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.
Mainly music and photography
processes, methods, experiments, research, drafts, sketches and observations.