The scene is almost absurd, and very British; a Cleesian visual element to a superlative chorus of outsider sound art. Concrète theatre. The drone thunders on, temporally alien and multilayered. Defeated, Robin places the machine down and lowers the squall. “That’s as good a place to stop as any, I suppose,” he says. Oto cheers. It’s glorious. Drone isn’t supposed to be fun, is it?
We’re charmed and humbled by this article on Howlround in FACT magazine and the splendid Mr. Tom Howells, particularly the description of the delightful chaos that ensued during that Cafe Oto set alongside Mr. William Basinski. And for digging out a track from Soundcloud that we’d practically forgotten making! Eagle-eared listeners might have noticed that it’s actually an early version of this track from our second album:
— FACT (@FACTmag) March 16, 2016
The fact that this embedded Tweet insists on sitting to the left of the frame instead of in the centre is really affecting my OCD impulses….
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.
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:
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…
Straight out the gate and into 2016 is Trade And Distribution Almanac Volume Five, the latest in the ADAADAT label’s on-going series of compilations exploring the fringes of contemporary experimental electronic music. And just look which contemporary experimental fringe-bothering duo have been chosen to kick the proceedings! You can hear Howlround’s contribution, exclusive new track ‘Bush Fountains VIP’ by clicking here. The opening track on the compilation, it features a sample of a drinking fountain recorded in Bush House that somehow managed to get left out of the Ghosts Of Bush sessions.
Must say I’m very pleased to have been asked to contribute as releasing something on ADAADAT has been on my bucket list for the best part of a decade, thanks to it’s long and distinguished catalogue that also includes chip-tune gabba classicism from the mighty DJ Scotch Egg, splattery hardcore from Germlin and pretty much everything else from the criminally-overlooked Hungarian Surf-rock duo Agaskodo Teliverek (seriously, watch the video). Still alive and well today, ADAADAT’s latest release features twenty solid tracks of contemporary experimental electronics by the likes of Rutger Hauser, oMMM, Atom Truck and label head Romvelope. What’s not to like? Thanks to Mr. Bjørn Hatleskog for masterminding this one. We owe you a shandy!
In other new release news, goodly egg and fellow Radiophonicist Matt Saunders formerly of 4AD darlings Magnétophone is all set to launch the latest album from his Assembled Minds alias. Creaking Haze And Other Rave Ghosts is the inaugural release on Patterned Air Recordings and has received airplay from Gideon Coe and Tom Ravenscroft on 6Music and the nod of approval from Simon Reynolds and Wyrd Britain amongst others – and deservedly so, it’s a fine piece of work. I was very pleased recently to receive a CD in the post, which arrived in the most splendidly elaborate packaging, with lots of inserts, sleeve-notes and a nice leather cord to keep it all in place. It also contained a press release, which, as has become something of a tradition, I feel moved to quote from at length, rather than come up with any fresh ideas of my own. It’s been a rather long day, you see:
This is an album that almost doesn’t exist. It’s a cloud of old memories, a collective remembrance-pool of distant Saturday nights out, rave-fields, night-clubs, dancing getting intimidated, getting high, feeling the love of the tribe but always looking over your shoulder for some dark threat or other (and best not to mention the bad trips).
Creaking Haze is foggy, hauntological techno; a strange mix of British suspense/horror film tension and euphorically happy-beat-cycling. Listen closely and you’ll hear rust-flakes from the eerier moments of Tubular Bells, broken pistons from a flipped Detroit techno juggernaut, even flickery moon-bell-echoes of Morris jigs and baton clashes. It’s a wyrd electronic album of rural myth and country-fear and it’s flipside, city-rites and night bus anxiety…
Can’t argue with any of that, can you? Though I must say, having read both press release and sleeve-notes before listening, I was fully expecting it to be a rather gloomy and fragile ‘Death Of Rave’-style affair, like the work of occasional collaborator Farmer Glitch’s erstwhile Hacker Farm, Leyland Kirby or even one of Burial’s slightly less polished efforts. And while there is nothing wrong with any of that in the slightest, this album is actually a more rousing effort, mixing its fuggy and spectral electronics with liberal dollops of house and techno and pushing up the tempos steadily as the album progresses. Either way, it’s been on solid rotation for the last few weeks here at Fog Towers, particularly in the mornings, when I take it with coffee whilst trying to prepare myself for the day’s first coherent thought. Early contender for album of the year? Quite possibly…
Buy it here and check out the Patterned Air’s website here. The label claims to fall in the sweet spot between ‘early electronics, old techno, classroom composition, sleep music, general eeriness and weird things’, which I’m guessing will tick an awful lot of boxes for you as well. One to watch, I shouldn’t wonder, especially as there is said to be a collaborative work between members of Coil and Mount Vernon in the works. Now THAT should be interesting!
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…
Please enjoy this latest report for BBC Radio 4 and The World Service on the subject of last weekend’s series of performances in the bascule chambers underneath Tower Bridge. Hidden below the waterline deep underneath one of London’s most iconic structures, these cathedral-like spaces serve to contain the gigantic counterweights during the lifting of the bridge’s central span (each weighs about a thousand tonnes or something ridiculous like that), but until last weekend few indeed would have been aware of their existence and fewer still would have been granted the privilege of climbing down into the chamber for a closer inspection. In fact, for the many hundreds of people strolling along the bridge around lunchtime last Saturday, the only clue that something out of the ordinary was about to occur below them would have been the sounds of distant brass pulsing mysteriously from somewhere beneath their feet. Or perhaps a Robin The Fog-shaped blur that nearly ploughed into them while heroically sprinting the final 200 yards to the entrance down to the chamber – thanks entirely to the incompetent, ever-delayed machinations of the accursed Southern Railways. Sorry if that was your umbrella…
The initial inspiration for the project came from a recording of this vintage machinery at work that was originally made by Ian Rawes of The London Sound Survey. Iain Chambers’ coming across it proved to be the catalyst for an original composition ‘Bascule Chamber’ in which the brass section of the Dockside Sinfonia play along with the sound of the bridge to uncanny and beguiling effect. Before long this unlikeliest of stages was set for a series of concerts featuring two more original compositions by Iain and an interpretation of John Cage’s ‘Aria’ by the soprano Catherine Carter; each performed live and taking full advantage of the chamber’s unique acoustics.
It doesn’t take much imagination to realise just how far up my street (or hidden somewhere beneath it) all this activity is, particularly as I’m a huge fan of both The London Sound Survey and Langham Research Centre, the radiophonic performance group of which Iain is a key member; so I’m aware of the potential for accusations of bias. Nonetheless, I feel no hesitation at all in labelling these events a triumph and it would certainly appear that the enthusiastic reception from the crowd bears me out. Equally, so does the many disappointed people I’ve spoken to since who didn’t manage to get tickets. All I can say is that I hope my report gives some flavour of what went on down there and that apparently the concerts will be broadcast in full on good old Resonance FM at some point soon. Plus you can find both of these estimable gentlemen discussing the project and much more on the London Sound Survey blog here.
Moving on and continuing a busy weekend (though thankfully with less sprinting), I’d also like to present a few images from last Sunday’s sound installation at Mansion House in St. Helen’s Square as part of Vespertine York‘s latest sold-out event: A new sound-work created entirely from magnetic tape and the various ticks and chimes of the numerous antique clocks that until recently had populated this now empty shell.
Vespertine cordially invites the people of York and beyond, to a guided tour of the Mansion House with a twist! This event will be a rare opportunity to see the Mansion House as it is awaiting renovation; the unfurnished, raw building will provide the perfect backdrop for performances and music.
The source material was collected a month or so beforehand. In the intervening period all of these vintage timepieces were removed, along with the furniture, carpets, paintings and other fixtures, pending the building’s year-long closure for extensive refurbishment. It was a strange experience indeed to bring these recently gathered sounds back to the newly bare walls and exposed floorboards – almost like filling this grand building with the memories of its own departed furniture. The results were very positively received by the groups of visitors touring the house, with one even moved to compare it to the soundtrack to Tarkovsky’s Solaris. That, my friends, is one way to make me very happy!
Also on the bill were the truly remarkable Sheffield-based anti-choir Juxtavoices and the multi-instrumentalist duo McWatt – both well worth checking out – plus food, drink, games, stories and more. And all for free! No wonder it sold out so quickly! Thanks very much to everyone who came along and showed their support and to Vespertine York for being such amazing hosts and for giving us such an awesome space to play with. It’s the latest in a series of events they’re curating, so their website is definitely worth a perusal and you’re advised to book your tickets early.
And as a last-minute edition to today’s business, I’m happy to announce that I make an appearance in the latest issue of Caught By The River‘s regular publication An Antidote To Indifference, writing about some of my adventures in tape, alongside articles by Melissa Harrison, Chris Watson, Richard King, Emma Warren and many more. This is the second issue to be edited by legendary sonic curator Cheryl Tipp of the British Library’s Sound Archive (amongst many other goodly works) and thus promises to be even more of a cracking read than usual. Pre-order your copy here.
News of the new Howlround album arriving imminently. But after all this I might want a nice lie down first…
For those of you who couldn’t make it to today’s panel discussion, ‘Is Sound The Forgotten Sense?’ that was part of a series of talks at this year’s 100% Design showcase, please enjoy this sonic portrait of Kensington Olympia that was unveiled as part of my presentation:
Should architects and designers think more about using sound in new and exciting ways, rather than only focusing on acoustics? Our speakers all use sound innovatively from those that ‘play’ a building, to creating soundscapes that react to spaces and engage audiences in new ways. The panel includes Martyn Ware, founder member of iconic bands Heaven 17 and The Human League, who now creates 3D immersive audio landscapes with architects, artists and brands through his company Illustrious, designer Tomas Klassnik, and sound artist Robin the Fog, who will create a bespoke sound design for 100% Design. Chaired by David Michon, editor of Icon.
You might remember I blogged quite excitedly about visiting Olympia back in August and being given free reign of the building to explore and record. At the time the venue was a blank canvas being cleaned, maintained and generally prepared for this major four-day exhibition. The above work, commissioned by 100% Design derives from making a series of recordings of the naturally-occurring sounds of the building at work (band-saws and other tools, scissor-lifts and other maintenance vehicles, cleaning brushes etc.) along with various objects that I came across on my travels round the building, including doors, windows, temporary fencing, coat hangers and so on. The staff were kind enough to then let me take these recordings and play them at high volume through the venue’s PA system, using Olympia’s high arched ceiling as a giant reverberation tank – the biggest space I’d ever had the pleasure of working with and a glorious cacophony that somehow didn’t distract the cleaning staff from their appointed tasks one bit. Who knows, perhaps this sort of thing is a regular occurrence?
…And to think until today I’d never heard a recording of my thumb amplified through the public address system of major exhibition venue!
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) August 20, 2015
Thanks to 100% Design for having me, to Martyn, Thomas and David for being such fascinating company and to everyone who expressed an interest in my work. Sadly, due to some sort of annoying technical hitch I was unable to play an extract from Jacob Kirkegaard‘s 4 Rooms, which was a tremendous shame as it was a terrific example of one of the points I was trying to make about working with particular acoustic spaces – is it pure coincidence that these recordings of abandoned public spaces in the Chernobyl sound so desolate, lonely and foreboding, despite being in essence just recordings of amplified silence? Or does our awareness of the tragic history of these rooms and the inherent dangers of returning there have a part to play?
Here it is, anyway, and you’ll find more information on the album here. Still makes me shiver…