Archive for October, 2010

Elephant Digital EP

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Chris Dooks
Elephant EP – A Post car-crash instrumental digital EP, made in 24 hours

Download the four-track EP

The four works revolve around a car crash which took place at 5-6pm on Saturday 23rd of October between Mauchline and Ayr, Scotland. The works were made during a day when the artist was still in some pain and bruising, but grateful to be alive. These bitter-sweet works, I think, quite authentically reflect a combination of gratitude and pain currently being processed on the day of the recording.

Composed, recorded and released entirely on Wednesday 27 October 2010 at home in Alloway, Ayr.

Equipment and software used :-

Antique Piano, Melodica, Voice, Rode NT3 mic, Sony PCM M10 digital recorder, iPod Touch running RJDJ using various scenes, such as “Ascend” by Dizzy Banjo and “Noble Choir” by Mike Dixon. Mixed in Garageband ’09, Mastered with Bias Peak.

Piano detail : The Piano is a “Waddington & Sons” Upright with a seal that says Chalmers & Ormiston 15 Chalmers Street, Glasgow.

Recorded as part of a PhD about creative practice and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / M.E. and also part of tutor David Scott’s “Record an Album in a Day” project at the University of The West of Scotland, Ayr.


Minor Delay

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

I’ve had an accident folks, a road one and am convalescing in bed. I’ll no doubt try and get some research out of the experience. It’s been a scary week.

Minimal48 Digital E.P.

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Minimal 48 Digital E.P.

To coincide with Glasgow’s MINIMAL music festival, I spent free time in that weekend, walking around the Merchant City and environs.

During these walks I was using various Max/MSP-like ‘scenes’ available in the ipod/iphone app – the excellent if undernourished “RJDJ” application.

I paid homage to some of the ideas of the minimalists on show at the festival:- Steve Reich, Brian Eno, Philip Glass – and used various toys or these ‘scenes’ as the app describes them, that would be analogous to the working practice of the artist; time signature changes, repetition, and sonic immersion.

Side 1
One of the apps I used was called “World Quantiser” which takes percussive sounds from the ipod/iphone mic, and builds them into very interesting time signatures. I discovered the tolerances of the scene and was able to “play” with it, but using my wedding ring to tap on doors, tables, cutlery, aluminium supports in the loo (!), taps and the sound of ordering a meal in Glasgow’s Arches. And subsequently eating it. After this I pass bagpipe buskers and I played with the idea of walking around them in circles at various distances, to create quite a dense mix of stuttering phrases and it created a nice sonic wall of jagged colour until I walk away. I tipped them heartily by the way.

Side 2
If side one is an homage to Reich, especially his street works, like “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain” then side two is all about inner space and soft warm fuzzy digital detritus. This was constructed using the RJDJ scene named “Eargasm” which is an excellent sound construction that also uses the ipod/iphone sound input as it’s source. Much of the actual sound is hidden under the synth processing, so you hear a kind of warm glowing layer which responds also it seems to the degree of treble in the air. It liked me ripping open the velcro from my wallet and creating metallic pops and crackles, but for the most time it is a warm glow that sounds like big thin sheets of copper being stroked by a wire brush. This scene creates more or less the same palette of sounds wherever you are – my only complaint, but the palette is really nice!

License :-Creative Commons Attribution 3.0

Glasgow Minimal Festival Review

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I have been a fan of  “minimalist” music almost all my adult life.

The term is becoming more and more inclusive now, some might say fuzzy and nondescript, so when I saw that Glasgow Concert Halls were launching the festival Minimal, I wondered what co-ordinates and trajectory they would plot.

Whilst I have witnessed classic minimalist pieces appearing in Scotland over the years, especially loving Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of The Titanic and various Steve Reich and Michael Nyman pieces live, I was ecstatic that a more retrospective-like season of concerts was to take place here, as part of a three year plan of minimalist works to hit Glasgow in particular.

It will be interesting to see where this season goes. Minimalist music today is an ever-growing body of overlapping circles, where Arvo Part is packaged with John Cage and Terry Riley, who in turn can share space with neo-minimalist genres (and genres with their own unique histories) such as Dark Ambient, Dub, Art-Rock, Electronica and so on. The festival has gone in for an historical minimalist lineage, perhaps to appeal to the classical crowd initially, and show an establishment-like foundation. But it’s not all traditional ensembles, Minimal must also be applauded for including a Brian Eno piece at the outset, for a great live performance of Apollo by Icebreaker with accompanying Nasa documentary For All Mankind. (A live Eno appearance form the man himself would also be a future coup, hint hint!?)

I’m not saying that any of the pieces the festival chose were inappropriate, although I’ve always been uncomfortable with John Adams’ inclusion as a minimalist – and I felt that the New Romantics section of the weekend was a little too classical for my tastes – I felt they did a good job of balancing the weekend with an eclectic roster. And it was nice to have some great players. I just wish there had been a little more of the likes of the frankly stunning interpretation of the rarely performed Philip Glass piece “Music with Changing Parts” (again by Icebreaker). This was the sort of piece that I think defines the minimalist movement for me. Even now it’s still a pretty uncompromising piece for the audience, and I never used to enjoy the old recording I had of it, but with Icebreaker at the helm here, it became colourful and concentrated, hanging on to every bar and change in time signature and like a lot of Reich/Glass pieces, requires really talented and fit players. Hardly a dropped stitch in the whole hour. The highlight of the festival.

I think the reason I like pieces like this is that they are analogous in form and experience to a Sanskrit concept I like – Samhadi. Samhadi has it’s roots in Buddhist meditation – a term which describes a highly concentrated point of meditative experience and stability, arising from a solid and broad foundation. It is a term in which the practitioner can ask the question “are breadth and depth possible or desirable at the same time?” or are they mutually exclusive?

For me, Reich and Glass, some Eno and early Nyman, Terry Riley – these are the minimalists I enjoy, because the chromatic development of the score is restrained, and repetitive tones and polyrhythms are central. There is an irony here – freedom seems to arise on the audience’s part when we are locked into these grooves. This is precisely the thing that I can’t get the hang of in John Adams’ work. His scores seem too symphonic and rollercoastered for me. I think I tend to fall into the drone or rhythmic camp of minimalism and like the gaps between the notes or the zones brought on by skilful drones.

The trance-inducing intensity of the early works of The Michael Nyman Band, were for me, an endorphin-popping ecstacy when I first heard the band live, nearly twenty-five years ago, on a pilgrimage to London’s South Bank. I found the experience to be deep and concentrated and moving. And loud! There’s a piece called Knowing The Ropes – from Greenaway’s film Drowning by Numbers, which I feel is such a zingy, injection of pleasure. It’s fast yet melachony pomp, and it shakes you by the shoulders and makes you glad to be alive.

But the performance on Saturday was a mixed bag, mainly due to problems with the sound mix – especially noticeable with the collaboration with David McAlmont. It was a real shame. This is an odd partnership but it does work – although Nyman takes a back seat, out of respect for the voice, but you get the feeling that McAlmont’s voice just works with an orchestral backing and Nyman’s contribution seemed a little easy listening in places. Nyman’s habit of recycling old works is wearing a bit thin for me now also (In Re Don Giovanni again?), although I am still enough of a fan to buy a signed CD. He’s always been a ‘remixer’ of sorts with Drowning by Numbers for example, plumbing Mozart and coming out with some terrific adaptations, but this was a very mixed evening for me. Although the string section of the band are utterly mesmerizing to watch, throwing off polite classical protocol. The viola player in particular was a real treat to watch her flinging her bow about, grinning and dancing her bum around her seat. I just wish we could have heard them properly!

Other highlights of the weekend :- The Smith Quartet also on Saturday performed great versions of Triple Quartet and Different Trains by Steve Reich. Back on Friday, a composer I wasn’t that familiar with, Ingram Marshall, had a piece in the New Romantics cluster, but it was his beautiful tape/brass piece Fog Tropes has garnered him a new fan in me. A nice live interview with him also. I liked him, he was slightly bonkers.

On Sunday, there were three soloists playing some of the Reich Counterpoints, which were well intentioned, but the phasing on the violin piece didn’t seem to work live very well in this context, and electric counterpoint had a couple of mistakes in it which I felt the poor guitarist knew we knew as he didn’t come back on stage for an encore! I really felt for him. These pieces must be a nightmare for players. I feel bad even highlighting problems with any of these performances as I am so glad they took place at all here. But they should be the standard as if they were on the South Bank or Barbican. Special commendation for the visuals of these pieces however, all video feedback and simple shapes morphing into waves of decay and reformation again.

The finale of the weekend was a treat for kids, – a nicely edited film piece read by Lord of The Rings’ Billy Boyd alongside Philip Glass’s score for Icarus at The Edge of Time, a Scottish premiere adapted from Brian Greene’s book about a boy who flies close to a black hole. This was the SCO’s strongest performance of the weekend I felt. And also brilliant fun from the Glasgow Science Centre who had a portable planetarium where I fought off crowds of ten year olds so I could get in!

In all, Minimal was a highly successful and enjoyable weekend and I look forward to more treats coming up soon including Reich’s most lauded piece Music For 18 Musicians in February and also John Taverner and Arvo Part’s works at Kelvingrove the same month. I also wanted to say the audio clips on the minimal site were really well done and served a really good job. If I moan a little about some of the pieces, it is with respect of a programme that must have been difficult to aim and pitch. It was also brilliantly attended. I went to nearly every event and arrived back in Ayr shattered.

At this point I want to say that I also went around the festival making a sonic portrait of the nearby venues. I have a preview of it here, but will be posting the full version with art and liner notes in the coming week.

Exhausted Field Recording Number One

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

The above link will play a sound file of one minute forty seven seconds recorded at 12.35pm on the 13th October 2010. (Apologies if the ID3 tags don’t show in wordpress)

I begin my practice for the next three years but I also hit a barrier of fatigue, pain and stomach problems. Slouching from room to room, I mooch, despondant that I cannot offer anything meaningful to the debate about making art with M.E. when I feel this ill. But then I take a moment to consider, no, is this not the best state to carry out experiential research? Otherwise how is it going to be of use to patients / ill artists that are bed-bound? – How can I make something that is both easy to produce, but has some conceptual backbone?

Then it hits me. I think of the world’s most prolific field recordist / sound recordist / avant-garde musician. Half David Attenborough, half John Cage. I’m talking of course about Chris Watson.

His website will tell you everything you need to know, so I’ll just say a few words about today’s soundfile.

One of the ways that I’ve been thinking that sick artists can still make work and still “author” work, is by appropriation. Naming where an object of art lives, took place, or “occurs as art” is an act of creation without touching I think. By placing “start” and “stop” margins on objects or sounds, a work is authored. By directing attention between those parameters, the experience can become more focussed and subsequently expanded, so the mundane may become less so. Patterns and theories spring up, by the simple act of editing and naming. One famous visual art example of this process I can think of, straight off, is the concept of the “readymade” – by Marchel Duchamp. On the sound tip, the closest example to “authoring” audible phenomena is by carrying out “field recordings”, like the example at the start of this post or by getting closer to Chris Watson’s work!

Readymades. There is little physical effort in the production of Duchamp’s readymades and for that reason alone, they are within the grasp of the sick artist. Especially in working with sound. A lot of my work 2002-2007 was in the ‘production’ of appropriating meaning to things in the street – partly because of the lack of physical energy I had, but also because I think, and have the opinion of, that being an artist for me, is to point to or edit the natural / urban world, rather than build projects from scratch. I think by removing phemonema from daily contexts and revealing them in isolation – helps us gain more pleasure and milage from listening or looking at the daily torrents of audio visual information around us. The experience in repeatedly playing back field recorded files or slowing them down, reveals the compositional data in the everyday. This might be analagous to what video artist Bill Viola describes (video – and maybe sound) as a “temporal magnifying glass.”

So a final word on today’s soundfile and the themes it could lead onto – I live a few miles south of Prestwick Airport. There are quite a few smaller planes that fly from there with propellors, which provide a brilliant droney echo by the time the sound hits me here in Ayr. In the summer I made a really nice field recording of such a drone which I’ll post soon. But today, I could hear a related mechanical sound. One of my neighbours was having carpets industrially cleaned a few doors down the road. But at the same time, birds were chirping loudly in the trees outside my office window. It occurred to me this was almost like a live concert going on, so I grabbed my beloved Sony PCM – M10 recorder and sat it on the windowsill for a few minutes.

Once we have a recording, we can digitally enhance various frequencies, repeat phrases and use it as a pallette of enquiry in a number of strokes. I chose not to digitally edit this piece aside from deciding how loud it should be, where it starts and stops and what bit-rate the mp3 file would be. I think what I’d like to do with this file is get some ornithological assistance in identifying the birds, then I will have gathered some empirical facts as well as made a nice wee soundfile to share! If you would like the direct link to the file, to save, go here.

Chronic Fatigue Arts

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

I’ve just started this blog to coalesce my thoughts and actions around my PhD at The University of The West of Scotland. I will be posting regular updates of art projects and reflections, exploring the relationship and collisions between a fine art practice and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/M.E.

I’ve suffered with C.F.S./M.E. for around 13 years now, during which time I have had to develop strategies to keep a career going. The purpose of my PhD is to hone down what aspects of my practice help my health, harm my health and forming a potential text  – with the goal of publishing projects online and off and hopefully forming along the way, a community of interested parties. I’ll post a more accurate statement as the weeks shape the research ahead, but I’m enjoying the work so far. I’d like to have an audience to engage with, so I’d really appreciate you following the blog and helping with feedback!

Chris Dooks, Ayr, October 2010