Digging Deep And Deeply Delian : Sounds Explained And Unexplained

Crumbs, it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Let’s start the beginning with my report for BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight on the recent Delia Derbyshire Day that took place at HOME, Manchester and that I was lucky enough to attend. Partly intended as an introduction to one of the great pioneers of the Radiophonic Workshop, much of the ground covered here will already be familiar to regular visitors to these pages; but listen closely and you’ll catch a couple of exclusive extracts from works that have lain unheard in Delia’s archive for decades! It’s a real privilege to be able to bring you even this small taster!

Part of my on-going commitment to keep the nation’s airwaves just that little bit Radiophonic, this report also went out on The World Service a few days later and was posted on The Today Programme’s Facebook page; all of which has hopefully helped to continue the festival’s stated aim to both preserve the legacy of this remarkable lady and to inspire new generations of electronic and experimental musicians to carry her work forward. This year’s third annual Delia Derbyshire Day, the brainchild of electronic musician and sound engineer Caro C, featured new additions to the archive in the shape of two films with original Delian soundtracks: One of These Days (1973) directed by Madelon Hooykaas (who flew over for a personal appearance!) and Two Houses (1980) directed by Elisabeth Kozmian. There were also two new artist commissions for the event, a beautiful original soundtrack and performance by Mandy Wigby (you’ll hear an extract from it closing the report) and film-maker Mary Stark‘s striking visual interpretation of a freshly-prepared sixteen-minute montage of sounds from the Delia’s archive put together by curator and archivist Dr. David Butler. David is the man who has been chiefly responsible for the mammoth task of cataloguing, restoring and preserving Delia’s archive since the University of Manchester took possession of it several years ago, and in his estimation, the freshly discovered archive material used for Mary’s film would have last been heard by the wider public at least forty years ago, if at all.

As you might well imagine, all this was absolute hog heaven.

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What I found particularly inspiring about Caro’s approach to curating this event was her determination to look forward as well as back and to pass Delia’s work on into the future. ‘Someone’s got to inspire the next generation of wonky musicians!’ she laughingly tells us, and having sat in on the festival’s afternoon workshop and watched children of all ages happily creating their own experimental sound works with bowls, gongs and whistles, I’m certain the job has fallen into the right hands. Meanwhile, work on restoring the archive continues and hopefully before long they’ll be ready to share even more new surprises. But for now, bravo to everyone concerned and particular thanks to Caro, David, Madelon and Mandy for being such excellent and inspiring company. I could not have asked for a warmer welcome. Hope to see you again next year!

Moving on, I’ve finally had a moment to upload our debut TV appearance on the BBC’s flagship technology programme Click onto youtube. Now you can sit back and enjoy our unique combination of fascinating sounds, vintage equipment and ravishing good looks just by clicking on the link below, rather than all that messing about with iPlayer. It’s also happens to be a rather useful introduction to just how we created some of the sounds that were used on our last album and the recent compilation The Delaware Road (plus a forthcoming Howlround album as it happens, but that’s not for a while yet). Assisted by the brilliant Victoria Forbes, the end section of the report has been extended a little in order to allow the viewer a longer, uninterrupted listen to the track we created that day with Spencer Kelly and his team. Though of course the track is also still available in full as a free download from my Soundcloud page if you want to go the whole hog. I figure it’s always nice to have options.

Speaking of compilations, I’m very excited to reveal that ‘OH’, our recent collaboration with Ray Carmen’s abandoned playground project has been chosen as the opening track of UK Experimental Underground 016 Survey, a new album from Unexplained Sounds Group and curated by sound artist Raffaele Pezzella aka Sonologyst. The latest in a series of compilations exploring the contemporary electronic music scenes in a number of different countries (and the second concerning the UK), it also includes works by Merkaba Macabre (aka Steve from Psyché-Tropes), Pascal Savy, Tom White, Ian Haygreen and much more. Check it out in full here and see if  you can get permission to join their Facebook Group while you’re at it – it’s a veritable treasure-trove of curios and obscurities!

In other news, we’re rapidly approaching that time again where Resonance 104.4FM asks for the help of it’s many listeners and fans the world over in raising money to fund another year’s work, so please do what you can and help this remarkable station continue it’s mission in broadcasting the weird and the wonderful and giving sounds and voices on the margins a chance to be heard – not to mention it’s wide roster of valuable community, political and discussion programmes. For our part, Howlround are going to be auctioning off some rare vinyl (more on that to follow soon), but for now I’m hoping to encourage you to attend a special fundraising event I’m organising with my esteemed colleagues and longstanding Resonance teamsters Lucky Cat Zoe and Hannah Brown:

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Please do join us at West Norwood’s Book And Record Bar on February 19th, where we’ll all be spinning some discs and raffling off some covetable items, with all proceeds going to help keep Resonance on air. I’m also very excited to announce that we’ve managed to convince legendary DJ, producer, graphic artist and Resonance supporter Strictly Kev of DJ Food to headline for us (though rumours of him planning to give away a significant chunk of the records he’ll be playing remain unconfirmed at the time of writing)! The Facebook event page is here, so please feel free to pledge your allegiance. And of course you can always donate to this worthiest of causes any time you like by visiting the Resonance website and pledging some money, which is like pledging your allegiance only even more so.

I’ve also been enjoying this brief but beautiful EP by John Hall, stalwart member of The Octopus Collective and Full Of Noises, our friends up in Cumbria. “Born in Ashgate Maternity Home in 1959 and again in 1973 in Some Kinda Mushroom Records on Newbold Road”, Four Short Guitar Tunes and Six Iron Gates was recorded in Ulverston and is available now as a limited edition 7″ through his own Bifocals website. Beautiful cover art too. My copy came with three collectable ‘Sweet Charity’ cards, documenting John’s adventures in Oxfams and British Heart Foundations up and down the country, so I guess I’d better start collecting those too…

And finally, a belated RIP to Denmark’s First Lady of electronic and concréte music, Else Marie Pade. From her earliest realised compositions in the 1950s, to working alongside Pierre Schaeffer, to a recent collaboration with Jacob Kirkegaard; her life-long quest to discover new sounds and her fascination with the subject right up to the end is truly humbling. And that’s before you even consider her work in the Danish Resistance during the war. A remarkable life indeed…

Else

[1924-2016]

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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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