Saturday, 23 July 2016

THE NIGHTOWL SINGS - 1955






















Released July 2016. TOR53.


Marc Gillen - Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Bass & Field Recordings.

Stephen Benson - Acoustic, Electric & Slide Guitars, Bass, Piano, Sound Collage & Echo Machine.

David Thompson - Vocals on "Down Terrace".

Jill Wallace - Bass on "Driven to Dust" and Vocals on "Down Terrace".


Recorded at home and mixed by Alastair Popple at The Kitchen Sync June and July 2016.

Produced by Alastair Popple.

Photography by Marc Gillen. Artwork by Marc Gillen and Alastair Popple.

Made at home.

TOR53.
 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

BROCKEN SPECTRE






















TOR52. Released June 2016.

01. Stockholm Cancelled
02. Polish Girls
03. Colour Fucker
04. Skylite Walkers
05. Skye
06. Beyond Nostalgia
07. Walking Ghosts
08. (In) Dreams

Sometime in early 2015 myself and Ste got to thinking it would be fun to form a band where we could both play loud abrasive guitars together.  This meant recruiting a new drummer and bass player, so the word got out and eventually after some wrong turns we got the right people in the right place, enter Mike on drums and Jill on bass. Songs were plucked out from The Nightowl Sings and Dead West songbook to get the fire started, it was exhilarating to hear some of these songs take on new forms and sounds, endless possibilities coming back at you from the intensity of the shared passions of four people playing hard and loud in a small room. Of course, it wasn't long before new songs appeared and gradually they took precedent and a new songbook flowered.

As the year spluttered to a close, the rehearsals became more frequent and the playing and arrangements became more adventurous and the sound took on a coiled elasticity that took in punk, shoegaze and noisy indie rock. Our ears were bleeding and on a good night the songs would fly. At around the same time we moved to a new home, a loft space above a vintage bazaar shop, which was packed with art, furniture, clothes, pop art memorabilia, records and other curious artifacts. It really did feel like home and and it provided a wonderful setting for the band and new friendships to blossom. There was talk of us doing gigs out of town, but we never seemed to pin any details down, and the talk remained just that.



So we began recording as we always do, building on the first song we had put down at my house in October called 'Skylite Walkers' a wonky, skewed jem which never quite settles down in its bursts of feedback and punchy choruses. The recording process proved to be difficult, and even though we were well rehearsed the act of being tied down to the restrictive nature of recording proved deflating and frustrating for some.

Despite this, the songs continued to show their strengths and we persevered. Over several weeks the basic tracks and overdubs took shape and with some wonderful input from Al in post production, the songs eight of them, realised their full potential, forming a cohesive but varied mini album, packed with barbed melodies, energy and loft space noise. Ste as ever provided great artwork and photography for the release, and as i listen to the opening song 'Stockholm cancelled' call to arms i am reminded of the joy we shared, and how cold winter nights were warmed by the songs we created and the friendships we shared. - Marc.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

WE ARE THE WOODEN HOUSES & LORÉN CLARE - (UNEXPECTED)






















TOR51. Released June 2016

01. Standing Still/Departure and Arrival
02. Spine Fin/The Carcass
03. The Brown G/Out of the Woods
04. Slow/Burn
05. Death and Horses/Ashes and Passion


It's been almost nine months since the last TOR release; the last few months have seen new methods, new sounds and new collaborations.

The first of these collaborations to be released is '(unexpected)' by We Are the Wooden Houses & Lorén Clare.

The beginnings of this set began last August. The first of three improvised sessions provided the bulk of the material; after discussing performing and recording, Lorén and I decided to improvise some music and put it to tape. Autoharp, Bass, Percussion and various effects were used and a date was set for further sonic explorations. The next session saw the recording of a performed sound collage and the final session more autoharp and percussion recordings.

The week after these sessions had been concluded, the next project began. 

Not wanting to postpone inspiration, the sessions with Lorén were put to one side as further recording began.

Al revisited these tracks a few weeks after the initial sessions and began re-sculpting and re-composing.

In January, Al and I decided to have a final improvised session for additional sounds. This was performed with shamisen, violin and effects.

The hazy sounds of the evening weave in and out of new ambient soundscapes created by Al from sounds on the recording, distorted and effected beyond recognition. The sound veers between live improvisation and drones created from the ambiance with some tracks being wholly created from heavily treated samples.


It took Al a few months, on and off, to conclude the reconstruction of these recordings, ensuring this spook folk, ambient, found sound and avant garde project made sense; to ensure this trip had the right trajectory.

The artwork also demanded patience and experimentation to get right. I had initially met with Lorén for a photo shoot, and some of the images from that day are featured in the artwork. An extremely limited box set edition is also accompanied by a set of ten prints of photographs taken by myself and Al throughout 2015 and 2016. In this special edition, the tracks are spread over three 3" compact discs and are housed in a wooden box. The regular edition comes in a jewel case with two randomly picked images from the set of ten.


As always, there is a free download and limited physical copies for purchase over at Bandcamp.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

THE NIGHTOWL SINGS - AFTER THE FLOWERS





















TOR 50. Released September 2015.

01. High Rise
02. Bliss
03. In Remains of Love
04. After the Flowers
05. Mutually Assured Disaffection
06. Half Way to Your Arms
07. Suicide #2 (Electric Boogaloo)
08. Inside/Outside
09. How Do You Get High


The new Nightowl Sings album is made up of tracks from very different sessions, although the finished record is cohesive in tone, feel and attitude.

The first track is the oldest here. In January, sessions started for a new Old Weird project. Only one track was completed and 'High Rise' starts the album as it goes on; different, lonely and melancholic experimentalism. It also marks the second time a Nightowl Sings album begins with a track featuring David Thompson.

'In Remains of Love' and 'Suicide #2 (Electric Boogaloo)' were originally intended for an E.P. of downer electronica. When that idea was shelved, 'In Remains of Love' was given a Krautrock work over by myself and Al, before the three of us hammered it into shape in post production. 'Suicide #2' began life as methed out spoken word Suicide homage. Marc and Al changed that when it was given new wave leanings and a surreal brown acid chorus. Both songs share the same sadness but willing to experiment vibe as the opener.

'After the Flowers' was recorded by it's author alone. Every NOS album has a three a.m. downer, and this is probably why it's the title track and the inspiration for the artwork, which was conceived and produced by Al and myself.

'Halfway to Your Arms' and 'Inside/Outside' shun the electronics and effects of the other tracks and stick to warm, creaky analogue tones. Americana never really went away, comfort in being sad. These songs would of appeared on a very different NOS concept/release, alongside such unrecorded gems as 'No Bravado'.

That leaves 'Mutually Assured Disaffection' and 'How Do You Get High', the two noisiest tracks here. The first is straight from the canyon, jangle solo, harmonica solo, lead guitar at the front of the mix. One of the joys of being a part time member of Marc's band is the ease of reference. Nailing together Sonic Youth, This Heat and The Fall isn't readily available to everyone, but that's exactly what 'How Do You Get High' is. Saturday afternoons, talking about records and then making one yourself. This track was also considered for a Hills! Werewolves! Run! project, a track for a mini album that remains unreleased.

'After the Flowers' is the 50th release on Treehouse Orchestra Recordings. Lots of things have changed. Some artists like The Otters, The Infernos and The Road Movies have came and went. We Are the Wooden Houses (the moniker of Al and me) has evolved and developed, and now I'm making exactly the kind of music I've always wanted to. The Dead West has became an isolated communal conversation of culture, announcing a new set of ideas every now and again. Cat of Tomorrow and Stone Tape Theory both remain an enigma, but I'm sure new documents will turn up, perhaps on some heath or underground station. The Nightowl Sings drives a straight road forward, acknowledging developments and disappointments on one side, absorbing ideas, art and joy on the other.

Mutually assured affection. - Stephen.




Sunday, 28 June 2015

WE ARE THE WOODEN HOUSES - KONTAKTE






















TOR49. Released June 2015.


Side A:

1. Skeleton Lake
2. The Stain
3. The Ghost of the Wooden Moon
4. Oberon

Side B:
1. Three Card Spread
2, Cottonskin
3. Empty World
4. Sitar Skull Support
5. The Shadow Over Santa Susana


The latest Wooden Houses went from conception to completion very quickly. A vague concept crossed paths with a revision of recently recorded material (and later, a look through the archives).

I wished to make another cassette, and unsure of what I wanted to be on the tape, I recorded two improvised long wave radio compositions. Making each 15 minutes in length, having a c30 in mind.

I gave these recordings to Al, and we discussed the potential of building music into the radio.

'Skeleton Lake' had been recorded a month earlier and was based around a single vocal sample.

'The Stain' and 'Oberon' are the oldest tracks here. Already old tracks in 2011 when excluded from a proposed two disc Stone Tape Theory release that ultimately became "Fussy Pussy", they have been remixed and had samples renewed.

'The Ghost of the Wooden Moon' was a 15 minute improvised raga, then edited and overdubbed for this release.

'Three Card Spread' was another improvisation revisited with editing and further overdubs.


'Cottonskin' and 'Empty World' come from the same improvised session. Al and I recorded hours of material; drones, electronics, effects. As well as the two tracks, parts of the improvisations can be heard throughout the cassette.


'Sitar Skull Support' began when I required something to support a skull from a light fixture for a photograph. As I had recently broken a string on my sitar, I grabbed some pliers in order to remove it and use it as the skull suspension.


The noise as I tried to cut through the string was terrible, so I immediately recorded it. I sent the recording to Al, who replied with a basic track within an hour.


Al also performed a radio improvisation towards the end of the sessions, it provides the introduction to the cassette, as well as being scattered throughout.

The title of 'The Shadow Over Santa Susana' comes from a book concerning the Manson family. The track itself is made from parts of the 'Cottonskin'/'Empty World' improvisation, but ends with the two original radio recordings playing simultaneously.

During the recordings, I remembered some book artwork I liked that may suit the recordings.


Kontakte 1, was a combined television and radio course for beginners in German. It was a BBC production, and this is the cover of the accompanying book. I like the way the art suggested information, but what if the cassette it applied to had music instead of instruction?


The radio suggests a form of contact, or communication, but from where and what may be lost in translation (or noise)? Al reworked the cover art in this style as we edited our tape to two 30 minute sides of improvised and experimental noise.


A free download, and the extremely limited cassette are both avaiable from Bandcamp. - Stephen.




Friday, 20 March 2015

WE ARE THE WOODEN HOUSES - THE HEADLAND OF THE DEMON HAUNTED CASTLE























Al and I were interested in making music in several different ways, but where the music would be bound by feeling and esoteric relationship; contrast and exposure. The selections on this recording fall into several categories:

Field recordings – throughout 2014 I made many field recordings: cathedrals, nature, street bands... I thought these could be used to make several collages; a running theme and interesting sonically with various effects applied.

Thematic variations – there are several versions of the main theme of a soundtrack that has no movie.

To venture less explored emotions and feelings in music - fear, paranoia, mental health, calmness, the esoteric, the occult, death, desolation, isolation, contrasted with the more recognisable hope, warmth, calm and stillness.

To try and further pinpoint the source of such inspiration, its relationship with its environment.

Focus and distraction through drone – both Al and I love drone and ambient music. So we decided to go all out on some of the tracks. Again, instinctively knowing they would fit with the others.

There was also the instinctual decision to make this instrumental. There are human voices on there, but they’re as murky and confused and as misunderstood as the emotions they’re trying to convey.






The Recordings

01. Last chance to advance beyond human... – Essentially a guitar experiment. A short drone. The name comes from the header of a flyer posted by the Branch Davidians in their final weeks.

02. The Black Square – The first theme variation, performed on nylon string guitar.

03. Perception is a reflection of existential self-knowledge – Electric guitar drone with field recordings, and a vocal sample of Jordan Maxwell.

04. The Power of the Witch – The title comes from a recently re-discovered BBC documentary from the seventies about witchcraft in modern society. The music was spontaneously composed.

05. Spire – Composed, improvised and re-composed piano version of the main theme.

06. Mirror Mountain – Manipulated field recordings and improvised melodica. Inspired by the German various artists album ‘Vor Der Flut (Hommage An Einen Wasserspeicher).’ Also has a snippet of a slide guitar demo.

07. Priest Hand License – Primitive guitar blues.

08. Lateral exclusion field along a path of least resistance – This piece is made exclusively from manipulated field recordings. At the end, dogs in a valley, their barking swept up by the wind from the top of Blencathra.

09. Spiral – The final and most elaborate version of the main theme. The variations on the main theme run from the most vague to most complete order. This was to give the listener the effect that something was becoming clearer, and to realise that something had always been there.

10. Just After Now – An exploration of tone and rhythm within sound. Purely sonic adventure.

11. The Smiling Chair – The most explicit and visceral of the recordings; horror ambient? The title was inspired by the picture ‘The Singing Chair’ by Arthur Tress.

12. Kielder – A direct sonic representation and homage to the woods and water of Kielder in 12-string and bowed bass.

‘The Headland of the Demon Haunted Castle’ is an approximate translation of ‘Skinburness’, the name of the road I grew up on.

- Stephen.

Friday, 23 January 2015

THE NIGHTOWL SINGS - ALL IS QUIET NOW























TOR47. Released January 2015.

01. Dead Roses
02. Come See the Sea With Me
03. Judy in the Water
04. He Smiles at Cowboys
05. Take Flight
06. Queenie
07. Black Sun, Bloody Moon
08. Take Care of What You Have

Unusually, this Nightowl Sings release has really taken it's time to come together. Not to say it's been slow; it's relaxed pace is partially responsible for it's quality. Marc has been very generous to Alastair and I with this. Although most of the songs were pretty defined in terms of structure, I was allowed free reign with guitar overdubs, as was Alastair with additional instrumentation and post production.

'Dead Roses' is a nice slice of alt. country, it's no surprise that this is The Dead West; Dave adding acoustic guitar and backing vocals.

'Come See the Sea With Me' is a solo piece. A copy of H.M.S. Donovan has been warped by the sun, results: outsider music with melodica.

'Judy in the Water' is Fender and tremelo arm racket and I believe a Melody Maker single of the week in 1992.

'He Smiles at Cowboys' is a love song to a hotel in New York, given a lush direction by Alastair.

'Take Flight' is probably my fondest memory of these sessions. Sarah and I turned up at Marc's without any real plan for the day, We spent that quiet rainy afternoon recording an essentially live take of this third album Velvets 9 minute space folk lilt. Gorgeous.

'Queenie' is the second song here to be recorded solo. Acoustic guitar and vocal, mournful melodies and something sinister.

'Black Sun, Bloody Moon' also exemplifies these sessions. Before any playing or recording was done, the usual hour of chit chat, coffee and smokes might of stretched into two. The relaxed atmosphere went on into the afternoon, allowing us to jam out this tune. Later, it was edited into shape in post production, Alastair making sure the Stooges meets Can influence actually works. Everyone has a hand in this and it's nine minute length disappears into primitive acid rock.

'Take Care of What You Have' was recorded solo with electric guitar and vocal and then handed over to me and Al to do what we wished. I was instructed not to use any instruments. I spent the evening listening to the song over and over, wondering what to do. It started to rain, so I positioned a microphone outside, played the song at a high volume to overdub itself alongside the natural environment. I done the same again through spinning headphones, then dubbed onto a cassette and back. I also couldn't resist throwing in a Rallizes Denudes/I Heard Her Call My Name guitar solo. It was then handed to Alastair who came back with four different mixes, each with a different feel and instrumentation aspect. Knocked into shape by the three of us, a fitting closer, Third/Sister Lovers style.

Enjoy.

- Stephen.