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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Beacons, Barcelona and Bridges – Summer In Review

My first post in almost a month and I’m afraid it’s another rushed one, mostly playing catch-up and paying some Howlround-related dues. Firstly, Chris and I would like to express our sincere thanks once again to the amazing JP and Ale of 4’33” Cafe for not only hosting us in Barcelona back in August, but for turning the results into this beautiful short film posted onto Facebook. A wonderful souvenir and a perfect introduction to the Howlround live experience! Please enjoy:

Secondly, The Quietus has published a very entertaining review of this year’s Beacons Festival by that most affable gent Jonny Mugwump, including some decidedly favourable comments about Howlround’s late-night tape-loop contribution. You are warmly encouraged to read it in full on their website here, but for our immediate purposes I’ll just modestly quote the flattering bit:

“…[Howlround were] by far one of the strangest sets of the weekend as well as being one of the highlights […] uncanny, mesmerising, difficult and sublime. Utilising vintage reel to reel tape decks, Weaver manipulates physical loops of tape that Robin feeds into the machines. The utterly indescribable sound however is lent extra gravitas through the almost theatrical physical requirements of the performance. There are giant loops of tape hanging everywhere and the delicacy and intricacy of handling them lends the set an overwhelmingly eerie atmosphere. Howlround live is a séance – the act of channelling rendered in physical form. Suitably sonically infected, the night takes on strange shapes and you sit down with new friends knowing that this is exactly what a festival should be about”. 

While Mr. Mugwump naturally has our gratitude, it’s also a relief to hear he survived long enough in order to file his report – I’m told the weather really did get rather biblical after we left. In addition I feel I must apologise to him and to all of you for the slight grammatical error I caused while tweeting about it. Promise it won’t happen again:

Finally, my thanks to the lovely and ever-patient Kaitlyn Spillane and my other stateside friends for an incredible three weeks of American adventuring. From the burning forests of Yosemite, to the salt planes of the Mojave desert, the ghost towns, abandoned hillside military encampments, empty motels, ‘wave organs’ (more of which later) – we covered it all.  There’s a huge amount of recordings to wade through and it may be quite some time before I’m ready to share anything, but share it I certainly will in due course. In the meantime, please enjoy this recording of that most iconic part of San Francisco’s soundscape, the foghorns of the Golden Gate Bridge. The extract below was made in the densest fog I’ve ever encountered – despite standing directly underneath the gigantic, bright-red, mile-long, 230 metre-high  structure the bridge might as well have not been there at all. I don’t even think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that you can hear the fog in this recording – certainly not when you consider the fact that sound does travel differently in foggy conditions. Unfortunately, one sound that travelled rather too well was  that of a nearby trio of wastrels who were so entranced with this mighty display of the elements that they decided to chinwag incessantly about nothing throughout all of  my efforts to capture it. Ah, well, sometimes you have to let the world in.

Golden Gate from Fort Point-lo

I’m sure I don’t need to explain that this photograph was taken from the same point as the sound recording, but on a different day. But just in case…

Incidentally, fellow Hitchcock devotees might like to know that this was taken from almost the exact same location as the one from which Kim Novak threw herself into the foaming waters of the bay during one of Vertigo‘s more dramatic moments. Listen to the booming of the foghorn over the thunder of the seawash here and I think you’ll get a real sense of just what a poor decision this would have proved:

They certainly wouldn’t have got much filming done on the day of my visit, though nowadays the heightened security measures would have prevented the need for any heroics on the part of Jimmy Stewart. What price freedom, eh?


Bringing Home The Beacons

beacons_fest

In real life the sun was much smaller and the lightning bolts rather bigger…

Thanks to everyone who came to see us HEADLINE the Friday night of the Beacons festival – and as we were the last act of the evening in the only tent left open, I feel I can declare this statement technically accurate. Look, we’ve even got an appropriately surrealistic picture by the great Matt Colquhoun to prove it:

Howlround by Matt Colquhoun

Howlround at Beacons by Matt Colquhoun

As some of you will be aware, the specific nature of a Howlround performance often requires having my back to the crowd; but my spies cunningly placed among the festival-goers in attendance have revealed that the reception to our set fell into three broad categories – a small but noble group who were enchanted, a slightly larger group who were rather baffled and a very small group of one who was actually quite outraged. This is all to the good – the last thing anybody wants to inspire is indifference. My favourite comments so far have included ‘brilliant’, ‘strangely remedial’, ‘eerie as f**k’ and ‘is this supposed to be an act?’, all of which I’m hoping to fit on the sticker attached to our next LP.  Why not have a listen to this brief extract and send me your own three-word review? I’ll print the best ones!

From my own perspective, our set was not without it’s challenges, particularly as our new UHER reporter machines were proving a little impetuous and uncooperative. But of course that element of risk and the chance that it might all implode at any moment is a key factor in Howlround’s live performances – the frequent bouts of frantic loop un-tangling, bursts of unexplained noise and sudden huge silences should always be considered part of the experience. Allowing this margin for error, failure or perhaps even outright disaster is what gives the performance an extra frisson. Not that this is the easiest thing to explain to a crowd of mashed-up ravers who have spent the last few hours ‘going hard’ in the Resident Advisor tent. As it were…

Into The Woods

Our thanks once again must go to John and Glenn from the Octopus Collective for inviting us and being the entertaining and fascinating company they always are. One of my personal highlights from the festival was Glenn’s Bread Board Orchestra workshop, which turned several large groups of random strangers into chopstick-wielding band-mates, jamming for hours and making a wonderful racket – like a Tescos-powered Gamelan ensemble. I’m hoping they’ll put some of the recordings on-line at some point so I can share them with you. Naturally Chris and I had to have a go. Followed by another. And another…

Breadboard Orchestra by Matt Colquhoun

Howlround help out / hinder the Breadboaord Orchestra. Photo by Matt Colquhoun

Other favourite moments included Dām-Funk‘s vocoder-keytar jams (deserving a far higher billing), Special Request‘s house set suddenly ramping into an hour of glorious, teeth-grinding jungle, an extended tea and cake session with our old mucker Jonny Mugwump and Jez Riley-French treating me to a personal performance of his hydrophone recordings (it was very early in the morning and I was the only other person in the tent). Even the appalling weather was not without it’s comedy value, particularly when Chris got whacked and nearly blown over by a flying sign-post warning him to expect high winds. Who says Mother Nature doesn’t have a sense of humour?

Up next is Cafe 4′ 33″ in Barcelona on August 22nd. We’re hoping for slightly less rain.

Howlround_4-33flier