the quiet project is the ongoing development of several years research into instrument design and building, from hand-made bowed psalteries to tiny percussion ensembles and vibrating cigar boxes to resonant domestic objects and materials activated and energised using small battery driven motors.
The unamplified music is quiet yet complex and differentiated as the unique sound of each instrument finds its place within the ensemble. The instability of the activating devices and their power sources present the listener with an ever changing sound field.
Performances are site-specific in that individual sound source can be easily moved to take advantage of the architectural features of a given space.
More work today on painterly effects and dense textures. These two images are two as yet experimental outcomes from a work-in-progress where I'm stacking layers of several images of the same woodland captured from slightly different positions. Then I'm trying out different background textures that I shot myself in the garden, using blend modes and selective blurring. There's a lot more work to be done, especially with colour balance and blurring. I like the effect though. With blurring in the right place and small 'clearings' in the overall density you can draw the eye in towards a region of the picture or even into the depth of field. In the top image it's somewhere right of centre in the bottom third. With some textures, bark and woodchip for example (tree-on-tree), you get those distinctive breaks in the picture, resembling early cubism.
These are some initial explorations into the use of painterly effects on colour images and in the final picture a touch of gradient lighting. A lot of this involves creating your own textures - an alternative yet interesting day out shooting walls and surfaces - along with the use of blurs, blend modes and masks. I use Affinity Photo for image processing and am indebted to David Straker for his generosity in sharing so many online tutorials. I particularly like the effect of offsetting one or two colours against near black and white. Having seen some very good work in the urban setting I think it would be interesting to work with solitary figures against a landscape. The trick is not to overcook things. But who's the judge of that? By the way these were all shot with decent lenses on one of the cheapest Panasonic micro four-thirds cameras.
I came to photography by way of collage. All I ever wanted to do was take my own pictures and make collages but as I found there's so much more to investigate en route. Anyway, here I am, back at the beginning, experimenting with the kind of work that I always wanted to make with respect to landscape. I was discussing the use of film, rolls of 35mm, with a friend of mine, a very experienced and gifted photographic, sculptural and land artist. He spoke about the narrative of the roll of film and it got me thinking about the practices involved in travel photography and about ways of presenting landscape as a simultaneous series, as memories of a day's walk, the intimacies of a personal adventure.
I've started a new series of self portraits. I was thinking about one of my favourite photographers, Francesca Woodman, who said she could always rely on herself being available as a subject (don't worry, I've kept my clothes on). Nobody seems to have decided if self portraits are about how you see yourself or how you want others to see you as portrayed by yourself. I never succeeded in getting a handle on commercial portraiture though I'll shoot a wedding if you want to pay me enough. I far prefer these long exposures because they say something about the fragmented nature of our experience of ourselves and because they allow time to enter the frame. Perhaps also, in some cases, such a technique allows us a glimpse of the vulnerability of the subject. This is a project I want to develop both at home and in other environments so I'm looking forward to researching all the great work out there by artists past and present.
I've just completed a new album. It's very different from the dense long-form volatile textures that have kept me busy for years. Though still recognisable as musique concrète there's more in the way of tape collage, both in the ideas and the techniques.
A few years ago I was lucky to be involved in some collaborations with different folk musicians. The idea was to recursively embed old songs and tunes from the Scottish Borders back into the locations that they came from. For me the best of these recordings became much more than simple documents, opening doors into new understandings of the wider contexts in which music can take shape and accrue fresh meanings. And so I dug into the archive, pulling out not only the 'folk' material but also tunes from a child prodigy, recordings from old tapes spoiled by a faulty player, out-takes from electric guitar experiments, hand-made instrumental meanderings, field recordings from sleepy train journeys, forest and river walks, visits to factories, two- and three-way simultaneous 'conversations' between garden activities, kids playing games and online group meetings, domestic machinery, verbiage and other and non-rational vocal nonsense.
Collage is more than a technique. For me it's a sinuous portal into the original universe of the Surrealists, into the original promises of the poetry of Breton, Apollinaire (and their patron saints Lautréamont and Rimbaud), the paper collages of Hannah Höch, the visions of the Dada movement. The very act of cutting up old photographs and magazines to make something new, more than the sum of the parts, is not only artistically refreshing but conceals the seeds of a private subversiveness. So it is with the tape collage approach to music, both on the technical side and in the simple acts of plundering other musics, eavesdropping into private conversations, doing things in ways that might just offend bourgeois sensibilities.
I can't speak for others but I'm guessing that there's a strong element of autobiography buried at various depths inside each musical composition. This album has such an element, something like one particular strand of my own musical development, from appreciations of folksong and traditional tunes to various guitar musics and country songs, to choral and chamber musics both old and new.
The title needs some explaining. I live in the Scottish Borders which is a frustrating corner of Scotland in many ways - socially and politically regressive, as monocultural (ie white) as can be, yet rich in natural beauty and (by one particular narrative) nation-defining human history. Sir Walter Scott is one of the 'great' historical figures of the Borders' past, a kind of Elvis of his times, revered by all. Walter suffered from a limp so he covered it up by spending a lot of his time in the saddle, no doubt riding around the place patronising the common folks. Then, back in his vast domain by the Tweed, he wrote novels about the kinds of heroic deeds that he, sadly, couldn't fulfil. He imagined a Scotland that never existed, a figment, a fabrication, so powerfully drawn that much of the imagery is still promoted as the very picture of Scottishness. He also collected many ballads, for which we are all eternally grateful, though we'd have been even better off if he hadn't tried to sanitise them .
Sir Walter's Limp hirples along, pretending to be something it isn't, borrowing from others to make new stories out of the parts. Appearance and reality are at odds, things that don't really belong are stuck together, dubious tales spun, dreams dreamt. Someone told me once of a veil that hangs over the Borders, a sort of illusion, something to do with the tale of Thomas the Rhymer. It's easy to get here but then you get drawn into a world where all is not as it seems and it becomes very hard to get out again.
The crinklephone is yet another versatile instrument from the home orchestra. This one offers many articulations from digital manipulations to friction activities both on and off the microphone.
I won't say too much for now but these two instruments form part of a new collaborative composition project based upon an orchestra of acoustic instruments old, new, unorthodox and, frankly, bizarre. I'll leave you to work out what they are, how they're played and what they sound like.
Mainly music and photography
processes, methods, experiments, research, drafts, sketches and observations.