Some years ago, in the first days of mobile phones with cameras, I shot some moving image from a train window. I was just messing about…seeing what the camera could do in movie mode. I guess that because of some ‘primitive’ processing technology, the camera couldn’t keep up with the speed of the movement. Almost everything was blurred, the vague green skyline of trees shooting past, lots of rail-side detritus going by out of focus. But what I really liked was the effect of passing telephone poles. In my ‘film’ these appeared as diagonals rather than verticals. The digital image processed from the top to the bottom and it couldn’t cope with the passage of the poles. This lost movie came back into my mind as I listened to the Necks at Cafe Oto a few weeks back. There is often something in their music that seems to refer to landscape and movement but as part of the process of synthesis it comes out twisted and distorted. On the second night of the two gigs that I attended I wrote in my notebook: ‘weather, landscape, machinery’. An atmosphere, a place, musical instruments.
On the morning of 5th November (between the two Necks gigs) I woke up earlier than usual and listened to the radio. At 05:58 on BBC Radio 4 there was ‘Tweet of the Day; the Redshank’. All of the programmes are available to listen to here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/totd/all…scroll down and you will find the redshank broadcast.
In my slightly drowsy state I imagined the redshank joining the Necks in a long improvisation. Three machines (piano, bass and drums) plus voice.
The next day The Necks were in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios recording with Evan Parker (the saxophone as voice). You can read about this session at Richard Williams’ blog here:
And if you are fast you can download the session here:
Of course, unlike The Necks, Parker has previous in avian collaboration. If you can find it, listen to his album ‘Evan Parker with Birds’ (trd001).
The Delirium of Beginning/The Anxiety of Ending
I remember in 1990 as Caroline and I set off for an unseasonal trip to Skye we dropped in to see her father, Philip. He was ill and didn’t get out much then and said to us just before we left: ‘It’s wonderful setting out on the road…’ He was probably a little jealous of the trip were about to undertake but he said it with genuine enthusiasm. This music always has that sense of setting out on a journey…one step, one foot down on the pedal, one deep breath and away. And then as the sound develops and the musicians and listeners find themselves all in the same vehicle, treading the same path, traveling the same road, (for me at least) a tension creeps in. I think: ‘how did we get here from there? I remember where we were but the journey so far is a bit hazy…right now it is in sharp focus but what’s been going on?’ And then I think: ‘how does this end?’ And I wonder if there is some of this anxiety built into the performance for the players too. And is it the same for all improvising musicians? I’ve heard musicians fluffing the end of improvisations, faltering when they should be decisive, not quite knowing how to stop. (See Miles Davis’s advice to Coltrane on this point) Has that got to do with being too relaxed about the shape of the journey – somehow believing that it goes on forever? The Necks have been playing together for many years now and they have a sense of time and space that has milestones, landmarks, triangulation points…they know how to stop but also know that they need to keep listening to each other and keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. They know when to brake in a way that their listeners maybe don’t…it keeps us guessing. Each Necks session is a familiar journey made strange.