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.
I've updated the documentation of the climate change data sonification project that I began in 2017. You can download the most recent update here and a copy of the Pavilion concept design package here.
not quite the sound I'm after [7:49] (2019)
electric guitar, electronics, driftwood percussion
spring steel rods, glass jars
small motors, baoding balls
not quite the sound I'm after is a change from my usual long form compositions. Perhaps it could be longer, but I want to compose an album of five or six shorter works to find out what can and can't be done with pieces of less than ten minutes or so. Not that this directs all my choices but I wonder how many people take the time these days to listen to long-form compositions. During a short self-directed residency in 2017 I learned a lot about generating interesting sonic structures and shapes by patiently activating and energising dozens of objects, devices, materials, found and made instruments inside a large space with generous acoustics. The plan is to go through those processes that worked best, to record, edit and transform the recordings and finally create new compositions. So not too much of a change from the electroacoustic method, just shorter outcomes.
Mainly music and photography
processes, methods, experiments, research, drafts, sketches and observations.