Hello Darkness – A New Year Meets Old Haunts

Hello You and belated Happy New Year! Hope you had a restful festive period and managed to spend some time with your nearest and dearest. It’s been a manic start to 2022 here at Fog Towers, embarking on yet more Unlocking Our Sound Heritage Audio Preservation work, a rather intriguing new radio drama (more on both in due course), preparing for a rather important anniversary and a rapidly filling schedule of new performances and releases. Still, I reckon there’s just enough time to unload another breathless and infrequent update onto these pages…  

Let’s begin by bidding 2021 adieu, starting with my annual End Of Year Mixtape. Having compiled these for several years now, this latest episode counts as something of a departure, as I’ve decided that with so much incredible music out there casually tossing around words such as ‘Best’ and ‘Of’ was either optimistic or just hopelessly misguided. Instead this is simply a selection of sublime new tracks that happen to have crossed my Foggy threshold over the past twelve months. It’s certainly a remarkable collection of work, but by no means any kind of attempt at a ‘best of’, no siree, Bob. Such an endeavour would have involved almost certain financial ruin and definitely run to far longer than three hours. Plus I find that anything north of three hours tends to make my laptop explode.

A justifiably more confident Best Of features in the December issue of Electronic Sound magazine – and I was absolutely delighted to see that the “wonderfully tripped out” debut LP by The New Obsolescents made it to number 26! Plus they gave our recent performance at Levitation the double-page spread treatment just after the editorial! What an accolade!

Three cheers also for Buried Treasure’s Octocorallia which made it into the ES Top 5 compilations of the year! Still available to purchase and featuring two slabs of Howlround heaviness, lest you forget….

In most other respects I wasn’t sorry to bid out the old year at all. The heightening of the continued Covid Kerfuffle around Christmas resulted in the last two live shows I had booked for 2021 being postponed (including my favourite Vinyl Café’s Winter Solstice Soundscapes for the second year running!), but I’m glad I was able to squeeze in a performance as part of a duo with Andrew ‘Raxil 4’ Page at New River StudiosSKRONK 100 all-dayer at the beginning of December. I’ve known this maestro of deep dark drone for a number of years now and shared stages with him on many occasions, yet he assures me this is somehow the first time we’ve ever actually played together. Just as well he was recording it!

Also documenting the proceedings was the artist Gwendolyn Kassenaar, who created this stunning pastel drawing using our sounds as inspiration – then very kindly gave us permission to use it as cover artwork for the digital release. Have a listen below while checking out more of Gwen’s activities on her Instagram page, her work is incredible!

Originally the performance had been billed as a trio with Sam ‘Sinister Masterplan’ Enthoven, but sadly this redoubtable fellow succumbed to ‘the trendy virus’ just a couple of days beforehand. But he remained with us in spirit – and in the form of a tape loop containing a recording of his Theremin that he had emailed me the previous evening, so all was not lost.

Sam and I finally got to perform together last weekend, along with his Sinister Masterplan partner-in-crime Laura Sampson, both now thankfully out of isolation. This was part of Dark Tales and Strange Sounds at Copped Hall, a night of the weird and the eerie at the titular mansion, a ruined 18th Century country pile that has been partially restored after the devastating fire that gutted it a century ago. The event was masterminded by Andy Popperwell, one of the Hall’s army of volunteers working on the restoration, but almost certainly the only one in possession of a Masters Degree in Historic Soundscapes. Such academic intrigue was surely the inspiration behind gathering myself, Sinister Masterplan and the performer Julia Stallard together and putting on an evening of stories and sounds themed around the history of Copped Hall and the local area.

My own contribution was a sound installation in the recently restored State Room, an exclusive new tape work entitled ‘Ruled By Darkness’, inspired by an inscription underneath the sundial on the building’s facade. The source material was a single field recording made in one of the partially-refurbished upstairs rooms, manipulated on tape and recorded in something of a panic-stricken rush the previous evening (my old ‘Douglas Adams’ approach to deadlines striking once again).

Should probably have been ‘Spooled By Darkness’ in hindsight…

Combined with such turns as Sinister Masterplan’s eerie recounting of the true-life tale of a burglary in the Hall and Julia’s re-casting Boudicca as a 21st Century Essex girl / football hooligan, it made for a most entertaining evening with a sell-out crowd, who very sensibly kept their masks and coats on throughout – Copped Hall is literally the coldest building I’ve ever known and the only place I’ve ever encountered where one warms up outside! Tickets sold out in just two days, with all profits going to the restoration fund that helps the Hall put on events such as this and other community activities. A rematch is currently on the cards, so watch this space for more details. Certainly Wendy, my trusty Revox B77 seemed to enjoy her first trip outside the studio for the best part of a decade…

Seriously, I felt every pothole….

Also on the subject of new works, 2022 has already seen the first fruits of what will hopefully be a busy year for Howlround, with two appearances on the newly released Eighth Tower Records compilation album Hauntology In UK. A term that will be familiar to many regular visitors to this page, the concept of Hauntology originates of course in the work of the philosopher Jacques Derrida, but gained wider traction and cultural resonance through the writings of the late critic, theorist and blogger Mark Fisher, to whom the album is dedicated.

Fisher has posthumously assumed the sort of legendary status reserved for thinkers considered to be among the most important or insightful of their time. In Fisher’s view, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion”; the current cultural moment is “in the grip of a formal nostalgia”, in which ostensibly “new” things are produced only through the imitation and pastiche of old forms. It was originally as a way of understanding the “loss of the future” that Fisher – in correspondence with the music critic Simon Reynolds – began to invoke the concept of hauntology.

Mark Fisher

In Ghosts of My Life, Fisher says that “What should haunt us is not the no longer of actually existing social democracy, but the not yet of the futures that popular modernism trained us to expect, but which never materialised. Hauntology is not, therefore, primarily about nostalgia: it is about imagination. Any progressive politics worthy of the name is founded on our ability to imagine a world better than the one we presently have. If capitalist realism represents the attempt to take our political imagination away from us, then hauntology can do the work to get it back.”

As well as contributions from legends of the genre such as Sonologyst, Rapoon, Pascal Savy and Grey Frequency (who also shot the rather spiffy cover art), it features two unreleased and exclusive tracks from the Howlround vault, recorded a few years back when the project was still largely considered part of Hauntology’s second wave (or it might have been third, my memory of those days is already as fuzzy as those loops were). Still, I’m certainly proud to have my work included on such a fine album and in honour of such a hugely influential figure – I’ve not forgotten the speed an enthusiasm with which I devoured Ghosts Of My Life! The limited edition CD is available to purchase here.

Tape Letters From The Waiting Room

I’ll be working with Pascal once again on January 21st as part of an event he’s curating at Iklectik. Tape Letters From The Waiting Room is both a fundraising concert for the homeless charity Crisis and also a launch party for the album of the same name: Mark Vernon’s magnificent new vinyl soundtrack to Steven McInerney’s latest film, out now on Psyché Tropes. Mark and Steve will both be performing on the night and I’m hoping to present a brand new piece I’ve been working on recently using just voice and tape – providing I can get the damn thing finished in time. If all goes according to plan it will prove something of a dramatic contrast to my more ‘p*** and vinegar’ material I’ve been working on over the past couple of years. Perhaps I’m finally mellowing in my old age? No, that can’t be it…. Anyway, tickets are available here. and the performance will be live-streamed for those who cannot attend. Can’t wait for this!

Photo by Eleonore Huisse

I’m also thrilled to announce that for the following two days Iklectik are hosting A l’écoute d’Éliane Radigue, a two-day celebration of the work of legendary composer, with GRM Director François J. Bonnet (aka Kassel Jaeger) coming in from France to act as sound projectionist in her absence. They’ve asked me to provide a DJ selection for the opening night and needless to say I jumped at the chance. What an absolute thrill to finally hear such incredible works on their amazing new soundsystem! Further details here

Shaping up to be a busy year already, isn’t it?! 

Author: Robin The Fog

Sound Artist, Radio Producer, DJ, founder and chief strategist of tape-loop proejct Howlround. Devout Catalyst.

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