Saturday, March 24, 2007

Goin' up the Country

Wednesday the 12th was my last night in Exeter. The next morning I got up early and cycled out of the city (it was a foggy morning) and across Devon into Dorset, with my saz on my back and the rest of my life loaded up on a German bike trailer I recently acquired (first thing I've ever bought on eBay - £40, new, including delivery from Germany). I'm now WWOOFing for Heather and John out at Cannings Court (where these were recorded), and working on my book about prime numbers, etc.

Henry had mentioned that Jon Sterckx, a percussionist who works with loops, was playing at The Globe on Wednesday evening as part of Vibraphonic. It seemed interesting enough to check out, so I went along to find a few locals watching an acoustic duo called "Fruitcake" playing covers. I assumed Jon Sterkx had cancelled, and so hung around to enjoy their renditions of The Cure's "Friday I'm In Love" (much better than the original!) and Patti Smith's "Because the Night" (not bad) over half a pint of Topsham Ferryman before realising that the main gigs happen in the upstairs room at The Globe. I got up there to discover that I'd missed it, but I did see Max Crackery, the experimental trombonist, was present, as was Lewis, the Welsh djembe player I'd jammed with at the party on Saturday. He seemed to know everyone there, and it gradually dawned on me that there was a whole music scene in Exeter involving chilled-out people playing interesting instruments which I'd somehow managed to not connect with in my six years of living there! And I was leaving the next morning. Oh well - more reasons to come back. Lewis and I had an inspiring talk about travel, spontaneity and life being what you make it. He gave me his number so we can jam more (and I can connect with his wider circle of musical friends) when I'm back in town.

Joel, my hurdy-gurdy-playing friend is also living out here at Cannings Court. We had a little
jam out around a fire on the Spring Equinox (a woman who turned out to be the late Douglas
' half-sister also being present, and most appreciative). The temperature difference between the night air and the fire was a bit too extreme (and my hands a bit to scratched and stung from weeding among the nettles and brambles) for it to really kick in, but so good to be playing with Joel again. There will be lots more of this we hope. He's lent me his Steve Reich retrospective box set Phases, which I've been really getting into. This is something fellow RDGD member (and bagpipe maker) Mike got him into. I've been aware of Reich since taping the Kronos Quartet's debut of Different Trains off Radio 3 in 1988, but this box set is a revelation - particularly Music for 18 Musicians and Eight Lines. I just keep listening to these over and over on the little CD player in my trailer, in complete amazement. Reading the accompanying booklet, I learned that he saw Coltrane play fifty times in the 60's, that he studied Wittgenstein at Cornell, studied West African drumming in Ghana, and was majorly inspired in his composition work after being part of a performance of Terry Riley's In C.
This all adds to my appreciation of what he's doing. I already knew about Reich's pre-GD connection with Phil Lesh in San Francisco.

I've also been getting seriously into the Incredible String Band again - Vicky's teengage son Thomas, in gratitude for my radio production assistance, compiled their entire discography for me to take away with me. So I've been getting into some of the better tracks on the lesser albums which I'd previously overlooked, as well as old favourites. Current faves are "Creation", "Cold Days of February", "Alice is a Long Time Gone", "Dear Old Battlefield", "Sailor and the Dancer", "Veshengro", "This Moment", "Dust Be Diamonds, "Three is a Green Crown", "Job's Tears", "Maya" many. Listening closely on headphones, separating out all the layered sounds, it's amazing how much supposedly "wrong" playing is involved (crude hand-drumming and stringy noodling), sections I would certainly cut if I were editing my own music. Years ago, before I was playing and recording like I do now, I listened to the String Band, and I never noticed this - I listened to the overall sound, and taken as a whole, it's somehow not a problem. Interesting. It's the same with all the Matt Valentine and Erika Elder stuff I've been listening to, so much of which sounds "wrong", yet somehow sounds perfectly right.

I wrote a little piece on "forest floor" music, after a discussion with Keith and Henry on the way back from a Drone session in Crediton - I shall have to dig that out and reproduce that here. I was using the comparison of the aesthetic of a "beautiful kitchen" and the aesthetic of a "beautiful forest floor". Modern processed music has an aesthetic similar to that of the former, and I was arguing in favour of creating a music with an aesthetic of the latter. If you break it down, it's messy - the parts are arranged in all sorts of asymmetrical and irregular ways. But holistically, at some intuitive level, it's completely right.

There's a certain attitude that can be cultivated allowing you to say "No, this is fine, I'm happy with this as it is." rather than fussing over it in an over-perfectionist way. And then a certain audacity required to bring it out to the public.

It's important that none of this becomes an excuse for sloppiness or indiscipline, though.


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