Tuesday, 13 July 2010

From an Email Exchange (Re: Cheltenham Duo)


MW: i begin to have concerns about the amount of words I’m using. i fear that too many words tend to dominate and hide the music??? maybe i want to return to a more pointilist approach for periods of time and keep the words out.

DG: I think these long afternoons of improv are enabling us to get into some really interesting spaces, for the music to open up to all sorts of theatrical and performance-based possibilities. Some important things have been emerging about communication, shared experiences, memories, music as a space that's at once both social (sharing) and able to capture something of individual 'innerness' (things deeply personal that remain hidden much of the time in interactions with others).You mentioned that you think you're using the voice too much, that it perhaps 'distracts' from the music - I'd say, why do these category distinctions matter so much in the first place? Music, after all, didn't start off as a sealed-off discipline - it was part of ritual, of language, connected to movement, ceremony, speech, poetry. (We can't hope to 'return' to these origins, in part because the evidence is so vague about how music actually originated (Derek Bailey's claim that man's first musical performance can't have been anything but a free improvisation remains unverifiable because it refers to a time before written record, a stretch of time even that contained within collective memory, would have allowed it to pass into myth)). But nonetheless, dissolving the boundaries between things is something that seems very valuable, and is not actually done that much - at least, within music, even within free improvisation. Is it theatre? is it poetry? is it music? is it ‘just talking’? I'm reminded a bit of the way Roland Barthes etc wanted to replace the category of 'literature' (the sacred, privileged canon, somehow 'removed' from everyday life and its messy entanglements) with the category of 'text' (a much more elastic term). For me, 'text' was always problematic as well, because it fits into the privileging of logos, of the written, over the spoken, the act of speaking – a silencing of the word in favour of marks on page, in favour of internalised thought (the argument made by Adriana Cavarero in 'For More Than One Voice'). Which is why incorporating all these spoken elements into music feels valuable; it's to do above all else with *orality* - a key concern which I hope to explore if I ever manage to work academically on Cecil Taylor's poetry. But in any case, there's less talking than you imagine, perhaps - after all, the pieces we make tend to be very long. And in the latest duo, the voices are more like ghost echoes, fragments on the edge of perception, eerie snatches of shout, of song, of lament; buzzings, aural flickerings from the damaged tv set, the detuned radio, murmurings from the white noise thicket.

And yet, even 'random' bits of speech connect - perhaps because they're responding to the environment (such as when I read out bits of texts on fire escape doors) and to the other person (a kind of dialogue which sits alongside the musical dialogue, complements it, as well as perhaps contrasting to it). For instance, in the duo, there are some phrases linked by the opening "as if": "as if they fell from the sky" (which for me went well with the 'alien' nature of the music, something enhanced by the pronounced echo of the space we were performing in); "as if the door was alarmed" (making the ordinary strange - the sign on the fire escape, written in official language, that which is familiar - 'this door is alarmed' - is twisted to mean something different, to become part of a potential narrative, or maybe a fragment like a zen koan or a haiku); "as if the box was a gift" (which is a lot more ambiguous and seems somehow incomplete, to have floated into the music from somewhere else, not to 'belong' in this new place in which it has found itself).

MW: yes the words 'as if'' often come up in the music. i think anthony [jimmy juniper (a poet who we’ve both worked with)] maybe uses those words often too? for me when we go into the musicspace it is a shamanic trance journey. often dreams i've completely 'forgotten' jump back into my memory. and i feel the world we enter is one of majikal blurrings and make believe. so the words 'as if' are so completely in keeping with where we are going here/there. so much of what we do in the soundspace is an approximation, a lostness, a hallucination, so it is so so often as if and only as if with reality suspended for those precious moments in the hidden world which is still one foot in the real world too with thoughts actions buildings feeding their line into the imagined world as if we were 2 3 4 people making music in a university building. as if we really were musicians and as if we really were in a cavernous studio space not in a dense woven world thicket of sound. i have no idea if what i've just written ends or repeats or says what i mean to say or to allude to. and i wont look back at it either [as if that would prove anything.]

so why the question the binary thinking [the doubts about using too many words]? i guess i'm thinking a lot about interaction/society and i am wary or mindful at least of the words specially when read or even repeated can veer away from being interactive in the way a saxophone solo might or a melody might – what i like about fragments of melody is that they seem to be able to bend and fit somehow. there was a strange moment when i returned to a particular simple melody on soprano and even though there'd only been speech pretty much during the intervening period the melody was out of key!!

i probably do say too much and yet i often feel others say too little so we're all in one cage or another eh? wearing hearing aids has had a profound effect on my relationship to my own voice. the aids also effect the way i speak too, there being a certain timbre texture mode present when i'm plugged in that's absent when i'm not. and of course the way i hear myself is disturbingly effected though i've learned to play with this as if i'm involved in an ongoing sound piece which is merely me speaking

but yes i think something in here for me is the way words represent something or not equally according to interpretation. so i can find ways to speak/sing of my current life and emotional landscape perhaps in a way more open honest and sincere than a saxophone solo. and the jumps from one 'reality' [such as a sudden memory of my grandmother, as i sat down feeling like her and remembering her words {her use of platitudes} which i can then speak and give vent to; expressing a very deep emotion, feeling her to move into me/inhabit me for that moment, imagining if she had such an outlet as this what her life might have become] to other immediate reflections noticing what you say or how you move, and even experiencing immediate dialogue as you spoke a platitude that my grandmother would have used. time shifting layers of reality fuzzing. and yes, is good to recall the adrianna cavarero book, cos i was very struck by the power of the argument she makes that patriarchy stripped words away from the sirens in order to render her less potent/knowledgeable and it seems we are reclaiming the story, specially in moments when i was wailing in voice and words yesterday, but also when we narrate stories, very simple ones or snippets of vast complex ones. indeed yes i love the way we can speak and such multiple meanings can occur, maybe also a range of emotions are afforded each participant musing in their own dream on the words we each hear? as when belinda was [i think] using the word walking, which seemed to hold some meaning/emotional weight for her [or so i imagine] and then i too took it away to some place of my own, this word being spoken far away over the room, a compatriot on some journey, maybe [for all i know] launched into this reverie by a word you or i had spoken earlier. a spiral of meanings and layers of experience all in the room at once. and you in another room with your alarmed door and your experiences coming over the dividing wall in your sound which i hear/register understand/or not. what beauty.

fuck yes, words eh? aren't they deep and layered and full of emotion/images/imagined things/lives/experiences; so full they're as abstract [or maybe even more so than] abstract sounds or patterns.

Emotional Expression?

DG: In all three trios now, the voice (whether 'live' or in recordings) has been an important element: Xaviere Gauthier's text in the first one, the Delia Derbyshire interview that comes in towards the end of the second, and, this time, a mixture of speaking and singing. In the earlier sections of this latest performance, there also seems to be an element of (sung) lament in there a lot stronger than in our previous two duos - the music has a definite emotional element to it (though hopefully not overstated).

MW: absolutely – i think partly what i'm railing against [and maybe need to write into the text we're running] is that our music is supposedly about free expression [though maybe this is less so in free improv than jazz] including emotional expression but as soon as anyone deals with anything real/personal and emotive everyone runs for the hills so it's free expression of who knows what. it's risky expressing this stuff, but yes i absolutely feel we're venturing into expression of our inner and emotive worlds in a literally descriptive way. but as you also say, in a way that creates art not simply diary pages spoken out loud.

DG: I have been wary in the past (and am still wary now) of saying 'this music is emotional in this way,' because i'm aware that, with something as ambiguous as free improv, what might strike one person, resonate with them in a particular emotional way, might have a completely different 'meaning' for someone else. but perhaps here we're talking about something similar to the way white audiences/players turned jazz from something vital and intimately tied with the politics of liberation to something all about pose, toe-tapping and distanced 'cool' - the process of sterilisation?

MW: i'm not sure where the drive away from emotionality stems from [white male modernism?] i've no idea really. but i certainly feel we're reclaiming/introducing something human and more emotionally/mundanely linked which although abstract to some extent [in that it's still open to interpretation] harks/barks towards emotional/ autobiographical/ emotional environments as lived by performer?

and on some level i am happy to rail against the ubercool armoured male muso who speaks nothing of anything deep within him and insists the music is transcendent. with the words we make transparent the musics rootedness in earthbound human reality which in itself contains magical spirit and soul

i was keening yesterday. lamenting grieving. i've struggled with life for a good year or two, and i've felt as though i'm disapearing, not eating losing weight, stripping away vast swathes of my 'male' identity i've been left empty and scared. and now i also face the threat of losing my sight. so yesterday some of the words and wailing were about all of those things. the words from the jenny diski novel "there comes a point when there's no substance left at all," were heartfelt and searingly relevant to my recent/current reality.

and i often found myself wondering how much sense [or how the sense would be altered] by being blind, so closed my eyes a lot and was in a lot of emotional relief upon discovering/realising that the world we inhabited yesterday with all it's riches wouldnt be massively diminished by a loss of sight. so yes the texts seem to trigger/resonate with so much weight/freight that i found myself staggering at times under the weight of it all.

DG: What else was new about this third duo? Perhaps having the soprano, rather than a broken alto, gives a certain element of melodic clarity (and in terms of timbre it meshes well with the recorder). Listening back to the recording,it seems I was using the whistle quite a bit (though I think a lot of it was sampled and played back). Interesting to me (though I wasn’t really thinking about this when I was playing it, it only springs to my mind as a retrospective enquiry) what associations its sound conjures up: does it sound like the whistle in the school-yard or on the football pitch, the teacher or referee (authority figure) summoning everyone to attention; or like bird-song; electronic; plaintive; or simply that which it is (was) – a dog-whistle? Perhaps for me the whistle is important because it’s something that’s at once both mundane (a ‘found object’, a discarded/defunct family object) and, in context, almost alien (that word again), other. I suppose I’m interested in stripping things of the contexts which lend them meaning, and placing them in new contexts in which they are not so much out of place, as made to take on a different level of significance, made to mean something different.

MW: that whistle haunts me. leaving aside for a moment how or what sounds of, the foremost thing is everytime you play it and i see it in your lips i recall the story you told me [more words] of how you came by it, how it was an unwanted thing in your mother's life and i seem to recall a statement such as she didnt really know how long it had been there or why, but it hadnt been doing anything for a long time. and when you play it i'm struck by this linear family link you have, and the movement of you taking it from this [i imagine] mundane household and transforming it from a dog whistle into an instrument of surrealistic endeavours. and i imagine the love or naturalness of you and your mother. and i'm warmed by this story i've concocted [needing it] of you so young taking these strange steps into a world of weird almost occult activities carrying this talisman from your mother, almost like you could use it to summon guardian dogs if you became too lost in the land of our strange mus[i]ks. i'm often touched when you use the whistle by what seems to me, your beautiful courage/naturalness and innocence. it means a lot to me that someone so young is finding a way into so much of this stuff [culture art literature provocative arts] which i often fear will die out in the new crass dumbass world, so you are a beautiful lifeline of wondrous venturing to my mind. as for it's sound; that varies. yes at times it feels shrill and almost electronic and at times bird like plaintive and at times invisible somehow and then at other times it sounds like a dog whistle and so is a sound from the mundane totally other world and brings to mind my former life married with 2 dogs one a german shepherd and one a border collie; this story representing my fragmented life of discontinuities as opposed to the linear feeling of your mother handing down the dog whistle.

Texture/ melody/ idiomatic references

DG: I'm also intrigued by the moments where the texture seems to thin out, having reached a level of volume and layering almost characteristic of noise music - that particular kind of crushing, or immersive intensity - to something that seems very spacious. Right at the end of the piece, you're singing "there comes a point when there's no substance left at all," which comes closes to that feeling - a sudden falling away - clarity? - a moment (section) of marked contrast to what came before. For instance, about 20 minutes in, we're suddenly reduced to one high-pitched sine wave with echoing intermittent crashing/clanging and wispy soprano. And subsequently the thinning out even more to really simple (and in context, quite beautiful) melodic soprano figures. And then again, to the accordion/singing section - which has this odd and unexpected delicacy to it - even whimsy. (Perhaps that militates against the serious, death-centred male modernist mythology you've mentioned as being one of your bete noirs). I like the way that even in our quite 'uncompromising' performances - full of crashes, clangs, dissonances, loud and piercing noises - there are moments of clear melody, not-quite parodies. Where going 'off-key' and 'left-field' means playing in a (semi-)idiomatic way. Not that this should become a *model* - the intention isn't to deliberately incorporate idiomatic musics - it's just something that emerges organically out of things and comes as a surprise to us, the performers, as much as it might to any audience.

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