Presenting for your approval, Howlround‘s remix of a track from the new album by Devon Loch. Sleep Scale is out now on the redoubtable Kit Records, and also includes interpretations by Beams, Yaaard, Adam Ono and others:
The title ‘Howlround Follows Them Down’ stems from the fact that our quartet of tape machines were each going through a particularly ropey patch at the time and throwing some decidedly wonky shapes into the mix, a state of affairs that I was mindfully attempting to embrace, rather than submitting to hand-wringing despair. Were I permitted to don my philosophical hat, I might speculate that part of what gives Howlround’s music its distinctive savour is the knowledge that both the elderly reel-to-reel machines and the magnetic tape on which it is produced are all gradually degrading and that each turn of the loop only hastens their demise. I might then add that perhaps such ‘managed decline’, if treated sympathetically can produce music of a distinct and fragile beauty, rather like the way dying leaves change colour in the autumn, before winter comes and they turn into withered husks lying forlornly around the place, completely incapable of anything productive and just waiting for you to stub your toe.
For these reasons, and with all philosophical headgear firmly removed, I was and am determined as far as possible to follow the Revoxes down the slippery spiral to the scrapheap and hopefully create some kind of extended swan-song out of the results. After all, you can never be sure with these machines just how much time you have left, a fact that a more gifted writer would doubtless be able to wring all sorts of metaphorical postulation from. As for me, I’ll just settle for remembering that the pioneering Louis and Bebe Barron produced some of their most far-out sounds for the Forbidden Planet soundtrack by actually recording the death-throes of the primitive electronic circuits as they burnt out. The results still sound amazing six decades later and so you could say that those primitive circuits have out-lived them both. And Leslie Nielson.
All this lofty aspersion and dubious metaphor aside, however, I was a little unsure upon listening back to my interpretation of ‘Rapid’ as to whether I was actually satisfied with it. You can waffle on about the beauty of decay all you like (and I do), but it still has to function as music or at least offer a pleasing listen. My initial concern was that it made everything sound quite knackered, as though the bottom had fallen out of the track. Thankfully, when Devon Loch himself finally got to hear it his response was most positive:
Job done. So, moving on, now that the remix is out in the world, a couple of people have asked me to elaborate on the origins of the ‘ghostly and enigmatic’ voices that gradually emerge from under the sea of crackle and hiss in the opening seconds. And what a can of worms they’ve unwittingly opened in doing so, for while I’m normally hesitant in revealing my sources; on this occasion I’ve decided to allow you all a tantalising peek up my sleeve. To that effect, I can confirm that they are taken from THIS festering little object found nestling amongst the usual piles of Johnny Mathis and David Essex in an otherwise unremarkable charity shop:
A flexi-disc! With a title that unblushingly hints at sordid delights supposedly buried within it’s floppy grooves! I paid my 50p, ignored the cashier’s accusing stare, and headed straight for the nearest turntable.
If you’ve never had the pleasure of, ahem, handling one, these disposable, low-quality discs were often given away free with gentleman’s specialist magazines in the seventies and eighties, providing an aural dose of dirty smut to complement their centrefold images – or so I’ve been informed. At the same time they were also used by Readers Digest to flog their box sets of Andy Williams and James Last, though I’ll leave it to you to decide which was the more sordid use of the medium.
Anyway, for added value and because I have nothing better to do with my afternoon, I’ve taken the trouble of transcribing some of the contents of this unsavoury little disc below. Our story begins (or rather it lurches falteringly into motion) with the appearance of one Mr. Brewer, a man who sounds not unlike the Grandfather in the Werthers Original advert fallen on hard times; and who has arrived to hold up his end (ahem) of an appointment with a lady. Or has he? OR HAS HE?! Sit back and let the gripping narrative sweep you into a whirlwind of drama, intrigue and simmering eroticism:
Woman: At last, I was beginning to have my doubts about him. [calling] Who is it?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: It’s me. I mean. Mr. Brewer. Tom Brewer. I rang a little while ago and, and I made an appointment.
Woman: I’m sorry, Sir. We’re terribly busy. There must have been some mistake. Are you sure you’ve come to the right place?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: Yes, yes, I’m absolutely sure. I know I’ve come to the right address. I took it down from your advert. Please let me in. You do remember me. Please. It’s beastly cold out here. I might catch something frightful like pneumonia. Please let me in.
Woman: What did you say your name was?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: Er, Tom Brewer.
Woman: Brewer… Brewer, no I can’t say I recall that name, [and yet in clear contrast to what I’ve just said] it does sound faintly familiar. Did you say you phoned?
Mr. Brewer [outside]: I-I did. Please believe me. It was only half an hour ago.
Woman: Ah, yes, of course. I remember now. Do come in…
[This is where a more accurate dramatic portrayal might have inserted a door-opening sound effect]
Woman: Oh, you poor thing, you look so miserably cold, let’s warm you up with a nice cup of tea and take your coat off for you.
Mr. Brewer : Thank you. I didn’t expect to be treated like this. You know…
Woman: Now, don’t be like that, Mr. Brewer, if that is your name. There are some very peculiar men come knocking on the door. Disgusting men. I hate to think what sort of a place they imagine this to be. They’re dangerous too. Especially a night like tonight when I’m all alone. A lady has to be so careful.
Mr. Brewer : Of course, well, how stupid of me, I should have realised. How can I apologise enough for sounding so rude?
Woman: I should think so!
They continue on in this manner for some time. Just in case you’ve forgotten, gentle reader, that last harrumphing retort from our female protagonist has brought us almost halfway through a so-called ‘Uncensored Sex Party’. Do feel free to stop me if you were offended by any of the above, but I can’t help finding that title inaccurate on at least two counts – a third if you feel that it takes at least three people, some finger-food and the presence of a children’s entertainer to make a party.
For example, while this recording may indeed contain the full, unedited account of what transpired that cold evening; can something really be marketed as ‘uncensored’ if nothing that actually might require censure transpires? Surely this would mean programmes such as ‘Songs Of Praise’ or ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ could also market themselves as uncensored, suggestively-shaped vegetables notwithstanding? It’s all rather misleading, quite frankly, though from a commercial angle I am forced to concede that ‘Uncensored Sex Party’ does have more of a ring to it than other, more appropriate titles such as ‘Dreary Discussion Through Doorway’ or ‘Write It Down Next Time, You Dozy Tart!’
Not that my opinion counts for much amongst all this seediness, of course. As an outsider granted the merest occasional peep, I’ve always found the world of audio-only erotica slightly confusing. Remember my ‘Mucky Mixxxtape’ of a couple years back? The odds are that you do, it was by far one of the most successful endeavours I’ve ever placed a gentle-yet-firm hand upon. And after that there was my attempt to produce a short work for radio by systematically editing all of the smut out of a 1972 LP entitled ‘Midnight Cowpoke’. To my astonishment the resulting two minutes (from a forty-minute long-player) completely failed to make the final cut of a Radio 4 programme with the theme of ‘Misadventure’ – and I had been so confident they would bite my hand off. The point I’m trying to make here is that on both occasions you might recall my wondering aloud just what sort of audience might actually find these records appealing? Who were they aimed at? Why would anyone want to listen to the sound of two jobbing actors faking it?
Well, as far as I’m concerned the discovery of this flexi-disc has only deepened the mystery. The only form of intercourse engaged in during this ‘Sex Party’ is mumbling through some meaningless, utterly perfunctory dialogue that seems almost scientifically programmed not to be listened to. When you further reflect that anyone as concerned about catching ‘something frightful like pneumonia’ as Mr. Brewer would surely not be keen to partake of any activity that involved wearing less clothes, or that our unnamed female appears to be in the dichotomous sate of both expecting and being utterly flummoxed by his arrival; it becomes yet another entry into my canon of things that shouldn’t exist, but somehow do. It’s growing to be quite an impressive list, with recent additions including John Leslie’s Scavengers (Wheel Of Fortune presenter in deep space!), the ‘Loving Remembrance Musical Egg’ and THIS*.
Well, we’ve probably allowed ourselves to get a little side-tracked from our main thrust of business here. This is partly because today is a slow day and partly because I was so utterly depressed by the results of the recent election that I guess I’m looking for any excuse to lose myself in ephemera and try to forget that we’re now essentially living in a giant copy of the Daily Mail. The main thing you should take away from all this is that the Devon Loch LP Sleep Scale is out now on Kit Records and a beautiful thing it is too. Limited vinyl with a handful of tasty remixes and beautiful artwork by Sarah Tanat-Jones. Buy it here while you still can and let’s put an end to all this filth!
* If you clicked here and managed to last right the way through the musical number, I’ll happily stand you a pint. You’ll be needing it.