First off, thanks very much to Stuart Maconie and producer Rebecca Gaskell for allowing me to play records and talk foley on BBC 6Music’s Freakier Zone this week. If you missed it and fancy hearing 100% exclusive extracts from Howlround‘s very-nearly-finished fourth album (including one track so new it had to be hurriedly assembled prior to broadcast) plus personal sound FX selections including the immortal ‘Grotbag’s Cauldon’, you can listen again here. There’s treats aplenty, even if I do say so myself!
Speaking of exclusive treats, I’d like to hereby present for your approval Howlround‘s first ever promo video and the unveiling of another brand new track ‘OH’, produced in collaboration with abandoned playground aka US musician and fellow tape enthusiast Ray Carmen:
The track is created entirely from microcassette recordings made by Ray in the 1990s – of his infant daughter, chimes in the park and distant train sirens. As soon as we heard them it quickly became apparent that they were crying out for some deep spool action and Ray has very kindly obliged. Some have called the results our finest work yet, or at least our most accessible. I’m happy to go along with either, quite frankly.
Howlround are also very pleased to reveal that an edited version of the above features on a brand new 16-track charity compilation XPYLON, released on August 5th and featuring Kemper Norton, Cindy Talk, Time Attendant, Dolly Dolly, Ekoplekz alter-ego Gloria Gloucestershire and side-projects by members of Hacker Farm and Band Of Holy Joy – all artists released by or associated with the now sadly-defunct record label and radio show Exotic Pylon. 100% of proceeds from the sale of this compilation will be donated to mental health charity Mind, so it’s a worthy cause as well as a thoroughly stimulating listen. Pre-order your copy here.
Incidentally, the compilation also features an exclusive track by The British Space Programme, the latest project by ace music producer and Quiet World label-boss Ian Holloway. The debut BSP album Eyes Turned Skyward is out now and is really rather super. Unfortunately Ian recently had a rather nasty altercation with a flight of stairs, resulting in a horrific-sounding knee-injury, swiftly followed by hospitalisation and surgery, so it looks as if future projects might be somewhat delayed. Thankfully he appears to be on the road to recovery, though justifiably a little miffed with being house-bound. Why not help speed that recovery along by browsing the extensive Quiet World catalogue and perhaps making a purchase or two? Just a thought…
Finally, you might have noticed the ‘OH’ promo video is dedicated to broadcaster, inventor, and polymath Bob Symes, who sadly passed away earlier this year. The reason for this dedication will be immediately apparent to anyone aware of the great man and his work, but I would urge everyone else to take five minutes out of their lives and watch this clip of him in action on BBC TV in the 1970s. Whatever your opinion regarding modified coffee tables, if the sheer, unbridled enthusiasm he shows towards the subject (as for seemingly everything he turned his hand to) doesn’t warm your heart, nothing will. An ‘eye-smiler’ as my flatmate observed when I forced her to sit through it. Or as Bob himself might say, ‘Really remarkable’. Bravo, sir, and RIP.
Howlround back in the lab for one final stab at finishing the new LP. This Vine video uploaded by Chris during the session (he has a smartphone!) caused much excitement on Twitter over the weekend, so I thought you might appreciate a re-appraisal. Look closely and you’ll count four machines in use simultaneously, with tension and restraint being provided in the absence of a mic stand by Buddah (which is oddly appropriate), the handlebars of my bike, a pint glass full of batteries and small change; and of course my ‘Stockhausen Syndrome’ mug, which is probably the single funniest object I own…
A number of surprisingly effusive people have already contacted us enquiring just what kind of composition were we cooking up with such a glorious tangle of tape and when they would be able to hear the results? Well, sooner than you might think as it happens as I shall be doing a turn on Stuart Maconie’s Freakier Zone on BBC Radio 6 Music this coming Saturday evening. We’ll be discussing the relationship between music and foley, which is of course PURE HOWLROUND TERRITORY, so I’ll be playing some selections from our catalogue including an extract from this latest work-in-progress, as well as examples of some of my favourite ‘composed sound effects’ from the great Radiophonicists of the past. There might even be something from the forthcoming Howlround album! Join us there, won’t you?
Now that the dust has settled, Howlround would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who attended both our performance and sound installation as part of the Jardins Efémeros Festival and also to everyone who helped in making it come to pass. There are far too many people to name individually, but particular gratitude must go to Sandras Oliverira and Rodrigues, Filipe Oliveira, Lino Ferreira, Jose Cruzio, the staff of both the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco and the Funerária D. Duarte and of course the ever-resourceful sound engineers Cristóvão Cunha and José Marques for putting up with our myriad of strange demands! And of course to Rui Miguel Abreu for kick-starting our participation in the whole affair – we owe all of these people several beers and will do our best to make good on this at some point. It was certainly one of our most memorable performances both for location, attendance, reception and dramatic incident – though thankfully poor Delia now seems to have recovered! Here’s a brief extract again in case you missed it:
And what a magnificent festival it’s been, encompassing performances, installations, workshops, sculptures, exhibits and DJs that took over the whole town, attracting both young and old, local and international. Unfortunately, the preparation of our own works required much squirrelling away in the backroom of our temporary studio-cum-abandoned-tie-shop and missing some fine work as a result, but we did our best to catch up where possible. Pye Corner Audio (the only other UK act on the bill) and Not Waving‘s joint set was predictably awesome but there were plenty of new personal discoveries too including supercharged garage punk from Dirty Coal Train plus ethereally brilliant solo sets from Johnathan Saldanha and Hysterical One Man Orchestra, both of HHY & The Macumbas. To our great regret we missed their group’s collective performance due to being locked in the museum (and who hasn’t had that happen to them at some point?), but made up for it with Lybomyr Melnyk‘s lengthy, dexterous and evocative solo piano works in the splendour of Viseu’s 16th Century Cathedral, not to mention Barcelona’s Eli Gras incorporating sound toys and bizarre home-made instruments into a set that had all the infectious enthusiasm of a kid in a sonic sweet shop. Away from the live music, DJ Sonido Tupinamba dropping some Yma Sumac and Martin Denny in the town square was a perfect backdrop to a restorative afternoon beverage and I really should also thank that one bar (the name of which escapes me) that both allowed and encouraged me to spin Oldskool Hip Hop on a borrowed laptop. Fun times, but there’s so much that I’ve left out!
Sadly the festival (including our sound installation at the Funerária) ends this weekend, but if you’re in the vicinity there’s still plenty to see before the curtain comes down and the gardens themselves are cleared away on Sunday night. Our thanks go once again to festival curator, organiser, lynchpin and hardest working woman in Portugal, Sandra Oliveira, for putting the whole thing together and not sleeping for days. We’re hoping you get to have a holiday at some point – and that you’ll let us come back next time!
A rather hurried post at the culmination of a manic week preparing for our sound installation and performance for the Jardins Efémeros Festival in Viseu, Portugal. A more considered write-up will doubtless be forthcoming, but for now I thought you might enjoy these images and this extract from last night’s set in the magnificent C15th cloister of the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco – our first ever open-air performance!
Thankfully the intense heat combined with a slight breeze that threatened to blow our tape loops around had calmed by the time of our 23.30 performance, though the evening was not without its dramatic moments, including a significant chunk of our set in which our reel-to-reel machine ‘Delia’ appeared to give up the ghost completely. For added intrigue, it just so happens that our performance occurred on the 14th anniversary of the death of her Radiophonic namesake. I’m not a superstitious man, but I’m pretty certain there’s some symbolism at work in there somewhere. Thankfully she clicked back into life after some tense moments and a lot of silent pleading and is now recuperating in our surprisingly plush hotel:
Away from the stage, our sound installation at the Funerária D. Duarte runs throughout the festival and thanks must go to the staff for being so obliging in allowing us free play among the coffins in the back room.
The work itself is some twenty-seven minutes in total and consists of the Funerária staff (all members of the same family) talking about their work mixed in with a soundscape of Viseu using recordings gathered from local abandoned buildings and subjected to the patented Howlround treatment at our temporary studio in the back room of a former tie shop. Our favourite piece of feedback so far has got to be a reported ‘Mummy, where are all the dinosaurs?’
Jardins Efémeros runs until 12th July and it’s proving to be a remarkable achievement, quite literally transforming the town. Our gratitude must of course go to festival curator and lynchpin Sandra Oliveira, our translator Lino and all our new friends for being so welcoming and supportive. We’ve been so busy preparing for our own contributions since our arrival last week that we haven’t actually had time to check out much of the festival yet, but one thing that particularly captured my own imagination during a brief tea-break was Vanda Rodrigues‘ ‘Cloud Room’, stepping into which felt like entering a Boards Of Canada video!
Howlround will be performing as part of this year’s Jardins Efémeros Festival (or ‘Ephemeral Gardens’) in Viseu, Portugal on July 3rd at the Nacional Museum Grão Vasco. We’ll also be producing a sound installation in a funeral parlour! Click on the image below for more details and the full festival line-sup can be downloaded as a PDF here. Further sounds and images to follow – plus Pye Corner Audio and Holly Herndon are playing too! Hurrah!
It’s the first event in what is shaping up to be quite a busy summer for Daphne, Delia, Magdalena and Elisabeth, our quartet of sprightly though occasionally wonky reel-to-reel machines. So busy in fact, that I thought it might be an idea to embody it in poster form:
In the meantime, thanks to everyone who came to Speak No Evil‘s‘Light And Shadow Salon’ last Thursday and to the staff of New River Studios for going above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that our quartet of tape machines got home safely (it’s a long story). Great new venue, hopefully we’ll be invited back soon. I was intending to post an extract here from this first Howlround performance since that Barcelona basement last summer, but unfortunately due to a technical glitch I’m currently unable to do so. However the entire event was being simultaneously broadcast on Sonica.FM, so with a bit of luck we might be able to work something out. Thanks to everyone who came up and told us how much they had enjoyed our set, but for added amusement I shall leave with you with the unsolicited advice offered by an older gentleman in the audience who, after observing us conjuring a mass of howls, shrieks and clanks from our quartet of elderly reel-to-reel machines and a vast tangle of ageing, twisted tape, remarked that our live set needed to be a bit ‘slicker’ and ‘more professional’ if we were going to get anywhere. I thanked him and suggested he check out our alternative website http://www.spectacularlyandheroicallymissinghepointofthewholedamnedenterprise.com
Howlround’s first live performance of the year (and for almost a year!) occurs at ‘The Light And Shadow Salon’ on June 25th. An evening of varied audio-visual performances, film, improvisation and even magic lanterns, it’s the brainchild of our friends Speak No Evil and takes place at historic London arts venue The Horse Hospital.
There’s a Facebook Event page with details of the rather super line-up in full, plus you can learn more about this most fascinating building (and how you can play a part in saving it from the relentless march of the sterile corporate behemoth currently ravaging our fair city) here.
Our tape machines are looking set to make up for lost time with a busy summer playing at festivals in both Viseu, Portugal in July and Copenhagen, Denmark in August; further details of which should be arriving on these pages soon, as well as details of a new Howlround LP in late summer/early autumn. To be honest I’ve no real idea yet what shape it might take, but I can reveal we’re sitting on a sizeable reserve of new material; and that after the vinyl reissue of Torridon Gate sold out in a single afternoon, I’m very keen to follow it with something fresh. Rest assured that any subsequent developments will be trumpeted loudly from the rooftops.
Speaking of reissues, you might remember Brood Ma‘s excellent P O P U L O U S (not to mention the follow-up r e P O P U L O U S featuring remixes by Yearning Kru, Ornine and myself), released on his Quantum Natives label last year. Well, it’s now been reissued on vinyl by Untold’s ever-superb Hemlock Recordings and sounds fatter than ever. I was going to write ‘phatter’, but I’m not sure that’s been culturally acceptable since about 1996. Suffice to say it still bangs and squelches in all the right places and I’m happily rinsing it round at Fog Towers all over again.
Equally excitingly, Ghost Box have just put out two of their finest releases on vinyl for the first time – 2007’s Quatermass-channelling Seance At Hob’s Lane by Mount Vernon Arts Lab and The Advisory Circle‘s sublime Other Channels from the following year. Both are highly deserving of the heavyweight vinyl treatment and Julian House’s artwork looks better than ever in twelve inches. And as if this wasn’t enough, The Advisory Circle’s Jon Brooks, never one to rest on his laurels, has just released another excellent new LP, Walberswick on More Than Human Records. Whatever his secret is, I do wish he’d bottle it!
And finally, while it doesn’t really have anything to do with the above business, this wondrous thing finally turned up in the post last week:
Isn’t it beautiful?
I’ve been hunting a Sesame Street record box for a number of years now, even going so far as trying to sneak off with one belonging to fellow Sesame-addict DJ Food while his back was turned. Now, after a decade of impatient online scouring and bungled petty-thievery, this little beauty has pride of my place on my shelf and plays host to my modest collection of slightly battered CTW and other Muppet 45s (including ‘I Love Trash’, as you’d expect), a rather marvellous single by Bert entitled ‘Clink, Clank’ and – though I’m embarrassed to admit it – my copy of the decidedly non-canon: ‘Big Bird & His Blowers’. That’s right at the back of the box, as you might expect and it should probably stay there.
Anyway, the discovery of this box and the aforementioned glut of reissues by some of my favourite artists have contributed not only to making June a rather exciting month musically, but also to my recent inability to put my hand in my pocket and get a round in. And so, as an act of contrition I thought I’d leave you with this charming performance of ‘Clink, Clank’ I found on youtube. Some might argue that all this is veering dangerously off-topic, but I feel I should point out that Bert’s delight in the strange sounds produced by his apartment’s plumbing not only has vague echoes of my own childhood but also sums up the Howlroundmodus operandi pretty neatly.
Besides, I love going off-topic. Get to it, gentlemen:
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.
It’s #FundRaisingWeek once again at Resonance FM, which means another seven days of special broadcasts, one-off events and lots and lots of highly desirable items up for grabs in this year’s Ebay auction, with all money raised helping to keep the greatest radio station in the world on air for yet another year. And in these straitened times they need your help more than ever. So, what’s up for grabs in 2015? Here’s my own contribution:
‘A Howl-To Guide’: A Day Of Tape-Loop Creation With Robin The Fog
“A glorious morning spent searching for extraordinary noises in ordinary places in the company of sound artist and composer Robin The Fog, followed by an instructive afternoon dubbing those sounds onto magnetic tape and creating and editing wondrous tape loop compositions, with the results to be broadcast on Resonance FM at a later date. Recording and editing equipment, including tape machines and razor blades, will be provided and the lucky winner(s) will be sent home with a tape spool of their handiwork”.
Speaking personally, a day spent doing this sort of thing is my idea of heaven, and I’m hoping lots of you will agree at least enough to make a decent bid. Further details (including an important disclaimer against razor-related loss of thumbs or other injuries) plus innumerable other delightful items available at the Special Resonance FM Fundraising website here. But the vast majority of you who require no more persuading to support this worthiest of causes can simply whizz straight over to the item’s Ebay page and BID NOW!
Please make the bids nice and high, because 100% of the money raised goes straight to Resonance, and of course because playing with tape is tremendous fun and I’m reliably informed that I’m reasonably affable company. If this workshop ends up being even half as profitable as last year’s ‘Howlround Haunts Your Home’ project, the lucky winner is in for a very enjoyable experience indeed:
Another item currently up for grabs is an old favourite – ‘Play OST For Me‘, in which the highest bidder wins the chance to present their very own bespoke edition of The OST Show, with all their favourite soundtracks and every whim indulged by that redoubtable broadcaster, smutty raconteur and general man of letters Jonny Trunk, who has promised to be on his very best behaviour for the occasion. This item always proves surprisingly popular, so GET BIDDING QUICKLY! I shall be popping up on this Saturday’s show to promote both this and the aforementioned tape editing workshop, plus we’re also expecting a visit from the brilliant Pete ‘Monsterism’ Fowler; who has very kindly donated this completely awesome original work to the cause:
My sources tell me there may also be a four-year-old guest on the show, but he is purely there for entertainment value and most certainly NOT up for auction. More details on all of this as we get them and I might even be able to shoe-horn in some new tape music by Howlround that’s currently in production. Unless Jonny pulls that face again. You know the one:
Howlround are hereby deeply proud and very excited to be officially announcing the release of our third album Torridon Gate on cult blog and record label A Year In The Country! Today’s post is in entirely black and white in tribute to their stark and arresting sense of aesthetics – and arrives only a full week after the album actually came out, but I think you’re about ready by now.
So, Torridon Gate, then. I’ve been told it sounds like the title of a lost novel by Philip K. Dick. But as it happens the thinking behind that title is actually rather prosaic – all of the music on this new album was created from a single recording of a suburban garden gate on Torridon Road, Hither Green, London. And that’s it. We attached a contact microphone to the metalwork of the gate and recorded as it opened and shut and moved in the wind. These sounds were then processed, looped and edited on three reel-to-reel tape machines with all electronic effects or artificial reverb strictly forbidden. Despite such restrictions and the limited sound palette in comparison to our previous work, we like to think the results are as haunting and beguiling as anything from our other albums, shifting from ethereal tone-patterns to demonic scrunches and back again. It’s certainly a long journey from the pleasant suburban street where it all began. Who would have thought a single ‘common or garden’ gate (pun intended) could offer such hidden wealth? Well, perhaps these two had an inkling:
The project started life as a prize on Resonance FM‘s most recent annual fundraiser, but quickly spiralled upwards and outwards. Perhaps you remember our ‘Howlround’s Home Haunting‘ auction item back in February, where we offered to provide a unique sonic portrait of the dwelling place of the highest bidder? Well, our thanks and gratitude must go to gate-owners Tony Alpe and Kathryn Everett, not only for a very generous winning bid (every penny of which went towards keeping Resonance on air, of course), but also for allowing us to share the results! ‘The gate was one of the things that attracted us to the house in the first place!’ says Tony, and hopefully after listening to this album you’ll join me in fully concurring with this statement!
Actually, there’s been a fair amount of concurrage (as it were) already, and I’ve included below a couple of extracts from my favourites so far (click on the link to read the whole review), In fact, feel free to send in some feedback of your own – if it’s particularly obsequious I’ll share it!! 😉
“The result – a modern piece of musique concrete – is extraordinary, like the soundtrack of an old horror movie of the 50s, a fog of sounds in sepia tones that seem to emanate from another time” (trans.) – Rui Migel Abreu, 33-45.org
“Is it a portal to other worlds, a site of ghostly hauntings which follow on from the car crashes which resulted from not paying attention to all the road safety films… or perhaps the passageway between the galaxies that Quatermass must pass through in streaks of video feedback and ominous lighting effects in order to save London from a fate worse than Edward Heath?” – Richard Fontenoy, Freq
“I think the world inside a mirror would be very interested in you” – BBC Cantonese
EXCITING TORRIDON GATE QUIZ:
Now for the fun part. Written below are three statements, each as inherently plausible and theoretically sound as the other. And yet only ONE of them is factually accurate. Can YOU, dear reader, separate the wheat of truth from the chaff of falsehood? Read on:
The widely-reported appearance of agiant dirigible emblazoned with Howlround’s distinctive logo above London’s fashionable Hither Green district was the first indication that an album of earth-shattering significance was, as they say, ‘about to drop’. And the hiss of escaping air caused by a leaky valve some twenty minutes later was the first indication that life was about to imitate art. Profuse apologies if that was your greenhouse.
Secret solid gold copies of ‘Torridon Gate were hidden in Ironmongeries in five major cities across the world (including Barrow-in-Furness). Each copy contained two or three different numbers scratched directly onto the disc, and it is rumoured that when combined in the correct order, the full set of these numbers would allow the finder to make nuisance calls to Howlround member Chris Weaver. Luckily for him, only two have surfaced to date, one of which recently sold online for well over $1,000.
The album was mastered by the brilliant James Edward Barker of Veneration Music, recording engineer, genius musician and the composer of the soundtrack to the notoriously unwatchable and completely-banned-forever video nasty Human Centipede 2. He was paid for his superb mastering efforts by having a large consignment of Butterscotch Flavour Angel Delight delivered to his house.
I admit, it’s tricky – they all just sound so entirely likely, don’t they?
Don’t they, James?
Answers on a postcard, please….
So, after months of labouring away in secret, here it is. Available now in a series of four beautiful limited editions from A Year In The Country, the label and blog that has developed a cult following through its continuous ‘searching for an expression of an underlying unsettledness to the English bucolic countryside dream’. Each edition – Night, Day, Dawn and Dusk – comes with a selection of unique hand-finished artwork and packaging, while the Night edition also includes a selection of badges, sections of the original tape loops used to make the album and more. All are available now from AYITC’s ‘Artefacts Shop’ with a download also available for those who no longer meddle with discs. We’re really proud of this one and hope you’ll like it too!
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.
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?