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Surface Industries I

by Paul Rooney

supported by
Gavin Hellyer
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Gavin Hellyer 2017 saw his LP ''Futile Exorcise'' rank as my Album Of The Year. This follow-up might even be a bit better, if that's possible. It is indeed completely unique and totally inimitable. The very fact that the magnificent Zaph Mann has been moved to review it says all you need to know. Of course, at the time of ''Futile Exorcise'' I didn't think he could get anywhere near it's excellence ever again. Well, he has. Favorite track: Words and Silence.
Zaph Mann
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Zaph Mann Followers and listeners to the show inmemoryofjohnpeel.com will know that I rarely comment in print, but this is another stunning release. In my top five of 2021. Listen as a whole.
Jon, Brighton - OK. That’s a good question. The question is who would give me a sense of belonging? Ok. Is there something, an answer, that you’d need to have straight away? Susan, Belfast - Hello, you are through to bank accounts; can you confirm your name for me please? And what can I do for you today? (Pause). What or who, like just in life or a job? Don’t know, I’ve never been asked that question before. What do other people say? James, Cardiff - Welcome to 118 118 how may I help you? (Pause). Not working in a call centre for a start. Actually it’s rather impersonal working here, because I don’t speak to anyone all day apart from on the phones. Any sense of belonging is usually when I go home. It’s not the type of call centre where you speak to people really. For eight hours a day you’re talking to customers, obviously the rest of the time people are on a different shift, it’s a twenty-four-hour business. I don’t even know the other people which are on my team as it where… I don’t think all call centres are the same, I think it’s just this type of business, the calls are so short, and because e it’s a twenty-four-hour business, that effects it, basically. I’ve worked in a call centre before and the people in my team, we got to be quite close friends. Not the directory enquiries business. You’ve got to be extremely thick skinned; they can tend to be very insulting at times, especially of a Saturday evening. Thank you. Julia, Chatham - Afternoon, Nat West, how may we help you? (Pause). That’s an unusual request, because the only things I can deal with are actual things to do with the bank accounts. Can I ask your name please? Ok, and the company you are trying to work for? Ok. It’s alright, I’ll just make sure I’m allowed to talk to you about things like this. (Pause). Hello there. Hi there. I’ve just been speaking to the supervisor now, I’m sorry, we are not allowed to give out any personal information over these phones. It’s calls only to do with the banking or any bank problems you have, it’s to do with the data protection policies we hold. So we can’t give out any personal information over the phone. I’m sorry I can’t help you there. Ok then? I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help you there. Ok, thanks a lot then, bye bye. Jon, Brighton - Good afternoon, you are through to Jon in card services, your card details are coming through now, if I can now take your name please. Thank you and how are you today, are you ok? Ok, jolly good. I can see you’ve had a problem, though, coming through to us with your password. It’s four numbers long, if I can verify the one you’ve chosen. It’s something that you set up a couple of months ago, do you want to just have a quick go and see what those four numbers might be? Lets see if that works. No that’s the wrong numbers. What we will actually do, we will have for security purposes your mother’s maiden name and also your date of birth please. Thank you, for our records your home telephone number. Right, thank you. We’ll now get your password reset now for you, if you would like to just think of four numbers, like a relative’s birthday or another memorable date. Although you cannot have your own date of birth set up as the security code on your own card. So which four numbers would you like to have please? Are those the ones you’d like to have, yes? And would that be a memorable date for you? That’s a new numeric password there for you, ok? How can we help you today? (Pause). Right, ok. That’s a good question. The question is who would give me a sense of belonging? Ok. Is there something, an answer, that you’d need to have straight away, or is there something we can perhaps come back to you on. If we take a contact telephone number for you. Ok? Is there something I can actually phone you back on, later on this afternoon? I just have a quick think about that, would you like to just hold the line for a moment? Kevin, Newcastle - National Rail Enquiries, which station are you travelling from? (Pause). Who me, personally? What gives me a sense of belonging? In what way? You mean, are you asking if I belong to a certain group, like, I mean, I’m a white guy, or…? (Pause). I socialise, I support a football team. I suppose it’s a very strange question, you’ve got me well unawares. Belonging at work? No, I hate this place. Tell me someone who likes their job, I don’t suppose you like your job. To turn the question round, what about you, what’s your sense of belonging? (Pause). Well I mean I’ve got no allegiance to work, I hate this place, it’s not the best place to work in exactly. I suppose my family is probably a big thing, my partner as well. Do you do this often do you? It’s a very strange question, do you not want any train times or anything? Ok then, bye. Steve, Bangalore - Thanks for calling AOL technical support, my name is Steve can I have your home phone number please? Thank you for this information, how can I help you? (Pause). I do feel a sense of belonging with my family; with family I do, with friends I do, and with my co-workers. I have always liked the Beatles, and I like cricket, I always like the underdogs most of the time. Thanks for calling AOL technical support. Michelle and Sinead, Belfast - Hello, you are speaking to Michelle on bank accounts servicing, can you confirm your name please? And how can I help you today? (Pause). Right ok, bare with me one wee second, the reason being you’ve actually come through…I don’t actually deal with this account that you have, ok? Bare with me one wee second sir, thank you. (Pause). Hello, hi, you are through to Sinead Stevens how may I help you? (Pause). Belonging? In what way? Well I think, certainly within the position of working in the Halifax we all work in a team, we all work together. We are all part of a team. Halifax is a good place to work, they keep the motivation going, we all work as part of a team. It makes you feel like you belong here, and want to stay here as well. Obviously I’m a mother so, I’m part of a family, there’s that. Ok? Bye. Gareth, Yorkshire - Good afternoon, thanks for calling BT, you are speaking with Gareth, can you confirm your name and telephone number please? And are you the account holder? Do you have your account number to hand? That’s fine, I can see you told us that you use the Internet at home, is this still the case? What is it I can do for you today? (Pause). Right. Is it ok to just hold the line for just one second? (Pause). Hello sir? Sorry about that. Right. We are meant to be a sales line so we are not meant to answer questions like that, but what I’ve just been informed is that if you can send a letter into BT, right, we actually do this type of survey ourselves with our colleagues and that, in work. So if you send a letter in they might possibly actually send you out one of these surveys so that you can see it yourself. Is that everything sir? Thanks for your call, bye. Susan, Belfast - If I didn’t get on with the people I work with, I wouldn’t really feel like I belong, part of the Halifax team. You have to get on well with the people you work with. It applies everywhere, generally people that you communicate with, you can feel like you belong somewhere. I feel that with some people at work, not everyone. People that are on the same level as you, maybe people who are managers, you feel a bit different, you wouldn’t really feel like you belong when you are talking to them, they don’t see the things that you see, they don’t really do the same stuff as you would do. I feel like I would be part of Belfast, I would feel like I would want to support – if Belfast on its own was in a big competition – I would feel like I want to support people from here, more than people from anywhere else. I suppose that’s just the way many people would feel. I quite like living here, I’m quite proud to say that I am from Belfast. Most people would say that too wouldn’t they? I feel like I belong here, I don’t know what else to say, you know? You see, living here though, I feel like, its strange – you might not understand – everyone knows everyone. It’s quite small, you always find someone, who knows someone else you know, everywhere you go. And any time you go out, maybe at a weekend you’ll always find someone you know. So it’s quite, maybe, homely, like that. That’s good, there’s always someone that you know, or always someone to speak to. Maybe why in a big city, maybe like London you wouldn’t really know as many people or you wouldn’t bump into them as often. Here it’s quite friendly. That’s it really. Bye bye. Chris, Midlands - You are through to the BT customer support team, how can I help? (Pause). It’s the company isn’t it, the people you work with and the company you work for. Outside of work, family and friends and stuff. That’s it really. Are you looking to start off your own call centre or something? I don’t understand what you mean, anything which makes you feel like you belong? It’s all that kind of stuff. Belong to what though? Ok? Bye, thanks for your call. Jon, Brighton - Hello there. I’ve had a think of something here for you, which is just one sentence I guess. In answer to the question, what I would say is that, what gives me a sense of belonging is working in a team, and experiencing building up a rapore with people. Would that be satisfactory? Is that ok? Ok, well it’s certainly been nice speaking to you; hope you found it helpful anyway. Thank you for calling American Express. Goodbye now.
(Christian, travel on, No sleep, my soul. Ne’er on, never sleep). My alarm goes off At six and I’m out by seven. I still feel about Two hours short of a decent sleep. When I get to work, I feel like I am thawing out. I wonder if I can stay polite. I have a coffee. The phones are ringing, And callers all ask the same thing: ‘Where is my taxi?’ ‘How long ‘till this taxi arrives?’ My next call begins. She’s not polite, I’m used to that. She gets angry, Though I stay polite. (Steal away). I tell her that The traffic is bumper to bumper in some places, as it is now peak hour. I have stayed polite today. I may as well have saved my breath; she still gives me an earful of abuse. I have stayed polite. I have stayed polite. I have stayed polite. I’ve stayed polite today. (Christian, travel on).
T - Thank you for calling, Terrie speaking, how may I help? Y - Yes, I’ve lost my card, a reward card. T - What’s your post-code? Y - It is BM21 4BJ. T - Bravo November 21... Y - Yes. T - What was the rest please? Y - 4BJ. T - 4, B for Bravo, Z for Zulu? Y - Yes, J for whatever. T - What's the house number please? Y - It’s Flat 3, number 9 Lascelles Terrace. T - It’s flat 9? Y - No flat 3 darling. T - Flat 3? Y - House number 9. T - There’s no flat 3 here I’m afraid, what is your surname? Y - Rakha, RAKHA. T - That’s RAK Y - HA. T - You are not registered on our system. Y - I should be. T - There’s no flat 3 or number 9. What’s the full address? Y - Flat 3, 9 Lascelles Terrace, Eastbourne, East Sussex. T - Give me the post-code again. BM21. Y - BM21. 4BJ. T - J for Juliet? Y - That’s right. T - Not Z? Sorry. It’s very hard to hear on the phone you see sir. The postcodes. Y - Yes, have you got it? T - I’m just searching for you now. I’ve found it. Y - You’ve found it! T - I’ve found it. Y - Good girl. T - That’s great, I’ll get the new card to you. Y - Thank you very much. T - You're welcome. Thank you for your call, good bye.
Words and silence are not so different, after all. Words, like silence, are almost empty, but not quite. There is always something murmuring deep within them, in the dark gloom at the bottom of the grid in their gutter. Some drip, drip, drip. Echoing. Do you have life insurance? Don’t worry; I’m not going to sell you any. Seeing as you are not there. I’ll have a rest. I’ll tell you a story while I’m taking it easy. You can erase this message if you like. Or listen. It’s up to you. There once was a woman who worked in a call centre, a place where people made and took phone calls. The woman telephoned people who lived in another country, a country far away from her own. She felt she could hear the sound of distance on the phone lines, particularly during pauses, a kind of hum that the satellite added, the infinite drone of outer space. She could speak the language of the country far away very well, better than some of the people who lived there. It was cheaper to pay her and her friends to do the phone calling than ask people who lived in the country far away itself to do it, even though the phone calls had to travel to space and back. She made calls to try to sell people insurance. The people did not like the calls, though; they did not like any strangers calling them. And they did not want to be told that they had not insured their life. They told her to fuck off, or left her hanging on the phone: they would put the phone down and pretend to go and get ‘the head of the household’, who would never arrive. She did not mind it if this happened, as it gave her a rest. The company the woman worked for used auto-dial telephones. This meant that when she finished a call, the machine would dial the next number as soon as she put the receiver down. So she never got a rest, she never had a chance to stop, unless people left her hanging on the phone as a joke, or if she got through to an answer machine. If she struck lucky, and her call did go to an answer machine, then she would be rewarded with a moment of silence, a chance to take hold of her time again. The people she telephoned in the country far away, when they listened to their answer messages later, would always be puzzled by her message, a long recording of nothing. Well, not nothing, exactly. Nearly nothing, except for the faint sound of a call centre in the background. The faint sound of many distant hands tapping on keyboards and many distant voices talking on the phone. She was told by the people who ran the call centre that she had to try to be more like the people in the country far away, so that they would stop putting down the phone, and maybe even start to buy some insurance. So she was given lessons in the culture and history of the country far away, and she was given a name like the names in the country far away, and she was given a personality like the persons in the country far away, consisting of a list of favourite things to talk about if the people wanted to ‘chat’ with her, things from their own country that they would understand; a favourite food, a sport, a pop singer, a television programme. Her voice was changed so that she pronounced words like them. After a while she started to enjoy changing herself in this way; so much so that she began to change herself even more than the supervisor in the call centre asked her to. She would become a new person every day. For each person she became she would create an elaborate story. One person she invented was an old retired female jockey who lived in a disused water tank in an ivy covered abandoned railway station in the quiet countryside of the country far away. This old woman made her living through writing children’s stories about eccentric country folk and their animal friends. It was beautifully peaceful in her railway station, she loved the silence, the fact that she did not have to speak to anyone for months on end. The old woman ate blue-veined cheese made from her own cows, cows all named after battles of old forgotten wars, who all wore woollen socks on their hooves to keep the noise down if they crossed the tarmac road. When the call centre woman, the woman who had invented all this, called people in the country far away, she sometimes pretended to be this old woman. In her whispering voice she asked people about their favourite type of jam, whether she could knit them anything out of ivy, and read out excerpts of her own children’s stories to them. She told them in an intimate whisper that she was ringing from her water tank just down the road from them, and that it was dark and quiet inside, and that it smelt of her favourite smell, the smell of wet rust. The woman who worked in the call centre originally came from a small town on the coast of her country. Every time she returned to the town, she would notice the clock in the main railway station, stuck at eighteen minutes past four. Her town had declined so much over the years that it ceased to care about matters such as railway clocks. When she saw the clock she always tried to imagine the moment when it stopped ticking years before, maybe that was the moment when the town was left behind, the moment that time itself stopped for the whole town. It was said that the clock had stopped in the great flood. When she was a child, an enormous wave flooded the whole town, destroying everything near the sea front. Many people were killed. Afterwards, the scientists were able to tell how fast the wave had reached certain parts of the town by the clocks and watches found in the wreckage, each one stopped at the moment the salt water drowned it’s intricate mechanism. The call centre worker knew very well the value of time. It was a precious, jewel-like thing. And thinking of this one day, she asked a person she was calling this question: what if a flood swept through the whole world, a flood that did not drown people, but only drowned things, including all of the complex and vulnerable clock workings everywhere. And, by doing this, what if it also wiped time away? What if, because of the end of all the clocks, the word for ‘time’ itself was then not needed anymore, so that time would not be spoken of at all, as something valuable, which can be wasted, which can be saved? She told all of this to the adolescent boy on the other end of the line, who, after listening quietly, said he had to go and get ‘the head of the household’. He rested the phone on the hallway table and walked away. As she listened to the silence, waiting for the receiver to be picked up again, she thought about the roaring flood that would sweep away time. After it eventually subsides, she thought, the flood will leave nothing of itself: nothing but harmless puddles trickling away down the grids into a vast silence. But would not the trickling, even one drip, be more than nothing? Is there not always something inside silence, something murmuring, if you really listen hard enough?
J for Juliet 04:39
T - Thank you for calling, Terrie speaking, how may I help? Y - Yes, I’ve lost my card, a reward card. T - What’s your post-code? Y - It's BM2, that's 21 5BJ. T - Bravo November 21? Yes, what was the rest please? Y - 5BJ. T - B for Bravo, Z for Zulu? Y - Yes, J for whatever. T - House number? Y - It’s 5 Lascelles Terrace. T - Going into the system. It’s flat 9? Y - No flat 3 darling. Flat 3 darling, flat 3 darling, flat 3 darling. T - There’s no flat 3 here I’m afraid, what is your surname? Y - Bakha, BAKHA. T - That’s BAK... Y - HA. T - You are not registered on our system. Y - I should be. T - There’s no flat 3 or number 9. What’s the full address? Y - Flat 3, 5 Lascelles Terrace, Eastbourne, East Sussex. T - Give me the post-code again. Y - BM21. T - BM21? Y - 5BJ. T - J for Juliet? Y - That’s right. T - Not Z? Sorry. It’s very hard to hear on the phone you see sir. Y - Yes, have you got it? T - I’m just searching for you now. I’ve found it. Y - You’ve found it! T - I’ve found it. Y - Good girl. T - That’s great, I’ll get the new card to you. Y - Thank you very much. T - Thank you for your call, good bye.
Fleurpower33: Im starving BASIL F LTY1: so am i fleur Fleurpower33: Im lost PASSINGWINDMRS: ? BASIL F LTY1: what you doing for tea Fleurpower33: wot we should have at lunch - french bread with smoked mackerel pate BASIL F LTY1: yummy i on my way Fleurpower33: couldnt eat lunch cos my cat hadnt turned up then BASIL F LTY1: brb PASSINGWINDMRS: u didn't eat the cat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Daisy Chain10370: is cat back ok fleur? Fleurpower33: oh, bless her, didnt see her for 7 hrs Fleurpower33: yes thanks Daisy. Just strolled into back garden. Daisy Chain10370: awww Daisy Chain10370: said she would Fleurpower33: Something has spooked her I think - wasnt too cheerful Daisy Chain10370: they scare you to death when they vanish like that Daisy Chain10370: aww Fleurpower33: sure do - crying my eyes out Daisy Chain10370: aww Daisy Chain10370: <~~~~passes room kleenex Lucylocket1204: aww fleur Fleurpower33: all better now thanks Lucylocket1204: oh good Lucylocket1204: gets u right there Fleurpower33: Like Kard - she's our baby Daisy Chain10370: bet shes curled up asleep not knowing all the worry she caused lol Fleurpower33: couldnt wait to go out again Daisy Chain10370: typical lol Fleurpower33: cats not at all grateful Daisy Chain10370: but are nice Lucylocket1204: no they are not BASIL F LTY1: independant is the word fleur Fleurpower33: Its only 3.30 and Im so hungry Fleurpower33: yes Bas, that's wot I admire about them Lucylocket1204: thats why I got dog Daisy Chain10370: ours gets carried all over the place by my little girl never flinches lol Fleurpower33: probably used to having child around thats why Daisy BASIL F LTY1: i am just like a cat Fleurpower33: yes dear BASIL F LTY1: big and soft Daisy Chain10370: yes true Fleurpower33: and liked to be stroked Daisy Chain10370: hope you dont throw up on windowsills basil lol Fleurpower33: lol Daisy Fleurpower33: or on the bed BASIL F LTY1: oh yes fleur lol Daisy Chain10370: eeeeeuuuukkk Fleurpower33: bucket PASSINGWINDMRS: got to go now c u Lucylocket1204: lololol Fleurpower33: Bi Pass Daisy Chain10370: cya mrs BASIL F LTY1: no i dont do that anywere Lucylocket1204: bye pass Fleurpower33: u been well trained Bas Daisy Chain10370: hi marg BASIL F LTY1: i am hard on outside but a pussy cat really Fleurpower33: Hiya Marg Fleurpower33: Is it all over Marg? Daisy Chain10370: <~~~~opens whiskas for basil BASIL F LTY1: well house trained fleur Margueritejane01: hello got a new tower they took the other one away Fleurpower33: ooh, posh BASIL F LTY1: helo marg xxxxx Daisy Chain10370: hello margs new tower Lucylocket1204: whatch it he might have fleas Margueritejane01: hi ya Fleurpower33: are u back permanently Marg? Lucylocket1204: hi marg Margueritejane01: all over now fleur
"Good morning, Call Centre Helpline, this is Terrie speaking. How may I help? You’ve lost our card? Sorry to hear that. Do you have an old receipt at all or a customer number? Can I take your postcode? “Can I have your house number? Ok, I’m just searching now. It’s not coming up on the system, have you just moved? In that case what’s your old postcode and house number?” “It’s a house name,” the caller says, “Long Fleet”. I wait for my PC’s information. “Ok, what’s your surname please?” I ask her. “Is it Miss, Mrs. or Ms?” She gives the full old address. I ask when she lost her card: “Two weeks ago,” she tells me. “Thank you Mrs. Rodgers, I’ll secure your points for you. I’ll just amend the address details. Do you have one or two cards on account?” “We have two. My husband has a card,” the caller says. I say, “You’ll need to tell him not to use his card, I’ll stop the account and order replacement cards. The cards should arrive in seven days time. Keep receipts in the meantime, and when the cards arrive go to the store and they’ll add points from receipts. Thank you for calling.” Right, wrap, 107 enter, ready, great no red light.
A - Today is one of those hazy days with soft grey white clouds but somehow the sun seems to penetrate just enough to give one the sense of summer. It is warm for us. B - Today it is overcast and a little drizzly. It poured with rain last night, which is good because we are in drought here at the moment and are living with water restrictions. A - Ominous darks clouds are hanging about but with bright sunshine. It looks from the sky as if there could be very local rain today as most of the sky is a hazy grey blue. B - Heavy rain overnight seemed to have cleared the air. A lovely balmy breeze. It was pretty cold in the early morning, I had to wear a beanie when walking the dogs. A - There was something different about today - we had Venus passing over the sun. I am sure that the light changed and somehow felt reduced as Venus was at it’s fullest on the sun. B - Lots of rain, low… dark clouds and wind. Very different to the last couple of days here. We also had the Venus thing going on but I can't say that I noticed it at all. A - It seems crazy that in this land of so many sunless days one feels pleased that the sun was hidden behind the clouds today. B - Well, we ha[d] the opposite here. Lots of fog and very cold this morning. Then it was really grey and bleak looking…Not a breath of wind now and everything is quite still. (Spoken) A - Because it is so still the bird song echoes and you can see the flies in the rays of sun. Lots of 'mares tales’, which are wisps of cloud high up. B - The moon was still high in the sky around 6.30am and it looked like it was nearly full with just a small amount of darkness around the bottom.


Rooney’s second solo album is a move away from the eclectic DIY post-punk of 2017’s ‘Futile Exorcise’ towards voice, piano and electronics led skewed ambient pop. As it’s title suggests, this new album’s tracks are themed around service industry jobs (it is the first of two albums on this theme), particularly the transient vocal interactions of everyday call centre work, as well as the humanity and humour that endures through it all. The lyrics of the pieces often use interviews or texts from the workers themselves, made during the early to mid 2000’s.

Stay Polite is a deeply emotive male voiced hymn to the abuse filled day of a female taxi company phone operator, featuring a beautifully fragile lead vocal by acclaimed folk singer Jackie Oates. On the album’s longform spoken word piece, Words and Silence, softly insistent modular synth tones accompany an Indian call centre worker leaving a message – of invented personas and time-as-commodity – on an answer service, creating an extended moment of mysterious confabulation for the eventual listener (us). As well as phone interactions there are two pieces about the text based interplay of email conversations and chat-rooms. The latter, Don’t Throw Up On Window Sills, being a kind of chamber opera about a gardening chat group celebrating the return of a missing cat, imbued with the melancholy of obsolescence (the chat-room fad itself is all but extinct). The album is a poignant, reflective encounter with everyday failures, everyday battles, and everyday resistances, pertinent to our precarious times.

“Yet again, there is another stunning album that’s been released by Paul Rooney.” Zaph Mann (KFFP Radio, Portland and podcast). 13/08/2021.

“A track from local artist Paul Rooney’s second album, a real treasure trove of glorious computer composed hyper-pop.” George Maund, PMS (BBC Radio Merseyside). 20/8/2021.

“This new album Surface Industries, his second solo album, tracks themed around service industry jobs… it really is fascinating.” Stuart Maconie, Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone (BBC 6 Music). 23/8/2021.

“These eight tracks have been created over a period of two decades, mostly using texts derived from call centre operatives. They occupy a space where folk music might have developed, up to that juncture when meaningful tradition and continuities of locality dissolved into the glacial wastes of cyberspace, global capitalism and the unsolicited sales pitch.” Julian Cowley (The Wire magazine). Oct. 2021.

"Service Industries I makes strip-lit minimalist psalmodies from call centre conversations of invisible workforces... It’s a profound, political, and holy work, worth a thousand Panoramas." Stewart Lee. (The Idler magazine). Jan-Feb. 2022.


released September 20, 2021


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