Posts tagged improvisation

RPM Composing Update

The RPM challenge is about when you record the music rather than when you compose it, so I’ve been working more on the pieces I’ll be playing. Things have moved on from my last post! I have ideas for two separate suites, one based around melodic improvisation, and another around short pieces based on photographs I’ve recently taken.

I’ve been working on the first idea for a while, and it’s coming along pretty well. I could record a perfectly good version of it now, but I think living with the idea for longer will bring more things out of it, and anyway it isn’t even February yet!

The second idea I just started working on today. I have been playing around with analogue photography, and received my first set of prints back. Ten of them immediately struck me as making an interesting set, as they were all in various states of darkness. In some almost nothing is visible, in others some features stand out clearly while others are swallowed by darkness. Given my interest in failure, and imperfection, I knew I wanted to start interpreting these images in sound. I’ve just been scribbling initial notes down this evening, and I’m pretty excited about this idea :)

I’m not yet sure how these suites will interact. The first idea is probably long enough for a short album in itself. If I have composed the photo pieces in time, I will probably also record them and it will be an album of two halves, an idea I’ve always rather liked. If not then I’ll continue writing those pieces, and they can be their own release or become part of another project. If both these suites get recorded for RPM, that would probably be the longest release I’ve ever done!

I’ll be updating this blog with more composing stuff as things progress…

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Greetings! I charted a course through stormy ‘net connections on Sunday to bring a new release to your ears. As this is the first new piece I’ve released for a while (other than additions to Improvisations) some words on its creation, and my current musical thinking, may be of interest.

At the start of the year (or maybe it was the end of last year, but the date is unimportant) I decided that I should spend twelve months gathering field-recordings, and perhaps pictures and words too, to form the basis of some kind of release to be constructed at the end of 2012. I had no idea for the form of the final work, but I wanted to try a creative method that would lead to a longer gestation period, to get away from my tendency to create in sudden short bursts of activity. Perhaps the cultural significance of the year itself played a role: London had, after all, been preparing for 2012 for what felt like most of my life. I toyed with the idea of blogging regularly on my progress, but I decided this could easily lead to the project feeling like a chore, and that the important thing was the final product, not the story of its creation. I have gathered many recordings so far, though perhaps not as many as I would have liked.

It was in Birmingham last month that a new idea for a piece marched boldly into my head, as they occasionally do. Many times I have created a soundscape and then improvised over it, but now I thought of recording a long improvisation and treating this as the soundscape, creating a piece by adding snatches of manipulated field-recordings. I sat down that day in my hotel room and recorded myself playing for around 25 minutes. I consciously left more space in my playing, aware that this was the basis for more sound, that I was, at some level, accompanying something I could not yet hear.

The piece was created over the following weeks, using recordings from the same Birmingham trip, and also treated samples from the improvisation. As I often do, I allowed the sounds to guide me: I had no specific aims in terms of expressing ideas or moods. The piece is an experiment in approaching my usual ingredients in a slightly different way: the sound of me playing was treated in the way I generally treat field-recordings. I hope that creating it has helped me develop my sound-manipulation skills further.

I wrote myself a minimal set of instructions for my field-recording project, and titled it One Year. As the end of 2012 approaches, I am beginning to gain a sense of what I shall create from what I have gathered. There will be a series of standalone pieces, all made in somewhat different ways, but all using sounds from 2012 (of course!). Together, they will perhaps express something of what I am musically at this time. Birmingham Impressions is the first, listen out for more over the next few months.

thanks for listening/reading


*a copy of these instructions is a bonus item with the Birmingham Impressions download

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The Sound Of Bygone Futures

A name to conjure with. A man embodying his concept of freedom, living his ideals night by night by blowing freedom through his plastic horn. Some listen, some only hear.

At first I heard only a name. Beyond A Love Supreme Coltrane had sailed to further shores, reading Free Jazz in the stars. This Ornette Coleman it was said had made the chart. The man guiding the ‘Trane.

Some said they had gone too far, for pursuing a dream is likely to seem mad. Mad men follow the moon. This was before I knew the moon.

A CD on the racks. £4. Free Jazz. The name is there and conjures.

Home again. I try to listen, but my green ears can only hear. Unjoyful noise, cacophony is all they find. A few sparse oases of calm. But the rest is noise.

An album put to one side. Some men went too far. An experiment gone wrong, a curiousity. Leave it to the moon.

Miles and ‘Trane and Cannonball. Then there was Mingus, Yussef, Milt. These were my ear-guides on the road beyond hearing. The gods of listening I followed.

With larger ears, and time passed, and strength renewed, I played the disc again. And now the freedom is there, the groove is king, but wild and dancing playful, rollicking king of a merry polyphonious people. My body was my ears and my body now could listen.

The Shape Of Jazz To Come slithered down my iTunes path, sinewy and quick, but strong and deep. It had all the bold and angular power that a former future should. A prophecy fulfilled, disproved and buried five-foot deep. For a thought cannot be put to rest.

And here I am, years later. London, The Royal Festival Hall. The Shape now manifest within the cardboard sleeve under my arm. The vinyl solution.

A slender ghost walks out on to the stage. Slowly. He probably cannot move faster. But this is a man who wouldn’t, even if he could. Deep love is slow. And the freedom that is to come is love.

And so the swinging sound of freedom, the shaping of what is to come, begins. I am listening from outside. I recognise the beauty, but I cannot trust it. Is this my future, or the shape of jazz long gone? Listen, listen. They sing from the stage, Ornette and his band of brothers. And I listen.

And I find they sing to me. They sing joy into me, and strength. And Peace. My cynic flies away and it is me and the band and the Shape of all that’s to come and everything under that roof is in tune and all the guardians of my musical soul are listening with me. And my self is eclipsed by the sound. And Jack Rose is listening with us.

And this is it.

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At Source

As I sit writing this, I am listening to the current version of the recorded part of the piece I shall be performing on Friday 25th. A few weeks ago I took the train up to London and spent a pleasant afternoon recording sounds in the area around the venue. The original score I wrote for this piece is below. Bear in mind that I was writing these essentially for myself, to start ideas flowing and get me working. They are rather like a set of rules, perhaps reflecting my teenage war-gaming days ;)

A text score for a site specific performance piece

The performance shall consist of live sound from one or more performer(s) and recordings made in advance. Length shall be decided first.


These should be made within one mile of the site where the performance is to be held. Whoever makes the recordings has only one hour to do so. Any found sound may be used so long as it is made in that hour and within one mile of the site.

Once these sounds have been gathered, they can be manipulated and combined in any way that seems appropriate in order to produce a soundscape of the required length. Once this has been made, the performer(s) should not hear the soundscape again until the performance.

Live Performance

The soundscape will be played and the performer must respond in whatever way seems natural. The audience should clearly be able to hear the recorded part of the piece, the aim is not to drown it out but to respond to and comment on it.

Destroy recordings?

If yes, when precisely?

The questions at the end probably reflect the influence of Bill Drummond’s work with The17. Certainly I think the soundscape itself should only be used once, I’ll delete that after use. I should say again that although that entry in my notebook is written as if to someone else, it was really intended only for my use. As soon as I started seriously working on the piece, I found my own rules too restrictive. Although I only recorded about half-an-hour of sound, I spent more than an hour doing it. The idea remains in the online descriptions of the gig, because I feel like the idea of a time limit was a meaningful part of the evolution of the piece. However, there is already enough control in the limitation to one mile. I didn’t actually measure out a mile at any point, but simply wandered around the area making sure not to stray too far. I do think limiting the amount of actual sound recorded could be more useful by making one focus more effectively.

When I met Leah Kardos last month, she asked if the recorded part of the piece should make the listener think of the area itself. I think I said yes, but then started saying something about how it might also try to subvert that idea. I think it would be more accurate to say no. The point of using sounds from the area is not to make people think about that place, but to reflect on how there is beauty tied up in the everyday things all around us. We tend to remain blind and deaf to this. I have stretched, distorted and manipulated the sounds so that only some of them will be recognisable, while others will sound like things they are not. If we could listen differently, perhaps the world would always sound like this, just as it would look different if we could see in infra-red or ultra-violet. The piece I have made remains as chaotic as everyday sound, but it has been reshaped so as to be less familiar and thus (hopefully!) draw the ear more.

Over this I shall improvise slide guitar. Against the everyday, we set humanity’s attempts to create our own beauty. Again, I rejected my original rules: I see no real need for the soundscape to be unfamiliar to me when I perform the piece, I think this would only be interesting if the performer had never heard it before. Perhaps someone out there would like to use the piece in that way, but for a solo set it’s clearly impossible.

Yesterday I named the piece At Source. At some point I shall make a more user friendly text score for it, changing the rules as I have outlined and making the whole thing a bit pithier as well. I’m hugely looking forward to the performance!


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Improvisation 27/10/11

Acoustic slide guitar. You may just be able to hear the faint crack of distant fireworks at the end.

Now available to download in a wide choice of formats here

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Improvisation 28/8/11 - electric slide guitar. This will be added to the downloadable improvisations on my bandcamp soon, in the meantime it’s exclusively streamable here! Comments welcome :)

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Loose Strings - another improvisation. When putting on some new strings, I was inspired by the rattling sounds at the headstock to make a new recording before I cut the strings to size. Here it is, hope you enjoy :)

Here it is on bandcamp, free to download and share

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New improvisation, full set here. Downloadable for free in a wide choice of formats

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A new improvisation from this continually expanding collection, all freely downloadable

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