Saturday, September 26, 2009

cult of stuff.

It is strangely wearying, this restless search for a better life through the acquisition of objects; although we now know happiness can be bought. As outlined in the last post, I had it in writing from a local spiritual leader that a fixie titanium audax frame would cease the endless slow but exceedingly fine grinding of the wheel of karma, and help me lose my pod, all for just £899. And now it has happened again, with the discovery that after callously abandoning my first love, tenor sax, for the last three years to play alto, mainly because I "... just wasn't, like, hearing it any longer, man..." (what was I thinking? like someone who throws over his whole life; job, relationship and family, and ends up waking up in a fly-blown motel with an excruciating headache to find that a fickle piece of tall Estonian brass has left him sans wallet or car keys when his money finally ran out....)

please, please: Newk, Trane, Prez....forgive me.

So after my tenor sat, sullen and accusing in the corner of my room for a couple of years, I guiltily gave in and started practicing the damn thing again after purchasing a new (and pricey) mouthpiece a couple of months ago. This is not unlike couples who hope an expensive holiday will help them find the magic they lost somewhere. And because these kind of hopes always prove foolish and desperate, I've always fought shy of getting involved in the 'new mouthpiece' arms race that all players can succumb to; all too often they end up with bags of expensive mouthpieces that they thought were going to change their life at some point. My stand was always this: buy something decent and learn to use it. Like bicycles, it's the man not the machine.

However, my tenor sound had been getting woolier and woolier, and I seemed to have trouble projecting when compared to anyone standing next to me. Ultimately embarassing for someone whose one-time point of pride was scaring guitarists with a 1960's duckbill Brilhart Level-air. (sorry, very obscure, I know, but once the last fucking word in 1960's rock and roll space-age sax technology; complete shite to play)

This is all caught up in sad guy stuff; such as almost keeping senile Italian motorbikes running, and, with a tight smile and a little self-depreciating chuckle, gamely taking on modern 200 mph carbon-festooned Japanese rockets at the lights (and always losing, plus having to go back and collect the trail of small bits that vibed off when I revved too hard)
Or stomping my aging converted fixie up a hill without getting out of the saddle trying to drop tri-guys riding with the latest pricey kit, jabbering about their iphones and playing with their 'on-bicycle sat-nav'. Sad, sad, very sad aging guy stuff, I kept telling myself. Not very good at all; girls are so not impressed - time to let that stuff go and grow the hell up, for Christ's sake.

But surprisingly, the new mouthpiece was good, and did change my whole sound - my old set-up must have been quietly becoming crap over a number of years. Now to address the underlying problems: the fact that my rhythmic accuracy has also slowly degenerated over the last few years when I made a conscious decision to let my playing slide a bit to finish my post-grad studies. This is not entirely a bad thing - I have now come back both in a wildly different mindset, and realizing that the idea of purely virtuoso playing is not quite enough. But we are talking hours of metronome stuff; wildly boring. The real excitement is in the composing and realizing of new textures, trying to break from being the "...the fastest tenor player..." (which I never was) and think about compositional issues, which is far, far more interesting and engaging. (Or so I tell myself?)

Ted Gioia points out in his excellent book The Imperfect Art, (after which he sadly never followed up some of the points he raised, concentrating since then on history rather than aesthetics) namely that jazz has long been, aesthetically, a somewhat immature art form because of its over-reliance on virtuosity at the expense of structure; the cult of the virtuoso soloist over the that of the composer. When younger, I could never see what the problem was, but after years of gladiatorial pick-up gigs and head-to-head tenor battles, you start to realize that the attraction of what is primarily spectacle begins to pale; this insistence of technique over content has long been banished from the aesthetic of other art forms.

but hey, none the less, I can now play really loud on tenor again, and that feels good - for all the wrong reasons. Now to get a new set of wheels for the fixie. And now that I've more or less finished the cello piece and my weird singing piece for solo viola + voice, I can start messing with The Holy Goof again, and prepping up for the Ruth Padel gig on the 30th.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

a cessation of the world of desires.

Andy and I, standing in front of a trade booth at a recent track cycling meet, were confronted by a highly polished vision of another, more perfect world. It was as if we were able to look beyond our present situation where our feet are stuck in the lower realms of animals and hungry ghosts, and have a brief vision beyond our human realm to that of devas and bodhisattvas. We both knew, at that moment, possessing it would still the ceaseless working of samsara. Spooky.

It was a very, very lightweight titanium audax bike frame with the option of fixed or geared riding. So, in short, everything. Gears - or not; mudguards - or not... club runs, forest trails or towpath bashes; long audax runs or light, quick continental touring via magic plastic.

Andy, being a man of the cloth, confirmed my suspicions that the purchase of such a frame would mean my life would be suddenly fulfilled - no more frustrations concerning work, unfulfilled personal goals, male pattern baldness or tribulation in relations with the rest of humanity. And all that for just £899 (I'd still have to fit it out, though; campag?). How often does that happen in life? How rare is it that you can buy happiness and also banish middle-age spread? I rest my case.

So, I've just finished a cello suite for a friend from Slovenia, hopefully to be premiered this year. I have to say that I really enjoyed it, and I'm getting into the idea of writing for particular people. So I've also started working on a solo viola piece for a friend in Sweden - I'm really not sure how she's going to react to that one, as I've specified that she must hum/sing as well as play.... could be wildly embarrassing for all concerned. I still haven't heard back from her after a rough draft; she's probably agonizing about how to be polite, and just regretting she agreed to do it.

I sort of got into it while thinking about double-stopping, and listening to my own tuneless vocal drone as I was messing about at the piano trying to sustain lines. The dog was so not impressed. I had been been spending time juggling a little pitch matrix I had constructed and turning it this way and that trying to see what vertical and horizontal possibilities it might hold, and wishing parts of the line, the third voice so to speak, would just carry on. But, of course, a string player can only really sustain lines on two strings for any length of time; hence the humming. I'll put some bits up next post, although there's an ominous silence from the party it's being written for, so that idea might have to go.

I was down in London at Kings Place to watch my old supervisor, Martin Butler, play with the ensemble Notes Inegales. The entire program was mostly based around Peter Wiegold's compositions which were all based on various improvisational strategies. Martin, a classical pianist, has for some time been heavily getting into Miles in his Bitches Brew phase, and is working hard on becoming a jazz-ish improvisor, filtered through his own composing style. The best part of the day was hanging at the pub afterwards with a group of players and composers. Must do more of that sort of thing (the hanging bit, not the pub...)Anyway, here's a clip of Miles from that era.

Lastly, a beardie guy picture....complete with my own personal doppelgagger, a kind of reverse Dorian Gray thing; it's a painting made of me the last time I had a beard, about the age of 24; unfortunately, I had just lost the braid.

That is now so gone, with the impending start of term....although there was an intermediate stylish goatee phase, after which Jane threatened divorce.