Spectral Spools, Amplified Olympia And XPylons

Olympia

It’s been a busy old week at Fog Towers since my return from Copenhagen, culminating in a morning spent wandering around the famous Kensington Olympia with some contact microphones looking for some hidden sounds to record. Currently in-between exhibitions and deserted save for a small army of cleaning and maintenance staff, I was lucky enough to be given full access to this enormous exhibition centre, including its surprisingly loud PA system. The reason for all this will be unveiled next month when I’m planning to return to the building to present the results of my audio adventures. For the moment I’ll just let it be known that playing the sounds of doors creaking, glass being rubbed and the ascension of a scissor-lift back into the cavernous main hall at high volume while staff continue their work undaunted was about the most fun it’s possible to have before lunchtime. Like being given the keys to an enormous empty toyshop…

In other news, here’s what the next Howlround album sounds like:

Howlround Spectral Analysis

Following a flying visit to Veneration Music‘s studio in deepest, darkest Kent, I’m very excited to be able to reveal this first glimpse of our next LP – quite literally. It has a title, cover artwork and, thanks to the nurturing hands of genius mastering engineer James Edward Barker, is now primped, polished and ready to go. As with our previous album, the services of this most talented musician/producer/polymath was largely paid for in Butterscotch flavour Angel Delight – a very reasonable price for a chap who’s just been working with Bruce Willis. We’re very excited about it all, but for the moment this enigmatic glimpse of the audio files is all you’re getting! Hoping for a November release, but you know how these things have a tendency to get held up…

On the same subject, you might remember me harping on about Howlround’s first ever music video few weeks back. Why not watch it again? It’s very good but I need to get the play-count up:

I mention it here again because the charity compilation album XPYLON from which this track (a collaboration with Ray Carmen’s abandoned playground) was taken is finally out and available in all it’s 16-exclusive-track glory. As well as benefiting a good cause, it’s also a tribute to Jonny Mugwump’s erstwhile Exotic Pylon record label and radio show,  and the stellar line-up below is the perfect testament to his legacy. All original and exclusive material and it’s a ‘name your price‘ release, which means you simply pay what you think it’s worth – but as 100% of all proceeds are being donated to mental health charity ‘MIND‘, a generous donation is always appreciated.

But don’t just take my word as to its quality, a rather flattering review courtesy of Jim Haynes has surfaced in this month’s Wire magazine:

Xpylon Wire Review

Now that the album has been released, I’m suddenly reminded that I actually feature on the album twice, firstly in my capacity representing Howlround and secondly as one third of new super-group The Trunchbulls, alongside Band Of Holy Joy lynchpin Johny Brown (who wrote the tremendously eerie accompanying text) and Exotic Pylon legend Dolly Dolly (who spoke it and did the eerily tremendous job one might expect after listening to his 2013 album Antimacassar). Anyway, put it down to a busy work-load, to concentrating over-hard on finishing off the aforementioned Howlround long-player or just encroaching senility, but somehow the memory of working alongside these two excellent fellows and the resulting ‘polyglot of Derbyshire-esque Radiophonics’ (thanks Jim!) slipped to the bottom of my mental pile. I’d better post it up here before it slips my mind again:

One thing I haven’t forgotten is Jez Butler‘s superb A Lighter Side Of Concrete from a year or so ago. Heavily influenced by the work of  twang-a-ruler-and-make-a-bassline-out-of-it Radiophonic Workshop legend John Baker, it’s an album of decidedly chirpy concrete-pop that I still feel has been rather unfairly slept on. Well, his latest release as part of the Twelve Hour Foundation with partner Polly Hulse is out now on a limited edition three-track 7″ and it’s really quite marvellous. Continuing the legacy of his solo album, it’s a ridiculously catchy affair that sounds like the theme tune to an early 1980s BBC Schools programme about robots or the periodic table – like something Paddy Kingsland might have cooked up for the greatest-ever episode of Zig-Zag, on a spring morning while enjoying a bourbon. Look, I’m running out of analogies, OK? Just give it a listen already!

And speaking of John Baker, I’m ridiculously over-excited at the imminent release of The Vendetta Tapes on Alan Gubby’sBuried Treasure imprint. Alan worked extensively on the Trunk compilation The Baker Tapes several years ago and I believe these tracks represent a further trove of ultra-rare obscurities from one of the Workshop’s true pioneers: incidental music, theme tunes, jingles and special effects culminating in a delicate balance of sleazy jazz, musique concrete and subtle electronics. I was excited then and I’m excited now, especially as I had confidently assumed that after the Trunk release the trail would have gone cold. After all, the BBC does have a deservedly awful reputation when it comes to preserving it’s own archive – though the recent BFI box set of Out Of The Unknown was most welcome, it served as much to highlight the fact that more than half of the episodes of that series have been lost forever, including stories by Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asmiov and Nigel Kneale – a travesty, quite frankly. Thank heavens for enthusiasts like Alan who manage to get past the bureaucracy and red tape and finally give these treasures an airing! Limited edition and selling fast, don’t sleep on this one:

Well, that’s probably enough to be getting on with. Next week I’m off to York to record the sound of vintage Grandfather Clocks. Busy old summer…

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Radiophrenia – How It Is

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Very pleased to announce the launch today of Radiophrenia, an art radio station broadcasting live on 87.9FM for one week only (13th-19th April) to Glasgow and the surrounding areas, also streaming worldwide via Radiophrenia.scot. Curated by Mark Vernon and Barry Burns and with a programme of several hundred exclusive and original radiophonic works, including contributions from Octopus Collective alumni John Hall and Felix Kubin, Jez Butler, The Resonance Radio Orchestra and many, many more. My own submissions include another collaboration with the brilliant Leila Peacock and a brand new tape-composition using a recording of a New Broadcasting House microphone with a squeaking cradle. You’ll have to tune in to hear them in full of course, but magnanimous fellow that I am,  I’ve included a sneak preview:

The schedule can be perused here and you can also follow the latest updates on Twitter. I’m predicting that I shall be listening to this a lot over the coming days, partly owing the relentlessly high-calibre of people involved, but also to attain some respite from heroically supervising the packing of thousands of records into boxes. But that’s for another time…

Another recent collaboration that I can finally reveal is Michael Garrad‘s entry to the Kings College Creative Responses to Modernism competition, a dramatized extract from Samuel Beckett’s 1961 novel How It Is. Barry Ward provides the voice and I provide the soundtrack. The results are as relentless and visceral as anything I’ve been involved with to date, and it’s about as intense and bleakly thrilling (or thrillingly bleak) as anything the great man ever wrote.

This recording is interested modernism’s concept of making it new and conversely how outmoded techniques can evoke the futuristic and etherial. A squeaking drawer is the source for the electronic sound, recorded and manipulated on ancient quarter-inch tape machines, extracting hidden sound. The reading is monotone, breathless and the digital recording eliminates dynamic with harsh sibilance, distortion and extreme compression.

I can’t claim to be much of a Beckett scholar, though from my own perspective he made a huge contribution to radiophonic drama with works such as pioneering radio play All The Fall in 1957. It’s said that he was hugely influenced by the creative possibilities of then-nascent reel-to-reel technology, a fascination that manifests itself most obviously in works such as the quietly horrific Krapp’s Last Tape. And on a more personal note, I have a print of the Beckett quote ‘Fail again, fail better’ blu-tacked to the wall of my studio next to the mixing desk. It’s been a constant source of solace, as anyone who invests their career and general happiness in the functioning of a number of broken down and erratic tape machines will be able to readily imagine. Hand-painted by Sarah Tanat Jones as a reward to donors to her recent Kickstarter campaign, it’s a quote I first read on the back of a Peanuts calendar, of all things, a surprisingly deep nugget of wisdom compared to the previous day’s entry – ‘take snacks on long road trips to avoid having to buy them’.

In the selection from How It Is, the narrator, static in an abstract land of mud, has a lucid moment, reminiscing of ‘life above’ with his wife, whose death torments him. The piece crosses futures and pasts, warmth and harshness, and in its form exists out of body, place and time.

It’s another rather hurried post from me, unfortunately, as I must return to my frantic box-related activities. But hopefully these two and the promise of many Glaswegian radiophonic delights for the week ahead will keep you sated until THIS happens:

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