personality that shone through even down a slightly temperamental Skype line, Halim uttered the first of many chuckles when I suggested that after eight or more decades spent travelling the world and making pioneering music, he had probably earned himself a retirement. ‘I’ve got a whole big job ahead of me!’, he laughed, before going on to reveal the details of yet another commission he was then working on; ‘Still there’s ahead of me so much to know’!

I have mentioned Halim’s work often to groups of students and workshop participants when travelling around various academic institutions talking about the history of electronic music and creative use of sound; and I always got a collective intake of breath whenever my audience discovered that the pioneer behind the 1944 ‘Wire Recorder Piece’ was still composing! Let us hope that by the time you and I reach the age of 95 we will also be able to say with confidence that ‘there’s still so much to know’. Bravo, Halim, and RIP.

Sci-Fi Stoke Newington And Guildhall Howling

Don’t forget to join us this Friday at Stoke Newington Old Church, where we’ll be doing a live score of A Creak In Time as part of Dronica #6, a two-day event with a frankly stunning line-up! Very much looking forward to this one! If you miss out, however, we’ll also be working the magic once more as part of Sci-Fi-London’s ‘EXPeriment’ on the evening of Sunday 5th. Howlround seems to be very much Hackney-centric at the moment, so apologies to any other London boroughs who might be feeling neglected!

Also this week, I’ve been at the Guildhall School Of Music talking to the students there about the joys of using tape, chance and chaos as a compositional tool. Thanks to the hopelessly-inept machinations of London Transport and a Taxi Driver who appeared to be working on a map of London reflected via the back of a spoon, I ended up with slightly more chaos thrown into the mix than I’d counted on. But once again an occasionally bumpy ride lead to a veritable plethora of sonic surprises. I’ll be sure to do something more official with the recordings at some point, but here’s a little snippet of what we got up to in the meantime:

Thanks to my flatmate and impromptu lighting technician Rosie and of course to Mike Roberts and his Electronic Music students for such a warm welcome, although it was plenty warm enough already – thanks to my Taxi Driver I’d been forced to sprint half a mile around the Barbican with 30kgs of equipment in my suitcase! Just look at those calluses!