Now that the dust has settled, please take a moment to enjoy some sights and sounds from last week’s Saisonscape: Decay tour, where Howlround played a trio of dates across the UK alongside the great sound artist and tape-loop manipulator Mr. William Basinski and recent Quantum Natives signing Kepla. The video and images shown here were from the final night of the tour at The Kazimier in Liverpool, which was perhaps the most visually impressive of the three, with the loops teetering and wobbling upwards from the stage and disappearing over the balcony. It’s a miracle the whole thing held together at all, quite frankly, even with all the scaffolding parts and other heavy metallic items lying about backstage that we borrowed to stop the tape jumping off the spools…
My enormous gratitude must go to Art Assembly, in particular the amazing Julia Dempsey, as well as Messers Basinski and Kepla for being such affable and entertaining touring companions, not forgetting Victoria Hastings for doing such a fantastic job of documenting the whole thing. More photos to follow, no doubt, but I think it’s this one that makes me the most proud:
Must also thank everyone at The Kazimier as well as Cafe Oto in London and Salford’s Islington Mill for their warm welcome. I haven’t had a moment to go through all the recordings yet, but doubtless more audio from these events will surface before long. The response from the crowd each night was hugely encouraging and bodes well for the imminent release of our new album…. but more on that later!
Tremendously excited to announce further details of my performance as part of theStrøm Festival in Copenhagen next week. I shall be playing a solo tape-loop set of almost entirely exclusive material, quite possibly including tracks from the forthcoming Howlround LP (which now has a title, a full track-listing and is awaiting the gentle touch of our mastering engineer – but I’m not giving anything else away just yet)! And just LOOK at the venue we’ve been given to play with! This is Copenhagen’sCisternerne, an underground former reservoir with a seventeen second natural reverb. Seventeen seconds, ladies and gentleman!
I shall also be running a sound recording and composition workshop the following day on a converted dredging boat, so it just goes to show you how skilled the Danes are at turning recycling interesting locations into amazing arts venues! Both have now sold out, but you can learn more about the former here and discover what my biography reads like in Danish here. The mighty Logos is playing on the same evening, so it’s shaping up to be quite an event. Hopefully see you there, if you managed to get a ticket!
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.
Latest despatch from the Howlround front-line: Our third album Torridon Gate is about to ‘drop’ on limited edition CD with decidedly sexy cover artwork:
A pleasingly symmetrical design, I hope you’ll agree, and one that would no doubt have looked just super printed onto a dirigible and floated over Hackney. Sadly the budget didn’t allow for such flights of fancy, so I had to make do with just being slightly enigmatic and evasive on Twitter for a bit:
More details, including how you can pertain a copy for your home, school or place of business arriving imminently. But for the moment I will just add that I’m very proud of this one and think it’s our finest work yet, which is why I’m able to use dynamic expressions like ‘about to drop’ with complete confidence. How else to convey the seismic impact of an album of experimental tape music upon the waiting world? I told you this PR thing was a doddle!
You might think that taking over a week to upload some sound and images to these pages from Howlround‘s triumphant gig at 4’33” Café in Barcelona is a rather shoddy way to run a website. And I’d be inclined to agree with you, while letting slip the fact that since we returned I still haven’t got round to the necessary but highly-tedious task of untangling the huge pile of tape loops that were hurriedly scooped off the floor at the close of the performance, our de-rigging having been made all the more urgent by the promise of some impending late-night tapas. And the fact that I still haven’t done any laundry. But in truth, it’s been another busy week. I’m heading off to the US in a few days, hoping to find fresh inspiration recording desert ghost towns and other haunted spaces, so I’ve been trying hard to wrap up all of my various affairs before I go. I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time swearing at Photoshop while fiddling with the cover artwork for a new Howlround release scheduled for the autumn, but more on that at a later date.
What is rather shoddy, however, is leaving it this long to give huge thanks and gratitude to JP and Ale of 4’33” Café for being such fantastic, supportive and entertaining hosts (and for taking the above photos), to Robert and the Base Elements Gallery for allowing us to perform in their magnificent 12th century basement in the Gothic quarter; and also to our many new friends in the large and enthusiastic crowd who gave us such a huge reception – our set met with an ovation and our first ever encore!
Speaking of which, perhaps the strangest moment of the entire trip occurred a few hours before the show as we were returning to our B&B in the Montjuic district to pick up our gear. Walking up the road towards our lodgings, we were suddenly stopped in the street by a lady who pointed at the Outer Church T-shirt I was wearing and asked ‘Are you Robin?’ Despite the enormously high profile I enjoy from years of art radio broadcasting, DJ-ing between bands and creating obscure sound art, it’s still a surprisingly rare thing for me to be recognised in the street, particularly when that street is in a city I last visited on a school art trip at the age of 16. But then this interloper was no ordinary lady – it was Rosa Arutti, local musician, sound artist, part of the rather super Nad Spiro and subsequent gig attendee. I guess you could call this a tribute to the enduring influence of Mr. Joseph Stannard‘s great institution and to the power of T-shirt sloganeering. But even so, I wonder what kind of crazy alignment the planets must have been in to allow this chance meeting in a small side-street in a strange city at the very door of our bed & breakfast? How does Rosa herself account for this amazing coincidence?
‘Well,’ she commented in a subsequent email, ‘they say Montjuic is the magic hill. I think I’m going to get myself an Outer Church t-shirt !’
Nad Spiro have something of the magic about them too. Check out this recent album:
Before we left, JP and Ale also took some time to show us around the site for their new venue, currently under construction, which they intend to open as Barcelona’s answer to our own Cafe Oto here in London. The prospect of such a venue opening and what it might offer to the city is a most enticing one, as is the hope of being able to accept their invitation to come back and perform there once it does so!
In other news, I noticed while flipping through the latest issue of The Wire on the plane over that I get a mention in their charts page – another minor ambition fulfilled with thanks to The Geography Trip! Incidentally, if you haven’t bought their latest release by The Resource Centre yet, you jolly well ought to go and do that now – it’s a quiet marvel and is apparently recommended ‘for fans of Terry Riley, birdwatching, John Cage, that warm feeling you get when remembering your first school and Music concrete’; which I imagine will tick plenty of your boxes too. I can’t find that much coverage of this splendid label anywhere else online, which is rather an oversight on the part of the internet.
As for the immediate future, Chris has returned to Dubai to continue his residency (which appears to be going really well – you can keep up to date with his exploits on his own blog here) and I’m going to be packing my trusty Edirol and an 8GB flashcard in my hand-baggage and hoping for some fresh audio adventures in California in the coming week (but no earthquakes, please). Work on our next release(s?) will continue remotely, though our original plan of sending demos to one another via tape spools in the post has been abandoned for the far more economical benefits of We Transfer. It’s much less romantic but infinitely more practical and I guarantee you won’t be able to spot the difference.
It was great to have Chris back, though, and what an amazing month we had. And, once again, how lucky we are to have so many good friends who support what we do. And to have friends who make nice T-shirts. Glad to know them all!
This is how all Howlround tracks start and end: tangling themselves around my studio! And there’s been a sudden massive increase in said ‘tanglings’ recently…
Do you know something? It would just make my day if only you, dear reader, would follow Howlround on our new website and/or on Twitter with just the same unquestioning diligence! Plus they’ll be plenty of amusing visual gags to savour, such as my recent successful attempt to become more streetwise and urban by becoming a GRIME producer!