Here’s What I Read in August…

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August was a month of some gigs, some meetings, a week of R+R in Ireland, piccolo trumpet shedding and reading. Here’s where I tell you about the reading bits…

Another Day In The Death Of America (Gary Younge)

This one came as a gift from my mother-in-law, one of the few special members of the trusted book recommenders/gifters club. She’d read it and highly recommended it and it’s one I’ve seen now and again on bookstore shelves and in reading lists. It arrived on a day where I’d just finished a book and had a craving for some non-fiction after reading solely fiction in July, so the timing couldn’t have been better. Gary Younge is a Black British journalist who lived in the US for a number of years. The book focuses on this rather sobering fact – every day in the US, an average of seven children and teens die from gunshot wounds. Younge selects a day, November 23rd 2013 and tells the stories of ten such deaths; black, latino and white people aged between 9 and 19 who were shot and killed that day. This is an attempt to humanise; to present without judgement the lives of ten young people that are frequently referred to as statistics by politicians, activists and the media. It’s an incredibly honest and respectful book that touches on the issues that surround these deaths – issues like gun control, the incredible sway of the NRA in legislation and the relationships between police, state and the black community. A sore book but a necessary one.

The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen)

This is a tricky one. The book centres on an American family, chronicling their flaws and desires, their complex relationships with each other and others. It’s a slice of middle America in the 20th century. But I have to say, I resisted reading it for quite a long time because, with no searching or provocation, negative comments about Franzen and the book snuck into my brain and coloured my opinion before I’d even started. This is why reviews are often garbage (she says writing one. But this is a journal of books, not a review. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I bought it on kindle because it popped up in a sale and although I own a kindle and definitely understand the benefits of such a device, my reading experience is always worse than if I hold the book in my hand. Focus and the ability to become immersed suffers on an e-reader, I think. I would say it’s the type of book I love, but I didn’t love this one in particular.

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men (David Foster Wallace)

Short stories are a particular creature. For me, three authors have really ripped my heart out with their short stories; Raymond Carver ,(What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) George Saunders (Tenth of December) and David Foster Wallace. To make a profound statement in a short story is something special. It’s like a glimpse into a world that leaves you wishing you knew more. Succinct and devastating. I loved every one of the pieces in Brief Interviews With Hideous Men but if you’re only going to read two, read The Soul Is Not A Smithy and Incarnations Of Burned Children.

The part of the featherfall into sleep in which whatever lines of thought you’ve been pursuing begin now to become surreal around the edges and then at some point the thoughts themselves are replaced by images and concrete pictures and scenes. You move gradually from merely thinking about something to experiencing it as really there, unfolding, a story or world you are part of. Although at the same time enough of you remains awake to be able to discern on some level that what you are experiencing does not quite make sense, that you are on some cusp of edge of true dreaming.

In Pursuit Of Silence (George Prochnik)

If we’ve hung out in the last month or so, we’ve probably talked about silence and quiet and noise because it’s a major focus in my creative practice at the moment. I’m fascinated by society’s relationship with sound and silence. This book is wonderful and I’d highly recommend it (and probably have done already) to everyone I know. Prochnik explores our relationship with sound and silence in a range of different settings; trappist monks, astronauts, the links between noise and our health, technological advances designed to address an increasingly loud world to name but a few. It shines a light on an issue that many of us take for granted but is omnipresent. Like, did you know that the number of reported cases of mental ill-health rose significantly around the area of Heathrow airport following their expansion? And did you know about Audiac, a sonic analgesic developed by a dentist that was used sound as the sole painkiller for dental work and reduced the pain of a cavity treatment down to the level of a mosquito bite according to the majority of patients? OK, I’ll stop now. Go read it.

Down And Out In Paris And London (George Orwell)

Orwell was a visionary, a truly great mind. My mind was utterly boggled after I read 1984 for the first time. And it was written in 1948?! Extraordinary foresight in his social commentary that resonates as strongly as ever. I read Down And Out…last week while we spent the week in Ireland, another from my mother-in-law’s home library and I absolutely loved it. Profound words on the human condition, shocking insights into poverty and Orwell’s beautiful prose meets Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. I’m drawn to books that deal with non-romantic relationships and this one does it so well, dealing with friendships and companionship borne out of circumstance.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)

My first Carson McCullers novel (though that’s probably the case for everyone…) which I finished this morning. It centres on a deaf-mute named John Singer and the people drawn to him as he lives in a quiet American town. Singer is like the sun in a solar system full of oddball planets, all of whom have created their own mythologies about the sun’s origin and purpose and spirit. It’s a beautiful illustration on the way people are drawn to stillness and quiet, all of the characters feeling a strong sense of calm and belonging while visiting Singer’s room in a boarding house. It reminded me of something Anne Truitt says in her journal, Daybook, about the importance in loving people for who they are rather than the idea of them that exists in you.

Unless we are very, very careful, we doom each other by holding onto images of one another based on preconceptions that are in turn based on indifference to what is other than ourselves…The opposite to this inattention is love, is the honouring of others in a way that grants them the grace of their own autonomy and allows mutual discovery.

Now I’m onto Delusions of Gender but that can wait until September’s round-up…

 

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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

 

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