‘Intractable Progress Towards Oblivion’: Ritual And Resistance, Magic And Microwaves

Hello you. Welcome to the latest massively overdue update from Fog Towers. First off, I’m very excited to announce that Howlround will be playing at the latest Delaware Road event this summer, this time staged at an active military complex in the vicinity of Stone Henge. I’ll be playing alongside Merkaba Macabre and the Psyché Tropes crew, but that’s just for starters – check out the line-up above! Could be Buried Treasure’s most spectacular event yet, which is no mean feat given the extraordinary showcase they put on at Kelvedon Hatch (‘Secret’) Nuclear Bunker back in 2017. It’s certainly a testament to BT boss and chief strategist Alan Gubby that The Delaware Road has gone from being the germ of a screenplay to a concept album and now an ever-increasing community of like-minded, mutually supportive artists. Although it’s not until August, I’m really excited for this already, even if it does involve the prospect of having to remember how a tent works. Further information and tickets can be found here, and to whet your appetite further Alan has put together a promotional mixtape featuring manifold delights from the artists involved, including a brand new and exclusive collaboration from Howlround and Makaba Macabre, hopefully the first of many. Strap on your ear goggles and tune in below:

Secondly, huge thanks to Neil Mason for a glowing review of new Howlround LP The Debatable Lands in the latest issue of Electronic Sound magazine. First time I’ve ever had anyone describing my work using words like ‘magic’ and  ‘seriously wild’ – and hopefully not the last time either!

Another large thank you must also go to Neil Kulkarni for an equally flattering review of my ‘spooky reptilian tape clatters’ appearing this month in The Wire. As I can’t include an image of it here (my phone is dead, my flatmate is away and it’s raining outside), I’ll just quote you some of the highlights:

‘[Y]ou start to feel it’s the machine’s making the decisions, the closed input one-take recording narrowing the walls and increasing the sense of intransigent, intractable progress towards oblivion. […] If an environment is suggested it’s not the desolate moors of his Cumbrian surroundings – it’s more aquatic and threatening too – teeth bared in the depths, the snarling arguments of a shoal of Baltic Pike or Humbolt Squid […] Smart horror directors should be getting this on their soundtracks.’

Absolutely chuffed to bits with the responses to the album so far – not bad for a record made on a dining room table with nothing but some novelty reindeer candlesticks and the occasional interruptions of two dogs and a baby! Anyway, The Debatable Lands is available now on Touch as a gorgeous vinyl LP with six additional download tracks. Order your copy here.

Photo by Pete Woodhead

Continuing with the gratitude distribution, thanks also to everyone who came down to my first two shows of the year at Iklectik and the University of Surrey last month, supporting UnicaZürn and Eleh respectively. Iklectik as ever gave us a warm welcome and a packed house, plus a re-tweaked soundsystem to play with that I’m reliably informed made the walls shake during Howlround’s performance. It was certainly a heavy, rather squelchy set, featuring mostly stellar performances from the quartet, although the ever-mischievous ‘Delia’ suddenly threw a wobbly five minutes before showtime and remaining largely inactive throughout the performance. By pure coincidence, longtime friend and occasional Howlround biographer Pete Woodhead has captured the very moment when Delia gave up the ghost in the above image. You may have noticed the face I’m pulling – it’s an expression I’ve used quite often in my dealings with that pesky UHER. Thankfully the show was pulled off with what I think was the requisite amount of aplomb – UnicaZürn were fantastic as ever and I’m very much looking forward to hearing their forthcoming album later this year.

Photo by Pete Woodhead

Amazing to share a stage with Eleh at the Moog Symposium too – even if his equipment did completely dwarf my own! I’m told this magnificent synth he was using is one of only three like it in the world and is kept by the University Of Surrey for use by their students and visiting dignitaries. Which basically means that despite it being twenty times bigger than my own setup, nobody has to worry about getting it home on the train afterwards. Wonder if they’d let me move in?!

Unfortunately, after all this excitement I now have to report that Howlround has had to be placed in a state of temporary hibernation: Following some erratic behaviour at the aforementioned live shows, Delia and three of the UHER machines so crucial to performing live successfully have had to be sent away for a much-needed servicing; whilst usually-trustworthy Revox B77 ‘Wendy’ is displaying all the worrying hallmarks of a machine that has recently been a tiny bit on fire:

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Curse those cheap capacitors! Needless to say I’m bracing myself for a repair bill of Earth-shattering magnitude. And while it’s true that I’ve often made my best work on a severely limited setup, it’s going to be especially tricky this time without two of my more reliable ‘workhorse’ machines to call upon. Such wounds of separation were then awarded an additional heaping of salt this week with the sudden death of my phone (and I must apologise to anyone who has been trying to call or text me and been chagrined at my lack of response). So not the best week, technologically speaking, but Howlround will surely rise again – I was going to insert some sort of clumsy Phoenix analogy on the end of this sentence, but given Wendy’s current condition I fear that would be tempting fate. 

Moving on, a very different type of heat is being generated over over on the freshly minted London Sound Heritage blog, where I’ve written a few words on the twin subjects of pop music and microwave ovens; thanks to a rather special cassette discovered in the London Metropolitan Archives. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned in these pages my current involvement in the Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project (a nationwide attempt to preserve historic ‘at risk’ recordings in collaboration with the British Library), but we’re aiming to digitise 5,000 individual recordings over the next three years, of which ‘NEW WAVE COOKERY FOR THE 90’S’ (caps very much theirs) is just one especially strange example. Distributed to youth clubs around the turn of that decade, the cassette involves a rather breathless quiz featuring fifty relentless questions on those twin lode-stars of any young person’s life: pop music and microwave cookery. The winners would then be set the challenge of having to ‘devise’ and serve a microwave meal for the multi-award-winning lyricist Tim Rice (allegedly) in the hope of bagging themselves an Atari ST and a MAGNIFICENT TROPHY (their caps again). Oh, how we chortled in the office at the thought of the man behind Joseph, Evita et al. being sat at a high table in front of a crowd of expectant teenagers*, napkin at the ready, gazing wearily down at each of the deeply-unappetising cellophane-wrapped atrocities placed in front of him; all the whilst having someone with a clipboard hissing in his ear, ‘Listen, ducky, you agreed to the money – start making yum-yum noises for these little swines or I’ll have you microwaved!’ Different times, of course. Why not head over to the blog and take the test yourself,  to see if you’re as smart as your average 1980s youth? Surely we must all be cleverer these days with the internet at our disposal, right?      

Having soundly beaten the 1980s, fast forward yourself some quarter of a century to the heady, innocent summer of 2015 (seems a long time ago these days, doesn’t it?), when I was to be found working on a new composition in collaboration with one Mr. Ray Carmen, then operating under the nom de plume abandoned playground. The resulting track, ‘OH’, was composed using Ray’s micro cassette field recordings of trains, chimes and his infant daughter Grace; and would go on to open Howlround’s Tales From The Black Tangle LP later that year.

Tales From The Black Tangle

Why am I mentioning all this now? Well, the temptation to distance myself from the state-of-affairs in 2019 notwithstanding, it’s because Ray has recently rebranded this solo project as The Ghost Lilies and included ‘OH” in a new compilation album entitled Over The Hill, alongside numerous other extracts from his lengthy back-catalogue, many of which are long out-of-print, And it’s free too! I’d advise you to head over and give the album a (metaphorical) spin – and to hasten you along, I thought I’d give the original ‘promoH’ video another airing. Made on my kitchen table with a budget of $0, please re-enjoy some tiny train action, oh grateful universe!

Ray’s other various activities (which at last count registered as ‘innumerable’) can be further traced via his website. And as for Grace, I believe she’s blossomed into one smart cookie and might actually be about to start a PHD or something. Kids these days…, it really is mind-blowing.

Speaking of old tracks coming back to haunt me, excited to announce a revised and expanded edition of A Year In The Country’s 2016 compilation The Quietened Village is now available for pre-order and will be officially released this week. Originally surfacing in 2016, it now boasts two new tracks by Field Lines Cartographer and my Cumbrian sparring partner The Heartwood Institute, an exclusive Howlround track and recently expanded sleevenotes, badges and stickers. Limited hand-made editions as ever, so don’t sleep on this one, especially if you missed out last time. Order your copy here, then spend some time poking around A Year In The Country’s blog, which never fails to be a stimulating read. And unlike this website, it’s updated regularly!

*I mean ‘full of expectation’, not ‘pregnant’. Just wanted to clarify.