Thursday, 26 May 2022

Debut Release from The Howling - 'All Hail Mega Force'







Imagine your worst fear a reality. All Hail Mega Force is the first full-length release from The Howling: a collaborative project I started with sound artist Robin the Fog, aka Howlround. Our work is inspired exclusively by our shared love of text, audiotape and trash aesthetics. Ken Hollings + Howlround = The Howling. Our first performance took place at the Iklectik in September 2019 as part of a special programme to celebrate Tapeworm’s 10th anniversary.

 

During the pandemic we managed to continue working and conferring since then, sharing sound files, texts and mixes online, and one of the main results has been this release for Tapeworm. The two extended tracks contained on this audiocassette reflect our shared interest in Fluxus and how informal rules and permutations can be set up to work themselves out through loops and repetitions. The idea of instant, disposable one-off creations appealed to us a lot at the time, particularly as both pieces were conceived and developed during different phases of Covid lockdown in the UK. A straight line connects Terry Riley’s tape experiments in Paris from the early 60s with our experimental recordings in the Wimpy Bar on Streatham High Road, one of our favourite meeting places. 

 

The title and source material for these two pieces are derived from the 1980s kid’s adventure movie MegaForce, starring Barry Bostwik and Michael Beck. Designed to sell a range of Mattel hi-tech action toys, MegaForce tanked at the box office but lives on in the collective consciousness of those who share with The Howling a special love for Trash and Trash Aesthetics. 

 

‘All Hail Mega Force’ was created by reading combinations of the words 'All Hail Mega Force' into a voice memo recorder, transferring it to tape, cutting the whole thing as a single long loop and then stretching it across three reel-to-reel machines simultaneously, using two pencils and a pint glass full of loose change to try and maintain sufficient playback tension. Over time the loop started to degrade, which accounts for the increasingly slurry and unpredictable playback, plus frequent ruptures caused by the tape becoming jammed and having to be tugged through the machine workings by hand. Twenty-four minutes later and the result was a completed new work and a slight backache.

 

 

The text for ‘Are You Man Enough For Mega Force?’ was recorded live in the Wimpy Bar on Streatham High Road, 28 November 2021. It was cut to tape and looped on 3 December 2021 at Warrior Studios, Loughborough Junction. Dragged by motor and then by hand across two tape machines with copious amounts of closed input feedback provided by a third rushing in to fill the gaps. One take with no effects or overdubs, but one tiny edit in the middle when something fell over. 

 

 

Cover art is by the fabulous Deborah Wale of Tears/Ov, design and layout is by the amazing Philip Marshall, who was also responsible for The Howling’s Burger Bun Logo. Mega Mastering was by Steven McInerney. We are indebted to all three of them. Further details on this fine Tapeworm release can be found here.


‘The result,’ according to the  music blog Further, ‘is like an updated take on Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting In A Room”, except that Hollings wasn’t at home but at the Wimpy Bar on Streatham High Street. After listening to approximately 360 brilliantly evolving iterations of the b-side’s single enquiry – “Are you man enough for Mega Force?” – pushed through Howlround’s macho manipulations, I can confirm, regrettably, that I’m probably not.’

 

Robin and I have continued working together since the completion of All Hail mega Force. There is a new album of text/tape/trash compositions, plus a couple of very exciting performances coming up later in the year, including any absolute barnburner at the BFI over the summer. With The Howling, you can be sure that your worst fear is a reality.

 

Pictured above:

 

All Hail Mega Force cover by Deborah Wale and Philip Marhshall

Pack Shots by @lahollings

The Howling recording in Streatham High Road Wimpy Bar by Beth Arzy

Friday, 28 January 2022

The Howling play Iklectik Studios February 5 2022 - Be There




I am very pleased to announce that I will be joining the amazing Robin the Fog, AKA Howlround as part of ‘A Picture of the Picture of Dorian Gray’: an evening of events at Iklectik Studios taking place on Saturday February 5. Also on the bill are Tears Ov, Laura Angusdei and Alpha Duffau, so the whole thing will certainly be well worth your attention and support. 

 

This is only the second time that Howlround and I have appeared together as the Howling. I’m going to let the press release take over at this point:

 

The Howling is a collaborative project started by writer Ken Hollings and sound artist Howlround devoted exclusively to their shared love of text, audiotape and trash aesthetics. An intense collision of spoken word and tape effects, the Howling’s first performance took place at the Iklectik in September 2019. Since then, the duo has been working together online developing new material and techniques. This is only their second performance, so don’t expect too much from them.

 

Ken Hollings is a writer and broadcaster. His work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, and he has written and presented critically acclaimed features for BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 and Resonance 104.4 FM. His books include Welcome to MarsThe Bright LabyrinthThe Space Oracle and Inferno all available from Strange Attractor/MIT Press. His latest book, Purgatory, is due from them in Spring 2022.

 

Howlround, AKA, Robin the Fog, is a sound designer, radio producer, audio archivist, educator and occasional DJ. His work falls under the broad term of 'radiophonic' and includes composition, sound installation, field recording and documentary. original described as a 'second wave hauntologist', his current obsession is attempting to use closed-input feedback loops to create primitive techno, which is quite a long way from where he started.   



Tickets for the event are £10.00 in advance or £12.00 on the door. You can find all of the details 

here.

 

 

Pictured above: Howlround in the studio, The Howling live at the Iklectik, September 2019, Howling logo by Philip Marshall 

Sunday, 5 December 2021

Adaptations of Destroy All Monsters available on audiocassette from Tapeworm






I am very pleased to announce that Tapeworm have just released on audiocassette some audio adaptations of scenes taken from derived from my first book Destroy All Monsters. These recordings, made in 2001 in the weeks before September 11, constitute a unique historical document. The order information for this Tapeworm release can be found here

 

A multistranded postmodern epic, Destroy All Monsters offers a radical retelling of Desert Storm, America’s military operation targeting Iraq, using imagery derived from MTV videos, CNN news reports, Japanese kaiju movies and anime, Hong Kong action flicks and tales of alien abduction. The book’s entire narrative nervously unfolds in an unstable of world of terror monsters, wrecked cities and dangerously tall buildings: where an event like 9/11 is inevitable. The book was officially launched by Marion Boyars Publishers on September 13, but distribution in the United States was delayed when ports on the Eastern Seaboard were closed to shipping post 9/11, leaving copies of the book stranded in the Atlantic.  ‘Published the very week of the “attacks on America”,’ Toby Litt wrote at the time, ‘Destroy All Monsters is genuinely, spookily prescient…as a progress report on Planet Earth, it seems to have timeslipped onto the front pages.’ Lydia Lunch praised it as ‘a hallucinogenic spiral into future nightmare’, while The Scotsman called it ‘mind bending reading.’

 

In the summer of 2001, I was approached by sound designer and electronic music composer Simon James, who wanted to create an audio adaptation of scenes from the novel to share with subscribers to a spoken word channel launched by totallyradio.  The idea was to record me reading my own words and then embed them in a soundscape that evoked the fragmented complexity of the original text. I concentrated on a small handful of threads from the overall narrative, while Simon directed and engineered the final recording. This resulted in the two sequences of words, sounds and electronic tonalities contained on this audiocassette: an unsettling portrait of people about to be overtaken by events.

 

In October 2001, having just got married in London, Rachel and I went to New York for our honeymoon, just as we had originally planned. We spent an unforgettable week in a city struggling to recover from the seismic changes that had just taken place while a sudden wave of anthrax attacks on government and media offices filled the news cycles. Rachel took a photograph of me at Ground Zero, where crowds of onlookers continued to gather, and the air still smelled of burning.

 

Simon James and I remained friends over the years, working together whenever we can. Simon is an outstanding producer, musician and sound designer, whose work combines electronic sources with field recording techniques and sound treatments, using sound to transport the listener to fantastical audio worlds. His latest release, Electro Smog, collects electromagnetic field recordings from Shenzhen's electronic markets, recorded while he was in China at the invitation of Musicity and the British Council.

 

These Destroy All Monsters audio adaptations marked the first occasion Simon and I worked together – subsequently we collaborated on the 12-part series Welcome to Mars for Resonance 104.4 FM and Connecting, an audio portrait of the original ‘phone phreaks’, for BBC Radio 3. We teamed up again earlier this year to make Fast Forward, an award-winning six-part documentary series for Kasperksy Lab. 

 

My thanks as always to Savage Pencil for doing the cover art for both the book and audiocassette incarnations of Destroy All Monsters as shown above, to Philip Marshall at Tapeworm, Simon James at the controls and, of course to Rachel for taking pictures three and four.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

BBC Radio 3 Presents The Summer Sounds of Ken Hollings





More by chance than design, the programmers at BBC Radio have organized a Ken Hollings mini festival over the middle two weeks of August. Forget the Proms. Forget whatever might be happening in Edinburgh. BBC Radio 3 loves me, and I love BBC Radio 3. The programmes are all repeats, and each of them has been available online since they were originally broadcast; but there is still something special about having a scheduled appointment to hear something over the radio. 

 

The details are as follows:

 

On Sunday August 8 at 18.45, there is another chance to hear Rewiring Raymond Scott, my take on the life and career of this amazing early force in electronic music.  For ‘Fast Forward’, the recent audio doc series that Simon James created for Kasperky Labs, Scott was the biggest influence on approach to sound design and presentation. You can find a link to the show here.

 

Then on Monday August 9 at 22.45, they are beginning a repeat of my five-part Essay series On Holiday with Nietzsche. You can find out the details behind this series by clicking hereThe link to the first episode, ‘Becoming What You Are’ can be found here.

 

On Tuesday August 10 at 22.45, you can hear Under the Mountain– the details are here.

 

On Wednesday August 11 at 22.45, you can hear ‘For Everyone and No One’ – the details are here.

 

On Thursday August 12 at 22.45, you can hear ‘A Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog’  the details are here.

 

And on Friday August 13 at 22.45, you can hear the fifth and final part, ‘The Art of Ending’ – the details are here.

 

And finally on Wednesday August 18 at 22.00, BBC Radio 3 are repeating Right Between the Ears, a work for text and sound design created in binaural sound that explores my own personal experience of the human skull as a resonating chamber. For more details on the original concept, please click here. This one is definitely worth listening over headphones. The Radio 3 website details can be found here 

 

Radio is still a medium I love working with very much – it dates back to the time when I first started listening to talks and readings on Radio 3 as a teenager, discovering whole new worlds of sounds, experiences and ideas. I think the mind breathes deeper and better over the airwaves – even digital ones.

Monday, 22 February 2021

‘The Golden Disc’ and The Concept of Exceptional Success







The German artist and author Olaf Arndt of the group BBM recently initiated an online revival of the radical German artzine Die Aktion. Originally founded in 1911, Die Aktion published writing by Heinrich Mann, Andre Gide Erwin Piscator and Hugo Ball among others before succumbing to hyperinflation and expiring in the early 1930s . The intentions behind this new online edition of Die Aktion are laid out in its editorial

I was very happy to be invited to contribute a new and exclusive piece of writing to Die Aktion 4.0. Olaf asked for something on Brexit and Covid-19 and I said: ‘Of course. Can I write about The Golden Disc?’ Olaf replied: ‘Of course. What is it?’ I explained that it was a 1958 teensploitation film set on the London coffee-bar scene and starring Terry Dene, the UK’s answer to Elvis Presley. I added that a close examination of the film’s complex pathology would give a clear analysis of where I think we are at the moment. Olaf said that sounded fine, and to please go ahead. 

The form, structure arrangement of the finished piece has been drawn directly from Walter Benjamin’s last essay, ‘On The Concept of History’, which you can find here. It also owes a great deal to Deleuze and Guattari’s The Anti-Oedipus, the art of Richard Lindner and the rise in the local rose-ringed parakeet population of South West London. 

But mostly it is about The Golden Disc, which remains, for me at least, a shamefully overlooked B-movie masterpiece. 

My essay is called ‘On The Concept of Brexit, Covid and Exceptional Success: A Fable in Eighteen Parts with Two Addenda and Seven Supporting Quotations’. 

You can find it here

Thank you.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Flesh and Metal: Carel Capek's RUR turns 100

 





 

On 25 January 1921, at the National Theatre in Prague, the first performance of Rossum’s Universal Robots, or RUR, by the Bohemian playwright Carel Capek took place. In terms of pure theatre, his ‘comedy of science’, as he liked to call it, is fairly unremarkable – it had none of Meyerhold’s biomechanics, the abstract dynamism of Futurist sintesi or the geometric reduction of human form or motion found in Bauhaus theatre and theatre. But it did give the world a new word: ‘robot’.

 

Ever since I first wrote about RUR in my essay ‘Robot Power, Robot Pride’ for Strange Attractor Journal Two and in my book The Bright Labyrinth, I have wanted to do something more detailed on Capek’s play. The Samuel French edition of RUR published in 1923 described RUR as a ‘fantastic melodrama’ but it would be a struggle to call it science fiction. Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers are still a long way in the future. However, its impact upon the cultural imagination of the time was so deep that the word ‘robot’ continues to have a deep resonance today. 

 

The Robots Are Us is my attempt to explore why a word that barely existed in Czech at the time when Capek wrote RUR managed to capture the fears and desires of its times the way it did.  Capek’s robots were made of flesh and blood in giant factories – robots today are mostly silicone, plastic and metal alloys – some only exist as strings of code. Our collective anxieties over a possible robot rebellion remain, however. I was lucky to have people like Caroline Edwards, Roger Luckhurst, Danielle Picard and Dustin Abnet to discuss the play with me. I was even more fortunate to have Mark Burman as my producer. He and I have worked together many times before, most notably on last year’s essay series celebrating 2019 as The Year of Blade Runner . 

 

The programme goes out on Sunday at 18.45 GMT on BBC Radio 3 but will remain online afterwards. You can find the details and a link here.


‘Looks like metal…feels like flesh… Looks like flesh…feels like metal.’

 

Pictured above: an early Czech production of RUR and Eric, Britain’s homemade answer to RUR as reconstructed for the Science Museum’s Robots show in 2017

 

Friday, 10 July 2020

New Biting Tongues Album: 'Clear Your Screens' From Your Friendly Tapeworm





No one heard us coming – no one saw us leave. 


I’m pleased to announce that Tapeworm are releasing a new Biting Tongues album on limited edition CD or digital download. Clear Your Screens is a ‘series of battle re-enactments from Manchester’s least celebrated post-punk groups’ according to Tapeworm’s Bandcamp page. More precisely, it is a collection of live moments, selected by me, recorded between 2003 and 2009 in performances that brought the original Biting Tongues line-up together for the first time in about twenty years. Graham Massey took the multichannel recordings and did an amazing job mixing and producing all of the selected material. He and I spent months swapping notes and ideas with each other, especially when it came to the sequencing of the random tapes we would traditionally have running in the background throughout each performance. We’d never know what was coming or when, so it was always a surprise when playing the rough mixes back afterwards. Graham has a fantastic ear – ‘we have to find where the track lives,’ he once advised me in an email. I’m not sure I completely understood what Graham meant to begin with and I’m not even sure I can explain it to you now either, but I think I get it now. Personally I think this is the best album this version of Biting Tongues has ever released. It’s essentially the same group that recorded Live It, the album that was reissued on vinyl by Finders Keepers at the end of last year. You can find out more about it  here . They even have a few tracks in common, most notably ‘Evening State’, ‘The Reflector’ and ‘Unhook That Boy’.

I wrote some sleeve notes for Clear Your Screens that were an attempt to explore the differences and continuities between then and now – what has changed and what remains the same. Listening to Clear Your Screens today it feels like we were writing material and creating ideas for our future selves – an active form of communication across time. Quite what our former selves would make of our more recent efforts, I will leave to them to express – if they ever get around to it.

You rarely get the chance to haunt yourself – to discover that you are slowly becoming a ghost from your own past. In 2003 the original Biting Tongues line-up came together for a one-off performance at the ICA in London – it was the first time we had played together in almost twenty years. Further opportunities presented themselves in the years that followed. More out of curiosity than anything else, we stuck with past material: tracks written and performed all those years ago. I welcomed the chance to return to it after so much time, experience and hindsight. The playing felt more assured than before – almost as if our performances had grown into each of these pieces, making them what they were meant to be. The live stage had always been our true recording studio, so far as I’m concerned – it was the laboratory where the best experiments happened. We left a lot of space for chance and the unexpected to move in and take over. At every performance there would be tapes running unattended in the background: interjecting voices from late-night TV and radio, scraps of news items and cheap sci-fi movies, field recordings, overheard conversations and shortwave signals. We just kept on playing.‘They may sound like an unorganized racket to some people,’ Graham Massey once remarked about these performances, ‘but they are very formal pieces. This formality provided a framework for all the random inputs in our work to take effect, making a drama out of the unintended. It was simply a matter of accepting the results. I’m glad they have been so carefully preserved. The live recordings we made between 2003 and 2009 are a reminder that the date and venue might vary but the stage remains the same. It’s a constant presence scattered across time and location, influencing the way you think and feel.The barbed tangles of sounds, the clusters of voices and rhythms – each of them establishes a connection with the past. Graham’s outstanding technical skills as producer may have brought them firmly into the present, but their origins will always lie elsewhere – most of the tapes heard running through these performances are digital copies of fragile 1980s originals. As for the person who initially composed the cut-up and heavily processed texts I found myself channeling onstage in the early years of twenty-first century: I’m not entirely sure where and when that individual slipped away. I had simply become an older mouthpiece for a much younger version of myself: just another ghost haunting my own body.

Biting Tongues
CD
Digital Album
Mastered by Stephan Mathieu at Schwebung Mastering
Buy it here.