Hello you. First item on a fairly bumper agenda this week, I am absolutely thrilled and delighted to unveil the latest release in Howlround‘s growing catalogue:
The Blow Vol. 2, a split cassette with my old mucker Time Attendant will be released in November on Manchester’s Front And Follow label on a limited edition cassette plus download, but if you simply cannot wait until then it’s available for pre-order already. The second in a planned series of collaborative releases on the label and taking over from the excellent Volume 1 featuring Hoofus and IX Tab (now sold out physically), all of the music on my half was created by manipulating a single field recording taken in the Mojave desert ‘almost ghost town’ of Amboy, California:
The album was produced over the course of spring and summer this year, though the source material was originally recorded a couple of summers ago while on a pilgrimage to visit one of the great desert ‘readymades’, namely the dilapidated sign of Roy’s Motel which is the town’s most famous landmark. Straddling Route 66 some forty-three miles from Joshua Tree as the crow flies (and sixty-four by road), this is a remote location indeed. Did you even notice the enormous freight train making it’s way across the bottom right of the above picture? Must have been almost a mile long, but even that gets lost amongst such a vast and arid desert landscape. The population of this once-bustling town is now a mere ‘handful’ (which sounds slightly more optimistic than the 2000 census which put it at ‘4’), although bizarrely it does still maintain a working post office.
What’s even stranger is how wet and squidgy the resulting recordings have ended up sounding, something I can only attribute once again to the transformative properties of tape. The source material was created entirely by working the rusted and squeaking hinges of a cupboard door hidden inside the vintage writing desk pictured above, while my friend Kaitlyn patiently sat in the car enjoying the delights of air conditioning and Garth Brooks. At some point I’m hoping to return to Amboy and leave these newly transformed recordings back where they came from, perhaps also taking time out to enjoy another bottle of ‘Root 66 Beer’ and maybe, if I’m really lucky, meeting Chandra Brenner, the lovely yet somewhat vacant host of this completely batsh*t bananas documentary about the town. But all that might be a while off yet. In the meantime, do get your order in early, there are only 100 copies and if the first volume is anything to go by they’ll fly out pretty sharpish!
Meanwhile, there’s just a few days to go before Howlround’s SOLD-OUT performance at Brompton Cemetery Chapel as part of London Month Of The Dead and in anticipation of this historic event, I’ve been jumping onto the PR bandwagon. Firstly, I was interviewed for 6Music news by the splendid Elizabeth Alker, with the results played out on the Sean Keaveney Breakfast Show and again later on Radcliffe and Maconie. The first of these airings has been captured by a quick-thinking well-wisher and uploaded to Soundcloud if you fancy a listen. I haven’t actually done so myself yet, but I’m encouraged to hear that apparently there was a lot of giggling involved…
Even more excitingly, the nice people at Hook Research have made this short video of me in the studio briefly attempting to explain the Howlround philosophy and modus operandi before heading down to the cemetery on a sound-gathering expedition. Thanks must go to Sam Harris and Nick Fisher for doing such a great job and making me look and sound halfway professional. In fact, their sense of timing proved to be quite uncanny, as just after they’d left a small but vital part of the Studer machine that you can see me using in the clip decided to actually MELT...
— Howlround (@Howlroundmusic) October 2, 2016
It will be several weeks before the replacement part turns up and she’s ready to spool again. But it gets stranger: Several hours later in the German town of Halle, Howlround co-conspirator Chris Weaver experienced exactly the same phenomenon with a machine of his own! Seriously, in five years of working with tape we’ve never once had a pinch-roller do anything other than the pinching and rolling that is required of it. Then suddenly two of them melt on different machines in different countries on a single day! What are the chances? Unfortunately Chris came off rather the worse, as his own personal meltage incident occurred live on stage during a Resonance Radio Orchestra performance. I had just turned my back for three minutes while boiling the kettle.
Such an unlikely coincidence will hopefully mean there will be no further meltdowns for at least a couple of weeks, especially because after this Sunday’s adventures in Brompton Cemetery, Howlround are going to be playing Halle on October 16th as part of the Radio Revolten Festival, alongside Chris Cutler and Víctor Mazón Gardoqui. Details of this and a full schedule of events can be found at the Radio Revolten website. There’s also talk of an appearance at the Museum Of London, but more on that in due course.
And lastly, we come to the latest Near Mint show on Resonance FM, where this week we delve deeply into the world of ‘Rhodesian Communications’ through a brief investigation into the work of composer Sam Sklair. We’ll be listening to alternating extracts from two albums on either side of his lengthy career, 1965’s tourist-baiting Rhodesia: Safari On Sound and 1988’s corporate video soundtrack Interplay – The Communications Industry.
Hard to believe that a mere twenty-three years separate these two records or that they come from the same world, let alone the same composer, but I do like to think that you can hear a similar optimism and search for progression in both of them – after a fashion, at least. Curiously, despite featuring a narrator that makes Alan Whicker sound like a bingo-caller and its evident pride regarding the modern embellishments ‘from strip tease to parking meters’ being enjoyed by a nation that stopped existing quite some time ago, I’d almost be tempted to say that Safari On Sound has dated better. But then I remember the considerable debt that contemporary artists such as Oneohtrix Point Never and James Ferraro owe to albums such as Interplay and I’m less sure. Besides, the latter has just about one of the greatest covers of all time. Design like this NEVER goes out of date:
Well, that should about do it for now. Hope to see you on Sunday. And don’t forget to order The Blow!
Postscript: For the avoidance of doubt, I feel I should clarify that it was a Garth Brooks CD that Kaitlyn was enjoying, not actually Garth Brooks himself. Though I’m sure if he had come along they would have got along famously. In hindsight, maybe we should have invited him? Bet he would just love to collaborate with Howlround!
Very excited to announce Howlround’s TV debut on the BBC’s flagship technology programme Click is now available here for your viewing pleasure (we feature about 10 minutes in). I’m posting all this slightly belatedly as I was out in the wilds of Yucca Valley without internet during it’s first airing and remained in blissful ignorance of such exciting developments for an unprecedented 36 hours. Anyway, please watch and enjoy affable host Spencer Kelly paying a visit to the New Broadcasting House studio featuring the creaking mic stand that has given Howlround so much raw material to play with over the past year; then heading to our own studio where we introduced him to the machines and allowed him free reign of the mixing desk. I think he rather enjoyed it!
As if all this wasn’t exciting enough, the track we created during the team’s visit is now available from Soundcloud as a complimentary download, so feel free to make a few Clicks of your own in this direction:
The feature also included footage from last year’s set for 4’33” Cafe at The Base Elements Gallery in the gothic quarter of Barcelona, so I thought you might appreciate another airing of the original video with a nod and a wink once again to our friends JP and Ale!
In other news, finally back from a whirlwind couple of weeks in the US, playing Howlround’s first American shows, doing a spot of record digging and having our minds expanded with a ‘Sound Bath’ at The Integraton, a truly remarkable domed structure out in the wilds of Yucca Valley – and the only venue I’ve ever visited that was financed by Howard Hughes and built under the guidance of alien intelligence. The day concluded with some late-night desert recording with my old friend Guy J. Jackson in freezing conditions under a full moon in the back of an abandoned tour-bus, though thankfully free of extra-terrestrial intervention. More on that at some point later…
Huge thanks must go once again to Erik and Ben of the excellent Gray Columns, to equally splendid support band Offret and to Andee, Allan and Kirk of aQuarius recOrds, San Francisco for making it all possible. And especial thanks to Guy and Holly, plus my ever-patient and brave travelling companions Gemma Ritson and Kaitlyn Spillane! When can we do this again?
Curiously, I had no trouble at all getting tape machines Elisabeth and Magdalena through airport security. As one official shrugged – ‘It’s cool, this is Portland’! Which may also help to explain my discovery of this little gem while perusing a local emporium. I can feel a new mixtape coming on already…
And finally, I must quickly plug the latest instalment of Art Assembly‘s ‘Saisonscape Decay’ radio programmes that was broadcast last week in anticipation of their show at Cafe Oto. Featuring Lisa ‘Sleeps In Oysters’ Busy, Graham Dunning, Kemper Norton and Sarah Angliss discussing their work in conversation with host Julia Dempsey and mixed and edited by myself and partner in tape Chris Weaver. In fairness, he got the lion’s share of the work as I had a plane to catch!
Taking place in autumn, “Decay” reflects on the natural cycle of the season – leaf litter and organic material dropping to the ground and breaking down into one, renewing the soil with a rich and nourishing composition. This programme focuses on artists who use archives of field recordings, folk story and who layer instrumentation, objects and found sound. Sounds, ideas and material mulch into new combinations, providing fertile ground for unexpected work.
New material is expected imminently from each of the programme’s guests and I’ll try and cover as much of it on these pages as possible, but for now I can confirm that Lisa Busby’s new solo album Fingers In The Gloss is out already and available here on limited CD. There’s also this decidedly eerie promotional video for the single ‘Hollow Blown Egg’ to savour. So many talented friends!
Absolutely delighted to present the brand new Howlround LP Tales From The Black Tangle, available to pre-order NOW from my special boutique imprint The Fog Signals. The vinyl has finally arrived and is looking absolutely fantastic, shrink-wrapped with a full colour sleeve in a tasteful matt-finish, with artwork by myself and a beautiful rear photograph by the talented Victoria ‘Ringmaster’ Hastings. We’re very proud and excited, even more so when I tell you that in less than twenty-four hours a THIRD of the stock has been snapped up! It’s selling fast, so if you want to get your hands on a copy, might I suggest moving swiftly?
And now the obligatory press statement: Following a busy summer that has seen the duo touring with “Disintegration Loops” legend William Basinski, profiled on BBC 6 Music’s The Freakier Zone, creating sound installations inside venues as varied as a Portuguese funeral parlour and a reservoir beneath Copenhagen; tape loop wranglers Robin The Fog and Chris Weaver are delighted to announce the launch of their fourth LP as Howlround – Tales From The Black Tangle
The pair create their music following a strict rule – all digital effects and artificial reverb is strictly forbidden. As with previous albums, Tales From The Black Tangle was created entirely by manipulating natural recordings on a trio of vintage reel-to-reel tape machines. Their increasingly spectacular live performances are no exception to their analogue-only rule, and see the pair leaving venues strewn with miles of tangled magnetic tape. Distant trains, industrial sirens, foghorns, ship to shore distress signals, and even a BBC microphone stand in need of some oil, are all are folded into the duo’s darkest and most eerily compelling work yet. A recent vinyl reissue of last year’s Torridon Gate album sold out in a single afternoon, so anticipation for this latest release is high.
You might remember that a small part of the sessions for this album were captured in this rather super Vine video Chris took over the summer, so it’s great to finally be able to present the finished results in a format longer than six seconds:
Right, I’d better get off down that post office. Thanks so much for all of your custom so far and for the very positive initial feedback I’ve been receiving. I haven’t even had time to do press yet, so there’s no official reviews to speak of, but you can rest assured that if they’re positive they’ll be trumpeted from the roof of Broadcasting House…
— BBC Radio 6 Music (@BBC6Music) July 18, 2015
First off, thanks very much to Stuart Maconie and producer Rebecca Gaskell for allowing me to play records and talk foley on BBC 6Music’s Freakier Zone this week. If you missed it and fancy hearing 100% exclusive extracts from Howlround‘s very-nearly-finished fourth album (including one track so new it had to be hurriedly assembled prior to broadcast) plus personal sound FX selections including the immortal ‘Grotbag’s Cauldon’, you can listen again here. There’s treats aplenty, even if I do say so myself!
Speaking of exclusive treats, I’d like to hereby present for your approval Howlround‘s first ever promo video and the unveiling of another brand new track ‘OH’, produced in collaboration with abandoned playground aka US musician and fellow tape enthusiast Ray Carmen:
The track is created entirely from microcassette recordings made by Ray in the 1990s – of his infant daughter, chimes in the park and distant train sirens. As soon as we heard them it quickly became apparent that they were crying out for some deep spool action and Ray has very kindly obliged. Some have called the results our finest work yet, or at least our most accessible. I’m happy to go along with either, quite frankly.
Howlround are also very pleased to reveal that an edited version of the above features on a brand new 16-track charity compilation XPYLON, released on August 5th and featuring Kemper Norton, Cindy Talk, Time Attendant, Dolly Dolly, Ekoplekz alter-ego Gloria Gloucestershire and side-projects by members of Hacker Farm and Band Of Holy Joy – all artists released by or associated with the now sadly-defunct record label and radio show Exotic Pylon. 100% of proceeds from the sale of this compilation will be donated to mental health charity Mind, so it’s a worthy cause as well as a thoroughly stimulating listen. Pre-order your copy here.
Incidentally, the compilation also features an exclusive track by The British Space Programme, the latest project by ace music producer and Quiet World label-boss Ian Holloway. The debut BSP album Eyes Turned Skyward is out now and is really rather super. Unfortunately Ian recently had a rather nasty altercation with a flight of stairs, resulting in a horrific-sounding knee-injury, swiftly followed by hospitalisation and surgery, so it looks as if future projects might be somewhat delayed. Thankfully he appears to be on the road to recovery, though justifiably a little miffed with being house-bound. Why not help speed that recovery along by browsing the extensive Quiet World catalogue and perhaps making a purchase or two? Just a thought…
Finally, you might have noticed the ‘OH’ promo video is dedicated to broadcaster, inventor, and polymath Bob Symes, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The reason for this dedication will be immediately apparent to anyone aware of the great man and his work, but I would urge everyone else to take five minutes out of their lives and watch this clip of him in action on BBC TV in the 1970s. Whatever your opinion regarding modified coffee tables, if the sheer, unbridled enthusiasm he shows towards the subject (as for seemingly everything he turned his hand to) doesn’t warm your heart, nothing will. An ‘eye-smiler’ as my flatmate observed when I forced her to sit through it. Or as Bob himself might say, ‘Really remarkable’. Bravo, sir, and RIP.
Howlround back in the lab for one final stab at finishing the new LP. This Vine video uploaded by Chris during the session (he has a smartphone!) caused much excitement on Twitter over the weekend, so I thought you might appreciate a re-appraisal. Look closely and you’ll count four machines in use simultaneously, with tension and restraint being provided in the absence of a mic stand by Buddah (which is oddly appropriate), the handlebars of my bike, a pint glass full of batteries and small change; and of course my ‘Stockhausen Syndrome’ mug, which is probably the single funniest object I own…
A number of surprisingly effusive people have already contacted us enquiring just what kind of composition were we cooking up with such a glorious tangle of tape and when they would be able to hear the results? Well, sooner than you might think as it happens as I shall be doing a turn on Stuart Maconie’s Freakier Zone on BBC Radio 6 Music this coming Saturday evening. We’ll be discussing the relationship between music and foley, which is of course PURE HOWLROUND TERRITORY, so I’ll be playing some selections from our catalogue including an extract from this latest work-in-progress, as well as examples of some of my favourite ‘composed sound effects’ from the great Radiophonicists of the past. There might even be something from the forthcoming Howlround album! Join us there, won’t you?
Now that the dust has settled, Howlround would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended both our performance and sound installation as part of the Jardins Efémeros Festival and also to everyone who helped in making it come to pass. There are far too many people to name individually, but particular gratitude must go to Sandras Oliverira and Rodrigues, Filipe Oliveira, Lino Ferreira, Jose Cruzio, the staff of both the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco and the Funerária D. Duarte and of course the ever-resourceful sound engineers Cristóvão Cunha and José Marques for putting up with our myriad of strange demands! And of course to Rui Miguel Abreu for kick-starting our participation in the whole affair – we owe all of these people several beers and will do our best to make good on this at some point. It was certainly one of our most memorable performances both for location, attendance, reception and dramatic incident – though thankfully poor Delia now seems to have recovered! Here’s a brief extract again in case you missed it:
And what a magnificent festival it’s been, encompassing performances, installations, workshops, sculptures, exhibits and DJs that took over the whole town, attracting both young and old, local and international. Unfortunately, the preparation of our own works required much squirrelling away in the backroom of our temporary studio-cum-abandoned-tie-shop and missing some fine work as a result, but we did our best to catch up where possible. Pye Corner Audio (the only other UK act on the bill) and Not Waving‘s joint set was predictably awesome but there were plenty of new personal discoveries too including supercharged garage punk from Dirty Coal Train plus ethereally brilliant solo sets from Johnathan Saldanha and Hysterical One Man Orchestra, both of HHY & The Macumbas. To our great regret we missed their group’s collective performance due to being locked in the museum (and who hasn’t had that happen to them at some point?), but made up for it with Lybomyr Melnyk‘s lengthy, dexterous and evocative solo piano works in the splendour of Viseu’s 16th Century Cathedral, not to mention Barcelona’s Eli Gras incorporating sound toys and bizarre home-made instruments into a set that had all the infectious enthusiasm of a kid in a sonic sweet shop. Away from the live music, DJ Sonido Tupinamba dropping some Yma Sumac and Martin Denny in the town square was a perfect backdrop to a restorative afternoon beverage and I really should also thank that one bar (the name of which escapes me) that both allowed and encouraged me to spin Oldskool Hip Hop on a borrowed laptop. Fun times, but there’s so much that I’ve left out!
Sadly the festival (including our sound installation at the Funerária) ends this weekend, but if you’re in the vicinity there’s still plenty to see before the curtain comes down and the gardens themselves are cleared away on Sunday night. Our thanks go once again to festival curator, organiser, lynchpin and hardest working woman in Portugal, Sandra Oliveira, for putting the whole thing together and not sleeping for days. We’re hoping you get to have a holiday at some point – and that you’ll let us come back next time!