A fragment of ‘Hell’ by Hieronymus Bosch at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.
Accompanied by bird song, traffic, the conversation of roofers two doors away and a piece of heavy duty garden equipment from beyond the fence I sat in the shade at the end of our garden yesterday afternoon and finished reading ‘Into the Maelstrom; Music, Improvisation and the Dream of Freedom’, David Toop’s new book. The book sets out an incredible network of associations and connections and has alerted me to a good deal of music that I will explore in the weeks and months to come. This is the first volume of two and covers the evolution of a set of ideas ‘before 1970’. But it is not a linear history and the narrative swoops and dives in time (up to the present day) and genre. Amongst its many strands the one that preoccupies me on finishing is ‘listening’. The importance of listening and the balance between listening and playing to the improvising musician is central to Toop’s exploration.
As a determined audience member I have been trying to sort out the relationship and/or the differences between the way musicians listen and the way that an audience listens. In these (mostly) small spaces the symmetry of performers and audience can suggest a yin and yang of activity and passivity. But this is simplistic and I am always brought back to Duchamp’s statement: ‘The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.’ In the case of the Large Glass this happened most obviously through reflection on the material of the work itself…with the viewer’s image literally transposed onto the surface of the glass. Something similar happens in that communal space of listening in relation to improvised music.
Then last night, five minutes walk away down that road that generates so much traffic noise, was the launch of ‘Into the Maelstrom’ at Cafe Oto. Some months ago David Toop asked if he could use one of my drawings next to a section he was writing about a performance by Angharad Davies and Lina Lapelyte. I realise that I have come to insert myself into the space of the performance (and the performance itself?) through making these quick, ‘blind’ drawings…last night Toop talked about my drawing (and those of the others in the book by Geoff Winston and Ross Lambert) as a parallel act of improvisation. The performances that formed the central part of the launch at Oto exemplified three distinct approaches to improvisation: long exploratory group work with five musicians, short concise duets with Toop reading and each musician playing in turn and then an unplanned hybrid of reading and four musicians playing. The juxtaposition of the structured (the text) and the wholly improvised (the music) highlighted the dichotomy that lies between control and freedom that is at the heart of ‘Into the Maelstrom’ and its rich netherworld.
Performing with David Toop at Cafe Oto were (from left to right) Steve Beresford, Sylvia Hallett, Evan Parker and Elaine Mitchener.
I have always liked 3. I have an old blog still trapped out there in the web that was/is based on images grouped in threes. With this in mind here are 3 sea songs…all transferred from recently bought vinyl…maybe this is the first in a series…
(Jean Redpath, Song of the Seals, This Mortal Coil, Song to the Siren, Noel Coward, Matelot)
- Locate obscure lounge album on vinyl…preferably with ‘erotic’ overtones (and in this case with rain effects and bells).
- Digitize Track 3, Side 2 (Il se fait tard).
- Copy track and reverse copy.
- Add echo.
- Slow the whole thing down by 50%.
- Fade to silence.
to Duke Ellington, Juan Tizol, Bunny Berigan and James Last (RIP).
I might have bought this just for the cover but I forgot to look at the record condition before I handed over 59p at my favourite local charity shop. Just about any version of ‘I Can’t Get Started’ is worth a listen but when I slipped this disc out of the sleeve I found that someone had made a fairly determined effort to render the A-side unplayable.
I tried some mild solvent but this adhesive tape glue was ancient and immovable. I had just changed the stylus on my deck so still had the old one…it seemed like too good an opportunity to waste…