forest floors viewpoints ruins abbeys cathedrals riverbanks closes garages containers car parks oak copses street corners living rooms cafés summer houses sheds garages outhouses canteens bedrooms riverbanks closets walk-in wardrobes foyers dining rooms beach blankets kitchens doorsteps garden tables follies empty bandstands corridors park benches cars buses boats trains tv salesrooms
This is my pitch. To the artists, creative professionals, funders, socially engaged institutions and community groups in the Borders.
For over a decade now I've seen the need for a physical space, a building in the Borders which would serve as a hub from which a programme of Creative Placemaking can be developed. The Stove in Dumfries and Galloway is an excellent example of what can be achieved. Have a look in particular at 'What we do'. It's almost overwhelming. There's no good reason that such a project cannot be successfully implemented in the Borders. I have to say that I've attended dozens of meetings, forums and workshops from which very little if anything emerges in terms of sustainability. I've listened to the jargon shift and change as different buzzwords rise and fall. Jargon is reductive, stultifying and often weaponised by bureaucrats on order to avoid talking about real issues facing real people. None of it means anything unless we're prepared to act.
Please hold in mind the words 'Creative Placemaking' as we proceed because it's a very important and relevant concept. Creative Placemaking isn't jargon. It used to be when people were fumbling around trying to find words to describe sustainable models for creative engagement with communities. Now it is a sophisticated concept, tried and tested, yet sadly beyond the comprehension of the vast majority of civic functionaries. A place is different from a space. It is one of the fundamentals of architecture, an anthropological reality. A place can be anything. Think of a blanket on the beach. In the olden days councils used to employ town planners whose job it was, in theory, to create nice places out of streets, buildings and public amenities. I knew one very well, a family member from an older generation. He was an artist, an illustrator. He applied his creative skills to the job. Obviously the whole cadre of town planners has been abolished. I say obviously because no self-respecting town planner would run an A-road through a town centre.
The Borders is a mix of urban, semi-rural and rural environments. The urban environments, in particular Galashiels and Hawick, suffer from serious poverty, poor housing, unemployment and so forth. If ever creative placemaking was needed there we have it. One understanding of creative placemaking, as I suggested earlier, is as a process whereby creative minds apply their skills to solving social, community, wellbeing and similar problems in order to establish a sense of place for the benefit of citizens and communities (that's actually a definition I made up put of several others but you get the gist). If we drill down though, there are two fundamental aspects to creative placemaking, the ethical and the aesthetic. The ethical, broadly speaking, tackles social and wellbeing. It deals with 'real people' defined by Claire Bishop as 'people who are neither the artist's friends or family or other artists' (I paraphrase). The aesthetic tackles how to do so elegantly and with grace, in addition to the very important work of providing beautiful works of art for citizens. It doesn't matter whether an artist sustains a practice of producing objects for detached contemplation or whether the artist is socially-engaged. It's the mindset common to both that is of value in creative placemaking. A Venn diagram of the various identities that artists 'practice' in their life - family member, partner, parent/guardian, employee, employer - will have a large space in the diagram common to all artists, ie the 'art' bit, the bit that characterises our way of thinking.
Why am I going on about all this? First, my view is that we need to act more urgently, with more focus, in order to better represent ourselves as creative professionals and to work more strategically with communities. Second, because I believe that councils and similar agencies are hobbled for various political and structural reasons. They simply cannot do what needs to be done nor can they adequately represent and support artists, similar professionals and their engagement with communities, held down as they are by the need to reproduce themselves and their mechanisms from day to day. This is where the creative community has an opening which would be of benefit to both the creative practitioners and the communities around them. It is of course being done by some excellent individuals and small businesses, truly gifted and dedicated people, but I would argue that we need more, hence this proposal.
By the way, this has nothing to do with turning artists into social workers. We've gone way beyond that type of counter-propaganda promoted by High Modernists. Even out of sheer self-interest a hub makes sense as a point to where structural and other funding can be directed for the benefit of artists.
I propose therefore the following: to sit down (round the kitchen table or in the pub) with at least three other people willing to put some time and energy first into establishing a ground from which to proceed and thereafter towards developing a plan which will lead to the establishment of a physical space/building/hub. I refer again to The Stove.
My first suggestion would be that we answer the question: 'What is the purpose and/or function of such a hub?' because that's what everyone will want to know. If this is done well I can almost guarantee that the result will be a whisker away from a fully workable and sustainable statement of the aims and vision of the project. Alongside this I propose that we approach potential partners - funders, the Council, other creative businesses and organisations. I've begun this process and have had a positive response.
The next step would be to establish a Social Enterprise, most likely a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (SCIO). Advice on this is easy to find. I've even done it myself in the past. Simultaneously, more detailed discussions will be had with funders in particular. For my part I don't worry about funding because without it nothing happens. All I can say is that there is money out there alongside government policies and guidance on how to carry forward initiatives of creative placemaking. Others in a similar situation to us have accessed those funds.
But what about x, y and z? The answer is I don't know. What I do know is that artists as a species, within the social ecosystem, have unique properties and occupy a specialised niche. Nobody else can or will do what they do. Many artists are very clever, well-educated, provocative and resistant to complacency. They do research and solve problems. They project their ideas into the material world then produce and provide things, often ex nihilo - objects, processes, concepts, complex ideas, social contexts. I can't speak for anyone else but I start every day with nothing and end up with something.
So this hub idea is a long-term large-scale project. There will be detractors and naysayers. This is the way of things. I refer you to bullet point seven (or thereabouts) of 'problems to bear in mind when trying to do placemaking' (this is an actual thing and I've seen it twice online - apologies for not providing the link). There will ALWAYS be naysayers. Some people are just wired up that way and are best ignored. Others simply don't know what to do - it's outside of their experience. Nonetheless people can always be brought on board once the objectives are clear. In my experience the doubters can often turn out in the end to be the hardest working partners. Most people like to do the right thing.
That's it. Thanks for reading. I'm here if you want to reach out.
The where I'm at with my photographic practice. Nothing overwhelming, apparently simple pictures, all taken within a short radius around where I live. But in among all that I'm always investigating light, form, time and space, examining a kind of structured complexity in the subjects and compositions.
My eldest son Leon is an adventurer, explorer, journalist and author. His partner Emily is a photojournalist, Leica Ambassador and storyteller. They get around, most recently travelling the length of the Tigris from mouth to source largely on the river itself. Emily has documented the trip in photography and Leon has written a book on the adventure which I’m helping to proof-read right now.
Leon began adventuring by cycling across and around the USA, South East Asia and southern China. Then he took to walking for months on end in very remote places - Mongolia, The Empty Quarter, all peppered in between by short adventures here and there, funded largely by speaking engagements, modelling and whatever else it takes to make ends meet in an unstable profession. This burst of youthful activity eventually settled down into a much more mature and focussed engagement with place and people, converging on the countries of the Near and Middle East. He worked on The Abraham Path Initiative and more recently has had contracts to open up trails in China, Tajikistan and Kurdistan, where he and Emily now live.
My understanding of Leon’s and Emily’s wider aim is that they want to help Westerners open their eyes to the stories and lives of people, in other words to foreground their basic humanity, in a region often scorned because of assumed connections with undesirable religious or political affiliations. Emily in particular has succeeded in getting behind ‘the veil', working with women and domestic life in societies where Western men cannot do such things.
I’m not going to give away details of the Tigris project before the book’s published but I will say that following Leon and Emily from afar on this gruelling trip through seriously contested territory has led me to fresh understandings - of travelling through this world of ours, the environmental and physical challenges, of Mesopotamia’s deep history. All this eventually led me to the journeys of very early travellers, not only those who went from West to East, like Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, ambassador to the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent, but also Arabic such as Ibn Fadlan and Ibn Battuta (whom Leon described as ‘making Marco Polo look like a recluse’).
I was drawn especially to the ancient history of Mesopotamia, more accurately a large region stretching across modern day Turkey, Syria, Kurdistan and Iraq. I’ve slowly been unpicking the timeline and politics of the Assyrians, Sumerians and Hittites and have now established a growing depository of names, possible historical facts, untruths and legends that I can plunder in the name of art when it comes to ‘branding’ some of my musical output.
But above all this I love flowers and I absolutely adore botanical illustration so I want to make a short film about how flowers and plants found their way from East to West, not a documentary as such, something less literal, with some of the colour and eroticism of plant life. I confess my ignorance in failing to realise until recently that many of the flowers we see and love in our gardens and parks were taken to Europe by travellers such as Ogier from the near and middle east (and originally from the lower Himalayas in some cases). Then of course the Dutch fell in love with tulips and on it goes. Tulips from Amsterdam by way of a few thousand miles.
I’ve been reflecting on all this as a benevolent form of colonial appropriation. Suleyman the Magnificent and other powerful Eastern leaders loved their flower gardens and were often eager to share specimens and knowledge with Western botanists. From what I can gather there was little plunder and theft as such, the sort of activity you find with the removal and relocation of physical artefacts from the tombs of the Pharaohs for example. A lot of the work seems to have been done in the spirit of care and attention to the flowers and plants themselves. In many cases illustrators and painters travelled with the botanists to do their work on location. We have a debt of gratitude not only to the kings, sultans and others (whatever we think of their methods of governance) who generously and willingly provided specimens, but also to the travellers who made the journeys to seek out these flowers and plants which have become so fixed and so important in our daily lives.
So certainly not a straightforward documentary (because I don’t have the skills or resources) A more dreamlike and fabulous investigation, a journey into botanical colour and form, with a story. Exotic places, exotic people, exotic flowers.
(Disclaimer: my maxpatches look horrible but they work).
This is fair to middling technical but I've made it as straightforward as I can.
The first image below shows one of four stereo tracks for the 8-channel Particulate Articulator that I've been writing about. The other three tracks are almost duplicates (I left them out for clarity) except that tracks 2 and 4 have a tape delay option (with sliders that I can assign to a small korg controller) cobbled together from patches I found online. I don't use the tape delay much except occasionally for radio works because too much delay is a bit obvious for my tastes. Besides I'm using good quality outboard pedal effects and I have also have Revox that does tape delay properly. The patch looks just about acceptable in the picture but all four tracks together is a bird's nest.
Some of the text in the objects I don't understand. The text is either there as part of Max's functions or I put it there and can't remember why. The stray text is pure indolence on my behalf. Basically I don't want to change anything I don't understand because the patch works and because I know how to change values for the bits I want to tweak. Maybe I should learn how to streamline the patch. Below you'll find the presentation view which is quite tidy. Maybe this is how it goes - messy under the hood and a slick looking superstructure.
I begin by loading in folders of sounds to each of the four tracks. At the moment, for my new label and for live work, I'm working with eight sounds per folder because I think things start to sound tight with a restricted group of sounds (as in my compositions). These folders can be changed on the fly. Various random metronomes decide when the files are selected so nothing changes regularly. The looper module chops up the audio files into different sizes, starting and finishing in different places. Because of the way I've set it up nothing comes out sounding like a looper's been at it. I also have a time-stretcher object (which stretches between two values, randomised, both up and down), though I've begun setting this to operate between values close to 1.0 because I'm happy with the work on the files beforehand and also anything with vocal sounds or certain instruments sounds odd. The timestretcher worked very well in some radio pieces I made in the past. There are other objects that I put in there to try to stop clicks resulting from the constant chopping and changing that goes on. I've forgotten how they work. I think they help a bit but not totally so if anyone knows how to create a tiny fade in/out once the files come out of the looper object I'd be grateful for tips.
I should point out that I have different patches for 1' 2', 3' and 5' files. I also modified patches for combinations, eg I can have a patch with tracks et to: 1', 2', 2' 5'. Why? Because the 1' files are more gestural and more rapidly articulated than the 5' files which tend to be more textural, both in the kinds of sounds I've selected and the way they play longer. Each patch has started to develop a unique 'character' that I'm still learning to work with.
The eight channels (four stereo channels) are fed from computer to an RME Fireface, then to the desk where I mix live and add outboard effects on the two auxiliaries.
Although I took some time to learn Max from scratch and to eventually design and build this digital instrument (I'll come to the 'why' in the third and final blog post), the hard work went in over years, decades even. Everything I've ever learned and understood about sound and music, about composition, has gone into this ostensibly simple task of chopping up recordings into different lengths. Tailoring the sounds that go into the folders, cataloguing, establishing taxonomies, working out what sound goes with what - this has been the hard work. I'd suggest that this instrument replicates my compositional preferences to some degree.
Whatever the snotterati might think of laptop performance this is a versatile, expressive and flexible musical instrument, as much of an instrument as all the zithers and marimbas I've ever made in the past. It can be used as a studio instrument or played live where there's enough to keep me sweating for a full set. Book me and I'll show you. Or visit my tape label when it's up and running.
Finally I'd love to collaborate with other musicians. Either to record individuals and ensembles as they rehearse or experiment or to invite artists to send me their own audio files, tailored to one or other of the different lengths I use in the folders. Look out for news on this.