Just in case you weren’t one of the millions tuning into Resonance 104.4FM at 8pm, Sun 5th February to hear my exclusive interview with DJ Food on Panel Borders, the UK’s only radio programme devoted to comics and all things graphic art, here is the podcast for your streaming delight:
Or you could visit the podcast page on the Resonance FM website here.
Kev talks about his recent collaborations with 2000AD comic-artist Henry Flint, brand new album ‘The Search Engine’ and the exhibition of album artwork (plus some Flint originals and a few tricks of his own) currently occurring at the Pure Evil Gallery in London’s Shoreditch.
We also discussed how his work as a graphic designer affects his musical output, so stand by for much talk of ‘splatter vinyl’, flexidiscs and records pressed onto postcards. Seriously, postcard records! How amazing is that? Who else would’ve known they were making them once more?
This is actually what I find most interesting about Kev’s work, the way his musical and designing chops compliment one-another, but in a rather different way to his label-mate Kid Koala, who I interviewed for Panel Borders a few months back. While he does indeed fit the traditional image of the DJ as a ‘digger’, constantly on the hunt for the most obscure grooves and elusive musical nuggets in amongst all the cultural flotsam and jetsam; this principle could be said to guide his graphic work too, as he scours the internet and other shadowy channels looking for, in his own words, the ‘good shit’. In the modern idiom, this ‘good shit’ could could be a killer drum break, a stop-motion video loop, an obscure comic-book artist or just someone willing to produce limited edition splatter-vinyl DJ controller disks:
Truly a 21st century digger. And to prove it, here’s a picture of him in a space suit:
Not for nothing is his album called ‘The Search Engine’. Speaking of which, it’s out now. On the mighty Ninja Tune label. Make sure you grab yourself a limited edition copy of the ‘Comic’ edition with your complimentary flexdisc! Yep, it turns out they still make those too. Isn’t life grand?
PS For the uninitiated, this is what splatter vinyl looks like:
Public Service Broadcasting is the brainchild of J. Willgoose, Esq., who combines a guitar, a banjo, a computer and a theremin with samples from old public information films to create new, exciting and decidedly eccentric music that informs, educates and entertains in equal measure. He is joined in his adventures by Mr. Wrigglesworth on drums and together they conjure a sepia-tinted, bow-tie-blazing assault on all of your senses (they smell nice too), which has earned them attention from BBC 6 Music and a spate of gigs all over the place, including a recent live set at KOKO supporting Plaid and Hexstatic, during which this tasteful photo was captured:
After all this gigging, they’re pretty on-point as a band right now. So what better time to invite you to check them out than this coming Saturday at the latest of their self-curated Nights At The Market events? The second in a continuing residency at Tooting Market in South London, the lineup includes the full PSB Stage Show, alt-pop from Professor Penguin and noisebeat pop from Bear Response Team. But that’s not all! I’m very pleased to inform you that Mr. Willigoose contacted me personally and asked if I would be willing to DJ at the event (on MSN Messenger, so it’s official). The decision to reply ‘Hell, yes, why didn’t you ask me sooner, smiley emoticon?!’ took all of three seconds.
So, a fine line-up and a classy venue. But, as often seems to happen, my name was added to the bill long after the poster was printed. And a quick glance at the Facebook event page informs me that my name only appears on the running order after the ‘Hot Tasty Food’. Fortunately I happen to be COMPLETELY BRILLIANT at Photoshop, so I have been swift to amend this issue, subtly hinting at the value of my presence on the night whilst remaining true to the exceedingly classy design:
All joking aside, I’m a big fan of Public Service Broadcasting. I’ve already pre-ordered their forthcoming single ‘ROYGBIV’ which is coming out VERY soon, and I highly recommend your doing the same, it’s the best thing I’ve heard for ages! To increase the awesomeness a little further, here’s the official video:
And here’s another recent effort, this video to the track ‘Signal 30’ was shot and directed by Owain Rich and Peter Price. Appropriate surnames, as with their obscene levels of talent, Owain will indeed by Rich and hiring Peter indeed Pricey before we’re all very much older. Marvel at what they have wrought:
Hope to see you there, apparently I’m on CD decks, which is a bit of a change from my beloved vinyl, but it will at least give the old spine a night off. While planning my set I am reminded of an interview I once read an with Mr. C, the, er, ‘rapper’ from The Shamen; where he talked about going into club promotion as he ‘wanted to see people wearing cutting-edge clothing and celebrating life’. I wonder if he was thinking of bow-ties and corduroy? If so, he’s in for a treat! Provided he gets my invite…
Join them (and me, and some hot, tasty food) in Tooting for a celebration of life this Saturday!
Question: How many drama students does it take to provide an insight into the life and work of the late electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram?
I have nothing against drama students per se. It’s true that I was forced to live with a veritable gaggle of them during my college years and also true that amongst this gaggle not a single soul possessed an ‘off’ button; but apart from a permanent intolerance for Whitney Houston, I came through the experience more or less unscathed.
I also have nothing against London’s Science Musuem, which is an excellent institution, but having recently visitied their highly-anticipated ‘Oramics’ exhibition, I can’t help feeling they’ve fallen rather short of the mark. And drama students are at least partly to blame!
I’m not going to go into great detail about the career of the late Daphne Oram (1925-2003) here, I imagine if you’re reading this then you already have a fairly good idea of who she is, and there’s an excellent website and Wikipedia page that can both do a much better job. To the uninitiated she was, alongside Desmond Briscoe, the founder member of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which she then left within the year to set up her own electronic music studio; and devoted the remainder of her life to pursuing new ways of making electronic music, leaving a trail of strange and wondrous soundworks in her wake. Perhaps her greatest triumph, other than setting the whole radiophonic ball rolling, was the construction in the 1960s of the Oramics Machine, which she used to experiment with various techniques of ‘drawing’ sounds, a process that still leaves even the most technically-savvy music nerd scratching their heads today.
In short a pioneer and something of a heroine. And its marvellous that the Science Museum are putting this machine of hers on display and devoting a bit of space to demonstrating Oram’s influence on the development of electronic music over the years. The stage should well set for a throughly entertaining and informative experience.
But, oh dear, what’s all this?
The museum’s curators, in their wisdom, appear to have decided that what is REALLY needed in an exhibition concerning said development of electronic music is in fact not music at all, but a handfull of videos largely consisting of a number of plummy youngsters engaged in a ‘site-specific dramatization’ loosely connected to the subject (though in another room on a different floor, which doesn’t strike me as very site-specific at all). There’s much histrionic shrieking and lots of ‘Am-Dram’ prancing, but it completely fails to answer questions or explain anything about the lady or her work. This is then followed by a series of completely spurious monologues apparently produced at workshops focusing on ‘sound, invention and oramics’, which in layman’s terms appears to be a polite way of saying sixth-form poetry, with very little invention and not a shred of Oramics in sight. Seriously, it’s teeth-grinding stuff:
What do these things have in common with the work of Daphne Oram or the history of electronic music? Practically nothing, as far as I’m concerned. And yet, this is by far the noisiest part of the whole endeavour. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the video programme also contains the odd brief extract of Daphne at work, a short documentary about the setting-up of the exhibition (with lots of serious nodding and emphatic hand-gesures), and a rather nice extract from the 1960’s documentary ‘The Same Trade As Mozart’; but why on earth does it have to be sandwiced in amongst all this silly tittle-tattle? It’s impossible to work out how a bunch of youngsters shouting or a few disembodied voices speaking of their attempts to avoid ‘MENTALNESS’ relate in any way to Daphne Oram’s life of strange audio adventures beneath the respectable facade of a converted Oast House in Kent. It’s also impossible to imagine this scenario occuring anywhere else. Would visitors to the Natural History Museum next door be satisfied if the fossil collection was replaced by a bunch of people reciting poems about dinosaurs?
We then come to the Oramics machine itself, still an impressive spectacle even now in it’s run-down state. You can’t blame the Science Museum for not restoring it to working condition, as they rightfully pointed out, this would involve the replacement of so many parts that all you would be left with would be a replica. But can we not at least hear some of the works she produced using the machine? Well, apart from the two-minute loop noodling quietly out of tiny speakers above your head (not working during my first visit and drowned out by the drama students during my second), the answer is a quiet, tinny negative. There is an Oramics ’emulator’ nearby with headphones, encouraging visitors to have a go, but what’s the point of attempting to create anything on such an unconventional instrument if you can’t compare your own amateur efforts with those of the machine’s creator? Even Oram seems on occasion to have been confounded by her own invention, what hope do the rest of us have?
A little further down the exhibition sit several glass cases featuring various items of musical hardware including some of the earliest EMS synthesizers, antique Radiophonic tools including Delia Derbyshire’s famous green lampshade, a Roland TB303 (aka the acid machine) and a circuit-bent Speak And Spell game amongst others. All sat there in sad, lonely silence. Frankly, that’s just not good enough. Even if, like the Oramics machine, they’re no longer operational, how difficult would it have been to at least have some headphones playing us extracts of the machines in question, or a snippet of one of the recordings that made them famous?
Delia’s lampshade is a case in point. In case it zipped by a little too quickly in the above slide-show, here it is again:
This is apparently the exact lampshade that were used in one of her most astonishing compositions, and so for me and many others, something of a sacred relic. Not that you’d realise just by having it hang there in front of you. To clarify, here’s an extract from the Delia’s obituary, written by Brian Hodgson in 2001:
“Among her outstanding television work, one of her favourites was composed for a documentary for The World About Us on the Tuareg people of the Sahara desert. It still haunts me. She used her own voice for the sound of the hooves, cut up into an obbligato rhythm, and she added a thin, high electronic sound using virtually all the filters and oscillators in the workshop. “My most beautiful sound at the time was a tatty green BBC lampshade,” she recalled. “It was the wrong colour, but it had a beautiful ringing sound to it. I hit the lampshade, recorded that, faded it up into the ringing part without the percussive start. “I analysed the sound into all of its partials and frequencies, and took the 12 strongest, and reconstructed the sound on the workshop’s famous 12 oscillators to give a whooshing sound. So the camels rode off into the sunset with my voice in their hooves and a green lampshade on their backs.”
Utterly beguiling. And made using a lampshade, a perfect demonstration not only of the foresight and imagination at work here, but also the make-do and mend apprach of Oram, Derbyshire and underfunded operations like The Radiophonic Workshop, as they twisted the strange and impossible out of the mundane everyday objects around them, simply because it was all they had. Wouldn’t that be an interesting angle to have focused on? Britian is, after all, a nation that loves to tinker in the garden shed.
In fact, while we’re rocking the Youtube, allow me to fill in a few of the Science Museum’s blanks. They showed you what an EMS synthesiser looks like. Here’s what it sounds like:
‘With a name like Wasp’, the placard underneath this synth reads, ‘what do you think it might sound like?’ They then leave you to imagine it for yourself, so here’s a helpful demonstration by a perky chap I found online:
And the acid bassline of the TB 303 here being used in 1987 to invent techno (to avoid confusion, it’s best just to listen to the full 11 minutes):
All circuit-bent Speak And Spells are different (and usually survive about five minutes before suffering a beautiful-sounding meltdown). Here’s just one example amongst many I found online:
And best of all, here’s a 2008 documentary on Daphne, originally broadcast on Radio 3, with not a single drama student or inept poetry-reading in sight. Dig in while it’s still here, I can’t imagine Radio 3 are aware of it:
I’m no expert, but I think even with a few youtube videos and a chip on my shoulder, I’ve managed to explain more about the history of electronic music than the Science Museum managed with a whole balcony. This could have, and has been handled so much better. Back in April last year The Wire magazine with help from Resonance FM organised an evening at Cafe OTO in East London, where they devoted a whole night to simply playing and talking about Daphne’s work, with people queueing around the block to get in (and it’s a BIG block)! I swear I’m not trying to score points here, and it’s amazing to be able to see the Oramics machine in the flesh. But what on earth is the point of merely showing us what these things look like and neglecting to properly demonstrate how they SOUND?!
Come on, Science Museum! Sort it out!
Gentle reader, forgive me. But I really needed to get this off my chest.
‘Short Cuts’ is a rather exciting new series starting today at 15.00 GMT on BBC Radio 4.
Presented by Nina Garthwaite, the founder of the radiophonic treasure-trove that is ‘In The Dark’ and produced by Eleanor McDowall for Falling Tree Productions, Short Cuts is a selection of brief encounters, true stories and found sound, ‘a showcase of delightful and adventurous short documentaries’.
In the first edition she delves into tales of misadventure – starting with ‘a chance encounter on a train where a couple’s absorption in the crossword disguises a possible hidden romance. [and] encompassing the writer Joe Dunthorne’s reminiscences of his misspent gap year selling door to door in Australia’. ‘Misadventure’ could pretty much describe my entire career to date, which is just as well, as I’m very pleased to add that my own short work ‘A Corner Seat In a Smoker Facing The Engine’ (aka Traintracker) has been included in this first programme.
Here it is again, just in case you’re not one of the 65 people who, at the time of writing, have officially heard it:
If you haven’t heard it, hope that you enjoy it, it’s the first part of a larger project that I’m going to be working on in the coming year. Though I won’t be expecting this much exposure!
Speaking of which, I realise that posting all this a mere few hours before the programme goes to air is something of a publicity shot in the foot, but such is the wonder of technology that I’m sure the BBC will have worked out some sort of ‘listen again’ feature should you require it. Plus there are three subsequent episodes exploring such knotty themes as ‘Divided We Stand’ (January 17th), ‘The Comfort of Strangers’ (24th) and ‘Lost For Words’ (31st). Given the reputation of both Falling Tree and In The Dark for high standards, I heartily recommend catching them all.
I also, and no-less heartily, recommend becoming a friend of ‘In The Dark’. It costs a mere £20 per annum and allows you access to lots of exclusive goodies; as well as the warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from helping out a voluntary organisation that is genuinely putting nice things into the world. Great job!
Thanks very much to everybody who sent such nice feedback, especially Marcella, the ‘falling off her chair laughing’ lady and Mr. Ed Lehan who sent what must be the best text message I’ve ever received!
The Young Pines organisation has just finished curating an exhibition of words and images at the Liverpool School of Art and Design. The work was taken from their self-published book ‘The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife’, a collection of sexually explicit prose, poetry and illustration which uses mythology and fairy tales as a starting point. As part of the exhibition, visitors were invited to listen to audio versions of these stories and poems in a beautifully decorated ‘fantasy room’ lit by UV. And here’s one of them: ‘When Lucy Met Tumnus’ by writer, poet and storytelling genius Emma Hammond, with a sound design by Robin The Fog. But WAIT! Before you click on it I should point out that tt contains rather strong language and reasonably graphic sexual content. NOT suitable for the easily-offended, faint-hearted or readers of the Daily Mail! These people should probably click here instead, where they’ll find a nice comfortable link to a gentle, non-threatening repeat of ‘Bargain Hunt’.
Has that got rid of them? Splendid. Whack it on:
Emma says: “We chose this theme [for the event] as we were interested in subverting well known stories and themes. Some of the work is grotesque and uncomfortable yet in places it is quite beautiful. We wanted to make the stories even more fantastical and in some ways absurd. We have had submissions from some of the most exciting young artists and writers from all over the country and the standard of contributions has far surpassed what we were hoping for.”
You should almost certainly check out the Young Pines website and of course Emma’s own site . And there’s an interesting blog post about the project from her that you can read here. I note that the tags for this post are ‘bestiality’, ‘cocks’ and ‘prog-rock’, which means it should appeal to a worryingly-large number of my social circle.
Here’s hoping for more collaborations in the new year. Until then, Happy Christmas, everyone!
A few weeks ago I was approached by Monocle Radio in my capacity as a ‘record obsessive’ and asked to file a report on recent news that, against all possible odds, sales of vinyl have actually increased in 2011. I was certainly happy to fufil this obligation, as the mini-resurgence is the one piece of good news I have been clinging to, limpet-like, for the past few months. Weddings of dearest friends? Pah. Recent additions to the family courtesy of beloved cousins? Meh. But tell me that a new record store has opened somewhere and you’ll find me down on my knees leading the Hallelujah Chorus. This is probably why I have yet to marry.
Yes, for once my addiction is actually bringing some money in rather than the usual spending it in droves- that’s against all possible odds too. Where are you now, nay-sayers? Having said that, quite a lot of my fee went on obtaining records for purposes of research. I was also asked to work under the pseudonym ‘Robin Fog’ as apparently the producers didn’t think ‘the’ had enough zing to it. But let’s not split hairs. Here it is, ripped from Monocle Radio’s ROT, for your infotainment:
I must extend my heartfelt thanks to all the people who agreed to be interviewed for the piece including the good people of Kristina Records in Dalston, Raphael Mann of the excellent Frizz Records, Mr. Shiver and Simon Kurrage of Size Doesn’t Matter; and most of all, the exceptionally affable Travis Elborough, who’s vinyl history ‘The Long-Player Goodbye’ is not only a fascinating read but saved me countless hours of fruitless Wikipedia scrummaging. As a bonus, I’ve included a rather jolly interview he did with The Quietus from a couple of years back.
PS As a further afterthought, and because I actually bought the LP from a record store only this week, I was going to include one of my favourite songs about the joys of record-collecting, ’43 Labels I Like’ by the mighty LA-rap duo People Under The Stairs. But unfortunately I was unable to find it anywhere online, so thought rather than just sling it up myself, I should just advise you to track down a copy of the album ‘Question In The Form Of An Answer’ for yourself. After all, the hunt for buried treasure is surely the most exciting part of digging…
Or you could go for the new LP ‘Highlighter’ released this year. They’re a fully independent group, which rather chimes in with today’s topic, as well as being refreshingly free of the usual bling-and-bitches rap tropes. You can save vinyl and the soul of hip-hop all in one day. Job well done!
Many of you will already be familiar with these gorgeous faces:
It’s the mighty Chips For The Poor, who combine sartorial elegance with ‘seductive, danceable sonic concoctions that are tastier than chips and funner than poverty’; and ‘at times recall the austerity of Wire crossed with the primitive devil-may-care chaos of the Fall’. The more observant amongst you will have already noted that I merely slammed together two quotes from recent reviews (including Time Out Chicago) in that last sentence, rather than come up with anything original; but frankly what do my opinions matter when compared to such journalistic might? They’ve supported Bobby Conn, appeared on Chicago kids rock TV show Chic-a-Go-Go; and are generally far cooler than you or I have any right to expect. And now they have a new album that they would like to bring to your attention. And it’s on cassette. Here it is:
2011 Slow Motion Records (SMT001) cassette album
Limited edition of 53 coloured cassettes
Buy either or both from Bandcamp
Track list: A1/ Live from downtown transmissions (30’00”) B1/ Mountain Vision (with Robin the Fog) (5’00”) B2/ Surf’s Up (with Design-a-Wave) (5’00”) B3/ Radio Rapture (with Robin the Fog) (5’15”) B4/ Wet Lands (live with James III) (9’00”)
Information: Mix of audio from our Resonance FM radio show, a travelogue of our US tour and beyond. Side A is six shows played simultaneously, side B is us playing with special guest remixers. Track B4 previously unbroadcast. Comes in six different colours, yellow is the rarest, puce is the most unpleasant.
I really wish I was in this band. And for a couple of brief, shining moments I sort-of almost was. Because as you can see, the B-Side of this cassette features radiophonic collaborations with myself, Design-a-Wave and the ever-manic James III). More by luck than by design I happened to be the engineer supervising these live recordings and so got to tinker and monkey a little with their aforementioned sonic concoction, which was an honour and a privilege. And also quite steamy in places.
Should you require any more convincing, you can have a listen to the shows in their original wonky glory at the Resonance FM podcast page. And furthermore, here is the video to their previous single, the 22-minute, one-note wonder that is ‘I Am A Warrior’. This is the radio edit that was released on clear 7″ vinyl. Might be an idea to pick up a copy of that too, if there’s any left:
For those of you unfamiliar with writer, illustrator, broadcaster and fortune-cookie-making philosophiser Leila Peacock, here is a picture of her voicebox:
“Cats cannot see the colour blue”
If by any chance that voicebox does look familiar, it could well be that you’ve heard it before, as we worked on a couple of pieces together for Radiophonic Creation Day 2011, which can be found on the Radio page of this site. But right now I want to draw your attention to her latest work, entitled ‘Factual Uncertainties’, currently being featured on the German arm of the Don’t Panic! website.
“Clicking on this logo doesn’t achieve much”
The actual page can be viewed here in all it’s attractively-designed glory. I must say the good folk of Don’t Panic really do know how to make an nice-looking webpage. And their pictures don’t have silly grey borders that I can’t remove around them. Anyway, I’ve included the audio here, for your convenience. It’s about 18 minutes long and contains some very peculiar nuggets indeed, so grab your ear-goggles and pop the kettle on:
A development of a piece performed at the Voidhaus, Berlin in July 2011 entitled ‘Digressions in Diagrammar’. A voice reads from a list of reliably unreliable ‘facts’. It’s a poetry of lists, (mis)information as entertainment, instruction-manual hypnosis. In this era of the over-informed, you learn something useless everyday.
With sound design by Robin Warren (Resonance FM)
I may or may not be loosely affiliated with Mr. Warren. All I will say is that I don’t mind some of his work…
“The World-Record for not blinking is 11 minutes”
“29% of people like to make car-noises when they drive”
Question: One of these men is in fancy dress. Which one?
If there’s one thing that a photograph featuring a be-horned person with bagels for eyes must surely signify, it’s that another event curated by The Art Party is in effect. And so it is.
Once again the good folk of The Art Party are taking over Mol’s Place for another celebration of all that is good and right in the modern art world (there’s also a bar and canapés, but that’s purely a fringe-benefit). And this time it’s rather poignant occasion, as they are bidding goodbye to this most splendid of arts spaces, owned by collector and patron of the arts Jan Mol, who will shortly be giving up the gallery’s Covent Garden location and moving onto to pastures anew. Determined to see the venue off in fine style, the night included a mixture of painting, installation, sculpture and performance, including a live set by accapella and cassette-recorder trio Goodbye Leopold and myself as the DJ-ing glue that held it all together. Or perhaps the buttercream filling between the performance layers. Whichever analogy you prefer.
Goodbye Leopold – Hello Leotard
The point I’m trying rather clumsily to make is that I was DJing at this splendid soiree, filling in the gaps between the performances and trying to avoid this one woman who kept demanding I play some Sting. For those of you not lucky enough to have been added to the exclusive guest-list, I’ve included some of the music played on the night here for your enjoyment. As you’ll hear, the artist formerly known as Gordon Sumner is mercifully absent:
It was a four-hour set in total, though unfortunately time and other, more physical constraints prevent me from including everything here. Still, who really has time to do anything for four hours without stopping these days? And besides, I think these two little extracts contain the gist of the proceedings. It was a sad moment leaving the gallery for the last time (although when I finally left after packing all my gear away, someone was blasting out The Black-Eyed Peas at skull-crushing volume, which rather burst my poignant farewell bubble). A good time was had by all, with the possible exception of the chap who had to lug that Baby Grand Piano up the stairs. I wonder where The Art Party will turn up next? Wherever it is, I do hope I get the chance to play for them again, and that the whole Sting-debacle hasn’t irretrievably blotted my copybook.