Saturday, November 29, 2008

enso on..

This is just a quick note to say that I've put up a download of Malcolm doing his poem "My Poetry is Jamming Your Machine" on the website for your listening pleasure and edification. I'll get a few more clips converted and uploaded as well in the next few days.

I've spent the last few days re-doing Newset for Piano and Violin, as Mifune and Paul are playing it again on December 12th. I was never happy with the last section, it seemed a bit abrupt; and so it was, as I merely stopped the piece, like Wile E. Coyote stopped in mid-air after running off a cliff, because I had exceeded the specified time limit for the gig. So I went back and re-wrote much of the last section, prying bars apart and adding great gobs of stuff, trying to work out the material in more leisurely transitions. It was kind of fun, and you realize that you always throw away too many ideas without really developing them. To come back to something even just 6 -8 months later makes you look at it very differently, as you've now completely forgotten what you were thinking at the time.

Dalhaus points out that after the triumph of technology here in the future, (the land of food pills and aluminum-foil disposable clothing) we now view works of art as an on-going process (like Steve Reich would say) rather than a finished, free-standing autonomous objects, and as such, always open to technological innovation. The temptation for me, rather than doing new stuff, is to keep trawling over old pieces, thinking I can somehow rescue them. And somehow, it's also much easier than trying to start something new, facing that terrifying blank sheet of paper on the piano. But it's more like having to accept it when the Vet says that there's no way your pet is going to get any better, and needs to be put down. The thing might just be crap.

The next big thing is to start on a piece for Peter Britton's orchestra; I'm thinking it could be a test bed for a chamber opera I've been planning with Malcolm about Neal Cassady. Something about the leap from the hot-wired cars of On the Road, the Magic Bus of Ken Kesey, to the last manic walk down the railway tracks on a freezing night after a week-long bender in Mexico. One fast move and I'm gone...

And things move forward here as well, if slowly - I had a couple of good couple of days - lots of compositional sketching, and, finally, I got the electrics of the Guzzi wired up and functioning: turning it over on the battery, a spark appeared at the plugs, lights work, there were no huge arcs of light with accompanying funny smells. The only thing that prevented me from starting it today was the fact I had no oil in the crankcase; otherwise it only would have run for a very short time. So a good weekend, adding that to a daily run on the fixed through the winter showers - I think the word for it is "bracing."

However, it's always two steps forward and one back - the bread I was making on Sunday collapsed, the Wonderdog has a more-or-less permanent limp, and Ruth Padel couldn't do February. But probably Grevel Lindorp is going to do the gig in Chelmsford... more as I find out.

Two more weeks to home in the States for Christmas; fingers crossed that the Arts touring grant comes through for the Riprap project.


Monday, November 17, 2008

external vs internal....

Just like the conjunction 'too much' and 'garlic' really doesn't exist, in most people's minds, music cannot be too 'expressive'. Ask any punter why they think a particular piece of music is good, and 9 times out of 10 they will say something about how expressive the singer was, and generally discuss the lyrics. But, in a sense, this tends to emphasize the external manifestations of emotion, just like there are external styles in the martial arts, which seem quite flashy and active, if slightly hysterical. In most martial arts, the ones they began teaching to young fighters are always the external ones, with lots of movement and power. This is opposed to an internal style, which looks mildly boring and it would appear you could run up while giggling and kick them quite hard without much trouble. Likewise, the logical extension of this in a performance would be writhing on the ground while screaming and rending your garments, preferably blaming everything on your unhappy childhood. And of course, as we all had one, so we'd all understand. Sharing catharsis as art? The word is also used to refer to a purging of the bowels.... more on this in a moment.

Anyway, these observations come after the recent round of very successful gigs we did with Riprap, featuring, for the first time, Malcolm Guite's poems. The gig at Anglia Ruskin went extremely well, after a personal pre-gig panic (which did nothing to leave me in good place) about PA and recording problems - the tech-guy had left, and there seemed to be no way of hooking up a mike for the reading because the fact that all the pre-amps for mikes in the studio were down, and allowed only the most obscure of work-arounds to capture any of the gig, and that not in the most satisfactory manner. A very deep and heartfelt ojigi to Roger from Kite Studios for recovering anything at all from the evening. I will post some of the clips on the website later today, once I do a bit of editing.

The group gelled around Malcolm's reading, and put to rest any hesitation I might of had about mixing the two disciplines, and becoming even more obscure and pretentious( later note: and I think I am succeeding). We all came away on a high, looking forward to further collaborations with more poets. The next step is to collectively hunt up a few more gigs, and start the tiresome-but-necessary process of getting some funding to offset the costs of performing at smaller venues.

This mention of external and internal, maybe we can discuss in it more Western terms of Apollonian versus Dionysian (although not really the same thing at all; perhaps objective vs. subjective? ...and that's different again) , was precipitated by the second gig the following week. We were preceded by various younger guys (and that includes just about everyone around me these days) doing personal takes on free - improvs in the Micheal House space in Cambridge. There was a very good, extreme-minimal violinist in a Feldman-esque kind of way, and a flute player exploring timbral variations in a quiet fashion. However, there was one party who decided that they had to "get something going" and inject some of his emotive energy into the proceedings, even though this generally had little to do with the other improvisers' contributions to the textures; and I say this without judgment, we've all been there (say, in my case, around 1976 in extremely obscure peripheries of the Soho loft scene, inspired by people like Braxton and Sam Rivers - avoiding eye contact with angry uptown guys a lot older than me, and trying to make up for in energy what I lacked in technique) . There's always been an on-going debate about this kind of thing in improv circles, with no clear outcome but lots of polarization, like in left-ist politics of the possible. People with no hope in Hell of ever affecting change spend enormous amounts of energy splintering into ever-smaller cliques.

The problem was that Dave had spent about an hour sorting out the piano and doing a bit of repair tuning and minor 'preparations'. That was put paid to by a short sharp sessions with drumsticks inside the new grand piano just prior to us starting. Bent damper felt rods, stuff in the action, and back to (even more) out-of-tune-ness. Ted Gioia, in discussing how jazz might still fall within the immature arts, with it's emphasis on expression as opposed to structure, anticipates this young Free improv player smashing my bourgeois preconceptions . I saw then and there that I had dispose of the usual 'plutocrat' outfit I use for gigs, with shiny top hat, cut-aways and spats, and realized it was time to don some very tight black jeans and "Chuckie T's". Apollo, with his light and symmetry, gives way to frenzy and intoxication.

Back to being sullen, thin and bearded -


Saturday, November 15, 2008

cross-border fixie forays

The specter of looming fat-bastard-dom beckons: I was once 150 pounds of blued steel with accompanying six-pack, now I'm more like an entire case of Aldi green stubbies of cheap French lager; hence the attempt at a daily thrash on the fixie around the lanes. Today was one of those classic Irish 'soft days', where it isn't quite full-on raining but being outside feels vaguely like being underwater. So after a morning of playing around with power tools under the strict supervision of the cruel mistress of my heart, I headed out across the border (only to Essex), just like in the Cormac McCarthy trilogy. And like his protagonists in The Road, I find myself moving through the post-apocalyptic world that is Essex, avoiding the dead eyes of the locals shuffling through the grey ash, while I constantly eye skips and waste ground that I pass for firewood and building materials; when I spot something, I make a foray with a friend (let's call him 'Robert', anonymity is crucial in these matters) in his white van (as we can pass for locals) to collect firewood for my crap chainsaw. As well as that, there's always the possibilty of finding the camper-van Jane has set her heart on, so, just as in a wildlife program, there's always the possibilty of suprising one browsing quietly in the forecourt of a semi-detached, overshadowing it's small clearing, not unlike coming upon an elephant in a forest. There are many VW's that have gone down there to die, but they all tend to have lowered suspensions and alloy wheels.

I just got back from hearing a friend's premiere of a new piece; John Hopkins' Floating World, played by one of the better regional ensembles, directed by Peter Britton. John's piece, a setting of a series of Haiku, was excellent - just one interesting texture I wished had written after another; and Olivia Tay was superb in her handling of fairly challenging (the 'C' word) material. I'll put up a few fragments on the Amp Publishing site shortly. I must get down to work on more composing...Paul and Mifune are playing my violin piece, and I want to re-work the last movement.

And I have also now entered what appears to be the sad world of Face book, it's not just viral, it would seem almost like cancer. After one day it has spiraled well out of control already. I'm going to have to be firm and limit myself to a single short session a day. I just realized the most sensible thing is to cut out the notifications.

I keep leaving the Rapha catalogue on the kitchen table now that Christmas is approaching, constantly retrieving it from the recycling bin. You just know in your heart that your life would be soooo much better with a 'classic' tweed softshell jersey - and at £450 , a bargain. That said, it is Paul Smith's cycling the price is, of course, entirely justified. we used to lust after his suits and assorted mod-inspired gear in the club scene surrounding Tommy Chase in the jazz revival of the late 80's. So, what the hell, throw that Mr. Careful hat away and go for perhaps even this. Let's spend our way out of this recession. It's our duty, and you know we deserve it anyway.

Anyway, the string of gigs to pull together the Riprap ensemble finished this weekend on a high point, there's a post of some videos on the Facebook site, and I'll upload some of the recording to the website and comment on it next week.

Excelsior -


Friday, November 7, 2008

beer chair observations, part 2..

A somewhat different beer chair view, this. And I promise, I'll dig out my photo of the beer chair, scan it in and upload it. Soon...

Following up the previous post's analogy of garden stepping stones, I was struck that , while reading Nishihara'a Patterns for Living, it would seem a good a way of conceiving of ideas of structure within an improvised texture. In traditional Japanese design, there is an interest in balance within irregular natural structures, and the relationship between strict symmetries at an extremely local level of individual elements of plants or crystals, and the sense of wild freedom expressed when these things are played out across the scale of a forest or mountain range. The word for this balance within irregularity is hacho , which has been translated as "imperfection" or "aversion symmetry" or aesthetic aversion" I'm going to string this meaning out a bit and suggest that what we have is a form of aesthetic dissonance, where the exuberant possibilities of surface structure create perceived irregularities of balance. It is from these disjunctive textures that any object both reflects nature and creates interest. And like this, in music it is dissonance, in the largest sense of the word as used by composers such as Ruth Crawford Seeger, that shapes music into patterns that can fascinate us. There is little less riveting than a series of over-sweet major triads moving in rhythmically locked whole notes reiterating a tonic (unless, of course, you are La Monte Young; and he only uses perfect fifths, and that's a whole different thing again). Even with cakes, I always discard the frosting.

In traditional garden design, one of the first steps is the initial placing of a few stones by a method called fuseki. This word comes from the game of Go, but has come to mean the preparation for future possibilities when any real knowledge of the approaching situation is unknown. Once the stones are set, to allow for focal points such as trees or water, the designers, like Go players, must then work between them as the situation develops. I suppose, when first reading about this, there was a feeling of recognition in the way I was trying to create structures that would evolve in real time, moving with the poets reading of the text. The stones, thrown out in hope, are like the throwness of the players; now placed in real-time situations to which they must react mostly on instinct, not having the luxury of reflection. These stones, set in irregular patterns to approach a Chashitsu, or Tea-ceremony house, force the entering participants to have to look, slow down and connect with the environment around them, rather than just unthinkingly striding across an open space. The same with the small gestures that act as fuseki that make up each piece.

And (once again) to move in my usual 'chaotic, lateral fashion' and mix my analogies even more, there are, in a game of Go, more than one player; perhaps we could design structures to allow several individual paths through our garden, setting out their own fuseki, and allowing the text and/or music to merge and diverge?

These reflections started after showing some of my scores to a musically literate but non-improvising friend, I was struck by their puzzlement when faced by 3 or 4 distinct gestures surrounded by blank space and a few lines of text. These composed moments were something that the group as a whole, through various cues, works away from or towards over the course of a piece.

And on a somewhat more mundane note, this is just to say a sincere heartfelt thanks to geeks and the Internet. Guzzi-related operations had ground to a complete halt when I realized that I had a 20 year-old electronic ignition on the slightly larger (1000cc) noisy lump I was installing on the 30 year-old T3 Guzzi in lieu of the original 850 that had gone the way of the buffalo. I was faced with a group of six connectors with no clues as to how they went into the wiring loom. Who would think that someone had sat down and uploaded all the various variations of a lucas-rita set-ups for 70's models?

It's just a matter of time, I have no excuses left.