I promised you ‘Wildkatze’ last week, didn’t I? Well, prepare to receive them in abundance as Resonance FM‘s Near Mint show takes a second trip round the record box of genius composer, sound designer, performance artist and roboticist Sarah Angliss. Recorded in the studio of her flat in a very rainy Borough while husband Colin made us pasta, it’s another superb selection that moves from Schlager to Dietrich to prepared piano to Iggy without breaking a sweat, all mixed together with her contagiously effusive commentary. If you can think of a better way to pass half an hour, do please fill us all in.
In other news, please enjoy my latest BBC report on the subject of The Arkestra, the community of musicians that surrounded the legendary Afro-Futurist band-leader and interstellar ambassador Sun Ra, and continue to spread his message to this day; with 91 year-old director Marshall Allen still leading from the front.
‘The music world is full of larger-than-life characters, but surely few more extraordinary than the late Sun Ra, an African American bandleader who claimed he was visiting Earth from Saturn, leaving a trail of [incredible] music in his wake. His band, known as The Arkestra, is still touring the world, with 91-year-old director and leading man, Marshall Allen, very much at the helm. Robin [The Fog] spoke to Sun Ra expert and BBC 6 Music DJ, Gilles Peterson, about why, 23 years after the its leader passed on, the music and legacy of the Sun Ra Arkestra is perhaps more relevant than ever…’
In this report, originally aired on Radio 4’s The World Tonight and later repeated on The World Service, BBC 6Music DJ Gilles Peterson a Sun Ra curator, scholar and archivist (amongst many other goodly activities) tells us more about the great man’s work over some extracts from the excellent Strut Records compilation that he put together last year. There’s also some actuality I recorded at the band’s recent sell-out show at London’s Union chapel, captured in spite of a large man with an earpiece who demanded to know what I’d done with the recording permit they’d failed to provide me with, and the chap in front of me who seemed convinced that the whole enterprise was merely an elaborate ruse to cover my trying to record his conversation. With the best will in the world this was unlikely – he was sitting alone.
I must thank Gilles for a fascinating interview, conducted as it was in the august surroundings of the Brownswood Recordings stock-cupboard, and his team Dave O’Donnell and Simon Goffe for their assistance in making it happen. Isn’t it wonderful that we get to talk about Sun Ra on Radio 4? Meanwhile, The Arkestra are currently on tour in Europe and sounding as remarkable as ever, while Peterson-curated compilation To Those Of Earth And Other Worlds is out now. Featuring a number of previously unreleased or horrifically rare recordings from his own archive, it’s well worth a dig.
Speaking of exciting new releases, A Year In The Country’s The Quietened Village is finally out now and features an exclusive Howlround track as well as new works from Time Attendant, Polypores, The Rowan Amber Mill and lots more besides. As well as being available from A Year In The Country’s website, it’s also secured a release through the legendary online emporium that is Norman Records and a coveted slot in the Ghost Box‘s Guest Shop! Another beautifully hand-made and fabulously limited package that is set to disappear quick-sharpish. Swiftly investing in a copy would be highly recommended.
In other Howlround news, thanks to everyone who came down to the three-day Open Jack Weekender at New River Studios in Manor House last weekend, it was great to see so many friends and take in performances by Sculpture, Raxil 4, Guncleaner and Tom Mudd amongst others. Extra special thanks must go Thomas Blackburn for asking us to play and being the dynamic force behind the whole event (‘never again!’ he panted over his shoulder – but I’m quite sure he’ll change his mind) and to Lisa Hack for this shot of me looking confused yet oddly poised and confident. If I didn’t already have a couple of biographers, she’d certainly be in line for the job. And all this to end an exciting week when the Howlround studio took delivery of the latest addition to the family, an enormous old Studer which I predict will be a credit to the team, once we’ve ironed out a couple of slightly worrying tendencies:
Playing around with malfunctioning new tape machine seems to have opened a portal to another dimension: pic.twitter.com/nwIv9M3mq2
— Robin The Fog (@RobinTheFog) April 21, 2016
To conclude on a similar moderately sinister note, please accept this rather poorly-taken photo (no tripod or decent light-source to hand at the time of writing) of a Structures Sonores Lasry-Baschet LP on the Patchwork Library that has recently found its way into the Foggy crate. In all honesty this has nothing to do with any of the above and I have no particular reason for sharing it with you, other than to say it’s well-worth getting hold of a copy if you can find one and that the Pattern house sleeve (each release sharing this uniform design but in a series of different colours) is a thing of beauty. And most of all just to put the wind up my Near Mint co-host Hannah Brown, who is reportedly green with envy that I got hold of it before she did. How long can it be before our friendly rivalry spills over into bloodshed? Surely the time is nigh…
To those requiring further clarification, Lasry-Baschet and their collection of deeply unconventional instruments (perhaps we could refer to them collectively as the ‘Lasry-Baschet Cachet’) were a French group based around the brothers François and Bernard Baschet together with Jacques and Yvonne Lasry.
Recording and performing with their unique collection of remarkable home-made devices and active mostly between the 1950s and 70s, the group are perhaps best known in the UK for having one of their pieces, ‘Manège’, soundtrack the opening sequence to the long-running ITV Schools programme ‘Picture Box’, it’s combination of slightly sinister fairground tones mixed with blurry footage of a slowly rotating jewelled casket instantly recognisable to anyone who spent time growing up in the 1970s and 80s. There is a distinct chance that many regular readers of these pages will already be nodding along to this and saying ‘yes, yes, everyone knows already?’, but I thought I’d use the opportunity to re-visit this remarkable ‘extended version’ of the Picture Box opening titles just in case you haven’t seen it before. It’s well worth a look, partly because it’s very, very cleverly executed and because it takes the original video’s aforementioned slightly sinister overtones and blows them clean out of the water. But mostly because I’m reliably informed it made Jonny Trunk almost wet himself:
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…