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.
There's a lovely soft light comes through the frosted glass of my studio door. I put some tracing paper over the window to diffuse it even more, blackened some boards for a background and began taking pictures of some my musical instruments. These gourds just seem to ask to be played.
That's not really the title of the photograph, a study in green, but essentially that's what it is. This sounds quite simple - a photographer known for his woodland work makes a picture with lots of green in it. But it's not so simple, at least not for someone like me who has spent hours post-processing images of woodlands in order to balance the almost infinite hues, tints, shades and tones of green.
I'm looking at some species of conifer, a sapling, just left of centre and in the foreground, with bright lime green turning-to-white flourishes of needles, like a dancer's pompoms in an impressionist painting. These are met at the top of the trunk by the leaves of another sapling, deciduous this time, just to the right. They're so bright they could be electric fairy lights. Then a few dapples of the same green on the forest floor and off to the right. From there the rest of the composition is quite simple. Everything recedes into darker green, except for one notable feature - a grey trunk just behind the conifer sapling, almost dead centre. It might be a birch. There are no branches visible so it's just like the one in my garden where the branches start half way up the trunk. It seems to break every rule in the composition book yet it holds the photograph together.
I know that Porter took time over his dye transfer prints and I also know that green can be problematic with respect to exposure, especially under direct light. I might be mistaken but I doubt it would be possible to achieve this kind of colour balance and harmony in the digital realm. Of course I'd love to be proved wrong because then I could buy that printer.
Mainly music and photography
processes, methods, experiments, research, drafts, sketches and observations.