All I read in July…

 

IMG_20170723_165031_646A monthly round-up of the stuff I’ve been reading over the past month. As always, big link dump at the bottom to check out anything I mention.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a pretty expansive to-read list. The list is a mixture of things recommended to me*, things I’ve had my eye on for a while and recommendations by Goodreads. If you want to, you can be my friend on Goodreads, and see what I’ve read and what I thought. I don’t really write reviews, but I use the star ratings system. I’m a pretty lenient star giver though; giving something 3/5 stars feels just too damning to me. It’s like a literary shrug. Basically, I like almost everything I read. (Apart from Life of Pi, which was just so dull I had to bail.)

*I have a little circle of people whose book recommendations I *know* will hit the spot. It’s a tricky business recommending art to someone else and there is NOTHING WORSE than recommending something you love to someone who doesn’t get it. That’s awful for both parties.

This month’s reading:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)

The first Chabon I’ve read, recommended to me by two great friends, Jeff and Heather Hewer. Absolutely loved it and Yiddish Policeman’s Union is on my to-read list now. It’s a gorgeous picture of two men’s lives, set against the backdrop of America during WWII and beyond.

Americana (Don DeLillo)

Don DeLillo is one of my all-time favourite authors and White Noise is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. I picked up Americana not really knowing much about it but it’s full of DeLillo’s incisive reflections of America in the 20th century. Based on a 28 year TV exec who, surrounded by money and falseness, takes off on a roadtrip across America to find some authenticity.

Everything Is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran-Foer)

I think it was about 10 years ago that I read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I picked it up because I was drawn to the beautiful cover art and just loved it; a beautiful story of a young boy’s grieving process for his father who was killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11. It’s handled so delicately and so respectfully. He goes in search for the lock that matches a key he finds in his father’s closet. It reminds me of The Fisher King; the use of a search for a physical object as a metaphor for the journey through grief and a search for peace.

(I have to veer off on a brief tangent at the mention of the Fisher King. It’s my favourite film. There’s a scene at the end – no spoilers – as he lies in bed and his friend brings something very special to his bedside in an attempt to rouse him from a catatonic state. His friend falls asleep with his head on the hospital bed and he awakes to find him and the object. He whispers very softly, referring to his late wife, “can I miss her now?”. It’s the most moving piece of cinema I’ve ever come across and the imagery in that film has never been surpassed for me.)

Everything Is Illuminated was actually Safran-Foer’s first novel and I’ve never really read anything like it. Often told from the perspective of a Ukrainian translator, Alexi, recounting the tale of his journey with Jonathan Safran-Foer to find the woman who had saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The way he uses English language to paint a picture of a young man whose grasp of English is good but not great is so well done.

The Sweetest Dream (Doris Lessing)

I read The Golden Notebook a few years ago and it blew my head off. It felt like such a privilege to have shared the same Earth as a woman like Doris Lessing. The scope of that novel is astounding.

“We spend our lives fighting to get people very slightly more stupid than ourselves to accept truths that the great men have always known. They have known for thousands of years that to lock a sick person into solitary confinement makes him worse. They have known for thousands of years that a poor man who is frightened of his landlord and of the police is a slave. They have known it. We know it. But do the great enlightened mass of the British people know it? No. It is our task, Ella, yours and mine, to tell them. Because the great men are too great to be bothered. They are already discovering how to colonise Venus and to irrigate the moon. That is what is important for our time. You and I are the boulder-pushers. All our lives, you and I, we’ll put all our energies, all our talents into pushing a great boulder up a mountain. The boulder is the truth that the great men know by instinct, and the mountain is the stupidity of mankind.”     

The Sweetest Dream felt like coming home, being wrapped in warm blankets and smelling familiar smells. Like the Golden Notebook, it focuses on brilliant, human, flawed, complicated women and their relationships with each other and the world, this tie set in London in the 1960s onward. Lessing never uses fiction to create characters that can be put on a pedestal and has this extraordinary ability to allow you to know them as well as you’d know a close friend. It’s the type of book that leaves in an ache when you finish, as you realise that you miss these people, these fictional but completely real people.

Oblivion (David Foster Wallace)

Off all the people I’ve never met, it’s David Foster Wallace I miss the most. I’ll refrain from going into DFW too much and save it for another post – there’s too much to cover here. But right now, I’m reading a collection of his short stories entitled Oblivion. I’m not the biggest fan of short stories, though there are exceptions like the wonderful What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Oblivion is another exception. The stories are devastating in their impact, this air of rawness and humanity and starkness running through them. In particular, Incarnations of Burned Children and The Soul is Not A Smithy left me stunned.

LINK DUMP

My goodreads profile 

Oblivion (David Foster Wallace)

The Sweetest Dream and The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)

The Fisher King

Americana and White Noise (Don DeLillo)

Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran-Foer)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)

Jeff Hewer (jazz guitarist) and Heather Hewer (proofreader and copy editor and she also has a great blog, Champagne Minimalist)

 

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Inside A Tune: Arundel

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See One, Do One, Teach One – the debut album from Deep Tide Quartet – comes out on Discus on August 1st and we’re playing at the Verdict in Brighton tonight. I absolutely love being part of this band and Arundel is one of the pieces I wrote for the album…

Arundel is a piece of music based on the idea of gaps. It was the result of a kind of triangle of inspiration; Phillipe Sands’ book East West Street, the work of Anne Truitt & a discussion I had during psychotherapy about the reason for nightmares & dreaming.

The title of the piece comes from a series of Anne Truitt paintings of the same name. A major theme in her work, both on canvas and through sculpture, is the use of straight lines and blocks of solid colour. I was drawn to her work because I find it soothing; there’s something settling and calming that makes me want to be in their presence. In her journal, Daybook, Truitt recounts a conversation she had about conveying meaning and intent in art forms without words. She asked – what if someone who spoke no English and knew nothing about you came to view one of your exhibitions. The descriptions hung next to the works would be of no use; what would you expect that person to get out of work?

I replied that I did not expect, I hope. What I hoped was that something in their experience would, in some unpredictable way, rise to meet the work. We then agreed that, faced with the fascinating problem of translating what we know with the just accessible parts of ourselves into the available physical terms, we simply do our best, leaving all result aside.

 That phrase, ‘rise to meet the work’ struck me. It felt as if I was reading someone far more eloquent than I put words to my thoughts about composing music for improvising musicians – with the music I write, I hope that something within the musicians rise to meet the work and create something far beyond the written (or drawn) material.

Around the time of the recording session (which took place at the beautiful Chairworks Studios back in May), I was reading Philippe Sands’ East West Street. This non-fiction book recounts the events that led to the inclusion of the terms ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’ in the Nuremberg Trials and the stories of the two lawyers who created them – Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin. Sands references a Nicolas Abrahams quote –

What haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.

My therapist had a really good way to describe the function of dreams, especially when related to PTSD. When a trauma occurs, she said, it is so different from all your other experiences and memories up until that point that your brain doesn’t know where to file it. Furthermore, the details of the traumatic experience are too difficult to process so it remains an incomplete file as it were. It can’t be stored until it’s complete so the brain attempts to fill in the gaps with guesses and imaginings and dreams are the result.

Here is a little extract from my journal on 3rd May 2017.

I have come to realise that to ignore a gap simply increases it power. The darkness grows and seeps into other parts of the mind. So, one must acknowledge the gap and endeavour to fill it, which can often be done, or accept that it cannot be filled, which is sometimes inevitable. By filling it or accepting it, you remove its power. Either shine a light in the hole to confirm that no monster lurks there, or else build a bridge so you can walk safely across.

SO.

Arundel is the product of all of these thoughts. The score is contains 11 blocks, made up of black and white sections. Players read down from the 1st to the 11th in order. They are provided with the score, the Nicolas Abrahams quote and the instruction that each block is a combination of gaps and non-gaps. How that is interpreted is up to them.

LINK DUMP

Phillipe Sands – East West Street

Anne Truitt’s sculptures & paintings

Chairworks Studios, Castleford

See One, Do One, Teach One – Deep Tide Quartet (Discus Music Website)

The Verdict, Brighton

 

Big breaths & baby breaths

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The week’s gotten off to an interesting start and in a number of different settings, I’m thinking about breath. I’ve been working on a funding application and those can really drain the life-force out of you. But I came across a video of a stranded octopus thanking the man who saved him and that made me feel much better.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Holland and there was a bit of a flight disaster. First, we were put on standby due to overbooking which we quickly made peace with; Schiphol is an OK airport to be stuck in as airports go. And at 5 euro (!) for some orange juice, clearly a bargain. Then, the flight we were on standby for got cancelled and suddenly everyone was trying to get on different flights, not just us. No space on any flight to London for at least 24 hours. So, we got a flight to Leeds. This was fine because we had a Family Band the next day in Durham, as part of the Brass Festival. What wasn’t so fine was that our instruments were in London.

Dave Walker at All Brass & Woodwind came to our rescue and we went into the shop to find instruments AND mouthpieces to use on the gig. Dave makes his own instruments and they play really well. I’m picky when it comes to valves but luckily, Arturo Sandoval had been playing Dave’s horns and had stretched the springs in one of the trumpets to brighten up the valves so felt great to play. Playing on a new mouthpiece and horn for the first time on a gig is a bit mental and it feels like trying to cook something in someone else’s kitchen; nothing’s where you think it is.

An unexpected bonus was that I ended up coming home with a piccolo trumpet. I’ve been on the lookout for one for a while and fortune favoured the flight-diverted so I bought it.

It’s led to me thinking a lot about breathing because it really is a different approach than trumpet. I’m so used to really filling up with air in preparation to play and if you do that on piccolo, all the air gets trapped in your throat with nowhere to go.  I’ve been checking out some helpful stuff on youtube, and someone said that you should approach piccolo the way you breathe while asleep. Sleeping, your lungs move between 40 – 55% capacity. He suggested that if the deep trumpet breath is a reflex, to breathe as you would then expel some air before playing the note. That’s helped a lot. Someone else said a lot of the difficulty with piccolo is psychological and I’m inclined to agree with that, too.

The great thing that working on piccolo helps with trumpet, too and makes you so aware of intonation which can never be a bad thing. So I’m having a nice thing on my voyage of baby trumpet and baby breaths discovery.

The big breaths are coming in handy when faced with difficult emails and business stuff. Some very smart people have taught me always to sleep on sending a response to an email that produces an emotional reaction in you. STERLING ADVICE. Emails are pretty crappy when it comes to important stuff; often unavoidable but still crappy.

Fate doesn’t hang on a wrong or right choice, 

Fortune depends on the tone of your voice.

The Divine Comedy are right. That’s where emails fall short. Alas! This is the world in which we live, so some deep breaths, some perspective and listening to Peter Evans’ album A Quietness of Water is all it takes to get stuff done.

Life is one big sequence of big breaths & baby breaths.

LINK DUMP

Stranded Octopus Thanks Rescuer

Peter Evans – A Quietness of Water

The Divine Comedy – Songs of Love

 

 

 

Sundays suck (& my thoughts on nurturing creativity)…

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Sunday afternoon. I have already hated Sundays, something inherited from my family. In fact, it’s a strong opinion in Scotland, to hate Sundays. A Calvinist overhang perhaps…? Being freelance, one’s relationship with the days of the week all but disappears but Sunday has a special, gross vibe to it. I have two things I really should be doing – booking flights and editing video footage. But I can’t…Too boring.

***I’m currently listening to an album called Tongue In Groove – Joey Baron, Ellery Eskelin & Steve Swell. I’ve never heard it before. IT IS AMAZING***

One of my priorities is how mental well-being affects creativity. When I was ill earlier this year (I had PTSD, it was rough), my creativity took a back seat. Now that I’m back and it’s back, I’m much more aware of it. In fact, I think of it now as a plant or a creature, a living thing that needs attention and nourishment every day. On a day-to-day level, this means –

  • Guided meditation when I wake up and before I start to play
  • Reading
  • Reflection – usually in the form of a written journal

For my guided meditations, I use a great app called Headspace. I usually do a general, 3-5 minute session as soon I get up then use one focused on creativity for 10-20 minutes before I start playing. For me it’s a way to ensure that the day starts well and doing it before practice works wonders for breathing and for focus. I also do unguided meditation, at least once a day. I didn’t even think of this as meditation initially; it was borne out of a need for stillness and calm which I realised was a priority while I was in therapy. I dubbed it ‘sitting nicely’. So I like to sit nicely for a couple of minutes each day, just finding my centre.

I’m a BIG reader. Reading for me feels like the coal I use to stoke the fire; it’s the input I need in order to say anything artistically. Right now, I’m reading a collection of short stories called Oblivion by the extraordinary David Foster Wallace.

A big part of trauma psychotherapy is the process of reliving a trauma. Once it’s done verbally with a therapist, you write it down and read it each day; a process called ‘flooding’. As I’m sure one can imagine, this isn’t a very pleasant process but it does teach you how to write well, how to build narrative. So I figured it was a waste of that skill to only write about horrendous things and started a journal. It’s become a lifeline, a wonderful daily activity to reflect and grow. It was inspired also by sculptor and beautiful diarist Anne Truitt, whose journal Daybook is a must for any artist, or woman, or human being.

LINK DUMP

Tongue In Groove – Joey Baron, Ellery Eskelin & Steve Swell

Oblivion – David Foster Wallace

Daybook – Anne Truitt

Headspace meditation app

 

 

Airlines’ policies on instruments

So last week, the International Federation of Musicians published a table of airlines and their musical instrument policy, all rated with a traffic light system. Air travel with instruments is super stressful for a number of reasons. First off because people are becoming more and more outrageous with their hand luggage to avoid having to pay to check a bag. I’m pretty certain we all have a similar strategy – check in online, to early enough to be at the front of the queue (unless you have priority), place instrument in overhead bin ASAP and hold your breath until the plane takes off in case someone tries to jam an enormous bag in top of your horn repeatedly.

Aside from the space issue, the main problem is that airlines are notoriously vague with their instrument policies and it really does come down to the discretion of the people you interact with on your way to the plane. So, you also learn to toe the fine line between sycophant and assertive professional just in case someone questions your instrument.

I’m pretty lucky because a trumpet just scrapes in under the regular cabin luggage dimensions. I have a Torpedo case which is great for protection but a little too wide if the bins are extra small but I also have a very small soft case that basically guarantees it will fit under the seat in front without anyone even knowing it’s there.

Anyway…

All this meant I was very excited to see this list having been published and rushed to check it out. I have to say the results confused me a little bit. Some of the ratings seem strange to me but I think it’s because they are rated in terms of the clarity of their policy (correct me if I’m wrong?) rather than the actual real world experience. For example, Aer Lingus is one of my favourite low cost airlines to fly because they have always been so great with instruments – not only can you bring the horn in addition to your regular hand luggage but there have been occasions where a stewardess has approached R having recognised that he is carrying a tenor saxophone and offered to store it in a special place to avoid him having to use the overhead bins. But on this list, Aer Lingus are given a red rating. EasyJet on the other hand are awarded amber, but the wording on their policy seems less accomodating and seems to suggest buying an extra seat as the way forward. Are they given amber because they are kind enough offer us the option of buying another seat for our instrument? I don’t really get it…

That said, it’s useful to have this kind of resource and perhaps we just need to be able to add notes to give first hand experience to provide a fuller picture.

I am still waiting for the day that professional musicians are guaranteed to be able to bring their instruments on-board hassle-free which seems a pretty reasonable request…

Here’s the full list.

Thanks, MJF!

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Thanks to everyone who came to see us at Manchester Jazz Festival at the end of July – coming from our gig at The Vortex a week or so previous, it was great to continue the run with a crowd as responsive and enthusiastic as MJF was!

We have some exciting news coming soon but in the mean time, enjoy this very silly photo of us taken by Porl Medlock. Thanks to all at Jazz North for our inclusion in the Northern Line scheme.