Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy old year

Just to see the old year out, here's an out-take from the hothouse studios. I was messing around with some samples just now. Noir-ish ambience, deserted street, guy in a trilby stopping to light cigarette...

Friday, 21 December 2012

Burt Bugarach

"Lord, we don't need another mountain, there are mountains and hillsides enough to climb....to last us until the end of time". Presumably we will be allowed to climb up Bugarach once again, the mountain having been the centre of attention of the world's media this past week. The danger of the mountain exploding and the emergence of the green lizard people's spacecraft has now passed, at least temporarily. My friend Andrew in Newcastle has suggested the village now celebrate the dawn of this post-apocalyptic era with a festival of easy-listening music.

I went up there last night to see what was happening. Stopped by bored but good-natured gendarmes I was allowed through the road checkpoint. The journalists and TV crews have by far outnumbered the population of the village. Bugarach folk were not much in evidence. Desperate last-minute interviews with anyone willing to talk about why they'd come and what they thought about the end of the world. A few alien-spotters who had come to party in the wind and drizzle. As I walked around the backstreets to record the ambient sounds of this momentous non-event, it was really pretty quiet.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Travels in the North

...is the title of a little travel journal I found in a 2nd hand bookstore in Derbyshire. I knew of the author Karel Capek (1890-1938) because if his dystopian visions of the future (such as War with the Newts), a world with mass production, weapons of mass destruction, peopled by recalcitrant androids and robots (he is credited with inventing the word robot around 1920). But this book was quite different, and curiously absorbing, even if you don't much care frozen wastelands of the Far North. The author "travelled north beyond the arctic circle because he wanted to see at last the lands of his boyish dreams, and of his life-long friends, Kiergaard, Jacobsen, and the others, and also because of the silvery cool birch trees, the aconites, the moss, and the sparkling waters appeal to him strongly." It's full of eccentric characters, ecstatic descriptions of rock formations, icebergs, scant vegetation, and funny anecdotes.

Something he alludes to is the silence of the far north. Having just returned from Helsinki after a little tour of concerts of contemporary Finnish music with soprano Janneke Moes, I was struck too about how quiet everything is. Even in the city. It's a bit of a cliché about the Finns but you sense the silence of everyone's personal space more than the city soundscape. I get the impression of a very filtered listening experience going on. The sound environment is a superficial layer, blotted out...
There are lots of interesting sounds to be heard all around Helsinki. Here is a little remix of a jazz song written for Janneke, words by Teemu Suuntamaa - his English translation of his own poem, but he speaks a few words of the Finnish original, and some seabirds recorded early one morning...

Sunday, 11 November 2012

War, Warlock, gongs and silence

With the last 1st World War veterans dying last year (both aged 110) I wonder if Armistice Day silence will pass into history. The artist Jonty Semper assembled all the 2-minute silences from the BBC archives from 1929 to 2000. This is what this year's sounded like from the Hothouse compound...

I was practising the accompaniment to a song by Peter Warlock this morning, My Own Country, words by Hilaire Belloc. The poem is regarded as patriotic, and Belloc was a supporter of the British involvement in the 'great' war, becoming a military correspondent, making several trips to the Western Front. He used to exaggerate the extent of German casualties and made inaccurate estimates as to when the war would be over. But there could be another message - I wondered if this could be an anti-war poem, the narrator being the homecoming of the ghost of a dead British soldier.

My own country
I shall go without companions,
And with nothing in my hand;
I shall pass through many places
That I cannot understand
Until I come to my own country,
Which is a pleasant land.
The trees that grow in my own country
Are the beech tree and the yew;
Many stand together,
And some stand few.
In the month of May in my own country
All the woods are new.
When I get to my own country
I shall lie down and sleep;
I shall watch in the valleys
The long flocks of sheep,
And then I shall dream, for ever and all,
A good dream and deep.


It's interesting that Philip Heseltine, aka Peter Warlock (he adopted this pseudonym because of his interest in the occult) was a notorious drunkard and hell-raiser, but found the time to write acres of extraordinarily haunting and original music (apart from the Capriol Suite, which is the only work he's remembered for), 150 art songs, and lush complex instrumental works during his short life. 

This time last year I was teaching a gamelan course at the Birmingham Conservatoire. On that day 11/11/11 the students collectively composed this piece during the morning session...


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Borah

When I was a student and preparing a concerto to play with the university orchestra in my 2nd year, I was on the receiving end of a hit-and-run driver on a dark country lane near York University. My bike was a right-off but I survived with just a few bruises and a broken right collar bone. A couple of months strapped into a bolt upright position and my arm in a sling. Which is why I ended changing the proposed programme and preparing the Ravel concerto for the left hand. Long after I was back to normal I was still fascinated by the figure of one-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein and the great legacy of left-hand repertoire he commissioned or arranged himself. Being a left-hander (cack-handed, southpaw, molly-dooker, scrammy...) I was looking into all the handedness and brain hemisphere research at that time. Then I came across an incredible solo piano album by Borah Bergman, one side of which was just improvisations for the left hand (though from the density of the notes and ideas, you'd never have guessed). A few years later I ended up as his student for a few months in NYC, dividing my time between the Creative Music Studio in upstate New York, and the city. I wrote a couple of articles about him for the music press. A man obsessed with practicing he even carried a sawn-off dummy keyboard in a bag so he could train his left hand while riding the subway! He could play fantastic bebop at breakneck speed in a Bud Powell style, normally or with hands crossed so that left hand playing the improvised line, while at the same time explaining where his torrential, jagged form of free jazz had its roots. The most original jazz pianist I ever heard, and one of the great musicians of our time died on October 18th 2012 age 85.
A small dedication from my most recent recording session with cellist Stan Adler.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

6s and 7s #5

I've worked at the Esperaza school of music since 2007. Sadly this year it closes its doors to the hundred students who used it because of funding problems and the mairies of Couiza and Espéraza are not interested in raising their miserly contributions. Merci Monsieur Hortala! Merci Monsieur Torrent! Children of your municipalities will now do without music lessons.
There was something strange, a feeling of time suspended, about spending long hours in that classroom and the half-hourly procession of young pianists.

6s and 7s #4

Emails have started arriving about forthcoming Carnival meetings. Both Kate and I have been with one particular band, Les Droles ever since its inception 6 years ago but have decided to hang up the twirly sticks and masks - all costing too much money... and time. Long meetings discussing minutiae very seriously, like what are we going to eat? and drink at each café on the big day?? Perhaps instead we will go out as goudils - the independent carnivaliers, dressed grotesquely, who follow behind the musicians and generally amuse, annoy or frighten the public.
The source material of no.4 are the chants, shouts and dancing on the table in the cavernous gymnasium with a few hundred other carnival lunatics on the day of all bands La Journée de toutes les bandes 7th March 2010.
I should be posting some Pergolesi instead - I've just accompanied the Chorale Populaire de Limoux in the Musée du Piano on their 1921 Steinway grand in a performance of the Stabat Mater.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Mandinka gamelan

Raymond, the boss of Seven Vibrations Recording Studio in Limoux, has just passed me this video clip. Mory Konté's musicians were recording there during the time of the Carcassonne festival, late July. In a break they had a look at my Javanese gamelan which resides there, and part of the ensuing jam was captured on film...

6s and 7s #3

Continuing the calendrical sound pieces from the 6th and 7th days of the month...
Return to the Cerbère soundscape. Less howling wind and more bird and insect life, trains as always. Improvisations recorded on the harpsichord of dear departed friend, François de Ravignan.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

6s and 7s #2

A walk up Helvelyn, Cumbria in early spring, very early one Sunday morning in 2010. This sound piece was made up of environmental sounds (breath and heartbeat, streams, wind) and snippets of conversation with other walkers I met coming the other way enquiring about the weather and visibility from the summit. On my return I listened at the door of Patterdale church where the Sunday service was in progress.
Helvelyn was the first mountain in the Lake District I ever climbed age 8 with my Dad and sister Katharine. On our return we were bought ice cream sodas in Dodd's café in Grasmere, and I had a cloth badge of Helvelyn 3118ft sewn on my anorak.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

No room to swing 4 cats

Nice image of Les Quat'cats in action (except that the top of Kate's head is missing).
We played Chez Nadine in Lavelanet last Friday, after the the sell-out appearance at the Café de Fa and Kat McGee's, the new Irish pub in Limoux. Thus concluding our summer tour of miniscule venues - we are becoming quite skilled at squeezing ourselves and the gear into impossibly small spaces - a skill perhaps lacking with the current Grandes Fêtes de septembre in Limoux. Here the orchestres de variété (covers bands) always come with at least 6 musicians, 5 girly dancers and 4 sound and lighting engineers. With elaborate staging, lasers, very frequent changes of costume, it ought to be exciting but...

From the same evening, Kate with curious castanets-like objects balanced on her head...





Saturday, 1 September 2012

Homage to great bass lines

I am indeed lucky to have had two exceptionally brilliant bass players to work with on various projects. Trevor Lines, pictured here today playing a 1930s tenor guitar with hammer dulcimer beaters in the studio session for the Kate Doubleday Band, has been a regular collaborator since the 1980s.
We started to play together in Birmingham, firstly in a group Sharkfin Jazz, then followed all kinds of community music projects for Sound it Out, Indian fusion projects with Sarvar Sabri among others, on the Birmingham free improv scene, performance and sound installations at the IKON Gallery, and lastly an acid jazz organ trio Las Vegas Powercut, with a succession of very creative and original drummers, Jojo Remeny, Miles Levin and Wilfried Chevalier (who was the drummer on the eponymous 2007 album). For our last gig, at the festival Jazz sur Lie near Lille, we were joined by the great saxophonist and composer Steve Potts. It was never meant to be a final gig, although definitely a high point, but the effects of geographical distance and busy diaries has meant that playing together is only occasional, but always a huge pleasure. Rare to find a musician so original, spontaneous, and yet so modest that he didn't take a bass solo on his own quintet album!
Las Vegas Powercut will continue, however, with Stanley Adler, for the moment as a duo. Electric 5-string cello with pedals, keyboards and sampler. I met Stan in Quillan, even though we had lived and worked in the same neighbourhood of New York about 30 years ago. He's from Chicago, and worked on the London jazz scene before moving to France. Again, strange variety of projects and collaborations - Baroque basso continuo, classical cello sonatas, own duo compositions, trio with Deb Swallow, rock'n'roll bands, tango, free jazz, weddings and 'dinner' jazz, accompaniment to silent films, etc.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Karnataka 2

A couple of years ago I was working with the Chitraleka dance company and they commissioned me to compose music for their new production. They retain strong connections with south India, I spent a few weeks in the capital of Carnatic music, Bangalore, where I had my pick of top session musicians. It was a great experience - I met so many lovely people. Here are my hosts - Balu (S.V.Balakrishna) famous mrdangam player, Vasudha Balakrishna, a classical singer, with their son and budding mrdangamist, Pranav, and Chitraleka (left).
Here are a couple of tracks from those sessions....

Meetings with remarkable men

Actually not Gurdjieff, but another great philosopher-composer-mystic, Jacques Charpentier whose music has interested me for decades. Born in 1933 he spent a couple of years in Calcutta in the early 1950s and became fascinated by Indian classical music, long before the hippy trail, The Beatles and Ravi Shankar. On his return to France there were long years of study with Olivier Messiaen, then a succession of posts at the Paris Conservatoire, then with the government as a minister for culture.

Yesterday I had the honour to meet him at his home in Carcassonne, and we talked. Two hours flew by. I heard amazing stories about his life, his time in India as a 20-year old pianist, his first meeting with Messiaen, who after listening to his enthusiastic accounts of Indian music for an hour, said to him quietly "Mais vous êtes un Occidental". His magnum opus for piano - the 72 Etudes Karnatiques - is among many other things an acknowledgement of Messiaen's wisdom. Each étude is a self-contained composition using one of the 72 parent scales of South Indian music the melakarta but there is nothing 'Indiany' about them.

Another tale concerned a mission he was sent on by President Giscard d'Estaing in the mid 70s to meet with Colonel Muammar Gaddafi about setting up a centre for Franco-Arab culture in Tripoli. Gaddafi was by all accounts a funny, intelligent and very cultured man. Such a pity he was also a brutal dictator.

Here is no 67 of the Etudes Karnatiques...


Sunday, 26 August 2012

6s and 7s #1

The Cerbère soundscape obsession started in April 2009. On the 6th and 7th to be precise, thereby initiating a series of site-specific and date-specific pieces using found sounds, in this case from a 1920s inspirational concrete hotel, Le Belvedère du Rayon Vert - sounds of wind whistling through metal balustrades, rattling windows, trains, and improvisations on the semi-derelict piano. Subsequent pieces were also collected/assembled on the 6th and/or 7th day of the month. Sixes and sevens, an old English saying to denote a state of confusion, seemed appropriate as that is a state I often feel as an artist - where do we go next?  

Cerbère 21:8:2012

Cerbère 21:8:2012
An assemblage of found sounds - disused metal pipes in an old tunnel underneath Cerbère railway station, Ezra singing a note to try out the strange resonance, plus aforementioned driftwood balafon.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

more strange sights and sounds from Cerbère

Chance encounter with two members of rare coastal-dwelling Mediterranean tribe who play their strange music on crudely-made driftwood balafons....

Cerbère, un peu plus tard....

A bit later that evening after the pause - three dances in each half...In this selection, having heard the tune just a couple of times, the dancers are getting into their stride. They seem to have sussed where the music is going, and it's not that straightforward. There's a formula for beginning and ending and a 'surprise' 2-bar break for the flagiolist thrown in somewhere, an asymmetrical framework of sections called curts (short steps) and llargs (long steps)


Cercle Cerbère

Just returned from a couple of days on the Côte Vermeille, in this last town before Spain - a constant source of wonderment and inspiration. Big SNCF depot with all kinds of scraping, hissing, squealing and clanging, plus the sounds of nature, cicadas, sea, chickens....
This visit we found to some real folklore. The shady 'place de village' was, we were told, made in a circular shape to accommodate the evenings of Sardanas (no, not sardines, must turn off this predictive text) - traditional Catalan circle dances which old and young alike join in, though being French as well as Catalan there is probably a slight reluctance on the part of the male population to dance with such dainty steps. The circles should be boy-girl-boy-girl but the boys here were rather outnumbered. The 11-piece band cobla have some very distinctive Catalan instruments - 2 tible and 2 tenore - raucous oboe/shawm-type instruments and the leader who plays 2 instruments simultaneously - a flabiol - small flute - and a tambori - a tiny drum strapped to his arm.
When the band start up each number it takes a while for the dancers to take to the floor. This is because they're busy figuring out what the musicians are up to, the structure, the time divisions, etc which dictate what dance steps are appropriate. As soon as they have it sussed they begin to form little circles which then grow in size. Camera had a bit of difficulty focussing in the low light....





Thursday, 2 August 2012

Ladrang Mugirahayu

Not La Java Javanaise

I don't know if Boris Vian or Serge Gainsbourg ever played the gamelan, or where indeed this peculiar way of speaking came from. Just returned from the Saint-Lizier Festival teaching Javanese music to a group of extremely talented young musicians. They were there to perfect their virtuoso piano-playing and vocal skills, but all took part in the gamelan group every morning. Being the 150th anniversary of Debussy's birth it was the idea of festival director David Lively to show some of the influences on his music, and the encounter with Javanese gamelan music at the Great Exhibition of 1889, according to many musicologists, was a decisive one - the multi-layered floating textures, rootless whole-tone scales, sonorous gongs in the bass, rippling pentatonic patterns, may never have happened otherwise.

First excerpt is part of an exit piece or bubaran - the Hudjan rain Mas gold of the title is to wish everyone 'much wealth' as they leave, and is therefore, understandably, a firm favourite with Javanese audiences.
The other, entitled Ladrang Mugirahayu features the great American soprano June Anderson together with her student Nana Sawaushi.
Many thanks to all the students and teachers, to David, Gilles super-administrator person, for such a great week, and the technicians who moved the gamelan around with such good humour.

video
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Friday, 20 July 2012

There's a shadow hanging over me

Yesterday I started to sift through the recording I made last week on the Stage Départemental, an annual summer school for music students of the various conservatoires and music schools in the Aude. I was teaching the piano class. I came across this gem, an arrangement for 3 double basses and drums of this most melancholic of Beatles' songs. It has given me David Lynch-ian nightmares and has completely erased any nostalgic feelings towards the original. I'm not sure which is stranger, the original or my slightly remixed version.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Limoux to Foix 191km and many inclines

The tiny village of Fa has a very cool bar, best in the Haute Vallée de l'Aude, the Café de Fa. Today Les Quat'Cats played....here they are in a somewhat drawn out version of Unchain my Heart with guest beatboxer...The other main event today was the Tour de France for which Limoux has been gearing up for months. They sped out of town this morning to cheering crowds heading down the D118, the Haute Vallée's main road - it's a shame couldn't stop off for a bite to eat and some rock'n'roll

video
Kate - vocals
Stan - bass and vocals
Eddie - guitar
Mark - drums





Saturday, 14 July 2012

Quoi? Des cohortes étrangères feraient la loi dans nos foyers!

Welcome to Mark's new blog!

The Limoux fireworks for Bastille Day always happen the day before the big display at the Cité de Carcassonne, but this year it was an entirely auditory experience - everyone at the Hothouse being too tired and unmotivated to walk 5 minutes down the road to watch them. It was real surround sound echoing off the hills and the buildings. Here are the Carcassonne fireworks of 2006 filmed by New Yorker artist friend Alvin Booth and one of my former piano pupils singing the Marseillaise.