Sunday, 7 August 2011

BRISTOL DUO & TRIO, 16/07/2011

Duo, and then trio, between David Grundy, Mark Anthony Whiteford and Itta Howie. Guide Hut (Jack Brimble Hall), St Werburghs, Bristol, 16th July 2011.

DG: laptop, voice, percussion, drawing
M.A.W.: voice, kitchen ware, tapes, alto saxophone and chain with padlock
I.H: dance, voice, drawing

beginning as a duo for the first half hour, before we were joined by our third collaborator, itta (mostly silent here, moving rather than speaking, drawing, sometimes singing too). involving step-ladders, broken water jugs, dictaphones, voices and samples as personal memory and as social memory. memory of what? partly – previous sessions, nearly a year ago, over a year ago, years ago, the beginnings of this project, the first sine duos. 'i remember we were rocking'. we were rocking in a place which has now been emptied of art, cleared for business – slash any possibility of creative expression and education, we don't need it, get rid of the photography studios and the animation studios and that space where we used to make improvised music as if it meant something. and another phrase, not heard here, but it could have been; maybe it's the unheard phrase behind everything that's said or done or played in this session: 'smash it all down'. brighton, december 2010. another set of sine waves, another release of voice, another lament or record of the passing of time and loss and change. act of love. 'smash it all down.' and today we broke glass. we didn't mean to, but glass was smashed. we were using a glass jug as a percussion object and it cracked. if you break a window they send you to jail. The argument of the broken pane of glass is the most valuable argument in modern politics. There is something that Governments care for far more than human life, and that is the security of property, and so it is through property that we shall strike the enemy.

the voice is alien. it is manipulated, spun down, round wound, slowed down, sped up, turned into something other than itself. these voices, human and mechanical, electronic and acoustic, digital and analogue, real and imagined, in a dance, a tarantella, or a disintegrating death rattle. now i listen back there is sometimes a sense of desperation to the music, voices straining to be heard over electronic wail (which is itself a kind of mutant non-human voice). perhaps this has something to do with the mugginess of the mini-disc recording, which can't always cope with the volume and depth of sound. because i remember that when we played there were bits of conversation, talking over the music, those things we wouldn't do in public, at a 'gig'. making tea, people coming in and out, debating the merits of john cage. i have been reading greil marcus writing on what bob dylan could do in the basement recordings that he couldn't do in that summer of confrontation with a hostile audience of folkies. the importance of this sort of private space for the conjuring up/ exploration of a different kind of community, unburdened by the usual social pressures - a place of no obligation. digging into history and memory, masks and personas and suddenly the real face beneath. dylan's gone electric. the whole world's gone electric. what is this obsession with step ladders. singing a charles mingus tune as if you were in the bath. wailing, again. open your throat and the voice comes out, unadorned. singing a tea cup. singing into a tea cup. the tea cup has a banksy picture reproduced on it. in the streets nearby there are dozens of original bankskies on the walls, all worth a few damn thousand pounds or more. the art world recuperates, recovers, swallows up all that threatens it. graffiti is now just another accessory, resistance and subversion commodified as art product. i look at the graffiti on the underpass on the way to the guide hut and i think that it has more to say or do than work in a gallery because it has nothing to do with money. someone put it there because it has to be there. soon it will be washed away. 27 minutes in (if you get that far!) the mini-disc recording must have cut off. the recording equipment inserts its own silence into the flow of the music. it seems to fit.

(hey, you don’t need to listen to the last 10 minutes, 15 minutes, whatever it is. it’s just talking. it’s still recording. thank you, and good night.)

Monday, 30 May 2011

OXFORD SOLO, 29/05/2011

My first proper public solo performance (not strictly true: I did a short (15-minute) ambient laptop set in 2009, but for some reason that felt much more relaxed and private), this took place at an evening called ‘ACTS’, which I curated in the Oxford Brookes Drama Studio (a small, stand-alone building on the Headington Hill Campus). The solo came first, and was followed by an improvised duo between butoh dancer Macarena Ortuzar and cellist / bandoneonist Bruno Guastalla (with lighting by Dariusz Dziala), a performance of John Cage’s Four6 by The Set Ensemble (on this occasion, Guastalla, Patrick Farmer, Sarah Hughes & David Stent), and a final improvisation by all six performers. I found the solo set slightly unnerving, not only because it was the opening item of the evening, but because of its exposed nature – the fact that there is no one else to back you up or ‘cover up’ for you if something goes wrong. In the end, the performance itself contained something of a drama between machine / electronic elements (the inscrutability and physical stasis of laptop performance (one can see no physical connection between the sounds being produced and the actions of the mostly motionless performer) and small acoustic interventions (the use of a roll of gaffer tape and a small wooden stick, as well as the sampling of a spoken word recording). I guess such tension can be fruitful – it prevents things from stagnating, and introduces that important risk of failure. (I did feel that the piece could have been longer, and didn't really have as clear a trajectory as the private solo recordings or collaborations I've done.) One thing I wasn’t expecting, though, was the birdsong-filled ‘silence’ at the end: as if my contribution to the piece was done, and it was the members of the audience who were now creating this final coda, by choosing not to applaud, talk, or get up and move around.


The fourth (and first virtual) ‘sine language’ duo between David Grundy & Mark Anthony Whiteford. Solo home performances in Swindon and Bristol, recorded on 22nd and 23rd May respectively, and subsequently combined.

I had been recording a couple of solos as preparations for a live performance (see next post), and M.A.W. made a real-time improvised response, on recently-acquired bassoon, to the first 20 minutes of this recording. I’ve chosen to post both solos as stand-alone pieces, along with the virtual duo. Following the tracklist is a subsequent exchange (slightly revised in ‘post-production’) based on this virtual collaboration:

D.G. Solo, 22nd May (28:26)
M.A.W. Solo, 23rd May(20:20)
Virtual Duo, 23rd May (20:19)

D.G. : thanks for this - reminds me of our virtual collaboration on my first ever sine solo a few years ago. listening to the two pieces at once, it strikes me that the contrast between electronic continued/droning sounds and bassoon ones shortened by breath (and often more staccato than with your saxophone playing) in some ways totally changes the complexion of the original. (at first i was going to say that it did this by adding 'tension' - but i know you don't like that word - and after a while what seems like tension becomes more like a rejection of linear/narrative logic than 'tension-and-release' in any case. 'uniformity and depth' as you say in your improvisation.) did you listen to the solo piece before playing along, or was this a 'real-time' reaction?

M.A.W. : mmm yes it was real time response. i particularly like the lo-tech talking in the midst of it all [i.e. in DG’s piece]. i like the animal/human sounds alongside the electronic and I like the incoherence. were you incoherent when speaking, or is that just the listening experience?

D.G. : the spoken word bit in the middle was sampled from something i recorded a few months back when i had a cold and was feeling a bit feverish - so it's originally fairly incoherent, but rendered even more incoherent by being cut up live. i have been thinking about that contrast between physical actions/ speech / 'human' things and machine/electronic sounds (which isn't a simple binary opposition). and i read this from one of our email exchanges:

"i was probably quite aware that the text was speaking of sentiments seemingly far removed from sine waves and yet at the same time i'm very aware of how the likes of Sachiko M have reinvented/ reinstated the female wail with the cry of fucked machines and i'm very much reminded of other high tech associated witch wailers such as Amy Yoshida. and it occurs to me that the sine wave and electronic sounds are voices that have lost the ability to communicate logically or properly and instead hum or stutter beyond the supposed/mythic intelligibility of words."

also relevant: nathaniel mackey's idea of 'telling inarticulacy' in relation to african-american music - and simone weil: "and even in those who still have the power to cry out, the cry hardly ever expresses itself, either inwardly or outwardly, in coherent language. usually, the words thru which it seeks expression are quite irrelevant."

M.A.W. : maybe it 's a mistake to think that machines are not speaking sentiments? maybe they are screaming at us and we dont know it? and yes i feel that when we communicate depth or complexity there is no rational sense to be found. because feelings/spirit are outside our rational reality. i find it easy to imagine emotional landscapes beyond our ken within the music of sachiko m at times. it's the rustling and stirring of neurones and nerve endings. the gap outside of our perception where shadows and scratchings occur. i enjoyed the cut up text. and i enjoyed responding with my own speaking echo in the response. maybe sine waves ache with angst? who knows? maybe they create sine universes once we release them from the machines?

Friday, 12 November 2010


Three duos between David Grundy (electronics) and Daniel Larwood (acoustic guitar). Home recordings, Swindon, 2nd and 3rd November 2010.

Duo One
Duo Two
Duo Three

Recorded in a room with an oblivious sleeping dog.

(See also: Preparatory Email Dialogue)

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.

Monday, 12 July 2010

CHELTENHAM DUO, 10/07/2010

Third Sine Language Duo between David Grundy and Mark Anthony Whiteford. Pitville Studios (University of Gloucestershire), Cheltenham, 10th July 2010.

01 ‘from the white noise thicket’ (19:41)
02 ‘as if we fell from the sky’ (13:10 )
03 ‘when there’s no substance left at all’ (13:47)

This was the first section in an afternoon of group improvisation, which built up from duo to trio to quartet (and, subsequently, to a session with twenty-or-so members of the Cheltenham Improvisers’ Orchestra). Sections bled into one another, so it’s hard to pin-point when exactly one ‘piece’ ended and when another began – for instance, at the end of the duo, a third improviser turned up and started setting up (though not yet playing any music). In addition, the use of live-sampling means that fragments of different sections may turn up half an hour later, in a changed context (they may not even be recognizable from their origin) – so there’s a sense of continuity to things.

The duo took place in a much larger room than previously, and one with a big, echoing acoustic, which has some impact on the way it sounds. Once again voices, texts, play a role, particularly in the final part, where accordion and singing could be said to provide a marked contrast to the electronics – though they seem to me to emerge from the same territory, strange as that might seem.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

BRISTOL DUO, 04/07/2010

Second Sine Language Duo between David Grundy and Mark Anthony Whiteford. Guide Hut (Jack Brimble Hall), St Werburghs, Bristol, 4th July 2010.

01 'independence day' (35:44)

melting: saxophone into electronics/ electronics into saxophone.
moulding: electronics shape saxophone/ saxophone shapes electronics.
bleeding: saxophone into electronics/ electronics into saxophone
feeding (into/back): electronics/ saxophone. voice/ percussion. stasis/ activity.

curtains – shut. light – a pink, filtered glow. live sampling, layer on layer, obscuring, blurring the lines – what is played when and by whom. at times, it's almost as if just one instrument is playing; moments when the origin of the sound you've just heard becomes blurred. where did that sound come from? who made that sound? perhaps it was you yourself.

(sample towards the end of the track - delia derbyshire, interviewed for bbc radio scotland in 1997.)